The esoteric interpretation error may be defined as follows: “Under the assumption that the Bible contains a hidden, esoteric meaning which is open only to those who are initiated into its secrets, the interpreter declares the significance of biblical passages without giving much if any explanation for his or her interpretation.”
The first part of the definition refers to “the assumption that the Bible contains a hidden, esoteric meaning which is open only to those who are initiated into its secrets.”
Throughout its history, the Watchtower has claimed to be the only organization in the last days that truly understands the Bible and serves as Jehovah’s channel of communication to the world (emphasis added in quotations).
- 1910 “If the six volumes of ‘Scripture Studies’ are practically the Bible topically arranged, with Bible proof-texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes – the Bible in an arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself since there is no desire to build any doctrine or thought on any individual preference or on any individual wisdom, but to present the entire matter on the lines of the Word of God. We therefore think it safe to follow this kind of reading, this kind of instruction, this kind of Bible study. Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the ‘Scripture Studies’ aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years – if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the ‘Scripture Studies’ with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.” (Zion’s Watch Tower, 9/15/1910, p. 298)
- 1919 “Is not the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period?” (Watchtower, 9/1/1919, p. 641)
- “Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force. (Zech. 4:6) Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book. Many persons of the world are very intelligent, capable of understanding complex matters. They can read the Holy Scriptures, but they cannot understand their deep meaning.” (Watchtower, 7/1/1973, p. 402)
- “All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the ‘greatly diversified wisdom of God’ can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.” (Watchtower, 10/1/1994, p. 8)
The second part of the definition states: “…the interpreter declares the significance of biblical passages without giving much if any explanation for his or her interpretation.”
An example of this sort of unexplained, esoteric interpretation is the Watchtower’s teaching about the seven trumpets of Revelation 8-11 which appears on page 172 of its 1988 book, Revelation—Its Grand Climax at Hand!”
When the sounding of the seven trumpets got under way in 1922, the Bible Students’ convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, featured a talk by J. F. Rutherford based on the scripture “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17, King James Version) He concluded with these words: “Then back to the field, O ye sons of the most high God! Gird on your armor! Be sober, be vigilant, be active, be brave. Be faithful and true witnesses for the Lord. Go forward in the fight until every vestige of Babylon lies desolate. Herald the message far and wide. The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” God’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus was brought to the fore, and that set off the great surge of Kingdom preaching that has included the judgments heralded by the sounding of all seven of the angelic trumpets.
The trumpet blast of the seventh angel was reflected in highlights of the Bible Students’ convention in Detroit, Michigan, July 30-August 6, 1928. At that time 107 broadcasting stations were tied in to what The New York Times described as ‘the most extensive and expensive radio hook-up in history.’ The convention enthusiastically adopted a powerful “Declaration Against Satan and for Jehovah,” pointing to the overthrow, at Armageddon, of Satan and his evil organization and the emancipation of all who love righteousness. Loyal subjects of God’s Kingdom were delighted to receive a convention release, the 368-page book Government. This supplied the clearest of proofs “that God set his Anointed King upon his throne in 1914.”
Combatting This Error
A number of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses on online forums have cited this particular example of the control the Watchtower exercised over their minds.
They say things like, “How did we ever buy into the claim that the seven trumpets of Revelation referred to Watchtower conventions held in the 1920s? It’s ludicrous!”
The answer is that once you accept the claim that the Watchtower is Jehovah’s only channel of communication today, you believe whatever they tell you.
In talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I think the error of esoteric interpretation can best be demonstrated by example.
Find some unsupported assertions like this in Watchtower literature and say to the Witnesses:
- Maybe this seems normal to you, but with all due respect, this teaching seems totally bizarre to me and I don’t see here any proof of these claims whatsoever.
- Do you really believe this?
- Where is the evidence?
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), pp. 159-160.