Following are statements made in the Bible and in the publication Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education that demonstrate that Jehovah's Witnesses are indeed taught to use every tool at their disposal, including questioning others in the congregation and reviewing secular texts. (In fact, all who attend the Theocratic Ministry School are expected to familiarize themselves with the latter book and which we have studied in the meeting. Each member studies the assigned Bible reading and has a chance to discuss portions of the Bible in the school each week and are given opportunities to express their thoughts on those scriptures and their research on them.)
Afterward are quotes from other publications that further encourage careful independent research, questioning and using their critical thinking. Besides these, the Watchtower also has a section in most issues called "Questions from Readers" that demonstrates that the organization welcomes questions and has people available to answer them.
However, what you will not find here are statements that encourage challenging the beliefs of other Jehovah's Witnesses. Questions are good, but a heart motive can indicate an agenda and self-importance resulting in pushing one's own ideas rather than seeking answers. When one relies upon their self to make doctrinal changes in the organization, they put themselves above Jehovah God, as it is faith in Jehovah that moves mountains, not faith in ourselves. (Matthew 21:21-22; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2 Corinthians 4:7) One who has faith will wait on Jehovah and has no need to force others to conform to their ideas. (Proverbs 24:21-22; Ecclesiastes 7:8)
The statements that clearly indicate our need for independent research, questioning and using our thinking abilities appear in red.
"My son, if you accept my sayings and treasure up my commandments with yourself, by making your ear attentive to wisdom, and inclining your heart to discernment; moreover, if you call out for understanding and raise your voice for discernment, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and you keep searching for it as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the knowledge of God."
". . . They accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily too see whether these things were so."
"Therefore I appeal to you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason. And stop being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
"Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine."
"Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired statement, but test the inspired statements to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
"If a thought is new to you, spend a little extra time on it to be sure that you understand it well." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Study", p. 29 par. 1
"As you consider the material, look up the cited scriptures. Analyze how each scripture relates to the general thrust of the paragraph.
"You may encounter points that you do not readily understand or that you would like to explore more thoroughly. Instead of letting them sidetrack you, make a note to give these further consideration later. . . . Rather than simply passing these by, it may be wise to do research on them after you have finished what you started to study." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Study", p. 29 pars. 2-3
"What is research? It is a careful search for information about a particular matter. It includes reading, and it requires the application of the principles of study. It may also involve interviewing people.
"What circumstances call for research? Here are a few examples. Your personal study or Bible reading may give rise to questions that are important to you. Someone to whom you witness may raise a question on which you would like to have specific information for a reply." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 33 pars. 2-3
"Finally, what research tools are available to you? In addition to what you have at home, are there more in the library at your Kingdom Hall? Would brothers who have been serving Jehovah for many years be willing to let you consult their research tools? Is there a public library in your area where reference books can be used if necessary?" —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 34 par. 2
"If your research project involves the meaning of a scripture, start with the Bible itself.
"Examine the Context. Ask yourself: ‘To whom was this text directed? What do the surrounding verses indicate as to the circumstances leading up to the statement or the attitude of the people involved?’ Such details can often help us understand a text..." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 34 pars. 3-4
"People are a rich source of information. When Luke was compiling his Gospel account, he evidently gathered much information by interviewing eyewitnesses. (Luke 1:1-4) Perhaps a fellow Christian can shed light on a matter on which you have been endeavoring to do research. . . . Conversing with people may also reveal what they are thinking, and this can help you to prepare material that is truly practical." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 37 par. 4
"There is a special need to be cautious if you choose to compile information from secular sources. Never forget that God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17) Jesus occupies the key role in the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Therefore, Colossians 2:3` says: “Carefully concealed in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Evaluate the fruits of your research from that perspective. With regard to secular research, ask yourself: ‘Is this material exaggerated, speculative, or shortsighted? Was it written with a selfish or commercial motive? Do other authoritative sources agree with it? Above all, does it harmonize with Bible truth?’" —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 38 par. 3
"Research takes effort, but doing it will help you to find God’s thoughts on matters, to correct mistaken ideas, and to make firm your grasp of the truth." —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "How to Do Research", p. 38 par. 4
"As you examine the material, stimulate your own thinking by asking such questions as what? why? when? where? who? and how? For example: Why is this true? How can I prove it? What popular beliefs make it hard for some to grasp this Bible truth? Why is it important? How should this affect a person’s life? What example demonstrates the benefit of applying it? What does this Bible truth reveal about Jehovah’s personality? Depending on the material you are discussing, you might ask: When did this occur? How can we make practical application of this material today?" —Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, "Study 42—Informative to Your Audience", p. 231 par. 3
"But where can reliable information be found? While the Internet is a convenient and quick source of vast amounts of information, our researchers do not rely on blogs or poorly documented Web entries written by unidentified or unqualified persons. For example, Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, warns that some articles on its own site “contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism,” adding that “users need to be aware of this.” Thus, the Writing Department looks to standard reference works, articles written by recognized experts, and books produced by respected publishers.
"The Writing Department itself has a comprehensive library with thousands of books. Additionally, our researchers make use of nearby public and academic libraries. They can also obtain specialized material from other sources by means of interlibrary loans. One of the large university libraries that our researchers use has some five million books, 58,000 periodicals, 5.4 million microforms, and thousands of electronic databases. The Writing Department also maintains a large archive of clippings, experiences, and historical information that is constantly being updated with material from local sources as well as from our branch offices around the world.
"Of course, it is as Ecclesiastes 12:12 reminds us: “To the making of many books there is no end.” Even reputable sources may contain false information. So how do we check for quality, accuracy, and reliability?
"Take, for example, the following statement in the brochure Was Life Created? about spider silk being one of the strongest materials on earth: “If enlarged to the size of a football field, a web of dragline silk 0.4 inch thick with strands 1.6 inches apart could stop a jumbo jet in flight!” Although the source for this statement was a reputable science magazine, it was not the original source, and the original source was ambiguous. Therefore, it became necessary to contact the researcher who made the original statement and check how he reached this conclusion. Our researchers also had to find the formula and the information needed to calculate for themselves what impact a jumbo jet might have on a spiderweb the size of a football field. Many hours of research and meticulous calculations eventually confirmed the accuracy of this astounding piece of information.
"At times, though, even a seemingly reputable source may fail to corroborate details adequately. For example: Gandhi has been quoted as saying at his ashram (religious retreat) to Lord Irwin: “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.” However, a thorough investigation of this statement revealed that there is no evidence that Lord Irwin ever visited Gandhi at his ashram, raising unanswered questions about where, when, and whether Gandhi made this statement. Hence, our publications do not use this particular quote anymore.
". . . Then, too, a brother may state in his experience that he was baptized in San Francisco on a specific date. Careful scrutiny, however, might reveal that there was no convention or assembly on that date in that city. How can such a discrepancy be reconciled? Individual memories can at times be fragile. While the brother would probably not get confused about the place of his baptism, he might not accurately recall the date of the event. It is usually possible to confirm the accuracy of details by cross-checking various sources of information.
"In summary, the Writing Department insists on using only material that is accurate and truthful, even regarding seemingly insignificant details. As a result, “the faithful and discreet slave” can consistently supply spiritual food that brings honor to “the God of truth,” Jehovah.—Ps. 31:5." —2011 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, Highlights of the past year, pp. 9-13.
"Using another person’s research for a talk or for other meeting preparation really defeats the purpose of personal study. Is it not your desire to build up your own personal faith in God’s Word? Based on personal conviction, you can then make public expression of your faith—in your talks, in comments at the meetings, and in the field ministry. (Rom. 10:10) Using another person’s research does not fit the description given at Proverbs 2:4, 5 to personally ‘keep seeking and searching for the very knowledge of God as for hid treasures.’
"For example, when looking up scriptures in your own copy of the Bible, you can briefly review the context of each scripture. You can ‘trace all things with accuracy,’ as did Luke when he wrote his Gospel. (Luke 1:3) The extra effort will also help you to be skillful in looking up scriptures in the ministry and when giving talks. Many have stated that they are impressed with Jehovah’s Witnesses because they know how to use their Bibles. The only way that this can apply to us is if we make it a practice personally to look up scriptures in our own Bibles." —Kingdom Ministry, November 1999, "Use of the Internet—Be Alert to the Dangers", p.5 pars. 22-23
"When fresh understanding of the Scriptures is opened to us, do we not feel happy because of the way it strengthens our faith? That is why Bible study, more so than mere reading, can be such a joy. Therefore, when you read Christian publications, ask yourself: ‘How does this explanation compare with what I previously understood about the subject? What additional Scripture texts or arguments can I think of that would provide further support for the conclusions being presented in this article?’ If further research is required, make a note of the question you would like to have answered, and make it the subject of a future study project.
". . . As you study, make notes either in your personal copy of the Bible or on a sheet of paper so that your study will have lasting benefit for you and those you are able to help." The Watchtower, November 1, 2007, "Searching Into 'the Deep Things of God'" p. 30 par. 14-p. 31 par.15