Are Jehovah's Witnesses Protestants, or are their own separate category?
No,Jehovah’s Witnesses do not consider themselves a Protestant religion.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, defines Protestant as
a member of any of several church denominations denying the universal authority of the Pope and affirming the Reformation principles of justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the primacy of the Bible as the only source of revealed truth.”
It is certainly true that Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the universal authority of the pope and fully support the primacy of the Bible but they differ from Protestant religions in many significant ways. In fact, The Encyclopedia of Religion refers to Jehovah’s Witnesses as being “distinctive.”
There is this brief explanation of 3 basic differences between Protestants and Jehovah’s witnesses on our official website JW.Org
First, although Protestant faiths reject certain features of Catholic worship, Reformation leaders retained certain Catholic dogmas, such as belief in the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the human soul. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, believe that those doctrines not only contradict the Bible but also promote a distorted view of God. —See pages 4-7 of this magazine.
Second, the religion that Jehovah’s Witnesses advocate is, not one of negative protest, but one of positive instruction. They take seriously the Bible’s counsel: “A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says.” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25, The Jerusalem Bible) Jehovah’s Witnesses do point out contradictions between what the Bible says and what many religious groups teach. Yet, their goal in doing so is not to reform other religious organizations. Rather, their goal is to help sincere individuals to gain accurate knowledge of God and of his Word, the Bible. (Colossians 1:9, 10) When people of other persuasions insistently disagree with them, Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid engaging in fruitless debates. —2 Timothy 2:23.
Third, unlike the Protestant movement, which has splintered into of denominations, Jehovah’s Witnesses have maintained a united global brotherhood. When it comes to Bible doctrine, Jehovah’s Witnesses in over 230 countries follow the apostle Paul’s counsel to “speak in agreement.” There are no divisions among them. Instead, they are genuinely “united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) They strive within their own ranks “to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” —Ephesians 4:3.
The official literature and web-site of the Jehovah’s Witnesses show that they do not consider themselves to be Protestants. Neither do they consider themselves to be Catholics. They like to stand apart from those two main Christian groups. Both those groups believe in the doctrines of the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the human soul but Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that those doctrines not only contradict the Bible but also promote a distorted view of God. They warn against every group that promotes such doctrines, claiming that they are in a separate category. They have old literature that identifies such groups as part of the ‘Babylon the Great’ of Revelation, which they warn everyone to flee before God starts His war of Armageddon. More recently, they have stopped used strident language to condemn Protestants and Catholics, which is why I now give some chronological quotations from their literature, to show the current stance.
To grasp the significance of the following quotes, bear in mind that the Jehovah’s Witnesses think in terms of God’s modern-day organisation, and not in terms of denominations. Once you understand who they claim is God’s modern-day organisation, you will see how they are putting themselves into a separate category from Protestants (and Catholics).
“Similarly, 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 Feb 15, 1983 p12
“Only Christian witnesses of Jehovah who successfully pass this test will survive and come forth like fire-refined gold for God’s use in his precious new order.” Watchtower March 1, 1985 p14
"Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the "great crowd," as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil." Watchtower Sept 1, 1989 p19
“Do not conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God’s new system. There is only one. There was just one ark that survived the Flood, not a number of boats. And there will be only one organization - God’s visible organization – that will survive the fast-approaching “great tribulation.” It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal. . . You must be part of Jehovah’s organization, doing God’s will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life.” You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, revised 1989, p255
“But if we were to draw away from Jehovah’s organization, there would be no place else to go for salvation and true joy.” Watchtower Sept 15, 1993 p22
“Directing Bible Students to Jehovah’s Organization - They must appreciate that identifying themselves with Jehovah's organization is essential to their salvation.” Kingdom Ministry internal leaflet, November 1990
“Direct Interest Progressively on Bible Studies – The primary purpose of a Bible study is to teach the truth of God’s Word. It should also build in the student an appreciation for Jehovah’s organization and make him aware of the vital need to become part of it. ...The weekly Bible study should include instruction that will help students appreciate the organization and take advantage of provisions for their salvation.” Kingdom Ministry internal leaflet, April 1993
"During the final period of the ancient world that perished in the Flood, Noah was a faithful preacher of righteousness. (2 Peter 2:5) In these last days of the present system of things, Jehovah's people are making known God's righteous standards and are declaring good news about the possibility of surviving into the new world. (2 Peter 3:9-13) Just as Noah and his God-fearing family were preserved in the ark, survival of individuals today depends on their faith and their loyal association with the earthly part of Jehovah's universal organization." Watchtower May 15, 2006
"But Jehovah's servants already belong to the only organization that will survive the end of this wicked system of things." Watchtower Dec 15, 2007
"If we stop actively supporting Jehovah's work, then we start following Satan. There is no middle ground." And "We need to obey the faithful and discreet slave to have Jehovah’s approval." Watchtower July 15, 2011
As Jehovah’s Witnesses have been consistently teaching for over 100 years now, no Protestant denomination (nor any Catholic group) is part of Jehovah’s modern-day organisation which they insist is their own organisation and to which you must loyally belong if you can hope to survive Armageddon. That certainly proves they put themselves in their own, separate category.
The word Protestant is used with a number of different meanings.
In one meaning it refers to those churches that took part in the general dissociation from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, and those churches descended from them. In that sense Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider themselves Protestant.
However the word is more generally used to refer to all non- Catholic and non-Orthodox churches that have developed in the West since the Reformation. By this classification Jehovah's Witnesses are usually counted among Protestant churches. Reading church history works you will usually find them listed as part of Protestant groupings, and treated as an offshoot of other Protestant churches.