Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the so-called intermediate state, the conscious existence of the soul/spirit between death and resurrection.
Their governing organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, teaches that the soul dies with the body and goes to “hell,” which it defines as mankind’s common grave. As the Watch Tower website states, “Scripturally, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts.”
Faithful JWs, of course, look forward to a future resurrection, at which time they populate the millennial kingdom and, if they persevere, live forever in paradise on earth.
They often focus on Old Testament passages to support their doctrine of soul sleep. Ecclesiastes 9:5 is one example: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten” (New World Translation).
While several other passages in Ecclesiastes acknowledge the inevitability of death, this verse seems to say there is no conscious afterlife. Can this possibly be true?
Evangelicals may disagree about many things, but we stand together on the non-negotiables that define the Christian faith: The Trinity, justification by faith, and the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, to name a few.
Many false belief systems, from Mormonism to Islam, profess a high regard for the Word of God. But, in fact, they deny its inspiration, inerrancy, or preservation and thus reject the Bible as supremely authoritative.
Specifically, false religions employ four tactics to undermine the Scriptures:
(1) They change it. The most notorious offender is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, whose members are known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the late 1800s, Charles Taze Russell launched a Bible study to spread his denials of the Trinity, Jesus’ physical resurrection, and eternal punishment of the wicked in hell, cleverly twisting the Scriptures to buttress his false teachings. Not to be outdone, his successors produced their own version of the New Testament in 1950, and the completed New World Translation (NWT) in 1961.
Revised in 1984, and again in 2013, the NWT is a sanitized version of the Bible. Six translators — only one of whom had any training in biblical languages — essentially scrubbed the deity of Christ out of passages like John 1:1, John 8:58, and Col. 1:15-17, and blurred other essential doctrines.
Counterfeit forms of Christianity — most notably Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses — thrive on deception.
This is nothing new. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians about false prophets who proclaimed “another Jesus … a different Spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
While Christians should seek to correct the false doctrines of our Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness friends, we might also consider learning from their admirable qualities, including:
(1) Their zeal for witnessing. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they have recaptured true Christianity after centuries of apostasy. They not only stand behind their convictions; they put feet to them.
Today, there are nearly 71,000 Mormon missionaries carrying the message of Joseph Smith around the world — at their own expense, or the expense of their families. Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses boast 8.3 million “publishers” in 240 countries.
They may be faulted for their false teachings, but certainly not for their faithfulness to them.
As Anthony Hoekema has written in The Four Major Cults, “It would appear that the cults are generally pursuing a much more diligent and systematic program of witnessing, both at home and abroad, than are the churches.”
This is the last in a three-part series on Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses regard The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures as “an accurate, easy-to-read translation of the Bible” (jw.org). What many don’t realize is that four of the five men on the translation committee producing the complete 1961 edition had no Hebrew or Greek training whatsoever.
The fifth, who claimed to know both languages, failed a simple Hebrew test while under oath in a Scottish court.
What all this means is that the Watch Tower’s official version of the Bible is “an incredibly biased translation,” writes Ron Rhodes in Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
British scholar H.H. Rowley calls it “a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated,” classifying the text as “an insult to the Word of God.”
Revisions in 1984 and 2013 have not improved the translation.
So, what’s wrong with the NWT? In a phrase, the translators consistently have sought to conform the text to Watch Tower theology, particularly with respect to the person and work of Christ.
A few examples should make this clear.
This is the second in a three-part series on Jehovah’s Witnesses
Our Jehovah’s Witness friends deny at least 10 key biblical doctrines. This is due in part to their reliance on The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which we discuss in the next column.
Note: The Baptist Faith and Message, available as a free download from sbc.net, features a more complete treatment of Christian doctrines and includes multiple Scripture references.
1. The Trinity. The Watch Tower says Jesus is a created being and the “holy spirit” is an impersonal force. “The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine” (Let God Be True).
The Bible tells us there is one true and living God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.