Using Titus to Answer Jehovah's Witnesses on the Identity of Jesus
Yesterday, a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses came to my door. They were very nice people. They smiled a lot, and carefully explained to me that according to the Bible, the Kingdom of God is coming. They were people who I would happily invite out to dinner because they were very pleasant and loving. They gave me a copy of their latest addition of The Watchtower Magazine (every true Christian should always accept The Watchtower when offered by well-meaning Jehovah's Witnesses to keep it out of the hands of those who do not already have a relationship with God) and another little booklet called "Good News from God." I thanked them for both.
It may surprise some people to learn that I don't automatically turn into "super-apologist" when Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door. I intentionally choose to refrain from using my years of reading and study in the area of apologetics to reveal their errors by hammering them on doctrine. I don't do that because I hold what many in the Christian church might consider to be heretical view about Jehovah's Witnesses -- I believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses at the lowest levels (who are generally those who come to the door) are not bad people, just deceived. In fact, I think that most of the Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door truly have faith in God as they understand Him. The problem with Jehovah's Witnesses is that the faith they hold is filtered through the wrongful teachings of the Jehovah's Witness organization.
I have taken a little time to scan through "Good News from God" booklet, and without recognizing the different way Jehovah's Witnesses use common Christian words, it appears to be largely in line with Christian doctrine. In fact, in my conversation with the two Witnesses who came to my door, I told them that, based on what they verbally shared, we are not in disagreement that Jesus will be returning to establish His kingdom. However, what they shared at the door is not quite what the Jehovah's Witnesses teach in the materials they gave me. Chapter 7 of the "Good News from God" booklet (hereinafter the GNG booklet) has two pages on "What is God's Kingdom"? While I find that the first two points are largely true as written (whenever dealing with Christian cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses, one needs to understand that the terms are not defined in exactly the same way that they are in the accepted forms of Christianity), the GNG booklet goes downhill from there. (Chapter 7 reiterates that the number of people who will be saved numbers 144,000 [Revelation 14:1] and that God's kingdom began it's rule in 1914.) But even the earlier questions which at first blush appear somewhat sound have hidden errors. Chapter 7, Question 1 of the GNG booklet reads:
The kingdom of God is a heavenly government. It will replace all other governments and will cause God's will to be done in heaven and on earth. The news about God's kingdom is good. Soon God's kingdom will satisfy man's need for good government. It will unite everyone living on earth. (Read Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:14.) A kingdom must have a king. Jehovah appointed his son, Jesus Christ, to be king of his kingdom."
This paragraph has a lot of loaded language. It raises a lot of questions. For example, what does it mean when it says that it will be a "heavenly government?" If that language means that God will rule over a new heaven and a new earth, I have no problem with that statement. Likewise, what does it mean when it says that God's kingdom will "satisfy man's need for good government?" And most importantly, what does it mean when it describes Jesus Christ as "his son?"
This last question is key to understanding the church's disagreement with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Chapter 4 of the GNG booklet answers the question (according to Jehovah's Witnesses) of "Who is Jesus Christ?" It is in the failure to recognize the true identify of Jesus Christ that the Jehovah's Witnesses go incredibly wrong. Chapter 4 question 1 reads:
Unlike any other human, Jesus lived in heaven as a spirit person before he was born on earth. (John 8:23) He was God's first creation, and he helped in the creation of all other things. He is the only one created directly by Jehovah and is therefore appropriately called God's "only-begotten" Son. (John 1:14) Jesus served as God's spokesman, so he is also called "the Word."
When relating to Jehovah's Witnesses, the primary question which must be answered is "who is Jesus Christ?" According to "How do Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings about Christ compare with Scriptures?" on christiananswers.net:
JW’s believe that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, and that He is a person distinct from God the Father. However, they also teach that before His Earthly life, Jesus was a spirit creature, Michael the archangel, who was created by God and became the Messiah at His baptism. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus is a mighty one, although not almighty as Jehovah God is. According to John 1:1 in their Bible, The New World Translation, Christ is “a god,” but not “the God.” They teach that Jesus “was and is and always will be beneath Jehovah” and that “Christ and God are not coequal”.
Since the identity of Jesus is key to helping Jehovah's Witnesses recognize that they have a false religion, the question becomes how do we address with Jehovah's Witnesses that Jesus is fully God? Looking around the Internet I found several possible approaches. I want to suggest one more, and I would be interested in hearing feedback from others as to whether this might work. I put it out on the CADRE blog in hopes that I will learn from others whether there is a flaw in this approach that I am not considering. Specifically, I would want to argue for Jesus' divinity from Paul's Epistle of Titus.
Just for the record, I am not going to attempt to prove Jesus' divinity from Titus 2:11-14. Those verses (especially verse 13) in most accepted translations is a strong acknowledgment that Jesus is God, and reads:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Although this is a very strong acknowledgment that Jesus is God, Jehovah's Witnesses have regularly denied the straightforward reading of this passage and have translated verse 13 in their New World Translation as " while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ...." Note how the Jehovah's Witness' New World Translation reinterprets the verse to divide "the great God" from "our Savior, Jesus Christ." Effectively, they have taken a verse which identifies Jesus as being God and divided it so that it appears that there are two separate individuals. While this is a very troubling interpretation, it is not one that I would suggest the typical individual who is not well-studied in Greek undertake with a Jehovah's Witness (especially since the Witness who comes to your door is probably not well-versed in Greek, either). Trying to prove the correct interpretation with someone who does not read Greek would probably prove both frustrating and fruitless.
Rather, I think there is a more direct method of using Titus to prove the divinity of Jesus. It is based on the fact that Paul repeatedly preaches God as a God of salvation throughout the letter. Here's my suggestion, and I look forward to comments as to what may be the response from the typical Jehovah's Witness:
First, have them use their own New World translation and look up Titus 1:1-3. (Always use their New World Translation despite its obvious flaws - it saves arguments about whether the translation that the non-Jehovah's Witnesses uses is accurate.) In the introductory language to this Epistle, Paul identifies himself, sets forth God's plan, and concludes by referring to the command of "our Savior, God." (Titus 1:3, NWT) I would next ask them to read Titus 3:4-5. Those verses read: "However, when the kindness of our Savior, God and his love for mankind were manifested (not because of any righteous works we had done, but because of his own mercy) he saved us by means of the bath that brought us to life and by making us new by holy spirit." (Titus 3:4-5, NWT) I would then ask, "According to these verses, is God our Savior?" (In event the Witnesses are uncertain, the obvious conclusion is, "Yes.")
Next, I would use again their own New World Translation and ask them to read Titus 1:4, which concludes: "May you have undeserved kindness and peace from Christ Jesus our Savior." (Titus 1:4b, NWT) Next, I would proceed to the aforementioned Titus 2:13 which, in their own translation, identifies Jesus Christ as "our Savior, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:13, NWT). Finally, I would proceed to Titus 3:6 which reads: "he poured this spirit out richly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior..." (Titus 3:6, NWT)
I expect that most readers will have figured out what I will ask next. I will ask, "Is Jesus Christ our Savior?" (Again, for those struggling with putting two and two together, the answer is, "Yes.") I will then ask, "So, you see that God is our Savior and Jesus Christ is our Savior. How do you reconcile these verses? Do we have two Saviors or just one Savior? How can it be that both Jesus Christ and God are our Savior (emphasize that it is 'Savior' and not 'Saviors' - plural) unless they are one in the same person?"
Unless the collective wisdom of the readership of this blog convinces me that there is a flaw in this approach, that's the approach I'm going to try when these two Jehovah's Witnesses return to my door. I would be interested in knowing whether the collective wisdom of this group and its readership identifies any flaw that the Jehovah's Witnesses will exploit. I would also be interested in knowing what you think of this approach.