Questions From Readers
● Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Does this mean that we as Christians should not be taking up time attending funerals?—L. S., Germany.
The record at Matthew 8:21, 22 (NW) is: “Then another of the disciples said to him: ‘Master, permit me first to leave and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him: ‘Keep following me, and let the dead bury their dead.’” These words do not militate against anyone’s attending a funeral. The man here addressed had said to Jesus that he wanted to go and bury his father, but that did not mean that the man’s father was dead already, for if his father had been dead at the moment the man would have been there at the bier and not listening to Jesus. But the man meant that his father was old and sooner or later would die; and so the man wanted to postpone following Jesus until after he had taken care of his father until death and could receive his father’s dying blessing and then fulfill his father’s wish to have his son at the deathbed close his eyes piously after death ensued. This would have delayed the man’s following Jesus indefinitely and hence Jesus said to let the dead bury their dead. The man’s relatives were evidently not following Jesus on the way to life and hence were dead spiritually and could be left to bury the man’s father when he died. But when dedicated Christians today who are on the way of life and out from under the world’s condemnation have a death in the family and have a funeral, can you rightfully say that here is a case of the “dead” (spiritually) burying the dead? No. The man in the Biblical case wanted to go home to bury his father and not to give a witness by a funeral sermon.
But dedicated Christians arrange for a witness to the truth at the funeral. This is taking advantage of an opportunity. Jesus went to the home of Jairus where funeral ceremonies were being conducted over his dead daughter, and raised her. He also approached the funeral procession of the dead son of the widow of Nain and raised the boy from the dead. Peter went to the funeral of Dorcas of Joppa, where he raised her from the dead. (Mark 5:22-24, 35-42; Luke 7:11-15; 8:41, 42, 49-55; Acts 9:36-41) These funeral occasions afforded great opportunities for a witness concerning the Kingdom and Messiah, and that is what funeral occasions are being used for by many of Jehovah’s witnesses in these days, and extensive witnesses are being given both by the funeral discourser and by other brothers in attendance at such funerals.
What about attendance at a funeral conducted by a clergyman of one of the many false religions? We do not advocate it as a general practice, for such a practice would be very unwise. However, there may be circumstances when those in the truth would attend such a funeral, and could do so without being censured for it. Close relatives, who for reasons beyond their control feel obliged to go to a church building of some false religion to see their loved one buried, go there to see the funeral and perhaps comfort others in attendance. They do not go there to practice false worship, if they are in the truth. It is the same as in the apostle Paul’s day in the case of a man who went into an idol’s temple for something to eat. He goes in there to get a meal, but not to worship. (1 Cor. 8:7-10, NW) Some other brother’s conscience would not be strong enough to permit him to do this, and his weak conscience would take offense if he saw his Christian brother in such a place for just a meal. So while we do not advocate attendance at clergy-conducted funerals, it is not within our province to criticize or condemn, but we will let God judge our brother who according to his conscience may feel obligated to attend functions under clergy officiation.
● On what basis could there be a distinction between clean and unclean animals before the Noachian flood, before man ate meat, before the Mosaic law was given?—E. M., Nigeria.
That such a distinction was made is shown by Genesis 7:2: “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.” The basis of this distinction could hardly be on the grounds of what could be eaten and what could not, for prior to the Flood flesh was not eaten; it was only after the Deluge that animal flesh was added to vegetation as a source of food supply. And even then there were no limitations as to what animals man might eat, but all were to be meat for him, according to his choice. (Gen. 1:29, 30; 9:2-4) As far as eating was concerned, the designations “clean” and “unclean” came into existence with the Mosaic law, and ended with it. (Acts 10:9-16) Apparently the basis of the distinction prior to the Mosaic law was what was suitable to sacrifice in worship of Jehovah. It seems that Abel knew of the appropriateness of animal sacrifice. The animals he is reported using for that purpose proved to be “clean” ones. That Noah had this distinction in mind as pertaining to sacrifice and not eating is shown by his action as soon as he left the ark after the Flood: “And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”—Gen. 8:20.
● The Watchtower, February 1, 1952, quoted the text about Abel’s offering in sacrifice to Jehovah “the female firstlings of his flock”. Why did Abel offer in sacrifice a female sheep, when ordinarily the requirement was for a male animal?—W. F., Massachusetts.
The complete quotation in The Watchtower was of Genesis 4:3-7, according to Young’s translation. This translation was chosen, not for its rendering of Ge 4 verse 4 on which the question is based, but for the idea this translation allows at Ge 4 verse 7, namely, that it was a sin-offering that was lying at Cain’s door and that if he would avail himself of it he could offer an acceptable sacrifice to God the same as Abel did, that is, a bloody one. However, when Young renders the Hebrew expression in Ge 4 verse 4 as “female firstlings” he is not correct. It is true the word “firstlings” in Hebrew here has the feminine form, but that does not mean it designates female firstborn of animals. In Hebrew the firstborn of humans is rendered in the masculine gender, but in animals it is rendered in the feminine gender, and the firstfruits of plants take on a still different form of the root word. It does not mean that all animal firstborn are females, no more than it means all human firstborn are males. So on this particular point other translators are correct in rendering Genesis 4:4 as merely “firstlings” and designating no gender in the English translation. So the question as to why Abel sacrificed “female” firstlings becomes without basis, for when the account is correctly translated it does not say that he did so.