Tuesday, May 1, 2012

W2W: First Things

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

A couple weeks ago, I invited Peggy, the Jehovah's Witness who distributes literature around my neighborhood, to come to my house so we could talk about the Trinity.  Toward the end of our talk, I asked her how she liked going door-to-door (I believe the JW word for her role is "pioneer").  She told me that she enjoyed it, because she cared about the work and she loved meeting and talking with people.  She said that most people are nice to her, even if they don't engage in conversation for long.  And she said that "when people are rude, I know I shouldn't take it personally; they're not rejecting me, they're rejecting God's message."

I affirmed that she should indeed not take rudeness personally.  (I did not agree that rude folks were rejecting God's message, since I do not believe that the Watchtower Organization's beliefs or publications contain it.)  But I reflected on her answer after she left, and I considered what it would be like to be in her shoes.  Was I rude to her the first time she visited, when I was tired and frustrated?  I don't think I was outwardly unkind or hostile, although I was certainly irritated on the inside.  Was I irritated with the content of the publications she was giving me?  Or was my frustration focused on the woman handing them to me?  Reflecting on this inspired me to think of a few guidelines for evangelizing to JW's.

1. Always treat Jehovah's Witnesses with dignity and respect.  I think it's crucial whenever we're evangelizing to anybody -- which is all the time, since actions speak louder than words -- that we remember to focus on the people themselves.  Focusing solely on their beliefs or practices (some of which may be trying of our patience) will dehumanize them immediately in our minds. 

Fellow Christians, don't let us ever forget what we believe.  We believe that each human is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), a unique, unrepeatable soul.  Marc Barnes, take it from here:
As Christians we are called to see our brothers and sisters with the eyes of God, and thus with the eyes of Love. We are called to see their immense value, not for what they do — Heaven knows we can be a vindictive, spiteful bunch — but for who they are....[W]e should allow the wonder, the mystery and the beauty of life — that unrepeatable, ever-new gift — to fill us every time we are with our fellow man. This is his commandment, that we love one another, that we see each other in the light of day, that our joy may be full.    
God knew us before forming us in the womb (Jer 1:5); we are each of infinite worth to Him.  Jesus Christ, true God and true man, suffered a horrific death on a cross for the salvation of each and every human ever created (John 3:16, John 1:29, Matthew 26:28).  He died for me, he died for you, and he died for every person who has ever hurt you, disappointed you, been cruel to you, or inconvenienced you by showing up at your doorstep while you're trying to cook dinner.  That doesn't mean we can't disagree, but it certainly means we shouldn't be rude.

Remember that the JW's ringing your doorbell don't have it easy.  I'm sure that even the most extroverted among them aren't immune to feeling intimidated or hurt during the course of their door-to-door ministry.  Dig into the depths of your heart and be a balm of charity for them.

2. Stay close to God in prayer.  Pray for the JW's who visit you, and for everyone in their organization.  Pray that their eyes and ears and hearts will be opened to the Truth.  And don't forget to pray for yourself.  I always rush to the Holy Spirit when I'm trying to evangelize.  My favorite prayer for these occasions is the beginning of the "Come, Holy Spirit":
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.
3. Put on Christ (Romans 13:14).  Evangelizing is trying and difficult; we cannot do it (or anything else, for that matter) of our own volition. Spreading Love and Truth and Goodness and Beauty requires dying to self and allowing our hearts to be transformed by God Himself.  One of my favorite verses to meditate on is Galatians 2:20: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

4. Remember that they are giving us an opportunity to learn.  Strange as it may sound, delving into the teachings of the Watchtower Society, almost all of which are contrary to Christian teachings, has been nothing short of a Godsend.  My research has inspired me to learn more about authentic Christian doctrine; it has also led me to spend a lot more time reading the Bible.  It has been, and continues to be, a deeply enriching experience.  Learning about God is a thankfully unending process -- there's always more to know about the Eternal and Infinite. 

Observing the JW pioneers in my neighborhood has given me a lot of food for thought about evangelizing. Even though it may sound incredible to the many of us who have no interest in joining their fold and/or are irritated by their door-to-door campaigns, they win people over all the time, people who are searching for Truth.  The Watchtower Society offers them a counterfeit, but they accept it as the real thing.  How many times have we encountered someone who was searching, seeking, hungry and thirsty for supernatural life (John 6:35), and yet failed to lead them in the Light of Truth?


  1. Very nice post, Louise. You definitely don't lack empathy. :)

    Speaking as a Witness, I can confirm it's not always pleasant speaking to strangers about God's Word. We do it because of the love Jesus said his disciples should display, love for God and love for neighbor. As for the content of our message, I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions of Dr. Jason BeDuhn, an objective researcher that investigated the backgrounds of various Bible translations. He said:

    "The Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, are more similar to the Protestants [than Catholics] in their view that the Bible alone must be the source of truth in its every detail. So you might expect translators from this sect to labor under the Protestant Burden [i.e. pressure on Protestant translators to find their Church's beliefs in the text]. But they do not for the simple reason that the Jehovah's Witness movement was and is a more radical break with the dominant Christian tradition of the previous millennium than most kinds of Protestantism. This movement has, unlike the Protestant Reformation, really sought to re-invent Christianity from scratch. Whether you regard that as a good or bad thing, you can probably understand that it resulted in the Jehovah's Witnesses approaching the Bible with a kind of innocence, and building their system of belief and practice from the raw material of the Bible without predetermining what was to be found there." (Truth in Translation, 2003; pp. 164-5)

    1. Thank you, TJ. I appreciate your readership and comment, and the quote you provided from Dr. BeDuhn. Although I agree with him that the JW movement is a more radical break from Christian tradition than Protestantism, I disagree that the movement sought to re-invent Christianity from scratch, considering that C.T. Russell was heavily influenced by the Adventist movement. I also disagree that the Jehovah's Witnesses did not predetermine what was to be found in the Bible, as some passages in the New World Translation demonstrate preconceived JW theology and bias.

      I also disagree that the JW's approach the Bible "with a kind of innocence." I consider the approach of Russell, Rutherford et al to be naive, foolish, and exemplary of the hubris necessary to believe that a single person or group can proclaim itself "sincere" and correctly understand and interpret the Bible on its own, with no regard for the centuries of scholarship and theology that has preceded it -- let alone apostolic tradition and the historical context in which the Scriptures were written.

      These are fascinating topics for discussion, and I will refer to them in future posts, when I talk about the history of the Watchtower Society and the NWT.

      When you say you "agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions of Dr. Jason BeDuhn," do you also agree with his conclusions about the use of "Jehovah" in the New Testament? ("So, to introduce the name 'Jehovah' into the New Testament, as the NWT does two-hundred-thirty-seven times, is not accurate translation by the most basic principle of accuracy: adherence to the original Greek text." [p. 169])

  2. Thanks for your response, Louise. Dr. BeDuhn's book investigated something like nine translations produced from different denominational backgrounds, checking for indications of bias in controversial passages. His conclusion, well demonstrated by his explanations throughout the book, was that the Witness-produced NWT and the Catholic-produced NAB were the least biased in their renderings.

    He feels, and I agree with him, that this is because Catholics don't feel the pressure Protestants do in finding all of their beliefs spelled out in scripture; they also rely upon Tradition. Witnesses neither feel this pressure for the reasons I quoted above. Perhaps when you get to a specific verse where you feel we're biased I can present our evidence and allow you to judge it for yourself. In my experience, most are surprised to find how strong it actually is.

    As for our approach to the Bible, no we don't put all that much stock into the centuries of scholarship and tradition handed down. In this we feel our view is supported even by Jesus himself, where he tells the established religious authorities of his day, "You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on." (Mark 7:13; NAB)

    You last asked me about BeDuhn's criticism for the NWT. I respect it because it's an honest criticism by a man interested in the most straightforward translation of the Greek text. On those grounds I agree with him. Yet the NWT takes into account the special history of God's name.

    It was once believed, not too long ago, that the divine name never appeared in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the source from which New Testament writers at times even quoted. Yet in the last several decades there have been several Greek Old Testaments found dating to the first century and earlier, and these all contain the divine name. In copies from a century or so later, the name starts disappearing entirely, right around the time our first copies of the New Testament were made. So it seems very possible, if not probable, that the same scribes that replaced this one word, the divine name, throughout the Greek OT did the same throughout the Greek NT shortly after the first century.

    Of course that can't be proven until earlier copies of the NT are found, but we believe that Jesus meant it when he said, "Righteous Father . . . I made known to them your name and I will make it known." (John 17:25-26; NAB) Thanks.

    1. Just wanted to say that I am going to respond to this, TJ, but I haven't had time yet. I appreciate your response and your patience!

    2. TJ, I appreciate your lengthy response, and your patience in my getting to those Biblical passages. I'll be writing more posts for this series over the next few weeks.

      It's critical to take Jesus' words to the scribes and Pharisees, which you have quoted above, into the context of the passage. The Pharisees are criticizing Jesus and His disciples for "eat[ing] a meal with unclean hands," while the tradition (custom) of the elders is to "not eat without carefully washing their hands" (Mk 7:3). Jesus admonishes them for this, and He continues to describe a clearly immoral act popular among the Pharisees: "Yet you say, 'If a person says to father or mother, 'Any support you might have had from me is qorban,' (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother" (Mk 7:11-12). The context? Pharisees were dedicating gifts as offerings in the temple and then continuing to use the gifts themselves, instead of using them to support their needy parents. They "nullified the word of God" by breaking the commandment to "honor your father and your mother." They were hypocrites in the purest sense, outwardly pious (dedicating offerings to God), yet inwardly selfish and disobedient of God.

      Applying Jesus' words to Sacred Tradition, inspired by the Holy Spirit and handed down through the ages in the Church established by Christ, completely ordered to the knowledge, love, and service of God, takes them entirely out of context. Apostolic Tradition is something we depend upon! See 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

      I concur that some manuscripts of the Septuagint contained the Tetragrammaton. This has been known for centuries: St. Jerome wrote about it in the late 4th century. Most copies in existence have Kyrios (Lord); some insert a space in place of the Divine Name.

      I believe Jesus meant what He said in John 17:24-25, too. But if you're implying that part of His ministry was to reinstate the spoken use of the Divine Name, I disagree. (I assume that's what you mean, as this same claim was put forth in the March 1, 2012 issue of The Watchtower on page 7.) There is no evidence of Jesus doing that. The Divine Name was never pronounced from the time of Second Temple Judaism -- 3rd century BC -- onward, except by the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. If Jesus had "pronounced God's personal name" (3/12 WT, pg.7) when reading from the Scriptures, the religious leaders (and the crowds) would have been outraged. Where is the evidence of this in the Gospels?

      (Of course, when He used "I AM" to refer to Himself, as in John 8:58 -- and yes, I know the NWT translates this differently -- the religious leaders WERE outraged, as we see in John 8:59: "So they picked up stones to throw at him." Had Jesus not been God, He would have blasphemed!)

      The "name" in John 17:24-25 refers to "the manifestation or revelation of someone's character" (Stong's Concordance), that Someone being God. I love the Hebrew notion that a name reveals someone's essence. The entirety of Jesus' ministry was the revelation of the essence of God.

      Ultimately, my contention is this: there is no physical evidence that the books of the New Testament ever contained the Divine Name. And even if the original version of these books did contain the Divine Name -- which I contend is highly doubtful -- the Watchtower Society has declared itself the sole arbiter of where the Divine Name appeared, which is has no authority to do, based upon the preconceived theology of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    3. Hello again Louise and thank you for your reply.

      I agree with the context you provided for Jesus' words at Mark 7:13. There's an underlying principle at work here. If a religious tradition is at odds with scripture, which should be abandoned? Jesus says that scripture, the very word of God, takes precedence.

      Now as you noted it may or may not have been a part of the Jews' tradition at the time to refrain from speaking God's name. Regardless, the manuscript evidence shows that it was indeed still written. We also know that Jesus stood in the synagogue and read from a place in the scroll of Isaiah where God's name appears twice. (Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-2) Now in light of the principle he outlined above, would Jesus really hold to such a tradition that censored God's name? I don't believe he would; he says as much at John 17:24-25.

      And indeed the Hebrew names carried meaning with them, as you said you appreciate. All the more reason why Jesus would have disregarded any superstitious prohibitions and used that name rich in meaning to convey who God was to the people. As you might know already, Jesus' own name actually means "Jehovah is Salvation."

      I have to disagree with you when you say, "the Watchtower Society has declared itself the sole arbiter of where the Divine Name appeared, which is has no authority to do." The NWT appendix shows that it actually does rely on (admittedly late) manuscript evidence for direction in restoring the divine name Jehovah. But there's a reason for this.

      As the divine name disappeared from the translations into Greek and other languages, apparently due to the superstitious beliefs surrounding it, the Hebrew versions were relatively immune to this phenomenon (though not completely). Thus, throughout the centuries, most versions of the NT in the Hebrew language actually do contain God's name in a number of places, and from these the NWT finds support for the divine name in all 237 occurrences where "Jehovah" appears. It documents this evidence carefully.

      As I said, this is an argument that is not at this time provable, not until copies of the NT closer to the original are found. There's more of an external, common sense backing to it: we know that God's name was used some 7,000 times in the OT (far more than any other name); we know that later on that name was removed all 7,000 times by scribes; and we know that it was from this same time period that our earliest NT manuscript copies were made by (most likely) those very same scribes. You do the math.

      So I personally don't mind others being critical of the NWT's decision to put God's name in the NT, nor am I critical of other versions for not including God's name there. However, I *am* critical of other versions sticking to the tradition of replacing God's unique, *meaningful* name all 7,000 times in the OT. There I feel they are overstepping the principle Jesus held; they are nullifying the word of God by means of their (bad) tradition. That's why I appreciate translations like the American Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible, that don't censor God's name.

  3. This is really helpful to think about when talking to my Protestant friends. It has absolutely helped me to learn more about my own faith through Bible study with them because I have had to look things up to back up what I say and make sure I fully understand why Catholics believe what they do. Anyhow, I admire you so much for talking with this woman instead of just promptly closing the door like most people tend to do. It is really neat to think that as Catholics we too can evangelize to others, and we could plant a seed or perhaps even completely change their lives.

    1. I agree! It's a huge blessing to have the opportunity to defend our faith. I'm glad that you've had the chance to do this with your Protestant friends. One of my Protestant friends invited me to a Bible study she attends and I haven't gone (for a variety of reasons), but your experience makes me interested in trying it out sometime.