Theocratic Organization Amidst Democracies and Communism
“The god [The·osʹ, Greek] of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong. To him be the might [kraʹtos, Greek] forever.”—1 Pet. 5:10, 11.
1, 2. (a) Is the word Theocracy a new word for today? (b) Who coined the word, and how did he explain it?
IT MAY be a new word for many readers—this word Theocracy, but it is at least nineteen hundred years old. Yes, it was used in the first century of our Common Era, and at that time it seemed to be a strange word.
2 The word was coined by a historian, namely, Flavius Josephus of Jerusalem. In answer to accusations leveled against his people, Josephus wrote his work, in two volumes, entitled “Against Apion.” In volume 2, paragraph 45, he refers to “Moses, our excellent legislator,” and in paragraph 52 he introduces the new word, in the course of these words written in Greek: “Several nations have their several forms of government, and their diversities of laws. Some governments are committed to a single person, others to the people. Our legislator had no regard to any of these forms, but ordained a government, that, by a strained expression, may be termed a Theocracy [the·o·kra·tiʹa, Greek], or Holy Commonwealth, in ascribing all authority and power to God, and persuading the people to regard him as the author of all the good things that were enjoyed either in common by all mankind, or by each individual in particular. To him he directs us to fly for succour in our distresses, as he hears our prayers, and searches into the very secrets of our hearts. He inculcates the doctrines of one God, the uncreated, immutable, and eternal Being, infinitely glorious, and incomprehensible one, further than what we know of him by his works.”a
3, 4. (a) To which government did Josephus apply the term Theocracy? (b) To what has the term been applied in this twentieth century by The Watchtower, and with what words?
3 So the word Theocracy was coined to mean a “rule of God,” a government by the Most High God as Ruler, in contrast with a government “committed to a single person” (an autocracy) and a government committed “to the people” (a democracy) and a government committed to the rich people (a plutocracy) and a government committed to many bureaus (a bureaucracy). The historian Josephus applied the term Theocracy to the government that was established by the legislator Moses at the command of God, who told Moses that His name was Jehovah (or Yahweh). In our twentieth century, however, the term Theocracy has been used in connection with the true Christian church or congregation, in these times when political democracies have increased and political communism has been forcibly established in many lands. Accordingly, the Christian congregation is a theocratic organization, governed by God the great Theocrat, Jehovah. In full recognition of this the issue of The Watchtower dated June 1, 1938, page 163, paragraph 1, said:
4 “Jehovah’s organization is in no wise democratic. Jehovah is supreme, and his government or organization is strictly theocratic. This conclusion is not open to successful contradiction.”
5. Whereas Josephus applied the term Theocracy as he did, what must we say as to whether the government established by the Israelis in Jerusalem is a theocracy?
5 The historian Josephus witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions in the year 70 of our Common Era. He applied the term Theocracy to the national Jewish organization that had existed prior to that terrible calamity. At the present time, since the six-day war of 1967, the Jews hold possession of all of what is called Jerusalem today, and they have their national capital established there. But can we regard the government that they have established in their ancient homeland a successor to the Theocracy that Moses was used to establish in the year 1513 before our Common Era? Is the national government now functioning with old Jerusalem as its capital a theocracy at all? How could it be such when it is called a “republic” and has a democratically elected president, and has since the year 1949 been a member of the Gentile organization for world peace and security, namely, the United Nations? Not even the president of the Republic of Israel and the members of the national Parliament, the Knesset, will claim that their government is a theocracy, a theocratic organization. In the ranks of the Israeli politicians there is great strife over the issue of adhering strictly to the Law of Moses or not. What has happened? This:
6. What did the Jewish nation cease to be in the first century C.E., and what outcry before the Roman governor proves this?
6 In the first century of our Common Era the Jewish nation ceased to be a theocratic organization. This occurred even before Jerusalem’s destruction in the year 70. Historically recorded events point to that solemn fact. On the Passover day of the year 33, when the surging crowd was massed before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and cried out for the criminal Barabbas to be released to them instead of the man whom Pilate personally wanted to release as innocent, what did that crowd there in Jerusalem cry out? This: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Every man making himself a king speaks against Caesar. . . . We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:12-15) This outcry stood out in shocking contrast to what their ancient prophet Isaiah had long previously said: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King.”—Isa. 33:22.
7, 8. Later, who presided at a session in the Sánhedrin hall, and how did the men on trial answer his complaint?
7 Two months or more later another scene was enacted in that same Jerusalem. It was in the courtroom of the national tribunal called the Sánhedrin, composed of seventy-one members. The high priest presided at this particular trial, and twelve native Jews were to be tried for proclaiming certain religious teachings that were offensive to this Sánhedrin or Supreme Court. On this we read:
8 “So they brought them and stood them in the Sánhedrin hall. And the high priest questioned them and said: ‘We positively ordered you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us.’ In answer Peter and the other apostles said: ‘We must obey God as ruler rather than men. The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew, hanging him upon a stake. God exalted this one as Chief Agent and Savior to his right hand, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these matters, and so is the holy spirit, which God has given to those obeying him as ruler.’”—Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32.
9. According to the testimony thus given, with whom was Jehovah’s theocracy then to be found?
9 This testimony at this court trial revealed who were the ones acting theocratically, recognizing God as ruler or as Theocrat. According to that testimony, with whom was the theocratic organization—with the Sánhedrin, the representatives of the Jewish nation, or with those twelve apostles of the Jesus whose death that Sánhedrin had recently brought about? Beyond all denial, Jehovah’s theocracy was with those twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
10, 11. (a) By what powerful proof on the day of Pentecost was it substantiated that the Theocracy has ceased to be with the Jewish nation? (b) How was the untheocratic conduct of the Jewish Sánhedrin hinted by Gamaliel’s counsel to them?
10 The fact that the divine Theocracy had ceased to be with the nation of Israel and was now with these twelve apostles and other disciples of Jesus Christ had been substantiated by a powerful proof. By what proof? This, that God had poured out his holy spirit upon these disciples of Christ who were recognizing God as ruler rather than men who opposed God as ruler. It was with the help of that outpoured spirit that Peter and the other eleven apostles gave their courageous testimony to the Jewish Sánhedrin. Some days earlier, on the feast day of Pentecost, God had poured out this spirit upon them in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28, 29. This prophecy was quoted by the apostle Peter that day when he explained to the thousands of Jewish celebrators of Pentecost the miracle that had just happened. It was on that occasion that Peter said to the inquiring Jews: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you impaled.” (Acts 2:14-36) That the Jewish nation was no longer acting theocratically the Jewish Law teacher named Gamaliel hinted at when he said to the Sánhedrin concerning the twelve apostles on the witness stand before them:
11 “Men of Israel, pay attention to yourselves as to what you intend to do respecting these men. . . . I say to you, Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; (because, if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them;) otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:34-39.
12. Later, what proved that “this scheme or this work,” as Gamaliel called it, was “from God,” and so what transfer had really taken place?
12 What this Jewish Pharisee Gamaliel called “this scheme or this work” did prove to be “from God,” for the Sánhedrin and all the Jewish people inside and outside the Roman Empire were unable to overthrow it, even though they persecuted the spirit-anointed followers of Jesus Christ. But in the year 70 C.E. the Jewish capital of Jerusalem was destroyed and the national Jewish Sánhedrin was put out of business. And three years later, in 73 C.E., the last Jewish stronghold in the province of Judea, namely, Masada on the west side of the Dead Sea, fell to the Roman legions. But before all this the faithful Jewish Christians had fled from Jerusalem and all other parts of the province of Judea, because Jesus Christ had told them to do so when he was prophetically describing the coming destruction of Jerusalem. (Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21:20-24) Very manifestly, then, Jehovah’s theocracy had been transferred from the nation of natural circumcised Israel to the spirit-filled organization of the disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. To this day they are preaching the kingdom of God, not preaching the Republic of Israel or any other human government.
THEOCRATIC ORGANIZATION IN THE FIRST CENTURY C.E.
13. We should examine as to whether dedicated Watchtower readers are adhering to what, and why so?
13 The magazine The Watchtower has called and repeatedly calls attention to the theocratic organization, and, to be consistent, we should examine to see whether the dedicated, baptized Christian readers of this magazine are adhering to theocratic organization or not.
14. The apostles knew that the pre-Christian Israel had been structured with what kind of administration, and how was this shown by those to whom Moses presented himself on returning to Egypt?
14 No doubt, we need to turn back to the first century, to the days of Christ’s apostles to see how their theocratic organization was structured. The apostles were all natural circumcised Jews or Israelites, the same as Jesus Christ had been. They were well acquainted with the fact that the pre-Christian structure of the theocratic nation of Israel had had certain appointed officials or administrators. They knew that when Jehovah sent Moses back to Egypt to liberate His enslaved people he told Moses: “You go, and you must gather the older men [zeqe·nim’, Hebrew] of Israel, and you must say to them, ‘Jehovah the God of your forefathers has appeared to me.’” (Ex. 3:16) Those “older men” were not just men of advanced age, but had the rank of “older men,” possibly on this occasion being representatives of the whole house of Israel.
15. How did the seventy men whom Moses took up with him into Mount Sinai rank, and how is this shown?
15 Months later, when the prophet Moses mediated the Law covenant between God and the nation of Israel, God said to Moses at Mount Sinai: “Go up to Jehovah, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the older men [zeqe·nimʹ] of Israel.” That these seventy “older men” were representatives of the nation is clear from Exodus 24:11, which tells us: “And he [Jehovah] did not put out his hand against the distinguished men of the sons of Israel, but they got a vision of the true God and ate and drank.” So they were “distinguished men,” and not merely men of advanced age. (Ex. 24:1, 14) They ranked as “older men.”
16. What was the rank of the seventy men upon whom Jehovah put some of the spirit that was upon Moses?
16 Later, when Jehovah was about to put a share of the spirit that was upon Moses upon seventy other Israelites, he said to Moses: “Gather for me seventy men of the older men [zeqe·nimʹ] of Israel, whom you do know that they are older men of the people and officers of theirs, and you must take them to the tent of meeting, and they must station themselves there with you.” After this order was obeyed, Jehovah took some of the spirit that was upon Moses and “put it upon each of the seventy older men,” and “they proceeded to act as prophets.” (Num. 11:16-25) Those seventy men were associated with “officers,” or, possibly, as “older men” they themselves were special officers of the people.
17. According to Jehovah’s instructions to Moses, what were the cities in Israel to have, and how was this shown to have come true even in Jesus’ days?
17 According to Jehovah’s instructions to Moses, when the Israelites got into the Promised Land their cities were to have “older men,” as they were designated. (Deut. 19:12; 21:2-20; 22:15-18; 25:7-9) Bible history shows that this became true of the cities and towns in the land of Israel. (Judg. 8:14-16; 1 Ki. 21:8-11; Ezra 10:14) This came to be true even in the days of Jesus Christ and his apostles. When he began telling them about his coming violent death, he told them that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.” (Matt. 16:21) These were not just men of advanced age, but they ranked officially as “older men.” These men were associated with the chief priests and with the scribes at the arrest and the trial of Jesus. (Matt. 26:47 to 27:41) These “older men” joined in with the chief priests in bribing the men who had been on guard at Jesus’ tomb to say that he had not been resurrected but his body had been stolen by his disciples.—Matt. 28:12.
18. (a) As with Jesus, at whose hands did his apostles have to suffer? (b) These were “older men” in what sense, and at their meetings what did they need to have, and for how long?
18 Like Jesus Christ, his apostles had to suffer at the hands of the “older men” in association with the chief priests. When the apostles Peter and John were released after imprisonment and trial, then, as the account says, “they went to their own people and reported what things the chief priests and the older men had said to them.” (Acts 4:5-23) All this serves to show that these associates of the high priests were officially “older men.” The cities of ancient Israel did not have what are called “mayors,” but they had their board of “older men.” Such a board would have to have a chairman or presiding officer, and likely the chairmanship rotated among them, each member having his turn for a period. How the qualified ones were made “older men” is not shown.
19. (a) So what question arises as to God’s new theocracy since Pentecost of 33 C.E.? (b) What suggestion has been made as regards “elders,” and what questions does this suggestion arouse?
19 When natural circumcised Israel ceased to be a theocracy and Jehovah established his theocracy over the church or congregation of the disciples of his Son from Pentecost of 33 C.E. onward, did this new theocratic organization also have “older men” officially? It has been suggested that, as respects the Christian congregation, “all of the anointed of God are elders.”b This application would include even the women who by reason of their dedication to God followed by water baptism and begetting by God’s spirit were anointed with his spirit. But what do the features of the Christian theocratic organization in the first century actually show? Do they show that no dedicated, baptized men are to be installed as “older men” officially in the Christian congregation? Let us see.
20. (a) According to Peter’s quotation of Joel 2:28, 29, what kind of men would be in the Christian congregation? (b) According to the word used in Joel 2:28, why could these be official “elders” or just plain “old men”?
20 The apostle Peter’s quotation of Joel 2:28, 29 on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E. showed that there were to be “old men” in the Christian congregation, which men would “dream dreams.” But when this prophecy is rendered into the Greek, the Septuagint Version uses the Greek word pres·byʹte·ros, which really means, in English, “presbyter,” or, “elder.” This is because the Hebrew word (za·qenʹ) used in Joel 2:28 is the word regularly applied to “elders,” such as those elders of cities and so forth. The Hebrew word, however, can also mean just old persons, like Abraham and Sarah. (Gen. 18:11; 25:8) At any rate, these presbyters, elders, or “old men” of Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 were part of the “every sort of flesh” upon which Jehovah would pour out his spirit in the “last days.” They could be official “elders” or just plain “old men.”
21. (a) To whom specifically was the “relief ministration” sent from Antioch to Jerusalem, and what does this indicate regarding the primitive congregation? (b) What is a “presbyter”?
21 Were there, however, official “old men” or elders or presbyters in the primitive Christian congregation? To satisfy ourselves on this point let us turn to Acts 11:30. The Christian prophet Agabus had predicted that “a great famine was about to come upon the entire inhabited earth,” which famine did historically take place in the reign of Emperor Claudius. So the disciples of Christ in the city of Antioch of Syria determined to send a relief ministration to their needy Christian brothers in the Roman province of Judea. Now to whom did these contributors specifically send this relief ministration (di·a·ko·niʹa, Greek)? The account says: “And this they did, dispatching it to the older men [presbyters, elders] by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:27-30, marginal reading, 1971 edition) So the “older men,” presbyters or elders were the direct recipients and these officials saw that it was distributed to the congregations of Judea. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “presbyter” as “an official in the early Christian church vested with the task of providing leadership as an overseer usually over a local congregation.” By the Holy Scriptures we can find out whether that is a correct definition or not.
GOVERNING BODY—COMPOSED OF WHOM?
22. To whom did the Antioch congregation submit the question of circumcision, who received their representatives and afterward who gathered there to see about this matter?
22 When the matter of circumcising non-Jewish converts to Christianity became a hot issue in Antioch of Syria, to whom did the congregation there send to have the issue settled? “To the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.” On arrival at Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas and others from Antioch were received by whom? “By the congregation and the apostles and the older men [presbyters, or elders].” In this account we notice that the “older men” as well as the apostles are distinguished from the congregation. Not the whole Jerusalem congregation, but “the apostles and the older men gathered together to see about this affair.”—Acts 15:2, 4, 6, marginal reading, 1971 edition.
23. Who favored sending the Jerusalem decree to the congregations, and who signed as issuing the decree?
23 After the decision against circumcising the newly converted Gentiles, then, as the account says, “the apostles and the older men [presbyters, elders] together with the whole congregation favored sending chosen men from among them to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was called Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brothers; and by their hand they wrote: ‘The apostles and the older men, brothers, to those brothers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the nations [Gentiles]: Greetings!’”—Acts 15:22, 23.
24. Who were some of those “older men,” and as being what did the apostles and older men act, and who was chairman at the meeting?
24 Thus it appears that the apostles and these associated “older men” (presbyters, elders) acted as a governing body for all the Christian congregations throughout the earth, but they had the backing of the Jerusalem congregation. Among those “older men” were James the half brother of Jesus Christ, and Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas (Silvanus). (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:12) It is usually understood that at this meeting of the governing body at Jerusalem this older man (presbyter, or elder) named James the son of Mary acted as the chairman. But the fact that he proposed the decree and its contents regarding the necessary obligations of newly converted Gentiles does not, in itself, make that chairmanship of his certain.—Acts 15:13-21.
25. In the cities visited, Paul and Silas delivered the decrees issued by whom, and what is indicated about those associated with the apostles in deciding upon the decree?
25 Acts 16:4 reports on the movements of the apostle Paul and his companion Silas (a member of the governing body), saying: “Now as they traveled on through the cities [of Asia Minor] they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem.” The fact that these “older men” were associated with the apostles and were part of the Christian governing body makes it certain that they were officially “older men,” presbyters, elders.
26. On his final journey to Jerusalem, with whom did Paul have a farewell meeting in Miletus, and what does Acts 21:17, 18 indicate as to the makeup of the Jerusalem congregation?
26 Years later the apostle Paul was journeying on his final trip to Jerusalem. He stopped at the seaport of Miletus and got in touch with the congregation nearby at Ephesus, Asia Minor. Did he send for the whole congregation of Ephesus to come and let him have a farewell visit with them? Here is what Acts 20:17 tells us: “However, from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the older men [presbyters, elders] of the congregation.” (Marginal reading, 1971 edition) So the congregation at Ephesus had its official “older men” or elders. Acts 21:17, 18 reminds us that the Jerusalem congregation also had such officials, for there we read Doctor Luke’s report: “When we got into Jerusalem the brothers received us gladly. But on the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the older men were present.” James the half brother of Jesus Christ was also one of those “older men.” In Galatians 2:9 Paul speaks of James as a spiritual pillar, saying: “James and Cephas [Peter] and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of sharing together.”
27. According to 1 Timothy 5:17, who were to be reckoned worthy of double honor, and why, and whose prayers were specially beneficial?
27 As bearing witness to the official nature of an “older man” (or presbyter, elder) of the congregation, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, about the years 61 to 64 C.E., these instructions: “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” (1 Tim. 5:17) Thus such “older men” presided officially in the congregation and worked at speaking and teaching the Bible. According to James 5:14 the prayers of such “older men” were specially beneficial.
a See page 482, paragraph 3, columns 1 and 2 of the translation by William Whiston, M.A., as published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1849.
b See paragraph 1, page 266, of The Watchtower as of September 1, 1932.
[Picture on page 686]
The governing body, composed of the apostles and other older men, made the decision against circumcising Gentile Christians. The disciple James may have acted as chairman