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Home arrow Political Cults & Isms arrow Jehovah's Witnesses - History arrow Jehovah's Witnesses and THE Apostacy

Jehovah's Witnesses and THE Apostacy

The Black Hole of History:
Did a Great Apostasy Occur in the Early Church?

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Apostasy

Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that a great apostasy occurred in the Christian Church shortly after the death of the apostles.  After the restraining power of the apostles was removed, they say, the composite "man of lawlessness" revealed itself in religious hypocrisy and false teachings.  The Jehovah's Witnesses were first identifiable as a group in the late 1800's.  They have significant differences in doctrine and history from orthodox Christianity.  Yet they claim to be the true Christian church.  To validate these claims, the Jehovah's Witnesses must prove that orthodox Christianity apostasized from the truth, and that their religion is a "restoration" of the true Christian faith.  Such an apostasy is necessary if they are to justify their claim to be the true faith.  The Witnesses claim that, as a result of this apostasy, pagan doctrines such as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, the deity of Christ, and eternal punishment of the wicked were introduced into "Christendom." Did the Church fall away from the faith and become apostate in the first few centuries after the apostles? If a great apostasy did occur, a number of conclusions must logically follow.  These are examined below.

The Apostles Were Failures as Evangelists

  • The last (and hence the most important) command of Jesus to the apostles was to proclaim the gospel to the whole world, and to make disciples of all men.
  • The JWs and other similar neo-Christian sects maintain that the apostasy occurred very early; it was at work even while the apostles were alive, and widespread almost immediately after their death.
  • Therefore, we must judge the apostles as utter failures at evangelism, and at carrying out this most important of Jesus' commands, for they were unable to transmit the faith received from Jesus and from the Holy Spirit at Pentecost even to their own disciples.

Jehovah's Holy Spirit Failed at its Primary Task

  • "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13)
  • Jesus said to apostles, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
  • "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
  • Yet Jehovah's holy spirit was unable to preserve his congregation for even a single generation.

For these reasons alone, there is sufficient cause to seriously question whether a great apostasy occurred in the first century after the apostles.

Other Problems With the Apostasy Theory

Apart from the spiritual and theological implications of a universal first-century apostasy, there are other difficulties which become apparent when this theory is examined.  The Christian church grew at a phenomenal rate during the lifetime of the apostles, and by the time of their death hundreds of thousands perhaps even millions of people had been converted to this new faith.  If a great "falling away" occurred upon the death of the apostles, there are certain characteristics which would inevitably be seen because of the large number of people involved.

An Apostasy Would Have To Be Asynchronous

  • The Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that pagan philosophy infiltrated Christianity as a result of the apostasy, because of the large influx of pagan believers.  Did all Christians throughout the ancient world simultaneously adopt these pagan philosophies? Did believers in Alexandria, Rome, Spain, and Antioch, at the exact same time, adopt the same pagan doctrines, e.g.  the immortality of the soul, or hell, or the Trinity? This seems highly implausible.  Hence, a worldwide apostasy would have to be asynchronous in time.
  • It is hardly possible that all Christians throughout the ancient world evangelized by the apostles would come to the exactly same false beliefs in every geographic location.  For example, errant Christians in Alexandria might have adopted the Greek concepts of the immortal soul, while those in Asia Minor would have rejected this doctrine, but instead embraced trinitarianism.  Hence, a global apostasy would have to be geographically asynchronous.
  • If the paganization of Christianity was not synchronous through the Christianized world, then there must be evidence of the disparity in its development, which should be readily apparent by reviewing the literature of the early Church.  The writings of respected leaders in these areas should reflect these disparities.

Tertullian, the brilliant second century apologist of the Western church, addressed this very issue, which was raised in his time as it has been in ours.  Responding to certain of his contemporaries who were heretics, and who claimed that the Christian church had fallen away, he writes:

Grant, then, [if some have taught error] that all have erred; that the Apostle was mistaken in bearing witness; that the Holy Spirit had no such consideration for any one Church as to lead it into truth, although He was sent for that purpose by Christ, who had asked the Father to make Him the Teacher of truth; that the Steward of God and Vicar of Christ neglected His office, and permitted the churches for a time to understand otherwise and to believe otherwise than [Christ] Himself had preached through the Apostles: now, is it likely that so many and such great churches should have gone astray into a unity of faith?

Apostolic Disciples Would Have Resisted the Apostasy

  • Church leaders, trained by the apostles, should have resisted the influx of false teachings.  These men were personally appointed to positions of leadership by the apostles, because of their proven faithfulness and love of the truth.  It was these men who wrote the early post apostolic literature, and hence their writings should reflect "pure" Christianity, or at least something very close to it.
  • The apostles were themselves commissioned by Christ to make disciples of all men (Matt 28:19-20).  It is reasonable to conclude that the disciples of the apostles would hold beliefs very similar to those of the apostles themselves.  This is a normal expectation for any religious group.  In the case of the apostles, they were anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish this very task.
  • Perhaps several of their disciples became deceived, and taught false doctrines.  Would all of the apostolic disciples, throughout the Christianized world, have taught the same false doctrines, at the same time?

Why Is There No "True" Christian Literature?

  • Did the apostate Christendom leadership suppress and destroy the literature of the "true" Christians? In theory this might be possible.  But the writings of various heretical groups opposed by these same leaders of Christendom have survived, at least in part, to this day (e.g., the Gnostics).
  • In the Jehovah's Witnesses understanding of Jehovah's plan, the anointed class (the "144,000") have as their principle role the publication of "meat in due season" literature explaining the Bible to those not of the anointed class.  Where is this literature?

Where Are the "Fine Fish"?

The Watchtower Society is aware of the problem of a 1900 year period without identifiable Jehovah's Witnesses or Watchtower literature.  They have at times attempted to explain away this "black hole" of history.  One such attempt is seen in the Watchtower, June 15, 1992, pages 17-21, in an article entitled _What Do the Dragnet and Fish Mean For You?_ Using Jesus's parable of the dragnet and the fish (Matt 13:47-50), they say:

In the centuries after the apostles left the scene, there continued to be some Christians striving to find and hold to divine truth.  At least some of these had God's approval, and he anointed them with holy spirit.  Still, the death of the apostles removed a restraining influence, allowing widespread apostasy to develop.  An organization grew up that unworthily profe ssed to be God's congregation.

In this parable, the dragnet brings in both suitable and unsuitable "fish", which are then separated into the righteous, or "fine" fish, and unrighteous, or wicked ones.  Christendom's role in this parable is described as follows:

Do you think that unfaithful professors of Christianity had any part in the illustration of the dragnet? Well, there is reason to answer, yes, they did.  The symbolic dragnet included Christendom.  ...  [Christendom's efforts] gathered vast numbers of unsuitable fish, who did not have God's approval.  ...  All the while, the scattered faithful ones adhering to God's Word exerted themselves as best they could.  At any given time, they constituted God's true anointed congregation on earth.  And we may be sure that they too were catching fish, or men, many of whom God would view as fine and whom he would anoint with his spirit.  ...  So the dragnet represents an earthly instrument that professes to be God's congregation and that gathers in fish.  It has included both Christendom and the congregation of anointed Christians, the latter having continued to collect fine fish, under the invisible guidance of the angels, in line with Matthew 13:49.

  • If this is indeed the case, where are the fine fish? What are there names? When did they live? Where are their writings, confirming that they were indeed anointed by God's spirit? Surely such writing exists, since it is the task of the anointed class to provide "meat in due season." Why is it that we cannot identify any such men, or groups of men, throughout this 1900 year period?

What Did the Early Christian Writers Believe?

From the above, it is most plausible that the disciples of the apostles, and their subsequent disciples, closely adhered to that which they were taught.  If they had not, we should see:

  • Geographical divergence of teaching as different pagan philosophies were embraced in different locals, the teachings of Christianity in the East should vary widely from those in Western churches such as Rome and Antioch;
  • Temporal divergence of teaching as the centuries passed, Christian teachings should less and less resemble those of earlier teachers and writers.

However, when the ante-Nicene literature is examined, we find neither of these things to any significant degree.  There is a striking unanimity of doctrine on major issues from the immediate post apostolic period through Nicea and beyond (the period identified by the Jehovah's Witnesses as that during which the apostasy occurred.) What, then, were the major beliefs of the post apostolic writers?

Jesus Christ Was Fully God And Fully Man

  • These writers repeatedly emphasize the full deity of Jesus Christ.  They tend toward subordination in authority (ie, the Son always submits to the Father), but not subordination of nature or qualities.  About the Son they assert:
  • He is eternally begotten, and most definitely not created.  He always existed; there was never a time when He was not.
  • He is never viewed as a separate, lesser god.  The unity of God is emphasized in contrast to polytheistic culture.  He is rarely referred to as an Angel (Justin Martyr), but in a context that clearly identifies Him with the Angel of the Lord, and Jehovah Himself.

Jesus Arose Bodily From The Dead

  • This is explicitly stated a number of times, by those who had personally heard apostolic teaching.  The spirit (non-physical) resurrection was a teaching of gnosticism, and refuted by a number of early apologists.

His Return Would Be Glorious, Visible, And Physical

  • There is no mention by any individual or group (even heretical) of an "invisible" return.  Christians expected Christ to return bodily, and in power and glory.

There Was Little Developed Theology About The The Spirit

  • There was virtually no formal discussion of the nature of the Spirit in the ante Nicene literature.
  • The Spirit is spoken of frequently in personal terms.
  • He is depicted as having all the power and attributes of God.
  • There is little if any reference to the Spirit as an impersonal energy or force.

There Was A Place Of Conscious Reward, And A Place Of Eternal Conscious Punishment, After Death.

  • This literature is replete with references to conscious eternal punishment for the wicked after death.  There are numerous explicit references to its conscious and eternal aspects.  There is no support for soul death; it is explicitly refuted.

There Is A Spiritual Part Of Man, Called A Soul, Which Separates From His Body At Death And Is Reunited At The Resurrection

  • There was little dispute about this, since it was a fundamental tenet of Judaism and universally accepted by the Christian church.

The Development of the Trinity Doctrine

No formal doctrine of the Trinity existed prior to about 200.  Does this prove that the Trinity doctrine was pagan in origin and non-apostolic in origin?

The Fundamental Elements of the Trinity doctrine Were Always Present in the Church

  • The components of the Trinity doctrine the full deity of Christ, His equality with the Father, His uncreated nature, the personality and divine attributes of the Spirit are evident in a seemless continuum from the outset of the Christian faith.
  • The formal development of the doctrine occurred gradually, in response to a series of heresies which arose both within and outside the Church.