Have you ever had Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) come to your front door trying to tell you about Jesus and Jehovah? Have you been agitated by the interruption of your valuable time? I empathize. Most people are annoyed enough to cut the conversation short and quickly get back to what they were doing. However, irrespective of the way Jehovah’s Witnesses may try to spread their message – some may still wonder – what is it that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe? What are they about?
Having spoken to a few Jehovah’s Witnesses and having delved into their belief system has been revealing. One would definitely need to ask more than a few questions to clarify what the exact beliefs of JWs are, how they differ from those of other belief systems and what makes them unique enough to be of the very few who would proselytize door to door.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian?
A popular opinions held today is that JWs comprise a sect of Christianity. Others say that the beliefs of JWs are heretical to Christianity. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian? Well, they talk about Jesus. They merely add this other name “Jehovah” in their vernacular. Well, despite including Jesus in their discussions and theology, the unequivocal answer to that question of whether JWs are Christian is a ‘No!’ JWs are not Christians since true Christianity is to affirm that Jesus is God, Lord and Savior, which JWs do not believe.
These were some of the same questions that intrigued me enough to write this short booklet that you may download for FREE or purchase in hard copy or eBook from Amazon (see details toward the end). So what do JWs believe? How does it differ from Christianity? Throughout history the orthodox Christian position has been that Jesus Christ is the only means by which we are saved from sins that would otherwise sentence us to hell. Jesus has been understood to be a personage of the triune nature of God, and therefore, God himself.
What Differs from Christianity?
Of the various differences between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, a handful are significant enough to be considered a clear separation between the two. JWs hold the following beliefs, which differ from orthodox Christian theology:
- Jesus. Originally created by God as the Archangel, Michael. Michael was later given a human body and renamed Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is not God.
- Holy Spirit. Not regarded as a person, but rather God’s force.
- Heaven. The home of God. The majority of believers will not spend eternity with God in Heaven, but rather with Jesus on a refurbished Earth.
- Soul Sleep. Believers will not immediately be with Christ after death. They remain in a soul sleep until his second coming.
Of these, the nature of Jesus Christ is of most importance. This is a vividly clear distinction between JW and Christians. The separation of the understanding of Christ’s deity for JWs originated back in the mid to late 1800s. Charles Taze Russel – whose theological views were the biggest reasons for the establishment of the Watchtower Society (WS), the governing body of the JWs – popularized this divergence of opinion regarding the deity of Christ.
Since the nature of Jesus Christ as JWs understand, namely that he is a created being (sub-god), has only been propagated in the last 200 years and has not been the traditional understanding of Christians throughout the ages, it is the most important issue to consider. Traditionally, Christians have held that Jesus is God Almighty, and hence uncreated. It is noteworthy, that JWs have their own Bible translation, the New World Translation (NWT). This translation has apparently been the vehicle for pouring JWs theology into the text. What will be clear upon delving into the NWT passages, is that it is a translation fraught with all sorts of errors, some of which may be unintentional, but taken as a whole, reek of theological bias in translation decisions.
Is Jesus a Created Being?
To support the idea that Jesus is a created being, JWs will often refer to certain passages, such as Revelation 3:14:
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God…'” (NKJV).
The word “beginning” comes from the Greek word “arche.” This same word is used in John 1:1 to state that the Word (Jesus) already existed in the beginning, “In the beginning was the Word.” Additionally, “arche” has another translation, used in Luke 20:20 where we read, “so as to turn him over to the arche (government) and to the authority of the governor.” As such, the New International Version (NIV) more appropriately interprets the passage as such:
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”
Since the preposition “hupo” (by) does not appear in conjunction with the use of “God,” the correct translation here would seem to be “of God” and not “by God” as the JWs’ New World Translation reads. Subsequently, it seems more appropriate to take on the alternative meaning for “arche” than the one that would seem to create a contradiction in the Bible. Since “all things came into existence through him [Jesus]” (John 1:3), and “because by means of him all things were created in the heavens and upon the earth . . .” (Col. 1:16), Jesus is responsible for all of creation.
Additionally, Proverbs 8:22 is used to argue that Jesus is the “Wisdom” referred to throughout the chapter and therefore that he is claiming that he was produced by God: “Jehovah himself produced me as the beginning of his way, the earliest of his achievements of long ago”(NWT). But neither Jesus himself nor anyone else in the New Testament (NT) apply this chapter from Proverbs to Jesus. In fact, just a few verses previous [Proverbs 8:1], we come across this passage: “Does not wisdom keep calling out, and discernment keeps giving forth its voice?” If wisdom here is Jesus, then who is discernment supposed to be? And who is shrewdness (verse 12) supposed to be, with whom wisdom is said to reside? The fact of the matter is that these are figures of speech called personifications. They are not supposed to reflect actual beings.
What are “Firstborn” and “Begotten?”
Another passage utilized by JWs to support the notion that Jesus was created is John 3:16, which reads, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son . . .” The only-begotten is translated by JWs to mean that Jesus was the only created son. However, it would be a bit unsettling to read Hebrews 11:17, which reads, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac, and the man that had gladly received the promises attempted to offer up [his] only-begotten [son].” Based on this passage, only-begotten cannot merely mean “only son” because Abraham also had Ishmael, and to complicate matters further, Ishmael was the one who was born first. The only way Isaac could be referred to as only-begotten is if he had some unique prominence that set him apart, and this actually happens to be the case. Isaac was the person through whom God’s covenant would be fulfilled. Therefore, “only-begotten” here should be rightfully understood to mean “unique,” “chosen,” “special,” or “exalted.” “Begotten” does not necessarily imply a beginning of existence. This is also echoed by Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son” (NKJV).
Colossians 1:15 reads, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Does this mean that Jesus was actually born as a minor god? The Greek word for “firstborn” is prototokos and it appears throughout the Bible in various forms of meaning. It is in fact used in context of chronology with emphasis on the order of birth [Genesis 10:15; 19:30-31; Exodus 13:15], but it is also used in a positional sense as is the case in Psalm 89:27, which reads, “Also, I myself shall place him as firstborn, the most high of the kings of the earth.”
The context here makes it clear we are not speaking about an actual birth but of a position of prominence. David was not the first king, and it is clear that God had chosen Saul to be king, but David was God’s favored king.
In an upcoming piece, we’ll take a look at the case for the deity of Christ, see why Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree with the orthodox Christian view, and if those reasons are persuasive enough to cause massive panic and apostasy.
More details of the critique of Jehovah’s Witnesses theology and translation may be purchased from Amazon.com as a Kindle ebook or physical booklet, titled Jesus of the Bible, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It may also be downloaded for FREE as a PDF.