For quite some time I thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in soul sleep. I was wrong. They believe in soul death.
Seventh-day Adventists, who share a common historic trunk with Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe in soul sleep, that the person upon death is essentially in a coma, unaware of anything until the time of the future kingdom, when they will be revived and will remember nothing about the time when they “slept.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when we die, the person ceases to exist. Not only are they unaware of things occurring between present death and future resurrection, but there is literally no “they” in existence to be aware of anything. God keeps exhaustive data about the person in his memory, but the actual person does not exist. At all. Did your grandma die? She does not now exist. God remembers everything about her, but right now you have no grandma.
How do we talk with JW’s about this? We could go to verses of scripture (and there are plenty) to counter their doctrine. And that’s a good practice. But I prefer another way. It goes something like this:
Me: “Hey, JW friend, I was looking at the recent updated version of What Does the Bible Really Teach, and I was surprised that they didn’t correct the mistake in there.”
JW: “Um, what mistake? What are you referring to?”
Me: “You must know about it. It’s an obvious mistake that anyone would notice.”
JW: “Hmmm. What page is it on?”
Me: “Page 42. It says about Jesus, that Jehovah ‘transferred the life of his firstborn Son from heaven to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary.'” See the mistake?
JW: “No, what mistake?”
Me: “Watchtower teaches that when we die, we cease to exist, and that the life force is just energy like electricity, and is not part of the person who died.”
JW: “Yeah, so?”
Me: “So it says here that the “life” of Michael was transferred to Jesus. What part of Michael is the “life” of Michael that could be transferred to Jesus?”
JW: “Um, I don’t know. Maybe Michael’s “life” and “life force” are not the same thing.”
Me: “I wondered that too. So I looked up in the Insight book, in the section about Jesus, and it clarifies there that it’s the “life force” that is transferred. But that has to be a mistake, because the life force is not part of the person, is it?”
JW: “Well, something was transferred from Michael to Jesus.”
Me: “So that’s my question. What was transferred? It can’t be the life force, because if you or I died, we cease to exist, and the life force is not part of us that can be transferred to anybody else, right?”
JW: “Oh, I know. It was Michael’s memories that were transferred to Jesus.”
Me: “So it should say in the Bible Teach book that the memories were transferred, not the life or life force. So there’s a mistake in the Bible Teach book. Do you think we should let someone know about that, so they can get it corrected in the next edition?”
JW: “Um, I don’t know. Who would I tell?”
Me: “Maybe headquarters, or local elders, or circuit overseers; I don’t know. I thought you would know. How do you report errors that need to be corrected? What’s the usual procedure?”
JW: “I’ve never found any to report.”
Me: “Oh, so this is the first error you have ever noticed? I don’t think you have been examining very closely what is set before you, like the Bereans did.”
Me: “Do you want to research that some more, and get back to me on it?”
JW: “Yeah, okay.”
It may seem like a little thing to us that one of the JW publications would have an error in it, but to a JW, it is a huge thing. This could the be the very first chink in the armor of Watchtower authority for a JW. After sharing this, pray for them, that it will continue to bother them.