Getting Tough With Sodom
By Eric Francke
The Watchtower and Tract Society is an exceptionally prolific publishing house, generating a tremendous amount of literature not only for their congregations, but for their "publishers" in every Kingdom Hall who go door-to-door disseminating their teachings. One of the downsides of being the official mouthpiece of God's Theocratic organization is that once something is in writing and being distributed all over the world, it can be tough to retract or censor, should you happen to have a change of mind. The Watchtower has been notorious for changing its position on issues (particularly regarding the endtimes) and then denying that it ever held to the previous position. Fortunately for us, it is usually easy enough for any individual to look at their earlier publications to see how their position has evolved, (or devolved, depending on your point of view).
One such example is the Watchtower position on the resurrection, and who will participate in it. The Watchtower has been fairly consistent in the idea that besides the righteous, many "unrighteous" would be resurrected and given the opportunity to learn about God's law. Those who "learn righteousness" would live forever in Paradise on Earth. Even those who were considered "wicked" may have this opportunity. The proof text used to support this is Matthew 11:22-24 where Jesus says that it would be "more endurable for the land of Sodom on Judgment Day than for you (Capernaum)." The Watchtower has held, therefore, that many in Sodom would be resurrected and would learn righteousness. Something happened in the late 1980's however, that disqualified the citizens of Sodom of the right to be at the resurrection. Interestingly enough, the Watchtower uses the exact same proof text, but now, to prove the opposite of what they had previously declared. Below are scanned images of page 179 in the book "You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth". The first is 1982. The second in 1989.
You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, © 1982, pg 179
You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, © 1989, pg 179
Other than this one section, the rest of the book seems to be identical in both editions. In actuality, it may have more to do with making a statement against the Metro Church movement (gay churches) which was gaining national attention at the time than it does any serious exegesis. Notice how the 1989 version changes their phraseology from "the people of ancient Sodom" to "the ancient Sodomites", which can be construed to have much wider meaner. Likewise the 1989 version invokes the imagery of sexual sin with Sodom, which is ignored in the 1982 version. It is no coincidence that this time period of the revision was witnessing an explosion of "gay apologetics" which sought to legitimize homosexuality from a biblical perspective. It seems that the revision of this book was made solely for the purpose of clarifying the position that "Sodomites" will have no future opportunity to repent, which is a reversal from the Watchtower's earlier position, as seen in the same book, as well as "Aid to Bible Understanding" and other publications. (Note: Just to make matters even a little more muddled, there are a few publications before 1952 that suggested that only the righteous would be resurrected, so this might be viewed as applying the pre-1952 teaching to only the "Sodomites").
Thus, it is apparent that the Watchtower has revised and reprinted the book to address a single contemporary social issue. Not that there is anything wrong with that, except that they had to twist their interpretation on certain verses 180 degrees to make it stick. Whether either view is right or wrong from a theological standpoint is immaterial. What is important is how this illustrates that the Watchtower views scripture as merely a tool to be employed to achieve the behavior and discipline they desire in their organization. Even if it means overturning all their own previous teaching, or twisting the meaning of a text to affirm the exact opposite position that they have hereto espoused. In true Orwellian fashion, the words of the Bible have only the meaning that they assign for it at the moment, and that is determined by what best affords them the most control. (EWF)
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