February 11, 2015

Why I’m Not a Jehovah’s Witness

by Eric Davis

L9057fe81adc950d59ad8bf71dd3b3364ast week we featured an article entitled, Why I Am Not A Mormon. Some of our readers requested a similar article on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today’s article is in response to that, in an effort to love people by pointing them to the knowledge of the true, saving Jesus Christ.

If you were to ask me why I am not a Jehovah’s Witness, though there are many reasons, these would be the top three:

  1. JW teaching is derived from a misleading translation of the Bible. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses ascribe to the Bible as their sacred text for faith and practice. However, only one translation, the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation (NWT), is encouraged for JW use. Since it’s inception in 1961, the NWT has undergone a few revisions.

JW’s also rely heavily upon a few other works produced by the Watchtower Society for beliefs and doctrinal dissemination.

The Watchtower is a periodical featured in over 200 languages, with 53 million copies printed monthly, started by JW founder, Charles Taze Russell, in 1879. The periodical’s purpose is to show “the significance of world events in the light of Bible prophecies” and “it comforts people with the good news of God’s Kingdom and promotes faith in Jesus Christ.”

watchtower2Awake! is the other JW periodical, also with some 50 million printed monthly in over 100 languages. It “shows us how to cope with today’s problems and builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world.”

Another heavily relied upon work is a book called Reasoning from the Scriptures, which lists out the Watchtower Society’s answers to various Bible questions and is often used as a training manual for converts and proselytizing.

Though the Watchtower, Awake!, and Reasoning from the Scriptures are not said to be canonical, they often function that way. JW’s are often systematically, and rigorously (some JW’s talk of going from knowing nothing of the Bible to knowing much in a few week’s time), catechized from these works. Former JW’s will tell you that they are discouraged from studying anything but the NWT and the Watchtower Society writings.

One can read the NWT, Awake!, and the Watchtower in everything from English to Chinese to Malay to Zulu.

Despite its multiple editions, the NWT contains many alarming translation errors, making it unreliable at best. Four errors are briefly considered here, comparing the English Standard Version (ESV) with the NWT:

1) John 1:1.

ESV: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

NWT: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

The NWT commits a serious error here by inserting the indefinite article, “a,” to render the phrase, “a god.” The rationalization is that the indefinite article is absent in the original. However, as Daniel Wallace points out, there are 282 occurrences of the word “God” in the NT without the definite article yet only 6% of the time do they translate it indefinite (a god, etc.). And if we follow their translation principle consistently, for example, then “the beginning” should be “a beginning,” life should be “a life,” and John should be “a John” in 1:6 (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 267). Also, the Greek grammatical rule, “Colwell’s Rule,” applied to this verse leans in favor of the definiteness. Finally, we see that God knows what he is doing with his word in that this particular Greek construction, without the definite article, demonstrates that Christ/the Word is God, but God the Father is not Christ/the Word.

8088b1a2-db2c-47de-8bb0-77f78c9841a0_dWe can conclude with the late, competent exegete, Charles Feinberg, when he said, “I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah’s Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar” (Rhodes, 99).

2) Colossians 1:16-17.

ESV: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

NWT:  “because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist.” (bold added)

The NWT inserts the word, “other,” four times in the English, yet the Greek word does not appear once in the original. Why is this significant? Since JW teaching asserts that Christ was created, they must insert the word to maintain that he created the “other things,” as he himself is one of the created things.

3) Colossians 2:9.

ESV: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

NWT: “Because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.”

Here the NWT mistranslates the Greek word θεότητος as “divine quality.” Yet the overwhelming exegetical evidence and agreement is that the word does not speak of qualities or traits that are divine, or divine-like, but simply the very essence and nature of deity.

4) Hebrews 1:6.

ESV: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”

NWT: “But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: ‘And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.’”

The issue here is with the word, “obeisance,” which is much closer to “worship” in the original. Interestingly, the 1961 NWT translated the word, “worship,” though it has since changed. In either case, this would pose a problem since God would be commanding the angels to worship Christ, a fellow angel (see below, #2). The problem is further complicated in that the angel in Revelation 22:8-9 refused worship from John. Also, the rhetorical question is asked in Hebrews 1:5, “For to which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are my Son’…?” to demonstrate that Christ is not an angel, but God to whom worship is due. Finally, Hebrews 1:8 helps settle the issue: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…’”

a8b6f0349b8e58fa3f149f3f3a234db8Interestingly, these severe translation blunders all have one thing in common: distorting the plain sense of the original text to the detriment of the deity of Jesus Christ.

Either the NWT translators did not possess a sufficient knowledge of the biblical languages to produce a reliable translation or they are intentionally distorted the plain sense of the languages for theological reasons, or both.

Other problems exist with the NWT. There was the 1954 scandal in which it was revealed that four of the five men on the NWT translation committee had no training in Hebrew or Greek, while the fifth had a questionable knowledge of the languages.

Competent NT Greek scholars also repudiate the NWT. Bruce Metzger said it was a “frightful mistranslation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible” (Cited in Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses, 96). William Barclay said that the “deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translation…It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest” (Rhodes, 96).

The NWT is therefore, not simply an unreliable translation, but, in many ways, a misleading translation. Since the Watchtower insists on this translation for faith and practice, many of its teachings cannot be embraced as biblical truth.

  1. JW teaching denies the deity of Christ. 

Similar to Mormonism, the descriptors of Christ appear similar to those in biblical Christianity. However, the Christ of JW teaching is radically different from the Christ of the Bible.

To begin, the Watchtower denies the Trinity; that God is one God, in three persons; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. JW teaching says that the Holy Spirit is not God or a real person of the triune Godhead, but instead an impersonal energy. The Holy Spirit is supposedly “God’s power in action, his active force. (Micah 3:8;Luke 1:35) God sends out his spirit by projecting his energy to any place to accomplish his will.—Psalm 104:30; 139:7.”

the-archangel-michael-defeating-satan-1635The Watchtower teaches that prior to his incarnation, Jesus Christ was a spirit creature in heaven. God supposedly created Christ first among all creation. The Watchtower writes, “[T]he first human that God created, Adam, is called a ‘son of God.’ (Luke 3:38) Similarly, the Bible teaches that Jesus was created by God. So Jesus is also called a ‘Son of God.’”

Furthermore, JW teaching asserts that Jesus Christ is the archangel, Michael. The problems with this are innumerable, for example, that rhetorical question to demonstrate the supremacy of Christ over all things: “For to which of the angels did God every say, ‘You are my Son..’?” (Heb 1:5).

But with this view of Christ, it makes sense that JW doctrine teaches that “it is unscriptural for worshipers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”

This renders a different Christ than that of Scripture; one who is less than eternal God, and, therefore, not God. JW doctrine violates the clear teaching of Scripture that, among other things, Christ is God; the uncreated, eternal, second Person of the Triune Godhead, who has eternally possessed all the attributes of God, and worthy of our worship (John 1:1-28:58, 20:28, 10:30Col 2:9Titus 2:13).

  1. JW teaching denies the biblical resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

JW doctrine denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, teaching instead that it was a spiritual resurrection. The Watchtower writes, “People who were resurrected earlier were given human bodies but later died again. Jesus was given a spirit body that can never be destroyed.”

What about the literal body which the risen Christ had and was seen by so many? The Watchtower teaches that he was not a glorified human but was recreated as the archangel Michael and the body which the disciples saw was not the body which was nailed to the cross.

What about the crucifixion wounds which the risen Christ showed to Thomas and the disciples? The Watchtower teaches that Christ used a body with wound holes in order to convince Thomas of his identity. Further, it is claimed that Christ’s real body was disposed of by God into its elements.

This teaching violates the plain sense of the New Testament text. Arriving at these conclusions requires an extravagantly preconceived bias and portrays God and Christ as some sort of deceivers in cahoots. It almost appears as if someone is trying hard to design a false Christ who cannot save.

Yet, the overwhelming evidence and logical reading of the text demonstrates a literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

emptytombFurther, a Christ who is not God and did not rise physically can in no way be the Savior of sinful humanity. If he is not God, then he does not have the sufficient nature wherewith to live a sinless life, go to the cross, and effectually extinguish the wrath of God for sinners. No created, sort-of-god being is qualified to do this. So, it makes sense that JW teaching would claim only a spiritual resurrection. Their Christ is not God so he cannot pull off a complete resurrection. However, if he did not rise physically, then God may not justify sinners effectually (nor may we be raised physically). Thus, the heart of Christian doctrine, justification by faith alone in Christ alone, shipwrecks without a bodily resurrection. His sort-of-rising is not enough to accomplish our justification (cf. Rom 4:25). He has to be God to pull off a sinless life such that his death atoned for our sin, proven by the complete, total-person resurrection. He has to be resurrected, fully man; living, dying, and rising, in order to mediate for other men. Further, since this Christ is unqualified to serve as the propitiation for our sins, then God the Father may not justly justify one sinner. He has no Savior to whom man’s sin may be imputed and from whom a sufficient righteousness may be imputed. In that sense, justification is irreducibly complex. Pull away a few pieces, as the JW’s do, and our faith is worthless and we are still in our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15:7).

Tragically then, because JW doctrine derives from a devious Bible translation, denies the God of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and the biblical resurrection of Christ, it denies any possibility of salvation through Christ. It is a false gospel and damnable system through which no one can be forgiven of sin, right before God, and go to heaven.

Thankfully, however, the JW Christ is a mere myth. The second Person of the Trinity, eternal God, took on human flesh, went to the cross, propitiated the wrath of God in the place of sinners, and rose with that glorified body for our justification. Through faith in this Christ alone, God justifies the unjust with the result that there is no condemnation.

We could talk more, for example, about how JW teaching denies the biblical teaching on eternal punishment or the many false, end-times prophecies made by the Watchtower Society or, with the denial of the biblical Holy Spirit, how we, therefore, cannot experience regeneration (such that we could savingly know, love, or obey God), experience sanctification, be sealed for the day of redemption, or be reborn in order to see and enter the kingdom of God, to name a few.

In the end, we must love those who embrace the JW system to gently encourage them to carefully examine the plain sense of the biblical text. As they do, by God’s grace, they will behold and bow before the true Christ of mercy, supremacy, and deity, to whom they cry out with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).


Recommended resource for evangelizing JW’s: Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, by Ron Rhodes.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Great article, Eric! Thank you for your careful research. Sadly, JW’s basically spend five hours a week being trained (brainwashed) in how to refute each one of your points. Discussions often become one sided with them simply regurgitating their memorized verses with little room for reason. They are taught to debate, yet warned not to listen.

    An important fact to know about the JW’s is that they are taught to have an incredible love and loyalty to their “organization”. These are the ones who write the Watchtower and Awake magazines, the ones who give them their “meat in due season”, the “faithful and discreet slave class” and the “channel of communication” between them and Jehovah. They consider Jehovah their father and the organization their mother. My aunt once said if she didn’t have the organization, she would rather be dead, just to give you an idea of their power.

    After 18 years of engaging them, I have found that casting doubt on the organization’s ability to be that channel with five failed predictions is generally my best inroad. Once their loyalty to the organization loses it’s grip, they can be free to search for truth without fear. Thank God for leading me out in that way. Oh, and for Christmas, birthdays, Easter, blood transfusions and Cripplegate!

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for the comment, Jane. You point out something sad, but a common trait among cults: they can only respond to, distort, and react to the truth b/c they have none of their own. And you advice about pointing out the Watchtower’s many false prophecies is also helpful. By biblical definition, this makes them a false prophet.

  • E S Gonzalez

    Thank you! When I’d read your Mormon article, I’d hoped you’d post similar articles about JWs and SDAs. (The discussion closed before I could comment.) Will you please consider the latter?

    • Eric Davis

      ES – Yes, we will put an article on SDA’s on the list. Thanks for the request.

  • Johnny

    This is excellent. I throw up my hands when I try to debate with these cultists at my door as they seem to have a ridiculous, convoluted answer to anything you say.
    Best inroads I’ve been able to make is with John 8:58 and ask to see their wonky mistranslation, then walk through each greek word with them and show how their goofy interlinear is completely incorrect, then tie “before Abraham was I AM” back to Exodus to show them how Jesus = Jehovah. You get lots of dancing and dodging but they can’t do much with that.

    Worst thing you can do: don’t call them cowards for not giving blood. That doesn’t help, but its mildly amusing…

    • Matthew Abate

      The Gospel of John is full of exegetical landmines for JWs. The eighth chapter of John contains many of them, so kudos to you for pointing out the John 8:58 conundrum. Another key passage that was problematic for JWs, and sealed the deal for me in my conversion to Christ was John 10:30 and the following context. If Jesus wasn’t identifying himself as co-equal with the Father, then what compelled the Jews to pick up stones in order to stone him for blasphemy?

      • Eric Davis

        That’s a great point, Matthew. The Jews clearly knew what Jesus was saying, hence the stones. Thanks for that.

        Someone else, I think a former JW, had some good advice: cross-referencing Isa 45:23 with Phil 2:10. No where to go on that, either.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Matthew, you can also cross reference Isaiah 45:22-24 and Phil. 2:10,11. I have found that to be my best argument for Jesus being God.

        • 4Commencefiring4

          I’ll submit Titus as among the best proof texts for Christ being God:
          1:3–“God our Savior”
          1:4–“Jesus Christ our Savior”

          2:10–“God our Savior”
          2:13–“…our great God an Savior, Christ Jesus.”
          3:4–“God our Savior.”
          3:6–“Jesus Christ our Savior”

          With Isa 43:11 & 45:21 as a background, there’s nowhere else to go.

    • Eric Davis

      Johnny – I think your tactic w/ John 8:58 is spot on. There is just no where you can go w/ that one. It’s a glorious text which powerfully demonstrates Christ as our eternal God. And I’ll take your advice about the blood comment…

  • MR

    Great article! I work with a woman who grew up JW but isn’t currently involved with them. These points will help me in sharing the truth and understanding where she is coming from. As Jane pointed out in her comment I think that it’s important for us to remember that no matter how much information we have in our arsenal, we will never be able to convince someone into saving faith. All we can do is pour the truth into them and pray for the Holy Spirit to take it from there. Also… If you are taking request, then I would also like to see future posts on Seventh Day Adventist, World Wide Church of God(I grew up in Armstrong’s church and have found little on it’s origins), etc. Thanks again.

    • Eric Davis

      Agreed, MR. The Spirit must work. And, by God’s grace, he will through correctly explained and understood Scripture.

      Your request for an article on SDA’s is noted. Thanks

  • Harry

    Well done – great article. Had them at my door last Saturday. As I opened the door, they are immediately recognizable by their teamwork and clothes.

    I greeted them with; “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and WAS GOD.” The older one snarled andturned and left. I use to engage but found I was talking to concrete walls.

    Just returned from London and not they have little mobile stands on bridges with one or two people standing nearby, so that when you go to grab the free book they immediately come over and try to engage. Interesting tactics.

    Thanks again for the article. Mormonism was good also.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks, Harry. Did not know that JW’s are not taking the kiosk tactic. They sure are aggressive in getting their word out.

  • Matthew Abate

    When I read this article, it brought back memories of my youth. I was born into the JW cult like my two younger brothers. We went door to door nearly every weekend hoping to accrue our monthly quota in order to get into the ranks of the faithful and obedient. Thankfully, mercifully, and graciously, God reached down into the hearts of my parents to see the true Light and we disassociated ourselves back in 1988.

    • Eric Davis

      Praise God, Matthew. Sometimes we forget that people actually can come to saving faith out of these damning systems b/c often it seems like you’re talking to a brick wall. Your story reminds us that salvation is of the Lord.

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