Charles Taze Russell, the Watchtower, and Proof Texting

Charles Taze Russell was born in 1852.  He is the founder of the so-called “Bible Student Movement” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The followers of Russell deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  Charles Taze Russell was brought up in a Presbyterian/Congregationalist setting and leaned toward Unitarianism which is the natural progression of Calvinism.  Unitarianism denies the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  Where Calvinism teaches that the infinite God cannot be found in the finite bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, Unitarianism takes this line of logic to the next step maintaining that the infinite God cannot be found in the finite body and blood of Jesus.

Notice the direct correlation between a proper understanding of Christology (the person and work of Christ) with a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper instituted by Christ.  The Son says, “This is My body and this is My blood” and it is.  When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we receive the body and the bread, the blood and the wine.  The Father says, “This is My Son” and He is.  When we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, we receive both His humanity and His divinity.  The two natures of Christ cannot be separated.

Just as the line of logic promoted by Calvinism led the Unitarians to deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it also led Russell to the same conclusion.  The result is that Russell and his students teach a different Jesus than the one proclaimed by the apostles.  The Apostle Paul warns his students in Corinth saying,

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.(2 Cor. 11:3–4, ESV)

In the 1800’s there were many false teachers proclaiming a different Jesus and a different spirit.  Not only do the students of Russell deny that Jesus is coessential, coeternal, and coequal with the Father, they also teach the Holy Spirit is merely God’s active force.  Their view on the Holy Spirit flows from their teaching that Jehovah is not omnipresent and needs an active force to be able to act throughout creation.

In 1916, Charles Taze Russell died.  After his death, his students split into a variety of factions such as the Pastoral Bible Institute, Watchers of the Morning, the Dawn Bible Students Association, the Christian Millennial Fellowship, the Stand Fast Bible Students Assocaition, the Elijah Voice Society, the Servants of Yah, the Angel of Jehovah Bible and Tract Society, the Berean Bible Institute (Australia), New Covenant Fellowship, the Christian Truth Institute, the New Covenant Believers, and the Watchtower organization (Jehovah’s Witnesses).   SOURCE

This last group was led by Judge Rutherford who was a student of Russell.  The schism amongst the “Bible Students” was the result of disagreements with Rutherford.  It is said that only about a quarter of the students of Russell continued to follow Rutherford.  Nevertheless, of all of these splinter groups, the largest and most common are the students of the Watchtower organization.  They are commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Most likely, you have come across one of their magazines:                    1.) The Watchtower 2.) Awake

Watchtower organization utilizes a teaching technique in which their publication make assertions, provide multiple proof texts from the Bible, and engage the reader with leading questions based upon common sense.  For example, they may assert that there is only one God and his name is Jehovah.  Jesus never claimed to be Jehovah.  Then they quote a Bible passage such as 1 Timothy 2:5 as found in their own translation, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus.”  Next, they would ask a question such as, “Is it reasonable to say that Jesus is God if he is the one mediator between God and men?”

Please note that the Watchtower organization has developed a method of interpretation and translation that “proves” that their teaching is from the Bible.  At this point, we must comment on the problem with “proof texting.”  This method is employed to “biblically support” a teaching.  Understand that first an organization starts with a premise and second it gathers a lists of Bible verses to prove the truth of their premise.

This was the method that was employed by Ulrich Zwingli with his debates against the Luther regarding the Lord’s Supper.  Zwingli started off with a premise that the Lord’s Supper is just a symbolic mean and then he gathered an army of verses to prove that God uses symbolism in the Bible to support his premise.  The method of interpretation used by Zwingli was to read the text symbolically.

Luther, on the other hand, wanted to start off with the Biblical text and read it as it has been given.  Jesus “took bread and when He had given thanks he broke and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take eat. This is My body which is given for you.”  What does this mean?  The bread that Jesus gave to His disciples to eat is the body of Jesus.  The method of interpretation used by Luther was to read the text as intended by the one who spoke/wrote the words.

Zwingli employed the technique of proof texting.  Again, this method starts with a teaching and then quotes Bible passages to support the teaching by using reason and common sense.  If God uses symbolism to teach us, then it is reasonable that he would use symbolism in teaching us about the Lord Supper.  This is the same system of reasoning that Arius used in the early church regarding the person of Christ.  Arius taught that the Son of God is a created being who did not exist from eternity.  His method of proof was to quote Bible passages that declared that the Father sent the Son.  Then Arius and his students would argue that it is reasonable to believe that there was a time when the Son did not exist.  After all, first there has to be a father before there is a son.  A son comes after a father in time.  It cannot be the other way around.

On the other hand, Athanasius and his students would approach the topic differently.  They wanted to know what God had revealed in the scriptures.  They desired to look at a text and ask the question, “What does this mean?”  If the Holy Spirit teaches us through the mouths of the apostles that Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Father, what does this mean?  Well, it means that Son is God of God, begotten not made, being of the same essence of the Father.  He is light of light and True God of True God.

Like Zwingli and Arius, the Watchtower organization starts with a premise.  They teach that Jesus is not Jehovah.  Then they come up with a false system of proof texting to prove that their teaching is from the Bible.  The system works like this

  1. Jesus is not Jehovah
  2. Jesus never claims to be Jehovah
  3. The prophets and apostle do not teach that Jesus is Jehovah
  4. In the Greek language, when the word “theos” (god) is referring to Jehovah it uses the definite article which would be translated as “the God.”  The God is Jehovah.
  5. When the word “theos” (god) is referring to Jesus it does not use the definite article which would be translated as “a god.” A god is not Jehovah.

After establishing their teaching and method of interpretation, they quote a multitude of verses to “prove” their teaching comes from the Bible.  This system was developed for one purpose.  This method of interpretation and translation is utilized to prove that Jesus is not Jehovah.  Here is the place in which we can see a huge flaw in “proof texting.”  You can prove that any teaching comes from the Bible if you use the appropriate method of interpretation.  It is like watching a movie that is based upon a true story.

For example, we can use the Watchtower method of interpretation and translation to prove that the person of the Father of Jesus is not Jehovah either.

  1. The Father of Jesus is not Jehovah
  2. The Father of Jesus never claims to be Jehovah
  3. The prophets and apostle do not teach that the Father of Jesus is Jehovah
  4. In the Greek language, when the word “theos” (god) is referring to Jehovah, it uses the definite article which would be translated as “the God.”  The God is Jehovah.
  5. When the word “theos” (god) is referring to the Father of Jesus ,it does not use the definite article which would be translated as “a god.” A god is not Jehovah.

Like the Watchtower, we could quote a multitude of verses from the Bible to prove this premise using their method of interpretation and translation.

The method of biblical interpretation and translation used by the Watchtower organization is pure deception.  Understand that the method of interpretation was developed by the Watchtower organization to prove that their teaching is from the Bible.  The devil is a deceiver and a liar.  He promotes a different Jesus than the Jesus proclaimed by the apostles.  Satan is actively at work blinding the unbeliever and misguiding the believer.  The devil used the trick of “proof texting” to “prove” that Jesus was not the Son of God in Matthew chapter four.  He started off with a premise that Jesus is not the Son of God.  Then he mixing in leading questions combined with “poof texts” to “prove” his false teaching.

However, if one reads Matthew chapter four in the context flowing from what was revealed in the previous chapter, one will learn that Jesus in deed is the Son of God.  At the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, it was the Holy Spirit who anointed Him as the Christ and the voice of the Father who declared Him to be His Son.

While Satan trains his students to ask the question, “Did God really say what the text says?,” the Holy Spirit is at work in the baptized teaching them to ask the question, “What is God revealing to me in this text?”  The Apostle John declares, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6, ESV)  Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31–32, ESV)  Take note that Jesus did not say, “You are truly My disciples if you proof text your own teachings.”  Instead, Jesus instructs us as His students to abide in His word.  To abide in His word, is to remain in it.

4 thoughts on “Charles Taze Russell, the Watchtower, and Proof Texting

  1. You cannot have a single premise in an arguement as you presume is done above.; a working hypothesis, yes. To claim that Jehovah’s Witnesses make their “premise” and apply scripture to prove their piont is quite true and I too do not agree with their methods to say the least but to take scripture out of context per your example of the sacriment is equally bad if not worse. By that token, one can agrue from scripture that the Trinity is in deed proven wrong when asking who it was that spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism claiming him as the son and the spirit coming down to him rather than being him. If this is note the sense you meant, you might need to make your meaning more clear.
    If you wish to criticize the Watchtower Society, I might suggest attacking their root cause for remaining successful agains adversity. We hold to cerain things because of how we see their importance in our lives and how they serve us. Do you see it yet? Attack that which promises them life everlasting. That is what they claim to be necessary for even being a Jehovah’s Witness.

    • Roger,

      Thank you for taking time to comment.

      The example of the sacrament is not “taken out of context.” In the written scriptures, God reveals to us what we are to believe. Jesus gave the bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26, ESV). And again Jesus gave the cup and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27–28, ESV). Since Jesus says so it is so. Faith believes what Jesus says. For this reason, St. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV). The Apostle knows the answer from the words of Jesus. The cup of blessing is in fact a participation (communion) in the blood of Christ and the bread is a participation (communion) in the body of Christ.

      It is the devil who comes says, “Did God really say that?” God’s written word brings clarity and certainty. The devil brings ambiguity and doubt. For instance, at the baptism of Jesus the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, ESV). Faith believes what the Father says. Immediately after the baptism of our Lord, the devil says to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3, ESV). Later on at the crucifixion, those who rejected Jesus and refused to believe said to Jesus, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40, ESV). They reject their promised King. St. Luke writes, “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”” (Luke 23:36–38, ESV) And again, St. John writes, “So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”” (John 19:21, ESV)

      Furthermore, at the baptism of Jesus, the heavens are opened and God is revealed to us. We are taught to make a distinction between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit. The Spirit is neither the Son nor the Father. The person of the Father is the one speaking about His Son. The Son is another person. The Father anoints the Son with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is another person. The person of the Holy Spirit is not the one speaking or being anointed. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the anointing. The person of the Son is yet another person. The person of the Son is not the one speaking. He is being spoken about and being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Thus, He is called the Christ, that is, the Anointed one. In our baptism, the Holy Trinity is also revealed. We are baptized in to the name, a singular noun, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here we confess one God and the three persons that are named. Each is given equal honor and glory. Additionally, when Paul writes to Titus about baptism, we are taught to make a distinction in the plurality of persons of the Holy Trinity. St. Paul says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7, ESV). In this passage, the Father is referred to as God which distinguishes Him from the Son. The Father did not take upon flesh and blood in order to be the atoning sacrifice. The Father sends the Son. The Son is referred to as Jesus Christ. This name and tile acknowledges the incarnation. The name Jesus confesses His birth of the Virgin Mary. Neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin. Instead, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the title Christ acknowledges the baptism in the Jordan in which the Father anointed the Son with the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the washing of regeneration, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us through the Son. Neither the Father nor the Son are poured out upon us.

      In his letter to the baptized in Galatia, Paul teaches us about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity attached to baptism in a similar way. He says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26–27, ESV) And then goes on to say, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6, ESV)

  2. Saying that Unitarianism is “the natural progression of Calvinism” makes no sense, as Unitarianism began specifically as a rejection of Calvinism. Each of the 5 points of classical Calvinism was rejected by the earliest Unitarians. This is not my opinion; if you consult the writings of early Unitarians such as Channing, or look at how Calvin persecuted and executed proto-Unitarians like Servetus and Socinius, you will see that the two are oppositional. Russell himself totally rejected Calvinism (for the most part).
    The article is not incorrect in pointing out the opposition of Russell and the movement he began toward the Trinity, but seeing it as flowing out of Calvinism shows a lack of understanding how Unitarianism came about, and what its historic reliation to Calvinism actually is.

  3. Gregory,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Let me try to make sense of my statement. In Christology, the fundamental Calvinist principle is finitum no est capax infiniti, that is, the finite is not capable of the infinite. With this principle, Calvinists teach that the finite human nature of Christ is not capable of having real communion with the infinite divine nature. Thus, the human nature of Christ is not capable of being omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. For this reason, the Calvinists deny that the true body and blood of Jesus are given in the Sacrament of the Altar. Such a teaching is contrary to human reason.

    Likewise, for the Calvinist, the human nature of Jesus should not rightfully receive divine worship, honor, and glory. Based upon this principle, a Calvinist can only worship the divine nature of the Son of God. Since Calvinists teach that the divine attributes cannot be communicated to the human nature of Christ, by default, they confess that the Christ consists of two persons. They have fallen into the ancient heresy of Nestorianism which taught that the Christ is comprised of a divine person (the eternal Logos) and a human person (Jesus of Nazareth).

    On the other hand, those who teach the personal union between the divine and human natures, confess that Christ is one person and has two natures. This personal union includes the communication of the divine and human attributes. For example, God in His essence is eternal. He cannot die. However, in the holy incarnation, God took upon flesh in order to die. Thus, we can correctly confess that God died on the cross. In contrast, the Calvinist can only say that the man Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, because God cannot die. With this Calvinist principle that the finite is not capable of the infinite, the divine attributes are separated from the divine nature. Consequently, Calvinists would say that Jesus Christ has a divine nature, but He does not have the divine attributes. For this reason, Calvinists cannot confess that the human nature of the Christ is omnipresent which provides for the gift of the true body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar.

    On the basis of this Calvinistic principle of the finite not being capable of the infinite, the Holy Incarnation itself is not possible. Accordingly, I can boldly say that the natural progression of Calvinism is toward Unitarianism. In particular, I am referring to the evolution of the Puritan Calvinistic congregations in early America that became Unitarian. When William Channing championed his teaching in his sermon “Unitarian Christianity,” ( he did not attack the five points of Calvinism directly. Although Unitarians reject the five points of Calvinism, it is not accurate to say that the movement began as a rejection of these five points. However, one could say that “five point Calvinism” began as a reaction to the five points of Arminianism known as the Five Articles of Remonstrance.

    Nevertheless, in Channing’s sermon on Unitarian Christianity, he first puts forth his guiding rule of reason to interpret scripture which resulted in his new form of Christianity. This guiding rule is pure Calvinism. Please note that the Calvinistic axiom of the finite not being capable of the infinite is a result of human reason overruling divine revelation. In his sermon, Channing goes on to confess the unity of God in contrast to the Trinity and also the unity of Christ in contrast to the two persons being taught by classic Calvinism. Furthermore, he rejects the vicarious atonement and eternal punishment for the unbeliever. For Channing the object of Christ’s mission was to recover men to virtue.

    Unitarians are consistent in applying the Calvinistic principle that the finite is not capable of the infinite which flows from the guiding rule of reason. Therefore, the Unitarians hold that the attributes of the infinite Person of God cannot be communicated to the finite person of Jesus resulting in the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is not God. Unitarians teach the unity of the one person of God called the Father. In addition, they teach the unity of the one person of Jesus called the Christ. The Unitarians can only worship the divine nature in the person of the Father. Like their Calvinist forefathers, the Unitarians deny that the true body and blood of Jesus are actually given in the Sacrament of the Altar. With their Calvinist upbringing, they are not capable of saying, “God died on the cross.” Such teachings are contrary to human reason. The next logical step is to deny the Holy Incarnation, because the finite is not capable of the infinite.

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