Jehovah's Witnesses shun people who fall foul of scriptural law,

Jehovah’s Witness kids grow up knowing that if they ever mess up, their parents will leave them — and that’s scary (quote from person interviewed in link above)

and looking at what I believe are scriptural reasons for shunning, they seem to be from the following

  • Proverbs 4:15

    Shun it, do not take it;Turn away from it, and pass it by. (NWT)

  • Job 2:3

    And Jehovah said to Satan: “Have you taken note of my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth. He is an upright man of integrity, fearing God and shunning what is bad. He is still holding firmly to his integrity, even though you try to incite me against him to destroy him for no reason.” (NWT)

    (Job said "It is unthinkable for me to declare you men righteous! Until I die, I will not renounce my integrity!" - Job 27:5 - NWT)

but how can Jehovah's Witnesses reconcile shunning in the manner prescribed by the organisation with Matthew 7:1

“Stop judging that you may not be judged; (NWT)
Do not judge, or you too will be judge (NIV)

Romans 12:17-19

17 Return evil for evil to no one. Take into consideration what is fine from the viewpoint of all men.
18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, be peaceable with all men.
19 Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says Jehovah.” (NWT)


You must love your neighbor as yourself. - Matthew 22:39-40, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 & James 2:8

Plus, should you not be trying to stear them back to the correct way?

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    You don't have to be JW to have a "shun" doctrine. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/14236/…
    – user3961
    Oct 7, 2018 at 20:44
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    I have edited my answer in response to Peter Turner's comments.
    – Lesley
    Oct 11, 2018 at 7:18
  • You have edited your answer to what question, @Lesley Oct 11, 2018 at 7:20
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    @Chris Rogers - to this question. My answer is no longer visible because of a personal opinion I had expressed and a query about the validity of a claim I had made. Also, you said you were feeling a little uncomfortable with some of my answer content and felt it was attacking Jehovah's Witnesses and that you were not looking to do that. Neither am I. Facts regarding the reasons for shunning, and their consequences, need to be known before people can make up their own minds as to whether shunning your own flesh and blood is biblical and Christian. So far, all you have is the official view.
    – Lesley
    Oct 11, 2018 at 7:32
  • @Lesley - ah ok. Oct 11, 2018 at 7:47

3 Answers 3


Before reconciling the shunning arrangement with these Scriptures, I'll first explain the situation.

Being shunned by Jehovah's Witnesses is a consequence of a person being either disfellowshipped or disassociated. A disfellowshipped person is someone who was previously a baptized member of Jehovah's Witnesses but then was found to be unrepentant in committing a serious sin. A disassociated person is someone who was previously baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses but who later expressed that they no longer wished to be known as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Shunning is a last resort for those who have not heeded the counsel of the elders in their congregation. A great effort has already been made to steer the person back, but it has failed. Now it is the responsibility of the elders to maintain purity and unity within the congregation. When a person is jeopardizing that purity and poses a danger to the faith of others in the congregation, the congregation must cease all association with that person. In time, the person may discover the error of their decision, and at that time the elders would be happy to help this person return to the fold.

The Biblical basis for the practice of shunning is found in these scriptures:

1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 11-13

1 Actually sexual immorality is reported among you, and such immorality as is not even found among the nations—of a man living with his father’s wife. 2 And are you proud of it? Should you not rather mourn, so that the man who committed this deed should be taken away from your midst? 3 Although absent in body, I am present in spirit, and I have already judged the man who has done this, as if I were actually with you. 4 When you are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and knowing that I am with you in spirit along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you must hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole batch of dough?


11 But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside, 13 while God judges those outside? “Remove the wicked person from among yourselves.”

From this first scripture, we can see that Paul had the authority to judge a man in the congregation at Corinth. The command was to stop associating with the man who had committed sexual immorality, which is a serious sin. This drastic action was necessary in order to avoid the "leaven" from spreading to the rest of the congregation.

Romans 16:17-20

17 Now I urge you, brothers, to keep your eye on those who create divisions and causes for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them. 18 For men of that sort are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattering speech they seduce the hearts of unsuspecting ones. 19 Your obedience has come to the notice of all, and so I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise as to what is good, but innocent as to what is evil. 20 For his part, the God who gives peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. May the undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus be with you.

In this scripture, we can see the command to avoid those who create divisions and causes for stumbling which disrupt the peace and unity of the congregation. Obedience to this command is a cause for rejoicing because it is seen by all.

2 Timothy 2:16-18

16 But reject empty speeches that violate what is holy, for they will lead to more and more ungodliness, 17 and their word will spread like gangrene. Hy·me·naeʹus and Phi·leʹtus are among them. 18 These men have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are subverting the faith of some.

1 Timothy 1:20

20 Hy·me·naeʹus and Alexander are among these, and I have handed them over to Satan so that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.

In these two scriptures, we can see the repeated mention of Hy·me·naeʹus, a man who participated in misleading the congregation and was thereafter disciplined by being "handed over to Satan," the same discipline that was given to the sexually immoral man in Corinth.

2 John 9-11

9 Everyone who pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. The one who does remain in this teaching is the one who has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. 11 For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.

This scripture discusses how to treat those who do not remain in "the teaching of the Christ." It makes it very clear that even greeting these persons causes us to become associated with their wrongdoing.

We can see throughout all of these verses that shunning these wrongdoers has several purposes:

  1. To prevent the congregation from following after their sinful course
  2. To restore peace and unity to the congregation
  3. To protect the reputation of God's people
  4. To discipline the wrongdoer so that they might return to Jehovah

To reconcile these purposes with the commands to "stop judging" and to "love your neighbor as yourself," it's important to note the example of Jesus himself in how he demonstrated these principles. Did he show a judgemental attitude in how he dealt with others? Did he completely hold back from counseling others? No. Jesus was able to discipline others with righteousness by using the Scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:16)

  • What you are saying is that if a JW comes to the conclusion that some important aspect of JW teaching is completely wrong, such as the date 1914, and in consequence no longer wants to be known as a JW then they are to be shunned. Such people may have all their family, friends and work associates as JWs. It seems to me shunning is to try to prevent them from sharing their concerns. It sounds hugely dictatorial to me, and a clear evidence the leadership lacks confidence in its ability to defend its beliefs on a level playing field. Policy = Can't beat 'em in an honest debate so SHUN 'em. Sep 18, 2019 at 21:41
  • What it also means is that there may be thousands, or even millions, of people counted as JWs who do not actually believe what the organisation teaches. The only reason they keep their head down is the fear of being shunned by friends/family etc. Sep 18, 2019 at 21:46
  • It also means that it is virtually impossible for any JW to assess in a rational, unbiased manner, the plausibility of the Watchtower interpretation of Scripture. If they find that the Watchtower is wrong, and say so, then they are going find themselves under threat of being shunned. Sep 18, 2019 at 21:53
  • @Andrew What you have said is possible in theory, but not in practice. To be one of Jehovah's Witnesses is to be part of one of the most hated groups on earth, just as the Christians were in the first century CE. Our primary goal is to obey Jehovah, the author of the Bible, rather than men.
    – user32540
    Sep 19, 2019 at 1:36
  • "possible in theory, but not in practice".... you sound as if you know what you are talking about.... but...how can you possibly be certain of that? O am talking about secret unbelievers in the JW ranks, fearful to leave because they don't want to be shunned and lose contact with JW friends, family, work contacts, etc.. the word here you need to take note of is "secret". How do you know that in practice it doesn't happen, even happen a huge amount? There may be thousands or even millions of such JWs.. secretly, they no longer really believe the organisation leadership. Sep 27, 2019 at 21:14

As a JW, this is an entirely false premise. "Jehovah’s Witness kids grow up knowing that if they ever mess up, their parents will leave them."

This is "trying" to describe "disfellowshipping." Which would only happen if an ordained minister turns their back on the congregation unrepentantly. A child that isn't a baptized minister can not be disfellowshipped. Someone who sins, but is repentant generally isn't disfellowshipped (unless the sin is extreme, in which case they could be disfellowshipped even if repentant). And even in the case of disfellowshipped people, this breaks spiritual bonds, not family ones.

In the book “Keep yourselves in God’s Love” we find:

In some instances, the disfellowshipped family member may still be living in the same home as part of the immediate household. Since his being disfellowshipped does not sever the family ties, normal day-to-day family activities and dealings may continue. Yet, by his course, the individual has chosen to break the spiritual bond between him and his believing family. So loyal family members can no longer have spiritual fellowship with him. For example, if the disfellowshipped one is present, he would not participate when the family gets together for family worship. However, if the disfellowshipped one is a minor child, the parents are still responsible to instruct and discipline him. Hence, loving parents may arrange to conduct a Bible study with the child.*​—Proverbs 6:20-22; 29:17."

There are some situations where people are encouraged to avoid disfellowshipped people so as to not enable their behaviors. But to overimplify this to "if a child messes up their parent will leave them" is offensively dishonest. Some parents in any religion (including our own) definitely have disowned or neglected their children... this is a bad thing we do not approve of.

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    Could you give some clarification to this statement: "unless the sin is extreme, in which case they could be disfellowshipped even if repentant"? I can't find any sources that back this up.
    – user32540
    Dec 11, 2018 at 5:19
  • "Some parents in any religion (including our own) definitely have disowned or neglected their children... this is a bad thing we do not approve of." so the the "offensive" statement is not strictly false and should actually read that some Jehovah's Witness kids grow up knowing...? Dec 11, 2018 at 9:52
  • 4castle- for example, if a person has been caught doing something extremely greivous, such as abusing a child and sent to prison, they may be disfellowshipped even if they are repentant. They would then have to finish their sentence and work toward reinstatement before being allowed to be considered a brother or sister again. Even then, they may be permanently ineligible for roles such as being an elder. However, even while disfellowshipped, they are still encouraged to study and should be treated with normal human respect.
    – Rey Kabrom
    Dec 12, 2018 at 3:27
  • Chris Rogers- the quote can't be changed because it's a quote. That may legitimately be how some people feel. And some people may make the mistake of being overly harsh or undersupportive. This is not the intent of scripture or the congregation.
    – Rey Kabrom
    Dec 12, 2018 at 3:36
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    I realise the quote cannot be changed as you cannot alter what someone actually said. But, you said that it is "offensively dishonest" when, by your admittance in your comments, some parents definitely disown, whether it is approved by the JW organisation or not and therefore it is not dishonest if those people point that out. Although disfellowshipping may not apply to children on an official level (which you covered in your answer), some parents nevertheless disown their children for not following the correct path to Jehovah. Dec 13, 2018 at 9:47

In order to answer your question, it is important to establish that discipline in the form of removing an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation is a form of judgement authorized by God to preserve the holiness of the congregation.

Examples are recorded throughout the scriptures from the time Gods people were organized into a congregation.

For instance, this direction was given to the nation of Israel in this regard:

Deut 13:6... “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or your cherished wife or your closest companion should try to entice you in secrecy, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods, gods that neither you nor your forefathers have known, from the gods of the peoples all around you, whether near you or those far away from you, from one end of the land to the other end of the land, you must not give in to him or listen to him, nor should you show pity or feel compassion or protect him; instead, you should kill him without fail. Your hand should be the first to come upon him to put him to death, and the hand of all the people afterward. And you must stone him to death, because he has sought to turn you away from Jehovah your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and become afraid, and they will never again do anything bad like this among you.”

This verse is significant in regards to your question, because despite God being the originator of marriage & family, when an individual rebelled against God, punishment was to be carried out despite family ties. This is not a contradiction of Gods command that “a man shall stick to his wife”, but rather shows how seriously God views rebellion against him. In Israel the punishment meant death, a permanent “cutting off”. Imagine how difficult it would have been to carry out Gods law. (Christians everywhere should be grateful we are not under the Mosiac Law). This verse also shows the discipline was to serve as a deterrent so others would not follow the same course.

Another reason a wrongdoer was to be removed from the congregation, was it impeded the flow of Gods Holy Spirit within the entire congregation. We can see this from another account recorded in the scriptures...

In Joshua 7: 1-26, One individual, Achan, secretly stole some items. Because he violated God’s explicit instructions, when Israel went to conquer the next city in Canaan, Jehovah withheld his blessing. When Joshua asked Jehovah why they had lost the battle, he was told “I will not be with you again unless you annihilate from your midst what was devoted to destruction”. Achan and his family (who were probably aware of his sin) were “cut off”—executed. Once that rebellious influence was removed from the congregation, God’s Holy Spirit flowed freely and Israel was successful again.

Regarding other serious sin (as when a death occurred) God commissioned Israelite elders to investigate. They were to establish facts, weigh carefully a manslayer’s motive, attitude, and previous conduct when deciding whether to show mercy. They had to determine whether the fugitive acted “out of hatred” and “with malicious intent.” (Numbers 35:20-24) If the testimony of witnesses was considered, at least two witnesses had to substantiate a charge of intentional murder. —Num. 35:30.

You can see from all these instances, the punishment of “cutting off” was for serious sins: apostasy, theft, murder. (Other sins that also required “cutting off” included disrespect of Jehovah, idolatry, child sacrifice, spiritism, desecration of sacred things, and practices as incest, bestiality, and sodomy.)

Today, Christians, while not under the Mosiac law, are also commanded to keep the Christian congregation clean, free from the influence of willful violators who deliberately “practice” sin. Some of the offenses that could merit disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation are fornication, adultery, homosexuality, greed, extortion, thievery, lying, drunkenness, reviling, spiritism, murder, idolatry, apostasy, and the causing of divisions in the congregation. (1Co 5:9-13; 6:9, 10; Tit 3:10, 11; Re 21:8)

This would not be a contradiction to “ not judge your brother”, rather it would be in harmony with the direction given by the apostles to preserve the holiness of the Christian congregation. In fact, the scriptures make clear while we are NOT to judge those outside the congregation (that responsibility belongs to God), older men were given the responsibility to judge willful violators within the congregation....

1 Cor 5:11-13. But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside, while God judges those outside? “Remove the wicked person from among yourselves.”

By not permissively overlooking willful sinfulness, a high standard of conduct befitting Gods holy people would (and should) be the norm in the congregation. Hypocrisy among those claiming to represent God was something Jesus fully condemned. This assures:

1) the free flow of Gods Holy Spirit in the congregation

2) others are not influenced by bad conduct

3) the congregation does not bring reproach upon God.

Thus, when someone visits a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses (or one of Jehovah’s witnesses knocks on your door), you can be assured that person at least meets the Bible’s minimum code of conduct.

This all being said, disfellowshipping is a rare occurrence.
Firstly, because before one can be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, an individual must have a good knowledge of the scriptures. They must fully understand the standard of conduct required to be in good standing in the congregation, be active in the door to door public ministry and attend all meetings. Obviously, someone who has reached that point in their determination to do Gods will is already dedicated, well before they present themselves for baptism. There’s no surprises and there’s no infant baptism. (Unlike in Israel, you were “born” in a covenant relationship with God; you didn’t have a choice)

Secondly, it’s really hard to be disfellowshipped. It’s a last resort when someone has changed their Christian course and just does not want to do what the Bible says. But the spirit behind disfellowshipping is never harsh. We are friends, families who have known each other, sometimes grown up together. The elders are our brothers, our friends and family as well. Members of the congregation truly mourn. When someone is disfellowshipped, they are encouraged to still attend meetings. They can sit with their families, go to the literature counter to request publications and can approach the elders. The elders also arrange to visit disfellowshipped ones to offer encouragement. In this way the congregation is obedient to scriptural counsel, but still keeps the door open for an individual who wants to turn their course around.

For further reading on this subject, please follow the links below.




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