The Watchtower Gospel (Part I ): Origin, Soul and Spirit

By Ronald D. Howes

In the front of the rising tide of Satan’s servants, one will find the hard-selling, pamphlet-passing servants of the Watchtower. They are well-trained, attractively dressed and smooth talking. They keep right up with the latest techniques of salesmanship and are fantastically successful in doing their job.

The Organization, as seen today, exists because of the determined efforts of a few dedicated men around the turn of the century. Charles T. (“Pastor”) Russell incorporated the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1896 as an outgrowth of his earlier efforts. He is personally responsible for most of the strange beliefs of the “Witnesses,” including the nature of the spirit of man, the existence of torment in Hell, and their own peculiar brand of premillennialism.

The mantle of leadership passed to J. F. (“Judge”) Rutherford on the death of Russell. Presently Nathan Knorr rules in the tower and continues in the grand tradition of his predecessors. During his tenure of office, the Witnesses have doubled. Nathan Knorr, however, differs significantly in his approach to the work. Both Russell and Rutherford loved publicity and more than once got into trouble with the papers of their day. Knorr rules quietly and apparently absolutely. We ought not to underestimate the ability of these men to do what they have set out to accomplish.

The Witnesses, as most of the cults do, have a colorful history which makes for good reading. Walter R. Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, and Hoekema’s The Four Major Cults contain material well worth the price of the books.

The simplest way to find out what the Watchtower teaches is to get hold of their books. I firmly believe that every Christian ought to have a copy of their Truth that Lends to Eternal Life, with significant paragraphs properly noted and cross-referenced to the real truth of God’s word. The “Little Blue Book, ” as it is commonly called, sells for 25c. It is well worth the investment as it gives an insight into he Watchtower’s thinking.

The Soul and Spirit of Man

A . . .the human soul is man himself, then it cannot be some shadowy thing that merely inhabits the body or that can exist apart from the person” (The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 36.)

“. . . Whereas the human soul is the living person himself, the spirit is simply the life force that enables the person to be alive. The spirit has no personality, nor can it do the things a person can do. It cannot think, speak, hear, see, or feel . . . In that respect, it might be likened to the electric current of a car’s battery . . . .” (p. 39, op. cit.)

Pretty fantastic isn’t it? A “car battery?” Every informed Bible student knows that the Bible does use the term soul to refer to a living creature (Len. 2:7), and that animals have souls as the Watchtower claims. (Len. 1:20, see margin for “life”). However, they limit their definitions of these terms to what they would like the Bible to say. The Scriptures, from which we know that there is more to the soul and spirit of man than an over-charged car battery, are conspicuously absent from Watchtower publications.

As to the validity of the first statement, the New Testament very plainly teaches, much to the chagrin of the Witnesses, that the soul or spirit of man can exist apart from the body.

“We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens …. Therefore we are always confident knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: We are confident I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:1, 6, 8).

“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better; Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Phil. 1:23-24).

Paul says that while “we” (persons, us, etc.) are in the body we are absent from the Lord, and that he was confidently looking to the time when “we” (persons, us, etc.) could depart from our bodies and be with the Lord. In the Philippian reference he wants to depart and be with Christ and contrasts that with abiding in the flesh. That should make it sufficiently clear to those concerned that the “spirit can exist apart from the body.”

Other objections to this view are seen in several related verses throughout the New Testament. For instance in Rev. 1:10 John says “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” Does that mean that he was really “living it up” or that God was charging his veins with DC power from his own voltage regulator? John 4:24 says that “God is a spirit.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are quick to point out that they are the only ones who properly worship the One God, Jehovah. Will they admit that He is merely an unintelligent electrical force?

The real clincher to this whole question is what the Old Testament says about the spirit or soul of man. These references show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the spirit or soul of man has the attributes of personality and intelligence and emotion, that are not just the result of dumb life force. Gen. 41:8 – Pharoah’s spirit was troubled – Was he breathing hard? Deut. 2:30 – Talks of a hardened spirit C Hardening of the arteries? 2 Chron. 36:22 – Spirit of Cyrus is stirred up – Asthma, or St. Vitas dance? Psalm 51:10 speaks of a “right spirit” – Is that the opposite of bad breath? Psalm 32:2 talks of a spirit with guile – Perhaps this is talking about breathing hard.

Last but not least, Jesus said in Matt. 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Is he giving his blessing to all with shortness of breath? Certainly not. These scriptures show us the other side of the coin that Witnesses do not wish to see. Our soul and spirit are not always the easiest thing to define. Sometimes they do mean life, or breath. They are occasionally used interchangeably. But one thing is for sure: Witnesses will have to live with the fact that they can be absent from the body and live and that the spirit of man lives on after death and is more than the life force within us.

(Next: The Watchtower Gospel (Part II): Heall and Punishment)

Truth Magazine, XVIII:24, p. 6
April 18, 1974