The History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

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. He ultimately established his own belief system, and in 1879 he started publishing a magazine to promote his beliefs. This magazine was the precursor to today’s Watchtower (WT) magazine, by which Jehovah’s Witnesses are typically known.

Herein we will examine five topics relating to Russell, the JWs, and their parent organization, the Watch Tower 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.

1. Is the Watch Tower Society Reliable?

In 1910 Russell wrote, “If anyone lays the Scripture Studies [short for a 7-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 maintains that it is God’s reliable mouthpiece to the nations, and it claims to be God’s inspired prophet (WT, 4-1-1972, 197)—and yet its prophecies have repeatedly proven to be false. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the WTS is to be rejected as a false prophet.

Among other things, the WTS predicted the following:

Besides false prophesies, the WTS has misled its members through countless changes in doctrine and practice:

“To worship Christ in any form cannot be wrong ... ” (WT, 3-1880, 83). “It is unscriptural for worshippers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (WT, 11-1-1964, 671). 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). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (Live Forever, early ed., 179). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (Live Forever, later ed., 179). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, 985). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (Revelation: Its Grand Climax at Hand! 273). “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). If that is the case, who is to say what will be taught tomorrow?

2. Can You Trust the New World Translation?

The New World Translation (NWT), the JWs’ own Bible version, was created between 1950-61 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. Nathan Knorr, Fred Franz, Albert Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschel were later identified as the men that created the text, which is used by no other sect. Franz studied non-biblical Greek for two years, and taught himself Hebrew. The rest had no formal training in any biblical language. 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,” “incorrect,” “monstrous,” 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 made to exist.” 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. Even Protestants have not perverted the very language of the Gospel to shore up support for their denial of the Eucharist.

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 kurios consistently, then Jesus would be Jehovah!

3. 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, “Jehovah” is a translation of the Tetragrammaton, which itself is a transliteration of YHWH, the deliberately unpronounceable form used by the divinely inspired authors of the Old Testament, who considered the “ineffable name of God” too sacred to be spoken aloud. 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]. Raymundus Martini, a Spanish monk of the Dominican order, used it in his book Pugeo Fidei of the year 1270. 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, grammatically impossible, and was never used by the Jews.

4. 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 Hell. 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, “Hell below was in an uproar to meet thee at thy coming … All shall answer, and say to thee: Thou also art wounded as well as we, thou art become like unto us …” (Is. 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 them that were slain … and they cried with a loud voice, saying … and it was said to them … ” (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).

5. 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 brimstone … the smoke of their torments shall ascend up for ever and ever: neither have they rest day nor night” (Rev. 14:10-11). 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 “in torments … he saw … cried … I am tormented in this flame” (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. Lastly, Revelation 20 calls hell a “pool of fire … [where] they will be tormented day and night, forever and ever”—all who are not in the book of life. So, if one’s name is in the book of life, one enters heaven (Rev. 21:27). If it not in the book, then a literal hell awaits.

Now we will examine five additional beliefs and teachings of the Watchtower Society (WTS), the parent organization of the JWs.

1. Are Jesus and Michael the Archangel Really the Same Person?

One of the most peculiar of the WTS’s teachings is their assertion that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel. If the JW has difficulty explaining any particular doctrine, it will be this one. Even JWs will admit that if one were to have walked up to any of the apostles or disciples of Christ and asked them who Jesus was, they would not have said, “Well, he’s Michael the Archangel!” Not only was the very idea was unheard of before Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the WTS), but the Bible explicitly rejects the possibility of it.

For example, the author of Hebrews states, “For to which of the angels hath he said at any time, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee? … And let all the angels of God adore him … Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever … Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth: and the works of thy hands are the heavens … to which of the angels said he at any time: Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool?” (Heb. 1). Here, the author of Hebrews separates Jesus from angels, and commands the angels to worship him (cf. Rev. 5:13-14, 14:6-7). The obvious problem is this: Archangels are creatures, but the Bible forbids any creature to worship another creature. Thus, either the Bible is in error by commanding the angels to worship an archangel, or Jesus is uncreated and cannot be an archangel. Since this gave the JWs a tremendous problem, they even had to change their own Bible translation, called the New World Translation (NWT), to eliminate the references to worshipping Christ. (The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT read “worship” in Hebrews 1:6.) Beyond this, Jesus has the power to forgive sins and give eternal life, but no angel has this capacity.

2. Jesus: Creature of Creator?

The doctrine that most clearly sets the WTS apart from Christianity is its denial of the divinity of Christ. JWs maintain that Jesus is actually a creature—a highly exalted one at that—but not God himself. Scripturally, the evidence is not in their favor.

John 1:1 states unequivocally, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse gave the JWs tremendous difficulty, and so in their own NWT they render the end of this verse as, “And the word was a god.” One great difficulty with this translation is how it contradicts passages such as Deuteronomy 32:39, which says, “I alone am, and there is no other God besides me.” Further contradictions can be seen in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me,” and Isaiah 43:10, “ Before me there was no God formed, and after me there shall be none.” When a particular translation so clearly opposes other verses in Scripture, one can know immediately that it is inaccurate.

In John 20:28 Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” In the original Greek it literally reads, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” It would be nothing short of blasphemy for Jesus not to rebuke Thomas if he was wrong. Jesus does nothing of the sort, but instead accepts Thomas’ profession of his identity as God.

The Bible indicates that God alone created the universe (Is. 44:24), and “he that created all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). However, Jesus created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10). This passage by itself proves that Jesus is God, since an Old Testament reference to God (Ps. 102[101]:26-28) is now given to him.

In John 8:58, Jesus takes the name of God, “I AM” (cf. Ex. 3:15-18), and applies it to himself. Only God may use this title without blaspheming (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11), and the punishment for someone other than God to use the sacred “I AM” is stoning (Lev. 24:16). Thus in verse 59, Jesus’ audience picked up stones to kill him, because they correctly understood his use of “I AM” as his claim to being God and hence thought he was guilty of blasphemy. This verse also proved to be difficult for the JWs to combat, and so they changed “I AM” to “I have been.” The Greek here is ego eimi (εγω ειμι), which any first-semester Greek student can tell you means “I am.” It should also be noted that it would be rather strange for people to stone Jesus for saying that he “had been.”

JWs maintain that only Jehovah God may be prayed to. But Stephen prayed to Jesus in Acts 7:59, and so one must conclude that Jesus is God. Otherwise, Stephen blasphemed while filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55). Now the JWs will assert that Stephen was praying as a result of the vision he originally beheld, where he saw God and Jesus in heaven (verse 55). However, verse 58 says that Stephen was dragged out of the city to be stoned, so clearly the vision had ended, for his stoning took place in a different location and at a later time. It is in the context of this later setting when Stephen clearly prays to Jesus that he might “receive [Stephen’s] spirit.”

The WTS would have their followers believe that Jehovah and Jesus are necessarily different beings, though the Bible tells another story. Jesus is called Mighty God in Isaiah 9:6, and in the very next chapter the same title is given to Jehovah in verse 21. Other shared titles include: King of Kings (compare with Rev. 17:14), Lord of Lords (Deut. 10:17; Rev. 17:14), the only Savior (Is. 43:10-11; Acts 4:12), the First and the Last (Is. 44:6; Rev. 22:13), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8; Rev. 22:13-16), Rock (Is. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8), and Shepherd (Ps. 23:1 (KJV/RSV); Heb. 13:20-21).

Jesus and Jehovah have much more in common than titles, though. They are both worshipped by angels (Heb. 1:6, Neh. 9:6). They are both unchanging (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6). They both created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10, Neh. 9:6) and are all-knowing (John 21:17, 1 John 3:20). Both give eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:11), and judge the world (John 5:22, Ps. 96[95]:13). To them every knee will bend and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:9-11, Is. 45:24).

3. Is the Holy Spirit a Force or God?

Since the WTS insists that the Trinity is unbiblical and false, they relegate the Holy Spirit to the role of God’s impersonal active force which compels believers to do his will. In fact, they compare the Holy Spirit (which they render as “holy spirit”) to electricity (Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p. 20).

The Bible begs to differ, though. There are numerous verses in the New Testament which clearly demonstrate both the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit says, “Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them.” In Acts 10:19-20, this “impersonal force” considers himself to be a person. John 16 supports this idea by referring to the Holy Spirit as a “he” 10 times in the same chapter. First Corinthians 12:11 states that the Holy Spirit “wills,” which is an irrefutable attribute of personhood, as is the capacity to love we see demonstrated by the Spirit in Romans 15:30. Scripture also states that the Holy Spirit can: be lied to (Acts 5:3), speak (Acts 10:19-20), hear (John 16:13-15), know the future (Acts 21:11), testify (John 15:26), teach (John 14:26), reprove (John 16:8-11), pray and intercede (Rom. 8:26), guide (John 16:13), call (Acts 13:2), be grieved (Eph. 4:30), feel hurt (Is. 63:10), be outraged (Heb. 10:29), desire (Gal. 5:17) and be blasphemed (Mark 3:29). Only a person is capable of these.

These examples demonstrate sufficiently that the Holy Spirit is a personal being, and so now one must demonstrate that he is God. Acts 5:1-4 teaches that a lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God himself. Isaiah 44:24 insists that God alone created the heavens and the earth, but Job 33:4 and Psalms 104[103]:30 explains that the Holy Spirit created them. Only God is everlasting, and this is likewise an attribute Scripture gives the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). The Jews put Jehovah to the test (Ex. 17:2), and the Holy Spirit takes the words of God, and claims they “tested and tried me” (Heb. 3:9). Unless the Holy Spirit is God, then he is an impostor. Again, in Hebrews 10:16, he claims to have placed his law in man’s hearts, though this was God’s work in Jeremiah 31:33. There is but one Lord (Eph. 4:5) and one Creator (Mal. 2:10), yet both the Father and the Spirit claim they are him (Matt. 11:25 and 2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 8:6 and Ps. 104[103]:30). Only the Catholic understanding of the Trinity reconciles these passages.

4. Is There a Bodily Resurrection of Christ?

According to the WTS, “The man Jesus is dead, forever dead …” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 5, 454). “We deny that he was raised in the flesh, and challenge any statement to that effect as being unscriptural” (Studies, Vol. 7, 57). Jesus’ fleshly body “was disposed of by Jehovah God, dissolved into its constitutive elements or atoms” (The Watchtower, 9-1-1953, 518). “In order to convince Thomas of who he was, he used a body with wound holes” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 145). He was raised as an invisible spirit creature, with no physical body (Reasoning From the Scriptures, 214-215).

However, according to Scripture, “if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Jesus makes clear, even before death, that it is his body that will be raised up. He promises to raise up the temple once it is destroyed. “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). After he had risen, he gives the same testimony, “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle, and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have … But while they yet believed not, and wondered for joy, he said: Have you any thing to eat?” (Luke 24:39, 41). Jesus insists that Thomas place his finger into his wounded side, so as to prove that he had indeed risen from the dead (John 20:27). There is no question that Jesus had truly risen from the dead. No Christian was under the impression that he was invisibly raised as Michael the Archangel, while God the Father dissolved his natural body. Such a presumption is without historical or scriptural warrant, and the “proof is in the pudding”: Ask the JW to show you a Scripture verse which backs up the WTS’s assertion about God disposing of Jesus’ body. He can’t, because there isn’t one.

5. Is Heaven Just for the “Anointed Class”?

The WTS teaches that only the anointed 144,000 seen in Revelation 7 will enter heaven (the “anointed class”), while the remainder that are not annihilated (the “other sheep”) will live forever on earth in paradise. However, the Bible poses some irreconcilable difficulties with this idea.

If Revelation 7 is to be taken literally, there would only be 144,000 Jewish male virgins taken from a square shaped earth that are now in heaven worshipping a sheep. This would mean that Peter (not a virgin), the Blessed Mother (not a male), and Charles Taze Russell (not a Jew) could not be in heaven. Reading one number literally while taking the rest of a book symbolically is not sound exegesis. Beyond this, we see in Revelation 14 that the 144,000 stand before the 24 elders from Revelation 4:4. This at least brings the grand total to 144,024 people. But, the Scriptures indicate that there are still more to come. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a countless multitude before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev. 14:2-3). Still in the book of Revelation, we read that all those with their name in the book of life are in heaven (Rev. 21:27), while all whose names are not in the book of life are thrown into the pool of fire (Rev. 20:15). There is no third “earthly” class. Jesus reiterates this, and never speaks of two flocks. He has one bride, whose “reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). Paul even exhorts the Christian community, calling them to remember that “our conversation is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

The JWs attempt to use verses such as Psalms 37[36]:29 as evidence that the just are to inherit the land forever, which is earth. In context, this refers to inheriting the promised land as a sign of God’s blessing in the Old Testament. But, Hebrews 11:8-16 indicates that there is a homeland better than the promised land on earth, and this is the heavenly one for those who die in faith. The Old Testament patriarchs were “confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth … they that say these things, do signify that they seek a country … But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city …And all these being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promise; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us” (Heb. 11:13-16,39-40). Even the footnote of the NWT makes clear that the “city” spoken of in these verses is the heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 21:2. But, the Watchtower still maintains that no one that lived before Christ will ever enter heaven. “The apostle Paul in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews names a long list of faithful men who died before the crucifixion of the Lord … These can never be a part of the heavenly class” (Millions Now Living, p. 89). Only the 144,000 elite that all lived after the death of Christ will supposedly go to heaven. Matthew 8:11-12 provides severe difficulties for this idea, since Jesus proclaims, “I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” No verse could be clearer in declaring that the patriarchs are in heaven. The following verses all demonstrate that Christians go to heaven, and do not remain on earth: 2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 3:1; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:4.