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The Jehovah’s Witnesses: Christian or Cult?

A Summary of Their History and Beliefs

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You hear the floorboards of your front porch creak and then the knock on your door as the Jehovah’s Witnesses make their rounds.  You peer through the peephole.  Should I answer or not?

Feeling a little uneasy about opening the door?  You’ve heard of the Jehovah’s Witnesses before but aren’t sure if they’re Christian or some kind of a cult.  You can’t just hide behind the door because that would be rude, so you go ahead and open up. Now you’re confronted with two nicely dressed Jehovah’s Witnesses offering you a color pamphlet decrying the current state of the world and proposing a spiritual remedy.  What now?

If this description sounds familiar, keep reading.  This brief article on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Watchtower, will fill in the blanks, providing a summary of who they are and what they’re about.  It is not designed to make you an expert, but rather to allow you to stand firm in your faith in the face of a cunning deception, so that no one will be able to say to you as St. Paul said to the Galatians:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–
Galatians 1:6

The Origin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the single-handed creation of Charles Taze Russell. What started out as a Bible study organized by Russell in 1870 ultimately developed into The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the corporate entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Charles Taze Russell, an uneducated layman, set out to answer many of the pressing religious questions of his day in a way that would be appealing to the modern (and sinful) mind, rather than answering those questions in a way that was subservient to the Word of God.  In the process, he denied many of the major foundational doctrines of Christianity, including the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and justification by grace through faith.1,2  These are biblical doctrines that are not negotiable.  They have been held from the beginning of the Christian Church, and they define Christianity.3  Without belief in these doctrines, salvation is impossible.4

How could Charles Taze Russell fool so many people?  By preying on those with little biblical knowledge, and by supplanting the clear word of Scripture with his own words, an operating philosophy that is still embraced by the Watchtower of today.  According to the Watchtower, the Bible cannot be understood without their guidance, as illustrated by quotes such as these:
God has not arranged for [His] Word to speak independently or to shine forth life-giving truths by itself.  It is through his organization [the Watchtower] God provides this light.
Watchtower magazine, May 1, 1957, p. 274

...Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or force. (Zech. 4:6)  Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise.  To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book.
Watchtower magazine, July 1, 1973, p. 402

They [referring to the thousands who were leaving the Watchtower following the organization’s failed prophecy of 1975 (see below)] say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home.  But strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching 100 years ago...
Watchtower magazine, August 15, 1981, p. 28-29

By convincing those under their care that they must read only Watchtower literature to discover truth, and emphasizing it rather than the Bible, the Watchtower is able to deceive their followers and swap biblical doctrine for false Watchtower doctrine.  The Bible, however, says of itself that it is truth - there is no need for an intermediary.  That truth is easily discerned, not by the aid of an organization, but by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.  As Jesus says in John 8:31-32, "...If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  There are an avalanche of Bible verses that refute the concept that truth must be found through the Watchtower, or any other organization, a few of which include Psalm 119:105 and 130, Isaiah 55:10-11, John 14:26, John 20:31, Romans 10:17, Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:15, 1 Peter 1:23-25, 2 Peter 1:19, and 1 John 5:20.

Academic Dishonesty and Worse

To further deceive others, the Watchtower often resorts to such techniques as quoting scholars, and the Bible, out of context to support their conclusions.  The Watchtower’s deception is so common, that no further time will be spent here examining it. Examples of their duplicity can be found in the article entitled “The Watchtower’s Misrepresentation of the Trinity: The Argument You So Eloquently Refuted Was Not Mine!”  We encourage you to read other articles, both on this website and on other apologetics websites, to discover for yourself just how widespread the Watchtower’s academic dishonesty actually is.

What is of even more serious concern is the Watchtower’s Scripture-twisting.  Their translation of the Bible, The New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures, is replete with purposely mistranslated words, added words, and omitted words, and ignores commonly held rules of exegesis in an effort to support their specious doctrine.

For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that God’s proper name is Jehovah, and have therefore taken it upon themselves to rewrite the Bible, replacing the Greek words kyrios (the Lord) and theos (God) in the New Testament with the name Jehovah, thus “helping” to obscure the deity of Christ.5  (For example, compare Romans 10, verses 9 and 13 in their New World Translation with the original Greek or a reputable translation, and compare Acts 7, verses 59 and 60.6)

In an effort to support their contention that Jesus is not God, but rather a created being, they take the reckless step of adding the word “other” four times in Colossians 1:16 and 17, so that it reads “all [other] things have been created through him,” implying that Jesus is a creature rather than the eternal creator.7  I say “reckless” because God specifically gives the following warnings in His Holy Word:
Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
Proverbs 30:6

There are no reputable Greek or Hebrew scholars that endorse the New World Translation.  More examples of the deceit contained in the New World Translation can be found in the article “The New World Translation on Trial in the Watchtower’s Own Kingdom Interlinear Translation of The Greek Scriptures, Part 2.”

False Prophecies “R” Us

The Watchtower claims to be God’s “mouthpiece” and “prophet”:
He has appointed his "faithful and wise servant", who is his visible mouthpiece...
Watchtower magazine, July 1, 1943, p. 205

...this group acts as a “prophet” of God.
Watchtower magazine, April 1, 1972; p. 197

God’s prophets never uttered false prophecies in God’s name, yet the Watchtower has repeatedly done just that, proving themselves to be a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22).  Here is a partial list of the Watchtower’s false prophecies:
...the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A. D. 1914.
Studies in the Scriptures: The Time Is At Hand, 1889, p. 99

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be resurrected in 1925
Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1920, p. 88

The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet because Armageddon is very near.
Informant, April, 1940, p. 1

In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man’s existence and also the first 6,000 years of God’s rest day come to an end?  The year 1975. [This was when Armageddon was supposed to occur.]
Awake, October 8, 1966; p. 19

...there are only about ninety months left before 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth is completed...  The majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out...
Kingdom Ministry, March, 1968; p. 4

These examples are but a few of an unending stream of false prophecies spanning more than a century that prove that the Watchtower is not God’s chosen organization, but is rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Is Salvation Offered Through The Watchtower?

The Watchtower claims that “To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it” (Watchtower magazine, Feb. 15, 1983, p. 12).8  Yet the Jehovah’s Witness plan for salvation clearly contradicts the Bible.  The Watchtower’s “version” of salvation rejects Christ’s atoning death on the cross in favor of a Gospel of works.  They claim that Jesus’ death on the cross only atoned for Adam’s sin, not our own. In order to be saved, the Witnesses must continually advertise God’s Kingdom rule to others, be totally obedient to God’s laws, and be faithful throughout the coming 1,000 year millennium – only then will they have any hope of salvation.  To quote the Watchtower magazine:
Would you expect to receive God’s grand gift of everlasting life in Paradise without any effort on your part?  Is it not reasonable that God would require something?  Surely it is... God does not, in effect, just throw the gift at us.... effort is involved.
Watchtower magazine, April 15, 1999; p. 13

Certainly we do not expect that in the present system Jesus would apply to us the full merit of his sacrifice.  Even if he did, we would still not have everlasting life.
Watchtower magazine, June 1, 1995; p. 30

The Watchtower should be asked the questions that St. Paul asked in Galatians chapter 3, verses 2 and 3:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
God’s Holy Word removes any doubt as to whether our salvation is based on works or on grace in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.
Christ paid the price on the cross not just for Adam’s sin, but for the sin of all mankind:9
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
1 Corinthians 15:3

While the Watchtower offers to its followers no assurance of salvation, the simple and clear promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us eternal life now, with no strings attached:
I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.
John 6:47

Ultimately, salvation depends on knowing who Jesus is (John 17:3).  The Watchtower claims that Jesus is a created being, the archangel Michael.  They claim He gave up His existence as an angel and became a human (only a human - not both human and divine).  When Jesus died, He was then recreated as the Archangel Michael. No physical resurrection occurred.  The Watchtower claims Jesus is a lesser god, not the Almighty Jehovah God.10

The Jesus of the Watchtower is not the Jesus of the Bible.  The Jesus of the Bible is the Son of God, hence of the same nature as God the Father, who existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity, the Word, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who became incarnate as a man, the God who was crucified for our sins, died, and rose again in His own flesh.  The Jesus of the Bible is both God and man, the second person of the Trinity, seated at the right hand of God the Father, until His visible return on the last day.

Jesus states in John 8:24: “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”  Who does Jesus claim to be?  He claims to be the Messiah, who comes to forgive sins, which only God can do.  The “I am” in this verse is followed by Jesus climactic statement in John 8:58: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” The “I am” in these verses are a direct reference to the I AM of Exodus 3:14, in which God calls himself I AM.  The Watchtower deliberately mistranslates Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 to obscure Jesus’ claim to deity and His rightful position as the second person of the Trinity.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus is the one He claims to be, and they will indeed die in their sins.  The Watchtower blocks Jesus’ exclusive claim of being both God and Savior, and in so doing, blocks the path to eternal life.

Which will you chose?  The Jesus of the Watchtower cult and eternal death, or the Jesus of the Bible and eternal life?

Will You Answer the Door?

Keep in mind that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).  The Jehovah’s Witnesses are blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4).  They may appear to have a thorough biblical knowledge, but that knowledge is often only “skin deep.”  They learn how to respond to the most frequent objections to their religion, but may not be prepared for an ongoing deeper theological discussion.

When you hear your porch floorboards creaking and that knock on the door, be courteous and charitable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  If you are so inclined and have a solid Scriptural grounding, draw them out and ask them back if they are willing to return, so that they may come to know the true Jesus, the eternal I AM.  They are conditioned to reject anything that disagrees with their Watchtower indoctrination, so be patient.  While it may appear that they are rejecting the Gospel message, God promises in Isaiah 55:10-11:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
If you don’t wish to have an extended conversation, politely decline their offer for dialogue, suggesting to them that you know whom you have believed (2 Timothy 1:12), or that you recognize your shepherd’s voice (John 10:1-5).  Salvation does not come through an organization, it comes through faith in Jesus Christ:
“...Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Acts 4:12

For a thorough review of Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine from a biblical perspective and pointers on how to respond to them, we recommend the book Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, by Ron Rhodes.

Written by Scott Diekmann

Click here for more articles on the Jehovah's Witnesses


1.     These are only a few of the Watchtower doctrines that contradict the Bible. Others include: The Holy Spirit is not the third person of the Trinity, but rather Jehovah’s impersonal “active force;” Jesus was only a man while on earth, not both God and man; there is no eternal punishment in “hell;” only 144,000 people will be in heaven, the rest of those who are saved will be in paradise on earth (see “The Great Crowd and the Little Flock” for more information on the 144,000); Jesus is a created “god” who is inferior to the Father; and Jesus is the archangel Michael (see “Who is Jesus?, Part One, Is Jesus Michael the Archangel?,” and “Who is Jesus? Part Two, Jesus in Daniel and Revelation").

2.    The article entitled “‘Everlasting Life’ the WT Way, (When a Gift is Not a Gift)” examines the Watchtower’s salvation by works doctrine, as does the series of articles: “The Watchtowers Inadequate Ransom, Part 1,” “ The Watchtower’s Inadequate Ransom, Part 2,” “ Christ’s Adequate Ransom, Part 3,” and “Christ’s Ransom is More Than Adequate, Part 4.”

3.     For those of you who contend that the doctrine of the Trinity was not held by the early church, please refer to “The Watchtower and the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers,” by Michael J. Partyka.

4.     You might wonder if belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a doctrine which rises to the level of a salvation issue.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17 St. Paul states: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reject bodily resurrection and the eternality of the soul.  They believe that the soul is what gives physical life - it is not immaterial and therefore it is destroyed at death.  They believe not in resurrection, but re-creation. God remembers who you were and creates a copy of you if you are re-created.  (Those who willfully sin and reject the “truth” are never recreated, and are thus permanently annihilated.  There is no belief in hell as a place of eternal torment in Watchtower theology, it is only the common grave of both believers and unbelievers.)  Jesus was recreated at His “resurrection” as a spirit only - the archangel Michael.  Their belief makes their “faith” useless, as St. Paul points out in verses 13 and 14: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  For additional reading on Christ’s bodily resurrection, read “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” by Greta Olsoe.

5.     For further information on the Watchtower’s insertion of the word “Jehovah” into the New Testament text, refer to “A Glaring Example of Watchtower Inconsistency,” by Peter Barnes.

6.     The New World Translation can be found online at: bible/toc.htm.

7.     The Watchtower also adds the word “other” (or “others”) in Acts 10:36, Romans 8:32, and Philippians 2:9.  In the Romans passage “other” is dishonestly inserted without the brackets, so the unsuspecting reader has no idea the passage has been altered.  The original New World Translation, published in 1950, had no brackets in the Colossians verses, but the Watchtower was forced to add them due to the uproar created by their attempted ploy.

8.     More information refuting the Watchtower’s claim to being “God’s channel” can be found in the articles “ Does God Work Through an Organization?” by Warren Bosma, and “Idolatrous Worship of a Man-made Organization,” by Greta Olsoe.

9.     See also John 1:29, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Galatians 1:4, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 2:2, and Revelation 1:5.

10.   One of the characteristics of a cult, one which the Watchtower exemplifies, is the ability of its members to unquestioningly embrace two mutually exclusive claims and yet see no contradiction.  Their claim that there is only one God, as the Bible says, and yet at the same time claim that Jesus is “a” god distinct from “Jehovah God,” is an example of that “suspension of disbelief.”  There are many other cult characteristics exhibited by the Watchtower, a short list of which includes: claims to exclusive possession of the truth, demands for unquestioning loyalty to the organization, authoritarian control of what the members can read, discouraging education, prohibiting independent thinking, an us-versus-them mentality, a requirement to spend huge amounts of time in service to the organization, a contrived sense of urgency in the group’s “mission,” control of its members by use of guilt, fear, and shunning, an apocalyptic vision of what will happen if you leave the group, and a preoccupation with gaining new members.
For a personal account of the persuasive power and control that the Jehovah’s Witnesses can hold over their members, read “It Could Happen to You!” by Patty Villa.