[From ws3/18 p. 23 – May 21 – May 26]

“Those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” Hebrews 12:6

This entire Watchtower study article and the one that for the following week seem designed to reinforce the authority of elders handling judicial reproofs, disfellowshipping, and disassociation—though many of the arguments are made in a more subtle way than usual.

WHEN you hear the word “discipline,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you immediately think of punishment, but much more is involved. In the Bible, discipline is often presented in an appealing light, at times alongside knowledge, wisdom, love, and life. (Prov. 1:2-7; 4:11-13)” – par. 1

Why might we “immediately think of punishment”? Probably because that is the inference carried with most mentions of ‘discipline’ in the literature of the Organization, including the way Bible verses have been translated in the NWT.

Discipline often includes chastisement which is unpleasant whether deserved or not. However, when we look at the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words often translated in the NWT as ‘discipline’, we find that ‘instruction’ is often a better fit given the context. It is also far more commonly used by other translators. A quick review of 26 translations on Biblehub shows the following:

For instance the passage of Proverbs 1:2-7.

  • Verse 2 is translated as ‘instruction’ or like wording 20 times and ‘discipline’ and like wording, only 6 times.
  • Verse 3 has ‘instruction’, 23 times of 26.
  • Verse 5 has ‘guidance’, 9 times and ‘counsel’, 14 times.
  • Verse 7 has ‘instruction’, 19 times and ‘discipline,’ 7 times.
  • Verse 8 has ‘instruction’, 23 times and ‘discipline’, 3 times.

Proverbs 4:13 has ‘instruction’, 24 times and ‘discipline’, 2 times.

So, in these 6 verses, in 5 out of 6 places the NWT has ‘discipline’ whereas the average translation would have the reverse, in 5 out of 6 places it would have ‘instruction’.

Other Proverbs where ‘discipline’ is found the NWT, we see a similar use of ‘instruction’ in most other translations. We are not making the suggestion that translating the Hebrew as ‘discipline’ is necessarily wrong, but ‘instruction’ carries a softer connotation in English as it excludes the punishment aspect that ‘discipline’ has and in most places gives a clearer and more accurate understanding based on the context. Could it be that the overuse of ‘discipline’ to translate these words indicates some vested interest on the part of the Organization?

The first paragraph continues: “God’s discipline is an expression of his love for us and of his desire that we gain everlasting life. (Hebrews 12:6)”

The Greek word translated ‘discipline’ means to instruct by training, from a root meaning of ‘a child under development with strict training’. (See paideuó)

It is very true that God trains us and instructs us through his word. However, can it be accurately said that God corrects us? After all that would imply he sees us doing wrong and then communicates to us that we are doing wrong and lets us know what we should be doing. There is no scriptural evidence that this happens on an individual basis, but we can be trained and instructed as we read and meditate on God’s Word. We then may realize if we are humble enough that we need to correct ourselves because we learn that maybe something we have done or thought or are thinking of doing is not in accord with God’s thinking.

One could argue that God is ultimately responsible for the correction and hence is disciplining us. However, given that he has created us with free will, and he wants us to correct ourselves willingly, then would this be a reasonable conclusion? Indeed, this understanding of the meaning of the word translated ‘discipline’ is admitted in the final sentence when it says “Indeed, the meaning behind “discipline” primarily relates to education, such as that involved in raising a beloved child.” (par. 1)

In terms of the chastisement or punishment aspect of discipline Jehovah has meted it out on the world of Noah’s day, Egypt with the 10 plagues, the nation of Israel on many occasions and so forth but rarely on individuals.

The mixed messages continue when the article goes on to say “As members of the Christian congregation, we are part of God’s household. (1 Tim. 3:15)” (par. 3)

God’s household consists of his children, the anointed.  Nowhere in scripture does it speak of a group of God’s friends who are members of this household.  This is one of those occasions when the teachers of the Organization attempt to have their cake and eat it too.  They want the “other sheep” to consider themselves as one of the members of God’s household while also recognizing that they are outsiders.

We therefore respect Jehovah’s right both to set standards and to give loving discipline when we violate them. Moreover, if our actions caused unpleasant consequences, his discipline would remind us of just how important it is to listen to our heavenly Father. (Galatians 6:7)” – (par. 3)

Just the same as for the opening paragraph, no mechanism for Jehovah disciplining us has been satisfactorily explained. Yes, Jehovah gives us instructions and guidance through his word, but discipline? That is not clear. The cited scripture shows the consequences of a course of action, rather than any direct action by Jehovah to chastise us. What is even more interesting is that Hebrews 12:5-11 which is talking about discipline (Here, the Greek word actually does convey instruction and chastisement, and therefore is correctly translated ‘discipline’.) is not mentioned once in this article. Furthermore it is talking about how Jehovah disciplines us as sons. When training a child, chastisement is a last resort if the training and reasoning fail. If we as imperfect humans reason this way, surely our loving Creator would avoid chastisement wherever possible. Hebrews 12:7 says “God is dealing with YOU as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline?” Maybe that is the reason Hebrews 12 is not cited in the article, because it would mean admitting we are ‘sons of God’, rather than ‘friends of God’. After all, what Father has authority to discipline his friends?

If you ever had a Bible study or studied the Bible with a child of your own, do you ever remember doing the following: “giving Scriptural discipline”, so you could “help your child or a Bible student to reach the goal of becoming a follower of Christ”? (par. 4) Or did you instead give them scriptural instruction? As parents we have scriptural authority to chastise our minor children when they do wrong, but a Bible study conductor has no such scriptural authority. Even 2 Timothy 3:16 quoted as “disciplining in righteousness” is translated as “instructing in righteousness” in most other translations.

At the end of paragraph 4 the following questions are raised to be discussed and you will notice the desire to emphasise ‘discipline’ instead of ‘instruction’ comes out strongly. We will see some reasons why, later in the article.

The questions raised are:

  1. How does God’s discipline reflect his love for us?
  2. What can we learn from those whom God disciplined in the past?
  3. When we give discipline, how can we imitate Jehovah and his Son?”

God Disciplines in Love

Paragraph 5 under this heading starts to reveal why the Organization uses “discipline” instead of “instruction”. After saying, “Rather, Jehovah dignifies us, appealing to the goodness in our heart and respecting our free will”, they go on to say, “Is that how you view God’s discipline, whether it comes through his Word, Bible-based publications, Christian parents, or congregation elders? Indeed, elders who try to readjust us in a mild and loving manner when we take “a false step,” perhaps unknowingly, reflect Jehovah’s love for us.​—Galatians 6:1”

So there we have it. It seems the whole thrust of the article is to give weight to the authority imposed by the Organization through its publications and the elder arrangement. The scripture appealed to for this, Galatians 6:1, even has an additional word “qualifications” inserted to add weight to this interpretation in the NWT. Most translations however render this verse along the same lines as the NLT “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Notice there is no mention of “qualifications” or “elders” or “discipline”. Rather, it is the duty of all godly believers to gently remind a fellow believer if they have made a false step unawares.  However, no authority is granted to administer discipline to ensure that happens. A godly believer’s responsibility ends after making the person aware of the false step he has made, because as Galatians 6:4-5 make clear “For each one will carry his own load [or responsibility]”.

Paragraph 6 carries on in this same vein of thought, that somehow elders have authority to discipline as it says, “if more serious sins are involved, it may include a loss of privileges in the congregation.”

Now, it is true someone committing serious sins puts himself in a difficult position with other fellow believers, but let us think for just one moment. In the first century congregation were there “privileges” that were given and potentially taken away? The Scriptures are silent on this matter, so it seems very unlikely. For a brother or sister in today’s congregation to suffer a loss of privileges, implies someone has authority to give the privileges and take them away. These ‘privileges’ today include pioneering, handling microphones, answering up at meetings, giving talks and so forth. None of these “privileges” existed in the 1st century congregation otherwise there would have been instructions given by the apostles to a group (e.g. older men) vested with authority as to how the rest of the congregation would qualify for same. This did not take place.

A loss of privileges, for example, can help a person to realise how important it is for him to focus more on personal Bible study, meditation and prayer.” – (par. 6)

So does “a loss of privileges” mean instruction or chastisement? It’s the latter. Yet, so far in this article, no scriptural basis for authority for chastisement or discipline of any members of a Christian congregation has been provided.

In the next paragraph, (7) the support for the current disfellowshipping arrangement is slipped in when it says “Even disfellowshipping reflects Jehovah’s love, for it protects the congregation from bad influences.(1 Corinthians 5:6-7,11)”.  1 Corinthians was written to the entire congregation, not just the elders. (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). It was the entire congregation who were requested to stop keeping company with ones purporting to be Christian brothers but who continued to practice sexual immorality, were greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunkards or extortioners, not even eating with them.

The Greek word, sunanamignumi, translated “keeping company” means ‘to mix up together closely (to influence), or to associate intimately with’. Note the indications of ‘closely’ and ‘intimately’. If we have a close friend we would spend a lot of time in close companionship, perhaps intimate time. This type of relationship is quite different from someone who is an acquaintance. However, not sharing intimate company with someone is a lot different from shunning someone, refusing to speak to them at all, even answering an urgent telephone call from them.

Paragraphs 8-11 deal with the account of Shebna. However, so much is supposition. For instance “Might this not suggest that Shebna did not give way to bitterness and resentment but instead humbly accepted his lesser responsibilities? If so, what lessons can we learn from the account?” (par. 8)

There is absolutely no indication in the Scriptures that this was the case. The only facts we have are that he was removed from his office as steward of Hezekiah’s household and later is recorded as being secretary. How can we learn lessons from a fictitious conclusion as to Shebna’s thinking? Surely any lessons drawn from supposition are purely make-believe?  The fact that they have to go with this account and engage in supposition indicates just how weak their case is.

  • Lesson 1 is “pride is before a crash” (Proverbs 16:18). – (par. 9)
    • “If you have privileges in the congregation, perhaps with a measure of prominence, will you strive to maintain a humble view of yourself?” Pride can indeed lead to a crash. But maybe there would not be such a need for this lesson if there were no “privileges in the congregation”, and no “measure of prominence” attached to them. However, at least this is a valid lesson unlike the following two lessons.
  • Lesson 2 “Second in strongly reproving Shebna, Jehovah may have been showing that he did not consider Shebna beyond recovery.” – (par. 10)
    • So now the Watchtower article writer is trying to read Jehovah God’s mind as to why he reproved him. 1 Corinthians 2:16 reminds us “For ‘who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him?’ But we do have the mind of Christ”. So attempting to read Jehovah’s motive without any other facts is fraught with danger.  The article continues on to draw a fictitious lesson from this assumption by saying, “What a fine lesson for those who lose privileges of service in God’s congregation today! Instead of being angry and resentful, may they continue to serve God….In their new situation, viewing the discipline as evidence of Jehovah’s love…. (Read 1 Peter 5:6-7)”.
      So, the conclusion they draw from this fictitious lesson is that no matter how one is treated, if one loses privileges in the congregation for any reason, one should treat it as “evidence of Jehovah’s love”? I am sure that doesn’t sit well with the likely thousands of elders and ministerial servants who have been unjustly removed when they fell foul of those many elders who do not maintain a humble view of themselves. Lesson 2 only serves the Organization’s purpose of trying to retain credibility of the elder arrangement as it is today, which has been clearly shown not to be spirit directed.
  • Lesson 3” “Jehovah’s treatment of Shebna provides a valuable lesson for those who are authorized to administer discipline, such as parents and Christian overseers” – (par. 10)
    • Thus far no evidence has been presented that shows that Christian overseers are authorized administer discipline.
      So we will assist by pointing to the implications of Hebrews 6:5-11 and Proverbs 19:18, Proverbs 29:17. These scriptures can be taken as authorisation for parents; however finding one authorising Christian overseers to administer discipline has proved impossible. Perhaps a reader might oblige if such a scripture exists.

When Giving Discipline, Imitate God and Christ

“Likewise, those divinely authorized to give discipline must themselves continue to submit willingly to Jehovah’s guidance.” – (par. 15)

There is no cited scripture showing the divine authorization. We should pause to consider why this is? Is it because such a scripture does not exist, but they want you to believe that it does? The article repeats this assertion again without proof when it says, “All who are authorized to give Scriptural discipline are wise when they imitate Christ’s example”. (par. 17) 

The scripture cited shortly after is 1 Peter 5:2-4 which says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over them not out of compulsion, but because it is God’s will; not out of greed, but out of eagerness”. (BSB)

You will note that care is evident in these words. The word translated shepherding conveys the meaning of guarding or protecting, and guiding (like instructing) but there is no hint of chastisement or discipline in the meaning. Likewise “watching over them” means ‘look at with real caring concern’, quite a different understanding from the 2013 NWT which says “serving as overseers” again clearly an attempt to bolster the Organization’s authority.

As part of the concluding comments, the article says:

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Jehovah’s discipline teaches us how to live together forever in peace and harmony as a family under his fatherly care. (Read Isaiah 11:9)” – (par. 19)

In reply we say, “No so!  It is an exaggeration.”  Instead, it is Jehovah’s instructions that teach us how to live together in peace and harmony. It is following our heavenly Father’s instructions given through his beloved Son, Jesus,  that will save our lives.  It is not by undergoing discipline and chastisement from Organizationally appointed (not spirit appointed) elders.