Tacking into the Wind With no Destination
Tacking into the Wind
With no Destination
A Short History of Jehovah's Witnesses
Copyright (C) 1995, 2001 by Timothy Campbell
This article may be freely distributed in unaltered form
Mail: 80 Mornelle Court #310, Toronto, ON, Canada M1E 4P8
- The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the organization run by the
Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims that it is the sole
channel of information between God and humanity.
They base this claim on a complicated, Bible-based chronology devised
by the Adventist N.H. Barbour in 1875. The founder of Jehovah's Witnesses,
Charles Taze Russell, obtained many of his ideas from Adventists and others
who speculated in Bible prophecy. In 1884, Russell founded the Watchtower
Society, which became the legal corporation used by the International Bible
Students, the early name for Jehovah's Witnesses.
The chronology stated that Jesus had invisibly returned to earth in
1874 to set up his kingdom, and that in 1914, at the end of the "Gentile
Times", Jesus would come to judge the earth and annihilate the wicked.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1914, the Watchtower Society
started transferring all of the doctrines about 1874 to 1914. They explained
that Christ's kingdom had been set up invisibly in 1914, and that although
secular governments were still in place, their rule was no longer valid.
Based on the Society's writings, Jehovah's Witnesses looked forward to
momentous events in the year 1918.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1918, the Watchtower Society
looked forward to momentous events in 1925.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1925, the Watchtower Society
lost three quarters of its members.
Charles Taze Russell had been held to be the "Faithful and Wise
Servant" of Matthew 24:45-47, but by 1928 the Society applied that to its
leaders. They taught that the scripture was a prophecy, and that in 1918
they had been chosen by Jesus "over all that he hath". Since they believed
Jesus was ruling the world invisibly, they claimed for themselves a position
as God's channel of communication with mankind.
The Society checked its predictions and explained that all of the
prophecies in Matthew 24 and 25 would take place within a "single
generation" (Matthew 24:34), so the time of "the end of the world" (Matthew
24:3) could be delayed as long as 30 or 40 years. In 1929, the Society built
a mansion ("Beth Sarim") to house the resurrected prophets, who were
expected to arrive soon. The new definition of "generation" promised
momentous events during the 1940's.
When nothing supernatural had happened by 1945, the Society extended
the meaning of "generation" to 80 years (the maximum lifespan of a typical
man, as explained in Psalms 90:10). "Beth Sarim" was eventually sold.
Although 1914 plus 80 equals 1994, in 1966 the Watchtower Society
decided that the year 1975 was "significant", because they had calculated
that it marked the end of six thousand years since the creation of Adam and
Eve. Watchtower publications strongly hinted that "the end" would come in
When nothing supernatural happened in 1975, the Watchtower Society
lost many members. It explained that the time between Adam's creation and
Eve's creation was not known, so the 1975 date was only speculative.
In 1980, the Society suggested that the Witnesses and the publishing
staff had been overly enthusiastic about the "possibility" of Armageddon in
1975. This failed to lure back thousands who had left, but regular
door-to-door preaching restored the rapid growth the Witnesses had enjoyed
since the "significance" of 1975 had been announced.
When the year 1994 arrived (1914 plus 80 years), nothing supernatural
happened. The Society had not ascribed any special significance
to 1994, but the "generation" issue was becoming awkward. The ranks of the
Society's special members (the 144,000 who were "anointed", based on an
interpretation of Revelation) were dying out. The claim that Jesus had
appointed the Watchtower Society special status in 1918 was becoming hard to
In 1995, the Watchtower Society decided that "generation" did not
mean a physical generation (i.e. 80 years) but meant "age", as in "era".
This extended the "end times" indefinitely, although when the last of the
144,000 special members die out, the Society will have to be run by regular
A close inspection of Matthew 24:34 in context makes the "age"
interpretation hard to understand, since Jesus speaks of the generation
"passing away" (which sounds like a physical event). The Watchtower Society
states that it alone understands that "generation" means "age" because it
has special status, which was granted to it in 1918.
The Watchtower magazine, published by the Society, has said the end
is "soon", in every issue since it was first printed ... in 1879.
"No Special Significance"
The Society did not consider 1994 "special", because the end was supposed to
occur within the time of a typical human lifespan (as "generation"
was then interpreted), not at the end of a generation. Here are some
quotations from Watchtower literature that illustrate their position prior
to November 1995:
Watchtower 1968/12/01 p. 715:
... did not Jesus say that this generation will not pass away until all
things are fulfilled? A generation, according to Psalm 90:10, is from
seventy to eighty years. The generation that witnessed the end of the
Gentile Times in 1914 does not have many more years left. - Luke 21:24,
1967/12/15 p. 751:
... the expression "this generation" was used by Jesus to mark a very
limited period of time, the life-span of members of a generation of people
living during the time that certain epoch-making events occurred. According
to Psalm 90:10, that life-span could be of seventy years or even of eighty
years. Into this comparatively short period of time must be crowded all the
things that Jesus prophesied in answer to the request for a "sign when all
these things are destined to come to a conclusion." (Mark 13:4)
Awake! masthead from March 1988 until
Most importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise
of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events
of 1914 passes away.
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