Truth For Generations Blog

Jehovah's Witnesses

Truth For Generations Blog

Jehovah's Witnesses

Defining Terms

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a millennial, restorationist, and non-trinitarian Christian movement. They believe in God, whom they refer to as Jehovah, and the complete Bible as his “inspired message”.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are directed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of elders in Warwick, New York, United States, which establishes all doctrines based on its interpretations of the Bible. They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God’s kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humanity.

The group emerged from the Bible Student movement founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell, who also co-founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in 1881 to organize and print the movement’s publications. A leadership dispute after Russell’s death resulted in several groups breaking away, with Joseph Franklin Rutherford retaining control of the Watch Tower Society and its properties. Rutherford made significant organizational and doctrinal changes, including adoption of the name Jehovah’s witnesses in 1931 to distinguish them from other Bible Student groups and symbolize a break with the legacy of Russell’s traditions.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!, and for refusing military service and blood transfusions. They consider the use of God’s name vital for proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, immortality of the soul, and hell, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins.

They prefer to use their own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Adherents commonly refer to their body of beliefs as “The Truth” and consider themselves to be “in the Truth”. They consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.

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“Watch Tower Society” is commonly used to refer to the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole. The names Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watch Tower Society are sometimes used interchangeably.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body has overall authority for the movement. In 2019, it was composed of eight men, although this is not a fixed number and has changed over the years. The current presidents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are not members of the governing body) are Robert Ciranko (born 1947) and Harold L. Corkern (born 1951) — presidents of the New York and Pennsylvania Societies, respectively.

Women are not able to join the governing body and are not eligible to hold office within congregations (as either elders or ministerial servants), as women are not permitted to teach or to hold authority over men. They can, however, hold senior positions as administrators and researchers in a bethel — a “house of God”, or branch office of the religion — and at its headquarters.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is a non-stock, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Warwick, New York. It is the main legal entity used worldwide by Jehovah’s Witnesses to direct, administer and disseminate doctrines for the group and is often referred to by members of the denomination simply as “the Society”.

It is the parent organization of a number of Watch Tower subsidiaries, including the Watchtower Society of New York and International Bible Students Association. Read More

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. is a corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses which is responsible for administrative matters, such as real estate, especially within the United States. This corporation is typically cited as the publisher of Jehovah’s Witnesses publications, though other publishers are sometimes cited.

The corporation’s stated purposes are: “Charitable, benevolent, scientific, historical, literary and religious purposes; the moral and mental improvement of men and women, the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and for religious missionary work.”

In 2001 Newsday listed the Watch Tower Society as one of New York’s forty richest corporations, with revenues exceeding $950 million. Read More

The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW)

Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc. was established to organize and administer the congregational affairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States. It filed for incorporation on August 21, 2000, in New York State as a “domestic non-profit corporation” in Putnam County, New York. An incorporation record was also filed with the State of Florida on March 3, 2006, as a “foreign non profit corporation” with agency in Collier County, Florida.

As announced to congregations in January 2001, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a corporation used by their United States Branch Committee, which oversees the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States, Bermuda, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. All Branch Committee members are appointed by and report to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Read More

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain

Incorporated October 27, 1999, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain operates as a nonprofit, religious organization. The Organization publishes and distributes literature to provide for the advancement of the Christian religion as practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Watch Tower operates through affiliates and subsidiaries worldwide.



The Bible Student movement is a Millennialist Restorationist Christian movement. It emerged from the teachings and ministry of Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916), also known as Pastor Russell, and his founding of the Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in 1881. Members of the movement have variously referred to themselves as Bible Students, International Bible Students, Associated Bible Students, or Independent Bible Students.

A number of schisms developed within the congregations of Bible Students associated with the Watch Tower Society between 1909 and 1932. The most significant split began in 1917 following the election of Joseph Franklin Rutherford as president of the Watch Tower Society two months after Russell’s death. The schism began with Rutherford’s controversial replacement of four of the Society’s board of directors and publication of The Finished Mystery in July 1917.

Thousands of members left congregations of Bible Students associated with the Watch Tower Society during the 1920s, prompted in part by Rutherford’s failed predictions for the year 1925, increasing disillusionment with his on-going doctrinal and organizational changes, and his campaign for centralized control of the movement. William Schnell, author and former Jehovah’s Witness, claims that three quarters of the original Bible Students who had been associating with the Watch Tower Society in 1919 had left by 1931. In 1930 Rutherford stated that “the total number of those who have withdrawn from the Society… is comparatively large.”

Between 1918 and 1929, several factions formed their own independent groups, including the Stand Fast Movement, the Pastoral Bible Institute, the Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement founded by PSL Johnson, and the Dawn Bible Students Association. These groups range from conservative (claiming to be Russell’s true followers) to more liberal (claiming that Russell’s role is not as important as once believed). Rutherford’s faction of the movement retained control of the Watch Tower Society and adopted the name Jehovah’s witnesses in July 1931. By the end of the 20th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed a membership of 6 million, while other independent Bible Student groups had an estimated total of less than 75,000.

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The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is a translation of the Bible published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The New Testament portion was released in 1950, as The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, with the complete Bible released in 1961; it is used and distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Though it is not the first Bible to be published by the group, it is their first original translation of ancient Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek, and Old Aramaic biblical texts. As of March 2, 2020, the Watch Tower Society has published more than 220 million copies of the New World Translation in whole or in part in 200 languages.

Though commentators have said a scholarly effort went into the translation, critics have described it as biased.

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The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published monthly by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Jehovah’s Witnesses distribute The Watchtower—Public Edition, along with its companion magazine, Awake!.

There is also a study edition that is used by all JW members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses consider all baptized Witnesses to be ministers. Participants in organized preaching activity are referred to as publishers. Only individuals who are approved and active as publishers are officially counted as members.

Beliefs

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a millennial, restorationist, and non-trinitarian Christian movement. They believe in God, whom they refer to as Jehovah, and the complete Bible as his “inspired message”.

Jesus is believed to be the Son of God and the savior but not part of a Trinity. He is fully human, a perfect man, rather than God incarnate. God provided his son as a “ransom sacrifice” as a gift to humankind: the death of Jesus paid the “ransom” for human sin. Jehovah forgives those who have faith in the ransom sacrifice, are repentant and seek to imitate Jesus in their lives. Jesus is the “first creation” of Jehovah, and is the archangel, Michael.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that we are in the “end times” or “last days” and that the battle of Armageddon is imminent. Present world conditions are taken as signs of the end: all current government systems are believed to be dominated by Satan.

There are a number of dates significant in JW history: Russell taught that Christ had invisibly returned to Earth in 1874 and he would visibly return in 1878, revised to 1914. 1914 marks the moment when Jesus began to rule the Kingdom of God in heaven. It remains an important date in the movement, as it is believed to mark the start of the “end times”.

Members alive in 1914 expected to be the generation that would witness Armageddon; this was reiterated in a 1984 Watchtower article “1914 — The Generation That Will Not Pass Away”. However, in 1995, the governing body revised the “generation doctrine” and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Armageddon will occur within the lifetimes of those whose lives overlap with the 1914 generation.

1975 was another date of significance, interpreted as the start of the “seventh millennium” — many Witnesses expected this date to mark the start of Christ’s reign. Since 1975, no new dates have been set by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

During Armageddon, it is believed, Christ (Archangel Michael) will lead an army of angels to defeat Satan and the Earth’s rulers. Then will follow the millennium — a period of 1,000 years, which will be a time of paradise on earth, led by Christ as ruler in heaven.

A chosen 144,000 will be co-rulers with Christ in heaven. They are known as the “anointed class”. It is believed that the 144,000 are already in heaven: JWs believe that they began to be chosen in the time of Jesus and they began to take their places in 1918-19.

It is not only JWs who have the opportunity to be saved. During Judgment Day, God will resurrect both the righteous and the unrighteous, who are currently “sleeping”. All can be saved through accepting Jehovah. Those who accept Jehovah (but who are not part of the 144,000) will form the “great crowd” — people from all nations who will survive the “great tribulation” leading up to Armageddon and who will live in the paradise on earth.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the “ultimate destiny” for the majority of true Christians is not heaven but everlasting life on earth: “The righteous will possess the earth, and they will live forever on it” (Psalm 37:29).

Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their missionary activities — “witnessing” for Jehovah — usually through the distribution of literature, either going door to door in their neighborhood or, in more recent years, operating literature stands in public places such as railway stations and shopping centers. Their main magazines are The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom and Awake!

If a member of the public expresses interest, Jehovah’s Witnesses will attempt to establish regular home visits for free Bible study courses. Baptized JWs engage in this practice, and they are known as “publishers”.

Jehovah’s Witnesses practice baptism by immersion of adults and older children (typically aged 13 to 16).

Congregational life is very important to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members meet together in Kingdom Halls for a weekend meeting and a meeting on one weekday evening. The weekend meeting includes a public service (including singing, prayer and a Bible talk) followed by the study of a passage outlined in the study edition of The Watchtower magazine. All congregations study the same passage on the same day.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate religious festivals usually marked by other Christian traditions, such as Christmas or Easter, because of their “Pagan” undertones. Instead, they have only one annual festival — the Memorial of Christ’s Death or the Lord’s Evening Meal, which is the commemoration of Jesus’s death and ransom sacrifice on behalf of humankind.

The service takes place in March or April, during the month of Nisan, when Passover is celebrated by Jewish people. The service takes place after sunset on the 14th day of Nisan — a date that usually corresponds to the first full moon after the spring equinox. Members are encouraged to bring guests, and attendance at the service is higher than for other Witness services. 

Disfellowshipping, one of the controversial disciplinary methods that Jehovah’s Witnesses use, is cutting off or expelling the individual from the community.

This does not happen automatically if a member sins, but only if she or he is unrepentant of that sin. Removing the unrepentant sinner is believed to maintain the purity of the congregation and to be commanded in the Bible (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).

If there is sin, the elders appoint a judicial committee of three elders to investigate the case through interviewing the accused and witnesses. In accordance with biblical requirements, there must be at least two witnesses (Matthew 18:16) to the offence — sometimes called the “two-witness rule”. This has caused problems with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ handling of reported abuse cases.

When a Witness is disfellowshipped, other members — including friends and family — are expected to have no contact with the shunned individual. JWs claim that the disfellowshipped member is able to repent and return to the faith.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their opposition to blood transfusions. They believe blood is sacred and its ingestion is prohibited in several Biblical passages (Genesis 9:3-4, Leviticus 17:14 and Acts 15:8-29). These passages are interpreted to include taking blood into the body intravenously.

Witnesses carry a “no blood” “advance decision document” at all times so that in cases of emergency, medical staff will know their position. Witness children carry an “identity card” signed by their parents. Witnesses have been proactive in advocating alternative treatments and have established hospital liaison committees responsible for education on and facilitation of bloodless surgery.

A Jehovah’s Witness who accepts a blood transfusion may be disfellowshipped (cut off from the community).

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take part in interfaith activity or movements. They claim that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul discouraged interfaith engagement, in the belief that it could harm the believer’s faith.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that they are “Jehovah’s one true organization” — all other religions, including “nominal Christianity” (the term for all other denominations), are part of “Babylon the Great”.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are famously apolitical, refusing to participate in political organizations or bear arms — members have lost their lives through conscientious objection and through refusing to denounce their faith in the most appalling circumstances, including the concentration camps of the Second World War and modern-day prison camps.

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were an “extremist” religious group, defining this as a group which teaches that its theology is the only way to salvation. The court liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities, banned their activities and confiscated their property. As of November 2020, 43 Witnesses are in prison with more under house arrest or under investigation.

Their persecution is taken as confirmation of the imminence of Armageddon.

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