Jehovah’s Witnesses

This movement originated with C.T. Russell* as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the International Bible Students Association-not to be confused with the International Bible Readers Association. The title of Jehovah's Witnesses was assumed in 1931 under Russell's successor, J.F. Rutherford.* On the death of the latter in 1942 the leadership passed to Nathan H. Knorr (b.1905).

Theologically Jehovah's Witnesses resemble Arians in their view that the Son was the first and highest created being. He is identified with Michael the Archangel. When he became man, he became only man, and although at his resurrection he was exalted above the angels as a spirit being, his body remained dead, although it was removed from sight by Jehovah. Christ's appearances were “in materialized bodies.” The holy spirit is the active force of God. As a perfect man Jesus died to ransom all the descendants of Adam from the physical death which Adam's sin had inflicted on them. “As a childless man his unborn human offspring counterbalanced all the race that Adam has reproduced.” Since Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in a soul that can live apart from the body (see Conditional Immortality), the primary purpose of Christ's ransom is to give the right either not to die physically or to be restored by resurrection. Salvation is through faith in the ransom, through baptism by Jehovah's Witnesses, and through proclamation of their message, together with a moral life. There is virtually no interest in the devotional life. The Lord's Supper is celebrated once a year only at the Passover, and only those who have the inner witness that they are members of the 144,000 elite may partake.

The sect has been continually expecting Armageddon and the setting up of the Kingdom. This kingdom will be governed by Jesus Christ through the 144,000 in heaven, and on earth through an indefinite number of “men of goodwill,” “other sheep,” or “Jonadabs.” This extra class was discovered when it was obvious that Jehovah's Witnesses numbered more than the expected 144,000. The rest of mankind will be raised at intervals, except presumably those who fought against God at Armageddon, and will be judged for life or destruction according to their behavior during the Millennium. In Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God it is thought likely that 1975 will see the start of the millennial kingdom.

The movement is probably the most authority-ridden religious body in the world. Members are told by the central government what they must find in the Bible, and may not deviate. Thus blood transfusion must be rejected as though it were banned by Scripture. Dogmas may be changed. In 1929 “the clear light broke forth” in the Watchtower that the higher powers of Romans 13 were not earthly rulers, but Jehovah and Christ Jesus, and Rutherford's books took this up. Recent books (e.g., Life Everlasting) have returned to the orthodox interpretation. It used to be stated that the 144,000 were raised in 1918 (e.g., Let God be True, p. 192), but now they will be raised in the Millennium (e.g., Things in which it is Impossible for God to Lie, p. 350f.).

The sect has over one million active members who have the title of “publishers” (of the good news of the kingdom), and a number of full-time “pioneers.” A further million-plus are interested followers. Some 30 per cent are found in America, 8 per cent in West Germany, and 5 per cent in Britain. Many Witnesses have stood firm under shocking persecution, especially under Communist regimes. Since the theology turns on the assertion that Jesus Christ is not Jehovah, it is worth noting that John 12:39-41 says that He was the one whom Isaiah saw in the Temple, and Isaiah 6:5 says this was Jehovah. In Revelation 1:17 Christ describes himself as “the First and the Last,” which is the unique title of Jehovah in Isaiah 44:6. Note also similar equations in 1 Peter 2:8 (Isa. 8:13,14) and Revelation 2:23 (Jer. 17:9,10).

W.R. Martin and N.H. Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower (1953); M. Cole, Jehovah's Witnesses (1956); J.K. Van Baalen, The Chaos of Cults (1956); W.J. Schnell, Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave (1957) and Into the Light of Christianity: Basic Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses (1959); G.D. McKinney, The Theology of Jehovah's Witnesses (1962); A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (1963); T. Dencher, Why I Left Jehovah's Witnesses (1966).