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Author: Robert M. Bowman, Jr.; summary by Alan W. Gomes
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, more commonly known as Jehovah's Witnesses, was founded in the 1880s by Charles Taze Russell, a haberdasher from Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Russell, who attended Presbyterian and Congregational churches as a child, found himself unable to accept their teaching about hell. Under Seventh-day Adventist influence, Russell embraced their teaching that "hell" stood for the grave and that the wicked would ultimately be annihilated, not tortured consciously for eternity. Also through Adventist influence, Russell adopted the idea that Christ's second coming was an invisible, spiritual "presence" that had already begun, rather than a literal, bodily return to take place in the future. Russell also denied the doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ's deity. He was known for his vociferous denunciations of "Christendom's" allegedly false beliefs and practices. Russell died in 1916, believing that World War I was Armageddon.
Joseph Franklin Rutherford (d. 1942), the society's legal counselor, succeeded Russell as head of the movement, and it was under his tenure that they adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses." The current Watchtower president is Milton G. Henschel. In terms of social and ethical practices, JWs do not observe birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, or any other such holidays, rejecting them as "pagan." They refuse blood transfusions (based on a misunderstanding of Leviticus 17), will not participate in politics or the military, and will not salute the flag. They maintain strict neutrality in war. There are presently at least 5 million active JWs worldwide. They are known for their massive proselytizing efforts, dedicating about one billion hours per year to witnessing (that is, over 200 hours per member per year). JWs also distribute enormous amounts of printed literature, more so than any other cult.
Summary of Beliefs
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that there is one almighty God by nature, who is also only one person. JWs wrongly allege that wicked scribes removed God's proper name, Jehovah, from the Bible. This divine name has been restored to its rightful place in the New World Translation of the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is roundly condemned as unscriptural and the result of pagan influences. Jesus Christ was Michael the Archangel before his incarnation as a man; after his death and spiritual resurrection (see below), the man Jesus again became an angel. Jesus was Jehovah's agent in creating all things after he himself was created by Jehovah God. Although not God by nature, he is a "mighty one" and therefore may be called "a god" in a loose sense of the word. The Holy Spirit is not a person, nor a member of the Godhead, but is Jehovah's active force, which emanates from him to accomplish his will.
Concerning the afterlife, Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in an entity called the soul that survives the death of the body. Rather, they teach that people cease to exist at death but that at the Resurrection Jehovah will recreate them from his memory. In the eternal state there are different classes of Christians with different destinies. The 144,000 are those who, along with Christ Jesus, are "born again" to exist as spirits; they will reign with Christ in heaven. The rest will live in a paradise earth with resurrected bodies. There is no hell in the traditional understanding of the doctrine; the finally impenitent will be annihilated, not tortured for all eternity.
Concerning Christ's death and resurrection, he gave his life as a ransom price to atone for our guilt in Adam. He was raised an invisible spirit creature, forfeiting his right to bodily, earthly life. Salvation is accomplished by faith in Christ Jesus plus works, such as taking in spiritual knowledge and doing God's kingdom work (such as door-to-door witnessing). Regarding Christ's second coming, JWs reject the notion that Christ will return bodily to earth. Rather, his invisible "presence," which began in 1914, is engineering events leading to the Battle of Armageddon and the beginning of the Millennium. The Watchtower Society is known for having set several different dates for when Armageddon would occur; after each failed prophecy, numerous disillusioned members left the movement.
Parallel Comparison Chart
Scripture and Watchtower Authority
"They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such 'Bible reading,' they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom's clergy were teaching 100 years ago ..." (The Watchtower, August 15, 1981, 28-29).
"All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NWT).
"I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain in him" (1 John 2:26-27 NIV).
The Deity of Christ
"... the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God.... The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be" (Should You Believe in the Trinity? , 14, 20).
"So it was by means of this master worker, his junior partner, as it were, that Almighty God created all other things.... he was simply addressing another individual, his first spirit creation, the master craftsman, the prehuman Jesus" (Should You Believe in the Trinity? 14).
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1 NIV).
"'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!"' (John 8:58 NIV).
"In answer Thomas said to him [Jesus]: 'My Lord and my God!"' (John 20:28 NWT).
"I, Jehovah, am doing everything, stretching out the heavens by myself, laying out the earth. Who was with me?" (Is. 44:24 NWT).
"All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence" (John 1:3 NWT).
The Personhood of the Holy Spirit
"The correct identification of the holy spirit must fit all the scriptures that refer to that spirit. With this viewpoint, it is logical to conclude that the holy spirit is the active force of God. It is not a person but is a powerful force that God causes to emanate from himself to accomplish his holy will" (Reasoning from the Scriptures , 381).
"However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming. That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to YOU" (John 16:13-14 NWT).
"At death man's spirit, his life-force, which is sustained by breathing, 'goes out.' It no longer exists.... When they are dead, both humans and animals are in this same state of complete unconsciousness.... That the soul lives on after death is a lie started by the Devil" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth , 77).
"You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23 NIV).
"... I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have. And they cried with a loud voice, saying ..." (Rev. 6:9-10 NWT).
"Would a loving God really torment people forever? ... The wicked, of course, are not literally tormented because, as we have seen, when a person is dead he is completely out of existence.... And it is also a lie, which the Devil spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented ..." (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 81, 88, 89).
"Actually, all this passage [Rev. 14:9-11] says is that the wicked are tormented, not that they are tormented forever. The text says that it is the smoke ... that continues forever, not the fiery torment" ("Hell-Eternal Torture or Common Grave?" The Watchtower, April 15, 1993, 7).
"If anyone worships the wild beast and its image ... he will also drink of the wine of the anger of God that is poured out undiluted into the cup of his wrath, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest.... And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10 NWT).
"Jehovah God has the right to refuse to accept a ransom for anyone he deems unworthy. Christ's ransom covers the sins an individual has because of being a child of Adam, but a person can add to that by his own, deliberate, willful course of action, and he can thus die for such sin that is beyond coverage by the ransom" (Insight on the Scriptures , 2:792).
"... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24 NIV).
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6 NIV).
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst" (1 Tim. 1:15 NIV).
"The blood of Jesus ... cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7 NWT).
"Having given up his flesh for the life of the world, Christ could never take it again and become a man once more. For that basic reason his return could never be in the human body that he sacrificed once for all time" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 143).
"But God resurrected him by loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to continue to be held fast by it. For David says respecting him ...'On this account my heart became cheerful and my tongue rejoiced greatly. Moreover, even my flesh will reside in hope ... "'(Acts 2:24-27 NWT).
Classes of Christians
"So this 'congregation of God' is made up of all Christians on earth who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the 'congregation of God.' Today, only a few of these, a remnant, are still on earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this 'congregation of the living God"' (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 125-26).
"For truly by one spirit we were all baptized into one body ..." (1 Cor. 12:13 NWT).
"... you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:9-10 NIV).
The New Birth
"Being born again involves being baptized in water ('born from water') and begotten by God's spirit ('born from ... spirit'), thus becoming a son of God with the prospect of sharing in the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3-5) Jesus had this experience, as do the 144,000 who are heirs with him of the heavenly Kingdom" (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 76).
"For all who are led by God's spirit, these are God's sons" (Rom. 8:14 NWT).
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26 NIV).
"Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God" (1 John 5:1 NWT).
"Some suggest that belief in Jesus is the end of the matter.... However, to concentrate on only one essential requirement for salvation to the exclusion of the others is like reading one crucial clause in a contract and ignoring the rest.... Yes, there are various things involved in getting saved. We must take in accurate knowledge of God's purposes and his way of salvation. Then we must exercise faith in the Chief Agent of salvation, Jesus Christ, and do God's will the rest of our lives. (John 3:16; Titus 2:14)" ("What We Must Do to Be Saved," The Watchtower, September 15, 1993, 5-7).
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16-18 NIV).
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:8-10 NIV).
"... our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.... But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 2:13-14; 3:4-5 NIV).
"For some 79 years, humans on earth have been experiencing the effects of Christ's invisible royal presence" ("Shedding Light on Christ's Presence," The Watchtower, May 1, 1993, 11).
"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thess. 4:16 NIV).
Excerpted from Truth and Error by Alan W. Gomes Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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