Jehovah’s Witnesses and John 1:1
There has been much discussion regarding the translation of John 1:1 and the significance it has in our understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelicals insist that John 1:1, when properly exegeted, provides irrefutable proof that Jesus is fully and eternally God and yet distinct from another who is called God. Evangelicals take this to mean that the true God is a multi-personal Being, that Yahweh is more than one Person. The Evangelical understanding can be seen from the way Evangelical translations, and certain others, have traditionally rendered this verse:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (kai theos een ho Logos).” KJV, NKJV, NIV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NCV, YLT, Wey NT, Holman NT, Darby, Douay-Rheims,
Other translations that render this passage somewhat differently, yet still reflecting the traditional Evangelical understanding, include:
“In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Good News Translation
“From the first he was the Word, and the Word was in relation with God and was God.” BBE
“Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God.” TEV
“In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God.” CEV
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs for short), on the other hand, believe that John 1:1 supports their position that Jesus is a distinct god from the true God. JWs claim that John 1:1 demonstrates that Jesus is a different kind of god from the God whom he was with. This understanding is reflected in their NWT translation of the Holy Scriptures:
“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
The obvious problem with the JW rendering is that it posits two distinct gods, which goes against the clear and explicit testimony of the Holy Scriptures that there is only one God. All citations taken from the NWT unless otherwise noted:
“SEE now that I-I am he And there are no gods together with me.” Deuteronomy 32:39
The Septuagint renders this verse in the following manner:
“Behold, behold that I am [he], and there is no god beside me (kai ouk estin theos): I kill, and I will make to live: I will smite, and I will heal; and there is none who shall deliver out of my hands (kai ouk estin os exeleitai ek ton cheiron mou).”
Amazingly, the Lord Jesus claims to be able to perform the same divine functions that Yahweh performs:
“And I give them everlasting life, and they will by no means ever be destroyed, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (kai oukh aptasei tis auta ek tes cheiros mou). What my Father has given me is greater than all other things, and no one can snatch them out of the hand of the Father (kai oudeis dunatai aptazein ek tes cheiros tou patros). I and the Father are one” John 10:28-30
Hence, this provides evidence that Jesus cannot be just “a god,” but is the true God who is distinct from both the Father and the Holy Spirit.
“They have roused Me to jealousy with a no-god; they have provoked Me with their vanities; and I will rouse them to jealousy with a no-people; I will provoke them with a vile nation.” Deuteronomy 32:21 JPS 1917
The preceding citations show that Christ cannot be another god alongside the true God. Unless, of course, one opts for the view that John’s theology contradicts the OT teaching of monotheism. Since neither the JW nor the Evangelical believes that the scriptures contradict themselves, being the inspired and inerrant word of God, this view is not an option for either party.
Hence, Jesus is either the true God or he is a false god. But since the NT emphatically denies that the Lord Jesus is a false god, the only option left is that he is the true God. To help clarify the implication that De 32:39 has on our exegesis and understanding of John 1:1, as well as on the person of Christ, we present the following syllogism:
- There are no other Gods besides Yahweh.
- Jesus is God.
- Therefore, Jesus is Yahweh God.
John’s prologue doesn’t stop there but goes on to distinguish the Lord Jesus from another who is called God. Again:
- The Person with Jesus is identified as God.
- There is only one God.
- God must subsist in at least 2 Persons.
How does the Watchtower respond to this? In the Watchtower, 1975, p. 63 http://users.eggconnect.net/noddy3/john11deut32.htm, this is what they write:
“Viewed in their proper setting, these texts in no way contradict each other. They are discussing entirely different matters. At Deuteronomy 32:39, the point being made is that the false gods of the nations have no share with Jehovah in his saving acts. They are unable to deliver their worshipers from disaster. This is evident from the preceding two verses 37, 38,which read: “Where are their gods, the rock in whom they sought refuge, who used to eat the fat of their sacrifices, to drink the wine of their drink offerings? Let them get up and help you. Let them become a concealment place for you.” Other parts of this song likewise indicate that these false gods had no share in the expressing of Jehovah’s saving power. With reference to the nation of Israel as represented in its forefather Jacob, De 32 verse 12 says: “Jehovah alone kept leading him, and there was no foreign god along with him.” Apostasy, however, set in among the Israelites, as De 32 verses 16, 17 and 21 tell us: “They began inciting him to jealousy with strange gods; with detestable things they kept offending him. They went sacrificing to demons, not to God, gods whom they had not known, new ones who recently came in, with whom your forefathers were not acquainted. They, for their part, have incited me to jealousy with what is no god.” Against this background, we can appreciate that none of such false gods were ‘together with Jehovah’ in anything that he did. He alone is the true God, whereas the false gods are an unreality, nonexistent and powerless to help their worshipers in time of calamity. As for the reference to the Word’s “being a god,” it does not disagree with the statement at Deuteronomy 32:39. Why not? Because the Word does not stand in opposition to Jehovah nor is he a rival, as was the case with the false gods. Then, too, in the phrase rendered “the Word was a god,” the term “god” is a predicate noun that describes the Word. Says the noted scholar Westcott, coproducer of the famous Westcott and Hort Greek text of the Christian Scriptures: “It describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person.” In view of the descriptive nature of the predicate noun for “god” in the original Greek, An American Translation renders John 1:1: “The Word was divine.” The New World Translation, however, retains the predicate noun and indicates the significance of the omission of the definite article by using the indefinite article. Being God’s firstborn Son, “the Word” could rightly be described as a “god” or powerful one, even as are God s other angelic sons at Psalm 8:5. (Compare Hebrews 2:6-8.) But neither the firstborn Son nor the other faithful angelic sons of God stand in opposition to their Creator, or try to equal him or substitute for him, as do false gods. They all recognize that worship is properly directed to Jehovah God alone.- Phil. 2:5, 6; Rev. 19:10.” (Bold emphasis ours)
Commenting on the Isaianic denials of the existence of other gods, JW apologist Greg Stafford writes:
In view of the consistent condemnation of idol gods in Isaiah, it is certainly understandable for us to view Isaiah 43:10 in the same light. There is nothing in the context of Isaiah 43:10 that suggests, let alone conclusively proves, that Jehovah’s words are meant not only for the idols of man, but also for any heavenly beings who serve Jehovah, and who are elsewhere considered ‘gods.’ No living god has been ‘formed’ by the hands of the idol-worshiping nations. Which is why Jehovah goes on to condemn the idols and those who ‘form’ them in Isaiah 44:8-10.
The context of these texts shows that such denials are directed against the gods of the nations, not the angelic gods of Jehovah’s heavenly court. In fact, Isaiah 43:10 uses the same verb for ‘form’ that we see used in Isaiah 44:10. Using such scriptures in an effort to deny that the angels are gods, when in fact the Bible clearly refers to them as ‘gods,’ is to ignore the purpose for which these denials were written. As stated by Yehezkel Kaufmann: ‘We are constrained to offer the embarrassing reply that nowhere in the Bible is the existence of god denied, neither explicitly nor implicitly. Even the polemic of Second-Isaiah attacks the idols with no word at all for the gods.’” (Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended An Answer to Scholars and Critics [Elihu Books, Huntington Beach, CA: second edition 2000], pp. 101-102)
Stafford’s footnote 92 on page 102 reads:
See also Isa 44:11-20. Compare Isa 42:8, 17; 45:18-20; 48:5 Regarding De 32:39, compare De 32:16, 21, 37, 38 (see note 105 below). (Ibid., bold emphasis ours)
Stafford informs us in footnote 105 that:
“The LXX of De 32:43 is more likely the source of Paul’s quotation as there are LXX manuscripts of this text that match Paul’s quotation word for word. That he primarily quotes from the Psalms is not a deterrent to accepting Heb 1:6 as a quotation from De 32:43, since he also quotes from 2Sa 7:14 in Heb 1:5. The quotation in Heb 1:6 seems to have come from a Hebrew recension other than MT, which is reflected in 4QDeutq… Paul Sanders, The Provenance of Deuteronomy 32 (OTS 37; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 248-252, 422-425. On pages 426-429 Sanders discusses the relationship between Jehovah and the gods spoken of in verse 8 (see below) and verse 43 and the statements in verses 12 and 39, where it is said there are no gods ‘with’ Jehovah. He concludes: ‘Verse 12 and verse 39 say that there is no god “with” YHWH. These affirmations relate to his activity: YHWH is the only god who acts on behalf of Israel. In that respect there is no other god with him… Though the conceptual background of the passage [De 32:8-9] may be archaic the message of the passage is completely in line with the “monotheistic” affirmation in the song; other gods may exist-in fact they do- but for Israel the only significant god is YHWH. He is even the highest god… and the other gods… are subordinate to him’ (ibid., 427). See ibid. pages 237-238 for more on De 32:39.” (Ibid., p. 111)
To summarize the JW position:
- The passages in Isaiah and Deuteronomy where Yahweh is said to be the only God do not rule out the existence of angelic gods. The context deals with refuting the existence of the false gods and/or idols of the nations.
- According to Sanders, which Stafford cites approvingly, Deuteronomy 32:39 is not denying that there are no other gods alongside Yahweh. The text is indicating that Yahweh is the only god who acts on behalf of Israel. Presumably, this implies that other gods do exist, but they simply do not act on Israel’s behalf.
In response to point 1, a careful reading of De 32 will show that the gods mentioned in the text includes the angelic host:
“They roused Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations did they provoke Him. They sacrificed unto DEMONS, NO-gods (lo Elo’ah), gods that they knew not, new gods that came up of late, which your fathers dreaded not.” Deuteronomy 32:16-17 JPS 1917
The Israelites worshiped demons, something reiterated elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures:
“They kept serving their idols, And these came to be a snare to them. And they would sacrifice their sons And their daughters TO DEMONS.” Psalm 106:36-37
Interestingly, the Watchtower magazine mentions that the gods spoken of include demons, but fails to see the significance in this. Stafford makes reference to De. 32:16, but doesn’t mention verse 17. It seems that Stafford, unlike the Watchtower, realized that the mention of demons in v. 17 poses major problems for the claim that angels are gods. Demons are said to be angels:
“Then he will say, in turn, to those on his left, ‘Be on YOUR way from me, YOU whole have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.’” Matthew 25:41
“Do YOU not know that we shall judge angels?” 1 Corinthians 6:3
“just because of the excess of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not feel overly exalted, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, to keep slapping me, that I might not be overly exalted.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
“And war broke out in heaven; Mi’chael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled” Revelation 12:7
More on this point in the next part of our rebuttal https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/jesus-as-a-god-alongside-god-pt-2/.