Watchtower Authority and the Bible pt.1
Written by: Bowman, Robert M. Jr. Posted on: 05/02/2003
Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics
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"Watchtower Authority and the Bible," Part One in a four-part
series on Jehovah's Witnesses and the Bible" (an article from
the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1988, page 19) by Robert M.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Jehovah's Witnesses claim to believe in the Bible as the
unerring word of God and to base all of their teachings directly
on Scripture. Evangelical Christians are glad for the Witnesses'
recognition of the Bible as the sole infallible authority in
matters of faith. However, believing the Bible is more than
simply acknowledging that it is God's word; it is most of all
believing what the Bible actually teaches. The Jehovah's
Witnesses claim to being the only religious group which truly
honors God's word must then be tested by examining whether they
are "handling the word of the truth aright" (2 Tim. 2:15,
NWT) in their interpretation of Scripture.
In this series of four articles I will present evidence that
the Jehovah's Witnesses not only handle Scripture inaccurately,
but "are twisting [it]... to their own destruction" (2 Pet.
3:16), systematically distorting it to make it fit their
preconceived beliefs. In this first article I will examine the
Witnesses' claim that the only religious group on earth today
which can interpret the Bible correctly is the Watchtower Bible
and Tract Society, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York
(hereafter referred to simply as "the Society"). In the next
three issues I will evaluate in turn the Watchtower's New World
Translation, their method of interpreting controversial Bible
verses, and their reconstruction of the major themes and
doctrines of the Bible.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the structure of leading
administrators and teachers who control the Society represents
"God's visible organization on earth." This organization has
been appointed by God with the responsibility of interpreting
the Bible for all those who wish to understand it. The Society's
publications warn the Witnesses that they cannot understand the
Bible on their own. "Accurate knowledge" of the Bible is
available only to those who accept without exception everything
the Society teaches. Acceptance must be complete and unwavering,
even if what the Society teaches is later realized to have been
wrong, and even if what it teaches seems wrong at the time.
*ARGUING IN A CIRCLE*
In order to prove that no one can understand the Bible's
teachings apart from "God's organization on earth," the
Jehovah's Witnesses appeal to a battery of prooftexts from the
Bible which supposedly say or imply that such is true.
Unfortunately, such an argument assumes the very thing it is
supposed to prove. If no one can understand the Bible apart from
submitting to the teaching of the organization, then no one can
understand these specific texts apart from the organization. But
if that is so, then no one can know that these passages teach
the necessity of submitting to the organization's teaching
unless they are already submitted to it!
This problem will be encountered no matter how many verses
the Jehovah's Witnesses quote in seeming support of their claim.
Passages from the Bible simply cannot be used to prove to those
outside one's camp that only those who follow the camp leaders
can understand the Bible. If someone outside the camp who was
not already in submission to the camp leaders were able to read
and understand such passages, it would disprove immediately the
camp leaders' claim that the Bible was a closed book to those
who did not submit to their teaching.
In short, the argument is a circular one, as follows: 1)
God's organization says you need it to understand the Bible
because 2) the Bible itself says so, and you know the Bible says
so because 3) God's organization says so.
One way to escape from this circle is to say that at least
some of the Bible can be understood apart from God's
organization -- those passages which teach the necessity of
God's organization, and perhaps others -- while others cannot be
understood apart from the organization. The problem with such a
claim, if it were to be made (and to my knowledge the Witnesses
have never put forward such a claim), is that the Bible never
says anything of the kind.
Another alternative for the Witnesses is to admit frankly
that, in their view, no one outside their camp can understand
these passages until they submit to the organization. The
implication of such an admission, however, would be that they
would no longer have any basis for quoting Scripture at all to
back up their teachings when talking to non-Witnesses. Their
entire witnessing effort, to be consistent, would have to
consist of urging outsiders to accept the organization in order
to gain access to understanding of the Bible.
There is a third approach which the Jehovah's Witnesses
might take to this dilemma. They could say that the Bible is
understandable apart from the organization, but it is the
organization's responsibility to guide God's people in their
reading of the Bible, and anyone who understands and accepts the
Bible's teaching will submit to the organization. This, however,
would be a different claim altogether, and one which the
Witnesses cannot afford to make. In general, people who do not
accept everything the organization says without question simply
will not continue believing the Witnesses' doctrines once they
have become thoroughly familiar with the Bible. Even Jehovah's
Witnesses who have been thoroughly schooled in their
organization's teachings and who have served faithfully for
years tend to lose faith in those teachings once they begin to
study the Bible at all independently, as the Society's
publications have admitted on more than one occasion.
*PROOFTEXTS FOR THE WATCHTOWER'S AUTHORITY*
What, then, about those passages in the Bible which the
Witnesses claim say that we must follow the organization's
teaching? It is one thing for the Christian to say that such a
claim does not make sense; it is another thing for him or her to
show that in fact the Bible says no such thing. We need, then,
to look at the prooftexts used by the Witnesses in defense of
their claims to unique authority in interpreting the Bible.
*The Faithful and Discreet Slave*
The major text on which Jehovah's Witnesses base their claim
that accurate biblical teaching can be found only in their
organization is Matthew 24:45-47, where Jesus gives the
following parable: "Who really is the faithful and discreet
slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them
their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master
on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to YOU, He will
appoint him over all his belongings."
The Jehovah's Witnesses' argument, in a nutshell, is that
this passage teaches that no one can understand the Bible apart
from this "faithful and discreet slave," interpreted to mean
Christ's "anointed followers viewed as a group," which is
then identified as the leading teachers and administrators of
the Jehovah's Witnesses.
A number of difficulties with this interpretation of Matthew
24:45-47 may be mentioned here. Jesus' parable does not end
with verse 47, but goes on in verses 48-51 to warn, "but if ever
that evil slave should say in his heart, 'My master is
delaying,' and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should
eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that
slave will come on a day that he does not expect...." The usual
Jehovah's Witness interpretation of this second part of the
parable is that "the evil slave" is "Christendom," that is, all
professing Christian religions and denominations apart from the
Witnesses. However, Jesus' expression "that evil slave" suggests
that he is speaking generically of two types of people who
profess to serve Him, those who are faithful and those who are
evil. The point of the parable, then, would be that Christian
leaders must be faithful in their service. If they are, when
Christ returns they will be given even greater responsibility;
and if they are disloyal, they will be punished.
Such is even more clearly the point of the same parable in
the parallel passage in Luke 12:41-48. After commending the
faithful servant by saying, "Happy is _that slave_...," and
promising that the master "will appoint him over all his
belongings," Jesus continues, "But if ever _that slave_ should
say in his heart, 'My master delays coming,' and should start to
beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink
and get drunk, the master of _that slave_ will come on a day
that he is not expecting...." Thus, comparing the two versions
of the same parable makes it clear that Jesus is not speaking of
"the faithful and discreet slave" as a specific organization or
group permanently distinguished from an equally specific "evil
slave." Jesus' whole point is that it is possible for individual
men appointed to the task of feeding God's people to be
unfaithful to the point of being evil -- regardless of what
organization they represent.
Moreover, the exhortation of this parable is directed toward
those who consider themselves to be Christ's "slave," not to
those who are "fed" by the slave. Nothing in this parable
suggests, as the Society implies, that the "domesics" are
supposed to eat whatever (if anything) the "slave" puts before
them, no matter what it is. At the end of the parable, the
rewards and punishments spoken of are meted out to the slaves
for their faithfulness or lack of it, not to the domestics for
their compliance in eating everything the slaves fed them. Thus,
the parable is a warning to those who teach God's word to be
faithful, not a warning to believers to accept uncritically
everything some teacher or group of teachers tells them God's
One other problem of a different sort may be mentioned. The
Witnesses argue that no one can understand God's word correctly
without submitting to the teaching of the "faithful and discreet
slave." Yet, on their view, there was no such slave for almost
19 centuries. This is quite easy to prove. On the Witnesses' own
view, the "slave" is an earthly _organization_ that speaks for
Jehovah -- not merely scattered individuals or home study
groups, but a single organization responsible for the spread of
the gospel throughout the earth. If such an organization had
existed in the late 19th century, there would have been no need
for C. T. Russell and his associates to separate from
"Christendom" and begin a "modern work" at all. As soon as the
"Bible Students" discovered the earthly organization, they would
simply have allied themselves with it. Since, instead, they
created a new organization, it follows that there was no
"faithful and discreet slave" on earth for centuries. The
implication is that God had no true representatives on earth and
did not intend for people to understand the Bible until Russell
and his friends came along -- a conclusion which is very hard to
justify biblically (see Matt. 16:18; 28:20; Jude 3).
Several other prooftexts cited by the Jehovah's Witnesses in
defense of their ascribing sole interpretive authority over the
Bible to the Watchtower Society may briefly be examined. In Acts
8:30-31 Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch if he understands what
he is reading (Isa. 53:7-8), to which the eunuch replies,
"Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?"
Certainly this passage does indicate the need of _guidance,_ or
"help," in studying the Bible, but it does not prove that some
organization exists whose pronouncements on biblical
interpretation may not be challenged. In this passage we find
one Christian preaching Christ directly from the Bible, not an
organization with a magazine or a book, and an individual who
believes on his confession of faith and is sent on his way
rejoicing -- with no organization to join.
2 Peter 1:20-21 is often cited by Witnesses, with emphasis
on its disavowal of "private interpretation," as a refutation of
the "Protestant principle" that every Christian is responsible
for reading and obeying the word of God. However, Peter is not
talking about Christians interpreting the Bible at all, but
about how the Bible came to be written originally. As the
Watchtower reference work _Aid to Bible Understanding_ has
correctly explained, "Thus, the Bible prophecies were never the
product of astute deductions and predictions by men based on
their personal analysis of human events or trends."
If we read on in 2 Peter, the very next words of the apostle
are a warning concerning false teachers (2:1) who lead people
astray into certain judgment (2:2-22). The way to avoid
"destructive sects" (2:1), according to Peter, is to "remember
the sayings previously spoken by the holy prophets and the
commandment of the Lord and Savior through YOUR apostles" (3:2).
That is, the way to tell true teaching from false teaching is to
compare the teaching with what the _Bible itself_ says, not, as
the Jehovah's Witnesses argue, by appeal to what "God's
organization" says the Bible means.
Finally, the Witnesses also cite the words of Peter to
Jesus, "Whom shall we go away to?" (John 6:68), and apply them
as follows: Where shall we go for instruction in the Bible if we
leave the Watchtower? Peter's next words, though, suggest
something different. "You have sayings of everlasting life; and
we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of
God" (6:68-69). In fact, the Witnesses have left out the first
word of the sentence they do quote: "_Lord,_ whom shall we go
away to?" Surely the problem here does not need much spelling
out. To apply these words, acknowledging Jesus as the only hope
of eternal life, to a human organization is both foolish and
1 All biblical quotations are taken from the _New World
Translation of the Holy Scriptures: With References_
(Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York
[hereafter WTBTS], 1984).
2 See, for example, _The Watchtower,_ 1 July 1973, 402; 15 Feb.
1981, 19; 15 Aug. 1981, 28-29; 1 Dec. 1981, 27; _Qualified to
Be Ministers_ (WTBTS, 1967), 156. This article will focus on
giving biblical responses to the Jehovah's Witnesses' claims,
and therefore will not provide extensive documentation proving
what the Society's publications actually say. Such
documentation has already been compiled in excellent fashion
by Duane Magnani and his associates at Witness, Inc., P.O. Box
597, Clayton, CA 94517. I cannot recommend this ministry too
highly for those who wish to learn the truth about what the
Society has taught in the past and continues to teach today.
3 _The Watch Tower,_ 15 Sept. 1910, 298; _The Watchtower,_ 15
Aug. 1981, 28-29.
4 _Reasoning from the Scriptures_ (WTBTS, 1985), 205. Of course,
the early Witnesses (or "Bible Students," as they were then
known) thought that the "slave" was one man, Charles Taze
Russell, but this position has been repudiated by the Society,
which claims it was never taught by the organization. On this
question, see Duane Magnani, _Who Is the Faithful and Wise
Servant?_ (Clayton, CA: Witness, Inc., 1988).
5 Aid to Bible Understanding (WTBTS, 1971), 839.
End of document, CRJ0026A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Watchtower Authority and the Bible"
release A, February 7, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help
in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)
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