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LESSON 14: A BRIEF REPLY TO JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
by John F. McCarthy
90. Doorway manners. Most people are not ready to talk convincingly to Jehovah's Witnesses who knock at their door, because most people do not have prepared answers for the memorized presentation that Jehovah's Witnesses give. You should at least have on hand a small piece of literature that refutes the common claims of the Witnesses or which briefly presents Catholic beliefs. Ask them to take and read your piece of literature. You will probably discover that they will not accept your literature, and they will leave. But, if they do not leave and instead begin to hurl a stream of words at you, begin to recite out loud the Creed, the Act of Faith, or some other Catholic prayer. They will then leave rather hurriedly.
91. Denial of the Most Holy Trinity. The belief that there is only one true God existing in three divine Persons is the central mystery of Catholic faith and the source of all of the other mysteries (CCC 234). 1 The principal heresy of Jehovah's Witnesses is their denial of the reality of the Most Holy Trinity of Persons in the one true God (Nevins 36). 2 Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the one true God (whom they call Jehovah) is one divine Person. Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that to say that there are three Persons in the one God is a contradiction in terms, because simple arithmetic shows that one cannot be three and three cannot be one. This is the same argument that Jews and Moslems use against Christians. However, the fact is that the existence of three divine Persons in the one true God, while it is a mystery exceeding the natural intuition of human beings, is not a contradiction in terms, because the terms are not contraries of one another. To say that the one true God is three true Gods, or to say that the three divine Persons are one divine Person, would be a contradiction in terms. But to know that in the reality of God three divine Persons live within one another as the one true God is simply to know a reality that our natural reason is not able adequately to comprehend.
92. The Most Holy Trinity in Sacred Scripture. Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the word "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible (Nevins 36). This is true, but the reality that the word "Trinity" expresses does occur in the Bible. For instance, in Genesis 1:26, God is quoted as saying: "Let us make man to our image, after our own likeness." This statement implies a plurality of divine Persons, since only God can create. Again, in John 10:30, Jesus declares: "I and the Father are one." Here Jesus is saying that two are one, that is, that two divine Persons are one God. The position of Jehovah's Witnesses about the Person of Jesus is basically the same as the position of Arius, a heretic who did his teaching around the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth. Hence, the arguments expressed by the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians against the Arian heresy apply also against the heresy of Jehovah's Witnesses. 3 The Witnesses say that Satan is the origin of the Christian belief that Jesus is God, but, in fact, Jesus Himself tells us in the Gospels that Satan is the origin of the denial that He is God (cf. Jn 8:44-51).
93. The opinion of Arius. Arius taught that the Son of God did not exist from all eternity but was rather created out of nothing by God the Father before all other creatures. Arius said that the Divine Word is divine and is the Son of God, not by nature, but rather by adoption and by participation in the likeness of God above all other creatures. Thus, he maintained, the Word is higher and more noble than all the other created "gods" (angels and men: cf. Job 2:1; Ps. 81 (82):1; Jn 10:35). 4 Arius tried to confirm his belief by misinterpreting the following texts of the Bible.5
a) In Jn 17:3 Jesus says to the Father: "that they may know you the one true God." However, this statement does not mean that only the Father is God; it means rather that the Father is truly God, and the Son, being the same God with the Father, is also true God. Thus, in 1 Jn 5:20: "that we may know the true God and may be in his true Son." The true Son is one in nature with the Father.
b) In 1 Tim 6:15-16: "This coming he in his own time will make manifest, who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone has immortality and dwells in light inaccessible, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting dominion." However, this text applies to the Son as well as to the Father. Thus, in Apoc 19:16, referring to "the Word of God": "And he has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."
c) In Jn 14:28: "for the Father is greater than I." The Son, in his human nature, is less than the Father, but not in his divine nature. Thus, in Philip 2:5-11: "who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself ...."
d) In 1 Cor 15:28: "When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone." However, this text refers to Jesus in his human nature, as is evident from the preceding seven verses. But, in his divine nature, Jesus can do everything that the Father can do. Compare Philip 3:20: "But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him to subject all things to himself."
e) In Jn 14:31: "but I do as the Father has commanded me." However, this again refers to Jesus in his human nature. Cf. Philip 2:8: "he was made obedient even unto death."
f) In Rom 8:11: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you ...." However, Jesus also raised himself from the dead. Thus, in Jn 10:18: "I have the power to lay down my life and to take it up again."
g) In Matt 20:23: "to sit at my right hand or left is not mine to give to you, but for whom it has been prepared by my Father." However, this reply of Jesus needs to be read in the context of a psychological reply to the mother of James and John. As they appealed to their mother, so Jesus appeals to his Father. And Jesus also assigns these places. Thus, in Jn 5:22: "The Father has given all judgment to the Son." And in Jn 14:2: "I go to prepare a place for you."
h) In Mark 13:32: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, except the Father." However, as St. Thomas points out, Sacred Scripture sometimes says that God knows what in fact He is simply making known to others or that God knows in fact what he has simply not made known to others. Thus, Gen 22:12: "for now I know that you fear God." Similarly, Jesus simply did not intend to make this date known to his disciples.
i) In Eccli (Sirach) 24:9 Wisdom says: "From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist." However, this is the wisdom that God has instilled in creatures. Compare Eccli 1:9: "he poured her out upon all his works." Or the word "created" is to be understood in the broader sense of "begot." By paralleling the idea of "create" with the idea of "beget" (cf. Prov. 8:22-25:) two notions are conveyed, namely, that of the immutability of the Father and that of the unity in nature of the Father and the Son.6
j) In Col 1:15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation." However, it is in the broader sense (see 93i above) that the Son is called the "first-born of all creation": He is from the Father and receives the same divine nature from the Father, as his "only-begotten Son" (Jn 1:18).
94. The Divine Word is true God. It is Catholic belief that the Divine Word, the Son of God, "is 'consubstantial' with the Father, that is, one only God with him" (CCC 242). That the Divine Word, who became incarnate in Jesus Christ, is true God and equal to the Father is clear from many texts of Sacred Scripture. 7
a) Heb 1:5: "For to what angel did God ever say, 'You are my Son, this day have I begotten you?" Nor does it suffice to say, as St. Thomas points out, that the Divine Word is an angel of a higher order than the others, because there is already a range of orders among the angels.
b) Jn 1:14: "and we saw his glory, a glory as of the only-begotten of the Father."
c) 1 Jn 5:20: "and we are in the True One, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
d) Rom 9:5: "and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."
e) Titus 2:13: "awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
f) Colos 2:9: "For in him dwells bodily the entire fullness of divinity."
g) Jn 16:15: "All that the Father has is mine."
h) Philip 2:6: "who, although he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be clung to ...."
i) Jn 5:18: "This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also called God his Father, making himself equal to God."
j) Heb 1:3: "His is the splendor of the glory of God and the figure of his substance."
95. The Person of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church "confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man" (CCC 469). Jehovah's Witnesses claim that Jesus Christ is not the God-Man, but is rather a former angel (St. Michael the Archangel), who ceased to be an angel when he became a man in the womb of Mary, and who is now a pure spirit divested forever of his body (Nevins 38). Jehovah's Witnesses, like Arius before them, teach that Jesus is not God but was "the first and direct creation of Jehovah God" (The Kingdom Is at Hand). 8That Jesus is the former St. Michael the Archangel is a far-fetched claim having no basis in Sacred Scripture. Thomas Aquinas and many great Christian writers have shown from Sacred Scripture that Jesus Christ is the true and divine Son of God the Father, having become man by assuming to Himself a human body and soul (see no. 94 above).
96. The Person of the Holy Spirit. "To believe with the Catholic Church in the Holy Spirit is to profess that the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Son" (CCC 685). On the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the divine Person of the Holy Spirit is really just a spirit of holiness, that is, an active impersonal force emanating from Jehovah (Nevins 39). However, Sacred Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person. For instance, in John 14:6-7, Jesus says: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him." Jehovah's Witnesses try to read this statement as referring to an impersonal "spirit of truth," but, in fact, an advocate is a person. Again, in Acts 10:19 it is stated: "But, while Peter was pondering over the vision, the Spirit said to him." Jehovah's Witnessed try to read this statement to mean that an impersonal force spoke to Peter, but impersonal forces cannot speak. God can speak through an impersonal force, but that is not what Acts 10:19 and Acts 13:2 say. 9
97. The Resurrection of the Body. The Catholic Church proclaims that "Christ is raised with his own body" (CCC 999), while Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the body of Jesus Christ was annihilated at his death and will never rise again, so that He exists now as a pure spirit (Nevins 39). However, this doctrine is contrary to the plain teaching of the Gospels, of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the Epistles of St. Paul, among other books of Sacred Scripture. In Luke 24:39 Jesus says: "See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Again, The Catholic Church teaches that in death "the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God" (CCC 997) but that bodily "All the dead will rise" (CCC 998). On the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the souls as well as the bodies of all men perish at death and will never rise again except for the members of Jehovah's Witnesses, who will be recreated from God's memory at the end of the world, when the 144,000 "anointed" Jehovah's Witnesses will enter the Heavenly Kingdom, while the remaining millions of Jehovah's Witnesses will begin to live forever body and soul in an earthly paradise (Nevins 39-40). However, Sacred Scripture tells us that the soul of man is imperishable. Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7: "The dust returns to the earth as it was once, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." And in Matt 25:46: "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." This error of the Witnesses fails to see that the number 144,000 in Apoc 7:4-8 (cf. Apoc 14:1; 21:12) is symbolic of the large number of martyred Christians to be gathered into the Church Triumphant in Heaven and expressed figuratively as the twelve tribes of Israel. Also it overlooks what is said in the following verse: "After this I saw a great multitude which no man could number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and with palm branches in their hands" (Apoc 7:9). This is the great multitude of the blessed in Heaven.
98. The Sacraments. Jehovah's Witnesses have no valid sacraments. Their first baptism is merely symbolic of their mission to witness, and they add a "baptism of the holy spirit" for the 144,000 "anointed" Witnesses and a "baptism of the Greater Noah" for the other Witnesses destined for the earthly paradise. They celebrate once a year a merely symbolic Memorial of the Lord's Supper, at which the "anointed" (only) consume unleavened bread and fermented wine (Nevins 40-41). In fine, Jehovah's Witnesses have deprived themselves of all sacramental graces.
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church 234 (cf. 253).
2. The discussion in this lesson is based upon information given by Albert J. Nevins, M.M., in Strangers at Your Door (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, Indiana 46750 - 1988 A.D.).
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa contra gentiles (book 4, chapters 6 -8) summarizes and gives a detailed refutation of these false arguments drawn by Arius from Sacred Scripture. For an abridged English translation, see Joseph Rickaby, S.J., Of God and His Creatures (The Carroll Press , Westminster, Maryland, USA, 1950), pp. 344-349). These arguments of Aquinas apply as well against the false claims of Jehovah's Witnesses.
4. Cf. Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles (Turin: Marietti, 1961), book 4, ch. 6, no. 3387.
5. These Scriptural quotations regarding the opinion of Arius and its refutation have been taken from those compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa contra gentiles, book 4, chapters 6 and 8.
6. This was the understanding of the Council of Ancyra (358 A.D.).
7. These and other Scriptural quotations showing that the Divine Word is true God and equal to the Father were compiled by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa contra gentiles, book 4, ch. 7.
8. For the refutation of this Arian tenet, see number 94 above.
9. Thomas Aquinas gives a detailed defense against claims that the Holy Spirit is not a divine Person in his Summa contra gentiles, book 4, chaps. 16-23. For an abridged translation, see Rickaby, op.cit., pp. 349-356.
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