Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Polytheists? Mistranslation of John 1:1

(Originally posted in 2015 after a conversation with a J-Dub at Starbucks, video file updated)

I realized — after posting on an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness at Starbucks — that I do not have a lot posted on Jehovah’s Witnesses. I do on Mormonism, but not J-Dubs. (During the Iraq War Democrats called President George W. Bush, “Dubya.” I liked this shortening of his name for conversation ease. I transferred this ease over to Jehovah’s Witnesses as “J-Dub.”). So I will post some information via discussions I have had (on-line) over the years. The one I will clean up and post here deals with a quick presentation I give when a J-Dub is in front of a doughnut or coffee shop. All you have to do is memorize John 17:3, John 1:1… and where to go to enforce your point if conversation continues… but still have to get to work.

…The best way to dial in a cult is to see who they say Jesus is.  In Orthodox Christian theology, Christ is eternal.  Jesus is best reflected by this statement: He always was, He always is, and He always will be…  Unmoved, Unchanged, Undefeated, and never Undone!

But in LDS (Mormon) theology, Jesus was born in heaven via sexual relations between Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother; Lucifer is Jesus’ brother, born also via sexual relations between Heavenly Father and one of his many wives.  So, in fact he is not eternal.  Heavenly Father, e.g., God, was once a man as well.  Prior to Heavenly Father being a man, he was born in a heaven to parents as well (he was born via sexual relations in a heaven and a earth).  Therefore, in LDS theology, even Heavenly Father isn’t eternal.  Nor is he unchanging – physically or spiritually – because he was once a man who had to follow a path to becoming his own God.  Also, if Heavenly Father was born to parents, who were themselves born to parents, etc., etc..  Who were the first parents?  How did they get here?

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the first creative act by God – Jehovah – was to create Michael the Archangel.  It was Michael who came to earth as Jesus, and after went back to heaven as Michael.  Both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for their sins.  His death was merely for Adam’s original sin, therefore, the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness must earn their own salvation by doing good works to attain entrance into heaven.  Christianity teaches that nothing man can do can please God.  He is infinitely good, we are not.  This is why Jesus’ sacrifice is so important to Christians: he lived the life we never could.

Okay, let me give you a quick refutation to share with the Jehovah’s Witness when they are at your door.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are very adamant that they are monotheists, that is, they believe in one God.  We do also, but we understand this one God as a trinity… do not get into the Trinity with them, this is the one subject they study the most.  It takes a trained professional like me to refute their attacks on this doctrine. 

You can ask them to turn to one of their favorite verses in their own bible (New World Translation), which is John 17:3:

  • This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you [Greek: that they may know you], the only true God,  and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ (NWT).

At this point you can ask them if Jehovah is the only true God.  Make the point that any other God would be a false God, ask them: so people who believe in a God other than Jehovah believe in a false God?

At this point, when you get them to agree with you that there is only one true God, ask them to turn to John 1:1, which reads:

  • In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God (NWT).

This is the clincher.  Ask them if Jesus is a false God or a true God.  Our Bible doesn’t put the athat I underlined; the Greek literally calls Jesus God Almighty.  They may want to change the subject, or the like.  Just keep pressing the issue – politely – that according to their own Bible they are polytheists (a person who believes in multiple gods), and are not monotheists…

Here is a conversion by an evangelist at a Jehovah’s Witness convention where the idea of John 1:1 and 17:3 are fleshed out:

Remember, J-Dubs consider themselves rabidly monotheistic, but as one scholar says below, “…It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists.” Here is another conversation where the J-Dubs “multiple gods” view is applied to creation (from the 5:12 mark). And of course a CLASSIC presentation by the late/great Walter Martin.

The verses that one should be familiar with are used in the conversation on John 8:58-59. Both verses are worth memorizing defenses of, but the area I want to focus on are the Old Testament verses used in this discussion:

Gordon, Jesus clearly states He is God in John 8:58-59. It doesn’t need any explaining to a first century Jew. But to a 21st century honky (western-Caucasian man / a white boy / cracker), it does need explaining. And as you can see, the first century Jews tried to stone Jesus for claiming such (John 8:59 and John 10:31-33). The first century Jew could not stone a man for claiming to be “in one mind,” or in “the same step” as God. They could only stone him for the blasphemy of claiming to be God, not a god.

John 8:58 needs no explaining if you are familiar with the Bible. But if you are not, and do not understand Exodus 3:14, then you would have to have an explanation. But since you apparently understand Exodus 3:14, then you understand Jesus clear claim to be God. So you have corrected yourself.

In fact, this is what the ENTIRE trial of Jesus was about?! He was on trial for claiming to be God, and this claim eventually led to His crucifixion (Zechariah 12:10).

The talk of who God is should be consolidated as to create more room on the board for the other members.

  • “See now that I, I am He, and there is no God besides Me” (Deuteronomy 32:39 NASB)
  • “Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me” (Isaiah 43:10 NASB)
  • “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8 NASB)
  • “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5 NASB)

So it seems quite clear that when Jesus is called God, or even “a God” in John 1:1 (which John 17:3 says there is only One true God) – and is worshipped like God (which Matthew 4:10 reserves only for the One true God) – one must scratch his head in perplexity.

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses polytheists? They claim not to be, they claim to be monotheists. Mormons are polytheists, or more precisely – henotheists, they admit such (another example of why they are considered outside the “pale of orthodoxy”). The dilemma is (referencing John 17:3) that Jehovah Witnesses have two gods, and this cannot be reconciled with Deuteronomy 32:39 that “there is no God besides me;” or, John 17:3 which states “that they might know thee the only true God;” as well as God almighty calling Jesus God almighty in Hebrews 1:8-10. Alternatively Jesus clear statement to his deity (Godship) in John 8:58 and Matthew 22:41-46 (Jesus Himself making the comparison to Psalm 110:1).

When I talk to JW’s or LDS I drive the point home that Jesus would be a false god if he weren’t “God.” But this is something they can’t accept either… so the Bible must be wrong? But contrary to what Gordon says, Jesus clearly defined himself as – not a God – but thee God of the Shema.

And from Let Us Reason’s site, we find a list of leading and well-respected Greek language scholars ~ some even being quoted at one time as supporting the J-Dubs version in their own publications. I will embolden their names:

WHAT DO GREEK SCHOLARS THINK ABOUT JEHOVAH’S WITNESS TRANSLATION OF JOHN 1:1?

  • Dr. J. J. Griesback: “So numerous and clear are the arguments and testimonies of Scriptures in favor of the true Deity of Christ, that I can hardly imagine how, upon the admission of the Divine authority of Scripture, and with regard to fair rules of interpretation, this doctrine can by any man be called in doubt. Especially the passage John 1:1 is so clear and so superior to all exception, that by no daring efforts of either commentators or critics can it be snatched out of the hands of the defenders of the truth.”
  • Dr. Eugene A. Nida (Head of the Translation Department of the American Bible Society Translators of the GOOD NEWS BIBLE): “With regard to John 1:1 there is, of course, a complication simply because the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION was apparently done by persons who did not take seriously the syntax of the Greek”. (Bill and Joan Cetnar Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses “who love the truth” p..55
  • Dr. William Barclay (University of Glasgow, Scotland): “The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 translated:’. . . the Word was a god’.a translation which is grammatically impossible. It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest. THE EXPOSITORY TIMES Nov, 1985NWT - Interlinear - a god

  • Dr. B. F. Westcott (Whose Greek text [pictured on the left of the graphic which is to the right] is used in JW KINGDOM INTERLINEAR [the NWT text is to the right of Westcott’s Greek text …click to enlarge]): “The predicate (God) stands emphatically first, as in 4:24. It is necessarily without the article… No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true Deity of the Word… in the third clause `the Word’ is declared to be `God’ and so included in the unity of the Godhead.”

The Gospel According to St. John (Eerdmans,1953- reprint) p. 3, (The Bible Collector, July-December, 1971, p. 12.).

“Numerous scholars with true credentials in the Biblical languages have condemned the Watchtower’s New World Translation as a fatal distortion of God’s written Word. For example, see The Bible Collector (July-December, 1971) issue which devotes three articles evaluating the Watchtower scripture.” ~ UK Apologetics

  • Dr. Anthony Hoekema, commented: Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into Modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself (The Four Major Cults, pp. 238, 239].
  • Dr. Ernest C. Colwell (University of Chicago): “A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb; . . .this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas. `My Lord and my God.’ ” John 20:28
  • Dr. F. F. Bruce (University of Manchester, England): “Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with `God’ in the phrase `And the Word was God’. Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicate construction. `a god’ would be totally indefensible.”
  • Dr. Paul L. Kaufman (Portland OR.): “The Jehovah’s Witness people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1.”
  • Dr. Charles L. Feinberg (La Mirada CA.): “I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah’s Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar.”
  • Dr. Robert Countess, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on the Greek text of the New World Translation, concluded that the The Christ of the New World Translation “has been sharply unsuccessful in keeping doctrinal considerations from influencing the actual translation …. It must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work. At some points it is actually dishonest. At others it is neither modern nor scholarly “78 No wonder British scholar H.H. Rowley asserted, “From beginning to end this volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.”79 Indeed, Rowley said, this translation is “an insult to the Word of God.”
  • Dr. Harry A. Sturz: (Dr. Sturz is Chairman of the Language Department and Professor of Greek at Biola College) “Therefore, the NWT rendering: “the Word was a god” is not a “literal” but an ungrammatical and tendential translation. A literal translation in English can be nothing other than: “the word was God.” THE BIBLE COLLECTOR July – December, 1971 p. 12
  • Dr. J. Johnson of California State University, Long Beach. When asked to comment on the Greek, said, “No justification whatsoever for translating theos en ho logos as ‘the Word was a god’. There is no syntactical parallel to Acts 23:6 where there is a statement in indirect discourse. Jn.1:1 is direct.. I am neither a Christian nor a Trinitarian.

DO ANY REPUTABLE GREEK SCHOLARS AGREE WITH THE NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF JOHN 1:1?

  • A. T. Robertson: “So in John 1:1 theos en ho logos the meaning has to be the Logos was God, -not God was the Logos.” A New short Grammar of the Greek Testament, AT. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis (Baker Book House, p. 279.
  • E. M. Sidebottom:”…the tendency to write ‘the Word was divine’ for theos en ho Iogos springs from a reticence to attribute the full Christian position to john. The Christ of the Fourth Gospel (S.P.C.K., 1961), p. 461.
  • C. K. Barrett: “The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ho theos had been written it would have implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity.” The Gospel According to St. John (S.P.C.K., 1955), p. 76.
  • C. H. Dodd: “On this analogy, the meaning of _theos en ho logos will be that the ousia of ho logos, that which it truly is, is rightly denominated theos… That is the ousia of ho theos (the personal God of Abraham,) the Father goes without saying. In fact, the Nicene homoousios to patri is a perfect paraphrase.” “New Testament Translation Problems the bible Translator, 28, 1 (Jan. 1977), P. 104.
  • Randolph 0. Yeager: “Only sophomores in Greek grammar are going to translate ..and the Word was a God.’ The article with logos, shows that to logos is thesubject of the verb en and the fact that theos is without the article designates it as the predicate nominative. The emphatic position of theos demands that we translate ‘…and the Word was God.’ John is not saying as Jehovah’s Witnesses are fond of teaching that Jesus was only one of many Gods. He is saying precisely the opposite.” The Renaissance New Testament, Vol. 4 (Renaissance Press, 1980), P. 4.
  • Henry Alford: “Theos must then be taken as implying God, in substance and essence,–not ho theos, ‘the Father,’ in person. It noes not = theios; nor is it to be rendered a God–but, as in sarx engeneto, sarx expresses that state into which the Divine Word entered by a-definite act, so in theos en, theos expresses that essence which was His en arche:–that He was very God . So that this first verse must be connected thus: the Logos was from eternity,–was with God (the Father),–and was Himself God.” (Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Vol. I, Part II Guardian ‘press 1976 ; originally published 1871). p. 681.
  • Donald Guthrie: “The absence of the article with Theos has misled some into t inking teat the correct understanding of the statement would be that ‘the word was a God’ (or divine), but this is grammatically indefensible since Theos is a predicate.” New Testament Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1981), p. 327.
  • Bruce M. Metzger, Professor of New Testament Language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary said: “Far more pernicious in this same verse is the rendering, . . . `and the Word was a god,’ with the following footnotes: ” `A god,’ In contrast with `the God’ “. It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists. In view of the additional light which is available during this age of Grace, such a representation is even more reprehensible than were the heathenish, polytheistic errors into which ancient Israel was so prone to fall. As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation.” “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ,” Theology Today (April 1953), p. 75.
  • James Moffatt: “‘The Word was God . . .And the Word became flesh,’ simply means he Word was divine . . . . And the Word became human.’ The Nicene faith, in the Chalcedon definition, was intended to conserve both of these truths against theories that failed to present Jesus as truly God and truly man ….” Jesus Christ the Same (Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945), p. 61.
  • E. C. Colwell: “…predicate nouns preceding the verb cannot be regarded as indefinite -or qualitative simply because they lack the article; it could be regarded as indefinite or qualitative only if this is demanded by the context,and in the case of John l:l this is not so.” A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 52 (1933), p. 20.
  • Philip B. Harner: “Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’ This would be one way of representing John’s thought, which is, as I understand it,”that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos.””(Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” journal of Biblical Literature, 92, 1 (March 1973), p. 87.
  • Philip Harner states in the Journal of Biblical Literature, 92, 1 (March 1973) on Jn.1:1 “In vs. 1c the Johannine hymn is bordering on the usage of ‘God’ for the Son, but by omitting the article it avoids any suggestion of personal identification of the Word with the Father. And for Gentile readers the line also avoids any suggestion that the Word was a second God in any Hellenistic sense.” (pg. 86. Harner notes the source of this quote: Brown, John I-XII, 24)
  • Julius R. Mantey: “Since Colwell’s and Harner’s article in JBL, especially that of Harner, it is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 ‘The Word was a god.’ Word-order has made obsolete and incorrect such a rendering …. In view of the preceding facts, especially because you have been quoting me out of context, I herewith request you not to quote the Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament again, which you have been doing for 24 years.” Letter from Mantey to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. “A Grossly Misleading Translation …. John 1:1, which reads ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,’ is shockingly mistranslated, ‘Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god,’ in a New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published under the auspices o Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Statement JR Mantey, published in various sources.

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