Jehovah Witnesses and Luke 16:19-31

Tom Bunting
O'Brien, Florida

"There is not a fine tree producing rotten fruit; again there is not a rotten tree producing fine fruit. For each tree is known by its fruit" (Lk. 6:43,44 - New World Translation).

Peter warns of those who are unlearned and unstable that wrest the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). I can think of no religious organization that wrests the scriptures any more than the Jehovah Witnesses.

A classic example of this very thing is illustrated by their explanation of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) .

Since their teachings are not based upon scripture they must always use their own definition of terms ~ to establish their doctrine. They recognize no dictionary, commentary, or Lexicon save those which contain their desired definitions. And so in their explanation of Luke 16:19-31 they define the terms to fit their doctrine.

In the book "What Has Religion Done for Mankind" published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Jehovah Witnesses tell us the rich man is "the highly favoured, self-important religious leaders" (pg. 249, para. 7). They ignore the fact that the scriptures say, "a certain rich man."

The beggar is "Jewish remanent who hunger and thirst for righteousness" according to them (pg. 249, para. 7). This appears as an even greater blunder than the first for the scriptures not only say a certain beggar, but has the audacity to call his name, Lazarus. Why don't they (Jehovah Witnesses) accept the scripture account which says the beggar was Lazarus and not a Jewish remnant? That would defeat their purpose.

The food in the story according to Jehovah Witnesses is the word of God and the beggar was receiving only the crumbs. "The beggar received very little of the word of God but received tradition instead" (Pgs. 249, 250, para. 7). If I understand their explanation the rich man (self-important religious leaders according to Jehovah Witnesses) is feasting on the word of God. And Lazarus (Jewish remnant according to them) is getting very little of this spiritual food. If this were true, doesn't it seem rather strange that it is the one (rich man) who is filled with spiritual food that is rejected, and the one (Lazarus) who receives the traditions and little spiritual nourishment goes to Abraham's bosom? If the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society be true, then those who feed least on the word of God would be the children of God. Such teaching as this is not only a wresting of the scripture in Luke 16 but is denying the entire teachings of Christ! However, we must go on.

Lazarus dies. The death of Lazarus, they tell us, is a "change in condition, freed from dependence upon Jewish leaders, and now becomes children of God" (pg. 250, para. 8). So there it is the one who receives the least spiritual nourishment, who was fed tradition, becomes the child of God according to Jehovah Witnesses. A strange doctrine!

What about the rich man who fared sumptously? The death of the rich man was that "he died to the service of Jehovah, they showed themselves to be seed of the Serpent" (pg. 252, para. 11) . The one with the word of God (spiritual nourishment), faring sumptuously, turns out to be the seed of Satan. Do you get the same impression as I? Obviously something is wrong with their reasoning!

The rich man went to Hades. Jehovah Witnesses define this as simply being inactive (pg. 252, para. 11). However, the proper definition is the "unseen" according to Young's Analytical Concordance and Thayers Greek Lexicon.. But should we grant their definition then what is the fire? They have an answer. The blazing fire of torment is "teaching God's Word" (pg. 252, para. 12) . Now, if thus is the torment mentioned then it could only - be temporary for by continuing to reject the gospel our conscience becomes seared (I Tim.- 4:3, 4). Maybe they should have just put a little cotton in their ears then the torment would have been quenched!

They tell us that the water is "used as a symbol of scriptural truth and they wanted the Lazarus class to leave the bosom of God's favor and compromise the truth and present it in such a way as not to torment" (pg. 253, para. 13). If water is refering to scriptural truth as taught by Jehovah Witnesses, then the rich man was not asking for compromise or mixed water, he was asking for water. And the water was to cool his tongue. If this water was truth as Jehovah Witnesses say, then they have the same truth comforting and tormenting the same persons at the same time. This is obviously a contradiction in their own explanation of this incident. One is made to wonder just how far some people are willing to go in their departure from the scriptures to establish their own tradition! Like those to whom Jesus spake. They lay "aside the commandment of God, ye hold the traditions of men..." (Mk. 7 : 8) . Their worship is vain (Matt. 15:9 ; Mk. 7:7).

The brothers mentioned in Luke 16:28 are said to be "the brethren and allied of the Jewish organization" (pg. 254, para. 15). Since they say Lazarus is the Jewish remanent and then they have the Jewish remanent (Lazarus) refusing to preach the truth to their Jewish brethren. I thought Jesus to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..." (Mk. 16:15, 16). Of course if preaching the gospel is torment to those who hear then that means Jesus is .saying, Go into all the world and torment every creature. Foolishness, yes indeed! However, we mention these things to show some of the difficulties into which we place ourselves when we wrest the scriptures. It is no wonder that Peter said that to wrest the scriptures is to do so to our own destruction.

Yet, with all of their ingenuous inventions, and diligent efforts to twist and wrest the scriptures, Jehovah Witnesses completely ignore some of the most important details of this story. One is made to wonder why these were ignored? Could it be that they just wouldn't be made to fit into the false teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. For example they make no effort to, explain. where the brethren of the rich man are. Luke says that the brethren were on earth while Lazarus and the rich man were in Abraham's bosom and torments respectively. This implies that they are at different places. The Jehovah Witnesses say that Lazarus and the rich man are both still on the earth at the time of writing. Then where are these brethren to whom the rich man refers? If they were on earth why couldn't the rich .man speak to them himself ? And what does it mean to go back from the dead? They have already said that when Lazarus died that meant that he was a child of God. Then does it mean to go back from the dead to return to the ways of the world to preach to the lost?

They also have omitted an explanation of the "great gulf fixed." This ,seems to be a very important detail between the relationship of Lazarus and the rich man. Why have Jehovah Witnesses omitted it? What is the "great gulf fixed" between Lazarus and the rich man? Why can't it be crossed from one side to the other? They say that this all takes place on the earth, then where is the great gulf? We are also informed by Jehovah Witnesses that Lazarus represents children of God and the rich man represents the "self-important religious leaders." What is the great gulf between these that cannot be crossed from one to the other? Would they take the position that a child of God could not return to the ways of the world or that the sinner could not become a child of God? I'm sure that they would not contend for such a position therefore they have omitted any explanation and completely ignored this "great gulf." No mention of it for it will not fit their false doctrine. Thus they wrest the scriptures.

Why not take the story of Lk. 16 just as it is recorded? The Bible says there was a "certain rich man," not a certain religious organization. And there was a "certain beggar named Lazarus," not a remanent, but a man and it goes so far as naming the man! Then the Bible account says both of these men died. After the death of Lazarus he was found to be in the bosom of Abraham which was a place of comfort. The rich man died and was in torments. The torment was by fire and the fire was hot so that he desired water to cool his tongue. However. it was not possible for anyone to cross the great gulf which is fixed between the place of comfort and the place of torments. Note that these things are taking place after the death of both. When he could not be comforted then he desired someone to go back from the dead to the earth and warn his brethren of this torment. There in a brief way we have the story of Lazarus and the rich man as recorded in the word of God.

Why do the Jehovah Witnesses go to such length to explain away such a simple story? Because this little story proves their doctrine to be false! It refutes many of their major doctrine. For example: (1) They say man is not conscious after death. However, both Lazarus and the rich man were conscious after death (Lk. 16:22,23). '(2) They don't believe in punishment of the wicked after death. But Jesus said the rich man was tormented in this flame (Lk. 16:23) . (3) They say sheol, hell, hades, always means the grave. It was more than just a grave to the rich man (Lk. 16:23). Is it any wonder they wrest, pervert, change these scriptures and others?

Why do I say these things? I say them because I believe that one can leave the false religions of this earth and become a child of God. The Bible says that to change or pervert the scripture is to be accursed (Gal. 1: 6-9) . I would encourage Jehovah Witnesses, as I would encourage all, to turn from the doctrines of men to the instruction of God that they may be saved. Let's not wrest the scriptures to our own destruction.

Truth Magazine, V:9, pp. 19-21
June 1961