In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, the theological claim of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) that “house to house” means “door to door” was analysed to get a better understanding of how this is derived from Scripture, and whether this interpretation is supported by the Bible as well as the WTBTS[i] quoted reference works and scholars.
In Part 1, the JW interpretation of the Bible through various references in their literature were examined, and the Greek words “kat oikon” translated “house to house” analysed in context, specifically for three verses, Acts 20:20, 5:42 and 2:46, as these have very similar grammatical constructs. It became clear that it does not refer to “door to door”. It more probably refers to the gathering of believers in each other’s homes. This is supported by Acts 2:42, which reads “And they continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to associating together, to the taking of meals, and to prayers.”[ii] Four specific activities were undertaken by the new believers. All four could have taken place in the homes of believers. This is reinforced by considering the four other occurrences of the words “kat oikon” in Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 1:2. These provide an indication of how believers fellowshipped in each other’s homes.
In Part 2, the five scholarly references quoted in the Revised New World Translation Study Bible 2018 (RNWT) footnotes were examined in context. In every case, the scholars responsible for the references understood the words as ‘meeting at the homes of believers’ and not preaching “door to door”. This was deduced by reading all the quotes fully in context. In one case, the WTBTS omitted a key sentence that completely reversed the meaning.
In Part 3, we will consider the Bible book Acts of the Apostles (Acts) and examine how the early Christian congregation carried out its evangelistic mission. The book of Acts is the oldest document that provides a window on the growth and spread of the nascent Christian faith. It covers just under 30 years and provides an insight into Apostolic Christianity. We will examine the ministry methods used together with their associated locations. From this contextual setting, we can draw conclusions on the spread of early Christianity and the methods used to propagate this new faith. We will examine whether the “door-to-door” ministry method used and taught by JWs was significant in the time of the Apostles. In addition, we will consider if Acts promotes a primary form of ministry that could be referred to as a trademark of early Christianity.
Background to the Acts of the Apostles
The author of this work is Luke, and this document along with his earlier work, the Gospel of Luke, was written for Theophilus. In Acts 1:8, Jesus gives specific direction on how the ministry will spread and grow.
“But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.”
Jesus gives a clear statement to his Apostles on how the ministry would expand and grow. It begins in Jerusalem, expands to Judea, followed by Samaria, and finally to the rest of the world. Acts follows this pattern in its layout of the narrative.
The first six chapters deal with the message being proclaimed in Jerusalem starting at Pentecost 33 CE. Then the persecution begins, and the message moves to Judea and Samaria, covered in Chapters 8 and 9, followed by the conversion of Cornelius in Chapter 10. In Chapter 9, the Apostle to the Nations is chosen on the road to Damascus. From chapter 11, the emphasis shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch, and then it tracks the message carried by Paul and his companions to the nations and finally to Rome. Interestingly, there are two central characters in carrying the message, Peter and Paul. One leads in spreading the message to the Jews, while the other focuses on the pagan nations.
Now the question is, what specific methods are mentioned in propagating the message to the people in the various lands?
The approach is very simple and direct. The goal is to read the entire book of Acts and highlight every instance of the message being preached or a witness being given. At each instance, a note is made of the specific scripture(s), the setting or location, the type of ministry, the outcome and any comments from commentators or the author’s personal observations.
For the type of ministry, it will look to state if the setting is public or private, and type of verbal witness being given. Within the comments, there are observations on the baptisms recorded and the speed of conversion and baptism. In addition, there are points that arise that require further research.
Please download the document, “Ministry work in the Acts of the Apostles”, outlining all the above with notes.
For the three scriptures discussed previously, Acts 2:46, 5:42 and 20:20, a variety of commentaries have been consulted and findings included. The idea of “house to house” is not theologically controversial for most other commentators, and hence the level of bias is probably significantly lower for these three verses. These have been included to provide the readers with a wider perspective on these scriptures.
A table has been constructed below to outline the various stages recorded in Acts with ministry engagement or a defence in front of a judicial or magisterial authority.
|Scriptural Setting||Locations||Number of times “witness” giving mentioned||Key individuals|
|Acts 2:1 to 7:60||Jerusalem||6||Peter, John Stephen|
|Acts 8:1 to 9:30||Judea and Samaria||8||Philip, Peter, John, Jesus our Lord, Ananias, Paul|
|Acts 10:1 to 12:25||Joppa, Caesarea, Antioch of Syria||6||Peter, Barnabas, Paul|
|Acts 13:1 to 14:28||Salamis, Paphos, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Antioch of Syria||9||Paul, Barnabas first missionary journey|
|Acts 15:36 to 18:22||Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens, Corinth, Cenchrea, Ephesus||14||Paul, Silas, Timothy, second missionary journey|
|Acts 18:23 to 21:17||Galatia, Phrygia, Ephesus, Troas, Miletus, Caesarea, Jerusalem||12||Paul, Silas, Timothy, third missionary journey.|
|Acts 21:18 to 23:35||Jerusalem||3||Paul|
|Acts 24:1 to 26:32||Caesarea||3||Paul|
|Acts 28:16 to 28:31||Rome||2||Paul|
In total, there are 63 occasions where Peter, Paul or one of the other disciples are recorded as giving a witness about the faith. Some of these events with Cornelius, Sergius Paulus, the Ethiopian official etc are given a witness at their home or on their travels. The remaining places mentioned are public places such as synagogues, marketplaces, a school auditorium etc. There is NO mention of any Christian engaging in the “door to door ministry”.
Furthermore, this form of ministry is never mentioned in any of the New Testament books. Does this mean that it was not practiced? The Bible is silent and anything beyond that is pure conjecture. The only conclusion is that the Bible does not provide any explicit evidence for the “door to door” ministry, neither is there any implied statement that supports such a ministry being undertaken at the time of the Apostles.
In Part 1 of this series there was quote from a WTBTS publication “’Bearing Thorough Witness’ About God’s Kingdom” (bt) 2009 that states the following on pages 169-170, paragraph 15:
“There are many ways to reach people with the good news today. Like Paul, we strive to go where the people are, whether at bus stops, on busy streets, or in marketplaces. Yet, going from house to house remains the primary preaching method used by Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bold for emphasis). Why? For one thing, house-to-house preaching gives all an adequate opportunity to hear the Kingdom message on a regular basis, thus demonstrating God’s impartiality. It also allows honesthearted ones to receive personal assistance according to their needs. In addition, the house-to-house ministry builds the faith and endurance of those who engage in it. Indeed, a trademark of true Christians (Bold for emphasis) today is their zeal in witnessing “publicly and from house to house.””
In our study of the book of Acts, there is no indication that early Christians had a “primary preaching method”. Neither is their mention of a preaching “trademark of true Christians”. If anything, meeting people in a public place seems to have been the main method of reaching them. Those who were interested seem to have met in groups at the homes of various believers to grow in their faith. Does this mean that a person should not undertake a systematic approach of going “door to door” to share the message about Jesus? No! An individual might decide this is an effective method for them personally, but they cannot claim it is biblically based, nor mandated. There should be no cajoling or coercing of fellow believers into this or any other form of ministry.
If a JW repeats the statement “we can’t expect to get everything right but who else is doing the preaching work”, we can in a spirit of mildness help the person see that this understanding is not scripturally based. In dealing with any JW, it is critical that we start off by only using their literature to reason with them. This will prevent the charge of using unapproved and even so-called “apostate” literature.
We can now demonstrate from the RNWT Study Bible 2018 in conjunction with the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures:
- The term “house to house” in Acts 5:42 and 20:20 does not mean “door to door” but most probably at the homes of believers as seen in Acts 2:46.
- We may follow this up by getting them to read Acts 20:20 in the context of Acts 19:8-10. They will be able to see how Paul accomplished his ministry in Ephesus and how the message got to everyone in that region.
- For Acts 5:42, a verse-by-verse reading of Acts 5:12-42 will help them to see what the Bible teaches. It would be useful to play the animation on Solomon’s colonnade, that is now part of the RNWT Study Bible and for JWs to see how WTBTS explains this verse.
- For the scholarly references quoted in the footnotes on Acts 5:42 and 20:20, help them read the quotes in context. On the omission of the final sentence in AT Robertson’s commentary on Acts 20:20, we could ask, “How did the researcher/writer overlook this sentence? Was it an oversight or an example of eisegesis?”
- Using the table in the document “Ministry work in the Acts of the Apostles”, we can ask the question, “Why in 63 places where a witness of the faith is given, the “door to door” ministry is never mentioned?” If this was a trademark of early Christianity, why do the New Testament writers not mention it? More importantly, why did the holy spirit leave it out from the inspired canon?
- We should be careful not to make any explicit statements about the JW Organisation or its Governing Body. Let the word of God reach their hearts (Hebrews 4:12) to help them reason on the scriptures. One possible response might be, “How do you recommend carrying out the ministry?”
The answer might be: Each Christian must make a personal decision on how to share the Gospel. Each one is answerable to Jesus Christ the reigning King and will give an account to him, and him alone. Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5:14-16:
“You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when located on a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house. Likewise, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”
These verses are not referring to a preaching work, but need to be read in context, starting at Matthew 5:3. The thrust of Jesus’ words is for each person to transform from within and to develop the new Christian character. This new person in Christ will then share the wonderful light about Jesus with a heart full of love and gratitude. The Lord Jesus can lead any person to our heavenly Father. We are all channels or conduits that Jesus can use to accomplish this goal. The hardest part for any JW to grasp is that there is no prescriptive answer on how to carry out the ministry, and this thought needs to be sown and given time to grow. Remember that a Christian is always looking to build up in faith and never tear down.
Finally, a question arises now that we have examined the ministry methods of JWs: “What is the message to share with people?” This will be considered in the next article titled, “Theology Unique to JWs: The Ministry Message”.
[i] WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF PENNSYLVANIA (WTBTS)
[ii] All scriptural references will be from the RNWT 2018 unless otherwise stated.