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Defending the Deity of Christ and the Trinity Against the Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Ron Rhodes

In defending the deity of Christ and the Trinity against the Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter JWs), I have always found it best to start with a defense of the deity of Christ. The reason is simple. If I succeed in establishing the full deity of Christ with a JW, it is a given that he or she will now have to reconsider rejecting the Trinity. After all, there is only one “God Almighty”, and if the JW comes to see that both the Father and Jesus are “God Almighty”, this opens the door for a broader discussion of the Trinity.

There are a number of approaches one might take in proving the full deity of Christ. The first thing I like to do is disarm some of the JW’s scriptural objections to the doctrine. They invariably point to certain verses which they believe prove Jesus is a lesser deity than the Father. In what follows, I will summarize and answer some representative objections JW’s have in regard to the deity of Christ.

Answering JW Objections to the Deity of Christ

Objection 1: Jesus was created as the Archangel Michael.1

Answering the Objection: Jesus was not the Archangel Michael in the Old Testament. Michael in Daniel 10:13 is called “one of the chief princes”, indicating he is one among a group of chief princes. By contrast, the Greek word used to describe Jesus in John 3:16 (“God s only-begotten son”) is monogenes-literally meaning “unique” or “one of a kind.” Jesus is not a mere “chief prince” but is rather the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).

Further, Hebrews 2:5 tells us that the world is not (and will not be) in subjection to an angel. This being so, Christ cannot be Michael since He is said to be the ruler of Gods kingdom repeatedly in Scripture (Gen. ruler of Gods kingdom repeatedly in Scripture (Gen. 33; Matt. 2:1-2; 9:35; Rev. 19:16).

Notice also that the Archangel Michael does not have the authority in himself to rebuke Satan (Jude 9). By contrast, Jesus rebuked the Devil on a number of occasions (e.g., Matt. 17:18; Mark 9:25). Since Michael could not rebuke the Devil in his own authority and Jesus could (and did) rebuke the Devil in His own authority, they are obviously not the same person.

Objection 2: Jesus is Gods only begotten son in the sense that He was directly created by the hand of God (John 3:16).2

Answering the Objection: Perhaps no title of Christ has been so misunderstood as “Son of God.” Though the term can refer to “offspring of”, it carries the more important meaning, “of the order of.” The phrase is often used this way in the Old Testament. For example, “sons of the prophets” meant of the “order of prophets” (1 Kings 20:35). “Sons of the singers” meant “of the order of singers” (Neh. 12:28). Likewise, the phrase “Son of God”, in the case of Christ, means “of the order of God”, and represents a claim to undiminished deity.

Ancient Semitics and Orientals used the phrase Son of… to indicate likeness or sameness of nature and equality of being. Hence, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, His Jewish contemporaries fully understood He was making a claim to be God in an unqualified sense (John 5:18; 19:7).

Evidence for Christ’s eternal Sonship is found in the fact that God created the universe through His Son (Heb. 1:2)-implying that Christ was the Son of God prior to the Creation. Moreover, Christ as the Son is explicitly said to have existed “before all things” (Col. 1:17; see especially verses 13-14). As well, Jesus, speaking as the Son of God (John 8:54-56), asserts His eternal preexistence before Abraham (v. 58).

Objection 3: Jesus affirmed that the Father is greater than he is (John 14:28), thereby indicating he is a lesser god.3

Answering the Objection: Jesus in John 14:28 is not speaking about His nature or His essential being (He had earlier said I and the Father are one in this regard-John 10:30), but is rather speaking of His lowly position in the Incarnation. The Athanasian Creed affirms that Christ is “equal to the Father as touching his Godhood and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.” The Father was seated upon the throne of highest majesty in heaven; the brightness of His glory was uneclipsed as He was surrounded by hosts of holy beings perpetually worshipping Him with uninterrupted praise. Far different was it with His incarnate Son-despised and rejected of men, surrounded by implacable enemies, and soon to be nailed to a criminals cross. It is from this perspective that Jesus could say the Father is “greater” than he is.

Objection 4 : Jesus is the firstborn of creation (Col. 1:15), thereby indicating he is a creature.4

 Answering the Objection: The word “firstborn” does not mean “first-created”. The Greek word prototokos means “first in rank, preeminent one, heir”. The word carries the idea of positional preeminence and supremacy. Christ is the “firstborn of creation” in the sense that He is positionally preeminent over creation and is supreme over all things.

Historically, the word firstborn among the ancients referred to the son in the family who was in the preeminent position, regardless of whether or not that son was literally the first son born to the parents. This “firstborn” son would not only be the preeminent one in the family, he would also be the heir to a double portion of the family inheritance.

This meaning of “firstborn” is illustrated in the life of David, who was the youngest (last-born) son of Jesse. Psalm 89:27 says of him: “I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth”. Though David was the last one born in Jesse’s family, he is called “firstborn” because of the preeminent position God placed him in.

For Colossians 1:15 to mean “first created”, Paul would not have called Christ the “firstborn” (prototokos) but the “first-created” (protoktisis). This latter term is never used of Christ in the New Testament.

Objection 5: Since God is the head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3), Christ cannot be God in the same sense the Father is.5

Answering the Objection: A close examination of 1 Corinthians 11:3 shows it has nothing to do with superiority of one person over another; rather, it has to do with patterns of authority.  Notice that Paul in this same verse says the man is the head of the woman, even though men and women are equal in their essential nature. They are both human and both are created in Gods image (Gen. 1:26-28). As well, they are said to be “one” in Christ (Gal. 3:28). These verses, taken with 1 Corinthians 11:3, show that equality of being and social hierarchy is not mutually exclusive. Even though men and women are equal in terms of their nature, nevertheless the man is in authority over the woman.

Likewise, Christ and the Father are equal in their divine being, though Jesus is functionally under the Father’s headship (1 Cor . 11:3). There is no contradiction in affirming both an equality of being and a functional subordination among the persons in the Godhead.

Objection 6: Since Jesus is the “beginning” of God’s creation (Rev. 3:14), it is obvious he is a creature.6

Answering the Objection: Though the word arche in Revelation 3:14 can mean “beginning”, the word is unique and also carries the important active meaning of “one who begins”, “origin”, “source”, “creator”, or “first cause”. Evangelical scholars agree this is the intended meaning in Revelation 3:14. The English word architect is derived from arche. We might say Jesus is the architect of all creation (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).

It is noteworthy that the only other times arche is used in the Book of Revelation relate to God as “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Certainly the use of arche with God Almighty does not mean He had a created beginning. Instead, these verses communicate that God is both the beginner and the consummation of creation. He is the first cause of creation; He is its final goal. The word arche is used of Jesus in the same sense in Revelation 3:14.

Objection 7: Since Jesus was “brought forth” to participate in creation (Prov. 8:22-23), he must be a created being.7

Answering the Objection: Proverbs 8:22-23 does not refer to Jesus. Notice that the first nine chapters of Proverbs deal with wisdom personified. A personification is a rhetorical figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form. In Proverbs 1-9, wisdom is figuratively endowed with human qualities. With this backdrop in mind, it is critical to recognize that there is no indication that Proverbs 8 is to be taken any differently than chapters 1 through 7 and 9.

This being so, if we take Proverbs 8:22 to be speaking literally about Christ, we must also assume that Christ is a woman crying in the streets (1:20-21) who lives with someone named “Prudence” (8:12). Proverbs 1-9 makes no sense if one tries to read Christ into the text. Proverbs 8:22-23 is simply speaking metaphorically of Gods eternal wisdom and how it was “brought forth” (v. 24) to take part in the creation of the universe.

Objection 8: Jesus taught that only the Father is to be worshipped (John 4:23). Christ should be shown only “obeisance”.8

Answering the Objection: In affirming that true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23), Jesus was not saying that He Himself should not be worshiped as well. A fundament al principle of interpreting the Bible correctly is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Every verse should be interpreted against the broader

backdrop of what the entirety of Scripture teaches on a given subject..
It is noteworthy that the same Greek word used for worshiping the Father (proskuneo) is used of worshiping Christ throughout the New Testament. Jesus was worshiped by Thomas (John 20:28), angels (Heb. 1:6), wise men (Matthew 2:11), a leper (Matt. 8:2), a ruler (Matt. 9:18), a blind man (John 9:38), an anonymous woman (Matt. 15:25), Mary Magdalene (Matt. 28:9), and the disciples (Matt. 28:17). In the Book of Revelation, the worship the Father receives Book of Revelation, the worship the Father receives (4:10) is identical to that which Jesus receives (5:11-14).

Notice that Jesus never corrected His followers when they worshiped Him. He considered such worship as appropriate. That Jesus accepted worship says a lot about His true identity, for it is the consistent testimony of Scripture that only God can be worshiped (Exod. 34:14).

Objection 9: The New World Translation renders John 1:1, “The Word was a god”. “Because there is no definite article ‘the’ (ho) it means Christ is only a god, not the God”.9

Answering the Objection: To translate the Greek word for God (theos) as a god simply because it lacks a definite article demonstrates profound theological bias on the part of JWs. Professor Daniel Wallace, whose Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is used as a textbook at seminaries across the country, comments on how absurd the New World Translation would be if JWs consistently translated nouns with no definite articles as having an indefinite article:

It is interesting that the New World Translation renders theos as “a god” on the simplistic grounds that it lacks the article. This is surely an insufficient basis. [Consistently following this principle] would mean that arche should be a “beginning” (1:1, 2), zoa should be “a life” (1:4), para theou should be “from a god” (1:6), Ioannes should be “a John” (1:6), theon should be “a god” (1:18), etc. Yet none of these other anarthrous [without definite article] nouns is rendered with an indefinite article. One can only suspect strong theological bias in such a translation.10

Based on his acclaimed expertise in the Greek, Wallace concludes that John 1:1 indicates that “although the person of Christ is not the person of the Father, their essence is identical.” Indeed, “the Word had all the attributes and qualities that ‘the God’ (of 1:1b) [that is, the Father] had. In other words, he shared the essence of the Father, though they differed in person”. Wallace suggests that the “construction the evangelist chose to express this idea was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father.11

A Positive Presentation of the Deity of Christ

After answering the objections JWs raise against the deity of Christ, I like to offer a strong positive case for the deity of Christ. In other words, I switch from a defensive mode (answering objections) to an offensive mode (setting forth a positive case). Space prohibits a detailed treatment, but the following summary represents the kinds of arguments that can be effective.

  1. Scripture proves that Jesus is Yahweh:
  • In Revelation 1:7 Jesus is seen to be the pierced Yahweh who is described in Zechariah 12:10.
  • The prophetic reference to Lord (“Yahweh”) and God (“Elohim”) in Isaiah 40:3 is seen to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ (see Mark 1:2-4).
  • “Calling upon Yahweh” in Joel 2:32 is seen as identical and parallel to calling upon Jesus in Romans 10:13.
  • The glory of Yahweh in Isaiah 6:1-5 is said to be the glory of Jesus in John 12:41.
  • Yahweh’s voice “like the roar of rushing waters” (Ezek. 43:2) is identical to Jesus’ voice “like the sound of rushing waters” (Rev. 1:15).
  • While Yahweh in the Old Testament is portrayed as the only Creator (Isa. 44:24), Jesus in the New Testament is portrayed as the agent of creation (Col. 1:16; John 1:3).
  • While Yahweh in the Old Testament is portrayed as the only Savior (Isa. 43:11), Jesus is portrayed as our great God and Savior in Titus 2:13-14.
  1. Jesus has all the attributes of deity:
  • Self-existence. As the Creator of all things (John 1:3), Christ Himself must be uncreated. Because He is before all things (Col. 1:17), he does not depend on anyone or anything outside Himself for His own existence.
  • Immutability . Christ, as God, is unchanging in His divine nature (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8).
  • Omnipresence . Christ promised His disciples that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). The only way He could be present with
  • them all is if He is truly omnipresent (28:20).
  • Omniscience . Jesus’ disciples acknowledged, “Now we can see that you know all things” (John 16:30). Jesus knew just where the fish were in the water (Luke 5:4, 6) and just which fish contained the coin (Matt. 17:27). He knows the Father as the Father knows Him (Matt. 11:27; John 7:29; 8:55; 10:15; 17:25).
  • Omnipotence . Christ created the entire universe (Col. 1:16) and sustains it by his power (Col. 1:17). During His earthly ministry, Christ exercised power over nature (Luke 8:25), over physical diseases   (Mark 1:29-31),over demonic spirits (Mark 1:32-34), and over death (John 11:1-44).
  1. Jesus has the names of deity:
  • Elohim (Old Testament Hebrew term for “God”). Elohim, a common name for God in the Old Testament (used about 2,570 times), literally means “strong one”, and its plural ending ( im in Hebrew) indicates fullness of power. Jesus is clearly seen to be Elohim in Isaiah 9:6 and 40:3.
  • Yahweh (Old Testament Hebrew term for “Lord”). Jesus informed some Jews, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:58). The Jews immediately picked up stones with the intention of killing Jesus, for they understood He was identifying himself as Yahweh- the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. Isaiah 40:3 is a clear allusion to Jesus being Yahweh.
  • Theos (New Testament Greek term for “God”). The New Testament word for God, Theos , is the corresponding parallel to the Old Testament Elohim. Jesus is recognized as theos by doubting Thomas (John 20:28), a jailer (Acts 16:31-34), the apostle Paul (Titus 2:13), Peter (1 Peter 1:1), and others.
  • Kurios (New Testament Greek term for “Lord”). The New Testament equivalent of Yahweh is Kurios . The apostle Paul points us to the close relationship between Yahweh and Kurios in Philippians 2. He tells us that Christ was given a name above every name, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [Kurios ]” (vv. 9-1 1). Paul, an Old Testament scholar par excellence, is alluding to Isaiah 45:22-24: “I am God, and there is no other. . . . Before me every knee will bow; me every tongue will swear.” Drawing on his vast knowledge of the Old Testament, Paul made the point that Jesus is Yahweh, the Lord of all humankind.
  1. Jesus did things only God can do: The miracles of Jesus provide further evidence of His divine identity. Jesus miracles are of ten called “signs” in the New Testament, for signs always signify something-in this case, that Jesus is the divine Messiah. Some of Jesus’ more notable miracles include turning water into wine (John 2:7,8); walking on the sea (Matt. 14:25); calming a stormy sea (Mark 4:39); feeding 5,000 men and their families (Luke 9:16); raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43,44); and causing the disciples to catch a great number of fish (Luke 5:5,6). Jesus also indicated His deity by forgiving the sins of sinners, a prerogative that belongs to God alone (Mark 2:5; Isa. 43:25).

 

Answering JW Objections to the Trinity

Having answered JW objections to the deity of Christ, and having made a positive presentation of the doctrine, one can then proceed to answer JW objections against the doctrine of the Trinity:

Objection 1: The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible.

Answering the Objection: Though the word Trinity is not in the Bible, the concept is clearly derived from Scripture (see “Positive Presentation of the Trinity” below). The same is true of many other theological terms, including Bible and theocracy. One can also point out to JWs that the word Jehovah does not appear as such in any legitimate Hebrew or Greek manuscript s of the Bible. The word was originally formed by superstitious Jewish scribes who joined the consonant s YHWH (which is a biblical word) with the vowels from Adonai. The result was Yahowah, or Jehovah. The point is that if you reject the doctrine of the Trinity because the word does not appear in the Bible, then by that same logic the doctrine of Jehovah must be considered false since this term does not appear in the Bible.

Objection 2: The doctrine of the Trinity is derived from paganism.

Answering the Objection: The Babylonians and Assyrians believed in triads of gods who headed up a pantheon of many other gods. These triads constituted three separate gods (polytheism), which is utterly different from the doctrine of the Trinity, which maintains that there is only one God (monotheism) with three persons within the one Godhead.

It is interesting to note that pagans taught the concept of a great flood that killed much of humankind. The pagans also taught the idea of a messiah-like figure named Tammuz who was resurrected. Hence, if JWs were consistent, they would have to reject the flood, the Messiah, and his resurrection as pagan doctrines. The point is, simply because pagans spoke of a concept remotely resembling something found in Scripture does not mean the concept was stolen from pagans.

Objection 3: God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), and hence the confusing doctrine of the Trinity cannot be true.12

Answering the Objection: First Corinthians 14:33 is speaking not about confusing doctrine but confusing practices. Paul is dealing with the proper exercise of spiritual gifts. His point is that because God is not a God of confusion, the Corinthians should make every effort to end the confusion in their church services resulting from too many people speaking in tongues resulting from too many people speaking in tongues and giving prophecies at the same time (see vv.27-30). Contextually, the verse has nothing to do with the Trinity.

 

Positive Presentation of the Trinity
After answering JW objections to the doctrine of the Trinity, it is important to make a positive presentation of the doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity is based on three lines of evidence: (1) evidence that there is only one true God; (2) evidence that there are three persons who are God; and (3) evidence that indicates three-in-oneness within the Godhead.

  1. There Is One God. The fact that there is only one true God is the consistent testimony of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. God positively affirmed through Isaiah the prophet: “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6). God also said, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (46:9; see also John 5:44; 17:3; Rom. 3:29-30; 16:27; 1 Cor. 8:4; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; and Jas. 2:19).
  2. There Are Three Persons Who Are Called God:
  • The Father Is God: Peter refers to the saints who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (1 Peter 1:2).
  • Jesus Is God: The Father said of the Son, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…”(Heb.1:8; see also Isa.9:6; Matt. 1:23; Titus 2:13; Phil. 2:6).
  • The Holy Spirit Is God: In Acts 5:3-4, we are told that lying to the Holy Spirit is equivalent to lying to God (see also 1 Cor. 6:11; Ps.139:7-10).

Moreover, each of the three persons on different occasions is seen to possess the attributes of deity:

  • Omnipresent: Father (Matthew 19:26), Son (Matt. 28:18), and Holy Spirit (Ps. 139:7).
  • Omniscient: Father (Rom. 11:33), Son (Matt. 9:4), and Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10).
  • Omnipotent: Father (1 Peter 1:5), Son (Matt. 28:18), and Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:19).
  • Holy: Father (Rev. 15:4), Son (Acts 3:14), and Holy Spirit (John 16:7-14).
  • Eternal: Father (Ps. 90:2), Son (Mic.5:2; John 1:2; Rev. 1:8,17), and Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14).
  1. There Is Three-in-Oneness in the Godhead. Matthew 28:19 reads: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (italics added). The word name is singular in the Greek, indicating one God, but three distinct persons within the Godhead are indicated by the three definite articles: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (see also 2 Cor. 13:14).

You will likely encounter further objections from JWs on these doctrines. As well, various other Bible verses may be cited to “prove” the Trinity is a false doctrine. My book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses , can help you with these, as well as provide plenteous information on the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, which should further equip you to argue in favor of the Trinity with a JW.

 

Ron Rhodes (Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is the president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries.  He is the author of numerous books, including Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Harvest House).

 

NOTES

1  Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1989), 218.

2  Aid to Bible Understanding (Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1971), 918.

3  Let God Be True (Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1946), 110.

4  Reasoning from the Scriptures, 408.

5  Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn: Watchtower, 1989), 20.

6  Reasoning from the Scriptures, 409.

7  The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Brooklyn, Watchtower, 1991), 11.

8  Watchtower (Feb, 15, 1983), 18.

9  Watchtower (Dec. 7, 1995), 4.

10  Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 267, explanatory insert added in brackets.

11 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 269.

12 Should You Believe in the Trinity?, 4.

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