Who and what is a governing body? For Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are eight men currently leading all 8 million JWs on planet earth. Every lesson, every action, every update, every Watchtower magazine is approved or created by them for Witnesses. These eight right here are God’s only channel to mankind, tasked with dispensing the spiritual food, which is accurate knowledge and bible truths. Without them, you can’t understand the bible, receive eternal life nor survive Armageddon. Obedience to their direction is a must for every Witness and failure to do so is apostasy. From a Christian perspective, this whole concept is bizarre and unbiblical. Not so for Witnesses. They claim there has always been a governing body. Just look at the early church. They had a group governing the early congregation, so it’s biblical. Is there any evidence there was a governing body in the early church? What does the bible really say?
First, the phrase “governing body”. How many times does that appear in the bible? Zero. No legitimate translation has “governing body” anywhere, not even the Witness’s own translation.
If you head to their website, you’ll soon find they attach themselves mainly to Acts 15. Newly converted Jews are preaching that Christians must be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas take issue with this so they head to Jerusalem to correct them. Witnesses take this chapter and say “Men in charge, which were the governing body, issuing new directives to the congregation”. Is that right? No, they assume this is the governing body. However, read Acts 15:7 “The apostles and elders are gathered together…”. These are two entirely different groups, not one. The argument would have been “why aren’t you listening to us” rather than disagreeing on doctrine. Why didn’t they just apostatize them, saying they were being disobedient. After all, no Witness debates with a governing body member. Who is sending them here? Acts 15:3 “being sent on their way by the church…”. This is a group decision, not eight men saying “Let’s go down and demand obedience.” The final decision is even approved by the church. Acts 15:22 “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church…” The church is involved in decision making, so much for our governing body.
Now we get to the root of this issue in Acts 15. If Paul was issuing a new decree like “from now on we wear pink on Wednesdays”, you would have some room for debate if that was the case but he isn’t. It’s the Judaizers who are making the new rules where Paul is saying “No, Jesus set us free from this. Stop trying to add works.” His letter to the Galatians repeats the same trouble, warning them not to add a single work to the gospel, even circumcision. Paul isn’t making a new doctrine; he’s maintaining the message of Christ. Another part that Witnesses will latch onto is Acts 15:19 that says it was Paul’s judgment “Therefore my judgment…”. Their assumption is: a judgment is a new rule that the churches must obey. Paul isn’t making new demands and new rules; he’s simply saying scripture is pretty clear.
What about Hebrews 13:7, 17 which says “submit to your leaders”. Therefore, that’s the governing body. 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Timothy 5:17 gives a detailed list of what to look for in leaders. Notice its elders those charged with teaching and preaching, deacons, those overseeing local affairs and issues within the church. There are several leading roles (Ephesians 4:11-12) “and he gave some apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors, and some as teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.” If JW responds “the apostles were a governing body and you have to submit ultimately to them”, the bible submission was not only to apostles. 1 Corinthians 16:16 “I urge you that you be subject to such as these and everyone who helps in the work and labors.” Submit to people who aren’t the apostles but recent converts, teachers, preachers. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 “but we ask you brothers and sisters to recognize those who diligently labor among you and are in leadership over you in the Lord, and give you instruction.” There are people with you in the church you must submit to because they’re leading you and they aren’t apostles. When using Hebrews 13:7, 17 as evidence of submitting to some supreme position, it’s nonsense. Submitting within the church is just recognizing that God has put people over you to help in your walk with Christ. This does not mean you obey everything they say without question nor does it mean they control your life. Being a leader isn’t an easy position. James 3:1 warns people about becoming teachers and says they’d be judged more harshly than others. That makes sense. If you’re giving people biblical guidance, it better be true.
There is no verse that talks about a governing body or even alludes to it. Today’s governing body will attempt to point to the apostles and make the comparison. They’re not going to apply the word apostle to themselves though they certainly allude to it but instead they call the apostles the governing body claiming it’s the same thing. No, those were apostles of Christ. These men were tasked with founding the church since they were eyewitnesses of Christ, able to perform miracles, write the infallible word of God, preaching Christ resurrected and forgiveness of sins and all were brutally murdered for their faith. That’s who the apostles were, not a group of eight men in charge of all Christians that demanded absolute obedience, who dispensed new doctrines, voted in new members, claimed to be God’s only channel, talked about Jehovah and a new government on paradise earth. No such group ever existed. The Witness might say “who was in charge then?”. Jesus. 1 Corinthians 11:3, Colossians 1: 18, Ephesians 5:23. After Paul gives a list of leaders, he makes sure everyone knows who’s in charge, Christ. How does Christ guide the church? By his Spirit, the Helper who guides all into truth. Some are tasked with teaching, preaching, letting the Spirit guide them so they can guide others to salvation. All they’re meant to do is point to Christ. What you really need to know is the gospel 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 Paul only cares that you know what Christ did, his death and resurrection, his person and his work. Truly knowing Christ – this is what saves you, not a group of men, not an organization, not new light, not association with a special anointed group, it’s only by your repentance and your trust in the person and work of Christ. Eternal life comes from following him, not them.