Question: A Jehovah’s Witness told me the next time he comes to my door he will show me from the Scriptures that Jesus is not divine. For instance, if he were God he would have prayed to himself not to the Father. What should I tell him?
— Armel Audet, via email
Answer: Jesus most certainly attested to his divinity on numerous occasions, and it was one of the things that earned him the wrath of many of his unbelieving Jewish contemporaries.
For example, they sought on several occasions to stone him for blasphemy in taking up the divine name I AM for himself (Jn 8:58; 10:33). When under oath at his trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus affirmed that he was the Christ, the Son of the Living God and would come on the clouds to judge Israel (Mk 14:62). The high priest tore his garments, indicating he considered this a blasphemy.
In other places, Jesus is called a blasphemer for appropriating divine actions (such as the forgiveness of sins) to himself (Mt 9:2).
In John’s Gospel alone, Jesus makes numerous divine claims and appropriates divine actions and powers to himself. He states that he is eternal, noting, “Before Abraham was I AM” (Jn 8:58), that he has full knowledge of the Father (Jn 7:29; 8:55;10:14) and that he has equal power and efficacy with the Father (Jn 5:17). He also says that he can forgive sins (Jn 8:11) and is Judge of the World (Jn 5:22,27).
He indicates that he is right to be adored (Jn 5:23) and that his disciples may and ought to pray to the Father in his name (Jn 14:13; 16:23). He accepts the solemn confession of the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” and calls it an act of faith (Jn 20:28).
The list could go on, in both John, the other Gospels and the epistles.
There are, to be sure, some texts where the Lord prays and indicates that the Father is greater than he (Jn 14:28). But he indicates this in reference to his humanity, not his divinity. He prays as man, he obeys as man, he calls the Father greater than him, as man.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to your door are beholden to notions that are both erroneous and rooted in the text of Scripture that they have altered in important places to agree with their errors.
They also illustrate what happens to people who separate themselves from the magisterium of the Church and read Scripture without an authorized interpreter of the Scripture. The Lord founded the Church; he did not write a book. And he gifted the Church, the apostles and their successors, with the Holy Spirit to remember what he had taught, understand it, authentically hand it on, and bind and loose based on that understanding. It was the Church that collected the New Testament in written form and authorized it.
There is not one apparent ambiguity these Jehovah’s Witnesses will point to that the Church, in solemn councils (more than 1,000 years ago) has not already discussed, considered and taught solemnly about. Indeed, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church has been thinking, praying and teaching about these matters for more than 2,000 years.
Be not too dismayed at members of a nascent movement carrying a flawed translation of Scripture and repeating old errors. As Scripture itself attests (Acts 5:38-39), if Jesus were not God and his teachings were not true, his Church would have disappeared long ago. But the Church is still here, teaching and proclaiming as we always have.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.