The Jehovah’s Witnesses at our door the other day tried to tell us that they weren’t “knocking” any other religion. I should have responded by saying simply, “Of course you are; you think they offer the wrong teachings, don’t you?” That would have been sufficient to make the point. They were coming to tell us that they were correct and we were wrong. They wanted us to start believing what they believe.
Instead, I said, “Of course you are; you think they’re going to hell, right?”
One of the missionaries quickly assured me that they absolutely did not believe that anyone would be sent to hell. Her phrasing betrayed a bit of hedging — she kept referring to “people who never learned the truth during their life,” “people who were mentally insane,” and other people who could not reasonably be blamed for not holding these beliefs. We didn’t get into a discussion of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, and the concept that God made each of us the way we are, and the implications that this has on all these different cases. I’m not even sure what they thought about people like us, who listen to them yammer on at our doors and then fail to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. They seemed to be claiming that a “correct” reading of the Bible reveals that there is no hell of fire and brimstone at all, so we steered the conversation in that direction.
I know that there are verses in the Bible that suggest that the two options for the afterlife are heaven and death, and other verses which suggest that everybody goes to heaven. When I pointed out to the JWs that Revelation specifies that only 144,000 people will go to heaven (a figure I know they are familiar with) so presumably the rest of us go someplace else, they agreed but answered that those people will live forever in a paradise on Earth. Huh? I hadn’t heard that before.
The missionaries handed me a little booklet called What Does the Bible Really Teach? One of them assured me that I could read it alongside the Bible, “or even alone, without the Bible,” and it would answer all my questions. (I chuckled a bit at this — I’m sure they’d love it if I read this without the Bible nearby.) She opened the book to page 64, a section called “Knowing the Truth About Death is Beneficial.”
Does your religion agree with what the Bible teaches about the dead? Most do not. Why? Because their teachings have been influenced by Satan. He uses false religion to get people to believe that after their body dies, they will continue to live in the spirit realm. This is a lie that Satan combines with other lies to turn people away from Jehovah God. How so?
As noted earlier, some religions teach that if a person lives a bad life, after death he will go to a place of fiery torment to suffer forever. This teaching dishonors God. Jehovah is a God of love and would never make people suffer in this way. (1 John 4:8) How would you feel about a man who punished a disobedient child by holding his hands in a fire? Would you respect such a man? In fact, would you even want to get to know him? Definitely not! You would think that he was very cruel. Yet, Satan wants us to believe that Jehovah tortures people in fire forever–for countless billions of years!
Not only is this a spooky book for superficial reasons — such as that each paragraph is preceded by a little footnote number that leads to what looks like a discussion question you might use with kindergartners to teach basic reading comprehension, stuff like “Who has influenced the teachings of many religions, and in what way?” — it is blatantly cherry-picking Bible verses. These are very legitimate questions to be asking, in this selection I’ve quoted. But the fact that they think the Bible clearly gives this answer shows that they have not looked at the rest of their Bible very carefully.
Yes, 1 John 4:8 does say “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” Which sounds nice, I admit. But what of these verses?
Daniel 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Matthew 13:41-42 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Revelation 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
And those are just a few examples. But maybe the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own New World Translation disagrees with them, I thought. So I checked. And it would seem not:
Daniel 12:2 And there will be many of those asleep in the ground of dust who will wake up, these to indefinitely lasting life and those to reproaches [and] to indefinitely lasting abhorrence.
Matthew 13:41-42 The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be.
Revelation 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire. Furthermore, whoever was not found written in the book of life was hurled into the lake of fire.
And if you want to draw an analogy to God by asking, “How would you feel about a man who punished a disobedient child by holding his hands in a fire?” we should probably take a look at this verse as well.
Leviticus 20:9, ESV For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.
Leviticus 20:9, NWT In case there should be any man who calls down evil upon his father and his mother, he should be put to death without fail. It is his father and his mother upon whom he has called down evil. His own blood is upon him.
Don’t forget, everything in that chapter is supposed to be a direct quotation of what God said to Moses.
So, what’s the Jehovah’s Witness explanation supposed to be, here? Did Satan plant all these verses in the Bible just to make us think that God is a really evil dude? This little booklet they gave me seems to imply that these are doctrinal problems in other Christian denominations (which they refer to as “other religions”), but that Jehovah’s Witnesses got the perfect version. So it seems odd that these verses would pop up in the New World Translation. If Satan did slip some bad verses in somehow, what metric could we possibly use to determine which were real and which were tricks? If you think you can tell the difference, you’re admitting you have your own sense of right and wrong that isn’t derived from Biblical teachings.
Of course, if the Watchtower Society had just rewritten dozens of parts of the Bible to fit with their preferred dogma, I’d be calling them out on that too. Also, I don’t mean to say that the verses they’re focusing on aren’t in the Bible. It’s not as though I’m trying to say, “Look, here is what the Bible really says, and this proves Jehovah’s Witnesses wrong.”
My ultimate point here, and in that earlier post about hell, is that there are a whole bunch of mutually exclusive things that the Bible says about the afterlife. The sensible response isn’t to pick some subset of the verses, memorize those, dismiss all the others as “not what the Bible says,” and denounce everyone else as corrupted by Satan. Instead, we should see that all these myriad incompatible statements of reality are equally validated by the Bible — which means that we shouldn’t rely on the Bible for answers about reality.