Definition: The worldwide Christian society of people who actively bear witness regarding Jehovah God and his purposes affecting mankind. They base their beliefs solely on the Bible.
What beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses set them apart as different from other religions?
(1) Bible: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, and instead of adhering to a creed based on human tradition, they hold to the Bible as the standard for all their beliefs.
(2) God: They worship Jehovah as the only true God and freely speak to others about him and his loving purposes toward mankind. Anyone who publicly witnesses about Jehovah is usually identified as belonging to the one group—“Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
(3) Jesus Christ: They believe, not that Jesus Christ is part of a Trinity, but that, as the Bible says, he is the Son of God, the first of God’s creations; that he had a prehuman existence and that his life was transferred from heaven to the womb of a virgin, Mary; that his perfect human life laid down in sacrifice makes possible salvation to eternal life for those who exercise faith; that Christ is actively ruling as King, with God-given authority over all the earth since 1914.
(4) God’s Kingdom: They believe that God’s Kingdom is the only hope for mankind; that it is a real government; that it will soon destroy the present wicked system of things, including all human governments, and that it will produce a new system in which righteousness will prevail.
(5) Heavenly life: They believe that 144,000 spirit-anointed Christians will share with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom, ruling as kings with him. They do not believe that heaven is the reward for everyone who is “good.”
(6) The earth: They believe that God’s original purpose for the earth will be fulfilled; that the earth will be completely populated by worshipers of Jehovah and that these will be able to enjoy eternal life in human perfection; that even the dead will be raised to an opportunity to share in these blessings.
(7) Death: They believe that the dead are conscious of absolutely nothing; that they are experiencing neither pain nor pleasure in some spirit realm; that they do not exist except in God’s memory, so hope for their future life lies in a resurrection from the dead.
(8) Last days: They believe that we are living now, since 1914, in the last days of this wicked system of things; that some who saw the events of 1914 will also see the complete destruction of the present wicked world; that lovers of righteousness will survive into a cleansed earth.
(9) Separate from the world: They earnestly endeavor to be no part of the world, as Jesus said would be true of his followers. They show genuine Christian love for their neighbors, but they do not share in the politics or the wars of any nation. They provide for the material needs of their families but shun the world’s avid pursuit of material things and personal fame and its excessive indulgence in pleasure.
(10) Apply Bible counsel: They believe that it is important to apply the counsel of God’s Word in everyday life now—at home, in school, in business, in their congregation. Regardless of a person’s past way of life, he may become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if he abandons practices condemned by God’s Word and applies its godly counsel. But if anyone thereafter makes a practice of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, drug abuse, drunkenness, lying, or stealing, he will be disfellowshipped from the organization.
(The above list briefly states some outstanding beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses but by no means all the points on which their beliefs are different from those of other groups. Scriptural basis for the above beliefs can be found through the Index of this book.)
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses an American religion?
They are advocates of God’s Kingdom, not of the political, economic, or social system of any nation of this old world.
It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses had their modern-day start in the United States. The location of their world headquarters there has helped to make it possible to print and ship Bible literature to most parts of the world. But the Witnesses do not favor one nation over another; they are found in almost every nation, and they have offices in many parts of the earth to supervise their activity in those areas.
Consider: Jesus as a Jew was born in Palestine, but Christianity is not a Palestinian religion, is it? The place of Jesus’ human birth is not the most important factor to consider. What Jesus taught originated with his Father, Jehovah God, who deals impartially with people of all nations.—John 14:10; Acts 10:34, 35.
How is the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses financed?
By voluntary contributions, as was true with the early Christians. (2 Cor. 8:12; 9:7) No collections are ever taken at their meetings; they do not beg for money from the public. Any donations from interested persons are used to further the worldwide work of Bible education conducted by the Witnesses.
Witnesses are not paid to go from house to house or to offer Bible literature on the streets. Love for God and for neighbor motivates them to talk about God’s loving provisions for mankind.
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, a legal religious corporation that is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, was incorporated in 1884 in accordance with the Nonprofit Corporation Law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Thus, by law it cannot be, and it is not, a profit-making enterprise, nor do individuals make a profit through this Society. The Society’s charter states: “It [the Society] does not contemplate pecuniary gain or profit, incidentally or otherwise, to its members, directors or officers.”
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a sect or a cult?
Some define sect to mean a group that has broken away from an established religion. Others apply the term to a group that follows a particular human leader or teacher. The term is usually used in a derogatory way. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not an offshoot of some church but include persons from all walks of life and from many religious backgrounds. They do not look to any human, but rather to Jesus Christ, as their leader.
A cult is a religion that is said to be unorthodox or that emphasizes devotion according to prescribed ritual. Many cults follow a living human leader, and often their adherents live in groups apart from the rest of society. The standard for what is orthodox, however, should be God’s Word, and Jehovah’s Witnesses strictly adhere to the Bible. Their worship is a way of life, not a ritual devotion. They neither follow a human nor isolate themselves from the rest of society. They live and work in the midst of other people.
How old is the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
According to the Bible, the line of witnesses of Jehovah reaches back to faithful Abel. Hebrews 11:4–12:1 says: “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain . . . By faith Noah, after being given divine warning of things not yet beheld, showed godly fear . . . By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place he was destined to receive as an inheritance . . . By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin . . . So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
With reference to Jesus Christ, the Bible states: “These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God.” Of whom was he a witness? He himself said that he made his Father’s name manifest. He was the foremost witness of Jehovah.—Rev. 3:14; John 17:6.
Interestingly, some of the Jews asked whether the activity of Jesus Christ represented “a new teaching.” (Mark 1:27) Later, some Greeks thought the apostle Paul was introducing a “new teaching.” (Acts 17:19, 20) It was new to the ears of those who were hearing it, but the important thing was that it was the truth, in full harmony with God’s Word.
The modern-day history of Jehovah’s Witnesses began with the forming of a group for Bible study in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in the early 1870’s. At first they were known only as Bible Students, but in 1931 they adopted the Scriptural name Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isa. 43:10-12) Their beliefs and practices are not new but are a restoration of first-century Christianity.
Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their religion is the only right one?
The Bible does not agree with the modern view that there are many acceptable ways to worship God. Ephesians 4:5 says there is “one Lord, one faith.” Jesus stated: “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it. . . . Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.”—Matt. 7:13, 14, 21; see also 1 Corinthians 1:10.
Repeatedly the Scriptures refer to the body of true Christian teachings as “the truth,” and Christianity is spoken of as “the way of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15; 2 John 1; 2 Pet. 2:2) Because Jehovah’s Witnesses base all of their beliefs, their standards for conduct, and organizational procedures on the Bible, their faith in the Bible itself as God’s Word gives them the conviction that what they have is indeed the truth. So their position is not egotistical but demonstrates their confidence that the Bible is the right standard against which to measure one’s religion. They are not self-centered but are eager to share their beliefs with others.
Do not other religions also follow the Bible?
Many use it to some extent. But do they really teach and practice what it contains? Consider: (1) From most of their Bible translations they have removed the name of the true God thousands of times. (2) The Trinity doctrine, their concept of God himself, is borrowed from pagan sources and was developed in its present form centuries after Bible writing was completed. (3) Their belief in immortality of the human soul as the basis for continued life is not taken from the Bible; it has roots in ancient Babylon. (4) The theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom of God, and he sent his disciples out to talk personally to others about it; but the churches today seldom mention that Kingdom and their members are not doing the work of preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) (5) Jesus said that his true followers could be readily identified by their self-sacrificing love for one another. Is that true of the religions of Christendom when the nations go to war? (6) The Bible says that Christ’s disciples would be no part of the world, and it warns that whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God; but the churches of Christendom and their members are deeply involved in the political affairs of the nations. (Jas. 4:4) In view of such a record, can it honestly be said that they really adhere to the Bible?
How do Jehovah’s Witnesses arrive at their explanation of the Bible?
A key factor is that the Witnesses really believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that what it contains is there for our instruction. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11) So they do not resort to philosophical arguments to evade its clear statements of truth or to justify the way of life of people who have abandoned its moral standards.
In pointing out the meaning of symbolic language in the Bible, they let the Bible provide its own explanation, instead of giving their theories as to its significance. (1 Cor. 2:13) Indications as to the meaning of symbolic terms are usually found in other parts of the Bible. (As an example, see Revelation 21:1; then, regarding the meaning of “sea,” read Isaiah 57:20. To identify “the Lamb” referred to in Revelation 14:1, see John 1:29 and 1 Peter 1:19.)
As for fulfillment of prophecy, they apply what Jesus said about being alert to events that correspond to what was foretold. (Luke 21:29-31; compare 2 Peter 1:16-19.) Conscientiously they point out those events and draw attention to what the Bible indicates they mean.
Jesus said that he would have on earth a “faithful and discreet slave” (his anointed followers viewed as a group), through which agency he would provide spiritual food to those making up the household of faith. (Matt. 24:45-47) Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize that arrangement. As was true of first-century Christians, they look to the governing body of that “slave” class to resolve difficult questions—not on the basis of human wisdom, but by drawing on their knowledge of God’s Word and his dealings with his servants, and with the help of God’s spirit, for which they earnestly pray.—Acts 15:1-29; 16:4, 5.
Why have there been changes over the years in the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The Bible shows that Jehovah enables his servants to understand his purpose in a progressive manner. (Prov. 4:18; John 16:12) Thus, the prophets who were divinely inspired to write portions of the Bible did not understand the meaning of everything that they wrote. (Dan. 12:8, 9; 1 Pet. 1:10-12) The apostles of Jesus Christ realized that there was much they did not understand in their time. (Acts 1:6, 7; 1 Cor. 13:9-12) The Bible shows that there would be a great increase in knowledge of the truth during “the time of the end.” (Dan. 12:4) Increased knowledge often requires adjustments in one’s thinking. Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing humbly to make such adjustments.
Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses preach from house to house?
Jesus foretold for our day this work: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” He also instructed his followers: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matt. 24:14; 28:19.
When Jesus sent out his early disciples, he directed them to go to the homes of the people. (Matt. 10:7, 11-13) The apostle Paul said regarding his ministry: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.”—Acts 20:20, 21; see also Acts 5:42.
The message that the Witnesses proclaim involves the lives of people; they want to be careful to miss no one. (Zeph. 2:2, 3) Their calls are motivated by love—first for God, also for their neighbor.
A conference of religious leaders in Spain noted this: “Perhaps [the churches] are excessively neglectful about that which precisely constitutes the greatest preoccupation of the Witnesses—the home visit, which comes within the apostolic methodology of the primitive church. While the churches, on not a few occasions, limit themselves to constructing their temples, ringing their bells to attract the people and to preaching inside their places of worship, [the Witnesses] follow the apostolic tactic of going from house to house and of taking advantage of every occasion to witness.”—El Catolicismo, Bogotá, Colombia, September 14, 1975, p. 14.
But why do the Witnesses call repeatedly even at homes of people who do not share their faith?
They do not force their message on others. But they know that people move to new residences and that the circumstances of people change. Today a person may be too busy to listen; another time he may gladly take the time. One member of a household may not be interested, but others may be. People themselves change; serious problems in life may stimulate an awareness of spiritual need.—See also Isaiah 6:8, 11, 12.
Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses persecuted and spoken against?
Jesus said: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” (John 15:18, 19; see also 1 Peter 4:3, 4.) The Bible shows that the whole world lies under Satan’s control; he is the principal instigator of the persecution.—1 John 5:19; Rev. 12:17.
Jesus also told his disciples: “You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.” (Mark 13:13) The word “name” here means what Jesus officially is, the Messianic King. Persecution comes because Jehovah’s Witnesses put his commands ahead of those of any earthly ruler.
If Someone Says—
‘Why don’t you people get involved in doing things to help make the world (the community) a better place to live?’
You might reply: ‘Conditions in the community are obviously important to you, and they are to me too. May I ask, What problem do you feel should be among the first that gets attention?’ Then perhaps add: ‘Why do you feel that this has become such a major need? . . . Obviously, immediate action on the matter can be beneficial, but I’m sure you’ll agree that we would like to see improvement on a long-term basis. That is the approach that we as Jehovah’s Witnesses take to the matter. (Explain what we do to help people to apply Bible principles in their lives in order to get to the root of the matter on a personal basis; also, what God’s Kingdom will do, and why this will permanently solve the problem for humankind.)’
Or you could say: ‘(After covering some of the points in the preceding reply . . . ) Some people contribute toward community improvement by providing money; others do it by volunteering their services. Jehovah’s Witnesses do both. Let me explain.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘To be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a person must conscientiously pay his taxes; that provides money for the government to supply needed services.’ (2) ‘We go beyond that, calling at the homes of people, offering to study the Bible with them free of charge. When they become acquainted with what the Bible says, they learn to apply Bible principles and so cope with their problems.’
Another possibility: ‘I’m glad you brought the matter up. Many people have never inquired to find out what the Witnesses are actually doing about community affairs. Obviously there is more than one way to offer help.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘Some do it by establishing institutions—hospitals, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers for drug addicts, and so forth. Others may volunteer to go right to the homes of people and offer appropriate help as they are able. That is what Jehovah’s Witnesses do.’ (2) ‘We have observed that there is something that can transform a person’s entire outlook on life, and that is knowledge of what the Bible shows to be the real purpose of life and what the future holds.’
An additional suggestion: ‘I appreciate your raising that question. We would like to see conditions improve, would we not? May I ask, How do you feel about what Jesus Christ himself did? Would you say that the way he went about helping people was practical? . . . We try to follow his example.’
‘Christians are supposed to be witnesses for Jesus, not for Jehovah’
You might reply: ‘That’s an interesting point you have brought up. And you are right that we do have a responsibility to be witnesses for Jesus. That’s why Jesus’ role in God’s purpose is emphasized in our publications. (You may want to use a current book or a magazine to demonstrate this.) But here is something that may be a new thought to you. (Rev. 1:5) . . . Of whom was Jesus “the Faithful Witness”? (John 5:43; 17:6) . . . Jesus set the example that we should imitate, did he not? . . . Why is it so important to get to know both Jesus and his Father? (John 17:3)’