History of the Jehovah's Witnesses

Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916)

Led a Bible study group in the early 1870s. As a result of their studies, the group came to believe


1879 - First issue of Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence published ( www.watchtower.org )

1880 - 30 congregations in 7 states

1881 - Zions' Watch Tower Tract Society was formed ( www.watchtower.org )

1884 - Zion Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society incorporated, with Russell as president.

1888 - 50 people were witnessing door-to-door full time, handing out Bible literature ( www.watchtower.org )

1896 - Dropped "Zion" from the name

1909 - Headquarters moved to Brooklyn, New York (current location) ( www.watchtower.org )

By 1909, "Books, booklets, and tracts had been distributed by the hundreds of millions" in many languages. ( www.watchtower.org )

1914 - Day predicted for the Second Coming of Christ. Christ returned invisibly and fought with Satan in a heavenly battle. He was victorious, and now rules the Heavenly Kingdom. Satan was expelled to earth, and his influence was seen in the world wars that followed. The Watchtower website offers several quoted comments noting that the world changed in 1914.

"In 1876 the Bible student Charles Taze Russell contributed the article "Gentile Times: When Do They End?" to the Bible Examiner, published in Brooklyn, New York, which said on page 27 of its October issue, "The seven times will end in A.D. 1914." The Gentile Times is the period referred to in another Bible translation as "the appointed times of the nations." (Luke 21:24) Not all that was expected to happen in 1914 did happen, but it did mark the end of the Gentile Times and was a year of special significance. Many historians and commentators agree that 1914 was a turning point in human history." ( www.watchtower.org )

1916 - Death of Russell, Joseph Rutherford took over as the Society's second president

1931 - Began calling themselves Jehovah's Witnesses (formerly "Bible Students")

"To distinguish themselves from the denominations of Christendom, in 1931 these Christians embraced the name Jehovah's Witnesses. This name is based on Isaiah 43:10-12." http://www.watchtower.org/library/jt/index.htm "Their Modern Development and Growth"

1940 - Banned in Canada

1938-55 - Won 36 out of 45 religion-related court cases- contributed to religious freedom in the US (See http://www.adherents.com/largecom/jw_freedom.html )


More than 700,000 Witnesses go door-to-door spreading the good news and handing out Bible literature. ( www.watchtower.org )

History of the Jehovah's Witnesses - Catholic Answers:


William Miller, flamboyant preacher, predicted end of the world 1843. After 1843 passed, he discovered an error in his calculation and predicted 1844. When 1844 passed, many left Adventist movement. Those who stayed formed Seventh-Day Adventists, led by Ellen G. White.

Charles Taze Russell:

- born 1852, worked in Pittsburgh as haberdasher
- raised Congregationalist, became agnostic at 17
- years later at Adventist meeting was told Jesus would be back any time and got interested in the Bible
- Took the title "pastor," though never finished high school
- Formed Watch Tower in 1879
- Moved headquarters to New York in 1908
- Before religious career flourished, promoted "miracle wheat," which he claimed would grow 5x as well as regular wheat. Sold at $60 per bushel. Actually grew slightly less than regular wheat, established in court when he was sued. Later marketed a cancer cure and a "millennial bean."

Teachings of Russell:

- No hell, annihilation of unbelievers (picked up from Adventists)
- No Trinity - only Jehovah is God
- Jesus = Michael the Archangel
- Holy Spirit is a force, not a spirit
- Return of Jesus in 1914
- When Jesus didn't return in 1914, he said he had returned invisibly. His visible return would happen very soon. Would lead to battle of Armageddon, the final conflict between God and the devil.

Russell died in 1916, was succeeded by "Judge" Joseph Rutherford. - not a judge, but an attorney - took the title because he stood in for a judge once or more. Rutherford raised a Baptist and became legal advisor to Watchtower. Claimed Russell was next to Paul as expounder of the gospel, but later let his writings go out of print in an effort to supplant his writings. Coined slogan "millions now living will never die."

1931 name changed to Jehovah's Witnesses, based on Isaiah 43:10 ("'You are my witnesses,' is the utterance of Jehovah, 'even my servant whom I have chosen . . '" New World Translation). Equipped door to door missionaries with phonographs and records of his voice. Radio program and pamphlets.

Taught that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and prophets would return to earth in 1925. Bought mansion in San Diego to house them named Beth Sarim. Also bought a car to drive them around. Moved into mansion himself, and died there in 1942. Watch Tower quietly sold it years later.

Rutherford succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr (1905-1977), who had joined the movement as a teenager and worked way up through the ranks. Got rid of phonographs and insisted missionaries be trained in evangelism techniques.

Knorr chose an anonymous committee to produce a new translation of the Bible - the New World Translation. By former Witnesses, names have now been disclosed - four of the five had no related training, the fifth had two years of non-biblical Greek. Buttresses JW doctrine through obscure or inaccurate renderings, e.g. John 1:1.

Knorr succeeded by Frederick Franz, JW's leading theologian. Because their tracts had been predicted 1975 for Armageddon, he had to find an explanation when it did not happen. The year 1975 was based on the premise that Adam was created in 4026 BC and that humankind would endure for 6000 years. This is based on the pattern of creation - each of the six days is 1000 years, and the beginning of the end would occur on the seventh "day." Simple arithmetic, then, yields 1975. Franz' solution was to modify the premise slightly to say that Christ would come 6000 years after Eve's creation. Since we don't know for sure how long Adam lived before Eve was created, it could be months or even years after the predicted date of 1975. This gives it a more indeterminate date, but it still can't be far off, since millions who were alive in 1914 would still be alive to see the events.

What will happen at the end? Jehovah will defeat the Devil and the elect will rule in heaven with Christ. They will be sprit beings. This is only 144,000 people, based on a literal interpretation of that number in Revelation 7 and 14. The other faithful (JWs) will live on an earthly paradise in resurrected bodies. Unbelievers will be annihilated.

In 1993, Milton Henschel succeeded Franz. The prophetic doctrine that millions who were alive in 1914 would see Armageddon has been phased out, and it is now just expected "soon," without ties to any particular generation.

Religious Movements Homepage:

Although Charles Taze Russell was born to Presbyterian parents, he joined a Congregational Church at the age of fifteen. Soon, however, he became troubled by certain doctrines such as predestination and eternal punishment. At the age of seventeen he was a skeptic and disbelieved the Bible (Hoekema, p.223-24).

"Brought up a Presbyterian, indoctrinated from the Catechism, and being naturally of an inquiring mind, I fell a ready prey to the logic of infidelity, as soon as I began to think for myself. But that which at first threatened to be the utter shipwreck of faith in God and the Bible was, under God's providence, over-ruled for good, and merely wrecked my confidence in human creed and systems of Bible misinterpretations." -Charles Taze Russell (Watchtower magazine, 1916)

His wavering faith was re-established in 1870 after dropping in on a Second Adventist Bible study conducted by Jonas Wendell. Soon after this meeting, Russell organized his own Bible study with a circle of friends who came to regard him as their pastor. Although Russell believed that the Second Adventists were "called of God" and he never renounced them (Russell still maintained his association with the Adventists and credits some preachers with teaching him much), a miscalculation concerning the Second-Coming of Christ caused him to re-evaluate Adventist teachings (Hoekema p. 224, Penton, p. 15). In response, Russell, together with his organized Bible study group, determined that Christ's return would be an invisible or spiritual one. He later wrote a booklet entitled "The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return" to describe his new ideas and views on the issue. When he read similar ideas in N.H. Barbour's The Herald of the Morning , Russell joined him in editing the periodical. Both agreed that the Adventists had been mistaken in awaiting Christ in the flesh. In 1877, Russell and Barbour wrote and published Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World (Hoekema, p.224-25; Penton, p.18-19). "This book set forth their belief that Christ's second presence began invisibly in the fall of 1874 and thereby commenced a forty-year harvest period. Then, remarkably accurately, they set forth the year 1914 as the end of the Gentile times..." (found in Qualified to Be Ministers , published in 1955 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). Charles Taze Russell disassociated himself with Barbour, however, a couple of years later over disagreements of theology. He withdrew from the Herald of the Morning magazine and began publishing his own - Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence - in 1879 (Penton, p.23). This periodical proved influential as around thirty congregations were born in seven states after only one year. In 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was established as an unincorporated body. Three years later, it was organized as a corporation (Hoekema, p.225). Some consider the birth of the corporation to be the beginning of the Jehovah's Witness movement, which would set the date at December 13, 1884. The purpose of the society as a corporation was as follows: "the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and by the use of all other lawful means..." (found in Article II of the charter) In 1886 Russell began writing what is now known as the Studies in the Scriptures , a sacred text (Hoekema, p. 225; Penton, p.27). Charles Taze Russell died in October of 1916, leaving Joseph Franklin Rutherford with a solid foundation for the group we now call the Jehovah's Witnesses. It was under Rutherford, in 1931, that the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" was adopted. Russell did not choose a successor, instead Rutherford was elected in spite of opposition (Beckford, p.23). His general acceptance from the group was rocky (many schisms arose), as Rutherford disassociated himself from some of Russell's original ideas and practices (Ibid, p.46). After Rutherford's death in 1942, the previous vice president, Nathan Homer Knorr, rose to the position of president. One of his major accomplishments includes the founding of the Watch Tower Bible School of Gilead in the state of New York. This school is dedicated to equipping missionaries through intense scriptural study and learning evangelistic techniques (Ibid, p.49). Presently, Frederick Franz, who was elected after Knorr's death in 1977, is president of the group. Franz has enjoyed a rather conflict-free tenure in office since his election (Kephart and Zellner, p.285).

WTS falsifies its History

B. J. Kotwall

Perhaps the most frequently repeated lie in the Watchtower Society's (WTS) publications is that from 1876 onwards - 38 years before 1914 - they forecasted that 1914 marked the START of "the conclusion of the system of things".

In support the WTS often quotes the Bible Examiner . This paper was published by one George Storrs (1796-1879) who greatly influenced Charles Russell the first president of the WTS. Russell wrote in the Bible Examiner of 1876 an article called Gentile Times: When Do They End? This article is frequently referred in WTS publications but has never been quoted in full for obvious reasons.

We are quoting below an extract from this article to show that what WTS now says about what Russell actually wrote in 1876 is dishonest. Russell referring to the Gentile Times as a period of 2520 years wrote:

At the commencement of our Christian era, 606 years of this time had passed.which deducted from 2520, would show that the seven times would end in 1914.We will ask, but not now answer, another question: If the Gentile Times end in 1914, (and there are many other and clearer evidences pointing to the same time) and we are told that it shall be with fury poured out; a time of trouble such as never was before, nor ever shall be; a day of wrath etc., how long before does the church escape? as Jesus says, "watch that ye may be accounted worthy to escape those things coming upon the world". Bible Examiner October 1876 pp. 27-28

The fact is that the article by Russell does not and could not have referred to 1914 as the START of the "conclusion of the system of things". Russell firmly believed that "the conclusion of the system of things" (also called the "time of the end") began in 1799, and that Christ came invisibly in 1874 and that the church would "escape" before 1914. It was taught by Russell almost right up to 1914, that 1914 was going to be the END of the "system of things". For example:

We see no reason in changing the figures - nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God's dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble. The Watchtower July 15, 1894 p. 226

.the full end of the times of the Gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in A.D. 1914; and that date will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men . The Time Is At Hand 1889 p. 76-77.

Following are a few extracts from WTS's CD-ROM acclaiming or implying their sham prescience about 1914 marking the START of "the conclusion of the system of things".

Awake! 1973 1/22 p. 8 Of all men used by God to prophesy, Jesus is outstanding. Based on what he said, along with the words of Daniel and John, Jehovah's witnesses pointed to the year 1914, decades in advance, as marking the start of "the conclusion of the system of things."

*See, for example, the Bible Examiner, Vol. XXI, No. 1 (Whole No. 313), October 1876, pages 27, 28.

Awake! 1973 10/8 p.18 So counting from 607 B.C.E. when the Gentile nations gained exclusive domination of the earth, when do those "appointed times" end? The answer is 1914. Jehovah's witnesses pointed to that year as early as 1876 in an article written by C. T. Russell and published in the Bible Examiner. Thirty-eight years later that marked year of 1914 arrived.

Yearbook 1975 p.37 Even earlier, however, C. T. Russell wrote an article entitled "Gentile Times: When Do They End?" It was published in the Bible Examiner of October 1876, and therein Russell said: "The seven times will end in A.D. 1914." He had correctly linked the Gentile Times with the "seven times" mentioned in the book of Daniel. (Dan. 4:16, 23, 25, 32) True to such calculations, 1914 did mark the end of those times and the birth of God's kingdom in heaven with Christ Jesus as king. Just think of it! Jehovah granted his people that knowledge nearly four decades before those times expired.

The Watchtower 1981 2/15 p. 10 Hence, another respected authority (Harold Macmillan) adds his voice to those of numerous statesmen and historians who, in looking back, recognized the significance of the year 1914. Yet, decades before that year arrived, dedicated students of Bible prophecy were able to identify 1914 as a climactic turning point. (The "Bible Examiner," October 1876, pp. 27, 28) These Bible prophecies also reveal that the "generation" that saw the events beginning in 1914 would also see the "conclusion of the system of things."-Matt. 24:3, 7-22, 32-35.

The Watchtower 1983 5/15 p. 16 As early as in the year 1876, in an article that he submitted for publishing in The Bible Examiner, the president had pointed forward to 1914 as the date for "the times of the Gentiles" to end, with serious consequences for the whole world of mankind. (Luke 21:24, Authorized Version) Amazingly, at the time that the president announced to the Brooklyn Bethel family that the Gentile Times had ended, the first world war of all human history was in its 66th day.

Revelation - Its grand Climax At Hand! (1989) p.105 From the mid-1870's, Jehovah's people had been anticipating that catastrophic events would start in 1914 and would mark the end of the Gentile Times.

The Watchtower 1990 10/15 p. 19 For 38 years prior to 1914, the Bible Students, as Jehovah's Witnesses were then called, pointed to that date as the year when the Gentile Times would end. What outstanding proof that is that they were true servants of Jehovah!

Our Incoming World Government (1977) p. 131 Ever since the year 1876 those who became associated with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the International Bible Students Association had been publicly declaring that the Gentile Times would terminate in early autumn of 1914.

What should be remembered is that the present leaders of the WTS have rescued only the phrase "end of the Gentile Times" from pre-1914 WTS publications as can be seen from the above quotations. What they deceitfully do not tell is that 1914 marked, in pre-1914 publications, the end of the world and the ushering in of Armageddon at that time.

The Watchtower says:

A religion that teaches lies cannot be true. The Watchtower December 1, 1991 p. 7

Encyclopedia Britannica:

The name Jehovah's Witnesses was adopted in 1931 by Russell's successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford (Judge Rutherford; 1869-1942), who sought to reaffirm Jehovah (see Yahweh) as the true God and to identify those who witness in this name as God's specially accredited followers. Rutherford equipped members with portable phonographs to play his "sermonettes" on the front porches and in the living rooms of prospective converts. Under his leadership, the democratic polity devised by Russell was replaced by a theocratic system directed from the society's headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Rutherford's policies were continued under his successor, Nathan Homer Knorr (1905-77), who established the Watch Tower Bible School of Gilead (South Lansing, N.Y.) to train missionaries and leaders, decreed that all the society's books and articles be published anonymously, and set up adult education programs to train Witnesses to deliver their own apologetical talks. Under Knorr's direction a group of Witnesses produced a new translation of the Bible. Knorr was succeeded by Frederick W. Franz.


    - "Jehovah's Witness," Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999).
    - "History of the Jehovah's Witnesses," Catholic Answers.
    - Julia Neubauer, "Jehovah's Witnesses," Religious Movements Homepage, University of Virginia (2001).
    - B.J. Kotwell, "WTS Falsifies Its History," Watchtower Information Services.

Article Info

TitleHistory of the Jehovah's Witnesses
Short URLrlft.co/270
UpdatedNovember 10, 2015
MLA Citation“History of the Jehovah's Witnesses.” ReligionFacts.com. 10 Nov. 2015. Web. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016. <www.religionfacts.com/jehovahs-witnesses/history>