A sect called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” represent a very large segment of the religious world. They will be found worldwide due to their extensive personal ministry efforts. Hardly a house in your area will escape a visit from these people. It is important that we know as much as possible about them.
In 1931 the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was taken by a group of zealous religionists, followers of a man named Charles Taze Russell. Russell preached there is no such thing as eternal punishment, or what the Bible calls “hell.” He was a prolific writer and published literally hundreds of pages of print spreading this doctrine as far as he could. His first publication was called Food for Thinking. This later became The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. In 1896 Russell incorporated his organization and it became known as “The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc.” Watchtower is a name these people have held to through various internal struggles and divisions and is the kernel of the Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
A man named J.F. “Judge” Rutherford won control of the Watchtower Society following Russell’s death. Russell’s doctrines had been largely limited to speculations about the end of time and man’s nature. Rutherford expanded the Jehovah’s Witness offerings by his predictions about the end of the world. His now very infamous book, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, predicted that Jesus would return in the year 1914. When Jesus did not return, Rutherford recalculated and came up with the year 1925. A number of other similar blunders were made. When he died in 1942 their organization took a drastic turn.
Nathan Knorr became the successor to Rutherford. Whereas the Witnesses had been pretty generally regarded as religious quacks, Knorr was able to give them enough respectability to make it necessary to pay attention to them. Through Knorr’s leadership the organization has grown drastically and today is known throughout the world. Frederick Franz succeeded Knorr as president of the organization. Headquarters of the organization is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, New York.
1. Error relative to the Bible. Charles Taze Russell, the spiritual father of this organization, wrote a series of books called Studies in the Scriptures. Some of them were written as “posthumous works of Pastor Russell.”
Here is a revealing statement about Russell. It clearly shows the organization’s disposition toward truth.
“Revelation 8:3. And another angel — Not the ‘voice of the Lord,’ mentioned in the preceding chapter, but the corporate body — the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, which Pastor Russell formed to finish his work. This verse shows that, though Pastor Russell has passed beyond the veil, he is still managing every feature of the Harvest work. ‘The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is the greatest corporation in the world, because from the time of its organization until now the Lord has used it as His channel through which to make known the Glad Tidings’.” (Zion’s Watch Tower), 1917, p. 22.
As late as October 1967 they still believed they held the only key to understanding divine revelation. “Thus the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible. For this reason the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah’s visible organization in mind.” (Watchtower), October 1, 1967, page 587. This remains their official view of the Bible.
More may be learned from the transcript of the trial of Frederick Franz. He was a litigant in a landmark case in Scotland. In 1954 the Jehovah’s Witness organization sued the Ministry of Labor and National Service to keep from being conscripted into the National Service. During that trial Franz was cross examined. Please read:
“Question: Who is responsible for the interpretation in case of doubt, or in general, of scriptural writings for the guidance of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
“Answer: We believe that Jehovah God who is the author and inspirer of the Bible is the one who makes the interpretations. He is his own interpreter. He does this by the use of his invisible active force the Holy Spirit operating upon the minds of his Witnesses upon this earth, and he causes events to come to pass in the earth which are in fulfillment of his prophetic word and which, therefore, throw light upon the true significance of his word.
“Question: That is very helpful, but it does not quite meet the point I was making. What I wanted you to tell me was whether you can say how the Biblical texts are authoritatively interpreted; who is the interpreter?
“Answer: Jehovah God is the interpreter, but he guides his people on this earth, and in this case the editorial committee of the Society, they study the Scriptures continually, and they examine and reexamine the evidence as it appears, and under this Divine guidance with the help of the Holy Spirit they arrive at the understanding of the Scripture.
“Question: Is that understanding promulgated to Jehovah’s Witnesses through the authority of the President and Directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society?
“Answer: Yes. That is accepted as authoritative, and Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world will refer to the publication of the Society as settling the issues in any discussion of the subjects.” (Taken from Gospel Anchor, March 1981, “Hi, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness”, Keith Pruitt, page 204).
This is important when you are asked by Jehovah’s Witnesses to study with them. If they hold the only key to interpretation you cannot understand the Bible anyway. It is a good practice to ask them at the very beginning of any encounter you may have with them, “Do you believe that I can understand the Bible without the aid of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society?” In fact, those who come to your door are told they cannot understand the Bible without the official interpretations of their central organization. Until you settle this point with them it is useless to go on.
But the Bible is understandable. Passages such as John 7:17; 8:32; Eph. 4:3 clearly establish the fact that God’s revealed will is adaptable to the intellect of every accountable human mind. God’s word does not belong to a select few interpreters. This is fundamental error number one.
2. Error regarding the Deity of Christ. Charles Taze Russell wrote, “Neither was Jesus a combination of two natures, human and spiritual.” (Studies in the Scriptures), Series I, page 179. Again, “These thoughts may help us to understand also how the Son, when changed from spiritual to human conditions. — to human nature and earthly limitations — was a man; and though it was the same being in both cases, under the first conditions he was spiritual and under the second conditions he was human.” Ibid. pages 202-203.
Again, “He was not an incarnation in flesh, but was flesh, a human Son of God, a perfect man, no longer a spirit, although having a spiritual or heavenly past and background. That the heavenly Word of God divested himself of everything as a God-like spirit except his life force and that he lowered himself to become no more than a perfect man, his inspired apostle bears witness, writing: ‘Let this disposition be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though being in God’s form, yet did not mediate a usurpation to be like God, … Phil. 2:5-8, the Emphatic Diaglott translation..’.” The Kingdom is at Hand, page 50. Quite clearly the Jehovah’s Witness view of Jesus is that He was just a mere man, certainly not God clothed in human form.
But the Bible teaches that the “fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him” (Col. 2:9). Hebrews 1:3 describes Him as being the “brightness of (God’s) glory, and the express image of His person.” Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known My father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7). Jesus was both God and man while here on earth (Matt. 1:23). Jesus was indeed both God and man in the fullest while here on earth.
3. Error in denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. On this question Russell wrote, “Thus far we have found spirit beings truly glorious; yet, except by the opening of men’s eyes to seem them, or by their appearing in flesh as men, they are invisible to men.” (Studies in the Scriptures), Series 2, page 188. Russell thought that Christ was raised from the dead only in spirit form only. He denounced the fact that our Lord was visible after the resurrection. Another Jehovah’s Witness publication states it, “So King Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature” (Let God Be True), page 138.
The Bible clearly affirms the visible and physical resurrection of Christ. Read 1 Cor. 15:4-8. The passage affirms that Jesus was visible in bodily form after His resurrection and was seen of:
(1) Cephas, Peter and then of the twelve.
(2) Seen of some five hundred brethren
(3) James and the apostles.
(4) Finally by Paul himself.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christ was raised invisible and the Bible teaches that he was raised in visible bodily form. When Thomas touched the resurrected body of Christ he touched a literal, visible, real resurrected body — not an invisible spirit creature (John 20:25, 28).
4. Error in denying the existence of eternal punishment. Read again to Russell. “The proper recognition of the meaning of the terms mortal and immortal, and of their use in Scripture, destroys the very foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment … But God’s Word assures us that he has provided against such a perpetuation of sin and sinners; that man is mortal, and that the full penalty of willful sin against full light and knowledge will not be a life in torment, but a second death.” Op. Cit. page 187.
But what of Bible teaching? “When the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction…” (2 Thess. 1:7-8). In this verse the word “everlasting” comes from the Greek term aionos. It is elsewhere translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” and “forever.” (See Matt. 13:42; 25:46).
5. Error in denying that man has an immortal soul. In the words of Russell, man is “wholly mortal.” If man is wholly mortal, at death he ceases to exist. Again from one of their books, “So we see that the claim of religionists that man has an immortal soul and therefore differs from the beast is not scriptural” (page 68).
Jesus replied to this materialistic concept of man in answering the Sadducees. “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him” (Luke 20:37-39). But how can God be the God of the living and also be God of dead men, viz., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were dead at the time Moses said this? The answer is by the fact that men do exist beyond the grave and the dead are raised. God has given man an immortal soul. Peter describes the soul of man as “imperishable” (1 Pet. 3:4).
Please study Luke 16:19-21. Jesus taught that two men died (verse 22). The rich man existed in hell and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom (verse 24). The emotions of the rich man were strained for his five brothers, still alive, who might be sent where he was (verse 28).
This passage teaches the very opposite of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. To them it is only a parable. It is not called a parable. And even if it is a parable what does it teach? A parable is a comparison of some real life situation to a divine truth. To what was Christ comparing the real life situation? Obviously he was teaching existence of life beyond the grave — which the Jehovah’s Witnesses flatly deny.