Saturday, December 26, 2009

JW Study Meeting #28

Today around 1:00, it was time for the next meeting. When I opened the door for them, Uriah entered with Shem in tow. I hadn't seen Shem in ages, so it was great to see him again, catch up a bit, etc. (Interestingly, Uriah had told another JW at the Kingdom Hall about my meetings with Latter-day Saints while in Greece, and that JW had in turn told Shem, so when Uriah brought it up today, Shem had heard a bit about it but hadn't known it was me involved.)

After meeting a minimal quota of smalltalk (computer stuff, largely), we talked a bit about some decorations in my house, and while we were joking around, Uriah quipped, "You know why the Israelites wondered around for forty years in the wilderness, don'tcha? One of them dropped a quarter." I also showed them a couple knives I brought back from Greece. Uriah also confessed that he has his own bottle of Pepto-Bismol at home because when he isn't feeling so well, he likes to take a few swigs straight from the bottle to help him feel better. That... might explain a lot, actually. Eventually we picked up with some material from the eighth chaper ("What Is God's Kingdom?") in What Does the Bible Really Teach?; we covered pages 76 through 81 today.

Shem promptly started us off with a bang (okay, maybe a befuddled whimper) by remembering that Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in the Lord's Prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew... and then completely drawing a blank on how it went. (After watching his friend struggle with this sudden shutdown of brain activity, Uriah helpfully noted that the relevant quote is on the very first page of the chapter that was open right in front of Shem.) Shem remarked, "Oh my God.... Don't listen to me the rest of the day." Finally, we began with Uriah asking the first question in the chapter header: "What does the Bible tell us about the Kingdom of God?" My answer was:

It tells us a lot of things about it. It tells us what the kingdom of God is, why it's a hope we should-- something we should all be hoping for and praying for, why it's something to look forward to, and why it's the solution to our problems.
After commending the answer, we turned to the second of those questions: "What will God's kingdom do?" My answer, and the subsequent clarifications, ran as follows:

JB: Rule over everything and, again, solve our problems.

Uriah: And when you say "everything", you're including the earth?

JB: Mmhmm.

Uriah: I knew that. We did that one (?) before.

The third question ("When will the kingdom cause God's will to be done on earth?") generated a bit more discussion:

Uriah: "When will the kingdom cause God" [cough]-- sorry, let me start over. "When will the kingdom cause God's will to be done on earth?"

JB: When it comes in its fullness.

Uriah: Right. Right. I was looking for a specific date. [laughs]

Shem: October.

Uriah: October 14th, right, yeah. Of who-knows-what year.

After I read the first paragraph, which introduces the "first three petitions" of the Lord's Prayer, the question was, "What famous prayer will now be examined?" It was a reminder of how elementary the questions in this book are; the questions aren't designed so much to stimulate robust thought as to make sure that the person is following along. The same holds true, at least in my meagre experience, at Watchtower studies held at Kingdom Halls. I made light a bit of the triviality of the question by pretending to be having difficulty figuring it out, which of course gave Shem another opportunity to poke fun at himself for his earlier gaffe:

JB: I forget...

Shem: Don't laugh, I did!

[We all laugh]

JB: I know, and we're still laughing about it! Ahh... the Lord's Prayer.

Uriah: Yeah, I was assuming you knew that one.

Shem then read the second paragraph, which contained the first couple verses (Matthew 6:9-11) of the Lord's Prayer, and it came time for the study question:

Uriah: The next question is just as simple, but, I want to warn you: fifty percent of practising ministers [...] wouldn't get this right. "What were three of the things that Jesus taught his disciples to pray for?"

JB: The first one, in the order of the list in the prayer, is for the name of the Father to be sanctified, to be set apart as holy in the sight of all peoples. The second thing is for the kingdom of God to arrive in its fullness, so that God would truly and visibly be established as ruler over all the earth. And the third thing is for the will of God to be done, for all peoples to be brought into conformity with the will of Jehovah.

Uriah: Absolutely. This chapter is not difficult, but it is going to get into some things like that. I mean, that was easy for you, that was just elementary for you. But fifty percent of ministers would not be able to answer those three questions. Another 25 percent wouldn't believe 'em. Because they just... put too many of their own wants in, irregardless of what Jesus prayed or said.

I read the third paragraph, which narrowed the chapter's focus to the second petition.

Uriah: "What do we need to know about God's Kingdom?"

JB: We need to know what it is, how it relates to the other things Jesus urged us to pray for, and... we need to know-- we need to be able to recognize what its coming might look like. At least [. . .].

Uriah: Okay. There's one more specific point that I'd like you to talk to us-- talk to me about.

JB: Okay...

Uriah: And the reason I want this is because most of the world denies this, but I know that you don't, so this is....

JB: We need to know that it will indeed come upon the earth.

Uriah: Okay. How, uh...-- What do we need to know about God's kingdom as far as Jehovah's name?

JB: We need to know that Jehovah's name must be sanctified in God's kingdom.

From there we got into a brief discussion of the importance of the name of Jehovah, with which I really have little substantial quarrel with Jehovah's Witnesses save that I think that they're rather extreme in their emphasis (though perhaps understandably, to counter a perceived de-emphasis on the part of other groups). Shem then read the fourth paragraph, which basically just said that Jesus is the king of God's kingdom, and Uriah then asked the question:

Uriah: "What is God's Kingdom, and who is its Ruler"-- "who is its King?"

JB: The king of God's kingdom is Jesus Christ, and he will rule as the head of God's government, which is God's kingdom, his sovereign authority over all mankind and, indeed, all of creation.

Uriah: Perfect answer with the book closed. Good. Sometimes in a study, I'll be going through here and I'll get the right answer every time from somebody, but as you get this far into the book they start to develop a knack of feeling what the answer is so they can parrot it back to you without understanding it. You didn't do that, 'cause you had your book closed and I knew you knew this much. Good! I used to do that with Benjamin. We'd read the paragraph, I'd read the question, and then I'd tell him the answer. I said, "Now tell me why that's the answer." 'Cause he was just, you know, he'd be able to pick it out of the paragraph, this is the sentence structure that fits the question. So I, "Okay, [laughs], but I want you to understand it." So I'd make him tell me why. He got mad at me! [laughs] Too bad.

We went on to the fifth paragraph, which Shem read, which asserted that God's kingdom is in heaven. The text of the paragraph (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, p. 77):
From where will God's Kingdom rule? Well, where is Jesus? You will remember learning that he was put to death on a torture stake, and then he was resurrected. Shortly thereafter, he ascended to heaven. (Acts 2:33) Hence, that is where God's Kingdom is--in heaven. That is why the Bible calls it a "heavenly kingdom." (2 Timothy 4:18) Although God's Kingdom is in heaven, it will rule over the earth.--Revelation 11:15.
After that was read, naturally the question came next:

Uriah: "From where does God's Kingdom rule, and over what?"

JB: Let me close the book first, so I can think about it for a moment on my own. ...Well, God's kingdom, ah...-- any kingdom rules from wherever the ruler is. That's simply the way all governments work. If you've got a hierarchical structure with some group ruling, that group necessarily constitutes the power base, as it were, of the kingdom. In this case, because God's kingdom is ruled and administrated by Jesus Christ, it is ruled from wherever he is. Since he is in heaven after the Ascension, God's kingdom rules from heaven while he is there, and God's kingdom rules over a universal domain, which necessarily includes the earth. Thus God's kingdom rules over earth as well.

Uriah: Good. And it is talking about present tense, sooo.... we'll let that go for now.

I have a feeling that Uriah was considering bringing up the 1914 thing but decided better of it. That's probably a wise choice, because we'll be getting into some eschatological controversies pretty darn soon anyway. The sixth and seventh paragraphs concerned what makes Jesus such an ideal king, with emphasis on his character, his compassion, and his immortality (which, as I noted in answering one of the related questions, precludes any sort of succession crisis like those endemic to all other dynastic houses throughout history). Things get a little more interesting with the next few paragraphs, which deal with the role of the 144,000 in the kingdom government. I transcribe the dialogue; anything bracketed within quotes here is bracketed in the text from which is was read, save for the bracketed-and-parenthesied (parenthesized?) Scripture references, which are put in parentheses in the text, but which we don't read aloud:

Uriah: ...I think I got ahead of myself here. Want to do eight, [Shem]?

Shem: "Here is another truth about God's Kingdom: Jesus will not rule alone. He will have corulers. For example, the apostle Paul told Timothy: 'If we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings.' [(2 Timothy 2:12)] Yes, Paul, Timothy, and other faithful ones who have been selected by God will rule together with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom. How many will have that privilege?"

Uriah: "Who will rule with Jesus?"

JB: Good and faithful servants will. Those who have been loyal to him and who strive to do his will have been promised that they will be made joint-heirs with Christ.

Uriah: Good. Number nine!

JB: "As pointed out in Chapter 7 of this book, the apostle John was given a vision in which he saw 'the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon the Mount Zion [his royal position in heaven], and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.' Who are those 144,000? John himself tells us: 'These are the ones that keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes. These were bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.' [(Revelation 14:1, 14)] Yes, they are faithful followers of Jesus Christ specially chosen to rule in heaven with him. After being raised out of death to heavenly life, 'they are to rule as kings over the earth' along with Jesus. [(Revelation 5:10)] Since the days of the apostles, God has been selecting faithful Christians in order to complete the number 144,000."

Uriah: "How many will rule with Jesus, and when did God start to choose them?"

JB: Well, as you know, this is one of the areas where we still have some disagreements that we're going to revisit.

Uriah: Right.

JB: According to the text as it's given here, which takes the number 144,000 in Revelation to be a literal figure rather than a symbolic figure, there will be exactly 144,000 co-rulers with Christ. He began to choose them upon his ministry, his death, his resurrection, and he is continuing to choose them as time goes on, with the renewal of the gospel on earth in Jehovah's organization, and of course as replacements are needed in the cases of apostasy by those who have already been selected for the anointed class, a few new ones must be chosen.

Uriah: Okay, good--

JB: And in the understanding here--

Uriah: Mmhmm. ...Refresh my memory on what your beliefs-- [cough] beliefs on that.

JB: My belief is that the figure 144,000 given in Revelation is symbolic; it symbolizes the renewal of Israel. And it can be taken either to refer to God's people as a whole, thus being co-terminous with all who believe, or as representing the Jewish believers as opposed to the Gentile believers. In both cases, I think--I think--that all who come this saving faith will have part as joint-heirs with Christ in his rule of the kingdom of God.

Uriah: So all faithful Christians would have part in that?

JB: I believe so, yeah.

Uriah: Okay. Who would they be ruling over then?

JB: The entire creation.

Uriah: Other humans too?

JB: I think all humans would be-- all humans who are redeemed, and thereby all-- I believe that all humans who are not redeemed will suffer a fate so dreadful that, if they can be call-- if they can be said to exist at all after that, it won't be very human. It will be dehumanized, because they will have turned themselves from the source of all things that-- that is [sic] good: God. I believe that the rule of the joint-heirs with Christ will be over all of creation as a whole.

Uriah: Okay.

They essentially accepted my answer as an answer without any quarrel whatsoever, moving us immediately to the tenth paragraph, which dealt again with the rule of this government being compassionate because of their sympathy. Paragraph eleven set out the peculiar JW interpretation of the line in the Lord's Prayer about God's will being done "as in heaven, also upon earth". In JW belief, Satan was (up until the time of the parousia in 1914, at least) still alive and well in heaven, and thus God's will was not being done there much more perfectly than it was being done on earth. Thus, Jesus told his followers to pray for it to be done in heaven perfectly and to be done on earth perfectly as well. Since the parousia, in JW belief, Satan and his forces have been cast down to our vicinity, and consequently God's will is now done in heaven but not on earth. (I asked consequently about the propriety of praying today in the exact manner specified in that verse, and they said that if a JW today were to pray, "Your will be done, as in heaven, also upon earth", they would be taken aside afterwards for correction, though neither of them have ever heard someone do that. Uriah also said that, since they don't pray the Lord's Prayer "by rote", they don't really worry about not praying along those lines.)

I have doubts that this verse has ever been interpreted this way by any other movement prior to theirs. Rather, the prayer seems to assume that God's will is already being carried out in heaven ("as in heaven"), it should additionally be done here as well ("also upon earth"). This is essentially how Augustine of Hippo reads it (see here, section 21), as imploring God to bring our obedience to his will in greater conformity to how the angels do things. He gives an alternative explanation that glosses the passage with the sense of, "As the righteous do Thy will, in like manner let sinners also do it, so that they may be converted unto Thee", and another with the sense of, "as in our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, so also in the Church". John Chrysostom, too, said that "ye must long, saith He, for heaven, and the things in heaven", and that "He hath bidden us make the earth a heaven and do and say all things, even while we are continuing in it, as having our conversation there". Theodore of Mopsuestia, likewise commenting on the passage, affirmed that "in this world we strive as much as possible to imitate the life which we shall live in heaven, because heaven contains nothing that is contrary to God" and, just as much to the point, that "as we believe that the will of God reigns in heaven, so it should also hold sway in earth". And interesting, before any of the three of them, Origen of Alexandria specifically addresses the problem of evil in heaven and, whatever one thinks of his solutions, he most definitely does not suggest that Jesus meant for us to pray that heaven be cleansed.

The next few paragraphs treated the expulsion of Satan from heaven, and Uriah offered Job 1:6-8 as a passage showing that, in earlier stages of human history, Satan was quite active in heaven. I think that's rather overstretching the passage, at least just a bit. Uriah also asked me my opinion as to why God permitted Satan to continue existing at all, and since Jehovah's Witnesses actually have a fairly decent explanation of that (that merely extinguishing Satan from existence would be resolving by brute force rather than through nobler means, and such just wouldn't be God's immensely compassionate style) and we'd talked about it months and months ago, I gave them essentially that answer, which made them quite pleased; Uriah referred to my reply as "perfect". The book went on to note that Satan now resides on the earth, and that God's will for the earth is to restore it. Paragraphs 16 and 17 went on to note that God's kingdom will triumph over all other kingdoms and is established in the midst of kingdoms that oppose it. Nothing really objectionable there. We decided that paragraph 18 would be a great place to resume, so we called it quits there and parted ways. The next meeting will be on the first Saturday of 2010.

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