Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus was crucified on an upright pole (“torture stake”), and that He died and was buried in a tomb. Sometime during the three days Jehovah God disposed of Jesus’ body. It was forever gone. Jesus was then raised as a spirit creature. To explain the bodily appearances of Jesus after his “resurrection,” JWs teach that Jehovah God fashioned different bodies for Jesus that were made to resemble His body when He walked the earth. Thus Jesus “materialized” different bodies. Finally, after appearing to His disciples as recorded in the Books of Acts, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father as a spirit creature.
To substantiate the doctrine that Jesus’ original body was not raised, that He was raised as a spirit creature, and that He was given different bodies resembling the original, JWs appeal to (1) certain scripture verses they believe teach He was not raised bodily, and (2) the “they did not recognize Him” argument. Before we examine these two categories, let’s first state the Christian position.
The Christian Position
The Bible teaches that Jesus’ body, the one He possessed when He walked the earth as God the Son, was raised from the dead.
John 2:19-21. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of His body.” This last verse is quite important, as the apostle John himself interprets what Jesus meant by “temple.” John states that it was “the temple of His body.” Note the pronoun “His.” It was His body. Thus, His body was raised. But JWs deny that it was His body. Rather, they teach that Jehovah disposed of Jesus’ body. In other words, JWs state that it was not His body that was raised. When sharing with JWs, you can ask them to read this passage from their own translation. While they read, pray for them. Make it clear that what they have been taught is contrary to the Bible, and ask them to put faith in Christ’s true resurrection.
John 20:24-27. In this passage Thomas doubts that the other disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus then appears to them and states to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side” (v. 27). This is further scriptural proof of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is very important to note here that the JWs interpret this passage to mean that Jesus received from Jehovah a different materialized body, that it was not Jesus’ original body. This is why it is important to start with John 2:19-21 and then move to this passage. This same method applies to our next passage proving Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
Luke 24:36-39. Here Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, but they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a spirit. Jesus then comforts them: “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v. 39).
JWs Counter-Arguments Answered
We begin with the first of the two categories of counter-arguments of JWs mentioned earlier, and follow with a Christian answer to the arguments.
1 Corinthians 15:50. In this verse the apostle Paul states, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This perhaps is the most popular verse that JWs use to substantiate their view that Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead. At first glance this seems to be an overwhelming refutation of the Christian position. But is it?
JWs usually leave out the remainder of the verse: “Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This provides the key to understanding the first part of this verse so often cited by JWs. Note that Paul, throughout the preceding verses, is contrasting two different states of existence in an “A-B” type of flow. Let’s start with verse 42 and move through the passage. Verse 42: A—the perishable body, B—the imperishable body. Verse 43: A—body sown in dishonor, B—raised in glory; A—sown in weakness, raised in power. Move to verse 46: A—natural, B—spiritual. Verses 47-49: A—earthly, B—heavenly. Now, by the time we get to verse 50, we have A(1)—flesh and blood contrasted with B(1)—kingdom of God and A(2)—perishable contrasted with B(2) imperishable. Thus, “flesh and blood” belongs in the A category. The JWs, then, assume that Christians place Jesus’ resurrected body in the A category, and then refute Christians with the “flesh and blood” citation. But Christians do not place Jesus’ resurrected body in the A category, which is the mortal, sinful, perishable category; rather, they place it in the B category, which is imperishable, perfect, and glorified. Finally, it is perfectly in harmony with scripture to affirm that Jesus’ resurrected body (John 2:19-22) is therefore imperishable, immortal and glorified, and therefore belongs in the B category of 1 Corinthians 15.
In the last edition of The Sounding Board I briefly outlined the Christian position of the bodily resurrection of Jesus (He was raised in the same body that died on the cross) and began to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JWs) counter-arguments, beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:50. In this issue I continue to answer counter-arguments.
JWs Counter-Arguments Answered
1 Peter 3:18. This verse reads that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” The JWs translation (New World Translation, a perverted translation that robs Christ of His deity) and the New American Standard Bible (a legitimate translation) read virtually the same here. The JWs argue from this verse that Jesus’ body was put to death (and then forever disposed of by Jehovah) but then His spirit was resurrected (“made alive in the spirit,” i.e., His spirit only was raised). I shall focus on answering this latter point.
There are two ways to answer this misinterpretation by JWs. First is simply to call attention to the New International Version. This respected translation states that Jesus was “made alive by the Spirit,” meaning that Jesus was resurrected by the Holy Spirit. Second is to interpret the phrases “in the flesh” and “in the spirit” as referring to the spheres or realms in which Jesus was put to death and made alive. He was put to death in the realm of the flesh (that is, the fleshly realm, where soldiers nailed him to the cross). But He was made alive in the spiritual realm. It is here that verses 19-20 follow nicely, “In which [i.e., in the spiritual realm to which Peter just referred] He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah.” So the flow here is that Jesus was put to death in the fleshly realm, but made alive to go into the spiritual realm were disobedient spirits existed.
Next I examine three passages wherein JWs make the claim, “They did not recognize Jesus.”
Luke 24:16. JWs assert that the two persons on the Emmaus road “did not recognize Him.” A closer reading of the verse, however, reveals that the two “were kept from recognizing him” (New World Translation). There is quite a difference here. JWs claim that the two did not recognize Jesus because he had another body made to look like the one with which He walked the earth. The fact is, though, that Jesus appeared to them in the same body (see John 2:19-21, cf. Luke 24:36-39), and that they were kept from recognizing Him.
John 20:14. Mary Magdalene “did not discern it was Jesus” (New World Translation), say JWs. But upon closer examination of the context, there is an answer to their argument. Beginning with verse 1 we find a number of phenomena that distracted Mary from discerning that it was Jesus who appeared to her. She came to the tomb, only to find the stone removed from the opening of the tomb. She therefore thought someone had taken away the Lord’s body (v. 2). Further, just before Jesus’ appearance to her she was weeping (v. 11) and saw two angels (v. 12). Once Jesus appeared, Mary had her back to Him (v. 14) and then turned, but did not discern it was the Lord. She then turned her back to Jesus again (implied in v. 16) but then turned toward Him a second time after He called her name. She then discerned it was Jesus.
The main point I wish to make is that the fault lies with Mary that she did not discern it was Jesus, not that Jesus had a different body. Mary was preoccupied with the several phenomena previously noted, and therefore did not recognize Him at first. Let’s suppose you are window shopping at the local mall. With most of your attention given to various items in the windows of stores, you happen to look at your best friend 20-30 feet away. You quickly turn back to your window gazing, not discerning that it was your friend. Then moments later your friend approaches you and you apologize, saying, “Sorry, I looked directly at you but did not recognize you. I was so into these displays.” Certainly your friend did not possess another body. The fault, rather, was yours due to your preoccupation.
John 21:4. The New World Translation of the JWs reads, “Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not, of course, discern that it was Jesus.” Again the assumption of JWs is that Jesus had another body, not His original body, for that body was forever gone. This is the reason the disciples did not discern it was Jesus. But, again, a closer look at the context reveals the JWs misinterpretation. First, it was just becoming morning (v. 4), so we assume here that the brightest part of the day had not yet occurred. Second, in verse 8 we read that the disciples were 300 feet away in a boat!
Though at first glance JWs arguments for their denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ might seem powerful, upon examination of the contexts of biblical passages cited by them we find that they have misinterpreted these passages. A knowledge of the correct understanding of these texts by Christians can lead to a very powerful witnessing opportunity with JWs. May the Lord give us His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to engage them fruitfully when they come knocking at our doors.