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A number of techniques employed to mislead others fall under the category of weasel words, and this article quotes examples that are regularly found in Watchtower publications.
Weasel words are defined as:
- “words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading,”
- intended “to avoid answering a question clearly or to make someone believe something that is not true."
Watchtower makes use of such words and phrases, and once aware of these, it is startling to observe their regularity in Watchtower articles, particularly when discussing teachings without solid backing.
The easiest to recognise are "words to lend weight." These are words or phrases that precede dogmatic statements that do not have solid backing; words such as clearly, obviously, seemingly, evidently, likely, assume, undoubtedly, apparently, or reasonable to conclude.
Observe how often such words appear in a single 2020 Watchtower article regarding the resurrection.
par.2 they no doubt continued to applaud
par.5 we may assume that not all of them
par.5 would likely cause
par.7 No doubt those who come back
par.8 we can assume that those greeting
par.8 it seems that Jehovah will
par.8 Lazarus obviously remembered
par.9 It seems that all mankind will
par.13 Just think of what that implies
Watchtower Study Ed Aug 2020 Article 33
Such words highlight that what follows is no more than an assumption. Key Watchtower doctrine are based solely on such assumptions. Numerous Watchtower teachings based on such assumptions have proven incorrect and been changed. Some of these will be highlighted later in this article.
Other subtle techniques include "false authority," "semantic copouts" and "mistakes were made."
False authority is using the passive voice without specifying the agent. Examples are statements about what authorities believe without providing references to whom the authority is.
"Why is it that even some scientifically-minded people have trouble accepting evolution as the origin of life? To answer that, consider two questions that baffle many researchers…” Awake! 2015 Jan p.3
Authority is given to the statement by referencing “scientifically-minded people” and “researchers,” but without specific reference to who they are, it is not possible to confirm what they really believe. Watchtower has commonly included partial quotes without reference to the source to add authority to a teaching, but with much digging, the quote is out of context. Examples are shown at Deceptive Quotes regarding Evolution.
Another example of false authority is when a guideline is presented as a conscience matter, because there is no solid Scriptural support, but then followed with the comment that a Christian, “mature Christian” or “loyal Christian” would not do such a thing. This appears in topics such as why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t commonly have beards, stay with an abusive spouse, or forgo higher education.
"Many loyal Christians have remained with an unbelieving mate under very trying circumstances." Watchtower 2018 Dec p.14
“… a mature Christian … does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding.” Watchtower 2001 Aug 1 p.14
“To mature Christians, the question of what attitude should be taken in the matter of political elections presents no issue.” Watchtower 1964 May 15 p.308
“Rather than looking to the advanced educational systems of this world for security, a Christian trusts in Jehovah.” Watchtower 2008 Apr 15 p.4
Semantic cop-outs can have the opposite affect of false authority, used to undermine a comment. Words like “claim” or “allegedly” casts doubt about someone else’s statement and implies the writers absence of ownership of opinion.
A classic example of this was a 1986 Watchtower, which raised several topics that people disagree with Jehovah’s Witnesses over. Rather than address the issues, the motives of those raising the questions was questioned through ad hominem attacks.
“Occasionally you may hear someone question whether the Scriptural prohibition against eating blood really applies to transfusions. But what is behind that reasoning?” Watchtower 1986 Mar 15 p.18
Mistakes were made
"Mistakes were made" is a way of acknowledging error without claiming responsibility. When the end did not occur after 1914, 1925 and 1975, Watchtower used this technique, admitting there were false expectations for these years, but not their own culpability as actively promoting them.
“There is no doubt that many throughout this period were overzealous in their statements as to what could be expected.” Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.52
“Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so." Watch Tower 1926 p.232
“If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.” Watchtower 1976 Jul 15 p.441
Words to Lend Weight
Words such as clearly, evidently, obviously, undoubtedly and apparently are commonly used to add weight to a premise that lacks evidence. When such words appear, it is advisable to consider just how solid the premise is. The following highlights examples where Watchtower has used these terms for statements that are not an obvious conclusion. In some cases, this has been proven by Watchtower changing the teaching at a later date.
It is Reasonable to Conclude
The fundamental Watchtower doctrine is the Jehovah's Witnesses will live forever on earth, and that Adam and Eve would have lived forever on earth if they had not sinned. This is based on the assumption that since Genesis 2:17 says they would die in the day of eating from the tree of knowledge, then they would never have died if they didn't eat from the tree.
"God held out to our first parents the prospect of never dying. By obedience they could have hoped to live eternally. (Gen. 2:17)" Watchtower 1974 Jun 15 p.376
Genesis 2:17 does not show God holding out hope that Adam and Eve would never die, rather it says eating the forbidden fruit would result in death. Watchtower says "it is reasonable to conclude" they would have been allowed to live forever.
"Jehovah created living things on earth with a limited life span, except for humans. He gave them the unique prospect of never dying. However, Jehovah warned Adam: “As for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen. 2:17) Had Adam and Eve obeyed Jehovah, they would not have died. It is reasonable to conclude that at some point, Jehovah would have allowed them to eat from “the tree of life.” This would have meant that they had his assurance that they would “live forever.”" December 2022 Study Article "We Can Live Forever"
The Bible never says what would have happened if Adam had not eaten from the fruit. It never says Adam was different from the animals and imbued with eternal human life. Watchtower has formulated a key doctrine from what was not said, and uses weasel words to support it. A non statement should not be used to formulate doctrine, and this fallacious form of reasoning is referred to as argument from silence. A conclusion cannot be drawn from something that God did not say. If Adam had not eaten from that tree, God may have had any number of plans for Adam in the future, none of which are touched upon in Genesis.
For more information on this topic see Living On Earth Forever.
Evidently and apparently are two of the weaker words used to lend weight to Watchtower statements. Their occurrence indicates the teaching is not well supported, and the information being presented should be taken as unreliable.
The dubious nature of “evident” teachings is proven by those that have been later contradicted. For example, at one point Watchtower found it evident that use of blood was acceptable, yet decades later blood was banned.
“It was evidently taken for granted that having received the spirit of Christ the new law of love would be a general regulation for them. The things mentioned [eating blood] were merely to guard against stumbling themselves or becoming-stumbling blocks to others." Watch Tower 1892 Nov 15 pp.350-351 (See Blood Transfusions.)
It was evident to Jehovah's Witnesses that praying to and worshiping Jesus was acceptable, until 1954, when this became prohibited as idolatry.
"Although we are nowhere instructed to make petitions to him, it evidently could not be improper so to do; for such a course is nowhere prohibited, and the disciples worshiped him [Jesus the Redeemer].” Zion's Watch Tower 1892 May 15 p.157 (See Worship of Jesus.)
It was taught as evident that there would be no marriage for those resurrected onto earth, but later admitted as possibly wrong.
"For years, our publications have said that Jesus’ words about the resurrection and getting married likely refer to the earthly resurrection and that those resurrected to life in the new world will evidently not marry. ... It is possible that Jesus’ words about marrying and the resurrection apply to the heavenly resurrection." Watchtower 2014 Aug 15 pp.29-30
Using weasel words to support baseless concepts has had tragic repercussions.
Until the 1990’s, known pedophiles were allowed to remain as elders, based on the concept that if wronging had not been uncovered within three years, it was indication the person was repentant and forgiven by Jehovah.
“So it is not the exact number of years, but more like two or three years. It was not intended to have a brother go back into the distant past to bring up wrongs of which he repented years ago and that have evidently been forgiven by Jehovah and are not practiced now." Kingdom Ministry 1972 Oct p.8
There is nothing evident to support this fanciful belief that resulted in known pedophiles being allowed to remain in positions of power, and continue to systematically abuse other children. (See Watchtower and Child Abuse.)
Some failed teachings that were pushed as evident, such as expectations for 1975, had profound impacts on followers that gave up careers and sold homes, to be left later in financial chaos.
“According to reliable Bible chronology, Adam and Eve were created in 4026 BCE. That seven-year period will evidently finish in the autumn of the year 1975.” Awake! 1968 Oct 8 pp:13-16
“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end." Kingdom Ministry May 1974 p.3
“Evidently, though, the climax of this worldwide witnessing is yet to be reached. But all evidence is persuasive that the climactic end is near. When it does come, shortly, where will it find us?” Watchtower 1970 Dec 15 p.758
It is appalling that hundreds of thousands of people who believed the end would come in the 1970’s have since passed away, their life decisions based on false expectations that had no substance, but made convincing by carefully connived weasel words.
Weasel words lend weight to major doctrine lacking support.
One important topic regards the word Jehovah. Huge weight is attached to using the word Jehovah as crucial to surviving Armageddon. However, this is undermined by the word Jehovah appearing as the tetragrammaton in the Old Testament, but is not found in any early New Testament manuscripts. Watchtower insists it was in the original New Testament manuscripts, concocting an explanation that these were destroyed and replaced by fraudulent copies that removed Jehovah. It presents this unjustifiable theory as evident and undoubtable.
“When apostate Christians made copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures, they evidently took Jehovah’s personal name out of the text and substituted Ky′ri·os, the Greek word for “Lord.” Watchtower 2010 Jul 1 pp. 6-7
“Why, then, is the name absent from the extant manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures or so-called New Testament? Evidently because by the time those extant copies were made (from the third century C.E. onward) the original text of the writings of the apostles and disciples had been altered. Thus later copyists undoubtedly replaced the divine name in Tetragrammaton form with Kyʹri·os and The·osʹ.” Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2 p.10
There is no justification for saying copyists evidently and undoubtedly removed the divine name from the New Testament, as no evidence exists it was ever there. This is a theory Watchtower wants to believe, and uses weasels words as support in lieu of evidence. Watchtower even claims God obviously wants his name in the New Testament.
“Should the Name Jehovah Appear in the New Testament? DOES it matter whether God’s name appears in the Bible? God obviously felt so.” Watchtower August 2008
It is ridiculous to claim God obviously wants his name in the New Testament, since he could have protected his name, if that was his wish.
Weasel words are used with doctrine lacking any semblance of reason, such as the concept of an overlapping generation, borne out of necessity once the original generation alive in 1914 had all but died out.
“Jesus evidently meant that the lives of the anointed who were on hand when the sign began to become evident in 1914 would overlap with the lives of other anointed ones who would see the start of the great tribulation.” Watchtower 2010 Apr 15 p.10
Weasel words have supported offensive, bigoted teachings, such as that divine control led to Caucasian people being of greater intelligence than “Negroes.”
“The secret of the greater intelligence and aptitude of the Caucasian undoubtedly in great measure is to be attributed to the commingling of blood amongst its various branches; and this was evidently forced in large measure by circumstances under divine control.” Watchtower 1902 July 15 pp. 215-216. (See Racist Quotes.)
In opposite fashion, evidently is also used to undermine facts that contradict Watchtower teachings. For instance, the Bible never uses the term governing body, as issues were decided upon by elders. Yet when discussing Acts 15:1, Watchtower says a governing body was “evidently” joined by the elders.
“The first-century governing body was enlarged to include more than Jesus’ apostles. When the circumcision issue was decided, that body evidently included “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.” Watchtower 1990 Mar 15 p.19
A governing body wasn’t “evidently” joined by elders, Acts 15:1 plainly states the elders were involved. Inclusion of this word creates distraction from the baseless concept of the existence of a small governing body. (See Governing Body.)
“Clearly” provides strong support to a statement, but does not make it true.
Decade after decade, specific dates labelled by Watchtower as clearly backed by Scripture have been proven wrong beyond doubt when specific expectations did not occur. This identifies Watchtower use of clearly as meaningless.
"The year A.D. 1878 … clearly marks the time for the actual assuming of power as King of kings, by our present, spiritual, invisible Lord - …" The Time is At Hand (1911 ed) p.239
"The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914;…" Watchtower 1924 Jul 15 p.211
“We find the date 1925-1926 clearly indicated in the prophetic outline, and the Lord has not lifted the curtain sufficiently for us to see distinctly beyond." Watch Tower 1925 Feb 15 p.58
"The Watchtower clearly proves that Armageddon is not far off.” Informant 1940 Sep p.2
“The Bible clearly paints a picture showing that the United Nations will very shortly be given power and authority. The UN will then do some very astonishing things that may well amaze you. And you will be thrilled to learn that there is yet a better way near at hand that will surely bring eternal peace and security!” Awake! 1991 Sep 8 p.10
Other teachings presented as clearly correct are easily proven wrong in hindsight when noting how many times it has changed over the years. A prime example is regards the resurrection of those that died as Sodom and Gomorrah.
“This shows us clearly that the eternal fate of the Sodomites is not sealed.” Watchtower 1913 Feb 1 p.45
The fate of the Sodomites and the resurrected has changed back and forth multiple times over the following decades. (See Resurrection.)
Clearly has been applied to numerous doctrine, such as the following.
Yoga is wrong
“Yes, the ultimate goal of yoga is moksha, explained as the merging with some impersonal great spirit. It is described as "the (intentional) stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff." This is clearly contrary to the goal set out for Christians, …” Watchtower 2002 Aug 1 pp.20-22
Oral and Anal Sex
"What, though, if one mate wants or even demands to share with his or her partner in what is clearly a perverted sex practice … perverted acts, such as oral or anal sex, within the marriage …” Watchtower 1983 Mar 15 p.31
"From God’s stated direction about clothing, we clearly see that God is not pleased with styles of dress that feminize men, that make women look like men, or that make it hard to see the difference between men and women." Watchtower 2016 Sep p.18
The New Covenant is only for 144,000
“Clearly, then, the new covenant is not a loose arrangement open to all mankind.” Watchtower 1989 Aug 15 pp.30-31
Only Jehovah’s Witnesses follow God’s requirements.
"Of all the religious groups on earth, which one meets all these requirements? The facts clearly show that it is Jehovah's Witnesses” What Does the Bible Really Teach (2005) p.151
None of these doctrine are clearly correct, all are open to debate. The Bible does not discuss yoga, unisex clothing or specific sexual practices, leading to different opinions on these topics. Watchtower’s teaching on the 144,000 has changed over time, and will likely change again, as it has little basis. It is certainly not clear to other Christians that Jehovah’s Witnesses meet all the Bible’s requirements.
The word obvious is regularly appears in statements not obvious at all.
“What group of people are preaching that message in “all the nations”? The answer is obvious —only Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Watchtower Study Edition 2016 May p.9
Not obvious. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not in all nations, their message of the Good News is not commonly accepted as accurate, and other religious groups have had far greater impact on spreading Christianity, as shown by almost a third of the world being Christian. (See Do Only Jehovah's Witnesses Preach?
“Obviously, God intended for marriages to last.” Watchtower 2011 Feb
God may have intended marriages to last, just as those that get married do so with the intention of it lasting, but this concept is misused by Watchtower to pressure remaining in loveless and even violent marriages.
"He might be extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels that her health or life is in danger. ... some Christians have personally decided that ... a separation is necessary. But other Christians in comparably difficult situations have not; they have endured and tried to work on improving matters." Watchtower 2018 Dec p.14
“Obviously, spider’s silk testifies to a Grand Designer who possesses superhuman intelligence.” Awake! 1986 Jan 8 p.24
Watchtower’s insistence that almost all animal life was destroyed a few thousand years ago in Noah’s Flood, means the majority of animals and their distinctive features evolved rapidly over a few thousand years, and cannot be claimed attest to a grand designer.
""How shall man become true before God?" Obviously, if we can answer these questions, we may expect rich blessings from God for ourselves and our families." Why Should We Worship God in Love and Truth? p.3
It is not obvious that God blesses those true before him. Worshippers of God, of all religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, share the same joys and suffer the same ills. Jehovah’s Witnesses experience depression, and die when preaching, in kingdom halls and from natural disasters in the same manner as anyone does.
“The picturesque language of the Bible refers to insects as ‘going on all fours.’ Obviously Moses was familiar with the fact that insects have six legs. So the reference is undoubtedly to their mode of travel rather than to the number of their legs.” it-1 pp. 1201-1202
It is not obvious Moses was familiar with our modern day definition of insect, or what the reference undoubtably meant.
“In the U.S.A., a radio evangelist, Harold Camping, said the end of the world would come in September 1994. Obviously, these predictions of dates for the world’s end have been wrong. Has this caused people no longer to believe that the world will end? On the contrary. “The approach of a new millennium in the year 2000,” noted U.S.News and World Report of December 19, 1994, “is unleashing a flood of doomsday prophecies.”” Awake! 1995 Jun 22 p.3
It is ironic Watchtower labels Camping and similar predictions as doomsday prophecies and obviously wrong, yet vehemently denies its’ string of similar failed predictions were wrong or doomsday prophecies.
“The Bible instructs Christians to cleanse themselves of “every defilement of flesh and spirit.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Tobacco use obviously defiles a person. Those who want to quit smoking to please God face a difficult challenge.” Watchtower Aug 2012
Tobacco is harmful, but it is not obvious that the writer of 2 Cor 7:1 was referring to smoking as a defilement of flesh. Marijuana was smoked in the Middle East during the first century, yet the Bible never discusses smoking as wrong in the eyes of God.
""The world is passing away and so is its desire," says John 2:17. What is that “world”? How and when will it pass away?… Because the world in question has ‘desires’ that merit God’s disapproval, it is obviously not the literal earth. Rather, it is the world of mankind who disregard God, making themselves his enemy." Awake! Nov 2015
Not obvious. The world could represent the earth and the desire of those upon it, which aligns with 2 Peter 3:10-13 which says the earth will be burned up and replaced with a new earth. (See Earth Forever?)
"Although Daniel was the only one mentioned by name, it is evident by what followed that his three companions supported his decision. The words “determined in his heart” show that the instruction provided by Daniel’s parents and others back home had reached his heart. Similar training undoubtedly guided the other three Hebrews in their decision-making.” Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy! p. 36-37
“While the majority of those who were doing such work (and who had done building in Egypt) undoubtedly died before reaching the Promised Land…” Insight, Volume 1 pp.157-161
“Undoubtedly under the direction of Nimrod, “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah,” the building of the city of Babel and its tower, likely a ziggurat to be used for false worship, began.” it-1 pp. 973-980 - Insight, Volume 1
For instance, many undoubtedly were impressed when they saw Jesus heal people before his famous Sermon on the Mount. (Luke 6:17-19) ... 16. Why was Solomon able to sympathize with his subjects?16 Because he had wisdom and insight, Solomon undoubtedly did “feel sorry for the lowly one.” Watchtower 2010 Aug 15 pp.28-32
“Sixth, the number of genuine anointed disciples of Christ is dwindling, though some will evidently still be on earth when the great tribulation begins." Watchtower 2000 Jan 15 p.13
“The “new name” evidently signifies the privilege of being united with Jesus as joint-heirs in the heavenly Kingdom.” The Watchtower—Study Edition | May 15, 2003
“For some 53 years after 1914, or until the Six-Day War of 1967, earthly Jerusalem continued to be trodden down by non-Jewish nations. Evidently, however, Jesus was not referring finally to the Jewish Jerusalem of today but to what that city represented up until 607 B.C.E.” Watchtower 1985 Sep 1 pp.17-18
"At the time the Israelites returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E., Jehovah evidently protected them from lions and other rapacious beasts along the way." Insight on the Scriptures - Vol 2 pp.256-257
“And Joseph and Mary will evidently live in different realms, he on earth and she in heaven.” Watchtower 1987 Jun 1 p.31
"The "finishing of the dashing of the power of the holy people to pieces" evidently occurred on June 21, 1918. On that day the American federal court sentenced the president and the secretary-treasurer of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and five of their headquarters associates to long prison terms, amounting to a total of 140 years.” Our Incoming World Government - God's Kingdom pp.128-129
“True, the island-city of Tyre is not subject to Babylon for a full 70 years, since the Babylonian Empire falls in 539 B.C.E. Evidently, the 70 years represents the period of Babylonia's greatest domination-when the Babylonian royal dynasty boasts of having lifted its throne even above "the stars of God." Isaiah's Prophecy- Light For All Mankind 1 p. 253
“So, then, “fornication” in the broad sense, and as used at Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, evidently refers to a broad range of unlawful or illicit sex relations outside marriage.” Watchtower 1983 Mar 15 p.30
 Oxford Lexico https://www.lexico.com/definition/weasel_words as of May 2020
 Cambridge Dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/weasel-words as of May 2020
Written Jun 2020, latest update Feb 2023.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2023