Do We Need Help to Understand the Bible?
LAST April the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Brazil received the following letter:
“I am writing you to respectfully inform you that I am a humble newspaperman, film maker, photographer, . . . and I have done everything that I wanted to. But it so happens that I am lacking the main thing: Faith in God. Already for two years I have been reading the publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and I like the doctrine of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ and would like to become one of them, and do something good for humanity. I am tired of writing scripts for movies, feature stories and articles that even stimulate prostitution, murder, use of drugs, assaults, and everything bad that the newspapers print on their first page, and which is being avidly read by grown-ups and children. I must change. There is still time for me to use the imagination God has given me to the benefit of my brothers.
“For this reason, I would like to ask you earnestly to inform me about what I should do to start in the doctrine of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’
“Respectfully, and waiting your kind answer.”
Would it have been sufficient to tell this man simply to read the Bible together with others who would like to do the same thing? It appears he had been doing some Bible reading. But it was obvious to him that he needed help beyond that.
He was like the Ethiopian man mentioned by the Gospel writer Luke at Acts, chapter 8. This Ethiopian, while riding in his chariot, was reading aloud from the prophecy of Isaiah. At the prompting of God’s holy spirit, the evangelizer Philip approached the chariot. On hearing the man reading from what is today part of Isaiah chapter 53, Philip asked: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied: “How could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?”—Acts 8:30, 31.
Yes, by himself the Ethiopian could never have identified the one mentioned by Isaiah when he wrote: “As a sheep he was brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb that is voiceless before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.” So Philip explained that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The man accepted the proof and asked to be baptized at the first opportunity.—Acts 8:32-38.
NEED FOR INTERPRETATION
This same need for guidance is shown in the record about two of Jesus’ disciples. These men were on the way to Emmaus, on the third day after Jesus’ death. They were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, but still they could not understand why Jesus had to suffer and die. When the resurrected Jesus met up with them, they did not recognize him since Jesus had evidently taken a different form. What did Jesus do to help these sad-faced disciples?
“Commencing at Moses and all the Prophets,” the Bible record says, “he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” With what result? After Jesus had identified himself and vanished from their sight, they said: “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 24:27, 32.
A little later on the same day these two disciples met with the 11 apostles in a room in Jerusalem and told them of their experience. While they were still speaking about these things, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. Did Jesus provide them with further enlightenment? Yes, for he explained: “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me must be fulfilled.” And Luke adds: “Then he opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:44, 45.
The situation with Apollos, who “was well versed in the Scriptures,” also illustrates the need for guidance from a proper source. Apollos was an eloquent and convincing preacher about Jesus’ being the Messiah. But still it was necessary for a couple, who had associated closely with the apostle Paul, to provide him Scriptural guidance. When this Christian couple heard Apollos preach, they could see that he needed clarification on certain teachings. For one thing, he knew only about the baptism of John the Baptizer.—Acts 18:24-26.
A HUMAN CHANNEL
From such experiences it can be seen that Jehovah God caused the Bible to be written in such a way that one needs to come in touch with His human channel before one can fully and accurately understand it. True, we need the help of God’s holy spirit, but its help also comes to us primarily by association with the channel Jehovah God sees fit to use.—1 Cor. 2:6-10.
Showing that God would have an organized congregation through which instruction would come, the Bible says: “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ; in order that we should no longer be babes.”—Eph. 4:11-14.
In the first century, such congregational arrangement was looked to for direction. This is noted, for example, when the question came up as to whether Gentile converts should be circumcised. On that occasion, did the apostle Paul say something like this: ‘Look here, Jesus Christ appeared to me personally, he has caused me to see supernatural visions, he has given me the gift of prophecy and inspiration and has enabled me to perform mighty works; so let me tell you just what is what on this question of circumcision’? Not at all!
The apostle Paul and his companions went up to Jerusalem to consult the Christian congregation’s governing body, made up of the apostles and older men. And the one who made known the verdict on circumcision was not the apostle Paul but James, Jesus’ half brother, who, at the time, was evidently the presiding overseer of the Jerusalem congregation. After that, Paul, Silas and others delivered these decisions to the brothers.—Acts 15:1-35.
What about Paul’s missionary travels? Did he act independently of Jehovah’s assignment of him as an apostle to a certain group? No, but he obediently accepted his assignment, and this was later recognized by “pillars” of the governing body at Jerusalem, as Galatians 2:9 says: “When they came to know the undeserved kindness that was given me, James and Cephas and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of sharing together, that we should go to the nations, but they to those who are circumcised.”—Acts 9:15; 13:1-4; 22:17-21.
Later, when Paul came to Jerusalem for the last time, the Jews there had received misleading reports about him. So the “older men” in Jerusalem advised Paul what to do in an effort to put to rest these reports. And Paul readily accepted their direction.—Acts 21:17-36.
To help us to understand God’s Word in these “last days,” Jehovah God has lovingly provided a visible organization under Christ—the “faithful and discreet slave.” The way Jehovah God has prospered the activities carried on under its direction can leave no doubt in the minds of dedicated Christians as to Jehovah God’s approval being upon it.—Matt. 24:45-47.
A NOBLE-MINDED VIEW
How shall we view the spiritual food provided by this “faithful and discreet slave”? Should it be viewed critically—‘Oh, well, it might be true but then again it might not be and so we have to scrutinize it very critically’? Some apparently have felt that way about it. To support their way of thinking they have quoted Acts 17:11, which says of newly interested persons at Beroea: “Now the latter were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”
But does this mean that those Beroeans were looking for flaws in the message they were hearing, or that their attitude was one of doubting? Does this set a precedent for regarding critically the publications brought forth by the “faithful and discreet slave,” with a view to finding fault? Not at all!
First of all, let us note the setting of the statement about the noble-minded Beroeans. Paul, accompanied by Silas, was on his second missionary tour. Due to persecution that arose, the brothers at Thessalonica sent them on to Beroea. In Beroea they met sincere Jews who had strong faith in God’s Word. These were not Christians yet. They were simply interested persons who had to satisfy themselves that what Paul was telling them had the support of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Up to this time, these devout Jews in Beroea may never have heard of Jesus Christ. What Paul was telling them was entirely new. So those noble-minded Jews in Beroea searched the Scriptures daily to make certain that the references that Paul gave were really part of God’s Word. And with what mental attitude did they pursue their studies? With a skeptical attitude, trying to prove Paul wrong? No, they were altogether unlike Paul’s critics on Mars Hill, for we read that they heard Paul’s testimony with “the greatest eagerness of mind.”—Acts 17:11, 32.
These Beroeans listened with a readiness, yes, an eagerness, to believe. Thus not only were they open-minded, but they were wanting to have this “good news” proved true. In fact, for a person to acquire faith he must have “the will to believe.” If he is determined not to believe, then no amount of evidence will convince him; for if a person looks for them he can always find excuses, plausible reasons for not accepting the accountability that belief will bring upon him. As the apostle Paul well said: “Faith is not a possession of all people.” (2 Thess. 3:2) But the Beroeans had the will to believe. They considered what they heard with a receptive frame of mind. As a result, “many of them became believers, and so did not a few of the reputable Greek women and of the men.”—Acts 17:12.
Jesus’ disciples wrote many letters to Christian congregations, to persons who were already in “the way of the truth.” (2 Pet. 2:2) But nowhere do we read that those brothers first, in a skeptical frame of mind, checked the Scriptures to make certain that those letters had Scriptural backing, that the writers really knew what they were talking about.
OUR VIEW OF THE “SLAVE”
We can benefit from this consideration. If we have once established what instrument God is using as his “slave” to dispense spiritual food to his people, surely Jehovah is not pleased if we receive that food as though it might contain something harmful. We should have confidence in the channel God is using. At the Brooklyn headquarters from which the Bible publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses emanate there are more mature Christian elders, both of the “remnant” and of the “other sheep,” than anywhere else upon earth.
True, the brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views. (Prov. 4:18) However, this has resulted in a continual refining of the body of Bible-based truth to which Jehovah’s Witnesses subscribe. Over the years, as adjustments have been made to that body of truth, it has become ever more wonderful and applicable to our lives in these “last days.” Bible commentators of Christendom are not inspired either. Despite their claims to great knowledge, they have failed to highlight even basic Bible truths—such as the coming Paradise earth, the importance of God’s name, and the condition of the dead.
Rather, the record that the “faithful and discreet slave” organization has made for the past more than 100 years forces us to the conclusion that Peter expressed when Jesus asked if his apostles also wanted to leave him, namely, “Whom shall we go away to?” (John 6:66-69) No question about it. We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the “faithful and discreet slave” organization.