Earlier this week, I encountered an acquaintance of mine at the gym. It wasn’t long until this man, a Jehovah’s Witness, and I found ourselves entangled in a conversation about who Jesus is, how to be assured of your salvation, and the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity.
As I tried to take him through several Scriptural arguments for Jesus’ divinity, he seemed frustrated and asked that I write down exactly what I was saying so that he could study it on his own, in context, at a later time. I gladly obliged, and the result is the letter that you’ll see below.
I’ll note that Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has done phenomenal work on this and many other issues in apologetics. Most of what I have learned has come from his lectures and podcasts, including this talk.
Note also that I used the Watchtower Society’s own “translation” of the Bible, for the sake of ease.
My friend’s name has been withheld, but please pray for him to know the true Jesus Christ and repent.
I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read this over. I pray that Jehovah himself would grant you a spirit of honesty and humility to consider what his Word says to us, and that he would lead you in pursuit of the truth. I also pray that you would know that I am writing to you from a position of humility and utmost sincerity.
Below is Psalm 102:24-27 from the New World Translation, retrieved from JW.org:
I said: “O my God, do not do away with me in the middle of my life, you whose years span all generations. Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; just like a garment they will all wear out. Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will pass away. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”
This psalm is, of course, a prayer directly to Jehovah. We know this from verse 1:
O Jehovah, hear my prayer; Let my cry for help reach you.
Jehovah is the “God” to whom David is referring in verse 24 above. Verses 24-27 speak to Jehovah’s eternality, his creatorship, his sovereignty, and his total timelessness. You and I will have no disagreement on that point.
Now, let’s take a look at Hebrews 1, also using the New World Translation. Hebrews 1 sets out to lay a foundation of who Jesus is:
Long ago God spoke to our forefathers by means of the prophets on many occasions and in many ways. Now at the end of these days he has spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact representation of his very being, and he sustains all things by the word of his power. And after he had made a purification for our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So he has become better than the angels to the extent that he has inherited a name more excellent than theirs.
The author of Hebrews then goes and pulls from a variety of Old Testament passages to demonstrate Christ’s identity and supremacy. See verses 8-9:
But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness. You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness. That is why God, your God, anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your companions.”
First, notice the phrase, “But about the Son, he says….” This establishes what we already knew: that these verses are oriented around Jesus. Now, let’s move on directly to the next verses, 10-12:
And: “At the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; and just like a garment, they will all wear out, and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as a garment, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never come to an end.”
If you are following along with a physical copy of the New World Translation or using the online version at JW.org, you may notice a footnote at the end of verse 12, citing none other than Psalm 102:25-27.
The writer of Hebrews is attributing David’s words about Jehovah in Psalm 102 directly to the Son.
This presents a problem for a unitarian such as yourself. If Jehovah is one being and one person, the author of Hebrews is committing blasphemy by ascribing Jehovah’s attributes to Jesus.
But the biblical Trinitarian will have no problem with this passage, because we believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons who yet share the single, unified essence of God, described in terms of eternality and creatorship in Psalm 102. Unlike unitarians, we properly distinguish between being (what a thing is) and person (who a thing is). You are a human being, but you are also (insert name here). Jehovah is one “what” (that is, God) and three “who’s.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all distinct persons, yet they are all Jehovah, as Jehovah is the name used to describe the one being of God.
According to your position, how can the author of Hebrews ascribe Psalm 102—written about Jehovah—to Jesus? What meaningful counter-interpretation can you offer that would be consistent with both Hebrews 1, which is clearly about Jesus, and Psalm 102, which clearly concerns Jehovah?
Second, you also asked that I explain what Jesus says about himself in John 17. As we know, John 17 is Jesus’ high priestly prayer immediately before he goes to the cross. He is interceding before the Father on behalf of his disciples and all future believers. The New World Translation of John 17:1-5 reads as follows:
Jesus spoke these things, and raising his eyes to heaven, he said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son so that your son may glorify you, just as you have given him authority over all flesh, so that he may give everlasting life to all those whom you have given to him. This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I have glorified you on the earth, having finished the work you have given me to do. So now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”
First, I will make my case from this text, and second, I will respond to an objection that I anticipate.
In verse 5, after first praying “Glorify your son,” Jesus asks the Father, “Glorify me at your side with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.” Consider the audacity of that prayer.
John, recording this for us as a monotheistic Jew, is intimately acquainted with the book of Isaiah. John 12, just a few chapters prior, makes a length argument from Isaiah about why the people rejected Jesus at the end of his ministry. So we know that John is familiar with the text of Isaiah, as was, of course, Jesus himself.
In Isaiah 42:8, the prophet records:
I am Jehovah. That is my name; I give my glory to no one else, nor my praise to graven images.
This text speaks for itself. Jehovah is the one true God; he does not share that glory with any other “gods,” real or imagined. He is unequivocal in saying that no one else deserves his glory.
How then can Jesus ask the Father to glorify him with the glory they shared before creation? Jehovah does not share his glory. Either, (1) Jesus is making a blasphemous request, implying that he is worthy of the glory of the Father himself, in which case the Father would not grant his request, or (2) Jesus and the Father, though distinct in person, are both the one true deity Jehovah, and are thus both fully entitled the Jehovah’s divine glory.
Lastly, I anticipate that you might object to my argument on the basis that Jesus refers to the Father as “the only true God” in verse 3. To you, this excludes the possibility that Jesus is full deity.
But let me remind you of the difference between being and person. Being is what a thing is; person is who a thing is. I have demonstrated from Hebrews 1 and Psalm 102 that the Father and the Son are two distinct persons, yet they are both referred to as the same being—Jehovah God. They are of the same single divine essence.
Thus there is no problem whatsoever with Jesus calling the Father “the only true God” in John 17:3. The Father is the only true God—Jehovah—just as Jesus is also Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit is also Jehovah. All three divine persons can individually be referred to as “the only true God,” because they are.
If you were to claim that Jesus calling the Father “the only true God” excludes Jesus’ own deity, you would be making a gross category error between being and person. We Trinitarians gladly affirm that the Father is the only true God. But on the basis of this passage and others like it, we also affirm that to say the inverse—“the one true God is the Father”—is not all that can be said about God. The full being of God is also possessed by the two other divine persons, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In close, I ask you to show me a tenable interpretation of John 17:5 and Isaiah 42:8, according to your perspective, that does not conflate the being of Jehovah with the individual person of the Father. The categories have different meanings. What you are left with in John 17 is a created being, whom you believe to be Michael the Archangel, blaspheming and asking Jehovah to share his own glory with a subservient creature.
If Jesus is not in nature fully God, then he cannot reconcile us to God. The result is that we are stuck in a futile cycle of good deeds and feverish obedience, as you said in our previous conversation, “fighting the good fight” to keep the faith. While the Bible does exhort us to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:11-12), it is not saying that we must merit our salvation. If that were so, we would be doomed, because every ounce of sin condemns us in the eyes of a holy God. Rather, God himself—in the person of Jesus Christ—suffered under the full weight of his own wrath for all believers. Because he died and rose in our place, our sins are fully atoned for and we can be saved by grace rather than meritorious works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Consider these things, and pray over them. I pray that you see the true glory of Jesus Christ in these texts—the incarnate glory of Jehovah. For if we are wrong about who Jesus is, it does not matter what else we may happen to be right about.
Image credit: Wally Gobetz, CC 2.0