Jehovah's Witness Funeral Traditions

Religious/Cultural Traditions

Posted on June 28, 2016 by Morgan Marant

Religious Background on Jehova's Witness

Jehovah’s Witness is a distinct denomination of Christianity. The origins of the religion can be traced back to Charles Russell’s Bible Student movement in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jehovah’s Witness is characterized by a rigid set of beliefs that are millenarian, restorationist and nontrinitarian. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known in western society for their avid, door-to-door preaching and proselytizing of the religion to outsiders. The Church requires devoted adherence from its practitioners. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the soul goes into an unconscious sleep-state after death. The souls of the dead will wait in this condition until the Last Judgment, at which point those “in God’s memory” will be resurrected. Of these, the most “tested and tried” souls will go to Heaven. The others will possibly live forever in a new “paradise Earth.”

Emotional Tone of Jehova's Witness Funerals

Funerals within the religion are typically somber and reserved. Followers mourn the loss of the loved one, but acknowledge that God will resurrect them in the near future. There are no restrictions on how mourners should express themselves, but discretion should be exercised.  

Jehova's Witness Death Rituals

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Elders from the local congregation will usually visit with members that are close to death. They, along with friends and family, should be there to provide comfort and support for the loved one. There are no specific deathbed rituals, aside from prayer and Scripture readings.

Jehova's Witness Views on Organ Donation & Embalming

While it is not expressly forbidden, Jehovah’s Witnesses are rarely allowed to donate organs. This is because the transfer of blood from one person to another – an inevitable outcome of most organ transplants – is strictly forbidden within the religion. Any Jehovah’s Witness who donates an organ (even to save a life) faces “disfellowship” (or disassociation) from the religion. There are no arguments within the religion for or against embalming. Thus, it is an acceptable practice.

Jehova's Witness Method of Body Disposition

Cremation and burial are equally acceptable within the religion. Burial is the traditional method, partially because it was chosen for Jesus. But there is no religious principle that forbids cremation.

Body Preparation for Jehova's Witness Funerals

No special rituals need to be performed on the body in advance of the funeral.

Dress Code for Jehova's Witness Funerals

Funeral goers should wear clothes that conform to cultural norms. Dark-colored formal attire is recommended at funerals in the western world. Men should wear suits and women should wear dresses. This is just a guideline, though. More casual wardrobe choices are acceptable also in most cases.

Jehova's Witness Views on Wakes, Viewings, and Visitations

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the souls of the dead are completely unconscious and have no relationship with the living world. Therefore, the religion does not perceive a purpose for having any sort of wake to say goodbye to or honor the deceased.

Jehova's Witness Funeral Services

The service is abbreviated and modest. A typical service lasts 15 to 30 minutes and usually takes place at a funeral home or a Kingdom Hall, the equivalent of a church for Jehovah’s Witnesses, within a week after death. The body need not be present, and the casket can be opened or closed. The service is led by one of the male elders of the congregation or of the immediate family. This individual will give a sermon that begins with a brief remembrance of the deceased. It’s important to note that this speech is not a eulogy. Afterwards, prayers are said and singing may occur also. It is a sign of respect (but not a necessity) to bring a Bible of your own to the service and to follow along to the several scriptures that the elder speaker reads. Common Bible sources include the Book of John and Ecclesiastes (Chapter 9, specifically). The speaker also typically includes some of the Scriptures favored by deceased.

Jehova's Witness Burial Ceremony

Burial (if chosen) takes place following the funeral service. Any cemetery is suitable and there are no particular rituals that should be performed. That said, another brief session of scripture and prayer led by the elder at the graveside is a common practice among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Jehova's Witness Funeral Reception

Mourners often gather at the immediate family’s house after the funeral to offer their condolences and provide comfort. The gathering should be quiet and restrained, with a focus on peaceful reflection. Feasting and consumption of alcohol are prohibited, but a group meal is usually served.

Jehova's Witness Mourning Rituals and Memorials

Jehovah’s Witnesses consider many modern western celebrations and holidays to be “unclean” rituals that stem from the “false religious practices” of pagan times. Funeral anniversaries are no exception. Jehovah’s Witnesses scorn these memorial events because they imply that something in a person survives death, which is a patently false notion according to the religion. However, it is acceptable for family and friends to visit the grave of the deceased in years to come, so long as the visit is made for their own sake.