Reaching Out to a Jehovah's Witness
If you 've ever been in a conversation with a Jehovah's Witness (JW) about theology or the Bible or Jesus, you know it's an uphill battle. Most of the time, it feels like both sides are just talking past each other. Maybe you have a neighbor or a relative who is a JW. What steps can you take to minister to them with the truth of Jesus Christ? A good place to start would be to understand their view on the history of Christianity.
The Starting Point
The Jehovah's Witness understanding of the church and the Scriptures is what sets the trajectory for their beliefs. According to JW teaching, by the time of the 4th century A.D., the Christian church fell away from the true teachings of the Bible. It was not until the 1870s when Charles Taze Russel led a group of men back to the "truth." As a result of his teachings, the Watchtower Society was born, and it became God's ordained "channel" for accurate interpretation of the Bible. This dependency on the Watchtower Society is so strong that any "independent thinking" is perceived to be dangerous and arrogant. That is why a JW may seem fearful or detached when you try to talk to them about the Bible. They have been conditioned not to listen to others, and they've been told that it is forbidden to read any literature that challenges the Watchtower.
How can we respond to these ideas? Well, it is true that the Scriptures say many will fall away from the faith (1 Tim 4:1). But we're also told that nothing will prevail against the church (Matt 16:18). In every generation, God has and will continue to be glorified in the church (Eph 3:21). We can be confident that the truth of Scripture has never been completely lost in the world.
It's also important to understand that the Jesus Christ is Himself the truth and the only true mediator between God and man (John 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5). Christ has given us His truth in the Scriptures, and we are all called to test the teaching we hear (Acts 17:10-11; 1 Thes 5:19-22).
The Name of JEHOVAH
Why do Jehovah's Witnesses insist on referring to God as "Jehovah"? A little historical background might help. In the Hebrew Old Testament, God's personal name was written as YHWH, and many biblical scholars were not sure how it was supposed to be pronounced. When the Jews would read God's name, they would say "Adonai" instead (meaning "Lord"). So scholars decided to take the vowels from Adonai and place them into YHWH. The result was YaHoWaH. Eventually, this came to be pronounced “Jehovah” (due to the way Latin and English translated Hebrew) May scholars today prefer to use “Yahweh,” but the name "Jehovah” is still widely recognized.
JWs believe that since “Jehovah” is God’s personal name, we are to honor it by including it in the Bible. The New World Translation (NWT) always uses “Jehovah” as God's name, and JWs reject any Bible that translates God’s name as "LORD" (which probably includes the Bible you use).
In the Greek New Testament manuscripts we have today, the name of God was written as kurios (Lord). This designation helped break down any artificial distinction between Jesus the Lord and Jehovah God.
JWs believe that the original New Testament contained “YHWH,” but it fell out of usage before the copies we have were written. So the NWT translates kurios as “Jehovah” when referencing God, and as "Lord" when referencing Christ. This translation helps maintain an unhelpful separation between Jesus and the Father (compare Matt 22:44 in your Bible with the NWT).
The use of the word “Jehovah,” is not a major problem. JWs, however, misunderstand what it means to honor God’s name. They claim that any follower of the true God must use “Jehovah” in their singing, praying, or teaching. The problem is that Jesus didn’t even give that example. In His example of prayer, Jesus referred to God as “Father” (even the NWT shows this, see Mt 6:9-13).
Keeping God’s name holy means honoring what God’s name stands for—not simply pronouncing it correctly. Since believers are adopted into God’s family, we have the right to call Him “Father.” If you pray with a JW, it may be wise to use the name “Jehovah” at least once. Be sure, however, to emphasize the Fatherly aspects of your relationship with God. Many JWs believe God cares more about their organization than He does for them personally.
Is Jesus Christ God?
JWs believe that Jesus was God’s first creation and the only being created directly by Him. According to them, Jesus and God enjoyed a close relationship for many years, and during this time Jesus learned the Father’s thinking and will. Jesus then helped God in the creation of everything else.
JWs also believe that the archangel Michael is simply another name for Jesus. They support this idea by noting that both are connected to the word “archangel” (Jude 9; 1 Th 4:16) and both have command over angels (Rev 12:7; 19:14–16).
JWs state very clearly that Jesus is not God. They say He never considered Himself equal to God, and they take His submission to God as evidence that He is a subordinate being.
How should we respond to these arguments? Here are some helpful points.
Jesus is eternal. Hebrews 13:8 says that He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” indicating the Jesus was never created nor had to learn anything (see also Rev 1:8). Before creation, Jesus had the same glory as the Father (Jn 17:5). When He came to earth, Jesus did not stop being God (Col 2:9).
Jesus is the firstborn of creation. Being the “firstborn” of creation (Col 1:15) does not mean that Jesus was created first. It means that, like a firstborn son, Jesus has the rights and privileges of full authority over creation.
Jesus is greater than any angel. The Bible never clearly identifies Jesus as Michael. Hebrews 1 and 2 indicate that Jesus is greater than any angel. Also, Jude 9 shows that Michael did not have authority to rebuke Satan. Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated His authority over Satan (see Matt 16:23 and 1 Jn 3:8).
Jesus takes the names of God. There are various titles Jesus used that point to His deity. First, Jesus is called God(John 1:1; 20:29; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:8; 1 Jn 5:20). He is also referred to as the Lord—a title which first-century Jews used for Jehovah. Another title used for Jesus is the Holy One, which the Old Testament uses for Jehovah (Isa 48:17) while the New Testament uses for Jesus (Luke 4:34; John 6:69; Acts 13:35). Jesus also identifies himself as the Shepherd of His people (Psa 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:10-11; Ezek 34: John 10:11, 14). Furthermore, both Jehovah and Jesus are known as our Savior and Redeemer (Isa 43:3, 11-12; 45:21-22; 49:26; 60:16; Luke 2:11; 24:21; Acts 4:12; 5:31; Rom 3:24; Gal 3:13; Eph 1:7) and as the first and the last (Isa 44:6; 48:12; Rev 1:17-18; 22:12-13). Lastly, it should be known that the title Son of God means that Jesus is equal to God since "son" implies an equal nature (Mark 1:1; 19:7). If there were any misunderstanding about who Jesus was, He could have corrected them easily, everyone understood who He claimed to be (John 5:18; 10:30).
Jesus performs the same works as God. The Old Testament credits Jehovah alone with creating the world (Isa 42:5; 44:24), but the New Testament gives Jesus credit for creation (John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2-3, 10). The OT says Jehovah forgives sin (Ps 130:3-4; Isa 43:25; Micah 7:18), but the NT says Jesus does this (Mark 2:5, 10; Luke 5:21). The OT praises Jehovah for answering prayer (Psa 6:9; 65:1-2; Prov 15:29), and in the NT we learn that Jesus answers prayer (John 14:14; Acts 7:59). The OT teaches that Jehovah will judge the world (Psa 9:7-8; 50:1-4), but the NT says Jesus is the judge of the world (John 5:22, 27; Rev 20:11-15). Lastly, the OT claims Jehovah commands the angels (Psa 103:20), and the NT says Jesus has authority over the angels as well (Matt 13:41; 1 Pt 3:22).
Jesus made claims that only Jehovah could make. Jesus claimed to have authority over God's law (Matt 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39), to be greater than the temple (Psa 11:4; Matt 12:6), to be Lord of the Sabbath (Ex 20:10-11; Matt 12:8), to be united with the Father (John 14:1, 7, 9; 17:3), to be the one we must believe (Matt 11:28; John 3:36), to be the source of spiritual water (Isa 12:2-4; John 7:37-38), to make the Father known (John 1:18, 8:19; 12:45; 14:7-9), to give true rest (Matt 11:27-29), to secure his people (John 10:28-30), to give His people strength (Psa 29:11; John 15:5), and to give life (Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6; John 5:21, 26).
For anyone who wants to take the teaching of the Bible seriously, these kinds of arguments are difficult to contradict. Jesus is in fact God. He is the one whom we must prepare our hearts for (Isa 40:3; Matt 3:3).
Objections to the Truth
In response to these kinds of arguments, JW's may make two objections. First, they might claim that Jesus submitted to the Father, thus proving that the Son was inferior to the Father. It is true that Jesus humbled himself by taking on humanity and dying on a cross (Php 2:5-11), but His submission is similar to the submission of a wife to her husband (1 Cor 11:3). The Father and Son (like a husband and a wife) can be equal in who they are, but not be the same in what they do. When Jesus came to earth, He never stopped being God. He veiled His deity by adding humanity. Jesus’ perfect humanity continued through His death and resurrection and into eternity (Lk 24:39; Jn 2:19-22).
A second objection JW might make is that we are saying there are two gods. But the Bible makes it explicitly clear that there is only one God (Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:4-6). All other “gods” are false (e.g. Satan is the “god of this world”, 2 Cor 4:4). Therefore, although Jesus and the Father are two distinct persons, they are both God. That a singular God is more than one person is even seen in the plural words used of God in the Old Testament. (e.g. “Let us make man…” in Gen 1:26. See also Gen 3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8). There is even one occasion in which the Bible shows two Jehovahs (Gen 19:24)! Because we are finite human beings, God’s nature may seem mysterious to us, but we must trust and submit to God’s Word rather than to what is easy for us to understand. Jesus and the Father are two distinct persons, but they are both the One, true God.
Salvation and Assurance
The topics of salvation and assurance is another major difference between Christians and JWs. JWs believe that four requirements are necessary for salvation.
- Understand the truth about Jehovah God and Jesus Christ
- Obey God’s laws set in the Bible
- Belong to and serve God’s one true channel
- Be loyal to God’s organization
Because JWs believe that salvation is earned through a combination of faith and good works, they cannot have assurance of eternal life. They believe they must work toward perfection in this life and the next, and then pass a final test of Satan. If they fail at any point, they will be destroyed for eternity. This is why many of them often say things like "I hope I get to heaven." They cannot have certainty.
The Bible declares that everybody is a sinner who falls short of God’s requirement to glorify Him (Rom 3:10, 23). Sinners are saved when, by God’s grace, through repentance and faith, their sins are exchanged for Jesus’ perfection (Php 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:8-9). Good works are the result of true faith and repentance, but not the basis (cause) of a saving relationship with God (Mk 4:20; Eph 2:10). Salvation is a free gift from God (Rom 6:23). Jesus paid the entire price of our redemption (Rom 3:24; 8:3-4; Gal 3:13; Tts 2:14; 1 Pt 3:18).
The Bible also teaches that whoever “has the Son” has full assurance of eternal life. God wants us to have this assurance (1 Jn 5:10–13). The Holy Spirit within us testifies this truth to us and was given as a pledge of our final inheritance (Rom 8:16; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:14; 1 Pt 1:3-5).
Conversations with Jehovah's Witnesses
As you speak with JWs, make sure you pray and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than on argumentation alone. Speak with them in a humble, loving way, but ask that they support their beliefs with the Bible (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Many times, JWs’ responses are very rehearsed. Therefore, one of the best ways to talk with them is to ask questions that force them to think in new ways about what they are saying. Possible questions include…
- If I’m a good person, won’t I go to heaven? This helps them understand original sin.
- Why is sin such a bad thing if it doesn’t hurt anybody? This helps them admit that sin is evil because it’s personal rebellion against God.
- Are you a sinner too? This helps them recognize their own personal sinfulness, though they may be unwilling to admit.
- Do you still sin today? Why? This helps them admit they rebel against God.
- How much of the ransom did Jesus pay? This helps them think about what Jesus accomplished.
- Is Jesus’ payment for your sin like the down payment for a house? Is there still more to pay, or did He pay for everything? A question like this may be difficult for them to answer at first. They may answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but it can start to get them to think through the issue for themselves.
- How obedient do you have to be to get into heaven? Can you be destroyed because you were missing one act of goodness? This can help them see the subjectivity of their false view as opposed to the objective transfer of Christ’s righteousness.
Most of all, be patient with them, and continue to pray for them. It may take a long time for them to be free from the grip of the Watchtower and Satan (2 Cor 4:3-4).
I hope an article like this is helpful for strengthening your own beliefs and for being prepared to reach out to a Jehovah's Witness. Feel free to share a comment with some other practical strategies for talking with a JW, or share a story of how God worked in his/her life.
Blessings in Christ.