This is a slightly edited, revised reprint of an article previously published on the original e-watchman site in 2007.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God is directly responsible for gradually enlightening the Watchtower Society over the course of many decades, professedly in fulfillment of numerous prophecies. But is that really the case? This commentary will attempt to shed some light on that question. Typifying the “new light” teaching, the May 15th, 1995, Watchtower carried a two-part study article recounting instances in the history of the Society when light flashed up, so-to-speak. For example, in regards to celebrating Christmas, the Watchtower said:
“Shortly thereafter, a flash of light caused the Bible Students to stop celebrating Christmas. Before that time Christmas had always been celebrated by the Bible Students worldwide, and its celebration at Brooklyn headquarters was a very festive occasion. But then it was discerned that the observance of December 25 was actually pagan and was chosen by apostate Christendom to make it easier to convert pagans.”
“Shortly thereafter” is in reference to the year 1926. But was the enlightenment of the International Bible Students regarding the pagan origins of Christmas really the result of a sudden flash of divine light? Well, considering that Alexander Hislop had published his groundbreaking book, The Two Babylons, approximately 75 years prior to the time the Bible Students suddenly discerned the truth about Christmas, in which Hislop painstakingly revealed the Babylonish character of Christmas, the question is: Why did it take the Bible Students so long to ‘discern’ that the observance of December 25th was actually pagan?’
Furthermore, the reasoning the Watchtower Society uses in discussing the pagan character of the holiday is the exact same reasoning Hislop presented in 1858; yet, the Society claims to have received a great flash of light in the 1920’s. Since the Watchtower’s teaching is virtually identical to that presented in The Two Babylons, does this mean that Hislop had previously been blessed with a flash of divine light too? If not, why not? Surely, if honesty and modesty were to prevail at 25 Columbia Heights, the spokesmen for Watchtower Society would acknowledge that the “flash of light” they boast of having received was merely a result of finally accepting the truth Alexander Hislop had long-before published.
The same pattern of dishonesty is evident in other ways. For instance, the same study article says of the cross:
“For many years the Bible Students made the cross prominent as a symbol of Christianity. They even had a “cross-and-crown” pin… For decades this symbol also appeared on the cover of the Watch Tower magazine. The book Riches, published by the Society in 1936, made clear that Jesus Christ was executed, not on a cross, but on an upright pole, or stake.”
The article goes in to mention that the cross is connected with the false god, Tammuz. However, many years before light flashed up for Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning the cross, Alexander Hislop had already published the cross-Tammuz connection. (See chapter Sign of the Cross) Again, why did it take the Watchtower Society decades to accept the truth? And why do they now pretend to have freshly revealed the truth and give no credit to Alexander Hislop for the valuable contribution he made?
In one instance, the Watchtower Society claims to have received new light that had previously gone dim. This is in regards to Bethel’s understanding of Romans 13:1. The May 15th, 1995, Watchtower says:
“A bright flash of light was seen in 1962 in connection with Romans 13:1…The early Bible Students understood that “the higher powers” mentioned there referred to worldly authorities. They took this scripture to mean that if a Christian was drafted in wartime, he would be obligated to put on a uniform, shoulder a gun, and go to the front, to the trenches. It was felt that since a Christian could not kill a fellow human, he would be compelled to fire his gun into the air if worst came to worst. The Watchtower of November 15 and of December 1, 1962, shed clear light on the subject…”
If the early International Bible Students understood who the “higher powers” were, why was it necessary for the Society to “shed clear light on the subject” in 1962? The reason is because J.F. Rutherford overturned the Bible Student’s understanding. Commenting on Romans 13:1 in the July 1st, 1931, Watchtower, Rutherford said:
“Until quite recently God’s people understood…that this scripture has reference to worldly ruling powers. Those who have withdrawn from the Society still hold this wrongful view. Now, however, the faithful remnant clearly see that this scripture has no reference to any part of Satan’s organization but does apply exclusively to God’s arrangement in his organization for his own people. Those who refuse to see this truth and who oppose the statement of The Watch Tower concerning it have seized upon such as an excuse and have dropped out and have gone into the dark.”
Little surprise that the 1995 article did not explain what had happened so as to necessitate a late-coming flash of recycled light in 1962. Although the International Bible Students under Pastor Russell clearly did not understand the principle of relative subjection, at least they properly understood that the higher powers were the secular governments. Incredibly, though, sometime in the late 1920’s, J.F. Rutherford insisted that the higher powers that were placed in their relative positions of authority were actually Jehovah and Jesus. Tragically, evidently the Society’s 2nd president stumbled a significant number of Bible Students by his bizarre reinterpretation of Romans 13:1; and as is so typical of the Watchtower Society to this day, he blamed those who were stumbled for not accepting his nonsensical teaching – characterizing them as going off into the darkness.
Compounding yesteryear’s error, instead of facing up to the unseemliness of Rutherford’s folly, the Watchtower now boasts of having received yet another heavenly flash of light that restored what the Bible Students had originally believed many years ago, before J.F. Rutherford repudiated it.
There are numerous other examples the Watchtower gives of their periodic flashes of spiritual light; things such as organizational arrangements, operational refinements and trivial changes in terminology. For example, even though there is no scriptural precedent for it the Society claims that the establishment of a half dozen committees in 1976 was a result of a revelation of divine light.
NEW LIGHT ON TOBACCO?
The Society claims that the ban on tobacco use was a result of a flash of divine light too. Though the Watchtower had always discouraged the use of tobacco as the unclean habit it is and relatively few of Jehovah’s Witnesses smoked, in 1973, the Watchtower instituted a policy under the guise of new light to disfellowship tobacco users from the congregation. In that year it also prohibited anyone from being baptized who smoked. Essentially, the Watchtower’s new light classed even the casual smoker in the same category as practicing fornicators, greedy persons, idolaters, revilers, drunkards and extortioners, which were the sorts of persons the inspired apostle said, should be removed from the congregation. Paul, however, exhorted Christians practicing uncleanness to cleanse themselves of defilements. Nowhere did the apostles give the command to remove practicers of unclean habits from the congregation. It would appear that the Watchtower’s new light on smoking goes “beyond the things written” in the Holy Scriptures. Worse, though, is Bethel’s double-dealing. As stated, up until 1973 Bethel did not disallow smokers from becoming baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So, smokers back then were encouraged to become part of the congregation. They undoubtedly established friendships within the congregations. Some got married and had children, and so forth. Then, with their flash of new light, the Watchtower Society overturned what it had previously promoted. But as everyone must surely know, tobacco addiction is extremely difficult to kick. The Society may imagine it was being lenient by giving smokers six months to quit. But for those who could not find the will to kick the habit the cost was extreme – loss of family and friends and ostracism from the Jehovah’s Witnesses community that had previously welcomed them in spite of their tobacco use – all due to Bethel’s flash of light.
It is to be expected that any organization that has been in existence as long as the Watchtower Society has been is going to change and evolve over the years, so new understanding is to be expected; especially from an organization that is ostensibly devoted to ongoing Bible research, like the Watchtower Society. But given the Society’s awkward and painful lurchings and gropings for truth, the real question is this: Are these aforementioned changes really the result of a flash of divine light, as the Watchtower claims?
As regards Christmas and the cross, it seems to be more a case of ignorance, indifference and even organizational intransigence at the root of why the Watchtower ignored the work of Alexander Hislop for so long. After all, the Watchtower claims that Christ came to cleanse his Father’s spiritual temple in 1918-1919. But if that is the case, why then did the Lord allow his people to continue on for more than a decade celebrating the pagan feast of the Saturnalia and exalting the cross of Tammuz as a symbol of Christianity? How can it be said that Christ cleansed the organization? Is the Lord of heaven and earth really so impotent and careless?
As for the Watchtower Society’s understanding of Romans 13:1, how reasonable is it that if Christ really returned in 1914 he would first cause the Bible Students to have the correct view, then allow Rutherford to muddle the picture, only to cause light to flash up again to revert to a teaching that had been previously held 50 years prior? And this debacle took place after the supposed enlightening presence of Christ arose like the dawning of the Daystar?
Honestly, the context of the 13th chapter of Romans makes it clear that the superior authorities are the secular rulers and not Jehovah and Jesus. Why credit Jehovah with showering down divine light upon the Watchtower when any spirit-led Bible reader with common sense can derive the correct understanding?
And when the Society establishes institutions and policies for which there is no clear scriptural support, such as numerous director committees; or when a committee of men decrees that smokers should be disfellowshipped and disallowed from being baptized, is it really honest to hale these corporate decisions of men as great flashes of divine light?
Could it be that the Society is more interested in establishing and maintaining a mythos for the purpose of transforming the organization into a gleaming idol? Ultimately we have to ask: Is it really God’s purpose to gradually enlighten his people in such a helter-skelter manner over decades of time? Do the prophetic Scriptures have anything to say in this matter? They most certainly do.
First, though, it must be realized that the Proverbs and Psalms cited by the Society are not prophecies as such. They are simply stating a principle related to God’s dealings with his servants in general.
While there is no question that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been enlightened on many vital doctrinal truths it should also be appreciated that much of the so-called flash of enlightenment came about as a result of simply studying the Bible and researching reference material related to the Bible, such as the work of Alexander Hislop and others.
The same is true of other basic truths Jehovah’s Witnesses hold dear. The truth is, many individuals and scattered groups prior to the Bible Students rejected the blasphemous doctrines of the Trinity, the immortal soul and hellfire. Because the Bible contains the truth, any reasonably competent and determined searcher could come to a basic knowledge of the truth. For instance, the famed scientist, Isaac Newton, was also an avid student of the Bible and through his own research in the Scriptures he determined the “Trinity was a pious fraud.”
WHAT DO THE PROPHECIES STATE AS REGARDS NEW LIGHT?
But returning to the question, what do the prophecies state regarding the light getting brighter? Is the revelation of Jesus Christ accomplished through a gradual dawning spanning nearly a century, interspersed with sporadic flashes of light, or is it brought about by means of a sudden comprehensive revelation of hidden truth? The prophecies themselves indicate it is the latter.
First, consider the pattern established by Christ’s dealings with his apostles. For three and a half years Christ gathered and taught his disciples. Prior to their discipleship under Jesus, they had been tutored by the Law. So, they had undoubtedly acquired much knowledge and understanding of God’s dealings and purposes. However, as regards the deep things of prophecy related to the Messiah himself the disciples remained ignorant up to the very moment Jesus was impaled and buried. It was only after Jesus was resurrected that their minds were miraculously opened to perceive the deeper truth. It was then that Jesus appeared to them and said: “O senseless ones and slow in heart to believe on all the things the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” The scripture goes on to say: “And commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:25-27 (For a fuller discussion of the scripture see the chapter Who Is Blind?)
Although there were many things the apostles did not understand even after the resurrected Christ had revealed himself and interpreted the prophecies for them, the incident, nonetheless, establishes a pattern for the ultimate revelation of Christ during his parousia. That is also established in the prophecies themselves. Consider one example, such as the prophecy of Isaiah:
“And therefore Jehovah will keep in expectation of showing you favor, and therefore he will rise up to show you mercy. For Jehovah is a God of judgment. Happy are all those keeping in expectation of him. When the very people in Zion will dwell in Jerusalem, you will by no means weep. He will without fail show you favor at the sound of your outcry; as soon as he hears it he will actually answer you. And Jehovah will certainly give you people bread in the form of distress and water in the form of oppression; yet your Grand Instructor will no longer hide himself, and your eyes must become eyes seeing your Grand Instructor. And your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people,’ in case you people should go to the right or in case you should go to the left.” – Isaiah 30:18-21
According to the Watchtower, Jehovah’s day of judgment commenced way back in 1918-19. Inarguably, though, the need remains for Jehovah’s Witnesses to ‘keep in expectation of him.’ The Society’s commentary on Isaiah asserts that the voice of the Grand Instructor is heard via the Bible and publications of the Watchtower. Specifically, the Society wrote:
“Jehovah is the “Grand Instructor.” He has no equal as a teacher. How, though, can people ‘see’ and “hear” him? Jehovah reveals himself through his prophets, whose words are recorded in the Bible. (Amos 3:6, 7) Today, when faithful worshipers read the Bible, it is as if God’s fatherly voice is telling them the way to go and urging them to readjust their course of conduct so as to walk in it. Each Christian should listen carefully as Jehovah speaks through the pages of the Bible and through Bible-based publications provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.”
If the Watchtower Society interpretation of the prophecy is true, though, and the voice of our Grand Instructor is presently projected “through the pages of the Bible and through Bible-based publications provided by the faithful and discreet slave,” in what sense then has God hidden himself? Christians have always had the Bible, yet the prophecy calls for God to hide until such time as he reveals himself during a time of distress and oppression. Otherwise, why does God exhort his people to “keep in expectation” of his mercy and favor? The prophecy goes on to say:
“And you people must defile the overlaying of your graven images of silver and the close-fitting covering of your molten statue of gold. You will scatter them. Like a menstruating woman, you will say to it: ‘Mere dirt!’ And he will certainly give the rain for your seed with which you sow the ground, and as the produce of the ground bread, which must become fat and oily. Your livestock will graze in that day in a spacious pasture.
And the cattle and the full-grown asses cultivating the ground will eat fodder seasoned with sorrel, which was winnowed with the shovel and with the fork. And upon every high mountain and upon every elevated hill there must come to be streams, water ditches, in the day of the big slaughter when the towers fall. And the light of the full moon must become as the light of the glowing sun; and the very light of the glowing sun will become seven times as much, like the light of seven days, in the day that Jehovah binds up the breakdown of his people and heals even the severe wound resulting from the stroke by him.”
Commenting on the span of verses above, the Watchtower says:
“What a thrilling climax to this brilliant prophecy! The glory of God will shine forth in all its splendor. The blessings in store for God’s faithful worshipers will exceed vastly—sevenfold—anything that they have experienced before.”
Obviously, Bethel and Jehovah’s Witnesses have no idea what is in store from Jehovah. The prophecy of Isaiah foretells that the sevenfold blessings only come about in the aftermath of the breakdown of God’s people and the severe wounding of them by the stern disciplinary hand of God; as punishment for their ignorance, arrogance and organizational idolatry.
Although the Society has no comment in their commentary on Isaiah, the light of the moon becoming like the light of the sun and the light of the sun becoming like the light of seven days is manifestly intended to illustrate the contrast between the knowledge of God before and after the judgment. And what a contrast! Imagine the soft illumination reflected from the moon becoming as bright as the sun itself; or the light of one sunny day becoming as intense as the light of seven days!
Of course the prophecy is illustrating the increase of spiritual light as a result of the revelations of the Grand Instructor. The prophecy is foretelling that the full light of truth will flash up for God’s people during the tribulation upon the holy place, expressed in Isaiah as – “in the day of the big slaughter when the towers fall.” Furthermore, the prophecy makes clear that the grand enlightenment comes about in a relatively short period of time – “in that day.”
There are other prophecies that could be brought to bear here, but the one should suffice to make the point that the Watchtower Society’s new light flashings are a pale flickering compared to the truth yet to be revealed. Happily, our Grand Instructor is fully capable and determined to reveal himself in his own time and way without the help of committees of men, their institutions and policies, or their “Bible-based publications.”