1 COR. 8 AND JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
By Sam Shamoun | Go to Source
Paul draws a contrast between false deities and the Father and Son. Whereas the pagan deities are false, there is to us “one God, the Father”, and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”.
He maintains a distinction of Personality between the Father and Son by assigning a different title of Deity to each, while at the same time distinguishing both from all creation [TA PANTA], each in a different way. Whereas the Father is portrayed as the source of all things, Jesus Christ, the Logos, operates in an intermediate role in both the original creation (John 1:3) as well as the new creation. Jesus said that, “no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), thereby portraying himself as the intermediate agency of true Deity.
Hence, because the many “gods and lords” have no existence as true Deity, the eating of meats which had been sacrificed to idols will not adversely affect the Christian. However, not all Christians have the same knowledge, so some might be stumbled by the “tainted meat”, and those who have knowledge should put love first and never cause their brothers to stumble, it would be a sin to do so. (Ray Goldsmith)
A number of scholars and commentators have persuasively argued that in this verse, Paul is recasting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) in Christian terms. The Shema is the great monotheistic declaration: “Hear O Israel! YHWH, our God, YHWH is one.” In the LXX, this becomes AKOUE ISRAÊL KURIOS hO THEOS hEMÔN KURIOS EIS ESTIN (“Hear Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one”).
YHWH becomes KURIOS (“Lord”) in the LXX. The similarity in language between this verse and 1 Corinthians 8:6 becomes apparent when we set them side by side in the Greek (Deuteronomy 6:4 is on the right; 1 Corinthians 8:6 on the left):
As Richard Bauckham notes:
Paul has reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema…but Paul has rearranged the words in such as way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing not christological monotheism but outright ditheism (Bauckham, p. 38).
Paul has redefined the “God” of the Shema as “One God, the Father,” and the “Lord” of the Shema as “One Lord, Jesus Christ.” As the context is that of religious devotion (whether eating food sacrificed to idols was acceptable or not) and the distinction between pagan deities on the one hand, and God the Father and Jesus Christ on the other, Paul’s appeal to the Shema as a proclamation of how the God of Israel was unique is understandable. What was unprecedented was his inclusion of Jesus in the formula – again it must be stressed in the context of devotion – which could only mean that the Lord God (YHWH) was now to be perceived as including both the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Other scholars who have written on Paul’s reliance on the Shema in this verse include: F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians; D. R. de Lacey, “‘One Lord’ in Pauline Christology,” in H. H. Rowden, ed., Christ the Lord; J. D. G. Dunn, Christology (though Dunn draws a somewhat different conclusion); L. Hurtado, One God, One Lord and At the Origin of Christian Worship; N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant and What St. Paul Really Said; D. A. Hagner, “Paul’s Christology and Jewish Monotheism” in M. Shuster and R. Muller ed., Perspectives on Christology; N. Richardson, Paul’s Language about God; B. Witherington, Jesus the Sage; P. Rainbow, “Monotheism and Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 [unpublished D.Phil. Thesis, Oxford University]; W. A. Elwell, “The Deity of Christ in the Writings of Paul,” in Hawthorne, ed., Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation.
all hmin eiV qeos`o pathr, ex ou ta panta kai`hmeiV eiV auton, kai eiV kurioV IhsouV CristoV, di ou ta panta kai`hmeiV di autou
ALL ÊMIN EIS THEOS hO PATÊR, EX OU TA PANTA KAI hMEIS EIS AUTON, KAI EIS KURIOS IÊSOUS XRISTOS, DI OU TA PANTA KAI hMEIS DI AUTOU
But to us there is one God the Father, from whom are all things and we for Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through Him.
ALLA: This conjunction sets up a strong contrast with the LEGOMENOI THEOI (so-called gods) of the preceding verse. Both the Father and Son form the compound subject (nominatives) as contrasted over against the false deities of paganism. Note the triple contrast Paul makes. First he contrasts the Father and Son against the “so-called gods” with LEGOMENOI and ALLA ÊMIN. Then he separates both the Father and Son from “all things [PANTA]” by priority of existence, but note the different prepositional relationship between the Father and “all things” (out of EK), and between the Lord Jesus and “all things (through DIA)”, thereby Paul maintains a personal distinction within the Godhead. (Ray Goldsmith)
For though there be (kai gar eiper eisi). Literally, ‘For even if indeed there are’ (a concessive clause, condition of the first class, assumed to be true for argument’s sake). Called gods (legomenoi theoi). So-called gods, reputed gods. Paul denied really the existence of these so-called gods and held that those who worshipped idols (non-entities) in reality worshipped demons or evil spirits, agents of Satan (1 Cor. 10:19-21). (RWP)
OTHER VIEWS CONSIDERED
1st Corinthians 8:4-6
A Response to Greg Stafford by Ray Goldsmith
Jehovah’s Witnesses have often cited this passage to prove that Jesus can not be God. “Since the passage reads that for ‘us’ there is ‘one God, the Father’, and since Jesus is not the Father, he cannot be God”…so runs the reasoning. Yet such reasoning is superficial. Robert Bowman Jr., responds as follows:
1 Corinthians 8:6 distinguishes between ‘one God, the Father,’ and ‘one Lord, Jesus Christ.’ The JWs conclude from this verse that since the Father is the ‘one God,’ Jesus cannot be God. But by that reasoning, since Jesus is the ‘one Lord,’ The Father cannot be Lord! (Bowman, Trinity, p. 73).
In view of the above it is not surprising that Witnesses would look for a better way to present the argument. The object here is to save their case by finding a way to remain consistent while denying on the basis of this passage that Jesus can be God. So in what way can Witnesses believe that God the Father cannot be the one Lord? Greg Stafford responds:
First of all, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that since the Father is the ‘one God,’ that Jesus cannot be ‘God’ or ‘a god’ to some degree. Jehovah Witnesses do believe that the description of the Father as the ‘one God’ in this verse shows that Jesus cannot be the ‘one God.’ Simply put, the ‘one God’ is one person, the Father. Similarly, the Father cannot be the ‘one Lord’ of the Christian Congregation, for He had given His Son this position. Of course He can still be considered ‘Lord’in respect to His own sovereignty, but He has relinquished a particular Lordship to His Son, who will exercise this authority until death is no more (Ac 2:36; 1 Co 15:28) (Stafford, p. 200)
Mr. Stafford’s first point is neither here nor there, for Trinitarians do notaccuse the Watchtower of denying that Jesus can be “theos” to some degree, nor was this Bowman’s point. Mr. Stafford’s further point, however, that the one God is one person, the Father,” needs further consideration, for it appears to be based on a premise which remains unproven throughout his discussion.
Mr. Stafford’s reasoning takes for granted that the infinite God can be held hostage to a finite limitation. Thus he begins with the premise that one being equals only one person; he then applies this to his understanding of the passage, then draws the conclusion that since the Father is identified as the one God, only He could be that one God. Yet he realizes that he must find a way to allow Jesus Christ to be the one Lord without that being applicable to the Father or any other Person. Exclusivity on the one side demands the same on the other. At the same time he knows that Scripture reveals the Father as Lord too, both despotes and kyrios (concerning “Sovereign Lord [despotes]” see my discussion on “many gods and many lords,” below), so he adds a qualifier that does not appear in the text. Jesus is the one Lord of the Christian Congregation. He then goes on to deny that the Father is such, saying that the Father “relinquished” this to the Son. We will consider Greg’s qualifier shortly, but first we need to consider the beginning premise that the infinite God can be held hostage to the finite limitation that one being equals only one person.
When does “only” really mean “only”?
Jehovah’s Witnesses often appeal to the language in John 17:3 to justify this premise, where Jesus calls his Father the “only true God,” and at first glance it may appear that they have a point, but all is not what it seems. Similar language appears in the New World Translation at Jude 4, where Jesus Christ is said to be “our only Owner and Lord.” Here the same adjective “only” appears in the same grammatical position (attributive).
Yet immediately the Witnesses have a problem restricting the Owner and Lord to the one Person, Jesus Christ, for they know that Scripture elsewhere clearly identifies a Person other than Jesus as our “Owner and Lord”. How can Jesus be our only Owner and Lord if the Father is also our Owner and Lord? Or, how can the Father be our Owner and Lord if Jesusis our only Owner and Lord? When does “only” really mean “only?” The same logic they apply to John 17:3 would deny that any other person than Jesus Christ could be our “Owner and Lord” according to Jude 4 (NWT). Hence, Jude 4 has become a stumbling block to Jehovah’s Witnesses because they cannot apply the same exegetical principles to it that they require in John 17:3.
As noted above, Stafford adds a qualifying phrase to the one Lord in 1st Corinthians 8: “of the Christian Congregation,” and some Witnesses, seemingly influenced by Greg’s qualifier, have carried it over to the expression “our only Owner and Lord” in Jude 4 (such was the argument of “Student of the Bible,” an independent Witness apologists I debated on several occasions in a Trinity discussion forum on the Internet). This is apparently an attempt to navigate the obvious problem of explaining how more than one Person could be our “Owner and Lord,” when Jude 4 says plainly that one Person, Jesus Christ, is our only Owner and Lord. Thus Witnesses offer up the explanation by adding the qualifier, that Jesus is indeed “our only Owner and Lord of the Christian Congregation,” and therebydenying that the Father is the Owner and Lord of the Christian Congregation. Can this explanation survive the scrutiny of Scripture? Let’s consider a few examples from the NWT:
For all that, the solid foundation of God stays standing, having this seal: ‘Jehovah knows those who belong to him,’ and: Let everyone naming the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.’…If, therefore, anyone keeps clear of the latter ones, he will be a vessel for an honorable purpose, sanctified , useful to his owner, prepared for every good work….but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, along with those who call upon the Lord out of a clean heart (2nd Timothy 2:19-22 NWT, emphasis added).
…if indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation? (1st Timothy 3:5 NWT, emphasis added).
These verses pose an immediate problem for any Jehovah’s Witness who has adopted Mr. Stafford’s qualifier and has thus denied that the Father is the Owner and Lord of the Christian Congregation. The NWT translates kyrios as Jehovah, whom they claim is only the Father. So we see that the Father has not “relinquished” his Lordship or Ownership of the Christian Congregation. The congregation still belongs to him and it names the name of Jehovah. He is their Lord. It is called God’s congregation. What does the WT itself say about Jehovah and his congregation?
And, belonging to Jehovah as it does, it is appropriately referred to as ‘the congregation of God.’—Ac 20:28; Ga 1:13 (Insight Vol. #1, pages 497-498, emphasis added).
He is also appropriately described as ‘the true Lord’ (Isa 1:24) It is at his direction that people are gathered, or harvested, for life. So petitions for more workers to assist in the harvest must be made to him as the ‘Master [Lord] of the harvest.’ –Mt 9:37, 38; see NW appendix, pp. 1566-1568.” (Insight Vol. #2, page 265, emphasis added)
The Watchtower clearly teaches that the Congregation belongs to Jehovah. He is appropriately described as “the true Lord”. It’s at his direction that people are gathered and harvested for life, and petitions for more workers to assist must be made to him as the “Master [Lord] of the harvest”. Thus even the Watchtower Society agrees that the Father has not “relinquished” his Ownership and Lordship of the Christian Congregation!
In addition, one would guess that if Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Father has “relinquished” his Lordship and Ownership of the Christian Congregation, they should have no qualms about praying directly to Jesus as their only Owner and Lord. Yet note what Stafford says about prayer to Jesus:
When Jesus was on earth he left Christians a model of how to pray. In that model Jesus revealed the proper object of prayer,saying, ‘You must pray […proseuchomai], then, this way: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified” (Matt 6:9) (Stafford, pp. 585-586, emphasis added).
Now it is truly remarkable that according to Mr. Stafford the Father has “relinquished” his Lordship of the Christian Congregation, yet remains as the “proper object of prayer,” and the one to whom petitions “must be made,” as the Master [Lord] of the Harvest! Yet the problem only gets worse for Mr. Stafford’s argument. Note the following:
…and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18 NWT, emphasis added).
If it’s “God’s congregation,” and Jesus is not God, how can He call it “my congregation?” How can its members belong to Jehovah if Jesus is the only Owner? Yet if Jesus is the “only Owner and Lord,” and this requires exclusivity, as Mr. Stafford says at 1st Corinthians. 8:6, how can it be called “God’s congregation,” especially if we’re to believe that God has “relinquished” his Lordship and Ownership over it? Mr. Stafford’s apologetic, though an interesting attempt to deflect the implications of Paul’s language, does not harmonize with other Scriptures, nor even with Watchtower teaching.
The attempt to restrict the “one Lord” of 1st Corinthians. 8:6 to Christ’s role as mediator with regard to the Christian Congregation fails to carry conviction, for Christ has operated in the role of an intermediate, not only in regard to the new Creation, but also in regard to the original creation (John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17). Yet because the Logos was the intermediary of the original creation did not mean that the Father “relinquished” his own Creatorship, did it? Of course not. In fact Jehovah Witnesses would argue that the Father was the only Creator.
The same problem crops up with regard to the judgment of all creation. We read in John 5:22 that “the Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son.” So, by using Mr. Stafford’s reasoning should we conclude that the Father “relinquished” the judging to the Son and is therefore not the “Judge?” The answer should be exceedingly obvious, of course not! In fact we are even told that the reason all judging was committed to the Son is “in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” This clearly illustrates how superficial it is to assume that because Jesus is the “one Lord” in 1st Corinthians. 8:6 that the Father can’t likewise be the “one Lord.” He certainly can, just as he can be the Judge of all creation even though he had “relinquished” all judging to the Son. And Jesus says that the reason we must do so is, “so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” Thus, equal honor must be ascribed the titles “Lord” and “God” (another word for “title” is “honorific,” a title ascribing honor to someone). Mr. Stafford argues that “Lord” is a lesser title (see below), but even if is, we must ascribe equal honor to the one who bears it, and thus it must hold Him equal to God in our devotion.
Finally, in Matthew 28:18 Jesus said “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Does this mean that the Father “relinquished” his own Authority in heaven and on earth because it had been given to Jesus? The answer should be obvious again: No he did not!
So, let’s review the evidence from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own bible: First Jehovah knows those who belong to him, they name the name of Jehovah and call on the Lord. The Congregation is God’s, and the Watchtower says, belonging to Jehovah as it does, it’s appropriately referred to as such. And petitions for more workers to assist in the harvest must be made to the true Lord”, Jehovah, as the “Master [Lord] of the harvest. Jehovah is still the Judge, even though all judging has been “relinquished” to the Son. And furthermore, the Father remains as the proper object of prayer.
So, we see that Mr. Stafford’s apologetic offered for 1st Corinthians 8:6 has numerous problems. To say that the Father “can still be considered Lord with respect to his own Sovereignty” is a distinction without a difference, for what is Sovereignty if it does not include Ownership? The truth is that in perfect accord with God’s plan, Jesus was exalted and made Lord, for all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth, not just over the Christian Congregation. But this did not mean that the Father relinquished his own Lordship or Ownership of God’s Congregation any more than he relinquished his Judgeship because he committed all judging to the Son! He still owns the Congregation and its members belong to him and call on his name.
Many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’
Mr. Stafford suggests an interesting relationship between the “gods many and lords many” of 1st Corinthians. 8:5. He points out that within paganism the lords were considered as secondary deities in relationship to the gods. He then points to the contrast with the Father and Jesus Christ, thus suggesting that Jesus should be regarded as a secondary and “lesser” deity as compared with the Father (see Stafford, p. 201).
We may first note that Mr. Stafford provides no evidence from first Century sources supporting his contention that “lord” was a title for secondary, intermediary deities in the Corinthian milieu. He does cite two scholars, Robert Grant and Frederick Godet, but citing scholars merely proves that these scholars held this view (which is itself a problematic assertion, as we shall see below), not that the view is correct. Why did the scholars hold this view? What evidence did they consider? Interestingly, neither Grant nor Godet provide primary evidence supporting “lord” as a title for a lesser deity. In fact, when considered in context, both scholars actually argue that the role of Christ in creation is contrasted with the role of the secondary deities, not their alleged inferior nature.
In the quote Mr. Stafford provides, Grant says, “the work of the Lord Christ is like that of the various demiurgic gods…” (Grant, p. 112, emphasis added). Grant argues, not always convincingly, that Paul is using language and categories of thought borrowed from Middle Platonism, but Grant emphasizes that these categories are not the source of Pauline theology or of later creeds: “We expect to find not the source of Christian theological statements but environments in which Christian statements might be acceptable because not unfamiliar” (IBID, p. 114). I am not entirely persuaded by Grant’s arguments, for while Paul was indeed the “apostle to the Gentiles,” he was also a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” and his language and theology is far more influenced by Jewish thought than pagan, as has been demonstrated by the majority of Pauline scholars writing today (see, for example, N.T. Wright, What Paul Really Said; F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free; Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology; Ben Witherington III, The Paul Quest; J.D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle [I don’t agree with all of Dunn’s “new perspective” on Paul, but his work underlines Paul’s theological foundations in Judaism]).
Nevertheless, Grant stresses that when Paul contrasts Christ as the one Lord with the “mediating Demiurge,” this is in terms of role and not ontology:
From the Pauline epistles we can reconstruct something like the statements of the future creeds concerning the nature and mission of Christ. The hymn in Philippians 2:5-11… Galatians 4:4…. 2 Cor. 8:9. These statements use different metaphors to convey a basic notion of the divine condescension (IBID, pp. 164-165).
He further notes:
“The Nicene Creed…lays emphasis on the one God and the one Lord as in 1 Corinthians 8:6, but now not so much against polytheism as against various heresies” (IBID, p. 168, emphasis in original).
Godet writes that Paul and John: “both emphasize the subordination of the Son in the unity of the Divine life” (Godet, p. 418). He compares 1 Corinthians 8:5 with John 17:3 :
In the two passages, the personal distinction between God and Christ is strongly emphasized, though the community of nature between the two appears from this very distinction, and from all the rest of the books where these sayings are contained (IBID).
Thus, even as Mr. Stafford’s own authorities demonstrate, Paul does not say that the “many lords” of the pagans were secondary or lesser deities by nature relative to the supreme gods, nor does he teach that the one Lord is inferior by nature to the one God. The contrast is in terms of the Son’s mediatorial role, specifically in Creation. Trinitarians embrace the distinction of role and authority delineated in this passage, but not the distinction in ontological nature suggested – but not proven – by Mr. Stafford.
Nor, as we have seen, is the term “Lord” restricted to the ChristianCongregation. The terms “the one God and the one Lord” are used in a context of worship and honor. Why was all judgment “relinquished” to the Son? Jesus says in John. 5:23: “so that all may honor the Son just asthey honor the Father”. And as we’ve seen above, Jesus is not only identified as the one Lord in 1 Corinthians 8:6, but also as our “only Owner and Lord” in Jude 4. The word translated “Owner” is despotes, an old word for ‘absolute master’ (RWP, p.160). This is applied to God in Acts 4:24 and translated “Sovereign Lord” in the NWT. Some Witnesses may try to escape the problem in Jude 4 by pointing to the textual uncertainty, but the attempt is futile for the witness, for note what Mr. Stafford himself says about this passage:
This is not to say that such constructions cannot describe one person with two nouns, for, clearly, in the case of 1 Peter 1:11, 2:20, 3:18 and Jude 4, they do (Stafford, page 409, emphasis added).
So, Mr. Stafford agrees with the “anointed witnesses of Jehovah” who made up the NWT Translation Committee that “clearly” this passage describes one Person, Jesus Christ, with two nouns. And the Committee agreed with Dr. Bruce Metzger that despite many occasional variant readings, the wording of the text has strong manuscript support, (Metzger, p. 657).
Let’s return to Mr. Stafford’s argument. He says that gods were superior divine beings in paganism, while lords were lesser deities. He then argues that the contrast Paul is making is between the “gods” and one true God, the Father; and between the “lords” and the one true lesser, intermediary Lord, Jesus Christ. As I have demonstrated, Mr. Stafford has not established his point regarding the relative ontological distinction between “gods” and “lords” in Corinthian paganism. Moreover, there is evidence to the contrary Mr. Stafford does not address:
“The formula ho kyrios kai ho theos hemon (Rev. 4:11, cf. Jn. 20:28), our Lord and our God, is reminiscent of the title adopted by Domitian (cf. CL 4).” (NIDNTT, Vol. #2, page 514)
Here both terms are applied to the same false god (a deified ruler)!
The WT Society identifies the “many lords” as false deities:
LORD. The Greek and Hebrew words rendered ‘lord’ (or such related terms as ‘sir’, ‘owner’ ‘master’) are used with reference to Jehovah God (Eze 3:11), Jesus Christ (Mt 7:21), one of the elders seen by John in vision (Re 7:13, 14), angels (Ge 19:1,2; Da 12:8), men (1 Sa 25:24; Ac 16:16, 19:30), and false deities (1 Co 8:5)” (Insight Vol. #2, page 265, emphasis added).
So, to carry the analogy over to the Father and Son, we should regard them both as true deity (biblical monotheism) in full contrast to the false deities of the pagans. Mr. Stafford himself admits that both the Father and Son are contrasted against the false deities (gods and lords), yet he only wants to make the Father true Deity, and not Jesus. Can the reader see the inconsistency here? Further, even Trinitarians recognize that Christ is “lesser” in a positional sense in perfect accord with God’s arrangement!
But continuing to follow Mr. Stafford’s analogy, we may note that just as the Father is contrasted against the “gods many” and is therefore the “one God,” so Jesus is contrasted against the “lords many” and is therefore the “one Lord.” Yet again, just as the Father is contrasted against the “many false gods,” and is therefore the “one true God,” so likewise Jesus is contrasted against the “many false lords” (false deities, says the WT), and is therefore the “one true Lord.” But the Witnesses run into a snag at this point. Why? Because according to the WT Society, the “true Lord” is Jehovah! (Insight Vol. #2, page 265; WT Reference Bible, Appendix 1J, page 1569).
Right here is where the Witness position is revealed to be built on a foundation of sand, for they must reason that even though both the Father and Son were contrasted against the false deities of paganism, only the Father is to be regarded as true Deity. On one side of the contrast both the gods and lords are false deities, but on the other side, only the Father and not the Son can be regarded as true Deity, so they say. Thus the inconsistency stands out in bold relief. Whereas the Orthodox position remains consistent by recognizing that Paul contrasted boththe Father and Son against the false deities, so we rightly regard them both as true Deity in agreement with the contrast!
So we see the fallacy of the Witness assumption that the infinite God can be held hostage to the finite limitation that one being can only be one Person. To the contrary, biblical monotheism means that the one God is a plurality of Persons, as indicated even in the very first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:26-27…us make…our image”). Thus we have a plural maker who is God (cf., Hebrews 3:4: “the maker of all things is God”). And since Jehovah’s Witnesses will not deny the Holy Spirit’s participation in Genesis 1:26, we find the same plural maker being presented as the single Authority in whose name believers should be baptized (Matthew 28:19).
In conclusion, it is clear in 1st Corinthians 8:4-6 that both the Father and Son were placed in complete contrast to the false deities of paganism. It is also clear that we should “honor” the Son just as we honor the Father (John 5:23). Therefore both should be regarded as true Deity. And it is abundantly clear throughout Scripture that the Father did not relinquish his Lordship or Ownership of the Christian Congregation. Yet the Bible says that Jesus is also our only Owner and Lord, the one [true] Lord in contrast to the false deities of paganism. (Jude 4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
Addendum: Jesus as mediator
Mr. Stafford cites Robert Bowman’s response to the WT’s brochure “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” (Stafford, 202)
“Bowman states: ‘1 Timothy 2:5 says that Jesus is the “one mediator
between God and men” (NWT), and from this statement the JW
booklet concludes that Jesus cannot be God, because “by definition
a mediator is someone separate from those who need mediation”
(p. 16). But by this reasoning Jesus cannot be a man, either; yet this
very text says that he is a man!”
Mr. Stafford then responds:
“A more complete quotation of 1 Timothy will prove illuminating:
‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the
man Christ Jesus’ (NIV, emphasis added).”
He then goes on to emphasize the positional distinction of the three parties, the one God, the one Mediator, and men, saying that this should lead us to see that “the proper conclusion is Jesus cannot be the ‘men’ (those for whom he mediates), but he was ‘a man’, nor can he be the ‘one God,’ but he can be and is ‘a god.” However, in putting the emphasis on positional distinction, Greg misses the true import of the passage.
The anarthrous anthropos (man) places a particular emphasis on the fact that he identifies with humanity. So since he identifies truly by nature with one side (men, humanity), it is only consistent that he also identifies truly by nature with the other side (God). After all, if he doesn’t need to be truly God to be a proper mediator, he doesn’t need to be truly human either. Yet why did he have to come to earth and spend 30 some years in a human body? Mr. Stafford does not deal with this question, but he should. The answer is so that he could truly sympathize with the human side and thus properly mediate for them knowing what it’s like to actually be human. Likewise, then, on the other side. Jesus was already truly God (not the Father), and as a result of his human experience he could then truly mediate for both sides, knowing what it’s like to be both. In other words, he could truly bridge the gap.
Mr. Stafford’s classification of Christ as “a god” and his attempt to correspond that with his being “a man” fails to make the grade. To be consistent, since Christ identifies truly by nature with the one side (men) as truly human, he should also identify truly by nature with the other side (God) as truly God. But Mr. Stafford’s apologetic stops short of this. He has Christ identifying truly by nature with the one side (men) but not the other (God).
At this point it should be noted that Greg places Paul’s reference to Christ’s being “a man” into the past tense “was a man”. His motivation for this seems obvious. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses he wishes to maintain the WT’s denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ. They teach that after the resurrection Jesus was no longer a man, but his human body was disposed of in some fashion by Jehovah. Hence, any implication that Christ is still a man after the resurrection (even a glorified one!) must be avoided. But the attempt to take this as only an historical reference is quite arbitrary and constitutes a violent removal of the term from its contextual setting.
For example, when Paul says “heis gar theos”, Greg agrees that this should be taken in the present tense (for there is one God), and when Paul further says “heis kai mesites” Greg agrees again that this should be taken in the present tense (there is also one Mediator), but when Paul goes on to identify this one Mediator as “anthropos Christos Iesous”, suddenly Greg departs from the status quo, and arbitrarily rips it from its present tense perspective as he takes the rest of the verse…taking it as only an historical reference to his earthly existence. But the time frame of Christ’s human existence makes little difference to the argument at hand. The bottom line is that Paul emphasizes that by becoming truly human, Christ identifies truly by nature with that side (men), having become truly human himself. Likewise, then on the other side. He had existed as truly God (not the Father) from all eternity, and as a result of his human experience he could then mediate for both sides, knowing firsthand what it’s like to be both!
Therefore Greg’s use of the indefinite article and a small case “g” (a god) reveals his inconsistency. Whereas “a man” would suggest that he was truly human, “a god” would deny that he was truly God. The mistake in the premise shows up in his conclusion. What is the premise? He takes for granted that the infinite God can be held hostage to the finite premise that one Being can only be a single Person, he applies this to the infinite God, and this leads him to classify Christ inconsistently as “a god”, thereby denying that he truly identifies with the one side as he does with the other. Thus we see how the Witness apologetic breaks down in inconsistency. WT theology can not allow Christ to identify truly by nature with both sides in order to bridge the gap between them. They end up with a bridge broken at the farther end. The Witness assumption that positional and personal distinction requires ontological inequality is manifestly erroneous.
The use of the term “one God” does not tell us that ultimately God is “one Person”, rather, as we’ve seen, the WT Society and Mr. Stafford take this for granted. The same context refers to “our Savior, God” two verses earlier (1st Timothy 2:3). This is interesting in light of the fact that as early as the first chapter of the Bible God is revealed to be a plurality of Persons [us make …our image]. Even the WT Society agrees that Genesis1:26 refers to a plurality of Persons, although they seem confused about the Speaker. Note:
“It was to this firstborn Son that Jehovah said: ‘Let us make man in our
image, according to our likeness’ (Gen 1:26).’ (Insight Vol. #1, page 527,
Vl. #2, page 52, emphasis added)
“Reasonably, in the majority of cases God spoke through the Word. He
likely did so in Eden, for on two of the three occasions where mention is
made of God’s speaking there the record specifically shows someone was
with him, undoubtedly his Son (Gen 1:26-30; 2:16, 17; 3:8-19, 22).”…
(Insight Vol. #2, page 53, emphasis added)
The Society does not say whether the Son spoke to himself, or the Father spoke to the Son through the Son (though apparently this is what they mean). Yet the passage makes it plain that man had a plural maker, and this plural maker is identified as God.
Consistent with this, the inspired Bible writer tells us that Jesus claimed equality of nature with God (John 5:18). This infuriated the Jews back then, for they did not believe him. It affects Jehovah’s Witnesses the same way today, for they deny that he even made the claim. Witnesses try to escape the force of John 5:18 by saying that John was merely setting forth the erroneous perception of the Jews. But a few verses later John reveals that all judging was committed to the Son so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22-23). This cannot be explained away as the erroneous perception of the Jews, for Jesus is speaking plainly. Hence, what he says in 5:23 backs up to the hilt what John says he claimed in 5:18 (equality with God). Note how the famous Bible translator Edgar Goodspeed rendered John 5:23:
“…so that all men may honor the Son just as much as they honor the Father.”
So we see that although they are Personally distinct, they are ontologically equal, and the one should be honored no less than the other.
Jesus as the “one Lord”
Mr. Stafford now returns to his discussion of 1st Cor. 8, saying:
“even if the distinction articulated above between the ‘many gods and
many lords’ of the pagans and the ‘one God’ and ‘one Lord’ of Christians
was not implied in the context, the argument given by Bowman would still
be untenable. The fact is that when kyrios is applied to Jesus in the New
Testament it has a much different connotation than when applied to the
Father. One reason for this, which we noted earlier, is because the Father
‘made’ Jesus ‘Lord’, and has ‘exalted him’ to his lofty position. (Ac 2:36;
Php 2:9) The Father is not Lord because of someone else. References to
Jesus as ‘Lord’ must be read with this understanding in mind.”(Stafford
Yet as I’ve already shown, even were such a distinction implied in this context, the situation would still be untenable for the witnesses. Why? Because both the Father and Son were contrasted against the false deities. As shown earlier, the WT Society identifies the many lords as “false deities”, so, following Greg’s analogy, we should regard Christ as true Deity in agreement with the contrast, just as we would regard the Father as true Deity in agreement with the same contrast. But the WT’s theology will not allow the Witnesses to be consistent here.
Further, Mr. Stafford’s point about the term kyrios having a different connotation when applied to Jesus, and his further point about Jesus being “made Lord” by someone else, merely transforms the obvious into a discovery (for him). All sides agree that they are different Persons, and so it stands to reason that they would have different roles. One might argue that since only Jesus died on the cross that the Father was made Savior because of someone else. Yet even though only Jesus died on the cross, does this fact make the Father any less our Savior? Do we owe him any less honor because of it? In fact the Scripture makes it plain that God is our ONLY Savior:
“Turn to me and be saved, all YOU [at the] ends of the earth; for I am God
and there is no one else. 23 By my own self I have sworn—out of my own
mouth in righteousness the word has gone forth, so that it will not return—
that to me every knee will bend down, every tongue will swear…”(Isaiah
45:22-23 NWT) emphasis added
The above could not be more clear. God is our only Savior and there is no one else. Yet the Witnesses step up to tell us that Christ is someone else, and he’s our Savior too! Note what God says: “to me every knee will bend down..”, yet we discover in Philippians 2:10 that the “me” includes Jesus whom the Witnesses say is another Savior…but as we’ve seen, God declared in plain language that there is no other. So no matter what the WT theology requires, we really don’t have another Savior in Jesus; rather theyare the oneand only Savior. Witnesses are afraid to admit this because they know it will lead to the conclusion that theyare also the one and only God.
But returning to Mr. Stafford’s point, because only Jesus died on the cross, does the term “Savior” have a different connotation when applied to him than when applied to the Father, different enough to justify honoring the Father any less than the Son, or the Son any less than the Father? Of course not! In fact we see how the Father is honored when the Son receives equal honor with him (Philippians 2:10-11).
Interestingly Mr. Stafford acknowledges that Jesus has complete authority over God’s people (Stafford, 204). He says:
“Indeed, he is ‘our only Owner and Lord’ (Jude 4; compare Joh 17:6)”.
But he fails to explain how the one Person, Jesus, could be our only Owner and Lord when the Scripture makes it plain that the Father did not relinquish his Ownership or Lordship but retains them, as already shown. Trinitarians have an easy answer for this; they are the one Owner and Lord just as they are the one Savior. A “simple reading” of Isaiah 45:22 makes is very clear that Jehovah is the only Savior “and there is no oneelse”, and Jehovah never lies. Therefore, as our Savior, we should honor Christ as Jehovah just as we would the Father! There are only two options available here. Either we regard Christ as another Savior who is someone else (WT option), or we take Jehovah as including the Son (Orthodox). In harmony with Isaiah 45:22 and many other passages, the latter option is clearly the most reasonable.
So yes they are distinct Persons with different roles, but the Bible teaches us that we should not use that as an excuse to honor or value the one any less than the other (John 5:23). They are ultimately the one God and Lord, our only Owner and Savior, the Jehovah who was alone in the doing of the things mentioned in Isaiah 44:24, and the plural maker called God in Genesis 1:26-27…so Paul places them in utter contrast to the false deities of paganism (1St Corinthians 8:4-6).