Answers to a Jehovah's Witness questions
How could Jesus say God had forsaken him and what are the implications of Jesus being
called the Father's helper?
"Get and read God's book." -- Isaiah 34:16, The Message
Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness
- Jehovah's Witness question: Look at Mark 15:34 and Matthew
27:46. Was Jesus asking himself why has he forsaken himself?
- My answer: Do you really want to know what Jesus was
saying in those Scriptures?
First of all, it must be noted that Jesus is here quoting words
from Psalm 22. I realize you have brought up these words of Jesus from the
cross to say that they show a clear separation between the Father and the Son. That's a mistaken
interpretation. With his cry, Jesus was not expressing a belief that God had forsaken him. What
Jesus was doing was quoting the words of a Psalm about the Messiah!
So, what was Jesus saying by quoting that Old Testament
Scripture? Well, in the scrolls used in the synagogues during Jesus' day, individual Psalms were
not numbered. So, when Jews wanted to refer to a particular psalm, they quoted its opening lines
-- much like we would do today when we use song titles. Indeed, speakers today use this
technique of quoting a phrase or two from a song or poem in order to make their listeners think
about the whole song or poem. Preachers often quote a short phrase from a song, knowing that
just a few words will make their audience remember the whole song. I'm guessing that speakers
in Jehovah's Witnesses congregations may well do the same thing.
As Jesus was
dying on Calvary, He wanted those watching
Him die to think about all of the things which Psalm 22 says. Go read Psalm 22. You'll see that
it is a psalm that speaks of the Messiah. That Jesus knew God had not actually forsaken Him is
clear from that very psalm to which he made reference. For instance, verse 24 says: "He
(meaning God) has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden
His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard."
That day on Calvary, Jesus was declaring to his accusers that they were seeing the fulfillment of
Psalm 22 -- which even in His day was commonly understood to be about the coming Messiah,
the Suffering Servant. The psalmist himself understood that the "forsaking" of God was not
abandonment, but a lifting of His Sovereign protection according to His divine plan so that the
threats of Jesus' enemies could be carried out in fulfillment of prophecy.
In fact, there were several times when Jesus' enemies sought
to kill him (John 5:16 and 8:59, for example). They were not able to because, as Jesus said, His
"hour" was not yet come (John 12:23-28). Even as Jesus' crucifixion approached, He declared to
Pilate, "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above" (John
19:11). That Scripture makes it clear that the Son knew clearly that the Father would not
abandon Him on on Calvary.
Therefore, don't be looking at Jesus' cry in Matthew 27 and
Mark 15 as something to disprove the divinity of Christ. If you're going to look for proof against
the divinity of Christ, you'll have to look elsewhere in Scripture. What we have here are words
that called into the minds of Jesus' listeners a Psalm which proclaims the coming of a divine
Messiah. It is a Psalm that says, among other things, "All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord."
- Jehovah's Witness question: What does this scripture means
when it said we have a helper with the Father, and it give us the name of that helper, Jesus
Christ? (1 John 2:1) "We have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one."
- My answer: You picked a Scripture which clearly illustrates
the truth that, while there is only one God (Yahweh), He exists and manifests Himself in three
persons, each of which is fully God.
John is the only New Testament writer to use the particular Greek word — parakletos — that is here translated as helper or
advocate. John uses that Greek word four times in His gospel in addition to what he says in this
letter written to the churches in the area of Ephesus.
That word carries the meaning of "being called to one's aid."
Because of the challenges of trying to translate all the nuances of the Greek word, many people
use "Paraclete," which is an English version of the Greek word.
This advocate or Paraclete of whom John speaks must be a
person, rather than an "influence" or "force," since that particular title is used for someone's legal
defender before a judge. Did someone's "influence" or an impersonal force ever serve as a legal
defender? What is fascinating about this is that John uses a word that can be translated "lawyer"
to describe the Holy Spirit as well as Jesus.
The Scriptures in which John uses this word strengthen the
case for the Holy Spirit being a person rather than the "it" of "God's influence." How can an
"influence" or force act as the lawyer for someone? If we have to go to court, do we want
somebody's influence to show up? Don't we expect a real person there to defend us?
1 John 2:1 is a great affirmation of the understanding of God
as triune: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (one God, eternally existing in three persons). This
Scripture is clear: God the Father and God the Son are two distinctly different persons. This is
not a logical contradiction because personhood and essence are two different things (a point on
which a lot of people get hung up).
Essence is a "what" and personhood is a "who." 1 John 2:1
illustrates this clearly by calling Jesus "righteous." That is significant because just a few verses
before (in 1 John 1:9) that same identical word -- righteous -- is applied to God. Do you see what
John is saying? 1 John 1:9 says God is righteous. 1 John 2:1 says Jesus is the righteous one.
This is just one more indication that Jesus and Yahweh are of the same essence!
1 John 2:1 shows Jesus' role in the Trinity as our Advocate
before God the Father. Jesus Christ is the only one who can fulfill that role. That's because He
as God Incarnate is the only sinless one who died a sacrificial death and was then resurrected. As
the perpetual mediator between God and human beings, God the Son is perpetually distinguished
from God the Father. However, both Father and Son are God.
Why is God the Son our Advocate? Is it because the God
the Father is reluctant to save us? Is the desire that we be saved from our sin a desire only of the
Son? No, it is not. Jesus' advocacy for us manifests the intense longing by the triune Yahweh
(without distinction of Person) for our salvation.
- Jehovah's Witness question: If Jesus was God incarnate, wouldn't
that mean that there would not be a father for Jesus to go to if Jesus was already there in the flesh
existing as the Father?
- My answer: Aren't you misunderstanding what I'm saying?
God is one and yet He is also three separate persons. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not
the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. Yet, all
three are of the same essence. There is a unity and yet a separateness. Jesus did not exist "in the
flesh as the Father." The Son existed in the flesh as Jesus.
Think of H20, the chemical
designation for that compound whose molecules contain two atoms of hydrogen for every atom
of oxygen. In its liquid form, H20 is called "water." However,
H20 can also exist as steam or vapor. It can even exist in solid
form as ice or snow. Which of those three forms is really H20.
Well, they all are. Is steam the same as ice? No, but it is exactly of the same essence, isn't it? Is
liquid water the real H20? Well, it is
H20, but H20 exists in two other
forms as well.
Now, this metaphor is not perfect. Like any metaphor, it can be "pushed" too far, but it still is
one illustration of what Scripture says about God.
- Jehovah's Witness question: You used the word "saved" to describe
yourself. Do you know that, as it is today, none of us are saved according to the scriptures?
- My answer: Shouldn't you say, "according to what the
Jehovah's Witnesses have taught me, none of us are saved"? How can you substantiate that
assertion about what scripture says or doesn't say in the light of passages like Exodus 14:30,
Exodus 18:4, Exodus 18:8, Deuteronomy 33:29, 1 Samuel 14:23, 2 Samuel 22:4, 2 Chronicles
32:22, Psalm 18:3, Psalm 22:5, Psalm 34:6, Psalm 106:8, 10, Psalm 107:13, 19, Psalm 116:6,
Isaiah 25:9, Isaiah 43:12, Isaiah 45:22, Jeremiah 4:14, Joel 2:23, Luke 7:50, John 10:9, Acts
2:21, 47, Acts 15:11, Acts 16:17, 30, Romans 8:24, Romans 10:10, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2
Corinthians 2:15, Ephesians 2:5, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5, and Hebrews 10:39? Clearly,
Yahweh is a saving God who saves now.
To be sure, our final redemption, that "glorious hope" as
Scripture calls it, is in the future. However, the Corinthian letters do speak of "being saved," so
isn't there a sense in which that future event is seeing fulfillment in the present? Aren't the
Jehovah's Witnesses actually contradicting scripture to say "none of us are saved."
Look up all of those scripture passages I've listed. In his
letter to Titus, doesn't Paul twice say, "He saved us"? Was Paul wrong there? Doesn't 2 Timothy
1:9 say, "He has saved us"? Should that passage be eliminated from scripture? Doesn't Romans
8:24 say, "In this hope we were saved"? In teaching you that no one is currently saved, haven't
the Jehovah's Witnesses ignored the fact that there is a present aspect as well as a future
component to being saved?
-- Howard Culbertson
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