Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Literalist’s Christmas

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Mt.1:18)

How it irks some people to hear the Christmas Story. How some like to debunk the whole business, setting out all the pagan motifs and festivals that have been usurped – “stolen” – by Christians to give us the familiar Christmas emblems. Oh, perfidy thy name is Christian!

I recall a conversation I had with a Jehovah’s Witness who explained conspiratorially that the famous children’s “Ladybird Books” had produced a little volume explaining the origins of many of our familiar Christmas customs. He explained, sotto voce, that “they” didn’t like it and so the volume was mysteriously removed from the shelves of WH Smith. Next day I went to a book store and bought a copy off the shelf and have it on my desk as I write this. It is called “Christmas Customs”. I am not sure who “they” are but…

Most of the cosy and heart-warming motifs we relish today were given us by Charles Dickens, including snow. How often have children in the UK looked out their windows on Christmas morning and felt that pang of disappointment at seeing the ground barren and bare with no covering of snow? More often than not it is my experience.

The reason we think of snow at Christmas is that Dickens always portrayed it that way. In his own childhood, it snowed for eight Christmases in a row, from 1812 -1820, the first eight years of his life. This was his abiding memory of the festive season and so it got put into his books, along with a good deal else that seems so appropriate for the Festive Season.

Christian Customs

Here are some more customs we associate with the season:

Carols: Come from the Greek word for chorus and means a round song. Originally carols were sung throughout the year to mark different festivals, such as Midsummer, Easter, May that hails the growing season and November that celebrates the harvest.

The Crib: Was first made by St Francis and was originally a real cave, containing real animals and Mary and Joseph played by real people. It dramatises the story and no bad thing when you are trying to get folk to imagine what it must have been like.

Holly and ivy: Holly is a symbol of good luck and of man, while ivy was thought to be a symbol of woman. Holly and ivy intertwined was traditionally supposed to ensure peace and harmony in the home. Christians linked the symbols to the Christmas story and all the elements are there in the song. The white flower of holly symbolising Christ’s purity, the red berry his blood, the prickle his crown of thorns and the bitter taste of its bark the bitter vinegar offered him on the Cross. The ivy is included because of its association with an older, pagan version of the song depicting rivalry between male and female. Of course, there is always the evergreen motif for everlasting life.

Christmas cards: The first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole who, on finding himself short of time to write letters, commissioned an artist to design a festive card to send to friends. Sir Henry also had a major interest in the burgeoning post office business of the day. These days we have cards made for us every year and still find ourselves short of time.

Advent: is the period of four weeks before Christmas when we watch for the advent (coming) of the Lord. Advent calendars originally held appropriate Christmas scenes behind twenty four numbered doors to concentrate our minds on this special season.

Twelfth Night: celebrates the coming of the wise men with gifts for the new-born king. This marks the official end of the Christmas season and, if you haven’t already done so, you should take down your decorations now.

Yes, the story has grown down the centuries and all sorts of things have been pressed into service to relate the history and significance of those events faithfully recounted in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The story is familiar enough and if you haven’t seen it acted out in a local church or school nativity play then you have missed a treat. What really happened on that first Christmas and what are we to make of the legends, icons and motifs that have grown up around this event?

As it has come down to us through centuries of telling and retelling Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem late at night after a long and arduous journey. Travelling from Inn to Inn they found themselves turned away. Finally, a friendly innkeeper took pity on them and, since his rooms were all taken, offered them a stable as accommodation.

That same night Jesus was born in a stable and laid in an animal feeding trough, a manger. Shepherds on a hill heard the “first noel”, the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ advent and wise men, perhaps astronomers, travelled from the east to pay homage to the new-born king.

No Room at the Inn?

However, there would almost certainly have been no Inns in Bethlehem, no hotels or commercial accommodation. Bethlehem was a small village set apart from main routes so there would be no commercial advantage in having an Inn.

It is worth remembering that Mary and Joseph were travelling back to their home village. Surely there would have been some relatives there and surely that would have been their first port of call in seeking accommodation. Middle Eastern rules of hospitality would have ensured that room would have been found for them.

So where did this idea of the Inn come from? They key is in Luke 2:7 where we read:

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn”

The Greek word translated “inn” is kataluma and can be found again in Luke 22:11 to refer to the guest room where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. The normal word for “inn” is pandocheion, used in Luke 10:34 to describe the place where the Good Samaritan took his injured friend:

Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him”

Joseph and Mary would have put up with his closest relatives in the village; if not Joseph’s then Mary’s. It was a planned journey and so Joseph would surely have had the wit to make plans. They would not have arrived so late in Mary’s term and so probably arrived weeks before, giving them time to make the appropriate arrangements. In such a home there would have been one main room and, if they could afford it, a guest room – kataluma.

In a lower area of the main room there would have been a place where animals were brought in at night. If the guest room was full then here, among the domestic beasts, that Jesus was born and “laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room”. There would have been a midwife, family and the simple comforts of a Bethlehem home. Jesus was born in the main room of a peasant home.

Keeping Perspective, Maintaining the Truth

A combination of misunderstanding language and cultural references, embellishing and romanticising the story, has led to the nativity story as we know it today from school Christmas nativities, and there is a lesson here in Bible interpretation. It is important to find and tell the truth but it is also important to remember that culture plays an vital and inevitable part in the stories we tell.

From modern interpretations of Shakespeare to Bible characters dressed in medieval dress in great paintings we recast old stories to fit them into our own culture and time. It helps us to identify with important events from distant times and places, and that is alright, as long as we identify and pass on the essential elements of the story.

Mary and Joseph were ordinary people with an extraordinary pedigree who were used mightily of God to usher in the time of refreshing from God, when grace would fulfil law and faith would receive hope in Christ. Theirs was a testing experience notwithstanding the help of family and the assurances of God and their example of faithfulness is an inspiration. Jesus was Immanuel “God with us” and he really was “with us”, identifying with the poor and outcast in his conception, birth, life and death.

His coming was the fulfilment of prophecy and announced by angels to the poorest in society, his life was sought from the beginning and he was a fugitive and outcast. Wise men sought him and seek him still because Christmas marks the beginning of a journey that would end on Calvary. Calvary where Christ died for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:17)

There are many things in life to celebrate, to sing carols about and to give us cheer and consolation in an otherwise difficult world and we mustn’t let the literalists rob us of the joy of this special season. The next time someone (you know who I mean) tells you the truth about Christmas’ pagan roots tell them the truth about Jesus and defy them to be miserable in the face of such great good news.

A very Happy Christmas

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Watchtower Society and 1914 –100 Years On.

On October 2 1914 Charles Taze Russell, the founder of what was later to become the Jehovah’s Witnesses is said to have come down to breakfast at the New York Headquarters of The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, briskly clapped his hands and proclaimed,

“The Gentile times have ended; the kings have had their day”

This month marks the 100th anniversary of that still significant date in JW thinking. It seems appropriate to mark the anniversary by looking at the WBTS re4cord of failed prophecy. This major article written by Tony Piper treats the subject thoroughly and is packed with useful facts and information. It is essential reading if we are to understand the numerous changes in JW teaching and its impact in the lives of our JW neighbours. There is also an excellent Bible Study on the subject by Mike Troke, 1914 Is It Marked in Scripture? on the Reachout website.

 

Summary of this Article

This article traces the history, beliefs and subsequent developments of the Society’s teachings regarding the year 1914.

It begins with the teachings regarding 1874 that were made by the then leader and first president of the WBTS, Charles Taze Russell.

It then examines the expected changes predicted to occur by 1914

  • looks at the development of teachings on ‘the generation’ and ‘the great tribulation’ and how these are changing in line with the Society’s policy of ‘reinterpreting’ its accepted teaching on 1914;
  • brings the reader up to date with the Society’s current beliefs on 1914 and ‘the great tribulation’;
  • shows the reader how the Society has manipulated its teaching to cover up wrong predictions and how it has put the blame for wrong beliefs on its membership rather than on its own leaders;
  • and concludes with Scriptures that teach the assurance of salvation for the true believer in Christ.

The doctrine of 1914 is extremely complicated and it is only possible to give the main points of interest here.

 

Introduction

The year 1914 and the events alleged to have taken place in that year have been a central pillar of the teachings of the WBTS for over one hundred years. Why has this date been so important and is 1914 still viewed in the same way that it used to be? To answer this it is necessary to go back to the Society’s earliest beginnings and its founder Charles Taze Russell.

Charles Taze Russell

C T Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Old Allegheny, (now a part of Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania, USA. His parents were Presbyterians of Scottish descent and as a young man he attended the Congregational Church and the YMCA. He soon came to the decision that, if he wanted to believe the Bible, he had to eliminate the doctrine of eternal punishment. At age 18 he came across the teachings of a group of Second Adventists, and there is good evidence to believe that,

“…from the Adventists Russell received his ‘light’ on the non-existence of eternal punishment, the second coming of Christ, and Biblical chronology” – Apostles of Denial, [Apostles] p. 39.

There is evidence that would suggest that at first Russell and his followers were expecting a physical return of Christ, however, after a while, Russell began to differ with Adventism on the manner and object of the Lord’s return.

“It was in the mid-1870s that Brother Russell and those who were diligently studying the Scriptures along with him discerned that when the Lord returned he would be invisible to human eyes” – Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, [Proclaimers] p.132.

Russell crystallised his views in 1877 and encompassed them in a pamphlet called The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return. In this publication he said:

“We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of his coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed his coming Kingdom…We believe the scriptures teach that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that ‘every eye shall see Him’”- Proclaimers, pp.132-133.

In other words Jesus’ returned presence would be limited to observable events and not an actual visible, bodily arrival.

In support of this opinion Russell discussed Acts 1:11 which states that Jesus will return ‘in the same way’ (NIV), ‘in like manner’ (KJV) or ‘in the same manner’ (NWT) as He left. This was taken to mean that, except for His chosen disciples, no one saw Jesus disappear from view. The rest of the world was not aware of what had happened, and therefore His return would be likewise invisible and only His disciples (Russell’s followers and, later on, Jehovah’s Witnesses) would be aware of it. Ron Rhodes correctly points out the error of the Society’s teaching in that they confuse the manner of Jesus’ leaving with the result of Jesus’ leaving. The manner of His leaving was visible and bodily; the result of His leaving was His disappearance [1].

Russell also made reference to the ‘Emphatic Diaglott,’ an interlinear New Testament, in which the Greek word parousia, usually translated to indicate an actual, physical ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, had been translated ‘presence’. Orthodox Christian teaching asserts that the Lord’s return will be visible and that the whole world will know about it (see Zech 14:4; Matt 24:27; and Acts 1:9, 11). Revelation 1:7 tells us that “every eye will see him” (NWT). Trevor Willis puts this into context for us,

“Whether this is meant to refer to the literal eye or not, there is no doubt that according to the Bible, Jesus will make himself known.” – Opening the Door to Jehovah’s Witnesses, [Opening] p.65.

A few years later this teaching was developed, so that,

“… on the basis of further study of the Scriptures, Russell realised that Christ would not only return invisibly but also remain invisible, even when manifesting his presence by judgment upon the wicked” – Proclaimers, p.133.

At this point Russell came across the magazine The Herald of the Morning. It was edited by N H Barbour, another Adventist, and Russell was pleased to see that Barbour agreed with his view concerning the invisible return of Christ.

In a few years Russell had gained a number of followers and together they began using Zion’s Watchtower in their Bible studies along with the Millenial Dawn series of books, written by Russell, that were later reissued as Studies in the Scriptures [2].

1874

It was from Barbour that Russell came to be persuaded that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874 [Proclaimers p.133].

“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874 AD…and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from April 1878 AD.” – Studies in the Scriptures Series 4, The Battle of Armageddon, 1949 reprint, p.621 (originally published by WBTS 1897).

The two men worked together until 1878, when they separated over disagreements on the atonement. In 1879 Russell founded the forerunner of today’s Watchtower, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.

The Society continued to teach 1874 as the ‘invisible return’, even after the passing of 1914 when all things were supposed to come to a conclusion:

“… the second coming of the Lord therefore began in 1874…” – Creation, p.310.

“… the Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 AD” – Prophecy, p.65.

To further prove his theory that Christ had returned in 1874 Russell made use of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh in Egypt, calling it God’s second witness in stone:

“Then measuring down the ‘Entrance Passage’…we find it to be 3,416 inches, symbolising 3,416 years from the above date, BC 1542. This calculation shows AD 1874 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble…” Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 – Thy Kingdom Come, WBTS, 1901, p.342.

However, when the Society needed to change the dates because 1914 did not bring the end of the period of trouble that allegedly started in 1874, the pyramid seems to have stretched:

“Then measuring down the Entrance Passage’…we find it to be 3,457 inches, symbolising 3,457 years from the above date, BC 1542. This calculation shows AD 1915 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble…” – Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 – Thy Kingdom Come, WBTS, reprint 1916, p.342.

The year 1914 is still a fixed and important date in the mind of every Jehovah’s Witness. It is the year that Jesus definitely and invisibly returned. Very few Witnesses will have been at all disturbed by reading in Proclaimers (pp. 132-4) that Jesus was, in fact, supposed to have returned in 1874 and that C T Russell got the date wrong. The Society has made so many false predictions in its time, that to allay any fears that the Society is confused or wrong or lying, it only needs to dismiss wrong predictions,

“… as a quaint burst of over-enthusiasm, something to smile affectionately about and promptly forget” – Fearless Love, [Fearless] p.99.

This is what it does on pp.134 and 135 of Proclaimers, “but they did not yet clearly discern all the details,” to divert attention from 1874 to 1914.

1874-1914

For almost fifty years the Watchtower Society announced and heralded, in their role as prophet, that Christ returned invisibly in 1874 (indeed this date did not finally disappear until 1942) and that He began His Kingdom rule in 1878. They also taught that the ‘harvesting’ work would run from 1874 to 1914, and that by 1914 the destruction of all human institutions of this world would take place (see Crisis of Conscience, [Crisis] pp.147-148). When this did not take place they changed these dates to 1914 when Christ returned invisibly and 1919 the harvesting work began; climaxing with the complete overthrow of all human institutions ‘any time now’.

However their literature shows that the Society expected everything to be accomplished before or by 1914,

“… not only are the harvest of Jewish and Gospel ages parallel in point of beginning, but also in length of duration…So, ours, beginning in 1874 closes with the end of the ‘day of wrath’ and end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’, 1914 – a similar and parallel period of 40 years…We find the law and the prophets declaring him present at the culmination of the ‘Jubilee cycles’ in 1874…then the harvest began…the gathering of the bride into the place of safety, will occupy a parallel of seven years of time, ending in 1881…We believe that Christ is now present, in the sense of having commenced the work of taking to himself his great power and reigning.” – Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1881.

See Crisis of Conscience pp.150-152 for more evidence to show that 1874 and the intervening time between 1878 and 1914 were considered to be the critical time rather than 1914. However, before we proceed any further I want us to see how one high-ranking member of the Society, and indeed, one of Russell’s closest allies, actually viewed 1914 and its approach. It shows just how convinced Russell and his followers were that they had got it right, by quoting from the book

“The year 1914 is marked for all time to come…On our hope’s horizon, for months, yes years, that date had loomed ahead of us…Time prophecies of the Bible had been checked and rechecked…Opinions as to what, exactly, was to occur varied. Of course The Watch Tower had stated the matter rather clearly, but at that time there was far more independent thinking than the Scriptures themselves allowed for… On August 23, 1914…Pastor Russell started on a trip to the Northwest…ending at Saratoga Springs…That was a highly interesting time because a few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October…I believed it myself sincerely – that the church was ‘going home’ in October…[At Saratoga Springs] I made this unfortunate remark: ‘This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver because we shall soon be going home’” – Faith on the March, [FOTM] A H Macmillan, pp. 46-47.

Macmillan goes on to say how excited everyone was at the Society’s New York headquarters when Russell came down to breakfast on Friday October 2, 1914, briskly clapped his hands and proclaimed:

“The Gentile times have ended; the kings have had their day” – FOTM, p. 47.

“We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward – but of course there was nothing like that, really”- FOTM, pp.47-48.

Why did “nothing like that” happen? Had Macmillan and others been guilty of over-expectation, or had Charles Taze Russell and The Watch Tower magazine been guilty of giving people a false expectation of events? The blame, of course, goes to Russell’s followers for their ‘independent thinking’ (see above quote) rather than to Russell himself.

What was the Society going to do now that 1914 had not fulfilled expectations? The emphasis shifted from the intervening years between 1874 and 1914 to 1914 itself and what would ensue there from.

1914 and onwards

As was said at the start of this article, 1914 has been a critical date for the Watchtower Society. How did it arrive at the date 1914? Edmond Gruss [3] gives a brilliant assessment and is well worth reading. The following, from is how Trevor Willis explains it.

“One of the most important dates upon which the Watchtower Society build their own dating system is 607 BCE. This is the date that Pastor Russell originally claimed Jerusalem was destroyed. The Society has never changed their mind on the accuracy of this inherited date.” – Opening, p.93.

It is by counting from 607 BCE as the beginning of the Gentile times that they arrive at 1914. They calculate the reference in Daniel 4:16 of “seven times” to be seven lots of 360, the number of days in a Jewish year. This comes to 2,520 years. Counting from 607 BCE the date 1914 is arrived at. [607 BCE + 2,520 = 1914 CE]. However, if 607 BCE is inaccurate then 1914 and all that it stands for falls to the ground.

Trevor Willis lists six sources that all point to the fall of Jerusalem as taking place in 586 BCE, not 607 as the Society would have us believe [Opening, pp.93-94]. For a full investigation into this date see here. Another source that gives the orthodox Christian dating of the fall of Jerusalem is the New Bible Dictionary 2nd Ed:

“Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem in 597 and in 587 BC destroyed the city and Temple” – p.569.

For further discussion of this see Apostles pp.16-19 and ATTW pp.150-154. For an all-encompassing review of the date ’1914′ see Mike Troke’s article ’1914 is it marked in Scripture?’.

The Society had now firmly established that, from 1914, the world was in its ‘last days’ [4]. But how long were those ‘last days’, and when will the end finally come? One way it determined this was “by noting what Jesus said when He gave His great prophecy about the ‘last days’. After He listed the many events that would mark this period, He stated:

“‘Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur’ (Matt 24:34)” [5].

The Society therefore believed that Jesus was saying that some of those alive in 1914, who witnessed the appearance of the ‘sign of the last days’ [i.e. the invisible return of Jesus to claim His kingdom] would still be alive when God brought the world system to an end.

‘This Generation’

1914 is such a key date in Watchtower theology that it has been the subject of numerous articles. Thus it is from primary sources that we are able to demonstrate that the Society’s prediction that some of those alive in 1914 would witness the end of Satan’s present world system has, in fact, become a millstone around its neck, and, perhaps for that reason, the Society is slowly but surely diminishing the importance of 1914. This may not seem to be such a great thing in our eyes but it is akin to changing a central doctrine in orthodox Christian teaching.

Awake! 8 October, 1968, p.13 stated that those at least 15 years old who would be perceptive enough to realise the importance of the events of 1914 would be included in ‘the generation’ [6].

Ten years later The Watchtower 1 October, 1978, p.31 stated that “‘the generation’ logically would not apply to babies born during World War 1.” The Society still held the view that the teenagers of 1914 would see the culmination of all things.

In The Watchtower 15 October, 1980, p.31, however, it was reported that

“It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War 1 from 1914 onward…if you assume that 10 is the age at which an event creates a lasting impression.”

The Watchtower Society was now beginning to stretch the interpretation of what ‘the generation’ meant!

The Watchtower 15 May, 1984, p.5 stated that

“If Jesus used ‘generation’ in that sense and we apply it to 1914, then babies of that generation are now 70 years old or older…Some of them ‘will by no means pass away until all these things occur’”.

Now, it is babies born in 1914, not those who were fifteen, that will experience the ‘end of the world’.

Awake! 8 April, 1988, p.14 stated that

“Most of the generation of 1914 has passed away. However, there are still millions on earth who were born in that year or before it…Jesus’ words will come true, ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened’”.

These successive quotations illustrate very clearly that the Watchtower Society has changed the age of ‘the generation’ from fifteen years to ten years and then to babies, so that they could cling to their belief that the generation living in 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon.

We are now in 2004 and someone who was fifteen in 1914 would be 105 years old. Was the Society beginning to panic as the last decade of the 20th century approached? In connection with this question the writer here includes a piece of less that honest editorial work on the part of Watchtower writers. In The Watchtower 1 January, 1989, p.12 we read, referring to Paul’s ministry:

“…he was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century” [7].

This effectively highlights the belief that the 1914 generation would not pass 1999. However, by the time the 1989 bound volume appeared, the wording had been discreetly changed to

“…he was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our day” [8].

Here is further evidence that teaching on 1914 is subject to more and more change as the years go by. This not only shows up the hopelessness of believing that Jesus began His heavenly rule in 1914, but also that the Society is confused and willing to resort to dishonest measures to cover its errors.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Society is losing faith in 1914 is its removal from the masthead of the Awake! magazine. On p.5 of the Awake! 8 January, 1990 is the statement:

“Most importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.”

Compared this with a more recent copy of the magazine,

“Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things” – Awake! 22 April, 2004 p.4.

1914 has been dealt a further deathblow!

‘The Great Tribulation’

Trevor Willis asks:

“How long would it be before the Society were forced by the passage of time, to admit that they had been wrong for a hundred years? Many were wondering how much longer ‘this generation’ could last” – Opening, p.88.

Both he and Anne Sanderson [Fearless p. 98] show that the Society need not be overly troubled by this dilemma. Older members, after a lifetime of conditioning and reliance on the Society, would find it difficult or even impossible to exist without its guidance. Those entering the Society now are not being exposed to the amount of 1914 teaching that older members experienced. The only casualties may be from those members still old enough to remember something of 1914 and who may be putting two and two together and coming up with five! However, even these potential casualties will probably accept whatever the Society feeds them as ‘new light’. Indeed, the Society is doing just that as will now be demonstrated.

With the gradual but inevitable demise of teaching on 1914 is the concurrent rise in teaching about the ‘Great Tribulation’. Like the Biblical passage “Truly I say to YOU that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur” (Matt 24:34) on which the Society has based ninety years of doctrine; “for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again” (Matt 24:21) is a quote which the Society has built another false doctrine. The Great Tribulation is not a new idea; it has always been a part of Watchtower thinking, but now it has a new twist.

In 1958 we read, in From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained (p.197) that the great crowd has come out of the great tribulation. This is a reference to those Jehovah’s Witnesses who are not of the anointed class of 144,000, whose hope is to inherit eternal life on an earthly paradise. Further we read that

“This is the great tribulation or trouble that Jesus said would mark this ‘time of the end’. This tribulation began on the Devil’s organisation AD 1914 when Jehovah’s newly enthroned King took action against his enemies in heaven. Jesus said that this tribulation would be cut short so that some flesh could be saved [Matt 24:22] How was it cut short? By God’s stopping the war action up in heaven against the Devil’s organisation. So after the Devil was hurled down out of heaven the first part of the ‘great tribulation’ ended. Soon now the climax or last part of the ‘great tribulation’ will take place…The last part of the ‘great tribulation’ means destruction of this world…It is during this in-between period, between the first part and the last part of the ‘great tribulation’ on the Devil’s organisation, that the great crowd of ‘other sheep’ come out. Now is that time” [9].

This means that the great tribulation began in 1914; stopped in 1918 and then between 1918 and 1958 (the date of the publication of From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained) and onward, the great crowd of other sheep, those who come into membership of the WBTS and who could not be part of the anointed class, were being gathered because the time of the great tribulation had been cut short so that some flesh could be saved. For almost another fifty years the Society allowed that belief to continue.

To prove this Proclaimers says:

“… the great crowd must not simply profess love for God but must also do his will” – p.167.

“… they have come forward in great numbers (and they are still coming)…are being baptised…they are the people marked for survival…these are loyal servants of God who will survive Armageddon with the prospect of living forever on an earth restored to the condition of Paradise.” – pp.169-170

Proclaimers also showed that at that point in time 1914 was still very much on the agenda and the great tribulation does not even get a mention in the index.

“We are living now, since 1914, in ‘the time of the end’ of this wicked world” – p. 144.

However, as those words were being published in 1993 The Watchtower 1 May, 1993, pp.21-26 carried a lengthy article entitled “Deliverance at the Revelation of Jesus Christ”, which first states that Jesus comes to execute judgement. This invisible coming is portrayed as a future occurrence and that all God’s opposers will discern that Jesus has come as Jehovah’s Executioner (paragraph 7).

How will people know that the great tribulation is here? [Note - still to come]. Babylon the Great – the world empire of false religion [Christendom] will be judged (paragraphs 10-11). This act will be “the opening salvo” of the great tribulation (paragraph 13).

In 1958 we were told that the great tribulation began in 1914 and was temporarily stayed in 1918 but now, in 1993, its opening salvo (not recommencement) is still to come.

In 1994 the Society said that deliverance was getting nearer.

“We can look forward to the start of the great tribulation, then the sign of the Son of man, and then God’s gathering of the chosen ones. Finally, as Jehovah’s Executioner at Armageddon, our Warrior-King, the enthroned Jesus, will ‘complete his conquest’ (Rev 6:2). That day of Jehovah, when he executes vengeance, will come as a grand finale to the conclusion of the system of things that has marked the day of the Lord Jesus from 1914 onward.” – The Watchtower 15 February 1994, p.21.

So, far from Armageddon coming within the time-span of the generation of 1914 it is now put off to the indefinite future. At some point during this timetable of events the 144,000 will be gathered [Ibid., paragraph 23] and so the 8,000 odd remaining anointed ones have longer to live than before.

Later in 1994 we read that the great tribulation is expected to break out “shortly” [The Watchtower 1 July, 1994 p.12].

However, The Watchtower 15 October, 1995 has some even more extraordinary revelations. Firstly it affirms that we are indeed living in the last days (p.18). Secondly it reveals that the earlier teaching that Jesus, on entering into His capacity as King in 1914, began to judge the nations, sending the sheep to everlasting life and the goats to permanent death, needs an “adjusted understanding of its timing and what it illustrates” (p. 18).

Now, from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46, esp. vv.32-33), we are to understand that this separating work will not begin until after the tribulation and after Jesus has come in his glory and sat down on his glorious throne to judge all the nations (p.22-3).

What does this mean for Jehovah’s Witnesses? Those that believed that being part of ‘Jehovah’s Organisation’ guaranteed them immunity from the end time judgement, provided they stayed loyal to Jehovah and His organisation, they can no longer say this as the separating work between the sheep and the goats is still future. This refinement of understanding “reinforces the importance of our preaching work…” (p. 18). In other words ‘work even harder and perhaps you might just make it’.

To reinforce this new teaching The Watchtower 1 November, 1995 reveals the Society again blaming its followers for being eager to see the end of this evil system and having

“… at times speculated about the time when the ‘great tribulation’ would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914″ – p.17.

However, the Society ‘bring[s] a heart of wisdom in’, not by speculating about how many years or days make up a generation, but by thinking about how we ‘count our days’ in bringing joyful praise to Jehovah” – p.17.

The Society has now dispensed with ‘this generation’ and dug itself out of the hole over its lengthening of ‘the generation’. However they are surely guilty of blatant deception towards the trusting people of the organisation that claims to be God’s only provider of Biblical wisdom today.

Just to ‘ice the cake’ of deception, that same issue of The Watchtower reminds readers that

“We do not need to know the exact timing of events. Rather, our focus must be on being watchful, cultivating strong faith, and keeping busy in Jehovah’s service…” – p.17.

For further discussion on ‘this generation, ‘the great tribulation’ and assurance of salvation please see Fearless pages 98-114.

Conclusion

With the definite change in emphasis from the past, 1914 and ‘this generation’ to the future and ‘the great tribulation’ it may not be surprising that the Society has announced that Jesus is still yet to come in some sense or another. This will be a third, fourth or even fifth coming if we include the incarnation [see Fearless p.100]. The following extended quote brings the reader up to date on the Society’s teaching.

“In Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus is said to “come” in different senses. He does not need to move physically in order to “come”. Rather, he “comes” in the sense of turning his attention to mankind or to his followers, often for judgment. Thus, in 1914 he “came” to begin his presence as enthroned King (Matt 16:28; 17:1; Acts 1:11). In 1918 he “came” as messenger of the covenant and began judging those claiming to serve Jehovah (Mal 3:1-3; 1 Pet 4:17). At Armageddon, he will “come” to execute judgment on Jehovah’s enemies (Rev 19:11-16).

“The coming (or, arrival) referred to a number of times at Matthew 24:29-44 and 25:31-46 is at “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). On the other hand, the coming referred to a number of times at Matthew 24:45 to 25:30 has to do with his judging professed disciples from 1918 onward. It would not be reasonable to say, for example, that the rewarding of the slave, the judgment of the foolish virgins, and the judgment of the sluggish slave, who hid the Master’s talent, will take place when Jesus “comes” at the great tribulation. That would imply that many of the anointed will be found unfaithful at that time and will thus have to be replaced. However, Revelation 7:3 indicates that all of Christ’s anointed slaves will have been permanently “sealed” by that time.” – The Watchtower 1 March 2004, p.16.

Confused? You have every right to be! This writer was present at a Kingdom Hall when the teaching was discussed and even some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses present were confused and had to be corrected from the front. Jesus’ ‘presence’, which was said to have begun in 1874 or 1878 or 1914 or 1918 (whichever you prefer) is now referred to as His ‘coming’. ‘Coming’, rather than ‘presence’, is actually a closer translation of the Greek parousia. The Society is now using the correct term (coming) although still teaching that it will be an invisible.

From the above quote it is clear that 1914 is still a part of Watchtower teaching, but the Society brings changes in gradually so that the believing Jehovah’s Witness is not confronted with a dramatic change in belief. Jesus is due to come any day now in the great tribulation and at Armageddon. In fact it is of course true that Jesus may very well come any day now. His return may, however, be a couple of thousand years away. But please remember that, however convinced the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door are that Jesus is due to come very soon they will, if they are honest, have no conviction that they will make it through when Jesus does return.

In contrast, this writer believes that the Scriptures clearly state that we can be certain of our salvation, whether we knock on doors or not, if we are truly “in Christ.” Verses such as Hebrews 7:22; 2 Corinthians 1:21-2; 5:5; and Ephesians 1:13-14 speak of the guarantee that the Holy Spirit brings of our eternal future, without good works, which are a sign of conversion not a way to merit it. Romans 8:38-39 and John 10:27-28 both give assurance of salvation for all true believers.

Above all, in John 5:24, Jesus tells us that “whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). This tells us that true believers are in a right relationship with Jehovah God now. They will not have to face judgment at the end of time as to whether they are worthy enough to enter the Kingdom of God. They have already believed and have already passed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Light.

Share these verses, from their own New World Translation, with the next Jehovah’s Witness you meet.

“Most truly I say to YOU, He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life, and he does not come into judgement but has passed over from death to life”.

Ask them what it means when their own Bible says, “has [past tense] everlasting life”. Ask them what it means when their Bible says “does not [and therefore "will not"] come into judgment”. Ask what it means when it says “has [past tense] passed over from death to life.”

You will never win an argument with a Jehovah’s Witness, but such questioning will hopefully plant seeds of doubt in the mind, that the Holy Spirit can cause to grow and mature in the future.

What an opportunity for Christians to be are prepared to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door and offer a question or two, and testify of their secure relationship with Jehovah God – through Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses need to hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ and come to know Him for themselves – this is our privilege!

NOTES

1 Reasoning From The Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rhodes, 1993 p. 358

2 In 1881 Russell had written Tabernacle Shadows of the “Better Sacrifices” and Food For Thinking Christians. By this time he had been given the title ‘Pastor’. However, as with any religious movement that holds to progressive revelation, Russell later discouraged his followers from reading these because they were immature. “Being a self-educated theologian, Russell put down his ‘truths’ for others before his own theology was fully developed” [Apostles p. 42]. In 1882 Russell wrote: “The Bible is our only standard, and its teachings our only creed, and recognising the progressive character of the unfolding of Scriptural truths, we are ready and prepared to add to or modify our creed (faith – belief) as we get increase of light from our Standard” [Watch Tower April 1882 page 7; cited Proclaimers page 133]. This is standard Watchtower practice to the present day. The Studies in the Scriptures volumes appeared as follows: Series 1 The Divine Plan of the Ages (1886); Series 2 The Time Is At Hand (1889); Series 3 Thy Kingdom Come (1891); Series 4 The Day of Vengeance/The Battle of Armageddon (1897); Series 5 The Atonement Between God and Man (1899); Series 6 The New Creation (1904); Series 7 The Finished Mystery (1917 published posthumously).

3 In his book The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation pp. 16-58

4 Awake! 8/10/1968 p. 13 cited in Prophetic Speculation p. 18

5 Awake! 8/10/1968 p. 13 cited in Prophetic Speculation p. 18

6 Cited in RFTS pp. 363-4

7 Cited in Reachout Trust Newsletter Number 41 p. 9

8 Cited in Reachout Trust Newsletter Number 41 p. 9

9 Cited in Fearless p. 101

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Apologist and Other Literature

Edmund Charles Gruss, Apostles of Denial, (no place: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing 1970) [Apostles]

Edmond Charles Gruss, The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation, (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing 1977) [Prophetic Speculation]

Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, (Atlanta: Commentary Press 1992) [Crisis]

Doug Harris, Awake! To the Watchtower, (Twickenham: Reachout Trust 1988) [ATTW]. Since republished as Jehovah’s Witnesses – their beliefs and practices.

D F Payne, “Jerusalem” in New Bible Dictionary 2nd ed, org Ed J D Douglas, (Leicester: IVP, 1982)

Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Eugene OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993) [RFTS] #

Anne Sanderson, Fearless Love, (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications 2000) [Fearless]

Trevor Willis, Opening the Door to Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Worthing: Pinpoint Press, 2001) ##

# This book is not to be confused with the WBTS publication Reasoning from the Scriptures

## Trevor Willis is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, but it is not apparent, from his book whether he is born again. The following quote would seem to exclude even the claims of Christianity to contain all truth in the person of Jesus Christ: “All religions contain an element of truth but can any one religion claim to contain all truth and exclude all others”? (p. xiv).

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Publications (published anonymously unless noted) and Related Material

A H Macmillan, Faith on the March, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc 1957) [FOTM]

Awake! Volume 71 (New York: WBTS 1990)

“Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules, (New York: WBTS, 1963 first edition)

Creation (by J F Rutherford), (New York: WBTS, 1927 300,000 edition)

From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, (New York: WBTS 1958)

Insight on the Scriptures Vol 2, (New York: WBTS, 1988)

Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, (New York: WBTS 1993) [Proclaimers]

Our Incoming World Government – God’s Kingdom (New York: WBTS 1977) [Incoming]

Prophecy, (by J F Rutherford) (New York: WBTS, 1929 1,212,000 edition)

Reasoning from the Scriptures (New York: WBTS 1985) [Reasoning]

Studies in the Scriptures Series III Thy Kingdom Come (by C T Russell) (East Rutherford, NJ: Dawn Bible Students association, 1949)

Studies in the Scriptures Series IV The Battle of Armageddon (by C T Russell) (East Rutherford, NJ: Dawn Bible Students Association, 1949)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Jehovah

A few years ago a friend of mine gave me an ornament he had made in the shape of the name of God. It must have been about eight inches long, three inches high and perhaps half an inch deep.The idea was that it should sit on the mantle piece, ready for when Jehovah’s Witnesses visit, in the hope that it would be the first thing they would spot on entering our sitting room. What a conversation starter! How could they now claim that we do not know or use “the Name”? Well, it worked – after a fashion.

The Witnesses calling on me that summer were charming people and we got along just fine. One of them was intrigued by the name of God sitting above the fire, and we discussed its origins and purpose. I explained that it served as a reminder of the God we serve and as a witness to the fact that we know Him by name. His wonder at the idea that I, a “born-again” Christian, should both know and use the name of God turned to astonishment when, saying that I knew how precious it might be to him, I made him a gift of the Name. This was outside his experience and understanding. A Christian familiar with the name of God? A Christian sensitive enough to know the value of that name to a Jehovah Witness, and generous enough to make a gift of the Name?

I say that it worked after a fashion. What do I mean by that? There is a story told to Jehovah’s Witnesses that tells of the ignorance of Christians regarding the name of God and involving a conspiracy by the church to eradicate “the Name”. While I made my friend wonder at what he had seen and heard, I don’t think I changed his mind regarding the ignorance of Christians or the conspiracy of the church. Since such teaching comes from Headquarters, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, it must be true. Perhaps he thought my efforts at witnessing were all part of the deception. There is no talking to a conspiracy theorist, that much is certain.

 

Ignorant Christians

I recently related in the Reachout Quarterly the story of two Witnesses who visited my home with a similar picture of Christians being ignorant of the name of God. I invited them to call on all the Christian friends in my address book (the great majority of whom have nothing to do with Reachout) and ask them if they know the Name. I assured them that my friends did know. They declined my offer declaring that “on the doorstep” they had met Christians who, when told of the name of God, had expressed astonishment at this new knowledge. Ipso facto Christians do not know, much less use the name of God.

Now there are two things to say in response to these claims. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of all people, should know that many claim to be Christians, C of E, “Going to the church down the road”, just to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone who knocks doors as part of their witnessing will know this. I came across it as a Mormon, and I have come across it as an evangelical Christian knocking doors (Yes Mr Witness, contrary to what your Society says, Christians do knock doors). I can only assume that they take these doorstep confessions of Christian faith at face value because it suits them to come across “Christians” who confirm their deepest suspicions.

The second point concerns another story (I do apologise but as you get older you do tend to accumulate these experiences). Many years ago I worked knocking doors for an insurance company. At one door I was invited in by a man who told me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and who explained to me that, on the strength of his faith, he wasn’t interested in insurance beyond that required by law. We fell into conversation and he seemed eager to witness to me – a Mormon.

At that time I was, like many zealous young people, more prone to generate heat than light and so I reached into my pocket for a neat little notebook I carried. On two pages of this notebook I had listed key problems about the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I spoke of Beth Sarim, of the claims of Russell for his Studies in the Scriptures, of teachings based on the Great Pyramid, Miracle Wheat, etc. As I smugly related these facts I watched as his face registered horror. He looked at his wife who obviously was a more experienced Witness, and asked if all I had said was true. She confirmed everything and as I looked at his reaction I immediately regretted ever mentioning these things. He was about to go visiting and I had sent him out full of doubts, but with no hope. I had generated much heat, but had shown little light. Even now I cringe to think of how callous I was in my naivety and can only say that I have learned my lesson. This is no way to witness to anyone.

The point can still be made, however. Here was a Jehovah’s Witness who was ignorant of key historical facts from the brief history of his own movement. Does my experience of meeting such a man, who was otherwise obviously faithful in his witnessing, disprove the claims of the Witnesses? Of course it doesn’t. By the same token, the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep of even a genuine Christian who doesn’t know and understand all that they should, doesn’t prove the Witnesses’ claims to general ignorance among Christians. Indeed, I still maintain that evangelical Christians know and use the name of God much more routinely than Witnesses care to know or admit. I know because I go to an evangelical Christian Church and read Christian books. Sadly, the very evidence that would show this to be true is denied Witnesses, since they are forbidden to read such books or attend such churches.

I am bound to say that one lady who called on me with her daughter told me that when she was last in a Christian Church, before becoming a Witness, she heard no mention of the name of Jehovah. I asked her when she was last in a Church and she confessed that it was when she was thirteen. I don’t mean to be unkind but I am confident that, although I don’t know her age, I doubt if she will see fifty again. What has happened in those intervening years to colour her memory of Church? How often did she attend? How much attention did she pay? What does she remember and what does she imagine she remembers? On such doubtful testimony rests her conviction that Christians do not know the God they profess to serve.

 

Conspiracy in the Church

One Jehovah’s Witness I know was horrified when I suggested that the use of the word LORD in place of the name Jehovah was a convention and nothing more. He clearly felt that the name was too important to be reduced to a convention. I have some sympathy for his feelings. The name/s of God are crucial to our understanding of who He is and what is our relationship to Him. Why, then, do we not use it as Witnesses say we should, i.e. by pronouncing it each time we come across it? Well, the first thing to say is to reiterate that we do use it, as I have already testified. To deny this fact is to fly in the face of reason and evidence. However, peculiar as it may seem to some, the use of LORD in the place of the name in the Old Testament is a convention. The history of that convention is well attested to and clearly explained in many places, not least by Reachout Trust in books, articles and on our web site. Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to reject these explanations, believing instead a conspiracy theory in which the Christian Church has designs on eradicating God’s name. Is their claim true?

I have before me a copy of the NIV Study Bible. In the preface we read the following:

In regard to the name YHWH, commonly referred to as the Tetragrammaton, the translators adopted the device used in most English versions of rendering the name as “Lord” in capital letters to distinguish it from Adoni, another Hebrew word rendered “Lord”, for which small letters are used. Wherever the two names stand together in the Old Testament as a compound name of God, they are rendered “Sovereign LORD”.

If there is a conspiracy this seems to give the game away since it explains how we are to understand the convention of using LORD wherever the Tetragrammaton occurs (we not only use the name of God but we also know what a Tetragrammaton is). It is clear who this LORD is since the translators have explained as much.

In his book, The NIV, The Making of a Contemporary Translation, Editor Dr Kenneth Barker explains:

In the Hebrew Bible the Jews wrote the consonants of the Tetragrammaton as YHWH, but out of reverence for the sacred name of God (or out of fear of violating Exod 20:7;Lev 24:16), they vocalised and pronounced it as Adoni or occasionally as Elohim. It is unfortunate, then, that the name was transliterated into German and ultimately into English as Jehovah (which is the way the name is represented in the American Standard Version of 1901), for this conflate form represents the vowels of Adoni superimposed on the consonants of Yahweh and it was never intended by the Jews to be read as Yehowah (or Jehovah).(The NIV…p.144)

In their book Insight on the Scriptures, Jehovah’s Witnesses explain:

“Since certainty of pronunciation is not now attainable, there seems to be no reason for abandoning in English the well-known form ‘Jehovah’ in favor of some other suggested pronunciation. If such a change were made then, to be consistent, changes should be made in the spelling and pronunciation of a host of other names found in the Scriptures: Jeremiah would be changed to Yirmeyah’, Isaiah would become Yesha’-ya’hu, and Jesus would be either Yehoh-shu’a (as in Hebrew) or I-e-sous (as in Greek).” Insight, vol.2, p.7).

In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses are only Witnesses of Jehovah by convention. The pronunciation of the name as Jehovah is probably the least authentic or, as Dr Barker explains, most “unfortunate”. However, the convention has stuck and the otherwise pedantic Jehovah’s Witnesses have shown how capable they are of appreciating a convention when it suits them, even when they know the true pronunciation of names, e.g. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus. Why do they not say Yehoh-shu’a? Perhaps because they feel it is enough that they explain the meaning behind the conventional “Jesus”.

But an objection may be raised at this stage. Reading on in the same explanation of the name Jehovah in Insight on the Scriptures we read the following:

“The purpose of words is to transmit thoughts; in the English the name Jehovah identifies the true God, transmitting this thought more satisfactorily today than any of the suggested substitutes.” (Insight, vol.2, p.7).

Might it not be argued that at least the Witnesses use the name and, despite the “unfortunately” inaccurate spelling, transmit the meaning? Do not Christians, by comparison, obscure the meaning of God’s name and the identity of God’s character?

It is Explained

Surely not since translators go to lengths to explain the convention of using the word LORD. Surely not since, in this writer’s extensive experience, the name/s of Jehovah are taught and explained in sermons, home groups, Sunday school classes, prayer meetings, books and journals throughout the evangelical Christian Church. The fact that, in reading Scripture or referring to God, we enunciate the name LORD does not detract from that teaching. But surely if we were to readmit the name into the text of our Bibles, understanding would be improved and knowledge increased?

The first thing to say is that the convention of using LORD is taken seriously by evangelical Christians for the reasons given. This is not an excuse for obscuring God’s name, but an expression of the sense of reverence passed on to Christians by those of the faith which is our source. I find myself impatient with the ease with which Witnesses see the worst in anyone who does not believe as they do. A little more respect and a little less derision on their part would not go amiss.

Second, it must be recognised that, were we to reintroduce the Divine name it would serve to draw the attention of readers to the name, but it would do nothing to improve people’s knowledge and understanding. As Jehovah’s Witnesses well know, the name/s of God need to be explained and expounded, whether people are familiar with it/them or not. When a Witness teaches a new contact it is never enough to explain that the name of God is Jehovah as though use of the name would cause a light to come on in a person’s mind the moment they hear it. Where does the name come from? What does it signify? What does it tell us about God? All these must be gone into if we are to understand the name. It might be argued that, given the lack of biblical knowledge in the general population, the use of the name “Lord” is both accurate in that it declares God’s Lordship over all creation, and more readily accessible in that more people would understand the word. In our teaching and speaking about God, however, Christians already do draw attention to the name of God and explain its meaning and significance. Allow me to illustrate from a sample taken from the modest collection of books I have on my shelves at home.

An Introduction to the Christian Faith is just what its title says, a basic introduction to Christianity. Under the heading “God Is”, the Christian theologian/teacher Jim Packer has the following to say:

In the Old Testament, God’s way of making himself known, particularly in his special relationship with Israel, is called his ‘name’. In the ancient Near East a person’s name declared his nature and function. For example, the name Abraham means ‘father of the multitude’, and Jesus means, ‘the Lord saves’. To ‘know God’s name,’ then, is to worship and trust God as he has shown himself to be. In the Old Testament God has several specific names, each proclaiming some aspect of what he is:

” El, Eloah, Elohim, ‘God’, designates him as superhuman and strong.

” Elyon, ‘God Most High’, means the exalted one.

” Adoni, ‘Lord’, Marks him out as ruler.

” Elshaddai, ‘God Almighty’, points to his gracious power.

” Yaweh, ‘the Lord’ (Jehovah, as it used to be rendered), God himself explains to Moses as meaning ‘I am what I am’ or ‘I will be what I will be’ – ‘I am’ for short. This most significant name, sometimes amplified as ‘the Lord of (angelic) hosts, is evidently meant to declare that God, like the bush which burned but was not consumed, is eternally self-sustaining and self-sufficient. It also indicates that God is unchangeably committed to his people. He will always keep his covenant promise; he will rescue and redeem his captive people.

(An Introduction to the Christian Faith, Lion Books, 1992, pp.91-92)

In an article written by Alec Motyer, one of the most respected Evangelical Bible teachers today, the same names are explained in The New Lion Handbook to the Bible, 1999 ed. P.162.

In the book already quoted above, The NIV, The Making of a Contemporary Translation, a whole chapter is given over to explaining the name of God and what we learn from it about God, as well as an explanation of how translations are arrived at.

And, as has already been illustrated, any good modern translation of the Bible will explain the use of the word LORD in translation. The NIV is probably one of the most popular Bibles in the world today, and so this knowledge is readily available to more people than would ever read the New World Translation.

I want to add something about Dr J I Packer’s observation above, to ‘know God’s name,’ then, is to worship and trust God as He has shown Himself to be. I think this is the key to the subject at hand. To know God’s name is to know the character, nature and purpose of God. I have a friend who, every time he meets me, uses my name repeatedly, to a point where he will, I am sure, wear it out one day. He ends virtually every sentence with my name, e.g. “How are you Mike? How is the family Mike? I saw your wife the other day Mike. She was looking well Mike. How is she Mike? I go to such-and-such a church now Mike. Its very good there Mike.” Of course it is very flattering to have someone use your name, but does his repeated use of mine indicate that he knows me well? No, he doesn’t know me well. Our friendship is not that deep and involved, although I value it greatly.

The same thing may be said of God. When it comes to the use of His name I am sure that no one uses it as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But merely knowing how to pronounce the name is not the same as knowing His character, nature and purpose. I contend that, despite the convention followed by evangelical Christians of pronouncing LORD, nevertheless, we know Him very well, use His name/s more often than Witnesses would credit, and know His character, nature and purpose better than Witnesses may think. Indeed, we are sure that the name of God affirms that He is “the Lord of hosts”. Furthermore, I can’t help but observe that whenever this subject comes up in discussion, either on the doorstep, or in correspondence, or on the Reachout Forum I know of no instance where a Christian has responded, “Jehovah? Jehovah who?” Surely an indication that, contrary to Witness myth, we know Him.

 

Jesus and the Name

I have already referred above to an article I wrote for the Reachout Quarterly in which I relate the story of two Jehovah’s Witnesses attempting to derive from the Lord’s Prayer the idea that Jesus used the name of Jehovah. I reproduce here the relevant part of the article.

Finding we were Christians they introduced the idea that the mission of Jesus was to make known the name of Jehovah, almost as though to dare me to disagree. They led with Matthew 6:9-13, emphasising

“Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified” (NWT); “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name” (NIV).

“You see”, the mother said “that Jesus’ mission was to ‘sanctify’ the name of Jehovah.”

“So you are suggesting” I replied “that Jesus routinely used the name of Jehovah in his conversation just as you do today?”

“Yes!” one replied while the other nodded.

“Can you show me examples?”

Now this presented them with a problem and my question became one of those “I will have to check it out and get back to you” affairs that we often encounter. However, it struck me as odd that they didn’t have a ready list of examples to illustrate such a basic Witness teaching. We pressed on.

“Where would you expect it most likely that Jesus would teach the use of Jehovah’s name?” I asked. As they looked at each other I answered my own question. “Surely when He was teaching His disciples?” They agreed.

I asked them to read out the first line of the Lord’s prayer again. They did. And by now you should have too – and spotted something significant. That’s right, and I asked them what you would have resolved to ask. Why didn’t Jesus pray to Jehovah God? They had no answer for me and soon there was a reason to leave and a promise to return with answers.

I didn’t really expect them to come back, cynic that I am, but the next week they were on my doorstep. They wouldn’t come in, they explained, but felt honour bound to bring me an answer. They had consulted authorities, looked it up in books, but found no reference to Jesus ever using the name of Jehovah.’

This story illustrates very well an observation made in an article by Robert Bowman in the Christian Research Journal, Autumn, 1989, Volume 12, Number 2.

“Ultimately, the JW belief in this matter rests not on…textual considerations, but on their understanding of what the NT actually has to say about the divine name. JWs argue that the practice of using substitutes such as “Lord” and “God” for the divine name was a superstitious practice, which developed among the Jews as a way of avoiding taking the name of Jehovah in vain. Jesus, they reason, would not “have followed such an unscriptural tradition,” given His forthright condemnation of the Pharisees for their traditions. They maintain that Jesus showed His respect for God’s name when He taught the disciples to pray, “Let your name be sanctified” (Matt. 6:9 NWT), and by His statement in prayer to the Father, “I have made your name manifest” (John 17:6 NWT). They argue on this basis that when Jesus read aloud in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2, which contained the divine name in Hebrew, He must have spoken the divine name rather than a substitute. The apostles are said to have continued Jesus’ teaching in this regard by their referring to Christians as “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14-15 NWT).”

In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not insist on this teaching because they find examples of it in the Scripture, but because they read passages that call on people to sanctify and make known the name of God and conclude that this means pronounce it. And yet, as I pointed out to my visitors, at the very moment when Jesus was teaching His disciples to sanctify in prayer the name of God, He did not use the name.

Now we cannot reasonably criticise the practice of drawing out the logical implications of a basic doctrine found in Scripture. After all, that is how we arrive at the Trinity, by drawing out the logical implications of what we see in Jesus’ ministry. However, as we compare Jesus’ conduct and teaching in relation to the name of God we find it is a model for the conduct and behaviour of the evangelical Christian Church. In other words, it is the Christian Church, and not the Jehovah’s Witnesses that follow more closely Jesus’ example.

In an Article titled, Did Jesus use the Name “Jehovah”

The following conclusions are drawn:

“…it is interesting to bring out the statistics from the Watchtower Society’s own CD Rom.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 26 times – but only 18 of these are in the text – the rest being in footnotes. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 8 times.

In Mark’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 9 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 8 times.

In Luke’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 36 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth only 9 times.

In John’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 5 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 4 times.

Therefore, in all the words that Jesus spoke the Watchtower Society has Jesus saying the Name of Jehovah just 29 times. When we take out duplications – the same instance being recorded in different Gospels we only have 16 unique occasions. Of these 13 are Old Testament quotations that assume Jesus would use Jehovah. However as we have shown above this is very questionable.

We are left then with three times that the Watchtower Society can but the word Jehovah in the mouth of the Lord when it is not an Old Testament quotation. Three times in three and a half years of ministry is hardly, “making the name known.” That is no evidence to in anyway ‘prove’ that Jesus used the name at all.”

Even if we were to accept the 29 instances quoted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it is already shown that we cannot in all reason do that, this is still sparse compared to the other names Jesus used in referring to God. As Robert Bowman points out in his article, by comparison Jesus used the word “God” over 180 times and “Father” roughly 175 times. Even if we accept the Jehovah Witness figures, then, we still have a ratio of approximately 360 (other names) to 29. And that does not count names other than God and Father that are also legitimate. The picture we already have of evangelical Christians is a group of believers who follow the convention of substituting “LORD” for Jehovah. However, these same believers use the name of God in their conversations alongside other legitimate names for God. I suggest Christians have a Biblical sense of proportion on this subject.

I never did replace the ornament I mentioned at the beginning of this article – until today. As I was visiting my favourite Christian bookshop I saw displayed a rather lovely framed text carrying in large gold letters the name, Jehovah in a gothic script. Underneath was part of the text from Exodus 3:14-15 as follows, “I Am that I Am…The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” As I write it sits on my desk, although I have plans to put it in a much more prominent place, ready for the next Jehovah’s Witness that calls. Any Witness who might treasure such an object could pick one up at the same shop, although I doubt there will be a rush to buy since Witnesses tend not to frequent such places because they are convinced that Christians do not honour the name of God as Witnesses do. Still, they can always get one fro me and, like God’s gracious, its free.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Truth About Jehovah’s Witnesses

Arising from an Adventist Bible study group in America in 1870 led by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), 12.9 million people world-wide attended the annual memorial meal of Jehovah’s Witnessesin1996. Over five million baptised members actively seek converts (up 4% on 1995 and 75% over a decade), with 366,000 baptisms and almost five million ‘studies’ in 1996. They are expanding rapidly in countries with low literacy levels and in the former communist bloc, and outnumber churchgoers in Japan. In the UK, there are around 130,000 baptised members (static over 1995 but up 33% over a decade); 220,000 attended the memorial meal and they conducted 50,000 ‘studies’ and nearly 5,000 baptisms in 1996 (R1 – see reference list). Around two-thirds of their converts are believed to have once had at least nominal involvement with mainstream Christian churches. In view of how often Jehovah’s Witnesses visit, Christians would do well to spend a little time learning about this group. They would then be able to protect themselves (and family and friends) from being deceived by them, and witness to them when they call. It is worth noting that they consider ‘spiritual endangerment’ (i.e. trying to influence one’s spouse to cease involvement with the group) to be grounds for a marital separation – (R2).

It is not correct for evangelical Christians to view Jehovah’s Witnesses as just a denomination of Christianity because Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves view all other religions as being of Satan. They claim to believe the Bible, however, they deny some of the fundamental beliefs of evangelical Christians such as, the omnipresence of God, the deity of Christ, His death on a cross and His bodily resurrection. In addition, they deny the Holy Spirit is God or personal, the hope of heaven for all believers, and the existence of hell. They believe that only an elite handful needs to be born again and take communion, and view speaking in tongues as being possessed by demons. They now claim that Michael the Archangel, whom they previously taught was the antichrist (R3), is Jesus.

Visit the Reachout website to read the rest of the article and find out What - In a Nutshell every Jehovah’s Witness needs to be told…

Friday, 22 August 2014

Jehovah’s Witnesses–Who are They?

With a major JW convention happening at Twickenham Rugby Stadium, the home of English rugby, and the place where Reachout Trust had its beginnings so many years ago – you can read about it here – I thought it would be helpful to post some useful information on the blog. Following a convention they will be fired up and motivated, and down your street. Do you know who they are, and what they believe? Can you confidently engage them in discussion and share the gospel? These articles, mostly Doug’s own work, are intended to equip you for the task and I hope you find it useful.

Who Are They?

The vast majority of Jehovah’s Witness at your door will be very genuine people. They will be zealous for the truth that has been learnt from their relationship with the ‘organisation’-the Watchtower Bible &Tract Society. The individual will be calling on you as part of their ‘mission field.’ They will feel in doing this that they are serving Jehovah.

Most will attend five weekly meetings each lasting an hour, spend 10 hours a month on the doors, prepare for four of the weekly meetings; reading the latest book and 32 page weekly magazine; personal study and family study. There is little time for activity independent of the Society.

History

Charles Russell and WatchtowerThe Organisation started in Pittsburgh USA in the early 1870′s when several young people began studying the Bible to discover the date of Christ’s return. Today, it is not as it originated with the founder Charles Taze Russell; in those days there was room for differences of opinion and expression. Their second President, Joseph Rutherford, made many changes to the Witnesses and, by the time he finished, it is doubtful if Russell would have recognised the group he started. Many did not like the changes that Rutherford made and left to start their own splinter groups. Some of these still survive today although they are very small in comparison. One change that Rutherford suggested in 1931 was to call them Jehovah’s Witnesses, whereas previously they were called International Bible Students or ‘Russellites’. The third President, Nathan Knorr was the one who worked hard to bring the unity to the organisation and the recognition of the central headquarters at Brooklyn New York. The fourth President Fred Franz died in December 1992, succeeded by Milton Henschel. Today the Governing Body is not longer the legal head of the organisation but regard themselves as the ‘spiritual’ head. This means that they do not need to get embroiled in the various court cases taking place.

Witnesses believe that the Watchtower Society is the only channel Jehovah is using on this earth today. The Governing Body, twelve men living in Brooklyn, New York, is the mouthpiece of that channel, otherwise known as the ‘Faithful and Discreet Slave.’ [Matthew 24:45]

Main Beliefs

JEHOVAH alone is God. There is some similarity here in that Christians believe that the Father is God but the difference is in the fact that the Witnesses believe that He alone is God. They also believe that all true Christians should call God by this name.

JESUS is the first created being of Jehovah. They try to prove this by a mistranslation of Revelation 3:14 among other Scriptures. They also believe that Jesus is called Michael the Archangel in Scripture. Jehovah created Jesus and then used Jesus to create all other things. Jesus is not God but a lesser god.

THE HOLY SPIRIT is an active force likened to electricity. He is therefore not even a person and certainly cannot be God.

THE TRINITY is a pagan doctrine invented in the 4th century.

1914 has always been a key date but has had different meanings. Today it is the date for the end of the Gentile Times and the invisible return of Jesus Christ to take his throne in the heavens. Until November 1995 it was also taught that the generation that was alive in 1914 would not pass away until Jehovah’s Kingdom was set up on earth.

There are only 144,000 with Jesus in heaven. The rest, the GREAT CROWD, will have eternal life on a paradise earth.

All who are worthy will be RESURRECTED [more akin to recreation] and after ARMAGEDDON will be given a second chance of salvation.

Only ACTIVE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES, doing God’s will by serving the organisation, will survive through Armageddon – the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth. The remainder of earth’s population will be destroyed with no hope of resurrection.

HELL does not exist, only annihilation.

There is nothing ETERNAL in man. After death he ceases to exist until God remembers and recreates.

Other secondary beliefs include the teaching that blood transfusions are forbidden by God, Jesus died on a stake not a cross and Christmas, Easter and birthdays should not be celebrated.

ScripturesNWT new edition

The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society have their own translation of the Bible called the New World Translation. They also produced an Interlinear New Testament called the Kingdom Interlinear. This shows the original Greek text with a literal English translation underneath and by the side the New World Translation. This is particularly helpful to show where the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has mistranslated probably up to 20% of the original Scriptures. [You can read John Tancock’s very helpful review of their very latest version of the New World Translation here]

Difficult Questions

Once Saved Always Saved?

The Society say we can lose our salvation if we do not endure to the end. Let’s look at the Scriptures.

Jude 5 – Jude is not saying that some of God’s people might lose their salvation but rather beware of some who cause trouble.

Matthew 24:13 – These verses do not say that if you do not endure you will lose eternal life! Compare Luke 21:18,19 the Lord promises that not a hair of your head will perish. We may lose our physical life but not the promised spiritual life.

Philippians 2:12 – See v13 – God is at work in you, we do not have a DIY Salvation. See Phil.1:6, the God who begun, will finish – no doubts there!

Hebrews 10:26 – ‘Sinning wilfully’. See 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 where the works are not the important thing for salvation but a relationship with the Lord (v23).

John 14:28

The Witness is taught that the Father is greater than Jesus and therefore they cannot both be God. The same Greek word for greater is used in John 14:12. Will we do works different to the Lord? Will we do better or higher works? No, but we will do works greater in quantity although not quality. Jesus was saying, while I am on earth, my Father is greater, in quantity, in heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:28

The Jehovah’s Witness also believes that as Jesus is subjected to the Father, He must be lesser than the Father.Ephesians 5:21 & 22 use the same Greek word for subjection. Is each lesser than the other and of a different nature? This word is used in Scripture not to mean lesser than or inferior to but to denote order. There is a mutual subjection in the family, in the local church and in the Godhead. But still within the Godhead each has the same quality, the being of God.

Proverbs 8:22-30

Jesus is created by Jehovah. The word possessed in v.22 is never used as created and v.23 tells us that this one is everlasting, i.e. without beginning.

More New Light

In The Watchtower, 1 November 1996 a major change took place. Until then the generation that was alive in 1914 would not pass away until God’s Kingdom was set up on earth. No longer is this true, because it is today’s generation. No longer can a Jehovah’s Witness look forward to the end being near. The full impact of this change is documented in the Reachout Trust publication, Watch the Tower but the following two quotations show just how much has changed. Note carefully the parts underlined. It is not man’s ideas that have changed nor is it new light on Scripture. According to the Awake!, the promise of God has failed and has had to be changed. Please lovingly but firmly point this out. Either Jehovah God or the Watchtower Society has made a false statement, which one? Either a promise of Jehovah God has failed or the Watchtower Society is a false prophet, which one?

Awake! is for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today’s problems. It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind the current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race above another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away. – Awake!, 22 October 1995, p.4.

Awake! is for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today’s problems. It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind the current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race above another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things. – Awake!, 8 November 1995, p.4. [Underlining added.]

Fuller notes are available in booklet form.

Or as a PDF download file

Monday, 11 August 2014

Where are the Roots of the Watchtower Society?

 

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The above diagram is meant to illustrate the total apostasy of “Christendom” and an apologetic for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) – Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wonder if those of you who know the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses could put them in their right place in the diagram.

Doug Harris, founder of Reachout Trust, points out in his book, The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Their Beliefs and Practices,

It is very unlikely that Charles Taze Russell actually set out to create what today is known as the WBTS. Even if he did, his version is certainly not the one we have now. If Russell were alive today, he would be disfellowshipped because so many changes have taken place over the years.”

Might it be said then that Jehovah’s Witnesses as we know them today started after Russell’s death? Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses as we know them, with their distinctive New World Translation (NWT) Bible, their elevation of just 144,000 to heaven, the blood transfusion controversy, and their distinctive name didn’t entirely exist before 1950, when all these things were finally in place and the NWT was commissioned.

Did the development of these distinctions culminating in the advent of the New World Translation mark the real beginning of the modern Witnesses? But…

Of course, events took place, developments unfolded, that led up to this landmark. Perhaps one of these marks the true beginning of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Perhaps 1931 is the date we are looking for. This was when they became “Jehovah’s Witnesses” never envisaged by Russell for the first time. Before that time they were “International Bible Students”. But…

1919 saw the anointing of the leaders of the WBTS by “holy spirit” as God’s remnant to bring in the Kingdom. Was this JW “Pentecost” the real beginning of the movement? But…

1881 saw the formal formation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Jehovah’s Witness organisation. Perhaps here we can mark their beginning? But…

In July of 1879 the first Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, the official magazine of the Society, was published. Perhaps we find here the beginnings of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Or perhaps 1870 marks the beginning. After all, this was when Charles Russell first formed a small study group to investigate Second Adventism.

But then we are back to Doug’s quote and, certainly, modern Witnesses would not recognise this small study group as their beginning if they were not informed of the fact, anymore than this group would recognise modern Witnesses as their descendants. This was an Adventist group, just like lots of Adventist groups at the time. At this time Russell was an Adventist who had come under the influence of William Miller, an early and influential leader of the Adventist movement.

Was Miller the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

But Miller was influenced in part by John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren and advocate of the dispensational approach to prophecy. Miller used Darby’s literal approach as a basis for his own calculations. Have we found in Darby the roots of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? No, because the story continues.

John Nelson Darby was an Episcopalian curate.

The Episcopalian Church in Ireland (where Darby lived) is on the chart under the heading “16th Century Reformation”. This leads directly back to the Roman Church. If the roots of all the other movements represented on the church disqualify them then so does it disqualify The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – surely.