November 3rd, 2009
I must admit that during the thirteen years that I was a Jehovah’s Witness, I’d never read the Bible from cover to cover. Several years later, when I finally had the time and the desire to read the entire Bible, I did it twice in less than six months. That’s how I finally discovered what Bible study was all about and what the “holy book” really had to say.
When I was an active Jehovah’s Witness, I thought I knew how to study the Bible. I successfully studied with several potential converts that I’d met during my time in field service. I was also privileged to be appointed as a Tuesday night “book study conductor” for a brief time.
I found the use of concordances and reference books easy, allowing me to locate verses that I could use in field service, Theocratic Ministry School, and public talks. I soon made the study of the Bible’s history, historic events and characters my hobby. Even as a teenager, I had an excellent understanding of Witness theology and eschatology, making me quite an expert in biblical trivia.
Many years later, after I left the Organization and actually read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, I came to the realization that until that time never really understood what was really in that book. I actually experienced an epiphany when I finally finished reading all the words and chapters in sequence from cover to cover.
I found a certain satisfaction in the straightforward reading of the Bible. My process of study didn’t involve jumping around, looking for scriptures to support a particular teaching (proof-texting). It was just a simple reading without any rules to follow or daily assigned texts to look up.
I learned that the Bible is exactly what it is: a collection of ancient writings dating from about 700 B.C.E to about 400 C.E. The Old Testament (“Hebrew Scriptures”) includes books describing ancient law, history, song, poetry, allegory, and fiction. The New Testament (“Greek Scriptures”) is quite different from the Old. It combines semi-fictional histories of Jesus of Nazareth (the Gospels), apostolic letters to various ancient churches (the Epistles), history (Acts) and apocalyptic visions (Revelations).
The Bible says what it intends to say. We can understand it – if we read it like any other book. As we read it, we have to ask what does it tell us? What is its purpose? If you had absolutely no preconceived notions about its meaning, how would you understand it if you read it completely for the very first time?
The Bible tells tales of heroes and villains. Flawed characters are blessed by God for no discernible reason, while innocent women and children (and animals) are destroyed for no fault other than the accident of their birth. A so-called “loving and just God” demands that genocide be committed upon entire tribes. You wouldn’t want to be a first-born male in ancient times, unless your father was a king or a high priest. Even then your survival or even a chance for a normal lifespan would be questionable.
What you won’t find are specific descriptions of God, or Heaven – or even Hell. Four books were written specifically about Jesus’ life, but not one description of his physical appearance is given – or even inferred. Was he tall? Dark? Handsome? Did he wear a beard, or – as the Watchtower used to show him, always clean shaven with a nice hair cut? Was he dark and swarthy, or blond and blue-eyed as many Protestants choose to picture him? The Bible does not say, allowing you to see him in your own particular way.
The Gospels do offer many quotes attributed to Jesus that establish the Christian ethic. Loving your neighbor is definitely a good concept; turning your cheek and letting your anger subside before fighting back is probably a healthy concept in certain situations. The four books known as the Gospels do not really agree about the details of Jesus life, so you have to read them and just enjoy the stories they tell.
When I read the Bible I found that very little of what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach would stand up to any level of serious scrutiny.
If you were to ask any Jehovah’s Witness the direct question, “Do you read and study the Bible on your own?” Their answer would likely be, “Yes, daily.” To borrow from an old saying – “the Devil is in the details.”
A few Jehovah’s Witnesses may actually read and even study the Bible on their own time, unaided by Watchtower literature. However, they would be afraid to openly admit that fact to other Witnesses, especially to elders at the Kingdom Hall.
Jehovah’s Witnesses who think that it would be great fun and educational putting together a group to read and study the Bible, will soon realize that they could face rebuke and possible punishment by the local committee of elders.
The Watchtower’s worst kept secret is that very few of their followers even bother to look up the scriptures referenced in its books and magazines. Despite their official encouragement to “Read the Bible daily,” the Organization really does not want its members to follow that advice.
Many former JWs will admit that one reason they left the Organization was because they actually did finally read the Bible. Many started by reading quoted scriptures in context. Rather than reading just the scripture used for support by the Watchtower writers, they would read the entire chapter or several verses around the quote to understand the full context. Try that little exercise for yourself a few times; you’ll be shocked at the results.
There are many Watchtower articles that seem to lack any real biblical support. The writers, unable to find any appropriate scriptures to reference, will end a paragraph with a short phrase of just a few words and then refer to the verse where they borrowed that phrase. Upon closer inspection, it will be often be noted that other than those few words, the quoted scripture will frequently offer no real support for the writer’s assertions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will often claim that the Watchtower Society encourages them to study the Bible. What does the Organization really tell them about personal Bible study? Here are a few quotes from the Watchtower’s own publications about individuals or groups who want to study the Bible on their own:
It’s a waste of time to read it on your own
“Unless we are in touch with this channel of communication that God is using [the Governing Body], we will not progress along the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do.”—The Watchtower, December 1, 1981, p. 27.
Without Russell’s books, you can’t understand the Bible
“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness.” —The Watch Tower, September 15, 1910, p. 298.
The Organization frowns on private Bible study groups
“Does ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ [Watchtower organization] endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?—Matt. 24:45, 47. No, it does not. And yet, in various parts of the world, a few associates of our organization have formed groups to do independent research on Bible-related subjects. Some have pursued an independent group study of Biblical Hebrew and Greek so as to analyze the accuracy of the New World Translation… For those who wish to do extra Bible study and research, we recommend that they explore ‘Insight on the Scriptures,’ ‘All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,’ and our other publications….”—Kingdom Ministry, September 2007, p. 3
God wants the Watchtower Society to study for you
“We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ organization.”—The Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p. 19
You’ll stop believing if you read the Bible
“They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching 100 years ago…”—The Watchtower, August 15, 1981, pp. 28-29
If you consider yourself a true Christian, especially if you are a past or present Jehovah’s Witness, be honest about your approach to Bible study. You should know what the Watchtower’s policy is regarding self study, either individually or in a group. Can you really say that their current policy is in line with the biblical admonition to “come, let us gather together?”
Ask yourself: If Jesus was on earth today, would he reject the notion that you should read and study the Bible on your own or with friends? Do you think he would really tell you to just put your Bible away and let the Watchtower organization tell you what the Bible says and means?
Did Jesus not urge his followers to search the scriptures and pay attention to the prophets? Are there any writings by the disciples that tell Christians not to try to read and understand the scriptures on their own, but to let the leadership in Jerusalem just tell them what to believe?
I know that many true believing Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim that I am misrepresenting the facts about their approach to Bible study. If so, I urge any of them to send me direct quotes and references from Watchtower publications within the past five years that encourage private study using just the Bible. Show me anything they have published that encourages modern Jehovah’s Witnesses to gather together to research the scriptures in the same way that their founder, Charles T. Russell, urged his followers to do.
If you are not a Jehovah’s Witness, remember this article the next time Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door and offer a “free Bible study.” Even if their studies are free, you won’t be getting your money’s worth.