A Modern Day Version of an Ancient Heresy

John 1

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I received a knock on my front door early on a Saturday morning. There, on my porch to greet me were two friendly gentlemen from the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses who wanted to talk to me about my religious views and how I could experience eternal life.

They gave me a small red book entitled, “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth” and asked me to read it (see photo above). They promised to return the following week and get my thoughts on what I had read.

I was already familiar with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their teachings but I had not read the book they were offering so I agreed to take the book, read it and reconvene the following week for a discussion.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an offshoot organization of Biblical Christianity that traces its roots to a pastor named Charles Taze Russell, who, in the late 1870’s began printing a monthly magazine known as “Zion’s Watchtower”. A few years later, Russell formed the Watchtower Tract Society, which is the publishing arm of what is now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On a number of levels, the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs and teachings don’t seem much different from any other Christian church one might attend. However, when it comes to the person of Jesus, there is a huge difference in what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe compared to the traditional Christian view of Jesus.

I’ve written a number of times (here and here) on why our view and understanding of Jesus matters. The Jehovah’s Witnesses actually teach a view of Jesus that is known as Arianism, which takes its name from an Alexandrian priest from the 3rd century named Arius, who believed that Jesus was a created being, and thus did not possess a divine nature.

Arianism was condemned as heresy by the early church because it denied the divinity of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the modern day torch-bearers of this ancient heresy known as Arianism.

What does any of this have to do with our passage today?

This first chapter of John is rich with imagery and insights into the true nature of Jesus.

Right away, in the first verse, John directly states several things very plainly:

    1. The Word existed in the beginning – implying that Jesus was in existence when nothing existed. This clearly alludes to his eternal nature.
    2. The Word was with God – implying that Jesus is distinct from the Father.
    3. The Word WAS God – implying that Jesus is essentially the same in nature as the Father.

These three ideas form the basis of two long-standing theological doctrines of the Christian church, namely, the divine nature of Jesus, as well as the triune nature of God, both of which the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny.

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses explain this verse (John 1:1)?

The answer is that they don’t. Instead, if you look at their own translation of the Bible (New World Translation), you will see John 1:1 stated this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (John 1:1, NWT)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses change the meaning of John 1:1 in order to fit their preconceived theological view that Jesus is a created being.

The truth is that a Jesus who is not divine is not able to save us. This is why it’s important to understand Jesus for who he really is.

In this passage, we learn quite a number of essential truths about the nature of Jesus.

In addition to the truths that Jesus is eternal and that Jesus is God (from verse 1), we learn from verse 3 that Jesus is the creator of everything:

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

In verse 4, we learn that Jesus is the source of life:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

In verse 12, we learn that those who receive Jesus and believe in His name are granted the rights to become His children:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

And verse 14 tells us that this Jesus, who displays the glory of the One and Only (God) came to earth to dwell among us. This is what theologians refer to as the incarnation – God becoming man and living among us:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If there is any doubt as to the meaning of this verse, that Jesus is indeed God and became a man to dwell among humanity, think about this prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, which describes the future Messiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

The word “Immanuel” literally means “God with us.” One of the names for the Messiah, according to the prophet Isaiah, would be “Immanuel” or “God with us.” That would be a pretty unfitting name if Jesus is not actually God as the Jehovah’s Witnesses assert.

Imagine – the God of the universe, the one who created EVERYTHING and has always existed, the one who is the source of life, this Jesus became a man and dwelt among us!

This concept was absolutely unthinkable to the average person living in the time of Jesus. And yet, the Old Testament prophets predicted it, and the apostle John not only witnessed it, but wrote about it so that we might come to believe in Jesus, receive Him and become His children!


NOTE: For those who might wonder how we know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of John 1:1 is incorrect, first know that no reputable Greek scholar has translated the Greek text the way the Jehovah’s Witnesses do. For an explanation of why their view is not correct, check out this thorough, yet detailed blog post that explains why the traditional biblical translation (“the Word was God”) is the correct translation.


Reflection

What has been your view and understanding of the nature of Jesus?

In what ways does this verse demonstrate to you that Jesus is indeed divine?

In your view, what is the significance about the fact that God came and dwelt among us? 

How would you respond to someone who asserted that Jesus was not God but was a created being? What Scriptures would you use to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed divine?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

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