Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Deity of Christ–Part 2

Did Jesus create “all things” or “all other things”?

One of the big points made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, as God’s first created being, Jesus was the avenue through which God created all other things.  One of the places they go to justify this belief is Colossians 1:15 – 17.  Let’s take a look at what this verse says in both the NIV and the NWT:

New International Version (NIV):

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers 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.

New World Translation (NWT):

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,

Note the differences in the two translations.  The NWT includes the word [other] in brackets 4 times.  This difference brings up two questions:

  1. Does the word [other] belong in this passage?
  2. What is the significance of including [other] in these passages?

Let’s deal with each question separately in order to figure out what’s going on here.

Does the word [other] belong in this passage?

Because the New Testament was originally written in Greek (and a little Aramaic), scholars have had to translate the words that we read in English today.  If they hadn’t done that, our only alternative would be to learn to read Greek (which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad idea).  But it’s the translation from the Greek to English that we need to ask about here.  Essentially, we need to find out whether the original Greek translation matches the NWT or other translations (none of which include [other], btw). 

First, the Greek word in question is the word that is translated “all” in the NIV and “all other” in the NWT.  In Greek, the word for this is panta and it means literally “all” or “every” (which is why some translations, such as the New Living Translation, interpret the word as “everything”).  So already we see that the NWT seems to be inserting the word “other” into these verses even though the original Greek doesn’t support this.

Second, is it ever acceptable to add the word “other” into verses that include the Greek word panta?  In fact, there is and it’s important to understand this.  Consider Luke 13:1-3 from the NIV as an example:

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Notice the phrase in verse two, which says “all the other”.  This is also the Greek word panta, but “other” is included.  In fact, compare it with the reading in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB):

1 At that time, some people came and reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And He responded to them, "Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!

You’ll notice that the HCSB doesn’t include the word “other” in verse 2.  So does this mean that other is acceptable, and that the NWT is justified in adding “other” to Colossians 1?

The answer to this is, quite simply, ‘no’.  And the reason for this is obvious.  In Luke 13, the addition of the word “other” is merely a way to clarify the passage.  But in Colossians 1, the addition of “other” changes the meaning of the text completely!  Instead of Jesus being the creator of all things, he merely creates all other things.  And what does this do?  It assigns Jesus to the order of created things.  This is certainly not a clarification of Colossians 1.  Instead, it’s a complete revision of its meaning!

The Greek for Colossians 1 is clear.  It says that Jesus created all things.  It does not proclaim Jesus to be a created being who created all things other than himself.  It proclaims Jesus to be God who created all things.

And if this isn’t enough, even the Kingdom Interlinear Greek translation of this passage indicates that panta means “all” (versus “all other”)!  So when you’re talking with the folks from this group, point them to a copy of their own Interlinear Bible and ask them why there is such a discrepancy between it and their NWT.  They probably don’t even know that this discrepancy exists, and they deserve the opportunity to see this.

What is the significance of include [other] in these passages?

I’ve already mentioned it, but let me say it one more time to be thorough…if the Jehovah’s Witnesses are to maintain their teaching that Jesus is a created being, they must add to the text of Colossians 1.  If they don’t do this, they’re confronted with a passage that declares the deity of Christ, which their faith denies.

So the inclusion of [other] in these passages is highly significant.  It literally redefines who Christ is, and it’s necessary to point out this flaw in the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on your way to helping them see that Jesus is God.

What about Proverbs 8?

When I went through the problems with the NWT interpretation of Colossians 1, I was quickly pointed to Proverbs 8 as proof that Jesus was, indeed, created by God and was part of the effort to create all [other] things.  But does Proverbs 8 say what the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim?  Let’s wrap up today’s post by taking a look.  Below is the NIV version of Proverbs 8:22-31 (the NWT says much the same thing here, so I won’t quote it here):

22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
   before his deeds of old;
23 I was appointed from eternity,
   from the beginning, before the world began.
24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
   when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
   before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the earth or its fields
   or any of the dust of the world.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
   when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
   and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
   so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
   rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
   and delighting in mankind.

Certainly it appears that this talks about God creating someone who was then present with Him during the creation of all other things.  But is that what Proverbs 8 really says?

First, let’s ask ourselves “who is speaking in Proverbs 8?”.  If we go up to the first of the chapter, we get our answer.  Here is what verses 1-4 say (also from the NIV):


1 Does not wisdom call out?
   Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights along the way,
   where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates leading into the city,
   at the entrances, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call out;
   I raise my voice to all mankind.

So who is speaking in this chapter?  Wisdom!  This is poetic language in which wisdom is personified and speaks throughout the chapter.  And even if the Jehovah’s Witnesses want to claim that Jesus and Wisdom are somehow synonymous, notice that Wisdom is described as a woman…certainly, our Jehovah’s Witness friends would deny that Jesus is a woman.  But this is what Proverbs 8 clearly says!

There is one more problem that this verse poses for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Their theology states that God created Jesus and then Jesus created everything else (per Colossians 1).  But even if the interpretation of Proverbs 8 is as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, the verse clearly shows God to be the one who is directly at work in creation.  There is no sense in which God has handed over the responsibility of creation to Jesus (or, Wisdom).  In fact, Wisdom is merely there and watching as God does the creating.  So whichever way you go, this verse undermines the Jehovah’s Witness theology rather than supporting it.

In future posts I’ll talk more about this idea of God creating all things through Christ.

Until then…

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