AKA The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
In this blog I want to look at the beginnings and foundations of the Jehovah’s Witness church (known solely as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society until 1931). I’ll cover some of their distinct beliefs, why it might be appealing, some of their doctrinal mishaps, and formulate a response for a Christian to better reach a Jehovah’s Witness.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society began in 1876 when a man named Charles Taze Russell was elected pastor of a Bible study group that he had been leading. Russell was a man with a lot of influence from a young age. He was only 24 years old when he became pastor. He was dedicated to the reading of the Bible. While he was the leader of this group, he had some unorthodox ideas about the Bible. He read things into the Bible that were not typically understood in the Bible. He began to come to different conclusions than was typical for Christianity.
Though very amateur in Greek and Hebrew, Russell wrote the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. This translation became the only Bible that his followers could use. He wrote it out of a claimed inspiration from the Holy Spirit. But careful studying will reveal that it was written to reconcile Russell’s opinions and unorthodox ideas with the Holy Scriptures. Today, the New World Translation has not been accepted by Christianity at large because of its lack of scholarship and clear disservice to Greek and Hebrew terms.
The New World Translation is just one of the inspired writings. The literature of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society that comes out of Brooklyn, New York, is also inspired material. In 1879, the first of these was “The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom”. From there, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society became fascinated with Armageddon, the end of the age. Their goal as evangelists was to announce the coming of Jehovah’s Kingdom- and they became a dedicated bunch.
Today there are about 7.65 million Jehovah’s Witnesses that put in 1.1 billion hours of missionary work every year. That means each member puts in an average of 180 hours of missionary work per year. That’s about a half hour everyday of their life. Here in the US there are 1.2 million Jehovah’s Witnesses. The society claims to be the fastest growing religion in the country. There is also evidence that it is growing very slowly. While new membership is increasing rapidly, so are the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses leaving the society.
Why do they come? Why do they leave? They come because it is well evangelized. Many people share their fascination with Armageddon. They have an obvious strong commitment level. There are good family values. They also have very strong Bible knowledge for the most part. So it is a comfortable place with an apparent lack of hypocrisy that is also knowledgeable. It’s hard to blame people for wanting to join something like that. Still, as is the case with the other cults, the Jehovah’s Witnesses make it very difficult to leave their society. Why they do leave will be covered in the rest of the blog.
Some of the distinct beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
1. God’s name is Jehovah, and unless you call him this you are not actually praying to God, but committing idolatry.
2. Jehovah is 1 person, not a Trinity.
3. Jesus is Michael the Archangel, a created being.
4. Jesus suffered for sins, but good works are necessary to merit salvation.
5. The holy spirit is Jehovah’s active force.
6. Only 144,000 people will go to heaven, the other saved people will live on a paradise earth.
7. There is no literal hell, but the unsaved will instead be annihilated.
8. Nobody else’s blood should enter your body.
9. Do not celebrate birthdays or holidays.
10. Any sign of patriotism is idolatry.
Surprisingly, none of these beliefs got the Jehovah’s Witnesses an as much trouble in the public eye as failed prophecies. Jehovah’s Witnesses are notorious for their false predictions concerning the end of the world. At least ten times in the last century the Watchtower has falsely predicted the coming of Armageddon. 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1984, 1994, and 2000 thus far have been predicted. They typically have a way to rationalize and spiritualize the false prophecies. Right now, 1914 is the date that they said the Lord came in a new spiritual way. It was the dawn of his kingdom. As it stands now, this 1914 generation is not supposed to die off before the end of the world.
In cults like this, the truth, reality, and honesty is not as significant as a sense of comfort, belonging, intimidation, and commitment to your group. This is why so many people continue to let themselves be duped by false doctrine and false prophecies.
What are the false doctrines? Let’s look at 5 of them: God, Jesus, the Resurrection, Salvation, and hell.
1. God: God goes by 3 names in the Old Testament: Jehovah or Yahweh, Elohim, and Adonai. He also refers to himself as “I Am”- meaning the self existent one. “Elohim” implies a compound unity. It is a plural word with singular verbs used after it. It’s like pants or the Knicks. That’s why it says in Genesis 11:7-8 “Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language[…] So the Lord scattered them”. Now notice Genesis 1:26-27- “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’… So God created man in His own image; He created them in the image of God”. According to this passage, “Our image” is the same as the image of God. “He” is also equivalent to “Our” or “Us”. God is a compound unity.
This unity in plurality is clarified when the Father is called God (Psalm 89:26), the Son is called God (Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1, John 8:58, Col. 1:15,19, Phil. 2:6, Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3-4, Rom 5:5). The Unity is seen to be a tri-unity, or trinity. God is eternally existent in 3 persons.
2. Jesus is God in flesh (John 14:9). He is eternal, uncreated (Rev 1:17). John 1:1 implies that Jesus is coeternal with the Father. It also calls Jesus God, not “a god” as the New World Translation mistranslates (no Greek scholar considers “a god” to be a correct translation). Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58) He used the name for God from Exodus 3:14.
No man has seen God at any time (John 1:18, 6:46, 1 John 4:12) nor can He be seen (1 Tim. 6:16), yet certain people in the Old Testament talk face to face with God (Genesis 32:30, Judges 6:22, 13:22). How does this work? John 1: 18 says “No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son- the One who is at the Father’s side- He has revealed Him.” Jesus said that no one has seen the Father (John 6:46). Therefore, any face to face encounter with God is an encounter with the Son.
3. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that the literal physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, but that he only rose spiritually. This would mean there is nothing superior or unique to his resurrection compared to a typical human resurrection. It is apparent when you read the end of the Gospels that Jesus rose physically. He ate fish (Luke 24:42). He had Thomas put his hands in his wounds (John 20: 27) . He even said that he’s not a spirit after he rose from the dead (Luke 24:39). Furthermore, the tomb was and is empty… physically.
4. Salvation, biblically speaking, is by the grace of God through a person’s faith (Eph. 2:8). Redemption was completely purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus (Eph. 1:7, John 19:30- “It is finished”). Works of the law do not contribute at all to salvation (Gal. 3:10-11). Jehovah’s Witnesses are misguided and even fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4) in thinking that their works of the law merit salvation for them.
5. Hell is a place of eternal torment for people that reject Jesus. David, 1000 years before Christ, knew of a place of eternal punishment (Psalm 81:15). Jesus said it is better to enter eternal life with lost limbs then to have all your limbs and be thrown into Hell (Matt. 5:30) where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12, 13:42). Hell (the lake of fire) is prepared for Satan and demons (Matt. 25:41, Rev. 20:10). The smoke of their torment goes up forever (Rev. 14:11). Jesus divides the sheep and the goats, the saved in the unsaved- he calls both eternal (Matt. 25:46).
If we are merely annihilated, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, then how are there degrees of punishment (Heb. 10:29)? How does the narration of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 make sense if there is no conscious existence in hell? It seems for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be right, Jesus Christ would have to be wrong, therefore not a perfect man, not the Christ, not a worthy sacrifice for our atonement.
To summarize, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been led astray by the false doctrines of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. They are taught not to question and not to associate with apostates. These tight bounds indicate that they are not confident with putting their doctrines against biblical standards. We can be a powerful influence on Jehovah’s Witnesses if we are willing and capable of showing them the truth about God, that He is a Trinity; about Jesus, that he is God in flesh; about the resurrection, that it solidifies our faith; about salvation, that it is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Be solid in these main areas first and be diligent to stay focused on key issues even when the other person is uncomfortable and trying to change the subject. We will not see effects right away most of the time, but our voice can contribute as a seed; it falls to the ground and much later may, by God’s working grace, be brought to fruition. This takes diligence and love.