In the August 15, 2014 Watchtower Study Edition, the Watchtower addresses some interesting points as it relates to reading the Bible when someone has less access to the Watchtower publications than others.
Since the appointment of the faithful slave in 1919, millions of “domestics” of all languages have been gathered into God’s organization and are being spiritually fed. (Matt. 24:14; Rev. 22:17) However, the same amount of material is not available in all languages, and not all individuals have access to the electronic forms of our publications. For example, many do not have the videos and the articles published only on jw.org. Does this mean that some miss out on receiving the food they need to remain spiritually healthy? (p. 3)
This is similar to the questions many of us have been asking for quite some time:
- If we can’t understand the Bible without the Watchtower, then what about those JW’s who have little to no access to the Watchtower?
- If we have to have the Watchtower to understand the Bible, then how did the Watchtower come to understand the Bible?
- If we have to have the Watchtower to understand the Bible, then how do we know that is biblical? Wouldn’t this be circular reasoning?
Also, consider a realistic scenario. A Jehovah’s Witness is thrown into prison for many years. After several weeks with no contact, a few strings are pulled and a Bible is provided by a friend. Never again will this JW receive Watchtower publications. Like i’m sure any JW would do, this JW spends countless hours reading the Bible. In fact, he is able to read the entire Bible through once a month while carefully studying it’s contents.
Surely, such a JW has made quite a bit of progress! While I would never advocate that a Christian should intentionally avoid fellowship with other believers, I submit that the above scenario would not inevitably result in poor spiritual growth and false doctrine. Unfortunately, the Watchtower would not agree that such a circumstance would result in spiritual progress. If anything, it must be worse for him!
For a person to develop strong faith, he needs to do more than read the Bible. He must understand what he reads and apply what he learns. (Jas. 1:22-25) An Ethiopian eunuch in the ﬁrst century appreciated that fact. He was looking at God’s Word when the evangelizer Philip asked him: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” The eunuch replied: “Really, how could I ever do so unless someone guided me?” (Acts 8: 26-31) Philip responded by helping the eunuch gain an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. The eunuch was so moved by what he learned that he got baptized. (Acts 8:32-38) Similarly, our Bible based publications have helped us gain an accurate knowledge of the truth. They have touched our emotions and have motivated us to apply what we learn.—Col. 1:9, 10. (p. 4)
While I would certainly advocate helping others to understand the Bible, this isn’t the full picture. First, the Ethiopian eunuch did not have the inspired Christian Scriptures. This is an important distinction because they were necessary to understand the Hebrew Scriptures, especially where it related to the Messiah. Those in the early church were dependent on inspired revelation to understand the full scope of the Hebrew Scriptures and what they said in regards to the Messiah.
But even aside from this, the Watchtower is much more than simply a “Bible study aid”; it is an authoritative voice which demands the absolute unquestioning obedience of all Christians. In fact, without this authoritative voice, you can’t even understand the Scriptures. Thus, the Watchtower should be termed a “Bible study requirement.”
Next, the Watchtower asks, “If you do not have access in your language to all the publications that are produced, will you become spiritually undernourished?”
While they correctly answer “no” and provide some qualifications, I found this section to be quite interesting. First, this probably isn’t in relation to those who have little to no access to the publications. Instead, it’s in reference to those who may not get every publication as opposed to, let’s say, someone living in the United States. I’m sure if the Watchtower provided “new light” (as found in this very issue as it relates to marriage and the resurrection), then these ones will receive this information one way or another. If i’m wrong on that, i’m sure I will be corrected.
My main concern is how those with little to no access to the publications can get along spiritually? How are they able to keep up with the organization’s doctrinal alterations? Are they less spiritual or deprived because they can’t? What if they read the Bible 5 times as much as the Governing Body members themselves? Is it possible that they could be moving ahead of the organization and abandoning false teachings before the Governing Body does? According to the Watchtower, this cannot be a good thing. Yet, this presents an interesting dilemma that isn’t addressed in this Watchtower issue.