A discussion with a Jehovah's Witness

Hey everybody,

I thought I’d give an account of one of two encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We chatted on Facebook, which is better suited to me, since I have more time to think about certain things I can say. Perhaps this is of sone interest to you, and if you have any comments (esp. apologetic-related ones. The encounter I will recall was with a guy named Eric, who said he was an atheist, and has been studying on-and-off with the Witnesses for four years, but now believes.

We got talking about the Bible and interpretation thereof. He said Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Bible as the authority for Christians. My tactic is to go down the route of authority. Firstly because it gets straight to the point, and second because I need to practice and understand it better. :slight_smile: My first point was for him to prove sola scriptura from the Bible alone. He named numerous verses, mostly the classic ones like 2 Tim 3:16-17, but also things like John 5:39-41; 17:17; and Matthew 21:23-27. I kept asking him to show me where these verses said Scripture alone was the authority, not an authority. That resulted in Eric dodging the question and accusing me of following men “because if the Bible is not the authority, then the only thing left is men”. In the end, he blocked me from contacting him for a while.

About two days later, he unblocked me, saying he was sorry and wanted to continue talking. I thought I would take a different approach for the time being, because the last one had caused trouble. So, I asked him how he knew the JWs were interpreting the Bible correctly, since Saint Peter says that “no prophecy of Scripture is not of private interpretation”. He said “the Bible interprets itself”, and thus the Bible was their only authority. To be honest, I was not sure how to deal with that, so I replied: “Protestantism has failed at that, splitting into 30,000 denominations because everyone thought they were understanding it correctly. So, really, how do you know you’re right?”

Throwing back red-herrings of “you guys have tradition that teaches the immortality of the soul and hell”, it was quite a temptation to drift off and talk about those, rather than stay on the topic of authority. I told Eric that the Church gets her authority from Jesus and the Apostles, and asked where the JWs got theirs. He repeated that they took their authority to interpret the Bible from the Bible, obviously without seeing the circular reasoning.

Then, it all ended rather abruptly: My comment about the Catholic Church caused him to say “See, you worship men, I told you so”, and I immediately found myself back on the “Blocked” list. :rolleyes:

I hope this is just a phase, and we can return to talk sensibly soon. Meanwhile I have another conversation going. But for this thread: Perhaps you have some ideas about what I said, some recommendations or corrections. Feel free to comment. :slight_smile:

Actually, it is they who worship men. The guys who comprise the JW Watchtower Society.

The only people that I won’t do apologetics with are JWs. They are nice people, but they seem immune to reason. They have (literally) a script - a little book called (ironically) “Reasoning from the Scriptures” that they are expected to practically memorize. The book is a Q&A format - if someone says this, you can say that. If a conversation goes off-script then they pretty much shut down, or try to redirect the conversation to their scripted programming.

Our Lord warns us about such futile efforts - he describes it as “casting your pearls before swine” (Matt 7:6). If I had a JW who was questioning his faith then I would gladly talk to him. But a committed JW is practically an automaton and you have little chance of making a difference.

Well, there are little glimpses of them thinking inbetween times. :slight_smile:

I think you are taking the right approach by bringing things back to the question of authority. That really is the core issue and everything else hinges on it.

I’ve never quite understood how the circular reasoning of Sola Scriptura is compelling to so many people. The idea of a self-interpreting Bible is similarly quite mystifying to me. If that were the case, then everyone would walk away with the same interpretation. And since we all know that doesn’t happen, it immediately raises the question: “Who judges who has correctly understood the Bible’s correct interpretation?” Did God just leave it up to chance? It seems like a poorly thought out way to establish a Church.

Thanks for the replies so far! I mentioned there was a second Jw I was in contact with, and he wishes to discuss the Canon of the New Testament, based on this article: wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200000880 (scroll down to “Christian Greek Scriptures”).

That should be interesting. Skim the relevant section of the article, you will see why. :wink:

I love to debate! One time a JW came to my door and this thing happened, except I didn’t feel like debating authority, I wanted the conversation to last. :stuck_out_tongue: So we touched on authority, but he took it off track and I never reject going off track, unless it is really far, because I enjoy teaching people about Catholicism. Anyway, the big tension point was Mary! We went through the Bible (I used the bible they gave me) and showed why Catholics show veneration to the Mother of God (Theotokos.) She is married to the Holy Spirit. She is the dispenser of all graces (I hope I got that right!) In all honesty, I think I got an open-minded fellow. He was very polite and thoughtful. Never did he truly shut down and tell me I worship false idols (after I explained who Mary is and what we do to her.) We also touched on the deuterocanonical books. Which was somewhat about authority but not much. After the subject of Mary, I had to leave. But I feel that it was ecumenical. And HE walked away with a CATHOLIC BIBLE. I enjoyed that conversation. I think we both grew in our faith that day.

Now for a verse I love to use to undermine Sola Scriptura. And remember, Lutheran “sola scriptura” is different than evangelical “sola scriptura” (generally speaking.) Lutherans accept tradition (again, this is all general) while most other “non-denominational” protestants don’t accept most tradition.

I digress. 2 Thess 2:15 is a great verse on this topic! You did a great job pointing out that the Bible never says it is the ONLY authority. It only says it is AN authority. :slight_smile:

Personally, I like to begin this sort of debate by pointing out that the Bible is “incomplete”, for lack of a better word.

(All references from the RSV-CE, emphasis mine)

Joshua 10:13 - “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.”

John 21:25 - “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

1 Cor 5:9 - “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men;” Past tense, refers to a “Zeroth” Letter to the Corinthians.

Col 4:16 - “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the La-odice′ans; and see that you read also the letter from La-odice′a.” Not only references a Letter to the Laodiceans, but exhorts them to read it.

2 Pt 3:15-16a - “15 And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters.” Paul’s letters are all inspired, yet not all are in the Bible.

Jude 14-15 - "14 It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” References the Book of Enoch, which is apocryphal to all but the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches.

Clearly, there are other contemporary sources that were seen as important. The “extra” epistles, the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jashar. And from the reference to John, we also know that not everything Jesus ever did is in the Bible (and presumably, more is left out than just his childhood).

So I might try this angle. The angle of showing that the Bible is not complete, with all these extrabiblical references. And if you need more, perhaps challenge him to read the Didache (worthwhile reading at any rate), or perhaps something deuterocanonical (I’m quite fond of Daniel 3, the additions to Esther, and the book of Wisdom. Also Tobit, but as CARM has taught us, that’s not the best example for anti-Catholics). Challenge him to read something he would consider apocryphal, and ask him why it’s not in the Bible.

(Actually, Greek Esther sounds like a good suggestion. Just be sure it’s the interspersed version like the NAB, not tacked onto the end like in the Vulgate)

Thanks for sharing that story. I guess that goes to show that – although authority is the place to keep the conversation to make logical headway – sometimes just leaving the person with a positive impression of a Catholic who knows and loves Jesus and their faith is a victory in and of itself.

I always like to go back and ask them how they know which books belong in the Bible. That usually is an eye-opening conversation.

I recommend the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, James, Revelation, the Protoevangelium of James, the Didache, and the Gospel of Thomas as discussion points. That covers a synoptic gospel, John, an undisputed epistle, an epistle Luther tried to remove (and thus is kinda disputed), Revelation (an odd book out, which Luther also attempted to remove), a trusted infancy gospel, a book that (as I understand it) almost made it in, and a gnostic gospel. I’d say that’s a pretty decent spread for covering what is and isn’t in the NT.

I actually use that as a middle ground. :blush: If I don’t think I can get someone to the Catholic view of Tradition being equal to Scripture, I try to get them at least to trust Tradition and go with the Lutheran view. (And then, of course, hope that leads to them considering the Catholic view)

We will be going that way in the second conversation I mentioned in post #7. :slight_smile: The New Testament specifically, though, because I don’t want to get distracted by him quoting supposedly problematic passages. Rule out all sources of distraction. :slight_smile:

I use it as middle ground too! I’m quite fond of the Lutheran view as opposed to the more basic view. I feel that the Lutheran view is close enough :shrug:

I found this little gem in the article. No reference provided, of course.

By the end of the second century there was no question but that the canon of the Christian Greek Scriptures was closed

Strange how this “closed” canon continue to be debated for another 200 years until a series of church councils finally resolved the matter. “There was no question” is a blatant lie. Of course, the entire fact that the debate continued is completely ignored.

The JWs are very slick about dropping unsupported statements like that as if they are fact, then charging ahead with a diversion.

I rarely go the route of authority. It is just not that convincing to a non-Catholic.

I would usually incline toward which Faith has God’s revelation. I would discount the bible immediately, because a book is not a Faith. I would try to get them to see religion in terms of revelation not in terms of a book. If they tried to keep diverting back to the book, I would argue that it is just an argument for Catholicity, since it was the Catholic Faith that canonized the Scriptures. JW’s were 1400 yrs. in the future still. So they can not use that book either. Even the OT is not a faith, it is just the documentary evidence of God’s revelation to the chosen people. So I would try to bend their mind toward God’s revelation, and away from the book. God’s revelation came first. The chosen witnesses came next then the written word and LASTLY the keepers of God’s revelation (the religion) canonize the inspired books. This occurred in both the OT and the NT.

ALL Protestants (even JWs) have tried to sever the book from the Faith with disastrous results. That is why it is always necessary to first establish where God’s revelation is (which Faith community/Religion) JW’s can not claim it because they have a corrupted version of the book which was stolen sacrilegiously by force from the Catholic Faith. They must show how WITHOUT the book, they have God’s Revelation. Catholics have the continuous Faith tradition dating back to Jesus and the Apostles.

Oh yes, indeed! My favourite thing is the following though, because the argument I will be making is this:

*]The article relies on Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement BISHOP of Rome (it says that!), Irenaeus, Theophilus, Tertullian, et al.
*]It is said that the Canon of Scripture was settled, based on what these people thought was canonical.
*]These people were “apostate” Catholics who believed in the Trinity, the Real Presence, the Papacy, the deuterocanonicals and many other things JWs disagree with.
*]Therefore, why on earth do JWs trust the New Testament Canon? Surely, these people would only include books that agreed with their own doctrine.
*]Ergo, the JWs have not provided any argument at all.

I did review the article, and have some comments:

The mere writing of a religious book, its preservation for hundreds of years, and its esteem by millions do not prove it is of divine origin or canonical.

Well, people started esteeming the Bible because of the CC, the CC gave the world the Bible.

It must bear credentials of Divine Authorship demonstrating that it was inspired by God.

I think it is nowhere in the Bible where there is no chapter and verse where God claims authorship of the Bible. How can one know the Gospel of Mark is inspired or should be part of the Bible (there is no chapter and verse where Mark claims he wrote the gospel of Mark)?

Two Jewish councils held at Yavne or Jamnia, a little S of Joppa, about 90 and 118 C.E. respectively, when discussing the Hebrew Scriptures, expressly excluded all Apocryphal writings.

I think you already have info that this council at Jamnia was not even a council itself, or that it even existed.

Concerning that last bit, they enumerate certain criteria (though arbitrary) by which they judge the canonicity. The problem with that is their inconclusiveness, arbitrariness and circularity.

Their view on saints is also good for that. They agree that the saints are up there praying for us; they just don’t agree that we should pray to them. Add an admittance that it’s not wrong to pray to saints, and suddenly it sounds like a Catholic who just doesn’t pray to saints (which is perfectly fine).

James. Definitely mention James. Home to faith without works being dead, and, at least according to the footnotes in the NAB, scriptural basis for Anointing of the Sick.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.