Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses are members of an international denomination who identify themselves as Christian and number over six million. Their headquarters are in New York, USA. It is an international organization known for its extensive preaching and publishing activities, the Watchtower and Awake! religious magazines and the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" being the most prominent.

For details about the similarities and differences between their beliefs and those of other denominations, see Beliefs and doctrines below.



Jehovah's Witnesses believe that some time after the death of the last apostle, the Church generally departed in a "Great Apostasy" from the original faith in major points. Influenced by Restorationism, they believe their faith is a continually improving, imperfect restoration of First Century Christianity. An example in The Watchtower states: "It was the 1900-year-old 'faithful and discreet slave,' [parable--Matthew 24:45] the old Christian congregation, that was entrusted with this precious Kingdom service. . . obedient in its centuries-old commission to be witnesses in the earth . . . the matured 'slave' as represented by a remnant now stood ready for new assignments of service."[1] They teach that this new assignment occurred in 1919 in fulfilment of scripture. Jehovah's Witnesses feel true understanding of the scriptures began to be reassembled by Charles Taze Russell and his associates when they formed a Bible study group in the 1870's in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and had likewise been imperfectly represented since the Great Apostasy in a number of historical Christian groups.

From their beginnings, the "Bible Students" as they were known, focused their evangelizing work on proclaiming that Christ's Second Presence had begun invisibly in 1874. As part of the dawning of the Millennium, Christ was believed to have been enthroned as King in 1878 and the destruction of religious organizations and governments was expected by the year 1914 to be followed by the establishment of a world-wide paradise. Though their interpretation of prophetic dates has changed through the years, eschatology has remained a major focus. To this day, based on their understanding of Bible chronology, they believe that Armageddon is near, and that these are the "End Times", which drives the urgency in their preaching work.

Born into a Presbyterian family, Russell had nearly lost his faith until it was rekindled by contact with some Second Adventists (one of the spiritual heirs of the Millerites). Adventist ministers Jonas Wendell, George Storrs and George Stetson were early influences. In 1876 Russell met Nelson H. Barbour and subsequently adopted Barbour's understanding of biblical chronology. Russell provided financial backing for Barbour and became co-editor of Barbour's magazine Herald of the Morning. Breaking with Barbour in 1879 over the concept of substitutionary atonement, Russell soon began publishing his own magazine Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Known as "Pastor Russell", he formed a legal entity which developed into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania in 1881, and in 1884 it was incorporated with Russell as president. Over several years, many millions of copies of Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence were distributed in several languages to proclaim Christ's presence and the dawn of his Millennium. In addition, his six-volume work, originally entitled Millennial Dawn but later changed to Studies in the Scriptures, established the fundamental doctrines derived from their Bible study. (As a consequence, the Bible Students were sometimes referred to as "Millennial Dawnists.")

In 1914 Russell founded the International Bible Students Association in Great Britain. He died in 1916. In 1917, the movement was divided by schisms, which eventually led those who remained under the leadership of the Watchtower Society to adopt the name of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931, whereas the Associated Bible Students, who rejected the changes in organization and doctrine, kept on until this day to refer to themselves as simply "Bible Students". In 1918, a Bible Student Convention was held independently of the Watchtower Society. At the second convention, a few months later, the Pastoral Bible Institute was founded and began publishing "The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom". The magazine continues to be published today.

Since Russell's death, the organization has seen significant doctrinal changes. Some adherents of Russell's teachings chose to disassociate themselves from the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, believing that after the death of Russell, the purpose of the Society completely changed. Some of these groups still survive today as the Bible Students.

In 1931, while Russell's successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford (also known as "Judge Rutherford"), was president of the Watch Tower Society, those who maintained their association with the Society adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses." This is based on Isaiah 43:10 which reads, in part; "'You are my witnesses,' is the utterance of Jehovah..." (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures).

Under Rutherford, Jehovah's Witnesses experienced rapid growth. Rutherford was known to be bold—some would say inflammatory—in his rhetoric. In his preaching, he coined the phrase "Religion is a snare and a racket" as he heavily denounced the Catholic Church, other denominations, modern Judaism, and national governments. Under his leadership the Society developed a legal staff (which is utilized to this day), and battled successfully in the US and Canadian courts to establish their rights to preach their religion. These legal battles resulted in significant improvements in freedom of speech and religion in the laws of both countries.

Under the leadership of later Presidents, Jehovah's Witnesses have developed a more sophisticated organizational and leadership structure, as well as refined their beliefs.


As of August 2004, Jehovah's Witnesses have a practicing membership of more than 6.5 million, according to data reported in the Annual Worldwide Statistics at the Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses. The site states: "While other religious groups count their membership by occasional or annual attendance, this figure reflects only those who are actively involved in the public Bible educational work." Jehovah's Witnesses have a custom of counting their membership by 'Lands' rather than by countries, indicating separate statistics for regions administered by other countries, such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Taiwan.

These statistics are based on the number of "active members". To be classed as an active member (or publisher), an individual who has first been approved as a publisher must serve at least one hour per month in the preaching work, or 15 minutes per month for elderly members and those otherwise physically restricted. Figures for time spent per month is reported by each publisher and submitted monthly to the Society. In 2004, these reports indicated a total of 1.3 billion hours.

In the United States, an academic study at CUNY based on a telephone survey (American Religious Identification Survey) was conducted in 2001 and estimated there to be 1.331 million adults in the U.S. who self-identify as Jehovah's Witnesses (2001)[2]. Jehovah's Witnesses report over 1 million active publishers in the United States, but because this includes minors, it is not directly comparable to the ARIS numbers. In 1990, a larger but less detailed telephone survey based study (NSRI) at CUNY reported 1.38 million adults in the U.S. who self-identified as Jehovah's Witnesses. While this might indicate a slow decline in U.S. identification with the group, there was an increase in active U.S. publishers over this period. ARIS notes the survey did not cover non-English speakers and small groups with a high proportion of recent immigrant members were likely undercounted. Announced U.S. Witness convention schedules for 2005 include 75 non-English conventions of 227 total.

Jehovah's Witnesses have a small active presence in most countries and are the second or third largest religious group in many countries with a dominant religion. In no country are they a large part of the population, however. Brazil and Mexico are the only countries other than the U.S. where the number of active Witness publishers exceeds 0.5 million. The highest proportion of Witnesses in a country of substantial size is in Zambia, where 1% are active Witness publishers. Growth in most developed countries is slow or negative in recent years but is offset by rapid growth in less developed lands, particularly the former Communist bloc and Latin America.

Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate the Memorial of Christ's death (also known as the Lord's Evening Meal) annually. Worldwide attendance at the 2004 celebration of the Memorial was 16,760,607. This figure includes not only publishers, but inactive members, relatives, visitors and interested persons. In the U.S., 2.3 million people were present. In Zambia over 570 thousand attended, or 1 person for every 22 in the population. Of the approximately 17 million in attendance worldwide, only 8,570 persons partook of the memorial emblems of unleavened bread and wine. These are those who profess they are anointed ones as expressed in Revelation 14:1.[3]

Organizational structure

Main article: Organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses are currently led by a small, ecclesiastical Governing Body. The Governing Body (indirectly through the departments of its various legal organizations) directs the operation of the 111 branches spread throughout the world [4]. Each branch has appointed overseers who travel among various local congregations, spending a week with each and giving spiritual encouragement through talks and one-on-one time spent with members in their public ministry. Within each local congregation, appointed elders organize the congregation's public ministry, and the content and schedule of their five weekly meetings, based on publications and precedents set by the Governing Body. They also recommend via a vote of the elder body "spiritually mature" baptized male members of the congregation for the positions of elder or ministerial servant, requiring the approval of higher leadership. These positions are not obtained via congregational voting, but rather via top-down leadership referred to by the Witnesses as "theocratic".

Elders take the lead in congregational matters, particularly in religious instruction and spiritual counseling, whereas the ministerial servants assist elders in a limited administrative capacity, and they and other Witnesses 'in good standing' often perform the majority of operational tasks for congregation meetings and routine.

The Witnesses do not consider elders to be clergy, though their service includes pastoral activity clergy provide in other Christian denominations. All baptized Witnesses are considered ordained ministers by the Witness brotherhood and obliged to provide religious instruction to others. Spiritually mature Witnesses (men and women alike) are exhorted to the counseling of less mature Witnesses. They may be assigned a newer publisher to assist in ministry, and may be asked to conduct a personal Bible study with another Witness who is spiritually troubled or weak. Males are encouraged to reach out for 'privileges of service' such as becoming elders. Elders are said to be worthy of "double honor," but are held to a higher standard of "irreprehensibility" as overseers than obtains for other baptized "publishers" and are subject to additional discipline including removal. An elder may also be stood down from his position if members of his household are not in good standing.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe the role of the Governing Body corresponds to that of those who met in the Council of Jerusalem, guided by Holy Spirit and directed by Jesus. The description of the Council of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles is often used as an example of how God had a "visible organization" in the first century. From this they reason that God therefore has an organization today.

All members of the Governing Body profess to be "anointed" (see Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses). The number of men who make up the Governing Body has never exceeded seventeen. About 8,500 other Jehovah's Witnesses profess to be anointed but they have no formal role in establishment or modification of the doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses. Unless appointed into one of the various roles described above, they have no position of leadership or authority at all. Women who profess to be anointed have no position of authority.

Beliefs and doctrines

See the related article Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses for additional details.

Jehovah's Witnesses claim reliance on the Bible for their theology, and the scriptures below are commonly used by Witnesses and their organization in their interpretational claims of biblical foundation for their doctrines. Many beliefs and practices are similar to mainstream Christian denominations, yet there are significant differences as well.

Beliefs and practices that can be said to be distinctive of Jehovah's Witnesses include:

  • Prominent use of the biblical name of God as translated in the language of use, for example: rendered Jehovah in English, as Geova in Italian, Yawe in Ateso, Yekoba in Dinka, Iehova in Gaelic, etc. (Psalm 83:18, King James Version)
  • Preaching from "house to house" (Acts 5:42; 20:20, 21)
  • That Jesus is a created being and God's first creation, not the uncreated second person of the Trinity. (See Arianism) (Colossians 1:15; Jude 4; Revelation 3:14, King James Version)
  • The Holy Spirit is not the uncreated third person of the Trinity, but Jehovah God's active force. (Acts 2:1-4)
  • Only Jehovah's Witnesses can correctly be called true Christians. (Watchtower December 1, 1992 pp. 16-17 paragraphs 18-22; The Road to Everlasting Life—Have You Found It? Part 7 "Who Practice the True Religion?")
  • Instead of going to heaven until God creates a new earth, believers cease to exist until God renews this earth.
  • The number of Christians going to heaven is limited to precisely 144,000 where they will rule with Jesus as kings and priests over earth. (Revelation 7:4-8; 14:1-4; 20:6)
  • Jesus is mediator for only the portion of the 144,000 still living. (Revelation 7:4; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25)
  • Teaching authority is only possessed by the portion of the 144,000 still living (remnant), as a group. This group of the "remnant" is also referred to as the Faithful and Discreet Slave.
  • The "remnant" is represented in teaching authority by a Governing Body of very few men who have the equivalent of magisterium regarding interpretation of Bible prophecies.
  • The NT is written primarily for the "anointed" the 144,000 brothers of Christ.
  • The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BC, as opposed to 587/586 BC. Based on belief 70 years transpired from destruction of Jerusalem to return of captives from Babylon. (Jer. 29:10, Dan. 9:2)
  • Jesus invisible enthronement as King of Heaven in 1914 was followed by an inspection period of all so-called Christian Churches and Jehovah's Witnesses were chosen by Jesus in 1919 as the only true Christian organization. (Watchtower May 1, 1993 p. 16, 17 paragraphs 4-8)
  • A "Great Crowd" of Jehovah's Witnesses is now living that will survive the coming battle of Armageddon and have the prospect of living forever on an earthly paradise. (Revelation 7:9-17) Belief that any humans who did not actively side with Jehovah will be killed at Armageddon, without consideration for age. (Ezekiel 9; Insight On the Scriptures Vol. 1 p. 849)
  • An unknown number of dead people from past ages will be resurrected after Armageddon, with the prospect of living forever on an earthly paradise, but those who have already been judged by God will not (such as any killed at Armageddon). (John 5:28,29; John 11:25; Acts 24:15)
  • After Armageddon, Christ will rule for a thousand years, while Satan is abyssed and unable to influence the Earth while it is restored to a paradise. (Revelation 20:1-3) At the end of this time, Satan will be released, and the final judgement will take place during which Satan and all those corrupted by him will be destroyed forever, and evil will never again occur. (Revelation 20:7-10; Revelation 21:1-4)
  • "Abstaining from blood", most notably characterized by the refusal of whole blood transfusions or any of the primary components of blood (plasma, platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells). (Acts 15:20, 29; Genesis 9:4) Taking of any derivatives of blood is left to the conscience (no supporting biblical text). Belief that the only proper use of blood can be decided by God only. That sacred use pertained to the washing of sins by Christ's blood as he died on earth.
  • God has a visible organization, and that this represents the only one true religion. (Matthew 7:13, 14; Ephesians 4:4-6)
  • Neutrality in secular politics and refusal to take part in elections. (Matthew 26:52; John 17:16) [5].
  • Not celebrating common religious or national holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Not celebrating birthdays. (Genesis 40:20-22; Mark 6:19-27)
  • The annihilation of the unsaved (cessation of existence) as opposed to damnation of the unsaved (eternal existence in hell.)
  • The current time is the "Last Days" or "End Times" soon to end. (Isaiah 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13)
  • Prayer to the Father Jehovah only but in the name of the Son. (Matthew 6:9; John 14:6, 13)
  • All members are expected to abide by Bible and unique organizational requirements as understood by Jehovah's Witnesses. Unapologetic violations can result in disfellowshipping, (excommunicated) from the congregation. All Jehovah's Witnesses are expected to shun disfellowshipped, or disassociated individuals (those who leave voluntary).
  • Baptized Jehovah's Witnesses who unapologetically disagree with organizational doctrine are labeled apostate, disfellowshipped, and subsequently shunned by all Jehovah's Witnesses, even family members, except minors living in the same household. (Pay Attention pp. 94, 95) In this case, social contact and normal family ties continue as before, with the exception that the remaining Witness members of the family will not share in Bible study, prayer, or discussions of faith-related matters with the disfellowshipped member.

Once the person has moved out from home shunning is generally practiced. The organization discourages association with disfellowshipped family members living outside the home, but recognizes the need for a certain degree of contact, for instance, to discuss necessary family business, or to provide care for aged parents who are disfellowshipped. In practice, most disfellowshipped persons have very limited association with family members who remain in the organization.

Normally, a Witness would not be disfellowshipped for simply talking to or associating with disfellowshipped close relatives. However, as described in the guidebook given to elders, "Pay Attention to Yourselves and all the Flock" p.103, close relatives of a disfellowshipped person can themselves be disfellowshipped if there is a continuing of "spiritual association" with the disfellowshipped person or if there is "an effort made to justify or excuse the wrongful course" of the disfellowshipped one.

Other than this, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that if an individual will not cease to fellowship with an expelled person, that would be evidence that, by their continued actions, they are supporting the wrongdoer and have made themselves 'a sharer in the wicked works' and so they too must be removed from the congregation, or be disfellowshipped.

Beliefs similar to those of most Christians include:

Beliefs similar to those of many Christians include:

  • Abortion is murder. (Exodus 21:22, 23; Psalm 127:3)
  • Premarital sexual relations are sinful. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
  • Homosexual acts are sinful. (Romans 1:26,27)

Beliefs similar to those of most conservative Christians include:

  • inerrancy of the Bible, with a literal interpretation of the Bible, although believing that Bible writers and characters employed symbology, parable, figures of speech, and poeticism. (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17)
  • Rejection of evolution. (Genesis 1:11, 12)
  • Women cannot be "teachers" in the congregation. (1 Timothy 2:12, 13) While female Witnesses do participate in meeting programs they do not serve in a "teaching" role or one of oversight. ("bishops" and "deacons" in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 as translated in the New International Version).
  • Women should be submissive to their husbands as both are to be to the Christ. Husbands are to have deep respect and love for their wives as they do their own bodies. The husband is the head of the family. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Beliefs similar to those of some other Christians include:

  • Rejection of ritual, including that in the consumption of bread and wine (Eucharist or Lord's Supper). (Matthew 15:1-9)
  • Belief that the soul is mortal, and that death is a state of non-existence. (Ezekiel 18:4) [7]
  • Hell is not a place of fiery torment, but rather the common grave of mankind. (Revelation 20:13, 14)
  • Refusal of military service. (Isaiah 2:2-4; Matthew 26:52; cf. the Peace churches and Quakers)

Beliefs similar to main Protestant teachings include:

  • Rejection of transubstantiation and consubstantiation (of the Eucharist). (John 6:35, 40; 53, 63; 15:1; 1 Corinthians 11:25)
  • All are sinners. (Romans 3:23) (see: Sin)
  • Salvation is by faith and undeserved kindness (grace) of God which compels the Christian to works. Works are evidence of faith and cannot gain salvation. (John 3:16, 36; James 2:14-26; Matthew 7:15-23; Ephesians 2:8-10)

The question of blood

Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept whole blood transfusions.[8] This is based on their understanding of the Bible admonition to "keep abstaining from blood" (Acts 15:28, 29).

Although Jehovah's Witnesses do not take "whole blood" in any form including whole blood transfusions, and do not donate blood, as they believe it must not be stored, they may according to the conscience of the particular individual accept derivatives of blood. Medical Care and Blood - Jehovah's Witness Official Website This includes Hemopure, which is made from cow blood, and PolyHeme a substitute derived from hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. The Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, provides a detailed list of these specific distinctions.

The refusal of blood transfusions is a significant issue among medical professionals and others concerning Jehovah's Witnesses, especially when it involves minor children. In some countries, laws may impose limitations on physicians on the ability to withhold or withdraw blood transfusions or blood therapy from minors, particularly in life-threatening situations; parents who have prevented children under their care from receiving blood therapy in life-threatening situations may face prosecution. Courts have ordered transfusions in some children, often the very young; whereas in other cases they have respected the declared choice of an under-age minor who is able to defend his or her own beliefs to the court in a manner that reflects a mature understanding and without undue influence from the parents.

Pursuit of medical alternatives to blood transfusion in cases involving Jehovah's Witness patients, including the use of erythropoietin to boost the red blood cell count, has afforded opportunities for medical advancement in the field of bloodless surgery.[9]

See also Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses: Medicine and Health for additional information on this subject.
See also the NoBlood forum and wiki focused on the latest advances in blood management and avoidance since 1996.


See Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses for details.

Jehovah's Witnesses have five meetings a week, which are made up of five program parts (totaling approximately five hours). Meetings are held in local Kingdom Halls and private homes. Larger conventions are held usually three times a year in facilities owned or maintained by the Watchtower Society or rented, such as stadiums or auditoriums. Throughout the week, there are also meetings for "field service" (preaching work) where members meet either in homes, or the Kingdom Hall, to organize and pray prior to engaging in door-to-door or other forms of evangelism. On a daily basis, Jehovah's Witnesses are encouraged to meditate on spiritual matters, often by aids such as "Examining the Scriptures Daily," a booklet with a scripture from the Bible and commentary. Before meals, Jehovah's Witnesses commonly say a prayer, either silently when alone or aloud when at a gathering.

Aside from their worship practices, Jehovah's Witnesses are identifiable by what they abstain from. There is a general avoidance of practices considered to have nationalistic or "false religious" roots. These can be such things as singing the national anthem at sporting events, or not saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. They avoid celebrations of birthdays and holidays. Their only officially mandated celebration is the "Memorial of Christ's Death ." Weddings, anniversaries, and memorials at death are also observed. Adhering to these standards of behavior, Jehovah's Witnesses believe themselves to be faithful even in the seemingly small things (see Luke 16:10). The use of distinctive titles in address (such as Father, Pastor, Elder, Reverend, etc. among other groups) is strictly avoided (Matthew 23:6-12). All Witnesses, irrespective of privileges of service, address one and other as "Brother or Sister", often followed by the first or last name of the individual. There are categories of privileges of service (Pioneer, Elder, Presiding Overseer, etc.) which may be used to refer to an individual in reference to those duties, but never as a title or to address him or her.

Jehovah's Witnesses seek to maintain moral and spiritual cleanliness as well as attempting to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing out of a desire 'not to bring reproach on Jehovah's name.' They therefore typically refrain from language or behavior which might be considered offensive. Similarly, their view of sexual behavior reflects conservative Christian views, such as pre-marital sex and homosexual acts as violations of God's law. "Modesty" is heavily encouraged in daily dress, especially at spiritual events, where standards of dress are more formal, varying by country and regional custom (In the U.S., Europe, and most of Asia, this typically consists of formal western business attire). In addition, entertainment with sexual, spiritualistic or violent subject matter is strongly discouraged. Further, though they are nonconformists in some ways, they seek not to appear to be "counter-cultural." They avoid presenting an image that might appear unkempt or unprofessional given local culture and societal norms. Therefore, in certain areas things like beards, long hair or earrings for men, or any dress or grooming for both men and women that is defined by them to appear "rebellious" or "immodest" are seriously discouraged, even outside of spiritual activities. A person violating these standards would risk providing a "bad witness," and would fail to mark him or herself as different from the secular and "false religious" world. This is in keeping with their interpretation of the scriptural admonition at 2 Timothy 2:9,10 (NWT), "Likewise I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works." Note that Jehovah's Witnesses consider this admonition to apply, in principle, equally to Christian men as to Christian women.

Jehovah's Witnesses are known in many lands for their building work. International and regional building teams frequently undertake so-called "quick builds," construction of Kingdom Halls over the course of one or two weekends. Larger construction projects, including the building of regional Assembly Halls and Bethel office, factory, residence, warehouse, and farm facilities, are also carried out almost entirely by volunteer members.

The Witnesses are noted for their racial and ethnic integration. In the United States an academic study (ARIS 2001) by CUNY put the proportion of blacks among adults who self-identified as Witnesses at 37% (the highest proportion among any of the 22 largest religious identifications which make up 90% of the U.S. population). Congregations are organized geographically, and members are encouraged to attend the Kingdom Hall in whose territory they reside, resulting in an ethnic mix generally representative of local population. Anecdotal accounts of Witness outreach across racial lines are a common subject matter for the annual Yearbook of Jehovah's Witness. A notable example is the account of relief efforts to both Hutu and Tutsi Witnesses and non-Witnesses during the genocide in Rwanda and to Congo refugees. "Since 1994, Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe alone have sent more than 190 tons of food, clothing, medicine, and other relief supplies to the Great Lakes region of Africa." This humanitarian aid was not given exclusively to Jehovah's Witnesses. Others also benefited. For instance, the Witnesses distributed medicine and clothing to several primary schools and an orphanage near Goma. The orphanage is home to 85 children.[10]

Jehovah's Witnesses and governments

Main article: Jehovah's Witnesses and governments.

Jehovah's Witnesses exhort their members to obey all the laws, including the paying of taxes, of the country in which they reside, as long as these do not violate 'God's law.' This is in keeping with their interpretation of Romans 13:7:

Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute; to him who calls for fear, such fear; to him who calls for honor, such honor.

It is interesting to note that--in the United States--the various corporate legal instruments of the organization have an income tax exemption as do all "non-profit" charitable organizations. Some other taxes are assessed on various aspects of Witness organizational activities.

At the same time, however, they hold a stance of political neutrality. Examples of this detachment in practice include:

  • Refusal to salute the flag, or sing nationalistic songs
  • Refusal to serve in the military (including defense, or non-combatant roles)
  • Refusal to participate in political processes including democratic ones: voting in government elections, while termed a 'conscience decision' for legal reasons, constitutes an act of disassociation just as does military service. (Watchtower 1 November 1999 pp.28-9)
  • Refusal to hold political office

One area in which Jehovah's Witnesses have influenced public policy is civil rights. The Watch Tower Society from the days of Joseph Franklin Rutherford has utilized the court systems of various countries to defend religious freedoms. In addition, they have occasionally organized letter-writing campaigns to protest "persecutions", most famously those addressed to Adolf Hitler during the second world war and to certain African nations during the 1970s.

According to the book Judging Jehovah's Witnesses, Jehovah's Witnesses have helped to widen the definition of civil liberties in most western societies, hence broadening the rights of millions of people, due to their firm stand and determination. According to the preface to the book State and Salvation: One of the results of the Witnesses' legal battles was the long process of discussion and debate that led to the Charter of Rights, which is now part of the fundamental law of Canada. Other battles in countries around the world have involved the rights to decline military service or martial arts training, to decline to participate in political parties or governmental elections, to exercise free and anonymous speech, to exercise freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, medical self-determination, etc. Witnesses continue to, in their words, "defend and legally establish the Good News" around the world. See the article Jehovah's Witnesses and governments.

While advocating freedoms of expression by religions as organizations, Jehovah's Witnesses view those who freely express religious views that conflict with those they promote as being apostate and to be avoided/shunned. "Persons who deliberately spread (stubbornly hold to and speak about) teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah's Witnesses are apostates." (Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock p. 94 Apostasy)

Jehovah's Witnesses endured intense persecution under the Nazi regime. Actions against the religious group and its individual members spanned the Nazi years 1933 to 1945. Unlike Jews and Sinti and Roma ("Gypsies"), persecuted and killed by virtue of their birth, Jehovah's Witnesses had the opportunity to escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs. The courage the vast majority displayed in refusing to do so, in the face of torture, maltreatment in concentration camps, and sometimes execution, won them the respect of many contemporaries. These events are documented in a movie (available through the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society) called: PURPLE TRIANGLES.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses

Throughout their history, their beliefs, doctrines and practices have met controversy and opposition from the local governments, communities, or religious groups. Many Christian denominations consider the interpretation and doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses to be heresy. In addition, governments from various sides of the political spectrum have considered the religion as a subversive organization, and sometimes even a threat to national security.

Political and religious animosity against them has at times led to mob action and government oppression.

On the milder side, there have been opposition by locals to the building of facilities (such as Kingdom Halls), and the holding of large conventions. In those circumstances, at times the reason is opposition to the religion, but at other times, they are more mundane, such as concerns about traffic congestion and noise.

For more details, see the article Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Jehovah's Witnesses and eschatology

Since their formation in the 1870s, leaders of the organization have sought to identify dates for end-time events such as the enthronement of Jesus as King in Heaven, the return of Jesus Christ, and for the "end of this system of things," culminating in Armageddon.

Early eschatology

The Second Adventists affiliated with Nelson H. Barbour expected a visible and dramatic return of Christ in 1873, and later in 1874. They agreed with other Adventist groups that the "time of the end" (also called the "last days") had started in 1799. Soon after the 1874 disappointment, Barbour accepted the idea that Christ had returned to the earth in 1874, but invisibly. 1874 was considered the end of 6,000 years of human history and the beginning of judgment by Christ. Charles Taze Russell and the group that later was known as Bible Students accepted these views from Barbour. Russell went on to teach that Jesus was enthroned as ruling King in 1878, the harvest of those with the heavenly calling would run from 1874–1914, and that the culmination of Armageddon would occur in 1914 preceded by the gathering of the saints to heaven notes C1. From 1925–1933, the Watchtower Society radically changed their beliefs after the failure of expectations for Armageddon in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, and 1925. In 1925, the Watchtower explained a major change that Christ had now been enthroned as king in 1914 instead of 1878. 1874 was retained as the time of Christ's invisible return until the early 1930s. By 1933, it was clearly taught that Christ had returned invisibly in 1914 and the "last days" had also begun then. Witnesses no longer consider the dates 1799, 1874 and 1878 of any significance today, even though they were foundation doctrines in their time. The idea that the "great tribulation" had begun in 1914 and was "cut short" in 1918 to be resumed at Armageddon was dropped in 1969, though Armageddon is still considered to be "very close".

Other dates proclaimed to be time of God's judgement on humankind and the culmination of Armageddon, were 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925 and 1941. The return of Old Testament men including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was an event anticipated by many Jehovah's Witnesses in the year 1925 based on writings in their Journal, The Watchtower, the book Millions Now Living Will Never Die notes C2, and various other Watch Tower Society publications. In 1929, Joseph Rutherford (the second president of the Watch Tower) built a luxury villa in California called Beth Sarim for the purpose of housing ancient Biblical persons, who were expected to be physically resurrected on earth to join Christ's reign over the earth, even though they had failed to materialize as he had predicted for 1925. Rutherford lived in the villa for until his death in 1942, and in 1948 the villa was sold. notes C3

Throughout its history the Watch Tower Society's claims authority as "God's Prophet", and "God's one and only true channel to mankind" has been historically reinforced into the minds of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the history of the organisation. Its dates for Armageddon were repeatedly classed as "of God,", "God's time to act against mankind", "God's interpretations," and the organization describes itself in a unique and privileged position of "God's one sole channel to Mankind" in giving these dates. To questions the dates validity is often negatively inferred to be questioning God Himself. The organisation has at times denied being "directly inspired", but has also made multiple claims equalling inspiration in their import. These historical dates were never suggested to be the thoughts of imperfect men, or passing and theories of men at the time of their publishing. This is demonstrated clearly in two out of many issues of the Watchtower magazine published by Jehovah's Witnesses: "It is on the basis of such and so many correspondencies-in accordance with the soundest laws known to science that we affirm that, Scripturally, scientifically, and historically, present-truth chronology is correct beyond a doubt. Its reliability has been abundantly confirmed by the dates and events of 1874, 1914, and 1918. Present-truth chronology is a secure basis on which the consecrated child of God may endeavor to search out things to come." (Watchtower, 15 June 1922, p. 187.) "This chronology is not of man, but of God. Being of divine origin and divinely corroborated, present-truth chronology stands in a class by itself, absolutely and unqualifiedly correct."—Watchtower, 15 July 1922, p. 217.


During the 1960s and early 1970s, many Witnesses were stimulated by articles in their literature notes C4 and further encouraged by speakers at their assemblies prior to 1975, to believe that Armageddon and Christ's thousand-year millennial reign would begin by 1975. Although the views of Armageddon and Christ's millennium beginning in 1975 were never fully or explicitly supported by the Watch Tower Society, many in the organisations' writing department, as well as several leading Witnesses, Elders, and presiding overseers in the organisation, heavily suggested that Christ's millennial reign over earth would begin by 1975. While Witnesses have always been encouraged to increase the preaching work, and avoid secular life goals or careers, this emphasis was especially strong prior to 1975.

Some Witnesses gave up good jobs, notes C5 college, scholarships, and some imprudently sold their houses in the hopeful expectation that God's Kingdom would literally be established on earth in 1975 after the biblical Armageddon, encouraged by the Watch Tower Society: "Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end.-1 John 2:17."[11] notes C6 It is worth noting that similar language persists in publications of Jehovah's Witnesses, who still hold that the time remaining in the present system is relatively short, and that having an active share in the preaching work is the best use of a believer's time. Some Jehovah's Witnesses irresponsibly ran up debt believing they would not to have to pay it back, and some unwisely spent their life savings believing that the 1975 date was a certain and unchangeable fact due to the many encouraging Watch Tower articles. notes C7 In spite of the Watch Tower Society's previous admonition that Witnesses should let 'nothing cause them to tire and give out (Watchtower, 15 August 1968, p. 501), there were many who left the organisation (or became inactive) due to the disappointment of Armageddon not coming in 1975, although the majority remained. The large numbers leaving or becoming inactive were seen as baptisms continued at over 100,000 per year (around 200,000 in 1976). However, the organisation still continued to lose more members than it gained for several years after 1975, until 1979 when numbers started to recover and increase again.

In 1980, the Society acknowledged some responsibility of the 1975 incident. "With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting-in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man's existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a build up of the expectation already initiated." —The Watchtower magazine, 15 March 1980 p.17

Recent changes

In 1995 changes regarding their understanding of the statement "this generation" made by Jesus were published. During the previous four decades, the Jehovah's Wittnesses had taught Jesus was referring to the generation living in 1914, which would not die before Armageddon came. "Those persons yet remaining of that generation are now very old. However, some of them will still be alive to see the end of this wicked system." (You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, published 1982, rev. 1989, p154).

As the generation of 1914 dwindled in numbers, the Society used this for many decades as evidence the end was "very near and immediately impending." This doctrine was discarded when the youngest had reached 80+ years old. A "new light" interpretation of "this generation" was then published in The Watchtower magazine of 1 November 1995.[12] At the same time, the Watch Tower Society also changed the expression "the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away" to "the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present, wicked lawless system of things" from the Awake! magazine on page 4.

The Witnesses' viewpoint of the "end of the world" differs from other apocalyptic religions. The Witnesses believe both the wicked and unbelievers will be eternally destroyed along with all "worldly" institutions (governments, non-Witness religions, etc.) and the earth will be restored to a Eden-like paradise with Jehovah as ruler and Jesus Christ as His King. For further discussion of this, see "Beliefs and Doctrines" above.

See also

Further reading

Watchtower publications

See: List of Jehovah's Witnesses literature

Jehovah's Witnesses make vigorous efforts to spread their beliefs throughout the world in a variety of ways, with particular emphasis on the written word. Their literature is published in 410 languages through a wide variety of books, magazines and other publications. Their publications make extensive use of secular references and quotations from the Bible.

  • New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is a modern-language translation of the Bible published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc (a legal entity in the service of Jehovah's Witnesses). This is the Bible translation primarily used by Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Awake!, published in 85 languages, is a general-interest semi-monthly magazine covering many topics from a religious perspective. It has an average circulation of 22.8 million copies per issue.
  • The Watchtower, Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, published in 150 languages, focuses mainly on doctrine. With an average circulation of 26.4 million copies semimonthly, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed religious magazine in the world, and is available in various editions and media formats.

Both The Watchtower and Awake! are published simultaneously in dozens of languages. In addition to the formats mentioned above, both magazines are available in various audio and electronic formats and some of the articles from these magazines are available online. After the end of each year the issues are collected and re-released in a printed annual edition, commonly referred to as a bound volume. In addition to this, the Watchtower Library computer program contains several decades worth of articles for both magazines and is updated on an annual basis. (Until 2003, this was only done biennially.)

New books, brochures, and other items are released from time to time, major releases being announced at their annual conventions. Additionally, a number of audio cassettes, videocassettes, and DVDs have been produced featuring various aspects of the group's beliefs, practices, organization, and history. Some of these also provide dramas based on various Biblical accounts. Recent years have seen a proliferation of material available on their website.

Positive publications

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 0817312285

Faith on the March by A. H. Macmillan. Written by Macmillan in 1957, he provides a first-person account of the early history of the modern day Jehovah Witnesses from his meeting of Charles Taze Russell in 1900 to the writing of the book. He served with three of the Presidents of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society: Russell, Rutherford, and Knorr. - 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 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. Unfortunately, the book is extremely scarce but can be obtained by inter-library loan. - Publisher: The Vantage Press, 1967.

Neutral publications

Jehovah's Witnesses : Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement by Andrew Holden. A British sociologist, attempts to understand the strict and austere Watch Tower Society and its adherents, Jehovah's Witnesses. This is an academic ethnography that draws upon interviews with both adherents and ex-members. - Publisher: Routledge. ISBN 0415266092 (London, New York 2002)

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, examines the history of legal activities that led to expansion of religious freedoms in Canada. - Publisher: Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0770513409 (Canada, 1976)

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. - Publisher: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802079733 (Canada, 1998)

Critical publications

Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, a former Governing Body member of the Watch Tower Society for nine years. This book gives a detailed account of the authority structure, practices, doctrines and decision-making practices Franz experienced while serving on the Governing Body. Franz gives a personal account of the inner conflict between loyalty to God and one's Christian conscience versus loyalty to a religious organization. - Publisher: Commentary Press. 420 pages. Hardback ISBN 0914675249. Paperback ISBN 0914675230. 4th edition (June 2002)

In Search of Christian Freedom by Raymond Franz. A follow up to the book Crisis of Conscience, Franz explores many doctrinal and ethical issues, including the nature of Christian freedom. In it he explores various aspects of the Watch Tower's teachings, doctrines, and claims, comparing and contrasting them with Biblical scriptures. ISBN 0914675168 Publisher: Commentary Press (October 1991, internally updated in 2002)

The Sign of the Last Days - When? by Carl O. Jonsson & Wolfgang Herbst. A case against the Jehovah's Witness belief that the 'sign of the Last Days' began in 1914. Accompanied by historical figures for wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilences from past centuries, detailed world disaster statistics, and Biblical references. ISBN 0914675095 Publisher: Commentary Press (1 September 1987)

The Gentile Times Reconsidered: Chronology & Christ's Return by Carl O. Jonsson. A detailed discussion of the cornerstone belief that the Gentile Times began with the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C. Jonsson considers the origin of this belief and examines several lines of evidence refuting the starting date of 607 B.C. and the methodology for deriving it. ISBN 0914675060 Publisher: Commentary Press (July, 1998, Fourth edition 2004)

Where is the "Great Crowd" Serving God? by Jon Mitchell. A 32 page booklet by a former secretary to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses that disputes the Jehovah's Witnesses' belief in two classes of salvation, i.e., the "Great Crowd" (earthly) and "The 144,000's" (heavenly). (See Doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses: Salvation) He covers the Watchtower's doctrines, and the Greek word Naos in a scriptural discussion explicating his opinion that there is no biblical difference between the two groups' location. ISBN 9993518972 Publisher: Commentary Press (1 December 1992)

External links

Official websites of Jehovah's Witnesses

Resources positive of the group

Resources critical of the group

  • A research and information web site by a former Jehovah's Witness devoted to collecting and preserving interesting and/or significant quotes from the publications of the Watch Tower Society, without explicit commentary or editorial. Many original Watch Tower Society source documents and references. Note: The owner of this website, Peter Anthony Mosier, is currently (October 2005) being sued by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to the sum of $100,000 for copyright infringement, trademark violations, "try[ing] to embarrass the Plaintiffs," and other tortuous acts. (Statement of Claim Claim 32).
  • Associated Jehovah's Witnesses for Reform on Blood A large site that promotes changes to the Watch Tower Society's blood doctrine. Many original Watch Tower Society source documents and references.
  • Free minds - Detailed discussions about Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrines, history, and claims from a critical perspective.
  • Jehovah' A very large archived message board community discussing Jehovah's Witnesses and their Watch Tower organisation.
  • An uncensored message board community with a focus on Jehovah's Witnesses issues.
  • Silent lambs - For those Jehovah's Witnesses who claim they were victims of sexual molestation within their religious organisation. Criticism of the Watch Tower organisation, and its controversial policies of how it deals with child molestation within the organisation.
  • The Watch Tower's United Nations Controversy - Discusses the relationship of the Watch Tower Society with the United Nations, believed by JWs to be the "Image of the wild beast" of Revelation"
  • Watchtower News A site that lists the most current news items involving Jehovah's Witnesses or the Watch Tower organisation
  • Watchtower Information Service Provides information on the Watchtower Society and Jehovah's Witnesses. Everyone can partake in online discussion of the presented articles.
  • JW Files-Research on Jehovah's Witnesses A large researched site headed by subject grouping, with many original scans from the Watch Tower Society's literature, and discussing many important doctrinal and ethical issues from a critical perspective.
  • Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey - Information The Rick A. Ross Institute has gathered about Jehovah's Witnesses
  • - A Large Collection of Articles Related to the Beliefs, History and Practices of the Watchtower & the Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • A medium size message board community discussing Jehovah's Witnesses and their Watch Tower organisation.
  • The largest Spanish message board community discussing Jehovah's Witnesses, their beliefs and the Watch Tower.
  • e-Jehovah's A Discussion Board for current and former Jehovah's Witnesses that discusses inconsistencies and problems associated with the Watchtower organization's teachings and policies.

Notes, references and sources

Click on the link to the left of the reference to go the place in the article referenced.
  • ^  'The Awake "Faithful and Discreet Slave"', The Watchtower, 15 July 1960, p.436
  • ^  CHRISTIANITY IN ACTION: Amid Turmoil. An account of relief efforts by Jehovah's Witnesses in refugee camps in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Tanzania, and Burundi from 1994-1997. Accessed 9 August 2005
  • ^  “How Are You Using Your Life?”, Our Kingdom Ministry, May 1974, Pg. 3, New York, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
  • ^  "Saved From a 'Wicked Generation'", The Watchtower, 1 November 1995, pp. 10-15

Eschatology Notes

  • C1: A list of direct quotes from Watch Tower articles on their original beliefs on what the year 1914 held for humanity, unaltered, with date references, publication, and page numbers etc. See Historical Publications Relating to Jehovah's Witnessesfor the historical development of the understanding of biblical chronology in the Bible Student/Jehovah's Witness movement.
  • C2 Online version of the Watch Tower Society's book, Millions Now Living Will Never Die!, published in 1920 by the International Bible Students Association, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
  • C3: Humorous interview with Rutherford about his luxury Californian Villa, from San Diego Sun newspaper, March 1930.
  • C4: A comprehensive list of quotes from Watch Tower 1975 articles, unaltered with date references, publication, and page numbers etc.
  • C5: Scanned text discouraging higher education from the Watch Tower 22 May 1969, p.15
  • C6: Scan of the Watch Tower Society Kingdom ministry leaflet, "How Are You Using Your Life?", May 1974.
  • C7: List of quoted Watch Tower 1975 articles, unaltered with date references, publication, and page numbers etc, with some critical commentary.
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