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How to Witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses About The Deity of Christ

Part One

By R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D.

I. How Could Jesus Be Both God And Man?

These days, hardly nobody denies that Jesus was a real human being, or that he had a "human nature," if they believe he existed at all. Today the big problem is to convince people he was anything else than a man. We live in an anti-supernaturalist age when the most "objective" type of knowledge is the kind of knowledge we encounter in the physical sciences -- things like "The formula of water is H20," or "The nearest star is about 4.5 light-years from the earth." The average person has no idea how to actually prove such statements, but we have such overwhelming confidence in "science" that we trust that they can be proved somehow.

At the same time, people these days think religion only requires "faith" rather than proof, and that religious claims are not supposed to be provable at all. In fact, most people think faith and reason are necessarily incompatible, because they are different "types" of knowledge altogether. They think science is "objectively true" while religion is only "subjectively true," if it is true at all.

But it was not always like this. There was once a time when "science" was really little more than philosophy mixed with various occultisms such as astrology, and people thought water was one of only four elements, and believed that the stars were very close indeed. They also had no trouble believing that a man might actually be a god visiting the earth, and not have a human nature at all. In such a case, the man people saw was but a disguise, an "appearance" only. One thing they were perfectly clear about, for their philosophy made it clear; it was impossible for someone to be both God and a man at the same time.

Even the Jews, who ought to have known better, agreed with the Greeks about this; the coming Messiah would no doubt be a man, for he would be a descendant of David, and would be born in Bethlehem. But he could not be God. So when Jesus admitted to his enemies during his trial that he had in fact claimed to be the Son of God, thereby implying that he participated in the deity of Jehovah himself, the High-priest accused him of blasphemy. How could this man standing before them be God? Their philosophical and theological presuppositions ruled that out from the start.

II. Arianism

The Arians of the fourth century were caught in this rationalist tradition. They too, reasoned philosophically that because there was only one God, Jesus could not also be God. As a man, he could share some of the divine attributes, and so be called "a god," but he could not be eternally the Son of God. They reasoned that as the "begotten" Son, he must have been the first created being. They assumed the references in the Bible to the Son's "begetting," must refer to his original creation, and they argued from Proverbs 8:22f., as if it taught Wisdom was created.

In fact, verse 22 was translated in the Septuagint as "The Lord created me in the beginning of his ways, etc.," although the Hebrew term appears twelve times in Proverbs with the meaning of "acquire" or "possess." When the Arians equated the Logos of John's Gospel with the Wisdom of Proverbs, they reasoned that this proved the Logos was created. So Jesus could be "a god," but he could not be Jehovah himself.

During the first two centuries of the Christian Church, Bible students reasoned that not only was all the Arian exegesis of the various texts invalid, since it was based on presuppositions drawn from non-christian philosophy, but that there were many textual proofs which could only mean that the New Testament writers believed Jesus to be Jehovah incarnate.

Accordingly, when the question came to a head at the Councils of Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451 A.D., the Church reaffirmed that the Son was "of the same substance" with the Father, thereby being eternal, rather than being only of a similar substance (merely "a god"), with a beginning in time. Therefore, in the incarnation, the one Person of the Son of God had both a complete human and a complete divine nature. That is, the eternal Person of the Son added to himself a complete human nature, through which he expressed his personhood on earth to as great a degree as the human nature was capable.

As a more recent incarnational hymn has it, when we look at the baby in the cradle at Christmas, we "veiled in flesh the Godhead see," and so "hail the incarnate Deity." So Jesus was not part god and part man, nor was he a mixture of divine and human attributes, nor was he a god who only appeared to be human, nor was he a man who was adopted into sharing some of the divine attributes. Jesus was 100% God and 100% Man, and the Person who shone through the human nature was the one Person of the eternal Son of God. And the same situation obtains today. The Incarnation is just as complete and real now as it was in ethlehem 2000 years ago. The One true Mediator between God and Man, is "the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim 2:5).

The affirmation that the Son is eternal, being of the same "substance" (or fundamental reality) as the Father, secured the subsequent development of the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus was God, not just "a god." The Prophet Isaiah had said that there was no other god in existence other than Jehovah himself (Isa 41:4, 42:8-9 and 17, 43:10-11, 44:6-8 and 24, 45:5-7 and 14 and 21, etc.), so the Arians were really polytheists (like the pagans whose philosophy they had compromised with), believing in one big God and other smaller gods and angels, of whom Jesus happened to be the first. But to say the Son is eternal is to say Jesus is Jehovah, for there can be only one eternal.

III. Jehovah's Witnesses Are Basically Arians

The Watchtower society holds essentially the same view of Jesus as was condemned by the early churches at Nicea in 325, when they repudiated the importation of Greek philosophical presuppositions into the Christian world view. The Bible must be accepted on its own terms, and not filtered through a humanistic sieve of rationalist assumptions borrowed from paganism.

Nicea reaffirmed that those passages which teach the full Deity of Christ must be received at face value, and not diluted by rationalism. If the Bible says Jesus was a man, we believe this against the Greek Gnostics and Docetists who argued that he was indeed God, but that the human nature was just an appearance; he just "seemed" (dokein) to be a man. And if the Bible says he was Jehovah-God, then we believe this also, against those false philosophies which reason that he cannot be both human and fully divine. The Incarnation was the Incarnation of Jehovah.

When the Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door, they are not primarily interested in arguing theology, or even in Bible study. They are interested in getting people with a grudge against their past church experience to study with them, with "God's organization," apart from which no truth about the Bible can be had. They do not believe the Bible can be understood without a divinely-appointed teacher, and since they deny the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Godhead (as the Bible requires), the Holy Spirit cannot be that teacher.

Instead of trusting Jesus' promises about the teaching ministry of the Spirit of God, the Witnesses trust their own anonymous literature controlled as it is, by a "college of cardinals" called the "Governing Body" of nine to fifteen men meeting in Brooklyn, New York. These men function in the Watchtower organization in exactly the same way as the Vatican functions in the Roman Catholic Church, as the final interpreting authority who alone can interpret the Bible correctly. In other words, the Watchtower Society is a daughter of Mystery Babylon (Rev 17), controlled as it is, by pagan philosophical thinking. The Watchtower does not get its presuppositions from the Bible any more than the Arians did of old.

But presuppositions govern conclusions just as surely as the International Rules govern the game of Chess. They define what counts as a valid move all across the board. Therefore, we must become more self-conscious about our presuppositions. We must examine ourselves to see what assumptions control our thinking. Are we willing to let God speak to us in his written Word, and let him interpret his own Word to us by his Holy Spirit, or must we forever reach for finite human authorities to tell us what it can and cannot mean according to extra-biblical assumptions borrowed from the world's philosophies?

Just like Arianism was, the doctrines of the Watchtower are complex and involve alterations to virtually everything the Bible teaches. The Watchtower denies everything of importance to the Gospel of Christ, including the substitutionary atonement, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, justification by faith alone, the regeneration of the believer, eternal security, and eternal punishment. From then on, everything is different, despite some apparent similarities of terminology. This means that when they are getting little satisfaction out of a discussion of one point, they will simply change the subject, hoping you will follow them there, where a whole new set of texts can be presented to the unsuspecting listener.

They are trained by each other to shift the ground to another topic, in the hope that eventually you will be intrigued enough to come to one of their "Bible studies" which will really be a study of one of their magazines called Awake or The Watchtower. They do not encourage people to study the Bible by itself, but only through their literature. And you cannot even find out who the authors are, because all their material is anonymous. You either believe their materials or you remain in darkness. Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower, even said that it was his experience that anyone who claimed to study the Bible by itself alone would "pass into darkness within two years."

Accordingly, the Witnesses will jump from text to text in quick succession, creating an impressionistic picture of having the Bible on the side of their peculiar doctrines. If they find out that you have a good knowledge of their ideas already, they will quickly find a way of closing the conversation and getting out of there; they want to talk to ignorant people, not argue with Biblically prepared individuals.

Remember, the Watchtower teaches you cannot have assurance of salvation unless you are actually going door to door and drawing more people into the Society. In fact, the Witnesses at the door are really earning their salvation by their witnessing, hoping to escape Armageddon, and to survive into the millennium. So naturally once they realize you are a bad prospect they lose interest quickly. The trick is to make it difficult for them to leave. You must always maintain the status of an interested seeker in Scripture (how else should a Christian read the Bible?) who would be glad to talk with them if they have time at all, for in order to make any impression you will have get them to come back several times. You can't do much in one unplanned meeting.

If they offer you literature, take it gladly. Its better for you to have it, than for some unsuspecting person to read it thinking it is a form of Christianity. If they have a copy of their Bible, the New World Translation, make sure they leave you a copy. And if they have tracts or books on the doctrine of God and the Trinity, get them too. They also print a very important text containing all their arguments against Christian doctrine, called Reasoning From The Scriptures. Buy this from them as soon as you can; its a very important source of their techniques, and a sort of summary of all their apologetic arguments. You need it.

IV. The Need For A Strategy As Well As Proof-Texts

How then, can we witness to Jehovah's Witnesses? It must be insisted from the outset that we must assume they are sincere in their beliefs, for they would have dropped out long ago if they were not. Door-to-door evangelism is tiresome and frustrating, and gives the Watchtower people the feeling they are being persecuted.

Often one of the two who come to your door is less experienced, and is being trained by the (usually) older one. So try to concentrate on the one who seems less experienced, less certain of himself, asking him a lot of questions, taking nothing for granted, insisting that they prove each point from the Bible. Of course, they will not allow that person to come back again, but they will replace him/her by a much more experienced and committed heretic to "deal with" you. But sowing seeds of doubt about the infallibility of the Watchtower has produced unexpected fruit in God's timing.

But the Witnesses are trained to expect rebuffs and rudeness, which they get a lot of; most people simply turn them away with "No thanks I'm a Baptist (Catholic, Christian, Agnostic, etc.)" and close the door on them, so they are always pleasantly surprised to hear you say "Of course I would love to talk with you, so come right in and sit down. Would you like a cup of tea or something? I love to hear people talk about the Bible."

Make sure you listen carefully to them for half an hour or so, asking questions only for clarification, questioning nothing. This gives you the right to say something concrete to them; you have earned the right to be heard. Remember, these people have no clear idea what the Gospel is; they do not know Jesus as their personal Savior like you do, so you have an important testimony they need badly to hear. At some point early in your developing relationship with them (perhaps in the second meeting) make sure they know good and clearly what "Jesus is my Savior" really means to you personally. You are responsible to the Lord to make sure they do hear the Gospel at some point in your meetings with them, whether they will listen long enough to get the Bible proofs that Jesus is Jehovah or not.

The key points of the strategy are two only;

1) Limit The Discussion To Scripture Only

The Watchtower has a strategy, and you must have a strategy too; just quoting texts at each other is hardly enough. This "battle of the texts" usually amounts to "Well, you have your interpretation, and we have ours," and nobody convinces anybody. To avoid this dilemma, you must request agreement on two things right at the start. First; You must limit the discussion to the Bible alone. Second; You must stick to the one topic of the Deity of Christ.

At least in theory, the Watchtower person will readily agree with you that the Bible as the Word of God, is the final authority in matters of religion. It is therefore quite easy to get them to agree to appeal to the Bible alone, and not argue about what some encyclopaedia or their own literature may say. This is important, because it is easy to get tangled up in what the Catholics or the Baptists think about something, and then never get to the Bible.

2) Stick To One Subject—The Deity of Christ

Then secondly, you need some way of stopping them from changing the subject when they run out of ideas. You can say, "Well, it seems to me from what you have said so far (you just listened to them for thirty minutes, remember) that you are saying Jesus is partly divine, and can be called 'a god' in some sense, but he is not the Almighty God, or the Jehovah of Genesis and Isaiah. This is such an important point, and its very different from what I think the Bible is saying. It seems to me if we don't get it straight who Jesus is, nothing else really matters much. We need to be at least worshiping the right God, don't we, so would you mind if we dealt with this question first? Perhaps you can begin by telling me exactly from the Bible who you think Jesus is and how he relates to God the Father." They will readily agree with this.

You have just saved yourself from endless debates about the date of the second coming, whether heaven will really be on earth or not, which church is the "true church," and where the dead are, etc. Now you can stick solidly to the Deity of Christ and nothing else needs to get in the way. It was Jesus himself who asked his disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?" and it is still the biggest question of all.

Don't be afraid to use their own Bible translation. It has serious problems, but if you follow the present method, the translation will make no difference. In fact, it will be possible to incidentally undermine their faith in this ridiculous translation without even seeming to do so. They should go away very puzzled at the contradictions and inconsistencies in their "authoritative" version, thereby undermining the reliability of "God's Organization."

Do not use the modern liberal versions such as the New English Bible or the Revised Standard Version, or paraphrases like the Living Bible. The King James is OK, but the New American Standard Bible or the New King James Version are better. But their own New World Translation (NWT) is the most useful in the long run, because they cannot appeal from it to another version. Of course, you will already have looked everything up in your own NKJV or other trustworthy version, so nothing can take you by surprise.

If you do not have a strategy you will be at the mercy of the Witnesses' own methods and it will be next to impossible to get anything done. Using the following method, you will keep the subject on track and make some progress towards showing them the massive evidence in the Bible for the idea that Jesus is Jehovah.

This three-part article is continued at Jesus is Jehovah - Part Two.

Jesus is Jehovah: How to Witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses About The Deity of Christ January 1996 R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D. for Aquila and Priscilla Study Center. Permission is hereby granted to Christians who want to print out a copy of this article to give to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above article was posted on this Web site September 4, 1999.

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