Tag Archives: Jehovah’s Witness

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.

 

 

The Deity of Christ in Hebrews 1:8

 

The book of Hebrews stands as a beacon in the night shining forth the superiority of Christ above angels, Moses, the Levitical priesthood, other priests (namely Melchizedek), the priestly ministry, including its location, covenant, tabernacle, and sacrifice. Without question, if one wants to understand more deeply, more convincingly who Christ is, they needn’t turn too far away from Hebrews to find Him fully on display.

However, there remain those who are not only unconvinced by the Christology of Hebrews, but those who have taken its words and distorted it to fit their own agenda. One particular group is the Jehovah’s Witness. In their translation ( I use that term loosely, as you will see), known as the New World Translation, the biblical truths of Christ are distorted in order to mask Christ’s deity in seeking to establish Him as a mere man, created in the image of God like other men though having His origin as a spiritual being. Without going into detail regarding their beliefs, they make it clear that 1) They deny the Trinity and 2) They deny the deity of Christ. This was made crystal clear to me during a recent encounter I had with several of them.

One particular verse where this biblical distortion becomes evident is Hebrews 1:8,

“But of the Son he says,

‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”

The passage above is in clear reference to the Son from its context in Hebrews and it gives great insight into the intra-Trinitarian conversation between the Father and the Son by quoting a passage from Psalm 45:6. If you knew nothing of the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness, if you knew nothing of the Old Testament use of the New Testament, or nothing of the biblical languages, you would still be able to observe what is being said in the verse and the grammatical manner in which it is being said. It is crystal clear that the Son is the One to whom this statement is directed. Likewise, it is crystal clear that this passage calls the Son, God, a point of fact that the Jehovah’s Witness denies.

Additionally, the grammar of this sentence should be clear, namely that the subject of the sentence is “throne” in the first part and “scepter” is the subject of the second phrase as the author of the Psalm develops a parallelism with the two kingly objects, throne and scepter. God, as used in this verse, is what’s known as the vocative, i.e. to Whom the sentence is addressed. From our usage in Hebrews it is clear that this is addressed to the Son. This seems straightforward enough, right?

Well, not for the translators of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation. In order to hide this clear indication that Christ is God and thereby divine, being distinct in person but the same in essence as the Father and Holy Spirit, the “translation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses distorts the grammar of the passage by saying:

“But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness.”[1]

At first glance, it may not even seem to be a big deal that the NWT translates this passage differently. But, when you understand that their philosophical understanding of Christ is radically different than orthodox Christianity, then it becomes of the utmost importance to understand what is being communicated in their “bible”. When asking the Jehovah’s Witness about the difference in this verse, their comments are typically centered around similar statements such as “Jehovah is your rock”, “Jehovah is your shield”, or that Christ’s authority proceeds from the Father and that this is simply a better way of saying that. Those statements in their given biblical context may be true, but that is simply not what is being communicated in this passage. As was pointed out earlier, the subject of the first part of this phrase is the throne and of the latter, the scepter. In the NWT the subject is changed to “God”, to avoid the vocative use of God that appears in the original Greek and that is made evident in formally equivalent English translations, such as the ESV quoted above. Again, this may not seem like a big deal, but it actually serves to undercut the assertion being made that Jesus is God. Yes, as a David-like King, Christ derives His authority (throne/scepter) from the Father that is clear from the statement, “of the Son he says”. But much more is being communicated and that is that this King, is none other than God-incarnate, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

This is not simply a matter of grammar and punctuation; it is deception for the purpose of distorting the divine nature of Christ. Like their forefathers who promoted the heresy of Arianism, the Jehovah’s Witness have drastically deviated from orthodox Christianity and have created for themselves another Jesus. The Apostle Paul warns of those who proclaim another Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed,” all the more reason to be diligent in studying the Word of God to recognize and correct those who do such things.

Understanding the significance of this passage from Hebrews as a testimony to the Divine nature of Christ will go a long way in the conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. Their translation is simply indefensible. Be aware that there will be attempts to refute this, but largely they will be unaware of the translation inaccuracy and their own religion’s attempt to mask the deity of Christ. Be patience and confident in the power of God’s Word and proclaim the deity of Christ at every turn.

Update 4/30/2015: In reading Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Ron Rhodes (2009, Harvest House Publishers), the author concedes that “God is your throne” is grammatically possible in the Greek, but as shown in the post above is contextually invalid (pg. 93).  Further evidence that the context is in favor of this reading can be found in Psalm 45:5 of the Septuagint (Greek OT) which includes the phrase “Thy weapons [arrows], Oh Mighty One, are sharpened”.  Read in combination with  verse 6 from the post above, “Thy throne, O God” reveals additional Hebrew parallelism between the verses (Rhodes, 95).  I didn’t include this in my original post because I think most faithful English translations recognize the grammatical structure within verse 6 that holds the tension between the subjects “throne” and “scepter” and the discussion of Christ’s Kingship, “O God”, in Hebrews 1 and that is easier to work through if you lack knowledge of the Septuagint.

[1] New World Translation, 2013. http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/hebrews/1/