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Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses
Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York
Classification Millenarian
Orientation Restorationist
Organizational structure Hierarchical
Geographical areas Worldwide
Founder Charles Taze Russell (founded Bible Student movement)
Origin 1876: Bible Students founded
1931: Named Jehovah's witnesses
Pennsylvania and New York, USA
Branched from Bible Student movement
Separations See Jehovah's Witnesses
splinter groups
Congregations 111,719
Members 7.78 million
Official Website
Statistics from 2013 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses preaching house to house in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Meeting in Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Personal Bible study.

Jehovah's Witnesses is a group with more than seven million members throughout the world. They believe God is about to end the present system of life in the world, with its crime, violence, sickness and death, and replace it with his Kingdom which will bring about peace for all humans who live by Bible standards.

Most of the religion's beliefs are based on the Bible and these beliefs were taught by Charles Taze Russell, a preacher who started a Bible study group in Pennsylvania, USA in 1876, and later started publishing a religious magazine called The Watchtower. Many of those beliefs, especially about who God is and what his plans are for humans and the earth, are different to what is taught in mainstream Christian churches. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven and that the remaining people who obey God will live forever on a paradise Earth. They do not believe that God is a Trinity, and teach that when people die, they remain in their grave until Jesus Christ resurrects them after God's Kingdom, or government, is ruling over earth. Witnesses are best known for preaching their beliefs from door-to-door and in other public places, and offering their magazines, The Watchtower and Awake! They are also well known for refusing to join armies and refusing blood transfusions.


In 1870 a young clothing shop owner named Charles Taze Russell heard an Adventist preacher explain that the Bible contained clues that showed God was about to set up a kingdom, or government, over earth. He said the kingdom, which is mentioned many times in the New Testament of the Bible, would be based in heaven, and it would completely change the way of life for everyone in the world. Russell studied that preacher's teachings, then changed some of them to arrive at a set of beliefs of his own. Using a combination of Bible verses and historical dates, he came to the decision that God would very soon call to heaven a group of "saints" who would become the kings of that Kingdom. There would also be other "saints", who were faithful Christians of the past who had since died, who would also make up a total of 144,000 kings in heaven. Churches at the time were teaching that humans were still waiting for Jesus to return to earth in his Second Coming, but Russell believed all those Bible clues proved Jesus had actually returned in 1874 for what he called his parousia, or "presence".[1] Russell believed part of God's plan was also to start Armageddon, which he believed would be a complete breakdown of law and order on earth, when governments and classes of people would fight among themselves. But after that, he believed, God would end sickness and death and allow humble and obedient Christians to live forever in perfect health.[2]

Russell believed it was very important that all Christians, including those who were attending churches, should learn those "truths" he believed had been carefully hidden in the Bible for thousands of years. He therefore established a publishing group called the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.[3][4] He wrote several books, set up some Bible study classes where people could study his teachings, and began publishing a magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, which announced that Christ was already present. He wrote about his belief that God would bring about all those events by 1914.

By the time Russell died in 1916, the articles, books, pamphlets and sermons he had written totaled 50,000 printed pages, with almost 20 million copies of his books printed and distributed around the world.[5] His position as president of the Watch Tower Society was taken by one of his followers, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Rutherford began writing and publishing many books as well. He made some changes to Russell's teachings and also required all the study groups, or congregations, around the world to agree to a united set of teachings and rules issued by the Watch Tower Society in New York. He told all members of the religion that they should start to go door to door preaching about God's Kingdom and also sell Watch Tower Society publications so more people would hear the message.[6] In 1931 Rutherford introduced the name "Jehovah's witnesses" for the religion, partly to highlight what the religion believed was God's holy name. By the time Rutherford died in 1942 the religion had a worldwide membership of 115,000.

Some of the new teachings, however, resulted in suffering for many Jehovah's Witnesses. Thousands were sent to prison or beaten or killed in several countries during World War II because they refused to fight,[7][8] and later in the United States many children were expelled from schools because they refused to salute the flag because they thought that was something that God would not approve. Some countries still have laws against members practising that religion. But Jehovah's Witnesses continued to grow rapidly, partly because they were becoming more skilled at teaching the public in their door-to-door preaching, and by 1977 they had more than two million members around the world and many properties at their New York headquarters.

From 1966 the religion encouraged members to believe that God would bring Armageddon in 1975, and that the Kingdom would be set up very soon after.[9] Some Witnesses sold businesses and homes, gave up jobs, delayed medical operations and decided against starting a family because they expected Armageddon to arrive.[10][11] The religion's leaders later apologised for those statements, which they said were made because they were so keen for the Kingdom to come. Many members left at the time, because they were disappointed nothing had happened, but membership later climbed even higher.

What they believe

Like Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses believe there is a God who is the Creator and the most powerful individual in the universe. But they have some different beliefs from those religions. They say God explained in the Bible that his name is Jehovah (which is a translation of the Hebrew letters "YHWH") and they believe it is important that people know that name. They believe that Jesus Christ is God's son, and the holy spirit is the power that God can use, or let other people use, to help his purposes. They do not believe in the Trinity.[12] They believe the Bible is a book that God wrote with the help of humans, and it is therefore completely true and the best guide to how people should live.[13]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God made Adam and Eve, the first humans, and put them in a paradise called Eden. They think that when Adam and Eve sinned, God removed his special protection and that therefore they began to get sick and die. Because they were no longer perfect, they were unable to have perfect children, so from that point humans would find it very hard to avoid sinning. They believe that Jehovah later sent Jesus to die to make a way for humans to get back the paradise that Adam and Eve lost and restore them to perfect health and life.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people, who are referred to in Revelation chapters 7 and 14, will go to heaven to be kings and priests with Jesus Christ. They say that God is going to use his powers, perhaps involving storms or earthquakes, to start a worldwide war called Armageddon, and that billions of people who do not obey God or worship him the way he expects will be killed. The people who he approves will survive that great war and will be given the opportunity to live forever, because God will remove all sickness, disease and death. God will then begin to turn Earth into a peaceful paradise where there will be no crime, violence or wars, because criminals and dishonest people will have died at Armageddon. He will also resurrect (bring back to life) the billions of people who died in the past, so they can learn the truth about God and show they want to live obediently in a paradise as well. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only their religion truly obeys God's instructions, and that God disapproves of all other religions (including Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Muslims) because they refuse to really follow the Bible. They believe the leader of all those religions is Satan the Devil, who tries to trick people into thinking they are pleasing God with their worship.[14] For that reason they believe only baptised members of Jehovah's Witnesses will be saved at Armageddon, though God will make the final choice.[15][16][17]

What they do

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door ministry work. They believe Jesus Christ ordered them at Matthew 28:19 to "go make disciples of all the nations" warning people that the day of God's judgement, or Armageddon, will happen soon. Jehovah's Witnesses believe their preaching work is a fulfillment of prophesy located at Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." All Witnesses are expected to spend time regularly in public preaching work, which usually involves offering The Watchtower, other Watch Tower Society publications. Since the Internet, Jehovah's Witnesses also preach online with some bible studies taking place over communication networks such as Skype. They teach people Witness doctrine about Jehovah and his plans for the earth and are required to give a monthly written report on how much time they have spent in that ministry.

The buildings where Jehovah's Witnesses meet to worship are called Kingdom Halls. Unlike many other churches, these halls do not have altars, statues, symbols such as the Cross, or candles. Each congregation has two meetings a week which are broken down into four meeting events; the "Service (or ministry) meeting" & the "Theocratic Ministry School" (both held on the same night) and then the "Watchtower study" and a public talk (both held on the same day). Members are expected to attend them both, as well as big conventions and assemblies several times a year (some of them at hired sports arenas) where often thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses gather. Most meetings consist of talks or study sessions based on articles in Watch Tower Society books and magazines about the Bible or Christian life. At the congregation meetings members of the audience, including children, are often invited to make comments and respond to questions asked by the speaker. The religion has elders and ministerial servants (who are called bishops and deacons in some other Christian churches), but they have no paid clergy and most elders support themselves by having other jobs. Also, they do not consider themselves to be superior to other members of the congregation and do not set themselves apart in any way such as dressing in a certain way.

Members of the religion are expected to live up to high moral standards and told they should always be honest. They are encouraged to marry only other baptised Jehovah's Witnesses and they are warned that God does not like married couples to divorce. They are not allowed to smoke tobacco or take illegal drugs, but are allowed to drink alcohol if they do not get drunk. They do not vote in elections, salute flags, sing national anthems, join armies or fight in wars, and they also do not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other common religious holidays. They also refuse to have blood transfusions because they believe that in the Bible God said blood should not be taken into the body. They are warned not to make close friends with people who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, because of the danger that those people could make their faith in God weaker, however association is not banned in places were it's not possible to have no contact (such as places of work) as this is considered extreme and unnecessary.

Jehovah's Witnesses are quite strict about who can be a member.[18] Any Jehovah's Witness who is suspected of breaking any of the rules of the religion, including the Bible's moral standards, may be asked to appear before an investigation held by elders but this is not public and handled discreetly. A member of the religion who disagrees with any official teaching and talks or writes about it may also be called to appear and answer questions. That investigation is called a judicial committee and if the elders decide the person is 'guilty' and does not regret what they did, they may tell the person they have been "disfellowshipped", which means they are no longer a member of the religion or approved by God. When that happens, no other Jehovah's Witness is allowed to talk to that person until they are allowed back in. That system of punishing members has been criticised by some people, including former Jehovah's Witnesses, as harsh and unfair.[19][20] The style of leadership of the religion has also been described by some authors as autocratic and totalitarian because of the way members have to be completely obedient to the leaders, avoiding any criticism of the religion or its teachings.[21]


  1. "A sketch of the development of present truth", Zion's Watch Tower, July 15, 1906.
  2. Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watchtower. p. 42.
  3. Historical Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses by George D. Chryssides, Scarecrow Press, 2008, page xxxiv, "Russell wanted to consolidate the movement he had started. ...In 1880, Bible House, a four-story building in Allegheny, was completed, with printing facilities and meeting accommodation, and it became the organization's headquarters. The next stage of institutionalization was legal incorporation. In 1884, Russell formed the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, which was incorporated in Pennsylvania... Russell was concerned that his supporters should feel part of a unified movement."
  4. Religion in the Twentieth Century by Vergilius Ture Anselm Ferm, Philosophical Library, 1948, page 383, "As the [unincorporated Watch Tower] Society expanded, it became necessary to incorporate it and build a more definite organization. In 1884, a charter was granted recognizing the Society as a religious, non-profit corporation."
  5. Penton, M. James (1997, 2nd ed.). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 13–46. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3 .
  6. Franz, Raymond (2007). "Chapter 4". In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. ISBN 0914675168 .
  7. [1].
  8. Kaplan, William (1989). State and Salvation. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.
  9. See "Witnessing the End" in the July 18, 1969 Time magazine. Scan available online at: Retrieved February 14, 2006.
  10. Raymond Franz. "1975—The Appropriate Time for God to Act" (PDF). Crisis of Conscience. pp. 237–253. Archived from the original on 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
  11. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. pp. 151–4. ISBN 0415266106 .
  12. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0415266092 .
  13. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 172. ISBN 0802079733 .
  14. Hoekema, Anthony A. (1963). The Four Major Cults. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. p. 286. ISBN 0802831176 .
  15. "Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium", The Watchtower, September 1, 1989, page 19, "Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the 'great crowd,'as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil."
  16. You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth,, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1989, pg 255, "Do not conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God's new system. There is only one ... there will be only one organization — God's visible organization — that will survive the fast-approaching 'great tribulation.' It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal. You must be part of Jehovah's organization, doing God's will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life."
  17. "Our Readers Ask: Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?", The Watchtower, November 1, 2008, page 28, "Jehovah's Witnesses hope to be saved. However, they also believe that it is not their job to judge who will be saved. Ultimately, God is the Judge. He decides."
  18. Stark and Iannoccone (1997) (PDF), Journal of Contemporary Religion, pp. 142–143,, retrieved 2008-12-30.
  19. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 22, 163. ISBN 0415266092 .
  20. Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Constable, 1969, page 50.
  21. Beckford, James A. (1975). The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 89, 95, 103, 120, 204, 221. ISBN 0631163107 .

Other websites


Jehovah's Witnesses' brochures about the name Jehovah