|Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Biblical Doctrine of Salvation/Part 1|
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©March 2000|
|In this article we begin a somewhat in-depth look at the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and compare it with what the Bible teaches. We hope this material will be useful to those who are having Jehovah’s Witnesses visit with them or those involved with their Bible studies.|
In this article we will begin a somewhat in-depth look at the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and compare it with what the Bible teaches. We hope this material will be useful to those who are having Jehovah’s Witnesses visit with them or those involved with their Bible studies. After all, what is more
important in life than having a correct understanding of salvation? As Jesus Himself taught in His longest recorded prayer: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (Jn. 17:3) Eternal life comes through a personal relationship with the one true God and His only Son, Jesus Christ.
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim they can offer people the true way of salvation. The issue under consideration is whether such claims are valid and how one can know. Christians have always believed that a proper understanding of God and His will for mankind can be determined by anyone through an objective interpretation of God’s Word, the Bible. The Jehovah’s Witnesses however, believe that they alone constitute God’s channel for disseminating divine truth to mankind. This truth is determined by the governing body, The Watchtower Society, through its own interpretation of the Bible, and dispersed to the rest of the world by loyal believers in door to door witnessing, Bible studies, literature distribution, etc. Every year the faithful visit literally millions of homes in their search for converts. Tens of millions of pieces of literature are also distributed. Unfortunately, what Jehovah’s Witnesses do not know is that the doctrines they have been taught by the Watchtower Society are not biblical teachings. These doctrines have been accepted uncritically by members without thorough investigation to see if they are true (cf. Acts 17:11).
In summary form, what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe concerning salvation is that only a special “elect” class of people, comprising 144,000 individuals, will actually go to heaven to be with Jehovah God and their elder brother, Jesus. (Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and view Jesus as only a special man, not God incarnate, and see the Holy Spirit as Jehovah’s impersonal spiritual force.) The rest of redeemed humanity will inherit a paradise on earth as a result of their good works during the Millennium.
In principle, salvation in the Jehovah’s Witness religion is based upon the death of Christ that atoned for Adam’s sin. But somehow Christ’s death potentially atones for most individuals’ sins, although whether or not this actually occurs is determined on the basis of personal merit. (We say “somehow atones” because even though Witnesses believe Jesus was only a man, they have never explained how the death of one man can atone for the sins of billions of people; we will return to this later.)
There are three disparate classes of individuals who are resurrected and potential heirs of salvation. These constitute 1) the 144,000 elect of God, 2) the Jehovah’s Witnesses “earthly class,” all other Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 3) the rest of mankind. We will discuss these in more detail in a moment. What is important to note is that there are three different salvation teachings for each of these groups of people. (A fourth class of individuals, the unsaved, obviously, receive no form of salvation at all. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the doctrine of eternal punishment, they teach these individuals are, or will be, forever annihilated.)
Salvation for the individual Jehovah’s Witness begins with his entrance into the Watchtower organization, and subsequent obedience to that organization. In other words, only those who are Jehovah’s Witnesses in good standing with the Watchtower Society can be saved. In speaking of the requirements of salvation we are told, “A third requirement is that we be associated with God’s channel, his organization.... To receive everlasting life in the earthly paradise, we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.”
The first two classes of people above (the 144,000 and all other Jehovah’s Witnesses), are, by definition, members of the Watchtower Society. The third class, the remainder of humanity (at least most of them), have the opportunity to earn salvation after death in their resurrection to paradise earth.
We will now discuss these three groups in a bit more detail before proceeding with our general analysis of the Watchtower doctrine of salvation.
The Minority 144,000
These are called “anointed,” and are allegedly chosen sovereignly by God. They are said to be saved on the basis of faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. However, in actual fact, they must earn and maintain their own salvation and it is on this basis that they are “elected.” God provides these individuals with at least five benefits He does not give to the two other classes of people:
- They are now presently “justified” by God as long as they maintain their justified status.
- They are now consecrated and anointed as priests.
- They are specially sanctified for Jehovah’s purposes.
- If they remain faithful, at death they will be regenerated or born again just like Jesus.
- They will then rule in heaven with God and Jesus.
At the resurrection, the 144,000 will be changed into spirit creatures just as they believe Jesus was at His resurrection. Again, this constitutes being “born again.” Thus, just like the Watchtower Jesus, they will live in heaven as spirits, but not on earth as physical men. They are thus said to be given immortality as spirits in heaven, in contrast to a physical eternal life on earth.
The Majority Earthly Class
This includes the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses—well over 99.99%. They are called the “other sheep” or the “great crowd.” These must earn salvation while on earth, but must do so without the five benefits provided above for the 144,000. From a Christian perspective, the difficulty here is obvious. Jehovah’s Witnesses reserve the new birth only for the 144,000 and this only at death. Thus, the average Jehovah’s Witness has no desire or need for spiritual rebirth or being “born-again” in this life. Why? Because he thinks the “new birth” has relevance only for the 144,000. Thus, the average Witness sincerely believes he or she cannot be born-again. Biblically, of course, the new birth is equivalent to salvation. To be without the new birth is to be without salvation, as Jesus made clear in John 3:3-5. In effect, to its discredit, the Watchtower Society has made biblical salvation impossible for the average member, who believes he or she must earn their salvation without being “born-again.” They are then taught that if they are successful in earning their salvation they will be given positions of leadership in the millennial age. However, they are also warned that if they do not pass additional millennial tests, they will forfeit their eternal life and be annihilated.
Biblically, of course, how can anyone do anything for God apart from salvation and [[sanctification]]? They cannot. All men and women prior to [[salvation]] “are dead [to God spiritually] in their transgressions and sins” and so “do not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God”; are “hostile to God”; “alienated from God”; “enemies of God”; “cannot please God”; and are “objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 1:21; 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 5:10; 8:7-8; Please read Eph. 2:1-10). This is often especially true for those in religions that are hostile to God’s revelation in the Bible. And unfortunately, this includes most religions. In one manner or another, the Bible constantly warns against false religion (2 Tim. 3:5; Matt. 7:15; Col. 2:8-23). Those who follow any given religion apart from the one true religion revealed by the one true God, despite their sincerity, obviously cannot please God if they deny Him and oppose His way of salvation. Clearly, if there is only one true God, a logical conclusion is that there is only one true religion. Therefore, those who do not know the one true God, and those outside the one true religion, however devout they may be, and whatever their God, cannot be worshipping and serving the one true God.
Therefore, unfortunately, all Witnesses who sincerely believe they are living for God and pleasing Him actually do not even have salvation because they have no desire to be born again, as Jesus mandated. Thus, all their efforts are, as far as God is concerned, profitless for salvation. In effect, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that unsaved men and women can be saved and please God entirely in their own power apart from regeneration. Nothing could be more untrue (see Eph. 2:1-10). Thus, when the Witnesses speak of the effects of Adam’s sin on the human race, it hardly matters:These other sheep however, cannot be born again. Yet they are said to be able to exercise true faith, to be faithful to Jehovah, to belong to “obedient mankind,” and to dedicate themselves to do God’s will. The Witnesses, therefore, teach that a person can believe and be faithful to Jehovah without having been born again!
I conclude that, though Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to teach an inherited disability on account of Adam’s sin, their theology belies this assertion. For a “disability” which enables unregenerate man to have true faith, to dedicate his life to God, and to remain faithful to Jehovah is no disability at all!
The Rest of Mankind
These are resurrected to life on earth in the exact moral condition in which they died (good or evil), and must then seek to attain their own perfection during the millennium. If they attain perfection and also pass the final millennial test by avoiding the judgment of God in Revelation 20:7-9, they will obtain eternal life on earth (which again, being earthly, is distinguished from the immortality of the spiritually recreated 144,000).
- ↑ The Watchtower, February 15, 1983, p. 12. Note: All Jehovah’s Witnesses texts are published bythe Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, NY 11021).
- ↑ Or sometimes Princes. The title is also applied to a certain number of the non-144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses called the “other sheep”; the prince classification is applied only to those who are serving in the capacity of positions of authority. In the resurrection the princes become kings. The term prince refers only to their function now, not after the resurrection.
- ↑ Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), p. 269.