The Error of the Jehovah's Witness Position that Jesus Christ is a Created Being
The Bible is truth (Psalm 119:142, 151, 160; John 17:17). Truth corresponds to what is reality. See Belsheim, THE BIBLE IS TRUTH, bibletrainingcenter.org website; Douglas Groothus, Truth Decay, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois (2000), p. 63. The above statements are valid when the Biblical text speaks through a correct interpretation.
Most religious groups define themselves by a doctrinal statement that states their beliefs. To be orthodox, a religious group’s core beliefs about the Christian message of the Gospel and Christian mission must align with a Christian consensus. A Christian consensus means, “a specific set of beliefs and teachings that have been judged by nearly all Christians from earliest times to be faithful, necessary expressions of the divine revelation and the apostolic teachings found in the New Testament.” See Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois (2002), p. 41. A religious group whose core beliefs fall outside of orthodox Christianity cannot be called “Christian”. See Olson at pp. 39-41.
In self-proclaimed “Christian” religious systems outside of orthodox Christianity, followers accept falsity as truth. These religious systems take certain passages of the Bible, and twist them past the point of recognition. Yet, because many of the folks who fall for false religious systems do not know how to study the Bible using correct analytical principles, they do not know truth, and hence, cannot recognize error. In a recent blog from Credo House Ministries in the context of the Trinity, Tim Kimberly makes the point that many Christians do not want to know too much about the Trinity, but instead, want a dating relationship getting together an hour week without any requirement to learn. See Tim Kimberly, “Top Ten Theologians -' #4 Athanasius”, Parchment and Pen Blog (October 21, 2011) Credo House Ministries. I believe the same is true for self-proclaimed Christians when it comes to examining the major doctrinal underpinnings of their non-orthodox religion.
For many, they are comfortable in their religion. They do not want to ruin their religious affiliation or understand truth gained through the correct study of the Bible. For some, they experience a religious superiority by being different from mainstream, orthodox Christianity. They believe they are one up on the rest of the world, and it makes them feel good. Therefore, they are content to let their leaders tell them what “truth” is through “Bible study” materials that are mere propaganda. Their leaders do not encourage, much less teach, their followers how to correctly study the Bible so the text speaks for itself. In these groups, the leaders speak for the text.
It seems incredibly risky to blindly trust in a religious leader’s interpretation of the Bible when the Bible is so easily available for study. Yet, it happens time and time again.
It is the purpose of this article, as well as those that follow in CBTC’s EXPOSING ERROR series, to examine the correctness of selected doctrines of certain religious groups. In most cases, the doctrine-under-study impacts the validity of the soteriology of the religious group so that the religious group does not advocate a saving doctrine.
In this article, we look at the Jehovah’s Witness teaching that Jesus Christ is a created being. This issue is important because it would seem that a person who genuinely and intentionally places their trust in a created Jesus is a person who grounds their salvation in a wrong Jesus. For a person to ground their salvation on a wrong Jesus would appear to lead to an eternity in hell unless something changes. Possibly, God has called you to be the one who will present the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to that person who trusts in a created Jesus for their salvation. If so, then you must be ready to discuss the issue (1 Peter 3:15b), which means that you must accurately handle God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
The Jehovah’s Witness Position that Christ is a Created Being and Why Even Address It
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus is a created being, and thus, He is, “… not part of a Trinity”. See page 8 of the August 2010 issue of Awake! Magazine. Based on the Awake! article, one proof text is Colossians 1:15, which is a passage a Jehovah’s Witness will quickly argue to support their position that Jesus Christ is a created being, and hence, cannot be deity. See The Watchman Expositor, Vol. 6, No. 11 (1989); Robert Keay, “A Preliminary Study for Understanding “The Firstborn of All Creation (Colossians 1:15)”, Vol. 1: Christian Apologetics Journal Volume 1. 1998 (1) (2-'11). Matthews, NC: Southern Evangelical Seminary.
To advance a position that Christ is a created being is totally contrary to the basic orthodox Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is deity. The deity of Christ is inherent in the Trinity, which is a bedrock fundamental tenant of Christian orthodoxy. A concise definition of the Trinity is, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England (1994, 2000), p. 236.
One initial reaction upon hearing this Jehovah’s Witness’s argument is to without discussion dismiss it, as well as the one making it, as a cult. Possibly a better approach is to make the effort to better understand Colossians 1:15, and thereby equip oneself to discuss this passage with a Jehovah’s Witness.
One accurately handles God’s Word only through prayerful, humble and diligent study using proper analytical techniques to achieve the fundamental goal of ascertaining the authorial intent, i.e., what did the author intend his original readers to understand? The actual investigative and interpretative activities are called “exegesis”. See Dr. Gordon Fee, New Testament Exegesis Third Edition -' A Handbook for Student and Pastors, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, London (2002), p. 1.
Depending upon the passage, a thorough analysis can be a massive undertaking. A review of books that teach hermeneutical principles proves this point. For example, see Fee, supra; Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral -' A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois (1991); Craig L. Blomberg and Jennifer Foutz Markley, A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2010); and David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina, Inductive Bible Study -' A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2011).
The Importance of Prayer and Humility in Bible Study
It is far beyond the scope of this article to provide a detailed discussion of prayer. Simplistically, prayer is communication between God and His people. Grudem defines prayer as, “… personal communication with God.” Grudem, Systematic Theology at p. 376. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and reveals the things of God for us. See John 16:13-15. It only makes sense that prior to engaging in Bible study, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate our mind to better understand the Scriptures. See Kay Arthur, How to Study Your Bible, Harvest House Publishers (1994), p. 19; Robert A. Traina, Methodical Bible Study, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1952, 1980), p. 13.
Furthermore, a humble attitude is important to good Bible study. James 1:18-21 says that God reveals His truth to those who are humble and willing to receive. See Greg Herrick, How to Study the Bible, Biblical Studies Press, Dallas, Texas (1997, 2003), p. 41.
In summary, one should prayerfully and humbly enter into Bible study asking the Holy Spirit for guidance to better understand God’s truth as revealed through His Word.
The Importance of Context in Bible Study
A critical factor in analyzing a Biblical text is the context, which comprises the historical context and the literary context of the passage. The historical context provides the setting during which the author wrote the text. This is important because when people communicate with one another they have certain shared assumptions in mind that are not set forth in the text. Under the teaching/guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16; 2 Timothy 3:16), the author wrote the text for his intended audience of his day. Here, Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, and not to someone almost 2000+ years removed in time and universes away in culture.
The historical context can be divided into the diachronic (throughout time) aspect and the synchronic (within time) aspect. The diachronic aspect pertains to the history behind the text itself. For example, the diachronic aspect looks at the date, the author, the recipients, and the historical events that affected the writing. The synchronic aspect pertains to the culture of the time. For example, the synchronic aspect includes the manners and customs of the day, as well as the various religious and political systems that form the environment of the particular age in which the text was written.
Secondary sources, e.g., commentaries, textbooks and the like, provide the basis to ascertain the historical context. For this analysis, I considered the following textbooks: D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd Ed., Zondervan, Grand Rapids (2005); Donald Gutherie, New Testament Introduction, (Revised), Apollos, Leicester, England (1990).
The literary context includes the surrounding verses and chapters, the entire book of the Bible in which the text is found, other books of the Bible written by the same author, as well as the entire Word of God. See Kay Arthur, supra, p. 20. The context of the entire Bible relates to the basic hermeneutical principle known as the “analogy of faith”, which means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted so as to be inconsistent or conflictive with clear teachings elsewhere in Scripture. What this means is that when a given verse is capable of two different interpretations and one of those interpretations conflicts with the rest of Scripture while the other is in harmony with it, then the latter interpretation must control. See R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois (2009), p. 51; Article XVII of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Hermeneutics [Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. Oakland, California: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1983].
The Historical Context of Colossians
All one has to do is to survey a textbook or two to appreciate that scholars differ on many historical aspects of most books of the Bible. Those of us who are not Biblical scholars are much richer because of the hard, laborious efforts of these Biblical scholars. However, we should be careful not to get too bogged down in the less pertinent minute details. Here, I will try to remain above the details that do not seem to impact this analysis.
For the purpose of this analysis, we consider that Paul wrote Colossians from a Roman jail in the early 60s A.D. His intended audience was a group of believers in Colossae, which was a town in the Lycus River Valley in Asia Minor. Paul had not started the church at Colossae, but instead, it appears that a man named Epaphras started the church after Paul had sent him there. Epaphras may have been saved during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
Like many new believers, the believers at Colossae came under the influence of, or were at risk of being swayed by, false teachers. These heresies were of such concern to Epaphras that even though Paul was in prison, Epaphras traveled to Rome and sought out Paul for assistance. Paul had never been to Colossae, yet, he wrote a heartfelt letter to encourage the church at Colossae to stay true to what they had been taught.
While it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the exact nature of the false teaching, it appears that it stressed gaining wisdom and knowledge, as well as it may have included strict physical discipline. Whatever the details, one theme was that it diminished the person of Christ to someone less than God. Obviously, Paul considered the threat serious, and he addressed it head on in his letter.
The Methodology of the Analysis of the Literary Context
For this analysis, the first step I took was to consider what Paul wrote in the entire book of Colossians. The goal was to develop some “big picture” observations. I then took a look at the immediate context, i.e., the block of text of which Colossians 1:15 is a part. Finally, I looked at the meaning of the Greek word prototokos translated as “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15.
To conduct serious Bible study, you must be willing to spend the time. Bible study is not a “microwave” activity, but is more like simmering a stew in a crock pot. At the risk of sounding too simplistic, to do your best Bible study you should have a comfortable place to work, and it must have excellent light. At least for me, tired eyes result in a tired mind.
To survey the entire text of Colossians, my first step is not to read the text, but to develop a worksheet upon which I can make notes. My preference is to block copy the text-in-question into word processing. I use e-Sword® format 5, which breaks the text into separate verses. I then format the page to provide about a 3 inch right hand margin and double spacing. There should be plenty of room to make notes. For this study, I blocked copied the book of Colossians using this format.
Now I read the book a number of times. For this study, I slowly and carefully read Colossians many times using the New American Standard Bible (1995 update) English translation. A couple of the times I read Colossians while I was using the elliptical stepper machine. My experience has been that some of my best, most creative insights have come when I have been “cardioing” on the stepper. Sometimes it is beneficial to read at a location away from your normal study desk.
During my initial readings, I try to keep in mind the basic questions of: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? See Arthur, supra at pp. 44-45. Also, I tried to keep in mind the following goals that are along the lines of those taken from Fee, supra, at pages 9-10: (1) Discover everything you can about the recipients of the text. Were they Gentiles, Jews or a combination? What is their relationship to the author? What is their socio-economic situation? (2) Discover everything you can about the purpose. Is the purpose explicitly set out in the text? Is the purpose implied from the text? (3) Note special emphases or concerns that emerge from the text. What words or ideas are frequently repeated? What unusual vocabulary reoccurs? What, if anything, might tell you about the occasion or purpose? As you can see, one wants to ask many, many questions of the text.
Dr. Fee continues with the following suggestions: (4) Work out an annotated outline of the whole book to be revised upon further study. (5) Check your general observations against secondary literature. Here, I checked my observations against the above-cited textbooks by Carson and Moo, and Gutherie.
Based upon my reading of Colossians, I developed five fundamental “big picture” observations.
Five “Big Picture” Observations in Colossians
A sense of urgency -' First, Paul has a sense of urgency to deal with the false teaching that had invaded the church at Colossae. I sensed his urgency because twice in close proximity and at the beginning of the letter, he said that he was praying for the church at Colossae. See Colossians 1:3, 4 and 9. It has been my experience that when someone relates a disturbing situation, one of the first things believers say is that they will pray about the situation. Here, Paul’s comment about praying is an indication of the urgency with which Paul wanted to provide advice to the church. This is consistent with Gutherie, who writes at page 571, “[W]e may certainly conclude that the threat from this false teaching was of such a character that an immediate corrective action was imperative and that this was the real purpose of the letter.” Emphasis added.
Resisting falsehood -' Second, the principal reason for the letter was to counter the false teaching. See Colossians 2:4, 8, 16-17 and 20-23. Colossians 2:4 and 8 [NASB95] seems exemplary of this observation:
(4) I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. … (8) See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. …
To ascertain the details about the false teaching is not an easy task. While the letter makes arguments to address the false teaching, there is no clear statement describing the teaching. See Gutherie, supra, at pages 565-566. Thus, as one can imagine, scholars are all over the ballpark when it comes to details about the heresy. However, it seems that one basic characteristic of the Colossian heresy was that it elevated man and lowered Christ. See Gutherie, supra, at pages 56-569; Carson and Moo, supra, at page 524.
Presenting the Truth -' Third, the supremacy of Christ is Paul’s primary argument against the false teaching. While there may be other passages, the passage of which Colossians 1:15 is a part makes this clear:
(15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (16) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-' all things have been created through Him and for Him. (17) He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (18) He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (19) For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, (20) and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:15-20 [NASB95]
The same is true in Colossians 2:6, 9-10 [NASB-1995],which reads:
(6) Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, … (9) For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (10) and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
This is consistent with what Gutherie writes at pages 571-572:
The epistle contains a high Christology. Christ is pre-eminent over all other creatures and over creation itself. In fact, all things were not only created by him but for him. … Clearly Paul’s purpose is to demonstrate the superiority of Christ, as contrasted with the inadequate presentation of him being advocated by the Colossians false teachers.
Continued diligence -' Fourth, throughout the letter, Paul emphasized the need to learn and continue to learn the truth to avoid falling for false teaching. He pointed out that the Colossians had early on heard and learned the truth, and that they needed to continue to be filled with the truth. See Colossians 1: 6, 9-10, 21, 23, 27-28; 2: 2-3, 7, 20, 22-23; 3:2, 16; and 4:5-6. The mandate to become more spiritually wise as a solution to the false teaching is set forth in Colossians 2:4 [NASB95], which reads:
(4) I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.
New life in Christ -' My fifth basic observation is the emphasis Paul placed to the transformation in the life of a believer, which was due to Christ, from the old life to the new life. See Colossians 1:13-14, 21-22; 2:13-14; and 3:5-15. In my view, one reason Paul included this argument was to remind the believers of the contrast between the old self and the new creature in Christ. Such a contrast highlights the huge change made by Christ in their lives. Emphasizing this change may have been a way to show the supremacy of Christ. After all, who else but God can make such a change in a person’s life.
There is one practical principle that flows from these observations; namely, any teaching that somehow diminishes Christ is heresy. The elevation of mankind, nature, “mother earth”, the stars, gaining special knowledge, and the like at the expense of the Person of Christ falls into this category. This kind of teaching runs counter to the basic orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Any teaching in conflict with the doctrine of the Trinity, which demands the deity of Christ so that he cannot be created, must be challenged without hesitation.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of Colossians 1:15 diminishes the Person of Christ by reducing Him to a created being. Such an interpretation runs counter to the primary argument in Colossians, as well as the fundamental teaching about Christ throughout all of Scripture. A couple of examples will suffice. In Matthew 16:15-17, Jesus thought of Himself as deity when He affirmed Peter’s recognition of Jesus’ deity. In light of the introductory portion of the Gospel of John, the Apostle John considered Jesus to be God. For a general discussion of this issue with a scholar, see Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1998), pp. 131-143.
After looking at the big picture, it seems that the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine that Jesus is a created being is in error. Their proof text of Colossians 1:15 does not support their position. In fact, as we will see, Colossians 1:15 actually supports the deity of Christ.
But, to confirm this conclusion, let’s undertake an analysis of the immediate unit of text, i.e., Colossians 1:15-20, in which this verse is contained including the meaning of the Greek word (prototokos) translated into English in the New American Standard Bible (1995) as “firstborn”.
An Analysis of the Greek Word prototokos
Looking at the meaning of prototokos, it has two basic meanings. See Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., and Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (894). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.>/p>
The first basic meaning of prototokos pertains to birth order. Luke 2:27 uses prototokos in this fashion referring to Jesus as, “… her [Mary] firstborn son”. This is the only New Testament usage in the sense of physical birth. However, the Septuagint, which is the Old Testament written in Greek, uses prototokos in the context of human birth and the birth of animals. Id.
The second basic meaning pertains to the special status, i.e., the supremacy in rank, associated with a firstborn. Id. Besides Luke 2:27, there are seven other usages of prototokos in the New Testament: Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6, 11:28, 12:23; and Revelation 1:5. See George W. Wigram, The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee (1979), 672. None of these usages in conjunction with Christ make reference to His physical birth. The Septuagint (the Old Testament written in Greek) also uses prototokos in reference to the supremacy in rank as in Psalm 89:27 [NASB95], which reads, “I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.”. See Martin, E. D. (1993). Colossians, Philemon. (70-'71). Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press.
The Immediate Contextual Unit of Colossians 1:15
Any analysis cannot read Verse 15 in isolation from the immediate unit of text, i.e., Colossians 1:15-20, in which it resides. The structure shows that verses 16-17 elaborate upon the meaning of verse 15.
Verse 16 makes it clear that Christ is the Mediator at creation so that creatures owe their creation to Him. The reference to Christ’s creative role in creation runs against an interpretation of prototokos in the sense of priority in time.
The priority in time interpretation of prototokos places too much emphasis on tokos, which except for Luke 2:7, is not emphasized in the New Testament when speaking of Christ. Using the priority in time interpretation of prototokos creates a tension between birth and creation (v. 16) since creation and birth are different concepts. To be consistent with verses 16-17, only the supremacy in rank meaning of prototokos is appropriate for verse 15. See Vol. 6: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley and G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (878-'880). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; Larry R. Helyer, Arius Revisited: The Firstborn Over All Creation (Col. 1:15), Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 31:1 (March 1988), p. 63.
Since the supremacy in rank is the better meaning, the Greek word ktsis (translated as creation) appears to be in the genitive of subordination rather than the partitive genitive. This means that the translation requires, “[I]nstead of of supply the gloss over or something like it that suggests dominion or priority.” See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Beyond the Basics, Zondervan (1996), pp. 103-104.
Even the historical development of the word prototokos seems to cut against the Jehovah’s Witness position. In his book The Case for Christ, apologist Lee Stroble quotes D. A. Carson:
By the second century before Christ, there are places where the word no longer has any notion of actual begetting or of being born first but carries the idea of the authority that comes with the position of being the rightful heir. That’s the way it applies to Jesus, as virtually all scholars admit. In light of that the very expression ‘firstborn’ is slightly misleading.
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Zondervan Publishing House (1998), p, 161.
Dr. Carson goes on to say that “rightful heir” would be a better translation.
In sum, the word prototokos as used in Colossians 1:15 can only make reference to the supremacy of the pre-existent Christ. To twist prototokos to refer to physical birth is error.
People sometimes think that if they believe it, their belief makes it true. Such a mindset is false. Only that which is truth corresponds to reality, and thus, is actually true. As discussed at the beginning of this article, God’s Word when accurately interpreted is truth.
Here, when accurately interpreted, God’s Word teaches without equivocation the supremacy and pre-eminence of Jesus Christ. The context of Colossians 1:15, which is critical to any analysis of Scripture, makes this crystal clear. From the broader context of the book itself to the more narrow context of the immediate context, word meaning and grammar, it becomes apparent that prototokos refers to the supreme and pre-existent Christ, and not to a Christ created through physical birth.
This difference is huge because it goes right to the Person of Christ, who is the heart of the Christian faith. To deny the deity of Christ is to deny who Christ really is, i.e., the Second Person of the Trinity. To deny the true identity of Christ is to deny the salvation that God has offered through faith in the real Christ. Denial of God’s offer of salvation is a direct highway to an eternity in hell.
People who are caught up in a religious group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses may be very sincere in receiving, accepting, and arguing the teaching of a created Christ, but salvation does not come by placing one’s faith, no matter how sincere, in a created, non-deity Jesus. This is why it is absolutely crucial to know how to accurately handle God’s Word, and carry it out, so as to not fall for a lie that is a roadway to hell. It can be an eternal mistake to accept hook, line and sinker what someone teaches without careful evaluation of the content. Adopting the practice of thoroughly evaluating a teaching (see Acts 17:11-12) could very well be the filter that makes a difference in one’s eternal destiny.
There is a lot of religious and theological error out in the world. Prior to dismissal of the roll call in the television series Hill Street Blues, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus cautioned the officers to be careful. The same holds true when it comes to theology, be careful out there!