This is the last in a series of columns addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses and their understanding of Jesus.
Previously, we looked at passages in the Watch Tower’s official New World Translation 2013 (NWT) that seem to affirm Christ’s deity, even though the Watch Tower blots out Jesus’ divine identity in other verses.
Specifically, we looked at both Jehovah and Jesus as Lord, as the Creator of all things, and as the first and the last. Now, let’s consider Jehovah and Jesus as the “I AM.”
In the second column in this series, we visited John 8:58. Let’s return briefly to this verse, which the NWT translates, “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been’” (emphasis added). Curiously, the Watch Tower translators have rendered the Greek phrase ego eimi as “I have been.”
Other English translations render these words, “I AM,” connecting them with the divine name in the Old Testament, where Yahweh self-identifies as “I AM” (Ex. 3:14). However, if the correct translation of ego eimiis “I have been,” one would expect the NWT to render this phrase consistently. But it does not.
Consider the NWT’s rendering of ego eimi elsewhere in the Gospel of John. A few examples:
To the woman at the well: “I am he [the Messiah]” (John 4:26).
To His followers: “I am the bread of life …” (John 6:35).
To the Pharisees: “I am the light of the world …” (John 8:12).
To the disbelieving Jews: “That is why I said to you: You will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am the one, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
To His apostles in the upper room: “From this moment on, I am telling you before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe that I am he” (John 13:19).
To the detachment of soldiers and officers who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when they confirmed they were seeking Jesus of Nazareth: “I am he” (John 18:5) – a statement that caused them to fall backward (v. 6).
James White writes, “Amazing efforts have been expended [by Jehovah’s Witnesses] to avoid the plain meaning of this text,but to no avail. When Jesus speaks these words, something miraculous takes place.”
Further, White notes that the strongest connection between Yahweh and ego eimi is in the books of the prophets, especially Isaiah. In fact, we find the phrase ego eimi used as a name of the one true God numerous times in Isaiah in the Septuagint (e.g. 41:4; 43:10, 25; 45:8, 18, 19, 22; 46:9; 48:12, 17), and most significantly in the very verse from which Jehovah’s Witnesses derive their name (43:10).
Jesus uses the same phrase from Isaiah 43:10 in John 13:19 to explain how His foreknowledge of Judas’ betrayal will help the disciples have true faith in Him, for only God knows the future. This also helps us understand why the Jews react as they do when Jesus uses ego eimi in John 8:58, for only God has always existed. Last, it explains why the soldiers, who likely have no knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, fall back on the ground when Christ identifies Himself in John 18:5.
When we look at the entire record of John’s use of this phrase, the NWT is glaringly inconsistent. It does not mistranslate ego eimi in any other passage.
White comments, “By attempting to hide this truth in just one instance, the translation testifies to its own inconsistency and its true purpose. When we approach the disputed text by first examining verses in which the NWT accurately renders the phrase so as to view the text in a wider context, we can avoid much of the argumentation and defense that Witnesses offer and can present the truth clearly to them.”
The Witnesses we encounter are sincere about their faith, and they love to study the Bible.
However, as they read the only “trustworthy” translation of the Bible, the NWT, they don’t find it necessary to seek the deity of Christ for two reasons: (1) The Watch Tower has scrubbed the Bible clean of many references to Jesus’ deity, and (2) the Watch Tower’s “faithful and discreet slave,” its Governing Body, assures its followers that Jesus is a created archangel rather than the eternal Son of God.
If we can encourage Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider the challenges that the NWT presents to the Watch Tower claims about Jesus, perhaps they may consider our testimony of the God-Man who paid our sin debt on the cross.
This concludes the series.