So you’re standing on the porch, or maybe sitting in your living room, and the conversation begins. You have a couple of choices. You can just let them talk, and ask clarifying questions along the way, or you can drive the conversation yourself. Either way, eventually you’re going to get to the most serious difference between JW theology and biblical Christianity: the deity of Christ.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, as modern ideological descendants of Arius and his followers, believe that Jesus is a created being, the first of God’s creatures, and then the creator of everything else. They happily show you where your Bible teaches that:
Who [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Col 1.15).
The designated spokesman of the pair will show you the passage in your Bible and then say, trying not to sound triumphal, “You see, this verse clearly says that Jesus was the first created being.”
What are you going to say to that? Many Christians find the statement a little troubling and seek to counter it with a bunch of other verses that, they say, teach the deity of Christ. You know, verses like John 1.1 (boy, is there going to be an argument about that one; few things are more comically futile than two people who don’t know Greek arguing about what the Greek says), and John 8.58, and Titus 2.13, and Isaiah 9.6, and …
But there’s a problem or three with that approach. First, you’re trying to win an argument by having the more verses. And in doing that you’re implying that the Bible teaches both sides, and the side with the more verses wins. And that’s an implicit denial of the unity and inerrancy of Scripture. Second, you’ve failed to respond meaningfully to his argument, thereby giving him a solidly planted tent peg that he doesn’t deserve. And most important, you haven’t gained from the Word what this verse actually teaches. If all the Scripture is profitable (2Ti 3.16), then you ought to mine the gold from this passage.
So what do you say about this passage? Here you have a wonderful opportunity to teach beyond the argument. You have a chance to teach these folks some exegesis, through which, if they heed it, they’ll be finding problems with their own theology all by themselves for the rest of their time as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But it’s going to take some time. So, I suppose, those of you who are sitting on comfortable couches and drinking iced tea will have a bit of an advantage.
Exegesis is simply the process of getting the author’s intended meaning from a piece of writing. You do exegesis all the time, even if you’ve never heard the word before. In fact, you’re doing it right now—you’re reading my words and getting the meaning from them.
Most of our daily exegesis is pretty simple: Stop. Authorized personnel only. Exit left. Wait here to be seated. Waffles $8.95. Electronics Department. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But lots of writing requires more care in understanding correctly. Good poetry, for example, typically requires some scratching of the head, stroking of the beard, and furrowing of the brow. Narrative is much easier. In biblical studies, epistolary literature, of which Colossians is one example, requires considerable thought, especially when it’s developing an argument over multiple paragraphs and even chapters.
That means there’s a process for exegeting challenging writing. This process has multiple steps, each of which you need to do in its order and with careful thought. This passage is a great opportunity to learn the process, because it’s brief, but it also requires all the steps of the process if you’re going to understand what it’s saying. Further—and this is really cool—if you follow the process carefully, the meaning is absolutely clear, and it’s absolutely impossible for the passage to say what the Jehovah’s Witness claims it says. But all along the way, until the very end, your JW friend is going to think that he’s headed for a win; he’s going to be the proverbial hare to your tortoise.
All of that makes the exercise deeply enjoyable.
So next time, we’ll head jauntily off toward Understanding.