Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria in AD 328, three years after the Council of Nicaea. He was exiled on five occasions and spent most of his life refuting heretical doctrine taught by his contemporary, Arius, who was a presbyter in the same city.
Arius wrote a letter in AD 319 to Bishop Alexander, reasoning that God’s Son, if he was actually his son, could not always have truly existed. Therefore, there couldn’t be equality within the Godhead.
Despite a clear and well defined affirmation on the Trinity in the Nicene Creed in AD 325, Arian teaching has often resurfaced in church history. For example, many pseudo-Christian cults, emerging in the nineteenth century, attacked the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ one way or another.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), in order to propagate their views, use a ‘New World Translation’ (NWT) of the Bible, which contains additions and omissions to Scripture with no valid textual support.
Many of us receive visits from JWs on the doorstep and we need to be ready to give ‘a reason for the hope that is in us’ (1 Peter 3:15). Although there are several major differences between JW teaching and orthodox biblical Christianity, I shall examine just a few fundamental matters.
The JWs teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is not equal with the Father. In the NWT, John 1:1 reads: ‘In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god’. The NWT, by (without textual justification) inserting the word ‘a’, no longer views Jesus as being very God, but simply a god.
However, in the New King James Version (NKJV), the same verse reads: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.
Colossians 1 is an important chapter in Scripture concerning the supremacy of Christ. Again in the NWT words are added without good reason, although this time in brackets!
The NWT version of Colossians 1:15-17 reads: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 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. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist’.
However, the NKJV states: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him’.
JWs affirm that, if Jesus is the firstborn over all creation, then he cannot be an eternal being; he must have been created. Nonetheless, even the NWT’s rendering of John 3:16 —‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his only‐begotten Son’ — states that Jesus was ‘only-begotten’. It is hard to see how they can still argue that Jesus was created.
The objection originally offered by Arius to Christ’s deity was that a son is inherently inferior to his father. Muslims today argue something similar. But huios, the Greek word for son, is used in a variety of contexts and can imply a close similarity of character or nature — it clearly does in Colossians 1.
The JWs also teach that the Holy Spirit is not a person and distinct member of the Godhead, but an invisible force emanating from God. So, in the NWT, Genesis 1:2 reads: ‘Now the earth proved to be formless and waste and there was darkness upon the surface of [the] watery deep; and God’s active force was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters’.
But the NKJV reads: ‘The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’.
There is no textual evidence to justify changing ‘Spirit of God’ to ‘God’s active force’. This JW twist is disturbingly similar to the teaching of Eastern religious philosophies and cults.
The Bible teaches says that the Holy Spirit would teach all things that Jesus spoke to his disciples (John 14:26). He speaks and guides believers into all truth (John 16:13); he can be grieved (Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 4:30), and he testifies (Acts 20:23)
All these statements can only be true of a person. The Holy Spirit is a person within the Trinity and fully God.
Thirdly, the JWs teach that the archangel Michael is Jesus. You may ask, how do they do that? Obviously, if Michael was Jesus, then he would be a created being and not God!
They quote 1 Thessalonians 4:16: ‘For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first’. They claim that the voice of the archangel is the voice of the returning Lord Jesus Christ.
But this does not stand up to scriptural scrutiny. In Hebrews 1:3-4 we read that Jesus ‘sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as he has obtained a more excellent name than they’. Michael may be an archangel, but this Hebrews passage teaches that Jesus is greater than all angels and archangels.
Also, in Jude 9, when Michael went head to head with the devil while contending for the body of Moses, Michael didn’t dare to bring an accusation against Satan, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’
This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when Jesus sternly rebuked the devil, saying, ‘Away with you Satan!’ (Matthew 4:10).
JWs are experienced at persuading others to believe as they do and may expect to be presented by Christians with the counter-arguments provided above. Nevertheless, there are approaches that Christians can helpfully take when responding to JWs on the doorstep.
It can be useful to ask them respectfully whether they actually know the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves. We can still profitably use the Scriptures above by asking JWs how they would understand them, and by taking the discussion on from there.
JWs feel obliged to complete a prescribed number of visitation hours each month. While they may be sincere and have good intentions, you can still ask whether they would reluctantly admit that they are trying to earn their own salvation, and whether they do have a personal assurance of salvation.
It is quite possible that the JWs facing you come from a controlled, ‘heavy-shepherded’ religious environment, which they would be fearful to leave because of perceived immediate and eternal repercussions.
If friendship is offered to them and their questions patiently and thoroughly answered, their trust can be gained, while the truth is being brought to light. Prayer is imperative, since only Christ can save. When finally, on conversion, they are adopted into God’s family, they will need much ongoing spiritual support and encouragement.
At the same time, Christians seeking to win JWs, or those from any other cult, must take heed to their own minds and hearts, because behind every false religious system lie persuasive demonic powers (1 Corinthians 10:20).