Questions From Readers
● Does the Watch Tower Society accept challenges to debate publicly the Scripturalness of various religious teachings?—J. P., United States.
Christ Jesus is recommended as “leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” The methods he used to preach did not include debates. When in the course of events he was in the presence of the opposing religious leaders of his time he did enter into discussions with them, refuting their falsehoods and defending and preaching the truth of Jehovah’s Word. But he did not prearrange such meetings or formally assemble for such. In fact, relative to dealing with the false religious leaders he instructed his disciples: “Let them be. Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Jesus set an example of preaching to assembled groups in public places, but the principal instruction he gave his disciples pertained to preaching at the doors of the people. Taking this as the model, Jehovah’s witnesses today concentrate on this method of preaching, at the same time using the additional methods of Jesus and the apostles.—1 Pet. 2:21; Matt. 15:14; 10:5-15; Acts 5:42; 20:20, NW.
Usually those wanting to debate are more interested in getting attention and publicity than they are in presenting the truth. It is not necessarily the truth that is acclaimed victorious by those who listen to a debate. Crowds are not always reasonable. They are swayed by bombastic oratory and showy eloquence aimed at the emotions rather than the mind. In a debate as much error as truth is presented, and by playing upon emotions and personal prejudices the final conclusions of many hearers may often favor the error. In the tense climate of a debate reason and logic are frequently ignored, except by one who has the spirit of Jehovah. A legally or judicially trained mind can separate the emotion from the fact and evaluate properly, but audiences generally are not so discerning. A more calm atmosphere is needed for unbiased thinking. Each side usually thinks it has won, and often some who were neutral or undecided find themselves more confused after the debating is over.
To determine the Scripturalness of a teaching we must go to the Bible and calmly weigh all the texts bearing on the point under consideration. The ideal place to do this is in a home, with the two or few involved sitting at a table with open Bibles, dispassionately considering the evidence to “make sure of all things; hold fast to what is right.” (1 Thess. 5:21, NW) If a person is in doubt as to a doctrine, he can have a minister from a religion that believes it come to his home and discuss it. The next evening he can have a minister from a group that says it is false. Or he may even wish to have a minister from each group there the same evening and ask questions and hear the discussion. Thus the truth will be more likely to get calm and careful attention, as also will the falsehood. Sincere ones honestly searching for the truth will see the advantage of this method, whereas those interested more in exciting controversy and grabbing publicity will clamor for the emotional, oratorical debate.
Christians do not debate with dissenters in their own congregation, knowing it can deteriorate into degrading bickering and quarreling: “Now I exhort you, brothers, to keep your eye on those who create divisions and causes for stumbling contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and avoid them.” Christians are also counseled: “Further, turn down foolish and speculative questionings, knowing they produce fights. But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be tactful toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed, as perhaps God may give them repentance leading to an accurate knowledge of truth, and they may come back to their proper senses out from the snare of the Devil, seeing that they have been caught alive by him for the will of that one.” (Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 2:23-26, NW) Regardless of prior promises to the contrary, debates may lose restraint and mildness on the part of those not having the spirit of Jehovah and may degenerate into unbecoming quarreling and strife and emotionalism by such.
Hence the Watch Tower Society does not now adopt debating as a means of preaching the good news of the Kingdom. One of its representatives may be a guest speaker before a different denominational group, when invited, and may entertain questions afterward; but it is understood beforehand the session is not a debate and will not be allowed to deteriorate into such. The glorious good news deserves a dignified presentation, without a disorderly clamor by the opposers: “For God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace.”—1 Cor. 14:26-33, NW.
● The traditional picture of Jesus shows him with long hair and beard, but the Watch Tower publications illustrate him as beardless and with short hair. Which is correct?—M. H., United States.
The later Watch Tower publications show Jesus as beardless and with short hair because he is shown that way in representations of him that are older than the traditional effeminate-looking picture. In an ancient beaker or cup found at Antioch, Syria, which purports to represent Jesus and his disciples at the Memorial supper, Jesus is engraved thereon as a beardless young man while some of his disciples are pictured with beards. For a photograph of this see Harper’s Bible Dictionary, page 22, in the midst of the article “Antioch, the Chalice of.” (M. S. and J. L. Miller, 1952) The scholarly book by Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past, tells of second-century Christian paintings found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, in the room Cappella Greca, and states:
“The painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus is now almost effaced but it is still possible to recognize that on one side is depicted a small building containing a mummy and on the other, the sister of Lazarus standing with arms upraised. In the middle Christ is shown, facing toward the tomb and with the right hand uplifted in a gesture of speech. He is represented in the Roman type, and is dressed in tunic and pallium, the left hand holding the garment. He is youthful and beardless, with short hair and large eyes. . . . The picture is of great interest since it is the oldest representation of Jesus that is preserved anywhere.”—Page 371.
Further on this book tells of the painting of the Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) found in the house church in the excavated ancient settlement of Dura in the Syrian desert, and states: “The almost destroyed painting of Christ in the Catacomb of Priscilla at Rome probably belongs, as we have seen, to the middle of the second century. The painting at Dura is dated even more definitely in the first part of the third century. In both pictures Christ is shown as a young and beardless man with short hair and wearing the ordinary costume of the day. These and similar portrayals are the earliest type of Christ as far as is now known in early Christian art. Later in the third century Christ appears still as youthful but with long, curly hair, and from the fourth century on the more familiar bearded type appears.”—Pages 408, 409.
As recently as October 7, 1949, the new east window of Stepney Parish Church, the mother church of East London, England, was unveiled by the Earl of Athlone. The photograph of this church window, as published in “The Illustrated London News,” October 1, 1949, shows a cross with a young man nailed to it, beardless and with short hair, to represent “Christ crucified, but triumphant.”
Since the Bible does not describe Jesus’ facial appearance or indicate he had a beard of length, we follow the oldest archaeological evidence rather than the later traditional view that makes Jesus appear effeminate and sallow and sanctimonious. Some use Isaiah 50:6 as proof that Jesus had a beard: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” This may have been literally fulfilled in a typical way upon Isaiah, foreshadowing the shameful insults and reproaches to be heaped upon the servant class, the primary one of whom is Christ Jesus. Each one of the servant class suffers reproaches, but not necessarily all of the ones here specified. The record shows Jesus was whipped, slapped and spat on, but no mention is made of beard-plucking. If it had happened why would it not have been named along with the other abuses and insults? (Matt. 27:26; Mark 14:65, NW) In fact, the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 50:6 does not mention the cheeks’ being plucked of hair, but as being slapped instead: “I gave my back to scourges, and my cheeks to blows; and I turned not away my face from the shame of spitting.” The record in the Gospels states all this did literally happen to Jesus.