Not long ago I had a nice chat with some Jehovah’s Witness ladies who came to my door. After kicking off the conversation with small talk, we got down to business. They started by saying, “You may have heard that we’re not Christian, but I assure you we are.”
I asked them, “How can Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian when they don’t even share the core belief of the first Christians, namely, that Jesus is God?” One of them replied, “Oh, well, that’s where you’re mistaken. The first Christians didn’t believe Jesus was God. They believed he was a god (John 1:1)—the most exalted spirit creature but still inferior to Jehovah.”
Is this true? Did the first Christians believe Jesus was not equal to the Father? Let’s take a look.
The use of “God”
The passage from John that the ladies quoted is a mistaken translation from their New World Translation (NWT) of the Bible. Jehovah Witnesses argue that the original Greek doesn’t have the definite article (the) before God. And since “God” here is an indefinite noun, the indefinite article (a) is inferred. Therefore, John is not referring to Jesus as the God, as in Jehovah, but merely as a god; hence their New World Translation of the text, “the Word was a god.”
But this is not necessarily true. It’s a general rule in Koine Greek (the Greek of the New Testament) that when the subject and object are both in the nominative case, which they are in the phrase “the Word was God,” the predicate doesn’t normally take the definite article, since the definite article is used to distinguish the subject from the predicate. Its use doesn’t show that the predicate needs an indefinite article.
Moreover, the NWT doesn’t follow its principle of translation even within the immediate context. The word theos appears eight times in verses one through eighteen, and only twice is the definite article (Gr. ho) used in front of it—verses one and two. Among the six times theos is used without the definite article, the NWT translates it only once as “a god,” and that is in John 1:1 in reference to the Word. Looks to me like they’re simply trying to support their claim that Jesus is not God.
If our JW friends insist on the need to provide a reference to Jesus as God with the definite article, then we’re not wanting. Take for example John 20:28, where the apostle Thomas says to Jesus, “ho kurios mou, kai ho theos mou,” which literally translates, “the Lord of me and the God of me.”
After encouraging Christians that they are in Jesus Christ, “the one who is true,” John says of Jesus, “This is the true God [ho alethinos theos] and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). John also calls Jesus “God” with the definite article in Revelation 22:6: “[T]he Lord, the God [ho theos] of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” A few verses later, John identifies Jesus as the one that sends the angel (v. 16).
The author of the letter to the Hebrews joins the ranks of Paul and John when he quotes Psalm 45:6 and applies it to Jesus: “But of the Son he [the Father] says, ‘Thy throne, O God [ho theos], is for ever and ever” (Heb. 1:8). The author of Hebrews sees in Psalm 45:6 God the Father calling Jesus the God.
If the JWs don’t believe that Jesus is the God, but the first-century Christians (including the writers of Scripture) did, then apparently the JWs aren’t Christian. How can they be, if they believe something about Jesus that is in direct opposition to what the first Christians—and all Christians since—believed?
Jesus the uncreated Creator
You would think that if the early Christians believed Jesus was something less than God, they wouldn’t refer to him as the creator of all created things, since according Isaiah 44:24 God alone “made all things.” But yet this is precisely what they did.
In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul describes Jesus as the one “through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” How can Jesus be responsible for the existence of all things right here and now if he is not God? The power to sustain created beings in existence belongs only to a being that is pure being itself, which God alone is. So if Paul thinks Jesus has this power, then he believes Jesus is God.
And notice that Jesus doesn’t belong to the category of “all things that are sustained in existence.” This means that Jesus is the uncreated Creator, which contradicts the JW belief that Jesus was the only creature directly created by Jehovah and that Jehovah used Jesus to create all other things.
Paul’s teaching harmonizes with the apostle John, who says of Jesus that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Like Paul, John here excludes Jesus from the category of created beings. Jesus doesn’t belong to the category of “all things that were made.” In other words, Jesus is the uncreated Creator.
The divinity of the Holy Spirit
Another essential first-century Christian belief that doesn’t jibe with Jehovah’s Witness doctrine is the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Consider 1 Corinthians 2:11, where Paul says, “[N]o one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” How can the Spirit comprehend the infinite thoughts of God unless he’s also infinite in knowledge? If the Holy Spirit is omniscient, then he is equal to God.
Another example is Acts 5:1-4. Here Peter rebukes Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit, but then a few sentences later says they lied to God. How can lying to the Holy Spirit be the same as lying to God unless the Holy Spirit is God?
We also can look at Hebrews 10:15-17 where the text quotes God’s promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-33 but prefaces it by saying, “The Holy Spirit also bears witness . . . saying . . .” Notice that God’s words are the Holy Spirit’s words. Clearly, the first-century Christians believed that the Holy Spirit is God.
As they do with Jesus, the JWs miss it when it comes to the New Testament’s teaching about the divinity of the Holy Spirit. And because such a teaching belongs to the heart of Christianity, their denial of it excludes them from being properly called Christian.
Clarity where confusion abounds
Some folks may get a bit fidgety when Catholics say Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t Christian. “How can you say they’re not Christian when they’re such kind people? Isn’t it a bit triumphalistic to say they’re not Christian?”
But I don’t think it’s triumphalistic, because the intent is to bring clarity where confusion abounds. Just like if someone went around telling women that I was a bachelor who was looking for a woman to marry; such a mistake would need to be corrected before my wife started answering unwanted phone calls!
And, yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses can be good, kind, pleasant folk. But their mistaken view that Jesus is merely a creature, and that such a belief is Christian, needs to be corrected lest other people who open the door for the ladies I talked to be led into error and never come to know the real Jesus.