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They don't have churches: they have Kingdom Halls (though it's not wrong to refer to a Kingdom Hall as a type of church).

They don't have hymns: they have Kingdom Songs (though it's not wrong to refer to a Kingdom Song as a hymn).

They don't have priests; they have elders (maybe this one is more understandable: they're not alone in having elders, and not having priests is a theological point).

They divide the Bible into the "Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures" and the "Christian Greek Scriptures" (not just the "Greek Scriptures", to prevent possible confusion with the Septuagint).

Are any of these differences actually theologically meaningful?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I can't verify the accuracy of this post, but the origin of "Kingdom Hall" is given here (and I would imagine that the phrase "Kingdom Songs" has a similar origin).

The name Kingdom Hall was suggested in 1935 by J. F. Rutherford, who was then president of the Watch Tower Society. In connection with the Society's branch facilities in Honolulu, Hawaii, [...] When James Harrub asked what Brother Rutherford was going to call the building, he replied: "Don't you think we should call it 'Kingdom Hall,' since that is what we are doing, preaching the good news of the Kingdom?" Thereafter, where possible, halls regularly being used by the Witnesses gradually began to be identified by signs that said "Kingdom Hall." -- Proclaimers Chap 20, p. 319

As to the "Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures" and the "Christian Greek Scriptures" , again, I'm not sure of the accuracy of the Wikipedia article I'm about to quote, but the citations point to the original Watchtower publication.

Wikipedia offers this:

The translators use the terms "Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures" and "Christian Greek Scriptures" rather than "Old Testament" and "New Testament", stating that the use of "testament" was based on a misunderstanding of 2 Corinthians 3:14.[29] When referring to dates in the supplemental material, the abbreviations "B.C.E." (Before the Common Era) and "C.E." (Common Era) are used rather than BC and AD.

You've already answered the question of "Elders" yourself.

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I'm an ex-Witness myself, and can verify the accuracy of these. It's just that, somehow, there seemed to be more to it than that. As if they were being deliberately different. –  TRiG Sep 25 '11 at 2:55
Honestly, I suspect that, but I don't know for sure. When I was younger, one of my closest friends was a Jehovah's witness. I know that they view all other denominations as "false" and it seems likely to me that they would want to distinguish themselves, but I have no citations or evidence for it. It's just a gut feeling for me. –  David Stratton Sep 25 '11 at 2:58
You are correct David and also TRiG. We want to stand apart from the world as we are no part of it. As for the Kingdom hall naming I think you are correct David. What you name something shows its cause and identifies it. We are separate from other religions, so we call our place of worship something else so that we are not identified with church ideas. –  Jeremy Dec 9 '13 at 20:23

This is an interesting question. I don't know if I'm correct about this, but here are my thoughts.

The differences might be theologically meaningful to a certain extent (e.g. the meaning of diatheke in 2 Cor. 3:14), but they probably have, in my opinion, a more important social function. By using specific language (or jargon) the group can distinguish and separate itself better from other rival groups or even from the rest of the world.

The behaviour of JW's is very often characterised by a radical rejection of the doctrines, practices, festivities, imagery and language of other (christian) religions. So their behaviour might just be the way it is, because they want to be contrary to the world.

In a certain period, JW's did not even consider themselves 'a religion' ('religion is a snare and a racket'). Later on, the language clearly shows they make an effort to separate themselves from christian churches: 'christianity' (JW's, true christianity of the bible) vs. 'christendom' ('professed christianity').

Since there is such a strong desire to be separated from the world/other groups, it is for example not surprising that the symbol of 'christendom', the cross, is rejected by JW's. Although linguistic and other arguments can be made to sustain the literal meaning of stauros as a 'torture stake', the drive to be different from (other christian) religions may play a (major) part as well. The same can be said in respect of the word 'congregation' instead of 'church' (ekklesia), 'Hebrew scriptures' instead of OT, 'overseer' instead of 'deaken' etc.

Because of the aversion for (other) religious groups, there appears to be even a certain paradox around JW's: they mix very humanistic, secular and scientific thought with biblical arguments to stand out, e.g. their traditional preference of BCE and CE, the insistance on a strict seperation of state and church, their battle for freedom of thought and freedom of press, etc.. Now that the secular world has become more vocal to use BCE and CE, interestingly JW's have recently begun to move away from this terminology.

Most surprisingly, they admit that the surviving texts of the NT have been manipulated thouroughly (because God's name has been removed out of it), but at the same time they still accept the text as exceptionally authorative.

The insistance on a traditional medieval rendering of God's name has also some function (in this way they create the impression they worship a different God with a distinctive name and have a personal relationship with God, while other groups are far removed from him because they do not even know his name and use only titles).

See for interesting articles about the specific language of JW's:

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+1. I suspect you're right, but I can't really accept this answer as there's no sources. To be honest, the question is probably unanswerable. -1 to me, I guess. –  TRiG Mar 14 '12 at 13:16
Now sources have been added. I'll check them as soon as I get the chance. –  TRiG Mar 16 '12 at 18:49

I can provide a excerpt from the first dead link that may be of help: "Montgomery argues that in its approach to language, the natural sciences manifest a monological discursive strategy.[18] The so-called human sciences reflect a dialogical approach to language, since they necessarily converse with other discourses. But the natural sciences pursue a monological language game, vanquishing all other forms of discourse and establishing itself as the only legitimate means of excavating and representing genuine knowledge of the world. Witness discourse reflects a monological discursive strategy similar to Montgomery’s presentation of contemporary scientific discourse. I have pursued this analysis of Witness discursive strategies under three headings: (1) The Rhetoric of Sheep and Goats, (2) Speaking the Truth in Formulas, and (3) The Watchtower’s Cult of Anonymity. I argue that the heavily jargonized Theocratic discourse splits human society in two: the corrupt world system is dominated by Satanic forces, and the pure theocratic order is currently manifested in those faithful witnesses of Jehovah separated from the world, recognizable by their righteous lifestyle and pure theocratic speech."

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How were you able to get this, but the link is dead? –  fredsbend Mar 21 at 2:40
I had saved it 13 years ago. It provided me with valuable insight into the discursive techniques and social dynamics unique to witness culture. I was able to verify his observations first hand years ago. Really, it was a stroke of genius on the leadership's ability to employ this teaching technique in a religious context. The textbook style of indoctrination and accompanied love bombing is quite effective in recruitment and retention. –  Larry Mar 21 at 3:09
Hi and welcome by the way! I see you've taken the tour, but you might also like to browse our help centre and check out How we are different than other sites - we hope you keep posting. –  bruised reed Mar 22 at 5:03
Thank you for taking the time to do this. Is it possible to get that entire resource? It sounds very interesting. –  fredsbend Mar 22 at 15:23
I found archive.org has a something from 2014. Probably close to the same. –  fredsbend Mar 22 at 15:32

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