The God of the Jehovah's Witnesses


Catholic Answers

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One of the most singular doctrines taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses is that Christ, before he came to Earth and since his return to heaven, was and is Michael the archangel. The Witnesses rely on 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." (All citations in this tract, unless otherwise noted, are from the New World Translation of the Bible, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.)

From this verse the Witnesses conclude that the Lord 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 be heralded by an archangel. 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." An interesting argument, but weak. Actually, 1 Thessalonians 4:[16] refers to an archangel's voice, not to the archangel's voice, implying there is more than one archangel. If there were only one, the article "the" would be used If there were more than one, but only one is being referred to, the article would be "an."

"Reasoning from the Scriptures" claims "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." But what little evidence there is is against the Witnesses' position.

Look at Hebrews 1:[5]: "to which one of the angels did he 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, to be technical), 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 New World Translation 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. When the New World Translation was first made, this verse slipped by the translating committee and effectively undercut the argument that Christ is really Michael.

Is Jesus Only a Man?

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that the Witnesses do not believe our Lord is divine at all. He isn't God. 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." In every Catholic and Protestant translation, the final clause is given this way: "and the Word was God." The translation given by the Witnesses simply isn't supported by the Greek. They use the lower-case "g" to show that Christ is merely a creature, even if the most exalted creature. In the Book of Judges certain magistrates are called "gods," but it is clear from the context they're merely human beings. No divinity is implied in the ancient usage, and the Witnesses imply none when they call Christ "a god."

When missionaries come to your door and argue that Jesus is just a creature, point out the illegitimate translation of John 1:[1], and then turn to John 20:[28], where Thomas says, as he probes Jesus ' wounds, "My Lord and my God! " Then note that Jesus didn't correct Thomas's 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, of course. They deny it first because Jesus isn't God, according to them, so there's no question about God taking flesh They also deny it in a second sense. In the Incarnation what the Son of God was before—that is to say, God—became united with a human nature, so two natures co-existed. Even after Jesus' appearance on Earth, say the Witnesses, there was only one nature, the human. This is how they see it.

In heaven, before coming down, Jesus was the Son of God, a creature, and was known as Michael . He was the archangel Michael, pure spirit. He then ceased to be a spirit at all. His spirit-ness entirely disappeared, vanished. On Earth the Son of God was purely human. No angelic spirit was commingled with his human nature. This man Jesus was killed at Calvary. At his Resurrection, his human body was not resuscitated. It remained in the tomb and rotted. There was no real, physical Resurrection in the traditional Christian sense. Instead, what was resurrected was the angelic spirit-body.

Keep in mind the sequence. In heaven: spirit only. On Earth: body only. Back in heaven: spirit 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. The creature Michael then began to exist again.

The Resurrection Was Real

None of this squares with the Bible. The Resurrection accounts in the Gospels are accounts of a reanimated corpse, a corpse 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. (Recall that the guards were told to lie about it, to say someone stole the body while they were sleeping, even though an admission of sleeping while on duty was tantamount to a death sentence for the guards.)

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:[3943]). Here Jesus himself points out that he is more than just a spirit—

he's a body too.

In Matthew 28:[6], an angel offers as proof that Jesus has risen from the tomb the fact that the tomb is empty. This implies the body had been raised. If only Jesus' spirit had been resurrected (assuming the word resurrection can even apply to a spirit), then the tomb would still contain the body.

"The Force Be With You"

All this is about Christ. What about the Holy Spirit? The Jehovah 's Witnesses are unitarians, not trinitarians. They don't believe in three divine Persons, but in one, Jehovah. The Son isn't God, but a creature. The Holy Spirit isn't God either, and he isn't as exalted a creature as is the Son. He isn't a Person at all, but "Jehovah's active force." In the New World Translation we find his name given in lower-case: "the holy spirit."

The Witnesses rely on passages such as Acts 2:[1]-4: "on the day of Pentecost . . . they all became filled with the holy spirit." Written this way, it almost makes sense. But Christ spoke of the Holy Spirit as personal in 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.

When speaking with a Witness about this passage, turn to the first few verses of Acts 5, 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 translation of the Bible.

As already mentioned, the Jehovah's Witnesses are unitarians, not trinitarians. Only the Father—Jehovah—is God. The Son is the first creature. The Holy Spirit is Jehovah's power.

So how do the Witnesses interpret a verse such as John 10:[30]: "I and the Father are one"? They say Jesus meant he was "one in agreement, purpose, and organization" with the Father, that's all. But they ignore the very next verse, in which the Jews take up stones to throw at him, and verse 33, in which they say, "We stone you . . . because you, being a man, make yourself God." This is a Catholic translation. We must use it because the New World Translation, as in John 1:[1], translates the Greek improperly. It gives: "We are stoning you . . . because you, although being a man, make yourself a god." Note the lower-case "g" again.

Blasphemy or Mere Stupidity?

If Jesus were only claiming an angelic nature—which, according to Witnesses, he didn't have while on earth anyway: to them he was just a man—then why would the Jews attempt to stone him? They were stoning him for blasphemy, and it isn't blasphemy to declare oneself an angel. (Not blasphemy, just stupidity, and the Jews didn't punish stupidity by stoning.)

The Jehovah's Witnesses 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.

The Witnesses will argue the inferiority of the Son 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]).

Christ Has Two Natures

What can be said about these verses? Two things. First, that 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.

But the verses may also be understood as referring to Christ's divine nature insofar as the Son is generated or begotten by the Father. This doesn't mean he's unequal and therefore not divine. It means there is a certain logical, but mysterious relationship between the Father and the Son in which it may be said, rightly, that "the Father is greater than I."

Are there verses that argue against the Witnesses' position? Sure. Look at John 10:[30] again: "The Father and I are one." This is blunt. There's nothing here to imply they are "one in agreement, purpose, and organization" only. If that were the case, then other angels—not just the "archangelic" Christ—could say the same words, because they too would be "one in agreement, purpose, and organization" with the Father. They too would be creatures—exalted, even if not as exalted as Christ—and would parallel Christ as he parallels the Father. But even the Jehovah's Witnesses won't go this far.

Look at John 17 :[22]: "that they may be one just as we are one." This is Christ speaking to the Father. His words evince a unity of being, not merely a unity of intent. 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, far more than any fundamentalists, 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 at face value (or their translations—always have on hand Catholic and Protestant translations to compare the New World Translation with). Read everything in context, and show the Witnesses the context.

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