Tom Pearlsandswine, the melodramatic sap, was conducting a study, or just starting to, with a surly fellow who reached into his wallet and pulled out $100. “This is what you're after,” he said. “This is what you guys are always after. Here.”
“Look, you're time is worth something,” the other said. “Nobody does anything for free! Why do you keep coming? What's in it for you?”
“I'll tell you why I come,” Pearlsandswine replied with quiet intensity. He turned to James 5:19-20 where he read “…..if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
“I've committed a lot of sins in my life,” he said sincerely, “and I need them to be covered. I want to make it up to God. I'm leaving behind all the bad I used to do.”
Was there a dry eye in the house? What a heartrending confession! What a humble reply! What an repentance-filled life turnaround!
What a pious big dope! For you know, and I know, that he butchered James 5:19-20. He got it exactly backwards. Last time The Watchtower magazine mentioned the verse (3/1/83 page 15), it said:
"The person who reproved him has thus worked toward the covering over, or pardoning, of the erring one’s sins." (Wt 3/1/83 page 15, italics mine)
It's not the teacher who gets his sins covered and soul saved. It's the taught one. Look, it sounds all pious and teary, the way Tom explained it, I grant you. But if it was really that way, we would truly be earning life, wouldn't we? “Attaboy, Pearlsandswine....a disciple! That's one hundred sins knocked off the record! Just two more people baptized and you're home free!”
There's plenty of people who accuse Jehovah's Witnesses of having just that attitude toward their ministry....that of earning life through good works. But doesn't this accusation originate with people who do little or nothing in appreciation for Christ's free gift of life, yet want to feel morally superior to those who do? "Works" that Jehovah's Witnesses perform are in appreciation for that gift, and in obedience to Christ's command to "go and make disciples." (Matt 28:19) Witnesses do not imagine for one minute that they are "earning" everlasting life. The importance of Christian activity is supported by James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” KJV
See, the teacher already has his sins covered and soul saved. Not through any special merit on his part, mind you, but because he has put faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And by guiding the student to a place where he can also dedicate his life to God through Christ, he is “covering the sins” and “saving the soul” of that student. That's how it works, and not the other way around, the way Pearlsandswine said it.
But you can almost forgive Pearlsandswine his mistake....in fact, you can forgive it......since it largely stems from a revulsion of the other guys, the 'believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' crowd. There's so many of these folk who do nothing after they start to "believe"...nothing in appreciation of the gift of life. Or, more typically, they suggest that anything they do after their 'believing on the Lord' has become sanctified....they've turned their life over to Jesus and Jesus is now driving! If they do something good....praise be to Jesus! If they do something not so good....you know, the kind of stuff they've long been used to doing......ah, well.....Jesus is driving, to be sure, but he is driving an old wreck of a car and there's only so much even an expert driver can do. However, it's not a problem at all, since Jesus' syrupy love covers us even when we're at our sinning worst. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.” That's what they like to hear! The easier, the better! The rest of the Bible is just so much "fine print." In short, they get to live pretty much as they've always lived, only with a self-righteous layer floating agreeably on top!
Guys like Pearlsandswine hate that hypocracy, as do all of Jehovah's Witnesses, and so at times are inclined to blunder the way in which he did, in his case botching the James verse.
Pearlsandswine's well aware of the free gift of life:
For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23 Okay? It's free. PnS knows that.
But he also knows of the many verses that call for showing appreciation for that gift, some which would seem to require substantial effort and self-sacrifice. Like “faith without works is dead,” quoted above, but also:
Now a certain man said to him: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” He said to them: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able. Luke 13:23-24
Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow. 1 Cor 9:24-27
Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling... Phil 2:12 NWT
Let's focus upon this last verse for a moment. The New World Translation renders it just as does the New International Version, the King James Version, and most other popular translations. There is remarkable agreement across translations on "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
However, if you don't really like the idea that you must “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” maybe you can change the verse. Perhaps you can change the wording so that the advice appears to be a suggestion, not a command.
Notice how the New Life Version puts it:
My Christian friends, you have obeyed me when I was with you. You have obeyed even more when I have been away. You must keep on working to show you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Be afraid that you may not please God. New Life Version.
Note the subtle difference? No longer must you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” which implies you could lose that favored standing. The only danger, from New Life's point of view, is that you might fail to show your saved standing!
Or consider the Contemporary English Version:
My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved.
See? No danger that you could lose your “saved” standing. But you might....gasp!.... fail to discover what that standing really means!
Or the wordy Message translation, which I've quoted from favorably before, here and here. True, they undeniably scored a dud here. It's not a literal work. All paraphrased Bibles give their editors much leeway to insert favored interpretations:
What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. The Message
I don't know what that's supposed to mean! Just a feel-good pep talk, really.
The offerings of New Life, Contemporary English, and Message illustrate what Jason Beduhn called the “Protestant's Burden.” You remember Jason Beduhn. He compared nine popular Bible translations and concluded that the New World Translation was the most un-biased...it ran truest to accurately translating the original languages! Placing a close second was the New American Translation, a Catholic translation. This somewhat flies in the face of what he expected, and what most people would expect. Shouldn't the more ecumenical Bibles, with editors representing many different denominations, result in the least bias? Yet the top two works for bias-free translating came from single denominations: Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. What gives?
Beduhn hypothesized that the New World Translation had little pressure to be biased, since Jehovah's Witnesses are a relatively recent religion. Their track record isn't too long. Hence, they can just let their translation say whatever the original languages say, and then conform to it. If it calls for a change in some of their views, then they can just change them; they're no more than a few decades old anyway. Catholics are also free from bias pressure, Beduhn suggests, though the reason is different. The Catholic Church freely maintains that scripture is not the final word, but is augmented by interpretations of subsequent Saints and Popes. So if their translation reveals something contrary to present Church practices, (such as Matt 23:9, 1 Cor 9:5 which shows Peter, their first pope, a married man, and 1 Tim 4:1-3) it's really not a problem since nobody among them ever said the Bible was the final authority.
But Protestants...alas! have the burden of a) a long history, therefore hard to amend, and b) an insistance that they represent Bible truth completely. So when the Bible doesn't agree with their doctrines or practices, that's a problem for them. And as the three translations above illustrate, they're not above changing the verses to solve such difficulties! Thus, the phrase Beduhn coined: the Protestant's Burden!
So.....albeit with some effort....we can now exonerate Tom Pearlsandswine from his doctrinal blunder re James 5:19-20, at least this week. It was merely an overreaction to pious fundamentalists. Let's hope he doesn't say something even dumber next week.