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 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.”
This is the first in a two-part series on the Holy Spirit.
One way the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation (NWT) seeks to undermine the Trinity is by consistently rendering the name “Holy Spirit” as the inanimate “holy spirit.”
The unnamed translators of the NWT often omit the article “the,” which results in stilted verses such as:
“That one [Jesus] will baptize you with holy spirit …” (Matt. 3:11).
John the Baptist “will be filled with holy spirit even from before birth” (Luke 1:15).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, “was found to be pregnant by holy spirit …” (Matt. 1:18).
As James White notes in The Forgotten Trinity, “Their intention is clear: the Watchtower society denies that the Holy Spirit is a person, hence, they desire their ‘translation’ of the Bible to communicate the idea that the Holy Spirit is an ‘it,’ a force or power.”
The Watch Tower argues that the phrase “Holy Spirit” in Greek is in the neuter gender, and it is. But Greek genders do not necessarily indicate personality, according to White. Inanimate things can have masculine and feminine genders, and personal things can have the neuter gender.
A better way to determine whether the “Holy Spirit” is personal or inanimate is the same way we seek to understand whether the Father and Son are personal. That is, does the Holy Spirit offer evidence of personhood? Does He speak, use personal pronouns, have a will, and so on?
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.
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.
This is the last in a three-part series on Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses regard The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures as “an accurate, easy-to-read translation of the Bible” (jw.org). What many don’t realize is that four of the five men on the translation committee producing the complete 1961 edition had no Hebrew or Greek training whatsoever.
The fifth, who claimed to know both languages, failed a simple Hebrew test while under oath in a Scottish court.
What all this means is that the Watch Tower’s official version of the Bible is “an incredibly biased translation,” writes Ron Rhodes in Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
British scholar H.H. Rowley calls it “a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated,” classifying the text as “an insult to the Word of God.”
Revisions in 1984 and 2013 have not improved the translation.
So, what’s wrong with the NWT? In a phrase, the translators consistently have sought to conform the text to Watch Tower theology, particularly with respect to the person and work of Christ.
A few examples should make this clear.