Something happened to me recently that, from discussions with various ones, is happening a lot more than I would have thought. It started some time ago and has been progressing slowly—a growing disenchantment with baseless speculation being passed off as Bible truth. In my case it has already reached a tipping point, and I daresay the same is happening to others more and more.
My first recollection of it goes back eight years to a question on the Theocratic Ministry School Review of April, 2004:
13. In the prophetic drama of Genesis chapter 24, who is pictured by (a) Abraham, (b) Isaac, (c) Abraham’s servant Eliezer, (d) the ten camels, and (e) Rebekah?
The answer for (d) comes from the Watchtower of 1989:
The bride class highly values what is pictured by the ten camels. The number ten is used in the Bible to denote perfection or completeness as related to things on earth. The ten camels may be compared to the complete and perfect Word of God, by means of which the bride class receives spiritual sustenance and spiritual gifts. (w89 7/1 p. 27 par. 17)
Notice how “may be” in 1989 becomes “is” by 2004. How easily speculation morphs into doctrine. Why would we do this? What benefit is there to this teaching? Perhaps we were enticed by the fact there were 10 camels. We do seem to have a fascination for the symbology of numbers.
Let me give you another example before I get to the point:
“When [Samson] got as far as the vineyards of Timnah, why, look! a maned young lion roaring upon meeting him.” (Judg. 14:5) In Bible symbolism, the lion is used to represent justice, as well as courage. (Ezek. 1:10; Rev. 4:6, 7; 5:5) Here the “young lion” appears to picture Protestantism, which in its beginnings came out boldly against some of the abuses perpetrated by Catholicism in the name of Christianity. (w67 2/15 p. 107 par. 11)
Samson’s lion prefigured Protestantism? Seems silly now, doesn’t it? Samson’s whole life seems to be one long prophetic drama. However, if that were the case, wouldn’t that mean Jehovah is responsible for all the woes that befell him? After all, he needed to live the typical fulfillment so that we could experience the prophetic antitype. Also, we should note that this particular teaching has never been recanted, so it continues to be our official position on the prophetic significance of Samson’s life.
These are but two of many such examples of baseless speculation which has been put forward as our official belief. It is true that there are Bible accounts that are prophetic in nature. We know this because the Bible says so. What we are referring to here are prophetic interpretations that have no basis in Scripture. The prophetic significance we impute to these accounts is entirely made up. Yet, we are told that we must believe these things if we are to be loyal to “God’s appointed channel”.
Mormon’s believe that God resides on or near a planet (or star) called Kolob. They believe each of them upon death becomes a spirit creature in charge of his or her very own planet. Catholics believe that wicked people burn for all time in some place of eternal fire. They believe that if they confess their sins to a man, he has the power to forgive them. All this and much more is baseless speculation put forward by their religious leaders to mislead the flock.
But we have the Christ and we have God’s inspired Word. The truth has set us free of such foolish teachings. We no longer follow the teachings of men as if they were doctrines from God. (Mt. 15:9)
No one should ever attempt to take that away from us, nor should we ever give that freedom up.
I have no problem with speculation as long as it is based on something. That type of speculation is synonymous with the word “theory”. In science, one theorizes as a way of attempting to explain some truth. The ancients observed the stars rotating about the earth and so theorized that these were holes in some immense sphere that was spinning around the planet. That held for a long while until other observable phenomena contradicted the theory and so it was abandoned.
We’ve done the same with our interpretation of Scripture. When the observable facts showed an interpretation or theory or speculation (if you wish) to be false, we have abandoned it in favor of a new one. This past week’s study with our revised understanding of the feet of iron and clay is a good example of that.
However, what we have in the two examples at the start of this post is something else. Speculation yes, but not theory. There is a name for speculation which is not based on any evidence, which is not corroborated by any facts: Mythology.
When we make things up and then pass them off as knowledge from the Most High, as knowledge that we must accept unquestioningly for fear that we may otherwise be testing our God, we are stepping on very thin ice indeed.
Paul gave Timothy this warning.
O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called “knowledge.” 21 For making a show of such [knowledge] some have deviated from the faith.. . .” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21)
Any deviation from the faith starts off with a single small step. We can step back on the true path easily enough if we don’t take too many steps in the wrong direction. Being imperfect humans, it is inevitable that we would take a misstep here and there. However, the exhortation of Paul to Timothy is to be on guard against such things; to be on guard against the “falsely called knowledge.”
So where does one draw the line? It is different for each one, and so it should be, for each of us stands individually before our God on judgment day. As a guideline, let us try to distinguish between sound theory and baseless mythology; between sincere efforts to explain Scripture based on all available facts, and teachings that ignore the evidence and put forward ideas of men.
A red flag should go up anytime a teaching is advanced and we are told we must believe it unquestioningly or face divine retribution.
God’s truth is based on love and love coaxes with reason. It does not cajole by threatening.