Updated: More Watch Tower Error

(Please Note: if you would like an edited and expanded PDF version of this study for reference purposes, click the following link: More Watch Tower Error)

Today I spent nearly an hour and a half with a Jehovah’s Witness couple speaking about the gospel and imputation, among other things. In doing so, I picked up the latest edition of the Watch Tower publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach?, and was shocked, even by Watch Tower standards, to see how many errors were on each page in reference to Jesus, His deity and eternality. Take for example the two paragraphs below, which can be located on pages 41-42 of the publication in question;

      Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son – and for good reason. He is called “the firstborn of all creation,” for he was God’s first creation.* (Colossians 1:15) There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things. (Colossians 1:16) Then, too, Jesus is called “the Word.” (John 1:14) This tells us that He spoke for God, no doubt delivering messages and instructions to the Father’s other sons, both spirit and human.

     Is the firstborn Son equal to God, as some believe? This is not what the Bible teaches. As we noted in the preceding paragraph, the Son was created. Obviously, then, he had a beginning, whereas Jehovah God has no beginning. (Psalm 90:2) The only-begotten Son never even considered trying to be equal to his Father. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is greater than the Son. (Read John 14:28: 1 Corinthians 11:3) Jehovah alone is “God Almighty.” (Genesis 17:1) Therefore, He has no equal.[1]

     As we first approach the text in question, let us look at the first two sentences of paragraph one, namely, where the text reads that Jesus was Jehovah’s “first creation.” The basis for this teaching is the text of Col 1.15, where the term “firstborn” is utilized of the Son. However, is a literal understanding of this term appropriate to the context? Not at all. First, the term in question, πρωτότοκος (prototokos), is defined by BDAG as “to having special status associated with a firstborn.”[2] Hence, in this context, πρωτότοκος is not referring to birth/birth order, but rather, birthright. Notice how Louw-Nida handles this word in context, “87.47 πρωτότοκοςc: pertaining to existing superior to all else of the same or related class—‘superior to, above all.’ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘existing superior to all creation’ Col 1:15.”[3]

This understanding of πρωτότοκος as referring to birthright or as one who receives inheritance is confirmed just three verses later in the Colossians text, where Paul writes of Jesus, “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.18). Note how the Colossians text both confirms and explains the context in which πρωτότοκος is to be understood. In short, the use of this term is not speaking to Jesus “being created” or “born” in the literal sense (how does a spirit give birth?), but rather, it is being used to explain that Jesus is the preeminent one of all creation who is “heir of all things” (Heb 1.2). Finally, note the Exegetical Summary of Colossians concerning this term;

πρωτότοκος (LN 10.43; 13.79; 87.47) (BAGD 2.a. p. 726): ‘firstborn’ [BAGD, Herm, LN (10.43), Lns, NIC, NTC, WBC; CEV, KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NJB, NRSV], ‘existing first’ [LN (13.79)], ‘existing before’ [LN (13.79)], ‘superior to’ [LN (87.47)]. This noun is also translated as a verb phrase: ‘to take precedence’ [TNT], ‘to rank above’ [SSA]; as a noun phrase followed by an adjective: ‘first-born Son, superior’ [TEV]; by a clause: ‘his is the primacy’ [REB], ‘he existed before God made anything at all and is supreme’ [NLT].

QUESTION—What is meant by πρωτότοκος ‘firstborn’?

It was a title of the Messiah [ICC, Lt, NIC, SSA, TNTC]. It means that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and thus is God [Lns] and not a created being [EG, Lns]. It does not refer to Jesus’ birth as a human being [Alf, TH], but to his relation to God as the eternal Son of God and his heir [TH]. ‘Image of the invisible God’ refers to Christ’s relation to God, and ‘firstborn of all creation’ to his relation to the creation [Lg, Lt, My, WBC].[4]

     Seeing how πρωτότοκος does not and cannot mean what the Society claims, this now leads us to another flaw in Watch Tower theology, namely, that Jesus is the creator of “all ‘other’ things.” The New World Translation (NWT) inserts the term “other” into the text arbitrarily, with no justification from the New Testament Greek text. The Greek of the New Testament Scriptures reads as follows, “ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα” (Col 1.16, SBL GNT, see also the NA-28), with a literal rendering of this clause being “because by him were created all things.” Note that the Greek text reads that Jesus is the creator of “all things,” not “all other things” as the NWT claims.

By inserting the term “other” into the text, the Watch Tower attempts to apply temporality to the Son, thus rendering Him a created being (the word “other” is likewise inserted without justification from the Greek at the end of verse 16, verse 17 and verse 20. See also Philippians 2.9, where they insert “other” as in, “every other name” without justification, where the Greek reads, “every name”). However, in reality, He is the creator of ALL THINGS in both Heaven and Earth (the Greek term panta “all things” is all-inclusive),[5] thus indicating that He is Yahweh (YHWH) the Son, very God of very God – the creator God if you will.

On this note, if Jesus is a created being, and the creator of “all things,” I question where Jesus was when He was created according the Society theology? After all, it could not have been in Heaven, as the Watch Tower proclaims on page 41 of the same publication, where it states, “The Bible teaches that Jesus lived in heaven before he came to earth.”[6] I likewise am left to wonder how Jesus, being the creator of “all things” (again, not “all other things” as the NWT claims), created Himself. Meaning, it is one thing for the society to claim that the Father created the Son, but, it is quite another thing to prove such a thing, especially when the text of Colossians clearly proclaims that if it exists in any realm (either spiritual or physical), Jesus created it. Finally, note the words of Thomas Constable and Norman Geisler in the following screen shots regarding the issue of Jesus being the “firstborn”[7] and creator;[8]

pho 1

2

Moving on, the third error of the first paragraph of the Watch Tower publication is noted when, in citing John 3.16, the text states that Jesus is the “only begotten Son” of the Father. The publication goes on to say “This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God.” There is an error of both translation and logic in such a statement. First, over the course of recent years, it has been discovered that the term μονογενής (monogenes) DOES NOT mean “only begotten,” but rather, “the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only . . . to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind),” as noted by BDAG.[9] Louw-Nida confirms this understanding when it proclaims of this term, “58.52 μονογενής: pertaining to what is unique in the sense of being the only one of the same kind or class—‘unique, only.’”[10]

An example of how this term is rendered in modern day scholarship can be seen in the following. In their discussion of the term monogenes as found in John 1.18, textual scholar Philip M. Miller, in a book edited by Greek scholar and textual critic Daniel B. Wallace, renders the terms monogenes theos as “unique God,” as opposed to the older and incorrect rendering of “only begotten.”[11] Moreover, nearly every modern translation of the Bible notes the change from “begotten” to “only/unique,” as seen in the ESV, LEB, NIV, HCSB and the NET. In fact, in large part, the only translations to hold on to the “begotten(ness)” of the Son when monogenes is concerned are those translations that have been highly influenced by King James tradition, with the exception of the NASB. Hence, the NWT and the Watch Tower publication in question are simply wrong in reference to this verse, the use of this term, and how monogenes applies to Jesus.

But, there is more, namely, a thing can only “beget” that which is in its nature to “beget” (see the law of identity). This is noted by the famed textual scholar Bruce Metzger when, in his scathing review of the NWT, proclaims,

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is just this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set . . . . NOW that’s the first thing to get clear. What God begets is Cod; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man.[12]

     With Metzger’s comments in mind, it’s noted that God cannot beget anything other than that which matches perfectly His own nature. And, in this sense, He cannot beget begetting another God, for He alone is eternal and infinite. Hence, as noted by Metzger, even if the term “begotten” was correct in texts such as John 3.16, it would certainly not imply that Jesus was some sort of created being, or little “g” god-like being. Instead, it would imply that Jesus Himself was very God of very God, just as the terms “one and only Son” imply in the text of John 3.16.

Moving on to paragraph two, the publication states that the Son is not equal to the Father. This is a deceptive manner of presenting Jesus and His relationship to the Father, and it certainly cannot be answered with a simple, “the Bible nowhere teaches this” sort of response. First, Jesus is “God” (Jn 1.1c), “the unique God” (Jn 1.18.), “the Lord of me and the God of me” (Jn 20.28, per the words of Thomas, this is the literal Greek rendering), “the great God and Savior” (Titus 2.13 and 2 Pet 1.1 – see the Granville Sharp Rule on these verses), “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9.5) and so on. Hence, ontologically (in the nature of His being), Jesus is certainly equal to the Father in every sense – He is God. Next, in Philippians 2.6, the Greek term isa is used of the Son, indicating that He indeed IS equal to the Father, seeing how for all eternity, He existed in the morphe or “form” of God – a quality that only God possesses. Moreover, Jesus is Yahweh (the Son), as noted in Heb 1.10-12 where the text of Ps 102.25-27 is used to describe the Him – verses which can only pertain to YHWH.

The same is true of Phil 2.10-11, where the text of Isa 45.23 is applied to the Son, for He is the one that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess because He is the one who possesses “the name above every name” (Yahweh). Likewise, in John 12.41, the apostle proclaims of the Son, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” This is a reference to Isa 6.1 (LXX), where the prophet Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on the throne. Isaiah was speaking about Yahweh, and John tells us it was Jesus. Also, Colossians 2.9 tells the reader that in Jesus, all the fullness of deity dwells bodily. Put another way, that which makes God, God, dwells bodily in Jesus. He is likewise the perfect reflection of the very essence/nature of God according to Heb 1.3. Thus, He perfectly reflects the attributes of God, namely, eternality, omniscience, omniscience and so on. And the list could go on. In short, there is no shortage of verses proving the absolute deity and equality of the Son to the Father – for in their personhood, they are both fully YHWH.

However, within the “economic Trinity,” terms utilized to speak to the relationship of duties between the three members of the Triune God-head, the Son and the Holy Spirit are willfully submissive to the Father. Hence, it their duty or role, and via the incarnation, where Jesus empties Himself by taking on human flesh (Phil 2.7), the Son proclaims “the Father is greater than I” (John 14.28). This is not a proclamation of inferiority, but rather, it’s a declaration of willful submissiveness, as a son has to a father. Using a human example, in the marriage union, the husband is the head of household and the wife is to be willfully submissive to this position (c.f. 1 Cor 11.1-3). Yet, is the husband greater ontologically? Certainly not. Again, a son is to be submissive to his father, but in the nature of their being, is either of them greater? Not at all. And thus was see what theologians have proclaimed throughout the centuries, that the Father, Son and Spirit are equal in their ontology, yet, the Son and the Spirit are submissive regarding their roles, with the Father sending the Son, and the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit. Hence, another error in Watch Tower theology is exposed.

Finally, as noted in the second paragraph of the publication, the Society proclaims that Jesus “had a beginning,” a view which we have already dismantled. However, they failed to take into account a set of verses which I have already touched upon, namely, Ps 102.25-27, which reads, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”

These verses speak to the immutability of YHWH, and the fact that He does not and cannot change. It likewise identifies YHWH as the eternal God, who has no beginning and no end. And it’s these very same verses which speak to the existence of the Son as eternal YHWH, where in Heb 1.10-12, the text reads, “And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Heb 1.10-12).

How do hope you see the impact of the verses before us. Jesus, the Son of God, is being described with verses of eternality and immutability that can only apply to YHWH God, thus confirming the point of this study, that Jesus is in fact, YHWH the Son. So, using the Watch Towers publication title, “What Does the Bible Really Teach?,” we can proclaim that the Scriptures teach that there is only one God, YHWH (Isa 43.10), and that three persons are identified as both God and YHWH, thus confirming the teaching of the Trinity in the pages of Holy Writ.

 

     [1] What Does the Bible Really Teach, (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society), 41-42.

     [2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 894.

     [3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 737.

     [4] Martha King, An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 50-51.

     [5] QUESTION—What is meant by τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ‘all things in the heavens and on the earth’?

It refers to all created things [Alf, Ea, EG, EGT, ICC, Lg, Lt, My, SSA, TH, TNTC], both animate and inanimate [TH]. It includes everything in the heavens and on the earth [Herm, Lns, My], that is, in the universe [Ea, LN, Lns]. It means the inhabitants of heaven and earth [NIC]. It emphasizes the fact that absolutely everything is included [Lns, NTC, SSA, WBC]. Martha King, An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 53.

     [6] Ibid., What Does the Bible Really Teach, 41.

     [7] As the ESV Study Bible Properly notes, “firstborn of all creation. It would be wrong to think in physical terms here, as if Paul were asserting that the Son had a physical origin or was somehow created (the classic Arian heresy) rather than existing eternally as the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the Godhead. (See the article on The Trinity.) What Paul had in mind was the rights and privileges of a firstborn son, especially the son of a monarch who would inherit ruling sovereignty. This is how the expression is used of David: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27).” Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 238294-238298). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

     [8] For a free copy of this PowerPoint, see https://appliedapologetics.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/colossians-1-15-20-powerpoint/

     [9] Ibid., BDAG, 658.

     [10] Ibid., Louw-Nida, 591.

     [11] Daniel B. Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 73.

     [12] Bruce M. Metzger, The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ, (Theology Today), 77.

 

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