Saturday, April 4, 2020

TRULY Understanding Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses are one of the few groups happily excited about the Covid pandemic, because they see it as a "Biblical sign" we are most likely facing the end of the world, which they've been eagerly expecting to come within our lifetime.

Over the past year I've had a series of discussions with a devout, very intelligent Jehovah's Witness and I began to understand more fully their position. I think that accurately understanding the opposing side is very important in apologetics, because then you know what they're thinking and how best to address their claims. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much quality Catholic or Protestant apologetics material on the JWs, except for some brief 'gotcha' questions that don't really have much substance (and wont make much of an impact). For this post I want to outline the JW mindset, which will allow you to then see the world and Bible as a JW does. This is a very different approach than the standard apologetic of proving the Trinity to a JW, which is a significant issue but not really the key issue. I'm not kidding when I say the Trinity is NOT a primary issue in the mind of JWs. So we must stop wasting time on the wrong issues.

The real driving issue within the mind of a JW is that Jesus is going to return literally any day now to banish all evil and establish a literal 1,000 year kingdom on earth wherein all of us will live in peace. The JWs think that they unlocked a Biblical prophecy which they claim predicts Jesus' return within our very lifetime, literally any day now. Because of this, the JW mindset is that of getting ready and sounding the alarm to anyone who will listen. Think about it: If you knew that Jesus was for sure going to return tomorrow, you would absolutely change your behavior. You would do whatever it took to be ready and to warn others, and you would be exceedingly frustrated and sad to see all the people who didn't seem to care. With this actual JW mindset in mind, we can now think about how to effectively talk to them, using the themes I'll now discuss.

Why would a JW bring up the Trinity in the first place? Many groups throughout history have denied the Trinity, so this isn't unique to them. The answer is because the JW can use the widespread misunderstanding of the Trinity to discredit 99% of Christianity. When you discredit another church, then your own church gains credibility. So the JW wants to discredit your church so as to make it seem like the JW church is the true one, and thus strengthen their claim that only they correctly predicted Jesus is returning literally any day now. If you knew that someone was completely wrong on a major doctrine, you wouldn't put your trust in them, so the JWs want to discredit Christianity any way the JWs can do so. This is why the JWs attack so many standard Christian teachings, because they want to "expose" Christianity as having no credibility, and thus force a person to trust the JW's Watchtower organization instead! It all makes sense when you see their strategy! So from a practical standpoint, we can see it is a complete waste of time to focus too much on the Trinity with a JW, because they really aren't that interested in it. Even if you proved them wrong, there are so many other such "secondary doctrines" they go after within Christianity, that by the time you go back and forth on down the standard list they are used to hearing from every "informed" Christian, you're both exhausted and never get at the heart of things. So I invite you to stand out!

Thus, the more strategic and effective approach is to only discuss and undermine the JW mindset about the immanent return of Jesus and how the JWs see the kingdom yet to come. The following are some lines of thought that I would bring up, but you should do so subtly, by asking questions, not by outright attacking them since they desperately want an excuse to leave and never talk to you again.

First, the JWs think that the Bible predicts that in the year 1914AD the final countdown clock began, such that the end of the world was due literally any day now (I wrote about this HERE). But here we are in the year 2020, which is over 105 years later. So we need to ask the JW, at what point do we start to question if the Biblical prophecy was not properly understood? Is it really a prophecy if the end of this corrupt world continues on over 100 years later? The JW is now in a scary position, because the longer this world drags on without Jesus returning, the less credible their religion looks. The JWs are actually very troubled about this, and eagerly wish for a world war or other major battle to break out, which is why they are so excited about Covid! Every time major war is threatened in the news, the JWs get excited. But the JWs continue to get older, get grey hair, and look back at their life and see they didn't even live a normal life. They dedicated all their energy and lived in fear for something that never came. As they all keep getting older, more of them die off, they become sick to their stomach, seeing that they gave up having a family and accomplished nothing of value with their life if Jesus isn't going to return any time soon. It even means they possibly were wrong all along. So I would ask a JW why I should even trust them if the end still hasn't come, and I would ask them to give you a more firm date of how much longer we should reasonably wait. Surely it is not fair to say we should wait 500 years from now. How is that Biblical prophecy of any value if nothing is going to happen within a reasonable time? Surely they cannot even say 200 years, since by then many generations of JWs would have been long dead. So the JW is actually in a terrible bind, because it has already been over 100 years. If you want to throw in some food for thought, tell them that the Bible prophetically predicts the Catholic Church in Daniel 2, which the JWs have never heard of and think only they care about "Biblical prophecy" (see HERE).

Second, the JWs officially teach that everyone is going to be resurrected and live within this earthly kingdom. Often times Catholics bring up the argument "where was God's church all these centuries before the JWs showed up in the 1900s?" This claim means nothing to the JWs, because they say God is going to give everyone a second chance, a more "fair" chance to serve Him, since most of history the majority of mankind never got an honest first chance. This line of thinking is very appealing and gets around many Great Apostasy difficulties. The JWs simply don't care that there was no JW church for most of history, because all that matters is these "last few days" on earth when God is finally going to defeat Satan and establish everything fresh. With that mindset, we shouldn't worry about the majority of mankind not living as God wants us to live. In fact, it is better for them to have died in ignorance and get a second chance within a more safe context, where evil and Satan are banished. Imagine how easy it will be to live a holy life when you have no evil to hinder you! (See HERE for the Biblical teaching on "last days").

I would approach this second issue in a few ways. I would start by asking the JW why I should even become a JW if I and my Catholic friends are just going to be resurrected anyway. I've not heard a reasonable nor consistent answer from a JW about this. The most the JWs say is that God will not resurrect those who are "very wicked," but that still sets the bar very low for getting a second chance. If I believe in the Trinity and it turns out I'm wrong, God shouldn't consider me "very wicked" since I acted in good faith and most especially did my best to keep the commandments. The JWs officially use terms like "billions" of people when speaking of the number who will be resurrected and placed within the upcoming earthly kingdom. I have heard some JWs say that those who are alive when Jesus returns will be annihilated and not resurrected. But how is this fair? There are billions of people on earth now, so God is going to wipe out billions of people just because they happened to be alive now? Plus, it isn't like the JWs have really given the billions of people on earth a fair chance to learn the Truth. Most of us have never had quality time with a JW, which is why most of us don't even know much about them. It's kind of silly for God to wipe out the majority of mankind while resurrecting the billions who lived prior to now if both groups are just as ignorant of the Truth. This kind of talk should plant seeds of doubt in the JW mind, and I've had reasonable success asking this question.

I would then turn and ask them what Biblical proof they have that everyone is going to be given a second chance to live a holy life. It isn't surprising to find out the JWs have almost no Biblical proof, so they rely almost exclusively on a "principle" they see in Romans 6:7 where Paul says "those who have died have been freed from their sins" (I wrote about this HERE). The JWs officially read this as if Paul was saying physical death is how a person pays for their sins, so when they die they have paid their debt and thus deserve to be resurrected because they have a clean slate. If you bring up Romans 6:7 to a JW, in my experience most of them have never even heard this verse and don't realize the Watchtower interprets it this way. This also raises some significant questions that should be brought up. For example, if a person can pay for their sins by their own death, then why would they even need Jesus at all? If forgiveness comes apart from Jesus, then that kind of makes the Death of Jesus kind of irrelevant in the story Salvation History. And if your physical death brings about complete forgiveness of sins, then why are the "very wicked" still not resurrected, since technically they did pay for their sins? The JWs have no good answer for these questions, at least from what I've found when I ask them.

The JWs officially teach that Adam and Eve will not be resurrected because the JWs claim they sinned with "full knowledge". But when you ask for a verse that teaches this, they don't have one. It's amusing to watch them squirm and make up reasons why. In fact, St Paul tells us that Eve was "deceived" (2 Cor 11:3), which means at least Eve didn't had full knowledge. And what about David who committed cold blooded murder and adultery? The Bible clearly says David was forgiven, so why would someone who does something wicked not be able to be forgiven ever again? I've not seen a good explanation from the JWs for this. The fact is, the JWs have no consistent or logical reason to say who should and should not be forgiven and resurrected.

Speaking of resurrection, the JWs officially teach that the term "resurrection" always means bodily resurrection, but they say there is one exception, when the term is used in reference to Jesus, which was instead a spiritual resurrection. That's hardly a convincing argument. Why would the Bible use a term one way to always mean something and then change meaning (without telling us) when used in one specific situation? And what is a spiritual resurrection anyway? Nothing is technically being resurrected in that situation.

Now to talk about the the 1,000 year earthly Kingdom, a lot can be said, but for now I'll keep it brief. The JWs are often accused of stealing people's hope of Heaven after we die. While this is somewhat true, that's not the JW intention. The JW mindset sees the 1,000 year earthly Kingdom as a Paradise, where we will still be in God's presence in a real sense. In fact, the JWs see Christianity as misrepresenting the Bible, by Christians focusing only on being in a spiritual state in heaven and thus ignoring the Biblical language of a restored earthly/physical realm which God will grant after Jesus returns. The JWs are often accused of restricting heaven to 144,000 people, but again that's not what their goal is. In the JW mind, there are 144,000 exceptionally well behaved Christians, a special class, who will assist Jesus in governing the billions on earth during 1,000 year earthly Kingdom. These 144,000 special believers are not simply sitting around in heaven enjoying God while billions on earth miss out on God's presence. That's simply misrepresenting the JW view and will get you nowhere. So it's a waste of time to talk about going to heaven versus not going to heaven. Instead, you should ask them about other issues. For example, as with the Daniel prophecy above, the JWs think only they pay attention to the Biblical mentions of 144,000. So you can plant seeds by saying these 144,000 "special Christians" do indeed help Jesus govern in a certain way, and in fact this is what the Catholic priesthood is all about. By doing this, you pull the rug from under the JW, because now you've presented a coherent alternative claim to which that they've already substantially admitted within their own claim. This is why the JWs don't even focus that much on the New Testament, because they hold that the New Covenant only applies to the 144,000 ministers, not to the majority of JWs. But then how is there forgiveness of sins through Jesus if the New Covenant only applies to the 144,000? I've not heard a coherent explanation.

One of the most popular JW verses on the 1,000 year kingdom is from Revelation 21:4, which says: "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." This has got to be one of the most comforting passages in the Bible, but it seems only JWs take it seriously enough to tell people about it. The JWs love this verse because it gives so much hope to everyone who believes it. God will wipe away your tears! All the bad stuff will some day be gone! You should totally empathize with the JWs who deeply desire this day to come. All Christians should love this verse. But the JWs notice that most of Christendom seems to ignore this verse and be unaware of it, which is a shame. The way Christians should 'steal' this verse back is to force the JWs to admit that it is the JWs who don't actually believe this verse! How? Because the JWs teach that this verse applies during the 1,000 year Kingdom, yet the 1,000 year Kingdom will still include death and suffering! How? Because the JWs teach during the 1,000 years, people will still need to learn and apply God's laws and still choose to submit to them. The JWs teach that some of the billions of people will still choose to not obey, and they will be exterminated at the end of that 1,000 years. This means that during the 1,000 years these newly wicked individuals will still be committing murder and other harm to others, which means there will still be mourning, crying, pain, death, etc. So the JWs don't actually teach these things will "pass away". The JWs simply don't think logically about this. They want to tell everyone that Jesus is going to return any day now and wipe away their tears and eliminate death, but they forget that within their own teaching there will still be people who decide to disobey during those 1,000 years. And when will these murdered individuals be resurrected? The JW simply doesn't have an answer, because the resurrection has already happened.

The JWs will try to downplay this, or make up some excuse, but in my experience they simply are caught off guard when you bring it up. I've also started to bring up the fact that it's kind of lame that God would demand of me 1,000 years of additional obedience, after I've already tried to be good during this life. At the end of that 1,000 years, the JWs teach that Satan will be released one final time, but only briefly, to again test the billions of people, and during that test many will choose Satan and be finally and forever annihilated along with Satan. But this way of seeing Salvation History kind of makes a joke of the whole Bible, since it really just makes everything about the upcoming 1,000 years and nothing really to do with Adam, Eve, Israel, Jesus, Apostles, etc. And how is it comforting knowing I will have to prove myself for 1,000 years, and risk tripping at the finish line with some rough final test?

And if that wasn't enough, it seems that the JWs teach that man retains free will in such a manner that even after the 1,000 years are over, and Satan finally defeated, that any righteous person could theoretically decide to disobey God at any time (and so be eternally cut off). The 2006 August 15 Watchtower says: "it is possible for those who pass the final test to rebel against God and hence be destroyed," even if such is unlikely to happen. But then what's the point of having to prove yourself for 1,000 years if you can still fall away, cause death (murder), and other such sins even after all that?

In Conclusion, to avoid rambling any further, I think this is a good place to wrap things up. I'm sure there are other elements I could add that I've forgotten about or not thought of, but I think the above should lay a solid foundation for you to have more effective discussions with JWs. Like any other heretical group, including the various Protestant denominations, you must realize that the goal of each group is to 'stand out' from the others. Protestants have had to get progressively more strange over the years in order to distance themselves from Christianity (Catholicism), and had to come up with increasingly unique explanations for the Great Apostasy. To 'stand out' you must have a sufficiently new/odd spin on the Bible that other groups don't have, and the JWs are masters at this. Seeing it this way, you can see that most of the 'bizarre' teachings they promote is simply to stand out from the rest of Christianity. And so to be effective at countering them, you've got to differentiate between which of their 'stand out' teachings are to discredit Christianity versus which of their 'stand out' teachings are core to driving their own theology. If the JWs simply denied the Trinity, that wouldn't get them very far, since many groups have denied the Trinity, so it's nothing really unique. But to say that Jesus is going to return literally any day now, with 1914 being the day the clock officially started, that's something sufficiently 'unique' to make the JWs their own distinct group. I guarantee that if you really take this to heart and stick to discussing the above themes, you will shake up the JW, even if the JW puts on a happy face trying to hide their discomfort. I would love to start a new wave of JW apologetics that really makes a difference, and few things shake up a JW more than hearing you say you're a practicing Catholic who loves the Bible and is not living a sinful lifestyle on basic morals. The only kind of Catholic the JWs ever encounter is a "Catholic" who doesn't care about the Bible and approving of fornication. To our shame, that's the sad reality, but the few of us who are practicing can really make a difference, since we have the Truth!

And finally, realize that the Devil is blinding them, so you cannot take them on as merely humans talking with humans. The Devil is more powerful than you, so it's not necessarily even wise to let them into your home. I personally don't let them inside, as it can be a form of spiritual pride/presumption to think you can take the Devil on yourself. But when I do talk with them at the door, or out in public, or among relatives, I try to plant these seeds of doubt. I cannot emphasize enough how much you must take care not to scare them away by being too aggressive, or losing your temper, or making it seem like you just want to argue. You must remain calm and ask them 'innocent' questions, which they then must think about and start to research themself.


Talmid said...

Their doctrines are very... duferent(i mean, they started as a failure, so...), but this idea of you being capable of getting killed and them paying for your sin is truly bizarre. Saying that Our Lord sacrifice is useless is just a failure to get the Good News.

A similar even if not as bad thing happens when you deny Original Sin, for them some(like people that tragically die in infancy) never sinned, getting to Heaven even if Jesus never did anything. I had good contact with mormons and their denial of the doctrine appeared on the talk once, but i only understood that later.

Talmid said...


This mistake was just bad.