In our first article about Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), we covered a lot of information about JW history, some of their beliefs (Jesus is the Archangel Michael?!), and even some misconceptions about JWs (Yes, they can grow beards!). My hope is that you now feel more confident if someone were to ask you about the JWs, but I do want to dig a bit deeper into some of the issues we only lightly touched on in the first JW article. For example, many of you asked me about the JW version of the Bible, and we’re going to cover that more deeply here. If you don’t see a question that you or your children are interested in, feel free to shoot me a message in the comments. I also suggest some resources for further reading at the end of the article. With that, let’s dig in. [I’ve included a ton of footnotes and hyperlinks in the answers below, which will hopefully help you find even more about the subjects you’re really interested in.]
- Are Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed to get medical treatment?
- Why can’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate holidays or birthdays?
- Why can’t Jehovah’s Witnesses serve in the military?
- Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses call God Jehovah?
- What is the Watch Tower Society?
- What is a Kingdom Hall?
- Do Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible?
- Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the Trinity?
- Ok… so then who is Jesus to the JWs?
- Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus died on the cross?
- What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Christ’s return?
- How can Jehovah’s Witnesses be saved?
- Who do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe will get to Heaven? Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in hell?
- What do they mean by “the 144,000?” How many people can be saved?
- Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe people have a soul?
- What does it mean to be disfellowshipped? What is shunning? Does shunning really happen?
- How to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Further Reading
1. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed to get medical treatment?
Yes, but with exceptions. Because of their interpretation of Acts 15:28, 29 and Leviticus 17:14, JWs cannot get whole blood transfusions, but they can get blood fractions, like plasma. For example, organ donations for JWs are rare because often those surgeries require blood transfusions. Further, all blood would need to be removed from the organ before it was transplanted to a JW. The medical community has gone to great lengths to find suitable options, including bloodless surgery. You can learn more about what doctors worldwide are doing to help Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who hold similar blood-related beliefs here and here.
JWs are permitted to donate their own organs, as long as all blood is removed. JWs can also be vaccinated.
JWs who violate the policy against whole blood transfusions will be disfellowshipped.
2. Why can’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate holidays or birthdays?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that holidays, including Christmas and Easter, as well as birthday celebrations, have pagan roots and are to be avoided. Also, John the Baptist was beheaded on Herod’s birthday, and the baker in Genesis 40 was beheaded on Pharaoh’s birthday, both indications to JWs that bad things happen on birthdays, according to my reader, former JW Cynthia. JWs do have weddings and funerals, and they celebrate anniversaries because they do not believe they have pagan origins.
Participating in or celebrating anything other than weddings, anniversaries, funerals, or the Memorial of Christ’s death could result in the member being disfellowshipped and shunned.
3. Why can’t Jehovah’s Witnesses serve in the military?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are committed to civic neutrality, which means that they do not participate in any form of nationalism because they view it as having an idol before God, thus breaking the first of the Ten Commandments. This includes military service, recitation of a national pledge or anthem, salutes to a national flag, and voting. JWs can vote when it is required in certain countries, but their votes are not sanctioned by the religion and remain private.
4. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses call God Jehovah?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s one true name is Jehovah, as described in Psalm 83:18. They believe that their salvation depends on using the name “Jehovah.” To learn more about their use of the word “Jehovah,” check out the question “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible?”
5. What is the Watch Tower Society?
The Watch Tower Society (WTS) is the legal, incorporated name for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are other organizations under the JW banner in the United States, including the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kingdom Support Services, Inc. The JWs also have corporations outside of the U.S., including the International Bible Students Association in the United Kingdom, as well as others in Mexico, Brazil, Africa, and Australia. Bethel (which means “House of God”) is the designation given to the place where the governing body of the WTS serves.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the teachings of the WTS to be paramount; in other words, whatever the WTS says, goes. This includes understanding Scripture and enforcing rules. My reader for this article wanted me to emphasize that there is no room for independent thinking or the Holy Spirit for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Independent thinking is discouraged because it can lead to questioning the faith, which can lead to disfellowship and shunning (which we cover in the question “What does it mean to be disfellowshipped?”).
6. What is a Kingdom Hall?
The Kingdom Hall is where Jehovah’s Witnesses gather twice per week for prayer, to study Scripture and church doctrine, and to work on evangelism tactics. JWs do not use the word “church” because they believe the term refers to God’s people, not the building where his people gather. (Kudos to them. I kinda agree with this!) There are no paid clergy, but each Hall is managed by a body of elders. All local congregations submit to the authority of the JW president and the board of governors.
Weekend meetings consist of a 30-minute Bible discourse, followed by a one-hour Watchtower study. Mid-week meetings are 1 hour and 45 minutes long and have three parts geared toward helping members hone their evangelism skills. All meetings are open to the public. You can watch a video from the JW Website about their Kingdom Halls and meetings here.
7. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible?
I’m going to give you one of my least favorite answers for this one–yes and no. Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses use the Bible, but it is their own translation of the Bible called The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). It was released in 1950 by the Watch Tower Society to “help people to learn the accurate knowledge of truth” because other versions were too difficult to understand.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe other versions are faithful to God’s word because those versions “omit” the name Jehovah. They have inserted the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament 237 times, even when Greek manuscripts do not support such insertion. It kind of makes sense that they would use Jehovah where “Yahweh” appears in the Old Testament because pronunciation is unclear, but adding Jehovah to the New Testament has no grounding, despite their arguments. Essentially, JWs say that because they don’t have the originals of New Testament Greek manuscripts, we can’t know for sure that the name Jehovah did not appear in them, so adding it in is acceptable. JWs also point to a few other Bible versions as justification for their use of the term.
Using the term Jehovah may not seem like a big deal, and honestly, the term itself is a perfectly fine way to refer to God, but we cannot accept the insertion of the name Jehovah in verses like Luke 4:8, which gives a distinction between Jehovah and Jesus. This supports beliefs which conflict with the theology of the Trinity, namely that Jesus was not God.
8. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the Trinity?
No, there is no Trinity according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. God the Father is Jehovah, and Jesus is God’s first creation, not God in human form. We’ll talk about this a bit more in the next question. Basically, JWs find Trinitarian theology confusing, (which, let’s be honest. . . it is. It’s like the quantum physics of theology…on steroids. But “confusing” doesn’t automatically mean something isn’t true). That, plus the fact that the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in Scripture, lead JWs to reject the idea of the Trinity completely.
9. Ok…so then who is Jesus to the JWs?
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in the Trinity, where exactly does Jesus fit in? As I’ve mentioned, JWs do not believe that Jesus was God in human form. Their Website features a video lesson for children that starts with “Jehovah made Jesus first, and then the angels, but there was no sun or stars… .” In other words, Jesus is one of God’s created beings, just like us.
Let’s look at this a bit more because I think this is a good example of where the NWT version of the Bible needs to be critiqued. Take a second to look up Colossians 1:16-17. I’ll wait.
Okay, so your Bible probably says something like this: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Now, take a look at this: “For in him all other things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all other things have been created through him and for him. He is before all other things, and in him all other things hold together.”
You might have noticed that the NWT version added the word “other” four different times. Why would that be? They want to make sure that it’s clear that Jesus was created, not uncreated. They want to make sure that we know that Jesus and God are not the same. To be fair, the current version of the NWT does have brackets around the word “other” (the 1950 version did not), which tells the reader that the word was added to bring clarity to the text. The problem with that explanation is that adding the word “other” here doesn’t “bring clarity.” It actually changes the meaning and intent of Scripture by lumping Jesus in with all other created beings. And in case you are curious, no, the word “other” is not in the original Greek form of this verse, either.
So, based on their version of the Bible, JWs believe that Jesus was God’s first creation and, thus, God’s son, but not God Himself.
First-born versus first-created. If we move back just one verse to Colossians 1:15 (“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (NASB).), we see a verse used as proof-text by JWs to prove that Jesus was the first created being. But, that’s not what the text means. Instead, the Greek word used in Colossians 1:15 for first-born is prototokos, which means “first in rank, preeminent one, heir.” That’s not the same as first-created. To further prove the point, this verse calls Jesus the first-born of all creation, not the first-born of God. Taken together with Colossians 1:16-17, we see that Jesus was the first-born of all creation, and He created all things in the universe.
Greek scholar Dan Wallace claims that it is clear from the context that Paul is referring to Christ as the supreme creator of creation, a title which the Hebrews would understand to mean that He is God. F.F. Bruce (New Testament guru extraordinaire) said that those living in Biblical times didn’t think of first-born as the literal first-born, but as the prime one: “First-born came to denote not priority in time but preeminence in rank.” Indeed, if the author (Paul) had meant first-created and not first-born, he would have used the Greek word protoktisis instead of prototokos.
The Archangel Michael? As I mentioned in the first article about the JWs, they believe that Jesus and the archangel Michael are one and the same. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Michael’s essence was implanted into Mary and became Jesus. There is no Scriptural basis for this belief, but Jehovah’s Witnesses cite Daniel 10:13 to support their view. (FYI, this is further evidence that if we take Scripture out of context and cherry-pick verses, we can make Scripture support almost anything.) Although Michael is called one of the chief princes in Daniel 10:13, he is not the chief prince. Jesus is never explicitly mentioned in the same text, and in Revelation 19:16, Jesus is called the “King of Kings.” Why would the “King of Kings” be the same person as “one of the chief princes”? It doesn’t make sense.
Resurrection. According to the JWs, Jesus was resurrected after he died, but not physically, only spiritually. They believe he was “resurrected with a spirit body that was imperishable.” For JWs, this is an important distinction between Jesus’ resurrection and other resurrections that took place before his, like the little girl in Luke 7:11 and Lazarus in John 11:1-44. JWs do think that Jesus materialized in some instances during his 40 days on earth after his resurrection, but only to prove he was real.
The Ascension and Return. At his ascension, Jesus disintegrated into gases and began to sit at the right hand of his Father. However, he is no longer sitting at the Father’s right hand, according to the JWs. They believe that since 1914, Jesus has been ruling as Heavenly King. JWs have interpreted various prophecies in the Bible, particularly Daniel 4, to mean that the kingdom of God began in 1914. If you’re interested in learning more about the exact math involved, you can read about it here.
10. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus died on the cross?
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses do believe Jesus died, they reject that it happened on a cross; instead, they believe that Jesus died on a stake. They think that the cross has pagan origins. Although there is some debate by scholars about the actual shape of the cross, JWs wouldn’t incorporate any symbol into their worship because it would be considered idolatry.
11. What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Christ’s return?
As I said in the “Who is Jesus?” answer, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ returned in 1914, but that he is in spirit form (invisible). He has been ruling the earth from heaven ever since.
12. How can Jehovah’s Witnesses be saved?
If you ask a JW if they are saved, they will probably tell you, “Thus far, yes.” That’s because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that even though they are saved through Jesus’ death, no one has been declared worthy to receive everlasting life. According to JWs, Christ allowed people to begin working for their salvation through His death.
13. Who do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe will get to Heaven? Do they believe in hell?
Only 144,000 chosen Jehovah’s Witnesses will be in heaven with God. These are called the anointed ones. There will be others, called the great crowd, who will spend eternity on the new earth with Jesus but will never enter heaven. (You can read more about this in the answer to the question “What do they mean by ‘the 144,000’?”)
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in eternal punishment, but they do believe in hell. They believe that hell is a place of eternal unconsciousness and non-existence, a common grave for all of humanity. God can resurrect anyone who is in hell, except for any former JWs who have been disfellowshipped. To learn more about what it means to be disfellowshipped, check out the question, “What does it mean to be disfellowshipped? What is shunning? Does shunning really happen?”
14. What do they mean by “the 144,000?” How many people can be saved?
We talked about this in our first JW article when we covered the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but let’s talk about it briefly here, too. This is a complex question because the founder of the JWs, Charles Taze Russell, said that only 144,000 people would be saved (referencing Rev. 7:4, 9). Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, later expanded this to include the “great crowd,” members not in the 144,000 but still considered saved.
The 144,000 elite have already been determined (those who joined the JWs prior to 1935), and those anointed ones will spend eternity with Jehovah in heaven. The rest will spend eternity in the new earthly paradise with Jesus as their ruler. It is important to note that JWs believe that people can lose their heavenly inheritance (salvation) if they are not faithful and obedient to JW rules as set forth in the NWT and The Watchtower magazine.
15. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe people have a soul?
Sort of, but they believe that the soul is the entire being, not just something inside a human. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the spirit is simply the life force of a human, so when the person dies, the life force leaves their body. That life force either ceases to exist in hell, known as the common grave, or continues to exist in a sleep state until resurrected by God after the Armageddon. JWs do not believe in an immortal soul.
16. What does it mean to be disfellowshipped? What is shunning? Does shunning really happen?
Publicly, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the notion that anyone is shunned by the church or its members, but in recent months there have been a few news stories (here and here) about people claiming to be shunned, so we wanted to be sure to address the issue here. JWs do admit to disfellowshipping, which they consider a loving act.
A JW can be disfellowshipped for not being obedient to the standards of the JWs. Any member can be disfellowshipped, including minor children. There is a lengthy list of what JWs consider serious sins, including questioning JW practices, voting in public elections, sexual immorality, celebrating holidays, boxing, and lying. More extreme sins include abortion, murder, child abuse, and incest. You can read more about how and why a member can be disfellowshipped here.
When a member is accused of a serious sin by at least two witnesses, they must meet with a judicial committee who will decide the next course of action. The member may simply be required to repent, but the committee may also choose to issue a reproof against the member and impose certain restrictions against them, such as not allowing them to participate in aspects of the member meetings or say public prayers.
More serious situations will result in a member being disfellowshipped, which JWs claim is appropriate and in line with Jehovah’s discipline. When this happens, a public announcement is made at the next meeting that the person is no longer a JW, and all other members are discouraged from interacting with the disfellowshipped person. The disfellowshipped member can still attend public meetings at the Kingdom Hall. While at the meetings, they must sit in the back (according to my reader, former JW Cynthia, but denied on the official JW Website). In a Watchtower Magazine article from 1981, JWs are specifically told to avoid even saying hello to a disfellowshipped person: “And we all know from our experience over the years that a simple “Hello” to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshiped person?” If they do, they could be disfellowshipped, as well. Cynthia also told me that disfellowship is a minimum of six months, but that’s not published anywhere on the JW Website.
Steps may be taken to be reinstated, starting with repentance. The disfellowshipped person is also required to continue to attend public meetings while being shunned in order to be reinstated. Once reinstated, the member can earn back certain privileges, like offering public prayer or commenting at meetings. The elders alone have the authority to reinstate a member.
So, what about shunning? I said before that publicly JWs reject the accusation that they shun anyone, but after looking more deeply, I found this article on their Website. Here, the church says that even the courts uphold their practice of shunning: “Hence, this important case determined that a disfellowshipped or disassociated person cannot recover damages from JWs in a court of law for being shunned.” They also mention that although several cases have been brought against the church for shunning activities, no court has ever ruled against the church. Which begs the question… If there is no shunning, why is it important for them to tell us that courts support their First Amendment rights to do so?
17. How to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses
Your kids may have questions, and those questions will likely center around the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays (no cake?!) or Christmas. Of course, encourage your children to start with respect and love for their JW friends. That said, tell your kids they can ask away! Most JWs will answer questions because they believe they have the truth, and they want to share it. This is probably why 100,000s of hours each year are spent by JWs evangelizing in neighborhoods–that, and because they are required to by their church (they even have to keep time logs).
Bottom line, remember that the JWs who might come to your door are likely there with good intentions, and they should be treated with graciousness. Before opening the door, say a quick prayer so that you are prepared spiritually for the interaction. It could be fruitful for a good dialogue to ask them about their beliefs regarding Jesus and the atonement. Feel free to accept the copy of Awake! that they offer you and avoid slamming the door in their faces. Instead, interact with them in gentleness, love, and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
If you want to gain even more knowledge about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I highly recommend Ron Rhodes’ book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I used a lot to help me prepare for this article. It includes specific questions and follow-ups to use when in conversation with JW missionaries.
18. Further Reading:
- Lingle, Wilbur. Approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses in Love. 2d ed. Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2004.
- Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009.
- Jehovah’s Witness official Website: www.jw.org. (It’s good to go directly to the source!)
If you want to learn more about what to say next time a JW comes to your door, read the next article in this series here.
Special thanks to former JW member, Cynthia Hampton, for reading through the articles on Jehovah’s Witnesses to ensure accuracy and avoid misrepresentation. Your insight was invaluable.
 See “Does God Have a Name?,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/watchtower-no3-2016-may/does-god-have-a-name/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Why Have We Produced the New World Translation?,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jehovahs-will/new-world-translation/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See David A. Reed, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses Subject by Subject (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 1996), 171. See also Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 49-50.
 See “Must You Believe in the Trinity to be a Christian?,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/wp20100201/trinity-doctrine/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe in Jesus?,” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/believe-in-jesus/ (last accessed April 5, 2018).
 For a lengthier discussion on this verse in particular, see Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 72-75.
 See “Are Jesus and His Father One?,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/wp20090901/way-jesus-and-father-one/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 130.
 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 125.
 F.F. Bruce, in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979).
 If you are interested in reading more about the Greek and “first-born,” see Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 121-33.
 See “Who is Michael the Archangel?,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-teach/who-is-michael-the-archangel-jesus/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “After Jesus’ Resurrection, Was His Body Flesh Or Spirit?,” https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-body/ (last accessed June 26, 2018).
 See “The Resurrection of Jesus–Its Meaning for Us,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20141115/resurrection-jesus-meaning-for-us (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Hundreds See Him Prior to Pentecost,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/jesus/final-ministry/final-appearances-pentecost/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Use a Cross in Their Worship?,” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/cross-belief/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Did Jesus Die on a Cross?,” https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/did-jesus-die-on-cross/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Are You Saved?,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1952481, and “How Can You Be Saved?,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/101975807#h=18 (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Hell: What is it? Who are there? Can they get out?” Watchtower Magazine booklet, 1924, http://ia601406.us.archive.org/23/items/WatchtowerLibrary/booklets/1924_hll_E.pdf; “What Really is Hell?” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2002521 (last accessed March 5, 2018).
 See “What is the Soul?,” https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/what-is-a-soul/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “Memorial of Jesus’ Death,” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/memorial/ (last accessed July 11, 2018).
 See “Flag Salute, Voting, and Civilian Service,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/gods-love/flag-salute-voting-civilian-service/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Accept Blood Transfusions?,” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jehovahs-witnesses-why-no-blood-transfusions/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “Medical Alternatives to Blood Transfusions,” https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201209/medical-alternatives-to-blood-transfusions/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Call Their Meeting Place a Church?,” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jehovahs-witnesses-church-kingdom-hall/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “The Reason the Little Flock Goes to Heaven,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101968009?q=little+flock&p=par (last accessed July 12, 2018).
 See “A Multitudinous Great Crowd,” https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101988020?q=the+great+crowd&p=par#h=4 (last accessed, July 12, 2018).
 See “What is Salvation?,” https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/what-is-salvation/ (last accessed June 24, 2018).
 You can read more about the disfellowshipping “judicial” process on the JW Website at https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20061115/accept-jehovahs-discipline/ (last accessed July 12, 2018).
Lindsey Medenwaldt is Mama Bear’s Executive director and our resident expert on world religions. She is a perpetual student, so in addition to her M.A. in Apologetics and Ethics from Denver Seminary, she has a J.D. and a Master’s in Public Administration. She’s been married to another apologist, Jay (aka, the Psych Apologist), for 13 years, and they have three incredible daughters, ages 13, 10, and 7.