Bible Study – Chapter 4 Par. 16-23
This week’s study discusses the 1931 adoption of the name Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Bible Students. The reasoning to justify this move is based on so many unsubstantiated premises that I stopped counting at 9, and I was only in the third paragraph.
The key premise is that Jehovah gave the Witnesses his name, because that is how he exalts it.
“An outstanding way in which Jehovah exalts his name is by having a people on earth who bear his name.” – par. 16
Does Jehovah really exalt his name by giving it to a group of humans? Israel didn’t bear his name. “Israel” means “contender with God”. Christians didn’t bear his name. “Christian” means “anointed one.”
Since this book is so rife with assertions and premises, let’s make a few of our own; but we’ll try to substantiate ours.
The View from Rutherford’s Day
It is 1931. Rutherford has just dissolved the editorial committee which up until then had been controlling what he published.[i]
From that year until his death, he was the sole voice for the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. With the power this afforded him, he could now address another concern that had evidently been on his mind for years. The International Bible Students Association was a loose affiliation of Christian groups that had formed around the world. Rutherford had been trying to bring it all under centralized control for years. Along the way, many departed from Rutherford—not from Jehovah nor from Christ, as often alleged—when they became disillusioned by his failed prophesies, such as the 1925 fiasco when he foretold Armageddon would come. Most continued worshipping outside of the sphere of influence of the WTBTS.
Like many church leaders before him, Rutherford understood the need for a truly distinctive name to bind all the groups still affiliated with him and distinguish them from all others. There would be no need for this if the congregation were to be governed solely by its true leader, Jesus Christ. However, for men to govern over another group of men they need to set themselves apart from the rest. The fact was, as paragraph 18 of this week’s study says, “the designation ‘Bible Students’ was not distinctive enough.”
However, Rutherford needed to find a way to justify the new name. This was still a religious organization based on the Bible. He could have gone to the Christian Greek Scriptures since he was looking for a name to describe Christians. For example, there is ample support in Scripture for the idea that Christians are to bear witness to Jesus. (Here are just a few: Acts 1:8; 10:43; 22:15; 1Co 1:2. For a longer list, see this article.)
Stephen is actually called a witness of Jesus. (Acts 22:20) So one would think that “Jesus’ Witnesses” would be the ideal name; or perhaps, “Witnesses of Jesus” using Revelation 12:17 as our theme text.
At this point we might ask why such a name wasn’t given to the first century Christians? Was it that “Christian” was distinctive enough? Is a distinctive name really necessary? In other words, is it important what we call ourselves? Or could we be missing the mark by focusing on our own name? Do we really have a Scriptural basis to abandon “Christian” as our sole designation?
When the apostles first started preaching, they ran into problems not because of God’s name but because of the witness they bore to the name of Jesus.
“. . .Then the high priest questioned them 28 and said: “We strictly ordered you not to keep teaching on the basis of this name. . .” (Ac 5:27, 28)
After refusing to shut up about Jesus, they were flogged and “ordered…to stop speaking on the basis of Jesus’ name.” (Acts 5:40) However, the apostles left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Acts 5:41)
Let us remember that Jesus is the leader whom Jehovah has placed. Between Jehovah and man stands Jesus. If we can remove Jesus from the equation, there is a vacuum in the minds of men which can then be filled by other men – men who would like to govern. Therefore, a group designation that focuses on the name of a leader we wish to replace would not be wise.
It is noteworthy that Rutherford ignored all the Christian Scriptures, and instead, for the basis for his new name he went back to a single instance in the Hebrew Scriptures that concerned, not Christians, but Israelites.
Rutherford knew that he couldn’t spring this on people. He had to prepare the soil of the mind, fertilizing and plowing and clearing away debris. Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that the passage upon which he based his decision—Isaiah 43:10-12—was considered in 57 different issues of The Watch Tower from 1925 to 1931.
(Even with all this groundwork, it appears that our German brothers whom we so often use to represent the organization as examples of faith under persecution were not so quick to adopt the name. In fact, they continued to be referred to throughout the war only as Earnest Bible Students. [Ernste Bibelforscher])
Now it is true that exaltation of the name of God is of great importance. But in exulting God’s name, are we to do it our way, or his way?
Here’s God’s way:
“. . .Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” (Ac 4:12)
Rutherford and the current Governing Body would have us ignore this and focus on Jehovah based on an account intended for ancient Israel as if we were still part of that obsolete system. But even Isaiah’s account still focuses our eyes back to Christianity, for among the three verses always used to support our name choice, we find this:
“. . .I—I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no savior.” (Isa 43:11)
If there is no other savior but Jehovah and there can be no contradiction in scripture, then how are we to understand Acts 4:12?
Since Jehovah is the only savior and since he has set up a name by which all must be saved, who are we to attempt an end run around that name and go right to the source? Do we expect to be saved even then? It is as if Jehovah has given us a passcode with the name of Jesus, but we think we don’t need it.
Accepting the designation “Jehovah’s Witnesses” may have seemed innocent enough at the time, but over the years it has allowed the Governing Body to steadily diminish the role of Jesus to the point that his name is barely mentioned at all among Jehovah’s Witnesses in any social discussion. Focusing on Jehovah’s name has also allowed us to alter Jehovah’s place in the life of the Christian. We do not think of him so much as our father but as our friend. We call our friends by their names, but our father is “dad” or “papa”, or simply, “father”.
Alas, Rutherford achieved his goal. He made the Bible Students into a distinct religion under him. He made them just like all the rest.
[i] Wills, Tony (2006), A People For His Name, Lulu Enterprises ISBN 978-1-4303-0100-4