The Watchtower teaches that some people will be resurrected while others will not.
Not willing to leave it at that, the Watchtower has taken upon itself to specify what will happen with regard to specific people in Scripture, such as Adam and Eve and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah whom God destroyed.
The problem is that the Watchtower keeps changing its mind about these things.
This is one of the things that can happen when you read your own meaning into the text – since it is merely man’s interpretation without a firm scriptural foundation, it can easily change over time or vary from author to author.
According to Sire’s Scripture Twisting, overspecification means “A more detailed or specific conclusion than is legitimate is drawn from a Bible text.”
Last week, I discussed this error as it relates to the concept of “the faithful and discreet slave.”
Today I’ll discuss how it relates to Watchtower teaching about who will or won’t be resurrected.
Here is a compendium of its contradictory teachings:
Example #1: Adam and Eve
“The death of Christ secures for Adam and all of his race one full opportunity for salvation and no more. The majority have died in heathenish darkness without any opportunity; and many in Christian lands have disregarded their opportunity, as did the people of Capernaum. All must be brought to a full knowledge of their privileges in Christ and then all rejecters will be destroyed.” (Watchtower 10/15/1920, p. 316)
“Just when Adam will be awakened, only the Lord knows. It may be early or it may be late during the period of restoration.” Reconciliation (1928) pp.323, 324 (Rutherford)
“There is no promise found in the Scriptures that Adam’s redemption and resurrection and salvation will take place at any time. Adam had a fair trial for life and completely failed.” Salvation (1939), p. 43 (Rutherford)
“Adam and Eve are viewed as among those who are incorrigible sinners who proved that they were not worthy of life, and they will not be resurrected.” From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, 1958, p. 236
“Those who are judged unworthy of a resurrection are pitched into “Gehenna,” or “the lake of fire.” (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:47, 48; Revelation 20:14) Among these would be the first human pair, Adam and Eve, the betrayer Judas Iscariot, and certain ones who died when God executed judgment upon them, such as the people in Noah’s day and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Watchtower 7/15/2005, p. 31)
Example #2: The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah
1879 “Let me give you an illustration that will be forcible: The Sodomites. Surely if we find their restitution mentioned you will be satisfied. But why should they not have an opportunity to obtain eternal life as well as you or the Jew? They were not wicked in the proper sense, for they did not have law or much knowledge. True, they were not righteous, but neither were you when God gave you your opportunity. Christ’s own words shall tell us that they are not as guilty in His sight as the Jews, who had more knowledge: “Woe unto thee Capernaum, for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom it would have remained unto this day.” Thus Christ’s own words teach us that they had not had their full opportunity. “Remember,” Christ says of the Sodomites, that “God rained down fire and destroyed them all.” So, if their restoration is spoken of, it implies their resurrection.” (Watchtower, 7/1/1879, p.8)
1879 “Thus our Lord teaches that the Sodomites did not have a full opportunity; and he guarantees them such opportunity.” (Studies in the Scriptures, Series I, 1879, p.110)
1913 This shows us clearly that the eternal fate of the Sodomites is not sealed. When we turn to the Word of the Lord through Ezekiel the Prophet, 16:46-63, we have abundant testimony that the Sodomites will not only be awakened from the sleep of death, but when awakened will be brought to a knowledge of God and to an opportunity of obtaining everlasting life, through The Messiah, by willing obedience. (Watchtower 2/1/1913, p. 45)
1920 “The Scriptures distinctly tell us that the Israelites and the Sodomites will be sharers in that work of restoration, restitution.” (Watchtower, 10/15/1920, p. 316)
“Sodom and Gomorrah were reduced to complete desolation, from which there is no possibility of recovery; and so likewise the modern Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites shall be destroyed, and the place where they have inhabited shall be, as prophesied, “even the breeding of nettles, and salt pits, and a perpetual desolation.” The religious-totalitarian rule and rulers, the commercial robbers and those who have defied Jehovah God and his Theocracy, shall perish forever at the battle of Armageddon, as the prophecy declares.” (Watchtower 1941, p. 367)
1952 “The ancient destructions upon Noah’s contemporaries and Sodom and Gomorrah must be just as final, else how could they illustrate the one Peter was discussing?” (Watchtower 6/1/1952, p. 335)
1952 “Similarly, Sodom did not endure its judgment day, had failed completely, and the Jews knew its fate was sealed. Their opinion of Sodom was the lowest possible. So when Jesus told them that it would be more endurable for utterly depraved Sodom than for these Jewish cities they got the powerful point. These Jewish cities had heard the warning and had seen powerful works; they had had their fair judgment trial and by their decision showed they were worthy of eternal destruction.” (Watchtower 6/1/1952, p. 338)
1954 “He was pin-pointing the utter impossibility of ransom for unbelievers or those willfully wicked, because Sodom and Gomorrah were irrevocably condemned and destroyed, beyond any possible recovery.” (Watchtower 2/1/1954, p. 85)
1965 “As in the case of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus showed that Sodom, bad as it was, had not got to the state of being unable to repent … So the spiritual recovery of the dead people of Sodom is not hopeless” Watchtower 1965 Mar 1 p.139 (Watchtower 3/1/1965, p. 139)
1965 What is it, then, that underwent “the judicial punishment of everlasting fire”? While the inhabitants of the cities were certainly destroyed, apparently it was not the people but the cities themselves that were everlastingly destroyed.” (Watchtower 8/1/1965, p. 479)
1967 “How will these, having been caught, be disposed of? Will they be preserved alive? Will they be killed and buried in Hades or Sheol, which is the common grave of dead mankind, from which resurrection is possible? No, these political organizations are slated to be “hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulphur.” This the Bible describes as the “second death.” (Rev. 20:14) It means the death from which there is no resurrection. They will be burned up root and branch, as completely gone forever as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which Jehovah God burned up by a rain of fire and sulphur from heaven, never to be rebuilt. It is destruction in Gehenna in which God destroys both body and soul (any right or possibility of living).” (Watchtower 7/1/1967, p. 409)
1974 “Moreover, God’s undeserved kindness and care are so great that he will bring back the people of Sodom by a resurrection, with opportunity to learn and turn around to the way of life, even as his Son stated.” Awake 1974 Oct 8 p.20 (Awake 10/8/1974, p. 20)
1988 “Consequently, in addition to what Jude 7 says, the Bible uses Sodom/Gomorrah and the Flood as patterns for the destructive end of the present wicked system. It is apparent, then, that those whom God executed in those past judgments experienced irreversible destruction.” (Watchtower 6/1/1988, p. 31)
1988 “This is also illustrated by what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their inhabitants. Jude indicated that these cities were everlastingly destroyed. (Jude 7; compare 2Pe 2:6.) However, Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 10:15 show that at least some of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah will receive a resurrection.” Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 (1988), p. 616
1988 “’It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than for that city.’ Sodom and Gomorrah were everlastingly destroyed as cities, but this would not preclude a resurrection for people of those cities.” Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2 (1988), p. 985
1989 “Some adjustments will be made in future printings of the Live Forever book [You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 1989]. The only significant change is with regard to the Sodomites, on pages 178 and 179. This change appeared in the Revelation book, page 273, and in The Watchtower of June 1, 1988, pages 30 and 31. You may wish to note it in earlier printings that you have on hand.” (Kingdom Ministry 12/1989, US Edition, p. 7)
1990 “A definite indication is found at Jude 7, where we read that “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them … are placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.” Yes, the destruction of the gross sinners in those cities was eternal, as will be the destruction of the wicked at the end of the present system of things.” (Watchtower 4/15/1990, p. 20)
2005 “Those who are judged unworthy of a resurrection are pitched into “Gehenna,” or “the lake of fire.” (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:47, 48; Revelation 20:14) Among these would be the first human pair, Adam and Eve, the betrayer Judas Iscariot, and certain ones who died when God executed judgment upon them, such as the people in Noah’s day and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Watchtower 7/15/2005, p. 31)
Combatting This Error
The best way I know to show Jehovah’s Witnesses this error is to point it out the way I have done here—by showing them the many contradictions of the Watchtower.
The real issue isn’t specifics regarding a topic like resurrection. Rather, it’s the unreliability of the Watchtower.
1. Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 157