Deity of Christ, Part 4: JW Christology

This is the fourth part in a series on apolo­get­ics to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. This series focuses on defend­ing the deity of Christ to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses who come knock­ing at the door. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the Watch­tower tells them that Evan­gel­i­cals are rude, unlov­ing, nasty peo­ple who will slam doors in their faces; let’s prove them dead wrong on that front, too!

Today I want to give you a lit­tle back­ground on the the­ol­ogy of the Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. When I first started talk­ing to them as an adult I was sur­prised to real­ize what they actu­ally believe, and why all my old argu­ments for the deity of Christ are inef­fec­tive in con­ver­sa­tion with them. There was a brief period where my mind was even opened to the idea that Jesus is not in fact God! It was only after re-​​searching the scrip­tures with these new issues in mind that I re-​​discovered the supremacy of Christ over all things. So what had me reconsidering?

The first thing you need to under­stand is that the Jehovah’s Wit­ness who comes knock­ing at your door is ‘not’ a poly­the­ist. He is a henothe­ist. That is to say that he believes that there is only one God, whom he calls “Jeho­vah”. Yet, he believes that Jesus is a god — a being more pow­er­ful than every ‘other’ cre­ated thing. In their own words:

God’s name is Jehovah
Christ is God’s Son and is infe­rior to Him
Christ was first of God’s creations

While the poly­the­ist believes there are mul­ti­ple gods of equal power, the henothe­ist believes there is one supreme God, but that there may be lesser deities as well. This is not so unlike clas­si­cal the­ism, where the exis­tence of all man­ner of angels and demons far more pow­er­ful than humans is con­sid­ered plau­si­ble. And in fact the Wit­ness the­ol­ogy even holds Jeho­vah as the cre­ator of all things, not merely the most pow­er­ful among them — they are much closer to Chris­t­ian ortho­doxy than you might think.

But nei­ther does the Wit­ness deny the divin­ity of Christ, or his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the cre­ative act, or many other things you might think indi­cate the supreme deity of Christ. The Wit­nesses believe Jeho­vah cre­ated Jesus first, that Jesus is more pow­er­ful than every­thing else, and that it was through Jesus that Jeho­vah God cre­ated the cosmos.

This allows them to fully embrace “theos” as a descrip­tion for Jesus. When you turn to your favorite verse in the Greek scrip­tures that proves the deity of Christ, chances are it uses the Greek word “theos”. Even the clas­si­cal debate over John 1:1 (about which, of course, I side with the Chris­tians — see here and here.), if won, is inef­fec­tive to prove the deity of Christ to the Wit­ness. It only attrib­utes theo–ness (godhood) to Jesus, and not Jeho­vah–ness (Godhood). And Jeho­vah­ness is their cri­te­rion for supreme deity.

Understanding Trinitarian Theology

In order to ade­quately defend the deity of Christ, you have to be able to pre­cisely artic­u­late the doc­trine of the Trin­ity. The rea­son is that when the Wit­ness shows you scrip­tures that high­light the dis­tinc­tion between Jesus and the Father, you can­not allow your­self to be pushed into the the­o­log­i­cal errors that lie on either side of the nar­row road of ortho­doxy. On one hand, they are try­ing to prove that Jesus is so dis­tinct from the Father that he does not share in His deity. But you do not want to push back so hard that you end up con­flat­ing the dis­tinc­tions between the per­sons of the God­head either.

So here are the basic affir­ma­tions about the trini­tar­ian nature of God that Chris­tians have his­tor­i­cally made, which I believe make log­i­cal sense out of the Bib­li­cal data:

1. There is only one being who is God.

2. The Father is God.

3. The Son is God.

4. The Spirit is God.

5. The Father, Son, and Spirit are dis­tinct per­sons.

[Update: Another blog­ger laid it out well here. Also, I wanted to add this thought — we need to remem­ber to try to use words the Wit­ness on the street can under­stand, or else be pre­pared to explain our lan­guage, and to defend our right to be a lit­tle bit philo­soph­i­cal when describ­ing the nature of God. Wit­nesses have a ten­dency to eschew any­thing that seems com­pli­cated or con­fus­ing at first blush because “God is not a God of con­fu­sion, and even the first cen­tury fish­er­man under­stood every­thing Jesus had to say” (which will be treated in another post).]

For fur­ther read­ing go check out how the early Chris­tians worded this in the Athanasian Creed. But if you only have time to read one source on the trin­ity, stop read­ing this blog now and go read John’s gospel!

Understanding Christology

Going one step fur­ther, you have to be able to pre­cisely artic­u­late the nature of Christ. On the one hand, you have to get his human­ity right, or else he can­not be an appro­pri­ate sub­sti­tu­tion­ary sac­ri­fice for any human. Fail­ing to affirm the true human­ity of Jesus will result in a beat­ing from the Wit­ness who comes knock­ing, as there is verse after verse that demands it. On the other hand, you have to get his deity right, or else Jesus can­not afford to be a sac­ri­fice for all humans. The affir­ma­tion of the deity of Jesus is the most fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion between the Chris­t­ian and the Wit­ness. The Wit­ness will tell you that wor­ship­ping any­thing but Jeho­vah is idol­a­try, but he needs remind­ing that refus­ing to wor­ship some­one who is truly God is just as griev­ous an error. Jesus Him­self says that if we reject Him, we reject the Father.

These two natures of Christ must be kept dis­tinct (He is not what geneti­cists call an “F1 hybrid”). Yet these two natures can­not be sep­a­rated into two per­sons (or else, how could the merely human Jesus be wor­shipped or the God-​​but-​​not-​​human Jesus serve as a sac­ri­fice in the stead of humans?). So:

1. Jesus is truly God.

2. Jesus is truly human.

3. These two natures are dis­tinct from one another.

4. These two natures are united in a sin­gle person.

For an elab­o­ra­tion on this you can read how the early believ­ers put it in the Chal­cenon­ian Def­i­n­i­tion. Though if you only have time for one source on the nature of Jesus, stop read­ing this blog and just read Colos­sians. And Hebrews.

Now when the Wit­ness at your door argues that Jesus makes a dis­tinc­tion between him­self and the Father, prays to the Father, and wor­ships the Father, that there is only one God, and that Jesus is God’s son, you can show him with ease how all of these things are true, and yet none of them are incom­pat­i­ble with the deity of Christ.

In future posts we will look at how to show the Wit­ness, on their own terms, that Jesus is Jeho­vah (even though “Jeho­vah” is a Hebrew word that does not show up in the Greek New Tes­ta­ment man­u­scripts). We will also be con­sid­er­ing other argu­ments against the deity of Christ, such as that he is called the “first­born”, that other beings are called “sons of God”, that no human has seen God yet many have seen Jesus, that Jesus does not know the day or hour of his return yet God is omni­scient, that the Father is greater than the Son, that the Trin­ity is con­fus­ing yet God is not a God of con­fu­sion, and more!

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