Engaging Jehovah WitnessesToday I had a scheduled meeting with two Jehovah Witnesses (JW’s to save space) to discuss the Bible and our religious beliefs. A friend from the church I serve had been approach by them and invited me to come and to talk. I was excited to sit down and have a conversation with them and to learn about their views. I honestly don’t know much about JW’s and have only read a few books on them, but that was a number of years ago.

Anyway, I went into the discussion with several things I wanted to do:

  • I went to be a learner.
  • I went to ask questions.
  • I went to listen.
  • I went to begin a relationship.

Those were my intentions. I was thinking through having dialogue with James 1:19 (listening) and 1 Corinthians 13 in mind (love). Here’s what happened:

When the couple arrived, you could tell they weren’t very comfortable. That’s understandable. They don’t know me and I don’t know them. Yet they were pleasant and introduced themselves and we made small talk for a couple of minutes. After that, I said something to the effect of, “So ******* has told me that you’d like to meet and talk about your beliefs! What did you have in mind?”

The couple were much older than I. I don’t want to guess, but the husband said he’d been sharing his faith for over seventy years. That might have been an exaggeration or he might have been doing it since he was a child, not sure.

And that’s the direction the husband wanted to go right away. He opened up his Bible and turned to Matthew 28:18-20. He basically suggested that JW’s were the only people going door to door sharing their faith because they were the only one’s being obedient to Jesus’ commands. As I listened to him, he made the statement that the only way to be obedient to the Great Commission (making disciples) was by going door to door. I commended him and his wife for being willing to do that, as we all acknowledged that going door to door wasn’t easy. Yet I also stated that the text does not say that going door to door was the equivalent of making disciples. It’s simply one way in which disciples might be made. He then said that they get less than 1% of the people they approach. I was left wondering if maybe he assumed that since they are rejected so often, they must be onto the “truth.” At any rate, I let them know that I knew quite a few Christians who went door to door. He then said to me, “Well I’ve never had one come to my house” and looked at his wife as to prove that only JW’s go door to door. I then told him that I have lived in the city I live in for almost seven years and have never had a JW come to the door.

At this point, I made sure that they understood that I had a couple questions, but that I was mostly interested in learning more about their beliefs because it really bothered me when people misrepresented other people’s beliefs. I said I wanted to make sure that my beliefs were understood better as well as understanding theirs. I told them I felt that was important in discussions related to religion and they both agreed.

This is when the couple started to quote random versus throughout the Bible in an attempt to discredit anything related to the Trinity. I listened as they told me that when Gen. 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image,” it is NOT referring to the Trinity but to God the Father talking to the angels, included Jesus whom was created first in creation. This then led them to Colossians 1:15-20 where they pointed out to me that Jesus was the “firstborn of all creation.” After they turned to Colossians, I said, “One thing that we believe as Christians is that Jesus is God. That’s one of the differences between our two faiths, right?” The man sternly responded by saying, “Jesus is not God.” He then took me to John 1:1 and told me that the verse says that Jesus is god, not the God. He also mentioned that Colossians 1, again, proves that Jesus was created by God. His wife chimed in that Jehovah is God and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were created by God and that the Trinity was pagan and isn’t in the Bible and wasn’t inserted in Christianity until the 4th century. 

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

At this point I made a conscious decision not to get into a huge debate over the nature of Col. 1:15’s statement that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation.” I am well aware that prototokos does not require their translation but has more to do with Jesus’ place of preeminence and superiority. But I didn’t want to get into a long drawn out debate about that text. There are many other passages that, as far as I’m concerned, convincingly state that Jesus is God (cf. John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; and 2 Peter 1:1). I also chose not to argue on the Greek grammar of John 1:1 and Colwell’s rule (JW’s suggest that the text says that Jesus was god, not that the Word is [the] God). 

Instead, I informed them that I had heard them say that the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity and that the concept of the Trinity is nowhere in the Bible. They said, “Exactly!” This is when I said, “Well, as a Christian who does believe in the Trinity, I am not sure I agree. If you look at 2 Corinthians 13:14, you see what appears to be the concept of the Trinity, as well as the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:18-20.” They turned their bibles to 2 Corinthians 13:14 and read it and then told me that I needed to read some book they brought with them which “proved” (their words) that the Trinity was a pagan idea. As they handed me the book, I decided to make a point about their tactics.

As I was holding their book, I asked them if they’d ever heard of Walter Martin (Martin wrote a book exposing many of the JW doctrinal problems). They informed me that they had not heard of him. I told them that he had written a book about all of the incorrect beliefs that JW’s had as I pulled the book out of my backpack (The Kingdom of Cults). I could see that they were suspicious and poised to get up and leave so I quickly said, “I’m not asking you to read this book.” That seemed to calm them down some. I went on, “But if I did ask you to read this, would you trust it?” They said, “No, because it probably is full of lies about Jehovah Witnesses” to which I said, “Exactly. What makes you think that I would accept your book when I know you wouldn’t accept mine? You have to have it both ways.” I then explained to them that while their book that proved that the Trinity was pagan might have some great information in it, I don’t know whether it was selective in it’s quotes or if it took things out of context just like how they didn’t know if Walter Martin’s book would be fair. I could tell that the wife knew I had made a good point by the look on her face but could also tell that the man was upset that I didn’t just blindly trust whatever he said or recommended. What can I say? I’m influenced by postmodern epistemology!

Since JW’s have a high regard for what we would call “biblical authority,” I suggested that we spend some time looking at more Scripture. They agreed.

Then the wife asked me disdainfully, “You believe that the Holy Spirit is a person?!?!” I said I did and then she kind of laughed and asked me if I actually thought that the 120 disciples in Acts 2 actually were filled with a person. The way she asked this question basically said, “You don’t actually believe that the Holy Spirit can be in everyone at the same time do you? That’s crazy!”

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

Her point was important. JW’s do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit is God’s “active force.” I decided to go down this road and figured I’d start to talk about the Holy Spirit rather than the Divinity of Christ because, as they both made clear, everyone they talk to is ready to talk about Jesus being God. They probably had a billion objection stoppers neatly prepared.

To answer the women’s question about whether I believed that the Holy Spirit actually inhabited the 120 disciples in Acts 2, I said, “Yes, I do.” They thought this was ridiculous. In fact, by this stage in the conversation it became apparent that they were essentially not interested in having a discussion but wanted to simply have people agree with what they said, regardless of whether or not it was truthful or if we had questions. They just wanted to check us off of their list.

Anyway, after I said I did believe that the Holy Spirit was a person and that he had filled the disciples in Acts 2, they couldn’t believe it. That’s when their presuppositions were controlling their beliefs. Because they denied that the Holy Spirit was God, they couldn’t fathom that the Holy Spirit was omnipresent. So I simply asked them whether or not they believed that Jehovah God was omnipresent. They both quickly assured me that they believed that. So I said, “If the Holy Spirit is God, even though you might not agree with that, it makes sense why I would suggest that he could fill 120 people and be omnipresent.” Again, the man stated that the Holy Spirit was not a person and that the Bible nowhere taught that he was.

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

This is the problem with not checking people’s broad sweeping statements regarding Scripture, God, or theology in general. As a matter of fact, the Bible does state that the Holy Spirit is more than an “active force.”

Since this couple had their gloves off and were clearly not interested in developing a relationship, I decided to up the ante and get serious. So what kind of cards was I holding? Good question.
Several years ago someone gave me a small purple book that was very helpful today… The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. It has an interlinear of the Westcott & Hort Greek New Testament and the New World Translation (NWT). The NWT is the version that JW’s use. I’ll be honest, it’s been significantly changed. It’s not a translation, it’s a hatchet job. Any text that comes close to clearly indicating that Jesus is God is altered to the point of being ridiculous. If you can read Greek, you will automatically know that there is an agenda driving this translation. In fact, The Kingdom Interlinear is the kryptonite of the Jehovah Witness doctrines.

I decided to pull out my copy and I showed them that I wanted to use their own translation to examine the assertion that nowhere in Scripture is the Holy Spirit described in terms beyond being an “active force.” He said, “Why certainly” and ready his bible to turn to the passage I suggested. After all, nowhere is the Holy Spirit more than an active force.

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

I said, “Let’s look at John 14-16.” As some of you will know, this is the Upper Room Discourse and where Jesus explicitly tells his disciples about the Holy Spirit functioning as the “Comforter” (parakletos). Everyone in the room, the two JW’s, my friend, and myself turned to the passage I suggested (John 14:15-17). Now, there are significant differences in the translations used by most Christians and the JW’s. The NWT reads as follows:

“If ​YOU​ love me, ​YOU​ will observe my commandments; and I will request the Father and he will give ​YOU​ another helper to be with ​YOU​ forever, the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither beholds it nor knows it. YOU​ know it, because it remains with ​YOU​ and is in ​YOU.” (emphasis added)

Now, you’ll notice that all of the pronouns in the NWT make the Holy Spirit very impersonal. It’s easy to understand why JW’s would understand the Spirit as an “active force.” However, there’s a significant problem here. In the Greek, those pronouns are all personal pronouns. That’s why most Christian translations are similar to the ESV:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (emphasis added)

This is a significant issue. And after explaining to these two people that this doesn’t quite line up with the statement that nowhere in the Bible is the Spirit explain in terms beyond being an “active force,” the man explained to me that the translators had looked all over the Bible and found other verses that they used to help correct this passage.

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

I then asked them what gave the translators the authority to make changes to the words that God had inspired the biblical authors to write. I explained to them that I just didn’t understand why they could do that. And that’s when the conversation ended.

The man grabbed his books and his NWT and stood up and told me that I obviously didn’t want to know the truth and he and his wife started to leave. I tried to stop them and told them that they had told me they would answer my questions and that I didn’t understand why they were leaving. Yet they were clearly very angry and did not want to stay and discuss issues related to the Bible. In fact, they even said, “Don’t bother praying for us.”

Stop the bus, folks. Stop the bus.

I’m really sad. I was praying and hoping that we could have formed a relationship and that a lot of good interaction could have happened. I was hoping that they were not enslaved to a cult and would be willing to answer questions that they said they could answer.

Alas, that was not to be. But I’ll go on record as saying that I am not listening to their advice about not praying for them! In fact, as they were getting in their car, my friend and I prayed for them and then talked more about the biblical issues that they raised. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that the person I was with was able to see first hand that one can defend their faith without being mean, angry, or misleading. I am thankful for the Spirit’s presence throughout this conversation because I honestly sensed that he was there guiding us.

Later this week I want to write a bit upon what I think we, as missional minded evangelicals, can learn from this interaction.