Responses to a Jehovah's Witness questions
The meaning of "begotten," whether God created Jesus, what the Bible means when it says
Jesus is Lord, and where to best learn about the Bible
"As usual, Paul entered there and . . . discussed the Scriptures with them." --
Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness
- 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 particular 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 which needs some reflection. Some have assumed it comes from a Greek word
which means "give birth" or "beget." Others says that last half of monogenes comes from
the Greek noun genos which 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." In
support of 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 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
Have you read any of the writings of 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
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. Does it say anywhere in Scripture that God "created" Jesus?
When used of Christ, "only begotten" 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. Having
established that, then we need to 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), 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 them as literal. Right?
- "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth." -- Genesis
- "But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most
High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath'" -- Genesis 14:22
- "Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father,
your Creator, who made you and formed you?" -- Deuteronomy 32:6
- "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator
of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can
fathom." -- Isaiah 40:28
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
- 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
- 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 which 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
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).
Since Paul says "there is only one Lord," do you think he
had forgotten about all those Old Testament Scriptures which refer to God as "Lord"? Or, had he
just badly misunderstood them?
- 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 to find something to criticize.
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 story line that runs all the way
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 gave me a sense that
each of the individual books was a unified document and rather than a compilation of verses
(thoughts) which didn't build on each other and which actually had little or no connection to each
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
Well, I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea. I
think the various authors of the Bible are the best teachers about 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
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
Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 was saying about the church. The writings of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who died in one of Hitler's concentration camps, lifted up
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
all that is said in 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 it forwards and backwards.
Those friends -- although they were just high school students -- were in essence 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
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 a variety of different walks of life and even a variety of different
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
-- Howard Culbertson
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