Speaking with Jehovah's Witnesses
about the God of Thomas (John 20:28).

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2002

John 20:28, in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society's New World Translation reads: "In answer Thomas said to Him [Jesus] "My Lord and my God!"

What I love about John 20:28, is that Thomas was a doubter but after seeing the risen Lord, he recognized exactly `Who' Jesus really is: His God, Jehovah of the Old Testament! So, from going from "doubting Thomas" (as he has become affectionately known), he has become a true believer in every sense of the word, declaring Jesus to be "My Lord and my God".

People who know anything about the Watchtower's own translation of the Bible, The New World Translation will know that most of the references to Christ's Deity have been changed or weakened in an attempt to deny the great Bible truth that Jesus is God, and so make the Bible fit the Watchtower's belief that Jesus is not God. However, some how, John 20:28 seems to have escaped the butchers knife.

The verse is even stronger in the literal Greek. Even in the Watchtower’s own Kingdom Interlinear of the Christian Greek Scriptures the literal English under the Greek clearly shows that Thomas calls Jesus “the God (ho theos) of me.”

Despite this clear biblical evidence of Jesus being THE God the Watchtower magazine attempts to deny this by insisting that Thomas was not calling Jesus the God but rather a god!:

Thomas was saying that Jesus was a god to him, a divine powerful one. But he was not saying that Jesus was Jehovah, which is why Thomas said "my" God and not "the" God. (The Watchtower, June 1st, 1988, p. 19).
So the Bible has Thomas calling Jesus "THE GOD" yet the Watchtower article tells us that Thomas "did not [say] "the" God." !!! Who will we believe? The Bible or the Watchtower magazine?

Here are some things to consider about this great verse and to share with a Jehovah's Witness:

The scholars Nock, Skeat, and Roberts, note that the words "Lord and God" were applied to Hellenistic Ptolemaic rulers and to at least one Roman emperor prior to Domitian - Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE) who certainly used the term "Lord and God" of himself (albeit falsely) as a divine title (A.D. Nock, T.S. Skeat, and C. Roberts, Gild of Zeus Hypsistos, pp. 40, 42, 50.). So Thomas would have been familiar with this term and recognized it as a Divine title.

The Emperor Domitian (81 to 96 CE), used the title "Lord and god" of himself with a lot more frequency (Martial (Epig. 5.8.1; 7.34.8; 9.66.3), Suetonius (Dom. 13.2), Dio Cassius (67.4.7; 67.13.4), Dio Chrysostom (Or. 45.1).). With this in mind, the writer of John 20:28, the Apostle John, would also have reconized that the title "Lord and God" was a Divine title as well as Thomas. As the phrase "Lord and God" is only used in the Gospel of John, of Christ, and John wrote in the time of Domitians reign (appx. late 1st century), it is possible that he wanted to draw attention to this phrase as correctly belonging to Christ, the True God, rather than Domitian, the false god.

In addition, the seperate titles of "Lord" and "god" were applied to many of the early Roman Emperors, who clearly thought of themselves as gods.

Another thing to bear in mind about this passage is that Thomas was a Jew, a strict monotheist, and believer in Jehovah God, the One God. It would have been against Thomas' religion, upbringing, and whole background to call Jesus "My God", unless Jesus was indeed that One God of Thomas. Ask a Jehovah's Witness: "Who was the God of Thomas?" "Can you say along with Thomas, to Jesus, "My God? If not why not? Is your faith different from the faith of one of the earliest Christians?"

Trinitarian apologist, Robert Bowman, brings out some interesting observations on John 20:28 in his book Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John:

"The JW book Aid to Bible Understanding quotes with approval the Imperial Bible Dictionary when it says the following:

The Hebrew may say the Elohim, the true God, in opposition to all false gods; but he never says the Jehovah, for Jehovah is the name of the true God only. He says again and again my God...but never myJehovah, for when he says my God, he means Jehovah.

Since Thomas was a Hebrew and a believer, for him to call Jesus "my God," then, was equivalent to calling him Jehovah. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that in Psalm 35:23 the expression "my God and my Lord" is used of Jehovah.

An interesting parallel to John 20:28 is Revelation 4:11, "You are worthy, our Lord and God" (ho kurios kai ho theos hemon), which the NWT translates, "You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God..." The only differences between this text and John 8:58 [I think this is a typo in this ed. of the book (1994) and that Bowman means John 20:28] are (1) the possessive pronoun is singular in John ("my") and plural in Revelation, while it is repeated in John. Since in both cases the two nouns refer to one person, the fact that Revelation 4:11 hemon ("our") appears only once does alter the parallel. What makes this parallel especially striking is that JWs agree with conservative Christians that the same man, John the apostle, was the author of both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. In this light, it seems likely that John 20:28 should be interpreted in a manner similar to Revelation 4:11." (pp. 135-135).

As John 20:28 creates great difficulties for most Jehovah's Witness, various attempts are made by them to reinterpret what Thomas said. Below are some common objections that Jehovah's Witnesses will bring up and responses to them:

Objection 1: "Thomas was simply surprised and startled at seeing the risen Lord."

Response: If Thomas said this in surprise, and used the phrase "My God" flippantly, then it would have been worthy of a rebuke by Jesus. Jesus was a Rabbi and would have had to rebuke Thomas. But the next verse has Jesus speaking commendably to Thomas: "Jesus said to him: "Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see me and yet believe." (John 20:29).

Objection 2: "Thomas was calling Jesus "My Lord" and Jehovah God, the Father, "My God".

Response: This argument is refuted by the very verse itself which clearly has Thomas speaking the entire sentence to Jesus: "...Thomas said to Him [Jesus] ".

Objection 3: "The context makes it clear, in John 20:31, that Jesus is "the Son of God", not God Himself."

Response: Firstly it should be noted that this statement in no way detracts from Thomas' words to Jesus as "My God". Secondly, Trinitarians do not deny that Jesus is called the Son of God. The Gospel writer John, himself, explains what sonship meant in the first century. In John 5:18 we read: "On this account, indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but He was also calling God His own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18, NWT, emphasis added). This was not merely the unbelieving Jews saying this (as some JWs will say), but the inspired writer John, commenting on something as he also understood it. John understood sonship to mean equality with. Jesus, as the Son of God is equal with God. The term "Son of God" also allows for the Trinitarian distinctions that exist between the Persons of Father and Son. Both are God, but the Son is not to be confused with the Father and vice versa. Another way of illustrating this (although with any analogy concerning God, this has its limitations) may be in the way a human father and son share the nature of humanity. Both are distinct, yet both are equal in their humanity. One is not better than the other, but there is an order, and there is a distinction.

Objection 4: "Thomas did say Jesus was God, but he didn't mean Jehovah God, the Almighty, but simply that Jesus was a god in the sense that others are sometimes called "god/gods", such as angels, and human rulers (e.g. Psalm 8:5; John 10:34). So to Thomas, Jesus was certainly a god, in the sense that He was a mighty one, but not God Almighty."

Response: This argument is a bit more sophisticated than the others and is popular among Jehovah's Witness apologists, and will therefore need a more detailed response.

For those who just want a quick response to this objection the following two points can be used:

Firstly, it must be remembered that Thomas was a Jew, a strict monotheist. For him to say "My God" to `a' god other than Jehovah God would have been blasphemy, and against his religion. Thomas was a Jew. His God was Jehovah God.

Secondly, to use the argument that other beings are called god/gods in Scripture, in the same way that Jesus is called God, isolates the full testimony of what the Bible is clearly saying about Jesus. For example, unlike Jesus, other beings called "god" are not worshipped, and prayed to, have not created the heavens and the earth, do not have all the attributes of God, do not have such titles as "The First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega" and "I am", and do not have the entire focus of the New Testament centred on them, etc.

It seems that out of all the beings that are called "god/s" in the Scriptures, there only seems to be the true God, and false gods.

The only exception to this is possibly references to angels, or heavenly beings being called "gods", at such places as Psalm 8:5 ("godlike ones" in the NWT). The Hebrew word for "gods" in Psalm 8:5 is "elohim". From Hebrews 2:7, which quotes Psalm 8, we see that the writer of Hebrews seems to understand these beings as angels. It would seem then that these beings are angels of God, and so cannot be classified as false gods. Commenting on these two texts an article from the "Holy, Holy, Holy" website makes a noteworthy point Re. Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7:

"If it is the case that 'elohim' here means 'angels,' then in the judgment of the inspired author of Hebrews, it is not to be translated 'theoi' - gods - but rather 'angelloi.' So, far from proving that angels are ever called 'gods' in scripture, this instance proves that angels are not to be called gods ['theoi'], but only angels ['angelloi.']." (Source: How Many Gods are known to the Bible? ).

Additionally, Trinitarian apologist, Robert Bowman, makes these comments regarding the use of the words elohim and theos in the Bible, with reference to the issue of God and gods, etc:

"Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that there are three uses of the term God in Scripture: in reference to the true God, Jehovah; in reference to false gods, whether existing creatures or imagined; and a "third use" in reference to creatures which, by virtue of their might and authority over other creatures, are legitimately called "gods". In this third use of the term, the creatures are neither true gods nor false gods; yet somehow, they are still gods. How they could be neither true gods nor false gods and still be gods is a puzzle. The Witnesses, however, feel that such a conclusion is warranted from the biblical evidence.

The alleged biblical evidence, however, is quite slim. The texts used to document this "third use" are Psalm 82:1, 6 (compare with John 10:34); Psalm 8:5 (compare Heb. 2:7), and sometimes Exodus 22:8-9, 28. This is very slim evidence indeed, especially when all of the texts can be explained as either referring to God himself or to false gods.

Moreover, it is not to be overlooked that in each case the noun is the Hebrew plural elohim, not the Hebrew singular el or the Greek theos. Let us assume for a moment the JWs` view that there are three uses for the word God in Scripture. When the Hebrew plural noun elohim is used as a plural, or the Greek plural noun theoi (which is always plural) is used, they clearly cannot be referring to the true God. In such cases, there is no ambiguity as to whether or not the word refers to God himself. Either it refers to God, or to false gods (or according to the JWs, to creatures which while not God, are not false gods either, but "gods" in a relative or derivative sense). Only where there is some confusion as to whether or not elohim is used as a singular to refer to God or as a plural to refer to creatures considered in some sense "gods" (as there is some confusion concerning Exodus 22:8-9, 28, and Psalm 8:5) is there any ambiguity. However, with the singular nouns for God, and especially with the Greek noun theos, there is no such ambiguity." (Robert Bowman, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John, pp. 58-59.)

It would therefore seem that the use of the plural word elohim (from the singular el) can be somewhat ambiguous. For example, the word elohim is used in a number of ways to include God, angels, men, rulers, goddesses, etc. Thayers defines it in the following many ways:

BD./Thayers # 430 Elohiym {el-o-heem'} plural of 0433; TWOT - 93c; n m p AV - God 2346, god 244, judge 5, GOD 1, goddess 2, great 2, mighty 2, angels 1, exceeding 1, God-ward + 04136 1, godly 1; 2606 1) (plural) 1a) rulers, judges 1b) divine ones 1c) angels 1d) gods 2) (plural intensive - singular meaning) 2a) god, goddess 2b) godlike one 2c) works or special possessions of God 2d) the (true) God 2e) God

However, with the use of the Greek word for God theos, Bowman continues to note how it is only used in two ways in the New Testament:

"...we find that that it [theos] is used in only one of two ways: of the true God (approximately 1, 400 times) or of a false god (6 times: Acts 7:43; 12:22; 28:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:7). Whenever it is used of a false god, the context makes this very plain. To the list of instances referring to a false god some might wish to add two texts. The first is John 10:33, discussed above; as already explained, it cannot be interpreted to mean a genuine second god apart from the true God yet not a false god. The second text is Acts 17:33, where Paul refers to a a pagan alter "to an unknown God" NWT. This can be understood to refer either to the true God (as seen from Paul's perspective) or to a false, pagan god (as worshipped by the Greeks), but again, not to "a god" which is neither the true God nor a false one. Thus there is no "third use" of the singular noun theos in the New Testament - either it is used of the true God or it is used of a false god in the context of idolatry of some sort. (Ibid, p. 59).
So to sum up, the Hebrew word for elohim in Psalm 8:5 is used in Scripture in many ways. Even though Hebrews 2:7 quotes from Psalm 8 and identifies the elohim as angels, it does not identify them as "gods" (theoi or theos), but rather by the word angelloi. In fact the use of the word "theos" throughout the New Testament seems to clearly have but two categories of gods in mind: The true God, and false gods.

Objection 5: "Just because Thomas called Jesus "the God" (ho theos), it doesn't mean that He was Jehovah God. Even Satan is called "the god" (ho theos) at 2 Corinthians 4:4."

Response: While it is true that Satan is indeed called ho theos at 2 Corinthians 4:4, when one examines the actual context of this passage and compares it with the context of John 20:28, it soon becomes clear why Satan goes by this title.

2 Corinthians 4:4 states:

"in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor. 4:4, NASB, emphasis added)

Notice that Satan is the god of this world in this passage. When Thomas calls Jesus "the God" in John 20:28, he calls Jesus, "the God of me [Thomas]". Thomas was a Jew. His God was Jehovah God.

It is my sincere prayer and hope, that my Jehovah's Witness friends may come to a realization of who Jesus really is, and can finally say to Jesus, along with Thomas, "My Lord and my God".

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