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Earning Everlasting Life

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.”

Pearlsandswine declined.

“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

Or....


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.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Epochs and Aeons

Tack as many zeroes as you want onto Earth's age. Jehovah's Witnesses have no issue with it. A billion years? Ten billion? One hundred billion? More? Not a problem. That's not to say we endorse it, necessarily. But we'll have no issue with it. Let scientists be scientists.

“In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” reads the Bible's first verse. This is before the series of creative days commence, that period during which the earth fills with life. Whether each of those days are 24 hours in length, or 24 millenia, or 24 seconds.....it make no difference to the age of “the heavens and the earth.” They were created before.

However, as to the days themselves, what say Jehovah's Witnesses as to that? Even many JWs themselves may not be up to speed, for it was once thought that each day lasted 7000 years...it seemed to fit some prophetic patterns. But that view has been abandoned. (A flip-flop!! I can hear Vic Vomodog screaming now.)

Now, however, each day is described as an “epoch.” And the sum total of them: "aeons":

From the Watchtower of Feb 15, 2011 pp 8-9)

“The Bible goes on to describe what God did during a series of creative days. These are not 24 hour days but are epochs…....By means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals. …....After aeons had passed and God had produced innumerable animate and inanimate works, the earth was no longer “formless and waste.”

This revision of “day” stems from recognition that the Hebrew word need not refer to only the 24 hour variety. Even on the first creative “day,” “God began calling the light Day, but the darkness he called Night,” apparently as the thick clouds enshrouding the earth began to clear, allowing sunlight to reach the surface. So the entire period is a “day,” and also a portion of it is a “day!” Furthermore, after all six creative days are described, the Genesis account refers to all of it as a “day':

This is a history of the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.    Gen 2:4

Okay? “Day” need not be 24 hours. It can be simply an non specific period of time. Even in English, we've all suffered old-timers carrying on about life “back in my day.” And if scripture doesn't insist otherwise, why squabble when scientists put forth numbers on life's development? We're not anti-science. Science is a powerful tool of discovery. We've nothing against it. To be sure, we don't see it as the be-all and end-all, and when scientists say “jump!” we don't instantly respond “how high?” But we're willing to acquiesce where there's no Biblical conflict. And in the matter of “days”, there is none. Far from being rigid (a frequent criticism), the Witness stand allows for incorporating findings of science.

So it appears with this piece that I might conclude my Sean B Carroll trilogy, the prior two installments of which are here and here. His book impressed me....a book from an evolutionist published post genome mapping. I wonder if our stand on Genesis is good enough for him. Probably not, for he appears to want no trace of God in any evolutionary goings on, whereas we've said  (above) “by means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals.” But when Sean is muttering about the denyers....yes, yes, I know its a misspelling, but he apparently does it for the silly reasons given here, and I am this close to being equally silly and calling the other guys evolootionists....you know....'loo', the British term for toilet......but I just can't make myself be that juvenile, at least not yet. At any rate, Sean laments the denyers are “those straitjacketed by biblically based interpretations of the age of the Earth.” Like most everyone else, he takes for granted that fundamentalists truly represent the Bible....an assumption that burns me up to no end.

Of course, we're not that way. Straitjacketed, I mean. We're not 24 hour people. We've no problem with epochs and aeons. Ought that not make Sean happy?

Now, it occurs to me that if the Biblical days are as long as scientists say they are, well....that allows plenty of time for the evolutionary goings on that Sean Carroll talks about to go on....with the consequence that evolution, in the main, is a battle that we need not fight. Not that we have to endorse it. But much like the age of the “heavens and the earth,” we need not take much exception to it. As that Feb 2011 Watchtower states, “by means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals.” That's not very specific as to method, is it? Might the method through which holy spirit delivers be the one scientists describe? Dunno if that is the case, or to what extent, but I do know that if God molded each “kind” like a potter molding clay on a potter's wheel....well.....he could do that in a literal 24 hour day. So what's the point of the epochs and aeons? Frankly, life programmed to adapt via accumulation of genetic change strikes me as no less miraculous than potter-created life.

No one's being dogmatic, here. Science is accommodated to the maximum extent without ignoring Scripture, which we ultimately consider the most reliable guide to life. The 2010 brochure Was Life Created? states: (page 27) ImagesCAVUV1FW Were these original “kinds” of plants and animals programmed with the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions? What defines the boundary of a “kind”? The Bible does not say. However, it does state that living creatures “swarmed forth according to their kinds.” (Genesis 1:21) This statement implies that there is a limit to the amount of variation that can occur within a “kind.” [bolded print mine] Thus, our current view allows for what's described as micro-evolution (within a “kind”) but not macro-evolution (outside of a kind). But “implies” is not an ironclad word, is it? The point is, for the Christian, if the time element for developing life is indeed epochs and aeons, you need not squabble much with scientists who describe it. Let scientists be scientists. We'll teach the Bible.

What about this statement immediately preceding the lines quoted above: Does this progressive appearance of plants and animals imply that God used evolution to produce the vast diversity of living things? No. The record clearly states that God created all the basic “kinds” of plant and animal life. (Genesis 1:11, 12, 20-25) “Evolution”, as Sean Carroll and others like to describe it, strictly excludes all hints of “programming,” and they positively choke on any mention of “holy spirit.” But if you go and retrieve those words from the dumpster into which they've been tossed, you'll do just fine. For today we recognize a strong (and unnecessary) anti-God element among the evolutionists. From the same brochure (Was Life Created?  page 22):

Why do many prominent evolutionists insist that macroevolution is a fact? Richard Lewontin, an influential evolutionist, candidly wrote that many scientists are willing to accept unproven scientific claims because they “have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” Many scientists refuse even to consider the possibility of an intelligent Designer because, as Lewontin writes, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

 In this regard, sociologist Rodney Stark is quoted in Scientific American as saying: “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.” He further notes that in research universities, “the religious people keep their mouths shut.”  

Now, I admit, I'm a bit fearful of using these quotes lest grousers suppose I'm implying that the above fellows reject evolution. They don't. “Quote mining” is the charge grousers may level, and who wants to be guilty of that? But I've already dealt with the subject here. I don't know what else I can do. You should never play the God/no-God game with atheists according to their rules, since their primary rule is that you can't move any of your pieces.

But with the acceptance of epochs and aeons, vast areas of conflict between the science camp and the JW camp vanish, and others become largely immaterial. Not all, to be sure. The creation of Adam remains a topic on which I don't yet see grounds for agreement. From that same Feb 15th Watchtower: “Yet, Jehovah had not finished using his spirit for creative purposes. He was about to produce his highest earthly creation. Toward the end of the sixth creative day, God created man. How did Jehovah do so? By using his holy spirit and the elements of the earth.”

Yet if the Watchtower has taken to interviewing guys like Michael Behe, who accepts evolution in the main, but acknowledges it has limits, well.....I mean.....they wouldn't do that if the two hated each others' guts. Our people are not being dogmatic here. They recognize where other views can be accommodated, and are not so presumptuous as to try to instruct scientists on their own turf.

I thought I might be the first to blog such a subject, but no! When googled 'Michael Behe' and 'Awake interview', I find there is a discussion some time ago on “is the Watchtower preparing to accept evolution?” I suppose I should link to it, but I'm not going to. It's a sorehead grouser site, largely populated by those who've abandoned spiritual things upon discovery that God is not Santa Claus....that he does more than just give us stuff, that he has requirements, that the Christian course involves sacrifice and self-discipline, and is not just opening presents, and....gasp!....it involves human organization, which may sometimes decide matters contrary to one's individual preference!.....a violation of freedom and independence!!!! These type of guys exasperate me. Find them yourselves if you must.

Plus, they view any such adjustment in JW viewpoint as a slick marketing ploy. For me any modification of view stems from recent scientific ability to read the genome....to grow fast-reproducing goo and slime, and to track each and every gene involved and spot which ones have reproduced faithfully and which ones have not and what are the accumulated effects of those that did not. It's a major tangible advance for science, and while fundamentalists might ignore it, we don't.

Well, if you were impressed with Sean Carroll's book so much, Mr Sheepandgoats, then why don't you let him dictate everything to you....he makes no allowance for programming or God or holy spirit. The answer is that I've chosen the Christian course represented by Jehovah's Witnesses based upon several lines of reason, present scientific opinion being but one of them.

In the main, it becomes apparent that the greater conflict is not between the Bible (and us) and science. It's between the fundamentalists and science. These religious characters do the same with “day” that they do with trinity and hellfire. They take words and phrases literally....words which in any other context they would instantly recognize as metaphor. If they read of someone shedding “crocodile tears” in a novel, they know exactly what that expression means. If they read it in the Bible, they take it as PROOF that the shedder is a crocodile, since the Bible MEANS what is SAYS and SAYS what it MEANS. They exasperate me to no end, since they make the Bible an object of ridicule to anyone deciding to use the brain God gave us.

 

[edit: 1/20/2012,  see interview between New Republic's John McWhorter and Michael Behe. Sean Carroll & his work comes in for mention, around the 11-12, 22-24 minute marks. He's a nice guy, Behe says.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me                     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)