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Jehovah's Witnesses; Watchtower Bible and Tract SocietyJehovah's Witnesses; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society:
Jehovah's Witnesses and Bible Authority

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society literature: Are their magazines and publications authoritaty for Jehovah's Witnesses? Must people accept them to understand the Bible?

How do Jehovah's Witnesses view the literature they distribute for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society? Is it authoritative so that they are obligated to accept it without question? Must a Bible student have Watchtower publications to understand the Bible? Does their literature contain error at times? Is the Bible their highest authority, or must they accept Watchtower teaching even if it disagrees with the Bible?

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Introduction:

"Jehovah's Witnesses" are a zealous and dedicated people who go door-to-door distributing the books and magazines of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Those I have met repeatedly claim that they follow the Bible as their highest religious authority and that the Watchtower Society is a true and faithful servant that teaches only the truth of God's word.

Here are some questions for the honest Jehovah's Witness to consider:

* Can the honest person understand the Bible sufficiently to be saved without studying the publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society?

* Is the Bible the highest authority Jehovah's Witnesses follow or are they required to accept the teachings of the Watchtower Society without question?

* Has the Watchtower Society taught error in the past in its official publications?

* If the Society did teach error, should Jehovah's Witnesses accept those teachings as true, or should they accept what the Bible teaches instead?

The purpose of this study is to consider some official teachings of the Watchtower Society about these matters and compare them to the word of God.

The Watchtower Society openly encourages people to compare their beliefs to Scripture:

If our worship is to be acceptable to God, it must be firmly rooted in God's Word of Truth ... We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God's word, or are they based on the traditions of men? ... [T]he religion that is approved by God must agree in all its details with the Bible ... To please God, then, one's religion must be in full harmony with the Bible... - The Truth the Leads to Eternal Life, pp 13-15 (Watchtower publication, 1968)

We agree that the Bible teaches all people to test their doctrines by Scripture and teach nothing that differs from God's word. (See 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11.)

It is the intent of this study, not to question the sincerity of Jehovah's Witnesses, but to urge them to do as taught above in their books and in Bible. If we should examine "what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated," that would include the Watchtower Society. So we urge Jehovah's Witnesses to consider some statements by officials of their own organization.

Most people - even most Jehovah's Witnesses - are not aware of the facts I am about to present, but they are not a matter of dispute. I will quote excerpts from testimony given in court under penalty of perjury by Watchtower officials in Scotland in 1954 in the case Pursuer's Proof of Douglas Walsh vs The Right Honourable James Latham Clyde. (Page numbers are cited from the official transcript pages.)

Consider the teachings of Watchtower publications and officials as compared to the Bible. (These court transcripts are available on the Internet. Anyone who wishes to do so, can check them out. See sources at the end of this study.)


I. Can an Honest Person Understand the Bible without the Watchtower Publications?


A. Quotations from Public Watchtower Materials

We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God's word, or are they based on the traditions of men? - The Truth the Leads to Eternal Life, p. 13

Such a statement necessarily implies that a person can understand the Bible when he studies it. Surely he must not just take the word of his religious organization for what the Bible says. How could he know if the teachings of the group were right or wrong if he just accepted what the group tells him about the Bible?

B. The Teaching of Scripture

The teachings we just quoted from Watchtower publications are true because they agree with the Bible.

Isaiah 55:11 - God's word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases and prosper in the thing for which He sent it. But He sent it to reveal His will to men (Romans 1:16, etc.). If we cannot understand it, then it does not prosper nor did it accomplish what He sent it for.

Mark 7:14 - Jesus' teachings were intended for the common people (multitudes), and He expected and commanded them all to understand His teachings.

Acts 17:11 - By searching the Scriptures for themselves, the Bereans knew whether or not they were taught the truth. People are not expected to take other people's word for what the Bible says. Rather, they should use the word to check out other teachers. How could the Bible accomplish this if people cannot understand it?

2 Timothy 3:15-17 - The Scriptures are able to make us wise to salvation. They are profitable to teach and instruct us and to provide us to all good works. How could they make us wise and profit us in these things if we cannot understand them?

So the Bible teaches, and some Watchtower publications agree, that the average person can understand the Bible for himself and should use the Bible to check out whether he is being taught truth. This would also be true in checking out whether or not Watchtower publications are teaching truth.

[Ephesians 3:3-5; 5:17; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Psalm 119:104,105,130; 1 Timothy 2:4]

C. Testimony Of Watchtower Officials in the Scotland trial

But in contrast, consider what the Watchtower officials admit.

Testimony of Frederick W. Franz

Franz was Watchtower Society vice-president in 1954, but later became president.

Q. Is there any hope of salvation for a man who depends upon his Bible alone when he is in a situation in the world where he cannot get the tracts and publications of your Incorporation?
A. He is dependent on the Bible.
Q. Will he be able to interpret it truly?
A. No. 
(p. 133)

Testimony of Grant Suiter, Secretary-Treasurer of the Watchtower Society

Discussing the qualifications of a Company Servant, Suiter testified:

Q. Indeed can he in the view of Jehovah's Witnesses have an understanding of the Scriptures apart from the publications of Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. No.
Q. Only by the publications can he have a right understanding of the Scriptures?
A. That is right. 
(p. 503)

So, public Watchtower literature agrees with the Bible when it instructs a person to honestly examine the teachings of any religious group - including the Watchtower Society - by comparing them to the Bible. This must mean that he is able to understand the Bible when he studies it.

But in the trial, Watchtower officials admitted that the Society actually denies that anyone can understand the Bible apart from the teachings of the Watchtower. So these Watchtower officials contradict their own publications. More important, they contradict the Bible.

Nevertheless, the Bible assures you that you can and should understand and believe the Bible when you study it yourself. It takes effort, but you can know by diligent, honest study, whether the Watchtower Society or any group is teaching the truth. We urge you to study the Scriptures with that intent.


II. Should Jehovah's Witnesses Accept the Teaching of Watchtower Publications without Question?


A. Quotations from Public Watchtower Materials

We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God's word, or are they based on the traditions of men? - The Truth the Leads to Eternal Life, p. 13.

The 1946 Watchtower publication, Let God Be True, adds: "... blind adherence to religious traditions and systems leads a person into opposition to those who hold God's word as true." p. 16

Note that they said "We need to examine ... what is taught by any organization with which we may be associated." Since Jehovah's Witnesses wrote this, then Jehovah's Witnesses admit that they must not accept the teaching of their own Watchtower publications without question. They must refuse to blindly adhere to their religious system but must examine to determine whether or not Watchtower teachings are in full harmony with God's word.

B. The Teaching of the Bible

The Bible agrees with the above quotations from Watchtower publications.

Matthew 7:15-23 - Beware of false prophets who seek to disguise themselves. You can know them by their fruits: their teachings must agree with the will of the Father.

Matthew 15:14 - If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

1 John 4:1 - Many false prophets have gone into the world, so we must put them to the test whether or not they are from God. Those who are false must not be believed. [Cf. v6.]

2 John 9-11 - Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God. We must not receive or support those who bring different doctrines.

Acts 17:11 - Instead of being blind followers, like the Bereans we must compare what is taught to the Scriptures to determine whether or not it is true.

So no once should blindly accept the teachings of the Watchtower. We should compare them to the Scriptures. If they do not agree, we should reject them.

[2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; Titus 1:9-14; Romans 16:17,18; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Peter chap. 2]

C. Statements of Watchtower Officials in the Scotland Trial

But in contrast, consider what the Watchtower officials admit.

Testimony of Frederick W. Franz:

Q. Can you tell me this; are these theological publications and semi-monthly periodicals used for discussion or statements of doctrine?
A. Yes.
Q. Are these statements held to be authoritative?
A. Yes.
Q. Is their acceptance a matter of choice, or is it obligatory on all those who wish to be and remain members of the Society?
A. It is obligatory.
(p. 4)

And furthermore:

Q. Is it for that reason that Jehovah's witnesses accept without question doctrines and Biblical interpretations as expounded by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society through its Directors?
A. Yes.
Q. In publications both periodical and in book form?
A. Yes. 
(p. 25)

Also:

Q. A witness has no alternative, has he, to accept as authoritative and to be obeyed, instructions in the "Watchtower" or the "Informant" or "Awake!"?
A. He must accept those. 
(p. 123)

So, public Watchtower literature agrees with the Bible when it instructs all people to question every teaching they hear - including teachings of the Watchtower Society - by comparing them to the Bible. But on trial the Watchtower officials admitted that actually Jehovah's Witnesses must accept the teachings of the Watchtower periodicals and books "without question." They have "no alternative" but to accept them. So these Watchtower officials contradict their own publications. More important, they contradict the Bible.

Nevertheless, the Bible urges you to honestly examine the teachings of the Watchtower Society or any group to determine whether or not they teach according to the word of God. This is our appeal to you as well.


III. Have Watchtower Publications Taught Error? If So, Must Jehovah's Witnesses Accept Those Errors as Truth?


A. Quotations from Public Watchtower Materials

"[T]he religion that is approved by God must agree in all its details with the Bible ... To please God, then, one's religion must be in full harmony with the Bible..." The Truth the Leads to Eternal Life, pp 14,15.

And "God's Son ... [showed] the highest respect for the inspired Scriptures. He quoted them as the final authority on matters." So if you find that the teachings of the religion with which you have been associated do not all line up with the Bible then you face the serious "decision either to accept the truthfulness of the Bible or to reject it in favor of teachings the Bible does not support." pp 125,126

Furthermore, true religion must, in all its teachings, "be in full harmony with God's word. Only in this way can such religion truly be pleasing to Jehovah God." p. 130

If this is not the case, then it is urgent that we "completely separate ourselves now from every part of that false religious empire ... We need to quit sharing in their activities ... We need to serve notice to them that we are withdrawing from their organizations." p. 135

Let God Be True, adds:

God's written Word is pure without such man-made traditions; and those who teach and hold to such traditions ... make liars of themselves ... God inspired his prophet Isaiah to speak out in strong words against those who claim to be God's people but who practice hypocrisy by following the precepts and traditions of men rather than the inspired Scriptures. p. 11

"Such traditions men have since recorded and published as being equal to the inspired Scriptures or even superior to the Scriptures where there is a conflict between the two." pp 12,13

In no case did he [Jesus] appeal to the rabbinic schools of teaching with their traditions and precepts of men. He faithfully referred his disciples to God's word ... blind adherence to religious traditions and systems leads a person into opposition to those who hold God's word as true. pp 15,16

So in public literature the Watchtower claims that the Bible is the highest authority, and no spiritual authorities that differ from the Bible should be accepted. Everything we teach must strictly agree with the Bible, and we should leave any group that teaches differently from the Bible.

B. The Teaching of the Bible

Again, the Watchtower statements just quoted agree with the Bible.

Matthew 15:9 - Following the doctrines of men makes our worship vain.

Galatians 1:8,9 - Those who teach differently from the gospel are accursed, and we should not follow them (vv 6,7).

1 Timothy 1:3 - We must charge people to teach no other doctrine.

2 John 9-11 - Those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, but teach a different doctrine, must not be received.

So the Bible agrees that it is the highest spiritual authority. And every group, including the Watchtower Society, must teach according to the Bible. If they teach differently from God's word, rather than following them, we must oppose their teaching.

[Colossians 3:17; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19; 2 Timothy 1:13; John 5:43]

C. Statements of Watchtower Officials in the Scotland Trial

But despite their public teaching, note what officials admitted in the trial.

Testimony of Frederick Franz:

Q. Am I right that it was at one time forecast that in 1925 Abraham and other prophets would come back to earth?
A. They were expected to come back approximately then,
Q. But they did not come back?
A. No.
Q. It was published, was it not, to the body of Jehovah's witnesses, that that was expected in 1925?
A. Yes.
Q. But that was wrong?
A. Yes, and Judge Rutherford admitted it to the Headquarters. 
(pp 120-121)

And further:

A. 1874 used to be understood as the date of Jesus' Second Coming spiritually.
Q. Do you say, used to be understood?
A. That is right.
Q. That was issued as a fact which was to be accepted by all who were Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. Yes.
Q. That is no longer accepted, is it?
A. No.
...
Q. But it was a calculation which is no longer accepted by the Board of Directors of the Society?
A. That is correct.
Q. So that I am correct, I am just anxious to canvass the position, it became the bounden duty of the witnesses to accept this miscalculation?
A. Yes.(pp 104,105)

And furthermore:

Q. So that what is published as the truth today by the Society may have to be admitted to be wrong in a few years?
A. We have to wait and see.
Q. And in the meantime, the body of Jehovah's Witnesses have been following error?
A. They have been following misconstructions on the Scriptures.
Q. Error?
A. Well, error. (p. 114)

Testimony of Hayden C. Covington, head legal counsel for the Watchtower Society regarding the prediction that Jesus would return in 1874:

Q. That was the publication of false prophecy?
A. That was the publication of a false prophecy, it was a false statement or an erroneous statement in fulfillment of a prophecy that was false or erroneous.
Q. And that had to be believed by the whole of Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. Yes, because you must understand, we must have unity, we cannot have disunity with a lot of people going every way, an army is supposed to march in step.
...
Q. Back to the point now, a false prophecy was promulgated?
A. I agree to that.
Q. It had to be accepted by Jehovah's witnesses?
A. That is correct.
Q. If a member of Jehovah's witnesses took the view himself that that prophecy was wrong, and said so, would he be disfellowshipped?
A. Yes, if he said so, and kept on persisting in creating trouble ... Our purpose is to have unity.
Q. Unity at all costs?
A. Unity at all costs, because we believe and are sure that Jehovah God is using our organisation, the governing body of our organisation, to direct it, even though mistakes are made from time to time.
Q. And unity based on an enforced acceptance of false prophecy?
A. That is conceded to be true.
Q. And the person who expresses his view, as you say, that it was wrong, and was disfellowshipped, would be in breach of the covenant, if he was baptised?
A. That is correct.
Q. And as you said yesterday expressly, would be worthy of death?
A. I think....
Q. Would you say yes or no?
A. I will answer yes, unhesitatingly. (pp 346-348)

And also:

Q. But then it is the case, is it not, that on occasion you have not spoken what is not true?
A. I have agreed to that many times, and I will agree to it many times more, that we have made mistakes and have proclaimed error and have had to correct ourselves many times ...
Q. Do you know of any religion of the world, as you would put it so called, which has as its set up of publishing what is later proved to be untrue but requiring of its members that under pain of spiritual death they must accept that untruth?
A. I do not know of any other organisation except Jehovah's Witnesses. (p. 356)

So the public literature of the Society teaches, as does the Bible, that no group should ever expect people to follow teachings that differ from Scripture, and that we should leave any group that would do such. Yet in court the Society leaders admitted, not only that they have taught error, but that they insist even yet that their followers should have followed them even when they were teaching error! And any member who teaches the truth of Scripture and opposes such error, is worthy of death! (Doubtless Society leaders would claim they were sincere when they taught those errors, but the same is true of leaders of the groups the Society teaches people to leave.) Such admissions not only contradict the public teaching of the Society, but they shows by the Bible that the Watchtower must be a false group.

Conclusion

Most Jehovah's Witnesses would no doubt be shocked to learn of these admissions by some of their highest officials. We challenge Jehovah's Witnesses to honestly wrestle with this evidence and to accept what this means regarding the organization they have affiliated with. The Bible and Watchtower publications both teach that people ought to leave any organization that views man-made doctrine as authority or that expects people to accept their man-made teachings, even when they disagree with the Bible. Yet that is exactly what the Watchtower does.

We likewise urge all who read this to realize their responsibility to study, understand, and follow God's word, regardless of the consequences. You can understand for yourself. You should question and examine all teachings in light of the Scripture. And you should refuse to follow whatever differs from God's word.

Be like the noble Bereans in Acts 17:11. Search the Scriptures diligently with an honest heart and determine the truth for yourself the truth.

Note: I have in my possession a copy of the actual transcript quoted above. At the time of writing, copies can be obtained online (it is a huge file and will download slowly): Go to http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_50/762000/762879/1/print/1954-Walsh-Trial.pdf

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 5/2009, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

Jehovah's Witness Teaching about Baptism
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority
Tradition as Religious Authority
Can We Understand the Bible?
The Importance of Bible Instruction
Why So Much Religious Confusion & Division?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds

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