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A Brief History of The Watchtower

A Brief History of the Watchtower

By James Caputo


"For the couch has proved too short for stretching oneself on, and the woven sheet itself is too narrow when wrapping oneself up."-Isaiah28:20

In November 1995 Jehovah's Witnesses around the world learned that the 40-year long time-prophecy concerning the 1914 generation was being altered.[1] This teaching appeared in the masthead of AWAKE! Magazine from 1982 as "The creator's promise."  What was the creator's promise? 

" A peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away,"

The article that presented the change made no acknowledgement of error on the part of the organization, but shrouded it in terms of "progressive understanding" and "advancing light". It was very obvious to thinking people that the simple passing of time necessitated the change. Such blatant shrugging of responsibility on the part of the Watchtower leadership disturbed many causing the departure of some from the organization. 

The May 1, 1984 Watchtower proclaiming that the 1914 generation will not pass away.

Jehovah's Witnesses may be surprised to learn that such apocalyptic speculation and biblical flights of fancy are not an anomaly for the Watchtower organization. In fact, a cursory glance at the Society's 120-year history would suggest that such a course is quite normative. 

I by no means intend to convey the notion that the Watchtower Society is flawed in all its teaching or has accomplished little good whatsoever. Such an assertion would be utterly false. The society has indeed helped millions to grow in appreciation for God's word the Bible. They have assisted many in living a more wholesome, honest life in accordance to God's principles found in scripture. Yet, these things can be said of literally dozens of Christian organizations. My examination of the Watchtower's history, therefore, is done against the backdrop of the organization's unique claim to be an exclusive channel of  communication between God and Mankind. 

This brief historic summary of the Watchtower organization will focus on the changing nature and peculiarity of witness teaching - particularly under the presidencies of of the organization's most prominent theologians -  Charles T. Russell, Joseph F. Rutherford and Fredrick W. Franz. 

Does a sober consideration of the Society's past evidence an indisputable divine backing? Does a chronological analysis of its leaders' teachings and prophetic pronouncements point incontrovertibly and inescapably to the fact that they have indeed acted as a unique channel of communication between God and man? How does the Watchtowerís 120 years of history as Godís "channel of communication" compare with Godís historic method of communication as evident in the Bible? 

I believe the historic evidence that follows bears heavily on the questions raised above. 

(For an understanding of Watchtower teachings, please visit the official site of the Watchtower organization:


Charles T. Russell-And the herald of Christ's presence

For false Christís and false prophets will arise and will do wonderful miracles so that if it were possible even Godís chosen ones would be deceived. See, I Have Warned You. So if someone says Messiah has returned... or, that he is hiding at a certain place donít believe it. -Matthew 24:24

Today when Jehovah's Witnesses speak of the invisible presence of Christ, they are invariably referring to the year 1914 when Jesus is said to have allegedly begun his reign. However, in 1879 when the first issue of Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence was printed, an entirely different date was being heralded. The original date for Christ's presence was 1874. How was such a date derived?

Through their study of Bible chronology, Russell and his fellow Adventists realized that they were living in the last days, which they considered to have begun in the year 1799. Certain Adventists were expecting the world to end in 1874. [2] When nothing happened, they (Russell included) excitedly looked forward to being translated to heaven in 1878. They distinguished in the interim that the word "coming" (parousia) could also mean "presence" and that Christ had indeed returned in 1874, but invisible to human eyes [3]. When 1878 proved to be uneventful, the resurrection of "The dead in Christ" was said to have taken place in that year.[4] (Read 2Timothy 2:16-18

The WT went on for nearly fifty years to falsely proclaim that Christ had returned in 1874, that the resurrection began in 1878 and that mankind had entered the last days in 1799. [5]"Bible students" were also informed in the very first issues of The WT that in 1881 they would be miraculously transferred to heaven.[6] When this prophecy failed, it too was "spiritualized" - that is, explained as having happened somehow in the invisible realm. In time "Bible Students" would recognize 1881 as the official closing of the door to the 144,000 joint heirship with Christ. [7]

For nearly 40 years Russell would state emphatically that 1914 would see the end of the world, the end of the preaching work and the ushering in of the millennium. [8] He also prophesied that Israel would be completely restored as natural Jews would  loose their spiritual blindness and accept Christ as their messiah en masse.[9] Russell warned forebodingly that if the Church were not translated to heaven in that year,  the entire human race would be exterminated.  [10]When nothing materialized in early October 1914, Russell realized that his chronology was off by one year and so shifted his prophecies to October 1915.[11]  Later that year in 1914, war broke out in Europe - Russell assured his readers that it would eventuate in the battle of Armageddon. [12] 

Throughout his life, esoteric Bible chronologies were corroborated with the occultic practice known as Pyramidology - a discipline which consisted of measuring the gallery floors and passageways of the Great Egyptian pyramid of Gizeh, which Russell taught was "God's stone witness" second only to the Bible. [13] Rutherford promulgated this false teaching for another 12 years until he declared the pyramid of Gizeh  to be "Satan's Bible." [14]

Russell exchanged the simple gospel of the Bible (salvation by grace through faith in Jesus) with what by his own admission was a further revelation (Galatians 1:8-10). "God's due time had come" would declare Russell, to proclaim "The Divine Plan of The Ages" which only the "enlightened" could appreciate or understand. Strangely, according to Russellís "revelation," a visible organization would be completely contrary to the divine plan of the agesÖ" a gross sign of carnality".

 [15] "Beware of organization. It is wholly unnecessary. The Bible rules will be the only rules you will need. Do not seek to bind others consciences, and do not permit others to bind yours." 9/15/1895 Watchtower

"God's mouthpiece," as he referred to himself, [16] would intimate to his devotees that Jehovah had a specific heavenly residence that lay among the stars in the Pleiades cluster within the constellation Taurus - the star Alcyone. [17] Not only did "Bible Students" believe that Jesus was resurrected to this star, but they themselves looked forward to going there after death. The WT formally discontinued this teaching in the early 1950's. [18]

As Russell gained fame his ego got the best of him. His wife would write articles in the WT claiming that he alone was the faithful wise steward of Matthew twenty-four. [19] (He would admit to being so in private). [20] The belief That Russell himself was the "Faithful Slave" remained a fundamental tenet and a "necessity of faith" for Jehovah's Witnesses until 1927. In point of fact, the society taught, for more than two decades after Russell's death that "Pastor" Russell was running the organization from heaven.[21] 

According to Russell, studying only the Bible would lead to complete darkness, but putting down the Bible and studying only his books would make one remain in the light. [22] (2 Timothy 3:16)  

As evidence of the principal role Pyramidology played in the Watchtower Society's fanciful teachings, when Charles Taze Russell died in 1916, he was buried, at his request, next to a massive 7 1/2-foot stone pyramid which stands to this day as a monument to false prophecy. 

Watchtower's pyramid memorial with its cross emblem and capstone.


Joseph F. Rutherford - "millions now living will never die"

"I did not send the prophets, yet they themselves ran. I did not speak to them, yet they themselves prophesied." Jeremiah 23:21

When it came to presumptions and predictions Russell had competition in his successor J. F. Rutherford. Instead of correcting the Watchtower's legacy of false prophecy, Rutherford went on to herald a host of things for a completely new date, 1918.

God would destroy millions of church members and Christendom would have its downfall in that year.[23] For the fourth time "Bible Students" were promised that they would be translated to heaven. [24] According to Rutherford, even the revolutionary movements would be dissolved. [25]

Before 1918 arrived Rutherford declared that "Bible Students" could expect the complete overthrow of the worldís republics in the year 1920 as well as the "swallowing up in anarchy" all the kingdoms of the earth. [26]

In 1918 he stridently stated that 1925 (besides being the fifth promised rapture) would mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to the condition of human perfection. [27] "Bible Students" were told they had more on which to base their hope in 1925 than Noah had in the coming deluge. [28] 

It merits mentioning that according to current WT teaching, it was in the following year (1919) that Jesus is said to have come to his temple (invisibly) and chose the Watchtower Organization as his sole representative on earth. But why the Watchtower? Because of its exemplary faithfulness and outstanding discretion. [29] (The faithful and Discreet Slave)

The WT of June fifteenth 1922 pg.217 gives an example of that discretion when commenting on the then-taught, now-rejected chronology as follows:

"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"

As seen by the following table, this chronology was replaced by yet another speculative chronology:



Start of the last days - 1799 Start of the last days - 1914
Christ's invisible presence - 1874 Christ's invisible presence - 1914
Resurrection of anointed - 1878 Resurrection of anointed - 1918-1919
End of the world system - 1914  End of the world system - "Imminently close"


With the passing of 1881, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920 and 1925 and with the attending embarrassment, one would think that "God's channel of communication" would not want to draw any more undue attention to itself. In 1929, however, the society had a mansion constructed in San Diego, California for the express purpose of housing and bearing witness to the soon-to-return-princes. They would go on to deed the mansion to David, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and others. [30] In the interim, Judge Rutherford summered  there.

Photo of Beth Sarim, the home the Watchtower constructed to house the "ancient worthies."

Rutherford would insist until his death in 1941 that Armageddon was at the door and that the Princes could be expected at any moment. He would vociferously discourage marriage and promise young witness children that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would shortly return to help them choose their marriage mates.  It was assured that this divine match-making would result in their having "sweet children." [31]

In 1941 shortly after the release of the much-touted -Children- book which made many of these inane claims, the Watchtower commented on the book as follows:

 "The Lordís provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon." WT 9/15/41 p.288

Today with accusations of mind control being heaped against  the Watchtower Society, the organization is fighting hard  in Europe to be recognized as a legitimate religion. 

Few witnesses know, however, that Rutherford penned an entire book (Religion) whose very purpose was to teach that the very term and concept of "religion" was from Satan the devil. [32] 

Also worthy of note is the fact that Rutherford taught that the Holy Spirit no longer was operative in our day as teaching agent. How then did God teach his servant? [33] It was said that angels after hearing the interpretations of God's prophecies from Jesus Christ would come and deliver the interpretations to "the remnant." [34] Angelic direction?

Under the presidency of Rutherford, the Watchtower Society for the fist time ventured into the medical affairs of its members by prohibiting vaccinations. Vaccinations were said to be "a direct violation of the covenant that God made with Moses." [35] (Medical Quackery) In an effort to avoid violating "the covenant God made with Moses," some witnesses would inflict acid burn marks on the legs of their children to simulate smallpox vaccinations. This prohibition remained in effect for over 20 years.

Rutherford would decree something that not even his predecessor would dare. For two thousands years all Christians had believed in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one hope and one calling. These are in fact the inspired words of the apostle Paul who received his message by direct revelation from non other than  Jesus Christ. This same apostle warned that if even an angel  should declare something beyond the revelation he received by Christ, that angel should be condemned.  According to scripture, this is "the everlasting good news"  which was the basis for "the faith that was once for all times delivered to the holy ones". (Jude 3,Ephesians 4:4-5, Galations1: 12, Rev 14:6),

This would change with Mr. Rutherford who would announce that as of 1935 there were now two hopes, and two callings. [36](Galatians1:8).

Fredrick W. Franz - 1975 "The fitting time for God to act "

"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."-Acts 1:7, New Inter. version.

"Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly ... it may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years." [ WT August 15, 1968 pg. 499]

No doubt many alive today witnessed the failure of the Society's 1975 time-prophecy. The Watchtower has tried to shift the blame of this prophetic failure on rank and file Jehovah's Witnesses by intimating that it was they who got carried away with the 1975 fervor.  However, the fact remains that many people sold their homes and properties, liquidated their assets, deferred education, caring for health problems, having a family and planning for their financial future (as some did in 1914,1918,1925 and the early 40's), due to the Watchtower's inappropriate pronouncement in regard to expectations of that year.

When one studies the publications of the Watchtower between the years 1968-1975, it becomes evident that instead of being "faithful and discreet," the Watchtower Magazine, once again inspired and nourished a false hope in its followers by displaying a lamentable indiscretion in its claims (disclaimers and all) concerning the uneventful year of 1975. [37]

Do not pursue higher education. There is very little time left! Make pioneer service, the full-time ministry with the possibility of Bethel or missionary service, your goal. [WT3/15/69 pg.171]

"Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and properties and planning to finish out the rest of their days in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end." [Kingdom Ministry, May 1974,pg.3]

Besides the failure of 1975 and the previously mentioned 1914 generation time-prophecy, F. W. Franzís long-taught interpretations of the great prophecies of Daniel concerning "the king of the north" and "the king of the south" have also proven fallacious since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union.

"Jehovah will put all false prophets to shame either by not fulfilling the false predictions of such self-assuming prophets, or by having his own prophecies fulfilled in a way opposite to that predicted by the false prophets." Paradise Restored pp. 353-354

Worthy of mention is the fact that under F. W. Franz, the Watchtower Society in 1967 would ban organ transplants defining them as "cannibalism." [38] This resulted in hundreds of people losing their sight from not getting cornea transplants and still untold hundreds more dieing abstaining from kidney, liver and heart transplants.

The policy was lifted thirteen years later in 1980 and declared a "conscience matter." [39] The scriptures employed to enforce the prohibition on both vaccinations and organ transplants are the exact same scriptures used today in prohibiting blood transfusions. One can only wonder when "light flashes up" again and blood transfusions become a "conscience matter"  how many lives will have been sacrificed on the altar of Watchtower error. (for more information on the blood issue, please click on the following link: AJWRB)

"Two sorts of weights for measuring are something detestable to Jehovah and a cheating pair of scales is not good." Proverbs 20:23

It was under the policies of F. W. Franz that thousands of Malawians were persecuted, their homes burned to the ground. Many witness woman were raped and murdered and still others had to wander as refugees. [40} All this befell them because they were forbidden by the Watchtower Society's unyielding policies to buy a .25 cent party-card which would have simply recognized them as politically non-threatening in the single-party-state of Malawi.

Simultaneously, brothers in Mexico had been  paying exorbitant fees for many years to bribe military officials to obtain a "cartilla"- This cartilla card  would officially mark one as a member of the first reserves, that is, a person who had already fulfilled his military service. (Military service is prohibited by the Watchtower). All these transactions were done clandestinely. 

When brothers in Mexico read in the WT what was happening to their dear brothers in Malawi, their consciences pricked them. Bethel headquarters subsequently received a flood of mail from Mexico asking what to do about their very similar, but covert situation. The response from Watchtower headquarters? "Itís a conscience matter." 

(Ironically, today  Watchtower leaders have rendered political voting  a "conscience matter," even  piously preaching to  rank and file Jehovah's Witnesses that they should not judge others for doing so when they themselves had the ability to spare their spiritual brothers in Malawi much pain by conceding them a similar right. (Watchtower November 1, 1999 pgs. 28-29. See Crisis of Conscience

Under C.T.Russell the Watchtower Society viewed alternative service and warfare as a Christianís personal decision.[41] F.W.Franz, however, saw such alternative service (i.e.  hospital work) as compromising Christian neutrality. To ensure that witnesses would not engage in such, he imposed a policy whereby anyone accepting such service would be disassociated. His policy stayed in effect for over a half century. Literally thousands of young Jehovah's Witness men went to prison refusing alternative service in place of the obligatory military service of their country.

The May 1, 1996 WT, as if by edict, reversed the policy declaring it once again a "conscience matter". 

I -re-ask the questions raised above: 

Does a sober consideration of the Society's past evidence an indisputable divine backing? Does a chronological analysis of its leaders' teachings and prophetic pronouncements point incontrovertibly and inescapably to the fact that they have indeed acted as a unique channel of communication between God and man? How does the Watchtowerís 120 years of history as Godís "channel of communication" compare with Godís historic method of communication as evident in the Bible? 

Foot notes

1. WT 6/1/51 p.335,404; AW 1/8/68 p.2 ;WT 11/1/95 pp.17-19

2. Zionís WT 11/1881 pp.288-289 Society reprints

3. Zionís WT 6/15/06 explanation given

4. The Time Is At Hand 1889, p.239 parallel dispensations

5. Studies in the Scriptures; Vol.4, p.621. The Harp of God (1921) pp.229-230,236. WT 3/1/22 Prophecy (1929) pp.64-65 WT 12/1/1916, p.5998 WT3/1/1923, p.67 WT 1/1/1924, p.5 Creation; 1927; p.290

6. WT 1/1881 How long oh Lord?

7. The new creation (1899) 1915 edition p.95 Studies Vol.3 1913 edition p.367 The Time is at Hand (1889) 1915 edition p.235

8. Zionís WT 11/1880 p.1 The Time is at Hand 1888, pp.76-77.Studies Vol.2,1889 pp.98-99 The Time is at Hand 1889 edition p.101Zionís WT 6/15/1894 p.266;1677 reprints, Can it be delayed until 1914?The Time is at Hand; 1908 edition p.99

9. The Time is at Hand pp. 76-77

10. Zionís WT1/15/1892

11. The Time is at Hand 1915 edition pp.99,235,236,242

12. Pastor Russellís Sermons p.676 Some time during World War 1

13. WT 5/81, p.225Studies 1903 edition Vol.3 p.303 314-315,322 WT 6/1/1910 pp.179-180 WT 5/15/1925, p.148 WT 11/15/1928 pp.341

14. WT 11/15/1928 p.341

15. Zionís WT 4/1882 Question and Answer

16. Zionís WT 6/15/06 p.229

17. Studies Vol.3 pp.226-328 WT 5/15/1895, p.1814 WT 12/1/1896, p.2075

18. WT 11/1/1920, p.334 Reconciliation (1928) p.14

19. WT 6/15/06 p.3811 under the heading;" an open letter to the church"

20. WT 12/1/1916 Studies Vol.1,1924-1927 editions p.7

21. Studies, Vol. 7,p.418Harp of God,1921 edition,p.239 WT3/1/1896,p.47 WT 12/1/1916, p.5998 WT3/1/1917, p.6049 WT 11/1/1917, p.6159 The Finished Mystery,pp.144,256 WT 11/1/1917, p.6161 society reprints

22. WT 9/15/1910, pp.298-299

23. The Finished Mystery 1917 edition, p.485

24. The Finished Mystery 1917 edition, p.64

25. The Finished Mystery 1917 edition p.542

26. The Finished Mystery 1917 edition p.258

27. Millions now living will never die pp.88,89-90,97 Golden Age Jan 4,1922 p.217 Way to Paradise, pp.224,228 WT 10/15/1917, p.6157

28. WT 4/1/23 p.106

29. Godís Kingdom of a Thousand years has approached p.350

30. Salvation pp.311-312 New World p.104 WT 3/15/1937, p.86

31. WT 11/1/38 pp.21,323

32. Face The facts p.3 Religion

33. WT 9/1/30 p.263 Resurrection p.203-204

34. WT 7/1/43 pp.195,202-203 Vindication p.250

35. Golden Age 2/4/31 p.293

36. WT 12/15/82 p.19

37. AW 10/8/68 Godís Kingdom of a Thousand years pp.13,19 AW 10/8/68 How much longer will it be? WT 5/1/68 p.272 WT 10/15/69 AW 10/8/71 WT 8/15/68

38. WT 11/15/67 WT 6/8/68

39. WT 3/15/80 p.31

40. Year-Book p.171 AW 2/8/68 pp. 16-22 WT 2/1/68 pp.71-79 AW 12/8/72 pp.9-28 AW 12/8/75 pp.3-13

41. Zionís WT 4/15/1903 p.120 WT 7/1/1898 p.204

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