In the last couple of months I have met a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses, with whom in an ordinary conversation they could not help but take issue with my belief in the Trinity and particularly of the deity of Christ.
So this is a blog post written to strengthen our understanding of Jesus’ deity, in particular why our position makes much more sense of the Bible than the teaching of Jehovah’s witnesses, and hopefully if there any Jehovah’s witnesses who are reading this, maybe they could consider if they need to do a bit more thinking about their own position.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that God is not interested as being worshipped Father, Son and Holy Spirit but more interested in being called by his name Jehovah:
Well, I could say a lot of things here, but probably the first is that Jehovah / Yahweh (YHWH) is not really a proper name as such. It is not like Bryan, or Sally. He is not like us who can be finicky about liking being called by a particular name. Yahweh just means “He is”. It goes back to the event when Moses asked God what name he should give the Israelites should they ask for a name (Exodus 3:13-14). God does not say, “I am Yahweh” (i.e. I am “He is”) but he says “I am whom Ehyeh” (i.e. I am who I am). So that means that “Yahweh” is testimony to the fact that God DID NOT provide a proper name like Billy or John.
Or, in other words, Yahweh is not a proper name as such. Indeed, as names were – that which revealed the full character of a being (e.g. see Genesis 2:19 – when Adam names each creature because he is at that point the master of the world and knows the essence of each being), no name that we could utter could reveal God’s full character, so we were left with this name. (Interestingly that is probably why Jesus has a name we do not know as well – Revelation 19:12. To know his name would be to know the whole nature of his being, which, if being God, is unknown to us.)
What Yahweh (“He is”) reveals about God is that he is a being without needing anything else… hinting at his aseity and eternity and holiness. “He is / I am” in the context of Exodus 3 was also a reference to the covenant making God as well – who revealed himself as God who said “I am the God of Abraham… Isaac… and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).
So how did the God of the universe choose to reveal himself and be called by in the Old Testament? By a name, not being a proper name that revealed his whole being, but a name that revealed his aseity, that is, his non-dependence, his eternal nature, his complete otherness, but the God who chose to bind himself by covenant to these particular people.
The second point in this, is that even as God revealed himself as Jehovah / Yahweh in the OT, we have the NT where we see God revealed supremely (and even completely) through the Son.
That is, the one true God, Yahweh chooses to reveal himself not as a singularity, but as a plurality – through his Son – something we see as an important part of John’s Gospel. Not even counting the disputed verse (John 1:1 – where Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the Word was a god rather God – and they are wrong on this), Jesus is said to be the one who was in the beginning with God the father (John 1:1-2). He is the Word of God in that he communicates God’s very being: “No one has seen God but the only God, who was at the Father’s side has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus cries out and says “whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). And there is of course the famous verse where after Philip has asked Jesus to show him the father, Jesus replies “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). It is not that Jesus is the Father, but that Jesus’ very mission here on earth is a communicatory mission about God, the Father. That is know Jesus, we know God. (See also Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3)
Tellingly, John even tells us that Jesus revealed the father’s name as well! Jesus, in his famous prayer in John 17, says “I have manifested your name” (John 17:6) and “I have I made known to them your name” (John 17:26). No where in all the Gospel of John (or elsewhere) has Jesus revealed to the people that God’s name is Jehovah and this is how he is to be called. Rather, what this means is that he revealed to them the very nature of God by his own ministry. All that he has done has revealed the father –being the name of the father.
But this takes us to perhaps the most important point. What was it that Jesus needed to reveal about the father in addition to what was already revealed in the OT? In John 1:16, the apostle John says “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” and in John 1:12: “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” We needed Jesus to reveal the superlative and stupendous grace of God. God gave a sinful world a way to be his very own children. This was not revealed much at all through the Old Testament, except to point to a grace that was yet to come (Romans 3:21), but it is only when the Son was revealed that we could understand how this Yahweh, this holy, transcendent, utterly holy and other, non-dependent God could bring us to himself and enjoy us as his very own children.
Jesus’ ministry revealed to us God’s super-abounding love. And none but God-come-in-the-flesh could reveal God’s own supreme love the way that Jesus did – a love so deep that would be willing to die a shameful death at the hands of sinful men so that we could be called children of God.
Of course that could take us to another point – that the very reason why Jesus came to earth was that we could participate in the love of God that God-in-himself experienced before the world began. The son of God was sent, so that by the son’s spirit we could be made sons of God with him (Galatians 4:6). But that is a point for another day.
Suffice to say that Jesus’ ministry revealed to us something that the old name “Jehovah” could not by itself reveal. The name “Jehovah” could not show how gracious this God is. We needed Jesus for that. And now to honour God as he has revealed himself and now wants to be related is by relating to him AS his children… seeing Him as our father. We honour God by recognising the sacrificial love that made his enemies his very own children and it pleases him that we now call him – not by the distant name of Jehovah – but as Abba… Father! (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus cannot be equal to his father since Jesus came as a ransom for Adam. That is, if a ransom paid is usually of lesser or equal value paid to free the thing ransomed, then Jesus must be of equal or lesser value to Adam whom he ransomed.
I heard this argument from the latest of Jehovah’s witness I met, and I can’t see how this argument can be really sustained biblically. In fact, it rather shows up how poor Jehovah’s Witness exegesis is. It also demonstrates that a biblical analogy can only be pressed with certainty to the extent that the Bible itself presses it. Take for example, the fact that we are called God’s servants. It can be said that by being God’s servants we should therefore only expect to be used as servants and given a servant’s privileges of no more than a daily wage (and no inheritance). But we also much more as well. We are adopted as sons, given a glorious inheritance AND we still God’s servants. Jesus is a ransom, but not merely a ransom.
If the Bible said that he was merely a ransom, then yes that might be something to be seriously considered when thinking about Jesus’ value. But we need to remember that the way the Bible speaks about Jesus being a ransom is not that he was an equal or lesser value of the thing that was redeemed, but simply the price paid so that we could can be freed.
But one more thing can be said about this argument. Jesus did not ransom just Adam. He ransomed all of Adam’s children. So how much more worth must be! In Romans 5:12-21 Paul makes the point that whereas the effects of sin meant that death spread to all men, death being the just desserts of sin, the one gift of grace through Jesus Christ was enough to not only reverse the just punishment of all, but push them into the realm of righteousness. And this is not just Adam but all his children. This is not just staggering because of the number of people that this one gift of grace had to cover, but it also further outstanding because it has (1) reversed what was just and deserved – that is, condemnation and death, and (2) brought us something completely underserved – righteousness and life.
It is a bit like a massive freight truck rolling down a hill without a brake. The natural end of that is big mess at the bottom of the hill (and natural justice would have meant for us a big mess too!), but the one gift of grace through Jesus Christ not only stopped the truck but made it roll back up the hill and then further – up the top of the mountain. Jesus’ greatness is matchless, staggering, awesome.
One need only read the book of Hebrews to understand the how the greatness of Jesus is described over and over again. He is the second Adam but not just another Adam.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus cannot be equal to his father because the father having authority, sent the son. If I send my son to the shops it shows that I am greater.
Yes, if I send my son to the shops, then it does show that I have exercised the role of someone greater in authority, which Jesus points out as well (John 14:28). But a role of greater authority does not necessitate more greatness in being. (Indeed, I do not even consider myself a greater being than my son.)
It is a little like men and women in marriage. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” If a husband can be the head of the household and have authority over his wife (Ephesians 5:22–23), then do we say that the man must be of greater value? That he must be a greater being? By no means! Rather it is simply the role we play in God’s creation.
More analogies can be thought here as well. E.g. is a coach higher value than a player because he sends him out on the field and instructs him what to do? The player might even say that the coach is greater than he (in the kind of authority he exercises), but Messi is surely not of lesser value than whoever his coach is.
Indeed, Jehovah’s witnesses need to also contend with many passages that speak of the greatness of the son, being even equal to the father. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Philippians 2:6–7). We know that God will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8), yet Jesus prays of the father: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). And in Revelation 5, Jesus is worshipped and adored just as the father is in Revelation 4, worshipped and adored along with the father.
Greater authority in a role does not mean greater in value.
Jehovah’s witnesses claim that they have read the Bible and cannot come to any other conclusion.
I can understand that you can read the Bible and come to the initial conclusion that Jesus may be a lesser being than the father. I can understand how you could be troubled by such a concept as the Trinity because it can sound like polytheism. I can understand how you could begin the journey of being a Christian and not understand how Jesus could be God. Indeed, this is how I started as well. But to rule out the possibility that Scriptures could actually teach that Jesus is on par with God without in the slightest reducing the father or teaching polytheism would be to be rather obstinate with the Scriptures.
I wonder if you’ve ever underestimated a person but that person turned out to be much more than what he seemed to be in the beginning? Why would we not afford the same open-mindedness about Jesus? Why would we not exercise a suspension of disbelief if the Scriptures suggested otherwise?
To believe that Jesus is less than God is easy. But the belief that Jesus is God is not (indeed how could it be given the monotheistic nature of the OT). But it is a necessary conclusion taking into consideration all the biblical data of the NT.
Trinitarian belief was not decided upon by the church in later centuries via creeds, but was recognised because the church was challenged by heretical beliefs about the person of Christ. Creeds were the church’s way to state the biblical position in no uncertain terms following controversy.
Jehovah’s witnesses are admirably monotheists, but so are orthodox Christians.
We believe in one God in three persons. We are Trinitarian not by choice, but because we have seen that is only way you can hold to the whole revelation of Scripture. It is the only honest position one can come to if you hold that ALL of the Scriptures are true, and do not discard various portions of it in favour of others. But happily, it makes sense as well! It makes beautiful sense of the kind of salvation we have and the whole reason for why God redeemed the world through the Son: that we might enjoy the kind of love that God himself enjoyed from the beginning. The three-ness of God in this understanding does no injury to the one-ness of God.