Jehovah's Witnesses glossary

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Jehovah's Witnesses have an extremely idiosyncratic vocabulary. Not only do they avoid many standard Christian terms such as "church" and "cross", they also use some everyday words such as "publisher" and "hall" in radically different ways.

As with other cults, religious, political or otherwise, the use of distinctive vocabulary helps establish an in- and an out-group. Constant changes in the vocabulary also allow people to recognize when someone has not been keeping up to date.

Within the USA, the higher than average African American JW membership compared to the mostly white leadership[1][2] might raise eyebrows among non-JWs when examining some of the terminology ("circuit overseer", "district overseer", "evil slave class" and "faithful and discreet slave").

Organizational overview[edit]


360 years[edit]

See 1914.


See 1914.


See the main article on this topic: 666

666 is the symbol of Satan's visible organisation, which Jehovah's Witnesses believe to be all human governments.[3]


Because of an alleged prophecy in Daniel 4, the original JW believed that Jesus began to rule in 607 BCE, that there will be Seven Times after 607 BCE until a certain generation is born, that Armageddon will begin before that generation passes away, that these Seven Times are Symbolic Times and actually mean 360 years each (for a total of 2520 years), and that therefore the generation which observed the "events of 1914" (the start of WW1) will also see the Armageddon. Given that this is no longer possible,[4] JW teachings have shifted to the overlapping generation idea.[5]

This is literally the foundation of all of JW belief[6]

Other JW predictions of the end of the world were for 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941 1975, 1994, 1997 (list of predictions of the end of the world).


See Anointed Class.


Abomination of Desolation[edit]

The Abomination of Desolation is an obsolete term for the United Nations. Since all governments are satanically controlled, any attempt to set up a one world system is even more frowned upon. Nowadays it is referred to as the "disgusting thing that is causing desolation".

Accounts servant[edit]

An accounts servant is a local treasurer, bookkeeper or clerk.

Accurate knowledge[edit]

Accurate knowledge is the understanding of things as they are given by the organization.

Active force[edit]

Active force is the Holy Spirit.

Don Adams[edit]

Don Adams (1925–2019) was elected sixth WBTS president in 2000.


See the main article on this topic: Alcohol

Witnesses regard alcohol as a gift from Jehovah that must be used in moderation. Contrary to popular belief, JWs are not teetotalers (unlike Mormons etc.)


Anniversary is an annual commemoration acceptable to JWs, such as a wedding anniversary. Celebrating Christmas or birthdays is strictly verboten.

Anointed Class[edit]

After Armageddon, the 144,000 people in the Anointed Class will live in a spiritual Heaven with King Jesus. All other faithful JW (the Great Crowd or Other Sheep) and a selected group of resurrected people will live on a paradise-like Earth for one millennium (1,000 years). The number 144,000 appears in three places in the Book of Revelation: Revelation 7:3-8 (as the sum of 12 tribes of Israel of 12,000 each), Revelation 14:1 and Revelation 14:3-5.


This term is not just used for the evil leader supposed to appear at the end of history, but anything that opposes JW teachings. Non-JW Christians are considered to be "antichrist" for example, as are the churches they belong to.


A JW who turns to worldly or antichrist ways, or falls foul of the leadership. Any material produced by such people.


See the main article on this topic: Armageddon

The Armageddon is a world-encompassing battle that will occur in the near future. During Armageddon, all people and all institutions not affiliated with the JW will be destroyed. King Jesus and His heavenly host will battle with Satan and his armies. Satan will be defeated. Afterwards, the Anointed Class will live with King Jesus in a spiritual Heaven.


An assembly is a type of regional conference where various local congregations meet together. It happens several times a year. An assembly hall is a larger Kingdom Hall used for such purposes.


Awake! is a semimonthly magazine published by WBTS focused on family and religion. It takes a bit of a backseat to Watchtower, but is still treated very seriously. Recent editions take precedence over older issues.


Back calls[edit]

Back calls are return visits to someone who appears/ed to express an interest in joining. These are heavily encouraged even when the person is politely disinterested.[note 1] These are all noted and recorded in back call book. See return calls.

Bad association[edit]

Bad association is mixing socially with someone who is disfellowshipped, hostile to the church etc. This is severely frowned upon, even when it is with family members. The opposite of shunning.

Bad attitude[edit]

Bad attitude is someone who works at Bethel who is perceived to be out of line.


See the main article on this topic: Baptism

A candidate approved by the WBTS is baptized (immersed in water) during a public meeting. Mass baptisms of new recruits often occur at a circuit assembly. JWs do not baptize babies.

JW mass Baptism in Germany, 2006


See the main article on this topic: Common Era

JWs use BCE (Before Current Era) rather than BC (Before Christ).


Bethel is the official headquarters of the WBTS located at 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, NY. It is used as a metonym for said head quarters. Someone who works there is known as a Bethelite.

Bible Students[edit]

Bible Students in 1893

Bible Students is a name for early JWs, now obsolete. Some of the various splinter groups still use it.

Bible study[edit]

Bible study is an intermediate step in becoming a JW. Faithful JW stress a literal belief in the Bible and try to engage interested people in home Bible studies. After progressing from return calls and Good Will Personhood, Bible study encourages people to people gain personal and religious connections with local JW members.


See the main article on this topic: Blood Transfusions: How Safe

JW teachings hold that the soul is in the blood, citing Leviticus 17:11 and Leviticus 17:14. As a result, JWs believe that blood transfusions are comparable to cannibalism and refuse to have them. This results in several hundred deaths per year.


Bloodguilt occurs when somebody 1) causes bloodshed (i.e., contributes to someone's death), which includes supporting a blood-guilty organization or 2) fails to preach the good news or 3) eats, drinks, or receives blood in any way.

Book Room[edit]

A Book Room is a library or stockpile of books, pamphlets and magazines which are kept in each Kingdom Hall for publishers to distribute. As internet usage has increased, its importance has waned.

Branch Committee[edit]

A Branch Committee is appointed by the WBTS to have oversight of JW congregations for an entire country or group of countries.


Caleb and Sophia[edit]

Caleb and Sophia (also known as Become Jehovah's Friend) is an animated series of short videos aimed at children produced by the WBTS that spreads propagandistic messages in service to the organization, such as teaching kids to knock on doors and hate gay people.

Car captain[edit]

A car captain is someone who arranges motor transport for publishers to do field service.


See the main article on this topic: Common Era

JWs do use CE (Current Era) rather than AD (Anno Domini). Presumably this is something else they use to sound different to other Christians.


Christendom is a derogatory term for Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic groups, which JW teachings claim to have been established around 300-399 CE by the unbaptized Roman emperor Constantine the Great.Wikipedia


JWs do not use the term "church", which they believe to be pagan. Their meeting houses are called "Kingdom Halls" instead. Other uses of "church", i.e. for congregations or the organisation itself are similarly avoided.


A circuit is a group of about 20 JW congregations.

Circuit overseer[edit]

A circuit overseer is the supervisor of the circuit who visits each congregation two or three times a year.

Circuit assembly[edit]

Circuit assembly in Poland, 2011

A circuit assembly occurs when member congregations of a circuit gather at specified times, often to hold mass baptisms of new converts.

Come into the truth[edit]

Coming into the truth is when someone is converted to being a Jehovah's Witness.

Conclusion of the System of Things[edit]

The end of the world, when Jesus comes and sets things right (by JW standards).


JW convention in Poland, 1989

Convention is used much as its secular meaning to describe large gatherings, often tens of thousands.


See Impalement.


See Impalement.



A devil or Satan-serving spirit. Often used in reference to things which have been demonized (see below). However, demons are not considered as scary as Jehovah himself or even the leadership.


See the main article on this topic: Demonic possession

To be demonized is to be possessed by demons. The term is not only applied to people, but also to certain objects. JWs are sometimes suspicious that secondhand items have been demonized and may cause sickness or bad luck in their homes.


A demonstration is a role-playing practice for field service. It is a form of training for speaking to non-members. Because many JWs are out of touch with most modern worldly realities, they are often comically different to what publishers will actually experience, which can often lead them to being bewildered.

Disassociation letter[edit]

A disassociation letter is a letter of resignation. It is often requested from someone who has joined the military or another religion. This saves local elders paperwork. Many apostates walk away without doing this.


Disfellowship, also referred to as expulsion or excommunication, occurs when the WBTS judges a JW member as unfaithful. Common crimes include adultery, homosexuality, dishonesty, "idolatry", "apostasy", or "divisiveness". For lesser crimes, a JW member is usually suspended for one year and then given an opportunity for reinstatement. For greater crimes, the offending member may only be accepted back if he or she displays sincere repentance. The official JW position is that disfellowshipping is a "loving provision", but those who are disfellowshipped are shunned by other JW members, including family and friends,[7] which is often a substantial hardship for the person who is disfellowshipped.[8]

District overseer[edit]

A district overseer supervises several circuits and is responsible for conducting circuit assemblies. The overseer spends one week in the circuit for each assembly.


Pejorative nickname for the JWs, short for Jaydub. Often used by non-members and exmembers. Not to be confused with the Irish expression "Dub", which is short for "Dubliner", although this would make a JW from Dublin a Dub Dub.



The local leadership of a given area are known as elders rather than priests etc. — always male of course.


Emblems are the bread and wine as used in the JW version of communion. Very few members ever take them due to arcane doctrines.

Evil slave class[edit]

The evil slave class are people who become apostates after many decades of membership.

Expulsion or expelling[edit]

See disfellowship.



Printing plants where publications such as Watchtower are produced. As internet use increases, these are becoming less important.

Faithful and discreet slave[edit]

The faithful and discreet slave is the group of males who govern the organisation as a whole.

Field service[edit]

Missionary work, which is conducted by all members. When one of them knocks on your door, it is field service.

Frederick Franz[edit]


Frederick Franz (1893–1992) was elected fourth WBTS president in 1977.


Gentile times[edit]

The Gentile times when Jews were in disfavor with Jehovah were from 607 BCE to 1914.


See the main article on this topic: Goat

A goat is a sane person who is not interested in a JW evangelist's return calls or Bible study.

Good Will Person[edit]

A Good Will Person is a person who is interested in Bible study and who is a prospective member of Jehovah's Witnesses. Those who are not interested are called a goat.

Governing Body[edit]

The governing body is a select committee of about 15 WBTS leaders that determines and establishes all doctrines and practices of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Great Crowd[edit]

See Anointed Class.

Greek Scriptures[edit]

The New Testament, also referred to as the Christian Greek Scriptures.



A headship refers either to 1) the family leadership role of the husband (who is the "wife-head") or 2) the leadership roles of people within the WTBS.

Hebrew Scriptures[edit]

Hebrew Scriptures refers to the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.


See the main article on this topic: Hell

The WTBS does not believe that Hell is a place of torment or fire. They reject the doctrine of eternal punishment, saying all non-Jehovah's Witnesses will be annihilated at the final judgment.

Milton Henschel[edit]


Milton Henschel (1920–2003) was elected fifth WBTS president in 1992.


Householder is a non-member visited by JWs; not necessarily one who lets them in.


JWs never call their songbooks hymnals nowadays, but have done so in the past.



The International Bible Students Association (IBSA) group supervises JW ministries in Canada and the UK. The IBSA arises out of the Bible Student movement.Wikipedia

The one and only true religion


See the main article on this topic: Crucifixion

JW's believe that the crucifix (two-piece cross) is a phallic symbol adopted from pagans in the 3rd century CE. Instead, Jesus Christ was impaled and died upon an upright stake. WBTS translates the Greek stauros as "upright stake".

Inactive publisher[edit]

An inactive publisher is a member who has not been going out doing missionary work, which puts one in bad standing.

Independent thinking[edit]

Independent thinking is a pejorative phrase for someone who gets their own ideas, which is not seen as a good thing.



A facetious nickname for the group used by non-members based on initials. Not to be confused with JLo, an actress and singer.


See the main article on this topic: YHWH

Jehovah is the term that JWs use to refer to God the Father, and is used in place of "God", "Lord" etc. in the New World Translation and JW parlance. It is an old-fashioned transliteration of YHWH. JWs do not consider Jehovah and Jesus to be the same person and do not accept the Trinity.

Jehovah's Witness(es)[edit]

Also known as JWs. Non-members tend to refer indiscriminately to refer to both the membership and the organisation as "Jehovah's Witnesses", but this does not reflect their own usage.

The official usage refers to members who are in good standing. If someone is disfellowshipped (expelled), it will sometimes be announced in a meeting that "X is no longer a Jehovah's Witness", indicating that other members are to shun them.

The phrase is not used officially for the organisation itself, which is known as the Watchtower Society. (Confusingly their website remains JW dot org.) The head offices are often referred to as "Bethel", another classification again.

Judicial committee[edit]

Judicial committee is a kind of kangaroo court in which a disobedient member will find themselves. Many will be disfellowshipped, but some will be reintegrated. An appeal committee is the group that reviews these judgements and lets people back in.


Kingdom Hall[edit]

A Kingdom Hall is a JW place of worship comparable to a chapel; the term was created by Joseph Franklin Rutherford. The word "church" is not used.

A Kingdom Hall in England

Kingdom Privilege[edit]

Kingdom Privilege or K.P. are chores such as cleaning the Kingdom Halls. (Facetious)

Nathan Knorr[edit]

Knorr in 1955

Nathan Knorr (1905–1977) was elected third WBTS president in 1942.


Last days[edit]

The last days are the degenerate time that we live in now.

Loose Conduct[edit]

Sexual or romantic behaviour outside marriage. Under JW definitions this can be something a lot milder than its secular equivalent, e.g. hugging.


Manuscript talk[edit]

Manuscript talk is a talk which is read word for word from an official publication.

Marking talk[edit]

Marking talk is when a member of the congregation is marked out as having done something undesirable. The person is not excommunicated as such, but also is not invited to social activities until this is lifted.


Memorial is used in two ways: a memorial can be a member's funeral, or the commemoration of the Last Supper (equivalent to communion elsewhere), which is only celebrated once a year, and which most members do not partake of.


Michael is the archangel who JWs think is one and the same as Jesus.


See Anointed Class.

Move ahead[edit]

Move ahead is producing new doctrine etc. Thus can sometimes contradict previous doctrine.



Neutrality refers to the JWs' refusal to join the military, aid war effort, participate in politics etc. This has frequently landed the movement in trouble with secular authorities (e.g., see Jehovah's Witnesses#United States Supreme Court cases).

New light[edit]

Whenever doctrine is changed, or a new doctrine brought in, this is called new light. This applies particularly to alterations of Biblical interpretation and prophecy. The organisation is considered never to be wrong.

New System[edit]

New System is the forthcoming system which will be controlled exclusively by Jehovah.

Non-trinitarian churches[edit]

This is a polite way for non-JWs to distinguish JWs, Mormons, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists etc. from mainstream Christianity, because they do not believe in the Trinity.


The New World Translation in various languages
See the main article on this topic: Bible translation

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is the official translation of the Bible by the WBTS in English. It contains many idiosyncratic renderings, in line with JW doctrine, such as the use of "Jehovah" throughout the New Testament.

Note also that non-English translations of the Bible produced by JWs are translated from the English, rather than direct from the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. In this, they mirror the former Catholic fixation on the Vulgate.


On reproof[edit]

On reproof is a member who is not disfellowshipped, but is on notice and is disallowed from certain things, such as commenting on meetings. They are not restricted from field service however.

Other Sheep[edit]

See Anointed Class.

Overlapping generation[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Moving the goalposts

Matthew 24:34 states:

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things [that will lead up to the great tribulation before the Armageddon] be fulfilled.

JW originally believed that the generation that witnessed the events of 1914 would live to see the great tribulation. However, because this can no longer occur,[4] the WBTS now argues that Jesus' use of the word "generation" really meant two groups: first, the generation that witnessed 1914; and second, those who were born before the last individuals in the first group died (basically, anybody born after about 2000 or so), i.e, the overlapping generation.[5] This is entirely exegetical and (given that JW believe in a literal Bible) hardly a straightforward reading of the Bible. But hey — if your particular prediction of the end of the world doesn't work, why not just use another?


People's Pulpit Association[edit]



A pioneer is someone who spends at least seventy hours a month preaching to non-members. It was previously ninety.

Public Talk[edit]

A talk aimed at the general public but rarely heard by them.


A publisher is a faithful JW who sells WBTS literature door-to-door. Publishers are expected to pay for these materials via "voluntary" donations. A good publisher engages in field ministry and produces return calls and Good Will Persons.

Publisher's Time Sheet[edit]

A report card for each member documenting how much tracting etc each one did. Since it tends to be self-reported there can be discrepancies and more dishonest members sometimes lie on theirs.


Ransom Sacrifice[edit]

JWs reject the cross as a symbol, saying instead the atonement took place as a ransom sacrifice on a torture stake.

Return calls[edit]

A JW evangelist will make return calls if a person shows even a little interest or requests more information on the first visit. The WBTS encourages persistent visitation. Successful return calls may turn somebody into a Good Will Person.

Charles Taze Russell[edit]


Joseph Franklin Rutherford[edit]

Rutherford in 1942

Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1869–1942) became the second president of the PPP (later the WBTS) in 1917. He is ultimately responsible for the current organization of the WBTS.



See the main article on this topic: Salvation

JW believe that salvation is not obtained through acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior ("faith alone") but instead via dedication of one's life to Jehovah and living the lifestyle prescribed by the WBTS ("works alone").


Anything which doesn't jive with JW beliefs or calls them out. See also antichrist.

Seven Times[edit]

See 1914.

Shepherding call[edit]

Shepherding call is a visit by elders to local members. This is always done by a pair of them. This is usually routine, but is often to check up on them or chastise them.


Shunning is a process whereby members disassociate themselves from apostates or the disfellowshipped and will not even talk to them. This includes troublesome family members. The opposite of this is bad association.

The Society[edit]

See WBTS, also "the Organization".

Spiritual Food[edit]

The recent publications of the leadership.

Spiritually strong[edit]

Spiritually strong is said of a member who is particularly devout or obedient. The opposite is "spiritually weak".

Students Association Kingdom Hall[edit]

A Students Association Kingdom Hall is usually relatively small and limited to a seating capacity of 200. Meetings are presided over by an overseer and his five assistants.

Symbolic Times[edit]

See 1914.

System of things[edit]

The system of things is an ungodly satanically-inspired system that runs the world.



JWs do not use the term "sermon", but prefer "talk" instead.


See the main article on this topic: Theocracy

Supposedly ruled by Jehovah. This is used in an approving sense by JWs.

Theocratic Ministry School[edit]

Theocratic Ministry School is a mid-week meeting at the Kingdom Hall involving role playing and missionary practice.

Theocratic Parental Discipline[edit]

Often refers to corporal punishment.

Torture stake[edit]

JWs do not believe Jesus was executed on a cross, but on a torture stake instead. The torture stake in their view appears to have been more similar to a large pole. This is despite good evidence of the Romans using crosses to execute people including the famous rebel Spartacus.


See the main article on this topic: Trinity

JWs reject the Trinity. JWs believe that Jehovah alone is God, that the Holy Spirit is just the 'force of God', and that Jesus was a being created by Jehovah.

The Truth[edit]

A continuously changing set of paradigms that Jehovah's Witnesses have to believe in. What went last week won't necessarily apply this week. Often to be found in Watchtower.


Unbelieving mate[edit]

An unbelieving mate is a non-member spouse of someone in the organization. Those married to them are said to be unevenly yoked.

Undeserved kindness[edit]

This delightful sounding phrase refers to Jehovah's mercy.


Waiting on Jehovah[edit]

When someone does not have the answer to an issue, they will wait on/for Jehovah. This is essentially a way to dodge an answer.


A 1931 edition of The Watchtower

Watchtower is the official theological publication of the WBTS, first published in 1879 and now released semimonthly. Unsigned articles in Watchtower present WBTS positions on biblical doctrines. Although JWs would not necessarily refer to Watchtower as scripture, they effectively treat it as such.

More recent editions are said to supersede earlier issues.


Russell in 1911

Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916) organized the People's Pulpit Association (PPA) in 1909, of which he was the first president. The PPA was renamed to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) in 1939. The WBTS is the main coordinating organization behind JW. The WBTS is rigidly controlled from the center (rather than democratically); JW believe that the WBTS is under the direct rule of Jehovah. The term "The Society" can be used to describe those WBTS leaders who are directly controlled by God.

Wife's head[edit]

See Headship.

When Someone You Love Dies[edit]

When Someone You Love Dies is a pamphlet used by JW evangelists to encourage Return Calls.

The World[edit]

The World is a pejorative term for non-JW society. Someone who gets too interested in it is said to be "worldly."


A term used to refer to non-members.


Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

The Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses is published each year and reports the worldwide statistics of JW and service of faithful members.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. This would seem to have the unintended effect of encouraging people to be rude to JW proselytizers.


  1. A closer look at Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the U.S. by Michael Lipka (April 26, 2016) Pew Research Center.
  2. Jehovah's Witnesses: The African American Enigma: A Contemporary Study by Firpo W. Carr (2002) Scholar Technological. ISBN 0963129368.
  3. Deranged ramblings by Jehovah's Witnesses
  4. 4.0 4.1 Millions now living...
  5. 5.0 5.1 David Splane explains the overlapping generation teaching (without actually explaining it)
  6. 607 : 1914 : Seven Times
  7. Disfellowshipping and Shunning
  8. Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses break silence on shunning: 'My mother treats me like I'm dead' by Tresa Baldas (Published 6:01 a.m. ET March 18, 2018 | Updated 1:02 p.m. ET March 18, 2018) Detroit Free Press.