Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Christmas Is Christian

Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness we were constantly taught that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had re-established authentic Christianity that was originally taught by the Apostles but had been corrupted by pagan practices and beliefs such as the celebration of Christmas.  Therefore, as Jehovah’s Witnesses we did not celebrate Christmas.

The story is that the date of Christmas was basically chosen by the Early Church to co-opt a pagan Roman holiday that celebrated the “Unconquerable Sun”.  Because of this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Christmas and the traditions associated with the Christmas celebration are pagan and this is just another example of how Christianity was corrupted in the centuries after the apostles died.

I usually respond to these objections in a couple of ways:

1. As a Catholic, I believe that human nature, while wounded, is basically good and that all religions contain some truth in it.  So, it is a common practice for Christian missionaries to look at a native non-Christian culture and religion and to emphasize those practices that are good and consistent with Christian beliefs so as to evangelize.  Therefore, if the claims made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are true and the early Church did Christianize a pagan holiday and did take those elements of a pagan holiday that were good and give them a Christian meaning, I really have no problem with it.  That is an example of how we, as Christians, are commanded to evangelize and use those good beliefs and practices found in a native non-Christian culture or religion as a springboard to giving these people the fullness of truth in Christ.

2. In recent years, it has been demonstrated that much of the historical scholarship making the claim that the Early Church chose December 25th as the date for the birth of Christ because they wanted to co-opt a pagan festival is not accurate.  According to Professor William Tighe, the date that the Early Church chose for Jesus’ birth had nothing to do with the ancient Roman festival of the Sun but had to do with the Early Christian’s attempts to set a date for the death and resurrection of Christ.  In the West, the date that many Christians settled upon for this event was March 25th. Evidently there was a tradition in the early Church based on a Jewish understanding of the birth and death of the great Jewish prophets that Jesus, who would be the fulfillment of all of the prophets, would be conceived on the same date that he would die just like all of the Jewish prophets of old.  This means that the early Church believed that the Blessed Mother conceived Jesus on March 25th.  In fact, to this day, the Western Church celebrates March 25th as the Feast of the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived.  If one counts nine months from March 25th, one gets December 25th as the birth date for Jesus.

Furthermore, the earliest Christian source that places Jesus birth on December 25th is recorded for us by Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary On Daniel in 202 A.D.  While this section of his work was thought to have been a forgery, it appears as though more current scholarship suggests that this section of his writing is authentic.

If one realizes that the earliest record we have of a pagan Roman celebration occurring on December 25th is dated to 274 A.D., one could conclude that Christians claimed this date as Christ’s birth some 72 years before the pagans chose that date for their festival. In fact, Professor Tighe suggests:

“Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.””-Calculating Christmas

Kind of funny as with most things taught to us by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that just the opposite of what they claim is most likely true.

In any case, the birth of Our Lord is a joyous occasion for Christians throughout the world.  It is something that was celebrated with song by the angels in heaven and with amazement by the Shepherds of the fields and with gifts from the Wise Men of the East.  When I read the Christmas story in the Gospels, it sounds like a party to me and it is one party that I would like to celebrate with the hosts of heaven and all people of good will.

For more information, here are some links to other sources:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

http://piousfabrications.blogspot.com/2010/12/pagan-origins-of-christmas.html

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp#location1

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Introduction to the Catholic Faith- Lesson 1

The Great Divorce(s)

Catholics believe that mankind was established in a state of holiness and original justice in the beginning.  The first chapters in Genesis describe this state as being without any shame.  It appears as though God spoke directly with the first man and woman as a parent would with a child.  The relationship was full of trust.  (See Genesis Chapter 1 and 2.)

However, in Genesis chapter 3, we read of the disobedience of Adam and Eve against God’s command not to eat of the Tree in the middle of the Garden.  The result of this disobedience is known as the fall of mankind from this original state of holiness and justice.  Notice also that this disobedience was instigated by the serpent, the devil who wished to bring mankind into a state of opposition against God just like him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 391:

“Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

The Fall of the first human couple is described as follows in the Book of Genesis in Chapter 3:

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”  The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'”But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”-Genesis 3:1-6

The reaction of the man and the woman after the fall is very interesting.  Notice the following in Genesis chapter 3:

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.”  Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”  The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” –Genesis 3:7-13

Notice that the man and woman recognized their nakedness after eating of the forbidden fruit.  In addition, the man and the woman hid from God which appears to be something that they had never done prior to this event.  The trustful relationship that they had with each other and with God was now over.  They now had to cover themselves from each other and hide from God.  Why?

The consequences of their act of disobedience are explained to them by God Himself in the following verses:

“To the woman he said: “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.” To the man he said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”-Genesis 3: 16-19

If you notice, there are a number of formerly harmonious relationships that have been destroyed by this act of disobedience of the first human couple.  I like to call them the Great Divorce(s).  Let’s list them:

1)      The relationship between God and mankind had been separated from one of trust to one of distrust.  (Notice how they cover themselves and even hide from God.)

2)      The relationship between man and woman has been separated from one of trust to distrust.  (Notice how they must cover themselves from each other and even God says that the husband will be the master, and not in a good way, over the woman.)

3)      The relationship between mankind and nature is now one of discord where mankind will have to fight with nature to survive.  This is very different from the way in which the Garden of Eden was mankind’s home that provided for everything that they needed.

4)      The union between mankind’s spiritual nature and our desire to do good now turns into a war within due to our attraction to being disobedient to God.

5)      And, the ultimate divorce is the coming separation of the soul with the body resulting in death where mankind returns to the dust from which he was taken.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the first sin of man as follows in paragraphs 397 to 400:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”. Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives. The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.”

The Catholic Church understands the consequences of this original sin of the first human couple to have been transmitted to all of Adam and Eve’s descendants in the sense that now all humans are in this state of original sin where we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, are deprived of the original justice and holiness that Adam and Eve received from God prior to their fall.  The results of this are that we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, must live in a world that is separated from God and must deal with all of the consequences of the great divorces listed above.  While we are still basically good due to being created by the all good God, we are wounded and have this inclination to do evil known as concupiscence.  Our giving into our concupiscence results in us committing personal sins, which, of course, separates us from God on a personal level.

While it may seem that we are without hope due to the situation we were placed in by our first parents, God gives us the first prophecy and promise of salvation in the same chapter of Genesis where the fall of mankind is described.  Here is the scripture:

“Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”-Genesis 3:14, 15

Here God speaks of a war between this woman and her offspring and the serpent (who represents the Devil) and his offspring.  Notice the offspring of the woman will wound the serpent in the head—a death blow and the offspring of the serpent will merely strike the offspring of the woman in the heal—a blow that is not fatal.  This scripture is known in Christian tradition as the protoevangelium (The First Gospel or Goodnews).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how Christians have understood this prophecy in paragraphs 410-412:

“After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers. The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”, makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the “Proto-evangelium” as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life. But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, “Christ’s inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away.” and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’; and the Exsultet sings, ‘O happy fault,. . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!’”

In our next lesson we will look at how God continuously reaches out to mankind to reconcile with us throughout history and how this leads to the coming of the Messiah.

Are the JWs Really the Re-establishment of 1st Century Christianity?

The JWs taught me that their organization is the re-establishment of authentic 1st Century Christianity without the “pagan” influences found in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches.  So, I reasoned that if the JWs are correct, then I should be able to find their doctrines in the writings of those Christians who were alive when the Apostles were still alive.  What I found was quite shocking to me.

I started with the writings of St. Ignatius who was the Bishop of Antioch.  He was taken to Rome where he was martyred for the faith.  During his trip to Rome, he wrote a series of letters to the Christian communities along the way.  These letters are believed to have been written as early as 98 A.D. which means that St. Ignatius was a contemporary of St. John the Apostle.

In the his writings, St. Ignatius confesses Jesus as God and, furthermore, is willing to die for this belief.  He also refers to the Eucharist as the flesh of Jesus Christ which is a very Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.  Here are some examples:

“being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible— even Jesus Christ our Lord.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“For our GodJesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.”-The Epistle to the Ephesians

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles”.-The Epistle to the Trallians

For our GodJesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed[in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness.-The Epistle to the Romans

“I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”-The Epistle to the Romans

“Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.”-The Epistle to the Romans

The writings of Ignatius really affected me because as a JW I was taught that after the Apostles died all of the “Catholic type of false doctrines” began to arise among the early Christians.  However, here was a leader of the Christian community in Antioch willing to die for these “Catholic” beliefs and he was alive during the time of the Apostle John.  Furthermore, no matter what Early Church Father I read, I discovered that their beliefs were in no way, shape or form similar to anything that the JWs taught or continue to teach at this time.  Therefore, I had to wonder if the claims that the JWs make of being the re-establishment of organized first century Christianity on earth was really something that I could believe in.


If you would like more information on the Early Church Fathers and what they believed compared to what the JWs claim you may wish to read the following:

THE WATCHTOWER AND THE ANTE-NICENE CHURCH FATHERS  by Michael J. Partyka

Jehovah’s Witnesses on Trial:  The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers by Robert U. Finnerty

After I read about the beliefs of the Early Church Fathers, I began wondering how it is that Christians decided what books to place in the New Testament or, as the JWs call it, the Christian Greek Scriptures.  The information I discovered here went a long way to attracting me to the Catholic Church.  I will talk about this in my next blog post.

Academic Dishonesty or Incompetence-What Did the Experts *Really* Say?

About the time Wayne Rogers and I had our discussion on how to properly interpret those proof text used by Trinitarians on the nature of God, I got a phone call from some Lutheran friends of mine who lived in Nebraska.  At the time I was a professor at Concordia University in Seward, NE and there was a small Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall there. 

Evidently, some JWs were visiting some Lutheran friends of mine who attended the local Lutheran parish in Seward and these JWs had given them a copy of the brochure “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”  I had heard that the JW author of this booklet, which is still published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, had included many quotes in this booklet from history and theology experts to support the JWs’ views on the nature of God.  When my Lutheran friends had read the booklet they were confused by these quotes and troubled because there were no references in the booklet other than at most an author’s name and perhaps a title to a book or article.

Since, the local Lutheran college had a rather extensive theological collection, I told my Lutheran friends to meet me at the college library and that we would try to find as many of the references cited in the JWs’ booklet as we could to see if they had been taken out of context in some way.  The results of this exercise were shocking not only to my Lutheran friends but to me as well.

Here is an example of one of the many misquotes we found in the JWs’ booklet “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”  The JW author of the booklet is constantly making the argument that a faithful Christian would reject the Trinity doctrine because the Christian Greek Scriptures (that is JW speak for the New Testament), does not clearly present the Trinity doctrine.  In support of this view, they quote a ton of scholars who appear to support the JW author’s point of view.  Here is an example of one of the quotes that they use:

“Bernhard Lohse says in A Short History of Christian Doctrine: “As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity.””  http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/article_03.htm

For the trusting reader, this quote seems to be quite convincing.  However there is no page number cited in the booklet where one can go and read the original quotation in its entirety.  If one does, then one would get a whole different perspective on what Bernhard Lohse was trying to say.  Here is the quote in its entirety on page 38 of the book A Short History of Christian Doctrine:

“As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity.  This does not mean very much, however, for generally speaking the New Testament is less intent upon setting forth certain doctrines than it is upon proclaiming the kingdom of God, a kingdom that dawns in and with the person of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, however, there are in the New Testament the rudiments of a concept of God that was susceptible of further development and clarification, along doctrinal lines.”

As one can see from the entire quote (as well as by reading the entire book), Lohse does not reject the Trinity and neither does he say that the Trinity is not found in the New Testament at all as the JW author claims he does.  What Lohse does say is that the fully formulated Trinity doctrine is not found in the New Testament but the “rudiments” of such a concept of God are found in the New Testament and the Church, over time, developed those ideas into the Trinity Doctrine.  In fact on page 41 of the book A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Lohse says:

“From the beginning, of course, certain fundamentals were firmly held by the church, namely, that God is one, i.e., that it did not believe in two, let alone three gods; that this one God has revealed himself in a threefold way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;”

The worse of the misquotes and misrepresentations that the JW author uses is when he quotes from Father Edward Fortman’s book entitled The Triune God.  To the trusting reader the JW author makes it appear as though Father Fortman, a Catholic priest no less, rejects the central doctrine of the religion that he is supposed to be advocating.  However, any reasonably intelligent individual can tell by reading just the first few pages of his book that Father Fortman is a very strong believer and defender of the Trinity doctrine and that his book is dealing with how the Church formulated this belief from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. 

The JW author’s reputation for misrepresenting and misquoting scholars in this booklet alone is the subject of TONS of websites.  If you want more examples, I will refer you to the following links:

http://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-jw-deceptions.htm

http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/trinity.php

http://www.towertotruth.net/ShouldYouBelieveintheTrinity.htm#top

In any case, after discovering these misquotes and misrepresentations, my Lutheran friends were very upset that someone would write and publish such a dishonest brochure.  They made photocopies of the full quotes and also checked out those books from the college library that they could to show their JW visitors how the author of the “Should You Believe in The Trinity?” booklet was misrepresenting things. 

About two months later, I got another call from my Lutheran friends and they told me that they had shared their information with their JW visitors.  They told me that the JW visitors were visibly shaken at what had been shared with them and that they took the photocopies with the promise that they would come back with an explanation.  However, my Lutheran friends said that their JW visitors never returned on the day they said they would.  In fact, when my Lutheran friends saw their JW visitors at a local restaurant and went over to say hello to them, the JWs quickly left the restaurant and refused to speak to my Lutheran friends.

I told my Lutheran friends that they should now pray for their JW visitors because obviously some seeds of doubt had been planted in them about whether or not the Watchtower Society leaders could be trusted when it comes to dealing with subjects about the nature of God.  It is one thing to believe differently than others but it is a whole other thing to grossly misrepresent the beliefs of others in such an academically dishonest, at worse, or academically incompetent, at best, way.

About a week or so after I had coached my Lutheran friends and after they had been shunned by their JW friends at the local restaurant, two JW elders knocked on my door.  The little town where I lived in Nebraska was quite small so it did not take the local elders long to discover who it was who had been coaching the local Lutherans in their discussions with the local JWs.

 Evidently, one of the elders who visited me was the Presiding Elder of the local congregation and his daughter was one of the JWs who had visited my Lutheran friends.  I imagine that the presentation that my Lutheran friends had given her must have really shaken her up to make her father go on a search and visit mission to meet with me.  The two elders tried to discover who I was and where I was from and when I did not give them the information they wanted and when I told them my intention was to continue to share this information with whomever would visit my home and the homes of my Lutheran friends, the two JW elders got quite angry.  (In fact, one of them got in my face and began to close his fist as if getting ready to hit me when the other elder pulled him back and convinced him to leave.)

Another thing that happened during this time was that in addition to misquoting Biblical Scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries in this booklet, the JWs also misrepresented a group of individuals known as The Early Church Fathers.  These individuals wrote about the beliefs of the Christians during the end of the 1st Century and beyond.  I will discuss what I discovered in these writings next.

The Creation Contradiction

One of the contradictions that was pointed out to me by Jay Hess had to do with answering the question, “Who created the heavens and the earth?”

For example in the New World Translation the following scriptures from the Old Testament indicate that Jehovah, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses would say is God the Father, is the One who created everything by Himself with no assistance from anyone:

“This is what Jehovah has said, your Repurchaser and the Former of you from the belly: “I, Jehovah, am doing everything, stretching out the heavens by myself, laying out the earth.  Who was with me?”-Isaiah 44: 24 -New World Translation

“This is what Jehovah has said, the Holy One of Israel and the Former of him: “Ask me even about the things that are coming concerning my sons; and concerning the activity of my hands you people should command me. I myself have made the earth and have created even many upon it.  I –my own hands have stretched out the heavens, and all the army of them I have commanded.” –Isaiah 45: 11, 12 New World Translation

However, the JWs believe that Jesus was created directly by Jehovah and was used by Jehovah to help him create the rest of the Universe.  To support this view of Jesus being responsible for the creation of the Universe they cite the following scripture (remember that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Word (in Greek “Logos”) is Jesus in his pre-human existence):

“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in [the] beginning with God.  All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” John 1:1-3 New World Translation

Note that the JWs’ own Bible indicates that not one thing that came into existence came into existence apart from the work of the Word-Jesus Christ.  However, if one accepts the belief that Jesus is not equal in nature to God the Father and that the Word, Jesus, cannot also be rightly referred to as Jehovah (or Yahweh), then it appears as though the Old Testament claims made by Jehovah in Isaiah are contradicting the New Testament claims made about the Word, Jesus, in the Gospel of John.   In other words, how could Jehovah (or Yahweh) make the claim that He created the heavens and earth by Himself if Jesus was there to help Him as the JWs claim?

For a Trinitarian, however, this is not a problem because Trinitarians believe that Jesus has all of the attributes and abilities of God the Father and, therefore, can also be referred to as Jehovah (or Yahweh) so then there is no contradiction here.   As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 292:

The Old Testament suggests and the New Covenant reveals the creative action of the Son and the Spirit, inseparably one with that of the Father. This creative co-operation is clearly affirmed in the Church’s rule of faith: “There exists but one God. . . he is the Father, God, the Creator, the author, the giver of order. He made all things by himself, that is, by his Word and by his Wisdom”, “by the Son and the Spirit” who, so to speak, are “his hands”. Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity.”

If you remember, this discussion on the Trinity started when a former JW, Wayne Rogers, asked me why I accepted the divinity of Christ after leaving the JWs. What I have written over the last few weeks is what I learned from mostly Protestant Bible Scholars about what most Christians believed about the nature of God.  After sharing these views with Wayne, his response to me was, “You know, all of these scriptures that you shared with me were pretty much the same ones we used as JWs, you have just interpreted them differently now.  How do you know that your interpretation of these scriptures is correct?”

I thought that was an excellent question so I told him that I would do some reading to see how Christians interpreted these scriptures back in the first and second centuries.  This lead me to discovering the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  I will share these findings with you in the coming weeks.

God’s Extraordinarily Ordinary Means of Salvation

My wife and I attended the Mass at Holy Hill again this Sunday (www.holyhill.com).  The Old Testament Mass reading for the day was taken from 2 Kings 5:14-17.  It recounts the story of Naaman, a great military commander, who was a leper.  He had captured a little girl in a raid on Israel and this little girl became a servant to Naaman’s wife.

The little girl told Naaman’s wife that the prophet in Samaria, Elisha, could cure Naaman of his leprosy.  Naaman with his King’s permission sought out Elisha and Elisha told Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed.

Naaman was furious.  It was well known that the waters of the Jordan River were not as pristine and healing as the rivers of Damascus and, besides, why would Elisha not come out and just call down the power of God over his skin and heal him?  Naaman wanted lots of flash and fanfare.  He wanted something extraordinary to happen to him.

Naaman’s servants reasoned with him and said that if Elisha had asked him to perform some extraordinary feat, that he would have done it without question and that it did not makes sense for Naaman to refuse to do something quite ordinary such as bathe in the Jordan just because it seemed to be beneath him.  After all, there was a chance that he would be healed of his leprosy.

Naaman bathed in the Jordan seven times and was healed.  He was quite thankful and begged Elisha to take his gifts of great wealth and when Elisha refused, Naaman promised to worship the True God.

I love this story in that it always reminds me of how God can make us Great Saints through ordinary means.  Like Naaman we expect God to ask us to do extraordinary things and sometimes the Lord does ask us to do those things.  However, for the vast majority of us we work out our salvation and grow in holiness by doing those ordinary things that God has called us to do depending on our vocation.

For parents, it is providing for their families not only materially but spiritually as well.  It is through wiping the noses of sick children, saying the family rosary, attending Mass regularly, and teaching the faith to those young ones.  For some this may seem all rather ordinary and somewhat tedious.  We may even ask, “How can I become a Great Saint if all I do all day is clean the house, cook the meals, and answer the same questions over and over again?”

This is not unlike Naaman’s reaction to Elisha’s request to bathe seven times in the muddy Jordan River of all places.  And yet, through this extraordinarily ordinary action of bathing, the Lord made Naaman clean.  Likewise, the Lord can remove the leprosy of sin from our souls through our faithfully performing the extraordinarily ordinary daily tasks as determined by the vocation to which Our Lord has called us.

Placing God In A Box

Having come to the conclusion that God’s nature is infinitely above our nature as humans and that it should be expected that we would have difficulty completely grasping the nature of God based on our human reason and experience alone, I became open to the possibility that the doctrine of the Trinity could be the best explanation of the divine nature of Almighty God.

What still troubled me, however, was the question as to whether the JWs’ view of God was consistent with the understanding that God operated outside the confines of space and time as Catholic and Protestant Christians seemed to believe.  So, I looked for evidence of this in Watchtower publications and was somewhat surprised at what I found.

In the Watchtower publication entitled You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth there is a chapter entitled “God-Who Is He?”  In this chapter the JWs describe Jehovah, whom they consider to be Almighty God, as a single person, in contrast to the Catholic and Protestant views of Almighty God as multi-personal.  In addition, to saying that Almighty God, Jehovah, is a single person, they also say that Jehovah has a brain and a body.  Notice the following:

“While most people say they believe in God, many do not think of him as a real person.  Is he? Well, it can be seen that where there is intelligence there is a mind.  For example, we may say, ‘I cannot make up my mind.’ And we know where there is a mind there is a brain in a body of a definite shape. So, then, the great mind responsible for all creation belongs to the great Person, Almighty God.  Although he does not have a material body, he has a spiritual one.  A spirit person has a body?  Yes, the Bible says: “If there is a physical body, there is a spiritual one.” -1 Corinthians 15:44; John 4:24 page 36

What are the ramifications of the belief that God has a mind, with a brain, and a “spirit body” of some definite shape?  Notice the JWs’ answer:

“Since God is a person with a spiritual body, he must have a place to live.  The Bible tells us that the heavens are God’s “established place of dwelling.” (1 Kings 8:43)  Also, we are told that “Christ entered…into the heavens itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24) Some humans will be rewarded with life in heaven with God, at which time they will receive spirit bodies.  They will see God, the Bible says, and also be like him. (1 John 3:2) This, too shows that God is a person, and that he has a body.”-You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth pages 36, 37

So, according to the reasoning of the JWs, since God is a person, he must have a mind, and, therefore, he must have a brain in a “spirit body” of some definite shape.  Since God has a body with a definite shape, this means that God needs a place somewhere in the universe to live.  Now, in this book, the JWs simply say that God lives in the heavens.  However, in years past they were much more specific.  Notice the following:

“Some, however, believe that they have found the direction of it to be the Pleiades, and particularly Alcyone, the central one of the renowned Pleiadic stars. To the distinguished German astronomer, Prof. J. H. Maedler, belongs the honor of having made this discovery. Alcyone, then, as far as science has been able to perceive, would seem to be the ‘midnight throne’ in which the whole system of gravitation has its central seat, and from which the Almighty governs his universe.”- Thy Kingdom Come published by the Watchtower Society 1903 Edition page 327.

“The constellation of the Pleiades is a small one compared with others which scientific instruments disclose to the wondering eyes of man.  But the greatness in size of other stars or planets is small when compared with Pleiades in importance, because the Pleiades is the place of the eternal throne of God.”-Reconcilation published by the Watchtower Society in 1928 on page 14.

So, at one point in their history, the JWs believed that Jehovah actually lived on the star Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation.  However, in the November 15th, 1953 issue of The Watchtower they said the following:

“Incidentally, Pleiades can no longer be considered the center of the universe and it would be unwise for us to try to fix God’s throne as being at a particular spot in the universe.”-page 703

So, while JWs no longer teach that Jehovah the person who has a brain in a ‘spirit body of a definite shape’ lives on the star known as Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation they do believe that Jehovah lives someplace within the created universe.  This, to me, seems to indicate that JWs believe that God lives within the bounds of the created universe and, therefore, within the bounds of space and time.  The JWs recognize the box into which they have placed Jehovah when they say the following:

“But someone may ask: ‘If God is a real person who lives at a certain place in heaven, how can he see everything that happens everywhere? And how can his power be felt in every part of the universe?’ (2 Chronicles 16:9)  The fact that God is a person in no way limits his power or greatness.  Nor should it lessen our respect for Him. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13) To help us to understand this, consider the far-reaching effects of an electric power plant.

A power plant has a certain location in or near a city.  But its electricity is distributed over all that area, providing light and power.  It is similar with God.  He is in the heavens. (Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 123:1) Yet his holy spirit, which is his invisible active force, can be felt everywhere, over all the universe.  By means of his holy spirit God created the heavens, the earth and all living things. (Psalm 33:6; Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30) To create these things, God did not need to be present in body.  He can send out his spirit, his active force, to do whatever he wants even though he is far away.  What a marvelous God!-Jeremiah 10:12; Daniel 4:35.”-You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth page 37

So, for the JW, God is truly far away and only interacts with us via his impersonal active force which is what the JWs consider to be the holy spirit.  In addition, for the JWs, God is not omnipresent but is confined to some place in the heavens but his power his merely felt by us via this impersonal active force much like electricity is felt from a local power plant.  This view of God is very different from what Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe about the nature of God.  For Catholic and Protestant Christians, God is immanent in that He is everywhere and transcendent in that He cannot be confined to space and time like finite human beings can.

At this point, I was unsure as to what view of God to accept.  However, I was now realizing that the extreme difference in understanding about the nature of God results in some very different understandings of how God acts toward his creatures as well.  And, I was curious to see what scriptures might support the Catholic and Protestant view that the holy spirit is a person.