Jehovah's Witnesses are professed Christian religious organization headquartered in the United States. The organization uses a number of legal corporations worldwide, publishing literature and performing other operational and administrative functions that represent the interests of the religious organization. "The Society" has been used as a collective term for these corporations. The literature of Jehovah's Witnesses has also referred to the religion generally as the "Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses". The oldest and most prominent of their corporation is the 'Watch Tower Society'.
Jehovah's Witnesses have maintained a distinction between their corporations and their religious organizations including, but not limited to:
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
- Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses, New York
- Kingdom Support Services, Inc., New York
- International Bible Students Association
- Testigos de Jehová de Venezuela, La Victoria, Venezuela
- Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, Selters/Taunus, Germany
- Congregazione Cristiana dei Testimoni de Geova, Roma
- Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Of Australia, Inc., Australia
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada
- Congregación Cristiana de los Testigos de Jehová
Headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, the Religion has over 13,000 Kingdom Halls (Houses of Worship and Study) in the U.S. with 1,145,723 million members (As of 2011). Outside the U.S. membership is over 7.2 million in 96,094 local Kingdom Halls. All baptized members are ordained ministers and share in the preaching and teaching work; there are no paid clergy.
The Jehovah's Witnesses was founded in the United States in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell of Pittsburgh. A small group of non-conformist Christian Adventists who professed loyalty only to Jehovah, they refused to swear allegiance to any government or to serve in the army of any nation. They believed that after the battle of Armageddon they would be the elect in a thousand-year period of heavenly peace. They were disliked for their opposition to the First World War, their door-to-door proselytizing, their disdain toward government, their early support of the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and their loud criticism of other Religions' hypocrisy. Some of these criticisms had to do with mainstream Christendoms involvement in politics and their support of war efforts across the globe making them blood-guilty. They put forth the Bible's teaching that true Christians would not kill their own (Spiritual) brothers, (Such as Christians, of any Denomination killing Christians, of the same or other Denominations) and that such actions showed an absence of true brotherhood on the part of these Religions (Loyalty to nation rather than God).
1 Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and firstborn Son of God, and died for man's sins at Calvary, as a "ransom sacrifice", and is the only hope out of death and the grave, and was made King of God's Kingdom.
2 The Bible version they mainly use is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, their modern translation of the Holy Bible. Though they utilized various versions of the Bible, the NWT was produced because in their words: "No translation of the Bible can ever be considered final. Translations must keep pace with the growth in biblical scholarship and the changes in language." They accept, use, quote from, and cite other Bible versions and translations freely in their literature and sermons, and acknowledge their value, but the Bible version that they mainly and mostly use, read from, and quote is the NWT (in whatever language) that is produced by their organization, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and specifically the New World Translation Committee.
3 Jehovah's Witnesses believe their faith is 'The' restoration of the early 'Way', or Christian Congregation. This belief is based on their attempts to align their organizational structure and scriptural interpretation as closely as possible to that of the Christian congregation of the first century. There is no clergy-laity distinction as in other types of churches, although there are elders, overseers (bishops), and ministerial servants (deacons), and a governing body, in their ecclesiastical structure, and leadership, but all are 'brothers' to each other, and both male and female members are considered to be ordained ministers (authorized by God and Christ to teach and preach the word of God) at the time of baptism (note that Witnesses do not practice infant baptism).
4 Jehovah's Witnesses believe that there is only one God, the Father, whose name is Jehovah, and that Jesus Christ is God's First-begotten Son rather than Almighty God himself. They teach that the references to Jesus as "God" is in an indefinite sense, as in John 1:1, and that Jesus was made "God" or Divine over the circumstances, by the Father's permission and power. They do not believe that God is three persons or gods or beings in One, but rather One God (who is the infinite Father alone) that created all things, and thus reject the doctrine of a co-equal or co-eternal trinity. They support such teachings using scriptures such as Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:4, John 14:28, Colossians 1:15, and Psalms 83:18 in their Bible translation where God the Father is spoken of as greater than the Son, and is referred to of as the One God Jehovah Alone.
5 Witnesses Reject teaching of the immortal soul, but rather teach that the soul and the whole person dies awaiting a future resurrection by Christ, resting in the Grave (Hades, Sheol), citing such scriptures as (Ezekiel 18:4) and (John 11:11) as proof that the soul can die, and that death can be likened to sleep, with no dreaming, and where no activity exists. As such, Witnesses believe that a place, like the modern concept of Hell-fire, cannot exist, citing scriptures such as (Matthew 10:28) which also speak of the soul being destroyed (which is interpreted to be "annihilated") rather than tortured consciously forever. They believe in the existence of Heaven, but believe that only God, Christ, and the Angels, and a select few from earth (144,000) would exist in Heaven.
6 Witnesses do not celebrate secular holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or Birthdays pointing out that no such celebrations were held by God's people in the Bible. They also believe that since these celebrations have their origins in Pagan festivities that dealt with the worship of False gods, that True Christians should have no part in them.
7 Witnesses believe that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day as a spirit being, "made alive in the spirit", and that the appearances to the Apostles were materializations, and so they deny the fleshly resurrection of Christ. Witnesses interpret the Bible as saying that Christ's soul was separated from his body, and that Jehovah the Father raised Christ and gave Him a new body of glorified spirit, rather than his old one being resurrected on the Third Day. Most other professed Christians disagree, believing that the Christ's resurrection was in his actual same flesh that he died in, and not as a spirit being, and some call the Witness doctrine on this matter a damnable heresy.
8 Witnesses generally do not believe that Jesus died on a traditional cross-shaped stake, but rather that Jesus most likely died on a single-piece upright stake or a big wooden stick, post, or big tree limb with both of his hands above his head. And that the Greek word "stavros" simply means "stake", regardless of shape. This belief is rejected by most professed Christians.
9 They do observe an annual observance of the Lord's Supper, the Last Supper, or Lord's Evening Meal (1 Corinthians 11:20 NWT). This event, which they refer to as the Memorial of Christ's Death, taken from the words of Jesus to the Apostles "do this as a memorial of Me" (Luke 22:19), falls on the night of Nisan 14 which corresponds with the ancient Passover celebration observed by Jews, which is in March/April of our calendar.
10 According to the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses, the "Angel of the LORD" of Exodus was the pre-existent Christ, and is also identified as the Archangel Michael of Daniel, who leads and protects God's covenant people, and that God made the Archangel Michael, one of the "Sons of God", his incarnate Son, making him Jesus Christ. Then when his ministry was completed, he returned to heaven and resumed his position as Michael the Archangel, a Son of God (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). Some Trinitarians such as Charles Spurgeon also taught that Jesus is Michael, but that Michael is God, and co-equal to the Father. The Witnesses reject a co-equal Trinity, and teach the supremacy of the Father over the Son (or Michael) in all things. This doctrine of Michael is usually carefully withheld by door-to-door missionary-minister Witnesses until the prospective convert is considered to be receptive, and ready to receive it.
Their views of morality reflect conservative Christian values. All sexual relations outside of marriage are grounds for expulsion if the individual is not deemed repentant; homosexuality is considered a serious sin likened to bestiality or pedophilia, and that same-sex marriages are forbidden. Abortion is considered murder. Modesty in dress and grooming is frequently emphasized. Gambling, drunkenness, illegal drugs, and tobacco use are forbidden. Drinking of alcoholic beverages is permitted in moderation.
The family structure is patriarchal. The husband is considered the final authority on family decisions, but is encouraged to solicit his wife's thoughts and feelings, as well as those of his children. Marriages are required to be monogamous. Divorce is discouraged, and remarriage is forbidden unless a divorce is obtained on the grounds of adultery, termed "a scriptural divorce". If a divorce is obtained for any other reason, remarriage is considered adultery while the prior spouse is still alive and has not begun another marriage. Extreme physical abuse, willful non-support of one's family, and what the religion terms "absolute endangerment of spirituality" are considered grounds for legal separation.
The group originated in the 1870s with a movement called the Bible Students, founded by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). He did so in the town of Columbus, Ohio, in 1931. As a young man, Russell was critical of some Christian doctrines, and was attracted to the teachings of William Miller and other Adventists who speculated upon the return of the Savior. During the repeated crises of the Adventists, when all dates calculated for the second coming proved erroneous, Russel started his own movement in the 1870s. Predictions concerning the second coming of a spiritual Lord and intensive distribution of tract literature and of 'Watchtower' materials characterize the organization of his group. Russell organized a Bible class to study the scriptures from the ground up. The study process involved raising a question, discussing the topic and reviewing all known related scriptures that the participants could find on the point. The results were recorded whether or not they matched long-standing theological viewpoints. His group was known first as Russellites and then as the "International Bible Students." Russell founded The Herald of the Morning (1879), which later became The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, then was renamed to Zion's Watch Tower, and now simply The Watchtower, and Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1884 (later renamed Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). "Judge" Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942), a prolific writer, served as the second president, 1916–42, and renamed the movement "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. By 1938 there were 115,000 members, and local churches were becoming more directly organized by the Society's headquarters in Brooklyn.
Witnesses are well known worldwide for their door-to-door preaching which features use of the Bible and distribution of The Watchtower and Awake! magazine. They do not celebrate holidays that are not discussed in the Bible or that they feel serve to exalt individuals, human organizations or national groups, believing them to be an affront to God. In the 1920s and 1930s Witnesses would enter communities in large numbers, play loud phonograph records, and go door-to-door in search of potential converts, and denouncing organized religion as evil. Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose mother was a leader of the Witnesses in Kansas, came under attack for his connection; he defended the group but never affiliated with it.[Citation Needed]
While many of the Jehovah's Witnesses' teachings and practices were controversial due to conflicting with the Bible's teachings, this was not the only source of controversy Russell faced. Several times, Russell was also challenged over his financial motivations for running the Jehovah's Witnesses. In 1879, Russell married Maria Ackley in Pittsburgh. Two years later, the two of them founded The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and it prospered under them. However, Maria left her husband in 1897, and she sued for separation in 1903. The following court proceedings led to some uncomfortable findings about Russell, including that the wealth from Russell's various subsidiary companies flowed back to a holding company that Russell owned. Of that money, Russell received exactly 99% of profits, with the remaining 1% going to his followers. He had no accountability as to how that money was used. Russell and the Watch Tower were also involved in other actives which seemed to be money-making schemes, such as the Watch Tower advertising "Miracle Wheat" seed for $1 per pound (a steep price in the day). They claimed that it would grow five times as much as any other wheat brand. The Eagle then satirized this scheme with a cartoon, which prompted Russell to sue the publication for libel. The following legal proceedings involved having government experts analyze the wheat in question, as well as Russell's finances. In the end, it was determined by the court that Russell's "Miracle Wheat" was no different than any other, and he lost his $100,000 suit. Today, The Watchtower Society maintains that Russell never benefited financially from the sale of this "Miracle Wheat", but rather donated the proceeds to the organization. They neglect to mention Russell owning 990 of the organizations 1000 shares of stock, meaning he received most of the money donated to the organization.
Pledge of Allegiance
Their view of idolatry led to their refusal to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America (or other governments) and participation in military service. Jehovah's Witnesses base this belief on their understanding of Romans 13:1,5-7; Mark 12:17; and Acts 5:28, 29.
In 1935, two young Witnesses Lillian Gobitas and her younger brother William refused to salute the American flag in school in Minersville, Pennsylvania; both were expelled from public school. Their father found relief in the 3d Circuit Court of Appeals, but the children were still not accepted back in school. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the court held for the school board in an opinion written by Justice Felix Frankfurter. The Supreme Court ruled that the flag salute could be made mandatory despite religious convictions. The ruling led to assaults on Jehovah's Witnesses, Three years later the court reversed its ruling against the Witnesses in 'West Virginia State Board of Education' v. 'Barnette' (1943). The Witnesses' trials support the position that American liberty does not emanate so much from localities and states taking their stand against a potentially tyrannical federal government as from an elite legal culture that places the Constitution and individual rights above the passions of communities and crowds.
The many legal battles waged by the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Supreme Court during the 1930s-40's were not accidental but rather a result of a strategy employed by leaders of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to secure the right to proselytization through winning key 1st Amendment cases in the high courts. Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford envisioned using the law to empower and protect Jehovah's Witnesses against canvassing prohibitions and mob violence, but it was Hayden Covington of the group's legal department who actively steered Witnesses into legal confrontations nationwide. Covington deliberately sent Witnesses into areas where their activity was either prohibited or unpopular.[Citation Needed] Witnesses were aptly prepared for arrest and were given legal guidance about how to get their cases appealed to higher courts. The end result of this strategy was that 19 cases regarding Jehovah's Witnesses reached the Supreme Court during 1939–50.
The Canadian government treated Jehovah's Witnesses harshly during World War II, outlawing their organization from 1940 to 1943. Some Witnesses were denied the opportunity to do alternative service, were drafted into the army, and then imprisoned for pacifism. The Jehovah's Witnesses antagonized the Canadian government and other Christian faiths by claiming that all governments were controlled by Satan, by dismissing any distinctions between clergy and laity, and by refusing to admit that they belonged to a religious group.
Germany and Japan
Witnesses were victims of the Holocaust under Nazi Germany. Of the approximately 20,000 Witnesses in Germany in 1933, about 6,000 were arrested. Hundreds died of mistreatment in prisons and camps; some were executed.
In Japan, all members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested and imprisoned in 1939. The destruction of records by the Japanese at the end of the war make it impossible to determine how many survived. Extant accounts of torture and brutality relate mostly to Japanese converts who refused to serve in the Japanese military because of their religious convictions.
Successful missionary work has created a presence in many countries, with controversy quick to follow. Opposition to the Witnesses has been manifested in recent years in such diverse countries as South Korea, Greece, Spain, Chile, and various republics of the former Soviet Union including Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. There has been persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec, Canada due to their refusal to hold loyalty to a government during wartime.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Holidays
Jehovah's Witnesses base their refraining from celebrating many popular religious holidays on II Corinthians 6:14, 17 which states: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? ... Therefore, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate,' saith the Lord. 'And touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.'" (King James Version) 
Although Jehovah's Witnesses, then known as International Bible Students, celebrated Christmas during the early 1900s, this practice stopped in 1926. Since that time they have published information regarding the allegedly "pagan" origins of other holidays such as Easter, New Year's, Halloween and others. Their sources have been varied, drawing upon The Encyclopædia Britannica, The Catholic Encyclopedia, The World Book Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia Americana, and similar publicly available resources.
Regarding their position on secular holidays, Jehovah's Witnesses reference Christ's words at John 17:16, that his followers would be no part of the world. They also refrain from most celebrations that focus on individuals, such as birthdays, referencing scriptures such as Acts 10:25, 26; 12:21-23; Revelation 19:10.
- See also: Jehovah's Witnesses Beliefs
While not accepting transfusions of whole blood, the faith does give members some latitude regarding blood “products,” like plasma, platelets, and red or white blood cells. Since 1945 the Jehovah's Witnesses' governing body has stipulated that accepting whole blood or whole blood cell transfusions is in violation of the Bible's commandments, but in recent years, since 2000, it became a conscience matter to receive "blood products". All adult Jehovah's Witnesses refuse whole blood, being prohibited by the governing body of the Congregation, basing their view on the Bible's prohibition regarding consuming blood, with the words "abstain from blood", with the commands given under Noah, Moses, and Paul, found in the books of Genesis, Leviticus, and Acts.
In recent decades, there has been ongoing controversy, especially when they prohibit children from receiving life-saving transfusions, which has led many states and countries to override parents' authority in medical matters. The legal procedure in some of these contentious cases is to obtain a court order allowing doctors to transfuse children over their parents’ objections if withholding blood is likely to lead to death or disability.
- Bergman, Gerald. "The Influence of Religion on President Eisenhower's Upbringing," Journal of American & Comparative Cultures 2000 23(4): 89-107, in EBSCO
- Eddy, G. Norman. " The Jehovah's Witnesses: An Interpretation," Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Apr., 1958), pp. 115–121 in JSTOR
- Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses (1978), popular history
- Horowitz, David. Pastor Charles Taze Russell: An Early American Christian Zionist (1986). 159 pp.
- Newton, Merlin Owen. Armed with the Constitution: Jehovah's Witnesses in Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court, 1939-1946 (1995). 221 pp.
- Penton, M. James. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics under Persecution (2004), 412 pp.,
- Penton, M. James. Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship (1976). 388 pp.
- Peters, Shawn Francis. Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: religious persecution and the dawn of the rights revolution (2000)
- Poewe, Karla O. "Religion, Matriliny, and Change: Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists in Luapula, Zambia," American Ethnologist, Vol. 5, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 303–321 in JSTOR
- Wah, Carolyn R. "An Introduction to Research and Analysis of Jehovah's Witnesses: A View from the Watchtower," Review of Religious Research, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Dec., 2001), pp. 161–174 in JSTOR
Jehovah's Witnesses operate three official websites:
- Watchtower Official Website of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Worldwide Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses
- See also
- Faith on the March (by A.H. Macmillan, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1957)
- Ex-Jehovah's Witness Forum and Recovery Site. A resource providing information on opposing views with regards to the Jehovah's Witness Organization. Discussion and Recovery site for former Jehovah's Witnesses; those considering leaving; or simply interested individuals.
- The Watchtower October 15, 1999 p.28
- Martin, Walter. Kingdom of the Cults. Bethany House, 1997.
- Rutherford: “God, Jehovah, is the only source of life. No one else can give life. The State of Pennsylvania cannot give life. The American Government cannot. God made this law [forbidding the worship of images], as Paul puts it, to safeguard His people from idolatry. That is a small thing, you say. So was the act of Adam in eating of the forbidden fruit. It was not the apple that Adam ate, but it was his act of disobeying God. The question is whether man will obey God or obey some human institution. . . - Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.684
- See Francis (2000)
- Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, "Witnesses and their Plan to Expand First Amendment Freedoms," Journal of Church & State 2004 46(4): 811-832, in EBSCO
- Penton (1976)
- See Penton (2004)
- Carolyn R. Wah, "Jehovah's Witnesses and the Empire of the Sun: a Clash of Faith and Religion During World War II," Journal of Church & State 2002 44(1): 45-72, full text in EBSCO
- The Watchtower, December 15, 1974 (p. 740).
- Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom(p. 198)
- Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (p. 214)
- Susan E. Lederer, Flesh and Blood: Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in Twentieth-Century America (2008), ch 7.