Can Former JW Apostates Repent?


We received an interesting email from a listener to an interview on Issues, Etc. The listener, while generally appreciative of the interview, raised an objection to the point that – according to Watchtower Society doctrine and practice – apostates cannot repent and therefore have “no hope.” The listener claimed that, in reality, the Watchtower Society does allow repentant former apostates to be reinstated into the organization.

This is a very important point and, as we shall see, has some basis in Watchtower thought (both among rank-and-file Publishers and from the Society itself). Nonetheless, in the end the Watchtower Society’s position that apostates are largely – if not entirely – incapable of repentance ultimately renders the possibility of reinstating former apostates to be irrelevant.

It is true that some Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a thoroughly repentant apostate could be reinstated as a Jehovah’s Witness. The Society itself lends some credence to this belief; for example, The Watchtower issues in April of 1982 and 1983 refer to “unrepentant apostates” being destroyed by Jehovah.

We should note, though, that we’ve never encountered an elder or ministerial servant who would make such a claim, nor have we ever met a Witness in good standing who had previously been disfellowshipped for apostasy (we’ve only heard apocryphal, unnamed references to the alleged existence of such people).

Where the issue comes in is with the Watchtower Society’s interpretation of Matthew 12:31-32, which we’ll quote from their New World Translation:

On this account I say to YOU, Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come (you can see a parallel passage in Luke 12:10).

The Society is clear on this point: “Jesus said that ‘blasphemy against the holy spirit’ was unforgivable. And Paul said that there is no sacrifice for sins left for one who practices sin willfully despite knowing the truth. (Luke 12:10; Hebrews 10:26, 27)” (“Questions from the Readers,” The Watchtower, 5/01/96); interestingly, this passage comes within the context of saying that child molesters can be reinstated.

There are countless quotations from Watchtower publications that link apostasy to Matthew 12 and Luke 12, so there is no need to recount them here. What is at issue, though, is how the Watchtower Society views the spiritual condition of apostates. While the Society does refer to “unrepentant apostates,” does this mean they believe it’s possible for an apostate to repent, and therefore to return to “the Truth?”

This can be answered with this quotation from The Watchtower.

Apostasy is, in reality, a rebellion against Jehovah. Some apostates profess to know and serve God, but they reject teachings or requirements set out in his Word. Others claim to believe the Bible, but they reject Jehovah’s organization and actively try to hinder its work. When they deliberately choose such badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of their makeup, then a Christian must hate in the Biblical sense of the word those who have inseparable attached themselves to the badness (The Watchtower, 10/01/93, p. 19; the Society also uses the exact phrase, “when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of his makeup” in the 7/16/61 issue of The Watchtower).

The Society’s position is clear: apostasy is a thorough corruption of the individual; indeed, it becomes “an inseparable part of his makeup.” Therefore, while it might be argued that the Society may hold open the remote possibility that it’s theoretically possible for an apostate to repent, the Society nonetheless sees most (if not all) apostates as incapable of repentance. This is why this author, like most Jehovah’s Witnesses, was explicitly taught that apostasy is the unforgivable sin.