Did Charles Russell Really Say To Leave The Bible Unread

The book The Chaos of Cults by Jan Karel Van Baalen states regarding Pastor Russell: ‘His boldness was so extraordinary that he calmly announced in the opening pages of his Studies in the Scriptures that it would be better to leave the Bible unread but read his comments than to omit the latter but read the Bible.’ (pages 218, 219) Did Pastor Russell really state that in Studies in the Scriptures? (question reworded)

"Questions From Readers," The Watchtower, July 1, 1957, pp. 414-5.
Copyright © 1957 Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

In view of the reputation enjoyed by the Bible Students in Pastor Russell’s day and that being enjoyed by the witnesses of Jehovah in our day for knowing their Bibles, which reputation is justly deserved, there must be something wrong with what Van Baalen says in his book. There is.

In the first place, let it be noted that the two disciples on the way to Emmaus were Bible readers and yet did not understand why God had allowed Jesus to be put to death. The scribes and Pharisees read God’s Word continually and yet failed to appreciate that Jesus was their Messiah. The Ethiopian official that Philip met was reading the prophecy of Isaiah but did not understand what he was reading. Obviously, merely reading the Bible is not enough; we need help to understand it. That is why God provided apostles, prophets, missionaries, shepherds and teachers.—Luke 24:25-27, 32; John 5:39; Acts 8:30, 31; Eph. 4:11-15, NW.

As for the statement made by Van Baalen, neither it nor anything even remotely similar ever appeared in any of the six Scripture Studies, which were written primarily for the public. But, some six years after writing his sixth volume, Pastor Russell did write, in The Watchtower, which at that time was an organization journal, something in the September 15, 1910, issue under the heading “Is the Reading of ‘Scripture Studies’ Bible Study?” Apparently it is this that Van Baalen distorted. What was written there, however, can be readily appreciated in the light of the foregoing Scriptural examples. We quote from this article as follows:

“We all know people who have spent days and weeks and years in study of the Bible and have learned little or nothing… . It is a great deal like hunting or fishing. Some people go hunting every year, and though they do a lot of hunting, it is no sure indication of how much they get. Some do a lot of fishing, but do not get many fish. Bible study is very much the same. It is not the amount of time we spend in poring over a passage, but the amount of information we secure from the Bible.

“The six volumes of Scripture Studies are not intended to supplant the Bible. There are various methods to be pursued in the study of the Bible and these aids to Bible study are in such a form that they, of themselves, contain the important elements of the Bible as well as the comments or elucidations of those Bible statements, on exactly the same principle that our Lord and the Apostles quoted from the Old Testament, and then gave elucidations of those Old Testament passages.”

Far from discrediting the Bible as the basis for one’s faith, the article goes on to say: “In reading [the Scripture Studies] the first time, and perhaps the second time, and before we would accept anything as being our own personal faith and conviction, we should say, ‘I will not take it because these studies say so; I wish to see what the Bible says.’ And so we would study the Scriptures in the light of these Scripture Studies; we would prove every point, or disprove it, as the case might be. We would be satisfied with nothing less than a thorough investigation of the Bible from this standpoint.”

And from under the heading “‘Scripture Studies’ Not a Substitute for the Bible,’ we further quote: “This is not, therefore, putting the Scripture Studies as a substitute for the Bible, because so far as substituting for the Bible, the Studies, on the contrary, continually refer to the Bible; and if one has any doubt as to a reference or if one’s recollection should lapse in any degree, one should refresh his memory, and, in fact, should see that his every thought is in harmony with the Bible—not merely in accord with the Scripture Studies, but in accord with the Bible.”

The particular point distorted by Van Baalen is as follows:

“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references, and not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.”

Obviously, if reading the Bible by itself did not give one a correct understanding of what one read, as the foregoing Scriptural examples as well as modern experience clearly show, then by one’s merely reading the Bible by the page and neglecting the aids that help one to understand it would result in his losing an understanding of what he read. And especially is this true in view of the prophetic promise that “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18, RS) And bringing this ever-increasing light to the attention of all sincere students of the Bible is the anointed Christian group that serves as the “faithful and discreet slave” of Matthew 24:45-47, NW.

Clearly then, in view of all the foregoing, Mr. Van Baalen is guilty of willfully bearing false witness against his neighbor when he claims that Pastor Russell was so bold that he ‘calmly announced in the opening pages of his Studies in the Scriptures that it would be better to leave the Bible unread but read his comments than to omit the latter but read the Bible.’

(All boldface emphasis is not original to the article.)

“Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible, or on a par with the holy Scriptures.”—C. T. Russell, Zion’s Watch Tower, December 15, 1896, page 306 reprint page 2080.

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