Over the past few months I have been dialoguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses and when we exchange ideas we would often use the same words —like “Jesus” or the bible is “inspired”, for example— however; what we mean by these words are often worlds apart. A key verse that plays “best supporting role” for the idea, according the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that Jesus is not divine and is Jehovah’s first creation, is: Proverbs 8:22-23. This verse is directly referenced in their “Silver Sword” (2013 Revision of the New World Translation Bible) to support their rendition of John 1:1-3,14, Col 1:15-17 and Micah 5:2 and many more. In the mind of the Witness at your door, this verse shows that Jehovah created Christ as the “first of his works”, “at the very beginning”. Let’s see if we can think through this claim and draw some reasonable conclusions.
Consider the verse in question
22 Jehovah produced me as the beginning of his way,+The earliest of his achievements of long ago.+ 23 From ancient times* I was installed,+From the start, from times earlier than the earth.+
The additional references for these verses (marked with “+”) present us with John 1:1-3, John 1:14, Col 1:15-17, and Micah 5:2. Let’s consider the full force of the argument as presented by the Witness with these references in mind.
The Jehovah’s Witness would say Proverbs 8 reinforces the view of Jesus as, the “Word” that “became flesh (John 1: 1-3, 14, NWT)” who is the “firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15 NWT)” and “whose origin is from ancient times, from the days long ago (Micah 5:2 NWT)”. That this Christ was the “beginning of [Jehovah’s] way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago” and “installed from the start”.
How should we respond to demonstrate that this kaleidoscope view of scripture is absurd without getting sidetracked by the many red-herrings in this argument. The answer is simple, aim at the “center” of the argument. Allow me to share an analogy, if you were going to tear down a derelict house would you start by removing roofing tiles, one by one from the top of the house, or would you remove the support system of the house by simply bulldozing the middle of it? Bulldozing, right! That way your effort is maximized and the house comes down in a heap and not piece by piece. In the same way think about what the central issue is and focus on that with the limited time you have.
This proves to be almost irrefutable evidence in the early hours of the morning when Witnesses gleefully knock at the door and hand you an AWAKE! magazine. How fitting!
3 Counterpoints to Consider
1: By what method should we prioritize a verse about Jesus in the Old Testament versus the New Testament?
The Old Testament relies on prophetic utterance to describe the anticipated Messiah —Jesus. The prophetic words spoken about Jesus are accurate enough to identify Him, of course, but are obscured somewhat by their poetic nature therefore, if someone wanted to know more about Christ in detail where should they start, in the Old Testament or the New? Clearly the New Testament has the capacity to give us greater insight into person and nature of Jesus as compared to the Old Testament, therefore it is a methodological error to “seize upon a disputed interpretation of a verse in the Old Testament as the only satisfactory description of him. The proper methodology, of course, is to begin with the New Testament, and then to search in the Old Testament for foregleams, types, and prophecies which found their fulfillment in him.”1
2: Who is Proverbs chapter 8 talking about in context?
The most powerful way to untangle this argument is to simply consider who is the one being referenced in this chapter of Proverbs. The answer is straight forward, from the chapters before and after we can clearly see a continuous theme, namely wisdom. Verse one of chapter eight states “Does not wisdom call, Does not understanding raise her voice? (Prov. 8:1, ESV, emphasis my own)” Wisdom herself is the subject of this chapter and is addressed here, and in multiple places, in the feminine form. Secondly, and most importantly, as we dig a little deeper to find out what the verb “produced” or qanah means in the original language, we discover that most Bible Scholars agree that possessed is the most accurate translation of qanah. We can see that plainly because the claim that “Jehovah produced [wisdom]” would itself require wisdom to do so; therefore such a claim is self refuting and illogical. This is one of the many reasons why the NWT is thought of as a poor translation according to scholars and should be disregarded.2
3: Is the book of Proverbs prophetic?
Surprisingly there are 51 verses that reference the word “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs and the genre of the book is considered “Wisdom Literature”, but is there any reason to believe that this book is prophetic in nature? No, there are no direct prophetic references to Messiah from the book of Proverbs.3 One might only venture to say that Jesus was able to demonstrate, in a pragmatic way to mankind, what perfect wisdom looked like in human form, incarnated or personified if you would, as scripture says about Jesus –”in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). This verse makes no Messianic pronouncements in a prophetic sense therefore to apply this verse to Christ retroactively is to simply acknowledge that “Christ Jesus […] became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)”.
Any one of these counterpoints is sufficient to get the Jehovah’s Witness to question their own assertion, when they use Proverbs 8 as a support text, and if you can remember all three counterpoints that’s the equivalent of bulldozing their argument entirely. A straight forward response mentioning (1) the methodological error in exegesis, (2) the context of the verses, and (3) the lack of prophetic content will flatten the argument entirely and demonstrate to your interlocutor that perhaps they should reconsider their views.
1 Metzger, Bruce M. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ:A Biblical and Theological Appraisal”, Theology Today 10/1 (April 1953), pp. 65-85, http://www.bible-researcher.com/metzger.jw.html (Accessed November 2nd, 2017)↩
2 Barnett, Tim,”Does Proverbs 8:22 Teach That Jesus Was Created?”, standtoreason.org, https://www.str.org/blog/does-proverbs-8-22-teach-that-jesus-was-created#.Weg2lUwZPBK (Accessed November 2nd, 2017)↩
3 Selvaggio, Anthony, “Does Proverbs Speak of Jesus?”, reformation21.org, http://www.reformation21.org/articles/does-proverbs-speak-of-jesus.php (Accessed November 2nd, 2017)↩