Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
On Defending the NWT (III)
On Defending the NWT (III)
10/04/2005 - James White
I have been responding to various comments made in defense of the New World Translation by a defender of the Watchtower Society. One of the passages referenced is Colossians 1:15-17. Our JW defender once again shows no familiarity at all with the discussion of this text and its meaning despite his comments on the "weakness" of my apologetic regarding the Watchtower in general. He cites a single pro-JW source, but provides no response to the comments I included in these words in The Forgotten Trinity:
Before we leave this passage, however, we need to listen to the objections that are raised by many today. Indeed, this passage is translated in such a way as to attempt to hide the truths we have just seen by the New World Translation published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Rather than repeating the phrase “all things” over and over again, as Paul did, the Watchtower translation inserts another word, “other,” into the phrase, making it read, “all [other] things.” [fn: When the NWT first came out, the word “other” wasn’t in brackets. However, such a hue and cry was raised, later editions included the brackets. However, the Society gladly drops the brackets when paraphrasing the passage (as in the 1991 publication, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, prologue, and the 1995 publication, Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, p. 39).] The reason for the translation is transparent: since Watchtower theology insists Jesus is a creation, this passage must be rendered this way.
But, apologists for the Watchtower Society have developed ingenious ways of defending the errors of the NWT. In this instance, two arguments are often put forward. The NWT tries to defend the insertion of the word “other” by referring the reader to passages where one could logically insert the word “other” to make sense of the passage. [fn: The current editions of the NWT refer the reader to Luke 11:41, 42, where the word “other” is inserted for clarity.] However, there is no such need here, and the grammar of the passages cited is quite different than what we are considering in Colossians. The more complex argument goes like this: Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation.” It is insisted that the Greek grammar indicates that this means Jesus is a part [fn: A construction known as a “partitive genitive.” Stafford, p. 100, “Thus the genitive pases ktiseos is properly seen as partitite, including Christ in the collective group of created things, but dignified above it as “firstborn.”] of the creation, hence, one must translate “all things” as “all [other] things” to make sense of the passage.
Such an interpretation, however, is “excluded by the context,” [fn: Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, p. 503. Specifically, “Grammatically is it possible to make pa,shj kti,sewj a partitive genitive. But this is excluded by the context, which sharply distinguishes between the Son and ta. pa,nta, and for this idea Paul would probably have used prwto,ktistoj. The genitive is therefore commonly explained as a genitive of comparison.” Likewise, A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1931), IV:478:
The use of this word does not show what Arius argued that Paul regarded Christ as a creature like “all creation (pases ktiseos...) It is rather the comparative (superlative) force of protos that is used...Paul is here refuting the Gnostics who pictured Christ as one of the aeons by placing Him before “all creation” (angels and men)...Paul takes both words to help express the deity of Jesus Christ in his relation to the Father as eikon (Image) and to the universe as prototokos (First-born). ] which makes a strong and undeniable distinction between the Son and “all things.” Nowhere does Paul make the Son one of the “things.” [fn: Stafford attempts to get around this, and by so doing defend the insertion of the term “other” in the text, by saying that while indeed Jesus is not part of “all things,” He is part of “all creation.” Hence, he insists that Jesus created “all things” but not “all creation,” since He Himself is a creation. Of course, the text does not make the differentiation that Stafford alleges between “all creation” and “all things.” The two are synonymous.] The most telling objection, however, comes from the context that we established at the beginning of this chapter. Remember to read Paul in light of his intention to refute the early forms of Gnosticism that were coming into the Colossian Church. The position taken by those who deny the deity of Christ falls right into the trap of agreeing with the Gnostics against Paul! In other words, if we interpret this passage as saying Jesus is a part of the creation, and not the Creator Himself, we are left with a Jesus who looks very much like the Gnostic “aeon” that Paul is arguing against! The argument presented by deniers of the deity of Christ in fact guts Paul’s entire argument against the Gnostics, leaving him arguing in circles! But when we allow the text to stand and speak for itself, Paul’s point is devastatingly clear: the Gnostic cannot just stick Jesus into his “system” somewhere. Jesus can’t be one of the “aeons” between the one true, good God and the evil demiurge who ends up creating the world. No, Paul makes it impossible for the Gnostic to hold onto his false beliefs about the world and try to make room for an edited “Jesus” by firmly asserting that everything that exists, including the physical universe, came into existence through the creative activity of Jesus Christ. Keeping in mind the dualistic context of early Gnosticism helps us to see clearly the intention and purpose of Paul in this passage, and in so doing, helps us to avoid the misinterpretations rampant in non-Christian sects today. It might seem to some that such considerations are too “complex” or “obscure” to be important. Yet, knowing these things, and being able to explain them to others, may well be used of the Lord to help deliver someone from deception and falsehood.
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