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Delve into Christian apologetics and discover the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ misunderstanding of Matthew 24:45. This comprehensive guide scrutinizes the misinterpretation that often solidifies the Governing Body’s authority, offering insightful exegesis to reveal the true meaning of this scripture.
Matthew 24:45 New World Translation (NWT)
45 “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:45 English Standard Version (ESV)
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?
Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses Interpretation of Matthew 24:45
The Role of “the Faithful and Discreet Slave”
Jesus is the Head of the Christian congregation. (Ephesians 5:23) Today, from his position in heaven, Jesus directs his followers on earth by means of a “faithful and discreet slave.” (Read Matthew 24:45.) Having received an appointment from Jesus himself, the “slave” would have a certain amount of authority but would remain a slave of Christ and serve Christ’s brothers. Who is that slave? How does the slave care for us?
1. Who is “the faithful and discreet slave”?
Jehovah has always used a man or a small group of men to give direction to his people. (Malachi 2:7; Hebrews 1:1) After Jesus’ death, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem took the lead. (Acts 15:2) Following that pattern, today a small group of elders—the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses—provides spiritual food and directs the preaching work. This group is “the faithful and discreet slave whom [Jesus] appointed.” (Matthew 24:45a) All members of the Governing Body are spirit-anointed Christians, who look forward to joining Christ in his heavenly Kingdom when their life on earth is over.
2. What spiritual food does the faithful slave provide?
Jesus said that the faithful slave would “give [fellow Christians] their food at the proper time.” (Matthew 24:45b) Just as the food we eat helps us to stay physically strong and healthy, spiritual food—instruction from God’s Word—gives us the strength we need to remain loyal to Jehovah and carry out the work Jesus has assigned us to do. (1 Timothy 4:6) We receive that spiritual food through meetings, assemblies, and conventions, as well as through Bible-based literature and videos that help us to understand God’s will and to strengthen our friendship with him.
See why we need “the faithful and discreet slave”—the Governing Body.
3. Jehovah’s people must be organized
Under Jesus’ direction, the Governing Body organizes the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A similar arrangement existed among the early Christians.
Read 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40, and then discuss this question:
How do these verses show that Jehovah wants his Witnesses to be organized?
4. The faithful slave organizes our preaching work
Preaching was the most important work performed by the early Christians. Read Acts 8:14, 25, and then discuss these questions:
Among the early Christians, who directed the preaching work?
How did Peter and John respond to the direction of their fellow apostles?
Preaching is the most important work organized by the Governing Body.
Jesus emphasized how important preaching is. Read Mark 13:10, and then discuss these questions:
Why is the preaching work so important to the Governing Body?
Why do we need “the faithful and discreet slave” to organize this global work?
5. The faithful slave provides direction
The Governing Body provides direction for Christians worldwide. How does it decide what direction to give? Consider how the governing body of the early Christians did so. Read Acts 15:1, 2, and then discuss these questions:
What issue caused conflict among some early Christians?
To whom did Paul, Barnabas, and others go in order to settle the issue?
Read Acts 15:12-18, 23-29, and then discuss this question:
Before making a decision, what did the early governing body consider when seeking God’s guidance on the matter?—See verses 12, 15, and 28.
Read Acts 15:30, 31 and 16:4, 5, and then discuss these questions:
How did the early Christians react to direction given by the governing body?
How did Jehovah bless their obedience?
Read 2 Timothy 3:16 and James 1:5, and then discuss this question:
Where does the Governing Body look for guidance when it makes decisions today?
SOME PEOPLE SAY: “If you listen to the Governing Body, you’re just following men.”
What proves to you that Jesus is leading the Governing Body?
The Historical Grammatical, Exegetical Interpretation of Matthew 24:45
Matthew 24:45 is a passage from the New Testament of the Bible. Before we begin the exegesis, it’s important to understand that exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. When examining a verse of Scripture, exegetes strive to discover the author’s original intended meaning, and then to determine its meaning in a wider context, which can include its place in its own book and testament, its place in the whole Bible, and its relevance to modern society.
Here is the verse from the English Standard Version:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?”
Phrase by Phrase Exegesis:
- “Who then is”
This phrase initiates the question that the passage aims to answer. This interrogative form invites the reader or listener to reflect on the question. It sets the tone for the following phrases, prompting us to look inwardly and consider the characteristics that would make someone the “faithful and wise servant.”
- “the faithful and wise servant,”
The phrase “faithful and wise servant” is central to the passage. The word “faithful” denotes trustworthiness, reliability, and steadfastness. It implies not just belief, but action—living out one’s trust in God consistently. “Wise,” on the other hand, connotes someone who exercises good judgment and understanding. They know what is right and act accordingly. In the context of the servant-master relationship, a wise servant would act in ways beneficial to the master’s household.
- “whom his master has set over his household,”
The servant is not merely a follower, but someone given authority and responsibility by his master. This indicates the master’s trust in the servant’s judgment and capability to manage the household’s affairs. It also emphasizes the servant’s role as an intermediary between the master and the household, tasked with the duty of upholding the master’s desires and instructions.
- “to give them their food at the proper time?”
This phrase signifies the servant’s key responsibility: providing for the needs of the household at the correct time. “Food” could be taken literally, but in a broader sense, it can symbolize any necessity that the household requires for sustenance and well-being. The “proper time” implies the importance of wisdom and discernment in carrying out this responsibility. A wise servant knows not just what to provide, but when it is most needed.
Misinterpretation and Its Implications
Given the verse’s context, it appears to be a parable encouraging all Christians to act as “faithful and wise servants.” However, the interpretation that this verse specifically applies to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the sole “faithful and wise servant,” can be seen as a misinterpretation. The parable is in the form of a rhetorical question, suggesting that it is applicable to anyone willing to assume the role of a faithful and wise servant.
The verse doesn’t explicitly dictate that a specific group has exclusive authority over the interpretation and application of biblical teachings. By claiming this authority, the Governing Body risks monopolizing spiritual wisdom and faithfulness, creating an environment where questioning or diverging from their teachings could lead to penalties like disfellowship. This interpretation deviates from the essence of the parable, which encourages all followers to strive towards faithfulness and wisdom in their service to God and others.
In conclusion, an accurate interpretation of Matthew 24:45 would promote inclusivity, individual growth, and mutual encouragement within a faith community rather than a hierarchical power structure with potential for misuse. The central message of the verse appears to be a call to faithfulness, wisdom, and responsible stewardship for all followers of Jesus, not an exclusive mandate for a specific group to govern spiritual matters.
What about the Governing Body’s argument,
SOME PEOPLE SAY: “If you listen to the Governing Body, you’re just following men.” What proves to you that Jesus is leading the Governing Body?
How Would You Apologetically Correct This Mistaken Notion?
To apologetically approach this statement, it’s important to stress the Christian teaching that the ultimate guide for Christians is the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, not human beings. While human authorities like the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses can provide guidance and organization, they should not supersede the Bible’s teachings and the personal discernment granted by the Holy Spirit. Here is how one could address this:
The Centrality of Christ and the Holy Spirit: In Christian belief, Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, is the supreme authority. He sent the Holy Spirit to guide believers into all truth (John 16:13). Therefore, the ultimate guide for any Christian or Christian organization should be Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God, not any human or group of humans.
Biblical Authority: While the Governing Body may claim that they draw their teachings from the Bible, it’s crucial to remember that their interpretations are not infallible. Every interpretation should be tested against the Bible itself, and each believer is encouraged to seek understanding personally (Acts 17:11). This does not negate the importance of leaders or teachers within the church, but it places the authority firmly in the Scripture.
Interpretation of Matthew 24:45: The interpretation of Matthew 24:45 as specifically referring to the Governing Body is not debatable. As previously discussed, an exegesis of the text does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the “faithful and wise servant” is an exclusive group. The broader context suggests it could apply to anyone entrusted with spiritual responsibilities.
The Fruits of Leadership: Jesus Himself said that you would recognize true leaders by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). Rather than assuming the Governing Body is led by Jesus purely because of their position, one should assess their teachings, actions, and the outcomes of their leadership. Are they promoting love, unity, and spiritual growth or causing division, fear, and control?
Grace and Freedom in Christ: The Christian faith emphasizes grace and freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). It’s, therefore, vital to ensure that any authority structure within a Christian organization does not impose legalistic rules or punishments that contradict this principle. If adhering to the Governing Body’s teachings leads to punitive measures like disfellowshipping for those who disagree, this may be at odds with the principle of grace. We say may because spreading false teachings is a legitimate reason for a person to be expelled from the church.
In sum, apologetics would stress that Jesus and the Bible are the ultimate authorities in Christianity. While church leaders have an essential role in teaching and guiding, they should not claim infallibility or punitive control over believers’ understanding of the Bible. Instead, they should encourage individual growth, understanding, and reliance on the Holy Spirit for discernment.
What logical fallacy is their argument under, and how can we correct their logical error of thinking?
The argument made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses here contains a couple of potential logical fallacies:
Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning: The argument “What proves to you that Jesus is leading the Governing Body?” presupposes its own conclusion, which is that Jesus is indeed leading the Governing Body. The conclusion is stated as a premise, which is the essence of circular reasoning. It presents a statement that can neither be proven nor disproven because it’s inherently subjective and assumes its own validity without offering supporting evidence.
Appeal to Authority: This argument relies on the assumed authority of the Governing Body, suggesting that because they claim to be led by Jesus, it must be true. It suggests an unquestioning acceptance of the Governing Body’s authority, which is a classic example of an appeal to authority fallacy. It neglects to provide concrete evidence as to why this authority should be accepted.
Correcting these logical fallacies involves:
Addressing Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning: The key is to challenge the implicit assumption in the argument. Instead of asking, “What proves to you that Jesus is leading the Governing Body?” one could ask, “What evidence supports the claim that Jesus is leading the Governing Body?”. This approach shifts the focus to the necessity of proof and evidence rather than taking the premise as a given.
Addressing Appeal to Authority: In response to this, one could ask for evidence of the Governing Body’s divine authority. What teachings, actions, or outcomes demonstrate that Jesus indeed leads them? Remember that in Christian belief, Jesus taught principles like love, unity, humility, forgiveness, and servitude. The leadership and teachings of the Governing Body should reflect these values. This shifts the argument away from accepting authority without question to evaluating the credibility of the authority based on tangible evidence.
In closing, as a Conservative Protestant Christian, it’s crucial to remember that in all of our encounters with different interpretations or theological understandings, our fundamental commitment should be to the authority of the Scriptures. We believe they are inspired, inerrant in the original manuscripts and excellent literal Bible translations, and contain absolute truths that guide our faith and life.
As we engage with interpretations from groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we do so with a firm commitment to what we believe the Bible teaches. Yet, we also acknowledge the genuine faith and commitment to God that many Jehovah’s Witnesses express, even as we hold significant theological differences.
When examining verses such as Matthew 24:45, we maintain our commitment to a literal translation philosophy and a historical-grammatical interpretation. This means we strive to understand the text as its original audience would have, in its historical and cultural context, while paying careful attention to the grammar and literary style of the passage. Our goal as interpreters of God’s Word is to understand what the authors meant by the words they used.