Friday, April 29, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 3

So we started this little series on how Christians can better engage and evangelize Jehovah's Witnesses by outlining a bit of their history and some basic theological beliefs. Then, to see the distinction between what the Witnesses believe and what the Bible teaches (as well as preparation for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday), we took a look at a summary of the Bible's Christology.

To be properly prepared, though, we have to be familiar with some basic textual and translational issues in key passages in the New Testament, And so in light of the clear and consistent evidence that the New Testament presents Jesus Christ to the world as God Himself, one might wonder what leg the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to stand on. After all that, how could they deny that Jesus is God?

To understand this, we have to examine the Witnesses' understandings of some key Christological texts and contrast such understandings with a consistently Biblical interpretation. Because much of their defense is to question the accuracy of modern translations of the Bible and to distort the New Testament text, it will be necessary at times for us to get somewhat technical in our evaluation and critique. But stay with me. Don’t let that discourage you or scare you off. This is precisely the work that the contemporary Church—laden with laziness and anti-intellectualism—must be roused to undertake. It’s in this way that we’ll be equipped to demonstrate that the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation, and the Watchtower Society fail to stand Biblical scrutiny and fall short of a Biblical Christology.

God the Savior: Titus 2:13

The first significant text that we’ll look at is Titus 2:13.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the deity of Jesus is the explicit identification that He is God. In Titus 2:13, Paul writes that believers anticipate “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (NAU), and thus identifies “Christ Jesus” as “our great God.” However, the NWT renders the text: the “glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus…”

Did you catch that? They supply the word “the,” as is indicated by the brackets. And in so doing they interpret the phrase as referring to two different persons: (1) Jehovah, “the great God,” and (2) Jesus, “[the] Savior of us.”

But there is simply no warrant for adding that extra article—i.e., the extra “the.” The Greek text simply reads, “the great God and Savior of us.” To support their biased translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to Titus 1:4 as a lens through which to interpret 2:13. They argue that this text “clearly differentiates between [the Father] and Christ Jesus, the one through whom God provides salvation” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 421).

Sharp’s Rule

Now, they may not know this, but that understanding of Titus 2:13 violates a standard principle of Greek grammar, called Sharp’s rule. Scholars looked at sentences that have this identical structure (i.e., article-noun-kai-noun; “the God and Savior”), And they observed that when both nouns meet three criteria, they always refer to the same person. Those criteria are:
  1. Both nouns are personal, meaning they refer to a person as opposed to an inanimate object or animal.
  2. Both nouns are singular.
  3. Both nouns are not proper. A noun is considered non-proper if it is unable to be pluralized (see Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 272 n.42). So, for example, “God” is not a proper name, because it can be made plural: “gods.” On the other hand, “Timothy,” for example, can’t legitimately be made plural, so it is a proper name.
So, in a construction with this structure (article-noun-kai-noun), when both nouns are personal, singular, and non-proper, they refer to the same person (see Wallace, Greek Grammar, 270ff). Since the phrase, “the great God and Savior” is governed by a single article (not two articles, as the NWT reads), the nouns must be understood to have a single referent: Jesus Christ.

In fact, if Paul had wanted to show a distinction between “God” and “Christ Jesus,” he could have done so easily and unambiguously by inserting another article (as the NWT has done) before “Savior.” But, of course, he did no such thing, because it was his intention to identify the Lord Jesus our Savior as our great God. (Another Sharp’s construction that identifies Jesus as God is found in 2 Peter 1:1, literally: “…the God and Savior [TSKS] of us, Jesus Christ.”)

So in an interaction with a Jehovah’s Witness, you should prepare yourself to defend the deity of Christ on the basis of the original text. It might seem daunting if you don’t know much Greek. But if we are to effectively engage the Witnesses, we have to avail ourselves of all the evidence, and certainly the clearest and most compelling evidence.

Even if You Don’t Know Greek

But even if you didn’t know any Greek at all, you could still demonstrate that Titus 2:13 refers to Jesus as God. You’d simply have to appeal to the teaching of the Old Testament. Even in the NWT, Isaiah 43:11 declares “I—I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no savior.”

So, if there is no savior besides Jehovah, then Paul’s identification of Christ as “our Savior” in Titus 2:13 requires that Jesus is Jehovah, God Himself. The only other conclusion would be to say that Jesus is a savior besides Jehovah, and that flatly contradicts Isaiah 43:11.

Further, you could also appeal to the fact that Paul uses “God our Savior” and “Jesus Christ our Savior” interchangeably throughout his letter to Titus:
  • Titus 2:10 – …showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. This is likely referring to the Father.
  • Titus 2:13 – ...looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus… As demonstrated above, this is unmistakably referring to Jesus.
  • Titus 3:4 – But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared… This is likely referring to the Father.
  • Titus 3:6 – …whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Again, this is unmistakably referring to Jesus Christ.
And so the case for orthodoxy is only strengthened.

The conclusion for this key text, then, is that we as Christians should lovingly yet confidently challenge the Witness to engage both the textual (i.e., Sharp’s rule) and contextual evidence in Titus 2:13. We shouldn’t shy away from the technical aspects of the Greek text that only clarify the historic Evangelical position of the deity of Christ. But we should also make use of the arguments available even from the English.

The important point is: don’t be thrown off by their arguments. The sufficient Scriptures are on your side. Make use of them!


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

For a more robust treatment of the greek definite article you might take a look at section six 6.1. The meaning of the article in Greek in Scenarios, Discourse, and Translation by Richard A. Hoyle. You get a pdf here:

Don't be put off by the almost 900pages. It is a world class monograph.

Mike Riccardi said...

I appreciate the heads up, Stirling, but I'm not sure how that adds to this discussion. Hoyle comes to the same conclusion about Titus 2:13 on p. 498, while using the language of "co-occurrence" rather than "single referent," and while seemingly ignoring (with the help of Porter's incomplete definition of Sharp's rule) Criteria 1 and 3 as outlined in the original post. Or maybe he's simply establishing the very need for Criteria 1 and 3, I'm not sure.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Ah! I wasn't aware of the treatment on page 498. This morning I went back through Murray J. Harris' treatment of it in "Jesus as God" and made an attempt to build counter argument using text linguistics from Hoyle, Levinsohn. But about lunchtime I saw it wasn't going to happen so I just went back to reading Electra. Good to here you looked at Hoyle. He is offering something that you will not find in Harris or Sharp or Wallace. Perhaps it doesn't immediately seem released to your christology project in Titus but if you live with if for while you will find it makes a big difference in how you read the text.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

spell checker strikes again,

"good to hear"

"Perhaps it doesn't immediately seem relevant to your christology project "