Every worldview has to answer three important questions. First, “How did we get here”? This question is obviously foundational to how it is we see the world around us and how it is we understand our role within that world. Secondly, we have to ask, “How did things get so messed up?” All of us know that there is something broken about the world in which we live and our worldview helps us to understand WHAT has been broken! Finally, we must answer the question, “How can we fix it?” This final question is the culmination and conclusion of our worldview. We begin with an idea related to how we got here, but ultimately find ourselves answering the most important questions of life. Jehovah’s Witnesses offer answers to these three worldview questions. Let’s examine these answers and see if they are cohesive and relate to the world as we know it…
A Short History of the Jehovah’s Witness Religion
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded by Charles Russell, a Pennsylvania businessman, in 1869. He was only 18 years old when he first began holding bible studies on his own. He was frustrated with his personal experiences in the traditional Christian church of his day and he was particularly upset about the manner in which Christianity taught about the reality of hell. He eventually began a search within Christianity and found himself attracted to the Seventh Day Adventist movement. He eventually disassociated himself from this movement, however, on the basis of false predictions of Christ’s second coming.
Russell was a gifted communicator and writer. In 1879 he began his own magazine called the Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, which today is simply known as Watchtower (it is presently written by anonymous authors within the church). With the publication of the magazine, 30 congregations formed within a year. Russell next founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society as a religious corporation in 1884. In 1886, he wrote what is viewed as sacred text, called Studies of the Scriptures. In 1896, he renamed the group “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society”, and this remains as the church’s official name today. The church is head-quartered in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to founding the church, Russell made a number of important predictions, including the prediction that 1914 would be the beginning of the millennial age and that we would see the return of Jesus. When this did not occur (and the world instead witnessed a series of terrible events, including the beginning of World War I), Russell had to adjust his prediction. He died in 1916, never seeing the fulfillment of any of his predictions about the Millennium.
Joseph Rutherford became the next president of the church and began an important expansion. Rutherford wrote extensively (approximately a book a year) and started a magazine called The Golden Age. Today, this magazine continues to be published as Awake. Rutherford was also wise enough to begin using the radio as a means of broadcasting Bible lectures, growing his audience to 403 radio stations by 1933. Rutherford also began the door-to-door visitation program. Under his leadership, Rutherford renamed the group Jehovah’s Witnesses, to distinguish themselves from other Christians. Rutherford died in 1942 and Nathan Knorr became the next president.
Under Knorr’s leadership, the Watchtower proclaimed itself to be the Word of God, and Knorr affirmed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses alone represented God as his spokesman on earth:
“The Watchtower is a magazine without equal on earth because God is the author.” (Watchtower, April 15, 1943, pg.127)
During this period of their history, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to encounter legal trouble due to their restrictions on the military involvement of their members (they are in essence a passivist organization). The Jehovah’s Witnesses won 36 cases before the Supreme Court, successful defending the rights of their members to refuse to serve in the military. In addition, Knorr oversaw the translation of The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 1960, and this is still the main sacred text of the church. Under Knorr’s leadership a missionary school was also established to advance worldwide exposure. Membership in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion grew from 115,000 members in 1942 to over 2 million members in 1977 when Knorr died. He was replaced by Frederick Franz.
Franz also affirmed the Jehovah’s Witness believe that their religion alone spoke for God and God’s words could be found in the Watchtower Magazine. In fact, Franz testified in court on October 15th, 1931 that “Jehovah God” was the editor of the Watchtower! But during this period of church history, Franz also predicted that the world would end in 1975. After this failed to happen, there was confusion and reaction within the church. Eventually the presidency was replaced with a “Governing Body” of eighteen men. Presently, local meeting places are called Kingdom Halls and members are either “Publishers” (part-time missionaries) or “Pioneers” (full-time missionaries). Members must meet 5 times a week and keep full records of their missionary activities. It is of primary importance to Jehovah’s Witnesses that they gain members and grow the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to approach people, sell literature, teach people with proof texts and follow up with them. They work extremely hard and devote countless hours to evangelism.
There approximately 6 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in 232 countries and it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Only 40% of its membership is in the West, with its most dramatic growth in Latin America. They affirm the full divine inspiration of the Bible, but only accept the New World Translation as the correct translation of the text. They are most famous for their refusal to participate in any holiday and birthday celebrations, which they see as pagan, their refusal to receive blood transfusions and their refusal to participate in the government or military.
How Jehovah’s Witnesses Answer the Question:
“How Did We Get Here?” (What’s the Nature of God and Creation?)
Unlike some world religions or theistic worldviews, Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on many of the foundational principles and historical truths of the Christian Worldview to begin making its case. It is, in fact, a Christian cult. But while it may have initiated from Christian understandings of the nature of God, creation and salvation, it quickly changed the important definitions from classic, historic, orthodox Christianity. The first and perhaps most important deviation from Christianity is found in the Jehovah’s Witness definition of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there is one God with one name, Jehovah. They reject the idea that Jesus is God, and therefore reject the idea of the Trinity.
From the Jehovah’s Witness perspective, Jesus Christ is God’s only literal creation (and he is also known as Michael the Archangel). He existed as a being in pre-human form as God’s spokesman (the Word). As the first created being, Jesus then created everything else. In this way, Jesus is the creator of all that we see and understand in this world, without being God. Jesus later came to earth as a human through the virgin birth.
From the Jehovah’s Witness perspective, the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force from God which moves His servants to do His will. The Holy Spirit is simply “God’s active force” and is not a distinct person within the Godhead as orthodox Christianity describes Him
How Jehovah’s Witnesses Answer the Question:
“How Did It Get So Messed Up?” (What Separates Man from God?)
In some ways, Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with orthodox Christians about the nature of the problem that is facing us. Jehovah’s Witnesses would also identify sin (falling short of God’s perfection) as the problem. They believe that our current mess is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden and that their disobedience caused death to enter the world. They also believe that this was against God’s plan to make the entire earth a paradise. They recognize that death and evil have entered the world and that this world will eventually end. In fact, they are focused on end times to a much greater degree than orthodox Christians. They expect the immanent arrival of Armageddon and the end of the world.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the existence of Hell, and they don’t emphasize the spiritual consequence of Adam’s sin on humanity. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe that we, as humans, have souls that live on between the point of our physical death and our eventual resurrection. They believe that the soul dies when we die and that those who are saved will have their souls recreated at the point of the resurrection. Those who are not believers will simply stay in their state of material and non-material death forever.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the purpose of life is to earn the right to participate in the future Kingdom of God. They also want to help others to be able to participate in this Kingdom. For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on living a moral, acceptable life before God and then witnessing about this faith to others in this world
How Jehovah’s Witnesses Answer the Question:
“How Do We Fix It?” (How Can We Be Reunited with God?)
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God has an answer to the death and evil that plague us. Like orthodox Christians, they expected the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom o God. But when Charles Russell’s prediction that 1914 would mark the Millennial Reign of Christ failed to materialize, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to argue that Jesus did invisibly return. They now believe that Satan and his demons were expelled from heaven in 1914 and were sent to earth, resulting in the increased evil, suffering and wars that were seen at the time. They believe that we are in the ‘last days’, a period of time that was initiated in 1914.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus alone saves them from the coming judgment of God. They recognize that Jesus was crucified (although they believe he died on a stake, not a cross), but they reject the bodily resurrection (after all, that would prove that Jesus was God). Instead, they believe that God raised Jesus from the dead “as a spirit creature” and Jesus then returned to his home in heaven (even though he was not made King until 1914). From the Jehovah’s Witness perspective, Jesus came to earth in order (1) to teach the truth about God; (2) to provide a model of a perfect life that we could all follow; and (3) to sacrifice his life to pay the ransom for Adam’s sin. For the Jehovah’s Witness, Jesus’ death was not a payment for our sin but was instead a ransom sacrifice for Adam’s sin. This is a fundamental deviation from orthodox Christianity, because the death of Jesus does not pay for our sins in this life. We are still responsible to live a life that is worthy of God and we will NOT be reunited with God unless we work to earn our salvation.
Eternal life requires more than faith in Jesus. It comes from “learning about Jehovah and obeying his requirements,” and working hard to be a loyal Subject of Jehovah, listening to the Kingdom message and acting on it. According to the Watchtower Organization (as printed in the Watchtower Magazine, February 15th, 1983 on page 12), there are four requirements for salvation:
1. Jesus Christ identified a first requirement when he said in prayer to his Father: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ includes knowledge of God’s purposes regarding the earth and of Christ’s role as earth’s new King. Will you take in such knowledge by studying the Bible?
2. Many have found the second requirement more difficult. It is to obey God’s laws, yes, to conform one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible. This includes refraining from a debauched, immoral way of life. — 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 4:3, 4.
3. A third requirement is that we be associated with God’s channel, his organization. God has always used an organization. For example, only those in the ark in Noah’s day survived the Flood, and only those associated with the Christian congregation in the first century had God’s favor. (Acts 4:12) Similarly, Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.
4. The fourth requirement is connected with loyalty. God requires that prospective subjects of his Kingdom support his government by loyally advocating his Kingdom rule to others. Jesus Christ explained: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) Will you meet this requirement by telling others about God’s Kingdom?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that salvation comes through the Jehovah’s Witness organization alone, and it is earned by good works and witnessing to non-believers. It is not a free gift of grace. There are two classes of Jehovah’s Witnesses:
The ‘Anointed Class’
This group is comprised of 144,000 people (the number is derived from Revelation 7:4) who were either first century believers, were “Witness-like” Christians from the 2nd through the 19th centuries, were Charles Russell’s bible students, or are among a small number of Witnesses who have lived since then. Of course, Charles Russell is included in this anointed class, but beyond Russell, no one can have certainty about who is in this class of believers. The “anointed Class’ will live with God in Heaven and will reign over the ‘Great Crowd’
The ‘Great Crowd’
This group is comprised of all pre-Christian believers and most of the Witnesses who live today and are not part of the ‘Anointed Class’. They will be resurrected and live in paradise on earth forever, but they will not have the same status as the ‘Anointed Class’ and they will not reign over others.
The Hard Questions Jehovah’s Witnesses Have to Answer
OK, we’ve taken a look at the way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to answer the three most important questions addressed by any worldview (“How did we get here?”, “How did things get so messed up?” and “How do we fix it?”). But how do we know if the Jehovah’s Witness answers are actually TRUE? Well, one way to examine the Jehovah’s Witness perspective is simply to see how well it answers a few important philosophical and theological questions that arise as we better understand what the Jehovah’s Witness religion teaches, so let’s ask those questions in an effort to get to the truth. The following questions are designed to challenge the Jehovah’s Witness claims about reality and help you to initiate a discussion with your friends or family that may hold this worldview:
Let’s begin with some questions that spring from basic philosophical concerns:
If I am to accept the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I am first going to have to trust the source of that teaching. But how can I trust an organization that claims to speak for God when they have been wrong about prior predictions?
There are a number of false predictions that have been made either by Charles Russell, subsequent leaders of the church or the Watchtower Organization itself, including this limited sampling:
1886 The Millennial Reign Has Already Begun
“The outward evidences are that the marshalling of the hosts for the battle of the great day of God almighty, is in progress while the skirmishing is commencing.” (Watchtower reprints 1, page 817 January 1886)
1897 The Millennial Reign Began in 1874
“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4, page 621)
1899 The Times Described in Revelation 16 Have Begun
“…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.” (The Time Is at Hand, page 101 – 1908 edition)
1916 The Millennial Reign Began in 1873
“The Bible chronology herein presented shows that the six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th Day, the 1000 years of Christ’s Reign, began in 1873.” (The Time Is at Hand, page ii)
1917 Armageddon Has Begun
“The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the scriptures.” (Pastor Russell’s Sermons, 1917, page 676)
1918 The Saints Will Be Resurrected in 1925
“Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection.” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 89)
“1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies…We are standing at the very portals of that blessed time!” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 105)
1922 Jesus Will Return in 1925
“The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914.” (The Watchtower, September 1st, 1922, page 262)
1923 Jesus Will Return in 1925
“Our thought is that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.” (The Watchtower, April 1st, 1923, page 106)
1925 Jesus May Return in 1925
“The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year.” (The Watchtower, January 1st, 1925, page 3)
1940 Armageddon is Eminent Within the Year
“The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet, because Armageddon is very near.” (Informant, May 1940)
1941 Jesus Will Return in Months
“Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, September 15th, 1941, page 288)
1946 Armageddon is “At the Door”
“…the disaster of Armageddon, greater than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah, is at the door.” (Let God be True, 1946, page 194)
1968 Jesus Will Return in 1975
“Why are you looking forward to 1975?” (The Watchtower, August 15th, 1968, page 494)
“Just think , brothers, there is only 90 months left before 6000 years of mans existence on earth is completed… the majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out.” (Kingdom Mystery, March 1968, page 4)
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be the only religious organization that can speak for God, but don’t the Roman Catholic and Mormon religions make very similar claims? Why should I trust the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The question here is really about authority. Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t the only ones who make claims’ of authority. The Bible makes a claim of authority but presents reliable verifications of archeology, prophesy and history to support those claims. I can understand an appeal to the authority of the Bible, but why should I accept the additional claim of authority made by Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The Jehovah’s Witness translation of the Bible condemns false prophecy and says that unfulfilled prophecy is an indicator that God is not speaking thorough that Prophet and that we should not, therefore, pay attention to what that prophet is saying. So shouldn’t this mandate that we ignore the teaching of the Watchtower?
The New World Translation affirms Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and holds to the same standard that the Old Testament Jews held to in judging their prophets; 100% accuracy 100% of the time:
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 (New World Translation)
However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him.’
If the Watchtower organization has repeatedly been wrong about its prophecies, doesn’t their own sacred scripture demand that we ignore the institution altogether?
Now let’s examine some questions related to topics that are directly addressed in the Bible. After all, the Jehovah’s Witness religion claims to use the Bible as at least some sort of authority, so it’s fair to compare the propositions of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the teaching of the Bible:
Jehovah’s Witnesses often talk about John 1:1 and argue that the original Greek wording is more correctly translated “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was ¬a god”, rather than the orthodox rendering, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But if this is true why do so many translators agree with the orthodox view?
Through the ages, translators have repeatedly interpreted the Greek in such a way as to affirm the deity of Jesus. The following translations have translated the original language and agree that John 1:1 teaches that the Word WAS GOD:
The Douay Translation, The Rotherham Translation, The King James Version, The Jerusalem Bible, The New Life Testament, The Berkley Version, The New Translation (The Darby Bible), The Modern King James Version, The Revised Standard Version, The American Standard Version, The New International Version, The Numeric English New Testament, The New American Standard Bible, The New Testament in Basic English, Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, The New Testament in Modern Speech (Weymouth), The New Testament in Modern English (Montgomer), The New Testament in Modern English (Phillips), The English Bible, Today’s English Version, The New Translation of the Bible (Moffatt), The Complete Bible (Smith & Goodspeed)
The only translation that interprets John 1:1 in the way that Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret it is, in fact, the lone New World Translation offered by the Jehovah’s Witnesses! Why shouldn’t we trust the multitude of historic translations?
Jehovah’s Witnesses often argue that God’s true name is “Jehovah”. But if this is true, why doesn’t the word, “Jehovah” appear in the New Testament?
The New World Translation inserts the word “Jehovah” into the New Testament even though NO original Greek manuscript contains the word. Why should we trust this insertion and isn’t this an example of a religious effort to tamper with the text?
Jehovah’s Witnesses say that 144,000 people will be part of the “anointed Class’ who will live with God in Heaven and will reign over the ‘Great Crowd’. But doesn’t the Bible describe this group in contradiction to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?
The 144,000 described by Jehovah’s Witnesses are mentioned in two places in the Bible: Revelation Chapters 7 and 14. But let’s look carefully at how they are described. First, it is clear that these people are all literal Jews from the twelve tribes and that none of these people are gentiles:
And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.
In addition to this, Revelation Chapter 14 tells us that this group is comprised exclusively of males who are virgins:
Revelation 14:1, 4
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads… These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
If these two passages are accurate, then the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine that this group contains people who were either first century believers, were “Witness-like” Christians from the 2nd through the 19th centuries, were Charles Russell’s bible students, or are among a small number of Witnesses who have lived since then, is flatly false. And when Jehovah’s Witnesses try to maintain that the Biblical description of the 144,000 is figurative, they then must grant that the NUMBER of 144,000 may also be figurative.
Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses feel the need to make obvious changes to certain passages of Scripture?
A could example (perhaps the best example) of this is found in Colossians 1:15-17. Compare the NWT with the NASB:
Colossians 1:15-17 (Jehovah’s Witness NWT)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist
Colossians 1:15-17 (NASB)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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 through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together
You may have noticed that the NWT has inserted the word, “other” four times. There are two Greek words for “other” (heteros and allos) and neither word appears in the original manuscripts of this passage. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have added the word four times to support their belief that Jesus is simply a created being and not God himself. If this teaching is true, why must Jehovah’s Witnesses alter the text to make their case?
Jehovah’s Witnesses obviously deny that Jesus is God, but how can they do that when Scripture repeatedly describes Jesus as Divine?
The totality of scripture teaches that Jesus is God. Take a look at this brief summary of the Biblical evidence (more can be found HERE):
Jesus Claimed to Be God
He Prefaced His Statements As Though He Was God
He Identified Himself With God’s Own Name (“I Am”)
He Said that He and the Father Were From the Same World
He Talked As Though He Was Equal With God
He Said That He and God Were One
Jesus Demonstrated that He Had the Nature of God
He Demonstrated Omniscience
He Demonstrated Omnipresence
He Demonstrated Omnibenevolence
He Demonstrated Omnipotence
Jesus Was Worshiped As God by Those Who Knew Him
The wise men worshiped him from the moment He was born
The leper worshiped Him at his healing
The synagogue ruler worshiped Him
The disciples worshiped him in the boat
The Canaanite woman worshiped Him
The mother of James and John worshipped Him
The blind man worshiped Him at his healing
The women worshiped Him at the empty tomb
The disciples worshiped Him at the Ascension
How can Jehovah’s Witnesses reconcile the fact that Jesus is described as the “First and Last”, just like God the Father?
The Bible is clear about the fact that there is no other god beside God! He alone is the first and last:
This is what the LORD says -Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
But the Bible also teaches that JESUS is the “First and Last”! How can this be true unless Jesus is Himself GOD? Let’s take a look at a few passages in Scripture:
Revelation 1:8I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
In this passage, God is being described as the “First and Last”
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
But in this second passage, JESUS is being described with the very same words!
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
And here we see that both the “Alpha and the Omega” and the “First and the Last” are one and the same. The only satisfactory way to resolve this dilemma is to come to the understanding that Jesus and God are one in the same as well!
So, Could This Be True?
Every worldview has to be both internally consistent (measure up against itself) and externally consistent (measure up against the world it proposes to describe). The challenge for the Jehovah’s Witness religion appears to exist at both levels. There are a number of philosophical questions (and Biblical Questions for that matter) that seem to expose the internal contradictions of the worldview. For these reasons, the Jehovah’s Witness religion does not seem to pass the test of internal and external examination.
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