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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 10

Image from Pixabay; Not a kingdom hall, bit it looks like one.

Lesson 10 in the Jehovah’s Witness “Bible study” Enjoy Life Forever is “How Can the Meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses Benefit You?” As “Craig” and I began our weekly meeting together, I noticed that it was just the two of us; none of his elders had joined us this time. I very much expected to see an elder’s face, calling my bluff and telling me that I need to start coming to their meetings.

How about that lesson title, though? Can you see where they’re heading with it? Ugh, the wording is so manipulative, so passive-aggressive, it’s annoying. You can tell that after this many lessons with the new recruit, the JW’s expect commitment from them. They may as well just come out and say, “You better get your @$$ to the meetings, now!”

So, I wondered whether Craig would put the pressure on.

We started going through the material in a friendly-enough way. Under point 2, “What will you learn in our meetings?” Nehemiah 8:8 is quoted. I expressed my surprise to Craig at the way the Watchtower translated the verse. While all other translations infer that the Levites explained the meaning of scripture to the people, the New World Translation renders the Hebrew text as “putting meaning into it.” I explained to Craig the difference between exegesis and eisegesis, and told him that this translation sounded like the latter rather than the former. All other translations give the sense of drawing meaning out of the text, not imposing one’s preconceived ideas into it. Craig answered by talking about his visit to the JW headquarters (“Bethel”), and the writing department. He talked about the vast effort required to produce a Bible translation. He didn’t really address the issue I had brought up, so I asked, “Were there any Hebrew scholars there? Did you meet any?” He avoided that question as well, suggesting that he thought the phrase meant that the Levites gave the text meaning by reading it in a dynamic way, putting feeling into it.

In Craig’s defense, he doesn’t deliberately lie; I get the impression he just tries to provide the best answer he can, no matter how remotely it does or doesn’t relate to the question. I think he makes up stuff to avoid sounding ignorant, and to defend the organization as well as he can. It’s very much like when you hear politicians try to answer a question they don’t have a real answer for. The motto for both could be “If you don’t know the answer, make something up.” I’ve seen salespeople do it, too. (I’m in sales myself, so I can recognize when they’re “blowing smoke” in an instant.)

When we got to the cute diagram of the kingdom hall, I asked about point C, which says, “During some parts of the program, the audience is invited to comment.” I told Craig that I have raised my hand in meetings several times, and have never been called on. “Do they only call upon baptized members?” I asked. He insisted that visitors would be called on as a normal practice. I insisted that it had not been my experience. I even told him the story (related here) of the trouble I got into when I questioned whether there was a donkey in the accounts of Joseph and Mary’s journeys. Craig winced when I told him that the elders took me into the back room. He offered a sort of apology, saying something like, “I don’t know what those guys’ issue was.” He assured me that if I visited his kingdom hall, I would be called on. Yeah, right. Whatever.

We went through the rest of the study, and I agreed with just about everything that was said. The thing is, though, I kept applying the principles of scripture about “meeting together” to the congregation I’m now attending, which is NOT a kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Craig asked me several questions about our practices, so he knew I was talking about my “christiandom” church.

Finally, at the very end of our time together, Craig asked me what I expected to gain from doing this Bible study with him. Uh oh, there it is. He’s fishing for whether I am “rightly disposed.” How should I answer? I couldn’t help feeling trapped. I can’t tell him I’m all-in, ready to begin faithfully attending their meetings. But if I admit that I’m not interested in becoming a JW, will he shut down our study and ghost me?

I thank God for the deus ex machina experiences I have had in life. [That fancy phrase means “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.” (From Oxford Languages.)] Once again the Lord gave me words to say. (Sometimes He shuts me up, too.) What I said was something like this: “I’m hoping to learn more about what my Jehovah’s Witness friends believe, so I can better understand where they’re coming from. I have mentioned to you that I have a number of questions that I haven’t found answers to yet, including questions about the New Covenant, the Two-class system of believers, Jesus as Mediator, and lots of questions about the 1914 thing.” Craig assured me that the answers to my questions would be provided in upcoming lessons of the “Bible study.”

When Craig said that, I thought “Oh, good.” It implies that he expects to continue the study with me. He’s not cutting me off, and apparently not expecting me to be “all in” yet. What a relief.

At this point, some readers might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So what if he ends the study? Why do you care?” And to an extent, that’s right. I’m not invested in the JW system. There’s no fear or anxiety about my being rejected by them. But the fact is, I care about these JW friends of mine. They have become dear to me. I grieved when I was forbidden to attend the kingdom hall closest to my home. (Read about that experience here.) My goal is to keep my friendship with my JW friends alive for as long as I can. My window of influence with them is limited, and I want to extend that window of opportunity, making it last longer, to the extent that I am able. I plan on meeting with Craig for as long as he is willing, and as long as God protects our relationship. Please join me in prayer that Craig will wake up before he decides to cut me off.

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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 5

Image from Pixabay

As my Jehovah’s Witness friend “Craig” and I went through lesson #5 in the JW Bible study Enjoy Life Forever, there was nothing really that I could disagree with. This gave me an opportunity to have nothing but pleasant conversation with him. My advice to you, dear reader, is: If you’re presented with an opportunity to have a pleasant conversation with a JW, take advantage of that opportunity! Don’t feel that you have to bring up something controversial. It’s okay to be their friend in the moment–you don’t always have to be making a point of contention with them.

Having said that, there were a couple of places in the study that I found convenient to drop some truth seeds upon him. Section 1 quotes 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” I read that verse out loud, then commented about how self-contained scripture is, that it can accomplish so much in our lives, without the need for any other materials. He seemed to agree with me, but I think he didn’t make the connection I was making about not needing an organization to interpret the Bible for us. I let that go, allowing this to be a seed for a future conversation; something I can refer back to.

Section 3 of the “study” is “How has Jehovah preserved the Bible?” And section 5 is “The Bible survived attacks.” The two sections are essentially saying the same thing. I used this as an opportunity to mention that some people think the Bible has been corrupted. I described what I know about the meticulousness of the copyists as they preserved the Bible. I also mentioned that I read somewhere that “some people” even think that the word Jehovah was removed from the Greek New Testament, but that this is not possible since none of the manuscripts (that the meticulous copyists so meticulously preserved) have that word, but they all have the Greek word kurios. Craig responded with something like “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I only gave that a “yes indeed” before bringing us back to the next part of the study material.

So those were two seeds of truth I quickly planted, in the midst of our whole time together. It was a good, positive meeting, and made us both eager for our next time together.

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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 4

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The fourth lesson in my “Bible study” with my Jehovah’s Witness friend “Craig,” from their primer Enjoy Life Forever! is called “Who Is God?” Oh, this should be good, right? Let’s get right to it!

Point #1 was “What is God’s name, and how can we be sure that he wants us to know it?” That’s a leading question, isn’t it? They’re telling the student right up front what they expect him/her to conclude. The blatant manipulation is comical. I used this paragraph as an opportunity to talk about my preference for using the name Yahweh rather than Jehovah, because Yahweh is more accurate, which even Watchtower admits. Somewhere in my ramblings I included that God’s name means “I am that I am,” or the one who is, the source of all existence. This is contrary to the JW belief mentioned in the paragraph that God’s name means “He causes to become,” but I didn’t present the facts as a contradiction; I just laid it out there as assumed truth on my part. Craig affirmed everything I said, so I asked whether, if I became a JW, I would be allowed to use the name Yahweh instead of Jehovah. Craig said that it would be allowed, and I responded with exaggerated surprise. “Oh really? I wouldn’t get in trouble?” Craig hemmed and hawed about that, and I let him off the hook and we continued on.

Point #2 asks “What does the Bible reveal about Jehovah?” Most of this paragraph is true, so I agreed with it. I did bring up the point about creation, that Isaiah says that he alone created everything. “Who was with me?” asks God, implying that no one else was involved. I just let that float in the air for future reference, if and when we get to Jesus’ involvement in creation. Oh, and I continued to use Yahweh rather then Jehovah.

I also agreed with point #3, “God has many titles, but one name.” But I kept using Yahweh rather than Jehovah. I think that Craig was surprised that I so readily agreed with this paragraph. I honestly did agree, that God has a name, Yahweh. The next section though . . .

Section #4 was “Jehovah wants you to know and use his name.” Oh boy, here we go. When Craig asked me the question from the study “How important is it to use God’s name, Jehovah?” I paused and said, “Well, honestly, I don’t think it’s vital.” I explained how a child can love his dad and have a deep relationship with him without knowing his personal name. In fact, if I were to call my dad by his first name, that would be disrespectful, wouldn’t it? Craig got noticeably uncomfortable, so after a short while I gave him an out. Looking ahead to the next section, I commented that I liked what it said there, and considered it more important.

Section #5 was “Jehovah wants you to get closer to him.” We talked about that concept, without referring much to the printed material. We watched the video, and I expressed my empathy for the woman who had the harrowing experience of being a refugee, and acknowledged that churches failed to meet her need for a personal relationship with God. We talked about the importance of knowing God personally, “apart from any organization” I added, explaining that we as individuals can know him personally and don’t need any dependence on any priesthood, elders, or other humans to get to know him. I mentioned how wonderful it was to me to have God as my “Abba, Father.” We left on a good note, and looked forward to the next study next week.

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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 3

Image from Pixabay

The third “Bible study” I had with my Jehovah’s Witness friend “Craig” was titled “Can You Trust the Bible,” the third chapter of their new primer called Enjoy Life Forever!

Most of this chapter was material that we agreed on. This gave me an opportunity to have friendly, non-confrontive conversations with Craig. It was a needed break for us; we could just be friends discussing things we agreed on.

There was one spot where the Watchtower quotes Matthew 24:6-7, which they use to convince people that we are in what they have described as “the last part of the final part of the last days,” (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing one of their videos). I casually mentioned that verse 6B says that when you see these things you are to know that “the end is not yet.” In the verses following, Jesus says that there would be a time of intense, unprecedented persecution before the end came. The signs to watch for are the completion of the worldwide preaching of the gospel, and the “abomination of desolation” in the temple (verses 14 and 15). We didn’t discuss my comment; I think Craig gave me a pass as a Bible study newbie. He didn’t really interact with what the text in Matthew actually says any more than what was taught in the lesson. Sometimes he’s in the text with me, but other times he seems to slough it off like he’s made of Teflon. (I see the Teflon effect often among JW’s.)

After that one little speedbump, we went back to our friendly discussion of the chapter. I really did nothing but affirm what the rest of the lesson was saying.

The next lesson had some fun stuff, though! Stay tuned!

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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 2

Image from Pixabay

Lesson two of Enjoy Life Forever is “The Bible Gives Hope.” This is the second study “Craig” and I did together, now several weeks ago. (I’m trying to catch up on these reports, really I am!)

I’ll skip paragraphs that had content that we mainly agreed on, and get right to the more interesting (juicy) bits. (Paragraph 2 mentioned “paradise on earth,” which can be a whole long conversation in itself, but I let it go, saving it for a later discussion. If he sticks with me that long.)

Paragraph 3 mentioned Acts 17:11 about the Bereans, so I jumped all over that, talking about how the Bereans questioned everything that the leaders of the organization presented to them. I acted unaware of the JWs’ unquestioning allegiance to their governing body, rattling on about how we only need the Bible, and no other materials, organizations, or human guidance to be able to interpret it for ourselves. It’s fun to “play dumb” and bulldoze right over the self-proclaimed authority of the governing bully! Craig was squirming a bit as he avoided commenting on what I was saying.

Paragraph 5, with the heading “The Bible’s Hope Can Make a Difference,” was a not-so-subtle diatribe against political involvement. Man, they begin early with the indoctrination! The video was blatantly dripping with sentiments of non-involvement. Rather than commenting on that, though, I picked up on what the character in the video said about the Bible. She grew up not understanding the King James Bible, and shared her excitement about finding a more understandable version, the New World Translation (the official version of the Watchtower org and all Jehovah’s Witnesses). The NWT was touted as The version that was clear, understandable, and using plain English. I asked why then did the translators of the NWT use some archaic expressions, such as “fruitage” instead of “fruit.” Craig vainly tried to come up with a reason for using fruitage, and then said he would research that and get back to me the next time we met. Fair enough, I said.

We continued talking about non-controversial stuff, and ended on a good, friendly note.

Next post will be about lesson three!

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A Christian in a Jehovah’s Witness Bible Study: Part 1

Photo from Pixabay

“Craig,” a Jehovah’s Witness acquaintance of mine (a friend of a JW friend), texted me after I attended the most recent JW Memorial. “Hey, glad to see you there,” etc. Then he asked, “Would you like to have a Bible study with me?”

“Sure!” I said, knowing how tedious the Watchtower material is. And I knew the truth, that what they call a “Bible study” is actually a study of Watchtower materials, with isolated proof-texts wrenched from their biblical contexts to “prove” the Watchtower teachings. So why would I jump at the chance of attending a JW “Bible study”? Most Christians would avoid it like a rabid skunk. But I was hoping (even praying) for such an opportunity!

Notice the title of my blog. “UndercoverJW.” That tells you something. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not secretly infiltrating them, nor could I. They can spot a non-JW from across a kingdom hall. But I do pretend to be an interested Bible student (which is true) and a possible recruit (which will only happen when mutant pigs sprout wings and fly). In the past I avoided Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now I seek them out. (Only God can do that. Yes, I believe in miracles.)

I have attended three “Bible study” sessions now with Craig (by Zoom), so I need to get you up to speed! I’ll give an account of how each session goes. Keep in mind that he is trying to convert me using the Watchtower’s indoctrination content and techniques, and I’m trying to influence him with the truth as it naturally comes from scripture.

So here we go! Lesson One, several weeks ago now.

The lessons are from their new book, Enjoy Life Forever!, which is what they are now using with new recruits. (Previously they used What Can the Bible Teach Us?) I found that each lesson gave me plenty of opportunities to plant seeds with Craig. So here’s how it went, in a sort of play-by-play format.

Lesson 01, “How can the Bible help you?”

  1. “What are some questions that the Bible answers?” (I just agreed with this paragraph; nothing stood out here.)
  2. “How can the Bible help us enjoy our daily life?” Here I took advantage of the verse quoted, 2 Timothy 3:16, pointing out that the Bible has what we need as individuals to improve our lives. We don’t need anyone to interpret scripture for us; it’s understandable and applicable to each of us. I also shared that I appreciated the statement “This publication does not replace the Bible.” I talked about our need to read and study the Bible, accepting its authority, and that we don’t need any other materials to learn from the Bible.
  3. “The Bible can guide us.” I jumped on this picture, saying that it reminded me of a verse in Proverbs 4 (one of the JWs’ pet verses!) First I affirmed Psalm 119:105, about the Bible being a light to our paths as individuals. Then I found and quoted Proverbs 4:18, which talks about the path of our individual walk with God becoming brighter as we learn from and submit to the truth of his word. (Very contrary to the JW claim of “the light [of their Bible interpretation] getting brighter and brighter” based on the misinterpretation of this verse. I even mentioned that the Mormons claim this verse to justify their concept of what they call “progressive revelation.” Oh, those misguided Mormons!) The Watchtower’s use of Psalm 119:105 and the accompanying picture are perfect for debunking their twisting of Proverbs 4:18, while feigning ignorance about their doing just that. I would call this part of Lesson 1 a Hot Opportunity!
  4. “The Bible can answer our questions.” This part of the lesson included a video about a teacher who struggled with questions, specifically the problem of pain and suffering. A student in her class led her to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Then the lesson asked, “What questions do you have that the Bible may be able to answer?” When Craig asked me this question, I said, “I want to know whether Jehovah treats all believers the same, because I hear from my other JW friends that there may be two classes of believers, which I think might be a problem.” He said we would address that question later.
  5. “You can enjoy reading the Bible.” I just used this section to gush about the Bible, how I love reading and studying it. Craig expressed how different I was from most people, in that I already have a strong interest in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses typically think that no one else but them has interest in the Bible.
  6. “Others can help us understand the Bible.” This section is an obvious ploy of the JW’s to plant the thought that we need outside help to understand the Bible, which feeds into their agenda to make people dependent on their materials. I took the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in a different direction (one more true to the context of the story), pointing out that Philip was acting on his own, apart from any organization, explaining truth using scripture only and no other materials. To the question “Some people say studying the Bible is a waste of time. What do you say?” I took the opportunity to gush about the Bible again, telling a story of when someone asked me why I read the Bible every day. My answer was that it was for me a connection to reality. My hope with Craig was that he would see that I have a living, vital relationship with God and his Word.
  7. Craig and I read through the Summary section very informally, because by this time he was quite aware of how I would answer the very basic questions there.

All this time with Craig, I feared that he would think I was not “right-hearted” or “rightly disposed” or “worthy” of continuing. (Meaning that they are instructed to spend time only with those who are open to swallowing their message without questioning anything.) I tried to bring up my challenges in a way that made it sound like I’m willing to learn and discuss (which I am). When he asked if I wanted to meet at the same time next week, I was greatly relieved and pleased. Seeds are being planted with Craig!

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Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Own Bible Study

In sharing with Jehovah’s Witnesses, your most valuable asset is your own personal Bible study.

Okay, maybe your most valuable asset is the power of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, yours and others’ prayers, and scripture itself. But as far as printed materials, what you personally prepare is the most valuable, far above any books, tracts, articles, websites, videos, podcasts, etc. Here’s why: Jehovah’s Witnesses are classically conditioned to NOT look at or listen to any materials published by any organization other than the Watchtower. Most of them will actually be afraid of it, and the rest will disregard it with a scoff. It’s satanic material in their mind, to be dismissed without a glance.

You need to prepare your own handwritten document to share with them. Here’s an example of what I have developed over time. In reading the Watchtower materials, I noticed so many blessings, or “kingdom privileges,” that Watchtower says are for only the 144,000, all of which we claim as promises from God, available to all who believe. So I began recording them, noting any scriptures that classified each specific blessing as being available to “you who believe,” or to “all who believe,” or similar language. And I ended up with a messy web of scripture that looked like this:

ScriptureWeb

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

See how so many of the arrows point back to “believing in Christ”? That should tell you something. But it’s too messy and confusing to show to anyone, JW or not. So I tried to neaten things up a bit. Here’s the result:

ScriptureWheel

Wheel of Blessing (rather than Wheel of Fortune)

That’s a bit neater, and it indicates the centrality of our adoption by Jehovah, and its relation to (again) believing. Good stuff, right? This Bible study thing is work, but oh how blessed I feel! There’s a side benefit in this for you. You get encouraged by God as you study his word! Score!

But I was still not satisfied with my result. I wanted something that would make an impressive statement, something that looks professional to show to my JW friends. So I made a chart in Word, which ended up looking like this:

OurStanding

I know, the pic is fuzzy. It’s my old iPad.

Impressive, yes, but it can be overwhelming. I showed it to my friend Nate (who died not long after, but not from looking at my chart). Nate was pretty smart, so I knew he could handle it. He took it home and studied it, and returned it to me dappled with red ink, most of which said either “for the anointed only,” or “only for that time period.” Right, Nate, that’s my point exactly! Did you notice that the verses all say something about the blessing being for everyone who believes? Smh. At least he studied it, right? Since sharing it with Nate I have learned that most JW’s would have immediately dismissed it without a glance in its direction.

Anyway, it’s much too complex. I needed something that made a statement at a glance, but that would also draw the reader in to deeper exploration. So I simplified my chart to this:

Believing in Christ JPEG

Much better, yes?

You can also view it in PDF format here: Believing in Christ 2

The first row marked “redemption” is the only one that Watchtower considers available to all believers (that is, the “great crowd”). The entire remainder of the chart lists benefits that they consider only available to the 144,000 anointed believers. The verses listed in column 2 all indicate that the promises in column 1 are available to all who believe.

You are free to print out copies of the chart for your own use–consider it public domain. But I don’t recommend using the printed chart with your JW friends. They will likely not look at it. I have had it happen several times since showing it to Nate. What works better is to choose 2 or 3 of the examples and write them down by hand on a sheet of note paper. That will look more like something you personally discovered in your own reading of scripture. Which should be true anyway, as you study these verses in their contexts. Here’s an example:

Sharenote

Pretty simple, huh?

Say something like, “I noticed on JW.org that watchtower teaches that only the 144,000 are born again. But could you take a look at this verse? To me it seems to be saying something different. What’s your take on that?” Then have them read 1 John 5:1 and John 3:3. You can choose any of the blessings I have listed, or any more that you may find in your own study of scripture. Read, study, and be blessed! Then, use what you learn to share with your JW friends.

[BTW, I need to make mention here of my new friend Wordgirl, who is masterful at this handwritten format of materials for use with JW’s. See her examples at her blog, A Twist in Translation, here.]

 

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