Jehovah’s Witnesses are often criticized for being intolerant and narrow minded when it comes to the views of other religions. Critics claim that they teach that they and only they will be saved. In public, JWs often claim that this is not so, but that they allow that God is the judge and that non-JWs might be saved.
What is the truth of these claims? This essay demonstrates the truth by showing exactly what the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses have printed in the publications of the Watchtower Society. In general, bolded typeface will be used to highlight particularly important points.
The 1989 Watchtower book Reasoning from the Scriptures defines “salvation” this way (p. 356):
Definition: Preservation or deliverance from danger or destruction. That deliverance may be from the hands of oppressors or persecutors. For all true Christians, Jehovah provides through his Son deliverance from the present wicked system of things as well as salvation from bondage to sin and death. For a great crowd of faithful servants of Jehovah living during “the last days,” salvation will include preservation through the great tribulation.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, “the great tribulation” will be climaxed by “the battle of Armageddon” wherein all of mankind not doing God’s will are to be destroyed without hope of a resurrection. According to JW teaching, ultimate “salvation” will result in some people living forever in heaven, and most of saved mankind living forever on earth. Most of those who died before Armageddon will eventually be resurrected and will also live forever on earth or in heaven.
Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the emotional impact of being accused of intolerance, and of teaching that only they will be saved. They understand the criticism of such exclusiveness. When speaking to non-JWs, rank and file JWs will often try to avoid that criticism by not answering it, or by sidestepping the criticism by answering a somewhat different question. Knowledgeable critics know very well that the corporate entity that controls the activity of the worldwide community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, i.e., the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, has only existed since 1884, and so when they voice this criticism they’re obviously mainly concerned with what JWs teach about salvation through “the great tribulation” and “the battle of Armageddon”, and not with the resurrection of dead people.
Why do rank and file JWs tend to mislead people about their beliefs on salvation? The obvious answer is that they’re embarrassed to admit to teaching intolerance. Another is that their leaders teach them to give misleading answers. Note the way this is done on the official media website:
Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you believe that you are the only ones who will be saved?
No. Many millions who have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before God’s time of judgment, and they will gain salvation. Moreover, Jesus said that we should not be judging one another. Humans look at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart. He sees accurately and judges mercifully. God has committed judgment into Jesus’ hands, not ours.
The general question of salvation has been turned into the more narrow one of “who will be resurrected?” The second sentence is irrelevant to the question because questioners are almost invariably concerned with who JWs teach will be saved through Armageddon. The last couple of sentences attempt to make Jehovah’s Witnesses sound tolerant, and to claim they teach that only God determines who will be saved.
A 1989 publication of Jehovah’s Witnesses that is intended for the public, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Twentieth Century, answers the question similarly (p. 29):
Questions Often Asked by Interested Persons
Do they believe that they are the only ones who will be saved?
No. Many millions that have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before the “great tribulation,” and they will gain salvation. Moreover, Jesus said that we should not be judging one another. We look at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart. He sees accurately and judges mercifully. He has committed judgment into Jesus’ hands, not ours.
This answer misleads the reader as shown above, but specifically twists the general question of salvation into one about who might “take a stand for truth” between now and “the great tribulation”.
The above represent typical claims that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes to the public. Now we will see what this organization teaches its own members, by examining its printed teachings:
From The Watchtower, September 1, 1989, p. 19: “Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium”:
Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil. (Revelation 7:9-17; 2 Corinthians 4:4) They will make up the “flesh” that Jesus Christ said would be saved through the worst tribulation of all human history. As it was in the days of Noah, said Jesus, so it would be in the day when He would be revealed. Inside the ark that took many years of organized effort to complete, only eight human souls survived the global Deluge. They survived as a united family group. (Matthew 24:22, 37-39; Luke 17:26-30) Noah’s wife corresponds to the bride of Christ, and his sons and daughters-in-law to Jesus’ present-day “other sheep,” who have grown into an increasing great crowd, the final proportions of which we do not now know. (John 10:16) For survival into the Millennium under the Greater Noah, Jesus Christ, they have to remain organized with the anointed remnant, “the chosen ones” on account of whom the days of the “great tribulation” will be cut short.
From The Watchtower, December 1, 1999, p. 18:
Be Happy Readers of the Book of Revelation
The message is clear: If we want to survive Armageddon, we must remain spiritually alert and keep the symbolic garments that identify us as faithful Witnesses of Jehovah God.
These statements directly contradict the statements intended for public media consumption as quoted above.
Those familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they teach that everyone not serving God when Armageddon strikes will be destroyed, and that “the true Christian congregation” is comprised only of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here is what the internal publication Our Kingdom Ministry (April 1997, p. 3) says about this:
Directing Students to the Organization Behind Our Name
Shoulder the Responsibility: Every disciple maker must realize that it is his responsibility to direct the Bible student to God’s organization. (1 Tim. 4:16) Each study session should be viewed as a stepping-stone toward the happy day when the new one will symbolize his dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. One of the questions that he will be asked during the baptism ceremony is: “Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?” Hence, it is important that he realize he cannot serve God without actively associating with the true Christian congregation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only they speak “the ‘pure language’ that is spoken about in Zephaniah 3:9”, which they say “is a proper understanding of the truth about God and his purposes.” (The Watchtower,April 15, 1991, p. 28; April 1, 1991, pp. 21-2) “Jehovah’s Witnesses are unique in ever so many ways. They alone speak the ‘pure language.’” (The Watchtower, January 15, 1992, p. 24) Given this, the following again demonstrates what JWs teach about who will be saved. From The Watchtower, January 15, 1991, p. 29:
The Pure Language Unites a Great Crowd of Worshipers
“Become United by the Pure Language” was the title of Friday’s public talk. The speaker showed that … All need to be concerned about learning and speaking the pure language, for only those doing so will survive Armageddon.
From The Watchtower, May 1, 1991, p. 14:
Similarly today, “a great crowd” of Jesus’ “other sheep” gathered out of all nations will survive Armageddon into God’s new world. (Revelation 7:9; John 10:14-16) Only those who learn and speak the pure language will be joyful survivors.
At one time, Jehovah’s Witnesses referred to themselves as the “New World Society” and stated repeatedly that only members of this “Society” would be saved. In fact, it would form the nucleus of earthly society after Armageddon. The Watchtower of August 15, 1953, p. 494, stated:
A Watch Tower Tract Society existed and spread God’s message before ever Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated in 1884 under the laws of the State of Pennsylvania, U.S.A. After the battle of Armageddon obliterates this old world the New World society will continue on, for it will be approved and authorized by the only government then in power, the divine government. It will form the base, the nucleus, around which the population of the “new earth” will grow and fill all this planet.
From The Watchtower, July 15, 1958, p. 439:
Find Your Place in the New World Society
Jehovah God has a place for each one of us in his organization, just as he has a place for the two hundred million times two hundred billion stars of space. Under Jehovah and Christ Jesus, for those of the remnant and those of the “other sheep,” for appointed servants and for congregation publishers, for those old and those young in years, for part-time and for full-time ministers–yes, indeed, in this highly organized New World society there is a properly assigned place for each and all. It is therefore most important for every living individual to find his appropriate place quickly in this association. It is not less important either, as the following article shows, that, having found one’s place in the constellation of the New World society, one should faithfully remain in it if one hopes to survive Armageddon and live forever in eternal peace and happiness.
From The Watchtower, August 15, 1953, pp. 500-1:
Living Now as a New World Society
If we refuse organization instructions, if we forsake the gathering of ourselves together to avoid organization and its obligations, where could we go after Armageddon? Will there be separatists after Armageddon who will each make himself his own society and live as a hermit in a spacious earth, avoiding human contact and preferring animal society? For anyone to forsake the organized congregation of those who are destined to survive Armageddon means for that one never to get past Armageddon into the New World and its theocratic system. Like Noah’s family, we must now get into the ark all together!
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only those who share with them in their “Kingdom preaching work” and obey what they call “the good news of the Kingdom” will be saved. From The Watchtower, September 15, 1992, pp. 23-4:
Soon, at Armageddon, Jehovah God will cause all “the wisdom of the wise men” to perish. He will shove aside all “the intelligence of the intellectual men” who made predictions of how their new world order would bring better conditions for mankind. “The war of the great day of God the Almighty” will incinerate all the sophistry, philosophy, and wisdom of this world. (1 Corinthians 1:19; Revelation 16:14-16) The only ones who will survive that war and gain life in God’s new world are those who obey what this world calls foolishness–yes, Jehovah’s glorious Kingdom good news.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that they have “the one true religion” and that during “the great tribulation” God will destroy all other, i.e., “false” religions. The Watchtower of January 15, 1976, p. 47, said:
One thing hard for many people today to understand is that there can be and there is only one true religion. Why do they rebel against such fact? It is because this would mean that all the other religions are false, and this would include their own religion. Hence, they will need to have the true fact demonstrated to them forcibly. This will be done in the near future, for then, in the midst of the world’s greatest tribulation, all false religions will be wiped out and only the one true religion will survive. It will be delivered from the most tremendous anti-religious movement in all human history.
The Watchtower of April 15, 1969, p. 231 stated:
Yes, there is only “one faith,” that is, only one faith that is recognized and approved by Almighty God. Who, then, are the ones who form the body of true worshipers today? On the basis of the evidence, which is known or available to persons in all parts of the earth, we do not hesitate to say that they are the Christian witnesses of Jehovah.
The 1989 book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth said (p. 190):
Who, then, are the ones who form the body of true worshipers today? We do not hesitate to say that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Watchtower of November 1, 1968, pp. 656-7, was clear:
The Christian “congregation of the living God” during the first century knew that it had the truth and the pure, undefiled religion or form of worship. Why should it be strange or thought to be presumptuous if the remnant of that same congregation today claims to have the true religion? This remnant of dedicated, baptized followers of Jesus Christ have obeyed the divine command given in Revelation 18:4 and have come out of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, including Christendom. On coming out of Babylon the Great they have not joined any antireligious organization such as the atheists, the freethinkers, the evolutionists, the Communists. No, but they have come out of the world empire of false Babylonish religion into the one true religion as the people of Jehovah God, “my people,” as He calls them. Attack all false religion they do, not like and in company with the godless antireligious groups of this world, but in the way that the apostles of Jesus Christ did, with the “sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word,” the only successful weapon.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that they and they alone comprise “God’s people” on earth today. The Watchtower of June 1, 1994, p. 27 said:
What identifies Jehovah’s Witnesses as God’s people? First, they accept the entire Bible as God’s Word…
The Watchtower, April 1, 1992, p. 12, stated:
The ones calling on people with the hope-filled message of God’s new world are described at Acts 15:14 as “a people for [God’s] name.” Who bear Jehovah’s name and give the global witness about Jehovah and his Kingdom? The historical record of the 20th century answers: only Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Watchtower, May 15, 1998, p. 17:
The modern history of God’s people, especially during the world wars, makes it plain that many of Jehovah’s Witnesses actually experienced beatings, and far worse, at the hands of persecutors.
Who only will be saved through Armageddon? From the 1996 brochure What Does God Require of Us?, p. 10:
Before this earth can become a paradise, wicked people must be removed. (Psalm 37:38) This will happen at Armageddon, which is God’s war to end wickedness. Next, Satan will be imprisoned for 1,000 years. This means that no wicked ones will be left to spoil the earth. Only God’s people will survive.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the only ones who can be saved are those who view the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely, the Governing Body of “Christ’s anointed ‘brothers,’ who form the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class”, as the only true Christian leaders to whom they must look for direction. From The Watchtower, April 1, 1982, pp. 30-1:
Survival or Destruction at the “Great Tribulation”
Flight to the Kingdom for Survival
15 Yes, “the great day of Jehovah is near. It is near, and there is a hurrying of it very much.” (Zephaniah 1:14) We are living in a time of judgment when “all the nations” are gathered before Christ Jesus. The people of all those nations are being separated into two classes, the “sheep” and the “goats.” The end result is plainly stated: “everlasting life” for the “sheep,” and “everlasting cutting-off” for the “goats.”–Matthew 25:31-33, 46.
16 Again showing the finality of Jehovah’s judgment, Paul writes: “It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation [apokalypsis] of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction.”–2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
17 Notice that the “judicial punishment of everlasting destruction” is executed not only upon “those who make tribulation” for God’s people but also upon “those who do not know God” and “those who do not obey the good news.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains why “those who do not know God” are “inexcusable” and why they will be judged. (Romans 1:18-20; 2:5-16) The “angel flying in midheaven,” spoken of in Revelation chapter 14, summons all “who dwell on the earth” to “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived.” Therefore people are urged to “worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea.” Those who fail to do so, and all those who put faith in Satan’s political “wild beast” rather than in God’s Messianic kingdom, will be destroyed with that “beast” in “the great winepress of the anger of God.”–Revelation 14:6, 7, 9, 10, 14-20; 19:11-21.
18 Any who hope to be “concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger” must “seek righteousness, seek meekness” and ‘practice Jehovah’s own judicial decision,’ rather than criticize it. (Zephaniah 2:2, 3) Any who hope to be considered by God’s Judge as “sheep” to be spared must prove themselves to be “righteous ones,” actively aiding Christ’s anointed “brothers,” who form the “faithful and discreet slave” class. (Matthew 25:33, 40, 46; 24:45-47) The only ones to whom the Bible extends hope of surviving the “great tribulation” are Christ’s “brothers,” or “chosen ones,” and the “great crowd” of “sheep” who ‘render God sacred service’ without letup, constantly saying for all to hear: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” As baptized disciples drawn from “people of all the nations,” this “great crowd” is shepherded by the Lamb, Christ Jesus, who guides them to “fountains of waters of life” that will never fail. “And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”–Matthew 24:21, 22; 25:34; 28:19, 20; Revelation 7:9-17.
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only those who obey the commands of “God’s organization”, i.e., the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, can be saved. They often compare obedience to this organization to the obedience to God of Noah and his family during the time of Noah’s Flood. From The Watchtower, September 15, 1991, p. 17:
To ensure their salvation, Noah and his family needed to exercise faith. This meant following instructions and the leadings of God’s holy spirit. During the great tribulation, it will be just as imperative that we follow the leadings of the holy spirit and obey Jehovah’s instructions through his organization.
They also teach that their organization is an “ark of salvation”. From The Watchtower, June 1, 1950, p. 176:
The flood was a real physical catastrophe to the old ungodly world. The Battle of Armageddon will be likewise a physical catastrophe to this present evil world, and not something just spiritual. The ark of salvation that we enter is not a literal ark but is God’s organization.
This “symbolic ark, the spiritual paradise of God’s people” (The Watchtower, March 1, 1997, p. 12), is “the flourishing spiritual paradise wherein men and women of faith may find preservation, with everlasting life in view” and is God’s “arrangement for preservation of the Greater Noah’s antitypical family through the ‘great tribulation.’” (The Watchtower, January 1, 1986, pp. 26, 14) As a prominent Watchtower official stated (The Watchtower, June 1, 1991, p. 27):
Max H. Larson of the Factory Committee spoke first, on the theme “Fellow Workers With Jehovah.” After drawing attention to the ark of preservation that Noah and his family built, he said: ‘Today Jehovah is gathering a worldwide family of millions, and he purposes to take this large family through the great tribulation.’ How? Why, by means of the modern-day ark–the spiritual paradise! ‘You,’ he reminded the graduates, ‘will be going to various parts of the earth, where you will be fellow workers with Jehovah in building the modern-day ark.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that “billions” of people will be resurrected after Armageddon but that only “millions” will survive it. The 1983 brochure From Kurukshetra to Armageddon–and Your Survival stated (p. 18) that “only a small minority of mankind will find favour with God and survive the ‘war of the great day of God the Almighty.’” The Watchtower of April 15, 1996, pp. 6-7, stated:
The last days are prophesied to climax or conclude with God’s destruction and removal of all causes of bad news… This climaxes in the war of the great day of God the Almighty, commonly known as the battle of Armageddon… Following these dramatic events, a time of unprecedented good news will come for the earth and its inhabitants. These inhabitants will include the millions who have survived the final war of Armageddon and the billions who will be resurrected from their sleep of death in the graves.
In view of the material presented in this essay, it is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses have publicly misrepresented themselves on the question of “Do you believe that you are the only ones who will be saved?”They justify this by claiming that they’re only being “tactful”, according to a discussion outline in the May 1999 issue of Our Kingdom Ministry (p. 2):
15 min: What’s Wrong With My Religion? Discussion between two ministerial servants. We encounter many people who are favorable toward the truth and admire Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the ties they maintain with their church hinder them. They find it difficult to believe that we have the only true religion and that their form of worship is false. This becomes a major barrier to their spiritual progress. The brothers review the six factors mentioned on page 204 of the Reasoning book, which clearly show that other religions do not follow the Bible. Encourage the audience to use these points in tactfully helping sincere ones evaluate their religious beliefs.
Another way to say they’re being “tactful” is to say that they’re using “theocratic warfare”, a standard Jehovah’s Witness euphemism for “withholding the truth from those who do not deserve to know it”. We’ll leave a discussion of that to another essay.