If there is one thing Jehovah’s Witnesses have emphasized over and over again about the Bible, it is the notion that Apocryphal books of the Bible are not to be read, believed or referenced. Which is why it was shocking to Jehovah’s Witnesses to find that the March 2018 Study edition of The Watchtower uses the Acts of Paul and Thecla to support the idea that Paul was bald!
For some reason, Watch Tower has deemed the subject of Paul’s hair important enough to warrant a Questions from Readers, which asks:
“Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses depict the apostle Paul as being bald or having little hair?”
After admitting that they have no idea whether Paul was follically challenged or not, and that there is no archaeological evidence on the matter, The Watchtower then proceeds to defend its artwork, beginning with a reference to a Watchtower more than 115 years old. It says:
“However, there are some indications of Paul’s appearance. For example, Zion’s Watch Tower of March 1, 1902, mentioned one, saying: “As to Paul’s personal appearance: . . . In the ‘Acts of Paul and Thecla,’ . . . written about A. D. 150, there is a description of Paul which is probably the best, and a true tradition. In this he is described as ‘small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well built, with eyebrows meeting; rather long nosed.’””
It is shocking enough that Watch Tower chose to use a reference published when my grandfather was in diapers, but incredibly they chose to use a quote of another quote, and that secondhand quote was from an apocryphal book of the Bible!
The 1902 Watchtower calls this apocryphal reference about Paul “a description of Paul which is probably the best, and a true tradition.”
Did they really say that? Did they really hang their visual concept of Paul on a description which was “probably” the best? Did they just elevate “tradition” over objective research and evidence?
As if this is not bizarre enough, this edition of The Watchtower actually takes the time to double down and locate a source which elevates this apocryphal book of the Bible to the status of “highly regarded.”
“The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1997 edition) says about that ancient writing: “It is not impossible that the ‘Acts’ contain some elements of historical truth.” The Acts of Paul and Thecla was highly regarded in early centuries, as confirmed by the fact that 80 Greek manuscripts of it exist, as well as versions in other languages. Thus, our artistic presentations are in line with some ancient indications of what the apostle looked like.”
The Watch Tower organization has a long tradition of strongly opposing apocryphal books – meaning those books or accounts which are not included in the Bible canon they use today.
As recently as 2012, The Watchtower discussed the apocryphal gospel accounts and concluded:
“A close consideration of the apocryphal gospels exposes them for what they are. Held next to the canonical Gospels, they betray a clear lack of divine inspiration. (2 Timothy 1:13) Written by people who never knew Jesus or his apostles, they reveal no hidden truths about Jesus and Christianity. Rather, they contain inaccurate, invented, fanciful accounts that are of no help in getting to know Jesus and his teachings”
– The Watchtower April 1, 2012 p.19
This harsh denunciation of apocryphal accounts was not limited to stories about the life of Jesus. Watchtower’s own encyclopedia of the bible says:
“Just as the earlier Apocryphal writings were excluded from among the accepted pre-Christian Hebrew Scriptures, so also these later Apocryphal writings were not accepted as inspired nor included as canonical in the earliest collections or catalogs of the Christian Greek Scriptures”
– Insight vol. 1 p. 125
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to read, or quote from (or believe in), apocryphal books of the Bible, yet The Watchtower March 2018 incredibly invokes just such a reference to defend their portrayal of the Apostle Paul as a bald man.
This is even more absurd when you view an episode of JW Broadcasting in which the writing department declares that they place accuracy at a premium, and would never use a questionable quotation even if it was a very good quote.
It is fascinating to me that Watch Tower would use the limited pages it has left in its rapidly shrinking number of issues to address the seemingly pressing concern over why they have depicted Paul as bald.
In light of their proclamation of impending doom at Armageddon, does it seem logical that they would address such a meaningless topic, and invoke the very “un-biblical” references they have condemned for over 100 years to do so?