This morning there was a pamphlet on my kitchen table from the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Jehovah’s Witnesses must have dropped it off while I wasn’t home (a shame!). Seeing it gave me just the motivation I needed to pick up this series again. I hope that any printable pamphlet that comes out of this will be both concise and organized, but I am taking the liberty to jump around a little bit and be a little longer in treating certain issues here on my blog. Today I want to argue that we should take seriously the idea that the New Testament authors believed that Jesus is Jehovah. To the Jehovah’s Witness, this is the ultimate criterion of supreme deity, and their belief that Jesus is not Jehovah is one of the most fundamental difference between their doctrine and orthodox Christianity .
At first it seems as though the Watchtower has given us a challenge we cannot meet: to find a place in the scriptures in which the four Hebrew letters they transliterate “Jehovah” is used of Jesus, while the New Testament is all in Greek! While many argue about whether this is even the right approach to the question of the deity of Christ (“Jehovah” isn’t God’s only name, the New World Translation deliberately slants the issue, etc.), I see it from a different perspective: The Watchtower has very clearly spelled out a single criterion that, if met, would prove the deity of Christ. Even though their challenge might be wrong-headed to begin with, what if we were able to meet it anyway? Wouldn’t it be easier to give them what they want than to argue about whether they are correct to want it? What if we could prove that Jesus is God, from their own scriptures, using their own criterion?
Where could we start in on a project like that? The Watchtower spells that out for us too—on page 11 of their Kingdom Interlinear Translation (1985) (brackets mine):
what is the modern translator to do? Is he justified or authorized in entering the divine name, Jehovah, into a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures? In the LXX [Septuagint] the Greek words Ky’rios and Theos’ have been used to crowd out the distinctive name of the Supreme Deity. Every comprehensive Greek-English dictionary states that these two Greek words have been used as equivalents of the divine name.* Hence, the modern translator is warranted in using the divine name as an equivalent of those two Greek words, that is, at places where the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures quote verses, passages, and expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures or from the LXX where the divine name occurs.
What at first looked like an insurmountable challenge begins to look like an opportunity. Doing what the Watchtower tell us to do (finding Greek scriptures that quote from Hebrew scriptures that use “Jehovah”, then reading that use of the divine name back into the Greek scripture) actually yields readings of Greek scriptures that identify Jehovah as Jesus. And what’s more is that the cross-references in the Watchtower’s own New World Translation even indicate the connections between these Greek verses about Jesus and the Hebrew passages from which they quote. Let’s take a look at one.
Isaiah 45:23–25, NWT:
By my own self I have sworn—out of my own mouth in righteousness the word has gone forth, so that it will not return—that to me every knee will bend down, every tongue will swear, saying, ‘Surely in Jehovah there are full righteousness and strength. All those getting heated up against him will come straight to him and be ashamed. In Jehovah all the seed of Israel will prove to be right and will boast about themselves.’”
To whom will every knee bow, according to the prophet Isaiah? And who is the object of the ensuing confession?
Now look at who the object of this prophecy in its quotation by Paul in his letter to the Philipians (2:9–11, NWT):
For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
In its use here, it is in Jesus that every knee should bow and Jesus is the object of the ensuing confession of faith . Paul takes the words used of Jehovah and uses them of Jesus. If we take the advice in the Kingdom Interlinear, we would clothe “Lord” (κύριος) and “God” (θεός) with the personality of “Jehovah” in this passage, giving us “…Jesus Christ is Jehovah to the glory of Jehovah the Father”.
There are some other things to note here, too. This verse actually says that God gave Jesus the name that is above every other name! Now let’s take a look at (Matthew 28:19, NWT, emphasis mine):
Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit
The Father and the Son share a name. Revelation reflects this too, by using singular third person pronouns to refer to both God the Father and Jesus the Lamb together (Rev. 7:14–17 & Rev. 22:1–3, NWT, emphasis mine):
I said to him: “My lord, you are the one that knows.” And he said to me: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”
And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its broad way. And on this side of the river and on that side [there were] trees of life producing twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees [were] for the curing of the nations.
And no more will there be any curse. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the city], and his slaves will render him sacred service;
Isaiah’s prophecy about every knee bowing to Jehovah and confessing faith in him is used of Jesus, God gives Jesus the name above all names, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share that name, God the Father and Jesus the Lamb share the throne, and are referred to collectively by singular third person pronouns in Revelation (reminiscent of something I saw in Genesis once). These constitute good grounds for thinking that the New Testament authors believed that Jesus, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, is Jehovah.