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Cults and World Religions

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society


Religion is doing anything contrary to the will of Almighty God. Religion is of the Devil.
J.B. Rutherford 38
Second President of the Witnesses

Who owns the largest printing press in the world? The New York Times? Look? No! It is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have one press that puts out 500 pieces of propaganda every second. From that one press alone, comes out 84,000,000 books and pamphlets. 39


Compared to the Mormons, the Witnesses are a fairly recent addition to the world of cults. As with most cults, the Witnesses are the figment of one man’s imagination, in this case one Charles Taze Russell. Russell had great difficulty in dealing with the doctrine of eternal hell fire and in his studies came to deny not only eternal punishment, but also the Trinity, and the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. So, in 1872 he created his own religion, what is now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell saw himself as the last special messenger of the Age of the Church.

The Witnesses take after Russell in more than one respect. Russell was a man who desired to get his doctrine before the public. In 1879 he sought to popularize his aberrant ideas on doctrine. He met N. H. Barbour, a Second Adventist, one of the Spiritual descendants of the Millerites (see next chapter), who had expected Christ’s return in 1844. This group had expected the second coming to occur in 1874, but were likewise disappointed. Barbour, however, refused to accept such a disappointment. He proclaimed an invisible to human eyes return of Christ had occurred in 1874. Russell became co-publisher of Barbour’s magazine, The Herald of the Morning. At this point there are conflicts in the story. One account states that by 1884 Russell controlled the publication, renaming it The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah&s Kingdom, and founded Zion&s Watch Tower Tract Society (now known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society).

Another account states that Russell had a dispute with Barbour and left the Second Adventist group, taking many of the followers with him. He started his own publication, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Either way, the first edition of The Watchtower magazine was only 6,000 copies each month. Today the Witnesses& publishing complex in Brooklyn, New York, churns out 100,000 books and 800,000 copies of its two magazines--daily!

The publications are important because Russell believed his were the only correct interpretations of Scripture. The proper method of spreading this interpretation was in print. The Watchtower Society continues in this tradition today.

Following Russell’s death in 1916, a Missouri lawyer named Joseph Franklin Rutherford became president of the Watch Tower Society. Rutherford did not follow all of Russell’s teaching and there was a split within the group. 40 In 1931 Rutherford changed the name of the organization to "The Jehovah&s Witnesses," based upon part of a passage in Isaiah (43:10: “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord). After Rutherford&s death, Nathan Knorr was named president and he was followed by Frederick William Franz and then by Milton G. Henschel, who is the president today. The group is about the same size as the Mormons, having about 11.5 million members world wide. 41 The Watchtower Society statistics indicate that 740 house calls are required to recruit each of the nearly 200,000 new members who join every year. As may be seen, this makes their rate of growth smaller than the Mormons.

By another count, They currently have about 6 million “publishers” and “pioneers” in over 75,000 congregations in more than 200 countries. In excess of 14 million people (pioneers, publishers, adherents and potential members) attended their Memorial service at the time of Passover in 1999. There are almost 1 million witnesses in the U.S., about 111,000 in Canada. Mexico and Italy have the largest numbers of witnesses. 42

As mentioned above , the Witnesses follow in Russell’s teachings by denying the deity of Christ, the physical resurrection, and salvation by grace. To support its erring doctrines, the Watchtower organization (which is the author and teacher of all official Witnesses’ theology) has even altered the Bible to make it say what the group wants. They have produced the own version of the KJV called The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. This translation was first released in 1950 and revised in 1951 and 1961, with hundreds of verses changed to fit Watchtower doctrines. This translation continues to be rewritten every few years, with additional changes made to bring God’s Word into closer agreement with what the organization’s aberrant ideas. For example, they have inserted of the name Jehovah 237 times in the New Testament.

Another example of rewriting Scripture to match doctrine will be found in a comparison of versions. In the King James Version of the Bible, John 1:1 reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The New World Translation is

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

Further, the Witnesses’ own literature is viewed as the infallible interpreter of the Bible. Deviations are not tolerated from the Witnesses’ teachings.

Rutherford’s teachings were not all in line with Russell’s, but this fact is frequently ignored by the modern JW church. And, Rutherford, despite the effort to break with Russell, did follow some of the founder’s key teachings. For example, Rutherford taught Christ’s rule commenced in 1914, based upon a Russell prophecy, even though there was no actual second coming. During the period from 1914 until 1918, Christ was at work in the Temple of Jehovah cleaning the Temple so He could dwell there permanently and He was also at work judging men. Here Christ will receive the elite 144,000 Witnesses into Heaven, while the remainder of the resurrected righteous will dwell on earth. Notice, the result of this teaching is a following of Russell doctrine, even though the official church position of the time was to reject Russell’s teachings. Also, as noted, the result of this teaching is that there will not be an actual physical return of Christ to earth.

How the Witnesses interpret the Scriptures

As is typical of the cults that use the Bible as support for their position, the Witnesses’ position produces a host of interpretive errors. These problems are exacerbated by the use of the Witnesses’ own translation of Scripture. In general, the interpretative issues may be summarized as follows:

Additionally, the Witnesses require of its members regular and frequent weekly attendance at their "Bible Study" meetings where they are repeatedly indoctrinated with anti-Christian doctrines. The Watchtower magazine is read at these meetings so the church basically does the thinking for its members. Members are told they will be persecuted when they go door to door teaching their false doctrines. This creates a unity within the group because this persecution justifies their membership in the Witnesses. As with most cults, the members are told the Watchtower Society is the only true church organization on the earth. Witnesses are urged to stay within the group, having friends and acquaintances that are only Witness’s. Notice that this also keeps outside examination of the individual members to a minimum. Further, they shun those who leave their group (or at least they are told to do so). This helps to assure that no one knows why someone has left. Those left behind in the organization have not way to discover the errors of their way from those who have found the truth!

Witnesses’ Beliefs

  1. There is one God in one person, Make Sure of All Things, p 188.
  2. There is no Trinity, Let God be True, p. 100-101; Make Sure of All Things, p.386.
  3. The Holy Spirit is a force, not alive, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp.   406-407.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God&s impersonal active force, The Watchtower, June 1, 1952,   p. 24.
  5. Jehovah&s first creation was his &only-begotten Son&. . . was used by Jehovah in  creating all other things", Aid to Bible Understanding, pp. 390-391.
  6. Jesus was Michael the archangel who became a man, The Watchtower, May 15,  1963, p. 307; The New World, 284.
  7. Jesus was only a perfect man, not God in flesh, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 
  8. Jesus did not rise from the dead in his physical body, Awake! July 22, 1973, p. 4.
  9. Jesus was raised "not a human creature, but a spirit." Let God be True, p. 276.
  10. Jesus did not die on a cross but on a stake, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985,   pp. 89-90.
  11. Jesus returned to earth, invisibly, in 1914, The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 300.
  12. Jesus& ransom sacrifice did not include Adam, Let God be True, p.  119.
  13. Their church is the self-proclaimed prophet of God, The Watchtower, April 1,  1972, p. 197. 
  14. They claim to be the only channel of God&s truth, The Watchtower, Feb. 15,  1981, p. 19.
  15. Only their church members will be saved, The Watchtower, Feb, 15, 1979, p. 30.
  16. Good works are necessary for salvation, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1,  pp. 150, 152.
  17. The soul ceases to exist after death, Let God be True, p. 59, 60, 67.
  18. There is no hell of fire where the wicked are punished, Let God be True, p. 79, 80.
  19. Only 144,000 Jehovah&s Witness go to heaven, Reasoning from the Scriptures,   1985, pp. 166-167, 361; Let God be True, p. 121.
  20. Blood transfusions are a sin, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp. 72-73.
  21. The Cross is a pagan symbol and should not be used, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp. 90-92.
  22. Salvation is by faith and what you do, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp.  150,152.
  23. It is possible to lose your salvation, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, pp.  358-359.
  24. The universe is billions of years old, Your will Be Done on Earth, p. 43.
  25. Each of the 6 creative days of God in Genesis 1, was 7000 years long. Therefore, Man was created toward the end of 42,000 years of earth&s  preparation, Let God be True, p. 168.
  26. They also refuse to vote, salute the flag, sing the "Star Spangled Banner," or   celebrate Christmas or birthdays. They are not allowed to serve in the armed   forces.

Witnessing to a Witness

The Christian witnesses to save others. The Jehovah’s Witness witnesses to become a part of the elite 144,000, that is, to save himself.

As with many other religions, debating with a Witness will not convert him. Even if you win the argument or debate, the Witness will still walk away a Witness. It is like trimming a tree. Some branches may get cut off, but the tree will still stand. The approach which is successful is the one which will cut through the base of the tree, allowing the tree to fall, usually of its own weight.

The indoctrination of the Watchtower Society is what drives the members. You may win the argument because you have struck upon a verse or position that is not supported well by the indoctrination. However, since this is so, you also have not overcome any of the brainwashing which the Witness has accepted or endured. So, prepare by learning about the Witnesses. Review books on the cult, such as those listed in the appendix to this chapter. Learn to understand why the organizational doctrine, the indoctrinations, need to be overcome. Your task is to not win the religious arguments but to break through the brainwashing. You must over come the concept that the Watchtower Society is “God’s organization.”

It is important to understand that the membership has been instructed not to listen to Christians who want to tell them about Jesus, not to debate doctrine with knowledgeable members of other churches, and not to read literature critical of the organization or its beliefs. As indicated, the Witnesses have been indoctrinated to answer people’s questions and to help people who need information. Approaching a Witness with the reasons why his beliefs are wrong and yours are right will encounter fierce resistance. Try designing your approach as a request for help. Put your arguments in the forms of questions outwardly designed to allow the Witness to “help” you. The seeds of the Gospel may be planted in the questions. Work with the knowledge and understanding of the indoctrination rather than struggling against it.

Since the essential doctrines involve Jesus, and, thus, the Trinity, our natural inclination is to start with this area first. However, you must remember the Witnesses are well versed and indoctrinated in this area. A better approach is to move this issue off to the side and deal with the Witnesses views of the Watchtower organization. Work at showing the leadership of the organization is more fallible than they present. Attack, if you will, the organization structure of the cult rather than their theological beliefs. As you crack the structure, the views of the indoctrinations will weaken and you will be able to make headway on the theological beliefs.

One cannot over emphasize the degree of “brainwashing” the various cults use. They record a message in the minds of the members. This message is just played over and over again and forms the basis of belief. By starting with the organization, the basis on which the message has been improperly recorded. If the Witness can be convinced of this, then the contents of the message itself maybe dealt with. This may be a long, difficult evangelistic effort. And, remember, that no two cultists are exactly the same. The pattern which works with one, will not necessarily work with the next cult member you witness to. Each person is different, and these differences must be accounted.


Organizational Names
of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

This name was first applied to followers of Baptist lay preacher William Miller, who had predicted Christ would return in October 1843 or 1844. After the great “Disappointment of 1844,” Miller’s followers formed several Adventist sects. Watchtower founder Charles T. Russell took instruction from and fellowshiped with Adventists from 1868 through 1879, and quit the staff of the Adventist publication The Herald of the Morning in 1879 to begin publishing his own magazine. So, Russell was actually an Adventist at the time of his early writings. Besides Jehovah’s Witnesses, other sects that sprang from the Adventist movement include the Seventh Day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, the Church of God (Faith of Abraham), and the Life and Advent Union.

Bible Students
The followers of Charles T. Russell called themselves Bible Students. After his death this name continued to be used, not only by those who stuck with the Watchtower organization controlled by J.B. Rutherford but also by splinter groups under the leadership of former Russell appointees. The name still applies to Reassailed groups such as the Dawn Bible Students and the Chicago Bible Students. Rutherford had his followers adopt the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 to distinguish themselves from these others.

International Bible Students Association
In The Watch Tower of April 1, 1910, C.T. Russell instructed his followers in the United States and worldwide to identify themselves and advertise their meetings under this name. This is also the name of the British corporation formed by Russell in 1914, which continues to function under the direction of the parent corporation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

Jehovah’s Witnesses
Joseph Rutherford had congregations associated with the Watchtower organization adopt this name in 1931 to distinguish themselves from other Russellite groups that shared the designation Bible Students. But the organization has not incorporated under this name as a legal entity.

People’s Pulpit Association
This legal corporation was formed in 1909 under the Membership Corporation Law of New York to care for operations in that state. It was renamed Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., in 1939, and then in 1956 it took on the present form of its name, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

Second Adventist(s)
Referring to the return, or second advent, of Christ, this is another name for Adventists (see above).

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Originally formed as the People’s Pulpit Association, this New York legal corporation works under the direction of the parent Pennsylvania corporation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The New York corporation is officially the branch organization in charge of activities in the United States.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
Originally named Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, this Pennsylvania corporation was formed in 1884 to carry on C.T. Russell’s publishing work. It serves as the parent corporation for Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Various corporate bodies have been established in other lands, but all work under the direction of the Pennsylvania corporation. The primary purpose for the multiple corporations has been to meet the requirements for owning real estate under the various legal jurisdictions where the sect operates. 43

Other Sources of Materials
on Jehovah’s Witnesses

Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Facts on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Anker Series, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers

38. Theocracy, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, 1944, 18, as quoted by Charles S. Braden, These Also Believe, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1949, 358.
39. Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, (Garland, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc.) 1996.
40. The splinter group was known as the Dawn Bible Students, after one of Russell’s works, Millennial Dawn. The Dawnites agree with 95% of the Witnesses’ teaching, disagreeing with only the innovations imposed by Rutherford and the issue of a “second chance” for people who reject Christ. On the other hand, The Watchtower Society has called the Dawnites evil. See Walter Martin, Rise of the Cults, Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1955, 1977, 22.
41. David A. Reed, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998, c1996, electronic edition.
42. citing the Watchtower Society’s own statistics.
43. Reed, David A., Jehovah’s Witness Literature: A Critical Guide to Watchtower Publications, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1998, c1993.




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