Thursday, November 12, 2009

Basic JW apologetics.

Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) are a non-Christian break-off of mainstream Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to encourage you to indiscriminately confront JWs *, but rather know enough information that you are convinced they are a false and dangerous group.

While most people know that the JWs are famous for their denial of Christ's Divinity (thus the JWs reject the doctrine of the Trinity), not to mention deliberately tampering with certain texts of Scripture, I believe that this issue should be left aside because of its complexity. I am not saying Christ's Divinity is unimportant, but rather I believe there are other fundamental doctrines which are easily disproved and only require basic arguments. [UPDATE June 12, 2010, for more information, please see my newer JW articles dealing directly with the Trinity and Christ's Divinity]

Here is a list of doctrines which I believe can be easily disproved:

The JWs teach Jesus did NOT resurrect in a physical body.
This is a doctrine which many people don't know they teach, but right behind denying Christ's Divinity, it is the most critical. Rather than teaching - as Christianity has done from literally the very start - that Jesus was resurrected in His own body (now glorified), the JWs teach He was resurrected as an "immortal spirit person." The way to approach this is first to realize that it would not be a resurrection by definition if the person's body did not regain it's life, instead it would be something similar to reincarnation. Next, Scripture is very clear that Christ's body was placed in the tomb after death, and on Sunday the tomb was empty, with Jesus appearing to His followers and even having them touch His body! The JW is in quite a bind here, and their common response to this is that Christ's body was dissolved into nothingness while in the tomb. But not only is such a notion nowhere hinted at in Scripture, it makes of mockery of Jesus appearing to people to reassure them and even having people touch Him. His appearance would be essentially that of a phantom-ghost. A few key Scriptural texts to consider are:

Luke 24: 36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.

John 20: 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Acts 2: 29"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

John 2:
18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
The first two texts show Jesus appearing for the main purpose of showing them He was alive again, that he was not a ghost, and that He should be touched. The third text clearly indicates Christ's body did not undergo decay, which directly goes against the JW claim that Christ's body dissolved while in the tomb. Lastly, a very powerful text shows his body was going to be restored at the resurrection, which would be absurd if His body was not actually restored.

The main texts JWs turn to when claiming Jesus resurrected as a spirit rather than in a body are 1 Peter 3:18 and 1 Cor 15:45. These texts merely refer to Christ's resurrected physical body being a glorified body (incapable of future pain or death), these in no way mean Christ didn't have His physical body back - as the NT solidly testifies to.

The JWs teach Jesus is Michael the Archangel.
This doctrine is not advertised much, but it is an official doctrine. This is easily refuted by the simple fact the Bible nowhere equates the two. The JW logic is given as follows, from their book "What does the Bible Really Teach" in the Appendix titled "Who is Michael the Archangel":

God’s Word refers to Michael “the archangel.” (Jude 9) This term means “chief angel.” Notice that Michael is called the archangel. This suggests that there is only one such angel. In fact, the term “archangel” occurs in the Bible only in the singular, never in the plural. Moreover, Jesus is linked with the office of archangel. Regarding the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 states: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice.” Thus the voice of Jesus is described as being that of an archangel. This scripture therefore suggests that Jesus himself is the archangel Michael.
This reasoning is not only quite weak, it is fallacious. The JWs say this evidence "suggests" Jesus is Michael, meaning all they have at most is only indirect evidence for such a bold claim! Next, it is fallacious to argue that the definite article ("the archangel") suggests there is only one, when they immediately turn to a text using the indefinite article ("an archangel") which indicates there are other archangels. This simple fact undermines any claim that there is only one archangel. Lastly, the fact that Jesus is mentioned in the same context as Michael (who's name only appears twice in the NT), without any equation of the two, indicates they are in fact two separate beings.

The JWs teach 1914 AD is when Jesus returned.
This doctrine is foundational to JW theology, and without this doctrine the Watchtower (the JW officials) would have no authority whatsoever. The JWs teach that in 1914 AD, Jesus was installed as King of Heaven and this event marked the beginning of the end-times. As part of this end-times scenario, they teach God gave authority to a special group of people, "the Governing Body," who head the JWs and are seen as God's mouthpiece on earth. The biggest problem with this teaching is that the Bible nowhere teaches it, no such dates are given nor is such a teaching even foretold. The JWs reasoning is given in their book "What does the Bible Really Teach" in the Appendix, speaking on the vision in Daniel 4:10-16 the JWs reason:

... the vision served notice that this ‘trampling of Jerusalem’ would be temporary—a period of “seven times.” How long a period is that?
Revelation 12:6, 14 indicates that three and a half times equal “a thousand two hundred and sixty days.” “Seven times” would therefore last twice as long, or 2,520 days. But the Gentile nations did not stop ‘trampling’ on God’s rulership a mere 2,520 days after Jerusalem’s fall. Evidently, then, this prophecy covers a much longer period of time. On the basis of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, which speak of “a day for a year,” the “seven times” would cover 2,520 years.
The 2,520 years began in October 607 B.C.E., when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Davidic king was taken off his throne. The period ended in October 1914. At that time, “the appointed times of the nations” ended, and Jesus Christ was installed as God’s heavenly King.
First, notice how the JWs have to use a lot of 'gymnastics' to come up with 2,520 years. The Bible is not a 'code book' with secret data hidden in it which then must be manipulated to reveal a secret message. This makes the JW "calculations" already dubious, even childish. They are essentially forced to draw from various texts, written for very different times and purposes, to eventually come up with the magical number 2,520. Notice next what the JWs conclude when the value of 2,520 days doesn't seem to work, they say "evidently" this must mean the period is a lot longer, which means they are building key teachings off of speculation. Lastly, their calculations require them to count from the year 607 BC, but the Bible nowhere gives us this date. They derive this date from secular history texts, yet this fails because they have had to leave Scripture and rely on uninspired worldly documents. This is further compounded in light of the gymnastics and digging through Scripture just to 'derive' 2,520 years, now they must leave Scripture entirely to come up with 607 BC.

The JW argument also requires a total apostasy for it to work, but that is plainly against the promises of Christ to always be with the Church, which is in fact His Body.

The JWs teach Jesus is not to be prayed to.
This is more of a 'quickie', nothing major in itself, but can combined with other texts used to support the Divinity of Christ (this topic is outside the scope of this article). The JWs teach only Jehovah (i.e. God the Father) is to be prayed to, and the logic behind this is simple: only God should be prayed to. Examining the Bible, there is a text which directly supports prayer to Christ. It comes from the conclusion of Acts 7, where St Stephen is getting stoned for preaching the Gospel. I will quote from both a mainstream Christian Bible translation and the JW Bible Translation:

59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (NIV Bible)

59 And they went on casting stones at Stephen as he made appeal and said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then, bending his knees, he cried out with a strong voice: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” And after saying this he fell asleep [in death]. (New Word Translation, JW official translation)
Clearly, Stephen was praying to Jesus, asking for something very important, that Jesus would accept his soul into Heaven. What is also noteworthy about this text is that Stephen is talking to the "Lord" in verse 59 and 60, that is indeed the Greek term used in both cases. The plain reading of this indicates Stephen is talking to the same person in both verses. But the JWs do something sneaky here. The term "Jehovah" never appears in the Greek anywhere in the New Testament, only the word "Lord." However, the JWs claim that since Jehovah is God's name, that substituting "Jehovah" where the New Testament uses "Lord" is acceptable. The fact is, it's not acceptable and done without warrant. It is a first class example tampering with the Scriptures. But Christians can actually use this tampering to their advantage. Since Jesus is frequently called "Lord" in the New Testament, the JWs must break their rule about the term "Lord" and not translate it as "Jehovah" when it is used in reference Jesus. This leads to problems when Jesus is called Lord and clearly in reference to God (the classic case is in Romans 10:9, 13, where Jesus is called "Lord" but it is referencing an Old Testament passage, Joel 2:32, where God is the "Lord" in question.) In this case of Acts 7:59-60, using the JW translation, the first occurrence of "Lord" is Jesus, but the second occurrence of "Lord" is translated as Jehovah. This form of "translating" is unacceptable, but it is clear that it was done to deflect away from making Jesus appear too much like God.

The JWs teach the soul is not immortal.
This doctrine is important to the JWs and also ties into other doctrines as well (e.g. physical resurrection). The JWs teach that the soul is nothing more than the body's life force, and at death it simply ceases to exist in the same sense a dead battery no longer has any electrical charge. A few powerful texts showing souls to continue after death are:

Mat 17: 1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

Rev 6: 9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
These texts are fairly straightforward. The first show two Old Testament giants, Moses and Elijah, appearing and talking to Jesus. The second text talks about Christian martyrs who were looking down from Heaven and talking with God. These are hardly situations where the soul ceased to exist once they left the body.

The JWs teach only 144,000 will be in Heaven.
This is an important doctrine because many non-JWs don't realize that the great majority of JWs don't believe they will be in Heaven! Yes, the great majority of JWs believe they will be rewarded in the next life by being given a home on a new earth, and will be a distinct place from a select 'few' who will be in Heaven, immediately in God's presence. They teach only 144,000 faithful JWs (nobody really knows who or how one is among this number) will be in Heaven, and they take this from Revelation 7:14, but upon careful reading it is shown to be a symbolic number indicating perfection: It is derived from taking 12,000 of each of the 12 tribes of Israel. What is more important is that immediately after this, Revelation 7 says:

9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."

Rev 19: 1After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
This plainly indicates there is a number no man can count that will be in Heaven, in God's presence; a direct contradiction to the JW claim. The JW "response" is that this great crowd is not really in Heaven but merely indicates they are an approved people. This is special pleading; grasping at straws. Likewise, they claim the great crowd mentioned in Rev 19:1 is not the same great crowd; again special pleading.
On top of this, the JWs teach only the 144,000 can partake in Holy Communion, but there is absolutely no Biblical basis for this. The Bible gives no hint that only a subset of Christians can partake, directly casting doubt on JW credibility.

The JWs teach serving in armed forces is un-Christian.
As part of their approach of 'standing out' among other religions, notably Christianity, the JWs teach one should not participate in politics at all, nor server in the armed forces. Because there is no such Biblical text that forbids this, the JWs take a philosophical and indirect approach, arguing Christians shouldn't kill others and thus military service is forbidden. But does the Bible argue like this? The short answer is 'no'. The Bible forbids killing in the form of murder, but not for purposes of judicially imposed death penalties or self-defense (Romans 13:1-5). Even more significant are the texts which directly speak of soldiers and commanders coming to accept the Gospel - with no indication they must quit their job (Lk 3:14; Mat 8:5-13). A good example is from Acts 10, dealing with Cornelius the Centurion (a general in charge of 100 soldiers), where he accepts the Gospel without the slightest indication his career is inherently contrary to God's ways. JWs will often push hard on the emotional/philosophical argument mentioned above, but the plain Biblical evidence refutes them.

As stated in the beginning, these arguments are more for convincing you that the JWs are a false religion, and the examples above should sufficiently damage the credibility of their organization that any fair minded individual will realize the Watchtower is not God's Spokesman on earth.

For more help, see some of the great JW Apologetics Articles hosted by Catholic Answers.

* It is not a good idea to invite JWs into your home unless you really know what you are doing, otherwise you endanger yourself spiritually (as well as other family members who might be in the room). They rely on many deceptive tactics, including tampering with Scripture, misquoting sources (even Catholic ones) and even lying about what they believe.