Who Was the Founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

What JW.ORG says:

“Ready why Charles Taze Russel was not the founder of a new religion”

“The modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses began at the end of the 19th century. At that time, a small group of Bible students who lived near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States, began a systematic analysis of the Bible. They compared the doctrines taught by the churches with what the Bible really teaches. They began publishing what they learned in books, newspapers, and the journal that is now called The Watchtower—Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.

“Among that group of sincere Bible students was a man named Charles Taze Russell. While Russell took the lead in the Bible education work at that time and was the first editor of The Watchtower, he was not the founder of a new religion. The goal of Russell and the other Bible Students, as the group was then known, was to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ and to follow the practices of the first-century Christian congregation. Since Jesus is the Founder of Christianity, we view him as the founder of our organization.—Colossians 1:18-20.

The Truth

As is stated above, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that theirs is not a new religion, but rather the natural extension of first century Christianity, and in fact the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Their brochure “Who Are Doing Jehovah’s Will Today?” asserts that through the Bible Students (early Jehovah’s Witnesses) “Bible truth was rediscovered.”

  • The Bible foretold that after the death of Christ, false teachers would arise among the early Christians and corrupt Bible truth. (Acts 20:29, 30) In time, that is exactly what happened. They mixed Jesus’ teachings with pagan religious ideas, and a counterfeit form of Christianity developed…The time came for Jehovah to reveal the truth. He foretold that during ‘the time of the end, the true knowledge would become abundant.’ (Daniel 12:4) In 1870 a small group of truth-seekers recognized that many church doctrines were not Scriptural. Therefore, they began searching for an understanding of the Bible’s original teachings, and Jehovah blessed them with spiritual insight.

Both the cited FAQ article as well as the Jehovah’s Will brochure downplay Charles Taze Russel’s involvement, the latter publication excluding him completely. It mentions only “sincere Bible students,” and “a small group of truth-seekers,” with Russel merely happening to be one man among them.

All this paints a picture of a group effort, with many individuals pouring over Bible verses and coming to a collective consensus. This could not be farther from reality.

Charles Taze Russell began the Watch Tower himself as a way to present his own writings, and was its sole editor, having complete control over its publication. In the December 1st 1916 Watchtower, Russell stated the following:

He referred to himself as God’s Mouthpiece:

  • No, 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, especially since 1870, and particularly since 1880. ” Watch Tower, July 15th1906, pg. 229

He was known to his followers as Pastor Russell, and was the only Pastor among the bible students. Without question, Russell was the face and voice of his own movement. When The Photodrama of Creation was released, it was Russell’s own image on the poster.

Followers were even referred to as Russellites in the press, though Watchtower maintains that the Bible Students rejected adopting the designation:

  • “What about the Bible Students? They were dubbed Russellites and Rutherfordites by the clergy. But adopting such a name would have fostered a sectarian spirit. It would have been inconsistent with the reproof given to early Christians by the apostle Paul, who wrote: “When one says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ but another says: ‘I to Apollos,’ are you not simply men [that is, fleshly in outlook instead of spiritual]?” —jv chap. 11 pp. 149-158

After his death, the writers of the Watch Tower and other Bible Student/Witness publications maintained that Russell was the “faithful and wise servant” (now referred to as “faithful and discreet slave”) described in scripture. From the Watch Tower of May 1st, 1922:

So why does the modern-day Watchtower downplay Russell’s role as the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

For one, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses see themselves as the faithful and discreet slave described by Jesus (see: What is the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses?).

For another, everything Russell taught to be “The Truth” is no longer taught to be “The Truth” by modern Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today Witnesses are told that the “last days” began in 1914, while Armageddon is set to begin very soon. Russell taught that the last days began in 1874, and that 1914 would be “the end of all things,” when Armageddon is completed, and the Bible Students would be called to heaven.

Beyond this, though, Russell’s life was marked by controversy.

Russell’s wife, Maria, left him in 1897, and they were separated until 1903 when she filed for divorce, citing among other things “improper intimacy” with his foster-daughter, Rose Ball. This is what Mrs. Russell stated in the trial:

  • A: [Rose] said one evening when she came with him, just as she got inside the hall, it was late in the evening, about eleven o’clock, he put his arms around her and kissed her. This was in the vestibule before they entered the hall, and he called her his little wife, but she said,”I am not your wife,” and he said, “I will call you daughter, and a daughter has nearly all the privileges of a wife.”
     And what other terms were used?
    A. Then he said, “I am like a jelly-fish. I float around here and there. I touch this one and that one, and if she responds, I take her to me, and if not, I float on to others,” and she wrote that out so that I could remember it for sure when I would speak to him about it. And he confessed that he said those things.
    • The Washington Post May 4, 1906 pg 6, “The Rev. Jellyfish Russell”
    • Court Transcript: Prothonotary of Allegheny County

It is not surprising that Watchtower wishes to scrub CT Russell from its history, but it is, at best, disingenuous.

1 thought on “Who Was the Founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

  1. Russell died Oct 1918, perhaps clarify that in the Dec 1918 WT that is cited above, that “before he died he wrote this, information that the WT was exclusively his and after he died it was later written into the Dec 1918 WT.


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