Monday, 28 February 2011

Witnessing to the Witnesses

I had a very interesting conversation with a couple of "Jehovah's Witnesses" the other day.  I want to tell you about the main issues discussed.

We started off talking about whether there is a non-physical self that survives the death of the body.  Jehovah's Witnesses say there's not.  We looked at Philippians 1 v 21-24 and 2Corinthians 5 v 8.  I tried to show that the verses indicated that when Paul died he would be with the Lord.  There was an adamant refusal on the part of the senior witness to admit that the verses even implied such a thing (although when I read the verses to the less experienced witness before the senior partner was present immediately she could see the problem they presented to the Watchtower view). 

I also drew Luke 16 v 19-31 and 2Corinthians 12 v 1-4 to their attention.  In Luke 16 the Lord speaks about two men who died, one went to hell and the other went to a place of comfort and paradise.  I didn't get any explanation of this, but having corresponded with a Jehovah's Witness before on this issue I know that they handily dismiss it by saying it's a parable.  However, there are a couple of things to point out here: first, the Bible doesn't say that it's a parable, and in no other parable does the Lord ever actually give one of the characters a name.  This seems to suggest it was an actual event.  Secondly, even if it is a parable, that doesn't change the fact he speaks about people surviving death - all the Lord's parables were based on things that actually exist - suppers, sheep, coins, buildings, seed and plants etc.  This would be the only parable in which he uses something completely fictitious.  My previous correspondence on this issue satisfied me that they have no feasible explanation for what the parable is supposed to teach - I'll maybe post their attempted interpretation sometime in the future so you can see what I mean.

2Corinthians 12 v 1-4 contains Paul's account of a man (most likely himself) being caught up to the third heaven, but he says he didn't know whether it was in the body or out of the body, but how could he not know that if there is no non-physical self that can exist out of the body?  Again, their diversionary tactics were employed and the question was not addressed.  I was repeatedly told that it was just a vision Paul had, and he wasn't actually in heaven - I told them this missed the point - the point is that, if he believed what they believed, he would have known he couldn't have been out of the body!

I very quickly caught on to the tactic that he was using - he would bring up a verse from somewhere else in the Bible that he felt indicated that death meant cessation of consciousness, and that was supposed to address the verses I had brought up!  I tried to reason with him by saying that we both professed to believe that all of the Bible is the Word of God, so whatever understanding he had of a verse would have to be consistent with, not contradictory to, the passage I had presented.  I told him that I had a view of the passage he cited that was consistent with the passages I cited, so I asked him to bring his understanding of the other passage into the passages I brought up and show consistency.  This he failed to do.

His problem was that if there was a non-physical self that survived death, then what was the point of a resurrection?  I told him that even if my answer was "I don't know", it didn't change what the Bible taught, but the answer is because humans are not complete without their bodies.  Furthermore, death is a result of sin, and thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ the effects of sin will be defeated, and the believer will have a glorious body, untouched and untouchable by sin.  However, Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that resurrection is merely the giving of life again, and there is no physical resurrection of the body that died.

I felt then it might have been useful to look at the subject of resurrection, so I read to them John 2 v 18-22:
So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
This neatly covers the two areas of disagreement:
  1. The Lord must have had a conscious existence between His death and resurrection because He speaks about how He would raise His body from the dead.  Needless to say, if there is no consciousness between death and resurrection, He couldn't do anything.
  2. The Lord was clearly saying that the body that was put to death would be raised up.
What was their response?  It was to quote other passages and try to ignore this passage.  I told them I would address the passages they brought up and would show how they don't contradict John 2 v 19, but they would have to explain John 2 v 19 and show how it didn't contradict the passages they cited.  He did this in a most inventive and creative way.  He said that John 2 v 19 is a metaphor.  A metaphor for what?  Well, he said, it's obvious - it's a metaphor for the Father raising Jesus!  I pointed out that the Lord said that He would be the One doing the raising, and it would be His body that He would raise.  His response was to say that I was being inconsistent because the temple He referred to wasn't literal, so when He said "I" and "it" we can't take that literally either!

This is simply bizarre!!!  This means that when the Lord says, "I am the door, by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved" (John 10 v 9), we can't take any word in that verse on its face value because it contains a metaphor, so He's not talking about Himself, He's not talking about people, He's not talking about salvation - it's all metaphor!  Strange.

I told the JW that most people can spot a metaphor and recognise a figure of speech, but, if we are particularly slow, John helps us out by telling us what is metaphorical in the statement and what it represents - "But He was speaking of the temple of His body."  John didn't say, "and when He said 'I' He meant 'the Father', and when He said 'it' He meant 'Me'."

But my friend claimed he couldn't see where I would get the idea that the Lord was talking about raising His body!  I just hope and pray that the junior Witness could see through such bluster.  Either he was being dishonest, or the Watchtower Society is indeed one of the most mind-controlling, brain-washing cults there is.  Unfortunately I think both things are true.

I'll do another couple of posts on this exchange, telling you about the passages they brought up, and about how our conversation concluded.  But in the meantime, just remember, the issue of Christ's physical resurrection from the dead is not a matter of mere theological interest, but a matter of deep personal, universal and eternal importance, because if He didn't physically rise from the dead then it shows that sin gained the victory over Him rather than Him gaining the victory over sin, and if sin gained the victory then there's no hope for any of us to be saved.  But Christ gained the victory, and rose from the grave, and because of that there is hope for all.  Those who trust in Christ to save them from sin's penalty and power are assured by His resurrection that He is able to do what they've trusted Him to do (Hebrews 7 v 25).