The Watchtower uses Bible words and phrases but often attaches very different meanings to them. In talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, it is critical that you get them to define the terms they are using. Likewise, define the terms you are using.
If you suspect that you have conflicting definitions of words or phrases, explain your understanding of the terms and ask them to explain theirs.
Make clear which definition is being used at various points in the conversation. That way, you will avoid the pitfall of appearing to communicate when in reality you are miscommunicating.
Don’t take anything for granted.
Here are three examples that I discuss in my book, Getting Through to Jehovah’s Witnesses: Approaching Bible Discussions in Unexpected Ways.
Example #1: “Judgment”
Hebrews 9:27 says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”
To the Christian, this proves that there is no second chance to receive Christ as Savior after we die. In fact, to us that conclusion may seem obvious.
The Watchtower, however, teaches a totally different meaning of the word “judgment.”
To Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hebrews 9:27 means that after death those who are resurrected will have a testing period during Christ’s millennial kingdom in which to learn about Jehovah’s ways, progress to perfection, and thereby prove worthy of everlasting life.
You can show them a scripture that matches your definition and ask them to show you scriptures that match theirs.
For example, Jude 6-7 (NWT) says:
6 And the angels who did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place, he has reserved with eternal bonds in dense darkness for the judgment of the great day. 7 In the same manner, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them also gave themselves over to gross sexual immorality and pursued unnatural fleshly desires; they are placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.
Example #2: “Spirit”
In situations in which you want to help the Witnesses see the problems with the Watchtower’s definition of a key term, one way to do it is to place the Watchtower’s definition into a related Bible text to see if it makes sense.
For example, the Watchtower teaches that a person’s spirit is not a conscious part of the person that will survive death. Instead, they teach that it is an impersonal “active life-force” analogous to electricity.
Substitute that definition for the word “spirit” in 1 Corinthians 2:11 and ask the Witnesses if it makes sense: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s impersonal, active life-force within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the impersonal, active force of God.”
Your point will be clear; an impersonal force can’t know anyone’s thoughts but our spirits and God’s Spirit can.
Example #3: “Born Again”
When I first encountered Jehovah’s Witnesses many years ago, I told them that I had been born again. By that, I meant that I had repented of my sins and trusted in Christ’s sacrifice alone for my salvation and that as part of that experience the Holy Spirit had transformed me from the inside out.
In response, they told me that I almost certainly hadn’t been born again.
They defined being “born again” as Jehovah’s way of designating a special group of 144,000 people for eventual life and rulership in heaven as a spirit creature.
In fact, they told me that Jesus himself was born again at his baptism and that if he hadn’t had that experience even he wouldn’t have been able to go to heaven when he died.
What I recommend is that you have them read aloud these three scriptures in the Watchtower’s translation and ask them what they call the experience described in these passages.
31 Look! The days are coming,” declares Jehovah, “when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their forefathers on the day I took hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, although I was their true master,” declares Jehovah. 33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Jehovah. “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I will write it. And I will become their God, and they will become my people. 34 And they will no longer teach each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Jehovah!’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them,” declares Jehovah. “For I will forgive their error, and I will no longer remember their sin.
19 And I will give them a unified heart, and I will put a new spirit in them; and I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 in order that they may walk in my statutes and observe my judgments and obey them. Then they will be my people, and I will be their God
36 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will become clean; I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your disgusting idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit inside you, and I will cause you to walk in my regulations, and you will observe and carry out my judicial decisions. 28 Then you will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers, and you will be my people and I will be your God.
They don’t have an expression for this experience, but you can tell them that in your understanding, this is what the new birth is.
They won’t accept that definition, but perhaps you can get them to refer to the experience as “an inner transformation by God,” and you can continue on to discuss its importance for everyone’s salvation.