History & Data
Near the end of the 18th century several groups of bible students began meeting together in an effort to distinguish the current teachings of the churches from the teachings of the Bible. One of these groups came under the leadership of Charles Taze Russel in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Much of the teaching of the group centered around end times prophecy centering around the kingdom of God being established invisibly in 1914.
The group grew and began publishing what is now known as The Watchtower- Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. The group began making lots more publications promoting the teaching of the Bible. Russel also formed the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which became the publishing arm of the group, and by 1912 Russel was the most distributed author in the United States.
After his death in 1916, Russel was succeeded by Joseph Franklin Rutherford. At this time the group’s name changed from International Bible Students Association to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rutherford also solidified much of the Witnesses’ teachings regarding the 144,000.
The third president, Nathan Knorr, commissioned a new translation of the Bible that is known as the New World Translation that was completed in 1962. Knorr also did much to increase the missionary outreach of Witnesses. After Knorr, the role of a president diminished and the role of the governing body took precedent to how the congregations function today.
Jehovah’s Witnesses report to have about 8.6 million active members who are regularly witnessing around the world.
Bible (New World Translation): Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the word of God but have their own translation of the Bible that they believe is the most trustworthy, called the New World Translation. Witnesses believe that other translations of the Bible are not as accurate or clear as the NWT and that it better reflects the original language of the Bible. One example includes the use of the name Jehovah for God’s name, where most modern translations use the word LORD or GOD in all caps.
- Nature of God: Jehovah is a spirit and therefore impossible to be seen except by other spirits. God is a person that dwells at certain times and places. He is the creator of all things and as our creator is deserving of our worship. God can know all things but chooses not to know some things. God is omnipotent. Jesus is the firstborn of creation and is not God but is used by God to create everything else. Jesus is also the Archangel Michael as spoken of elsewhere in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is the name of God’s impersonal active force in the universe.
- Nature of Man: Mankind is made in the image of God, meaning we can reflect his character. Mankind are physical beings and so no part of us lives after death.
- Fall- Because of the sins of Adam and Eve, all of mankind are not born into our original perfection and are separated from God.
- Heaven- Those destined for everlasting life will be brought back from death, with no memory of when they were dead, as if they were simply unconscious. A select few of 144,000 will live in heaven as kings and priests with Jesus. Along with Jehovah and the angels while everyone else that proves faithful will live on a paradise earth.
- Sin- Any action or feeling that goes against Jehovah’s standards. We are born into sin because of the fall of Adam and Eve. There are also sins of omission in failing to do what is right. All of mankind is sinful and therefore in need of a savior. Sins are not seen as equal, but some sins are worse than others.
- Salvation- Deliverance from sin and death is possible through the sacrifice of Christ. Salvation comes by faith in that sacrifice, by our works, living life according to God’s will and baptism. Your actions prove that you have true faith, but one cannot earn your salvation. Those who did not know God before dying will be given a chance to know him and accept him after the resurrection. Those who then accept him and do His will, will be able to live forever on a paradise earth. It is possible to lose your salvation.
- Creation- Jehovah created everything but not over a literal 6-day period as is often interpreted from Genesis 1. Instead creation is a longer process. The days representing longer periods of time rather than a literal 24 hours.
- Hell- Hell is the common grave of mankind. It is not a place of eternal torture and torment. Instead those who are destined to die unfaithful will simply cease to exist.
- Unique Theology or Distinctive Traits-
Governing Body– A small group of mature male witnesses who provide guidance for Witnesses worldwide. This body oversees the creation, and publications of JW’s teachings. They oversee meetings, ministry, and donated assets of the congregation.
God’s Kingdom– Witnesses believe that Jesus has already returned invisibly to establish his kingdom on earth. With that in mind every action of a Witness is kept in line with the belief of an already established spiritual Godly kingdom.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society– Produce publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It boasts over 40 Billion pieces of Bible literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses are called ‘publishers’ upon becoming a member of the congregation which they can only become after repenting of sins, learning to live their life according to God’s standards and getting baptized.
Jehovah– The name of God is seen as a key doctrine for Witnesses. We typically find using someone’s name as a very important thing and as such Witnesses use the name Jehovah, which is the name God gives to himself as important to use and keep in the Bible, as it is kept in their New World Translation of the Bible. Belief in the name Jehovah is not in itself unique theology to Witnesses but their emphasis on that fact is.
Groups & Denominations
Jehovah’s Witnesses in its short time of existence has managed to stay united in membership and teaching. Though not immune to members leaving the religion to the present time there has not been a significant division or fraction of the group.
Traditions and Holy Days
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate any holidays they believe conflict with Biblical teachings. The Watchtower Society lists many holidays specifically that Witnesses should not participate in based upon the holidays roots in superstition, paganism, revoked Old Testament law, or even just dividing loyalty from Jehovah. Even typically Christian holidays or celebrations that are seen as non-religious are often forbidden such as birthdays, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
Memorial of Christs Death- Each year Witnesses gather to commemorate the death of Jesus. This is the largest gathering of Jehovah Witnesses each year. Witnesses will gather in the area they live for a unique night service on the Jewish calendar Nissan 14. During this time bread and wine are passed along to commemorate the death of Jesus. This is on the night before he was arrested. Only those of the remaining 144,000 partake of the wine and bread. About 20 million people around the world will attend this gathering. Witnesses and non-witnesses will attend.