Theme Text: “’You are my witnesses,’ declares Jehovah” – Isa. 43:10”
This is the first of a two-part study intended apparently to reinforce our belief in the divine origin of our name, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Paragraph 2 states: “By giving this witness work our priority, we prove true to our God-given name, as stated at Isaiah 43:10: “’You are my witnesses,’ declares Jehovah, ‘yes, my servant whom I have chosen.’”” The next paragraph tells us that the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was adopted in 1931.
It is bold for any group to make the assertion that God himself has named them. To name someone is to claim great authority over that person. Parents name their children. Jehovah changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Jacob’s name to Israel, for they were his servants and it was his right to do so. (Ge 17:5; 32:28) This raises the valid question, How do we know that it was God who gave us this name?
In Isaiah chapter 43, Jehovah is addressing the nation of Israel. The account depicts a figurative courtroom in which Israel is called to bear witness about Jehovah before the nations of the earth. They are to play the role of his witnesses because they are his servant. Is he conferring on them the name of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”? Is he naming them, perchance, “Jehovah’s Servant”? He addresses them as both in this account, but the Israelites were never called by either name. While they did perform the role of witnesses in this figurative drama, they continued to be known down through the centuries as Israelites, not Jehovah’s Witnesses.
By what right do we cherry-pick a scripture directed to the nation of Israel over 2,500 years ago and claim it applies to us—not to Christians in general, but exclusively to us? A child doesn’t name himself. His parents name him. If he changes his name later in life, would that not usually be seen as an insult to his parents? Has our Father named us? Or are we changing our name all on our own?
Let us see what the Bible has to say on the subject.
For a while, the congregation was referred to as “The Way”. (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23) However, this doesn’t appear to have been a name so much as a designation; such as when we used to call ourselves Bible Students. The first time we are actually given a name by God was in Antioch.
“…it was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” (Ac 11:26)
Granted, the phrase “by divine providence” is an interpretive emendation unique to the NWT, but the fact that “Christian” is used elsewhere in the inspired word of God indicates that the name is a divinely approved one.
Given this, why don’t we just call ourselves Christians? Why not, the Christian Congregation of South Bronx, NY or the Christian Congregation of Greenwich, London? Why did we receive a name to distinguish ourselves from all other Christian denominations?
What does it mean to be Jehovah’s Witness?
The indefinite article is missing from the subtitle on purpose, because the question doesn’t pertain to being a member of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the quality itself of being a witness—in this case, for Jehovah. Ask the average JW what it means to be a Witness and he will answer that it means preaching the good news of the kingdom. He will likely quote Matthew 24:14 as proof.
This week’s study will do little to disabuse him of that notion, for it opens with these words:
What does it mean to be a witness? One dictionary gives this definition: “Someone who sees an event and reports what happened.”
To the mind of a Jehovah’s Witness, the things we have “seen” and about which we bear witness to the world are the 1914 invisible enthronement of Jesus as King and the events “marking” his presence and the start of the last days such as wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. (For an examination as to whether such beliefs are Biblical, check out the category “1914” on this site.)
Since we claim this name to be divinely ordained especially for us, shouldn’t we look at what it means in the Bible?
What the Watchtower gives as the definition of a witness is demonstrated at Luke 1:2:
“. . .just as these were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and attendants of the message. . .” (Lu 1:2)
Someone who “sees an event and reports” on it is an eyewitness. The Greek word used here is autoptes. However, the word at Matthew 24:14 rendered “witness” is marturion. At Acts 1:22, a replacement for Judas is being sought, “a witness” of Jesus’ resurrection. The word there is martyra, from which we get the English word, “martyr”. Marturion means “witness, evidence, testimony, proof” and is always used in a judicial sense. An eyewitness (autoptes) can become a martyra if what he reports to have seen constitutes testimony in a judicial case. Otherwise, he’s just a spectator.
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses, old-timers who remember the days when the Watchtower study wasn’t superficial as it usually is these days, will answer the question differently. They will say that we bear testimony in the great court case raised by Satan in which he challenged God’s rulership. We provide proof by our conduct that Satan is wrong.
Still, if a witness in a court case is caught lying, it subverts all of his testimony. Even if the bulk of his testimony may be true, it is suspect: the reasoning being, if he could lie once, he could lie again; and how can we know where the lie stops and the truth begins. Therefore, we do well to examine the basis upon which we make the bold claim that God himself gave us this name. If it is based on a lie, it taints all our testimony on Jehovah’s behalf.
What is the Origin of Our Name?
Before continuing, it should be stated that the act of bearing witness for God is a noble one. What is in question is only whether we have a divine right to call ourselves by the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”.
There are four possible origins of this name:
- It is expressly stated in Scripture, much as the name “Christian” is.
- It was revealed to us directly by God.
- It is a human invention.
- It was revealed by demons.
We have already seen that the only scriptural justification given—Isaiah 43:10—cannot be applied to the Christian congregation. Neither specifically nor implicitly is this possible.
That takes us to the second point. Did Jehovah give Judge Rutherford an inspired revelation? The Judge thought so. Here are the historical facts:
(Before proceeding, you might want to review an insightful article written by Apollos titled “Spirit Communication”)
Jesus told us that understanding of truth would come by means of the holy spirit. (John 14:26; 16:13-14) However, Rutherford disagreed. In 1930 he claimed that the advocacy of the holy spirit had ceased. (w30 9/1 “Holy Spirit” par. 24)
With Jesus now present, angels—not holy spirit—were used to reveal divine truth.
“If the holy spirit as a helper were directing the work, then there would be no good reason for employing the angels … the Scriptures seem clearly to teach that the Lord directs his angels what to do and they act under the supervision of the Lord in directing the remnant on earth concerning the course of action to take.” (w30 9/1 p. 263)
How was it that these angels were used to reveal divine truth? The article continues:
“It would seem there would be no necessity for the ‘servant’ to have an advocate such as the holy spirit because the ‘servant’ is in direct communication with Jehovah and as Jehovah’s instrument, and Christ Jesus acts for the entire body.” (w30 9/1 p. 263)
The “servant” he is referring to is the faithful and discreet slave. Who was this servant in Rutherford’s day?
According to some new truth recently revealed through the Watchtower, the faithful and discreet slave was appointed in 1919 and consists of “a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence.” (w13 7/15 p. 22 par. 10) The same article declared that this group currently consists of the men making up the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Rutherford’s day, he wrote most of what went into the Watchtower, however there was an editorial committee of five who could arguably be included in that “small group of anointed brothers”, or as Rutherford terms it, “the servant”. At least, it could be argued that way until 1931, for in that year—the year we got our new name—Judge Rutherford used his executive powers to disband the editorial committee. After that he was no longer simply the editor-in-chief, but the sole editor of everything published. As the only one “directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food”, he became, by the new definition, the servant or faithful steward.
If this is hard for you as a Witness to agree with, you must remember that “Jehovah wants us to support his organization and accept adjustments in the way we understand Bible truth…” (w14 5/15 p.25 Simplified Edition)
This means that Rutherford—by his own written word and “the refined truth” revealed through the Governing Body in the pages of the Watchtower just last year—was the ‘servant’ in direct communication with Jehovah.
Rutherford believed ‘the Servant’ was in direct communication with God.
This was the climate in 1931 when Rutherford read out the resolution to the crowd depicted in the photo at the start of this week’s Watchtower study article. At that point in time, the role of the holy spirit in the revelation of truth from God’s word had been dismissed; the control of the anointed brothers making up the editorial committee that governed what Rutherford published had been done away with; the servant, now embodied in Judge Rutherford according to our new truth, was claiming to be in direct communication with God.
Therefore, we have three options left to us: 1) We can believe that Jehovah actually did inspire Rutherford to give us this name; or 2) we can believe that Rutherford came up with it himself; or 3) we can believe that it came from demonic sources.
Did God inspire Rutherford? Was he actually in direct communication with God? Given that in that very time period Rutherford had dismissed as no longer applicable the clear Bible teaching that the holy spirit is the means through which Bible truth is revealed to Christians, it is hard to believe in divine inspiration. After all, if Jehovah inspired Rutherford to adopt the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, would he not also inspire him to write the truth about the role of the holy spirit—a truth we now adhere to in our publications? Additionally, just six years earlier, Rutherford predicted the resurrection of faithful men of old to occur in 1925, the same year he said the Great Tribulation would come. Why would he say that if he were speaking with God? “A fountain does not cause the sweet and the bitter to bubble out of the same opening, does it?” (James 3:11)
This leaves us with two options for the origin of the name.
It might seem charitable to say that this was merely human invention; the act of a man who wanted to separate his people from the other Christian denominations and form a unique organization under his leadership. We cannot know for sure at this point in history whether that’s all it amounted to. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the other possibility out of hand, for the Bible warns:
“. . .However, the inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons,” (1Ti 4:1)
We are quick to apply this verse and the next one to the Catholic religion specifically and to all Christian denominations by association. We have no problem believing their teachings are demon inspired. Why? Because they are false. God doesn’t inspire men to teach falsehood. Quite true. But if we are willing to take that position, then we have to be fair and acknowledge the well documented fact that many of Rutherford’s teachings were also false. In fact, very few survive to this day as part of the “pattern of healthful words”, as we like to call our particular doctrinal structure.
As we saw from the excerpt from that 1930 Watchtower article, Rutherford believed angels were being used to deliver God’s messages. Rutherford taught that Christ’s presence had already occurred. He taught that the anointed who had died were already gathered with Christ in heaven. He taught (and we still do) that the Lord’s day began in 1914.
“However, brothers, concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be alarmed either by an inspired statement or by a spoken message or by a letter appearing to be from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah [actually, “the Lord” in the original] is here.” (2Th 2:1, 2)
If the shoe fits….
Rutherford claimed that our name came directly from God and that he was in direct communication with God. We know this cannot be true. We also know that from that point forward, the heavenly hope was de-emphasized to the point where it has now been stripped from 99.9% of all Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hand-in-hand with that, the role of our Lord Jesus was slowly but steadily diminished. Everything now is about Jehovah. The average Jehovah’s Witness will have no problem with that realization. He will reason that Jehovah is more important that Jesus, so we should be making his name known. He will get visibly uncomfortable if too much emphasis is put on God’s son even in casual conversation. (This I have witnessed personally.) But if a child is so willful as to reject the name given him by his father, would he stop there? Would he not then be more likely to reject his father’s will for him as well, presuming he knows better and thus pursue a course of self-will?
God’s will is clearly expressed in the Christian Scriptures and it is all about Jesus. That is why Jesus’ name is repeated throughout the Christian record, while Jehovah’s is absent. That is God’s will. Who are we to contest that?
The Father is of supreme importance, of course. No one is denying that, least of all Jesus. But the way to the Father is through the Son. We are therefore called Jesus’ witnesses in Scripture, not Jehovah’s. (Acts 1:7; 1 Co 1:4; Re 1:9; 12:17) Even Jehovah bore witness about Jesus. (John 8:18) We should not be attempting an end run around our Lord. He is the doorway. If we try to enter by another route, then what does the Bible say we are? (John 10:1)
Rutherford believed angels were now carrying God’s communication to him. Whether our name comes from human invention or from demonic inspiration, the proof is in the pudding. It has sidetracked us from our true mission and the true meaning of the good news. The Bible carries this warning for us all:
“However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond the good news we declared to you, let him be accursed.” (Ga 1:8)