God's name, God as triune, translation errors, Jesus and Jehovah, Jesus and the Father, and Heaven

Responses to a Jehovah's Witness 2

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

"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

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 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 of the sad things about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely commented on my responses or asked me follow-up questions. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed a topic or a concept in-depth.

Jehovah's Witness question: I've been browsing your site and noticed that although you talk a lot about God, you never mention His name. Why?
My answer: Your question caught me off guard because I thought I mentioned God a lot on my site. It is a good question. 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 at least two dozen 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. Also, I have a page on my site with more than 600 names, titles, and descriptions of God. So, the question may be: What do you mean by "God's name"?

I'm married to a woman named Barbara. Sometime,s I call her Barbara, and sometimes, Barb or Barbi. Sometimes, I call her "my wife." Occasionally, I'll say "honey" or "sweetheart" or other endearing terms. Which one of those is her "real" name? Well, she recognizes any of these and responds warmly to all of them.

So, it's bewildering when you say I never mention God's name. The pages of my site use many Biblical terms, including Yahweh/Jehovah, that unmistakably refer to God. I am puzzled that you did not see any of those references.
Jehovah's Witness question: Where in Scripture does it say God is triune?
My answer: That's an excellent question. As you probably already know, the Bible doesn't specifically use that word any more than it uses other words in common use even by Jehovah's Witnesses, words such as Kingdom Hall, the Lord's evening meal, circuit, disfellowship, gentile times, governing body and so on. The words trinity and triune came into use as a label for how God is described in the pages of the Bible.

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)1. 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," credible Greek lexicons say that the primary meaning of this word 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."

So, you are certainly 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. The Christian Church began using Trinity and triune to describe something very different from 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 the entire universe from nothing, absolutely 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 clearly an 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: Excellent question. First of all, we have to be very careful not to pontificate about the grammar and syntax of a language that is not our native one. Because of the places my wife and I have lived (Italy, Haiti, Ecuador, and the USA), I'm able to speak and write in five different languages (Italian, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and 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 considered fluent in another language. If people try to do that (and they sometimes do), the results will not be understandable or, at best, will be comical. Languages are not like mathematics. Rather, they are more of an art form where the unexpected can happen and yet make sense.

That said, 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 "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.

1"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- Matthew 28:19-20
Jehovah's Witness question: Doesn't Matthew 28 prove that Jehovah and Jesus are totally separate beings since it lists them separately?
My answer: Let's not 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 clear distinction you say it makes. I looked at 60 English Bible translations with the earliest being done in the 1300s and the latest in 2020. None of those English translations I consulted say "in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit." Nearly all 60 of those I looked at with the help ofBiblegateway.com either say "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" or " in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Note: To be sure, very old translations use "Holy Ghost" rather than "Holy Spirit.")

Here are the three exceptions to the above wording:

The Voice -- " in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"
The Message -- "in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Complete Jewish Bible -- "into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh"

Not one of those 60 translations has any hint of three different names. Indeed, they all seem to echo the "threefold name" wording of The Message.

And, of course, it should be noted that 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 that 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 to 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 describing the implications for Christians if there is no resurrection. 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 regard 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 clearly say about the divine incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The third passage was John 20:17. I'm guessing the last words of that verse trouble you. 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). Paul is trying to illustrate the validity of the 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 that 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 muddy the water?

Note: I found it interesting that my Jehovah's Witness friend used the 400-year-old King James Version of the Bible when he was quoting scripture to me. It was the best English translation of its day and remains a majestic piece of literature. However, it is not the English that we speak today. None of the Bible book authors used 400-year-old language when they wrote. They all wrote in the everyday language that they spoke. As I look back on this exchange now, I realize I should have asked him why he chose to quote from the King James Version in his emails to me. His own organization's New World Translation was completed in 1961. Why didn't he use that? Perhaps he knew that I would object since only one or two of the people involved in producing that translation had studied Greek or Hebrews.
Jehovah's Witness question: Where in the Bible does it say that we are going to heaven?
My answer: Short answer: Best examples are passages in Matthew 5-7, 16, 18, 19 and 24, Mark 10, Luke 6, 10, 18 and 23, John 14, 2 Corinthians 5 and 12, Philippians 3, Colossians 1, 2 Timothy 4, 1 Peter 1, and Revelation 2, 5, 7 and 14.

Long answer: Think about the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language in Revelation 7 that are standing before the throne in God's temple.2 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 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 would have to kill them in order for them to be in Heaven with him?
My answer: Short answer: Ism't it that He really does love us and wants us to be with Him? Actually, I'm puzzled at the question as to why God would want a Great Multitude of us in heaven. Since God loves us, why wouldn't He want us to be with Him? 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? The relationship between God and angels is different from that between God and human beings. Since the Bible clearly says God 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, many people 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 7? 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 5.3

Revelation 7;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?

2"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands." -- Revelation 7:9

3"With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation." -- Revelation 5:9
Jehovah's Witness question: Do you truly believe all the things the Bible promised are going to come to pass?
My answer: Strange question. I firmly believe all the promises in Scripture will be fulfilled.

Having said that, we also have to be 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, almost no one is alive now that was born in 1914 or before.

I'm not sure what promises from the Bible you have in mind. However, I hope you can understand why I am a bit skeptical when someone connected with the Watchtower Society offers to tell me how specific Bible promises are going to play out.
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