As any Christian apologist knows, there are vast differences between orthodox Christian and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) beliefs. The biggest difference that marks the Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter JW, or plural JWs) is their teachings on the nature of God. According to Dr. William Lane Craig from his “Defenders” (Series 1) podcasts the historic plumbline between orthodox Christianity and heresies has been the Trinity. The JWs do not hold to a trinitarian God while we Christians do. However, in my discussions with JWs, I have found it to be too difficult of a jump to go right into a discussion of the Trinity, just like it is nearly pointless to get into a circular discussion of eschatology with them. Going too far down these roads only delays talking about substantive issues and ultimately getting to the Gospel. Instead, I have found it more effective to present two items of orthodox Christianity to which JWs do not hold- the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Jesus. These two doctrines are better starting points because they provide immediate clear differences that can be exposed in the JWs’ own Bible translation.
Using the JWs’ own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) lends some credence and acceptability to what you are trying to present to JWs. Moreover, these passages that follow below either clearly contradict JW teachings on these topics, or they at least cloud the issue up enough to make honest inquisitive JWs uncomfortable with the theology they have been taught. It is helpful to point out here that most JWs appear to know their Bible better than they actually do, and that is because they study the Watchtower literature (the monthly Awake and Watchtower magazines) more than the Bible itself, sometimes exclusively.
1. The Personhood of the Holy Spirit
The first item I have found helpful to establish is the personhood of the Holy Spirit. JWs believe the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. The analogy most often presented to me by JWs is the spirit of God is like electricity for your house, it (note the impersonal pronoun here) energizes you in the faith but it is not a person. We as Christians believe the Holy Spirit is he who indwells us as believers, interceding and upholding us. Here are a few verses for comparison, and since the verses mostly speak for themselves, I’ll keep my comments to a minimum (with the verses, the English Standard Version (ESV) text appears in RefTagger links while the NWT is provided below):
7 Nevertheless, I am telling YOU the truth, It is for YOUR benefit I am going away. For if I do not go away, the helper will by no means come to YOU; but if I do go my way, I will send him to YOU. 8 And when that one arrives he will give the world convincing evidence concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment: (NWT)
13 However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming. 14 That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to YOU. 15 All the things that the Father has are mine. That is why I said he receives from what is mine and declares [it] to YOU. (NWT)
Note here the New World Translation uses personal pronoun “he” repeatedly for the Holy Spirit, contrary to JW beliefs.
3 But Peter said: “Ananias, why has Satan emboldened you to play false to the holy spirit and to hold back secretly some of the price of the field? 4 As long as it remained with you did it not remain yours, and after it was sold did it not continue in your control? Why was it that you purposed such a deed as this in your heart? You have played false, not to men, but to God.” (NWT)
In this passage is mentioned in reference to God, and therefore orthodox Christians read this as placing the Holy Spirit on equal plane with God, an assumption that remains intact even in the NWT text. Also, persons are lied to, (or “played false” to), not impersonal forces. How can one lie to something like electricity, for instance?
29 So the spirit said to Philip: “Approach and join yourself to this chariot.” (NWT)
2 As they were publicly ministering to Jehovah and fasting, the holy spirit said: “Of all persons set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for the work to which I have called them.” (NWT)
This these two verses from Acts, the Holy Spirit is speaking. Again, persons speak, not impersonal forces.
2. The Divinity of Jesus Christ
Another orthodox Christian teaching that can be defended out of the New World Translation of the Bible is the divinity of Jesus. JWs do not believe Jesus is God or divine, but instead was the archangel Michael before creation. Therefore, Jesus was a created being as opposed to being eternally existent as God, and any such divine appearance or powers were temporal gifts given to him by Jehovah. The following verses counter JW beliefs, and I list them below with a few comments, again mostly allowing the texts to speak for themselves:
6 For there has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (NWT)
The son (Jesus) shall be “Mighty God, Eternal Father,” and yes, this appears in the JWs own Bible!
7 “Why is this man talking in this manner? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins except one, God?” (NWT)
This verse from Mark shows a specifically divine power which Jesus possesses (or claimed to possess) the ability to forgive sins. It was Jesus’ claim to be God that the Jews wanted to kill him, not because he was claiming to be an angel, not because he was crazy. It is inescapable; he was claiming to be God.
1 In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. 2 This one was in [the] beginning with God. 3 All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. (NWT)
This is one of those famous mis-translations by the NWT, where the Watchtower translators added the “a” before “god” that is not there in John 1.1 in the Greek manuscripts. Without the addition of the “a” the author is clearly trying to put Jesus on equal footing with creator God (i.e. Jehovah). Likewise, this passage teaches that Jesus was the agent of creation, and that he was involved in creating all things, a clearly divine power.
18 On this account, indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God. (NWT)
Again, the Jews did not want to kill Jesus because he was claiming to be an archangel, but because he was claiming equality with God as the Biblical text says.
28 In answer Thomas said to him: “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him: “Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.” (NWT)
Here Thomas calls Jesus God and even in the NWT Jesus does not rebuke him, but talks to him about his belief.
Christ Jesus, 6 who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. 7 No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. 8 More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. 9 For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, 10 so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, 11 and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (NWT)
Jesus was in the form of God, and his name is above every name. The addition of “other” clouds the issue more than it rescues Jehovah to be the greater name. Jesus’ name is greatest and everyone bows to him (and in doing so they bow to the Father and the Holy Spirit, i.e. Jesus = Jehovah). Not only that, he is Lord, even in the NWT text, a title usually only reserved for YHWH (Jehovah).
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. (NWT)
Again, Jesus is the image of God, and the creator of all things.
And finally, I save this verse in conclusion because it tends to support both orthodox Christian beliefs presented here about Christ and the Holy Spirit, in addition to being an evidence of the Trinity in the JWs own Bible translation:
18 And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, (NWT)
Even here a few issues come up, Jesus has authority which is obviously divine authority since he is performing divine tasks (creation, forgiving sins, giving life, and judgment). Furthermore, even in the JW Bible they are to baptize in the name of the holy spirit. One of the defenses I get from JWs is the Holy Spirit cannot be a person since he (in their case it) has no name, however their Bible tells them to baptize in the name “of the holy spirit.” All of this is beside the obvious similar and/or equal list of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is clearly trinitarian.
Here I have given a list of Bible verses from the JWs own translation that can be used to prove the orthodox Christian beliefs on the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Jesus. Hopefully you have some defenses in your arsenal to where you can confidently speak with any Jehovah’s Witness when they approach you in your front yard or knock on your door. The two doctrines of the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Jesus are smoother stones since they can be seen clearly in the NWT Bible. At the very least, when JWs are taught the reality of these texts in their own Bible, I pray cracks will open in their theological foundation and they hopefully begin to question the authorities that spoon feed them false doctrine. I pray that any JW who is presented with this information will begin to study what the Bible says itself, instead of relying on what they are told it teaches.