The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses simultaneously adopts two contradictory personas—one to establish its right to demand constant obedience and trust from all Jehovah’s Witnesses and the other to defend itself against criticism when it is proven to be wrong about something.
Persona #1: The “faithful and discreet slave” of Matthew 24:45—chosen by Jehovah and Jesus to be the sole dispenser of spiritual truth in these latter days.
Persona #2: Humble Christian brothers who do not claim to be inspired, infallible, or perfect.
Let’s look first at Persona #1.
The Governing Body will say things in videos such as, “Since Jehovah and Jesus trust the faithful and discreet slave, shouldn’t we?” Put in the first person, what that means is, “Since Jehovah and Jesus trust us to run their affairs on earth, shouldn’t you?”
Here is what the Governing Body claims for itself:
- “Therefore the slave’s will is Jehovah’s will. Rebellion against the slave is rebellion against God.” (The Watchtower, June 1, 1956, p. 346)
- “It is vital that we… respond to the directions of the ‘slave’ as we would to the voice of God, because it is his provision.” (The Watchtower, June 15, 1957, p. 370)
- “The anointed and their other sheep companions recognize that by following the lead of the modern-day Governing Body, they are in fact following their Leader, Christ.” (The Watchtower, September 15, 2010, p. 21)
Now let’s look at Persona #2.
“… ‘faithful and discreet slave’ has alerted all of God’s people to the sign of the times indicating the nearness of God’s Kingdom rule. In this regard, however, it must be observed that this ‘faithful and discreet slave’ was never inspired, never perfect. Those writings by certain members of the ‘slave’ class that came to form the Christian part of God’s Word were inspired and infallible, but that is not true of other writings since. Things published were not perfect in the days of Charles Taze Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society; nor were they perfect in the days of J.F. Rutherford, the succeeding president. The increasing light on God’s Word as well as the facts of history have repeatedly required that adjustments of one kind or another be made down to the very present time. But let us never forget that the motives of this ‘slave’ were always pure, unselfish; at all times it has been well-meaning. (The Watchtower, March 1, 1979, p. 24)
How do these two personas evidence themselves specifically in the area of prophecy?
Persona #1 in the context of prophecy:
- People today… have at hand the Bible, but it is little read or understood. So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of dangers and to declare things to come?… These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet?… This ‘prophet’ was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today they are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.… Of course, it is easy to say that this group acts as a “prophet” of God. It is another thing to prove it. The only way that this can be done is to review the record. (The Watchtower, April 1, 1972, “They Shall Know that a Prophet Was Among Them,” p. 197)
- “A real champion of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and of God’s kingdom that will restore God’s rightful place in the hearts of men is The Watchtower. For ninety years this faithful journal has been pointing forward to this very time, urging people to turn to the Bible because of the spiritual famine that the Bible itself foretold was to come in our generation.” (Awake! January 8, 1970, p.32)
Persona #2 in the context of prophecy:
- “Ever since ‘The Watchtower’ began to be published in July of 1879 it has looked ahead into the future.… No, ‘The Watchtower’ is no inspired prophet, but it follows and explains a Book of prophecy the predictions in which have proved to be unerring and unfailing till now. ‘The Watchtower’ is therefore under safe guidance. It may be read with confidence, for its statements may be checked against the prophetic Book” (The Watchtower, January 1, 1969, p. 2).
- “Does this admission of making mistakes stamp them [Watchtower] as false prophets? Not at all, for false prophets do not admit to making mistakes.” (The Watchtower, November 1, 1972, p. 644)
Jehovah’s Witnesses therefore believe that they must listen to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses as they would to the voice of God himself (Persona #1), even though they admittedly are not inspired and make mistakes in their prophetic pronouncements (Persona #2).
Because of this, we need to pin them down, especially when discussing the Watchtower’s prophetic claims concerning the immediacy of the coming of Armageddon and Christ’s millennial kingdom.
To what extent has the Watchtower proven itself reliable or unreliable in the area of interpreting Bible prophecy and the signs of the times?
That will be our focus in this new blog series.