WHEN LIGHT IS DARKNESS?
But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore
the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.
-- Matthew 6:23
Does Proverbs 4:18 excuse false prophecy and doctrinal flipflops?
I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the
darkness, but shall have the light of life -- John 8:12
Shall we boast of the leading of the Lord when it is plain to others that
we have wandered down ways unlighted by Him? The Watchtower habitually
excuses its doctrinal reversals and datesetting blunders by rationalizing
that God has revealed "new light" to his people. This view amonuts
to claiming that God evolves truth by trial and error, bound apparently
by the limitations of men. The "new light" rationale also serves
Watchtower leaders well when they find themselves called to account for
date setting scandals. These "mistakes", so they reason, are
not really false prophecies,but examples of "progressive truth",
"advancing light". Perversely, by such justifications, telltale
traces of the Lord's absence become "signs of his presence" since
1914. (Particularly are the years 1919, 1922, 1925 and 1931 associated
with God's "lightnings.") Follow this typical attempt to evade
responsibility for past embarrassments -- and, we may safely assume, for
future "adjustments" as well:
As reflected in their modern-day history, the experience of Jehovah'sWitnesses
has been like that described at Proverbs 4:18: "The path of the righteous
ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until
the day is firmly established." The shining of the light has been
progressive, just as the light of early dawn gives way to sunrise and the
full light of a new day. Viewing matters in the light that was available,
they have at times had incomplete, even inaccurate, concepts. No matter
how hard they tried, they simply could not understand certain prophecies
until these began to undergo fulfilment. As Jehovah has shed more light
on his Word by means of his spirit, his servants have been humbly willing
to make needed adjustments.-- Jehovah's Witnesses: Proclaimers of God's
Kingdom (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1993; p.146)
Progressive Revelation or "Progressive Truth"?
The Watchtower's pet fallacy constructs a falsehood upon a half-truth.
Whereas it IS true that God gradually reveals truth (witness OLD and NEW
Testaments), it is NOT true that "new truth" eclipses or extinguishes
"old truth." The Watchtower policy makers recognize that a "God
of truth" (Psalm 31:5) allows for no contradictions -- at least in
the Bible. They train Jehovah's Witnesses to substitute the expressions
"Hebrew Scriptures" and "Christian Greek Scriptures"
for the church's traditional Old and New Testaments. This is justified,
Witnesses protest, because Old and New might suggest the superiority of
the latter (and later). To its credit, The Watchtower has always advocated
the complete inerrancy and inspiration of BOTH Testaments. And what does
this absolute consistency -- with NO contradictions -- PROVE about the
If it really is the Word of God, the Bible should be harmonious, not
contradictory ... the outstanding unity of the Bible ... demonstrates without
doubt its divine origin. -- The Bible: God's Word or Man's (WTBTS, 1989;
Who's at the Switch?
Still, while assuming the impossibility of 'progressive truth" admitting
contradiction into the Bible, the Witnesses almost instinctively resort
to Orwellian doublethink when attempting to explain God's method in the
meanderings of The Watchtower. The traditional prooftext is Proverbs 4:18
But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is
getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.
A glance at the context reveals this chapter is not discussing doctrinal
changes. Nor is Solomon's intent to excuse error in God's past self-revelation.
Like his father David, Solomon had an exalted view of Jehovah's law (already
500 years old when the first Proverbs were gathered.) Did either see the
advisability of retiring Moses as "new light" from God "flashed
forth"? Solomon said of the Law of Moses, "For the commandment
is a lamp, and a light the law is." (Proverbs 6:23, NWT) In this he
echoed his father David, who honoured the Torah thusly, "The law of
Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul." (Psalm 19:7, NWT) David
and Solomon were consistent with the tradition of their fathers. But the
law's light grew dim; not because it had become inadequate, in need of
updating, but because it was IGNORED in favour of new teachings "recently
come in" (Deut.32:17). Gods unknown to Israelite tradition shoved
the Law of Moses to the edge of extinction (2 Kings 17). Would God change
with changing times? Would He, like fickle Israel, consign Moses to the
ash heap of history, replace the Law with "new light" more appropriate
to the time?
Extension, Expansion -- but not Extinction!
How does Jehovah accredit His spokesman? Israel knew Samuel was a prophet
-- "Jehovah himself proved to be with him, and did not cause ANY of
all his words to fall to the earth" -- 1 Samuel 3:19,20 (NWT)
The continued backslidings of Israel were not to be remedied by "new
truth", but by return to tradition. God's revelation, as Moses himself
had been assured, would be vouchsafed ONLY to accredited prophets (Deut.
18:15-22). These spokesmen for God pointed their own generation both BACKWARDS
-- to the eternal covenants and commandments of the Pentateuch -- and FORWARDS
-- extending and expanding God's promises and judgments. The Spirit of
God illuminated past revelation more brightly, but true prophets never
REVISED "old truth." Nor did they REVERSE it. This consistency
and continuity with the past, together with accurate prediction, accredited
the true prophet (Deut. 13:1-5; 1 Sam. 3:19-21; 9:6).
The Twin Witness of God's Spokesmen
We may illustrate the infallible mark of true prophecy by noting a particular
example. Moses (and Jacob before him, Gen. 49:10) had indicated that Messiah
would descend from the tribe of Judah. 500 years later David's "new
light" narrowed the promise to his own family (2 Sam. 7:11-16). Micah,
a further 300 years on, amplified the prophetic promise by adding the detail
of Messiah's birthplace, David's hometown Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Thus the
traditional revelation was confirmed -- amplified, not nullified, by new
revelation. Micah's contemporary Isaiah supplies an outstanding example
to an accredited spokesman of Jehovah. How did Israel know Isaiah was a
prophet of God?
TEST ONE: CONTINUITY -- Isaiah pointed to ignorance of the PAST, particularly
God's prior dealings with them, as the reason for Israel's PRESENT problems:
Woe to those who are saying that good is bad and bad is good, those
who putting darkness for light and light for darkness, those who are putting
bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those wise in their own eyes
and discreet even in front of their own faces! ... they have rejected the
law of Jehovah of armies, and the saying of the Holy One of Israel they
have disrespected. That is why the anger of Jehovah has grown hot against
his people ... -- Isaiah 5:20,21,24,25
No compromise was possible with those who would substitute their own (or
foreign) dark light for the lamp of Jehovah. TEST TWO: CREDIBILITY -- Isaish's
prophetic inspiration was verified within his own lifetime by undeniable
fulfillments of his prophecies (Isaiah 37:7,33-38; 38:5-8). Thus the prophet's
hard sayings were tolerated, even when least palatable, by the very kings
and aristocrats he publicly denounced. Subsequent generations of Israelites
also experienced the continuous confirmations of Isaiah's prophetic office;
even in the specific details of his predictions,
such as setting the exact dates of fulfilment, or even the very name of
the fulfiller (Isaiah 7:8; 44:28).
Thus, by these TWO witnesses, twin tests, continuity with tradition
and predictive credibility, Jehovah demonstrated which spokesmen actually
prophesied IN HIS NAME (by His authority). To speak publicly in the name
of Jehovah without His authority was not only foolish but fatal (Deut.
18:20; Jeremiah 28:1-17).
Does the real Jehovah change?
Not even the Babylonian exile, the predicted punishment foretold by the
prophets if God's Law continued to be ignored, was sufficient to teach
Israel the verity of the ancient proverb: My son, fear Jehovah and the
king. With those who are for a change, do not intermeddle [associate, NAS]
for their disaster will arise so suddenly, that who is aware of the extinction
of those are for a change? -- Proverbs 24:21,22 (NWT)
But now, instead of swapping the pure light of the Law and Prophets for
the degrading allurements of pagan deities, Israel began to create a body
of tradition that superimposed human ideas upon divine revelation. The
symptom was new, but the disease was the same. The pollution of inspired
revelation (by addition) or the dilution of the same (by subtraction or
supplementation) can only be tolerated where men make a false assumption:
they assume the eternal I AM is as changeable as fallible man.
Yet even then (a. 400 B.C.) as Old Testament revelation drew to its
close, Jehovah reconfirmed his unchangeableness -- and consequent reliability
-- with this solemn reiteration of covenant faithfulness:
For I am Jehovah; I have not changed. And you are sons of Jacob; you have
not come to your finish. From the days of your forefathers you have turned
aside from my regulations and have not kept them. -- Malachi 3:6,7
If Russell says he's NOT the "faithful and discreet slave", then
says he IS; and Rutherford insists Russell IS "that slave", then
insists he's NOT -- just HOW is the "light getting lighter and LIGHTER"?
Following close upon this reassuring, if humiliating, contrast, Malachi
concludes the Old Testament oracles with Jehovah's final exhortation:
Remember the law of Moses My Servant, even the statutes and
ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold,
I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the
great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of
the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their
fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. - Malachi 4:4-6
Israel is urged to look both backward AND forward in order to wonder
at the eternal truthfulness of the Holy One of Israel. The law of Moses
remains; 1000 years have not diminished its purpose, the lighting of Israel's
path until the day of the Lord. The prophets did not eclipse its light,
but will the coming of Elijah render the law obsolete? Will the rising
of the "sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) make the lights of
the night sky redundant?
Are the Law and the Prophets Eclipsed?
Some will answer with Matthew 11:13, "For all the prophets and the
Law prophesied until John." But inasmuch as Israel's leaders did NOT
"accept it" (the testimony of John, v.14), the day of the Lord
still has not come. And when Israel also failed to recognize her Messiah,
the Light of the world, was she to be left in total darkness? Let the Messiah
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not
come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and
earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from
the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least
of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in
the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be
called great in the kingdom of heaven. -Matt. 5:17-19
That the Lord flatly denies the Law's obsolescence should not surprise
those who believe the Father of Lights inspired BOTH Testaments. With Him
there is no variation, nor shifting shadow (James 1:17). Had not the Psalmist
marveled at the Law, "Forever, O Yahweh, Thy word is settled (lit.
stands firm) in heaven. Thy faithfulness continues throughout all generations
(Ps.. 119:89,90)? Had not Isaiah introduced his gospel of the Suffering
Servant with "the word of our God stands forever" (40:8)? Some
will trouble over a familiar line in Paul; is not Christ "the end
of the Law"? (Rom. 10:4) Is there not a basic discontinuity between
God's former revelation and the gospel? But let Paul complete his thought:
For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is
based on (lit. from) law shall LIVE by it. (Romans 10:4,5)
At issue, for Paul, is not the LIGHT of the Law, but its potential for
LIFE. Moses is still authoritative. Indeed, he serves as Paul's authority
for the very principle that proves conclusive: Can even a perfect light
give LIFE? No, for only One ever saved his soul from death under the Law.
Life can only come from life. But being perfect light the Law can perfectly
illuminate the horror of human sin and its awful cost. So then Paul is
not inconsistent with "old light", nor with himself, for he had
asked earlier in the Roman letter:
Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come
to know sin except through the Law ... So then, the Law is holy, and the
commandment is holy and righteous and good ... the
Law is spiritual; but I am flesh, sold into bondage to sin. (Rom. 7:7,12,14)
The imperfection is not with the "old light", but with the old
man. The Law enlightens, but cannot enliven. The need is not new light,
but new life.
"New Light" or Light of Life?
The Lord Jesus, in conversation with Nicodemus, gives no support to the
notion that the new birth is "progressive truth" (John 3:10).
The emphases of the gospel may be new, but the truths of the gospel are
eternal. The risen Lord, who only days before had claimed "I am ...
the TRUTH" (John 14:6), saw himself in Moses, the Prophets and the
Psalms (Luke 24:27,44). And according to His promise, "the TRUE God,"
"the God of TRUTH" (John 17:3; Psalm 31:5), has sent "the
Spirit of TRUTH," who guides the church into "all the TRUTH"
(John 16:13). Could the HOLY Spirit, the Inspirer of the HOLY Law and indeed
ALL Scripture, give us any less than ALL truth? (Romans 7:12; 2 Timothy
3:16) "He who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall
have the light of life." A final question: Is it this Lord who has
guided The Watchtower for four generations?