The Deity of Christ in the New World Translation: John 12:41

Posted by Clark Bates
June 26, 2017

A cardinal tenet of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine is the belief that Jesus was not God, but a created being.  According to the Watchtower Society,

“God created Jesus before he created Adam. . . As God’s firstborn Son, Jesus was a spirit creature in heaven before he was born as a human on earth.”[1]

While orthodox Christianity and the Watchtower Society differ in many areas, none is more distinct or insurmountable than their denial of the deity of Jesus Christ.  At the root of this doctrine is the Society’s own translation of the Bible, known as the New World Translation.  This translation has been widely rejected by all Greek scholars for its multiple points of deviation and error from the manuscript data, but is cherished within the community of the Kingdom Hall.

That being said, most evangelistic engagements with Jehovah’s Witnesses, devolve into an argument over the deity of Jesus and the proper biblical translation to use.  In my experience, these kinds of debates are fruitless, because they revolve around attacking the Watchtower member’s cherished text, and while this may be justified, given the heretical deviations contained within the book, placing the Witness in a defensive position prevents any real dialogue from taking place.  If we are truly seeking to bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ, it is not an argument we should wish to win, but their hearts.

If I may suggest a better approach, it is far more effective to testify to the deity of Jesus Christ with the Watchtower Society’s own Bible than to run into your house, grab your favorite translation and return for battle.  How is this possible?  The reality is, the deity of our Lord is so prevalent within the text of the New Testament that it practically bleeds from the pages.  Even the Watchtower Society, in spite of their best efforts, cannot overcome this.  One could legitimately point out that it would be impossible for those without the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit to even realize these matters, but perhaps that discussion should be saved for another time.

The focus of this series will be to identify various passages taken from the New World Translation of the New Testament that clearly point to the divinity of Jesus Christ.  The purpose of this endeavor is to aid fellow believers in avoiding fruitless argumentation and open doors for Jehovah’s Witnesses to see the truth from the pages of their own Scriptures.  This week’s passage is John 12:36 – 41.

John 12:36-41

In the New World Translation (NWT), the passage reads:

“ ‘While you have the light, exercise faith in the light, so that you may become sons of light.’ Jesus said these things and went off and hid from them.  Although he had performed so many signs before them, they were not putting faith in him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, who said: ‘Jehovah, who has put faith in the thing heard from us?  And as for the arm of Jehovah, to whom has it been revealed?’ 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.”

Theologically and exegetically, this passage follows on the heels of the triumphal entry (John 12:12-19), and contains several statements from Jesus regarding, not only his manner of death, but the inability of some to believe he is who he claims to be; the Messiah.  While much could be said regarding the theological consequences of the Isaianic quotations and their illumination of the sovereign act of God in hardening the hearts of men and preventing them from seeing the light, that is not the key point of interest for this particular discussion.

John 12:38-40 contain two references from thebook of Isaiah, found in chapter 53 and in chapter 6.  This is a fact also acknowledged in the marginal notes of the NWT.[2]  The use of these passages in Isaiah is quite revealing of the gospel author’s intent for his audience.

Isaiah 53:1; 6:1-3; 8-10

Again, using the NWT, the text in Isaiah reads:

“Who has put faith in the thing heard from us? And as for the arm of Jehovah, to whom has it been revealed?”

Is. 53:1 (NWT)/ John 12:38b

“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; each had six wings.  Each covered his face with two and covered his feet with two, and each of them would fly about with two.  And one called to the other: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies.  The whole earth is filled with his glory.’ . . . . Then I heard the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said: ‘Here I am! Send me!’  And he replied, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘You will hear again and again, but you will not understand; you will see again and again, but you will not get any knowledge.’  Make the heart of this people unreceptive, make their ears unresponsive, and paste their eyes together, so that they may not see with their eyes and hear with their ears, so that their heart may not understand and they may not turn back and be healed.’”

Is. 6:1-3; 8-10 (NWT)/John 12:40

Many will recognize the first quotation as the opening for the famous “Suffering Servant” passage of Isaiah.  This is widely recognized by both orthodox Christianity and the Watchtower Society as a prophetic utterance from the prophet referring to the crucifixion of Christ.  Given that in John’s gospel, only five verses earlier, the Lord is said to be referring to “the manner in which he would die”, the connection to Isaiah 53 is clear and undeniable.

The second quotation is less recognizable, which is why I have chosen to include the opening verses of Isaiah 6 as a means of context and suggest that you do the same if using this particular method of engagement.  In Isaiah 6:1-3 we are given the vision of Isaiah as he enters the heavenly throne room of Jehovah.  It is said that the prophet sees the Lord sitting high and lofty on his throne with a train filling the temple and that his glory can be seen filling the entire earth.  It is a glorious sight.  It is in the presence of Jehovah that the prophet volunteers himself for service and is given the oracle to proclaim to Israel that they will be hardened against the Lord for their sins.

Wait. . .Who’s glory?

In the gospel of John, the author is using the Isaianic as prophetic of the Jewish rejection of Jesus.  It is clear from the citations that the referent in Isaiah is the prophet’s experience with Jehovah, but then comes the intriguing statement of John 12:41,

“Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory, and he spoke about him.”

In John, the antecedent to the pronouns “he” and “him” is Jesus (from v.36b), which means the author is stating that in the heavenly throne room of Jehovah, the prophet Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus.  The only beings revealed by the prophet Isaiah to be part of the heavenly vision are Jehovah, the prophet himself, and several Seraphim (angels).  Clearly the prophet Isaiah could not be Jesus, as he is both mortal and the one having the vision, and Jesus could not be one of the Seraphim, as even the Watchtower Society acknowledges that this would contradict the teaching of Hebrews 1:4-8 in which Jesus is placed higher than the angels, which leaves only one being left in the throne room: Jehovah.  Yet, far from suggesting that Jesus is Jehovah, the apostle John is unambiguously tying Jesus to Jehovah and saying that, while in the presence of Jehovah, the glory spoken of by the angels, seen by the prophet Isaiah, was the pre-incarnate Christ.

Even if the Watchtower member is unwilling to acknowledge this point and suggests that the “he” of v.41 is a reference to Jehovah and not Jesus, the suggestion remains that Christ is the glory of Jehovah.  Why?  Because the Apostle is tying the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, recognized by the Watchtower Society as being Christ, to the throne room passage of Isaiah 6.  This is even more likely given the “dozen or so overtones of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 found within John 12 that show the Evangelist had the Servant Song in mind when he composed the chapter.”[3]

 

The Apostle John is clear, the prophet Isaiah, while in the presence of Jehovah God, was given a vision of His glory, and that glory was the pre-incarnate Christ.

 

Conclusion

What we have done with this post, and intend to do with several that follow, is utilize nothing more than the Bible carried by the Jehovah’s Witness to contradict the fundamental doctrine of the Watchtower Society.  What advantage does this provide?  It eliminates the argument over which translation should be used, and allows the believer to stay in contact with the Society member for the duration of the conversation.  The goal is no longer to show them how their Bible is wrong, but to show them how their Society is wrong about the Bible, and in particular, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

[1] https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-gods-son/

[2] https://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/john/12/

[3] D.A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 450.

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