In this piece, I will be responding to the false teachings and fallacious arguments against the Deity of Christ presented in the booklet, Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Read the others one/ two/ three)
Between pages 24-27, five Biblical proof texts which support the Deity of Christ were astutely wrenched and distorted to fit into Watchtower Christology:
1. “I and the Father Are One” (John 10:30)
Pg. 24 “Jesus himself showed what he meant by ‘one’ with the Father. At John 17:21, 22, he prayed to God that his disciples ‘may be one’… obviously Jesus was praying that they would be united in thought and purpose, as he and God were.”
What Jesus implied in John 10:30 is seen by the immediate reaction of the unbelieving Jews: “[they] picked up stones to stone him” (v. 31). This was “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (v. 32). They understood that He was referred to His Divinity. They knew what He meant was beyond unity in thought and purpose.
On a side note, the JW New World bible has misrendered John 17:21, by replacing “in” with “union”: “that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they may be in union with us…”
But the Greek word for “in” (en) means “wholly joined” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon) and “in, one with, joined closely to” (Louw and Nida Greek Lexicon). Jesus enjoyed a perfect intimacy with His Father, not just a “union.”
In John 10:28 Jesus said: “And I give unto them [My sheep] eternal life; and they shall never perish neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
He reveals Himself as the Giver of Life and preserver of the Believer which only God can do. While Jesus is not the same person as God the Father, He clearly equates Himself with Him in the context of divine salvation. It’s in this context that “I and my Father are one” should be understood. This is why B. F. Westcott wrote:
“It seems clear that the unity spoken of cannot fall short of unity of essence. The thought springs from the equality of power (my hand, the Father’s hand); but infinite power is an attribute of God” (The Gospel According to St. John, Grand Rapids, 1971, 158).
The booklet appealed to 1Cor. 3:8 where Paul says “He that plants and he that waters are one” and adds: “The Greek word that Paul used here for ‘one’ (hen) is neuter, literally ‘one (thing)’ indicating oneness in cooperation. It is the same word that Jesus used at John 10:30 to describe his relationship with his Father … he was talking about unity of thought and purpose.” (Ibid)
While the Greek word “hen” is a neuter specifying “unity” in general, it means “to be united most closely” (Thayer). It is used to specify different types of unions depending on its context. For example, in John 10:28-29, the “one” Jesus spoke of wasn’t unity of purpose, but unity with God in His power to preserve and give eternal life to His sheep (divine attributes).
In 1 Corinthians 3:6, the “one” means one in purpose of saving souls. In John 17:21, “one” conveys a complete unity or intimacy among believers as Christ and God has. In Matthew 19:5, “one” stands for spiritual union of a man and woman.
That “one in fellowship” is implied in John 17:21 or “one in purpose” in 1Cor. 3:6 does not have any relevance to its usage in John 10:30. Context decides the usage of “hen.” Thus, a scholar noted:
“The context [of John 10:30] suggests that this adjective be translated as ‘equal to’ or ‘on a par with.’ Jesus claims far more than mere unity with God, which was the aim of every Israelite; such moral unity would never mean that mortals had become ‘god’ as Jesus’ remark is understood in 10:31-33. The very argument in John, then, understands hen to mean more than moral unity, that is, ‘equality with God'” (Jerome Neyrey, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1989, 108, 647).
To bolster its claims, the brochure quotes John Calvin saying: “The ancients made a wrong use of [John 10:30] 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, 24).
Apparently, the “ancients” Calvin was referring to were the Nicene fathers and the whole of his exegesis flies in the face of Watchtower Christology. In the same work, he stated that Jesus declared His Deity through His miracles:
“They [the Jews] argue therefore that Christ is a blasphemer and a sacrilegious person … They err in this, that they do not design to contemplate His Divinity, which was conspicuous in His miracles … Christ does not now argue what he is in himself, but what we ought to acknowledge him to be, from his miracles in human flesh. For we can never comprehend his eternal Divinity, unless we embrace him as a Redeemer, so far as the Father hath exhibited Him to us” (pp. 416-23).
In the same page, the Watchtower says: “Jesus forcefully argued that his words were not a claim to be God.”
Forcefully argued? No one who reads that passage would draw such a conclusion. In fact, Jesus repeats His original declaration in a slightly different manner. He cites Psalm 82:6 to establish that if Scripture was not in error for calling mortals “gods,” then there is no error in calling the One whom God consecrated and sent into the world ‘the Son of God’ (v 35-36). He said: “the Father is in me and I in him” (vv. 37-39).
2. “Making Himself Equal to God” (John 5:18)
Knowing the grammar and context of this verse is crucial. The Greek word for equal, “ison” means being “equal, equivalent, same” like “in number, size, quality or characteristics” (Louw and Nida). It also means “nature, rank, authority which belong to God” (Thayer) and means “similarly” (Bauer, Danker and Arndlt). So, when Jesus said “My Father works and I work” (v. 17), the Jews knew what He meant.
The Watchtower dismisses this verse by claiming it was a mistaken idea of the unbelieving Jews. This is false. Apostle John clarified this verse based on 1st century Jewish understanding. If the Jews were wrong here, he would have corrected their idea as he did in John 2:21.
Some JWs may quote a Greek reference work saying that only “a rebellious son” would make himself equal to his father, so the Jews saw Jesus this way. But this passage clearly shows the Jews wanted Jesus killed for blasphemy.
Under the Law, it wasn’t blasphemy to be guilty of rebellion (or haughtiness), rather to worship another god or insult God (see Neh. 9:18, Isa. 37:6), and the penalty was death by stoning (Lev. 24:16). They wanted to stone Jesus because they understood He was claiming deity at that point.
Pg. 24 says: “Jesus defended himself against this false charge in the very next verse (19):…’the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees the Father doing.’ – JB. By this, Jesus showed the Jews that he was not equal to God and therefore could not act on his own initiative.”
To grasp the meaning of John 5:18-19, we need to look in the Gospel of John for more information on Jesus’ position. In it, He says He has life in Himself (5:26); He has the power to raise the dead and to judge them (5:25, 28-29); He gives eternal life (5:25); He sets men free from slavery to sin (8:36); He receives honour equal to the Father (5:23); He is the object of faith (6:40); He is the object of prayer (14:13-14) and He has power to answer prayer (14:13). These are all divine prerogatives showing that Jesus is equal with God (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Pub. Chicago, 2008, 140).
Fittingly, Jesus’ statement that He could “do nothing by himself” must be understood in the context of His humanity – as the incarnate Christ. No, the Jews like Trinitarians, are not “drawing wrong conclusions,” rather, the Watchtower Society is watering down this passage because it doesn’t support their belief.
It’s also inconsistent for them to say the Jews “misunderstood” Jesus as being equal to God and still appeal to the Jews as believing Jesus to be a demi-god.
3. “Equal With God”? (Phil. 2:6)
The booklet cites 6 different renderings of this verse and draws two conclusions: “(1) Jesus already had equality but did not want to hold on to it or that (2) he did not need to grasp at equality because he already had it” (p. 25).
Interestingly, they conveniently ignore the first conclusion while they attack the second in 3 paragraphs. This is a classic “shell” game where the real issue is buried with prose. Both conclusions are linked.
In the 6 renderings of Phil. 2:6 they quoted, the terms “form of God,” “divine nature” and “nature of God” are applied to Christ. Jesus had eternally existed as God. The Greek word for “form” is morphe which “includes the whole nature and essence of Deity” (E. W. Vine, An Expository of New Testament Words, 1940, “form”).
Thus, the first conclusion is valid. Jesus Christ is equal with God in essence. He wasn’t archangel Michael or a demi-god in any way.