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/

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