Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com
Jehovah Witnesses. Who are those people who show up on our doorsteps? What do they believe? Let’s find out. Come with me.
A fast growing religious group is the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW). They are very dedicated, effective, and aggressive in their evangelism efforts – worldwide. This group maintains they are Christian, but their teachings bring confusion to many born again believers. Because of the confusion, I write this evaluation to determine if, indeed, their core teaching matches the core teachings of the Bible. Fair enough?
Let me put it another way. The Bible has many teachings that are not fully understood or agreed upon by Christians, but there are certain teachings that are central to Christianity. Any teachings that go contrary to these core biblical beliefs would disqualify any group claiming to be Christian. Many would call such a group a Christian cult - a group that presents itself as Christian, but in reality is not.
This paper compares several core teachings of the Bible with the teachings of JW: the doctrines examined are God, salvation, death & hell, and Jesus Christ. Bible verses I will put in italics, and are from the NASB. It is not my intent to bring judgment upon a group of people. That is not my job. My purpose here is to contrast and compare two different systems of thinking about God, salvation and the afterlife. Well, are they Christian? Let's see.
BACKGROUND AND ROOTS OF JEHOVAH WITNESSES.
According to their website, JW have works in 240 lands with a membership of over eight million in about 118 congregations. There has been enormous growth. I first wrote this evaluation about 20 years ago. At that time their worldwide membership was about four million in about 200 countries.
The JW began in the early 1870s in a Bible study by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Eventually the study spread and became known as the Millennial Dawn, then later became known as Russellites. In 1884 Russell incorporated in Pennsylvania (USA) as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Originally raised a Congregationalist, Russell balked at orthodox religion because of their doctrine of eternal, conscious punishment. He thought this doctrine to be unjust and unreasonable. Russell eventually published a series of seven books, later known as Studies in the Scriptures, in which he developed his theology. He began to publish a magazine later named The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah‘s Kingdom. In 1909 the headquarters was moved to Brooklyn, New York. It remains there today. The ofﬁcial name "Jehovah's Witnesses" was taken in 1931.
JW places great emphasis on the return of Jesus Christ and a millennial kingdom. The first problem came in 1914 in which Jesus did not return as predicted by Russell. This embarrassing experience was explained away by saying Jesus was only enthroned in heaven, but would later return to earth.
Upon Russell's death, the leadership was taken over by Joseph (Judge) Franklin Rutherford (1869-1942). Rutherford organized the JW's into its present well-oiled machine. He prophesied that the millennial reign of Christ would return in 1925. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others were to return to earth. That did not happen; consequently, since that time the JW have quit predicting dates, though they expect the return of Christ to be soon.
At Rutherford’s death, Nathan Homer Knorr (1905-1977) took leadership. He established Bible schools and with Frederick W. Franz headed a translation group which in the 1950s produced their translation of the Bible: the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. This translation modifies (twists?) verses to fit JW doctrine. The local congregations meet at Kingdom Halls, spread over the world. At Knorr’s death, Franz took over as leader.
JW have a huge printing complex. Their central plant is in New York where they have hundreds of workers in several buildings. Their two main newspapers are the Awake and Watchtower which are printed and distributed in their countries of ministry. Awake is published every other month, and is regarded as the second most widely distributed magazine in the world with 57 million copies in 103 languages per issue.
What is the most widely distributed magazine in the world? You guessed it: the Watchtower with about 59 million issues distributed bimonthly in 254 languages. In 2016, their website boasts of 890,000 unique visitors per day, and its contents is in 300 languages! The group is very aggressive in door to door evangelism, and very sincere in what they believe and do. As to their annual financial revenue, it is difficult to find. Most of the labor is volunteer, and one website suggests (unconfirmed) some US$950,000. Maybe that number is in the ballpark.
THE JEHOVAH WITNESSES DOCTRINES.
THE JW DOCTRINE OF GOD.
The Jehovah's Witness view of God is not that of the God of the Bible or of orthodox Christianity as held through the centuries. They reject the Trinity and maintain "that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine” (Let God Be True, p. 101). Let God Be True (Brooklyn: Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1946) is a major source of theology for JW, and hereafter is referred to as LGBT.
I start with Jesus Christ. They believe that Christ is not equal with the Father, but was created by God and subordinate to Him. They say Christ was simply "a“ god (LGBT, p. 33). Referring to Christ they say,
"This One was not Jehovah God, but was ‘existing in God's form.’ How so? He was a spirit person, just as ‘God is a Spirit‘; he was a mighty one, although not almighty as Jehovah God is; also he was before all others of God's creatures, for he was the ﬁrst son that Jehovah God brought forth...He was the first of Jehovah God's creations...Thus he is ranked with God's creation, being ﬁrst among them and also most beloved and most favored among them. He is not the author of the creation of God; but, after God had created him as his ﬁrst born Son, then God used him as his working Partner in the creation of all the rest of creation” (LGBT, p. 32, 33).
In addition, on their website they assert, “However, we have learned from the Bible that Jesus is not Almighty God and that there is no Scriptural basis for the Trinity doctrine.”
Jehovah Witnesses claim to worship the eternal Jehovah of the Old Testament (Exodus 6:23) and take their name from Isaiah 43:10, saying the witnesses mentioned are themselves, "You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He." The "witnesses" mentioned in this verse, however, refers to the nation of Israel, not the modem JW.
It is to be noted, in addition, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament that the Isaiah passage refers to is actually Jesus Christ (Isaiah 40:1-8 cf. Mark 1:1-3). Concerning the Holy Spirit, His Person, Deity and place in the Trinity is denied, "When a man has God's spirit upon him it means he has been authorized by God to do a certain work, whatever that work may be. So the holy spirit is the invisible active force of Almighty God which moves his servants to do his will” (LGBT, p. 108).
In summary, then, to the JW God exists only in one Person, Jehovah. The Holy Spirit is a force. He is not God nor a person. Jesus Christ is a created person, but not Deity.
THE JW DOCTRINE OF SALVATION
This group teaches a salvation by works and human effort. To be saved, faith, repentance and dedication is required. They believe that there are two groups of saved: the "anointed class" and the "other sheep." I will ﬁrst let them explain what they mean by salvation, then deﬁne their terms. The way of salvation for the anointed group is thus:
"All who by reason of faith in Jehovah God and in Christ Jesus dedicate themselves to do God's will and then faithfully carry out their dedication will be rewarded with everlasting life (Romans 6:23). However, that life will not be the same for all. The Bible plainly shows that some of these, that is, 144,000, will share in heavenly glory with Christ Jesus, while the others will enjoy the blessings of life down here on earth (Revelation 14:1,3; Micah 4:1-5), (LGBT, p. 298).
Faith means, according to the JW:
"that by the reason of Bible knowledge one has a ﬁrm assurance that God exists and that he will reward those who earnestly seek him, and that the Bible is his truth and man's sure guide. It further means to accept Jesus not only as a Teacher and Example but also as one’s Ransomer. Such faith causes one to be converted or turned, to change his course of action” (LGBT, 295, 296).
Repentance and faith means to "give up one's selﬁsh course and dedicate oneself to do God's will, just as Jesus did” (LGBT, 296). Dedication is,
"the act of a person in setting himself apart by solemn agreement, unreservedly and unconditionally, to do the will of Jehovah God through Christ Jesus, as that will is set forth in the Bible, being made plain by God's holy spirit. It means one must live a holy life, separate from this world, and serve God henceforth to eternity” (Make Sure of all Things, Brooklyn: Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1953, p. 91) (MST).
Again, "before such members of Christ's body can receive their heavenly inheritance they must be set apart more and more from this world to the holy service of Jehovah God, demonstrating their dependability by carrying out their dedication faithfully until death” (LGBT, p. 301).
Faith, repentance and dedication is also needed for the "other sheep" who will populate the new millennium. The millennium is a future time of one thousand years when there will be paradise on earth. At the end of the millennium they will be justiﬁed, based on their true, unbreakable, steadfast obedience. These other sheep will be given new bodies during the millennium and the faithful will resist Satan's last attempt to tempt them away from God. These justified other sheep will then be worthy of everlasting life in the earthly paradise (see Anthony A. Heokema, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963, pp. 75, 76).
The JW website defines salvation as, “Deliverance from sin and death is possible through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. (Matthew 20:28; Acts 4:12). To benefit from that sacrifice, people must not only exercise faith in Jesus but also change their course of life and get baptized.”
In another place we read, “To get one's name written in that book of life will depend on one's works, whether they are in fulfillment of God's will and approved by his Judge and King." (Watchtower, August 15, 1972).
THE JW DOCTRINE OF DEATH AND HELL.
To the JW, death means the loss of life. They believe the soul is mortal, not immortal. Death means the termination of existence, the complete cessation of conscious, intellectual or physical activity.
Hell simply means "mankind's common grave or the pit of burial" (LGBT, 89). Hell is not a place of torment. Gehenna is the ﬁnal state of destruction (annihilation) that the Devil, his demons and all people who oppose Jehovah's theocratic government will end their existence by being annihilated at the end of Christ's millennial reign. From this existence there is no recovery. Hell (either OT Sheol or NT Hades) simply means death or the grave “the condition where humans, good and bad, go and rest in hope of a resurrection under God's kingdom” (LGBT, p. 99).
This explanation is confusing, because how can one be annihilated or become nonexistent and later be resurrected to life? This confusion is also seen from the JW website,
“People who die pass out of existence. (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). They do not suffer in a fiery hell of torment. God will bring billions back from death by means of a resurrection. (Acts 24:15). However, those who refuse to learn God’s ways after being raised to life will be destroyed forever with no hope of a resurrection.—Revelation 20:14, 15.”
Of note, to the JW, there is a second chance to be saved after death comes in this life. This second chance comes after the resurrection, and is again based on the dedication and good works of the individual. The problem is, however, how dedicated must one be, or how much does one need to learn to earn salvation? Another frightful consideration is this: if I must earn salvation by works, then can I lose my salvation if I ever attain to salvation? What would I need to do to lose my salvation? That is a scary thought.
To summarize the JW s doctrine of death and hell, or what happens after this life, there are four eventual destines for all people.
1. Some people will remain in the state of nonexistence into which they enter at death.
2. Some people will be resurrected with a spirit body, receive immortality, then go to heaven to be with Christ.
3. Some people will be raised with a physical body, live through the millennium, then gain everlasting life on the renewed earth - providing they pass the tests of the millennium!
4. Some people will be resurrected with a physical body, live through the millennium, fail the tests and eventually be annihilated (Adapted from Heokema, p. 88).
BIBLICAL EVALUATION OF JW DOCTRINE.
I have pointed out several key, but very important, doctrines of the JW: God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and our final destinies. These are critical, because they determine where you and I will spend eternity. It is now time to evaluate the Jehovah Witnesses teachings from the standpoint of the Bible and teaching of the historic, orthodox Christian church. I start with the Bible.
SOURCE FOR FINAL AUTHORITY
The JW claim to use the Bible as a ﬁnal source of authority. In Let God Be True, a major book on JW doctrine, it states the following:
"We shall let God be found true by turning our readers to his imperishable written Word. Knowing that God by his holy spirit inspired the Holy Scriptures, thus making them reliable...To let God be found true means to let God have the say as to what is the truth that sets men free. It means to accept his Word, the Bible, as the truth. Hence, in this book our appeal is to the Bible for truth. Our obligation is to back up what is said herein by quotations from the Bible for proof of truthfulness and reliability” (LGBT, pp. 18, 19).
The problem, however, is the JW do not subject themselves to the Book they claim to be the basis of their faith. The force their own theology upon the Bible and twist the Word to fit their theology. How clever. They have retranslated the Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Their translation of the Bible is not objective, is rejected by biblical scholarship, and smuggles their theology into its pages. In other words, they change the Bible, then use it as a final source of authority. I offer several examples.
1. They deny the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, saying He is "the invisible active force of Almighty God which moves his servants to do his will” (LGBT, p. 108). They deny the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person (John 16:7-I5), He is God (Acts 5:3, 4), and That He is a member of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). The Holy Spirit is not merely a "force." Their teaching on the Holy Spirit pervades their translation. They do not capitalize Holy Spirit indicating Deity.
2. Another example is their method of interpretation. The JW select verses which seem to support their doctrine, yet ignore those verses which disprove their doctrine. One example will show how this crafty strategy works. The JW reject the Deity of Christ. However, in John 10:30 Jesus states “I and the Father are one.” The JW interpretation of this verse states that Jesus meant they were "one in agreement, purpose and organization” (LGBT, p. 104).
They deliberately ignore, however, the following verses in which the Jews understood Jesus to mean: "and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God" (John 10:33). The people who listened to Jesus understood Him to make a claim of full equality with God. They even accused Jesus of blasphemy, and used this confession as grounds to murder Jesus.
3. A third type of evidence is the fact that JW insist that their adherents understand the Bible only as interpreted by the leaders of the Watchtower Society. They, in effect, say to their members they must believe the Bible as they say or they will be expelled and suffer everlasting destruction. The JW claim to be the only organization who can correctly interpret the Bible. (LGBT, pp. 199, 200, see Heokema, pp. 25-44 for an extensive analysis). They become just like any other bogus religion which claims to have revelation from God separate from the Bible.
From their literature we read, "...the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible...the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah's visible organization in mind" (Watchtower, October 1, 1997, p. 587). It is beginning to look like there are major differences between JW and biblical Christianity. Let’s move on.
THE DOCTRINE OF GOD.
Chief to be considered here is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which they deny - calling it a doctrine of Satan. The Bible teaches that there are three Persons, who co-eternally and co-equally share fully in one nature. There is one God, not many. There is not one God who acts in three different capacities. There is not one God and three gods, thus being a contradiction (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28: 19; Mark 1:10, 11; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1, 2).
The Trinity is not a contradiction, but a complexity. Big difference.
Christians did not invent the doctrine of the Trinity, but simply and faithfully present what the Bible says, even though humans cannot fully understand it. Just because we cannot understand something does not mean it doesn’t exist. Let me give an example. Question: do you think a dog could fully explain and understand all the logistics and operations of the Los Angeles International Airport? Could he be taught? The answer is obvious. All the dog would do is wag its tail and lick your hand. A dog does not have the capacity to understand such complexities. Further, just because the dog cannot understand the airport does not mean it does not exist.
In the same way, we humans do not have the capacity to fully understand God whose person is eternal, all powerful, and who is the source of life itself – He is of utmost, ultimate complexity. He planned, created, sustains, and governs the entire universe. We can look at the sky and count some of the stars, but we cannot understand the why, what, and how of the universe. We do, however, have the ability to understand some things. We can rationally read the texts regarding the Trinity, understand what they say, organize and state the data, and yet come up short in a full understanding. The created is never equal to the creator.
I have demonstrated that the Father is God and we have shown that the Holy Spirit is God, and that the Trinity is a sound biblical truth. Next is the documentation of the Deity of Jesus Christ.
THE DOCTRINE OF JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus Christ is fully God as well as being fully man. His enemies understood Jesus to claim Deity (John 10:33). His friends claimed He was God, a designation He did not deny and in which He even accepted worship from Thomas (John 20:28.29). This is remarkable as only God is to accept worship (Revelation 22:9). Jesus Christ possessed attributes of Deity (Philippians 3:21; Matthew 18:20; John 1:48; 18:4; Hebrews 13:8 John 1:4; 14:6, 8:58, etc.).
Jesus accomplished the works of Deity: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16, 17). Note the logic here. Since Jesus created "all" things, and since He cannot create Himself, then He has to be God.
The thinking goes as follows.
1. Christ created all created things.
2. Christ existed before all created things.
3. A being cannot create Himself.
4. Since Christ cannot be a created being.
5. Therefore, Christ must be God Almighty the Creator of all things.
One ﬁnal example, though there are many more, is found in Titus 2:13 where it speaks of the "glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Cf. 2 Peter 1:1). The New Testament was written in the Greek language, which follows very precise rules of grammar. One rule is the Granville Sharp rule. I give the definition below. One thing to note is that the Greek word “kai” means “and” in English. The article “o” means “the.”
"When the copulative kai connects two nouns of the same case, if the article o or any of its cases precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the ﬁrst noun or participle; i.e., it denotes a farther description of the ﬁrst-named person” (H.E. Dana, Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto: The Macmillian Company, 1955, p. 147).
Applied to this case, then, the literal Greek of Titus 2: 13 looks like this: "the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ." The 2 Peter 1:1 phrase reads: "The God (of us) and Saviour Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ, according to the Granville Sharp rule, is both our Saviour and God. Since there can only be one God, then Jesus is that One.
Finally, you can easily see from the book of Revelation that Christ is God. I must string three verses together for this documentation of the Deity of Christ. Here they are. They are powerful!
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Revelation 1:8).
"Do not be afraid; I am the ﬁrst and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of death and of Hades" (Revelation 1:18).
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the ﬁrst and the last, the beginning and the end…I, Jesus, have sent My angel" (Revelation 22:13, 16).
From this eye popping data you can see that Jesus is the Eternal, Self-existent One who has authority over sin, death, heaven and hell, the Almighty One and the Lord God. I cannot make it much plainer, Jesus Christ is God Almighty - Deity. At the same time, which I have not developed here, Jesus Christ is also fully human. One must be extremely careful when identifying who Jesus Christ is.
After this brief examination of the major doctrines of the JW, I can now summarize the very serious faults with the system. Again, it is not my intent to bring judgment upon a group of people. That is not my job. My purpose here is to contrast and compare two different systems of thinking about God, salvation and the afterlife.
1. Though JW claim the Bible as their authority, in reality it is not. Their authority is that of their leaders and a scrambled mess of their bible.
2. Their God is not the God of the Bible, but a false god, a god of their own invention. In the final analysis, that god does not exist.
3. They do not worship the Jesus of the Bible, but even deny His Deity.
4. Their doctrine of heaven, hell and the afterlife is false in that it does not match the Bible.
5. Their salvation is one of works and is not the salvation of the Bible.
6. The JW s fail on the critical tests of true religion: the Person and work of Jesus Christ and the source of sole authority - the Bible.
In this paper I have contrasted and compared the systems of the Jehovah Witnesses with that of the Bible, and the core doctrines of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. I examined the doctrines of God, salvation, heaven and hell, and the Bible. I first asked you the question: are the Jehovah Witnesses Christian? After this exercise, what do you think?
As for me, if I bought into the theology of that group, I know I would go to hell. Why? Because I am absolutely certain I cannot follow perfectly the Ten Commandments. Why would I throw away certain salvation by faith alone through Jesus Christ alone to embrace a teaching that would lead me to a definite and real hell? I won’t.
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