Are Jehovah Witnesses Christian?
Oftentimes Jehovah Witnesses are called another “denomination” of the Christian faith, is this true?
Many believe groups such as Jehovah Witnesses or the Latter Day Saints to be just another group embedded within Christianity, but is this accurate? It is vitally important to know whether a group of individuals is truly “Christian” as we are called to embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ if they truly are. It is also very important to evaluate the beliefs and history of a specific group as the doctrine they embrace may contradict and undermine the Gospel and lead to the damnation of their followers’ souls. In this paper I will be exploring the beliefs and history of the Jehovah Witnesses (JW’s) and evaluate whether their belief is truly Christian or not.
Brief History of the Movement
Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the JW’s began to surface in the 1870’s. The religion was originally a splinter of the Adventist movement after a prophecy of William Miller about the second coming didn’t come true.(1) Russell diverged on many theological points (as we’ll address later on) and “soon began publishing his own magazine, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (now known simply as The Watchtower)”(2) The organization then became a legal entity, with Russell at its head as president and began to expand.(3) After Russell’s death “Russell was succeeded as president in 1917 by Joseph Franklin Rutherford (Judge Rutherford; 1869–1942), who changed the group’s name to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 to emphasize its members’ belief that Jehovah, or Yahweh, is the true God and that the Witnesses were his specially chosen followers. Rutherford molded the Witnesses into a cadre of dedicated evangelists”(4)
A Different God
The most important place to dig in and explore first is the JW’s doctrine of God. Clearly, a group’s belief of the nature and essence of God is important as we evaluate its congruence with another religion. A quick search on the JW.org website reveals their belief about who God is. In an article on the Trinity the organization states “Thus some Trinitarians emphasize their belief that Jesus Christ is God, or that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are Jehovah. Not a Bible teaching.”(5) They reject the deity of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Later on the article says “Thus he is shown to be a created being, part of the creation produced by God.”(6) Although we could dive much deeper into the JW doctrine of God, it is clear that they cannot be considered part of the same religion as Christianity. Christianity teaches that
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” (7)
The Athanasian creed which appeared about a century after the Nicene Creed states “But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.”(8)
Jesus claims to be God
JW’s claim that this position on the deity of the Son and Spirit was a fabrication in the 4th century which was not taught by Jesus, the disciples, or any earlier church fathers, but this is an obvious misrepresentation. Jesus says at his trial before the council when asked whether he was the Christ “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven”. The high priest then tears his garments and accuses Jesus of blasphemy.(9) Jesus makes clear references to both Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 about his deity and being the expected Messiah, which incites the reaction expected in that day when someone claims to be God. Jesus also uses the same name that God uses for himself in Exodus with Moses in John 8:58-59 when he says “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”(10) Jesus claims to be God in ways that are obvious when one understands the old testament background and the original context. The reactions of the religious leaders such as tearing their garments and picking up stones to kill Jesus show us that Jesus had in fact claimed to be God by identifying with his name from Exodus chapter 3, “I AM”. In Exodus 24, stoning is prescribed for blasphemy, and the reaction of both the high priest and religious leaders gives a clear picture as to what Jesus was claiming, and that was his own equality with YHWH, his own deity.
The Disciples claim Jesus is God
The disciples also clearly teach the deity of Christ. We see in John 1 that the Apostle John says of Jesus “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(11), a verse conveniently changed by the JW translation of the Bible. Later on, John records the reaction of Thomas to Jesus after his resurrection where Thomas says to Jesus “My Lord and my God!”(12)
The Early Church Fathers claimed Jesus was God in the Flesh
And lastly, Jesus’ deity was clearly upheld by the early church fathers, and was not a manufactured doctrine by Constantine or the Council of Nicea as JW’s often claim.
Ignatious (AD 50-117) says “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.”
Polycarp (69-155) also says “Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth…and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.” (13)
As we reflect on the differing beliefs between the JW’s and Christians, we see that they believe in two completely different God’s, and do not belong in the same category. Clearly, this divide in fundamental doctrine separates the two groups from worshiping or serving the same God, and leads to the promotion of a false gospel by the Jehovah Witness religious organization. As Paul says in the book of Galatians “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” In the Heidelberg Catechism from 1619, questions 16 and 17 deal with the theological necessity of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Question 17 says “Why must he (Jesus) also be true God? So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear in his humanity the weight of God’s wrath, and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.”(14) If Jesus is not God, we have no salvation, and we cannot have any assurance that the wrath of God has been absorbed on our behalf.
To conclude, the JW religious organization’s beginnings were born out of a Christian denomination, but have since diverted theologically in such extremes that it can no longer be considered truly “Christian”. Christians can disagree on different topics and still be considered brothers and sisters, but the deity of Christ and the doctrine of God moves Jehovah Witnesses out of the “in house conversation” category and makes this movement something completely different. Although JW’s and Christians have many other differences, this is the primary one. This is important to know as our actions towards the world differ significantly as it relates to our evangelistic efforts than our actions towards brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to share the true Gospel of the true God with those who identify as JW’s and pray that they come into relationship with the one true God.
1. Melton, J Jordan. “Jehovah’s Witness.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., n.d. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jehovahs-Witnesses.
2. “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses.
3. “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed February 4, 2023.
4. Melton, J Jordan. “Jehovah’s Witness.” Encyclopædia Britannica.
5. “Trinity.” Jehovah Witnesses. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.jw.org/en/library/books/Reasoning-From-the-Scriptures/Trinity/.
6. “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” New World Encyclopedia. Accessed February 4, 2023.
7. “Nicene Creed.” Christian Reformed Church. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/nicene-creed.
8. “Athanasian Creed.” Christian Reformed Church. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/athanasian-creed.
9. Mark 14:62-63, English Standard Version.
10. John 8:58-59
11. John 1:1
12. John 20:28
13. Barnett, Tim. “Nine Early Church Fathers Who Taught Jesus Is God.” Stand to Reason. Last modified November 24, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.str.org/w/nine-early-church-fathers-who-taught-jesus-is-god#fn:5.
14. Galatians 1:8
15. “Heidelberg Catechism.” Christian Reformed Church. Accessed February 4, 2023. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism.
Will Parkins – Director – Reach Durango