Round about mid-1995, and after I’d been out of Bethel for 2 1/2 years, I was chatting on the phone with Awake! editor, Harry Peloyan, during his recovery from bypass heart surgery. In the course of our conversation, Harry told me there had been a reconsideration of the Society’s understanding of Jesus parable found in Matthew 25:31, 32, and soon articles about this would be coming out in the Watchtower.
(See “HOW WILL YOU STAND BEFORE THE JUDGMENT SEAT?” and “WHAT FUTURE FOR THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS?” Watchtower, October 15, 1995)
Matthew 25:31, 32 reads:
In 1954, during a Bible study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I learned that when Jesus Christ took his reign as King in the heavens in 1914, he sat in judgment over all the nations, and through the angels Jesus directed his faithful followers on earth to witness to all the nations. This witness work would separate sheep-like people from goat-like people.
This explanation of Matthew 25:31, 32 by the Watch Tower Society prodded me for over 40 years to go out in the door-to-door ministry to participate in the separating work. My actions showed I supported “Christ’s brothers” who, they said, were being used to do this momentous dividing work. Until 1995 this parable, part of what the Witnesses called “the prophecy of Matthew chapter 25,” was the backbone of the Watch Tower organization and was used as a catalyst to infuse “Jehovah’s servants” with zeal to “advertise, advertise the Kingdom.” The 1993 book, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, makes no bones about it—to understand the “sheep and the goats” parable was to understand God’s purpose.
An incredible adjustment respecting this parable, the correction had to do with precisely who separates the sheep from the goats. In no uncertain terms, Harry told me, “We’re not the ones separating the sheep from the goats, but Jesus does the separating in the future when he comes in his glory soon after the ‘Great Tribulation!’ ”
As a Watch Tower researcher, I was accustomed to help fuel adjustments to doctrine. I wasn’t disturbed by what Harry said. I supported change because I thought searching for a clearer understanding of God’s word and enhancing spiritual truths was what it was all about to be “God’s organization.” As the years passed, I rarely ever thought about this subject until recently when curiosity got the best of me and I decided to look at the background of the explanation of the parable that was being replaced by another one in 1995.
While reading older Watch Tower literature, I noticed that there were two other parable explanations before then. In the Watch Tower Society’s 1993 book, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, I found on p. 164 that it had long been theorized by the Watch Tower Society that the final judgment “would take place at the end of the Millennium.” However, it was explained in Proclaimers that “…in 1923, reasons for another view of matters were set forth by J. F. Rutherford … in an enlightening discourse in Los Angeles, California. This was published later that year in the October 15 issue of The Watch Tower.” When Karl Adams, the compiler of Proclaimers, wrote those words, in no way did he suspect that a few years later there would be coming from the Writing Department a vital replacement of the then parable’s second explanation.
To better understand the Watch Tower Society’s second version of the parable, I studied all eight pages of the October 15, 1923 Watch Tower article titled, “THE PARABLE OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS.” In addition, I located as many articles I could find in the Watchtower and other Watch Tower publications on the topic to see if there had been any adjustments to the 1923 teaching up until 1995. And lastly, I reread the article in the October 15, 1995, Watchtower, the one Harry talked about that completely revolutionized the “sheep and the goats” interpretation of 1923.
Briefly, here’s what I found:
1. The earliest belief of Russell and associates—1879 onward Zion’s Watch Tower, September 1881, p. 269, par. 5, 6:
Zion’s Watch Tower, March 15, 1905, p. 3528, par. 6:
The Watch Tower, February 15, 1914, p. 5406, par. 7:
2. 1923—Change In the October 15, 1923 issue of The Watch Tower, p. 308, par. 18, 21, the second president of the Watch Tower Society, Joseph F. Rutherford wrote:
Repetition for emphasis: Rutherford applied the judgment of everlasting destruction for goat-like people before the Millennium began and during Christ’s invisible presence, which was thought to have begun in 1874. According to that same Watch Tower, the message and how people react to that message about the day of God’s vengeance preached by God’s earthly representatives separates goat-like people from sheep-like people only in Christendom and not dividing or separating the gentile world as Russell taught.
3. The latest belief—1995
In other words, Jesus executes judgment when the entire wicked system has ended, right after the tribulation starts. And Jesus’ judgment includes people of all nations, just like the parable states, not merely the Gentiles or only Christendom. Nowhere in the 1995 articles does it enlighten readers that for some forty-four years previous to 1923 the Watch Tower Society taught that the parable of the sheep and the goats applied during the Millennium, but simply explains on page 25, par. 9:
For a fact, that October 15, 1995 Watchtower, on p. 19, par. 24, and p. 22, par. 22 misleads the Witnesses by stating that it was long understood that the parable found application starting in 1914 when that was the second application the Society endorsed, the first being Russell’s teaching that application was during the Millennium. This should have been clarified. In addition, in the October 15, 1923 Watchtower, the year 1914 is never mentioned; rather, the Watch Tower explains that Christ came in 1918 for the purpose of judging, first the spirit-begotten saints, later, Christendom.
To recap, the new development in the Society’s understanding is that the other sheep are those who are preaching the good news with the anointed and do good towards them. Goat-like ones are those whose past actions were not supportive of the anointed and rejected the Kingdom message. And, most importantly, as explained in the Oct. 15, 1995 Watchtower, p. 26, par. 15,
What else did Harry Peloyan say? Well, here’s the kicker: Harry told me that day in 1995: “Now Jehovah’s Witnesses believe just like Christendom has for 2,000 years!” Not only did the October 15, 1995 Watchtower not mention that this was the third major interpretation of the sheep and goats parable, but, as would be expected, never so much as hinted they were now in agreement with Christendom’s teaching that Jesus does the separating of the sheep and goats. Remember the Watchtower’s words, “It is not up to us to determine who are sheep and goats.” Yet, that’s exactly what the Bible Students (renamed Jehovah’s Witnesses) thought they were doing for well over seven decades.
When I finally left the Witnesses a few years after 1995, I told my son, Lance, that upon reflection I had been teaching a lie to people when I taught Watch Tower’s construal of that parable (the second one because I didn’t know there was another interpretation before that). And further, I said, when I had been a Catholic, I had been closer to the truth in this matter than when I was a Witness. From his defense of the Society, I knew my son didn’t understand why I felt so strongly about the issue. Although he engaged in field service, he never converted anyone, whereas, for decades, his father and I had taught that particular lie to all our Bible studies, and, somehow, I felt responsible for teaching a great untruth about such an important Bible subject to so many people. Did Rutherford turn over in his grave in 1995? Rutherford said in the Watch Tower of October 15, 1923, p. 309, par. 24 these words:
And just who claimed to be Christian that Rutherford accused of declaring that the present evil order of things on this earth constitutes Christ’s kingdom? Why the ecclesiastics or Christendom’s clergy (Ibid, p. 309, par. 23) that Rutherford hated because he contended it was they that were instrumental in 1918 to have him and the other Watch Tower directors sent to prison. How Rutherford felt about the clergy can be perceived from his liberal use throughout the October 15, 1923 article of the word, “apostate” when he mentioned Christendom’s clergy. As an example, look at p. 312, par. 51:
Was Rutherford correct that it was Christendom’s clergy who substituted Satanic doctrines, claiming to represent the Lord, yet, denying his Word? Who was it that ignored the clear words of the parable which stated Jesus would separate the sheep from the goats? No one else but Joseph F. Rutherford! By changing Rutherford’s elucidation of the meaning of the parable to Christendom’s 2,000 year old explanation, the religion Rutherford gave its name to in 1931, demonstrated in 1995, without directly admitting it was the case, that their second president, Joseph F. Rutherford, was an apostate, a deserter from the truth. Even the adoption of the name, Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931, fit what Rutherford wanted the Bible Students to do—witness to Christendom (a message that Jesus second presence came invisibly in 1874, etc.) and, by doing so, separate sheep-like Christians from goat-like Christians, something the parable says is Jesus’ job which he does at his second-coming when he comes to judge all the nations, not just Christendom.
You have to know that if Rutherford could, he would have sent lighting from heaven to strike dead his successors who implemented “apostate” Christendom’s centuries-old interpretation of the parable of the sheep and the goats in 1995, which, by the way, was the year for reexamination of another Watch Tower Society doctrine. Not only did they “adjust” their understanding of the parable of the sheep and goats, but “corrected” the “Generation” teaching. And they still haven’t settled down as far as that teaching goes because it was “fiddled with” (certainly not “fine-tuned”) a few more times including in 2010. It’s a good thing Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain in their literature that they are not “inspired,” but only “spirit directed,” or they sure would look foolish!