The Watch Tower Society (WTS) of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), is perhaps best known amongst those who know about it and its history for its chameleon like nature. It changes what it says with frequent regularity. It often refers to these changes as ‘new light’ 1 or ‘brighter light.’ 2 This replaces the old light of previous teachings (strangely though the WTS never uses the term ‘old light’; too close to ‘error’? To defend this constant changing of its truth the society falls back on one verse, Proverbs 4:18, which states;
“But the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light That grows brighter and brighter until full daylight“ NWT
They believe this effectively gives them cart-Blanche to change any doctrine, at any time, and still expect their adherents to accept these changes as from Jehovah. Strangely, though, the WTS states that Jehovah has ‘opened up their minds fully’ to grasp the meaning of scriptures 3 so if they are fully opened why is there need for ‘new light’? In this article I will address some of the more pertinent facts regarding this claim, to see whether the Watch Tower ‘slave’ is indeed ‘discrete and faithful’.
Of course, as individual Christians, our journey with the Lord is exactly that, a journey. Along the way we come to a greater understanding of what is written in God’s word. This is quite natural and should be expected of any Christian keen to know more about their Lord. However, the WTS, through their Governing Body (GB), claims to be the sole channel for Jehovah 4 to speak to His people and it is necessary to believe everything they teach, otherwise you cannot call yourself a JW. 5 This would strongly imply that in order to survive Armageddon into the paradise earth you must believe everything they teach, since only JWs in good order with the WTS will make it through that battle.6
It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to expect that Jehovah would make sure His sole channel was well informed of the truths of the Bible in order to pass on quality spiritual food to the masses. 7 Otherwise, it would mean Jehovah God required persons to believe error (old light) in order to be approved by Him. Should Armageddon come whilst the GB was still preaching error (prior to ‘new light’ replacing it) it would mean only those believing something that was not true would make it through while some who refused to believe an error would not make it through; this is clearly wrong, God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14 v 33). The GB itself openly admits that it is not infallible (and therefore makes mistakes?) nor is it inspired 8 so it should not demand absolute adherence to its doctrines for salvation.9
The GB makes so many changes that it even has special sections on the Watchtower Online Library website detailing those ‘Beliefs Clarified’.10 However, even a cursory glance through those ‘clarifications’ will quickly reveal how many are missing and those that do appear are generally fairly innocuous. The self-denial about these ‘clarifications’ is staggering, as highlighted by this WTS quote;11
“As we saw in Chapter 2 of this book, the Bible Students spent decades pointing out that the year 1914 would be significant in fulfilling Bible prophecy. However, at that time they believed that Christ’s presence had begun in 1874, that he had begun to rule in heaven in 1878, and that the Kingdom would not be fully set up until October 1914. The harvest would extend from 1874 to 1914 and would culminate in the gathering of the anointed to heaven. Do mistaken ideas such as these cast doubt on whether Jesus was guiding those faithful ones by means of holy spirit?
6 Not at all! Think again of our opening illustration. Would the premature ideas and eager questions of the tourists cast doubt on the reliability of their guide? Hardly! Similarly, although God’s people sometimes try to work out details of Jehovah’s purpose before it is time for the holy spirit to guide them to such truths, it is clear that Jesus is leading them. Thus, faithful ones prove willing to be corrected and humbly adjust their views.”
Getting wrong something as important as the dates for Jesus’ return, when He came to His throne, and when He started ruling in heaven, would surely indicate that those who made such predictions were not guided by the Holy Spirit and that they should not be trusted, not by any student of the truth anyway!
The GB claims to be the faithful and discrete slave (FDS) of Matthew 24:45 and that it was appointed as such in 1919 (according to the Watch Tower due to the quality of the spiritual food it was dispensing at that time). Jesus and Jehovah had spent the previous 3 years inspecting the various religious denominations to determine who was faithful and discrete, finding only the Bible Students (precursors of today’s JWs) to be doing so.12[On a side issue, how come it took Almighty God and His Son 3 whole years to assess the ‘temple’? Jesus knows all men (John 2 v 24) and the WTS regards Jehovah as omniscient – all knowing?13 Had they not been keeping an eye on things up until that time?!].
If you were to check on what this FDS was teaching at the time it was appointed for the food it was dispensing you would find that very little of it remains as ‘truth’ today having been overtaken by ‘new light’. Such things as; (‘New light’ date given in brackets);
- Jesus is to be worshipped the same as Jehovah 14 (not to be worshipped after 1954)15
- Last days started in 179916(1914)17
- Jesus’ presence commenced in 187418(1914)19
- Jesus came in to His throne in 187820(1914)21
- The end of things would come in 1925 and the resurrection of the ‘worthies’22 (no specific date now given but went through 1940’s, 1975, 2000, to get there)
- Jesus died on a cross and the symbol widely used23 (1928/1931 it took 3 years to have it removed from the cover of the Watchtower!24
The first there in the list (the worship of Christ) is dumbfounding; why would Jehovah choose an organisation that consistently taught to break the first commandment in the worship of a god other than Jehovah? Then why did it take Him 35 years to bring this ‘new light’ to the attention of His chosen slave? Shouldn’t it have been obvious?
The GB seldom admits to making ‘mistakes’ yet a rare implication that they do can be found in the 1972 WT25. however, even here they cover their backs by saying;
“…Christian Witnesses of Jehovah. They readily admit to having made mistakes as to doctrine and worship…Does this admission of making mistakes stamp them as false prophets? Not at all, for false prophets do not admit to making mistakes”
This, of course, ignores the fact that true prophets do not make mistakes and so do not need to admit them, for what they speak comes from God. The hallmark of a false prophet is that what they say does not come true and so has to be ‘clarified’ at a later date. Note also that it is not the WTS or the GB who made these mistakes, but ‘Christian Witnesses of Jehovah’, this is a common tactic by the WTS to pass the blame on to the rank and file rather than accept it themselves.
The jwfacts.com website gives a list the terms used by the WTS to describe its ‘errors’26 and many of these put the blame on to ‘misplaced’ ‘expectations’ of the masses. The one term missing from the list is ‘false’ yet this word appears many times in the similar list the from the site of terms used by the WTS to describe Christendom’s errors.
It seems that this ‘new light’ technique is reserved only for the GB, and its use by anyone else is taken as a sign that what they teach is in error and that they should be avoided. This quote from ‘a businessman’ in the 1970 April 23 Awake magazine27 could so easily be said about the WTS rather than the Catholic church;
“Tell me,” he asked, “how can I have confidence in anything? How can I believe in the Bible, in God, or have faith? Just ten years ago we Catholics had the absolute truth, we put all our faith in this. Now the pope and our priests are telling us this is not the way to believe any more, but we are to believe ‘new things.’ How do I know the ‘new things’ will be the truth in five years?” (Emphasis mine)
“If you are a Catholic, can you understand how a practice that was considered by the Church a “mortal sin” can suddenly be approved? If it was a sin five years ago, why is it not today? Many Catholics cannot understand.” (Emphasis mine)
A similar comment was made in the 1975 Watchtower by an unnamed ‘Catholic priest’;28
“As one Catholic priest in the United States put it: “If the things the Church has said in the last ten years are true, then everything it said for the last 2,000 years is false.”
Even the Mormons (aka Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints) come under fire in a 2013 WT29 where a Mormon turned JW is stated as saying;
“I was told that the answers to my questions involved mysteries that one day would be solved as the light became brighter” (emphasis mine)
This adherence to ‘new light’ was so intense in the early Bible Students (as the pre-cursors to JWs were originally known) that the first building to be specifically designated for them was called the ‘New Light Church’ in 1890, the building only lasting until the 1920s.30
Paradoxically the early Watchtowers, particularly under Charles Taze Russel (CTR- founder of the Bible Students), have much to say about ‘new light’ and it’s not complimentary
“If we were following a man undoubtedly it would be different with us; undoubtedly one human idea would contradict another and that which was light one or two or six years ago would be regarded as darkness now: But with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, and so it is with truth; any knowledge or light coming from God must be like its author. A new view of truth never can contradict a former truth. “New light” never extinguishes older “Light,” but adds to it”31
I think we could all agree with this sentiment, a belief in the inerrancy of God and His word.
A 1923 WT32 has this to say
“A denial or reversal of formerly held truths is naturally suggested to those having a morbid desire for novelty” (Emphasis mine)
This is particularly poignant as it was written in the years of Judge Rutherford, a man who worked very hard to eradicate many of the doctrines thought up by CTR.
It is surely clear to any logical thinker that ‘brighter’ light will not reveal true ‘old light’ to be incorrect, but simply incomplete, as stated by CTR in the quote above. For example; you might understand that Jesus is coming again then ‘brighter light’ might reveal how He is coming again, but it would not reveal that He is NOT coming again. There have been many instances where the ‘brighter light’ of the Watchtower has been a contradiction of a previous light (such as the worship of Christ mentioned above). There have been
numerous examples of where old light has been replaced with new light only for newer light to return the light to the old light – if you see what I mean.
For example; from at least 196133 to 1967 organ donations did not seem to have any ‘scriptural principle or law involved’ and so were allowed. The 1967 WT34 then decided that such donations amounted to cannibalism and so were forbidden, emphasised in the 1968 Awake.35 Then in 1980, simply in an answer to ‘Questions from readers’ 36 this newer light was replaced with the older light and organ donations again had ‘no biblical command’ against them and so were permitted.
No apology was made to those who had died refusing an organ donation under the ‘new/old light,’ nor even any mention of this being a ‘belief clarified’. It is not known how many JWs left the organisation due to this ‘old light/new light/old light’ tango, but it must have made many uncomfortable at least!
Another example is their teaching on who are the ‘higher authorities’ of Romans 13 v 1. It doesn’t take a great mind to realise that these authorities are the world’s governments etc. yet the WTS has flip-flopped around the issue for decades. Up to 192937 they had it right, but then they changed it to Jesus and Jehovah being the authorities38 only to change it back again in 1962.39 Amazingly, they claim that this apparent error made in 1929 was ‘beneficial’ to the JWs by helping them maintain a neutral stance during WW2 and the cold war – Jehovah taught error in order to strengthen His people!40
This particular change brought much confusion (understandably) and in particular to the Russian JW community, with many unable to accept that such a thing could come from the GB, causing them to leave the organisation, which was later admitted as such by the WTS!41 This change had a similar effect upon the Romanian JWs who had been cut-off from the rest of the organisation for many years due to the Communist regime. This new light caused a major rift and, despite meeting with members of the GB in 1989, many Romanian JWs left the mainstream and set up their own sect named ‘The True Faith Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ in 1992.42
According to the GB this change to the ideas of Romans 13 was brought about by the issuing of a new version of the NWT because this included ‘…an in-depth study of the textural language of the scriptures‘ which lead to this ‘new’ understanding,43 but this surely begs the question as to the accuracy of the earlier NWT if it was not the subject of ‘in-depth study’ of the language! A more detailed article of the ‘superior authorities’ debacle can be found on the jwfacts website along with many more such changes.44
Obviously the WTS tries to justify itself in coming up with New Light and in an article in the 1981 Dec WT45 it claims that throughout history similar ‘new lights’ have been needed by a variety of distinguished biblical characters including Abraham, Daniel, Jesus and the apostles, and John the Baptist. In the article it claims that each of the characters mentioned received ‘new light’ as their understanding grew.
However, if you actually read what the article says (and the relevant Bible passages) it is clear that in each case the person in question did not come out with proclamations that had to be later rescinded and changed, but simply that they were not made aware of the full facts at that time. There is a huge difference between not knowing the full truth while waiting for it to be revealed and not knowing the truth yet still making mistaken statements about it while claiming to speak for God.
They quote Jesus as not knowing the ‘day and the hour’ as an example of this new light while claiming this was because Jesus did not have a ‘complete understanding of His Father’s purposes’. Jesus very much had a ‘complete understanding’, it was simply that the final date was not made known to Him. Jesus never made the mistake of stating a date for the end, but simply told us to watch out for it; a humility the WTS has seriously lacked in its own many pronouncements of when this end would be.
Wait on Jehovah
There are many WT articles which exhort JWs to ‘wait on Jehovah’, meaning that they shouldn’t rush ahead or be impatient. The 1999 Oct WT has such an article where it states that;
“There is, therefore, no reason for us to become overly concerned, or even agitated, that certain matters are not fully explained. Rather, we can be confident that if we patiently wait on Jehovah, he will provide, through the faithful slave, what is needed “at the proper time.””46
Effectively this is saying that waiting on ‘the faithful slave’ (the GB) is the same as waiting on Jehovah. The article says that the ‘slave’ will provide what is needed at the ‘proper time’ yet, by their own admission, what they provide cannot be guaranteed to be at the ‘proper time’ as it is needs regular updating.
Proverbs 4:18 gives a limitation as to how long this ‘brighter light’ will be needed – “…until full daylight” (NWT). So, when could Christians expect this ‘full daylight’ to appear? Jesus claimed for Himself that He was the light of the world (John 8:12) and that those who followed Him would ‘never walk in darkness’. John 1:9 gives a similar title to Jesus in that He was the ‘true light’ given to ‘every sort of man [‘every man’ – Greek]’ (NWT) and this light ‘…is shining in the darkness…’ and the’ …darkness has not overpowered it’ (NWT Verse 5). When Zechariah met Jesus as a babe, he prophesied that;
“With this compassion a daybreak will visit us from on high, to give light to those sitting in darkness and death’s shadow and to guide our feet in the way of peace” Luke 1:78b, 79 NWT
So, Jesus is this light we are waiting for, not some fallible, mistake-ridden group of men requiring their beliefs to be regularly ‘clarified’. If we want to find the light and be guided by this light we need to look to Jesus, not to men. Jesus is unchanging and “…is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NWT) so we should expect His teachings to be similarly consistent.
The WTS’s claim to speak for Jehovah as His modern day channel so you would expect their theology to be God directed and so free from error. The fact that they do make ‘errors’, in as much that what they said yesterday needs regular updating and may need updating again tomorrow, would seem to deny this channel idea. So, they have searched the scriptures for a get-out clause and believe they found it in Proverbs 4:18, giving themselves freedom to make any announcements they wish and change them at any point in the future while still remaining as Jehovah’s channel. However, with an open mind it is clear that this ‘new light’ option is not the get-out-of-jail-free card that they would have it be nor is it used wisely or discretely. God has provided us with the true light of the world and it is from Him that truth comes and anyone who does not wait upon Him is walking in the darkness (John 8:12).
1. Watchtower (WT) 1 Mar 1988 page 12
2. WT 15 May 1995 page 21
3. WT 1 Aug 2003 page 15
4. WT 1 Oct 1994 page 8
5. WT 1 Apr 1986 page 31
6. WT 1 Sep 1989 page 19
7. WT 15 July 2013 page 15
8. WT Feb 2017 page 20, footnote to Awake magazine 22 Mar 1993 page 3
9. WTS Document ‘Our Kingdom Ministry’ No 1990
10. WTS Website https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200277174. and https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200028612)
11. WTS Book “God’s Kingdom Rules” page 49
12. WT 15 Jul 2013 pages 11-12
13. Awake 8 Mar 2005 page 20
14. WT Nov 1880 page 144, WT 15 July 1898 page 2337 (reprints), 1945 WTBTS Articles of Amendments
15. WT 1 Jan 1954 page 31
16. WTS Book ‘The Finished Mystery’ page 60
17. Awake 22 Jan 1973 page 8
18. WTS Book ‘The Finished Mystery’ page 68
19. WT 15 Jan 1993 page 5
20. WTS Book ‘The Time is at Hand’ page 239
21. WT 15 Jan 2014 page 13
22. WTS Book ‘Millions Now Living will Never Die’ page 88, WTS Book ‘JWs – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom’ page 425
23. WTS Book ‘Life’ page 216
24. WT front covers until 1931 WT 11 Oct 1931, WTS Book ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ page 100
25. WT 1 Nov1972 page 644
27. Awake 23 April 1970 pages 8-9
28. WT 1 June 1975 p 324
29. WT 1 Feb 2013
30. WTS Book ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ page 204
31. WT 1886 Feb page 188
32. WT 1 Sep 1923 page 261
33. WT 1 Aug 1961 page 480
34. WT 15 Nov 1967 page 703
35. Awake 1968 Jun 8 page 21
36. WT 15 Mar 1980 page 31
37. WTS Book ‘Divine Plan of Ages’ page 250
38. WS Book “This Means Life Everlasting” page 197
39. WTS Book “Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God” page 189, WT 2006 15 Feb pages 29-30
40. WT 1 May 1996 pages 13-14
41. Awake 22 Oct 2000 page 22
42. Wikipedia Jehovah’s Witnesses Splinter Groups https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses_splinter_groups
43. WT 1 May 1996 page 14
45. WT 1 Dec 1981 pages 16-17
46. WT 1 Oct 1999 pages 5-6