The tragic death of musical artist Prince has cast a light on his music, life and faith. Prince was perhaps the highest profile follower of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement. Prince often spoke about his JW faith and how it differed from Christianity.
His death prompted me to reflect on the many Bible studies and meetings I have had with JW followers over the years. While there are many good in-depth analysis of the JWs, this is my own personal reflection. (See this for deeper analysis.)
JW's, like Prince, are genuinely concerned with the glory of God and upholding the Bible as the supreme standard of their faith. Prince often did word studies from the Bible to glean a greater knowledge of God. JW's love and willingness to help and witness to others, I believe, is evident.
However, there are two big issues I find with this. Firstly, they worship a different God. All Christian faiths (e.g. Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox etc.) believe that sin separates us from God. Sin brings judgement. But Jesus' death pays this debt completely. This is possible because Jesus is fully God (without sin) and fully man (our representative).
JW's see Jesus as just an angel. And an angel's death can't atone for sin and reconcile us back to God (Hebrews chapter 1 and 2). It's a different Jesus.
It's also a different Holy Spirit. JW make Him into some impersonal "force." This concept of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is covered up in their specific Bible translation that changes words and grammar to "de-divine" Jesus and the Spirit. So it is a different God without Jesus and the Spirit. Therefore, it's a different salvation.
Another concern: they push hard with the idea that we can't call God "God" or "LORD." His name, they say, is "Jehovah" and should be used correctly. But they fail to see "Jehovah" is a (very) poor English translation of the Hebrew divine name.
No one really knows how to say it but the closest is "Yahweh." And the Jews were reluctant to say it because it was so holy. That is why English Bibles use LORD in the place of Yahweh. That is why Matthew's gospel, written for Jews, does backflips to avoid using the divine name or even "God." It uses euphemisms such as "Kingdom of Heaven" (a.k.a Kingdom of "God"). So if the name is that important then why use a poor English translation? Why does the Bible itself uphold the orthodox idea of using terms such as Kingdom of Heaven as a symbol for this divine holy name?
A big question that was evident when Prince talked about his discipling was the structure of the JW organisation. Most denominations can follow a line of believers and doctrines back to the Church Fathers and Book of Acts. For example, Presbyterianism links back to Calvin, Luther and the Reformation. This pointed back to the foundation of the Bible as "God's Word" over the need for Roman Catholic Church traditions.
However, the JW's lose this continuity around the 1870s. They can't agree with the doctrines of the Reformation or the Roman Catholic traditions or anything else orthodox in church history. There is no continuity. It just "appeared" in America in the 1870s.
Linked with this is the fact that all teaching, booklets, sermons and Bible studies come from one central office in New York. And these are controlled by a select group of Elders. So on any given Saturday (they reject Sunday as the Lord's Day / resurrection despite Mark chapter 16 in original Greek saying "the first day of the week, the Sabbath") the booklets read all around the world are the same and the interpretation of them is highly controlled. Some suggest that is close to the definition of a cult.
When I have had my studies with my JW friends it is obvious to me that it is not a matter of logic or intelligence. Like Prince, they know their Bible better than most Christians I know. It is a spiritual issue founded on the gospel: the position of Jesus, doctrine of atonement and salvation.
In the end, as the Book of Revelation explains, Jesus will sit on the throne of heaven and be worshipped by all creation. The key for Christians is to pray for them. The Spirit needs to soften hearts and open spiritual eyes (John chapter 14) so that Jesus can be worshipped by all.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at