I’m not sure how this happened with all the barbed wire, “No Trespassing” signs, and roaming attack dogs on the property, but Monday of this week a local Jehovah’s Witness made it to my front door. (Actually, there were two, but I only interacted with one.) Since I would be leaving soon and still had tasks I needed to complete first, I couldn’t manage a long conversation, so I let my visitor know I’d be happy to take whatever literature he wanted to give me on the condition he provide me with his contact information so I could get back to him with questions/comments. Though he was only willing to give me his name and a “care of” address, the address of his Kingdom Hall, I decided that was better than nothing. Below is a modified version of my letter to him. I’ll be surprised if it reaches him and more surprised if he responds, but I felt it my Christian duty to at least write. For purposes of this post, I’ve replaced his name with simply “Witness” and removed all addressing information except “c/o Kingdom Hall.” The original letter included my full contact information, including phone number and email address; this reproduction does not (though such information is readily available).
Metaphorically speaking, many apologetically-minded Christians I know worship at the altar of “scholarly consensus.” Literally speaking, they think “scholarly consensus” (or “scientific consensus” or “consensus” of other “authorities”) should be given great weight regardless of scholars’ piety and presuppositions and regardless of whether scholars’ theories comport or clash with a fully faithful Bible-believing perspective. In addition to making at least a few of them willing to reinterpret Genesis to accommodate the day-age theory, progressive creationism, or theistic evolution, this stance strongly inclines most of them to embrace the critically-reconstructed texts underlying most current Bible versions and to reject the traditional texts brought to us through the Spirit-guided usage of God’s people. (Though this is of course most relevant in the New Testament, where the critics’ favorite text has not changed radically since Westcott and Hort replaced the Textus Receptus, critical changes to the traditional Old Testament text, the Masoretic, are not unknown in modern Bibles.) I therefore expect that many of the apologetically-minded Christians I know will be pulling their hair out when they read what I say on the topic of Bible versions and see how I’ve made use of Trinitarian Bible Society literature. No doubt they will see this as an effort to call someone out of one “cult,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses, into another, the Trinitarian Bible Society/Textus Receptus crazies. Well, sorry if I’ve violated unwritten laws of the Apologists Guild, but my convictions are what they are and conscience requires I conduct myself in accord with them.
All that said, here is the letter:
25 November 2013 (Monday)
Again, my apologies for not being able to speak with you when you dropped by earlier today. Though (as you’ll note from the enclosed card) I don’t normally accept visitors (mainly because I share the residence with others and it is they, not I, who own the property), I respect persons with strongly held religious convictions and regret when circumstances don’t permit me to hear what they have to say. I would love to hear more about your views, or to receive your comments or questions about my views, through email or postal mail (less ideal given postage costs, but acceptable).
As for the question on your leaflet, “Can the dead really live again?,” I, as a Bible-believing Christian, would of course answer “yes.” As Paul wrote to some erring Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:12-19):Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.You may notice that I have quoted from the Authorized Version, more commonly called the King James Version (hereafter, KJV). The only other English version I use with any frequency is the New King James Version (NKJV); though I much prefer the KJV, the NKJV is a tolerable alternative for readers who have not mastered the KJV’s older dialect. Aside from little-used versions like the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21), these are the only English Bibles based upon what I believe are the original-language texts God intends his people to use. Though numerous other versions make a good-faith effort to translate accurately and honestly from their choice of original-language texts, I rarely use those versions because I cannot endorse their choice of texts. (On this subject, I have enclosed for your reference the following Trinitarian Bible Society [TBS] booklets: What Today’s Christian Needs to Know About The Greek New Testament, A Textual Key to the New Testament: A list of Omissions and Changes, God was Manifest in the Flesh 1 Timothy 3.16: Examination of a disputed passage, and Why 1 John 5.7-8 is in the Bible. If you have questions or comments on these booklets, I’d be happy to receive them, as I’m sure TBS itself would be.)
I am aware that Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter, Witnesses) like yourself use the New World Translation (NWT). This is not a translation I can use, however. In addition to being based upon original-language texts I cannot endorse, nothing I’ve so far read about that translation or its translators has inclined me to believe it is a good-faith effort by qualified individuals to translate those original-language texts. Whereas evidence of the expertise and piety of the KJV translators is strong (on this, see the enclosed TBS booklet, The Learned Men: The Translators of the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible in English A.D. 1611), the case seems otherwise with the NWT. Ron Rhodes offers the following summary of scholarly opinion and available evidence. (For ease of reference, I’ve moved his source citations from the book’s endnotes to brackets within the quotation and have specified the note numbers. I apologize if Rhodes’ tone or the reference to “cults” in his book’s title is off-putting. His tone and word choice are not always what mine would be.):Dr. Julius Mantey, author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, calls the New World Translation “a shocking mistranslation” [note 47: Cited in Erich and Jean Greishaber, Expose [exposé?] of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Tyler, TX: Jean Books, 1982), 30]. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, professor of New Testament at Princeton University, calls it “a frightful mistranslation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible” [note 48: Bruce M. Metzger, Theology Today, April 1953]. Dr. William Barclay concluded that “the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translation….It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest” [note 49: William Barclay, The Expository Times, November 1953].While I would never deny an individual the right to independently assess the assertions and underlying arguments of scholars like Mantey, Metzger, and Barclay, the fact that three individuals with advanced knowledge of the biblical languages all deem the NWT a very bad and frankly dishonest translation does not inspire confidence. That the persons who created the NWT appear (in sharp contrast to the KJV translators) to have lacked any expertise in the biblical languages settles matters for me: no one who wants to know the infallible words of God should ever use the NWT. (Concerning God’s infallible words, please see TBS’ The Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, enclosed. Anyone who believes the Bible to be divinely inspired should find this booklet agreeable. It helps make clear how vital it is that no one dare tamper with God’s words, such as by translating them in a way universally condemned by experts in the biblical languages.)
In view of the broad censure this translation has received from renowned biblical linguistic scholars, it is not surprising that the Watchtower has always resisted efforts to identify members of the translation committee. The claim was that they preferred to remain anonymous and humble, giving God the glory. However, such anonymity also prevented scholars from checking their credentials.
When defector Raymond Franz finally revealed the identity of the translators (Nathan Knorr, Frederick Franz, Albert Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschell) [note 50: Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983), 50, n.15], it quickly became apparent that the committee was completely unqualified for the task. Four of the five men in the committee had no Hebrew or Greek training whatever and, in fact, had only a high school education. The fifth—Frederick Franz—claimed to know Hebrew and Greek, but upon examination under oath in a court of law in Edinburgh, Scotland, was found to fail a simple Hebrew test [note 51: Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 124]. (Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions, 94.)
The issue of Bible translations aside, I confess that most of what I have heard about Witnesses’ beliefs comes to me secondhand. One thing I have heard is that Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ was a created being, a former angel made into a sinless but otherwise ordinary human, whose sinless life and sacrificial death only remove the guilt for Adam’s sin, making it possible for persons then to earn their way into God’s Kingdom through good works. This doesn’t make sense to me. All humans commit many sins of their own (“all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23) and even the most “good” of human works are not truly good by God’s perfect standards (“all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6; “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” Romans 3:9-12). Not only would it be impossible for ordinary humans’ good works to remove the stain of their prior sinful works but, as just indicated, ordinary humans never really do any good works. Whereas “good” to God means perfect (entirely holy and pure in motive, as enacted, and in effect), “good” to ordinary humans means, at best, partially good. Even without the burden of Adam’s sin, even without the burden of all one’s own past sins up to the point where one trusts in Jesus, one’s “good” works, because they are never without sinful elements (these “rags” are always “filthy”), could never do anything but ensure one’s condemnation.
This is a serious dilemma. All ordinary humans are stained with sin, and every day, even when they are most diligent in “doing good,” the sinfulness of even their best efforts makes their sin-stain darker (“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3:19-20). Yet, a perfectly holy God could not permit a sin-stained individual into his presence (all offered to him or brought into his presence must be “without blemish,” as the the Old Testament ceremonies emphasize again and again), and a perfectly just God (“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he,” Deuteronomy 32:4; “there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me,” Isaiah 45:21) could not permit a single sin to go unpunished. Forgiveness of sin that is not paid for may be merciful, but it is not just. It is therefore not an option for a perfectly just God, even a God who is also perfectly merciful. If Christ paid only for the sin of Adam, then all humans must be condemned and none can be saved.
Only if there were a way for God to punish every human sin to the full extent perfect justice requires could humans’ sin-stain be removed and God’s Kingdom opened to them. An ordinary human like any any other, even if he never sinned, could not receive the full just punishment for all the sins of all who would ever repent and seek entrance into God’s Kingdom. In fact, since a single sin against the infinite and perfectly holy God would seem to merit (to require if justice is to be served) infinite punishment, the only way a human person could be capable of receiving full just punishment for the sins of other humans would be if that punishment-receiver were not only human but God (and so infinite and thus capable of enduring infinite punishment in finite time). This seems to make completely necessary the doctrine long supported by Bible-believers that Jesus Christ was (and remains) fully God and fully human, the living and true God become a true human individual (God, retaining his divine nature, adding to himself a full human nature). If Jesus Christ was anything less than the infinite and eternal God, whether an ordinary human or some more exalted finite created being, human salvation is impossible and all people everywhere need to resign themselves to their inevitable, inescapable damnation.
The Old Testament seems to understand well that no one but God could do this work: “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour” (Isaiah 43:11); “I am the LORD thy God…there is no saviour beside me” (Hosea 13:4). The New Testament confirms this, referring to “God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 1:1). Yet, the New Testament is also clear that Jesus Christ is our savior: “the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42); “the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). As well, whereas the above-quoted words of Moses say of God that “He is the Rock” (Deuteronomy 32:4), Paul’s words in the New Testament identify Jesus Christ as “the Rock” that saved Moses and the Israelites (“that Rock was Christ,” 1 Corinthians 10:4). The implications of all this are clear: God alone can save; Jesus saves; therefore, Jesus is God. On this subject of Jesus being God, and on related matters such as the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit, please find enclosed TBS’ booklet, The Scriptural Doctrine of The Holy Trinity.
As I’ve already noted, I am happy to receive your questions and comments, about any of the above or any of the enclosures, by email or post. If you’d rather talk in person, we could perhaps arrange to meet at a coffee shop (preferably someplace with cheap, plain coffee; Starbucks is out of my price range). While I’ve always found writing a much more productive way to discuss complex topics (and much easier to schedule), I realize some people prefer talk over text. One additional option, if you should want to discuss these topics “in public,” will be to post comments on my Web page, https://piouseye.com, where I will be posting a modified version of this letter.
Thank you for your time.
David M. Hodges