Tag Archives: Jehovah’s Witness

Bookends to the Gospel of Matthew

 

The Gospel of Matthew, the first in canonical order (New Testament) and 1 of the 3 synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke), begins in a unique way with the genealogies of our Lord’s humanity highlighting Abraham, David, and the Deportation into Babylon.  These serve as not only significant events in the history of Israel, but also to establish Christ as the offspring of Abraham, heir to the throne of David, and identify him with the nation of Israel.  In verses 18-21 of the first chapter we are given an historical account of the birth of Christ culminating as a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah,

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

There is much to examine in this passage including, at minimum, the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the virginity of Mary, the divine communication of God, and the meaning of the phrase “God with us”, which is significant for our discussion here.  “God with us” in its context imports all of the Old Testament meaning of God dwelling with His people, going back to the Garden (Gen. 3:8), the blessing promised upon entrance into Canaan (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:11-12), and elsewhere (Ezek. 37:27; et.al.).

In the Greek, this phrase, “God with us” is meta (meth) hemon ho Theos, which brings us to the purpose and significance of this brief post.  Matthew, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concludes his gospel with this same phrase, ego meta (meth) humon eimi in Matthew 28:20 which is literally translated “I with you all am” or “I am with you all”.

The significance of these phrases framing the opening and conclusion of this gospel account should be obvious.  Our Lord’s birth is announced by means of fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, one in which the title given Him is Immanuel, “God with us”.  As if that statement were not strong enough to establish the deity of our Lord, we are given by means of quotation from Him the same phrase, “I am with you all”.  A statement which should not be minimized, but is purposeful in Christ claiming deity for Himself.

This is a crucial point of contention when witnessing to those who deny that Jesus is God.  Often, their arguments are that Christ never claimed that He is God, which of course is false.  Here we have two crystal clear references to His own claim to deity.  First, as shown above, is His substitution of “I am” in the place of “God” in the phrase “will be with you”.

Second, is the meaning of the phrase “I am” (ego eimi), which is developed in far greater detail in the Gospel of John, particularly as he recounts the “I am” phrases spoken by Christ (John 6, 8, 10, 11, 14).  By taking upon Himself this title, I am, Jesus takes upon Himself the meaning of this as well which finds its own development Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.”  In the verse that follows, we get the name of God that we are accustomed to seeing on the pages of Holy Scripture, “God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”   Here we have the LORD (all capital letters) standing for God’s divine, covenant name YHWH (pronounced Yah-weh), which is connected to the title “I AM”.  When Christ adopts the title “I AM” He is doing nothing less than taking the name Yahweh for Himself.

In these two short, seemingly inconsequential statements we have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom of God in the revelation of His Son Jesus and the establishment of Him as God in the Flesh, literally God with us.  How often we must give our hearts over with the Apostle Paul to proclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom. 11:33

The Holy Spirit and the Jehovah’s Witness

 

One of the chief objections that Jehovah’s Witnesses have toward orthodox Christianity is a denial of the personhood or personality of the Holy Spirit (along with a denial of Christ’s deity and a host of other fundamental beliefs).  Because JW’s deny the Trinity, by default they must deny that the Holy Spirit is a divine person at all, instead depersonalizing Him to a power or force.

Conversely, orthodox Christianity recognizes and has always recognized that the Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity. In John 16, Jesus offers great comfort to His disciples by assuring them that His departure is for their good because He will send another “Helper” or Paraclete.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Twist and turn as they may, there really is no consistent way to interpret this passage other than that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person and member of the Triune God-head.  Interpreting this passage to represent the Spirit of God as an inanimate force or power simply violates the entirety of the context and meaning.  That said, there are even clearer passages on the operation of the Spirit that make an even stronger argument that He is more than a mere power or force, but instead does indeed operate as God.

In the book of Acts, perhaps more than any other book, the operations of the Holy Spirit are recorded in abundance.  No coincidence that this book contains the “giving” and “filling” of the Holy Spirit, so it makes sense that we would find a variety of operations by the Spirit on display in this book.  Note below a sample of passages that assert clearly that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is indeed a person, not just “a person”, but indeed God.

  • Acts 5:3-4, 93 But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.’” 9But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’”

In this passage we have the familiar account of Ananias and Sapphira, the husband and wife team that had promised to give the money from the sale of their land to the apostle’s (a vow they were free to NOT make), but instead lied and withheld some of the funds.  If the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, as the Jehovah’s Witness contends, then how can Ananias lie to Him?  Furthermore, in the very same passage, Peter connects his accusation, “lie to the Holy Spirit” with “you have not lied to man but to God” giving a clear indication of the “personhood” and deity of the Holy Spirit.  In verse 9, where Peter is now confronting the wife, Sapphira, we see that she and her husband have tested the “Spirit of the Lord”.  In this passage the Spirit has been lied to and tested, clearly asserting that the Spirit is not simply an impersonal force or power.

In the New World Translation, the false and apostate translation that the Jehovah’s Witness use, the translation is nearly identical, so this would be a case where you could use their own translation to disprove their beliefs.

  •  Acts 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Again, we see briefly in this passage that the Holy Spirit is a “witness” along with the apostles.  Try using the fact the Holy Spirit is the True witness of Jehovah in your next encounter with the JW’s!

 Acts 8:29 “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’”

The Spirit is speaking to Philip in this passage, instructing him to join the Ethiopian in his chariot for the purpose of testifying the death and resurrection of Christ to him (using Isaiah 53!).  In the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witness, you’ll find the same wording, however the word “spirit” is lower case.  That should not distract or deter you from the truths of this passage.  The capitalization of the word in the ESV or some of the more reliable translations is simply and interpretive clue to alert you that the context regards the Spirit as God.

  •  Acts 10:19 “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.”
  • Acts 13:2-4 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
  • Acts 21:11 “And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’.’”
  • Acts 28:25 “And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:’”

 Pretty straightforward in these four passages, once again we have communication from the Spirit to a man.  Communication that could not (and did not) come from an impersonal force or power, but from a member of the God-head.  Additionally, in the second passage from Acts 13, we find that it is the Holy Spirit Who has sent out the apostles to Seleuicia and Cyprus.  Once again, the NWT affirms this reading.

  • Acts 15:28 “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements”
  • Acts 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

In the first passage above we find that the Holy Spirit has communicated approval of the Apostle’s actions, while in the second the Holy Spirit has restrained Paul from speaking the word in Asia.

To assert that the Holy Spirit is a force or power violates not only the meaning and context of the passages listed above, but indeed the English language and the Koine Greek language in which Acts was originally written.  If you kindly, but boldly walk a Jehovah’s Witness through several of the key passages highlighted above, it’s likely they will stare blankly at you with incredulity.  Do not back off.  I’ve talked to JW’s who have been in the cult for decades and they simply have no response to these verses.  Nevertheless, the truth will be presented to them.

It’s not your job to convince or convict them of their heresy, it is the Spirit’s.  He will do it, if and when He sees fit to lift the scales from their eyes, giving them a heart of repentance, and opening their ears to receive the words of truth.  Be faithful in your witness and always be prepared to give a defense to anyone that asks for a reason for the hope that is within you.

Come and Knock on Our Door

 

Recently, on a Christian mega-blog site that I check frequently, I found a link to an article in which a pastor discussed his philosophy of evangelism with door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnessess, though I suspect that his methods would be generalized to include Mormon’s and other cultish religions that proselytize in a similarly aggressive way.  Though the mega-blogger praised the methods, I do not know the author of the article personally, so I will not include his name and my discussion of his published methods are neither judgment upon him specifically or his motivation in how he presents his message.  But I would like to take issue with the content of his statements, their larger implications for evangelism, and as one who has had numerous “porch preaching” opportunities, suggest a more viable alternative.

In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle writes the following under divine inspiration of the Spirit, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  Perhaps rightly, some have champion this verse as the banner for apologetics, due to the presence of the Greek word apologia [make a defense] from which we get the word apologetics.  If that application is warranted, then Peter also supplies the manner in which this defense of the faith is to be made, “with gentleness and respect”.

From the article that I referenced above, while being sensitive toward avoiding judgment of motives, it would appear that the author decided to take a more aggressive, direct approach.  In that post he states that he answered the door, Bible in hand, was given a Watchtower tract, and an invitation to an Easter celebration.  His response was to assert his own evangelical Christian beliefs, his vocation as a pastor, and his lifetime efforts toward undermining the false gospel that they proclaim.  He then expressed a biblical view of the Trinity, claimed his neighborhood as his own mission field, expressed their unwelcomeness on his mission field, and assured them that he would pray for their repentance of heresy and subsequent faith in Christ as they left his porch.  I’m loosely paraphrasing (moreso to avoid any word searches to bring up his article).

While there is nothing inherently wrong with his approach or content, it seems to have more of a “I don’t have time for this” tone and a “What can I say to tell them off in the most Gospel-centered way that I can.”  Again, I do not want to judge motives here, but the response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that he included is what really convicted me to write this post.  The author describes their response, as one would imagine, as one of incredulity and he indicates that this was likely due to the usual polite nod or name calling response that they normally receive.

Here I paused to ask a couple questions, namely: Was there enough Gospel in the message to convict the men of their heresy?  Maybe.  Do I think that this approach convinced the men to leave the neighborhood?  No.  Do I think it caused them to go to Scripture and find if they have rightly understood its meaning?  No

My experience has been that most people respond to these door-to-door [false] evangelists with a “You’re in a cult and going to hell” response, whether the person is a pastor or even a true Christian.  It’s probably something they’ve heard 100 times, though I’m sure it’s not something they get used to.

Having numerous porch and street encounters with not only Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Mormons, I too have received looks of incredulity.  In fact, the last 3 groups of JW’s and the last group of Mormons all responded in a similar way that this pastor is describing.  The look on their faces were shock and awe, not due to me or my ability to articulate Scripture, but in the truths of God’s Word that were unfolded before their unbelieving eyes.  In the multiple encounters with JW’s each took much longer than an hour and mostly approaching 2 hours as I labored through Old and New Testament passages to proclaim and defend the deity of Christ with “gentleness and respect” and answer their questions as they arose (though I would suggest being on the offensive, rather than defensive or they’ll wrap you up in their tangled web of Scripture gymnastics).

Their usual response is “This is not a typical conversation that we have with professing Christians.  Most cannot articulate their own beliefs, yet alone one that would cause us to rethink our beliefs.”  Again, please don’t judge my own motives, I’m not attempting to garner praise for myself, rather to assert that Christians should be bold in their defense of the Gospel, but should do so in a way that engages the unbeliever, whether pagan, JW, Mormon, Muslim, it doesn’t matter.

Furthermore, before my first encounter with the JW’s I read every passage I could find that asserted Christ’s deity from the Old and New Testaments.  Additionally, I familiarized myself with the general beliefs of JW’s so that I could be better prepared to make a defense, recognize their arguments, and cut them off with the Word of the all-holy-three-in-one God.  Was I better for it?  Of course, any time spent in Scripture laboring to understand Christ better is time well spent.  Were they given a direct Word of God defense to their beliefs?  Yes.  Do I think that they had enough Gospel message to convert them, it’s likely, but that is not my job, it’s the Holy Spirit’s.

In fact, after our encounter 1 group of young men have yet to return to their rotation on a particular street corner in town where the JW’s witness each week.  Another couple has repeatedly returned to my front porch where I’ve engaged time and again in a cordial defense of Christ’s deity being patient as with a young child who is hearing the Gospel for the first time.  In the case of the Mormon’s, they literally froze.  Not knowing what to say, not wanting to leave, but unsure where to go next.  It was almost as if they wanted me to rescue them out of this cult, but were unsure of how to proceed.  In this case, my heart was literally bursting in tears for these  young men that had probably grown up knowing nothing but the cult-like heresy of Mormonism.

Again, I do not want to judge this pastor’s motives from the article, but I would like to suggest that perhaps these door to door evangelism opportunities are gifts from God to

  1. Prepare us for always being ready to articulate and defend what we believe
  2. Give us opportunity to proclaim the name of Christ to unbelievers, when we wouldn’t have otherwise taken the initiative
  3. Familiarize ourselves with the false beliefs that are circulating our neighborhoods so that we can engage with them and better inform others whom they have contacted  (see the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill – Acts 17).

Finally, I would encourage you to listen to the videos of Tim Barnett I’ve posted here and adopt a similar strategy that he expresses, that of having your bible and select verses ready should JW’s or Mormons come and knock on your door (first 5 minutes of video #1).

“Always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you….but do so with gentleness and respect” and the name of God will be glorified in the presence of unbelievers because of it.

Grace and Peace