HANK HANEGRAAFF: I want to spend a little time talking about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Christianity died with the last of the Apostles; therefore, they hold that Christianity was not resurrected again until their founder, Charles Taze Russell, began organizing the Watchtower Society back in the 1870s. They now consider themselves to be the only authentic expression of Christianity. In reality, however, they do what all cults do, they compromise and they confuse the nature of God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that the Trinity is a freakish looking three-headed god that was invented by Satan, and that Jesus is merely a god. In Watchtower theology, Jesus was created by God as the Archangel Michael, during his earthly sojourn he became merely human, and after his crucifixion he was recreated an immaterial spirit creature. Not only that but with respect to eschatology, they teach that only one-hundred-forty-four-thousand will make it to heaven, while the rest of the faithful will live apart from Christ on earth. Moreover, under the threat of being dis-fellowshipped, Jehovah’s Witnesses are barred from blood transfusions. In fact this was the subject of the Christian Research Journal article “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions: Their Use of Scripture in Their Blood Doctrine” written by Brian J. Wright. He joins us on the broadcast. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN J. WRIGHT: How are you doing?
HANK: Brian, this is a great example for me of how ideas have significant consequences not only spiritually but also physically.
BRIAN: Absolutely, absolutely! I think you’re right on.
HANK: You talk about those consequences in the article. You point out that in one of their publications there is a feature on five children who die after refusing to take blood transfusion, and in the article, they are then hailed as martyrs because they put God’s decree first in their lives, or at least the governing body’s interpretation of God’s decrees.
BRIAN: Yeah. Absolutely, I mean it hits you hard. I know that they’ve wielded their influence over these parents to, you know, have their kids make these decisions, then as you said they hail them as martyrs for making that decision. It’s tough pastorally just to think about it.
HANK: Talk for a few moments about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believes vis-à-vis blood transfusions because their theology has gone through transition. You have eight men part of the governing council making decisions for a whole body of believers, and yet those decisions change from time-to-time.
BRIAN: They do. We’ve seen them change a number of times and that’s something that I note in the article. Back in 1945 when it first became official doctrine, then they started nuancing it a little bit as things came their way. For example, they realized their children would not be able to go to public schools unless they made a few modifications, or their missionaries would not be able to go to other countries if they weren’t able to have certain shots like tetanus. So, they start making a few modifications, but I would just argue that they haven’t gone far enough in making changes that they need to make.
HANK: One of the things they do is they misinterpret the Scripture, and we would say in a fairly obvious way at some points. At some points what they do is they simply add words to the Scriptures and they make Christ something other than the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence. With respect to blood transfusions, what they’re doing in essence is misinterpreting the Scriptures to take passages that deal with animals and then apply them to human beings.
[Jehovah’s Witnesses reason that the receiving of a blood transfusion is a violation of biblical prohibitions against eating blood from animals, as in the cases of Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 7:26-27; 17:10-16 and Acts 15:20, 28-29.]
BRIAN: Correct. The function is different. Even the theology is different. I wouldn’t place blood transfusions in the category of distinctively pagan practices with religious overtones which what you see often times in the Scriptures in the passages that their wrestling with.
HANK: Brian you are a theologian and historian. When you look at the Watchtower organization, you don’t just look at them to find or parse error, you look at them as human beings, and your motivation is to equip Christians so that they can use the deviations to reach real people not just from a physical standpoint but from the standpoint of all eternity spiritually.
BRIAN: Correct. Absolutely so, that’s why the first thing I address even before I get into addressing the topic as a historian or a theologian, I want to address it as a pastor. That’s why, you know, first you want to weep with those who weep that have lost loved ones, as you mentioned even, those five children and there have certainly been many more. I’m reaching out to them to first sympathize for the lost they’ve experienced but also, like you said, these are real people dealing with real life issues, and we want to be able to bring counsel to that. We want to bring proper exegesis, proper biblical interpretation and understanding. That’s why in this article, I really dealt with just one small sliver of the overall equation, which was, you know, trying to pinpoint or understand their hermeneutic, which in one sense, I’d say they really don’t have one on these issues.
HANK: Brian, I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve watched the Watchtower organization or adherence of the Watchtower organization being willing to do for a lie what Christians often times are not willing to do for the truth. So, there’s a sense in which you can commend their passion but it is misguided passion but in another sense maybe this is a great warning or motivator for Christians to not simply sit but get engaged in the war because there is a war for the souls of people and we ought to be engaged in that war.
BRIAN: Absolutely, that’s why by sympathizing with them, by even finding maybe some commonality or some middle ground. I’ve mentioned in the article, you know, they’re right about a number of things. Like you said, the Bible still does speak to real people in real situations. We applaud them for attempting to find answers as to our modern questions with Scripture. Then again we’re going to start dividing over the proper handling of that and ways in which we are wanting to go out and herald the Gospel.
HANK: That is one of the things I appreciate very much about your article, you have a heart, which is very obvious in your writing, your goal is to reach as oppose to repel. So, where you can give commendation you do.
BRIAN: Yes. Like you said, you don’t overstep those boundaries or limits in order to just shake hands and be at the same table, but I think that is a place that you can often start. It is on some of those commonalities and then go from there.
HANK: Talk about some of the changes in their theology with respect to vaccinations and organ transplants.
BRIAN: A few that I noted and others is they modified one of their stances in order to allow certain antibodies, I just used tetanus as one example, so that they’re missionaries could go to other countries, and so their kids could go to public schools. That happened in 1958, which was about a little over a decade after they first came out with the doctrine. But, the sad thing is that sometimes they would change a position but it wouldn’t come out in print until a few years later and one that I noted was on February 25, 1975 they decided to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses with hemophilia from receiving any clotting factors, such as factor 8; well, they changed and retracted that statement or position four months later but they didn’t publish it until three years later. So there were several people that were negatively affected by that. Sometimes it’s not just that they are just making changes, but how quickly they are to let their followers know about them.
HANK: Brian, one final question I want to ask that has to do with the term that you use in your article—hermeneutics, which has to do with the art and science of biblical interpretation. It is a science that rules apply; it is an art in that the more you apply the rule the better you get at it. Talk to the necessity for not just Jehovah’s Witnesses but Christians in general to know the principles of hermeneutics and to faithfully apply them.
BRIAN: One of the things that I mentioned was a lot of others have written and addressed many of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ positions both from a legal perspective and a medical perspective, and even though they are pastors and theologians, I think one of the things that was unique with this article, as opposed to some of the others, is viewing it and seeing how we come to the text and how we interpret it. Hermeneutics at a very base level: how we interpret these literary texts matter greatly. It is important for us then as Christian to be handling the Word of God accurately. The questions we need to ask ourselves is how best to approach the text. To address this and come up with a framework which to do it is paramount. It is imperative for us Christians to do that.
HANK: One final question, and that is to talk for just a moment about this notion of doing what we do in such a way that we are manifesting gentleness and respect as opposed to simply trying to win an argument.
BRIAN: That’s exactly what it’s not—just to win an argument. I mean, we’re ultimately wanting to share the truth in love. With all these things we’re going to show wisdom, restraint, and love all at the same time. Whereas we see them not able to exercise freedom in Christ or even liberty, which they could as Christians, but we want to put them ahead of ourselves, and ultimately represent Christ.
For further related study, please see the following:
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions: Their Use of Scripture in Their Blood Doctrine (Brian J. Wright)
Watchtower Issues New Instructions on Blood (David A. Reed)
Watch Tower Embraces New Bloodless Medicine (Holly Pivec)
Jehovah’s Witnesses and John 1:1: New Evidence Advances the Discussion (Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti)
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian? (Hank Hanegraaff)
Interview from the Bible Answer Man broadcast December 9, 2014.