Thursday, 3 March 2011

Witnessing to the Witnesses (3)

There are one or two more issues I want to bring up from my conversation with the "Jehovah's Witnesses".

When they were faced with a passage that seemed to contradict their view, they tried to move me on to a different verse that seemed to support their view. I attempted to set a simple ground rule for our discussion, which was this, if a passage seems to contradict your belief you have to deal with that passage, not move the discussion on to a different one. When they cited their proof texts I told them I would write them down and attempt to deal with them after they had dealt with the passage we were on.

Now, the conversation convinced me that they could not make the passages I brought up fit into their belief structure, but it's fair enough to ask if I can accommodate the verses they quoted within my belief structure. The answer is yes!

Let me just briefly address the four passages they brought up. In this post I'll look at the two on the subject of the immortality of the soul, and in the next post I'll look at the two on the resurrection.

Ecclesiastes 9 v 5 - this verse is found in what is perhaps the Bible's strangest book. It contains some advice that sounds very unorthodox - "Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over not over much wicked" (7 v 16-17). It is essential in light of these statements that we see what the purpose of the book actually is, and that appears to be to show the pointlessness of life without God (e.g. 2 v 22-23). He seems to be saying that if life is lived apart from God then the whole thing is meaningless, because you live and labour, then die and that's it - you don't have any further enjoyment or knowledge of all that you've invested your life in. I think that is a contextually consistent way of understanding the statement "the dead know not anything, Neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." It is in regard to life "under the sun" (the oft-repeated statement of the book - used almost 30 times) that they don't know anything. So what Ecclesiastes 9 v 5 teaches is that those who have died don't know what's going on in this world.

A couple of additional things are worth pointing out here. If the Jehovah's Witnesses took everything in Ecclesiastes at their face value without recognising the intent of the book then they wouldn't believe in a future resurrection because the very next verse says that the dead have no more "portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun."

Another important thing to recognise is the indefensible and unjustifiable rendering of the New World Translation on this verse - an extra clause is inserted into the verse for which there is absolutely no basis in the Hebrew text - there is only one clause in the Hebrew but the NWT has put two - "are not conscious or know not anything". This expression "are not conscious or" is not a translation of anything in the Hebrew, but rather a bare-faced example of adding to the Word of God, for which there are severe warnings (Revelation 22 v 18). This is dishonesty masquerading as Scripture.

The second passage that was raised (briefly) in the discussion on the immortality of the soul was Ezekiel 18 v 4 - "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Now it is curious to me why this should be seen as so strong an argument, because there are two words in the text that have a wide range of possible meanings - "soul" and "die". Consider the word "soul". It can mean the whole person (Genesis 2 v 7), it can refer to the life of a person (James 1 v 21), or it can refer to something distinct from the body that can't be killed (Matthew 10 v 28). Likewise, "die" can have reference to physical death, or it can refer to a state of separation from God that is experienced now (Ephesians 2 v 1-3; see Luke 15 v 24), or it can refer to eternal separation from God (Revelation 20 v 10-15; see also 2Thessalonians 1 v 8-9). There's no need to think that this passage means that the soul that sins stops existing. It is simply saying that each person gets punished for his own sins, not the sins of someone else.

Scripture is clear, there will be no soul sleep after death, but for those who have died without salvation there will be a very rude awakening. Make sure you're not sleeping now to the reality of these things. The only way of escape is through faith in Christ.