Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses and Monotheism

The post below is taken from my old yahoogroup, greektheology:

As has already been suggested, I think we must keep in mind that such terms as monolatry, monotheism or even henotheism are all attempts to delineate, circumscribe or define certain religious phenomena that one encounters in Scripture. In other words, the Bible itself never uses such terminology to describe the ways in which people of ancient times worshiped. One can only formulate such descriptive expressions by prescinding from that which is explicitly contained in Holy Writ. Another task, however, is to precisify the relevant terminology of this discussion.

(1) Henotheism has been defined as the act of worshiping one God--in particular, a national or tribal deity--while simultaneously refusing to rule out the existence of other gods. It has well been said that henotheism defined thus "certainly does not fit the universal and cosmic conception implicit in the Old Testament" (Ralph L. Smith, Old Testament Theology, page 232). I would also argue that Jehovah's Witnesses are not henotheists since Jehovah is not a tribal god, nor are other beings recognized as "gods" by Witnesses accorded the same ontological status as Jehovah. Only one Being exemplifies the properties requisite for being identified as God (ontologically) with no qualifications: that deity is Jehovah the God and Father of all.

(2) One online source defines monolatry as follows: "worship of one god only out of many believed to exist."

Witnesses worship (in the sense of LATREIA) one God--not "god"-- and we believe that there are others that can be called "gods" in a functional or (possibly) ontological sense (i.e., angels and judges). But what does it mean to say that one believes there are many gods that exist? Does it not all depend on how one defines the term God/god? To illustrate what I mean, notice what Smith says about monotheism.

(3) Ralph L. Smith quotes from three scholars who all
define monotheism in slightly different ways. The
point I want to draw attention to now, however, is
what G.E. Wright states, as quoted by Smith. Wright
notes that monotheism is "the exclusive exaltation of
the one source of all power, authority, and
creativity" (Smith, page 232).

Now, if one defines monotheism in the foregoing
manner, it is safe to say that recognizing what Wright
calls "subordinate divine beings" (i.e. gods) does not negate
monotheism. In fact, D.S. Russell
("The Method and Message of Jewish
Apocalyptic") writes concerning Old Testament theology:

"There is ample evidence to show that conception
of monotheism was held in conjunction with a belief in
a spiritual world peopled with supernatural and
superhuman beings who, in some ways, shared the
nature, though not the being, of God" (page 235).

I thus conclude that it is appropriate to refer to
ourselves as monotheists rather than monolaters. We
worship "the only true God" (Jn 17:3) but realize that
images of this one God subsist in the spirit realm. Moreover,
some men (and angels) have represented God on earth. Hence,
they also can be called ELOHIM.


No comments: