Tag Archives: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Is Jesus Claiming to Be Eternally Preexistent in John 8:58?

Not according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus is not God, but the archangel Michael. Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes frame the issue well in their book When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations.

In John 8:58 (nasb) we read, ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”’ By contrast, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation reads, ‘Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”’ This indicates that Jesus was preexistent but not eternally preexistent (certainly not as the great I Am of the Old Testament).

Has the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) correctly translated verse 58? Have Christians been misunderstanding this verse for two thousand years? Geisler and Rhodes explain:

Greek scholars agree that the Watchtower Society has no justification for translating ego eimi in John 8:58 as ‘“I have been’ (a translation that masks its connection to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals his name to be I Am). The Watchtower Society once attempted to classify the Greek word eimi as a perfect indefinite tense to justify this translation—but Greek scholars have responded by pointing out that there is no such thing as a perfect indefinite tense in the Greek.

The words ego eimi occur many times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the New World Translation elsewhere translates ego eimi correctly (as in John 4:26; 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 28; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5; and 18:5, 6, 8). Only in John 8:58 does the mistranslation occur. The Watchtower Society is motivated to translate this verse differently in order to avoid it appearing that Jesus is the great I Am of the Old Testament. Consistency and scholarly integrity calls for John 8:58 to be translated the same way as all the other occurrences of ego eimi—that is, as ‘I am.’

Finally, as noted above, I Am is the name God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14–15. The name conveys the idea of eternal self-existence. Yahweh never came into being at a point in time, for he has always existed. To know Yahweh is to know the eternal one. It is therefore understandable that when Jesus made the claim to be I Am, the Jews immediately picked up stones with the intention of killing Jesus, for they recognized he was implicitly identifying himself as Yahweh.

#3 Post of 2016 – Does Ecclesiastes Teach That There Is No Afterlife?

Several passages in the book of Ecclesiastes seem to indicate that the inspired author does not believe that there is an afterlife. The Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly quote from Ecclesiastes to prove that there is no afterlife immediately following death. They teach that a person’s soul ceases to exist upon death, and that God will recreate that person later on when all the dead are resurrected. But does Ecclesiastes really teach that there is no immediate afterlife?

Although there are several passages that mention death and the afterlife in the book, the key passages normally cited are verses 19-21 in chapter 3.

Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

If we look at the first 3 sentences, it seems clear that Solomon, the traditional author of Ecclesiastes, is speaking about the physical body of a human being. It is true that human bodies die and decompose, just like other animals.

The final sentence, though, does not explicitly state that the human spirit also dies, but it asks the question of where the spirit goes after death. In effect, Solomon is saying, “Some people believe that a person’s spirit goes to heaven, but nobody really knows for sure.” Solomon, in effect, is saying that he just doesn’t know much about what happens after a person dies, so he is advising his readers to live their lives on earth in light of that fact. He is teaching that death is a real enemy to human beings.

The question then arises: Why doesn’t Solomon know about the afterlife? To answer this question, we need to introduce the concept of progressive revelation. Progressive revelation refers to the fact that God, in the Scriptures, progressively reveals more and more of Himself over time. God’s ultimate revelation of Himself was in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s disciples completed the revelation of God when they wrote the books of the New Testament (NT).

Solomon lived more than 900 years before Jesus, so he wasn’t alive for the writing of the NT, nor the writing of much of the Old Testament (OT). The concept of an afterlife was taught more fully after Solomon lived.

There are glimpses of the afterlife in OT passages such as Ps 16:9-11; 49:15; 73:23-26; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2, and so forth. But the doctrine was not really brought to full light until the NT, where there are numerous passages (e.g., Rev 6:9-10; Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:6-8).

Another point to consider is that Solomon may have been specifically refuting the afterlife teachings of surrounding nations, such as Egypt. Duane Garrett, in the Apologetics Study Bible, explains:

What the author was questioning, however, may have been the materialistic notions of afterlife that predominated in ancient Egypt, where people thought that after death a powerful man could continue to enjoy his possessions, his women, and the services of his slaves. In short, this theology did not take seriously the finality of physical death (the great pyramids of the pharaohs were expressions of this view).

If we look at the Bible in its totality, what is its teaching on death and the afterlife? Duane Garrett answers in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary):

In biblical Christianity, however, death is consistently described as a curse and an enemy (1 Cor 15:26, 54–55; Rev 20:14). The resurrection of Christ, moreover, has conquered death and has opened the way for the resurrection. The whole person, body and soul, enters immortality. This immortality, however, is dependent on the power of God and the resurrection.

Ecclesiastes does not deny afterlife but does force the reader to take death seriously. In this the book echoes the psalmist’s prayer that he be taught to number his days (Ps 90:10–12). It is not the biblical believer who denies the power of death but the unbeliever.

Since humans are truly mortal, two conclusions follow. First, neither possessions nor accomplishments are eternal, and we should properly use and enjoy them while we still see the light of day. Second, because we are by nature dependent and contingent, our hope of eternal life must be founded in God and not ourselves (Eccl 12:7, 13–14). For the Christian this means that immortality is in the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:12–19).

The bottom line is that Ecclesiastes is not meant to be the final biblical word on the afterlife. Solomon simply did not know what would happen after a person died because God had not revealed that information to him. Given his ignorance on the topic, he nevertheless taught us how live to our lives on earth: Fear God and keep His commandments.

#8 Post of 2016 – Does John 1:1 Say that Jesus is Merely a God, Not the God?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for mistranslating John 1:1. They argue that the verse identifies Jesus as a god rather than as God Himself. Andreas Kostenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains why their translation is incorrect.

Interestingly, around 1950 there was a change in how Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with this verse. Before 1950, they carried a copy of the American Standard Version of the Bible. However, the problem they faced was that the ASV rendered verse 1 accurately with the phrase ‘the Word was God.’ In an effort to resolve the difficulty this rendering posed for its theology, the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publishing group) issued its own translation of the Bible, which rendered the verse as ‘the Word was a god’ (Reed 1986, 71). However, there are several reasons why this translation is inaccurate.

First, John, as a monotheistic Jew, would not have referred to another person as ‘a god.’ The Jews had no place for demigods in their belief system.

Second, if John had placed a definite article before theos, he would have abandoned the distinction between the two persons he established in the previous clause (‘the Word was with God’).

Third, the view defended by Jehovah’s Witnesses misunderstands Greek syntax. It is common in Greek for a predicate noun to be specific without having an article. For example, later in this chapter reference is made to Nathanael’s confession of Jesus, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1: 49), with no article being before ‘King’ in the Greek (for other NT examples of this construction, see 8: 39; 17: 17; Rom 14: 17; Gal 4: 25; Rev 1: 20). From these examples, it is clear that the lack of an article in Greek does not necessarily imply indefiniteness (‘a’ god).

Finally, John could have used the word theios if he were simply trying to say that Jesus was ‘divine’ (i.e., that he had God-like qualities) rather than being God himself. The anarthrous (article-less) theos is most likely used to explain that Jesus ‘shared the essence of the Father though they differed in person’ (Wallace 1996, 269). As D. A. Carson explains, ‘In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say (in the words of the second clause of this verse) that the Word was with God.’

Does John 1:1 Say that Jesus is Merely a God, Not the God?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for mistranslating John 1:1. They argue that the verse identifies Jesus as a god rather than as God Himself. Andreas Kostenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains why their translation is incorrect.

Interestingly, around 1950 there was a change in how Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with this verse. Before 1950, they carried a copy of the American Standard Version of the Bible. However, the problem they faced was that the ASV rendered verse 1 accurately with the phrase ‘the Word was God.’ In an effort to resolve the difficulty this rendering posed for its theology, the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publishing group) issued its own translation of the Bible, which rendered the verse as ‘the Word was a god’ (Reed 1986, 71). However, there are several reasons why this translation is inaccurate.

First, John, as a monotheistic Jew, would not have referred to another person as ‘a god.’ The Jews had no place for demigods in their belief system.

Second, if John had placed a definite article before theos, he would have abandoned the distinction between the two persons he established in the previous clause (‘the Word was with God’).

Third, the view defended by Jehovah’s Witnesses misunderstands Greek syntax. It is common in Greek for a predicate noun to be specific without having an article. For example, later in this chapter reference is made to Nathanael’s confession of Jesus, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1: 49), with no article being before ‘King’ in the Greek (for other NT examples of this construction, see 8: 39; 17: 17; Rom 14: 17; Gal 4: 25; Rev 1: 20). From these examples, it is clear that the lack of an article in Greek does not necessarily imply indefiniteness (‘a’ god).

Finally, John could have used the word theios if he were simply trying to say that Jesus was ‘divine’ (i.e., that he had God-like qualities) rather than being God himself. The anarthrous (article-less) theos is most likely used to explain that Jesus ‘shared the essence of the Father though they differed in person’ (Wallace 1996, 269). As D. A. Carson explains, ‘In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say (in the words of the second clause of this verse) that the Word was with God.’

Does Ecclesiastes Teach That There Is No Afterlife?

Several passages in the book of Ecclesiastes seem to indicate that the inspired author does not believe that there is an afterlife. The Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly quote from Ecclesiastes to prove that there is no afterlife immediately following death. They teach that a person’s soul ceases to exist upon death, and that God will recreate that person later on when all the dead are resurrected. But does Ecclesiastes really teach that there is no immediate afterlife?

Although there are several passages that mention death and the afterlife in the book, the key passages normally cited are verses 19-21 in chapter 3.

Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?

If we look at the first 3 sentences, it seems clear that Solomon, the traditional author of Ecclesiastes, is speaking about the physical body of a human being. It is true that human bodies die and decompose, just like other animals.

The final sentence, though, does not explicitly state that the human spirit also dies, but it asks the question of where the spirit goes after death. In effect, Solomon is saying, “Some people believe that a person’s spirit goes to heaven, but nobody really knows for sure.” Solomon, in effect, is saying that he just doesn’t know much about what happens after a person dies, so he is advising his readers to live their lives on earth in light of that fact. He is teaching that death is a real enemy to human beings.

The question then arises: Why doesn’t Solomon know about the afterlife? To answer this question, we need to introduce the concept of progressive revelation. Progressive revelation refers to the fact that God, in the Scriptures, progressively reveals more and more of Himself over time. God’s ultimate revelation of Himself was in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s disciples completed the revelation of God when they wrote the books of the New Testament (NT).

Solomon lived more than 900 years before Jesus, so he wasn’t alive for the writing of the NT, nor the writing of much of the Old Testament (OT). The concept of an afterlife was taught more fully after Solomon lived.

There are glimpses of the afterlife in OT passages such as Ps 16:9-11; 49:15; 73:23-26; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2, and so forth. But the doctrine was not really brought to full light until the NT, where there are numerous passages (e.g., Rev 6:9-10; Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:6-8).

Another point to consider is that Solomon may have been specifically refuting the afterlife teachings of surrounding nations, such as Egypt. Duane Garrett, in the Apologetics Study Bible, explains:

What the author was questioning, however, may have been the materialistic notions of afterlife that predominated in ancient Egypt, where people thought that after death a powerful man could continue to enjoy his possessions, his women, and the services of his slaves. In short, this theology did not take seriously the finality of physical death (the great pyramids of the pharaohs were expressions of this view).

If we look at the Bible in its totality, what is its teaching on death and the afterlife? Duane Garrett answers in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary):

In biblical Christianity, however, death is consistently described as a curse and an enemy (1 Cor 15:26, 54–55; Rev 20:14). The resurrection of Christ, moreover, has conquered death and has opened the way for the resurrection. The whole person, body and soul, enters immortality. This immortality, however, is dependent on the power of God and the resurrection.

Ecclesiastes does not deny afterlife but does force the reader to take death seriously. In this the book echoes the psalmist’s prayer that he be taught to number his days (Ps 90:10–12). It is not the biblical believer who denies the power of death but the unbeliever.

Since humans are truly mortal, two conclusions follow. First, neither possessions nor accomplishments are eternal, and we should properly use and enjoy them while we still see the light of day. Second, because we are by nature dependent and contingent, our hope of eternal life must be founded in God and not ourselves (Eccl 12:7, 13–14). For the Christian this means that immortality is in the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:12–19).

The bottom line is that Ecclesiastes is not meant to be the final biblical word on the afterlife. Solomon simply did not know what would happen after a person died because God had not revealed that information to him. Given his ignorance on the topic, he nevertheless taught us how live to our lives on earth: Fear God and keep His commandments.

Is the Trinity Biblical?

Many non-Christian groups who accept some form of the New Testament – Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses – claim that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is false.  One of the arguments often used is that the concept of the Trinity cannot be found in Scripture, so the doctrine cannot be true.

This argument, however, will not fly.  The argument for the tri-unity of God is straightforward and well grounded in the biblical text.

The first premise of the argument is that God is one.  We know this from verses like Deut. 6:4 and 1 Cor. 8:4.

The second premise is that three persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are all called God

Concerning the Father, we read a verses such as John 6:27 and Rom. 1:7

Concerning the Son, we read a verse such as John 8:58, where Jesus uses an Old Testament name of God, “I am,” to refer to Himself.  We also read of instances where Jesus does things that only God would do, such as forgiving someone’s sins in Mark 2:5-7

Concerning the Holy Spirit, we read a verse like Acts 5:3-4, where the Holy Spirit is called God.

Therefore, if the Bible teaches that God is one (and it does) and the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God (and it does), then the doctrine of the Trinity is established.  There are three persons in one God.  This is what Christians affirm and non-Christians deny.  

Now I have to quickly state that there are far more verses than the ones I mentioned above that establish the doctrine of the Trinity.  I am only providing a tiny sampling in order to refute the claim that the Trinity is not based on the Bible.  It is biblical, but please don’t think that my evidence above is exhaustive.  If you want to dig deeper, then this study of the Trinity should more than satisfy you.