Jehovah's Witnesses, also known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (with headquarters in Brooklyn, New York), was officially founded in 1884 [as the Zion's Watch Tower and Tract Society (originally the Zion's Watch Tower in 1879), officially adopting the name of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931], by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). In 1870, Russell was exposed to the teachings of William Miller, one of the founders of the Second Adventist Movement and acquired an interest in end time prophecies. Russell originally denied the doctrine of Hell, and would go on to reject nearly every other Christian doctrine, as well as add many physically and spiritually dangerous doctrines of his own making. Many of these unique and bizarre teachings were to be found in his six volume series titled, Studies in the Scriptures.
For the year 2000, the Watchtower Society claims a worldwide membership of
over six million (about one million U.S.) in more than 91,000 congregations in
235 countries speaking 340 languages, and
takes in approximately 300,000 new members each year (288,907 in 2000). According to JW statistics, yearly
proselytizing is accomplished via 4.8 million home Bible studies and 1.2 billion
hours of witnessing. The JWs field over 500,000 full and part-time
missionaries. Instruction and training are provided for all JWs at five meetings a week,
held primarily in "Kingdom Halls." Every week, an average of 45 new JW
congregations are formed. [In
the year 2000 in the United States alone, it was reported that 988,000
Jehovah's Witnesses spent more than 181 million hours in field service (i.e.,
door-to-door witnessing and Bible studies).]
JW leadership claims its victims by asserting itself to be the sole Christian religion and authority on the earth today, as well as God's mouthpiece or prophet. The Watchtower further disrupts families through its harsh and unbiblical interpretation of "disfellowshipping" and the practice of "shunning." Family members who are former JWs are labeled by Watchtower adherents as "apostates" and prevented from even social contact. Disfellowshipped or disassociated children, parents, and grandparents are kept from any type of communication with active members of the organization. Divorces are common within the sect when one member becomes disillusioned with Watchtower teaching and mind-control.
Not only has the name of this cult been changed time and again, but they also change their doctrines regularly -- between 1917 and 1928, they changed their doctrines 148 times! (Prior to 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses had also gone by the names of Millennial Dawn, People's Pulpit Association, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, and the International Bible Students Association.) Russell died in 1916 and was replaced by the second president, Joseph F. Rutherford. "A process of replacing Russell's writings with Rutherford's began in 1921 with the publication of Rutherford's Harp of God. Between 1921 and 1941, Rutherford was to write twenty books and numerous pamphlets, which would slowly revise the doctrine and structure left him by Russell" (Encyclopedia of American Religions, G. Melton, Vol. 1, p. 485). One of Rutherford's books that caused a great amount of controversy was the seventh volume of the Studies in the Scriptures.
Russell adopted many of his doctrines from the Seventh-Day Adventists, but the JWs began to emphasize door-to-door evangelism and literature distribution after Russell's death and subsequent leadership assumption by Joseph Franklin Rutherford. The JWs have published over ten billion pieces of literature since 1928. Its main periodicals are The Watchtower magazine (circulation of over 20 million in more than 130 languages) and Awake! (about 16 million copies in more than 80 languages), both published semi-monthly.
Historically, the JWs are best known for their practices of refusing: (1) to serve in the military; (2) to salute the flag; (3) to celebrate Christmas, birthdays, or other holidays; and (4) to give or to accept blood transfusions. [Rejecting the medical practices of vaccinations, organ transplants, and blood transfusions, the Watchtower has caused the deaths of many of its members throughout its history. Interestingly, vaccinations and organ transplants have now been acknowledged by the Watchtower as acceptable practices, contradicting their previous doctrinal position.] (Although some of these practices are neither Biblical nor unbiblical in and of themselves, depending upon one's motives and the exact nature of the practice, the reasons the JWs give for them often are unbiblical.)
Below are the highlights of what JWs believe concerning their
source of authority, the Godhead, Christ, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, etc.:
1. Source of Authority. JWs claim the Bible as their final authority, but Russell's writings, especially Studies in the Scriptures, are considered "the light of the Scriptures." JWs have their own translation of the Scriptures (New World Translation, published in 1961), which reflects the binding interpretations of the group's leaders. The JWs' New World Translation greatly perverts the Scriptures to avoid placing themselves under the judgment of God (cf. Jn. 1:1; 8:58; I Tim. 2:6; Ac. 10:36; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9-10; etc.). Hence, the leader's interpretation of the Bible, not the Bible itself, is the final authority of JWs. The Watchtower magazine is one of the JWs main sources of doctrine, and is considered authoritative by its members.
2. Trinity. JWs believe that God is not a triune God, but only "Jehovah God" (Let God Be True, pp. 100-101); they teach that Trinitarianism is a belief in three gods, and thereby, Satan-inspired polytheism. Rutherford wrote: "... sincere persons who want to know the true God and serve him find it a bit difficult to love and worship a complicated, freakish-looking, three-headed God. The clergy who inject such ideas will contradict themselves in the very next breath by stating that God made man in his own image; for certainly no one has ever seen a three-headed human creature" (Let God Be True, 2nd ed., pp. 101-102).
3. God the Father. Known as Jehovah, the Watchtower considers Him to be the only
true eternal God, the Almighty. They write, "There was, therefore, a time
when Jehovah was all alone in universal space" (Let God Be True, p.
25). Being alone, the first creative act of Jehovah was to create His Son.
4. Jesus Christ. Since JWs do not believe in the Trinity, they also do not believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. They add the word "other" four times to Colossians 1:16,17, teaching that Christ was God's first creation, i.e., the reincarnation of Michael the archangel created by Jehovah, rather than the Creator. [The "Watchtower" teaches that Jehovah God created Michael the Archangel before the foundation of the world; Michael was His only begotten son by virtue of the fact that he was the only creature directly created by Jehovah. It was this created Michael who became the JW Jesus (i.e., a denial of the eternality of Christ). JWs say that "Since actual conception took place, it appears that Jehovah God caused an ovum or egg in Mary's womb to become fertile, accomplishing this by the transfer of the life of his first born son (Michael) from the spirit realm to the earth" (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 920). "Marvelously, Jehovah transferred the life-force and the personality pattern of his first born heavenly son (Michael) to the womb of Mary. God's own active force, his holy spirit, safeguarded the development of the child in Mary's womb so that what was born was a perfect human" (Reasoning, p. 255).] JWs also add an "a" in John 1:1, making the verse read, "the Word was a god" (which in essence, makes the JWs guilty of the same polytheism of which they accuse Trinitarians).
5. Use of Name Jehovah. JWs use the name "Jehovah" only for God (in order to distinguish between God and Jesus Christ), while failing to recognize that Jesus is the fulfillment of "Jehovah" in Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:3. [HJB]
6. Resurrection of Christ . JWs deny the bodily resurrection of Christ through their teaching that the body of Christ was annihilated by God -- not risen -- but rather a new one was created three days after His death. This they call the "resurrection" of Christ. Thus, Jesus was "resurrected" as a "glorious spirit creature" and does not now have a glorified physical body. Instead, they claim Jesus arose spiritually and only "materialized" at various times after His resurrection so He could be seen alive. (Awake!, 7/22/73, p. 4)
7. The Holy Spirit. JWs deny the deity of the third person of the Trinity, as either God or as a person; they claim that the Holy Spirit is only an impersonal "active force of Almighty God which moves His servants to do His will" (Reasoning From the Scriptures, pp. 406-407; The Watchtower, 6/1/54, p. 24). They have written, "But the holy spirit has no personal name. The reason for this is that the holy spirit is not an intelligent person. It is the impersonal, invisible active force that finds its source and reservoir in Jehovah God and that he uses to accomplish his will even at great distances, over light years of space" (Let Your Name Be Sanctified, p. 269).
8. Sin. JWs believe that the first man, Adam, disobeyed Jehovah when tempted by the angel Lucifer, who was jealous of man. As a result of disobedience, Adam and all his descendants lost the right to life and so became liable to death. This liability is applied to temporal death only.
9. Salvation . JWs claim everlasting life is a reward for doing the will of God and carrying out one's dedication -- in other words, salvation is a reward for good works. (JWs are expected to spend five hours per week in door-to-door visitation and witnessing, are responsible for selling twelve subscriptions to The Watchtower magazine each month, and are responsible for conducting a "Bible study" each month in the homes of their converts.) According to JW theology, a person has one of three possible destinies. The Anointed (144,000) will be in heaven to reign with Jehovah God. The rest of the faithful Jehovah's Witnesses (not of the 144,000) will live forever on a paradise Earth. Both of these classifications are determined to a great extent on membership in the Watchtower organization as well as going door-to-door spreading the message of the Watchtower. Those people who are not members of the Watchtower organization will be destroyed by Jehovah God and cease to exist. There is no concept of eternal punishment or hell in Watchtower theology (Let God Be True, pp. 90-95, 289). They also believe that men will have a second chance, after death, to be saved.
10. The Body of Christ. JWs believe that the members of the spiritual Body of Christ, or "Christian Congregation," number only 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8). Most of those members of Christ's Body are now deceased and are reigning with Jesus in heaven since 1918. (Anybody born after 1936 cannot be in that number.) The remaining members still on earth, approximately 8,000 (out of whom are selected the "Governing Body"), are known as the "Remnant." They are collectively known as Jehovah God's "channel of communication" to men. They are the only ones "born again" and are the only ones who have a hope of going to Heaven. The rest of Jehovah's faithful witnesses only hope to be worthy enough to inherit the Earth, and will never see "Jesus/Michael," nor will they ever go to Heaven. All "so called Christendom" will be destroyed at Armageddon.
11. Soul Sleep. JWs deny the immortality of the soul. They do not believe the
soul can exist apart from the body, but that a corpse remains in an unconscious state in
the grave waiting for the resurrection. [HJB]
12. Annihilation of the Wicked. JWs teach that the "second death" is annihilation and extinction -- the wicked will cease to exist and will not suffer everlasting torment. They claim that a "doctrine of a burning hell" is "wholly unscriptural," "unreasonable," "contrary to God's love," and "repugnant to justice." [HJB] They claim that "hell" is the grave.
13. Prophecy . The Bible lists six identifying marks of false prophets, any one of which is sufficient for identification: (1) through signs and wonders they lead astray after false gods (Dt. 13:1-4); (2) their prophecies don't come to pass (Dt. 18:20-22); (3) they contradict God's Word (Isa. 8:20); (4) they bear bad fruit (Mt. 7:18-20); (5) men speak well of them (Lk. 6:26); and (6) they deny that Jesus, the one and only Christ, has come once and for all in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:3), thereby denying His sufficiency in all matters of life and godliness (2 Pe. 1:3). Most cults are founded upon false prophecies, which, if pointed out, offer an effective way to open blind eyes and rescue cultists. Russell's false prophecies formed the basis for what became The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell declared that the Second Coming had taken place invisibly in October 1874, and the Lord was truly present, and that in 1914 the faithful (the 144,000) would be translated to heaven and the wicked destroyed. Armageddon (which began in 1874) would culminate in 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth's rulers and the end of the world. C.T. Russell, still on earth, died in 1916.
In the early 1920s, JWs zealously distributed on the streets and from door to door a book titled Millions Now Living Will Never Die. It was prophesied, "The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in the Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914 ... we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old ... to the condition of human perfection" ("Millions Now Living Will Never Die," The Watchtower, 7/15/24, p. 89). The JWs even built a house in San Diego where the patriarchs were to live and tried to deed it to King David. (The house was quietly sold in 1954.) In the early 1940s, JWs were declaring that Armageddon, only months away, would end World War II and the defeat of the Nazis would usher in God's rule on earth (The Watchtower, 12/41). Their book, Children, suggested that plans to marry and have children be postponed until after Armageddon. It's been a long wait! Not giving up, they later prophesied that God's millennial kingdom would commence in 1975. Again JWs were told not to engage in any plans for this world, including marriage and having children. Many quit their jobs, sold their homes, and dedicated themselves to going door to door. (Source: 3/97, The Berean Call.) All in all, the Watchtower has predicted the end of the world for 1914, 1918, 1925, 1975, and 1989.
(Source: 4Q1993, The DISCERNER.)
Myth #1: The JWs are polytheist, believing in both a big God, Jehovah, and a little God, Jesus Christ.
Fact: JWs are absolutely monotheist, believing in Jehovah the Father who is the one true God and in His son, Jesus Christ, who is not God in any way at all.
Myth #2: JWs are pacifist and refuse to pay taxes.
Fact: JWs today refer to their stand as neutrality, not pacifism; that is, they are not against the use of force or even killing; rather they seek to maintain strict neutrality in the world's affairs, not taking sides or serving any government. As to paying taxes, the Witnesses do pay them.
Myth #3: JWs will not accept blood for any reason.
Fact: While it's true that they will not accept blood transfusions, JWs are allowed to have all the component parts of blood plasma.
Myth #4: The Watchtower Society claims to be an inspired prophet with continuing revelations.
Fact: JWs' Governing Body has always enjoyed all the privileges of prophets or apostles without any of the responsibilities. So, technically, though they do not claim to be inspired prophets, in practice, that is just what they are to the millions of JWs around the world. [Due to the resignation of the Governing Body's president and six other board members in October of 2000, JWs formed three new corporations to run its U.S. operations.]
Myth #5: JWs are super-zealots living exemplary Christian lives.
Fact: The foremost reason for their super zealot reputation is the active door-to-door ministry. Many are impressed by their willingness to spend so much time in their mission work. But what are their motives? Mainly they are fear and guilt. The tight control the organization holds over its members helps bring about conformity in moral standards.
The Jehovah's Witness "Jesus" -- what
JWs confess and what
they mean are two totally different things: (Source: 1/94, Mount Carmel Outreach
(1) "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." -- The first created son of God was known as Michael the Archangel. This angel was recreated as a perfect man on earth and named "Jesus." This Jesus died on a torture stake (not a cross), so that men could work their way into God's Kingdom. This Jesus/Michael now rules over his Kingdom invisibly since 1914. (Since he failed to show up then, to destroy the unfaithful, he was declared by the Watchtower "powers that be," to be invisible!)
(2) "We believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ." -- The angel Michael turned his attention to the affairs of the Earth in 1914 by establishing an invisible heavenly kingdom. This is what is meant by "second coming." He will never return visibly to Earth, but will rule through his "anointed" or "remnant" group of JWs here on Earth.
(3) "Jesus was resurrected." -- God (Jehovah) placed a newly created copy of Jesus' life pattern (or personality) into a newly created Michael the Archangel's spiritual (not physical) body. Since Jesus had been totally annihilated, Jehovah had to recreate Jesus from his memory, and he is now Jesus/Michael in heaven.
[Return to Text]
* Unless otherwise cited, three primary sources were used for this report: (1) Grolier's 1995 Multimedia Encyclopedia, (2) Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia, and (3) What They Believe, Harold J. Berry [HJB], BTTB:1990, pp. 51-70; (4) "Watchtower Bible and Tract Society," Rick Branch (Watchman Fellowship Profile, 1993); and (5) Examining & Exposing Cultic & Occultic Movements, Jack Sin, "Focus on JWs," April 2000, pp. 16-20.