Saturday, January 9, 2010

JW Study Meeting #30

Uriah and Shem arrived at 2:00 PM, as scheduled; 1:00 PM was becoming increasingly inconvenient for my household. As usual, we started with some fairly idle chitchat, chiefly about pets, travel, etc. I inquired as to any upcoming events, and aside from a circuit assembly that I hope to attend at the end of the month, the only certain date as of now is that Uriah will be delivering a talk on February 14 at a local Kingdom Hall. The reason for the rearrangements is that every three months, a Kingdom Hall gets a visit from a Bethelite speaker, and a Bethelite gets to choose when in that time frame they wish to visit. One had chosen the last week of his, and the next had chosen the first week of his, but two back-to-back Bethelite speakers just isn't a good idea, so they're working on juggling things around. Shem quipped that it'd be funny if the Bethelites were back-to-back and gave the exact same talk, and Uriah thought it'd be even funnier to see how many people wouldn't even notice. He also added that no one sleeps during their meetings anymore, though there used to be one elderly, blind JW who did, which was understandable. To quote them:

Uriah: We don't have anybody that sleeps anymore.

Shem: I haven't seen any.

Uriah: We had a-- We had a brother that slept pretty much regularly through every meeting. I mean, he was-- he was old, and he was blind. So he would study on the tapes, and he would answer a question, and after that he was pretty much [snoring sound]. [laughs] Which is a shame, he was our only blind person. He was handy for being the--

Shem: Chaperone.

Uriah: --chaperone on dates. [laughs]

I also asked about the current size and demographics of their own congregation, since I haven't been there in a while. Uriah said that it had been rather steady at around 80 for quite a years, but two JW families had recently moved to the area, and so they now have 87 members. I got the impression that their congregation hasn't gained more than maybe one or two converts at most over the past number of years, which I find interesting. I'll have to pay close attention to the number of baptisms at the circuit assembly, because now that I think about it, there were only 34 baptisms at the district convention last year (see my report from the convention's second day), and they seemed quite pleased with the number. Now, a number of those seemed to be youth who were, presumably, from JW households. And that was for an entire district including territory from three states, with well over 5000 people in attendance. I have a feeling that conversion rates are quite, quite low. Anyway, Uriah and Shem also said that their congregation is mostly weighted towards the elderly (their oldest JW woman is 85); they've got some kids, pretty evenly distributed up to the early teens, and then a rather sparse gap, and then it gets rather evenly distributed (though sparsely) for the upper 20s and 30s; they could only think of one JW in their congregation who's perhaps within a year of my age.

Uriah also had a brief story about little kids and the door-to-door ministry. To summarize, they were using a van in the door-to-door publishing work, and they had a pair of young sisters with them; the younger one was five and very spoiled. The older sister (not sure how old) wanted to go on a door-to-door visit without her little sister because she knew they'd be discussing serious spiritual matters. The little sister insisted on going, but Uriah offered to babysit for a bit while the older sister and another JW made the call. So, sure enough, after the older sister left, the little one started throwing a temper tantrum inside the van (Uriah rolled the windows up to muffle the predictable noise), and so he said to her, "You know what, [girl]? If you don't stop screaming, I'm gonna start this car, and we're gonna leave. We're gonna leave your sister standing there, and you'll never see her again." Evidently, it worked quite well as a deterrent to the tantrum.

We eventually got to the subject at hand (and I should note that I'm being sparing with detail and precise chronological order because I've had to type this material over several times now, but my computer keeps destroying it...), which led to us beginning a new chapter. Chapter 9 of What Does the Bible Really Teach? is entitled, "Are We Living in 'the Last Days'?" We wanted to hurry to the content because, as Uriah put it, "We gotta keep hustlin' here because [Shem]'s got a hot date. Don't wanna make him late." The chapter mostly consisted of a walkthrough of key verses in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24--on which, see this excellent online commentary by a very cool friend of mine). Early on in the chapter, though, there's a brief discussion of "war in heaven", focusing on passages like Revelation 12. The fourth paragraph assumes that the reader is already convinced that "Jesus Christ became King in heaven in the year 1914" and cites Daniel 7:13-14 in support. There was also a footnote referencing a section of the book's appendix (pp. 218-219) wherein the Jesus-as-Michael identification is defended. Uriah had me read the text of that section, so I'll give it here:

THE spirit creature called Michael is not mentioned often in the Bible. However, when he is referred to, he is in action. In the book of Daniel, Michael is battling wicked angels; in he letter of Jude, he is disputing with Satan; and in Revelation, he is waging war with the Devil and his demons. By defending Jehovah's rulership and fighting God's enemies, Michael lives up to the meaning of his name--"Who Is Like God?" But who is Michael?

At times, individuals are known by more than one name. For example, the patriarch Jacob is also known as Israel, and the apostle Peter, as Simon. (Genesis 49:1, 2; Matthew 10:2) Likewise, the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth. Let us consider Scriptural reasons for drawing that conclusion.

Archangel. God's Word refers to Michael "the archangel." (Jude 9) This term means "chief angel." Notice that Michael is called the archangel. This suggests that there is only one such angel. In fact, the term "archangel" occurs in the Bible only in the singular, never in the plural. Moreover, Jesus is linked with the office of archangel. Regarding the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 states: "The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel's voice." Thus the voice of Jesus is described as being that of an archangel. This scripture therefore suggests that Jesus himself is the archangel Michael.

Army Leader. The Bible states that "Michael and his angels battled with the dragon . . . and its angels." (Revelation 12:7) Thus, Michael is the Leader of an army of faithful angels. Revelation also describes Jesus as the Leader of an army of faithful angels. (Revelation 19:14-16) And the apostle Paul specifically mentions "the Lord Jesus" and "his powerful angels." (2 Thessalonians 1:7; Matthew 16:27; 24:31; 1 Peter 3:22) So the Bible speaks of both Michael and "his angels" and Jesus and "his angels." (Matthew 13:41) Since God's Word nowhere indicates that there are two armies of faithful angels in heaven--one headed by Michael and one headed by Jesus--it is logical to conclude that Michael is none other than Jesus Christ in his heavenly role.

As should be fairly evident, their case for Jesus-as-Michael is vastly weaker than the biblical case for the full deity of Christ. If I may provide a few other brief comments, intertestamental literature clearly and unambiguously allows for multiple archangels, and considering the infrequency of the term in the New Testament, their assumptions are clearly unwarranted. (Admittedly, others hold to the one-archangel view, including Billy Graham, so Jehovah's Witnesses aren't alone on that score.) The arguments they have are rather scanty. Talk of "the archangel" doesn't inherently require just one; in certain contexts, I could speak of "the senator", despite the plurality of senators. For that matter, some would see the "an archangel" of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as pointing to a greater possible number of archangels. The "his angels" argument, while interesting, assumes that if Michael and Jesus are distinct and both command angelic armies, these armies must be distinct; it seems equally possible to suppose that Michael is an angelic commander subordinate to Christ. (And even if Michael is Jesus, this is in no way obviously incompatible with the deity of Christ; or, at least, Seventh-Day Adventists and others don't seem to think so.)

At any rate, paragraphs 6 through 11 were the last six we got through, and they chiefly dealt with 'signs of the end'. Things like war, pestilence, earthquake activity, famine, and immorality. The basic strategy was this: Jesus talked about various conditions; those conditions are in evidence today; therefore THE END IS NEAR!!!!!!! ...Of course, I would note that this is wrongly argued. It forces Jesus' words into the minds of contemporary readers without considering the setting in which he said them and what he might have meant in so saying. In short, it is thoroughly eisegetical. Likewise, it betrays a very limited historical consciousness on the part of Jehovah's Witnesses, I think. True, many of the calamities of which Jesus spoke are present in our lives, but they routinely use just the past century and a half or so as a benchmark by which to measure them. That's patently insufficient. Rather, even on a futurist view, one should look at all of human history to the extent that one can. Also, what never seems to cross their minds is the notion that, even if these elements are present in severe ways in the present, it might be exponentially more so in, say, six more generations. Without the erroneous chronology that yields 1914 as the basis for their measurements, everything in their eschatological scenario crumbles.

Of interest is one little conversation snippet that transpired after Shem got severely tongue-tied while reading paragraphs 6 and 7:

Uriah: "How are Jesus' words about wars and food shortages being fulfilled today?"

JB: Well, the circumstances of today can certainly be described using Jesus's words. All of those things are very true today. There are food shortages, there are nation rising up against nation, kingdom against kingdom... You've got plenty of warfare and famine in the present age.

Uriah: Okay... How do you think we can have famine and deaths from hunger in a world where we also pay some farmers not to grow crops?

JB: Because we're insane.

Uriah: That's close! Close enough. [laughs] Okay.

JB: It's amazing, the terrible way we distribute food in today's world.

Uriah: Mmhmm. Yep.

JB: Even when we try to pull off relief efforts and ship tons of food over to the places that most need it, in many of those places tyrannical dictators block the food shipments because they're using famine as a way to control their own people.

Uriah: Absolutely. And supplement the military.

JB: Yeah.

Uriah: Okay. Lemme change the question a little bit, I wanna ask you this personally.

JB: Okay.

Uriah: Do you believe Jesus' words about wars and food shortages are being fulfilled today?

JB: I believe that his specific meaning was for-- he was describing specifically the circumstances that would be leading up to certain events in the past. I think that he was actually referring to circumstances that are already past, even though many of those same situations are also the case today.

Uriah: Okay. Do you personally believe that a prophecy can have a minor and a major fulfillment?

JB: It can.

Uriah: Okay.

I quote the first part mostly so I can have a good reason to link to the sites of charities like WorldVision, Stop Hunger Now, and the Famine Relief Foundation. The second part gives me a chance to point readers to the second appendix, "Excursus Typology", of my friend's commentary on the Olivet Discourse. I think it's a quite good treatment of the subject of multiple fulfillment from a preterist perspective. And that, I think, is also a good note on which to end this account of my thirtieth meeting with Jehovah's Witnesses. The next one will be a week from today.

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