“The Watchtower”—a Bible Study Aid
WHY do we need The Watchtower? Because The Watchtower helps us to understand the Bible. And why should we want to understand the Bible? Because the Bible is the infallible guide furnished us by a loving and wise Creator.
God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Ps. 119:105) Without it we would walk in darkness. (Isa. 8:20, 21; Matt. 15:1-14) It is as a lamp shining in a dark place to which we do well to take heed until the day dawns and the daystar rises. (2 Pet. 1:19-21, NW) As Paul the apostle expresses it: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 3:16, 17, NW.
God’s Word means not only light for us but also life. “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ,” said Jesus in his prayer on the night of his betrayal. He told his disciples, “The sayings that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life,” which sayings have been recorded in the Bible. He well knew that “man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; John 6:63; 17:3, NW) Even to Adam that truth was brought home, for although he had sufficient of the necessities to sustain life, yet eventually, after he had lived for 930 years, he died because of ignoring God’s Word.—Gen. 3:17-19; 5:5.
God’s Word means life and light to us, however, only if we exercise faith. (Matt. 9:29) “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—Heb. 11:6, NW.
Since today, more than ever before, attacks are being made upon the Bible’s authenticity, its principles and its wisdom, it becomes increasingly important that through study of the Bible we become equipped with a large shield of faith to ward off all such attacks, attacks made not only by its avowed enemies, but also by its professed friends. And with more than 250 different sects claiming to be Christian in the United States alone, we must study our Bibles if we would be able to give a satisfactory answer to everyone that demands of us a reason for the hope that is in us. (1 Pet. 3:15, NW) As the wise man expressed it: “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer.”—Prov. 15:28, AS.
Further, as moral conditions go from bad to worse it becomes ever more difficult to hold on to the righteous principles of God, which should govern our daily lives. To continually strengthen our resolves to do what is right, to have God’s love for righteousness and his hatred for wickedness, we must keep on thinking God’s thoughts, keep on renewing our minds and making over our personalities by means of the truth.—Matt. 16:23; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:9, 10, NW.
No question about it, if we would gain life we must study the Bible. But does that in itself mean that we need The Watchtower? Cannot we individually go to the Bible and gain all the knowledge and understanding necessary? Can we? At Acts, chapter 8, we read of an official of Queen Candace, an Ethiopian eunuch, who went directly to his Bible, but when he was asked by the disciple Philip, “Do you really know what you are reading aloud?” what was his answer? “Really how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?” He realized his need of help. And Philip, having been guided by others in the first place, was equipped to give this Ethiopian eunuch the guidance he needed.—Acts 8:27-38, NW.
Note also the two on the way to Emmaus on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. They must have been familiar with God’s Word or Jesus would not have chided them for being ‘slow in heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken,’ but they did not understand. It took Jesus’ explanation of what they were already familiar with to cause them to see how the Scriptures foretold the Messiah’s sufferings and death. No wonder they afterward exclaimed: “Were not our hearts burning as he was speaking to us on the road, as he was fully opening up the Scriptures to us?”—Luke 24:13-32, NW.
Cornelius undoubtedly was acquainted with God’s Word, but only with Peter’s help did he recognize Christ Jesus as the Messiah. Apollos, although “aglow with the spirit,” needed help to understand “the way of God more correctly.” And the disciples at Ephesus had a very inadequate conception of Christianity until Paul enlightened them.—Acts, chapter 10; Ac 18:25, 26; 19:1-7, NW.
WHY “THE WATCHTOWER”?
Since it is apparent that we do need help to understand the Bible, why, of all the religious literature published, should we look to The Watchtower for this help? First of all, because it adheres strictly to the Bible; it lets “God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” (Rom. 3:4, NW) It is not restricted by any creeds or traditions of men, but stands solely and solidly on the Scriptures. It does not bow down to, nor does it claim to speak for, a magisterium that assumes an authority above that of God’s Word. Even as Jesus did, it continually supports its statements and explanations with “It is written.” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:24, 31, NW) And even as Jehovah invites his earthly creatures, so The Watchtower invites all its readers: “Come now, and let us reason together.”—Isa. 1:18, AS.
It does not support any of the political ideologies of the various blocs of the nations, but gives its allegiance solely to the kingdom of God. It does not preach brotherly love in times of peace and fratricide when nationalistic passions are aroused in time of war. It keeps itself unspotted from the world even as Jesus did.—John 18:36; Jas. 1:27.
The Watchtower, not being bound by any creed, is able to progress with the increasing light. It appreciates that “the path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, going on and brightening, unto meridian day.” (Prov. 4:18, Ro) When clearer light shines on the Scriptures as a result of fulfillment of prophecy or greater research, it is not too proud to give to its readers the benefit of the improved understanding of God’s will and purposes.
To help us to understand the Bible, The Watchtower uses the topical method. By this method all the information on a certain subject contained in all the sixty-six books of the Bible is brought together and compiled in a logical and orderly manner. This is necessary because the Bible, being largely historical, is written in a running style, and therefore, with few exceptions, does not treat comprehensively any one teaching at one place. This is also true because many of the false teachings that now confuse professed Christians were unknown among the servants of Jehovah in times past; the truth was taken for granted. In rounding out this topical method of study The Watchtower takes note of the meaning of the words in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages, and it also takes into consideration the context of the texts it cites to prove a point.
By making use of such a topical arrangement The Watchtower is not skipping around, trying to find a text to prove a pet theory or preconceived opinion, but is letting the Bible as a whole indicate God’s mind on a subject. Incidentally, this method is not new with The Watchtower, but is, in effect, the method used by Jesus in his sermon on the mount, the method Peter used on the day of Pentecost, and the method Paul used time and again in his letters. For examples please see: Matthew 5:21-38; Acts 2:14-28; Romans 15:7-13; Hebrews 1:5-14.
STUDY “THE WATCHTOWER”
There seems to be a tendency on the part of some of the readers of The Watchtower to peruse merely the main article of each issue, including perhaps the questions from readers. This is a mistake. The Watchtower deals with Bible teaching or doctrine, Bible prophecy, Christian conduct, Bible history and current missionary activity. Only by giving careful consideration to all its contents, including its so-called secondary articles, can we hope to get a rounded-out Scriptural education and keep up to date with the advancing light.
Each issue of The Watchtower may be likened to a well-balanced and well-prepared meal. Nutritionists tell us that the body needs proteins, starches, minerals and vitamins, and a rounded-out meal will provide all these. It would be a mistake to ignore any one of these. In the same way we should not ignore any of the courses of our spiritual meal. And just as we would not think of rushing through a natural meal but would take time to enjoy it, so we should also not rush through our spiritual meals.
Nor is mere reading of The Watchtower enough. Much of it, particularly the main or study articles with questions, present complex and weighty truths, often entirely new and different from anything that has been published previously, which cannot be fully understood and appreciated by just one reading. Such intellectual or spiritual fare requires thorough mastication, that is, concentration, meditation and reflection. To make such truths and arguments our own we must be convinced of their Scripturalness, their reasonableness, their factualness. That requires going over the material several times, not just once.
Besides, we want to remember as much as possible, for our purpose in acquiring these truths is not just for our own enjoyment but to give us something that we can pass on to others. And only if we have a point clearly in mind shall we be able to explain it to others; another reason for our studying The Watchtower thoroughly.
Further, The Watchtower contains much admonition and instruction regarding Christian conduct and activity. To gain the full impact of such we must go over it again and again. Unless we are moved to action we are like the foolish man that built his house upon the sand. Then ours would be a dead faith.—Matt. 7:26, 27; Jas. 2:14-26, NW.
HOW TO STUDY “THE WATCHTOWER”
As Christians, study of the Bible, with the help of Bible aids, is not discretionary but mandatory, for the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy apply to each one of us: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” (2 Tim. 2:15, NW) If we want life we must gain God’s approval, and if we want God’s approval we must handle the Word of God aright, and to do that we must study. How can we best study the Bible with the aid of The Watchtower?
First of all, we recognize that it takes time to study, so we must buy out time for regular and unhurried study. If we have a very full schedule we might find fifteen or thirty minutes daily the first thing in the morning, or right after breakfast or at some other convenient time of day. (Eph. 5:16) Otherwise it would be well to budget at least one evening a week for our own private study. Nor should we overlook the fact that the busy and alert minister will take advantage of opportunities to study when traveling, even as he is alert to opportunities for incidental preaching.
To properly study The Watchtower we must approach it with the right heart attitude. While we are commanded, “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is right,” let us not overlook the fact that we are also admonished, “Do not treat prophesyings with contempt.” (1 Thess. 5:20, 21, NW) Having found, time and again, that The Watchtower adheres faithfully to God’s Word, we have no grounds for approaching a study of it with suspicion, but rather we should approach it with a sincere desire to understand what God has provided for us through its pages, ever ready to “accept with mildness the implanting of the word which is able to save [our] souls.”—Jas. 1:21, NW.
The Beroeans set us a good example in this. True, they made certain that what Paul told them was based on the Scriptures; but did that mean that they listened to Paul with a skeptical, critical or antagonistic spirit? Not at all. Rather, we are told that they “received the word with the greatest readiness of mind.”—Acts 17:11, NW.
Having the right heart attitude toward the material we are to study, we should next make sure that we dismiss all matters not germane to our study. We cannot expect to receive much benefit from our study if we have our minds on something else; some pleasant or unpleasant experience we just had or which we expect to meet up with after our study. Having set aside time for the study of The Watchtower, let us give it our undivided attention; as Paul expresses it, “pay more than the usual attention to the things” we are studying. Otherwise they will not impress themselves deeply enough on our subconscious minds so that we can recall them at will.—Heb. 2:1, NW.
Note the title and the caption text, if there is one, also the relationship between the two. As you read note not only what is presented, but how. Reflect, note how the argument is being developed. Something new? or differently expressed than before? Look up the texts cited but not quoted; note their application. Do you appreciate what light they throw on the theme under discussion? You may want to underscore main points, or the exact answers to the questions, if the article has questions. Can you express the answer in your own words? If supporting ideas, texts or facts come to mind, why not jot them down in the margin for use at the congregational study?
In an article of any length there usually are subheadings, denoting a change in thought or another aspect of the main theme. Note how the succeeding paragraphs relate to it. After you have studied an article or that part scheduled for the coming congregational study, reflect. What were the main points, the new points, the points particularly helpful to me? Go over the study questions again; as you read them does the answer to each one immediately come to mind? Remember, one of the best aids to study is review.
Studying The Watchtower with another has much to recommend itself. Studying with another lightens the labor of concentration, increases the joy, makes for better understanding, as well as improved ability to express oneself in the congregational study of The Watchtower. Something for members of a family to consider.
Congregational study of The Watchtower? Yes, each week, at some fourteen thousand Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s witnesses an hour is set aside, usually on Sunday afternoon or evening, for the study of the Bible with the help of The Watchtower. It is not enough to study privately or with other members of our family. We gain more from each lesson if we hear what others have to say in answer to its questions; they may have a different, more correct or more complete understanding of it than we do. And not only can we receive help at such a study but we can also give help to others. They need what we can give, we need what they can give. No individual member of the Christian congregation can say to another, “I have no need of you.”—1 Cor. 12:19-22, NW.
A knowledge and understanding of the Bible means light and life. To gain that knowledge and understanding we need help. The Watchtower is the pre-eminent Bible study aid. Let us show our appreciation of it by carefully reading it from cover to cover, by thoroughly studying its main articles in private or with our families, and then by regularly coming together for congregational study where we not only gain further help but are able to help our fellow Christian ministers.