[ Author: Rich Christian ]
Over the years I’ve learned various talking points to use with Jehovah’s Witnesses. As my knowledge base has grown, I’ve had to rethink some of the arguments that I’ve made; one’s, that at the time seemed convincing but were misguided. I’ve seen others making some of these same mistakes and I want to help remedy that.
#1 Is it he or she?
Recently in our Jehovah’s Witness group, the topic of Jesus as wisdom came up. Proverbs 8 is a proof-text that Jehovah’s Witnesses use in support of Jesus being a created being, especially when citing verse 22:
(NWT) Proverbs 8:22-23 Jehovah produced me as the beginning of his way, The earliest of his achievements of long ago. From ancient times I was installed, From the start, from times earlier than the earth. 1 (emphasis mine)
The Watchtower had this to say about Proverbs 8:
“This passage cannot be speaking merely about divine wisdom or wisdom in the abstract…….The book of Proverbs says that long ago wisdom was beside Jehovah, the Creator, as “a master worker.” That certainly applies to Jesus. Long before he came to earth, Jesus worked so closely with Jehovah that God’s Word says: “He is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist.”—Colossians 1:17; Revelation 3:14. Depicting the Son of God as wisdom is appropriate, since he was the One who revealed Jehovah’s wise purposes and decrees.” 2 (emphasis mine)
One of the counter arguments used by well meaning people–even several apologetics websites–is to propose that wisdom can’t be Jesus because wisdom is a “she”. After all, throughout Proverbs 8 and 9, feminine pronouns “she” and “her” are applied to wisdom. There’s a good reason for this rendering however, wisdom (Hebrew: chokmoth) is a feminine noun. Unlike English, Hebrew nouns have a gender; Greek, Spanish and other languages do too.
¿Que dice usted?
This is where having a background in another language is important for us native English speakers. While I’m not fluent in Spanish, I’m an intermediate speaker in it. My vocabulary is decent, and I can follow conversations fairly well, this according to my wife and mother-in-law, who are both native Spanish speakers.
Okay, so what, Spanish isn’t Hebrew, you might be thinking. True, but what I’m about to share still applies to Hebrew also. In Spanish, you have nouns of occupations–and again, nouns in general—that are masculine, such as “el bombero” (firefighter), el médico (doctor) or el músico (musician). These masculine nouns don’t preclude women from being called bomberos, médicos and músicos. We do have female doctors, firefighters and musicians, right?
This same reasoning applies to Hebrew. Furthermore, inanimate objects such as grass (Hebrew: deshe’), fruit (Hebrew: perı̂y) and trees (Hebrew: ‛êts) are all masculine nouns yet they’re obviously not male, that’s just their gender assignment. In reality, wisdom could actually be Jesus, albeit in a poetic fashion. So, whatever you do, please don’t use this gender of noun argument, it just doesn’t work.
#2 A person or a thing?
Another argument that I’ve seen Christian apologists use, that’s somewhat misguided, is condemning the New World Translation’s (NWT) usage of the pronoun “it”, when applied to the Holy Spirit. This argument has a two way street for the Watchtower and the apologist, as we shall see. Some of you know, the WT takes the position that the Holy Spirit is a mere force and not a person. Consider:
“It is not unusual for God’s Word to personify things that are not a person. These include wisdom, discernment, sin, death, and undeserved kindness. (Proverbs 8:1–9:6; Romans 5:14, 17, 21; 6:12) Jesus himself said that “wisdom is proved righteous by all its children,” or its good results. (Luke 7:35) Clearly, wisdom is not a person that has literal children! Likewise, the holy spirit is not a person simply because in some instances it is personified.” 3
(Important side note: we read earlier that the Watchtower (note 2) argues that wisdom can’t be a mere personification but has to be the person of Jesus, yet contradicts itself (note 3) on why wisdom can’t be a person–using the same exact reference of Proverbs 8!)
It’s clear to see why the NWT would reflect this belief in its translation of the word spirit (Greek: pneuma). To be fair, pneuma is a noun that’s in the neuter form, so translating the word as “it” (instead of “he”), isn’t out of bounds grammatically. Here’s an example of the NWT (A) applying the pronoun “it” whereas the KJV (B) renders “he”:
A. (NWT) Romans 8:26-27 In like manner, the spirit also joins in with help for our weakness; for the problem is that we do not know what we should pray for as we need to, but the spirit itself pleads for us with unuttered groanings. But the one who searches the hearts knows what the meaning of the spirit is, because it is pleading in harmony with God for the holy ones.
B. (KJV) Rom 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
The reason why numerous translators have used the pronoun “he” instead of “it” in various passages, is because they recognize several of the Spirit’s attributes that are personal. R. A. Torrey explains 4 main lines of evidence for the personage of the Holy Spirit:
- “All the distinctive characteristics of personality are ascribed to the Holy Spirit in the Bible.
- Many acts that only a Person can perform are ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
- An office is predicated of the Holy Spirit that can only be predicated of a person.
- A treatment is predicated to the Holy Spirit that could only be predicated of a Person”. 4
Where the reasoning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses go wrong however, is where they posit, that, because pneuma is a neuter noun, the Holy Spirit can’t be a person! Well, the Greek word for a young child paidion is neuter too. Surely children are actual persons. 5
1. To be fair, several Early Church Fathers, theologians etc., have also identified wisdom as Jesus in this passage. The distinction, however, is that they’ve maintained Jesus’ eternal nature and not as a part of creation as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. I’ll expound on this distinction in a later article. A clue in this passage that we shouldn’t overlook, is that in verse 23 where the phrase in the NWT says “ancient times”, the Hebrew word “olam” is used. While the ancient Hebrew doesn’t have a precise word for eternity, this is the closest one that can be used for it.
2. 2006 Awake! July 2006 p. 14
3. 2006 Watchtower August 1st p. 31
4. The Personality of the Holy Spirit. http://biblehub.com/library/torrey/the_person_and_work_of_the_holy_spirit/chapter_i_the_personality_of.htm (Accessed 7/10/18)
5. Neuter Pneuma and Neuter Pronouns Mean Not a Person: Bad Arguments against the Personhood of the Holy Spirit #1 http://bib.irr.org/neuter-pneuma-and-neuter-pronouns-mean-not-person-bad-arguments-against-personhood-of-holy-spirit-1 (Accessed 7/10/18)