I wasn’t going to write about this, but sometimes it is just too hard to let something go. It concerns this sentence from yesterday’s Watchtower study:
(w12 7/15 p. 28 par. 7)
Although Jehovah has declared his anointed ones righteous as sons and the other sheep righteous as friends on the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, personal differences will arise as long as any of us are alive on earth in this system of things.
This is an odd sentence to begin with. The point being made is that being declared righteous doesn’t mean that personal differences will cease to exist. Whether some of us are God’s sons or some of us are God’s friends really has nothing to do with the point being made. One wonders how raising this class distinction here is even relevant to the subject of this particular Watchtower study. Still the point was made and it got me to thinking about the basis for this particular understanding. It seemed to me to be a new idea, though after a little research I found that it was not. Have you ever tried to research it? I mean, have you ever tried to find scriptural support for the idea of a two-tier structure in the Christian congregation; that is, for the idea that there are Christians who are God’s sons as apart from Christians who are not sons, but friends?
We seem to base this on the fact that Abraham was declared righteous by God due to his faith and as a consequence was referred to as God’s friend. Of course, Abraham lived in pre-Christian times long before the sin-atoning sacrifice that Jesus made enabled humans to be restored to a true father-son relationship with God. But there does not appear to be any scriptural support for linking Abraham’s status with that of a particular class of Christian. It appears the relationship is assumed since no scriptural evidence is provided to support it whenever the topic is under consideration.
They say that the difference between family and friends is that you can choose your friends. The demons who came down to live as humans in Noah’s day are referred to as the sons of God. Likewise, the wicked judges referred to in one of the Psalms are also called sons of the Most High. But only a righteous man can be called a friend of God. (Ge 6:2; Ps 82:6) The fact is you can be a son of God without being his friend, but can you be Jehovah’s friend without being his son? Can there be a universe in which creatures exist that are considered friends of God but who were not created by God and therefore are not God’s sons?
Still, the question is: On what basis do we determine that only Christians who go to heaven can be referred to as God’s sons, while those with an earthly hope are not sons, but friends? I have not been able to find any scriptural support for this important distinction. A heavenly reward as opposed to an earthly one is no cause for making a distinction between being a son and being a friend. Both angels and humans are referred to as God’s sons in the Bible.
It is a given that the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore holds nothing but truth. However, while it is nothing but the truth, it is not the whole truth. It is that part of the truth that Jehovah chooses to reveal to his servants. To illustrate, the meaning of the sacred secret that was revealed to the first century Christians was hidden to the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible did not contain the whole truth because it was not yet Jehovah’s time to reveal it. In like manner, it is evident from Christian writings that this process of gradually unfolding truth continued throughout the first century. It is quite evident from reading Paul’s writings that the accepted belief was that all Christians would go to heaven. He doesn’t explicitly state that of course, since there is no falsehood in the Bible. It is merely that his writings reflect no other possibility. Indeed, it wasn’t until a mere eighty years ago that another possibility was even considered by serious Bible students. But there is a hint of something in one of the last books of the Bible to be written.
(1 John 3:1, 2) . . .See what sort of love the Father has given us, so that we should be called children of God; and such we are. That is why the world does not have a knowledge of us, because it has not come to know him. 2 Beloved ones, now we are children of God, but as yet it has not been made manifest what we shall be. We do know that whenever he is made manifest we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.
Granted, this is a vague statement. However, given that Paul had only clarified to the Corinthians about the resurrection of an incorruptible spiritual body, one can’t help but wonder what John’s inspired writing is getting at.
Here, John acknowledges that Christians—all Christians—are called God’s children. In fact, they are called God’s children while still in their imperfect state. How else can we understand a phrase like, “now we are children of God”? What is interesting about this entire sentence is that while he calls Christians children of God he also acknowledges that it is not yet known what they will be. Is he here alluding to the possibility that while all Christians are God’s children their individual reward was yet unknown? Would some children be “manifest” as spiritual sons of God while others would become perfect fleshly sons of God?
Is this a Scripture that gives us the basis for considering that all Christians, whether they are rewarded with heavenly or earthly life, are still called God’s children? Does the designation of “son of God” hang on one’s reward and final destination? There does not appear to be support for this belief in Scripture; nor is there support for the idea that some Christians are to be referred to as God’s friends rather than his sons. We do teach this, but we have never proven it Scripturally.
Some will suggest that the proof lies in the fact that there are two flocks: the little flock and the other sheep. The little flock goes to heaven and the other sheep live on earth. Ah, but there’s a rub. We can’t just say this, wehave to prove it; and we never have. There is but a single reference to the phrase “other sheep” in the Bible and nothing at all to link it to a group of people that become God’s friends and live on earth.
(John 10:16) . . .“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.
Is there anything in the Christian Greek Scriptures to indicate that any of its writers understood the other sheep to refer to a class of Christians that would not be God’s sons but only his friends, and who would live on earth instead of going to heaven? If that were the case, they would surely have made mention of it.
Of course, some would argue that this modern understanding was only revealed to us through holy spirit. Therefore, we believe because the source of this revelation is trusted, not because we can find any real proof in Scripture. The return of the ancient worthies was a similar modern revelation. If we had observed Moses or Abraham walking among us back in 1925, we could have accepted this ‘revelation’ as from God since we’d have had the visible proof before us. However, with no Scriptural proof and no observable phenomena, how are we to avoid being misled by human speculation?
If something is not stated clearly and specifically in Scripture, we can at best lean toward a particular interpretation as long as it remains consistent with the rest of the Scriptural record. We still must be cautious and avoid dogmatism, but this technique will help us to eliminate speculations that stray too far afield.
So let’s consider the context of Jesus’ words regarding the “other sheep”.
Jesus is speaking to his Jewish disciples. No non-Jews were among his disciples at that time. He was sent to Israel first. Israel was the flock of God. (Ps 23:1-6; 80:1; Jer 31:10; Eze 34:11-16) Out of Israel came a little flock that would come to be called Christians. His Jewish followers were not ready at that time to learn that Gentiles would be included in their number. It was simply a truth they were not ready for. (John 16:12) Therefore, an argument can be made that Jesus was speaking of Gentiles (“other sheep”) who are not of this fold (Israel) but would be joined to it so that both flocks would become a single flock. How can both flocks become a single flock if some of them are considered God’s children while the rest are not sons but friends?
Of course, the foregoing is not proof that the other sheep that Jesus refers to are the Gentile Christians who would begin to be united to the Christian congregation from 36 C.E. onward. It does not appear that we can prove beyond a doubt who the other sheep are. All we can do is go with the most likely scenario, one which harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. Is there any scriptural basis that would allow us to conclude that the other sheep to which Jesus is referring would turn out to be a group of Christians who are God’s friends, but not sons?
This is not to suggest that being God’s friend is anything to be scoffed at. In fact, all Christians are exhorted to be God’s friends. (Lu 16:9) No, rather, what we’re saying is that there does not appear to be a scriptural basis for this qualitative class distinction. The Bible seems to indicate clearly that all Christians are God’s children and that all are God’s friends and that all are declared righteous on the basis of faith. How Jehovah chooses to reward them has nothing to do with their standing before him.
This is merely a first draft of this idea. We would welcome any comments that might clarify this understanding or even lead us in a new direction. If the official position of the organization can indeed be shored up with a scriptural foundation, then we would welcome learning that as well.