Thursday, May 24, 2012

W2W: What Do They Believe?

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

Encountering a Jehovah's Witness can be very confusing if you aren't familiar with their beliefs.  As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I didn't know much when Peggy initially visited me.  Flipping through any given month's literature will likely give you some inkling as to how their beliefs differ from your own, but I found it more instructive to read about all of their beliefs at once, instead of being slowly introduced to them.  In fairness, I should point out that unlike some religions that refuse to share certain doctrines until potential converts have already invested a considerable amount of time (and allowed themselves to be sufficiently indoctrinated -- Scientology comes to mind), JW's are forthcoming about their beliefs. 

In my experience, Jehovah's Witnesses are quick to point out that their beliefs and yours "have so much in common."  They love God, as you do; they accept the Bible as God's Word, as you do; they even call Jesus "the Son of God" with a capital S.  So what makes their beliefs incompatible with Christianity?  Here is a sampling of the major doctrines that are inconsistent with mainstream Christian teachings:

1. They deny the Trinity.  They believe that Jesus is a created being, not God, and they believe that the Holy Spirit is merely God's active force in the world.  Although it probably won't be the opening line of the pioneer standing on your doorstep, they actually consider Jesus to be the same as Archangel Michael.

2. They believe only a "little flock" of 144,000 will go to Heaven.  They believe that only 144,000 "anointed" Witnesses will go to Heaven; the best anyone else can hope for is unending life on a paradise earth.  Chances are that any JW you encounter believes his or her eternity will be spent right here.

3. They deny the immortality of the soul.  They believe that when humans die, they cease to exist. The afterlife is something that only happens for (1) people who number among the 144,000 who have been or will be immediately resurrected to Heaven upon death, which has occurred only since Christ's invisible reign began in 1914; (2) people now living who will survive the imminent Armageddon and eventually qualify for an eternal reward; and (3) people who will be resurrected from complete corporal and spiritual death and then given the opportunity to qualify for an eternal reward. 

4. They deny the existence of Hell.  If you're not one of the 144,000 with the heavenly hope or one of the people who get to live in the eternal paradise earth, you're annihilated and just gone forever.

5. They believe Christ died on a torture stake, not a cross.  As I wrote in my post on JW history, this was not always part of their beliefs, but they now insist that Jesus died on a straight pole with no crossbar, and that "true Christians do not use the cross in worship."

6. They deny the bodily Resurrection of Christ.  They believe that Jesus was resurrected not as a human, but as a "mighty spirit person."

Of course, there are others, some of which are actually better-known among the general populace, such as their refusal to accept blood transfusions and their insistence that holidays such as Christmas and Easter and birthdays are pagan.  I think some folks may be more inclined to bring up these points first when visited by JW's; in my opinion, although they range from unnecessarily socially awkward to potentially deadly, prohibitions such as these are just symptoms of the real problem.  The real problem is that most of their theological doctrines are based on a woefully misguided and false interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Jehovah's Witnesses insist that all of their beliefs are completely based on the teachings of the Bible, and they have a verses ready for every claim.  So when you're in the middle of baking cookies and attempting to maintain order in your home while still donning your jammies and they show up on your front porch ready to "spread God's message," it's hard not to feel like you're at a disadvantage.  But remember: even though these are mostly good-hearted people who genuinely love God and want to live good lives, their belief system is whack.  It is wrong.  It is entirely unworthy of a single adherent, let alone millions.  They deserve better, and you know it.  (Deep down, I think many of them know it, too.)

It's taken a while to get this series off the ground (have I even done that yet?).  My time has been consumed with travel, entertaining out-of-town guests, enjoying the gorgeous May weather, taking care of my daughter (who almost entirely eschews naps at this point), spending time with my husband, and reading material that is actually edifying.  I don't enjoy writing these posts.  Researching Watchtower Society history and doctrines is exhausting and, frankly, irritating. 

But let's soldier on.


  1. Most Jehovah's Witnesses are decent folk who are trapped in an oppressive cult like organization the Watchtower society.
    The Watchtower core dogma is Jesus 'invisible' return or second coming October 1914,this is a false doctrine.
    Matthew 7:15-16 "Be on the watch for the false prophets,who come to you in sheep's clothing....."
    God bless-Danny Haszard FMI- dannyhaszard(dot)com

  2. A coworker of mine in high school was a JW and I remember her asking me why I wore a cross necklace. She then asked me that if my brother was killed by a gun would I wear a gun necklace. I responded that if he died for me, than yes I would. I didn't realize they denied the cross ad had a different view entirely. Do they not allow any symbols in/for worship?

    (sorry this is so choppy, I'm typing it out on my phone)

    1. I love your response to the gun question! :)

      I'm not certain about symbols in general; I tend to think not, though. They don't put up or wear stake symbols like we would a cross. From their publication, "What Does the Bible Really Teach":

      "The apostle Paul says: 'Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us, because it is written, 'Accursed is every man hanged upon a stake ["a tree," King James Version].' (Galatians 3:13) Here Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, which clearly refers to a stake, not a cross. Since such a means of execution made the person 'a curse,' it would not be proper for Christians to decorate their homes with images of Christ impaled." (p. 205)

      ...Um, yeah, the KJV refers to it as a "tree," just as does every other translation I can find (my New American Bible does as well). Sigh.

    2. We actually looked at that a little bit in one of my new testament classes (and a death and dying class I took in undergrad). It's hard to figure it out, because the translation says one thing which means something specific to us. Traditional roman crucifixion *i believe* took place on a cross like structure, though. I don't think we'll ever really know, and it seems like such a small point to disagree over. Many other Christian denominations also denounce the use of symbols.

  3. 55 reasons apostate Jehovah’s Witnesses will never be reformed
    by Frank J. Toth

    1. Teaching that true Christianity is an organization instead of a way of life
    2. Claiming salvation is dependent upon belonging to the JW denomination
    3. Claiming that the organization speaks for and is controlled by Jehovah, thereby equating the organization with God himself

    4. Centralizing authority in an organization instead of letting Christ be the head of each Christian
    5. Claiming that the “faithful and discreet slave” is the “anointed class” rather than each individual Christian who shows himself or herself to be responsible and obedient to Christ
    6. Teaching that the early Christians were led by a governing body

    7. Teaching that Jesus appointed the “anointed remnant” as his true church in 1919
    8. Viewing the so-called “anointed” class (actually, the governing body) as God’s channel and prophet
    9. Placing WT literature above the Bible

    10. Frequently taking Bible texts out of context in order to build support for the organization’s man-made teachings and procedures
    11. Teaching that Jesus returned in 1914 and is “invisibly present” since then
    12. Teaching that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE when no historical records confirm this and the actual date is believed by nearly all historians to be 587 BCE

    13. Falsifying the fact that Charles Russell predicted for 1914 the end of the world, not Christ’s return
    14. Lying about a so-called “increase” in earthquakes, warfare, famines, persecution, etc., since 1914
    15. Contradictorily condemning military organizations and frowning upon JWs who choose alternative service in lieu of military service while the headquarters organization at the same time owns stock in a military product organization (REGI)

    16. Taking a conflicting stand with regard to the United Nations, claiming that it is the “wild beast” of Revelation that leads all nations in a fight against God and Christ at Armageddon, but signing on as an NGO member and publishing articles that present the UN in a favorable light
    17. Teaching that it’s wrong to celebrate birthdays and all holidays
    18. Teaching that Abraham and the faithful men and women of old are not among the holy ones who will rule with Christ in his Kingdom
    19. Interpreting Jewish restoration prophecies as fulfilled in “the anointed remnant”

    20. Teaching that the Scriptures are directly addressed only to “the remnant of anointed ones”
    21. Teaching that only the “anointed” must be born again
    22. Teaching that the “great crowd” are not begotten or anointed by the Holy Spirit

    23. Teaching that the “great crowd” are God’s grandchildren and not his sons and daughters
    24. Teaching that the “great crowd” are not members of the bride of Christ
    25. Teaching that Jesus is not the mediator between God and the “great crowd” of Revelation chapter 7

    1. 26. Teaching that the resurrection of the “anointed” precedes the resurrection of the “other sheep” and that it has already begun
      27. Teaching that only “anointed” JWs will receive immortality in the resurrection
      28. Inviting only the “anointed” to partake at the memorial
      29. Claiming that spiritual food comes from the “anointed” class whereas nearly all the writers of WT publications are members of the “other sheep” class

      30. Creating a climate of fear by authoritarianism
      31. Controlling what individual JWs may read of Bible-related publications that are not produced by the WT Society
      32. Arrogantly pretending that the JW organization maintains higher standards than any other religion and proclaiming publicly that all other churches are members of Babylon the Great

      33. Forbidding attendance and participation at other churches
      34. Class distinctions such as “governing body,” “anointed remnant” and “great crowd of other sheep”
      35. Class distinctions such as publishers, auxiliary pioneers, regular pioneers, special pioneers, circuit overseers, district overseers, Bethelites, Governing Body, etc.

      36. Prohibiting women from serving in any meaningful role in the congregation while expecting them to do the bulk of the work in “field service”
      37. Constantly prodding the membership by means of literature, meetings and conventions to do ever more and more in the service of the organization, promoting an atmosphere where many feel their best is never good enough

    2. 38. Setting dates for Armageddon and thereby urging the membership to abandon normal living, this often resulting in the ruination of health and family life, as well as creating employment and financial hardships

      39. Teachings that lead the members to believe righteousness and salvation can be earned by devoted and loyal support of the organization’s slavish programs
      40. Keeping meeting attendance and field service records as a gauge of an individual’s spirituality
      41. Organizationally requiring no blood transfusions instead of letting it be a matter of conscience, thereby cruelly informing all members that they will be shunned by the organization if they accept a transfusion that might restore health following a life-threatening accident or illness

      42. Allowing their own infants and children to die instead of allowing doctors to give them necessary blood transfusions
      43. Teaching that the “congregation” of Matthew 18:17 is the body of elders
      44. Holding heresy trials and disciplinary hearings in secrecy from the rest of the congregation
      45. Withholding information that would be helpful to persons who have been accused of wrongdoing

      46. Conducting heresy trials of members who have doubts or who think differently upon the Scriptures
      47. Defining apostasy as against the organization instead of against God
      48. Being quick to disfellowship instead of making efforts to restore persons who have done something wrong

      49. Unnecessarily and abusively shunning members even for minor infractions such as smoking or not complying with the whimsical directives of elders, thereby causing personal and family turmoil that often results in immense guilt, shame, fear, depression, bitterness, hatred, murder and suicide
      50. Prohibiting fellowship with disassociated persons who show no inclination toward causing dissension

      51. Showing favoritism by advising innocent victims to “leave it to Jehovah” instead of the elders taking decisive action to deal with some members who have been accused of harmful wrongdoing.
      52. Ignoring or minimizing clear evidence of child molestation and other abuses simply because only one witness is available to testify against the member accused of such serious wrongdoing
      53. Covering over and hiding damaging facts about the JW organization

      54. In many cases, neglecting the care of their own sick and elderly members who no longer have the strength and energy to attend all the meetings and to be regular in “field service” as they did for most of their lives

      55. Blatantly lying to the public by declaring to news media that members may leave the organization at any time, of their own free will and without any repercussions from the organization

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  5. Hi Louise,

    I'm still interested in your posts and await your getting into the substance of these matters. Until then, here's a simple point to consider: If our soul lives on after death, what is the point of a resurrection?

    1. Resurrection is of the body, not the soul.

    2. So you believe that the soul lives on, and then one day just the body will be resurrected? For what purpose? Thanks!

    3. Yes, I believe the soul lives on, and either goes immediately to Heaven, temporarily to Purgatory (and later Heaven), or to Hell.

      I believe that our bodies will be resurrected at Jesus' second coming, at which point our bodies and souls will be reunited. Our resurrected bodies will be immortal. The bodies of the righteous will be transformed into a glorified state, freed from suffering and pain (1 Cor 15:42-45).

      The resurrection of our bodies reunites them with our souls and allows each body to share in the soul's eternal reward or punishment, as justice demands. The body is an integral part of one's personhood. Therefore, the consummation of the soul's happiness in eternity requires the resurrection of the body.

  6. Thanks Louise. To be honest, that's a strange belief to me, that a part of us lives on for a time without "an integral part of one's personhood," only to have the body, which in this context would be a thing, resurrected later on. I just see no point in raising the body at all if our soul apparently can live on perfectly fine without it.

    Interestingly, the concept of an immaterial soul is actually derived, not from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy. The original Hebrew term for soul literally meant "a breather" and encompassed the body and spirit. The entire human (or animal) was a soul. Ezekiel 18:4 is an example where the text literally says that a soul can die.

    "There is no dichotomy of body and soul in the OT. The Israelite saw things concretely, in their totality, and thus he considered men as persons and not as composites. The term nepeš, though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person. . . . The term [psy·khe′] is the NT word corresponding with nepeš. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being."—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. XIII, pp. 449, 450.

    That being the case, I agree entirely with William Tyndale, who once observed, "In putting departed souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory you destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection . . . If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?"

    1. What is your soul's purpose in believing these things you type if you don't have the fingers to type them while you are alive? God created us to live our human lives with a soul housed in a body and both lead us back to him. Our bodies play an enormous role in our lives as humans on Earth, they are a part of WHO we are and how we are led back to Christ, the Father, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us he would return and that both parts of us, the gift of the body and of the soul, will be reunited in His Second Coming.

      Your concluding question is murky and theologically shallow. You're asking, "What is the purpose of Christ's resurrection if our souls are to be in heaven?" What is mutually exclusive about those two events? You've also ignored Louise's Corinthians reference and skipped right back to your point, which doesn't have a solid foundation.

    2. What is YOUR (eg, TJ) soul's purpose in believing...**

    3. TJ, this belief may sound strange to you, but it has been the consistent belief of orthodox Christianity throughout her entire history. The punishment for sin is corporal death, so yes, between a person's particular judgement (immediately after death) and the general (last) judgement, body and soul are separated. At the time of Christ's second coming, the Divine purpose will be entirely fulfilled and humanity will reach its ultimate destiny -- body and soul united as one. Can the "soul live on perfectly fine" without the body? Fine, and joyfully, but not perfectly so. Ultimate perfection comes about at the resurrection of the body.

      The idea that the body is just a disposable, unnecessary "thing" is not a new one. Gnostic heretics proclaimed this hundreds of years ago. But Catholics have always embraced salvation as both spiritual *and* physical. If the physical elements of our humanity were worthless, Christ's incarnation and death would be meaningless.

      Yes, I know that the Hebrew "nephesh" did not mean what the term "soul" means in Christianity. The New Catholic Encyclopedia is right on. But it does not follow that "the entire human (or animal) was a soul." Within the section of the article that you have removed and replaced with ellipses, it says, "Other words in the OT such as spirit, flesh, and heart also signify the human person and differ only as various aspects of the same being." So it would make just as much sense to say that "the entire human (or animal) was a heart" to demonstrate that my belief about the human heart is contrary to divine revelation.

      Included after the sections you quoted are the lines "Happiness after death is known only in late OT revelation," and "The psyche in Mt 10.28, 'And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [psyche]; but rather be afraid of him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,' means a life that exists separately from the body." So there's more to the story than what you have quoted.

      The understanding of the immaterial soul was indeed developed primarily within Greek philosophy. The fact that earlier Jews had a differing mental framework, which gradually came to an understanding of the immaterial soul through Hellenistic influence, does not mean that the concept of "nephesh" was divine revelation and that the notion of a distinct, invisible, immortal soul "is not at all what the Bible teaches" (What Does the Bible Really Teach? p. 208). The first-century Jewish apostles listening to Jesus saying "do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" understood what he meant, because by that point, the Jews had progressed to a better understanding of the body and the soul, verified by Jesus Himself.

      Ezekiel 18:4, often used by Jehovah's Witnesses as a proof-text in arguing that the soul is mortal, does no such thing. You have actually provided us with the reason why: "nephesh" in this passage does not refer to the concept of the soul as distinct from the body, but to the Hebrew concept of the entire living person. Also, what is the context of the passage? Read Ezekiel 18:2 -- it refers to a proverb among the Israelites which indicated that a son would be judged and punished for the sins of his father. Ezekiel, prompted by God, admonishes the Israelites for believing this, and sets them straight: "The virtuous man's virtue shall be his own, as the wicked man's wickedness shall be his own" (v. 20). If "only the one [soul] who sins shall die" proves that souls are mortal, what does v.9 mean when it says of the virtuous, "he shall surely live"?

    4. How do you explain Mt. 10:28? Luke 16:22-23? John 11:25-26? 2 Cor 5:8? Phil 1:23-24? (The explanation of "releasing" in App. 3D of the NWT is nonsensical.) How can God say "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" and be "not the God of the dead but of the living" (Mt. 22:32, cf. Exodus 3:6) if the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have utterly perished?

      From reading the "Soul" and "Spirit" section in the Appendix of "What Does the Bible Really Teach?", I've gathered that the JW understanding of "spirit" is, just slightly, similar to the Christian understanding of "soul." St. Paul consistently used "pneuma" to refer to the supernatural life of the person, which Catholics would understand as the soul. It's certainly a lot more than "an invisible force (the spark of life) that animates all living creatures," comparable to "batteries" in a radio (p. 210).

      How about this: "In Sacred Scripture the term 'soul' often refers to human life or the entire human person. But 'soul' also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: 'soul' signifies the spiritual principle in man. The human body shares in the dignity of 'the image of God': it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 363-364) Now that there's some Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. That's what we were made for, body and soul!

      Points to consider from page 211: If "the spririt itself returns to the true God who gave it" (Ecc. 12:7), why does this "not mean that the life-force actually travels to heaven"? What happens to it? If resurrection means that God "will form a new body for a person sleeping in death and bring it to life by putting spirit, or life-force, in it," how is that person the same person as before? New life force + new body = different person. That's not resurrection. And how is that idea "comforting"? I think the Jehovah's Witnesses doth protest too much!

      As is obvious from the length of this comment, I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to address all of your points, even though you have not answered all of mine in previous comments. I'm willing to discuss, but it gets to the point that I have no time at all to write new posts. So, TJ, you're welcome to respond to this thread, but I'd like to take the little blogging time I have to move on to new topics. I certainly welcome you to stick around.