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.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Understanding the Trinity

These notes are based on a sermon I preached recently at my own church. It was a privilege to be asked to speak on such an important subject and since the responses have been very kind and positive I thought it good to rearrange my notes into a blog post. It is normal to make certain assumptions when presenting such a message and on this occasion I assume the Bible to be our authority on all issues of life and faith. If you want to talk about why the Bible should be the final authority in these things please do get in touch and I will be happy to address that question.

Comprehending the Incomprehensible God

Incomprehension is the major objection to this teaching.”It doesn't make sense,” is what people say and you can understand their problem. The definition of the Trinity is that there is one God who exists in three ‘persons’ or ‘personalities’: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each member is equal in nature and substance, each fully God. Yet there is one God.

How might I think about this that will help my comprehension and my faith? As we approach our subject lets be frank in laying down some fundamental Bible truths about God, his character, and our “knowing” him.

1. It is important to understand that God is a mystery. This is not an excuse trotted out every time a hard question is asked about the Christian faith, rather it is a function of God’s nature and ours; he is God and I am not and the implications of this are plain enough. Of course, there is much about God that we do know and understand because God, in His infinite grace, has chosen to reveal Himself to us, and our knowledge of him is revealed knowledge - revelation knowledge.

We don't find him, he reveals himself to us, through His creation, through prophets and, finally, and ultimately, through His Son (Romans 1:19-20; Hebrews 1:1-2). But however much we know, or think we know, it is well to remember that although, He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccle.3:11)

Paul, in his letter to the Romans declared,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:33-34).

If there are things about God that we cannot understand we are in good company.

2. A point sometimes raised is that the word 'Trinity' is not itself found in the Bible. Neither is the word 'Atheism' found in the Bible but it is described where the psalmist declares “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'.”' (Ps.14:1) Although the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26) the word 'Christianity,' is not found in the Bible. But 'Christianity' describes the faith held by Christians. Nor, indeed, is the word 'Bible' found in the Bible, but the 'Bible' is the record of God's dealings with his people throughout – the Bible. The presence or absence of words needn't be significant. What matters is whether the word describes something found in the Bible, and the word 'Trinity' describes the nature of the godhead as it is revealed in Scripture, and we will come to that.

3. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not, of itself, a test of saving faith. We are not saved by having a correct, orthodox and articulate understanding of the Trinity. We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

4. But that saving principle, faith in Jesus, illustrates how very important the Trinity doctrine really is  because it identifies Jesus. In several places in the New Testament we see Jesus worshipped and receiving worship. In John 20 we find Thomas falling at Jesus' feet and calling him, 'My Lord, and my God.' Jesus commends him for it and goes on to say that those who haven't seen him, yet believe as Thomas believed, are blessed indeed! (John 20:28-29) If Jesus is not fully God, if he is, as some insist, a creature then such faith as we exercise today amounts to idolatry.

5. Furthermore, we are not saved in ignorance. Becoming and being a Christian is much more than an exercise in thinking and reason, but it is not less than that. Paul tells us we are to be renewed in our minds (Eph.4:23) and everything in the New Testament urges us to be intelligent about our faith. We don't come to faith knowing so much but our walk of faith is meant to see us grow in the knowledge of God.

6. As we have already noted, God’s revelation of Himself unfolds as He reveals Himself through creation (Romans 1:19-20); through prophets, and finally through His Son (Hebrews 1: 1-2; John 14:9). To start then with the idea of the Trinity and work backwards is problematic because we can fall into the trap of reading things into Scripture instead of taking our doctrine from Scripture. By the same token, to say that we do not understand, and therefore it cannot be true, is also to read back into Scripture our conclusions instead of seeing what the Bible has to say. The Bible is, among many things, an historical document and history, especially the history of ideas, can only be properly understood read forwards.

To Begin at the Beginning

The New Testament writers and early church fathers did not have a complete and polished view, but they “discovered” the Trinity as they thought about the undeniable witness of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection, and the claims He made for Himself. They had to come to terms with what it all means. If we start where they started and travel the same road of discovery we will likely arrive where they arrived. Lets see where they started.

In the Genesis account, God declares himself superior to the sun, moon, and stars that people foolishly worshipped by showing that he created them. There are no rivals for him, as the account of Genesis shows; “In the beginning God...” (Gen.1:1)

The Old Testament witness is fundamentally monotheistic, it teaches the oneness of God. Abraham was commanded to leave the polytheistic society of his father, the land of the Chaldeans that worshipped many gods, and follow the one true God (Gen.12:1-5)

When Moses brought down the mountain the code that the people of this one God, Israel, were to live by, that code begins with the command, “I am the LORD your God...you shall have no other God before me.” (Exodus 20:1-2)

Through the clear teaching of Isaiah God declares:

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it...have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me?..I know not any." (Is.44:6-8)

In their daily prayer, Jews repeated the Shema Yisrael, the call to Israel to hear and affirm the confession of Deut.6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

So a firm foundation of monotheism is established. It is important to understand this so that we grasp the true impact of Jesus on the society in which he ministered.

Jesus, the Clearest Revelation of God

What had those first Christians seen that could convince a stubbornly monotheistic people to believe in Jesus' divinity?

Speak to people today about Jesus and what they will likely remember is his radical teaching and his miracles. He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out evil spirits. And the way he taught, as well as what he taught, is striking. There is more to the miracles than at first might be assumed, more to his claims than many realise. The Bible calls the miracles signs (John 20:30) Signs signify something and these signs are meant to signify who Jesus really is. We are meant to realise something, as we look at his life and ministry.

On more than one occasion Jesus' first disciples got entirely the wrong idea about this. At one of those times Jesus warned the disciples of the leaven, the influence, of the Pharisees, meaning the Pharisees' evil disposition. They thought he was upset because they had forgotten to bring bread for the journey. In exasperation, he said to his disciples:

Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve."

"And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" And they said to him, "Seven."

And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?" (Mk.8:18-21)

He had miraculously fed thousands. When was the last time thousands in a remote and barren place were fed by a miracle? Surely Israel in the Exodus, where God provided manna -“Having eyes, do you not see?”

He had power and authority to teach in a way that had never been seen before. Other teachers began, much as I do this morning, with referencing other authorities, Jesus declared, “But I say to you...” and it so impressed people they said, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!” – “Having ears do you not hear?”

Jesus had power and authority over sickness, whole crowds being healed at his touch (Mark 1:33-34)

He had power and authority over nature. We see this in his calming of the storm, which has much greater significance than many imagine. The sea in Jewish culture was a symbol of chaos, it was out of chaos that God brought the order of creation in the beginning, and here was Jesus bringing order out of chaos – Such was the impact on his disciples of seeing this that, Mark tells us, “They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'” (Mark 4:35-41)

Even more remarkable, Jesus had power and authority over death. When a synagogue ruler named Jairus pleaded with Jesus for his dying daughter's life, Jesus went to the man's home. She is already dead, they insisted, but Jesus simply took her hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” Immediately, we are told, she got up and walked around (Mark 5:35-42) It is as easy for Jesus to raise someone from the dead as it is for us to rouse someone from sleep.

More remarkable yet, Jesus had authority to forgive sin. When the paralytic man was lowered through the roof by his friends so he could be healed by Jesus, Jesus' first words to him were, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Knowing the doubts of the religious leaders, their silent accusations of blasphemy, because God alone could forgive sin, Jesus said

Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven?' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” He said to the paralytic, 'I tell, you get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.” (Mark 2:1-12) “Do you not yet understand?”

I tell you...” Did you notice that? Not, in the name of, or by this, that or the other authority but, “I tell you...” By what authority, in whose name was Jesus doing all these things? “I tell you...”

We see it time and again, when he heals the sick; raises the dead; drives out demons; forgives sins; declares himself Lord of God's Sabbath; when he insists that with his advent, “The kingdom of God is near.” (Mark 1:14-15) He speaks by his own authority!

But, most remarkable of all, Jesus makes the claim that he is able to command and send the Spirit of God to be with his disciples, “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you, from the Father (there's a Trinitarian statement right there), the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” (John 15:26) The Spirit of God, in Scripture, is understood to be God in action. Jesus commands the Spirit!

The Spirit of God

Who is this Counsellor? Jesus in John 14 calls him “Another Counsellor” and the term here means another of the same kind. In other words, just as I have been with you so will he be in you. What will he do?

  1. He is a personal replacement for Jesus who is now in glory

  2. He is so united with the Father and the Son that he mediates them to us, just as Jesus had mediated the Father

  3. He glorifies the Son in his teaching, just as Jesus had glorified the Father

Here is the third member of the Trinity.

You Don't Explain the Trinity, You Realise Its Revelation.Black Swan

Nassim Taleb wrote a book entitled The Black Swan. He tells how Europeans had only ever known white swans and so concluded that all swans are white. The sighting of a black swan in newly discovered Australia presented a dilemma. If all swans were white then this wasn't a swan, but if this was a swan then not all swans are white. The question was, are we going to review our understanding of things in light of this revelation, or are we going to stubbornly insist all swans are white, and this swan isn't a swan at all?

In this respect, Jesus is a black swan. That is the nature of the challenge his life and ministry presented.

Some responded, crying, 'crucify!' while others said, 'My Lord, and my God.'

John begins his gospel with these words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-14)

Did you ever wonder how Jesus was able to so easily impart life? It is because, “In him was life…” This cannot be said of you, or me. Our lives depend on God, the giver of life. Jesus has life in himself and can impart it where he pleases.

The writer to the Hebrews put it like this:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs...

When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.' (Heb.1:1-6)

Jesus is “the exact representation of [God’s] being…” In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is also worshipped by men and angels, and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord (Philip.2:10-11) The question for us is not whether we fully comprehend the triune nature of God, but will we bend the knee now while it is still called today, while his mercy is still offered, and the choice is still ours, or will we bend the knee then when his full glory drives us to our knees, still rebellious and in our sin?

The Triunity of God

A better word for God, perhaps, is Triunity. It certainly more closely describes what we mean when we talk about the Trinity. But long before the word 'Trinity' was coined, Christians knew who Jesus was. And the implications for them and us are profound, reaching into eternity.

Because of who he is we can trust him when he says our sins are forgiven, because it is God the Son pronouncing our blessed state, acceptable before the throne because of Calvary.

Because of who he is we can trust that he walks with us today through this life, because it is God the Holy Spirit that walks with us and dwells in us.

Because of who he is we can trust him with all the tomorrows God the Father graciously grants and when there are no more tomorrows we can trust him with our death, resurrection, and eternity.

People struggle with the Trinity because we are creatures and God is Creator, and we will never fully comprehend his nature. But he has revealed that he is a God of order, of community, a God of Justice, a God of love and mercy, and the clearest expression of his wonderful character is found in Jesus, the closest communion we have with him is in the companionship of his Spirit, and it is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit that we are baptised into that new life with our triune God.

 

This post originally appeared on the Mikes4Tea blog