When doctrine trumps Scripture

This is the first in a series of columns addressing Jehovah’s Witnesses and their understanding of Jesus.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a high regard for Scripture. They believe the Bible is the Word of God. They base their beliefs and practices on it. And they prove themselves adept at using select Bible passages to weave convincing arguments for their unique doctrines – particularly doctrines that place the Watch Tower outside the margins of historic Christianity. These include a denial of the Trinity, the belief in Jesus as a created being, and the depiction of the “holy spirit” as an impersonal force.

Jehovah’s Witnesses display a commendable fervor for sharing the Bible, amassing millions of hours each year in door-to-door “publishing” across 240 nations. So, why do they reject basic Christian doctrines the church has embraced since the days of the apostles – most notably, the deity of Christ?

For starters, it’s because Watch Tower forefather Charles Taze Russell and his successors rejected certain biblical teachings that conflicted with their human reasoning. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Christianity fell into general apostasy under Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A.D. To restore pure worship, Jehovah appointed Russell to provide spiritual manna for His true worshipers.

This so-called heavenly bread featured, among other things, a denial of the deity both of the Son and Holy Spirit. The July 1882 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower said, “Our readers are aware that while we believe in Jehovah and Jesus, and the holy spirit, we reject as totally unscriptural, the teaching that these are three Gods in one person or, as some put it, one God in three persons.”

Russell later wrote, “The clergy’s God is plainly not Jehovah but the ancient deity, hoary with the iniquity of the ages – Baal, the Devil Himself.”

A new Bible translation

Russell and his protégés twisted the Scriptures, wedged new meanings into them, or used proof-text hopscotch to manufacture doctrines they claimed distinguished them as the only rightful members of Jehovah’s kingdom on earth. By 1950, Watch Tower leaders buttressed their false doctrines with their very own translation of the New Testament. In 1961, they issued the full New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, updating it in 1984 and again in 2013.

In essence, the Watch Tower placed a sanitized version of the Bible into the hands of its followers, declaring The New World Translation “an accurate, easy-to-read translation of the Bible” (jw.org). Feigning humility to escape accountability, the translators said they wished to remain anonymous. Reasoning from the Scriptures, a Watch Tower witnessing guide, explains: “The translators were not seeking prominence for themselves but only to honor the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures.”

In fact, the identity of the translators is well-known. Of the six men who served on the original translation committee, only one had any formal training in biblical languages – and that training was limited. Today, the New World Bible Translation Committee continues its work anonymously. Safely ensconced in the trust of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses, the committee manipulates the biblical text so that crucial Watch Tower doctrines are preserved – and the clear teaching of Scripture with respect to the deity of Christ remains masked.

Jehovah’s Witnesses may regard the New World Translation (NWT) as accurate and impartial, but distinguished Bible scholars disagree, categorizing the NWT as an incredibly biased translation.

British scholar H.H. Rowley called it “a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated,” classifying the text as “an insult to the Word of God.” Julius Mantey, author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, called the NWT’s rendering of John 1:1 (“and the Word was a god”) “a shocking mistranslation.”

And Bruce Metzger, the late professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton, called the NWT’s version of John 1:1 “a frightful translation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible.” He further stated, “If the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses must trust the New World Translation because it comes from the Watch Tower, the self-proclaimed “faithful and discreet slave” of Matt. 24:45-47, dispensing spiritual food to Jehovah’s people in the last days. Witnesses who challenge the Watch Tower’s doctrine or authority may be labeled prideful and spiritually weak, and could face shunning.

Space does not permit an exhaustive look at the NWT’s many subtle manipulations of the text, so in the next column we examine a few Bible passages that clearly point to the deity of Christ and compare how the NWT has twisted these Scriptures to drain them of their clarity and truth.

Next: The Watch Tower’s has-been god