How to Cult Proof Your Mind – Program 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1998|
|Christians believe Jesus is God – the Second person of the Trinity. But others teach Jesus is merely a (perhaps enlightened) man, a great prophet, or that he is a god in some sense, but a separate God.|
Is Jesus God?
With Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Calvin Beisner, Mr. Bill Cetnar, Mrs. Joan Cetnar, Mr. Ed Decker, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Rabbi Pinchas Lapide, Mrs. Lorri MacGregor, Mr. James Mock, Mrs. Debbie Oakley, Mr. Ken Oakley, Mrs. Helen Ortega, Mrs. Mary Kay Radpour, Dr. Robert Sabin, Dr. Walter Martin, Mr. Nathaniel Urshan
- [Excerpt from Former Jehovah’s Witnesses Testify]
- Mr. Bill Cetnar: The basic reason I changed my mind was that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be speaking for God. The Bible says that if you are speaking for God, the prophecies that you make, the statements that you make, have to be absolutely true. They have to happen. Jehovah’s Witnesses announced the end of the world for 1874, 1879, 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975. And now they display that new disease called “loss of memory.” They can’t remember ever predicting the end of the world.”
- [Excerpt from An Interview with Dr. Walter Martin]
- Dr. John Ankerberg: “Okay, what do you do when they say, “Now, if you really want to know the truth, what you have to do is, you’ve got to go and pray about it”?
- Dr. Walter Martin: Well, you don’t have to go and pray about something God has specifically said. For instance, God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” Now, it’s ludicrous when you have an opportunity to steal something to bow your head and say, “I’ve got to pray about it.” You know automatically God said it. So when Mormons say, “Pray about the Book of Mormon,” you don’t have to pray about the Book of Mormon, all you have to do is take God’s Word, compare it to the Book of Mormon and Mormon theology and God has spoken. You reject it.
Ankerberg: Besides the major religions in our country, there are more than 3,000 cult groups, all claiming different ways to God. But Jesus said He is the only way to God. Who is right? Logically, one leader or one group could be right, but they can’t all be right at the same time if they are saying contradictory things.
If you are a Christian, do you know how to present the evidence about Jesus? Do you know how to answer people’s questions from the Bible? Is your own mind “cult-proofed” or do you have unanswered questions that cause you doubts? The Bible tells Christians, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” [1 Pet. 3:15]
On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show, we want to help you by showing you how you can answer the questions of sincere people in the cults and skeptics who are searching for the truth. For your own peace of mind, to learn the information people desperately need to hear, we invite you to join us.
Ankerberg: Welcome. Do you know how to answer the questions of those who are truly searching to learn who Jesus is? Do you know how to answer some of the questions of those in the cults? Sometimes unanswered questions can turn people away from Jesus or even start Christians doubting their own faith. Today we’re going to try to help you answer, both biblically and logically, a question that comes up from many different religious groups. The question is this, see if you can answer it: “How can Jesus be equal with God, when He said in John 14:28, ‘The Father is greater than I’”?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say this verse proves that Jesus is a lesser God than the Father. They say Jehovah is greater than Jesus, therefore Jesus cannot be God Almighty; rather Jesus is just a mighty God. How would you answer their false assertion? Well, in our debate with the leaders of the Baha’i, they claimed John 14:28 proved Jesus could not be the God of the universe. I want you to hear how Dr. Walter Martin answered their question.
- [Excerpt from The Baha’i Faith]
- Ankerberg: Who did Jesus actually, Himself, say that He was, in the primary documents? Then I would like to ask, who did the prophet say that he was in comparison? Walter?
- Walter Martin: Well, I think your problem is that Mary [a guest on our program] raised a very important issue. There is a mystery concerning the nature of God. If we could understand how God was God, we’d be God. So, obviously, there is an element of faith where we have to reach out by faith and we must depend upon Divine revelation. So we go to the self-revelation of Christ Himself. The heretics that she refers to down through the ages that have caused the problem were not doing so on the basis of the text of Scripture, they were doing it on the basis of the fact that they rejected the text and went on to some other revelation which they had received. Jesus claimed for Himself nothing less than being God in human flesh.
- Ankerberg: Document it, please. Where does He say it?
- Martin: Well, in John 8:56-58, when He was talking with the Jews. He said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day coming. He saw it. He was glad.” And the Jews said, “You’re not 50 years old yet. You have seen Abraham?” He said, “I’ll tell you something, before Abraham sprang into existence, I Am the Eternal God.” He used the divine name: ehyeh asher ehyeh, Yahweh, the Eternal One. Well, the minute He said that the Jews reached for stones. They were going to kill Him. And Jesus said, “Many good works have I done among you. For which of these would you stone me?” And they said, “For your good works we do not stone you, but for the blasphemy that you, a man, make yourself God.” [John 10:32-33]
- Ankerberg: Okay. Jim, would you agree that’s a solid statement in the primary documents about Jesus’ nature?
- Mr. James Mock: I think He elaborates in other passages about Himself also. There are numerous passages where Jesus says that He has come speaking for the Father. And again in John 14:28 Jesus says, “For my Father is greater than I.” Now that makes a clear distinction between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
- Ankerberg: Okay, would you like to comment? Does that knock Him out of the ball game?
- Martin: No. As a matter of fact, if you look at the word “greater” in the text there, it is a term of position. When Jesus entered the world, He came a little lower than the angels; [Heb. 2:7] He came as a human being; He was bearing our form. [Phil. 2] He said, “My Father, your Father; my God, your God.” [John 20:17] He spoke of God as His Father because He was truly a human being. But saying, “My Father is greater than I” is not saying, “My Father is better than I.” “Better” is the term of nature; “greater” is the term of position. And the Father’s position when Jesus was on earth was greater. But Jesus said, “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” [John 5:23] He made no bones about the fact with the Jews in John 8. He said, “Listen, you are of your father the devil. The lusts of your father you will do.” [John 8:44] And then He told them why they were of their father the devil, because they rejected Him for whom He said He was. That was the important thing.
Ankerberg: Now, in a moment we are going to hear from four former Jehovah’s Witnesses ladies who will talk about how they used John 14:28 to hammer away at Christians who believed in the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. You’ll also hear how God finally showed them from Scripture the answers to their own questions. Last week we saw that the Bible says that within the nature of the one eternal God there are three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This verse does not deny the Trinity but, rather, establishes one of the foundational points of the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, there is only one God.
Christians do not believe in three Gods, only one God. The God of the Bible Himself says, “Before me no God was formed, nor will there be one after me…. I, even I, am the Lord and apart from me there is no Savior…. I am the First and I am the Last; apart from me there is no God.” [Isa. 43:10-11; Isa. 44:6]
But as we saw last week, God reveals Himself as being a composite unity, not a solitary, absolute unity. For example, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus taught, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus didn’t say we were to baptize in the names [plural] of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, but “in the name [singular] of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This verse indicates that God is One but that there are three distinct persons within the nature of God.
Now with this in mind, let’s go back to John 14:28 where Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I.” Did Jesus think of Himself as less than God? How would you answer this question? Well, we’re going to listen to four ladies who were a part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a combined total of 105 years. When they went door to door giving away their Watchtower magazines, they used John 14:28 against Christians who believed Jesus was equal with God. But in my conversation with them, you’ll hear how they learned the true meaning of John 14:28 from the Bible itself.
- [Excerpt from 105 Years of Watchtower Service]
- Mrs. Lorri MacGregor: Well, a favorite Scripture we had as Jehovah’s Witnesses to hammer Trinitarians on the head with was John 14:28 where Jesus said, “I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” And we always said, “You see, Jesus knew He was inferior, He wasn’t equal to the Father, you know. He was lesser, of an inferior nature.” That’s not so. It took me 15 years to get out a Greek dictionary and look up the word “greater” to find out what it meant. And what it means is higher in position. It’s got nothing to do with nature. You see, when Jesus came to this earth, as the Word made flesh among us, He humbled Himself; He emptied Himself. He walked this earth as a man, because that’s the only thing that would satisfy God’s perfect law. A perfect man, Adam, lost it all; a perfect man, Jesus, had to buy it back. And when He was in this condition of humanity/ humility, He said, from the earth, “The Father is greater than I.” It’s like the president and the vice president of a company. One is in a higher position than the other, and yet by nature they’re both men and equal in the eyes of God.
- Ankerberg: Well, take President Reagan. He’s got a higher office than we do, but he’s still a man like we are.
- MacGregor: Exactly right. And if Jesus, however, had said, “The Father is better than I am,” we’d be in trouble, because that word “better” in Greek means higher in nature. This is why in Hebrews 1, when it says “Jesus is better than the angels,” [Heb. 1:4] He’s higher in nature than the angels. He’s not any kind of an angel.
- Ankerberg: Alright, let me give you an argument that you guys used to give us and that would be the fact, “I hear three Gods!” “That’s what Christians are saying!” you used to go around saying and you used to redefine what we said. Would you correct yourself, please? What was the definition you used to give?
- MacGregor: Well, we used to say the Trinity taught that there was a freakish looking three-headed god….
- Mrs. Helen Ortega: In fact, the new Watchtower, we were looking at the picture of it, of a three-headed god and they say this is the Trinity of Christendom.
- Ankerberg: And then you used to shoot that down.
- Ortega: Oh, absolutely! Well, you know, the pagans believed in three-headed gods and the Christians, so-called, got it from them. But the definition of a Christian of the Trinity is not the same. When you say “Trinity” to a Jehovah’s Witness, they’re thinking of three-headed gods, or three gods in one, but a Christian doesn’t mean that. There’s one God.
- Ankerberg: Okay, could you give me a definition that you have come to learn that the Scripture gives to us that fits the evidence? Can you give it to us?
- Mrs. Joan Cetnar: Within the nature of God we have the three Persons, not as we understand “person,” but we know each one of these has personality and they are separate. And we find them in Matthew 28:19 being spoken of, but it says, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” not the names. So it’s one God in three Persons.
- Ankerberg: The nature of the one God is made up of three Persons.
- Ortega: Yes.
- Ankerberg: And what would be your evidence for that?
- MacGregor: Well, the main teaching of Scripture is the fact that there is only one true eternal God by nature.
- Ankerberg: And we can’t get away from that.
- MacGregor: We can’t. Now, Jehovah’s Witnesses are in big trouble because they’ve got a big God, Jehovah, and beside Him they’ve got a little God, Jesus Christ….
- Ankerberg: Because they say in John 1:1 He is….
- MacGregor: How many gods do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in?
- Ankerberg: That would be polytheism, two or more.
- MacGregor: Two. They’ve got a big God and a little God. One Jehovah’s Witness lady, I asked, “Look, how many Gods do you believe in?” and she thought and thought and said, “One and a half.” And I said, “One and a half?” She said, “Well, yes, because there’s Jehovah God and beside Him there’s Jesus Christ, but at the same time He’s Michael the Archangel.” I said, “I’m sorry, dear, you’ve got a half a God too many.
- Ankerberg: Okay. Does it make a difference, girls, about this kind of stuff? Some people might be out there saying, “I mean, who cares?”
- Joan Cetnar: Of course it makes a difference.
- Ankerberg: What difference does it make? Tell me.
- MacGregor: Well, I would say this. If you have the right Jesus Christ, you are right for all eternity. But if you have the wrong Jesus Christ, you are wrong for all eternity. And Jehovah’s Witnesses, check it out. You’ve got the wrong Jesus. You see, I used to feel like you did. I used to think I was fulfilling Matthew 24:14, that I was preaching the good news of the kingdom to all the world and then the end would come. What I was really fulfilling, and what Jehovah’s Witnesses out there, the Scripture you are fulfilling is 2 Corinthians 11:4. “There will be those coming to you preaching another Jesus.”
Ankerberg: So in what sense is the Father greater than the Son if they are both equally God? It is this: even though both are God, as a result of the incarnation, it can be said that the Father is greater than the Son in office but not in nature. As Lorri MacGregor just pointed out, we all admit that the President of the United States is higher in office than other Americans, even though we are all equally human beings in nature. Even so, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity are equal in nature, but differ in their function. Again, the President of our country is greater, not by virtue of his character or nature, but by virtue of his position. Jesus never considered Himself anything less than God by nature.
Remember, what we celebrate at Christmas is the Incarnation. As the apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:1, 14] In brief, the second person of the Trinity inseparably joined Himself with human flesh so that Jesus was just as much a man as you or I and just as much God as His Father in one unique person. That’s the incarnation.
To see if we can make this even more clear, I’d like you to listen to a portion of our debate that we held with leaders of the United Pentecostal Church International, a group which denies that in the nature of the one true God there exists three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. To prove the evidence for the Trinity is taught in the Bible, I brought up the very passage we just quoted, John 1:1.
- [Excerpt from The Trinity or “Jesus Only”?]
- Ankerberg: Take your Bibles, if you would, and let’s take a look at Scripture here. And a classic one that I think everybody in the audience would expect us to look at is John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” Verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Nathaniel, how would you interpret that in light of the fact that it seems, and obviously traditional Christianity has looked at this and said, that here is a classic example of two Persons?
- Nathaniel Urshan: You’re talking about John 1:1?
- Ankerberg: Yes.
- Urshan: I would interpret that as the fact that in the beginning the Word, the Logos, was in the mind and the concept of God and was not a Person but in the plan and the mind of Almighty God for a future manifestation.
- Ankerberg: Okay. Dr. Martin, how would you respond to that same verse?
- Walter Martin: Well, the preposition, pros, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God,” literally is “face to face with.” You can’t be face to face with a mere concept or abstraction. You have to be face to face with a person, and the Word was “face to face with God, and the “Word was God.”
- And then in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” If you cross-reference that with 1 John 1:1 you find very quickly that, “we have handled, we have seen, we have heard the Word of Life, and this Life was with the Father.” And again you have the preposition “with” that is standing in opposition to “the Father,” and the prepositions alone would indicate an individual. You could even argue for the divinity of mankind eternally, based upon John 1, if you took Brother Urshan’s position, because we existed in the mind of God also, therefore we are as eternal as Jesus Christ. That type of logic will just simply defeat you when you try and exegete a passage.
- Ankerberg: Bob?
- Robert Sabin: Well, it is interesting that he should say that “the Word was with God” would indicate that it had to be face to face with God. Job said, “With him were wisdom and power,” [Job 12:13] and yet wisdom and power are not persons in the Godhead. They are not persons and so….
- Ankerberg: But, Bob, let me ask you a question at that point: Does it say anywhere that the wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us?
- Sabin: I believe that Jesus was the Wisdom of God. Dr. Martin mentioned that they handled the Word of Life. What they handled was the flesh of Jesus Christ and that flesh of Jesus Christ was not with God in the beginning.
- Ankerberg: Okay. But what do you make of the fact that something was with God? You’re saying that it’s impersonal?
- Sabin: Well, you’ve said something was with God, and John 1:1 says that something was with God, but was….
- Ankerberg: But verse 2 says He was there.
- Sabin: It would have been a simple thing for God in the beginning to have solved the controversy by saying, “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God. In the beginning was the Second Person of the Trinity and the Second Person in the Trinity was with God.” Whatever was back there was with God, not with God the Father, but with God. If it had said that the Word was with God the Father, then we’d have the two Persons in the Trinity. But it said “the Word was with God.”
- Ankerberg: Cal?
- Cal Beisner: What he is attempting to argue, of course, is that you’ve got a contradiction when you call the Word a Person who is distinct from some other Person who is God, and then say that they are the same God. But, in fact, he is stuck logically with the same kind of contradiction when he makes the word “Word” refer to some impersonal principle like wisdom, or impersonal characteristic or attribute like wisdom. Because then what we have is “the Word [wisdom, this impersonal attribute] was with God, and the Word was God,” in which case you’ve got an impersonal attribute which all by its lonesomeness is God. You’ve got the same logical contradiction in terms.
- The solution to it is to recognize that there is a distinction between a “being” and a “person” and it is, as Aristotle called it, a distinction in categories of existence. There are beings, there are persons, there are relations, there are lengths, there are weights, there are all sorts of different categories of existence. “Being” is one and “person” is another. The solution to this apparent logical problem, if you term the “Word” as a Person who is coexistent eternally with another Person of the Father, is to recognize that it is not logically problematic to say that there are two Persons who are the same being.
- Ankerberg: Okay, Bob, do you want to comment?
- Sabin: Yes. When you speak of contradictions, how could you have a greater contradiction than to say that there is a person with God in the beginning when God said there isn’t one, when God said He is absolutely One? How do you….
- Beisner: God expressly says here that there is a Person with Him, because it is the Word who became flesh. And it uses personal pronouns about Him, “He was in the beginning with God,” not “it.” He was in the beginning with God. And that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory [not its glory], the glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” What’s “the only begotten from the Father” if it is not John 1:18, “the Only Begotten God,” John 3:16, if not the Only Begotten Son?
- Sabin: I’m looking for what you’ve said here. You said, “He was in the beginning with God.” My Bible says, “The same was in the beginning with God.” The pronoun isn’t introduced until the third verse. You said that it said that He was in the beginning….
- Beisner: Alright, you can use “the same” if you want to. It happens to be a masculine emphatic pronoun there. In the third verse it’s the masculine regular personal pronoun. Either way the personal pronoun relates to “Word.”
- Sabin: How do you then reconcile a person, a collateral person, with God in the beginning? You’ve got two persons and actually you’re going to add a third person before we’re through here, and God says He absolutely is alone, Isaiah 44:24.
- Ankerberg: Go ahead, Walter.
- Martin: I’d like to think here for a second that it really isn’t a question of how you or we reconcile something. It’s a question of what the text specifically says. Now, the text says, “The Word was face to face with God.” The text says in the masculine pronoun that you have a person, that you are not dealing with an abstract logos of Philo, you are dealing with a person, and you are dealing with a person who became flesh.
- What interests me is that when you get to Hebrews 1, and that’s a very good passage to go to, you are dealing with the subject of a dialogue which takes place which is before the incarnation. Before the incarnation when He was bringing the First Begotten into the world, He said, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” [Heb. 1:6] And of the Son He says, talking to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” [Heb. 1:8] So, if you’re going to take the Hebrews passage literally – and we are to interpret literally unless we have reason from the context not to – there was a dialogue going on between somebody who was with God the Father, and that person is addressed by God the Father, and that person responds in Hebrews 10:7, “Lo, it is written in the volume of the book, ‘I am coming to do thy will, O God.’” When? When He was coming into the world. Now, you’re not talking incarnation with the human nature of Jesus being the dialogue. You’re talking now with a preexistent personality talking to the Father. Now, you cannot eliminate that, personality-wise or grammatically. If you can, I’d like to see how it’s going to be done.
Ankerberg: Now let’s summarize what we’ve seen today. We’ve seen that biblically it’s proper to say that Jesus was equal to the Father in essence as God, but less than the Father and the Holy Spirit in His function as a servant, a human being. He was equal to the Father in nature, but He was less than the Father in office. Jesus was equal to the Father in character, but He was less than the Father in position. He was equal to the Father as God, He was less than the Father as man.
Next week we’re going to answer a question asked by former President Jimmy Carter: “Shouldn’t Mormons be considered Christians?” We’ll answer that next week.