A person or organization commits the error of rejecting biblical authority when, “either the Bible as a whole or texts from the Bible are examined and rejected because they do not appear to agree with reason or other revelation.”
The Watchtower’s rejection of biblical authority is never explicit. The Watchtower will never say directly, “The Bible is wrong about that.” Its teaching is that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God.
But its founder, Charles Taze Russell, set the pattern for the organization by starting with his own reasoning and emotions and then misinterpreting the Bible to teach what he was convinced was true.
The first doctrine of Christendom he rejected was “hellfire.” He wouldn’t send anyone to such a place. How could God?
On page 126, the Watchtower’s 1993 book, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, states, “In harmony with Brother Russell’s strong desire to remove from God’s name the foul stain that resulted from the teaching of a hellfire of eternal torment, he wrote a tract featuring the subject, ‘Do the Scriptures Teach That Eternal Torment Is the Wages of Sin?’ (The Old Theology, 1889)”
Page 174 of its 1984 book, Reasoning from the Scriptures, continues in the same vein:
What would you think of a parent who held his child’s hand over a fire to punish the child for wrongdoing? “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Would he do what no right-minded human parent would do? Certainly not!
I believe its analogy is based on false assumptions. In Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is not screaming in pain. Rather, he describes his agony as a deep, never-ending thirst.
But my purpose in this post is not to examine that passage or Watchtower teaching about hell in detail.
Instead, I simply want to list a number of passages the Watchtower has to ignore, mistranslate, or misinterpret in order to maintain its doctrine (quotations are from the NIV, emphasis added):
- Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
- Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Matthew 25:46: ” “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
- Mark 9:47-48: “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
- Revelation 14:9-11: “And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
- Revelation 20:10: “…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Combatting This Error
The best way to show to discuss this error with Jehovah’s Witnesses (on any topic) is to say something like this:
Some people explicitly reject what the Bible says by telling us they don’t believe it. You and I would never do that, but I think there’s a much more subtle way we can reject biblical authority. That is to start with our human reasoning or with our human emotions and then interpreting everything in the Bible to match what we already believe. Unfortunately, with all due respect, I think the Watchtower fallen into this trap. Is it okay if I give you an example?
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 160.