Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses vs Biblical Christianity
The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast four of the core doctrines where Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have departed from mainstream Christianity; Scripture and Authority, the Trinity, Christology and Salvation.
Scripture and Authority
From the Garden of Eden to the Diet of Worms, the question of authority has been the sine qua non in the battle for truth. All the other issues henceforth - the Trinity, Christology and Salvation - can be subsumed under this issue. Although Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses revere the Bible, their ultimate authority for belief and practice lies elsewhere; in the revelations of their leaders, and the systems of structure, that perpetuate each organisation.
Mormonism and Authority
In Mormonism, the Bible is only one of four books accepted as authorised Scripture; the others being The Book of Mormon, Doctrine of Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. Only the Bible is not regarded as infallible, being considered “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” (https://www.lds.org) Thus, the Bible comes under the authority of the other three sacred texts. Founder Joseph Smith even went so far as to translate the Bible himself to restore “many plain and precious parts” he believed had been lost or mistranslated (https://www.lds.org). According to scholars, 3,410 Bible verses were altered in some way in the Joseph Smith Translation. (What’s The Big Deal About Other Religions?, Ankerberg & Burrows, loc. 715)
A further source of authority is revealed according to ‘Gospel Principles’, a book detailing basic Mormon beliefs, where it’s admitted “the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us...through conferences, [official magazines] and...leaders.” (https://www.lds.org)
The Watchtower and Authority
Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, known as the New World Translation (NWT). Believing the Word of God to have been corrupted by “human traditionalism” with “roots in paganism” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.93), the Watchtower Society commissioned a secret committee of seven translators, supervised by “angels of various ranks”, to produce what they claim is “an accurate, reliable...faithful translation of God’s word” (What’s The Big Deal About Other Religions?, Ankerberg & Burrows, loc. 822). However, Greek scholar Dr. Julius Mantey calls it a “distortion of the New Testament...changed...to teach what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach” (What’s The Big Deal About Other Religions?, Ankerberg & Burrows, loc. 822).
Reason also plays a crucial role in Watchtower theology. According to Walter Martin “throughout the whole length and breadth of the Watchtower’s turbulent history, one “criterion” has been used in every era to measure the credibility of any Christian doctrine. This “criterion” is reason” which is their “standard for determining what God thinks.” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.83)
Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith states “The authority of the Holy Scripture...depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church...” (https://reformed.org) Biblical Christianity teaches that the Bible, as originally received, is infallible and inerrant and has been preserved by God as promised; “the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isa. 40:8, ESV). The great reformation cry of sola scriptura declares that the Bible alone will be our criterion of truth, not any man or organisation. Finally, Revelation 22:19 stands as a stark warning to any who would add to God’s word.
Walter Martin states that “every major cult and non-Christian religion that seeks to deride orthodox theology continually attacks the doctrine of the Trinity.” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.83) Both Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witness movement deny key aspects of biblical teaching on the Trinity.
Mormonism and the Trinity
Perhaps Mormonism’s most egregious parting with biblical Christianity is it’s denial of monotheism. Walter Martin says it is “polytheistic to the core” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.192). Although affirming of a “pseudo” Trinity, Mormons believe the Godhead to be an office held by three separate Gods.
According to Mormon theology, God the Father is an exalted human being (once a man like us), complete with flesh and bones, who came to be a God through “eternal progression.”. He is the “God of Planet Earth” (Elohim), one of many gods on other planets and universes. This Father God is the Elohim of the Bible, distinct from Yahweh/Jehovah, who Mormons believe to be the “premortal Jesus Christ.” (https://www.lds.org)
The Watchtower and the Trinity
Jehovah’s Witnesses outright reject the triune nature of God; vehement in their attempts to discredit orthodox Christian teaching on the subject. They believe Satan to be “the originator of the Trinity doctrine...another of his attempts to keep God-fearing persons from learning the truth.” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.72)
According to Watchtower theology, God is one being and one person, with only one appropriate name; Jehovah. He only, is Almighty God, all-powerful and all-knowing but not omnipresent.
Furthermore, Jehovah Witnesses reject the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The Watchtower Society teaches that “the holy spirit is not a person, but God’s active force” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.73)
The Bible and the Trinity
Biblical Christianity unequivocally teaches there is only one God (1 Cor 8:6), eternally existing in three persons; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Unlike Mormonism, these are not three separate Gods, but all share of the same divine essence. The Bible also teaches that God is a spirit (John 4:24); the invisible God (Col 1:15)
In contrast to Watchtower teaching, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are both truly God, equal to the Father. (John 1:1; Acts 5:34)
Saddleback pastor Rick Warren was once asked in an interview “Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?”. His response was “No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus.” Here, again, is another dividing line between truth and falsehood. Who is Jesus Christ? Although both Mormon and Watchtower theology accept the centrality of Jesus Christ as creator and redeemer, they deny other important aspects or His person and work.
Mormonism and Christology
Mormon theology teaches that Jesus Christ is the spirit brother of Lucifer, the firstborn child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly mother. He is Yahweh/Jehovah, who came to earth as the product of a physical sexual relationship between God the Father (Elohim) and Mary.
Brigham Young explicitly denies the orthodox teaching of the virgin birth, declaring that “He [Christ] was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.246) Young further states that whilst on earth Jesus had several marriages and children. (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.252)
Regarding Christ’s atonement His death on the cross made it possible for all men to be resurrected but not the forgiveness of sins. Jesus was resurrected physically from the dead. He ascended visibly into heaven and will return visibly to earth one day.
The Watchtower and Christology
Similar to Mormon teaching, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that although Jesus was “a god”, they deny that he is Almighty God. Although agreeing that he had a beginning, “he was the first and direct creation of Jehovah God” (Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p.73), thus denying Mormonism’s identification of Jesus with Jehovah. Rather, Watchtower theology teaches Jesus Christ is Michael the Archangel.
Jehovah’s teaching on the Virgin birth is more orthodox than that of Mormonism. On the atonement, they believe that Christ’s death made salvation possible, but it is up to each individual to complete the “transaction”.
In contrast to Mormonism and biblical Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the resurrection was only spiritual resurrection and that Christ’s return was a secret, invisible event which occured in 1914.
The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is the eternal God Almighty. He claimed equality with the Father (John 10:30), forgave sins (Mark 2:5) and was honoured as God (John 20:28). He claimed to be the great "I Am" (John 8:58), the first and the last (Rev 1:17) and the judge of all the earth (John 5:27). Indeed "in Him the fullness of deity dwells bodily." (Col 2:9, ESV) His atonement purchased salvation for all his elect (Rom 5:8-10) and we await his physical return to judge the earth. (Rev 22:20)
“What must I do to be saved?” asked the the Philippian jailer and this remains the perennial question for all who would seek God. It is a question to which only true Christianity offers the good news of salvation by faith alone. Both Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Biblical Gospel.
Mormonism and Salvation
Mormon theology has various meanings for the word salvation. On the specific question of being saved from sin, the official LDS website states the following:
“To be cleansed from sin...an individual must exercise faith in Jesus Christ [and] have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority ...salvation is conditional, depending on an individual’s continuing in faithfulness [including membership of the Mormon church, keeping the commandments, accepting Joseph Smith and other leaders as of God and working in their Temple] ...Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives…” (https://www.lds.org)
However, salvation in the broader sense of being saved to eternal life through resurrection, is available to almost everyone, through Jesus death. Mormonism teaches there are 3 eternal kingdoms; the Telestial Kingdom for sinful people, the Terrestrial Kingdom for honourable non-Mormons and the Celestial Kingdom for good Mormons.
The Watchtower and Salvation
Watchtower theology is less explicit about the need for works. According to the official website:
“To gain salvation, you must exercise faith in Jesus and demonstrate that faith by obeying his commands...you must have works, or acts of obedience, to prove that your faith is alive.” (https://www.jw.org)
However, the devil is in the details. What is meant by works? According to Ankerberg & Burrows “he must take in knowledge, believe in the Jesus Christ of the Watchtower, repent, dedicate himself to Jehovah, recognize the Watchtower Society as God's authoritative organization on Earth, conduct his life in harmony with the teachings and activities of the Watchtower Society, maintain integrity to Jehovah and to his earthly organization, and then endure faithfully fully to the end.” (What’s The Big Deal About Other Religions?, Ankerberg & Burrows, loc. 852)
In contrast to the universalism of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that those outside of the organisation are annihilated. Similar to Mormon teaching is the concept of a tiered afterlife; 144,000 chosen ones who reign with Christ in heaven, and “the Great Crowd” who live on a restored paradise Earth.
The Bible is explicit: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8–9, ESV) Although works will inevitably follow true faith, we are justified by faith alone and not by works. (Rom 3:28)
Ankerberg, John & Burroughs, Dillon (2008). What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions?
Harvest House Publishers. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Bowman, Robert M. (2006). 10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rose Publishing. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Martin, Walter (2003). The Kingdom of the Cults. Bethany House Publishers.
Slick, Matt. https://carm.org/terminology-mormons-and-jehovahs-witnesses