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Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses

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The following reflects the current beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses. As such, it reflects the point of view of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses

The beliefs and doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses are based on intense Biblical studies. In line with this purpose, the "Watchtower" magazine intends to point out how world events fulfill Bible prophecy.[1] According to "The Watchtower" August 15, 1950, page 263 “The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic.” [2] [3] They believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God.


Witnesses believe that there is a difference between 'Christianity' and 'Christendom'. [4] They define Christendom as the part of the world where Christianity prevails, largely, the Western world. They claim that, as a whole, these nations fail to live by the Bible, [5]thus misrepresenting Christ and his teachings.[6] They often cite secular sources in justifying this view. [7] Based on this reasoning, Jehovah's Witnesses claim they alone practice true Christianity.[8][9]


Witnesses believe that after the death of the apostles, the Church gradually diverged, in a "Great Apostasy", from the original teachings of Jesus on several major points. Influenced by Restorationism in the 19th century[10], Charles Taze Russell and his associates formed a Bible study group in the 1870s in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in what they believed to be a return to original Christianity. They believe that 'true religion' had until then been imperfectly represented since the "Great Apostasy" by a number of historical Christian groups.[11] Although the Witnesses' teachings have changed significantly over the years[12], Jehovah's Witnesses have consistently claimed to be the only true religion.[13]


The entire Protestant canon of scripture is seen as the inspired, inerrant word of God. They use the Bible as the basis for all their beliefs[14]. The Witnesses avoid the fundamentalist tendency to interpret the Bible in a strictly literal way.[15] They say that Bible writers and characters often employed symbology, parable, figures of speech, and poeticism.[16] For example, though evolution is rejected[17] and the Genesis creation account is taken literally, they understand the Bible as often using the word 'day' to depict periods of time other than 24 hours.[18] Thus they do not believe the creation days would be limited to 24 hour periods. [19] They teach that each of the creative days were probably thousands of years long.[20] They also teach that earth likely existed billions of years before the first "creative day" began. [21]

The Witnesses use the terms 'Hebrew' and 'Greek' scriptures rather than 'old' and 'new' testaments. The intention is to avoid the common notion that the 'Old Testament' is somehow outdated or inferior.[22] The Hebrew Scriptures ( Old Testament) tell the history of the people of Israel as the beneficiaries of God's covenant and recipients of His Law. They are divided into 3 main sections; The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings. They contain prophesy that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ[23] The Greek Scriptures (New Testament) is a historical account of Jesus and the early Christians. These are primarily directed to those who hope for a resurrection in heaven, or the 144,000,[24] and, by extension, those associated with them.[25]

The Witnesses feel that God's name, as represented by the Tetragrammaton, should not be rendered 'God' or 'Lord'. They render it "Jehovah" in the tradition of earlier versions of the KJV, and others, although they accept the usage 'Yahweh'. They point out that the terms 'lord' and 'god' are not true translations of the tetragrammaton, but of the words Elohim and Adonai.[26].

See also: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

Basis for beliefs

Their policy is somewhat like the doctrine of sola scriptura, although they haven't adopted that term. They do say that only the Bible should be used for deciding issues of doctrine. The interpretation and application of scripture is the responsibility of the Governing Body.[27] These ones represent the Faithful and Discreet Slave, a term derived from a parable of Jesus at Matthew 24:45. (NWT)[28] This "slave" is authorized by Jesus Christ to give "spiritual food" to the congregation.[29][30] All members are expected to abide by the doctrines and organizational requirements as determined by the Governing Body.[31]

The nature of God

God is the creator and supreme being. He is the father, and therefore separate from the son. He is an invisible spirit 'person', not just an abstract 'first cause'. They say he is "infinite, but approachable". He is not omnipresent, but has a location in heaven. He does communicate with his creatures.[32] It is possible to have a personal relationship with him as a friend.[33] He is kind and merciful, and would not 'torture' even wicked people.[34] Using God's name, as derived from the Tetragrammaton (Jehovah in English), is vital for true worship.[35] The Holy Spirit is God's active force, not the third person of the Trinity[36]

The nature of Christ

Jesus is God's only begotten son.[37] As such, he began his life in heaven.[38] He was God's first creation and the 'exact representation of God'.[39] He is the perfect image of God. [40]Yet he is a separate entity and much less powerful than God. Jesus was used by God in the creation of all other things.[41] Jesus was known as the Archangel Michael, and also "the Word,"[42] in his pre-human existence; his birth on earth was accomplished when he willingly allowed himself to be transferred, by God, from heaven to the womb of the Virgin Mary.[43] While on earth, Jesus was executed as a sacrifice to atone for mankind's sins. He ultimately becomes 'eternal father' to the human family.[44]

Jehovah's Witnesses reject the cross as a symbol for Christ's death, as it is seen as a later pagan addition.[45][46] They insist that his execution was on a single-beamed torture stake. They believe that after his death, Jesus appeared to his disciples and convinced them of his resurrection, and then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of Jehovah until he would become the promised king of God's heavenly kingdom. (See Eschatology of Jehovah's Witnesses#Presence of Christ Jesus) Jesus acts as the mediator of the "new covenant" referred to in Jeremiah 31:31 and Luke 22:20 for those going to heaven (the 144,000). [47] Jesus remains subordinate to God even in all his heavenly glory.[48][49] Mary was not perpetually virgin, but rather bore more children after Jesus.[50]


Main article: Eschatology of Jehovah's Witnesses

The "seven times" of Daniel chapter 4 are interpreted as a 2,520 (7x360) year period from 607 BC to 1914 AD, referred to as the "Gentile Times"[51] Though secular historians state that Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 587 BC, Jehovah's Witnesses place the event in 607, based on their understanding that Daniel 9:2 ("he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem" (MKJV)) and Jeremiah 29:10 ("When ... seventy years have been fulfilled for Babylon, I will ... bring you back to this place." (MKJV)) refer to a 70-year period of captivity of the Jews in Babylon until their release by the king of Persia,[52] which they believe was probably in 537 BC.[53][54]

This chronology leads them to conclude that the "Gentile Times" ended in 1914, and Jesus was invisibly enthroned as King in Heaven. This was followed by the ouster of Satan and his angels from heaven to Earth leading to world wars and pestilence. [55] [56] During this time period there was an inspection period of all religions claiming to represent Christ. [57] [58].

In 1918 Jesus resurrected those of the 144,000 (the "anointed") who had already died, to heavenly life; since 1918, any "anointed" are individually resurrected to heavenly life at the time of their death[59] In 1919, Jehovah's Witnesses were chosen by Jesus as the only true Christian organization.[60]

The "last days" began in 1914,[61] but they will conclude at Armageddon. They contend that one of the beasts of Revelation represents the United Nations.[62] This beast is described as attacking and destroying the ‘Harlot,’ ‘Babylon the Great,’ which, they say, represents false religion in worldwide.[63] They believe this to be the beginning of the ‘great tribulation’ described by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. (24: 21) Then, this 'great tribulation' will end at Armageddon. At some point during the 'great tribulation,' Satan will attack God’s true worshipers. [64] This attack will prompt God to initiate Armageddon, in which all governments, which are under Satan's control [65]and thus opposed to God's Kingdom under Christ, will then be destroyed.[66][67] This scenario also includes scenes from Ezekiel’s prophecy about ‘Gog of Magog,’ identified by Witnesses as 'Satan and his hordes' who tries to obliterate God's people. [68]


Main article: Jehovah's Witnesses and salvation

All humanity is in a sinful state.[69] Release from this is possible because Jesus' shed blood provided a payment, or atonement for the sins of humankind.[70] [71] [72] However, to be saved, one needs faith, demonstrated by Christian works. These works include proper discharge of family duties, kindness and concern for others, proper conduct, and 'zealously' preaching. [73] These works serve to demonstrate our faith, but don't actually 'earn' salvation.[74] It is only by the undeserved kindness (grace) of God that one can attain this salvation.[75]

There are two destinations for those saved by God. The number of Christians going to heaven is limited to precisely 144,000 (the "anointed") where they will rule with Jesus as kings and priests over Earth.[76] The rest of mankind has the hope of living forever in an earthly paradise.[77] Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the only scriptural hope of surviving Armageddon comes through adherence to the biblical teachings, including faith in Jesus' shed blood. Those who do not, face destruction at Armageddon.[78][79][80][81][82] The fate of some, such as small children or the mentally ill, will be determined by the righteous and merciful judgment of God.[83] After Armageddon, most of mankind will be resurrected,[84] with the prospect of living forever. But those who have already been condemned by God will not be resurrected, such as any killed at Armageddon, or those in "Gehenna," a Bible term which the Witnesses understand to mean everlasting destruction [85][86].[87] Christ will rule for a thousand years, during which time the Earth will be transformed into a paradise, while Satan is abyssed and unable to influence mankind. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released one last time to mislead as many people as he can. [88] [89] Then the final judgment will take place during which Satan and all those corrupted by him will be destroyed forever, with evil never occurring again.[90] Those who survive that final test will live forever.[91]


Main article: Jehovah's Witnesses and congregational discipline

Formal discipline is administered by congregation elders. In the event an accusation of serious sin is made concerning a baptized member, if there is sufficient evidence, a tribunal or judicial committee is formed to determine guilt, administer help and possibly apply sanctions. The disiplinary actions include.

Disfellowshipping is the most severe form of discipline administered. Before taking this step the judicial committee must determine that the individual has committed what are termed "serious sins," and that there is no evidence of true repentance. [92] To judge that repentance is genuine, members of the judicial committee ask questions and review actions by the member being considered. [93] Baptized members who openly reject doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses can be disfellowshipped for apostasy.[94] [95] Once the decision to disfellowship has been made a person has seven days to appeal. After the seven days, if the person has not appealed, the disfellowshipping will be announced to the congregation; disfellowshipping does not take effect until the announcement is made to the congregation.[96] After a person is disfellowshipped, all baptized members cease all association with that person, not even speaking to the person.[97] Exceptions to this would include cases where a member was forced to have commercial dealings with a member who is disfellowshipped, or if the disfellowshipped member is living with family members who are baptized. In these cases, the Witness are not permitted to speak about matters pertaining to the religion. The exception being that parents still arrange to have a home Bible study with minor disfellowshipped children.[98] The extent to which disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives living in the same household is included in family life is left to the discretion of the family.[99] Family members living outside the home who are disfellowshipped have minimal contact.[100][101]

Reproof involves sins that could lead to disfellowshipping. Ones considered 'truly repentant' are reproved rather than disfellowshipped. [102] Reproof is given "before all onlookers." If the sin is private in nature, the reproof would involve just the individual or individuals involved. If the sin is known generally by the entire congregation or the community an announcement is made informing the congregation that the person has been reproved. Later, without disclosing names or private details, one of the elders gives a separate talk ensuring that the congregation understood the sin, its dangers, and how to avoid it.[103] Certain restrictions on congregation privileges will apply to the reproved one, until the elders have determined that the member has regained "spiritual strength."[104][105][106] Restrictions may include not sharing in meeting parts, not commenting at meeting parts and not praying for a group. The length of the restricted period is dependent upon the elders. One cannot pioneer or auxiliary pioneer for at least one year after reproof is given.[107]

Marking is practiced if a person's course of action is regarded as a violation of Bible principles, reflecting badly on the congregation, but is not a disfellowshipping offense.[108] The person is strongly counseled. If, after repeated counsel sessions, the person still pursues the disturbing course, he might be 'marked', which involves an announcement stating that the actions in question are wrong, without naming the individual involved. Congregation members limit social contact with that person. The purpose of this is to is to shame the person into correcting his actions.[109] They do not completely shun the 'marked' individual, but are instructed to “continue admonishing him as a brother.”[110]


Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses include activities common to many Christian denominations, such as evangelism, gathering for group worship and study, and donating money to support their religious activities. This section discusses how the doctrines as well as non-doctrinal organizational and cultural arrangements manifest themselves in the practices and stances of Jehovah's Witnesses


A Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses are organized into congregations, and each congregation has weekly meetings. Men are selected by representatives of the Governing Body to teach and direct the preaching work. Distinctive titles of address (such as Father, Reverend, Elder etc) are not employed; all members are referred to as either "Brother" or "Sister".[111]Under normal circumstances, women cannot teach the congregation; though female Witnesses do participate in meeting programs.[112] Prayer and songs are considered an important part of the meeting.[113] Prayers at meetings or on other occasions are considered acceptable if directed to the Father Jehovah in the name of the Son.[114] The use of idols is prohibited. They reject the veneration of Mary, the saints, or the cross.[115]

Most congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses meet three times each week, with some variation due to local circumstances, for five weekly meetings, totaling approximately five hours. (See Meetings below.) (This will be condensed to 2 times per week in 2009.( There are three conventions held annually in facilities owned or maintained by the Watchtower Society or in rented stadiums or auditoriums. During the week, there are also meetings throughout the community to organize the preaching work. On Saturdays, the Watchtower and Awake! magazines are featured. On most days literature is offered based on monthly campaigns.[116][117] Each month, a report is submitted to the congregation elders by active Witnesses indicating the number of hours in the ministry, along with other details. This is required for one to be officially counted as an active Jehovah's Witness. On a daily basis, Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged to read the Bible and read publications such as Examining the Scriptures Daily, a booklet with a daily biblical scripture and commentary.

An important part of their worship is the 'family study'. Fathers are reminded of their responsibility to take the lead in instructing his wife and children in the Bible on a regular weekly schedule. [118] [119] Where there is no father, that responsibility falls on the mother.

The most important event is the celebration of the Lord's Evening Meal or Memorial of Christ's Death. See ("Memorial of Christ's death") below.

To become a Jehovah's Witness, a systematic Bible program is required. One must also accept Jesus' ransom sacrifice and repent of sins, and make a personal dedication to God. [120] Participation in the preaching work is required, as well as regular meeting attendance. [121] Then, the elders ask a series of questions to ensure that the person understands and accepts the beliefs of the Witnesses. [122] This is done in preparation for baptism. [123] Baptisms are normally performed at assemblies and conventions. At these baptisms, the candidates stand and answer 2 questions as a "public declaration" of their prior dedication to God.[124]

Memorial of Christ's death

See also:Eucharist

Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate Christ's death as a ransom or propitiatory sacrifice by observing The Lord's Evening Meal, or Memorial. They celebrate it once each year, noting that it was instituted on the Passover, which is annual.[125] They observe it on Nisan 14 according to the ancient Jewish lunisolar calendar.[126] the corresponding Gregorian Date changes every year. For 2008, this date falls on Saturday, 22 March. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this is the only celebration commanded for Christians in the Bible. In support, they often cite Jesus' words found at 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25, NWT, "'Keep doing this ... in remembrance of me.'"

Of those who attend the Memorial a small minority worldwide will partake of the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine. This is because Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the majority of the faithful have an earthly hope. Only those with a heavenly hope, the 144.000, or the "anointed," are commanded to partake of the bread and wine.[127] Thus, for instance, in 2007, the number of persons who actually partook worldwide was 9,105, whereas, the number who attended was 17,672,443, [128] though Jehovah's Witnesses believe that some of the 9,105 may be in error about their claim, such as those ignorant of Jehovah's Witness belief.[129]

The celebration of the Memorial of Christ's Death proceeds as follows: In advance of the Memorial, Jehovah's Witnesses launch a worldwide campaign to distribute Memorial invitations to all communities. [130] They also are encouraged to specially invite all friends or relatives, or any acquaintance that may be interested to attend. A suitable meeting place, for example a Kingdom Hall, is prepared for the occasion. The Memorial begins with a song and a prayer. The prayer is followed by a discourse on the meaning of the celebration. A table is set with unadulterated red wine and unleavened bread. Jehovah's Witnesses believe the bread stands for Jesus Christ's body which he gave on behalf of mankind, and that the wine stands for his blood which redeems from sin. They do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation.[131] Rather, they believe that the wine and the bread are merely symbols (referred to as "emblems") with a very deep and profound meaning for Jehovah's Witnesses. A prayer is offered and the bread is circulated among the audience. Then another prayer is offered, and the wine is circulated in the same manner. After that, the event concludes with a final song and prayer.[132] Because many congregations have no members who claim to be anointed, it is common for the bread and wine to be passed and have no partakers.

Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls

Jehovah's Witnesses call their meeting places "Kingdom Halls" instead of churches. The original reason for this is because the Witnesses preach about God's Kingdom. [133] The Witnesses emphasize the gathering or "congregation" of people, rather than the physical location itself, as is often implied by the term church, (see the etymology of the word). In general, the buildings are functional in character, and do not contain religious symbols.

In many countries, the Witnesses have "Assembly Halls" where about twenty congregations meet two or three times a year for one-day or two-day Assemblies. Where there are no Assembly Halls available, the annual assemblies are held in borrowed or rented facilities suitable for the purpose, such as public auditoriums.

The Assembly Halls are typically too small to accommodate the larger "District Conventions" and "International Conventions." Once a year Jehovah's Witnesses come together at larger assemblies called "District Conventions" which are usually three days long. Every fifth year "International Conventions", with visiting delegates from a number of foreign countries usually lasting three to four days, are held in selected cities. The attendance of some "International Conventions" number into the hundreds of thousands with the largest-ever gathering held in New York in 1958 at the Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds with a peak attendance exceeding 250,000.

The great majority of the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls, as well as the Watchtower Society's headquarters and branch office facilities around the world, have been constructed by the Witnesses themselves freely contributing their own time. The needed finances come from voluntary contributions made by Jehovah's Witness members according to each one's means and inclination. There is a Witness fund - the "Kingdom Hall Fund" in each congregation. The governing body pools these funds to help congregations in economically depressed areas to build suitable Halls.[134][135]


Congregations [136] generally meet three times a week. (This will change in 2009, when the meeting structure will be rearranged.) To the extent possible, all congregations worldwide study the same material each week.[137] [138] Meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses open and close with prayer. Songs called Kingdom songs are sung at most meetings, as well as at assemblies and conventions. Dress for meetings is local formal attire. For instance, in most Western countries, this would consist of a suit and tie for males, and conservative dresses/skirts for females.[139] Meetings are free to attend, and are open to the public.

The Theocratic Ministry School

The 'Theocratic Ministry School' is a 45-minute meeting commonly held on a weekday evening. It is designed to train publishers (members officially authorized to preach) to be more effective in their ministry. The students enrolled are trained to use the Bible to teach others from door to door, informally, and in the congregation. Over the course of a few years, the entire Bible is discussed. A portion is read aloud each week, and members are encouraged to read the rest personally. Practical training is given on how to give a short Bible talk, doing Bible research, and presenting material to people one might meet in the public ministry. Enrollment is voluntary and open to all who regularly associate and who are in good standing, whether baptized or not. Students in the school receive assignments on a rotating basis. At each meeting, there are six assigned parts. Three are teaching parts assigned to an elder or qualified ministerial servant. Then three "student parts" are given either in the main auditorium or an 'auxiliary school' classroom (used to accommodate more students}. They are as follows:[140]

Assignment #2: Bible reading: A 4 minute reading of a section of the weekly bible reading assignment. Usually 16-24 verses. Given by a brother.

Assignment#3: A 5 minute part that is set aside for 2 sisters, respectively the 'teacher' and the 'householder'. It is based on an assigned theme. This is developed using either preassigned source material, or research on the theme topic by the student herself. They must use a predetermined practical setting, typically a scenario that one may encounter in the ministry. If 2 sisters cannot be present a brother may handle this part.

Assignment#4: A 5 minute part given by either 2 sisters or a brother. The source material may or may not be supplied. When handled by a brother, it is given as a talk or speech to the congregation. Certain material is designated to be handled by a brother only. When assigned to a sister, it follows the format of the #3 assignment. Often, each week alternates between 2 sisters and a brother.

The elder assigned as Theocratic Ministry School Overseer offers positive observations on specific points of the student's delivery. Additional constructive counsel is given privately, and the student is graded based on the school's grading system. The Theocratic Ministry School is followed immediately by a transitional song introducing the Service Meeting.

The Service Meeting

The Theocratic Ministry School is followed by the 'Service Meeting', a training program for the preaching and teaching work. This forty-five minute meeting gives the publishers practical instructions that will help them to become more efficient in carrying on their ministry. The program provides a variety of methods for instructing and teaching. There are talks, demonstrations, question-and-answer parts, interviews, and discussions between two or more persons. Our Kingdom Ministry, a monthly publication of Jehovah's Witnesses, outlines the material to be covered during the Service Meeting

The Public Talk

Weekly, a qualified elder or ministerial servant delivers a discourse on a Bible-based subject. The subject matter is generally directed toward interested members of the public who are not Jehovah's Witnesses. The speaker may be from the local congregation or from another congregation, usually nearby. This Public Meeting is generally held on Sundays, but can be on another day if that is more convenient for the congregation (usually when more than 4 congregations share a Kingdom Hall). This meeting is 30 minutes in length (as of January, 2008), and is usually followed immediately by a transitional song which introduces the Watchtower Study.

The Watchtower Study

Following the Public Talk, after a Kingdom Song, is the Watchtower Study. The Bible is studied with the aid of an article in the Watchtower magazine. As of the week commencing February 11, 2008, this meeting uses the study edition of the Watchtower (dated the 15th of each month) developed mainly for Witnesses and not distributed in the public ministry. The public is invited to participate in this meeting. [141] An experienced elder (the Watchtower Study Conductor) leads the discussion from the platform. Each paragraph is read by a exemplary brother assigned by the conductor each week. Questions included in the article for that paragraph are then posed to the audience. After calling on one or more in attendance to answer on that question, the conductor may judiciously ask follow-up questions or offer comments himself before moving to the next paragraph.[142][143][144] Some of the numerous scriptures cited in the study article are specifically marked "read" and are to be read aloud by someone designated by the conductor.[145] Three to five review questions are typically asked at the end of an article. The Public Talk and Watchtower Study together now usually last 1 hour 45 minutes from opening prayer to closing prayer since the Public Talk is now limited to 30 minutes (as of January 1, 2008).

The Book Study

At a separate time during the week the 'Congregation Book Study' is held, for which Witnesses meet in small groups of about 10 to 15, usually in the private homes of members, lasting an hour. These meetings are based on the Bible and a book or a brochure prepared by Jehovah's Witnesses.[146] The material usually has some questions prepared, and a discussion is encouraged starting with these questions. The Q&A format and conductor-reader arrangement is similar to the Watchtower study. The elder (or, if there are not enough elders in the congregation to conduct each book study, ministerial servant) who serves as conductor for a book study group is responsible for 'shepherding' those publishers who attend it and for organizing field service meetings and arrangements for them. If a ministerial servant is conducting, he joins the elders in shepherding that group[147] In some lands exercising a ban on the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, such book study groups have become "mini-congregations" that meet individually for all meetings when necessary. This has allowed their activity to be less noticeable when the meetings are banned, etc. This will change in 2009, when the Book Study arrangement in privates homes of members will be discontinued. This meeting will now be held in Kingdom Halls with the Theocratic Ministry School and Service Meeting and will be called the Congregation Bible Study.


Jehovah's Witnesses' views of sexual behavior reflects conservative Christian views. Abortion is considered murder.[148] Homosexuality, premarital, and extramarital sex are considered sins.[149] Smoking, use of addictive drugs, and drunkenness are considered sins.[150][151] Modesty is heavily encouraged in dress and grooming. During worship, standards of dress are more formal, varying by country and regional custom. In the U.S., Europe, and most of Asia, this typically consists of formal western business attire. Entertainment promoting immoral, demonic, or unjustly violent themes are discouraged. Though they are nonconformists in some ways, they seek not to appear to be "counter-cultural." They avoid appearing unkempt or unprofessional according to local norms. Therefore, in certain areas, personal grooming such as beards, long hair or earrings for men, along with any dress or grooming that is deemed to be rebellious or immodest is discouraged in everyday settings.[152] A person violating these guidelines would not have any action taken against them, but neither would they be allowed to serve with special privileges in the congregation. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • giving public talks
  • giving talks in the Theocratic Ministry School
  • handling the microphones used for audience participation in meetings
  • operating the sound system (if available)
  • opening and closing with a prayer

Nationalism and holidays

Among Jehovah's Witnesses, there is an avoidance of practices considered to have nationalistic or false religious origins. Examples include not singing the national anthem or saluting the flag. This is because of their belief that one should only give allegiance to God and not man-made institutions.[153] The Witnesses believe that nationalism is a form of religion.[154][155] They believe it is dangerous and can cause problems among people, starting with disagreements, dissension, fights, arguments and even lead to wars.[156] [157]

Weddings, anniversaries, and funerals are typically observed. Common celebrations and religious or national holidays such as birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas[2] are regarded as pagan and thus are not celebrated.[158][159] Their position on birthdays is said to be based on how the Bible presents them. The only birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are Herod's and Pharaoh's. Both were associated with executions, and neither celebrant was a servant of God. [160] Also, the Bible does not show Jesus or his apostles celebrating birthdays.[161]

Family life

The family structure is patriarchal. Husbands are considered the final authority of family decisions. He is the head of his family. He must only have one wife. Wives should be submissive to their husbands and husbands are to have deep respect and love for their wives.[162] Husbands are instructed to treat their wives as Jesus treated his followers. He should not hurt or mistreat his family in any way. The father should be hardworking in providing necessities to his family. He must also provide for them in a spiritual capacity. This includes religious instruction for the family, and taking the lead in preaching activities.

Parental discipline for children should not be in a harsh, cruel way. Children are instructed to obey their parents.

Married couples are encouraged to speak with local elders if they are having problems. Married couples can separate in the case of physical abuse and neglect, and if one partner attempts to hinder the other from being a Jehovah's Witness.[163] Divorce (with the ability to remarry) is permissible only on the grounds of adultery, based on their understanding of Jesus' words at Matthew 5:32-"But I say to you that whoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever shall marry her who is put away commits adultery." Also Jesus' words at Matthew 19:9-"I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery."


The Witnesses respect the law of the land, as long as they don't perceive such laws as interfering with God's laws. They often cite as a precedent the apostles statement at Acts 5:29 - "We ought to obey God rather than men."(KJV) Jehovah's Witnesses assert that they respect the flags of all nations, but don't salute or pledge allegiance to them, considering that to be a form of worship.[164] Similarly, they don't sing national anthems. Witnesses say they recognize the legitimacy of political leaders, believing that they are the "superior authorities" referred to by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1 (NWT), and are therefore to be respected. In many places, the Witnesses are commended for their law-abiding stance. [165] For Jehovah's Witnesses, neutrality is defined as:

“ The position of those who do not take sides with, or give support to, any of two or more contending parties. It is a fact of ancient and modern-day history that in every nation and under all circumstances true Christians have endeavored to maintain complete neutrality as to conflicts between factions of the world. They do not interfere with what others do about sharing in patriotic ceremonies, serving in the armed forces, joining a political party, running for a political office, or voting.[166]”

In this regard, Jehovah's Witnesses feel that their position is similar to that of the early Christians, who refused to sacrifice a few drops of wine or a few grains of incense to the Roman emperors even when faced with execution. They also feel their stance is similar to Jesus' refusal to allow people to make him king, even though they felt he could help them. [167]

Saluting flags

Among the results of this belief in the United States are several cases of Constitutional law regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. The early cases establishing that government schools cannot mandate the Pledge, or the salute to the flag, all involved Witness students punished or threatened for their refusal.

Some courts in other countries have also protected the Witnesses' right to abstain from patriotic ceremonies. For example, in 1986, the Supreme Court of India held that no one can be forced to join in the singing of the national anthem if the person has a genuine, conscientious religious objection.

In a decision handed down on 1 March 1993, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses in a case involving Witness youths who were expelled from school because they respectfully declined to salute the flag.

Military service

Additionally, Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to serve in military organizations, citing the principle they call Christian Neutrality. They understand Jesus' words , "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world," to mean that they should take a neutral stand concerning political and military controversies.[168]

Historically, this refusal to join the military has created serious difficulties for Jehovah's Witnesses, particularly in war time. During World War II, young Witnesses in a number of countries were executed for their conscientious objection to war; even in more democratic countries they were generally refused exemption from conscription and have often been imprisoned.

Currently, there is less conflict between Witnesses and most governments over this matter, as many countries have abolished conscription, whereas others have recognized the views of conscientious objectors and thus instituted the right to alternative civilian service, which Witnesses generally accept. In certain republics of the former Soviet Union, however, as well as in South Korea, Singapore, and some countries in Africa, young Witness males continue to serve prison terms in connection with this issue. As of December 15th, 2005 there were 1044 Witnesses imprisoned over this issue in South Korea.

During World War II Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted by the Allies and the Axis powers for refusing to participate in these powers' respective war efforts. (See Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust).

Jehovah's Witnesses are not pacifists, that is to say, they are not opposed to the use of violence in all circumstances. They believe, for instance, that the wars between the ancient nation of Israel and surrounding nations were legitimate, and point out that passages in both the Old and New Testaments refer to God using warlike methods at times. However, they understand scriptures like John 18:36 ("Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight...") to indicate that there is no longer an earthly government that we are authorized by Jesus to fight for. [169] Thus they interpret the scriptures to mean that God is not using or supporting nationalistic wars in modern times, and therefore do not participate in wars.

Political activity

In harmony with their view of neutrality, referred to above, The Watchtower gives at least 5 reasons for not voting in political elections.[170] 1. Being “no part of the world,” they are neutral in the political affairs of the world.[171] 2. Second, the apostle Paul referred to himself as an “ambassador” representing Christ, - Ambassadors are expected to be neutral and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries to which they are sent. 3. Those who have a part in voting a person into office may become responsible for what he does. [172] 4. When religions get involved in politics, the result is often division among their members. 5. They must speak to people of all political persuasions with the important message of the Kingdom.

Jehovah's Witnesses are strongly encouraged to consider the above factors in making their personal decision.[173]

However, they do not interfere with the right of non-members to vote.[174] Likewise, they do not run for any political office,[175][176] but they do not seek to prevent or discourage others from doing so.[177]


The soul is believed to be mortal, based on scriptures like Ezekiel 18:4 "The soul that sins, it shall die." (MKJV)[178] Thus they believe the soul does not continue to live, after one dies.[179] Death is considered a state of non-existence, based on their understanding of Ecclesiastes 9:5, "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing." They also believe that Hell (hades or sheol) is not a place of fiery torment, but rather the common grave of mankind, a place of unconsciousness.[180] They believe that the Bible word commonly translated "hellfire" is not 'Hades' or 'Sheol,' but "Gehenna," a word describing the judgment of complete destruction. [181] They conclude that complete destruction does not allow for literal 'torture' since the person is dead and lacks consciousness.[182] The Witnesses point out that one scripture often used to support torture in Gehenna is from an apocryphal Bible book.[183]

The Witnesses say that sometimes wicked angels (demons) pretend to be spirits of the dead, and that their deception is the basis for many beliefs about the activities of 'dead' people. Forms of worship or customs "based on the false doctrine of the immortality of the soul" are attributed to demon activity. [184][185] They cite this as a reason for not saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. They consider that phrase to be a superstition based on false beliefs about the soul.[186]

They say that parables such as that of "the rich man and Lazarus" should not be interpreted literally, that such were speaking of symbolic death, not the physical death of actual individuals. [187] [188] They point out that a literal interpretation of torment of a soul by God in hell does not take into account scriptures like Matthew 10:28, which says that God destroys "both soul and body in hell." (MKJV) They emphasize that the word translated 'hell' in this verse is not "hades", the Greek word for 'hell,' but Gehenna, referring to a special judgment by God which results in complete destruction.[189] Their view is that the Bible promises a resurrection of all mankind who died, but did not go to 'Gehenna', based on their understanding of Jesus words in John 5: 28, 29 "Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves shall hear His voice,... shall come forth."

The Witnesses insist that the only hope for life after death is in the resurrection, (as opposed to an immortal soul) which they say involves re-creation by God of the same individual with a new body.[190] They believe that a relatively small number of humans (144,000) will be resurrected to a heavenly life to be priestly rulers under Christ, but the vast majority, to life on a paradise earth.[191] Resurrected mankind will undergo a final test to determine their eligibility for everlasting life on earth.[192]


Main article: Jehovah's Witnesses and blood

As the main legal entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania teaches that the Bible prohibits the consumption, storage and transfusion of blood, based on their understanding of scriptures like Leviticus 17:10, 11 - "I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood", and Acts 15:28 - "abstain from ... blood". They apply this viewpoint even in cases of emergency. The Watchtower introduced this view in 1945, and it has developed since then. [3] Accordingly the organization has established Hospital Information Services [HIS]. HIS is responsible for education on and facilitation of “bloodless surgery.” This service also maintains Hospital Liaison Committees whose function is to provide support to adherents facing surgery and assist in providing information to the medical community on bloodless surgery techniques and alternatives to blood. [4]

Though accepted by the majority of members, some within the Jehovah's Witness community do not endorse the doctrine.[193] Historically the doctrine has drawn criticism from members of the medical community. However some professionals worldwide now acknowledge the benefits of avoiding the use of blood during surgery and therefore routinely utilize bloodless surgery techniques on Jehovah's Witnesses and non believers alike. [5]


Gambling by making money through the losses of others is viewed as a "form of greed." They cite scriptural references to greed to assert that a Christian cannot be a gambler, or be employed in a gambling establishment.[194][195][196] The Watchtower says, "If you wish to please Jehovah, then, you will refrain from any form of gambling, including lotteries, bingo, and betting on horse races."[197] However, some risks are acceptable, such as buying stocks, shares and bonds. The reasoning is that unlike gambling, these are business transactions involving the buying and selling of real goods.[198]

They also say that some forms of gambling behavior constitute a form of superstition, linked to spiritism,[199][200] and that it can become a form of idolatry.[201]

Based on these principles, some gamblers have been disfellowshipped.[202][203]

Drugs and Alcohol

Jehovah's Witnesses prohibit non-medicinal use of most mood altering drugs, and believe that recreational drug use is connected to spiritism.[204]This also applies to cigarette smoking.[205] Consuming alcohol in moderation is permitted in scripture.[206] [207] The Witnesses also accept that caffeine is a natural substance.[208] however, excessive alcohol consumption and drunkenness are condemned in scripture, and can result in disfellowshipping for members.[209]

Publishing efforts

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. Their literature is published in 410 languages through a wide variety of books, magazines and other publications. Their publications make extensive use of secular references and quotations from the Bible.

Both The Watchtower and Awake! are published simultaneously in hundreds of languages[210]. In addition to the formats mentioned above, both magazines are available in various audio and electronic formats and some of the articles from these magazines are available online. After the end of each year the issues are collected and re-released in a printed annual edition, commonly referred to as a bound volume. In addition to this, the Watchtower Library computer program contains several decades worth of articles for both magazines and is updated on an annual basis. (Until 2003, this was only done biennially.) It also contains many books, booklets, brochures, and other publications of the Witnesses.

New books, brochures, and other items are released from time to time, major releases being announced at their annual conventions. Additionally, a number of audio cassettes, videocassettes, and DVDs have been produced featuring various aspects of the group's beliefs, practices, organization, and history. Some of these also provide dramas based on various Biblical accounts. Recent years have seen a proliferation of material available on their website.

The sale of their religious magazines, and all Jehovah's Witnesses' literature, continued around the world until the early 1990s. The Watchtower is now distributed free of charge, with a request for donations. These donations have made the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of NY, Inc. one of the top 40 companies (by turnover) in New York, reporting an annual revenue of about $951 million USD[6] free of taxation as they are registered as a non-profit corporation. Their yearly report is different from a Wall Street company as the company's employees are volunteers who live and work in the Brooklyn complex.


As their name implies, Jehovah's Witnesses are well known for their intensive witnessing, or, proselytizing, efforts. Witnesses generally refer to their evangelizing activities by terms such as: "preaching," "disciple-making", "service," "the ministry," and, more formally, but less frequently, "evangelizing". All members (known as "publishers") who are healthy enough are strongly encouraged to go from door to door, participating in this activity to the extent that their circumstances allow, every week if at all possible. Even children are encouraged to participate, accompanied by their parents. A publisher who fails to participate for a month is known as an "irregular publisher"; publishers who have not compiled and turned in a field service report for six consecutive months are known as "inactive publishers". Witnesses who can spend at least 840 hours of witnessing during a year (an average of 70 hours per month) can apply for the status of "regular pioneers", or full time evangelizers.[211] Witnesses who wish to spend 50 hours in a month can apply to be an "auxiliary pioneer" and can serve in this capacity either a month at a time or consecutively.

Missionary service is another opportunity members have to reach persons in other lands. Those invited to share in such work are usually given specialized training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. These individuals, on an average dedicate over 120 hours a month to their work. As of 1998 there were 2,390 Witnesses having missionary status serving in 148 lands.[212]

Witnesses have, in the past, used a wide variety of methods to spread their faith, including information marches, where members wore sign boards and handed out leaflets, to sound cars, and syndicated newspaper columns and radio spots devoted to sermons. Between 1924 and 1957, the organization operated a radio station, WBBR, from New York. They discarded this medium largely due to the prevalence of televangelist radio programs to minimize identification with other religious groups. In recent decades, additional methods have included preaching by telephone, at bus stops, places of business and in the street. Specialized territories of residential and commercial areas are made up within a congregation's boundaries and distributed to publishers who are personally responsible for preaching thoroughly in them.

Currently, door-to-door evangelizing for the Witnesses involves endeavouring to engage individuals in discussion of Bible topics[213] [214]and offering literature about their faith, with the goal of starting a Bible study with anyone who shows an interest. The production of literature is supported by donations. No financial or material rewards are offered for conversion. Publishers carry forms known as "House to House Records" to keep track of those homes that need revisiting at another time, either to follow up a fruitful conversation, or because its occupants were not at home.

Construction and humanitarian efforts

Jehovah's Witnesses are known in many lands for their building work. International and regional building teams frequently undertake constructions of Kingdom Halls over the course of one or two weekends. Larger construction projects, including the building of regional Assembly Halls and Bethel offices, factories, residences, warehouses, and farm facilities, are also carried out almost entirely by volunteer members.

Jehovah's Witnesses are also involved in relief work in disaster stricken areas. One notable example is the relief efforts to both Hutu and Tutsi Witnesses during the genocide in Rwanda as well as to Congo refugees. According to the Jehovah's Witnesses, this humanitarian aid was not given exclusively to Jehovah's Witnesses; others also benefited. For instance, the Witnesses say they distributed medicine and clothing to several primary schools and an orphanage near Goma.[215] To assure all major disasters are covered worldwide, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses use "Regional Building Committees" to oversee these efforts. This was implemented as soon as 'Katrina' struck in Louisiana in 2005. [216]

Funding of activities

Jehovah's Witnesses fund their activities, such as publishing, constructing and operating facilities, evangelism, and disaster relief via donations. There is no tithing or collection, but all are encouraged to donate to the organization; Witnesses typically provide an opportunity for members of the public to make such donations as they encounter them in their preaching work. Donation boxes labeled for several specific purposes, are located in Kingdom Halls and other meeting facilities. Generally there is a contribution box for operating expenses locally, a Kingdom Hall fund for Helping other witnesses around the world needing a Kingdom Hall, and a general fund for the "Worldwide Work", which includes the printing of literature, organization of conventions, supporting missionaries and disaster relief. [217] [218][219]

The accounts (including donations) and the financial operation of the local congregation are reviewed monthly with the entire congregation at the Service Meeting. (This meeting is open to the public.) Donations are also accepted via mail, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society can be named as a beneficiary to an estate, and also accepts donations in the form of life insurance policies, pension plans, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, annuities and trusts.

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