[From ws17/6 p. 16 – August 14-20]
“May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”—Ps 83:18
(Occurrences: Jehovah=58; Jesus=0)
Words are important. They are the building blocks of communication. With words we construct sentences to express our thoughts and feelings. Only by using the right words at the right time can we accurately convey meaning. Jehovah, the master of every language, inspired the correct use of words in the Bible so as to reach, not the wise and intellectual, but those that the world would term intellectual babes. For this, he was praised by his Son.
“At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes. 26 Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.” (Mt 11:25, 26)
In the preaching work, Jehovah’s Witnesses often make use of this fact when they encounter those who believe in such doctrines as the Trinity and the immortality of the human soul. One of the arguments Witnesses use against such doctrines is that the words “trinity” and “immortal soul” are not to be found anywhere in the Bible. The reasoning is that were these actual Bible teachings, God would have inspired the use of the appropriate words to convey his meaning to the reader. Our purpose here is not to argue against these doctrines, but only to show one tactic used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in combating what they believe to be false teachings.
It is only logical that is one wishes to convey an idea, then one would have to use the appropriate words. For example, Jehovah wants to convey the idea that his name should be sanctified and made holy. It follows then that such a thought should be expressed in the Bible using words that accurately express that idea. Such is the case as we can see in the Lord’s Model Prayer: “‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Mt 6:9) Here, the idea is clearly expressed.
Likewise, the doctrine involving the salvation of Mankind is expressed throughout Scripture using the associated noun “salvation” and verb “to save”. (Luke 1:69-77; Acts 4:12; Mark 8:35; Romans 5:9, 10)
In a similar way, the Watchtower article for this week is all about the “very big issue facing all of us…the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty.” (Par. 2) Does it use those words to express this idea? Absolutely! The word “vindication” (as a noun or verb) is used 15 times in the article, and the word “sovereignty” is used 37 times. This is not a new teaching, so one would expect to find those same words scattered throughout the publications of JW.org, and that proves to be the case with occurrences numbering into the thousands.
Words are the tools of the teacher, and the appropriate words and terminology i e used whenever the teacher is trying to express an idea he wants that the student can grasp easily. This is the case with the Watchtower article we are currently studying. The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches that this doctrine, together with the sanctification of God’s name, comprise the central theme of the Bible. It is so important an issue in their eyes that it eclipses the salvation of Mankind. [i] (See also paragraphs 6 thru 8 of this study.) The writer of this article is trying to help us see this, so he expresses that teaching using the words “vindication” and “sovereignty” throughout the article. In fact, it would be well-nigh impossible to express this doctrine without using both of those words frequently.
Given all the above, we would naturally expect the Bible to use these words or synonymous expressions in expressing this central teaching. Let us see if that is the case: If you have access to the Watchtower library on CD-ROM, please try this: Enter (without quotes) “vindicat*” into the search box. (The asterisk will provide you with all occurrences of both the verb and noun, “vindicate and vindication”.) Does it surprise you to find that the word does not appear anywhere in Scripture? Now do the same with “sovereignty”. Again, not a single occurrence in the main text. Outside of a couple of footnote references, the words that the Organization uses to express what it claims is the central theme of the Bible and the very big issue facing each of us today are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
“Vindication” is a very specific word and has no absolute synonym in English, but even analogous words like “exoneration” and “justification” turns up nothing in the Bible to support this theme. Likewise for “sovereignty”. Synonyms like “rulership” and “government” turn up about a dozen times each, but mostly in reference to worldly rulerships and governments. They are not tied to a single scripture that speaks of God’s sovereignty, or rulership, or government being vindicated, exonerated, or justified.
The idea of God’s sovereignty as a core or central issue in the Bible started with John Calvin. It was modified under the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The question is, have we got it wrong?
Is the argument used to defeat Trinitarians and believers in the immortal soul coming back to bite us on the backside?
Some might jump in now, claiming bias; saying that we are not presenting the whole picture. While acknowledging that “sovereignty” is absent from the NWT, they would point out that “sovereign” occurs often. In fact, the phrase “Sovereign Lord” referring to Jehovah occurs over 200 times. Well, if there is bias, is it on our part or the part of the translator?
To answer that question, let’s look at the book of Ezekiel where almost all of the references to this “Sovereign Lord” are found in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). Look them up for yourself and, using an internet resource like BibleHub, go to the interlinear to see which Hebrew word is being rendered as “Sovereign Lord”. You’ll find the word is Adonay, which is the emphatic way of expressing “Lord”. It is used to refer to the Lord God Jehovah. So the translating committee of the NWT has decided that “Lord” isn’t enough and so has added in “Sovereign” as a modifier. Could it be that the translator, influenced by what he mistakenly believed was the Bible’s central theme, chose this term in support of JW doctrine?
No one would disagree with the idea that there is no Sovereign above Jehovah God, but if the issue was one of sovereignty, then Jehovah would have expressed it so. If he wanted Christians to think of him, not as their Father, but as their Sovereign, Ruler, or King, then that would have been the message emphsized by “the Word of God”, Jesus Christ. (John 1:1) Yet it wasn’t. Rather, the idea of Jehovah as our Father is what it emphasized over and over by Jesus and the Christian writers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to view the issue of the “Vindication of Jehovah’s Sovereignty” as a distinguishing mark of true Christianity.
“Appreciation for Jehovah’s sovereignty has distinguished true religion from false.” – par. 19
If so, and if this turns out to be a false teaching, what then? Witnesses have tied their identity, their validation as the one true religion on earth, to this very teaching.
Let us explore their reasoning. We already know that the Bible doesn’t speak clearly and directly about the so-called big issue of the Vindication of God’s Sovereignty. But can it be deduced from Bible history and events?
The Foundation of the Doctrine
Paragraph 3 opens with the statement, “Satan the Devil has raised the question of whether Jehovah has the right to rule.”
If so, then he doesn’t do it by actually saying it. Nowhere in the Bible does Satan challenge God’s right to rule. So how does the Organization arrive at this conclusion?
The recorded interactions between Satan and humans or God are relatively few. He first appears to Eve in the form of a serpent. He tells her that she will not die if she eats the forbidden fruit. While this was shown for the lie it was soon thereafter, there is nothing here about challenging God’s right to rule. Satan also suggested humans would be like God, knowing good and evil. What they understood this to mean is a matter for conjecture, but in a moral sense, this was true. They were now able to make up their own rules; determine their own morality; be their own god.
Satan said: “For God knows that in the very day of YOUR eating from it YOUR eyes are bound to be opened and YOU are bound to be like God, KNOWING good and bad.”” (Ge 3:5)
Jehovah acknowledges this to be the case: “. . .“Here the man has become like one of us in knowing good and bad,. . .” (Ge 3:22)
There is nothing here about challenging God’s right to rule. We might deduce that Satan was implying that humans could get by just fine on their own and didn’t need God to rule them for their own benefit. Even if we accept this premise, the failure of human governments proves the lie of this assertion. In short, no need for God to vindicate himself. The failure of the accuser is vindication enough.
The account of Job is used in this article to support the idea God has to vindicate his sovereignty; to prove to all his right to rule. However, Satan only challenges Job’s integrity, not Jehovah’s right to rule. Again, even if we accept the premise that there is an underlying, unspoken challenge to God’s sovereignty, the fact that Job passed the test proves Satan was wrong, so God is vindicated without having to do a thing.
To illustrate, let’s say for the sake of argument that there is a challenge by Satan to God’s right to rule. Would it fall to Jehovah to prove himself? If you are a family man and a neighbor accuses you of being a bad parent, are you required to prove him wrong? Does it fall to you to vindicate your name? Or rather, is it up to the accuser to prove his point? And if he fails to make his case, he loses all credibility.
In some countries, a man accused of a crime has to prove his innocence. When people fled from oppressive regimes to the New World, they created laws that corrected the injustice of that premise. ‘Innocent till proven guilty” became the enlightened standard. It is up to the accuser to prove his allegations, not the accused. Likewise, if there is a challenge to God’s rulership—something not yet established—it falls to the accuser, Satan the Devil, to make his case. It is not up to Jehovah to prove anything.
“Adam and Eve rejected Jehovah’s rulership, and so have many others since then. This could make some think that the Devil is right. As long as the issue remains unsettled in the minds of humans or angels, there cannot be real peace and unity.” – par. 4
“As long as the issue remains unsettled in the minds of angels”?! Frankly, this is a silly statement to make. One can accept that some humans haven’t got the message yet, but are we really to believe that God’s angels are still uncertain about whether humans can rule themselves successfully?
What exactly is this paragraph implying? That there will only be peace and unity when everyone agrees that Jehovah’s way is best? Let’s see if that tracks.
The first time that all of humanity will be at peace and unity will be at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ. However, that will not endure, because then Satan is to be released and suddenly there will be people like the sands of the sea siding with him. (Re 20:7-10) So does that mean the vindication of God’s sovereignty was a failure? How will Jehovah restore peace and unity at that time? By destroying Satan, the demons, and all the rebellious humans. Does that mean that God vindicates his sovereignty at the point of a sword? Does vindicating his sovereignty amount to proving He is the mightiest of all Gods? That is the logical conclusion of accepting this teaching, but in doing so do Witnesses diminish God?
Jehovah will not bring Armageddon to vindicate himself. He will not bring destruction on the forces of Gog and Magog at the end of Christ’s reign for self-vindication. He destroys the wicked to protect his children, just as any father will use whatever force is needed to defend and protect his family. This is righteous, but is has nothing to do with proving a point or answering an accusation.
As to proving a point, any accusation the Devil raised was answered a long time ago, when Jesus died without breaking his integrity. After that, there was no longer any reason to allow Satan free access to heaven to continue with his accusations. He was judged and could be evicted from heaven, and confined to the earth for a time.
“And war broke out in heaven: Miʹcha·el and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled 8 but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. 9 So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” (Re 12:7-9)[ii]
Jesus foresaw this event:
“Then the seventy returned with joy, saying: “Lord, even the demons are made subject to us by the use of your name.” 18 At that he said to them: “I began to behold Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven. 19 Look! I have given YOU the authority to trample underfoot serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will by any means do YOU hurt. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice over this, that the spirits are made subject to YOU, but rejoice because YOUR names have been inscribed in the heavens.” (Lu 10:17-20)
That is why Jesus, upon his resurrection, went to give testimony to the demons in prison (in confinement).
“For Christ died once for all time for sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. 19 And in this state he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who had formerly been disobedient when God was patiently waiting in Noah’s day, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.” (1Pe 3:18-20)
We are not waiting for Jehovah to vindicate himself. We are waiting for the number of those needed to provide Mankind with salvation to be filled. That is the central theme of the Bible, the salvation of the children of God and of all creation. (Re 6:10, 11; Ro 8:18-25)
Is This Just an Innocent Misinterpretation?
Like patriots cheering on the sidelines as the leader of the country drives by in procession, Witnesses see no harm in this chauvinism. After all, what’s wrong with ascribing all praise to God? Nothing, as long as in so doing, we don’t end up bring reproach on his name. We must recall that while the vindication of God’s sovereignty is a non-issue, the sanctification of his name is still very much in play. When we teach people that “Vindication Is More Important than Salvation” (subtitle at paragraph 6) we are bringing reproach on God’s name.
It’s hard to understand this for people trained to view salvation through the lens of government, rulership, and sovereignty. They view salvation as subjects of a government. They do not view it in the context of family. Yet, we cannot be saved as subjects, outside of the family of God. Adam had eternal life, not because Jehovah was his sovereign, but because Jehovah was his Father. Adam inherited everlasting life from his Father and when he sinned, we was thrown out of the family of God and disinherited; no longer a son of God, he began to die.
If we focus on sovereignty, we miss the vital message that salvation is about family. It’s about returning to the family of God. It’s about inheriting—as a son does from a father—what the father possesses. God possesses eternal life and he does not give it to his subjects, but he does give it to his children.
Now think as a father or a mother for one instant. Your children are lost. Your children are suffering. What is your main concern? Your own justification? To be proven right in your cause? How would you view a man who is more concerned about how others see him than he is about his children’s welfare?
This is essentially the picture that Jehovah’s Witnesses paint of Jehovah God by insisting that the vindication of His sovereignty is more important than the salvation of His children.
If you are a child, and you are suffering, but you know your Father is both a powerful and loving man, you take heart, because you know he will move heaven and earth to be there for you.
The writer of this article seems to ignore this basic human need and instinct. For instance, using the case history of a sister named Renee who “suffered a stroke and struggled with chronic pain and cancer” (par. 17) the article states that by never losing sight of Jehovah’s sovereignty, she was able to mitigate some of her distress. It then goes on to say, “we want to stay focused on Jehovah’s sovereignty also in the face of day-to-day pressures and inconveniences.”
Since the Organization has denied its followers the wonderful comfort of knowing God as a loving Father who cares for each of his children, it has to find another way for them to feel supported and encouraged. Apparently, concentrating of Jehovah’s Sovereignty is all they have to give, but is this what the Bible teaches?
The Bible teaches that we get comfort from the Scriptures. (Ro 15:4) We get comfort from God, our Father. We get comfort from our salvation hope. (2Co 1:3-7) Since God is our Father, we are all brothers. We get comfort from family, from our brothers. (2Co 7:4, 7, 13; Eph 6:22) Unfortunately, the Organization takes that away as well, for if God is only our friend, then we have no reason to call each other brother or sister, since we do not share the same father—indeed, we have no father, but are orphans.
More than anything, it is the knowledge that we are loved as a father loves a child that gives us the power to endure any tribulation. We have a Father—despite what the Governing Body tries to tell us—and he loves us individually as a son or a daughter.
This powerful truth is set aside in favor of a banal and unscriptural teaching about the need for God to vindicate his sovereignty. The fact is, he doesn’t have to vindicate anything. The Devil has already lost. The failure of all his critics is vindication enough.
Muslims chant Allahu Akbar (“God is Greater”). How does that help them? Yes, God is greater than all others, but does his greatness require him to do anything to end our suffering? Our message is “God is love.” (1Jo 4:8) Moreover, He is the Father of all those who put faith in Jesus. (John 1:12) Does in that require him to end our suffering? Absolutely!
Next Week’s Article
If the issue of the vindication of God’s Sovereignty is really a non-issue—and worse, an unscriptural teaching—the question becomes: Why is it being taught to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Is this the result of a simple misinterpretation, or if there is an agenda at work here? Do some gain by our believing this teaching? Is so, what do they gain?
The answers to these questions will become apparent in next week’s review.
[i] ip-2 chap. 4 p. 60 par. 24 “You Are My Witnesses”!
Likewise today, the salvation of humans is secondary to the sanctification of Jehovah’s name and the vindication of his sovereignty.
w16 September p. 25 par. 8 Young Ones, Strengthen Your Faith
That verse introduces the Bible’s primary theme, which is the vindication of God’s sovereignty and the sanctification of his name by means of the Kingdom.
[ii] It follows that Archangel Michael and his angels would perform the task of cleaning up heaven since Jesus was still in the grave. Once our Lord had died faithfully, there was nothing holding back Michael from carrying out his duty. The judicial case was over. The Devil was judged.