Just how comparable is this particular aspect of each group's ecclesiology? If from an academic viewpoint there are marked similarities, is there an identifiable Jehovah's witness perspective on the significance of such similarities? Would they seek to embrace, downplay or refute a comparison in this area?

Disclaimer: This question was inspired by the following comment: "Put simply, they (Jehovah's witnesses) teach that God always directs teaching through an organization, so those outside that organization have rejected it. They simply do not recognise any other groups as valid." from an answer to this question: Why do JW think other faiths are unbelievers?

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    Oooh. Interesting. And I'm afraid I don't have an answer.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 15:54
  • @flimay my understanding of the word comparison is that it encompasses both similarities and differences - and that it would be the preferable word to use if you are enquiring where on the spectrum of difference a comparsison (I can't even think of an appropriate synonym - neither match nor association quite cut it)) lies. The point of focusing on similarities is that the as reconstructionist/restorationist sect, JWs would usually prefer to contrast their belief and praxis with that of wider Christendom - this is my no means the only point of agreement with Christendom... Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 0:43
  • @Flimzy ...and possibly not even the most important, but I am interested in whether they acknowledge a similarity and how they would explain it. Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 0:44
  • @bruisedreed: Hmmm, perhaps so. I remember my school days assignments to "compare and contrast X"... but I suppose colloquial usage is a bit different.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 21:43
  • I guess it is a little confusing, because if something is comparable it is similar; Nevertheless, Webster's second definition of compare is: "to look at (two or more things) closely in order to see what is similar or different about them or in order to decide which one is better". Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 22:01

2 Answers 2



In Catholicism, the magisterium is the authority that lays down what is the authentic teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church, that authority is vested uniquely in the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him.

Quick answer:

Catholicism: Pope and bishops.

JW: Faithful Slave (Governing Body)

The Faithful Slave Class is definitely considered to be the highest human authority for determining doctrine at any given time (or commonly stated, the "proper time").

These are two very different religions being compared.

The problem is there is no definite answer, since JW structure and teaching often changes.

The two closest comparisons (by prior JW teaching) are the "Governing Body" and "Faithful and Discreet Slave Class". Before these were slightly separate entities though slightly overlapping, whereas now they are one and the same.

It was formerly believed that the "Faithful Slave Class" is responsible for distribution of "spiritual food" which is the doctrine given "at the proper time". So there you have a slight "Magisterium", though no such idea is directly implied.

Doctrine changes often and now that the governing body consider themselves the Faithful Slave, they have become by extension the ones responsible for deeming what is valid or invalid for the proper understanding of the scriptures within the JW religion, as they now are distinctly recognized as that "faithful slave class" which determines doctrine. It is believed that understanding is "revealed" at the proper time though the disclaimer exists that nobody is inspired.

The "Faithful Slave" identity was a matter of great interest since the conception of the Watchtower. Taken from wikipedia (paragraph converted to list):

  1. The doctrine has undergone several major changes since it was formulated in 1881 by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Bible Student movement. Russell initially applied it to the "church"—the "little flock" of 144,000 who would go to heaven
  2. —but five years later explained that it was an individual who would act as a sole channel or agent for Christ, dispensing "food", or new truths, for God's "household". Bible Students consequently regarded Russell as the "faithful and wise servant" of the parable.
  3. In 1927 the Watch Tower Society announced that the "servant" was not in fact an individual, but was made up of the entire body of faithful spirit-anointed Christians; by 2010 that group numbered about 11,000 Witnesses from around the world.
  4. In 2012 the society announced an "adjustment" of the doctrine, explaining that the slave was now understood to be synonymous with the Governing Body, a small group of anointed elders serving at the religion's world headquarters. The announcement also marked a change in belief about the timing of the slave class's appointment by Christ: it was said to have taken place in 1919 rather than in apostolic times, as previously believed.

Both the catholic and JW ideas of a central human authority on Christian teaching however borders on unscriptural. Matthew 23:10

  • Thank you - very much on-topic. Considering that the concept of the Catholic Magisterium has demonstrably evolved over time - the edicts of the council of Trent, the promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility etc. were relatively late in the Church's history - it actually strikes me as another point of similarity. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 13:22

Comparing the Teaching Authorities

Searching JW.org, since JW and WTS say nothing (let alone authoritative) about their Teaching Authority, there is nothing to compare.

The comparison dies right here: The Catholic states 1) that they have Teaching Authority, and 2) what that means; From JW and WTS, to an outsider, there is no Teaching Authority, as they have said nothing about it.

Herein lies the danger: The new member never learning of WTS until after joining, and only now being told the importance of WTS and the dire consequences of disobeying WTS.

What follows is sharing knowledge:

Comparing the Actual claims

Examining some of the pertinent claims of the Catholic Church:

12. Who gave the Catholic Church divine authority to teach?
Jesus Christ gave the Catholic Church divine authority to teach, when he said, 'Go ye and teach all nations.' [Matt.28:19]

88. How do you know that Christ appointed St. Peter to be the Head of the Church? I know that Christ appointed St. Peter to be the Head of the Church because Christ said to him; 'Thou art Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven'. [Matt. 16:18-19]

99. How is the Church Apostolic?
The Church is Apostolic because it was founded by Christ on the apostles and, according to His Divine Will, has always been governed by their lawful successors [in an unbroken succession]. (my addition and emphasis)

Jehovah's Witnesses started c. 1870 with Charles Taze Russell, therefore 1) they cannot refute the Catholic Church's claims, and 2) they cannot claim as the Catholic Church claims.

This apologetic tract History of the Jehovah's Witnesses from a Catholic Perspective may be of use. There are additional tracts on Jehovah's Witnesses on the site.

If I were a JW apologist, to defend the Teaching Authority of my organization, I would first define what is was, and how it came to be invested with authority. I would investigate what we say of our own Teaching Authority.

I searched JW.org for The Watch Tower Society and pulled naught. Wikipedia provides this:

Criticism | Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania | Wikipedia

Critics including Raymond Franz, Edmond C. Gruss and James Penton have accused the society of being authoritarian, controlling and coercive in its dealings with Witnesses. Franz, a former Governing Body member, has claimed the Watch Tower Society's emphasis of the term "theocratic organization" to describe the authority structure of Jehovah's Witnesses, which places God at the apex of its organization, is designed to exercise control over every aspect of the lives of Jehovah's Witnesses and condition them to think it is wrong for them to question anything the society publishes as truth. The Watch Tower Society has been accused of employing techniques of mind control on Witnesses including the direction to avoid reading criticism of the organization, frequent and tightly controlled "indoctrination" meetings, regimentation, social alienation and elaborate promises of future rewards. Apart from life stories, the authors of all Watch Tower Society magazine articles and other publications are anonymous and correspondence from the society does not typically indicate a specific author or personal signature.

This is left to JW to defend.

On JW.org, I searched for other pertinent information, and in FAQ and retrieved this:

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That They Have the One True Religion? | JW.org

Those who are serious about religion should think that the one they’ve chosen is acceptable to God and Jesus. Otherwise, why would they be involved in it?

Jesus Christ didn't agree with the view that there are many religions, many roads, all leading to salvation. Rather, he said: “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:14) Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they’ve found that road. Otherwise, they’d look for another religion.

This reason is subjective. A problem quickly emerges: a broken link. The Watch Tower Society, theocratic, God then them, Jesus missing; reason for true religion references Jesus and the narrow road, no reference to the Watch Tower Society.

JW are welcome to comment.

Closing, as far as I am aware, there isn't an official Church perspective on JW Watch Tower Society. It appears that the Church would have trouble saying anything on something that JW and WTS themselves don't say a thing about.

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    Please hold off on editing until you have a substantial amount of things to fix. Each edit bumps the whole question to the home page and causes reviews to happen. You've been kind of excessive in editing this and a couple other posts. I don't mind fixing small details if it's a one time catch, but editing so many times for such little things is considered abusive use of the system on SE (and you've been auto-flagged multiple times for this). Thanks for understanding.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 15:33
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    @Caleb Got it! My apologies ... the Drive for perfection ...I'd better implement curiousdanni's suggestion to work on e.g. Notepad.
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 15:38
  • Nowadays Jehovah's Witnesses call their teaching authority the "Governing Body". Back when the critics you name were writing, this function was among those performed by the board of directors of the Watch Tower Society, but this has not been the case for many years now. Today the Watch Tower Society still exists, but because it is now in a support role (mainly publishing) it is not talked about nearly as much.
    – David42
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 14:52

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