What Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe
In some areas, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe much the same as orthodox Christians—for example, their rejection, as sin, of sex outside marriage; their acceptance of the Bible’s creation account, as opposed to the evolution theory; and their belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But, in many other areas, their doctrines set them apart and mark them as a pseudo-Christian cult—especially the sect’s teachings on the following matters (for related Scripture texts and further details, see Subject Index):
Armageddon: God will soon wage war against mankind, destroying everyone on earth except Jehovah’s Witnesses. The churches of Christendom, they say, will be the first to be destroyed.
Birthdays: Celebrating a birthday in any manner is strictly forbidden. Even sending a birthday card can bring swift action against the offender by an official “judicial committee.” The punishment is “disfellowshiping” (see below).
Blood Transfusions: In actual practice, JWs view accepting a blood transfusion as a sin more serious than theft or adultery. Thieves and adulterers are more quickly forgiven by Watchtower judicial committees than individuals found guilty of taking blood. A Witness must refuse blood in all circumstances, even when this is certain to result in death. The organization also requires adults to refuse transfusions for their minor children.
Christianity: Except for a few scattered individuals who kept the faith, true Christianity vanished from the face of the earth shortly after the death of the twelve apostles—according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not restored until Charles Taze Russell set up the Watchtower organization in the 1870s. When Christ returned invisibly in 1914, he found Russell’s group doing the work of the “faithful and wise servant” (Matt. 24:45) and appointed them over all his belongings. All other churches and professed Christians are actually tools of the devil.
Christ’s Return: The Lord returned invisibly in the year 1914 and has been present ever since, ruling as King on earth through the Watchtower Society. References to the second “coming” are rendered as “presence” in the Jehovah’s Witness Bible. The generation of people who witnessed Christ’s invisible return in 1914 will not pass away before Armageddon comes (see Matt. 24:34).
Chronology: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God has a precise timetable for all past and future events, tied together by simple mathematical formulae and revealed to mankind through the Watchtower Society. The seven “days” of the Genesis creation account were each seven thousand years long, for a total “week” of forty-nine thousand years. God created Adam in the year 4026 b.c. His creation of Eve a short time later marked the end of the Sixth Creative Day and the beginning of the Seventh. Therefore, we are now approximately 6,000 years into that 7,000-year period—which means that Armageddon will soon put an end to 6,000 years of human toil, making way for a Sabbath-like thousand-year reign of Christ. On the basis of this chronology, the JW organization has promulgated a number of specific end-times prophecies.
Cross: According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the cross is a pagan religious symbol adopted by the church when Satan, the devil, took control of ecclesiastical authority. It had nothing to do with Christ’s death, since JWs maintain that he was nailed to a straight upright pole without a crossbeam. Witnesses abhor the cross, and new converts are expected to destroy any crosses they may have, rather than simply dispose of them.
Deity: The Father alone is God, and true worshipers must call him by the name Jehovah. Witnesses are taught that Jesus Christ was merely a manifestation of Michael the archangel in human form—not God, but a mere created being. The Holy Spirit is presented as neither God nor a person but, rather, as an “active force.”
Disfellowshiping: This is the punishment for any infraction of Watchtower organizational regulations. It consists of a public decree, announced to the audience at a Kingdom Hall meeting and prohibiting all association or fellowship with the offender. Other Witnesses are forbidden even to say “Hello” if they encounter the offender on the street. The only exceptions are that family members may conduct “necessary business” with a disfellowshiped person, and elders may speak to him if he approaches them repentantly to seek reinstatement.
Heaven: Only 144,000 individuals go to heaven. This “little flock” began with the twelve apostles, and the number was filled by the year 1935. Approximately 9,000 elderly JWs are the only remaining ones on earth today who will go to heaven, with the rest of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hoping to live on earth forever.
Hell: Following the lead of its founder, Charles T. Russell, the Watchtower Society still teaches that hades is merely the grave, that the fire of Gehenna instantly disintegrates its victims into nothingness, and that there is no conscious existence for the dead until the time of their bodily resurrection.
Holidays: Celebration of any “worldly holiday” is strictly forbidden for Jehovah’s Witnesses. This prohibition applies to U.S. presidents; birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Good Friday, and so on—even Mother’s Day and Father’s Day! Even if a “pagan origin” cannot be researched as the basis for banning a particular observance, the simple fact that “worldly people” celebrate it is sufficient reason for the JWs not to celebrate it.
Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is neither God nor a person, according to Watchtower teaching. “It” is simply an impersonal “active force” that God uses in doing his will.
Hope: JWs believe that God stopped calling Christians to a heavenly hope back in the year 1935. Since then, he has been offering people the opportunity to live forever on this earth.
(“Millions now living will never die!” is a familiar Jehovah’s Witness slogan.) God will destroy everyone else on the planet, leaving only Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he will restore a Garden-of-Eden paradise for them worldwide.
Jesus Christ: In Watchtower theology, Jesus Christ is a mere angel—the first one that God created when he started created angels. Witnesses identify Christ as Michael the archangel, although they call Jesus “the Son of God”—because “the first spirit person God made was like a firstborn son to him” (1982 Watchtower booklet, Enjoy Life on Earth Forever!, p. 14). They also call him “a god,” and translate John 1:1 accordingly in their Bible.
Organization: Witnesses believe that God set up the Watchtower organization as his channel of communication to gather together those of mankind who will be saved. As the visible agency of the kingdom of God on earth, this organization exercises full governmental authority over believers—it promulgates laws, puts violators on trial, operates Kingdom schools, and so on—parallel to the secular government. If there is a conflict between the two, the organization is to be obeyed, rather than the secular rulers. (In the Witnesses’ minds, they are “obeying God rather than men,” Acts 5:29).
Resurrection: Concerning Christ, JWs believe that he became nonexistent when he died and that he was raised three days later as a “spirit”—an angel. They deny his bodily resurrection. Going along with their teaching that Christ returned invisibly in 1914, Witnesses believe that he raised dead Christians to spirit life shortly thereafter, and that the rest of the human dead will be raised bodily during the thousand-year reign of God’s kingdom.
Salvation: Although giving lip service to salvation through faith in Christ, Witnesses actually believe that salvation is impossible apart from full obedience to the Watchtower Society and vigorous participation in its prescribed works program. Even individual JWs who are not sufficiently zealous for the organization may not survive Armageddon, and those who do make their way into the earthly paradise must maintain good works throughout Christ’s thousand-year reign before they can be sealed for life.