[From ws1/16 p. 7 for February 29 – March 6]
“Let your brotherly love continue.”—HEB. 13:1
Allegedly, this article analyzes the theme of brotherly love as laid out in the first 7 verses of Hebrews chapter 13.
Here are those verses:
“Let your brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget hospitality, for through it some unknowingly entertained angels. 3 Keep in mind those in prison, as though you were imprisoned with them, and those being mistreated, since you yourselves also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be honorable among all, and let the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers. 5 Let your way of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: “I will never leave you, and I will never abandon you.” 6 So that we may be of good courage and say: “Jehovah is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” 7 Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out, imitate their faith.” (Heb 13:1-7)
Assuming that Paul is the writer of Hebrews, has he introduced the theme of brotherly love in verse 1, and then developed it through to verse 7, or is he merely laying down a list of “dos and don’ts”? You be the judge.
- Vs 1: He speaks of brotherly love
- Vs 2: Hospitality (love of strangers)
- Vs 3: Oneness with those being persecuted
- Vs 4: Loyalty to one’s spouse; avoid immorality
- Vs 5: Avoid materialism; trust in God to provide
- Vs 6: Have courage; trust in God for protection
- Vs 7: Imitate the faith of those leading, based on their good conduct
Of course, with a little imagination, one can relate almost anything to anything, which is what the writer of this article attempts to do in the second half of the study. However, here Paul isn’t developing a theme based on brotherly love. Brotherly love is just the first of a list of counsel points.
If you look at these points, you’ll notice something familiar. These are the staple diet of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Often brothers and sisters will excuse the repetitive nature of their “spiritual nourishment” by saying that ‘we need these constant reminders’. If that were true, then it would appear that Jesus and the Bible writers really dropped the ball, because these “reminders” form only a miniscule part of the inspired Christian record. Yet, they form the bulk of what is fed to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The situation might be compared to a restaurateur who has a warehouse full of food and delicacies from all over the world, but has a menu as limited at that found at your local fast food joint.
If you are going to feed people the same thing over and over, you need to repackage it so that they don’t realize what’s happening. That seems to be the case here. We are led to believe we are going to learn about how to display brotherly affection; but in reality, we are getting the same old tired fare yet again: Do this, don’t do that, obey us and stay inside or you’ll be sorry.
The opening paragraphs set the stage for that theme.
“However, like the Christians in Paul’s day, none of us should lose sight of this key fact—soon we will face the most challenging test of our faith!”—Read Luke 21:34-36” – par. 3
The average JW will read “soon” and think ‘any time now, certainly within 5 to 7 years.’ Obviously, we want to stay inside the organization if we are going to survive this test of our faith. Of course, there is nothing wrong with maintaining a sense of urgency, but faith should never be based on fear.
Then in paragraph 8, we learn:
“Soon the destructive winds of the greatest tribulation of all time will be released. (Mark 13:19; Rev. 7:1-3) Then, we will do well to heed this inspired counsel: “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself for a brief moment until the wrath has passed by.” (Isa. 26:20) These “inner rooms” may refer to our congregations.” (par. 8)
If you read the context of Isaiah 26:20, you will likely come to the conclusion that the prophecy applied to the nation of Israel, long before Christ came to the earth. You would not be out of line. Consider this application from the publications:
”This prophecy may have had its first fulfillment in 539 B.C.E. when the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon. Upon entering Babylon, Cyrus the Persian apparently commanded everyone to stay indoors because his soldiers were ordered to execute any found out-of-doors.” (w09 5/15 p. 8)
Notice that this is a first fulfillment. What is their basis for claiming a second fulfillment? A careful review of our publications will reveal none. Essentially, there is to be a second fulfillment because the Governing Body says so. Yet, this same body recently told us that secondary applications—what are also called antitypical fulfillments—are going beyond the things that are written and from now on would be rejected as inappropriate. (See Going Beyond What Is Written)
Would not our Lord have indicated that Isaiah 26:20 was to have a future fulfillment for the Christian Congregation were that to have been the case? Instead, he reveals that our salvation will be by supernatural means, not through some action we must take ourselves. (Mt 24:31)
However, such a means for salvation doesn’t serve the purpose of those who would rule us and have us obey their every instruction. Fear—fear of not being in the know, of not being at the meeting when the life-saving instruction is doled out—is meant to keep us loyal and faithful.
Having instilled the proper fear of not being one of the chosen, the writer now makes us feel special.
“What does it mean for us to show brotherly love? The Greek term used by Paul, phi·la·del·phiʹa, literally means “affection for a brother.” Brotherly love is the type of affection that involves a strong, warm, personal attachment, such as to a family member or a close friend. (John 11:36) We do not pretend to be brothers and sisters—we are brothers and sisters. (Matt. 23:8) Our strong feeling of attachment to one another is summed up nicely in these words: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another, take the lead.” (Rom. 12:10) Combined with principled love, a·gaʹpe, this type of love promotes close companionship among God’s people.”
According to this, we are all brothers and sisters. In a large family, when all the brothers and sisters are adults, they are all on one plane; all equal, albeit different. Is that the case in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or does this quote from Animal Farm apply?
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
These are the sentiments to which we should aspire. But do these words speak of a reality in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses? There was a time when I believed they did. However, the fact is that there are a group of brothers in this family that are above being questioned, and with whom one can disagree only at great personal cost. Many have found that disagreeing with the elders, or worse, with teachings of the Governing Body, gets you in serious trouble. You will be pressured to change your mind and considered as divisive and rebellious if you don’t. Eventually, if you do not knuckle under, you will be shunned.
Is this the way it is in a real family? If you believe one of your fleshly brothers is saying things that are not true—things that misrepresent your father—and you speak out, would you expect instant rejection, even persecution? Imagine a family climate where all are afraid to express any opinion that might disagree with that of the oldest brother. Does that match the picture that paragraph 5 paints?
Paragraph 6 states:
“‘Brotherly love,’” according to one scholar, “is a relatively rare term outside of Christian literature.” In Judaism, the meaning of the word “brother” sometimes extended beyond those who were literally relatives, but its meaning was still restricted to those within the Jewish nation and did not include Gentiles. However, Christianity embraces all believers, no matter what their nationality. (Rom. 10:12) As brothers, we have been taught by Jehovah to have brotherly affection for one another. (1 Thess. 4:9) But why is it vital that we let our brotherly love continue?
A Jehovah’s Witness is going to read this and think, “We are so much better than the Jews were.” Why? Because the Jews restricted brotherly affection to other Jews exclusively, whereas we embrace people of all nations. However, the Jews accepted as brothers people of other nations as long as they converted to Judaism. Do we not do the same? When the paragraph states “Christianity embraces all believers”, a JW will perform a mental transposition and take this to mean, “We should embrace as brothers all Jehovah’s Witnesses”. After all, we are the only true Christians, therefore only Jehovah’s Witnesses are true believers.
The Jews considered brotherhood status based on nationality. Jehovah’s Witnesses consider brotherhood status based on religious affiliation.
How is this different?
Christianity does indeed embrace all believers, but the Bible isn’t referring to believers in the peculiar teachings of a group of men, like the Catholic synod or the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A believer is one who believes in Jesus as the Messiah.
Yes, most believers have been misled. For example, most Christians believe in the Trinity and in Hellfire. But because a brother is in error, he doesn’t stop being a brother, does he? If that were the case, then I could not consider Jehovah’s Witnesses as my brothers, because they believe in false doctrines like an invisible presence that began in 1914, and in a secondary class of Christian who is not a child of God, and because they give allegiance to a group of men over Christ.
So take what is good from this Watchtower, but remember that we are all brothers while our leader is one, the Christ. So submission to other brothers would amount to compromising our submission to the Christ.