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.