What About the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

The following post is a reprint of the pamphlet “What About the Jehovah’s Witnesses?” from the ” What About?” series of 27 pamphlets, written by former Synod President Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, that address doctrinal topics, moral issues and concerns in the church to help Christians grow in their understanding of these important questions.

Note:  permission is granted to copy any part of this series, as long as there is no sale of the copied material and no change in content.

What About the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Written by A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Perhaps you have answered a knock at your door and found two people wanting to talk to you about various social concerns, or at least they say they do. From there they hand you material printed by the “Watchtower.” As you speak to them, you find out that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The purpose of this pamphlet is to help you understand who the Jehovah’s Witnesses are and what they stand for.

Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses? 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are persons who are members of the organization known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. It is very important for Christians to understand that the Watchtower Society is un-Christian. In fact, it is decidedly anti-Christian. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are definitely not merely a different Christian denomination.

How did the Jehovah’s Witnesses begin and grow?
The founding father of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was Charles Taize Russell (1852—1916). Russell came to the conclusion that Christianity was not the correct way to understand the Bible. He made contact with groups (known as Adventists) who emphasized the immediate return of Christ. Russell began a series of Bible studies and started to gather followers. Russell agreed with the Adventists’ predictions that Christ would return during 1873—1874. When that did not happen, Russell predicted more times for Jesus’ return-all of which proved to be false, of course.

Eventually, in 1884, Russell officially incorporated the “Zion’s Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.” Twelve years later, the word “Zion” was dropped. In 1908, Russell moved his organization to Brooklyn, New York. Toward the end of his life, Russell lost considerable respect among his followers because of a number of slander cases he lost in court.

After Russell’s death in 1916, leadership of the Watchtower Society passed to Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Rutherford was largely responsible for the rapid growth of the Watchtower Society. He spread the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ message via phonograph machines, which he used to play his recorded sermons. These sermons were more often than not harsh attacks against denominational Christianity, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, with vivid descriptions of the judgment to come against anyone who did not embrace Jehovah’s Witnesses’ views.

After 1944, the Watchtower Society no longer used media but instead emphasized personal visits, marked by aggressive techniques to gain entry into homes in order to share their message. This has been the approach of the Watchtower Society since that time. Rutherford increased his control over the Watchtower Society and devised what he termed the “theocratically controlled” organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement. In 1931, the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was officially adopted to distinguish the followers of Rutherford from those who had left to form their own organizations.

When Rutherford died in 1942, Nathan Knorr took over (1905—1977). Knorr worked tirelessly to create a better image of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the public mind. Knorr spearheaded a massive printing effort, which continues to this day. The two magazines widely distributed in multiple languages that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are most known for are Awake! and The Watchtower.

Under Knorr’s leadership, the Jehovah’s Witnesses produced their own Bible translation, The New World Translation. From 129,000 members in 1942, the Jehovah’s Witnesses grew to 410,000 members in the United States alone by 1971. They number nearly 900,000 members in the United States alone, with about 3.5 million members in 200 different countries.

What is the key emphasis of Watchtower teaching?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ movement’s primary concern is the end-time (eschatological) renewal of human society. They believe that Jesus Christ will return to establish a new kingdom, which they call a “theocracy,” in which Jehovah God will bring total tranquility to the earth. They believe this utopia will come only after the Battle of Armageddon, in which the present world order will be destroyed. The Jehovah’s Witnesses view all earthly institutions, organizations and governments as evil. They believe that only the Watchtower Society is capable of speaking truthfully about God in the world today.

What do the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Jesus?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses movement is surprisingly similar to the ancient heresy known as Arianism. The Christian church rejected this false teaching about Jesus. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is “a” god, but not the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. They believe there was a time when He actually was created by Jehovah God. They do not believe Jesus is true God, as does historic Christianity. They do not believe the Holy Spirit is God, but only an impersonal force. Thus, they do not believe in the Holy Trinity.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible, The New World Translation, goes out of its way to mistranslate various verses of the Greek New Testament. An example of this type of mistranslation is found in John 1:1. The Greek text says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The New World Translation translates the Greek this way: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.” You can see how through such deceptive translating, the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to mislead people.

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that people are saved?
Based on misinterpretations of passages from the Book of Revelation, the Watchtower Society believes that Jehovah God extends salvation to two different groups of people. First, there are the 144,000 who shall inhabit heaven. The rest of those saved will inhabit earth in the new kingdom that Christ will establish when he returns after the Battle of Armageddon. They believe that the only persons who will be numbered among the 144,000 are those who have adequately met specific requirements and have lived well enough in imitation of Christ.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, salvation is not an accomplished fact by Jesus Christ, given as a free gift, but only something that is earned by doing good works. Chief of these works is aggressive personal visitation of non-members. This explains in large part why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are so zealous for personal visitation.

What are some other distinct Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs and practices?
Many people hear about Jehovah’s Witnesses when they learn that a Jehovah’s Witness has refused a blood transfusion. The Watchtower Society forbids members from receiving blood transfusions because they believe this is a form of “eating blood,” which was forbidden to the Old Testament people of God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe it is wrong to serve in the military, to vote, to salute the national flag, or to express any sort of citizenship in this world, since they believe the world will be destroyed and replaced by Christ’s kingdom.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not observe Christmas, Good Friday, Easter or family birthdays, believing these celebrations to be pagan festivities. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses also avoid dancing, movie-going and watching television.

The average Jehovah’s Witness makes personal visits on people in their homes for an average of ten hours per month. There are some 900,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in this country making calls like this. Those Witnesses who are “pioneers” devote 100 hours a month to this work of calling on homes. Since their record of calls is the only record kept of their membership, this work is vital for them.

How can Christians reach out to Jehovah’s Witnesses?
We need to recognize that Jehovah’s Witnesses are besieged by the Watchtower Society with literature that trains them in how to share their false theology and to contradict Biblical truth. They immediately have many Christians at a disadvantage, since they are well prepared and ready to speak to you, while their visit takes you by surprise.

Entering into an extended and detailed discussion with Jehovah’s Witnesses is best done by those Christians who have carefully prepared to do so. It is possible, however, for all Christians to give a clear and simple witness to their faith when speaking with a Jehovah’s Witness. It is important not to permit them to sidetrack you when you speak to them.

While every conversation is definitely going to be unique, here are some things that need to be said to Jehovah’s Witnesses: “I trust in Jesus, not in an organization (John 3:16). I know I have eternal life (1 John 5:13) and that I will be saved by Jesus forever. I am not saved by what I do. I do good works out of love for God (Ephesians 2:8—10). I will pray that you too come to know the peace and joy I have been given in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 5:1).”

You may also be able to plant a seed of doubt in the mind of a Jehovah’s Witness about the Watchtower Society. Invite them to your church and invite them to speak to your pastor. Urge them to read the Bible, and not to rely on their Watchtower Society materials. Challenge them to lay these materials aside for one week or one month and read only the Bible.

After you have shared the Word with them, pray for them, asking God the Holy Spirit to work faith in their hearts, so that like Thomas, they may look to Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

For further study: An excellent short book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses is How to Respond: The Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is available from Concordia Publishing House.

6 thoughts on “What About the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

  1. As a former JW, now LCMS lutheran, I could not have said it better. Very concise, clear and conclusion points to the Gospel and Faith in Jesus.

    Thank you for posting this. I do regret the 2 years wasted in a human-made organization.

  2. To give credit where credit is due, these are not my words, but the words of A. L. Barry (former LCMS president).

    Could you articulate how you became an LCMS Lutheran?

    What Bible passages were the most helpful for you?

    What teachings of the Watchtower were the easiest to let go of and what teachings were the most difficult to reject?


    Pastor Kachelmeier

  3. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and its present “Jehovah’s visible organization” and “Armageddon” dogma was actually started by Joseph Rutherford. Charles Taze Russell did not believe in such an organization, nor did he believe in the Armageddon message that is preached by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell believed that Armageddon was to abe a period of time in which the people of the nations would be chastised in preparation for their coming blessing; he did not believe that Armageddon was to bring eternal destruction upon them.

    Russell was the main founder of the legal entity, The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, but that entity in his day served more as a facilitator. Russell refused to allow it to dictate to the congregations, even to those congregations that had elected him as their Pastor. Russell did not attempt establish any new religion, believing that the true religion was Christianity as it had been established by Jesus and the apostles.

    In 1915, he published his sermon on St. Peter’s Keys in which denounced sectarianism, and the idea that any “outward organization” is the true church, claiming that the true church consisted of saints, irrespective of denomational barriers. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, of which Russell was the main founder, was virtually destroyed after Russell died and replaced with a “new organization”, thereby laying the foundation for Rutherford to create his “Jehovah’s visible organization” dogma. By 1928, the vast majority of the Bible Students movement had rejected Rutherford’s “Jehovah’s visible organization” dogma.

    Getting back to Russell’s earlier years, after having a short period of doubts about the Bible, around 1870 Russell came into contact with some of the Second Adventists, had his faith in the Bible, and Biblical Christianity, was restored. He did not, however, at that time, accept any of the “date setting” that many of the Second Adventists were advocating, and he rejected their teaching of the end of the world. Sometime before 1874, Russell came to the conclusion, however, that since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for our sins, that Jesus would not return in the flesh, but in the spirit.

    Around 1876, Russell was attracted to the studies of Nelson Barbour when he found that Barbour had reached a similar conclusion. Thus, in 1876, Russell accepted Barbour’s conclusion that Christ had returned in 1874. Since Russell did not accept any date for Christ’s return until 1876 (about two years after 1874), Russell did not have anything to say before 1874 about Christ’s returning in 1874. As far as Russell is concerned, there was no “that did not happen”, nor did Russell ever predict that Christ was to return on any other dates. Russell died in 1916, still holding to the belief that Christ had returned in 1874. Many Bible Students, myself included, also believe that Christ did return in 1874.

    Russell taught that no one should be his followers, but saints should be followers of Christ.

    As to whether there was any considerable number of his associates who lost respect for Russell at the close of his life, this appears to be pure conjecture. Indeed, at the close of his life, reports of attendance at the meetings showed large increases, not a decrease.

    Russell lost two cases which have been given a lot of notorious publicity, not pertaining to slander, but which Russell filed for libel. Due to the distortion of facts as presented by J. J. Ross and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and the wide-spread distribution of those distortions, most of the public know very little about the actual facts.

    I could not find any record, however, of any considerable number of the Bible Students having lost respect for Russell over those court losses. I could find where some withdrew association from Russell over many other matters, such as teaching on the new covenant, universalism, etc.

    Nevertheless, as I stated, the vast majority of the Bible Students rejected Rutherford’s “Jehovah’s visible organization” dogma, and the Bible Students movement continues to exist today. They did not become “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and do not teach the dogma of join us or be eternally destroyed in Armageddon that Rutherford taught.

    See my website — “Focus on Charles Taze Russell” — for the documentation regarding the above.

    • ResLight,

      Thank you for your further historical information on Charles Taze Russell.

      Regarding Russell and his teachings you write that he “did not attempt [to] establish any new religion, believing that the true religion was Christianity as it had been established by Jesus and the apostles.” Let us compare his attempt to other attempts in the past.

      Sabellius was a third century teacher who “did not attempt to establish any new religion.” However, like Russell, he came up with a new teaching which was foreign to the text of scripture. Like Russell, Sabellius let his own mind change the text rather that let the text change his mind. Sabellius like Russell taught that God was one person according to Matthew 28. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, ESV) Sabellius said that God was one person with three names. It is clear from the text of scripture, the there is only one name, yet there are three that are named. The Greek word for name is in the singular. At this point in time, the church began using the term “person” to counter act Sabellius new teaching that God was one person with three names. Instead, to remain faithful to the text, the church countered by saying that there is One name and three distinct persons that are named: the person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Holy Spirit. All three are given the same equal honor, praise, and glory. All are given the Divine Name: YHWH. This is the Name that belongs to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

      Like Sabellius, Russell taught that God was one person, therefore, he rejected the Biblical doctrine that there is One Divine Essence and Three Distinct Persons of the Holy Blessed Trinity. Throughout the Bible we are taught to confess that there is One God and to believe the distinction between the plurality of persons. When Yahweh talks about Yahweh as one person would talk to another person, we are taught to make a distinction in the plurality of persons of the Godhead. For example:

      In Exodus chapter 16, Moses states, “and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”” (Exodus 16:7, ESV) Rather than say, “God has heard your grumbling against Him.” The text teaches us that Yahweh has heard the grumbling against Yahweh as one person would hear the grumbling against another person.

      In Exodus chapter 24, Yahweh speaks to Moses saying, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.” (Exodus 24:1, ESV) Again, Rather than say, “Come up to Me,” the text teaches us that Yahweh tells Moses to come up to Yahweh as one person would speak of another person.

      In Hosea chapter 1, Yahweh speaks to the prophet about Yahweh their God. We read, “And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”” (Hosea 1:6–7, ESV) Rather than Yahweh saying, “I will save them,” Yahweh says, “I will save them by Yahweh their God just as one person would talk about another person.

      In Zechariah chapter 3, Yahweh talks to Satan about Yahweh just as one person would speak about another person. “And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”” (Zechariah 3:2, ESV) Again, instead of Yahweh saying, “I rebuke you for I have chose Jerusalem,” Yahweh rebuke you.
      In Genesis 19, we are taught to make a distinction between the person of Yahweh raining sulfur and fire from the person of Yahweh in heaven. Moses writes, “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24, ESV)
      The doctrine of the Trinity, rejected by Russell, confesses, that is, says the same thing as the Truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible teaches us to make a distinction in the plurality of the persons of the Holy Trinity in which we neither confuse the Trinity of persons nor separate the unity of the Divine Essence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. Yet the Bible reveals that all Three are eternal and given equal honor and glory that only One True God can rightfully receive.

      Another example of how Russell did have new teachings is that as you said, he “came to the conclusion, however, that since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for our sins, that Jesus would not return in the flesh, but in the spirit. Around 1876, Russell was attracted to the studies of Nelson Barbour when he found that Barbour had reached a similar conclusion. Thus, in 1876, Russell accepted Barbour’s conclusion that Christ had returned in 1874.”

      Again, Russell has let his own presupposition that there is no resurrection of the flesh over rule the revealed knowledge of salvation in the written text. It is clear from the Bible, that Jesus rose from the dead in His crucified flesh. The Apostle John states that he and the other Apostles saw Jesus in His resurrected flesh.

      John writes, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” “(John 20:25–29, ESV)

      Note that the confession of Thomas is received by Jesus as true. As the Holy Spirit teaches us, we believe with Thomas that Jesus is the LORD of us and the God of us.

      Also, in John’s Revelation, he sees the Ascended Christ in His resurrected flesh. John writes, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6, ESV)

      There is no text from Scripture that teaches that the Son of God is no longer incarnate, that is, in the flesh. In fact, Jesus promises to continue to be with us in His flesh. John writes, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 7, ESV) Note that the word “coming” in the Greek is a present tense participle. Jesus continues to come in the flesh as He said He would in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”” (Matthew 26:26, ESV) And again Jesus promises, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)

      There is absolutely no passage in the Bible that teaches that Jesus is no longer in the flesh and that He returned in 1874 in the spirit.

      • Please see my other posts on Russell’s teachings that are continued in the Watchtower organization.

        Charles Taze Russell, the Watchtower, and Proof Texting

        Watch Out for More Watchtower Deception in “Proof Texting”

  4. Jehovah’s Witnesses are in *breach of the preach*.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses proselytizing is a false Gospel. (Gal. 1:8)
    Straight up doctrinal facts on Jehovah Witness.
    The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach preach that Jesus had his return aka second coming October 1914,then they spin all sorts of doctrinal embellishments on that date.
    They teach only 144,000 go to heaven,on and on and on with made up man made dogmas……They have infighting,crime and child abuse as bad as any church out there.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses promotion of their Watchtower sect has the net effect of stumbling and turning people off to the real Gospel.
    Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte; and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15)

    Danny Haszard born 3rd generation Jehovah’s Witness

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