Episode 51 - Discussing Jesus with Jehovah's Witnesses

Don't duck and cover when there's a knock on the door! Be prepared, so you can witness to the people who are already coming to you.

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Transcript

I'm curious, how do you feel about door-to-door evangelism. Is it hard for you to get up the courage and go knock on a stranger's door and ask if they've heard about Jesus? I'm not asking you to do that today. I'm not totally convinced that that's an effective means of evangelism in today's culture. God can certain act through whatever means he chooses. However, I want to reframe this. What about if someone knocks on your door and asks to tell you about Jehovah? What if they're Jehovah's Witnesses? The opportunity has come to you. You haven't had to go anywhere to look for it. You haven't had to go seek that out. It's literally knocked on your door.

The question is, though, are you prepared? Are you prepared to talk about Jesus with Jehovah's Witnesses? Because it all comes down to Jesus. Now oftentimes in Christian circles we will ask someone, "Do you believe in Jesus?" A lot of times they'll say yes, but this is the wrong question. Because if you asked a Muslim, "Do you believe in Jesus?" the answer is yes. There's more in the Koran about Jesus than Mohammed. If you ask a Mormon, "Do you believe in Jesus?" the answer is yes. If you ask a Jehovah's Witness, the answer is yes, and other groups too. This does not tell us about a person's salvation state, though. This doesn't tell us about what they understand about the gospel. Believing that Jesus was a person, even a divine person, doesn't tell us about a person's actual gospel beliefs.

There are some very specific things we need to get right about Jesus and that we need to be able to demonstrate to others. So today, specifically with an eye towards Jehovah's Witnesses, there are three points I want to us to cover. There is one God. There is only one deity. There is one God. That's the first point. The second point: Jesus and the Father are distinct persons. There's one God. Jesus and the Father are distinct persons. Third point: Jesus is God, not a created being. The Father is God, not a created being. By extension you could also say the Holy Spirit is God, not a created being. There are three persons in the one being of God, in the one deity, so that Jesus is fully divine, the Father is fully divine, but they are not each other. Jesus is distinct from the Father.

Now, what you may recognize is that these three points are the same three points we use when we're demonstrating the Trinity. What we're really doing here is kind of a subset of that, a different take on it, a different variation. The truth is the same. The fundamental truth is still that there are three persons in the one being of God and they are distinct from each other, but today we're going to focus in on Jesus.

There Is Only God

Our first step: there is only God, one deity. The Old Testament speaks to this in its entirety, including the New Testament though. Let's look at several passages.

"Listen, Israel. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4)

This is how God was understood throughout the whole entire Old Testament. 70% of the Bible testifies to the fact that God is one. In fact, 100% of the Bible testifies to the fact that God is one. But until the New Testament, it is not revealed that God is one being in three persons. Nonetheless, God is one: Deuteronomy 6:4.

We also have Isaiah 42:8:

”I am the Lord. That is my name. I will not share my glory with anyone else or the praise due me with idols."

He's not going to share his glory with anyone else. This is a singular being talking. There is one of whatever this is, and he's not going to share his glory or his praise with anyone else. There is one God who does not share his glory.

Another passage, Isaiah 43:10:

”You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. Before me, there is no God formed and there will be none after me."

What does God, the one and only God, say in this passage. "Before me there was no God and there will be none after me." This is another way of saying, "I am the only one. I will not share my glory. Listen, O Israel, the Lord your God is one."

These are just three sample passages out of a multitude in the Old and New Testament that testify to the fact that God is one. There is only one being that is deity, that is divine. There are not multiple deities. There's not one main deity and several little deities. What we understand when we look at scripture is certainly the practice of monotheism. In the Old Testament we see a constant back and forth between Israel and God telling them “You only worship me alone. You don't share that glory, that worship, with anyone else” ... and their struggle to worship other gods, multiple other gods.

Whether you're a Christian or not, if you come to the Bible and you read it just with open eyes, even if you think it's a fairy tale, you have to at least come away with the conclusion that scripture teaches there is one God. That's our first point. That is a very important point when talking with a Jehovah's Witness.

Jesus and the Father Are Distinct

The second point: Jesus and the Father are distinct. This is not really controversial with the Jehovah's Witnesses because they're going to think that the Father is divine and the son is divine, and they're separate deities. One's lesser; one's greater. Nonetheless, this is an important point. We're not going to spend a lot of time on it but it does need to be made.

This is what John 17:5 says:

”And now, Father ... " This is Jesus speaking. "Glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."

There is so much in this verse for us here.

Firstly, this is Jesus speaking to the Father, showing they are distinct. What's he saying? "Glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." Jesus existed before the world began, and he had glory at that state. That is a very powerful point.

Another passage that shows that Jesus and the Father are distinct would be Matthew 11:25-26.

”At that time, Jesus said, 'I praise you, Lord, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure."

We see they're distinct. This is helpful when we're trying to demonstrate the Trinity to a oneness Pentecostal, or someone who doesn't believe in the Trinity at all.

However, this point, like I said, is not a point of contention for Jehovah's Witnesses as much as it is with other people. Our first two points so far: there is one God, there's just one deity. Second point: Jesus and the Father are distinct.

Jesus Is As Fully God As The Father

Then here's the third point: Jesus is a person in that God. Jesus is fully God, as fully God as the Father is God. He is not a created being. Here's where we part ways with pretty much every other “Christian” cult or other religion. Jehovah's Witnesses are going to part ways here. So are Muslims and so are Mormons.

”In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was fully God."

This is John 1:1. Now if you have any knowledge or experience talking with Jehovah's Witnesses, this passage has probably come up. It's generally the first one a Christian is going to go to to demonstrate the pre-existent deity and equality of Jesus. In this passage John is starting out his gospel and he is saying that Jesus existed before the world began and was fully God.

Now, the New World Translation, which is the Jehovah's Witnesses translation, actually is going to say, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was a god.” He was a deity, just not The deity. Christians believe that, Jesus is not the Father. But we also affirm that there is only one God. Jesus is not a second God. He's not a lesser God. He's not another deity. He shares in the one being that is God.

It's important to note that the underlying Greek, and the grammar of the Greek language, does not support a translation of "a god." The only reason to translate this passage as "a god" is if you have a presupposition that Jesus is a separate being than the Father. Many a conversation has gotten bogged down here.

We could go to John 1:18, where John is summing up what he already said in John 1:1. Here's what it says:

”No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in the closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known."

Who's that one he's talking about? It's Jesus. "The only one (Jesus), himself God, who is in the closest fellowship of the Father, has made god known."

Now, here's what the New World Translation, the Jehovah's Witnesses translation, says: "No man has seen God at any time." However, "The only begotten god who is at the Father's side is the one who has explained him." The term "only begotten" is something we'll probably do a whole episode on in the future. Any time you see, applying to Jesus especially, the term in your Bible "only begotten" or "begotten son," that is based on a poor translation of the original Greek. The word there is monogenes. It's made up of two individual words, mono and either genos (which means class or kind), or gennao (meaning beget or bear).

The best translation based on the latest scholarship is that it is genos. Jesus is not the only one begetted by the Father. He didn't come into existence at some point. He is the only one of his kind. Jesus is the only one of his kind in that he is the God man, God incarnate, fully God. He did not come into existence at any point in time. That is key.

I'm not expecting you to be a Greek scholar and get into the Greek with the Jehovah's Witness that comes to your door, but having a rudimentary understanding that there is this type of concern is helpful.

This term, monogenes, is actually the same one used in Hebrews 11, where we see that,

By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises yet he was ready to offer up his only son.

The term for only son is monogenes. But Isaac wasn't Abraham's only son. However, he was the unique son of Abraham. He was the child of promise. We see this term does not mean to have been begetted, or the only one begetted by someone, or begotten. What it means is the “most unique one.” That's what we see John saying about Jesus. He was fully God, not a god. Because remember, the New Testament is written on the backdrop of the Old Testament. This is written by monotheistic Jews. They still believed that there was one God, and they're grappling with the constraints of language to show that Jesus is that God. The Father is that God, but Jesus is not the Father.

Moving on, there's so much more that we could say but I've got a couple other passages that are key for your individual study for you being prepared to talk about this topic. We're going to read Colossians 1:15.

”He is the image of the invisible God (this is Jesus), the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him. All things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers, all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the son, and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross, through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven."

There are many points of note in this passage. First, when it says Jesus is the firstborn over all creation, firstborn, what can that mean? It doesn't mean he's born, because the New Testament, in fact, the passage in John we looked at, both say that he is the uncreated creator. Before the world came into existence, he was. He was not born in that way. The word prototokos, which is the Greek there, means preeminent. He is the one who will inherit all things. He is over all things. That's exactly what Paul goes on to say. "All things were created through him and for him." Let me ask a question. If Jesus is a created being, then how did he create all things? The text does not say all other things, and all other things are held together in him. No, it says he created all things.

If you yourself are a created being, you could not have created all things. You would have had to exist before you existed in order to create yourself. That is just a logical impossibility. This other passage in Colossians testifies to the preexistence, non-createdness, of Christ. It also testifies that the fullness of deity dwelled in him. It says, "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the son." To a monotheistic Jew, what would it mean for the fullness of deity to dwell in bodily form? That would mean that Jesus was fully God.

Paul makes same point in Philippians 2:4.

”You should have the same attitude towards one another that Christ Jesus had, who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And, being found human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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 to the glory of God the Father."

Once again, we see the New Testament writers grappling and struggling to say that Jesus is God without saying Jesus is the Father. This was a fundamental problem they had. Because the word God had been used to refer to someone or something that was “one,” that was singular. Now in the New Testament, oftentimes the term God is used to refer to the Father. There is a struggle that exists.

Now, it's interesting here that Jesus, who existed in the very nature God (Some translations would say "in the very form of God," but what that means is by his very nature he was God) humbled himself. He didn't consider equality with the Father something to be held onto but he emptied himself. He, being God, emptied himself and took on human form. It's interesting that the emptying actually occurred by the addition of human form. Once again, he was fully divine and still was on earth. He emptied himself of the independent exercise of his attributes.

Another passage that speaks to the deity of Christ, not some type of different deity, lesser deity than the Father, but the co-equal same deity, is John 12:41. This is what it says:

”Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ's glory and spoke about him."

Now on your own time go read this passage and see that it refers back to Isaiah. When Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up. What does John tell us? That God (Yahweh) that he saw, that was actually Christ. The one God of the Old Testament Isaiah saw was Christ, because Christ shares in that one being of God. He is the second person in that one being.

This is a powerful point to demonstrate that Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the one and only. Once again, fullness of God in bodily form. I just want to keep reiterating that point. Fullness. Not some lesser deity but the same deity as the Father.

Let's return to a couple passages before we close today. John 17:5: "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." Christ existed with the Father before the world began. Two separate persons, co-equal, just as much God, who shared in glory.

Perhaps one of the poignant and pointed references to Christ's deity and being God would be Titus 2:13. "We wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and savior, Jesus Christ." Who was he? He is our great God and savior. Christ is God. Jesus is God. The Father is God.

Now some older translations are not going to say our great God and savior. It might say “our great God and our savior Jesus Christ” as if they're two separate persons. Scholarship done in the last couple hundred years shows that that is a poor translation. There are some Greek rules that we have discovered, not just in biblical Greek but in other secular writings at that time period.

This guy called Granville Sharp came up with some rules that actually help us better translate passages. They're quite technical, but nonetheless, the best translation here is “our great God and savior.” That's not some random decision that seems to support our view of Christ's deity. That is the best way to understand the Greek language. The discovery of those rules is over 200 years old. Here Paul is saying to Timothy that Jesus is God and savior.

The last point I want to make is that if Jesus is not the one God, and the Old Testament says that we should worship no one but the one God, then Jehovah's Witnesses set themselves and everyone else up for idolatry. They actually institutionalize the worship of a created being on their view. If Jesus is created and he is not the one God who will not share his glory with no one else, then by worshiping Christ, they're participating in idolatry, and that cannot be.

There are many other points. I've tried to cram so much into this episode. I hope you'll use it as a reference, as a launching off point. I'm sure we'll spend some more time on it in the future, but there are many ways throughout the New Testament to demonstrate the deity of Christ. [I will also try and link to the other podcasts I did, or a blog post, where I demonstrate that Jesus was God, that he claimed to be God, the same I am, the same one Yahweh from the Old Testament.]

The last thing I want to point out is this is actually the 52nd episode of this podcast. Don't let the number fool you where it says 51. We actually started at episode 0. Yeah, that's kind of a software developer joke, which no one is going to laugh at or think is funny. (It makes me smile though.)

Thank you so much to my wife, for her support, for those others of you who listen and give feedback and send me questions. Today's topic was a question submitted by a listener. I would love to field more of your questions, to actually address the topics and issues that you're struggling with, that will help you be equipped to give an answer for the hope you possess to whoever might come knocking on your door, or maybe when you knock on someone else's. Until next week, I look forward to talking with you on Unapologetic.