A new understanding of Matthew 24:45-47 was released at this year’s annual meeting. It should be understood that what we discuss here is based on hearsay accounts of what was said by the various speakers at the meeting on the subject of “the faithful and discreet slave”. Of course, what is said in a public discourse can be easily misinterpreted or misconstrued. It is possible that when this information is released in print in a Watchtower article—as it surely will be– the facts as we understand them now may be changed. This has happened before, so we should stipulate that up front as a caveat to everything we are about to discuss.
One key change is that the appointment of the faithful and discreet slave over all the Master`s belongings did not occur in 1919, but is yet to happen. That will happen at Armageddon. This is a most welcome and gratifying change to our understanding, and anyone who is a regular visitor to this forum would not be surprised that we feel this way. (Click here for more details.)
A second new understanding we welcome is that the domestics are no longer restricted to the anointed, but now include all Christians.
Let us look at the other aspects of our new understanding to see what support there is for them in Scripture.
The slave was not appointed in 33 C.E.
The basis for this understanding is that Matthew 24:45-47 is part of the last days prophecy, so it must be fulfilled during the last days. If that is the only basis for this new take, than one might ask: How would you word the prophecy in the case where the slave was appointed in the first century and continued to feed the domestics down through the ages until the Master’s arrival referred to in verse 46? Could you not still express it exactly as it is written in Scripture? Of course you could, and indeed you would. Are we suggesting that if Jesus wanted to teach us that the slave would exist in the first century and continue existing right up to the last days, Matthew would have had to record this prophecy somewhere else in his book, outside of the context of the last days prophecy?
Another reason for rejecting 33 C.E. is that there was no clear channel for the distribution of the food in the middle ages. Wait a minute! Christianity never ceased to exist from its inception. Jehovah didn’t reject Christendom during the middle ages any more than he rejected his pre-Christian slave, Israel, despite their times of apostasy. If no food was being dispensed in those centuries, then Christianity would have died out and Russell would have had nothing to work with when he came on the scene. The growing season existed throughout the centuries from 33 C.E. onward down to the modern-day harvest. Growing plants need food.
Our premise, as you’ll see soon, is that the feeding by the slave is done by means of a highly visible channel comprised of a small group of men. If that is true, then this line of reasoning might seem at first blush to work. But isn’t that reasoning backward from a conclusion? We should be letting the evidence lead us to a conclusion, not the other way round.
One last point. If the slave didn’t make its appearance in the first century, then how do we explain that the basis for all our meals comes from then? We may prepare the modern-day recipes, but all our ingredients—our food—comes from things written by the first century slave, as well as its antecedent, Israel.
The slave was appointed in 1919.
No scriptural evidence was given at any of the meeting parts to support 1919 as the year in which the slave was appointed. So how is it that we arrive at this year?
We used to get there by assuming some correspondence between 1914-1918, and 29 C.E. when Jesus was baptised and 33 C.E. when he entered the temple to cleanse it. That 3 ½ year period in Jesus’ life was, we believed, prophetically significant. Applying the 3 ½ years to our modern era, we counted from 1914 to 1918 to find the year Jesus cleansed his spiritual temple, then we added one year to get 1919 as the year he appointed the slave over all his belongings.
Well, we can’t say that anymore since we now say that his first entry into the temple to cleanse it is what corresponds to 1919. That occurred a scant six months after his baptism. Given that, what basis is there for still concluding that 1919 is prophetically significant?
Indeed, what Scriptural basis is there for concluding that Jesus’ dual entries into the ancient temple to cleanse it have any prophetic significance at all to our day? Certainly there is nothing in Scripture to lead us down this path. It appears to be based solely on conjecture?
The fact is that our continued adoption of this date as significant is further complicated by our next change in understanding.
The governing body is the slave.
We now believe that the slave corresponds to the members of the governing body, not individually, but when they are serving as a body. In 1919, in accordance with Russell’s will, an editorial committee of five approved all Watchtower articles. For the most part, food in book form was written by J. F. Rutherford and bore his name as author. Prior to 1919, Russell, like Rutherford, headed the organization, but conferred with trusted members of the corporation who also wrote articles. So there is no real basis for claiming that the slave came into existence only in 1919. Using the same reasoning we are currently using, it could easily be argued that 1879, the year the Watchtower was first published, marks the appearance of the slave.
So why stick with 1919? We could still make our case for a modern-day slave in the form of the governing body with another year. Since there is no Scriptural support for any particular year, 1879 provides historical support at least, something that 1919 lacks. However, it may well be that dropping 1919 might be like pulling a single thread on a woven garment. The danger is that the whole fabric might start to unravel, given that 1914, to which our 1919 interpretation is connected, is so central to the interpretation of virtually every last days prophecy we have explained. We can’t stop applying it now.
How can an 8-member slave class be appointed over all the Master’s belongings at Armageddon?
One of the members of the Governing Body in his talk stated that certain aspects of our old understanding simply did not make sense. Such candor is laudable. Questioning an understanding because it makes no sense, or to put it another way, because it is nonsense is sound reasoning. Jehovah is a God of order. Nonsense is akin to chaos and as such has no place in our theology.
This may sound like a derogatory statement, but in all honesty, after several tries and redrafts, the application of our new understanding to the future event of the appointment of the slave over all the Master’s belongings still sounds nonsensical.
Let’s take one last stab at expressing this: All the anointed get appointed over all the Master’s belongings. The anointed are not the slave. The anointed are not appointed to feed the domestics. The slave consists of the Governing Body. The slave gets appointed over all the Master’s belongings only if it is found doing the job of feeding the domestics which include the anointed who also get appointed over all the Master’s belongings, but not for feeding the domestics of which they form a part. If the slave doesn’t feed the domestics, it doesn’t get the aforementioned appointment. The anointed do get the appointment even though they don’t feed the domestics.
To try to illustrate how this new understanding can work, one of the annual meeting parts presented this example: When Jesus said that he was making a covenant with his apostles for a kingdom, he was not excluding the rest of the anointed from that covenant even though they weren’t present then. That’s true. However, he also wasn’t differentiating his apostles from the rest of the anointed. He didn’t appoint them as some special class with special privileges and a special duty that they must perform as a class to get the reward. In fact, the first century governing body—if we can use a non-scriptural term for clarity here—did not consist exclusively of Jesus’ apostles, but of all the older men from all the congregations in Jerusalem.
What about the other three slaves?
One point made at the meeting was that the verb and noun referring to the slave in Mat. 24:45-47 is in the singular. Therefore, they conclude that individuals are not referred to but a class of men. Throughout all the discourses, Mat. 24:45-47 was referenced, but the more complete account of Jesus’ prophecy is found at Luke 12:41-48. That account was never referenced, leaving unanswered, indeed unraised, the question of who the other three slaves are. For if the faithful slave is the Governing Body as a class, then who is the evil slave class, and who is the class represented by the slave who doesn’t do what he knows he should and so receives many strokes, and who is the class represented by the slave who unknowingly fails to do what he should and so receives few strokes. How can we speak with authority and conviction, promoting an understanding as truth that fails to explain three quarters of the prophecy in question? If we do not know what the other three slaves represent, then how can we teach with any authority what the faithful slave represents?
If we are to reject an understanding because it lacks support in Scripture and simply does not make sense, should we not be doing the same with our new understanding? There is no Scriptural nor historical support for 1919 as the date of the appointment of the slave. We didn’t start feeding the domestics in 1919 in any way that we hadn’t already been doing for 40 years prior to that date, when the first Watchtower was published. Even more so does it not make sense for a small group of men—currently numbering eight—to be appointed as a class not as individuals over all the Master’s belongings at Armageddon, and there seems to be no sensible way to reconcile this appointment for having fed the domestics with the appointment of all the anointed to the very same position though they haven’t fed the domestics.
An editorial thought
All our forum members hold both the members and the office of the Governing Body in high regard. However, this does not overcome a feeling of disquiet that this latest interpretation has raised in us, and others that also contribute to this forum.
In one of the talks given by a GB member at the 2012 annual meeting, it was explained that two principles guide the members of the Governing Body in the preparation of spiritual food for us.
- “And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of the end. Many will rove about, and the true knowledge will become abundant.” (Dan. 12:4)
- “Do not go beyond the things that are written, in order that YOU may not be puffed up individually in favor of the one against the other.” (1 Cor. 4:6)
It does not appear as if these guiding principles are really being followed in this instance.
We are told that it is not for us to engage in unauthorized independent Bible study. We are counselled that doing so or considering, even in our minds, that ideas put forward by the Governing Body may be wrong or that they will eventually recant is tantamount to “testing Jehovah in our heart”. We are instructed that forums for Bible study like this one are wrong. With this new understanding of the slave, it is very clear that the Governing Body is now to be the only channel by which Scriptural understanding is to come. Since that is the case and since they do not go beyond the things written, then how do they reconcile what is written at Daniel 12:4 where it is prophesied that “many will rove about”. Is the number eight now to be considered as “many”? And how do they reconcile that the many began to rove about in the 19th Century, decades before we now claim the slave made its appearance?
One talk explained that many ideas come from circuit and district overseers as well as zone overseers, yet they are not considered part of those that feed us. What is actually written in Scripture is that the slave is appointed to feed the domestics. Brother Splane drew a comparison of this to the role of cooks and waiters. There are many cooks in a large restaurant and even more waiters. Cooks prepare the food and waiters deliver it. The things written speak only of the role of feeding the domestics. Do these eight men cook all the food? Do they deliver it to hungry domestics? If the articles are written by many; if ideas come from circuit and district overseers; if talks are delivered by many instructors; if instruction is dispensed worldwide by a multitude of teachers and counsellors, how can eight men claim that only they constitute the slave appointed to feed the flock?
To justify this new understanding, one speaker used the analogy of Jesus feeding the multitude by dispensing the fishes and bread through the hands of his apostles. The principle applied in that talk is that he uses “a few to feed many”. Assuming for a moment that the miracle of feeding the multitude is intended to explain who the faithful and discreet slave would turn out to be, we still end up with something that doesn’t fit our current understanding. The apostles took the food from Jesus and handed it to the people. Who is handing out the food to the nearly eight million domestics today? Certainly not just eight men.
At the risk of carrying an analogy too far, in one occasion Jesus fed 5,000, but since only men were counted, it is likely that he fed far more, possibly 15,000. Did 12 apostles personally hand each one of these his food? Did each apostle wait on over 1,000 people? Or did they carry the large provision baskets from Jesus to groups of individuals who then handed them off down the line? The account doesn’t say either way, but which scenario is more believable? If this miracle is being used to illustrate how the slave feeds the domestics today, then it doesn’t support the idea of a slave of only eight men doing all the feeding.
One last point about not going beyond the things that are written: Jesus spoke about a master that appoints a slave to feed his domestics. Then the master “upon arriving” will reward him if found doing so. It doesn’t say in this parable that the master leaves, but it is implied, otherwise how could he subsequently arrive? (Other master/slave parables do explicitly speak of a master leaving and then returning to review the work his slaves have done in his absence. There is no parable of Jesus where a master appoints a slave and then hangs around or “is present” while the slave goes about his business.)
We say that Jesus arrived in Kingdom power and then appointed the slave over his domestics. He never departed after that but has been “present” since then. This doesn’t fit with the parable’s scenario of feeding the master’s domestics during his absence.
Is there clear Scriptural support for the slave’s appointment anytime or any year during our modern era? If there were, it would surely have been presented at the annual meeting. Is there Scriptural evidence for the appointment of the slave to feed the domestics at any time in history? Absolutely! What did the Master do before departing for heaven? He commissioned Peter, and by extension, all the apostles, by saying three times, “feed my little sheep”. Then he left. He comes back at Armageddon to see how we’ve done.
That is what is written.
Who bears witness that the Governing Body is the slave? Is it not the self-same Governing Body? And if we should doubt or disagree, what would become of us?
If we are not to go beyond what is written, then how do Jesus’ words apply to this slave that bears witness about itself. We refer to John 5:31 which says, “If I alone bear witness about myself, my witness is not true.”
This all sounds very critical of the Governing Body. That was not our intention. This site is in place to provide sincere Jehovah’s Witnesses a forum for expression and unbiased Bible study. We seek Scriptural truth. If we find that a teaching being handed down doesn’t conform to Scripture, or at least appears not to, we have to be honest and point this out. It would be wrong to allow sentimentality or fear of offending to color or compromise our understanding of God’s word.
The fact that two elements of our new official understanding were already arrived at by members of this forum indicates that there is not one exclusive channel for the revelation of Bible truth. (See forum category “faithful slave” including the comments section.) This is not to blow our own horn or take pride in ourselves. We are good-for-nothing slaves. Besides, we are not the only ones to have arrived at such understandings. Rather, this is advanced as proof that Scriptural insight is the providence of all of Jehovah’s servants. Otherwise, He would hide it from the us individually and reveal it only through a chosen few.
At the same time, we want to speak with respect of those taking the lead among us. If we have failed to do so here, we do apologize. If we have gone too far, any are free to express this via the Comments section of the forum.
We continue to believe that the men making up the Governing Body have our best interested at heart. We acknowledge that Jehovah’s blessing is on their efforts and the work they do. Whether they are in fact the slave or whether they have gotten this wrong yet again doesn’t change the fact that they are at the administrative head of Jehovah’s organization, and we would have it no other way.
As brother Splane said, this new understanding changes nothing as regards how we will continue to proceed in carrying out the work.
So why are we spending so much time on it here in this forum? Why do we devote so much time and column inches to it in our publications? What does it matter? Isn’t it simply an academic exercise? One might think so, but in fact it is not treated that way in our organization. The understanding of these verses do in fact matter very much. It has to do with establishing the authority of men. However, rather than deal with that here in this post, we’ll address it separately in the near future.
One final thought: It is interesting that Jesus didn’t identify the slave, but framed the prophecy as a question.