Special History Issue – Bible Student Beliefs
Several beliefs, while not unique to the Bible Student movement, when taken collectively, outline a doctrinal position that is distinct from mainstream Christianity. Some of these teachings are:
- Inspiration of the Bible: Bible Students are united in holding that the sacred Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are inspired and are the final authority for authentic truth. Correct doctrine is to be established in beliefs that harmonize all scriptures on each subject. No non-scriptural words may be made an article of faith.
- Creation: Bible Students believe in creation, while admitting for some evolution in the animal creation, and that man (and thence, women) are a direct creation of God, physically and mentally perfect.
- Original Sin: Believing that Adam and Eve were created perfect, the Bible Student position is that the sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden resulted in all their posterity being born under the blight of sin, imperfection, and death.
- Nature of God: The Bible Student position is neither Trinitarian nor Unitarian. While they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and possesses the nature of God, the divine nature, since his resurrection, they do not accept the position of co-eternity or co-equality between the Father and the Son. Rather than accepting the doctrine of incarnation, they hold that Jesus was wholly flesh while on earth, having divested himself of his spiritual nature. Nor do the accept the concept of the holy spirit being a person; it is the disposition or influence of God.
- Nature of Man: In distinction from inherent immortality, the Bible Student view is that man is mortal by nature, and that immortality is available only by meetings conditions of obedience. They hold that the human soul is not a distinct entity, but is the result of the union of the body and the breath, or spark, of life, and that death is the dissolution of these two elements.
- State of the Dead: Because death is the dissolution of body and breath, the soul that sins dies goes out of existence until the resurrection process begins in the future kingdom of Messiah. The Bible “hell” is the grave, and is neither a place of eternal fire or conscious separation from God.
- Virgin Birth: While Jesus was miraculously begotten by God through the holy spirit in the womb of Mary, the Bible implies that she did not remain a virgin thereafter and probably had children by Joseph after the birth of Jesus. Her nature was the same as others of the fallen race, and there is no indication of an “immaculate conception” by Mary.
- Ransom and Restitution: The main purpose of Jesus’ first advent was to provide a ransom, or substitutionary atonement for Adam, and hence the entire race descending from him. This Ransom was provided at the cross of Calvary, and is efficacious for all who have ever died. It promises resuscitation for all humanity in Christ’s 1000-year kingdom, along with the opportunity to obtain and maintain perfect human life for eternity. The ransom also provides for the rehabilitation of planet earth to perfect Edenic conditions.
- Resurrection: After Jesus Christ was crucified, he was raised to spiritual life by his Father, God, and given a divine body in the express image of God’s person.
- The Heavenly Calling: At his first advent, Jesus began calling out from mankind a special class to be his church, or bride. To these he promises a part in heaven with himself and the Father, and a kingdom role of reigning over mankind with himself for blessing all the families of the earth. Those who accept this invitation make a complete consecration or commitment to do the will of God as they see it revealed and at the cost of a surrender of the right to a life on earth. This consecration is witnessed by a baptism (complete water immersion,)
- Second Advent: As with most Christians, the expectation that Jesus Christ would return to finish the work that he began two thousand years ago is an important part of their faith. Most Bible Students share the following beliefs in the second advent:
- Object: That the object of the return is the resurrection of the dead and the establishment of a new world order of peace and righteousness, in which all sin, sorrow, and death will be eliminated.
- Manner: That Jesus returns invisibly, at first unnoticed by the world at large, though eventually manifesting that presence to all.
- Time: Though not in universal agreement, the majority of Bible Students believe that the time for his return was in the near past (1874), and that he is in process of finishing his church, evicting the old regime of the adversary, and supervising the preparation of Israel for kingdom work.
- Return of Israel: The establishment of the nation of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland is an indication of the restoration of the favor of God to that nation, and an indication of the nearness of Messiah’s kingdom. Bible Students anticipate a return of Israel to the borders promised to Abraham; and a final conflict in the Middle East, in which their ancient prophets will be resurrected and God will, through them, bring about an unprecedented miraculous deliverance, introducing the worldwide kingdom of Christ, expanding thence to a worldwide dominion of peace.
- Church Organization: The Bible Student community is organized on a strict congregational basis, with each local group totally autonomous. Each group selects its leaders (elders and deacons) by a total vote of their consecrated members, and cooperates with other congregations as determined by that local group. All expenses are paid entirely by freewill voluntary offerings with no collections of mandated costs, The ministry serves on a non-paid and voluntary basis.