Significance of "begotten," whether God created Jesus, meaning of "Jesus is Lord," and learning about the Bible

8. Responses to a Jehovah's Witness questions

"As usual, Paul entered there and . . . discussed the Scriptures with them." -- Acts 17:2

Excerpts from an email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness

Watchtower Society interchange: Recently a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I exchanged a lot of email messages about beliefs and doctrines. Here are the the questions he asked and the 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 to the same themes.

One sad thing about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely responded to my answers or asked me follow-up questions. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed anything in-depth.

Jehovah's Witness question: Doesn't "only begotten" clearly mean that Jehovah created Jesus?
My response: The Greek word translated as "only begotten" is monogenes. That word is used several times in Scripture and particularly of Jesus in John's writings. Monogenes is a compound word made up of two other words. The King James Version translators liked to translate word-for-word when possible. So when they came to the compound word monogenes, they translated mono as "only" and genes as "begotten."

There's no question about monos being the equivalent of "only." It's the genes part of that word that needs some reflection. Some have assumed it comes from a Greek word that means "give birth" or "beget." Others say that the last half of monogenes comes from the Greek noun genos that most often means "kind" or "type." Thus, many modern translations will use the phrase "one and only" or "one of a kind" in passages like John 3:16.

Some scholars see monogenes as a strengthened form of monos meaning "alone," "unique," and "incomparable." Supporting this is the way the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) renders Psalm 25:16, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely (monogenes) and afflicted" (NASB). In this passage monogenes clearly means "alone" rather than having anything to do with descent. It means "the only kin or kind," hence, "the only." In John 3:16 "begotten" does not mean generated or created. "Begotten" is instead a reference to a relationship without reference to origin.

Have you read any writings by C.S. Lewis? He's the author of things like The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis says:
"To beget is to become the father of something; to create is to make something. When you beget something you beget something that is the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, and beaver begets beavers, and a bird begets eggs that become baby birds. But when you make, you make of a kind different from yourself. Birds make nests, beavers make dams, a man makes a wireless set. . . What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man creates is not man."
Lewis is saying that if God "begat" Jesus, then Jesus was God. If John did not mean equality in terms of essence, mind, and heart, he would have said God created Jesus.

When "only begotten" refers to Christ, it means "unique" and "only beloved." Only begotten expresses Christ's eternal union with the Father in the Godhead. What monogenes does is to direct our attention to God's character, will, love, and grace as it is conveyed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jehovah's Witness question: Did you know that Jesus is the only thing God actually created? According to John 1, it was Jesus who then created everything.
My answer: I'm glad that you agree Jesus was the Creator of all things. Furthermore, does it say anywhere in Scripture that God "created" Jesus? No, it does not. Having established that, let's look at the following Scriptures: Don't these passages clearly refer to Yahweh as Creator? If Yahweh is the Creator and Jesus created all things (as you agree that John 1 says He did), then Jesus must be Yahweh. . . . unless, of course, you're going to say we shouldn't take those Scriptures literally. To be sure, you have said: "The scriptures decide what is literal and what is not literal, not us." In none of these passages is there any indication the words are not to be taken literally. Therefore, if we follow your principle, we must take these words liteally. Right?

As Paul talks about Jesus in his letter to the Colossians, he says that "all things were created by him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). If Jesus had been the Michael the Archangel -- rather than Yahweh himself -- would he have really created all things for himself? Would an angel - even an archangel -- have dared to do that? Would not such a statement be directly contrary to Isaiah 43:7 which says God or Yahweh created "everyone ... for my glory"? If Jesus was fully God, then there's no contradiction between the passage in Isaiah and the one in Colossians. If Jesus was not Yahweh, then don't you have two contradictory statements?
Jehovah's Witness question: How do you explain 1 Corinthians 8:6 ("Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live")?
My answer: First, let's look at the whole chapter. To really understand any Scripture verse, we need to see it in the original context in which it appears. The principal issue in 1 Corinthians 8 is what Christians in Corinth were to do about buying food that had been previously sacrificed to idols.

In that discussion, Paul declares to the Corinthian believers that the idols they see throughout their city have no power. Most people in Corinth followed religions that had multiple gods. Paul declares to the believers in Corinth that there is only one God and one Lord.

Paul is not trying to say to the Corinthians: "Instead of many gods and lords, there is only one of each." Paul is saying there is only one God, only one Lord. Isn't that clear when he uses the exact same phraseology to describe both God the Father and Jesus Christ ("through whom all things came and through whom we live")? Also, as Paul continues the discussion in verse eight, he doesn't continue talking about both God and Jesus as though they were separate. He only talks about God.

In chapter nine, Paul mentions Moses. Didn't Moses refer to Yahweh as "Lord" numerous times in his writings (the Hebrew word that Moses uses is Adonai)? Among those would be Genesis 16:13: "She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me." Another example would be the clear reference to Yahweh as Lord in Genesis 24:12: "Then he prayed, 'O Lord, God of my master Abraham.'"

Now, if the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to refer to Yahweh as Lord and the same Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say there is only one Lord and that Lord is Jesus, wouldn't that mean that Jesus is Yahweh?

In Paul's writings, the opportunity for Gentiles to be converted is built on Isaiah's description of what will happen when the Messiah has come and there will be a light to the nations, "a light to the Gentiles." That phrase comes from Isaiah 42 where the prophet also writes, "This is what God the Lord says" (Isaiah 42:5).

Paul says, "There is only one Lord." Do you think Paul had forgotten about all those Old Testament Scriptures which refer to God as "Lord"? Had he just badly misunderstood them? Or, did he purposefully use that wording to proclaim that Jesus was God Himself?
Jehovah's Witness question: How long have you been knowing the Bible, and who taught you the Bible?
My answer: Two great questions. I'm hoping you're asking these sincerely and not just hoping to find something for which to criticize me.

The Bible has been a part of my life for six decades. I actually read it all the way through -- cover to cover -- when I was about 10 years old. To be sure, there were lots of things I didn't understand in that first reading. However, that initial reading was very valuable because it gave me a sense of the storyline running all through those 66 documents. It gave me a sense that the Bible was not just a collection of stand-alone stories or thoughts that were randomly thrown together. It also made me think of each of the individual books as a unified document rather than a compilation of verses (thoughts) that didn't build on each other and that had little or no connection to each other.

As to who taught me the Bible, the first "teacher" that came to mind was the Bible itself. Doesn't, for example, Moses' re-telling of the events of Exodus and Numbers in Deuteronomy, in a sense, become a teaching of what the content of Exodus and Numbers means? Doesn't Jesus' use of passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy in answer to the question about the "greatest commandment" teach us what we should see as key principles in the Old Testament? Doesn't Hosea's life story teach us something about the phrase in John 3:16 that says, "God so loved the world"? Doesn't the "faith chapter" in Hebrews teach us the key point about several Old Testament personages? Doesn't the book of Habbakuk teach us what Proverbs 3:5-6 means ("trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .")? Doesn't Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost become a teaching about what the life of Christ recorded in the gospels means?

Well, I could go on and on, but hopefully, you get the idea. I think the various books of the Bible are sometimes the best at explaining what other books in the Bible have to say.

In addition to the Bible books themselves, another good teacher I've had of the Bible is God the Holy Spirit. John 16:7-13 records the words of Jesus: "Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. . . When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth."

So, the Holy Spirit has been one of my great Bible teachers.

As to human teachers, I think of people who've taught me through what they've written. There was a man named John Wesley who lived in the 1700s whose writings have been key to understanding God's call to holy living as it is revealed in scripture. There was William Carey whose writings in the early 1800s were a call to see how often God's heart for all peoples of the earth shows through in the Bible. There was Ray Stedman, a pastor from California, whose book Body Life was helpful in seeing clearly what passages in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 were saying about the Church. The writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who died in one of Hitler's concentration camps, emphasized for me the Biblical call to be totally sold out to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. The writings of missionary-to-India E. Stanley Jones have been very valuable in comprehending Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

In high school, I spent a year with young friends working through Paul's letter to the Romans. By the end of that year, we knew its wording forwards and backwards. Those friends -- although they were just high school students -- were some of my teachers concerning the book of Romans.

Key pastors who helped guide my learning of scripture have included men like Hardy Powers, Millard Reed, Harold Daniels, E. S. Phillips, and Ponder Gilliland.

Some wonderful Sunday school teachers who were key in my journey with the Lord (and the Bible) are Peggy Poteet, university professor of English, Vera Clark, who ran a trucking business with her husband, Harper Cole, a university business school professor, and Jim and Shirley Posey, a respected lawyer and his wife.

Then, there is my friend Marty Michelson, who has studied the Old Testament so in-depth that I get the feeling he had coffee this morning with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is Hal Cauthron whose specialty is the writings of John and who has helped me see clearly the themes running through those writings.

Well, I could go on and on with the list of people who've been instrumental in my understanding of Scripture. But, I think you get the idea that it has been a lot of wonderful people from different walks of life and even a variety of different centuries.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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