In Part 1 of this article, we discussed why outside research is helpful if we are to arrive at a balanced, unbiased understanding of Scripture. We also addressed the conundrum of how a now-apostate teaching (“old light”) could not logically have been conceived at the direction of God’s holy spirit. On the one hand, the GB/FDS (Governing Body/Faithful and Discreet Slave) present the publications it produces as uninspired, even admitting that its members are imperfect men who make mistakes. On the other hand, it seems quite contradictory to make the claim that truth is made clear exclusively in the publications they write. How is truth made clear? This could be compared to the weatherman saying there is absolutely, positively, zero chance of rain tomorrow. Then he tells us his instruments are not calibrated, and that history shows he is often mistaken. I don’t know about you, but I’m carrying an umbrella just in case.
We now continue the article, sharing the account of what happened when some of the most scholarly within our ranks removed their blindfolds and conducted research in the “main library.”
A Difficult Lesson Learned
In the late 1960’s, research for the Aid To Bible Understanding book (1971) was underway. The subject “Chronology” was assigned to one of the most scholarly among leadership at the time, Raymond Franz. On an assignment to substantiate 607 B.C.E as the correct date for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, he and his secretary Charles Ploeger were authorized to remove their blindfolds and search the major libraries of New York. Though the mission was to find historic support for the 607 date, the opposite occurred. Brother Franz later commented on the results of the research: (Crisis of Conscience pp 30-31):
“We found absolutely nothing in support of 607 B.C.E. All historians pointed to a date twenty years earlier.”
In a diligent effort to leave no stone unturned, he and Brother Ploeger visited Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) to consult with Professor Abraham Sachs, a specialist in ancient cuneiform texts, particularly those containing astronomical data. The result was both enlightening and unsettling to these brothers. Brother Franz continues:
“In the end, it became evident that it would have taken a virtual conspiracy on the part of the ancient scribes, with no conceivable motive for doing so, to misrepresent the facts if, indeed our figure was to be the right one. Again, like an attorney faced with evidence he cannot overcome, my effort was to discredit or weaken confidence in the witnesses from ancient times who presented such evidence, the evidence of historical texts relating to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In themselves, the arguments I presented were honest ones, but I know that their intent was to uphold a date for which there was no historical support.”
As compelling as the evidence against the 607 B.C.E date is, imagine yourself alongside the brothers doing the research. Imagine your frustration and disbelief upon learning that the anchor date of the 1914 doctrine had no secular nor historical support? Can we not imagine ourselves wondering, what else might we discover if we were to research other teachings of the Governing Body, who claims to be the Faithful and Discreet Slave?
A few years had passed when in 1977 the Governing Body in Brooklyn received a treatise from a scholarly elder in Sweden named Carl Olof Jonsson. The treatise examined the subject of the “Gentile Times.” His comprehensive and exhaustive research only served to corroborate the earlier findings of the Aid book research team.
A number of prominent elders, in addition to the Governing Body, became aware of the treatise, including Ed Dunlap and Reinhard Lengtat. These scholarly brothers were also involved with the writing of the Aid book. The treatise was also shared with prominent elders in Sweden, including circuit and district overseers. This dramatic situation can be attributed to one thing and one thing only: The teaching was tested using research material other than what is produced by the GB/FDS.
607 B.C.E Is Officially Challenged — What Now?
To challenge the date of 607 B.C.E. was to challenge the anchor of the most treasured and publicized doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely, that 1914 marked the end of the “Gentile Times” and the beginning of the invisible rule of God’s Kingdom in the heavens. The stakes were incredibly high. If the true historical date of Jerusalem’s destruction is 587 B.C.E., this places the end of the seven times (2,520 years) of Daniel chapter 4 in the year 1934, not 1914. Ray Franz was a member of the Governing Body, so he shared his research findings with other members. They now had even more evidence, both from a historical and biblical perspective, that the 607 B.C.E. date could not be correct. Would the “guardians of doctrine” abandon a date which is wholly unsupportable? Or would they dig themselves a deeper hole?
By 1980, the chronology of C.T. Russell (that relied on 607 B.C.E to affix 1914) was over a century old. Moreover, the 2520 year chronology (7 times of Daniel chapter 4) fixing 607 B.C.E. as the year of Jerusalem’s destruction was actually the brainstorm of Nelson Barbour, not Charles Russell.[i] Barbour originally claimed that 606 B.C.E was the date, but changed it to 607 B.C.E when he realized there was no year Zero. So here we have a date which originated not with Russell, but with a Second Adventist; a man Russell parted with soon after over theological differences. This is the date that the Governing Body continues to defend tooth and nail. Why did they not abandon it, when they had the chance? For certain, it would have required courage and strength of character to have done so, but just think of the credibility they would have gained. But that time has passed.
At the same time there were other decades-old teachings under scrutiny by some scholarly brothers within the organization. Why not examine all the “old school” teachings in the light of modern-day knowledge and understanding? One teaching in particular desperately needing reform was the No-Blood doctrine. Another was the teaching that the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are not anointed by holy spirit, are not children of God. Sweeping reform could have occurred within the organization in one fell swoop. The rank and file would have accepted all the changes as just more “new light” under the direction of God’s holy spirit. Sadly, although clearly aware that secular, historical, astronomical, and biblical evidence convicts the 607 B.C.E. anchor date as specious, the majority on the Governing Body voted to leave the 1914 teaching as the status quo, deciding as a body to kick that can down the road. They must have felt Armageddon was so near that they would never have to answer for this egregious decision.
Those who could not conscientiously continue to teach the 1914 doctrine were attacked. Of the three aforementioned brothers (Franz, Dunlap, Lengtat) only the latter remained in good standing so long as he agreed to remain silent. Brother Dunlap was immediately disfellowshipped as a “diseased” apostate. Brother Franz resigned as GB member and was disfellowshipped the very next year. Any who would speak with them were subject to being shunned. Most of Ed Dunlap’s extended family in Oklahoma were sought out (as if in a witch hunt) and shunned. This was pure damage control.
Their decision to “bet the farm” may have seemed like a safe choice back in 1980, but now, 35 years later and counting, it is a ticking time bomb counting down its last seconds. The ready availability of information via the internet—a development they could never have anticipated—is proving disasterous to their plans. Brothers and sisters are not only examining the validity of 1914, but every peculiar teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There can be no denying that the so-called “guardians of doctrine” are aware that the preponderance of Scriptural and secular evidence disproves 607 B.C.E. as relevant to Bible prophecy. It was given life by William Miller and other Adventists down through the 19th century, but they had the good sense to abandon it before it became an albatross around their neck.
So how can men who claim to be guided by God’s holy spirit continue to teach this doctrine as truth? How many have been misguided by this teaching? How many have been mistreated and judged because they spoke out against a teaching of man? God can have no share in falsehood. (Heb 6:18; Tit 1:2)
Diligent Research Prevents Us From Spreading Falsehood
Does our Heavenly Father fear that our gaining deep knowledge of his Word will somehow draw us away from the Christian faith? Does he fear that if we share our research in forums that encourage honest and open scriptural discussion, that we will stumble ourselves or others? Or is it to the contrary, that our Father is well pleased when we diligently search his Word for truth? If the Beroeans were alive today, how do you suppose they would receive a “new light” teaching? How would they react to being told they are not to question the teaching? What would be their reaction at being discouraged from even using the Scriptures by themselves to test a teaching’s merit? Is God’s Word not good enough? (1Th 5:21) [ii]
By claiming that the truth of God’s Word is revealed only through its publications, the Governing Body is telling us that God’s Word itself is insufficient. They are saying that we cannot come to know the truth without reading Watchtower literature. This is circular reasoning. They only teach what is true and we know this because they tell us so.
We honor Jesus and our Father, Jehovah, by teaching truth. Conversely, we dishonor them by teaching falsehood in their name. Truth is revealed to us through researching the scriptures and through Jehovah’s holy spirit. (John 4:24; 1 Cor 2:10-13) If we represent that we (Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach only truth to our neighbors, while history proves our claim untrue, does that not make us hypocrites? It is therefore prudent that we personally examine any teaching that we are representing as truth.
Take a walk with me down Memory Lane. Those of us of the boomer generation remember well the following featured teachings of the 1960s-1970s. The question is, where are these teachings found in God’s Word?
- The 7,000 year creative day (49,000 year creative week)
- The 6,000 year chronology pinpointing 1975
- The generation of 1914 not passing away before Armageddon arrives
For any unfamiliar with these teachings, simply research the WT CD Library. You will not, however, find access to a particular publication produced in 1966 by the Organization that was pivotal to the 1975 teaching. It would appear this is by design. The book is entitled Life Everlasting In Freedom Of The Sons Of God. I happen to have a hard copy. The GB (and well meaning zealots) would have us believe the 1975 teaching was never actually in print. They (and those who came in after 1975) will tell you it was just “anxious” brothers and sisters who were getting carried away with their own interpretation. Note two quotes from this publication and you decide:
“According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975. So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes within this generation.” (p.29)
“It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the ‘Lord of the sabbath,’ to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence (p. 30)
A chart is provided on pages 31-35. (Although you won’t be able to access the book, you can access this chart using the WT Library program by going to page 272 of the May 1, 1968 Watchtower.) The last two entries on the chart are noteworthy:
- 1975 6000 End of 6th 1,000-year day of man’s existence (in early autumn)
- 2975 7000 End of 7th 1,000-year day of man’s existence (in early autumn)
Note the phrasing in the above quote: “it would not be by mere chance or accident but according to Jehovah’s purpose for the reign of Jesus….. to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence.” So in 1966 we see that the Organization predicted in print that it would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for Christ’s millennial reign to begin in 1975. What is this saying? What occurs before Christ’s millennial reign? Was not an attempt to pinpoint the “day and hour” (or year) completely contrary to Jesus words at Matt 24:36? And yet we were compelled not only to embrace these teachings as truth, but to preach them to our neighbors.
Imagine that the Beroeans had been alive during the Boomer generation. Would they not have asked: But where are these teachings found in God’s Word? Jehovah would have been well pleased with us for asking that question back then. Had we done so, we would not have taken speculation, conjecture and false expectation to family, friends and neighbors. These teachings dishonored God. Yet if we are to believe the claim of the Governing Body that God’s spirit directs them at all times, these erroneous teachings must have been conceived under the direction of his holy spirit. Is that even possible?
So Why Have Things Not Changed?
The Guardians of Doctrine admit to being imperfect men. It is a also a fact that many of the doctrines they guard are inherited teachings of former generations of leadership. We have demonstrated on this site over and over the unscriptural nature of the doctrines peculiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses. What is disappointing is that the men taking the lead in the Organization have a very comprehensive library at Bethel with aisles of theological material, including numerous Bible translations and versions, original language dictionaries, lexicons, concordances and commentaries. The library also contains books on history, culture, archaeology, geology and medical topics. I am given to believe the library also contains so-called “apostate” material. One could fairly say that many of the books they would discourage the rank and file from reading are available to them anytime they choose. Given that these men have access to such a fine research source, why is it they cling to decades-old false doctrine? Do they not realize their refusal to abandon these teachings undermines their credibility and claim that God has appointed them to dispense food to the domestics? Why have they dug their heels in?
- Pride. It takes humility to admit error (Prov 11:2)
- Presumptuousness. They claim God’s holy spirit directs their steps, so admitting error would disprove this claim.
- Fear. Losing credibility among members would undermine their authority and ability to maintain absolute control.
- Organizational loyalty. The good of the organization takes priority over truth.
- Fear of legal ramifications (e.g. the No Blood doctrine and admitting error in misinterpreting the two- witness rule in reporting child abuse). To rescind the former would be to subject the organization to huge wrongful death liability. To settle the abuse cover-up will necessarily involve releasing the confidential abuse files. One need only look at the many Catholic dioceses in the USA which have released their abuse files to see where this will inevitably lead. (Such an outcome may now be inevitable.)
So what is the problem with research, specifically, research that involves studying the scriptures without the aid of WT publications? There is no problem. Such research provides knowledge. Knowledge (when combined with God’s holy spirit) becomes wisdom. There is certainly nothing to fear in researching the Bible without the librarian (GB) looking over our shoulder. So put the WT volumes aside and let’s get to studying God’s Word itself.
Such research is, however, a major concern for those who would have us accept something that is not provable using only God’s Word. Ironically, the one Book the GB fears that we study the most is the Bible. They give lip service to studying it, but only if done through the lens of WT publications.
In conclusion, allow me to share a comment made by Anthony Morris in a talk at a recent convention. On the subject of doing deep research he said: “For those of you out there who want to do deep research and learn about Greek, forget about it, go out in service.” I found his statement to be both condescending and self serving.
The message he was conveying is clear. I believe he correctly represents the position of the GB. If we do research, we will arrive at conclusions other than those taught in the pages of the publications produced by the alleged Faithful and Discreet Slave. His solution? Leave it to us. You just go out and preach what we hand to you.
Nevertheless, how do we maintain a clear conscience in our ministry if we are not personally convinced that what we are teaching is truth?
“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15)
[i] Herald Of The Morning September 1875 p.52
[ii] Brothers who have sought support from Paul’s praise of the Beroeans have been told that the Beroeans only acted that way at the beginning, but once they knew Paul taught the truth, they stopped their research.