[This article was contributed by Apollos]
Every so often a pivotal edition of the Watchtower comes around – a “game changer” if you will. The July 15th 2013 edition was one of those, as it had far-reaching implications. The March 15th 2015 is another, and our study this week is the lead article.
Essentially what we have is the followup from Bro. David Splane’s talk at the 2014 annual meeting, during which he outlined a new policy of not going “beyond what is written”. (See Meleti’s earlier article.)
The “Questions from Readers” article on pp. 17, 18, is closely related and although I won’t specifically be referencing it, it’s worth reading carefully to understand the full implications of this shift.
The opening section of this study article uses the theme scripture and its parallel from Matt 11:25, 26 to set the scene for the idea that Christian teaching would become more simplified over time, and that this would be Jehovah’s will. The review questions include the ideas of gradual change in the way of explaining Bible accounts (Q2), a refinement process (Q3), and Jehovah’s approval of this simplification (Q1).
The first question that arises is why there would be any such variation in Christian teaching at all. Those words of Jesus in the cited scriptures do not describe a changing process of any sort. Rather they state a continual truth that was already apparent at the time: that in revealing spiritual truth God does not favor those who might be considered more intelligent in human terms, but rather it is available for anyone to grasp. Ironically, especially in view of the material under discussion, rather than accept the simplicity of Jesus’ beautiful prayer, the article hijacks it to justify the convoluted nature of many of our own doctrines that have quietly had their life-support removed during the past few years.
Making Deep Truths Accessible to All
Much pride is taken in how the Organization has simplified matters for its adherents and potential adherents in various ways. One example given is the reduction of the number of words in various Bible passages in the revised edition of the New World Translation. A reduction in word count is neither a good nor a bad thing in itself. A good translation of God’s Word depends ultimately on how well it conveys the original intent of the inspired Bible writer. Without getting into such a broad subject one cannot but help think of the words that virtually wrap up our Bible canon:
… and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Rev 22:19, ESV)
Clearly a reduced word count is not the aim of any good translation. On the other hand if the rNWT improves the clarity of the original text in certain cases, then that is certainly a good thing.
There is a final point under this subheading that deals with “our recent refinements in understanding”. The example given is the recent claim that the men on the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the “faithful slave” of Matt 24:45-47, and there is nobody else who can fit the bill, despite Jesus’ frequent use of “master/slave” parables to encourage all Christians to fulfil their appointments. (See “Identifying the Faithful Slave-Part 4“)
The statement from the article reads:
For example, our clarified understanding of “the faithful and discreet slave,” … thrilled us.
Since those who claim responsibility for the food published in the Watchtower are indeed the Governing Body themselves, and they are in effect therefore the authors, one cannot help but read this as a declaration of the thrill they themselves felt on publishing this new understanding.
More importantly it is curious that they chose this as an example of simplification and clarification. A clarification is made when something is unclear, and a person might therefore think one thing or another. But the previous official doctrine of the FADS was not unclear (even though it also might have been incorrect). What occurred at the 2012 AGM, subsequently published in the July 15th, 2013 WT, was a radical change in doctrine, which consolidated into the hands of a few individuals what was previously believed to be a collective, latter-days channel of communication through all anointed Christians. The use of this doctrinal change as an example of clarification seems like little more than taking the opportunity to impress the new hierarchy arrangement upon the rank and file.
A Simpler, Clearer Approach to Bible Narratives
This section specifically deals with why we won’t be seeing as many types/antitypes published as we did in former years. The statement is made that “as we might expect, over the years Jehovah has helped the faithful and discreet slave to become steadily more discreet.”
Firstly, it is not made apparent why we might expect such a thing. According to our doctrine, Jesus made an appointment in 1919 on the basis that the slave in question was already exercising the necessary discretion compared to alternative candidates. (See “Qualifications to Become God’s Channel of Communication“.)
Secondly, the idea that there was a steady progression to greater caution in the assigning of types/antitypes does not match up to reality. Any student of Watchtower literature is fully aware that Fred Franz was the king of types/antitypes and probably “ghost wrote” many of Rutherford’s publications involving these as well. The shift from an obsession with these types and antitypes to a considerable reduction of interest in them can quite easily be traced to the human authors of the published information. And yet, as we often do, we attribute these shifts to Jehovah, and in accord with the article title, the way He approves. It is necessary to ask whether this is logical. More importantly, does it represent our God in an appropriate way? Did he approve of going beyond what was written for almost a century, during what is claimed to be the critical last days?
Despite the picture that the writers wish to paint, this idea of Jehovah helping the slave to become “steadily more discreet” does not stack up with reality – at least not the “steadily” portion in which we might imagine a smooth line of increased discretion over many decades. The reality is that those at the helm provided a veritable flood of types and antitypes, before the current Governing Body and their helpers recently turned down the water pressure. The problem is that many of those interpretations became the basis upon which unique and current doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded. (More on this later.)
Some have adopted a counter argument that goes like this: “Even if it was wrong, it was what was needed at the time”.
However, this argument presents a logical problem for thinking people. The question still arises as to the source of this information. Was it from man or from God? JWs want to claim that they have been fed from God through his channel of communication since at least 1919, if not three decades earlier. Nevertheless, such a claim becomes impossible when we openly acknowledge that a high percentage of what was written was the indiscreet speculation of men. God cannot be the source of such writings. If he were, then it would be as true now as it was then. We cannot have it both ways.
A Simpler Approach to Jesus’ Illustrations
Our Lord and Master did indeed teach with simplicity. So in theory this subheading invites a step in the right direction. If we are to be true to this idea, then we should read his teachings without embellishment or manipulation. Is this the real trend?
For example, our attention is drawn to Jesus’ illustrations regarding the leaven, the mustard seed, and the dragnet, first amended in print in July 2008. A follow-up article “Do You ‘Grasp the Meaning'” was published in the December 15, 2014 edition, and studied only three months ago. Meleti wrote a commentary article at the time which you can read here. I won’t reproduce the content, but it is quite evident that our interpretation of the dragnet illustration is anything but a “simple approach”. The elements have quite obviously been taken out of the parable and recombined in an out-of-sequence and contradictory way in order to fit a JW-centric interpretation.
As a further example, in paragraph 14 of this week’s study we reflect on an older and more complex interpretation of “the neighborly Samaritan”. I venture that this was a very carefully selected example. Why? Because removing the complex types/antitypes from this particular parable does nothing to pull the rug from any current doctrines. But that is far from true in the case of other published types and antitypes that went beyond what is written.
For example, Rutherford’s introduction of the two-hope system for Christians was originally conceived from an antitypical interpretation of the cities of refuge of ancient Israel. (See “Going Beyond What Is Written“.) To most Witnesses, the doctrine is now simply self-evident, resting on a series of largely unrelated “proof texts” and personal feeling, and they are completely unaware of how this “new truth” was originally founded.
A simplification of Jesus’ parables in particular would also surely cause us to re-examine the current cornerstone of all JW doctrine – the parable of the faithful and discreet slave itself. If this is a prophecy as claimed, rather than a simple parable in line with all others Jesus made involving slaves in a master’s service, then what of the evident parallel and expanded version in Luke 12:42-48? Who are all the players in this scenario if Jesus had in mind specific individuals or small groups of people in the time of the end? Surely a simple understanding of this parable would not go out of its way to exclude Peter, the apostles and potentially all Christians from the illustration. (Incidentally Peter does indicate that it’s an illustration rather than a prophecy – Luke 12:41). So why not simplify our understanding of this particular parable? The answer must be quite obvious. (See also “You Are a Trusted Steward” and “The Faithful Steward – Another Look at Luke 12“.)
The reality is that the GB appears to be cherry-picking which types/antitypes to jettison, and which to retain. Despite the claim that the determining factor will be whether the Bible clearly indicates an antitypical/dual fulfillment or not, the true common denominator so far seems to be the impact that such choices will make on our currently preferred doctrines. If interpretations pertain to our 1914 claim, the two-hope system, the faithful and discreet slave, overlapping generations, the JW preaching activity, JWs as the one true religion, and so on, then we probably shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for a simplified framework that gels perfectly with scripture. Anything supporting key doctrines will likely be here to stay for now, regardless of how far it goes beyond what is written.