Friday, 25 November 2016

Is The New World Translation Reliable?

New_World_translation_of_the_Holy_Scriptures_2013_editionOn their website, JW.ORG, the Watchtower Society asks, 'Is The New World Translation Accurate?' It is a good question. The Bible speaks to our deepest concerns, explains our purpose in the world, and introduces us to the God who made us. Every movement that seeks to identify itself with Christ claims to get its teaching and authority from the Bible. It is vital, then, that every such claim is tested. What is the Watchtower apologetic for their translation?

A good working knowledge of the Bible and how it has come down to us equips us to test and challenge Watchtower claims. They acknowledge, 'some people have commented on or questioned the accuracy of the New World Translation because in places it differs from other translations of the Bible,' then 'explain' why:

Reliability. The New World Translation is based on up-to-date scholarly research and the most reliable ancient manuscripts. In contrast, the King James Version of 1611 was based on manuscripts that were often less accurate and not as old as those used in producing the New World Translation.

The Watchtower Society give the impression that the 'modern' New World Translation (NWT) is bound to be reliable because of the more numerous and older texts available to the translators. But that misses the point entirely. Those texts are available to all Bible translators and yet none come up with some of the egregious errors found in the NWT. It is not the resources available that are in question but what translators do with those resources.

Their interfering with the text to import their own peculiar interpretation negates their claim and makes even the 400 year old King James Version more reliable than their very latest (2013) version. One important example is their 'translation' of Phillipians 2:5-7:

'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.' (KJV)

'Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal with God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave's form and became human.' (NWT)

It is an excruciating translation that obscures rather than illuminates the meaning of the text. In the KJV Paul highlights Jesus' superior nature, having equality with God (6) but then putting off his divine nature to become a man (v7). 'Thought it not robbery to be equal with God.' In other words, his being equal with God did not in any way rob God.

In the NWT the thought is muddled, Jesus is demoted, not thinking he should be equal to God. '...gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal with God.' In other words, didn't consider seizing equality with God, which would rob God. But if he is a slave because in a slave's form surely he is God if he is in God's form? A conservative modern translation, from the oldest, most reliable manuscripts, agrees with the KJV:

'Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.' (ESV)

Jesus did not cling to, or grasp, his equality with God but emptied himself of it to become a man. The thought is simple but the Jehovah's Witnesses complicate it in order to deny Christ's divinity. It is a modern Arianism. They have brought what they believe to the text and made the text fit their preconceptions, rather than allowing the text to inform their faith.

Faithfulness. The New World Translation strives to convey faithfully the original message that was inspired by God. (2 Timothy 3:16) Many translations of the Bible sacrifice faithfulness to God’s message in favor of following human traditions, for instance by replacing God’s personal name, Jehovah, with titles such as Lord or God.

Note the loaded terminology, 'strives to convey faithfully the original message.' Subtext: unlike other translations, which are inadequate. This entry is not in the least informative, simply making an assertion, staking a claim, in order to sneak in the familiar Watchtower bromide about the name of God. They do not mention any other 'human traditions,' and fail completely to mention their own adherence to 'human tradition' in using the name Jehovah. It is a made up name that combines the consonants of the Tetragrammaton YHWH and the vowels of the Greek Adonai (Lord) and is a Masoretic tradition that dates no further back than the 12th century.

Indeed, the 'many translations' they reference but fail to identify prove more faithful than the NWT, which puts the name of God into Bible texts where it was not found in early manuscripts. The thousands of ancient Greek texts they claim to use don't mention God by name but use the Greek kurios (Lord) and theos (God). They insert 'Jehovah' in place of these names, not because the manuscripts give it, but because they believe it should be there. That is not how honest Bible translators work. They work from the text not to the text.

Literalness. Unlike paraphrased translations, the New World Translation renders words literally as long as doing so does not result in awkward wording or hide the thought of the original writings. Translations that paraphrase the Bible’s original text may insert human opinions or omit important details.

Irony upon irony! First, the differentiation is to be made between literal translation (formal equivalence, emphasising fidelity to the original text and grammar, which nevertheless and inevitably includes interpretation); dynamic equivalence (giving the text in the receptor language with less emphasis on lexical fidelity but emphasising the faithful translation of meaning); and paraphrase (which is what it says, a restatement of a text, giving the meaning in another form).

What the Watchtower Society does here is take two 'extremes,' literal and paraphrase, and compare the latter unfavourably with the former. The irony is in the fact that they import into John 1:1 the indefinite article 'a' giving '...and the Word was a God.' There is no warrant for it. It represents a striking example of departing from the text to create a scandalous paraphrase that supports their own understanding of Jesus identity. This is the very charge they bring against other translations.

Reliability, faithfulness, and literalness sound like just the thing for someone serious about the Bible. If we were to take these claims at face value we might think we have here a good Bible translation, and therein lies the danger. The cults want you to take things at face value, none more so than the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. These claims, when examined closely, are nothing to do with the integrity of the translation and everything to do with propaganda.

Having compared other translations unfavourably with the NWT, the Society now talk up other translations to compare the NWT favourably with them.

Missing books. In their Bibles, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches include books known by some as the Apocrypha. However, those books were not accepted into the Jewish canon, and it is noteworthy that the Bible says that the Jews were the ones who were “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Romans 3:1,2) Thus, the New World Translation and many other modern Bible translations rightly exclude the books of the Apocrypha.

Its not what you say, its the way that you say it. We have it right along with some others. The hero is, of course, the NWT, which is made to look as if it is taking the lead. In fact, it has come very late to the game, following the long established example of 'many other modern Bible translations' from the King James Version to the American Standard (both used by the WBTS) to the NIV and ESV today. If they could write this material without mentioning any other translations and have the same impact they would.

Missing verses. Some translations add verses and phrases that are not in the oldest available Bible manuscripts, but the New World Translation excludes such added material. Many modern translations either omit those later additions or acknowledge that those additions lack support from the most authoritative sources.

No examples are given, and the reader is left to trust to the Society that this is the case. It is true that modern translations omit 'added verses and phrases' such as the infamous Johannine comma (1 John 5:7-8) e.g. the ESV, while others include it in a text note and explain it e.g. the NIV. The same is true of the ending of Marks Gospel.

isn't it another irony, and a rich one, that Wycliffe's ambition was to “...defy the Pope and all his laws, if God spare my life, I will make a boy that driveth the plough know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” Yet the WBTS has taken back that priestly role, insisting their translation and understanding alone are to be trusted, condemning other translations, even if by faint praise.

Different wording. Occasionally, word-for-word translations are unclear or misleading. For example, Jesus’ statement at Matthew 5:3 is often translated: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (English Standard Version; King James Version; New International Version) Many find the literal rendering “poor in spirit” to be obscure, while some think that Jesus was highlighting the value of humility or poverty. However, Jesus’ point was that true happiness comes from recognizing the need for God’s guidance. The New World Translation accurately conveys his meaning with the words “those conscious of their spiritual need.”—Matthew 5:3.

Yes, names are named now they can be dismissed as inadequate. The question is why, when the WBTS gives a dynamic equivelant translation its OK, but when other translators do it it risks obscuring the meaning of the text? The truth is, this whole business is an exercise in bigging up the work of the Society. It has nothing to do with actually informing people, much less encouraging them to go out and find out for themselves. If you have ever tried to hand a piece of literature to a Jehovah's Witness you will know how constrained they are in their ability to truly explore the Bible for themselves. The iron grip the Society keeps on its people can make the popes and prelates they so readily condemn seem benign by comparison.

This article is from the Nov/Dec. 2016 edition of Bridge of Reason, the free Reachout newsletter

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Watchtower Society God

In his Theological Word Book of the Bible (an essential on every Bible scholar’s shelf) Alan Richardson points out:

‘The knowledge of God is not reached by abstract speculation as in Gk. philosophy, but in the actual everyday business of living, or social relationships and of current historical events. God is not known by thinking out ideas about him, but by seeking and doing his will as made known to us by prophetic men and by our own consciousness of right and wrong. (cf. John 7:17, Jas.1:27, 1 John 4:7.,f 12)’
 
He cites in particular Jeremiah 22:15-16,

“Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

Watchtower Books

The error upon error of the Watchtower Society is mainly the product of their having sought God in books. This arises from the laudable 19th century preoccupation with universal education and the peculiarly American preoccupation with Adventism and the careful searching the Bible for signs.

It is truly perverse, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been discouraged from further and higher education, yet they have made book publication and book study their main activity. Since they have long rejected education as a legitimate route for their lives, they have been robbed of what might truly inform their thinking and ended with an ugly literalism in all they publish, read, and say. This is no better illustrated than by their ‘translation’ of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

‘This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3, NWT, Revised, 1984, emphasis added)

The wording in the newer version is slightly different but brings across the same sense of progressive learning:

‘This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.’ (NWT, 2013)

In a modern Bible translation this reads:

‘Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’(NIV, 1984)

To know God, in the biblical sense, is not knowledge of abstract principles. It is not thoughts about an eternal being or idea but recognition of, and obedience to, the God who acts purposefully in the world. Knowledge of this kind comes from personal experience of God in every day life, not from collecting data about an abstract and distant figure.

The KJV gives the same sense of relational knowledge:

‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.’

This is not anti-intellectualism but Christ came to reveal God, to make him known, not to deliver a three point sermon, pass out a tract, or give a lecture about God (whom he never called Jehovah by the way). Jehovah’s Witnesses do not know God, they know the Watchtower Society Society and its peculiar rules and teachings. Through them, Jehovah’s Witnesses know about a strange and unbiblical being they think is God and call Jehovah. Like a devout Muslim, they know which foot to put forward first, when to be here, go there, do that, avoid this, speak in these terms, obey. But they don’t know God.

 

The True God Jehovah

Under this title, in Insight on the Scriptures Vol.1 (Watchtower Society, 1988), the Watchtower Society begin to unpack their understanding of God. They begin, inevitably, with his name. Read here why God’s name is not Jehovah.

In so many ways they get it right, saying God is spirit, infinite and approachable, even recognising the figurative nature of passages that speak of God’s ‘arm’ (Ex.6:6) ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ (Ps.34:15). Yet their literalism breaks into the narrative, locating God in one specific place and insisting, ‘The true God is not omnipresent, for he is spoken of as having a location, (1 Ki.8:49; Joh.16:28; Heb.924) His throne is in heaven (Isa.66:1)’

Remarkably, they recognise that God doesn’t literally have arms, eyes, and ears, even though the Bible says he has, yet they insist God has a location, a base of operations, and a throne, because the Bible says he has. This immediately brings God within the compass of the created order, since time and place are the products of creation. Yet they clearly think of God as Infinite. Infinite means being subject to or having no limitations or boundaries in time, space, numbers, etc. Location robs the infinite of the infinite.

The Psalmist wrote:

Where can I go from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me,

and the light become night around me,’

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is light with you.(Ps.139:7-12)

How is this achieved if God is located in one place and not omnipresent? If there is no getting away from his presence how can that be if he is present in only one place? Why would Jehovah’s Witnesses want to limit the infinity of God?

It is true that God’s transcendent and infinite nature means man, a creature, cannot conceive of what it would be like to be God. Yet we all carry a picture in our minds of what God’s life is like, poor and inadequate as this picture would surely be. Some picture God as an old man, with a white beard, sitting on a cloud and ‘looking down on us.’ This illustrates very well the problem. Once you pin God to a location this has a bearing on how you see God operating, working out his plans, relating to his creation. Insight on the Scriptures states:

‘[God] is all-powerful, being the Almighty God. (Ge.17:1; Re.16:14) ‘All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him,’ and he is, ‘the One telling from the beginning the finale.’ (Heb.4:13; Isa.46:10,11; 1 Sa.2:3) His power and knowledge extend everywhere, reaching every part of the universe. -2Ch 16:9; Ps.139:7-12; Am 9:2-4)’

How! How are these things so if God is in one place?

 

Throne Room Calling

In the second volume of Insights, under the heading ‘Spirit,’ the Holy Spirit is compared to ‘radio waves that can transmit a message from a person speaking into a microphone and cause his voice to be heard by person a distance away, in effect, ‘speaking’ the message by a radio loudspeaker. God, by his spirit, transmits his messages and communicates his will to the minds and hearts of his servants on earth, who, in turn, may convey that message to yet others.’

Remarkably, having understood symbolism in the Bibles’ reference to God’s eyes and ears, then moved to an awkward literalism to rob God of his omnipresence, Jehovah’s Witnesses suddenly discover the power of symbolism again. Referring to the seven spirits of the seven churches in Revelation Insights gives:

‘Seven being used as representative of completeness in other prophetic texts, it appears that these seven spirits symbolize the full active capacity of observation, discernment, or detection of the glorified Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, enabling him to inspect the earth.’

Jehovahs OrganisationGod, in the Jehovah’s Witness mind, sits on a throne ‘in heaven’ issuing his edicts via his spirit broadcasting system. Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the majesty on high (Heb.1:3), is able to ‘inspect the earth’ by means of this same spirit.

This sounds very clunky and mechanical, not at all like the personal God of the Bible. Indeed, more like a governing body handing down rules and edicts via a chain of command. For a Jehovah’s Witness, God is channelled through a system of government, a hierarchy. What is puzzling, however, is that the Spirit is apparently omnipresent, something God is not.

Abba, Father

The Bible presents a very different picture of a God who enters into personal relationships with those who trust and worship him. Indeed, so intimate is this relationship that he does not demand we call him by a name, or title, but he invites us to call him Father (Mt.6:9). This Fatherhood is expressed in different ways throughout Scripture:

Theocratic Fatherhood describes God’s relationship to his covenant people, Israel. Moses was told to say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my first-born son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” (Ex.4:22-23)

Generative Fatherhood refers to God’s being the exclusive Father of his ‘only-begotten Son’ Jesus. ‘And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt.3:17)

Adoptive Fatherhood describes the redeeming relationship that belongs to all believers. They are adopted sons because of their standing in Christ, the new Adam, and because they are born-again through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in them. ‘…those who are led by the Spirit of God are called the sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,” (Ro.8:13-15)

This Fatherhood is both intimate and immanent.

In the Old Testament God dwelt among his people in the tabernacle in the desert.

In the gospels Jesus said of his relationship with the Father, ‘I and the Father are one,’ and, ‘understand that the Father is in me.’ (John 10:30,38)

Jesus said of the believer, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ (John 14:23)

This is not a remote God, broadcasting messages via his impersonal spirit, what Witnesses call ‘God’s active force.’ How could such a God keep this promise to come and make his home with every believer who loves and obeys Jesus?

Romans 8 gives us a picture of how this all works. In this chapter the Spirit is described as ‘the Spirit of life,‘ an interesting phrase and echoing John’s description of Jesus as one who has life in himself (John 1:4). Surely only God is self-existent, having life in himself, being the giver of life?

‘Those who live in accordance with the Spirit,’ Paul writes, ‘have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.’ (Ro.8:5) Paul goes on to describe believers as, ‘controlled…by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ…And if the Spirit of of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.’ (Ro.8:9-11)

The Spirit is ‘the Spirit of sonship.’

The Spirit is ‘the Spirit of life.’

The Spirit is ‘the Spirit of God.’

The Spirit is ‘the Spirit of Christ.’

The Spirit, ‘lives in you.’

The Spirit gives life, the Spirit of God and of Christ. The Spirit indwells believers, it is by the same Spirit we cry,‘Abba, Father.’ It is by the Spirit that the Father and the Son come and dwell with every obedient believer, because the Spirit is God, as the Son is God, as the Father is God. Just as to see the Son is to see the Father (John 14:9) so to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit is to enjoy the companionship of the Father and the Son.

This is why Jesus goes on in John’s gospel to say, ‘I will ask the Father to send you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever-the Spirit of truth.’ (14:16-17) ‘Another’ here means another of the same kind, that is, another person but with the same role of advocate.

The word translated ‘Counsellor’ is the same as used in John’s first letter, ‘If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to our Father in our defence-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ (1 John 2:1) To have the Spirit as Counsellor is to have the Son, just as to see the Son is to see the Father.

The objection, of course, is that this Trinitarian picture doesn’t make sense, is inconceivable, unimaginable, a picture we cannot easily hold in our heads when we think about God. This simply comes from a desire to bring God into the compass of man’s feeble mental capacity.

The truth is, you can accept what the Bible tells us, or you can make every effort to tame God, locate and limit him, until he sits comfortably with you. The early church stuck faithfully to the Bible’s message, accepting on faith what they could not possibly understand, because God is God, his word is his word, and man is to be faithful to God’s word.

This article first appeared in the July/August Issue of Bridge of Reason

Friday, 16 September 2016

Was Jesus a Jehovah’s Witness?

JWs in Public SquareThey were standing behind their cart, waiting for someone to stop and speak to them. With no obvious attempt at eye-contact on their part so, being in that frame of mind, I decided to break their apparent monotony and ask them how they were. They were well. They looked well, though wary, and I wondered if I had come across as too confident.
'I have a question I have asked Jehovah's Witnesses over the years and none seem able to answer it,' I said.
'What is that?' they asked, smiling. They were very polite and friendly.
'You are Jehovah's Witnesses?' I asked, and they looked at me from behind their JW.ORG emblazoned cart carrying copies of the Watchtower, as though my specialist subject was the glaringly obvious.
'Yes,' they replied patiently.
'Witnesses of Jehovah?' I continued.
'Indeed.'
'In Matthew 6 the disciples ask Jesus, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' Jehovah's Witnesses have, over the years, taken me to this passage to demonstrate that the mission of Jesus was to 'make known and hallow the name of Jehovah,' citing verse 9, 'hallowed be your name.'
They seemed to be familiar with the point so I pressed on.
'Then why did Jesus pray, 'Our Father...' and not, 'Jehovah-God,' as you might?'
'They would have known the name of God back then,' they replied, 'but the churches have removed that name and so we must make it known again.'
'How have the churches removed the name?' I asked.
'If you go back to earlier translations, back to the Middle Ages for instance, they contained the name where later translations removed it.'
'But surely it was taken out long before the Middle Ages?' I insisted.
A quick change of tack and, 'Yes,' they came back, 'it was removed as early as the 4th century.'
'Oh, Nicea,' I said, 'but the name of God was not discussed at Nicea. Nicea was all about the identity of Jesus, the LOGOS. It was removed long before that council.'
Now they looked puzzled, so I continued, 'The Jews stopped pronouncing the name in the Hellenistic period, in the centuries before Christ because they thought it was too sacred for every day use. Whatever we think of that, it is the history. The disciples would have had no idea how it was pronounced. Indeed, the only person on that hillside who would have known was Jesus.
In that situation, you might have said, 'Let us tell you about the name.' That being the case, and if the mission of Jesus was to 'hallow the name' or make it known, why would he not teach it? Indeed, why didn't he use it at all, and why do the disciples fail to use it throughout the New Testament record?'
The best form of defence being attack, they came back, 'Do you object to the name?'
Not at all,' I replied. 'The name is used in my church, indeed we sing 'Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah...' surely you sing that one?'
'No,' they replied still in attack mode, 'but that has been changed to 'Great Redeemer,'' as though recovering a point. (Another example of wicked Christendom meddling with God's purposes.)
'Yes,' I replied, 'but we do sing 'Jehovah' in one version. What is more, I hear the name of God used from the pulpit in the churches, and any good Bible translation carries an explanation of how the name has been used down the centuries and the substitution of 'Lord,' so if churches and translators have an agenda to remove the name they have singularly failed.'
'But what do you have against the name?' they demanded.
'Nothing,' I replied, ‘I know it and, as you can see, I am capable of having an intelligent conversation about it. But if there is no evidence of this being a priority for Jesus, for Jesus being a jehovah’s Witness, don't you think perhaps there might be other, more pressing priorities for Christian believers?'
‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)
'Such as?'
'Such as the Fatherhood of God. Paul writes that by the Spirit we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Paul taught as Jesus taught. Such as 'your kingdom come, your will be done...' What is his will? Clearly it doesn't revolve around a noun but around a person - Jesus. There is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus my Bible tells me. Maybe you should think about that.'
Of course, they were not going to follow me home and ask me to tell them more. But what an opportunity to plant a thought that will pop into their heads every time they read a Watchtower publication that blames the churches, or go to teach that Jesus' mission was to 'hallow the name...' By such small and thoughtful encounters are seeds planted and hearts touched by truth.




























Wednesday, 31 August 2016

How Mormon Pictures Reinforce Mormon Error

Jesus in Gethsemane 2

The September 2016 edition of the Mormon Ensign magazine, in its Conference Notebook, carried a note by Elder Dale G. Redlund about the Atomenment of Jesus Christ. It is an exerpt from his April conference address, reported in full in the May 2016 Ensign, p42. Here is the exerpt:

I can emphatically state that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness. “All that is unfair about life can be made right.” [Preach my Gospel, 52] Our present circumstances may not change, but through God’s compassion, kindness, and love, we will all receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for. We are promised that “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” [Revelation 21:4]

There is much to say about this short piece but I want to draw your attention to the accompanying picture. It is famous among Mormons, one might say ubiquitous wherever the subject of the atonement comes up in Mormon circles. It stands silent yet speaking volumes about what Mormons believe, illustrating that they are planting and reinforcing ideas even when you think they are not. You see, Mormons don’t believe in the atoning power of the cross. Mormonism teaches, and this picture accompanying the note illustrates it, that Christ atoned in Gethsemane. It doesn’t get mentioned here – except in that picture. This is the power of illustration.

When a Christian sees this picture it tells a quite different story to the one that comes to Mormon minds. Every time Mormons see this picture a whole theological world is opened up in their minds, ideas that are quite alien to the soteriology of the New Testament. Yet this is what Mormons think of, a Gethsemane atonement, each time they see this. Next time you look at a cult magazine look at the pictures and ask yourself what are they saying that the text may have failed to mention. It can be a very interesting exercise.

Meanwhile you might want to read Another Crossless Easter for Mormons, a piece I wrote some time ago about this whole issue of Mormonism and the Atonement of Christ. People are still surprised when they see how far from the Bible Mormonism is on even this foundamental Christian teaching.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Christians Are Hypocrites

CongregationHow often have we heard this charge that Christians are hypocrites? In an effort to find common ground, build bridges, and identify with non-Christians we are tempted to say, “I know what you mean but...”

However, I don’t believe I do know what people mean when they say this.

I consider myself fortunate to know many Christians across denominations and from different cultures who are not hypocrites but humble, caring people who live a life of sacrifice and service within the church and in the wider community. I do wonder why my Christian friends seem invisible to those who see nothing but hypocrisy in the Church. The Bible has a lot to teach us about this problem.

 

Wheat and Weeds

We start with a parable, one of Jesus’ stories designed to illustrate an important truth. In the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:25-30) Jesus tells of a man who sowed good seed in his field, but when his men were sleeping an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the plants grew they saw the weeds and asked the landowner if they should pull them up.

Wheat and weedsThe weed in this parable is darnel, a poisonous rye grass that looks like wheat whose roots intertwine with those of the wheat. If they pulled the weeds they risked pulling up the wheat too. The farmer said, “Let both grow together until the harvest and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

When people say that Christians are hypocrites are they sure they are looking at Christians? And what are people expecting to see in a Christian?

It is popularly believed that Christians are those people among us who have determined they have a talent for virtue and consequently decide to join all the other virtuous folk who call themselves Christian. They gladly give up sinning, which they never really got on with anyway, because they were too timid to really sin. They buy a suit and a Bible and start going to church because that’s where all the other saintly people gather to talk about all those wicked people who aren’t as good as them. There they climb the religious greasy pole to heaven, competing for that coveted place nearest the throne.

But I know what you’re really like! cries the world – hypocrites!

 

Fruit

Being a Christian is not about having a flair for virtue, but about having a need for a Saviour. Far from being proud of their virtue, Christians are people who have finally realised that they have nothing to offer God but their sin and that they need saving, principally from themselves and their own sinful nature. They have finally faced up to a dilemma described by the New Testament leader Paul; the problem of sin.

Paul writes:

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal.5:19-20)

He then goes on to describe the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal.5:22)

People instinctively yearn for those things in the second list but all too commonly find something of the first list defining their lives. No, we are not all drunken, sexually promiscuous etc. but again Paul sums up the nature of the dilemma when he writes his letter to Roman believers:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.”

Like everyone else he chooses the second list but struggles with his choice because the first list better defines his life experience. He writes:

“If I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good”

By choosing consciously the second list and bitterly regretting that his life is more like the first list he is agreeing with the biblical principle of right and wrong. So what is going on? How should he understand what is happening? How can he see and even appreciate what is good but so often fall short of what is required if he is to live a good life? He explains it like this:

“As it is, it is no longer I myself who did it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

This sounds a bit like saying ‘the devil made me do it’ but that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is conscious that his life doesn’t reflect what he would like it to be because sin is so integral to his nature that he cannot help himself. If we are to be right with God then we must all come to this point. To confess our sin is not simply to admit to this infringement or that but to confess I am controlled by sin.

This is not a convenient excuse but a terrible realisation.

 

Salvation

Imagine a drowning person and a quick-acting passer by who jumps in to save that person. There is a definite helplessness about a drowning person and if a “saviour” were to jump in only to find that the drowning person is capable of swimming to the shore then that person is not “saved” and the well-meaning passer-by is not a saviour. You are that drowning person, says Paul:

“Now I find this law at work; when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (Ro.7:14-23)

You can strike out for the shore as much as you like but you are never going to make it because the current is far too strong; the law of sin is too powerful. When Paul writes about a “law” of sin he is writing not about legislation that you may choose to obey or not, but about a defining principle in his life that acts in opposition to the law of God and holds him prisoner.

It is not that every item in the first list defines me but that I cannot deny my attitude of disobedience and my struggle to live completely the virtues of the second list. The frustration Paul describes is the common experience. In these circumstances the only hope we have is if someone intervenes on our behalf and liberates us, saves us.

Every religion apart from Christianity has a self-help element to it. Paul clearly shows what everyone knows deep inside; “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do.” We don’t need a self-help manual, a fresh resolve to do better, to turn to religious observations, or a determination to clean up our lives.

It has been said that if the world had needed education, God would have sent a teacher. If the world had needed an army, God would have sent a general. If the world had needed more money, God would have sent a banker. But since the world needed a Saviour, God sent Jesus. The Christian faith is the only one with a Saviour. You see, if what Paul describes in Romans 7 describes you and me then the only thing we can do is, like Paul, cry for help:

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Ro.7:14-25)

Kneeling-at-the-crossThis is how we become a Christian; this is what a Christian is. Not someone who has chosen God and a life of virtue but someone who has fled to God from their life of sin. We recognise the depth of our sin and the grip that our sinful nature has upon our lives and we turn to him in repentance. We trust him to save us completely from sin and death because we cannot save ourselves. This means that we stop trusting in ourselves.

For many, the obstacle to faith is not a reluctance to be good but a refusal to stop depending on our own goodness.

Sometimes the greatest thing we must repent of is that spirit of independence. Jesus’ greatest sorrow was kept for those who depended on themselves:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt.23:37)

A Christian then is someone who has recognised their sin and turned to God to save them. Far from being hypocritical, this is a sign of great integrity as someone at last confesses their need of a Saviour. Of course, Christians are still human and not perfect but in God’s strength they can grow daily to be more like the Saviour who rescued them. As the old saying goes, I am not what I ought to be, nor what I want be, but by God’s grace I am not what I was.

Paul describes us very well:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (
Eph.2: 1-10 )

This means for the Christian:

We are all sinners saved by grace, experts in sinning novices in virtue. When we share our faith we are not judging people but, as one speaker put it, a Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Mormon God

First VisionThe Mormon God has evolved with the thinking of Mormon leaders. The Book of Mormon, the earliest Mormon text, insists there is one God. In a discussion between two characters named Amulek and Zeezrom we read:

‘And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God?

And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God.

And Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?

And he answered, No.’

(Alma 11:26-29)

In conversations with Mormons this is a helpful text. The question is at the bottom of page 235 while the answer is over the page. Asking a Mormon what answer he or she thinks Amulek gives before turning the page can make for an interesting exchange.

On a time-line this teaching comes in March 1830, the date of the Book of Mormon’s publication. This ‘one God’ sounds singularly Trinitarian in nature, although is probably modalist in Smith’s mind:

‘..And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.’

(Testimony of the three witnesses at the front of the book)

‘…And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.’ (2 Nephi 31:21)

‘The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God.’ (Mosiah 15:3-5)

In April of 1830 Joseph Smith produced Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which explains the organising of the Mormon Church, its officers, and members. We read there:

‘Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.’ (20:28)

By April 7 1844, three months before his death at age 38, Joseph Smith preached a very different God at the funeral of a Mormon elder named King Follett. This has come to be known as the King Follett Discourse.

‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!read more →

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Watchtower Society God

In his Theological Word Book of the Bible (an essential on every Bible scholar’s shelf) Alan Richardson points out:

‘The knowledge of God is not reached by abstract speculation as in Gk. philosophy, but in the actual everyday business of living, or social relationships and of current historical events. God is not known by thinking out ideas about him, but by seeking and doing his will as made known to us by prophetic men and by our own consciousness of right and wrong. (cf. John 7:17, James.1:27, 1 John 4:7.,f 12)’

He cites in particular Jeremiah 22:15-16,

”Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

Watchtower Books

The error upon error of the Watchtower Society is mainly the product of their having sought God in books. This arises from the laudable 19th century preoccupation with universal education and the peculiarly American preoccupation with Adventism and the careful searching the Bible for signs.

It is truly perverse, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been discouraged from further and higher education, yet they have made book publication and book study their main activity. Since they have long rejected education as a legitimate route for their lives, they have been robbed of what might truly inform their thinking and ended with an ugly literalism in all they publish, read, and say. This is no better illustrated than by their ‘translation’ of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

‘This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3, NWT, Revised, 1984, emphasis added)…read more →