This religious organization claimed by the mid-1990s a worldwide membership of 4.9 million active Witnesses in 75,500 congregations in 232 countries (The Watchtower Jan. 1, 1995). The average Jehovah’s Witness spends ten hours each month going from door to door, attends five hours of meetings each week, is instructed to ‘avoid independent thinking’ (The Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1993) and devotes 85% of personal study time to Watchtower publications and 15% to their version of the Bible. The organization is said to be growing at the rate of 4,000 converts each week and is building five Kingdom Halls every week worldwide! Their magazine The Watchtower is published twice a month in 120 languages, with each issue having an average printing of over 16 million copies, of which 600,000 are for distribution in the U.K. Their other major magazine is Awake.
This all adds up to a zealously committed religious group, and yet Jehovah’s Witnesses have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ and no assurance of salvation. ‘The key teaching of the Watchtower Society is that its governing body is God’s only channel of communication on earth today’, Kern. This handful of men maintain that there is no salvation outside the Watchtower Society.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were originally known as ‘Russellites’, after the founder and first president, Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in 1870 organized a Bible class. He founded Zion’s Watchtower in 1879 and in 1886 he published the first volume of The Millennial Dawn (seven volumes in all, six written by Russell), that are now known as, Studies in Scripture and in effect are more highly valued by Jehovah’s Witnesses than the Bible.
The second president was Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford (d. 1942), whose leadership gave the movement the title of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (taken from Isaiah 43. 10). He established the headquarters in Brooklyn, New York and gave himself complete authority over the movement.
Nathan H. Knorr was the third president (d. 1977). He was an able administrator who built up membership from 115,000 to over two million. During his leadership the Watchtower’s own English ‘translation’ of the Bible known as The New Translation of the Holy Scriptures was produced in 1961.
The fourth president was Frederick W. Franz (d. 1992). He was the former spokesman for the translation committee, though he had no recognized qualifications in Hebrew or Greek. There now seems to be more of a collective leadership under the presidency of Milton G. Henschel.
Jehovah’s Witnesses meet regularly in local centres known as ‘Kingdom Halls’, for study, reading, theocratic school and congregational activities. They are well known for their door to door evangelism, home Bible study groups, refusal to celebrate Christmas, or birthdays, or to allow blood transfusions for their members.
Witnesses tend to be very sincere, hard working and good living people. In addition they are persistent to the point of tenacity in following up contacts. They are well trained to answer common objections, and also receive serious warning to be aware of friends and relatives who may be ‘used by Satan’ to try to dissuade them from the adhering to Witness teaching. They are also warned about ‘apostate’ literature such as testimonies of former Witnesses. They live with constant fear of being ‘disfellowshipped’ because then family and friends who remain as Witnesses will shun them.
They claim to accept the Bible as their only authority, yet they deny the trinity, the deity and bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace through faith and the eternal punishment of the wicked. They have a tendency to quote biblical verses out of context, ignore other relevant passages altogether and are carefully and specifically trained to follow certain lines of thought through Scripture. They seem to be encouraged to read the Bible only under the strict supervision of their leaders through publications from their headquarters. The following are some examples of their misuse of Scripture.
(i) John 14. 28 In this verse Jesus says, ‘my Father is greater than I’. Jehovah’s Witnesses use this to support their contention that the Lord Jesus is not God. However, the verse is a clear reference to the voluntary subordination of Jesus to His Father’s will. This was the human Jesus submitting Himself to His Father’s will. This verse makes no comment upon His essential nature which is divine, but only His temporary rank while here on earth. So the ‘greater than’ refers to His position on earth, rather than who He is.
Further reading in such passages as Hebrews 1. 8; Isaiah 9. 6; Mark 14. 61-62; 1 John 2. 22-23 and Philippians 2. 6, clearly and powerfully emphasizes the deity of Christ.
(ii) Colossians 1. 15 In this verse the Lord Jesus is called the ‘firstborn’ of all creation. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that this means ‘first created’ and implies that Jesus was not an eternal being and is someone less than the eternal God. Yet ‘firstborn’ is used and not ‘first created’, and Paul, great intellectual that he was, would not have confused the issue by using ‘firstborn’, if in fact he had meant ‘first created’. The term ‘firstborn’ does not refer to birth but to a pre-eminent position. The nation of Israel is referred to as ‘firstborn’, Exod. 4. 22; Jer. 31. 9, but was clearly not the first nation on earth. It was the most highly favoured by God. So, ‘firstborn’ refers to favoured rank, rather than position through birth.
(iii) John 1. 1 The New Translation of the Holy Scriptures includes the following in John 1. 1, ‘the Word was a god’, rather than ‘the Word was God’. It is true that in this verse the Greek word for God (’theos’) is used twice, once with the definite article and once without. Jehovah’s Witnesses use this to justify their use of ‘a god’. Yet even in their own translation they are inconsistent, for in the first eighteen verses of John’s first chapter, ‘theos’ appears six times without the definite article, vv. 6, 12, 13, 18 (twice), as well as v. 1. It is rendered as ‘God’ in each instance except for the last clause of the first verse. To be consistent they should say, ‘a man sent from a god’, v. 6, and ‘the sons of a god’, v. 12, but such renderings would make a nonsense of the text. They only use it in the first verse to undermine the truth of the deity of Christ. There are no reputable authorities or translations that support the rendering, ‘the Word was a god’. It should be noted that the absence of the definite article does not indicate someone other than the true God. ‘Theos’ is used ‘quite predominantly of the true God, sometimes with, sometimes without the article’ (Arndt & Gingrech, Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament). Also, it can be pointed out that the Jehovah’s Witness use of ‘a god’ indicates that their religion is polytheistic, as they believe in more than one god, for they say ‘the Word was with God and the Word was a god’: clearly for them the Word is another god separate from the true God. Yet the Bible knows only one God, and His name is Jehovah. The Christian faith is monotheistic.
Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to believe in the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit. They refuse salvation as a gift of grace, believing that it can be achieved through such works as going from door to door selling and distributing literature. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they will inherit eternal life on earth, while a select 144,000 will be privileged to go to heaven. They deny the reality of hell, making the work of Christ on the cross invalid. They believe that those who do not go to heaven or inherit the earth are simply terminated and so will no longer exist.
Today they claim that the Lord returned in 1914, coming invisibly and setting up His kingdom in heaven. Yet Russell and Watchtower teaching, prophesied that the kingdom would be set up on earth in 1914! (Watchtower Reprints, Vol. 1, March 1880, p. 82.) Also, ‘the full establishment of the kingdom of God in the earth at A.D. 1914, and the terminus of the Gentiles’ (Russell in Thy Kingdom Come, 1891, p. 126.) They changed the teaching when the prophecy was unfulfilled; therefore the Jehovah’s Witness religion can justly be called a false cult.
Sooner or later we may all be face to face with these people on our doorstep. We must not view them as enemies. Their teaching is false, but they believe it to be true, and they hold that view with all sincerity. We must always be gracious, kind and listen and never aggressive or arrogant. Our aim must be to win them for Christ, and so we need to be prepared, and that will require study, reading and memorization.
Firstly, we need knowledge, both of the Bible and where that differs from Jehovah’s Witness teaching. We must learn that certain approaches will be counter productive. For example, to bring out a testimony of a converted Witness will not impress or shock, but will raise suspicions and bring a rapid end to the conversation, because Witnesses are specifically warned about such books.
Secondly, it will be worth trying to examine beliefs in the light of Scripture. This will never be a quick process. Ask leading questions, and gradually sow the seeds of doubt about Jehovah’s Witness doctrine on the basis of what the Scriptures teach. Don’t be rushed from proof text to proof text, but examine each one within its context and honestly seek the correct meaning of the verse together.
Thirdly, be prayerful. Nothing will be achieved apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. He alone can take our words and the reading of the Bible and make it effective in the lives of those with whom we speak.
Fourthly, the reality of Christian testimony can be very powerful. Take any opportunity to share your experience of the Lord, and show by your life the reality of what it means to be a Christian.
Live with expectation that God will answer your prayers. The Watchtower is not impregnable and it is encouraging to know that many Jehovah’s Witnesses come to Christ each year. Often they testify that it was conversations with Christians that enabled them to see the Watchtower deception. Therefore every Christian has a valuable contribution to make in the evangelization of these deluded people.