Jehovah's Witnesses View of Jesus Compared to the Early Church
The following is an extract from something I wrote 16 years ago soon after leaving the Watchtower.
I am posting it because it may help honest JWs consider how far their beliefs are at odds with New Testament christians. If they have "the truth" then their attitude to Jesus ought to reflect that of the apostles. I believe that what follows will demonstrate that the gulf is far greater than can be dismissed as cultural differences.
This is not a defense of the trinity or of the deity of Jesus - that's a whole different thread.
Its quite long but its all original. All quotations are from The New World Translation.
How Early Christians Viewed the person of Jesus
1] Early Christians were WITNESSES of Jesus.
On his last evening with his disciples Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would;
"Bear witness about me, and you in turn are to bear witness, because you have been with me from when I began." (Jhn.15:26,27)
Immediately prior to his ascension Jesus told them ;
"You will be witnesses of me..to the most distant part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Paul said that the minds of unbelievers had been blinded so that:
"The glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through. For we are preaching not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord." (2Cor.4:4,5)
In Revelation the dragon goes off to wage war with those who:
"Have the work of bearing witness to Jesus."
The harlot is seen to be;
"Drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus."
When John falls down before the angel he receives the rebuke:
"Be careful do not do that. All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing to Jesus."
In contrast to the practice of early Christians, no Jehovah's Witness would ever identify themselves as a witness of Jesus.
2] Early Christians BELONGED to Jesus.
Paul introduced himself to the Romans as;
"A slave of Jesus Christ" (Rom.1:1)
And described them as those who are;
"Called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Rom.1:6)
He further told the Corinthians that;
"He that is called when a freeman is a slave of Christ." (1Cor.7:22)
and that; "those who belong to the Christ" (1Cor.15:23) would be resurrected during his parousia.
In his second letter to the Corinthians he said that God guarantees that;
"You and we belong to Christ." (2Cor.1:21)
He reminded the Galatians that;
"I am carrying on my body the brand marks of a slave of Jesus." (Gal.6:1)
And admonished the Colossians to;
"Slave for the master Christ." (Col.3:24)
Perhaps the most emphatic statement of all was made by Jude when he accused ungodly men of;
"Proving false to our only owner and Lord, Jesus Christ."
Jehovah's Witness do not think of themselves as belonging to Jesus. It would be unthinkable for them to describe Jesus as their "only owner and Lord." Early Christians had no such inhibitions. This is not simply a difference in custom. It is not just that a Witness is not in the habit of using this kind of language. Anyone using such terms would be viewed, not just as unconventional but as doctrinally suspect.
3] Jesus was the focus of the BAPTISM of early Christians.
On the day of Pentecost Peter told the crowds to;
"Be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts2:38)
As a result of Philip's preaching Samaritans were;
"Baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts8:16)
Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to;
"Be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts10:48)
When Paul found disciples in Ephesus who had not yet receive the Holy Spirit, he told them that they should be;
"Baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts19:5)
Paul also reminded the Galatians that;
"All of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal.3:27)
Every Jehovah's Witness is aware of the command to be baptised in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." It would be unthinkable however to speak only about being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. In the early church this was evidently common practice. Again it is not a sufficient answer to suggest that this is only a cultural difference.
4] Early Christians wished Jesus' BLESSING on each other.
Paul concluded his first letter to the Corinthians with the words;
"O our Lord come. May the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus be with you. May my love be with all of you in union with Christ Jesus." (1Cor.16:22)
Similarly at the end of his second letter to Corinth he said;
"The undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you." (2Cor.13:14)
He concluded his letters to the Galatians, Phillipians and both epistles to the Thessalonians with slight variations of the phrase;
"The undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."
This kind of blessing was not unique to Paul. John ends the book of Revelation with the words;
"May the undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ be with the holy ones." (Rev.22:21)
Although it is not the custom of Jehovah's Witnesses to wish God's blessing on one another, this could be explained as simply a cultural difference. However it can hardly be overstated how unthinkable it would be for one Jehovah's Witness to wish the blessing of Jesus one another. Even to cite any of the above texts at the end of a letter would seem more than strange to the recipient. To early Christians it was the most natural of things to say, and entirely in keeping with their understanding of God.
5] Early Christians had the SPIRIT of Jesus
Luke informs us that Paul and Silas were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, but in the next verse he says that they were unable to enter Bithynia because;
"The Spirit of Jesus did not permit them." (Acts16:7)
Paul told Christians in Rome that;
"You are in harmony not with the flesh but with the Spirit if God's Spirit truly dwells in you. But if anyone does not have Christ's Spirit this one does not belong to him" (Rom.8:9)
When writing to the Galatians about the Spirit of adoption Paul said;
"God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts and it cries out Abba Father." (Gal.4:6)
While in prison, Paul assured the Philipians that their supplications for him would result in;
"A supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." (Phil.1:19)
Although it is not clear from the rendering in the New World Translation it can be seen from the Interlinear that Peter credited the Spirit of Christ with directing the minds of the ancient prophets;
"Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ." (1Pet.1:11)
To a Jehovah's Witness the idea of using the expressions, Holy Spirit, God's Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and Christ's Spirit interchangeably is totally foreign. If an elder were to say "Christ's Spirit" instead of "the Holy Spirit" in public speaking the congregation would be surprised. If they were to pray for "the Spirit of Jesus" it would be viewed as shocking. To the early Christians it was entirely natural.
Once more it must be stressed that the difference is not simply one of language it is that the implications behind the phrase is incompatible with the understanding of Jehovah's Witnesses. In all of the above examples there would be resistance to using the kind of language used by the apostles because it appears to elevate Jesus rather than Jehovah. As will be seen from the following section this was not something that troubled bible writers.
6] Early Christians PRAISED and GLORIFIED Jesus.
Jesus told the Jews at Jerusalem that he was to be the judge of all;
"In order that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father." (Jhn.5:23)
Later, when he promised the disciples that he would send them the Holy Spirit, he said;
"That one will glorify me because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to you." (Jh.16:14)
Paul could therefore tell the Thessalonians that he prayed that;
"The name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you." (2Thes.1:12)
And he closed both his letters to Timothy with similar expressions of praise directed to Jesus;
"To him be the honour and might everlasting. Amen." (1Tim.6:16)
"To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen." (2Tim.4:18)
Peter signed off his second epistle with the words;
"Go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity." (2Pet.3:18)
Addressing the seven congregations of Asia Minor the apostle John said concerning Jesus;
"Yes to him be the glory and might forever. Amen." (Rev.1:6)
Later in Revelation John heard myriads of angels say;
"The lamb that was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing." (Rev.5:12)
Following this, every creature in heaven and on earth responded;
"To the one sitting on the throne and to the lamb be the blessing and the honour and the glory and the might forever and ever." (Rev.5:13)
It is completely unknown for Jehovah's Witnesses to openly praise Jesus in anything like the manner found in these and other verses. There is nothing remotely like it in any "kingdom song". It is almost impossible to believe that such expressions could ever be heard in a Kingdom Hall. If anyone did publicly glorify Jesus in this way it would be viewed with suspicion. The assumption would be that all such praise should only be addressed to Jehovah. Early Christians on the other hand were uninhibited in their praise and adoration of Jesus.
7] Early Christians CALLED ON THE NAME of Jesus
When Jesus appeared to Ananias, Ananias said to him that Saul had authority;
"to put in bonds all those calling upon your name." (Acts9:14)
After Saul's conversion those who heard him preach were astonished and said;
"Is this not the man that ravaged those in Jerusalem who call upon this name." (Acts9:21)
Paul described the Christians at Corinth as being among those;
"Who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ their Lord and ours." (1Cor.1:2)
8] Early Christians ADDRESSED PRAYERS to Jesus.
As Jesus prepared his eleven faithful disciples for his imminent departure he promised them;
"If you ask (me) anything in my name I will do it." (Jhn.14:14)
Although the word "me" has been omitted from the NWT the Interlinear shows that it was in the original Greek text. It is found in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
Luke tells us that when Stephen was being stoned to death;
"He made appeal and said, Lord Jesus receive my spirit." (Acts7:59)
Again the Interlinear shows the more literal translation of the phrase "making appeal" to be "calling upon." In English we would always say calling upon, followed by a name, but in the New Testament it had acquired a specific meaning so that Luke could simply write that Stephen was "calling upon" the Lord Jesus. In the context it clearly denotes prayer.
Likely seeking relief from some physical ailment Paul told the Corinthians that he had;
"Three times entreated the Lord that it might depart from me." (2Cor.12:8)
The context of verses 8-10 make the conclusion inescapable that the Lord, Paul is referring to is the Lord Jesus Christ. The reply to Paul's prayer is that "my power is being made perfect in weakness" to which Paul rejoices that "the power of the Christ might remain like a tent over" him. This is clearly the most natural reading of the text.
In his first epistle John assures those who put their faith;
"In the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have toward him that no matter what it is that we ask according to his will he hears us." (1Jhn.5:13,14)
The faith or confidence of Christians is said by John to be in the Son of God who hears their requests and answers accordingly. With an obvious allusion to Jesus own words at Jhn.14:14 quoted above John continues;
"Further if we know he hears us respecting whatever we are asking, we know we are to have the things asked since we have asked them of him." (1Jhn5:15)
There would seem to be no doubt that the normal pattern of prayer in the New Testament is that which is addressed to the Father in the name of the Son. However these other examples of prayer addressed to Jesus directly cannot be ignored or explained away, and are a significant part of a study of how early Christians viewed Jesus.
9] Early Christians rendered WORSHIP to Jesus.
The Greek word rendered worship is proskenyo. Depending on the grammatical context different forms of the same word are used in scripture. For simplicity we will substitute the simple form proskenyo in each case. Whenever it is used in connection with Jehovah the NWT translates it accurately as worship. However when it is used with reference to Jesus the word "obeisance" is used instead. While it is true that proskenyo can denote an act of respect which falls short of worship there are a number of instances in the New Testament where the context clearly demands the stronger translation.
When Jesus walked on the sea of Galilee and calmed the storm, the apostles were astonished at his power;
"Then those on the boat 'proskenyo' him saying you are really God's Son." (Matt.14:33)
When Jesus identified himself to the man he had cured of blindness, the man said;
"I do put faith in him Lord. And he 'proskenyo' him." (Jhn.9:38)
When the two Marys met the resurrected Jesus in the garden;
"They approached and caught him by his feet and 'proskenyo' him." (Matt.28:9)
As Jesus was ascending back to heaven he blessed his disciples and they;
"Having 'proskenyo' him returned to Jerusalem with great joy." (Luke24:52)
In each of these examples it is not simply an act of respect that is being described but an act of worship. That it involved more than the physical act of bowing is particularly clear in the account involving the two Marys where the scripture, having told us that they caught him by the feet goes on to add that they proskenyo him. In these and other examples it is noteworthy that Jesus never once offers a word of reproof to anyone involved. It is enlightening to compare this with three other occasions where the word proskenyo is used in the New Testament.
"As Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet and 'proskenyo' him. But Peter lifted him up saying, Rise I myself am also a man." (Acts10:25,26)
Similarly John was so overcome with the awesome visions of Revelation that twice he fell down at the feet of the angel who was showing him these things;
"At that I fell down before his feet to 'proskenyo' him. but he tells me, Be careful do not do that. All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers." (Rev.19:10)
In Revelation, John heard every creature in heaven and on earth say;
"The lamb that was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing. To the one seated on the throne and to the lamb be the blessing and the honour and the glory and the might forever and ever. And the four living creatures went saying Amen." (Rev.5:12-14)
Such an outpouring of adoration can not be interpreted as anything less than worship. Immediately after these things John tells us what he saw next;
"And the elders fell down and worshipped." (Rev.5:14)
In this graphic description of an event that involved every one of God's creatures there is no distinction at all between the worship and adoration given to the one seated on the throne and that offered to the lamb.
If we begin with the assumption that worship is not be give to Jesus then we are forced to explain all the falling at his feet, that the gospel writers were careful to record for us, as simply gestures of respect. This despite the fact that elsewhere Cornelius and John are reprimanded for the same thing. We also have to invent the unbiblical notion of relative worship and contradict the most fundamental of Old Testament truths by allowing for worshipping God through someone else, a kind of legalised idolatry. Even all of this is not enough to deal with the amazing scenes described at Rev.5:11-14.
In view of this sample of texts quoted above, it would seem reasonable to say that Jehovah's Witnesses do not speak about Jesus in the same manner as early Christians did. The apostles described themselves as witnesses of Jesus, they called him their only owner and Lord, and the one to whom they belonged. They were baptised in his name, led by his Spirit, rejoiced in his blessing and overflowed with praise for him. All of these statements are incompatible with the beliefs and practice of Jehovah's Witnesses. Even if an individual Witness may feel comfortable with such expressions they could never voice such sentiments in the hearing of others. There can be no doubt that if a Jehovah's Witness were to go back to a meeting of early Christians they would feel profoundly out of place.
Even if as a JW you allow that the trinity is a false doctrine and that Jesus was created by the Father, how do you explain this gulf in the way you view Jesus as compared to the place he had in the lives and worship of the New Testament Church?
Marking and saving to my documents!!! Awesome Cofty. BTW you are not an A-hole. I know I said that once when my feelings were hurt, but it is not true. So I apologize again just in case...
No need to apologise Data-Dog. I know my style provokes a reaction sometimes.
If you ever get over here I will buy you a pint
Deal Bro!! You would like me in person!! Raised by a John Wayne Dad and crazy in a bar fight!! Well, not so much anymore. I aint as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was!!!
Marking! Great info
cofty: good stuff! funny because all that good info, does prove jesus is god!
Actually it only demonstrates the way the early church viewed Jesus. The question of divinity is another step although I would agree we see a gradual development in the NT in that direction.
This was wonderful to read. Thanks for posting it.
I certainly see your point of view. But this only means Christ is one of great honor and was to be worshipped. However, the big picture is to get to worship God. That is, Christ always acknowledged God. Even where it says every knee in heaven and earth bend to Christ, clearly acknowledging his diety, it also notes that then Christ bows down to God, showing God's superiority.
Plus, part of this might be the fact that they recognize Jesus Christ as Michael the archangel in human form. So from way back when, Christ would be seen in that context, that is, minimied compared to Jehovah.
JWs focus on thus the scriptrues that emphasize Jehovah, such as Jesus' own words: "The Father is greater than I am."
Plus you see how Jesus taught his disciples to pray: "Our father, who art in heaven."
So my only criticism is that while you list all these scriptures elevating Christ, which is wonderful, you don't consider those passages in the context of so many others that clearly express the superiority of God in relation to Christ, his son.
Now you claim that ther trinity doctrine and the deity of Christ are separate topics, but by stating that, you seem to leave that open. I would just note that many who move in the direction of making Christ part of the trinity are the same that move in the direction of deifying past the deity given him by God. But your point is well made that the early Christians certainly had a higher position in their minds of Jesus' role than do the witnesses, who certainly balance that role in the context of their focus on Jehovah.
Ultimately, the witnesses read that Christ did not come to do his own will but did nothing outside of God's plan. He was ultimately, God's messenger, but given a lot more authority and purpose than perhaps is consistently recognized by witnesses who, instead, are very focussed on Jehovah's role, especially in relation to Christ.
After reading your article, I thought immediately of John 1:18, where John, who was very much into emphasizing the diety of Christ and who he was in relation to the living universe, said that he was the "only-begotten god in the BOSOM POSITION of the Father." So that right there tells us about who this "only-begotten god" is.
So while the first-century Christians certainly understood who Christ was, in no way did Christ himself let them forget who his Father was. So yes, jesus was a very important deity, worthy of worship among the early Christians, but hope you're not suggesting that they somehow thought Christ and Jehovah were the same entity. or that Christ was greater than God, or that Christ wasn't Michael the archangel, right?
But, again, your point is well taken since, YES, their focus on jehovah does make them shy away from Christ's full due. In fact, it causes them to even mistranslate the Bible. That is in some places where it could be argued that "those beloning to the Lord" is a reference to Christ, the WTS substitutes Jehovah for "lord." So there is a distortion there, for sure.
So you should accompany this with all the scriptures that show what the early Christians thought about Jehovah. Christ is God's represetative, not God himself.
Thanks, so much, for your reflection.
lars: are you micheal?the archangel?
Exceptional commentary Cofty.
Now the development of the Church is another story.... :-))