Responses to a Jehovah's Witness

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

Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness

"I have been reading your Jehovah's Witness Q&A pages. I want to say thank you for I have learned a great deal." -- Lydia

Jehovah's Witness question: I've been browsing your site and notice that although you talk a lot about God, you never mention His name? Why?
My answer: Your question puzzled me. So, I did some searches on my site. I found the word "God" used on more than 500 pages. The word "Lord" appears on 225 of them. That word is "kurios" in the Greek New Testament and "Adonai" in the Old Testament. The Eternal One is mentioned on one page. Yahweh/Jehovah appears on 26 pages of my site while Almighty is used on a dozen of them. Creator is used on about 30 pages with "Lord God" as a phrase appearing on 7 pages.

I'm married to a woman named Barbara. Sometimes I call her Barbara and sometimes Barbi. Sometimes I call her "my wife." Occasionally I'll say "honey" or "sweetheart" or other endearing terms. She recognizes any and all of those.

So, it's puzzling to have you say I never mention God's name. It seems to me that the pages of my site use lots of Biblical terms including Yahweh and Jehovah that refer unmistakably to Him.
Jehovah's Witness question: Where in Scripture does it say God is triune?
My answer: My favorite passage in terms of understanding God as triune is the baptismal celebration phrasing in Matthew 28:19-20 (the Great Commission as it is sometimes called). The invocation "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" uses the singular word "name" — onoma in Greek — rather than the plural word "names." While some will argue that onoma should be translated as "by the authority of," the primary meaning which credible Greek lexicons say this word had in New Testament times is "proper name" or "the name by which a person or thing is called."

Being baptized in the "name" of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is a way of affirming the oneness that was in Peter's mind as he spoke of Jesus in Acts 4:12 and said: "There is no other name" by which we "must be saved."

You are right in thinking that the word "triune" or even Trinity is not in the Bible. Those words are, however, useful in drawing together what the First Century church understood about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit without falling into a tritheism (a belief in three gods). The words Triune or Trinity conveniently wrap up into one word all the Biblical data that point to Jesus as Yahweh incarnate and to the Holy Spirit as God himself. While the word "trinity" is not actually in the Bible, the concept certainly is!

Does it seem rational to say that Yahweh expresses Himself in three separate persons, yet exists as one single entity? No, it doesn't seem rational to us human beings . . . but then the creation of an entire universe from nothing doesn't seem rational to human beings either. [More on Trinity]
Jehovah's Witness question: You mentioned the scripture (invocation) where you say it says, "In the name of the Father , the son and the Holy Spirit." However, if you go back to the Interlinear translation of Greek scriptures it says, "In the name of the Father, AND in the name of the Son, AND in the name of the Holy Spirit. ". So isn't this obviously a translational error on the part of the people who translated the Bible into English? It is very clear to me what it means and it does not mean in the name of one person, but rather in the name of 3 individual people.
My answer: Because of the places my wife and I have lived (Italy, Haiti, Ecuador, and the USA), I've wound up being able to speak and write in five different languages (Italian, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and, of course, English). In addition, I have three years of university-level Biblical Greek study under my belt. One of the very rewarding things I've done in my journey to becoming a polyglot is to read the Bible all the way through not only in English but also in Haitian, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. That reading was interesting and spiritually rewarding as I marveled at how each language expressed things in ways that let different nuances shine through.

Becoming fluent in a language is a very long process. One cannot pick up a bi-lingual dictionary, memorize a bunch of words and immediately be fluent in another language. If people try to do that the results will not be understandable or, at best, comical. Languages are not like mathematics. Rather, they are of an art form where the unexpected can happen and yet make sense.

Having said all that, an interlinear English/Greek New Testament is a valuable tool, especially for beginning Greek students. It can be a good tool for language learning. However, it is not a tool for establishing or proving a doctrinal position. That's because shades of meaning can differ according to word order and syntax. The use of prepositions, possessives, definite/indefinite articles, and other linguistic devices differs from language to language. None of that can be conveyed adequately by an interlinear text. The proof offered for something from an interlinear text should never be considered a "proof." Rather, the interlinear text simply helps us form questions to be posed to those who are actually fluent in Biblical Greek.

The far better question to ask is: "How would the very first readers of this passage have understood it?"

To answer that question requires a level of fluency that most Christ-followers do not have. So, we are dependent on scholars and Bible translators who can read not only the New Testament in Greek but also all kinds of other Greek documents from the First Century including love letters, bills of sale, military orders, government reports, trial records, and so on. It's by being able to read a large variety of other documents that Bible scholars and translators have been able to help us understand what the first readers of Matthew 28 would have understood.
Jehovah's Witness question: Doesn't Matthew 28 prove that Jehovah and Jesus are totally separate beings since it lists them separately?
My answer: Don't read into Matthew 28:19-20 things that aren't there. First of all, Jehovah or Yahweh isn't even mentioned in Matthew 28:19-20. Then, secondly, I do not see the the clear distinction you say it makes. It does not say "in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit." Doesn't it say: "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?" There's only one "name" mentioned. Isn't the word "name" singular?

Actually Jehovah is not the best way to render the four Hebrew consonants that scholars call the Tetragrammaton. Jehovah is an outmoded attempt to render the sounds of the Hebrew word we should render as
Yahweh [More in Trinity].
Jehovah's Witness question: Where are the clues in the Bible which make people conclude that there is no division of hierarchy between Jesus and the Father? Don't the following scriptures make it very hard to accept that Jesus is equal with the Father? How would you respond to these scriptures?
My answer: We need to remember that no verse in the Bible was written in isolation from other thoughts. Every book of the Bible, with the exception of the collection of wise sayings we call Proverbs, was meant to be read as a whole book The meaning of one verse in a book of the Bible is determined by the context in which that verse appears.

It's been said that one can prove almost anything from the Bible by simply pulling individual verses out of context. Here's an example: The Bible says, "Judas went and hanged himself . . . Go thou and do likewise."

Well, those words are indeed in the Bible. But the Bible does not say we are to commit suicide by hanging ourselves.

The first part of that example -- "Judas went and hanged himself" -- appears in Matthew 27. The second part appears in the Gospel of Luke. So, while both of those sentences appear in the Bible, they are not at all related.

Having said all that, let's think about the passages you mentioned. The first one is 1 Corinthians 15:28. That verse comes in a larger passage that describes all the implications for Christians if there is no resurrection at all. Most importantly, that would mean that Christ was not raised from the dead. Paul says that if Christ was not raised, then his own preaching of the gospel was false, and the faith of those who believed it was worthless. If there was no resurrection, all remain in their sins.

Christ, though, was raised from the dead. Hallelujah! And when He returns for those who are His, all who have died in Christ will be resurrected to new life, just as Jesus Himself was after His crucifixion. The point of the passage is that the purpose of all of history is that the lives of all who are in Christ will be "all in all." In other words, Christ, the Son of God, in his divine nature, as God, shall never cease to reign. God's glory will reign supreme over the entire universe.

So, don't take verse 28 and isolate it by itself. It needs to be seen in the context of what Paul is trying to say in the entire passage (and even in the entire letter to the Corinthian church).

The second passage was Matthew 24:36. This verse comes in the middle of a passage about End Times. In response to a question about the timing of Jesus' return (Second Coming is the label we give it), Jesus said that, as the Son of Man, He did not have knowledge regarding the time of His return. Did Jesus not know it as the Son of God? Did He come to know it the instant He returned to Heaven? Those are questions for which we have no answers. Here's one possible explanation as given by scholar John MacArthur:
"Therefore, even on this last day before His arrest, the Son did not know the precise day and hour He would return to earth at His second coming. During Christ's incarnation, the Father alone exercised unrestricted divine omniscience."
Was MacArthur right? Was there some restriction on Jesus' omniscience in regards to the timing of the End Times? I'm not sure we'll understand it clearly this side of eternity. At any rate, the wording does enhance the mysteriousness and awesomeness of the great day.

As with the verse from 1 Corinthians, the central focus of this passage is not the deity/humanity of Christ. It is about the End Times. In reading these words, our focus needs to be on that topic. Otherwise, we could find ourselves contradicting what other passages do clearly say about the divine incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The third passage was John 20:17. I'm guessing it's the last words of that verse that trouble you a bit. One way of thinking about this is to see that Jesus speaks of God as His Father because, in the triune God, there is both the person of the Son and the person of the Father. Then, Jesus says "your Father" because God is our Father since we believers have been adopted into His family through freely-given divine grace. Again, the larger passage in which this verse appears is not focused on Christology (the doctrine of Christ). Isn't it instead about the fatherhood of the Creator of the Universe.

One that needs to be remembered here is that this was the Apostle John writing. John's Gospel and his three letters all seem to have been written to counter the argument that Jesus was not really God Himself That's clear from the beginning words of John's Gospel which starts not with an account of Jesus' birth but with the declaration, "In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God."

So, doesn't this statement in John 20 need to be understood in the light of all that John says elsewhere about Jesus being God incarnate?

The fourth passage you listed is also from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:3). Paul had just praised the church in Corinth for remembering things he had taught them. Then, he launches into trying to correct a few things about their corporate worship times. One analogy he uses in his attempt at correction is the idea of headship. That is, the idea that every person -- man, woman, or Christ Himself -- has some authority over them. Paul is not trying to explain Christology (doctrines or beliefs about Christ). What Paul is trying to do is illustrate the validity of guidance he wants to give about cultural issues including the physical appearance of both men and women.

When Paul says that God is the head of Christ we need to understand that analogy in the light of what Scripture says about the mystery of the Trinity in which Christ is both God and is under the authority and direction of God. That concept is something Paul mentions elsewhere in this same letter -- for example in 15:28 which we've already dealt with as well as in 3:23.

Are any of these thoughts helpful to you? Did I clear up some things or just make the water even more muddy?
Jehovah's Witness question: Where in the Bible does it say that we are going to heaven?
My answer: What about the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language in Revelation 7 that are standing before the throne in God's temple? Put that alongside verse 5 of chapter 15 where it says "I looked and in heaven the temple." Clearly, the temple of Revelation is in heaven. There's a similar statement in 14:17: "Another angel came out of the temple in heaven."

There's some of the same phrasing in chapter 19 where John talks about a "great multitude in heaven" and mentions again the elders and living creatures he alluded to in chapter 7.

What about the passage in chapter 2 that says "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God"? In the two other passages in scripture where Paradise is mentioned (Luke 23:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:4), the reference is clearly to heaven. What about the message to the church in Laodicea, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne"? That throne is obviously in heaven because that's where it is described as being in Revelation 19:1, 4 and 5: "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven . . . The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne . . .Then a voice came from the throne."
Jehovah's Witness question: Why would God want to take a Great Multitude from the earth to heaven when he already has those millions and millions of angels there? Does that make any kind of sense to you? For the Great Multitude to be in heaven, wouldn't that mean that Jehovah God have to kill them in order for him to have them in heaven with him?
My answer: It does not sense to ask why God would want a Great Multitude from earth in heaven. Doesn't God wants to be with us because He loves us? It seems to me that His love is enough of an answer for the "why." The Bible is clear in saying that God loves us. Does it ever say that He "loves" angels? Since it clearly says He loves us, wouldn't He want us to be where He is? I love my children, so I want them to be where I am as often as they can.

That's why I paid for plane tickets for them to come home for the holidays when they lived far away. That's why I've encouraged them to look for employment in Oklahoma. Sure, there are lots of people who live in Oklahoma, but I love my children more than any of them. Isn't God like this? Doesn't He love us and want us to be with Him even though He has some angels around?

After all, didn't Jesus say, "I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:3)? The position that God doesn't want a Great Multitude in Heaven would imply Jesus didn't mean what He said in John 14.

As to the second part of your response, have you read Revelation 9? It answers that question. Does it say God killed them? No, it says that this great multitude who are before the throne and serving God day and night came out of great tribulation. That great multitude from all people groups — which undoubtedly includes Christian friends of mine from Italy, Haiti, Bulgaria, Croatia and Venezuela — is also referred to in Revelation 5.

Revelation 9 specifically talks of a great multitude composed of people from all nations who will serve God in His temple and before His throne. Do I understand you correctly to say you think the Bible doesn't really mean that?
Jehovah's Witness question: Do you truly believe all the things the Bible promised are going to come to pass?
My answer: I do believe all the promises in Scripture will be fulfilled.

However, I am also aware that through the years people have misinterpreted promises from the Bible. For instance, early in their history the Jehovah's Witnesses preached that the Bible said that the Second Coming of Jesus was going to happen in 1914 and that current human history would end at that point. That didn't happen, of course. Then they began preaching that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were going to be resurrected from the dead in 1925 and start ruling over the earth. That did not happen. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the Jehovah's Witnesses began saying that end times would begin in 1974. I clearly remember reading Jehovah's Witness literature in those days and listening to some of them. There was this deep conviction that they knew exactly what the Bible was saying. They were wrong, of course. Then, in the May 1, 1985 issue of the Watchtower, it was predicted that before the generation that was alive in 1914 died out, God's judgment would be executed on the earth. Well, quite frankly the very few people alive now who were alive in 1914 were extremely young children back then.

Thus, you can see why I am a bit skeptical when anyone connected with the Watchtower Society begins telling me how specific Bible promises are going to play out.

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 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 on 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 a topic or a concept in-depth.

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