New entries will be added to the glossary as questions arise.
Our glossary will be continually updated. It is intended primarily for non-Jehovah’s Witnesses, and over time, will include more updates, including abbreviations (like: GB, FDS, CO, PO), even terms that might become obsolete in the near future for JWs themselves, like District Overseer (DO), School of Gilead, etc.
Before listing words and phrases, the most common questions are usually about when to use (or not use) terms like: Watch Tower, Watchtower, The Society, The Organization, etc. That question is partly answered in the next paragraph. In this context there are also some questions about the term Jehovah’s Witnesses which we try to answer before the list of glossary words.
Watch Tower or Watchtower?
The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the distribution of print, audio and video materials is directed and organized through various legal entities. The most recognized of these are the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses these entities are often referred by using the following terms:
The Watch Tower Society (or, Watch Tower)
The Watchtower Society (or, Watchtower)
WTBTS or WBTS or WTS or WT or WB&TS or WTB&TS
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses mean “The Governing Body” and/or “The Faithful and DIscreet Slave” when they use any of the terms above in a sentence like “The Society has provided all this wonderful spiritual food.” In that same context, the Governing Body are also meant even if the terms seem more generic, such as the word “brothers” in the following sentence, for example: “The brothers have given us all these provisions for our personal study.” To distinguish all Jehovah’s Witnesses, the word “brothers” will often be replaced with “the brotherhood” “the worldwide brotherhood” “the entire congregation of Jehovah’s people” “the friends” “everyone in the truth.”
The term “Watchtower” or “The Watchtower” is also understood to mean the primary magazine that is published by the WTBTS. Therefore, this website will usually mean the magazine when referencing the “Watchtower” and we will rarely use the term “Watch Tower” on its own, except when referencing “Watch Tower teachings,” “Watch Tower representatives” or “Watch Tower publications,” etc.
Although not technically correct, these references are often thought of as nearly interchangeable with the name of the religion: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Also, note that the term “Organization” is sometimes used to refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religion, as an organized Society including the legal entities” or even the entire heavenly realm of spirit creatures including Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, the heavenly angels, along with the earthly organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses (including corporate and legal entities, the Governing Body, the various Branch offices and overseers, congregation overseers, ministerial servants and all other JWs in any of the various capacities in which they are organized.
Jehovah’s Witness? Witness? JW? Bible Student? International Bible Students Association?
The term Jehovah’s Witnesses, the name that members of the religion call themselves, may also cause some confusion. The group called themselves mostly just Bible students at first, capitalizing it to Bible Students when it became necessary to formalize it a bit more. The most formal version was the name of the organizational entity formed in London: “International Bible Students Association” or IBSA. This name was often associated with Bible Students in other parts of the world, too. In 1931, Rutherford announced that the new name would be “Jehovah’s witnesses.” The small “w” was utilized on purpose, and even formal books followed the convention and printed titles on book covers like “Jehovah’s witnesses vs. Supreme Court…..” etc., etc. In the 1970’s there were legal reasons for formalizing the name with a capital “W.” (I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s witnesses myself in 1967. ) Most English-speaking Witnesses do not like to hear it pronounced “Jehovah Witness” although the designation is still clear, and even some English speaking Witnesses use it (but rarely). It is common from non-Witnesses who may get it from terms referring to events like “he was an Kennedy witness” or a “Hindenburg witness.” We should mention that many Witnesses believe it is technically incorrect to say “He is a Jehovah’s Witness.” Many Witnesses prefer “He is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” instead. The Watch Tower publications still use the term “witnesses of Jehovah” or phrases like “these are Jehovah’s witnesses today” (with a small “w”) when referring to the inclusion or participation of their membership in a more generic group of true Christians and God’s people in times past.
1,000 year reign: The millennium, or thousand year reign of Christ which begins after the Judgment, the Resurrection, the Great Tribulation, Armageddon. Although it is also called the “thousand year reign of Christ” it does not begin until Jesus has already been reigning for at least 100 years beginning in 1914. Early Watch Tower publications, therefore, expected it to end about the year, 2914 CE.
1874, et al: Dates prior to 1914 are no longer claimed to have had prophetic significance. The Watch Tower has, in the past, made use of teachings that included the following dates as Scripturally and prophetically significant: 1798, 1799, 1844, 1859, 1873, 1874, 1878, 1881, 1914, 1925, 1935, etc.
1914: The date understood to be the beginning of the “last days”, beginning of the “generation that would see the sign of the last days”, “the start of the Messianic reign of Christ Jesus”, “the start of the “parousia” (Christ’s invisible presence), the date for the ousting of Satan from heaven.
1918: The date understood to have been the likely time for the “first resurrection” and “the [first] inspection of the temple by Jesus.” The current doctrine on the temple inspection has been updated, and it is not clear how much emphasis is therefore to be placed on a 1918 date for the first resurrection. More recent Watchtower articles have referred to 1918 for the “first resurrection” only as an “interesting possibility” but that, technically, it could have happened any time between 1914 and 1935.
1919: The date understood to be the time when Jesus and Jehovah had been looking specifically for a group of persons who were willing to be taught and cleansed and therefore appointed as his “faithful and discreet slave” to feed Christians throughout this “last generation” until they would ultimately be “appointed over all Christ’s belongings” (based on their understanding of Matthew 24:45). See “Faithful and Discreet Slave” — In effect, the “faithful and discreet slave” are ‘the generation.’
1920’s – 1940’s: There are still some dates in this period that have been considered prophetically significant in Watch Tower publications that are still quoted from, although the specific dates have not been mentioned in approximately 15 years. Normally, 15 to 20 years is still considered recent enough so that these dates would be considered valid prophetic fulfillments of certain prophecies. However, recent changes have been seen to disrupt a large pattern of prophetic fulfillments that are no longer considered valid. While these particular ones don’t fall under the same category (types-antitypes), they have not been mentioned since about 1999, and the new WOL (Watchtower Online Library at wol.jw.org only goes back to 2000. Additionally, it was specifically mentioned that the type-antitype change was precipitated by the probably that most JWs had noticed that it hadn’t been mentioned in a while. (Most of that type of examples also had not been mentioned since 1999.)
1935: The date understood to be the time when JWs first learned about the earthly hope. Once considered a prophetically determined date, it is no longer thought of as strictly predicted or depicted in Scripture. At least one Watchtower has indicated that it could be considered the last possible year in which it was possible for the first resurrection to have begun. (See 1918.)
1975: The date understood to be the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth based (mostly) on the chronology laid out in the Bible. There are a couple places where this timeline is admittedly ambiguous, and the Watch Tower teachings have also made purposeful adjustments to it, moving back the destruction of Jerusalem by 20 years, for example, so that their interpretation fits the 1914 doctrine. 1975 (plus or minus one year) had been pointed to since the 1940’s, but speculation was fueled in the Watch Tower publications and speeches by Watch Tower representatives beginning about 1966 especially. The speculation peaked between 1968 and 1973, when the date was repeatedly mentioned in the Watch Tower’s publications with reference to the end of this system of things. When nothing happened in 1975, Watch Tower representatives made clear that one of the reasons was
144,000: The number of people that will reign with Christ in heaven during the 1,000 year reign. Less than 1 out of 1000 JWs currently believe they are a part of that group. 999 out of a 1000 JWs believe they will live in an earthly paradise to be ruled by Jehovah, Jesus and the 144,000 who will remain in heaven for the 1,000 year reign and beyond. There was a time when all JWs thought they were of a heavenly class, even a group called “the great crowd” or “the other sheep.” But since 1935 those terms have been applied to persons who hope to live in “Paradise” on earth.
Congregation: The group of JWs (usually between 50 and 150 persons) who regularly meet together in a building called a “Kingdom Hall.” Congregation can also refer to the entire religion in the sense that it is the worldwide “congregation” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are some contexts where it would be used in a special sense referring only to the 144,000 or the “remnant” which refers to those of the 144,000 who are alive on earth at any given time in history. (Similarly, some religions use the word Church in both a local sense and a worldwide sense, too.)
Faithful and Discreet Slave: (FDS) Term taken from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 24:45 and applied to the Governing Body. The idea from the parable is that a faithful servant has a duty to feed the “domestics”. Prior to 2010, the expression referred to those of the 144,000 who were alive on earth at any given time in history. (the “remnant”) This had led to a belief that a “faithful and discreet slave” class had always existed from the time of the apostles down to today, and no doubt this had helped to renew interest in persons like Charles Taze Russell, Henry Grew, George Storrs, Nelson Barbour, and then back to Luther, Tyndale, Wycliffe, the Waldenses and others. It had always been questionable who might have actually been considered to be in this “class.” This question is mostly moot now, because the updated doctrine as of 2010 demotes even Charles Taze Russell out of the “class.” (He died before 1919.)
Governing Body: (GB) The small group of persons (usually well-respected elders, all of whom have held responsible positions within the Watch Tower Society) selected by current members of the Governing Body to represent the teaching, organization and doctrinal matters of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Currently there are 8 men in the Governing Body. Historically it has changed meanings over time, and the selection process now likely allows for the inclusion of men who claim to be of the anointed (144,000) as recently as 75 years after 1914. (See Generation)
Great Tribulation: (GT) The time (possibly lasting days, weeks or months) leading up to Armageddon when the faith of Jehovah’s people is tested. Expected to be a time when the United Nations (wild beast of Revelation) attacks all religion and in the process attacks Jehovah’s people (JWs). At that time, Jehovah steps in to protect JWs leading to outright Armageddon.
Kingdom Hall: (KH) The building where JWs gather for their congregation meetings and activities. JWs avoid using the word “church.”
Ministry: The ministry refers specifically to the various approved ways of “spreading the good news.” This most often refers to either “door-to-door” ministry or similar outdoor activities such as offering the books and magazines on city streets or from carts and tables especially set up to bring attention to the publications that JWs distribute. This does not refer to the call to be a religious leader or “pastor” of a congregation or a “missionary” as it does in some religions. Even the terms “preaching” and giving a “sermon” usually refer to the message given at a person’s door, but these are not the terms used when referring to the activity of elders who give a Bible-themed speech or talk from the platform at the Kingdom Hall. The specific “door-to-door ministry” and related activities have given rise to a specialized vocabulary with expressions like “return visits” (previously, “back calls,” “placements,” “not-at-homes,” “territory,” “Bible Studies,” etc. Other acceptable forms of ministry can be labeled “cart witnessing” “serving where the need is greater” “letter writing.”
Positions of Responsibility
Governing Body and Faithful & Discreet Slave are considered the highest positions of responsibility among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those terms are found in their own headings. Two other terms that refer to positions of responsibility are “Pioneer” and “Publisher.” There are many other past and current titles that refer to positions of responsibility, including Ministerial Servant (similar to deacon), Elder, Presiding Overseer (PO, formerly, Congregation Servant), Circuit Overseer (CO), District Overseer (DO) [becoming obsolete], Branch Overseer, Department Overseer [usually a position at one of the Branch Offices where there can be dozens of specific departments]. Most of these variations will not be found in the glossary, although when reading historical information about the WTBTS, it might be useful to note that before the early 1970’s these positions were often termed as variations on the word “Servant” and since then the word “Overseer” has been used (e.g. the Congregation’s Presiding Overseer was formerly the Congregation Servant.) A single congregation of 120 “publishers” may have 5 elders and 10 ministerial servants.
Pioneer: A JW who is also a “publisher” and has volunteered to spend at certain number of hours in various acceptable “publisher” activities: regular door-to-door ministry, return visits, Bible studies, pre-Convention activities, letter-writing, etc. There are Regular Auxiliary Pioneers (formerly Vacation Pioneers), Regular Pioneers, and Special Pioneers, each with a different goal in hours ranging from 30 to 50, or 70 to 130 hours a month (or more).
Publisher: A JW is counted to be a member of the religion if they are accepted as someone who can join in their witnessing (preaching) activities, which often takes the form of “door-to-door” work. (Distributing Watch Tower publications and initiating Bible Studies with “householders” or “interested persons” also referred to sometimes as “sheep-like ones” “persons with a favorable heart condition” or “persons of goodwill.” There are certain minimum requirements for “unbaptized publishers” which will be described under that heading.
Society: JWs often speak of the Watchtower Society as simply the Society. This is another way of referring to the central headquarters of JWs, while sometimes implying the work of all the other branches and organized activity among all JWs worldwide. (Not recommended for common use, especially among the public, for several reasons that have been given over the years. The most common reason is that it implies the following of an earthly organization as more important than the Bible, Jehovah God, and Jesus Christ. Another nearly obsolete reason has been that technically, the term referred to the Watch Tower Society, which in some contexts meant only elected members who had voting rights in one of the Society’s corporations.
1) Commonly means “The Watchtower” magazine, a journal that presents the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and is distributed worldwide in their preaching work.
2) Also is another way of stating the Watchtower Society (or Watch Tower Society).
See opening comments about Watch Tower Society, etc.