An critique of the Jehovah's Witnesses - a Christian sectIntroduction
Like the Morman's, Jehovah's Witnesses are a group we regularly come in contact with. They knock at our doors, giving out pamphlets, selling "Awake" or "Watchtower", and usually putting us on the spot about our faith. Their seemingly deep understanding of the scriptures and probing questions on such Christian doctrines as the trinity, leaves most Christians floored. Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses, what do they believe, and how should we handle them when they call?
Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) was the founder of the organization. He was brought up in the Congregational Church, but as a young man was strongly influenced by Seventh Day Adventism, especially on the second coming. He led a number of Bible studies and slowly developed an individualistic theology. In 1876 he was elected "Pastor" by his Bible study group, and in 1879 began publishing his views in a semi-monthly magazine called "Zion's Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence". In 1884 his group, called the "Millennial Dawn", was established as "Zion's Watchtower Tract Society", and in 1896 renamed "The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society". In 1908 the headquarters were moved to Brooklyn, New York.
Russell was a prolific writer and so was able to unify the group through his publications. Able administration and a powerful preaching ability solidified his control. His later years were taken up in teaching and preaching tours.
Between 1886 and 1917, Russell published the seven volumes of his "Studies in the Scripture". Russell claimed that these books contained the essence of the Bible to such an extent that no one could understand the Bible without them.
His life-style brought him into disrepute, so much so that many Jehovah's Witnesses disowned him. His wife divorced him on the grounds of adultery, conceit, egotism and domination in 1913. He was also taken to court for fraud and perjured himself when he claimed to be able to read Greek. Many of his teachings were quietly forgotten after his death, eg. his view that the measurements of the Pyramids determined future events, including the return of Jesus. He died in 1917.
Judge Rutherford, a trial lawyer, and legal advisor to the Watch Tower Society, was elected the new President. He was a prolific writer producing over 100 books and so again, by this means, unified the group, although he made few public appearances. In 1929 he put an end to Russell's speculations by condemning any attempt to find God's will outside of the Bible. In 1931 he moved to stamp out the name "Russellites" by adopting the name "Jehovah's Witnesses", Isaiah 43:10. Rutherford's presidency was marked by dynamic leadership and a growing hostility toward the Christian church. He died in 1942 at the age of 72.
Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr. He was again an able administrator, but was not of the calibre of the previous presidents. He emphasized teaching and evangelism and was responsible for the dynamic growth of J.W's. after the 2nd. World War. Under his presidency a mass of new publications left the Watchtower presses, but now they were anonymous. He tended to ignore the works of Russell and Rutherford. A new translation of the Bible, supporting Watchtower views, was published. It was called "The New World Translation".
Knorr died in 1977 and was succeeded by Frederick W. Franz.
It is difficult to assess the number of J.W's. at the moment. In 1977 there were some 2,250,000, but following the failure of the expected return of Jesus, the numbers have fallen below 2,000,000.
Central control comes from the Board of Directors in Brooklyn U.S.A. The Australian headquarters are in Strathfield N.S.W. Australia is divided into "Circuits" which contain a number of congregations. Congregations meet on Sundays at their local "Kingdom Hall".
Every J.W. is expected to be involved in the life of the congregation. This includes Sunday Services and study sessions, weekly meetings and witnessing. Every member is to witness (visit homes) 10 hours per week and give out at least 12 copies of the "Watchtower" etc. A "Pioneer" or part-time worker must witness 100 hours and a "Special Pioneer" 140 hours.
Possible new members are usually contacted by house-to-house visiting. Those that respond are involved in a "Home Bible Study" led by a witness. The person contacted is then invited to the "Kingdom Hall" for further study. Membership is finally gained to "God's Organization" through baptism by immersion. Deeper studies can be gained later at a training college.
The New World translation of the Bible
There is no list of accredited scholars to support the claim that the New World translation is an accurate translation of the scriptures. In fact, Greek and Hebrew scholars class it as a poor attempt to manipulate the Bible to suit J.W. teachings, eg. mistranslations, John 1:1 etc. They are very big on the word "Jehovah" for the name for God, yet it is not in New Testament Greek, while in the Old Testament, God's name is Yahweh (YHWH). They will often translate "it" for Holy Spirit. They will often add words - Col. 1:16 (other) etc.
The basic error of the sect
It was Russell's belief that the basis of theology was reason. Anything that could not be understood by the human intellect was clearly not God's truth for us. Absurdity is of Satan, eg. "Any trying to reason out the trinity teachings leads to confusion of mind." If we can't understand it, if it is confusing, then it's not true." This is a tragic error. J.W's forget God's words: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts", Isaiah 55:9.
Having determined a set of logical beliefs, their theologians then interpret the Bible from this stance. This interpretation, disseminated by the Watchtower Society, is regarded as God's communication to his people and must be accepted as such. "People cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself" (Russell). Failure to accept what is published, results in disfellowshipping or excommunication.
Jesus has existed in three different and separate states.
i] He was the first creation of God (only begotten Son) known as Michael the Archangel, and also the Logos or word, ie. the one who speaks for God (Jehovah). He was the agent through whom God created the universe. He is a god, ie. a great one, but not the God. He was a spiritual being.
ii] He gave up his spiritual existence and his remaining "life force", and entered the virgin Mary. He was born only as a human being. He lived a perfect life and proved himself as God's chief witness of the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He died on the cross and was blotted out. "The Man Jesus is dead forever."
iii] God "recreated" him into his former spiritual state, but now as a divine immortal spirit. He materialized a body like the man Jesus to show the disciples that he had risen (although the man Jesus was still actually dead; body, soul and spirit). He ascended to heaven and was with God for 1900 years till 1914 when he returned invisibly.
So in summary:
(a) J.W's try to portray a continuity between the three stages of Christ's existence, although it is difficult to demonstrate a continuity in their teachings. The one who died on the cross was not the one who was the agent of creation, nor the one whom God raised (re-created) from the dead.
(b) Christ is not God (Jehovah); on earth he was a mere man, in heaven a created angel.
God is known by his name as redeemer - Jehovah. He is a God of justice, power, wisdom, and love. He is spirit. He has always existed and will always exist. He is all-knowing, all-powerful and creator. He is one.
J.W's reject the Christian view of the trinity - one God in three persons. There is one God and he is Jehovah. Jesus is Michael and the Holy Spirit is God's invisible active force. J.W's describe the trinity as "Three Gods in one", ie. a polytheism which originated in ancient Egypt and Babylon. They claim Christians teach that "God is a three-headed God".
The work of the earthly man Jesus is two-fold.
i] To vindicate Jehovah's name. Satan challenged God to find someone who could remain faithful to God until death. God gave this job to Michael the Archangel (Christ). By remaining faithful through his life Jesus was able to establish God's Kingdom.
ii] He came to sacrifice his life so as to remove the effects of Adam's sins and so make it possible for us to work for our salvation, ie. be loyal and faithful to Jehovah:
Salvation is achieved by the following:
a] Accept and believe the message of God's Kingdom.
b] Proclaim the Kingdom to show that you believe in it.
c] Remain loyal to Jehovah.
During your life.
During the Millennium.
During the testing after your recreation.
Only by this means can a person hope to gain Eternal Life.
Those who are saved are divided into two groups:
i] Anointed Class. 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses who, because of their faithfulness on earth, are chosen to spend eternity in heaven (Kingdom of God). Only this group is "born again."
ii] Other Sheep, or Great Crowd. J.W's, not good enough to get into the anointed class, will be resurrected at the beginning of the millennium and spend their time teaching others about Christ. If they are faithful to the end they will enter paradise on earth.
The plan outlined:
i] From his recreation to 1914, Jesus has existed in heaven with Jehovah.
ii] In 1914 Satan and his demons were banished from heaven and took up residence on earth. Jesus' second coming took place, but was an invisible one.
iii] In 1914 The Kingdom of God was established in power and Christ was enthroned in the heavens as its king. It is a heavenly organization and its members are Christ the king and the 144,000 associate kings who will be selected from faithful J.W's, resurrected (recreated) and given spirit bodies.
iv] The 1st Resurrection of 144,000 who will rule with Christ forever in heaven - the Kingdom of God.
v] The 2nd Resurrection of the rest of the J.W.'s will take place at the beginning of the millennium. This is a period of 1,000 years when God will separate the faithful from the unfaithful. During this period Christ and the 144,000 will rule those who live on the earth.
vi] The 3rd Resurrection of those who would have been faithful if they had known the truth, will take place during the millennium.
vii] The Armageddon. The great last battle when evil and the unfaithful will be totally annihilated.
viii] Paradise. An eternal paradise on earth for the faithful ruled by Christ and the 144,000 from heaven.
Speculation, date-fixing and numerous failures mark J.W teachings.
5. Other teachings
i] No blood transfusions based on the command not to eat blood, Lev.3:17 etc.
ii] No allegiance to one's country.
A Christian assessment
Jehovah's Witnesses fail to allow the Bible to speak for itself, but rather use it to support a predetermined doctrinal position. They fail to understand and accept the following Bible truths:
i] Jesus is true God as well as true man, cf. John 5:18, 6:5,35, 7:37, 8:58, 14:1, 13-14, 28, 19:30, 20:31, etc.
ii] It is the same Jesus who was before all things, died on the cross, and now rules in glory, Phil.2:5-8, John 17:5, Col.1:19, 2:9, John 5:18, Rev.1:17-18, Heb.13:8 etc.
iii] Jesus and Jehovah are one. They hold the same titles, Heb.1:5, 10; receive the same worship, Heb.1:6, Phil.2:9-11; have the same qualities, Acts 3:4, 1 John 2:1, John 8:12 etc.; do the same works, Heb.1:10, Titus 2:13-14 ...
iv] Jesus rose bodily on the third day, Luke 24:39, John 2:19-22.
v] God is one in three persons. (The doctrine of the trinity), ie. the Bible teaches that:
there is one true God; Deut.6:4.
the Father is that one true God, Gal.1:1.
Jesus Christ is that one true God, Acts 5:3-4,
and the Holy Spirit is that one true God, John 1:1, 10:30.
vi] Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, Acts 16:31, John 3:16.
vii] Jesus gave his life as a ransom for all, not just Adam, 2 Cor.5:15, 1 Tim.2:6.
viii] Salvation is a present reality, John 5:24, 1 John 5:13.
ix] We are saved by faith alone, not faith plus good works, Eph.2:8-9, 1 John 1:7.
x] We must be born again to enter into God's presence. New birth is not just for some special group of God's children, John 3:3.
xi] A countless number of followers of Jesus will be in heaven, Rev.7:9, 14:1-4. The 144,000 are the first fruits of the total number of believers, Rev.7:4, 14:4.
xii] There is only one class of Christian, not two, Luke 12:32, John 10:16, 28, Rev.7:9-10.
Speaking of Christ with a Jehovah's Witness
It is very difficult to speak with J.W's for the following reasons:
i] They know their material and we don't know ours.
ii] Although their beliefs are quite un-Christian they use the same terms that we use, but with totally different meanings. eg: Resurrection - a restoration to life of the non-existent dead, a recreation.
iii] They use the Bible as a source of proof texts to support their position. They leapfrog about in the scriptures and if you come up with a challenging verse they simply cancel it out with another one.
iv] Their use of the New World Translation of the Bible is most frustrating. Key Biblical passages have been tampered with to support J.W. teachings.
v] They are extremely dogmatic. They can't allow a chink in their armour, otherwise it will affect their salvation.
When speaking with a Jehovah's Witness the following are useful pointers:
i] Be friendly and not argumentative.
ii] Witness to your personal faith in Jesus Christ and how through Jesus you have come into a personal relationship with God as Father and are looking forward to meeting him face-to-face.
iii] In any discussion, concentrate on the basic issue of Jesus' deity. Study it up now, listing out what the Bible has to say. Use your notes in the discussion.
iv] Be able to handle their strong proof texts, eg:
John 1:1 - Jesus "a God" - Gk.="God". Substitute "a God" for "Word" in the rest of John 1, eg.1:3 "All things made through a God" - a creature, see Heb.3:4, Isaiah 44:24.
Colossians 1:15 - Jesus the first created - rather Jesus first in rank, position, privilege. Compare Gen.41:51-52 and Jer.31:9. especially v16.
Revelation 3:14 - Jesus the beginning of God's creation, ie. the first creation of Jehovah - Gk. "arche" = Origin, active cause. Therefore Jesus is the originator of all creation = God.
Romans 8:1 - "now" is dropped in N.W.T., ie. Salvation not now. Gk. "nun" = now.
Col.1:16-17, 2:9, John 8:58, "I have been" instead of "I am" - Gk. "eimi" = I am.
v] Get off the defensive by asking questions eg.
When Jesus rose from the dead who rose?
Jesus is called "first and last" in Rev.1:17 and Jehovah is spoken of as "first and last" in Isaiah 44:6. How can there be two?
Always remember, many a Jehovah's Witness has been brought to a saving faith in Jesus by the faithful and loving witness of a Christian believer. Be warm, be gentle.
Index of studies. Resource file.
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons