A familiar tactic in discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness is for the Witness to say that the discussion is simply semantics, a quibbling about specific meanings of words and not very important. However, they don’t argue this way. As we discuss ‘kingdom,’ it is indeed about the meaning of a word, but this word encompasses a vital point of the gospel and one that Jesus spent His ministry proclaiming (Matthew 4 v 23). The Bible is full of words, each of which has a meaning and each of which is important.
In any system of interconnected data any inaccuracies or errors will permeate throughout the whole structure in an attempt to maintain consistency. By this is meant that any error will require the twisting and distortion of other facts in order to make them all ‘fit’.
For example; if a single piece of a jigsaw is forced in to a wrong position then other pieces will also need to be forced in if the jigsaw is to be completed. Where only the truth resides there will be no need to force facts to fit the whole; when all the pieces of a jigsaw are in their correct places there would have been no need to force any in to position.
The Watchtower Society’s (WTS) theology contains many such errors and inaccuracies which force, twist, and distort the facts in order to give a semblance of consistency. Often though, even with such distortions, the inconsistencies remain, which require the rank and file membership, the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves (JWs), to suspend logic and simply accept that the ‘faithful and discrete servant’ knows what it is doing and a future introduction of newer and brighter light will at some point clarify the truth.
One such error is the insistence by the WTS that the word translated kingdom in the New World Translation (NWT) is meant to be taken as meaning government1, 2. Why is this redefining of a widely recognised word necessary? According to WTS theology, only 144 000 anointed persons will go to heaven (Rev.7&14) and only these are born again3. The rank and file (the other sheep, or great crowd, or great crowd of other sheep (Jn.10:16) do not need to be born again as they are not part of the new covenant put in place at Jesus’ death4, 5
Salvation for these other sheep does not depend on them being born again and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins, but on their being members of the WTS and exercising faith6, 7. Were it to be shown that being born again is a prerequisite for salvation, this would prove the WTS’s theology is significantly in error and would destroy a major foundation of their religion.
The way of salvation is key, as Satan’s primary aim is to prevent the personal relationship of God’s children with their Father, to stop them accepting the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice and so obtaining salvation (Romans 6:23). If he can achieve this then any forfeit made would be acceptable. Satan would love all of mankind to be unhappy and to have no thoughts of God at all and many of his tactics work on these points, but he is willing to forego these if it means a person still does not gain the salvation for which Jesus gave His life. Satan uses the WTS to deny their followers these rights.
There are many passages in the New Testament that highlight the need to be born again (1 Peter 1: 3,4,23; Rom 6: 2-7; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9) None are as specific or unequivocal as those in John 3. Here Jesus is talking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, someone who would have studied the scriptures from an early age and would be well versed in them; there was no need for parables here. He comes to Jesus and before he even has the chance to ask a question Jesus tells him:
“Most truly I tell you. Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. (John 3:3)
He reiterates His point by telling Nicodemus, “Most truly I tell you. Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter in to the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)
It is clear from these verses that being born again is a prerequisite for entry in to the kingdom of God and even the WTS does not deny this. Furthermore, those not born again will not even be able to see the kingdom, let alone enter it. So how does the WTS manage to crowbar their Revelation’s theology in to these clear statements of scripture?
They do it by changing the definition of the phrase Kingdom of God. Specifically they claim the word kingdom actually means government, and more specifically those 144 000 persons redeemed from the earth in Revelation 14 v 38. With this redefinition of a key theological concept the inconsistency of who needs to be born again is magically removed.
What scriptural basis (or other) basis) does the WTS use in redefining the phrase kingdom of God, or more specifically the word kingdom? The Koine (the original language of the NT) word for kingdom used is basileia (with a basis in basileus meaning king) which Vine’s Expository Dictionary9 defines as;
Primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion…then by metonomy a concrete noun, denoting a territory or people over whom a king rules…(Metonomy is the way a word changes in use)
Strangely enough the WTS is often happy to use this definition for kingdom where it discusses the meaning of God’s kingdom. In the WTS book Insight on the Scriptures (Vol 2 1988) p158 Kingdom is defined as;
‘Basically, a royal government; also the territory and peoples under the rule of a king or, less frequently, under a female monarch or queen. Often the kingship was hereditary. The sovereign ruler might bear other titles such as Pharaoh or Caesar.’
It then goes on to discuss how early kingdoms (including the Israelite kingdom) developed, but the overwhelming concept from these discussions is that the kingdom referred to is not a government at all, but the more widely accepted understanding of a kingdom, a realm over which a king rules. For example;
A royal organization developed in Israel to administer the interests of the kingdom10.
How can a government be formed (A royal organization…) in order to administer the interests of the government? And what was the kingdom before the royal organization had developed? Again, in the same volume the following statements are made in its article entitled Kingdom of God10;
KINGDOM OF GOD. The expression and exercise of God’s universal sovereignty toward his creatures, or the means or instrumentality used by him for this purpose. ( Ps 103 : 19 ) The phrase is used particularly for the expression of God’s sovereignty through a royal government headed by his Son, Christ Jesus. The word rendered “kingdom” in the Christian Greek Scriptures is ba·si·lei’a, meaning “a kingdom, realm, the region or country governed by a king; kingly power, authority, dominion, reign; royal dignity, the title and honour of king.”
This does not support their contention that this kingdom is a government, in fact it does just the opposite. It talks about it being the ‘…expression of God’s sovereignty through a royal government…’ not that it is a government. Its definition of Kingdom at the end of the above paragraph does not mention an option to mean government.
In Reasoning from the Scriptures (1989 page 225);
‘The Kingdom of God is the expression of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty toward his creatures, or the means used by him to express that sovereignty. This term is used particularly to designate the manifestation of God’s sovereignty through the royal government headed by his Son, Jesus Christ. “Kingdom” may refer to the rulership of the one anointed as King or to the earthly realm ruled by that heavenly government.’
Again, nothing here to support their contention, particularly in the ‘definition’ at the end of the paragraph.
Does the Bible actually speak of God’s Kingdom as being a government?
Isa. 9:6, 7, RS: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government12 [also KJ, AT, Dy; “dominion,” JB, NE; “princely rule,” NW] will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”
This appealing to Isaiah to try and back up their claim is a recurring theme. But even here there is no indication that the Kingdom is to be a government, but simply that the government will be on His shoulder (not the ‘shoulder’ of 144 000 redeemed from the earth). Where is the connection, there is none.
In most of the occasions that the WTS defines kingdom it gives the option of it meaning a realm, region or country (see quotes above by example), but then goes on to completely ignore this option. Sometimes they say the context determines which is to be used13. An open reading of John 3: 3 ,5 would show that the ‘context’ would give us a realm rather than a group of 144 000 people in heaven.
In the WTS book aimed at children Learn from the Great Teacher, Chapter 45 they state the following14;
‘Do you know what God’s Kingdom is?—
Well, a king is the ruler of a country or territory. And his government is called a kingdom. In some countries the head person in the government is called the president. What is the Ruler of God’s government called?— The King. That is why God’s government is called the Kingdom.’
Once again, nothing to back up their statement that a government is called a kingdom. Just because a government is ruled by a king doesn’t make it a kingdom, it simply makes it part of that kingdom. A king also rules the local football team, but that doesn’t make the team his kingdom, just part of his kingdom. This particular book is aimed at children so perhaps they can be forgiven for not going into depth. However, this does indicate how the WTS manages to convince its members of their twisting of words.
In the WT of 1 Sep 1961 the Issue of satan’s rulership is discussed and the following statement is made;
“Where there is a throne there must be a necessity for a kingdom with its subjects ruled over by the occupant of the throne”15
Once again the gist of the passage is that the kingdom is a realm, not the government. Further confusion over Kingdom can be seen in their 1953 Book ‘Make Sure of All Things’ page 226. Here it states
‘The Kingdom of God is a Sovereign-empowered theocratic government under an administration of divinely appointed Kings’
The ‘divinely appointed kings’ being the 144,000. So the ‘kingdom’ (government) is not actually the 144,000 because they ‘administer’ the government, so what are they administering? Further on in the same paragraph the book states:
‘The term also is used to refer to the realm over which the Kingdom government exercises control’. Are the 144,000 the government or do they simply administer it and when do we translate ‘kingdom’ as ‘government’ and when as ‘realm’?
The WTS struggles to answer these vital questions.
Translation to Government
The word kingdom (referring to God’s kingdom) appears over 100 times in the New Testament (NT) and in each case it comes from the use of the word basiliea. The word government, where it appears in some mainstream versions of the NT, is never translated from basiliea, but from numerous other words denoting some kind of rulership. But the NWT uses the word government on 10 occasions, each time translating it from the word arche (See appendix 2).
The Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the OT into Koine Greek produced a few centuries prior to Christ’s time, also uses the word arche for government, notably in the above Isaiah passages. This word has the basic meaning of beginning16 and appears most notably in Genesis 1 v 1, “In the beginning (Arche) God created the heavens and the earth”.
Its use elsewhere shows that it has a deeper meaning of preeminence and superiority, hence its use where the Hebrew word hammisrah (government) is translated in Isaiah. The WTS uses these verses as evidence that God’s Kingdom will be a government, but without any explanation as to why. They also point to Daniel 2:44 where Daniel prophesies:
“In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people”
Once again, there is no indication why this should redefine the word kingdom to mean government. The word Daniel uses for kingdom, in the Septuagint, is basiliea, and in the Hebrew malku which means kingdom, not hammisrah. Thus, “…God of heaven will set up [a realm where He rules], that will never be destroyed”.
Where it discusses the concept of the kingdom the WTS’s strategy17 is often to firstly point out that God will set up a Kingdom which will be wonderful and everlasting (no argument there). Secondly to say what the word kingdom means (usually from Vine’s dictionary, once again no argument) and to simply then state that God’s kingdom is a government, whilst quickly moving on to tell us how wonderful it will be to live under such a government on the new and perfect earth. This rapid move on to the ‘good news’ is presumably to distract from any further thinking about the blatant switch in the meaning of kingdom.
In the 1989 book ‘You Can Live forever in Paradise’ Ch 13 page 115 paragraph 5, they make the flat statement;
“Is this kingdom that Christians pray for really a government? You may not have thought it to be, but it is.”18
The only support being a quote of Isaiah 9. From then on it is taken as read that the word kingdom means government. Interestingly, in this book they quote from the King James Version, which does use the word government in the Isaiah passage.
This strategy is also used in a letter from the WTS to the author13 in response to the author’s own request for clarification from the WTS as to how they justify the redefinition. Additionally, in the letter the WTS attempts to convince the reader that many of the passages that use the term kingdom do not make sense unless it is understood that they refer to a government. It quotes the usual two instances, Daniel 2: 44 and Isaiah 9: 6, both of which, however, make perfect sense if applied to a realm or to God’s sovereignty.
A simple exercise shows the WTS’s assertion to be false for the rest of the bibleBible too: At each occasion of the word kingdom in the NT (where it refers to God’s kingdom) replace it with the phrase “a group of 144 000 individuals making up a government” and then do the same with the phrases “that over which God has sovereignty” or “that realm over which God is ruler” and see which make the most sense.
The author believes that an open minded reading will show the latter two make sense whereas the former is usually very contorted and does not read correctly. Thus, negating the WTS’s claim that government is a necessary reading.
The WTS’s deception is further highlighted in its brochure “What is the Kingdom of God?“. On the front page it asks that question and then gives three possible answers that people might come up with (once again a common ploy used by the WTS to ensure people get the ‘right’ answer);
There is no fourth option of “A realm over which God is King”, which most people would pick given the choice, this despite it being an option in various other WTS publications (as previously discussed).
This brochure gives Daniel 2: 44 and Isaiah 9: 6 as its reasoning. In the passage about the kingdom from Luke 17: 21 Jesus states:
“…neither will people be saying, ‘see here!’ or, ‘There’ For, look!’ the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Jesus uses the word ‘is’ to refer to the kingdom, not ‘will be’ which is significant. At that time, according to WTS theology, no one had been born again and therefore there was no one to form the kingdom (government), and yet here it is! The WTS presently states (as of the date of this document!) that the kingdom was not setup until 1914 after Christ had returned.
In the author’s discussions with individual JWs it is clear that they follow what they have been told without giving it much thought, a common occurrence among cult members. For example, they have used the example that the UK is ruled by a government, which is not really relevant, nor is it in fact true as the UK is actually ruled by the reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth) and her government manages the kingdom on her behalf. All laws are put in place by the monarch and without her consent the government cannot implement them.
Individual JWs have sometimes stated that ‘kingdoms have a government’, which is true and actually highlights the fallacy of their position; if they state that a kingdom has a government then a kingdom cannot be a government! One JW actually said that he had always thought of a kingdom as a government even from his younger days of fairy tales etc. This seems incredulous as what child would immediately think a reference to the Cinderella’s prince’s kingdom meant his government?
Another tactic is for the JW to say that the discussion is simply quibbling about specific meanings of words and not very important, but they don’t argue their own position this way. It is indeed about the meaning of a word, but this word encompasses a vital point of the gospel, one that Jesus spent His ministry proclaiming (Matthew 4 v 23). The Bible is full of words, each of which has a meaning and each of which is important.
To dismiss a discussion about the kingdom of God as merely about a word is dangerous in the extreme. If the word translated kingdom does actually mean what it says, a dominion over which God rules, then we need to be reborn in order to enter it.
JWs who consider themselves to be of the great crowd (nowadays almost the entirety of the WTS!) believe themselves to not to be due in the kingdom but simply to be subjects of the kingdom 19 (government).
The author has found that bringing up John 3:3,5 is a good entry point into discussions with JWs on the street. Simply asking them how they intend to enter the kingdom if they’re not born again opens up many opportunities to tell them of the wonder of the gospel. However, this tactic was once upset when the JW simply replied that was just one verse and you had to look at the whole Bible to get the true answer and, therefore, refused to be involved in any subsequent discussion! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! But, that’s another story.
The WTS’s redefinition of the word kingdom to mean government is a thinly veiled deception to side step embarrassing (for the WTS) scriptures. Even their own publications do not support their contention except in bold, empty statements that Jehovah’s kingdom will be a government. We can expect God to reign completely over His kingdom one day as the perfect ruler who loves His subjects. He won’t need a government; He has already run the universe without one since the Creation for billions of years, He won’t need anyone’s help!
We need to be careful that we follow God’s plan of redemption in His Son if we are to avoid being outside His kingdom when it comes.
Occasions of the Word ‘Government’ in the NWT
Luke 12 v 11 Arche
Luke 20 v 20 Arche
Romans 8 v 38 Arche
1 Corinthians 15 v 24 Arche (note: same verse has basilean which NWT translates as kingdom)
Ephesians 1 v 21 Arche
Ephesians 3 v 10 Arche
Ephesians 6 v 12 Arche
Colossians 2 v 10, 15 Arche
Titus 3 v 1 Arche