Jehovah Witness: A Made in America Religion

Christianity is one of the major religions of man a washed in a history of contradictions and confusion. Like cancer cells, Christianity not only mutates over time, but reinvents itself to deal with its new context both socially and theologically. This often entails receiving new revelations from God to make one flavor of a Christian faith appear as God very own favorite in a sea of competing Bible truths. Since God can’t be contacted for direction and the fact that Jesus is said to have gone back to where he had come from two-thousand years ago, believers are left to being creative with the Bible and often must receive new revelations form God.

New Christian sects which spring up (one estimate today puts them now at around 30,000) usually do so especially in the United States where freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. As such, Made in American Religions have often dominated the nineteenth century with sects such as the Mormons (1830); Seventh-day Adventists (1840’s); Jehovah Witnesses (1870); The Church of Christ, Scientist (1879) are but a few sects which viewed themselves as God’s Anointed in a corrupt world where Jesus’ return would vindicate his “true church” as oppose to the larger established denominations viewed by these sects as worldly and even lead by Satan.

The ground work for these Made in American Religions can be found in the three so-called Great Awakenings especially The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s) and The Third Great Awakening (from the late 1850s to the early 1900s) movements where religious freedom, personal piety driven by a strong emphasis on evangelism offered the freedom to invent new interpretations of the Bible as directed by the sects inspired leadership along with writings of sects founder (or founders) who always claimed divine guidance in Bible study.

Of the four above groups, three of these sects – Mormons (Latter Day Saints), Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses - all put a premium on the return of Jesus Christ who would set up a new earthly kingdom called the New Jerusalem or Zion in an evil and corrupt world where Jesus’ return would fully vindicate their sect’s exclusively as God’s true people.

As such, all three sects just knew they were living in the “Last Days” with two of the three sects (Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses) even setting dates derived from the Bible for Jesus’ return to earth. When these dates came and went (Seventh-day Adventists: 1844 and Jehovah Witnesses: 1914) either the sects faced disillusionment as the Adventists did under Miller, or Christ failure to appear was explained away through a metaphysical dogma (Jehovah Witnesses) in that what was proclaimed as literal was then redefined as a spiritual event in Heaven . . . indeed a smart move in order not to lose members as the early Millerites (Seventh-day Adventists) had done after October 22, 1844 had passed (see: Great Disappointment).

To distinguish their sect as called of God in a world filled with religious evils, each of these American founded groups always seemed to have discovered some major Bible doctrine totally missed or neglected by the main line denominations. Since the “Truth” was directed by God Himself, these dogmas must be followed by each sect’s members or they must face the fact of either “shunning” or excommunication. They are as follows:

Latter Day Saints (Mormons): Joseph Smith’s Word of Wisdom or his revelation that the use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine (Chocolate and most soft drinks) are harmful to the human body. While the Mormons are more forgiving if a member “screws up” and uses any or all of these, lax members or what is known as “Jack Mormons” will not be given a “Temple Pass” necessary to have family members “Sealed for Time and Eternity”, “be Baptized for the Dead” nor will they advance to the third and highest level of Heaven which is necessary if one is to become a God.

Seventh-day Adventists: Their truth is that Jesus the Jew worshipped on the Sabbath and that all false so-called Christianities worship on Sunday. Since the theology of Paul teaches that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. 1 Corinthians 3: 16 -17 and 6: 19 – 20) faithful Adventists will not eat meat nor will they consume alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics.

Jehovah Witnesses: While this sect is mostly noted for their objection to military service, they demand that the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15: 20, 29 and 21: 25) be kept. This has somehow been applied to modern blood transfusions and has cost members of this sect and their children their lives. (I’ll discuss this JW dogma below and why it’s erroneous.)

Church of Christ, Scientist: This sect’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, though careful study of the Bible found that the all the teachings of Jesus were a complete and coherent as a source of divine science and that belief that spiritual reality is the only reality in that all else is illusion or "error. She formulated her divine teachings in Health with Key to the Scriptures. All sister churches (the Mother Church is in Boston) have John 8: 32 in front of their churches on the inside: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” As a faithful member one is expected to refuses all vaccinations, medicine, or any life saving surgery as giving proof to “error” both for them and their families. Their dogmatic stand on medical science has often brought them in conflict with the legal system of which one major case was that of Robyn Twitchell who, like other children in this sect, died of a very treatable condition so their parents could prove their faith in God and prayer.

While there are other Made in America Religions, from the Oneida Community founded in 1848 in Oneida, New York to modern Sciencetology (1953), I want to focus on one sect at this time; the Jehovah Witnesses (JW) and how a religious tradition that was invented by and directed by layman has created major problems.

First up is the dogma that a life saving blood transfusion is against God’s Will and the Bible (as based mainly on the Book of Acts). Because of the failure of the laity leadership of this sect to place their dogma in its historical first century context, many of their members have (like those of the Church of Christ, Scientist) have needlessly died trying to do what they were told demanded in faith as obedience to God (excuses me, Jehovah). The Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:20, 29 and 21: 25) about blood originally was given so as to not offend Jewish converts to Christianity. This has been summed up by the late New Testament textual scholar, Bruce Metzger:

The occasion for issuing the Apostolic Decree, it should be observed, was to settle the question whether Gentiles converts to Christianity should be required to submit to the rite of circumcision and fulfill other Mosaic statutes. The Council decided that such observance was not required for salvation; at the same time, however, in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense to Jewish Christians (and to Jews contemplating becoming Christians), the Council asked Gentile converts to make certain concessions for prudential reasons, abstaining from those acts that would offend Jewish scruples and hinder social intercourse, including joint participation in the Lord’s Supper. (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 430)

Thus, sadly the failure by the JW leadership to place this Apostolic Decree in its historical context has led to needless deaths and suffering of their members ironically not to offend Jews who might convert! Moreover, kosher food laws are dictating the lives and deaths of faithful members and their children when refusing to receive a treatment of modern medical science under the rubric that a blood transfusion is really “eating blood”.

Secondly, the JW have re-enforced their sect’s dogmas by failure to understand ancient languages such as Greek in the case of John 1:1:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.)

Due to the fact that JW have a deep seated fear of anything which might give credence to polytheism (such as the Trinity), they have paraphrased this verse in their New World Translation of the Bible (NWTB) as:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

However, Greek does not have the indefinite article “a” ( H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, pp. 284 -293) thus, a correct Greek reading would be “. . . the word was god.”

Not only does the NWTB give an erroneous translation, but it takes the liberty to capitalized “Word” and “God” to support its theology while “λόγος”, “θεόν” and “θεὸς” are all small cased in our scholarly standard Greek texts such has the United Bible Society’s Greek new Testament ( 4th ed., 2000)

Historical support for the standard Christian orthodox reading “…and the Word was God.” Can be found in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (2nd ed,, 1979):

3. the Logos. Our lit. shows traces of a way of thinking that was widespread in contemporary syncretism, as well as in Jewish wisdom lit. and Philo, the most prominent feature of which is the concept of the Logos, the independent, personified ‘Word’ (of God): J 1: 1a, b, c, 14. It is the distinctive teaching of the Fourth Gospel that this divine ‘Word’ took on human form in a historical person, that is, in Jesus. (pp. 478 – 479)

This is also confirmed in the unabridged Oxford Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1968: “in the NT identified with the person of Christ, ‘εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λ. Ev. Jo. 1.1, ch. 14, 1 Ep. Jo. 2.7, Apoc. 19.13 (p. 1059).

Thirdly, the failure of the leadership of the JW to understand affects of the Classical Intellectual Tradition on the Bible’s theology as drawn later from earlier concepts of Platonism is noted in The Oxford Classical Dictionary(3 rd. ed. 1996):

The idea in St. John’s Gospel of the incarnation of the logos in Christ is no doubt in part a similar reworking and recombination of much older ideas in a new context.” (p. 882)

Finally, the often complete paraphrasing of “Jehovah” in place of God “אלהים” and ”אל “ in the Hebrew Bible and the total compete paraphrasing of “Jehovah” for “Lord” and “God” in the New Testament without any standard scholarly textual support (as based on the United Bible Society’s Greek new Testament ) in order to validate the sect's name, is both highly in error and totally misleading.