The Shared Cultic Beliefs of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Shared Cultic Beliefs of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses

It’s easy to confuse Mormonism with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. They are both non-Christian cults who send out tie-wearing evangelists door to door to convince people that they alone are the one true church on earth. But there are three beliefs they share in common which distinguish them from biblical Christianity that you can remember the next time some of them come to your door: polytheism, Jesus has not eternally existed as God, and the denial of God’s omnipresence.

1. Polytheism

Mormonism explicitly teaches that there exists a plurality of gods and that we can become gods one day. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise believe in a particular kind of polytheism called henotheism. In henotheism, you have one chief God with several lesser gods below him. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a god, but not Jehovah God. But if Jesus is a god, that implies he is one god among many. They also call angels gods as well and Jesus is their view is the Archangel Michael. They mistranslate John 1:1 in their New World Translation to say that Jesus is “a god” rather than “God” which creates a plurality of gods. They will call Jesus a mighty god since Isaiah 9:6 calls him this, but not the almighty God whom they believe is Jehovah alone.

2. Jesus has not eternally existed as God

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in Arianism which denies the deity of Christ. But Mormons likewise believe that Jesus has not eternally existed as God. From their perspective, Jesus is a pre-existent soul who became human in the incarnation and then was exalted to godhood by his Father as his Father was exalted to godhood by his Father before him. Jesus is not eternally God in Mormonism, but became a god through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel as his Father did. He was a man who became a god as they believe we can become gods one day as well.

3. The denial of God’s omnipresence

Mormonism teaches that God the Father is not omnipresent because he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s (D&C 130:22). But the Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise teach that Jehovah is not omnipresent. They instead teach that Jehovah can only be in one place at one time.

Hence, when you compare Mormonism and the Watchtower Society side by side, you see that they both teach that God is one god among many, a finite being, and that Jesus is not God’s eternal Son. In contrast, the Bible teaches that there is only one God, infinite in every way, who exists eternally as a Trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Sunday Meditation – O for a Closer Walk with God

Sunday Meditation – O for a Closer Walk with God

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus, and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.

Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

William Cowper

The Inerrancy of Scripture in the Early Church

The Inerrancy of Scripture in the Early Church

Sadly, there are many liberal scholars today who believe that the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture is a modern invention instead of the consistent teaching of the Christian church throughout history. We have already explored the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture in the early church fathers, but now I would like to give you a few quotations from their writings on the inerrancy of Scripture:

“Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them” (Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 45).

“Since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion of myself” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, 65, in ANF, 1:230).

“The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.28.2, in ANF, 1:399).

“All Scripture, which has been given to us by God, is perfectly consistent. The parables harmonize with the passages that are plain; and statements with a clearer meaning serve to explain the parables” (Irenaeus, Against Haereses 2:28).

“The statements of Holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth” (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 21, in ANF, 3:202).

“It is the opinion of some that the Scriptures do not agree or that the God who gave them is false. But there is no disagreement at all. Far from it! The Father, who is truth, cannot lie” (Athanasius, Easter letter, 19:3).

“I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error” (Augustine, Letters, 82, in NPNF, 1:350).

“For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books; that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive. For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true” (Augustine, Letters, 28, in NPNF, 1:251-52).

For more quotations, see this article by Jonathan Moorhead.

Sunday Meditation – Life in Christ

Sunday Meditation – Life in Christ

“Just as every man by nature considered in Adam had a sentence of condemnation passed on him in the moment of Adam’s sin, and more especially in the moment of his own first transgression, so I, if I be a believer, and you, if you trust in Christ, have had a legal sentence of acquittal passed on us through what Jesus Christ has done. O condemned sinner! Thou mayest be sitting this morning condemned like the prisoner in Newgate; but ere this day has passed away thou mayest be as clear from guilt as the angels above. There is such a thing as legal life in Christ, and, blessed be God! some of us enjoy it. We know our sins are pardoned because Christ suffered punishment for them; we know that we never can be punished ourselves, for Christ suffered in our stead. The Passover is slain for us; the lintel and door-post have been sprinkled, and the destroying angel can never touch us. For us there is no hell, although it blaze with terrible flame. Let Tophet be prepared of old, let its pile be wood and much smoke, we never can come there—Christ died for us, in our stead. What if there be racks of horrid torture? What if there be a sentence producing most horrible reverberations of thundering sounds? Yet neither rack, nor dungeon, nor thunder, are for us! In Christ Jesus we are now delivered.”

Charles Spurgeon

Verses on Eternal Generation in the New Testament

Verses on Eternal Generation in the New Testament

In my previous article, I examined all of the verses in the Old Testament that are associated with eternal generation. Now, I will turn my attention to the New Testament.

1. Monogenēs

The Greek term monogenēs is traditionally translated as “only begotten” to describe Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. Therefore, it is argued, Jesus is eternally begotten or generated by the Father. I agree that “only begotten” is one possible way monogenēs can be translated depending on the context, but even if this is how the term is being used in John’s writings, it does not follow that John is describing an eternal action of begetting in the being of God. To understand the different ways monogenēs can be used, we need to examine its different uses throughout Greek literature. The primary way monogenēs is used in Greek is to describe an only child. Jesus is the only Son of the Father in the sense that he alone has existed as God’s Son from eternity and shares the same nature as the Father. In contrast, we become sons of God in time by adoption and do not share God’s nature. The word monogenēs is how John differentiates Jesus’ sonship with our sonship. We are sons of God by adoption, but not sons of God in the sense that we share his nature. God only has one unique Son who is eternal and shares his nature. This is why modern translations rightly translate monogenēs as “one and only,” “only unique,” or “only one-of-a-kind” rather than “only begotten” in the Bible. The idea of begetting is not intrinsic to the word. The same term is used in Hebrews 11:17 to describe Abraham’s son Isaac. But Isaac was not the only born son of Abraham since Ishmael was also born of him. Isaac was the monogenēs son of Abraham because he was the only unique son of Abraham through whom God’s blessing would come. Josephus uses the word the same way to refer to Isaac (Antiquities 1.13.1). The word is used in reference to a phoenix in 1 Clement 25:2 that is called “the only one of its kind.” God only has one Son who is unique and eternal whereas we become sons of God through adoption (John 1:12). Some other examples that demonstrate monogenēs does not necessarily include the idea of begetting include Psalm 22:20 (only life); 25:16 (only child or alone); and Wisdom 7:22 (unique). I believe we should translate monogenēs the same way in John as we do in Hebrews 11:17 since Isaac is a type of Christ. Just as Isaac was not the only son of Abraham because there was also Ishmael, we too are sons of God in addition to Christ. But Isaac’s sonship was unique in that he alone would be the one through whom the promise would come just as Jesus’ sonship is unique to him. We are sons of God in a different sense than Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus shares the Father’s nature or attributes analogous to how a human son reflects his father’s attributes but in a perfect sense (Heb 1:3).

2. John 5:26

The granting of the Son to have life in himself is the bestowing upon the Son the authority to grant eternal life just as the next verse speaks of the Father bestowing the authority to judge on him. John 17:2 is a close parallel to this concept: “Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The term “life” in John 5 consistently means eternal life, not self-existence. The Father has given the Son both the authority to give eternal life and the authority to condemn. As God, the Son has the authority to bestow eternal life, but as a man, he must receive this authority from the Father. The closest parallel to the language about having life in oneself is John 6:53: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” This verse is the only other place in John’s Gospel where the same Greek phrase is used describing life in oneself and it is talking about eternal life. Other parallels include: John 5:21; 13:3; and 1 John 5:11.

3. John 15:26

This verse is not related to the debate over eternal generation, but to eternal procession. It is argued that because the verb “proceeds” is in the present tense, this must be describing an eternally occurring action in the being of God rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. But “proceeds” is in the present tense because the Spirit’s work in the world or missio Dei did not begin on the day of Pentecost, but has been ongoing from the beginning of creation (Ps 104:30). The proceeding of the Holy Spirit from the Father is the Spirit’s present work in the world that became publicly evident on the day of Pentecost.

4. Colossians 1:15

The title “firstborn” is a term of preeminence and sovereignty and does not necessarily carry with it the concept of being born. The language of Christ as firstborn is rooted in the concept of the king of Israel as God’s firstborn son. Psalm 89:27 says concerning the king of Israel: “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” “Firstborn” is parallel to “highest” or greatest. Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5 call him “the firstborn from the dead” meaning that he is supreme over all who will ever be raised from the dead. As firstborn over all creation, he has primogeniture or the rights of the firstborn son over it. As creator of all things, he must be God since only God created all things (Isa 44:24; John 1:3; Col 1:16).

5. 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18 calls Jesus the one born of God. To call Jesus the one born of God is simply another way of calling him the Son of God since human sons in our experience are born into the world. The participle “he who was born” is being used as a deverbal noun as a title for Jesus. It is not referring to a time when he was born or an act of being born, but it is a title which reflects his eternal relationship with the Father as the Son of God. The sonship of Christ was visibly manifested by his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God when he was declared to be the Son of God (Ps 2:7; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11). Jesus can be called the one born of God because he shares the Father’s nature analogous to how a human son reflects his father’s nature. Human sons look like their fathers and God the Son perfectly reflects his Father’s nature. To see Christ is to see the Father (John 14:9). But we must be extremely careful not to read everything that is true of the human father-son relationship back into the eternal Father-Son relationship. That was the mistake the Arians made since human fathers exist before their sons and human sons are subordinate to their fathers.

Conclusion

It is interesting to note that most of the verses used to support eternal generation are the same verses the Arians used to support their belief that Christ came into existence and has not eternally existed with the Father. Eternal generation simply takes these verses and argues that they are describing a never-ending timeless action that takes place within the being of God rather than an act of creation. This might be an easy way for the common man to respond to the arguments of Arianism (the Son is eternally begotten in Psalm 2:7, eternally brought into existence in Proverbs 8:25, eternally granted existence in John 5:26, and eternally born in Colossians 1:15), but it still makes the same hermeneutical mistakes that the Arians made in interpreting these verses except that they thankfully read into them a concept of eternality that is not present in the texts to avoid falling into heresy. Hence, the argument goes, if you do not accept eternal generation, you have no way to respond to the arguments of Arianism.

But it is actually the misinterpretation of these verses leading to a belief that the Son owes his existence to the Father that led to the rise of Arianism in the first place. Both Arianism and eternal generation are evolutions of Logos Christology that came about when Logos Christology was shown to be incompatible with the immutability of God. By properly exegeting these verses, I am undercutting the foundation upon which Arianism is built. But in the process, Origen’s concept of eternal generation must fall as well. But then again, the language about Christ being “begotten before all ages” in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed comes from the subordinationist Eusebius of Caesarea who supported Arius and used the phrase to express his understanding of Logos Christology, not eternal generation. For these reasons, it is better to speak of the Son as autotheos or God of himself sharing equally, indivisibly, and underivatively the one divine nature with the Father rather than saying he derives his existence or divine nature from the Father. He is begotten (gennētos) with respect to his human nature and unbegotten (agennētos) with respect to his divine nature (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:2). This was the teaching of the apostolic fathers before Justin Martyr’s theories about the Logos and Origen’s concept of derived deity gained influence in the church based on their mishandling of Proverbs 8:22-25.

Sunday Meditation – Dare to Own God

Sunday Meditation – Dare to Own God

“If God be such an absolute monarch, and crowned with such glory and majesty, let us all engage in his service, and stand up for his truth and worship. Dare to own God in the worst time. He is King of kings, and is able to reward all his servants. We may be losers for him, we shall never be losers by him. We are ready to say, as Amaziah, ‘What shall I do for the hundred talents?’ 2 Chron 25: 9. If I appear for God, I may lose my estate, my life. I say with the prophet, God is able to give you much more than this; he can give you for the present inward peace, and for the future a crown of glory which fadeth not away.”

Thomas Watson

Verses on Eternal Generation in the Old Testament

Verses on Eternal Generation in the Old Testament

Eternal generation is the belief that the Father eternally generates or produces the person of the Son, and in doing so, eternally communicates the divine nature to him so that the Father is the fountain of divinity or fontal source from whom the Son derives his existence and divine nature. This understanding of the personal relations in the Trinity seeks to explain the differences between the three persons on the basis of eternal relations of origin. The Son’s origin is from the Father and the Spirit’s origin is from the Father and the Son in the Western Church and the Father alone in the Eastern Church. The Eastern Church argues that the Father alone is the Spirit’s origin since the fountain of divinity is located in Father’s person and not his nature. Because the Son does not share the Father’s person, he cannot act as a fountain of divinity for the Spirit. I believe that this understanding of generation misunderstands the passages in the Bible which speak about the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. To justify my departure from Origen’s concept of eternal generation, I will be giving a full exegesis of the relevant texts in this article and in another on the New Testament.

1. Psalm 2:7

“Today I have begotten you” is interpreted by the authors of the New Testament as being fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Father (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:4-5; 5:4-5). Peter in Acts 13:33 interprets this verse as being fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: “this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” Hebrews 1:5 interprets Psalm 2:7 as being fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God at his ascension as indicated by the immediate context: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” His language is a direct allusion to the early Christian hymn of Philippians 2:9 which describes the exaltation of the Messiah after his rejection by man: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Hebrews 5:5 likewise associates this begetting with the exaltation of the Messiah to be our high priest. Our interpretation of Psalm 2:7 should be the same as that of the authors of the New Testament because the Holy Spirit is his own best interpreter.

At his exaltation, the Father bestowed on him the name Yahweh which the Son has always had to vindicate who he is in contrast to his rejection by man (Phil 2:9). The begetting of this verse takes place after the Messiah’s rejection by man in verses 1-3 and not before. “Today” is the day of the Son’s vindication from the Father, not a day in eternity past. “Begotten you” in the context of Psalm 2 is the enthronement of the king of Israel to be God’s representative on earth. Over time, this hymn took on messianic overtones and was seen as a prophecy about the future Messiah. “I have set my King on Zion” in verse six is parallel to “I have begotten you” in verse seven as an expression of God’s exaltation of the Messiah. The king is begotten because he is firstborn or supreme over all things (Ps 89:27). But whereas Israel’s kings were made God’s sons by adoption in this enthronement, the Son has existed as God’s Son from eternity. Hence, using it as a proof text for eternal generation ignores how the New Testament interprets the verse, does not take into account that the begetting takes place after the Messiah’s rejection by man and not before, and ignores the parallelism between begetting and being enthroned as king in the previous verse.

2. Proverbs 8:22-25

Proverbs 8 is by far the most historically important passage in the development of Logos Christology, eternal generation, and Arianism. It did not help matters that very few church fathers knew how to read Hebrew so they relied on the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This was extremely unfortunate because the Greek translation of verse 22 used the verb ktizō which means “to create.” However, the Hebrew verb is better translated as “to acquire” since this is how it is always used in Proverbs: 1:5; 4:5, 7; 15:32; 16:16; 17:16; 18:15; 19:8; 20:14; 23:23. Wisdom is so valuable that God himself is described as acquiring her. It is not that God needed wisdom, but that Solomon is metaphorically painting a picture for us of the value of wisdom to entice us to acquire it. If God “needed” Wisdom, how much more do we need it? It is in attempting to literalize language that is meant to be taken metaphorically where interpreters get into trouble. But because it was translated as “to create,” the Arians argued that the Son was created because Lady Wisdom is described as being created by God and Paul calls Christ the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24. The orthodox responded by arguing that this verse was describing the incarnation of the Son, but then they inconsistently argued that the bringing forth of Wisdom in verses 24-25 was the eternal generation of the Son and something distinct from the acquiring of Wisdom in verse 22. The orthodox interpretation of verse 22 also does not fit the context of the verse. This is describing an action of God before the foundation of the world, not the incarnation of the Son which was not “the first of his acts of old.”

The Arian argument errs by confusing analogical language with univocal language. When Paul says Christ is the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24, he is drawing an analogy between Lady Wisdom and Christ, not a one-to-one correspondence. Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is the personification of God’s attribute of wisdom, not a distinct hypostasis from God. She is an extended metaphor for the purpose of giving Solomon a mouthpiece through which to speak to his sons in contrast to Lady Folly (Prov 9:13). If Wisdom is a distinct hypostasis from God, is Folly a hypostasis as well? Paul calls Christ the wisdom of God because there are parallels between him and Lady Wisdom. Both are described as creating the world and being at God’s side (John 1:18). But the Son is not a feminine figure. He is the eternal Son of God, not the daughter of God. Interpreting Lady Wisdom as an exact correspondence to Christ misunderstands how Paul is applying Wisdom to Christ analogically and contradicts all the verses which teach that Christ is eternal and not created (John 1:3). We have to look at the rest of Scripture to determine where the analogy does not correspond to reality. If Paul’s use of Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:24 is a one-to-one correspondence between her and Christ, it would not prove eternal generation, but either Logos Christology or Arianism since the begetting of Wisdom is described as a completed action before the foundation of the world and not something that is eternally ongoing. The concept of eternality must be read into the text.

3. Isaiah 53:8

The interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 as describing an ineffable action of the Father in generating the Son might seem bizarre to us today, but it was one of the most cited texts used by both the orthodox and the Arians to silence debate over the meaning of the generation of the Son. The orthodox used it to argue that we must simply accept the generation of the Son without questioning and the Arians used it to deflect criticism for their understanding of generation as an act of creation since we should not be talking about such things. But the generation of the Son in this verse is not describing an action of God, but the generation of people living during the time of Christ who did not understand the significance of his death and rejected him which is what Isaiah is describing in the immediate context. They paid no attention to his death and treated him as a common criminal rather than the Messiah. They never gave his death a second thought. Much like Psalm 2, the rejection of the Messiah is followed by his vindication from the Father.

4. Micah 5:2

Because the Messiah is said to be “from of old, from ancient days,” it was argued by both the orthodox and the Arians that the Father was the origin of the Messiah’s existence. Whereas the Arians argued that the generation of the Son was an act of creation, the orthodox argued that it was an eternally ongoing action in the being of God. But both of these interpretations badly misread the text. The text does not say that the Messiah’s origin is “from the Father” or “from God,” but that he is “from of old.” And even if it did, it would be describing the sending of the Son of God into the world at the incarnation. To say that the Messiah is “from of old” is to say that he is eternal, not that he was produced by the Father. His origin is from eternity, not an act of God.

The same terms used to describe the Messiah in this verse are also used in reference to God. If the Messiah was created or generated because he is “from of old” and “from ancient days,” then God the Father would also be a created being or a product of generation. The Hebrew words kedem “old” and olam “ancient days” are often used in reference to God’s eternality. Habakkuk 1:12 uses the same word kedem with the preposition min “from” as Micah 5:2 does to express that God is eternal: “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One?” The word olam is used multiple times to portray God as eternal (Ps 90:2). A close parallel to Micah 5:2 is Deuteronomy 33:27 where both kedem and olam are used respectively to depict God as eternal: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The “origin” of the Messiah describes where he came from: eternity past. The word “hometown” in English is a close parallel to the Hebrew expression. It is where he “went out” or “came from” to literalize the Hebrew idiom. He is from eternity, not from any of the cities of the world. But nevertheless, the one who is from eternity will be born in Bethlehem.

5. Wisdom 7:24-27

This text does not come from Scripture, but from the Apocrypha which Protestants do not accept. It was one of the favorite passages of Origen and reads: “For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets.” Since Wisdom is called a “pure emanation” of God and Christ is called the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24, it was concluded that the Son was an emanation of God. The Trinity was then explained in terms of emanationism where the Son and Spirit are eternally emanated from the Father. It was argued that the Father is the fountain of divinity who pours forth the divine nature into the Son and Spirit. The Father as the fountain of divinity became the way to distinguish the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit in eternity past.

But because this text is not from Scripture, I do not need to give an exegesis of it. It is simply enough to point out that the Book of Wisdom teaches false doctrines like the pre-existence of the soul (8:19-20) and the denial of creation ex nihilo (11:17) based on the influence of Greek philosophy which is where emanationism comes from. I have written more on why the Apocrypha is not canonical here.