What is Watchtower Salvation? A key doctrine of the Bible (possibly THE key point) is about how we can be saved. God knew from the start that His people would rebel and sin and there would need to be a way back to Him that would satisfy His justice. As Christians we believe that way back is Christ; His sacrifice and blood provide the bridge we need between us as sinners and a perfect God. It is a truism to say that those Christians who go out evangelising should major on this fact; there’s little point in discussing the Trinity, or God’s name, or what shape was Christ’s crucifixion instrument, until this foundation is set.
For mainstream Christianity the answer is found very succinctly when Paul and Silas are asked this question by the jailer; their answer?
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you get saved, you and your household” Acts 16 v 31
Everything that happens after that is from the point of salvation not on the road to it. We die and are resurrected at some point to face judgement. Our names are found in the Lamb’s book of life and we go to the right to eternal life (Matthew 25 v 33). There are deep eschatological discussions to have about some of those points, but in general I believe Christians would agree on that basic summary.
Additionally, Hebrews 9 v 27 tells us:
“And just as it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this to receive a judgement,”
This would seem to preclude any ‘second chance’ option given after this life.
So what is the Watchtower Society’s (WTS) take on how to obtain salvation? For them the route is far more tortuous, does not simply rely on Christ’s sacrifice, and only really starts once the person has died and been resurrected, that is unless they happen to be still alive when Armageddon starts! More of that later.
Asking this big question is an excellent way to start a conversation with a JW as they do not seem well taught in the response, and yet the answer is the gospel. It is the ‘good news’ that alludes them. This is the good news that will one day be taught throughout the earth and herald the end. This question has the added advantage of being relatively simple theologically from a Christian’s point of view. It does not require us to have a great understanding of the WTS position – we should all be able to ‘give an answer’ about our own beliefs. But for those who intend to take the battle to the JW an understanding of what salvation entails to a JW is very important.
From my personal discussions with JWs over this question it appears that many are either unwilling or unable to effectively explain the WTS’s response. In their defence though, their literature is vague on the subject and contradictory. Should you put the question ‘how can I be saved?’ in to the search engine of their website you get 13,405 articles, but the first which actually relates to this question is at #9 on the list “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?” This is four places behind #5 “Can I back up my Personal data?” and directly below #8 “Why save rather than spend?”. This would seem to indicate the level of importance they put on ‘being saved’
Similarly, the book that they can be seen offering at their carts in the streets “What Can the Bible Teach Us?” does not have a chapter on salvation as such, though it does touch on “The Ransom – God’s Greatest Gift” and “How can You become God’s Friend?”. The 1982 book produced by the WTS “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth” (YCLFPE) is perhaps the most thorough on the subject, but few modern day JWs would have read it as it is now considered out of date and replaced by the WTS website JW.ORG. One article on this site enticingly entitled “What is Salvation?” is vague and, like many ‘answers’ WTS literature provides, does little to answer the question posed.
Asking a JW ‘What must I do to be saved?’ will often evoke statements such as; “exercise faith in Christ”, “be obedient to Jehovah”, and “obey Jehovah’s commands”. Should you ask if one needs to be a JW to be saved it is unlikely you will receive a direct answer, though their literature would confirm that you do. The main problem in this discussion is that the term salvation has a different meaning for a JW than it does for mainstream Christians.
Because salvation for them is a long term process involving a number of different distinct events the answer to our question is not simple. For mainstream Christians we can know we are saved (1 John 5 v 13), but for the JW it involves meeting certain criteria, passing certain tests, and ultimately hoping that one has done enough to avoid destruction; they will not know they are ‘saved’ until right at the end of a very long process extending way beyond their death.
JWs are taught that unless someone is a JW in good standing they will not survive Armageddon i when it comes. This ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over their heads has been a tactic since day one. Initially the sword was to fall in 1914, then 1915, then 1925, then sometime in the early 1940s and then again in 1975 and sometime prior to 2000 (at the time of writing there is no specific date designated except that we should expect it ‘soon’).
Prior to each date the JWs of the time increased their proselytising work, many selling their homes and giving up their jobs to pass out the last days doing Jehovah’s work. After each failure a large percentage of their number would leave in disappointment, leaving only the diehards to continue the work, until the next date was prophesied!
Confusingly, according to the WTS, should a non-JW die before Armageddon comes they are given a get-out-of-jail-free card in to the next world (assuming they are not ‘wicked’) and given a second chance to become Jehovah’s friend. The WTS agree on the teaching of a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous (but not the ‘wicked’) (Acts 24 v 15)ii. This is made possible by their death acquitting them from all sin from a misinterpretation of Romans 6 v 7 iii, a concept which would make Jesus’ death and atoning sacrifice completely superfluous! So for most of us this second chance would depend on the date of our death rather than our right position with God.
In summary, the JW’s route to salvation can be shown to be as follows
- Being a JW in good standing with the WTS they would survive Armageddon into the new paradise earth.
- Those JWs that die before Armageddon will be resurrected as part of the ‘righteous’ few, included with all those JWs who died in the past (even those back way beyond the 1870s when the movement was started!).
- They will join the ‘unrighteous’ in this resurrection; those who were not given a fair chance to become JWs for whatever reason. It is not clear whether this includes mainstream Christians, but it does not include the ‘wicked’ who will simply not be brought back from the non-existence of death iv. Their interpretation of Romans 6 v 7 means those who have died have had their sins acquitted thus permitting their resurrection as ‘unrighteous’. See a further discussion on this ‘step’ below as there are contradictory statements made by the WTS.
- These ‘righteous’ and ‘unrighteous’ will be resurrected into a burgeoning paradise earth. Though exactly how this is paradise earth, completely ravaged by Armageddon including the destruction of all machinery and billions of people, and packed with rotting corpses being fed on by the birds and wild animals, is not made clear except that it will be the ‘work’ of those who survived v
- This ‘paradise’ earth and all on it will be ruled over by Jehovah, Jesus and the 144,000 (Rev 7) who will already be in heaven as part of Jehovah’s perfect government vi.
- Satan will be chained up for the whole 1000 year reign of Jehovah’s government so as to no longer deceive the nations (Rev 20) vii
- Humans are then taught by Jehovah about all the new rules set out in the scrolls opened in Revelation 20 v 12 viii (according to the WTS these are not a record of past sins despite that appearing to be clear from the context – remember all our past sins are forgiven by our death according to Romans 6 v 7 ix).
- How they respond to those new ‘rules’ determines whether they are summarily destroyed sometime during or at the end of this final judgement ‘day’ of 1000 years x. The pass score is not revealed by the WTS, maybe it will be by Jehovah.
- Should they manage to survive for those 1000 years without slipping up they will face a final test as Satan is released one last time to test the nations xi (Rev 20 v 7). Despite these people having died, been resurrected from Jehovah’s memory, been allowed to live on a paradise earth for 1000 years, taught to obey Jehovah by the ancient worthies and Jehovah’s ultimate government headed by Christ, the number that fail this test will number ‘as the sand of the sea’ (Rev 20 v 8)(a vast number!).
- Those that survive all the above will have finally ‘…come to life…’ (Rev 20 v 5) and be given eternal life – they will have been saved! xii
- They will then live out eternity on a paradise earth. On a personal note; this sounds like hell! Yes, wonderful for the first 1000 years, but once you have done everything there is to do a hundred times, seen everything there is to see a hundred times and said everything there is to say a thousand times what do you do? Life will stretch on to eternity with no chance of death or release; Humans are not designed to live like that!
In step 3 above it appears that the ‘unrighteous’ will make it through to this paradise earth agreeing that:
“…all those in the memorial tombs will hear His voice and come out…” John 5 v 28, 29
Entering the Kingdom
However, confusingly, the WTS states that to be a subject of God’s new kingdom (government) there are certain requirements that must be met first. This is very contradictory with the acquittal of all our sins at death. I have yet to resolve this conundrum in my discussions with JWs.
Note: When JWs talk of God’s ‘kingdom’ they use the term differently to mainstream Christianity. In essence, to most Christians, the term refers to that over which God has dominion, that over which He rules, but to a JW it means God’s government of 144,000 persons redeemed from the earth. Be careful if you discuss this subject as you will be talking from two different standpoints!
According to ‘You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth’, Ch 15, to become a subject of God’s government (and so make it through to the paradise earth) there are specific requirements;
Knowledge of the kingdom ‘language’ is required xiii, There is even a mini-test to check you have this knowledge! xiv
A second requirement stated is ‘Righteous Conduct’ and this chapter goes on to tell us what this ‘righteous conduct’ includes xv, basically keeping Jehovah’s laws. This seems to fly in the face of the WTS’s contention that we are acquitted of our sins at death (Romans 6 v 7). Which is it?
Next requirement – we must do kind things to each other xvi.
Continuing the list of requirements we come to the need to ‘…loyally support his kingdom government…’ by being a ‘loyal…proclaimer of God’s kingdom’; xvii, basically going from door to door preaching the WTS theology.
At various points in You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth the contention is made that;
“…you will receive everlasting life in perfect health on a paradise earth under a government ruled by God!” xviii
but then forgets to mention that billions of people will not achieve this, even if they manage to pass the tests and get in to paradise – there is still 1000 years of testing to pass through before everlasting life is granted!
Looking at the book “What Can the Bible Teach Us?” in its chapter on “The Ransom – God’s Greatest Gift” there are some further confusing statements. The WTS’s concept of this ransom is different from mainstream Christianity – it is portrayed as simply balancing out Adam’s sin so effectively giving us the ‘opportunity’ to be saved as we can now possibly meet all the requirements for salvation’ (according to the WTS) xix. However, setting aside that point, the chapter gives more requirements for benefiting from this ransom.
Firstly we must ‘exercise faith’, a mistranslation of the Greek word pisteuo meaning to believe, to put one’s trust in, to be persuaded. The book tells us that exercising faith means to xx;
“…do what Jesus taught us to do.”
Thus, theirs is a salvation by works, not faith.
Secondly we must ‘attend’ the memorial of Christ’s death xxi. However, no mention is made here that the vast majority of JWs (all but those members of the 144,000, the future government [kingdom]) will not actually partake of the emblems but will simply allow these to pass them by because they are not in the covenant with Christ that the body and blood symbolise!
Chapter 12 of What Can the Bible Teach Us? asks us “How can you become God’s Friend?” In essence, to be God’s friend we must obey His commands. However, this chapter doesn’t tell us what being God’s ‘friend’ actually achieves – there are no statements as to how this affects our salvation. In reality this is not helpful in our quest to find out how we can be saved according to the WTS.
However, there is a very powerful statement made in an apparently unconnected chapter on “Respect the Gift of Life.” Here we are told;
“We are grateful to Jehovah for his wonderful gift of life! And we want to tell people that if they have faith in Jesus, they can live forever” xxii
Suddenly it’s all about faith!
Just to add to the confusion there is an article on the WTS website jw.org entitled “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?” (9th on the list when you search for ‘how can I be saved?’). In the article the following contradictory statement is made;
“Salvation is a gift from God, yet not all people will attain it”
How does one ‘attain’ a gift? If you have to ‘attain’ it then it’s not a gift! The article goes on to give three important requirements for salvation, though they do not define what they mean by ‘salvation’ so the whole thing is somewhat moot.
- Love one another, from John 13 v 35
- We need to use God’s name – Jehovah
- Loyally support God’s kingdom and teach others how it will liberate all faithful mankind
Tellingly the article states;
“Jehovah’s Witnesses diligently try to meet these requirements for salvation”
This confirms their doctrine of salvation through works and not faith (in contradiction of What Can the Bible Teach Us? page 142!)
The Way is Winding and Torturous
As can be seen, the WTS’s route to salvation is long and contorted with contradictory requirements to achieve it. The above is actually only a small representation of the statements made by the WTS on the route to salvation. I think it is clear why your average JW struggles to answer the question ‘How can I be saved?’ Because of that, the question can be a powerful weapon in the work to open their eyes to the truth of the Bible and the lies they have been taught by the WTS.
Reading the Bible as a whole very clearly gives the simple route to salvation; through faith in Christ and not in our own efforts. Man seems to have an innate need to earn his salvation, to try by his own works to be acceptable to whichever god he believes in, but the Bible tells us of the wonderful mystery that is Christ. We need to tell each JW of this true gift of Christ’s blood which guarantees our salvation, something we can know now and not have to wait until the end of a 1000 year school lesson on a paradise earth with the biggest exam ever at the end!
i Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom page 170
ii WTS Book ‘What Can the Bible Teach Us?’ page 77 paras 17-1
iii WTS 1989 Book ‘You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth’ page 175 para 3
iv WTS Book ‘What Can the Bible Teach Us?’ page 79 para 20
v WTS 1989 Book ‘You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth’ page 159 para 6
vi Ibid page 160 para 8
vii Ibid page 182 para 21
viii Ibid page 181 para 17
ix Ibid page 175 para 3
x Ibid page 180 para 14
xi Ibid page 182 para 20
xii Ibid page 181 para 18
xiii Ibid page 127 para 3
xiv Ibid page 128 para 6
xv Ibid page 130 para 12
xvi Ibid page 132 para 15
xvii Ibid page 133 para 18
xviii Ibid page 132 para 16
xix WTS Book ‘What Can the Bible Teach Us?’ page 54 para 9
xx Ibid page 58 para 20
xxi Ibid page 59 para 21
xxii Ibid page 142 para 19