“No, you are not obligated in any way. Millions enjoy our Bible study program without becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. * The purpose of the program is to show you what the Bible teaches. What you decide to do with that knowledge is up to you. We recognize that faith is a personal matter.—Joshua 24:15.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are explicitly told by their leaders that their goal in the ministry is not simply to “show you what the Bible teaches,” but to make you a “disciple.”
What a joy it is to start a Bible study! However, finding someone who has an interest in studying the Bible is only the beginning. The purpose of the study is to help the person to become a genuine disciple of Christ. (Matt. 28:19, 20)Our Kingdom Ministry 4/06 p. 3
Witnesses believe that the only way for someone to be a “genuine disciple of Christ” is to be a Jehovah’s Witness. They assert that only their religion is being used by God, and only their religion will inherit “God’s Kingdom.”
Jehovah is using only one organization today to accomplish his will. To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.”Watchtower 1983 Feb 15 p.12
Watchtower’s goal, then, is for its members to conduct “progressive Bible studies,” meaning a Bible study with someone who is willing to take steps toward becoming a baptized Jehovah’s Witness. A Bible student is considered “progressive” if they begin to attend Witness meetings and start the process of conforming to the lifestyle dictated by Watchtower publications. (Or as said publications would put it, “bring their lives into harmony with Jehovah’s righteous requirements“)
Talk openly about Christian dedication and baptism. After all, our goal in conducting a Bible study is to help a person become a baptized disciple. Within a few months of having a regular Bible study and especially after beginning to attend meetings, the student should understand that the purpose of the Bible study is to help him to start serving Jehovah as one of His Witnesses.Watchtower Study Edition October 2020 p. 17-18 par. 12
The above quote is almost an open admission that Witnesses are not necessarily upfront about their intentions in starting a Bible study at the outset. It is only “within a few months of having a regular Bible study” that the true goal of the study is to be made clear to their student.
Witnesses are encouraged to invite their Bible Studies to the Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses’ places of worship) as soon as possible.
Invite your Bible student to attend the meetings as soon as possible. What your student hears and observes at Christian meetings can touch his heart and help him to progress. Show the video What Happens at a Kingdom Hall? and warmly invite him to accompany you. Offer to provide transportation if possible. It is a good idea to invite a variety of publishers to accompany you on the study. In that way, your student will get acquainted with others in the congregation, and he will likely feel more at home when he attends our meetings.Watchtower Study Edition, January 2020 p. 5 par. 13
Note that “progressing” does not simply mean understanding the Bible, as jw.org claims–progressing means coming to meetings, beginning to preach, and giving up friendships with those outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are referred to as “worldly people.”
Teachers must show genuine, personal interest in their students. View them as your future spiritual brothers or sisters. (Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.) It is not easy for them to give up friends in the world and to make all the necessary changes to serve Jehovah. We need to help them find true friends in the congregation.Watchtower Study Edition, October 2020 p. 17 par. 10-11
…It has been said: “It takes a village to raise a child.” We could say: “It takes a congregation to make a disciple.” That is why effective Bible teachers introduce their students to others in the congregation who can have a good influence on them. The students can then enjoy associating with God’s people, who can give them spiritual and emotional support. We want each student to feel that he belongs in the congregation and is part of our spiritual family. We want him to be drawn to our warm and loving Christian brotherhood. Then it will be easier for him to stop having close association with people who do not help him to love Jehovah. (Prov. 13:20) If his former associates reject him, he will know that he can find true friends in Jehovah’s organization.—Mark 10:29, 30; 1 Pet. 4:4.
A person who does not begin to take these steps will eventually declared an “unprogressive” Bible student, and the Witness in charge of the study is advised to discontinue the study program.
Sad to say, some students are like the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day. Of them, Jehovah told Ezekiel: “Look! You are to them like a romantic love song, sung with a beautiful voice and skillfully played on a stringed instrument. They will hear your words, but no one will act on them.” (Ezek. 33:32) We may find it hard to tell a person that we will stop studying with him. However, “the time left is reduced.” (1 Cor. 7:29) Rather than spend more time conducting an unproductive study, we need to find someone who gives evidence that he is “rightly disposed for everlasting life.Watchtower Study Edition January 2020 p. 7 par. 20
As the last quote shows, one who is not sufficiently “progressive” in their study is dismissed as someone not giving evidence that they are “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” In Watchtower terms, this essentially means the student will not survive Armageddon.
Witnesses of course cannot force someone to join their religion. However, such strong, life-or-death language, and the constant reiteration that becoming a baptized Jehovah’s Witness is “a requirement for those seeking salvation,” can make the student feel unduly conflicted about discontinuing their study.
Far from being a simple Bible study with a friendly neighbor, studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses comes with a great deal of pressure, baggage and expectations. When jw.org says “millions enjoy our Bible study program without becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they are really stating that millions have proven to not be “rightly disposed for everlasting life.”
Can I use my own Bible during the study?
What JW.ORG Says
“Yes. Although we enjoy using the modern-language New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures and will give you a copy free of charge if you would like to have one, we would be happy for you to use your own Bible. You can learn about the Bible’s message of hope and salvation from nearly any translation.”
Sort of. Jehovah’s Witnesses actually have different translations available on their official app, JW Library. From time to time Watchtower publications will cite another translation of the Bible. However, the New World Translation is definitely the official Bible of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For the most part, this is something that is more subtly enforced through social cues than stated outright in the publications. For example:
- Save for very few exceptions, all of the Biblical quotes and scriptural references in all Watchtower publications are from the NWT.
- You will never see a member of or helper to the Governing Body use another translation during an episode of JW Broadcasting, aside from perhaps a stray verse.
- In Watchtower photos and artwork depicting “proper” Bible study, only the NWT is portrayed.
- Every congregation member will use the NWT during their comments and student assignments.
- The language and shorthand of Jehovah’s Witnesses is based around the specific wording found in the NWT. “The faithful and discreet slave,” “the fruitages of the spirit,” “bad association,” etc.
- The titles of Jehovah’s Witness convention and assembly parts are all taken from the wording of the NWT.
More overt coercion, however, can be seen in the “Christian Life and Ministry Meeting” (Witnesses’ midweek worship service). The meeting is based around scheduled Bible reading, and there are “study questions” that Witnesses are meant to find and answer. The “correct” answers are increasingly found in A) References to Watchtower publications that cite the NWT or B) the study notes of the New World Translation: Study Edition. Thus, one studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses can only find “correct” information by using the NWT.
Beyond any of these things, ingrained in JW theology is the notion that using God’s name (which the NWT renders “Jehovah”), sanctifying God’s name and spreading God’s name is essential for salvation. It is so essential that the translators of the NWT (all of whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses) have inserted the name Jehovah into the New Testament 237 times, despite their own admission that no existing New Testament manuscripts contain the divine name even once.
Because the name Jehovah is so integral to the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the importance of that name is stressed early on in a JW bible study, their students will likely be disillusioned to translations that do not use the name Jehovah.
If somebody spoke to you about the God of the Bible and used the name Jehovah, with which religious group would you associate him? There is but one group in the world that uses God’s name regularly in their worship, just as his worshipers of ancient times did. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses identifies these Christians as a ‘people for God’s name.’ They are proud to bear that name, for it is one that Jehovah God himself gave to true worshipers.The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever p. 30
In any case, using other translations of the Bible is not discouraged for independent study or research, but the culture of Jehovah’s Witnesses is such that a Bible student will quickly understand that the New World Translation is to be used and trusted above all others.