Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses Subject by Subject: A Review
Who is David A. Reed?
David A. Reed is a former Jehovah’s Witness and the author of numerous books, almost all of which critically address the religious doctrines and operation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the Watchtower), which Jehovah’s Witnesses believe to be “God’s organization on Earth” (103). Wood first began writing about the Watchtower in 1981 under the pseudonym “Bill Tyndale, Jr.”. At that time, Wood was still an active member of that sect, however, his personal Bible reading had caused him to question a number of official Watchtower teachings. His critical writings and doubts about the Watchtower eventually led to his formal expulsion from the Jehovah’s Witness organization in 1982. After his expulsion from the Watchtower, Reed came to embrace Biblical Christianity. It was after this embrace that Reed “began writing articles and tracts with the aim of evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses” (233). In 1996, the time of the publication of Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses Subject by Subject (the book), Reed was publishing a quarterly publication on the Jehovah’s Witness sect and maintaining a related website. Presently, Reed does not appear to be involved in either activity.
The Book’s Purpose and Its Intended Use
Reed wrote the book as a follow-up to his earlier work, Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse. By Reed’s account, “Today’s Jehovah’s Witness door-knocker seems to be a bit less versed in Scripture than when [Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse] was produced and a bit more inclined to use arguments learned by rote at training sessions. So there is a real need for a book to help Christians deal with issues that do not lend themselves to verse-by-verse treatment.” (xi) At the time of the book’s publication Reed believed that, instead of being prepared to reason from scripture, many Jehovah’s Witnesses were prepared to argue from memorized arguments handed down by the Watchtower. Thus a subject-by-subject treatment of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine was in order.
In addition to providing this treatment in what amounts to an index of Watchtower theology, the book contains advice on how to use the information therein to effectively evangelize to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The book advises readers not to engage in debates with Jehovah’s Witnesses about various subjects. According to Reed, even when such debates are won, the Jehovah’s Witness who lost it remains dedicated to the Watchtower. Given that “…Watchtower leadership has instructed JWs not to listen to Christians who want to tell them about Jesus, not to debate doctrine with knowledgeable members of other churches, and not to read literature critical of the organization or its beliefs,” (x) it is more advisable to present Jehovah’s Witnesses with questions that present evidence which contradicts Watchtower teachings in a way that will force well-meaning Jehovah’s Witnesses to provide satisfactory answers, which is an essentially hopeless endeavor for an acolyte of the Watchtower.
This fool’s errand, according to Reed, is the key to turning Jehovah’s Witnesses away from their sect. Reed believes that the Watchtower itself, and the mind control it exercises over individual Jehovah’s Witnesses, is the obstacle which must be overcome if Witnesses are to be reached with the truth. The most effective way to leading Jehovah’s Witnesses to Christ, then, is “by revealing its prophetic failures, doctrinal flip-flops, and dishonest cover-ups,” (xii) of which the book provides numerous examples.
From Abbadon to Zionism
The meat of the book is a subject-by-subject index of Watchtower beliefs. Since the book is an alphabetical listing of doctrines, it reads something like a theological dictionary of heretical beliefs which, in addition to definitions, includes critical commentaries. Because the book is, aside from short introductory and concluding sections, a listing of terms, there is no narrative for the reader to follow. However, there is a consistent thread that is weaved throughout: the Watchtower has many unbiblical doctrines, some of which contradict those to which it previously held and taught. This is apparent from the very first entry in the index, “Abbadon” to the very last one, “Zionism.”
In a 1917 commentary on the book of Revelation, the Watchtower identified the angel of the bottomless pit depicted in Revelation 9:11 (whose name is “Abaddon”) as Satan. However, in 1969 the Watchtower published a commentary identifying this same angel as “picturing Jesus Christ, the Son of Jehovah God.” (1) The book indicates that contemporary Jehovah’s Witnesses are familiar with the 1969 commentary but not the earlier one. Similarly, many modern Jehovah’s Witnesses may be unfamiliar with the Watchtower’s former position on Zionism. Both Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell and his successor Joseph Rutherford actively supported Jewish claims to Palestine. Rutherford even opposed proselytizing Jews “holding that such is not only wrong but contrary to the Scriptures” (214). Yet, the Watchtower presently advocates the evangelization of Jews and has taken a position of political neutrality with regard to Jewish rights to the land of Palestine.
Neither “Abbadon” nor “Zionism” are doctrinal matters that occupy the central thoughts of Christians on a frequent basis. In isolation, these issues may seem somewhat unimportant. However, the way in which the Watchtower has flip-flopped on both of these doctrines demonstrates its historical inconsistency and should raise deep apprehension in those who live their lives by the Watchtower’s teachings. If the Watchtower has changed its position on benign matters such as the Egyptian pyramids and the celebration of Christmas (and it has), it is reasonable to believe that it could currently be in error about more important ones, ones that effect earthly life and eternity. The Watchtower has already engaged in failed end-time predictions and changed its position on the life-and-death matters of vaccines, organ transplants, and military service (152). “Could it also be wrong about the identity of Jesus Christ and its soteriological stance?” is a question that every Jehovah’s Witness should ask himself given that the Watchtower, in opposition to orthodox Christian churches everywhere, asserts that Jesus Christ is not the eternal God incarnate but a created angel named Michael (132) and that salvation is works-oriented and grounded in the Watchtower (194).
Unfortunately, Jehovah’s Witnesses, when thinking through the documented doctrinal flip-flops of the Watchtower, can actually be emboldened to support the organization all the more. This is because of the Watchtower doctrine of “New Light”. To a Jehovah’s Witness, the fact that the Watchtower repudiates older “false” teachings in favor of newer “correct” ones somehow proves the Watchtower is actually on the right track. Asking a Jehovah’s Witness about Watchtower doctrine changes is likely to engender a response such as “I learn from those past errors that this really is God’s organization. The fact that we no longer adhere to those false teachings proves that God keeps making our light get brighter. It proves that God is leading this organization.” (152) Thus, of the many strange Watchtower doctrines to be refuted, the “New Light” doctrine may be the most important one. It may very well be the case that the effective proclamation of each error identified and corrected by Reed in his index hinges on the successful refutation of the New Light doctrine.
Though the book is not an easy read (it reads like a dictionary), it fulfills the purpose for which it was written. It is informative, not only about Watchtower beliefs, but about effective ways to witness to those mired in the muck of Watchtower influence. Unfortunately, the book is quite dated. The Watchtower is an ever-changing organization with regards to both tactics and theology. For example, the book presents the Watchtower prohibition of life-saving blood transfusion as one of the dreariest aspects of Jehovah’s Witness life. It still is, however, in the years since the book’s publication, the Watchtower has softened in stance on the matter on the reception of blood for medical treatment. Also dated are the book’s references themselves. Many of the sources cited as authoritative Watchtower literature, though they may be valid, predate the lives and memories of many living Jehovah’s Witnesses and may be hard to find for those Christians who wish to show members the text of the original Watchtower literature cited in the book. The effect of time on the book is not entirely detrimental, however. It is available in Kindle format and can be discreetly referenced on a cell phone while conversing with Jehovah’s Witnesses. However it may be referenced and whatever effect time has had upon it, the book is a fine resource. Not only does it provide informative descriptions of Watchtower beliefs but scriptural refutations of them, as well as firsthand accounts of their detrimental effects on those who adhere to them. It is a useful apologetic resource for any Christian who expects to one day receive a knock on his door from Jehovah’s Witnesses…and all should expect that knock to come.
Barker, Jason. New Watchtower Blood Transfusion Policy. 2000. http://www.watchman.org/articles/jehovahs-witnesses/new-watchtower-blood-transfusion-policy/ (accessed 28 2016, August).
Comments from the Friends. I WAS A JW ELDER. January 1990. http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/JwElderDavidReed10.htm (accessed August 20, 2016).
Reed, David A. NEWS about Jehovah’s Witnesses. March 1998. http://www.answerjw.com/cftf/online/ (accessed August 20, 2016).
 Comments from the Friends . I WAS A JW ELDER. January 1990. http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/JwElderDavidReed10.htm (accessed August 20, 2017).
 Personally, I have found that Jehovah’s Witnesses develop a hostile attitude when they feel they are being debated and are much less receptive to the questioning of their views.
 Barker, Jason. New Watchtower Blood Transfusion Policy. 2000. http://www.watchman.org/articles/jehovahs-witnesses/new-watchtower-blood-transfusion-policy/ (accessed 28 2016, August).
 The ability to provide original Watchtower literature is very important given that Jehovah’s Witnesses will almost always refuse to look at “apostate” material such as Reed’s book. I referred to Wood’s book once while speaking with a Jehovah’s Witness and the conversation was soon ended by him.