The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS), also known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), was formed as the Zion’s Watch Tower in 1879 by Charles Taze Russell.
Because of his rejection of the concept of Hell, Russell began to challenge many other concepts in the Bible and ultimately added and removed the ones he didn’t agree with until he built a theology that does not even mirror Christianity any longer. Many of these original retranslations and interpretations can be found in his series of books called,Studies in the Scriptures.
When Russell died in 1916, the nod for leadership of this group went to Joseph F. Rutherford, who in turn revised the writings of Russell, deleting doctrines he didn’t agree with and adding his own commentary at will. This began with his book, Harp of God in 1921. He authored some 20 additional books over the next 20 years but none caused as much controversy in the movement as his addition of a new volume of Russell’s series, Studies in the Scriptures. Because of this writing, the movement splintered and Rutherford’s group changed its name to the WTBTS.
Nathan H. Knorr was the third president of this organization and it was under his direction that the WTBTS bible, the New World Edition, was published in 1961.
Today, the organization is based in Brooklyn, New York, and is generally referred to as the Watch Tower, or the JWs. Their leader as of this writing is Milton G. Henschel.
As with most sects originating in the 1800s, JWs believe their group to be the only true church on earth, the remnant. Other doctrines include the denial of the deity of Jesus, soul sleep, and extreme legalism as a means of salvation. The JWs are best known for their doomsday predictions and their practice of date setting the time of Armageddon.
Beliefs and Doctrines
This is the best known of the Jehovah’s Witness doctrines and is adhered to by the Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) as well: the concepts of no Hell and soul sleep.
The doctrine of soul sleep is based on the belief that human beings don’t have immortal souls; their souls are their physical existence and when the body dies, the soul goes to the grave. From there, those who are righteous are said to be risen at the resurrection; those who are evil are annihilated.
JWs maintain that it would be unloving and unjust for God to punish someone forever. Unfortunately, they are denying the teachings of Jesus himself on this subject. Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Jesus described Hell (Hades as well as Gehenna) as a place of torment and agony in fire that does not go out. All of these teachings are denied in lieu of a doctrine of eternal sleep and a cessation of existence.
Again, as seen in the “remnant churches” of the 1800s, the JWs teach that there is no salvation outside of their membership. They actively proselytize Christians, as they consider Christianity the “false religion,” the “harlot,” and “Babylon,” which are all referenced in Revelation to the false prophet and the ecumenical one-world religion.
JWs teach that there are three possible outcomes for eternity – the first two are restricted to the members of the sect.
1. Heaven – this is limited to 144,000 people, called the “John Class” or “Heavenly Kingdom Class.” This is made up of select JWs and the count began in 1893 with their first official baptism ceremony.
2. Earth – this is the destiny of the rest of the faithful members. They claim this represents the “Great Multitude” in Revelation 7:9 who will live forever in a restored earth.
3. Soul Sleep and Annihilation – This is for the balance of society, those who do not belong to the JW organization.
The JW organization claims that it doesn’t preach “salvation by grace,” but there is a huge flaw in this assertion. As its membership grew, the 144,000 theory became less plausible, so the doctrine was altered. The revision stated that it is not the original 144,000 members who will go to Heaven, as once taught, but that your destiny–whether Heaven or Earth–will be determined at the end and based upon your works. The organization claims that by joining and being baptized, members gain eternal life BUT that one’s destiny is contingent on works.
The organization claims that by joining and being baptized by them that you will gain eternal life BUT your destiny is contingent on your works.
As mentioned, a destiny of Heaven or Earth for eternity is based on a strict system of do’s and dont’s. Here are a few select rules that the JWs promote.
Witnessing – This is the most important directive of the JW faith. Members are even given different titles based on their number of hours of service. It is believed that the witnessing activity in conjunction with abstinence of the items listed below will directly affect one’s eternal destiny.
Baptism – The JWs require full body immersion by a qualified church leader.
Secular – JWs are not to have anything to do with the secular world. This includes music, television, movies, drinking alcohol, smoking, sports, school activities such as clubs, Girl/Boy Scouts, etc.
Traditional – Believing most traditions to be pagan in nature, the JWs reject the practices of holidays and observances such as Easter, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s/Father’s Day as well as most other holidays and milestone observances.
Political – The JWs refuse to be involved in any political actions, including voting, saluting the flag and serving in the armed forces. This is all based on their refusal to pledge allegiance to anything other than Jehovah.
Religious – No crosses are to be displayed in the worship hall, on a person, or in their houses. They teach that Jesus was crucified on a stake and that the cross is a pagan symbol. Only the “anointed” members may take communion. These members are determined by the organization and they are very few and far between in number. Communion for the anointed is held in the spring.
Medical – Organ transplants and blood transfusions are expressly forbidden. This goes back to the Old Testament time when the Lord warned Israel about their handling of blood. Vaccinations were once forbidden as well, but the JW organization has changed its position on that due to the numerous deaths of its members over its history due to improper medical care.
Trinity and Deity of Christ
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Christ, His physical resurrection and His visible return. They teach that the first creative act of the Father was to create the spirit being, Archangel Michael, who later donned a physical body to be seen by his followers in the persona of Jesus. Additionally, they hold that as Jesus, the Archangel was a perfect man who became the Messiah at the time of his baptism. The resurrection of Jesus is said to be a spiritual one, not a physical one.
They deny the deity of the Holy Spirit as well, describing it as an “…impersonal, invisible, inactive force that finds its source and reservoir in Jehovah God.” (Let Your Name Be Sanctified, p. 269).
One of the major changes made when the New World Edition Bible was written was the rewrite of all verses pertaining to the deity of Christ and the Trinity.
New World Edition Bible
As is common with splinter groups, the JWs decided that the Bible had been translated improperly and they set about to create their own version of Scripture. A committee of five wrote the New World Edition (NWE). One of the most notable changes in the NWE is found in John 1:1:
The King James Version says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The NWE added the qualifier, “a”, and took the capitalization emphasis off of “God”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word waswith God, and the Word was a god.
The logic here is that Michael/Jesus is a little “g” god but inferior to Jehovah God.
In addition to the door-to-door witnessing techniques, this is the other item for which the JWs are renowned – their obsession with prophecy.
As seen above in the salvation section, JWs have their own unique interpretation of the end-times events and of whom the Scriptures are speaking. They deny the doctrine of the rapture of the Church and are incessant date setters, with false prediction after false prediction about the timing of Armageddon.
Their most notable dates (which usually were followed by promises never to date-set again) include 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975 and 1989. When the 1914 date failed, rather than acknowledge it as a false prediction, they simply declared that Jesus had returned to the earth in invisible form. They continued setting Armageddon dates for future fulfillment.
Angels – The Basis For Their Doctrine
In the Book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul warns about receiving “another gospel” from an angel who does not agree with the message of Christ:
Gal 1:8: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Let’s compare that admonishion to the following two quotes from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leadership…
“…the heavenly messengers or angels of the Lord now used by the Lord in behalf of the remnant. These angels are invisible to human eyes and are there to carry out the orders of the Lord. No doubt they first hear the instruction which the Lord issues to his remnant and then these invisible messengers pass such instruction on to the remnant” (Vindication, volume III, 1932, p. 250).
“Again God put it in the mind of his people, by his angel, to act and to carry out his purposes” (Light, volume 1, 1930, p. 120).
Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to be Christians on the outside. They teach against evolution and apostasy in the church. That is where the similarities end, however.Sadly, with their twisting of Scripture to make it read how they want it to read as opposed to accepting it as the Word of God, they have totally gotten lost in the process and have become yet another legalistic, man-made religion.