Jehovah’s Witnesses:An Overview


Jehovah’s Witnesses:
An Overview

In 1975 the Witnesses had an active worldwide membership of 1.9 million. As of 1990, the figure of active Jehovah’s Witnesses had risen to 4,017,213, with some 850,120 members, in America alone, doing door-to-door witnessing.

That the outreach and influence of this organization greatly exceeds its membership becomes evident from the circulation figures of the magazines and books published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, New York, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Also, the Witnesses had almost 10 million in attendance at their 1990 Memorial meal, which indicates at least that many consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be “the truth” (Watchtower, 1/1/91).

[More current membership statistics:  “As of February 2008, Jehovah’s Witnesses have an average of 6.8 million members actively involved in preaching.[157] Since the mid-1990s, the number of peak publishers has increased from 4.5 million to 7.0 million.[158] However, there has been a decline in growth rates, from over 8% per annum in the mid 1970s, to 5% per annum in the mid 1990s, to about 2% – 3% per annum since 1999.[159] Growth rates and activity reports tend to show significant geographical variation.[160] The official published membership statistics only include those who have reported preaching activity. ‘Inactive’ and disfellowshipped members, and any who have either not been involved in preaching or have not submitted reports, are not included in the reported figures but may be reflected in the attendance at the Witnesses’ annual Memorial, with over 17 million attending in 2007.”’s_Witnesses]

The work of the Witnesses among nominal Christians, new converts and on the mission fields, has caused a great deal of confusion and heartache. This is the case because this cult denies most of the major doctrines accepted by historic evangelical Christianity.

This brief survey presents a few highlights concerning the Witnesses’ history, doctrines, publications and program.


The history of the Witnesses is conveniently divided into four periods which coincide with the four presidents which have led the movement.

Charles T. Russell (1852-1916) founded Zion’s Watch Tower, (now The Watchtower), in 1879, and Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society in 1884 (later renamed Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). In addtion to his speaking and editorial work Russell penned six volumes titled Studies in Scriptures (originally Millennial Dawn), which appeared between 1886 and 1904. By the time of his death in 1916, the legal and doctrinal foundation of the Society had been established.

“Judge” Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942), the second president, under whose leadership the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was taken in 1931, was a prolific writer. In addition to his speaking and editorial work, and the publication of dozens of booklets, he wrote an average of one new book each year. A number of doctrinal and Scriptural reinterpretations marked his administration.

Rutherford became the “new oracle of God’s message for this age” and Russell’s writings and interpretations were often neglected or rejected as not abreast of progressive light (revelation). By 1938 the independent ecclesiae of Russell’s day were brought under the “Theocratic” control, subservient to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn.

Nathan H. Knorr, following Rutherford’s death in 1942, officially took over the leadership of the Witnesses, a movement then slightly over 115,000. Knorr has demonstrated his organizational ability in that great growth has taken place under his direction in the areas of membership, outreach, buildings and publications (2.25 million members in 1977).

Fred Franz. When Knorr died in 1977, Fred Franz was elected the Watchtower’s fourth president. Although now very old he continues to rule with an iron hand.


The easiest way to treat the doctrinal system of this cult is to present its denials of evangelical Christianity.

Doctrinal denials include the:

1) Denial of the Trinity;

2) Denial of the deity of Christ (Arian view);

3) Denial of the Personality of the Holy Spirit (viewed as “God’s active force”);

4) Denial of man’s immortal soul (It should be noted that Scripturally “immortality” applies to man’s future body. Orthodoxy uses immortality as a term to explain that man’s soul or spirit continues to exist after death);

5) Denial of the Biblical view of the Atonement (Christ’s death is viewed by the Witnesses as that of only a perfect man and as a “corresponding ransom”); Christ is the mediator only for the 144,000.

6) Denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ (the Witnesses teach that He rose a spirit creature as Michael the archangel and materialized bodies on various occasions in order to be seen by His disciples);

7) Denial of salvation by faith in Christ alone; A two class system of salvation – 144,000 in heaven, and the great crowd on a paradise earth.

8) Denial of salvation outside their organization;

9) Denial of the “born again” experience for all (this experience they say is just for 144,000 of the Witnesses);

10) Denial of the eternal punishment of the lost (claiming annihilation is their fate);

11) Denial of the bodily, visible return of Christ (Christ “returned” invisibly in 1914 and there was an invisible “rapture” in 1918).

Other Characteristic Doctrines

1) The Bible cannot be understood today without the Society;

2) Blood transfusion is rejected; if a Witness received one willingly it would result in his eternal death;

3) Witnesses refuse to serve in the military and to salute the flag; to salute the flag is an act of idolatry;

4) Holidays and celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays, are rejected as pagan in origin.


The printed page has been one of the most effective tools of the Witnesses. As of August 15,1991, their two semi-monthly magazines, The Watchtower and Awake! had publication figures of 15.29 million and 13 million respectively. The Watchtower magazine is the “theological” publication of the Society. The publication of one or more books each year, with a first printing of millions of copies, have a real impact.

[More current statistics:

  The Watchtower has been published continuously since 1879. Until 2007, The Watchtower was published twice a month, on the 1st and a 15th of each month. From 2008 onward, a Study Edition typically including five articles for use at the Watchtower Study, is published on the 15th of each month; a separate edition for use in the public ministry is published on the 1st of each month. It is published in 167 languages.

  Awake!, a general interest magazine, has a wider scope than the Watchtower, publishing articles on science, nature, and geography, usually with a religious slant. Earlier titles for this magazine were The Golden Age (1919–1937) and Consolation (1937–1946). Until 2005, Awake! was published on the 8th and 22nd of each month; from 2006 onwards, one issue is published eached month. It is available in 81 languages.

  New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is a translation of the Bible by the New World Bible Translation Committee, last revised in 1984 in English. It extensively uses the name Jehovah, an English version of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, also replacing the Greek word for “Lord” some 237 times in the New Testament. It is available in 71 Languages. The translators have opted to remain anonymous but others have identified them as being prominent leaders of the movement.

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was completed in 1961. Dr. Hoekema agrees with what many others have said concerning this version:

“Their New World Translation is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself” (Anthony Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, pp. 238,239). Greek scholar, Dr. Robert Countess wrote a well documented and thorough critical analysis of their New World Translation in which he concluded, “(It) must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work. At some points it is actually dishonest. At others it is neither modern nor scholarly” (The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament, p. 93).

The Witnesses also have two Greek interliner New Testament texts. The older work is The Emphatic Diaglott, translated by Benjamin Wilson, a Christadelphian with no credentials in Greek.

The other is The Kingdom Interliner Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published in 1969, combines the Westcott and Hort Greek text with the Society’s translation and an improved text of the New World Translation.

Both works clearly reveal a doctrinal bias.


All movements have a program of some kind to bring in the converts. It was William Schnell, author of Thirty Years a Watch Tower Slave, who clearly explained the Witnesses’ “seven-step program.”

1) Get literature into the hands of people through house-to-house or other outreach.

2) Follow up with a “back call” to determine and encourage interest.

3) Try to arrange a “book study,” using the Society’s latest books.

4) Get the person showing interest to come to the congregational “book study.”

5) Bring those showing interest to the “Watchtower study.”

6) Encourage attendance at the “Service meeting” and the “Theocratic Ministry” school. These two meetings train the Witnesses in their outreach program.

7) The last step is the dedication of the life to Jehovah in baptism.

— Craig Branch

Watchman Fellowship, copyright 2000.


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