Tag Archives: Arianism

Misunderstanding Son of God

 

In the Western World, and more specifically, the United States, it’s extremely difficult to read the Bible without importing our preconceived notions or understandings of particular words, phrases, or themes. In fact, it’s impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to restrain our understanding and allow the Bible to speak and define words or concepts for itself. One particular example in which this occurs is through the phrase “Son of God” as it is applied as a title to Christ. Though our Lord preferred the title Son of Man, nevertheless Son of God is the other predominant title given to Him in the New Testament, particularly through the pen of the Apostle John. We find this phrase 9 times in his Gospel, 9 Times in his first epistle, and one time in the book of Revelation. But what exactly does it mean?

I fear that our societal understanding of the term son immediately triggers a position of subordination in our minds. For instance, in a father-and-son business, generally speaking the father is considered the senior, more experienced of the two, while the son is often viewed as the younger, more vigorous of the two who one day hopes to take over the family business when he has reached a certain experiential level. When applied to God, I wonder if we haven’t made God the Father the gray-haired, crotchety, senior god and made the Son, a more compassionate, less hard-lined, less-experienced smaller “god”. In any event, my concern is that by hearing and reading the phrase Son of God, we’ve by default come to view Christ as a junior or lesser deity to the Father and that simply isn’t true, nor is it the intention of Scripture to convey this, in fact it is just the opposite.

The title Son, as it relates to Christ, is first meant to communicate equality in essence or being with the Father. Any other starting point will lead to a false conclusion and false understanding of who Christ is. This is where modern Arianism, i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, falter in their understanding of Christ’s deity. Their conception of son is that of a created being, similar to that of angels, Adam, or even Satan. But Scripture does not refer to Christ as Son of God in order to represent Him as a created being. It uses the term Son to communicate that God the Father’s “dna” if you will, or essence, is entirely held within the person of the Son. This is what’s intended in passages such as Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15, 19.

Again, difficulties may arise with our understanding of the word son. When my son was born, he possessed my dna. However my dna is not pure, though it is specific to me, because it did not originate from me. I have millennia, back to Adam and Eve, of ancestors who’s dna has combined to form me. Likewise, my son has a combination of my wife’s ancestral dna such that he is made up 50% of me, 50% of my wife. When we think of Christ, we cannot import this understanding of son into Scripture because God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. This means that His “dna”, if again you will allow the use of that term, has no origin apart from Himself, nor mixture from any outside source. Likewise, Christ is said to be equally eternal, begotten from the Father with no mixture of “dna” and no entrance of maternal dna. To be clear, we are talking of Christ’s deity and title as Son of God here, not of His incarnation or title Son of Man, lest there be here any turning of our thoughts toward Mary. With this understanding, we can begin to see that when Christ is called Son of God, it is meant to convey nothing less than Christ = God. This is precisely what is stated in John chapter 5.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:16-18

In this passage, the central theme is that Christ has healed on the Sabbath and has therefore fallen under condemnation of the law in the eyes of the Jewish Pharisees. In verse 17 of this chapter, we read Jesus’ declaration that “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This statement has a dual edge; the first clearly states that God is His Father and the second implies equality between the two in that both are equally “working”. The Jews, who hold none of our modern societal impediments (though certainly have their own), understand the meaning of Christ’s declaration of Himself as God’s Son. Note carefully John 5:18, “…not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” This is the Apostle John’s commentary on the situation. Clearly, the Jews of Christ’s day understand the divine genealogical principle being established by our Lord. Through His assertion that God is His Father, He is implicitly stating that He is God. They understand that God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. They understand that there is no mixture of “dna” in Him. So when Christ claims Him as Father, this automatically carries with it the idea of deity, not a lesser deity mind you, but as the passage states, equality with God.

Explaining this passage to a Jehovah’s Witness may be tricky. Their immediate defense is to eschew this meaning and assert that this was the Jews misunderstanding. In other words, they believe that the Jews wrongly assumed that Jesus was calling Himself God and it follows that they wrongly accused Him of blasphemy and wrongly crucified Him on this basis. However, this interpretation is a bucket full of holes and cannot hold water. It falls precisely into the trap of importing a false notion of Son into the equation and it fails to properly understand that God the Father is eternal and did not procreate with anyone else to create Christ, nor would Christ’s creation from other material (or angelic being) give proper weight to the term “son”.

Note the declarations of Christ’s Apostles, who share the Pharisees understanding of the term “son”.

Matthew 14:32-33, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

This statement is neutered of its meaning if we take it to say Christ is a lesser god or Christ is a created being. That would be saying something similar to the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a created being.” Or “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a lesser god than the Father.” Those interpretations simply make no sense. This passage is boldly stating the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is Yahweh.”

Matthew 16:15-17, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s again apply the erroneous understanding of son as meaning a lesser god or created being and observe how it again neuters the impact of this powerful statement. “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a lesser god than the Father!” Or “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a created being!” Even the weak attempts by Jehovah’s Witness to say that Christ is an “exalted being” fail to do justice to these emphatic statements of His divinity.

Next observe the interrogation of Christ at His pre-crucifixion trial from Matthew’s Gospel. “57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council[h] were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Mattew 26:57-67

First we see that our Lord’s accusers tried in vain to trump up charges against Him, but were unable. When they did bring forth two witnesses, their words actually misconstrued what Christ had said.[1] Next, Caiphas asks bluntly, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” His question is twofold, yet related, and reveals the Jewish understanding and anticipation of the Messiah (Christ or Annointed One) and the divinity that He was to hold, Son of God. When Jesus responds in the affirmative to the question, yet adds more to Caiphas’ understanding (verse 64), the high priest responds with, “He has uttered blasphemy”. Those who were interrogating Jesus understood that He was making a claim to deity. Contextually, there is simply no other way to take this. They haven’t misinterpreted His words, as the Jehovah’s Witness claims; they recognize that His affirmation of being the Son of God is nothing less than a claim to deity and for that they condemn Him to death.

There are many more examples that we could look at, but those above serve well to help our understanding that the title Son of God when applied to Christ is a clear reference to His divinity.

Secondly, and the order is important, the title Son of God is meant to communicate a subordination of ROLE, function, or office, NOT of essence or being. Space prohibits developing this theme in more depth, but it should be mentioned here to prevent further misunderstanding and objections to Christ as Son. It’s actually on this point that most who deny Jesus as God base their claim. For instance, they read such passages as John 14:28, “…for the Father is greater than I” and John 10:29, “…My Father…is greater than all….” and make the false conclusion that Jesus is lesser in His essence or being, yet they fail to reconcile those passages with others, such as those mentioned above, in which Son of God means that Jesus has equality with God. If we were to keep reading in John 5 we would see that Christ’s subordinate role is further defined, yet it in no way does it undermine His divine nature or make Him a lesser god. As a further study, John 5:30-47 clearly outlines several subordinate roles that have been given to Him by the Father, yet all the while it maintains His supreme status as God. At issue then is that this secondary understanding of Son of God is given primary status and used as a rubric through which all other passages asserting Christ’s deity are read and subsequently dismissed. That is a fatal flaw in Scriptural interpretation and leads to a false understanding of who Christ is. Anyone who holds to a lesser Christ than one who is God stakes their hopes in no Christ at all and are subject to the wrath and condemnation of God, that is Christ, to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22-23).

Much more could be said regarding Jesus’ claim as Son of God and exactly what that means, including Jesus as Son-King. Likewise, there is more to be said from an Old Testament perspective that Christ as Son fulfills the promises made to David, but that for another day.

Son of God as applied to Christ means nothing more and nothing less than God the Son. It is an emphatic statement of His deity and role as the Second Person in the Trinity. He is not a lesser god, He is God; He did not become God’s Son at His incarnation, He has always been and will always be. To Him belongs all glory and honor. He is worthy of all worship, praise, and adoration.

[1] There is a play on words here with the word temple. See Jesus’ statements on this in Matthew 24 or Mark 13.

*Image credit: Harvestrockford.org

The Alpha and Omega

 

In a recent post, we looked at an exposition of Colossians 1:15 in light of the Jehovah’s Witness belief that Jesus was a created being by God the Father. Working through that passage we saw that the basis for their belief is an erroneous understanding of the Greek word prototokos, translated firstborn in many faithful translations. In this post, I hope to set forth a polemic from the book of Revelation as a proof of Christ’s deity through the assertion that He is the Alpha and Omega.

As in the post mentioned above, it is important to engage the Jehovah’s Witness in a dialogue, not necessarily a debate.  Typically, this will better allow the truths of Scripture to be unfolded before their eyes. Therefore, it is often helpful to have them read passages for themselves and even where accurate, from their own New World Translation (remember though that this is not a faithful translation). That said, utilizing the Alpha and Omega argument from Revelation allows you to both reference the NWT and provides an opportunity for the Jehovah’s Witness to reach their own conclusion from Scripture’s assertion that Christ is God.

One can approach the A&O argument from two different angles, first is within Revelation itself utilizing the JW understanding of the passages and the second is the correlation between Revelation and Isaiah utilizing Scriptures understanding of the passage. Keep in mind, the goal of this polemic is to assert that Jesus is God, or that Scripture often refers to Jesus as Yahweh. Remember that in the mind of the Jehovah’s Witness, Christ is neither; he is a created being and one of many “gods”.

First, have the Jehovah’s Witness read Revelation 1:8 (it may be helpful when engaging JW or Mormons to reference a King James Version of the Bible; I’ve included that particular version in this post):

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” Revelation 1:8

ASK: Who is this passage referring to?

By reason of their own NWT translation, the JW is forced to conclude that this passage is talking about Jehovah, note the NWT: “’I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says Jehovah God, “the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.” Obviously, the JW insertion that this is Jehovah/The Father for the purpose of advancing their own doctrinal beliefs, is wrought with problems. First is context, which is clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ, “Behold,  he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

Verse 8 obviously corresponds and continues this thought by concluding that Christ is the One coming again. Where in Scripture does it ever say that God the Father will return or is coming? Or where does it say that the Father was pierced?

This minor (it’s really not) contextual issue aside, there is a bigger fish to fry in this argument. After getting the JW to consent that Jehovah (i.e. the Father) is in reference here as the Alpha and Omega, turn them to Revelation 22 and have them read aloud the following verses either in their own “translation” or in the KJV:

“Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.  I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Revelation 22:12-13

ASK: Whom is being referenced as the Alpha and Omega in these particular passages?

Keep them reading:

“I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” Revelation 22:16

“He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

A consistent JW will again conclude that the Father, Jehovah, is in view here. However, continuing to read through the end of the chapter will reveal the voice of the One who has been speaking, namely Jesus Christ, and it is upon Himself that He takes the title of Alpha and Omega. There is simply no getting around this. I’ve had experienced, hardened JW’s tell me that they would have to do some research on this; younger JW say they’ve never seen that before and stand dumbfounded under this truth; however, I have had another JW leader try to pass it off as “my interpretation”. If the latter defense is played against you, ensure the JW that you have offered no interpretation of any kind, but have simply allowed the Scripture to speak for themselves. It’s best to proceed back to Revelation 1 and finish reading that chapter with the thought in mind that this is now speaking of Christ.

The second prong of this argument comes by way of Isaiah 44:6 which reads, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God”. You may in fact wish to start with this passage, before progressing into Revelation 1. It’s likely that this is the basis for their interpretation that Revelation 1:8 is speaking of the Father, since it too says “saith the LORD”.

ASK: Who is this passage in Isaiah referring to?

Rightly, the JW will assert that this is a clear reference to Jehovah (the Father) because the translation indicates that the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking. Holding this passage in concert with Revelation and the assertion that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, gives a clear witness to the Witnesses that Scripture makes the connection of Christ as Yahweh. There is simply no way around this. If you start with this passage, simply progress to Revelation 1:8 and follow the flow of thought above into Revelation 22.

The A&O argument serves several purposes, not the least of which undermines the integrity of the NWT and sheds light on their desire to mask Christ as Jehovah. Secondly, it asserts clearly the deity of Christ in plain language by making the OT connection with Christ as Yahweh. Thirdly, assuming the title of Alpha & Omega connotes all that this means. Literally, it is the title of eternality applied to Christ, which the JW denies; along with all of His intrinsic attributes. It is similar in function as the title “I AM”. He is the beginning and the end.  Simply put, it is a statement of supremacy.

Clearly the “god” and “jesus” of the JW is not the same as the God and Jesus of Christianity. Though they share similarity in name, the real meaning comes from the attestation of Scripture and this proves that the beliefs of of the Jehovah’s Witness is nothing other than heresy.

 

The Firstborn of all Creation

 

Over the past few months, the Lord has been gracious and providential to present me with witnessing opportunities to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you’re unfamiliar with their beliefs, you can get caught up briefly here – Jehovah’s Witness. Through these interactions, I’ve been challenged to return to Scripture to find the basis for what God says regarding the nature of the Trinity and more specifically the deity of Jesus Christ.

One particular avenue of disagreement between orthodox Christianity and the heresy of the Jehovah’s Witness (and there are many), which is nothing more than recycled Arianism, is their understanding of Colossians 1:15. Through several interactions with different members of their organization, this verse seems to be the linchpin for their understanding of Christ as a created being of Jehovah. Note the passage in question below:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Interacting with Jehovah’s Witnesses can be very challenging. Often this is because they generally hold to the authority of Scripture though defer to their own “translation”, so simply volleying verses back and forth to one another will prove to be an exercise in futility. However, if one can engage the JW in a respectful question/answer dialogue and be patient to allow them the opportunity to express what they think they know about Scripture, this will inevitably lead to opportunities to point out the faults in their beliefs. When engaging anyone in the Scriptures, whether atheist or cultish in their beliefs, it is always of the utmost importance that there be no rust on your own Sword. This is the weapon that you’ll need in your engagement so the more familiar it is in your hand, the better you will wield it in battle.

In my experiences, asserting the deity of Christ can happen by reading several passages of Scripture (namely Revelation, John, Hebrews 1 & 4, etc.), however, because they base a faulty doctrine on a faulty understanding of Colossians 1:15, it then becomes most beneficial to explain to them this passage or even better, have them read additional Scriptures that clarify the point you are trying to make.

Keep in mind that their “version” of the Bible is not a valid translation. It has been well-documented that the New World Translation has purposefully changed and reinterpreted words to hold their doctrines in-tact. Additionally, their translation team lacks any Greek or Hebrew scholars. Exactly zero. This translation, if I can even use that word, is really a deceitful reinterpretation of notable translations such as the King James Version.

That said, the NWT translation of Colossians 1:15 is a faithful representation of the original Scriptures, so it can be a passage of common ground if one can rightly interpret its meaning in light of the JW assertion that it describes the creation of Christ. Perhaps on the first reading, one may walk away scratching their head and thinking that the JW has the faithful believer pinned down with their own understanding, but note carefully again the passage in its context.

“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Col. 1:15-20.

Often a key to understanding Scripture is to keep reading and allow the Spirit to shed additional light on a particular passage or verse that may be unclear. A surficial reading of Colossians 1:15 may lead one to think that Christ is born of creation (note there is nothing in this passage to affirm the JW belief that God the Father created the Son), i.e. that Christ is a product of creation (Again, if their logic were correct this verse would state that Christ was born from creation!). However, continuing on in the passage we read that Christ is actually the Creator of all things. How then can He be created by the very thing that supposedly created Him? This is circular reasoning at best (a JW favorite!) and has potential to leave the Christian tucking his or her tail leaving the JW on their front porch alone.

However, we need to have confidence in God’s Word for it is the Sword of the Spirit, living and active and capable of piercing between bone and marrow. Instead of tucking tail and running, we should be bold in our affirmation that Scripture never contradicts itself and turn our questioning to the JW’s understanding of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 noting carefully that this word is used again in verse 18.

If firstborn means first creation, then how would verse 18 make any sense at all, “He is the beginning, the first creation from the dead”. Being dead first assumes life. How can Christ be created twice if firstborn is to carry the same JW meaning in both verses? Simply put, it can’t and the reason is because firstborn, or prototokos does not mean first in creation. On the contrary, it is a word for preeminence. It has to do with rank and authority, not birth priority. The definition is given in the second half of verse 18, “that in everything he might be preeminent.”

The Apostle is asserting that from things created to things that die, Christ is the Preeminent One, because He has lived, died, and been raised again. Continuing into verse 19 is another verse of contention with the JW because it asserts the fullness of deity dwells in Christ. Their exegetical gymnastics will attempt to redefine fullness and limit the attributes of God to a select few so be aware.

Without falling into this trap with them, it’s important to press home the point being made regarding the use of “firstborn” in this passage. In their own Interlinear translation, the same word used here, prototokos, is used Psalm 89:27 in reference to King David, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Clearly this is not asserting birth priority because David was the youngest of at least seven brothers (1 Samuel 16:10). Additionally, this same use with the context of preeminence may be seen elsewhere in the OT. In Genesis 41:50-51 Manasseh is the firstborn and Ephraim is second; however, in light of the blessing from Jacob (Genesis 48:13-19), who gives the firstborn blessing to Ephraim, we read in Jeremiah 31:9 that it is he who is called the firstborn, “for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” Clearly this is a further example of firstborn having nothing to do with first created, and everything to do with rank or preeminence.

The JW insists that firstborn in the passage from Colossians 1:15 must take on a completely different meaning, that of protoktisis – first created, which is NEVER used in reference Christ. However, prototokos is used and without question is in reference to Christ’s rank and authority over all things.

Witnessing to the JWs does not have to be difficult.  In my experiences they are genuinely polite people and are quite surprised when a Christian can engage them in Scripture.  With prayer and attention to the Word of God, one can navigate the conversation and assert boldly, yet lovingly, the truth that Christ is God, eternal and unchanging. In the future, I hope to have additional posts that will help clearly present Scriptures to the Jehovah’s Witness.