Spiritual Perspectives


JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES AND SALVATION

Gary W. Summers

     For many years, the group that calls itself the Jehovah’s Witnesses used in their studies with people a book titled The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, published in 1968.  Now they have a new book, copyright-ed 1985 and 1989 (all rights reserved) called Reasoning from the Scriptures.  Apparently, their position on salvation has not changed, but they have reworded their teaching to save themselves from the embarrassing sentence in their previous book.  Although they correctly teach that baptism is by immersion (rather than sprinkling and pouring) and that infants are not in need of baptism), they do not teach, as does the New Testament, that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (even though they do quote Acts 2:38 and 22:16). 

 

     What do they say about salvation?  Primarily, they agree with most religious denominations that salvation is by faith only; the only difference would be that they agree with the Scriptures that God requires obedience and that a saved person can be lost, whereas Calvin-ism teaches “once saved, always saved.”  In the older book they advocate that the sinner pray, telling God he wants to be His servant.  In the more recent volume, they agree with the denominational lingo of “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior” (219).  No apostle or prophet ever said those words to anyone (at least, it was never so recorded).

 

     Although Reasoning from the Scriptures contains 76 “Principal Subjects,” repentance is not one of them.  To be sure, the word is mentioned occasionally, but the emphasis put on it in the Scriptures is not in this man-made book.  Change is one of the crucial concepts in the New Testament; repentance is the point at which one decides to remain in sin or to give it up.  If we decide that Jesus loves us more than Satan and will pro-vide us a much better reward, then we repent.  If we enjoy sin and do not appreciate the Lord’s sacrifice for us, then we stay where we are.  No one, however, can become a Christian if he refuses to repent.   

 

     Jehovah’s Witnesses de-emphasize baptism, also, robbing it of its purpose; they reduce it to a mere symbol.  In their 1968 book, they stated their beliefs so poorly that it was easy to see that they were disagreeing with the Scriptures.  In answer to the question, “What, then, does Christian baptism signify?” they wrote: “It is not a washing away of one’s sins…” (183). This phraseology is much too close to that of Acts 22: 16, in which Saul of Tarsus was told: “‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”  So the Scriptures teach that baptism washes away sins, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree: “It is not a washing away of one’s sins.”  It was fairly easy to see that they were directly contradicting the Scriptures.

 

     Their newer book avoids that obvious comparison, but their doctrine remains the same.  They still maintain that baptism is “an outward symbol” (54).  For a group that quotes Scriptures constantly to back up whatever they say, the absence of a Scripture here is most conspicuous.  They offer no more proof for this idea than religious denominations do.  The Bible never presents baptism as an outward symbol, which is a claim originated by men to circumvent baptism’s true involvement in the cleansing of one’s sins. 

 

     Baptism is not a symbol of what has already taken place; sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus WHEN a person is baptized (compare Acts 22:16 with Revelation 1:5).  If His blood washes away our sins at that precise moment (and it does), then baptism is essential to salvation.  No blood is applied at the point of faith; the blood of Christ is not connected to the confession that He is the Son of God.  Not even repentance is linked to His blood.  It is, however, connected to baptism: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). 

 

          We die to sin, the blood cleanses us in baptism, and we arise a new creation (Rom. 6:5; 2 Cor. 5:17).  This is the new birth (John 3:1-5).  When we repent of our sins, we die to self, and are buried; a new per-son emerges from the waters of baptism.  The individual is saved at this point, having been set free from and delivered from his sins.  They have been re-moved by the powerful blood which Jesus shed for us upon the cross: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34).

 

Salvation

 

     Jehovah’s Witnesses have a thorny problem to deal with.  How can they define salvation?  The first question that a non-religious person might ask, when he is encouraged to be saved, is: “Saved from what?”  Naturally, the correct response to such a question is, “You must be saved from your sins; it was for that reason that Jesus came to this earth.  The name Jesus means “Savior.”  When an angel of the Lord instructed Joseph to name the unborn child Jesus, he gave as a reason that “He will save His people from their sins.”  Sin is what condemns us; we need to be saved from its consequences—death (Rom. 6:23).

 

     The next question someone might ask is: “What happens to me if I am not saved from my sins?”  We would answer that the punishment is death—eternal death—away from the presence of the Father (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree that anyone will spend “eternity in hellfire” (357).  They can disagree until the Lord returns, but Jesus taught that the fire was everlasting (Matt. 25:41).  Why have a fire that lasts forever, if everyone is annihilated? 

 

     If annihilation were true, there is no real deterrent to sin.  Jehovah’s Witnesses would answer: “But those who are annihilated will miss out on being a part of God’s eternal kingdom.”  Well, who cares a big zip-a-dee-doo-dah?   Most people are materialistic and empirical anyway.  They are not interested in trading the definite pleasures of this world for a possible reward later on.  If there is no penalty for indulging in the lusts of the flesh, then why not enjoy what we can at the moment?  All that most people want is a comfortable life with a minimum of pain; if they get that, they will be satisfied.  Living eternally would be nice, but they could do without it.  They did not exist before they got here, and if they cease to exist when they leave, that poses no real problem.

 

     The existence of a place of torment, however, is a real motivating factor for many.  While missing out on heaven and being annihilated might prompt within people a momentary sadness, the concept of hell ignites fear.  Even if we convince ourselves that God would not punish someone forever, it is not quite so easy to dismiss the Scriptures that teach that He will.  It is hard not to say, “But what if He does?”  Since people try to avoid pain at every opportunity, it is certain that nobody wants it to last forever.

 

          So what do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have people saved from?  Their first answer is that Jesus provides deliverance from “the present wicked system” (356), but they use no Scripture reference to accompany this claim.  The last time anybody checked, the “present wicked system of things” remained intact.  The ACLU has not repented of its attacks against Christianity; Hollywood has not adopted any higher moral values; our courts still favor the criminals over the victims.  Exactly how has anyone been saved from these things?

 

     The book also states that Jesus saves us “from bondage to sin and death.”  While this statement is true, it is not very inclusive.  It says nothing about past sins being forgiven, which is the message Peter gave his Jewish brethren on Pentecost (Acts 2:38).

 

Baptism and Forgiveness

 

     Just to be certain that baptism is totally divorced from salvation, Jehovah’s Witnesses include the following question in Reasoning from the Scriptures: “Does Christian water baptism result in forgiveness of sins?”  They first quote 1 John 1:7 and then add parenthetically: “Thus, not baptismal water but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin” (55).  Who has ever denied that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin?  We have addressed that point previously in this article.  No one has ever argued that the power lies in the water (1 Peter 3:21), but the spiritual process of salvation does involve the washing away of our sins by the blood of Jesus WHEN we are immersed in water.  Thus, the act of baptism cannot be disassociated with baptism.

 

      When they cite Acts 2:38, they quickly try to minimize the meaning of the verse, which speaks of being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  Immediately, the authors of this book ask: “Did the baptism itself bring forgiveness to them?”  Then they launch into something that is totally irrelevant to the point—to distract the reader from the obvious teaching of the verse.  The people (convinced they have crucified their Messiah and Lord) ask what they should do.  Peter tells them to repent and be baptized—not just for that sin—but for their sins.  How could they not conclude that repentance and baptism would bring about their forgiveness?

 

     Finally they misquote Acts 22:16, in which Ananias tells Saul of Tarsus: “Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name” (emphasis theirs) (56).  First, the verb is correctly rendered “be baptized”—not “get baptized.”  Second, “be baptized” and “wash away” are connected by and.  Third, the Greek Interlinear shows that “your sins” is the direct object of both verbs, and it is followed by a comma.  There is no preposition (by) preceding “calling on the name of the Lord.”  The way Jehovah’s Witnesses have changed the wording (and no one agrees with them on this “translation”) implies that a person’s sins are washed away, not by baptism, but by calling on the name of the Lord.  Common sense, even if we do not know Greek, tells us that the concept of washing fits baptism rather than an oral confession.  

 

     The version they use in their publications is their own, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.  They will not tell anyone who “translated” it, but it is obvious that they were not Greek scholars.  It is not strictly a translation, as demonstrated by the verse under consideration.  Changing be baptized to get baptized lacks authority.  Inserting a preposition where none is needed, called for, or implied means the “translators” put their interpretation into the text (what they would like it to say—something that agrees with their theology). 

 

     Berry’s Greek Interlinear records: “And now why delayest thou? Having arisen be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  They have an alternate reading, “calling on his name.”  Marshall’s Interlinear has: “And now what intendest thou? Rising up be baptized and wash away the sins of thee, invoking the name of him.”  Although there is a variation or two, the sentence structure is the same: “calling on the name of the Lord” applies to both be baptized and wash away your sins.  Like so many religious denominations, the Jehovah’s Witnesses simply want to separate salvation from baptism.  But the Holy Spirit, who inspired the New Testament, links them together.

 

Conclusion

 

     Jehovah’s Witnesses hold so many different views from what the denominations teach, that perhaps they think it is best to agree with them concerning salvation.  They deny the eternality of Jesus and that the Holy Spirit is a person and part of the Godhead.  To agree that salvation is by “faith only” is their one point of con-tact with various Christian sects, in which they can pre-sent themselves as being like everyone else.  In that and their eschatology (fanciful speculations of end-time occurrences) they share a common ground.  We, on the other hand, do not care what anyone thinks or what points of agreement we share in common.  Our attitude has and will always be, “What saith the Scriptures?”

 

     If we were the only people on the face of the earth who agreed with the inspired apostle that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins,” then we would be satisfied.  It is not men we must please, but rather God (Who de-sires that all be saved), our Lord (Who gave His blood that we could have our sins washed away), and the Holy Spirit (Who inspired the holy Scriptures that we study).  The fact is that others have likewise seen and recognized the importance of baptism in salvation in various centuries and locales, beginning with the first!

 

     Where else would we expect Satan to create confusion, if not at the most crucial point of all—how one becomes saved from his sins?  One hundred explanations to try to discount the role of baptism in salvation will not change one iota what the Scriptures teach on that subject.  As long as the world stands, the fact will remain that those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, will need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and the blood of Jesus will continue to wash them away.

 

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