Dallas Burdette

September 1, 1999




Charles T. Russell


Charles T. Russell (1852-1916) founded The Watchtower Society.  Russell was raised in a Congregational Church in Pennsylvania.  He rejected the teaching of hell and eternal judgment; he also discarded the biblical concept of the Trinity.  In the earlier part of his life he became involved with Seventh Day Adventism.  Later, he disagreed with the Adventist on the doctrine of the Atonement.  And as a result of his falling out with this group, he launched (1879) his own magazine, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.  Prior to this publication, he published a series of books called Studies in Scripture.[1]  Five years later (1884) he founded Zion’s Watchtower Tract Society.  And, in 1896, he renamed his organization as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.[2]  Then, in 1909, he moved his operation to Brooklyn, New York, where it remains to this day.[3]


            Early in his ministry, he prophesied the return of Christ in 1874.  When Christ did not return, he recalculated his figures.  He then predicted that Christ would return in 1914.  But 1914 came and went;[4] to his surprise, there was no return of Christ.  But in all of the prophetic failures, he did not despair.  He simply changed this return to an invisible return.  In other words, “He redefined the second coming of Christ to mean that Jesus Christ had returned invisibly as an invisible spirit, a ghost, in 1914 to help set up his organization.[5]


                In 1913, his wife sued him for divorce and won.  She accused him of “adultery, conceit, egotism, and domination.”[6]  He owned absolute control of his paper—990 of the 1000 shares of stock available.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle charged him with fraudulent activities.  Under oath he claimed that he knew the Greek alphabet, but when presented with the Greek letters to identify, he could not.  Thus, he was forced to retract.[7]


Outreach under Joseph Franklin Rutherford


            Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded Russell as president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1917.  Under his leadership (1916-1942), he increased his control and power to the point of unquestioned authority.  In 1931, he changed the name of the organization to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He took his sign from Isaiah 43:10: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”[8]  According to Boa, “. . . Rutherford decided . . . to call his organization Jehovah’s Witnesses in an attempt to eliminate any connection with ‘Pastor’ Russell.”[9] 


            He changed the name to vindicate the true name of Jehovah, as he understood the term.  Since he denied the deity of Jesus and the deity of the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed that Jehovah alone is God.  For this reason Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate Christmas since they deny the incarnation of Jesus.  Also, they do not observe Easter since they do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. 


            He too made predictions.  In fact, he predicted that


The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would return visibly to this earth to help promote the kingdom of God.  He was so sure of this prediction that he built a large palatial mansion in San Diego, California, for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to live in when they would return sometime between 1925 and 1929.[10]



Outreach under Nathan H. Knorr


                Under the leadership of Knorr, third president of the society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses developed its strongest missionary outreach. During his tenure as President, the Watchtower produced its own translation known as The New World Translation.  This translation appears to be a conscious attempt to make the Bible fit preconceived Witness theology.[11]   Literature continued to roll off the printing presses under his guidance.  For the first time, all books and articles were written anonymously.  Also, Knorr fell to the urge to foretell the end of the age.  His first major prophesy centered on 1975.  In this prediction, he avowed that the end of the age and that Armageddon would occur at that time.[12]  But the time came and went, no Armageddon.  Carlson states that “In 1976 and 1977 over a million Jehovah’s Witnesses left the Watchtower, deeply disilusioned with the organization that claimed to be the voice of God on earth, but had proven again and again to be a false prophet.”[13]


Outreach Under Franz and Henschel


                Franz was its leading theologian for sixty years; he died at the end of 1992.  Milton G. Henschel now heads the organization.


Five Important Facts


Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses still accept (1) the organization as the prophet of God, (2) the organization as God’s channel for His truth, (3) to reject the organization is to reject God, (4) the organization is the infallible interpreter of the Word, and (5) the organization’s magazine contains God’s truth revealed through the Watchtower. 


Conflict with Christianity


  Carlson and Decker list thirteen items of their theology that conflicts with orthodox Christianity.


1.      That Jesus is a created being – a creature.

2.      That Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel.

3.      That Jesus was not resurrected bodily, but as a spirit being.

4.      That Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 (secretly to the Organization).

5.      That Jesus was only a man when on earth, not “the Word become flesh.”

6.      That the Holy Spirit is only an active force, not the Person of God.

7.      That hell is simply the grave.

8.      That heaven’s doors are open to only 144, 000 people.

9.      That the majority of Witnesses must remain on earth.

10.  That salvation is found only through the Organization.

11.  That salvation can be maintained only by energetic works for the Organization until the end, when one may then merit eternal life on a paradise earth.

12.  That Satan is the author of the doctrine of the trinity.

13.  That Jesus cannot be given worship, but only honor as Jehovah’s first creation.[14]


Denials of the Essentials


To sum up in a nut shell, so to speak, the Witnesses deny the (1) trinity, (2) the deity of Christ, (3) the bodily resurrection of Christ,[15] (4) the visible return of Christ, (5) the Person of the Holy Spirit, (6) the promise of heaven to all believers, (7) and the necessity of the new birth for all believers.[16]



Boa, Kenneth, Cults, World Religions and Occult. USA: victor Books.  1977. “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” 96-105.


Carlson, Ron and Ed Decker, Fast Facts on False Teachings.  Eugene, Or: Harvest House.  1994.  “Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,” 117-132


Jeremiah Films.  The Witness at Your Door.  Video tape.  1989.


Martin, Walter.  The Kingdom of the cults.  Minneapolis: Bethany House. 1965.  “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower bible and Tract Society,” 38-125.


--------Introduction to the Cults. Costa Mesa: One Way Library. 1973.  Audio tape.





[1] This work is reputed to be his most important work.  This sequence is a seven-volume series.  The first volume appeared in 1886 and the last volume was published in 1917, the year after his death.

[2] Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions and the Occult (USA: Victor Books, 1977), 97.

[3] See Ron Carlson and Ed Decker, Fast Facts on False Teachings (Oregon: Harvest House, 1994),  118.

[4] See also Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985), 99.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Boa, World Religions, 97.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

[9] Boa, World Religions, 98.

[10] Carson and Decker, Fast Facts, 119,120.

[11] See Boa, World Religions, 100.

[12] Ibid., 120.

[13] Ibid., 121.

[14] Carson and Decker, Fast Facts, 122

[15] See Boa, World Religions,, 102, where he writes: “Jehovah’s Witnesses also distort the biblical doctrines of the bodily resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus.  They claim that Christ was raised as a spirit; the body of Jesus ‘dissolved in gases,’ and the man Jesus is forever dead.”

[16] For an excellent overview of the biblical response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, see Carlson and Decker, Fast Facts, 117-132.