HOW TO GET Jehovah's Witnesses TO LISTEN

by ex-JW David A. Reed

Ready for a game of Bible ping-pong?

When any of their unorthodox beliefs come up for discussion, Jehovah's Witnesses will say, "I believe this because the Bible says [paraphrase of verse] at [chapter and verse citation]," while a more accurate response would have been, "I believe this because the Watchtower Society teaches us that this is what the Bible says."

Unfortunately, however, this is a point where most Christians believe Jehovah's Witnesses, as evidenced by the Christian's typical response consisting of Bible verses to refute the JW doctrine in question.*

So a typical Christian-vs.-JW encounter resembles a game of Bible ping-pong or table-tennis. The Christian comes up with a verse of Scripture refuting a JW doctrine, and the Witness responds with one of his or her favorite "proof" texts. The Christian responds with another verse, and the JW does likewise. Bible verses fly back and forth across the table until both parties, sweaty and exhausted, call a halt to the game.

A re-match the following week yields similar results. Even if the Christian manages to score more points, the JW is still a JW, and the Christian feels like giving up on JWs, concluding that it is pointless to get into a conversation with them.

In a sense, that conclusion is correct -- in the same sense that the primitive tribesman finally concludes that it is pointless to pour more cold water on the hot radiator in the apartment he is visiting.

In both cases failure is attributable to misdirected efforts. Those efforts might have succeeded if they had been aimed at the proper target.

Knocking down a Jehovah's Witness's belief system is similar to chopping down a tree. The woodsman who takes aim at the biggest and brightest leaves can swing his axe all day without results. So it is with the Christian who takes aim at prominent JW doctrines and starts swinging.

Witness beliefs on theology and the afterlife are attractive targets for Christians who know what the Bible really says on these matters. But those erroneous beliefs are upheld by the Watchtower Society, just as the leaves and branches are held aloft by the tree trunk.

Until the woodsman takes aim at the trunk, he swings his axe in vain. Likewise with the Christian who gets into debates with JWs over doctrine.

Rather than belabor the point, I'll conclude with a real-life example -- a close look at what actually happens when you show a JW a Bible verse that refutes JW beliefs:

Two ladies called at my door with Watchtower and Awake! magazines in their hands. I let the one taking the lead go ahead with her presentation for a minute or two, rejected her offer of the magazines, but then asked if she could answer a question for me before she left. I asked,

"Is it true that you people believe the 'great crowd' of believers will be rewarded with life on earth forever instead of going to heaven? Can you show me in the Bible where it mentions this 'great crowd.'"

"Yes," she replied, promptly opening her New World Translation, as I knew she would, to Revelation 7:9, where she read, "After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, and there were palm branches in their hands."

When I showed her the context and pointed out that the "great crowd" is pictured there "standing before the throne" of God in heaven, rather than on earth, she answered that all the earth stands before God's throne.

So I had her turn over a few pages to Revelation, chapter 19, which also speaks of the "great crowd," and asked her to read the first verse: "After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven. They said, 'Praise Jah, you people! The salvation and the glory and the power belong to our God.'"

"So, where is the 'great crowd'?" I asked.

"On earth," was her answer.

"Please read it again," I asked.

This time I stopped her after she read the word heaven and asked again where the verse located the "great crowd." "On earth," was still her reply.

"What was that last word you read?" I asked.

"It says 'heaven'," she finally admitted, "but the 'great crowd' is on earth. You don't understand," she went on, "we have men at our headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, who explain the Bible to us. And they can prove that the 'great crowd' is on earth; I just can't explain it that well."

There it is! A Jehovah's Witness can look at the word 'heaven' in the Bible and see 'earth' instead -- because that is what the Watchtower Society teaches.

It is as if JWs look at the Bible through Watchtower-tinted glasses that color the meaning of everything they read.

The same mental mechanism kicks in whether the topic is the nature of God, the condition of the dead, the future hope of Christians, or any other subject the Witness has been drilled on repetitively at Kingdom Hall meetings and in the pages of Watchtower publications.

But this does not mean that discussions with JWs are doomed to failure. Success is possible if you treat the disease rather than the symptoms, if you pour the water on the furnace rather than on the radiator, if you swing the axe at the trunk of the tree rather than at the leaves. Chop through the trunk, and the whole tree will come down -- including all the brightly colored leaves that first caught your attention.

*JWs claim that they base their beliefs on the Bible. This is not true. (They really base their beliefs on instructions from Watchtower headquarters.) So, when Christians respond with Bible verses to refute the JW beliefs, this may indicate that Christians take JWs at their word -- that they base their beliefs on the Bible. Yes, it is important to answer them from the Bible. But progress usually comes only after proving that the Watchtower Society is unreliable and not to be trusted. Before a JW sees evidence of the Watchtower Society's false prophecies and back-and-forth doctrinal changes, he or she will usually accept the Watchtower's interpretation of Bible verses, rather than yours, because JWs see the Society as God's appointed spokesman.

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