The Watchtower society is the main legal entity used worldwide by Jehovah’s Witnesses to direct, administer and develop doctrines for the religion. It is a major publisher of religious publications, including books, tracts, magazines and Bibles. Since its inception, the Watchtower Society has claimed to be the only organisation on earth that speaks on behalf of God (whom they call “Jehovah”) and the only means by which God directs his true followers today. On this basis it exerts tremendous control over just about every aspect of the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here are just some examples of the claims the Watchtower Society has made about itself:
“The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man’s opinion is expressed in The Watchtower…” [Watchtower 1931 Nov 1 p.327]
“The Lord gives interpretation to his prophecies and causes the same to be published… As certain as the Lord has caused these truths to be published in The Watchtower.” [Watchtower, 1936 Mch 1 p.72–73]
“It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the “slave” as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision.” [Watchtower 1957 Jun 15 p.370]
“The holy spirit is the active force of the living God, which he sends out through his Son, Christ Jesus, and which operates toward Jehovah’s people, enlightening and directing his theocratic organization on the earth today as it did in the days of the apostles.” [Watchtower 1959 Apr 1 p.219]
“Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force. (Zech. 4:6) Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book…” [Watchtower 1973 Jul 1 p.402]
As you can see, the Watchtower Society has made some bold claims about itself over the last century. Not only has it claimed that it is being inspired like the apostles of Jesus were, but also that any opinions it gives are not of human origin but rather that of God. They have positioned themselves as the sole mouthpiece of God on earth.
A LEGACY OF MISTAKES AND CONTRADICTIONS
It’s interesting to note that the Watchtower Society has admitted that there are mistakes in the Bible:
“As everyone knows, there are mistakes in the Bible and there never has been a book written yet that is perfect that has been written by any human hand.” [The Watch Tower April 15 1928 p.123]
Now if the Bible can contain mistakes as the Watchtower Society concedes, then isn’t it reasonable and logical to conclude that their own publications will also contain mistakes? When the teachings of the Watchtower Society are put under the microscope what we find is that far from being a divinely inspired organisation, it is in fact a very fallible human affair as its doctrine over the years are full of mistakes and contradictions. We are going to focus on the Watchtower Society’s shifting stance on organ transplants in order to disprove their claims of divine inspiration. Here are a chronological series of quotes from the Watchtower Society’s publications:
“The question of placing one’s body or parts of one’s body at the disposal of men of science or doctors at one’s death for purposes of scientific experimentation or replacement in others is frowned upon by certain religious bodies. However, it does not seem that any Scriptural principle or law is involved. It therefore is something that each individual must decide for himself.” [Watchtower 1961 August 1 p.480]
“When there is a diseased or defective organ, the usual way health is restored is by taking in nutrients. The body uses the food eaten to repair or heal the organ, gradually replacing the cells. When men of science conclude that this normal process will no longer work and they suggest removing the organ and replacing it directly with an organ from another human, this is simply a shortcut. Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others.” [The Watchtower Nov. 15 1967 p.702]
“Regarding the transplantation of human tissue or bone from one human to another, this is a matter for conscientious decision by each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some Christians might feel that taking into their bodies any tissue or body part from another human is cannibalistic… Other sincere Christians today may feel that the Bible does not definitely rule out medical transplants of human organs… It may be argued, too, that organ transplants are different from cannibalism since the “donor” is not killed to supply food.” [The Watchtower March 15 1980 p.31]
As you can see, the Watchtower has moved back and forth on this issue over the years, by first permitting organ transplants and leaving the choice down to each Jehovah’s Witness, then prohibiting them and condemning all those who participate as cannibals and finally contradicting themselves again by saying that is down to the discretion of each Jehovah’s Witness whether they view it as cannibalistic or not. This is by no means a trivial issue that can be simply dismissed, it is medical in nature and therefore has resulted in the unnecessary suffering and death of some of its members. When God directs a person or organisation, then their theology should not contradict itself in such a manner, otherwise what’s the purpose of God’s direction?
If we contrast the teachings of the Watchtower with that of the Qur’an it is like comparing night and day. In spite of the Qur’an being revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) piecemeal over a span of 23 years, with verses being revealed in different circumstances, many instantaneously in response to questions from believers and non-believers alike, and without the opportunity of an editorial process to ‘fix’ the Qur’an after it had been revealed, it is remarkably free of such mistakes and contradictions. This is the litmus test for true revelation from God – since God is All Knowing and All Wise, anything revealed by Him should be perfect and flawless. Mistakes and contradictions are properties of uninspired human beings, not God.
TYPICAL RESPONSE FROM JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
The typical response from Jehovah’s Witnesses is to dismiss these claims by saying that the Watchtower Society did not make mistakes/contradictions but rather gradually improved its understanding of this issue over time. They call this “new light” or “new spiritual food”, and a Jehovah’s Witness will be quick to point out the Bible verse Proverbs 4:18 which says that the light is getting “lighter and lighter”. This verse is used often (and out of context) by Jehovah’s Witnesses when defending the Watchtower’s many doctrinal changes.
Unfortunately this is not a case of light getting brighter but rather flickering between light and darkness and is therefore a contradiction. It so happens that Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Society, had this to say on the subject of new light:
“If we were following a man undoubtedly it would be different with us; undoubtedly one human idea would contradict another and that which was light one or two or six years ago would be regarded as darkness now: But with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, and so it is with truth; any knowledge or light coming from God must be like its author. A new view of truth never can contradict a former truth. ‘New light’ never extinguished older ‘light,’ but adds to it…. So is it with the light of truth; the true increase is by adding to, not by substituting one for another.” [Zion’s Watch Tower February 1881 p.188]
This proves, according to the standards of the Watchtower Society itself, that their shifting stance on organ transplants cannot be equated to light getting brighter.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF RAYMOND FRANZ
The Watchtower Society is directed by the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact today all activities of the Watchtower Society are under their supervision. They assume responsibility for formulating policy and doctrines, producing material for publications and conventions, and administering its worldwide branch office staff. The size of the Governing Body has varied over time but as of today there are seven members. Let’s see what Watchtower Society publications have to say about the Governing Body:
“However, the Governing Body are appointed through the holy spirit under the direction of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.” [Watchtower 1990 Mar 15 p.18]
“Christ thus leads the congregation by means of the spirit-anointed “faithful and discreet slave” and its Governing Body.” [Examining the Scriptures Daily 2007 p.34]
Raymond Victor Franz was a member of the Governing Body from 20th October 1971 until 22nd May 1980 and served at the organisation’s world headquarters for fifteen years, from 1965 until 1980. Franz began working in the organisation’s writing department and was assigned to collaboratively write “Aid to Bible Understanding”, the first religious encyclopedia published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. On 20th October 1971 he was appointed as a member of the Governing Body. In his personal memoir “Crisis of Conscience” Franz said that at the end of 1979 he reached a crossroad:
“I had spent nearly forty years as a full time representative, serving at every level of the organizational structure. The last fifteen years I had spent at the international headquarters, and the final nine of those as a member of the worldwide Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was those final years that were the crucial period for me. Illusions there met up with reality. I have since come to appreciate the rightness of a quotation I recently read, one made by a statesman, now dead, who said: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” I now began to realize how large a measure of what I had based my entire adult life course on was just that, a myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
Frustrated by what he viewed as the Governing Body’s overemphasis on its own tradition rather than reliance on the Bible in reaching doctrinal decisions, Franz and his wife decided in late 1979 that they would leave the international headquarters. In 1980 he was disfellowshipped as a result of allegations of apostasy from the faith.
Before his death, Franz wrote two books that related his personal experiences with the Watchtower Society and his views on Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings. The following book cannot be highly recommended enough as it reveals a lot of what went on behind the scenes during his time on the Governing Body (please click on picture to enlarge):
The apostasy of Raymond Franz should be a cause for reflection. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to insist that the appointment of the Governing Body is inspired by the Holy Spirit, then did the Holy Spirit make a mistake when it appointed a future apostate to serve on the Governing Body? Moreover as part of his daily duties of being a member on the Governing Body, Raymond Franz voted on issues and had a hand in shaping the doctrine and policies of the Watchtower Society, actions which impacted (and continue to impact) millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world today. Can we trust that he was being divinely inspired in all that he did?
GOD’S ETERNAL TRUTH, OR A LATER INNOVATION?
We’ve already briefly mentioned that Charles Taze Russell founded the Watchtower Society. Russell was born on February 16th, 1852. As he was growing up he had issues with aspects of Orthodox Christianity which led him to question the reliability of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith. At eighteen he embarked on a study of the Bible and over the next few years he came to question many Christian doctrines and became convinced that the historic creeds betrayed true Christianity. Later he founded his own periodical which he titled “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence”. In 1881 Russell founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society which grew to a substantial publishing venture, with millions of books in print. Unlike so many other Christian sects that sprung up before and after him, Russell did not put his new teachings down to miraculous visions or other extra-biblical revelation. Rather, he simply reinterpreted the Bible. Some examples of historical Christian teachings that he (and Jehovah’s Witnesses today) deem to be heretical include the existence of Hell as a place of eternal torment and the divinity of Jesus.
While Russell is honoured among Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not refer to him as their ‘founder’. Rather, they hold that Jesus is their founder while Russell was simply a man used by God to restore beliefs that had been long since lost. This raises an interesting question – if they are the only true followers of Jesus as they claim, then why is it that God allowed His truth to disappear for nearly 2,000 years? Why would God send Jesus to guide mankind, only for the truth that he brought to be lost until the emergence of the Watchtower Society? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of revelation in the first place? It could easily be argued that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are just another innovated sect in a sea of innovated Christian sects that have emerged in the aftermath of Jesus.
Compare this situation with the Qur’an and hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) which are the primary sources of knowledge in Islam. Both of these sources have been preserved since their original revelation. Nearly 1,500 years of elapsed time has not led to a loss of a single verse of he Qur’an nor the tradition of Prophet Muhammad. This is the kind of standard we should expect for God’s truth, that it will be protected until the end of time and thus fulfilling the purpose of its revelation in the first place – guidance for all of mankind in all times and places and not just a niche sect at a late time in history.
When one examines the Watchtower Society’s publications and history it is clear that it is far from being a divinely inspired organisation. It has a legacy littered with mistakes and contradictions which are not just theological in nature but have had devastating impact on people’s lives. Sadly this is to be expected when a fallible human enterprise plays God without the authority to do so. There is only one man in history who was inspired by God and whose message survives to this day in its original uncorrupted and pure form. This man is Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the divine message that he delivered is with us today in the Qur’an and hadith. Mankind should put their faith in the Qur’an and teachings of Prophet Muhammad which are built upon a solid foundation, not the Watchtower Society or any other man made institution for that matter:
“Then is one who laid the foundation of his building on righteousness [with fear] from Allah and [seeking] His approval better or one who laid the foundation of his building on the edge of a bank about to collapse, so it collapsed with him into the fire of Hell? And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.” [Qur’an, chapter 9, verse 109]