Summary: Study 7 - St. John`s Gospel and his letters countering false teaching about Jesus
The Jehovah`s Witnesses have vacillated in their teaching down the years between calling Jesus a man, and calling Him a god. It is quite evident that the Bible sees Him as far greater than just a man (although it does see Him as totally and completely Man), and present day Witnesses accept this, but they will not accept that He was anything more than a god, inferior to the Father. They say that early Christians did not regard Jesus as God, and that the Doctrine of the Trinity was a late invention of the Church, brought in from paganism in the 4th Century AD. "The Church has given undue prominence to Jesus, so that Christendom might almost be equated with Jesus worship. This denigrates Jehovah, and is a device of Satan" they say
Anyone who reads the New Testament with open eyes, however, will plainly see that the early Church put Jesus at the very centre of its teaching. When Paul stood on Mars Hill, and preached to the Athenians, at first they misunderstood him. "He would appear to be a propagandist for foreign deities", they said. (Acts 17.18). They thought that he was preaching about two deities, "JESUS" and "ANASTASIS", and that he wanted to add these two gods to all the other gods the city paid allegiance to.
But Paul wasn’t preaching TWO gods at all. He was preaching about JESUS and HIS RESURRECTION (Greek: `Anastasis`). This was the very centre, the very core of his message. Later in the chapter, we see that, when the Athenians caught the drift of his argument about the Resurrection they thought he had gone mad.
The Old Testament had constantly talked about Jehovah and His dealings with men. The New Testament appears to shift focus - in it Jesus occupies the central position. But as time passes by something startling begins to emerge. The Church has become an illegal association banned by the Roman Government, and Christians who will not worship the Emperor are put to death. The reason they will not worship Caesar is that they worship someone else, someone they refuse to betray. Who is it that they worship?
A letter from Pliny to Trajan written about 110 AD complains of the difficulties he has been having with the Christian sect. (Pliny was Praetor in AD93 or 94). They refuse to worship the Emperor, he says, and goes on to explain the reason why: "They sing to Christ as though to a god". Trials of Christians for this `crime` had been going on for many years, even before Pliny was a Praetor, and certainly long before the last Apostle had died. Now, we have to ask ourselves, "Was this Jesus worship a distortion that had crept into the Church? Was it limited to one set of Christians, whilst there was in existence another set of Christians who worshipped only Jehovah? Is Jesus worship unknown in the New Testament? Is it wrong?
Well, there is no record that there were two sets of Christians, one worshipping Jesus, the other worshipping Jehovah. Wherever worship is found in the early Church, Jesus is worshipped on the same level as the Father. The only difference we can trace in the New Testament is that of the Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentile Christians be circumcised and keep the Jewish Law. (St. Paul`s Epistle to the Galatians is written to counter that argument). Where there is any disagreement in the early Church about the Person of Jesus, it is whether or not He was really a man - it is never, ever about His position of God. The question early Christians struggled with was "How is it possible for the Divine and the Human Nature to exist in one person?". That is why St. John`s Gospel and his letters were written.
Even Jehovah`s Witnesses concede that John wrote his first Epistle because false teachers had come into the Church (See their book: `Aid to Bible Understanding` - introduction to St. John`s Epistles). What they do not mention is what was the teaching of these false teachers! They do say that these teachers denied that Jesus had come in the flesh; what they do not say is what those teachers meant when they said this.
The actual heresy St. John was countering was a heresy called Gnosticism. Gnosticism said that matter is essentially evil, and spirit is essentially good. They went on to argue that, since this is so, God cannot touch matter, therefore He did not create the world. What He did was to put out a series of emanations - each emanations was further and further from God, until, at last, there was one emanation so distant from God that it could touch matter - that emanation was the creator of the world. On its own the idea is bad enough, but it was made worse by what they said next - each emanation knew less and less about God, until there was a stage when the emanations were not only ignorant of God, but actually hostile to God. So the Gnostics concluded that the creator god was not only different from the real God, but also quite ignorant and hostile towards Him. In reply, St John presents the Christian Doctrine that God made the world, and His presence fills the world that He has made.