Thoughts, observations, scripture and other articles relating to Christianity and the Christian life.

Witnessing to Witnesses

(I mean no offense to Jehovah’s Witnesses with posting the above image, I just thought it was funny.)

Three or four times in the past few months a few Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to my door;  a very sweet elderly woman (sadly her name is escaping me) and a man named Clay.  They have been very kind and I have let them know that I am a Christian, but  I feel like the next time Clay comes back, I may invite him in for a discussion on faith.  I have zero interest in converting to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness as I know their Bible is curropt and they teach falsehoods on God, Jesus, the holy spirit and salvation, however I would like to witness to this man.

I was wondering if any of you out there have had a discussion with witnesses in the past, and if so, what questions or tactics are good to take when witnessing to them?  Is there anything else you would recommend?

Please pray this man, that his eyes may be open to the free gift of salvation, through faith, in the authentic Jesus Christ.  Also, please pray for me that I continually have a humble, truthful and loving tone when talking to him.

God bless.

-Neil

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27 responses

  1. Hello! I’ve been in your place a time or two…I usually like to start with John 1:1, comparing what their version says to the KJV

    Here’s a link to a great Christian site concerning this topic

    http://www.towerwatch.com/Witnesses/New_World_Translation/new_world_translation.htm

    Usually when talking with witnesses if you seem to have a firm biblical basis for what you believe and are able to articulate it they will lose interest in talking with you pretty quickly. I too have a desire to help them see the truth but it’s a difficult thing to do! God Bless You Brother!

    December 5, 2010 at 9:42 AM

  2. TJ

    Hey Neil,

    I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I appreciate your apparent sincerity in wanting to help others. I’m wondering if you can give an example of one of our beliefs that you feel is in error and possibly an example where you feel our translation of the Bible has been corrupted. As you’ve seen firsthand, we’re happy to discuss such things respectfully.

    Thanks,
    TJ

    December 6, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    • Hi TJ,

      Thank you for your comment. I would be happy to do so! But before I do I need to ask you a question: If someone did show you substantial evidence that the Watchtower association was in error and/or Biblical Christianity was indeed true would you be willing to change your religious beliefs? Or would you continue to remain in the organization because it would be easier on you?

      The reason I ask this is that some people are so attached to their lifestyle that they are willing to ignore truth that is staring them right in the face. And, I say this with complete respect, I would rather not invest my time into a conversation that is doomed to failure from the start.

      Let me know!
      God bless,

      Neil

      December 6, 2010 at 2:45 PM

      • TJ

        Hi Neil,

        I think that’s a fair question, though I do firmly believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses practice biblical Christianity, otherwise I would be looking elsewhere. So yes, I’m interested in truth over comfort. Is the same true for you?

        TJ

        December 6, 2010 at 3:05 PM

      • Absolutely. If my beliefs are false, I want to know it! : )

        Let’s start with John 1:1. Can you please tell me in the NWT what John 1:1 says?

        December 6, 2010 at 3:15 PM

      • TJ

        Sure. It reads, “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

        December 6, 2010 at 3:17 PM

      • Ok so in my Bible (NASB) it says:
        “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

        So obviously, the big discrepancy here is the missing letter “a” at the end of this sentence. The NWT, it would seem, indicates that Jesus (in this instance “the Word”) was A God, but not THE God. So since this is no small issue (the nature of Jesus) at least one of our translations must be incorrect (logically, both of ours could be incorrect, but both can not be right. See what I mean?)

        I want to make sure you agree with me so far that there is a distinction here that should be further investigated. So just let me know you see what I am getting at, and I will continue with my “presentation” (Presentation makes this sound all sorts of fancy huh? 🙂 ).

        Neil

        (By the way, I know these conversations can go on and on, so I wanted to give you a heads up that I have to start cooking dinner for my wife and I at 4:30pm PST so there might be a large gap between some of my comments, please don’t feel that I am ignoring you)

        December 6, 2010 at 3:33 PM

  3. TJ

    I’m with you so far. 🙂 Since we both agree “the Word” is Jesus, one translation is saying Jesus was God while the other is saying Jesus was merely a god.

    And don’t worry about instant replies; obviously we both have other matters to attend to in the real world.

    December 6, 2010 at 3:40 PM

  4. Great! 🙂

    So, let me ask you another question then (I know it is going to sound weird at first, but just bare with me). You open your mail box and receive a letter. It’s from your long lost cousin Vinnie! But this loved one wrote the letter in another language in another country with it’s own phrases, sayings, grammatical rules and nuances. You have two options to get it translated:

    1) One person who had just a few college courses for exposure to the language?

    or

    2) A group of 50+ Professors with Doctorates in the area of the language?

    Which choice is going to give you the most accurate translation of the letter from your cousin?

    December 6, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    • TJ

      Obviously, from a worldly perspective, one would go for the dazzling degrees and prestige.

      But those things in themselves do not establish a matter as true. In fact, relying solely on the reputation of the person making the argument, rather than on the merits of the argument itself, is a logical fallacy called an appeal to authority. For example, most scientists would argue in favor of evolution over the biblical account of creation. Many atheists point to these scientists’ degrees over the substance of their arguments; does that make you accept the theory of evolution as true?

      So let’s go to the Bible’s view of such matters. Is it not true that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise”? (1 Corinthians 1:21) For example, Jesus’ apostles weren’t among the scholarly and learned men of the Jews, many of them were simple fishermen. This led such ‘wise’ ones to look down upon Peter and John because “they were uneducated and untrained men.” (Acts 4:13) But did that mean Peter and John were wrong?

      So I’d much rather look at the reasoning behind each translation than who it is doing the translating.

      December 6, 2010 at 4:17 PM

      • TJ

        The 1 Corinthians 1:21 citation above should be 1 Corinthians 1:27. My apologies.

        December 6, 2010 at 4:20 PM

      • While I agree with you that this is an appeal to authority, the problem here is that not every person (myself included) can read and translate the ancient Greek used in the manuscripts in our possession. So, while I could not give you first hand the reasoning behind the specific translation (I have not gotten that far into my apologetics work yet) I am willing to take the word of 50+ trained individuals vs. the word of a single individual with far less training. It would be like going to a crime scene, figuring out what happened and taking the word of an officer in training over the word of 50 trained investigators.

        Are you able to translate directly from the ancient Greek to English? If so, can you explain to me why it should read the way of the NWT and not the NASB? I would be very interested in hearing that.

        Also, I do need to start making dinner, so you may not hear from me for a while but I do wish to continue this conversation.

        Take care,

        Neil

        December 6, 2010 at 4:32 PM

      • TJ

        Hi Neil,

        Let me just say that I appreciate your fine manner of discussion. You mention that since you cannot translate the sentence yourself, you are forced to accept the word of ’50 trained investigators’ over the word of ‘an officer in training’. That would seem reasonable if it is indeed truly the case and you have no access to the evidence.

        But let’s use another analogy. Suppose you wanted to know something very specific about Chinese culture. You have a friend who has studied extensively about China, has a degree related to it, but has never been there personally. On the other hand, you have another friend that actually lives in China and has all his life. You ask each of them about this detail and they give you two conflicting answers; which are you more apt to believe? The one who has studied about it from a long distance, or the one who lives and breathes the culture?

        You asked me: “Are you able to translate directly from the ancient Greek to English? If so, can you explain to me why it should read the way of the NWT and not the NASB?”

        I have some experience translating, but I think some simple reasoning on it with our respective beliefs temporarily put to the side would be beneficial. So let’s try substituting the theologically-charged nouns with some more theologically-neutral ones. Let’s use “John” for “the Word”, “the man” for the definite “God” and “a man” for the indefinite “a god”. So now we have our two choices:

        “In the beginning [John] was, and [John] was with [the man], and [John] was [a man].”

        “In the beginning was [John], and [John] was with [the man], and [John] was [the man].”

        Which sentence makes sense and which doesn’t?

        December 6, 2010 at 5:01 PM

      • Hi TJ,

        The feeling is mutual. I appreciate having these discussions in a cordial and kind manner. Sadly, because peoples religious beliefs are so foundational and held close to the heart, people have trouble separating their emotions from their beliefs and many conversations just end badly, with no real conclusion being reached.

        As for the “Chinese” example: I have been trying to relate the translation of the letter and police witnesses to the translation of the NASB and NWT. Here is what I have found on the background of the two translations (<a href="http://www.lockman.org/nasb/nasbprin.php, http://www.freeminds.org/doctrine/bible/translators-of-the-new-world-translation.html). I have tried my best to find reputable sources, but if you kind find ones that may be more reliable, please submit them, along with your reasoning as to why they would be superior. In no way do I wish to misrepresent any faith. Before I address the "Chinese" argument, could you please clarify that you are trying to do do the same thing in relating the "Chinese" argument to the books respective translations? Thank you.

        As for your two example sentences, the second sentence makes more sense. However, I don't feel these sentences do the translation justice, because (from my perspective) the Trinity can not be properly represented with this example. I assume as a JW, you do not believe in the Trinity, whereas from my background I do. So we probably see the validity of these two sentences structure differently, in the context of speaking of God, Jesus, etcetera.

        I have done some further research on the translation of John1:1 and I found something you may want to read: http://vintage.aomin.org/GERM_JWS.html I must apologize in advance for the tone. I am a big fan of James White's argumentation, however his tone, at times, is not something I would want to have in my conversations. I can not confess to understanding all of the terminology and rationale behind the arguments, but someone with more familiarity with the Greek, like yourself, might find it more meaningful.

        I will be calling it a night, as I have work tomorrow, but I would LOVE to continue this conversation throughout the week, or however long it lasts. Let us both pray for truth and understanding as that is what is ultimately important. Neither one of us wants to living with a false understanding of God. 🙂

        Take care,

        Neil

        December 6, 2010 at 6:16 PM

      • TJ

        Thanks for the response, Neil.

        As for the translators of the NWT, the fact is, their names have never been released publicly because they wish for the focus to be on the work itself. In fact for a few decades the NASB also kept its translators anonymous for similar reasons.

        But again, who translated it doesn’t tell us a thing about which is more correct with respect to John 1:1. I’m sure an atheist would be more than happy to play the same game of lining academics with respect to the question of evolution. So what does it really prove? Something this important requires that you investigate the underlying reasons for yourself. You don’t need to be a translator any more than you have to be a scientist to make informed decisions.

        The purpose of my ‘Chinese’ analogy is to get you thinking along different lines. Just as the scientific community was greatly influenced by Darwin to the point that most new scientists unquestionably accept his theory wholesale before they even enter the field of study, the religious community has been influenced by tradition down through the centuries to the point where it is just assumed from the outset.

        The fact is, most religious scholars were brought up to believe that the Bible teaches Jesus is God, so they enter the field of study with that predisposition of thinking. So what I was trying to get you to think about was how modern religious scholars are separated from the language and culture of the first century. They study it, sure, but they have never spoken Koine Greek as a living language. They never approached the text with the question, ‘who is this Jesus character?’ They approach the text with the belief that it says Jesus is God because they were taught that before they even began to study it.

        Imagine now for a moment that we could go back and talk to ancient translators of the Bible. Ones that lived before all of the various ecumenical councils that cemented tradition, ones that actually spoke and thought in the Koine Greek language and understood all of its fine nuances. Now Koine Greek had no indefinite article, so to make a noun indefinite in meaning had to be implied from the context. But what if these translators were translating the New Testament into a language like English, that contained both the definite and indefinite articles, which one do you think they’d use at John 1:1c?

        It’s essentially the difference of understanding fine nuances between someone living in China and someone who has merely studied it from afar.

        You said, “As for your two example sentences, the second sentence makes more sense.”

        Does it? Again, that one read, “In the beginning was [John], and [John] was with [the man], and [John] was [the man].” So John was with the man and was the man? I don’t think that makes good sense at all, and that’s precisely my point. Given normal bounds of reason, how can you be ‘with’ yourself?

        December 6, 2010 at 7:15 PM

      • Hi TJ,

        This conversation is so interesting, I just can’t tear myself away. 🙂

        “But again, who translated it doesn’t tell us a thing about which is more correct with respect to John 1:1”

        I disagree. While the fact that people agree with it does not automatically make the translation of the verse valid, the fact that people who have spent much of their lives in study on the matter do agree with it speaks volumes. It would require BOTH of us to learn Greek, from immersion, in order for us not to have any presuppositions, because, like you said, tradition can taint our understanding. And since ancient Greek is no longer spoken, making immersion learning impossible, the next best thing is listening to people who have spent years in the field studying it.

        So correct me if this sounds wrong, but in order for me to believe the Trinity is false, I would have to; be in opposition to the vast majority of modern biblical scholars, and scholars all the way back to the early church, which spoke the native language of the scriptures better than ANY person on earth alive today. Certainly truth by majority is NOT an acceptable argument in and of itself, but when those opinions of the majority are drawn from contentious study, textual criticism and opinions founded upon evidence, I have to say it is a pretty compelling argument for that concept.

        “The religious community has been influenced by tradition down through the centuries to the point where it is just assumed from the outset.” Just because a tradition exists, does not make it invalid. Was not the point of the council of Nicea to determine whether or not Jesus was God? Certainly they would be more familiar, and in tune with the scriptures proper translation than we are, given their proximity to the time, language and culture. An overwhelming majority of them who held the Trinitarian point of view as well.

        As far as John 1:1 is concerned, and really ANY passage of scripture, we need to look at context. Within the context of scripture, we need to look at what Christ said about himself. He did call himself God and said that He and the Father are one (numerous scripture passages here: http://www.bibleprobe.com/jesus-is-God.htm). I can’t find a single quote in the bible that refers to Jesus being created by God (in his spiritual for at least, obviously his physical human form did have an origin). Again, you could go back to translational errors, but you would have a hard time convincing me that every English translation from 1611 to 1961 (when the NWT was published) was corrupt and is corrupt today, especially given (no disrespect meant, but I feel the need to say this) the failed prophecies and changing beliefs of the Watchtower organization.

        With all due respect TJ, if the Watchtower have been wrong in the past, how do you know they aren’t wrong today or aren’t wrong in their translation of the Greek?

        Again, I think the sentence skeleton is a bit weak since, I as a Trinitarian, feel when it is speaking about Jesus and God makes sense, while from your perspective it does not. We may never see eye to eye on this. 🙂

        It is late, so I hope what I have said is coherent (it has been a long day since my wife woke me up at 4am with kidney stones…not a fun way to wake up) and received in the way I intend to give it; with love, respect and honesty.

        I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

        Take care,

        -Neil

        December 6, 2010 at 8:37 PM

  5. TJ

    Hey Neil. I just wanted to check in to let you know I’m still around and I read your message. I don’t have much time now, but I’ll try to respond later on tonight. Again, I very much appreciate your respectful disagreements. 🙂 I hope your wife is feeling better.

    TJ

    December 7, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    • Hi TJ,

      No rush. I think I am actually going to stay off the blog for most of the week. Shall we try to continue this conversation this weekend (Sunday perhaps)? I just had the roughest day of teaching all school year so far, so I think I am just going to give my brain a break for the next few days or so. I should have a fair amount of time Sunday to continue the conversation though. I am throughly enjoying it. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words for my wife. She is feeling somewhat better, but still has a ways to go.

      Take care,

      Neil

      December 7, 2010 at 4:00 PM

      • TJ

        Sounds good; I’ll wait until Sunday.

        TJ

        December 7, 2010 at 7:19 PM

  6. TJ

    Hi Neil,

    I hope all is well with you and your wife and things have settled down a bit. I see where you’re coming from in your previous post, but I’m just going to ask that you keep an open mind since there may be facts that you are currently unaware of that have a bearing on these topics. Things aren’t always as they seem.

    “…since ancient Greek is no longer spoken, making immersion learning impossible, the next best thing is listening to people who have spent years in the field studying it.”

    Really, we can do one better than that. The New Testament was actually translated into three other languages in ancient times when Koine Greek was still a living language. Since it was the international language, there is good reason to believe these translators learned Koine Greek by immersion and were able to speak and think in it fluently. Of those three languages, two (like Greek) contain no indefinite article, yet the other one, Coptic, is more like English in that it does contain both the definite and indefinite articles.

    So perhaps this translation should shed some light on how ancient Greek speakers understood John 1:1, shouldn’t it? There we find the definite article with the first occurrence of ‘god’, making the second clause read, “and the Word was with the god/God”, while the next occurrence has the indefinite article attached, making it read, “and the Word was a god.”

    Now I expect you’ll want to learn more about this ancient translation, but don’t make the mistake of approaching such powerful counter-evidence with only the mentality that it must be destroyed no matter what. You appear to be fair-minded and are willing to weigh evidence as objectively as possible, which I appreciate about you. It’s just that everyone has to take into account their own bias when investigating new evidence.

    “So correct me if this sounds wrong, but in order for me to believe the Trinity is false, I would have to; be in opposition to the vast majority of modern biblical scholars, and scholars all the way back to the early church, which spoke the native language of the scriptures better than ANY person on earth alive today.”

    I don’t agree that you have to disagree with the ancient native speakers to accept an indefinite reading, since what little evidence we have of their view of John 1:1 argues for the indefinite reading. I do think that the Coptic translators “spoke the native language of the scriptures better than ANY person on earth alive today.” As for modern scholars, again, the mere fact that the “vast majority” of scientists tout evolution doesn’t make you accept that as true, does it?

    Think of this for a moment, if you were alive while Jesus walked the earth, would you have accepted him as the Messiah? Well, if you relied on the same reasoning that you are here, that likely would not have been the case:

    “Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring [Jesus] in?’

    “‘No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied.

    “‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. ‘Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.'” (John 7:45-47)

    Isn’t interesting that those derided as a “mob that knows nothing of the law” were able to discern truth while the scholarly Pharisees opposed it? The Bible exhorts each of us, “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

    “Just because a tradition exists, does not make it invalid. Was not the point of the council of Nicea to determine whether or not Jesus was God? Certainly they would be more familiar, and in tune with the scriptures proper translation than we are, given their proximity to the time, language and culture. An overwhelming majority of them who held the Trinitarian point of view as well.”

    This is the common view of history, but it has largely been whitewashed. Professor Richard E. Rubenstein makes this enlightening point:

    “The Council of Nicaea, then, was not universal. Nevertheless, it is everywhere considered the first ecumenical (or universal) council of the Catholic Church. Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them the joint council of Rimini-Seleucia (359), was attended by more than five hundred bishops from both the East and West. If any meeting deserves the title ‘ecumenical,’ that one seems to qualify, but its result–the adoption of an Arian creed–was later repudiated by the Church. Councils whose products were later deemed unorthodox not only lost the ‘ecumenical’ label but virtually disappeared from official Church history.” (When Jesus Became God, p. 75)

    These struggles from one council to another were far more political than theological in nature. Often in those times, whether or not Jesus was ‘officially’ regarded as God or not depended more on which side was more in favor with the current Roman Emperor. Remember, this was several centuries removed from the apostles. The New Catholic Encyclopedia makes this honest appraisal:

    “The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective.” (Vol. XIV, p. 299; italics theirs)

    “…you would have a hard time convincing me that every English translation from 1611 to 1961 (when the NWT was published) was corrupt and is corrupt today.”

    Dr. Jason BeDuhn has written about this:

    “The translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, NASB, AB, TEV and LB all approached the text of John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word . . . Their bias was strengthened by the cultural dominance of the familiar KJV translation which, ringing in their ears, caused them to see ‘God’ where John was speaking more subtly of ‘a god’ or ‘a divine being.’ Ironically, some of these same scholars are quick to charge the N[ew]W[orld] translation with ‘doctrinal bias’ for translating the verse literally, free of KJV influence, following the most obvious sense of the Greek. It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek.” (Truth in Translation, pp. 124-5)

    There are examples of other translations, not just the NWT, rendering “a god”, “divine”, etc. at John 1:1c whose translators do not share our beliefs. There are even examples of translators that rendered “God” there, such as Robert Young (Young’s Literal Translation) and C.H. Dodd (New English Bible), that have acknowledged that “a god” is nevertheless what the text literally says.

    For now, since this is already far too long (sorry!), I’ll leave the question of failed prophecies and what the other scriptural passages say of Jesus for later. But I hope this will add another perspective to these matters. Just as one has to be weary listening solely to the ‘overwhelming’ evidence for evolution from the science community, there are similar reasons to be on guard listening solely to the religious scholars.

    TJ

    December 12, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    • Hi TJ,

      I woke up at 6am this morning and groggily looked at my phone. I had to chuckle to myself that the first thing I saw was that you had posted on my website. I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Good lord, man…don’t you sleep?”. : )

      I’ll be honest, at this point, to comment on this matter confidently, I would need to take lessons on Greek. I appreciate the questions as it has given me more of a desire to learn the biblical languages, however, I don’t feel that I could offer you anything BUT cut and pasted appeals to authority at this point in my education on the language. So with that, I will concede my argument on the accuracy of translation of John 1:1. I’m not saying that I am necessarily wrong, or that you are right (I don’t mean this in any kind of negative way so please don’t take it in that ways), I’m just not educated enough at this time to make an independent, informed and explanatory summary and determination on the matter.

      In closing on this topic (I’m hoping you are up for discussing other NON-TRANSLATIONAL matters, as obviously I have much learning to do before I can confidently and independently comment on the matter) I leave you with two things for your consideration:

      • A YouTube video I found from Dr. James White. While not unbiased, he is certainly well educated (taught Greek and Hebrew for 15 years), and probably the most consistent and eloquent Christian apologist that I am aware of. [YouTube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M812Fzv3L3g%5D

      • A quote from the man that wrote the text that the NWT translators refer to in their translation of John 1:1. “If the Greek article occurred with both Word and God in John 1:1 the implication would be that they are one and the same person, absolutely identical. But John affirmed that “the Word was with (the) God” (the definite article preceding each noun), and in so writing he indicated his belief that they were distinct and separate personalities. Then John next stated that the Word was God, i.e., of the same family or essence that characterizes the Creator. Or, in other words, that both are of the same nature, and that nature is the highest in existence, namely, divine.” (http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/deity10.htm

      In the mean time, I believe it is your turn to present a topic (if you would like) as I presented it last time.

      I am enjoying this conversation. By the way, what part of the country are you from? What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you have kids? Let me know more about you. If you don’t feel comfortable posting that information on the forum I completely understand, so feel free to e-mail me instead (NeilKHess at G mail dot com).

      Take care,

      Neil

      December 12, 2010 at 7:32 AM

      • TJ

        Up and at ’em, Neil. 😉

        “So with that, I will concede my argument on the accuracy of translation of John 1:1. I’m not saying that I am necessarily wrong, or that you are right (I don’t mean this in any kind of negative way so please don’t take it in that ways), I’m just not educated enough at this time to make an independent, informed and explanatory summary and determination on the matter.”

        That’s understandable. I’ll just provide another point from the NWT’s appendix in its own defense against claims by Mantey and others, who argue one way when theology isn’t a factor, but argue another at places like John 1:1.

        “In the Greek text there are many cases of a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb [which we find at John 1:1c], such as in Mr 6:49; 11:32; Joh 4:19; 6:70; 8:44; 9:17; 10:1, 13, 33; 12:6. In these places translators insert the indefinite article ‘a’ before the predicate noun in order to bring out the quality or characteristic of the subject. Since the indefinite article is inserted before the predicate noun in such texts, with equal justification the indefinite article ‘a’ is inserted before the anarthrous [theos] in the predicate of John 1:1 to make it read ‘a god.'” (Emphasis mine]

        Look up those scriptures for yourself in any translation you wish and see if they use “a” with the nouns there that are in the very same grammatical construction as “god” at John 1:1c. It is traditional theology that causes “a god” to be unacceptable, not any principles or rules of translation.

        As another topic, we could branch out to the related question here: Can Jesus be just a god? My belief is that while the Bible is most definitely monotheistic, it also teaches that there exists others called ‘gods’ in a relative, more restricted sense of the term. They are not false gods, and they are all beneath the Most High God, Jehovah. (Psalm 83:18) Would you agree with that?

        I’ll drop you an email a little later. 🙂

        TJ

        December 12, 2010 at 8:32 AM

      • Hi TJ,

        In the literal sense of the word, no, I do not believe that Jesus could be just “a” god because, like you, I am a monotheist (and you are obviously you are familiar with the doctrine of the trinity that I ascribe to). The being of God is one, in three distinct persons. I believe Jesus was/is wholly/holy (Gotta love the double use of the word there…come on : ) ) God.

        I understand that you are talking in a relative sense, but I think that introducing a very speculative, subjective, relative phrase like “a god” when discussing this issue in this context (trying to determine the nature of Christ) is unnecessary and just clouds the issue. Adam and Eve were told they would be “like god” in genesis 3 after they ate the apple, but certainly they would not become “God”. At what point is something “like a god” and when does it actually become “god”? At that point we could say that any man could be like a “God”. Basically, I think using god in a relative term is really unnecessary. Either “he/sh/it” is “God” or not. While it may have place in poetry, there is no need for this in academic debate.

        Being “beneath” the “the Most High God” does not change the nature of that person. I am “Beneath” my boss, but that does not change the nature of my being, only my position in authority.

        Like Christ says in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one”. If Jesus did NOT mean to insinuate that his nature is the SAME as the father (not like the father, not similar to the father, but ONE WITH the father) why did the people in the crowds pick up stones, ready to stone him for blasphemy.
        I look forward to your response. Hopefully it will take my mind off of the tail-kicking my Seahawks are taking from the 49ers right now. : )

        Take care,

        Neil

        December 12, 2010 at 3:25 PM

  7. TJ

    Hey Neil,

    At least you’re not a Bears fan, heh (not that I am).

    The reason I bring up whether or not one can properly be called ‘a god’ and be something less than “the only true God” is because this is typically the theological reason scholars and others give for rejecting our understanding of John 1:1. Typically the charge of polytheism is made, which disregards how the term is used throughout the Bible.

    “Like Christ says in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one”. If Jesus did NOT mean to insinuate that his nature is the SAME as the father (not like the father, not similar to the father, but ONE WITH the father) why did the people in the crowds pick up stones, ready to stone him for blasphemy.”

    The fact that they were trying to kill him proves that they were in spiritual darkness, does it not? So we probably shouldn’t go by what they thought he was saying. Remember that Jesus was also accused of being a drunkard, a glutton, a Sabbath breaker, a false witness, a messenger of Satan, etc.

    Jesus later prayed to his Father that his disciples “may be one as we are one.” So this is not in reference to nature. Even John Calvin, the staunch Trinitarian, made this observation regarding John 10:30:

    “The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is . . . of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father.” (Commentary on the Gospel According to John)

    Jesus goes on in the passage to defend himself from their charge of making himself God/a god, making the appeal to an instance of scripture where human judges are called ‘gods’ by divine authority. This shows why its important to understand how scripture uses the term.

    Jesus’ argument here is that if these corrupt judges were fit enough to be called ‘gods’ (in a relative sense) by God himself, then Jesus, who is doing fine works, should certainly be able to refer to God as his “Father”, which implys that he is God’s Son and thus a ‘god’ (also in a relative sense) in his own right.

    If his argument was that he is actually God himself in the absolute sense of the term, then why would he appeal to these others who are only ‘gods’ in a relative sense? Their situation would be completely different from his.

    TJ

    December 12, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    • “The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is . . . of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father.” (Commentary on the Gospel According to John)

      Could you please post the quote in its entirety just so I can see the precise context? Thank you.

      “The fact that they were trying to kill him proves that they were in spiritual darkness, does it not?”

      Yes but it would also prove that he WAS making a claim to divinity. Why would they pull out stones spontaneously to kill a sinless man unless they thought he was committing blasphemy and claiming to be God?

      “Jesus’ argument here is that if these corrupt judges were fit enough to be called ‘gods’ (in a relative sense) by God himself, then Jesus, who is doing fine works, should certainly be able to refer to God as his “Father”, which implies that he is God’s Son and thus a ‘god’ (also in a relative sense) in his own right.”

      If you take this instance and isolate it from the rest of scripture yes, but this view of the label “gods” is completely inconsistent with his numerous claims and allusions to his divinity found throughout the synoptic gospels. Later on in that same passage (10:38) He claims unity with God twice. Not “son of”, not “servant of” but actual unity with God.

      “If his argument was that he is actually God himself in the absolute sense of the term, then why would he appeal to these others who are only ‘gods’ in a relative sense? Their situation would be completely different from his.”

      He may have appealed to psalms in this instance, but you would have to ignore the dozens of other verses in scripture where he alludes to his divinity.

      This is again, why I think the use of “god” as a relative term is not relevant to this debate of Christ’s nature. Just because “god” is used in a context of relativity in this context, does not mean that it should be applied to the rest of scripture. Either Jesus was God or not. And THAT is the main question that I think we are dancing around. Is it not?

      I look forward to your response, but again as the work week approaches, my time to respond will be limited. However, Christmas vacation is starting for me on Friday afternoon for two weeks, so I should have quite a bit of time them to continue this discussion. Shall we continue this debate again Saturday?

      Take care TJ. I have thoroughly enjoyed thus far our conversation in the quest for truth.

      Neil

      December 12, 2010 at 7:56 PM

      • TJ

        Thanks for another thoughtful response; I’ll wait until the weekend to continue. In the meantime, you can read the context of Calvin’s words here.

        TJ

        December 13, 2010 at 1:53 PM

      • TJ

        Heya Neil,

        Vacation time, huh? Very cool. 🙂 I had some time tonight and I may be busy tomorrow, so I just posted this now. We can take this at a very leisurely pace; I don’t want to take away from your family time. Again, I’m very appreciative of your willingness to allow me to ‘voice’ my sincere beliefs and your always gracious and tactful responses. That you’re able to conduct yourself in such a kind way over disagreements says a lot about you. Anyways…

        “Why would they pull out stones spontaneously to kill a sinless man unless they thought he was committing blasphemy and claiming to be God?”

        I view what they thought he was saying and what he was saying as two different things. Evidently because he referenced a father/son relationship with God, these opposing ones took that as an opportunity to bring charges against him. Jesus corrected them by citing a parallel situation in accepted scripture as vindication. A similar charge was made in the account found at John 5:16-19:

        “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’ For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

        “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.'” (NASB)

        Jesus was not “making Himself equal with God” any more than he was “breaking the Sabbath”. These were bogus claims. He goes on to explain why he can’t be equal with God by stating in detail his subjection to him.

        “This is again, why I think the use of “god” as a relative term is not relevant to this debate of Christ’s nature.”

        Notice the scriptures themselves make no distinction between nature and authority when speaking of equality. Whenever equality is brought up, Jesus is consistently shown to be subjected to God. This subjection was only framed in nature-vs.-authority terms centuries afterward, as the popular Dictionary of the Bible by John McKenzie, S.J., explains:

        “The trinity of persons within the unity of nature is defined in terms of ‘person’ and ‘nature’ which are Gk philosophical terms; actually the terms do not appear in the Bible [with reference to God]. The trinitarian definitions arose as the result of long controversies in which these terms and others such as ‘essence’ and ‘substance’ were erroneously applied to God by some theologians.” (p. 899; check context here)

        If we accept your premise that having a divine nature makes one God, then couldn’t I make the argument that others are also God based on what Peter wrote to the first-century christians, that they “may become partakers of the divine nature”? (2 Peter 1:4; NASB)

        Even when nature is referenced with reference to Jesus, he is shown to not be equal to God. Paul expresses this when using Christ’s attitude as a model for christians to not be ambitious for a more glorious position, but to rather humble themselves:

        “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves . . . Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself . . . being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:3,5-7; NASB)

        Other forms of the Greek word there rendered “grasped” is translated as ‘snatched away’ and ‘take away by force’ elsewhere, as at Acts 8:39 and 23:10. So Jesus gave no regard or thought to seizing “equality with God” even when he was “in the form of God”.

        “Later on in that same passage (10:38) He claims unity with God twice. Not “son of”, not “servant of” but actual unity with God.”

        There (at John 10:38) it says: “the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” How, though, is this unity any different from their unity with the congregation?

        “…that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us . . . that they may be one, just as We are one.” (John 17:21-22; NASB)

        “Either Jesus was God or not. And THAT is the main question that I think we are dancing around. Is it not?”

        Sure, that’s certainly what we’re discussing. I’d say that Jesus’ answer is evident in his prayer:

        “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father . . . This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:1,3; NASB)

        Sorry again for the length,
        TJ

        December 17, 2010 at 9:01 PM

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