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From False Premises Come False Conclusions

From False Premises Come False Conclusions

By James Caputo


Examining the premises of our beliefs  is of vital importance for those who cherish truth and critical thinking.  If the foundations of our beliefs are unsubstantiated or not predicated on fact,  the conclusions at which we arrive very often will be erroneous. Arguing the correctness of a particular position that is drawn  from a faulty, presupposed or unproven premise (or premises) greatly thwarts objective analysis. Therefore, it is imperative to logically and factually examine the premises of an argument before embracing the conclusion as true.

Regarding premises, Mark Tiller says the following :

An argument consists of a premise (or several premises) and a conclusion. A premise is a reason, an explanation, or a justification. If the premise is part of a logical argument, it provides supporting data or evidence that leads the audience to the conclusion. The conclusion of the argument is that with which the speaker wants the listener to agree. It is only as compelling as is the premise from which it is derived. If the premise is well-constructed (usually meaning well-understood and factual), and if it logically leads to the conclusion, then the listener will have to accept the conclusion, and the speaker will have accomplished his or her goal. An argument can be attacked on the basis of its poor premise, or on the basis of its poor logical flow to the conclusion. In the latter case, an opponent can defeat an argument even if the opponent cannot verify the facts concerning the premise.

How Premises block Effective Communication

If an Evangelical tried to convince a Catholic that the physical assumption of Mary into heaven is 'unbiblical,' he would no doubt reach an impasse in his apologetic. This is due, in large part, to the fact that a Catholicís belief system is built on the premises that Holy scripture along with "Church tradition" determine doctrine.  A Catholic's belief in the Magesterium would also add to the communication barrier if the Evangelical party did not concede such to be founded.  Hence, since this unique Catholic teaching does not find its source explicitly in scripture but is understood in light of  premise beliefs not shared among Catholics and Evangelicals - any meaningful exchange of thought is impeded. If an effective dialogue is to ensue,  the aforementioned premises must be examined. 

Premises and Jehovah's Witnesses

Probably the most unique teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses and one which hinders effective dialogue the most is that God works through an organization by using the "faithful and discreet slave" as a modern-day "channel" between himself and mankind. This he does solely through his organization.

As Noted by former Bethelite Tom Cabeen:

"It is claimed that Godís organization is identified with Jehovahís Witnesses, who view their governing body and its legal agent, the Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society, as representatives of a divinely-appointed "channel of communication" between God and man. They are taught that God directs all his interests on earth through that organization, and that outside it there is no possibility of either salvation or divine favor. Recognizing the authority of the "spirit-directed organization" is even included in Jehovahís Witnessesí requirements for baptism." 

Some 7 years ago I began to question the truthfulness of this foundational tenet (The Faithful and Discreet Slave), which in reality under-girded my entire belief system at the time. I discovered that the Watchtower organization's foundational premise was the cornerstone of a  highly inter-dependant doctrinal superstructure. Absent this premise, and many of the unique doctrines of the society seemed to topple. 

As an example of how the Watchtower's teaching of the faithful and discrete slave supports virtually all other unique Jehovah's Witness tenets, I will briefly consider the secondary doctrine of "progressive understanding." 

Jehovah's Witnesses claim to believe in "progressive understanding" of scripture. That is, they feel that God works through his 'organized people' by progressively revealing his word.  Texts such as John 16:12-13 and Proverbs 4:18 are often referred to in an attempt to bolster this view.  Lets examine these two texts to see  if  *the texts themselves*  support such a conclusion  or if one is required to *first* concede the teaching about the "faithful slave" (and a host of other corollary doctrines) to make the texts support the teaching of "progressive understanding ."

John 16:12 "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come.
 

In its historic context, most Christians understand this scripture to teach the subsequent arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and his role to lead the apostles into "all truth."  While Jehovah's Witnesses may concede this to be so, when discussing the doctrine of "progressive understanding," they depart from a natural reading of the text for multiple reasons, as I shall demonstrate. 

According to the Watchtower of March 1, 1981,  the Faithful and Discreet Slave had its beginning in 33 CE with the first century congregation.  We read the following:

"Witnesses of Jehovah understand that the "slave" is comprised of all anointed Christians as a group on earth at any given time during the 19 centuries since Pentecost." 

How did this 19-centuries old slave perpetuate its unique teachings? That is, how was the "spiritual baton" passed from one generation of the slave to the next? The Watchtower furnishes the following reply in the January 15, 1975 Watchtower :

Jesus Christ is the head of the congregation, his slave, and his words show that he would strengthen them to feed his "domestics" right down through the centuries. Apparently one generation of the "slave" class fed the succeeding generation thereof, as well as continuing to feed themselves.

Based on this premise, one would expect the 'wheat-like' Christians constituting the "faithful slave" of the 16th century to possess 400 years of 'progressive understanding' over against the 'wheat-like' Christians of the 12th century?  At first blush, this is exactly what the Watchtower quote would seem to imply, would it not? Jehovah's Witnesses,  however, believe no such thing. In fact, they see the Holy Spirit as functioning quite differently down through the centuries based on their unique understanding of the "great apostasy" that would take place after the death of the apostles. Their eschatology draws from  a unique "bible chronology, " which they feel supports the idea that God would  "restore true worship" in the "last days" by means of his "faithful slave" and the aid of the "other sheep."  Therefore, the Witnesses' understanding of the "great apostasy," the "restoration of true worship," their unique understanding of "bible chronology" which informs their idea of  the "last days" all play a significant part in influencing how they understand the text of John 16:12-13.  It should be noted, that all the aforementioned doctrines hinge on an the acceptance that  Christ' returned invisibly in 1914 and chose Watchtower leaders as his  "faithful slave" between the years 1914-1919 when he was was allegedly examining his 'spiritual temple.' But if Christ did not return in 1914, then their bible chronology, their concept or restorationism, their unique concept of the last days, and their two-class understanding regarding the "other sheep" all prove untenable. As a result, instead of  John 16:12-13 acting as a common denominator, it only serves to muddy the waters. 

Similarly, in an attempt to excuse past false doctrines, Watchtower publication will often cite Proverbs 4:18.  It is believed that this scripture also supports the idea of  "progressive knowledge."  It reads:

But the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light, growing brighter and brighter until full day.  Proverbs 4:18

The context of Proverbs 4:18 contrasts the enlightened path of the righteous with "the path of the wicked." (verse 14) "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble." (verse 19) 

Here again, those  who are not Jehovah's Witnesses come to that text and simply see a juxtaposition of a righteous man's life to that of a wicked man's life.  If the text from John had anything to do with Christians having further knowledge of God's will, this text doesn't remotely touch the subject.

A non-Jehovah's Witness might query: What has this scripture that one should construe it as 'progressive doctrinal understanding' for God's 'organized people?' If this scripture does indeed apply to a progressive doctrinal understanding for God's organized people, what has the text itself that prevents it from applying to 'individuals' or all God's anointed as a group from Pentecost, to say, the 1700's? Can the progressive nature of this doctrinal knowledge be corroborated historically over the last two thousand years? If not, why? 

 These are fair and logical questions that naturally spring from the assertion that Proverbs 4:18 teaches "progressive understanding."  As in my last example,  Jehovah's Witnesses read Proverbs 4:18, construe it as teaching progressive doctrinal understanding for God's organized people, but then place its application at a certain point in history (1919-present  for example) based on what they believe regarding the "faithful and discreet slave," the  "great apostasy," the  "restoration of true worship,"  and Bible chronology," which in turn informs their  unique understanding of the "last days" 

In summary, Jehovah's Witnesses proffer the idea of 'progressive understanding"  by pointing to texts like John 16:12-13 and Proverbs 4:18. Yet, those who do not bring their cornerstone doctrine of the "faithful slave" to these texts (along with multiple unique corollary doctrines)  view such texts as unsupportive - and in the case of Proverbs 4:18, completely irrelevant.
 

 

Today,  Jehovah's Witnesses are invariably excommunicated if they openly or privately question the premise teaching of the Watchtower's alleged divine authority. The central issue of every judicial committee meeting that deals with the accusation of "apostasy" essentially revolves around whether or not the accused believes that the Watchtower is "God's organization" or represents "the faithful and discrete slave" as taught by the organization (Go to Judicial committee meeting).

When entering a dialogue with a Jehovah's Witness, one should insist on a systematic examination of the Watchtower's premise-teaching of divine authority. This is, indubitably,  the only logical starting-point. Unless a Witness is open to examine the evidence for this foundational tenet, any discussion of "doctrine" will prove to be utterly fruitless in that the preponderance of their unique teachings stems from this unsubstantiated premise.  

This cornerstone belief of unique divine authority must be discussed and examined honestly and exhaustively in light of scripture, secular history, and most importantly, the organization's history. Once that is accomplished, one can broach other topics of importance with objectivity, unhindered by false premises. 

For information regarding the Watchtower's teaching on the "faithful and discreet salve" and their alleged divine authority, click on the following link: The faithful and discreet slave- A Critical Analysis?

 
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