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Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses

The doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses are similar to those of a number of earlier groups with a non-trinitarian, fundamentalist, evangelical understanding of Christianity. Many of these doctrines differ radically from those of most other Christian groups.

Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, stated: "Our work . . . has been to bring together these long scattered fragments of truth and present them to the Lordís peopleónot as new, not as our own, but as the Lordís. . . . We must disclaim any credit even for the finding and rearrangement of the jewels of truth." He further stated: "The work in which the Lord has been pleased to use our humble talents has been less a work of origination than of reconstruction, adjustment, harmonization."

Table of contents

Identity of God.

A crucial belief for Witnesses is the importance of the name of God. The name Jehovah is used throughout the Old Testament. In harmony with Jesus Christ's words in the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be thy name", Witnesses emphasize the importance of God's name, Jehovah. Citing biblical passages such as Romans 10:13, they believe that "our salvation is closely linked with a proper appreciation of God's name." [1] (http://www.watchtower.org/library/na/article_06.htm).

The Witnesses' New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures reflects this emphasis by using the name Jehovah in both the Old and New Testaments.

The group teaches that God has four cardinal attributes: love, justice, wisdom, and power. This axiom is at times used to disambiguate parts of the Bible that appear contradictory or inconclusive.

Jehovah's Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity, believing Christ to be a created being and the holy spirit to be God's active force. Their online publication Should You Believe in the Trinity? [2] (http://www.watchtower.org/library/ti/) presents the reasons for their position. A number of Witnesses have taken part in internet debates on the subject; some of them are logged on the 'Jehovah's Witnesses United' website. [3] (http://www.jehovah.to/exegesis/logs/index.htm)

Christology

The Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ (known as the Word in his pre-human existence) was God's first creation (Colossians 1:15) and that he is the 'master worker' referred to in Proverbs 8:30, who assisted his Father in the creation of all other things, including spirit creatures, the universe, the earth and everything on it. They believe that Jesus Christ and the Archangel Michael[?] are the same being.

Critics view Jehovah's Witness Christology as being a form of arianism, but there are certain differences between their beliefs and those of Arius. For one thing, Arius considered the holy spirit[?] to be a person, whereas Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the spirit is God's active force. Witnesses further reject Arius' contention that 'God is beyond comprehension, even for the Son.' The fact that Jehovah's Witnesses reject the Trinity doctrine, does not, therefore, make them Arians.

Kingdom of God

Jehovah's Witnesses believe God's Kingdom to be a real heavenly government, established in 1914 and headed by Jesus Christ, along with a selected group of faithful Christians (see Judgment Day below). They refer to their witnessing activity as "preaching 'this good news of the Kingdom'" (Matthew 24:14). At Armageddon, God's Kingdom will replace all human kingdoms, or governments. - Daniel 2:44.

The Bible

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Bible is God's only current communication to mankind, and that everything he wants humans to know about himself and his purposes is in that book.

Although the group has used a variety of translations over the decades, and continues to do so at times, they generally use a translation of the Bible that they commissioned in the mid-twentieth century, known as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). The translation was based on the Westcott-Hort Greek text for the New Testament and Kittel's Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament Hebrew text.

The Witnesses' attitude to other Bible translations is expressed in the foreword to their Kingdom Interlinear Translation, a version of the New Testament that includes the Greek text with a literal, word-for-word English translation underneath. It states: "From the time of the Roman Catholic clergyman John Wycliffe, of the 14th century, until the final decades of this 20th century, many English translations of the inspired writings of Christ's disciples have been made. All of these have had their own commendable features. They have considerably met the needs of the day for a rendering of God's Word into the common language of the people. Much good has been accomplished by them and yet will be. However, it is to be noted that, while each of them has its points of merit, they have fallen victim to the power of religious traditions in varying degrees."

Bible study is actively encouraged by the group. A portion of the Bible (usually 4-5 chapters) is selected for discussion at their weekly Theocratic Ministry School Meeting. Witnesses are also encouraged to read the whole Bible through every year.

Origins

Jehovah's Witnesses reject the theory of evolution, believing that the first man Adam appeared on earth as a result of direct creation by God. They differ, however, from a number of creationist groups in two important ways. (1) They do not believe in a young earth, created only a few thousand years ago, but acknowledge the universe as having existed for billions of years, (2) They do not believe that the "days" referred to in the Bible book of Genesis, chapter 1, were literal 24-hour days, but longer periods of time, involving thousands of years. - See Creationism.

Salvation

Holding to the doctrine that salvation only comes through exercising faith in Jesus Christ, but rejecting the concept 'once saved, always saved', Witnesses point to the teaching "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26) to justify their view that without the corresponding works, a person's faith insubstantial and insufficient for salvation.

Problem of Evil

The basic theodicy or premise for explaining the existence of evil is that God's adversary, the Devil, has made certain accusations (implied in the serpent's words to Eve in Genesis 3), casting doubt on God's sovereignty (or right to rule) humans. It is therefore considered that God is allowing time to pass to make it evident whose way of doing things is superior. A second, related issue, brought up explicitly in the book of Job, is whether humans will be faithful to God even in difficult circumstances.

Eschatology: the Afterlife and Judgment Day

Christ's presence (Greek: parousia) is considered to be his invisible rule from heaven and is believed to have begun in 1914. Witnesses believe that Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 24 have been being fulfilled since that time. They identify the same period with the 'last days' referred to by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the dead are unconscious, citing Ecclesiastes 9:5, "the dead know not any thing." They view death as being like a sleep, from which a person will be awoken at the time of the resurrection. Right from their inception, they have rejected the concept of a literal hell fire as repugnant and incompatible with God's qualities.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in an immortal soul that is separate from the body, but rather understand the hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psyche - both often translated as soul - to mean the person as one indivisible whole. This has clear consequences for their beliefs about the afterlife. They believe that people who die merely cease to exist, except it be in God's memory. They therefore consider the resurrection to be a re-creation of the person.

A distinctive feature of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine is their belief that the earth will continue to exist and be inhabited forever. In their view, God's intention is for faithful humans to eventually live forever in a state of robust and perfect physical health on earth, which will have been restored to a state of splendor similar to the Garden of Eden. They believe that literally 144,000 faithful Christians will be taken to heaven to be Kings and Priests with Christ for 1,000 years. - Revelation 14:1-3; Revelation 20:6.

The group teaches that all other human beings will be restored to life (resurrected) in the thousand-year period directly after Armageddon, known as Judgement Day. During Judgement Day, the dead will be resurrected, "righteous and unrighteousness" (Acts 24:14), and that people will have the opportunity to learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9, 10). God will provide a new communication to humankind to augment the Bible, and gradually restore all humans to a state of physical perfection. At the end of judgment day, there will be a final test when Satan the Devil will be let out of his prison. Those rebelling against God at that time, or even earlier during judgment day, will be destroyed. - Revelation 20:7-10.

Moral Standards

Jehovah's Witnesses reject premarital sex (fornication), adultery, polygamy, and homosexual activity as immoral. They consider divorce permissible, but not automatic, if a spouse has been unfaithful. They distinguish between homosexual impulses, and homosexual activity, the latter being considered a gross sin. All are encouraged to fight against any impulse to violate the Bible's standards in sexual matters.

Doctrinal Changes

The matter of doctrinal change in the Watchtower organization is one that has generated considerable controversy. Critics maintain that Jehovah's Witnesses have changed their doctrines many times over the past century.

Jehovah's Witnesses' publications, while by no means denying that some changes have been made, emphasize that the core elements of their belief are constant, although their imperfect human understanding of the Bible constantly improves over time. A Bible verse freqently quoted in this context is Proverbs 4:18: "The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established."

People who have left the movement have stated that the history books written by Jehovah's Witnesses organization deliberately rewrite history to deny that any doctrinal changes have ever taken place. Of course, since Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrines have been openly published for over 120 years in The Watchtower magazine, any doctrinal changes are a matter of record. In this regard, it is interesting that The Watchtower of 15 May 1995 listed over 20 doctrinal changes that had been made over the years.

The book "Jehovah's Witnesses Ė Proclaimers of God's Kingdom" - published by the group in 1993 - discusses the history of their religion including changes in doctrinal issues. This book states (page 709) that their understanding of the Bible gets progressively clearer at the proper time and that because of human error or misguided zeal, it has been necessary for them to adjust their viewpoint from time to time. The book acknowledges that doctrinal changes have been necessary, outlining many of the former beliefs and expectations held by the group.

Thus, Watch Tower literature does not deny that doctrinal changes have taken place. It differs considerably, however, with regard to the emphasis that is placed on such changes. Typical is the statement from their publication Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 136-137. In answer to the question 'Why have there been changes in the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses over the years?' it says, among other things, "Matters on which corrections of viewpoint have been needed have been relatively minor when compared with the vital Bible truths that they have discerned and publicized." From a Witness viewpoint, most of their major doctrines have remained virtually untouched since the movement's inception. These would include the importance of God's name, Jehovah, the rejection of the Trinity doctrine, the position that the soul is mortal and that the dead are unconscious, the innerancy of the Bible, and so forth. - See Controversial issues involving Jehovah's Witnesses.

Importance of Doctrine

Most Jehovah's Witnesses are well-grounded in the doctrines of their religion and are able to explain what they believe and what they consider to be the basis for these beliefs in the Bible. Before baptism, they go through a period of weekly study of doctrinal matters, and doctrines are discussed at their congregation meetings more frequently than is the case in most church services.



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