Monday, September 24, 2012

My Time with the JWs

From the June 2009 E-Block.

***

Editor's note: I asked our guest writer, James Pinnington, to keep me up to date on his encounters with JWs. Inevitably I decided that his encounters would make a good "diary"-format article, which I asked him to compile.
 
The point of this article is to give those Christians who discussed the Scriptures with a JW (yes, those of you who hide behind the sofa and pretend you're not in when they knock) a better idea of what they teach and what kind of arguments they'll hit you with when you do finally answer the door to them and engage in a debate.

I will deal with this issue on a subject-by-subject basis:
 

IS JESUS A CREATED BEING?
 

On this particular issue there are only really three or four passages in the Bible which might imply to the uninitiated that Jesus was indeed a creation of the Father and that, therefore, there was a time when He did not exist. The first passage that my JW friend I was "studying" (I use the term loosely) with took me to in order to try and prove this contention was, as I expected, Colossians 1:15. The conversation then went something like this:
 

JW: Can you read that passage for me?
Me: Yep, it says, "who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation"
JW: Are you a firstborn son?
Me: Yes I am actually.
JW: Well, where were you before you were born?
Me: Obviously prior to being born I did not exist.
JW: So what does that tell you about Jesus then?
 

So the JW argument basically amounts to saying, "Since the English translation says firstborn, then that seals it. Jesus simply must have been created." In response I simply noted that although in the English translation the term may carry that meaning, the NT obviously wasn't written in English but in Greek. I pointed out to him that there is a Greek word that means "first-created" and that word is "protoktizo." Thus, if Paul had unambiguously wanted to teach that Jesus was a created being as the JW's hold, he could easily have employed that word (or he even could have used the word proto-plasso, which, as I understand it, means "first-formed"). I further noted the term firstborn is used in the OT of David who was a youngest son and, therefore, obviously not first-born in the sense of being first in time (see Psalm 89:27). Also, in Jeremiah 31:9, Ephraim is called the firstborn, yet we know from Genesis 41:51 that it was actually Manasseh who was literally the first born.
 

"So," I said to the JW, "since the term is used of David and Ephraim in spite of the fact that neither of them were first born in the sense of being first created, it's obvious to me that the term can be applied to Jesus without implying that He is a created being." The JW just sat there in silence at that point (presumably trying to think up an answer) so I took the opportunity to further note that rabbi Bechai in his commentary of the Pentateuch (124:4) called Yahweh the "firstborn of all the world." "How," I asked the JW, "could an ancient Jewish rabbi refer to Jehovah Himself as a "first-born" if the term means "first-created" as the JW's teach?
 

In response, he kept silent for little while (obviously, as with most JW's, he'd never heard these points before had merely read and blindly accepted the arguments he found in JW literature which, as far as I can tell, generally doesn't inform its readers of the best counter arguments used by Christians to rebutt their teachings) and completely ducked my last two points and focused on my first point which had to do with the meaning of the term "protoktizo" and the fact that it would've made sense of Paul to use this term (as opposed to "prototokos" which he did use) if he'd wanted to indicate to his readers that Jesus was a created being.
 

The JW said he'd do some research on the meaning of that particular Greek word for next week's meeting. I said "OK," but in my head I was thinking, 'I'm not sure that it needs a whole lot of research, for you don't have to be an expert in Greek to work out that the primary meaning of the word "proto" is "first," and it'd literally take a few minutes on a google search to find that the word "ktizos" means "created." After all, the very next verse (Col 1:16) uses the word "created".' Even so, I let him go off and do his research.
Note: in my experience with JW's I have learnt that most of the time when they tell you, "Oh, I'll get back to you on that next week or "that was a good point you made. I'll have to research that in time for our for next meeting," they generally are bluffing. On many occasions the JW's who told me they'd research such-and-such a point came back the next time and said, "Sorry I completely forgot to do that" or "I just didn't have the time to look it up." Anyway, when the JW I was debating came back next week he did not reply to my point about Colossians 1:15 directly but merely said, "I understand what you're trying to say concerning the term 'firstborn,' but what about Revelation 3:14 and Proverbs 8:22?."
 

I noted in response that the word "arche" in Rev 3:14 carries a number of different meanings and it can be rendered as "chief," "source," "originator," "ruler," etc. Amazingly, he turned to me and said in a slightly petulant tone, "So, you disagree with the English translations then?" I look at him and said, "Well, yeah. Unless you want to argue that the English translation is inspired by God."
 

Stupidly I had forgotten to prepare a list of passages from the NT which show how "arche" is used in these different ways and that how, many times, it doesn't carry the meaning of "beginning." When I did get around to showing him a list of those passages the week after, his response was to be silent for a little while and then change the subject.
 

On Proverbs 8:22 he did of course bring up the fact that some translations render it as "created." Obviously, the connection of Proverbs 8 to the wisdom literature of the intertestamental period shows that even if this were the right translation, it would not be a problem for Christians. However, instead of going down that route I noted that "bara" is the Hebrew word for "created" (as used in the Genesis creation account) and that this is not the word used here in Proverbs 8, where the word is "qanah." As with my point about the word "arche" in Rev 3:14, he again said, "So, you disagree with the English translation?." I responded, "Well I disagree with the translation you're using, but my Bible uses the word "possessed" rather than "created." 

He then got another Bible (the Living translation) out of his bag and said, "Well this one also says "created." I almost laughed at that point (half expecting him to add on the words "so there!") because he really did seem to be saying that the mere fact he had two translations which said "created" to my one which said "possessed" meant that this somehow proves "created" is the correct rendering. Hilarious (if you're happening to feel a bit lazy, another simple way of taking the sting out of the JW argument on this one would of course be to note that there are quite a few scholars who do not accept that Proverbs 8 is even speaking of Jesus in its original context). 


Finally, the JW said something which I was praying he'd come out and say - and this was the words, "Did you know that the doctrine of the Trinity was unknown during the first four centuries of Christian history?." Of course, anyone who has read the writings of the Early Church Fathers will know that the opposite is in fact true. 


This leads on to another subject I've discussed with the JW's....


DEITY OF CHRIST
 

So, as noted above, one of the things to bring up with the JW's is the fact that their literature makes this false claim that the Early Church Fathers did not believe that Jesus was God. However, the fact is that the JW's are simply wrong on this and you don't have to look very far on the net to find that many websites have put together quotations from the Church Fathers showing that they did believe in Jesus' deity, contrary to the Watchtower's claims. Of course the purpose of bringing these quotes up is not to try and prove the trinity to them - to do that we would have to go to the Bible itself - but, rather, the purpose is to show them that their leadership has in fact lied to them on this issue and to make them think 'If they've lied to me on this, maybe there are other things they're not telling me.' 

As noted above, it was actually my JW friend who first brought up this issue by claiming, "Did you know that the doctrine of the Trinity was unknown during the first four centuries of Christian history?." I told him this was untrue and that next week I'd show him quotes from the early church fathers which prove his claim wrong (this claim he made was simply parrotted from a piece of JW literature called, 'Should You Believe in the Trinity'). Luckily enough, during my previous encounter with the JW's a couple of years previously I had printed out ten pages worth of quotes from the Early Church Fathers which showed beyond all doubt that they held to the deity of Christ. 


When next week came around, I got out my quotes from the Early Church Fathers. I got through reading quotes from two of the Church Fathers when the JW interrupted me and attempted to dodge by saying, "Ah, but we know that false teachers came into the church after the apostles died and maybe they brought this false trinity doctrine with them. The trinity is a pagan doctrine after all." I pointed out that regardless of whether that was true or not, my reason for quoting this stuff at him, as he knew, was to show that the JW claim that the Early Church Fathers didn't believe in Jesus' deity or the concept of the trinity was simply a false one. 


He then said, "OK, but JW scholars have read all the Early Church writings and have come to a different conclusion about what the Church Fathers believed. We have to remember that some scholars out there have biases" (but not their own scholars?). I said to him that it is true that scholars can have biases but that he should read the writings for himself. I offered him the 10-pages worth of quotes I'd printed out, and he took them and said he'd read them over the next week or so. Whether he does or not, I don't know. Although, to be fair, he did finish by saying, "I'm not trying to deflect your points here, and I really will read those quotes." 


Was he being straight with me when he said this? I'm not sure, for when we met up again two weeks later, I asked him if he had read any of the ten pages worth of quotes I gave him, and he just said "No." I asked him again the next week and his answer was, "Yes I read them." But when I asked him what he thought of them he repeated his line from the other week, which was, "Well, we know that false teachers came into the Church very early on and maybe they brought this false doctrine with them." I pointed out once again that I was not bringing the quotes up in order to prove the trinity, but I merely brought them up because they show that people like, for example, Justin Martyr and Hippolytus did believe in the deity of Jesus, and that this was in direct opposition to the claims of the Watchtower society that these two Early Church leaders denied the deity of Christ. 


He then responded by pointing out, quite correctly, that these ten pages worth of quotes I had printed out off the net and given to him where taken from an anti-JW website. I said that although this was true, the quotes are still valid and this could be seen by checking out any "neutral" website which carries the writings of the Early Church Fathers. He then went quiet for a bit and changed the subject, which seems to be the modus operandi of every JW I have encountered when they are faced with something they can't answer.
A similar situation transpired when I studied with some JW's about 2 to 3-years previously to this. We were discussing the deity of Christ when I asked them if at out next meeting they could provide me with a booklet the Watchtower society produces called, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?.” The reason I asked for this specifically - and I would suggest any Christian who is trying to convert a JW should read this booklet - was because I knew from my time looking at anti-JW websites that in this booklet they make many false claims, one of which is to misquote the Early Church Fathers in order to try and prove to unsuspecting Christians and interested non-believers that these Church Fathers rejected Christ's deity. 


After I had read the booklet I said to the JW's I was studying with, "This booklet makes a number of claims about what the Early Church believed and, yet, I know from reading their writings myself that these claims are simply not true. Have you read any of the writings of the Early Church Fathers?" "No," the woman replied (I doubt many JW's have). I continued, "Well, I have read quite a bit of them and I actually have ten pages worth of quotes here showing that the Church Fathers did believe that Jesus was God and also that the NT teaches a trinity." I asked if I could read some of these quotes to her. She agreed, but after I finished she said, "Yes, but are the Early Church Fathers the Bible? We only go by the Bible."
Obviously she was just dodging like the previous guy, so I said, "Of course we should go to the Bible for our doctrine and of course the views of the Church Fathers are not to be put on par with the Bible, but that was never my point. I'm just quoting their views to you to show that these claims in this booklet here are false. I don't know who put it together but either they haven't read the Church Fathers properly or they are attempting to distort what they believed." She then replied by giving the whole "But false teachers came into the Church after the apostles died and brought false teachings with them" nonsense.
This obviously had nothing to do with my point, so I said, "Yes, but as I made clear previously, I'm not trying to prove the trinity to you. Whether false teachers came into the Church very early on and brought this supposedly pagan trinity doctrine in with them or not is irrelevant. I'm showing you these very clear quotations from the Church Fathers in order to prove to you that these claims made in this booklet you gave me last week are simply false."
I then asked her if she would like to take these quotes of the Church Fathers I had printed out in order to go away and read them herself. She declined the offer, which made me think she was scared to even contemplate the fact that her organisation is guilty of distorting this issue and that she was scared of what she might find. I might be guilty of reading too much into it but, the more I think about it, even the times JW's have accepted literature from myself (very rarely), when they return it to me the week after, they give the impression that they never even bothered to read it. 


When you talk to JW's about the deity of Christ or the trinity, they will generally have a few select verses that they will use to try and disprove Jesus' deity. Some of the verses they attempt to use just go to show that they have no idea what Christians actually believe on this issue. When discussing Jesus' deity, the two verses that always seem to get thrown at me first of all are Matt 26:42 where Jesus prays to His Father, and Matt 3:16-17 where we hear the voice of God the Father coming from heaven whilst Jesus is on earth being baptised.
So, when debating this recently with a JW, he had me read both these verses with him and then he commented, "Since Jesus was praying to His Father Jehovah here, this clearly shows that He cannot be the Father. Was He praying to Himself? How can God pray to Himself?. And in the second passage Jesus is being baptised and He hears the voice of His Father Jehovah coming from heaven. This again shows that Jesus must be different from the Father." I replied, "OK, I have read these same objections before in JW literature, and I'll say that whoever wrote those objections simply doesn't understand what Trinitarians actually believe. Yes those passages show that Jesus is distinct from the Father, but no Trinitarian I know of believes that Jesus is the Father. They are not the same person." 


He interrupted me at that point and said, "Well, that not what I hear from Christians I've talked to on the doorstep. They've told me Jesus is God the Father." I replied, "Well, I guess it's not that surprising since many professing Christians in this country seem to have no idea what the Bible actually teaches on many issues. But no Christian I know of believe that trinitarianism teaches that Jesus is the same person as the Father. Christian scholars certainly don't believe such a thing, and nor did historical trinitarianism teach such a thing. The Bible is clear that God is one being in three persons."
Clearly misunderstanding me, the JW asked, "So you're saying that Jesus is not God?" "No, I'm saying that Jesus is not the Father. He is God though." The JW had perplexed expression on his face, but since he didn't interrupt I continued: "The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God." "But the Bible is clear that there is only one God, he said." "Yes, that's true, but 'one' what? One being called 'God,' but in three persons," I replied. 


Laughing, he said, "It just doesn't makes sense to me." I then gave him the following analogy to try and explain the concept: 


"Think of the sun up there in the sky, or maybe even just a lamp. Now, the sun/lamp would be the Father, the light emitted from the sun/lamp would be Jesus, and the heat from the sun/lamp would be the H. Spirit (I think JPH uses this analogy himself in one of his articles on this issue). Also, in passages like Deuteronomy 6:4 which say God is 'one,' what has to be kept in mind is that Hebrew word for 'one' there does not mean "an absolute one," for which the word 'yachid' would be used; but, rather, the word used there ("echad") is also used in Genesis 2 where it talks about Adam and Eve becoming 'one flesh.' So you have one flesh but two persons, just as you can have 'one' God made up of more than one person, which would be three in the case of the Biblical God."
He simply didn't know how to respond at this point. I should note that no JW I have talked to about Deuteronomy 6:4 and the meaning of the word "echad" has ever responded to that point, and they seem to have have never even heard of the argument before, which is most troubling. 


Anyway, he then moved on to a different objection which was that "Jesus cannot be God because in Matthew 24:36 He denied knowing the day or hour of His coming." "Yes," I responded, "but in John 16:30 the disciples say that Jesus knows 'all things' and your question is really answered in Philippians 2:5-10 where it points out that Jesus is God but that at the incarnation He divested Himself of some of His powers, one of which would include omniscience." Again he simply didn't have an answer except to have a disbelieving look on his face. So he proceded, as I expected, to point to John 14:28 where Jesus admits that the Father is "greater" than Him. He asked, "How can Jesus be God when He admits that Jehovah is greater than Him?" 


I said, "Well, firstly, the word in the Greek there is 'meizon' and it does not mean 'greater' in the sense of 'being better than.' The word for the latter is 'kreitton,' and it is used in Hebrews 1:4 where it says that Jesus is better than the angels. I saw that he was just about to interrupt me so I quickly said, "You have to keep in mind that trinitarianism teaches that there is ontological equivalence within the Godhead but also functional subordination."
The JW chuckled at that point and said, "You've gone straight over my head with that. You'll have to explain what you mean." I think that response of his is quite revealing. When I made the same point to two JW's I was studying with around 2 to 3-years previously I got the exact same reaction. Now, I could understand their unfamiliarity with such terminology if they were new believers, but all of these JW's I spoke with had been professing "Christians" for over 30-years. The fact that they had never heard of this terminology is extremely strange and would seem to show that they have blindly accepted the JW view of the trinity and then immediately stuck their heads in the sand and not bothered to read opposing viewpoints. 


You also have to wonder why JW literature makes no mention of the fact that Trinitarians believe that there is functional subordination within the Trinity. Worse still, you have to wonder why JWs who have been knocking on people's doors for over 30-years have never run into any Christians who knew enough in order to be able to set these JW's straight on this one. 


Now, returning to the issue at hand, I tried to explain to him how functional subordination makes sense of John 14:6 by pointing the JW to 1 Corinthians 11:3 which I knew was another scripture that JW's use in an attempt to prove that Jesus is not God. As I said to him, "I know JW's like to use this verse to teach that Jesus is not God because it says that God the Father is the 'head' of Christ. However, this verse is quite a good example of what I was saying about the trinity and subordination within the Godhead. Note that the verse compares the relationship between a man and woman to the one Jesus has with His Father. Do you believe that man and woman are equal?" 


"Of course," he replied. "OK," I said, "but note that the verse says man is the 'head' of the woman. Even though he is her 'head' and she is subordinate to him, they are still equal, as we both agree. Likewise, if the man can be called the 'head' of the woman without this implying that the man is better than the woman or that they are unequal, then this shows it is possible for Jesus and God the Father to be equal in spite of the fact that the Father is called the 'head of Christ.'" He didn't answer at that point but sighed as if to show he disagreed, so I continued by saying, "What I'm saying then is that the man and woman are ontologically equal; that is, they are equal in their natures, for both are human.
However, although they are equal and one is not better or greater than the other in that sense, there is functional subordination within the relationship, as shown by the fact that man is the head of the woman. Man, then, is greater than the woman only in that sense. So, how this relates to the deity of Christ is that the God the Father and Jesus are ontologically equal; that is, they are both God and both partake of the divine nature; yet there is functional subordination in the relationship, just as there is in the relationship between husband and wife, and this explains the statement in John 14:28 where the Father is said to be greater than Jesus. God the Father is greater in position but not greater in nature than Jesus." After I finished my long explanation, the male JW turned to the female JW (they were actually husband and wife), "I don't really understand what he is saying. Did you understand his point?" 


Thankfully she said "Yes" and she went on to explain to her husband exactly what I was arguing. Now, I can't say I know this for sure, but he did seem to be acting somewhat and feigning confusion when he claimed that he didn't understand the concept of functional subordination. I'm not sure why he'd do that, but it may have something to do with the fact that the JW's often like to point out in their literature that the trinity cannot be true because it is a very confusing and complicated doctrine, and they argue that God would never be the author of confusion (they wrongly cite 1 Corinthians 14:33 to support this). So it may be that he was trying to emphasise to me that the doctrine sounds confusing to those who don't already believe it and possibly he was trying plant this thought in my head to make me start questioning my beliefs and begin thinking to myself, 'Yes, this trinity doctrine does sound a bit absurd and we do have to go through a lot gyrations to make it sound coherent.' Or maybe I'm just paranoid and he truly didn't understand my argument about functional subordination in the Godhead. 


Now, since they couldn't answer my points, they took me across to John 17:3, where Jesus says, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent,." After I read this verse out, the female JW commented, "What is this passage saying then? How do you understand it?." I replied "Well, I know what you are going to say. You're going to say that this verse proves that the Father is the only true God and that, therefore, Jesus cannot be Almighty God." 


They both smiled and she then said, "Well, the verse is pretty clear, isn't it? If I say I'm the 'only one' of something, then clearly this means that no-one else can be part of that something. Or do you disagree?." I replied, "Well, firstly, a similar passage to John 17:3 is Jude 4, which tells us that Jesus is the only Lord. I'm sure you wouldn't want to argue that Jesus is Lord whereas Jehovah is not. Therefore, if John 17:3 proves Jesus is not God, then Jude 4 proves the Father is not God" [some other passages I forgot to bring up but should have (these things sometimes slip your mind in the heat of "battle") are Isaiah 43:11 where Jehovah is called the only saviour in spite of the fact that the NT calls Jesus "saviour," and Isaiah 44:24 which says Jehovah created the universe on His own even though - as JW's themselves admit - the NT teaches that Jesus was involved in creating the universe]. Their response to my quotation of Jude 4 was, "Ah, but when Jude says Jesus is the only Lord, he is comparing him to human lord's. He is saying Jesus is above all human lord's." 


I said, "But don't you think the passage is similar to Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6 where he says, "...there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him." "I don't see the link," they replied. "Well," I said, "the passage states that there is only one Lord, which is Jesus. Does this imply that the Father is not Lord? No. Likewise, when the Father is called the 'only God,' does this imply that Jesus cannot be God? No." The JW's shook their heads (I could tell they were getting a little agitated now) and said, "But the passage only calls the Father 'God.' It doesn't say Jesus is God. It calls Him 'Lord,' not 'God'." I replied, "Yes, but the point is that the words 'Lord' and 'God' are being used interchangeably in this passage." 


The JW's again nodded their heads vigorously and said, "No, we see no reason to believe that." I said, "Yes, Paul is clearly making a parallel with Deuteronomy 6:4 where Jehovah himself is called both Lord and God. It's fairly obvious to me. Also, you do know that pagans in Paul's day referred to the deities they worshipped as both 'Lord' and 'God,' right?" Again they were getting more agitated at ths point and simply said, "Well, I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one." I responded, OK, just one final point: 


"In my opinion the problem with the way your are interpreting John 17:3 is that you are coming to the text with a presupposition, which is that God is a unipersonal being, as a opposed to a multi-personal one. However, what if we come to the text with the presupposition that God is a multipersonal being: Now, there are places in the Bible where the Father is called God, there are places where Jesus is called God, and there are places where the Holy Spirit is called God. Since this is true, this means it is possible for one member of the trinity, such as the Father, to be called God without this forcing us to conclude that the Son or Holy Spirit are not God. Therefore, when John 17:3 says the Father is the only true God, this does not deny that Jesus or the Holy Spirit are also the only true God. Again, your reading of John 17:3 depends on whether you come to the text presuming that God is a unipersonal being or a multipersonal being." 


HOLY SPIRIT INDWELLS ALL BELIEVERS? 


As Christians we may think it is obvious that we all have the Holy Spirit living inside us, but the JW's take the view that the Holy Spirit - which of course they believe is a force rather than a person - only indwells the 144,000. The rest of us, I guess, will just have to get by without Him. This is one of the subjects I enjoy bringing up with the JW's. Why? Two reasons really: Firstly, it's one of the easiest of their doctrines to refute; secondly, although it may not seem as important a topic to bring up with them as, for example, the deity of Christ or the Gospel, showing them that their leadership is wrong on this ultimately should have the effect of chipping away at their confidence in the Watchtower organisation. Again it's a case of making the JW think 'If my organisation is wrong about this, what else are they wrong about?.' 


We all know that passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 teach that the Holy Spirit indwells us. However, if you bring these passages up with the JW's, they'll simply reply, "But you have to understand that the New Testament was not written to all Christians, but only to the 144,000." Quite a shocking statement in some ways, but that is what I have been told by JW's on numerous occasions and not just when bringing up this issue. So, in my study with the JW's back in 2006-2007, I brought up a passage which, in my view, is pretty unanswerable, and this is Romans 8:8-9. I read through the passage with the two JW's, and then said to them, "Paul teaches here in Rom 8:8-9 that there are two types of people in this world: those who are "in the flesh" and those who are "in the Spirit." He also says that those in the flesh "cannot please God." Paul then tells the Christians in Rome that "ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you." Paul emphatically states here that those "in the Spirit" have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them which, by definition, must mean that those people still in the flesh - those who "cannot please God" - do not have the Holy Spirit living inside them. Furthermore, Paul caps it off by saying, "But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his!". 


Thus, if only 144,000 Christians have the benefit of the indwelling Spirit, this means that, according to Paul's own words, all those Christians who are not part of the 144,000 are still "in the flesh," "cannot please God," and, furthermore, "are are none of His." I was pretty confident that they wouldn't be able to answer this, and after a few moments uncomfortable silence, one of the JW's - presumably in some sort of reflex action - said, "Yes but that passage is only written for the 144,000." I replied, "But even if it was only written to the 144,000, the point is it still says that those who do not have the Spirit indwelling them "cannot please God" and are "none of His." The two JW's then looked at each other and went silent for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only a few seconds), so I interrupted and, attempting to save them from too much embarrassment, said, "Look, I'm not saying I'm 100% correct in all my beliefs, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to claim that the JW's are infallible either. I've been wrong in the past and had to change my views according to the evidence, so maybe Romans 8:8-9 is one of those places where you could be wrong." 


They agreed this was a possibility and moved on to a different topic. I should note that when I brought this issue up with the JW I am presently studying with, he said, "I'm not sure we teach that only 144,000 Christians have the Holy Spirit." I told him that previous JW's I have spoken with certainly believe this to be the case, so he said, "OK, I have to check in with other JW's on this one." He still hasn't got back to me on that as of yet, but it looks as though he is misinformed about his organisations teachings, for every website run by former JW's that I've looked at says that JW's do indeed believe that only the 144,000 are indwelt by the Spirit. 


ARE ALL CHRISTIANS "BORN AGAIN"? 


Another doctrine that most Christians will find strange is the JW belief that not all Christians are "born again" but that only the 144,000 are. I'm not totally sure, but I assume this doctrine is related to their other belief which is that only 144,000 people go to heaven, and that they will live their for eternity whilst all other Christians live on paradise earth for ever. The JW's define the "kingdom of heaven" (or kingdom of God) as being a heavenly kingdom as opposed to an earthly one, and since they believe for other reasons that only 144,000 go to heaven, and since John 3:5 says no-one can see the kingdom of God/heaven without being born again, it seems this forces them to conclude that only 144,000 Christians are born again. 


When talking with the JW about this issue (coincidentally the JW pointed out that I was bringing this topic up with him on the same day that the JW's had brought out a Watchtower magazine which dealt with the very issue we were discussing), I pointed out that the problem I had with this idea that only 144,000 Christians are born again is that it would seem to contradict Ephesians 2:1. I took him across to that passage and said, "You see that it states that all are "dead in sin"? What is the opposite of birth? Death. Therefore in order for those who are dead in sin to be saved, they need to be born again. 2 Cor 5:17 says anyone who is in Christ is a "new creature," which means they have been born again or created anew. If only 144,000 Christians are said to be "born again," this means that all other Christians are still dead in their sins, much like the unbelieving Pharisees who Jesus said would 'die in their sins'."
The JW simply didn't offer me a response on this one except to shrug his shoulders and say, "I'll try and research the issue more."


THE 144,000 


This doctrine is probably the most famous of all the JW beliefs. As noted above, JW's believe that only 144,000 people go to heaven, whilst the rest of the world will live on paradise earth for eternity. As with many of their other beliefs, this one again is built on pretty flimsy evidence. I have discussed this issue on two occasions with JW's and the conversation in both cases took on the exact same form. It began with me asking, "Can you show me in the Bible where it teaches that only 144,000 Christians will live and reign with Jesus in heaven?" On both occasions they took me first to 2nd Timothy 4:18 where Paul talks about a "heavenly kindgom." JW's interpret this to mean that the kingdom will not be located on earth but merely in heaven, although it will rule over the inhabitants of "paradise earth" according to the JW's. 


I never challenged their interpretation at this point but merely asked them to continue their explanation. They then took me to Luke 12:32 where Jesus says to the disciples, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom." One of the JW's then said, "So Jesus tells us that only a small group of Christians will go to live with Him in heaven." He then turned to Revelation 7 and the read the part about the 144,000 being sealed from the 12 tribes of Israel. He then commented, "So we see the link between the two passages: 144,000 is obviously a small number (I presume he means that "it is small when compared to all the Christians that have ever lived"), and this fits in with Jesus' statement in Luke 12:32 about only a "'little flock' inheriting the kingdom." I replied, "Personally I see no reason to link the two passages. The link is an artificial one. You created it yourself by going to Luke 12:32 and then immediately turning to Rev 7." 


He attempted to interrupt at that point but I continued by saying, "However, in my opinion, this is not a link the Bible makes. Certainly 144,000 is a small number in relation to the number of Christians that have ever lived, but there's no reason to see the 144,000 as being the same as the 'little flock' of Luke 12:32. Jesus is not saying in Luke 12:32 that only a small number of Christians will live in heaven. It is simply reading into the text to come to such a conclusion. The fact is that all He was doing was promising this group standing in front of Him that they would inherit the kingdom (whether this be a heavenly one or an earthly one is another matter), and since this group in front of Him was quite small in number, it is only natural that He'd call them a 'little flock.' But in no way was He saying that of all the believers who exist throughout history only a small number of them would go to heaven. 


And you'll remember when we discussed the meaning of the term 'born again,' my point at that time was that John 3:5 is very clear that in order to enter the kingdom we have to be born again, and since all Christians are born again, this means that it cannot be that entrance into the kingdom is only limited to 144,000. And, of course, as you know, I don't accept this 'heavenly rule' idea anyway. I think all resurrected believers will live on earth with Jesus." 


In respsone the JW's then asked me to read Revelation 5:10, which in the NWT (the JW's official translation) reads thusly: 


"And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign OVER the earth." 


The "kings and priests" here, which JW's interpret to be the 144,000, are said to reign "over" the earth, and the JW's weirdly interpret "over" to mean "above." So, they asked me to read his out and when I finished, they commented, "We understand this to be teaching that the 144,000 will reign in a heavenly government with Jesus above the earth." I respond by showing them some other Bible translations on my laptop, and as we read thorugh them all I noted to the JW, "You'll see that most (but not all) other translations say, 'upon the earth,' not 'over the earth,' and the reason for this is that Greek word used there is 'epi' and its primary meaning is 'on' or 'upon.' It is used this way elsewhere in the book of Revelation. So basically what is beng said is that the believer will reign upon the earth, not up there in heaven." 


The JW responded, "So it all hinges on the meaning of this Greek word, then? Hmm. I'll have to go away and research the meaning of the word." I then said, "Well, I'm not saying it hinges on this word, for even if we translated the word 'epi' as 'over,' my point is that this would stiill not prove that Christians will reign with Christ in heaven for eternity. In my view your simply reading too much into the word 'over'. The word does not have to mean 'over' in the sense of being above the earth. After all, if I say that the Prime Minister rules over the country of England, I obviously don't mean by that that he is literally living up there in the sky ruling above the country. That'd be silly. The word 'over' in that context simply refers to the sphere of his rule, so Rev 5:10 is simply saying that they will rule the whole earth." 


"OK," he replied, "but in Rev 14 it talks about how the 144,000 will rule from the heavenly Mount Zion with Jesus." After reading the passage with them I responded, "It is true that there is such a thing as the heavenly Mount Zion. It is spoken about in other biblical verses apart from the book of Revelation. However, we all agree that there is an earthly Zion too, and I see no reason to take the Zion in Rev 14 as anything other than the literal earthly Zion." The JW response was, "But Rev 14:3 makes it clear that this is a heavenly scene. It says that the 144,000 ''sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.'" 


I replied to them with the following poins: 


"Well, firstly, Rev 7:15 tells us that the 'great multitude which no man can number' are also standing 'before the throne,' so if Rev 14:3 proves the 144,000 are in heaven, then Rev 7:15 proves that the great multitude are in heaven also; secondly, it isn't even certain that those singing the song in Rev 14:3 are the 144,000. It may be the "they" of verse 3 refers back to the harpists of verse 2 and that they are the one's in heaven singing and, therefore, that the 144,00 are on earth (I'll note that as I was saying this, the two JW's were looking at each other and shaking their heads). The fact that the 144,000 are said to be 'sealed' is another indication that they are not in heaven, for we know from Ezekiel 9:4 that one of the purposes of a seal is protection from physical death, and this would seem to indicate they survive the tribulation period and thus they wouldn't be in heaven. Lastly, even if the 144,000 are in heaven, this is hardly enough to prove your doctrine, for we know from Rev 7:15 that a great multitude that no man can number are also said to be located 'before the throne,' which shows that it is not just the 144,000 who are in heaven." 


How did the JW's I spoke with respond to the above argument? Well, they said, "But the Bible clearly teaches that there are two groups of believers. The first is the 'little flock' of Luke 12:32 that will inherit the kingdom of heaven, and in John 10:16 Jesus says that He has other sheep who are not of this fold. These believers have an earthly rather than a heavenly hope and will live on paradise earth. Turn with me to Psalm 37:9-11." We then read the passage and, once finished, they commented, "So we learn from this passage that the righteous will inherit the earth. Do you agree with his?" I replied, "Well, as I said, I certainly believe that the believers will live on earth with Jesus, but I just disagree that some will live in heaven. I just don't think those verse you quoted are saying what you think they are." 


They responded, "So you believe that everyone is going to live on earth? What about angels? Are they going to live on earth with us?" In reply I said, "Yes, I think it is quite clear that everyone in heaven will come down to live on earth." Strangely, they said, "But how can angels who are spirit beings live on earth?" "I really don't understand why not," I said. "Angels certainly appeared on earth in past - albeit only temporarily - so I have no idea why you would feel that (this objection of their's seems to be similar to their earlier objection about a physical body not be able to live in heaven)". 


The JW's didn't really attempt to rebutt my point except to laugh as if I was the one making the weird argument, so I said, "Anyway, on your point about Luke 12:32 and John 10:16, I really don't see it as teaching that there are two classes of believers, with one class being destined to live in heaven and the other being destined to live in earth. If we look at the OT we see that Jehovah is portrayed as the shepherd, with Israel being portrayed as the sheep. In the NT, Jesus talks about how His mission was to preach to the 'lost sheep of the house of Israel.' So, when He says in John 10:16 that He has other sheep who are not of this fold, it is obvious to me that the other sheep are..." 


One of the female JW's interrupted me before I could finish and said, "Gentiles." "Yeah, that's it. The other sheep would be Gentiles. I think that's the most obvious interpretation. Jesus told the twelve to preach first to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 10:5) and then the Gospel would go out to the Gentiles, which are the 'other sheep.'" She replied, "Hmm, I understand that interpretation." So, although she didn't say she agreed (maybe deep down she knew it made more sense than the JW view), she at least admitted my view was plausible, which is somewhat of a victory if you can get a JW to do that.


I then took the initiative and moved them on to Revelation 7 and asked them to read the part which talks about 144,000 Jews being sealed with 12,000 being sealed from each tribe. I then asked, "The passage in my view clearly says that the 144,000 are Jews. The burden of proof, I feel, is upon the one who wants to take a passage symbolically, especially since a literal reading of the passage would not lead to any absurdity and, in fact, makes perfect sense." She replied, "Well, note that in the list of the tribes, one of them is missing." "Yeah, Dan is missing," I said. "We believe the fact that one is missing shows that the list cannot be taken to be literal Jews," she responded. "It is true that one of the tribes is missing. Some of the early church believed that the fact Dan was not listed proved that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan. Anyway, my point would be this: Although it's true one tribe is left out, this isn't the only place where this sort of thing happens. When the tribes are listed in the OT we see that they sometimes leave certain tribes out. For example in Deuteronomy 33 the tribes are listed and, yet, the tribe of Simeon is left out. However, I have never seen anyone use this as a basis to say we shouldn't take this list in Deut 33 as a listing of literal ethnic Jews. Since we take that literally even though a tribe is missing, why should we take the 144,000 in Rev 7 non-literally?."
Both times I have put this point to JW's they simply haven't tried to answer but, rather, they've gone on to bring up another objection, which is that "when the Jews rejected Jesus, Jehovah replaced Israel with the Church and, therefore, the term 'Israel' in some places in the NT refers to Gentiles, not just to Jews." Of course even many Christians would agree with the JW's here that the term "Israel" and "Jews" are applied to Gentiles in the NT; and, like the JW's, they will use passages such as Galatians 6:15-16 and Romans 2:28-29 to prove this. On Galatians 6:15-16 I noted to them that it all hinges in the translation of the word 'kai,' which some Bible's render as "even" and others render as "and" (a subtle but important distinction). I asked them turn to that passage in their Bible and to compare it with my own Bible. 


I can't quite recall the exact wording of the NWT translation, but the only relevant fact for our purposes is that as with some other Bible's it renders "kai" in Galatians 6:16 as "even," so here are two different translations of the verse taken from the NIV and NASB: 


"Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, EVEN("kai") to the Israel of God"
"And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, AND ("kai") upon the Israel of God." 


I said, "If 'even' be the correct translation, then I'd have to agree with you that the term 'Israel of God' is used of the Gentiles. However, in my Bible, the word 'kai' is translated as 'and,' which is the primary meaning of the word. And if that's the correct translation, this gives a different meaning to the verse and shows that there is a distinction being made between two groups here: the Gentiles and the Israel of God, the latter of which are Jewish Christians, probably contrasted to the 'Israel after the flesh' in 1 Corinthains 10:18." I then moved on to explain that I believe - although admittedly many Christians do disagree with this - that Romans 2:28-29 is not saying that that anyone who is circumcised of the heart can be called a Jew. Rather, I noted that I believe it is simply saying that a Jew who doesn't believe in God is not regarded as a 'true Jew' and that Paul here is distinguishing between Jews who believe and Jews who don't believe, and that Gentiles aren't even in view in this passage.
The JW's asked me to explain Galatians 6:16 to her again and, after I had done that, they simply went silent for a little while, looked at each other, and said to me, "OK, we haven't heard these points before but we understand where you are coming from and why you take this view." I replied, "A final point I'd make on this is that even if Gentiles can now be called 'spiritual Jews,' this still does not disprove the fact that the 144,000 in Rev 7 are literal Jews. The reason I say this is because the writer of Rev 7 goes to great lengths to get across the fact that they are indeed Jewish, for he not only calls them 'children of Israel,' he points out that the 144,000 is made up of 12,000 from each of the tribes. Such attention to detail would seem to indicate he was trying to teach that the 144,000 are physical Jews. Why go into such detail unless you wanted to teach they really are ethnic Jews? Also, let's imagine for the sake of the argument that I'm right and that the writer really did want to to teach that the 144,000 were literal Jews? What words would he use to get that message across? I'd argue that he'd use exactly the same words he ending up using there in Rev 7. I don't see how he could have been any more clear? The problem with your interpretive method in my opinion is that even if the writer did want to teach the 144,000 are literal Jews, he would never be able to get that message across to you, for you would always take the word "Israel" symbolically rather than literally."
Again they simply didn't have an answer to my argument but just tried to move me on to a different topic, which I allowed them to do because I didn't have anything else to add. 


2ND COMING: VISIBLE OR INVISIBLE? 


The JW's, of course, take the view that Jesus has already returned. The reason why no-one else apart from the JW's noticed this is, of course, because it was an invisible return (or, in their own words, an "invisible presence"). I personally find it quite amazing that anyone can fall for this sort of nonsense, but sadly we know that people do. To back up this contention that Jesus return would not be visible/physical but, rather, would be an invisible presence, the JW I spoke to recently said, "The word used in Matthew 24:3 is "parousia" and it means "presence" not "coming." Now, no-one denies that the word can mean both "presence" and "coming," so I showed him a number of passages (Phillipians 2:12; 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6; 10:10) from the word is used to refer to a physical presence or coming. I also showed him some quotes from Adolf Deissmann which show that the word was used in the ancient world to refer the visit of a king, something which was obviously very visible and physical.
The JW said, "I agree with all this, but I believe parousia can also refer to an invisible presence." He then turned to book he had brought with him and showed me a line from it which argued that Exodus 25:22 was a verse which shows how God could be said to be "present" on earth yet be invisible at the same time. My first thought on hearing this was, 'I always assumed the passage was indeed speaking about a visible presence of God in the form of the Shekinah Glory.' However, to be safe, I told the JW that I'd get back to him next week on that. I didn't want to give him an answer off the top of my head that turned out to be wrong. I asked JPH for his own take on this passage and I also read numerous commentaries on the internet which all stated that this verse was speaking of God literally appearing to Israel, much like He did elsewhere in the OT where He appeared in the form of a cloud or fire. 


So, at our next meeting week, I told the JW that the passage was referring to the Shekinah Glory which was a visible presence of God, and that this visible presence in the form of a cloud or fire is seen many times throughout the OT. Amazingly, he agreed that Exodus 25:22 was referring to a visible presence, thereby destroying his previous argument that it was speaking of an invisible presence!. I should have really pressed him (I keep letting the bloke off the hook and going easy on him because I sort of have this fear that if I press him on a point too much I might come across as rude and might scare him away) on this contradiction more but immediately after claiming Exodus 25:22 did refer to a visible presence, he went on to say "but Matthew 24:3 does refer to an invisible presence." So, rather than calling his on his convenient change of mind, I dealt with his second point instead. I asked him why I should believe the word "parousia" refers to an invisible presence in Matt 24:3 when we know the word is used every other place in the NT to refer to a visible presence. He then pointed to John 14:19 where Jesus says that the world will "see me no more."
I told him most scholars I'd read believe it was fulfilled between the resurrection and the ascension. He said we'd have to agree to disagree on that one for the time being. Another point he brought up to prove that Jesus would never literally come back was the fact that in Genesis 18:21 God talks about how He would "come down" to see the sins of Sodom. The JW said that God never literally came down to earth in this passage, so maybe Jesus will never literally descend to earth either at the 2nd Coming. I just told him that I believe Jehovah did literally come down at that point and that of the three "men" who appeared to Abraham, two were angels and one was Jehovah Himself. I didn't turn to the passage in order to try and prove it to him. I left it at that simply because I had intended to talk about a number of other issues during our study and felt that time was getting a little short. 


Another point I should have brought up but didn't is that Jesus says to the Jews in Matthew 23:39 that you "shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." This verse implies that there will come a point in the future when Israel will again physically see their Messiah, and this will be at the 2nd Coming. 


THE 1914 DOCTRINE 


As most know, one of the things that marks JWs out from other groups within Christendom is that they not only believe the 2nd Coming is invisible, but they actually believe that it already occured back in 1914, which is also the date that they believe marked the start of the "last days" or the "end-times." Now, as a Futurist, I have no problem agreeing with the JWs that we are indeed in the end-times. When I asked the JW for proof that this year saw the invisble return of Christ, he gave me two pieces of "evidnece." The first was from Scripture, and the second a based upon condition in the world. The Scriptural evidence that they use is based upon a mangling of the day-for-a-year prophecy found in Ezekiel 4:4-6. So, concerning how they get the 1914 date, it is a little complicated, but it goes something like this: 


Firstly, as I say, the JW's appeal to Ezekiel 4:4-6 which talks about how Ezekiel was told to lie on his left side for 390-days and that each of these days represents a year. Rather than admitting that this "year for day" rule is simply a one off, the JW's wish to argue that it is a general principle that can be used to interpret other prophecies. I think this concept was actually borrowed from the seventh-day Adventists, and of course some misguided Christians still use this principle to interpret prophecies even today. The JW's then apply this principle to a prophecy in Daniel 4 which deals with the madness of Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 16, God predicts that Nebbie will go mad for a period of "seven times," and in verse 23 this prophecy is reiterated with Nebbie being seen as a huge tree that is cut down for a period of seven years. 


This is where the JW's follow Nebbie in losing their sanity: Rather than simply taking Dan 4 as a prophecy about Nebbie going nuts for 7-years, they want to argue that the prophecy has a double fulfillment with the tree that is chopped down representing God's kingdom or rule. They argue since Jewish kings represented God's rule/kingdom on earth, and since their throne was in Jerusalem, this means that Jerusalem represents God's kingdom/rule. They then argue that since Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 607 (note: historians simply do not accept a 607 date but, rather, they unanimously agree that Jerusalem was destroyed in 586-87 BC.), and since this year was the last time a Jewish king sat on the throne, then this event fulfilled Daniel's prophecy about the tree being chopped down. The JW's then go across [I told you this was complicated] to Luke 21:24 which talks about Jerusalem being trampled on "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." 


Since they take "Jerusalem" in that passage as representing God's rule or throne, they interpret Luke 21:14 to mean that the throne - which was supposedy last sat upon in 607 by Zedekiah - would remain vacant and "trampled upon" by the Gentiles until Jesus comes to take it, and this they believe did in fact happen in 1914. As to how they get from 607 to 1914, they take the "seven times" spoke of in Dan 4 and apply the "day for a year" rule to it. They note that 7-years is made up of 2520-days (seeing that the Bible uses a 360-day-year calendar rather than a 365-day-year one), and by applying the "day for a year" principle, they say that the "seven times" therefore must represent 2520-years. They then add that time period on to 607 and get the 1914 date. 


So, when discussing this, I firstly said to the JW, "I don't really see anything in the text of Daniel 4 which would indictate anything other than the fact that it was a prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar losing his mind for 7-years. I can't see that it would have another application." He didn't really say anything to that except "Oh, OK", so I continued: "Although I don't actually believe the prophecy has a secondary fulfillment and although I don't believe that the day for a year concept in Ezekiel 4 can be applied to other prophecies in the Bible, my problem is that even if we can apply the day for year principle to Daniel 4, the JW's are inconsistent here because in their writings they always like to point out that the Bible uses a 360-day-year calendar rather than a 365. Now, the obvious problem is that when you add the 2520-years to 607 to get the 1914 date, you overlook the fact that in order to get the 1914 date, you are using a 365-day-year calendar!. However, if you used a 360-day-year calendar and added the 2520-years on to the (false) date of 607 B.C, you don't get 1914 but, rather, you end up almost 40-years short of that mark!." He looked at me and said, "OK, so you're saying that we are using a wrong calendar here?." 


He took some paper, wrote down my argument, and said he'd go off and research it. That was our last meeting together before he went on holiday, so I'm waiting for him to get back to me on that one. I should note that, although I haven't brought up this point as yet with the JW I am presently talking with, in my previous meeting with some JW's a couple of years previously I brought up what I think is another problem with this JW idea that Jesus came back invisible in 1914, and that would be that it'd seem to contradict Jesus' words that "no man knows the day or the hour" of His coming. When I put this point to the JW I was speaking with, she thought for a little while and said, "Oh, Jesus was talking about Armageddon there. We don't know when Armageddon will come. It can happen anytime." I replied, "But Jesus clearly used the words "coming" in that verse. He is saying that no-one can know the day of His parousia, or "presence" as you JW's would say. She then said again, "No, I believe it is talking of Armageddon," so at that point I moved on to a different subject because I could see that we weren't going to get anywhere on that one.
Another problem with this strange doctrine is that it is contingent on Jerusalem having been destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C. I noted to him that every encyclopedia out there states that 586-87 was the date of Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians, so therefore the JW's are off by about 20-years on this one and they should've been prophesying a date of 1934 as the time of Jesus presence/coming. I even emailed Paul Collins - Curator of Later Mesopotamia Department of the Middle East at the British Museum - who emailed me back and, after going through evidence of a 586-87 date from Babylonian tablets and lunar eclipses, said: 


"In general for Assyriologists and others engaged in studying the available source material for the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods the chronology is secure and needs no further discussion. But there are two groups who may take a different view. Firstly, the Jewish Talmud contains some chronological remarks which have been understood to imply a significantly shorter (by several decades) chronology for the Achaemenid Dynasty; but in general Talmudic scholars have been ready to accept this as a mistake. Secondly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, apparently on doctrinal grounds, seek to establish a date for the second fall of Jerusalem some 20 years earlier than would be accepted by main-stream historians." 


When I put this to my JW friend, he simply waved it off by saying, "It all comes down to what we are going to trust: secular dating or Biblical dating. I'll go with the Biblical dates." I responded, "But even if we look at the dates given in the Bible, we see that it supports a 586-87 B.C. date for Jerusalem's destruction. For example, Zechariah 7:1-5, which should be read inconjunction with Zech 1:12, talks about how the Jews had been mourning for 70-years already over Jerusalem by the time of the 4th year of Darius. Since Darius' 4th year was around 518 B.C., counting back 70 would lead us to a 587 date for the destruction of Jerusalem, not 607 as JW's maintain." The JW then read that passage with me and wrote it down in his notebook. He then said, "OK, the date of Jerusalem's fall is quite complicated, so I'll go away and do some research on it in time for our next meeting." 


When next week's meeting came around I was conscious that we had already decided that we'd discuss some other issues for the duration of that meeting, so rather than leaving it right to the end and risking running out of time or even forgetting it, I quickly asked him right at the start of our meeting, "Did you do that research on the 607 vs 586-87 date?." "Yes," he said, producing two pieces of paper from his bag. "I wrote this out for you." I skimmed through a few lines as I was putting it in my pocket and asked him if it covered the points I made about Zech 7:1-5. He said, "Yeah, it covers everything. Have a read of it and tell me what you think when I come back from hoilday in four weeks time." At the time of writing I am still awaiting his return from holiday, but I have read his piece and, interestingly enough, it makes no mention whatsoever of the Zech 7:1-5 passage which clearly dates the destruction of Jerusalem to 586-87 B.C, not 607 as the JW's wish to argue in order to support their 1914 doctrine!
In passing I'll note that in the piece he gave me he attempts to argue that the ancient historian Josephus actually supports the JW idea of the destruction of Jerusalem occurring in 607 B.C. The quote he gave me from JW literature was as follows: 


"Furthermore, Josephus elsewhere describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and then says that "all Judea and Jerusalem, and the temple, continued to be a desert for seventy years." (Antiquities of the Jews X, ix, 7) He pointedly states that "our city was desolate during the interval of seventy years, until the days of Cyrus." (Against Apion I, 19) This agrees with 2 Chronicles 36:21 and Daniel 9:2 that the foretold 70 years were 70 years of full desolation for the land." ("Let Your Kingdom Come" p.188 Appendix to Chapter 14) 


So, the JW's here attempt to argue that Josephus was saying that Jerusalem and its temple laid desolate for the entire 70-year captivity, and since both JW's and non-JW's agree this period ended around 537 B.C., counting back would lead us to 607 B.C, agreeing with the date held by JW's (it should be noted that using a 360-day-year calendar, it would only come to 606 B.C, which is another problem for the JW's). Now, this quote of Josephus is another example of how the JW's mangle quotes or even selectively quote from ancient writers in an attempt to prove their doctrines, and it reminds us of my earlier example where they misquote or selectively quote from the writings of the Early Church Fathers in an attempt to try and show that these Christians denied the Trinity. 


Therefore, concerning the JW quote of Josephus, we see that when he says, "our city was desolate during the interval of seventy years, until the days of Cyrus," he of course does not mean that it was desolate for the entire 70-years as the JW's maintain but, rather, he simply means it layed desolate during that 70-year period without ever specifying exactly how long it remained desolate for. 

The JW attempt to deflect this obvious and clear reading by italicising the word "desolate" in order to draw attention away from the word "during." Amazingly this "sleight of hand" actually fools your average JW. Furthermore, we know for a fact that those who wrote the JW literature are indeed guilty of selective quoting from Josephus, for just two chapters later Josephus gives us the following interesting information:
 

"Nebuchadnezzar, in the eighteenth year of his reign, laid our temple desolate, and so it lay in that state of obscurity for fifty years; but that in the second year of the reign of Cyrus its foundations were laid, and it was finished again in the second year of Darius." (Against Apion Book I, Chapter 21)
 

Oops! Josephus states as clearly as possible that the temple lay desolate for only 50-years - not for the full 70-years captivity as the JW's try to claim - and that this desolation only ended when Cyrus laid the foundations, something even JW's say occurred in 537 B.C. Counting back 50-years obviously does not lead us to the JW date of 607 B.C.
 

A final point I brought up with the JW on this issue was the fact that although present-day JW's teach that the invisible coming/presence of Jesus and the start of the end-times began in 1914, the older JW literature actually taught that 1874 was the beginning of the end-times and the start of Christ's invisible presence. Predicting the wrong date is bad enough but what makes it worse is that in JW literauture they often make a big deal out of the fact that they supposedly predicted "decades in advance" that 1914 would mark the start of the end-times. Now, putting aside whether that year really did mark the start of the end-times and also putting aside whether it is even a falsifiable prophecy to begin with (one of the "evidences" they use is that WW1 broke out in 1914, and they say this proves the end-times must have started then and that Jesus must have invisibly returned at that point), the problem is that if you go back into the JW literature of the time, you find that, as I noted a few lines previously, they were never even predicting that 1914 would be the start of the beginning of the end of the age; rather, what you see from the literature is that they believed 1874 marked the start of the end-times and that world conditions would gradually get worse until Armageddon finally occurred. What's interesting is that they continued to say 1874 was the date of the beginning of the end-time right up until the late 1920s or so!
 

It was only afterwards that they changed their tune and started to teach that 1914 marked the start of the end-times. But, of course, they have now rewritten their own history in an attempt to try and prove that they always believed that 1914 was the start of the end-times and, therefore, that they are great prophets directed by Jehovah Himself. And, of course, they don't tell new converts the truth on this one, and most new converts don't bother to read back through all the literature from the late 1800s and early 1900s to see if the organisation is lying or not.
 

So, anyway, what I chose to do was to wait until the JW himself brought up the fact that the Watchtower organisation had (supposedly) successfully predicted the 1914 date. He predictably did bring this up, so I then commented to him that I wasn't sure this was actually true, for I had seen some contradictory quotes in JW literature I'd come across on the internet. I said that I'd show him these quotes at our next meeting. He agreed. So, when next week rolled around, I brought up this issue with him. I had hundreds of quotes with me, but manged to read through just three when he interrupted and said, "Well, you have to remember that there was split within the JW organisation in the early days." I told him this was irrelevant because the three quotes were from the Watchtower magazine which would obviously have the blessing of the leadership (unless he was arguing that the lower ranked JW's were the one's with the truth) and that if he read all the quotes I had in my possession he'd see that no competing date for the start for the end-times was ever given, and he'd also see that the quotes come for a wide variety of JW literature that spanned over 50-years.
 

 The fact that in none of this literature do we find a date of 1914 given for the invisible return of Christ is a huge problem for that argument of his. He then proceded to write down the quotes and page numbers so he could go away and check them out. He then tried to dodge by saying, "But you know that even secular writers agree that the world changed in 1914?" I noted that this had nothing to do with the point I was making because, as I'd just shown, him, the JW's were never predicting 1914." Finally on this issue he asked me where I'd got the quotes from. I said I'd found them on the internet and that if he was worried that they may be fakes he could simply look at the original copies (which he was going to do anyway) of JW literature that you can get at your local kingdom hall. This meeting happened the day before he went on holiday so I'm stilll waiting for his response on this one. Some helpful links that detail this particular issue are as follows: 

http://mmoutreachinc.com/jehovahs_witnesses/false_prophecies.html
www.freeminds.org/Doctrine/Prophecy/comprehensive-list-of-false-dates-set-by-the-watchtower.html
www.jwfacts.com/index_files/dates.htm
www.xjw.com/1914lies.html
www.geocities.com/paulblizard/dates.html
www.geocities.com/Heartland/2919/dates2.html
www.geocities.com/Heartland/2919/dates3.html
www.geocities.com/Heartland/2919/dates4.html
 

DOES THE BIBLE TEACH A CONSCIOUS AFTERLIFE?
 

At an earlier meeting with my JW friend we discussed the subject of the soul. The JW's, as is widely known, believe that man does not possess a soul or spirit in the conventional sense but, rather, they hold that man himself is a soul and that he becomes unconscious upon death. To prove this the JW asked me to read Genesis 17:14 says, "And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people." After I read this he said, "This verse clearly teaches that the soul can be killed. This shows that man doesn't possess an immortal soul." I responded, "We have to keep in mind that many words have shades of meaning. For example the English word 'day' can refer to a literal 24-hour day, yet it can also be used to refer to an extended period of time, as in when we say, 'In my Father's day things used to be different.' Likewise, in Hebrew some words have shades of meaning. For example, the word 'yom' in Hebrew sometimes refers to a literal 24-hour day in Scripture and yet it is also used to refer to an extended period of time in some passages. Coming back to English, we also use the word 'soul' that way in everyday life. People use the word 'soul' to refer to the immortal part of man that leaves us at death, and yet on other occasions we employ it to speak of the whole person, as in when we say, "A ship sunk last night with 30 souls on board" or "I walked through town yesterday and I didn't see a soul. The place was deserted."
 

At that point the JW tried to interrupt me, but I carried on just to make one final point, which was, "So, words have shades of meaning, and the same is true of the word 'Nephesh.' Sometimes it is used in the Bible to refer to the immortal part of man that leaves the body at death, and on other occasions it can refer to the whole person. That is the case her in the Genesis 17:14 passage you cite." Now, I wasn't totally sure if he attempted to interrupt me because he felt I was droning on too long, or simply because he wasn't really listening to me and was only eager to get his points across. I suspected it was probably the latter, and this suspicion was affirmed when he said, "OK, but look at Leviticus 17:10 where it talks about a soul being killed."
 

I was quite exasperated at that point because I had just gone through explaining to him that the word has shades of meaning. I said, "Yes, and that is my point. You're actually agreeing with me by quoting that verse. Nephesh has shades of meaning. It can refer to the immortal part of man, and it can also refer to the whole person. In Leviticus 17:10 and in Gen 17:14 which we just touched upon it carries the latter meaning." Interestingly enough the exact same thing happened to me when I made this same point to some JW's back in 2006-2007.
 

The JW then said, "Did you know that the words 'immortal soul' are not found anywhere in the Bible? 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God is the only being who possesses immortality." I responded, "Yes the Bible doesn't use the words 'immortal soul,' but it clearly teaches that man's soul leaves him at death and continues to be conscious, and since there is no passage that speaks of the soul being destroyed after this point, it is a sensible inference to conclude that the soul must be immortal. 1 Tim 6:16, by the way, is not referring to the soul. It is referring to deathlessness. It's saying that Jesus is the only one who has been resurrected to immortal life no longer to die again." I guess he could have responded by taking across to somewhere like Matt 10:28 where it speaks of the body and soul being "destroyed" in Gehenna, but he simply didn't respond to my rebuttal, so I took the opportunity to then ask him if I could show him some passages that proved the soul-spirit lives on after death.
 

He agreed, so the first passage I took him to in this one was 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. I pointed out that the passage teaches that Paul was caught up to heaven, and that clearly he was conscious as shown by the fact that he was able to hear "inexpressible things" (v. 4). The JW agreed with that. I then pointed out that the problem for the JW's is that Paul notes that he was not sure if he was in his body or out of his body whilst all this was going on, and that this showed Paul believed it was possible to be conscious and yet not be in a body. All the JW could say was, "Yes but Paul doesn't say he was out of his body." I responded, "True, but the fact that he said he may have been outside of his body shows that he clearly thought it was possible that consciouness continues outside of the body. Why would Paul hold open this possibilty if, as the you JW's claim, he didn't believe in a soul/spirit that lives outside the body?" The JW said he'd get back to me.
 

Now I did use that same argument on the JW's previously when I "studied" with a couple of years back, and the JW lady who I quoted this passage to back then started laughing nervously and said, "Oh I would never have thought of using that passage to try and show that there was an immortal soul." I asked why not, and she just said, "Oh, I just wouldn't have." Perfect definition of a non-answer. This isn't to say of course that more senior JW's and the top JW apologists on internet would not have better answers to this passage - and I have certainly seen non-JW soul sleep advocates on the internet offer answers to this particular passage (none of which were very convincing in my view) - but I can only write from my own experience, which is that JWs I've talked to face-to-face simply have no answer to 2 Cor 12:2-4.
 

I then quoted to him an argument which I have seen made by J.P Moreland, Robert Morey, and John W. Cooper amongst many others, which is that the word "nephesh" is always translated in the NT by the Greek word "pysche" and that this is a problem for the JW's because if man was just a physical being and nothing more as they claim, then the Greek word for mere physical life ("bios") would have been used to translated "nephesh." The JW again answered by telling me he'd have to get back to me on that one. Next I pointed him to Hebrews 12:23 where it says "and to the spirits of just men made perfect." The passage is of course talking about spirits in heaven. The JW got out his Bible (NWT) and noted that it read "the spiritual lives of righteous ones." Interesting change (for further interesting changes made by JW translators, see http://www.freeminds.org/doctrine/bible/misleading-revisions-in-the-new-world-translation.html).
 

I pointed out that although I didn't know Greek, the problem with that translation it seems is that the Greek words for "spiritual life" would be "pneumatikos zoe." But the word "zoe" (life) isn't in the Greek text. He said he'd get back to me on that one too. He then a said something quite strange: His words were: "If there is such a thing as soul or spirit that lives on after death as you claim, then why is it that these spirits never come back and tell us people living on earth that there is an afterlife? After all, if you died, you'd surely want to get in touch with your loved ones on earth, wouldn't you?."
 

I almost laughed at that point but managed to hold myself back. Unbelievable logic the JW's use sometimes when they know their theories are being taken apart piece by piece. Painful to listen to. In passing it would be right to mention that a similar passage to Heb 12:23 would be Revelation 6:9 which talks of the souls of dead believers in heaven, specifically under the heavenly altar. J.B. Lightfoot in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke notes, "We have a long story in Avoth R. Nathan of the angel of death being sent by God to take away the soul of Moses; which when he could not do, "God taketh hold of him himself, and treasureth him up under the throne of glory." And a little after; "Nor is Moses' soul only placed under the throne of glory; but the souls of other just persons also are reposited under the throne of glory. Moses, in the words quoted before, is in Paradise; in these words, he is under the throne of glory. In another place, "he is in heaven ministering before God." So that under different phrases is the same thing expressed; and this, however, is made evident, that there the garden of Eden was not to be understood of an earthly, but a heavenly paradise. That in Revelation 6:9, of 'souls crying under the altar,' comes pretty near this phrase, of being placed under the throne of glory. For the Jews conceived of the altar as the throne of the Divine Majesty; and for that reason the court of the Sanhedrim was placed so near the altar, that they might be filled with the reverence of the Divine Majesty so near them, while they were giving judgment."
 

I also brought up Luke 12:47-48 which talks about one man being beaten with many stripes and another being beaten with few stripes. As I said to the JW, "the simple point of the parable is that there are degrees of punishment in Gehenna. This passaage clearly speaks against unconsciousnes or soul sleep being the "punishment," for if that doctrine were true, it would mean tha all are punished the same amount, and we would have passages like the one we just read which speak of degrees of punishment." The JW then re-read the passage quietly to himself and said, "It's talking about believers. It is saying that believers who are disobedient will be punished by having blessings withheld from them." I responded, "I can't really see that that would be the case, because the context of the chapter is clearly focusing on punishment in the afterlife and specifically Gehenna. Particularly see verse 5. And note that the parable is extremely similar to numerous other parables in the NT in which speak about judgment being meeted out on unbelievers at Jesus' return." Strangely, he then changed his mind and said, "Yes, this passage is dealing with the punishment of unbelievers. The punishment is destruction."
 

I asked him what he meant by "destruction," and he replied, "Well, death." I said, "But that is the point I was making. If the punishment is, as you JW's believe, simply eternal unconsciousness, then how can there be degrees of punishment as this passage clearly teaches?" The JW said, "Well, I'll write down the chapter and verse and go away and see if I can find an answer for you." I'm still waiting for him to get back to me on this one. I'll note that when I brought this up with some other JW's a couple of years ago their answer was something along the lines of, "Well, I don't know what Luke 12:47-48 is dealing with, but if your interpretation were correct, it would contradict Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Psalm 146:4."
 

Concerning Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Psalm 146:4, although there are a number of other passages that soul-sleep advocates like to use, in my conversations with JW's these are generally their favourite verses. The JW turned to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and asked me to read it with him. After I had finished he said, "What did you make of that verse then?" I said, "Verses have to read in context and in the context of the whole book we see that the author constantly repeats the phrase 'under the sun.' So the author is focusing specifically on life on earth without God. The whole outlook of the book is pessimistic and sees life as meaningless, which is hardly something God believes. So, when Solomon says the 'dead know nothing,' he is correct in that once they die they are no longer on earth, no longer under the sun, and in that sense they no longer know anything of life under the sun. Likewise, on Psalm 146:4 which you mentioned, a similar argument can be used. Contextually verses 2-3 show that it is dealing with life on earth and this present life, so when it says in verse 4 that "in that day his thoughts perish," the point again is that upon death he no longer has the ability to carry out his thoughts on this earth and put such thoughts into practice in his earthly life. This is why we see other Bible's translate the verse as 'in that his plans perish'." (alternatively some note that the word for "perish" there does not mean "cease to exist" or "destroy" but, rather, it means "to wander" or "to lose focus," and this would fit in with he fact that those in Sheol are asleep and are portrayed as weak with their minds being unable to work at full speed and concentrate properly).
 

I should note in passing that in all the JW literature I have read they will talk about the issue of soul sleep and use these two particular verses, yet they never inform their readers (at least not in the pieces I have read) of these counter arguments that exist. It surely cannot be the case that they are unware of them, so I can only assume it is intellectual dishonesty, with the JW leadership purposely attempting to keep this evidence from their adherents. How did the JW respond to my point? Well, he looked frustrated at that point, shook his head, and asked, "OK, what else did you want to talk about?."
 

Another favourite argument of the JW's - although the JW I'm presently speaking to has not used this as of yet - is that they point out that the Bible refers to death as "sleep" and the JW's conclude from this that the dead are unconscious and unware of anything. So, when I studied with some JW's a couple of years back and this issue came up, they asked me to turn to John 11 which talks about the death and resurrection of Lazarus. They had me read the passage with them and then asked, "Was Lazarus asleep here or was he dead?" I thought this was a bit of a patronising question to ask a Chirstian because, after all, all believers know the story of Lazarus.
 

Anyhow, I played along and replied, "Of course it is saying that he died, not just that he was asleep in the normal sense of the word." "So you agree that the word 'sleep' is used as a euphemism for death?," the JW asked. "Yes I do, but the term sleep is used in the Bible to refer to the position of the body, since a dead body looks much like a sleeping body. The writers are using the language of appearance. The term tells us nothing about whether a dead person is unconscious or not. By the way, many ancient cultures used the term 'sleep' to refer to death, and yet these same cultures also accepted that a person had a soul/spirit which lived on after physical death." The two JW ladies looked at me with a puzzled expression at that point but kept silent (I had anticipated that they'd say, "Well, other cultures may have spoke that way, but that doesn't prove the Bible writers agreed with them"), so I took the opportunity to note that, for example, sleep was used as a euphemism for death in the Greek and Roman world [in Greek mythology hypnos (sleep) was known as the brother of thanatos (death), and both were known as 'children of the night.' For sleep as death, see Homer's Iliad 11:241 which talk about death as being a "bronze sleep"; Iliad 16:454 where it's called a "sweet sleep"; Hesiod's Theogony 211-12, 756-66 where death and sleep are said to be "brothers," "children of the night"; Virgil's Aeneid 6:278 where death and sleep are called brothers; Moschus' Lament for Bion v. 105, where death is seen as an eternal hopeless sleep].
 

More importantly Jewish writers used sleep as euphemism for death, and yet those same writers affirmed a conscious afterlife (1 Enoch 100:5 speaks of the righteous dead as having "a long sleep," but in 102:4-5 and 103 their souls are conscious and active in heaven. Furthermore we have 1 Enoch 22 and the strong parallels to Luke 16 with the different chambers in Sheol for the souls of the dead, and also the mention of the lack of water; in the Book of Jubilees 23:1 and 36:18 we have death referred to as sleep, yet souls are depicted as conscious in Jubilees 23:31; death is called sleep in 2 Esdras 7:32, and yet the souls of men are conscious in 4:41 amongst other places; also see 2 Baruch 11:4; 21:25; 30:2-5; 36:11).
 

Suprisingly the JW's didnt try to challenge my statement or ask for proof of my assertion, but attempted to dodge by saying, "Yes, but if the Bible really does teach a conscious afterlife, with believers in heaven and unbelievers being tormented by fire in hell, this would clearly contradict Jeremiah 7:31, Job 14:13 and Acts 2:31." I had encountered these passages being used in some JW literature I read about 7 or 8-years previously, so I knew exactly what argument the JW's were getting ready to use on me. They first had me read the Job passage where Job expresses his desire to be hid in Sheol. I interrupted them at this point and said, "Yeah, I've heard these used before. Your argument is that if Sheol is some sort of place of punishment, why would a believer such as Job express his desire to go there. "Yes," they replied, "It is clear to us that Sheol here must be the grave, and therefore since Job never expresses a hope of his soul floating off to heaven, this shows that he expected to be asleep in the grave, just as the rest of the Bible teaches." I replied, "Firstly, you have to remember that many (but not all) scholar believe that from the time of Adam until the death of Jesus, any person who died - whether they be a believer or an unbeliever - would go to Sheol at death. People like Moses, Job, and Abraham woud go to Sheol at death, but they would not be punished. We see this belief in the intertestamental writings and the writings of the rabbis where they conceived of different compartments in Sheol, with the believers living in paradise-like conditions in one compartment and unbelievers being punished in the other compartment. So, in Acts 2:31 which talks about Jesus going to Sheol/Hades, He was obviously not being punished there by fire but was in the paradise-side of Sheol. We see these different compartments once again in Luke 16 where the rich man goes to one side of Sheol and Lazarus goes to the other side."
 

The reaction I got from the two JW's on this was that they would look puzzled at first then they'd look at each other in disbelief, as if I was making this all up off the top of my head. This reaction is troubling on a number of counts: Firstly it's troubling because it is clear that none of these JW's had heard of this concept of Sheol having two compartents. Obviously relatively new Christians might be unaware of this teaching but the JW's I have talked to had been "believers" for over 30-years and yet they had never come across this concept; secondly, although I can't claim to have read every piece of JW literature out there, in the parts I have read which discuss Sheol and the term "sleep" being used of the dead, they simply just give the JW position, throw in a few scriptures to back it up, but fail to inform their readers of the fact that many Christian scholars believe, just as many ancient Jews did, that Sheol was divided into different comparments. And the average JW is not told, as far as I can see, that "sleep" was a widely used euphemism for death in the ancient world, even in cultures that accepted a conscious afterlife.
 

Anyway, one of the JW's responded to my points by saying, "Well, you say scholar believe that Sheol was divided into two compartments, and that the Jews of Jesus' day believed such a thing, but that doesn't prove Jesus and the apostles believed this too." I replied, "Well, if that's true we'd have to wonder why the Jewish intertestamental period's concept of Sheol parallels Luke 16 so closely." "But that's just a parable," was their reply. I expected this response, so I said, "Personally I don't believe it is a parable because it uses real names like Abraham and Lazarus, but even if we admit it is a parable, the point is that parables teach real-life events and, as I said, it is strange that it parallels Jewish belief about the afterlife so closely." "OK," they said, "but where in the Bible does it say that Sheol has two compartments?" "Well," I replied, "the concept of compartments was really elaborated upon in the intertestamental period but compartments are hinted at in Deuteronomy 32:22 where it talks about fire being kindled to the lowest Sheol, although admittedly that could be taken non-literally. However, the main passages I'd use would be places like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 32 where clearly dead unbelievers are seen as conscious in Sheol."
The JW then read Isaiah 14 with me and commented, "But that's a poetical passage." "I personally see no reason to take it non-literally," I said. "But what about John 3:13 where it says no man has ascended up into heaven but Jesus?," asked the JW. This sort of comment is why I get a little frustrated talking to some JW's, for I had just got through explaining about how in the OT the souls of dead believers went to Sheol (not "heaven") at death, then the JW brings up this passage which doesn't disprove the position I was taking. I explained again that although if a believer died today their soul/spirit will certainly go to heaven, back in the OT times and, in fact, up until the day of Jesus' resurrection, the soul of a believer would go to Sheol (again I am aware that not all scholars agree with this position).
 

We then got around to Jeremiah 7:31. I read the passage with the JW and she said, "So, in Jeremiah's day some people were sacrificing their children in fire and yet God said He had never commanded them to do such a thing and that the thought of putting children in fire had never even entered his mind. If the thought of punishing people in fire had never even entered God's mind, how can you believe that God punishes people in the fires of Hell for all eternity?." This is pretty silly objection, so I said, "Not all Christians believe the fire is literal anyway, but even if it is, the obvious mistake you are making is to overlook that the passage is dealing with murder of children who are unwilling and innocent participants in this sacrifice, whereas those in Hell are not innocent but are being justly punished, so Jeremiah 7:31 hardly speaks against the concept of eternal conscious punishment." The JW simply smiled but never gave me a rebuttal to that but, rather, proceded to play the emotion card by talking about how wrong it would be to punish a person for all eternity.
 

If I had the debate over again I would have said upfront that if we are going to discuss this issue we should stick to what the Scriptures say rather that arguing from emotion and appeals to pity. I further noted that, apart from passages which deal with Hell, there is at least one passage in Scripture where God does command humans to be punished with fire. The two JW's, with some surprise in their voices, said, "No, really?" "Sure," I said, "turn to Leviticus 21." We then read verse 9 where it states that if the daughter of the high priest "plays the whore" she shall be burnt with fire (note: some scholars don't actually agree that the verse is speaking of an offender being burnt alive - although some other nations in the ANE certainly did use this form of punishment - but, rather, they believe the verse is speaking of the burning of the dead body after the woman had been executed via stoning). After reading this verse and then re-reading it, one JW turned to the other and said, "He's right you know." After a little pause, one said, "But of course the burning there is only temporary. The fire in hell is different because it goes on forever. How could Jehovah, who is a God of love, do such a thing?"
 

Not wanting to go down the whole emotive argument route, I simply said, "Yes He is a God of love but he is also a God of justice and therefore has to punish wrongdoers. And anyway, my point in citing Leviticus 21:9 was not to prove that God sees nothing wrong in punishing people in hell but, rather, I was citing it to show that it would be wrong to use Jeremiah 7:31 to argue against the doctrine of hell." We then run out of time at that point in our study. A final point to make is that when I touched on the topic of Hell briefly with the JW I am presently studying with, he said - and please believe me when I say I am not kidding - "We JW's don't agree with this belief taught by many false Churches in this country that people are punished by some horned creature with a pitchfork in an underground firery hell for all eternity." I laughed and said, "I really don't know of any Church or any Christian who believes that the devil literally lives in hell at the present time and actually carries a pitckfork. Nor do I know of anyone who believes it is Satan who punishes unbelievers in hell. There may be some atheists who believe that is what the Bible teaches but I never heard any Christian - even a 10-year old kid - say that they believe such thing." He responded, "Well, I can assure you that some do believe such things." Thankfully he was the only JW I have encountered who has said such a thing. It horrifies me to think there are other sane adults out there who think that Christians who believe in a hell adhere to such weird ideas.
 

Another point that should be raised with JW's on this issue is the meaning of the word "Gehenna." I asked the JW I am currently studying with what the Jews of Jesus' time believed about the word "Gehenna." He replied, "It was a word that they used to refer to a garbage dump in Jerusalem in which the dead bodies of criminals and animals were burned" (as he said this it caught my attention that although both him and I were born in and live in the UK, he chose to use the Americanism "garbage dump," when what English people would say is "rubbish dump" - clearly with this answer he was parrotting JW literature which obviously was printed in the USA and used the [inferior :)] American way of spelling). I noted to him that although this was true, the Jews also used the word to refer to a place of punishment for the wicked in the next life. I said that in the future I'd show him some quotes from Jewish literature of the time which proves this beyond all doubt.
 

As of yet I haven't brought this topic up with him again, but I hope to do so in the future. It really is a good one to bring up because the Jewish literature is extremely clear and it again serves as another proof to the individual JW that their organisation is hiding the truth from them on this issue and that they shoud not swallow so easily what their leaders tell them but, rather, they should think for themselves on these things.
 

JESUS' RESURRECTION: PHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL?
 

Most informed Christians are aware that there are some scholars who wish to argue that the Gospels and the writings of the Apostle Paul are at odds over the exact nature of Christ's resurrection body. They claim that whereas the Gospel writers held that Jesus was raised bodily, Paul denied this and actually taught a spiritual resurrection; that is to say, he believed Jesus was raised as a spirit. The JW's, interestingly enough, reject the view that Paul was contradicting the Gospel's. This is not necessarily a good thing, however, for they believe that both Paul and the Gospel's teach that Jesus "rose as a spirit creature." The JW's at one point did propose that Jesus' dead body was then dissolved into gases by Jehovah God (Studies in the Scripture, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 129, Vol 2.), thereby "explaining" the empty tomb. I am not sure whether or not they still hold this view today.
 

So, during a recent study with my JW friend, we debated this very issue. I took him to John 2:19 where Jesus says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." I pointed out to him that Jesus here was clearly saying that He woud raise up His dead body (the "temple") and that this showed there was continuation between the "old" and "new" body. The JW responded, "Yes, He did raise up a body but it was spiritual one." I noted to him that this not quite what the verse says, and that it clearly states that it was the body which was killed that would be raised up again, and since the body He possessed before His death was physical, this means the resurrected body must be physical too. Not having an answer, he said, "But if that is true, it would contradict Paul's statement that 'flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom.'" In response I borrowed some points made by JPH in his own article on the nature of the resurrection body where he show that the term "flesh and blood" was not used as an anatomical description by the Jews of Jesus' time but, rather, was "a typical Semitic expression denoting the frail human nature." He didn't really say much to that, but simply brought up the fact that Paul calls the resurrection body a "spiritual body." I again borrowed a point from JPH's own article (http://www.tektonics.org/lp/physrez.html) where JPH notes that Greek word for "spiritual" here is "pneumatikos" and, citing Murray Harris and N.T. Wright, further notes that Greek adjectives ending in "-ikos" carry a functional or ethical meaning, whereas adjectives of material end in "-inos."
 

The JW said he didn't know Greek but he knew a friend who did, so he'd go off and ask him about the word "pneumatikos." I told the JW he would get a better understanding of this whole issue if he would read JPH's piece on the nature of the resurrection body. I gave him the address of the article and he said he'd go away and look at it. Because - as I noted earlier on in the article - I'd previously studied with some JW's back in 2006-2007 for a period of roughly 18-months, I knew from my experience that when they say to you that they will look at an article you have given them, they are simply bluffing. Now, rather than badgering the guy too much, I thought I'd hold back for two weeks. When we met two weeks later I asked him if he'd had time to read the article yet. His response: "Well, we've been having lot of trouble with our computer recently. It isn't connecting to the internet properly." I certainly didn't want to be rude or accuse the guy of lying. He may well have been telling the truth on that one. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt. However, four weeks after this he brought up with me the issue of the nature of ths resurrection body again, so I took this opportunity to ask him whether he had read the article yet. His response: "No, sorry. I just haven't got around to it yet." I also asked him whether he had got around to asking his friend about the meaning of the word "pneumatikos." He laughed and said he hadn't seen his friend yet to ask her!
 

A further point the JW made on this issue was: "But Jesus couldn't have had a physical body after death. After all, the Gospels say He walked through a wall when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room." To be frank, this is one of the most stupid objections I've ever heard. The passage doesn't actually say He went through the wall of course, but even if it did, the JW's presume an amazing lack of power on the part of God here. I said to the JW, "I'm sure that Jesus has the power to make Himself disappear and then reappear again, so why can He not disappear and then cause Himself to reappear in the upper room without walking through the wall?." The JW didn't have answer at that point and even agreed with me that this was possible :). Now, as I say, the JW actually brought up this issue of the nature of the resurrection body again with me 6 weeks or so later. During our conversation, however, he made an extremely strange point. He asked, "So, you believe that Jesus is in heaven at this in minute in a physical body?" "Yes," I replied, "it's an immortal physical body."
 

He then said, "But Jesus can't still possess a physical body. After all, we know a physical body cannot exist up there in space for more than a few minutes." I had to try hard to stop myself laughing at this. Was he serious?. Of course physical bodies as they exist today cannot live in space or heaven (I can only presume he mentions "outer space" because of the Ascension), but obviously in Jesus' case we are talking about a resurrection body and clearly it presumes a strange lack of power on the part of God to say that He can't create a physical body that can live in heaven and survive a trip into space. Amazing logic. Not that surprising, however, for something similar happened to me when I discussed this same issue with some JW's a couple of years previously: I was studying with two female JWs' when one brought up the objection we saw earlier, which was, "But we know Jesus walked through a wall to get into the upper room and appear to His disciples. How could He have done this if He was possessed a physical body?" I could've have given them standard reply which, as we saw early, is something along the lines of "the text doesn't state He walked through the wall. It simply says He got into a room when all the doors were locked. This does not require Him to walk through the wall - although it presumes a strange lack of power on the part of God to imagine He couldn't do this if He so wished - all it requires is for Him to have the power to appear and disappear at will."
 

However, rather doing that, I thought I'd lighten the mood a bit. So, in response I said, "Yes but the text doesn't say he walked through the wall. As to how He got in the room without going through the wall, just think Star Trek." Smiling, one of the women said, "What d'you mean?" I said, "Well, teleportation. Jesus was outside the room, and he teleported Himself inside the room without needing to walk through the wall." Now, maybe I shouldn't have gone down that route, but her answer back to me was even more strange. In response she said - and I'm not kidding here - "Teleportation? But we don't possess that sort of technology. People back then definitely didn't." Again, trying to hold myself back from laughing at this peculiar answer, I said, "But Jesus isn't a normal man, as even you believe." Absolutely unbelievable. I was actually embarrassed for her at the point. I think her fellow JW was too, because she intervened quickly and steered the conversation off in a different direction.
 

I should note that in my "studies" with the JW's back in 2006-2007 we discussed these very same passages and I got some slightly different response. For example, when I brought up John 2:19 with them, the JW looked a little nervous and said, "Ah, but you can't build doctrine on just one passage. You have to look at what the whole Bible teaches." He then went on to bring up other passages (yes, all the familiar ones) which he felt proved the resurrection was spiritual. The very next week I spoke to a different JW about the nature of the resurrection body. She brought up the "flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom" passage, so I took her through some of the ancient Jewish writings which show that the term was not used as an anatomical description of the body as the JW's wrongly believed. After reading these she said, "I understand what you're saying. 'Flesh and blood' was used in a figurative way in these Jewish sources, but this does not rule out the possibilty that the phrase could also be used in literal sense, too, and that maybe Paul did indeed intend his words 'flesh and blood' to be taken as a literal anantomical description. After all, if Paul really had wanted to teach that a physical body made of flesh and blood could not enter heaven, then what better words to use than "flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."
 

I answered, "Well, since the expression 'flesh and blood' was so widely known in the Jewish world as being a figurative expression rather than an anatomical description, would Paul have used a phrase that would have carried the possibilty of being so easily misunderstood by his audience?. I doubt it, particularly since he had other alternatives at his disposal. If Paul had wanted to teach that a physical body could not go to heaven, he could have simply said, "sarx (flesh) cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." Now, it is possible that his audience may have misunderstood this also, for the word "flesh" is used both literally and figuratively in other New Testament passages (it's primarily used of literal flesh, however). Therefore, the best course of action for Paul to have taken would've been to say, "The Soma (body) cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." Since the word "soma" always indicates physicality, this would be the wording that Paul would've used. If he'd used that wording, there'd have been no chance of anyone misunderstanding his message."
To further support my point, I quoted Craig Blomberg's argument, which is: "'flesh and blood' was a standard Semitic idiom for frail mortal existence; if Paul were denying the physical nature of the resurrection body he would more probably have used the common idiom, "flesh and bones" (Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987), p. 109).
 

This of course leads to another point, which is that in Luke 24:39 Jesus says, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." Here Jesus destroys the JW doctrine by claiming that He has a body made of flesh and bone and denying that He has a spirit body. How do the JW's deal with this? All they would say to me was, "Well, He was spirit but what happened was that He temporarily took on a physical body in order to show Thomas His wounds." Ultimately the JW's must know deep down that they are saying Jesus was deceptive here. They probably won't admit it to you, so it's best just to let the JW think it over and wrestle with the issue in his own conscience. If they are honest with themselves, they'll ultimately have to admit they are in error on this one. I also noted in passing that when speaking of the difference between the dead body and the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15, Paul draws an analogy with a seed that is buried. I noted in passing that this fits in with similar analogies given by rabbis of the time to describe the resurrection body, and since the rabbis used the analogy to refer to a physical resurrection (http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/search?q=paul+seed+analogy), this leads us to believe Paul was thinking along those same lines.
 

The JW didn't ask me to prove this to them by citing sources (I'm guessing they're scared to look for fear that they'll find they've been taught wrongly all this time) but just stayed silent (as per usual) and tried to change the subject once again. I also noted that the early church certainly believed in a physical resurrection (see, amongst others, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter III; Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin (Martyr) on the Resurrection, Chapters II & IX; Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter VIII. intro & 1; Chapter IX.1,3; Chapter X.2; Chapter XIII. 2,3,5; Chapter XXXI.2; Chapter XXXIII.1; Athenagoras On the Resurrection of the Dead (25 chapters) ; Tertullian On the Resurrection of the Flesh (63 chapters), but again they didn't ask for citations from me, presumably because even if they did read them they'd wave this evidence off for "not being part of the Bible."
 

THE CROSS
 

It is, of course, quite well-known that the JW's have this belief that Jesus was actually crucified on an upright stake or pole as opposed to a traditional cross. I'll note in advance that we didn't really discuss this topic in detail; rather, I merely mentioned the issue in passing at the end of one of our studies with the understanding that we'd discuss it in more detail at a future date. Firstly I asked them why they believed as they do on this issue. They replied, "We believe this because the Greek word for 'cross' in the NT means 'stake,' not 'cross.'" I responded, "This is really a half-truth. The word 'stauros' does generally mean 'stake' or 'pole,' but I assume what you haven't been told in your literature is that there is actually no Greek word for 'cross,' so the NT used 'stauros' as the closest approximation." The two JW's stared at each other momentarily and then one answered, "Yes, but the Latin word is 'crux,' and that word does mean 'stake' or 'pole.' I replied, "Well, maybe the word changed its meaning by the time the Latin Vulgate was translated, but certainly at the time of Jesus and in the first couple of centuries prior to Jesus' day it was used to refer to a cross" (they didn't ask me for references to prove it - but the word "crux" is used this way in the writings of Plautus, Seneca and Tacitus).
 

I then asked the JW's if I could quickly show them some evidence in favour of the belief that Jesus was executed on the tradition t-shaped cross. They nodded in agreement, so I quickly showed them some quotes from early Christian documents. I first showed them a quote from Justin Martyr's writings where he clearly teaches that Jesus died on a cross. The JW response was, "Well, Justin wrote over 100-years after Jesus, so maybe by Justin's time the Romans had started using a cross to execute people on instead of a stake." I replied, "OK, here's a quote from the epistle of Barnabas written in around 100 A.D, and here he clearly says that the cross was a t-shape." Their response was to repeat the line about how maybe that by the time that epistle was written the Romans had replaced the stake with a cross. I didn't give them a response except to say nod and say, "OK." The reason I did this was because I was aware of time constraints and I wanted to bring up another piece of evidence before they attempted to cut me off and tell that they had to go. Obviously their argument overlooks the fact that the author of the epistle could have asked eyewitnesses of the event or, if none were alive, he could have even asked second generation Christians if it was a cross or a stake - presumably such information would be common knowledge amongst believers of the time.
 

I then got around to the piece of evidence I most wanted to bring up: I showed them some photos of ossuaries from the first century (some as early as 40 A.D) which were inscribed with crosses and also with names common throughout the NT (these photos can be found at http://www.leaderu.com/theology/burialcave.html). The short article quotes archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau as saying: "[This catacomb] on the Mount of Olives belonged apparently to one of the earliest [families] which joined the new religion [of Christianity]. In this group of sarcophagi [coffins], some of which have the Christian symbol [cross marks] and some have not, we are, so to speak, [witnessing the] actual unfolding of Christianity." As I showed them these photos I was thinking to myself, 'The evidence is so clear. How in the world are the JW's going to explain these photos away?.' I asked the JW's what they thought of the photos of these 1st-century ossuaries inscribed with crosses. One of the JW's said, "Well, the cross was a pagan symbol, so maybe the people buried in these coffins were pagans."
 

A pretty far-fetched explanation if ever I've heard one. As I noted to the JW's, "the names on the coffins were mostly Jewish and, as I understand it, paganism was not a problem amongst Jews - especially in Jerusalem - in the first-century, so I doubt the cross here was a pagan symbol but, rather, it was put there by Christians because they knew that Jesus really had died on a cross, not a stake as you teach."
 

At that point the study ended. I can't really recall why (this incident took place 3-years ago), but I never did get to bring this issue up with them again.

2 comments:

  1. Great Info. Q: Since the JW believes that Jesus was a created being wouldn't that imply there was a time, prior to his birth, when God the "Father" was not a father? (A father in the begotten sense.) Is that not an issue with them?

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  2. @Steel: Thanks! I have never heard them discuss that myself, but I imagine they'd get around it by saying the Father was still the Father of creation, or that it wasn't used before creation.

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