Archive for the ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Category

New_World_translation_of_the_Holy_Scriptures_2013_editionJehovah’s Witnesses teach that the New Testament originally contained the Hebrew divine name יהוה (YHWH, usually spelled “Yahweh”) or some equivalent form, but that scribes in the second century systematically replaced it with the noun κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or occasionally θεός (theos, “God”). To correct this alleged problem, they have inserted the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament portion of their official Bible, the New World Translation, some 237 times. The main reason for rejecting this claim is that the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament uniformly attest to the lack of the Tetragrammaton (the technical term for the four-consonant name Yahweh) or any equivalent form except for “Yah” in the expression “Hallelu-Yah” (“Praise Yah”) found four times in Revelation 19:1-6. Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to defend the implausible conspiracy theory that the second-century church, with no centralized authority or bureaucracy, completely eliminated all occurrences of the name Yahweh in all surviving manuscripts. Not only is this claim highly implausible, there are internal evidences in the New Testament text that confirm the accuracy of the manuscripts.
Here’s one fairly simple example. Consider Ephesians 6:1-9 in the NWT (2013 edition), shown below with expressions using the Greek word for “Lord” in brackets and the English wording emphasized:

Read the rest of this entry »

One of the many popular anti-Trinitarian arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit has to do with the Greek word pneuma, translated “Spirit” or “spirit” depending on context. (A similar argument is used with regards to the Hebrew word ruach, but we’ll focus here on the New Testament.) Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to the etymology, or word origin, for pneuma, pointing out that it originates from a Greek verb meaning “to blow,” which doesn’t sound like a promising derivation for the name of a person. Or in a related argument, they will argue that the “root,” “basic,” or “literal” meaning of the word pneuma is “breath” or “wind,” and from there conclude that the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force that issues from God.

Both the argument from etymology and the argument from a word’s supposedly “basic” meaning are exegetically fallacious forms of reasoning. Biblical scholars have been warning against these “word-study” fallacies for years,[1] but most Bible readers, whether anti-Trinitarian or Trinitarian, have not gotten the memo, so the former keep using the arguments and the latter keep being flummoxed by them. As has often been pointed out, the English word nice derives etymologically from the Latin word nescio, which meant “ignorant,” but this tells us nothing about the meaning of the word nice! Read the rest of this entry »

Perhaps the specific argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that I see the most appeals to the parallelism in Luke 1:35, in which Gabriel says the following to Mary:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….”

Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that in this statement “the Holy Spirit” is parallel to, and therefore synonymous with, “the power of the Most High.” They conclude that this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, meaning, they claim, either that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of power that in some way emanates from God or is an abstraction for the divine attribute of God’s power.

There are at least two problems with this argument. Read the rest of this entry »

A really bad argument from silence is the claim that the Holy Spirit is not a person because he is not mentioned in certain passages. Chief among the offending texts are the salutations—the opening greetings in the New Testament epistles that usually read something like “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anti-Trinitarians commonly infer from the “absence” of the Holy Spirit in these texts that he is not a person.

Besides being an obvious argument from silence, this argument overlooks contrary evidence. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in one of the New Testament epistle salutations: Read the rest of this entry »

Another bad argument some anti-Trinitarians use is to reason that the Holy Spirit is not a person because no biblical text reports a conversation between the Holy Spirit and someone else. This argument supposedly trumps the positive evidence of the various texts that report the Holy Spirit speaking (e.g., Acts 1:16; 13:1-4; 28:25; Heb. 3:7). Yes, the anti-Trinitarian argues, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit said something, but it never reports anyone responding to the Holy Spirit; there is never any two-way communication between the Holy Spirit and someone else. The Bible reports conversations between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and the devil, and between human beings; so why, if the Holy Spirit is a person, is he never reported to have participated in a two-way conversation?

Here again, the anti-Trinitarian has manufactured an argument that seems to fit the biblical data on this narrow matter of usage, but that assumes that the Bible should present the Holy Spirit in a certain way in order to warrant readers understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person. But we have no reason to place such a demand on Scripture—which is to say, we have no reason to place such a demand on God in the way he reveals truth to us. The argument fallaciously reasons from the “silence” of the text about any conversations involving the Holy Spirit to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is not a person.

A few moments’ reflection can generate several if not many examples of other persons in the Bible for whom we happen not to have any report of them engaged in conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Trinitarians often employ a number of objections to the personhood of the Holy Spirit that are examples of fallacious arguments from silence. An argument from silence infers from the fact that something is not said that it is being denied, or that it is not true. Arguments from silence seem ubiquitous in religious discourse. However, in order for the silence of a particular text or act of speech to be the basis for any conclusion, we must know that the writer or speaker would have known the point at issue and would have said something about it on that specific occasion if he did. In short, we need to know a lot more than what we usually know about what is in an author or speaker’s mind and what his or her intentions and concerns were. Arguments from silence typically ignore evidence contrary to the assumptions that the person making the argument brings to the subject.

Arguments from silence pertaining to the personhood of the Holy Spirit are perhaps the most common types of arguments used by anti-Trinitarians on this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and many other anti-Trinitarians raise a number of fallacious objections against the orthodox Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from both the Father and the Son. One such objection is that the Bible uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. One can see this sometimes in English translations such as the KJV, for example in Paul’s statement, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16 KJV). Here the English neuter pronoun “itself” translates the Greek neuter pronoun auto. The masculine pronoun “himself” would be autos, not auto. Such neuter pronouns are commonly used in New Testament references to the Holy Spirit. Many anti-Trinitarians view this usage as indicating that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, perhaps a force or energy that comes from God, or perhaps God’s immanent mode of communication and manifestation.

The objection may be properly answered in several ways, but here I simply wish to focus directly on the crucial premise of the objection, which is that the use of neuter pronouns signals an impersonal object or abstraction as the pronoun’s referent. The claim is simply and unequivocally false. For the sake of those with little or no knowledge of the biblical languages, I will explain the matter as simply and completely as possible. Fortunately, it’s really not complicated. Read the rest of this entry »

The January 1, 2013 issue of the Watchtower magazine includes an article that addresses the question, “Have Jehovah’s Witnesses Given Incorrect Dates for the End?” (p. 8). The article acknowledges that the answer is yes, but tries to turn this negative into a positive. To do so, it uses an argument that has been a standard for Jehovah’s Witnesses for decades. The article explains:

“Jehovah’s Witnesses have had wrong expectations about when the end would come. Like Jesus’ first-century disciples, we have sometimes looked forward to the fulfillment of prophecy ahead of God’s timetable. (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2).”

The implicit inference for the reader to draw is that if Jesus’ original disciples could make such mistakes, then no blame can be attached to Jehovah’s Witnesses for doing so as well. However, the article glosses over some basic facts concerning the proof texts it cites. Let’s look at each of the three texts. Read the rest of this entry »

The February 1, 2011 issue of the Watchtower includes an article that asks, “Are You Prepared for the Most Important Day of the Year?” (21-22). This article deals with the Memorial, the annual observance by Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Lord’s Supper (what they often call “the Lord’s evening meal”). The article focuses on explaining why Jehovah’s Witnesses observe this rite only once a year and on Nisan 14, the Hebrew calendar date they accept as the correct date for the Passover. This year, Nisan 14 falls on April 17.

An Annual Observance?

The Watchtower article reasons that since Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on Passover and since the Passover was an annual festival, the Memorial also ought to be observed once a year (21). This seems plausible enough on the surface, and we should acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper does indeed have a function parallel to (and in some ways built on) the Passover, which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus. Craig Keener points out, “As the Passover annually commemorated (and allowed new generations to share the experience of) the first redemption…so the Lord’s Supper regularly did the same for the climactic redemption” through Christ’s death (Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, New Cambridge Bible Commentary [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 98-99).

However, Jesus did not actually specify that the Lord’s Supper was to be observed once a year. Luke and Paul both report that Jesus told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24), but Jesus apparently said nothing about how often they were to do so.

Paul, however, provides some indications that Christians observed the Lord’s Supper more than once a year. Paul also quotes Jesus saying with regard to the drinking of the cup, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25, emphasis added). He follows this quotation by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26, emphasis added). The Greek words hosakis ean, which may be translated “as often as” or “whenever,” express the sense of the action being done at “indefinite and multiple points of time” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. [New York: United Bible Societies, 1989], 67.36; see also any of the other standard lexicons). Anthony Thiselton cautions against understanding “as often as” to express any specific “frequency or regularity” and emphasizes the indefiniteness of the expression in Greek (Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 886). In other words, the expression indicates that the rite was observed many times but without specifying how often or even that it was done on a regular schedule.

Paul’s wording in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 is difficult to explain if the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper only once a year. Correlating the data from 1 and 2 Corinthians with the narrative in Acts 18-20, it appears that Paul left Corinth late in the year 51 and wrote 1 Corinthians early in the year 55. (See, for example, the articles on “Chronology of Paul” and “Corinthians, Letters to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993], 115-23, 164-79.) This leaves at most three occasions after Paul’s departure for the Corinthians to have observed an annual Lord’s Supper on Passover, if that had been the Christian practice.

We can be reasonably sure that the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper far more often than once a year from the context in which Paul discusses it in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthians were making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, which took place within the context of a church fellowship meal, because some were eating their own food while letting others go hungry, and some were actually getting drunk (1 Cor. 11:20-22). These things happened, Paul tells the Corinthians, “when you come together as a church” (v. 18), which suggests that the abuses were occurring repeatedly at church gatherings. “They treat the Lord’s meal like any association’s banquet, which means that, despite the Greek and biblical ideals of equality, their seating and treatment highlighted their social stratification” (Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, 96).

In this context, Paul states, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (vv. 20-21 ESV). When he says, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat,” Paul does not mean that the Lord’s Supper was not supposed to be observed at these gatherings but that their divisive, class-conscious behavior negated the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In effect, they were failing to observe the Lord’s Supper because they were acting as if the rich among them were the hosts, rather than acknowledging that the Lord himself was the host. “Is it the Lord’s [own] Supper which is being held, or that of the host and his most favored guests? Who is the focus of attention? For whose benefit is it being held? Indeed, to put it most sharply: Who, indeed, is ‘hosting’ this meal?” (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 862, emphasis in original).

As historians commonly recognize, in Corinth and likely elsewhere during the first decades of the Christian movement, the Lord’s Supper was a rite of remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death that took place whenever the church gathered corporately for fellowship around a meal. In fact, it is probably correct to say that in 1 Corinthians “the name ‘Lord’s Supper’ embraces the entire event, including the main meal, together with the concluding rite of the bread and wine” (Hans-Josef Klauck, “Lord’s Supper,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 4:363). This simply could not have been the case had apostles such as Paul regarded the Lord’s Supper as strictly an annual observance.

Given the lack of any definite instruction or commandment in the New Testament on the question, and the evidence from 1 Corinthians 11 of the association of the Lord’s Supper with church fellowship meals, we should resist any dogmatic teaching that the Lord’s Supper must be observed according to any specific schedule. Observing it once a year on Passover is one option, but it is not a biblically normative rule, nor was it the first-century church’s practice.

An Evening Meal?

The Watchtower article also asserts that Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Supper on Passover evening after sunset “because according to the Bible, this is to be an ‘evening meal.’ (1 Corinthians 11:25)” (22). 1 Corinthians 11:25 does not, however, say that the rite is to be an evening meal. In that verse, Paul simply reports that Jesus instituted the rite of the bread and wine “after supper.” The word “supper” here translates an infinitive verb form, to deipnesai, “supping” or “dining,” and is related to the noun deipnon, “supper” or “dinner,” in verse 20. Thiselton comments that deipnon “usually designates the main meal of the day in the Graeco-Roman world. Like the English dinner, it usually denotes an evening meal in formal circles, but as in the case of the English phrase ‘Christmas dinner’ the emphasis concerns the major event rather than the specific timing. It need not always be an evening meal, although in practice it usually was” (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 863-64). Thus, the rendering “evening meal” in the New World Translation at 1 Corinthians 11:20, 25 is an overtranslation that makes the timing of the meal specific in a way that the Greek wording does not (cf. Mark 6:21; 12:39; Luke 14:12-24; 17:8; Rev. 3:20).

There is no basis, then, for dogmatically claiming that the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed in the evening. Doing so made sense in the first-century context when it was commonly (though not universally) observed as part of a church fellowship meal. Once the rite was separated in practice from such church meals, it was natural for the rite to be observed at whatever time the church met for corporate worship. Again, Paul’s terminology in 1 Corinthians 11 is not time-specific, and no New Testament text legislates a time of the day when the rite is to be observed.

The cover article of the January 15, 2011 issue of the Watchtower is entitled “Take Refuge in the Name of Jehovah” (3-6). The title is based on Zephaniah 3:12, which the article announces is “the yeartext for 2011” (6), that is, the theme verse for all Jehovah’s Witnesses for this year.

The article repeats some of the stock Jehovah’s Witness claims regarding the divine name Jehovah. It accuses “apostate Christendom” of “manifest hatred of God’s name” (4). Religious leaders have “hidden the identity of the true God from millions upon millions of worshippers” (5). By contrast, “Jehovah’s Witnesses honor and glorify the divine name” (5). This remains part of the mythology of Jehovah’s Witness religion in its demonization of practically every aspect of traditional Christianity. Anyone who has spent much time in evangelical churches, for example, knows this is a myth. The name Jehovah and such Old Testament (OT) compound forms as Jehovah-jireh are part of evangelical piety and hymnody (even in contemporary choruses). The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 used Jehovah throughout its OT, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible, one of the newest evangelical English versions of the Bible, uses Yahweh in its OT.

Quoting Romans 10:13 in the New World Translation (NWT), “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved,” the article comments, “There is a connection between calling on Jehovah’s name and the resulting salvation by him” (4). What the article does not mention, and Jehovah’s Witnesses will not acknowledge, is that the original Greek text of Romans 10:13 certainly said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Greek, kurios] will be saved.” The libraries and museums of the world house hundreds of manuscript copies of Romans in Greek, hundreds if not thousands more manuscript copies of Romans in other ancient languages (such as Latin), and none of them use any form of the Hebrew name YHWH; all of them say “Lord” in this verse. One of the earliest and most important of all New Testament (NT) manuscripts, the Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), dated about AD 200, contains Romans 10, and it has kurios just as do all of the other copies of that passage. The Greek NT consistently uses kurios (or occasionally theos, “God”), never YHWH in any form, when quoting OT texts that have YHWH in Hebrew. In context, Jesus is identified as this “Lord” (compare Romans 10:13 with Romans 10:9-12). Probably the main reason why the Watchtower uses “Jehovah” selectively in the NT portion of its NWT is to obscure the fact that in passages like this one Jesus is identified as the Lord Jehovah.

Ironically, despite its citation of Romans 10:13, nowhere in the article is anything said about faith in Jesus Christ or what he did for salvation. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses do affirm (elsewhere) that they believe in Christ, but the omission is telling. The main point of Romans 10 is that faith in Jesus as Lord is the way to salvation that unbelieving Jews in Paul’s day missed. While belief in Jesus (or at least beliefs about Jesus) is in some sense part of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, salvation is essentially found by “calling on the name of Jehovah,” engaging in the “true worship” of Jehovah separate from that of “apostate Christendom,” and “serving as his Witnesses.” To serve as his Witnesses means “to preach the good news of the Kingdom” and “share with others the correct understanding of God’s Kingdom and how it will sanctify his name” (3-6). In short, one’s salvation is the result of being a practicing, active Jehovah’s Witness. This is “salvation” by religion.

The omission of any reference to faith in Christ or to what he has done for our salvation is all the more significant when one considers how the NT understands what it means to “seek refuge in the name of Jehovah.” The NT does not directly quote Zephaniah 3:12, but it has much to say that echoes what Zephaniah says about how people must respond to Jehovah. In particular, language and themes regarding Jehovah found in Zephaniah and other OT prophets are applied in the NT to Jesus Christ. This is sometimes less clear in the NWT because of its use of “Jehovah” in the OT and its selective use of that name in the NT, as is the case in Romans 10:9-13. However, the connections are often clear enough even in the NWT or in any other version:

(1) Zephaniah’s message is “the word of the LORD” (Jehovah, 1:1; 2:5). The message of the apostles was “the word of the Lord” Jesus (see Acts 8:25; 13:44, 48-49; 15:35-36; 16:32; 19:10; see also 1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15, cf. 4:16-17; 2 Thess. 3:1).

(2) Zephaniah, like the prophets Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14) and Isaiah (13:6, 9), spoke repeatedly of “the day of the LORD” (Zeph. 1:7, 14), a day of his wrath and anger against the wicked (1:18; 2:2). Paul understands this prophetic motif to speak of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14), “the day of (Jesus) Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). This is what he understands to be “the day of the Lord” (see also 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:1-2).

(3) Zephaniah’s message was that God’s people could be saved from that Day of Judgment by turning to the Lord in faith: they “shall all call upon the name of the LORD” and “shall not be put to shame” (Zeph. 3:9, 11). These statements also echo the prophecies of Joel and Isaiah. Joel had prophesied, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD [Jehovah] will be saved” (Joel 2:32), the very verse that Paul quotes in reference to Jesus in Romans 10:13 (see also Acts 2:21). Paul also describes Christians as those “who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Isaiah had written that God was laying a foundation or cornerstone in Zion, “and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16). Paul also applies this statement to the Lord Jesus (Rom. 9:33; 10:11; see also 1 Peter 2:6-7).

These three points show us that from a NT perspective, we are to interpret the message of Zephaniah in the light of Jesus Christ, as pointing forward quite specifically to him as the ultimate, eternal Savior and Judge. This is, of course, what we should expect based on Jesus’ explicit teaching that the whole OT pointed forward to him and finds its fulfillment in him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Yet Christ is at most tangential to the Watchtower’s interpretation of the message of Zephaniah. Yes, judgment is coming, on those who are really apostates (who have abandoned faith in Christ) and on the whole unbelieving world. Deliverance from that judgment is to be found, however, in appealing to the Lord Jesus, calling on him for salvation, and trusting in his mercy. He is indeed the Lord on whose name we must call, the Lord in whom we must take refuge. To miss this is, according to the NT, to miss what the book of Zephaniah and the rest of the OT are really all about.