The Governing Body is, by its own admission, the “highest ecclesiastical authority for the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses” worldwide. (See point 7 of the Declaration of Gerrit Losch.[i]) Nevertheless, there is no foundation in Scripture for a governing authority made up of men to replace Jesus Christ as the one directing the worldwide congregation. Former president Fred Franz argued this point, albeit paradoxically, in his Graduation Speech to the 59th class of Gilead. The only Scriptural text the Governing Body has ever advanced to support its hold on power is the parable at Matthew 24:45-47 where Jesus speaks of, but does not identify, a slave charged with feeding his domestics.
Formerly, Witnesses were taught that all anointed Christians—a small subset of Jehovah’s Witnesses—formed the faithful slave class, with the Governing Body as their de facto voice. However, in the July 15, 2013 issue of The Watchtower, the Governing Body adopted a bold and controversial reinterpretation of Matthew 24:45-47 granting themselves the official status of the faithful slave Jesus appointed to feed his flock. (For a full discussion of this interpretation see: Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave? Even more information is available under the category Faithful Slave.)
It would appear that the Governing Body is feeling the pressure to justify their position of authority. Brother David Splane opened his recent Morning Worship talk with this scenario:
“A studious sister comes up to you after the meeting on Sunday and says, “Now I know that there have always been anointed ones on earth for the last 1900 years, but recently we said that there has not been a faithful and discreet slave providing spiritual food at the proper time during the last 1900 years. Now, what’s the thinking behind that? Why did we change our view on that?”
He then pauses, looks at the audience and issues the challenge: “Well, we’re waiting. How would you answer?”
Is he suggesting that the answer should be obvious? Unlikely. Perhaps, given the wry smile accompanying his mild challenge, he knows there’s not a person in the audience who could properly defend the position. To that end, he next lists four factors in an attempt to demonstrate why Jesus words about the faithful slave that would feed the flock could not have been fulfilled until the 20th century.
- There was no source of spiritual food.
- The bad attitude of the reformers toward the Bible.
- The division that existed among the reformers.
- The lack of support among the reformers for the preaching work.
You may have noticed that these are not Scriptural reasons to argue against a 1900-year-long existence of a faithful slave feeding the domestics. In fact, he quotes not a single scripture throughout this presentation. So we must depend on his logic to convince us. Let’s give it a look, shall we?
1. “The Source of the Spiritual Food”
Brother Splane asks: “What is the source of spiritual food?” His answer: “The Bible.”
He then goes on to reason that prior to 1455, there were no printed versions of the Bible. No Bible, no food. No food, nothing for the slave to feed the domestics with, hence, no slave. It is true that prior to the printing press there could have been no “printed” versions, but there were many “published” versions. In fact, this is what the publications themselves have revealed.
“The zealous early Christians set themselves to producing as many copies of the Bible as they could, all copied by hand. They also pioneered the use of the codex, which had pages like a modern book, instead of continuing to use scrolls. (w97 8/15 p. 9 – How the Bible Came to Us)
The spread of Christian beliefs soon created a demand for translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures as well as the Hebrew Scriptures. Numerous versions in such languages as Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, and Syriac were eventually made. Often alphabets had to be devised just for that purpose. For instance, Ulfilas, a fourth-century bishop of the Roman Church, is said to have invented Gothic script to translate the Bible. (w97 8/15 p. 10– How the Bible Came to Us)
Splane is now contradicting the testimony of his own publications.
For the first four centuries of Christianity, at the very least, there were many copies of the Bible translated into the native tongue of numerous peoples. How else does Splane think that Peter and the apostles were able to obey Jesus’ command to feed his sheep if there was no food to feed them with? (John 21:15-17) How else did the congregation grow from about 120 at Pentecost to the millions of followers in existence at the time of the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine? What food did they eat if the source of spiritual food, the Bible, was not available to them? His reasoning is utterly ludicrous!
Brother Splane does admit that things changed in the mid-1400s. It was technology, the invention of the printing press, that broke the choke-hold the church had on Bible distribution during the dark ages. However, he doesn’t go into any detail as this would further undermine his argument that the absence of the source of food, the Bible, meant no slave for 1900 years. For example, he fails to mention that the first book ever printed on the Gutenberg press was the Bible. By the 1500s it was made available in English. Today, ships patrol the coast to stop the illegal contraband of drugs. In the 1500s, the English coast was patrolled to stop the illegal trafficking of Tyndale’s English Bibles from getting into the country.
In 1611, the King James Bible began to change the world. Historians report that everyone was reading the Bible. Its teachings were affecting every aspect of life. In his book, The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011, Melvyn Bragg writes:
“What a difference it made to ‘ordinary’ people, to be able, as they did, to dispute with Oxford educated priests and it is reported often better them!”
This hardly sounds like a shortage of food, does it not? But wait, we have to consider the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Millions of Bibles were printed and distributed around the world in virtually every language. All of this abundance of spiritual food occurred prior to 1919, when the Governing Body says their predecessors were appointed as Christ’s faithful slave.
2. “The Attitude of Some Who Had Access to the Bible Was Not Always the Best”
Since the Bible was readily available during the Protestant Reformation, Splane introduces a new factor to argue against the existence of a faithful slave. He states that there was very little difference between the Protestant reformers and the Catholic clergy.
“Many of the Protestant reformers took from the Bible what pleased them, and rejected the rest.”
Hold on just a minute! Cannot the same be said of today’s Protestants? How is it that in a similar climate, Splane now says that the faithful slave exists? If seven Jehovah’s Witnesses can constitute the slave now, could not seven anointed men have also represented the slave during the Reformation? Is Brother Splane expecting us to believe that even though—by his own admission—there have always been anointed on earth during the past 1900 years, Jesus could never find seven qualified men to serve as his faithful slave? (This is based on the Governing Body’s assumption that the slave constitutes a governing authority.) Is he not stretching our credulity beyond the breaking point?
There is still more.
3. “The Tremendous Division Among the Reformers”
He speaks of the persecution of faithful Anabaptists. He mentions Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, who was executed in part because she was a secret evangelical and supported the printing of the Bible. So the division among the reformers is cause for them not being considered the faithful and discreet slave. Fair enough. We could charge that they are the evil slave. History shows that they certainly acted the part. Oh, but there’s a rub. Our 2013 reinterpretation has relegated the evil slave to the status of a warning metaphor.
Still, what about all the Christians that these evil reformers persecuted, tortured and killed because of their faith and zeal for disseminating the word of God – for printing the Bible, like Anne Boleyn? Are these not to be considered by brother Splane as worthy slave candidates? If not, then what in fact is the criteria for slave appointment?
4. “The Attitude toward the Preaching Work”
Brother Splane points out that Protestant reformers were not active in the preaching work. He shows how it was the Catholic religion which is most responsible for disseminating the word of God around the world. But the reformers believed in predestination and so were not zealous in the preaching work.
His reasoning is specious and highly selective. He would have us believe that all reformers believed in predestination and eschewed the preaching work and Bible distribution and persecuted others. Baptists, Methodists, Adventists are but three groups that have engaged in missionary work throughout the world and have grown in numbers far outstripping our own. All these groups predate Jehovah’s Witnesses. These groups, and many others besides, have been active in getting the Bible into the hands of the local population in their own language. Even today, these groups have missionaries in as many countries as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. It would seem that for the past two or three hundred years there have been several Christian denominations that have met Splane’s qualification criteria as the faithful slave.
There can be no doubt that if presented with this objection, brother Splane would disqualify these groups because they do not teach complete Bible truth. They have some things right, and other things wrong. Jehovah’s Witnesses often paint with that brush, but fail to realize that it covers them just as well. In fact, it was none other than David Splane himself who proved that.
Last October he unwittingly cut the pegs out from under virtually every doctrine which is unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his talk to the annual meeting delegates concerning types and antitypes of human origin, he stated that the use of such types would amount to “going beyond what is written.” Our belief that the other sheep are a secondary group of Christians is based on a typical/antitypical application not found in Scripture. (See “Going Beyond What Is Written.”) Our belief in 1914 as the start of Christ’s presence is based on an antitypical application of the seven times of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness which is also not found in Scripture. Oh, and here’s the kicker: our belief that 1919 marks the point in which Jesus appointed the faithful and discreet slave is based on antitypical applications such as the inspection of the temple and the messenger of the Covenant which have no Scriptural application beyond their first century fulfillment. Applying them to 1919 is to engage in the non-Scriptural application of antitypes which Splane himself condemned just last year.
A Doctrine in Crisis
The Governing Body exercises a level of control over its flock which is quite rare these days in Christian religions. To maintain that control, it is necessary for the rank and file to believe these men have been appointed by Christ himself. If that appointment didn’t start in 1919, they are left to explain who the faithful slave was prior to then and back through history. That becomes tricky and would seriously undermine their newly enhanced authority.
For many, the superficial logic that Splane uses to make his case will seem comforting. However, for anyone with even a modicum of knowledge regarding the history of Christianity and a love of truth, his words are disturbing, even disdainful. We cannot help but feel insulted when such a transparently meretricious argument is used in an attempt to deceive us. Like the prostitute the word derives from, the argument is dressed up to entice, but looking past the provocative clothing, one sees a creature full of disease; something to be abhorred.
[i] This declaration is part of a submission to the court in a child abuse case in which Gerrit Losch refuses to obey a subpoena to appear in court on behalf of the Governing Body and also in which the Governing Body refuses to surrender court ordered documents of discovery. For this, it was held in contempt of court and fined ten million dollars. (It should be noted that this appears to be a violation of the Scriptural command to submit to the governmental authorities if doing so does not violate God’s law. – Romans 13:1-4)