A review of the article “What Do You Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses?” (Awake! Feb 2016)
By James Broughton
IT SEEMS that Jehovah’s Witnesses are developing an identity crisis. In the September 2015 edition of the Watchtower, the question was asked ‘Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?’ Not content with that article, the February 2016 Awake! asks the following:
You see us in our public ministry. You may have read about us in news reports or heard things about us from others. But how much do you really know about Jehovah’s Witnesses?
It then proceeds to give a carefully selected check-list of eight true or false topics under the guise of testing your knowledge, the answers being revealed on the following pages.
1 Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians.
• TRUE. We try to follow closely the teachings and behaviour of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:21) However, in a number of ways, we differ from other religious groups that are called Christian. For example, we have found that the Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God; he is not part of a Trinity. (Mark 12:29) We do not believe that the soul is immortal or that there is any basis in Scripture for saying that God tortures people in an everlasting hell. Nor do we believe that those who take the lead in religious activities should have titles that elevate them above others.—Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ezekiel 18:4; Matthew 23:8-10.
Whilst it is true that Christians try to follow closely the teachings and behaviour of Jesus Christ, with Jesus as the role model, the Witnesses acknowledge that they differ from other religious groups in the following four key areas:
• the immortal soul
• everlasting hell
• religious titles
Jesus is not part of a Trinity, they say, quoting Mark 12:29 “…’Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah’.” But this text merely confirms the fact that Christians do believe in one God, albeit expressed in three persons. The Society says that Jesus is a god, a created being known also as Michael the Archangel, even though the book of Hebrews plainly teaches that Jesus is far superior to the angels and receives worship from them.
Concerning the immortality of the soul, Ecclesiastes 9:5 is cited; “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten.” The soul is the person, they say, and when a person dies, the soul dies. Quoting Ezekiel 18:4, “Look! All the souls – to me they belong. As the soul of the father so also the soul of the son – to me they belong. The soul who sins is the soul who will die”. The Bible occasionally uses the word ‘soul’ to describe a person but more often than not in its fullest sense it describes that part which was formed to enable flesh and spirit to communicate. It is the deep invisible and immortal part of a person which at death leaves the body and returns to God. It does not cease to exist, because God alone has power over the destiny of the soul.
Similarly, ever since their founder Charles T. Russell rejected the concept of a fiery hell as the final destiny of the wicked, the Witnesses maintain that God does not torture people in an everlasting hell. For them, hell is simply the grave. If the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) is like all the rest of Jesus’ parables, it also must use a real situation to illustrate spiritual things. People must really have a conscious existence after death, and some of them must really be “in torments”, deeply regretting their past life. Christians do not believe that God is a cruel, unfeeling monster who delights in tormenting people. If we truly know him, we realise just how just and loving he is.
After the three doctrinal issues comes the somewhat mundane one of religious titles. This is somewhat misleading since it implies that the Society is a democratic one where each member has a voice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The organisational structure of the Watchtower Society is the key to its total control. Under the guise of being ‘theocratic’ which means that it is God’s sole visible channel on earth, a small select group of men called the Governing Body, only answerable to Jehovah God, direct its adherents from the Headquarters in New York State. Each congregation is presided over by male elders. So much emphasis is placed upon ‘God’s organisation’ that a Witness finds it very difficult to question or entertain doubts about its validity, especially as they are told that their lives depend on it.
2. Jehovah’s Witnesses are creationists.
• FALSE. We believe that God created everything. But we do not agree with many who believe in creationism. Why not? Because a number of creationists’ ideas conflict with the Bible. For example, some assert that the six days of creation were literal 24-hour days. But the word “day” in the Bible can refer to a considerable length of time. (Genesis 2:4; Psalm 90:4) Then, too, some creationists teach that the earth is just a few thousand years old. However, the Bible indicates that the earth and the universe existed long before the six days of creation.—Genesis 1:1. (Footnote 1. For that reason, we have no objection—as do some creationists—to credible scientific research that indicates the earth may be billions of years old.)
Here the Witnesses are perhaps trying to distance themselves from the more fundamentalist groups on the American scene, especially those in the so-called ‘Bible-belt’.
Many of their articles appear to be based on “credible scientific research”, although very few Witnesses have a scientific background. They certainly reject evolution as an explanation for the origins of the human species. In fact, Adam and Eve appear prominently in the chronological calculations Watchtower leaders used during the late 1960s and early 1970s to promote their prediction that the world would end on or about October 4/5, 1975.
3. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in doctors.
• FALSE. We do accept medical treatment. In fact, some of us are physicians, as was the first-century Christian named Luke. (Colossians 4:14) However, we reject any treatment that conflicts with Bible principles. For example, we do not accept blood transfusions, because the Bible forbids taking in blood.—Acts 15:20, 28, 29. Even then, we seek the best possible medical care for ourselves and our families. In fact, blood conservation treatments that were developed to help Witness patients are now being used to benefit all in the community. In many countries, any patient can now choose to avoid blood transfusion risks, such as blood-borne diseases, immune-system reactions, and human errors.
Notice how the belief in not accepting blood transfusions is almost lost amidst the acceptance of medical practice. This is perhaps to hide the most frightening aspect of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. It is a pure smoke-screen to suggest that people have benefited from not taking contaminated blood, and using only blood substitutes. References to blood in the Bible actually centre around two areas: diet and sacrifice. Orthodox Jews who insist on kosher meat – slaughtered and bled under rabbinic supervision – have no objection to blood transfusions. The millions of Witnesses who accept such an interpretation do so solely on the Watchtower Society’s supposed authority and are content to place themselves, if necessary, in an early grave.
4. Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the entire Bible.
• TRUE. We believe that the entire Bible is “inspired of God and beneficial.” (2 Timothy 3:16) That includes both the Old Testament and the New Testament, as they are commonly called. Generally, we refer to these sections of the Bible as the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures. In this way, we avoid giving the impression that some parts of the Bible are outdated or irrelevant.
Many Christians who believe in the inspiration of the Bible have no problems in referring to its two parts by their traditional names of Old Testament and New Testament. The former describes God’s dealings with the nation of Israel and the latter with the life of Jesus and the growth of the early Church. No part of the Bible is outdated or irrelevant. The claim that Witnesses accept the entire Bible is one of interpretation rather than inspiration. For them the Bible is an “Organisational Book”, that is, it can only be correctly interpreted by them alone. They make the somewhat ironic claim that if you read the Bible without Watchtower guidance, you would come to believe what Christendom’s clergy have been teaching all along. A private reading of the Bible would take a person away from the teachings of the Society (see Watchtower 15 August 1981, pp. 28-29).
5. Jehovah’s Witnesses use only their own Bible translation.
• FALSE. We use many translations in our study of the Bible. In languages in which it is available, though, we especially appreciate the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures for its use of God’s name, for its accuracy, and for its clarity. Consider the use of God’s name, Jehovah. In the introduction of one Bible translation, there is a list of the names of 79 people who in some way contributed to the production of the translation. Yet, this same Bible omits the name of the very Author—Jehovah God! In contrast, the New World Translation restores the divine name in the thousands of places where it existed in the original text. (Footnote 2. The New World Translation has another distinction: It is distributed without charge. As a result, millions are able to read the Bible in their mother tongue. The New World Translation is now available in some 130 languages. You can even read it online at www.jw.org.)
It is true that the Witnesses use other versions of the Bible but as their response indicates they prefer to use their own version. Their main reason is that it has “restored the divine name”. Leaving aside what seems to be the secondary issue of its correct pronunciation (Jehovah or Yahweh), they claim that the tetragram YHWH is found in the early Greek translations of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (LXX). But here the Society is being selective since the majority of manuscripts did not contain it but used Adonai (Lord) instead. It also claims that Jesus and his followers in the early church would pronounce the tetragram every time they came across it. But if the purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to make known the name of God by pronouncing it, then clearly he failed. It was not so much what Jesus said but what he did that made the name known. Also there is no evidence that Paul ever wrote anything other than kyrios to represent the tetragram. The name that the early Christians were called upon to uplift was that of Jesus.
Furthermore, the Society is at pains to cite another translation which lists seventy-nine people responsible for working on it. Yet they themselves hide behind a cloak of anonymity when it comes to publishing the names of the New World version, so that “the honour might belong to Jehovah”. Or perhaps it is to hide the lack of scholarship amongst the committee.
As for the comment that the NWT is distinctive because it is distributed without charge, then obviously the Society has not heard of organisations such as Bible Society or Scripture Union which do precisely the same.
6. Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their Bible to fit their beliefs.
• FALSE. When we have discovered that our beliefs were not completely in line with the Bible, we have adjusted our understanding. Long before we started producing the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 1950, we used available translations and formed our beliefs accordingly.
This is possibly what one might describe as “an own “goal” because it is precisely why the Society produced the NWT in the first place. Numerous examples can be given on how the Witnesses have changed their doctrine over the years. In one publication this was described by the nautical term of ‘tacking’ despite the fact that there has not been a change to an idea of man but the change has been to a promise of God. One change in the NWT is, as we have already seen, through the unwarranted introduction of ‘Jehovah’ into the New Testament.
Also, the translation consistently downgrades Jesus. Compare Colossians 1:17 in the NWT which reads “Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him, all other things were made to exist” with the NIV rendering of “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. The reason the Society has mistranslated this verse is to change the fact that Christ is eternal and therefore God – a doctrine they deny. They unnecessarily insert the word “other” twice to imply that Christ himself is not the Creator. It is little wonder then that Greek scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, almost universally reject the NWT, calling it biased and inaccurate.
7. Jehovah’s Witnesses shun community involvement.
• FALSE. Our ministry benefits many in the community. We have helped many people to overcome harmful addictions, such as the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Our literacy classes help thousands around the world to learn to read and write. We also help when disaster strikes by providing practical relief assistance to both Witnesses and non-Witnesses. We try to give the emotional and spiritual support that victims sorely need at such times. (Footnote 3. One of the ways we use donations is in providing relief for victims of disasters. (Acts 11:27- 30) Since the work is performed by unpaid volunteers, the funds that are allocated go toward actual relief, not administrative salaries.)
This statement has to be viewed in the context of the Society’s claim that of all religious organisations, God works only through it. It alone has authority to speak for God. Supporting other charities or relief agencies is not an option. This in turn leads it to accept an alleged divine command to be separate from the entire world system – social, political, military and religious. It does not run hospitals, schools, youth clubs, drop-in centres and the like. Whilst it may be true that it helps addicts and illiterates, that is only within the confines of its own recruitment activities. Overseas aid in disaster areas is sent mainly to the Witnesses themselves. Also, the main reason why its literature is produced so cheaply is because of its being almost entirely funded through unpaid volunteers.
Although the Witnesses deny that they shun community involvement, they do practise shunning. Can you imagine being in a situation where you are totally rejected, treated as dead? The Society discourages association and friendship with those outside the organisation. So when a person leaves, he/she is treated as a sinner rebelling against God Himself, and not even to be greeted. Under these circumstances, people have tried to commit suicide and families have broken up.
8. Jehovah’s Witnesses look down on people of other religions.
• FALSE. We follow the Bible’s advice to “respect everyone”—regardless of their religious beliefs. (1 Peter 2:17, Today’s English Version) For example, though in some countries there are hundreds of thousands of us, we do not try to pressure politicians or lawmakers into restricting or banning the work of other religious groups. Nor do we campaign to have laws passed that would impose our moral and religious convictions on the community. Instead, we extend to others the same tolerance that we appreciate receiving from them.—Matthew 7:12.
On the face of it, then, Jehovah’s Witnesses are tolerant people. They strive to be courteous with outsiders, unless, of course, they have been disfellowshipped. But the question they would want to ask is, “Do you want to be part of Satan’s world or are you for God’s new system?” They also see the mainstream Christian Church as one of their most powerful enemies. They do not vote in elections, nor do they hold public office, claiming that they give their loyal support to God’s kingdom government alone, not to any human rulers. Yet faithful godly individuals such as Joseph, Daniel, Esther, Mordecai and Nehemiah accepted political appointments to serve in high governmental positions in pagan secular states, evidently with divine approval. In the New Testament Paul’s reference to Christians in “Caesar’s household” is understood by many to include governmental rather than simply domestic service (Philippians 4:22).
Finally, the reader is invited to carry out further research:
This article contains information selected from our official website, jw.org. To learn more, go to ABOUT US ˛ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS. ˛
Likewise, for an alternative view it might be worthwhile examining websites such as JWfacts or firstandlast.org.uk either to seek helpful advice or to explore the issues more fully.