If someone asked you what the theme, or main message of the Bible is, what would be the first thing that you think of? Go ahead, think of your answer. Got it? Okay, good.
My immediate answer is something like “God’s relationship with humanity,” or “the salvation of mankind,” or simply “redemption.”
I have often wondered what the Watchtower’s answer to that question would be. My guesses were “God’s coming kingdom,” or “the end is near.” I have always wondered whether there was an underlying assumption or an over-arching theme that dictated and tied together most, if not all of the watchtower doctrine.
Recently I think I found what would be their answer. And yes, it does tie things together, if not perfectly, at least enough that it helps make sense of many of the WT doctrines that we consider quirky and disjointed. Here’s how I discovered watchtower’s answer to the Bible’s theme.
I was researching (on the internet) the watchtower’s view of God’s sovereignty as an attribute of God, and stumbled across an article critiquing the watchtower’s teaching about something called “The vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty.” Here’s an excerpt from that article:
“You are my witnesses,” declares Jehovah, “Yes, my servant whom I have chosen…” (Isa 43:10)
We are taught that we are like witnesses in a court case. What is being judged is God’s right to rule and the righteousness of his rule. We are told that we live under his rulership; that the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a true theocracy—a nation ruled by God with a population larger than that of many countries on earth today. By our conduct and by showing that life in our nation is “the best way of life ever”, we are said to be vindicating Jehovah’s sovereignty.
My immediate thought was, “I have never heard about this doctrine before, either in the WT literature, or in any of the talks at kingdom halls or conventions. Where is this coming from? Is this for real?” Well, I have come to find out that yes, it’s a thing. My suspicion is that the doctrine was something that was taught in the past, but now assumed to be true; part of the Watchtower mindset and culture, but not explicitly stated in current literature. I think it quite possible that modern JW’s have been operating under the assumptions of this doctrine for most of their history, but with few current JW’s being able to give a concrete expression of it. But now, I believe that someone at the WT headquarters has re-discovered the old expression of this doctrine, and is now bringing it again to the forefront. When I searched “sovereignty” at www.jw.org, here’s what I discovered.
In the June 2017 issue of the Watchtower (study edition), there are two articles: First, there’s “Keep Your Eyes on the Big Issue.” (pp. 22-26) What is the Big Issue? It’s the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty. Surprise! A ghost from the past has been resurrected! The second paragraph alone uses the phrase three times, with variations of the phrase occurring throughout the article almost too many times to count. (It’s a good example of mind-numbing repetition.) Here’s the main argument:
The action of Satan the Devil has raised the question of the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty.
Of course, Jehovah knows that the Devil’s allegations are false. So why has God chosen to allow the issue to go on, giving Satan time to try to prove his point?
The first human couple rejected Jehovah’s rulership, and so have many others since then. This could lead some to wonder whether there might be validity to the Devil’s claim.
As long as the question remains unsettled in the minds of humans or angels, discord among nations, races, tribes, families, and individuals will exist.
The second article is “Uphold Jehovah’s Sovereignty!” (pp. 27-31.), which is the application of the doctrine, essentially saying that our everyday actions are needed in the great cause of vindicating the sovereignty of Jehovah:
“Now is the time to uphold God’s sovereignty by our integrity, our service, and our earnest endeavors to imitate him in all we do.” (Paragraph 20.)
There’s a third thing that I found that confirms that this old theme is being revived by the Watchtower. If you click on “The Message of the Bible” under “Bible Teachings” at jw.org, a page comes up reinforcing the theme as taught in the articles:
“The Message of the Bible: Jehovah God has the right to rule. His method of ruling is best. His purpose for the earth and for mankind will be fulfilled.”
Seven pictures give an overview of the Bible, beginning with “The serpent questions Jehovah’s right to rule and his way of ruling,” and ending with “Jehovah’s original purpose for the earth and for mankind is fulfilled, his name is cleared of reproach, and his way of ruling is vindicated.”
Essentially Watchtower is saying that God has been the defendant in an ongoing trial, beginning with the fall, and ending at Armageddon. I wonder then: Who is the judge in the trial? Who is the jury? (Apparently the unsettled minds of humans and angels, according to the WT article.) And why are the ranting accusations of Satan, the deceiver, the liar and father of lies, being taken so seriously?
The doctrine does, though, make sense of the whole Watchtower legalistic system. Humans, like character witnesses, are burdened with presenting the evidence for God’s right to rule. (As if the burden rested upon God, rather than Satan.) Nowhere in scripture is the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty taught or even mentioned. The verse usually quoted is Proverbs 27:11, which is about a father imploring his son to be wise so that the father “may answer anyone who treats me with contempt.” Making this verse proof of God’s need for our witness of his sovereignty is an obvious stretch, similar to the “new light” verse of Proverbs 4:18 (used to “prove” the need for ongoing updated revelation).
It will be interesting to see renewed emphasis given to this old doctrine in upcoming congregation meetings, regional assemblies, and district conventions. I’m sure the catchphrase “vindicating Jehovah’s sovereignty” will soon become part of the “theocratic language” of the common Jehovah’s Witness. The best way to use it as an opportunity for ministry will be to simply ask your JW friends, “Where is that phrase found in scripture?” Then, share with them what YOU see as the main theme of the Bible.
Alternately you could use the tactic of quoting Jesus, when he says “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), asking them to explain how different that is from being a character witness in a court case. You might also ask, “As a witness of Jehovah, are you a witness in the sense of announcing, or making known, the good news of the coming kingdom, or are you a witness like a character witness in the cosmic court case against Jehovah? I’m confused by the Watchtower’s two very different uses of the word.”