Toni knocked on my door yesterday. She’s a five-foot, 80-year-old woman with a warm grandmotherly disposition. As I opened the door, she gave me a big smile and said, “Well Hello, Matt! I’ve moved, but I wanted to make sure you had someone calling on you.” She then introduced Greg – a much taller gentleman in his late 50’s. “Have you read the booklet I left you? Do you have any questions?”
I love talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s a great deal about them I respect. They’re willing to suffer for their beliefs. They read the Bible. And though they distort some essential Christian truths, there are some things they get right more than the average Christian. Many Christians, for instance, have this idea that our only goal in life is to go to heaven when we die. And while this is true, it’s not the entire picture. The Bible points beyond this intermediate state to renewed bodies in a new heaven and new earth. JWs get that right.
But I can’t just let the JWs off on their false teachings.
Toni and I (and occasionally Greg) ended up talking on my front porch for more than an hour. The topic at first rotated around the JW’s less controversial view that consciousness ceases at death.
She opened her Watchtower magazine and turned to the section answering the question “What happens When you Die?” She then pulled out her gray New World Translation (the distinct “Translation” of JWs) and read from Ecclesiastes 9:5. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.” She next turned to Genesis 2:7, “God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” And from there she jumped to Genesis 3:19, God’s curse for sin, “for you are dust and dust you shall return.” Toni tried to convince me that these verses prove consciousness ends at death. The soul was created with the body and ceases to exist when the body dies.
“No,” I said. “It’s not that clear. What about other passages which indicate that consciousness continues after death, apart from the body – like when a very dead and disembodied, Samuel appears and speaks to Saul in 1st Samuel 28?
“That wasn’t Samuel. It was a demon,” she said.
“Really,” I asked. “because 1st Samuel doesn’t say that. It says it was Samuel that spoke to Saul. I think you’re mistaken in your interpretation.”
The conversation continued in a friendly manner like this for some time. Toni would offer a proof text on a given topic which appeared to undermine some Christian teaching. And I’d counter with another text which undermined her argument.
“The Bible doesn’t disagree with itself,” She chastened with a smile.
“No, it doesn’t,” I said returning the smile. “But it’s not clear in the way you make it out to be.”
But the intermediate state isn’t my concern. I think JWs are wrong on this issue but there are genuine Christians who hold to this idea, and I wouldn’t cease to call them brothers and sisters because of it.
As our conversation continued, I told Toni and Greg, “There are many things I really do admire in your teaching and practice. But there’s just some major issues you totally get wrong and are deal breakers.”
“Like what,” She asked. She had tried to stay away from the topic of trinity.
“Well the Bible says that Jesus is God,” I said.
“How can that be?” She replied. “Jesus said, ‘the Father is greater than I.'”
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe Jesus is God in the same sense God the Father is God. For them, he’s a lesser deity, the first created being through whom God created everything else. And they detest any suggestion that Jesus is Jehovah (God’s name by which He revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites).
This is where there New World “Translation” fits in. In it, they’ve attempted to erase any proof that Jesus is God. For instance, they’ve changed John 1:1 “and the Word was God” to “and the Word was a god.” And they’ve altered Jesus words in John 8:58, “before Abraham was, I am (which is the meaning of God’s name, Jehovah, in Hebrew) to the much less specific, “before Abraham was, I was.”
But the Bible’s more than a list of unconnected verses, a fact they often fail to forget.
“Can I see your Bible,” I asked?
She handed it to me. I turned to Isaiah 9:6 and handed it back to her.
She read aloud: “For a child has been born to us, A son has been given to us; And the rulership will rest on his shoulder. His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
She looked up at me. And somewhat hesitantly said, “Yes, I believe he’s talking about Jesus. But that doesn’t mean Jesus is Jehovah. Jehovah said he would not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).”
“Precisely,” I said. “Can I see your Bible again?”
She handed it back to me. I turned to John 12:36 and read,
“Although he (Jesus) had performed so many signs before them, they were not putting faith in him… The reason why they were not able to believe is that again Isaiah said: ‘He has blinded their eyes and has made their hearts hard, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their hearts and turn around and I heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory, and he spoke about him.
“Who is John referring to,” I asked. “Whose glory did Isaiah see?”
“Jesus,” she replied.
“Right,” I said. “And what passage is John referring to when he quotes Isaiah, “He has blinded their eyes and has made their hearts hard…? Isaiah 6:10, I answered.
I turned to Isaiah 6 and handed the Bible back to her.
“Now in that passage, whose glory did Isaiah see?
She started reading from verse 1. “In the year that King Uz·ziʹah died, I saw Jehovah sitting on a lofty and elevated throne, and the skirts of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were standing above him… And one called to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies. The whole earth is filled with his glory.”
“Whose glory did Isaiah see,” I asked.
Toni closed her Bible and tucked it under her arm. “Well there’s a lot we could talk about, but we really have to be going.”
No joke! It was that quick!
“No, no, no,” I said. “Let’s do another one.”
I reached out and tried to take the Bible from under her arm. She held it there tightly before releasing her grip.