by Luke Wayne
"To the angel of the congregation in Laodicea write: These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God," (Revelation 3:14, New World Translation).
Jehovah's Witnesses point to this verse to deny the deity of Christ. They claim that if Jesus is the "beginning" of the creation of God, that must mean that He is part of that creation. They teach that this verse upholds their view that Jesus is the first creation, the Archangel Michael. A more careful reading with proper attention to the greater context, however, actually exposes that this verse does the opposite. It actually points to the deity of Jesus and His eternal unity and equality with the Father.
The Greek word translated "beginning" here is the word "arche." Arche certainly can mean "beginning" as in "the first in series,"1 which is how the Jehovah's Witness understands it here. But it can also mean "beginning" in the sense of the "origin" or "source" of a thing,2 It even can mean "ruler" or "authority,"3 from which we get words like "archbishop", "archangel", or "arch enemy." In Greek philosophy, the "arche" was the eternal absolute from which all created things are derived,4 from which we get words like "archetype". So it is not enough merely to note that Jesus IS the "beginning of the creation of God." We have to ask in what sense is Jesus the "arche" of creation? How is He using the word here?
In the immediate context of the verse, Jesus is addressing the church at Laodicea. He is not merely stating random facts about Himself but is reinforcing the authority of His words. The term "amen" is a strong affirmation of the truthfulness of a statement.5 When Jesus calls Himself "the amen," He is saying that His own identity is the ultimate affirmation of truth. Who He is proves the truthfulness of what He says. This is reinforced by the second title He gives Himself here, "the faithful and true witness." The context is emphasizing Jesus' authority and identity as the arbiter of truth. When He gives the third title, that He is the "arche" of creation, it seems highly unlikely that the sense intended here is merely "God made me before He made you. I come first on a timeline." If Jesus is the source of everything that is or the ruler of everything that is, that furthers His point. Stating that He is one of the things that God created and comes first in chronological order doesn't do anything to establish His authority or the truthfulness of His testimony. The statement would simply be out of place. Translators have long realized this, as a brief survey below helps illustrate.
- The 1599 Geneva Bible translates it "beginning of the creatures of God." The translators add an explanatory note to clarify the sense they mean: "Of whom all things that are made have their beginning."
- The NASB translates it "the beginning of the creation of God," also clarifying in a footnote: "I.e. Origin or Source"
- HCSB, NET, and the Messianic Jewish "Tree of Life Version" all render it - "the originator of God's creation"
- The NRSV similarly translates it - "the Origin of God's creation"
- The NIV renders it - "the Ruler of God's creation"
- The Young's Literal Translation similarly translates - "the Chief of the creation of God"
- The Living Bible offers the interpretation - "the primeval source of God's creation."
From the earliest English translators to the best scholars of today and many in between, the context clearly demands that we understand Jesus to be the "beginning" in the sense of the origin or source of creation; the one who has authority over all things because He made and sustains them all. In this sense, Jesus' claim to be the "beginning" greatly established the authority of His words and the trustworthiness of His promises and judgments about to be given.
The Greater Context
The Book of Revelation uses the title of "the Beginning" in a few other places, so it is important to note how the rest of the book fleshes out the meaning. God Himself is called the beginning, and no Jehovah's Witness would dare claim that this implies that Jehovah is a created being:
"And the One seated on the throne said: Look! I am making all things new. Also he says: Write, for these words are faithful and true. And he said to me: They have come to pass! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To anyone thirsting I will give from the spring of the water of life free. Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son," (Revelation 21:5-7, NWT)
This is the one on the throne who will be the God and Father of those who inherit eternal life. It's safe to say that we are talking about Jehovah God here, and He calls Himself the beginning [arche]. It echoes what was said at the beginning of the book:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, says Jehovah God, the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty," (Revelation 1:8, NWT).
God the Father, however, is not the only one to say this in the book of Revelation. Jesus declares in the last chapter:
"Look! I am coming quickly, and the reward I give is with me, to repay each one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Happy are those who wash their robes, so that they may have authority to go to the trees of life and that they may gain entrance into the city through its gates. Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying. I, Jesus, sent my angel to bear witness to you about these things for the congregations. I am the root and the offspring of David and the bright morning star," (Revelation 22:12-16, NWT)
So Jesus is the beginning in the very same sense that the Father is the beginning. This obviously does not imply being a part of creation. And there are not two beginnings of creation, nor two ends. There are not two alphas, two omegas, two firsts, and two lasts. If God and a created being could both separately be called by these exact same titles in the exact same context in the exact same book, the titles become completely meaningless. Far from denying Jesus divinity, the title of "the beginning" in Revelation actually affirms it!
It should also be briefly observed that the Book of Revelation frequently points to the Trinitarian understanding that Jesus and God the Father are distinct persons but are one and the same God. That the author distinguishes between Jesus and the Father is clear and not in dispute. But look at how he also identifies them.
The final chapter of revelation clearly shows the one true God of the Old Testament is the one who sent the angel who revealed these things, and that it is His angel:
"He said to me: 'These words are faithful and true; yes, Jehovah, the God who inspired the prophets, has sent his angel to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place,'" (Revelation 22:6. NWT).
In the very same chapter, however, Jesus claims to be the one who sent the angel and the one whose angel it is:
"I, Jesus, sent my angel to bear witness to you about these things for the congregations. I am the root and the offspring of David and the bright morning star," (Revelation 22:16, NWT)
The same chapter also speaks of a single throne of "God and of the Lamb." The slaves and servants of the one on this thrown offer Him sacred service (worship) and have his name on their foreheads:
"And there will no longer be any curse. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his slaves will offer him sacred service; and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads," (Revelation 22:3-4. NWT).
Who is the one on the throne? God. It is God's throne, and throughout the book He is upon it. But interestingly, it is also the throne of the Lamb and it is the Lamb sitting on the throne.
"That is why they are before the throne of God, and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst anymore, neither will the sun beat down on them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them and will guide them to springs of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes," (Revelation 7:15-17, NWT).
So God is the one on the throne, and the Lamb is the one on the throne, and there is no contradiction. Further, whose name is on their foreheads? The name of both God the Father and the Lamb!
"Then I saw, and look! the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who have his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads," (Revelation 14:1, NWT)
There is one and only one eternal and almighty God. He is the beginning and the end. He sits on the throne. Both the Father and the Lamb are the beginning and the end and sit on the throne. Both the Father and the Lamb are Jehovah, the one true God. This is perfectly consistent with the biblical teaching of the Trinity, but cannot be explained in the false doctrines of the Watchtower. The book of Revelation is a beautiful testimony to who Jesus is. He is the one with whom creation began. He is not a creation but the creator.
- 1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition [BDAG] (University of Chicago Press, 2000) 137
- 2. ibid, 138
or can carry the sense of "the one with whom a process begins." ibid, 138
- 3. ibid, 138
- 4. for a very brief summary of Greek philosophical theories as to the nature of this "arche" as "primary entity," see Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book I, section 983b
- 5. ibid, 53