The Watchtower uses a relative handful of scriptures as proof texts for its teaching that when you’re dead you’re dead—that is, that there’s no part of human beings (soul or spirit) that survives physical death:
- Ecclesiastes 9:5: “…the dead know nothing at all…” (NWT)
- Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (NWT)
- Psalm 146:4: “His spirit goes out, he returns to the ground; on that very day his thoughts perish.” (NWT)
For them, this is the end of the discussion. Any other scriptures have to conform to the teaching that these verses appear to support. This error is called “selective citing”.
“Selective citing” means “to substantiate a given argument, only a limited number of texts is quoted; the total teaching of Scripture on that subject would lead to a conclusion different from that of the writer.”
I don’t object to those passages being considered in formulating our doctrine about what happens after death; if Jehovah’s Witnesses want to cite additional scriptures, those should be factored in as well.
But we should reserve judgment until we have also considered the following passages:
- Genesis 35:18 says of Rachel, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Benoni; but his father called him Benjamin.” (ESV)
- The Watchtower translation renders this: “Just as her life was slipping away.” However, in a footnote, it acknowledges that the original says, “as her soul was going out.”
- Doesn’t this run counter to the Watchtower’s teaching that the soul is the same as the body—no more and no less?
- Isn’t Matthew 10:28 similar? There, Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (ESV)
- My point here is not to get in a discussion of what hell is but rather to note that it is possible to for men to kill the body but not to kill the soul.
- The soul survives physical death.
- Luke 8:55 says that when Jesus raised a girl from the dead, “And her spirit returned, and she got up at once…” (ESV)
- This girl had something called “her spirit” which left her at death and returned to her body when Jesus raised her.
- The Watchtower claims the spirit is an impersonal life force. That can be debated, but clearly it was a part of her that left at death and later returned.
- Luke 16:19-31 is Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus.
- The Watchtower claims that it is an allegory, but certainly it should be a part of any “what happens after death” analysis.
- In John 11:25-26, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
- Shouldn’t this statement be considered when trying to decide whether This statement should be part of any consideration of whether or not there is a part of us that survives physical death?
- 2 Corinthians 5:1: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
- Doesn’t this verse indicate that our physical bodies are merely earthly tents in which we live?
- 2 Corinthians 5:8-9: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
- Doesn’t this passage argue in favor of the concept that Christians exist either at home inside their bodies or with the Lord outside of their bodies and that this part of them survives physical death?
- Philippians 1:21-24: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
- From this passage, might we not conclude that Paul expected that a part of him would leave his body and be with Christ immediately following his physical death?
Combatting This Error
My purpose in this post is not to prove that my doctrine is right and the Watchtower’s is wrong (even though I’m convinced that’s the case).
My point is that in formulating our doctrine, we should gather all the Bible passages that relate to the topic under consideration—including the ones the Watchtower cites—passages that are hard for us to explain or that don’t match what we have been taught or what we prefer to believe.
If there are too many passages on the subject to allow for an exhaustive study, we should at least make sure that we have a representative sample of them, including the “best” (more persuasive) ones.
A well-written systematic theology book, for example, takes a position with regard to the topics it discusses, but it also explains contrary views and gives a fair explanation of the reasoning behind them.
If you get into an extended discussion of a topic with Jehovah’s Witnesses, see if you can get them to follow the procedure of working together to compile a list of all the relevant scriptures (or at least a representative sample) and then considering them all before coming to a conclusion.
I realize it will be very hard to get Witnesses to do this because their mission is to witness to you about “the truth” as taught by the Watchtower.
Even if they don’t agree, you can use your suggestion as a way of making the point that selective citing isn’t the way for any of us to arrive at Bible truth.
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 158