My responses to a Jehovah's Witness

The resurrection of Jesus, whether God still speaks today, and the significance of the phrase Son of God

"As usual, Paul entered there and . . . discussed the Scriptures with them." -- Acts 17:2 (International Study Bible)

Excerpts from email exchanges I had with a Jehovah's Witness

Jehovah's Witness question: Since Jesus died and you are teaching that Jesus is God, isn't that saying God died? So, if that's the case, who resurrected him? Did a dead person resurrect himself?
My answer: It's my understanding that Jehovah's Witnesses believe that human beings cease to exist at death and that "resurrection" therefore means to be recreated from Jehovah's memory. Do I correctly understand what you have been taught on that?

Let's look at some scriptures that show that our Lord Jesus Christ did not cease to exist when he died, and which indicate that he was raised immortal in the same physical body that died on the cross.

The second chapter of John's gospel recounts a conversation between Jesus and some unnamed Jews. In this passage, John quotes what Jesus said and then notes the response of those with whom he is speaking. John then explains what Jesus meant and explains how Jesus' disciples came to understand what he meant. The passage says:

"Then the Jews demanded of him, 'What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?'

"Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.'

"The Jews replied, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?'

"But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

     -- John 2:18-22

In this episode, skeptical Jews were asking Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah. Jesus replied that although his physical body was going to die, he would raise himself from death.

Isn't a clear implication of being able to raise himself from the dead that, even after death, Jesus would continue to have a conscious existence? If Jesus continued to have a conscious existence after the death of his body, then perhaps other people do not cease to exist at death either. In fact, as is said in other scriptures, all the dead must face the judgment of God where they will be accorded either salvation because of their faith in Christ or condemnation because they rejected Christ. Matthew 25:46 says it clearly: "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to life eternal."

Jesus claimed (and John affirmed) that his resurrection would be bodily. It would be, in fact, the same body that was crucified on the cross. Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again."

John defines "this temple" as his body. Therefore, Jesus declares and John affirms that Jesus was resurrected in the same human body in which he lived and died. So, Jesus' resurrection is a bodily resurrection. It is not a "spirit" resurrection. There's also the passage in Luke 24:39 where the resurrected Jesus assures his disciples:
"Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

By saying that he will raise himself from the dead, Jesus is also claiming to be God Almighty. Although prophets were used by God to resuscitate people who had died, and Jesus raised others during his ministry, the power to resurrect someone from the dead never to die again, belongs to God alone. The Scriptures clearly declare that it was God who raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:22, 24, 32, 36; Acts 3:13-15; Romans 10:9).

In John 10, Jesus explains how it is possible for him to die and yet raise himself from the dead. Because He was Yahweh, Jesus had the power to raise his physical body from the dead. He declares:
"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life -- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

I realize all this sounds different from what you are being taught by the Watchtower Society. However, don't you think that when eternal life is on the line, one should be willing to follow the Scriptures no matter where they lead?
Jehovah's Witness question: Did you know that God no longer speaks to us today now that we have the Bible to read? Why would He need to repeat Himself by speaking to us directly?
My answer: I am sorry you think God has gone deaf and dumb these days. He does still speak as He has spoken throughout the centuries. Maybe He's not speaking to the Jehovah's Witnesses these days, but He is speaking! Praise be to His name.

All through the history of God's interaction with human beings, He has both spoken and has used written records. The biblical record is the story of the Creator God interacting with His creation. You may think He has changed and does not currently interact with us, but I don't!
Jehovah's Witness question: Didn't the religious leaders execute Jesus because he said he was God's Son? Look at John 19:7: "The Jews answered him: 'We have a law, and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself GOD'S SON.'" What part of this scripture don't you understand?"
My answer: The First Century Jews would have understood the phrase "Son of God" to be referring to his nature rather than to an ancestral relationship (just as "Son of Man" refers to His nature as a human being and not to his ancestry). Scripture is clear: Jesus was crucified because He identified Himself as God. A few chapters earlier in John there is the passage:
Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
-- John 10:32-33
That Jesus identified Himself as God is also clear from Matthew 16:16, 26:63-65, and Luke 22:70-71 as well as the passage from John which you quoted. When the Sanhedrin condemned Christ to death, it did so on the grounds of His claims not to messiahship but to deity. To Jews, there was only one deity and He was called the Lord: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." -- Deuteronomy 6:4

Was Jesus crucified because he claimed to be a super angel? No, He was crucified because the Jewish leaders of His day understood Him to be claiming that He was God. They wouldn't have executed him if He had been merely claiming to be some sort of angel. Someone claiming to being an angel -- even the archangel -- was not guilty of a capital offense. The fact that Jewish authorities went to the trouble of convincing the Roman government to put Jesus to death strongly suggests that those Jews understood Jesus to be claiming to be God.

The English phrase "Son of God" may not always communicate clearly what First Century Jews would have understood when they said "Son of God."

The English words can make us think of "son" as something totally separate. However, think about the phrase "Son of Man" which was also used of Jesus. Does "Son of Man" mean Jesus wasn't really Man? No, what Son of Man meant to the Greek speaking people of the First Century was that Jesus was fully man. Thus, the phrase "Son of God" means that Jesus was fully God.

"Son of God" does not mean son in the sense of "office," that is "descended from." Son in both phrases -- "Son of God" and "Son of Man" -- is in terms of nature or genus. This thought would have come through much clearer to people of Bible times than it does to us English-speaking folks of the 21st century.

Early Jewish Christians would not have been banished from the synagogues for polytheism -- which is what they might have been accused of preaching if they had been saying Jesus was an almost-divine being just a notch below Yahweh. Were they banished for such a belief? No, they were not. However, they were banished and it was for saying that Jesus was God himself. Saul (who later became Paul) went after Christians and even had some of them put to death. He charged them with blasphemy for their belief that Jesus was God in human form. He did not go after them because they were saying that Jesus was the archangel Michael.
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Watchtower Society interchange: Recently a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I exchanged a lot of e-mail messages about beliefs and doctrines. Here are questions he asked and responses I gave. In essence, this is a blog of our conversations. There will be some overlapping of material since the email conversation occasionally circled back similar themes.

One of the sad things about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely asked me a follow-up question. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed anything in-depth.

    -- Howard Culbertson

Jehovah's Witnesses:     PowerPoint on history, beliefs and practices of the Jehovah's Witnesses

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