God’s Friend Or God’s Child? A Conversation With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer

If God's Spirit directs the Watchtower, it should never print logical fallacies.

If God’s Spirit directs the Watchtower, it should never print logical fallacies.

This was a weird meeting. It was the first time we met after my two week long mission trip to Manti, Utah. As I was leaving my office, I picked up a pen to take with me in case I wanted to write something down on a sheet of paper. I decided against it because I use my iPad for taking notes and my Jehovah’s Witness friend always has a pen anyways. I literally had the pen in my hand and then set it down on my desk and left. At the time I didn’t know why that happened, but it became clear to me later on in our discussion.

This meeting started with an invitation. As my Jehovah’s Witness friend walked up to where I was sitting (he arrived late), he had a slip of paper in his hand. It was an invitation to one of their Summer conventions. He talked about the program for a bit and then jokingly said, “If you find yourself in Houston over the weekend, please consider dropping by.”

We laughed and then the conversation shifted to my recent trip to Utah. I didn’t want to get into the street evangelism part of our trip, but I did tell him about the friends we see there every year. It is like a family reunion. I know this is a blog post about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but if you are into evangelism and are available during the last two weeks of June, the fellowship amongst the Christians is an additional bonus to the evangelism. Okay, back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

After about 30 minutes of catching up, I asked if he remembered to try to locate the publication mentioned on page 195 of the Teach book. For some reason The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever pamphlet is out of print so he is having a hard time finding it. My Witness friend asked if I wanted to continue talking about the “Name of God,” but suggested that we move along in the book and get back to that topic later.

He was quick to say that he didn’t want me to feel like my questions were unanswered, but that there was so much more in the book to study and that we can always go back to it. I agreed and mentioned that perhaps we could go back to the topic once he located the booklet so I could read it and then ask questions later. We began our study by reading paragraph 18 on page 15. The question on the bottom of the page asks, “Why do some people feel that they could never get close to God, but what does the Bible teach?”

I asked my Witness friend if he knew what a deist was. I was surprised that he did. We talked about how deism teaches that after God created the world, He left it to itself not caring what happens to it. My Witness friend mentioned an article which appeared in a Watchtower publication that quoted a Deist who once said something like it was the “height of arrogance for human beings to believe that God would even care about us”. He didn’t give me a reference and I have looked for this particular quote, but have not found it. This quote did come in handy later though.

JW: Yes, this publication quoted a deist who once said, “It is the height of arrogance for human beings to believe that God would even care about us.”

KW: Unless He said otherwise.

JW: Exactly! That is the key right there. What does the Bible say about it?

KW: I look at it this way. If the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

JW: (Nodding with excitement) Uh-huh!

KW: … then that should tell you right there that He cares for us.

He heartily agreed with me. We talked about this subject for a little bit and then he asked me to read the next paragraph in the Teach book.  Within this paragraph is a quotation of John 17:3 from their 1984 translation which renders it, “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Their 2013 revised translation now reads, “This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ,” agreeing with other translations.

As I read “Their taking in knowledge of you,” I stopped and mentioned how awkward of a reading it was. I paused, let out an audible “Hmmm?” and then read on. When I finished reading the paragraph, my Witness friend asked, “What was your question?”

KW: Their taking in knowledge of you? And this next sentence. “The Bible teaches that learning about Jehovah and Jesus leads to everlasting life.”  That doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what we just read because it doesn’t seem as personal. For instance, I am a Miami Dolphin fan. I can tell you about Dan Marino, but I don’t know the man.

My witness friend laughed.

KW: I could look at the record books and tell you how many passing records he broke, how many touchdown and yards and all that other stuff, but I don’t know him personally.

JW: Right.

KW: So knowing about somebody is not the same thing as knowing them personally.

I was hoping that he would alleviate my issue by simply quoting the revised translation of John 17:3, but he didn’t.  I wanted to be able to show how my translation got it right to begin with, but he never looked up the  verse. Perhaps he doesn’t know about the change.

My Witness friend began explaining that getting to know about someone is only the beginning of getting to know them personally.

JW: Taking in knowledge and getting to know are really close. Taking in knowledge as in just data, like you are talking about,  is one thing. But as far as coming to understand what kind of person they are and having a personal relationship with them is another thing.

KW: Yes, but that is getting to know someone, not taking in knowledge.

I opened the JW Library app on my iPad to see how it read in the Greek. I was hoping he would follow along so he could see the change. He didn’t so I read the revised translation aloud.

KW: This says, “their coming to know you.” I like that better. That is different than what is in the book.

He finally looked at the differences and said that the previous Bible was done in the 50’s and 60’s (He is wrong. It was done in 1984) and that the new Bible came out last year.

KW: Why do you think they changed it?

JW: To more accurately reflect the sense of the text.

KW: I like the newer one better.

JW: Yes, it is more accurate.

KW: So they had this incorrect idea for 50-some years?

JW: Well, uh… this older one is a more literal translation, while the newer one carries more of the sense of what it is saying.

KW: The Greek is more literal than the English and the interlinear on your app says, “they may be knowing you.”

He started to explain how the Greek word may mean something different than we understand in English. We was reaching and he knew it. I don’t know why people do things like that when they know that the person sitting right across the table has the immediate means to be able to prove them wrong.  I opened up my Olive Tree Bible app and looked up the word in my Strong’s Bible Text.

KW: The Greek word is “ginosko” and means, “to come to know.”

JW: Yeah… so that more carries the sense of a personal relationship.

KW: Right! So I’m wondering why they ever translated it that way to begin with.

JW: Well, they tried to be more literal.

KW: But literal is, “getting to know.”

He started trying to explain the Greek again. It was disastrous. If you are currently a Jehovah’s Witness and are reading this, please do yourself a favor. Don’t attempt to pontificate about a subject you don’t know anything about. Especially if the person you are talking to is holding a concordance and is LOOKING at the Greek word you are trying to explain.

I wish I could say that I have no idea why he was doing this, but the sad reality is that I do know why. He felt the need to defend and protect the Watchtower. He sees me as a potential convert and doesn’t want me to see the organization as flawed. As an elder, he feels the pressure to overcome any objections I bring up in hopes of one day seeing me get baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instead of trying to explain away the obvious mistake the Watchtower made in translation, he never stopped to ask himself why this mistake was made in the first place. If this is God’s organization, they should not be making mistakes that anyone with a concordance can correct. This is why it is important that I bring these types of things to his attention.

KW: The New American Standard is a very wooden translation and it translates it, “that they may know you.”  This just jumped out at me because the way the Teach book reads is not as personal as the way the scripture puts it.

JW: You know, that is really good that you picked up on that because that really is critical. Knowing God is not facts and figures, numbers and statistics. It is a personal relationship and that is really good that you perceived that. Now here is a question I have been looking forward to asking you.

KW: Uh-oh, he’s setting me up!

He laughed and replied, “It is easy.” He then read the question from the bottom of page 16, “What qualities of God are most appealing to you?”

KW:That is a great question and I have an immediate answer because it is something we are not. We can be loving and we can be kind and we can be gentle and a bunch of other things, but God commands us to be Holy.

JW: Hmm…

He was surprised and pleased with my answer.

KW: In the book of revelation, the angels continually say of God, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

JW: Yeah…

KW: They keep repeating that over and over. Speaking from my own limited human experience, I think that if God had a predominant characteristic, and I don’t know that He does, but most people would pick love. I wouldn’t pick love. I would pick holiness because the angels aren’t up there saying, “Love, love, love.”

JW: That’s true.

KW: What did Isaiah say when he fell before the Lord in Isaiah chapter six? The angles again are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” and Isaiah responds, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”  If God is a “mushy-gushy” love, then he wouldn’t have felt that way.

JW: Right.

KW: Love does not communicate the awe-inspiring fear that I am standing in the presence of Holiness. So this is an easy question for me to answer because it is something that we are not. We are not Holy and I think that is why He commands us to be so. Okay, so now I have a question for you.

This caught him off guard.

JW: Okay?

KW: What did you think my answer might have been?

JW: I really didn’t know, but I knew it would be something interesting because you are a thoughtful person and have clearly spent a lot of your life thinking about things like this. Your answer is hard to hear, but that is why I was looking forward to getting your answer.

I said this next part with emphasis.

KW: You’re getting to know me!

We both had a good chuckle at that. We got back into the Teach book and read paragraphs 20-22 on pages 16-17. I don’t know why it has never jumped out at me before, but paragraph 21 speaks of Jehovah as our Father and then the last sentence  says, “You can become a friend of the Creator of
the universe!”

I know the distinction the Watchtower makes between being a child of God and being His friend. according to the current teaching of the organization, the only ones who become children of God are those of the anointed class limited to 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. All other Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered “friend’s of Jehovah.”

As I read that sentence, I paused and let out another audible “Hmmm” before I continued reading. I wanted him to ask about it, which he did, but before we could get to my question, one of the strangest things happened. This lady strolls up to our table with a clear physical handicap, stops and listens to our conversation. I looked at her and said, “Hello.”  She wanted to know if she could ask us a question. Both my Witness friend and I agreed.

As it turned out, she didn’t have a question for us, but instead began to tell us a story about a spiritual experience she had years ago. It was very difficult to understand her because she spoke with a clear disability. My Witness friend then took the opportunity to ask;

JW: It sounds like you are a Bible reader.

Guest: Yes, I am.

JW: It is commendable that in light of the fact that you survived your car accident, you are building your relationship with God and to get to know Him. That is what the two of us were just talking about. Some people in your circumstances might become bitter and question why these sorts of things happen.

Our guest mumbled something about her disability, but I couldn’t really make out what she was saying. Just then two ladies walked up and one of them asked, “Is my daughter visiting again?” We all laughed.

Guest’s Mom: She likes to talk.

KW: That’s great!

JW: That’s fantastic.

All of a sudden my Pioneer friend went into “Witness mode.”

JW: You know one of the things that I think is beautiful about the promises God makes for the future is what is recorded in Isaiah 35:5-6. “At that time the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. At that time the lame will leap like the deer, And the tongue of the speechless will shout for joy.” Can you imagine yourself leaping like a deer?

Our guest responded with another story about her youth and I couldn’t really make out a lot of what she was saying. It was something about hearing what she thought was the voice of an angel. My Witness friend responded;

JW: That is quite an experience.

Our guest then went on to telling us that she had friends who told her that the voice she heard was the Devil. My Witness friend continued to talk to her. They spoke about how Satan was once an angel and got kicked out of heaven, but that he was still a very powerful and influential being. I decided to add something that I thought was helpful to the discussion.

KW: That is why you have to be careful with spiritual experiences. If sometimes we can’t tell the difference between what might be an angel or what might be the Devil, then we have to test it by the Word of God.

JW: That is exactly right.  In fact, the scripture in 1 Corinthians says that Satan is making himself an angel of light. So he tries to make himself appear to be something that he really is not. Like Keith said, that is why we need to look to the Bible, to test the inspired expressions and make sure that they originate from God.

You are clearly a spiritual person. I’d like to give this to you. This tract talks about the verse in Isaiah and explains how this is going to come about about some of the other beautiful promises that are in the Bible.

Guest: Would I be able to get in contact with somebody from your Church?

JW: Absolutely. Here, let me write my name and phone number on the tract. You could give me a call or email me and maybe my wife and I could get together some time and talk.

Just wonderful. What do I do now? My Witness friend is reaching out to this poor soul who has no idea what is about to happen. I wanted to protect her from Jehovah’s Witnesses and at the same time reach her with the true gospel, but how do I do that without appearing like I am competing with my Witness friend?

I so wanted to be able to write my name and number on a different sheet of paper in hopes that she would call me too… the pen. I had the stinking pen in my hand before I left my office and didn’t bring it. Ah, crud. That’s why I had the impression that I needed to bring my pen. It would have been a bit awkward to ask my Witness friend to borrow his pen and also write my name and number on a Watchtower tract. I started praying for a way to get my contact information into her hands.

Right after our guest left our table to go eat her own lunch with her mother and the family friend, I said;

KW: That was interesting.

JW: I really liked the way that you addressed the testing spiritual experiences by the Word of God. It was tactful and accurate.

KW: Thanks.

Okay this is weird. Did I just get done tag-team witnessing to a lost lady with a Jehovah’s Witness? We both were warning her about trusting experience alone instead of what God says in His Word, but I didn’t want her to contact my Witness friend for answers. I’ve never been complimented by a Jehovah’s Witness before regarding my witnessing tactics.

We got back into our study by reviewing what we had read prior to our guest joining our discussion and then my Witness friend asked me;

JW: Did you have a question about something we read in paragraph 21?

KW: Yes, this part about us becoming Jehovah’s friends. When I read that, it jumped out at me because the context of this paragraph is speaking about a personal relationship with God. What is even more personal than becoming someone’s friend is becoming their adopted son.

JW: Yes.

KW: A verse came to mind. Let’s look at John 1:12. The ESV reads, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” This verse seems to fit the context of a personal relationship better than talking about being God’s friend.

My Witness friend tried to explain that it really wasn’t a big deal that the passage talks about being God’s friend. I asked;

KW: What would you rather be known as, God’s friend or God’s son?

He immediately laughed. He had a look on his face like he wasn’t sure he should continue the conversation in this direction and that is exactly why I asked the question. He nervously paused before he stated;

JW: That is a complicated question.

KW: That is a easy question!

He asked me to read the verse again and then furrowed his brow as I read it as if he was deep in thought. After I read it again, he said;

JW: It would be an inestimable honor to be considered to be a son of God, but I am going to let Jehovah determine that.

KW: Are you trying to tell me you don’t think you are a child of God?

There was that look again. He did not want to go here, but was stuck now. What he said next was very slowly and carefully calculated.

JW: I’m trying to tell you that… I am not convinced that… I have attained… that… level of relationship with Him based on His choice… Now, am I one of God’s friends…? I feel that I am.

KW: I am sensing that there is a whole lot more to this story that you are hesitant to tell me.

JW: There is… yeah.

KW: I’m just taking this a face value. If I believe in the name of Jesus, then I am a child of God.

JW: Yeah, there is a whole lot more to it.

He started dancing again and spoke about how Jesus is uniquely the Son of God compared to other “sons of God.” He also brought up Adam being a “son of God” by creation and even talked a bit about context and how he would need to know the context of the phrase, “son of God” before he could define the term.

KW: Do you have a sheet of paper and a pen I could borrow? I need to show you an example of formal logic.

JW: Formal logic?

KW: Formal logic. There is a form of argument called a modus tollens which means, “denying mode.”  You can plug any terms into the form and as long as the form is correct, the argument is considered valid. For instance, if I live in San Antonio, then I live in Texas. If I do not live in Texas, then I do not live in San Antonio. That is the form. If A implies B and I don’t have B, then I also don’t have A.

I wrote it out on a sheet of paper using logical operators, but since I don’t know how to do that on this blog I’ll write it out this way.

A —> B
~B
_________
~A

What I have written above translates to the following.

A implies B
I don’t have B
Therefore, I don’t have A.

JW: That is an excellent tool to reason with.

KW: Yes. It doesn’t matter what you plug into A or B. If the form is correct, then regardless of the terms you plug into your variables (A or B), then the argument is valid.

JW: Right.

KW: Here is what I see with John 1:12. To all who receive/believe, they are children of God. So receiving/believing implies you are a child of God or in logical terms A implies B. If you are not a child of God or in logical terms, if you do not have B, then you do not have A which means that you have  not received and you do not believe. It is the same logical form.

(A) If you receive/believe, (B) then you are a child of God.
(Not B) You are not a child of God,
Therefore, you have not received nor do you believe.

There was a whole lot of silence which was abruptly disturbed by;

JW: That’s true, but then it kind of gets back to the differing applications of the expression, “Children of God.”

Then he changed his story.

JW: Okay I guess in this context of John 1:12, then I would have to say that I am a child of God because I believe and I have received.

KW: So then wouldn’t you want to be known as a child of God rather than his friend?

JW: Well, to me, and this is just a personal thing. To me, I don’t feel like I am worthy of that.

KW: You’re not.

JW: (Laughing) Exactly! Again, this is just a personal thing. I feel that if I can be considered a friend of God, then that is way more than I deserve. I’ll let Jehovah determine if He wants to view me as His child of not.

KW: I am going to go back to something you said earlier in this conversation. “It is the height of arrogance for human beings to believe that God would even care about us.”

I then added what I said after he made that statement.

KW: Unless God said otherwise!

He started laughing again and nodding his head in agreement. He knew he made a mistake and got caught in it.

JW: (Still laughing) Uh-huh. I see where you are going with this.

KW: So it is the height of arrogance for you to say you are a child of God, unless God said so!

He had a huge grin on his face and said he had to think about it.  We were genuinely having fun with each other. He was enjoying being challenged and I was enjoying the fact that I gave him something to think about. He again mentioned how effective it is to use logic in this way and was appreciative of my use of it. That was an unexpected compliment.

Right then the mother of the lady who interrupted our conversation earlier called out to us loudly from a couple of tables away and asked;

Guest’s Mom: Are you guys Jehovah’s Witnesses?

We both answered at the same time.

KW/JW: He is. I’m not./ I am. He’s not.

GM: I was studying with the Witnesses for a long time.

JW: Oh really?

The lady started talking about how she couldn’t understand why Witnesses weren’t involved in politics, patriotism and various other things which are forbidden for them. She mentioned that she stopped studying with the Witnesses because her husband was a Catholic.

Right then I noticed that the lady’s friend was not sitting there at the table with her. She was up towards the front of the restaurant waiting for something. I then realized that I still had my Witness friend’s pen in my hand. BINGO! Here was the opportunity I had prayed for earlier.

I took a  sip of my water and then started coughing. My Witness friend was intently engaged in speaking with this lady who was a couple of tables behind me. I excused myself and went to go get a couple of napkins. While I was up front, I wrote my name and number on one of those napkins and asked the friend of our Guest’s Mom to give it to the girl who stopped by our table to speak of her spiritual experience. I quickly explained that I was not a Jehovah’s Witness and that my friend was trying to recruit the girl into a religious cult. I know that sounds weird, but this lady looked at me like she completely understood the problem. She promised to give my contact information to the girl and keep our conversation confidential.

When I returned to the table, my Witness friend was still talking to our Guest’s Mom. They were talking about even more subjects than when I left the table. I heard some things about holidays and birthdays that my JW friend and I have yet to talk about. They spoke for a good ten minutes.

When the lady, her friend and her daughter left the restaurant, my Witness friend and I concluded our conversation. We were at a natural stopping point so it worked out well. As we were gathering our things, my Witness friend did something he had never done before.

JW: Would you be comfortable if we concluded with a prayer?

It is always awkward when a Jehovah’s Witness prays in my presence as I know we are not speaking to the same God. He launched into what turned out to be a pretty standard sounding Witness prayer. It was interesting that he began his prayer with, “Our loving Father Jehovah” and not, “Our good friend, Jehovah.”  When he concluded, I launched into my own prayer.

KW: Lord, Jesus. Thanks for a good conversation and a very interesting interruption. Help us in our studies and thank you for everything you have done for us. In your name we pray, Amen.

I pray with my eyes open and have for most of my Christian life. He was not comfortable with me praying, but I am going to make a point out of praying every time he suggests it. I always pray silently during our conversations anyway. Please join me in my prayers for the salvation of my Witness friend and his family.

11 Thoughts on “God’s Friend Or God’s Child? A Conversation With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer

  1. Michael Antrobus Ashworth on August 19, 2014 at 6:08 pm said:

    There are still JWs that have been repeating the mantra of John 17:3 Taking in knowledge of you etc for the last 40 years since the Epic Fail of 1975. Let’s hope they take on board the meaning of their new translation of 2013 of needing to actually Know God AND Jesus Christ and not just being their friend. Excellent story of a true life account.

  2. raymondaldridge on August 19, 2014 at 7:11 pm said:

    Thanks Keith for sharing this noting the amount of notes here, and how well you have conveyed the discussion.Love the logic piece and will certainly pray for continued progress through Christ’s spirit bless Ray

  3. Mike R on August 19, 2014 at 11:02 pm said:

    Great dialogue Keith . Is’nt it sad how these precious people have been so short changed
    by the Watchtower prophet in Brooklyn concerning experiencing the simple truth in Jn 17:3 concerning Jesus . Jw’s claim to know the Father in a very personal way , not just
    know about Him , but when it comes to His Son they are told that some vital components
    of what a personal relationship entails is not for them to experience , namely interaction
    ( communication ) with Him as one person to another — friends . Jesus is asking Jw’s :
    ” Come unto Me …” ( Matt 11:28 ) . because a right relationship with the Father
    commences when sinners come to Jesus to seek pardon, He forgives and access to
    the Father is then the blessing sinners receive .
    What a beautiful experience to have a intimate fellowship with the Father and Jesus —
    Jn 14:23 ; 1Cor 1:9 .

    Serving Jesus by being spiritually free to tell Him how much you love Him is the essence of the Christian life , and it brings glory to the Father , because it’s His will .
    A one on one relationship with the Father AND the Son , is the truth that Jn 17:3 is conveying . Complying with Jehovah’s arrangement in the New Testament , for a
    right standing with Him and everlasting life ,starts with directly coming to Jesus –
    Jn 14:6 .
    That is the good news all Jw’s need to hear

    • Yes. I find it interesting that so many Jehovah’s Witness will tell me that they have a personal relationship with someone they are forbidden to speak to.

  4. Interesting article. I think the reader might also be interested in this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9aNj8bIXDA

  5. Excellent point about how if they say they are only a Friend of God’s, then why do they pray to Heavenly FATHER? I sincerely hope you are able to get through to this jw, looking foward to hearing how the rest of this conversation/study goes, regarding the Sons of God. May our Lord be with you and guide you by means of the Spirit.

  6. Pingback: Bad Logic With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer | The Edge

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