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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Witnessing to Witnesses [Part 1]

They are door-knockers extraordinaire, trudging suburban streets in pairs, looking for converts. That’s a lot of legwork, and I give them credit for persistence in an age when such commitment is rare.

They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, or “JWs”. Maybe you’ve picked up their flagship Watchtower magazine in a laundromat or seen them flogging books on a street corner in your downtown core. Often they are mistakenly referred to as a Christian denomination, though they are anything but.

After all, when you deny the deity of Christ, his physical resurrection and salvation by grace, you can’t really be said to be Christian, can you?

Having Your Cake

I’ve never tried witnessing to Witnesses — they’ve yet to come to my door — but it seems to me that most important differences between Christians and JWs must surely revolve around the person of Christ. Oh, there are plenty of other JW quirks (look up their teaching about the 144,000 sometime), but the one that makes an eternal difference is the rejection of Jesus Christ as God incarnate.

At the same time, they claim the Bible is the inspired and accurate word of God.

Well, as they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. A while back, a very good friend from up north sent me what I think is the single most comprehensive and effective point-form rebuttal in existence to those who deny the deity of Christ but still claim to believe the Bible.

What I’d like to do is share the result of his labors with an audience that may have some practical uses for it, interspersed with a few of my own comments. Even for those who rarely encounter JWs, the extent to which all the writers of scripture consistently testify to the deity of Christ is always worth examining.

I.   NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS APPLY JEHOVAH’S NAMES TO CHRIST

1.  “I Am”

At the burning bush, Moses asked the name by which the God of his fathers might be identified, and God famously responded:
“God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “[Jehovah], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.’ ”
Simultaneously enigmatic and immensely revealing, I won’t presume to explore it here, but the point is that Jesus Christ laid claim, not once but three times, to the first means by which God self-identified to Israel. First, he told the Pharisees:
“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Then, in answer to the question “Who are you?” he replied:
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Finally, in response to the question, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” he replied:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
If that doesn’t seem like a specific claim to the title of “I am” to you, bear in mind two things: (1) the Greek in each case is identical (there is no “he” — the pronoun is inserted only for English clarity); and (2) much more relevant than your opinion or mine is the opinion of the Lord’s original, religiously well-educated Jewish audience, who responded to these claims by attempting to stone Jesus to death. They thought he was blaspheming by appropriating God’s distinctive, eternal name.

Which he was — unless “I am” is his name too.

Bear in mind that the testimony of two or three witnesses was considered legally binding among Jews. In the spiritual domain, Paul extends the rule to the testimony of the same witness multiple times. So in confronting his audience with the truth of his deity three times here, the Lord both condemns his audience for their unbelief and signals their judgment.

2.  “The First and the Last”

Isaiah is responsible for starting this one:
“Thus says the Lord [YHWH, or Jehovah], the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’ ”
The prophet speaks for the king of Israel, Israel’s redeemer, which every Jew (and every Witness too) would unambiguously identify with Jehovah. And yet in Revelation these words are spoken by the glorified Christ, who John identifies as “one like a son of man”:
“Fear not, I am the first and the last.”
Once again, this is testimony that occurs more than once in the book (the other is Revelation 22:13).

“Besides me there is no god,” claimed YHWH in Isaiah. But Christ is both God and one with the Father. Christians worship not two or three gods, but one.

3.  “A Rock of Stumbling”

Isaiah calls Jehovah a “rock of stumbling”:
“But the Lord [Jehovah] of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
But the prophecy that Jehovah would become a “rock of stumbling”, Peter tells us, is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ:
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’

and

‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ ”
Again, Jesus is what only Jehovah is said to be.

4.  “The Only Rock”

If, in using the image of the rock, Peter presents Christ as offensive and a cause for stumbling to some, that same image also signifies his distinctiveness. But this too is a reference to Jehovah that has been appropriated from the Old Testament.

Isaiah proclaims the uniqueness of God in a passage that begins with “Thus says Jehovah”:
“Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any.”
Keep that in mind: there is only one Rock, and it’s Jehovah.

The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 also identifies Jehovah with “the Rock”:
The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
In that same Song, Moses reminds the people of Israel that Jehovah had cared for them all through their wilderness journey:
“He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.”
And yet when we come to the New Testament, the “only” Rock reappears by another name:
“Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

A Brief Time Out 

That’s some pretty powerful testimony, and it’s just for starters. There’s much, much more to come with which to rebut those who reject the deity of Christ but claim to believe the Bible.

You can’t have both. Which one would you like?

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