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

Part Three

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

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

IX. John's Logos; The Word Was God.

A glance at an interlinear Greek-English New Testament such as the Watchtower's Emphatic Diaglot soon shows that they translate the phrase "and the Word was God" in John 1:1, as "the Word was a god." The newer version of this is called The Kingdom Interlinear Translation, and reprints the Westcott and Hort Greek text.

How exactly, are we to honor the Son of God in our personal worship? Is he to be given a lower form of worship than we give to the Father, like the Catholics tell us that they give to Mary or the saints? Or is Jesus to be given the same honor in worship as we give to his Father? John has already answered this question for us in his chapter five, "For the Father. . . has committed all judging to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father" (John 5:22-23). John held that we should worship the Son with the very same level of honor with which we honor the Father. This of course, is only possible if the Son is himself fully God.

So what about the Witnesses' treatment of John's first verse? The Watchtower's Interlinear states in its Appendix that when the Greek noun Theos is "without the definite article," it should be rendered "and the Word was a god." It is easy to see from the Interlinear that the definite article (ho, the) is missing from the second occurrence of Theos (God) in this opening verse of the Gospel. Aside from the fact already established that this peculiar rendering makes John contradict Isaiah (that there is no other god besides Jehovah), is it really true that the absence of the definite article means the presence of the indefinite article "a" or "an?"

To begin with, there is no "indefinite article" in Greek. When the Greeks wanted to express that there is an indefinite example of something (not "the,") they used "one (thing)" or "some (things)." These forms do not appear in this verse, making "a god" a very unlikely rendering. The Watchtower translators then show on the very same page that "a god" is wrong when they translate verses 6, 12, 13, and 18.

Verse 6; "sent from a god"?

Verse 12; "children of a god"?

Verse 13; "born of a god"?

Verse 18; "no man has seen a god"?

Compare these with,

Verse 19; "the record of the John (ho in the form tou)"?

Compare also verse 15, where "John" appears without the definite article, with verse 26, where the definite article does appear as ho. Should this be rendered as "the John answered"? If the answer is NO, then in 1:1, ho Theos (here in the accusative form ton Theon) should not be translated "the God."

Not only does the Watchtower not render Theos by "a god" in these four verses, but it would make nonsense of the verses to do so, as a comparison with verses 19 and 26 demonstrates. The real reason for the use of the definite article in this way in the New Testament is the peculiarity of Greek that occasionally it uses a definite article before proper names to indicate emphasis only. It has nothing to do with the presence or absence of "a" or "an" which is an English phenomenon only.

In other words, although they know quite well that Greek has no indefinite article,. the Watchtower translators (presumably Fred W. Franz) inserted it from the English and then based the argument against the correct translation "and the Word was God," or "and God was the Word" (the original order in the Greek), on the English distinction. They then contradict this weird treatment of John 1:1 in the rest of the very same chapter (to say nothing of the rest of the New Testament). This gives you some idea why you never meet a Jehovah's Witness who has a degree in New Testament Greek.

In the back of the Kingdom Interlinear, reference is made on pages 1158-1160 to the opinions of the New Testament Greek Grammar of the well-known scholars Dana and Mantey. This caused Dr. Mantey to tell a Mr Van Buskirk (letter of February 25, 1974) who had written to him about it, that the Witnesses had misused his views and misrepresented him by quoting him out of context, and that he regarded their use of his published writing as not honest. The reader can find the details in the Appendix to Jehovah of the Watchtower by Walter Martin and Norman Klann.

The only reason for translating John's statement that "and the Word was God" by "and the Word was a god" is to destroy its plain testimony to the full Deity of the Word. There is no question that this was their purpose, because they did not follow through with similar verses in the same chapter. The average Jehovah's Witness may be perfectly sincere in his ignorance, but the same cannot be said of the leadership who produced this highly tendentious New World Translation.

In response to this exposure of the inconsistency of their own translation, the Witnesses will probably refer to such verses as "the Father is greater than I." But such verses merely show that the three Persons are distinct, or that Christ as man obeyed the Father in the incarnation. They do not show that Jesus did not have a truly divine nature. The Witnesses commonly draw conclusions from such verses which are not warranted by the premises. Just writing out their argument on paper will show this. It is easier to get away with invalid reasoning in conversation than it is if the argument is on paper.

John 1:1-3 contains much more of interest about the Logos. If Christians are right, because "the Word was with God" already in the beginning, he must have preceded time. This is important, because it would then necessarily follow that he was eternal. And this is exactly what these verses teach.

We are told in verse 3, that "All things came into being through him." The term for "All things" is the usual expression in Greek philosophy for the world, the cosmos as a whole, ta Panta, "the Everything." The finite and temporal cosmos did not exist forever in eternity, like God; there was a time when it "came into being," or "became. The Word did not come into being, for the little-noticed verse 2 tells us that he already "was" in the beginning with God. In fact, as if to reinforce this thought, verse 3 continues to say that nothing "became" without this prior creative activity of the Word. That is, the Word preceded all things which "became."

This Prologue to John's Gospel therefore carefully distinguishes between temporal things, all of which "come into being," for which the verb "to become" is used, and those things which already existed before the things (ta Panta) which came into being, God and his Logos, for which the simple verb "to be" is used in the form "was." To put it another way, the creation "became," while those things which were eternal simply "were" in the beginning.

The key point of these opening verses, is that the Logos is eternal. This simple consideration by itself is quite enough to establish with certainty that the Watchtower is not "God's Organization," but just another heretical sect.

This distinction between a temporal becoming versus an eternal being is carefully maintained elsewhere in this Gospel. In Chapter 8, Jesus is defending himself against his enemies the Pharisees. In verses 13-18 he claims to be the self-identifying One of the Old Testament; "I am he who bears witness of himself" (Exodus 3:13-14). His enemies saw the connection and questioned who his Father was (verses 18-20). Jesus tells them in verses 44-47 that they are "of [their] father, the devil," and their answer is simply that he is demon-possessed. Finally, Jesus tells them in verse 56 that he was seen by Abraham. Predictably, they jeer that "you are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"

At this point, if the Witnesses are correct, Jesus ought to have responded with "Yes, before Abraham came into being, I already was." This would have been a simple claim to having pre-existed Abraham, like any other angel. Instead, Jesus says that "before Abraham came into being, I AM." This confirms that when he had said that he was "he who bears witness of himself," (verse 18), he was indeed identifying himself not just as the first created being, but as Jehovah himself. "He was in the beginning with God" because he preceded everything that "came into being."

When we look at the New World Translation, we soon discover that the Watchtower translators are desperate to cover up these facts. Accordingly, instead of giving ego eimi as I am, as they do elsewhere (see verses 18 and 28, and many other places in this Gospel), they deliberately mistranslate the Greek present tense as "I have been," which is the English past-perfect tense. Then in order to secure their cover-up, they actually make up a non-existent "rule" for the Greek and print it in a footnote.

Unfortunately they even go further than this by pointing out that in the Septuagint of Exodus 3:14 the Hebrew for "I Am" is not given as ego eimi, but as ego eimi ho ohn, meaning "I Am The Being." This footnote is a classical example of how the Witnesses like to change the subject in order to avoid the evidence of verses that disprove their theories. The problem is, that in Revelation 1:8 their own translation admits that the speaker is "Jehovah God," and in verses 12 and 17-18 the speaker states that he was dead and is now alive. He repeats this in 2:8, and again in 22:12-16. Therefore "the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" is Isaiah's Jehovah and is also John's Jesus. That is, Jesus is Jehovah.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from these considerations is that the Word is eternal. Therefore the Watchtower is a false prophet which does not bother to pay enough attention to the Greek text.

X. Some Supporting Verses You Probably Won't Get To …

There are numerous other verses which directly teach or at least imply the full Deity of Christ. Full-scale studies of these verses have been common in the past two hundred years of orthodox theology. Famous earlier texts such as B.B. Warfield's The Lord of Glory, (1907) and Henry P. Liddon's Bampton Lectures of 1860, The Divinity of Our Lord And Savior Jesus Christ have been often reprinted and are well worth careful study, as are more recent works such as David Wells' The Person of Christ, (1984), or Oscar Cullmann's The Christology of the New Testament, (1959).

All orthodox systematic theologies and presentations of the doctrine of the Trinity contain at least summaries of the Biblical evidence for the deity of Christ. Compare pages 257-270 of Integrative Theology, Vol I, by Lewis and Demarest, or pages 382-387 of Hodge's Systematic Theology, Vol II, with the carefully arranged material of Edward H. Bickersteth's The Trinity. This last book was specially aimed at arianizing tendencies in the Church of England during the 1 800s, and is possibly the best and most generally useful book ever written on the Biblical evidence for the Trinity and its importance for worship.

Bickersteth had a pastoral heart for the practical effect of true (or false!) doctrine on the spiritual life of the believer, and presents a very large body of verses and their interpretation in easy-to-understand form, much of it set out in charts and lists on page after page of evidence from both Testaments. It has been kept in print continuously by Kregel's since 1957, and should be read carefully by anyone who has become frustrated with trying to talk with Jehovah's Witnesses. Remember the saying that the person who does not read is no better off than the person who cannot read.

These sources will explain such verses as Zech 12:10 (John 19:23 and Rev 1:7), Rev 1:7-8, Zech 14:2-5, Isa 9:6, Heb 2:14, 2Tim 3:16, 1 John 1:1-3, Rom 1:2-5,as well as dozens in which the many names and titles and functions of Christ assert his deity in one or another aspect. The many passages from the Old Testament which refer to Jehovah (such as Isa 45:21-23), and are then applied to Jesus by New Testament writers with little or no explanation, are covered fully by Bickersteth. We will here examine two such verses only.

Isaiah 9:6

This verse states that "for a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace," etc. This verse is often referred to at Christmas as a place from which the Incarnation might be taught. The title "Mighty God" is literally El Gibbor, where El means God and gibbor is used as an adjective, "Mighty." But this word is one of several terms for "Man" in the Hebrew, and means Man as powerful, a mighty man of war. It is often used to refer to the thirty powerful soldiers who formed the personal body-guard of King David. To omit the idea of Man from this word is therefore to weaken its force greatly. The title literally means "Mighty God-Man."

Here we have in one title the idea expressed by the first part of the verse, that the human Child was born, while the divine Son was given. Here in a nut-shell are the humanity and the divinity of the incarnation together in one verse while clearly distinguished as to their origin. The Son, being Eternal, was not "born," and the human nature of the baby was not "given" in the same sense, since it was already present in history in the nature of Mary his mother. It is Isaiah after all, who foretells the Virgin Birth in 7:14.

The title "Eternal Father" might at first cause a problem; how can the Son be identified as the Father? Would this not blur the distinction between these two Persons of the Trinity? The solution is at hand when we recall that in the Hebrew idiom the Maker or Creator of something may be called its "father." To this day the Arabs call a person the "father of troubles" who is always getting into trouble, just as what Saddam Hussein called the "mother of all battles" turned out to be the "mother of all defeats."

In Hebrews 1:1-2 God is said to have "made the world" by the Son (NWT, "the systems of things.") The term for world here is not kosmos, meaning the physically ordered universe, but aion (in the plural), meaning the temporal flow of "the ages." Because he made the ages, the Son may be said to be the Father of the Ages, and this is the better translation of olam Ab in Isa 9:6. So Jesus is "Father of Eternity" because he precedes time, as John says in John 1:1-3. In this way the Messiah will become as the Davidic King, the "Prince of Peace." Whether translated "Father of the Ages" or "Eternal Father," the title depicts the Deity of the Son who was "given."

Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12

These verses describe Jehovah as "the First and the Last, " the one who is both the Creator and Consummator of the creation. The Jehovah's Witnesses have no difficulty in agreeing that this group of titles applies in these contexts to Jehovah himself.

Likewise, the title "I am" with which God introduces himself first to Moses and then to Pharoah in Exodus 3:13-15, refers to the eternity or timelessness of the divine nature. Unlike the finite and evolving gods of Egypt, the I AM is above time, having created time along with everything else. This Name reappears throughout the Old Testament, being part of the name Jehovah (or Yahweh) itself. So in these verses of Isaiah, "I am" refers to the divine Present, "the First" refers to eternity past, while "the Last" refers to eternity future. We are not surprised therefore to see Jesus described in similar terms as "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever" in Hebrews 13:8, while in 1:8, the Father says of the Son, "Thy throne O God, is for ever and ever." This verse in Psalm 45:6-7 refers to the coming messianic King.

The problem for the Watchtower appears when this title is used by John in Revelation 1:8 and 17-18. In Rev 1:8 The Lord God, calling himself "the Almighty," says "I am the Alpha and the Omega," transmuting the time image into that of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. John "turned to see the voice that was speaking with me," and he sees "one like a son of man." This human Person is then described in verses 12-16, "and when I saw him I fell at his feet as a dead man." The Man then speaks to him, identifying himself as "I am the First and the Last," showing that he is the One who first spoke to him in verse 8. He then says "I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." This settles the question of who the speaker is. John calls him "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead" in 1:5, and here he says he was dead and then resurrected. But this means that John has applied the divine titles of Jehovah from Isaiah directly to Jesus.

John does the same thing in verse 7, when he quotes from Daniel 7:13 which refers to the "Son of Man" coming on the clouds, and then immediately adds a quotation from Zechariah 12:10 where Jehovah says that "they will look on Me whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him." John has already applied this phrase to Jesus in 19:37 by changing "they shall look on Me" to "they shall look on Him whom they pierced." Here in Rev 1:7 the tribes of the earth mourn over the Coming One who they "pierced" who then identifies himself as Jehovah in verse 8. By the end of the book of Revelation, "I, Jesus" says again "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." There is no question who is speaking here in verses 12-13 because he identifies himself as "Jesus" in verse 16.

There is no escape from John's use of these divine titles from Isaiah. John clearly believed in the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation, so that Jesus could one moment be called the Son of Man (the child who was born) in 1:4, and the next moment call him the Son of God (the Son who was given) in 2:18. Both refer in context to the Man standing amid the candlesticks (or "lampstands") whom he calls the Lord God Almighty in verse 8 who died and rose again in verse 18.

In 451 A.D., the Council of Chalcedon summarized this Biblical material by saying that there are "two natures" of the "one Person" of the incarnate Son.

XI. Conclusion

The Biblical evidence for the full Deity of Christ, that Jesus the incarnate Son was Jehovah in the flesh, is overwhelming to the candid reader. Only a person enslaved to the rationalist presuppositions of Greek philosophy is going to want to avoid this evidence. It has been said that the Deity of Christ is in the Bible much as salt is found in the sea. One may prove the sea's saltiness in two ways; one can either simply taste it wherever we dip in our hand, or we may go to the evaporating sea-water in warm shallow rock-pools and find the crystals of salt clearly visible on the evaporating edge of the pool. The Deity of the Messiah is everywhere we dip into the Word, but some verses crystallize it more clearly.

It is the hope and prayer of the present writer that using the definite strategy here outlined, Bible-believing Christians may help Jehovah's Witnesses to come to see that they too, must witness to Jehovah-Jesus, for "I am God, and there is no other" (Isa 46:9).

What To Read Next

The links below are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million.

The best single study of the Witnesses' history and doctrine is still probably Jehovah of The Watchtower (1974), by Walter Martin and Norman Klann. Many Witnesses have abandoned the Watchtower after reading this book. Any Christian bookstore will order this for you if they do not have it already. Martin also has a chapter on the Watchtower in his large compendium called Kingdom of the Cults .

Fred Franz was for many years the head of the Watchtower organization, and Raymond Franz his nephew was also on the Governing Body for years. In fact, he was the main author and chief editor of the Watchtower's Bible dictionary called Aids To Bible Understanding. When Raymond Franz realized that the Watchtower's erroneous attempts to date the Second Coming were based on obsolete and fallacious ideas about the fall of Jerusalem (erroneously dated in the 1800s at 606 B.C.), he tried to get them to face this, but got thrown out of the organization for his pains. He wrote an important critique of the Watchtower's inconsistencies in many areas, called Crisis of Conscience (1983). This is a devastating and important study, and deserves close attention. Needless to say, no attempt has been made by the Watchtower to answer this unfortunate gentleman.

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.

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

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Jehovah's Witnesses
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