10 Things You Should Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses
I read in the local newspaper today (5-18-18) that an annual Jehovah’s Witnesses convention is scheduled to convene here in OKC this weekend. It got me thinking once again about this unusual religious organization. Some demographic details are enlightening. In his article at the website of the Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter cites the Pew Research indicating that “no more than 4 in 10 members of the group belong to any one racial and ethnic background: 36 percent are white, 32 percent are Hispanic, 27 percent are black, and 6 percent are another race or mixed race. Roughly two-thirds (65 percent) are women, while only 35 percent are men. They also tend to be less educated, with a solid majority of adult Jehovah’s Witnesses (63 percent) having no more than a high school diploma (compared with, for example, 43 percent of evangelical Protestants).”
Here are some ten things that may prove helpful for you to know, especially as they likely will come knocking at your door sometime soon.
(1) Two men in particular are generally recognized as giving theological shape to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first, Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), was raised in Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism but soon abandoned his heritage due to his objections to the doctrines of predestination, eternal punishment, and the physical/visible return of Christ. Russell secured a legal charter in 1884, the year generally recognized as the official launch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter JWs). His wife divorced him in 1913 on grounds of adultery.
Joseph Franklin “Judge” Rutherford (1869-1942) succeeded Russell in 1917. He wrote a book insisting that both the Roman Catholic Church and all Protestant denominations constitute present day Babylon. He was arrested in 1918, together with seven others, on charges of sedition for refusing induction into the U.S. military. It was during Rutherford’s presidency in 1931 that the name of the movement was changed to “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” largely based on Isaiah 43:10 – “You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord [i.e., Jehovah], “and my servant whom I have chosen.” The name change was largely chosen to distance the movement from the reputation of Russell.
(2) The JWs claim the Bible as their final authority in all matters of faith and practice. However, this is misleading insofar as the group has produced its own translation into which they have subtly smuggled their own unique heretical innovations. Joe Carter, writing for the Gospel Coalition, notes that “In 1961 a JW corporation, The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, published its own formal equivalence translation of the Bible: the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT).”
(3) The JWs deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They insist it is an invention of Satan that originated in ancient Babylon, sometime around 2200 b.c. JW’s are, strictly speaking, unitarian in their view of the Godhead. They also believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person but a force of God.
(4) In his pre-human state Jesus was known as Michael, the archangel. He is a creature, the first product of Jehovah God’s creative work. He never has been and never will be equal with Jehovah. Thus, in the Watchtower translation of John 1:1, Jesus is “a” god but not the God. Technically speaking, JWs are therefore polytheists.
(5) JW’s affirm the doctrine of the virgin birth but deny the Incarnation. When he became human flesh, Jesus was wholly divested of his spirit existence. In other words, at the point of conception in Mary’s womb he ceased to exist as a spirit and became a man, to the exclusion of any other mode of being. He became “a human Son of God, a perfect man, no longer a spirit.” Thus, Jesus did not have two natures (one divine and one human) but only one: the nature of man.
(6) Jesus was raised from the dead spiritually but not physically. In his book critiquing false religions, Anthony Hoekema points out that at the time of his resurrection Jesus “was given immortality as a reward for his faithful course on earth; he was, in fact, the first creature to receive this gift. God now exalted his Son to be higher than he was before he lived and died as a man, and made him to be Head under Jehovah God’s capital organization over the universe. The Son now resumed the name Michael, ‘to tie him with is pre-human existence’” (275). Jesus Christ now enjoys not a human life but an angelic life, “life as a spirit-creature called Michael” (275).
(7) JWs deny the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He did not satisfy divine justice nor endure God’s wrath in the place of sinners. The penalty for Adam’s sin was physical death, not eternal condemnation. The purpose of Christ’s death, therefore, was to restore “perfect human life with its rights and earthly prospects” which Adam had forfeited.
(8) The doctrine of salvation among JWs is tied up with their distinction between “The Anointed Class” and “The Other Sheep.” Those who by faith, repentance, and unconditional obedience to God’s remain dedicated to Jehovah will be rewarded with everlasting life. But only some of these, 144,000 to be precise, will share in heavenly glory with Christ while others enjoy the blessing of life on earth. The door into immortality closed in 1918 when the full number of the 144,000 had been reached. But due to the fact that many came into the movement after that date, the JWs in 1931 recognized another group, called “other sheep.” The latter are destined to live on earth after Armageddon.
(9) The JWs assert that the times of the Gentiles ended on October 1, 1914, at which time Jesus Christ ascended to Jehovah God’s throne and established his kingdom. This is the “second coming” or “return” of Christ, although no “return” actually occurred “since Christ did not go back to earth but simply began to rule over his kingdom from heaven” (Hoekema, 297). Thus, the second “presence/coming” of Christ was little more than his moving from the right hand of Jehovah God to his throne, an event that transpired entirely in heaven.
Approximately 3 ½ years later, sometime in 1918, Christ came to his temple and cleansed it in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. This spiritual temple was the earthly organization of the Watchtower Society itself. At this time, those from the 144,000 who had died were raised as “spirit-bodies” to rule with Christ. The remainder of this group are raised spiritually as they die physically.
(10) Among other distinctives of the JWs: they deny the intermediate state and insist that there is no conscious existence of the soul or the immaterial element of man following physical death; they prohibit blood transfusions because the “Bible commands that we not ingest blood”; they prohibit the saluting of an earthly, national flag; they claim exemption from military service; they prohibit the use of Christmas trees (based on their interpretation of Jeremiah 10:3-4; and they do not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, or Easter. As for the destiny of lost souls, JWs believe in annihilationism, not an eternal conscious punishment in hell.