Jehovah's Witnesses are a fundamentalist Christian denomination best known for door-to-door evangelism, distribution of religious literature such as The Watchtower and Awake! magazines, and their refusal to accept blood transfusions.
The religion's organization report over 7,000,000 members worldwide, and over 18,000,000 attendees at their annual Memorial ceremony.  Third-party reports estimate the number to be 30-60% higher than reported by the religion.
- 1 Beliefs
- 2 Practices
- 2.1 Meetings
- 2.2 Field Service
- 2.3 No blood transfusions and animal slaughter
- 2.4 Membership
- 2.5 Holidays
- 2.6 Not associating with people outside the religion
- 2.7 Criticism not tolerated
- 2.8 Subjugation of women
- 3 Controversies
- 4 References
- 5 External links
They consider all other Christian denominations to be false and part of a great apostasy. Jehovah's Witnesses refer to other religions collectively as "Babylon the Great," which is another term used by Jehovah's Witnesses for false religions. 
Witnesses consider unity of belief as important, as this is thought to be in agreement with scripture and so as to present a unified front to the world, so there is no new Bible interpretation attempts by normal Witnesses.
Jehovah's Witnesses use their own translation of the Bible, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, first published in 1961. This was followed by a revised 2013 version which includes an introductory 20 question and answer section, outline of contents before each book and two appendixes (A and B) with biblical information, teachings doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Bible is primarily addressed to the 144,000 "anointed" Christians that will reach Heaven. 
Interpretation of the Bible is done by the church's governing body, which has currently seven members. Rank and file members are forbidden from trying to interpret the text independently. Only one interpretation is acceptable to the church. Disagreement with the governing body is considered to be disagreement with the Bible, since their views are supposedly Biblically supported. They consider the governing body's interpretation to be generally correct but may err in less important matters such as particular details of prophecy.
God and Jesus
Jesus is the Archangel Michael and not God.  He is God's son in the sense that he was "the firstborn of all creation" and the only thing directly created by God. All other things were created by Jesus under God's direction. 
Jehovah's Witnesses reject the concept of the Trinity.  They believe that Jesus died on a stake, not a cross, and see the use of the cross in worship as a form of idolatry.  They believe the resurrection of Jesus was spiritual, not bodily. 
God is considered to be the "Universal Sovereign". His "right to rule" has come into question because of the actions of Satan. "[...] time was needed to settle the issue and to demonstrate convincingly that the rebels were utterly wrong." For this reason, God allows human governments to exist but they are ultimately doomed to failure. "Eventually, Jehovah would be vindicated" 
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God should be referred to as "Jehovah God" or simply "Jehovah." They do not normally refer to him as "God" the way most Christian denominations do. They consider the use of God's true name an important sign that they are the one true religion.  Note that Yahweh is believed to be the name of God by secular scholars, not Jehovah. The confusion arises because the name of God in the Hebrew Bible only recorded the four consonants, not the vowels. Jehovah's Witnesses admit this is true but continue to call God by the name "Jehovah." 
Witnesses believe in old-Earth creationism, in that the days in Genesis were not literally days. However, they do believe that Adam and Eve literally existed.  Adam is thought to have been born in 4026 BCE and died in 3096 BCE.  They reject evolution. It is noteworthy that Richard Dawkins devoted a chapter of his book, The God Delusion, to commenting on Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? which was the Watchtower Society's flagship publication on evolution for many years.
Prophecy and the end of the world
The Apocalypse is thought to finally vindicate God's "right to rule" and "sanctify his name". Jehovah's Witnesses have proclaimed numerous dates for the Apocalypse, principally 1914, 1925, 1975, but also 1799, 1874, 1878 and 1918. They have passed without apparent incident. New doctrines were added as the predictions failed, usually by convenient reinterpretation of scriptures. The church continues to believe that the end will be "soon" or "imminent". 
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 "Anointed" people will go to Heaven and will "rule as kings with Jesus".  This group is also known as the "little flock," the "slave class," and other terms. Jehovah's Witnesses once believed that since 1935, no one could go to heaven because there were already 144,000 people within their denomination; in other words, Heaven was full.
- "Hence, especially after 1966 it was believed that the heavenly call ceased in 1935. [...] On the other hand, as time has gone by, some Christians baptized after 1935 have had witness borne to them that they have the heavenly hope. (Romans 8:16-17 ) Thus, it appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends. "
Teachings were later revised so that more recent believers and those who died before Jesus, known collectively as "other sheep," will spend an eternity on a paradise Earth instead of in Heaven. Today, these "other sheep" are more commonly referred to as "the great crowd of other sheep" or simply "the great crowd." 
People in Hell are thought to be in an unconscious state, similar to death.  Hence, Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that human souls will be tortured as punishment for their sins. They also believe that anyone living at the time of Armageddon who is not a faithful Jehovah's Witness will be killed.  They also believe that the majority of people who died before Armageddon will be resurrected and given a chance to learn God's true teachings and to live forever alongside those Jehovah's Witnesses who survived Armageddon.  Anyone killed during Armageddon will not be resurrected.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Adam and Eve were perfect beings prior to eating from the Tree of knowledge and that it was the act of eating the forbidden fruit that caused their downfall, leaving them - and all their descendants - in a state of imperfection.
- "How would mankind be freed from their struggle with inherited imperfection? Jehovah provided for a Kingdom government made up of “the last Adam” [who is Jesus] and chosen associates from among mankind. (Read Revelation 5:9, 10.) Those associated with Jesus in heaven will have experienced what it means to be imperfect. For a full thousand years, their joint rulership will provide assistance to those on earth, helping them to overcome the imperfection that they could not conquer on their own.—Rev. 20:6. "
They also believe that Jesus was a perfect man while on Earth. 
The concept of perfection has never been fully explained by the church, but it is believed that the human race will reach a state of perfection 1,000 years after Armageddon under the guidance of Jesus' and the anointed. 
The church leadership sometimes feel the need to change the church's official position on doctrine. This is referred to within the church as "new light".
Note that Jehovah's Witnesses refer to their beliefs as "the truth." Some even refer to outdated teachings as "old truth." If the church was guided by Jehovah, it seems strange that changes in doctrine are necessary.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are the happiest people of all, which they claim as evidence for the truth of their beliefs.
- "Of course, the fact that Jehovahs servants "weep" over the sorry state of world affairs does not preclude their being happy. On the contrary! They are actually the happiest group of people on earth."
- "Some customs involve practices so gross that they are detestable to Jehovah, and, hence, to his people. Among such practices are sodomy, bestiality, homosexuality, incest and other forms of sexual immorality."
Witnesses are discouraged from voting in elections and generally remain neutral on politics. This involves not voting, not campaigning in politics, not holding political office, not saluting a country's flag, not serving on a jury or discussing politics.  Also, Witnesses refuse to serve in the military.  Smoking and gambling are not tolerated and can lead to dis-fellowship. 
Members are expected to attend five meetings a week but the exact arrangements vary between different groups. Their place of worship is called a "Kingdom Hall". The organization of the church is hierarchical with the Governing Body being in overall control and branch offices overseeing a country. A circuit is a group of twenty congregations, (male only) elders oversee a congregation with ministerial servants in an assisting role. Normally, only men can take on leadership or teaching roles at a meeting. Women may only take on these roles if there are no men who are qualified to do so. Even then, they must wear a head covering if teaching or leading in the presence of a man. Note that the head covering can be anything. In some areas, female Jehovah's Witnesses will simply hold a book on top of their heads if they don't have a hat.
One of the most visible aspects of Jehovah's Witnesses is their door to door preaching. This is referred to as "field service". Field service also includes telephone contact, letter writing and street witnessing.  It is a central activity of the denomination  and is required of believers unless circumstances prevent it. There has been a recent move toward street witnessing in parts of the US and UK, which is a boon to believers that dislike door to door preaching. 
- "For the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWS), the door-to-door ministry appears to be more of a demonstration of faith and solidarity, than a real effort to convert. I grew up in the Jehovah's Witness religion (or cult, as I prefer to think of it), and the dedication to the preaching work promotes a shared feeling of persecution and self-righteousness. "
No blood transfusions and animal slaughter
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that blood is a sacred representation of life and that God forbids its use for purposes other than atonement for sin (sacrifice). Believers are forbidden from eating meat from which the blood has not been drained, food products containing blood, and from receiving blood transfusions, regardless of its medical necessity and of the consequences to their life or health. This is based on Genesis 9:4 , Leviticus 17:14 , Acts 15:20 , etc.
Specifically, they are directly forbidden from willingly accepting a transfusion of stored whole blood, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma, on penalty of disfellowshipment and the threat of God's disfavor. Preoperative extraction followed by postoperative re-transfusion of their own blood is also disallowed, though certain intraoperative re-transfusion procedures (such as salvage) are allowed. Organ and bone marrow transplants are discouraged as well, though the final decision is left to the individual. Those choosing to follow discouraged actions are often informally ostracized. They are directed to follow their own personal conscience in deciding to use other components of blood, or other products derived from or produced in blood (such as antivenins).
- "Blood had a symbolic meaning. It stood for life provided by the Creator. By treating blood as special, the people showed dependence on him for life. Yes, the chief reason why they were not to take in blood was, not that it was unhealthy, but that it had special meaning to God."
One of the controversial aspects of their refusal to accept blood transfusions is in that, against the advice of their doctors and surgeons, they often hold their critically ill minor children to the same rule, who are themselves not mature enough to decide to follow the belief willfully. This is an instance of religiously motivated medical neglect.
Witnesses do not refrain from eating normal meat. They reason that having the animal bled during slaughter is acceptable. The red fluid found in some red meats is juice containing myoglobin, which is technically not blood.
- "The fact that meat appears to be very red or even has red fluid on the surface does not mean that it has not been bled. Extravascular fluid, fluid filling the spaces between the cells, is known as interstitial fluid and resembles blood plasma. But it is not blood and therefore does not come under the prohibition respecting blood. [...] Of course, bleeding does not remove every trace of blood from the animal. But God’s law does not require that every single drop of blood be removed. It simply states that the animal should be bled, not that the meat be soaked in some special preparation to draw out every trace of it."
It is difficult to assess actual membership among Jehovah's Witnesses, as their organizing body reports neither officiated members nor church attendance. Instead, they report:
- The peak number of members who submit a report on their evangelism efforts, tabulated monthly.
- Combined attendance at their annual memorial ceremony.
- Combined peak attendance at their annual three-day convention.
The latter two do not reflect membership, as attendance of both includes casual visitors, one-time visitors, and unbaptized children of Jehovah's Witnesses who attend with their parents. Ministry campaigns are carried out for a few weeks before the event in an attempt to invite as many new people as possible.
The first is not an exact representation of actual membership, as it excludes those who attend services, consider themselves members, but who do not participate in evangelism efforts. It excludes even officiated members who do not evangelize. But given that better information is not reported, it may be considered the best representation available.
In reporting religious affiliation, government censuses, pew surveys, and statistical abstracts usually rely on self-identification. As such, they include children and others not recognized as members by the church, and thus find the number of Witnesses to be 30-60% higher than reported by the religion itself. But as they are collected the same way regardless of religion, these reports may be considered accurate for comparing one religion to another.
The practice of "disfellowshipping", more commonly known as excommunication or shunning, is used by Jehovah's Witnesses to punish those who break the rules of the religion and fail to convince congregation elders that they have repented. Church members are prohibited with associating with disfellowshipped people, and in many situations even members of their immediate family. An exception can be made where regularly speaking with the disfellowshipped person cannot be avoided, such as between married couples, for the care of children, and for business contracts and partnerships. Continuing to associate with a disfellowshipped person is itself a basis for disfellowshipping, though this is rarely the actual penalty. In the case of a family member, one would more likely be excluded from leadership positions and certain church activities.
- "If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. "
Those who renounce their membership with the church are "disassociated." This is basically equivalent to disfellowshipping, except that it is not due to breaking any rules, and is initiated by the member himself.
Disassociation occurs when a person specifically renounces his membership, either by formally informing the congregation elders of his/her decision or by participating in the services/rituals of another Christian denomination or non-Christian religion. The Society has also stated that a person can sometimes disassociate from the congregation simply through their own actions.  For example, those who accept blood transfusions are said to have disassociated. Also, those who leave to join another religion are said to have disassociated. 
Most holidays are of either religious or political origin, which Witnesses consider idolatrous worship of either a false god or the state, respectively. Thus, Jehovah's Witnesses do not observe any secular or religious holidays or celebrations, save wedding anniversaries.
Jehovah's Witnesses also have one religious celebration they do observe: the memorial of Christ's death.
The memorial of Christ's death, known as "The Memorial", is the only celebration officially endorsed by the church and observed by followers. This celebration is their version of the Last Supper.
Their practice of it involves a scripted sermon about the significance of Christ's sacrificing himself, and the importance of carrying on the tradition. This sermon is almost identical every year. It concludes with wine and unleavened bread being passed around the audience. Most members (99.9%) simply pass the bread and wine on to the person sitting beside them, but a few who feel they are anointed by God to act as rulers eat and drink them.
Birthdays are viewed as a form of idolatry, and the common American custom (getting really drunk at your friends' expense, which is great) contrary to scriptural principles. The celebration of birthdays is therefore expressly disallowed.
However, what a celebration consists of is not explicitly defined by the Jehovah's Witness organization. Some members do celebrate birthdays surreptitiously.
Christmas is considered by Witnesses to be a celebration of mostly pagan origin (which is largely true), observed on a date and in a way that coincides with (and they believe is rooted in) several pagan rituals. They do not celebrate Christmas and generally consider it one of the more abhorrent holidays.
It is perfectly acceptable for Witnesses to celebrate wedding anniversaries. The idolatrous aspects of admiring and giving gifts to someone on the yearly anniversary of their birth do not apply to admiring and giving gifts to a married couple on the yearly anniversary of their wedding.
Not associating with people outside the religion
Becoming close friends, dating or even associating with people outside the religion is discouraged, because outsiders are considered to be "worldly".  Many Witnesses have at least acquaintances that are outside the religion but they don't make it widely known. Marriage is expected to be within the religion.
- "Our choice of associates. Of course, some contact with unbelievers — such as at school, at work, and when sharing in the ministry — is unavoidable. It is quite another matter, though, to socialize with them, even cultivating close friendships with them. Do we justify such association by saying that they have many good qualities? “Do not be misled,” warns the Bible. “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33 ) Just as a small amount of pollution can contaminate clean water, friendship with those who do not practice godly devotion can contaminate our spirituality and lead us into adopting worldly viewpoints, dress, speech, and conduct."
- "We must also be on guard against extended association with worldly people."
Criticism not tolerated
Witnesses are forbidden from criticizing their religion. They are told to be "like-minded" and to practice "speaking in agreement" or face being disfellowshipped. They must avoid independent thought or personal interpretation of scripture. The organization emphasizes harmony and the need to avoid "stumbling" other believers, by causing them to doubt.
"[A Witness] does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and "the faithful and discreet slave." [the church's Governing Body]"
- — Matthew 24:45. Watchtower 2001 Aug 1 p.14
Subjugation of women
Women are either subjugated to either their father, if unmarried, or their husband. Elders are always male.
A cult is popularly defined as an individual or organization which employs intensive methods to control behavior, thinking, and emotions of its followers. Jehovah's Witness religion requires members to isolate themselves from social interactions outside the religion. Those who do not do not follow their rules are disfellowshiped/shunned. This causes an almost total collapse of that person's social support structure. Witnesses' lives are tightly controlled by their church. They are also discouraged from researching their religion or developing critical thinking skills. 
- "I was warned away from cultivating any close friendships with non-Jehovah’s Witnesses for this reason. As a result, most young Witnesses grow up sequestered in their homes and their congregations, fearful of anything outside those boundaries. [...] The faith discourages more than the bare minimum education, advising that higher education is a waste of time that could be better dedicated to “ministry” [...], and that it fosters a materialistic and selfishly ambitious attitude. [...] they emphasise the dangers and repercussions of searching for answers to faith-related questions in any place except their own literature [...] I eventually left the faith at 18. Many former “friends”, including my best friend of 10 years, shunned me."
The denomination generally opposes university education, considering it to be a distraction from spiritual matters, being of questionable worth and exposes the followers to outside influences.  The most likely reason for this policy is that independent thought and questioning ideas, taught routinely in a university education, makes followers less compliant with the denomination's demands. However, the link between education and religiosity is controversial.
"Such `wisdom' adds nothing to the stature of an individual as a minister of Jehovah ..."
- — The Watchtower, May 15, 1956 p. 315. Article entitled "Careful Living Helps Avoid Life's Pitfalls," subheading "Advanced Education".
"In addition to the bad environment, there is the pressure of schoolwork and examinations. Naturally, students need to study and do their homework to pass the exams. Some may also need to hold at least a part-time job while going to school. All of this takes a great deal of their time and energy. What, then, will be left for spiritual activities?"
- — Watchtower, 2005, Oct 1
Questioning of the church's leadership is forbidden:
"The point is that Christians have implicit trust in their heavenly Father; they do not question what he tells them through his written Word and organization."
- — Watchtower 1974 Jul 15 p.441
"If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves: “Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of the truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization?” No, we cannot!"
- — Watchtower 1983 January 15 page 27 – “Fight Against Independent Thinking”.
"Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses."
- — Watchtower 1986 April 1 page 30-31 – “Questions From Readers”.
They are also forbidden from reading literature that is critical of the group:
- "As Witnesses, we were told to avoid literature that was critical of us. We were made to feel it was almost on the level of being satanic. When I first got hold of one of these books, not long after I left the religion, I was literally shaking with fear"
There is also a prevalent persecution complex which is common to many cults but also, to a lesser extent, of Christianity generally. The Watchtower often contains examples of the persecution of Witnesses from around the world, citing abuses in Russia, Eritrea, South Korea and others, often because of their refusal of military service and political neutrality.
Biblical interpretation and religious truth
Most Witnesses rely on the governing body to interpret the Bible. However, former body member Raymond Franz said the body relies too much on tradition doctrine and not enough on the Bible. He was expelled from the body in 1980 for his divergent views. Writing about his years in the governing body, he said:
- "I have since come to appreciate the rightness of a quotation I recently read, one made by a statesman, now dead, who said: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." I now began to realize how large a measure of what I had based my entire adult life course on was just that, a myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."
Witnesses don't seem to consider the possibility of religious truth that might exist independently of the Bible.
During the early 20th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses saw black people as inferior. Black people it was believed had the curse of Ham in their hearts and were fit to be servants. Black people could get spiritual benefits by staying meek and accepting their inferior status. Black people were not encouraged to feel good about being black, rather they should hope to become white. As a special blessing black Jehovah’s Witnesses might become white through God’s intervention. Black people were uneducated and therefore would not benefit from the tracts and reading material supplied to white congregations.
Prejudice is much less evident in the 21st century, though few black people have reached the highest administrative levels of the church. 
Like many other denominations, the Jehovah's Witnesses covered up evidence of widespread child abuse.  This is largely because of their reliance on requiring two witnesses and weak internal sanctions. 
- Satan’s Way of Ruling Sure to Fail, The Watchtower (2010)
- The Watchtower (2009), Adam and Eve—Were They Real People?
- The Bible, What is its message?, 2012
- When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?—Part One, w11 10/1 pp. 26-31, The Watchtower (2011)
- Gathering Things in Heaven and Things on Earth, w06 2/15 pp. 21-25, The Watchtower (2006)
- Questions From Readers, w07 5/1 pp. 30-31, The Watchtower (2007)
- Watchtower 1999 10/1 p. 8 par. 13
- Watchtower 1979 Mar 15 pp.10-11
- , see also Watchtower 1961 page 29; 1972 p 13
- Watchtower 1982 Jan 15 p. 31
- Watchtower 1986, Oct 15, p. 31
- Watchtower 2013 Feb study ed. p.24
- Watchtower 1994 Feb 15 p.24
- Anonymous, A moment that changed me: quitting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Guardian, 9 June 2016
- Jehovah's Witnesses did not protect children from abuse, inquiry finds
- JW Victims, Documents the harm to individual believers
- JWfacts Criticism of Jehovah's Witnesses
- The beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses and how they differ from mainstream Christianity.
- Jehovah's Witnesses at a glance
- Jehovah's Witnesses official website
- Jehovah's Witness Recovery, support forum for those leaving or who have left.