Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) are members of a worldwide Christian religion who actively share with others their beliefs about God. Some of their core beliefs and practices include:
- Use of the Hebrew name of God, commonly rendered Jehovah in English
- Neutral stand in all political affairs and military conflicts
- Visible proselytizing, including personal visits to neighbors, and conducting free home Bible study courses
Jehovah's Witnesses conduct their ministry in obedience to their understanding of Jesus' command to teach and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Jehovah's Witnesses identify themselves as Christians, but do not accept the Trinity doctrine taught by most other Christian religions.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that some time after the death of the last apostle the Church departed from the original faith in major points (Great Apostasy). They believe that true Christianity has gradually been rediscovered through studying of the Bible. In the 1870's, a Bible study group in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was started by Charles Taze Russell and his friends. Born a Presbyterian, Russell had gained an appreciation for the importance of Bible study from his earlier involvement with the Millerites and related groups. They formed the Watch Tower Society in 1881, and in 1884 it was incorporated with Russell as president. In 1914 they founded the International Bible Students Association in the United Kingdom. Russell died in 1916, and in 1931, when Joseph Franklin Rutherford was president of the society, they adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses," based on Isaiah 43:10 which reads, "'You are my witnesses,' is the utterance of Jehovah..." (New World Translation) ("Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD..." - Authorized Version). Their name is one of the more obvious aspects differentiating them from other Christian denominations.
Main article: Organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses
The group's members are noted for their diverse but close-knit brotherhood, and their markedly different teachings and practice. As of August 2004, Jehovah's Witnesses have a practicing membership worldwide of more than 6.5 million individuals. According to data reported in the Annual Worldwide Statistics at the Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses http://www.jw-media.org/people/statistics.htm :
- "While other religious groups count their membership by occasional or annual attendance, this figure reflects only those who are actively involved in the public Bible educational work."
Each month, every congregation publisher completes a short report indicating the amount of time they personally spent in the ministry and other relevant information. (Publishers are both baptized and non-baptized persons who engage in any and all aspects of the evangelizing work.) These reports are compiled and forwarded to the appropriate Branch Office.
They are 6th in the Top 10 Largest Highly International Religious Bodies http://adherents.com/adh_rb.html#International list from adherents.com http://www.adherents.com , a site which collects data on religious group size.
Jehovah's Witnesses generally exhibit a high degree of commitment to their religion, attending meetings three times a week (totaling approximately five hours) in their local Kingdom Halls and in private homes. Larger gatherings (called assemblies or conventions) are held usually three times a year in assembly halls that are owned or maintained by the Watchtower Society or in rented public facilities, such as sports stadiums or auditoriums. The offices of the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses are located in Brooklyn, New York. There are over 100 Branch Offices http://www.watchtower.org/how_to_contact_us.htm in various countries and lands around the world. -
See also Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Beliefs and Doctrines
See the related article Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses for additional details.
The beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses are markedly different from most other religions. Some noteworthy differences include the use of the name Jehovah, door-to-door evangelizing, free home Bible study, conviction that the present system of things will soon come to an end, not celebrating any national or religious holidays, refusing to accept blood transfusions, not participating in politics (which includes not voting in governmental election) or military service, and separation from all other religions, including all other Christian faiths.
Their use in English of the common pronunciation "Jehovah" for the name of God is based on its familiarity in that language. (For more information see the Tetragrammaton article)
The teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses differ from most Christian groups in many ways. For example, they reject the doctrines of the Trinity, immortality of the soul and eternal punishment of the wicked in hell. They believe in the eventual restoration of the earth to a global paradise, to take place following Armageddon, and in the eventual annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal punishment.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that life on Earth, and indeed all things, were directly created by God. They do not accept the modern theory of evolution of species based upon Darwin's theory of natural selection.
Jehovah's Witnesses also do not salute the flag of any country, as they believe that it is a sign of worshiping an idol. They do not use images or icons in their worship, including the symbol of the cross.
Memorial of Christ's Death
Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate the Memorial of Christ's death, (also known as the Lord's Evening Meal or Lord's Supper), annually. Worldwide attendance at the 2004 celebration of the Memorial was 16,760,607. This is obviously in excess of the more than 6.5 million individuals regularly associated with the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses around the world, but includes many visitors and interested persons. Of that Memorial attendance in 2004, only 8,570 persons partook of the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine that Jesus commanded his disciples to do in rememberance of his death. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that those 8,570 are the remaining remnant of Christians anointed by God. They believe these are the same as the 144,000 referenced at Revelation 14:1 that are going to heaven to serve with Jesus as co-rulers and priests in his Kingdom. (Revelation 5:9, 10) The distinction of being a member of this group is not conferred upon one of Jehovah's Witnesses by any human. They believe that an individual who feels he or she has received this calling would unmistakably be made aware of this by being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Therefore any doubt in a person's mind should dissuade one from assuming that one were of that group. (Romans 8:14-17) This "anointing" does not make one subject to a higher standard or qualify one for greater privilege; it reflects a different reward awaiting these Christians after death. (See also the 2003 Report of Jehovah's Witnesses Worldwide http://www.watchtower.org/statistics/worldwide_report.htm for details.)
Jehovah's Witnesses make vigorous efforts to spread their beliefs throughout the world in a variety of ways, with particular emphasis on the written word. The Bible is their prime source of doctrine.
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is a modern-language translation of the Bible published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. This is the Bible translation primarily used by Jehovah's Witnesses. It is noteworthy that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society also publishes other translations and references many others in their publications.
Their teachings are presented through a wide variety of books, magazines and other publications. Their publications make extensive use of references and quotations from the Bible. They are perhaps best known for their use of a particular pair of journals:
- Awake! - published in 87 languages, is a general-interest semimonthly magazine covering many topics from a religious perspective. It has an average circulation of 22.8 million copies per issue.
The Watchtower - published in 150 languages, focuses mainly on doctrine. With an average circulation of 26.4 million copies semimonthly, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed religious magazine in the world, and is available in a large-print edition, in Braille, on audiocassettes, in American Sign Language and Brazilian Sign Language (on DVD) and on CD, in MP3 format.
Both The Watchtower and Awake! are published simultaneously in dozens of languages. Most language editions, including English, are published semimonthly; the remaining are monthly.
At their yearly conventions, new books, brochures, and other items pertaining to the religion's current doctrine are usually released. Additionally, a number of audio- and videocassettes have been produced featuring various aspects of the group's beliefs and practices. Recent years have seen a proliferation of material available on their website http://www.watchtower.org/current_topics.htm .
Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses
Throughout their history, their beliefs, doctrines and practices have met controversy and opposition among other religions, including Christian groups. Many groups consider the Jehovah's Witness faith to be a false teaching, and the group is often mentioned on lists of cults. They have often been the subject of religious and political controversy. Political and religious animosity against them has at times led to mob action and government oppression, including the targeting of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Holocaust and widespread criticism from those of other faiths.
In the United States, many Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses have shaped First Amendment law. Significant cases affirmed rights such as these:
Other court cases involving the Jehovah's Witnesses had less favorable outcomes.
- Olin R. Moyle v. Watchtower Headquarters Staff (1943) - After Moyle resigned from the Watchtower, the October 15, 1939 Watchtower contained an attack on Moyle, saying his resignation was full of lies and false accusations. Moyle sued for libel and won.
By 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court had reviewed 71 cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses as an organization, two-thirds of which were decided in their favor. Most recently, in 2002, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society disputed an ordinance in Stratton, Ohio that required a permit in order to preach from door-to-door. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Witnesses.
Many criticize the organization's practice of excommunicating termed "disfellowshipping" members, a practice based on scriptural precedent, such as that found at 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Jehovah's Witnesses whose family members have been disfellowshipped are discouraged from having social contact with the disfellowshipped family member except on extreme occasions, such as the death of a family member. This does not apply to disfellowshipped minor children living in the same house as Witness parents.
Many also view door-to-door evangelizing as an invasion of privacy; some people even pretend to not be at home when the Witnesses stop by. Although uncommon, hate crimes have occurred against Jehovah's Witnesses because of their beliefs and practices. On the other hand, many people are cordial to the Witnesses.
Hostility from traditional, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians has been common, allegedly because of this group's rejection of many of the doctrines of mainstream Christian groups. For example, they teach that Jesus Christ is God's first creation and that the Holy Spirit is not a person but God's active force. Many have been critical of their opinion that our current time period is "the last days."
Official websites of Jehovah's Witnesses
- The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society http://www.watchtower.org/ official web site
- Jehovah's Witnesses—Who Are They? What Do They Believe? http://www.watchtower.org/library/jt/index.htm on the official web site
- Jehovah's Witnesses: Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information http://www.jw-media.org/
- New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures http://watchtower.org/bible/index.htm
- God's Name--Its Meaning and Pronunciation http://www.watchtower.org/library/na/article_02.htm Jehovah's Witnesses' brochure about the name Jehovah
- West Virginia Board of Education Vs. Barnette et al. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/barnette.html - Documentation of 1943 Supreme Court ruling regarding Jehovah's Witnesses' rights in not saluting the flag
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance http://www.religioustolerance.org/witness.htm - About Jehovah's Witnesses
- Religious Movements: Jehovah's Witnesses http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Jwitness.html A profile by the Religious Movements Homepage Project at the University of Virginia
Links Critical of the Group
Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:28:25
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01