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Excerpts from e-mail interchange with a Jehovah's Witness
- Jehovah's Witness Question: Do you have the original manuscripts of the Scriptures? You make it sound like you do.
- My answer: I have on my book shelf a Greek New Testament which New Testament scholars say is most likely the text of the original manuscripts. It is based on the nearly 5,000 full and partial ancient manuscripts we do have of various New Testament writings. So, yes, I do speak with some certainty when I talk about what the "original manuscripts" said.
That sense of certainty is echoed by the opinion of Frederic Kenyon, director and librarian of the British Museum. He says:
"It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case with the New Testament."
So, do I have the original manuscripts in my possession? No, I do not. While no one else does either, I do feel certain that the Greek New Testament on my shelf says what the original manuscripts said.
- Jehovah's Witness question: Did you know in the Bible a woman is not permitted to teach in the congregation on the platform?
- My answer: I've looked in several Bible concordances and cannot find the word "platform" in any of them. Are you sure the Bible says this?
If you're saying women should not be in leadership roles, then what do you do with Deborah? What do you do with Priscilla who was charged with being one of Apollos' teachers? What do you do with those women in Paul's letters who were talked about as though they were house church leaders?
Yes, I know Paul does say a couple of things about women not speaking, but you have to put what Paul said together with what Paul did. To really understand what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us through Paul's writings on this issue, you have to reconcile two seemingly opposite things: what Paul said and what Paul did. It seems to me that what Paul did would carry more weight than what some people says that he seems to be saying. Indeed, you create far more Biblical interpretation problems than you solve by trying to say Paul meant that women should not have church leadership roles.
- Jehovah's Witness question: How can you say that Jesus included you in His new covenant? What scripture told you that you were in that new covenant?
- My answer: You're asking about a very important subject: Assurance. We can know that God has saved us and made us part of His Kingdom. Knowing that we are forgiven and have eternal life are matters about which we can be certain. This assurance, which begins in the new birth, springs from two sources: (1) The witness of the Spirit and (2) An inward awareness of change (Ephesians 2:1-6).
My sense of assurance does not grow simply out of right beliefs. I must not say that believing all the right things is reason enough to conclude that I am right with God.
Rather, my assurance that I partake of the New Covenant does come as the result of the testimony of God's Spirit mentioned in Romans 8 (and which is also mentioned in Galatians 4:6.
As to the "new covenant" phrase, in Jeremiah 31:31-34 the reference is clearly to all of God's people and not a small, selected group of super-spiritual people. That's true in the "new covenant" reference in Hebrews 8:7 as well.
So, who told me I was part of the new covenant? The Bible.
As I mentioned, the phrase "new covenant" appears in Jeremiah 31 and then again on the night of the Last Supper that our Lord ate with his disciples. At that time, He spoke of the cup as "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20, Matthew 26:28, Mark.14:24 and 1 Corinthians 11:25). From what you have written, you don't seem to think that 1 Corinthians is talking about how believers in Corinth were celebrating this "new covenant," but I do.
Isn't it significant how at the Last Supper, Christ connects the "new" covenant with His "blood." That makes me think of Exodus 24:7, when Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people" words indicating God's undertaking on behalf of His people and what He required of them. After Moses had read from the people, the people responded: "All that Yahweh hath spoken will we do, and be obedient" (their part of the covenant). Then comes a ratification of the covenant: "Moses took the blood (half of which had already been sprinkled on the altar), and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh hath made with you concerning all these words" (Exodus 24:8).
Clearly, the original covenant (old or older covenant) was for all of God's people. I believe -- and feel confirmed in my heart by the Spirit (Romans 8) -- that the "new" covenant which replaced it was also for ALL of God's people and not just a select few.
Take a look at Hebrews 9:11-23. What contrast does that passage make between the new covenant and the old? Is it that the old covenant was for all of God's people while the new covenant instituted by Jesus was going to be limited to only a few? No, the contrast explained in Hebrews 9:11-23 is the perfection of Christ's atonement as compared to the failings of the agricultural and animal sacrifices of the old covenant. The difference between the Old and New Covenants is not upon the "who," that is, who can participate in them. Doesn't the difference between the Old and New Covenants lie in the "how" or "substance" of them?
- Jehovah's Witness question: This is a simple question, Who is God the father? You don't have to give me the long explanation, give me the short one. Does God the father have a name?
- My answer: Again, this sounds like you don't really understand what I'm saying when I talk about the doctrine of the Trinity. The short explanation is that Scripture calls God "Yahweh." Scripture is clear that there is one God ("Yahweh") who has revealed Himself as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- Jehovah's Witness question: Where in Acts 2:42 and 2:46 did it say that the meal they were taking was the Lord's evening meal?
- My answer: The phrase "breaking bread" was a particular one. When used in Scripture in the context of a church congregational meeting, "breaking bread" always meant the Lord's Supper. Look at that phrase in its context in Acts 2. Acts 2:42 is all about spiritual things: doctrine, Christian fellowship, prayers and "breaking bread." Clearly, the reference is not to an ordinary meal, but to a worship event.
Look at how the Gospel writers describe the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19 and even Luke 24:30. Jesus took bread and "broke it." To early Christians, that "breaking bread" phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:24 meant far more than an ordinary meal. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:16. Without a doubt, "breaking bread" in 1 Corinthians 10 refers to the celebration of the Lord's Supper. So, when Paul comes back a few sentences later in the next chapter and uses that same phrase, he means exactly the same thing.
- Jehovah's Witness question: You also said that you take communion every month. Do you do this in remembrance of Jesus' death or as the Lord's Evening Meal? I hope not!
- My answer: Yes, I take communion with all the members of my church congregation every time it is served (about once a month) in full obedience of 1 Corinthians 11.
How can you read 1 Corinthians 11 and say that those First Century Christians were only observing the Lord's Supper once a year? Is Paul scolding the Corinthians because they were observing the Lord's Supper too often? No, he is not. Isn't he simply scolding them for the way they were doing it?
Are you aware that it was common in the First Century for believers to celebrate communion every week?
- Jehovah's Witness question: What do you think the Bible says about hell?
- My answer: There are three words translated as "hell" in various English versions: Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna. Hades seems to be a reference to the intermediate state of people prior to the Judgment while the one place in which tartarus is used (2 Peter 2:4) seems to be referring to an intermediate state of wicked angels. Gehenna, which is compounded from two Hebrew words ge and Hinnom, literally means "valley of Hinnom."
Hinnom thus originally was a name for a valley just southeast of Jerusalem. That's the valley where children were sacrificed to Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). Josiah, in his effort to stamp out idolatry, turned the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) into a dump for burning trash and the disposal of unclean corpses (2 Kings 23:10). It was also the place where the bodies of those slain in the destruction of Jerusalem were thrown (Isaiah 66:24 and Jeremiah 7:32). It thus became associated in the prophetic writings with the place of judgment and doom. In the New Testament, gehenna is no longer identified with the Valley of Hinnom. It now simply means eternal punishment.
When the valley of Hinnom was a garbage dump, fires burned there continually. It is thus not surprising that the words unquenchable fire, eternal fire and furnace of fire are associated with the usage of the word gehenna.
In the New Testament, that compound word "Gehenna" is used 12 times. Eleven of those references are in statements of Jesus. In all 12 instances, the words refers to punishment in the future yet to come. Thus, the word "hell" in the sense of Gehenna refers to the final punishment of evil angels and impenitent human beings.
The terms used in Scripture to express the idea of future punishment have a great deal of the figurative about them. Perhaps the most horrifying thing about the idea of hell is the banishment from God's presence that is indicated in Matthew 25:41. To be banished from God is to be forever separated from all good.
In terms of hell being eternal, we have to look carefully at the word "everlasting" or "eternal" used in Matthew 18:8. The parallel passage in Mark 9:43-44 adds some additional phrases of explanation. The phrase "eternal damnation" is also used in Mark 3:29. There's also the use of the words "eternal" or "everlasting" in Matthew 25:31-46.
Hell is called "outer darkness" by Jesus (Matthew 8:21; 22:13; 25:30). Since light and darkness symbolize good and evil, outer darkness would then be absolute evil.
Some people protest that a good God could never send people to hell. That objection to the existence of hell is answered by Jesus' scathing question in Matthew 23:33: "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"
In at least three places in the New Testament, the phrase "outer darkness" is followed by the clause "there men will weep and gnash their teeth." So, clearly, this "outer darkness" is not a place of unconsciousness or annihilation, but of conscious remorse and suffering.
Among the terms that Paul uses are "death" (thanatos) and "destruction" (apoleia, olethros). As Paul uses them, those words are qualitative rather than temporal terms. The Watchtower publication often appeals to Vine's Expository Dictionary of the New Testament as an authority. Do you know what Vine says about Paul's use of "apoleia," the word often translated "destruction"? Vine says that "apoleia" (or destruction) as used in Romans 9:22 and Philippians 3:19 means "loss of well being, not of being." Thus, when Paul speaks of "destruction" he does not mean "annihilation." Indeed, Paul explains that he is talking about "exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might" (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Nowhere do Old or New Testament writings say that a human's final end is total extinction. As I have noted, the New Testament warns that a person may be destroyed (or rather self-destroyed). However, this does not mean annihilation. When a watch gets smashed, it may be destroyed as a watch, but it does not vanish. In its ruined state, that watch is still a watch, even though it is a sad contrast to what it was designed to be. When Jesus taught that "whoever wishes to save his life shall destroy (apolesis) it (Mark 8:35), He did not mean that one would thus vanish.
Some have argued that "aionios" which is commonly translated "everlasting" or "eternal" means only "of the ages" and does not necessarily contain the sense of "without end." However, while this Greek term is used seven times of the future punishment of the wicked, it is used some 51 times of the future happiness of the redeemed. So, if you say that the future punishment of the impenitent is terminated by annihilation, then you have undercut the Biblical argument for everlasting life for the righteous (since the same word is used to say that both the punishment are the reward are "everlasting").
- Jehovah's Witness question: According to Philippians 2:9-11, Who gave Jesus his exalted position?
- My answer: Because we have come to different conclusions about what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the future, about the church, the nature and means of salvation and other things, we are going to disagree on the meaning of almost every verse in the Bible.
We both have ways of looking at Holy Scripture that seem coherent to us. Because we have chosen different paths, however, we thus see the same words in a different light.
For instance, I see Revelation 7:9 as saying people from every tongue, people and nation will be in heaven. As a Jehovah's Witness, you say it doesn't mean that. I see the phrase "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" in Ephesians 4:30 as a clear indication that the Holy Spirit is a Person. You say it doesn't mean that. I see the words of Mark 9:43 -- which says, " "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire." -- as meaning that those who refuse God's invitation to be reconciled to Him will exist throughout all eternity separated from Him. You say it doesn't mean that. I take the words of Colossians 2:9 -- "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" -- to mean that Christ was fully God. You do not.
Now, as to the Philippians 2 passage. In the mystery of the workings of the Trinity, it is God the Father who gives God the Son His exalted position. God the Son voluntarily assumed a subordinate position; God the Father exalted Him. Indeed, in verse 11 when Jesus is called Lord, the Greek word that is used is the equivalent of the Hebrew Adonai in the Old Testament which clearly refers to God!
In Romans 14:9-12, Isaiah 45:23-24 is quoted and applied to the Father. In Philippians 2:9-11 that same form of the highest worship mentioned in Isaiah 45 is applied to the Son. What a powerful testimony that both the Father and the Son are God.
I realize that is not the way you see Philippians 2, but that is the way I see it.
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