Saturday, September 13, 2008

JW Study Meeting #8

So 1:30 PM, the appointed time, came and went. I was pacing back and forth in my house, talking to myself, as I often do. About a half hour later, I heard some faint noises outside of my door, catching my attention; a moment or two later, the doorbell rang, and after trying to overhear a few snippets of the conversation going on outside (and, unfortunately, failing), I opened the door to find Uriah and another new guy, "Ananias". I invited them in, and it wasn't long before they became distracted by my cats. Ananias, like Uriah, is a cat person, and so after they sat down at the table, my cat Enoch jumped up and laid down in front of Ananias while Moses, another of my cats, bothered Uriah and Ananias from the floor between them. We made some small-talk for a bit, where I explained what I'd been doing the past couple weeks, including cleaning up my portion of my dorm room last night, since, as I put it, "My trash can did to my desk what Germany did to Poland."

We started without prayer, which surprised me a little, but I let it go. More on this later. Uriah had looked through at least some of my paper--I didn't inquire as to precisely how much--and had a couple of suggested alterations. First up was a minor complaint about my designation in the second paragraph of the Watchtower Society's view as "neo-Arian". The point behind the complaint, it seemed, was that the phrasing made it seem as though I were pre-emptively dismissing their view as manmade, I suppose.

Second came a comment on my catena of quotes from Watchtower publications in which the Trinity is insulted over and over again. After having listed all of these things, I write:

While this sort of rhetoric saturates a great deal of Watchtower literature, neither side has a monopoly on harsh polemic directed toward the other.
After some remarks about how the Watchtower Society is not infallible but is merely approved by Jehovah, Uriah said that they have a directive from God to critique error, and he cited 1 Timothy 6:3. I didn't feel like hassling with a fairly minor point, so I let the matter go, but had I gone into it I would've said that: (1) harsh polemic means more than critiquing error; (2) I'm not saying that harsh polemic is wrong; and (3) just a few visits earlier, Uriah had complained about the use of the word "against".

From there, we moved forward to a couple statements where I quote a few Watchtower publications on the problems in certain critiques of the Trinity:
It should not be objected that this would require the Word to simultaneously be with a person and be that person. This objection is found in several Watchtower publications:

"Note, however, that here again the context lays the groundwork for accurate understanding. Even the King James Version says, 'The Word was with God.' (Italics ours) Someone who is 'with' another person cannot be the same as that other person." (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 27)

"How, then, could the Son be part of Almighty God? John also states that the Word was 'with God.' But how can an individual be with someone and at the same time be that person?" (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, p. 203)

The primary problem with this objection to the Trinitarian understanding of John 1:1, of course, is that the idea described is not the Trinitarian understanding.
Uriah was somewhat confused; apparently he had thought, from his previous dealings with professing Trinitarians and in spite of our previous discussions of the subject, that this was how Trinitarians understand John 1:1. So I took some time explaining that Trinitarianism is not modalism, and Uriah remarked to Ananias that I was perhaps the first professing Trinitarian he'd met who wasn't actually a modalist. Uriah also mentioned the common water analogy he gets from folks trying to explain the Trinity, and then I went on for a bit about why I don't use analogies like those.

(Uriah said he couldn't find many corrections he'd make in my paper, partly because I quoted Watchtower publications so frequently. That's the idea, eh?)

At this juncture, Uriah asked me the question of what had made me request this Bible study with them when I was at the Kingdom Hall. I responded by saying that I really am interested in learning more about what Jehovah's Witnesses believe, and that while I can read plenty of Watchtower literature, it's not quite the same as actually meeting personally with Jehovah's Witnesses and talking about these sorts of things. I also said that I'm always looking for a chance to study the Scriptures with someone, regardless of who they are, because the Scriptures are the living and powerful word of God. Uriah was happy with the answer. I suppose he'd feared that perhaps I was solely looking for battle.

We then moved on to a list of passages he'd compiled lately and was interested in getting my perspective on. He had drafted up a much longer list once before, a long time ago, but this largely came out of his recent personal studies. First up was, of course, Proverbs 8:22-31, with focus on vv. 22-23. After noting that some people aren't so confident that this applies to Jesus but that I disagree on this one, I mentioned that the Hebrew verb qanah, which the New World Translation renders as "produced", also covers the semantic range of "get"/"possess", as seen in Proverbs 4:5 (which I was pleasantly surprised to recall off the top of my head), and that this was how I read the passage. I then stated that this was an eternal relationship between YHWH and his Wisdom, and I briefly went on a mini-tangent about patristic consideration of the 'Word internal' and the 'Word external'.

Eventually, we somehow managed (partly through a discussion of eternity past and eternity future, I think) to get to the topic of the death of Jesus, and I affirmed my belief that, since I believe that death is not immediate annihilation, the answer to who ran the universe during the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection is quite simply the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. At this point, I decided to go on a little tangent and ask about the appropriateness of the word "cross" as a translation of stauros. Uriah shook his head, and he and Ananias went on a talk about the cross being a symbol of the Babylonian god Tau and an Egyptian symbol, and that it surely must please Satan to have people think that Christ died on a pagan symbol. I then pointed out that in Hymns of Millennial Dawn, some of the hymns there were pretty crucicentric (is that a word?). They nodded and noted also that the crown-and-cross logo appears on early literature like that. Uriah said that he thinks it might've been 1938 when the Watchtower realized the truth about the cross and switched to the idea of a torture stake. I then asked how many nails were used in Christ's hands, and Uriah was of the opinion that it was just one. I mentioned that that was how I'd seen it in Watchtower literature, and I found a sample picture on page 18 of Should You Believe in the Trinity?; but then I turned to John 20:25 and asked why Thomas spoke of the nails in Christ's hands, rather than "nail" in the singular. And for that, they had no answer, but were instead somewhat befuddled, so I asked Uriah to check on that for me and let me know if he finds anything out.

Through a discussion of the mechanics of Roman crucifixion as a method of execution, we eventually found our way back on track, and Uriah brought up 1 Corinthians 2:16 as showing a distinction between the Father's mind and the Son's mind. I agreed and explained again the personal distinctions between the persons of the Trinity. We then moved to 1 Corinthians 3:23, where Christ belongs to God, and I had no problem with this either, but instead noted that the analogy of church:Christ::Christ:Father does not require that Christ be other than God, only other than the Father. After a bit of discussion of this, Uriah decided to drop his next couple Scriptures, since I had basically already answered those with my explanation to 3:23, so the next verse up was one we'd already discussed before: 1 Corinthians 11:3. I merely said that my same explanation would be in play here.

From there, Uriah mentioned Mark 13:32, and so before even turning there, I looked at the ceiling and mentioned which verse I was pretty sure it was. Of course, I was correct, which pleased me; I said that since I was dealing with many of the same passages in my research, I was starting to get the hang of the references. My explanation of this drew on Thomas Morris' theory of the incarnation, by which the incarnate Christ has two ranges of consciousness, one human and one divine, such that Christ retained his omniscience in the divine range of consciousness while remaining genuinely unknowing of the precise time of his parousia in his human range of consciousness, which was operative more saliently before his resurrection. I'm not totally sure that I explained this one quite as well as I could have, because it is a rather complex issue. We then went to Matthew 20:20-23, and I explained that, in my opinion, the reason Jesus did not have the authority to appoint the sons of Zebedee to positions above the rest of the Twelve was that the Father had not directed it, and the Son was in willing submission to the Father's authority.

At this point, Uriah said that he always had to remind himself that I'm a Trinitarian, because he's not used to Trinitarians capable of recognizing a distinction of persons and functional subordination. (Heh, at one point, Uriah quipped to Ananias that he's sometimes confused how I know so much and am still so wrong! I smirked and decided not to turn that one around on 'em.) He then asked for some clarification, basically, on the differences we have, and so I pointed out that there's a big difference between eternal, uncreated, uniquely divine things and temporal, created, non-divine things; and that we can be certain that the Father belongs on the former side, while much of what exists is on the other; and that, when I see testimony in the Scriptures that refer to the Son and the Spirit as God, or as eternal, or imply that they share the unique identity of YHWH, then I cannot classify them among temporal, created things but rather on the other side; and then, since I remain a steadfast monotheist, I must say that they are one God in three persons, since I also cannot deny the personal distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Watchtower, as I said, removes the Spirit from the field as a non-person and classifies the Son as among the temporal things, albeit as close to the divine side as possible. Therein, then, lies the issue.

Around here, Uriah said that that's what he thought, and he asked a question about the possibility, taking the Trinity out of account, whether the Father could have created a son who reflected him and would exist forever from that point on, to which I said yes, though I doubted whether the reflection of the Father would ever be what it is in Jesus. Somewhere in here, Uriah said that the reason we hadn't opened in prayer was that, since it's becoming clearer now that we have fundamental disagreement about who God is, he can't be quite as sure that we're praying to the same god, and thus he can't pray together with me, though we can pray for one another. I didn't really have a problem with that, since I pray before they get here anyway.Things were really winding down, but I kept them for a little bit longer. I handed Uriah a list of Watchtower literature that I'd like:
  • Reasoning from the Scriptures
  • "The Word": Who is He? According to John
  • Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!
  • The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived
  • Jehovah's Witnesses--Proclaimers of God's Kingdom
Technically, I couldn't recall the precise title of the fifth one, and while I remembered that it started with "Jehovah's Witnesses" and maybe had the word "Kingdom" somewhere, Uriah didn't seem totally sure what I was talking about; but as for the other four, Uriah is fairly sure that he can get me copies of each, plus a few videos he'd like me to see. One is on the history of the Watchtower Society, and another is on the experiences of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany. I'm always looking for new DVDs to watch up at college with some of my friends.

And as for the books, technically I'm borrowing "The Word": Who is He? According to John through InterLibrary Loan and have already finished it, while I just today got the used copy of Reasoning from the Scriptures that I'd ordered from Amazon. For those who don't know, the former is a 1962 booklet/tractate that deals a lot with John 1:1, and very poorly at that; while the latter is the book they use as a reference guide on prooftexting, basically. It has a surprisingly large section on the Trinity, so I'm looking forward to digging into that. In the meantime, I'm gonna see about scanning "The Word": Who is He? so I can transfer it to my laptop and obviate the need to keep my own soon-to-come copy on campus.

I then inquired about Charles Russell, and Uriah explained that he founded a group called the Bible Students in the 1870s and that this later became the Watchtower Society. He even predicted the 1914 invisible parousia 37 years before it happened. As Uriah said, Russell wrote a lot of great stuff, but he was far from perfect and in fact got quite a bit wrong, especially his views on the Egyptian pyramids; and Uriah also mentioned the dwelling in California for the resurrected saints, although I think that might've been during Rutherford's time. (The place was called Beth Sarim, and it was built in San Diego for the patriarchs to live in when they rose from the dead in 1925; in practice, if I'm not mistaken, it might've served as Rutherford's mansion.) Russell wrote the Millennial Dawn series, but God didn't let him finish the seventh, which was then completed posthumously by a team under Rutherford. Russell's writings are valued as of historical value, but hold little other significance for contemporary Jehovah's Witnesses.

I also brought up the Millions Now Living Will Never Die talk/booklet by Rutherford, and Uriah thought it was from 1928. (It was actually from 1920, but then again Uriah also thought that Russell died in 1915, when he actually passed away on Halloween in 1916.) Uriah affirmed his belief that millions who were alive then will not pass away before Armageddon comes, and indeed he believes that within his own lifetime, the American government will ban religion, and this started a chain of Ananias and Uriah talking about how the past few years have seen several attempts by governments in Canada and France, as well as the United Nations, to do away with religion. It was... interesting.

Anyway, a little after that, they departed, having stayed for about 90-100 minutes in total. I'm planning to continue work on my paper; in fact, once I get back to campus in a couple days, I'm gonna perhaps post it as an attachment in this thread as it currently stands, because I'd like to get some reflections on it, maybe. Also, I've decided that I'm gonna try to develop this into a full-blown published book sometime in the next decade. In fact, what I was discussing with myself earlier before they arrived were various segments of that. Anyway, I'm really hoping for some feedback on how this meeting appears to have gone from my description. My next meeting with them will probably be on October 11th, so I've got some time off.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thank God for Research Applications International

I don't think I mentioned it before, but a little while ago I finally broke down and ordered two very important CD-ROMS from Research Applications International: "The Pastor Russell Anthology" and "Rutherford's Rainbow" (2nd ed.). They've since arrived, and so now I have PDF versions of plenty of older literature by Russell and Rutherford. And let me just say that it has been an immense help; my paper has grown phenomenally thanks to the material in there. I'm particularly fascinated by Russell's exegesis of Psalm 82, personally. I have never seen any counter-JW Trinity book that treats Russell's own use of that passage, even those that deal with Psalm 82 in contemporary Witness usage. And so now my paper is weighing in at around 57 pages, including bibliography. Standard font size, single-spaced. And I'm thinking... if I keep working on this for a few years or so, really go at it, why should I not be able to publish it as a book someday? I mean, really, if I were to do some more interaction with a broader range of anti-Trinitarian literature and add a section on, say, John 8:58 (assuming that further analysis reveals that it's a worthwhile text to use to this end), plus maybe an appendix on pneumatology... it should be long enough. Especially so if I expand it by explaining things at greater length for simplicity's sake. And I'm confident that I could get blurbs for the back from J. P. Holding and David A. Reed, and possibly also from Robert M. Bowman, Jr. So why on earth shouldn't I? Heh... now that I'm seriously considering this avenue, I'm even more determined.