Questions About the Anointed Class and the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” Among Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret the parable of Jesus given at Matthew 24:45-51 in a way designed to give their organization total authority over the lives of its members. Here’s what the parable says, according to their New World Translation:
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to YOU, He will appoint him over all his belongings.
But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know, and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.”
As of the July 15, 2013 issue of the Watchtower magazine, an entirely new understanding of this parable has been offered by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prior to this “new light,” the Watchtower Society interpreted the “faithful and discreet slave” of this parable as a prophecy of a class of Christians (i.e., Jehovah’s Witnesses) who would be given complete authority over all of Christ’s kingdom interests on the earth, including his earthly organization and its members. This class is responsible for preparing and distributing “spiritual food” (i.e., explanations and interpretations of the Bible) to the “domestics” (understood to be the individual members of the class). This “class” was formerly interpreted to be all of the members of the 144,000 anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses who are at any given time alive on the earth.
Remember, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a two-class doctrine of salvation. They believe that there are 144,000 “anointed” ones, from the time of the apostles until now, who will be taken in spirit form to heaven to rule with Christ. All other persons who are eventually saved are referred to as the “other sheep,” and have only the hope of everlasting life on a restored paradise earth. The vast majority of over 7 million Witnesses on earth today are regarded as members of the “other sheep” class. Only the “anointed” class can be born again, can partake of communion and can have Christ as their mediator before God. The “other sheep” are saved by virtue of their association with the anointed in God’s organization (which, of course, is the JW organization).
Previously it was taught that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, made up of a small number of “anointed” Witnesses, “acted as the representative” of the anointed class and was responsible for developing and publishing doctrine. With the July 15, 2013 Watchtower, the new doctrine is that the Governing Body alone constitutes the “faithful and discreet slave,” rather than acting as a representative of the larger class. Other professed members of the 144,000 who remain on earth are still considered to be of the “anointed” class, but, since they take no part in the actual distribution of “spiritual food,” they are no longer considered to be part of the “faithful and discreet slave.”
In fact, many of the Watchtower’s senior writers are members of the “other sheep” class and not of the “anointed” at all, and certainly not part of the Governing Body. But the way that the doctrine has now been conveyed to Jehovah’s Witnesses assures that they look solely to the leadership of the organization – specifically the Governing Body - for all matters of doctrine and practice. That’s rather ironic, since it is the Governing Body that has defined their new understanding of the “faithful and discreet slave” doctrine. Therefore, they are, in effect, claiming authority on the basis of the fact that they claim to have authority - a classic case of circular reasoning!
Some time back, several questions were posed on a discussion board for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thought the questions were pertinent and might be of interest to those who visit this web site. Here are the questions that were posed, along with my answers, which I have revised in light of the new teaching:
- How do people know that they’re part of the anointed class?
The usually cited text is Romans 8:16: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children” (NWT). They just KNOW, because the Holy Spirit causes them to know. Unfortunately for the JW position, there is nothing in the context of that passage (or anywhere in Romans) that states or implies that such ‘bearing witness’ by the Spirit is characteristic of only a limited number of Christians, to the exclusion of other Christians. The two “classes” that Paul speaks about in Romans are those who live by the flesh (who are not of God and face condemnation) and those who live by the Spirit. There is no room in Romans 8 for earthly and heavenly classes.
- How is seniority established?
I don’t know that seniority is really relevant among the JW anointed.
- How are they so certified by JW leadership?
They aren’t. They simply declare themselves to be of the anointed class, generally by partaking of the elements of Communion at the Memorial. there are also a few internal forms (like pioneer and Bethel applications) where they may have to check off a box indicating which class they belong to.
- Don’t many people consider this sort of thing to be self appointment?
Yes, and I’m one of those who think that it is simply a case of self-appointment.
- Is one generally considered to be part of an elevated status to be in that class?
Yes and no. Many individuals among the “other sheep” class of JW’s tend to give greater honor to those who profess anointing. However, in recent times the Watchtower appears more and more to be discouraging that sort of high regard for individual “anointed.” The organization’s new teaching should go a long way toward preventing individual anointed ones from gaining prominence in the congregations, while still maintaining the absolute authority of the Governing Body.
- Is the “anointed” class the only one that actually receives the emblems of the sacrament/communion?
Yes. And they take a purely symbolic view of Communion, so that they would see no actual presence of Christ in the elements, not even a spiritual presence as in the Reformed tradition. Those who profess to be of the “other sheep” class refuse the elements as they are passed among the members of the congregation.
- What if one or more of them claimed to receive a communication from God?
They’d probably either be regarded as being eccentric and possibly mentally unbalanced, or, if they were insistent on their views, possibly disfellowshipped as apostates, just like non-anointed Witnesses would be who disagreed with the leadership. Given the new teaching, there would be no reason why any professed “anointed” person who is not of the Governing Body should receive any such communication anyway, since only the Governing Body itself is now seen as responsible for the dispensing of “spiritual food.”
- How does one become part of the Governing Body, aka Faithful and Discreet Slave class?
In actual practice? Years of faithful slavery to the organization and lots of brown-nosing.
- How is one expelled from the “anointed” class?
One is not expelled from the class as such, but anointed Witnesses can be disfellowshipped from the organization if they violate the rules, just like non-anointed Witnesses can. Should that happen to an anointed Witness who is later reinstated, that person remains part of the anointed class. Only Jehovah knows whether the person has become so hardened as to commit the unforgivable sin, and if the person has done that, Jehovah needs to choose a replacement anointed person so that the number of 144,000 doesn’t come up short. Apparently this happens a lot, because new anointed seem to be popping up left and right these days.
- Can one be expelled from the Governing Body?
Yes, and it has occurred on at least a few occasions. Ewart Chitty and Leo Greenlees were both removed from the Governing Body in 1979 and 1984 respectively, under a cloud of suspicion of homosexuality and/or pedophilia. Further details about these two former members can be seen at http://governingbodyletters.blogspot.com/2008/07/governing-body-members-behaving-badly.html. Also, Raymond Franz was removed in 1980 because of disagreements with official doctrine, and was disfellowshipped from the organization on trumped-up charges in 1981. Franz subsequently wrote two books exposing both the peculiar doctrines and the inside workings of the organization.
Overview of the Revised Doctrine found in the July 15, 2013 Watchtower Magazine
As a brief summary of the new doctrine regarding Matthew 24:45-52 that is presented in the July 15, 2013 Watchtower, we offer the following:
- The “Faithful and Discreet Slave” is considered to be made up only of the anointed Witnesses who serve on the Governing Body. This group appears only after Christ’s presence began in 1914, not in 33 C.E. as previously taught. This relieves the organization of having to answer the question of who was the “slave” class during all the years between the first century and the establishment of their organization in the late 1800s.
- The”domestics” of the parable are now said to be all those Witnesses (anointed and non-anointed) who are “fed” spiritually by the “faithful and discreet slave,” including members of the Governing Body as individuals. Previously, only individual members of the “anointed” class were viewed as the “domestics.”
- From the time of his invisible return in 1914 until early 1919, Jesus and Jehovah were in the spiritual temple (defined as the “spiritual arrangement for worship”) doing an inspection. In 1919, Jesus selected the leadership of the Bible Student movement of that time as his “faithful and discreet slave.” This is a significant change, since it implies that Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Society, was not himself part of the “faithful and discreet slave” class, having died in 1916.
- The appointment in 1919 was over the “domestics,” those members of the organization needing to be fed spiritually. During the still-future “great tribulation,” Jesus will find the “slave” class to have discharged its responsibility faithfully, and, at that time, he will give it authority “over all his belongings,” both in heaven and earth.
- “Evil Slave Class” – The previous teaching was that any member of the “anointed” class who became “apostate” was considered to be part of an “evil slave” class. The new teaching states that no actual “evil slave” class was prophesied by Jesus. Rather, this was a hypothetical warning as to what would happen if the “faithful and discreet slave” class was not faithful. However, no allowance is made in the magazine for any actual possibility that the class could really become unfaithful. It seems, under the new doctrine, that Jesus was offering a hypothetical situation that could never actually happen. The article engages in a bit of verbal sleight-of-hand in describing the possibility of unfaithfulness by the “slave” class when it says,
“In effect, Jesus was saying, ‘If the faithful and discreet slave were ever to mistreat his fellow slaves in these ways, this is what the master will do when he arrives.’ (See also Luke 12:45.) However, the composite faithful and discreet slave has continued to keep on the watch and to provide nourishing spiritual food.”
The problem with the above quotation is that the thing for which Jesus said the “evil slave” would be condemned was not failure to keep on the watch or to provide nourishing spiritual food, but for ‘beating his fellow slaves’ and for ‘eating and drinking with the confirmed drunkards.’ Those who have left the organization are very familiar with the way that the organization regularly “beats” those who reject its authority by causing them to be shunned by former friends and even close family members. It is possible to “beat” one’s fellow slaves while still keeping on the watch and dispensing spiritual food (not that we consider the Watchtower’s version of “spiritual food” to be spiritually nourishing). For the Watchtower to claim faithfulness on the basis of the “slave” class doing those things is really a red herring that is being offered to distract the reader from the possibility of realizing that they regularly engage in the “beating” of those who fail to submit to their authority. Also, on the basis of the Watchtower’s teachings about the United Nations, some would also see them as being guilty of “eating and drinking with the confirmed drunkards” by virtue of their former association with the UN as a non-governmental organization (NGO). Details about that association can be seen at http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/united-nations-association.php.
Think about it: if the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses did become unfaithful, acting as an “evil slave,” how would you expect them to present themselves? Certainly, they would continue to portray themselves as being “faithful and discreet,” regardless of what the evidence showed, would they not? You would never expect them to admit that they were behaving as the “evil slave” who would be judged by Jesus upon his return. Obviously, some critical thinking is necessary to discern the actual situation, even for those who believe in the doctrines taught in Watchtower publications.