Although most religious groups know their own history better than outsiders, this is not true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is mainly because the Watchtower Society (their legal publishing arm) – in a bid to present their religion in the best possible light – slant their historical accounts and forbid Jehovah’s Witnesses from reading 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” (Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, pp. 8-9).
The fact is, 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 Nelson H. Barbour. He also 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” (Zion Watchtower Oct/Nov 1881, 3).
At great expense, Russell travelled to Giza, Egypt and calculating the measurements of the Egyptian pyramids, he arrived at 1914 as the date in which the Golden Age would start. Jehovah’s Witnesses still hold to 1914 as the year when Jesus returned invisibly and began to rule in heaven.
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 seven volumes of books called Studies in the Scripture. These works form the bases for much of the doctrines JWs today believe.
Russell claimed that if people study the Bible without his books, they will go into darkness but if they study it with his books, they would have the light of the Scripture:
“Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan by studying the Bible by itself, but we see also, that if anyone lays the SCRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them … after he has read them for ten years – if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness” (The Watchtower Reprints Sept. 15, 1910, 298-299)
Russell, apart from his numerous false teachings, was involved in many conflicts – both legal and marital. In 1906, he divorced his wife, Maria left her without financial support and even lied under oath in court.
After Russell’s death on October 31st, 1916 he was succeeded by a skilled lawyer named Joseph “Judge” Rutherford. He managed to kick 4 of 7 members out of the Governing board of the Watchtower and changed their leadership policy to democracy.
Rutherford ruled the Watchtower society with an iron hand and intensified Watchtower attacks against Christendom even challenging clergymen to debates.
He gave the Jehovah’s Witness religion a better outlook by discarding some embarrassing teachings Russell taught, as well as some strange ones taught about him.
For instance, it was taught that some degree of direction was coming from the deceased Russell, who according to Watchtower doctrine had been raised from the dead as a “spirit creature”; Russell was said to be “managing every feature of the harvest work.” Rutherford, however, would later recant this view:
“No one of the temple company would be so foolish as to conclude that some brother (or brethren) at one time amongst them, and who has died and gone to heaven, is now instructing the saints on earth and directing them as to their work” (Jehovah, 1934, p. 191)
Rutherford changed their name from “Bible Students” to “Jehovah’s Witnesses“; increased their door-to-door and publishing work and was the first president to demand total allegiance of every JW to the Watchtower organization 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” (The Watchtower Dec. 1, 1933, p. 364).
This is why even till date, the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society controls the thinking, feeling and the overall life of 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 (see Millions Now Living Will Never Die! 1920, 89-90).
A house called Beth Sarim was built for these “princes” in California. But when this prediction failed to materialize, the house was later quietly sold. Perhaps reflecting on this, Rutherford later said “I made an ass of myself” (The Watchtower Oct. 1, 1984, 19).
After Rutherford’s death, Nathan Knorr (1942-1977) became president of the Watchtower Society. He refined their internal structures, established missionary training schools and facilitated the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (which was 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, yet Ws today are told to trust this perverted work as the most accurate translation of the Bible.
Currently, Jehovah’s Witnesses total up to more than 8 million in over 240 lands, but their history alone is proof 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).