Jehovah’s Witnesses are a millennial, restorationist and nontrinitarian Christian movement with roots in 19th century America. They believe in God, whom they refer to as Jehovah, and the complete Bible (the Old and New Testaments which they call the ‘Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures’ and the ‘Christian Greek Scriptures’) as his ‘inspired message’. Jesus is believed to be the Son of God and the saviour but not part of a Trinity. The name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, adopted in 1931, is said to identify both their God and their mission – in Isaiah 43:10-12 God says ‘you are my witnesses.’Religious scholars have tended to see the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a millennial religious organisation with roots in the Adventist movement. The Adventist movement developed from the teachings of an American Baptist minister, William Miller, who claimed that Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1843. When this event failed to materialise, his followers revised the date to October 1844. When this date also passed (in what has been termed the ‘Great Disappointment’), different groups emerged under various leaders who explained the failed prophecy in different ways. The Seventh-day Adventists, perhaps the best known of the Adventist groups, grew out of the teachings of one such leader, Ellen G. White. White claimed that rather than returning to Earth on the expected date in 1844, Jesus had, instead, moved into the heavenly sanctuary in order to prepare for his return.
Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) led a Bible study group in the Adventist tradition, although he claimed never to have been an Adventist (Chryssides 2016: 47), and was not a part of Ellen G. White’s tradition. The Jehovah’s Witnesses developed as a distinct movement in the 1870s when Russell began to publish the magazine, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. He argued that Christ had invisibly returned to Earth in 1874 and that his visible return was imminent. 1878 was one date given for his return, and then 1914. This latter date was reinterpreted as marking the moment when Jesus began to rule the Kingdom of God in Heaven. Members alive in 1914 expected to be the generation that would witness Armageddon and the end of the present system that is ruled by Satan.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that we are currently in the ‘end times’ or ‘last days’ and that the battle of Armageddon is imminent. Present world conditions are taken as signs of the end. During Armageddon, it is believed, Christ will lead an army of angels to defeat the earth’s rulers. Satan will be imprisoned for 1,000 years, which will be a time of paradise on earth, led by Christ as ruler in heaven, with all suffering finally eradicated.
A ‘great crowd’ of people from all nations will survive the ‘great tribulation’ at Armageddon. A chosen 144,000 will be co-rulers with Christ in heaven, forming a theocratic government to replace human-made ones. The majority of the 144,000 are already believed to be in heaven. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the 144,000 began to be chosen in the time of Jesus and they began to take their places in 1918/1919. In contrast to traditional Christian teaching, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in Hell. Instead they believe that those judged adversely by Christ will be destroyed.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are non-Trinitarian Christians. They believe that God – whom they call Jehovah – is the ‘Most High’. Jehovah is an ‘invisible spirit’ without a body of flesh and blood, but he is also an individual with thoughts and feelings, as well as infinite wisdom and power. Jesus Christ is recognised as God’s son and one can only be saved from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. God provided his son as a ‘ransom sacrifice’ as a gift to humankind: the death of Jesus paid the ‘ransom’ for human sin. Jehovah forgives those who have faith in the ransom sacrifice, are repentant and seek to imitate Jesus in their lives.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have also been described as a Restorationist movement, indicating their belief in the necessity of returning to first-century Christianity as lived and taught by Jesus and the Apostles. The holy spirit is seen as God’s active force for accomplishing his will. The holy spirit is hence another aspect of the universal God and not a separate entity.
Jehovah’s Witnesses opposition to blood transfusions is based on Biblical warnings against the ingestion of blood. (For more information see Values and Commitments section). They also believe that a Christian should keep separate from the world and should not be involved in interfaith movements.