“At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.” – Mt 11:25 NLT[i]
“At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children.” (Mt 11:25)
Throughout my past years as a loyal member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, I always believed our Bible translation was pretty much bias free. I’ve come to learn that is not the case. In the course of my research on the subject of the nature of Jesus, I have come to learn that every Bible translation contains biased renderings. Having worked as a translator myself, I can understand that often this bias is not the result of bad intent. Even when translating from one modern language to another, there were times when I had to make a choice, because a phrase in the source tongue allowed for more than one interpretation, but there was no way to carry that ambiguity over to the target language. I often benefited from having the author available to question so as to remove any doubt as to what he actually meant to convey; but the Bible translator can’t ask God what he meant.
Bias isn’t the exclusive province of the translator however. The Bible student also has it. When a biased rendering aligns with reader bias, significant deviation from truth can result.
Am I biased? Are you? It’s probably safe to answer Yes to both questions. Bias is the enemy of truth, so we should want to be on guard against it. However, it is a most stealthy enemy; well camouflaged and able to affect us without our even being aware of its presence. Our awakening to the truth of Scripture and the growing awareness that we too have been biased presents a special challenge. It is as when a pendulum has been held off to one side, then is finally let go. It will not move to its natural rest position, but instead will swing right through and all the way to the other side, reaching a point almost as high as its release height. While air pressure and friction will slow it until eventually it comes to rest at equilibrium, it may swing for a long time; and it only needs the tiniest of assistance—say from a wound clock spring—to continue on swinging endlessly.
Like a pendulum, those of us who have been released from the extreme orthodoxy of JW doctrine may find ourselves swinging toward our natural resting point. That is the place where we question and examine everything we’ve been taught and are taught. The danger is that we swing right past that point over to the other extreme. While this illustration serves to make a point, the fact is we are not pendulums, powered only by external forces. We can determine for ourselves where we will end up, and our goal should always be to achieve balance, to be at intellectual and spiritual equilibrium. Never would we want to trade one bias for another.
Some, angered at learning of the deception that has bound us to some falsehoods all their lives, react by discounting everything we’ve ever been taught. As wrong as it is for Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept everything taught by the Organization as true, the opposite extreme is just as bad: discounting as false any teaching that might align with our former JW belief. If we take this position, we are falling in the trap that snared Rutherford. So driven was he to distance himself from the teachings of the hated churches that conspired to imprison him that he introduced doctrines that went beyond what is written. Our NWT and RNWT bible versions reflect some of that bias. Yet many other translations reflect bias of their own. How can we cut through it all to get to the truth?
Becoming Little Children
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we consider ourselves to be childlike, and in one way we are, for like children we submit to and believe what our father tells us. Our mistake is in submitting to the wrong father. We have our own wise and intellectual ones. In fact, in the face of a questioning objection to some teaching, we will often interject, “Do you think you know more than the Governing Body?” This is not the childlike attitude Jesus was extolling at Matthew 11:25.
There’s a running joke in the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that starts out, “There are two kinds of people in this world…” When it comes to understanding God’s Word, it’s no joke, but an axiom. Nor is it simply academic. It is a matter of life and death. We should each ask ourselves, which of the two am I? The proud intellectual, or the humble child? That we tend to the former is a point Jesus himself warned us of.
“So, calling a young child to him, he set it in their midst 3 and said: “Truly I say to YOU, Unless YOU turn around and become as young children, YOU will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” (Mt 18:2, 3)
Notice his call to “turn around” so as to become like young children. This is not the normal inclination of sinful humans. Jesus’ own apostles were constantly arguing about their place and status.
Little Children Learn of Logos
I cannot think of a setting where the difference between the “wise and clever” and the “childlike” is more manifest than that involving the study into the nature of Jesus, “The Word of God”, Logos. Nor is there a situation where it is more necessary to make that distinction.
How would a father who is a world renowned expert in the field of theoretical mathematics explain to his three-year-old what he does? He would likely use simplistic terminology that she could grasp and only explain the most basic of concepts. She, on the other hand, would not realize how much she doesn’t understand, but would likely think she’s got the whole picture. One thing is for sure. She will have no doubt about what her father tells her. She will not look for hidden meaning. She will not read between the lines. She will simply believe.
Paul revealed that Jesus pre-existed all other creation. He revealed him as the image of God and the one through whom all things were made and for whom all things were made. He referred to him by the name Christians knew him by at that point in time. Some years later, John was inspired to reveal the name by which Jesus would be known at his return. A couple of years later, he revealed that this was also his original name. He was, is, and always will be “The Word of God”, Logos.[ii] (Col 1:15, 16; Re 19:13; John 1:1-3)
Paul reveals that Jesus is the “firstborn of creation.” Here is where the difference between the “wise and clever” and the “little children” becomes evident. If Jesus was created, then there was a time that he didn’t exist; a time when God existed all alone. God has no beginning; so for an infinity of time he existed alone. The trouble with this thought is that time itself is a created thing. Since God cannot be subject to anything nor live inside of anything, He cannot live “in time” nor be subject to it.
Clearly, we are dealing with concepts beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet often we feel compelled to make the attempt. There is nothing wrong with that as long as we don’t get full of ourselves and begin to think we are right. When speculation becomes fact, dogma sets in. The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has fallen prey to this malady which is why most of us are here at this site.
If we are to be little children, then we have to agree that Daddy says that Jesus is His firstborn. He’s using a term we can understand, based in a framework common to every culture that has ever existed on earth. If I say, “John is my firstborn”, you know immediately that I have at least two children and that John is the oldest. You would not jump to the conclusion that I’m speaking of firstborn in some other sense, such as the more important child.
If God wanted us to understand that Logos had no beginning, he could have told us so. Just as he told us that He Himself is eternal. We cannot grasp how that is possible, but no matter. Understanding isn’t required. Belief is required. However, he did not do that, but chose to use a metaphor—the birth of a first human child into a family—to tell us about his Son’s origins. That it leaves many questions unanswered is something we’ll have to live with. After all, the purpose of everlasting life is to acquire knowledge about our Father and his Son. (John 17:3)
Moving from Past to Present
Both Paul, at Colossians 1:15, 16a and John at John 1:1-3 go way into the past to establish Jesus’ supreme credentials. However, they do not remain there. Paul, having established Jesus as the one through whom, by whom, and for whom all things were created, continues in the second half of verse 16 to bring things into the present and focus on his main point. All things, including every authority and government is subject to him.
John goes into the past in the same way, but from the viewpoint of Jesus as God’s Word, for it is his Word that John wishes to emphasize. Even all life came through Logos, whether the life of angels or the life of the first humans, but John also brings his message into the present by revealing in the fourth verse that, “In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.” – John 1:4 NET[iii]
We should be wary of a hyperliteral reading of these words. The context reveals what John wanted to communicate:
“4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. 6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children” – John 1:4-12 NET Bible
John does not speak of literal light and darkness, but the light of truth and understanding that wipes away the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. But this isn’t simply the light of knowledge, but the light of life, for this light leads to everlasting life, and more, to becoming children of God.
This light is the knowledge of God, the Word of God. This Word—information, knowledge, understanding—was transmitted to us by Logos himself. He is the embodiment of God’s Word.
God’s Word Is Unique
Both the concept of God’s Word and its embodiment in Logos are unique.
“So my word that goes out of my mouth will be. It will not return to me without results, But it will certainly accomplish whatever is my delight, And it will have sure success in what I send it to do.” (Isa 55:11)
If I say, “Let there be light”, nothing will happen unless my wife takes pity on me and gets up to throw the switch. My intentions, expressed by word of mouth, will die in the air unless I or someone else act on them, and a great many things can stop—and often do stop—my words from amounting to anything. However, when Jehovah says, “Let there be light”, there will be light—period, end of story.
Many scholars from different Christian denominations have believed that the reference to Wisdom Personified in Proverbs 8:22-36 pictures Logos. Wisdom is the practical application of knowledge. Outside of Logos himself, the creation of the universe is the most outstanding practical application of knowledge (information) there is.[iv] It was accomplished by means of and through and for Logos. He is Wisdom. He is God’s Word. Jehovah speaks. Logos does.
The Only-Begotten God
Now John speaks of something truly remarkable!
“So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of divine favor and truth….No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is at the Father’s side is the one who has explained Him.” (Joh 1:14, 18 NWT)
Imagine, Logos—God’s own Word—becoming flesh and residing with the sons of men.
It is almost too amazing to contemplate. What a wondrous expression of God’s love!
You may have noticed that I’m quoting from the New World Translation here. The reason is that in these passages it does not give way to the bias that it seems many other translations exhibit. A quick scan of the parallel renderings of John 1:18 found at biblehub.com, will reveal that only the New American Standard Bible and the Aramaic Bible in Plain English render this correctly as “only-begotten god”. Most replace “god” with “Son”. It can be argued that “Son” is implied at vs. 14 based on the interlinear. However, the same interlinear reveals that “god” is explicitly stated in vs. 18. John was revealing an aspect of Jesus’ nature which is lost if we change “god” to “Son”.
Verse 18 ties in with the first verse of the opening chapter of John’s gospel. Logos is not only a god, but the only-begotten god. The devil is called a god, but he is a false god. Angels may be godlike in a sense, but they are not gods. When John prostrated himself before an angel, he was quickly warned not to do that for the angel was only a “fellow slave”.
While correctly translating this portion of the Bible, Witnesses shy away from the truth it reveals. The nature of Jesus’ godhood and how that relates to scriptures such as Hebrews 1:6 are things we have yet to explore.
For now, let’s address what it may mean to be the “only-begotten Son” and the “only-begotten god”. – John 1:14, 18
There are three possibilities that are being advanced. One element is common to all: “only-begotten” is a term denoting uniqueness. It is the nature of the uniqueness which is in question.
Only-Begotten – Scenario 1
The Watchtower has long held the view that Jesus is the only creation Jehovah has made directly. All other things were made through and by Jesus, aka Logos. Failing any explicit Scriptural explanation of the term, we have to accept that this interpretation is, at least, a possibility.
Put succinctly, this scenario supposes that the term “only-begotten” refers to the unique manner in which Jesus was created
Only-Begotten – Scenario 2
Logos was created as a god. As a god, he was then used by Jehovah as the embodiment of his Word. In that role, he was used to create all other things. No other creation was made to be a god. Therefore, he is unique as being the only-begotten God.
So this second scenario refers to the nature of Jesus creation, i.e., as the only god ever created.
Only-Begotten – Scenario 3
Jehovah directly begat Jesus by inseminating Mary. This is the one and only time he did this, and the only human ever born who can claim Jehovah as his direct and sole Father is Jesus. The god that was Logos was begotten of woman by his Father Jehovah. This is a unique.
I do not list these to stir up debate. Quite the opposite. I would like us all to see that until we can prove conclusively which scenario (if any) is correct, we can at least agree on some elements. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is the Word of God or Logos. Jesus/Logos relationship with the Father is unique.
The point John is trying to make is that if we want to get to know our heavenly Father, we have to get to know his unique Son, who resided with him in an intimate and caring relationship since the beginning of all things. Additionally, he was telling us that if we want to be reconciled with God which comes with the benefit of life everlasting, we also have to listen to and obey God’s Word…Logos…Jesus.
Those are things we must agree upon, as they are matters of life and death.
A Final Word
To return to my opening point, some of what I believe regarding the nature of the Christ agrees with official JW doctrine; some of it does not, but likely lines up with the teachings of other churches in Christendom. That the Catholics, Baptists, or Jehovah’s Witnesses had it before me should not concern me, because it is not that they believe something which will convince me, but rather that I can confirm it in Scripture. If they have it right it is of little consequence, because Scripture had it first. I would not reject what the Scriptures say because some group I disagree with happen to believe the same as I do. That would be giving in to bias and prejudice, and it would block my way to my Father. Jesus is that way. As Jehovah told us: “This is my Son…listen to him.” – Mt 17:5
[i] New Living Translation
[ii] As explained in a previous article, “Logos” is used throughout this series of articles in an attempt to overcome an English language mentality to consider “The Word of God” as a title rather than the name it is. (Re 19:13)
[iii] The NET Bible
[iv] From a comment by Anderestimme: “Here’s an excerpt from the forward to William Dembski’s book “Being as Communion”:
“This book extends his earlier work and asks the most basic and challenging question confronting the 21st century, namely, if matter can no longer serve as the fundamental substance of reality, what can? While matter was the only allowable answer of the past century to the question of what is ultimately real (matter’s origin, on its own terms, remaining a mystery), Dembski demonstrates there would be no matter without information, and certainly no life. He thus shows that information is more fundamental than matter and that intelligible effectual information is in fact the primal substance.”
Information as the “primal substance” of the universe. In the beginning was information