Lesson 13: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Lesson 13: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Historical Background: Charles Taze Russell1 began a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 1870’s. In 1879 he began publishing Zion’s Watchtower to promote his views. In 1881 Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was formed, and in 1884 it was incorporated, with Russell as president. The Society’s name was later changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. By 1909 the work had become international, and the Society’s headquarters was moved to its present location in Brooklyn, New York.

Founder: Most students of the movement agree that Russell was a charlatan and con man. He received no more than a 7th grade education and had no theological training. Russell was divorced in 1913, possibly for adultery. He said that if anyone desired to know the Bible, he must study his (Russell’s) explanatory notes called “Studies in Scripture.” He claimed that if a person studied the Bible without them, he would remain in darkness. The 7-volume work is still used. During one court trial he was involved in, Russell claimed that he knew Greek, but could not even identify the letters of the Greek alphabet. Russell made a number of embarrassing false prophecies. He said the time of the Gentiles would be over and Christ would return on Oct 1, 1914. Later he changed the date to 1915, then 1918. Other JW leaders dated the beginning of the kingdom at 1925, 1929, 1942, and 1975. JW’s currently believe that 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the beginning of the transition period from human rule to the Thousand Year (Millennial) Reign of Christ.


Joseph F. Rutherford succeeded Russell as president of the group. Most of the beliefs of the JW’s are based on the writings of Russell and Rutherford. Nathan Knorr took over in 1942, and after that came Frederick W. Franz (1977). Today the organization is led by a Governing Body of 12 members. The Jehovah’s Witness organization currently claims about 6.5 million members worldwide in about 98,000 congregations (Kingdom Halls). Only about one million members live in the US.

The Name: JW’s base their name on Psalm 83:182: “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” They are insistent that God should be known by His real name, Jehovah (or Yahweh). Technically, the name “Jehovah” is a combination of the Hebrew consonants for Yahweh (hwhy – sometimes called the Tetragrammaton) and the Hebrew vowels for “Adonai” (ynda “Lord”). Devout Jews would typically refuse to say the name “Yahweh,” substituting “Adonai” instead. The word “Jehovah” came about as people used the consonants from one word and the vowels from the other. Hence, “Jehovah” is technically not a Hebrew word.

Publications: Primary JW publications are Watchtower and Awake! magazines. They also publish Studies in the Scriptures and The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Today, their presses in Brooklyn, NY crank out about 100,000 books and 800,000 magazines each day.

Distinctives: JW’s emphasize the kingdom of Christ, a future time of paradise on earth. They believe that only 144,000 will actually go to heaven (a special, elect class of people who earn the right). JW’s are highly evangelistic, with many members spending time going door to door passing out their literature and attempting to make converts. They refuse to receive blood transfusions or eat anything containing blood. Any disobedient member is disfellowshipped and considered to be dead. JW’s tend to be quite serious about their faith and well-educated regarding what they believe. They often know their Bible better than genuine believers do and are well-rehearsed in arguments supporting their theology. They also tend to be quite antagonistic against “organized religion,” i.e., denominational Christianity.

Their “Bible”: JW’s use The New World Translation of the Holy Scripture. This “version” (really a perversion) is an exceedingly bad translation that is biased to support their theological opinions.

Doctrinal errors of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  1. Concerning Jesus Christ: JW’s teach that Jesus is a created being, Michael the arch-angel, the first and greatest of Jehovah’s creation3; that He was a perfect man, “a god,” but not essentially equal to God; and that Christ was raised from the dead as “an immortal spirit person,” not physically. Jesus returned invisibly to earth in 1914 and is in the process of overthrowing Satan’s rule and will soon establish his kingdom.
  2. Concerning the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is a force or power exerted by God, not a personal being. JW’s reject any notion of the Trinity. The concept of the Trinity produces a “freakish, three-headed god,” and is satanic in origin.
  3. Concerning man: The human soul is mortal and may cease to exist at death. Believers who persevere until death enter soul-sleep until the Second Coming of Christ. Human government is under satanic control, so JW’s refuse to pledge allegiance to the nation. Saluting any national emblem (like a flag) amounts to idolatry.
  4. Concerning Salvation: Full salvation is not possible outside JW membership; 144,000 elite JW’s will reign with Christ in heaven, while the rest inhabit a perfect earth for 1,000 years. If they prove faithful, they will survive Armageddon. The faithful will live on a perfect earth forever. One is saved through faith and obedience. Salvation is not an event or a decision, but the result of a faithful, obedient life. Immortality is a reward for faithfulness. If one fails to endure to the end, he will not be saved. JW “salvation” focuses on human works and effort. “Salvation is a free gift from God. It cannot be earned. Yet it does require effort on our part.”4
  5. Concerning Hell: There is no literal hell or lake of fire. Hell and the grave are synonymous. Unbelievers will be annihilated—this is the second death. Hell is a doctrine from the devil. The very idea contradicts God’s love and mercy.

Refutation of Errors:

  1. Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity. He is equal with God, eternal and not created. John 1:1 and many other passages show us that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, equal with God in essence while submissive to God in function. Jesus is the Creator, and thus is not a created being (Col 1:16).
  2. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force or influence of God (Acts 5:3-4).
  3. Salvation is by grace, through faith, not by works (Eph 2.8-9). Salvation is God-centered. The saved person will persevere. Those who fail to persevere were never saved in the first place. Genuine believers are eternally secure. Unsaved man is totally depraved and unable to contribute anything to his salvation.
  4. Both believers and unbelievers will enjoy (or endure) conscious existence after death prior to the resurrection (Luke 16:20f). There is a coming millennial kingdom in which Christ will rule the earth (Isa 11:1-9; Rev 20:4-6). Unbelievers will not be annihilated, but will spend eternity in the lake of fire (Matt 10:28; Mark 9:43-45; Rev 20:10, 15). Believers will enjoy eternity with God.

A Few Other Notes:

  • Most cults can be measured by their concept of a few major Christian doctrines, such as the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Those groups which reject such essential tenets of Christianity are clearly not Christian.
  • Most cults use human reason as the criterion for rejecting classic Christian ideas. That is, the doctrines of the Trinity and the co-equality of God the Father and God the Son don’t make sense to the (unregenerate) mind, so they must not be true. However, human reason is not able to determine the legitimacy of God’s truth.
  • One of the JW’s most infamous and controversial translations is their rendering of John 1:1 — “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god.” However, the normal translation “… the word was God” is the best and most accurate way to render this passage.
  • JW’s claim that their “Bible,” the New World Translation, is the best available translation because it is free from “human traditionalism,” inconsistency and unreasonableness that has characterized most other English translations. However, the NWT is likely one of the worst, most biased, and least reliable versions available today. It’s a perversion rather than a version.
  • Jesus clearly did not return to the earth in 1914 as JW’s insist that he did. In Acts 1:11, the angel said to the disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” The Second Coming of Christ will be anything but silent and/or invisible. Also, the millennial reign of Christ will occur immediately after Christ returns to the earth. So the idea that Jesus is currently reigning on earth is entirely bogus.
  • JW’s commonly put average Christians to shame. They can quote Scriptures, trot out surprisingly reasonable arguments, and generally cause normally solid believers to question what they have been taught. They are bold and sure of themselves. Some Christians are afraid to even talk to a JW for fear of being confused. This is a disgraceful state of affairs. True believers with the genuine knowledge of God should not be afraid of any cultist. The better you know the Bible and orthodox Christian theology, the better you will be able to both defend legitimate Christianity and prove the cultist wrong.

Conclusion: The Jehovah’s Witness faith is pseudo-Christianity. It uses much of the same language, but contradicts many primary points of Christian theology. It is a dangerous cult in that it reaches many with its false gospel and deceives them into believing that they are genuine Christians.

Discussion:

  1. Who was the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Charles Russell. Sometimes JW’s are called “Russellites.”
  2. Where to JW’s worship? Kingdom Halls
  3. What is the primary emphasis in JW theology? The millennial kingdom reign of Christ.
  4. How is one saved under the JW system? Faith plus works plus enduring until the end.
  5. How do we know that Jesus is not a created being? Jesus is the creator (Jn 1:2) and he’s eternal (Mic 5:2; Jn 1:1).
  6. How do we know that Jesus did not return to earth in 1914? He will return visibly and bodily, as he departed. That has not happened yet.
  7. Why do some JW’s refuse to salute the American flag? They see such as idolatry. They see human government as under Satan’s control, and thus refuse allegiance to any particular country. Oddly enough, there are many JW’s in the US military.
  8. How can people who read the Bible so much be blind to its truth? 1.) They use a faulty/perverted translation, so they don’t know what the Bible really says; 2.) They are unregenerated and hence cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14).

1 Some people call JW’s “Russellites.” JW’s generally reject this label, however.

2 Or Isaiah 43:10 – “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”

3 JW’s are following the age-old error of Arius, a theologian who taught that Jesus was created rather than eternal. JW’s are Arians.

4 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” The Watchtower February 1, 1996

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