All across America, freshmen are heading to college campuses and class for the first time. They be getting their matriculation on! They are bright-eyed, nervous, and excited about all they’re going to experience and learn during the years ahead. That’s how I was back in 1998. I was so eager for someone to fill my head with knowledge, but looking back, I really wish I knew then what I know now. Here’s what my 34-year-old self would tell my 18-year-old self.
Perhaps you have recently had a knock at your door, and on the other side are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are zealous and excited to share with you what they believe to be good news. Are they Christian? Should you listen to them or take their literature? Let’s take a look at this group and see.
How Did the Jehovah’s Witnesses Begin?
We’ll look at three key aspects of the development of this group: the founding, the naming, and the translation of the Bible.
First, the movement was started in Pittsburgh, PA by Charles Taze Russell at the age of 18 in 1870. Russell formed a Bible class whose members eventually made him their pastor. Russell wrote, traveled, preached, and formed the Watchtower Society, the governing body for the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). He died in 1916.
Second, Russell was succeeded by Joseph F. Rutherford, who coined the term “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for the group. Rutherford died in 1942.
Third, Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan H. Knorr, under whose leadership the Watchtower’s own New World Translation of the Bible was produced. Knorr died in 1977. Since Knorr’s death, the office of president has been diminished but is still in operation. The current JWs president is Don Adams.
How Large Is the Jehovah’s Witness Group?
JWs claim to have approximately 7.5 million publishers worldwide. A publisher is someone who reports some amount of time in the ministry, normally at least an hour per month. Their actual affiliation is probably larger and is definitely growing.
Are They Christian?
While there is room for disagreement among the minor points of doctrine with the diverse groups of the Christian faith, there is no room for disagreement over the major points of doctrine, and unfortunately many of the JWs’ doctrine are opposed to true Christianity. Let me point you to a few of their most troubling teachings:
Jesus. Originally created by God as the Archangel, Michael. Michael was later given a human body and renamed Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is not God.
Holy Spirit. Not regarded as a person, but rather God’s force.
Justification by works. According to JWs, a person is made right with God through allegiance to Jehovah and good works
Necessity of affiliation with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society for salvation. A requirement for salvation is to be associated with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which they see as “God’s channel, His organization;” thus, there is no salvation apart from the WBTS.
Heaven. Only 144,000 special believers will spend eternity with God in heaven. The rest of the believers will spend eternity with Jesus on a refurbished earth.
Soul Sleep. Believers will not immediately be with Christ after death. They remain in a soul sleep until His second coming.
Annihilation. Those who reject Jesus are eventually annihilated in hell, passing out of existence completely; therefore, hell to them is not eternal conscious punishment.
Those doctrines alone place them outside of the Christian faith, and these other marks firmly put them in the category of a cult:
They claim a monopoly on truth through the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
They exert great control over their adherents
They have made additions to the Bible
They target Christians
They teach works-based salvation
They have a tainted view of Christ and His finished work on the cross
Even though the JWs are not Christian and are a cult, do not underestimate them. They know their doctrine inside and out. They’ve heard every rebuttal to their faith and are most likely prepared to respond. They may become adversarial. Therefore, given their knowledge, preparedness, and potential argumentative nature, extra caution is needed when talking with them.
What is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ authority?
The JWs knocking on your door have two sources of authority. First is the New World Translation of the Holy Bible (NWT). This translation, produced by the JWs, is a very poor translation. Even secular Bible scholars (I know it seems oxymoronic to be a “secular” Bible scholar, but there are plenty of nonbelievers who study the Bible for various reasons) agree that the NWT is a very poor translation of the original languages of the Bible. There’s a perfectly good reason for this reality. Translators of the NWT were kept secret for many years in the name of humility, but when they were finally revealed, none of the five “translators” had any biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek training. This fact combined with the translation they produced leads me to conclude that they did not set out to provide an accurate translation. Rather, they wanted a translation that would support their doctrine, and that’s exactly what they have: an intentionally-biased JWs Bible.
While the NWT is a source of authority for the JWs, the person knocking on your door is most likely leaning on another source of authority, an even higher authority in the JWs’ eyes: the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS). You see, to fully put the JWs authority into words, we would have to say it this way: the New World Translation of the Bible as interpreted by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The WBTS is regarded by the JWs as God’s only channel of accurate biblical interpretation in the world today. So, it’s not most important to agree with the NWT. It’s most important to agree with the WBTS.
That’s why when they do a “Bible study” in your home, they’ll most likely only use the literature published by the WBTS and not the Bible. Again, there’s a perfectly good reason for this reality. Consider this question: does anybody become a Jehovah’s Witness simply by reading the Bible? The answer is a resounding “No!” That’s why the WBTS literature must be used in spreading their false doctrine.
Why are the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on your door?
First and foremost, the JWs’ salvation is based upon works. Therefore, they are knocking on your door to earn their way to heaven.
But secondly, I have to say that the JWs take the Great Commission seriously. If there’s anything praiseworthy of this false religion, it’s this fact. Although they get the gospel wrong, they are committed witnesses nonetheless. They have been trained to go and tell of Jehovah’s Kingdom, and that’s exactly what they are doing. Therefore, make no mistake about it: the JWs knocking on your door are seeking to convert you to their faith away from Christianity, plain and simple.
What to expect when Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door
Sometimes the JWs will purposely neglect to tell you that they are JWs when you answer your door. You might even assume they’re Christian visitors because they’ll sound in the beginning very Christian. So, anytime someone knocks at your door trying to pass out literature, you must determine whom they represent.
Much of what JWs will initially tell you when they come to your door is in agreement with the beliefs of most Christians. After giving a prepared introduction (usually about the sorry and frightening state of the world), they might say something like the following, “God loves you and wants to do something special with your life. Make sure of where you stand with him because he’s coming back again.” As they continue talking with you, they’ll try to determine your religious background so they can decide which Watchtower publications to give you.
You see, JWs come to your door with one main objective: to place literature from the WBTS in your hands so they can come back and discuss it with you in what they call a “Bible study” with the purpose of converting you.
Should you accept Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature?
Unless you’re a mature Christian who’s well-grounded in the Bible and experienced in witnessing to cultists, you should politely refuse any Watchtower literature.
You have to realize that Watchtower literature is deliberately deceptive and scholastically dishonest. It’s full of Scripture references that are either misquoted or taken out of context. Since their articles often use quotes from obscure foreign books and Bible translations to defend their beliefs, it’s almost always very difficult to verify their sources. And, when Watchtower publications quote recognized Christian biblical scholars, they often use only partial sentences and paragraphs to make the reader believe that the scholar supports their heretical teachings.
Therefore, the average Christian who accepts Watchtower literature may spend much precious time dealing with their lies and deception, only to experience confusion, doubt, and frustration. Only accept the literature if you are mature in the faith, ready to defend your faith, and plan on working to convert your JWs visitors. If you are not, politely decline the literature.
Basic steps to witnessing to a Jehovah’s Witness
If you are a mature Christian who is established in the faith, ready to defend your faith, and plan on working to convert your JWs visitors, then the following tips will get you started on your way to sharing the gospel with JWs:
Compassionately treat them like a human being who is hungry and searching for God.
Refrain from having a hateful, arrogant, or know-it-all attitude.
Have a clear understanding of your faith and the Bible.
Acquire a basic knowledge of Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs and practices.
Make a definite plan for the witnessing encounter and take the initiative.
Initially, talk about personal concerns to establish a friendly, courteous, and sincere relationship with the Jehovah’s Witness and gradually move on to a discussion of theological issues.
Make them explain to you in their own words how you can enter into Jehovah’s Kingdom.
Be prepared to cite and explain specific biblical passages supporting Christian doctrines.
Define your terms clearly and ask the Jehovah’s Witness to do so also.
If you have more than one JWs visitor, concentrate your witnessing efforts on the one who is less mature in the faith.
Focus the discussion on the primary issue of the person and work of Christ, stressing the need for grace through a faith relationship with Him.
Be prepared to share your personal testimony of God’s grace and your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Thoroughly and passionately present the true gospel to your JWs visitors and beg them to trust in Christ.
Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to open the JWs eyes and minds and to lead you.
Also, below I’ve provided a very informative video from a webinar by Jerry Robinson, who converted from being a Jehovah’s Witness to Christianity. The first half of the video lays out the history and beliefs of JWs, and the second half of the video provides advanced witnessing approaches to JWs.
I pray that you will safeguard your heart and mind against the schemes of Satan as he tries to use the Jehovah’s Witnesses to draw people away from Jesus. I also pray that you who are mature in the faith will work to pull the lost souls out of the Kingdom Hall and into the church by introducing them to gospel truth.