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By 17. July 2022November 4th, 2022The Governing Body


David did not kill his enemy, King Saul, when he had the opportunity. But he said: “Who can lift his hand against the anointed of Jehovah and remain innocent?” These words have been misapplied to the Governing Body as meaning: Do not criticize the Governing Body who is appointed by Jehovah, but be obedient in all things.

Obedience to something or someone can be absolute or relative. The obedience of Christians to the superior authorities and to the elders in the congregation is discussed. I show that in both situations, obedience must be relative. This means that we should be obedient to the rulers of our country and to the elders in the congregation in all things, except when the rulers or the elders violate the laws of God. This is relative obedience.

In the 21st century, the reverence for the members of the Governing Body is so high among the ordinary Witnesses that they are treated almost as prophets. This is a violation of the principles that only Jehovah God and Jesus Christ deserve reverence.

The Governing Body demands absolute obedience, not just relative obedience, and those who are not obedient will be disfellowshipped.  I show that this requirement is wrong. To be sure, we should be obedient to the members of the Governing Body, because they are the leaders of the organization, but the obedience should be relative, just as in the case with the superior authorities and the elders.

Some will question whether grave errors can occur at all inside the organization of the true religion that has the backing of Jehovah. The messages to the seven congregations in Asia, written by the apostle John in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. are discussed. These were true Christian congregations, and yet grave errors arose in their midst.

Unfortunately, the members of the Governing Body are guilty of a number of grave errors that have caused harm for tens of thousands of Witnesses and have ruined many lives. That is one self-evident reason why our obedience to the Governing Body must be relative.

In a talk on decency, the Governing Body member Mark Sanderson referred to the situation when David had the opportunity to kill his enemy, King Saul. But David did not let his servant Abishai pin him to the ground with his spear. David said according to 1 Samuel 26:9 (NWT13):

However, David said to Abishai: “Do not harm him, for who can lift his hand against the anointed of Jehovah and remain innocent.”

Sanderson used this situation as an example of decency, which is fine. But in other situations, this account about David and Saul has been used in the following way: The Governing Body consists of anointed men, and they have been appointed by Jehovah as the faithful and discreet slave to give spiritual food to all Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Do not lift your hand against the anointed of Jehovah.” This means that anyone who criticizes the members of the Governing Body or ignores their demand for absolute obedience, in reality, he or she lifts the hand against the anointed of Jehovah.  Below I will show that this is a wrong view


The eight members of the Governing Body claim to be anointed by holy spirit to become heirs of God’s kingdom. This is a personal matter between them and Jehovah, and of course, I do not dispute that. However, they also claim that they have been appointed by Jehovah to be the government of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this I strongly dispute.

I refer to my book, My Beloved Religion—And The Governing Body, second edition. Chapter 2 shows that the words about “the faithful and discreet slave” have been misapplied. A detailed discussion of Matthew 24:45-47 is found in the article, “The illustration of the faithful and discreet slave and other illustrations — What the members of the Governing Body do not understand.” The words about the faithful and discreet slave do not refer to a small group of men during Christ’s presence, who should give spiritual food to other Christians. Rather, like Jesus’ other illustrations in Matthew 24 and 25, they refer to individual Christians who will ultimately turn out to be either “faithful and discreet” or “evil” when Jesus comes as the judge during the great tribulation. Chapter 3 shows that there was no ongoing, sitting governing body in the first century CE, and therefore, there is no biblical reason for a small group of men to be the government for Jehovah’s Witnesses during Christ’s presence.

Relative obedience to governments and elders

Regardless of what the Christian Greek Scriptures say about “the slave” and a governing body, the facts on the ground are that eight men constitute a government for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so the real question is: How should we view these eight men? And must we give them absolute obedience? We can get some clues for an answer by comparing Hebrew 13:17 (above) and Romans 13:1 (below). I quote from NWT13:

Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account.

Let every person be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.

The Greek word translated “be obedient” is peithō. Its basic meaning is “to persuade.” In connection with Hebrews chapter 13,  the Mounce Greek Dictionary has the following meanings: “to confide in, trust, rely on, place hope and confidence in.” And Louw and Nida’s Greek lexicon has the following meanings: “obey your leaders and submit to them.”

Those taking the lead in the Hebrew congregations were the elders, and the scripture admonishes the congregation members to be confident in these leaders and to obey them. The word translated as “be submissive” is hypeikō, and according to Louw and Nida, the meaning is “to submit to the orders or directive of someone.” The Greek word translated “be in subjection” in Romans 13:1 is hypotassō, and according to Mounce, the meaning is: “to place or arrange under; to subordinate.” Different Greek words are used in Hebrews 13:17 and Romans 13:1, but the basic ideas of “be submissive” and “be in subjection” are quite similar. So, the question is what these expressions mean.

I will start with Romans 13:1 and the “subjection to the superior authorities.” The Watchtower literature has correctly shown that the subjection of Christians to the governments of the world must be relative. They will obey the government in the country where they live in everything except when the laws of the government clearly violate the laws of God. (Acts 5:29)[1]

Can we apply this idea of relative subjection to the situation in the congregations where the members must be obedient and submissive to those who are taking the lead? Absolutely! Of course, we expect the elders in the congregations to follow the Bible and only make decisions influencing the congregation members that are based on the Bible. However, if the elders make decisions that are not based on the Bible,  or violate biblical principles, the congregation members should refuse to follow these. Absolute and blind obedience has its place in dictatorships but not in the Christian congregations.

Relative obedience to the Governing Body

The eight members of the present Governing Body function as a government for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but should the obedience to them be absolute or relative? In a worldwide organization, many decisions must be made to maintain unity and to ensure the daily operation and overall smooth functioning of the organization. For this to happen, the members must be obedient. But if any decisions of the Governing Body have no basis in the Bible, or violate biblical principles, the members of the congregations must defer to what the Bible says regarding all other situations where obedience is required, namely, “we must obey God a ruler rather than men.” Therefore, even if the “men” violating biblical principles happen to be Governing Body members, we cannot obey them in such situations. So, as in the case of the worldly authorities and those who take the lead in the congregations, the obedience of the Christians toward the Governing Body must be relative.

But how can we raise the question about relative obedience in the only religious organization whose doctrines build on the Bible? Inside the true religion, should we not expect that all the decisions made by the leaders are always based on the Bible? That would be the ideal situation, but the facts on the ground show that this ideal situation does not exist. Interestingly, this was also the case in the Christian congregations at the end of the first century CE. Ungodly ideas and practices had slipped into the congregations, and that was the reason why Jesus used the apostle John to write letters to the angels (probably, the bodies of elders) of the seven congregations in Asia in order to correct the situation. The wrong ideas and actions are seen in the quotations below, I quote from the NWT13.

To Ephesus: 2:2-6:

2 ‘I know your deeds, and your labor and endurance, and that you cannot tolerate bad men, and that you put to the test those who say they are apostles, but they are not, and you found them to be liars. 3 You are also showing endurance, and you have persevered for the sake of my name and have not grown weary. 4 Nevertheless, I hold this against you, that you have left the love you had at first.  “‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first. If you do not, I will come to you, and I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Still, you do have this in your favor: that you hate the deeds of the sect of Nic·o·laʹus, which I also hate.

To Smyrna: 2:8-10:

 ‘I know your tribulation and poverty—but you are rich—and the blasphemy by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but they are a synagogue of Satan. 10  Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.

To Pergamum 2:13-16:

13 ‘I know where you are dwelling, that is, where the throne of Satan is; and yet you keep holding fast to my name,  and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Anʹti·pas, my faithful witness,  who was killed by your side, where Satan is dwelling. 14  “‘Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, that you have there those adhering to the teaching of Baʹlaam, who taught Baʹlak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 15  In the same way, you also have those adhering to the teaching of the sect of Nic·o·laʹus. 16  So repent. If you do not, I am coming to you quickly, and I will war against them with the long sword of my mouth.

To Thyatira 2:19-25:

19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your deeds of late are more than those you did at first. 20 “‘Nevertheless, I do hold this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezʹe·bel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and misleads my slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 And I gave her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. 22  Look! I am about to throw her into a sickbed, and those committing adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23  And I will kill her children with deadly plague, so that all the congregations will know that I am the one who searches the innermost thoughts and hearts, and I will give to you individually according to your deeds. 24  “‘However, I say to the rest of you who are in Thy·a·tiʹra, all those who do not follow this teaching, those who did not get to know the so-called “deep things of Satan”: I am not putting on you any other burden. 25  Just the same, hold fast to what you have until I come.

To Sardis 3:1-5:

1 “To the angel of the congregation in Sarʹdis write: These are the things that he says who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have the name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Become watchful, and strengthen the things remaining that were ready to die, for I have not found your works fully performed before my God. 3 Therefore, continue mindful of how you have received and how you heard, and go on keeping it, and repent. Certainly unless you wake up, I will come as a thief, and you will not know at all at what hour I will come upon you. 4 “‘Nevertheless, you do have a few individuals in Sarʹdis who did not defile their garments, and they will walk with me in white ones, because they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will thus be dressed in white garments, and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life, but I will acknowledge his name before my Father and before his angels.

To Philadelphia 3:8-10:

 8 ‘I know your deeds—look! I have set before you an opened door, which no one can shut. And I know that you have a little power, and you kept my word and did not prove false to my name. 9 Look! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—look! I will make them come and bow before your feet and make them know that I have loved you. 10 Because you kept the word about my endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of test,  which is to come upon the entire inhabited earth, to put to the test those dwelling on the earth.

To Laodicea 3:15-19:

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. 16  So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. 17  Because you say, “I am rich  and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,” but you do not know that you are miserable and pitiful and poor and blind and naked,18  I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may become dressed and that the shame of your nakedness may not be exposed, and eyesalve to rub in your eyes so that you may see. 19  “‘All those for whom I have affection, I reprove and discipline. So be zealous and repent.

The main points of the seven letters are as follows:

Ephesus: The congregation had left the love it had at first.

Smyrna: The congregation had experienced tribulation and poverty. But it was spiritually rich.

Pergamum: Some in the congregation were adhering to the false teaching of Balaam and to the sectarian teaching of Nicolaus.

Thyatira: The congregation tolerated Jezebel, who claimed to be a prophetess, and who misled the congregation members to commit sexual immorality and idolatry.

Sardis: The congregation had the name of being alive, but was actually spiritually dead.

Philadelphia: The congregation had little power. Nevertheless, the members kept the words of Jesus and were faithful to his name.

Laodicea: The congregation members were lukewarm, and they were miserable and pitiful and poor and blind and naked.

The seven congregations were a part of the only true religion. Nevertheless, bad things occurred in the congregations, and those elders taking the lead did not take appropriate actions to counter what was bad. There were false teachings in the congregations; there were sects, idolatry, and even sexual immorality. Yes, all of these bad things were committed by congregation members inside of the only true religion at the end of the first century CE, while those taking the lead were complicit, or did nothing to stop it.

Then, in the second century, some elders in the Christian congregation gave themselves more power, and they became bishops. Later a clergy of priests below the bishops was created. Gradually, more and more unscriptural teachings and practices were added to the true Christian congregations until they, in time, ceased to be Christian.

If things that violated God’s laws could happen inside the true Christian congregations at the end of the first century CE, and in the second century CE, such violations of God’s law can also happen inside the true Christian congregations today. And as a matter of fact, in the 21st century, the members of the Governing Body have followed the pattern of some elders in the second century setting themselves up as “bishops.” We should remember that the congregation in Laodicea said that she was rich and did not need anything at all, and the Governing Body today in effect says the same thing. But Jesus said that those anointed ones were “miserable and pitiful and poor and blind and naked.” Most of what is happening among Jehovah’s Witnesses today is good and right. But the members of the Governing Body have given themselves unlimited power and have violated a number of biblical laws and principles, and this has caused harm and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of Witnesses.

But what about the often-used claim that because Jesus is “head” of the Christian Congregation, and everything the Governing Body does and teaches must therefore of necessity be the will of Jesus. After all, the Witness literature has argued that, as the “head of the congregation,” Jesus is in “full control” of what goes on in the organization. Of course, this is in substance true and yet at the same time misleading. This is because there is a difference between what Jesus directly causes to happen in the congregations and what he merely allows to happen as its head. Ephesians 5:22-24 helps us better understand in what sense Jesus is “head” of the congregation:

 22 Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, 23 because a husband is head of his wife just as the Christ is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. 24 In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, wives should also be to their husbands in everything.

Since Christ is head of the congregation similar to the way a husband is head of his wife, we may ask: Is a husband, because he is head of his wife, in “full control” of his wife’s actions? Or, does he instead rely on her willing subjection to him? As an illustration: A husband tells his wife that she can spend up to $100 on a dress for an upcoming special event, but in her excitement at seeing a particularly appealing one, she spends $200 for it instead. Can anyone rightly claim that since her husband is her “head,” the extra money she spent on the dress must of necessity be the will of her husband? Obviously not. Clearly, the wife, in this case, ignored her husband’s directions and went against his wishes. Her husband is still her head, scripturally speaking, but he is not in “full control” of his wife’s free will to choose either to submit to his wishes or not to submit. The examples of the mentioned seven congregations in the book of Revelation make clear that the same must be true of Christ’s headship over the congregations. The many God-dishonoring practices that Jesus condemned, and yet were going on within those congregations, clearly show that Jesus’ headship over the congregations does not mean that he fully controls and thereby sanctions what goes on in Jehovah’s organization in all cases.

I will now return to the issue of obedience. The elders in Pergamum tolerated teachings that were contrary to God’s Word, and the elders of Thyatira tolerated the “prophetess” who misled Christians to commit sexual immorality and idolatry. What should the congregation members do? They certainly should not follow the wrong leadership of their elders. But in all other situations, they should be obedient and submissive in order to keep the unity of the congregation. The elders in Sardis had fallen asleep spiritually. Did the few faithful members of the Sardis congregation blindly follow the spiritually lethargic directions of the elders? Apparently not. Notice the Governing Body’s own takeaway regarding the situation in the Sardis congregation, as quoted from the book Revelation Its Grand Climax at Hand page 57, paragraph 10:

Because of negligence on the part of a body of elders, a congregation as a whole may fall into deep spiritual sleep. Yet, some individuals therein may strive courageously to keep their Christian identity pure and unspotted and thus continue to have a good name with Jehovah.

The implications are clear; if an entire body of elders can become ‘negligent’ and can fall into a “deep spiritual sleep,” the only way congregation members can avoid suffering the same spiritual fate is not to obey the wrong directions, or imitate the bad examples, of such derelict elders.

This is a good example for us today in our relationship with the Governing Body. When we see that the Governing Body violates God’s laws and principles with laws and rules they have made up and invented, we cannot be obedient to them in these situations. But in all other matters, we should be obedient and submissive in order to support the unity of the organization. This is what relative obedience means.

We must be obedient to the members of the GB in all things, except when they make their own laws and rules that are not based on the Bible, or violate God’s laws and rules.

[1]. NWT84 and NWT13 render the Greek word hypotassō with “relative positions,” and I am not aware of any other Bible translation that uses this expression. However, this is a fine rendering. The Greek word was used in connection with a victorious army. The general stood on a platform and one group of soldiers marched past him, then another group, and a third group. And these groups had their positions relative to each other. In a similar way, one government reigned and then passed away, then another government reigned and passed away, and then a third government. All these governments had their positions relative to each other. The important point to understand is that the expression “relative positions” does not describe the relationship between the government and its subjects, as relative obedience. But the expression describes the relationship between the governments that arise and then disappear.


King Saul was appointed by Jehovah to be king over his people. Because of this, David would not kill Saul when he had the opportunity and “lift his hand against, the anointed of Jehovah.” Neither the eight members of the Governing Body nor anyone else is appointed by Jehovah to rule over his people. So there is no situation today when someone can be accused of “lifting his hand against the anointed of Jehovah.”

Christians today must show relative obedience toward the governments of the world as well as toward the elders in the congregations. This means that Christians must be obedient in all things, except when the authorities or the elders violate the laws of God.

The situation is that the eight men of the Governing Body lead the worldwide organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are not appointed by God to be leaders. But just as the elders of each congregation are the leaders of their congregations, the members of the Governing Body should be viewed as elders who lead the worldwide organization. This means that we must be obedient to the Governing Body in all things, except when they require obedience in issues that violate the laws of God.

In the seven congregations in Asia, that received letters from Jesus through the apostle John, there were a number of violations of God’s laws. In a similar way, I point out in articles on this website that the members of the Governing Body also have introduced violations of God’s laws in God’s organizations today. Therefore, we must follow the example of the sincere Christians in the seven congregations in Asia who obeyed the laws of God but who refused to participate in violations of these laws. This means that our obedience toward the members of the Governing Body must be relative and not absolute.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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