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I. Historical Background
A. 'Pastor' Charles Taze Russell (1852--1916)
1. An Evangelical Turned Skeptic (1852--68)
a. C. T. Russell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
b. Russell attended Presbyterian and Congregational churches as a child.
c. By the time Russell was sixteen years old he had become a skeptic,
primarily because he was unable to accept the doctrine of hell.
d. Russell founded the religion now known as Jehovah's Witnesses.
2. Adventist Period (1869--78)
a. Adventism in Russell's day
(1) William Miller predicted that the return ('advent') of Christ would occur in 1843. When this did not happen, he changed the predicted date to 1844. When Christ failed to return in
1844, some of Miller's followers believed that Christ had done something crucial in 1844 but had done it invisibly in heaven.
(2) Some Adventists went on to form the Seventh-day Adventist
(3) Most Adventists, like the SDAs today, rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment. They taught instead that hell was really just another word for the grave, and that death is the annihilation of the person.
(4) Some Adventists in Russell's day also denied the Christian doctrines of Christ's divinity and the Trinity.
b. Russell's Adventist associations
(1) Jonas Wendell (1869--75)
In 1869 Russell attended a lecture on hell given by Advent
Christian Church leader Jonas Wendell. Relieved that there was no eternal punishment, Russell's faith in the Bible was restored.
At eighteen he formed a Bible study group whose members, known as 'Bible Students,' soon came to call him
(2) Nelson H. Barbour (1876--79)
Barbour helped convince Russell that what Christians usually called Christ's second coming was actually a second, but invisible and spiritual, presence that had already begun in 1874.
The two men collaborated on a book entitled Three Worlds, or
Plan of Redemption, which made their prophetic theories public.
In early 1879 Russell and Barbour parted over doctrinal differences,
one of which was Barbour's failed speculation that the church would go to heaven in April 1878.4 Thereafter Russell distanced himself from the Adventists.
3. The Watch Tower (1879--1916)
a. In 1879 Russell launched his own work with the publication of the first issue of Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence.
(1) The magazine focused on the teaching that Christ was already present and had been since 1874.
(2) Russell taught that Christ's 'presence' would climax in 1914
with God's judgment on all human nations (the end of the
'Gentile times') and the establishment of the kingdom of God.
b. In the 1880s Russell established the Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society of Pennsylvania and the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society of New York. The latter corporation, based in Brooklyn, is the international headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses.
c. Russell died in 1916, believing that the 'Gentile times' had ended in 1914 and that World War I was Armageddon.
B. 'Judge' Joseph F. Rutherford (1869--1942)
1. Transition to Power (1916--19)
a. After Russell's death a brief period of confusion followed as various factions struggled for control of the Society.
b. Rutherford, who had been the Watchtower's legal counselor since
1907, was elected the second president of the Society.
c. Rutherford immediately consolidated his control of the organization and forced out several prominent leaders of the Bible
d. At least two major splinter sects were formed as a result: the
Layman's Home Missionary Movement and the Dawn Bible
Students Association (see Part I, Section III, D.2 below).
e. The Bible Students had speculated that Armageddon would end by
1918. Although World War I did end in 1918, it proved not to be
2. From Bible Students to Jehovah's Witnesses (1919--42)
a. In 1931 Rutherford adopted the name 'Jehovah's Witnesses' for the organization.
b. In 1939 the Society changed the name of its flagship publication from Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence to The
Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom.
c. These name changes reflected several developments. Most significantly,
it reflected the Society's abandonment of most of Russell's chronology.
(1) The Society was forced to reckon with the fact that World War
I had failed to be Armageddon. They had no choice but to quietly abandon Russell's teaching that Christ's 'presence' had become a reality in 1874.
(2) Instead, the Society began teaching that Christ's presence was a period of time beginning, rather than ending, in 1914.
(3) The Society made this change only after every effort to extend the chronology beyond 1914 had failed (the most notable being Rutherford's claim that 1925 would mark the final date for worldly powers and the resurrection from the dead of
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others).
C. Nathan Knorr (1905--77)
1. From Personality Cult to Institutional Religion a. Knorr succeeded Rutherford as president of the Watchtower
Society in 1942.
b. The leadership of the Society was placed into the hands of a board known as the Governing Body.
c. The Society now published its books anonymously (previously the books had carried either Russell's or Rutherford's name).
2. Training and Tools a. Under Knorr's leadership the Witnesses were equipped with much more sophisticated Bible study tools.
(1) The main tool was their own translation of the Bible, the New
World Translation (NWT). Jehovah's Witnesses consider the
NWT to be the only reliable modern translation. Hence,
throughout this book biblical quotations are taken whenever possible from the NWT (with mistranslations indentified where appropriate).
(2) Another important work was the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (abbreviated KIT). This book contains a legitimate, scholarly Greek text of the New
Testament on the left side of the page, with the Society's wordfor-
word rendering underneath the Greek words, and the text of the NWT on the right side of the page.
b. Witnesses were also trained to speak conversationally about the
Bible with prospective converts.
3. The 1975 Debacle a. In the 1960s Watchtower publications began presenting the theory that the year 1975 would mark 6,000 years since the creation of
Adam and Eve. Its publications strongly suggested that
Armageddon would take place in or about that year.
b. Many Witnesses sold their homes and quit their jobs to devote themselves to full-time witnessing efforts.
c. During 1975 the Society backed away from the date; many
Witnesses became disillusioned after 1975, though the majority remained faithful.
D. Frederick W. Franz (1893--1992)
1. Franz as Chief Theologian a. Fred Franz was the premier theologian for the Watchtower
Society during Knorr's presidency.
b. When Knorr died in 1977, Franz became president of the Society.
c. Although not professionally trained in biblical studies or theology,
Franz was far more knowledgeable in these areas than any of this three predecessors.
d. Under Franz's leadership the Witnesses learned to express their beliefs in more biblical and evangelical-sounding language.
2. The 1980 Shake-up a. In 1980 the Society forced out several prominent leaders for alleged disloyalty to the organization. Among these was Raymond
Franz, who was Fred Franz's nephew and a member of the
b. Several factors caused the shake-up.
(1) The 1975 debacle had prompted many Witnesses to abandon the Watchtower's chronology.
(2) Some leaders, including Ray Franz, rejected the Society's teaching that only 144,000 Christians will be 'born again.'
c. Ray Franz was forced off the Governing Body and later 'disfellowshipped'
(excommunicated) for eating a meal with an ex-Witness
(who happened to be his employer and landlord).
3. Franz's Death a. Fred Franz died in December 1992.
b. Franz was replaced by Governing Body member Milton G.