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  Wikipedia: Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses

Wikipedia: Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses
Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses are in many ways similar to those of a number of earlier groups with a non-trinitarian understanding of Christianity, a stringent moral code and a strong commitment to evangelizing.

Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, acknowledged his indebtedness to others, stating: "Our work . . . has been to bring together these long scattered fragments of truth and present them to the Lordís peopleónot as new, not as our own, but as the Lordís. . . . We must disclaim any credit even for the finding and rearrangement of the jewels of truth." He further stated: "The work in which the Lord has been pleased to use our humble talents has been less a work of origination than of reconstruction, adjustment, harmonization."

Many of the Witnesses' doctrines differ radically from those of most other Christian groups.

Beliefs about God

Witnesses emphasize the importance of God's name, Jehovah, which is an English form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton used throughout the Old Testament. Citing Christ's words in the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be thy name", as well as other biblical passages, they believe that "our salvation is closely linked with a proper appreciation of God's name." [1]. The Witnesses' New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures reflects this emphasis by using the name Jehovah in both the Old and New Testaments.

The group teaches that God has four cardinal attributes: love, justice, wisdom, and power. This axiom is at times used to disambiguate parts of the Bible that appear contradictory or inconclusive.

Unlike most other Christian churches, the Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity, holding it to be of pagan origin and out of accord with the Scriptures. They believe that Jehovah God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son) are distinct spirit persons, and that the holy spirit is impersonal, God's active force. [1]

A number of Witnesses have taken part in internet debates on the subject; some of them are logged on the 'Jehovah's Witnesses United' website. [1]

The group categorically rejects the use of images or icons in worship. They do not use the cross as a religious symbol and their New World Translation renders the Greek word stauros as 'torture stake' rather than 'cross'.

Christology

The Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ (known as the Word in his pre-human existence) was God's first creation and that he is the 'master worker' referred to in Proverbs 8:30, who assisted his Father in the creation of all other things, including spirit creatures, the universe, the earth and everything on it. They believe that Jesus Christ and the Archangel Michael are the same being.

Although Witnesses are often classed as Arians, their doctrine differs from that of the fourth-century priest Arius, who was condemned as a heretic by the First Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D. Like the Witnesses, Arius taught that "there was a time that the Son was not", and that the spirit person later known as Jesus was the first creature created by God. Unlike the Witnesses, Arius taught that God was essentially unknowable. Furthermore, Arius viewed the holy spirit as a person, whereas Jehovah's Witnesses do not attribute personality to the spirit. Their rejection of the Trinity doctrine, does not, therefore, make them Arians.

Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected as a spirit person and that he ascended to heaven in spirit form.

Kingdom of God

Jehovah's Witnesses believe God's Kingdom to be a real heavenly government, established in 1914 and headed by Jesus Christ, along with a selected group of 144,000 faithful Christians (see Judgment Day below). They refer to their witnessing activity as "preaching 'this good news of the Kingdom'" (Matthew 24:14). At Armageddon, God's Kingdom will replace all human kingdoms, or governments. The earth will continue to exist forever and that under the rulership of Jesus Christ, it will be turned into a paradise.

The Bible

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Bible is God's main current communication to mankind (Pro. 4:18), and that it contains vital information about God, his purposes and his requirements (Romans 11:33).

Witnesses favor a literal interpretation of most Bible passages, except in cases where the context very strongly suggests otherwise (e.g. the Book of Revelation, or the parables of Jesus). Thus, they accept the literalness of the Genesis creation account, the Flood, and the historicity of Bible personages such as Noah, Samson and Jonah.

Although the group has used a variety of translations over the decades, and continues to do so, they generally use a translation of the Bible that they commissioned in the mid-twentieth century, known as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). The translation was based on the Westcott-Hort Greek text for the New Testament and Kittel's Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament Hebrew text.

The Witnesses' attitude to other Bible translations is expressed in the foreword to their Kingdom Interlinear Translation, a version of the New Testament that includes the Greek text with a literal, word-for-word English translation underneath. It states: "From the time of the Roman Catholic clergyman John Wycliffe, of the 14th century, until the final decades of this 20th century, many English translations of the inspired writings of Christ's disciples have been made. All of these have had their own commendable features. They have considerably met the needs of the day for a rendering of God's Word into the common language of the people. Much good has been accomplished by them and yet will be. However, it is to be noted that, while each of them has its points of merit, they have fallen victim to the power of religious traditions in varying degrees."

Bible study is actively encouraged by the group. A portion of the Bible (usually 4-5 chapters) is selected for discussion at their weekly Theocratic Ministry School Meeting. Witnesses are also encouraged to read the Bible daily, as stated in the big logo found in their Brooklyn headquarters building, NYC.

Origins

Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept the existence of evolution. They deny that life on Earth developed through natural means. They instead believe that the first man, Adam, was directly created by God.

Witnesses differ from Christian creationist groups in two important ways. First, they do not believe in a young earth, created only a few thousand years ago; they acknowledge that the universe has existed for billions of years. Second, they do not believe that the "days" referred to in the Bible book of Genesis, chapter 1, were literal 24-hour days, but longer periods of time, involving thousands of years. Witnesses acknowledge the existence of microevolution, or progressive developments and adaptation within the limits of a 'kind' (a word used in the Genesis account), but do not accept that one 'kind' may evolve into another.

Salvation

Witnesses reject the doctrine of universal salvation. They teach that salvation requires faith in Jesus Christ. They believe that salvation is a free gift from God, but that works are necessary, since faith without them is dead. Such works are viewed as evidence that a person's faith is genuine. They reject the concept "once saved, always saved," believing that salvation will be granted to those who endure faithfully until the end.

The group rejects the doctrine of predestination or fate, believing that all intelligent creatures are endowed with free will.

Problem of Evil

Central to the Witnesses' basic theodicy or premise for explaining the existence of evil is the existence of a literal Satan the Devil, who has made certain accusations (implied in the serpent's words to Eve in Genesis 3), casting aspersions on God's sovereignty (or right to rule) humans. It is therefore considered that God is allowing time to pass to make it evident whose way of doing things is superior. A second, related issue, brought up explicitly in the book of Job, is whether humans will be faithful to God even in difficult circumstances.

Eschatology: the Afterlife and Judgment Day

Christ's presence (Greek: parousia) is considered to be his invisible rule from heaven and is believed to have begun in 1914. Witnesses believe that Jesus' prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 have been being fulfilled since that time. They identify the same period with the 'last days' referred to by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

The group teaches that the dead are unconscious, citing Ecclesiastes 9:5, "the dead know not any thing." They view death as being like a sleep, from which a person will be awoken at the time of the resurrection. Right from their movement's inception, they have rejected the concept of a literal hell fire as repugnant and incompatible with God's qualities. Their doctrine has no equivalent of the Catholic concept of purgatory.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in an immortal soul that is separate from the body, but rather understand the hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psyche - both often translated as soul - to mean the person as one indivisible whole. Similarly, they make a sharp distinction between the soul and the spirit (Hebrew: ruach, Greek: pneuma), considering the latter to be the impersonal life-force in every human, sustained by breathing.

This has clear consequences for their beliefs about the afterlife. They believe that people who die merely cease to exist, except it be in God's memory. They therefore consider the resurrection to be a re-creation of the person.

A seemingly distinctive feature of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine is their belief that the earth will continue to exist and be inhabited forever. The word "seemingly" is used because most people do not realize that this belief is also taught by some other Protestant denomimations and by the Roman Catholic church (with some slight variations). In their view, God's intention is for faithful humans to eventually live forever in a state of robust and perfect physical health on earth, which will have been restored to a state of splendor similar to the Garden of Eden. They believe that literally 144,000 faithful Christians will be taken to heaven to be Kings and Priests with Christ for 1,000 years. - Revelation 14:1-3; Revelation 20:6.

The group teaches that all other human beings will be restored to life (resurrected) in the thousand-year period directly after Armageddon, known as Judgement Day. During Judgement Day, the dead will be resurrected, "righteous and unrighteousness" (Acts 24:14), and that people will have the opportunity to learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9, 10). God will provide a new communication to humankind to augment the Bible, and gradually restore all humans to a state of physical perfection. At the end of judgment day, there will be a final test when Satan the Devil will be let out of his prison (Rev. 20:3). Those rebelling against God at that time, or even earlier during judgment day, will be destroyed. - Revelation 20:7-10.

Moral Standards

Jehovah's Witnesses reject premarital sex (fornication), adultery and polygamy as immoral. They consider divorce permissible, but not automatic, if a spouse has been unfaithful. They distinguish between homosexual impulses, and homosexual activity, the latter being considered a gross sin. All are encouraged to fight against any impulse to violate the Bible's standards in sexual matters.

Similarly, Witnesses are expected to remain free from drunkenness, smoking, recreational use of drugs, all forms of gambling.

Changes in Doctrine

The matter of doctrinal change in the Watchtower organization has generated considerable controversy. Critics maintain that Jehovah's Witnesses have made many significant changes to the doctrines they teach over the past century. Furthermore, some who have left the movement have stated that the historical material published by Jehovah's Witnesses organization deliberately rewrites history to deny that any doctrinal changes have ever taken place.

Jehovah's Witnesses strongly contest charges of revisionism. They point out that, since Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrines have been openly published for over 120 years in The Watchtower magazine, all doctrinal changes are a matter of record. Rather than concealing the fact that doctrinal changes have been made over the years, the organization often presents them in a positive light, as evidence of the fact that God is blessing their efforts to understand the Bible better. A Bible verse freqently quoted in this context is Proverbs 4:18: "The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established."

The book "Jehovah's Witnesses Ė Proclaimers of God's Kingdom" - published by the group in 1993 - discusses the history of their religion including changes in doctrinal issues. It states (page 709) that their understanding of the Bible gets progressively clearer at the proper time and that because of human error or misguided zeal, it has been necessary for them to adjust their viewpoint from time to time. The book acknowledges that doctrinal changes have been necessary, outlining many of the former beliefs and expectations held by the group. It also includes photographic evidence showing that Witnesses at the beginning of the century celebrated Christmas and used the cross in worship. Additionally, The Watchtower of 15 May 1995 listed over 20 doctrinal changes that had been made over the years.

Changes made to Jehovah's Witnesses' teachings and practices

Doctrines in place since the movement's inception (1870's):

Changes in viewpoint that took place up to 1939:

  • 1925 - celebration of Christmas and birthdays abandoned
  • 1931 - adoption of the name 'Jehovah's Witnesses'; vaccination forbidden
  • 1932 - application of restoration prophecies to Christian congregation, rather than to the literal Jews
  • 1935 - identity of "great crowd" of Revelation chapter 7 .
  • 1936 - use of the cross as a religious symbol abandoned.
  • 1939 - complete neutrality in worldly affairs

Significant Changes in Doctrine 1940 - present.

  • 1944 - disfellowshipping (although this had already been practised in some form earlier)
  • 1945 - blood transfusion forbidden (clarification of existing stance on blood and specific application to transfusions)
  • 1952 - vaccination permitted (some Witnesses were already accepting vaccinations during World War II.)
  • 1962 - identity of the "superior authorities" of Romans 13:1.
  • 1973 - no tobacco use
  • 1980 - organ transplants permitted
  • 1995 - identity of "this generation" referred to at Matthew 24:34
  • 1995 - time of fulfillment of Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats.

Significance of Doctrinal Changes

If there is little doubt that Jehovah's Witnesses have changed some of their doctrines over the past century, there is considerable controversy over the significance of the changes.

Critics feel that the nature and extent of the changes is such that the organization's claim to be uniquely guided by God's spirit is disproved. The degree to which adherents are urged to rely on the Watchtower organization's guidance in the interpretation of Scripture, critics view as seriously problematic in light of these changes.

Watch Tower literature recognizes that doctrinal changes have taken place but places considerably less importance on them than critics do. One source states: "Matters on which corrections of viewpoint have been needed have been relatively minor when compared with the vital Bible truths that they have discerned and publicized." (Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 136-137)

Thus, Jehovah's Witnesses' publications, while recognizing that adjustments have been made, emphasize that the core elements of their belief are constant. They maintain that their understanding of the Bible gets clearer at the proper time. The apostles of Jesus' day had some "important" misunderstandings or mistakes, the Witnesses argue, and yet were approved by God and Christ (Acts of Apostles 1:6, 7). The Witnesses believe that these changes are evidence of divine blessing on their efforts to understand the Bible (Pro. 4:18).

In general, Witnesses take a positive view of such adjustments. A new explanation of some verse or topic in The Watchtower magazine is likely to generate enthusiasm and interest, as well as considerable discussion. It is expected that further study of the Bible will result in an improved understanding, which of course necessitates alteration in viewpoints.

Some 'doctrinal changes' are simply differences in the interpretation of a particular verse, with few practical implications. For instance, in 1962, The Watchtower identified the 'superior authorities' of Romans 13:1 as the worldly governments, rather than God and Christ as had previously been stated. However, this had little practical effect, as the Witnesses both before and after this change always considered it necessary to obey the laws of the land, unless these conflict with God's laws. Similarly, in 1988, The Watchtower reevaluated the Bible texts referring to Sodom and Gomorrah, and concluded that the inhabitants of those cities would not be resurrected. This position differed from what had previously been published. Most Witnesses would not however feel that adjustments of this type make a substantial difference to their lives or to their relationship with God.

Other 'doctrinal changes' are really clarifications, in response to developments in the world in general. For instance, as early as 1927, The Watchtower discussed the sacredness of blood. It did not discuss blood transfusions specifically, as the practice was still in its infancy. As transfusions became commonplace during World War II, the organization confirmed that its stance on the sacred nature of blood applied to transfusions too.

Further Research

Past editions of The Watchtower and Awake are available to Witnesses in book form (bound volumes). These remain unchanged and are therefore a historical resource on the precise details of what the Witnesses taught at the time of their publication. Additionally, a host of books have been published by the Watch Tower Society over the decades. Most Kingdom Halls have a library of these publications. Much of the material has been published as a CD ROM distributed to the organization's members and known as the Watchtower Library.

Importance of Doctrine

Most Jehovah's Witnesses are well-grounded in the doctrines of their religion and are able to explain what they believe and what they consider to be the basis for these beliefs in the Bible. Before baptism, they go through a period of weekly study of doctrinal matters, and doctrines are discussed at their congregation meetings more frequently than is the case in most church services.


  

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