What do the Jehovah's Witnesses believe? Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses?
The religious movement known today as the Jehovah's Witnesses began in Pennsylvania in the 1870s as a Bible class led by Charles Taze Russell. Born on February 16, 1852, in Old Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Russell attended Allegheny City Congregational Church with his parents. In 1868, when challenged on his views of hell, Russell expressed doubts about eternal torment. The following year, he abandoned his church and the Bible.
In 1870, Russell attended a religious meeting led by a Second Adventist speaker named Jonas Wendall. Wendall taught that a person does not have a soul and that unbelievers are simply annihilated. This provided a resolve to Russell's concerns regarding hell.
Two years later Russell organized a Bible class to promote his views. In 1877 he met N. H. Barbour, a man who believed in the invisible return of Christ. Russell, claiming he had already come to this same conclusion, also began to promote this view. Russell published The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence in 1879 and founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1884.
By 1888, Russell's movement had grown to a leadership team of 50 people. Russell had published a series of books and was editing a growing magazine. In his writings Russell predicted that God's judgment and the millennial age would occur by 1914. Because of this teaching, the Russellites were also called Millennial Dawnists. When the prophecies proved untrue, some Russellites left the fold. But because World War I began the same year, many thought Russell's prediction was close enough and that the prophecy would soon be fulfilled.
In modern times, this growing religious movement, now called Jehovah's Witnesses, has continued to expand nationally and internationally. Their headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, is called the Watchtower, and they have their own Bible translation called the New World Translation (NWT). In 2018, the Jehovah's Witnesses' official website (2017 Service Year Report) claimed a worldwide membership of just over 8.4 million members.
What do Jehovah's Witnesses believe? While there are some similarities to Christianity, the movement has distorted fundamental beliefs regarding many key biblical teachings. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus was previously Michael the archangel, making Jesus a created being. As a result, Jehovah's Witnesses reject the deity of Christ and the Christian belief in the Trinity. Only Jehovah is considered God. Further, in their view, salvation comes through faith and a list of works dictated by the Watchtower. This clearly contradicts many Scriptures that declare salvation is by grace alone through faith alone apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Another key difference is the Jehovah's Witness view of Scripture. The Bible is considered corrupt, except for the NWT. This version of the Bible has changed the name of God to "Jehovah" in hundreds of places in which the original text uses different names. Many other changes have been made, reflecting the particular theological beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. Most notable is the NWT translation of John 1:1 that changes "the word was God" to "the word was a god" (italics added). Many Greek scholars insist that this is not an accurate reflection of the original language and is, in fact, a deliberate mistranslation. Many other passages in the NWT have caused scholars to question the integrity of the translators.
Another area of difference concerns the afterlife. Jehovah's Witnesses teach three realms in the afterlife. First, there are the 144,000 who are in the highest realm with God (Revelation 7:1-4). Faithful Jehovah's Witnesses who do not make the 144,000 will be in the next level and are considered the "little flock" of Luke 12:32. Everyone else will be annihilated, meaning they cease to exist. These views are much different from the Bible's presentation of heaven and hell as the only two destinations after death (Luke 16:19-31).
Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate most holidays, do not vote or hold political office, do not participate in patriotic activities, and do not accept blood transfusions. These and other unique prohibitions have caused much controversy throughout the movement's history.
In summary, the Jehovah's Witness movement is not a Christian denomination. Its core theological beliefs set it apart as a cult. Jehovah's Witnesses' views of God, Jesus, salvation, Scripture, and the afterlife are incompatible with biblical Christianity.
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