The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) have their own translation of the Bible known as the New World Translation. As most individuals know, who have discussed the Trinity with the JWs; many scriptures dealing with the divinity of Christ have been rendered differently in the New World Translation.
One of the most famous differences between the New World Translation and other translations of the Bible is the way in which the New World Translation renders John 1:1. The New World Translation renders this scripture as follows:
“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
In contrast, the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible renders John 1: 1 as follows:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In this essay we will deal with the differences in understanding of the nature of God between the JWs and Christians and with the grammatical issues surrounding this verse as well.
The Dogma of the Trinity
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the dogma of the Holy Trinity as follows in paragraph 253:
“The Trinity is one. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.” The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215): “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”
The Catechism is emphasizing here that all of the persons of the Godhead-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit- have all of the characteristics of Almighty God. This is easy to demonstrate from scripture. For example, only God can create something out of nothing. The Bible clearly attributes the creation of the Universe to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
For example in the New World Translation the following scriptures indicate that Jehovah, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses would equate with God the Father, says the following about who created everything:
“This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser and the Former of you from the belly: “I, Jehovah, am doing everything, stretching out the heavens by myself, laying out the earth. Who was with me?”-Isaiah 44: 24 -New World Translation
“This is what Jehovah has said, the Holy One of Israel and the Former of him: “Ask me even about the things that are coming concerning my sons; and concerning the activity of my hands you people should command me. I myself have made the earth and have created even many upon it. I –my own hands have stretched out the heavens, and all the army of them I have commanded.” –Isaiah 45: 11, 12 New World Translation
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation also credits Jesus with the ability to create everything, that is, to create something out of nothing. Notice the following and remember that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Word (in Greek “Logos”) is Jesus:
“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in [the] beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” John 1:1-3 New World Translation
Note that the JWs’ own Bible indicates that not one thing that came into existence came into existence apart from the agency of Jesus Christ- the Word. This means that the JWs’ believe that Jesus has the ability to create something out of nothing just like the Father does.
Furthermore, the JWs’ Bible says the following about Jesus and His creative work:
“And: You at [the] beginning, O Lord, laid the foundations of the earth itself, and the heavens are [the] work of your hands.”-Hebrews 1:10 New World Translation
It should be noted that the author of Hebrews in the scripture cited above is actually quoting from Psalms 102: 25 which is a prayer to Jehovah. Clearly, the author of Hebrews attributes the creation of the heavens and the earth to Jesus by applying a scripture in the Old Testament that was speaking about the creative works of Jehovah to Jesus. In other words, the author of Hebrews is pointing out that whatever Jehovah can do, Jesus can do. They have the same characteristics and abilities-the same divine nature.
(By the way, to attribute divine ability to a created being is blasphemous. The JWs’ believe that Jesus is a created being, yet their Bible equates his ability and power to that of Almighty God, Jehovah. Unless Jesus is in fact Almighty God, the author of Hebrews has made a blasphemous claim about Jesus Christ.)
In fact, the Jehovah’s Witnesses own Bible says that Jesus has all the qualities of God or put another way all the fullness of the divine quality. It says the following:
“Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ; because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.”-Colossians 2:8, 9
Likewise the Holy Spirit also has this creative power. As seen in Genesis 1:2, the Holy Spirit takes part in the creation of the world from formlessness. An excellent comment on the Deity of the Holy Spirit comes from the Dr. Robert Morey in the book Trinity-Evidence and Issues on page 430:
“The Bible begins with the Holy Spirit superintending the molding of the old Creation (Gen. 1: 2). He is subsequently seen at work throughout redemptive history as the One predicting and preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. His presence and gifts empowered the apostles as they established and extended the Christian Church. The Bible then ends with the Spirit calling us to come to the New Creation (Rev. 22:17). In all these ways His personhood and deity shine forth with light indistinguishable and full of glory.”
The JWs Confuse Modalism with the Trinity
A common mistake that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make is to equate the Trinity doctrine with an ancient heresy known as Modalism. Modalism is described as follows by Dr. Robert Morey in his book The Trinity-Evidence and Issues on page 507:
“ From the beginning, Modalism was based on the Platonic doctrine that God was an indivisible Monad and could not be divided into three separate Persons. Thus, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not to be viewed as three distinct Persons, but as three different manifestations, modes, administrations, disguises, roles, or offices of one and the same Person.”
As seen from the following quote from the JWs’ book Reasoning from the Scriptures (page 405), the JWs’ definition of the Trinity doctrine includes the concept of Modalism-which is not a part of the Trinity doctrine but is actually an ancient heresy that was condemned by the early church:
“The central doctrine of religions of Christendom. According to the Athanasian Creed, there are three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost), each said to be eternal, each said to be almighty, none greater or less than another, each said to be God, and yet together being but one God. Other statements of the dogma emphasize that these three “Persons” are not separate and distinct individuals but are three modes in which the divine essence exists.”- Reasoning from the Scriptures page 405
The fact of the matter is that there exists no statement of the dogma of the Trinity that “emphasizes that the three Persons are not separate and distinct individuals but are three modes in which the divine essence exists.” This statement is a description of the heresy of Modalism and not the doctrine of the Trinity.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following in paragraph 254:
“The divine persons are really distinct from one another. God is one but not solitary. “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.” They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The divine Unity is Triune.”
Things to Remember
1. The Trinity teaches that Christians believe in one God in three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons have all the attributes and abilities of God. The persons in the Godhead are distinct persons. God is one but the one God is multi-personal so Christians believe in one God not three Gods. 2. The Jehovah’s Witnesses often confuse the Trinity with Modalism. Modalism is the belief that God is one person who manifests himself in three modes. This is an ancient heresy and the Church has condemned this teaching. 3. The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jehovah is God the Father and Almighty God. They believe that Jesus is a created being and has some divine characteristics but is not Almighty God. They also believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person but a force used by Almighty God to accomplish his will. 4. The Jehovah’s Witnesses own Bible is contradictory if point three is accepted because their Bible indicates that only Jehovah created the heavens and the earth “by himself” and “with his own hands”. If that is true, then how could Jesus have created anything? [Unless Jesus is also Jehovah in the sense that Jesus has all of the attributes and characteristics of Almighty God.] 5. The JWs’ own Bible says at Colossians 2:9 that in Jesus all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily. If someone has all the fullness of divine quality does this not mean that this person has all of the attributes and abilities of Almighty God? If someone has all of the attributes and abilities of Almighty God does that not make that person Almighty God?
Understanding and Translating John 1:1
The conflict between the JWs and Christians is the third part of John 1:1. The JWs translate that third part as follows:
“the Word was a god”.
Christians translate the third part of John 1:1 as follows:
“the Word was God.”
Most often JWs’ assume that Christians believe that the third part of John 1:1 means that Christians are saying that God the Father and the Word (who is Jesus-God the Son) are the same person. Again, the JWs are making the mistake that Christians who believe in the Trinity are actually Modalists. This is not what the Church has taught with regard to how we are to understand John 1:1. In fact, St. John is not saying in this verse that God the Father and Jesus are the same person. What St. John is actually telling us is that Jesus has all the qualities and attributes of God the Father.
It is just like someone calling me the son of a man. My father is a human being. Therefore, I am also a human being and I also have the same human nature that my father has. Similarly, Jesus is the Son of God and has all of the attributes of God or to put it another way Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father.
The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures
First of all, I want to point out that I am not an expert in Biblical Greek. However, after much research and study using the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, I discovered that the New World Translation was not as faithful to the Greek text as it claimed to be.
The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures is published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It contains the Greek text of the New Testament on one side of the page with the New World Translation of the New Testament on the other side of the page. Underneath the Greek text of the New Testament in this book is a literal word for word English translation.
When dealing with John 1:1, the JWs’ Kingdom Interlinear Version of the Greek Scriptures says the following in defense of the New World Translations rendering of “and the Word was a god.”
“The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally designated here by the Greek expression ό θεός, that is the•os’ preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the•os’. The articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb points to a quality about someone. Therefore, John’s statement that the Word, or Logos, was “a god” or “divine” or “godlike” does not mean that he was the God with whom he was. It merely expresses a certain quality about the Word, or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same God himself.”
From the explanation above, the JWs’ believe that Jesus is a god in the sense that he is godlike or an inferior god to God the Father. There are a couple of problems with this view. First, their own Bible contradicts this view in Colossians 2:9 which states that in Christ “all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.” In other words, Christ has all of the qualities of the divine and not just a part of it. The second problem with this is explained in the following section.
Can Jesus be referred to as the God (ho the•os’)?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that in John 1:1 when St. John says and “the Word was with God” the Greek expression used for Almighty God in this verse is “the God” or (ho the•os’). In their Bible encyclopedia entitled Insight On the Scriptures it says the following on page 54:
”Additionally, the word for “god” (Gr., the•os') in its second occurrence in the verse is significantly without the definite article “the” (Gr., ho). Regarding this fact, Ernst Haenchen, in a commentary on the Gospel of John (chapters 1-6), stated: “[the•os'] and [ho the•os'] (‘god, divine’ and ‘the God’) were not the same thing in this period. . . . In fact, for the . . . Evangelist, only the Father was ‘God’ ([ho the•os']; cf. ÞJohn Ü17:3); ‘the Son’ was subordinate to him (cf. ÞJohn Ü14:28).”
The problem with this explanation is that in this same article in their “Insight” publication, the Jehovah’s Witnesses admit that St. John uses the phrase ho the•os’ to refer to Jesus. Notice the following:
”On the occasion of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas and the other apostles, which had removed Thomas’ doubts of Jesus’ resurrection, the now-convinced Thomas exclaimed to Jesus: “My Lord and my God! [literally, “The Lord of me and the God (ho The•os') of me!”].” (John 20:24-29) Some scholars have viewed this expression as an exclamation of astonishment spoken to Jesus but actually directed to God, his Father.” - Insight on the Scriptures page 55
This can also be demonstrated in their Kingdom Interlinear Version as the following scans demonstrate.
The JWs also place the name Jehovah in the New Testament when we do not have any Greek Texts that contain the word Jehovah. The argument that the JWs use to defend their putting the word Jehovah in the New Testament is as follows:
“Would a translator have any right to restore the name, in view of the fact that existing manuscripts do not have it? Yes, he would have that right. Most Greek lexicons recognize that often the word “Lord” in the Bible refers to Jehovah. For example, in its section under the Greek word Ky'ri•os (“Lord”), Robinson’s A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (printed in 1859) says that it means “God as the Supreme Lord and sovereign of the universe, usually in Sept[uagint] for Heb[rew] Jehovah.” Hence, in places where the Christian Greek Scripture writers quote the earlier Hebrew Scriptures, the translator has the right to render the word Ky'ri•os as “Jehovah” wherever the divine name appeared in the Hebrew original.”- The Divine Name that Will Endure Forever pages 26 and 27
So, the JWs believe that even though there are no existing Greek manuscripts containing the divine name that a translator would have the right to translate the word Kris (Greek for Lord) as Jehovah when the New Testament author is quoting from the Old Testament.
The problem with this is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not do this consistently and it is obvious that they do not follow this rule in translating certain scriptures because it would violate their theology.
For example, the New World Translation translates Romans 14: 7-9 in the following way:
“None of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only; for both if we live, we live to Jehovah, and if we die, we die to Jehovah. Therefore both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah. For to this end Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living.”
As shown in the scan below, in each spot that the New World Translation uses the word Jehovah, the Greek word for Lord is used in the original Greek text. The only time the JWs do not translate the Greek word for Lord as Jehovah is in the last sentence. If they were to remain consistent the last sentence would read as follows:
“For to this end Christ died and came to life again that he might be Jehovah over both the dead and the living.”
Note the following scan from their Kingdom Interlinear Version that the name Jehovah does not appear anywhere in the Greek text and that they are inconsistent in how they use this name for obvious reasons.
The Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is really a rehash of the ancient heresy of Arianism in many respects. In addition, their scholarship in areas of Bible translation and in the areas of understanding what the early church actually taught and believed are also seriously lacking.
As Christians, we must pray for our Jehovah’s Witness neighbors that someday they will come to know the real Christ. By planting seeds of truth with them about the real Jesus when they visit you in your homes you are assisting these individuals in coming home to Christ and His Church.