Sunday, January 24, 2010

Questions from Readers #1: JWs and Romans 8:8-9

Hello, everybody! A special installment today, because I actually got a question from a reader. I hope he doesn't mind if I post my answer here, since it might make a good post. His question was, "What would a Jehovah's Witness answer to Romans 8:8-9 (vv. 1-9 itself)?" And that's a very good question.

First things first, I ought to post the text of Romans 8:1-9 as found in the New World Translation:
Therefore those in union with Christ have no condemnation. For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For, there being an incapability on the part of the Law, while it was weak through the flesh, God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk, not in accord with the flesh, but in accord with the spirit. For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those in accord with the spirit on the things of the spirit. For the minding of the flesh means death, but the minding of the spirit means peace and life; because the minding of the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not under subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be. So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God. However, YOU are in harmony, not with the flesh, but with the spirit, if God's spirit truly dwells in YOU. But if anyone does not have Christ's spirit, this one does not belong to him.
The apparent problem posed for Jehovah's Witnesses by this passage, I think it seems, is that Jehovah's Witnesses divide believers into two primary classes: (1) the "anointed", a limited number of spirit-begotten believers, and (2) the "great crowd", an indefinite quantity of faithful believers who are nevertheless not spirit-begotten. Paul, however, here describes two groups of people: (1) those who have the spirit and can please God, and (2) those who lack the spirit, being in accord rather with the flesh, and hence cannot please God. There seems to be no room anywhere here for a faithful believer, Jehovah's Witness or not, who lacks the spirit.

It reminds me of a discussion I had with Uriah at the twentieth study meeting. The answer given - which, I'll add, did not affect my argument as a whole after I tweaked it just a little bit - was that, while only the anointed are "spirit-begotten" or "anointed by the spirit", all Jehovah's Witnesses ("great crowd"/"other sheep" included) can be described as indwelt by the spirit, and so there is no conflict between Pauline teaching and theirs at this point because all Jehovah's Witnesses "have Christ's spirit".

As far as substantiating that view from official JW literature, here's what I can offer so far on a quick glance. In the 15 October 2001 issue of The Watchtower, there's an article called "Who Will Separate Us From God's Love?" In the ninth paragraph, they write:
When saddening things happen to us, we could begin to feel abandoned, even imagining that God's love for us has waned. Since we are all subject to such happenings, we do well to consider carefully the very consoling words of the apostle Paul recorded in Romans chapter 8. These words were addressed to spirit-anointed Christians. Yet, in principle they also apply to those of the other sheep, who have been declared righteous as God's friends, as was Abraham in pre-Christian times.--Romans 4:20-22; James 2:21-23.
While the direct reference here is probably to Romans 8:38-39, it may indicate their overall approach to the chapter. In the 15 February 1975 issue of The Watchtower, p. 106, Romans 8:9 is cited in the direct context of those who have been anointed with the spirit, which is of course reserved for the 144,000. They say, among other things, that "the principal evidence one anointed to the heavenly calling has is this spirit or dominant sense of sonship, that is, of having been begotten by God to spiritual sonship as one of the 144,000 heirs of the heavenly kingdom". In context, however, the argument may be that those who live according to the flesh do not have God's spirit in their lives and thus cannot be anointed with the spirit. They go on to use Romans 8:9 to contrast the orderly worship of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is in accord with the spirit, to "practices that smack of fleshly tribal customs or of religious sects that encourage uncontrolled emotionalism". Similar use of the same verse is made on page 28 of the 22 May 1975 issue of Awake!, which is part of an article about whether "religious ecstasy" is evidence of the presence of God's spirit.

In the second volume of the 1988 publication Insight into the Scriptures, the article on "Spirit" gives the appearance of referring Romans 8:9 only to the anointed class, but I think the reference there is better understood as merely saying that it applies to them--as in, those who are spirit-anointed joint-heirs with Christ should eschew the flesh and live in accord with the spirit, as said in Romans 8:9. The very next paragraph says that "the holy spirit is God's 'free gift,' which he gladly grants to those who sincerely seek and request it", without any attempt to restrict this to the 144,000.

Also, on the second page of the March 1976 Kingdom Ministry, there's a part that gives official directions on how to run the 28 March 1976 service meeting. For part of it, the leader is told:
12 min: Stay Close to Congregation. Talk; involve audience. All of us know need to be led by God's spirit. (Rom. 8:9) God's spirit active when brothers gathered together for discussion of spiritual things. (Rom. 1:11, 12) While we incite each other to love and fine works on different occasions, what is best time? Is it not usually at meetings? (Read, discuss Hebrews 10:23-25) Discuss ways in which we strengthen and encourage others at meetings; include need to prepare for and comment at meetings. Need to encourage those in our book study group and those with whom we are conducting home Bible studies to attend meetings. Cover Question Box.
This seems to give a strong indication that Romans 8:9 is meant to apply to all those in the audience, if "all of us know [the] need to be led by God's spirit". Also, the 1 September 1982 issue of The Watchtower says on page 19 that all Christians (that is, Jehovah's Witnesses) "can confidently pray to be filled with God's holy spirit", and Romans 8:9 is among the Scripture citations for the paragraph.

After looking at those references, few and far between though they are, it seems likely that Jehovah's Witnesses draw a distinction between having the spirit and being anointed with the spirit; that they see the former as a necessary but not sufficient condition for the latter; and that by drawing this distinction, they avoid running afoul of Romans 8:8-9. They can claim, without doing violence to their theology, that all of them have Christ's spirit, and so all of them are to live in harmony with the spirit and all of them belong to Christ.

So, if I've understood correctly the particular issue posed by my reader with reference to Romans 8:8-9, I believe that this is how Jehovah's Witnesses would answer it.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose this is not all that dissimilar from certain Pentacostal and Charismatic congregations which differentiate between those who are indwelt by the Spirit--namely, all Christians--and those who've been baptized or annointed by the Spirit--namely those who speak in tongues, etc.