Jehovah’s Witnesses

Fr. Alexey Young

According to their own figures, there are more than three million Jehovah’s Witnesses world-wide, with branch offices in more than 200 countries. They have made extensive inroads in Third World countries, attracting the poverty-stricken and theologically naive with their insistence that "this system of things" (the corrupt and unjust world as it is now) is about to give way to the "New Order" (the millennium). Elsewhere, they have gained converts through their aggressive door-to-door witnessing. Indeed, a former member of the cult has called it "the most effective way of error today."1


Anyone who has had more than a passing encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses would find it hard to disagree. Their arguments appear so tightly constructed as to be virtually unassailable. Even if one is left unconquered, the experience is frustrating. Is this a no-win situation? It needn’t be. But any hope of launching a successful counter-offensive and rescuing the Jehovah’s Witness from his captivity to error lies in a basic understanding of the cult’s tactics and its fundamental beliefs.


Charles Taze Russell Charles Taze Russell
Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was born in Pennsylvania in 1852. As a teen-ager, he left the Presbyterian Church of his parents and joined the Congregationalists. But that did not satisfy him for long, as he became an avowed skeptic, until one day he chanced upon a Bible study conducted by a Seventh-Day Adventists. His faith in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures was rekindled and he was soon conducting Bible classes himself. Gradually, however, he fell into disagreement with the Adventists over the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming, which he believed would be purely spiritual. He broke away from the Adventists, "convinced that so far no one had understood the Bible properly and that he had been called by God to interpret it correctly."2

In 1879 Russell founded a periodical, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, followed in 1881 with the establishment of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. He also began work on his seven-volume Studies on Scripture, which he promoted more vigorously than the Scriptures themselves.

Even as he was successfully building up a following, Russell’s personal life was crumbling. In 1912 he sued a Baptist pastor for libel and proceeded to perjure himself in court, claiming that he knew the Greek alphabet and then failing to correctly identify the letters of a Greek New Testament passage. He suffered further humiliation when, in 1913, his wife successfully sued him for divorce on grounds of "his conceit, egotism, domination, and improper conduct in relation to other women."3

Russell died in 1916 and was succeeded by a prominent lawyer and judge, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, a former Baptist who had joined the Society in 1906. The judge demanded unquestioned authority, provoking a schism in 1918. Although he retained Russell’s teachings intact, Rutherford wanted to distance the Society from the disgraced name of its founder (members were originally known as "Russellites"), and in 1931 he changed its name to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The focus of the Society also changed--from Bible study to witnessing. in 1940 Witnesses began street distribution of "The Watch Tower." At the same time their tone became more abrasive as Rutherford "scathingly denounced all organized religions and generated among his followers a tone of unmitigated hostility towards Christian churches."4

In 1942, Nathan H. Knorr became president of the organization. The following year he established the Gilead Watchtower Bible School for training Witnesses in proselytizing techniques. Knorr was formerly in charge of the Society’s publishing activities, and under his leadership these greatly expanded, even as there was a shift toward anonymity. In 1950 the Society came out with its own translation of the Bible: The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (revised 1961). It contains serious errors that are self-serving in terms of Witness doctrine, but the authority of the translators cannot be investigated: they "requested that they remain anonymous even after their death."5 Knorr also developed the Society’s foreign missions. Today, an estimated two-thirds of the Society’s membership is abroad; they claim more than 100,000 followers in communist countries and are actively proselytizing among the Orthodox of Greece and Cyprus.

Headquarters for the cult were established in Brooklyn, New York, in 1909, in a thirteen-story building called Bethel House. Local congregations (more than 20,000 of them) meet in buildings called Kingdom Halls. They have no ordained pastors; every active Witness is called a "minister". Those who devote themselves full-time to the service of the cult are called "pioneer publishers".

Besides being aggressive door-to-door missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses have defined their public image by their refusal to use blood transfusions (regarding this as a form of cannibalism), observe religious or secular holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays), salute the flag or serve in the armed forces (they recognize Jehovah’s organization alone). They proudly bear any criticism on this account, accepting it as the persecution of Jehovah’s faithful remnant.


Doctrinally, Jehovah’s Witnesses bear no resemblance whatever to mainstream historic Christianity. Russell acquired from the Adventists the idea that there is no hell, and no life after death until the Second Coming, when the righteous will be "re-created." In breaking away from the Adventists, Russell only widened his divergence from the Truth, leading his followers far beyond the remotest boundaries of Christian sectarianism. Although some aspects of Jehovah’s Witnesses theology is so convoluted as to require mental gymnastics, their fundamental beliefs can be summarized as follows.

Holy Trinity. According to the Witnesses, "the doctrine of the Trinity originated not with God but with Satan."6 They regard the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 325 AD), which defined the doctrine of the Trinity, as a great victory for apostate Christianity.

Jesus Christ. The same Council condemned the Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus Christ was created by God in time, and that He was unequal to God. Jehovah’s Witnesses is basically a revival of this heresy, although they err even more grievously than the Arians in identifying Jesus Christ, God’s first "creation," with the Archangel Michael. Witnesses teach that when He was born on earth, He "laid aside completely His spirit existence" and became a perfect human creature. At His baptism in the River Jordan, the Lord was chosen by Jehovah-God and empowered by His Holy Spirit to be a prophet and Messiah, Jehovah’s High Priest, the Christ. When He fulfilled His mission and died, being nailed to a stake (Witnesses abhor the cross as a pagan symbol), God rewarded Him with immortality. At Christ’s resurrection, He dissolved into gases and was re-created a "glorious spirit," to be head of Jehovah’s organization over the universe.

Witnesses support their repudiation of Christ as perfect God by pointing to John 1:1, which is erroneously translated in their Scripture to read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god--i.e., a creature. Their translation of Colossians 1:16 is similarly altered: By means of Him all other things were created. For more detailed discussion of this topic see in the addendum: "Creature or Creator."

Holy Spirit. Witnesses deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit, teaching that He is but "the invisible, active force of God." In their Bible, "spirit" is never capitalized and is always referred to by impersonal pronouns: "it", "which".

Salvation. Christ "did not provide a true ransom for sins but merely gave man an opportunity to merit his salvation either now, or in the millennium."7 However, only the anointed class, limited to a literal 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8), will reign with Christ in heaven. (This number was reached in 1935.) These alone are members of the Kingdom of God. All others who attain salvation, the "sheep," will inherit the earth which will become a new paradise. To merit salvation one must agree with the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those who do not, the "goats", will cease to exist.

Eschatology. From the Adventists Russell inherited an obsession with biblical prophecy concerning the end times. When their prediction of Christ’s return to earth in 1874 proved false, Russell claimed the return was invisible, that actually the date marked Christ’s "second presence," i.e., His elevation to active kingship, the beginning of a forty-year harvest which would culminate in 1914 with the "end of the Gentile times." 1918 was to usher in the millennium.

After the failure of Russell’s prediction, Rutherford wrote that "in 1925 we can expect to witness the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other stalwarts of the Old Testament. They will rise again and be restored to perfect humanity in order to be the visible, lawful representatives of the new order of things on earth."8 When 1925 came and went without any sign of the Old Testament prophets, the Judge decided that henceforth there would be no further "announced dates," but that "the resurrection of the dead will soon begin. By ‘soon’ we do not mean next year. But we confidently believe that it will happen before another century has passed."9

Witnesses now teach that Christ’s "second presence" occurred in 1914, and that Satan was so angered at Christ’s enthronement that he entered into combat with Christ (World War I). This was cut short in 1918 when Christ "cleansed" Jehovah’s temple (this is variously interpreted by the Witnesses) and "re-created" the deceased (extinct) members of the anointed class, who now reign with Him in heaven. Since that date, Christ has been judging the nations, separating people into "sheep" and "goats", a process that will culminate in the Battle of Armageddon when the combat between Satan and Christ will be resumed as a world-wide holocaust. Arrayed against Jehovah on the side of Satan will be all organized religions, Christian and non-Christian, as represented in scriptural prophecy by the whore of Babylon. Witnesses believe this battle is imminent (hence their slogan, "Millions now living will never die!"), and that it is their mission to convert people to the "right" side, because no one who opposes Jehovah’s organization (the New World Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses) will survive this battle.

Judgment. In the ensuing millennium, Satan will be bound and the vast majority of mankind will be raised from the graves with physical bodies (i.e. brought back from non-existence) and given a chance to prove their "unbreakable steadfastness" by passing various tests in order to spend eternity on the paradise earth. Clearly, for Jehovah’s Witnesses the judgment is based "not on deeds done in this life but on what is done during the millennium."10 At the end of the millennium the final test will come when Satan is loosed. Those who join his assault against God’s holy ones will be thrown with him and all his hordes into the lake of fire where they will be annihilated.

Witnesses feel compelled to prove themselves worthy to survive Armageddon. Their faithfulness is measured by their zeal in canvassing their neighborhoods and promoting their system. They distribute and sell more than 150 million books and magazinesevery year, in more than 55 different languages. "Passive members...are not tolerated...We are thus dealing with a movement which aims at world conquest and employs to this end vast sums of money and the most modern methods of propaganda." 11

If an Orthodox Christian finds a Jehovah’s Witness at the door, the best approach to take is that of clarification: ask insistently about his beliefs concerning Jesus Christ, his definition of salvation and eternal life. In order to bear up against the Jehovah’s Witness’s arguments, however, the Orthodox Christian must himself be well-versed in the Scriptures. He should be able to point out those passages that support the Church’s teaching about the nature of Christ and the Trinity. For example, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses explain 1 John 5:7: There are three that bear record in Heaven: The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one? Or again, how is it possible to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) if, as Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, He is an impersonal "force"? Most Christian bookstores have pamphlets on "how to respond to..." groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps the best source in English for any Orthodox who engages in apologetics is Orthodox Dogmatic Theology* by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky. His section on "The Oneness of Essence, the Equality of Divinity, and the Equality of Honor of God the Son with God the Father" is particularly useful in offering a clear and concise refutation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine.

Fr. Alexey Young

17 октября 2014 г.

1. William J. Schnell, Into the Light of Christianity, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1986, p. 206.

2. Konrad Algermissen, Christian Sects.

3. Bruce M. Metzger, cited in The Four Major Cults, by Anthony A. Hoekema, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, p. 227.

4. Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions, And You, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1977, p. 74.

5. Hoekema, p. 233.

6Ibid., p. 242.

7. Boa, p. 77.

8. Rutherford, Millions of People now Living will never Die, 1920 ed.

9. Rutherford,Hell.

10. Hoekema, p. 321.

11. Algermissen

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Храм Новомученников Церкви Русской. Внести лепту
Anastasia Guiliani 1 апреля 2016, 20:00
this is my 34 year experience with Jehovah's Witnesses:
Misha10 февраля 2015, 22:00
I was a JW for 18 years. I'm now Orthodox Christian. The best way to deal with them is to not even engage a conversation. And, if you tell them to place your address on their "Do Not Call List", they are required by law to do so. After that, they cannot call on you again.
ced 8 января 2015, 18:00 fun
Terence20 октября 2014, 15:00
The first picture shows them holding the WatchTower magazine, which is a Jehovah's Witness publication. Thank you for the article.
Richard Sells18 октября 2014, 20:00
The article is well-written. I am an evangelical brother and also have run into Jehovah Witnesses. The 1975 British Journal of Psychiatry (may be found on 'net) shares how Jehovah Witnesses (JWs) have 3 times higher rates of mental-illness than the rest of society. My experience with many Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as converts to Islam (Muslim faith) is similar, that many have demonic spirits who masquerade as mental illness, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Also, it should be noted (as Fr. Alexey explained) that Jehovah's Witnesses falsely predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1925, 1941, and 1975. The Bible so eloquently states, "beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1). The Jehovah's Witness religion was sent by Satan to confuse, mislead, and misguide people from the truth. Every year 250,000 people join JWs. However, the same number leave it every year. Regarding 1 John 5:7, some claim that the original New Testament didn't contain this portion. However, do not believe every claim like that. Many liberal Christians have convinced others to doubt the veracity of the scriptures. That is another of the enemy's plans. Jesus said Satan came to steal, kill and destroy, and that he is the father of lies.
David18 октября 2014, 09:00
Look more closely at the first picture. You'll just be able to read that the covers of the magazines held by the children have the word WATCHTOWER. The magazine title reflects the name of the publishing and teaching organization of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Marcos de Abreu18 октября 2014, 03:00
No, Peter. They hold Watchtoewers magazines on their hands!
Evan L18 октября 2014, 01:00
Funny enough my mother of all people stumped a couple that came to her and she didn't even do it on purpose. They came to her while she was gardening and she declined them. She said she's already a believer in the Lord and that she's an Orthodox Christian. So they said "Oh, are you Russian?" She replied "no no, i'm Greek" JW: "Oh well then you must see how your bible says the same things that we say" Mother: "No it doesn't really" At that point the Witnesses stopped dead in their tracks and didn't proceed further. Amazing how my mother who is not a theologian but just a Greek person who's been reading the Greek scriptures since she was a child was able to stump two followers of a heretic.
CJ17 октября 2014, 23:00
@Peter, The children are holding copies of the Watchtower, which is a JW publication. I see Orthodox Answers has already made the point about I John 5:7. The better strategy is to ask why their translation of scripture interpolate an indefinite article into John 1:1 (the Word was "a" god).
Samuel17 октября 2014, 22:00
Peter, They have "Watchtower" magazines in their hands, indicating that they are Witnesses, not Mormons.
Orthodox Answers . org17 октября 2014, 21:00
With due respect to Fr Alexei Young, "For example, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses explain 1 John 5:7" is a good example of how many Christians, including our own Orthodox clergy, are unable to deal with Jehovah's Witnesses. Mention 1 John 5:7 and Jehovah's Witness will gleefully tell you that there is no such passage in the authentic New Testament. And they are right, as this particular sentence "There are three that bear record in Heaven: The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one?" is a late interpolation, and all NT scholars agree. So we have to do our homework to help our Jehovah's Witness visitors think outside the box. For example, why does the New Testament apply verses about YHWH to Jesus Christ? (e.g. Heb 1:10-12) How do they know that their Biblical canon and underlying text is reliable? From what source? How can they reconcile the wise builder (Mat 7:25) building the Church on the Rock (Mat 16:16-18) to be the "pillar and foundation of Truth" (1 Tim 3:15) and yet support their Mormon-like Great apostasy theory. It takes a lot of respect and preparation and prayer to avoid a disaster...
Rdr Andreas Moran17 октября 2014, 19:00
The Witnesses I have met know little of Church history. I ask them where the Bible came from, and they do not know, so I explain that the early Church Fathers decided the canon of the New Testament which the Church accepted. So, if the Church can do that it can do much else. John 16:13 clearly refers to the Spirit as a Person. I put this to them: Christ said He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. If the Church invoked this promise and assembled in Council to find the truth, then to call the Councils wrong is to say either that Christ did not keep His word or that the Holy Spirit did not guide the Church into all truth. Either way, it is a serious sin. So far, they have not been able to give an answer.
Peter17 октября 2014, 17:00
It's an informative and useful article, thank you. But surely the first photograph accompanying it depicts not Jehovah's Witnesses, but Mormons?
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