Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be the only group to have truth revealed to them by Jehovah. In this case, why do they require ongoing changes in doctrine? Does truth really change? A key premise of this site is that constant changes in doctrine and failed predictions are a clear indication that Jehovah does not direct the Watchtower Society. For the external observer this is the logical conclusion, yet for a Jehovah’s Witness it barely raises a grimace. How can this be? Because changes and failures are immediately dismissed by the thought stopping concept:
“The Bible tells us the light would get brighter.”
Addressing the flawed logic of this claim is required to render the information contained within this site effective.
The main justification from the Watchtower for changed doctrine is Proverbs 4:18:
“But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”
To interpret “light” as referring to Watchtower “doctrinal” understanding is simply justification for prior error. Aspects to consider are:
- Is Watchtower doctrine getting brighter or changing?
- Watchtower Justification for Error
- What is the intended meaning of Proverbs 4:18?
- Would Jehovah direct a religion to promote falsehood?
Brighter light is used to explain why previous doctrine was wrong. It is never presented as showing that current doctrine is likely to also be wrong. Yet that is the result if the Brighter light justification is applied to current truth.
Brighter or Changed
Proverbs 4 is discussing that righteous people fare better than the wicked. But let us entertain the idea that this Scripture contains a prophetic meaning that Jehovah would progressively reveal truth to his people at the time of the end. This concept cannot apply to Watchtower history, as Watchtower doctrine has not refined but changed. Consider whether the following change is really a matter of doctrinal light getting lighter:
Imagine being the Witness parent of a child that needed a kidney transplant in 1970. Although the Awake! 1949 Dec. 22 had described transplants as “wonders of modern surgery” in 1967 God revealed that transplants were wrong in his eyes. The Watchtower 1967 Nov. 15 pp.702-704 stated that being now “enlightened by God’s word” God’s people understood that transplants are against divine principles and cannibalistic. The parents must sincerely have believed they were putting Jehovah first when watching their child die, refusing them the opportunity of possible survival through a transplant. How would that parent feel on reading the Watchtower 1980 Mar. 15 p.31 – “There is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue . It is a matter for personal decision.” The enlightenment of 1967 had proved to be dark, harmful and in need of later correction, a regressive doctrine that resulted in the unnecessary death of members.
When a doctrine changes and then reverts back to the original position, this is not evidence of light getting brighter, it is evidence of a lack of Holy Spirit directing the Governing Body. Russell eloquently wrote the following truism:
“If we were following a man undoubtedly it would be different with us; undoubtedly one human idea would contradict another and that which was light one or two or six years ago would be regarded as darkness now; But with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, and so it is with truth; any knowledge or light coming from God must be like its author. A new view of truth never can contradict a former truth. “New Light” never extinguishes older “light” but adds to it.” Zion’s Watch Tower 1881 Feb pp.3, 188
The concept of light becoming brighter implies that previous doctrine was correct, but incomplete. The Watchtower Society has promoted many significant doctrines that were later discarded as incorrect. Others have changed back and forth, even reverting to their original position, in each case contradicting a former truth.
It has regularly been the case that Watchtower doctrine is not illuminated but eclipsed. It was not increasing light that dictated:
- In the 1950’s that Jesus was no longer to be worshipped; it was a fundamental teaching that was (or currently is) wrong
- Failed date prophecies
- Pyramids were prophetic of 1914
- Superior Authorities were Goverments – God – Governments
- The numerous changes to the meaning of the generation
These were not clarifications – these were wrong teachings. How many wrong teachings did God allow to become part of the Bible canon? Now compare that with how many wrong teachings are contained within the Watchtower over less then 150 years. Ongoing reversal of doctrine can only indicate God is not involved in these new flashes of light that later turn out to be falsehoods.
The Governing Body members have changed constantly over more than a century. New light, particularly when it is contradictory light, is just new opinions from new Governing Body members.
When is it truth?
This concept is applicable to any Christian religion similar to the Witnesses, such as Christadelphians and Church of God. Both of these have a doctrinal structure almost identical to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has equal application to Seventh-day Adventists, who started concurrently with the Witnesses from the same basic teachings of Miller. Seventh-day Adventists preach and grow at the same rate. A person raised in any of these religions is equally convinced that the “light getting brighter” will clarify things wrong with their religion.
The Church of God uses the same “new light” reasoning, as shown in an experience of a member:
“Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong still took what seemed to me a less than candid approach. He called our Divorce & Remarriage change “new light,” “new truth” which God has (finally) shown us. In other words, he subtly blamed our doctrinal error on God.” (ex-sda.com 2 May 2006)
The following Watchtower article about the Catholic Church is equally applicable to the Watchtower Society.
“”Tell me,” he asked, “how can I have confidence in anything? How can I believe in the Bible, in God, or have faith? Just ten years ago we Catholics had the absolute truth, we put all our faith in this. Now the pope and our priests are telling us this is not the way to believe any more, but we are to believe ‘new things.’ How do I know the ‘new things’ will be the truth in five years?”” Awake! 1970 Apr 22 p.8
What the Bible Says
The Bible explains that the meaning of some truths were not to be understood until a later time. Nevertheless, this does not allow for Jehovah directing his people with falsehood.
John 16:13 “However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming.”
At John 16:13, Jesus was referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus did not refer to partial or incorrect truth; the Spirit would reveal truth, including “things coming”. As discussed in the section on dates , the Watchtower Society has had a 100% failure rate in predicting things “coming”.
Daniel 12:4, 10 “And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of [the] end. Many will rove about, and the [true] knowledge will become abundant… Many will cleanse themselves and whiten themselves and will be refined. And the wicked ones will certainly act wickedly, and no wicked ones at all will understand; but the ones having insight will understand.”
Though Daniel did not understand what he wrote, he did not make false interpretations. The Society’s interpretation of Daniel has changed constantly with explanations that were applied to the 1800’s now applied to the 1900’s. Despite this, the Organization insists that God only enlightens them to interpret these Scriptures accurately.
Rather than indicate that doctrine would get brighter or change, the Bible warns against anyone that promotes false doctrine.
1 John 4:1 “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”
Galatians 1:8, 9 “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.”
Watchtower Justification for Doctrinal Error
Proverbs 4:18 is the primary justification for why much of early Watchtower doctrine has changed and continues to change. There are additional lines of reasoning that are invoked, but each is equally insipid.
Apostles Made Mistakes
The Watchtower justifies errors through a comparison with the Apostles and the mistakes that they made.
“Like the apostles of Jesus Christ, they have at times had some wrong expectations.” Reasoning from the Scriptures p.136
In a similar vein, I regularly receive emails from Witnesses that God used Moses, Abraham and David to lead his people even though they were sinners.
This addresses an issue quite different to the one at hand. This is not a question of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses or individual members of the Governing Body being perfect or holding to a perfect understanding of doctrine. The issue is whether the Governing Body operates under guidance of Holy Spirit as a collective group, after prayer. Does Jehovah direct what appears in the Watchtower journals?
Rather than suggesting that Apostles made mistakes, ask “What percentage of the Apostles writings in the Bible are wrong?” Zero percent. “What percentage of Watchtower statements has been wrong?” The difference being, the Apostles were directed by God, the Governing Body is not.
Since the Watchtower Governing Body is unlike the Apostles and not directed by God to arrive at doctrine, why follow them without question?
A Witness will say that the Governing Body are allowed doctrinal mistakes, as Bible leaders in the past made mistakes. But the issue is not whether individuals need be perfect, but whether their teachings are accurate. How many mistakes did God allow into the Bible?
God is testing us
Another justification has been used several times after Watchtower prophecies went unfulfilled. The Watch Tower 1916 Feb 1 said about the incorrect understanding of 1914:
“We inferred from this that the Church’s ‘change’ would take place on or before that date. But God did not tell us that it would be so. He permitted us to draw that inference; and we believe that it has proven to be a necessary test upon God’s dear saints everywhere.”
What sort of group would accuse God of allowing them to promote falsehood as a test of his followers? If false teachings are a test from God, how do we differentiate between one Church and the other?
Additional Watchtower justification for incorrect interpretations is to attribute them to eagerness. People that criticise this righteous eagerness are negatively trying to divert people from the importance of the times.
“It is easy for the established churches of Christendom and other people to criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses because their publications have, at times, stated that certain things could take place on certain dates. Have they not, rather, encouraged spiritual sluggishness by considering expectation of “the end” to be “meaningless” or “an insignificant myth”? Have apostates promoted Christian alertness? Have they not, rather, induced spiritual sleepiness?” Watchtower 1984 Dec 1 p.18
“Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their eagerness for Jesus’ second coming, have suggested dates that turned out to be incorrect.” Awake! 1993 Mar 22 p.4
“In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth.” Watchtower 1980 Mar 15 p.17
In application to itself, the Watchtower insinuates that alertness is more important to truthfulness. In application to other religions sincerity is not enough, teaching untruths makes their followers unacceptable to God.
“For us to be acceptable to God, our sincere beliefs must be based on accurate information. Jehovah’s Witnesses in your community will be happy to assist you in examining what is involved in serving God with sincerity and truth.” Watchtower 2003 Feb 1 p.32 Sincerity-Desirable, but Is It Enough?
To be eager does not justify being totally wrong. Many religions are eager, without relying on false predictions to motivate their members. The Seventh-day Adventists use statements such as “See you later, God Willing” to show they recognise God may intervene at any stage. This is a healthy recognition of God’s timetable without encouraging serving to a date. Making mistakes in God’s name has not promoted long term eagerness; it has resulted in followers losing their faith in the Organization.
Proverbs 4:18 was not intended to be prophetic indication that God gradually reveals truth to the Watchtower Society. Rather than extract a sentence, when taken in entirety the context of Proverbs chapter 4 is a comparison of behaviour between good and bad people, not the dispensing of doctrinal truth through an organization. The surrounding verses say:
“the wicked do not sleep unless they do badness. … The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom; they have not known at what they keep stumbling … listen to the discipline of a father … keep my commandments … safeguard your heart.”
For thousands of years people have understood this scripture to be discussing behaviour.
“What is clear from Proverbs is that the reader can choose to either seek wisdom or live a life of folly. (Prov 4:14-19)” (thisischurch.com 25 Mar 2005)
Does Jehovah’s direction include falsehoods?
The Watchtower Society did not originate the concept of excusing failed predictions as “new light”. Barbour had used this concept to justify why the end did not arrive as predicted in 1874. Religions claiming to have all the answers consistently prove to be wrong. The Watchtower reliance on the “new light” doctrine is no more than an excuse to justify inaccuracies. “New light” is an unhealthy concept that promotes blind, unquestioning devotion to men.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 provides a foolproof way to determine if words spoken have come from God:
“However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it.”
Watchtower changes include numerous false dates, significant doctrinal changes and the promotion of pagan symbols and teachings. Rules on shunning, medical advice and education have been adversely life changing, even life threatening. Falsehood does not originate from Jehovah. Doctrinal meandering cannot be justified as new light; rather it is proof that God does not direct the Watchtower Society.
Truth, in matter of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived – Oscar Wilde