Jehovah's Witnesses and the Trinity
II Corinthians 13:14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
They are best known for their door to door preaching, for their refusal to serve in the military and for their refusal to have a blood transfusion. They are the Jehovah's Witnesses. Let us say what good we can about them. They are good at ringing doorbells. Probably everyone at some time or another has had a “JW” knock on their door and offer them literature. The Jehovah's Witnesses have an active presence in most countries, though they do not form a large part of the population of any country. In 2007, the Witnesses reported a total of over 1.3 billion hours spent in preaching and Bible study activity. That is impressive. In the mid 1990's, the Jehovah's Witnesses claimed some 4.5 million “publishers,” the term they use for members actively involved in preaching. In 2008, they reported having 7.2 million "publishers.” Thus, they are showing an impressive growth rate.
Their major denominational magazine is The Watchtower. They publish 37 million copies of that in 171 languages every month. They also have another magazine called Awake. They publish 37 million copies of it in 80 languages on a monthly basis. Again that is impressive. Jehovah's Witnesses arm their members with astounding amounts of literature.
They have their own version of the Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, (1961, revised 1984). It differs from mainline translations in that its purpose is primarily to provide support for the doctrinal positions of the Jehovah's Witnesses. It extensively uses the name Jehovah. The Greek and Hebrew words that are translated as “Lord” is most translations of the Bible are replaced with the word “Jehovah,” but I do not suppose that there is any particular harm in that..
But to really understand the “JWs”, we need to start at the beginning. You need to learn a name, Charles Taze Russell—born 1852, died 1916. He was the founder of the Bible Student movement, from which Jehovah's Witnesses emerged. In 1879, he began publishing the magazine Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Today we know it simply as the Watchtower. In 1881, he co-founded the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society. Russell was a prolific writer, producing a stream of articles, books, pamphlets, and sermons, which by his death totaled 50,000 printed pages.
He became most famous, and most controversial, for predicting dates for the return of Christ. In 1876, he became convinced that Jesus would return in April of 1878, whereupon he sold his five clothing stores (I should have said previously that Russell was a successful business man. He sold his business in 1876 for $300000, which would be over $5 million today). He determined to spend his time and money in the two years before the expected arrival of Jesus, in 1878, on an effort to revive and extend Christianity..
Well, 1878 came but Jesus, as you know, did not. In dealing with this disappointment, Charles Taze Russell decided that he had been misled by church tradition, and that he could figure out a prophetic chronology, if he just studied the Bible more.
Eventually, Russell came to believe that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874, and that he had been ruling from the heavens since that date. Russell predicted that a period known as the "Gentile Times" would end in 1914, and that Christ would take power of Earth's affairs at that time. He interpreted the outbreak of World War I as the beginning of Armageddon, which he viewed to be both a gradual deterioration of civilized society, and a climactic multi-national attack on a restored Israel accompanied by worldwide anarchy.
He adopted some really strange views about the Great Pyramid in Egypt . He believed that the Great Pyramid was build by the Hebrews during their slavery in Egypt, under God’s direction, to be understood only in his, Russell's, generation. He called the Great Pyramid "the Bible in stone." He believed that certain biblical texts, prophesied a future understanding of that structure. Using the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, he made calculations using the pattern of an inch per year. He was especially interested in the years 1874, 1914, and 1948. His dating is a mixture of right and wrong, mostly wrong. For example, 1914 is a key date in human history—because it marks the outbreak of WWI. 1948 was the year the state of Israel was founded. So, to give Russell credit, he may have had some kind of hazy prophetic gift, but his interpretation was always wrong, and some dates he picked, for example, 1878, were just totally wrong. Maybe he just got lucky sometimes..
In any case, Charles Taze Russell was a charismatic figure. Following his death, a controversy arose concerning the practices of the new president of the Society, and a widespread schism erupted, dividing the movement. The majority of the membership broke away, eventually resulting in the formation of several smaller groups that retained the name, Bible Students, while those who remained in fellowship with the Watch Tower Society took the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931.
That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the “JW” history, but you should know that in theology and doctrine the Jehovah's Witnesses depart radically from mainline Christianity. Today is Trinity Sabbath, a day in which pastors are supposed to expound on the Trinity. The Jehovah's Witnesses deny the Trinity and point out that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. An obvious response is that the word “Bible” is not in the Bible either. That does not mean that there is no Bible. The word “Trinity” was coined to describe the God we find in the Bible.
The meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity can best be understood as the answer to the question, Who is God? This is a vitally important question. If you know anything about human history, you know that one of the greatest temptations has been the confusion of God with not-God. This is the danger we are warned against in the first commandment—where we are warned against the worship of other Gods. We need to know who God is and who God is not.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the answer. One God has revealed Himself in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons are of the same substance, that is they are all God, and they are all are equal in power and glory.
It is important we understand this doctrine because the wrong Jesus or the wrong God cannot save us from eternal death. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!“ (Gal 1:8).
The Bible clearly states that there is only one God—for example, Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”--yet, there are three separate persons in the Bible who are called God and have the characteristics only God can have, which complicates matters. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Titus 2:13 says, "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." So here we see the Word, or the Son, is called God. The Holy Spirit is also called God. In Acts 5, the man Ananias had about some money he supposedly gave to the church. “Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?...You have not lied to men, but to God.'" (3-4). Furthermore, in the Lord's Prayer, we address God as “our father in heaven.” So we see that three persons in the Bible are called God. Yet, there is only one God; Therefore, we of a Trinitarian God made up of three separate persons who are the one true God.
But the Jehovah's Witnesses categorically reject this. For example, a verse “JWs” use to deny the Trinity is Colossians 1:15, "And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation." Here the Witnesses say Christ is the first-born which means he was born, he was created, therefore he cannot be God.
Now I admit that these are tough questions. Christ was fully human when he was on this planet in the flesh. His body was certainly created. He was born of a human mother just like everyone else. So yes, in a human sense Christ was created, but he also was fully God, and in that sense he existed before anything else existed and in fact he created what exists. John 1:1 states, "In the beginning was the Word" Jesus was with God from all eternity; Jesus had no beginning because He is God.
Another way the Jehovah's Witnesses try to disprove the deity of Christ is to show that Christ is inferior in nature to God. A verse they use is John 14:28, where Jesus says, "You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I." Now, the Jehovah's Witnesses will ask you, "How can Jesus be equal to God if here He states 'the Father is greater than I'?"
Well at the time, Jesus was speaking as a human being, and the Father is indeed greater than any human being. Perhaps we can use scripture to explain scripture. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Christ though He was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself and submitted Himself to the Father and took on the form of a servant. When he was in the flesh, Christ emptied himself of his godhood and was a human being, and was inferior to God
Now you might say, well these are really tough questions and I do not want to get into that kind of theological argument with the Jehovah's Witnesses, because they know their Bibles really well. Actually they do not know their Bibles well. They have just been to classes where they memorized a few verses to impress outsiders like you and me.
Remember when you talk to “JWs,” they are not interested in having a nice chat with you about difficult theological problems. They have a set lesson memorized that they use like ammunition to justify their position. The one thing that really messes them up is if you begin asking questions that are off topic.
You might ask about Charles Taze Russell, for example. Strangely enough, I have found most “JWs” do not know anything about the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Ask them if they believe that Jesus was God. And if they want a Bible verse point them to John 20:28, where Thomas, after seeing the resurrected Lord, proclaims to Jesus," My Lord and My God."
Then ask them if they believe in the Trinity. Of course, you already know that they do not. You might then point them to the last chapter of Matthew where the resurrected Lord spoke to his disciples for the last time. Jesus says, he has “All authority in heaven and on earth”--which is another way of saying he is God. He commands his disciples to teach what he has taught them and to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, Christian baptism is in the name of the Trinity. And the Lord promises us if we baptize in that name that he will be with us “even unto the end of the world.” The implication is that if we baptize in any other name, God will not be with us.
It is traditional in a worship service to end with a “bene-diction,” which is Latin for a “good word.” This is customary in both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism it is called a berakhah, that is a "blessing." The function of a berakhah is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. In Christianity, we have that same idea, but we acknowledge the Trinitarian God as the source of all blessings.
You have heard the verse that I read before the sermon today many times. 2 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 14: is one the great benedictions—good words—of the church. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” This is an acknowledgement of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three distinct persons yet one God, and that the three are fountains of blessing to us all, and we are charged to live in love with the three—into whose name we are baptized and by whose name we are blessed.
This is a blessing that we want. We want the grace of Christ; and the love of the Father, and we want to have communion (or fellowship) with the Holy Spirit. Christ is our savior. He brings the grace of God to us. The Father loves us with an everlasting love, and we have this divine grace and love through the Holy Spirit, and yet Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God; so God gives us his grace, God gives us his love, God establishes a relationship with us and accepts us as his people now and forever.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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