“Good afternoon, Ma’am, we are in your neighborhood today asking people an important question about faith. Do you mind if we ask you a question?” A middle-aged man stood at the door wearing a nicely tailored suit and tie and holding a brief case in one hand. In the other hand he held a book. Next to him stood a woman wearing a stylish dress.
“No, I don’t mind,” the young woman, Linda, replied.
“In your opinion,” he queried. “Who is Jesus Christ?”
“The Son of God,” she unhesitatingly responded.
“That’s how most people answer, but have you ever thought about what that really means?” He held out the book. “This book tells what the Bible really teaches about Jesus and what it means to call him ‘the Son of God.’ It is titled The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. It clears up some of the confusing ideas many people have about Jesus, Would you care to purchase a copy?”
Linda looked at the volume. “Who published it?”
“It is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The question posed to Linda in the above vignette is one of the most critical religious and philosophical subjects of all time. It automatically leads to other equally crucial issues. Just who was this Man, Jesus, historically? What did He accomplish and why? And most important, what does His life mean to an individual?
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) – also known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses – is one religious organization that claims to possess definite answers to all questions about Jesus Christ. That unusual religious movement was founded in 1884 by Charles Taze Russell (1852 – 1916) and is now led by a small committee of supposedly inspired biblical interpreters who claim to have the final word about the person and work of Jesus, as well as all other theological issues. Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe confidently that the WBTS’ positions indisputably are correct and any opinions to the contrary are wrong.
The most significant issue for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those outside that organization, is how one’s relationship to Christ is affected by Watchtower views. In this and the following installment, we will examine in detail the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses about Jesus and how it compares to what the Bible actually teaches.
Jesus’ Prehuman Existence
The WBTS teaches that Jesus Christ was the first created being of Jehovah God. Jehovah God made Jesus as a divine-like spirit at some point in ancient, pre-creation time. “This means that he was created before all the other spirit sons of God, and that he is the only one who was directly created by God” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth [Live] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1982], p. 58).
In His preexistence, Jesus was known as “the Word” (John 1:3,10,14) because He was God’s spokesman, according to the WBTS. He is also identified by Jehovah’s Witnesses with Michael the archangel. “Reasonably, then, the archangel Michael is Jesus Christ. So the evidence indicates that the Son of God (Jesus) was known as Michael before he came to earth” (Reasoning from the Scriptures [Reasoning] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1985], p. 218).
The WBTS teaches that through the agency of the prehuman Christ, Jehovah created all other things in the universe. “He is also God’s ‘only-begotten’ Son in that he is the only one directly created by Jehovah God; all other things came into existence through him as God’s Chief Agent” (The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life [Truth] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract society of New York, 1968], p. 47).
This Agent, however, is not to be confused as being a Co-creator with God. “The Son’s share in the creative works did not make him a Co-creator with the Father. Rather than a Co-creator, the Son was the Agent or instrumentality through whom Jehovah, the Creator, worked” (Aid to Bible Understanding, [Aid] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1971, p. 918).
Christians maintain there is no scriptural evidence to equate Michael the archangel with the pre-human Christ. The WBTS’ assertion that they are the same person is based on their incorrect assumptions about Christ’s creation and misinterpretations of Daniel 10 and 12, Jude 9, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. None of those passages identify Michael as Christ. Also, Christians contend that Christ was not merely a created being, but eternally preexistent as God the Son with the Father. He was indeed, with the Father and the Spirit, Creator of all things (see John 1:1-14; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; Rev. 3:14).
The WBTS absolutely denies the deity and eternal preexistence of Jesus Christ. This contrasts sharply with historic Christian belief that Jesus was God the Son, the second member of the eternal Trinity.
The WBTS’ doctrinal position is similar to the fourth century Arian heresy, universally rejected by Christian churches at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. The WBTS has made a number of interpretative errors and blatant translation distortions to conform Scripture to their theological presuppositions. For example, the official Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), translates John 1:1: “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
The WBTS asserts that since the Greek language has no indefinite articles (a or an), the article can be used where needed in translating; thus they insert “a” before god to relegate the Word (Christ) to a position of less than equality with the God Jehovah. This biased rendering cannot be justified grammatically and has been rejected by every reputable Greek scholar.
The WBTS also errs in its translation and interpretation of Colossians 1:15-20.
“Because by means of him all [other] things were created in he heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist” (Col. 1:16-17, NWT).
The WBTS interprets the word “firstborn” in verse 15 to mean “first-created.” However, the firstborn (prototokos) principle in Hebrew culture refers to privilege and superiority, not to priority in time. Also, note how the WBTS has presumptuously added to its translation of verses 16-20 by parenthetically inserting “other” in several places where no word appears in the Greek text. This unwarranted addition is made so the text will conform to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theological position. It contends that Jesus was not the ultimate creator of “all things” (panta) in the universe, but only all “other” things.
Another example is the WBTS’ translation and interpretation of Revelation 3:14 (NASB), “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” The NWT renders the latter clause as, “the beginning of the creation by God,” which the WBTS maintains is proof that Jesus was the first created being. This interpretation errs at two points. First, the word rendered “beginning” is the Greek arche, which can also be translated as “source” (New English Bible); “ruler” (New International Version), or “origin” (Good News Bible), thus confirming the orthodox view of Christ’s divinity.
As famed Greek scholar A.T. Robertson commented on this phrase: “Not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians (and Jehovah’s Witnesses) do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works” (Archibald Thomas Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1933, p. 321).
The point of the verse is that Jesus was creation’s “beginning,” not in time, but as its source or origin of being (i.e. God).
The other problem with the WBTS’ interpretation of this verse concerns their translation of the clause tou Theou as “by God.” The genitive grammatical usage requires “of God,” which further suggests that Christ is the prime source or origin of God’s creation, not its beginning in time.
Other Scriptures also are translated incorrectly or interpreted to fit the Jehovah’s Witness’ theology. In John 8:58 (NASB), when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,” is rendered in the NWT as “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” Jesus’ use of the term “I am” (ego eimi) was clearly understood to mean He was identifying Himself with the God of the Old Testament (Yahweh – the “I am”).
Another example is John 14:28 (NASB), in which Jesus states, “The Father is greater than I.” That phrase is interpreted by WBTS to prove Jesus’ inferiority. Christian interpreters contend that the verse refers to the voluntary, temporary subordination of Jesus during His earthly life, not to His divine nature.
Another blatant WBTS distortion is Titus 2:13. It is inaccurately translated in the NWT as “while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of (the) Savior of us, Christ Jesus.” The verse is rendered correctly by the New American Standard Bible as “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Clearly the phrase “our great God and Savior” is intended to identify “Christ Jesus.” The two words “of (the)” used in the NWT do not appear in the Greek text.
The obvious conclusion is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses approach its biblical translation and interpretation with a clear anti-Trinitarian bias. They are intent on denying and obscuring the biblical teaching of the full deity of Jesus Christ. This denial presents a radical deviation from historic Christian theology and thus places Jehovah’s Witnesses outside orthodox Christianity, establishing it as a pseudo-Christian cult.
In Part 2 of this article we will analyze the Jehovah’s Witness perspectives on Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and return.
Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. Used by permission.
© 2013 Tal Davis