How and Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Founded

According to the book, “Pastor Russell – Founder of the Bible Students,” published by Bible Students Christian Classics:

An unfortunate scrap of history provides the answer as to the origins to “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” After the death of Pastor Russell in 1916, the purpose of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society changed drastically.  Joseph Rutherford, whom Pastor Russell had recently dismissed from his staff, seized legal control of the Watch Tower, dismissed the majority of the Board of Directors and established dictatorial control.  The Watch Tower became the central head and authority over all congregations willing to yield their sovereignty. Basic doctrines of the new “society” seriously digressed from the teachings of Pastor Russell and the writings of Pastor Russell were discarded. The methods of conducting the evangelistic work were altered. The more sensational digressions, such as refusing blood transfusion and saluting the flag, caught the public’s eye...

But many individuals and whole congregations refused to surrender their Christian liberty or accept the new teachings. As early as 1917, the exodus from the newly declared sovereign headquarters began. By 1918 one-fourth of the Bible Students left Rutherford and remained true to the teachings of the late Pastor Russell.  During the struggle between Rutherford and the Bible Students, William Schnell was in the upper echelon of the Watchtower and made some very insightful observations.  At the time he finally wrote his book, THIRTY YEARS A WATCHTOWER SLAVE, Schnell was neither a Jehovah’s Witness nor a Bible Student.  Schnell noted that further doctrinal changes and aggressive promotions by Rutherford resulted in a large increase in new members, but this also generated opposition from Pastor Russell’s Bible Students who still remained endeavoring to reverse Rutherford’s revisionism of doctrine and practice. Rutherford’s reaction is described as follows:

Between 1925 and 1931 Rutherford embarked on a campaign to purge Russell’s followers. By 1931 over three-fourths of those formerly associated with the Bible Student movement in Pastor Russell’s day remained faithful to his teachings by completely separating from Rutherford.

Regarding those who left, Schnell remarked, “That is precisely what the new Watch Tower Society wanted and what they had hoped to accomplish.”7 Speaking of the new converts, Schnell said:

These, of course, were in the majority after the bloodletting of three-fourths of the Bible Students had been so adroitly accomplished.

Further, Schnell observed:

The old Bible Students, spirit begotten…individuals, true Christians, would never have stood for such subversion of thinking and practices. Being students of the Bible, they had been warned by what Paul had said in 2 Tim. 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.”

The lineage of the Bible Student congregations of today traces back through these separatist Bible Students to Pastor Russell their founder.  A description Schnell gives of Russell’s Bible Students reveals why Rutherford could not subdue them:

Bible Students had been of such rugged individuality type that they claimed they had fled various [church] organizations in order to become and remain free and unencumbered in their quest of Bible studies and living as Christians. They felt that the organizations from which they had fled had become too rigid and stifling, a condition which they considered detrimental to their course as Christians. In fact, in those days Bible Students were the most rugged individualists ever to appear since the days of the early Church. Their motto of “non-conformity” became a by-word in the 80s and 90s of the last century.

The picture is clear. The historical data reveals beyond a doubt that Pastor Russell’s Bible Students and Judge Rutherford’s Jehovah’s Witnesses are two separate movements.

Yet, there is one point that tends to be confusing and contradictory.

Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to Pastor Russell as their founder?  Certainly it is not because they agree with his basic teachings. In fact, they so vigorously disagree with his basic teachings that they have time and again categorized Pastor Russell’s Bible Students as the “evil servant” class who will be annihilated eternally.11 (Bible Students, on the other hand, have joyful expectation, for the Witnesses’ eternity.)

What is the sin of Pastor Russell and his Bible Students that make them so evil? What is the abominable sin that Pastor Russell’s Bible Students have committed that merits eternal destruction? The answer is simply that Bible Students still hold on to the teachings of Pastor Russell! That means that, therefore, they reject Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrines. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, the basic  teachings of Bible Students are gross error–worthy of eternal judgment.

The absurd contradiction emerges, however, when Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Pastor Russell as their founder. Where did the Bible Students get their so-called gross errors, but from Pastor Russell?  If he taught gross error, how can Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Russell as their founder? Why do they claim him anyway?

7 comments to How and Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Founded

  • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

    I just read this WIKIPEDIA link that is interesting. I heard of some of this when I was in the witnesses but now it is brought together so it can be understood.'s_Witnesses_splinter_groups

  • Dupin

    Greetings Max:

    I’m going to let Peter defend his own words there, but couldn’t help but notice this one: “1 Tim 4:7,”Keep yourself in training for the pratice of religion.” “religion” isn’t what the verse say in the Greek, the word used there is “eusebeian” which means piety, religiousness, or godliness, not “religion.”

    Where you and Br. Peter may be crossing up here is in how you personally define the concept of a “religion,” which Br. Peter probably sees more in terms of a formal sectarian sort of thing where you may see it differently. I prefer to see it in terms of Jesus founding a religious movement rather than a formal religion. The evidence in the NT seems to show the Jewish Christians didn’t see themselves as making up a new religion distinct from Judaism, instead they seemed to see themselves as a movement within that Religion. Had they not, the question which came up in Acts 15 would’ve made no sense.

    As a movement the Christian faith was more flexible than a formal faith and able to move throughout the world and operate underground in the face of persecution which would’ve wiped out a religious establishment. There are records of the Christian faith showing up in most ancient times in places such as India, China and Ireland not to mention many more.

    In no place was it ever really welcome, yet it survived and often missionaries to far-flung places were surprised to find the Christian faith already there underground. That early Christian model of a movement was what CTR sought to return to and the modern Bible Students seek to emulate. It take quite a bit of faith in God to manage his own affairs to do that; but the Bible Students have that faith.

  • max

    THe NEB says,”They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God, men who preserve the outward form of religion, but are a standing denial of its realities.”

    Sounds like you are referring to that?

    In the beginning of that letter from Paul he says,”Grace, mercy, and peace to you fom God the Father and our Lord JEsus Christ.”

    You see Paul knew thatJesus has a Father and God, John 20:17,”I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers,and tell them that I am now ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

    If you don’t understand that, I would be careful as to what is my heart.

    1 Tim 4:7,”Keep yourself in training for the pratice of religion.” James1:27,”The kind of religion which is without stain or fault in the sight of God our Father in this.”

    So you believe only in Jesus and not his God. And you don’t believe their is a religion?

    You might want to prayfully read Mt 7:21-23

  • One of the problems that I have discovered with the Christian faith is one Christ,a thousand opinions.Every group has its off shoots.Mormons,Christadelphians,Jehovahs witnesses,Brethren,they have all split due to various and differing opinions.Even the roman catholics(re mel gibsons faith).Every one is convinced that they have the truth.
    So what is the answer ?

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Phil – Good question. Even Pilot questioned Jesus, asking “What is Truth?” Yet earlier Jesus had said to his followers in Matt 13:10, 11 (NASV) ” 10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” The time when people will understand God’s plans and purposes will wait to the future paradise earth:

      Isa 29:18, 24 – Deaf will hear, blind will see. Those who erred will understand.
      Isa 26:9 – “when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”
      Isa 11:9-10 – “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.”
      Mic 4:1-2 – “Many nations shall say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.”
      Isa 35:8 – “The way of holiness… shall be for (the redeemed)…fools, shall not err (therein).” ASV

      In Jesus days, the worst place to get they Truth was from the religious leaders (scribes and pharisees). They persuaded the people to crucify the Messiah.

      The same is true today. The worst place to get the Truth is through the religious leaders of religious organizations. For example, the Mormon’s believe their President has prophetic authority from God (much like the JW Governing body). Once we embrace the belief that we must accept and obey the prophet(s) on earth and their interpretation of scripture, even against your own reason and conscience, then if we were in error, what chance could we ever have of discovering it since our mind is closed to that possibility. After all, our “authority” is always correct and those who disagree are apostates. Well, then, welcome to the Catholic Church and most other organized Church denominations.

      So what is the answer you ask Phil? I think Pastor Russell said it best in The Divine Plan of the ages. He said we should “divest our minds of all prejudice, and to remember that none can know more about the plans of God than he has revealed in his Word, and that it was given to the meek and lowly of heart. As such, earnestly and sincerely seeking its guidance and instruction only, we shall by its great Author be guided to an understanding of it, as it becomes due to be understood, by making use of the various helps divinely provided. See Ephesians 4:11-16.”

      • Julia

        Peter, you have not exactly included everything Jesus was saying to his disciples when they questioned him.

        Matthew 13:10-13. 10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” 11 He replied, You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

        Jesus did not come to earth to establish a new religion; however, there is much to be learned from those who have received the holy spirit and have a true relationship with God. There are trusted leaders in religious organizations, but I have found that there are not many. The only thing we can do is to trust the teachings of Jesus Christ and trust what he has said. The Holy Bible was inspired by God, and all other books that claim it are not. I know this with everything in my being because I have received the holy spirit. With that God has given me great knowledge and wisdom of the evil that is present here on earth. I can very clearly see where the devil is at work, and I see it in many religions. Jesus spoke to his disciples about the false prophets that would come after him to deceive. He never mentioned another prophet to follow him that would bring new teachings or a new religion.

        Matthew 23:4-5 4 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will decieve many.

        Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.

        You will find the truth only in the teachings of Jesus Christ. When you accept him in your heart and give your life to him, you will save it. He will guide you to the right place and open your eyes to the lies the devil has orchestrated around us. Those of us who give up our lives for the Lord shall have it restored.

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