The founder of what is now known as the "Jehovah's Witnesses" was Charles Taze Russell. Prior to 1931 they were know as "Russellites," "Millennial Dawnists" and "International Bible Students." Russell was born in 1852 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At an early age he rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment and in 1870, at the age of eighteen, Russell organized a Bible class in Pittsburgh, which in 1876 elected him "Pastor" of the group. During this time he was manager of several men's furnishings stores.
In 1879 Russell founded a paper called "Zion's Watch Tower" with a yearly circulation of 6,000. Today the "Watchtower," (the most widely circulated magazine in the world) together with its companion publication, "Awake," have a monthly circulation of over 45 million each.
In 1880 Russell married Maria Ackiey who had become interested in him through his teachings, and she helped him in running the "Watchtower." However, she left her husband in 1897 and sued for separation in 1903.
The Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated at Pittsburgh in 1884. Through this Society "Pastor" Russell's sermons were published (as advertisements) in newspapers throughout the world. In 1886 the first in a series of seven books entitled, "Studies in the Scriptures" was printed. (Russell wrote six of the seven.) Russell said of these books in the September 15, 1910 issue of the "Watchtower": "Furthermore, not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the 'Scripture Studies' aside. . . if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness."
Under Russell's direction headquarters were moved to Brooklyn in 1909, and another corporation was formed under the laws of the state of New York.
Upon Russell's death in 1916, the helm of leadership was manned by Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford, whose career was no less amazing than Russell's. His radio talks, phonograph recordings and numerous books attacked the doctrines of "organized religion" with unparalleled vigor.
Rutherford held the title of "judge" from the early days of his legal career when he was a special judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court of Boonville, Missouri.
Fifteen or twenty million copies of Russell's writings were distributed over a period of sixty years. In half that time Rutherford's distribution amounted to many times that number. He wrote over one hundred books and pamphlets that were were translated into eighty languages. Rutherford died in 1942.
Jehovah's Witness do not believe in the Trinity. Jesus is not God, but is "a god." He is Michael the Archangel. Jesus was first created by Jehovah, and in turn Jesus, as Jehovah's representative, created all things. Jesus was raised from the dead an invisible spirit creature. What happened to Jesus' body is not known. Jesus Christ returned to the earth in 1914, expelled Satan from heaven, and is proceeding to overthrow Satan's organization, and establish the millennial kingdom. He did not return in a physical form, but is invisible.
The Heavenly Kingdom took effect in 1914 with the invisible enthronement of Christ as King. A "little flock" or "Anointed Class" of about 135,300 people currently occupies it. All were selected after Christ's ascension into heaven and during subsequent centuries. The selection of the full complement of 144,000 was completed in 1935. Some 8,700 are still living on earth. They will spend eternity as spirit creatures in heaven with God and Christ and will rule over the other Jehovah's Witnesses who remain on earth. Those spending eternity on earth are what Jehovah's Witnesses call the "Great Crowd" or "Other Sheep."
Hell, meaning a place of fiery torment where sinners remain after death, does not exist. Annihilation is the lot of all those who reject Jehovah God.
Humans do not have an immortal soul that continues on after death. When they die, they cease to exist. With the exception of those who killed Jesus, have sinned against the Holy Spirit, or God has judged to receive eternal death, all others are resurrected. God creates a new body for the resurrected, similar to their former body which is mentally and physically healthy, with the original personality and memories intact. They will be judged according to their deeds. At this resurrection the faithful will be granted eternal life and others will be given a second chance to accept God's rule.
Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to salute the flag of any nation, recite the pledge of allegiance, stand for or sing the national anthem, run for public office, vote, or serve in the armed forces.
Jehovah's Witnesses made their own translation of the Bible, called the "New World Translation." The New Testament was published in 1950 and the complete Bible was published in 1961. In the Old Testament the word LORD in the KJV has been translated Jehovah. In many places in the New Testament the word Lord has also been translated Jehovah. This New World Translation was made to fit their doctrine. For example, John 1:1 in the NWT reads, "In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." Since 1961 there have been 181 million copies printed in 117 languages.
Since the Bible in Acts 15:20 teaches that Gentile Christians were to "abstain from . . . blood," the Jehovah's Witnesses have taken that admonition from drinking blood to blood transfusions. No Jehovah's Witness, or their children, is to have a blood transfusion, even if it would save his life.
They reject the traditional symbol of Christianity, the cross, because they feel it is of pre-Christian, pagan origin. They accept an alternative translation of the Greek word stauros, rendering it as "torture stake." They believe that Jesus was executed by being nailed to a single upright wooden stake with no cross beam.
Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to celebrate Christmas, birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, or any other holidays, claiming they all have pagan roots.
Today Jehovah's Witnesses preach in 239 lands and publish literature in 595 languages. 20 billion pieces of literature have been published over the last ten years.
Under the direction of the leaders at headquarters, local congregations of Witnesses (called "Kingdom Halls" and never churches) are arranged into circuits of approximately 20 congregations with a traveling minister spending a week with each. Circuits are grouped into districts, of which there are 38 in the United States. District and circuit organizations are now found in 216 countries and islands across the world.