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Changes to the Faithful and Discreet Slave Teaching

Watchtower has changed its interpretation regarding the parable of the "faithful and discreet slave" numerous times. It predominantly was said to refer to the 144,000. In 2012, this was changed to only include the Governing Body. This is significant, as it has been followed with ever more direct comments that the Governing Body must be followed and trusted without question.

Jesus' parable of the faithful and discreet slave appears at Matthew 24 and Luke 12.

Matthew 24:45-47 "Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to YOU, He will appoint him over all his belongings."
Luke 12:42-44 "And the Lord said: “Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on coming finds him doing so! I tell you truthfully, he will appoint him over all his belongings."

The faithful slave is a reference to Joseph, who served Potiphar faithfully whilst he was away. Jesus provided this as an example for all Christians to follow.

Watchtower interprets this differently, claiming that the Slave was prophetic of the Watchtower's Governing Body.

""The faithful and discreet slave": A small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ's presence. Today, these anointed brothers make up the Governing Body." Watchtower 2013 Jul 15 p.22

Is it apparent that the faithful slave is the Governing Body? No, as shown by Watchtower changing its understanding of the parable several times.

Originally, Russell said the Slave was an illustration of the entire body of Christ, the little flock of 144,000 heavenly rulers.

""Who then is that faithful and wise servant whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household," to give them meat in due season? Is it not that "little flock" of consecrated servants who are faithfully carrying out their consecration vows - the body of Christ - and is not the whole body individually and collectively, giving the meat in due season to the household of faith - the great company of believers?" Zion's Watch Tower 1881 Oct/Nov p.5

Later, the slave was used to refer to a single person, Pastor Russell. (This interpretation was originally suggested by Russell's wife in a letter dated 1895. See Zion's Watch Tower 1906 Jul 15 pp.215-216 for a reprint of the letter.) Russell was thought to have been appointed as the Slave to direct the domestics (Jesus true followers) immediately prior to the Second Coming.

"In our examination of this text we seem to have treated the term "that servant" as though the Spirit had erred in saying "that servant" when it meant servants (plural), and we applied it to all true servants of God. … The objection urged is that the Lord's words clearly mention and distinguish between his "household" (his faithful people in general), the "fellow-servants" (plural) , and "that servant" specially indicated as the Lord's agent in dispensing present truth as food to his "fellow-servants" and the "household." Zion's Watch Tower 1896 Mar 1 pp.47,48
"However much we might endeavor to apply this figure to the Lord's people collectively, the fact would still remain that the various items stated would not fit to a company of individuals. For instance, in the 42nd verse, in the common version it is rendered, that faithful steward; the revised version, the faithful steward; as though a particular one were meant and the term not used indefinitely for a number. Turning to the Greek text we find that the emphasis is there also and in double form--the faithful, the wise steward. ...at the time of the parable's fulfillment the Lord would appoint a servant in the household to bring these matters to the attention of all the servants, and that certain responsibilities would rest upon such a one respecting the dispatch of his duties… " Zion's Watch Tower 1904 Apr 15 p.125
"Thousands of the readers of Pastor Russell's writings believe that he filled the office of "that faithful and wise servant," and that his great work was giving to the Household of Faith meat in due season. His modesty and humility precluded him from openly claiming this title, but he admitted as much in private conversation." Watch Tower 1916 Dec 1 p.356

Russell continued to be considered the Faithful Slave after his death in 1916.

"THE WATCH TOWER unhesitatingly proclaims Brother Russell as "that faithful and wise servant." He delivered the message faithfully, finished his course and has now entered into his reward. Through him the Lord gave to the church the message that is so essential to each one who in this harvest time would win the glorious prize." Watch Tower 1917 Mar 1 p.67
"We believe that all who are now rejoicing in present truth will concede that Brother Russell faithfully filled the office of special servant of tile Lord; and that he was made ruler over all the Lord’s goods." Watch Tower 1923 Mar 1 p.68

With Russell's death, a new interpretation became necessary. In the 1917 leaflet The Parable of the Penny, Rutherford was described as the Steward, replacing Russell.

"Saith unto His steward. — Brother J. F. Rutherford, President and Manager of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society after the Pastor’s death, and elected to that office in harmony with the Pastor’s will." p.2

In 1926, Rutherford reinterpreted the Faithful Slave from a single person to a group of people. Thus the interpretation had come full circle, but this time the servant included Jesus as well as the 144,000.

"Seeing then that The Servant of Jehovah is The Christ, and that The Christ is composed of Jesus and the faithful members of his body, we find it proper to apply the term "Servant" to Jesus Christ alone or to Jesus Christ and the members of his body collectively as one; and sometimes it is applied only to the members of the body of Christ yet on earth." Watchtower 1927 Feb 15 p.53

Over time, Jesus was removed from the role of faithful servant, so once more it was just the little flock.

For many decades Watchtower taught that Jesus established the Faithful and Discreet Slave class in 33 A.D., to care spiritually for his people. This slave included all of the 144,000, and continued uninterrupted from Jesus death until the time of his return. Since 1919 the slave was awaken, cleansed and identified by their association with Watchtower, as shown in the following quotes.

"Over a period of more than 1,960 years, that work of education has continued, preparing a little flock made up of people from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" to serve with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom." Yearbook 1996 p.3
"In this regard, the book God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached stated: "As to just how the 'faithful and discreet slave' class existed and served down through the centuries after the death of the apostles of the Master Jesus Christ, we do not have a distinct historical picture. Apparently one generation of the 'slave' class fed the next succeeding generation thereof. (2 Timothy 2:2)" Watchtower 1995 May 15 p.16
"Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this parable pertains to the one true congregation of Jesus Christ's anointed followers. Beginning with Pentecost, 33 C.E., and continuing through the 19 centuries since then, this slavelike congregation has been feeding its members spiritually, doing so faithfully and discreetly. the one approved channel representing God's kingdom on earth in the "time of the end."" Watchtower 1981 Mar 1 p.24
"That "slave," according to Jesus' description, would be on hand when the Lord departed for heaven and would still be alive at the time of Christ's return. Such a description could not possibly fit an individual human. But it does fit Christ's faithful anointed congregation viewed as a whole." United in Worship of the Only True God p.119
"We understand that this heavenly calling continued down through the centuries, though during the so-called Dark Ages, there may have been times when the number of anointed ones were very few." Watchtower 1996 Aug 15 p. 31
"Down through the years the slavelike congregation has been feeding its true members faithfully and discreetly. From Pentecost, A.D. 33, up to this very present hour this has been lovingly and carefully performed. Regularly and progressively such a great crowd are receiving their spiritual food through the columns of the eighty-one-year-old instrument in the hands of the "slave" class, The Watchtower, the religious magazine with the largest circulation in the world. Surely Jehovah and Jesus Christ have supplied no hasty, expedient form of leadership for the great crowd of true worshipers. Yes, beyond doubt the old but awake "faithful and discreet slave" stands today as a wonder watchman to the peoples of the nations. Just as their Master, Jesus Christ, stood for the rise and fall of many in Israel in the first century of the Christian Era, so now before the whole world the anointed witnesses stand as a guide to survival for a minority of mankind but prove to be an occasion for stumbling into Armageddon destruction for the rest.-Luke 2:34." Watchtower 1960 Jul 15 p. 435
Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God page 183
Image source: Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God p.183

Refinements to this interpretation resulted in a convoluted doctrine, with this single Slave described as a class of people that feed the same class of people! For many decades it was taught that the slave and the domestics were both the same group of people. The 144,000 anointed ones were the slave as a whole, yet individually the same 144,000 were the domestics that as a group they rule over. The faithful and discreet slave became the 144,000 collectively. The domestics became the 144,000 individually. The 144,000 fed the 144,000. The rest of Jehovah's Witnesses and worldly people were not directly mentioned in this parable. This was explained in the following article.

"If all the anointed as a group, no matter where on earth they live, are members of the slave class, who are the "domestics"? They are the same anointed ones but considered from a different viewpoint-as individuals. Yes, as individuals they would be of the "slave" or they would be "domestics," depending on whether they were dispensing spiritual food or partaking of it. To illustrate: As recorded at 2 Peter 3:15, 16, the apostle Peter makes reference to Paul's letters. When reading them, Peter would be as one of the domestics feeding on the spiritual food provided by Paul as a representative of the slave class." Watchtower 1995 May 15 p.16

Not only was this bizarre concept unnecessarily confusing, in reality Watchtower did not operate this way. The majority of the 144,000 did not feed the sheep, as they were not involved in establishing Watchtower doctrines, rules or procedures of the organization. The Governing Body alone has a say in what is fed to the sheep. Few of the Anointed Witnesses have written any Watchtower articles or developed any doctrine or procedure. In recent times, most articles are written by members of the Other Sheep and simply authorised by the Governing Body.

"4. Those used as writers must be dedicated, baptized brothers or sisters in good standing with their local congregations and who have writing ability. They should be exemplary, modest, not inclined to talk loosely to others about their writing activity. ... 5. PREPARING MATERIAL: The subjects on which articles may be written are quite varied. Some articles will deal with spiritual matters, and these should be written by brothers." Branch Organization Manual p.24-1 Para. 4

Since its formation, the Governing Body has varied in size between seven and and eighteen anointed men. When the Watchtower said to follow the "faithful and discreet slave," the majority of Jehovah's Witnesses understood this to mean following the rules of the Governing Body, as only these members direct the Organization.

Teaching introduced 2012

From around 2009, the Watchtower openly admitted the Governing Body leaders represented the Slave, and began downplaying the importance of the rest of the Anointed. For instance, review the following quotes from the Watchtower 2009 June 15:

"However, Christians who have truly received this anointing do not demand special attention. They do not believe that their being of the anointed gives them special insights beyond what even some experienced members of the "great crowd" may have." p.23
"Today, the Governing Body represents the faithful and discreet slave class." Image p.23
"Are all these anointed ones throughout the earth part of a global network that is somehow involved in revealing new spiritual truths? No. Although as a composite body the slave class is responsible for feeding the spiritual household, not all individuals of the slave class have the same responsibilities or work assignments." p.24
"Similarly, today a limited number of anointed men have the responsibility of representing the slave class. They make up the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses." p.24

This same sentiment was expressed in 2010.

"Would all anointed Christians “shine”? In a sense, yes, for all Christians would participate in preaching, in disciple making, and in building one another up at meetings. Anointed ones would set the example. (Zech. 8:23) In addition to this, however, deep things were to be revealed during the time of the end. The very prophecy Daniel recorded was “sealed up” until that time. (Dan. 12:9) How and through whom would the spirit search into these deep things?

When the time comes to clarify a spiritual matter in our day, holy spirit helps responsible representatives of “the faithful and discreet slave” at world headquarters to discern deep truths that were not previously understood. (Matt. 24:45; 1 Cor. 2:13) The Governing Body as a whole considers adjusted explanations. (Acts 15:6) What they learn, they publish for the benefit of all." Watchtower 2010 Jul 15 pp.22,23
"The anointed and their other sheep companions recognize that by following the lead of the modern-day Governing Body, they are in fact following their Leader, Christ." Watchtower 2010 Sep 15 p.23
"He has provided direction for the anointed “domestics” and their “other sheep” companions by means of a Governing Body." Watchtower 2010 Sep 15 p.26
"As Head of the Christian congregation, Christ has used this “faithful and discreet slave” to administer His Kingdom interests on earth. He has provided direction for the anointed “domestics” and their “other sheep” companions by means of a Governing Body." Examining the Scriptures 2012 Jul 15

In 2011, it was claimed it is not even necessary to know who the Anointed are.

"A number of factors — including past religious beliefs or even mental or emotional imbalance — might cause some to assume mistakenly that they have the heavenly calling. We thus have no way of knowing the exact number of anointed ones on earth; nor do we need to know." Watchtower 2011 Aug 15 p.22

Whilst it was stated that the Governing Body direct the rest of the Anointed, it was not explained where this left the rest of the Anointed, or how they were used as part of the Slave. The concept that all Anointed are of the Slave fell apart with these indications that as a whole the Anointed are not of importance. It had become clear that only the Governing Body have any influence in "feeding the sheep" and running the organisation, and regard themselves alone as representing the Slave.

This became official at the Annual Meeting 6th Oct 2012. The information was released onto jw.org Nov 2012 and first appeared in the Watchtower 2013, July 15.

"The evidence points to the following conclusion: “The faithful and discreet slave” was appointed over Jesus’ domestics in 1919. That slave is the small, composite group of anointed brothers serving at world headquarters during Christ’s presence who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. When this group work together as the Governing Body, they act as “the faithful and discreet slave.”" jw.org (10th Nov 2012)
"In keeping with Jesus’ pattern of feeding many through the hands of a few, that slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence . Throughout the last days, the anointed brothers who make up the faithful slave have served together at headquarters. In recent decades, that slave has been closely identified with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Note, however, that the word “slave” in Jesus’ illustration is singular, indicating that this is a composite slave. The decisions of the Governing Body are thus made collectively." Watchtower 2013 Jul 15 p.22

A particular nuance with this teaching is that the Slave only represents the Governing Body when it acts collectively as a group, being described as "composite".

The 2012 Annual meeting presented the new teaching, summarised at jw.org 10th Nov 2012.

“Who Really Is the Faithful and Discreet Slave?”

Jesus was referring, not to an individual, but to a composite “slave”—a group working together as one body. Jesus said that the slave (1) is appointed to a supervisory role “over [the master’s] domestics” and (2) gives the domestics spiritual “food at the proper time.”

From 1919 on, there has always been a small group of anointed Christians at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have supervised our worldwide preaching work and have been directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. In recent years, that group has been closely identified with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The evidence points to the following conclusion: “The faithful and discreet slave” was appointed over Jesus’ domestics in 1919. That slave is the small, composite group of anointed brothers serving at world headquarters during Christ’s presence who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. When this group work together as the Governing Body, they act as “the faithful and discreet slave.”

Who Are the “Domestics”?

Jesus said that “his domestics” would receive “food at the proper time.” All genuine followers of Jesus are fed by “the faithful and discreet slave.” Therefore, all of Christ’s disciples—both individual anointed Christians and members of the “other sheep”—are “his domestics.”—John 10:16.

After the speaker explained this aspect of Jesus’ prophecy, the audience erupted in sustained applause. Several in attendance later expressed their profound gratitude that Jesus considers them among “his domestics.””

The Watchtower 2013 July 15, pages 8 and 22, went into more detail on this teaching, outlining a number of changes to the understanding of Matthew 24:45-47.

Faithful Slave
The Faithful Slave is only the Governing Body, not all the Anointed, and only when acting as a composite group.

Evil Slave
The Evil Slave can only be one of the Governing Body, if they start mistreating the brothers.

The domestics include both the anointed and the other sheep, not just the anointed. The appointment over the domestics was in 1919.

All the Belongings
The appointment over "all the belongings" is when the Governing Body arrive in heaven, and after the start of the great tribulation.

Watchtower 2013 July 15 page 22
Image source: Watchtower 2013 Jul 15 p.22

What is remarkable about this teaching is that in 1981, Watchtower described this very concept, (that only the leaders represent the Slave class), as deceptive and from objectors - an apostate teaching.

The 2012 teaching that only the Governing Body represents the Slave was described in 1981 as an apostate concept

"Witnesses of Jehovah understand that the "slave" is comprised of all anointed Christians as a group on earth at any given time during the 19 centuries since Pentecost. Accordingly, the "domestics" are these followers of Christ as individuals.

Some readers may feel that this is a rather sectarian view of matters. Or they may object to the idea that the "slave" and the "domestics" represent the same class, one as a composite body and the other as individuals. The objectors may argue that not all of Christ's anointed disciples have a share in preparing the spiritual food, so that perhaps the "slave" pictures only the leading ones, and the "domestics" those they serve in the congregation.

There is no point in trying to force an interpretation of the parable. Self-deception is of no benefit and is spiritually damaging. Therefore, we must look to the Scriptures for an understanding. In doing this, what do we find?
[ ... ]
Thus we see a clear Scriptural basis for saying that all anointed followers of Christ Jesus make up God's "servant," with Jesus as its Master." Watchtower 1981 Mar 1 pp.24-26

One must wonder, if God truly appointed the Governing Body to dispense truth since 1919, why it took them 93 years to dispense the truth about this doctrine. How can can anyone possibly believe Jesus is using these men to dispense truth, when they were actively teaching against the very doctrine about themselves they now claim is truth?

Who Does the Parable refer to?

Watchtower turns a parable into a prophecy

Jesus provided a story about a faithful slave, with the intention to invoke good behaviour in his followers. He was not prophesying about a group of leaders 2000 years in the future.

Under examination, it becomes clear this parable is a reference to the servant Joseph from Genesis, and would have been readily understood as such by those listening to Jesus.

Genesis 39:4-6 "Joseph kept finding favor in his eyes, and he became his personal attendant. So he appointed him over his house, and he put him in charge of all that was his. From the time he appointed him over his house and in charge of all that was his, Jehovah kept blessing the house of the Egyptian because of Joseph, and Jehovah’s blessing came to be on all that he had in the house and in the field. He eventually left everything that was his in Joseph’s care, and he gave no thought to anything except the food he was eating."

Joseph was servant to Potiphar and then Pharaoh. He is described through the Old and New Testaments as a faithful, discreet servant, appointed over all his Lord's belongs, and came to be in charge of supplying the rations of grain during Egypt's time of famine.

  • Servant - Genesis 39:17, 19; 41:12
  • Discreet and wise - Genesis 41:33,39 Psalm 105:21-22, 39 Acts 7:10
  • Appointed over all belongings - Genesis 39:4-5, Acts 7:10
  • Supplies grain at the appointed time - Genesis 41:53-57

The parable in Luke 12:42-46 parallels in vocabulary and story line with the story of Joseph. Potiphar was absent, during which time Joseph faithfully avoided his wife's advances, until "his master came to his house." (Genesis 39:16) Likewise the slave of Luke 12:43 is blessed when found doing the right thing when the "master on coming finds him doing so!"

As such, the parable was intended as a positive example that all could benefit from. In particular, it is aimed at congregational ministers, which is the common Christian understanding of this story.

"Some state that the "slave" refers to Christian ministers, or their office of oversight, with responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of the congregation. The 'master's' arrival is said to be either the second coming of Christ or the death of the individual minister. Thus it is held that the parable should motivate Christian ministers to care well for what is entrusted to them." Watchtower 1981 Mar 1 p.24

In Commentary on Matthew 24, Matthew Henry writes:

"Concerning the good servant; he shows here what he is-a ruler of the household; what, being so, he should be-faithful and wise; and what, if he be so, he shall be eternally-blessed. Here are good instructions and encouragements to the ministers of Christ.

First, We have here his place and office. ... The church of Christ is his household. ...
Secondly, His right discharge of this office. The good servant, if thus preferred, will be a good steward; for,
1. He is faithful; stewards must be so, 1 Co. 4:2. He that is trusted, must be trusty; and the greater the trust is, the more is expected from them. It is a great good thing that is committed to ministers (2 Tim. 1:14); and they must be faithful, as Moses was, Heb. 3:2. Christ counts those ministers, and those only, that are faithful, 1 Tim. 1:12. A faithful minister of Jesus Christ is one that sincerely designs his master's honour, not his own; delivers the whole counsel of God, not his own fancies and conceits; follows Christ's institutions and adheres to them; regards the meanest, reproves the greatest, and doth not respect persons." blueletterbible.org (9 July 2006) dead link. Also St Iakla (14 May 2016)

In line with this, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 says;

"Let a man so appraise us as being subordinates of Christ and stewards of sacred secrets of God. Besides, in this case, what is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful."

"Who really is the faithful and discreet slave ...?" This question is intended to evoke the positive moral example of Joseph in Jesus followers. It has been misused by Watchtower to establish its own authority. A parable to motivate those in authority to use their positions lovingly, has been taken to be a prophecy, and used as license for a small leadership to wield incontestable power.


The Bible states that the appointment over all the belongings is made after the master arrives.

Matthew 24:46,47 "Happy is that slave if his master on arriving (erchomai) finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings."

The master has not yet arrived, as the memorial is to cease on his arrival, and so the Slave has not been appointed over all the belongings.

1 Corinthians 11:26 "For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives (erchomai)."

To circumvent this and prematurely seize control, the Governing Body have applied a clever play on words in the 2012 doctrine. Here the Governing Body are described as taking control over the domestics (Jehovah's Witnesses) in 1919, and then "all the belongings" after the great tribulation. This elevates the exclusivity and importance of Governing Body, which is in contrast to the parable, which indicates that at this time the elders are to be shepherds of the congregation.

Watchtower uses its teaching that the Governing Body is the Slave to demand an extreme level of trust and obedience.

"Today Jehovah leads the earthly part of his organization by means of “the faithful and discreet slave.” ... We show that we trust in Jehovah’s way of doing things by heeding the direction we receive from the organization and the elders." Watchtower 2022 Feb p.4
"Some may feel that they can interpret the Bible on their own. However, Jesus has appointed the ‘faithful slave’ to be the only channel for dispensing spiritual food. Since 1919, the glorified Jesus Christ has been using that slave to help his followers understand God’s own Book and heed its directives." Watchtower 2016 Nov p.16
"That faithful slave is the channel through which Jesus is feeding his true followers in this time of the end. It is vital that we recognize the faithful slave. Our spiritual health and our relationship with God depend on this channel." Watchtower 2013 Jul 15 p.20
""The faithful and discreet slave” was appointed over Jesus’ domestics in 1919. That slave is the small, composite group of anointed brothers serving at world headquarters during Christ’s presence who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food. When this group work together as the Governing Body, they act as “the faithful and discreet slave."" jw.org 10th Nov 2012
"We need to obey the faithful and discreet slave to have Jehovah’s approval." Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 p.24 Simplified English Edition
"Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same?" Watchtower 2009 Feb 15 p.27

Changes To The Slave Doctrine Summarised

Related to the topic of the Faithful and Discreet Slave are the articles:

Further Reading

The Truth Changes - PDF by Doug Mason discussing the changes from the Watchtower 2013 July 15, and the implications. See also Spanish Version.


Written July 2006, latest update March 2023.

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2024