Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES have not set out to introduce new doctrines, a new way of worship, a new religion. Instead, their modern-day history reflects conscientious effort to teach what is found in the Bible, the inspired Word of God. They point to it as the basis for all their beliefs and their way of life. Instead of developing beliefs that reflect the permissive trends of the modern world, they have sought to conform ever more closely to the Biblical teachings and practices of first-century Christianity.
In the early 1870’s, Charles Taze Russell and his associates undertook an earnest study of the Bible. It became obvious to them that Christendom had strayed far from the teachings and practices of early Christianity. Brother Russell did not claim to be the first to discern this, and he freely acknowledged his indebtedness to others for the assistance they rendered during his early years of study of the Scriptures. He spoke with appreciation for the good work that various movements in the Reformation had done with a view to letting the light of truth shine more brightly. He mentioned by name older men such as Jonas Wendell, George Stetson, George Storrs, and Nelson Barbour, who personally contributed to his understanding of God’s Word in various ways.a
He also stated: “Various doctrines we hold and which seem so new and fresh and different were held in some form long ago: for instance—Election, Free Grace, Restitution, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification, Resurrection.” It was often the case, however, that one religious group was distinguished by a clearer understanding of one Bible truth; another group, by a different truth. Their further progress was frequently hindered because they were shackled to doctrines and creeds that embodied beliefs that had flourished in ancient Babylon and Egypt or that were borrowed from Greek philosophers.
But which group, with the help of God’s spirit, would gradually lay hold again on the entire “pattern of healthful words” that had been cherished by first-century Christians? (2 Tim. 1:13) For whom would it prove true that their path was “like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established”? (Prov. 4:18) Who would really do the work that Jesus commanded when he said: “You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth”? Who would not only make disciples but also ‘teach them to observe all the things’ that Jesus had commanded? (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19, 20) Indeed, was the time at hand when the Lord would make a clear distinction between those true Christians that he likened to wheat and the imitation ones that he referred to as weeds (actually, weeds of a sort that very much resemble wheat until they reach maturity)?b (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) Who would prove to be “the faithful and discreet slave” to whom the Master, Jesus Christ, at his presence in Kingdom power, would entrust further responsibility in connection with the work foretold for the conclusion of this system of things?—Matt. 24:3, 45-47.
Letting the Light Shine
Jesus instructed his disciples to share with others the light of divine truth that they had received from him. “You are the light of the world,” he said. “Let your light shine before men.” (Matt. 5:14-16; Acts 13:47) Charles Taze Russell and his associates recognized that they had an obligation to do that.
Did they believe that they had all the answers, the full light of truth? To that question Brother Russell pointedly answered: “Certainly not; nor will we have until the ‘perfect day.’” (Prov. 4:18, KJ) Frequently they referred to their Scriptural beliefs as “present truth”—not with any idea that truth itself changes but rather with the thought that their understanding of it was progressive.
These earnest students of the Bible did not shy away from the idea that there is such a thing as truth in matters of religion. They recognized Jehovah as “the God of truth” and the Bible as his Word of truth. (Ps. 31:5; Josh. 21:45; John 17:17) They realized that there was still much that they did not know, but they did not hold back from stating with conviction what they had learned from the Bible. And when traditional religious doctrines and practices contradicted what they found to be clearly stated in God’s inspired Word, then, in imitation of Jesus Christ, they exposed the falsehood, even though this brought ridicule and hatred upon them from the clergy.—Matt. 15:3-9.
To reach and feed others spiritually, C. T. Russell began publication, in July 1879, of the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.
The Bible—Truly the Word of God
Charles Taze Russell’s confidence in the Bible was not simply a matter of accepting a traditional viewpoint that was popular at the time. On the contrary, what was popular among many at that time was higher criticism. Those who advocated it challenged the reliability of the Bible record.
As a youth, Russell had joined the Congregational Church and was active in its work, but the unreasonableness of traditional dogmas led to his becoming a skeptic. He found that what he had been taught could not be defended from the Bible in a satisfying way. So he discarded the dogmas of church creed and, with them, the Bible. Next, he explored leading Oriental religions, but they too proved unsatisfying. Then he began to wonder if perhaps the Bible was being misrepresented by Christendom’s creeds. Encouraged by what he heard one evening at an Adventist meeting, he began a systematic study of the Scriptures. What he saw unfolding before him was indeed the inspired Word of God.
He came to be profoundly impressed by the harmony of the Bible with itself and with the personality of the One identified as its Divine Author. To help others to benefit from this, he later wrote the book The Divine Plan of the Ages, which he published in 1886. In it he included a major discussion on “The Bible as a Divine Revelation Viewed in the Light of Reason.” Toward the end of that chapter, he stated unequivocally: “The depth and power and wisdom and scope of the Bible’s testimony convince us that not man, but the Almighty God, is the author of its plans and revelations.”
Confidence in the entire Bible as God’s Word continues to be a cornerstone of the beliefs of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses. Worldwide, they have study aids that enable them personally to examine the evidence of its inspiration. Aspects of this subject are frequently discussed in their magazines. In 1969 they published the book Is the Bible Really the Word of God? Twenty years later the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? took a fresh look at the subject of Bible authenticity, drew attention to added evidence, and came to the same conclusion: The Bible is, indeed, the inspired Word of God. Another one of their books, printed first in 1963 and updated in 1990, is “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial.” Further detail is found in their Bible encyclopedia, Insight on the Scriptures, published in 1988.
From their personal and congregational study of such material, they are convinced that although some 40 humans over a period of 16 centuries were used to record what is in the 66 books of the Bible, God himself actively directed the writing by his spirit. The apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God.” (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21) This conviction is a powerful factor in the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Commenting on this, a British newspaper remarked: “Behind everything a Witness does lies a Scriptural reason. Indeed, their one basic tenet is recognition of the Bible as . . . true.”
Getting to Know the True God
As Brother Russell and his associates studied the Scriptures, it did not take them long to see that the God portrayed in the Bible is not the god of Christendom. This was an important matter because, as Jesus Christ said, people’s prospects for eternal life depend on their knowing the only true God and the one whom he sent forth, his Chief Agent of salvation. (John 17:3; Heb. 2:10) C. T. Russell and the group that shared with him in Bible study discerned that the justice of God is in perfect balance with divine wisdom, love, and power, and that these attributes are displayed in all of his works. On the basis of the knowledge that they then had of God’s purpose, they prepared a discussion of why evil is permitted and included this in one of their earliest and most widely distributed publications, the 162-page book Food for Thinking Christians, issued first as a special edition of Zion’s Watch Tower in September 1881.
Their study of God’s Word helped them to realize that the Creator has a personal name and that he makes it possible for humans to know him and to enjoy a close relationship with him. (1 Chron. 28:9; Isa. 55:6; Jas. 4:8) The Watch Tower of October-November 1881 pointed out: “JEHOVAH is the name applied to none other than the Supreme Being—our Father, and him whom Jesus called Father and God.”—Ps. 83:18; John 20:17.
The following year, in response to the question, “Do you claim that the Bible does not teach that there are three persons in one God?” the answer was given: “Yes: On the contrary, it does tell us that there is one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ of whom are all things (or who created all things). We believe then in One God and Father, and also in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . But these are two and not one being. They are one only in the sense of being in harmony. We believe also in a spirit of God . . . But it is no more a person than is the spirit of devils and the spirit of the World and the spirit of Anti-Christ.”—Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1882; John 17:20-22.
Growing Appreciation for God’s Name
Gradually those Bible Students became increasingly aware of the prominence that the inspired Scriptures give to the personal name of God. That name had been obscured in English by the Roman Catholic Douay and the Protestant King James versions of the Bible, as it later was by most translations in many languages in the 20th century. But a variety of translations as well as Bible reference works testified that the name Jehovah occurs in the original-language text thousands of times—actually, far more often than any other name, and more often than the combined total of appearances of such titles as God and Lord. As “a people for his name,” their own appreciation for the divine name grew. (Acts 15:14) In The Watch Tower of January 1, 1926, they presented what they recognized to be an issue that each individual must face, namely, “Who Will Honor Jehovah?”
The emphasis that they placed on the name of God was not merely a matter of religious knowledge. As explained in the book Prophecy (published in 1929), the paramount issue facing all intelligent creation involves the name and word of Jehovah God. Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize that the Bible shows that everyone must know God’s name and treat it as something sacred. (Matt. 6:9; Ezek. 39:7) It must be cleared of all the reproach that has been heaped upon it, not only by those who have been openly defiant of Jehovah but also by those who have misrepresented him by their doctrines and deeds. (Ezek. 38:23; Rom. 2:24) On the basis of the Scriptures, the Witnesses recognize that the well-being of all the universe and its inhabitants depends upon the sanctification of Jehovah’s name.
They realize that before Jehovah takes action to destroy the wicked, it is the duty and privilege of his witnesses to tell others the truth about him. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been doing that earth wide. So zealous have they been in carrying out that responsibility that, internationally, anyone who freely uses the name Jehovah is quickly identified as being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Exposing the Trinity
As witnesses of Jehovah, C. T. Russell and his associates felt a keen responsibility to expose teachings that misrepresented God, to help lovers of truth realize that these are not based on the Bible. They were not the first to recognize that the Trinity is unscriptural,c but they did appreciate that if they were to be faithful servants of God, they had a responsibility to make known the truth about it. Courageously, for the benefit of all lovers of truth, they laid bare the pagan roots of this central doctrine of Christendom.
The Watch Tower of June 1882 stated: “Many pagan philosophers finding that it would be policy to join the ranks of the rising religion [an apostate form of Christianity endorsed by Roman emperors in the fourth century C.E.], set about paving an easy way to it by trying to discover correspondencies between Christianity and Paganism, and so to blend the two together. They succeeded only too well. . . . As the old theology had a number of chief gods, with many demi-gods of both sexes, the Pago-christians (if we may coin a word) set themselves to reconstruct the list for the new theology. At this time, therefore, the doctrine of three Gods was invented—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”
Some of the clergy endeavored to give Biblical flavor to their teaching by quoting such texts as 1 John 5:7, but Brother Russell presented evidence showing that it was well-known by scholars that a portion of that text was an interpolation, a spurious insertion made by a scribe to support a teaching that is not found in the Scriptures. Other apologists for the Trinity appealed to John 1:1, but the Watch Tower analyzed that scripture on the basis of both content and context to show that this in no way supported belief in the Trinity. In harmony with this, in its issue of July 1883, the Watch Tower said: “More Bible and less hymn-book theology would have made the subject clearer to all. The doctrine of the trinity is totally opposed to Scripture.”
Brother Russell outspokenly exposed the foolishness of professing to believe the Bible while at the same time teaching a doctrine such as the Trinity, which contradicts what the Bible says. Thus he wrote: “In what a jumble of contradictions and confusion do they find themselves who say that Jesus and the Father are one God! This would involve the idea that our Lord Jesus acted the hypocrite when on earth and only pretended to address God in prayer, when He Himself was the same God. . . . Again, the Father has always been immortal, hence could not die. How, then, could Jesus have died? The Apostles are all false witnesses in declaring Jesus’ death and resurrection if He did not die. The Scriptures declare, however, that He did die.”d
Thus, at an early point in their modern-day history, Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly rejected Christendom’s Trinity dogma in favor of the reasonable, heartwarming teaching of the Bible itself.e The work that they have done to publish these truths and to give people everywhere opportunity to hear them has taken on proportions never attained by any other individual or group, past or present.
What Is the Condition of the Dead?
What the future holds for people who have not accepted God’s provision for salvation was of deep concern to C. T. Russell from the time he was a young man. When just a lad, he believed what the clergy said about hellfire; he thought they were preaching God’s Word. He would go out at night to chalk up Bible texts in conspicuous places so that workingmen who passed there might be warned and be saved from the awful doom of eternal torment.
Later, after he had seen for himself what the Bible really does teach, he was quoted by one of his associates as stating: “If the Bible does teach that eternal torture is the fate of all except the saints, it should be preached—yea, thundered from the housetops weekly, daily, hourly; if it does not so teach, the fact should be made known, and the foul stain dishonoring God’s holy name removed.”
At an early point in his study of the Bible, C. T. Russell saw clearly that hell is not a place of torment for souls after death. He was most likely helped in this by George Storrs, editor of the Bible Examiner, whom Brother Russell mentioned with warm appreciation in his writings and who had himself written much about what he discerned from the Bible as to the condition of the dead.
But what about the soul? Did the Bible Students support the belief that it is a spirit part of man, something that lives on after the death of the body? On the contrary, in 1903 the Watch Tower stated: “We must notice carefully that the lesson is not that man has a soul, but that man is a soul, or being. Let us take an illustration from nature—the air we breathe: it is composed of oxygen and nitrogen, neither of which is atmosphere, or air; but when the two combine, as they do in proper chemical proportions, the resulting thing is atmosphere. Just so with soul. God speaks to us from this standpoint, of our being each a soul. He does not address our bodies nor our breath of lives, but he does address us as intelligent beings, or souls. In pronouncing the penalty of violating his law, he did not address Adam’s body specifically, but the man, the soul, the intelligent being: ‘Thou!’ ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die.’—Gen 2:17; Ezek. 18:20.” This was in harmony with what the Watch Tower had stated as early as April 1881.f
How, then, did belief in the inherent immortality of human souls develop? Who was its author? After carefully examining both the Bible and religious history, Brother Russell wrote in the Watch Tower of April 15, 1894: “Evidently it came not from the Bible . . . The Bible distinctly declares that man is mortal, that death is possible to him. . . . Scanning the pages of history, we find that, although the doctrine of human immortality is not taught by God’s inspired witnesses, it is the very essence of all heathen religions. . . . It is not true, therefore, that Socrates and Plato were the first to teach the doctrine: it had an earlier teacher than either of them, and a yet more able one. . . . The first record of this false teaching is found in the oldest history known to man—the Bible. The false teacher was Satan.”g
Turning the “Hose” on Hell
In harmony with Brother Russell’s strong desire to remove from God’s name the foul stain that resulted from the teaching of a hellfire of eternal torment, he wrote a tract featuring the subject, “Do the Scriptures Teach That Eternal Torment Is the Wages of Sin?” (The Old Theology, 1889) In it he said:
“The eternal torment theory had a heathen origin, though as held by the heathen it was not the merciless doctrine it afterward became, when it began gradually to attach itself to nominal Christianity during its blending with heathen philosophies in the second century. It remained for the great apostasy to tack to heathen philosophy the horrid details now so generally believed, to paint them upon the church walls, as was done in Europe, to write them in their creeds and hymns, and to so pervert the Word of God as to give a seeming divine support to the God-dishonoring blasphemy. The credulity of the present day, therefore, receives it as a legacy, not from the Lord, or the apostles, or the prophets, but from the compromising spirit which sacrificed truth and reason, and shamefully perverted the doctrines of Christianity, in an unholy ambition and strife for power and wealth and numbers. Eternal torment as the penalty for sin was unknown to the patriarchs of past ages; it was unknown to the prophets of the Jewish age; and it was unknown to the Lord and the apostles; but it has been the chief doctrine of Nominal Christianity since the great apostasy—the scourge wherewith the credulous, ignorant and superstitious of the world have been lashed into servile obedience to tyranny. Eternal torment was pronounced against all who offered resistance to or spurned Rome’s authority, and its infliction in the present life was begun so far as she had power.”
Brother Russell was well aware that the majority of sensible people did not really believe the doctrine of hellfire. But, as he pointed out, in 1896, in the booklet What Say the Scriptures About Hell?, “since they think that the Bible teaches it, every step they progress in real intelligence and brotherly kindness . . . is in most cases a step away from God’s Word, which they falsely accuse of this teaching.”
To draw such thinking people back to God’s Word, he presented in this booklet every text in the King James Version in which the word hell was found, so readers could see for themselves what these said, and then he stated: “Thank God, we find no such place of everlasting torture as the creeds and hymn-books, and many pulpits, erroneously teach. Yet we have found a ‘hell,’ sheol, hades, to which all our race were condemned on account of Adam’s sin, and from which all are redeemed by our Lord’s death; and that ‘hell’ is the tomb—the death condition. And we find another ‘hell’ (gehenna—the second death—utter destruction) brought to our attention as the final penalty upon all who, after being redeemed and brought to the full knowledge of the truth, and to full ability to obey it, shall yet choose death by choosing a course of opposition to God and righteousness. And our hearts say, Amen. True and righteous are thy ways, thou King of nations. Who shall not venerate thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou art entirely holy. And all nations shall come and worship before thee, because thy righteous dealings are made manifest.”—Rev. 15:3, 4.
What he was teaching was a source of irritation and embarrassment to the clergy of Christendom. In 1903 he was challenged to public debate. The condition of the dead was one of the issues in the resulting series of debates between C. T. Russell and Dr. E. L. Eaton, who served as spokesman for an unofficial alliance of Protestant ministers in the western part of Pennsylvania.
During those debates Brother Russell firmly upheld the proposition that “death is death, and that our dear ones, when they pass from us, are really dead, that they are neither alive with the angels nor with demons in a place of despair.” In support of this, he referred to such scriptures as Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Romans 5:12; 6:23; and Genesis 2:17. He also said: “The scriptures are in full harmony with what you and I and every other sane, reasonable person in the world shall concede to be the reasonable and proper character of our God. What is declared of our heavenly Father? That he is just, that he is wise, that he is loving, that he is powerful. All Christian people will acknowledge these attributes of the divine character. If this is so, can we find any sense of the word in which we could conceive of God as just and yet punishing a creature of His own hand to all eternity, no matter what the sin was? I am not an apologist for sin; I do not live in sin myself, and I never preach sin. . . . But I tell you that all these people around here that our brother [Dr. Eaton] says are making the air blue with their blasphemies of God and the holy name of Jesus Christ are all people who have been taught this doctrine of eternal torment. And all the murderers, thieves and evil doers in the penitentiaries, were all taught this doctrine. . . . These are bad doctrines; they have been injuring the world this long time; they are not a part of the Lord’s teaching at all, and our dear brother has not gotten the smoke of the dark ages rubbed out of his eyes yet.”
It is reported that after the debate a clergyman who was in attendance approached Russell and said: “I am glad to see you turn the hose on hell and put out the fire.”
To give even more widespread publicity to the truth about the condition of the dead, Brother Russell served an extensive series of one-day conventions, from 1905 through 1907, at which he featured the public discourse “To Hell and Back! Who Are There? Hope for Return of Many.” The title was intriguing, and it attracted much attention. Audiences packed out assembly halls in cities both large and small in the United States and Canada to hear the talk.
Among those who were deeply moved by what the Bible says about the condition of the dead was a university student in Cincinnati, Ohio, who was preparing to become a Presbyterian minister. In 1913 he received from his fleshly brother the booklet Where Are the Dead?, written by John Edgar, a Bible Student who was also a medical doctor in Scotland. The student who received that booklet was Frederick Franz. After reading it carefully, he firmly declared: “This is the truth.” Without hesitation, he changed his goals in life and got into the full-time ministry as a colporteur evangelizer. In 1920 he became a member of the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters staff. Many years later he became a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and, later, the president of the Watch Tower Society.
The Ransom Sacrifice of Jesus Christ
In 1872, in connection with his examination of the Scriptures, Brother Russell and his associates took a fresh look at the subject of restitution, from the standpoint of the ransom given by Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:21, KJ) He was thrilled when he saw at Hebrews 2:9 that ‘Jesus by the grace of God tasted death for every man.’ That did not lead him to believe in universal salvation, for he knew that the Scriptures also say that one must exercise faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. (Acts 4:12; 16:31) But he began to grasp—though not all at once—what a marvelous opportunity the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ made possible for humankind. It opened the way for them to have what Adam had lost, the prospect of eternal life in human perfection. Brother Russell was not passive about the matter; he discerned the profound significance of the ransom and vigorously upheld it, even when close associates allowed their thinking to be corrupted by philosophical views.
By mid-1878, Brother Russell had, for about a year and a half, been an assistant editor of the magazine Herald of the Morning, of which N. H. Barbour was principal editor. But when Barbour, in the August 1878 issue of their magazine, belittled the Scriptural teaching of the ransom, Russell responded with a vigorous defense of that vital Bible truth.
Under the heading “The Atonement,” Barbour had illustrated how he felt about the teaching, saying: “I say to my boy, or to one of the servants, when James bites his sister, you catch a fly, stick a pin through its body and impale it to the wall, and I’ll forgive James. This illustrates the doctrine of substitution.” Though professing to believe in the ransom, Barbour referred to the idea that Christ by his death paid the penalty for sin for the offspring of Adam as being “unscriptural, and obnoxious to all our ideas of justice.”h
In the very next issue of Herald of the Morning (September 1878), Brother Russell took strong exception to what Barbour had written. Russell analyzed what the Scriptures really say and their consistency with “the perfection of [God’s] justice, and finally his great mercy and love” as expressed by means of the ransom provision. (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2) By the following spring, after repeated efforts to help Barbour to see things Scripturally, Russell withdrew his support from the Herald; and as of the issue of June 1879, his name no longer appeared as an assistant editor of that publication. His bold, uncompromising stand in connection with this central Bible teaching had far-reaching effects.
Throughout their modern-day history, Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently championed the Scriptural teaching of the ransom. The very first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower (July 1879) emphasized that “merit toward God lies . . . in Christ’s perfect sacrifice.” In 1919, at a convention sponsored by the International Bible Students Association at Cedar Point, Ohio, the printed program featured prominently the words “Welcome! All Believers in the Great Ransom Sacrifice.” The inside front cover of The Watchtower continues to draw attention to the ransom, saying concerning the purpose of the magazine: “It encourages faith in God’s now-reigning King, Jesus Christ, whose shed blood opens the way for mankind to gain eternal life.”
Progressive, Not Creed-Bound
Clear understanding of God’s Word did not come all at once. In many cases the Bible Students grasped one detail of the pattern of truth but did not yet see the complete picture. Nevertheless, they were willing to learn. They were not creed-bound; they were progressive. What they learned they shared. They did not take credit for the things they taught; they sought to be “taught by Jehovah.” (John 6:45) And they came to appreciate that Jehovah makes possible the understanding of the details of his purpose in his own time and in his own way.—Dan. 12:9; compare John 16:12, 13.
Learning new things requires adjustments in viewpoint. If mistakes are going to be admitted and beneficial changes made, humility is needed. This quality and its fruits are desirable to Jehovah, and such a course strongly appeals to lovers of truth. (Zeph. 3:12) But it is ridiculed by those who glory in creeds that have remained unchanged for many centuries, though these were formulated by imperfect men.
Manner of the Lord’s Return
It was in the mid-1870’s that Brother Russell and those who were diligently examining the Scriptures along with him discerned that when the Lord returned he would be invisible to human eyes.—John 14:3, 19.
Brother Russell later said: “We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of his coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed his coming Kingdom. These wrong views so generally held of both the object and manner of the Lord’s return led me to write a pamphlet—‘The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return.’” This pamphlet was published in 1877. Brother Russell had some 50,000 copies of it printed and distributed.
In that pamphlet, he wrote: “We believe the scriptures to teach, that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that ‘every eye shall see Him.’” In support of this, he discussed such texts as Acts 1:11 (‘he will come in the same manner as you have beheld him go’—that is, unobserved by the world) and John 14:19 (“a little longer and the world will behold me no more”). Brother Russell also referred to the fact that The Emphatic Diaglott, which had first been published in complete form in 1864 with an interlinear word-for-word English translation, gave evidence that the Greek expression pa·rou·siʹa meant “presence.” In analyzing the Bible’s use of that term, Russell explained in this pamphlet: “The Greek word generally used in referring to the second advent—Parousia, frequently translated coming—invariably signifies personal presence, as having come, arrived and never signifies to be on the way, as we use the word coming.”
When discussing the purpose of Christ’s presence, Russell made it clear that this was not something that would be accomplished in a single world-shattering moment. “The second advent, like the first,” he wrote, “covers a period of time, and is not the event of a moment.” During that time, he wrote, the “little flock” would be given their reward with the Lord as joint heirs in his Kingdom; others, perhaps billions, would be given opportunity for perfect life on an earth restored to Edenic beauty.—Luke 12:32.
Within just a few years, on the basis of further study of the Scriptures, Russell realized that Christ would not only return invisibly but also remain invisible, even when manifesting his presence by judgment upon the wicked.
In 1876, when Russell had first read a copy of Herald of the Morning, he had learned that there was another group who then believed that Christ’s return would be invisible and who associated that return with blessings for all families of the earth. From Mr. Barbour, editor of that publication, Russell also came to be persuaded that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874.i Attention was later drawn to this by the subtitle “Herald of Christ’s Presence,” which appeared on the cover of Zion’s Watch Tower.
Recognition of Christ’s presence as being invisible became an important foundation on which an understanding of many Bible prophecies would be built. Those early Bible Students realized that the presence of the Lord should be of primary concern to all true Christians. (Mark 13:33-37) They were keenly interested in the Master’s return and were alert to the fact that they had a responsibility to publicize it, but they did not yet clearly discern all the details. Yet, what God’s spirit did enable them to understand at a very early time was truly remarkable. One of these truths involved a highly significant date marked by Bible prophecy.
End of the Gentile Times
The matter of Bible chronology had long been of great interest to Bible students. Commentators had set out a variety of views on Jesus’ prophecy about “the times of the Gentiles” and the prophet Daniel’s record of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding the tree stump that was banded for “seven times.”—Luke 21:24, KJ; Dan. 4:10-17.
As early as 1823, John A. Brown, whose work was published in London, England, calculated the “seven times” of Daniel chapter 4 to be 2,520 years in length. But he did not clearly discern the date with which the prophetic time period began or when it would end. He did, however, connect these “seven times” with the Gentile Times of Luke 21:24. In 1844, E. B. Elliott, a British clergyman, drew attention to 1914 as a possible date for the end of the “seven times” of Daniel, but he also set out an alternate view that pointed to the time of the French Revolution. Robert Seeley, of London, in 1849, handled the matter in a similar manner. At least by 1870, a publication edited by Joseph Seiss and associates and printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was setting out calculations that pointed to 1914 as a significant date, even though the reasoning it contained was based on chronology that C. T. Russell later rejected.
Then, in the August, September, and October 1875 issues of Herald of the Morning, N. H. Barbour helped to harmonize details that had been pointed out by others. Using chronology compiled by Christopher Bowen, a clergyman in England, and published by E. B. Elliott, Barbour identified the start of the Gentile Times with King Zedekiah’s removal from kingship as foretold at Ezekiel 21:25, 26, and he pointed to 1914 as marking the end of the Gentile Times.
Early in 1876, C. T. Russell received a copy of Herald of the Morning. He promptly wrote to Barbour and then spent time with him in Philadelphia during the summer, discussing, among other things, prophetic time periods. Shortly thereafter, in an article entitled “Gentile Times: When Do They End?”, Russell also reasoned on the matter from the Scriptures and stated that the evidence showed that “the seven times will end in A.D. 1914.” This article was printed in the October 1876 issue of the Bible Examiner.j The book Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World, produced in 1877 by N. H. Barbour in cooperation with C. T. Russell, pointed to the same conclusion. Thereafter, early issues of the Watch Tower, such as the ones dated December 1879 and July 1880, directed attention to 1914 C.E. as being a highly significant year from the standpoint of Bible prophecy. In 1889 the entire fourth chapter of Volume II of Millennial Dawn (later called Studies in the Scriptures) was devoted to discussion of “The Times of the Gentiles.” But what would the end of the Gentile Times mean?
The Bible Students were not completely sure what would happen. They were convinced that it would not result in a burning up of the earth and a blotting out of human life. Rather, they knew it would mark a significant point in regard to divine rulership. At first, they thought that by that date the Kingdom of God would have obtained full, universal control. When that did not occur, their confidence in the Bible prophecies that marked the date did not waver. They concluded that, instead, the date had marked only a starting point as to Kingdom rule.
Similarly, they also first thought that global troubles culminating in anarchy (which they understood would be associated with the war of “the great day of God the Almighty”) would precede that date. (Rev. 16:14) But then, ten years before 1914, the Watch Tower suggested that worldwide turmoil that would result in the annihilating of human institutions would come right after the end of the Gentile Times. They expected the year 1914 to mark a significant turning point for Jerusalem, since the prophecy had said that ‘Jerusalem would be trodden down’ until the Gentile Times were fulfilled. When they saw 1914 drawing close and yet they had not died as humans and been ‘caught up in the clouds’ to meet the Lord—in harmony with earlier expectations—they earnestly hoped that their change might take place at the end of the Gentile Times.—1 Thess. 4:17.
As the years passed and they examined and reexamined the Scriptures, their faith in the prophecies remained strong, and they did not hold back from stating what they expected to occur. With varying degrees of success, they endeavored to avoid being dogmatic about details not directly stated in the Scriptures.
Did the “Alarm Clock” Go Off Too Soon?
Great turmoil certainly burst forth upon the world in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, which for many years was called simply the Great War, but it did not immediately lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships. As events in connection with Palestine developed following 1914, the Bible Students thought they saw evidence of significant changes for Israel. But months and then years passed, and the Bible Students did not receive their heavenly reward as they had anticipated. How did they react to that?
The Watch Tower of February 1, 1916, specifically drew attention to October 1, 1914, and then said: “This was the last point of time that Bible chronology pointed out to us as relating to the Church’s experiences. Did the Lord tell us that we would be taken [to heaven] there? No. What did He say? His Word and the fulfil[l]ments of prophecy seemed to point unmistakably that this date marked the end of the Gentile Times. We inferred from this that the Church’s ‘change’ would take place on or before that date. But God did not tell us that it would be so. He permitted us to draw that inference; and we believe that it has proven to be a necessary test upon God’s dear saints everywhere.” But did these developments prove that their glorious hope had been in vain? No. It simply meant that not everything was taking place as soon as they had expected.
Several years before 1914, Russell had written: “Chronology (time prophecies in general) was evidently not intended to give God’s people accurate chronological information all the way down the path of the centuries. Evidently it is intended more to serve as an alarm clock to awaken and energize the Lord’s people at the proper time. . . . But let us suppose, for instance, that October, 1914, should pass and that no serious fall of Gentile power would occur. What would this prove or disprove? It would not disprove any feature of the Divine Plan of the Ages. The ransom-price finished at Calvary would still stand the guarantee of the ultimate fulfillment of the great Divine Program for human restitution. The ‘high calling’ of the Church to suffer with the Redeemer and to be glorified with him as his members or as his Bride would still be the same. . . . The only thing [a]ffected by the chronology would be the time for the accomplishment of these glorious hopes for the Church and for the world. . . . And if that date pass it would merely prove that our chronology, our ‘alarm clock,’ went off a little before the time. Would we consider it a great calamity if our alarm clock awakened us a few moments earlier in the morning of some great day full of joy and pleasure? Surely not!”
But that “alarm clock” had not gone off too soon. Actually, it was the experiences to which the “clock” had awakened them that were not exactly what they had expected.
Some years later, when the light had grown brighter, they acknowledged: “Many of the dear saints thought that all the work was done. . . . They rejoiced because of the clear proof that the world had ended, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that the day of their deliverance drew nigh. But they had overlooked something else that must be done. The good news that they had received must be told to others; because Jesus had commanded: ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.’ (Matthew 24:14)”—The Watch Tower, May 1, 1925.
As the events following 1914 began to unfold and the Bible Students compared these with what the Master had foretold, they gradually came to appreciate that they were living in the last days of the old system and that they had been since 1914. They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 that Christ’s invisible presence had begun and that this was, not by his personally returning (even invisibly) to the vicinity of the earth, but by his directing his attention toward the earth as ruling King. They saw and accepted the vital responsibility that was theirs to proclaim “this good news of the kingdom” for a witness to all nations during this critical time of human history.—Matt. 24:3-14.
What exactly was the message about the Kingdom that they were to preach? Was it any different from the message of the first-century Christians?
God’s Kingdom, the Only Hope of Mankind
As a result of careful study of God’s Word, the Bible Students associated with Brother Russell understood that God’s Kingdom was the government that Jehovah had promised to set up by means of his Son for the blessing of mankind. Jesus Christ, in heaven, would have associated with him as rulers a “little flock” selected by God from among humankind. They understood that this government would be represented by faithful men of old who would serve as princes in all the earth. These were referred to as “ancient worthies.”—Luke 12:32; Dan. 7:27; Rev. 20:6; Ps. 45:16.
Christendom had long taught ‘the divine right of kings,’ as a means of holding the people in subjection. But these Bible Students saw from the Scriptures that the future of human governments was not secured by any divine guarantee. In harmony with what they were learning, the Watch Tower of December 1881 stated: “The setting up of this kingdom will of course, involve the overthrow of all the kingdoms of earth, as they are all—even the best of them—founded on injustice and unequal rights and the oppression of many and favor of the few—as we read: ‘It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever.’”—Dan. 2:44.
As to the way in which those oppressive kingdoms would be broken, the Bible Students still had much to learn. They did not yet understand clearly how the benefits of God’s Kingdom would spread to all mankind. But they were not confusing the Kingdom of God with a vague feeling within one’s heart or with rule by a religious hierarchy that used the secular State as its arm.
By 1914, the faithful pre-Christian servants of God had not been resurrected on earth as princely representatives of the Messianic King, as had been expected, nor had the remaining ones of the “little flock” joined Christ in the heavenly Kingdom in that year. Nevertheless, The Watch Tower of February 15, 1915, confidently stated that 1914 was the due time “for our Lord to take up His great power and reign,” thus ending the millenniums of uninterrupted Gentile domination. In its issue of July 1, 1920, The Watch Tower reaffirmed that position and associated it with the good news that Jesus had foretold would be proclaimed earth wide before the end. (Matt. 24:14) At the convention of the Bible Students at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922, this understanding was restated in a general resolution, and Brother Rutherford urged the conventioners: “Advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.”
However, at that time the Bible Students felt that the setting up of the Kingdom, its full establishment in heaven, would not take place until the final members of Christ’s bride were glorified. A real milestone was reached, therefore, in 1925, when The Watch Tower of March 1 featured the article “Birth of the Nation.” It presented an eye-opening study of Revelation chapter 12. The article set forth evidence that the Messianic Kingdom had been born—established—in 1914, that Christ had then begun to rule on his heavenly throne, and that thereafter Satan had been hurled from heaven down to the vicinity of the earth. This was the good news that was to be proclaimed, the news that God’s Kingdom was already in operation. How this enlightened understanding stimulated these Kingdom proclaimers to preach to the ends of the earth!
By every appropriate means, Jehovah’s people gave witness that only God’s Kingdom could bring lasting relief and solve the deep-seated problems that afflicted humankind. In 1931 this message was featured in a radio broadcast by J. F. Rutherford on the most extensive international network that had ever been on the air. The text of that broadcast was also published in many languages in the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World—millions of copies of which were distributed within a few months. In addition to widespread distribution to the public, special effort was put forth to get copies into the hands of politicians, prominent businessmen, and the clergy.
Among other things, that booklet said: “The present unrighteous governments of the world can hold out no hope whatsoever to the people. God’s judgment against them declares they must go down. The hope of the world, therefore, and the only hope, is the righteous kingdom or government of God with Christ Jesus as invisible Ruler thereof.” That Kingdom, they realized, would bring true peace and security to mankind. Under its rule the earth would become a real paradise, and sickness and death would be no more.—Rev. 21:4, 5.
The good news of God’s Kingdom continues to be central to the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the issue of March 1, 1939, their principal magazine, now published in over 110 languages, has borne the title The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.
But before the Kingdom rule would transform the earth into a paradise, the present wicked system would have to go. How would that be accomplished?
The War of the Great Day of God the Almighty
The world war that began in 1914 rocked the existing system of things to its foundations. For a time it appeared that events would develop as the Bible Students had expected.
Back in August 1880, Brother Russell had written: “We understand that before the human family are restored or even begin to be blessed the present kingdoms of earth which now bind and oppress mankind will all be overturned and that the kingdom of God will assume control and that the blessing and restitution come through the new kingdom.” How would that ‘overturning of kingdoms’ take place? Based on conditions that he could then see developing in the world, Russell believed that during the war of Armageddon, God would use contending factions of mankind to overthrow existing institutions. He said: “The work of demolishing human empire is beginning. The power that will overthrow them is now at work. The people are already organizing their forces under the name of Communists, Socialists, Nihilists, etc.”
The book The Day of Vengeance (later called The Battle of Armageddon), published in 1897, further enlarged on the way the Bible Students then understood the matter, saying: “The Lord, by his overruling providence, will take a general charge of this great army of discontents—patriots, reformers, socialists, moralists, anarchists, ignorants and hopeless—and use their hopes, fears, follies and selfishness, according to his divine wisdom, to work out his own grand purposes in the overthrow of present institutions, and for the preparation of man for the Kingdom of Righteousness.” Thus they understood the war of Armageddon to be associated with violent social revolution.
But was Armageddon going to be merely a struggle between contending factions of mankind, a social revolution used by God to overthrow existing institutions? As further attention was given to the scriptures bearing on this matter, The Watch Tower of July 15, 1925, drew attention to Zechariah 14:1-3 and said: “By this we would understand that all the nations of earth, under Satan’s direction, would be gathered to battle against the Jerusalem class, viz., those who take their stand on the Lord’s side . . . Revelation 16:14, 16.”
The following year, in the book Deliverance, attention was focused on the real purpose of this war, saying: “Now Jehovah, according to his Word, will make a demonstration of his power so clearly and unequivocally that the people may be convinced of their ungodly course and may understand that Jehovah is God. That is the reason why God brought the great flood, threw down the Tower of Babel, destroyed the army of Sennacherib the Assyrian king, and swallowed up the Egyptians; and it is also the reason why he is now going to bring another great trouble upon the world. The former calamities were but shadows of the one now impending. The gathering is to the great day of God Almighty. It is ‘the great and the terrible day of the Lord’ (Joel 2:31), when God will make for himself a name. In this great and final conflict the peoples of every nation, kindred and tongue will learn that Jehovah is the all-powerful, all-wise and just God.” But Jehovah’s servants on earth were cautioned: “In this great battle no Christian will strike a blow. The reason they do not is that Jehovah has said: ‘For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’” The war here being discussed was definitely not the one that was fought among the nations, beginning in 1914. It was yet to come.
There were yet other questions that needed to be resolved on the basis of the Scriptures. One of these involved the identity of the Jerusalem that was to be trampled underfoot until the end of the Gentile Times, as stated at Luke 21:24; and related to this was identification of the Israel referred to in so many prophecies of restoration.
Would God Restore the Jews to Palestine?
The Bible Students were well aware of the many prophecies of restoration that were delivered to ancient Israel by God’s prophets. (Jer. 30:18; 31:8-10; Amos 9:14, 15; Rom. 11:25, 26) Down till 1932, they understood these to apply specifically to the natural Jews. Thus, they believed that God would show Israel favor again, gradually restoring the Jews to Palestine, opening their eyes to the truth regarding Jesus as Ransomer and Messianic King, and using them as an agency for extending blessings to all nations. With this understanding, Brother Russell spoke to large Jewish audiences in New York as well as in Europe on the subject “Zionism in Prophecy,” and Brother Rutherford, in 1925, wrote the book Comfort for the Jews.
But it gradually became evident that what was taking place in Palestine with regard to the Jews was not the fulfillment of Jehovah’s grand restoration prophecies. Desolation came on first-century Jerusalem because the Jews had rejected God’s Son, the Messiah, the one sent in Jehovah’s name. (Dan. 9:25-27; Matt. 23:38, 39) It was becoming increasingly obvious that as a people they had not changed their attitude. There was no repentance over the wrongful act committed by their forefathers. The return of some to Palestine was not motivated by any love for God or desire for his name to be magnified by fulfillment of his Word. This was clearly explained in the second volume of Vindication, which was published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1932.k The correctness of this position was confirmed in 1949, when the State of Israel, then recently formed as a nation and as a homeland for the Jews, became a member of the United Nations, thus showing that its trust was not in Jehovah but in the political nations of the world.
What had been taking place in fulfillment of those restoration prophecies pointed in another direction. Jehovah’s servants began to realize that it was spiritual Israel, “the Israel of God,” composed of spirit-anointed Christians, who, in fulfillment of God’s purpose, were enjoying peace with God through Jesus Christ. (Gal. 6:16) Now their eyes were opened to discern in God’s dealings with such true Christians a marvelous spiritual fulfillment of those restoration promises. In time they also came to realize that the Jerusalem that was exalted at the end of the Gentile Times was not a mere earthly city, or even a people on earth represented by that city, but, rather, “heavenly Jerusalem,” where Jehovah installed his Son, Jesus Christ, with ruling authority in 1914.—Heb. 12:22.
With these matters clear, Jehovah’s Witnesses were in better position to fulfill without partiality toward any group the assignment to preach the Kingdom good news “in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”—Matt. 24:14.
Who is to be credited for all these explanations of the Bible that have appeared in the Watch Tower publications?
The Means by Which Jehovah’s Servants Are Taught
Jesus Christ foretold that after his return to heaven, he would send his disciples the holy spirit. This would serve as a helper, guiding them “into all the truth.” (John 14:26; 16:7, 13) Jesus also said that as the Lord or Master of true Christians, he would have a “faithful and discreet slave,” a “faithful steward,” that would give spiritual “food at the proper time” to the domestics, the workers in the household of faith. (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 12:42) Who is this faithful and discreet slave?
The very first issue of the Watch Tower alluded to Matthew 24:45-47 when it stated that the aim of the publishers of that magazine was to be alert to events in connection with Christ’s presence and to give spiritual “meat in due season” to the household of faith. But the editor of the magazine was not himself claiming to be the faithful and discreet slave, or the “faithful and wise servant” (according to the rendering of the King James Version).
Thus, in the October-November 1881 issue of the magazine, C. T. Russell stated: “We believe that every member of this body of Christ is engaged in the blessed work, either directly or indirectly, of giving meat in due season to the household of faith. ‘Who then is that faithful and wise servant whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household,’ to give them meat in due season? Is it not that ‘little flock’ of consecrated servants who are faithfully carrying out their consecration vows—the body of Christ—and is not the whole body individually and collectively, giving the meat in due [s]eason to the household of faith—the great company of believers? Blessed is that servant (the whole body of Christ) whom his Lord when he has come (Gr. elthon) shall find so doing. ‘Verily, I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over all his goods.’”
Over a decade later, however, Brother Russell’s wife publicly expressed the idea that Russell himself was the faithful and wise servant.l The view that she voiced concerning the identity of the ‘faithful servant’ came to be generally held by the Bible Students for some 30 years. Brother Russell did not reject their view, but he personally avoided making such an application of the text, emphasizing his opposition to the idea of a clergy class commissioned to teach God’s Word in contrast to a lay class that was not thus commissioned. The understanding expressed by Brother Russell in 1881 that the faithful and wise servant was in reality a collective servant, made up of all the members of the spirit-anointed body of Christ on earth, was reaffirmed in The Watch Tower of February 15, 1927.—Compare Isaiah 43:10.
How did Brother Russell view his own role? Did he claim some special revelation from God? In the Watch Tower of July 15, 1906 (page 229), Russell humbly replied: “No, dear friends, I claim nothing of superiority, nor supernatural power, dignity or authority; nor do I aspire to exalt myself in the estimation of my brethren of the household of faith, except in the sense that the Master urged it, saying, ‘Let him who would be great among you be your servant.’ (Matt. 20:27.) . . . The truths I present, as God’s mouthpiece, were not revealed in visions or dreams, nor by God’s audible voice, nor all at once, but gradually . . . Neither is this clear unfolding of truth due to any human ingenuity or acuteness of perception, but to the simple fact that God’s due time has come; and if I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out.”
It was to Jehovah as their Grand Instructor that readers of the Watch Tower were encouraged to look, even as all of Jehovah’s Witnesses are today. (Isa. 30:20) This was strongly emphasized in The Watchtower of November 1, 1931, in the article “Taught of God,” which stated: “The Watchtower recognizes the truth as belonging to Jehovah, and not to any creature. The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. . . . Jehovah God is the great Teacher of his children. To be sure, the publication of these truths is put forth by imperfect men, and for this reason they are not absolutely perfect in form; but they are put forth in such form as reflects God’s truth that he teaches his children.”
In the first century, when questions as to doctrine or procedure arose, these were referred to a central governing body made up of spiritually older men. Decisions were made after considering what the inspired Scriptures said as well as evidence of activity that was in harmony with those Scriptures and that was prospering as a result of the operation of the holy spirit. The decisions were conveyed in writing to the congregations. (Acts 15:1–16:5) That same procedure is in operation among Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
Spiritual instruction is provided by means of magazine articles, books, convention programs, and outlines for congregation discourses—all of which are prepared under the direction of the Governing Body of the faithful and discreet slave. Their content clearly demonstrates that what Jesus foretold is true today—that he does, indeed, have a faithful and discreet slave class that is loyally teaching ‘all the things that he commanded’; that this agency is “on the watch,” alert to events in fulfillment of Bible prophecy and particularly with regard to Christ’s presence; that it is helping God-fearing people to understand what is involved in ‘observing’ the things commanded by Jesus and thus proving that they truly are his disciples.—Matt. 24:42; 28:20; John 8:31, 32.
Progressively, over the years, practices that might have the effect of drawing undue attention to certain humans in connection with the preparation of spiritual food have been eliminated. Down till the death of C. T. Russell, his name as editor was listed in nearly every issue of the Watch Tower. Names or initials of others who contributed material often appeared at the end of articles they prepared. Then, starting with the issue of December 1, 1916, instead of showing the name of one man as editor, The Watch Tower listed the names of an editorial committee. In the issue of October 15, 1931, even this list was removed, and Isaiah 54:13 took its place. As quoted from the American Standard Version, it reads: “And all thy children shall be taught of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Since 1942 it has been the general rule that literature published by the Watch Tower Society does not draw attention to any individual as the writer.a Under the supervision of the Governing Body, dedicated Christians in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and islands of the sea have had a part in preparing such material for use by congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. But all credit is given to Jehovah God.
The Light Shines More and More
As reflected in their modern-day history, the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been like that described at Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” The shining of the light has been progressive, just as the light of early dawn gives way to sunrise and the full light of a new day. Viewing matters in the light that was available, they have at times had incomplete, even inaccurate, concepts. No matter how hard they tried, they simply could not understand certain prophecies until these began to undergo fulfillment. As Jehovah has shed more light on his Word by means of his spirit, his servants have been humbly willing to make needed adjustments.
Such progressive understanding was not limited to the early period of their modern-day history. It continues right down to the present. For example, in 1962 there was an adjustment of understanding regarding “the superior authorities” of Romans 13:1-7.
For many years the Bible Students had taught that “the higher powers” (KJ) were Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Why? In The Watch Towers of June 1 and June 15, 1929, a variety of secular laws were cited, and it was shown that what was permitted in one land was forbidden in another. Attention was also drawn to secular laws that required people to do what God prohibited or that forbade what God commanded his servants to do. Because of their earnest desire to show respect for the supreme authority of God, it seemed to the Bible Students that “the higher powers” must be Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. They still obeyed secular laws, but the emphasis was on obedience to God first. That was an important lesson, one that fortified them during the years of world turmoil that followed. But they did not clearly understand what Romans 13:1-7 was saying.
Years later, a careful reanalysis of the scripture was made, along with its context and its meaning in the light of all the rest of the Bible. As a result, in 1962 it was acknowledged that “the superior authorities” are the secular rulers, but with the help of the New World Translation, the principle of relative subjection was clearly discerned.b This did not call for any major change in the attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses toward the governments of the world, but it did correct their understanding of an important portion of the Scriptures. In the process, there was opportunity for the Witnesses individually to consider carefully whether they were truly living up to their responsibilities toward both God and the secular authorities. This clear understanding of “the superior authorities” has served as a protection to Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially in those lands where surges of nationalism and clamoring for greater freedom have resulted in outbreaks of violence and the formation of new governments.
The following year, 1963, an enlarged application of “Babylon the Great” was presented.c (Rev. 17:5) A review of secular and religious history pointed to the conclusion that the influence of ancient Babylon had permeated not only Christendom but every part of the earth. Babylon the Great was thus seen to be the entire world empire of false religion. An awareness of this has enabled Jehovah’s Witnesses to help many more people, from diverse backgrounds, to respond to the Biblical command: “Get out of her, my people.”—Rev. 18:4.
Indeed, the unfolding of events foretold in the entire book of Revelation has provided an abundance of spiritual illumination. In 1917 a study of Revelation was published in the book The Finished Mystery. But “the Lord’s day,” referred to at Revelation 1:10, was just beginning back then; much of what was foretold had not yet occurred and was not clearly understood. However, developments during the years that followed cast greater light on the meaning of that part of the Bible, and these events had a profound effect on the very illuminating study of Revelation that was published in 1930 in the two volumes entitled Light. During the 1960’s a further update appeared in the books “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! and “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God.” Two decades later another in-depth study was made of that part of the Bible. The figurative language of Revelation was carefully analyzed in the light of similar expressions in other parts of the Bible. (1 Cor. 2:10-13) Twentieth-century events in fulfillment of the prophecies were reviewed. The results were published in 1988 in the thrilling book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!
During the early years of their modern-day history, foundations were being laid. Much valuable spiritual food was provided. In recent years a greater diversity of Bible study material has been provided to satisfy the needs of both mature Christians and new students from many backgrounds. Continued study of the Scriptures, along with fulfillment of divine prophecy, has in many instances made it possible to express Bible teachings with greater clarity. Because their study of God’s Word is progressive, Jehovah’s Witnesses have spiritual food in abundance, even as the Scriptures foretold would be true of God’s servants. (Isa. 65:13, 14) Adjustments in viewpoint are never made with a view to becoming more acceptable to the world by adopting its declining moral values. On the contrary, the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses shows that changes are made with a view to adhering even more closely to the Bible, being more like the faithful first-century Christians, and so being more acceptable to God.
Thus, their experience is in harmony with the prayer of the apostle Paul, who wrote to fellow Christians: “We . . . have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.”—Col. 1:9, 10.
That increase of accurate knowledge of God also had a bearing on their name—Jehovah’s Witnesses.
a Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, July 15, 1906, pp. 229-31.
b See Insight on the Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Volume 2, page 1176.
c For example: (1) By the 16th century, antitrinitarian movements were strong in Europe. For example, Ferenc Dávid (1510-79), a Hungarian, knew and taught that the dogma of the Trinity was not Scriptural. Because of his beliefs, he died in prison. (2) The Minor Reformed Church, which flourished in Poland for about a hundred years during the 16th and 17th centuries, also rejected the Trinity, and adherents of that church spread literature all over Europe, until the Jesuits succeeded in having them banished from Poland. (3) Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), in England, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and wrote detailed historical and Scriptural reasons for doing so, but he did not have these published during his lifetime, evidently out of fear of the consequences. (4) Among others in America, Henry Grew exposed the Trinity as unscriptural. In 1824 he dealt with this matter at length in An Examination of the Divine Testimony Concerning the Character of the Son of God.
d See also Studies in the Scriptures, Series V, pages 41-82.
e Thorough discussions of historical and Scriptural evidence bearing on this subject have been published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society at various times. See “The Word”—Who Is He? According to John (1962), “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie” (1965), Reasoning From the Scriptures (1985), and Should You Believe in the Trinity? (1989).
f What the Scriptures say regarding the soul is known by Jewish scholars as well as those of Christendom, but it is rarely taught in their places of worship. See New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Volume XIII, pages 449-50; The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (1987), pages 964-5; The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by G. Buttrick (1962), Volume 1, page 802; The Jewish Encyclopedia (1910), Volume VI, page 564.
g In a more detailed discussion of the subject, in 1955, the booklet What Do the Scriptures Say About “Survival After Death”? pointed out that the Bible record shows that Satan actually encouraged Eve to believe that she would not die in the flesh as a result of ignoring God’s prohibition on eating fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:4) In time, that obviously proved false, but there were further developments that had their root in that first lie. People adopted the view that an invisible part of man lived on. Following the Flood of Noah’s day, this was fortified by demonic spiritistic practices emanating from Babylon.—Isa. 47:1, 12; Deut. 18:10, 11.
h Barbour claimed to believe in the ransom, that Christ died for us. What he rejected was the idea of “substitution”—that Christ died instead of us, that by his death Christ paid the penalty for sin for Adam’s offspring.
i This was influenced by the belief that the seventh millennium of human history had begun in 1873 and that a period of divine disfavor (of equal length to a former period considered to be one of favor) upon natural Israel would end in 1878. The chronology was flawed because of relying on an inaccurate rendering of Acts 13:20 in the King James Version, belief that there was a transcription error at 1 Kings 6:1, and failure to take into account Biblical synchronisms in the dating of reigns of the kings of Judah and of Israel. A clearer understanding of Biblical chronology was published in 1943, in the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” and it was then refined the following year in the book “The Kingdom Is at Hand,” as well as in later publications.
j A magazine published by George Storrs, Brooklyn, New York.
k In 1978, when asked for a statement for the press as to the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding Zionism, the Governing Body said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to take the Biblical stand of being neutral as to all political movements and governments. They are convinced that no human movement will achieve what only God’s heavenly kingdom can accomplish.”
l Sadly, it was only a short time after this that she parted from him because of her own desire for personal prominence.
a In lands where the law requires it, however, a local representative may be named as one responsible for what is published.
b The Watchtower, November 1, November 15, and December 1, 1962.
c The Watchtower, November 15 and December 1, 1963.
[Blurb on page 120]
C. T. Russell freely acknowledged the help that came from others during his early years of Bible study
[Blurb on page 122]
They have personally examined the evidence that the Bible is truly God’s Word
[Blurb on page 123]
The Bible Students discerned that God’s justice is in perfect balance with his wisdom, love, and power
[Blurb on page 127]
Russell saw clearly that hell is not a place of torment after death
[Blurb on page 129]
Most sensible people did not believe the doctrine of hellfire
[Blurb on page 132]
Russell’s firm stand on the ransom had far-reaching effects
[Blurb on page 134]
They could see that 1914 was clearly marked by Bible prophecy
[Blurb on page 136]
Not everything took place as soon as they expected
[Blurb on page 139]
Good news to be proclaimed: God’s Kingdom is already in operation!
[Blurb on page 140]
Was Armageddon to be merely a social revolution?
[Blurb on page 141]
At last, in 1932, the real “Israel of God” was identified
[Blurb on page 143]
“The faithful and discreet slave”—a person or a class?
[Blurb on page 146]
Progressively, practices that might draw undue attention to certain humans have been eliminated
[Blurb on page 148]
Changes made are with a view to adhering even more closely to God’s Word
[Box on page 124]
Making Known the Name of God
◆ Since 1931 the name Jehovah’s Witnesses has been used to designate those who worship and serve Jehovah as the only true God.
◆ Since October 15, 1931, God’s personal name, Jehovah, has appeared on the front cover of each issue of the “Watchtower” magazine.
◆ At a time when God’s personal name was being omitted from most modern translations of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to publish, in 1950, the “New World Translation,” which restored the divine name to its rightful place.
◆ In addition to the Bible itself, much other literature has been published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to focus special attention on the divine name—for example, the books “Jehovah” (1934), “Let Your Name Be Sanctified” (1961), and “‘The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah’—How?” (1971), as well as the brochure “The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever” (1984).
[Box on page 126]
‘Shall We Contradict Christ Himself?’
After exposing the unscripturalness and unreasonableness of the doctrine of the Trinity, C. T. Russell expressed righteous indignation when he asked: “Shall we thus contradict the Apostles and Prophets and Jesus Himself, and ignore reason and common sense, in order to hold to a dogma handed to us from the dark, superstitious past, by a corrupt apostate Church? Nay! ‘To the Law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.’”—“The Watch Tower,” August 15, 1915.
[Box on page 133]
In 1882, C. T. Russell wrote: “The Bible is our only standard, and its teachings our only creed, and recognizing the progressive character of the unfolding of Scriptural truths, we are ready and prepared to add to or modify our creed (faith—belief) as we get increase of light from our Standard.”—“Watch Tower,” April 1882, p. 7.
[Box on page 144, 145]
Beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses
◆ The Bible is God’s inspired Word. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)
What it contains is not mere history or human opinion but the word of God, recorded to benefit us. (2 Pet. 1:21; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11)
◆ Jehovah is the only true God. (Ps. 83:18; Deut. 4:39)
Jehovah is the Creator of all things, and as such, he alone deserves to be worshiped. (Rev. 4:11; Luke 4:8)
Jehovah is the Universal Sovereign, the one to whom we owe full obedience. (Acts 4:24; Dan. 4:17; Acts 5:29)
◆ Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, the only one created directly by God himself. (1 John 4:9; Col. 1:13-16)
Jesus was the first of God’s creations; thus, before he was conceived and born as a human, Jesus lived in heaven. (Rev. 3:14; John 8:23, 58)
Jesus worships his Father as the only true God; Jesus never claimed equality with God. (John 17:3; 20:17; 14:28)
Jesus gave his perfect human life as a ransom for humankind. His sacrifice makes possible everlasting life for all who truly exercise faith in it. (Mark 10:45; John 3:16, 36)
Jesus was raised from the dead as an immortal spirit person. (1 Pet. 3:18; Rom. 6:9)
Jesus has returned (having directed his attention as King toward the earth) and is now present as a glorious spirit. (Matt. 24:3, 23-27; 25:31-33; John 14:19)
◆ Satan is the invisible “ruler of this world.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19)
Originally he was a perfect son of God, but he allowed feelings of self-importance to develop in his heart, craved worship that belonged only to Jehovah, and enticed Adam and Eve to obey him rather than listen to God. Thus he made himself Satan, which means “Adversary.” (John 8:44; Gen. 3:1-5; compare Deuteronomy 32:4, 5; James 1:14, 15; Luke 4:5-7.)
Satan “is misleading the entire inhabited earth”; he and his demons are responsible for increased distress on the earth in this time of the end. (Rev. 12:7-9, 12)
At God’s appointed time, Satan and his demons will be destroyed forever. (Rev. 20:10; 21:8)
◆ God’s Kingdom under Christ will replace all human governments and will become the one government over all humankind. (Dan. 7:13, 14)
The present wicked system of things will be completely destroyed. (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 16:14, 16; Isa. 34:2)
The Kingdom of God will rule with righteousness and will bring real peace to its subjects. (Isa. 9:6, 7; 11:1-5; 32:17; Ps. 85:10-12)
Wicked ones will be cut off forever, and worshipers of Jehovah will enjoy lasting security. (Prov. 2:21, 22; Ps. 37:9-11; Matt. 25:41-46; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; Mic. 4:3-5)
◆ We are living now, since 1914,d in “the time of the end” of this wicked world. (Matt. 24:3-14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Dan. 12:4)
During this time period, a witness is being given to all nations; after that will come the end, not of the globe, but of the wicked system and of ungodly people. (Matt. 24:3, 14; 2 Pet. 3:7; Eccl. 1:4)
◆ There is only one road to life; not all religions or religious practices are approved by God. (Matt. 7:13, 14; John 4:23, 24; Eph. 4:4, 5)
True worship emphasizes not ritual and outward show but genuine love for God, shown by obedience to his commandments and by love for one’s fellowman. (Matt. 15:8, 9; 1 John 5:3; 3:10-18; 4:21; John 13:34, 35)
People out of all nations, races, and language groups can serve Jehovah and have his approval. (Acts 10:34, 35; Rev. 7:9-17)
Prayer is to be directed only to Jehovah through Jesus; images are not to be used either as objects of devotion or as aids in worship. (Matt. 6:9; John 14:6, 13, 14; 1 John 5:21; 2 Cor. 5:7; 6:16; Isa. 42:8)
Spiritistic practices must be shunned. (Gal. 5:19-21; Deut. 18:10-12; Rev. 21:8)
There is no clergy-laity distinction among true Christians. (Matt. 20:25-27; 23:8-12)
True Christianity does not include keeping a weekly sabbath or conforming to other requirements of the Mosaic Law in order to gain salvation; doing so would be a rejection of Christ, who fulfilled the Law. (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 10:4; Col. 2:13-17)
Those who practice true worship do not engage in interfaith. (2 Cor. 6:14-17; Rev. 18:4)
All who are truly disciples of Jesus get baptized by complete immersion. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 1:9, 10; Acts 8:36-38)
All who follow Jesus’ example and obey his commandments bear witness to others about the Kingdom of God. (Luke 4:43; 8:1; Matt. 10:7; 24:14)
◆ Death is a result of inheritance of sin from Adam. (Rom. 5:12; 6:23)
At death, it is the soul itself that dies. (Ezek. 18:4)
The dead are conscious of nothing. (Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 9:5, 10)
Hell (Sheol, Hades) is mankind’s common grave. (Job 14:13, “Dy”; Rev. 20:13, 14, “KJ,” margin)
The ‘lake of fire’ to which the incorrigibly wicked are consigned signifies, as the Bible itself says, “second death,” death forever. (Rev. 21:8)
Resurrection is the hope for the dead and for those who have lost loved ones in death. (1 Cor. 15:20-22; John 5:28, 29; compare John 11:25, 26, 38-44; Mark 5:35-42.)
Death due to Adamic sin will be no more. (1 Cor. 15:26; Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4)
◆ A “little flock,” only 144,000, go to heaven. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 14:1, 3)
These are the ones who are “born again” as spiritual sons of God. (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 4)
God selects these out of all peoples and nations to rule as kings with Christ in the Kingdom. (Rev. 5:9, 10; 20:6)
◆ Others who have God’s approval will live forever on earth. (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; 2 Pet. 3:13)
Earth will never be destroyed or depopulated. (Ps. 104:5; Isa. 45:18)
In harmony with God’s original purpose, all the earth will become a paradise. (Gen. 1:27, 28; 2:8, 9; Luke 23:42, 43)
There will be suitable homes and an abundance of food for the enjoyment of everyone. (Isa. 65:21-23; Ps. 72:16)
Sickness, all kinds of disability, and death itself will become things of the past. (Rev. 21:3, 4; Isa. 35:5, 6)
◆ Secular authorities are to be treated with due respect. (Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1, 2)
True Christians do not share in rebellion against governmental authority. (Prov. 24:21, 22; Rom. 13:1)
They obey all laws that do not conflict with the law of God, but obedience to God comes first. (Acts 5:29)
They imitate Jesus in remaining neutral as to the world’s political affairs. (Matt. 22:15-21; John 6:15)
◆ Christians must conform to Bible standards regarding blood as well as sexual morality. (Acts 15:28, 29)
Taking blood into the body through mouth or veins violates God’s law. (Gen. 9:3-6; Acts 15:19, 20)
Christians are to be morally clean; fornication, adultery, and homosexuality must have no place in their lives, neither should drunkenness or drug abuse. (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 7:1)
◆ Personal honesty and faithfulness in caring for marital and family responsibilities are important for Christians. (1 Tim. 5:8; Col. 3:18-21; Heb. 13:4)
Dishonesty in speech or in business, as well as playing the hypocrite, are not consistent with being a Christian. (Prov. 6:16-19; Eph. 4:25; Matt. 6:5; Ps. 26:4)
◆ Acceptable worship of Jehovah requires that we love him above all else. (Luke 10:27; Deut. 5:9)
Doing Jehovah’s will, thus bringing honor to his name, is the most important thing in the life of a true Christian. (John 4:34; Col. 3:23; 1 Pet. 2:12)
While doing good to all persons as they are able, Christians recognize a special obligation toward fellow servants of God; so their help in times of illness and disaster is directed especially toward these. (Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:16-18)
Love of God requires of true Christians not only that they obey his commandment to love their neighbor but also that they not love the immoral and materialistic way of life of the world. True Christians are no part of the world and so refrain from joining in activities that would identify them as sharing its spirit. (Rom. 13:8, 9; 1 John 2:15-17; John 15:19; Jas. 4:4)
d For details, see the book “Let Your Kingdom Come.”
[Picture on page 121]
C. T. Russell began to publish “Zion’s Watch Tower” in 1879, when he was 27 years old
[Pictures on page 125]
Sir Isaac Newton and Henry Grew were among those who had earlier rejected the Trinity as unscriptural
[Pictures on page 128]
In public debate, Russell argued that the dead are really dead, not alive with the angels nor with demons in a place of despair
Carnegie Hall, Allegheny, Pennsylvania—where the debate was held
[Picture on page 130]
Russell traveled to cities both large and small to tell the truth about hell
[Picture on page 131]
When Frederick Franz, a university student, learned the truth about the condition of the dead, he completely changed his goals in life
[Picture on page 135]
1914 as the end of the Gentile Times was given wide publicity by the Bible Students, as in this I.B.S.A. tract distributed during 1914
[Pictures on page 137]
In 1931, using the most extensive radio network that had ever been on the air, J. F. Rutherford showed that only God’s Kingdom can bring lasting relief to humankind
The discourse “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World,” was broadcast by 163 stations simultaneously and was repeated by another 340 stations later
[Pictures on page 142]
A. H. Macmillan was sent by ship to Palestine in 1925 because of special interest in the role of the Jews in connection with Bible prophecy