This past Tuesday I went to the Jehovah's Witnesses book study that I regularly attend at the local Kingdom Hall. If you are unfamiliar with Jehovah's Witnesses, every Kingdom Hall (thats the name of their churches) does the same book studies, same sermons, same hymns, etc. In other words, every Kingdom Hall book study all over the world is currently studying the book of revelation. In fact, as far as I know, every Kingdom Hall all over the world is currently finishing up chapter 17 of the Watchtower publication, Revelation; Its Grand Climax at Hand!
But that's not what I intend to discuss here. I want to discuss the Jehovah's Witnesses' interpretation of Revelation 6:9-11 in light of their belief that man has no immaterial "soul" that is separate from the body. Yes, you heard correctly; they don't believe that men have souls. Well, ok, they believe that men have "souls" but in the sense that man is a soul. In other words, to the JW, the "soul" is the same thing as the "body." When the body dies, the soul dies. Make sense? Great. Let's continue.
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. (Revelation 6:9-11)
You might be asking yourself, "Mike, what does this verse have to do with the JW's belief about the soul?" First, look at verse 6. It speaks of "souls who had been slain." Now, let's be fair to the JW; just because the word "soul" is used doesn't necessarily mean that it is an entity that is separate from the body. It just means that the word needs to be analyzed in light of its context.
I'll agree that if we isolate this verse, it would be difficult to defend either position. But I do have a question for the JW; how did these "souls" get into heaven? Were they resurrected spiritually or physically? To the reader, understand that JW's don't believe that there are physical bodies in heaven; all heavenly beings are spiritual and immaterial. So the only consistent way for the JW to understand this verse is that, whatever is in heaven, it is dead. In other words, when someone dies, they are dead. The "soul" doesn't live on.
But the real problem comes when we get to verse 10, "they cried out." Do dead men "cry out?" Metaphorically, you could say so. Read the explanation given in the Watchtower publication referenced earlier,
How can their souls, or blood, cry out for vengeance, since the Bible shows that the dead are unconscious? (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Well, did not righteous Abel's blood cry out after Cain murdered him? Jehovah then said to Cain: "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10, 11; Hebrews 12:24) It was not that Abel's blood was literally uttering words. Rather, Abel had died as an innocent victim, and justice called out for his murder to be punished. Similarly, those Christian martyrs are innocent, and in justice they must be avenged. (Luke 18:7, 8) The cry for vengeance is loud because many thousands have thus died.--Compare Jeremiah 15:15, 16. (Revelation; Its Grand Climax at Hand! pg. 101)
At the face of it, this argument seems to be a sufficient explanation if we left it there. But like all Bible verses, there are more that follow (except for the end of each book). Verse 10 follows with not just a mere "crying out"; there are actual words that are uttered, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Can such a thing be likened to Abel's blood that "cried out"? Did Abel's blood utter any words? Of course not. But this situation is completely different. Not only do these souls cry out, but it says that they cried out with "a loud voice." And when someone cries out with a loud voice, what always follows: sound. But not just sound in this case, but a full sentence. I don't know how much more clear this could be. These are the souls of those who had been slain; souls that are a separate entity from the body.
But it doesn't stop there. Check out verse 11. These souls were given robs, were told that they should rest for a little while longer (referencing the future resurrection) until their brethren had been killed also. So why would robes be given to dead, immaterial souls and be told that they should continue resting until their brethren had been killed? Ok, i'll grant that there probably are instances where dead men are spoken to who can't hear (can you give me any examples?), but which position is more consistence in light of these verses?
I hope my argument makes sense. And I also hope that I have correctly represented the Jehovah's Witness position. If I haven't, please correct me and explain your position in light of these verses.