Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses

by Robert M. Bowman Jr., E. Calvin Beisner

This volume of the Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements sheds new light on the intrigue of the Jehovah's Witness movement.See more details below


This volume of the Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements sheds new light on the intrigue of the Jehovah's Witness movement.

Product Details

Publication date:
Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious MovementsSeries Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Jehovah's Witnesses


Copyright © 1995 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-70411-1

Chapter One


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 (SDA) denomination.

(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 "Pastor."

(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. 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 Students.

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 Armageddon.

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 word-for-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 Governing Body.

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. Henschel.

II. Distinctive Practices

A. Personal Ethics

1. Jehovah's Witnesses are prohibited from participating in almost every celebration, Christian or secular, observed in our culture, including the following:

a. Birthdays

b. Christmas and Easter

c. National observances, such as Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving.

d. Other observances, including New Year's Day, Mother's Day, and all other such holidays.

2. Jehovah's Witnesses are prohibited from taking blood transfusions and are taught not to allow their children to receive blood transfusions, even if considered medically necessary to save their lives.

3. Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden to use or regard the cross as a symbol of the Christian faith, and are taught that Christ did not die on a cross but on a simple upright stake.

B. Social Ethics

1. Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden to participate in political affairs: they may not vote, lobby, hold office in any government on any level, salute, or display any government's flag.

2. In keeping with the previous point, and for other reasons as well, Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden to participate in war, even as noncombatants.

III. Vital Statistics

A. Membership Figures

1. Recent Figures

a. "Publishers"

In 1994 the number of Jehovah's Witness "publishers" (active members) worldwide reached over 4.9 million, with almost 950,000 in the United States alone.

b. Adherents

The number of people who adhere to Watchtower religion but are not considered publishers is at least double these figures, judging from the number of people who attend the annual "Memorial" (Lord's Supper service).

2. Growth Rate

a. Worldwide

(1) The growth rate is significant, doubling from 1.1 million in 1965 to about 2.2 million in 1980, and then again to over 4.4 million in 1992.

(2) For years, Jehovah's Witness growth has been most dramatic in Central and South America, Africa, and the Pacific Rim.

b. America

(1) Its growth in the United States has been more modest, rising from about 327,000 in 1965 to 946,000 in 1994.

(2) In 1965 about 3 out of 10 Witnesses lived in the United States; in 1994 only about 2 out of 10 did so.

B. Witnessing Statistics

1. In 1994, Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide invested just over a billion hours in the "preaching work" and baptized about 300,000 persons, including children of Witnesses. This means that the Witnesses devoted an average of almost 3,500 hours for each person baptized-and many of those baptized are not converts but children of Witnesses.

2. Worldwide, only about 1 out of 15 "publishers" made a convert in 1994 (counting baptized children as converts), despite putting in an average of 18 hours a month going door-to-door and standing on street corners to hand out literature. Perhaps this is why every year thousands of Witnesses become discouraged and drop out of the religion.

3. Witnesses are having to work harder to increase their numbers.

a. The average number of hours per person baptized has risen from less than 2,000 in 1970 to almost 3,500 in 1994.

b. The average number of hours spent per year by each "publisher" rose from 156 hours in 1970 to 236 hours in 1992.

C. Literature Distribution

1. Magazines

a. The Watchtower: From 6,000 copies of the original Zion's Watch Tower in 1879, the Watchtower magazine has grown to a circulation of well over 16 million biweekly, and is translated into 120 languages. (This is about as many copies, worldwide, as TV Guide sells weekly in the U.S.)

b. Awake!: The second public magazine of the Society, Awake! has a circulation of nearly 13 million in 75 languages.

2. Books

a. The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life

(1) This 1968 Watchtower book is among the top five books of all time in terms of the number of copies put into circulation.

(2) Ironically, the Jehovah's Witnesses no longer use it, considering parts of it to be "old light" (i.e., superceded by more current interpretations).

b. The Bible

(1) The Society also distributes Bibles, although not in the kinds of numbers as their magazines or study books.

(2) The Watchtower Society has translated parts or all of the Bible into about two dozen languages.

D. Related Groups

1. Circumstances Leading to Splinter Groups

a. Rutherford's presidency

(1) As explained above, the Society suffered dissension after Russell's death and during Rutherford's autocratic rule.

(2) One ex-Witness estimated that between 1921 and 1931 "almost three-fourths of the Bible Students originally associated with the Society in a loose fashion left the Society's supervision" and formed new Bible Student associations. b.


Excerpted from Jehovah's Witnesses Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >