The beliefs of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are different in many ways, but they share two significant similarities. They both hold onto the Bible as true Scripture, and they both divide the Trinity so Jesus is separate from and inferior to God. For Mormons, Jesus is another God, a separate being from God the Father. Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, believe Jesus is a glorified angelic being who is worthy of great honor but not worship. Because these views contradict what the Bible reveals about the nature of the Triune God, they offer Christians an opportunity to highlight the opposition between LDS and JW teachings and those of Scripture.
Talking about the nature of Jesus is a good tactic when you have a chance to engage with a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness for two reasons. First, the nature of God matters! As God’s ambassadors on this earth, we should bear witness to what he has revealed about himself. In particular, like the Bible itself, we should call all people to worship Jesus as God. Secondly, our overall strategy when witnessing to anyone with heretical views should always be to bring their beliefs back to Scripture and show the differences. The nature of Jesus is one significant area where both the Watch Tower Society and the LDS church get it wrong, so it is a fruitful avenue to explore.
Unfortunately, the Trinity is complicated! The Christian church took several hundred years to fully formulate the classic description of the Trinity as three persons in one being because it’s impossible for human beings to fully wrap our minds around. As Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses love to highlight, there are plenty of verses which, by themselves, seem to support the view that Jesus is separate from God (cf Matt 24:36). However, God’s self-revelation through the Scriptures was more complicated than that. He also made it painfully clear that there is only one God (cf Deut 6:4). Then, when Jesus came, he (cf John 8:58) and his chosen followers (cf John 1:1, Heb 1) claimed that he was God; and rather than damn him for blasphemy, his Father verified his claims by raising him from the dead.
So God is one… Jesus is God… Jesus is distinct from God the Father… and don’t forget the Holy Spirit that Jesus talked about… Eventually the early church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. It surely doesn’t capture the fullness of the nature of God, but it does seem to fit the broad outline of what God has revealed about himself in the Scriptures. However, because the Trinity is complicated and there are Bible verses speaking of Jesus as distinct from God the Father, debating the nature of Christ with a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness can be more challenging than you might expect. There are many possible arguments, each with their own strengths, and some of which only work well against the beliefs of one cult or the other. But one of my favorite arguments is effective against both false views of Jesus, and it has the additional advantage of only bringing the doctrine of the Trinity into the conversation when it is needed as the solution to a logical problem.
“My Glory I Give to No Other”
This argument starts from God’s self-revelation in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Yahweh is condemning idol worship because of something about himself: He does not give his glory to another. This principle stretches throughout the Bible, from the fall of Satan to the death of Herod in Acts 12 when “an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory.” The great angel of Revelation 22:8-9 affirmed the same law when he warned John not to fall in obeisance to him, but to worship God alone.
The principle is clear: God does not share his glory. The gap between the Creator God and everything else is massive, and anyone who tries to raise himself across that gap, whether angel of heaven or king of the earth, is guilty of blasphemy and liable to severe punishment.
Why does this matter? Because both the LDS and the JW understanding of Jesus have to embrace the high glory which Scripture heaps upon him while keeping him wholly separate and distinct from God the Father. The more a cult adheres to the high biblical view of Jesus, the more they will find him sharing the Father’s glory. But the more they diminish Jesus’ glory, the less their language about him will match that of Scripture.
The tension is particularly difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses, since they believe Jesus is merely an exalted angel who should not even be worshipped. Yet they must deal with verses like Philippians 2:10, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” or Colossians 2:9-10, “For in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” There are dozens and dozens of additional verses that could be added to build up the exalted picture of Jesus Christ. While a Jehovah’s Witness will want to debate whether each verse portrays exact equality with God, but that is irrelevant. When Herod was struck down and when the angel of Revelation cried out against being worshipped, nobody was saying they were exactly equal in glory to God. They were just being honored in a way which only God deserves. If a mere angel was so insistent about not claiming God’s glory, how could Jesus himself have been so careless that his inspired Word would mislead the vast majority of two thousand years of readers into worshipping him?
Since Mormons do teach that Jesus is God, though a lesser deity than God the Father, the tension is less acute for them. (Though other verses, like Deuteronomy 6:4, raise serious difficulties which JW theology avoids.) But there is still the question of who is speaking in Isaiah 42. Whichever God it is (Jesus or the Father), that God is saying he does not share his glory. Remember that Isaiah could have argued against idols simply because they are not real gods, but instead the inspired prophet went out of his way to affirm that God does not share his glory. Yet how can we possibly read the Bible and not see the Father and Son sharing in the divine glory, in creation and salvation, from men and angels? In fact, Hebrews 1:3 explicitly says Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” That certainly sounds like shared glory.
A Mormon might respond that Isaiah 42 is speaking of the Father and Son collectively; that it is saying they will not share the divine glory with others. But, like many LDS arguments for polytheism, this tortures the biblical language. The pronouns in Isaiah 42 are entirely singular: “I… my… my… I… my…” It is plainly a single speaker who will not share his glory. Those are the words of a God. A polytheistic Mormon has to pick one, but whether it is Father or Son, the other is right alongside, sharing glory from Genesis to Revelation.
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Those are the words of baptism, instituted by Jesus himself at the end of his earthly ministry. The sign and seal of the kingdom of God, the glorious symbol of regeneration, comes with three names attached; but our God does not share his glory. Perhaps meditating on that seeming contradiction can help us to experience the old, old doctrine of the Trinity as the early church fathers would have—not as a man-made philosophy or unnecessary dogma, but as a fresh, delightful articulation of the difficult realities of the divine nature, as revealed by God himself.
Gently pushing our LDS or JW friends to feel the tension between the divine glory of Christ and God’s declaration that he shares his glory with no one is not a silver bullet argument. There are no silver bullets when it comes to deeply-held, persuasively taught heresy. But it is one more area where the awkwardness and imperfection of false teaching can be contrasted with the beauty and balance that only come from the revelation of the one true God.