JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

by Chris White

At the official Watchtower website (www.watchtower.org), there is a published lesson entitled “Who is the Devil?”  In this lesson, the Watchtower states, “If a religion teaches lies about God, it really serves the purpose of Satan. (John 8:44) People who are members of false religions may sincerely believe that they are worshiping the true God.  But they are really serving Satan.”  This statement sounds fair enough.  If groups of people are promulgating lies about God they are acting in the manner of Satan who Jesus said was the father of lies.  It is also true that many people who belong to such groups do believe they are worshiping God when in fact they are not because their beliefs and practice are inconsistent with biblical revelation.  The purpose of this article is not to denigrate the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but rather to offer some background information about them and to ask the question ‘is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach about God true?’

 The Jehovah’s Witnesses originated with a Bible teacher named Charles Taze Russell in 1870.  The group started in Pittsburgh but early on moved to Brooklyn, New York where its world headquarters remain today.  Russell and his successor J.F. Rutherford had radical Adventist leanings and told their followers that Jesus spiritually returned to earth in 1874 and would visibly return to set up his kingdom in 1914.  Subsequent date settings for the return of Jesus Christ have repeatedly proven false.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are prolific in their production and distribution of literature printed by their publishing arm The Watchtower.  Nearly 100 million of their magazines are printed in 106 languages every year.  Foundational to the mission of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is their door-to-door evangelism.  Despite the zeal by which this is carried out, the religion of the Watchtower has not been widely embraced with only 800,000 adherents in the United States.  Interestingly, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses has flourished overseas where they have a membership of just over 2 million.
 Unlike the mainstream church, The Jehovah’s Witnesses have no formal theological statement by design.  From its earliest days they have depended upon their leadership to act as their prophet from God.  This tradition continues today where the leadership of the Watchtower determines all that is taught and believed about the Bible and theology.  In light of this, most of what can be said of their belief system must be derived from their publications.  In the spirit of fairness and openness, it is recommended the reader use the link provided at the beginning of this article and visit the official Jehovah’s Witness website to check and see if these things are actually taught.

Doctrinal Positions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that differ from orthodox Christian teaching:

1.     The Importance of God’s name as Jehovah.  The JW’s instruct that God’s name has been removed and replaced in everyone’s Bibles, except theirs, with His titles of Lord or God.  The ancient Hebrew texts, however, tell a different story.  Hebrew is a consonantal language and leaves out vowels when written down.  The readers of ancient Hebrew would have supplied them as they read the scriptures aloud.  After the time of Christ, a series of markings were developed by the Jews to represent their vowel system.  But God’s name was never marked because it was considered too sacred to write in full or to say out loud[1].  When the Bible was translated into English during the 1500’s, God’s name, which in Hebrew is YHVH, was combined with the known vowels of His titles (God and Lord) to create the word “Jehovah”.  This name is a respectful creation by the early Bible translators to aid in reading and understanding the Bible.  There is no cover-up, blasphemy, or disrespect intended.  It is just the simple truth that God’s actual name is forever untranslatable to the English language.  Much is made of the Tetragrammaton [2] by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the reality of it is their position on the matter is not well founded.

2.     Jesus is not co-equal or co-eternal with God the Father.  The main emphasis of Watchtower theology is upon Jesus as a perfect created man and as the suffering servant whose life was sacrificed to redeem men from original sin.  When he died, his spirit alone was resurrected and he was given the Kingdom for his obedient work.  What is omitted is the simple fact that Jesus received worship as God (Jn. 20:28), that He already was the king of Heaven (Jn. 18:36) and that He truly existed as God and stepped down in the incarnation voluntarily to serve His mission (Phil. 2:5-10).  It is also the testimony of all four Gospels that Jesus was resurrected bodily and not merely spiritually.  Theoretically, there is probably no reason why Jesus could not be less than fully God and still able to be the redeemer of humanity for all time.  If the Father so wills, then it could certainly be so.  What is problematic with the Jehovah’s Witness view on Christ is that the scripture record more clearly points to Jesus being fully God and fully human united in one person.  Jesus, in being fully God and fully man,[3] is a unique person unparalleled in our cosmos.  It is this uniqueness that should draw our attention to Him and His incomparable ministry of redeeming us from the slavery of sin.

3.     The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force that does the work of God at His bidding.  Once again the Jehovah’s Witnesses ignore the fact that Jesus refers to the Spirit as a person and a guide who is like himself (Jn. 14,15,16) and that the writings of Paul indicate we can grieve and hinder the Holy Spirit by our disobedience (See Ephesians 4 and I Thessalonians 5).  What are we to make of the Spirit’s intercession on our behalf and searching of our hearts (Romans 8)?  The indications are far more weighted in favor that the Holy Spirit is also co-equal and co-eternal with God and is a person not a force.

4.     Though correct belief in Satan is not really essential to being a true Christian, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do hold some views that truly differ from the pale of orthodox Christianity.  While there is much agreement that Satan is a fallen angel, a liar, and a tempter of humans to disobey God, there is a fundamental disagreement as to his real purpose on our planet.  The Watchtower’s conception of the matter is that Satan challenged God’s authority to be able to create a race of people who would obey Him.  The very purpose of our redemption then is to follow God and prove Satan wrong.  The general teaching of the Bible seems to paint a different picture.  Satan is a person whom God has judged for his sinful pride and will be punished.  His involvement with humanity was because he knew we had the faculty of choice and that God dearly loves us.  If Satan could tempt us to become sinners, then it would postpone indefinitely his punishment until the plan of redemption is complete.  While this might sound a bit nuanced it does make a difference in walking with God.  A redeemed person is not proving anything to Satan; he is merely becoming a spiritually mature human as God intended for him in the first place.

5.     According to Watchtower teaching, Jesus was given the authority over the Kingdom of God in 1914.   This was something He was promised because of His sinless life and obedience but did not realize until this recent date.  Furthermore, the Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the events that followed 1914 to be confirming signs that Jesus gave in Matthew 24 that signaled the end of the age preceding His second coming.  According to the Gospels, Jesus already considered Himself a king and that His kingdom was not of this earth.  In fact many of His teachings were with regards to what this existing kingdom was like.  The kingdom of God exists in heaven and in the hearts of those who follow Christ now.  In the future  (a real fixed date that Jesus said was not disclosed to Him to share with us) this kingdom will be realized in earth time and space.  It is curious that the Watchtower selected 1914 as the dividing line of the end times.  Based on historic evidence, the 20th century has not been the worst of times.  There have been low points in every century as bad as this one.  This is not to suggest that we are not in the final days (indeed every day that passes brings us closer!), but rather that what Jesus shares in Matthew 24 about the end of time should be interpreted as general statements of what the world’s condition will be when time ends.

6.     Jehovah’s Witnesses make much about the fact that Jesus would not have died on a cross as is depicted in traditional artistry.  It is true that the original Greek text states that Jesus died on a large stake and that the cross as we know it was adapted from a symbol used in Chaldean mystery religions in the third century AD. The method of crucifixion also came from Persia and was related to pagan religion.  While this change of symbols is interesting and is a good example of how historic traditions can influence translation of languages, what is most important is to remember the subject of our faith and to worship him, King Jesus. The empty cross is a symbol of His victory but it is still He that is of prime importance.

7.     The rejection of the Trinity is another doctrine of prime importance to the Watchtower.  As they interpret it “three persons in one God”, it is idolatry.  For God has said He is one and is the only true God.  For the Church to believe in such would be polytheism.  But what is stressed by the ancient Church creeds is the unity of God expressed to us in three persons and yet they are mystically and supernaturally one.  This is literally incomprehensible to us because we have no true analogy in our reality. However, it seems a small matter for a spirit being, as God is, to exist in a form altogether different from what we can understand.

8.     The rejection of Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and holidays is an integral part of Watchtower praxis.  This is based on the fact that these holidays were pagan in their origin.  Birthdays are not celebrated because the early Christians did not celebrate them and those who did celebrate their birthdays in the scripture were rank pagans.  But scripture does not actually condone or condemn such celebrations.  It seems a wonderful legacy of the early church that they took that which was intended for evil and invaded it with Jesus Christ.  Why should true Christians ignore this or miss the opportunity of this holiday to bring attention to Jesus?  It would also seem right and good that any believer should celebrate the gift of his life from God.  

9.     The prohibition of blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses is based on a dubious interpretation of Acts 21:25 and Leviticus 17:10-16.  The Jewish law prohibited the drinking or eating of animal blood because it is a sacred symbol (and biological reality) of life.  While man was given the right to eat meat in the Noahic covenant, the blood was associated with the life of the animal and therefore could only be offered to God.  In fact it is impossible to never eat any blood for certainly not all traces of it are removed in the bleeding and cooking process.  Its prohibition most certainly was related to taking lightly that which is sacred to God and eating it.  The receiving of a blood transfusion was never in view in the giving of the law nor is receiving it intravenously eating or drinking at least in the sense that is intended in the Mosaic law.  While there might be some other ethical objections to blood transfusions, it seems hard to make a biblical argument against it.  

In conclusion:
There are many things about the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are admirable and should be considered by all Christians.  Their efforts at soul winning and commitment to living a life that is defined by their doctrinal beliefs are often greater than many orthodox Christians.  What is problematic is their system of belief.  What the Watchtower teaches differs greatly from the record of the scriptures and also the collective understanding of the Church since its earliest days.  A pattern is set forth in their doctrine of Christ that translates into a faulty pattern of discipleship.  Christ, a human, works and serves God faithfully and is given a kingdom after proving worthy.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are humans who prove their worthiness to God through their human works as well.  God offers salvation to the unworthy.  Our worthiness for heaven or salvation is non-existent.  Jesus Christ alone, because He is God, is perfect and worthy of the Kingdom of heaven.  We share in that destiny through a relationship with Him in which we are adopted through faith.  Once adopted, our faith is lived out and expressed in holy living and good works.

Based on the standards of the Watchtower teaching, because the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach others to believe things that are not true about God, then it should follow that they are serving the purposes of Satan.  True Christianity has much diversity within it, but all Christians hold the same fundamental doctrines in common.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses hold none of them to be true.  They decide their own truth through the leadership of the Watchtower.

Other Resources:
http://www.watchman.org/ A good source for understanding some of the reasons for why Jehovah’s Witnesses differ from all other Christians in their beliefs.

http://www.freeminds.org/ A site that explores some of the psychological reasons why people become Jehovah’s Witnesses in spite of the evidences presented that it is a cult group.

Special Note:
It was the intention of the author to examine primary sources for Jehovah’s Witness doctrine and analyze them in light of scripture (meaning a widely respected English translation apart from the Watchtower’s New World Translation).  The author makes no claim to have exhaustive knowledge of all Watchtower doctrine and would invite discussion, refutation, or further illumination of any assertions made in this article.  Contact him at pastors@trail.org  

[1] This practice continues today in modern Jewish literature.  When they refer to God it is frequently spelled out G-d.
[2] lit. “The four letters” referring to YHVH, the unspeakable name of God.
[3] A doctrine known as the hypostatic union in many theological studies.