David Wood vs. Yahya Seymour
Rebuttals and Conclusions
By Ryan Hemelaar
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." - Acts 20:28 (ESV)
Here Paul equates Jesus' death as being God's death. Therefore, it is clear that Jesus is God.
The New World Translation (the Bible of the Jehovah's Witnesses) has once again erroneously translated this verse, by rendering the last phrase of it as: "...which he purchased with the blood of his own [Son]." For the Greek is: τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου. Since there is a definite article (τοῦ) before both the word that means 'blood' (αἵματος) and the word that means 'own' (ἰδίου), the construction clearly shows that ἰδίου ('own') is an attributive adjective. What this means, as the name implies, is that a quality is attributed to the noun (eg: "the good man"), unlike a predicate adjective (eg: "the man is good"), and a substantive (eg: "only the good die young"), where an adjective stands in the place of a noun. This last category is what the translators of the New World Translation think this adjective is, that is, a substantive. However, it is clear that there is a noun with an article preceding the adjective and its article, so therefore it simply cannot stand there as a substantive. Instead the last phrase of Acts 20:28 should be translated: "...which he obtained with/through his own blood", which the ESV has nicely done.
Moreover, to expose the New World Translation's double standard, it translates John 10:11a as "I am the fine shepherd" even though it's in the exact same restrictive attributive position (ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός) as Acts 20:28! That is clearly a double standard; translating one as a substantive, and the other as an attributive.
Professor James A. Bellamy writes:
These variants, however – I have counted more than two-hundred that make a difference in the meaning - are important in that they tell us there was no solid oral tradition stemming directly from the prophet to prove which variant was correct.
In Surah 6:63, of the seven readers, the two from Kufah recite ‘njyn‘ (anjana) “he saves us.” and the other five ‘njytn’ (anjay- tana) “you (sg.) save us.” These two words sound so dif- ferent that no one, unless he were deaf, could mistake one for the other, and the words on both sides of the word in question are unambiguous. One cannot argue that the prophet used one variant one day and the other the next. Nor can one maintain that there is a firm oral tradition that guarantees the reading of the unambiguous words but breaks down when more than one reading is possible.
Reference: James A. Bellamy (2001), ‘Textual Criticism of the Koran’. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 121 No. 1 (Jan-Mar. 2001), pp. 1-6.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has recently released an MP3 of a talk that outlines the different viewpoints on salvation. If you don't understand what Universalism, Inclusivism, Pluralism, and Exclusivism means, you need to listen to this audio.
Download MP3 (55 mins - 12.5MB)
Over the centuries and even today, many people claim that it is impossible to know anything about God. Dr. William Lane Craig, in this audio, examines and sufficiently refutes each one of these opposing worldviews.
Download MP3 (1 Hour - 14.1 MB)
By Andre Holwerda
The third and final argument requires the following verses:
Thus says the Lord (i.e. Jehovah), the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord (Jehovah) of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (Isaiah 44:6)
Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. (Isaiah 48:12)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Revelation 21:5-6)
"Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 22:13)
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." (Revelation 22:16)
He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
In Isaiah 44 and 48, as well as in many other parts of Isaiah, Jehovah identifies Himself as ‘the first and the last’. A similar title appears in Revelation 1:8 where, in the New World Translation, it reads: “I am Alpha and Omega”, says Jehovah God…”. This is seen again in Revelation 21:5-6, where the one sitting on the throne of God says: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. So, ‘Alpha and Omega’, ‘the first and the last’ and ‘the beginning and the end’ are all titles of Jehovah. You cannot have two alphas and two omegas, or two firsts and two lasts, or two beginnings and two endings. Therefore, these titles belong only to Jehovah and nobody else!
Now, in Revelation 22:13, someone speaks and declares Himself to be ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’. He also says, in this verse, that He is ‘coming quickly’. So who is this person who claims the titles that belong only to Jehovah and says that He is coming quickly? Revelation 22:20 answers this question with the words, ‘He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ The one who is coming, who claims the titles of Jehovah for Himself, is none other than Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ is Jehovah!
Notice also that in Revelation 1:17-18, this person who calls Himself ‘the first and the last’ also mentions that He died and is now alive again. We have established that Jehovah alone is the first and the last. So that brings up the question, ‘when did Jehovah die and rise again?’ If Jesus Christ is not Jehovah, then this question remains unanswered and the statement made in these verses makes absolutely no sense and is therefore an error in the Bible. Either Jesus is Jehovah or the Biblical author was wrong or lying at this point. There simply are no other options.
Some other useful arguments:
- Isaiah 48:11 and John 17:5: In John 17:5, Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him with the glory He had with the Father before the world existed. So Jesus shared the Father’s glory before He came to earth. But in Isaiah 48:11 Jehovah God says He ‘will not give His glory to another’. He gave His glory to Jesus. Therefore, either Jesus is Jehovah or Jehovah lied when He said He would not give His glory to another. Since the latter is unacceptable, Jesus must be Jehovah.
- Hebrews 1:8: This verse quotes the Father saying to the Son, ‘your throne O God, is forever and ever.’ Thus, the Father Himself calls the Son God.
- Colossians 2:9: This verse clearly states that ‘all the fullness of deity’ dwelt in Jesus bodily. In other words, everything God is dwelt in Jesus. The NWT mistranslates the word ‘deity’ as ‘divine quality’ but the Watchtower’s own Kingdom Interlinear Translation correctly translates it as ‘deity’ or ‘divinity’.
- John 20:27 – 28: In verse 27 Jesus appears to Thomas and proves to Him that He really has risen from the dead. Verse 28 is Thomas’ response in which he says, ‘my Lord and my God.’ The Greek ‘ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou’ is literally rendered ‘The Lord of me and The God of me.’ The definite article is present for emphasis, so that we don’t miss the fact that Thomas was calling Jesus ‘The God’ (i.e. Jehovah). Now, had that been merely Thomas’ opinion and not the truth, Jesus, as a good rabbi, would have immediately rebuked him for blasphemy. Instead He commended Thomas! Thus, Jesus confirmed Thomas’ statement.
John 5:17 – 18: In verse 17 Jesus calls God His Father. In verse 18 John makes a comment in which he mentions that by calling God His Father Jesus was ‘making Himself equal with God.’ Thus, John teaches us that calling yourself the Son of God is no different to calling yourself God.
By Andre Holwerda
In my previous article on witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses I stressed the need to remain focussed on two topics only; namely, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and also His deity. In that article I gave some tips on presenting JWs with arguments for the resurrection. In this one it is my purpose to provide evangelical Christians, who wish to witness to JWs, with some basic arguments supporting the Christian understanding of the deity of Christ.
Let us start, then, by getting a clear understanding of the difference between what JWs believe about the person of Jesus and what we who call ourselves evangelical Christians typically believe. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society teaches that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God and based on that we might make the mistake of thinking that they believe the same as we do. However, the Watchtower defines the title ‘Son of God’ as referring to a created being who, while the first and greatest creation of Jehovah, is nevertheless a creature, not God, and is not to be worshipped. Two thousand years of orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, has consistently defined the Son of God as a being who is uncreated, eternally begotten, co-equal with the Father and of the very same nature and substance as the Father, while remaining a distinct person. What these two wildly different definitions serve to demonstrate is that JWs believe in one version of Jesus, while evangelicals believe in another. This is one instance in which Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:4 ring true, in which he indicated that it is possible to be deceived by someone who preaches ‘another Jesus’ (literally ‘a different Jesus’).
With our terms defined, then, let us move on to the nuts and bolts of how to present a cogent argument for the deity of Christ to JWs. Many arguments have been formulated for this task and most of them hold some value for the defence of this doctrine, however there are a select few that I find to be the most powerful when dealing with JWs. In this article I will present what I feel are the best three and then give some additional arguments at the end for those who wish to delve deeper.
The first argument involves the following verses (I am quoting from the ESV but this argument can also be made using the Watchtower’s own translation, the NWT):
"O my God," I say, "take me not away in the midst of my days-- you whose years endure throughout all generations!" Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. (Psalm 102:24-27)
But of the Son he (i.e. the Father) says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end." (Hebrews 1:8-12)
Thus says the Lord (i.e. Jehovah), your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: "I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,...(Isaiah 44:24)
In Psalm 102 we learn that it was Jehovah God who created the heavens and the earth. Get your JW friend to read those verses and acknowledge that indeed Jehovah God is the creator. Now, turn in your Bible to Hebrews 1 and get them to read verses 8-12. Verses 8 and 9 give us the context by showing us that this is a quote of God the Father saying something to His Son. Then in verses 10 to 12 we have God the Father taking those verses from Psalm 102 and applying them to the Son! So Jehovah God himself attributes the creation of the universe to the Son. There are profound Christological riches in these verses that could form separate arguments on their own but be sure to stick to the main point, which is that Jesus is called the creator by no less of an authority than the Father himself!
Now, this alone may seem to be a powerful argument for the deity of Christ. However, the JWs have formulated a response to this by saying that the Father created through the Son; that the Father was kind of like the chief architect, while the son was merely the builder. This is where Isaiah 44:24 comes into play. By taking your JW friend to this verse in Isaiah you can prove to him that Jehovah created all things all by himself! So, pulling the argument together, Psalm 102 says that Jehovah is the creator, Hebrews 1:8-12 says that Jesus is the creator and Isaiah 44:24 says that Jehovah created the universe all on his own. Therefore, Jesus and the Father are both Jehovah God! There is simply no other way to reconcile those verses.
For our second argument, the following verses are needed:
And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" (Luke 4:8)
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." (Hebrews 1:6)
Now the argument is this; in Luke 4:8 Jesus, being tempted by the devil, refused to worship Satan because Deuteronomy 6:13 clearly stated that one is to worship Jehovah God and only Jehovah God. Comparing that with Hebrews 1:6, however, we see that God the Father commanded the angels to worship Jesus. The conclusion then is that either the Father commanded His angels to commit idolatry or else Jesus is Jehovah! And since the Father does not command anyone to sin, therefore the latter conclusion must be the correct one. Jesus is Jehovah! There is no other option. Even if a JW will not admit that Jesus is Jehovah, on the basis of Hebrews 1:6 he or she must at least admit that Jesus is to be worshipped.
Continued from Part 1
4. Some Examples: Tooth Fairies, Leprechauns, Santa Claus, Teapots, and Invisible Objects
Let me see if I can put all this together to answer your question with some examples which are thought to pose a problem for the line of thought defended thus far. Your question basically was when absence of evidence counts as evidence of absence. Answering this will depend upon whether our epistemic situation satisfies the Evidence Expectation and Knowledge Expectation Criteria for the object in question: Should one expect to possess evidence sufficient to know that object O exists? If a rhino were in the room, then the answer is “Yes.” Thus, looking about and seeing no rhino, that itself is evidence there is none present.
But what about things like the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, and Santa Claus? Atheists claim they don’t need to disprove God for the same reason they don’t need to disprove the existence of Tooth Fairies, leprechauns, and Santa Claus. The problem with the comparison with the last two items is that, while our epistemic situation regarding God doesn’t always satisfy the Evidence Expectation and Knowledge Expectation Criteria, our epistemic situation regarding leprechauns and Santa Claus does — we can, and do, disprove them all the time; it’s just that there are few, if any, people arguing for their existence so we’re never called upon to give those reasons. If Santa existed we should expect to see, but don’t, lots of evidence of that fact, including warehouses at the North Pole, a large sleigh, and so forth; similarly, were there biologically tiny human beings on this planet we should expect to see, but don’t, their evidence: miniature villages, waste products, the bones of their deceased — evidence similar to what we have for mice, hamsters and other small critters. If there were more people today who made a case for leprechauns and Santa Claus then it would be entirely appropriate for us to enter into dialogue with them, giving reasons for their non-existence.
At this point an atheist might object that the Tooth Fairy is different from leprechauns and Santa Claus because she’s invisible. (Is she invisible in the story?) Suppose she is invisible. According to the tale she collects teeth left under children’s pillows leaving behind a reward (usually money). Evidence we should expect to see if she existed then would be money left behind, stolen teeth, etc. Do we find such evidence? Well, no we don’t, but we would expect to if she existed. So, even the Tooth Fairy satisfies the Evidence Expectation and Knowledge Expectation Criteria. So because we lack evidence of her, we say she doesn’t exist (sorry kids!).
Suppose the atheist agrees that the reason why we deny Tooth Fairies, leprechauns and Santa Claus is because we do have evidence for their absence. He might nonetheless insist that the situation is significantly different for other objects which are causally isolated from us. A case in point is Russell’s famous teapot which circles about the sun, an object which is (for the most part) causally isolated from us. Do we need to be agnostic about it? Can we say it doesn’t exist? I think we know it doesn’t exist because it wasn’t put there by the Russian or American astronauts; and we know that matter in the universe does not self-organize into teapot shapes. So really, we have a great deal of evidence that Russell’s teacup doesn’t exist; and since our discussion is confined to cases where we infer the non-existence of something simply on the basis of absence of evidence for it, the example is irrelevant.
Another Objection and a Reply
But now imagine the atheist objecting:
OK, very well, I grant everything you say thus far about Santa Claus, and all the rest; but we don’t have to abide by your Criteria when it comes to objects which are both invisible (like the Tooth Fairy) and causally undetectable (like the teapot). For example, an invisible floating, pink elephant over my head. There’s no such thing.
The theist could reply:
Your example is charming and rhetorically clever but incoherent. Can something that is invisible even be an elephant? If so, then it surely isn't very much like a normal elephant— a massive, material object which exhibits all sorts of physical properties. Your “invisible elephant” question is really just a rhetorically clever sleight of hand; the question doesn’t make much sense in the first place and perhaps should be rephrased as something like: "Do we know there are not immaterial things around us?" to which the answer should be "No" in either of two senses: (i) No, because we have no evidence that there are not immaterial things, or (ii) No, because there are immaterial things around us, e.g. God, angels, immaterial minds, qualia, abstract objects like numbers or propositions, etc.9
The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say if he found himself before God on Judgment Day and God said to him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell shot right back: “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”
Many have taken what they consider to be an apparent lack of evidence for God as evidence that God doesn’t exist; that is, they look around, don’t see “enough” evidence and conclude that atheism is true.
But Russell realized that the inference from apparent lack of evidence for God to atheism is fallacious. That’s why in his famous debate in 1948 with Frederick Copleston he preferred the label “agnostic” instead of “atheist.” Yet today, many call themselves “atheists” when really they are agnostics.
Let’s first define some terms around the question “Does God exist?”
"Does God exist?"
Theism: "God exists"
Non-theism: "I don't believe in God"
Agnosticism: “I don’t know if God exists”
Atheism: “God does not exist”
Hard Agnosticism: "I don't know
Soft Agnosticism: "I don't know
Notice a few things about these definitions. First, non-theism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive because you could be a non-theist and so fail to believe in God (i.e., you could lack belief in God) but you might also be an agnostic saying, “For all I know, God exists. I just don’t know.” Notice also how extreme hard agnosticism is, since it claims even more than atheists do; the hard agnostic says that everyone is wrong, both atheists and theists, and that they cannot know what they claim, even if they have apparently sound arguments! Little wonder, then, that hard agnosticism is sometimes called “ostrich agnosticism!”
There are sound arguments for God’s existence. Some of them are very good. But suppose it were not so; suppose all the arguments for God fail and there are no further good reasons to believe in God. What follows?—Atheism? It’s very important to realize that the answer to this question is NO. What follows is, at most, soft agnosticism.
2. When Does Absence of Evidence = Evidence of Absence? (Or, when is the inference from “I see none” to “there is none” valid?)
What I have said so far raises the question, When does the absence of evidence become evidence of absence? This is a good question because sometimes (but not always) the former implies the latter. Let’s start with some examples to work with.
Example 1. Elephants in the Room (Absence of Evidence = Evidence of Absence)
Someone asks, “Are there any elephants in the room?” After looking about and seeing none, I say, “No, I see none. There are no elephants in the room.”
The inference from “I see none” to “There are none” in this example is justified. With respect to elephants in this room, I’m not agnostic; rather, I positively affirm: There are no elephants in the room. In this case, absence of elephants in the room is evidence of their absence. But this inference doesn’t hold for Example 2.
Example 2. The Grand Canyon Fly (Absence of Evidence ≠ Evidence of Absence)
We’re standing atop the Grand Canyon and someone asks, “Is there a fly way down there?” After a quick glance I say, “No, I see none. There is no fly down there.”
As in the last example we move from “I see none” to “There is none”—but unlike the last example the conclusion is unjustified. Agnosticism regarding the fly is the appropriate response here. So in the Elephant Example we don’t have to be agnostics, but in the Grand Canyon Fly Example we do. Why? Notice that it is not the relative size of the object which creates the difference (The zookeeper might have asked you on your zoo trip, “Do you think an elephant is in the cage in the next room?” to which your reply might be agnosticism: “I have no idea. Maybe.”)
The salient difference between these two examples has entirely to do with your epistemic situation — which is, roughly, the extent and limits of your ability to know something through your primary sources of knowing (i.e. perception, memory, introspection, testimony, etc.) — and the fact that only in one situation (Elephants in the Room) do we expect to have knowledge which we lack. My epistemic situation regarding knowing whether an elephant is in the room is quite good, while my epistemic situation regarding knowing whether a fly resides at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is quite poor. Why? When are we in an epistemically good situation in order to say, “There is no X”? What conditions have to be met? At least two. In the absence of evidence of an object O you may deny that O exists only if these Criteria are met:
Evidence Expectation Criterion. If an object O existed, then we would expect there to be evidence for it.
Knowledge Expectation Criterion. If there were evidence of object O, then we would expect to have knowledge of the evidence.
In short, in the absence of evidence, we can deny the existence of something O only if we should expect to possess evidence sufficient to know that O exists but in fact lack it.
To prove his position the atheist has his task cut out for himself: What he must do is show that (a) the epistemic situation in which we find ourselves with respect to belief in God’s existence satisfies the above Criteria; and (b) demonstrate that we lack sufficient evidence for knowing that God exists. Equivalently, he must show that all the arguments for God are unsound and then argue that if God existed then we would expect to be in a position to know whether God exists. But as we’ll see, there is good reason to think (a) is false because our epistemic situation in which we find ourselves with respect to belief in God’s existence does not satisfy the above Criteria.