Distinctive Beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite forthcoming about their religious beliefs. Their religion, unlike Mormonism, isn’t an esoteric one with secret doctrines known only to an initiated few.
When Mormons come to your door, they don’t tell you that they believe in many gods, that Jesus and Lucifer were "spirit brothers," and that dark skin (in the case of blacks, Indians, and Hispanics) is supposedly a curse from God in punishment for wickedness. If they told you such things up front, you’d close the door immediately. Such teachings are saved for initiates. Thus, Mormonism is an esoteric religion (Webster: "esoteric: designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone").
The religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, is exoteric (Webster: "suitable to be imparted to the public"). They’re happy to tell you up front exactly what they believe, and they tell you not just when at your door, but in their publications.
In their booklet entitled Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Twentieth Century, for example, may be found a chart titled "What Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe." This chart list beliefs and the supposed scriptural authority for them.
Let’s examine some of the beliefs, which are peculiar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (In this tract we give scriptural passages from the Revised Standard Version, a sound Bible translation that is recognized by Catholics and Protestants alike as one of the most accurate and dignified English translations of Scripture. Bear in mind that the Witnesses’ use their own "in-house" Bible called the New World Translation (NWT), though it is regarded by Greek and Hebrew scholars as an extraordinarily poor and highly inaccurate translation. There are many places where it is not faithful to the Hebrew and Greek, especially where the text fails to support and often openly contradicts the Witnesses’ peculiar doctrines. In addition, the five members of the translation committee for the NWT completely lack credentials as Bible scholars. Four of them never studied the biblical languages, and the fifth studied non-biblical Greek for a short period.)
Is Christ God?
1. "Christ is God’s Son and is inferior to him." Given in support of this position are these verses: "And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:17). "I proceeded and came forth from God" (John 8:42). "If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). "The head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). "When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one" (1 Cor. 15:28).
At first glance these citations seem imposing. It does seem that Christ is inferior to God the Father in some sense. But the New Testament also has verses which clearly show Christ and the Father to be equals. For example, there is John 10:30: "I and the Father are one." Or, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Or, "All that the Father has is mine" (John 16:15). Or, "The Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Or, "[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be g.asped" (Phil. 2:6). These seem to contradict the other verses.
How do we make sense of all this? By keeping in mind that Jesus is both God and man. Some verses, such as these last five, refer exclusively to his Godhead. Others refer to his humanity. So far as he is God, Jesus is equal to the Father. Christ’s human nature, though, is created and is therefore inferior to the Father. But to focus on this aspect of Christ to the exclusion of his divine nature is a gross misunderstanding of who and what the Bible says Jesus Christ is. Other verses cited by the Witnesses, such as Matthew 3:17, show merely that Christ is God’s Son, not that he is inferior (in fact, John 5:18 shows that being God’s Son is being equal to God).
Was Christ Created?
2. "Christ was the first of God’s creations." Verses cited by Witnesses in support of this claim include: "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation" (Col. 1:15). "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen [Christ], the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation’" (Rev. 3:14).
In the first of the two verses, Witnesses think that "first-born" implies succession and inferiority. But the title "first-born" refers to Christ’s place as the chief and unique Son of God (cf. Rom. 8:29).
Further, the Greek of this verse can also be translated as "the first-born over all creation," as in the New International Version of the Bible.
Regarding the second verse from Revelation, it’s hard to see how it helps the Witnesses at all. It merely says Christ was the source of creation. This implies Christ is divine, since God created everything.
The fact that there was no time when the Son did not exist is indicated in John 1:1–3: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." This passage also shows that the Son is not a creature because all created things were made through him, and no created things were made except through him.
Hell No, We Won’t Go?
3. "Wicked will be eternally destroyed" (that is, no hell, just annihilation). Verses given in support: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:41, 46). (The NWT renders Matthew 25:46 as "And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life." This is one example of many where the NWT distorts the text to suit the Witnesses’ beliefs.) "They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess. 1:9).
You can see for yourself that these verses actually prove the opposite of what the Witnesses teach that is, they prove the existence of hell. This is compounded when Revelation says of the damned: "And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name" (Rev. 14:11). If they are not given any rest, day or night, then obviously they are still around to experience torment.
No Blood Transfusions!
4. "Taking blood into the body through mouth or veins violates God’s laws." The Jehovah’s Witnesses are perhaps best known to other Americans as people who won’t allow themselves or their children to have blood transfusions. In fact, they will go so far as to allow a loved one to die rather than accept a transfusion, as they believe transfusions are a gross violation of God’s law. They support this notion with these verses: "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Gen. 9:4). "You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood" (Lev. 17:14). "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity" (Acts 15:28, 29).
There are several problems with interpreting these verses to mean that transfusions are forbidden, not the least of which is the fact that the context is referring to animal blood, not human blood. Moreover, there is a great difference between eating blood and receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. Eating blood was wrong because it profaned the life of the animal. But for a person to willingly share his blood intravenously in order to share life with someone does not profane anything. Indeed, even ultra-Orthodox Jews, who strictly observe the Old Testament kosher laws, recognize that blood transfusions are not prohibited by the command not to eat blood.
The Witnesses must avoid other problematic passages that deal with God’s prohibition of eating blood because these passages include a prohibition against eating fat. Witnesses do not believe eating fat is wrong, and would see no problem at all with someone munching on fried pork rinds (i.e., deep-fried pieces of pig fat) or sitting down to dinner and enjoying a nice fatty cut of prime rib. But their vehement opposition to eating blood, when contrasted with their approval of eating fat, presents a serious problem for them. Why? Because Leviticus, the book they go to in order to substantiate their prohibition of eating (and receiving transfusions of) blood, contains, in the same passages, prohibitions against eating fat.
Consider these examples: "It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood" (Lev. 3:17). "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, You shall eat no fat, of ox, or sheep, or goat. The fat of an animal that dies of itself, and the fat of one that is torn by beasts, may be put to any other use, but on no account shall you eat it. For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which an offering by fire is made to the Lord shall be cut off from his people. Moreover you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people’" (Lev 7:22–27).
These verses and others like them are difficult for Witnesses to explain, given that they lean heavily on the prohibitions against eating blood. It’s totally inconsistent to maintain that God’s "perpetual statute" against eating blood must be observed, while his "perpetual statute" (that appears in the very same context) against eating fat can be safely ignored. On this subject, as on many others, the Witnesses are highly selective and must ignore much of the Bible in order to make their beliefs seem "biblical."
Also, the Old Testament dietary laws simply don’t apply to Christians today (cf. Col. 2:16–17, 22), and the ones given at the Council of Jerusalem passed into disuse as Jewish conversions to Christianity became uncommon toward the end of the first century and the Church became mainly Gentile. They weren’t immutable doctrines, but disciplinary rules.
5. "A clergy class and special titles are improper." In support of this position, Witnesses refer to these verses: "I will not show partiality to any person or use flattery toward any man" (Job 32:21). "But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ" (Matt. 23:8–10). "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave" (Matt. 20:25–27).
These verses simply show our Lord was saying we shouldn’t give to men credit for what really comes to us from God the Father and that his followers should be willing to serve. But Jesus shouldn’t be understood in a crassly literal way. If Matthew 23:9 were taken that way, you’d have trouble finding a title for the man who married your mother.
Furthermore, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul called himself the father of the church he founded in Corinth: "For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). He also referred, under divine inspiration, to Timothy as "my son" (1 Tim. 1:18, 2 Tim. 2:1), but if he could call Timothy "my son" then Timothy could call him "my father," so long as he didn’t confuse Paul’s fatherhood with the kind of Fatherhood God has (Matt. 23:9).
The Witnesses also ignore Scripture’s teaching concerning the authority of Church leaders and the appropriate honor that’s due them because of their office: "Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and...esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thess. 5:12–13), "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor . . . " (1 Tim. 5:17), and "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Heb. 13:17).
In summary, then, understand that the Witnesses’ use of the Bible typically involves two main problems. First, they quote passages out of context, highlighting only those verses which appear to support their beliefs, while ignoring others which contradict those beliefs. Second, their own NWT often distorts the text so as to support their beliefs. Be wary, then, when the Witnesses come to your door.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004