God was manifest in the flesh — 1 Timothy 3:16

The incarnation of God the Son was and is essential for our salvation.

God became a man

  • not so that God might gain an understand of us — not just to walk a mile in our shoes, as it were.
  • not primarily to be an example for us so that we might simply do as he did.

But rather, God became man to

  • work righteousness for us as a human being,
  • be both priest and sacrifice for us (that is, to die), and
  • bring us to life by his resurrection.

Only a person who is both God and man could do this for sinners.

Now, there is an alleged difficulty with the text. A few ancient Greek manuscripts read ‘who was manifest in the flesh’ and a few others read ‘which was manifest in the flesh’.

I argue that the true reading is not ‘who’, not ‘which’, but ‘God’. The word ‘mystery’ is neuter in gender while “godliness” is feminine, but “who” is masculine! The pronoun must agree with its antecedent. It is bad grammar to accept ‘who’ in this place. That is why people who think ‘who’ is the correct reading very rarely translate it as who, but rather as ‘He’. That is, the word ‘who’ does not make sense in context in either Greek or English.

How might these readings be explained?

The word ‘God’, in ancient Greek, could be abbreviated as ΘC. A line was drawn above these letters to indicate the abbreviation. The relative pronoun ‘who’ was written as OC, and ‘which’ in Greek was written O (see below).

God who which

Note that the only graphical difference between ‘god’ and ‘who’ are a short line within an O to make a Θ, and a longer line above to indicate the abbreviation. It is likely that these two lines faded over time due to continual use, and finally looked as if it had been written as OC instead of ΘC. Thus ‘who’ replaced ‘God’ in subsequent copies. The reading ‘which’ O, is a likely scribal correction of OC to something that made grammatical sense in context.

Nevertheless, 98.5% of Greek manuscripts (all available manuscripts are copies) say “God”, and the reading ‘God’ is older than the surviving Greek manuscripts that contain it as the reading appears in the works of some early Christian writers.

Now, orthodox people who think the reading is ‘who’, often say that the ‘who’ refers to Christ. Seems ok, but if the true reading were really ‘who’ and the reference is to Christ, then Jehovah Witnesses, Gnostics, Arians, Unitarians, all could agree. The problem is that they will only accept a Christ who is not really God and man in one person.

The assumed reference to Christ is no remedy against untruth. The mere man Aaron was a ‘Christ’ as was every high priest, because they were anointed (= Christ in Greek) with oil when they were made priest. The mere man King David was a Christ, as every king of Israel was a Christ because they too were anointed with oil .

Simply saying ‘Christ’ is the word referred to by ‘who’ is not true to the context.

Even Trinitarians who accept the ‘who’ reading, stick to Christ as the one referred to by ‘who’, because, I suspect, they are ashamed to reject ‘God’ as the correct reading, yet say ‘God’ is the antecedent of ‘who’.

But above all the great mystery revealed IS that the God became a human being for our salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself).

A mere man, even a good mere man could not save (see Ps 49:7 and Ezek 14:4 & 20).

Only God has the right and ability to do for others what we cannot do for ourselves. As God says “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no saviour besides Me.” Isaiah 43:10-11

Yet God cannot die, and our Saviour had to die as our substitute in order to deal finally with our sin. So, our saviour must be man as well (Matt 1:21, Luke 2:11).

There is no mystery in a mere man appearing in the flesh, that is why Paul did write: God was manifest in the flesh.

The New World Translation of the Bible

Just out of interest, I started reading the preface of the New World Translation (NWT) of the Bible (1984). l have a copy of the digital version. The piece that caught my eye was the following statement:

 The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible. They also feel a responsibility toward the searching readers who depend upon a translation of the inspired Word of the Most High God for their everlasting salvation.

Now, I remembered an interesting passage in The New Testament and thought to test this statement against the translation produced. The passage comes from the first chapter of Colossians, which reads as follows:

 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist

 You might notice that the word ‘other’ has been emphasised. I did that. The translators made no effort to single out ‘other’ for special attention.

 Now, there are two different Greek words that are commonly translated as ‘other’. One is ‘allos’, and the other is ‘heteros’. The first Greek word means ‘another of the same type’, while the second implies ‘another of a different type’. The question is, which Greek word was in the original text that Paul wrote down? Did our Lord Jesus create all other things that were ‘like’ him, or ‘different from’ him?

 Well, I opened my Greek New Testament to check. Guess what I found —

 NOTHING

 Paul never put the word ‘other’ in the places where it appears above in the NWT verion of Colossians chapter 1.  The words in bold italics above were inserted by the translators in spite of the fact that neither ‘allos’ nor ‘heteros’ appears in this portion of the Greek text. They did it repeatedly in this chapter. Whatever this type of translating might be, ‘accurate’ it is not.

 Let me confess that l already knew about the JW practice of inserting ‘other’ in this passage. In an earlier edition, the word ‘other’ had been more honestly placed in square brackets to indicate that it was NOT in the original Greek. I had even asked a friend of mine who is associated with the Kingdom Hall, ‘Why did the translators do this?’ He told me that without the word ‘other’, the passage wouldn’t make sense.

 You see, without the word ‘other’ we would have an uncreated Lord Jesus Christ who Himself is eternal God. The ‘sense’ that the word ‘other’ is deliberately intended to give is the JW teaching. We are to understand by ‘other’ that the Christ is a created god, who, at some point in the past, did not exist. The translators and editors seem to have over-ridden their professed respect for the Author of the Bible and have perverted the scriptures to support their own theory about the Christ.

 Let us be clear. The passage in Colossians tells us the Christ was before ALL things, that He created ALL things that are created. This is what the Spirit of God moved Paul to write. We need to receive it.

When people come knocking… Part 1 – Jehovah Witnesses

Talking to people about the good news of Jesus Christ is a vital (and it can be a joyful) part of Christian living. Not every Christian gets the same opportunities to do this. Some places have a cultural reluctance to talk about Christian teaching. In many areas of our lives we meet people who have a determined hardness against discussing the gospel. But occasionally, we meet people who are at least interested in talking about the Christian Bible and about Jesus Christ. Some even come to our front door to do so. I’m talking about Jehovah Witnesses and Mormon Elders. I’d like to encourage Christians, people who know the Lord Jesus Christ and love him in sincerity, to talk with these people. They have a zeal for God, but they don’t know Him. I’ve a few suggestions of things to talk about when they come knocking. This post will focus upon things to mention when talking to Jehovah Witnesses. There are so many ways in which JW people deviate from the Bible’s teaching. It is often hard to find a helpful topic upon which to speak. I usually concentrate on three areas:

  1. The absolute sovereignty of God in saving otherwise un-savable people.
  2. The divinity and humanity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
  3. The need for new birth if anyone is to be part of the Kingdom of God.

The first and second points tend to go together in my conversations with JWs. They have to do with our utter sinfulness and rebellion, and God’s extraordinary mercy, love and power. We are God’s creatures, but we disobey him daily. Even our best efforts fall short of righteousness and deserve death. More than this, because of Adam’s role as our representative before God, his failure is ours. In Adam we broke the agreement that God made with us. We have forfeited life and are bound over to death, everlasting death. We cannot do anything to save ourselves. But God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit made a second agreement between themselves. The Son of God would come as the second Adam to represent his people (Genesis 3:15). Jehovah-Jesus, as the Good Shepherd (compare Ezekiel 34 and John 10), would come and put right all that we had done wrong. Jehovah-Jesus would take to himself a human nature to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Jehovah-Jesus is Saviour; beside him there is no other saviour (Isaiah 43:11 and Acts 4:12). Our right standing with God depends completely on who Jesus is and what he has done for us. He alone is our righteousness. The third point is a gift from God to sinners. We cannot bring ourselves to new birth. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in applying the salvation, that Jesus won, to individual sinners. He brings us to new understandings and attitudes. He makes us a new creation in Christ Jesus. Our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again or he would not be able to enter, or even see (perceive/understand) the Kingdom of God. This is important, because the people from the Watch Tower organisation who come to your door will tell you that they are not born again. Yet, the place where they meet is called a Kingdom Hall. They say that they are in the kingdom (as long as they remain faithful and survive the final battle), but they say they are not born again. Only 144000 special Christians are re-born; the others are not. These others deny that they need to be born again. Against such thoughts, Jesus says that it is essential that people be born again, or they will never enter nor understand the kingdom of God. Note that before he was born again, Nicodemus did not understand or see the necessity of the new birth. Our JW friends are in the same condition as he was. They too need what Nicodemus received by God’s grace. They, along with anyone else who is saved, must be born again.

Jehovah Witnesses

I had some visitors yesterday morning, and I was happy to see them. We had a good, long chat. They weren’t intending to stay long. They just wanted to share an encouraging verse from the Bible with me. The passage was Psalm 37:10-11:

For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more.Indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

I asked how people might know whether they were ‘wicked’ or ‘meek’, in terms of this passage. I told them that from my reading of the Bible, no one except the Lord Jesus Christ falls into the category of ‘meek’. Everyone else has earned, by their attitudes and behaviours, the description of ‘wicked’.

If I remember correctly, my new friends told me that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice deals with our past sin if we are baptised, and Jehovah then gives us the tools to avoid destruction at the end of this age; bible study, doing his will and witnessing. I was also told that no one could know whether they were saved until the judgement of the last day.

For my part, I said that unless Jesus does everything to the rescue a person from sin and death, then no one can be rescued. Unless a person is reborn by the Holy Spirit (I know that JWs believe that only 144000 can be born again), people like us will have no interest or liking for our Creator. The life, death and rising again of Jesus is both most necessary and is also all that is necessary to reconcile us to God. We are simply to trust  Jesus: who the Bible says he is, what the Bible says he did, and what the Bible says these things mean. This sort of faith is just as much a gift from the God as the work of Jesus on the cross. The Saviour of the world has left nothing to chance. You can know you are (have been) saved when you trust yourself to Jesus.

They asked about those who do trust in Jehovah for a time and then stop. My answer was that some people, who never really trusted Jesus but were attracted by an ‘idea’ of Jesus for a time, do come and go. But Jesus said that He is the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep (his people) and no one can take them from his hand. Those who are really his, the ones whom the Father had given Jesus, these shall be saved because Jesus came for them.

They said that God gives us free will to make a choice, like Adam had a choice. I said that before Adam sinned, he could freely choose to continue as a loving creature of God, or he could freely choose to rebel and make war with his creator. He chose to make war. After that point, he and his children (except for the intervention of Jesus) always will choose to make war. This choice they make freely as they have no desire to do otherwise. This is why Jesus had to act for his people before they had any love for him — while they were still his enemies. This also is why a mighty work of regeneration (re-birth) is necessary to bring a person to trust Jesus.

My new friends thanked me for my time, but they had to move on. I was happy they came. I have respect for them. They work very hard and are zealous. I’ve been to one of their meetings (it went for two hours) and they study the Bible and watchtower materials with unflagging attention. But I believe it is zeal without knowledge. They read their Bibles, but it is through a foreign lens. As they left, I urged them to deal seriously with the parts of the Bible that do not line up with what they are being told.