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The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications
By Gary F. Zeolla
The following is Part Two of a four-part article. It is continued from The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications - Part One.
The Holy Spirit
Paragraph 17 moves the discussion from Jesus to the Holy Spirit. The WT believes the Holy Spirit, "... is not a person but God's active force" (p.40).
The first "proof" offered for this belief is next stated. "John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with holy spirit, even as John had been baptizing with water. Hence, in the same way that water is not a person, holy spirit is not a person (Matthew 3:11)."
Two short comments should suffice on this one:
First, the words "even as" do not appear in Matthew 3:11, even in the NWT.
Second, John is using water as a symbol of the coming "baptism by the Holy Spirit" (1Cor 12:13). A symbol is not expected to be of the same nature as the object symbolized. For instance, a ring can symbolize marriage, but it is not itself two people committed to each other. Thus, it is of no pertinence that water is not a person.
The only other "proof" given in this book for the WT's belief about the Holy Spirit is summarized by the caption of a picture on page 41. The picture is of the 120 with "tongues of fire" resting on them (see Acts 2:3f). The caption asks, "How could the holy spirit be a person, when it filled about 120 disciples at the same time?"
A logical response to this question would be to ask another question, "What does it mean for a person to be filled with the Holy Spirit?"
The Greek word translated "filled" is pleroo. "The idea of the word is 'control.' The indwelling Spirit of God is the One who should continually control and dominate the life of the believer" (Riencker, p.538; comments on Gal 5:18).
For one person to control the life of another is easily conceivable. It often happens, though usually in a bad sense. An example would be an abusive husband controlling the life of his wife. But for the Holy Spirit to fill and thus control us is, of course, good. In fact believers are even commanded to let the Holy Spirit to do so (Eph 5:18).
For 120 people to all be filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time is also easily conceivable. Since the Holy Spirit is omnipresent (Ps 139:7f), He can exercise His control over any number of persons "as He wills" (1Cor 12:11; NKJV).
The Trinity vs. Tritheism
This section of LF ends with the sentence, "Actually, long before Jesus walked the earth gods were worshipped in groups of three, or trinities, in places such as ancient Egypt and Babylon" (pp.40f).
The WT is again misrepresenting the Trinity, along with the beliefs of pagan religions. Notice how "groups of three" is said to be the same as "trinities?" By this slight of hand, the WT is trying to imply that the doctrine of the Trinity actually teaches Tritheism and that it somehow came from paganism.
There was and are religions that worship three gods. However, these three gods are usually simply sitting on the top of a massive hierarchy of gods. In other words, the Egyptian and Babylonian religions were actually Polytheistic. They worshiped many gods each with a different nature (Ferm, pp. 245,246, 483-485).
This type of religion is a far cry from Christian monotheism. To even try to make a comparison shows a complete lack of knowledge of pagan and Christian theology. Either that, or the WT is being deliberately deceptive.
JWs would do well to study what the doctrine of the Trinity really teaches, instead of the distortions they hear from the WT. The true doctrine is summarized in the third article in Darkness to Lights Confession of Faith: "Within the one Being or essence of God, there eternally exists three distinct yet equal Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit."
Reasoning from the Scriptures
The second WT publication to be studied is the 446 page book, Reasoning from the Scriptures (RS). The purpose of RS is to enable the average JW to do "doorstep evangelism." The book contains a series of articles arranged in alphabetical order. Each article is designed to help JWs answer questions and objections on various subjects that might be heard as they knock on doors.
Three of the articles in this book are pertinent to this article: "Jesus Christ," "Spirit" and "Trinity." Each article will be explored in order. RS was first published in 1985. As with LF, a new edition was released in 1989.
The article on Jesus Christ begins with some basic background information on the life of Christ (pp.209-213). The material in these pages is in basic agreement with historic Christianity. On pages 212-215 are presented arguments against the Deity of Jesus. The material in these pages is studied in what follows.
"and the word was a god"
This section begins with a discussion of the NWT's controversial rendering of John 1:1, "In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god."
The KJV and all five of the modern day translations referred to in this article render the last phrase of this verse, "and the Word was God." The reasons for this difference can become rather complicated. They are discussed in the article Jehovah's Witnesses and John 1:1.
"My Lord and My God"
The next section of the article on Jesus is headed with the question, "Does Thomas' exclamation at John 20:28 prove Jesus is God?" (RS, p.213). Of course, the WT expects the reader of RS to conclude the answer must be "No."
But the best RS can do to bring the reader to this conclusion is to appeal to the WT's interpretations of several other verses. Since (according to them), these verses show Jesus is not God, then John 20:28 cannot be saying He is.
However, is this method really a proper way to conduct exegesis on a particular passage of Scripture? Exegesis is "The obtaining of the meaning of a passage by drawing the meaning out rather than reading it into the text" (Erickson, Concise, p.53).
The WT is simply reading its interpretation of other passages into this one rather than exegeting John 20:28 itself. In addition, the WT's exegesis of each of the other passages appealed would first need to be evaluated before they can be accepted as the basis for interpreting this verse.
Three of the cited verses have already been covered in this article - John 1:1; 17:3 and 20:17. The WT's interpretation of each of these has been shown to be highly questionable.
Furthermore, RS never does explain what Thomas' exclamation actually means. If he isn't ascribing Lordship and Deity to Christ, what is he doing?
Looking at the verse itself, it is obvious Thomas is calling Jesus his Lord and his God. Interestingly, both "Lord" (Greek- kurios) and "God" (theos) have the definitive article before them. A literal translation would read, "The Lord of me and the God of me."
In the above mentioned article, it is shown that the WT tries to evade the force of John 1:1 by claiming Jesus was only "a god" since the theos being applied to Him lacked the article. To be fully God, it said He needed to be referred to as ho theos (the God). Well here Jesus is called "the God!"
"making himself equal to God"
Another verse this article attempts to discredit as a proof-text for the Deity of Christ is John 5:18. In the context of the passage, Jesus has just told the Jews, "My Father has kept working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17).
John then describes the Jews reaction to this claim, "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 calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God" (John 5:18).
RS comments, "It was the unbelieving Jews who reasoned that Jesus was attempting to make himself equal with God by claiming God as his Father. While properly referring to God as his Father, Jesus never claimed equality with God" (p.214).
In other words, the WT is saying that in this verse John is relating how the Jews misunderstood Jesus. Jesus never claimed equality with God, the Jews only thought He did. But is this what John is saying?
F.B. Meyer presents a contrary view in his exposition of Hebrews 1:2:
"He hath spoken unto us in his Son." God has many sons but only one Son .... He is a Son in a sense altogether unique.
This term as used by our Lord, and as understood by the Jews, not only signified divine relationship, but divine equality. Hence on one occasion, the Jews sought to kill him, because he said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18). And he, so far from correcting the opinion as he must have done instantly, had it been erroneous - went on to confirm it and substantiate its truthfulness (Meyer, pp. 17f).
The reader will be left to reread the verse and the surrounding context and decide for yourself which position best reflects what John is saying.
Is Jesus Worship in Matthew?
Is Jesus worthy of worship? In the KJV and the five modern versions being used in this article (besides the NWT), there are numerous places where Jesus is said to be worshiped. The Gospel of Matthew alone records seven such instances (2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9,19).
However, in each of these verses, the NWT says that people only "did obeisance" to Jesus. Obeisance means, "A gesture or movement of the body, such as a curtsy, expressing deference or homage" (American, p.856).
On page 215, RS explains the reason for this difference in translation:
The Greek word rendered "worship is proskyneo, which A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature says was also "used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground" (Bauer, p.716).
The WT is correct in saying proskyneo can simply mean homage or obeisance. However, it can also have the stronger meaning of "worship." The article in Bauer continues, "This reverence or worship is paid... to the God worshipped by monotheists (Christians, Jews, Samaritans)" (Bauer, pp. 716f).
So if proskyneo can mean either worship or obeisance, how does the translator decide how to render the word in any given verse? For the WT the answer is simple - if proskyneo is being offered to God the Father it is worship, if to Jesus it is only obeisance.
Of course this pattern simply reflects the pre-conceived notion of JWs that Jesus is not God. In other words, the WT's theology determines how it translates words in its Bible. The NWT's rendering of Hebrews 1:6 especially demonstrates this "translation principle" of the WT.
The 1961 of the NWT rendered the last part of the verse, "And let all God's angels worship him (Jesus)." But more recent editions call for God's angels to only "do obeisance to him." Why the change? Did the WT learn more about the Greek language between editions? Or was the verse changed in an effort to bring their Bible into conformity with their theology?
However, the proper way to determine how to translate a particular word is context. This fact was constantly mentioned during this writer's Greek classes at Denver Seminary.
With concept in mind, the context of the seven previously mentioned verses from Matthew will be investigated to determine the best rendering of proskyneo.
The first verse is Matt 2:11. The Magi are presenting their gifts to the baby Jesus. The Magi believe Jesus is "the King of the Jews" (2:2). In the ancient world kings were often deified by non-Jews (see Acts 12:20-23). So it is very possible the Magi had worship in mind when they knelt before the manger. As such, the KJV and all five of the modern versions being referred to in this article have "worshiped."
In Matt 8:2; 9:18 and 15:25, a leper, a ruler, and a phoenician woman respectively each have their first contact with Jesus. At this point in time, Jesus' public ministry was in full-swing. However, it is debatable if a belief in His Deity was already widespread. Thus, the KJV's, NKJV's, and MKJVs "worship" in each of these passages may be too strong.
The LITV also has "worshipped" in 8:2 and 15:25; but it has "bowed before" in 9:19. The NASB has "bowed down" in each these passages; the NIV reads "knelt before." These renderings of proskyneo are possibly more accurate and are similar to the NWT's "obeisance."
Matt 14:22-33 is an interesting passage. In this passage, Jesus walks on the water and calms a raging storm at sea. This is the second time the disciples have witnessed Jesus' ability to control the forces of nature and the weather (see Mark 4:35-41).
In the first instance, Jesus calms the wind and the sea by commanding, "Hush! Be quiet!" (Mark 4:39). As a result, the disciples "felt an unusual fear" (v.41). The NKJV states, "They feared exceedingly." Why? As orthodox Jews, they knew it is God who controls the weather (see Job 38:25-38). The answer to their own question was too staggering for any of them to answer it. "Who really is this...?" (v.41).
Now the disciples have once again witnessed Jesus' awesome power to control the forces of nature. In addition, when Jesus approached them walking on the water, He called to them, "Take courage, it is I; have no fear" (Matt 14:27)
A literal translation of Jesus' self-revelation here would be "I Am!" It is so rendered in the LITV and MKJV. This expression of Jesus would have reminded the disciples of the self-revelation of God in the OT (see Exod 3:14; Deut 32:39; Isa 43:10).
With all of this going on, for the disciples to have fallen down and worshiped Jesus would be perfectly understandable. Hence why the all six versions say they, "worshiped Him."
Matt 28:9 and 17 record post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Would seeing the resurrected Lord lead the disciples to worship him? Thomas' reaction at seeing the resurrected Christ has already been discussed. Seeing Jesus alive again caused him to exclaim, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
F.B. Meyer writes, "The almost instinctive act of the little group, from which he was departed on the Mount of Olives in his ascension, was to worship him (Luke 24:52)" (Meyer, p.20).
Further, the article in the lexicon by Bauer referred to earlier goes on to state that proskyneo is paid, "to Jesus, who is revered and worshipped as Messianic King and Divine Helper - the Risen Lord is esp[ecially] the object of worship" (p.717).
Given these points, its no wonder that all six versions say the disciples "worshiped Him." So why doesn't the NWT?
The second article from RS to be studied is titled "Spirit." The section pertinent to this article comes first in the article. It is headed by the question, "What is the holy spirit?"
"That one will baptize you people with holy spirit"
The first paragraph of this section reads:
A comparison of Bible texts that refer to the holy spirit shows that it is spoken of as "filling" people: they are "baptized" with it; and they can be anointed with it. (Luke 1:41; Matt 3:11; Acts 10:38). None of these expressions would be appropriate if the holy spirit were a person (p.380).
An earlier section of this article demonstrated that the Holy Spirit "filling" people is not inconsistent with the Spirit being a Person. The phrases "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and "filled with the Holy Spirit" are used interchangeably in the Scriptures (see Acts 1:5; 2:4; NKJV). So the comments made in reference to "filled" would be applicable to "baptized." Furthermore, the verse referenced in RS is Matt 3:11.
J. Dwight Pentecost comments on this verse:
Israel in the course of her history had had peculiar identifying signs previously. Circumcision was the external sign that one was rightly related to Abraham and his covenant. Sabbath observance was the sign that one was rightly related to Moses and his law. Now the sign that one was rightly related to John and his message was submission to the external rite of water baptism. All these external signs were to the nation Israel. When the Messiah comes, He will have a new sign by which to identify God's people (Pentecost, p. 91).
The new sign identifying who is rightly related to Christ is the "baptism by the Holy Spirit" (1Cor 12:13). This sign means a person is being "led by the Spirit" (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18). Since a person can be "led" by another person, there is no inconsistency with the Spirit "baptizing" (and thus leading people) and the Spirit being a Person Himself.
"anointed him with holy spirit"
RS also claims that since the Holy Spirit is used to "anoint" people, He cannot be a Person. But it must be asked what "anoint" means. The Greek word is chrio and means, "to assign a person to a task, with the implication of supernatural sanctions, blessings, and endowments - to anoint, to assign, to appoint" (Louw, Vol.1, p.484).
In Luke 4:18 Jesus applies Isaiah 61:1 to Himself, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor..." (NKJV). Obviously, by "anoint" Jesus is saying He has been "appointed" to preach the Gospel. In Acts 10:38 (the verse referenced in RS), Peter states, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (NKJV).
At Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit was seen to come upon Jesus (Matt 3:16). This event was when God the Father "appointed" Jesus to preach the Gospel.
"Power" was a separate "supernatural endowment" from the appointment. So where's the problem with a Person (God the Father) using a Person (God the Holy Spirit) to appoint a Person (God the Son) to the ministry. In Titus 1:5, Paul is using Titus "to appoint elders in every city" (NKJV).
On page 60 of LF, the WT even states, "By pouring out His holy spirit on Jesus, Jehovah was anointing him or appointing him to be the king of His coming kingdom" (emphasis added).
The next paragraph of the "Spirit" article begins:
Jesus also referred to the holy spirit as a "helper" (Greek, parakletos), and he said that this helper would "teach." "bear witness," "speak," and "hear." (John 14:16,17,26; 15:26; 16:13). It is not unusual in the Scriptures for something to be personified. For example, wisdom is said to have "children." (Luke 7:35) Sin and death are spoken of as kings. (Rom 5:14,21) - (p.380).
The idea here is, since the Bible uses personification elsewhere, that is what is happening when it speaks of the Holy Spirit as having personal characteristics. Note: personification is "A rhetorical figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities..." (American, p.926).
RS is correct in saying impersonal items like sin and death are sometimes personified in Scripture - but when?
In the passages cited, Jesus and Paul are using personification to help explain difficult concepts. The use of personification, analogies, metaphors and other types of poetic language in trying to explain something is common practice. This practice is especially the case when the concept one is trying to explained is difficult to comprehend (like Paul's discussion of original sin in Rom 5:12-21). And, of course, poetic language is expected to be seen in poetry (like the Psalms).
But what about history? Do historians use poetic language when reporting normal historical events? Hardly. Yet in Acts (a history book), the Holy Spirit is consistently portrayed as a Person.
Try reading Acts 13:1-5 as an example. Does the language sound like poetry? Is Luke trying to explain a difficult to understand concept? Or is he simply writing history?
Luke reports that the Holy Spirit spoke and sent out the missionaries He had called And notice how in this passage the Holy Spirit used first-person pronouns ("to Me" and "I"). See also Acts 1:16; 5:3,32; 8:28; 9:31; 10:19; 11:12; 15:28; 16:6f; 20:23,28; 21:11; 28:25. This is a lot of poetic language for a history book! In Psalms sure, but not here.
The next sentence in the above quoted passage form RS reads, "While some texts say that the spirit "spoke," other passages make clear that this was done through angels or humans" (p.380). So the WT believes that since the Holy Spirit speaks through people, He can't be a Person Himself. But this is the whole point! Speech can only originate with a self-conscious, intelligent being (i.e. a person)!
This section in RS ends with the following paragraph:
The correct identification of the holy spirit must fit ALL THE SCRIPTURES that refer to that spirit. With this viewpoint, it is logical to conclude that the holy spirit is the active force of God. It is not a person but a powerful force that God causes to emanate from Himself to accomplish His holy will (p. 381; emphasis in original).
The first sentence here is true. But "all the Scriptures" bearing on the subject of the Holy Spirit have not even come close to being covered. The ones that have been studied favor the idea of the Spirit being a Person and not a force. So is RS's "logical" conclusion really so logical?
article is continued at:
The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications - Part Three
See end of Part Four.
The Trinity in Two Watchtower Publications. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
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