One of the most unique doctrines the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach is that Christ, both before he came to Earth and since he has returned to heaven, was and is Michael the Archangel. To argue this, the Witnesses use 1 Thessalonians 4:16: "the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet." (Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New World Translation [NWT] of the Bible, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the parent organization for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) From this verse the Witnesses conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ is an archangel because he has "an archangel’s voice." No other denomination has ever come up with such a conclusion, because every other denomination has concluded that the return of the Lord will simply be heralded by an archangel. But let’s continue with the Witnesses’ argument.
They identify the archangel as Michael from Jude 9: "But when Michael the archangel had a difference with the devil and was disputing about Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a judgment against him in abusive terms, but said: ‘May Jehovah rebuke you.’" How does this identification work? According to Reasoning from the Scriptures, one of the manuals Witnesses use in door-to-door evangelization, "the expression ‘archangel’ is never found in the plural in the scriptures, thus implying there is only one" (page 218).
Actually, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 suggests an arch-angel’s voice, not to the archangel’s voice, implying there is more than one archangel. The Greek definite article (Greek’s equivalent of "the") simply is not in the text. (The definite article is used in Jude 9, but there it serves to identify which Michael is being talked about—the Michael who is an archangel. In that context, it no more implies that there is only one archangel than talking about "Smokey the Bear" implies that there is only one bear.)
Reasoning from the Scriptures claims that "the evidence indicates that the Son of God was known as Michael before he came to earth and is known by that name since his return to heaven where he resides as the glorified spirit Son of God" (page 218). The Bible contains little evidence concerning such a strange claim, but what little evidence there is argues against the Witnesses’ position
Look at Hebrews 1:5: " . . . [T]o which one of the angels did he [God] ever say: ‘You are my son; I, today, I have become your father’?" This suggests the Son of God can’t be an angel (or an archangel, since "archangel" simply means "high ranking angel"), because it was to the Son that the Father said, "I have become your father."
Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their own, backhanded way, recognize this. Look at their translation of verse 6: "Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him," referring to the Son. The Witnesses want you to think the angels do obeisance to the (sole) archangel, but they know this isn’t what the verse really says. Until 1970 the NWT didn’t use the word "obeisance." Until then verse 6 read this way: "Let all God’s angels worship him" (italics added). Angels don’t worship an archangel, who, after all, is just another creature. They worship God (Rev. 19:9-10, 22:8-9). When the NWT was first made, this verse slipped by the translating committee and effectively undercut the Witnesses’ assertion that Christ is really Michael.
Is Jesus Only a Man?
It will come as no surprise to learn that the Witnesses do not believe Jesus Christ is divine. He isn’t God in their view. To support this theory, they appeal to their own rendering of John 1:1: "In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." They use the lower-case "g" to show that Christ is merely a creature, even if the most exalted creature.
In every Catholic and Protestant translation, the final clause of John 1:1 is given this way: "and the Word was God." The translation given by the Witnesses simply isn’t supported by the Greek. When missionaries come to your door and argue that Jesus is just a creature, point out the illegitimate translation of John 1:1. (If they insist their translation is correct, ask them whether Christ is true God or a false god by nature. Point out that only by Christ being true God do the opening verses to John’s Gospel make any sense at all.) Then turn to John 20:28, where Thomas says, as he probes Jesus’ wounds, "My Lord and my God!" Note that Jesus didn’t correct Thomas’ identification of him as God, because no correction was needed. Thomas, previously doubting, knew exactly what he was saying, and what he was saying was true.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Incarnation. According to them, Jesus isn’t God, so there’s no question about God taking flesh. But they also deny it in a second sense. In the Incarnation, the Son’s divine nature became united with a human nature, so his two natures co-existed. But the Witnesses say that even after Jesus’ appearance on Earth there was only one nature—the human.
This is how they see it: In heaven, Jesus was the Son of God, a creature, and was known as Michael the archangel, a pure spirit. Upon coming to Earth he ceased to be a spirit at all. His spirit-ness entirely disappeared. On Earth the Son of God was purely human. This man Jesus was killed at Calvary. At his resurrection, his human body was not resuscitated. It remained in the tomb and God disintegrated it. There was no real, physical resurrection in the traditional Christian sense. Instead, what was resurrected was Michael’s angelic spirit-body.
Keep in mind the sequence. In heaven: angel only. On Earth: human only. Back in heaven: angel only, again. There is no continuity here. The creature called Michael entirely ceased to exist! The creature called Jesus (while here on Earth) began to exist, then, at death, he ceased to exist also. Then a creature identical to the original Michael began to exist again. (Witnesses believe that at death a person ceases to exist altogether, and that the resurrection consists of God recreating an exact copy of that person from his memory.)
The Resurrection Was Real
None of that squares with the Bible. The resurrection accounts in the Gospels are accounts of a revivified and glorified body, a body no longer in the tomb. There isn’t a shred of evidence in the Gospels to indicate anyone thought the body remained in the tomb. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and said, "‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have.’ Then he said, ‘Do you have something there to eat?’ And they handed him a piece of broiled fish; and he took it and ate it before their eyes" (Luke 24:39-43). Here Jesus himself points out that he is more than just a spirit—he has a body, too.
"The Force Be With You"?
All this is about Christ. What about the Holy Spirit? The Jehovah’s Witnesses are actually Unitarians, not Trinitarians. They don’t believe in three divine persons, but in one, Jehovah (the Father). The Son isn’t God, but a creature. The Holy Spirit isn’t God either—in fact, he isn’t a person at all, but "Jehovah’s active force," something comparable to electricity. In the NWT we find his name given in lower-case: "the holy spirit."
To support this belief, the Witnesses rely on their rendering of passages such as Acts 2:1-4: "Now while the day of the [festival of] Pentecost was in progress . . . they all became filled with holy spirit." Written this way, it almost makes sense. But Christ spoke of the Holy Spirit as a person in several places, such as John 14:26: "But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I have told you." How can an impersonal force teach anyone anything? Does the wind teach? Do gravity or electromagnetism teach? Of course not. This verse makes sense only if "the holy spirit" is really "the Holy Spirit," a divine person. Moreover, the New Testament is replete with examples of the Spirit’s personal attributes, such as thinking, speaking, guiding, hearing, loving, and willing, to name a few.
When speaking with a Witness about this passage, turn to Acts 5:1-11, the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In verse 3, Peter asks, "Why has Satan emboldened you to play false to the holy spirit and to hold back secretly some of the price of the field?" The one that was defrauded was "the holy spirit." In verse 4, Peter says, "You have played false, not to men, but to God." So it was God that was defrauded. The conclusion? That "the holy spirit" must be God, a conclusion drawn from the Witnesses’ own NWT.
Is Christ Inferior?
The Witnesses argue that the Son is inferior in nature to the Father from verses such as these: "The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing" (John 5:19). "I have not come of my own initiative, but he that sent me is real, and you do not know him. I know him because I am a representative from him, and that one sent me forth" (John 7:28-29). "I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am" (John 14:28).
What can be said about these verses? First, they may be referring to Christ’s human nature, as distinguished from his divine nature. His human nature, being created, is clearly subordinate to the Father’s divine nature.
Second, they may also refer to Christ’s person insofar as the person of the Son is generated or begotten by the person of the Father. This doesn’t mean he is unequal in his divine nature and therefore not divine. It means there is a certain logical relationship between the two persons of the Father and the Son (who are both equally divine) in which it may be said, rightly, that "the Father is greater than I"—greater in the order of the three divine persons, not greater in the order of nature or being.
Third, they may refer to the Son’s role in the economy of redemption. He came to fulfill the Father’s will in redeeming us and to reveal the Father to us, thus serving the Father. Hence, the Father holds a position in some sense superior to his. Thus the Son might be said to be inferior to the Father in the role he plays, but not in his essential nature.
Are there verses that argue against the Witnesses’ position? Sure. One example is John 5:1-18, where Jesus cures a man on the Sabbath. The Jews became angry because Jesus "worked" on the Sabbath, and in response Jesus said, "‘My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.’ On this account indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God" (verses 17-18). Only God can be equal to himself, and this passage therefore shows that Jesus is God.
The Witnesses also ignore the import of Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit." Another translator’s slip here? Note the singular "name." If the Father, Son, and "holy spirit" were three different entities—God, exalted creature, and impersonal force—then they’d have three names, not one name. The fact that the singular is used implies a unity of being.
What is that one name that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share? If there is a single, revealed name for all three Persons, that name may be Yahweh. There can be no question that God is referred to in the Old Testament as Yahweh (understood by the JWs as "Jehovah"), and this name applies to the Son as well. For example, Jesus speaking in John 8:24 says, "Therefore I said to you, You will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [he], you will die in your sins." Notice that the NWT has added "he" in brackets to obscure the fact that the Greek words here are the words for "I Am." ("He" is not present.) An identical situation occurs at John 8:28.
As any Bible student knows, "I Am" corresponds to Jehovah or Yahweh (cf. Ex. 3:14:"God said to Moses . . . ‘Say to the people of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you,’" RSV).
Go over these verses carefully with the next Witness who comes to your door. Show him, always, the context of what is being said, whether on this topic or on any other. Remember, the Witnesses take verses out of context. They are the preeminent proof-texters. Often the very next verse will undercut their interpretation of the single verse they’re expounding to you. Never accept their interpretations or their NWT at face value. Always have on hand Catholic and Protestant translations with which to compare the NWT. Read everything in context, always showing the Witnesses the context.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004