WATCHTOWER'S basic premise is false (i.e. copy the earliest form of Christianity and you get it 'right')

by Terry 18 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Terry

    Watchtower's so-called 'scholars' (excuse me while I throw up) have a basic premise they have always worked under. Namely, the earliest form of Christianity was the purest and least corrupt. By trying to pattern JW's after this earliest form of "purity of Christian doctrine" the so-called TRUTH is supposed to emerge.

    Well--apparently this is a FALSE PREMISE, according to Bart Ehrman.


    I'm a member on New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman's Blog (about Early Christianity) because I get information there I cannot otherwise have access to which normally would only be available by attending his classes for students studying for their Masters in Theology.


    On a recent blog post, Ehrman has pointed out the split within the community of New Testament scholars. To become an expert, a scholar has to choose one or the other of two main fields of study:

    1, The history of early Christian theology and 2. the textual criticism of the New Testament.
    These two fields have almost always been kept almost completely distinct from one another. Scholars in one field simply have not worked in the other. Part of the reason is that to master either one of them takes many years of full-time work, and each of us has a limited number of years, months, weeks, days, and hours to devote to our work. Another part of the reason is that scholars by and large (with very rare exceptions) did not see the integral relation of these two fields of inquiry.


    The History of Early Christian Theology

    • Early Christianity was incredibly diverse in terms of its theological views.
    • Later theologies about Christ, the trinity, and so on were not espoused by Jesus and his apostles
    • In the early church there were enormous debates over such issues
    • The older view that the “orthodox” doctrines of Christianity had pretty much always been the views of the majority of Christians, and that “heresies” were secondary and late offshoots, was established by the father of church history, Eusebius.
    • This view – in which the victors rewrote the history of the engagement – was the dominant view for 1600 years.
    • It was not successfully challenged until Walter Bauer wrote his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity in 1934.
    • No one today accepts Bauer’s view in all its details, but its basic understanding of early Christian theological debates is widely conceded: orthodoxy did not always precede heresy in early Christianity, but in many parts of the church heresy was prior and the “original” form of the faith. It was only in a long and protracted series of debates that one view emerged as dominant in Christianity, and that view then dubbed itself orthodox and claimed (wrongly) that it had always been the dominant and true understanding of the faith, going back to Jesus and his apostles.
    • The term “orthodoxy,” then, cannot refer to the “true” understanding of Christianity, but to the form of Christianity that established itself as dominant; and “heresy” does not refer to “false belief” but to a form of Christianity that was defeated and marginalized, and then squashed.

    The Textual Criticism of the New Testament

    • We do not have the original writings of any of the books of the NT, but only later copies, most of them hundreds of years removed from the originals.
    • These thousands of copies we have – far more copies than for any other book in the ancient world – have hundreds of thousands of differences in them. There are more differences in our manuscripts than there are words in the NT.
    • The vast majority of these differences are meaningless, minute, and immaterial, significant for virtually nothing except to show that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than students can today. And to show that scribes were sometimes careless, inattentive, tired, or even inept.
    • But some of the differences matter a lot for understanding the meaning of a verse, or an entire passage, or even an entire book.
    • These significant variations number in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands, but they are important to know and isolate and analyze, because they show (in most instances) that scribes were changing their texts on occasion (not systematically or rigorously) in order to make the text say what they wanted it to say. Or to put it differently (and more generously), they sometimes changed the text to make it say what they thought it meant.

    • Ehrman continues:

    "I hope you can see why these two fields were normally not pursued by the same scholars. They really are two different areas of inquiry, requiring different training and different skill sets and different expertise and involving different historical sources and different data and different (unrelated) methodological approaches.

    The idea behind The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was to combine the two fields. Let me stress that I was not the first person who thought of doing so – not by a long shot. But my predecessors were more or less lone voices. Occasionally someone would write a book that would show the relevance of the history of theological disputes for understanding the textual changes in the NT, but this was a real rarity and almost never was it pursued with single-minded rigor. But that’s what I wanted to do.

    When I got into the field of NT Textual Criticism, precisely no one was doing that. Very few textual critics knew anything about early theological controversies (apart from a general knowledge). Or if they did know about them, they didn’t see the relevance for the work they were doing on early Christian manuscripts.

    But already as a graduate student I started to see how the fields related to each other. And the reason hit me like a ton of bricks. Early Christian scribes who were copying their texts were personally involved in theological controversies. And these controversies affected the scribes, as they sometimes changed the text in light of the arguments they were having with other Christians of different persuasions, leading scribes occasionally to alter the texts they were copying in order to make them embody more clearly their own theological views, and in order to make the texts less amenable to the views of their opponents. That was the thesis of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture."


    Watchtower Theology is built on a shaky foundation.
    I hope you are NOT surprised :)


    A good analogy for the above is this:

    When the New World Translation was being (cough cough) 'translated,' Fred Franz and the others on the translation committee were using PRECONCEIVED Watchtower beliefs to CHANGE the text and bring it into conformity! Just like the scribes in the 1st century and afterward!

    FROM THE VERY BEGINNING of writing down Christian Gospels and copying them---IDEOLOGY has corrupted the ORTHODOX (i.e. correct) teachings of Jesus.)

    The Watchtower has been on a Fool's Errand from the get-go.

  • TimDrake1914
    I also enjoyed that entry from his blog, which I am also a part of. Made me want to read The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture as I've really enjoyed reading some of his other books. By the way, Terry, have you read the latest December 2015 WT (Study Edition)? The first two articles of that magazine do a very rough overview on textual criticism, and discuss why we can be confident that the Bible is the word of God. As someone interested in scholarly biblical research, I think you will enjoy laughing at some of the statements made in those two articles. Since you enjoy reading Bart Ehrman's perspectives on our Biblical manuscripts, I'm assuming you share many of his views, as I do, and will have many of the same reactions as I did to the content of those two articles.
  • Israel Ricky Gonzales
    Israel Ricky Gonzales
    I am enjoying reading Bart Erhman's book Misquoting Jesus. I'm about a third of the way through and looking forward to finishing that book.
  • CalebInFloroda

    It does seem illogical and contrary to basic JW thinking to claim that the earliest form of Christianity is the most pure or correct--especially since JWs teach that the truth of Christianity cannot be fully understood until the Last Days.

    It also runs contrary to Judaism and Christian thinking. In Judaism, revelation is ongoing. Concepts about G-d found in Torah and the Tanakh are ancient and primitive. G-d grows, advances, and Jews believe that humanity grows and advances with G-d, in a give and take scenario. It is where things end up, Olam Ha Ba, the future World to Come under the Messiah that is the most pure and correct, not where we began from.

    Christianity is similar. Jesus promises enlightenment to come after his Passion and Death, not before. The Holy Spirit has the assignment to bring followers into a progressing state of enlightenment, learning to accept things that at the time of Jesus his own apostles were not ready to accept. Only at the culmination of history are all things brought to perfection.

    Therefore attempting to build a religion that imitates the start is problematic at best.

  • Mephis

    It would be interesting if the GB were to actually cite which non-canon writings of early Christianity they had consulted in order to try and emulate early Christianity. Because it really is relying on an ex cathedra pronouncement of what constitutes the 'inspired word' to use just the NT in order to try and re-create original beliefs. Surely if the early christian church found something worth reading, it should be included in the canon of anyone seeking to recreate their beliefs? But of course that can't happen because it leads to awkward questions which have even fewer answers in JWland. There's only so many references to Cedar Point, Ohio the Bible could contain after all...

    The idea of 'one truth' came up on Terry's interesting thread on Papias too. There is ample evidence for early Christianity not being one detailed doctrine which all held in common. There are clear hints of that even within the New Testament with the debate over circumcision, the disagreements between converts etc. There's some debate around passages in Luke and how they relate to Marcion's version of it, isn't there?

    Personally, I do wonder whether many of the early Christians were waiting for Christ's return within the first couple of generations and it was the failure of that to happen which then led to the move to reading things less literally. So perhaps at least there one could identify similarities between JWs and the early Christian church... Vladimir and Estragon are very patient in their waiting too...

  • Vidiot

    I remember when I started to realize that "true" Christianity would be, in fact, 1st-Century Messianic Judaism... which would have looked nothing like WT theology, or, for that matter, any modern-day form of Christianity.

    Another little "wait-a-sec" moment.

  • Terry

    TimDrake 1914: have you read the latest December 2015 WT (Study Edition)? The first two articles of that magazine do a very rough overview on textual criticism, and discuss why we can be confident that the Bible is the word of God


    I haven't read it. It is a source of endless palm-to-face smacking how the Watchtower leaders approach dissonant reality. They deconstruct with flights of fancy and reassemble at will. True Worship is not about history or reality, only about trust and loyalty--to the GB. All Hail!

  • Terry

    Ricky G: I am enjoying reading Bart Erhman's book Misquoting Jesus. I'm about a third of the way through and looking forward to finishing that book.

    I know a JW who read that book and managed (by cherry-picking on the fly) to enjoy it as a support to the Society's teachings! Very flexible cognitive dissonance on his part!

  • Terry
    CalebInFloroda6 hours ago

    It does seem illogical and contrary to basic JW thinking to claim that the earliest form of Christianity is the most pure or correct--especially since JWs teach that the truth of Christianity cannot be fully understood until the Last Days.


    J-Dubs imitate Systematic Theology and the work of others, largely by filtering and rejiggering.

    Their efforts have proved to be illusory and self-destructing over and over. Consequently, in this age of the WWW, the only strategy left at their disposal is

    the historic ruse and a grand magisterium of revealed 'truth.'

    What the Prophetess Ellen White did for Adventism is now what the GB is for the witlesses.

  • Terry

    Assuming certain things for the sake of argument. . .

    Whatever Jesus taught or preached was strictly an oral message.

    What people heard was either understood or misunderstood; confused and garbled.

    At each point, somebody shaped an opinion based on expectations, tastes, ideology, and preconceived ideas.

    The viral transmission of Jesus' essential communication was ever and always one on one, one to one, AS FILTERED through the understanding (misunderstanding) of the teller and the hearer.

    Repeat this degradation process thousands of times until somebody writes it down and BOOM! We're off to the races.

    At this point, we are on square one.

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