Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian group originating in the United States at the end of the 19th cent., organized by Charles Taze Russell, whose doctrine centers on the Second Coming of Christ. The Witnesses believe that the event has already commenced; they also believe the battle of Armageddon is imminent and that it will be followed by a millennial period when repentant sinners will have a second chance for salvation. The Witnesses base their teaching on the Bible. They have no churches but meet in buildings that are always named Kingdom Hall. There are no official ministers because all Jehovah's Witnesses are considered ministers of the gospel. Their views are circulated in the Watchtower, Awake!, and other publications and by house-to-house canvasing carried on by members. Since their beginning, the Witnesses have been the subject of harassment virtually everywhere that they have been active. Regarding governments as the work of Satan, the Witnesses refuse to bear arms in war or participate in the affairs of government. Their refusal to salute the flag brought about a controversy that resulted in a decision in their favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. The group was banned as extremist in Russia in 2017. The Witnesses insist upon a rigid moral code and refuse blood transfusions. Before 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses were called Russellites; abroad the movement is usually known as the International Bible Students Association. Active in almost every country in the world, the group has more than 1 million members in the United States.


See studies by W. J. Whalen (1962), W. C. Stevenson (1967), J. Bergman (1984), and M. J. Penton (1988).

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Jehovah's Witnesses

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Fuller Brush man doesn't travel door to door anymore and vacuum cleaners are sold in stores these days. But door by door, one visit at a time, Jehovah's Witnesses quietly go about the business of what is probably the most audacious grassroots marketing campaign in history. In short, they are trying to reach, one at a time, six billion people with their message.

In June 2002 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that, irrespective of local bylaws, the Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to ring every doorbell in the country. Their organizational structure is superb, their dedication inspiring, their numbers growing daily. Two by two, well-dressed, polite lay people who believe in their cause are out to talk personally to every soul in the world.

There are 945,689 Witnesses in the world right now. They spend an average of 189 hours per person per year getting the word out. There are 121,697 "pioneers" canvassing full time, adding daily to the membership of 11,582 congregations who meet in various Kingdom Halls around the world. Each member fills out a form documenting every house visited, with standard initials such as NH for "Not Home." During the year 2001, 179 million hours were catalogued at their headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.

The numbers alone tell the story. Through all kinds of weather, enduring vicious dogs, verbal abuse, and friendly, if evasive, chit-chat, they believe they have a story to tell and go about the business of telling it. They convert some people and irritate others. They are the brunt of jokes and slander, but they keep about their business.

Who are these people who care so much?

They are Jehovah's Witnesses. Their title comes from an Old Testament name for God. When you approach the Witnesses to find out what they are about, they will channel you into a home Bible study and introduce you to God. God has a name, just like anyone else. And if you want to get to know God you ought to first know his name. It's in the Bible, and is spelled YHVH. That's a little hard to enunciate. No one now living knows how it was pronounced. So we have to go with our best guess. Historically, the vowels that used to make the name pronounceable are "a," "o" and "e." That makes it Yahoveh. But the Hebrew letter that corresponds to the English "y" becomes "j," and somewhere along the line the original "a" became pronounced "e" in English and the final "e" began to be spelled as an "a." So meet Jehovah. Whenever the words "the Lord" appear in English-language Bibles, it's a translation of YHVH. Catholic and Protestant academics coined the name "Jehovah" long ago.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus sent the disciples out into every town to preach the Gospel and be witnesses of the power of God. The order was never rescinded, so Jehovah's Witnesses believe they are simply doing what Jesus asked of his followers. They are witnesses of Jehovah. "Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah." Hence, the name.

But they have been called by many other names since their movement began in the days prior to 1872 when their founder, Charles Russell, began meeting with a small group of Christian believers to examine the scriptures "relative to the coming of Christ and kingdom." They have been known as Millennial Dawnists, International Bible Students, members of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Russellites, and sometimes Rutherfordites.

It all began when Russell, a Congregationalist by religion and haberdasher by trade, "stumbled across," in his words, an Adventist preacher (see Seventh-day Adventism) who sparked his wavering faith. In 1879 Russell published his first book, Food for Thinking Christians. By 1884 his adherents had formed a movement called the Zion's Watchtower Society. (The name came from the third chapter of the book of Ezekiel. God warned the prophet that he was to be "as on a watchtower." If the enemy came and the watcher didn't warn the people, their blood would be on the hands of the watcher. But if the people were warned and didn't listen, at least the fault wouldn't lie with the watcher.)

Russell traveled incessantly and published a constant stream of pamphlets to help his followers. Like so many before him, he tried to figure out dates for the return of Christ. The year 1914 became the time when "the full establishment of the Kingdom of God would be established."

The year came and went without the coming of Christ. But upon reexamining scripture, Russell concluded that the date was right, it was only the interpretation of how the kingdom would come that was wrong. The year 1914 was when Christ returned "in Spirit," a prelude to the physical return. Armageddon would still take place, but not before those who responded to the call of the Spirit witnessed to that Spirit and became the "watchers" on the wall, warning the people of what was to come. (Some religious scholars and secular historians have noted that 1914, the year World War I began, was indeed a year that changed the world. Jesus warned of "wars and rumors of wars" in Matthew 18. They would come "before the time of the end.")

Pastor Russell died in 1917, and after a severe struggle among the 15,000 adherents, Joseph Franklin ("Judge") Rutherford assumed command. Under the popular slogan, "Millions now living will never die," the society rebounded from the scandals of Russell's divorce and his attempted sale of "miracle wheat." It was Rutherford who, in 1931, coined the term Jehovah's Witnesses and provided the witnesses with phonographs so they could play records of the judge's comments when they made their house calls. By 1942, when the judge died, a board of directors was appointed to lead the organization. The cult of personality disappeared, along with the phonographs. Now the Witnesses entered into their greatest period of growth.

The original message was very definitely aimed at those who were considered to be "culturally deprived." Satan's power, they said, is wielded through "the religious, commercial and political combine." These are the forces that oppress the righteous. One power structure does the bidding of the other. It is an evil conspiracy to defeat the righteous. Churches and religious organizations are "tools of Satan." Some ministers are probably well meaning, but duped. Others, backed by entrenched political forces, are out to steal the cash of their innocent congregations.

They have become famous for a few of the doctrines they espouse. Genesis 9:3 warns people not to "eat meat that has life blood in it," so many Witnesses are vegetarians. And Leviticus 17:14 says "the life of any creature is in the blood," so Witnesses refuse blood transfusions as well.

They are also forbidden to take part in ecumenical dialogues or events and are often criticized for believing their religion is the only correct one.

They believe Jesus Christ is God's son, the "first created" of all things, and so inferior to God. But he will return to Earth to rule.

So the Witnesses are issuing the warning. Some people are hearing the message, and the Witnesses believe it won't be long until Christ returns and the world will be restored. 144,000 Witnesses (the number comes from Revelation 14) will someday go to heaven. But the vast majority of the faithful, "a great multitude," will remain on Earth to live life the way it's supposed to be. "The wolf will live with the lamb... they shall not hurt nor destroy" in all the earth (Isaiah 11).

Until then, Jehovah has his witnesses. They are passing out their magazine, the Watchtower. They offer books and lessons free of charge. They are dedicated, polite, and motivated.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Jehovah’s Witnesses


a Christian sect, which arose in Pennsylvania in 1872. Until 1931 it was known as the Society of International Bible Students. The founder of the movement was C. Russell. The sect had organizations in most countries by the end of the 1960’s. The greatest number of Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the USA (over 300,000) and in the Federal Republic of Germany (over 70,000). The sect’s center is in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its main organ, The Watchtower, has a circulation of many millions of copies (in many languages).

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the triune nature of god and recognize Jehovah as the only god. They have renounced belief in hell, heaven, and the immortality of the soul. The entire earthly world, according to the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is the kingdom of Satan, and only their society is just. They predict an imminent battle (Armageddon) between the forces of Jehovah and Satan, as a result of which all humanity will perish, with the exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, who will receive “eternal salvation.” A “millennial kingdom” will be established on earth, a theocratic state headed by Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses instill in believers the idea of the hopelessness of the efforts of people themselves to bring order to the earth. They openly oppose communism, and because of their anti-Soviet tendency, their activity is prohibited in the USSR.


Bartoshevich, E.M. and E.I. Borisoglebskii. Svideteli Iegovy. Moscow, 1969.
Moskalenko, A.T. Sovremennyi iegovizm. Novosibirsk, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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