In just this one letter, I found some very interesting thoughts. In the context of those who are Jehovah's Witnesses and claim that their religion is modeled after first-century Christianity, I think we are faced with a few questions and some real food for thought. Let's get right into it.
The first thing I notice, in having read all 5 chapters, is the significant near-absence of the name Jehovah. The name Jehovah is mentioned--and even Jason David BeDuhn would say, inserted without basis in the earliest copies of the Greek text--3 times. Count them. One (4:6), two (4:15), three (5:2). Three times, in a letter of this length? How many times was the name Jesus Christ mentioned? 18 times. Eighteen. Six times more than Jehovah, even in the NWT. The old song book, in contrast, has songs devoted to Jesus--only HALF as many as are devoted to Jehovah. Based on the first-century Christian model, what is the real truth? God was referred to primarily as God the Father, the same way Jesus Christ himself referred to God during his ministry and during ALL of his prayers.
Chapter 2, verses 3 through 9, are also revealing: "For the exhortation we give does not arise from error or from uncleanness or with deceit, but, just as we have been proved by God as fit to be entruted with the good news, so we speak, as pleasing, not men, but God, who makes proof of our hearts...Neither have we been seeking glory from men, no, either from you or from others, though we could be an expensive burden as apostles of Christ...It was with working night and day, so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of you, that we preached the good news of God to you."
Paul makes clear that error doesn't come into the picture with the message given to the congregations. Can the Governing Body make the same claim? The Proclaimers book itself demonstrates a long history of errors that were given as exhortation not just to those inside the congregation, but to many, many people outside.
Secondly, Paul makes clear that he and his fellow ministers did not demand that their living expenses be met. Rather, they worked hard to take care of their own needs so as not to be an expensive burden on the congregation. True, no one 'demands' anything from a member of the congregation amongst Jehovah's Witnesses today. It's voluntary. However, when the travelling overseer visits, does he pay for his own expenses? Or is a resolution--consistently passed unanimously--provided to pay for his expenses? Would anyone in the congregation simply refuse to pay for his expenses on the basis of this scripture? Could they do so openly? Would there be no consequences if they did so openly? Maybe. But it's unlikely the elders would merely ignore such action. Any honest Witness has to admit this. (Intellectual intimidation on my part there--thanks, Rutherford!)
I'll skip the whole 'rapture' issue, because it gets complicated. But it certainly contradicts any notion of an 'invisible presence' of Jesus Christ. Because Paul makes clear that those who "survive to the PRESENCE of the Lord" will be "caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air". If Jesus has been present since 1914, either this hasn't happened, or Russell & gang were not really anointed after all. Obviously, no Witness would accept that reasoning--either that Jesus is not present, or that Russell was not anointed. But either one or the other has to be true, or else this scripture is completely untrue.
How about Chapter 5, verse 3? "Whenever it is that they are saying: "Peace and security!" then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them." I came to realize that to suggest that this demands some specific, recognizable cry of 'peace and security' does not make logical sense. Reading this verse in its context, we can see that Paul says that the day of wrath comes as a thief. Suddenly, unexpectedly. The reason why Christians are not overly shocked when that 'sudden destruction' occurs is, not because they've been on pins and needles since some specific year (ie. 1914, 1874, or since 'the generation of anointed ones'), but because they were CONSTANTLY AWAKE spiritually, not worrying about some random calculation or what this sign or that sign means. They are generally alert, focused on the Christ. They haven't stopped working and sold all their stuff and stood on a mountain or something like that. They have maintained a balanced, reasonable awareness of the nearness of Christ's presence--which, from the apostles' viewpoint, 2,000 years ago, was very near then. Notice too that the apostles did not endeavor to lay out a specific timetable for the end; they merely encouraged faithful Christians to keep their senses, just as Jesus asked them to do.
I notice also that very little detail is given as far as comments on 'organizational procedure', as is common in letters from the Society's headquarters. Nor does Paul micromanage their lives and try to tell them if they should accept a Saturnalia bonus or something like that. He just encourages them not to fornicate and to keep loving their brothers. Basically, love God, love your neighbor, done. | That's what I call Nextel-style Christianity.
In reading the Bible itself, it does become clear what Christianity is about. People need to open their eyes to the Bible's message, not through someone else's literature, but through the pages of God's Word alone. A lot more can be learned that way. I won't lie--I do think that Jehovah's Witnesses publish a lot of good material, so far as they stick to the direct message of scripture. I just think that we must also recognize that it is possible to understand as much of the Bible as any human can--without Jehovah's organization in mind. Holy spirit is not bound up in a particular group of people who figure it all out for us. That's not a personal relationship with God; that's relationship by proxy. Outsourcing one's conscience is at the root of much of mankind's problems to begin with.
That's all for me. Take care.