Monday, December 12, 2016

Did Russell Claim His Writings to be Superior to the Bible?

One has objected that while Russell didn't claim infallibility, his claims for the printed Watch Tower were certainly masked as something divine. It is being objected that Russell claimed that without the Watch Tower on hand to explain the Bible and its prophecies one is lost, that it was impossible to understand God's Word without the Watch Tower. That one would be better off to leave the Bible and study only the Watch Tower.
The only reference that can be provided to allegedly support the above is the article that Russell wrote entitled: "Is the Reading of "Scripture Studies" Bible Study?" Even then, one has to take what Russell wrote out of context, and this is usually done by focusing on two paragraphs of the article. The two paragraphs often quoted from are:
a.. If the six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES are practically the Bible topically arranged, with Bible proof-texts given, we might not improperly name the volumes-- the Bible in an arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible, but they are practically the Bible itself, since there is no desire to build any doctrine or thought on any individual preference or on any individual wisdom, but to present the entire matter on the lines of the Word of God. We therefore think it safe to follow this kind of reading, this kind of instruction, this kind of Bible study.
b.. Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the Divine Plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years --if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.
The rest of the article is usually ignored, and the quotes are usually placed in the context of the claims of JWs today, or in the context of making it appear that Russell was making the same or similar claims as the JW leadership claims for itself.
However, it should be presumed that any Christian writer who writes books would believe that what he is written is in harmony with the light of God's Word, and thus, that if one is out of harmony with what he wrote, to that extent a person would considered to be in darkness. Russell certainly believed that the references he had given to the Bible in what he wrote represented the light of the scriptures, and thus that the Studies contained the "light of the scriptures." To be disagreement with the "light of the scriptures" then would place one to some extent in darkness. Nevertheless, at the same time, we should not take Russell's words out of context and use that as though he were laying down some kind of hard set rule by which he expected others to bow down to his conclusions.
Many quote one or parts of two paragraphs of Russell's article, placed in the context of JW organization doctrine, or in an effort to claim that Russell was claiming to be the ultimate authority, and, in effect, try to make Russell say something that we don't believe Russell intended to mean by his words. We believe this because of what Russell states in the context, as well as the general tenor of the works he produced during his entire life. Russell continuously referred to the Bible, or to Jesus and the apostles, as the final authority, and encouraged others to do the same.
Notice that he says that if a person had merely the Scriptures Studies "with their references," that is, the references to the Bible, the "only authority" that Russell accepted for divine light. As I said, Russell believed that what he had written was in agreement with "the light of the Scriptures." Can you imagine any Christian author who would write a book and claim that what he had written was not in harmony with the "light of the scriptures"?
Russell, in this article, was not specifically referring to the Watch Tower magazine, but more specifically to the Scripture Studies series. He certainly never claimed that one would be better off to leave the Bible, since his argument was concerning the references to the Bible in the Scripture Studies.
The experiences Russell and others related of those going into darkness mostly involved universalism, the belief that all, including Satan, will eventually live forever. The New Covenant Bible Students disagreed with him over the covenants. Russell did not condemn them to the second death for their darkness, nor did he claim they were no longer Christians, etc., as might the JWs. Nor was Russell speaking of the JWs' Watchtower of today, which is basically the kind of organization that he never believed in.
See:
Russell on "Church Organization"
While we believe that Russell overstated the matter and probably, if he had foreknown how some would be misusing what he stated, would have not have stated it as he did; we do not believe that he intended the claims that many make concerning what he said. Earlier Russell stated:

The six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES are not intended to supplant the Bible.
He further stated, related to the study of his volumes:


It is for each one to think for himself, however, and to guide his conduct in every way accordingly.
Brother Russell went on to say:

If these books are to be of any value to us it must be because we see in them loyalty to the Word of God, and as far as our judgment goes, see them to be in full harmony with the Word and not antagonistic to it. Therefore, in reading them the first time, and perhaps the second time, and before we would accept anything as being our own personal faith and conviction, we should say, "I will not take it because these studies say so; I wish to see what the Bible says." And so we would study the Scriptures in the light of these SCRIPTURE STUDIES; we would prove every point, or disprove it, as the case might be. We would be satisfied with nothing less than a thorough investigation of the Bible from this standpoint.
In that same article, we find the subheading:
"SCRIPTURE STUDIES" NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE BIBLE
One objects that the article does tell Jehovah's Witnesses not to accept the Bible as the final authority.
We are not with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and there was no Jehovah's Witnesses organization in 1910, so "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1910 were not told anything. Nevertheless, the Bible Students were not told that the Bible was not the final authority, nor were they told not to read the Bible by itself. That is is a gross misrepresentation of what was stated, to say the least! Brother Russell never told anyone that the Studies in the Scriptures are the final authority! Indeed, in the same article referenced, Russell states that the "Scriptures Studies" are "not a substitute for the Bible." Russell did not at tell anyone not to accept the Bible as the final authority, but rather just opposite, as can be seen from the context.
Brother Russell, of course -- as he presented in the article, believed that what he had written was in harmony with the light of truth as revealed in the scriptures, and as due to be understood. If he believed otherwise, then he was wasting his time in writing anything. No other system of theology presented those truths. Thus, if he believed that what he had written was the light of God's Word due to be understood, as he expressed in that article, then if one was not in harmony with that light, he would be to that extent in darkness.
We do not, however, believe that when Russell said "by itself", that he was speaking of not having help from anyone else. No one actually studies the Bible in the absolute sense of "by itself", that is, without any aid whatsoever from any other source. Taken to the extreme limit of "by itself", one could not use English translations, since that would be mean that one is not actually studying the Bible "by itself", but with the interpretive help of whoever translated it inot English (or any other language). In the absolute sense, one would need the original autographs of the Bible in order to absolutely study the without help from anyone else, so as not have had help from copyists who may or may not have copied the material correctly. To study the Bible in the extreme sense of "by itself" would mean no help from priest, minister, teachers, church, tradition, parents, etc. It would mean without the help of any sermon from anyone at all,. In truth, anyone who comes to a study of the Bible has to first have received help to read. His manner of approach to such a study of the Bible is also be influenced by the shaping and molding of his mind by his parents, teachers, friends, and other influences all the while he was growing up.
We believe that when Russell said "by itself," he simply meant without the aid of his "Scripture Studies", and this conclusion is corroborated by the context, as well as by Russell's writings as a whole. If the "Scripture Studies" revealed the light of the Scriptures, as Russell believed, then, of course, without the scriptural understanding revealed in those "Scripture Studies" one is to that extent in darkness.
It is claimed by some that Russell said that if a Bible Student stopped studying the Scripture Studies, that he would return to the traditional doctrines of the trinity, immortality of the soul, etc. Actually, Russell never stated this at all.
Russell, of course, was writing from his experience. He was speaking in general terms, and was definitely not setting up some rules that he was demanding anyone had to obey. Nevertheless, I don't remember ever reading of one who had actually understood the scriptural principles of doctrine revealed in the Scriptures Studies who, in Russell's time, went back into belief in the trinity, immortality of the soul, eternal conscious suffering, etc. The ones I have read about, even if they stopped studying the "Scripture Studies," did not go back to those doctrines of men. Most were being influenced by some who were denying some points that Russell taught, such as, that the "new covenant" is made with restored Israel rather than the church, or that Jesus returned in 1874, etc. Russell, himself, however, never sought authority so as to make his conclusions concerning such matters binding on other believers. Not all associated with the work of Russell accepted all of his conclusions. Nevertheless, if Jesus returned in 1874, as Russell claimed, then to be in the light of this truth would mean acceptance of this truth; to not believe this truth would mean that one is in darkness on this truth. This did not necessarily mean that if a Christian did not accept the conclusion that Christ returned in 1874, that such would not be a Christian. Correspondingly, if the "new covenant" is made with restored Israel in the age to come, then to be in harmony with this truth would mean one was in the light of this truth; to deny this truth would mean that one was in darkness on this truth. If one once believed in any truth, and then turned aside from that truth for a some doctrine of man, then such a person would have gone into darkness concerning the real truth.
Indeed, this same kind of principle applies to every "denomination" of Christendom that has taken a stand on some doctrinal principles. They would claim that others who disagree with them on whatever doctrine they hold central is in darkness regarding that doctrine.
Please note that when Russell speaks of one going into darkness, he did not mean what JWs might mean if they had used such an expression. Russell did not condemn those who disagreed with him to the second death, as did Rutherford. For instance, those who believed that the "new covenant" is made with the church, he still called "brethren". They were not disfellowshiped, although many of them withdrew fellowship from the Bible Students who believed that the "new covnenant" is to be made with Israel. Nor did Russell consider any who disagreed with him to not be a Christian; rather, he believed that many Christians were simply in the dark concerning many scriptural truths due to their having the minds bent toward studying the scriptures by use of the blinding influence of the traditions of men, rather than in the light what the holy spirit was actually revealing through and from the scriptures by means of his writings.
One claims that Russell 'implied' that "his own Scripture Studies were superior to the Bible." The author further states: "Russell usurps the authority of the Holy Writ and posits that the Bible, which Witnesses claim as the inspired word of Jehovah, is inadequate by itself. Russell clearly elevated his own teachings above the authority of the Bible."
In reality, Russell, who never spoke for an organization such as Jehovah's Witnesses, did not make such an implication, nor does the quote cited from the Watch Tower, September 15, 1910 (page 298), which is taken out of context, say, or even imply, such a thing. Even within the statement, Russell is speaking of reading the Scriptures Studies "with their references," that is, with their scriptural references to the Bible, which in the context, he explains to be standard for acceptance of truth.
Further, by the what he stated in the context, we can definitely find that Russell had no intent whatsoever of stating that the Scripture Studies are superior or equal to the Bible. Before the part quoted, Russell states: "The six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES are not intended to supplant the Bible." Already, we should know that he is not then saying that the Scriptures Studies are superior to the Bible.
After the quote given as an alleged proof that Russell implied that the Scripture Studies were superior to the Bible, Russell wrote:
If these books are to be of any value to us it must be because we see in them loyalty to the Word of God, and as far as our judgment goes, see them to be in full harmony with the Word and not antagonistic to it. Therefore, in reading them the first time, and perhaps the second time, and before we would accept anything as being our own personal faith and conviction, we should say, "I will not take it because these studies say so; I wish to see what the Bible says." And so we would study the Scriptures in the light of these SCRIPTURE STUDIES; we would prove every point, or disprove it, as the case might be. We would be satisfied with nothing less than a thorough investigation of the Bible from this standpoint."
Does this sound like that Russell was implying that the Scripture Studies are superior to the Bible? Indeed, Russell himself, if he found some points that he had written that he later found to be in error, did not say that one should hold to the error because it was in the Scripture Studies, but rather that one should hold to the Bible itself.
And then, later in the same article, we find the subtopic:
"SCRIPTURE STUDIES" NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE BIBLE
Again, the question is, does this sound like that Russell was placing the Scripture Studies as superior to the Bible?

In the context of Russell's writings over the years, it become even more apparent that Russell had no intent of saying that his writings are superior to the Bible, See:
Who Did Russell Actually Believe to Be the "only authority" of the Church?
A comment was presented that, in the book, The Divine Plan of the Ages, "Russell prophesied that 1914 would see the battle of Armageddon and the dawn of Christ’s thousand year reign on the Earth." There are at least two major things wrong with the statement.
The word "prophesied" is evidently being used in the sense of a divinely-inspired seer or prophet who claims to be delivering a direct message from God. Russell never claimed to be such a prophet. He plainly stated: "I am not a prophet".
See:
Did Russell Claim Infallibility?
Did Russell Claim Direct Revelation From God?
Did Russell Claim to be a Prophet?
There is nothing in the book, The Divine Plan of the Ages, about 1914. This book is online at:
http://www.agsconsulting.com/htdbv5/indexa.htm
It is important to realize that Russell was not expecting the kind of Armageddon that the JWs preach. His view (before 1914) of Armageddon was that it was a period of time in which the peoples of nations would be chastised, not eternally destroyed. In 1915, he still did not believe in Armageddon as the JWs teach, but he began to separate the time of trouble, which he believed had begun in October of 1914, from the battle of Armageddon itself, which he believed would be the final phase of the time of trouble. He did NOT teach that Armageddon was to eternally destroy most of earth's population, as Rutherford later claimed.
Originally published before 2012; edited and republished December 2014, December 2016; March 2017.

1 comment:

  1. A related quote from Brother Russell (Watch Tower, December 15, 1896, page 305):

    Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible, or on a par with the holy Scriptures. The most we claim or have ever claimed for our teachings is, that they are what we believe to be harmonious interpretations of the divine Word, in harmony with the spirit of the truth. And we still urge, as in the past, that each reader study the subjects we present in the light of the Scriptures, proving all things by the Scriptures, accepting what they see to be thus approved, and rejecting all else. It is to this end, to enable the student to trace the subject in the divinely inspired Record, that we so freely intersperse both quotations and citations of the Scriptures upon which to build.

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