Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Worship of Jesus
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Jesus is not God,” and thus should not be worshiped by Christians. The Watchtower, a magazine published twice a month by Jehovah’s Witnesses, emphatically stated in its November 1, 1964 issue: “…it is unscriptural for worshipers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (p. 671). More recently, the October 15, 2004 issue of The Watchtower concluded an article about Jesus not being the true God with these words: “Jehovah, and no one else, is ‘the true God and life everlasting.’ He alone is worthy to receive exclusive worship from those whom he created—Revelation 4:11” (p. 31). Since God alone is worthy of worship, and since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is only an angel and not God (see “The Truth About Angels,” 2001), He (allegedly) should not be worshiped.
GOD ALONE IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP
There is no argument over the fact that God alone is worthy of worship. Jehovah revealed His will to Moses on Mt. Sinai, saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5). Regarding the Gentiles who were sent to live in Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Bible says:
To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel, with whom the Lord had made a covenant and charged them, saying: “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice” (2 Kings 17:34-36, emp. added).
The Bible reveals time and again that God alone is to be worshiped. Luke recorded that King Herod was eaten with worms because, instead of glorifying God Almighty, he allowed the people to glorify him as a god (Acts 12:21-23). Herod’s arrogant spirit stands in direct contrast to the reaction that Paul and Barnabas had when the citizens of Lystra attempted to worship them (Acts 14:8-18). After Paul healed a man who had been crippled from his birth, the people of Lystra shouted: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” They even called Paul and Barnabas by the names of their gods (Hermes and Zeus), and sought to worship them with sacrifice. Had these two preachers had the same arrogant spirit as Herod, they would have accepted worship, and felt as if they deserved such honor. Instead, these Christian men “tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you’ ” (Acts 14:14-15). Paul recognized that it is unlawful for humans to worship other humans, and thus sought to turn the people’s attention toward God, and away from himself.
The Bible also reveals that man must refrain from worshipping angels. When the apostle John fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who had revealed to him the message of Revelation, the angel responded, saying, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9, emp. added; cf. Revelation 19:10). Angels, idols, and humans are all unworthy of the reverent worship that is due only to God. As Jesus reminded Satan: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’ ” (Matthew 4:10, emp. added).
JESUS ACCEPTED WORSHIP
The dilemma in which Jehovah’s Witnesses find themselves is that, unlike good men and good angels who have always rejected worship from humanity, Jesus accepted worship. If worship is to be reserved only for God, and Jesus, the One “who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22), accepted worship, then the logical conclusion is that Jesus believed that He was deity. Numerous times the Bible mentions that Jesus accepted worship from mankind. Matthew 14:33 indicates that those who saw Jesus walk on water “worshiped Him.” John 9:38 reveals that the blind man whom Jesus had healed, later confessed his belief in Jesus as the Son of God and “worshiped him.” After Mary Magdalene and the other women visited the empty tomb of Jesus, and the risen Christ appeared to them, “they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:9). When Thomas first witnessed the resurrected Christ, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Later, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in Galilee, “they worshiped Him” on a mountain (Matthew 28:17). A few days after that, His disciples “worshiped Him” in Bethany (Luke 24:52). Time and again Jesus accepted the kind of praise from men that is due only to God. He never sought to correct His followers, and redirect the worship away from Himself as did the angel in Revelation or the apostle Paul in Acts 14. Nor did God strike Jesus with deadly worms for not redirecting the praise He received from men as He did Herod, who, when being hailed as a god, “did not give praise to God” (Acts 12:23).
Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses have attempted to circumvent the obvious references to Jesus accepting worship by changing the word “worship” in their New World Translation to “obeisance” every time the Greek word proskuneo (the most prominent word for worship in the New Testament) is used in reference to Jesus. Over thirty times in the New World Translation (first published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1950) proskuneo is correctly translated “worship” when God the Father is the recipient of glory and praise. This Greek word occurs fourteen times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, yet not once does the New World Translation render it “worship;” instead, every time it is translated “obeisance.” Allegedly, Mary Magdalene, the apostles, the blind man whom Jesus healed, etc., never worshiped Jesus; rather, they only paid “obeisance” to Him.
In twenty-first-century English, people generally make a distinction between the verbs “worship” and “do obeisance.” Most individuals, especially monotheists, use the word worship in a positive sense when talking about God, whereas “obeisance” is used more often in reference to the general respect given to people held in high regard. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines obeisance as “1. A gesture or movement of the body, such as a curtsy, that expresses deference or homage. 2. An attitude of deference or homage,” whereas the verb worship is defined as “1. To honor and love as a deity. 2. To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion” (2000, emp. added). The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society agrees with the distinction often made between these words in modern English: God should be “worshiped,” while Jesus (we are told) should only receive “obeisance” (i.e., the respect and submission one pays to important dignitaries and superiors).
The Greek word proskuneo, which appears in the New Testament a total of 60 times, literally means “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence” (“Proskuneo,” 1999). According to Greek scholars Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, this word was used in ancient times “to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity or something holy” (1979, p. 723). Admittedly, the word obeisance could be used on occasions to translate proskuneo. The problem is that Jehovah’s Witnesses make a distinction between obeisance and worship when it comes to the token of reverence that Jesus was given. They arbitrarily translate proskuneo as “obeisance” every time Jesus is the object, yet never when God the Father is the recipient of honor and praise.
Consider the circumstances surrounding some of the occasions when Jesus is mentioned as the object of man’s devotion.
In John chapter nine, Jesus miraculously healed a man who was “blind from his birth” (vs. 1). When the man upon whom this miracle was performed appeared before various Jews in the synagogue and called Jesus a prophet (vs. 17), he was instructed to “give glory to God,” not Jesus, because allegedly Jesus “is a sinner” (vs. 24). Later, after the man born blind was cast out of the synagogue, Jesus informed him of His true identity—that He was not just a prophet, but also “the Son of God.” At that moment, the gentleman exclaimed, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him (vs. 38). Although the Greek word proskuneo was used in ancient times of paying respect or doing obeisance to people, no such translation is warranted in this passage. In the gospel of John, this word is found eleven times. In every instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation renders it “worship,” except in John 9:38 where it is translated “obeisance.”
Following a day in which Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men (not including women and children) with only five loaves of bread and two fish, Matthew recorded how Jesus literally walked on the water in the midst of the Sea of Galilee during a violent storm, saved Peter from drowning, and then walked onto a boat where He was met with those who “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ ” (Matthew 14:33). Jesus’ worshippers did not merely pay Him the same respect (or “obeisance”) that one pays a respected ruler, teacher, or master. On the contrary, they recognized that Jesus had overcome the laws of nature, and that His actions warranted praise and adoration—not as a man, but as the “Son of God.” If Jesus was not worthy of such praise, why did He accept it? If Jesus was not to be adored, why did the angel of the Lord not strike Him with the same deadly worms with which he struck Herod (Acts 12:23)?
After defeating death and rising from the grave, a sign which declared Him to be “the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4), Jesus accepted worship (proskuneo) from Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to visit the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:8-9), as well as all of the apostles (Matthew 28:17). Jesus was not the only one ever to be resurrected from the dead, but He was the only resurrected individual the Bible mentions as receiving praise and adoration (i.e., worship) from man. The widow’s son of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of a Shunammite (2 Kings 4:32-35), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-24,35-43), the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-16), Lazarus (John 11:1-45), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12) all were raised from the dead, but none received worship. The Bible never reveals any resurrected person other than Jesus who ever received and accepted worship. Jesus’ followers recognized that His resurrection was different. It was a proof of His deity.
The disciples worshiped Jesus again at His ascension. After recording that Jesus was “carried up into heaven,” Luke wrote: “[T]hey worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53). Notice that the word “worshiped” (proskuneo) is used in this passage along with such words as “praising” and “blessing”—words that carry a religious connotation in connection with God. Also, the disciples offered worship to an “absent” Savior. The disciples did not just bow before some earthly ruler; they worshiped their Lord Who had defeated death 40 days earlier, and had just ascended up into heaven before their eyes.
Jesus did not receive proskuneo on these occasions because He was a great teacher, or because He was viewed at these moments simply as an earthly king. Rather, all of these instances of worship were surrounded by miraculous events that were done to prove He was Heaven sent, and that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). There is every reason to believe that on such occasions as these, Jesus’ disciples meant to pay divine, religious honor to Him, not mere civil respect or regard that earthly rulers often receive.
WAFFLING ON THE WORSHIP OF JESUS
To the church at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him [Jesus] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, emp. added). The reference to the bowing of the knee is an obvious allusion to worship (cf. Isaiah 45:23; Romans 11:4). Such worship, Paul wrote, would not only come from those on Earth, but also from “those in heaven” (Philippians 2:10). This statement harmonizes well with Hebrews 1:6. In a section in which the writer of Hebrews exalted Jesus above the heavenly hosts, he affirmed that even the angels worship Christ. He wrote: “Let all the angels of God worship (proskuneo) Him.” The KJV, ASV, NKJV, NAS, ESV, NIV, RSV and a host of other translations render proskuneo in this verse as “worship.” How does the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation render this passage? Unfortunately, as with all other times in the NWT when Jesus is mentioned as being the object of proskuneo, the word is translated “do obeisance,” not “worship.” Hebrews 1:6 reads: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him” (NWT).
Interestingly, however, the NWT has not always rendered proskuneo in Hebrews 1:6 as “do obeisance.” When Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Bible and Tract Society first printed the NWT in 1950, the verse actually rendered proskuneo as “worship” instead of “do obeisance.” Even the revised 1961 edition of the NWT translated proskuneo as “worship.” But, by 1971, Jehovah’s Witnesses had changed Hebrews 1:6 to read: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.”
The fact is, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has been terribly inconsistent in its teachings on whether or not Jesus should be worshiped. In the past few decades Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower magazine has claimed that “…it is unscriptural for worshipers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (1964, p. 671; see also 2004, pp. 30-31). But, “from the beginning it was not so.” Notice what Jehovah’s Witnesses used to teach in The Watchtower regarding whether or not Jesus should be worshiped:
“…to worship Christ in any form cannot be wrong” (1880, p. 83).
“…although we are nowhere instructed to make petitions to him, it evidently could not be improper to do so; for such a course is nowhere prohibited, and the disciples worshiped him” (1892, p. 1410).
“Yes, we believe our Lord Jesus while on earth was really worshiped, and properly so” (1898, p. 2331).
“…whosoever should worship Him must also worship and bow down to Jehovah’s Chief One in that capital organization, namely, Christ Jesus…” (1945, p. 313).
For more than half of a century, Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that it was acceptable to worship Jesus. Now, however, they claim it is unscriptural. Such inconsistency regarding the nature of Christ (which is no small matter!) reveals to the honest truth seeker that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is an advocate of false doctrine.
Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses not only reject the worship of Jesus because of their belief that He is not deity, they also must deny Him such religious devotion because they teach He actually is an angel. The February 15, 1979 issue of The Watchtower indicated that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe God’s Son to be “Jesus Christ, whom we understand from the scriptures to be Michael the Archangel” (p. 29). Fifteen years later this Jehovah’s Witnesses publication stated their belief more forcefully, saying, “Michael the great prince is none other than Jesus Christ himself ” (1984, p. 29). Since, according to Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, angels do not accept worship, but rather preach the worship of God, and no other, Jehovah’s Witnesses must reject paying religious praise and devotion to Jesus. But, notice (again) how inconsistent Jehovah’s Witnesses have been. Charles Taze Russell, the founder of The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (originally called Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society), stated in The Watchtower magazine near the end of its inaugural year: “Hence it is said, ‘let all the angels of God worship him’: (that must include Michael, the chief angel, hence Michael is not the Son of God)…” (1879, p. 4, emp. added). The founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that Jesus is not Michael the archangel, and that He should be worshiped. In the twenty-first century, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is Michael the archangel, and that He should not be worshiped. Clear contradictory statements like these found throughout the years in The Watchtower should compel current and potential members of this religious group to consider carefully these untruths in light of the Truth found in God’s Word.
“WORTHY IS THE LAMB”
One final passage to consider in regard to the worship of Jesus is Revelation chapters four and five. In chapter four, the scene in this book of signs (cf. 1:1) is the throne room of God. The “Lord God Almighty” is described as sitting on His throne while “the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him” (4:9). Also, “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created’ ” (4:10-11). In chapter five, the Lamb that was slain is introduced as standing “in the midst of the throne” (5:6). No one argues the fact that this Lamb is Jesus—the One Whom John the Baptizer twice called “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29,36), and Whom Peter called the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Regarding this Lamb, the apostle John recorded the following in Revelation 5:11-14:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
In this chapter, John revealed that both God the Father and Jesus are worthy to receive worship from all of creation. In fact, Jesus is given the same praise and adoration that the Father is given. Just as God is “worthy…to receive glory and honor and power” (4:11), so Jesus is “worthy…to receive power…and honor and glory…” (5:12). Indeed, “[b]lessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (5:13, emp. added). Although Jehovah’s Witnesses use Revelation 4:11 as a proof text for worshiping God the Father (see “What Does God Require”), they reject and call “unscriptural” the worship that Jesus rightly deserves.
Jesus once stated during His earthly ministry, “[A]ll should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to honor Jesus in the same way they honor God the Father. While on Earth, Jesus was honored on several occasions. His followers worshiped Him. They even worshiped Him after His ascension into heaven (Luke 24:52). Unlike good men and angels in Bible times who rejected worship, Jesus unhesitatingly received glory, honor, and praise from His creation. Truly, such worship is one of the powerful proofs of Jesus’ deity.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
Arndt, William, F.W. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker (1979), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), second edition revised.
Clarke, Adam (1996), Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
“Proskuneo: 4352” (1999), Logos Library System: Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Bellingham, WA).
The Truth About Angels (2001), [On-line], URL: http://www.watchtower.org/library/w/1995/11/1/the_truth_about_angels.htm, originally appeared in The Watchtower, November 1, 1995.
The Watchtower, 1879, November.
The Watchtower, 1880, March.
The Watchtower, 1892, May 15.
The Watchtower, 1898, July 15.
The Watchtower, 1945, October 15.
The Watchtower, 1964, November 1.
The Watchtower, 1979, February 15.
The Watchtower, 1984, December 15.
The Watchtower, 2004, October 15.
“What Does God Require of Us?” (2000), [On-line], URL: http://www.watchtower.org/library/rq/article_02.htm.