History of Jehovah's Witnesses

History of Jehovah's Witnesses

The history of Jehovah's Witnesses dates from 1872 when Charles Taze Russell began to lead a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Originally known as Bible Students, they experienced a major schism in 1917 as Joseph Franklin Rutherford began his presidency. Rutherford gave new direction to the movement and coined the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931.

Following Rutherford's death, Nathan Knorr took over the presidency of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Later, 1975 was heavily stressed as a possible date for Armageddon. In 1976, leadership of the Jehovah's Witness movement began to be directed by a Governing Body.


Nathan Homer Knorr succeeded Rutherford as president of the Watch Tower Society. Known as an efficient administrator, Knorr founded the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead to train missionaries as well as the Theocratic Ministry School to train preaching and teaching at the congregational level.

Knorr's Vice-President Frederick William Franz became the leading theologian, and is believed to have been the principal translator of the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" [Since 1942, Witness publications are produced under a policy of anonymity. Former Governing Body member Raymond Franz claims the translators of the "New World Translation" were Fred Franz, Nathan Knorr, Albert Schroeder and George Gangas. "Crisis of Conscience" (4th ed., 2004), pg. 56. Atlanta: Commentary Press, ISBN 0-914675-23-0.] . Also produced were a Greek-English New Testament interlinear ("The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures") and a Bible dictionary "(Aid To Bible Understanding)". [In 1988 this was replaced by the 2-volume set "Insight on the Scriptures".] The offices of elder and ministerial servant (deacon) were restored to Witness congregations in 1972, with appointments being made from headquarters. ["Jehovah's Witnesses--Proclaimers of God's Kingdom", p. 106] Membership rose from 115,000 to over 2 million under Knorr's leadership.

During the 1960s [The year 1975 was first mentioned in 1966. See, for example, the article "How Much Longer Will It Be?" in the October 8, 1966 Awake!, pp. 17-20.] and early 1970s, many references appeared in Witnesses literature and assemblies suggesting Christ's thousand-year millennial reign would begin by 1975. [See "Witnessing the End" in the July 18, ]


The leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses was reorganized in 1976 and the power of the presidency passed on to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. Subsequent presidents of the Watch Tower Society after Knorr's death in 1977 have been Frederick William Franz, Milton George Henschel and Don A. Adams. However, doctrinal and organizational decisions since 1976 have been made by the Governing Body. ["1977 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses", p. 258] The Writing Committee of the Governing Body now edits all Witness publications. Congregation affairs are under the direction of the Service Committee of the Governing Body. [The various committees were enumerated in the January 1, 1977 "Watchtower", p. 15. They are: Writing, Teaching, Service, Publishing, and Personnel.]

In 1995 changes regarding their understanding of Jesus' comments regarding "this generation" (from Matthew 24:34) were published. [See ”1914 and ‘This Generation’”, pp. 254-272 in "Crisis of Conscience" by Raymond Franz. Available online at: [http://web.archive.org/web/20060208160353/http://users.volja.net/izobcenec4/coc/10.pdf http://web.archive.org/web/20060208160353/http://users.volja.net/izobcenec4/coc/10.pdf] accessed February 12, 2006] Throughout the previous four decades, Jehovah's Witnesses had taught that the generation that saw the events of 1914 would not die out before Armageddon came. ["He shows the beginning of this time and how the troubles increase, and mentions some of the sorrows to fall on the world, during the time of trouble. The length of time is indicated by him when he said, 'Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.' (Matt. 24:34, NW) The actual meaning of these words is, beyond question, that which takes a 'generation' in the ordinary sense, as at Mark 8:12 and Acts 13:36, or for those who are living at the given period. So it was on 'this generation' that the accumulated judgments were to fall. (Matt. 23:36) This therefore means that from 1914 a generation shall not pass till all is fulfilled, and amidst a great time of trouble. Vision of the 'Time of the End', "The Watchtower", July 1951, p. 404] The Witnesses' current teaching regarding the meaning of the term "this generation" is that it simply refers to those who saw the signs of Christ's presence. Jehovah's Witnesses continue to teach that Armageddon is imminent. ["A Time To Keep Awake", "The Watchtower" (November 1, 1995), p. 19 par. 12, and p. 20 par. 15.]


Further reading

Three official histories of Jehovah's Witnesses have been published by the Watchtower Society. The first two are out of print. The most recent one is available in many public libraries and on the "Watchtower Library CD-ROM."

* "Qualified To Be Ministers", pages 297-345 (1955)
* "Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose" (1959)
* "Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom" (1993)

Books by members

* "Jehovah's Witnesses: The New World Society" by Marley Cole. This book received a positive review in the August 15, 1955 "Watchtower": "Much of the material was gathered by personal interviews with witnesses, some of them being officials of the Society. Frequently in the news is something about the religion of President Eisenhower's parents. This book gives the facts often overlooked or concealed, with documentary proof that they were Jehovah's witnesses for many years." Cole was an active Witness and wrote the book in collaboration with Witness leaders. It was also distributed by the Watchtower Society. 229 pages. Publisher: The Vantage Press, 1955.
* [http://www.quotedstatements.com/FOTM.pdf "Faith on the March"] by A. H. Macmillan. Macmillan provides a first-person account of the early history of Jehovah's Witnesses from his meeting of Charles Taze Russell in 1900 to the time of the writing of the book (1957). He served with three of the Presidents of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society: Russell, Rutherford, and Knorr (who wrote the book's introduction). - Publisher: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 57-8528 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1957)
* "A People for His Name: A History of Jehovah's Witnesses and an Evaluation" by Tony Wills, (2006) 2nd edition. (The first edition was published under the pseudonym Timothy White.) The author, a life-long Witness, presents an in-depth look at the Bible Student/Jehovah's Witness movement. He explores its doctrinal growth and shifts and notes schisms from the main body. 300 pages. ISBN 978-1-4303-0100-4.
* "Armed with the Constitution: Jehovah's Witnesses in Alabama and the U.S Supreme Court, 1939-1946" by Merlin Newton. Newton researches the contributions of two Jehovah's Witnesses—a black man and a white woman—in expanding the meaning of the First Amendment in 1940s Alabama. She examines two key U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as court records, memoirs, letters, and interviews of Jehovah's Witnesses. - Publisher: University Alabama Press; Religion and American Culture Series, Reprint edition (June 28, 2002). Paperback: 240 pages. ISBN 0-8173-1228-5
* "O'er the Ramparts They Watched" by Victor Blackwell.
* "Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada: Champions of freedom of speech and worship" by M. James Penton. Penton, who is a professor emeritus of history at University of Lethbridge (and who was a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses), examines the history of legal activities that led to expansion of religious freedoms in Canada. Referenced in the January 1, 1977 "Watchtower", page 11 and the "1979 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses", page 94. - Publisher: Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0-7705-1340-9 (Canada, 1976)

Books by non-members

* "Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah's Witnesses" by Alan Rogerson. Constable. 1969
* "Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses" by M. James Penton. Penton, who is a professor emeritus of history at University of Lethbridge, examines the history of Jehovah's Witnesses, and their doctrines. Read selections from: [http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&id=38SYXalMLeQC&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=apocalypse+delayed&prev=http://books.google.com/books%3Fq%3Dapocalypse%2Bdelayed%26lr%3D&sig=McaOJ75X4EEbvJHEsbwk4dTYk8o Google Book Search] - Publisher: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3 (Canada, 1998)

External links

* [http://www.watchtower.org Official website of Jehovah's Witnesses]
* [http://www.catholic-forum.com/members/popestleo/jwhistory.html Historical publications relating to Jehovah's Witnesses] Sources & articles relating to Watchtower history, from a critical Catholic website
* [http://law.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1606&context=expresso Writing Their Faith into the Law of the Land: Jehovah's Witnesses, the Supreme Court and the Battle for the Meaning of the Free Exercise Clause, 1939-1945]
* [http://www.baycrest.org/If_Not_Now/Volume_2_Spring_2001/7135_7338.asp Purple Triangles: A Story of Spiritual Resistance] - Thorough essay chronicling the persecution lodged against Jehovah's Witnesses by those opposed to their stand in Nazi Germany circa 1933-1945. This document analyzes the early history of this conflict and the endurance of the " _de. Bibelforscher" (as Jehovah's Witnesses were known in this land at the time).
* [http://www.pastor-russell.com Pastor-Russell.com]
* [http://www.jwbrothers.org/category_home.php?cid=Assembly%20and%20Conventions Videos from conventions.]
* [http://www.jwbrothers.org/genre_home.php?cid=District%20Convention Audios MP3 from conventions.]

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