Bethel – House of God or Symbol of Apostasy?

I had noticed for a while that someone had the following in his signature on talk.religion.misc:

Bethel: a symbol of rank apostacy from true worship Insight, Vol I

That, along with an article in the March 1995 Our Kingdom Ministry entitled “Bethel Service – More Volunteers Needed” that was covered in the weekly Service Meeting got me to doing some research. In this first article I will quote from the article in the Kingdom Ministry, and then I will share some of the research from the Insight book and from the Bible regarding the historical background of the place called Bethel. After relating the story of Jacob’s ladder, and explaining how Bethel means “house of God”, the KM said:

March 1995 Kingdom Ministry “Bethel Service – More Volunteers Needed” Thus, the name Bethel has a rich historical background and is appropriate for the world headquarters of Jehovah’s people. Today God’s servants do not have divinely inspired dreams. Angels are not seen ascending and descending on a ladder from Bethel to heaven. Brothers are not receiving visions or hearing God’s voice directly. Yet, when you consider all that has happened at Bethel these past 85 years, from the time of Brother Russell till now, there is no doubt that Jehovah’s hand has been with his anointed servants, part of the spiritual seed of Abraham, at Bethel. So many outstanding events in the history of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses are closely associated with Bethel!

Consider some highlights:

On October 2, 1914, as he entered the Bethel dining room, Brother Russell accurately announced: “The Gentile Times have ended; their kings have had their day.”

In the early morning hours one day in 1931, shortly before the convention in Columbus, Ohio, the president of the Society, Brother Rutherford, discerned that the name Jehovah’s Witnesses truly described God’s people and the work they were already doing and that they should be identified as His witnesses. – yb 75 p. 151

In the early 1920’s, during the morning worship, a member of the Society’s editorial staff used the expression “God’s organization.” This so stimulated their thinking that by 1925 the brothers had come to see that there are to distinct and opposing organizations, Jehovah’s and Satan’s – w85 3/15 p. 10.

Early in 1935, questions were raised about who are the “great crowd,” or “great multitude.” (Rev. 7:9; KJ) some among those who expressed themselves at that time suggested that they were an earthly class. On May 31, 1935, at the Washington, D.C., convention, a satisfying explanation was given.

These few examples illustrate how Jehovah through his holy spirit, has given guidance and support to his faithful anointed servants at Bethel. And what about the angels? When you consider all the bitter opposition from our enemies and the difficult years when resources were scarce, there is no doubt that without angelic protection and assistance, Bethel could not have operated so remarkably all these years.1

Now that we’ve looked at what the March 1995 Our Kingdom Ministry said about Bethel, lets look at what the Insight from the Scriptures says about it:

Following the defilement of Dinah at Shechem and the act of vengeance executed by Jacob’s sons against the Shechemites, Jacob received God’s instruction to return to Bethel. After eliminating false religious articles from his household and servants, he traveled to Bethel under divine protection, built an altar there, and restated the name he had given the place earlier, calling it El-bethel, meaning “The God of Bethel.” Here Rebekah’s nursing woman Deborah died and was buried. Here, too, Jehovah confirmed the change of Jacob’s name to Israel, restating the Abrahamic promise. – Ge 35:1-16.2


Bethel was on the circuit visited by Samuel as he judged the people annually at that city as well as at Gilgal and Mizpah, and it was still viewed as a place favored for worship. (1Sa 7:16; 10:3) However, from then till the division of the kingdom (997 B.C.E.), Bethel is mentioned only in connection with King Saul’s stationing of troops in preparation for combat with the Philistines. – 1Sa 13:23

So far, so good. Bethel seems to fit the description in the KM of having a “rich historical background and is appropriate for the world headquarters of Jehovah’s people today.” Let’s go on to our next paragraph:

As a major city of the northern kingdom under Jeroboam, Bethel, once prominent as a place of revelation by the true God, now became renowned as a center of false worship. At Bethel, in the extreme S of the newly formed kingdom of Israel, and at Dan, in the extreme N thereof, Jeroboam set up the golden calves in his effort to dissuade the people of his realm from going to the temple at Jerusalem. (1Ki 12:27-29) With its own religious house and altar, a specially invented festival time, and priests selected from among the non-Levitical tribes, Bethel became a symbol of rank apostasy from true worship. (1Ki 12:31-33) Jehovah God did not delay in expressing his disapproval through a “man of the true God” sent to Bethel to pronounce judgment against the altar used in connection with calf worship. The ripping apart of this altar served as a portent, confirming the sure fulfillment of the prophet’s words. After leaving Bethel, however, this “man of the true God” allowed himself to be induced by an old prophet of Bethel to accept and act on a supposed message from an angel in violation of the direct orders from God, with disastrous consequences to himself. Slain by a lion, he was buried at Bethel in the personal burial place of the old prophet who saw in all these events the certainty of the fulfillment of Jehovah’s word and thus requested that his own body be buried at death in the same burial site.-1Ki 13:1-32.4

Hmmmm, the plot thickens! We could read all sorts of prophetic significance into this little incident. Let’s take a page from the WT and view an individual as prophically pointing forward to a class of people and pose a few obviously loaded, as well as only slightly sarcastic questions:

    1. Is there a figurative golden calf and altar today at a place called Bethel that was conveniently placed to dissuade people from worshipping God at his true temple?
    2. Is there a “man of the true God” class today that is being used by Jehovah to express his disapproval of this false worship at Bethel and is courageously pronoucing God’s impending judgement against the altar used in connection with this idolatry?
    3. Is there a danger that this “man of the true God” class could be mislead by an old false prophet of Bethel by means of a supposed “angelic” message and with disastrous consequences?


Are you beginning to get the picture? Let’s continue

Despite the prevalence of false worship there, the record shows Bethel as the location of a group of prophets in the time of Elijah and Elisha. Bethel was also the home of the group of jeering boys who mocked Elisha, this costing many of them their lives as a result of divine execution.-2Ki 2:1-3, 23, 24.5

Are there boys from Bethel today who mock the “man of the true God” class, possibly endangering their own lives?

The prophets Amos and Hosea, in the late ninth and mid-eighth centuries B.C.E., proclaimed God’s condemnation of the religious corruption centered at Bethel. Although Hosea makes direct mention of Bethel (meaning “House of God”) only when recalling God’s revelation of himself to faithful Jacob there (Ho 12:4), he evidently employs the name “Beth-aven,” meaning “House of Hurtfulness (Something Hurtful),” as applying to that city and the effect of its false religious practices. (Ho 4:15; 5:8) He warns that its calf idol served by foreign-god priests will come to be a cause for mourning to idolatrous Israel, its high places will be annihilated, and thorns and thistles will cover its altars; while the people, faced with exile in Assyria, cry out to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall over us!” (Ho 10:5-8; compare Lu 23:30; Re 6:16.)6

Could Bethel today be viewed at Beth-aven (House of Hurtfulness) due to its religious corruption and its false religious practices? Could it become a cause for mouring to its people when it is annihilated?

The prophet Amos spoke in similar vein, showing that, no matter how frequent the sacrifices offered by the people at Bethel’s altars, their pious pilgrimages to that place only constituted the commission of transgression, and warning that Jehovah’s burning anger would blaze against them inextinguishably. (Am 3:14; 4:4; 5:5, 6) Angered at this prophesying done by Amos right in Bethel, the apostate priest Amaziah accused Amos of seditious talk and ordered him to ‘go back to Judah where he came from’ and there do his prophesying: “But at Bethel you must no longer do any further prophesying, for it is the sanctuary of a king and it is the house of a kingdom.”-Am 7:10-13.7

    1. Is there an “Amos class” today that is courageously warning those worshipping at Bethel’s altars that no matter what sacrifices they offer at Bethel that it only constitutes the commission of transgression and that Jehovah’s anger will blaze against them (inextinguishably ?)
    2. Is there an “Amaziah class” of apostate priests at Bethel today who accuse the Amos class of seditous talk, kick them out of Bethel, order them not to prophesy there any longer and order them “back to Judah” (presumably Christendom) where they came from?


Finally, here are two scriptures I though appropriate to the discussion:

(Amos 4:4) “‘Come, YOU people, to Beth’el and commit transgression. At Gil’gal be frequent in committing transgression, and bring YOUR sacrifices in the morning; on the third day, YOUR tenth parts.

(Amos 5:5-6) And do not search for Beth’el, and to Gil’gal YOU must not come, and to Be’er-she’ba YOU must not pass over; because Gil’gal itself will without fail go into exile; and as regards Beth’el, it will become something uncanny. 6 Search for Jehovah, and keep living, that he may not become operative just like fire, O house of Joseph, and it may not actually devour, and Beth’el may not be with no one to extinguish [it],


  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, p. 166 []
  2. Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 1, p. 295 []
  3. Ibid, p. 296 []
  4. Ibid, p. 296 []
  5. Ibid, p. 296 []
  6. Ibid, p. 296-7 []
  7. Ibid, p. 296-7 []