The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, articulate why it is a cult, and explain how one could share orthodox Christianity with a member of this Society. Although members of this “sect” of Christianity claim to be the one true representation of the people of God on the planet, the reality is their doctrine is so contrary to orthodox Christianity that it is a cult. Moreover, a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) can be shown that the Christian orthodox doctrine a Witness denies to be true is in fact affirmed in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (the Watchtower Bible).
With roots back to 1870 and Charles Russell’s Bible study group in Pennsylvania, JWs subscribe to the belief that only their sect is the one true people of God. They teach that there is only one God whose only name is Jehovah, and they are His witnesses. As JWs, each follower has a personal responsibility to proclaim the truth in a very deliberate way often in door to door witnessing and home “Bible” studies. They believe Jesus Christ is not the only begotten Son of God, and that their translation of the Bible, the New World Translation (NWT) published from the Watchtower Society, is a more perfect translation of the Bible. Walter Martin writes, “The Watchtower Society is an absolute autocracy. All authority is vested in the [Society] including the authority to understand and teach the Bible.”
Although a JW may affirm faith in Christ, their understanding of how one is saved is based on good outweighing bad. Words like repentance, faith, grace, atonement and justification are not understood in the traditional orthodox sense. Witnesses are motivated to do right and adhere to a legalistic set of rules to please Jehovah. At best, Christ created an opportunity for men to be saved, but he did not secure the salvation of anyone. The Watchtower teaches that only 144,000 (the “Anointed Class”) are born again and will spend eternity in heaven with God; “the other sheep” (John 10:16) live forever in an earthly paradise. The souls of everyone else are annihilated. Witnesses do not believe in hell or the eternal punishment of those outside of Christ.
In 1914, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus returned, in an invisible way, to establish His kingdom. This kingdom is administered by the Watchtower Society headquartered in Brookline, New York. Thus, they meet in kingdom halls and are not organized like a New Testament church. According to Hager JWs are obsessed with uniformity including “uniform kingdom halls, consistent dress codes, and training for evangelism.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses understanding of truth substantially departs from orthodox Christianity in four major areas. They are: the entire Godhead, the Person (in both the deity and incarnation) and the salvific work of Christ (including the gospel), the second coming of Christ and the reality of Hell (including the eternal punishment of lost souls). The Watchtower Society indoctrinates new converts with false doctrine in two ways: first, they use a modified translation of the Bible and second, they teach only from their books, tracts and lessons and discourage the use of other Christian material.
Beginning with the doctrine of God, the JWs err in teaching that God’s only name is Jehovah who has not revealed Himself to mankind in three Persons who are one God. The JWs believe Jesus is a god—but not the Almighty God. He existed as a created spirit being until His birth and then was only human while on the earth. They deny the truth that Jesus is God possessing all the same divine attributes as God the Father. Finally, JWs believe that the Holy Spirit is not a separate distinct person in the Godhead but the non-personal active force of God.
Not only does the Watchtower Society deny the full deity of Christ, but it also denies His incarnation. The mysterious union of deity and humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ is denied: Jesus was a spirit being (a god), then a man, and is presently an exalted spirit being. The JWs teach that Christ died on a stake, not a cross, and deny the bodily resurrection of Christ.
A present day JW earns his salvation in a hybrid of faith and works. While the JW official website refers to Jesus as a savior, the witness is also directed from Phil 2:12 that there is a clear expectation that every JW will contribute or work out their own salvation. The Society denies the efficacy of Christ’s finished work on the cross. A new convert will be highly encouraged to be faithful to the programs and expectations of the church with the understanding that unfaithful people do not receive the reward of eternal life. From Watchtower material they will be taught: “The Bible likens our Christian course to a race, with salvation being the prize at its end.” The Society’s doctrine is devoid of an understanding or appreciation for the salvific grace of God.
Finally, the Society believes that Christ’s second coming has already occurred, and the world missed it because it was not visible. The Jesus who ascended in Acts 1 did not return in like manner (Acts 1). The JWs believe that Christ was made a heavenly king in 1914 and is using the Society rule on this planet in the kingdom age. They deny the visible second coming of Christ to rule on a throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years.
Engaging the Jehovah’s Witness
The best way to engage a witness concerning the flaws in his belief system is to use his New World Translation to affirm the orthodoxy of the Person and salvific work of Christ and the reality that all can be born again and assured of eternal life through salvation by grace (John 3, Eph. 2:8-9, 1 John 5). The second way to engage the JW is to show him how his NWT has been altered using another Bible. This would be especially productive if the JW could see the truth in multiple translations.
The witness has been taught that Jehovah created Jesus and Jesus subsequently created all things. However, this is not what his Bible teaches. John 1:3 is clear “and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” This is only possible if Jesus is not a created being. The witness needs to see the connection between John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1. Then, he should see how John 10:30 in the NWT presents Jesus as one with Jehovah—“I and the Father are one.” Next in John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus “My God.” This is troublesome because Jesus did not rebuke Thomas, and he should have if he were not God. From Hebrews 1:3, the witness needs to be shown how Jesus can be (from the NWT) “the exact representation of his (God’s see v.1) very being” if Jesus is not God.
Additionally, the witness should be shown how Jehovah is identified as the only savior (Is. 43:11); whereas, John 4:42 identifies Jesus as the savior of the world. The witness needs to see that the doctrine of the Trinity, there is only one God who has revealed Himself to mankind in three persons, is essential to reconcile verses with other verses in the NWT. Acts 5 is another example where the Holy Spirit is presented as God and the NWT was changed to obscure the truth. Finally from Matthew 1:23, the JW needs to explain how God was with mankind if Jesus is not God.
Next, the JWs need to be engaged with a true gospel presentation (justification, sanctification, and glorification). He needs to be shown what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ in relationship to the Prophet, Priest and King. He must be taught what saved by grace means from Eph. 2. I John 5:1 and other “whoever” verses would be an ideal verse to show that the JW that the number of people who may be born of God is not limited to any set number. He may be encouraged to know that all may have eternal life (John 3) and the assurance of salvation from 1 John. Ron Rhodes emphasizes the importance of sharing with the JW one’s personal testimony and stressing that orthodox Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with Christ. He writes: “Fundamentally, a Christian is one who has a personal ongoing relationship with Jesus.” Ultimately, the JW needs to be shown the full implications of “it is finished” (John 19:30). Even the NWT rendering “it was accomplished” begs the question: “What did Christ accomplish?
This paper summarized what the JWs believe to be true, outlined major heretical deviations from the Bible and explained how a Christian should engage a JW with the faith in hopes of bringing him to a relationship with Jesus. When a person compares what the Society teaches to orthodox Christianity, it is clear they are not the one true people of God. The JWs are not a sect of Christianity—it is a cult. By engaging the JW with the NWT, he should be able to see that his Bible does not support his doctrine. The true Christian needs to keep his focus on engaging the JW concerning the God of the Gospel and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hager, Mark. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. Edited by Ed Hinson and Ergun Caner. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Website. http://www.watchtower.org (accessed July-August 2010).
Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1993.
Martin, Walter. Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work of the Subject. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003.
Rhodes, Ron. The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Jehovah’s Witness. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001.
Rhodes, Ron. “The Bible and Religious Cults.” ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008.