Monday, October 31, 2005

The Four Spiritual Laws Revisited

Below is my attempt to summarize God's message to mankind using the motif of the "Four Spiritual Laws". I believe, though there is much I have still to learn, that these more accurately summarize four essential points from Scripture which I would want to convey to someone if it was necessary to condense into four concepts. To review the original Four Spiritual Laws, please visit here. Here is what I offer as a more Biblical version:

1. God is Holy and perfect and set apart from everything else. He exists outside of this world and remains untainted by any of it. His eternal character is pure and without blemish or defect, and His commitment to His own name and dominion and justice is unswerving.

2. God made everything, including you, and has rights over you to prescribe how you ought to be. As your Maker, He has the right to order how you ought to love Him, worship Him, and love others and express that love to them.

3. We have all rebelled against God and sought our own way, and God is perfectly just to condemn us and consider us as enemies. In fact, God has told us that His holy wrath hangs over sinners, that we are cursed, and that there is a day when He will judge the world in righteousness.

4. God, in His abundant mercy, has sent into the world a Mediator, the only Savior for sinners, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live righteously, suffer and die, and rise from the grave in order to secure salvation and pardon and righteousness before God so that, as He has promised, everyone who believes in Him shall be saved. He tells us all to forsake our way of rebellion against Him with our pretended righteousness and trust solely and completely in what Jesus has done to make us right and acceptable before God.

Why I do not begin with "God loves you"

There are a number of reasons for why I do not start out with God's love for us. God's love is very real, but let me list a few reasons why I don't feel it is generally the place we are to begin.

First, the New Testament models given to us for the proclamation of the Gospel do not start with "God loves you". The book of Romans, for example, which is Paul's magnum opus, the Gospel in detailed terms, does not begin with God's love. It begins with a very grim picture of humanity in relation to a Holy and Righteous God.

Second, our problem is not that we are ignorant of God's love. Most anyone you meet on the street that admits to believing in God's existence will also confess that God loves us. There are always exceptions, like with people who feel God has wronged them, but overall even your most ardent pagan will affirm, as they continue on in thier rejection of His majesty, that God loves them and everybody else just the same. God's love is not missing in our thoughts -it is taken for granted. We presume upon it dangerously. We often flatter ourselves with the idea of God's love, almost as though God is here to serve us and be a doting Grandfather to us rather than us serve Him and give Him all of our love and adoration. Have we, in fact, considered that pure and justified wrath awaits us rather than love and comfort?

Third, God's Word reveals a picture that is far more sobering than a warm and fuzzy feeling of God's love. It prefaces the Gospel and gives it context. Without knowing this the ground does not receive the seed. If we are not aware of our hunger, why do we really need the Bread of Heaven? If we do not believe we are sinners who cannot save ourselves, then why do we need Christ Jesus who died for sinners? If we are not all that weary and heavy-laden under the burden of our sin, then why would we ever go to Him for rest? We would not. Many times we proclaim God's message and overlook this fact. It is almost as though we try to guilt people into "accepting Jesus" by painting a pitiful picture of God as One who had such high hopes for us but we really let Him down. Now He is trying to fix everything, but He needs our help -so we should do the right thing and help Him out. The result is a message in which we are called to accept Jesus almost out of pity for Him (like that kid on the team that always gets picked last) while the contrary is actually the truth -He has pitied us!

Fourth, if a mention of God's love is meant to underscore God's free mercy for all who come to Him, then we should just say that. And with this we come back to the same issue as before. What good is the mention of mercy to one who is confident they don't have to absolutely depend upon it? Is that even a place to begin? God's message to us throughout the whole Bible has God remaining on His throne forever. His message alone is a condescension as it is for the simple fact that He would be perfectly just to leave us all without it. There was no rule that said God must grant us the special revelation in the Bible, and there was certainly no constraint upon God to require that He save anyone from the justice they deserve.

What I find attractive in the Four Spiritual Laws but how that attraction tapers off quickly

First, I can appreciate the need to summarize into an easily memorized guide for the dissemination of God's message. It makes it much easier to remember and discuss to have four bulleted points listed in a step-wise manner. It makes it organized, formulaic, simple. It attempts to pick out the essential points of the message. But my appreciation lessens, somewhat, because I see the danger of simplifying the message into a neat little package. Can the message be reduced to a formula? I see good and bad in this. Might there be something missing? When we see Jesus in His ministry, it does not take long to notice that He did not deal with every man in the same exact way, and perhaps we should not. Would we deal with a proud and hardened person, one who rejects the notion that God is just to condemn them or who believes that he is perfectly able to achieve God's favor through his own holy living, in the same way as we would a broken sinner begging God for mercy by telling them that God loves them "thiiiiiissssss much"? It doesn't seem that Jesus did. But again, perhaps as a general guide and summary of the whole scope of God's message it is a useful thing to have.

Second, I see that there is an emphasis upon God's love and how sin has cut us off from experiencing it. Therefore, being redeemed and reconciled to God in Christ brings along the connotation of a restored relationship. In other words, being saved and adopted as a son means you get God. He is our prize. I like that very much because it is true. He becomes our Treasure whom we enjoy forever. However, I am convinced that no man cares about this apart from the Holy Spirit. Telling an unbeliever that they are missing out on God is like telling a shoebox that it is missing out on breathing... or perhaps more accurately it is like telling one of us that we are missing out on the pleasures of cannibalism. The human problem is not that we don't know what we are missing -it is that we don't want what we are missing.

In closing, I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of people who bash the Four Spiritual Laws, but I hope that perhaps this gives place to discussion and thought regarding them. I am sure God has graciously used them to bring many to Himself, and praise God for that. I am not trying to say God is unable to use our feeble means and even perversions to save. I am not saying that those who use the Four Spiritual Laws are lesser brothers in Christ. I am simply saying that if our concern is to glorify God, which should actually be one of our primary motives in evangelism, then we will want to proclaim His message as accurately as we can. What I have attempted to do here is revisit the Four Spiritual Laws and modify them in a way that maintains the basic form and simplicity while adjusting them to include more Biblical content. And after all, it is God's Word that does not return to Him void, so it behooves us greatly to be sure the message we proclaim is from it. But with all of this, maybe I'm just nuts!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Fellowship Makes You Holy

That is... it makes you holy if it doesn't drive you to pull your hair out and run away screaming! Well, I'm partly kidding about that, or at least exaggerating. I am seeing that true, Biblical, Christian, God-honoring, Christ-pleasing, Spirit driven, loving fellowship is a work of grace that sanctifies. We are depraved individuals, and to be in fellowship and still love one another selflessly and with humility and a focus on our common Master is something that can only be explained as supernatural.

It really requires Christ-likeness, especially when being in a brand new church where the beginning and foundations are being laid. It is so, so easy to fall into competitiveness or glory-mongering or you name it. We feel almost as though we are climbing to the top of a new summit and need to jam our flag into the ground so that we can mark and claim our new territory for ourselves -but with the best of intentions, of course. Nothing could be more fleshly, though, and I thank God that He exposes those inclinations to me and gives me a hatred toward them. Otherwise, I cannot see how any church would really stay afloat. It would be full of competition, ego-battles, and contention at all times. People would be envious of not getting in this position or that, hating their brothers, asking all kinds of questions inside that will never be sufficiently answered to quench their own wrath, but will instead only enflame it all the more.

So, it is really good to be in this church with other sinners just like me. It is good that the Lord has been using this to sanctify me (and my wife, from what I see) already. I see it, and I thank God for it. I don't mean like I am some super-saint now. I mean very particularly this: He has used this and the love for His glory in this new church plant to expose and squeeze all manner of selfish motives, contentious desires, pride, hostility, and self-glorification. He has used this new thing in my life, and the life of my family, to create in me a keen awareness and hatred of these things in myself. It is powerful, and yes, supernatural.

It is easy to sit at home and recognize a sinful desire in yourself. You can read a little and pray and ponder spiritual matters in private. But when you are among others in an environment of fellowship and co-labor and worship toward Christ, when those desires would wish to blaze all the more, how can you look at your brother and not be humbled and shamed inside? It is the best kind of shame -shame for sin that leads us to see its cheapness and forsake it.

I am seeing that this is really what it is all about. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why Christ created us as a people who are to love one another and fellowship and worship with one another, even though we are so prone to selfishness and evil in this life. This is a vehicle of conformity to the image of Christ, and it is a supernatural one. It breaks us, humbles us, and constantly brings us to refocus and come back to His feet.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Number Four At Coram Deo

Yesterday was the fourth Sunday service at Coram Deo Church of Grants Pass, Oregon. It was a good day. We were all there setting up and working together to bring it together for another worship service. I feel like half the fellowship is in setting up and taking down each week. A good time.

The message, delivered by Pastor Dale, was on "Biblical church discipline". It was nothing ultimately new to me, but it was refreshing to hear, very thought-provoking, and gave me a clearer vision of Christ's Church. I think people have the wrong idea about church discipline, but man it is so important. Some see it either as something legalistic churches get involved in. It is seen as more "loving" to just let things slide -believing that they will go away and not actually fester and swell within. The other extreme is where people impart their legalistic mentality into it and turn it into some kind of witch-hunt or means to weed out people that we don't like or are not up on our glory-mongering program. :) Sometimes, though, it is done right, or at least close.

So this is good. We have a church that is concerned with lifting up and exalting Christ Jesus, teaching the Gospel, evangelizing the lost, scrutinizing Biblically over a long period of time those who would potentially lead and teach, executing and maintaining Biblical church discipline, and making true disciples -discipline over years and years those who are discipled so that they can turn around and disciple others. Seriously, I'm not sure what more you could ask for, but don't let me think too long because I'm sure I will think of a laundry-list :). I'm really encouraged by the fellowship and by the solid foundation being built for this new church. With all due respect to other churchs, these things along place Coram Deo heads above most other churches.

What is amazing is how intertwined they are. If you don't have qualified elders and teachers, then how can you execute proper and Biblical church discipline -much less actually know what it is? And without Biblical church discipline, how can you guard against people getting hurt or becoming embittered, schisms, false teaching, you name it? For example, where are the qualified elders to call into account the pastors who teach ridiculous doctrines? Many pastors function more like kings in their own kingdom.

Anyway, I'm encouraged. It is tough, and a humbling experience to be involved in a (new) church. Everything is new, and it is easy to succumb to that fleshly tendency to try and scramble and grab up every available corner for yourself. But, praise be to God I am just relaxing, trusting the Lord, seeking opportunities to serve for Christ's glory and not my own. It is a good exercise in battling the flesh as we fight those passions within that would seek to compete with our brothers and sisters (as if it is a competition). Sometimes that comptetitiveness creeps in and you wonder why you feel jealous or envious -not good, but entirely human. I thank God for the whole experience and for supplying His Spirit to guard me, to expose to me the wickedness of those passions within me so that I may forsake them, and to bring me close to Himself and to my wife through this all. I thank God for giving me an ever-growing vision of Christ's Church in all of this.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Third Lord's Day at Coram Deo

For those of you in my vast, huge, enormous audience that don't know, my family and I are involved in a new church plant in our town. It is called Coram Deo Church (click here for the website). Anyway, we just had our third Lord's day as a Christ-worshipping, fellowshipping church in Grants Pass, Oregon. I am really excited about it. The emphasis on the important things in the leadership is what I find the most encouraging and endearing. They are focused on the Gospel, they scrutinize and take time to examine who is truly fit in roles of teaching and leadership, and they are huge on discipleship -and I don't mean some kind of generic relationship-building. I mean real mentorships where men and women are mentored by men and women, respectively, so that in turn they may one day disciple younger men and women in Christ.

Today there really was no sermon, which at first I thought was going to be a bummer, but it was filled with words of wisdom shared from two couples who had just returned from the Desiring God conference on "Suffering and the Sovereignty of God". The things they shared were really powerful. We shared a few texts together and sang songs and prayed, and it was a great reminder of the might and awesomeness of our God -how He ordains harm, pain, trials, suffering, evil even for the sake of our sanctification. We are stripped bare through it, but through it are weaned off of the temporal things and onto our Sovereign and gracious Maker and Savior. It is for our good, as Paul tells us in Romans 8. Far from giving us a reason for a stoic attitude, these truths ground us in the reality of God's sovereign and good purposes for us, His children, in the glorification of Himself through His Son, Jesus.

After that a number of us went to lunch. We talked and shared and fellowshipped some more. It was great. I really treasure Christian fellowship. I always come away, every single time, having learned something, having been humbled, and with a singular desire to pour contempt on my pride and sinfulness and live in more and more obedience to the Lord who saved me and united me with His body. The things we say, though we may not know it, are used by the Spirit to shine light on sin and spiritual truths that we may be gliding gently over from day to day. I know many things people say have that effect on me. They kick the light over in a direction that I was somehow hiding in my flesh. They remind me of spiritual truths in the Word and press the bony finger of conviction in the right spot. Anyway, it is refreshing and truly needed, and I thank God for it.

This Wednesday is the men's group. We met for the first time last week. I am looking forward to more fellowship, more humbling, and more encouragement to live in the duties the Lord has given me with more zeal and love than before. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Careless With Speech

Nothing in-depth today -just something on my heart. I have been thinking lately about how careless I am about my speech. I think "careless" describes it well. I neglect, do not give concern or care toward, the weight of the words that come out of my mouth. I fly off my mouth in various directions without giving it much thought -so, not just careless, but thoughtless also. Some might say, "Oh, you are being too hard on yourself." I don't think I am. I will not say anything for those who say such things. They stand or fall before their Master as well. I am saying that for me this has become a sore issue. It exposes a lot of heart issues -since it is out of the heart that the abundance of the mouth flows.

A few passages come to mind:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:13-14)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Eph 5:1-4)

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? (James 3:8-11)

It is quite a thing to be salt and light - a glorious metaphor used by our Lord. I am so far from them both. I noticed that one of the biggest ways in which we can be salt and light, or on the other hand make ourselves not be, is with our words. Our words really do make or break us. Our actions do, too, but our words flow constantly, even when no action can be observed. It has been said, "actions speak louder than words," and that is true when it comes to things like love or making claims about oneself. That is more about having our actions and our words agree. Our words, our speech, they can in one instant separate us from the world and give honor to Christ or altogether bring reproach upon ourselves and shame Christ's name. Even last night playing a game, my humor, my words followed so quickly down the path of those who do not know the Lord and even reject Him. It followed, and sometimes even led by a few steps, into things that border on vulgar or inappropriate, graceless, unprofitable, brash, even if my company laughed with me.

And many times our company will laugh. It is not always that our company is offended for us to shame Christ or blow an opportunity to distinguish ourselves as salt and light. I long to be one who speaks when it is right to speak and who is silent when it is right to remain silent. I long to be one who graces the conversation with humility and with a godly word. I long to be one who can have a laugh like the best of them but still carefully restrain himself from sliding down the slippery slope into things that are not befitting of the name of Christ nor His servants. I long to be one who, in speech especially, is distinct from the world -not caught up in foolish controversies, not easily swayed into wasting my words on profitless discussions or gossip, not slipping into coarse or obscene humor, not engaging in biting sarcasm or attacks.

Two pictures come to mind. They are not directly derived from these texts, but I think they have to do with the main concepts of Scripture. First, imagine if your words were limited. You only had a single bag of salt. Would you waste this bag of salt foolishly, or would you scatter it wisely where it is needed, not in excess, but just the right amount? Second, imagine that your tongue is not your own. In a true sense, it isn't. But imagine that at the end of each day you must physically remove it and return it to your Master -as if you are just borrowing it for the day. If we are ashamed to return something borrowed, say a car or fine instrument, to its owner after having scuffed it or used it foolishly, how much more shall we be ashamed and consider more carefully how we use our tongue, which must be returned personally to our Master at the end of each day?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The NWT and Inserting Words

In my studies on the New World Translations (NWT), the "preferred" translation for Jehovah's Witnesses (translated by Jehovah's Witnesses), I came across a number of instances where the NWT actually inserts words, in the English, that do not belong. Of course, whether people know it or not, pretty much every English translation inserts words here and there so that the English will make sense. Otherwise, it would sound more like broken English in many places. However, there is an obvious theme when one begins to examine the common insertion of words in the NWT. They are not words that help the English flow more fluently. They are words that actually alter the meaning of the text. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society will defend all of these "translation decisions", of course, but I hope I can demonstrate very briefly that these "decisions" a) are unwarranted and obscure the original language of the Biblical text, and b) have a common theme or agenda behind them.

This is not an exhaustive look, by any stretch, and it focuses on the New Testament, translated from the original Greek. It seems best, for the sake of organization, to separate this brief look into two parts. First, we shall study what I call the "Granville Sharp texts". After that, we shall look at what I call the "[other] texts". While the prologue to John's Gospel technically fits under verses where the NWT inserts words (saying "the word was a god" rather than "the Word was God"), it seems best, given how tremendously packed those verses are, to save it for a separate discussion.

Granville Sharp Texts

We all know that there are rules of grammar for every language, otherwise it would be very difficult to understand what is being conveyed by that language. There is a Greek rule of grammar known to Biblical Greek students and scholars as "Granville Sharp's Rule". It is very simple. It basically says that when two singular nouns, that are not proper names (like Paul or Peter or Timothy), describing a person are found in the same case and connected by "and" (Gr. kai) with the first noun having the article "the" and the second lacking it, both nouns refer to the same person. They form a whole that describes the same person.

An example (2 Pet 3:18):

"but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. " (2 Peter 3:18)

The translated Greek for the bolded text is: tou kuriou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou, which is literally translated. the (tou) Lord (kuriou) of us (hemon) and (kai) Savior (soteros) Jesus Christ (Iesou Christou).

The NWT actually translates this verse correctly. Granville Sharp's rule tells us that the phrase "the Lord of us and Savior" as a whole refers to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is both "Lord of us" and "Savior". Notice "the Lord of us" is not one person, and then "Savior, Jesus Christ" is referring to another person. They both, together, refer to Jesus Christ.

Another example (2 Pet 1:11):

"for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. " (2 Peter 1:11)

This is the same thing. The same exact Greek phrase is found here, and, more importantly, the same Granville Sharp construction. The transliterated Greek, again, is: tou kuriou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou. Again, the NWT follows the grammatical rule and translates this verse correctly. Both "Lord" and "Savior" apply to a single person, "Jesus Christ". There are not two persons in view but one. This is another clear example of a Granville Sharp construction in Peter's second epistle. In fact, there are a total of five Granville Sharp constructions in 2 Peter.

But is the NWT consistent in their treatment of Granville Sharp constructions? No, it is not, unfortunately, and it is indeed suspicious that the verses in which they choose to diverge from this rule of grammar are verses that speak explicitly of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is clear from Watchtower writings that the Jehovah's Witnesses utterly reject the teaching that Jesus is God in human flesh. But as we examine these mis-translations, let us ask ourselves if they are seeking to translate the text honestly in the NWT or if they are seeking to harmonize the text of Scripture with their preconceived set of beliefs.

Here is a text where they overtly deny this grammatical rule. Compare these two translations of 2 Peter 1:1.

"Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith, held in equal privilege with ours, by the righteousness of our God and [the] Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1,NWT)

"Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1, NASB)

The first translation is the NWT and the second is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Excluding the minor differences in the choice of English words in the rest of the verse, the bolded section is different between the two. This is a Granville Sharp construction. Notice how the NWT inserts the word "the" before "Savior Jesus Christ". The word is put in brackets in the NWT text. Notice that for the other Granville Sharp constructions it was not necessary to insert "the" before the second noun in the clause, so why in this particular verse?

It is not for no reason. Notice the difference in meaning when the word "the" is inserted just before "Savior". Suddenly you have "our God... and the Savior, Jesus Christ" -two different people! But this is not what the text says. According to the Granville Sharp rule, the same rule which the NWT translators followed in the other verses from 2 Peter, the terms "God" and "Savior" both refer to Jesus.

Compare the Greek construction from 2 Pet 1:1 to one of the other verses we just looked at, 2 Pet 1:11.

...tou (the) theou (God) hemon (of us) kai (and) soteros (savior) Iesou Christou (Jesus Christ) (2 Pet 1:1)

...tou (the) kuriou (Lord) hemon (of us) kai (and) soteros (savior) Iesou Christou (Jesus Christ) (2 Pet 1:11)

The construction is identical. There is one word different. 2 Pet 1:1 uses the word theou (God) rather than kuriou (Lord). The same rule should very well apply here, but the NWT denies it. Again, why? It is clear that it is because for theou and soteros together (God and Savior) to both refer to Jesus, which Granville Sharp's rule clearly demonstrates, is to assert His Deity -something which the Jehovah's Witnesses reject. There is an inconsistency here that is completely unwarranted, unless you refuse to accept what the text is saying.

Here is one more example from Paul's writings. The text is Titus 2:13:

"looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13)

Again, this is another construction that fits the rule. In the Greek we have: tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou. The basic form includes the words: tou (the)... theou (God) kai (and) soteros (Savior)... Iesou Christou (Jesus Christ). We have two nouns with the first having the definite article "the", the second one lacking it, and the word "and" (kai) in the middle. The rule, again, says that "God and Savior" or fully "our great God and Savior" as a whole refers to the same person, "Christ Jesus".

Not only is there nothing in the context that would make us think this is an exception to Granville Sharp's rule, but there are actually contextual indicators that demonstrate even more that the rule holds perfectly in this verse. The word for "appearing", the Greek epiphaneian, has its usage in the New Testament only in relation to Jesus Christ -to His coming appearing. Paul openly believed and expressed that Jesus is our "great God and Savior".

Some might say, "But there are always exceptions to language rules." Yes, it is true. There usually are exceptions to every rule. But if one goes through the writings of Paul and Peter, who both employ the Granville Sharp construction, you will see that no such exception exists. For there to be a clear exception there would have to be something in the immediate context that demonstrates why following the rule would either make no sense or completely go against the grain of the context. No such exception is found! The Granville Sharp rule holds. Again, the reason why the NWT neglects this rule in certain situations seems fairly obvious -the translators already had it set in their minds that Jesus cannot be God... "our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1). So, they derived an exception to the rule from their theological precommitments, not from the text of Scripture.

The [Other] Texts

The texts we will look at here all have one thing in common. In the NWT, they all have the word "other" or "others" inserted into the English. As we will see, there is no reason that concerns English fluency behind it. The insertion of the word dramatically changes the meaning of the verse away from the original text and toward the theological beliefs of the NWT translators and Jehovah's Witnesses in general. There are three texts we will examine, and I believe it will be obvious what the intent of the NWT translators in inserting these words was. It is important to recognize a theme in this mis-translations. These are not just "errors" or "differences of opinion" or even poor choices of words. These are regular, numerous alterings to the clear English translation in order to deny a single conclusion. It will be clear to see what that single conclusion is, just as it was with the Granville Sharp texts we just examined.

The first verse we will look at is Acts 10:36. In the NWT the text reads:

"He sent out the word to the sons of Israel to declare to them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ: this One is Lord of all [others]." (Acts 10:36 NWT)

Like with the insertion of the word "the" in the Granville Sharp cases, here is a bracketed word that is admittedly not found in the original language. Their own Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT) bears witness to this fact. Immediately ask yourself the difference between saying that "Jesus is the Lord of all" and "Jesus is the Lord of all others". Can you see it? If Jesus is the Lord of all, then that is something that belongs to God only. If Jesus is the Lord of all others, then Jesus is the Lord of all creation, but God, the true Lord of all, is still Lord of Jesus. The insertion of the word others demotes Jesus to being an exalted creature, a created thing that is given lordship over all other created things, but certainly not Lord of all -for only God is Lord of all. It places Jesus above other things, but still among them and the same as them, by nature, but below God. This is what the Jehovah's Witnesses teach, but it is not what the text says.

Here is an example that demonstrates the difference:

Sue is at the farm among many pigs.
Sue is at the farm among many other pigs.

In the first sentence, your impression of Sue is perhaps that she is a hired-hand, some kind of farm worker, or possibly another animal. She is distinguished, though not explicitly, from the "many pigs" she is among. However, in the second sentence, Sue is one pig among many others. Maybe there is something special about her that has not been made known yet, but the presence of the word "other" still makes Sue a pig. It is the same thing in this text with Jesus and with the remainder of the similar contexts that insert this word "other". The difference in meaning is clear, and if the the word "others" is not in the original Biblical text, then it begs the question as to why one would put it in. Since the Jehovah's Witnesses (and hence the NWT translators) reject the Deity of Christ and believe Jesus was an exalted creature, the first one created, you can see why they may want to get around the clear implication of the text and insert a word that does not belong.

The next text we will examine is Philppians 2:9. The NWT reads:

"For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, " (Phil 2:9 NWT)

This is another example of the same thing. There is a personal distinction between God (who is God the Father, as shown in v.11) and Jesus, and since the translators of the NWT deny the tri-unity of God, that there is One Being consisting of three Persons, the translators inserted the word "other". If Jesus has a name above every name, then, again, that is something that belongs to God alone. That is a position of glory that belongs to no creature.

The Psalmist wrote of the name of the LORD, YHWH (or "Jehovah"):

"Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven." (Ps 148:13, emphasis mine)

Yet, if we accept the NWT and Jesus has been given a name that is above every other name, then Jesus is still less than God, a mere exalted creature. There is still God's name that is excluded and high above the name of Jesus. Jesus, at best, would have a name that is below God's but above all other created things. So, you can see that the insertion of the word "other" drastically changes the impression the text gives about the status and nature of Christ. The 1985 version of the Watchtower's Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT) shows the word "other" in brackets, indicating that it is not found in the original Greek. However, in the 1969 version of the KIT it was not in brackets. If we leave the text alone, we are left with a very powerful truth. Paul is not calling us into idolatry by exalting the name of Jesus above every name. Paul is saying that Jesus is Jehovah, Jehovah the Son. He shares the very name of YHWH which "alone is exalted" (Ps 148:13).

The last text we will look at involves repeated insertions of the word "other". It is Col 1:15-17. The NWT reads:

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. 17 Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist, (Col 1:15-17)

Since this passage is so jam-packed, it may be useful to look at what the verse is saying as a whole before looking at what the NWT translators are trying to make it say by inserting the word "other" a total of four times.

The passage begins by quickly asserting that Jesus is the "image" of the invisible God. The word for "image", the Greek eikon, implies more than likeness. Vincent's Word Studies says, "Image is more than likeness, which may be superficial and incidental. It implies a prototype, and embodies the essential verity of its prototype." There are other verses which exemplify the same truth that Jesus is the revelation of the Father (see John 1:18). This corresponds to why John (John 12:41) explains Isaiah's vision of Jehovah (Isaiah 6) as a vision of Jesus.

Next we come to the phrase that identifies Jesus as the "firstborn of all creation". Some English translations say "over all creation", and I believe the context supports this. The term "firstborn" is the Greek word prototokos. Jehovah's Witness theology understands Jesus as being the first-created being. So, their understanding of prototokos falls in line with this: literally understanding it to mean that Jesus is the "first thing created" of all other created things. But the Bible's own understanding of the title "firstborn" has nothing to do with cronology or with when one was created or born. It is a title that speaks of preeminence. The heir of a large estate is the firstborn, for example. It is a title of estate, of honor and prestige, not a title having to do with when one came into being (see Exodus 4:22 and Psalm 89:27 which use this same Greek term in the Septuagint). The title was used, for example, for Israel, who was not the first nation but the preeminent one, the first-rank one. So for Jesus to be the prototokos of all creation is for Jesus to be the heir, the preeminent one, the master of all creation. It is, therefore, not twisting the text at all if we wish to use "over" instead of "of", since the fact that Jesus is the exact image of God and the preeminent one certainly places Him over all creation. The verses that follow only emphasize this point even more, if we take them for what they say without inserting words that alter the meaning.

The next verse tells us that by Him (Jesus) "all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. " (NASB) The NWT doesn't essentially differ from the NASB at all except for that one word "other", which is not found in the original language. The only other thing that might be misleading is how the NWT translates the Greek proposition en as "by means of" rather than simply "by". In this verse Paul expresses Jesus' role in Creation, a role that belongs to God alone. He places literally everything under Jesus and puts Jesus in the role of Creator. What the NWT translators attempted to do by inserting "other" before "things were created" is again place Jesus among created things. He is, to them, an exalted creation, but a creation among all of God's creations, nonetheless. It should be noted that the original text does not contain the inserted word, and it does not contain the idea, either.

The same thing happens in the sentence that follows, "all things have been created through Him and for Him". As we see in the citation from the NWT a few paragraphs above, the word "other" is again inserted before "things" so as to demonstrate that Jesus is a created thing among others, and therefore His role in creation is secondary, in that He is also a creation, albeit the first one (in the minds of the NWT translators). With the word "other" missing, we are left with the intended understanding from the apostle Paul that Jesus is preeminent over all creation, is the heir of all things, and exists outside of creation. He is not a created thing. The word "other" seeks to place Jesus among creation while its absence in the original text, and the context with it, clearly place Him outside of it.

The next verse only repeats the same idea, which the NWT seeks to obscure by again placing "other" in the text and thereby asserting Jesus' creatureliness rather than Creatorship. With the original text and without the inserted word, the text reads "He is before all things, and in/by Him all things hold together". The preposition en is used again, which was previously translated "by" but could also be translated "in". The last word translated "hold together" means "consist" or "are put together". Compare this with Paul's speech to the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:23-28 when he says of God, "in Him we live and move and exist". The same manner of thing is now applied to Jesus. The sense is unmistakable -Paul even more clearly places Jesus above, before, and outside of all of creation, even being the Creator Himself, which includes things such as angels as well. Yet the NWT refuses this by inserting a word -changing the meaning of the whole text in an attempt to deny this conclusion.

There is a lot here, and I hope that even if you disagree you will look over these things. What we see here is a consistent mis-translation of the text of Scripture to avoid a certain conclusion that, by itself, flows from the text if the text is left unaltered and translated consistently and honestly. It is not a random mistake here or there. These alterations are repeated and consistent and deal with the same subject matter. They all seek to obscure one fact -the Deity of Christ. So, it is not as simple as saying the translation has some problems or phrased things badly or made some mistakes. These were obviously intentional decisions. There are too many of them focused around the same issue to ignore. The ordinary rules the NWT translators used in translating other portions of the NWT went completely out the window when confronted with these texts (and others like them not mentioned in this brief study). If we are familiar with and comfortable with using the NWT, I hope this will at least be a beginning for you in explaining why the NWT is a deadly translation. For to fudge on translating on a matter such as ecclesiology may be one thing, and a bad thing at that, but to consistently deny the clear text of Scripture and then produce a translation that hides the Scriptural teaching of the Deity of Christ is absolutely blasphemous and idolatrous. And if we are complicit in this, since we now have this knowledge, by continuing to use this translation and reject the truth of Scripture, then we are engaging in idolatry of the truest and most direct kind. We are denying Jehovah Himself and placing a god of our own mind's creation in His place. Above all, I hope that this brief study may be a beginning in introducing you to the true God and Savior, Jesus Christ, God the Son in human flesh, if He was previously unknown to you in this way.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Colossians 2:9

This is a great verse to demonstrate both the Deity of Christ and His bodily resurrection. From what I have gathered, it is particularly useful when talking to Jehovah's Witnesses.

"For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9 ESV)

From this verse we can cleary see two things. First, Paul wrote this epistle after Jesus rose from the dead. Even if we don't know the exact date when the epistle was written, we certainly know that Paul was not even converted until some point after Christ rose (see Acts 9). Second, the whole fullness, not part, not just certain aspects, of Deity dwells in Him (Christ) bodily. That which makes God God dwells in Jesus bodily. This is what the incarnation means, and it is still true of the risen Christ. The fullness of what it means to be God, of the essence of God-ness, dwells in Christ's physical body even now after He has risen from the dead. Again, here we have a clear testimony to both Christ's Deity and His physical, bodily resurrection -two things Jehovah's Witnesses vehemently deny.

The Jehovah's Witnesses may protest because their translation, the New World Translation, mistranslates the word theotetos (theotes) as "divine quality". So, they assume it is referring to something like Divine attributes –something they believe Jesus, being a created being, possesses in some measure, though without being God. Without spending time arguing over what this means, let us note that it is a mistranslation. The lexical definition of theotes does not mean "divine quality".

In Vincent's Word Studies it says,

"Here Paul is speaking of the essential and personal deity as belonging to Christ. So Bengel: "Not the divine attributes, but the divine nature.""

Thayer's Greek Lexicon says theotes means "deity; the state of being God, Godhead".

Why the confusion? Well, from what is evident in other places in the New World Translation, there are numerous mistranslations that are intended to discount the Deity of Christ -this is just another one to add to the pile. However, there is a word, very similar to theotes in spelling, which could be translated "divine quality" according to its lexical definition. It is the word "theiotes". This word is used in Romans 1:20 where it is easy to see how "divine quality" fits.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature (theiotes), have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

Here, Paul is talking about God's "attributes". His eternal power and Creatorship have been clearly perceived by men. It is a different word from theotes and has a different meaning.

Do I think this was an honest mistake by the translators of the NWT? Given the large number of mis-translations that focus around this single issue, the Deity of Jesus, I find it hard to believe that this is a coincidence. I believe it is more a case of the NWT translators giving an English rendering that guards their theological precommitments (which deny Christ’s Deity) rather than expressing what the text says by itself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Doing Church and Being Church

"Doing church" means going on Sundays, being involved in all the programs and events, and getting a level of enrichment from the church and all of these things. Church, on this level alone, is a means to an end, a means that we know is good and right, and that we even get excited over sometimes. It is not always that hard to find a church you really love, but you may love it because it gives you a nice place to "do church" rather than "be church". "Doing church" really goes no further than the nice things about the church on a very surface level. It may have to do with music, with preaching, with doctrine -and all of these things really are important (in varying degrees, of course), which is why I am not pitting "doing church" against "being church" in every regard. It is obviously very important that a church is Christ-ward in worship and that the Word is held high and believed upon. The point is that one can "do church" and that's it. In this case, where it is "doing church" alone, it is in some respects no more than a preferred amuzement park ride or a good restaraunt that has really good food. They are a good find, enjoyable, and we get a lot out of it, but it doesn't go much further than that. "Doing church" alone does not truly reflect Christ's design for the local body.

"Being church" includes "doing church", but it goes beyond. It is what makes church a church and not a country club. "Being church" involves laying down your personal agendas and serving the body. This is a really difficult one, more difficult than you think, because many of us would like to think that our personal agenda falls within the agenda of the church. There may be some truth here. Maybe our agenda is partly in line with the church, but let us consider our motives. Are we following this focus for the sake of the church, or for the sake of the church *for us*. See the difference? Almost everyone who has an agenda of their own believes it is for the good of the church, but do they consider a) what Christ says is good for the church, and b) if the good they hope comes from it is really for the church or ultimately for their own enjoyment of the church?

"Being church" makes no room for little monarchs to establish a corner of the kingdom for themselves and their small band of cronies. It means constantly dieing to self. If you aren't dieing to self somehow, struggling with something inside in relating to others within the body, then I wonder if you are just doing church, playing church, rather than being in the body. The distinction is not always clear to us. It is easy to mistake physical presence for spiritual presence and commitment. It is easy to mistake commitment to ourselves and to an ideal for commitment to the very diverse, sinning saints in our local body of Christ. And of course, to be committed to them is directly proportional to our commitment of Christ and His vision of the body.

Whether we like it or not, Christ bought the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28, Eph 5). He bought us each individually, but we form a collective whole, the Body of Christ. Granted, in every physical fellowship there are goats among the sheep, and it is often not apparent who is who. This is obviously because everyone, every born-again believer, has their own set of struggles, their own "growth rate", their own sins that blind them, their own lack of maturity in certain areas. As a friend of mine says often, "we are all works in progress!" So, implicit in our "being church" is struggle. It is going to involve bumping heads, and it is going to do much with us, and in us, to command love, patience, grace, humility. I like how "patience" is translated "long-suffering" in places like the KJV. It paints a vivid picture. We suffer long with others, with their faults. Loving can be difficult. We love the Lord over the Church, but it seems easiest to leave it at that. We know this will not do, though, because the same Lord we love has brought us into His fold to love the others as well, to even love our enemies.

Being church means placing yourself in submission to Christ, in submission to the leaders of the church, and then in servitude to others. Church is not just a place to get stuff, to hear the Word -though that is a huge part of it. We could do that much by listening to the radio, these days. Church is about service and worship to Christ which reflects itself in service to others, submission to the leaders over the body, and gaining an attitude that is no longer self-focused within the fellowship but body-focused. We have no excuse anymore to just blow people off when we don't like them or they say things that trouble us. Not only are they our brothers and sisters, but now they are in our face regularly, in fellowship with us, representing and approximating Christ's invisible Church. We serve the body in the name of Christ, we submit to the elders -even when we disagree. Someone once said to me, "You know, submission isn't really submission if you 'submit' because you always agree with the person you are supposed to be submitting to." How often it is that we selectively submit to authority. How often it is that things are going great, and we are happy until that moment when the leadership crosses us. At that moment, we may even find every way imaginable to justify disobeying them. We will criticize them as being un-Biblical, as being unfit leaders -all kinds of things.

To sum up, "being church" means being part of the visible body that is before us. It means we come not as parasites to fatten ourselves and then leave. It means coming to minister to others, no matter who they are, for the sake of the body, not for the sake of ourselves or our own self-importance. It means having an attitude of submission, long-suffering, and humility and laying down our agenda for Christ's agenda for His Church. It is harder than "doing church", for sure, but it is the way the Lord has paved for us, and it is essential to our growth as Christ's sheep and the function of the local body for the glory of Christ.