Officially known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a product of the life work of Charles Taze Russell, born February 16, 1852, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1870, while still in his teens and without formal theological education, Russell organized a Bible class whose members eventually made him “pastor”.
In 1879 he founded the magazine Zion’s Watchtower in which he published his own unique interpretation of the Bible, and in 1886, the first volume of seven books (six written by Russell) entitled The Millennial Dawn was published (later retitled Studies in the Scriptures).
By the time of his death in 1916, “Pastor” Russell, according to the Watchtower, traveled more than a million miles, gave more than thirty thousand sermons, and wrote books totaling over fifty thousand pages (Qualified to be Ministers, Anon., 1955, p. 310).
Joseph F. Rutherford
A few months after the death of Charles Taze Russell, the society’s legal counselor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, became the second President of the Watchtower Society. It was under his leadership that the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was adopted. Rutherford not only moved the Society’s headquarters to Brooklyn, he also moved toward “theocratic” control with the power to make all policy decisions.
Rutherford died in 1942 and was succeeded by Nathan H. Knorr. It was during Knorr’s presidency that the society increased from 115,000 to over two million members. In 1961, under Knorr’s leadership, the society produced its own English translation of the Bible entitled The New World Translation of Holy Scriptures.
When Knorr died in 1977, Frederick W. Franz became the new president of the Watchtower and is currently conducting business in Knorr’s manner. Franz was the spokesman for the translation committee of the New World Translation.
Claims of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Today, worldwide, the Jehovah’s Witnesses number over two million. The members are zealous and sincere and claim to accept the Bible as their only authority. However, their theology denies every cardinal belief of historic Christianity including the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, His bodily resurrection, salvation by grace through faith, and eternal punishment of the wicked.
“Pastor” Russell, not known for his humility, made the following statement, “Be it known that no other system of theology even claims, or has ever attempted to harmonize in itself every statement of the Bible, yet nothing short of this can we claim” (Charles Taze Russell Studies in the Scriptures, 1:348). The Watchtower has this to say about itself:
It is God’s sole collective channel for the flow of Biblical truth to men on earth (The Watchtower, July 15, 1960, p. 439).
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the greatest corporation in the world, because from the time of its organization until now the Lord has used it as His channel through which to make known the glad tidings (The Watchtower, 1917, p. 22, quoted in Studies in the Scriptures, p. 144).
F.W. Franz, president of the Watchtower, relaying how their interpretations come from God, stated, “They are passed to the Holy Spirit who invisibly communicates with Jehovah’s Witnesses – and the Publicity Department” (Scottish Daily Express, November 24, 1954).
We conclude from these statements that the Watchtower believes itself to be the organization that speaks for God in today’s world. Note the following statement by “Pastor” Russell:
If the six volumes of “Scripture Studies” are practically the Bible, topically arranged with Bible proof texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes “the Bible in an arranged form,” that is to say, they are not mere comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself. Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years – if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible as such, he would be in the light at the end of two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures (Charles Taze Russell, The Watchtower, September 15, 1910, p. 298).
Source of Authority
There are no “articles of faith” or authoritative doctrinal statements issued by the Watchtower. Their theological views are found in their various publications, including The Watchtower and Awake. The doctrine that proceeds from these works is considered authoritative.
They contend their ultimate source of authority is the Bible:
To let God be found true means to let God have the say as to what is the truth that sets men free. It means to accept His Word, the Bible, as the truth. Hence, in this book, our appeal is to the Bible for the truth. Our obligation is to back up what is said herein by quotations from the Bible for proof of truthfulness and reliability (Let God Be True, 1946, p. 9).
Although the Watchtower contends that the Scriptures are their final authority, we find they constantly misuse the Scriptures to establish their own peculiar beliefs. This is accomplished chiefly by quoting texts out of context while omitting other passages relevant to the subject. For all practical purposes their publications take precedence over the Scriptures.
The Watchtower makes it clear they do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. “The trinity doctrine was not conceived by Jesus or the early Christians” (Let God Be True, 1952, p. 111). “The plain truth is that this is another of Satan’s attempts to keep the God-fearing person from learning the truth of Jehovah and His Son Christ Jesus” (Let God Be True, p. 93).
In Watchtower theology neither Jesus Christ nor the Holy Spirit is God.
In the theological system of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ is not God in human flesh, but rather a created being.
“Jesus, the Christ, a created individual, is the second greatest personage of the Universe. Jehovah God and Jesus together constitute the superior authorities” (Make Sure of All Things, p. 207).
. . .”He was a god, but not the Almighty God, who is Jehovah” (Let God Be True, p. 33).
“If Jesus were God, then during Jesus’ death God was dead in the grave” (Let God Be True, 1946, p. 91).
“The truth of the matter is that the word is Christ Jesus, who did have a beginning” (Let God Be True, p. 88).
The denial of the deity of Christ is nothing new in the history of the Church. It is a revival of the ancient heresy known as Arianism (named after the fourth century A.D. heretic Arius.) Arianism teaches that the Son was of a substance different than the Father and was, in fact, created).
To the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus is not equal to Jehovah God. He was rather, Michael the Archangel in his preexistent state, having a brother named Lucifer who rebelled against God while he (known then as Michael) remained obedient (see J. Rutherford, The Kingdom Is At Hand, p. 49).
During his earthly existence Michael was transformed into a man:
“The life of the Son of God was transferred from his glorious position with God his Father in Heaven to the embryo of a human” (Let God Be True, p. 36).
Upon His resurrection He went back to His former state as an invisible spirit, no longer having a body, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, in an attempt to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is not Jehovah God, appeal to the Bible to substantiate their beliefs. However, it is the Bible that contradicts their theology, revealing it to be both unbiblical and non-Christian.
One favorite passage used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove Christ is less than God is John 14:28: “My Father is greater than I” This verse refers to the voluntary subordination of Jesus during His earthly life when He willingly placed Himself in submission to the Father. It says nothing about His nature, only His temporary rank on earth. Thus, the “greater than” refers to His position rather than His person.
One of the crucial phrases the Watchtower Society uses to support its doctrine of the creation of Christ is the latter part of Revelation 3:14, “. . . the beginning (____) of the creation of God.” It is used in their extended work on “The Word” Who is He? According to John to set forth that the Lord was a product of the creative activity of God. “Plainly it means the first one or original one of God’s ways to be created.” (“The Word” Who is He? According to John [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1962], p. 47.)
The Watchtower, which proclaims the authentic doctrinal views of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, states with reference to Revelation 3:14:
This is true because his firstborn Son was the first of God’s creations. Then with him as His active agent God went on to create everything else that has been brought into existence. He was the “beginning of the creation of God,” not that he was the author of creation, but that he was the first one whom God made and whom God made without the co-operation of anyone else. (“Resurrection to a New World,” The Watchtower, 68:99, April 1, 1947.)
Grammatically, there are two ways in which to understand this phrase: “… the beginning of the creation of God.” It might be interpreted passively of Christ as the “beginning of the creation of God,” as the first and most excellent creature of God’s hands, or, it might declare of Christ, “that He was the active source, author, and in this sense, ‘beginning’ and beginner of all creation; as in the words of the Creed, ‘by whom all things were made.”‘ (Trench, Seven Churches, pp. 256-57.)
Although both meanings are possible if merely considered as entities, but with reference to the many statements of Scripture concerning Christ’s deity, the latter is imperatively demanded. The Catholic Church rejected the former interpretation because it would “place this passage in contradiction with every passage in Scripture which claims divine attributes…” (Ibid., p. 257.)
The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures is in error at this point by rendering this portion of the verse, “. . . the beginning of the creation by God.” The genitive case means, “of God” and not, “by God.”
Bruce Metzger points out if the passage were to teach that Christ was created “by God” it would have required the preposition “hupo” rather than “tou theou” which means “of God” (Theology Today, Bruce Metzger, 1953, pp. 79-80).
One need go no farther than these seven church letters referred to above by Trench. All the titles given to Christ by Himself are either divine or consistent with His divinity.
Several expressions of Paul to the Colossians are prototypes of certain phrases of John in Revelation. Paul wrote an epistle to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16) and gave directions for the Colossian epistle to be read in the church of Laodicea. The message inscribed by St. John to the Laodicean Church continues the theme commenced by St. Paul to the Colossians. It is highly probable that John was acquainted with Paul’s epistle and was aware of the Laodicean problem. Lightfoot’s remarks here are pertinent to this discussion:
Thus, while St. Paul finds it necessary to enforce the truth that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that in Him all the divine fullness dwells, that He existed before all things, that through Him all things were created and in Him all things are sustained, that He is the primary source (____) and has the pre-eminence in all things; so in almost identical language St. John, speaking in the person of our Lord, declares that He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the primary source (____) of the creation of God.
Some lingering shreds of the old heresy, we may suppose, still hung about these Churches, and instead of “holding fast the Head” they were even yet prone to substitute intermediate agencies, angelic mediators, as links in the chain which should bind man to God. They still failed to realize the majesty and significance, the completeness, of the Person of Christ. (Lightfoot, Colossians, pp. 41-42.)
Wordsworth corroborates the above statement of Lightfoot’s that “…there may be some reference to the false teaching of those at Laodicea who substituted Angels as Creators and Mediators in the place of Christ.” (Chr. Wordsworth, The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the Original Greek, p. 180.)
A few years before John’s letter, Laodicea had been laid waste by an earthquake. After this catastrophe she was rebuilt better than her former splendor. She boasted that she did it herself, without the assistance of the Roman emperor (Lightfoot, Colossians, p. 43.). In Revelation 3:17, 18, John condemned this pride of wealth. Christ gave Himself this name in the Epistle, so that they would rely on Him for their salvation and not look for any good thing except from Him (Revelation 3:18).
The Laodiceans were probably familiar with this term, “beginning of the creation of God,” as meaning the originating source through whom God works. Revelation 1: 18; 2:8; 3:21; and 5:15 are passages that make it clear this concept in Colossians 1:15-18; John 1:3; and Hebrews 1:2 was well known to the Laodiceans. Christ is presented as the unqualified medium of the whole creation.
The Lord, in the other passages of Revelation, refers to Himself as not only the “Beginning,” but the “End.” (See also: Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13; compare with 1:17; 2:8; Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Christ is the end to which all creation tends. Christ is also called the “Amen,” and the “faithful and true Witness,” in Revelation 3:14. The Amen seems to refer to Isaiah 65:16 where the “God of Amen,” was translated in the LXX (The Septuagint) as, the God of truth. . . . ”
“The Amen” signifies the truth of His promises and “the true witness” points to the validity of His revelations of heaven, earthly things, and the purpose and nature of God (See also: John 1: 3; 3:11, 12; 8:28, 29; 10: 28; 14:9). Revelation 3:14 introduces a strong antithesis as a condemnation for the unfaithful and immature condition of the Church of Laodicea.
John refers to Christ as the beginning in the active sense: “the living beginning,” the “first cause of creation.” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 456-457). It signifies the causal relation of Christ to the creation of God.
A. T. Robertson, the Greek grammarian had this to say: “Not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 321).
____, as the “source of creation,” not only coincides with the historical and etymological use of the word, but also the context and scriptural teaching about Christ. The Watchtower Society, in its strict adherence to this verse in order to verify a created beginning for Christ, not only disregards a thorough exegesis of ____ but also ignores the overall biblical teaching.
The interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 has raised a greater controversy than almost any other passage in the Old Testament (F. C. Burney, “Christ as the APXH of Creation, “Journal of Theological Studies, 27:160, 1926). This is a verse the Jehovah’s Witnesses (along with Arians of every age) appeal to most frequently to confirm their view that Jesus Christ was a created Being (Bruce M. Metzger, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ,” Theology Today, 15:80, April, 1953). Their own Bible, The New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (New World Translation of the Ho-ly Scriptures [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 19631.) pur-portedly rendered from the original languages by the New World Bible translation committee, translates Proverbs 8:22 as follows:
Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago.
A footnote makes reference to the meaning “to create.” (Ibid., p. 1945.)
Their teaching on Christ being a created being with reference to Proverbs 8:22 permeates many of their publications. The Watchtower, the authoritative voice of the society (Also known as: Millennial Dawn. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The People’s Pulpit Association. The International Bible Student’s Association, etc.), states:
What then was his first creation? a son -his first son… (“Wise Sayings for the Modern Day,” Watchtower, 78:659, November 1, 1957.) This created son of God… (Ibid., p. 660.)
… before he created his wise son… (Ibid., p. 662.)
In their book, What Has Religion Done for Mankind?, it reads:
In the proverbs of wisdom, he speaks of himself as wisdom and calls attention to his being a creation of the eternal heavenly Father. (What Has Religion Done for Mankind? [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., 1951], p. 37.)
“The Word”: Who Is He? According to John mentions that Proverbs 8:22,
does not mean Beginner, Origin, or Originator. Plainly, it means the first one or original one of God’s ways to be created. (“The Word”: Who is He? Accor-ding to John [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., 19621, p. 47.)
There is no doubt that the Witnesses teach from this Old Testament verse the creation of Christ.
The pivotal point of the controversy centers on the Hebrew word ganah. The basic meaning of the word here should be understood as “beget,” or “create,” not to “produce” as translated by the Watchtower. The lexicons, the biblical usage, substantives derived from the root word, extra-biblical literature, the cognate languages, the early versions and the context of the Bible, all support the biblical usage and not the Watchtower.
The context is the critical stage in the exegesis of the passage. The decision whether _ _ means “to create,” or “to beget,” ultimately must be based upon the meanings of the verbs descriptive of the production of wisdom in the immediate context of Proverbs 8:22-25.
In Proverbs 8:23, “set up” means “I was woven” (prenatal growth of the embryo) and verses 24, 25 means “I was brought forth with travail” (birth). The conclusion is obvious that the verb “set up” in verse 22 is “beget me” (act of procreation). The above discussion of Proverbs 8:22-25 is summed up adequately by Kidner when he said that, “the passage as a whole may be meant to bring to mind a ‘royal’ birth.” (Derek Kidner, The Proverbs, p. 8).
Jesus is called the “firstborn” of all creation in Colossians 1:15. The Watchtower takes this to mean “first created * ” However, the passage itself states that Christ is the Creator of all things (vs. 16, 17), not a created being. The title firstborn refers to His preeminent position, not that he is Jehovah’s “first creation.”
The meaning of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 is perhaps impossible, or at least difficult, to understand without an accurate understanding of its Old Testament implications. The Hebrew term specifies the firstborn of human beings as well as animals (Exodus 11:5). A word from the same root denotes first-fruits (Exodus 23:16). This rendering “first-fruits,” may mean the “first ripe” or “choicest” of the fruit.
Firstborn was a term applied in the Mosaic Law concerning the specific rights and obligations of the first male child of a family (Louis Hartman, Encyclopedic Dictionary of The Bible [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 19631, p. 777). The firstborn of the father had the right of primogeniture: he acquired a special blessing (Genesis 27); he became heir of a double share of the father’s wealth (Deuteronomy 21:17); he replaced his father as head of the family and, therefore, possessed authority over the younger brothers and sisters (Genesis 27:29-40; 49:8; Ibid., p. 778). Primogeniture involved representation of the father in the civil as well as religious capacity.
The firstborn was believed to possess a specific precedence in holiness since through him flowed the common blood of the tribe (Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17). (1. Benzinger, “Family and Marriage Relations, Hebrew,” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge [New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 19081, IV, 277). This importance attached to the firstborn was believed to indicate a priesthood relating to the eldest sons of the families. (John McClintock and James Strong, “First-born,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1873), 111, 571.) This eminence was inferred from the particular claim of Yahweh to all the firstborn (Exodus 22:29). (Benzinger, ibid.).
Casanowicz, writing in The Jewish Encyclopedia, notes that the prerogatives of the firstborn consisted of: (1) a kind of potestad over the family; (2) a double share of inheritance; (3) the right of the priesthood; (4) God’s promises to the patriarchs were considered as attached to the line of the firstborn (I. M. Casanowicz, “Primogeniture,” The Jewish Encyclopedia [New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 19051, X, 198).
From the apparent regulations in the rabbinical law, Casanowicz concludes that “. . . the prerogative of primogeniture was not conceived as an inalienable right inherent in the firstborn, but rather as a gift by the law. . . ” (Ibid.) Wine adds that the use of the term is not a reverence to birth but to position of favor. (W. B. Wine, Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians [London: Oliphant Limited, 1955], p. 135.)
After Reuben had forfeited his right of primogeniture, his priority in time was not passed on to Judah; but the dominion belonging to it was transferred to Judah and the double portion to Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:2).
This conclusion is also evident in the case of Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:23-33). Jacob purchased the birthright from Esau, but he could not purchase Esau’s priority in time. Another case in which the birthright was transferred is in the case of the Levites in Numbers 3:9:
By destroying the firstborn of Egypt and sparing those of Israel, YHWH acquired an especial ownership over the latter. But as it was not feasible to select the firstborn of the entire nation and thus disturb the family organization, the Levites were substituted for them (Casanowicz, op. cit., p. 199).
It is apparent that to receive this supremacy one did not have to be born first. Rees concludes in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia that:
the laws and customs of all nations show that to be “firstborn” means, not only priority in time, but a certain superiority in privilege and authority (T. Rees, “First-Begotten,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960], Il, 1113).
Firstborn is also rendered metaphorically in the Old Testament (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 19551, p. 114). The term was used figuratively in job 18:13, “the firstborn of death. . . “. “The first-born son,” notes Fausset, “held the chief place (Genesis 49:3); so here the chiefest (most deadly) disease that death has ever engendered” (Robert Jamieson, A. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical, Ex-perimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 19611, 111, 44). Another use parallel to the above is Isaiah 14:30, “and the firstborn of the poor shall feed. . . ” This denotes the poorest of the poor, the most abject poor” (Ibid., p. 612).
It is also applied in the Old Testament to Israel as the firstborn of God (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9), implying Israel as “. . . the prerogative race” J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 19611, p. 146). This paved the way for the later Messianic reference to “firstborn” as “the ideal representative of the race” (Thomas K. Abbott, Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians [The International Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 19571, p. 210).
Abbott indicates from the writings of Rabbi Nathan in Shemoth Rab-ba, on the interpretation of Psalms 89:27 (Psalms 89:28 in the LXX), that this term “seems to have been a recognized title of the Messiah (see Hebrews 1: 6) (Ibid).
The title firstborn had been used so much as a title of sovereignty that God Himself is called “Firstborn of the world,” by R. Bechai on the Penta-teuch. (Lightfoot, Colossians, p. 47).
It may be ascertained from the above evidence that the use of “first-born” in the Old Testament to mean “priority of birth” or “in time” has been overshadowed by and sometimes even lost in the idea of “supremacy” or “preeminence.” This meaning may be distinctly seen in Genesis 49:3 where Jacob said of Reuben, “Thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.” The dominating thought here is not primo-geniture, but dignity, honor, strength and sovereignty.
It is used in Romans 8:29 to denote one who “. . . is chief, or who is highly distinguished and preeminent” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Explanatory and Practical [London: Blackie and Sons, 18511, V11, 246). Arndt and Gingrich use it figuratively “of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified…” (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; Cambridge: at The University Press, 19601, p. 734). He is their chief and most excellent ruler.
The Messiah is preeminently the “Firstborn” (Ps. 89:28); and Israel
was God’s firstborn (Exodus 19:6); a “kingdom of priests” to God (Revelation 1:6); and therefore, the believer becomes part of God’s “church of the firstborn” in Hebrews 12:23 (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, op. cit., VI, 576). Radford writes that it is a description of the communion of the saints, living and departed, all alike eldest sons in a family where there is historical succession from generation to generation of the faithful, but no priority of spiritual status as between generations or within any generation (Lewis B. Radford, The Epistles to the Colossians and the Epistle to Philemon [London: Mouthen and Co., LTD, 1931], p. 168).
Pink would say the title, “Church of the Firstborn,” is synonymous with the “. . . appointed heirs of all things [Hebrews 1:2] (Pink, op cit., p. 53).
In Hebrews 1:6 we have a clear example of Christ’s superiority, excellency and dignity, where the writer to the Hebrews tells us that God referred to Christ as His firstborn. And because Christ is superior to angels, they shall do obeisance to Him: And let all the angels of God worship him.”
In Revelation 1:5 and Colossians 1:8, Christ is referred to as the “firstborn from the dead.” It is obvious that the literal sense of the word cannot be used here. Also it cannot be used as the first to be raised from the dead. It can only mean preeminence or sovereignty, in that Christ was the first to be raised from the dead by His own power and to be exalted to immortality (John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, both Doctrinal and Practical [London: George Keith, 18761, IV, 382.), as the context in both cases corroborates. He is the “one to whom the bodies of His saints shall be conformed -see Philippians 3:21” (Pink, loc. cit). Both of these verses will be discussed in more detail.
In all these uses the employment of “firstborn” belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, both as to the superiority of His nature, of His office and of His glory.
Church fathers gave strict attention to the fact that the Apostle Paul wrote first-born and not first-created.
It is evident that there is a great contrast between the ideas of “birth” and “creation.” They are not equivalent terms. Christ was “born” and the universe was “created.” Meyer writes that the term is chosen, because…
in the comparison as to time of origin, it points to the peculiar nature of the origination in the case of Christ, namely, that He was not created by God, like the other beings in whom this is implied in the designation ktisis, but born, having come forth homogeneous from the nature of God. (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians and to Philemon [New York: Funk and Wagnalls Publishers, 18851, p. 226.)
C. S. Lewis gives one of the best explanations of the difference between the concepts of begetting and creating:
One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten, not created”; and it adds “begotten by His Father before all worlds.” Will you please get it quite clear that this has nothing to do with the fact that when Christ was born as a man on earth, that man was the son of a virgin? We are now thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. What does it mean?
Jesus Christ, the “firstborn,” is before all creation in time, but not a part of creation.
The above discussion illustrates that the concept of priority is significant in the interpretation of “firstborn.” But it is used in a secondary sense as will be seen below.
Lordship over (sovereignty). This meaning in the Old Testament often overshadowed and sometimes excludes the root meaning of priority in time. Moulton has determined that …
when the Jew thought of a firstborn son his emphasis was not so much on the date of his birth as on his priority in the family and the privileges that were his by right. Paul’s thought may be partly that Jesus is before us in time, but probably much more on the fact that He is supreme in rank above all the created world (Harold M. Moulton, Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians [Epworth Preacher’s Commentaries. London: The Epworth Press, 1963], p. 16).
God’s firstborn is, “the natural ruler, the acknowledged head, of God’s household.” (Lightfoot, Colossians, p. 147.) The right of the firstborn is closely related to Messiah over all the created world. The phrase in Psalms 89:27, “. . I will make him my firstborn,” is explained by the addition of the “higher than the kings of the earth,” speaking of Messianic sovereignty. This reference to the meaning of sovereignty so predominated references to the Messiah that here “firstborn of all creation” would mean “Sovereign Lord over all creation by virtue of primogeniture” (Ibid., p. 146).
The phrase, “. . whom he hath appointed heir of all things. . . ” in Hebrews 1:2, definitely relates to the “. . I will make him my firstborn. . . ” in Psalm 89:27. The latter phrase of Hebrews 1:2, “by whom also he made the worlds,” is an epitome of Colossians 1: 15-17. The meaning of supremacy so dominated the title in some of its uses that it was as seen above, even used as a title of God Himself.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, in trying to establish Christ as a created being, render the “firstborn of all creation” in 1:15 as a partitive genitive (the whole of which it is part). In doing this they ignore the Old and New Testament usage of the term. This view is grammatically permissible; however, “this interpretation is exegetically and historically impossible; for verses 16, 17 emphatically distinguish between ‘him’ and the ‘all things’ of creation” (L. J. Baggott, A New Approach to Colossians [London: A. R. Mowbray and Co., Limited, 1961], p. 58).
The Witnesses try to substantiate their doctrine of Christ being one of the creation by a deliberate insertion of a word for which there is no basis in the Greek text. A clear example occurs here in The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, Colossians 1:16,17, which is pertinent to this discussion.
….because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all other things were made to exist …
The word “other” has been inserted all the way through the passage unjustly. There is no equivalent word in the Greek text and no reputable translation includes it (Ray C. Stedman, “The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures,” Our Hope, 50:32, July, 1953). When it is considered that the Jehovah’s Witnesses assume Jesus Christ to be a created being, it is easy to understand why they insert “other.” The Greek solely states, “He is before all things and by him all things hold together,” which is interpreted logically by Stedman to plainly teach ” … that Christ is the Creator of everything that has existence, material or immaterial, and therefore He cannot Himself be a creature” (lbid). However, when the word “other” is unwarrantably interjected four times, it alters the thought to imply that Christ was the author of all created things, with the exception of one, Himself, who the Watchtower Society says was created. A footnote in the New World Translation reads, “All other: as at Luke 13:2, 4 and elsewhere” (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 19631 p. 3385).
The reference here to Luke 13:2,4 corresponds to the Lord’s question about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed, and the 18 men who were slain by the falling tower of Siloam. He asks, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans. . . ” and, “Or do you suppose that those 18 … were worse culprits than all [the other NWT] men who live in Jerusalem?” (New American Standard Bible New Testament [La Habra: The Foundation Press for the Lockman Foundation, 19631, p. 125).
Stedman, in his article, “The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures,” set forth clearly the reason for the inclusion of “other” here and its exclusion in Colossians 1:15-18:
Now here, though the original has no word for “other,” it is plainly implied in the context, for, of course, these dead men were being put in contrast with all their fellow-citizens. However, there is no such implication in Colossians 1:15-17 unless one presupposes that Christ Himself was nothing but a creature. But no translator has the right thus to presuppose on a doctrinal issue. If the text were simply rendered as it is, leaving out the inserted word “other,” it would agree exactly with other New Testament passages that declare plainly that the Lord Jesus Christ is Creator of everything that has been created (Hebrews 1:10; John 1:3).
Again it is evident that the translators have taken special care to make the text say what they suppose it ought to say rather than to let it speak plainly for itself (Stedman, op. cit., p. 33).
Hebrews 2:10, not Luke 13, is the true parallel of Colossians 1:16, 17. It speaks so distinctly of Christ’s creating all things that the New World committee did not dare to insert “other,” in the text:” … for whose sake all things are and through whom all things are. . . ” (Hebrews 2: 10). (New World Translation, op. cit., p. 3432).
It was decided by Baggott that “the idea of the Son of God being part of creation was entirely foreign to Paul’s mind (see 2:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:6-8), and also the thought of his day (Baggott, loc. cit.). The partitive genitive referred to, “creation,” is usually expressed in the plural number, but the Apostle does not here use the plural (John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 19571, p. 49).
The use of sovereign as the primary meaning of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 also has its confirmation in Paul’s aggressive denunciation of the Colossian heresy.
Thus, in a brief but concise passage of Scripture, Paul makes plain to his readers that Jesus Christ existed before creation and therefore is sovereign over creation. This passage does not teach or even support the Witnesses’ doctrine that Jesus Christ was the first created being.
Paul used language that was understood in the Colossians’ nomenclature. He purposely chose “firstborn.”
We describe Christ in relation to all creation because it best characterizes the dignity, preeminence and sovereignty that belongs to Him as Lord of all. Therefore, in light of the historical, literal and metaphorical meanings the Jehovah’s Witnesses are unscriptural in the application of it to Christ as created.
Jesus Christ, as taught in Colossians 1:15-18, is prior to, distinct from and sovereign over the universe.
According to the Watchtower Society the Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead. Both the personality and the deity of the Holy Spirit [defined as “the invisible active force of Almighty God which moves His servants to do His will” (Let God Be True, p. 108)] are denied. The personality of the Holy Spirit is consistently rejected throughout the New World Translation by not capitalizing the term “spirit” when referring to the Holy Spirit.
To promulgate this error they mistranslate such passages as Ephesians 4:30 (“also, do not be grieving God’s holy spirit, with which you have been sealed for a day of releasing by ransom”), and John 14:26 (“But the helper, the holy spirit which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you”).
However, both of these verses teach the personality of the Holy Spirit. How can one grieve something impersonal? Or how can an “impersonal force” teach all things? Competent translations substitute “with which” in Ephesians 4:30 with “by whom” and have “whom the Father will send” and “he will teach you” in John 14:26 rather than the impersonal holy spirit of the Watchtower.
In Watchtower theology, salvation is not regarded as a free gift from God based upon Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. Rather, their literature stresses a salvation by works. Russell wrote, “They must be recovered from blindness as well as from death, that they, each for himself, may have a full chance to prove, by obedience or disobedience, their worthiness of life eternal” (Charles Taze Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1, P. 158).
Elsewhere they state: “All who by reason of faith in Jehovah God and in Christ Jesus dedicate themselves to do God’s will and then faithfully carry out their dedication will be rewarded with everlasting life. . . ” (Let God Be True, p. 298).
The Bible teaches we are saved by grace through faith alone. Man’s good works can never contribute to his salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9 NASB). “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5 NASB).
The Watchtower denies the existence of hell as a place of everlasting punishment for the wicked. They argue, “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true mainly for four reasons: (1) It is wholly unscriptural; (2) it is unreasonable; (3) it is contrary to God’s love; and (4) it is repugnant to justice” (Let God Be True, p. 9).
In response to this we contend that the doctrine is absolutely scriptural: “. . . when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Matthew 25:46 speaks of eternal punishment and eternal life in the same context. Eternal punishment lasts as long as eternal life: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The doctrine of everlasting punishment is neither contrary to God’s love nor justice, as the Watchtower claims. Jesus Christ has taken the sins of the world upon Himself and offers everlasting life to all who will receive the free gift of God. If people reject His offer then they must suffer the penalty for their own sins.
“When Jesus said He would come again He did not mean He would return in the flesh visible to men on earth. He has given up that earthly life as a ransom and therefore, can not take such life back again … The good news today is that Christ Jesus has come again, that God’s Kingdom by Him has been set up and is now ruling in heaven … all the evidence shows that Jesus took up His Kingdom power and began his reign from Heaven in the year 1914” (Pamphlet, “This Good News of the Kingdom”, pp. 19, 21).
The idea that the second coming of Christ took place in 1914 is important to Watchtower theology. That was the time, they say, that God’s kingdom was fully set up in heaven. However, this was not always their teaching. Before 1914, the Watchtower was predicting that God’s Kingdom was to be set up on earth (not in heaven) in 1914!
… The times of the Gentiles’ extend to 1914. And the Heavenly Kingdom will not have full sway till then, but as a ‘stone’ the Kingdom of God is set up ‘in the days of these Kings’ and by consummating them it becomes a universal Kingdom-a ‘great mountain and fills the whole earth”‘ (Watchtower Reprints, Vol. I, March, 1880, p. 82).
Charles Taze Russell also stated that the world would see “the full establishment of the Kingdom of God in the earth at A.D. 1914, the terminus of the times of the Gentiles” (C. T. Russell, Thy Kingdom Come, 1891, p. 126).
The prophecies made by Russell and the Watchtower concerning 1914 totally failed because the Kingdom of God was not established upon the earth. Today, as already observed, the Watchtower teaches that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 and set up His Kingdom only in Heaven. However, this idea clearly opposes the scriptural teaching of the visible bodily return of Christ: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1: 11).
Jesus warned against such false teaching about His return: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: Behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the East, and shineth even unto the West; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26, 27). The Scriptures also state: “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him. . . ” (Revelation 1: 7).
The Watchtower is guilty of false prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22) in wrongly predicting the date 1914 to be the return of Christ. They are also wrong in asserting His coming is secret and invisible because the Scriptures teach completely to the contrary (Revelation 1:7).
The New World Translation
In 1961, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society published the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. The rationale for this new translation was given when the New Testament was published in 1950:
But honesty compels us to remark that, while each of them (other translations) has its points of merit, they have fallen victim to the power of human traditionalism in varying degrees, consequently, religious traditions, hoary with age, have been taken for granted and gone unchallenged and uninvestigated. These have been interwoven into the translations to color the thought. In support of a preferred religious view, an inconsistency and unreasonableness have been insinuated into the teachings of the inspired writings.
The Son of God taught that the traditions of creed-bound men made the commandments and teachings of God of no power and effect. The endeavor of the New World Bible Translation committee has been to avoid this snare of religious traditionalism. (Foreword to New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, 1961).
The translators of the New World Translation have not achieved their goal. Their work is a highly biased attempt to justify some of their non-biblical doctrines. In terms of scholarship, the New World Translation leaves much to be desired. The following examples will make the point clear.
One of the readings of the New World Translation that has caused considerable outrage among Greek scholars is its totally unsupportable rendering of the last clause of John 1:1, “The word was a god.” This Translation makes Jesus Christ less than God, relegating Him to the position of a “created being” in accordance with Watchtower theology. There is no basis whatsoever for this rendering, although the Watchtower would have people believe the contrary.
“. . How are we to understand John 1: 1, 2 of which there are differing translations? Many translations read: ‘And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Others read: ‘And the Word (The Logos) was divine.” Another: ‘and the Word was God.’ Others ‘And the Word was a god.’ Since we have examined so much of what John wrote about Jesus who was the Word made flesh we are now in a position to determine which of those several translations is correct. It means our salvation” (The Word Who Is He? According to John, p. 52).
This is a misleading statement because it gives the impression that other translations agree with their rendering when the opposite is true. There are no reputable authorities or translations that support the reading, “The Word was a god.”
The only other translation quoted in this Watchtower publication that reads the same way is The New Testament in an Improved Version upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: with a Corrected Text, printed in London in 1808. Such an antiquated and obscure translation done by a Unitarian cannot be considered reputable.
Grammatical Explanation of John 1:1 The grammatical explanation given by the Watchtower for its translation of John 1: 1 is unsatisfactory. They contend that when theos (the Greek word for God) appears in John 1:1 it appears twice, once with the definite article (the) and once without. When it appears without the definite article (in the last clause of John 1:1) they feel justified in translating it, “And the Word was a god. . . ”
“Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun [with the definite article] points to an identity, a personality, whereas an anarthrous construction (without the definite article) points to a quality about someone” (Appendix to the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 1158).
Not only is the above statement incorrect, it is also inconsistently applied throughout the Watchtower’s own translation. In the first 18 verses of John’s gospel, the word for God – theos – appears six times without the definite article (vs. 1, 6, 12, 13, and twice in 18). Yet, it is rendered God (referring to Jehovah) in each instance except for the last clause of verse one when it refers to Jesus!
If the Watchtower’s translations were consistent, verse six should read, “There arose a man that was sent forth as a representative of a god.” Moreover, verse 12 should read “to become a god’s children,” etc. Why only in verse one do they refuse to translate theos as God (meaning Jehovah)?
We conclude that there is no basis for translating John 1:1, “The Word was a god” as in the New World Translation. It is a biased rendering that cannot be justified grammatically.
They do not want to acknowledge what is clearly taught in verse one: Jesus Christ is God. Also, it should be observed that the absence of the definite article does not indicate someone other than the true God. The entry on theos in the authoritative Arndt and Gingrich Greek Lexicon states theos is used “quite predominately of the true God, sometimes with, sometimes without, the article” (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1957, p. 357).
(Further information on the Greek construction and translation of John 1:1 has been presented by many other writers in complete form. See the recommended reading list for works that deal extensively with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Suffice it to say, the Watchtower mistranslation of John 1: 1 is not supported by any contextual grammatical study.)
Even without going to the Greek grammar of John 1: 1, we can see that the Watchtower translation of John 1:1 goes against the clear teachings of the Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments we are taught that there is only one true God (Isaiah 43:10; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, etc.). All other “gods” are false gods. Those who would acknowledge any god as true except for Jehovah God are guilty of breaking the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
By translating the last part of John 1:1 as, “The Word was a god,” the Watchtower has declared its belief in polytheism, or the belief in more than one god. According to the whole testimony of the Bible, the Word (Jesus Christ) of John 1:1 must be either the only true God, Jehovah, or a false god. The Bible knows only one true God, Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will not call Jesus Christ a false god. Neither will they call him Jehovah, the one true God. By calling Jesus Christ “a god” in John 1:1, they have acknowledged their own polytheism, which is contrary to the Bible, the Word of God.
In the eighth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus is asked by the religious leaders, “Whom do you make yourself out to be?” (verse 58). His answer is a direct reference to Exodus 3:14 where God identifies Himself from the burning bush to Moses by the designation, “I Am. ” The Jews, realizing that Jesus claimed to be God, attempted to stone Him for blasphemy (verse 59).
The New World Translation mistranslates this verse by making it read, “Before Abraham came into existence I have been.” The footnote to John 8:58 in the 1950 edition is enlightening: “I have been -‘ego eimi’ after the aorist infinitive clause and hence properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense. It is not the same as ‘Ho ohn’ meaning ‘The Being’ or ‘the I AM’ at Exodus 3:14 LXX” (New World Translation, 1950, p. 312).
This is not any “perfect indefinite tense.” The Watchtower then changed the note to read “the perfect tense,” dropping the word indefinite (see The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, 1969). However, this is also incorrect since the verb eimi is in the present tense, indicative mood, and hence should properly be translated, “I Am.” Moreover, the context of John 8:58 (8:42-9:12), the verb “to be” occurs 22 times in the indicative mood and the New World Translation correctly renders 21 out of 22. The only incorrect rendering is in John 8:58. Why?
Furthermore, the footnote is deliberately misleading. The Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, translated the name of God in Exodus 3:14 with the Greek Ego Eimi ho ohn (I am The Being). The Watchtower’s note obscures the correlation between the two passages by failing to citeego eimi as part of the Septuagint translation. Their note reads, “It is not the same as oh ohn, meaning ‘the being’ or ‘The I Am’ at Exodus 3:14, LXX. ”
While the Hebrew text repeats the same form of the “to be” verb in Exodus 3:14, customary Greek usage makes it more natural for the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14 to first express the term as ego eimi (I am) and then a different variation of the same term ho ohn (the Being),. In conclusion, the Watchtower has blatantly misrepresented the Greek argument for Christ’s deity from John 8:58. Jesus Christ is clearly identifying Himself as the Ego eimi (ho ohn) of Exodus 3:14
Dr. A. T. Robertson, one of the greatest- Greek scholars who ever lived, after translating “ego eimi” as “I AM,” had this to say about John 8:58: “Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V, pp. 158-159).
The Watchtower betrays itself in its own Kingdom Interlinear Translation which contains a literal English translation beneath the Greek text as well as the New World Translation reading. In John 8:58 under the Greek ego eimi, The Kingdom Interlinear rightly translates it, “I am”, but New World Translation changes it to, “I have been.” This inconsistency is striking.
There is no sufficient basis for the translation, “I have been,” in John 8:58. This is another example of the scholarly shortcomings of the Watchtower. It obscures the fact that Jesus Christ is Jehovah God.
In Colossians one, the Apostle Paul stresses the Lordship and deity of Jesus Christ by emphasizing that He is the creator of all things: “For by Him all things were created” (1:16). However, the New World Translation, with absolutely no legitimate justification, adds the word “other” in this verse and five other places in chapter one in an attempt to make Jesus a created being:
Vs. 16, Because by means of Him all [other] things were created in the Heavens and upon the earth (NWT).
Vs. 16, All [other] things have been created through Him and for Him (NWT).
Vs. 17, Also, He is before all [other] things and by means of Him all [other] things were made to exist (NWT).
Vs. 20, And through Him to reconcile again to Himself all [other] things (NWT).
There is no basis for adding the world “other” to the texts listed above. On the contrary, to do so destroys the natural context of the passages and improperly implies that Jesus Christ is Himself a creature. Since Jehovah God alone created all things (Isaiah 44:24; Hebrew 3:4), and Colossians calls Jesus Christ the creator, we can justifiably assume that Jesus Christ is Jehovah God.
We conclude, The New World Translation is not a work of competent scholarship, but rather an attempt to promulgate the doctrines of the Watchtower. The foreword of the New World Translation states, “It is a very responsible thing to translate the Holy Scriptures from their original languages. ” We agree wholeheartedly and we wish the Watchtower had lived up to this high principle.
A close examination of the Watchtower has demonstrated that it is not what it claims to be: the “sole collective channel for the flow of biblical truth.” It is guilty of false prophecy, anti-biblical theology, and misrepresentation of the truth.
We heartily recommend to Jehovah’s Witnesses that they act on the following instruction from the Watchtower: “We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God’s Word, or are they based on the traditions of men? If we are lovers of the Truth, there is nothing to fear from such an examination” (The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, 1968, p. 13).
Such an examination will show the shortcomings of the man-made Watchtower and the all-sufficient perfection of Jesus Christ, our “great God and Saviour” (Titus 2:13).
Jehovah’s Witnesses Terms
Annihilation -According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, unbelievers will not receive eternal punishment but rather will be annihilated, or cease to exist.
Arius -A heretic who lived in the fourth century A.D. arguments the fact that Jesus Christ was eternal God. His arguments against the deity of Christ have been repeated by such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unitarians.
Christadelphians- Cult founded in 1848 by John Thomas. It teaches among other unbiblical doctrines that Jesus Christ is not God and that the Holy Spirit is only a power, a forerunner of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Franz, Frederick W. -Fourth and current president of the Watchtower Bible and Society.
Little Flock -Another designation for the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who live in heaven after their death. All other Jehovah’s Witnesses are barred from heaven and live instead on Paradise Earth.
Michael the Archangel- According to the Watchtower, Jehovah’s first creation, the archangel who later became the man Jesus.
Nathan Knorr- Third president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. During his leadership (1942-19 7 7) the Society increased from 115, 000 to over two million members.
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures -The official translation of the Bible by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, characterized by their own biased interpretations.
Russell, Charles Taze -The founder of what is the present-day Jehovah’s Witness (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). Russell wrote voluminously including the six-volume work, Studies in the Scriptures, where he expounded his aberrational doctrines.
Rutherford, Judge J. F. -Second president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Gave group the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. Rutherford centralized the authority of the Witnesses during his reign to its present-day headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.
Studies in the Scriptures – Seven-volume work, six of which were written by Charles Taze Russell, founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that expounds the basic teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Awake – Watchtower periodical designed to evangelize the public. The Harp of God -A book by judge Joseph Rutherford, second president of Jehovah’s Witnesses, explaining Watchtower theology.
The Truth That Leads to Everlasting Life-Watchtower study book designed to introduce one to the Watchtower teachings
The Watchtower-One of the official publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses