Belief about God and Origins
Monotheistic – Eternal, ever existing God created the universe
Jesus was God’s son, but not God the Son. He was the first created being, and became “a god” upon his spiritual resurrection (he did not physically rise from the dead). He is the same person as Michael the archangel. He is spiritually ruling as king over the Earth right now, and will physically rule the earth in the new age.
JW’s don’t believe in hell, so salvation is salvation from annihilation. Salvation is obtained by obeying the commands of Jehovah; which includes witnessing on his behalf to mankind about the coming kingdom of Jehovah.
– Jesus is not God
– They Holy Spirit is the impersonal energy or power of God
– Jesus was not physically resurrected from the dead
You are saved by faith + works
1 John 5:20
Galatians 1:9; 3:1-3
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s) are astonishing people. We have a lot to learn from them. They have a high sense of church accountability, family values, and spreading the message that they believe in. JW’s knock on more doors, talk with more people, do more follow-ups, and schedule more bible studies than all mainstream Christian denominations in America put together – and they are only a fraction of the size!
Often times when we hear that knock on the door on Saturday morning, we are tempted to either not answer, or brush them off. I want to encourage you to take the opportunity to really talk with JW’s the next time they come knocking on your door.
SIMILAR, YET SO DIFFERENT
JW’s consider themselves to be Christians. What they don’t tell you on the first date is that they believe all other “Christians” are apostate and deceived by demons. When talking with a JW, you may be surprised to find out how similar our beliefs are. In fact, it is possible to have long conversations with JW’s and be left with the impression that we are all in agreement on major points of Christian religion. However, don’t be fooled. Though we use a lot of the same words (such as: faith, salvation, heaven, Jesus, etc.), JW’s have completely different definitions.
There is much to be discussed about the differences between JW’s and historic-biblical Christianity. However for the sake of keeping this article short and practical, I’ll let you study the JW religion on your own. If you are looking for resources to study the JW faith more closely, I strongly recommend the book titled Jehovah of the Watchtower, written by Walter Ralston Martin.
It is helpful to know a few things about JW’s before engaging in lengthy dialogue. Here are a few interesting bits of information that can be helpful:
(1) Charles Taze Russell was the originator of the majority of JW doctrines. He lived in 1852-1916. He separated himself from traditional, historic Christianity because of the stark differences in his beliefs (which also means that for nearly 1,900 years of church history, no one believed what Russell believed). He started writing “Christian” journals called “Zion’s Watchtower” in which he started teaching his doctrines. Zion’s Watchtower spread, and eventually evolved into the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
(2) JW’s have a strict allegiance to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The Watchtower Society is the JW headquarters located in Brooklyn New York. All JW’s orders come from the Watchtower Society, along with every sermon preached, every outreach planned, and every interpretation of the bible that is allowed.
(3) JW’s have a high view of the bible. Unlike Mormons who read the bible with caution because they believe it has been corrupted, JW’s spend a lot of time studying the bible with intense scrutiny. However, though they have a high regard for the bible, they have a faulty understanding of bible translation. JW’s prefer the New World Translation of the bible, which was published by the Watchtower Society. The New World Translation (NWT) was published in 1961, and was produced by the New World Bible Translation Committee, formed in 1947. This committee unfortunately has no published names of its translators. Basically, the Watchtower Society started having problems when the bible flew in the face of their doctrine, so instead of changing their doctrine, they changed the bible. There are no Greek or Hebrew scholars associated with the translation of the NWT, because the translation committee consisted of solely JW’s, appointed by the Watchtower Society.
(4) The NWT attempts to translate the bible to fit key points of JW teachings, such as: Jesus is not the eternal God, salvation must be earned, there is no hell, etc.
FIGHTING YOUR BATTLE WITH THEIR SWORD
Though the NWT is severely flawed, you can still witness to JW’s, even using their own scriptures! When talking with a Jehovah’s Witness, I have found it personally helpful to NOT challenge everything we disagree on, but rather zero in on key points that I can prove with their own scriptures. My goal when witnessing to a JW is to get them to have doubts in their presuppositions. Everything a JW believes has been taught to them. They didn’t read the scriptures for themselves and come up with their own conclusions – they can’t! The Watchtower Society won’t let them. If we can get them to see the obvious differences between the Watchtower’s teachings and the bible’s clear writings, then maybe they’ll have the courage enough to read the word for themselves; and perhaps God in His mercy will move on their hearts to hear and receive the gospel. If the Word of God is sharper than a sword (Hebrews 4:12), we should just place it in front of them and let them fall on it!
FIRSTBORN DOES NOT MEAN FIRST CREATED
Something that is very helpful in raising doubts about JW’s presuppositions is by comparing Colossians 1:15 to Psalm 89:20-27. Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the most beautiful pictures of who Christ is in all of His glory. A clear reading of Colossians 1 will leave you with the understanding that Jesus is God (“He is the image of the invisible God… by Him all things were created… He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him…”).
However, JW’s try to use Colossians 1:15 to prove that Jesus was created, because it says that He is “the firstborn over all creation”. They take the word “firstborn” to mean that he was the first created. If you want a JW to bring up the scripture themselves, just simply ask them “why do you believe that Jesus was created?” They will undoubtedly go to Colossians 1:15. When this scripture comes up during the conversation, just simply ask them to turn to Psalm 89:20-27 (you only have to read verses 20 and 27). In their own NWT, it says “I have found Davidmy servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him…Also, I myself shall place him as firstborn, the most high of the kings of the earth.”
Who was Psalm 89:20 talking about? “David”! Was David the firstborn (meaning first created) son of Jesse? No, he was the last born. Was Israel the firstborn (meaning first created) kingdom? No, there were several kingdoms before Israel came on the scene. So what does firstborn mean? Firstborn is simply a title of preeminence and superiority, and that’s clear from the context. You can also see in 1 Chronicles 26:10 that one can be appointed the “firstborn” even though they are not born first. In fact, the NWT even translates “firstborn” as “head” in 1 Chronicles 26:10.
SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, OR GRACE THROUGH WORKS?
Most JW’s are very confused about the relationship between faith and works, having an emphasis on works and good deeds. Ask a JW “if I had 5 minutes to live, and I asked you ‘what must I do to be saved’, what would you tell me” and they can’t give you answer. They can’t answer because 5 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to do enough works to earn your salvation. If you asked the Apostle Paul the same question, he would tell you to “confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead and you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
In order to help JW’s understand the relationship between faith and works, I find it helpful to compare James 2:14-26 with Ephesians 2:8-9. JW’s are really comfortable with James 2 because it says stuff like “what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” and “you see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” and “faith without deeds is dead”. So they’ll say “see, it says right there! We are saved by deeds, not faith alone!”
However, they are not reading James 2 in the context of the rest of the bible (nor are they reading it in the context of James 2 for that matter!). To help understand the context of James 2, it’s helpful to remind yourself that Ephesians 2:8-9 says “by this undeserved kindness, indeed, you have been saved through faith; and this not owing to you, it is God’s gift. No, it is not owing to works, in order that no man should have ground for boasting” (NWT).
So what is James saying then? James is saying, essentially, “if you say you believe, but you live like you don’t, then the faith you think you have is really dead – it is not true-saving faith, because true-saving faith produces fruit of good works”. JW’s have a hard time grasping that good works is merely a byproduct of saving faith, and not the means of salvation. The reason is because they have to try so hard to work for their salvation, that it’s difficult to see how those works can be just natural byproducts of saving faith.
STRANDED ISLAND CHALLENGE:
After exposing some large holes in their presuppositions, it is important to challenge JW’s to read the bible for themselves. Challenge them according to their own convictions – that the bible is the ultimate authority of God’s revelation. I usually say something like this:
“look, I’m not expecting you to change your entire paradigm based on a single conversation, but I do want to challenge you to be like the Barean’s who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t need people interpreting the scriptures for them, they examined the scriptures themselves. I guaranty that if you were to read this book (the bible) with ONLY the influence of the Holy Spirit, putting aside everything you have been taught by men, you would not come up with the same conclusions that you have been telling me.”
When witnessing to JW’s you don’t have to get into long heated debates about “the kingdom”, or hell, or paradise earth, or the cross vs. the post, etc. Those can oftentimes be stumbling blocks hindering you from getting to the root of who Jesus is, and how we are saved. I don’t care if a JW believes in hell or not – they clearly know that God’s judgment is not something you want to be a recipient of. Whether its annihilation or eternal fire, they want to be saved; so let’s show them how.
My goal when witnessing to JW’s, again, is to get them to doubt their presuppositions. I want to do this by using the bible, even their own translation, to point out conflicts with their doctrine. The first conflict I want to point out is their understanding of who Jesus is (their Christology). The second conflict I want to point out is their understanding of salvation (their Soteriology). I then want to challenge them to read the scriptures for themselves with a clean slate, and pray that God would illuminate the truth to them, and give them the courage to abandon their false faith and embrace the biblical Jesus.