Jehovah’s Witnesses & the Governing Body – Part 2: The Faithful & Discreet Slave

Today, we’ll be looking into their second claim, that Jesus spoke prophetically of a small group of men that would act as modern day leaders of his people, called the “faithful and discreet slave”. The teaching of the faithful and discreet slave is really important in the organization. It is a teaching that Jesus, in a speech given to his disciples, spoke of a faithful and discreet slave that the master (i.e. Jesus) would use to feed his domestics – other Christians.  Jehovah’s Witness’ leadership have interpreted this statement made by Jesus as a prophecy, one that would point to someone or some group leading the worldwide Christian congregation and providing spiritual food at the proper time. What does this have to do with the governing body? 

For several years, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that the faithful and discreet slave was made up of all anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. However in the July 2013 Watchtower, in the article Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?, that teaching changed. In keeping with Jesus’ pattern of feeding many through the hands of a few, that slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence. In recent decades, that slave has been closely identified with the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From that time on, the faithful and discreet slave referred only to the governing body itself. This is important because it essentially puts the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witness’ organization in the place of God, claiming that they are the channel that Jehovah and Jesus are using, and that our spiritual health and our relationship with God depend on our obedience to them. 

Why has the governing body assumed this role of the faithful slave? The whole teaching of the faithful slave rests on their interpretation of two scriptures – Matthew 24:45-47 and Luke 12:42-44. Both of these scriptures are Jesus’ words on the faithful slave. The organization teaches that these two scriptures found in Matthew and Luke are prophecies made by Jesus. Matthew 24:45-47 says “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom the master appointed over his domestics, to give them food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on coming finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, he will appoint him over all his belongings. Luke 12:42-44 says “And the Lord said ‘Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one whom his master will appoint over his body of attendance to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on coming finds him doing so. I tell you truthfully he will appoint him over all his belongings’”. Do any of these two scriptures sound like a prophecy? Does Jesus ever say it’s a prophecy or refer to any specific detail of how it would be fulfilled? To me, it doesn’t. Maybe to you it doesn’t either. So why do Witnesses say that it’s a prophecy? The governing body claims that because in Matthew 24:3, Jesus gets asked by his disciples about the sign of his presence. Then that must mean that from verse 4 through the end of the chapter, Jesus is foretelling the events that will happen in the future, including the appointment of a faithful and discreet slave. But we can see that this is not the correct context. Jesus does begin verse 4 by foretelling future events but he stops predicting the future in verse 31. After that, he gives an illustration of the fig leaf, reinforces the idea that nobody knows the day or the hour in which the things that he predicted will happen, and then stresses the importance of keeping on the watch. What follows this is finally his words on the faithful and discreet slave. Biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ words about the faithful slave were just a parable or an illustration and not a prophecy. It was designed to show his disciples the importance of always being on the watch and acting faithfully as if they were expecting Jesus’ return at any moment. We know this to be the case because Jesus immediately continues his illustrations in Matthew 25 with the parable of the 10 virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats, all designed to teach the same thing.

What about Luke 12:42-44? Not only is there no mention of this being a prophecy but verse 40 again reinforces the idea of being on the watch because nobody knows the day or the hour. And then in verse 41, Peter asks Jesus if he’s telling these illustrations to only his disciples or to everyone, clearly establishing that the very next verse is in fact not a prophecy but an illustration to teach the disciples about being on the watch. And it makes sense that this would have been the understanding that the disciples would have had regarding this illustration. What’s more likely? That the disciples would have understood this as an illustration on the importance of being on the watch, striving to be faithful and discreet like the slave from the parable? Or that Jesus was talking about a group of elderly men in New York city leading his disciples in the 21st century?

Nowhere in these two scriptures do we find any prophetic pattern or prophetic type with a future anti-typical fulfillment. Let’s talk briefly about types and anti-types. A type is a representation, event or prophetic pattern of something that will come to pass at some future time. The anti-type is the fulfillment of the thing that the type represents. In Watchtower’s case, the prophetic pattern left by Jesus about the faithful slave is the type and the modern day governing body filling the role of the faithful slave would be the anti-typical fulfillment. Listen to how David Splane, who is a member of the governing body, explains the organization’s view on types and antitypes. “Who is to decide if a person or an event is a type if the word of God doesn’t say anything about it? Who is qualified to do that? Our answer? We can do no better than to quote our beloved brother Albert Schroeder who said ‘we need to exercise great care when applying accounts in the Hebrew scriptures as prophetic patterns or types if these accounts are not applied in the scriptures themselves.’ In recent years, the trend in our publications has been to look for the practical application of bible events and not for types where the scriptures themselves do not clearly identify them as such. We simply cannot go beyond what is written. Where the scriptures identify them as such, we embrace them but where the bible is silent we must be silent.” The context of both scriptures found in Matthew and Luke show us that this is nothing more than a parable or illustration and the bible itself does not clearly identify it as a prophetic type.

Let’s take a look at some of the proof that Watchtower offers to show that there really is a biblical precedent for a faithful and discreet slave. We were finally able to find one article in the 1981 Watchtower titled Do you appreciate the faithful and discreet slave? and all it is is this: a list of supposed prophetic types that point to the anti-typical fulfillment of the faithful slave doctrine since the year 1919, which we can all discard because of the teaching of David Splane above.

Is there any other proof that we can look at because in the bible, Jehovah made it pretty clear who he had chosen to lead his people. We can find at least three indicators of this in the bible, the first being miracles. Jehovah used miraculous works to identify those that he chose to take the lead, like with Moses summoning the plagues on Egypt or the apostles speaking in tongues and healing the sick and especially with Jesus when he resurrected Lazarus or turned the water into wine. Has the governing body ever demonstrated the gift of miraculous works? Another indicator is prophecy. Jehovah used prophets to direct his people like Daniel’s prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar going mad for seven years or when Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. We do actually have a written record in Watchtower publication of all of their predictions for the future, like their predictions about 1914, 1925 and 1975, just to name a few. 100 percent of Watchtower’s predictions have failed. Our final indicator is consistency. All Christian religions including the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed the bible writers to be harmonious and consistent with all of their writings and teachings, free of contradictions, proving that they had Jehovah’s direction. This is absolutely not the case with the Watchtower Society’s teachings and biblical understandings constantly changing. In fact, this very teaching of the faithful and discreet slave changed at least five different times throughout Watchtower’s history beginning with the teaching that the faithful slave was the 144,000 anointed, then it was Charles Taze Russell, then it was the 144,000 again but this time with Jesus, then back again to only the 144,000 and finally settling on the faithful slave being only the governing body. There seems to be no proof or biblical precedent that Jesus spoke prophetically about the appointment of a faithful slave to lead his people at some future time.

If you notice across Watchtower publications, when talking about the doctrine of the faithful and discreet slave, they almost always go with the scripture in Matthew and very rarely mention the one in Luke. This is because the one in Matthew is the one where Jesus begins the chapter by foretelling future events and the sign of his presence and the Watchtower society needs that to be able to try and loosely connect it to prophecy. Whenever they bring up the faithful slave teaching in Matthew, they always stop at verse 47. This is because from verse 48 to the end of the chapter, it talks about an evil slave and if this whole thing actually is a prophecy, then that would mean that Jesus would have also been predicting a future appearance by an evil slave. In order to explain this away, the Society conveniently says that the evil slave isn’t meant to be taken literally; it’s more of a metaphorical warning for the faithful and discreet slave. In the information box at the bottom of the same 2013 Watchtower that we looked at earlier, it says this Jesus warned about an evil slave who concludes in his heart that the master is delaying and who starts to beat his fellow slaves. His words here are actually a warning directed to the faithful and discreet slave. Let’s assume for one moment that this whole doctrine is actually accurate. Jesus was speaking prophetically and the governing body was selected to be the faithful and discreet slave. If Jesus’ words about an evil slave were actually a warning and there exists even the slightest chance that the faithful slave can turn into the evil slave and beat his fellow slaves, shouldn’t we be even more determined to double check and scrutinize their claims to verify that what they’re telling us is true and to make sure that we’re not being fooled? Maybe the evil slave is already here and beating his fellow slaves. We’ll never know unless we start looking into it, especially if you are a believing Jehovah’s Witness and you take Jesus’s warning very seriously.