The modern-day organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses began at the end of the 19th century. A man named Charles Taze Russell, who was a student of the Bible and dissatisfied with the doctrines that were being taught by the churches of his day, began publishing his own views on Christianity in books, newspapers, and the journal that is now called “The Watchtower”. Russell started the Watchtower publication in July 1879 under the title “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence”. According to its first issue, the magazine’s purpose was to draw attention to Russell’s belief that people of his time were “living in the last days”:
In the opening paragraphs we read the following:
So we can see that from its very inception, the purpose behind the organisation that is today the Jehovah’s Witnesses was apocalyptic in nature. In other words, its goal was to bring attention to the impending end of the world as Russell saw it.
THE YEAR 1914, A FALSE PROPHECY
It wasn’t long before Russell was providing specific dates for the end of the world. From the publication “The Time Is At Hand”, printed in 1889, we read the following on pages 98 and 99:
Russel wrote that it was an “established truth” that the end of the world would come within 26 years, that is, by the year 1914. With it would be the “overthrow of all present governments”, a matter that would “culminate quickly”. This was by no means a one-off proclamation, Russell repeated similar claims throughout his publications in the years that followed. For example, two years later, another book by Russell, “Thy Kingdom Come” was published in 1891, and on page 153 we find the same prediction about 1914 repeated:
The next year, 1892, in the January 15th issue, the Watchtower stated that the final “battle” had already begun. It now went so far as to provide the exact month in which the world would end, October 1914:
This short item appearing in the July 15th, 1894, issue of the Watchtower reveals how they viewed world conditions of that time as clear proof that the world was then about to enter its final throes, with its last gasp coming in 1914. Note the statement that these predictions are “God’s dates” i.e. not those of man:
Exactly what did Watchtower publications teach would take place by the time October 1914 came? The book “The Time Is At Hand”, published twenty-five years before 1914, set out seven points as follows. Note how the first paragraph bases these points not on speculation but rather “Bible evidence”, i.e. all the claims made within are Scriptural:
As can be noted in the material above, it is clearly stated in no uncertain terms that among other things the following would take place:
– The year 1914 “will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men”
– The world’s governmental institutions would come to an end
– God’s kingdom will “obtain full, universal control”, and that it will be “firmly established in the earth on the ruins of present institutions”
Even as late as 1911, just three years before the alleged end of the world, the Watchtower still proclaimed that the “full end” would come in October 1914. Watchtower readers are informed in this material from the June 15th, 1911, issue:
Here the mention of “the full end of Babylon” is a reference to the end of all world organisations and religions, as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all other organisations and religions are part of “Babylon the Great”, a world empire of false religion under the control of Satan.
The year 1914 came and went without any of the predicted events occurring – the world’s governments and religions were still standing, as indeed they still are today, over a hundred years later. Charles Taze Russell died in 1916. He left behind a legacy of end time prophecies, not one of which had brought the results foretold. He also left behind thousands of confused followers. The Watchtower book “Light I”, published in 1930, page 194, describes the situation in this way:
So, just who was to blame for all this confusion and disappointment? By reading the Watchtower Society’s recent publications, one might gather that Russell, the Watchtower president, did not speak specifically about just what 1914 would bring. They imply that any strong expectations or dogmatic claims were the responsibility of others, the readers. An example of this is found in what was for many years the official history of the organisation, the 1959 book “Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose”, page 52:
We can see that rather than taking responsibility and admitting that Russell and Watchtower teaching on a core doctrine were completely wrong, instead the blame is pinned on those who have no choice but to blindly follow such teachings.
With the realisation that 1914 was a false prophecy, the Watchtower publications initiated a cover-up. Recall that prior to 1914, Russell’s publications repeated the claim that the world governments would come to an end. Here is a snippet from the 1889 edition of the book “The Time Is At Hand”:
Contrast its use of language, that God’s kingdom “will obtain full, universal control”, with a post-1914 edition of the same book which states that God’s kingdom “will begin to assume control”:
We can see that post-1914 editions of this book try to cover up the false prophecy by changing the wording. Few Jehovah’s Witnesses today have any concept of the magnitude of the claims made about the year 1914. Those expectations now receive only the briefest of mention in the organisation’s publications; some are totally passed over.
Even as late as 1994, adjustments were still being made in order to cover up the embarrassment of 1914. Evidence of this can be seen in the masthead of the “Awake!” magazine. Up until October 22nd, 1995, it read:
The statement that “this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away”, appeared year after year from 1982 until October 22nd, 1995. With the November 8th, 1995 issue, the statement was altered to read “this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things”:
The accompanying footnote contains the following:
The argument of the Watchtower Society is that if one does not use expressions such as “this is a direct revelation from Jehovah”, and avoids applying such terms as “infallible” and “inspired” to himself, then the things said and the claims made by him are to be viewed as essentially harmless voicing of mere opinion. The problem with this explanation is that numerous publications prior to 1914 presented their chronological predictions as the product of God’s guidance upon His people. God’s name and his Word were certainly involved in all that was presented to readers of their publications. Consider some of the earlier quotations in this article:
– Statements declaring the Watchtower time calculations as being “God’s dates, nor ours”
– Statements that the Bible evidence would “prove” as “a fact firmly established by the Scriptures” that 1914 would mark “the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men”
Readers who came across such statements at the time of their publication would have been left in no doubt that the 1914 predictions were divinely backed and not just mere opinion or speculation.
Loyalty to the Watchtower Society’s teachings has long been equated with loyalty to God. To deny such teachings is, in effect, to deny God. This amazing claim is plainly stated in the May 1st, 1922 issue of the Watchtower:
The fact is that since its inception and throughout its history, the Watchtower Society has claimed to be the only organisation on earth that speaks on behalf of God (whom they call “Jehovah”) and the only means by which God directs His true followers today. On this basis it exerts tremendous control over just about every aspect of the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here are just some examples of the claims the Watchtower Society has made about itself:
“The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man’s opinion is expressed in The Watchtower…” [Watchtower 1931 Nov 1 p.327] “The Lord gives interpretation to his prophecies and causes the same to be published… As certain as the Lord has caused these truths to be published in The Watchtower.” [Watchtower, 1936 Mch 1 p.72–73] “It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the “slave” as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision.” [Watchtower 1957 Jun 15 p.370] “The holy spirit is the active force of the living God, which he sends out through his Son, Christ Jesus, and which operates toward Jehovah’s people, enlightening and directing his theocratic organization on the earth today as it did in the days of the apostles.” [Watchtower 1959 Apr 1 p.219] “Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force. (Zech. 4:6) Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book…” [Watchtower 1973 Jul 1 p.402]
“The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man’s opinion is expressed in The Watchtower…” [Watchtower 1931 Nov 1 p.327]
“The Lord gives interpretation to his prophecies and causes the same to be published… As certain as the Lord has caused these truths to be published in The Watchtower.” [Watchtower, 1936 Mch 1 p.72–73]
“It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the “slave” as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision.” [Watchtower 1957 Jun 15 p.370]
“The holy spirit is the active force of the living God, which he sends out through his Son, Christ Jesus, and which operates toward Jehovah’s people, enlightening and directing his theocratic organization on the earth today as it did in the days of the apostles.” [Watchtower 1959 Apr 1 p.219]
“Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah’s organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force. (Zech. 4:6) Only this organization functions for Jehovah’s purpose and to his praise. To it alone God’s Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book…” [Watchtower 1973 Jul 1 p.402]
As you can see, the Watchtower Society has made some bold claims about itself over the last century. Not only has it claimed that it is being inspired like the apostles of Jesus were, but also that any opinions it gives are not of human origin but rather that of God. They have positioned themselves as the sole mouthpiece of God on earth.
THE WATCHTOWER: A FALSE PROPHET
As we’ve seen, the Watchtower Society would like nothing more than to sweep these false prophecies under the carpet. Unfortunately for them, the Bible teaches that there are very serious consequences for making false prophecies:
The Bible clearly teaches that one should “not fear” those who make false prophecies, they are false prophets and are “without God’s authority”. Today the Watchtower Society wields total control over Jehovah’s Witnesses lives and beliefs. Challenging any of the Watchtower Society’s teachings is enough to get a Jehovah’s Witness disfellowshipped, i.e. declared an apostate and shunned by their family and friends. Jehovah’s Witnesses live in constant fear of being disfellowshipped. Based on the Bible’s own standard, we can see that this does not need to be the case, believers are under no obligation to obey or fear those who claim divine inspiration yet fall short with false prophecies.
Furthermore, recall that Charles Taze Russell’s motivation behind founding the organisation that is today the Jehovah’s Witnesses was for apocalyptic reasons, i.e. the Watchtower Society’s primary goal was to bring attention to the impending end of the world as Russell saw it. So I ask Jehovah’s Witnesses to reflect on the following. If the Watchtower Society can be fundamentally wrong on issues that relate to its own founding principles, while claiming that its understanding is backed up by Scripture and that it is the absolute truth of God, then the question has to be asked – what else is the Watchtower Society wrong about that Jehovah’s Witnesses the world over believe to be the truth upon which they are basing their salvation? This is the problem when your mediator with God is a fallible human organisation. We’ve seen that contrary to its own claims, the Watchtower Society – which dictates every aspect of a Jehovah’s Witness’ life and beliefs – is not divinely inspired at all. To see what real divine inspiration looks like, please read this article here which shows that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is a genuine Prophet of God, even according to the Bible’s own standard.
This article is based on the book “Crisis of Conscience” by Raymond Franz.
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