Assaulting God, Part 1

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A Biblical Defense for Christ’s Deity

Jehovahs Witnesses evangelizing (from wikipedia)Several years ago, a fairly young couple close to my age knocked on my door. After greeting them, I found that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to spread their message. I asked them, “Why would I want to study the Bible with people who aren’t even Christians?”

They responded, “But we do consider ourselves Christians.” This surprised me. I knew little about them except that they were considered a cult by most Christians. My question gave them an opportunity for making a few arguments that piqued my curiosity. At that time, I was in my spiritually restless stage and looking for something deeper than the Sunday Morning Show of American Christianity.

So, after some discussion that afternoon I invited them to come back. All in all, we spent about a year meeting weekly to discuss and debate “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” which was also the name of the booklet we were working through together. Near the end of that time, I went with them to one of their Kingdom Hall meetings.

TAKING FAITH FOR GRANTED

Until I met the Witnesses at my door, I was naïve and assumed that the deity of Christ was an uncontested doctrinal position for anyone who actually read the Bible. My little mind was a bit shaken by the arguments that they proposed and I began to ask myself the question I had been asking for years, “Have we gotten the Bible wrong all of this time?” Frankly, it’s a popular question in our culture to ask and causes one to appear as an edgy, hip Christian who is not afraid to ask bold questions.

There are two types of people who ask difficult questions: the first is struggling with doubt but also genuinely seeking truth; the second is trapped in his ego’s ability to question everything.

With that in mind, I’m not going to attempt to provide a verse-by-verse argument that relieves every possible doubt that the Witnesses can and will produce. Instead, I will provide a few simple examples (all from the Gospel of John) in this series of why the deity of Christ is truth.

A SUMMARY OF BELIEFS

But first, let us briefly summarize the Witnesses’ beliefs. The Watchtower is the organization behind the Jehovah’s Witnesses that distributes all of their material and formulates their doctrines. Their doctrine is sometimes deceptively similar to true theology, and so one must tread carefully in it. As the famous saying goes, “The Devil is in the details.”  In a later blog, I will touch on the true understanding of sin, death, and the incarnation, but for brevity’s sake, I will focus just on their beliefs in this blog.

The Watchtower teaches that Jehovah is the name of the supreme spirit being who created many other spirit beings. The second highest of all spirits is the archangel Michael, who is also known as Jesus Christ. Michael was created first and later he and Jehovah created the remainder of the spirit and visible worlds.

Mankind fell into sin, which led to death. According to Watchtower doctrine, man does not have a spirit; rather he is the highest of animals that was bestowed freewill and the ability to think and love (which they refer to as the “image of God” in man). Therefore, when a man dies, he completely ceases to exist.  The Seventh Day Adventists share this belief with the Watchtower, though they call it Soul Sleep.

In order to deal with the problem of sin and extinction in humanity, Jehovah sent his favorite angel, Jesus. In their understanding, Jehovah’s need for justice required an equal price to be paid for the innocence lost in Adam, who was made perfect. Adam messed that up by sinning in the Garden. Therefore, a perfect man needed to die. However, they teach that even babies are sinful, therefore an ordinary human would not do. So, Jehovah transformed his favorite angel into a man whom we call Jesus Christ.

Despite the ransom that Jesus offered to Jehovah to appease his thirst for justice, it seems that he is still quite angry with the sin and evil in the world. Jehovah will soon wage a war against all of mankind, with Jesus as the commander of his army, to slaughter all the infidels. The only way to escape his wrath is to join his organization, which is called The Watchtower. They feel this wrath and war are necessary in order to create “Earth 2.0” as I call it; that is, a peaceful earth without all of the bad people who want to hurt others.

In essence, it is a group with a false understanding of Christ, and therefore distorted teachings about nearly every doctrinal position. But if their beliefs are so strange, why do they persist?

Firstly, I believe it has become so popular because it appeals to our sense that the world is becoming progressively worse, and it props up a (false) solution for that problem: the world would be right if it were cleansed of all of the bad people. Conveniently, it contains a way to escape this angry deity. Unfortunately, it does not show people that much of the evil in the world is contained in the heart of every person. We all need God’s healing touch; we cannot simply kill off all the “bad” people and think the world will suddenly run smoothly. The example of Noah in the book of Genesis reveals that. It was not long after the flood that the world was once again filled with evil.

Secondly, many people are lonely.  The Watchtower also provides a tight-knit community striving toward a common purpose that seems quite grand: save as many people as possible from the coming Armageddon that Jehovah is about to unleash. In giving people a sense of purpose and community, the Watchtower is then able to use them to spread its propaganda.

 IN THE BEGINNING

So, let us look at the first of four passages that help us to begin to grasp a more accurate picture of who God is. After all, we cannot know God if we do not know Christ. Both the Gospels and the Epistles make this evident (Mat 11:27, Jn 8:19, 14:7, Col 1:15,), for Christ is the perfect image of God the Father.

The most popular verse regarding Christ’s deity is the beginning of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This verse leaves very little doubt for most people. Let’s divide it into three sections based on where the commas fall in the above NKJV translation:

In the beginning was the Word…

This establishes the fact that when time began – when creation started — the Word was already present. We could understand it as “when time began the Word already existed.” This was written as a refutation against the heresies that taught that Jesus (the Word) did not exist until his human conception on earth.

…and the Word was with God…

While the Word is eternal and outside of time, He is somehow distinct from the Father. One cannot be “with” the Father if that same one is also the Father. Here, St John provides for us clear evidence against the concept of Modalism, in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are thought to be three “masks” that God wears depending on how He desires to interact with us. When discussing the Trinitarian doctrine, I have found this is all that the Witnesses who visited me understand. Any concept of the Trinity outside of Modalism they did not comprehend and so it was difficult to “debate” this topic with them. They felt God should be very simple and easy to figure out. He should be a less complicated, but more powerful version of us.

…and the Word was God.

Again, for most people this is satisfactory. There is no definite article in Greek or English before “God” and so we see that, once again, the Word is God yet He is not the same as the Father. If it said “the Word was the God” then that could mean that Jesus Christ is also the Father, leading some to erroneous beliefs. However, we know that the Trinity is God in three persons, not one person with three expressions. St John makes this clear for us.

In distorting this passage, the JW’s take advantage of a grammatical rule in the Greek in which if there is no definite article before a noun, the reader can add one, saying it is implied by the context. Therefore they translate this passage “and the Word was a god.” However, as I have stated above, if the passage had a definite article then that would indicate Modalism is the truthful understanding: that God the Son and God the Father are the exact same being and person. But that is not what St John wanted to write because that is not true as evidenced in many places in scripture.

Of course, the Watchtower translation creates other problems too: what kind of “a god” was Jesus? What is the difference between a god and the God? Do they differ from other spirit creatures? According to Watchtower doctrine, God is an invisible spirit, which means he does not have flesh and blood. I’ve not seen any other distinction made. Therefore, I conclude it must mean that all spirits are gods; it is simply that Jehovah is the most powerful one out of all of them.

It follows a concept similar to Zeus as being the high god and having lesser gods beneath him. This heretical interpretation comes from ancient Greek culture from a bishop named Arius who most likely was highly influenced by the paganism and the philosophical schools around him.

In truth, we see that this passage is teaching, “When time began for beings that were created, the Word was already in existence; this Word was with God the Father, for they are separate Persons, and yet this Word is also God because He shares in the Father’s divine essence.” St John’s Gospel is considered to be the “mystical gospel” because it portrays lofty theology above philosophical comprehension. He throws this doctrine at us which is above earthly reasoning, and then makes no attempt to resolve the tension that it creates. He allows mystery to remain mystery. That is the beauty of his Gospel for those who experientially know God, and it is the bane of his Gospel for those who attempt to shrink God to something that is conceptually palpable.

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.