Monday, June 27, 2011
Satan—Myth or Sinister Reality?
THE origin of evil has intrigued thinkers from earliest times. A Dictionary of the Bible, by James Hastings, states: "At the dawn of human consciousness man found himself confronted by forces which he was unable to control, and which exercised a baleful or destructive influence." The same reference work also says: "Early mankind instinctively sought for causes, and interpreted the forces and other manifestations of nature as personal."
According to historians, belief in demon gods and evil spirits can be traced back to the earliest history of Mesopotamia. The ancient Babylonians believed that the underworld, or "land of no return," was presided over by Nergal, a violent divinity known as "the one who burns." They also feared demons, whom they tried to appease by means of magic incantations. In Egyptian mythology, Set was the god of evil, "represented as having the features of a fantastic beast with a thin, curved snout, straight, square-cut ears and a stiff forked tail."— Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.
Although the Greeks and the Romans had benevolent and malevolent divinities, they had no predominant evil god. Their philosophers taught the existence of two opposing principles. For Empedocles, they were Love and Discord. For Plato, the world had two "Souls," one causing good and the other evil. As Georges Minois states in his book Le Diable (The Devil), "classical [Greco-Roman] pagan religion knew of no Devil."
In Iran, Zoroastrianism taught that the supreme divinity Ahura Mazda, or Ormazd, created Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, who chose to do evil and thus became the Destructive Spirit, or Destroyer.
In Judaism, there was a simple presentation of Satan as God's Adversary who brought about sin. But after many centuries, that became tainted with pagan ideas. The Encyclopaedia Judaica states: "A great change had taken place . . . by the last centuries B.C.E. In this period the [Jewish] religion . . . took on many traits of a dualistic system in which God and the forces of good and truth were opposed in heaven and on earth by powerful forces of evil and deceit. This seems to have been under the influence of Persian religion." The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia declares: "Protection against d[emons] was afforded by observance of the commandments and by the use of amulets."
The Babylonians believed in Nergal (far left), a violent divinity; Plato (left) believed in the existence of two opposing "Souls"
Apostate Christian Theology
Even as Judaism adopted non-Biblical concepts concerning Satan and the demons, apostate Christians elaborated on unscriptural ideas. The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "One of the more extreme of ancient theological ideas is that God redeemed his people by paying Satan for their release." This idea was propounded by Irenaeus (second century C.E.). It was further developed by Origen (third century C.E.), who claimed that "the devil had acquired a legal claim on men" and who regarded "the death of Christ . . . as a ransom paid to the devil."— History of Dogma, by Adolf Harnack.
To quote The Catholic Encyclopedia, "for about a thousand years [the idea that the ransom was paid to the Devil] played a conspicuous part in the history of theology," and it remained a part of church belief. Other Church Fathers, including Augustine (fourth-fifth centuries C.E.), adopted the idea that the ransom was paid to Satan. Finally, by the 12th century C.E., Catholic theologians Anselm and Abelard came to the conclusion that Christ's sacrifice was offered not to Satan but to God.
Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine taught that the ransom was paid
to the Devil
Although most of the Catholic Church councils remained remarkably silent on the subject of Satan, in 1215 C.E., the Fourth Lateran Council presented what the New Catholic Encyclopedia terms a "solemn profession of faith." Canon 1 states: "The devil and the other demons were created good by nature, by God, but of their own doing they became evil." It adds that they busy themselves trying to tempt mankind. This latter thought obsessed many people during the Middle Ages. Satan was behind anything that seemed unusual, such as unexplained illness, sudden death, or bad crops. In 1233 C.E., Pope Gregory IX issued several bulls against heretics, including one against Luciferians, supposed Devil worshipers.
Belief that people could be possessed by the Devil or his demons soon gave rise to a collective paranoia—a hysterical fear of sorcery and witchcraft. From the 13th to the 17th century, fear of witches swept across Europe and reached North America with the European colonists. Even the Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin approved of witch-hunts. In Europe witch trials based on mere rumor or malicious denunciations were conducted by both the Inquisition and secular courts. Torture was commonly used to extort confessions of "guilt."
Those found guilty could be sentenced to death either by burning or, in England and Scotland, by hanging. As to the number of victims, The World Book Encyclopedia states: "From 1484 to 1782, according to some historians, the Christian church put to death about 300,000 women for witchcraft." If Satan was behind this medieval tragedy, who were his instruments—the victims or their fanatic religious persecutors?
Fear of witches led to the execution of hundreds of thousands
Current Belief or Disbelief
The 18th century witnessed the blossoming of rationalistic thought, known as the Enlightenment. The Encyclopædia Britannica states: "The philosophy and theology of the Enlightenment endeavoured to push the figure of the devil out of Christian consciousness as being a product of the mythological fantasy of the Middle Ages." The Roman Catholic Church reacted to this and reaffirmed its belief in Satan the Devil at the First Vatican Council (1869-70), reiterating this rather timidly at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Officially, as the New Catholic Encyclopedia concedes, "the Church is committed to a belief in angels and demons." However, Théo, a French dictionary of Catholicism, admits that "many Christians today refuse to attribute evil in the world to the devil." In recent years Catholic theologians have been walking a tightrope, precariously balanced between official Catholic doctrine and modern-day thinking. "Liberal Christian theology," says the Encyclopædia Britannica, "tends to treat the biblical language about Satan as 'picture thinking' not to be taken literally—as a mythological attempt to express the reality and extent of evil in the universe." Regarding Protestants, the same reference work states: "Modern liberal Protestantism tends to deny the necessity of belief in a personal devil." But should true Christians consider what the Bible says about Satan as mere "picture thinking"?
What the Scriptures Teach
Human philosophy and theology have not offered a better explanation of the origin of evil than that given in the Bible. What the Scriptures say about Satan is fundamental to understanding the origin of evil and of human suffering, as well as why the worst imaginable violence gets worse each year.
Some may ask: 'If God is the good and loving Creator, how could he create a wicked spirit creature like Satan?' The Bible lays down the principle that all of Jehovah God's works are perfect and that all of his intelligent creatures are endowed with free will. (Deuteronomy 30:19; 32:4; Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21) The spirit person who became Satan must, therefore, have been created perfect and must have deviated from the way of truth and righteousness by deliberate choice.—John 8:44; James 1:14, 15.
In many ways, Satan's rebellious course parallels that of "the king of Tyre," who was described poetically as "perfect in beauty" and 'faultless in his ways from the day of his being created until unrighteousness was found in him.' (Ezekiel 28:11-19) Satan did not contest Jehovah's supremacy or his Creatorship. How could he, since he had been created by God? Satan did, however, challenge the way Jehovah was exercising his sovereignty. In the garden of Eden, Satan insinuated that God was depriving the first human couple of something to which they had a right and upon which their well-being depended. (Genesis 3:1-5) He succeeded in causing Adam and Eve to rebel against Jehovah's righteous sovereignty, bringing sin and death upon them and their descendants. (Genesis 3:6-19; Romans 5:12) Thus the Bible shows that Satan is the root cause of human suffering.
Sometime before the Flood, other angels joined Satan in his rebellion. They materialized in human bodies to satisfy their cravings for sexual pleasures with the daughters of men. (Genesis 6:1-4) At the Flood, these renegade angels returned to the spirit realm but not to their "original position" with God in heaven. (Jude 6) They were abased to a condition of dense spiritual darkness. (1 Peter 3:19, 20; 2 Peter 2:4) They became demons, no longer serving under Jehovah's sovereignty but living in subjection to Satan. While apparently unable to materialize again, the demons can still exercise great power over the minds and lives of humans, and they are doubtless responsible for much of the violence we are witnessing today.—Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 8:27-33.
The End of Satan's Rule Is Near
It is clear that evil forces are at work in the world today. The apostle John wrote: "The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one."—1 John 5:19.
Fulfilled Bible prophecy, however, shows that the Devil is intensifying earth's woes because he knows that he has only "a short period of time" left to wreak havoc before being confined. (Revelation 12:7-12; 20:1-3) The end of Satan's rule will usher in a righteous new world, where tears, death, and pain "will be no more." Then, God's will shall "be done on earth as it is in heaven."—Revelation 21:1-4; Matthew 6:10, New International Version.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Identifying the Wild Beast and Its Mark
DO YOU enjoy solving a mystery? To do so, you look for clues that help you work your way toward the solution. In his inspired Word, God provides the needed clues with regard to the number 666, the name, or mark, of the wild beast of Revelation chapter 13.
In this article, we will look at four main lines of reasoning—vital clues—that will reveal the meaning of the mark of the beast. We will consider (1) how Bible names are sometimes chosen, (2) the identity of the wild beast, (3) what is meant by 666 being "a man's number," and (4) the significance of the number 6 and why it is written in triple digits, namely, 600 plus 60 plus 6, or 666.—Revelation 13:18.
Bible Names—More Than Just Labels
Bible names often have special significance, particularly when given by God. For example, because Abram would become the father of nations, God changed the patriarch's name to Abraham, meaning "Father of a Multitude." (Genesis 17:5) God told Joseph and Mary to call Mary's future child Jesus, which means "Jehovah Is Salvation." (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31) In harmony with that meaningful name, through Jesus' ministry and sacrificial death, Jehovah made possible our salvation.—John 3:16.
Accordingly, the God-given number-name 666 must symbolize what God sees as defining attributes of the beast. Naturally, to understand those traits, we need to identify the beast itself and learn about its activities.
The Beast Exposed
The Bible book of Daniel sheds much light on the meaning of symbolic beasts. Chapter 7 contains a vivid tableau of "four huge beasts"—a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a fearsome beast with big teeth of iron. (Daniel 7:2-7) Daniel tells us that these beasts represent "kings," or political kingdoms, that rule in succession over vast empires.—Daniel 7:17, 23.
Regarding the beast of Revelation 13:1, 2, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible points out that it "combines in itself the joint characteristics of the four beasts of Daniel's vision . . . Accordingly, this first beast [of Revelation] represents the combined forces of all political rule opposed to God in the world." This observation is affirmed by Revelation 13:7, which says of the beast: "Authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation."*
Why does the Bible use beasts as symbols of human rulership? For at least two reasons. First, because of the beastly record of bloodshed that governments have accrued over the centuries. "War is one of the constants of history," wrote historians Will and Ariel Durant, "and has not diminished with civilization or democracy." How true that "man has dominated man to his injury"! (Ecclesiastes 8:9) The second reason is that "the dragon [Satan] gave to the beast its power and its throne and great authority." (Revelation 12:9; 13:2) Accordingly, human rulership is a product of the Devil, thus reflecting his beastly, dragonlike disposition.—John 8:44; Ephesians 6:12.
This does not mean, however, that every human ruler is a direct tool of Satan. Indeed, in one sense, human governments serve as "God's minister," giving structure to human society, without which chaos would rule. And some leaders have protected fundamental human rights, including the right to engage in true worship—something that Satan does not want. (Romans 13:3, 4; Ezr 7:11-27; Acts 13:7) Still, because of the Devil's influence, no human or human institution has ever been able to bring lasting peace and security to the people.# —John 12:31.
"A Human Number"
A third clue to the meaning of 666 lies in its being "a man's number," or as The Amplified Bible puts it, "a human number." This expression could not refer to an individual human, for Satan—not any man—has authority over the beast. (Luke 4:5, 6; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 13:2, 18) Rather, the beast's having "a human number," or mark, suggests that it is a human entity, not spirit or demon, and that it therefore manifests certain human traits. What might they be? The Bible answers, saying: "All [humans] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) The beast's having "a human number," therefore, indicates that governments reflect the fallen human condition, the mark of sin and imperfection.
History bears this out. "Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed," said former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. "History is a tale of efforts that failed, of aspirations that weren't realized . . . So, as a historian, one has to live with a sense of the inevitability of tragedy." Kissinger's honest appraisal testifies to this fundamental Bible truth: "To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step."—Jeremiah 10:23.
Now that we have identified the beast and discerned how God views it, we are in a position to examine the final part of our puzzle—the number six and why it is written in triple digits—that is, 666, or 600 plus 60 plus 6.
Human rulership has proved to be a failure, well symbolized by the number 666
Six Repeated Three Times—Why?
In the Scriptures, certain numbers have symbolic significance. The number seven, for example, is often used to symbolize that which is complete, or perfect, in God's eyes. For instance, God's creative week comprises seven 'days,' or extended time periods, during which God completely accomplishes his creative purpose regarding the earth. (Genesis 1:3–2:3) God's "sayings" are like silver that has been "clarified seven times," thus perfectly refined. (Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5, 6) The leper Naaman was told to bathe seven times in the Jordan River, after which he was completely healed.—2 Kings 5:10, 14.
Six is one short of seven. Would it not be a fitting symbol of something imperfect, or defective, in God's eyes? Yes, indeed! (1 Chronicles 20:6, 7) Moreover, six repeated three times, as 666, powerfully stresses that imperfection. That this is the correct view is supported by the fact that 666 is "a human number," as we have considered. Thus, the beast's record, its "human number," and the number 666 itself all point to one unmistakable conclusion—gross shortcoming and failure in the eyes of Jehovah.
The portrayal of the beast's deficiencies calls to mind what was said about King Belshazzar of ancient Babylon. Through Daniel, Jehovah said to that ruler: "You have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient." That very night Belshazzar was killed, and the mighty Babylonian Empire fell. (Daniel 5:27, 30) Likewise, God's judgment of the political beast and of those with its mark spells the end of that entity and its supporters. In this instance, however, God will eradicate not just one political system but every vestige of human rule. (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 19:19, 20) How important, therefore, that we avoid having the deadly mark of the beast!
The Mark Identified
Immediately after disclosing the number 666, Revelation mentions 144,000 followers of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who have his name and the name of his Father, Jehovah, written on their foreheads. These names identify the bearers as belonging to Jehovah and to his Son, about whom they proudly bear witness. Likewise, those having the mark of the beast proclaim their servitude to the beast. Thus, the mark, whether on the right hand or on the forehead, figuratively speaking, is a symbol that identifies its bearer as one who gives worshipful support to the beastlike political systems of the world. Those having the mark give to "Caesar" that which rightly belongs to God. (Luke 20:25; Revelation 13:4, 8; 14:1) How? By giving worshipful honor to the political state, its symbols, and its military might, to which they look for hope and salvation. Any worship that they render the true God is merely lip service.
In contrast, the Bible urges us: "Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish." (Psalm 146:3, 4) Those who heed that wise counsel are not disillusioned when governments fail to deliver on their promises or when charismatic leaders fall from grace.—Proverbs 1:33.
This does not mean that true Christians sit back and do nothing about mankind's plight. On the contrary, they actively proclaim the one government that will solve mankind's problems—God's Kingdom, which they represent.—Matthew 24:14.
Jesus Christ will bring perfect rulership to the earth
God's Kingdom—Mankind's Only Hope
When on earth, Jesus made God's Kingdom the main theme of his preaching. (Luke 4:43) In his model prayer, sometimes called the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught his followers to pray for that Kingdom to come and for God's will to be done here on earth. (Matthew 6:9, 10) The Kingdom is a government that will rule over the entire earth, not from some earthly capital, but from heaven. Hence, Jesus called it "the kingdom of the heavens."—Matthew 11:12.
Who is better suited to be King of that Kingdom than Jesus Christ, the one who died for his future subjects? (Isaiah 9:6, 7; John 3:16) Soon this perfect Ruler, now a mighty spirit person, will hurl the beast, its kings, and its armies into "the fiery lake that burns with sulphur," a symbol of complete destruction. But that is not all. Jesus will also get rid of Satan, something that no human could ever do.—Revelation 11:15; 19:16, 19-21; 20:2, 10.
God's Kingdom will bring peace to all its obedient subjects. (Psalm 37:11, 29; 46:8, 9) Even sorrow, pain, and death will be no more. What a glorious prospect for those who remain free of the mark of the beast!—Revelation 21:3, 4.
* For an in-depth discussion of these verses, see chapter 28 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by Jehovah's Witnesses.
# While recognizing that human rulership is often beastlike, true Christians subject themselves to the governmental "superior authorities," as the Bible directs. (Romans 13:1) When such authorities command them to act contrary to God's law, however, they "obey God as ruler rather than men."—Acts 5:29.
Clues to the Meaning of 666
Bible names often say something about the bearer's traits or life, as in the case of Abraham, Jesus, and many others. Likewise, the beast's number-name encodes its characteristics.
In the Bible book of Daniel, the various beasts represent successive human kingdoms, or empires. The composite beast of Revelation 13:1, 2 symbolizes the worldwide political system, empowered and controlled by Satan.
The beast's having "a man's number," or "a human number," indicates that it is a human entity, not a demon. Hence, it reflects human failings resulting from sin and imperfection.
In God's eyes, the number six, being short of the Biblically complete, or perfect, seven, points to imperfection. The mark 666 emphasizes that deficiency by repeating the number three times.
"GOD is the name commonly given to the ultimate source and power of the universe and the subject of religious devotion," says The Encyclopedia Americana. A dictionary defines the term "God" as "the supreme or ultimate reality." What is the nature of such an awesome reality?
Is God an impersonal force or a real person? Does he have a name? Is he a triune entity, a Trinity, as many believe? How can we come to know God? The Bible provides truthful and satisfying answers to these questions. In fact, it encourages us to seek God, saying: "He is not far off from each one of us." —Acts 17:27.
An Impersonal Force or a Real Person?
Many who believe in God think of him as a force, not as a person. In certain cultures, for example, gods have been identified with the forces of nature. Some who have examined evidence gathered through scientific research into the structure of the universe and the nature of life on earth have concluded that there has to be a First Cause. Nevertheless, they hesitate to attach a personality to this Cause.
Yet, does not the complexity of creation indicate that the First Cause must have had great intelligence? Intelligence requires a mind. The great mind responsible for all creation belongs to the person of God. Yes, God has a body, not a physical one like ours, but a spiritual body. "If there is a physical body," says the Bible, "there is also a spiritual one." (1 Corinthians 15:44) Explaining the nature of God, the Bible clearly states: "God is a Spirit." (John 4:24) A spirit has a form of life that differs greatly from ours, and it is invisible to human eyes. (John 1:18) There are invisible spirit creatures as well. They are angels —"the sons of the true God." —Job 1:6; 2:1.
Since God is an uncreated person with a spiritual body, he logically has a place of residence. Referring to the spirit realm, the Bible tells us that the heavens are God's "established place of dwelling." (1 Kings 8:43) Also, the Bible writer Paul states: 'Christ entered into heaven itself to appear before the person of God for us.' —Hebrews 9:24.
The word "spirit" is also used in the Bible in another sense. Addressing God in prayer, the psalmist said: "If you send forth your spirit, they are created." (Psalm 104:30) This spirit is not God himself but a force that God sends forth, or uses, to accomplish whatever he wishes. By means of it, God created the physical heavens, the earth, and all living things. (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 33:6) His spirit is called holy spirit. God used his holy spirit to inspire the men who wrote the Bible. (2 Peter 1:20, 21) Hence, the holy spirit is the invisible active force that God uses to fulfill his purposes.
God used his holy spirit to create the earth
and to inspire men to write the Bible
God Has a Unique Name
The Bible writer Agur asked: "Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of both hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in a mantle? Who has made all the ends of the earth to rise? What is his name and what the name of his son?" (Proverbs 30:4) In effect, Agur was asking, 'Do you know the name or family line of any man who has done these things?' Only God has the power to control natural forces. While the creation provides powerful proof that God exists, it is silent about the name of God. In fact, we could never know God's name unless God himself revealed it to us. And he has. "I am Jehovah," says the Creator, "that is my name." —Isaiah 42:8.
God's unique name, Jehovah, occurs nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures alone. Jesus Christ made that name known to others and praised it before them. (John 17:6, 26) That name is found in the last book of the Bible as a part of the expression "Hallelujah," meaning "praise Jah." And "Jah" is the shortened form of "Jehovah." (Revelation 19:1-6, footnote) Yet, many modern Bibles seldom use that name. They often use the word "LORD" or "GOD," written in all capital letters to set it apart from the common titles "Lord" and "God." Some scholars suggest that the divine name may have been pronounced Yahweh.
Jesus made God's name
known to others
Why such differing views about the name of the greatest Personage in the universe? The problem began centuries ago when the Jews superstitiously ceased to pronounce the divine name and started to substitute the Hebrew word for "Sovereign Lord" whenever they came to the divine name as they read the Scriptures. Since Biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, there is no way to know precisely how Moses, David, and others of ancient times pronounced the letters that make up the divine name. However, the English pronunciation, Jehovah, has been in use for centuries, and its equivalent in many languages is widely accepted today. —Exodus 6:3; Isaiah 26:4, King James Version.
Though there is uncertainty about how God's name was pronounced in ancient Hebrew, its meaning is not a complete mystery. His name means "He Causes to Become." Jehovah God thereby identifies himself as the Great Purposer. He always causes his purposes and promises to become reality. Only the true God, who has the power to do this, can rightfully bear that name. —Isaiah 55:11.
Unquestionably, the name Jehovah serves to distinguish Almighty God from all other gods. That is why that name appears so often in the Bible. While many translations fail to use the divine name, Psalm 83:18 clearly states: "You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth." During his ministry, Jesus Christ taught his followers: "You must pray, then, this way: 'Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.'" (Matthew 6:9) We should, then, use God's name when we pray, speak of him, and praise him before others.
Is Jesus God?
Jehovah God himself leaves no doubt about the identity of his Son. Matthew's Gospel account relates that after Jesus was baptized, "there was a voice from the heavens that said: 'This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.'" (Matthew 3:16, 17) Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
A voice from the heavens said:
"This is my Son"
Yet, some religious people say that Jesus is God. Others say that God is a Trinity. According to this teaching, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." It is held that the three "are co-eternal and co-equal." (The Catholic Encyclopedia) Are such views correct?
Concerning Jehovah, the inspired Scriptures say: "Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God." (Psalm 90:2) He is "the King of eternity" —without beginning or end. (1 Timothy 1:17) Jesus, on the other hand, is "the firstborn of all creation," "the beginning of the creation by God." (Colossians 1:13-15; Revelation 3:14) Referring to God as his Father, Jesus said: "The Father is greater than I am." (John 14:28) Jesus also explained that there were some things neither he nor the angels knew but that were known only by God. (Mark 13:32) Moreover, Jesus prayed to his Father, saying: "Let, not my will, but yours take place." (Luke 22:42) To whom was he praying if not to a Personage superior to him? And it was God who resurrected Jesus from death, not Jesus himself. —Acts 2:32.
Jesus prayed to God—the Personage who is superior to him
Scripturally, then, Jehovah is God Almighty, and Jesus is his Son. The two of them were not equal before Jesus came to the earth or during his earthly life; nor did Jesus become equal to his Father after being resurrected to heaven. (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28) As we have seen, the so-called third person of the Trinity, the holy spirit, is not a person. Rather, it is a force that God uses to accomplish whatever he wishes. The Trinity, then, is not a Scriptural teaching.* "Jehovah our God is one Jehovah," says the Bible. —Deuteronomy 6:4.
Get to Know God Better
In order to love God and give him the exclusive devotion that he deserves, we need to know him as he truly is. How can we get to know God better? "His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world's creation onward," says the Bible, "because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship." (Romans 1:20) One way to get to know God better is by observing and reflecting appreciatively on what he has created.
We can get to know God better
The creation, however, does not tell us all we need to know about God. For instance, to understand that he is a real spirit Person with a unique name, we need to look into the Bible. Studying the Bible is, in fact, the best way to come to know God better. In the Scriptures, Jehovah tells us much more about the kind of God he is. He also reveals his purposes to us and educates us in his ways. (Amos 3:7; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) How glad we can be that God wants us to "come to an accurate knowledge of truth" so that we can benefit from his loving provisions! (1 Timothy 2:4) Let us, then, make every effort to learn all we can about Jehovah.
* For a detailed consideration of this subject, see the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity?, published by Jehovah's Witnesses
Saturday, June 25, 2011
What does the Bible teach about the use of images?
What view do Christians take of religious holidays?
How can you explain your beliefs to others without offending them?
SUPPOSE you found out that your whole neighborhood has been contaminated. Someone has secretly been dumping poisonous waste in the area, and now the situation is life threatening. What would you do? No doubt, you would move away if you could. But after doing that, you would still face this serious question, ‘Have I been poisoned?’
2 A similar situation arises with regard to false religion. The Bible teaches that such worship is contaminated with unclean teachings and practices. (2 Corinthians 6:17) That is why it is important for you to get out of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Revelation 18:2, 4) Have you done this? If so, you are to be commended. But more is involved than just separating yourself or resigning from a false religion. Afterward, you must ask yourself, ‘Do any traces of false worship remain in me?’ Consider some examples.
IMAGES AND ANCESTOR WORSHIP
3 Some have had images or shrines in their home for years. Is that true of you? If so, you might feel that it is strange or wrong to pray to God without such a visible aid. You may even feel attached to some of these items. But God is the one who says how he should be worshiped, and the Bible teaches that he does not want us to use images. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 42:8; 1 John 5:21) So you can take a stand for true worship by destroying any items you own that are connected with false worship. By all means, come to view them as Jehovah does—as something “detestable.”—Deuteronomy 27:15.
4 Ancestor worship also is common in many false religions. Before learning Bible truth, some believed that the dead are conscious in an invisible realm and that they can help or harm the living. Perhaps you used to go to great lengths to appease your dead ancestors. But as you learned in Chapter 6 of this book, the dead have no conscious existence anywhere. Thus, attempts to communicate with them are of no use. Any messages that seem to come from a dead loved one really originate with the demons. Therefore, Jehovah forbade the Israelites to try to talk with the dead or to participate in any other form of spiritism.—Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
5 If the use of images or the practice of ancestor worship was part of your former way of worship, what can you do? Read and ponder over Bible passages that show you how God views these things. Pray to Jehovah daily about your desire to take a stand for true worship, and ask him to help you to think as he does.—Isaiah 55:9.
CHRISTMAS—NOT CELEBRATED BY EARLY CHRISTIANS
6 A person’s worship could be contaminated by false religion as it relates to popular holidays. Consider Christmas, for example. Christmas supposedly commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, and nearly every religion that claims to be Christian celebrates it. Yet, there is no evidence that the first-century disciples of Jesus observed such a holiday. The book Sacred Origins of Profound Things states: “For two centuries after Christ’s birth, no one knew, and few people cared, exactly when he was born.”
7 Even if Jesus’ disciples had known the exact date of his birth, they would not have celebrated it. Why? Because, as The World Book Encyclopedia says, the early Christians “considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.” The only birthday observances mentioned in the Bible are those of two rulers who did not worship Jehovah. (Genesis 40:20; Mark 6:21) Birthday celebrations were also held in honor of pagan deities. For example, on May 24 the Romans celebrated the birthday of the goddess Diana. On the following day, they observed the birthday of their sun-god, Apollo. Hence, birthday celebrations were associated with paganism, not with Christianity.
8 There is another reason why first-century Christians would not have celebrated Jesus’ birthday. His disciples likely knew that birthday celebrations were connected with superstition. For instance, many Greeks and Romans of ancient times believed that a spirit attended the birth of each human and protected that one throughout life. “This spirit had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays. Jehovah certainly would not be pleased with any observance that would link Jesus with superstition. (Isaiah 65:11, 12) So how did Christmas come to be celebrated by many people?
THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
9 It was not until several hundred years after Jesus lived on the earth that people began to commemorate his birth on December 25. But that was not the date of Jesus’ birth, for it evidently took place in October.* So why was December 25 chosen? Some who later claimed to be Christian likely “wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.’” (The New Encyclopædia Britannica) In winter, when the sun seemed weakest, pagans held ceremonies to get this source of warmth and light to come back from its distant travels. December 25 was thought to be the day that the sun began its return. In an effort to convert pagans, religious leaders adopted this festival and tried to make it seem “Christian.”#
10 The pagan roots of Christmas have long been recognized. Because of its unscriptural origin, Christmas was banned in England and in some of the American colonies during the 17th century. Anyone who even stayed home from work on Christmas day had to pay a penalty. Soon, though, the old customs were back, and some new ones were added. Christmas once again became a big holiday, and that is what it still is in many lands. Because of the connections that Christmas has with false religion, however, those who want to please God do not celebrate it or any other holiday that has its roots in pagan worship.%
DO ORIGINS REALLY MATTER?
Would you eat a piece of candy picked up from the gutter?
11 Some agree that such holidays as Christmas have pagan origins but still feel that it is not wrong to celebrate them. After all, most people are not thinking about false worship when they observe holidays. These occasions also give families opportunities to draw close together. Is this how you feel? If so, likely it is love of family, not love of false religion, that makes taking a stand for true worship seem difficult. Be assured that Jehovah, the one who originated the family, wants you to have a good relationship with your relatives. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) But you can strengthen such bonds in ways that God approves. Regarding the matter that should be our chief concern, the apostle Paul wrote: “Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.”—Ephesians 5:10.
12 Maybe you feel that the origins of holidays have little to do with how they are celebrated today. Do origins really matter? Yes! To illustrate: Suppose you saw a piece of candy lying in the gutter. Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean. Like that candy, holidays may seem sweet, but they have been picked up from unclean places. To take a stand for true worship, we need to have a viewpoint like that of the prophet Isaiah, who told true worshipers: “Touch nothing unclean.”—Isaiah 52:11.
DISCERNMENT IN DEALING WITH OTHERS
13 Challenges may arise when you choose not to participate in holidays. For example, fellow employees may wonder why you do not engage in certain holiday activities where you work. What if you are offered a Christmas gift? Would it be wrong to accept it? What if your marriage mate does not share your beliefs? How can you make sure that your children do not feel deprived because of not celebrating holidays?
14 Good judgment is needed to discern how to handle each situation. If a holiday greeting is casually extended, you could simply thank the well-wisher. But suppose you are dealing with someone you see or work with regularly. In that case, you might choose to say more. In all cases, be tactful. The Bible advises: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) Be careful not to show disrespect for others. Instead, tactfully explain your position. Make clear that you are not against gift-giving and gatherings but prefer to participate in these activities at a different time.
15 What if someone wants to give you a gift? Much depends upon the circumstances. The giver might say: “I know that you do not celebrate the holiday. Still, I want you to have this.” You may decide that accepting the gift under those circumstances is not the same as taking part in the holiday. Of course, if the giver is not familiar with your beliefs, you could mention that you do not observe the holiday. This would help to explain why you accept a gift but do not give one on that occasion. On the other hand, it would be wise not to accept a gift if it is given with the clear intention of showing that you do not stick to your beliefs or that you would compromise for the sake of material gain.
WHAT ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS?
16 What if family members do not share your beliefs? Again, be tactful. There is no need to make an issue of every custom or celebration that your relatives choose to observe. Instead, respect their right to their views, just as you want them to respect your right to yours. (Matthew 7:12) Avoid any actions that would make you a participant in the holiday. Still, be reasonable when it comes to matters that do not amount to actual celebration. Of course, you should always act in a way that will leave you with a good conscience.—1 Timothy 1:18, 19.
17 What can you do so that your children do not feel deprived because of not celebrating unscriptural holidays? Much depends on what you do at other times of the year. Some parents set aside times to give presents to their children. One of the best gifts you can give your children is your time and loving attention.
PRACTICE TRUE WORSHIP
Practicing true worship brings real happiness
18 To please God, you must reject false worship and take a stand for true worship. What does this include? The Bible states: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Christian meetings are happy occasions for you to worship God in the way that he approves. (Psalm 22:22; 122:1) At such meetings, there is “an interchange of encouragement” among faithful Christians.—Romans 1:12.
19 Another way that you can take a stand for true worship is to speak to others about the things you have learned from studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many people truly are “sighing and groaning” over the wickedness that is taking place in the world today. (Ezekiel 9:4) Perhaps you know some people who feel that way. Why not speak to them about your Bible-based hope for the future? As you associate with true Christians and speak to others about the marvelous Bible truths you have learned, you will find that any desire for the customs of false worship that may have remained in your heart will gradually disappear. Be assured that you will be very happy and will receive many blessings if you take your stand for true worship.—Malachi 3:10.
* See the Appendix.
# The Saturnalia also played a part in the choice of December 25. This festival honoring the Roman god of agriculture took place on December 17-24. Feasting, merrymaking, and gift-giving took place during the Saturnalia.
% For a discussion of how true Christians view other popular holidays, see the Appendix.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Can any human with a life span of a few decades personally reach all mankind and serve as a channel of communication from God? No. But a permanent written record can. Therefore, would it not be appropriate that the revelation from God be made available in the form of a book? One of the ancient books claiming inspiration by God is the Bible. “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,” states one of its writers. (2 Timothy 3:16) Let us take a closer look at the Bible and see if it is the source of true teachings.
Among the major books of religion, the Bible is one of the very oldest. Its first parts were written some 3,500 years ago. This book was completed in 98 C.E.* Though some 40 men were its writers over a period of 1,600 years, the Bible is a harmonious body of writings. That is so because its real Author is God.
The Bible is the most widely circulated and translated book in all history. Each year, some 60 million copies of the entire Bible or portions of it are distributed. The complete Bible or parts of it have been translated into more than 2,300 languages and dialects. Over 90 percent of the human family have access to the Bible, or at least part of it, in their native language. This book has transcended national boundaries, racial divisions, and ethnic barriers.
If you have a Bible, why not open it and see how it is organized?# First, turn to the table of contents. Most Bibles have one at the beginning, listing the name of each book and the page number where it can be found. You will note that the Bible is actually a large collection of individual books, each having a unique name. The very first book is Genesis, and the last is Revelation, or Apocalypse. The books are grouped into two sections. The first 39 books are called the Hebrew Scriptures, since they were written mostly in the Hebrew language. The last 27 books were written in the Greek language and make up the Greek Scriptures. Some refer to these two sections as the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The books of the Bible have chapters and verses for easy reference. When scriptures are cited in this magazine, after the name of the Bible book, the first number indicates the chapter of that book and the next denotes the verse. For example, the citation “2 Timothy 3:16” means the book of Second Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16. See if you can find that verse in the Bible.
Would you not agree that the best way to become familiar with the Bible is to read it regularly? Some have found it helpful to read the Greek Scriptures first, starting with the book of Matthew. By reading from three to five chapters a day, you can read the entire Bible in a year. But how can you be sure that what you read in the Bible is actually inspired of God?
Can You Trust the Bible?
Should not a divinely inspired book for all people contain timeless advice for living? The Bible reflects an understanding of human nature that applies to every generation of mankind, and its principles are just as practical today as they were when first stated. This can easily be seen in a famous discourse given by Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity. It is recorded in Matthew chapters 5 to 7. This address, known as the Sermon on the Mount, shows us not only how to find true happiness but also how to settle disputes, how to pray, how to view material needs, and much more. In this discourse, and throughout the rest of its pages, the Bible clearly tells us what to do and what to avoid in order to please God and improve our lot in life.
Another reason why you can put your trust in the Bible is that when it comes to scientific matters, what this ancient book states is accurate. For example, at a time when most people believed that the earth was flat, the Bible spoke of “the circle [or, sphere] of the earth.”% (Isaiah 40:22) And over 3,000 years before the famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton explained that the planets are held in empty space by gravity, the Bible poetically stated that ‘the earth is hanging upon nothing.’ (Job 26:7) Consider also this poetic description of the earth’s water cycle, recorded some 3,000 years ago: “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7, New International Version) Yes, the Creator of the universe is also the Author of the Bible.
The historical accuracy of the Bible agrees with the fact that it is inspired of God. Events covered in the Bible are not mere myths. They are related to specific dates, people, and places. For example, Luke 3:1 factually refers to “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was district ruler of Galilee.”
Although ancient historians almost always reported only the successes and virtues of rulers, the Bible writers were honest, openly admitting even their own mistakes. For instance, King David of Israel confessed: “I have sinned very much in what I have done. . . . I have acted very foolishly.” That statement is candidly documented in the Bible. (2 Samuel 24:10) And the Bible writer Moses himself recorded the incident in which he did not demonstrate reliance on the true God.—Numbers 20:12.
The Bible has yet another mark of divine inspiration. That mark is its fulfilled prophecies—history written in advance. Some of these are prophecies concerning Jesus Christ. For example, over 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew Scriptures accurately foretold that this Promised One would be born “in Bethlehem of Judea.”—Matthew 2:1-6; Micah 5:2.
Consider another example. At 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the Bible states: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” Does this not describe the attitude of people in general today? These words were penned in the year 65 C.E., over 1,900 years ago!
What Does the Bible Teach Us?
As its message unfolds before your eyes, you will be able to see that the Bible is a source of higher wisdom. It provides satisfying answers to such questions as these: Who is God? Is the Devil real? Who is Jesus Christ? Why does suffering exist? What happens to us when we die? The answers you may hear from others are as diverse as the beliefs and customs of the people giving them. But the Bible reveals the truth about these and many other subjects. Furthermore, in the matter of conduct and attitude toward other humans and higher authorities, the Bible’s guidance cannot be surpassed.^
What does the Bible reveal about God’s purpose for the earth and mankind? It promises: “Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:10, 11) “God himself will be with [mankind]. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.
The Bible also foretells that war, crime, violence, and wickedness will soon end. Sickness, old age, and death will be no more. Everlasting life on a paradise earth will become a reality. What delightful prospects! And how all of this demonstrates God’s love for mankind!
What Will You Do?
The Bible is a marvelous gift from the Creator. How should you respond to this book? A man of Hindu background believed that for a revelation from God to be of benefit to all mankind, it has to date back to the dawn of civilization. Upon realizing that parts of the Bible are older than the most ancient Hindu writings, the Vedas, he decided to read the Bible and examine its contents.** A university professor in the United States also came to see the need to read this most widely circulated book in the world before forming an opinion about it.
Reading the Bible and applying what it teaches will bring you rich blessings. The Bible states: “Happy is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night. And he will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.”## (Psalm 1:1-3) Studying the Bible and reflecting upon what it says will bring you happiness because your spiritual need will thus be satisfied. (Matthew 5:3) The Bible will show you how to live a fruitful life and how to cope with problems successfully. Yes, “in the keeping of [God’s laws set out in the Bible] there is a large reward.” (Psalm 19:11) Moreover, putting confidence in God’s promises will bring you blessings now and will give you a bright hope for the future.
The Bible urges us: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word.” (1 Peter 2:2) An infant depends on nourishment and insists on having that need met. Likewise, we really are dependent on knowledge from God. So “form a longing,” or a strong desire, for his Word. The Bible is a book of true teachings from God. Make it a goal to study it regularly. Jehovah’s Witnesses in your community will be happy to help you to get the most out of your study. You have our warm invitation to contact them. Or you may write to the publishers of this magazine.
* C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of the Lord.” B.C.E. means “Before the Common Era.”
# If you do not have a personal copy of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to supply you with one.
% The original-language word translated “circle” at Isaiah 40:22 may also be rendered “sphere.” Certain Bible translations read, “the globe of the earth” (Douay Version) and “the round earth.”—Moffatt.
^ These subjects are discussed in the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
** The earliest hymns of the Vedas are believed to have been composed nearly 3,000 years ago and transmitted orally. “It was only in the fourteenth century A.D. that the Veda was written down,” says P. K. Saratkumar in his book A History of India.
## Jehovah is the name of the God of the Bible. In many Bible translations, it can be found at Psalm 83:18.
“Form a longing” for God’s Word. Study the Bible regularly