Although most religious groups know their own history better than outsiders, this is not true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Watchtower publications slant their historical accounts so as to present the religion in the best possible light, and JWs are forbidden to read opposing viewpoints.
So far, there are only two official Watchtower books that contain a detailed history of the JWs- Jehovah’s Witnesses in The Divine Purpose (1959) and Jehovah’s Witnesses-Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993). Though the latter is a more sanitized version of the former.
In their desperate bid for a quasi-history, JWs resort to flights of fancy:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have a history almost 6,000 years long, beginning while the first Adam was still alive…[Abel was] the first of an unbroken line of Witnesses…Jesus and his disciples were all Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Divine Purpose, 8-9).
In fact, the Jehovah’s Witness religion was founded by Charles Taze Russell (1856-1916). He was born in Pittsburgh and was raised as a Presbyterian and Congregationalist. At the age of 16, he rejected the doctrines of his denomination (particularly predestination and hellfire) and doubted the existence of God. At this point, he came under the influence of some early Adventists such as Jonas Wendell, George Storrs (who influenced his belief in “soul sleep” and earth paradise) and N.H. Barbour and worked as an editor of an Adventist magazine.
Russell bought into the false teaching that was circulating at that time, that Jesus would return physically in 1874. Though he modified his view to an “invisible presence”, he concluded:
“Though the manner in which they had expected Jesus was in error, yet the time…was correct and that the Bridegroom came in the Autumn of 1874” (Watchtower Oct/Nov 1881, 3).
By calculating the measurements of the pyramids of Egypt, he arrived at 1914 as the date in which the Golden Age would start. Jehovah’s Witnesses still hold to this date as the date when Jesus returned invisibly and began to rule.
In 1879, Russell left the Adventists and began publishing his own newsletter called Zion Watch Tower and the Herald of Christ’s Presence. In 1884, he, along with his “Bible student” followers incorporated the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society. He wrote 7 volumes of books called Studies in the Scripture. These works form the basis for what JWs today believe. Russell claimed that if people study the Bible without his books, they will go “into darkness”, otherwise they “would have the light of the Scriptures” (WT Sept 15, 1910, 299). Yet this man himself wasn’t free from strife, perjury, deceit and a messy divorce- signs of darkness I would say.
After Russell’s death on October 31st, 1916 he was succeeded by Joseph “Judge” Rutherford, a skilled lawyer who kicked 4 out of the 7 members Governing board of the Watchtower out of their positions and changed the policy into democracy. He ruled the Watchtower society with an iron hand, intensified Watchtower attacks against Christendom, changed their name from “Bible Students” to “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and increased their door-to-door and publishing work. He challenged clergy men to debates and was the first to demand total allegiance of every JW to the Watchtower society because: “…angels are delegated by the Lord to convey his instruction to the members of his organization on earth. Just how this is done is not necessary for us to understand” (WT Dec 1, 1933, 364).
This is why even till date, the Watchtower Society controls the thinking of all Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Rutherford predicted that in 1925, the earth would change to paradise and “the princes” (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc) would return to earth (Millions Now Living Will Never Die! 1920, 89-90). A house called Beth Sarim was built for these “princes” in California. But this prediction failed, and the house was quietly sold later on. Reflecting on this, he said “I made an ass of myself” (WT Oct 1, 1984, 19).
After Rutherford’s death, Nathan Knorr (1942-1977) became president. He refined their internal structures, established missionary training schools and facilitated the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (completed in 1961). JW membership increased from 115,000 to 2 million at the time of his death.
He was succeeded by Frederick W. Franz (1977-1992). He also worked on the New World “bible” even though he had no rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew or Greek. In a court of law at Edinburgh, he failed a simple Hebrew test. JWs today are told to trust this poor, biased work as the most accurate translation of the Bible.
Currently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have totalled up to more than 8 millions in over 240 lands, but the history of JWs shows that the religion is built on sinking sand. Witnesses who objectively research their history must admit that: “Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit” (Jer. 16:10).