Friday, 13 March 2015

Responding to Arianism (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses)

The view briefly stated:1

“Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to the earth. But was it as one of the persons in an almighty, eternal triune Godhead? No, for the Bible plainly states that in his pre-human existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation …. to worship God on his terms means to reject the Trinity doctrine” (Watchtower, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” [1989]: 14, 31).

Arguments Considered:

“Jesus is not God because Colossians 1:15 states that he is ‘the first-born of all creation,’ i.e. the first one to have been created by Jehovah.” To conclude that the term “firstborn” here has reference to the first to have been created is to ignore the biblical usage of the term. The Greek word is prototokos, which signifies priority or superiority (cf. Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:15-17). The future tense of Psalm 89:27 shows that “firstborn” is a title of preeminence, not a reference to origin (applied here to David, the youngest son of Jesse). Ephraim is called the “firstborn” (Jer. 31:9), even though he was the youngest brother (Gen. 48:14). In Colossians 1:15 Christ is called “firstborn” because he is superior or preeminent to all created things (cf. Rom. 8:29). Why? “Because by him all things were created …” (v. 16). If Jesus had been created, yet he created all created things, he would have created himself! Further, Paul goes on to say that Jesus is “the firstborn [prototokos] from the dead” (v. 18b), not that he is the first to have ever risen from the dead (cf. Matt. 11:5; John 11:44) but “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (v. 18c; cf. Rom. 6:9).

“Jesus is a created being, not God, because Revelation 3:14 refers to him as “the beginning of the creation by God” (New World Translation).” This verse is mistranslated in the NWT. The instrumental “by God” is not the original wording of the text, rather the genitive “of God.” The term translated “beginning” is the Greek word archē, meaning “origin” or “first cause.” This passage actually says that Christ was the moving cause of God’s creation, which parallels John 1:3 and Col. 1:16. In Rev. 21:6 God is described as “the beginning [archē] and the end.”

“John 1:1 should be translated, ‘the Word was a god.’ When the Greek word theos appears with a definite article (‘the’), it should be rendered ‘the God’ or ‘God.’ Since there is no indefinite article (‘a’) in Greek, in the absence of the definite article, theos should be translated ‘a god.’” This is not a legitimate rule for the use of the article in the Greek NT.2 Of the 282 occurrences of the anarthrous theos (without the article), the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is 94% unfaithful to their own rule. In the first chapter of John alone, theos appears five times without an article (vv. 1, 6, 12, 13, 18), yet the NWT translators render it “God” in every instance except in v. 1, where it clearly refers to Christ! Further, if the Bible teaches that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4) and if Jesus is “a god” (i.e. an additional one), the advocates of this view are advocating polytheism.3

“Jesus can’t be God or equal with God because he is inferior to God (John 14:28).” A fundamental error undergirding this and similar arguments is the false assumption that a subordinate role is equivalent to an inferior nature. All Christians have been directed to submit to one another (Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5) yet remain equal in essence or worth (Gal. 3:28). Despite this equality, however, different functions have been allocated to the various believers, e.g. wives submit to husbands (Eph. 5:22), members submit to leaders (Heb. 13:17), etc. There is a clear distinction between substance (equality) and function (subordination). The contrast within the Godhead is functional, not one of nature or essence. When the one we know as Jesus “became flesh,” he took on an inferior role and could thus say, for instance, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The word “greater” refers to position, whereas the word “better” would be applicable to nature (cf. Heb. 1:4). All passages dealing with Christ’s subordination (1 Cor. 11:3; etc.) refer to his role in the flesh but do not detract from his divine essence. Moreover, his temptations, visibility, subjection to death, etc., merely relate to his subordinate role that began when he took on human flesh. The descriptive expression, “the Son of God,” signifies both subordination (of position) and equality (of nature). See John 5:17-18; 10:17-33; etc.

“Jesus cannot be God because he referred to the Father as ‘the only true God’ (John 17:3).” This statement, like all other scriptural affirmations of divine exclusiveness, is in contrast to the false gods of polytheism and has nothing to do with Jesus allegedly denying anything about himself. If there is no Savior besides Almighty God (Isa. 43:11), would the deniers of Christ’s deity dismiss Jesus as Savior? (Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:10; etc.). If Jesus is the “one Lord” (Eph. 4:4; Jude 4), does this mean the Father cannot be Lord? (Matt. 11:25; Luke 1:32; Acts 1:25; 2:20, 25, 39; 4:24). These exclusive statements merely eliminate those outside, not within, the Godhead.

Further Observations:

     Jesus is called “My Lord and my God” in John 20:28. The designations “Lord” and “God” are translated from the Greek words kurios and theos, and whenever these words are used together in the NT, they are equivalent to the Hebrew terms Yahweh (“Jehovah”) and elohim (“God”) (Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:68; 10:27; Acts 3:22; cf. Ex. 20:7) and always refer to the Supreme Deity (Acts 2:39; 4:24; 7:37). Moreover, the designation “the Alpha and the Omega” is a clear reference to God that is equally applied to Jesus (Rev. 1:8, 17-18; 22:12-13, 16; cf. Isa. 44:6).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Arianism is the view that Jesus the Son was created by God the Father and is therefore inferior in essence to God the Father. Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336) is the first on record to have espoused and promoted this view (thus “Arianism”). In modern times a form of this doctrine is held by religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and various Unitarian sects.
     2 In the Greek NT, word order is used for emphasis and the article distinguishes the subject from the predicate nominative. The only legitimate rendering of kai theos ēn ho logos in John 1:1 is, “and the Word was God.” The emphatic position of theos stresses essence or quality, and the absence of the article avoids the conclusion that the Word is the Person of God [the Father]; the word order shows that the Word has all the divine attributes of God. If the order and/or employment of the article were different, ho logos ēn ho theos (“the Word was the God”) = Sabellianism (Jesus is the Father); or ho logos ēn theos (“the Word was a god”) = Arianism.
    3 The typical Jehovahs Witness response is to point out Jesus words in John 10:34-35, where human judges are called gods.” But this is the Lords response to antagonistic unbelievers, in stark contrast to passages like 1:1 and 20:28. Jesus is quoting Psa. 82:6, where the plural elohim (Hebrew) and the corresponding plural theoi (Greek) essentially refers to mighty ones.” Nowhere in the New Testament is the plural theoi ever applied to God the Father or Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus customary approach when responding to his enemies was indirect and ambiguous (cf. 8:3-9, 21-29; 9:39-41; 10:1-6, 24; 18:19-21, 33-34; 19:9; also Matt. 12:1-8; 13:10-15; 21:23-27). In John 10:30-39 Jesus does not deny their inference but simply quotes scripture to show their inconsistency; he does not give in to their devious request to tell us plainly (v. 24). Neither John 1:1-3, nor 20:28, nor comparable passages, equate to the dispute in John 10.

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