Rescuing Jesus from the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Two weeks ago I posted some questions from Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW hereafter) about Jesus Christ. I claimed that these questions betray a gross misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity in general, and the role of Christ in redemption specifically. One thing the reader will quickly pick up is JWs really believe that Christians are modalists. Modalism is the ancient heresy which denied the existence of 3 external, distinct, and equal divine persons in the godhead. A modalist claims there is only 1 person in the godhead, but this 1 person appears, manifests, or acts out difference roles. A modalist will usually frame this by the slogan, “Father in creation, Son redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration.”
This is not what the Christian church, nor the Bible, teaches. Nevertheless, JWs insist this is what we believe. In personal conversations with the Witnesses I have had to politely correct them time and time again. So, if this theme pops up in my answers, you’ve been warned.
So, on to our first question:
1. Why is he called the “firstborn” of all creation? Col. 1:15, Rev.3:14
In Colossians 1, Paul refers to Christ as the Creator of all things yet also refers to Him as “firstborn” (Col. 1:15). Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the term firstborn to mean Christ was the first created being. But, to belabor the point, Paul specifically says Christ is firstborn, not first created. First, let’s take a look at the larger context of Colossians 1, and then we’ll zero in on a word study of the specific term firstborn.
If Paul wanted to say Jesus was the first created being of God there was a perfectly acceptable Greek term he could have used, but he didn’t.
According to The Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon of the New Testament the Greek term for “firstborn” (prototokos) means simply the first-born child or sheep, etc. Yet during the period of the NT writings, “it is uncertain whether the force of the element –tokos ["born"] is still felt at all.” During the New Testament period the force of “born” in firstborn was dropped and the emphasis centered on the primacy and preeminence of the person referred to, i.e. first, head, leader, etc.
And this clarifies what Paul (and I would include John in Rev. 3:14) is saying. To call Jesus the “firstborn of all creation” refers to his preeminence over all things. ‘All things’ and ‘all creation’ are parallel terms. He (Christ) is over all things “created, in heaven and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities” (v.16). Christ is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17). Paul bears out this interpretation when He states in verse 18 “that in everything [Christ] might be pre-eminent.” Psalm 89:27 refers to David as God’s firstborn. But clearly David is not the first king. Firstborn here is interpreted by the very next half of the verse, ” the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”
If we allow Paul to define his own terms, and not force our own meaning unto them, we see that Paul doesn’t in any way think of Christ Jesus as a mere creature, a junior partner in creation with the Father.
So the underlying presupposition of this question is fatally flawed, at the linguistic, contextual, and theological level.
Posted on June 2, 2012, in Jesus Christ and tagged Bible, biblical interpretation, Christianity, Cult apologetics, firstborn, Jehovah's Witness errors, Jesus Christ, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.