[From ws15/05 p. 19 for July 13-19]
“They did not receive the fulfillment of the promises;
but they saw them from a distance.” – Heb. 11:13
There are two words that come up often in Bible study: Eisegesis and Exegesis. While they look very much alike, their meanings are diametrically opposed. Eisegesis is where you try to get the Bible to mean what you say, while exegesis is where you let the Bible mean what it says. To explain it another way, eisegesis is often used when the teacher has a pet idea or agenda and wants to convince you it is Biblical, so he uses selected verses that appear to support his teaching, while ignoring the surrounding context or other related texts that would paint a very different picture.
I think it is safe to say that it is the extensive use of eisegesis as a study method that has caused so many people to dismiss the Bible’s message by echoing the words of Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” It is a common, and admittedly convenient, excuse for ignoring the Scriptures to say that they can be twisted to mean anything one wishes. This is the legacy of false religious teachers.
As a case in point, the message in this week’s Watchtower study is: Our faith will be strong if we can envision or “see” everlasting life on earth. To make its point, this article misapplies quotes from one of the most inspiring chapters in all of Scripture: Hebrews 11.
Let us compare what the Watchtower says with what the Bible says as we go through the article.
Paragraph 4 says:
Did Abel, the first faithful human, “see” anything that Jehovah had promised? It cannot be said that Abel had foreknowledge of the eventual outworking of the promise contained in God’s words to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head, and you will strike him in the heel.” (Gen. 3:14, 15) However, Abel likely gave much thought to that promise and realized that someone would be ‘struck in the heel’ so that mankind could be lifted to perfection such as that enjoyed by Adam and Eve before they sinned. Whatever Abel may have visualized regarding the future, he had faith based on God’s promise, and Jehovah therefore accepted his sacrifice.
While the paragraph freely acknowledges the speculative nature of its premises, it nevertheless uses these premises to make a categorical statement about the basis of Abel’s faith, namely, a promise that he may or may not have understood. It then cites Hebrews 11:4 as if in proof:
“By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than that of Cain, and through that faith he received the witness that he was righteous, for God approved his gifts, and although he died, he still speaks through his faith.” (Heb 11:4)
Hebrews makes no mention that Abel’s faith was based on any promises, nor on Abel’s ability to visualize his future and that of mankind. The inspired writer attributes his faith to something else entirely, but the article doesn’t mention that. We will, but for now, let’s continue to examine what the article has to say about other examples of faith that Paul gives.
Paragraph 5 says that Enoch was inspired to prophecy about the destruction of ungodly men. Then it says, “As a man who exercised faith, Enoch could have formed a mental picture of a world free of ungodliness.” More speculation. Who is to say what mental picture he formed? Is human speculation really something on which we want to base our understanding of this all-important Christian quality?
Here’s what is actually said about Enoch’s faith:
“By faith E′noch was transferred so as not to see death, and he was nowhere to be found because God had transferred him; for before he was transferred he received the witness that he had pleased God well.” (Heb 11:5)
Let’s do a quick review. By faith, Abel received the witness he was righteous. By faith, Enoch received the witness that he had pleased God well—essentially the same thing. No mention about seeing or visualizing the future.
Paragraph 6 says of Noah:
“Very likely, he would have been heartened to think about mankind as being set free from oppressive rule, inherited sin, and death. We too can “see” such a wonderful time—and it is near indeed!”
We can speculate about what Noah may or may not have thought would be the solution to mankind’s problems, but all we can say for sure is that he believed the warning that God gave concerning the flood and obeyed God by building the ark.
“By faith Noah, after receiving divine warning of things not yet seen, showed godly fear and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; and through this faith he condemned the world, and he became an heir of the righteousness that results from faith.” (Heb 11:7)
His faith resulted in acts of faith that God approved of, as did Enoch’s, as did Abel’s. By faith he was declared righteous. You will notice that all three of these examples were declared righteous because of their faith. This is one of the key points that God’s Word is making to Christians who are likewise declared righteous by means of faith. Let us bear that in mind as we continue our study.
We should pause here to expose yet another tactic of eisegetical study that the Organization makes extensive use of. The article clearly admits that we cannot know what these men envisioned. It is all speculation. However, by skillful use of the questions, the perception of the audience is being adjusted. Notice that in paragraph 7 we are told that “Abraham…could have visualized a grand future….” Then in 8, we are told that “it is likely that Abraham’s ability to form a mental picture of what God had promised….” So we’re still in the realm of speculation, until the question is asked. “What helped Abraham to demonstrate outstanding faith?” Abruptly, the speculation becomes fact which will be voiced by eager commenters at the meeting.
Eisegesis is very effective in the hands of an accepted authority figure. The listener will disregard the evidence before him and focus only on the elements that support the teaching from one who is trusted and esteemed as a leader.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that men of old cannot take part in the government of the New Jerusalem to rule and serve with Christ as kings and priests, despite the evidence from Scripture to the contrary. (Ga 4:26; He 12:22; Re 3:12; 5:10)
Thus the writer of the article has no compunction about teaching that:
Abraham “saw” himself living in a permanent place governed by Jehovah. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and others like them believed in the resurrection of the dead and looked forward to life on earth under God’s Kingdom, “the city having real foundations.” Reflecting on such blessings bolstered their faith in Jehovah.—Read Hebrews 11:15, 16. – par. 9
Notice how we’ve progressed from conditional statements to factual ones? The writer has no problem telling us that Abraham saw himself living on earth under the Messianic Kingdom. He makes no attempt to explain away the inconsistencies of this statement with what it says in Hebrews 11:15, 16.
“And yet, if they had kept remembering the place from which they had departed, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they are reaching out for a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven. Therefore, God is not ashamed of them, to be called on as their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:15, 16)
The city here spoken of is the New Jerusalem belonging to heaven and prepared for anointed Christians, and demonstrably, for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, among others. Nothing about living on earth under the kingdom. Some might suggest that the earth belongs to the heavens, so Hebrews isn’t necessarily referring to a heavenly abode. However, in what appears to be the result of translator bias, the word rendered here with the phrase “belonging to heaven” is epouranios. Strong’s gives the following definition for this word as: “heavenly, celestial”. So Hebrews is saying that these faithful individuals were reaching out for a heavenly or celestial place.
This is consistent with other Bible texts such as Matthew 8:10-12 which speaks of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob reclining “in the kingdom of the heavens” with anointed gentile Christians while the Jews who rejected Jesus are cast outside. Hebrews 12:22 shows that the city Abraham had prepared for him was the same city prepared for Christians. There is nothing in all this to indicate that the hope held out to Abraham was secondary to that held out to Christians. Abel, Enoch, Abraham and other faithful ones of old were declared righteous by faith. Christians get their reward by being declared righteous by faith. The Organization would object that the difference is that Christians know the Christ, while men of old did not. Therefore, they would argue, Christians can be called children of God through their faith in Christ, but not so pre-Christian men and women of faith.
“Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. 25 But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus.” (Ga 3:24-26)
This understanding would mean that Christians inherit the promise made to Abraham, but Abraham himself is denied that promise.
“Moreover, if YOU belong to Christ, YOU are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Ga 3:29)
However, is that logical? More important, is it what the Bible actually teaches? Can the redeeming quality of Jesus as mediator permitting the adoption of humans as God’s children not be applied retroactively? Were these faithful men of old just unlucky for being born too soon?
Part of the answer to these questions can be found in paragraph 12, which quotes from Hebrews 11:24-26.
“By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, 26 because he considered the reproach of the Christ to be riches greater than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” (Heb 11:24-26)
Moses chose the reproach or shame of the Christ. Paul says Christians must imitate Jesus who “endured a torture stake, despising shame….” (He 12:2) Jesus told listeners that if they wanted to be his disciples, they would have to accept his torture stake. At that point in time, no one knew how he was going to die, so why did he use that metaphor? Simply because it was a punishment meted out to the most despised and shameful of criminals. Only someone willing to “despise shame”, i.e., willing to accept the disdain and reproach from family and friends that comes with following the Christ, would be worthy of the Christ. This is precisely what Moses did in a very big way. How could we say that he did not put faith in the Christ—the anointed one—when the Bible specifically says that he did?
The reason the Organization misses this point is that they have evidently missed out on the fullness of the inspired explanation of what faith is.
Visualizing Kingdom Realities
If visualizing Kingdom realities is so important, why hasn’t Jehovah given us more details to go on? Paul speaks about knowing partially and viewing things hazily by means of a metal mirror. (1Co 13:12) It really isn’t clear what the kingdom of the heavens is; what form it will take; where it is; and what it will be like to live there. Furthermore, there is precious little mention in Scripture as to what life will be like on earth under the Messianic kingdom. Again, if visualizing is so crucial to faith, why has God given us so little to work with?
We walk by faith, not by sight. (2Co 5:7) If we can fully visualize the reward, then we are walking by sight. By keeping things vague, God tests our motives by testing our faith. Paul explains this best.
The Definition of Faith
Hebrews chapter 11 opens its dissertation on faith by giving us a definition of the term:
“Faith is the assured expectation of what is hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen.” (He 11:1 NWT)
William Barclay’s translation gives this rendering:
“Faith is the confidence that the things which as yet we only hope for really do exist. It is the conviction of the reality of the things which as yet are out of sight.”
The word rendered “assured expectation” (NWT) and “confidence” (Barclay) comes from hupostasis.
HELPS Word-studies gives this meaning:
“(to possess) standing under a guaranteed agreement (“title-deed”); (figuratively) “title” to a promise or property, i.e. a legitimate claim (because it literally is, “under a legal-standing“) – entitling someone to what is guaranteed under the particular agreement.”
The Governing Body has taken this meaning and used it to show how Jehovah’s Witnesses hold a virtual title-deed to the paradise on earth. In the publications, artist renditions depict faithful Witness survivors of Armageddon building homes and farming fields. There is a materialistic side effect of this emphasis on things which causes Witnesses to dream of occupying the homes of those killed at Armageddon. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been out in service[i] and had someone in the car group point out a particularly beautiful home and state, “That’s where I want to live in the New World.”
We can now see why the Governing Body would have us believe that Abel, Enoch and the others all visualized the New World. Their version of faith is based on such a visualization. Is this really the message that the inspired writer was communicating to the Hebrews? Was he equating faith to a sort of tit-for-tat contract with God? A divine quid pro quo? “You devote your life to the preaching work and support the Organization, and in exchange, I’ll give you beautiful homes and youth and health and make you princes in the land over the unrighteous resurrected ones”?
No! Most definitely that is not the message of Hebrews 11. After defining faith in verse 1, the definition is refined in verse 6.
“Moreover, without faith it is impossible to please God well, for whoever approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb 11:6)
You will notice he doesn’t say in the latter part of the verse, ‘and that he becomes the fulfiller of promises for those earnestly seeking him.’ There is no evidence he made any promises to Abel and Enoch. The only promise made to Noah entailed how to survive the flood. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not promised a new world, and Moses exercised faith and left his privileged position long before God said a word to him.
What verse 6 is showing is that faith is about belief in the good character of God. Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good except one, God.” (Mark 10:18) Faith will move us to seek God and to do what pleases him because we believe that he is so good and knows us so well that he doesn’t have to promise us anything. He doesn’t have to tell us all about the reward, because whatever it might turn out to be, we know that his goodness and his wisdom will make it the perfect reward for us. We could not do better if we picked it out ourselves. In fact, it’s safe to say we’d do an abysmal job if it were left up to us.
The Big Cheat
The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has done such a fantastic job of convincing us that their vision of life on earth in the New World is what we want that we can’t envision anything else, and when God offers us something else, we reject it.
The hope that Jesus offered his followers was to become adopted children of God and serve with him in the kingdom of the heavens. In my experience, when Jehovah’s Witnesses are shown that their “other sheep” doctrine is unscriptural, a common reaction is not one of joy, but confusion and dismay. They think this means they have to live in heaven and they don’t want that. Even when one explains that the exact nature of the reward regarding the kingdom of the heavens is not clear, they are not mollified. They have their hearts set on the prize they’ve envisioned all their lives and nothing else will do.
Based on Hebrews 11, this would appear to be indicative of a lack of faith.
I am not saying that the kingdom of the heavens requires us to live in heaven. Perhaps “heaven” and “heavenly” have a different connotation in this regard. (1Co 15:48; Eph 1:20; 2:6) However, even if it does, what of it? The point of Hebrews 11:1, 6 is that faith in God means not only believing in his existence but in his character as the one who alone is good and who will never betray our trust in his good nature.
This is not good enough for some. There are those, for instance, who discount the idea expressed in 2 Corinthians chapter 15 that Christians are resurrected with a spiritual body. “What would such spirits do after the 1,000 years have ended,” they ask? “Where would they go? What purpose could they have?”
Not being able to find an adequate answer to such questions, they discount the possibility entirely. This is where humility and absolute trust in the good character of Jehovah God comes into play. This is what faith is.
Do we presume to know better than God what will make us truly happy? The Watchtower Society has for decades sold us a bill of goods that has us surviving Armageddon while everyone else dies, and then living in paradise for a thousand years. All humanity will live in idyllic peace and harmony for a 1,000 years during which time billions of unrighteous humans will be brought back to life. Somehow, these ones will not disturb the paradisaic nature of earth. Then, the cake walk will continue while Satan is released for an unspecified period of time in which he tempts and misleads countless millions or billions who will eventually war against the holy ones only to be consumed by fire. (Acts 24:15; Re 20:7-10) This is the reward to be preferred over what Jehovah has in store for faithful Christians.
Paul gives us this reassurance into which we can invest our faith:
“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1Co 2:9)
We can accept this and trust that whatever Jehovah has in store for those who love him, it will be better than anything we can imagine. Or we can put faith in the “artistic” renderings in the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses and hope they are not wrong yet again.
Me? I’ve had it with the illusions of men. I’ll go with whatever reward the Lord has in store and say, “Thank you very much. Let your will be done.”
[i] Jehovah’s Witnesses shorthand to described the door-to-door preaching ministry