Posted on / by Ben Jones

When Witnesses Come Knocking

A Crash Course in Talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses

This guide has been created based on numerous hours spent personally talking to sets of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the course of several years.

History: Jehovah’s Witnesses came into existence through the teachings of Charles Russell in the 1870s; currently there are approximately 8.2 million adherents. Their preferred Bible is the New World Translation (1953). This translation was rendered by five anonymous authors/translators (supposedly anonymous because they did not want credit for their work). It is not difficult to track down their names: Frederick Franz, Nathan Knorr, Albert Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschel.

It seems clear upon cursory study that the real reason for anonymity is because none of the authors have any professional training or schooling whatsoever in the field of translation or Biblical criticism. They are completely and utterly unqualified to create a translation of the Bible, which is why the NWT (New World Translation) is not a selectable translation or version for most online Bibles and Bible apps.

Be prepared that when you bring this up and ask a Jehovah’s Witness why one should hold these authors’ translation as superior to all others despite the lack of credentials, they usually quote Acts 4:13. Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. For a JW: If God works in you, you don’t need to be educated.

A JW will never admit this, but the Watchtower Society is the ultimate authority on all things that they believe, but of course, this is not something you would say to a JW. They will hold to Scripture as the ultimate authority, which is very helpful, because in all discussions, you can always come back to Scripture. It ties their hands in being able to refer to the Society’s beliefs if seemingly in opposition to Scripture.

Basic Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Beliefs:

  • Jehovah is God alone; Jesus Christ is not God, but instead the first created ‘spirit-being’ (Jesus is the Archangel Michael).
  • Annihilationism: Those not receiving salvation are destined for total destruction when they die (they cease to exist upon physical death), as opposed to everlasting torment (i.e. Hell is simply ‘the grave;’ there is no actual place called Hell). Those receiving salvation also cease to exist until they are resurrected on the New Earth at the End of Time, with the exception of 144,000 people selected from throughout history who will go (or went) to heaven immediately upon death.
    • God will arbitrarily choose some of the unrighteous to raise again on the New Earth for a second chance, while the rest will remain in non-existence.
  • Jesus ceased to exist during the three days his body was in the tomb, and only rose in spirit form (as opposed to being raised in his physical body).
  • Jesus died on a stake as opposed to a cross (the cross should not be used in worship).
  • Jesus returned in 1914, and Christ has ruled invisibly on earth as King since then. (1874 and 1975 were other purported years of Christ’s return and the end of the world respectively, but unlike 1914, these other dates are no longer part of their belief system.)
  • One can lose salvation.
  • There should be no participation in war.
  • There should be no blood transfusions for an adherent, even in a life or death situation.
  • There should be no celebration of any holiday, including birthdays. (This is based on a belief that all holidays are pagan in origin, or are self-serving.)

The most effective method in talking with a Jehovah’s Witness is to Ask Good Questions.

(ref. Tactics by Greg Koukl) Don’t debate them outright. Know what they believe and ask them to explain certain Bible verses in light of what they believe. Many won’t be able to, yet there’s no confrontation, or even any pressure on you at all. You are simply questioning their beliefs, not making a case for yours. Their beliefs are largely indefensible, which means you have the advantage before you even start talking to them, but only if you know what they believe and know the right questions to ask.

Three Primary JW Beliefs to Examine:

Belief #1: Jesus is not God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the first created ‘spirit-being’ or angel. They will be armed with verses and reasons why Jesus is not God. Granted, the Trinity is a very tough point of faith to understand. However, even if they feel they can show evidence against the Trinity, this does not excuse them from providing evidence for their belief that he is an angel, or Michael the archangel specifically. In all my years speaking to JWs, none have attempted to make a ‘positive’ case for Jesus being an angel, especially the archangel, Michael. It is only the default of Him not being God. They will concentrate on arguing against the Trinity and creating separation between Jehovah and Jesus.

So how do we respond to the claim that Jesus is not God? In reality, the Scriptural evidence strongly supports the incarnation and the Trinity, despite the typical verses that JWs will present to the contrary. Here we will make the ‘positive’ case. Ideally the evidence is presented by asking the right questions, in an effort to make the JW question their own beliefs as they try to explain away certain Scripture (though this is more easily done with some of their other beliefs; that ‘Jesus is not God’ is a foundational belief for the JW).

One of the strongest points is in regards to the worship of Jesus. JWs believe vehemently that only Jehovah God is to be worshiped and yet numerous times in Hebrews 1:6-8, Rev. 7:11, 4:10, and 11:16, all creation including angels are supposed to worship Jesus, and that we are not supposed to worship angels. So then how can Jesus be an angel? The below specific example is where the unreliability and inaccuracy of the New World Translation shows itself more clearly than in any other. In every other Bible translation, Hebrews 1:1-6 uses “worship” as a translation of the Greek word ‘proskuneo’ (compare to Rev. 4:10, 7:11, 11:16). This is a major problem for JWs because it clearly states that Jesus is to be worshipped. Thus 40 years ago, the authors of the NWT changed the translation of ‘proskuneo’ to “pay obeisance to” when it refers to Jesus. At the same time, they leave the translation as ‘worship’ when they believe it refers to Jehovah. From an objective biblical translation standpoint, JWs have absolutely no defense for why this was changed. It is the most overt of all attempts to have Scripture reflect what they already believed, which was that Jesus should not be worshipped. Philippians 2:10-11 also commands us to worship Jesus as we worship Jehovah, referencing directly back to Isaiah 45:23.

There are many other references indicating Jesus is God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity. Be prepared that their response to many of these will be John 1:18, which indicates that no one has seen God at any time. However, the second half of the verse says, “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

  • Titus 2:13 says “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”.
  • Isaiah 9:6 foretells what Jesus will be and calls Him, “Mighty God, Eternal Father”.
  • Isaiah 7:14 says Jesus’ name will be “Immanuel” which means “God with Us”.
  • In Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, Jehovah says “I am the first and I am also the Last and there is no God besides Me.” Then in Revelation 1:17 and 22:13 (among others), Jesus says He is “the first and the last”, “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last”.
  • Romans 10:13, “for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” references Christ as a fulfillment of Joel 2:32 where Lord is Jehovah.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:16 speaks of the mind of Christ being the same as the mind of the Lord referencing Jehovah from Isaiah 40:13.
  • The Old Testament says that only Jehovah heals and forgives (Is 43:25 for one), yet Jesus ‘heals and forgives’ (Mark 2:10) [JW response: part of the authority God gave Jesus was the ability to forgive sins].
  • The OT says Jehovah is the Lord of the Sabbath (Exodus 20 and other passages) yet Jesus is called Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) [JW response: Jesus is a fulfillment of the Law].
  • Only Jehovah can walk on water (Job 9:8) and has command over sea and weather (about 25 additional OT verses), yet Jesus walks on water, and commands the sea. [JW Response: God gave Jesus authority over the weather]
  • Jehovah was the one who called Himself “I AM” when He showed Himself to Moses in the burning bush; when Jesus is asked who He is, he responds that He is “I AM”, and says He will come with the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:62)(compare to Dan.7:13)
  • Jesus is called Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and as Romans 10:9 states, salvation is through believing ‘Jesus is Lord.’
  • The Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ is used in Genesis 1:26 for God, indicating plurality and the Trinity. God uses the plural pronoun to describe Himself throughout the OT (Gen. 3:22, 11:7, Is. 6:8)
  • Colossians 2:9, For in Christ all the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form
  • John 5:18 and 10:30-33 clearly states that the very reason the Pharisees wanted to kill Christ was because of His claim to be God Himself.
  • In John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and My God
  • Isaiah 48:16-17a, From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit. Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

For the earliest church fathers, Genesis 19:24 was an important verse to indicate the sameness of God and Jesus. It says “Then the Lord (Yahweh/Jehovah) rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord (Yahweh/Jehovah) out of heaven.” This plurality was one of the first indicators that there were two persons in one Being (God). The belief that Jesus was God solidified quickly, with Ignatius of Antioch stating it clearly in 110 AD, along with Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, among many others. It was established even more clearly at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. On the other hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t come into existence with their belief until 150 years ago when Charles Taze Russell started the ‘organization’. (JWs will claim that earlier beliefs that ‘Jesus was not God’ existed long before Charles Russell came along, but they have a hard time giving specifics here.)

At some point in a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness, it may become necessary to try to explain the Trinity as you understand it. Though it is tough to comprehend at times (see Isaiah 55:8-9), this does not mean it is inherently false. The Trinity is Three persons in One, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is a degree of subordination involved, in relation, not in nature. The Father works through the Son by the Spirit. The Son was sent by the Father; the Holy Spirit was sent by the Son. (This is similar to marriage where the husband is the head of the wife, yet they are entirely equal in value and importance. Scripture itself makes this correlation.)

Belief #2: Jesus rose only in spirit form.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus ceased to exist during the 3 days his body was in the tomb and that he was raised only in a spirit form, not in a physical form. Of all their beliefs, this seems to be the easiest to refute, as Scripture could not be more clear on this issue.

Though there are major theological problems with the belief that Jesus ceased to exist for three days (such as Jesus telling the thief on the cross that ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’), the belief that Jesus rose only in spirit form is the easier point to refute.

Luke 24:36-43

Here, Jesus specifically says that he is NOT a spirit, and even goes beyond that to prove to them He is not a spirit by eating, drinking, and having them touch His nail-scarred hands.

Since this is so clear, usually JWs will admit that He must have manifested a physical form of some type just for this purpose. They will even admit that this manifested body must have looked similar to His body before death. However, they will usually point to the lack of recognition of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) as evidence that His form was not consistent, and thus he must have manifested a body or spirit form that did not look like Jesus in that circumstance. But no, verse 16 says that “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” In other words, they would have recognized Him had they not been supernaturally prevented from doing so. Furthermore, in verse 30, “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him”, thus the veil was lifted from their eyes; Jesus did not suddenly transform into a body that was recognizable to them.

If Jesus rose only in spirit form, where did the body go? What is the significance of the empty tomb?

All roads lead to the obvious logic that Jesus was raised in the same body in which He was crucified, and sometimes JWs will even admit this.

JWs will ask: “How could He walk through walls, disappear and reappear if He wasn’t in a spirit form?” The answer is that He was resurrected in a glorified version of His body, similar to what we will have in the New Heavens and New Earth, which will be a perfect merging of the spiritual and physical.

Be prepared that JWs may also ask “So what happened to his physical body when he ascended to heaven?” This question has a variety of theological explanations, but overall, Luke 24:36-43 is incredibly effective at refuting this JW belief of Jesus being raised only as a spirit.

Belief #3: There is no Hell.

Jehovah’s Witnesses hate the concept of hell. They believe a loving God would never torture people in hellfire for eternity as punishment for a finite number of sins. Instead, as stated above, they believe in Annihilationism, that people cease to exist when they die. Some will be resurrected at the End of Time.

First, conceptually, how do we define ‘hell’? We don’t know the exact nature of the suffering there, but we do know it is eternal separation from our Creator God. It is eternal regret and loneliness. We may think that eternal suffering for our sin is punishment overkill, but we underestimate our sin in the face of a perfectly holy and righteous God. A God whose offering of forgiveness and salvation people reject of their own free will. Whether on earth or in heaven, our sin automatically separates us from this perfectly holy God. But God so loved us that He came to earth as the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins, should we choose to accept Him. If someone spits in the face of Christ who offers the free gift of salvation, that person sends himself to hell, not God. He was already condemned.

Ask a Jehovah’s Witness if they think justice is done if no evil person will ever be accountable for their sin. For the serial killer or rapist who is never caught, or the dictator who commits genocide while living lavishly their entire life, is there ever any punishment or justice? Under annihilationism, there is no punishment for any sinful person; they simply cease to exist. Is that justice? If anything, there would be more evil in the world if people didn’t have a sense that there might be an afterlife and that they might be accountable for their wrongs. If they knew that upon death they would cease to exist and will know and feel nothing, most people would want to act in accordance with their sinful nature, taking advantage of the opportunity to ‘live it up’ and experience their every carnal desire before passing into nothingness. JWs claim that ceasing to exist is their punishment, but this cannot be defended as the non-existent know and experience nothing. If pushed into a corner, the Jehovah’s Witness will take a very interesting stance. They say God considers annihilationism to be a punishment, regardless of whether or not the sinful person feels like non-existence is punishment, or actually experiences any punishment.

Outside of the simple moral logic behind the above thought experiment, there are numerous Scripture verses that talk about eternal hell as an actual place. We must remind the JW that whether or not we ‘like’ the idea of hell is irrelevant to whether hell is real or not. We must go to Scripture for Truth regardless of what we want to believe.

Though found throughout Scripture, the description of everlasting torment in hell is made starkly clear in Revelation. Rev. 14:9-11, “if anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Rev. 20:10, 13-15 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

In Matthew 11:22-24, Matt. 23:14, Mark 12:40, and Luke 20:47, Jesus describes levels of condemnation in hell, some receiving greater condemnation than others, which of course would not be possible under annihilationism where everyone simply ceases to exist upon death.

Matthew 5:22; 18:8-9, and 25:41 describe “eternal fire” and “fiery hell.

Matthew 25:46 says that “these will go away into eternal punishment.

Matthew 8:11-12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30, and Luke 13:27-28 all describe being thrown into “outer darkness” and “the furnace of fire” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.

2nd Thess. 1:7-9, “these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” {JWs will say ‘eternal destruction’ is simply ceasing to exist forever’}

Mark 9:43-48 repeatedly makes clear the eternal, never-ending nature of hell, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

Hebrew 9:27 tells us that “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

2nd Corinthians 5:8 states that “to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

These verses fly in the face of even the temporary non-existence of those who physically die having been saved.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 also doesn’t make sense in light of annihilationism.

In addition to their belief in annihilationism, most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t understand and cannot explain their own belief about how God chooses certain people who rejected Christ in their first life to be resurrected on the New Earth at the end of the time to be given a second chance to choose Christ (after Christ is already ruling??). Their belief system really starts to fall apart when getting into the specifics of their beliefs regarding the End Times.

In conclusion, the best way to engage a Jehovah’s Witness is to know what they believe and then ask them how to understand certain Scripture in light of what they believe. It is entirely non-confrontational, with no pressure on you to present or argue your case. Many times you can lead them to question their own beliefs, especially if they cannot explain how some Scripture comports with different aspects of their belief system. Our ultimate goal is not to win a debate, but to have them consider the Truth. If anything, we should be inspired by the dedication of their adherents to go from door to door in an attempt to share their beliefs. The opportunity to share Truth in an intelligent, winsome, loving, persuasive way is standing on your own doorstep. Let’s take it!