What do the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?

The Jehovah's Witnesses are quite forthcoming about their religion.  Their religion, unlike Mormonism, isn't an esoteric one.

When Mormons come to your door, they don't tell you that they believe in many gods, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, and that dark skin is supposedly a curse.

If they told you such things up front, you'd close the door immediately.  Such teachings are saved for initiates.  Thus, Mormonism is an esoteric religion (Webster: "esoteric: designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone").

The religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses is exoteric (Webster "suitable to be imparted to the public").  They tell you up front what they believe.  And they tell you not just when at your door, but in their publications.  In "Jehovah's Witnesses in the Twentieth Century", for example, may be found a chart titled "What Jehovah's Witnesses Believe."  The chart lists beliefs and the scriptural authority for them.  Let us examine some of the beliefs which are peculiar to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

(We give scriptural passages from a Catholic translation; the "New World Translation" of the Witnesses is not faithful to the Hebrew and Greek where the originals fail to support — or where they contradict — the Witnesses' peculiar doctrines.)

1. "Christ is God's Son and is inferior to him."

Given in support of this position are these verses: "And behold a voice from heaven, saying: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Matt. 3:17).  "For from God I proceeded, and came" (John 8:42).  "If you loved me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).  "I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17).  "The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3). "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then the Son also himself shall be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:28).

What About Other Verses?

At first glance these citations seem imposing.  It does seem that Christ is inferior to God.  But what about John 10:30: "I and the Father are one"?  Or, "He that seeth me seeth the Father also" (John 14:9)?  Or, "All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine." (John 16:15)? These seem to contradict the other verses.  How do we make sense of all this?  By keeping in mind that Jesus is both God and man.  Some verses, such as these last three, refer exclusively to his Godhead.  Others refer to his humanity.  So far as He is God, Jesus is equal to the Father.  So far as He is man and a creature, He is inferior to the Father. (The Uncreated is always superior to the created.)

2. "Christ was the first of God's creations."

Verses cited in support are these: "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (Col. 1:15).  "And to the angel of the church of Laodicea write: ‘These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God’" (Rev. 3: 14).

You see what is being argued in the first of the two verses: that "first birth" implies succession, superiority, inferiority.  But many Scripture scholars understand this to be a Messianic title which refers back to Proverbs 8:22. The sense is that it was in Christ that God contemplated the plan of the universe.

And what about the second verse, from Revelation?  Frankly, it is hard to see how it helps the Witnesses at all.  It says Christ was the source of creation.  This would seem to impart divinity to Christ.

No Hell?

3. "The wicked will be eternally destroyed" (that is, no hell, just annihilation).

Verses given in support: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels...  And these shall to into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting" (Matt. 25:41, 46).  "Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess. 1:9).  You can see for yourself that these verses actually prove the opposite of what the Witnesses teach — that is, they prove the existence of hell.

4. Blood transfusion

"Taking blood into the body through mouth or veins violates God's laws."

The Jehovah's Witnesses are perhaps best known as people who won’t allow themselves or their children to have blood transfusions.

They support their position with these verses: "You shall not eat the blood of any flesh at all, because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and whosoever eateth it, shall be cut off" (Lev. 17:14).  "For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things: That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication" (Acts 15:28, 29).

Do Witnesses Eat Kosher?

The first two verses are part of the old dietary law, which was abrogated by the New Covenant.  Christians didn't have to follow the old ways — that is, they didn't have to "eat kosher."  If the old dietary law wasn't abrogated, why don't Jehovah's Witnesses follow all of it?  Their eating habits should mimic those of today’s Orthodox Jews.  Of course, that isn't the case at all.

The verse from Acts comes from the chapter that described the Council of Jerusalem.  At the time there was tension between Gentile Christians (who were the recipients of this letter from the Council) and Jewish Christians.

The latter still followed the Mosaic Law; the former didn't.  As a purely disciplinary, not doctrinal, matter, the apostles decided that the Gentile Christians in Antioch should, so far as practicable, follow a course that wouldn't antagonize the Jewish Christians.  Thus the "Greeks" were instructed to adhere to those four conditions which, from early on, had been binding on Gentiles who wished to associate with Jews (cf Lev. 17:8 18:18).

Transfusions Not Sinful

The old dietary laws simply don't apply to Christians today, and the ones given at the Council of Jerusalem passed into disuse as Jewish conversions to Christianity became uncommon toward the end of the first century and the Church became mainly Gentile.  They weren't immutable doctrines, but disciplinary rules.

The ancient interest in blood — not confined to the Jews — was based largely on the notion that blood carried the life principle of the body.  After all, if you drain the blood from a man, he dies.

We know now blood doesn't have the status the ancients thought it did.  We know far more about anatomy and medicine than they did.  There isn't anything more sacred about blood than about any other part of the body.  There is no reason to classify blood transfusions as sinful, just as there is no reason to classify other normal medical treatments as sinful.

5. "A clergy class and special titles are improper."

In support of this position, Jehovah's Witnesses refer to these verses: "I will not accept the person of man, and I will not level God with man" (Job 32:21).  "But be not you called Rabbi.  For one is your master; and all you are brethren.  And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, Christ" (Matt. 23:8-10).  "You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them.  It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant" (Matt. 20:25-27).

Matthew 23:9 is used also by fundamentalists when they argue against the priesthood.  "How can your priesthood have been established by Christ, when you call priests 'Father' in violation of Scripture?"

The Answer

Briefly, our Lord was saying we shouldn't give to men credit for what really comes to us from the Father.  He shouldn't be understood in a crassly literal way.  If Matthew 23:9 were taken that way, you'd have trouble finding a title for the man who married your mother.

Keep in mind that Paul called himself the father of the church he founded in Corinth: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers.  For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you" (1 Cor. 4:15).  Elsewhere, Paul called himself a teacher (l Tim. 1:11).  Was he violating Christ's instruction?  Of course not.

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