Friday, June 17, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock: Conclusion

Though the scope of this series permits us to examine only a small sample of texts (Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, and John 1:1-3), the conclusions drawn even from those texts alone clearly demonstrate that the Jehovah's Witnesses do not hold to a Biblical Christology. Instead, their view of the Person of Jesus Christ is radically opposed to the testimony of Scripture. As Metzger says,
Today, as of old, a proper response to the primary question,What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matt. 22:42), constitutes a veritable touchstone of historic Christianity. Certain other aberrations in Biblical understanding may doubtless be tolerated if one is, so to speak, turned in the right direction with regard to Christology. But if a sect’s basic orientation toward Jesus Christ be erroneous, it must be seriously doubted whether the name “Christian” can rightly be applied to such a system.[1]
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have answered this question in such a way that any honest interpreter of Scripture must conclude that there is nothing Christian about such a system.

Such an unbiblical Christology leaves them with a defective view of the atonement, and thus a different gospel (cf. Gal 1:8-9). They declare, “We cannot earn salvation; it is possible only on the basis of faith in the value of the sacrifice of Jesus’ human life” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 216). Yet if Jesus’ sacrifice was merely a “human life,” we have no hope, for the mediator needed to be man and God to propitiate the just wrath of the Father, to be a faithful high priest in things pertaining to God (Heb 2:17-18; Isa 53:6, 10-12), and to provide a perfect righteousness for His people.

Now, I don’t say these things to create controversy or to draw lines in the sand and alienate people. I say that those who hold to the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians because they need to be saved. We who believe in the Christ revealed in Scripture must take every opportunity we are given to evangelize these precious people. We must present to them the Christ who is, and not the Christ of the Watchtower Society.

So when that knock on the door comes on Saturday morning, it should not be our practice to coldly and unlovingly slam the door in their faces. Following the example of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, we, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1), must gently and patiently engage them with Scripture. When we do discuss these matters, we must not deal in mere platitudes and cultural-Christian catch-phrases, but rather must intelligently bring to bear what Scripture actually teaches on what they actually believe.

We must therefore be educated, committing ourselves to studying the Scriptures in order to have a firm grasp on such matters as presented throughout this series. Then we would also be Christlike, having compassion on those who are in bondage to false teaching, laying down our lives in love to be effectively equipped for snatching such as these out of the fire (Jude 1:21).

I hope this series has equipped us to do that.

Were I, under the pretence of indulgence, to encourage you in a fault which I judge so ruinous, I should certainly act toward you a treacherous and cruel part. Wherefore I am willing, that you should now for a little be offended by my seeming asperity, rather than that you should not be reclaimed from those curious and alluring speculations, by which you have been already captivated. The time will come, I hope, when you shall rejoice, that you have been awakened even in this violent manner, from your pleasing, but fatal dream.
- John Calvin -

[1]Bruce Metzger, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal,” Theology Today 10 (April 1953), 69–70.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 5

God the Creator: John 1:1–3

Perhaps the clearest testimony of the deity of Christ in the entire canon of Scripture comes from the opening verses of John’s Gospel. John declares three things about the Word, whom he later identifies as Jesus (John 1:14).

  1. The Word is eternal: "In the beginning was the Word."
  2. The Word is distinct from God the Father: "The Word was with God."
  3. The Word is Himself God: "The Word was God."
The NWT undermines the clear teaching of this text by translating the final phrase: “the Word was a god.” They support this translation by appealing to the fact that unlike the first occurrence of theos (“God”) in the verse, this occurrence lacks the definite article. (The grammatical term for lacking the article is anarthrous.) Since, in Greek, there is no word that acts as an indefinite article (i.e., “a” or “an”), when a noun doesn’t have the definite article (i.e., “the”), the word can be indefinite. So they argue that the final occurrence of theos in 1:1 should be translated as indefinite, and thus that “the Word” should not be identified as Jehovah. Instead, they say that the text is teaching that “the Word was godlike, divine, a god” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 212).

Colwell's Rule

Once again, however, such an understanding violates yet another principle of Greek grammar. This one is called Colwell's Rule. Now, I know that this gets a little technical, but remember, dedication to the text of Scripture at this level is precisely what is needed to "give an answer" (1Pet 3:15) to the objections of those who would undermine its clear testimony. So stay with me.

Scholars observed that in sentences with this identical structure -- i.e., where a predicate noun occurs before the verb and without a definite article[1] -- the predicate noun (in this case, "God") is not necessarily indefinite; that is, it should not automatically be translated "a god." In fact, such nouns should rarely be translated this way.
[2] And more than that, when the author is trying to convey a definite predicate noun (i.e., "God," and not "a god"), he uses this very kind of construction that is used in John 1:1[3].

But it's fair to ask why John would write this the way he did. It's true that it's not the most straightforward Greek sentence. While the Jehovah's Witnesses argue that he did so to emphasize that Jesus was merely "godlike," they fail to take into account that John could have used the word theios to communicate just that. That's the word for "godlike." But John didn't choose that word.

Rather, John's wording carefully communicates two amazing Christological truths: (1) he was emphasizing the word "God" by bringing it forward in the sentence, as if to say, "and the word was God!"
[4] And (2) he was distinguishing the Son from the Father. Get this, because it's really cool. If John had used the article in the way the Jehovah's Witnesses demand, the Greek construction would have communicated that the Word was the Father. Of course, John wants to avoid saying that, because that's the Christological heresy of modalism. Instead, he "stresses that, although the person person of Christ is not the person of the Father, their essence is identical. ... [This] was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father."[5] And so the peculiar grammar in John 1:1-3 yields precisely the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

If a Jehovah's Witness were to persist on this point, one might ask him why the NWT doesn't consistently translate theos without the article as "a god." R. H. Countess noted that of the 282 occurrences of the anarthrous theos in the New Testament, the NWT translates it "a god," "god(s)," or "godly" only 16 times. That means that the NWT held to the same standard that they demand in John 1:1 only six percent of the time.
[6] In fact, you don't even have to leave John's prologue to find these inconsistencies, because the anarthrous theos occurs five other times in John 1:1-18. But you'll never see any one of those occurrences translated as "a god" by the NWT. That inconsistency speaks volumes.

And so, the unadulterated testimony of the original language wholly supports an orthodox Christology.

Even if You Don't Know Greek

Yet here again you could make a case for Christ's deity even without the use of the Greek. If we were to understand John 1:1 as teaching that Jesus was merely a god among gods (which itself is polytheism), how could we understand Isaiah 44:24? That passage reads: "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone" (NAU).

Here we have testimony that Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation. He did it "by Myself" and "all alone." But then we have the testimony of John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, which say that Jesus participated in creation. Thus if (a) Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation, and (b) Jesus participated in creation, then we must conclude that Jesus is Yahweh.

But even if you didn't want to go to Isaiah 44, you could make the case for Christ's deity without even leaving these opening verses of John's Gospel! Take note of the seemingly redundant phrase in 1:3 "
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made" (ESV). This seems like a strange way to speak, but it is perfectly suited to disprove the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Christology. They contend that Christ was the first of created beings who then was the instrument of the rest of creation. The “all things” that were made through Him did not include Himself.[7]

Yet John’s redundancy will not allow this. The final three words of John 1:3 make it absolutely clear that Jesus does not belong to this category of created things, for nothing that was made was made without Him. He made everything in the category of “made.” And because it is absurd to assert that one could take part in creating himself, Jesus was not in that category of "made." Jesus was not created, but is the uncreated Creator.

[1] The Greek phrase is: kai theos ēn ho logos; literally, “and God was the Word.” Even though “the Word” (ho logos) comes after the verb (ēn), it is the subject; and even though “God” (theos) comes before the verb, it is the predicate. Cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 40–48.

Wallace, Greek Grammar, 262: “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is…only rarely indefinite.”

Ibid., 257, 260: “A definite PN that precedes the verb is usually anarthrous.”

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1991), 117.

[5] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 269, emphases in original.

[6] R. H. Countess, The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1982), 54–55.

[7] Let God Be True (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1952), 33. Compare this with the unwarranted insertions of the word “other” in the NWT of Colossians 1:16.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing: The Cripplegate

Last Saturday, as I gave an update on how things are going here for us at The Master's Seminary, I mentioned that there were many exciting things going on -- even outside of the classroom -- that I wish I had the time and space to write about. Well, God has granted the opportunity to report about one of them.

Jesse Johnson, who is the Local Outreach Pastor at Grace Community Church, and Nathan Busenitz, who is the Professor of Historical Theology at The Master's Seminary and an elder at Grace Church, recently began thinking about venturing again into the blogosphere. After kicking around some ideas, they decided to create a team blog with some folks related to Grace Church and TMS. Aside from the two of them, TMS alumni and pastors Clint Archer, Byron Yawn, and Josh Thiessen will join the team. Clint pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Durban, South Africa. He just released (what I think is) his first book, entitled The Preacher's Payday. Byron pastors Community Baptist Church in Nashville, and has written Well Driven Nails, a book on how to find your own voice as a preacher. And Josh pastors at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha. He blogs at Sojourning Pastor.

And for some reason, these men have asked me to join them, and I have gratefully accepted. I praise God for the opportunity, and pray that He will grant that this labor of love will minister to and be a benefit to those who read.

I'm really looking forward to participating in a team blog, and especially to ministering with these men. I've had the privilege of getting know Nathan and Jesse as I've attended TMS and have worked in the membership department at Grace Church, and I'm blessed every time we interact. I look forward to cultivating similar relationships with the others and benefiting from their wisdom, their gifts, and their example.

The blog is called The Cripplegate. You can read what that name means and why we chose it by reading the inaugural post, which is up today. We would all be honored if you would follow the blog, would read it regularly, and even participate by entering the discussion along with us. Hope to see you in the comment threads!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 4

After surveying the history and theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and comparing their Christology with that of the Bible, the most recent post in our series on engaging and evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with a particular text: Titus 2:13. There, we learned that Paul calls Jesus “our great God and Savior.”

I mentioned in that post that because the Bible so clearly proclaims Jesus as God, it is a little surprising to find out that someone who claims to believe the Bible denies the deity of Christ. To do that, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to play around with some very clear texts. And if we are going to be able to engage them in helpful ways, we need to be equipped to examine their understandings of some key Christological texts and contrast such understandings with a consistently Biblical interpretation.

Hebrews 1:8: The Everlasting God

Another clear text that supports the deity of Christ is Hebrews 1:8: “But of the Son [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…’”

In this text,
the writer of Hebrews declares that God Himself testifies that the Son, Jesus, is God. However, the NWT translates this text, “God is your throne forever and ever.” The modern translations treat it as the Father addressing the Son as God, while the NWT translates “God” as the subject of the sentence, because they’re trying to avoid identifying “the Son” as “God.” And so they argue that the text is teaching that “God is the ‘throne,’ or Source and Upholder of Christ’s kingship” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 422).

Nominative and Vocative

Technically, both renderings are grammatically possible, because in Greek the form of direct address—known as the vocative case, which gives us the reading: “O God”—is sometimes identical to the form of the subject of the sentence—known as the nominative case, which gives us the reading: “God is your throne.” This is one of those instances where they’re the same. And so on the surface it seems that either interpretation is valid.

But what helps us here is that this particular sentence wasn’t originally written in Greek. The writer of Hebrews is quoting a Greek translation of Psalm 45:6. Three verses earlier in the same psalm, the person being talked about is addressed as dunate (“O Mighty One”), which is in the distinctive form of the vocative case. Unlike the text in Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6, there is no ambiguity in Psalm 45:3. The writer is directly addressing the recipient.

And so if the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of Hebrews 1:8 is correct, we would have to say that Psalm 45:6 contains a nominative (the case for the subject) and not the vocative (the case for direct address). But if that was so, that means that we would have a vocative in Psalm 45:3 and a nominative in Psalm 45:6. That kind of switch ignores the context and militates against the guidelines of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. If Psalm 45:3 reads, “O Mighty One,” it is inconsistent to translate verse 6 (and thus its quotation in Hebrews 1:8) as anything other than, “O God.”

Even if You Don’t Know Greek

Once again, though, while it’s important for Christians to be equipped with such tools as we engage Jehovah’s Witnesses, you don’t need to know Greek to demonstrate the validity of the orthodox translation and interpretation of Hebrews 1:8.

Proper biblical interpretation is founded upon what the original author was intending to communicate to the original audience, and what his purpose was in doing so. In Hebrews 1, the author was clearly trying to demonstrate Christ’s distinct superiority and supremacy over all things. The Witnesses’ argument that Hebrews 1:8 simply teaches that God is the source of Jesus’ authority fails to demonstrate that superiority, because the angels, the prophets, and Moses also derived their authority from God. If that’s what the author of Hebrews was trying to say, then he was not contributing anything to his original argument.

But of course that was not what the author of Hebrews was trying to say, because it’s foreign to the context to say something about Jesus that is also true of the angels to whom He is superior, and from whom He demands worship (Heb 1:6).

Here again the Christian must challenge the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ understanding on both textual and contextual grounds. Use the Greek. It’s there for you to understand and instruct others. But recognize that even the English is clear enough to show that the Witnesses’ interpretation of Hebrews 1:8 is foreign to the context.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An Update: 6/4/11

So, I've been gone a while. Sorry about that. I didn't intend for the break to be this long, but the month of May really brought a lot of work for seminary. It was a great month, capped chiefly with graduation celebrations for some of my seminary brothers, but it was a tiresome month.

As I mentioned in my last update, early in May I was working on an exegetical commentary on the Greek text of Ephesians 1:3-14. That was a fantastic project -- I feel that way especially now that it's done -- but it certainly demanded my attention, the finished product weighing in at just over 80 pages. I know, I know. I write too much. But you knew that already. But I'll tell you: I've grown much in my deep appreciation for that portion of Scripture. Any time I've ever really dug down deep in the Word of God and given myself wholly to a particular portion of Scripture, I've always been blown away by the genius of the Holy Spirit and have been supremely blessed by the richness of God's Truth.

Once I finished that paper, I had a just a weekend to enjoy the completion of my second year at seminary because I started summer classes on the following Monday. The class I started with was New Testament Introduction. This class met from 6:30 to 11:30am, 5 days a week, for 2 weeks. Within those 2 weeks, when I wasn't in class I was busy reading over 2,500 pages. I've never done anything like 2,500 pages in 2 weeks before. It was quite the experience. Of course, I won't have retained all of the information, but it was effective enough that I grasped the material.

NTI was really a great class, mostly because Dr. Farnell's passion and compassion were eminent throughout. He really cares that young pastors be equipped to withstand the liberal tendencies of those "scholars" who would claim to be conservative evangelicals. In the class, we talked about some interesting topics like the development of the canon of the New Testament, textual criticism and whether we can be confident we have the original readings of Scripture, and issues in authorship, date, recipients, and occasion for writing of various New Testament books.

Perhaps the most prominent thing we learned about, though, was the historical-critical methodology/ideology of interpreting the Scriptures. At the time of the Enlightenment, many naturalistic scholars and philosophers imported their naturalistic rationalism into their interpretation of Scripture. The result of such philosophical presuppositions was that the authors of Scripture were not who they said they were (i.e., the Apostle Matthew didn't write the Gospel of Matthew). This then snowballed into wondering what sources the Gospel writers used in compiling their accounts of Jesus' life and ministry (since they weren't actually eyewitnesses, like they claim to be). The focus then becomes the imaginary (literally, imaginary) sources behind the text rather than the text itself.

The results of this kind of philosophy wind up being that Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5-7 was just a collection of sayings that "Matthew" collected and put into sermon form. Similarly, Jesus didn't say all of the Beatitudes. He only said four; the others were "added" by "Matthew." The most ridiculous claim is that Jesus actually really liked the Pharisees. "Matthew" "embellished" when writing chapter 23 because he was responding to some legalistic tendencies in the early Christian community.

Liberal nonsense, right? Well, the scary thing is that each of those claims were made by professing evangelicals -- professors at evangelical seminaries! And so it's necessary for us pastors to be equipped in the academic arena as well as the pastoral, in order to protect the integrity of Scripture from such attacks.

NTI wrapped up well, though I still have a paper due a little later on. But after having a long Memorial Day weekend, I'm back in class for another two weeks. I'm taking a class on the exegesis of the Greek text of Hebrews. This time class is only 6:30 to 9:30 each day, so that's a little better. But along with translating around 20 verses a day, we're reading three commentaries as we go.

So, the workload hasn't lightened very much for the last month, which I hope is excuse enough for my sparse blog posting. I do hope to get back to the series on the Jehovah's Witnesses soon, though, so be on the lookout for that.

There are so many exciting things going on here outside of the classroom that I wish I had time to write about. But I suppose they'll have to wait. I'm just thankful that you all are reading. Hopefully you're being benefited in the process. I know it's been beneficial for me.