Response to Chapter Two of the Bible Teach book
In this chapter the Watchtower Society explains its view of the Bible. There is little to disagree with here. The historic Christian faith has always maintained the importance of the Bible. At the following links, you can read here quotes from the early Christian writers (traditionally called “Church Fathers”) on the authority, inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures.
The question not answered by this chapter is: Why should we trust the Watchtower Society to be the interpreter of the Scriptures? Witnesses generally say (like other Protestant groups) that they rely on the Bible alone for their understanding of that book. “The Bible is its own interpreter,” they say. Many other groups say the same thing but they differ significantly as they explain important doctrinal issues all said to come from the Bible. A look at the history of the collection of different books into what we call the Bible would be helpful here.
It should be realized that the collection and recognition of books which make up the Old and New Testaments did not happen overnight. Consider the recognition of those books which make up the New Testament. Initially, a particular region might have one or two Gospels and a few of the letters written by the Apostles. Over a period of decades, a collection of the books which were written by the Apostles were gathered together. Until then, were the earliest Christians at a spiritual disadvantage because they did not possess the complete New Testament? Not at all. Remember Jesus’ had promised the Apostles:
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)
St Irenaeus of Lyons cautioned against people who were false teachers in his day. Writing about A.D. 189, he refers to this leading of the Spirit in the Church:
"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?" (Against Heresies 3:4:1.)
The Father sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. The Holy Spirit also inspired certain men in the Church to write the books which we have in the New Testament. Both are gifts from God: the Holy Spirit guiding the Church and the Holy Spirit inspiring early Church leaders to write Scripture. They cannot be separated from one another. This presentation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the historic understanding of the relationship of these gifts.
See these quotes for more on how the early Christians understood the role of Apostolic Tradition in the Church. Further can be read under the links of “Tradition” and “Private Interpretation” at this site. See also, First the Church, then the New Testament and How Did We Get the New Testament?
Ask the Witnesses studying with you:
1) Does the Holy Spirit guide God’s people? Did the Holy Spirit continue to guide the early Church and “lead them into all truth” (John 16:13)?
2) Has the Church that Jesus established been present since the beginning until now?
3) Since you believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a continuation of the Church Jesus established, can you document throughout history those people who held to the same faith as you?
4) Who decided what books were to be in the New Testament? Was not the recognition of the list of books to be included in the New Testament determined at early Church councils? (See, for example, the Council of Carthage which was sent to the Bishop of Rome and other bishops for confirmation and the later Decretum Gelasianum.)
Page 19 of the Bible Teach book shows a picture of the New World Translation displayed in several languages. This is the translation which has been produced by the Watchtower Society and is distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you are studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses you may have already obtained a copy of this translation from them. A few points to ponder:
The New World Translation is not used by other religious groups. Many critics of the Watchtower Society feel the New World Translation is not an accurate translation of the Bible and that subtle (and some not so subtle) changes have been introduced into the text to support the beliefs of the Witnesses. For example, we noted in the response to Chapter One how the New World Translation has added the name “Jehovah” to the New Testament over 200 times despite the fact there is not one Greek manuscript with that name in it.
If you are studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you should ask yourself:
1) If I want to know if Jehovah’s Witnesses are teaching what the Bible really teaches should I rely uncritically on their Bible translation?
2) Shouldn’t I use the standard Bible versions first to see if the Witnesses are teaching what the Bible says?
These pages link to several of these standard versions. You can bookmark these versions to use in your studies.
For further reading: Why I am a Christian--Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (online book) – Especially Part 4: “Why I believe the Bible is the Word of God.”