Learn the basics about the practices and doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The talk (34 mins) is not comprehensive, but rather introductory.

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I. FOUNDING

  • In the wake of the Second Great Awakening, many sects emerged in 19th century America. A combination of religious liberty and a strong spirit of individualism fostered numerous eccentric movements (e.g. Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists). Quite a few were fascinated with prophecy and the end of the world.
  • Charles Russell (1852-1916) founded the movement that would soon be called the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • He claimed that without his “Studies in the Scriptures,” one would soon land in spiritual darkness.
  • Russell published Zion’s Watch Tower in 1879 and established the Watch Tower Society in 1884 (previously Zion’s Watch Tower and Tract Society, 1881).
  • The second leader, Judge Rutherford, centralized evangelism.
  • Today there are over 8 million Witnesses worldwide. About 1/7th of all Witnesses live in America.
  • The JWs are headquartered in New York. Their official website is https://www.jw.org. 
  • ERROR: Going beyond Scripture; honoring opinions and traditions above the Word. We should be suspicious when one person claims exclusive access to God’s mind or the true meaning of his Word.

II. JEHOVAH

  • God’s name is “Jehovah”—a word that appears nowhere in the Bible. In most English translations, YHWH (Hebrew Yahweh, omitting the vowels) is normally rendered LORD in the OT, while ’Adonai and other terms are rendered Lord (not in upper case letters).
  • “Jehovah” is an anglicized form of the Medieval Latin word which itself a (misguided) fusion of the consonants from Yhwh and the vowels of ’adonai. Use of “Jehovah” dates back many centuries—appearing in most Protestant Bibles of the 1500s.
  • Even though YHWH is the most common “name” in the Old Testament, it is never used in the New Testament (except for Jah, in word forms like hallelujah). Nevertheless, Jehovah appears 237 times in the NWT NT—nearly once per chapter.
  • Exod 3:15; 34:7: His “name” is his nature. “I am” (YHWH) is not technically a name, but a description.
  • Obsession with knowing and correctly pronouncing special words is a feature of magic, not biblical religion.
  • We don’t have to say “Jehovah,” first because this is a wrong approach to God’s “name,” and second because that word isn't, technically speaking, biblical.
  • ERROR: Insisting on a non-biblical term plus reliance on a questionable Protestant translation convention.

III. “WITNESSES” and “KINGDOM HALL”

  • The term “witnesses” is from Isaiah 43:9-10, 12; 44:8. In context it refers to monotheistic Israel in contrast to the polytheistic and idolatrous nations.
  • The term applied to the Jews, although of course Christians too bear witness to the one true God (Matt 10:18; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:13; Acts 1:8; 22:15).
  • “Kingdom Hall,” not “church,” as though Jesus did not inaugurate the kingdom in his earthly ministry. (False—he did! Luke 11:20; 17:21). And the kingdom continues to "come," although it will come more fully in next age.
  • By using idiosyncratic terminology, the organization reinforces a boundary between insiders and outsiders. This also bolsters the JW claims to be the "one true church."
  • ERROR: There are multiple names for Christ-followers in the NT, like brothers and sisters, believers, friends, saints, Christians and disciples—although only in Acts. Witnesses is not one of them. Similarly, there are various collective terms for God’s people, like assembly (church), body of Christ, and The Way.

IV. SCRIPTURE

  • “New World Translation” – an English Bible, with passages that don’t match JW theology altered.
  • For example, verses rewritten to deny the divinity of Christ (John 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Titus 2:13; etc).
  • New World Translation NT: 1950; OT: 1961.
  • In effect, Scripture = the NWT, interpreted in line with official Watch Tower doctrine—published in the magazines The Watchtower and Awake!
  • ERROR: Tampering with God’s Word.

V. JESUS

  • Close to a unitarian view (as in Islam and Unitarianism), as opposed to Trinitarianism (espoused by most Christians)—yet still a very high view of Christ.
  • Jesus is “a god” in John 1:1 – even though the same word is rendered “God” in 1:6, 12, 13, 18. That is, the NWT “translator” never noticed this, or else was simply inconsistent.
  • He is the Archangel Michael (though more than just an archangel).
  • Since Jesus is God’s Son, he must have come into existence—he isn’t eternal. Yet the father-son relationship is analogical, not biological.
  • Jesus isn't eternal, since he is God’s “firstborn” (Col 1:15). Yet Psalm 89:27 shows that being “firstborn” may be an appointment, something that can be bestowed. It is not necessarily about birth order—or even birth.
  • Jesus died on a “torture stake,” not a cross. They claim that no cross of any kind has ever been found by archaeologists. This is dishonest, since the Romans normally re-used the wood after a crucifixion—and besides, rotting wood seldom survives the centuries and millennia. Besides, there is archaeological and literary evidence of crucifixion.
  • ERROR: Misunderstanding the relationship of the Son to the Father.

VI. FAILED PREDICTIONS

  • In the 19th and 20th centuries, JWs predicted end-times events to take place—for example, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, 1941, 1975—with constant recalculation. They are more careful now, with softer predictions for 1984 and 2000. Russell first expected the end of the world in 1878. Paul told the Thessalonians to be ready for the end, but not to obsess (1 Thess 5:1-2).
  • Armageddon: All nations and all false churches will be annihilated; billions will die.
  • Those not killed in the “battle of Armageddon” will receive everlasting life.
  • But the Bible says those who make failed predictions are false prophets (Deut 18:22).
  • ERROR: Unbalanced and unhealthy fascination with times and dates.

VII. HEAVEN

  • Jesus started fighting Satan’s demon hordes in heaven in 1914. In 1918 the “heavenly resurrection” began (based on 2 Tim 2:11). Yet the Bible has a physical, earthly resurrection—not a “spiritual” resurrection.
  • Jesus cleansed the heavenly temple in 1918 (Mal 3:1). Yet Mal 3 and 4 were fulfilled in the earthly ministry of Jesus (as in Matt 11:14; 17:12).
  • The anointed class are 144,000 (Rev 7 and 14), the first 144,000 true Christians (from the time of Christ until about 1930). In other words, even though there were already 10,000 or so by the time of Acts 4:4, somehow growth came to a crawl—or else the church apostatized. Yet Jesus said “I am always with you.”
  • Literally 144,000 in heaven? Then only virgin Jewish males are allowed (and no one from the tribe of Dan).
  • Most of the saved will be on earth. These are the “other sheep” (John 10:16—which refers to the Gentiles, not as the Witnesses say).
  • The majority are on earth, and don’t need to be justified until the 1000 years (the millennium of Rev 20 being understood literally) are over! Yet for these, salvation is possible if they witness regularly (spread the Watch Tower teachings).
  • The Witnesses do not believe in hell.
  • ERROR: Literalistic reading of metaphor and apocalypse.

VIII. PROHIBITIONS

  • No blood transfusions or blood beverages (Lev 17:10-14). This prohibition is based on the covenant given to Noah (Gen 9). Acts 15:29 shows it is still in force. The early Christians would not eat blood. Yet this Acts 15 requirement was an ad hoc rule issued to maintain unity between Gentile and Jewish Christians.
  • Neither Easter nor Christmas is to be observed, given their pagan origins.
  • No Christmas trees (Jer 10). But this passage is about trees chopped down and made into wooden idols!
  • No birthday celebrations (Gen 40:20; Mark 6:21), since there are only two birthdays celebrated in Scripture, and both are for outsiders who do not know God. Yet customs that are partially pagan in origin are not necessary bad things—unless they require us to worship a false god or to sin in other ways.
  • ERROR: It’s usually easier to take a stand for what we’re against. Yet the early church was known for the positive message they proclaimed, more than for telling others they were wrong.

IX. OTHER BELIEFS

  • The Holy Spirit is an “active force,” not the third person of the Trinity (2 Cor 13:14).
  • Original sin (but see Ezek 18:20).
  • The mortality of the soul. Correct, since immortality is not innate, but a gift from God (1 Tim 6:16; Rom 6:23).
  • No killing of enemies (Matt 5:38-48 and Rom 12:19-21), and no holding of political office. Perhaps this is too strict, but true enough, in the early centuries of Christianity the church stayed out of politics.
  • The Witnesses have no paid clergy, nor do they do take up financial collections at their meetings.

X. FURTHER OBSERVATIONS

  • There is strict accountability for recruiting outsiders. JWs log their hours—written reports have been required since 1920. This is a legalistic religion.
  • Within the JW establishment, no dissent is tolerated. Disagreement with the Watch Tower leads to being shunned / disfellowshipped.
  • More than 1000 child sex abuse cases have been documented since 1950 (and dealt with internally, instead of alerting law enforcement). Like most religious groups, the system hides its faults, preferring to deal with even serious problems in-house.
  • Watch Tower doctrine is often revised, with the effect that most younger converts are unaware of the earlier history and teachings. (In this there are parallels with Mormonism.)
  • Most Witnesses (at least in my experience) are sincere. Yet sincerity does not create or validate truth. They are part of a humanistic and unbiblical system.