Try raising an objection to something taught in the magazines using scriptures to support your position and you will inevitably be met with this counterpunch. Those who would use this argument against you truly think it is a valid one. They ignore the fact there is no scriptural support of any kind for the concept of an unquestionable human authority within the Christian congregation. Authority, yes; uncontestable authority, no. Those using this argument to silence all challenges will find ways to dismiss passages where Paul is praising disciples who verified everything in Scripture before accepting any teaching as truth. (Acts 17:11; Rom.3:4; 1 Thess. 5:21)
Of particular noteworthiness in this regard is Galatians 1:8:
“However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to YOU as good news something beyond what we declared to YOU as good news, let him be accursed.”
According to our teaching, Paul was a member of the first century governing body.[i] Based on this teaching, the “we” he refers to would have to include such an august body. Now, if even direction and teaching from the first century governing body was to be examined and evaluated as to whether or not it was in keeping with the truth already received under inspiration, how much more so should we be allowed to do the same today.
I say, “allowed to do so”, but that isn’t really an accurate application of Paul’s words, is it? What the apostle is saying can only be understood as a duty that all Christians must perform. Blindly accepting what we are taught is simply not an option.
Unfortunately, we as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not perform this duty. We are not obedient to this inspired direction. We have been given a blanket exemption by the very type of authority it is intended to guard us against. We do not ‘carefully examine the Scriptures daily’ to see if what we are taught in our publications or from the platform is to be found there. We do not “make sure of all things”, nor do we “hold fast to what is fine.” Instead, we are like those other religions we have disdained for decades as possessors of blind faith, believing without question all that their leaders have handed down to them. In fact, we are now worse than those groups, because they are not exhibiting the blind faith of decades past. Catholics and Protestants alike feel free to question and challenge many of their teachings. If they disagree with their churches, they can simply leave without fear of any official repercussions. None of that is true for us as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This blind acceptance and unquestioning attitude is evidenced by the release of the latest issue of The Watchtower, February 15, 2014. To begin with, consider that the first two articles discuss Psalm 45, a particularly stirring song of praise to the future king. This is presented by the inspired psalmist as lovely poetic allegory. However, the writer of the article has no qualms about blithely interpreting every aspect of the Psalm, applying it to fit our current doctrinal structure involving 1914. No need is seen to provide any scriptural support for these interpretations. Why should there be? No one is going to question the them. We have been well trained to accept these things as true, because they come from an unimpeachable source.
The third study article discusses Jehovah as “Our Father”, both a provider and protector. What is strange about this is that the very next and final study article is titled: “Jehovah—Our Best Friend”. Now there’s nothing wrong, I guess, with considering your father as your best friend, but let’s be honest, it’s a bit odd. Besides, that really isn’t the thrust of the article. It isn’t talking about a son being a friend to his own father, but rather a non-son, an outsider to the family, is being encouraged to pursue friendship with the Father. So it would seem we are talking about being a best friend with someone else’s father. That fits within our doctrinal structure which considers the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses on earth today as God’s friends, not his children.
I’m sure that the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses who will study this article in the new year will not even notice the dichotomy of thinking of Jehovah as one’s Father while simultaneously considering oneself to be only his friend. Nor will they notice that the entire premise for the fourth article is based on a single Scripture applied to one of Jehovah’s servants in pre-Israelite times; at a time before there was a nation for his name, and centuries before there was a covenant relationship that led as a tutor to the Christ and an even better covenant that opened the way for the restoration of all things. We are skipping over all that and focusing on the unique-for-the-time relationship Abraham had as something to long for. If you were to go to a prince and tell him, forget about being the king’s son, what you really want is to be his friend, he’d probably toss you out of the palace.
I’m sure that some who read this post will counter with the objection that it doesn’t matter how many scriptures there are…as long as a single one exists, we have our proof. To such a one I would like to give the reassurance that I have no problem with God considering me a friend. My question is that as a Christian, under the teaching of the Christ, is that how Jehovah wants me to consider him?
Have a look at this sampling list of Christian-era scriptures. What type of relationship are they extolling?
- (John 1:12) . . .However, as many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name;
- (Romans 8:16, 17) . . .The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.
- (Ephesians 5:1) . . .Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children,
- (Philippians 2:15) . . .that YOU may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom YOU are shining as illuminators in the world,
- (1 John 3:1) 3 See what sort of love the Father has given us, so that we should be called children of God; and such we are. . . .
- (1 John 3:2) . . .Beloved ones, now we are children of God, but as yet it has not been made manifest what we shall be. . . .
- (Matthew 5:9) . . .Happy are the peaceable, since they will be called ‘sons of God. . .
- (Romans 8:14) . . .For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons.
- (Romans 8:19) . . .For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.
- (Romans 9:26) . . .‘YOU are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
- (Galatians 4:6, 7) . . .Now because YOU are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts and it cries out: “Abba, Father!” 7 So, then, you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.
- (Hebrews 12:7) . . .It is for discipline YOU are enduring. God is dealing with YOU as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline?
This is hardly an exhaustive list, yet it makes pretty clear the fact that Jehovah wants us to consider him as a Father and we as his children. Do we have an entire article dedicated to the idea that we should think of ourselves as God’s children? No! Why not. Because we are taught that we are not his children. Okay, then. Surely there must be another list of scriptures from the Christian writers to convey that idea. Would you like to see it? I’m sure you would. So here it is:
No, that’s not a misprint. The list is empty. No scriptures speak of that relationship between Jehovah and us. None. Nada. Zilch. If you doubt that—and you should— type “friend*” without the quotes into the WT Library search engine and look at every single instance of its appearance in the Christian Scriptures.
What we have is a concept we deem so important as to dedicate an entire study article to it and then invest into its consideration something in the order of 12 to 15 million man-hours (allowing for meeting preparation, travel and time at the study.) Yet, the Christian writers under inspiration didn’t invest a single line of text to the idea. Not a single line!
As I read through the issue, I found myself experiencing a sensation of growing dismay. I don’t want this to be the state of affairs when I read a magazine I’ve looked to all my life as a source of Bible instruction. I don’t want it to be faulty and I particularly don’t want it to be so transparently faulty. However, as I continued to read, I was to find my dismay growing still more.
The “Question From Readers” that concludes the magazine examines whether the Jews understood the chronology of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. The premise the writer works from is: “While that possibility cannot be ruled out, it cannot be confirmed.” The rest of the article goes out of its way to show that while we can’t rule it out, they probably didn’t understand the chronology.
One reason given is that there were “many conflicting interpretations of the 70 weeks in Jesus’ day, and none come close to our present understanding.” We seem to be implying that we know all the interpretations that existed 2,000 years ago? How could we? Worse, we are implying that our present understanding of a prophecy is the right one, but none of their interpretations were. This seems preposterous, does it not? To begin with, today we have to go with the archeological findings and chronological calculations of secular scholars. The Jews of Jesus’ day just had to wander into the temple archives where the records would show the precise date that the events marking the starting point occurred. We have to read translations of Daniel’s words. They could read and understood it in the original tongue. Are we really suggesting our understanding must be more accurate than theirs?
That there were erroneous interpretations of Daniel’s prophecy is hardly reason to conclude there weren’t accurate ones as well. Today, there are many erroneous interpretations of the Bible teaching on death or the nature of God. Are we to then conclude that no one has it right. That doesn’t bode well for us, does it?
One of the article’s examples is not even relevant. It refers to a misinterpretation on the part of Jews in the second century. But the question being asked is whether Jews during the time of Jesus understood the prophecy. Of course, Jews in the second century would have a wrong interpretation. To have admitted to the right one would be to have admitted that the Messiah did come on schedule and they killed him. Using this example to ‘prove’ our point is—and I’m very sorry to have to use this word but it is Biblical and more important, it is accurate—just plain stupid.
Another point to discourage the idea that the Jews understood the prophecy of the 70 weeks at the time of its fulfillment is that no Bible writer makes mention of it. Matthew does mention the fulfillment of many Hebrew Scripture prophecies, so why not this one? The fact is that many of Matthew’s references are arcane and wouldn’t likely have been widely known. For instance, he says, “and came and dwelt in a city named Nazareth, that there might be fulfilled what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”(Mat. 2:23) There is no Hebrew Scripture that actually says that, and it appears that Nazareth didn’t exist at the time the Hebrew Scriptures were penned. Apparently, Matthew is alluding to references to Jesus being the ‘sprout’, which is the etymological root of the name, Nazareth. Like I said, arcane. So there was a valid reason for Matthew to point out all these minor prophetic fulfillments found in Jesus’ life. (Isa. 11:1; 53:2; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 3:8)
However, if the prophecy of the 70 weeks was widely known, there would be no reason to highlight it. Why point out something that is common knowledge. Slim reasoning perhaps, but consider this. Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. The successful fulfillment of that prophecy would have gone a long way to bolstering the confidence in the Messiah among both Jews and Gentiles at the close of the first century when the Apostle John penned is gospel, letters and the Revelation. Yet, though written more than 30 years after the event, John makes no mention of it. If we are to take the absence of mention of a prophetic fulfillment by Bible writers as proof that they didn’t understand it, then we cannot only conclude that the 70 weeks of Daniel were not understood, but have to add in the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.
This is clearly fallacious reasoning.
Did the writers not mention the fulfillment of the 70 weeks because it was already common knowledge, or did Jehovah not inspire them to write it down for other reasons? Who can say? However, to conclude that a prophecy intended specifically to foretell the arrival of the Messiah down to the very year went unnoticed or misunderstood by all, including the faithful, is to assume that God failed in his purpose to make this truth known. The fact is everyone was in expectation of the Messiah’s arrival at that very time. (Luke 3:15) The accounts of the shepherds thirty years prior might have had something to do with that, but a chronological prophecy pinpointing the year would have surely been of greater impact. Consider also that the prophecy needed no interpretation. Unlike our own chronology pointing to 1914 which is built on a dozen assumptions and speculative interpretations, the 70 weeks gives a clear indication of its starting point, its time period, and its ending point. No real interpretation needed. Just go with what it says and look stuff up in the temple archives.
That was precisely what the prophecy was put in place to provide.
Given that, why are we going out of our way to discourage the idea that they could have understood it at that time. Could it be because if they had understood it, we are left to explain how they couldn’t have also understood the other prophecy of Daniel we say pinpoints the start of Christ’s invisible presence?
At Acts 1:6 the disciples ask if Jesus was about to restore the kingdom of Israel. Why ask that if they could simply have toddled off to the temple, looked up the precise year Jerusalem was destroyed (no need for secular scholars then) and done the math? It seems incongruous that we, two millennia later, could understand that prophecy, but the Jewish disciples after 3 ½ years learning at the feet of Jesus would be ignorant of it. (John 21:25) However, if we can be convinced that they didn’t even understand the single-fulfillment 70 Weeks prophecy which very obviously calls for a chronological calculation, then how could they be expected to figure out the far more esoteric dual-fulfilment nature of the 7 times of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
So returning to the original question: “Do you think you know more than the Governing Body?” I wish I could say no. They are eight members out of eight million. They are each truly ‘one in a million’. One would think that Jehovah would have picked the best of the best. I’m sure that is what the majority of us believe. So it saddens me greatly when we publish articles like this that can be so easily shown to contain flaws in reasoning. I am not special. I hold no doctorate in ancient languages. What I know about the Bible I learned by studying it with the help of the publications of the Watchtower society. I—WE—are like a university student studying biology, who learns a great deal of truth mixed in with a lot of scientific false doctrine. That student will be grateful for the truth he has learned but will wisely not idealize his teachers, especially if he has seen that they have also taught a lot of silly evolutionary falsehood.
So the fact is, the original question is based on a false premise. It is not that I know more or need to know more than the Governing Body. What I know is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Jehovah has given his word to me and to you and to all of us. The Bible is our road map. We can all read. We may get guidance from men on how to use the road map, but in the end, we have to go back to it to verify that they are not leading us down the garden path. We are not allowed to throw the map away and rely on men to navigate for us.
I feel dismay at reading magazines like the February 15, 2014 issue because I think that we could be so much better than this. We should be. Sadly we are not, and even more sadly, we seem to be getting worse.
[i] It is true that many of us who support this forum have come to realize that in the first century there was no such thing as a governing body as we know it today. (See A First Century Governing Body – Examining the Scriptural Basis) However, what is important here is that the Organization believes this to be the case, and more germane to our topic, also believes and teaches that Paul was a member of that body. (See w85 12/1 p.31 “Questions From Readers”)