SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Was Jesus Raised as a Spirit Creature?
Dialoguing With Jehovah's Witnesses on 1 Corinthians 15:44-50
by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and Brian A. Onken
When witnessing to those who are trapped in a false belief system, one is often confronted with "prooftexts" from the Bible misinterpreted so as to appear to support their erroneous view. The Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) are particularly well-trained to present such misinterpretations of Scripture in a way that makes their arguments seem very plausible. The Christian must learn to redirect the conversation continually back to the context of biblical teaching. A representation of how such a dialogue may progress will be given here.
A good example of this problem is the JWs' use of biblical prooftexts to argue that Jesus was not raised with His physical body, but instead was recreated as a mere spirit and only appeared in materialized bodies to the disciples for their sake. By far the passage to which they appeal most often in this connection is 1 Corinthians 15:44-50.
In particular, the Jehovah's Witnesses focus on the statement that "flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom" (15:50; all quotations from the New World Translation [NWT]). They reason that Jesus must have given up flesh-and-blood physical existence in order to inherit God's kingdom. The Christian can begin his response by pointing out that Paul does not stop halfway through the verse, but continues by saying that "neither does corruption inherit incorruption." This parallel statement shows that Paul's point is that it is the corruption (perishability) due to sin, not our being human, that prevents "flesh and blood" (an idiom for mortal humanity) from inheriting God's kingdom.
For further clarification the next two verses (51-52) should be read, emphasizing Paul's statement (which he stated twice) that "we shall all be changed." The Christian should then point out the different views that are held as to the way in which this "change" occurs.
The JWs believe the "anointed class" of Christians (a special class of heaven-bound Christians which they limit to 144,000) will be "changed" like Jesus by exchanging their physical bodies for immaterial "spirit bodies," while the "great crowd" (a larger class of saved people who will live on earth forever) will be raised with perfect physical bodies.
Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that all Christians will receive the same kind of resurrection body as Jesus (Phil. 3:21), a physical body transformed and glorified to be sinless and immortal. The question must be posed at this point, which view does the Bible here support? Is incorruption and therefore God's kingdom gained, according to this passage, by taking off the physical body, or by putting immortality on it?
Once the JW has agreed that that is the question, he should be directed to verse 53: "For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality." By emphasizing Paul's words "put on," you can help the Witness to see that we must put on to our humanity incorruption and immortality, not that we must stop being human, to inherit God's kingdom. Therefore, it was not necessary for Jesus to give up his physical existence, as the JWs teach.
At this point, the JW may back up to verse 44, "if there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one," to argue that Jesus and the "anointed class" must have "spiritual bodies," which JWs interpret to mean immaterial bodies composed of spirit. In reply, he may be asked to read 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, which says that "a physical man does not receive the things of God," but that "the spiritual man examines indeed all things."
The JW should agree that what Paul means is that a physical man without God's Spirit will not accept the truth of God's word. Yet the contrast here is between the exact same two words (in Greek as well as in English, as can be shown using the JWs' Kingdom Interlinear Translation if necessary).
Clearly, the "spiritual" man in this text has not ceased to have physical existence; the point is that the ultimate source of his life is different from that of the (merely) physical man. In like manner the "spiritual" body of 1 Corinthians 15:44 is not an immaterial body, but one that is energized or enlivened by the Spirit in a way that it was not beforehand. And so this verse also is a prooftext for, and not against, the physical resurrection of Jesus.
The JW may then appeal in this passage to verse 45, where Paul says that "the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit." However, Christians do not deny that Christ is a spirit; they deny that He is a mere spirit, without any physical body. The issue being discussed in 1 Corinthians 15:45 is not the substance of Christ's resurrection body, but the source of its life, as verse 47 makes clear. Adam's life was natural, from earth; Christ's life was supernatural, from heaven. Indeed, "natural" and "supernatural" are excellent translations of the words which the NWT renders "physical" and "spiritual."
That Paul cannot be saying that Jesus is a mere spirit can be verified from Luke 24:39, where Jesus says that "a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as YOU behold that I have." This statement and 1 Corinthians 15:45 cannot both be true unless Jesus means that He is not a mere spirit and Paul means that Jesus is a man whose life is spiritual rather than natural.
The teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, because they are built upon a foundation of prooftexts torn from their contexts, cannot stand up to a careful examination of whole passages of Scripture. For this reason, JWs typically do not work their way patiently through a passage of Scripture, as we have outlined above. Instead, they tend to flit from prooftext to prooftext in a kind of "shotgun" approach.
So Christians seeking to witness to JWs should be prepared to respond either by giving a brief answer to the new prooftext and then returning to the original passage under discussion, or else ask the JW to wait and finish working though one passage before jumping to another. In this way, they can maintain some focus to the conversation and thereby confront the Jehovah's Witness more effectively with the true sense of biblical teaching.
Finally, the Christian should be prepared to follow up a discussion of 1 Corinthians 15 with several other passages of Scripture (such as Luke 24:39, already cited) where the physical resurrection of Jesus is unequivocally stated. Acts 17:31 and 1 Timothy 2:5 both state that the risen Christ is "a man."
Peter cited as proof that the Messiah would rise from the dead David's prophetic statement, "even my flesh will reside in hope" (Acts 2:26, cf. 2:29-31) -- which could not be true of Jesus unless His flesh rose from the dead. In Matthew 28:6, the angel offered as proof that Jesus was risen the fact that the tomb was empty -- which of course was irrelevant if His body was not raised. These and other passages testify unmistakably to the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Reasoning with Jehovah's Witnesses: The Trinity
By Kevin Quick
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that:
a. There is no plurality in the Godhead. (Reasoning From the Scriptures, pp. 136-137.)
b. The Father alone is God. (Reasoning From the Scriptures, p. 218.)
c. Jesus is an angel, the first creation of God. (Aid to Bible Understanding, pp. 919, 1152.)
d. The holy spirit is God's active force, and is not a person. (Reasoning From the Scriptures, pp. 136-137.)
Scriptures commonly used by Jehovah's Witnesses:
Deut 6:4: Hear, O Israel! The Lord [Jehovah] is our God, the Lord [Jehovah] is one [Heb. ehad-a compound unity; cp. Gen 2:21 (one of his ribs), Gen 2:24 (shall be one flesh), Gen 3:22 (man is become as one of us), etc. ... not Heb. yahad-unique].
Q1. Does the Old Testament indicate plurality in the Godhead?
Gen 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Gen 1:2: and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
Gen 1:3: Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
Gen 1:26: Then God said, "Let US make man in OUR image, according to OUR likeness ..."
Gen 3:22: Then the Lord [Jehovah] God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of US, knowing good and evil"
Gen 11:7,9: "Come, let US go down and there confuse their language"... the Lord [Jehovah] confused the language of the whole earth ..."
Gen 18: [Jehovah and two men [angels-19:1] visit Abraham -- a distinction is made between Jehovah and the angels.]
Gen 19:24: Then the Lord [Jehovah] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord [Jehovah] out of heaven ..."
Ex 23:20-23: "See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared, Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say ... My angel will go ahead of you ... I will wipe them out ..."
1 Cor 10:4: and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
Is 48:12,16: "Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. And now the Sovereign Lord [Jehovah] has sent me, with his Spirit."
Is 63:7-14: the Lord [Jehovah] ... he became their Savior...the angel of his presence saved them ... they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit ... he who set his Holy Spirit among them ... who sent his glorious arm of power ... they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord [Jehovah].
Zech 2:8-11: For this is what the Lord [Jehovah] Almighty says: "After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you-for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye-I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that the Lord [Jehovah] Almighty has sent me.
"Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you," declares the Lord [Jehovah]. "Many nations will be joined with the Lord [Jehovah] in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord [Jehovah] Almighty has sent me to you..."
Zech 3:2: The Lord [Jehovah] said to Satan, "The Lord [Jehovah] rebuke you, Satan!"
Q2. In the New Testament do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cooperate collectively?
Matt 3:16,17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22: Jesus ... the Spirit of God descending like a dove ... a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
Matt 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
Luke 1:35: And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
John 3:34,35: "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand."
John 14:26: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my [Jesus'] name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
John 16:13-15: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine [Jesus'] and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
Acts 2:32,33: "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear."
Acts 2:38,39: And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him."
Rom 15:16: to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Rom 15:30: I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.
1 Cor 12:4-6: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
2 Cor 3:4-6: Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Cor 13:14: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
1 John 1:3: our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Gal 4:4-6: But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, both under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
Eph 4:4-6: [There is] one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Heb 10:12,15: But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God ... And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying ...
1 Pet 1:2: ... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood...
a. The Old Testament on several occasions indicates plurality in the Godhead.
b. Individually, the Bible indicates:
1) The deity of Christ [See THE DEITY OF CHRIST]
2) The personality and deity of the Holy Spirit [See THE PERSONALITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT]
3) The deity of the Father [undisputed]
These three factors produce a description of the Godhead in trinity.
c. Especially in the New Testament, these three Persons are repeatedly spoken of as cooperating collectively.