Saturday, August 15, 2009

JW Study Meeting #24

Anyway, today Uriah and I started by shooting the breeze for a while. My cat Moses, of course, kept us company, as he can't stand to be away from people. I told him how I'd been at a book sale just before he came, and I showed him my five new copies of the Book of Mormon. He said he could remember a number of decades ago that the Mormons had some brochure with a picture of a black lady in it, and there was a red circle around her with a slash through it. If that's true, I'd love to have one of those someday. I also mentioned that I'd bought a second copy of Mankind's Search for God (which I just finished the other night) and a copy of Schnell's Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave--I told Uriah that me buying it keeps it off the market, which is true because I hoard my books zealously.

Anyway, eventually we got around--more or less--to the topic of interest for today: the anointed class and the great crowd. He said that in Revelation, when groups have a definite number, that's specified. Thus, the great crowd is numberless in Revelation because God has not seen fit to reveal it to us, but the anointed class has a precise number that is given, and the number is fitting as 12 x 12 x 1000. Uriah explained that the anointed are not "better" than the great crowd but simply have a "better calling". No one can earn the privilege of being one of the anointed; it's purely a matter of election. Furthermore, if an anointed believer fails to live up to his or her calling, there's no "downgrade" to being a member of the great crowd. It's a matter of apostasy, not demotion.

He then talked a bit about how the anointed know that they're anointed--a matter of religious epistemology, if you will. His wife Atarah had been pondering the question for a while, and one of the elders recommended that she go visit a semi-local anointed woman to ask it. And so she did, and the anointed replied with the question, "Well, where do you think you'll be in the new creation?" She says, "On earth", and the anointed asks how she knows. The answer Atarah gives is, "Well, I just sorta know," and that was the anointed's answer as well. Uriah, for his own part, said that he's never had any real desire to go to heaven, even from his days as a Methodist. He always wanted to live on earth, and so he can see this as an indication that he's part of the great crowd.

The number of the anointed, he mentioned, is counted annually by the number of partakers at the Memorial Service for the Lord's Evening Meal. In recent years, it's been somewhere around 9800, but no figures can be released in certain countries like China, so the number may or may not be higher. After numbers from Russia began to be taken into consideration, the figure jumped by 1500, after all. I asked what the highest number had ever been on record, and he didn't know. He might see about finding out for me.

Anyway, next I asked him to explain the biblical sources for their beliefs about the anointed and great crowd, so first he turned me to Revelation 14:1-2, which he said was the anointed 144,000 bought from the earth. I asked him how he knows that the number is literal rather than symbolic, and he said he'd e-mail me an article because it involved some Greek grammar that he isn't very up on. Color me skeptical. (Can you even buy "skeptical" in a local paint store, or do they have specialty shops for that?) He linked Revelation 14 to Revelation 5:9-10 on the basis of singing in both passages and explained that the kingdom of priests must be the anointed class. Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 37:29, however, were said to show that there must be a great crowd of righteous to live on the earth forever, and thus the distinction is made between the government (anointed class) and the subjects (great crowd). I was rather underwhelmed by the logical force of it on the whole, but I can at least see how someone who accepts their doctrine on faith would swallow this use of the passages, or how someone without high biblical literacy could be swayed.

I asked him to explain Revelation 7:4-8, and he noted with curiosity that the twelve tribes listed there do not quite match with the list from the Old Testament. This was basically the reply I'd expected, being standard in Witness literature, but Uriah had a rough time remembering what the difference was. (He thought for a moment that there was no tribe of Benjamin, until he caught himself.) I then mentioned that it was to be expected that Dan would be replaced; after all, intertestamental literature about Joseph and his brothers consistently portrays Dan as a villain. He didn't seem to catch on to the particular relevance of that here, though. So I asked him what the purpose of verses 5-8 is, and he went on for a while about how Old Testament things are types of a pre-existing and permanent heavenly reality, citing the temple, tabernacle, and ark of the covenant; and he suggested that the same goes for the twelve tribes of Israel, but that I should check Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand! on it because he'd have to check it for a refresher course himself. When I asked, he seemed quite open to the possibility that each anointed is assigned to a particular 'spiritual tribe', which would certainly be an explanation for the passage. A ridiculously convoluted explanation with very low credibility, perhaps, but an explanation nonetheless.

I then asked if there was anything in the Gospel of John dealing with the anointed and great crowd, and eventually I had to prod him into finding John 10:16--he had difficulty remembering where that passage was. He affirmed his belief that the "other sheep" are the great crowd. So I asked in what sense they and the anointed "become one flock", and he explained that they remain two flocks in the sense that the anointed and great crowd have different roles and dwell in different places, but they're one flock in the sense that they follow a single shepherd. (Uh, sounds to me like two flocks following one shepherd...) So at least I got some sense of how they handle that.

He agreed then to look for some more books for me--have I mentioned lately that I love books?--and I'll be seeing him again next Saturday. Between now and then, my task will be to study up a bit on the relevant passages, check their literature for their interpretations of things, and maybe draft up something on my own views of those verses.

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