The Watchtower's Flickering Light
John Henry Newman explained in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, our beliefs are adapted to successive eras in the life of the Church, but their underlying truth can never change. A maturation takes place, but the fundamental aspects of the teachings are not altered—there is theological continuity. So it is with human beings. We pass through successive stages of development (infant, toddler, child, adolescent, adult); while we mature in many ways during the course of that development, we remain the same persons— we never become other persons.
The Watch Tower Society, the governing organization of Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), teaches a doctrine that, on the surface, appears similar to the Catholic understanding of the development of dogma. The Society bases this teaching on Proverbs 4:18, which says, "But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter" (New World Translation). In the estimation of the Society, biblical teachings are sometimes obscure, and the interpretation of biblical prophecy is sometimes difficult. Periodic "adjustments" or "refinements" are needed to understand them better. The light that gets brighter, then, refers to these alleged improvements in the Society's understanding of teachings and prophecies. By way of analogy, the Society explains these "adjustments" by using the image of a ship tacking in the wind to reach its final destination: "However, it may have seemed to some as though that path has not always gone straight forward. At times explanations given by Jehovah's visible organization have shown adjustments, seemingly to previous points of view. But this has not actually been the case. This might be compared to what is known in navigational circles as 'tacking.' By maneuvering the sails the sailors can cause a ship to go from right to left, back and forth, but all the time making progress toward their destination in spite of contrary winds" (The Watchtower, December 1, 1981, 27, 28; note: the journal has had various names: The Watchtower, The Watch Tower, Zion's Watch Tower).
An early issue of The Watchtower, one of the two principal Society publications (Awake! is a less doctrinal, more general-interest publication), noted that: "A new light of truth can never contradict a former truth. 'New light' never extinguishes older light,' but adds to it. If you were lighting up a building containing seven gas jets you would not extinguish one every time you lighted another, but would add one light to another and they would be in harmony and thus give increase of light: So it is with the light of truth; the true increase is by adding to, not by substituting one for another" (Watchtower Reprints, February 1881, 188).
We should expect to find that the Society's newer teachings, while more developed than older teachings, are essentially the same as the older ones. In actuality there often is no such continuity. The Society has done a 180-degree turn on some doctrines, while vacillating back and forth between possible interpretations on others. Its so-called "bright light" has been flickering on and off.
"The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the 'time of the end' began in 1799; that the Lord's second presence began in 1874; that the harvest followed thereafter and greater light has come upon the Word of God" (The Watch Tower, March 1, 1922, 73).
"Twelve hundred and sixty years from 539 A.D. brings us to 1799, which is another proof that 1799 definitely marks the beginning of 'the time of the end'" (Creation, 1927, 298).
"For many years prior to 1914 earnest Bible students understood that the year 1914 marked the end of the Gentile times or the 'appointed times of the nations.' That date marked the beginning of the 'time of the end' of Satan's rule, and therefore the time when Christ Jesus the righteous Ruler of the new world received control" (Let God Be True, revised edition, 1952, 201).
"So the proof is at hand, from the Bible and from world history, that the 'time of the end' began in early autumn of 1914" (God's "Eternal Purpose" Now Triumphing, 1974, 178).
"This review is perhaps as appropriate a lesson for the closing Sunday of the year as any, especially when we remember that all of these glories and blessings and privileges are ours because of the great redemption work accomplished by him whose entrance upon the work is celebrated by Christmas day. Although we cannot agree that this is the proper day for celebrating the birth of dear Redeemer, but must insist that it was about October first, nevertheless, since he did not intimate his desire that we should celebrate his birthday it is quite immaterial upon what day that event, of so great importance to all, is celebrated. Upon this day, so generally celebrated, we may properly enough join with all whose hearts are in the attitude of love and appreciation toward God and toward the Savior. . . . The habit of giving little remembrances one to another at this time of year seems to us specially appropriate" (Zion's Watch Tower, December 15, 1903, 457).
"Students of the Scriptures also know that the birth of the babe Jesus did not take place in December; yet because of the general belief upon this point by most people, it seems to be an appropriate time to speak the truth concerning his birth and the purpose thereof. The scriptural testimony, supported by extraneous facts, shows that the birth of Jesus occurred approximately October first. The event is so important that it is always appropriate to call it to the minds of the people, regardless of the date" (The Watchtower, December 15, 1926, 371).
"The Devil has done everything possible to blaspheme and reproach the true and living God and to turn the people away from his pure worship. To accomplish both of these wicked purposes, as is done when so-called Christians celebrate Christmas, the Devil has employed every device of deception. Two major features of his scheme have been exposed, namely, the labeling of a pagan holiday as Christ's birthday, and the continued use of pagan customs, symbols, and practices in the name of Christ. In addition, Satan has so successfully bound the hearts and affections and emotions of the people to this God-dishonoring celebration that even when they are informed of the outright paganism of the whole affair many people are inclined to hold on to it as a cherished possession" (The Watchtower, December 15, 1950, 503-504).
"Now, if a God of order intended to have Christians celebrate the birth of his Son on the earth, would he leave it to imperfect men to choose arbitrarily a date from pagan festivals and to adopt ungodly practices? . . . Jesus Christ, although never commanding his birth to be commemorated, did command his followers to observe one specific date. In the night in which he was going to be handed over,' Nisan 14, 33 C.E., Jesus initiated the celebration of the Lord's Evening Meal, using unleavened bread and wine. He commanded: 'Keep doing this in remembrance of me' (I Cor, 11:23, 24). The trumpet sound as to when and how to observe the Lord's Evening Meal is clear and unmistakable. Then what about Christmas? Nowhere in the Bible do we find any command to celebrate the birth of Christ, nor does it tell us when or how .... If you sincerely believe in Christ, do not be annoyed when you see pagans polluting Christmas. They are only reiterating what it originally was—a pagan festival. Christmas leads no one to welcome Jesus Christ, who has returned invisibly as a heavenly King" (The Watchtower, December 15, 1991, 5-7).
"Ever and anon there arises someone who has been following the Lord, for a time at least, who possesses a measure of beauty of mind and character and possibly of person— one who takes himself too seriously. He succeeds in convincing himself that the Lord has appointed him to look after things divine and to lead God's people out of the wilderness.
As he goes on in this way, he becomes convinced in his own mind that the Lord made a mistake in selecting Brother [Charles Taze] Russell as that servant; and this doubt leads to the conclusion later on that Brother Russell was not 'that servant' at all" (The Watch Tower, May 1, 1922, 131).
"Without a doubt Pastor Russell filled the office for which the Lord provided and about which he spoke and was therefore that wise and faithful servant, ministering to the household of faith meat in due season" (The Harp of God, 1927 edition, 239).
(Russell founded the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1879, when he began publishing Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, the precursor to today's Watchtower magazine. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was incorporated two years later. Originally, Russell's followers were called International Bible Students. They changed their name in 1931, when the Society applied Isaiah 43:10 to its members: "'You are my witnesses,' is the utterance of Jehovah, 'even my servant whom I have chosen"' [NWT]). "In fact, Jesus, in his great prophecy about the end of this wicked old world, indicated that God would have a channel of communication at this time, which he would use to sound this warning: 'Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so.
Truly I say to you, he will appoint him over all his belongings' (Matt. 24:45-47). Is the Watch Tower Society this 'faithful and discreet slave'? No, it is merely a corporate body, a legal instrument used by this 'slave.' Who, then, is this 'slave'? Not just one individual, but the composite body of dedicated, anointed footstep followers of Jesus Christ, described as 'the remaining ones of her seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus' (Rev. 12:17)" (The Watchtower, August 15, 1958, 486).
"From our careful study of the Scriptures, we know that the spirit-anointed members of God's household at any given time collectively make up 'the faithful and discreet slave,' 'steward,' or 'house manager.' Individually, the members of Jehovah's household are termed 'domestics' or 'body of attendants' (Matt. 24:45; Luke 12:42" (The Watchtower, March 15, 1990, 10-11).
"Humans were allowed by God to eat animal flesh and to sustain their human lives by taking the lives of animals, though they were not permitted to eat blood. Did this include eating human flesh, sustaining one's life by means of the body or part of the body of another human, alive or dead? No! That would be cannibalism, a practice abhorrent to all civilized people. . . . When there is a diseased or defective organ, the usual way health is restored is by taking in nutrients. The body uses the food eaten to repair or heal the organ, gradually replacing the cells. When men of science conclude that this normal process will no longer work and they suggest removing the organ and replacing it directly with an organ from another human, this is simply a shortcut. Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others" (The Watchtower, November 15, 1967, 702).
"Clearly, personal views and conscientious feelings vary on this issue of transplantation. It is well known that the use of human materials for human consumption varies all the way from minor items, such as hormones and corneas, to major organs, such as kidneys and hearts. While the Bible specifically forbids consuming blood, there is no biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue. For this reason, each individual faced with making a decision on this matter should carefully and prayerfully weigh matters and then decide conscientiously what he or she could or could not do before God. It is a matter for personal decision (Gal. 6:5). The congregation judicial committee would not take disciplinary action if someone accepted an organ transplant" (The Watchtower, March 15, 1980, 31).
"The Witnesses do not feel that the Bible comments directly on organ transplants; hence, decisions regarding cornea, kidney, or other issue transplants must be made by the individual Witness" (Awake!, June 22, 1982, 26).
"Our previous consideration of 2 Peter 2:5-9 has shown that those destroyed by God at Sodom and Gomorrah are eternally 'cut off.' Corroborating this is Jude 7, which states that these cities are 'placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.'
'Everlasting fire' symbolizes the same thing as Gehenna, namely, second death. The destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah must be final, or Jude would not have used it to illustrate the fate of those defilers for whom 'the blackness of darkness stands reserved forever' (Jude 13). Jude 7 shows that those ancient cities had their judgment day back there at the time of their destruction, since they are spoken of as having already undergone an execution of judgment, 'the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.' By no wresting of Scripture can this be made to mean a future resurrection for slain of the Lord. No remnant was saved from those cities, Lot and his daughters being sojourners, not natives. (Rom. 9:29). If those slain by the Lord at Sodom have no resurrection, then those slain by him at Armageddon will have none, for the former pictures the latter" (The Watchtower, June 1, 1952, 335-336).
"[Question:] Since Jude 7 shows that Sodom and Gomorrah became a 'warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire,' does that not bar the inhabitants of those cities from a resurrection? [Answer:] Reading only that verse, without our taking into consideration what the rest of the Bible has to say on the matter, one might draw such a conclusion. But other Scriptures present additional facts that cannot be ignored if we are going to arrive at a sound conclusion. . . .
"Similarly, at Matthew 10:15 are recorded Jesus' words: 'Truly I say to you, It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than for that city' where the people would reject the message carried by Jesus' disciples. For it to be 'more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah' than for others, it would be necessary for former inhabitants of that land to be present on Judgment Day. It is not the literal land, the ground, that is to be judged. Revelation chapter 20 shows that it will be persons raised from the dead who will stand 'before the throne.' Nor will judgment be passed on them as groups, as former inhabitants of certain lands, but they will be 'judged individually according to their deeds' during the time of judgment. So apparently individuals who used to live in that land will be resurrected (Rev. 20:12, 13)" (The Watchtower, August 1, 1965, 479).
"It will truly be a grand privilege to be resurrected on earth during Jehovah's great Judgment Day. However, the Bible indicates that it will be a privilege that not all will enjoy. Consider, for example, the people of ancient Sodom. The Bible says that the men of Sodom sought to have sexual relations with 'the men' who were visiting Lot. Their immoral behavior was so extreme that even when they were miraculously struck with blindness, 'they were wearing themselves out trying to find the entrance' of the house to get inside to have intercourse with Lot's visitors (Gen. 19:4-11). Will such terribly wicked persons be resurrected during Judgment Day? The Scriptures indicate that apparently they will not" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 1989, 178-179).
"Jude mentions that 'Sodom and Gomorrah . . . are placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire. This would not conflict with Jesus' statement about a Jewish city that would reject the good news: It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than for that city.' Sodom and Gomorrah were everlastingly destroyed as cities, but this would not preclude a resurrection for people of those cities (Jude 7, Matt 10:15; compare Luke 11:32, 2 Peter 2:6)" (Insight on the Scriptures, 2:985).
"Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. Fulfilled prophecy is otherwise designated the physical facts; and these facts are indisputable" (The Watchtower, November 1, 1922, 333).
"The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D" (Prophecy, 1929, 65).
"Yet, the reason why the year 1914 C.E. is to be fixed upon is that in that year the 'presence' (parousia) of the Lord Jesus in Messianic kingdom authority began" (God's "Eternal Purpose" Now.' Triumphing, 1974, 174).
"The 'presence' or parousia of the glorified Messiah Jesus in Kingdom authority is an accomplished fact since 1914!" (Our Incoming World Government—God's Kingdom, 1977, 151).
"Question: The fact that our Lord received worship is claimed by some to be an evidence that while on earth he was God the Father disguised in a body of flesh and not really a man. Was he really worshiped, or is the translation faulty? Answer: Yes, we believe our Lord Jesus while on earth was really worshiped, and properly so . . . " (Zion's Watch Tower, July 15, 1898, 216).
"Since Jehovah God now reigns as King by means of his capital organization Zion, then whosoever would worship him must also worship and bow down to Jehovah's Chief One in that capital organization, namely, Christ Jesus, his Co-regent on the throne of The Theocracy" (The Watchtower, October 15, 1945, 313).
"Hebrews 1:6 relates to Jesus' position under God. . . . Though Psalm 97:7, which speaks about worshiping God, was applied to Christ at Hebrews 1:6, Paul had shown that the resurrected Jesus is 'the reflection of [God's] glory and the exact representation of his very being' (Heb. 1:1-3). So any 'worship' the angels give God's Son is relative and is directed through him to Jehovah" (The Watchtower, January 15, 1992, 23; brackets in original).
"From Jesus' words and actions, it is clear that only Jehovah God is to be worshiped" (The Watchtower, May 1, 1989, 18).
"Religious leaders of Christendom followed the same course. They replaced the name Jehovah with 'God' ('Allah' in Arabic) and 'Lord.' That contributed to the development of the false doctrine of the Trinity, which has no basis in the Holy Scriptures. Because of this, millions mistakenly worship Jesus and the holy spirit and consider them equal to God" (The Watchtower, November 1, 1993, 4).
Space considerations prevent the citation of additional examples, but these should provide the reader with the means to demonstrate to Jehovah's Witnesses that the Watch Tower Society—despite its claims to the contrary—has changed doctrine repeatedly. The Society cannot be God's instrument, since God could not author contradictions in belief.
Pointing out these contradiction is more productive than is arguing Scripture verses with a Jehovah's Witness. He has been programmed by the Society to give its interpretations, and the Catholic interpretations will be dismissed out of hand. Your first task in evangelizing a Jehovah's Witness must be to undermine his perception of the Society as a trustworthy instrument used by Jehovah. Only then will you be able to instruct the him in the truth of the Catholic faith.
Joel S. Peters holds a master's degree from Immaculate; Conception Seminary and freelances from Mahwah, New Jersey.
© This Rock, Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, (619) 541-1131.
© This Rock, Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, (619) 541-1131.
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