“Just as the body is one but has many members, and all the members of that body, although many, are one body, so too is the Christ.”—1 Corinthians 12:12
[Study 34 From ws 08/20 p.20 October 19 – October 25, 2020]
A place in the Congregation
This section makes the following statement in paragraph 5. “When you think of those who have a place in the congregation, your mind may immediately turn to those who take the lead. (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17)”.
Now in this statement, it betrays part of the problem with both the overt and the subtle teachings of the Organization and the Governing Body. What do you think brothers and sisters reading the phrase “you have a place in Jehovah’s Organization” will immediately think of? Is it not that they have only a fringe, subservient place in the congregation and the elders have “the place” to have? Why? Because of the undue importance that the Organization places on the elders. Of course, the Organization needs to do this, to maintain its authority. But was it ever the intention of Jesus and the Apostle Paul to have us look up to and fear the power of the elders over our lives?
In Luke 22:26 Jesus said to his disciples (after reminding them that the kings of the nations lord it over them) “You however shall not be thus (like that), instead the greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and the one leading as the one serving”. (BibleHub Interlinear)[i].
Ask yourselves these questions:
- Does the one serving, tell the ones they are serving what to do, or do they assist them?
- Do your elders tell you what to do and what not to do or just help you to do what you want to do (provided it is scriptural of course!)?
The whole setup of the Organization is that they tell the elders what to do and in turn, the elders tell the flock what to do, it does not assist and suggest. As an elder, I was often obliged to obligate others to comply with the Organization’s dictates, rather than just assist them as I desired.
They may claim that they are all equal, but in reality in the Organization, the following quote from George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” (the slogan of the pigs) rings true, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. [ii]
Presiding or Leading?
In the first scripture cited of 1 Thessalonians 5:12, the NWT Reference Bible (Rbi8) says “Now we request YOU, brothers, to have regard for those who are working hard among YOU and presiding over YOU in the Lord and admonishing you;”.
A literal interlinear translation such as Biblehub reads subtly differently. Can you spot the change in emphasis?
Firstly, let us examine the meaning of some words from the NWT translation that are in bold above.
- A “request” is defined as “the act of asking politely or formally (officially) for something”.
- To have “regard” is defined as “to consider or think in a specified way”.
- “Presiding” is defined as “to be in the position of authority in a meeting or gathering”.
Therefore, the NWT is conveying the following thought:
“Now we formally and officially ask you to think of in a specified way those who are working hard among you and are in a position of authority over you in the Lord.”
Now let us examine the original Greek text. The Interlinear reads[iii] “We implore however you brothers to appreciate those toiling among you and taking the lead over you in the Lord and admonishing you”.
- “Implore” means “beg someone earnestly”.
- “Appreciate” means “to recognize the full worth of”.
- “taking the lead” means “to be the first to start doing something or be most active in doing something”.
By contrast, therefore, the original text conveys the following meaning:
Now we beg you earnestly to recognize the full worth of those toiling among you and being the most active in doing things in the Lord.
Is not the NWT being authoritarian in tone?
By contrast, the original text appeals to its readers.
It is good to ponder on the following example with which most readers will be familiar:
When birds are migrating for the winter, they often form a ‘v’ shaped formation. One bird will take the lead at the point of the ‘v’. At the head of the ‘v’ formation, it requires the most energy and the others flying behind it benefit from the effort it makes and those following are able to expend less energy than the one in the lead. In fact, those birds flying behind then take turns to replace the one taking the lead, so it can recoup its energy a little by benefiting from being in the slipstream of a new leading bird.
But do any of the birds taking the lead preside and have authority over the rest of the flock? Not at all.
Gifts in men or Gifts to mankind?
The second scripture cited is Hebrews 13:17 “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among YOU and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over YOUR souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to YOU.”.
The Greek word translated “Be Obedient to” in the NWT (and to be fair in many other Bible Translations) actually means “be persuaded by”, or “have confidence in”.[iv] Obedience in today’s English conveys the idea of obligation to do as one is told, without questioning it. This is a far cry from having confidence in. For that to happen the ones taking the lead need to have acted in a way that one could have confidence in them. We also should remember that an overseer is not the same as a leader.
The same paragraph 5 in the Watchtower article then states,” It is true that through Christ, Jehovah has given “gifts in men” to His congregation. (Ephesians 4:8)”.
That very claim at the outset presupposes that God would bless the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they are his people on earth today, chosen in 1919 in some undefinable and unprovable way.
However, more importantly, this is a classic example of a scripture taken out of context by the Organization. In Ephesians 4:7 (which is not cited to read, or quoted for reasons that will become obvious) the Apostle Paul says “Now to each one of us undeserved kindness was given according to how the Christ measured out the free gift.” Here the Apostle Paul was talking to all Christians, he had just been saying “One body there is and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-5), referring to all Christians, both male and female.
The Greek word translated “men” can also be translated mankind (i.e. male and female) based on the context. Additionally, here Paul is also quoting from Psalm 68:18, which is translated in many Bibles as “people” i.e. “men” in the sense of “mankind”. Psalm 68 says in more than one translation, “… you received gifts from people, even the rebellious …” (NIV)[v], not from men as in, specifically males. The Apostle Paul had been talking to all Christians and so in context, based on the quote from Psalm it should read “gifts to mankind”. The point the Apostle Paul was trying to make that God was now giving gifts to people, instead of receiving gifts from people.
What gifts would the Apostle Paul have been talking about? In a parallel scripture Romans 12:4-8 mentions the gifts of prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, distributing, etc. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 is all about gifts of the spirit, verse 28 lists these gifts, apostles, prophets, teachers, powerful works, gifts of healings, helpful services, abilities to direct, different tongues. These were the gifts that all early Christians were being given, both male and female were receiving them. Phillip the evangelizer is recorded in Acts 21:8-9 as having “… four daughters, virgins, that prophesied.”.
Of course, the Organization, having twisted and taken two scriptures out of context, then proceeds to build on that foundation made of sand and claim the following: “These ‘gifts in men’ include Governing Body members, appointed helpers to the Governing Body, Branch Committee members, circuit overseers, field instructors, congregation elders, and ministerial servants” (paragraph 5). Yes, note the hierarchy too, the GB first, then the helpers, down to the lowly MS’s. Indeed, is it any wonder that in the Organization “When you think of those who have a place in the congregation, your mind may immediately turn to those who take the lead.”? They are reinforcing it, right here in the same paragraph.
Yet was the first century congregation structured like this? Search as much as you like, you will not find any reference to Governing Body members and helpers, Branch Committee members, circuit overseers, and field instructors. In fact, you will not even find “congregation elders”, (you will find “elders” in Revelation, but even here the term “elders” is not used in relation to the congregation). The only term used is “older men”, which was a description, not a title, for they were truly older men, men with experience in life. (See Acts 4:5,8, 23, Acts 5:21, Acts 6:12, Acts 22:5 – Jewish Non-Christian older men; Acts 11:30, Acts 14:23, Acts 15:4,22 – Christian older men).
Appointed by Holy Spirit?
We now come to the final sentence in paragraph 5! (There were only four sentences!) The Watchtower article claims “All these brothers are appointed by holy spirit to care for Jehovah’s precious sheep and serve the interests of the congregation. 1 Peter 5:2-3.”.
Now this claim, the author has never personally believed, not since the author was a teenager, through all the many years that have passed since. This view was only further reinforced while serving as a ministerial servant and then an elder. The appointments, and removals, were and are, all by the will of the Presiding Overseer or another strong personality on the body of Elders, not by Holy Spirit. If he liked you, you could be a ministerial servant in six months (or an elder). But if he took a dislike to you, perhaps because you disagreed with him on some point and stood up to him, then he did everything to get you removed. (And this is from more than one congregation. Very often prayer was absent from meetings that recommended someone for appointment or deletion. Reading Ray Franz’s books[vi] of his experiences as a Governing Body member, shows they are no different.
Many in the congregations believe that somehow God sends his holy spirit to the body of elders and they are moved by the holy spirit to appoint someone. Yet, while that is the impression the Organization encourages, it is not what it actually teaches. The “Question from Readers” in the Watchtower Study Edition of November 15th, 2014 page 28 states “First, holy spirit moved the Bible writers to record the qualifications for elders and ministerial servants. Sixteen different requirements of elders are listed at 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Further qualifications are found in such scriptures as Titus 1:5-9 and James 3:17-18. Qualifications for ministerial servants are outlined at 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13. Second, those recommending and making such appointments specifically pray for Jehovah’s spirit to direct them as they review whether a brother meets the Scriptural requirements to a reasonable degree. Third, the individual being recommended needs to display the fruitage of God’s holy spirit in his own life. (Galatians 5:22-23) So God’s spirit is involved in all aspects of the appointment process.”.
Source 1 is valid, but only if a body of elders actually reasonably compares a brother’s qualities with the scriptures. That rarely happens.
Source 2 relies on a number of factors. In the first place, it relies upon Jehovah approving of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If not, then he would not send his holy spirit. Secondly, shockingly, asking a prayer on the proceedings is not a given, nor is a genuine heartfelt prayer rather than a perfunctory one. Thirdly, it also relies on the elders accepting the guidance of the holy spirit.
Source 3 relies on the brother concerned meeting the Organizations unwritten requirement of 10 hours field service per month, along with other “spiritual” pursuits such as auxiliary pioneering once a year. It matters little if he excels in the fruitages of the holy spirit if he does not fulfill these unwritten requirements.
A Burden to all their Brothers and Sisters
Paragraph 7 reminds us that some have a perceived more important “place in the congregation” as follows: “Some in the congregation may be appointed to serve as missionaries, special pioneers, or regular pioneers.” In the Christian Greek scriptures, there is no record of anyone including the Apostle Paul, being appointed to any such position. The holy spirit gave instructions for Paul and Barnabas to be set aside for a work to which Christ had called them, and they were happy to comply (Acts 13:2-3), but they were not appointed by men. Nor were any Christians in the first century supported in such positions by the rest of the early Christian congregation. (It is true that some individuals and congregations gave assistance to others at times, but it was not expected nor required of them.)
Today, in the Organization, the so-called “‘gifts in men’ include Governing Body members, appointed helpers to the Governing Body, Branch Committee members, circuit overseers, field instructors,” and “missionaries, special pioneers” are all supported by donations from Witnesses, many of whom are poorer and have less income than the cost of providing food, lodging and a clothing allowance for each of these so-called gifts in men. By contrast, the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians “I did not become a burden to a single one, … Yes, in everyway I kept myself unburdensome to YOU and will keep myself so” (2 Corinthians 11:9, 2 Corinthians 12:14). The Apostle Paul had supported himself by tentmaking during the week and then going to the synagogue on the sabbath to witness to the Jews and Greeks (Acts18:1-4). Should therefore a Christian impose a financial burden on other fellow Christians? The Apostle Paul answered that question in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 when he wrote “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” [nor drink expensive whisky!] “For we hear certain ones are walking disorderly among YOU, not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.”
There are serious issues in this Watchtower Study article:
- Maintaining the suggestion that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
- Mistranslation of 1 Thessalonians 5:12, followed by misapplication (yet another repeat of the misapplication).
- In addition, the scripture was used out of context.
- False picture maintained of how appointed men are really appointed.
- Encourages the reaching out for “a place in the congregation” and holds it to be a spiritually minded action, yet, it involves not working and placing an expensive financial burden on the brothers and sisters, contrary to the example of the Apostle Paul and the scriptures.
To the Governing Body, we give this message:
- Act like the Apostle Paul, support yourselves by working secularly, not living off of others.
- Quit going beyond what is written and adding burdens to the brothers and sisters.
- Correct the biased mistranslations in the NWT.
- Stop misapplying phrases from the scriptures, using the context to understand the scriptures instead.
If the Governing Body is humble enough to consider the above points and apply them, then, undoubtedly, there will be less reason to criticize Governing Body members buying bottles of expensive, quality whisky on a Sunday morning.[vii] The burdens of the brothers and sisters will be lower, and their financial position (at least for the younger ones) could improve by having further education, required to support themselves in the modern world.
[ii] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/all-animals-are-equal–but-some-animals-are-more-equal-than-others#:~:text=explore%20dictionary-,All%20animals%20are%20equal%2C%20but%20some%20animals%20are%20more%20equal,Animal%20Farm%2C%20by%20George%20Orwell. “A proclamation by the pigs who control the government in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The sentence is a comment on the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but give power and privileges to a small elite.”
[vi] “Crisis of Conscience” and “In Search of Christian Freedom”
[vii] Type “bottlegate jw” into google or youtube for video of what Anthony Morris III does on Sunday mornings.