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What Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses? The Basics of the JW’s in 10 Questions, 10 Definitions, and 10 Quotes

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His books include the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology: Fuel for Effective and Faithful Disciple Making (co-general editor), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

What are the basics of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Jehovah’s Witnesses began with a young man named Charles Taze Russell who was disillusioned by the creeds of Christianity. He founded a Bible study group (the “Watchtower Bible and Tract Society”) with the group eventually becoming known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, based on what they believed to be the true name of God. Perhaps the group’s most pronounced distinctive from orthodox Christianity is its rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, by denying both the deity of Jesus and the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Although their end-times predictions went through various iterations, the Jehovah’s Witnesses settled on 1914 as when God’s kingdom was established in heaven. They believe that a great tribulation will culminate in the battle of Armageddon, after which the “great crowd” of JW’s will live in paradise on the earth, with another 144,000 called the “little flock” reigning with Jesus in heaven.

What Are the Basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses? 10 Questions

  1. What young man from 19th century Pennsylvania left his Christian background and started a group to study the Bible which became the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society? Charles Taze Russell
  2. What group was Russell drawn to because they rejected eternal punishment of the wicked and taught that Jesus returned in 1874 (even though Russell did not join them)? Adventists
  3. Although they recognize Russell as the first editor of the Watchtower magazine, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) leadership distances itself from him as founder, preferring to call whom their founder? Jesus Christ
  4. What attorney became president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society after Russell’s death, set a new date for the Armageddon (1925), and changed the name of the organization to “Jehovah’s Witnesses”? Joseph F. Rutherford
  5. Since JW’s believe that Jesus is God’s first creation and that the Holy Spirit is merely the active force of God, they reject what Christian doctrine? the Trinity
  6. They believe Jesus was an angel who is only God’s son in the same way that we all can be called God’s children. In addition, Jesus was executed on an upright stake (not crucified on a cross). After his death, Jesus’ body did what in the grave before being raised as a spirit body? disintegrated into gases
  7. What do JW’s call the common grave which is a place of eternal unconsciousness and non-existence for those who are not saved? hell
  8. Christ’s death allows us to begin working for our what, which includes obedience to the Watchtower Organization as well as evangelism? salvation
  9. What two medical procedures are JW’s famously not permitted to undergo? blood transfusions and organ transplants
  10. JW leadership discourages thinking for oneself or interpreting the Bible independently. Instead, they encourage JW’s to see anything published in the Watchtower or other Witness literature as automatically what? true

What Are the Basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses? 10 Definitions

  1. Jehovah – the true name of God; salvation depends on using this name for God
  2. Little flock – those who became JW’s before 1935 who would reign with Christ in heaven; the number totals 144,000
  3. Great crowd – all other true believers besides the Little Flock who would live in earthly paradise after the Armageddon
  4. New World Translation – the JW translation of the Bible
  5. Armageddon – the final end-times battle between good and evil; JW leadership predicted specific dates for this battle until adjusting the “generation” to include anyone living in today’s wicked world
  6. Michael – an archangel found in the Bible whom JW’s believe is the true identity of Jesus; after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he resumed his role as this angel
  7. Kingdom Hall – where JW’s gather twice per week to pray, study Scripture and church doctrine, and work on strategies for evangelism
  8. Governing Body – a group of men located at the JW headquarters in New York who set the rules for the religion; in light of this group’s doctrinal authority, the JW presidency takes on more of an administrative role
  9. Memorial of Christ’s Death – the only holiday recognized by JW, celebrated at services held on Good Friday each year
  10. Watchtower – the magazine started by Charles Taze Russell which continues today; also a designation for the administrative body that governs the Jehovah’s Witnesses (i.e., the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society)

What Are the Basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses? 10 Quotes

God

“The God of the Bible is never described as being part of a Trinity. Note these Bible passages: ‘Jehovah our God is one Jehovah’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). ‘You, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth’ (Psalm 83:18).

– JW.org: “Is God a Trinity?

“Jehovah is God’s unique name as revealed in the Bible….It comes from a Hebrew verb that means ‘to become,’ and a number of scholars suggest that the name means ‘He Causes to Become.’…The name Jehovah is an English translation of the Hebrew name for God—the four letters יהוה (YHWH), known as the Tetragrammaton.”

– JW.org: “Who Is Jehovah?


The basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Jehovah is God’s unique name as revealed in the Bible.”


“By referring to God’s spirit as his ‘hands,’ ‘fingers,’ or ‘breath,’ the Bible shows that the holy spirit is not a person.”

– JW.org: “What Is the Holy Spirit?

Jesus

“Jesus’ opposers accused him of making himself equal to God (John 5:18; 10:30-33). However, Jesus never claimed to be on the same level as Almighty God.”

– JW.org: “Is Jesus Almighty God?

“Michael, referred to by some religions as ‘Saint Michael, is evidently a name given to Jesus before and after his life on earth….Michael is ‘the archangel.’…The word is singular, suggesting that only one angel bears that title. One of those verses states that the resurrected Lord Jesus ‘will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice.’”

– JW.org: “Who Is the Archangel Michael?


The basics of the Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Michael, referred to by some religions as ‘Saint Michael, is evidently a name given to Jesus before and after his life on earth.”


“After his resurrection, Jesus also assumed human form temporarily, just as angels had previously done. As a spirit creature, though, he was able to appear and disappear suddenly.”

– JW.org: “After Jesus’ Resurrection, Was His Body Flesh or Spirit?

The Bible

“Bible chronology indicates that God’s Kingdom was established in heaven in 1914. This is shown by a prophecy recorded in chapter 4 of the Bible book of Daniel.”

– JW.org: “What Does Chronology Indicate About the Year 1914?


The basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Bible chronology indicates that God’s Kingdom was established in heaven in 1914.”


“The Bible commands that we not ingest blood. So we should not accept whole blood or its primary components in any form, whether offered as food or as a transfusion.”

– JW.org: “What Does the Bible Say About Blood Transfusions?

Salvation and Other Churches

After being for several years a member of the orthodox Congregational Church, the author of this volume awakened to the fact that there must be something radically wrong in some or in all of the conflicting Creeds of Christendom; and in attempting to harmonize them with each other and with common sense, he was led to the very brink of Infidelity, inferring that the Bible, like the creeds, must be self-contradictory and unreasonable, since they all claim to be founded on the Bible. However, under God’s providence he was led to examine the Scriptures themselves, entirely apart from human prejudices, creeds and traditions. As a result of earnest desire and prayer to know the truth, and years of patient study of the Bible, he was led of the Spirit, through the Word, to see a beauty, simplicity and harmony in the divine revelation.”

– Charles Taze Russell, “Preface,” Millennial Dawn: The Plan of the Ages (Vol. 1)


The basics of Jehovah’s Witnesses: “The author of this volume awakened to the fact that there must be something radically wrong in some or in all of the conflicting Creeds of Christendom.”


“Consider three important requirements for salvation that are revealed in God’s Word….1) Those who love others are demonstrating a quality vital for salvation….2) Those seeking salvation need to use God’s name. They also need to teach others about God’s name and qualities (Matthew 28:19-20). In fact, only those calling on God’s name will be saved.”… 3) Those who will be saved loyally support God’s Kingdom and teach others about how it will liberate all faithful mankind….Jehovah’s Witnesses diligently try to meet these requirements for salvation.”

– JW.org: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?

2 Questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses for Christians to Consider

  1. Why was it important for the early Christians to put so much effort into understanding Jesus’ nature correctly (e.g., the early creeds which called Jesus both God and human)?
  2. What is important about encouraging people to study the Bible for themselves?