This is now the second video in this series on the shunning policies and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had to take a breather from writing this series to address the truly outrageous claim made in a Morning Worship video on JW.org that listening to the voice of the Governing Body is like listening to the voice of Jesus Christ; that submitting to the Governing Body was tantamount to submitting to Jesus. If you haven’t seen that video, I’ll put a link to it at the end of this video.
The shunning policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses is widely criticized as a violation of human rights and freedom of worship. It is seen as cruel and harmful. It has brought reproach on the name of the very God Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to represent. Of course, Witness leaders contend that they are merely doing what God has told them to do in his Word, the Bible. If that is true, they have nothing to fear from Jehovah God. But if it is not true, if they have gone beyond what is written, then dear folks, there will be serious consequences.
Of course, they are wrong. We know this. What’s more, we can prove it from Scripture. But here’s the thing: Until I was in my sixties, I thought they had it right. I’m a reasonably intelligent fellow, yet they had me duped for most of my life. How did they do that? In part, because I was raised to trust those men. Trusting in men made me vulnerable to their reasoning. They didn’t draw truth from the Scriptures. They planted their own ideas into Scripture. They had their own agenda and their own ideas, and like countless religions before them, they found ways to misinterpret and twist Bible terms and phrases so as to make it appear they were teaching God’s word.
In this series, we are not going to do that. We are going to examine this topic exegetically, meaning we’re doing to draw truth from Scripture and not impose our own understanding onto what is written. But it would not be wise for us to do that just yet. Why? Because there is a lot of JW baggage to dump first.
We have to understand how they were able to convince us in the first place that their judicial system, with its disfellowshipping, disassociation, and shunning, was biblical. If we don’t understand the tricks and traps used to pervert truth, we might fall prey to false teachers in the future. This is a “know thine enemy” moment; or as Paul puts it, we have “to stand firm against the crafty acts of the Devil” (Ephesians 6:11) because we are not “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Jesus had very little to say about dealing with sinners within the Christian community. In fact, all he gave us on the subject are these three verses in Matthew.
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NWT)
These verses present a problem for the Governing Body. You see, they don’t want individual Jehovah’s Witnesses to deal with sinners directly. Nor do they want the congregation members to deal with sinners collectively. They want all members to report all sinners to the congregation elders. They want a committee of three elders to sit in judgment of the sinner in a private, closed-door session far from the eyes of the congregation. They also expect all congregation members to unquestioningly accept the decision of the committee and to completely shun anyone whom the elders designate as disfellowshipped or disassociated. How do you get from Jesus’ simple instructions to the very complex judicial system practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
This is a textbook example of how eisegesis is used to spread falsehood and wickedness.
The Insight book, volume I, on page 787, under the topic, “Expelling,” opens with this definition of expelling:
“The judicial excommunication, or disfellowshipping, of delinquents from membership and association in a community or organization. (it-1 p. 787 Expelling)
This is who false teachers get you to make a connection that isn’t there. You can agree that any organization has the right to remove members from its midst. But that isn’t at issue here. What is at issue is what they do to the individual after he’s removed. For example, a company has the right to fire you for cause, but it doesn’t have the right to make everyone you know turn against you and shun you. They want you to accept they have the right to disfellowship, then they want you to think that disfellowshipping is the same things as shunning. It’s not.
The Insight book then goes on to explain how wicked Jewish leaders used the weapon of being cut off from the community as a means to control their flock.
One who was cast out as wicked, cut off entirely, would be considered worthy of death, though the Jews might not have the authority to execute such a one. Nevertheless, the form of cutting off they did employ was a very powerful weapon in the Jewish community. Jesus foretold that his followers would be expelled from the synagogues. (Joh 16:2) Fear of being expelled, or “unchurched,” kept some of the Jews, even the rulers, from confessing Jesus. (Joh 9:22, ftn; 12:42) (it-1 p. 787)
So, they admit that expelling or disfellowshipping as practiced by the Jews was a very powerful weapon to keep people from confessing Jesus, our Lord. Yet, when Witnesses do it, they’re just being obedient to God.
Next, they try to explain Matthew 18:15-17 so as to have it support their JW judicial system.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry the synagogues served as courts for trying violators of Jewish law. The Sanhedrin was the highest court…The Jewish synagogues had a system of excommunication, or disfellowshipping, that had three steps or three names. (it-1 p. 787)
Under the law of Moses, there was no Sanhedrin, nor a provision for synagogues, nor was there a three-step system of disfellowshipping. This was all the work of men. Remember, the Jewish leaders were judged by Jesus as being children of the Devil. (John 8:44) So it is remarkable that the Governing Body is now trying to draw a parallel between the instructions given by Jesus to his disciples and the wicked Jewish judicial system that condemned our Lord to death. Why would they do this? Because they have created a similar judicial system to that of the Jews. Observe how they make use of the Jewish system to pervert Jesus words:
During the time of his earthly ministry, Jesus gave instructions as to the procedure to follow if a serious sin was committed against a person and yet the sin was of such a nature that, if properly settled, it did not need to involve the Jewish congregation. (Mt 18:15-17) He encouraged earnest effort to help the wrongdoer, while also safeguarding that congregation against persistent sinners. The only congregation of God in existence then was the congregation of Israel. (it-1 p. 787)
What a remarkably stupid interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Governing Body wants congregation publishers to report all sins to the local elders. They’re really concerned about sexual immorality and of course, any disagreement with their doctrinal teachings. But they don’t really like to be bothered with things like fraud and slander. They’re quite happy to have those things resolved by individuals without involving a judicial committee. So they claim that Jesus is referring to sins that are minor in nature, but not the big sins like fornication and adultery.
But Jesus doesn’t make any distinction as to gravity of sin. He doesn’t talk about minor sins and major sins. Just sin. “If your brother commits a sin,” he says. A sin is a sin. Ananias and Sapphira told what we would call “a little white lie,” yet they both died for it. So, the organization starts off by making a distinction where none is made by Jesus, and then compounds their error by qualifying his words about the congregation to make it apply only the nation of Israel. The reason they give is that the only congregation at the time he spoke those words was the congregation of Israel. Really. You know if you want to show how silly, even downright stupid, an line of reason is, you just have to take it to its logical conclusion. The Proverb says: “Answer a fool with his own stupidity, or he will think he is wise.” (Proverbs 26:5 God’s Word Translation)
So, let’s do just that. If we accept that Jesus was referring to the nation of Israel, then any unrepentant sinner had to be taken to the Jewish leaders of the local synagogue to be dealt with by them. Hey, Judas betrayed Jesus. Now there’s a sin if there ever was one.
“Come on boys! We’re just lowly fisherman, so let’s cart Judas off to the synagogue, or even better, to the Sanhedrin, to the priests and scribes and Pharisees, so they can try him and if guilty, expel him from the congregation of Israel.”
This is where eisegetical interpretation takes us. To such silly extremes. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the meaning of EISEGESIS is “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.”
We don’t buy into eisegetical interpretation anymore, because that requires us to trust men. Instead, we let the Bible speak for itself. What did Jesus mean by “congregation”?
The word Jesus uses here which is translated in the NWT as “congregation” is ekklesia, which most Bibles translate as “church.” It does not refer to the nation of Israel. It is used throughout the Christian Scriptures to refer to the congregation of holy ones, the body of Christ. HELPS Word-studies defines it as “people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church– i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom.
[The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kyriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios).”
The argument of the Insight book that there was no other ekklesia at that time is nonsense. First, are they really suggesting that Jesus couldn’t give his disciples instructions on how to handle sinners once he was gone and after they began to congregate as the Children of God? Are we to believe that he was telling them how to deal with sin within the local synagogue? Had he not already told them that he was going to build his congregation, his ekklesia, of those called out for God?
“Also, I say to you: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my congregation (ekklesia) and the gates of the Grave will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18)
So far, the Governing Body through its publication, Insight on the Scriptures, has taken Jesus’ words and undermined their power by claiming they only refer to certain sins of a less serious nature, and that he was referring to the judicial system of the synagogue and Sanhedrin in force in those days. But that’s not enough if they are going to support their judicial committees made up of three selected congregation elders. So next, they have to explain that it is not the Christian congregation with all its members that judges sinners, but only the elders. They need to support their judicial committee arrangement which has no basis in scripture.
‘Speaking to the congregation’ did not mean that the entire nation or even all the Jews in a given community sat in judgment on the offender. There were older men of the Jews that were charged with this responsibility. (Mt 5:22) (it-1 p. 787)
Oh, so since they did something a certain way in Israel, we are supposed to do it the same way in the Christian congregation? What, are we still under the law of Moses? Do we still abide by the traditions of the Jews? No! The judicial traditions of the nation of Israel are irrelevant to the Christian congregation. The organization is trying to sew a new patch on an old garment. Jesus told us that just won’t work. (Mark 2:21, 22)
But of course, they don’t want us to look to deeply into their logic either. Yes, the older men of Israel would hear judicial cases, but where did they hear them? At the city gates! In full view of the public. No secret, late-night, closed door judicial committees in those days. Of course, there was one. The one that condemned Jesus to die on the cross.
Offenders who refused to listen even to these responsible ones were to be viewed “just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector,” association with whom was shunned by the Jews.—Compare Ac 10:28. (it-1 pp. 787-788)
Finally, they need to get Witnesses on board with their shunning policies. They could have said that Jews did not associate with Gentiles or tax collectors, but JW shunning goes way beyond a lack of association. Would a Jew talk to a Gentile or a tax collector? Of course, we have evidence of that in the Bible. Didn’t Jesus eat with tax collectors? Didn’t he cure the slave of a Roman army officer? If he had practices shunning JW style, he wouldn’t have even said a greeting to such ones. The simplistic, self-serving approach that the Governing Body takes to the Bible interpretation just won’t do when it comes to dealing with the moral complexities of life in this world that the real children of God must face. Witnesses, with their black and white morality, are ill prepared to face life, so they willingly accept the cocooning the Governing Body offers them. It tickles their ears.
“For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the wholesome teaching, but according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled. They will turn away from listening to the truth and give attention to false stories. You, though, keep your senses in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5)
Enough of this silliness. In our next video, we’ll again look at Matthew 18:15-17, but this time using the technique of exegesis. That will allow us to understand what our Lord really intended for us to understand.
The Governing Body wants to be the master of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They want Witnesses to believe that they speak with the voice of Jesus. They want witnesses to believe that their salvation depends on their support of the Governing Body. How different they are from the apostle Paul who wrote:
“Now I call on God as a witness against me that it is to spare you that I have not yet come to Corinth. Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Corinthians 1:23, 24)
We will no longer allow any man or group of men to hold power over our salvation hope. We are no longer babies drinking milk, but as the writer of Hebrews says: “Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14)
The words at Matthew 18:15-17 NWT are God given and are the only way to show love to our brothers if we think s/he has committed a sin that merits a resolution. But it’s the one who has been sinned against that takes the initiative. The problem here is that to do so takes courage, sometimes a great deal of courage. That is why – for some – it is much easier to allow the Elders to deal with it. The JW.org / Elder arrangement is full of “Men” who are ignorant & arrogant AND cowards (I.e. not guided by… Read more »
Please forgive me. My comments above are not correct. What I should have said is that the system used by the JW.org is wrong. It is not for me to judge wo/men who are JW’s. I know personally that many JW’s are struggling with their beliefs (including possibly many who serve as elders and MS’s). It maybe that even some who are in the GB are to be saved (as we saw with some who were among the high Jewish order in the days of Jesus and the apostles). Nevertheless, I do believe that it takes courage to reach out… Read more »
Hello Eric!!! Thank you for a great analysis of chapter 18 of Matthew. After your analysis, I can see how strong was the indoctrination under which I lived for over 50 years. It was so obvious that in the final stage only the elders of the church took over. I myself participated in several court cases, fortunately, in these cases, mercy was stronger than the law. This thought gives me peace. What I really liked about your analysis was the emphasis on the context of Christ’s thought in chapter 18. The context sheds light on what our Lord was talking… Read more »
Thank you for sharing this with us. I particularly liked the reference to Paul’s defense. I shall have to remember that and use it in the future. Powerful words!
ZbigniewJan – thank you for your missive & sharing your thoughts.
Honestly, I’m not sure I fully understand everything you have said.
Let me prayerfully think about it & come back to you.
Where about are you located?
hello jwc!!! My name is Zbigniew. I live in Poland in the town of Sulejówek near the border of the capital, Warsaw. I am 65 years old and I am the 3rd generation brought up in the ideology of the Bible Students and later JW. I was baptized into this organization at the age of 16, and I was an elder for 10 years. Twice I was released from my elder privilege because I had the courage to follow my conscience. In this organization, the elders have no right to their conscience, they have to use the imposed conscience of… Read more »
Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts.
Like you, Eric has helped me to get the needle of my compass pointing in the right direction.
There is a great deal to talk about. I do travel to Germany & Switzerland & would love to come to Poland to meet with you.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
God bless – John
Dear ZbigniewJan, I fully agree with you. Eric wrote an excellent analysis of chapter 18 of Matthew, which perfectly refutes the WT interpretation, which aims to brutally coerce the members of the Organization. It is interesting that when I finally broke with the WT Organization, I used this exact quote from Cor 4:3-5! These words of Paul fully describe my absolute devotion to our Heavenly Father and to His Son and our Redeemer. Sometimes I turn to my good Shepherd with these words, which are an echo of Paul’s quote that you mentioned: “Lord Jesus, please come! The Spirit and… Read more »
Thank you for sharing this. It is comments like this one which reinforce in my mind that the faithful and discreet slave is made up of all christians who make the effort to share with their fellow slaves food from God. You’ve helped me see the relevance of Paul’s words to all of us today.
Thanks a lot, dear Eric.
I am continually grateful to you Meleti! You were instrumental in my leaving the JW’s. Of course, I know the true source of my freedom. But you are a fantastic tool for Christ! THANK YOU! This video is EXCELLENT. The more time that goes by for my wife and me, the more we see the JW’s “silliness”. This scripture was a source of “heated” debate with us for over a decade! (We are united now though!). As if our Lord would have left us in the dark regarding how to consider the interrelations of fellow followers. Christ gave all who… Read more »
As I get deeper into a study of Scripture on this subject, Truther, I am more and more shocked at just how far the Organization has deviated from and perverted the loving message of truth.
In the society’s book “Organised to do Jehovah’s will” in chapter 14 Maintaining the peace and cleanness of the congregation… Under subheading, Resolving certain serious wrongs, paragraph 20, makes Matthew 18:17 a disfellowshipping offence.
So I am a little confused, if its a frivolous “sin”, why disfellowship the offender?
Thanks for all you hard work Eric and how about a quick update on JW’s in Norway, I read they are in deeeeeeep trouble.
Deep trouble indeed, and the way of the wicked is that when they are in deep trouble, they pull out the shovels and start digging. 😆