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Mike Felker

4/26/07
SOCI Death
Dr. Dolan

This paper is being written in order to research the afterlife beliefs of


the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My interest came about due to the fact that very
little research had been done in this area. In light on this, I have every
intention of accurately portraying what the Witnesses believe about the
afterlife. With the exception of the literature review, all information was
derived from Watchtower publications as well as the eleven interviews that I
recorded in the research process.

Literature Review

In this review I will be discussing the various aspects of my research,


including the sources that will aid me in this task. In order to adequately
explain the uniqueness of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view on death and the
afterlife, different perspectives will be presented in comparison. The
religious viewpoints that are offered will come only from those who place
themselves within the realm of “Christianity.” This will include several
denominations as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
(also known as Mormons). No effort will be made to judge or critique any
of these groups. Instead, all efforts will be made to objectively study what
these groups believe about death and the afterlife. The groups I will be
discussing in addition to Jehovah’s Witnesses include Catholics, Mormons,
Jews, and Protestants. And because Protestantism is so diverse, it will be
split into its own categories such as Lutherans, Church of Christ, Seventh-
Day Adventists, etc.

In “Death and Dying in World Religions” Lucy Bregman presents a


general overview as to what Protestants believe about the afterlife.1 She
places much emphasis on their belief in the Resurrection and the judgment
of God. Protestants, she claims, believe so clearly that the Bible teaches the
resurrection and judgment of the dead that it seems to be outside the scope
of Christianity to develop alternatives to this. On page 44, she notes, “this
doesn’t mean that the branch of Christian theology known as ‘eschatology,’
teachings on last things, has been free from conflicts.” More discussions in
th
her chapter include the Reformation, 20 century Pentecostalism, Funerals,
and eschatology.
In Stanley Horton’s chapter2, he discusses death and afterlife from
the perspective of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal branch of
Protestantism. The Assemblies of God is the largest of the Pentecostal/
Charismatic movement, with over eleven million members worldwide. In
this chapter, Horton discusses the origins of the movement and leads this
into a discussion of the core beliefs of the denomination. Many of the
discussions include how the group is committed to the Bible, which is their
foundation for believing in an afterlife. Other discussions include funerals,
heaven, rituals (or lack thereof), and the resurrection. Like most Protestant
denominations, the Assemblies of God place much emphasis on the
resurrection.

Although the Baptists may be the most conservative of Protestant


denominations, William Hendricks3, on page 61 of “How Different
Religions View Death and Afterlife,” points out that there is no the Baptist
perspective on anything. In other words, no Baptist can say “All Baptists
believe…” Little discussion is devoted to the origin and history of the
Baptist movement. Instead, all of the focus is on the Baptist view on death.
In fact, Hendricks devotes more time to the “reality” of death than he does
to the afterlife. But the most intriguing and informative aspect of his
chapter is how he explains the wide diversity among Baptist perspectives on
death. This may be the result of the divide between “Calvinist” Baptists and
non-Calvinist (or Arminian) Baptists.

In “The Churches of Christ,” Thomas Olbricht4 focuses most of his


chapter on funerals and how the Church of Christ places it in the same
category of the marriage ceremony. Unlike the Baptist perspective, the
Church of Christ is less diverse in that they leave less room for differing
interpretations on the Scriptures. On page 115 Olbricht writes, “Among
members of the Churches of Christ the long-held rule of thumb for
interpreting the scriptures is that all statements are literal unless the context
makes explicit a figurative interpretation.” The Church of Christ is very
adamant and forceful in their rejection of differing views on the afterlife
such as the concepts of reincarnation and purgatory. And like other
denominations, their rejections are grounded in the Scriptures.

While it is not common to suggest that the Church of Jesus Christ of


Latter-Day Saints is “just another denomination,” it is believed to be similar
to the Protestant movement in that there was a great apostasy in which
many truths were lost shortly after the time of the original apostles.
Richard Eyre5 is very honest with the fact that the Mormon view of the
afterlife is a unique one in light of the fact that they have additional
Scriptures such as The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants
th
written by Joseph Smith in the early to mid 19 century. Unlike the
Protestant faith, the Mormons base much of their afterlife views on their
doctrine of God. “Because God was once like us,” they claim, “we will
someday be like him.” In other words, God is simply an exalted man. And
if Mormons are faithful to what their Scriptures teach, then they will one
day be like God.

Because the Presbyterian or “reformed” faith was largely based upon


the Protestant Reformation, Ben Lacy6 spends some time discussing its
historical roots. In addition, he discusses the Presbyterian funeral, body
disposal, afterlife beliefs, and their rejection of non-Presbyterian
viewpoints. Like Baptists, it may be difficult to determine a unified
Presbyterian belief in regards to the afterlife. This may be due to the chasm
between so-called “Liberal” and “Conservative” Presbyterians such as the
PCA and UPCA. Regardless, these groups share many of the same
confessions and creeds.

The Roman Catholic church not only derives its beliefs from the
Bible, but from Tradition as well. Francis Clearly7 explains the beliefs of
Roman Catholics in his chapter in “How different Religions View Death
and Afterlife.” He devotes some time in discussing judgment, purgatory,
and what one must do to avoid these things and gain eternal life. In “Death
and Dying in World Religions” Joseph McGovern8 presents not only an in-
depth overview of the Catholic views on the afterlife, but also a discussion
of the historical beliefs of the church from the earliest of traditions.

The Seventh-day Adventist church stands out among all


denominations using the name “Christian.” In fact, as Robert Johnston9
points out, the Adventist perspective on death is largely due to their views
on the nature of man. Seventh-day Adventists, like the Jehovah’s
Witnesses, do not believe in a soul that is a separate entity from the body.
Robert Johnston goes in to some depth as to what the group believes about
Christ’s return and some of the prophecies in the recent past. This group
will be very insightful since they share many similarities with the Jehovah’s
Witnesses.

George Marshall10 is the contributing author in his chapter on


Unitarian Universalists. Like many of the other authors, Marshall discusses
the history behind the movement. And he is honest with the fact that this
group may not even need to be classified as a “religion” at all, as many
members not only do not believe in the afterlife, but many are unsure
whether they believe in God or not.

Lastly, because the Jehovah’s Witnesses have little to no published


material, all additional research will be derived from such works as You
Can Live Forever on Paradise Earth, What does the Bible Really Teach,
and What Happens to Us When We Die?

Methodology

One of my reasons for interviewing different Jehovah’s Witnesses


was to not only see if their beliefs were consistent with one another, but to
see if they were consistent with The Watchtower’s teachings as well. This
might be helpful in contrasting the results with what one might find in other
denominations and religions within Christendom; that is, do the Jehovah’s
Witnesses hold as wide a range of beliefs as Baptists do? I also wanted to
ask direct questions to them to see how confident they are in their beliefs
and why.

The sample size was relatively small, consisting of eleven volunteers


who were part of three different Kingdom Halls. The three interview
questions included:

Briefly describe your beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.

What do you believe will happen when you die?

How confident are you that what you believe will happen?

All volunteers were interviewed privately in order to obtain the most


accurate results.

Research Results

When I completed the interviews, I noticed some very interesting


things; the first being the fact that everyone was in unanimous agreement on
their beliefs on the afterlife. Almost everyone cited the same verses and
used the same reasoning. Most chose to stick to the Bible and theology.
But some offered personal testimony in addition to their theological
viewpoints.
The following paragraphs will deal with not only the information I
obtained from the interviews, but also what was found in the Watchtower
publications. The primary areas of focus will be death, the soul, heaven,
and hell.

Why do we die? According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, God created


humans to live forever. This also means that God created with no disease
or pain. Man was originally perfect in every way. But when Adam and
Eve sinned, it placed a condition on them for being disobedient to God:
death.
But what happens to us when we die? It must first be recognized that
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in a soul that is separate from the body.
In fact, they believe that we are a soul. Their reasoning, they claim, comes
solely from the Bible. In fact, the vast majority of the reasoning came from
the quoting of the Scriptures. One of the more popular verses that was
quoted is:

“For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead,
they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have
wages, because the remembrance of them has been
forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, New World Translation)

This verse, they say, teaches that when someone dies, they actually die.
There is no soul that is separate from the body that goes someplace. All
consciousness ceases at death. Two other verses that were cited with many
of the participants included Ecclesiastes 3:20, Genesis 2:7, and Ezekiel
18:4:

“All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust,
and they are all returning to the dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:20, New World
Translation)

“And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the
ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man to
be a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7, New World Translation)

“Look! All the souls; to me they belong. As the soul of the father so
likewise the soul of the son; to me they belong. The soul that is
sinning; it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, New World Translation)

Along with not believing in a Soul, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not


believe in a literal Hell. No one used specific Scripture references to
support their position. But almost all of them conceded that Hell isn’t
based on true justice. Because God is loving, He would not torment people
in hell for all eternity. Although I specifically asked each volunteer to
discuss Hell, only 7 out of 10 actually criticized it. This doesn’t mean that
these seven were the only ones who brought it up. It just means that only
these seven cited specific reasons for not believing in Hell.

The subject of Hell seemed to be an important subject for many of


the participants. Because there is no Hell, they reasoned, there is no reason
to fear death. This was important because it is likely that their lack of fear
contributed greatly to their confidence in their beliefs.

One of the more misunderstood doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses


is the belief that only 144,000 will go to heaven. If only 144,000 go to
heaven, and there is no hell, then where does everyone else go? Before I
address this, let me explain the 144,000. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that
the 144,000 consists of men and women that are specifically chosen by God.
There may not be a visible evidence of such a choosing. It is something
that is “instinctive,” which is similar to how some described it. These men
and women will be raised from the dead spiritually rather than physically.
The reason that it must happen this way is because “flesh and blood cannot
enter heaven.”

The rest of the human race will have the opportunity to live forever
on “Paradise Earth.” This means that everyone will have a second chance,
even if they rejected Jehovah’s message in the first life. Many of the
participants reasoned that man was created to live forever on earth.
Therefore, it only makes sense that he will live forever on a future earth.
In fact, a few admitted that they had more of a desire to stay on earth than
go to heaven. This makes sense in light of the fact that the 144,000 know
that they are going to heaven. In a similar way, those who are going to
paradise earth will have a desire to go to paradise earth.

On paradise earth, all memories will be restored. They reason that


because Jehovah is powerful, He has the ability to do such things. As a
personal note, many of the participants expressed that they are looking
forward to seeing their lost loved ones in the future. This may have a
significant effect on whether or not they fear death. If they have only
positive experiences to look forward to, then there is very little likelihood
that they will fear death.
The last question that was asked was why they are so confident in
their beliefs? Every single person answered in the same way; the Bible. To
the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no doubt that the Bible is the very words
of God Himself. But it is no only God’s inspired word, but also his
infallible word. In other words, they believe that the Bible is completely
trust worthy in all matters, including history, science, and even the afterlife.
To the Jehovah’s Witness, the Bible has proven itself trustworthy by its
prophetic accuracy. “So why not trust it?” as many reasoned. Because of
this, each witness could not have been more assured to their satisfaction that
what they believe about the afterlife was indeed going to happen.

Works Cited

Bregman, Lucy “Protestant Christian Views of Death, Dying and Afterlife”


Death and Dying in World Religions. Boston MA: Pearson Custom
Publishing, 2004.

Horton, Stanley “Assemblies of God” in Christopher Johnson and Marsha


McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife. Philadelphia
PA: Charles Press, 1991.

Hendricks, William “A Baptist Perspective” in Christopher Johnson and


Marsha McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife.
Philadelphia PA: Charles Press, 1991.

Olbricht, Thomas “The Churches of Christ” in Christopher Johnson and


Marsha McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife.
Philadelphia PA: Charles Press, 1991.

Eyre, Richard “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” in


Christopher Johnson and Marsha McGee How Different Religions View
Death and Afterlife. Philadelphia PA: Charles Press, 1991.

Rose, Ben “Presbyterianism” in Christopher Johnson and Marsha McGee


How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife. Philadelphia PA:
Charles Press, 1991.

Cleary, Francis “Roman Catholicism” in Christopher Johnson and Marsha


McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife. Philadelphia
PA: Charles Press, 1991.

McGovern, Joseph “The Roman Catholic Views of Sickness, Death and


Dying” in Lucy Bregman Death and Dying in World Religions. Boston
MA: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2004.

Johnston, Robert “Seventh-Day Adventist Church” in Christopher Johnson


and Marsha McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife.
Philadelphia PA: Charles Press, 1991.

Marshall, George “Unitarian Universalism” in Christopher Johnson and


Marsha McGee How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife.
Philadelphia PA: Charles Press, 1991.