The sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) began with Charles Taze Russell in the 1870’s. Russell was raised a Presbyterian, then joined the Congregational church, and was finally influenced by Adventist teachings. By his own admission, he had a hard time accepting the existence of hell. He sought out the Bible, and as his “studies” continued, he systematically began to reject the major doctrines of historic Christianity. In 1879 he started publishing a magazine to promote his beliefs. This magazine was the precursor to today’s Watchtower (WT) magazine.
In this tract we will examine five topics relating to Russell, the JWs, and their parent organization, the Watchtower Society (WTS). We will show that the beliefs of JWs are unscriptural, and that both Russell and the WTS are completely unreliable as spiritual guides.
Is the Watch Tower Society Reliable?
In 1910 Russell wrote, “If anyone lays the Scripture Studies [short for a seven-volume WTS publication entitled Studies in the Scriptures, hereafter abbreviated as Studies] aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood the Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he will be in the light at the end of two years.” (WT Reprints, 9-15-1910, 4685). The WTS claims to be God’s inspired prophet (WT, 4-1-1972, 197)—and yet its prophecies have repeatedly proven to be false.
Among other things, the WTS falsely predicted the following:
1889: “The ‘battle of the great day of God almighty’ (Rev. 16:14) which will end in AD 1914 . . . ” (Studies, Vol. 2, 1908 edition, 101).
1891: “With the end of AD 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy” (Studies, Vol. 3, 153).
1894: “The end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble” (WT Reprints, 1-1-1894, 1605 and 1677).
1916: “The six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th day, the 1000 years of Christ’s reign began in 1873” (Studies, Vol. 2, p. 2 of foreword).
1918: “Therefore, we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 89).
1923: “1925 is definitely settled by the scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge” (WT, 4-1-1923, 106).
1925: “The year of 1925 is here. . . . Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year” (WT, 1-1-1925, 3).
1939: “The disaster of Armageddon is just ahead” (Salvation, 361).
1941: “Armageddon is surely near . . . soon . . . within a few years” (Children, 10).
1946: “Armageddon . . . should come sometime before 1972” (They Have Found a Faith, 44).
1968: “The end of the six thousand years of man’s history in the fall of 1975 is not tentative, but is accepted as a certain date” (WT, 1-1-1968, 271).
Besides false prophecies, the WTS has misled its members through countless changes in doctrine and practice:
The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT, 7-1879, 7-8). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT, 6-1-1952, 338). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT 8-1-1965, 479). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT 6-1-1988, 31).
“There could be nothing against our consciences in going into the army” (WT, 4-15-1903, 120). Due to conscience, Jehovah’s Witnesses must refuse military service (WT, 2-1-1951, 73).
“We may as well join in with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event [Christmas] . . . ” (WT Reprints, 12-1-1904, 3468). “Christmas and its music are not from Jehovah . . . What is their source? . . . Satan the devil” (WT, 12-15-1983, 7).
“Everyone in America should take pleasure in displaying the American flag” (WT Reprints, 5-15-1917, 6068). The flag is “an idolatrous symbol” (Awake!, 9-8-71, 14).
A much longer list of such contradictions and doctrinal twists by the WTS could be formed, but this suffices to remove any reason one might have to believe that “It is through the columns of The Watchtower that Jehovah provides direction and constant scriptural counsel to his people” (WT, 5-1-1964, 277).
Can You Trust the New World Translation?
The New World Translation (NWT), the JWs’ own Bible version, was created between 1950 and 1961 in several parts, beginning with New Testament (NT). The translation was made by an “anonymous” committee, which transliterated and altered passages that were problematic for earlier JWs. The text of the NWT is more of a transliteration to fit theological presumptions than it is a true translation. This can be seen in key verses that the WTS changed in order to fit its doctrines.
To undermine the divinity of Christ in John 1:1, the NWT reads “the word was a god.” Non-JW Greek scholars call this “a shocking mistranslation” and “evidence of abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar.” Furthermore, Col. 1:15-17 has been changed to “by means of him all [other] things were created.” If the text were left as the original Greek reads, it would clearly state that Jesus created all things. However, the WTS cannot afford to say that anyone but Jehovah created all things, so it inserted the word “other” four times into the text.
The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT said that Jesus was to be worshipped (Heb. 1:6), but the WTS changed the NWT so that later editions would support its doctrines. The translators now decided to render the Greek word for “worship” (proskuneo) as “do obeisance” every time it is applied to Jesus, but as “worship” when modifying Jehovah. If the translators were consistent, then Jesus would be given the worship due to God in Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 28:17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; and Hebrews 1:6.
At the time of the Last Supper, there were over three dozen Aramaic words to say “this means,” “represents,” or “signifies,” but Jesus used none of them in his statement, “This is my body.” Since the WTS denies the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, they have taken the liberty to change our Lord’s words to “This means my body” in Matthew 26:26.
The NWT also translates the Greek word kurios (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” dozens of times in the NT, despite the fact that the word “Jehovah” is never used by any NT author. It should also be asked why the NWT does not translate kurios as “Jehovah” in Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and Revelation 22:21. If it did translate kyrios consistently, then Jesus would be Jehovah!
Is “Jehovah” God’s Name?
In Reasoning from the Scriptures the WTS teaches that “Jehovah” is the proper pronunciation of God’s name, and so “Everyone who calls on the name of [Jehovah] will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). They continue, “Many scholars favor the spelling ‘Yahweh,’ but it is uncertain and there is not agreement among them. On the other hand, ‘Jehovah’ is the form of the name that is most readily recognized, because it has been used in English for centuries” (p. 195).
However, the JWs’ own Aid to Bible Understanding says, “The first recorded use of this form [Jehovah] dates from the 13th century C.E. [after Christ]. . . . Hebrew scholars generally favor ‘Yahweh’ as the most likely pronunciation” (pp. 884-885).
New Testament Greek always uses the word “Lord,” and never “Jehovah,” even in quotes from the Old Testament (OT). Encyclopedia Judaica, Webster’s Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia,Encyclopedia Britannica, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and countless others agree that the title “Jehovah” is erroneous and was never used by the Jews.
Do Humans Possess an Immortal Soul?
Another mistake made by JWs is their denial of the immortality of the soul. The Bible mentions the soul approximately 200 times, and it can be seen to have very different meanings according to the context of each passage. This tract will simply demonstrate that the soul is immortal according to Scripture.
Perhaps the strongest contradiction of the WTS doctrine is seen in Christ’s descent to Hades. In 1 Peter 3:19, the apostle tells his audience how Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison.” If the dead were aware of nothing, then his preaching would have been futile. In the OT, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the condition of the dead, “Sheol underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in . . . all of them speak up and say. . . . Those seeing you will gaze even at you, saying . . . ” (Isa. 14:9-11). These verses indicate clearly that the dead are conscious, and the NT tells the same story. To be absent from the body is not to be unconscious, but rather it enables one to be home with the Lord, according to Paul (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). The body is just a tent, or tabernacle that does not last (2 Cor. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 1:13), while man cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). In fact, the souls live past the death of the bodies, since John “saw . . . the souls of those slaughtered . . . and they cried with a loud voice, saying . . . and they were told . . . ” (Rev. 6:9-11). Because the soul does not die with the flesh, those in heaven are able to offer our prayers to God (Rev. 5:8), and live in happiness (Rev. 14:13).
Is Hell Real or Not?
The WTS also maintains that everlasting punishment is a myth and a lie invented by Satan. Hell is merely mankind’s common grave, and is definitely not a fiery torture, according to them.
According to Scripture, if one is in hell, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur . . . the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest” (Rev. 14:11). This is an “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Jesus tells his listeners of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man dies, and is “existing in torment . . . he sees . . . calls out . . . ‘I am in anguish in this blazing fire’” (Luke 16:19-31). As a further illustration, Jesus stated that hell is likened to Gehenna. This “Valley of Hinnom” was located southeast of Jerusalem, and was used as a garbage dump where trash and waste were continuously burned day and night in a large fire. Jesus informs the listeners that hell is like this, “where the maggot does not die, and fire is not put out” (Mark 9:42-48). It is the place where the wicked are sent, and from this “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8) will come “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Now if hell were “a place of rest in hope” as the WTS teaches, then it is odd that Jesus would choose such contradictory illustrations to convey this.
For more information on refuting JW beliefs, see the Catholic Answers tract Five More Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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