Series of Letters to Michael P. Vander Meer:
February 3, 1997
Michael P. Vander Meer
P.O. Box 28449
Washington, D.C. 20038
Alan Craig has allowed me and others the opportunity of addressing the issues involving Jehovah’s Witnesses that you have raised. Hopefully, this will be a productive and objective dialogue.
With your tolerance, let me relate a word or two about myself. I was raised in the Baptist tradition as a younger person and at one point had the privilege of being a religious teacher in that community. Later, I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. At the moment, among other things, I teach Hebrew for a local secular college. And, I am happily married and unquantifiably pleased to be living in lovely San Diego.
Before I move forward in our discussion, I would like you to respond briefly to the following questions:
(1) Would you label any one of the following groups as "false" prophet organizations: Baptist, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Methodist and Congregationalist?
(2) Were the apostles false prophets?
After you have responded to these two questions, then I will begin to address one of the matters that you brought to the table for discussion.
March 23, 1997
This second letter responds to much of what you wrote to me in your letter dated February 17, 1997. This belated response comes after a busy several weeks of teaching at school, conducting several Bible studies, responding to other individuals raising similar objections, researching for a book that I am planning to author on the proof of the existence of God and other activities peculiar to men living in Western societies. You will not find me at cross purposes with you on the rule that the Bible should be the final authority. That will be my requirement for you as well. - 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
I would be dishonest if I did not reveal to you that just as you have an outreach ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses there are a number of us, including me, that have, among other things, an outreach ministry to those who are members of the outreach ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus, you are witnessing our eagerness to engage in this, hopefully, constructive dialogue. Furthermore, I am in accord with your comments regarding maintaining a civil and Christian tone to our exchange; anything less would likely produce fire but little light. - 1 Peter 3:15
The following reply relates to the section of your critique of Jehovah’s Witnesses headed PROPHECY AND THE WATCHTOWER SOCIETY: A HISTORY OF FAILURES.
What some individuals immediately see but some of our critics fail to see is that there is a distinct and substantive difference between false prophecy and true prophecy that is misunderstood. One IS prophecy and is either true or false and the other IS NOT prophecy but is an interpretation of prophecy and is either true or false. One is original and the other is not. In other words, false prophecy is false prophecy and that which is not prophecy can not be either true prophecy or false prophecy since it is not prophecy. I will demonstrate this with sufficient evidence, as you will see. In the process, you should see quite clearly that it is inappropriate to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses or their publishing corporation called the "Watchtower Society" is an example of a collective "false prophet". We begin and, as you suggest, Bible in hand.
I do not think that you will disagree that there are two separate sets of prophecies in the Hebrew—Aramaic Scriptures that relate to the "comings" of the Messiah. One set relates to his first coming. Representative of these would be the prophetic material found at: Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53:12, Micah 5:2 and Daniel 9:24-27. The other set relates to his second coming and parousia. Some indisputable texts centering on that coming would include: Isaiah 11:1-11 and Daniel 7:13,14. Now, these two comings sponsor different significant phenomena. You may recall that Paul makes this point, to some extent, at Hebrews 9:28.
When Jesus made his appearance as the Messiah, the Christ, initially his followers, including his apostles, applied the "second coming" prophecies to him. This would mean, if true, that they misapplied true prophecy. Let us see if this is true. A few of the scriptures that I had in mind, you deal with in your paper. What I will do is to apply them to the discussion and also respond to your counter-argument. Just prior to his ascension, the faithful apostles of Christ expressed both an understanding and an expectation when they clearly stated what we find at Acts 1:6,7 : "So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.’" - REVISED STANDARD VERSION. Underscoring the notion that followers of Christ were expecting him to assume the role of a delivering King as forecasted in the "Second Coming" prophecies, consider the account at Luke 24:19-24 where the "disguised", resurrected Jesus had this conversation with two of his disciples: "And He said to them, What (kind of) things? and they said to Him, About Jesus of Nazareth, Who was a Prophet mighty in word and work before God and all the people, And how our chief priests and rulers gave Him up to be sentenced to death and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He Who would redeem and set Israel free. [Yes] and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things occurred." - AMPLIFIED BIBLE
Even the casual reader of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles knows that the central message taught by the apostles was about the "kingdom of heaven" or the "kingdom of God". Evidence of that, of course, abounds. Testimony to that fact are the following: Luke 9:2; Luke 9:60; Acts 20:25 and Acts 28:23. The citations at Acts 1:6,7 and Luke 24:19-24 are clear evidence of a mind set, a belief concept, which related to how the first Christians viewed certain Hebrew—Aramaic scripture prophecies pertaining the Messiah. I do not think that most people approaching this without a bias or an agenda could not readily see that these early believers in Jesus understood that the Second Coming and Parousia prophecies were to be fulfilled in their day. Since the apostles had been actively preaching about this very subject for about three years before they raised the question found at Acts 1:6,7, it is inconceivable that they would be preaching one concept but fully believing another. That would have been seriously hypocritical and dishonest. One gets an additional feel f or this understanding of Jesus appearance among believing Jews at John 6:14,15 where we are told: "Hence when the men saw the signs he performed, they began to say: ‘This is for a certainty the prophet that was to come into the world.’ Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone." - NEW WORLD TRANSLATION
While reflecting upon the above, integrate the scenes recorded in the passages herewith presented:
Luke 19:37,38 "By this time he was nearing the descent from the Hill of Olives. The whole crowd of the disciples began joyfully to shout their praises to God for all the miracles they had seen:
‘God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the heights of heaven!.’" - THE NEW TESTAMENT by William Barclay
Luke 19:11 "While they were listening to this, he [Jesus] went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." - THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Michael, I know that you are an attorney and that you are familiar with the notion called the ‘rules of evidence’. Unfortunately, I only had one year of Law at a California Law school; so, I am deficient in making effective use of this principle using legal terms. Notwithstanding, I would argue that the foregoing provides more than enough evidence that the earliest Christians were thinking, feeling, hoping and preaching a prophetic view about Christ that was incorrect. I do not say that they were false prophets since they did not make or originate such prophecies. I do say that they misapplied and misunderstood TRUE prophecy. We will scrutinize the significance of this, as we move foreword. I should mention at this point that it would serve you well to obtain Dr. Martin Werner’s magisterial work entitled THE FORMATION OF CHRISTIAN DOGMA in which he documents that Early Christians over the first three centuries held mistaken prophetic views about Jesus’ second coming et al. You must be wise enough to see the implications of this. It means quite clearly that if Jehovah’s Witnesses are "false prophets" for misunderstanding true prophecy then so must be the very first Christians. That, of course, leads to some absurd conclusions, as I am certain you can see.
In your literary piece you counter-argued: "While the disciples’ notion in this regard was in error, they were in essence in Acts 1:6 simply asking a question of Jesus. Since they were not speaking a ‘Thus-saith-the Lord’ revelation to anyone, there is no parallel between these disciples and Watchtower." If you are saying here that all persons representing God in a proclamatory work, prefaced their words with the introduction, ‘Thus saith the Lord’, you are imposing your own restriction and it is not correct. Where do we find this qualifying statement in Peter’s proclamation at Acts 2:14-40? Or, the account at Acts 3:12-26? How about Acts 4:8-12? Paul’s prophecy recorded at Acts 13:8-12 regarding what would happen to Elymas was not prefaced with "Thus saith the Lord". Just this modicum of information demonstrates that your rule for judging the God-value of such comments is personal and not Scriptural. More examples are available if you are interested. Furthermore, this stance of yours places an unnecessary tension between what you acknowledged to be a wrong view of the apostles and what they actually preached to people before the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may serve your purposes but it places a burden upon what is reasonable.
At John 21:20-23, a non-prophetic comment of Christ was taken by the apostles and others to be a prophecy about the longevity of the apostle John. Verse 23 states: "This is how the report spread among the brothers that this disciple was not going to die. Jesus never told him, as a matter of fact, that the disciple was not going to die; all he said was, ‘Suppose I want him to stay until I come [how does that concern you]?" (THE NEW AMERICAN BIBLE) An untrue prediction was circulated as truth within the Christian community. If you think about it, you have here a "Thus saith the Lord Jesus Christ" statement that was not true. Are you prepared to call the apostles "false prophets"? If you are objective about this situation, can you not imagine someone like you, living during that period, criticizing these Christians for making false prophecy about the life of the apostle John, a "prophecy" which obviously they had to change when it became clear that the viewpoint was wrong? Now, taking it from a clean perspective, is it not true that, in this case, the source statement was not a prophecy, never mind the fact that the interpretation of that statement gave it the status of a prophecy. But since the statement was not a prophecy to begin with, any prophetic understanding of it, true or false, could not be construed as a false prophecy only a false or untrue explanation of the source statement. This frees the apostles from the accusation of being false prophets in this case. This example and others are indeed parallel to situations involving the individuals you call "The Watchtower" and whom I call Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I will now center on the passage at Jonah 3:1-5, a scripture that you, too, addressed in your paper. Here is how we find it in the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION: "Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah started into the city, going a day’s journey, and he proclaimed, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.’ The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." Verse 10 conveys the outcome: "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." Your comment on this passage was most interesting; you wrote: "Since Jonah’s above addressed prophecy to the Ninevites was clearly conditional, it can in no way be seen, in its non-fulfillment, as lessening the guilt of Watchtower in the latter’s false predictions, none of which were conditional."
First, Michael, you have to see that you are reading into the text when you say that Jonah’s message conveyed the idea that the outcome turned on the public response. The text clearly states that Jonah said: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed". We are not told "Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed unless..." Or, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed if..." Those latter comments conform to your thinking on the material but they are not found in it. Indeed the text shows that even the king took the message to be literal and not conditional because he said: "Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish". (Verse 9) This remark followed their repentance and demonstrated that there was no certainty on their part that because they had repented the threat was over. For your reference, I have laid before us the Hebrew text which indisputably states an imperative statement and not a conditional one:
ואמר טוד ארבטם יום ונינוה נהפכה
The prophet Jonah’s prophetic proclamation was not true. Jehovah’s message was conditional; Jonah’s message was unconditional. Now, you can evaluate it in any way you wish after that. Interestingly, HALLEY’S BIBLE HANDBOOK (Twenty-Fourth edition) page 165 states in this regard: "He [Jonah] had come, not to seek their repentance, but to announce their doom. But God was pleased at their repentance, and deferred punishment, much to Jonah’s chagrin."
The principal mistakes of Jehovah’s Witnesses emerged out of misunderstandings of the Daniel material. We do not feel that the underlying scriptural stratum is "false", never mind the many Watchtowers etc. that unintentionally misrepresented what was actually intended. Your precise documentation of mistakes in the WATCHTOWER magazines consistently deals with interpretations of True prophecy. If you wanted to say that the Witnesses were wrong in their understanding of Biblical prophecies, that would be hard to refute. But, to argue that they are false prophets, says that they have made prophecy outside of the Bible and that claim is very easy to refute. You must show that Witnesses have originated prophecy that is false to sustain your claim and so far you have not done that. That is your assignment if you sincerely want to make this criticism work.
You may or may not know that a number of prominent Protestant groups and, indeed, the Roman Catholic Church have histories of making date predictions of the end and other Biblical prophetic events. It has always amused me to see these groups copying WATCHTOWER magazines and making negative accusations as you have, when if they were familiar with their own church histories they would have found similar strong parallels. You can imagine how that impacts me.
Awaiting your response,