So a Jehovah’s Witness came to my house yesterday. Sweet and pleasant, she began to discuss with me the JW doctrine denying the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (JW’s believe that Jesus is a created being, not divine or at least not divine like Jehovah or Yahweh in the Old Testament). We covered a number of topics, but I’ll focus on this one.
She stated that my problem is that Jesus denied that he was God. He did so in Mark 10 when the rich young ruler says that Jesus is good but Jesus rebuked him. She wanted to know how it could be that Jesus would ever say to anyone that he is not good, only God is good, unless Jesus was admitting that he is not God. I explained, first, that Jesus did not say he wasn’t good to the rich young ruler in Mark 10. He simply said only God is good. He could simply be letting the young man reach the conclusion about the goodness/divinity of Jesus for himself. Let’s read it: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God (Mark 10:18).” Now the orthodox interpretation of that verse is rather simple (and consistent with the behavior of Jesus elsewhere). Cryptically or socratically, as he was prone to do, Jesus asks questions designed to put his discussants on a sort of self-discovery trip, to get them to back in or stumble upon truths or doctrines (or mysteries) they hadn’t seen standing in front of them. For instance, he tells his disciples that he speaks to some in parables, rather than in plain language, because they do not or can not know the mysteries of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:13). With the woman at the well, Jesus spends forever asking her questions and making cryptic comments before he ever tells her of his true identity (that he’s the prophesied Messiah). He wants her to discover that truth for herself through a series of questions and answers. For instance, after asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water at the well, she is shocked that he (a Jew) would even speak to her. He doesn’t just come right out and set her straight in John 4, he says:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.[b] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
And he’s still not done, asking her to go get her husband (with divine knowledge of her whole life story under wraps). Jesus does this kind of thing all the time. He did it often with his disciples (“Who do you say that I am?” Mark 8). He did it under questioning before Pilate when Pilate is trying to get Jesus to just plainly identify himself (“So, are you a king?” John 18)
In the passage cited by my JW visitor, where Jesus asks why someone would call him good knowing that only God is good, Jesus is doing the same thing. He wants his hearers to arrive at the truth of his true identity (he is good because he is God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity). Now, I’m not saying that her interpretation is necessarily a false one if we were to only look at this passage. It makes sense. He does seem to be deflecting their attention away from himself and towards God (or what they know about God, that he alone is good). But that’s only so that they will then come right back to him, Jesus, with the shocking truth, that he is good because he is God. That is, he wants them to see that what has been said of God (only He is good) and what the young man says of Jesus (that Jesus is good) implies that Jesus is good because he is God-incarnate. How do I know this? Because of what Jesus says elsewhere. If my JW visitor is correct, Jesus must never in any other gospel refer to himself as good and must never identify himself as equal with God the Father. That way, her interpretation of her favorite passage will stand (that he is denying being both good and God). Unfortunately for her, Jesus DOES BOTH in John 10. First, he calls himself good when he identifies himself as “the good shepherd” (v.11). His next statements about being the means of salvation for sinners starts to sound like he is claiming to be God to his Jewish audience (they actually get tired of him speaking cryptically, as another example, and say ” How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”). He finally clears the air and simply tells them “I and my Father are one,” claiming equality with the Father. And importantly, the Jews pick up stones to stone him for blasphemy (uh, that means they understood him to be claiming to be God). In John 10, none of the words of Jesus and responses of the Jewish leaders make any sense if my visitor’s interpretation of Mark 10:18 is correct. But if Jesus was allowing the rich young ruler to reach the conclusion that he was both good and God for himself, it makes sense. Jesus was in fact claiming that only God is good. But not clearly seen by the rich young ruler, the one true and good God was standing in front of him. He was in essence saying, “think about it young man, you claim I’m good but know that only God is good. What must that tell you about who I AM?”
The second thing my JW visitor said is that in the Old Testament, we only have Jehovah mentioned, not the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, mentioned in reference to God. Her problem is that the NT refers to those passages that speak of Jehovah or Yahweh often. And yet, when the NT authors cite those OT passages about Yahweh, they ascribe them to Jesus. Nowhere is this clearer than in the book of Hebrews. To take just one clear example, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 45:6, which reads “Thy Throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy Kingdom” (NASB). But when citing this verse, here is what the author of Hebrews says in 1:8,
8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
It’s tough denying the trinity, if you plan on using scripture to do it.