Are Jehovah’s Witnesses in danger of becoming like the Pharisees?
Comparing any Christian group to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day is equivalent to comparing a political party with the Nazis. It’s an insult, or to put it another way, “Them’s fightin’ words.”
However, we should not let a gut reaction inhibit us from examining possible parallels. As the saying goes, “Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Who Were the Pharisees?
According to some scholars, the name “Pharisee” means “Separated Ones”. They viewed themselves as among the holiest of men. They were saved while the masses at large were despised; an accursed people.[i] It isn’t clear when the sect came into existence, but Josephus makes mention of them as far back as the latter half of the second century before Christ. So the sect was at least 150 years old when Christ arrived.
These were very zealous men. Paul, himself a former Pharisee, says they were the most zealous of all the sects.[ii] They fasted twice a week and tithed scrupulously. They extolled their own righteousness for men, even using visual symbols to proclaim their righteous status. They loved money, power, and flattering titles. They added to the law with their own interpretations to such an extent that they created an unnecessary burden upon the people. However, when it came to matters involving true justice, mercy, faithfulness, and love of fellow man, they came up short. Nevertheless, they went to great lengths to make disciples.[iii]
We Are the True Religion
I cannot think of another religion on earth today whose members commonly and frequently refer to themselves as being “in the truth”, as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. When two Witnesses meet for the first time, the conversation will inevitably turn to the question of when each first “came into the truth”. We speak of young ones growing up in a Witness family and reaching an age when “they can make the truth their own”. We teach that all other religions are false, and will soon be destroyed by God but that we will survive. We teach that all people who do not enter the ark-like organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses will die at Armageddon.
I have talked with both Catholics and Protestants in my career as a Jehovah’s Witness and on many occasions while discussing false doctrines such as their official belief in Hellfire, I was surprised to learn that the individuals accepted that there was no such literal place. It really didn’t bother them that much that their church taught something which they did not believe to be scriptural. Having the truth wasn’t that important; indeed, most felt as Pilate did when he said to Jesus, “What is truth?”
This is not the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having the truth is absolutely intrinsic to our belief system. Like myself, many who frequent this site have come to learn that some of our core beliefs—those that distinguish us from other churches in Christendom—are not Scriptural. What follows this realization is a period of turmoil, not unlike what the Kübler-Ross model details as the five stages of grief. The first stage is denial.
Our denial is often manifest in a number of defensive responses. Those I have personally encountered, or which I myself proffered when going through this stage, always ended up focusing on two things: Our growth and our zeal in preaching. The reasoning goes that we must be the true religion because we are always growing and because we are zealous in the preaching work.
It is noteworthy that we never pause for an instant to question the fact that Jesus never used zeal, proselytizing, nor numerical growth as a measuring stick for identifying his true disciples.
The Record of the Pharisees
If you mark the beginning of our faith with the publication of the first issue of the Watchtower, we have been around for almost a century and a half. For a similar time period, the Pharisees had been growing in numbers and influence. They were viewed by men as righteous. In fact, there is nothing to indicate the initially they were the most righteous sect of Judaism. Even by the time of Christ, there were evidently righteous individuals among their ranks.[iv]
But were they righteous as a group?
They truly tried to conform to the law of God as laid down by Moses. They went overboard in applying the law, adding laws of their own in an effort to please God. In doing so, they added unnecessary burdens to the people. Still, they were noteworthy for their zeal for God. They preached and ‘traversed dry land and sea to make even one disciple’.[v] They viewed themselves as saved, while all non-believers, non-Pharisees were cursed. They practiced their faith by regular attendance to their duties such as weekly fasting and dutifully paying all their tithes and sacrifices to God.
By all observable evidence they were serving God in an acceptable manner.
Yet when the test came, they murdered Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
If you had asked any of them in 29 C.E. if they or their sect would possibly end up murdering God’s Son, what would the answer have been? Thus we see the danger of measuring ourselves by our zeal and strict adherence to sacrificial forms of service.
Our most recent Watchtower study had this to say:
“Certain sacrifices are fundamental for all true Christians and are essential to our cultivation and maintaining a good relationship with Jehovah. Such sacrifices include devoting personal time and energy to prayer, Bible reading, family worship, meeting attendance, and the field ministry.”[vi]
That we would consider the wondrous privilege of prayer to be a sacrifice says a lot about our current mentality with regard to what is acceptable worship. Like the Pharisees, we calibrate our devotion based on measurable works. How many hours in the field service, how many return visits, how many magazines. (We have recently begun to measure the number of tracts each individual places in a campaign.) We are expected to go out regularly in field service, once a week at a minimum ideally. Missing a full month is viewed as unacceptable. Missing six months in a row means our name is taken off the posted membership role.
The Pharisees were so fastidious in the payment of their sacrifices that they measured out the tenth of the dill and the cumin.[vii] We feel it is important to count and report the preaching activity of ailing ones even in quarter-hour increments. We do this so as to helps such ones not feel guilty, because they are still reporting their time—as if Jehovah is looking at report cards.
We have added to the simple principles of Christianity with a series of “directions” and “suggestions”, which have the virtual force of law, thereby laying unnecessary and at times heavy burdens on our disciples. (For instance, we regulate minute details involving medical treatments which should be left up to one’s conscience; and we regulate even simple things such as when it is righteous for person to applaud at a meeting.[viii])
The Pharisees loved money. They loved to lord it over others, instructing them what to do and threatening all who would challenge their authority with expulsion from the synagogue. They loved the prominence their position afforded them. Are we seeing parallels in the most recent developments of our Organization?
When identifying the true religion, we used to present the evidence and allow our readers to decide; but for years now we, like the Pharisees, have publicly proclaimed our own righteousness, while condemning all others who do not hold to our faith as wrong and in desperate need of salvation while there is yet time.
We believe we are the only true believers and we are saved by virtue of our works, such as regular meeting attendance, field service and loyal support for and obedience to the faithful and discrete slave, now represented by the Governing Body.
Paul discounted the zeal of such ones because it was not performed according to accurate knowledge.
(Romans 10:2-4) “…they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; 3 for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
We have misled people repeatedly about the fulfillment of Bible prophecy causing them to alter their life course as a consequence. We have hidden the true nature of the good news about the Christ by telling our disciples that they have no hope of being with him in heaven and that they are not God’s sons and Jesus is not their mediator.[ix] We have told them to disobey Christ’s express command to commemorate and proclaim his death by partaking of the emblems as he indicated.
Like the Pharisees, there is much that we believe which is true and in line with Scripture. However, also like them, not all we believe is true. Again, like them, we practice our zeal but not according to accurate knowledge. Therefore, how can we say we “worship the Father in spirit and truth”?[x]
When sincere ones have tried to show our leaders the error of some of these key yet erroneous teachings, using only the Scriptures, we have refused to listen or to reason but have dealt with them just as the Pharisees of old did.[xi]
There is sin in this.
(Matthew 12:7) . . .However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.
Are we becoming, or have we become like the Pharisees? There are many, many righteous individuals trying sincerely to do God’s will within the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like Paul, there will come a time when each will have to make a choice.
Our Song 62 gives us serious food for thought:
1. To whom do you belong?
Which god do you now obey?
Your master is he to whom you bow.
He is your god; you serve him now.
You cannot serve two gods;
Both masters can never share
The love of your heart in its ev’ry part.
To neither you would be fair.
[ii] Acts 22:3
[iii] Mt 9:14; Mr 2:18; Lu 5:33; 11:42; 18:11, 12; Lu 18:11, 12; John 7:47-49; Mt 23:5; Lu 16:14; Mt 23:6, 7; Lu 11:43; Mt 23:4, 23; Lu 11:41-44; Mt 23:15
[iv] John 19:38; Acts 6:7
[v] Mt 23:15
[vi] w13 12/15 p. 11 par.2
[vii] Mt 23:23
[viii] w82 6/15 p. 31; km Feb. 2000 “Question Box”
[ix] Gal. 1:8, 9
[x] John 4:23
[xi] John 9:22
This is one thing that I have always wondered about. I felt like when I first learned the truth that I was becoming more like the Pharisees. I was walking around as is I was superior because I had “the truth.” Now I am still one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I feel like I have this superiority complex. I feel like I need to battle every “false Christian” that comes along. I walk with my Bible like the Pharisees did. They wore it on themselves and I carry mine. I also am ready to quote like they did and not… Read more »
Thanks all. Reading your experiences is very helpfull. I too began suffer depression and severe neck pain from stress since I learnt that Jw are not only true religion on the planet Earth. I feel much better after discovering this site.
That’s good. I always thought to myself that we weren’t the only true Christians. Jehovah did not send his Son to die for us so that we can join an organization. I still am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but I know that Jesus said ” Come to me.” Not “Come to my Organization.” Now I do believe we have a lot more truth than some religions but it doesn’t make us “the truth.” There are a few other denominations whose beliefs match ours about 90%: The Restored Church of God, Christadelphians, Seventh-Day Adventists. Jehovah reads our hearts and judges us… Read more »
There are more Jehovah’s Witnesses on antidepressants than we would want to admit. What causes it? Cognitive dissonance—i.e., two conflicting messages running tandem in the human brain causing its belief system to be in constant denial of its presence. I had the therapy, read the books and documented everything for my own survival. The dissonance is caused by the sort of unity the human conscience was built to reject. Put another way, the human conscience was meant to be reasoned—not enslaved into unity. Whether forced or not, any conscience that attempts to unify two contradicting sides will find itself on… Read more »
Menrov, my dear brother, I can feel your suffering and I’m so glad that you are sharing with us. Share what is in your heart, it will not fall on deaf ears. One of my greatest problems I had was there was absolutely no one to talk to that would understand, not only the situation I was in, but the “foreign language” JWs speak. No one can understand that you cannot just leave. Not without tearing your whole life up-side down and losing your flesh and blood family, your marriage, your children, as well as friends that you thought loved… Read more »
All, I can only say that the comparison was.amazing but at the same time disturbing. The comments are all very understandable and often it is like looking into a mirror or seeing your own life being described. If have started to realize the rea identity of the GB and its organization after the famous WT last year on the so-called new light regarsing the slave etc. Like most described above, one thing is to recognize the lies, it is another thing to live with it. Sleepless night, bloospressure issues, restless and anxiety. And in certain occassions I feel a hypcrite… Read more »
I’m in the same situation. I hope I can get through to my wife, slowly. Then move far far away.
kev, I believe the word is “denial”. I can only share what I have learned about denial, besides its being a river in Egypt. I may speak in generalities, but I am basing this on the situation of my marriage, among other things, and the similarities to the GB. Denial can be a life of bliss and happiness, we can live there for years and years…..as long as we ignore those little urgings coming from inside us that try to prod us into facing reality. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah… Read more »
Imacountrygirl I agree this process can change you. I’ve had doubts and questions since I was much younger but just kind of went along almost like a robot on cruse control. However a year ago I couldn’t contain myself on questions or issues and wanted to see how they were justifiable. I honestly tried to talk with a JW friend but they IMMEDIATELY told me I was acting like an apostate even though I was almost at the point of tears asking them questions out of sincerity. So I jumped online and of course the first “info” that pops up… Read more »
I’m really pleased to read your comments and imacountrygirl2’s. It’s wonderful to know that there are people thoughtful and courageous to ask questions and honestly seek the answers. I’m also pleased to discover this site it’s very encouraging.
There are only a few sites who deal with such topics seriously, I’m glad this enthousiasm still exists.
It may happen that someone loses their ties with the organization due to various reasons but I hope they never leave their individual path in search for the truth.
I like your comment country girl about your awakening can make you a stronger, more loving person. Despite being a former elder who was very active at a district and circuit level I now realize that I was not a very spiritual person. A fair amount of what I did I only did because it was expected of me, I was on auto-pilot, or to receive accolades from others. The org. puts so much emphasis on appearance that it’s just natural to begin to care more about appearance than the heart. The negative vibes of guilt, judgmentalism, fear, comparing, self-righteousness… Read more »
I appreciated hearing all of your experiences. I couldn’t help but think that your expressions of faith ,discouragement and perseverance is what we desperately need on our circuit assemblies and the pages of our magazines. Our purpose in gathering together is to love and encourage each other all the more so as the day draws near. (heb 10:25)Most of the experiences on our assemblies and magazines deal with how to desperately hold on to privileges of service and draw attention to the sacrifices our brothers and sisters make to become or remain pioneer/elder. I greatly appreciate their experiences and the… Read more »
The judgemental attitude of the organization is what made me reconsider my loyalty to the organization. Seeing how some elders viewed as unspiritual those who failed to meet certain organizational standards. How did the length of ones sideburns make someone bad? How does a person’s trendy but dignified haircut make them unworthy of God’s love? Who determines what is worldly? As a ministerial servant I was able to see how we often judge people on arbitrary non scriptural standards. Just as the Pharisees needed to define what classified as work on the Sabbath, the GB had seen the need to… Read more »
Meleti, you say “The Pharisees loved money. They loved to lord it over others, instructing them what to do and threatening all who would challenge their authority with expulsion from the synagogue. They loved the prominence their position afforded them. Are we seeing parallels in the most recent developments of our Organization?” The Pharisees didn’t have to be wealthy to love money. In fact they were trained by their view toward those who failed to measure up to be tight-fisted and condescending toward the poor as though all such poor were unclean and without God. And so love was not… Read more »
That’s a good point, smolderingwick1.
Thanks meleti an accurate observation its just incredible how many similarities there are . Also incredible is the fact that the majority of the brothers just can’t see it . The truth is their knowledge of the NT is extremely patchy and even the scriptures they do know on many they have some serious mis conceptions . You mentioned about the way they think the preaching work is heralded as a proof that identifies the true disciples why do they think that when the bible says that many false prophets have gone into the world jesus even warned of those… Read more »
Here is an interesting quote from the 1988 Watchtower. Notice how it says that by turning in time you demonstrate “submission” to the organization!! “The two elders will inform the student that when he qualifies for and shares in the field service, he may turn in a field service report and a Congregation’s Publisher Record card will be made out in his name. This will demonstrate his affiliation with the theocratic organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and his submission to it. (This would also be true of all others turning in field service reports.)” – (w88 11/15, Pg. 17, Helping Others… Read more »
There can be no doubt that the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is in desperate need of renewal. However as things stand there can be no renewal. A grassroots movement is desperately needed. However as things stand there can be no grassroots movement. The only ones who can make changes are the members of the Governing Body. Only those who are committed to keep the status quo would ever be appointed to the GB. Those few who see the need for vast changes could never even be appointed a MS much less climb the “theocratic ladder” all the way up to… Read more »
We are often told that the reasons we report time is the following: “By turning in a field service report, it will be posted on a Congregation’s Publisher Record card made out in his name. The new one can now report his witnessing activity along with the millions of others who joyfully ‘publish the word of God.’ (Acts 13:5) An announcement that he is an unbaptized publisher will be made to the congregation.” – (w96 1/15, Pg. 18, Jehovah’s Sheep Need Tender Care) So you are not a member (a Jehovah’s Witness) unless you turn in time!! “Such reports provide… Read more »
My thoughts exactly. My voluntary monetary contributions are anonymous so why shouldn’t my voluntary contributions of my time? For some reason our time belongs to the Organization.We have to justify to Elders and the GB about every second of our time. We should be out in service if our circumstances permit. That means no secular schooling, no jobs that take us away from the organization, no hobbies that take too much of our time and if you have small children spend time with them in service. If we do otherwise we could be “robbing Jehovah” as the latest magazine suggests.… Read more »
Additionally, this statement is patently untrue. “Such reports provide a realistic picture of what is done in the world field. They show where help is needed and which kind of literature and how much of it is required to advance the preaching work.” – (w05 6/1, Pg. 18, Saved, Not by Works Alone, But by Undeserved Kindness) They do not use the field service reports to determine what how much and what kind of literature is required. They use the orders which the congregations place from the literature and magazine counters to determine that. That goes for hours and even… Read more »
I’m still thinking of the meaning of the word Pharisee – “Separated Ones”. While it is true that Christians are to be separate from the world I see another striking parallel with Jehovah’s Witnesses today who take this admonition to extraordinary lengths. Jehovah’s Witnesses are indeed “Separated Ones”. Our use of the term ‘worldly’ reminds me of the Pharisees use of the term ‘accursed’ people and am ha arets. Those words you quoted from song 62 are sobering. We cannot serve 2 masters. We cannot serve God and Organization. Organizations tend to take on a life of their own. Often,… Read more »
Thank you for this great discussion! I have always had issues with the counting “time” requirement for those who wish to preach the Good News as it is absolutely not supported by scripture. The fact is that envisioning the Creator of the universe looking at our “numbers” to determine if we qualify for salvation is absurd. This has become part of the requirements for membership into the club and used as a measuring stick of one’s faith which removes the joy of the ministry from many as all are focused on getting “my time” especially the elite class of pioneers.… Read more »
I have come to the conclusion that the organization is using the prestige that comes with the title ‘pioneer’ to motivate members to preach for longer hours. By reducing the hour requirement to 30 they are essentially tempting more members to reach out for the title of pioneer, telling them it is even easier to have. It’s a convenient way for the organization to capitalize on members’ desire for prominence to boost its publishing efforts. This is immoral because a person should give his all in the ministry with pure motives empowered by holy spirit – not so that they… Read more »
“We have misled people repeatedly about the fulfilment of Bible prophecy”
We still publicize our false prophetic history in “From Our Archives” in the Watchtower May 15 pages 31-32 about the early work in Brazil done through the false “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” campaign 1920-1925. Rutherford never apologised for misleading thousands world wide even blaming expectations for 1925 on the rank and file.
But he did say, “I know I made an ass of myself.”
It’s an interesting way to apologize but actually if brother Rutherford made a statement about what he did of others, rather than himself, I’m sure that would be a more convincing demonstration of humility.
It looks like he rather apologized to himself in a manner possible to hear down at the pub.
Excellent article, and I’m also very much saddened when I realize some of the parallels. There are some thoughts that come to my mind, I’d like to express. I do find the preaching work definitely exceptional. This is one of the clearest proves for a Jehovah’s Witness, or his/her care for other fellow humans. Those hours spent are indeed a personal sacrifice. Now, if all the controls, countings, follow ups on inactive people were lifted, the ones who remain active in this activity would really show the genuine interest. But I’m sure, a great majority do this with a pure… Read more »
Hi Alex, I know how you feel, I was waiting for them to change 25 years ago, guess what, they ALL died since without doing so, I even talked to Dan Sydlik on the phone about their involvement with the UN, which he said he was aware of, but from which they never publicly repented. At first, too, I thought they were just slow in getting it, writing them many letters and praying, but then the Father showed me in the publications between the lines, that they indeed knew the truth, but did not publish it for selfish reasons, and… Read more »
Today I went in service again, like I do so many times a week. I see happy brothers and sisters. Smiling faces, shake hands. I take the group out. After my ‘part’ the sisters thank me for some great bible instruction. I always try to make it interesting. Stimulate a love for bible reading. I really wanted to forget my doubts. Pretend this other .. truth .. doesn’t exist. That the GB doesn’t know better, they are true to the best of their ability. That they are sincerely loving us and that in time God will reveal to them what… Read more »
My dear brother, you have accurately put into words what I have personally felt or many years.
“No one comes to Father except thru me”—Jesus (John 14:6). Jesus never said nor implied that any human or group of humans could act as mediators on his behalf. No one other than him is needed for God’s approval. If our Father had specific laws he wanted us to follow,He would have without question given these laws to us in writing. He gave the Israelites over 600 laws in writing .Our Father chose to only give us two laws …to love Him and to love our neighbor (Matt 22:35-40). Paul spent much of his time explaining this idea to Christians… Read more »
GodsWordisTruth I 100% agree with your last statement as well as your earlier statement about a group of men informing the world they are the only mediators to God like somehow they own the copyright or trademark to God. Every fiber of my being just cannot accept that God does not find favor in ANYONE not a JW in the entire world although there are many who are sincerely trying to serve God well according to the bible. Now am I naive? Of course not, I understand it’s a “narrow road” so a vast majority are not serving God well… Read more »
I agree Mdnwa, especially with your statements regarding Jonah! Our whole religion is based on a reward system for field service. As for religion, Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day …. Matthew 15:14 ESV / Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 6:16 ESV “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Matthew 23: 13″But woe to you,… Read more »
GodsWordisTruth I talked with others regarding me my desire to meet in smaller groups like the old book study groups. Most if not all actually agreed to my surprise. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had good memories with the larger congregation format but I sometimes think about when Paul met with a small group of men, women and kids talking to them and ENCOURAGING them on a smaller scale. Some, like me, do better in small groups than larger and In larger setting it seems people can slip through the cracks especially those that need it the most. In smaller… Read more »
I’m not sure why we got rid of the bookstudy in homes of the brothers and sisters. As you said it was more intimate. We also rotated the conductors which was nice. I was actually talking about this site 🙂 Alot of my personal study lately has been inspired by the the topics and comments on this site. At the moment , Meleti has posts to discuss the BS, TMS, SM and watchtower. I consider those discussions my real “meeting”. I am critical of alot in our organization. However , I am not sure if I would examine the range… Read more »
While we may never know the real reason why the old bookstudy arrangement went the way of the dodo bird, my personal theory is that it was a security-related decision. In a lot of places in the world you just can’t afford to let strangers into your home.
That makes sense.
A sister told me that she believed it was because there was to much “free thinking” going on. She believed that the GB wanted the conductors to be more scripted.
I don’t know what bookstudy she went to because there were not any “free thinkers” in my group. I scoffed at first at the idea when she mentioned it but I guess it’s possible.
Concerning pharisees I have read something really interesting. The priestly role was bestowed on the Levite sons of Aaron. Jehovah had appointed them specifically. But over time, the Pharisees emerged. They were NOT necessarily Levite. So how did they get their “credibility”? They raised up for themselves Rabbinical schools. They studied the Law and thus, puffed up with knowledge, they felt like they were better than the divinely appointed naturally born, perhaps even humble Levite. This is something that I see in Christianity. Do you really think that a doctorate in divinity grants you special status with God? Some wisdom… Read more »
I greatly sympathize Alex. That is my prayer as well. I tell our Father that “I am getting out of her” and I no longer share in the sins of preaching or teaching beliefs contrary to what the Bible teaches… When I come to know that they are false. If He means leaving physically from JW’s or religion period I beg that he helps me do that. Even if he has to carry me out with his angles like He did Lot. Our plight is so different from other Christian sects when choosing to leave . Meleti talks alot about… Read more »
This article leaves me incredibly sad. Maybe because it is true.