As visible as Jehovah’s Witnesses are on doorsteps and street corners, people know surprisingly little about what they believe and why. In some ways Witnesses follow mainstream Christian thought. But much of their doctrine is unique among Christian faiths. Like most religions, the Witness belief system has evolved over time, shaped by developing interpretations of the Bible and by world events.
Find out more about Witness perspectives and beliefs.
One of the office buildings at worldwide headquarters of Jehovah's
Witnesses in New York
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible, including all 66 books of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures (the Old and New Testaments), is the inspired, infallible word of God. The Bible contains “the truth”—everything humans need to know to please God and gain eternal life. Although Witnesses believe that everything in the Bible is true, they also believe it contains symbolism and that not all passages should be taken literally.
Jehovah God and Jesus Christ
According to Witness beliefs, Jehovah is God’s personal name, which appears 7,000 times in the Old Testament. Jehovah first created his son Jesus in heaven, and Jesus then helped Jehovah create the rest of the universe over a period of billions of years. Jesus is the messiah who came to Earth, died for mankind’s sins, was resurrected back to heaven and now sits at Jehovah’s right hand. Witnesses reject the Trinity doctrine of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost as an unscriptural idea. Because they do not believe that Jesus is God, some theologians do not consider the Witnesses to be Christians.
Satan and the Existence of Evil
Witnesses believe that Satan was once a perfect angel who rebelled against Jehovah and his rulership. Angels who joined Satan in the defection became demons. Satan also tempted the first two humans, Adam and Eve, to disobey God by taking fruit from a forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Satan also claimed he could cause all creation to reject God. Until now, Jehovah has allowed Satan to rule the world temporarily, in order to give humans a basis for deciding whom they want to follow. Witnesses explain that all the suffering and evil in the world are a result of Satan’s rule.
Heaven and Earth
While most Christian religions teach that life in heaven is the ultimate reward, Witnesses believe that God will reward the righteous with eternal life on Earth as perfect humans. According to God’s original plan, he will restore Earth to a global Garden of Eden. There will be complete peace. Billions of humans, including Witnesses and non-Witnesses, will have the chance to live in Earthly paradise. Witnesses do not aspire to receive a heavenly calling, preferring to live forever on Earth.
Following Witness beliefs, Heaven is the invisible dwelling place of Jehovah God, Jesus, the angels and a chosen group of 144,000 humans—a number taken from the Bible book of Revelation. These “anointed” men and women are the only humans who go to heaven when they die, and work with Jesus to restore the Earth to a paradise for the rest of humanity. Individuals cannot ask or volunteer to be anointed, but are chosen by God. Out of nearly seven million Jehovah’s Witnesses, about 8,500 currently claim to have been anointed. No one knows for sure who ultimately goes to heaven or how many vacancies are left among the group of 144,000.
Life and Death
Witnesses believe that life is a sacred gift of God, who alone has the right to decide the requirements for its continuance or termination. Human life begins at conception, and suicide, euthanasia and deliberate abortions are considered sins. Witnesses will, however, risk their lives to uphold God’s law—for example, if they die while refusing a blood transfusion or facing violent persecution, Witnesses believe they will be resurrected to eternal life in Earthly paradise. In the meantime, they consider death to be a state of unconscious non-existence. There is no afterlife, and the soul goes nowhere other than God’s memory. The dead are unconscious until they are resurrected to life on Earth in new bodies that resemble their former appearance. Their memories and personality will then be restored.
As subjects of God’s government, or Kingdom, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they should “witness” about it to others. They should give its laws priority. For this reason, they do not take sides in political issues or military conflicts, nor can they give total allegiance to Earthly governments. Witnesses do not vote or run for political office because they believe it is futile to put faith in humans to fix the world’s problems. Only God has the solution.
Explanation of holidays, from Jehovah's Witness publication, courtesy Watchtower Bible & Tract Society
Birthdays and Holidays
The Witnesses’ main objection toward holiday celebrations is the non-biblical origin of traditions and rituals associated with them. Many holidays were incorporated into Christian practice by the Roman emperor Constantine as a political gesture.
For example, in the Bible, neither Jews nor Christians celebrated their own birthdays or those of important people, such as patriarchs and prophets. The ancients marked birthdays of their gods and believed that individuals born on those days would receive special protection from the gods. Cakes with candles and birthday wishes mirror these superstitious practices.
The Bible also does not state the date of Jesus’ birth. Jesus did not tell his followers to celebrate his birthday, nor does the Bible and early Christian history indicate that they did so. Witnesses believe that Jesus is offended by the non-Christian traditions and the commercialism associated with Christmas today.
Although the resurrection of Jesus is a major event in Christian history, modern Easter commemorations featuring eggs and rabbits more closely resemble ancient springtime festivals celebrating the fertility and renewal of the earth after winter. Witnesses feel it is inappropriate to connect these rituals to Jesus.
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