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By 24. February 2024March 10th, 2024Disfellowshipping


A short time ago, I wrote the article, “Jehovah’s way of treating those who have Committed Serious sins.” A part of this article discussed James 5:13-20. The article contained detailed analyses of several of these verses. However, this was not the case for 5:16, and one person who uses to read the articles on this website suggested that I make a detailed analysis of this verse. This is what follows:


In his epistle, James speaks about different kinds of sins, and in the last chapter, he tells how persons who have committed sins can be helped. We read in James 5:13-16:

13 Is there anyone suffering evil among YOU? Let him carry on prayer. Is there anyone in good spirits? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is there anyone sick among YOU? Let him call the older men of the congregation to [him], and let them pray over him, greasing [him] with oil in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. 16Therefore openly confess (eksomologeō) YOUR sins to one another and pray for one another, that YOU may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.

In the article mentioned above, I show that the word “sick” in verse 14 refers to spiritual sickness, to being spiritually weak. This is a serious condition, and the Christian can seek help from the elders of the congregation. However, the elders are not the only ones who can help a person who has committed sins. We see this in verse 16:

16 Therefore openly confess (eksomologeō) YOUR sins to one another and pray for one another, that YOU may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.

The Greek word eksomologeō means “to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person.” (Louw and Nida). So, the rendering “openly confess your sins” is an accurate rendering. We can pose to different questions:

  • Who are those who should confess the sins, and to whom should they do this?
  • What kind of sins are referred to by James?


How can we know to whom  James is speaking when he is encouraging the confession of their sins? In 1:1 we learn to whom the epistle is addressed:

 1 James, a slave of God and of [the] Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are scattered about: Greetings!

The “twelve tribes” could refer to fleshly Israel or to spiritual Israel. (Revelation 7:4.8) Because James speaks of “the older men of the congregation” the reference must be to all the anointed Christians, men and women, who are members of spiritual Israel. The style of James shows that the reference in 5:16 also is to all anointed Christians of spiritual Israel, men and women. In 5:16, both verbs are 2 plural present middle imperative, and below is a list of verbs in 2 plural imperative in the letter of James, all referring to the members of spiritual Israel:

Table 1.1. Verbs in 2 plural imperative

1:2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when YOU meet with various trials.
1:16 Do not be misled, my beloved brothers.
1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.
1:21 Hence put away all filthiness and that superfluous thing, badness, and accept with mildness the implanting of the word which is able to save YOUR souls.
1:22 However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.
2:1 My brothers, YOU are not holding the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, our glory, with acts of favoritism, are YOU?
2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers. God chose the ones who are poor respecting the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to those who love him, did he not?
2:12 Keep on speaking in such a way and keep on doing in such a way as those do who are going to be judged by the law of a free people.
2:16 Yet a certain one of YOU says to them: “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but YOU do not give them the necessities for [their] body, of what benefit is it?
2:24 YOU see that a man is to be declared righteous by works, and not by faith alone.
3:1 Not many of YOU should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.
3:14 But if YOU have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in YOUR hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth.
4:7 Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from YOU.
4:8 Draw close to God, and he will draw close to YOU.

Cleanse YOUR hands, YOU sinners, and purify YOUR hearts, YOU indecisive ones.

4:9 Give way to misery and mourn and weep. Let YOUR laughter be turned into mourning, and [YOUR] joy into dejection.
4:10 Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt YOU.
4:11 Quit speaking against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against law and judges law. Now if you judge law, you are, not a doer of law, but a judge.
5:1 Come, now, YOU rich [men], weep, howling over YOUR miseries that are coming upon YOU.
5:7 Exercise patience, therefore, brothers, until the presence of the Lord. Look! The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain.
5:8 YOU too exercise patiencemake YOUR hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.
5:9 Do not heave sighs against one another, brothers, so that YOU do not get judged. Look! The Judge is standing before the doors.
5:10 Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah.
5:12 Above all things, though, my brothers, stop swearing, yes, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath. But let YOUR Yes mean Yes, and YOUR No, No, so that YOU do not fall under judgment.
5:16 Therefore openly confess YOUR sins to one another and pray for one another, that YOU may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.

The list contains 36 examples of verbs in 2 person plural imperative. All these verbs are addressed to the same group, those who are called “my brothers” in 1:2. No word for “sisters” is used in letters and epistles to Christians. But the word “brothers” includes both men and women, all the anointed members of spiritual Israel. This means that the words in 5:16, “openly confess your sins to one another” do not refer to the elders that are mentioned in verses 14 and 15.

If the exhortations of all the 34 verbs are addressed both to men and women, is James saying that Christians should confess their sins to women as well? In 1979, the book Commentary on the letter of James was published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I will quote the comments of verse 16 in this book from pages 206, 207:

This confessing is not like a “confessional” arrangement where one is viewed as obligated to appear and confess all sins in order to obtain absolution from guilt in the eyes of God. Although James had previously made specific mention of the congregation elders with regard to sick ones needing aid, he here says to “confess your sins to one another,” not limiting the matter to certain ones within the congregation. While this is so, it is reasonable that the one confessing his sins would seek a person who could be of real help to him in a spiritual way. Along with the desire to unburden himself, he doubtless desires the counsel and prayer of another. Galatians 6:1, 2 speaks of the readjusting of one who takes a false step and shows that it is those “who have spiritual qualifications” who are in a position to do this. Elders should have such qualifications, and others in the congregation may also have these. A woman, for example, may seek the help of a Christian sister, possibly someone older than she is, as is indicated by Paul’s counsel at Titus 2:3-5. Thus the source of the help is not limited to a certain few; the important thing is that the person have “spiritual qualifications.” James shows that the object and result of this humble seeking for help should be a brotherly (or a sisterly) interest manifested in prayer to Jehovah on behalf of the one confessing the fault.

The expression “to one another” is most appropriate since all must honestly recognize their own sinful nature, thereby eliminating any basis for pride or superiority in responding to the needs of the erring one. (Compare Luke 18:9-14; 1 John 1:8-10.) Rather than superiority, there obviously should be a sense of mutual compassion, all having their own particular faults and weaknesses. The one extending help now should realize that he may someday need help himself. Along with calling for humility, such open confessing of faults can also serve as a restraint toward sinning. It leads away from a secretive course of life that deprives one of the balancing effect that the counsel of others can provide.

These are excellent comments, and the author shows that:

  • The words can relate to anyone in the congregation and not only to the elders.
  • Sins can be confessed to both the men and women.
  • The words “one another” indicate that the one to whom a sin is confessed must behave in a humble way because he or she may at one time also need help.

These comments contradict the previous and present views of the members of the Governing Body. The confession of sins according to James 5:16 should be made to the elders, and not to the members of the congregation, including women, according to The Watchtower of august 1, 1963, page 474, and July 15, 1991, page 6. This is also the present view of the members of the Governing Body, as seen in The Watchtower of March 15, 1991, page 6 (above) and September 2010, pages 22, 23 (below):

So, then, when is it appropriate for Christians to confess sins to one another? In the case of serious sin (not every little failing), an individual should confess to responsible overseers of the congregation.

Confession of sins remained a requirement by God in the Christian congregation in the first century of our Common Era. James, the half brother of Jesus and one of the principal men of the congregation in Jerusalem, urged fellow Christians: “Openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” (James 5:16) What, then, are Christians required to confess, and to whom?…

Recall the words of the disciple James that we referred to earlier: “Openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” To those words, James added: “A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” (James 5:16) The ‘righteous man’ can be one of “the older men of the congregation,” whom James mentioned in verse 14. In the Christian congregation, there are spiritually “older men,” or elders, appointed to assist those who want to gain God’s forgiveness. No, such “older men” cannot absolve anyone of sins, for no man is authorized to forgive a fellow human for a wrong against God. However, they are spiritually qualified to reprove and readjust a person guilty of a serious sin, helping him to recognize the gravity of his sin and the need to repent.​—Galatians 6:1.

As I have shown above in connection with James’ use of verbs, those to whom one should confess one’s sins were members of the congregation, men and women. So, the author of the book is correct and the present members of the Governing Body are wrong.

The author of the book was disfellowshipped not long after writing the book. The book is removed from the books that are available from In the Index 1930-1985, there are many references to the book. But it is not possible to click on these references to see what the book says, which is the case with most other references. The only way to know what the book says is if you have a printed copy of the book. So, the content of this book is something that the members of the Governing Body evidently want to hide for others.


It is clear that only men should be teachers in the congregation. (1. Timotheus 2:11, 12) But women had important roles in the Christian community, including being teachers. The author of The Commentary on the Epistle of James referred to Galatians 1:2:

1 Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, YOU who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.

The letter to the Galatians was written to “the congregations in Galatia” (1:2), which included both men and women. As in other letters and epistles the word “brothers” in 6:1 includes both men and women. So, we have the same situation as in James 5:16, both men and women could hear confessions of sins, and both men and women who had spiritual qualifications could help a Christian who had taken a false step before he was aware of it.

James showed that the approach to a sinner should not be one of judgment but one of love. And Paul shows that the readjustment of a sinner should be in a spirit of mildness.

In connection with the role of women the author of the book on James also referred to Titus 2:3-5:

 3 Likewise let the aged women (presbytis) be reverent in behavior, not slanderous, neither enslaved to a lot of wine, teachers of what is good (kaldidaskalos); 4 that they may recall (sōfronizō) the young women to their senses to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.

I will first look at the meaning of different words. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter speaks of himself and others as “older men” (presbyteros), which primarily refers to men advanced in age. However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, this word  has the technical meaning of overseer.” Titus 2:3 speaks about “older women” (presbyteris). This could mean that some women, not necessarily very old, had a particular position in the congregation. But this is not clearly stated. In any case, these older women should “be teachers of what is good (kaldidaskalos). The Greek word didaskalos means “teacher” and kalos means “good.” The word sōfronoizō has the meaning “to instruct someone to behave in a wise and becoming manner” (Louw and Nida). So,  “the teachers of what is good” would instruct other women to behave in a wise way.

One woman who filled a particular position in the congregation was Phoebe, and we read in Romans 16:1, 2:

1 I recommend to YOU Phoeʹbe our sister, who is a minister (diakonos) of the congregation that is in Cenʹchre·ae, 2 that YOU may welcome her in [the] Lord in a way worthy of the holy ones, and that YOU may assist her in any matter where she may need YOU, for she herself also proved to be a defender (prostatis) of many, yes, of me myself.

The Greek words diakonos (“ministerial servant”) has the meaning, “one who renders service to another; an attendant, servant.” (Mounce) So, the word can refer to any kind of service made by someone. Does the use of this word in connection with Phoebe show that she was “a ministerial servant”? There are reasons to answer yes.

The feminine noun corresponding to the masculine noun diakonos is diakonia with the meaning “to render assistance or help by performing certain duties, often of a humble or menial nature.” (Louw and Nida) . The noun diakonia occurs in three places in Romans: 11:13 (above), 12:6, 7 (middle) and 15:31 (below):

13 Now I speak to YOU who are people of the nations. Forasmuch as I am, in reality, an apostle to the nations, I glorify my ministry (diakonia).

6 Since, then, we have gifts differing according to the undeserved kindness given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the faith proportioned [to us]; 7 or a ministry (diakonia), [let us be] at this ministry (diakonia); or he that teaches, [let him be] at his teaching

31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Ju·deʹa and that my ministry (diakonia) which is for Jerusalem may prove to be acceptable to the holy ones.

The difference is that diakonia tells what someone is doing (a service) while diakonos shows the position of someone and what he or she is (a servant).

The fact that Phoebe was a servant (diakonos) “of the congregation in Cenchreae” points to a position and not to a kind of service. There is also another Greek word showing her position, namely, the noun prostatis. The masculine noun prostatēs has the meaning “defender; guardian,” and the feminine form prostatis has the meaning, protectress, patroness; helper.” (Bauer Arndt, Gingrich) The meaning of the English word “patroness” is “a woman who protects, supports, or sponsors someone or something.” Exactly how the word prostatis was used in the first congregations we do not know. But this was her position as diakonos, and she had even been a prostatis for Paul himself.

The words in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 may also illuminate the issue:

8 Ministerial servants (diakonos) should likewise be serious, not double-tongued, not giving themselves to a lot of wine, not greedy of dishonest gain,9 holding the sacred secret of the faith with a clean conscience. 10 Also, let these be tested as to fitness first, then let them serve as ministers, as they are free from accusation. 11 Women (gynē) should likewise be serious, not slanderous, moderate in habits, faithful in all things. 12 Let ministerial (diakonios) servants be husbands of one wife, presiding in a fine manner over children and their own households. 13 For the men who minister in a fine manner are acquiring for themselves a fine standing and great freeness of speech in the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.

Paul mentions the qualifications of overseers (episkopos) in verses 2 -7. Then he gives the qualifications of ministerial servants in verses 8-10, 12, and in verse 11 he lists the qualifications of women.[1] Because the qualifications of women are written in between the qualifications of ministerial servants, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul lists the qualifications of the women who will be appointed as ministerial servants.

The purpose of this section is to show that confession of sins can be made to women as well as to men. And the information suggesting that women could be ministerial servants in the first Christian congregation indicates that women also could have spiritual qualities that could be helpful in connection with confessions of sins.

Women among Jehovah’s Witnesses today are neither discriminated against nor suppressed in any way. Women are highly valued, and there are more women who preach the good news of the Kingdom than men. It is my experience that the principle of headship generally is treated in a balanced way. And most women have no problems with the situation that only men are teachers in the congregations. Women can serve Jehovah in many different ways that give them satisfaction.

However, the passages showing that women could be ministerial servants in the first Christian congregations and that sins could be confessed to them suggest that there is a resource that could have been used in a much better way — women should have been given more responsibility and should have been taught to take this responsibility.

In the year 1966, I was the circuit overseer in a circuit in the northern part of Norway. In the congregation of Stokmarknes, a woman was the congregation servant (corresponding to the later term “presiding overseer.”) Before I married my wife, she started as a fulltime preacher in the congregation of Molde, on the western coast of Norway, in 1965. She was also appointed as a ministerial servant in the congregation. The reason why these two sisters were appointed servants was that there were no qualified brothers. But this would not have happened today.


The Watchtower literature show that the view of the members of the Governing Body is that all sins must be confessed to the elders, except the minor or petty sins. My article, “Jehovah’s Ways of treating those who have committed serious sins,” discusses James 5:13-15. It shows that the sins mentioned are serious sins that the Governing Body has made as disfellowshipping offenses today. In spite of this, James does not speak about a judicial committee of elders who will treat these serious sins. But he shows how the elders can help Christians who are spiritual sick and who have made serious sins to regain their spirituality. The Commentary on the Epistle of James also presents a true picture of this situation. We read on page 204:

How encouraging toward ‘openly confessing sins to one another’ if the sincerely repentant wrongdoer knows that those to whom he confesses are primarily interested in helping him. ‘get healed’ of his spiritual sickness! However, if such a repentant one felt that the elders would automatically deal with him as one meriting a reprimand before the whole congregation as a ‘practicer of sin,’ the effect would be quite different. Such a feeling could create a barrier between the congregational shepherds and those sorely needing their help to overcome a drift into continued wrongdoing. On the other hand, where confidence existed that the elders would take into account one’s sincerity in wanting to turn away from the wrong course or attitude, being desirous of never going back to it, this would surely be an encouragement to call upon the older men for assistance, and to respond to their help as would an ailing sheep to that of its conscientious shepherd.-Contrast Psalm 23:1-5 with Ezekiel 34:4.

These comments are excellent, and I will now make some analyses of different passages demonstrating that James had both minor sins and serious sins in mind.

In 5:15, James speaks of sins that the weak brother or sister may have committed. In order to put the whole situation in the right setting, it is important to show that these sins that are mentioned are minor or major.  In other words, does James speak about sins that are so serious that a brother or sister can be disfellowshipped from the congregation?

All Christians are sinning every day, and they pray to Jehovah and ask for his forgiveness. There are several reasons to think that James had more serious sins in mind. One reason is that Christians should not confess minor sins to the elders. Another reason is that the weak Christian did not have the power to pray to Jehovah for forgiveness; he needed help from the elders so they could pray for him. A third reason is the use of the Greek word “to save” (sōzō), which evidently is used in the religious sense of gaining salvation. Minor sins would not have to do with a person’s salvation, but serious sins could prevent one’s salvation.

Supporting the view that James had serious sins in mind are the words in verses 19 and 20 (NWT13):

19 My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray (planaō) from the truth and another turns him back, 20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error (planē) of his way will save (sōzō) him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

These two verses are the conclusion of the discussion that starts in verse 14. And there is one word that connects verse 20 with verse 15, which shows that what prayer can do, and that is sōzō (“to save”). Verse 15 says the prayer of faith (or, “in faith”) will save (sōzō) the weak one (kamnō). The one who will be saved according to verse 15 is “the weak one,” and the one who may be saved according to verse 20 is “him.” What is the antecedent of “him”? It is “a sinner.” And what is the sin of the sinner? Verse 19 says that the sinner “has gone astray from the truth,” and verse 30 speaks of “the error of his way.”

The verb planaō that is translated by “go astray,” has the meaning “to no longer believe what is true, but to start believing what is false” (Louw and Nida), or “lead astray; mislead; deceive; and passive: ‘go astray’,” (Mounce) James uses planaō in 1:16 with the sense “mislead, lead astray,” and in 1 John 2:26 and 3:7, the word is used with the same meaning. This shows that to be guilty of planaō is a serious sin. In verse 20, the corresponding noun planē is used, and it is translated as “the error (of his way)” by NWT13. The meaning of the noun is a “behavior which deviates seriously from that which is morally correct.” (Louw and Nida). That the error that is expressed by planē is serious, is seen in Ephesians 4:14 (above), 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12 (middle), and 1 John 4:6 (below):

14 in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error (“deceitful scheming” NIV, plane).

11 So that is why God lets an operation of error (“powerful delusion” NIV, planē) go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.

We originate with God. He that gains the knowledge of God listens to us; he that does not originate with God does not listen to us. This is how we take note of the inspired expression of truth and the inspired expression of error (“spirit of falsehood” NIV plane).

It is clear that the sins that are mentioned in James 5:19, 20 are serious. The goal in verse 20 is that a Christian can save the sinner that is mentioned, and the goal in verse 15 is that the prayer in faith by the elders will save the sinner. The similarities in the situation where a sinner called the elders to help him (verses 13-15) and in the situation where the elders were not called (verses 19, 20) are that both persons were in the middle of practicing sins. In the last situation, the sins were serious. And that was evidently the case in the first situation because a person will not call for the elders in connection with minor sins.

In the situation that is mentioned in verses 19 and 20 had occurred today, the person would not have been helped, but he would have been disfellowshipped even if he had changed course immediately before the judicial hearing. But the focus of James was to help the person and not to throw him out of the congregation. This means that the words of James represent an instruction on how the elders can help all members of the congregation who have practiced sins but have changed course, regardless of how serious the sins have been and how long they have been practiced. Only persons who still are practicing lawlessness and who have been hardened in sin must be disfellowshipped. All others must be helped to regain a good relationship with Jehovah. And as James said: “whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

When we now understand that 5:20, 21 relate to serious sins, the sins one would confess to one another, according to verse 16, also must include serious sins. This is so because verse 16 is a part of the section that ends in 5:20, 21.

The kind of sins that can be confessed is not mentioned in James 5:16. But because serious sins are mentioned in 5:20, 21, all kinds of sins can be confessed to the brothers and sisters in the congregation.

[1]. The NIV renders gynē as “their wives” in 1 Timothy 3:11. It is true that gynē can refer to a wife, as it does in verse 12. But in this verse, we find heis+gynē (“one woman”) in genitive followed by anēr (“man”) in accusative plural. Literally, the clause can be translated as “one woman’s men” (= “men of one woman (wife)”). At the beginning of verse 12, gynē is not connected with the word “man.” But it stands alone in the accusative plural just as diakonos (“ministerial servant”) stands alone in the accusative plural in verse 8. So, there is neither a linguistic nor a contextual reason to take gynē in verse 11 as “wife.” And the pronoun “their (wives)” used by NIV is not found in the Greek text.


The last verses of the epistle of James (5:13-20) speak about how to help persons who have committed sins. When a Christian is depressed and spiritually sick, he can seek the help of the elders. They will use the word of God as oil, and they will pray for him, and then 5:15 says, “Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” There is no mention of a judicial committee who will decide whether his sins will be forgiven, or whether they will disfellowship him because they decide that his sins are not forgiven. And there is no requirement that the brother expresses regret for his sins. The text only says that when a brother seeks the help of the elders and they pray for him, his sins will be forgiven.

As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures do we read about a judicial committee that considers whether a sinner has the right kind of regret, and if not, he will be disfellowshipped. This is something that is invented by the members of the Governing Body. We may even say that some verses in the epistle of James speaks against such an arrangement. We read James 4:11, 12:

11 Quit speaking against (katalaleō) one another, brothers. He who speaks against (kataleō) a brother or judges (krinō) his brother speaks against law (nomos) and judges (krinō) law. Now if you judge (krinō) law, you are, not a doer of law, but a judge (kritēs). 12 One there is that is lawgiver and judge (kritēs), he who is able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to be judging (krinō) [your] neighbor?

In order to understand the expression “speaking against,” I quote 1. Peter 2:12:

Maintain YOUR conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against (katalaleō) YOU as evildoers, they may as a result of YOUR fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for [his] inspection.

We understand that katalaleō can refer to any form of speech against someone, in this case an accusation that the persons were evildoers. The meaning of “speaking against” can better be understood by the parallell word krinō (“to judge”) In the phrase “speaks against (kataleō) a brother or judges (krinō) his brother,” the Greek particle ē, translated as “or.” can also mean “and,” as it evidently does in this case. So “speaking against” is the same as judging.

The point is that if someone in the congregation judges a brother, he is judging “law.” This is not the law of Moses, which usually has the article. But James mentions another law in 2:8:

8 If, now, YOU practice carrying out the kingly law according to the scripture: “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” YOU are doing quite well.

Thus, if a Christian speaks against a brother or sister and judges him or her, he is violating the “kingly law according to the scripture,” (Leviticus 19:18) and he has become a judge of this law. This is a serious matter because 2:13 says:

13 For the one that does not practice mercy will have [his] judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.

A person who speaks against a brother and judges him will himself have a judgment without mercy. The penalty of sin is death. But when a person is treated with mercy, both the one treating him and the person himself will be shown mercy on the basis of the ransom sacrifice. They will not experience an adverse judgment, and therefore “mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.”

Which conclusion can we draw from this? That the meetings of the judicial committees where the three elders consider whether they shall give a Christian the adverse judgment of disfellowshipping or not violates the word of God. Christians, including the elders, are not allowed to speak against a brother and to judge him. This is so because by judging the brother they are judging “the kingly law according to the scripture.”

Would this mean that persons cannot be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation? No, persons can be disfellowshipped, not because they are judged by the elders but because they fill the criterion for being disfellowshipped. The procedures for disfellowshipping that we find in the Bible, are in all basic points the very opposite of the procedures followed by judicial committees in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


The only biblical example of a Christian being disfellowshipped is found in 1. Corinthians 5:1-5. What was the background of this disfellowshipping? A member of the congregation was living with his father’s wife. Paul was informed about this, and he wrote to the congregation that the man had to be handed over to Satan (verse 5) and removed from the congregation (verse 13).

There was no judicial committee of elders who would speak with the man and consider whether he regretted his actions or not, and whether he should be disfellowshipped or not. So, the reason for his disfellowshipping was that he was a pornos and he refused to stop being a pornos. No judicial committee was needed to establish that he was a pornos because he continued to live with the wife of his father.

What is a pornos? That is a person who practices illicit sexual intercourse and is permeated by this action. So, the man was not disfellowshipped because what he did — having illicit intercourse one, two, or ten times. But he was disfellowshipped because of what he was — continuing to practice illicit sexual intercourse and refusing to stop with this. This is the criterion in the Bible for disfellowshipping. Let us take a closer look.

As mentioned, the Greek word that is rendered as “who is sexually immoral” is pornos, and this word is a noun and not a verb. Eight of the other ten words referring to disfellowshipping offenses are nouns as well, and one is a substantivized adjective (= functions as a noun). Verbs describe actions, and nouns describe characteristics and occupations. The fact that Paul uses nouns is important because it shows that Christians must not be disfellowshipped because of actions of one or more serious sins, i.e., they will not be disfellowshipped for what they do but for what they are.

This difference is an intrinsic part of each of the nine nouns and the substantivized adjective. And what does that mean? We can illustrate this difference in the following way: The Greek noun alieus (“fisherman”) is, for example, derived from the verb alieuō (“to fish”). A fisherman is not a person who has been fishing one, two, or ten times. But a fisherman is a person whose occupation is fishing.

And in a similar way, a pornos is not a person who has been committing porneia (“illicit sexual intercourse”) one, two, or ten times. But a pornos is a person whose personality is permeated by porneia (“illicit sexual intercourse”), a person who is practicing illicit sexual intercourse with persons to whom he is not married and refuses to stop with it. Below I list 1 Corinthians 6:9 in four different versions of the revised NWT in the following order, English, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish:

Or do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality.

9 Vet dere ikke at de som gjør urett ikke skal arve Guds rike? Ikke bli villedet. De som praktiserer seksuell umoral, [those who are practicing sexual immorality] de som tilber avguder, de som er utro mot ektefellen sin, menn som praktiserer homoseksuelle handlinger [men who are practicing homosexual actions] eller lar seg bruke til dette.

9 Er I ikke klar over at uretfærdige mennesker ikke vil komme til at arve Guds rige? Lad jer ikke vildlede. De der lever et seksuelt umoralsk liv [those who are living a sexually immoral life], tilbeder afguder eller begår ægteskabsbrud,  mænd der lader sig bruge til homoseksuelle handlinger, mænd der lever som homoseksuelle [men who are living as homosexuals].

Vet ni inte att orättfärdiga människor inte ska ärva Guds rike? Bli inte vilseledda. De som lever ett sexuellt omoraliskt liv [those who are living a sexually immoral life], de som tillber avgudar, de som är otrogna mot sin äktenskapspartner, män som utövar homosexualitet [men who are practicing homosexuality]. eller underkastar sig sådant.

The reason why I use the Scandinavian revised NWTs, is that they in a better way show the continousness of the actions than the English NWT13. The fact that Paul uses nouns in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and not verbs shows that the procedures in connection with disfellowhipping found in the Shepherd book are completely at odds with the Biblical procedures. The only issue the elders of a congregation has to consider when the possibility of disfellowshipping arises, is: Is the brother or sister a pornos or one of the ten other personal characteristics that may lead to disfellowshipping? In other words, is the person practicing one of these actions, and does he refuse to stop?

We may see the situation in the light of the view of Jesus. We read in Matthew 18:18, 19:

18 “Truly I say to YOU men, Whatever things YOU may bind on earth will be things bound in heaven, and whatever things YOU may loose on earth will be things loosed in heaven. 19 Again I truly say to YOU, If two of YOU on earth agree concerning anything of importance that they should request, it will take place for them due to my Father in heaven.

These words show that if the servants of God bind something or lose something, this will already have been bound or loosened in heaven. Jehovah has decided that if a person is permeated by one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses that deserve disfellowshipping, i.e., if he is practicing one of these and refuses to stop, he should be “bound” or disfellowshipped.

This means that a judicial committee whose purpose is to find out which sins have been committed and whether the sinner can prove the right kind of regret or not, is a manmade arrangement that contradicts the Bible. For example, if two unmarried members of the congregation start to live together in the same flat, they are both pornos. There is no need for a judicial committee. If two elders have spoken with them, and they refuse to stop their relationship, they should be disfellowshipped as in the similar case in Corinth.

There may be situations that are not so clear, and in such situations, it is not against the Bible if two or three elders make an investigation to find out what the situation is. But again, a judicial committee should not be formed in order to find out whether the person should be disfellowshipped or not. This is already decided by God!

The only criterion indicating that God has made a decision in heaven, “has bound” a person, is if the person is practicing one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses and refuses to stop. So, if three elders are considering a case, they should not consider whether a person shall be disfellowshipped or not. This decision has already been taken by God. If they find that a person is practicing one of the 11 serious sins and will not stop, God has already decided that this person must be disfellowshipped.

The advantage of what I have described regarding disfellowshipping, which is solely based on the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, is that disfellowshipping is no longer based on the subjective viewpoints or gut feelings of three elders. But a disfellowshipping is based on undeniable facts: The person is permeated by one of the 11 serious sins and refuses to stop.

On this background, we can much better understand the instructions of James in 5:14-16, that all kinds of sins, including the most serious ones, can be treated by the elders, and by other brothers and sisters without the creation of a judicial committee. The framework that I so strongly have stressed, is that only persons who practise one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses and refuse to stop, shall be disfellowshipped. All other sins can be treated with mercy by different members of the congregation.

When a person is spiritually sick, and he follows the admonition of James “to call the older men of the congregation to him,” this brother clearly is not refusing to stop with the practice of a serious sin. He is asking for help, and help will be given him in a merciful way. And James says that his sins “will be [not “may be”] forgiven him,” because “mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (James 2:13). And the same is true when a Christian confesses his sins to another Christian. He is not a hardened sinner but he is seeking help from his brothers and sisters.


The most important point in this study has been that the way judicial committees among Jehovah’s Witnesses are formed and work is a clear violation of the words of Paul regarding disfellowshipping.

The only persons who deserve to be disfellowshipped are those who practice one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses that are mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures and who refuse to stop. This means that judicial committees are unnecessary because the only task of the elders is to find out whether a person is a hardened sinner who refuses to stop with his bad course and not the heart condition of the sinner.

James shows that those who have committed all kinds of sins, even the most serious ones, can approach the elders who will pray for them and treat them in a merciful way, with the result that their sins will be forgiven. As Christians, we have many close friends in the congregation, and we can approach them and confess our sins to them and get help from them.

One issue that has been overlooked by the members of the Governing Body but which has been presented in this study is the role of women. Members of the congregation can confess their sins to women, and there is good evidence in the Christian Greek Scriptures that women were ministerial servants in the congregations in the first-century evt. So, there is an unused resource — all the faithful female servants of God — who can be used to a greater extent.



Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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