Jehovah's Witnesses worshipped Jesus until 1954, after which they were told such worship was idolatrous. This made them a polytheistic religion for most of their history. The core to religion is God, and to change the God you worship is to change the very essence and basis of the religion.
Of the countless alterations in Witness doctrine, the one regarding the Worship of Jesus is most important of all. The major issues concerning the history and doctrine of the Jehovah's Witnesses are prevalent within the Watchtower doctrine of Jesus, clearly highlighting the manner in which the leaders operate. These pandemic symptoms are threefold.
- Significant teachings change
- The Watchtower misquotes its sources
- Current doctrines are not necessarily correct
Changed Teaching on Jesus
Russell taught that we should worship Jesus and the initial Watchtower Charter's specified that establishment of the Watchtower Society was to promote the worship of Jehovah and Jesus.
Yet since the 1950's, worshipping Jesus became regarded as wrongful idolatry.
Russell promoted the worship of Jesus and prayer to him because he is our God.
"It seems clear that His Divinity was retained in humanity because He repeatedly spoke of Himself as having come down from heaven, and because He, though passing through trial and sorrow as a man, was yet possessed of the authority and exercised the prerogatives of a God. He was the object of unreproved worship even when a babe, by the wise men who came to see the new-born King. Matt. 2:2-11. Even the angels delighted to do Him honor. "When He bringeth the first-begotten into the world, He saith, "And let all the angels of God worship Him." Heb. 1:6. He never reproved any one for acts of worship offered to Himself, but when Cornelius offered such service to Peter--the leading apostle-- "he took him up, saying, stand up; I myself also am a man." .... Had Christ not been more than a man the same reason would have prevented from receiving worship...." Zion's Watch Tower 1880 Oct pp.2-3
"It is undoubtedly proper enough for us to address petitions to our Redeemer and Advocate, who loved us and gave himself for us....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." Zion's Watch Tower 1892 May 15 p.157
"Question. The fact that our Lord received worship is claimed by some to be an evidence that while on earth he was God the Father disguised in a body of flesh and not really a man. Was he really worshiped, or is the translation faulty? Answer. Yes, we believe our Lord Jesus while on earth was really worshiped, and properly so. It was proper for our Lord to receive worship in view of his having been the only begotten of the Father and his agent in the creation of all things, including man." Zion's Watch Tower 1898 Jul 15 p.216
"In one respect many of Christendom could learn numerous important lessons from these wise Gentiles....They worshiped him in three senses of the word: (1) They fell before him, prostrated themselves, thus physically expressing their reverence. (2) They worshiped him in their hearts and with the tongue gave expression to their rejoicing and confidence. (3) They opened their treasure-box and presented to him three gifts appropriate to royalty: the myrrh representing submission, frankincense representing praise, gold representing obedience." Zion's Watch Tower 1906 Jan 1 p.15
Rutherford continued this teaching.
"Jehovah God commands all to worship Christ Jesus because Christ Jesus is the express image of his Father, Jehovah, and because he is the Executive Officer of Jehovah always carrying out Jehovah's purpose (Heb.:3-6)." Watchtower 1939 Nov 15 p.339
"During the Millennium, "the princes will lead the people in their worship of Jehovah and of Christ." Vindication Volume 3 (J. F. Rutherford, 1932) p.295
"The people of all nations who obtain salvation must come to the house of the Lord to worship there; that is to say, they must believe on and worship Jehovah God and the Lord Jesus Christ, his chief instrument (Philippians 2:10, 11)." Salvation (J. F. Rutherford, 1939) p.151
Knorr continued to teach we should worship Jesus and the 1940's Watchtower articles still stated that Jesus was to be worshipped.
"Now, at Christ's coming to reign as king in Jehovah's capital organization Zion, to bring in a righteous new world, Jehovah makes him infinitely higher than the godly angels or messengers and accordingly commands them to worship him. Since Jehovah God now reigns as King by means of his capital organization Zion, then whosoever would worship Him must also worship and bow down to Jehovah's Chief One in that capital organization, namely, Christ Jesus, his Co-regent on the throne of The Theocracy." Watchtower 1945 Oct 15 p.313
In 1945, Knorr amended the Watchtower's legal Charter. Included within the Charter was the statement that the purpose of the Watchtower Society is to promote the worship of Jehovah and Jesus.
The 1945 Yearbook includes the Charter in full. Part of the current charter states as follows:
"The purposes of this Society are:
To act as the servant of and the legal world-wide governing agency for that body of Christian persons known as Jehovah's Witnesses to preach the gospel of God's kingdom under Christ Jesus unto all nations as a witness to the name, word and supremacy of Almighty God JEHOVAH; to print and distribute Bibles and to disseminate Bible truths in various languages by means of making and publishing literature containing information and comment explaining Bible truths and prophecy concerning establishment of Jehovah's kingdom under Christ Jesus to authorize and appoint agents, servants, employees, teachers, instructors, evangelists, missionaries and ministers to go forth to all the world publicly and from house to house to preach and teach Bible truths to persons willing to listen by leaving with such persons said literature and by conducting Bible studies thereon to improve men, women and children mentally and morally by Christian missionary work and by charitable and benevolent instruction of the people on the Bible and incidental scientific, historical and literary subjects to establish and maintain private Bible schools and classes for gratuitous instruction of men and women in the Bible, Bible literature and Bible history; to teach, train, prepare and equip men and women as ministers, missionaries, evangelists, preachers, teachers and lecturers to provide and maintain homes, places and buildings for gratuitous housing of such students, lecturers, teachers and minister; to furnish gratuitously to such students, lecturers, teachers, educators and ministers suitable meals and lodging and to prepare, support, maintain and send out to various parts of the world Christian missionaries, teachers and instructors in the Bible and Bible literature and for public Christian worship of Almighty God and Christ Jesus; to arrange for and hold local and world-wide assemblies for such worship to use or operate radio broadcasting stations for preaching this gospel of the kingdom; and to do any and all other lawful things that its Board of Directors shall deem expedient for the purposes stated." Click for scan.
Following is a snippet from the 1945 Charter where it states to worship Christ Jesus.
It was not until 1999 that worship of Jesus was finally removed to simply state "arrange for and hold assemblies for religious worship;"
This was further diluted in the 2003 Amended Certificate of Incorporation.
Worship of Jesus Becomes Idolatry
In the 1950's, the Watchtower changed their doctrine on Jesus to coincide with the release of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Contrary to most other translations, this new Bible version for Jehovah's Witnesses translated the word proskuneō as obeisance rather than worship whenever it referred to Jesus. This is despite the fact that with almost every other occurrence, the New World Translation translates proskuneō as worship.
Proskuneō occurs 60 times in the Greek Scriptures. Of the 17 times it applies to Jesus, all 17 occurrences were translated by the New World Translation as obeisance. (In the 2013 revision, 2 of these times have been changed to "bow".) The only other instance where prokuneō is translated as 'obeisance' is when Cornelius bows to Peter. (Worship would be correct here as well. Peter interprets this act as a form of worship, as he rejects it immediately.) Of the remaining 42 times proskuneō appears, it is always translated as worship, regardless of whether it is referring to Jehovah, angels, humans, Satan, demons, the wild beast and its image, or idols.
(Click here for a list of verses where proskuneō appears and how it is translated in the New World Translation.)
Why this unusual stance in connection with Jesus? This is because the teaching about Jesus was undergoing a dramatic change.
The first clear statement that Jesus must not be worshipped was in 1954. From that time forward there was a new belief in the position of Jesus; that he should be neither prayed to or worshipped.
"Should we worship Jesus?
Consequently, since the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is not a trinitarian co-person with God the Father, but is a distinct person, the Son of God, the answer to the above question must be that no distinct worship is to be rendered to Jesus Christ now glorified in heaven.
Our worship is to go to Jehovah God. However, we show the proper regard for God's only-begotten Son by rendering our worship to God through and in the name of Jesus Christ. Even now when we kneel in prayer, as Paul did according to Ephesians 3:14-19, we offer prayer in the name of Jesus Christ in obedience to his own directions (John 15:16; 16:23-26), but the prayer itself is addressed, not to Jesus, but to God his Father. In this way we keep things in their relative positions." Watchtower 1954 Jan 1 p.31
"Trinitarians who believe that Jesus is God, or at least the second person of the triune God, do not like to have Jehovah's witnesses say that it is unscriptural for worshipers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ" Watchtower 1964 Nov 1 p.671
"Reverent adoration should be expressed only to God. To render worship to anyone or anything else would be a form of idolatry, which is condemned in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Accordingly, true Christians do well to direct their worship only to Jehovah God, the Almighty." Awake! 2000 Apr 8 pp.26,27
"Though some claim that prayer may properly be addressed to others, such as to God's Son, the evidence is emphatically to the contrary." Insight on the Scriptures Volume 2 p.667
On occasion the Watchtower use misquotes to hide its history or prove doctrines. For example, look at the way in which the charter is quoted since the doctrine was changed.
Though a Witness is bluntly told not to worship Jesus, the Charter was not amended to reflect this new doctrine until 1999. Therefore, for 45 years Witnesses were counselled against worshipping Jesus even though to do so was stated as the express reason for the existence of the Watchtower Society. This is despite the fact that it is considered idolatry to worship and pray to Jesus and will result in a Witness being disfellowshipped. It is interesting to see how the Watchtower dealt with having in its charter that Jesus is to be worshipped. They either misquoted it or avoided it completely.
The Yearbook of 1969 p.50 leaves the words "and Christ Jesus" out altogether, cheekily replacing them with dots.
"for public Christian worship of Almighty God … ; to arrange for" Click for scan.
The section of the charter shown above is quoted almost in full in the footnote of the 1971 Watchtower on page 760, altering one small but significant word (which it correctly places in brackets) to significantly hide and change the true meaning of the sentence.
"for public Christian worship of Almighty God [through] Christ Jesus; to arrange for..." Watchtower 1971 Dec 15 p.760
The 1993 Proclaimers book, outlining a history of the Watchtower Society, failed to even admit what is in the Charter.
Current Questionable Doctrine
Up until 1938, the Watchtower title included the words Herald of Christ's Presence.
In 1939, the title of the January 1st issue changed to The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Kingdom. On March 1st, 1939 the word Christ was removed and replaced with Jehovah. To this day it is now The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom.
It is interesting to understand why it was originally taught that Jesus is a God worthy of our worship and prayers.
Jesus is a God
John 1:1 " and the Word was a god."
John 20:28-29 "In answer Thomas said to him: "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him: "Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.""
Jesus was worshipped
The Bible repeatedly says that Jesus was worshipped. The New World Translation is virtually alone in translating the word proskuneo as obeisance. Yet look at the context of the following scripture to understand that the thought given is one of reverential worship.
Hebrews 1:6 "But when he again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth, he says: "And let all God's angels do obeisance (proskuneo, worship) to him."
Jesus is our creator
John 1:2-4 "This one was in [the] beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. What has come into existence by means of him was life, and the life was the light of men."
Jesus was prayed to
Acts 7:59 "And they went on casting stones at Stephen as he made appeal and said: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Stephen prayed to Jesus whilst being stoned to death. Unlike most translations, the New World Translation uses the word appeal instead of prayer. However, the footnote to New World Translation, 1950 edition, states (footnote b: "invocation; prayer"). The Emphatic Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson and published by the Watchtower Society also refers to "the prayer of Stephen" in its' footnote. Regardless of whether Stephen appealed or prayed to Jesus, it is clear what the writer meant. The reason the New World Translation is averse to using the word prayer is that it is an indication of worship. Can you imagine what would happen today if an elder stood on the platform and prayed to Jesus instead of Jehovah?
This leads to a very interesting problem. If Jehovah's Witnesses worshipped Jehovah and worshipped Jesus that means they were worshipping two Gods. Does that not then make them Polytheistic? Yet Deuteronomy 6:4 states 'Jehovah our God is one Jehovah". The first of the ten commandments stated at Exodus 20:2-3
"I am Jehovah your God, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves. You must not have any other gods against my face."
By current Watchtower teaching, until 1954 Russell and all Jehovah's Witnesses were idolaters, a sin Revelation 21:8 describes as worthy of the second death. If that is the case, they cannot be part of the 144,000 heavenly rulers.
Early Jewish Christians grappled with this concept. Their background was Monotheistic, yet they were to worship Jesus, pray to him and refer to him as God. This left first century Christians with both a Father and a Son referred to as their God, their creator and to be worshipped; yet they could not accept polytheism. The way to resolve this quandary was to say that Jesus and Jehovah together make up the one God. This understanding is referred to as Binitarianism, and L. W. Hurtado presents a strong case that this was the original position of first century Christianity, a position borne out of necessity to maintain a religion that worshipped only one God. The very earliest of the Christian writers describe Jesus as immortal (Mathetes), God (Justin Martyr) and co-equal (Tertullian) with the Father. Further development to the Binitarian concept was Trinitarianism, which saw New Testament writings as indicating the personage of the Holy Spirit as part of the Godhead. It is with this understanding that a Witness can start to consider that the current Watchtower doctrine of God does not have strong Scriptural support.
When significant Watchtower doctrine change, you have to question whether the Holy Spirit directs the Governing Body in doctrine. Once you recognise that Watchtower articles dishonestly hide information, each Watchtower will be read with a touch of suspicion. You can hardly begin to comprehend how much of what you accept as fact you will now need to start to question.
Written 2005. Latest update Feb 2021.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2021