Bible Aids: Are They Unscriptural?
ONE Sunday morning in Connecticut, U.S.A., a man answered a knock on his door and found one of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing on his doorstep. The Witness spoke to him about the Bible and offered him some literature explaining important matters from the Bible. The man, however, turned it down. He pointed to a Bible that was on the dashboard of his pickup truck and said: “The Bible is all I need.”
Would you agree with this man? Well, if he meant that nothing could replace the Bible as the source of truth, then all Christians would have to agree with him. But the literature carried by that Witness was not meant to replace the Bible. It was designed to explain the Bible, to highlight parts of it that might be helpful in that man’s life and thus build up respect for and knowledge of that important book. Is it unnecessary or even wrong to read such literature?
The Scriptures—Enough in Themselves?
Do the Scriptures suggest that reading the Bible—important as it is—is all that is necessary to obtain an accurate knowledge of the truth? Not really. For example, the disciple James said about the Jews: “From ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.” (Acts 15:21) Yet in spite of all that Bible reading, most of the Jews never came to discern that Jesus was the Messiah.
The Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in Acts chapter 8 was also a Bible reader. The disciple Philip heard him reading aloud from the book of Isaiah while the eunuch was traveling homeward in his chariot. Was that enough for him to get a knowledge of the truth? Philip asked him: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” He answered: “Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?” (Acts 8:30, 31) He humbly recognized his need for help in understanding the Bible.
Remember, too, the command that Jesus left with his followers just before he ascended to the heavens: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Clearly, it was necessary to do more than invite new converts to public Bible readings or give them a Bible and leave it to them to read. The Christian also had to teach them.
Again, the apostle Paul saw the need of something more than merely encouraging Bible reading when he said to Timothy: “While I am coming, continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) Reading the Bible was vitally important—Paul put public reading first on his list. But also necessary was helping the listeners to understand the meaning of what was being read (teaching) and encouraging them to apply it in their lives (exhortation).
Finally, in the book of Acts we get a clear picture that the disciples and apostles did far more than merely read the Bible to people. They helped to make it understandable to them. “Judas and Silas, since they themselves were also prophets, encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them. However, Paul and Barnabas continued spending time in Antioch teaching and declaring, with many others also, the good news of the word of Jehovah.”—Acts 15:32, 35.
‘But that is not written literature,’ you may say. True. However, is there a big difference between a written and a spoken discourse? In fact, even though they had no access to printing facilities, the apostles and other early Christians did make use of the written word to spread the good news. They wrote numerous letters to the different congregations so as to keep in touch while they were absent from them. Some of these actually became a part of the Bible, but many did not.
In the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians that is preserved in our Bible, we read the following words: “In my letter I wrote you to quit mixing in company with fornicators . . . But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11) Here, Paul is clearly referring to an earlier letter to the Corinthians, one that we do not possess today. Did the Corinthian Christians feel they did not need the letter that did not become a part of the Bible? Clearly not. They appreciated it as a written aid to help them to understand Scriptural truths and to apply Scriptural principles in their lives.
When he wrote to the Colossian congregation, the apostle referred to another letter that no longer exists, this time to one sent to the Christians in Laodicea. He said: “And when this letter has been read among you, arrange that it also be read in the congregation of the Laodiceans and that you also read the one from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16) Hence, not only were letters written to different congregations but those letters were circulated from congregation to congregation. If modern printing facilities had been available in those days, can you imagine how the apostles would have taken advantage of them to flood the world of their time with information about Jesus?
Well, modern printing is available today, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do use it to flood the world with Bibles and with printed Bible study aids. There can be no Scriptural objection to this. Like the Christians that Timothy ministered to, we today need to read the Bible. But we also need to be taught so as to understand it and to be exhorted so as to know how to apply it in our lives.
Bible study aids can only be beneficial as long as they do not distort the Word of God and provided that they glorify God, direct the reader to true worship, help him to keep separate from the world and assist him to grow closer to God while he is walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We believe you will find that the Bible literature distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses meets all these requirements.