Jehovah’s Witnesses (officially the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) was founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1872 and represents a growing movement. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are noted for their strong evangelistic focus, often knocking on doors and distributing literature. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there is power in the name of God and that the planet Earth will never cease to exist. They have a very strong premillennial focus, meeting in buildings they call “Kingdom Halls.” They are also known for incorporating many Judaic belief systems into their theology and for their non-Trinitarian views. The Jehovah’s Witnesses publish their own translation of the Bible, the New World Translation (NWT), which contains alterations to the original text to fit the belief system of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are also very well known for their prophecy of the return of Jesus Christ in 1914; when this did not occur, they adapted the belief by positing that Jesus began to rule in 1914 when Satan was cast down to earth, on account of their interpretation of Revelation 12:9.
Sections on this Page
- General Considerations
- The Name of God the Father
- The Nature of Jesus Christ
- How Was Jesus Killed?
- The Nature of the Holy Spirit
- The Body and the Spirit
- The Garden of Eden
- An Earthly Paradise?
- The Existence of Hell
The Name of God the Father
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe strongly in calling God by the name “Jehovah,” the “English” form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH, in reality most likely pronounced “Yahweh1.” They believe that the name must be used on account of its importance in the Old Testament, from verses like Acts 15:14, and the fact that Jesus honored the name in John 17:6, 26:
“Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.”
“I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word…and I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.”
Do these verses show that we must use the “name” of God, “Jehovah,” in order to be pleasing to Him?
We must first understand what the term “name” in these contexts signifies in the New Testament. Let us examine Matthew 28:18-19 and Acts 3:6:
And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
But Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
When one signs a check, one gives the bank the authority to give the amount specified to the intended receiver. We see a similar thing in Matthew 28:18-19 and Acts 3:6. Is there any intrinsic power in the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “Jesus Christ of Nazareth?” By no means! There is great power, however, in the figures of the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when one speaks or acts “in the name of” Jesus Christ, one speaks or acts on the authority of Jesus Christ.
This is exactly what is spoken of by Jesus in John 17:6, 26. Jesus manifested the authority of His Father, and He made known to the Jews the power of God that is in His name. In Acts 15:14, James is discussing the prophecy in Isaiah that some of the Gentiles would be a people for His name, or under His authority. There is no intended reference to the nomenclature said Gentiles would use to speak of God. Therefore, these verses do not demonstrate that there is a need to refer to God as “Jehovah.”
Nevertheless, the Scriptures do indicate how people in New Testament times referred to God. We read the following, for instance, in Matthew 4:7:
Jesus said unto him, “Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.”
Jesus is here quoting Deuteronomy 6:16:
Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.
It is customary in many translations of Deuteronomy, as throughout the Old Testament, to use LORD capitalized to indicate the presence of the Tetragrammaton YHWH. In Jesus’ words in the New Testament, however, there is no use of the Tetragrammaton in any form; instead, the Greek term kurios, or “Lord,” is always used. One cannot claim that the New Testament authors never presented transliterations of anything: one need only look at Matthew 27:46, or Mark 5:41, to find evidence of transliterated Hebrew/Aramaic into Greek. If it were so important for Jesus (or for Matthew) that the name of God should be pronounced and used in Matthew 4:7, or in any other clear reference to the Tetragrammaton, why do they not present the transliterated YHWH in the text, but provide the translation kurios?
The New World Translation (NWT), produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, will translate Matthew 4:7 with “Jehovah,” which is done often, yet we never see any evidence of the Tetragrammaton in the original Greek of the New Testament. Furthermore, in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, or LXX), the term kurios is most often used to translate the Tetragrammaton, and many New Testament authors quote this text when quoting the Old Testament. There is no justification from the manuscripts of the New Testament to translate kurios in the New Testament as “Jehovah”.
To this, many Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim that the Tetragrammaton was originally within the New Testament texts, but later scribes corrupted the text and removed reference to it. There is no textual evidence for this, which is significant, considering the geographic range and ages of the texts in our possession. Furthermore, if we are to believe that later scribes were able to so thoroughly corrupt the New Testament text that we are not able to discern it today, on what basis can we have any confidence in anything the New Testament would teach us? How do we know what else was changed? Such a claim requires too much speculation without sufficient basis in reality. It therefore poses a great danger for the foundation of the faith and gives unbelievers reason to blaspheme.
There is also evidence from the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2:
“After this manner therefore pray ye. Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Matthew 6:9 is a demonstration of Jesus honoring the name of God2, and they also teach that the name “Jehovah” should be used in prayer when expressing Deity3. Yet how can this be the case when Jesus does not use the term “Jehovah” or “YHWH” or any such thing but simply “Father” or “Our Father?”
Finally, there is the term itself. The Jehovah’s Witnesses condemn the Jews for their “superstition” of not pronouncing the name of God, thus not allowing us to know definitively how the Tetragrammaton is pronounced (the original Hebrew language did not contain vowels)4. The term “Jehovah” is most certainly not the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. “Jehovah” was popularized a few hundred years ago on the basis of a misunderstanding of the Jewish Masoretic tradition regarding the writing of the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Bible5. “Yahweh” is the preferred pronunciation, based on ancient evidence6. This whole discussion serves one purpose: how can the name of God have such great importance if we do not even know what it really is? How can the name of God be used in prayer if we do not know how to pronounce it? If God considered His name of that great importance, would not Jesus or the Apostles have demonstrated how to pronounce it? Yet there is no evidence of God ever insisting on being called by the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament. Therefore, it can be determined that the use of the Tetragrammaton to refer to God the Father is not to be bound upon New Testament Christians today.
The Nature of Jesus Christ
Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the belief that God is a Trinity, with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as three distinct personalities that are one7. They instead believe that Jesus is “a” god, simply the Son of God, not God the Son. They believe that there is evidence for this in John 14:28 and 1 Corinthians 15:288:
“Ye heard how I said to you, I go away, and I come unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I.”
And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.
Do these verses teach that Jesus is not God the Son?
It should be noted that neither of these verses actually discusses the nature of Jesus Christ. We have been told the following in Matthew 28:18:
And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”
It is generally understood that the one who gives power to another is a higher authority; this does not mean, however, that the Father and Jesus are of two separate natures, merely that the Father has given power to the Son.
The main evidence that Jesus truly is God the Son is seen in John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses render this verse in the following manner in the NWT:
In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
This alteration of the text comes with absolutely no textual evidence to support it. The presence of the indefinite article is justified on the basis of the fact that John does not provide the definite article in front of “God”; nevertheless, the article in Greek is not even principally a marker of definiteness9, and there are many times when definite nouns do not have an article with them. The lack of article is a demonstration, in fact, that the Word is not God the Father; we should understand theos (God) in John 1:1c as qualitative, indicating the nature of ho logos (the Word)10. This is the understanding shared by textual scholars outside of the Jehovah’s Witness movement. The Jehovah’s Witnesses further attempt to justify their translation by pointing to John 1:18 and saying that since man has seen Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ cannot be God, so He must be only a form of divinity11:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
We must ask, are we justified to alter the translation of the Scriptures because we see a possible contradiction? By no means, for by doing so we invalidate the word of God! John is most probably alluding to the fact that no man has seen God as spirit. Remember, he says in John 1:14:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.
The Word, which is a spirit, as the Father is (John 4:24), “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Thus, while Jesus Christ is God the Son, He has not been seen in the spirit form, only in the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ. This by no means negates John 1:1, for man has seen Jesus Christ, but did not see God the Son within Him.
There is more evidence for Jesus being God the Son in Colossians 2:9:
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
The NWT, again, reads differently:
Because it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.
This translation is again unwarranted by the Greek text: the word for Godhead is theotes, which Thayer’s defines as “the state of being God12.” Yet again, the NWT distorts the true meaning of the passage by re-translating it without sufficient textual basis.
Therefore, it is evident that the Jehovah’s Witness theology requires an alteration of the Scriptures to be justified. Should we force the Scriptures to conform to our doctrine or should our doctrine conform to the Scriptures? Whenever we feel compelled to adapt the Scriptures to suit our doctrines, we must recognize that it is our doctrines that are most likely in error (Galatians 1:6-9)!
How Was Jesus Killed?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that Jesus was not crucified on a cross, but hung upon a wooden stake, because of the language in Deuteronomy 21:22-2313:
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is accursed of God; that thou defile not thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Does this mean that Jesus was hung on a stake? This is not conclusive evidence. A stake is made out of wood, a tree, just as much as a cross is. The Greek words used in texts concerning the death of Jesus are stauros and xylon, and while the primary definitions of both words are “stake,” the term stauros normally refers to more complex constructions (such as a cross), and both terms can mean “cross.” The definitions in the Greek are not conclusive enough to demonstrate that Jesus was crucified on a cross or hung on a stake.
We do have evidence from archaeology and ancient writers that prove conclusively that Romans did perform crucifixions with crosses; much has been found to substantiate the discussion of the crucifixion in the Gospel accounts14. There is also the evidence in the language of Thomas in John 20:25:
The other disciples therefore said unto him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said unto them, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
If Jesus were nailed to a stake, one nail would be used to go through both hands. If this were the case, would not Thomas have asked to “see in his hands the print of the nail?” This demonstrates clearly the difference between being nailed to a stake and being nailed to a cross. Therefore, the overwhelming evidence, contrary to the translation in the NWT, is that Jesus was most certainly crucified on a cross.
The Nature of the Holy Spirit
The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but “Jehovah’s active force,” the instrument God uses to carry out His will15. They use many verses, such as Genesis 1:2, Acts 2:1-4, 32-33, and 2 Peter 2:20-21 to substantiate this claim16:
And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
“This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear.”
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
It should also be noted that in the NWT, every rendering of “the Holy Spirit” is changed to “holy spirit.” Do these verses teach that the Holy Spirit is not a person?
These verses do not actually discuss the character of the Holy Spirit, but demonstrate that the Holy Spirit was present at creation and filled the apostles. We are given some evidence about the Holy Spirit, however, in John 14:26:
But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.
In this text, the Holy Spirit is called the “Comforter” and is referred to as a “he.” The Greek word for “Comforter” is parakletos, which is in the masculine gender, demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is in fact a “he,” not an “it.”
The presence of the Spirit in creation in Genesis 1:2, along with the descending of the Spirit upon Jesus at His baptism, with the voice of God coming from Heaven (Matthew 3:16-17), both testify to the stature of the Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son. Since the testimony of the Spirit regarding the creation and Jesus was as much present as the testimony of the Father and the Son, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person and part of the Godhead just as God the Father and God the Son are persons and part of the Godhead. We may not understand the exact nature of their unity, but this does not mean that the belief in the Trinity is wrong. The theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning the Godhead is not in harmony with the Scriptures.
The Body and the Spirit
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that there is no such thing as a soul distinct from the flesh, but that a man is a soul, since the “life force” within him is the breath of God, which simply returns to God at death17. Death, therefore, is a state of rest until the resurrection at the end of time; there will be no torture, simply death for those who have done wrong and life for those who have done right18. The Jehovah’s Witnesses use Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 18:4, 20 as evidence19:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die…The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
Do these Scriptures show that there is no soul?
Concerning the existence of a soul, we have evidence in verses such as Matthew 10:28:
“And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
If the soul and the body are the same, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses assert, why would Jesus tell His disciples to fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell?
We also have Romans 8:3-5:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
How can there be any form of conflict between the flesh and the Spirit if the two are the same?
The Hebrew author, in speaking of the Word of God, says the following in Hebrews 4:12:
For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
How can it be that the Word of God can pierce to the division of “soul” and “spirit” if the two are in fact the same and only refer to the “life force”? It would seem that the Hebrew author considered the life force (psuche) and the soul (pneuma) as separate entities, both residing within humans!
There is also the issue concerning our existence at death. Do we simply die and merely remain “asleep” until the resurrection? What of the comments of Paul in Philippians 1:22-24?
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if to live in the flesh–if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake.
If Paul understood that death meant that he would simply be asleep, why would he say that he would be with Christ at death? We see, therefore, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses posit a contradiction within the Bible. We see that the passage of Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 18:4, 20 use the term “soul” to refer to a “man,” using metonymy. There is such a thing as a soul, otherwise how could Paul immediately be with Christ, or how could our souls and body be lost to hell?
An issue closely connected to the concept of the soul being the “life force” of the body concerns blood transfusions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in receiving blood transfusions, citing the premises of Genesis 9:4 and Acts 15:28-29 as proof20:
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well.
The argument is that the term “abstain” refers to any form of contact with blood and therefore one must not receive a blood transfusion21. Is this a legitimate argument using the Scriptures?
The texts in the Scriptures speak of the need to abstain from blood by drinking it, for this was a practice performed by many of the pagans around them. God did not speak concerning a transfusion of blood, which allows for a continuation of life on earth, but does little to nothing for the life of the spirit. The transfusion disagreement stems from the attitude that our physical corporeal life is all there is to us, and thus blood becomes sacred. The Bible does not demonstrate this attitude toward blood in the New Testament.
The Garden of Eden
Let us now discuss the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conception of the future of mankind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s intention with the creation of man was for him never to die, but to remain on the Earth forever22. They believe that Adam and Eve were perfect creatures while in the Garden of Eden, never to perish, and they use Deuteronomy 32:4 and Proverbs 10:22 as evidence23:
The Rock, his work is perfect; For all his ways are justice: A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, Just and right is he.
The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich; And he addeth no sorrow therewith.
Do these verses teach that God desired for man to be physically immortal? They state the truth that God’s work is perfect; does that necessitate immortality? We read the following in the Genesis account in Genesis 3:22-23:
And the LORD God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:” Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
It is evident, then, that Adam and Eve would have had to partake of the tree of life in order to live forever. This necessitates that their previous existence had not been deemed immortal in their physical form.
We see, therefore, that it cannot be determined from the Garden of Eden that God intended for man to live forever in physical form. Let us now examine the process by which the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the “regeneration” of the earth will occur.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe very strongly in the idea of God’s reign for the millennium. We have already discussed many tenets of premillennialism in Plymouth Brethren: Premillennialism, so let us now examine the differences of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conception of the “end times.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Kingdom of Heaven was established in 1914 CE24. They believe that this date is correct because of prophetic statements of the Scriptures, in Daniel 4:23-25 and Revelation 12:6, 14:
And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew down the tree, and destroy it; nevertheless leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven: and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him; this is the interpretation, O king, and it is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king: that thou shalt be driven from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen, and shalt be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee; till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days…And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
They thus believe that the Revelation passage shows that three and a half “times” is equivalent to 1,260 days, and thus seven “times” is equivalent to 2,520 days25. If we accept that a prophetic day is a year, then we have 2,520 years from the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 BCE, believed to be the “times of the Gentiles” of Luke 21:2426, to the time that Christ will begin His reign. This time would be 1914 CE. The Jehovah’s Witnesses first proclaimed that this would be the time of the Second Coming; when 1914 came and went, they began to use Psalm 110:2 to show that Jesus would begin His reign in the midst of His enemies27:
Who devise mischiefs in their heart; Continually do they gather themselves together for war.
They thus believe that in 1914 Satan was cast down to the earth, as proclaimed in Revelation 12:928:
And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.
They then see the events of World War I and World War II as demonstrating the fact that Satan has been brought down to Earth and is fulfilling the prophecies of Matthew 24:1-3429. Yet we have seen in Plymouth Brethren: Matthew 24-25: The “Olivet Discourse” that Jesus was discussing the destruction of Jerusalem in those verses, not the “end times.” Also, how secure is their prophetic belief when it had to be altered after the original prediction was wrong? Likewise, the numbers themselves do not correlate: Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE, not 603 BCE; while it is likely that Nebuchadnezzar led away some Jewish captives to Babylon in 603, the tumultuous year was 17 years in the future. Regardless, we shall see that the whole belief that Christ’s reign began in 1914 is not in accordance with the Scriptures concerning His Kingdom.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses further believe that the Kingdom of Heaven will soon be established after the “end times” with 144,000 faithful saints being chosen by God to become spirits and to rule with Christ for the Millennium30. They further believe that these rulers will be ruling over the Earth, which will contain resurrected fleshly humans along with animals31. They derive this belief from Revelation 7:4 and Revelation 14:132:
And I heard the number of them that were sealed, a hundred and forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel.
And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads.
Do these verses show that there will only be 144,000 saints in Heaven?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses regard these passages highly, but do not recognize the implications of the following verses in Revelation 14:2-5:
And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no man could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased out of the earth. These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, to be the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no lie: they are without blemish.
If we are to take the number 144,000 literally, we must also therefore believe that these 144,000 will be male Jewish virgins. Yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Simon Peter will be one of them; he is surely male and Jewish, but the Scriptures demonstrate that he was married (1 Corinthians 9:5). We find, therefore, inconsistency in application of “literal” and “figurative” understandings even within their interpretation of the passage; since this is the case, it is quite clear how John is speaking not in literal, but figurative, terms.
Furthermore, much needs to be said regarding the resurrection. We have been told the following in 1 Corinthians 15:42-53:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses assert that this passage speaks uniquely of the 144,000, yet we do not see any language that delineates who receives this resurrection33. It is also sometimes argued that here Paul speaks of those who will receive immortality in their physical bodies, but this is not the case in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, “we all,” not only a part or a few, will be changed. We will go through some transformation, although how specifically is unsure. This fact is further demonstrated by John in 1 John 3:2:
Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is.
Paul discusses further concerning the nature of the return of Christ and the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
These verses show clearly that all those who are deemed to be children of God, those who live as Christians, will take place in a resurrection that will involve a transformation from a physical form to a transphysical form, something akin to the nature of Jesus Himself. Such transformation will not be limited to a mere 144,000.
We have already spoken somewhat concerning the belief that Christ and the 144,000 will reign in Heaven over all those on the Earth when we discussed the nature of Kingdom of Heaven in Plymouth Brethren: The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom, but let us again consider John 18:36:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
The NWT translates this passage as the following:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not of this source.”
The subtle changes in language made in the NWT serve to allow the Jehovah’s Witnesses to say that His Kingdom was not a part of the world in 30 CE, but that it would overtake the world in the years following 1914 CE. The Greek text, however, does not allow for the NWT translation whatsoever: the word “part” has no Greek basis, nor does the idea of “not of this source:” the Greek term enteuthen, translated “from hence,” denotes a repetition of the concept introduced earlier in the verse, viz., that His kingdom is “not of this world.” We see yet again that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to manipulate and distort the Scriptures in order to justify their doctrine.
Finally, we have the witness of Christ Himself in Matthew 28:18:
And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”
How, then, can the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the authority of God has not yet been given to Christ when He has said Himself that all authority has been given to Him in 30 CE? This passage demonstrates clearly that Jesus is presently in control, and that His Kingdom is currently in existence, and that it is represented on earth as His Church, the spiritual Body of Christ that will be resurrected on the last day.
An Earthly Paradise?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that this earth will last forever, and it will be populated by those humans deemed righteous along with animals and plants, etc. in “Paradise34.” They believe that Ecclesiastes 1:4 teaches this:
One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.
Does this verse teach that the earth will exist forever?
Many times in the Old Testament we see that there are ordinances deemed to exist forever, such as Exodus 12:14, Exodus 27:21, and Exodus 31:17:
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD: throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
In the tent of meeting, without the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the LORD: it shall be a statue for ever throughout their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.
It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Yet we see in the New Testament that the priesthood of Aaron has been superseded by Christ (Hebrews 7:12-14) and that the Sabbath for Christians is the heavenly rest (Hebrews 4:2-11). Have these statues existed forever? Not in the literal sense of time, but for as long as the Israelites were the people of God specifically, these statues did exist. Therefore, we must read the verse in Ecclesiastes understanding that “forever” refers to the purposes of God.
We understand this further because of the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:10-12:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue that only the works of the earth will be burned up, yet the text itself says that both the works and the earth itself will be burned up. Therefore, it is evident that on the day of the Lord, the heavens and the earth as we know them shall be destroyed. Therefore, it is impossible for there to be a paradise on this earth after the “millennium.”
The Existence of Hell
Previously we have seen that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that man does not have an eternal soul and that they view eternity in a purely physical way. While they believe that the earth will become a Paradise for some of the faithful, they deny the existence of an eternal place of torment for those consigned to destruction. The Greek word gehenna, used often to describe this place, is viewed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in its most concrete idea–the Valley of Hinnom with its burning trash near Jerusalem–and does not describe eternal suffering, but a place symbolizing destruction rather than torment35. Sheol, or Hades in Greek, is only considered the grave by Jehovah’s Witnesses and nothing else36. Does the New Testament validate these views?
While it is agreed that Jesus uses the concrete place and function of the Valley of Hinnom from Jeremiah 7:30-31 to describe a spiritual location, the use of the imagery by Jehovah’s Witnesses is inappropriate. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on the image of “destruction,” consider what both Jesus and James focus upon in Mark 9:47-48 and James 3:6:
“And if thine eye cause thee to stumble, cast it out: it is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell [Gk gehenna]; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell [Gk gehenna].
While the Jehovah’s Witnesses desire to focus on the “destruction” aspect of the imagery of the Valley of Hinnom, both Jesus and James focus on the “fire” aspect of that imagery. The reasoning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses does not follow: Jesus, in Mark, clearly understands that suffering is present in this gehenna and uses images accordingly.
It is often argued that since only people who were already dead were cast into the Valley of Hinnom, that gehenna can only be the place for the cast-off dead spirits (without any kind of existence as we know it): that is, since no one was cast into the Valley of Hinnom to suffer, gehenna or hell is the same way. Jesus, however, says the following in Matthew 10:28:
And be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gk gehenna].
Note that Jesus uses different terms: “kill” the body yet “destroy” the soul and body. Most importantly, gehenna is the location in which “both soul and body” will be destroyed. It therefore cannot be envisioned as a place for the “already dead” without any form of existence.
As to Sheol/Hades, it is true that it can often refer to the grave itself. Such is not the only meaning of the term, however, and their use in Isaiah 14:9-11, 15-20, and Luke 16:22-26:
Hell [Hebr. Sheol, et al] from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall answer and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to hell, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and worms cover thee…Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the uttermost parts of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, they shall consider thee, saying,
“Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof; that let not loose his prisoners to their home?”
All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast forth away from thy sepulchre like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, that are thrust through with the sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under foot. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, thou hast slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall not be named for ever.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But Abraham said, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they which would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.”
We see in these passages that simple identification of Sheol/Hades as “the grave” does not work. The king in Isaiah 14:9-20 is not buried properly, but is in Sheol. Other kings are there also, and it is portrayed as if communication occurs among them. The king in question is not just brought down to Sheol, but even down into “the pit”: going lower than the grave is inconceivable if indeed such is what was meant by the author. It is manifest that Isaiah does not consider Sheol only the grave, but some form of afterlife.
As to Luke 16:19-31 and the story of Lazarus and the rich man, it is often argued that it represents a parable and cannot be trusted for accurate information. For a parable to have any value, however, it must represent a “true-to-life” situation. If the dead have no consciousness and there is no paradise or torment in the future, why would Jesus act as if there were and use such a story without explanation? We would expect a far different narrative if that were the case!
The Bible makes it clear that there is a place awaiting the unrighteous, and it is not mere annihilation: there will be a resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29), and vengeance is reserved for those not knowing God and not obeying the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). This place, Hell, is described in terms of gehenna, the burning trash pit, as torment, and as seen in Matthew 8:12:
“But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
If Jesus had simply stopped with the idea of the “outer darkness,” we could understand Hell as merely a place of separation from God, perhaps even a way of speaking of nonexistence. Jesus, however, demonstrates that in this place there is “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth,” images not describing nothingness or annihilation but torment and suffering. Jesus, therefore, clearly indicates that there is a place of torment and punishment awaiting those who are disobedient to Him, and such a place should not be denied.
1: The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, pp. 17-18
2: Ibid., p. 19
3: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, p. 155
4: Ibid., p. 24
5: In order to make absolutely sure that no one would accidentally attempt to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, the Masoretic scribes would provide the vowel pointings for some of the common terms used in place of the Tetragrammaton: adonai (Lord), ha-Shem (the Name), or elohim / eloah (God). Someone unfamiliar with the tradition saw the text YHWH with the vowel markings for eloah and attempted to read it like “normal” Hebrew: YeHoWaH. Such is meaningless in Hebrew, not correlating to any recognized usage (Consider Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon of the Old Testament, pp. 217-218).
6: “Yah” is rather clear from the representation of the vowels with this part of the name of God in Exodus 15:2 and also from names including part of the name of God (e.g. Jeremiah = Hebrew Yirmiyahu). We also have evidence from early Christian authors like Clement of Alexandria, who claim that Jews of his day established that the pronunciation was, as rendered in Greek, “Iaoue” (Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 5.6), or, from Epiphanius and Theodoret, “Iabe”. Since Greek has no way of rendering “h” internally, and lost its “w” sound, we can see how “Yahweh” would sound like “Iaoue” or “Iabe” to a native Greek speaker.
7: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, p. 31
9: For more on the article, consider Daniel Wallace, The Elements of New Testament Syntax, p. 94
10: Regarding John 1:1, ibid., pp. 119-120
11: The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 24
12: Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 288
13: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, p. 66
14: This evidence may be found in Tacitus, Historiae, IV, 3, and some works of Seneca. Archaeological evidence may be found in many issues of Biblical Archaeology Review.
15: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, p. 31
17: Ibid., pp. 81-82
18: Ibid., pp. 87-88
19: Ibid., pp. 83, 87
20: Ibid., p. 129
22: The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 27
24: Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life, p. 97
26: Ibid., p. 96
27: Ibid., p. 99
29: Ibid., p. 100
30: Ibid., p. 88
34: Ibid., pp. 7-11
35: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Appendix, p. 1641
36: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Appendix, p. 1643