Saturday, April 7, 2007
The Jehovah's Witnesses' Spin On Jesus As The "Wisdom Of God" - or - How The Watchtower Makes The Bible Fit Their Doctrine And Not Vice-A-Versa
First, a summary of the problem ...
Why do JW's teach that Proverbs 8:22-31 is an allusion to Christ's preincarnate existence as a creative worker? It's simple - because of their systematic and longstanding denial of His deity and their desire to buttress their "Biblical" argument for his being a created being by using any possible twisting of Scripture to support that erroneous line of reasoning.
Here's a summary of their position from their "Bible study" brochure What Does God Require of Us? published in 1996.
Jesus lived in heaven as a spirit person before he came to earth. He was God’s first creation, and so he is called the “firstborn” Son of God. (Colossians 1:15; Revelation 3:14) Jesus is the only Son that God created by himself. Jehovah used the prehuman Jesus as his “master worker” in creating all other things in heaven and on earth. (Proverbs 8:22-31; Colossians 1:16, 17)
A more detailed explanation of how they arrive at this is found in their antitrinitarian booklet Should You Believe In The Trinity? Observe how they build their case, it's a great example of deceptive reasoning - they use non-Watchtower produced Biblical translations and plenty of specious reasoning that can easily be fallen prey to ..
Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was “the first-born of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, NJB) He was “the beginning of God’s creation.” (Revelation 3:14, RS, Catholic edition) ... Yes, Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations. Notice how closely those references to the origin of Jesus correlate with expressions uttered by the figurative “Wisdom” in the Bible book of Proverbs: “Yahweh created me, first-fruits of his fashioning, before the oldest of his works. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth; before he had made the earth, the countryside, and the first elements of the world.” (Proverbs 8:12, 22, 25, 26, NJB)
First, the Watchtower teaches that Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14 irrefutably teach that Jesus was a created being, the first of Jehovah's creation in all of existence, a "spirit creature" also called an angel in Scripture. With this completely unbiblical position established, they begin to build their argument that if he was a created being, then the "references" have some sort of "correlation" to the expressions of "figurative Wisdom" they cite in the verses in Proverbs.
While the term “Wisdom” is used to personify the one whom God created, most scholars agree that it is actually a figure of speech for Jesus as a spirit creature prior to his human existence.
Now the Watchtower goes on to move from false supposition to deliberate distortion - they make the bold claim that "most scholars agree" that the references in Proverbs are referring to Christ's preincarnate existence as an angel! Just who these scholars are is never quite identified. I've yet to hear of any reputable Bible scholars who have made that kind of connection. This is pseudoscholarship foisted off as proof of their unbiblical argument.
And the Watchtower's engine of error purrs onward, citing Scriptures from a variety of mainline Bible translations to press home this point:
As “Wisdom” in his prehuman existence, Jesus goes on to say that he was “by his [God’s] side, a master craftsman.” (Proverbs 8:30, JB) In harmony with this role as master craftsman, Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus that “through him God created everything in heaven and on earth.”—Today’s English Version (TEV).
So it was by means of this master worker, his junior partner, as it were, that Almighty God created all other things. The Bible summarizes the matter this way: “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things.” (Italics ours.)—1 Corinthians 8:6, RS, Catholic edition.
Note the change of vocabulary, based upon the reiteration of the false assumption that Jesus' "prehuman existence" was indeed "Wisdom." Since we now see that "Wisdom" is indeed Jesus, another false assumption is set in stone - that the dialogue of Proverbs are the words of Jesus himself illuminating how he was created. The JW's then cleverly assign "Wisdom" another role, that of "master worker" and "junior partner" (why after all, He is the SON of God, right?). And the Bible is once again called upon to "summarize the matter."
You can see how "airtight" they think they can make the argument. There are holes all through it, but the sad thing is that too many Christians are uncertain of their faith enough to feel intimidated by it. Coupled to their well-conditioned self-representation as supremely self-confident and their willingness to pull out their New World Translations to prove their arguments, many Christians just throw in the towel without showing them the truth.
Here's a response ..
Let me add a few remarks first. If you're going to go "live" with a Jehovah's Witness or anyone deceived by them on this, there are some additional things to keep in mind.
First, you are seeing how masterful the Watchtower's ability is to deceive. This is a great example of how cults twist the Bible to deceive. Their Brooklyn headquarters has housed and fed generations of men who spend all their days creating "questions" (1 Timothy 6;4) for which they presume to provide the final "answers" upon - a practice that all cults use so as to exalt their authority and supposed mastery of all truth. They have created billions of instructional books in well over 150 languages that are religiously studied by Witnesses worldwide in weekly training sessions to help prepare them to not only speak but to preach.
As you can see, they do this by combining Scripture twisted just enough to suit their ends and enough argumentation based upon misrepresentation, erroneous presumption, over/understatement and outright deception .. all done in their unique form of calm, low key and seemingly rational teaching. These same books are carried with them when they go door to door and they will pull them out whenever they need to do so to clarify the Watchtower position.
These Brooklyn-based heretics sound SO convincing to begin with, but when delivered by Thoroughly (with a capital T) trained and prepared Jehovah's Witnesses who daily practice how to converse convincingly with others door to door combined with an impeccably pious zeal, this can be a most unsettling and disorienting experience for the Christian who tries to reason with them.
BUT ... it doesn't have to be. We have the truth. They teach a lie - what little of the truth they do know is twisted to cover their falsehood.
So how do we untangle this?
Presupposing you know Jesus, understand the Bible and the power of your God the Spirit as being the "anointing that teacheth you" (1 John 2:27), here's how I’d suggest you look at this.
1) Recognizing the nature of this false preaching is the first step to dealing with how it can fluster and confuse you personally. The interpersonal dimensions of sharing with people are a bridge that false teaching exploits to spread and . You have to be able to LOVINGLY and CAREFULLY drop the toll gate by the Spirit of God in your heart and mind and not allow that to get to you (that's why the fruit of the Spirit coupled to good listening skills is so important in any dialogue).
2) Defining the Biblically twisted argument is the next step, which I've tried to do concisely. They take a multi-layered approach to preach and argue their false doctrine involving bogus scholarship as well as false presuppositions to take into their view of the Scriptures in Proverbs 8.
This is the Main Point - they are denying the deity of Jesus Christ by interposing their belief that he is a created being into their interpretation of Proverbs. As you can see, they are using Proverbs 8:22-31 as a proof text to show that Jesus is a created being and cunningly capitalize upon the literary devices of personification and symbolism as well as selective applications of a figurative/literal interpretation to sound as if they know who "wisdom" is here. In other words, they play a deceptive game by their own rules while trying to sound like they are the reasonable and Biblical ones.
3) A response has to address the core issues involved here - and this involves what some here have already raised ..
a) We have to establish the Biblical context - examining Proverbs 8:21-31 as it stands in the chapter FIRST as well as the greater context of the book itself SECOND and then considering other Biblical passages that bring further illumination of the concepts of "wisdom". Often the clearest way to do this is to keep to the paths found just in the book itself, and in this instance, we’ll confine ourselves to that. Some here have already alluded to this ..
First, look at the Watchtower version of the passage:
Proverbs 8:22-31 – “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago. From time indefinite I was installed, from the start, from times earlier than the earth. When there were no watery deeps I was brought forth as with labor pains, when there were no springs heavily charged with water. Before the mountains themselves had been settled down, ahead of the hills, I was brought forth as with labor pains, when as yet he had not made the earth and the open spaces and the first part of the dust masses of the productive land. When he prepared the heavens I was there; when he decreed a circle upon the face of the watery deep, when he made firm the cloud masses above, when he caused the fountains of the watery deep to be strong, when he set for the sea his decree that the waters themselves should not pass beyond his order, when he decreed the foundations of the earth, then I came to be beside him as a master worker, and I came to be the one he was specially fond of day by day, I being glad before him all the time, being glad at the productive land of his earth, and the things I was fond of were with the sons of men.” (New World Translation)
Note their “translation” well here and keep it in mind.
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings. The word “proverb” itself is a concise and often pithy statement of truth based upon firsthand experience. It is a summary of human insight into some aspect of everyday life, and Proverbs is actually theology in work clothes. From the get go, the book explains what it sets forth to do.
Proverbs 1:1-6 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
The unknown scribes can’t be any clearer as to their intent in preserving these wisdom sayings: they set out to spread godly wisdom, teaching, and understanding. It is God’s inspired Word captured in human language. The book, like the rest of the Bible is a form of literature that employs all the elements of standard literature like narrative, metaphor and simile and Proverbs contains the distinctive characteristics of Hebrew poetry. It records the struggles between protagonists and antagonists, plot lines and character sketches that help us identify with it at such a deeply personal level. Foremost of Hebrew poetry is what is called parallelism in which presented truths or subjects are compared or restated in various ways to highlight their similarities or differences. This is particularly emphasized throughout all of Proverbs.
When we consider Proverbs 8 by an examination of the entire chapter in the context of the previous 7 chapters, we get a true grip on who “wisdom” is. It’s not who the Watchtower says it is – that being Jesus Christ describing Himself.
A figure identifying themself as “wisdom” (verse 12) comes forth and is described by the author of the chapter as having a feminine gender in verses 1-3.
Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.
We hear “her” voice in verse 4 - “Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.” The entire chapter contains the sayings of this one called “wisdom,” and this same approach is also seen in Proverbs 1:8, where we see the writer of the proverb, addressing the reader as if they are one of his children: “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother,” and from that perspective, introduce us to “wisdom”there also (1:20-21 – Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words .. ). The same perspective occurs again in Proverbs 2:3-5 also. The evildoers mentioned throughout Proverbs 1-7 are among those who would seek to obscure her light from those needing her counsel and deafen those from her calls to beckon to her. In these verses, wisdom is a noble and wise woman to be diligently sought out and ardently pursued, one who is “a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.”(3:18).
But Proverbs brought further perspective on this by also showing that wisdom was also simply viewed as knowledge rightly observed and acted upon by godly people in the real world, as profound human insight being passed unto the reader by wise teachers and mentors (who in turn might also freely describe wisdom in feminine and neutral terms – 2:1-11, 3:21-22, 4:7, 5:1-13, 6:20-22). In Proverbs 14:33 and 15:33, this is particularly clear and further brings greater perspective on “wisdom.”
If all of this is the case, then Proverbs 8:21-31 must mean something OTHER than what the Watchtower says it does. Since personification as a device of literature is something that we plainly see all throughout the Bible, the book of Proverbs is no exception. Proverbs chapter 8’s “wisdom”speaks expansively of “herself” in terms of her being present and “with God” in creation but doesn’t teach that she was the Creator whatsoever. Wisdom is “one” whom we are to pursue, whose voice calls to us to listen. That is all the verse is teaching.
Only when you refer to the twisted perversion of the Bible produced by the Watchtower called the New World Translation (NWT) do we hear their smugly confident suggestion that this is a reference to Christ as a created creator – but it is far from proven.
Their NWT’s Proverbs 8:22 says there that “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago” and verse 30 there goes on to say “I came to be beside him as a master worker, and I came to be the one he was specially fond of day by day, I being glad before him all the time.” From these verses, they insist, we are made privy to the dialogue of a preincarnate Jesus Christ as Jehovah’s chief architect of all creation. They can only assert this from an argument of complete silence and in willful ignorance of the context of Proverbs we’ve just discussed. And “wisdom” in the pages of the NWT is spoke of having been produced (‘brought forth”) by Jehovah and having been present (“I was there”) during the creative acts described in verses 23-31 – but where is it suggested she was doing the creating? There is no explicit reference to this in their version of the passage. No matter how badly they corrupt them, the verses primarily refer to the personified presence of “wisdom” as being with Jehovah, that divine genius personally resident in His divine being from the eternal past.
So Proverbs 8 cannot refer to Christ – only to the wisdom of God we see manifest in His creative power (Romans 1:20) and in the greatness of his works (Romans 11:33). . It is the Watchtower’s accursed, systematic and illegitimate insistence on thrusting their antitrinitarian bias into the consideration of Proverbs 8 that the question ever comes up.
If the “wisdom” of Proverbs 8 is Jesus Christ, why then in Proverbs 7:4 do we hear the wise father of this chapter pen the following: “Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman”? How can a Jehovah’s Witness or anyone call Jesus Christ, the wise master builder, their “sister” in the same sense they must call “understanding” a kinswoman? Who then would be the “kinswoman” to us? What high and lofty divine being would this be? The faulty interpretive system of the Watchtower really shows its cracks at this point. We can press the point, but the context above is pretty convincing.
b) You will need to address the unbiblical concept of Jesus as the "first creation" who created "all other things" which the Watchtower cites from the other verses I've shown in Colossians and Revelation. This is directly going after their doctrine that holds Jesus to be an archangel Jehovah used to create everything else and showing by a careful Biblical study in context of Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14 that we've done for Proverbs. I don’t have time right now to do that, but maybe later this weekend.
We are not denying that Jesus is the Creator. We would contend stiffly and to the end with the Watchtower’s false doctrine that He is a created being through whom all else came forth.
c) A firm but unwavering challenge of the Watchtower’s assertion that there is widespread Biblical scholarship that asserts that the “wisdom” of Proverbs 8 is an Old Testament shadow of Jesus Christ. If you can find “scholars” who hold this view, they are going to be in the very small minority. I know of no reputable Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Bible scholars or theologians who teach this.
Even if an argument for this being an utterance from the preincarnate Christ could be mounted from the implications of the verses, there is no way to Biblically defend their belief that it indicates his status as a created being. The Watchtower’s feral rejection of the Trinity is behind their twisted teaching here, but this is something often completely overlooked by Christians being confronted by this verse.
Don't be fooled by the confidence of the Jehovah's Witness who trusts in the pseudoscholarship of his organization. Preach the Word, ask the questions, use the Pregnant Pause in conversation, and above all prayerfully walk in the Spirit and stay dead to the religious heat that can build up in such discussions. You will see God do glorious things as you do .. so you may testify to the REAL Jesus ..
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Galatians 4:16