Monday, February 11, 2013

Jehovah Witnesses, and the Trinity

I will focus my attention to the April 2012 edition of the Watchtower magazine. I wish to show that Jesus is God. Now I am full aware that I cannot answer every objection to the satisfaction of everyone; the reason is plain, some people will rather die than put their most intimate convictions on trial by God’s Word. I think we all are all guilty of this at one point.

There are two sections in the April edition of the Watchtower that deal with the subject of Christ’s identity. On page 5 under the title “Is Jesus really God,” the arguments against Christ’s deity in this section can be summarized as follows: (1) Jesus was subordinate to God (2) Jesus spoke as though he was “separate” from God. From these two arguments the conclusion is drawn that Jesus cannot be God.
The passage Matthew 27:46 is cited where Jesus is on the cross and yells in Aramaic, “My God, My God, Why hath thou forsaken me?” What Christ said was clearly a direct quotation used from Psalm 22:1 as a witness to all, he was the prophesied Messiah. But doesn’t this mean that Christ was merely a man since he said “my God”? If he is God should not the very thing he said be odd? Since Jesus said “my God” it seems he is subordinate to another, namely God.  For example, when an employee speaks of his employer, he says “my boss.” This denotes subordination. Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I (John 14:28).” It seems clear Christ indicates he submits to the Father. What do we make of this argument? It seems to me, there is unargued assumption that if one is subordinate to another this entails an inferiority of nature. So this needs to be proven. Yet prima facie this assumption is false. Reconsider the example of an employee and employer. Is the employee inferior to the employer since he is subordinate? At best all one can say is that the employer has a greater position than the employee but this does not entail they are not equal in nature. That is to say both are human with the same moral worth. The employer is no better than the employee. This can be applied to Christ and the Father. Both are equal in nature but the Father has a different role than the Son. Another example can be given when we consider the marriage relationship. The Scriptures teach a woman is to be subordinate to her husband. “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Col 3:18 ESV).” Since a woman is to submit to her husband are we to conclude she is inferior to her husband? If by inferior we mean in nature then obviously not. Man and woman are equal before God. But the scriptures teach God has given man a different role than woman to be the leader of the home. Notice one can have a different role or position than another and yet be equal in nature. Lets use this principle in practice. The Apostle Paul writes “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3 NASB).”  What are we to exegete from this passage? That man is inferior to Christ, Christ is inferior to God and that woman is inferior to man? No! The context is Paul writing to the Corinthian church to be orderly. Here he teaches them differences in function or roles. But clearly difference in function or roles does not indicate inferiority of nature.  

            The next argument is that Jesus claims to be separate from the Father. Countless passages can be cited where Jesus speaks about doing the Father’s will. Or him telling Pharisees his teachings are from God. These passages are believed to show Christ is separate from God. Precisely in what sense does one mean separate? Ontologically? If Jesus is the Logos that took upon flesh and dwelt among us as John 1:1 teaches, then he ought to speak of God as he does. If God takes upon a human nature, he wouldn’t be an atheist. Christ being both fully God and man he would have to refer to the Father as separate from his humanity. That is to say if Christ as a single person has two natures, deity and humanity, he would have to properly speak as he did. That is not to say however that Christ was speaking about himself. It is wrongheaded to think that if Christ is both God and man then theses verses imply his humanity is speaking of his divinity. This assumes Unitarian monotheism and doesn’t consider Trinitarian monotheism; plus it does not allow the text to speak for itself. Christ constantly made a distinction between himself and the Father. And here I take these verses are further illuminative in showing the distinction between the Son and the Father as persons. But it does not however show Jesus and the Father are ontologically separate.          

Jesus said at one point that authority was given to him. It is argued that if Jesus were God he would already have all authority. In John 1:1,14 and Philippians 2:6-9 it is taught that Christ being God took upon flesh. Lets focus on Philippians 2:5-11 to establish this point. Many scholars identify these verses in Philippians as an early hymn. It is called the Carmen Christi. The context of these verses is Paul teaching the Philippians to have humility of mind as Christ. Humility as such can be characterized by verse 4 as possessing certain rights but giving those up to serve others. Now Christ is to be our example of true humility and we are to imitate him. The passage says, “…He [Christ] existed in the form of God….” The term “form” comes from the Greek word morphe. It means the “outward display of the inner reality or substance. Here it refers to the outward display of the divine substance, i.e., divinity of the preexistent Christ in the display of his glory as being in the image of the Father.”[1] Hence most translations render this “God by nature.”  This means not merely the state of being God but divine existence as the preexistent Christ. Paul goes on. He says He who (eternally) existed in the form of God did not “regard equality of God a thing to be grasped”(NASB). Some interpret this phrase, as Christ did not grasp after equality with God implying it was not something he already possessed. But the context must determine the meaning so it must not be assumed this is what he meant. Paul makes some concluding remarks that are contrasted. Christ did not grasp after equality with God but rather emptied himself. This passage indicates it was a voluntary emptying done by Christ. Paul uses this term “emptying” as a metaphor in other places as well (e.g. Romans 4:14). Paul clearly makes a connection between emptying and taking. He “becomes flesh” by taking the “form” of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of man. Its no accident Paul uses the same word “form” to refer to Christ’s divinity and becoming a bondservant, taking humanity. It is to show a true act of humility. The very one that was served and worshiped by Angels and man takes upon the lowly existence of man. Now let us ask given the context what is true humility? Is it the idea of an inferior created being not usurping someone in a greater position? Is it “humble” for an employee to not try and take the job of his employer? Certainly not! However, what about the second understanding of this passage. Christ the preexistent Logos by very nature God. He being equal with the Father in deity with all its privileges, but he does not consider that position something to hold on to at all costs. But out of love he rather takes upon the lowly existence of a man to go to the for his peoples sins. He voluntarily lays aside his privileges as God and takes the form of a man. He becomes a servant. He serves those he came to redeem at the cross. Paul distinguishes the Son from the Father often calling the Father “God” and Jesus “Lord.” Isaiah 45:23 is quoted by Paul speaking of God and he applies it to Jesus revealing further his deity.
So Jesus was both fully God and man as one person. Thus he could rightfully say that authority was given to him, which he did not have, as a man.

Questions for Witnesses:

1. Who raised Jesus from the dead?
Acts 4:10, John 2:19, Romans 8:11

2.Who is Jesus Father?
John 3:16
Matt 1:18

Who created the heavens and the earth?
Gen 1:1, John 1:3, 1:1,1:14, Col 1:14-17, Job 26:13, Gen 1:2, Isai 44:24 and Job 9:5-8

Who is the Lord God Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last?
Rev 1:8 who is the one ” which is, who was, and which is to come?
Rev 1:17-18
Rev 4:8
Rev 11:17

Who did the Apostles believe Jesus to be?

John 1:49, John 20:28, John 1:1,14, 1 Tim 3:16,

What title does Heavenly Father give to Jesus?
Luke 9:35
Hebrews 1:8                           

Objections to Christ’s deity revisited:

Col 1:16-17
This verse does not teach Christ is created. The term “first born” in Greek does not mean first created. Further, it must be interpreted in its context. The latter part of the verse says “He [Jesus] is before all things (the word “other” is added in the NWT but it is not in the Greek); according to this verse then how can Jesus be a created thing if he is before all things? Logically he cannot. Either he is before all things or he himself is a thing created by God and therefore cannot be before all things. We ought to understand the term “firstborn” to mean preeminent or heir, as Jews understood the term in Hebraic tradition.

Rev 3:14
The term archa translated beginning can be rightly rendered origin or source. Even the “Reasoning” book acknowledges this fact.

John 14:28
Again a different function or role does not entail an inferiority of nature.

Proverbs 8 The wider context of Chapter 8 in the middle of Chapter 7 and 9 speaks of wisdom in the feminine gender. Chapter 7 tells us to call wisdom our sister. Clearly the wisdom spoken of in this chapter cannot refer to Jesus. Even so, this is a personification of wisdom in the literary genre of proverbs and should not be taken as precise doctrine. 

The Trinity

First let us go to some passages in Scripture to build the foundations for how we ought to understand God.

Det 6:4
Mark 12:28-33
1 Corinthians 8:4

Foundation 1: Monotheism, God is one,
It is an indisputable fact that the clear teaching of scripture is monotheism. There is one God.  Nevertheless, there are passages that seem to refer to other gods, but when you look at the context of such scriptures it is evident they are speaking of either: idols, angels or kings in a metaphorical way. Examples of such passages would be Psalm 82, John 10, and 1 Corinthians 8.

Foundation 2: There are three named, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit called God.

The Father: Jesus’ model prayer
1 Peter
The Son: Mark
Exodus, Mark 6:51
John 20:28
Phil 3:5

The Holy Spirit: Acts 5, 1 Corin 6:19

Foundation 3: The three named, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are persons.

John 15:26

Notice the Father sends the Spirit to testify of the Son. The three are spoken of as persons. But note how the Holy Spirit is spoken of with the personal pronoun “He.”

John 17:5 

Foundation 4: The three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the one God. This foundation necessarily follows from the other two. Here we draw the conclusion from scripture the Tri-unity of God, the 3 in oneness, commonly called the doctrine of the Trinity.

The term “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in scripture. But it refers to a biblical doctrine. Much like the term omnipresence is not found in scripture, but the idea of God being everywhere present is clearly taught in scripture.  So although the term “Trinity” is not in scripture the truth in which the word refers to is taught in scripture. The word Trinity can be traced to Latin roots, ‘tri’ meaning three and ‘unity’ meaning one. The word literally means three in one.         

The four foundations build from scripture the teaching that the one God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what exactly are we saying?  How is God one and yet three? Isn’t the Trinity contradictory?

The Trinity is not contradictory since we are saying God is one in one sense and three in another sense. God is one in essence and three in personhood. God is one what and three who’s. In a more precise way, God is one incorporeal Spirit with three sets of cognitive faculties comprised of intellect, will and emotions. Another way to put it is God has three centers of self-consciousness.      

Are there any other evidences that testify to God being Triune apart from Scripture? Well one way to see the plausibility of the Trinity is to think of the attribute love. What is love? It is an action, right? It is the act of giving one’s self to another. It is “otherness” instead of self-centeredness. A thought experiment would help here. Imagine if God did not choose to create the world. Would we still say God is all-loving before creation? How so? God had no one to love prior to creation. God was always loving. Since as Scripture says God is love (1 John 4:8). This requires God to love another prior to creation. To say one can love without someone to love is meaningless. The very concept of love requires another person to love. And it is unbiblical to think God created love. Thus we are left with the plausible conclusion that God as one being exists in three persons: the Father Son and Holy Spirit; and that they love each before the creation of anything.   

Books I recommend to present sound Christian doctrine dealing with the Trinity and Incarnation:

James White, The Forgotten Trinity

JP Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for A Christian World View.

[1] Fritz Reinecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon Rogers, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 550.  

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