This is the third in a series of columns addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses and their understanding of Jesus.
Previously, we saw how the Watch Tower has effectively scrubbed the deity of Christ from its official version of Scripture, the New World Translation (NWT).
If Jehovah’s Witnesses are leery of using any other translation, what hope exists for them to find the real Jesus in the NWT? Have any passages survived the Watch Tower’s theological sanitizing, so we may point our Witness friends to an eternal and divine Jesus who took on flesh to save us from our sins?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. We may begin by raising sincere questions and seeking answers in the New World Translation.
This is the second in a series of columns addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses and their understanding of Jesus.
Previously, we looked at how the New World Translation – the Bible Jehovah’s Witnesses use – offers a clear example of what happens when you start with doctrine instead of Scripture. Rather than align its teachings with Scripture, the Watch Tower generated an entirely new translation of the Bible, one that attempts to strip the deity of Christ from its pages.
Here are a few examples:
Jesus is “a god”
This verse in the New World Translation (NWT) 2013 reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (emphasis added). The Watch Tower goes to great lengths to explain why this is an accurate rendering of the Greek, citing grammatical rules and misquoting Greek scholars to support its belief that the Word is “godlike, divine, a god,” but not coequal and coeternal with the Father.
In truth, as the late dean of Talbot Theological Seminary, Charles L. Feinberg, noted, “I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah’s Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar.”
Compare the King James Version (KJV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and Christian Standard Bible (CSB) read exactly the same.
This is the first in a series of columns addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses and their understanding of Jesus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a high regard for Scripture. They believe the Bible is the Word of God. They base their beliefs and practices on it. And they prove themselves adept at using select Bible passages to weave convincing arguments for their unique doctrines – particularly doctrines that place the Watch Tower outside the margins of historic Christianity. These include a denial of the Trinity, the belief in Jesus as a created being, and the depiction of the “holy spirit” as an impersonal force.
Jehovah’s Witnesses display a commendable fervor for sharing the Bible, amassing millions of hours each year in door-to-door “publishing” across 240 nations. So, why do they reject basic Christian doctrines the church has embraced since the days of the apostles – most notably, the deity of Christ?
For starters, it’s because Watch Tower forefather Charles Taze Russell and his successors rejected certain biblical teachings that conflicted with their human reasoning. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Christianity fell into general apostasy under Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A.D. To restore pure worship, Jehovah appointed Russell to provide spiritual manna for His true worshipers.
This so-called heavenly bread featured, among other things, a denial of the deity both of the Son and Holy Spirit. The July 1882 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower said, “Our readers are aware that while we believe in Jehovah and Jesus, and the holy spirit, we reject as totally unscriptural, the teaching that these are three Gods in one person or, as some put it, one God in three persons.”
Russell later wrote, “The clergy’s God is plainly not Jehovah but the ancient deity, hoary with the iniquity of the ages – Baal, the Devil Himself.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the so-called intermediate state, the conscious existence of the soul/spirit between death and resurrection.
Their governing organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, teaches that the soul dies with the body and goes to “hell,” which it defines as mankind’s common grave. As the Watch Tower website states, “Scripturally, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts.”
Faithful JWs, of course, look forward to a future resurrection, at which time they populate the millennial kingdom and, if they persevere, live forever in paradise on earth.
They often focus on Old Testament passages to support their doctrine of soul sleep. Ecclesiastes 9:5 is one example: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten” (New World Translation).
While several other passages in Ecclesiastes acknowledge the inevitability of death, this verse seems to say there is no conscious afterlife. Can this possibly be true?
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a disturbing take on the apostle Paul’s description of Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation.”
Consider how the Watch Tower renders Col. 1:15-17 in its New World Translation: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist …”
Note the unjustified insertion of the word “other” before “things” four times in the NWT.
The Watch Tower’s official website explains: “Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son — and for good reason. He is called ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ for he was God’s first creation. There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the ‘only-begotten Son.’ This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things.”
To summarize, JWs believe Jesus is the first created being, known as Michael the archangel, who is sent to earth temporarily as a man, then recreated as an exalted angel after his death on a torture stake and subsequent annihilation as a human being.
But is this the proper way to understand Paul’s meaning of firstborn?
In a word, no.