Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The founding of Jehovah’s Witnesses by American Charles Taze Russell saw the emergence of a unique Christian group formed from early Bible study groups. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the number of the sect’s adherents had grown to more than six million people.

Summary of Event

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society that Charles Taze Russell founded in 1871 became officially known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931. The society was originally inspired by the Seventh-day Adventist Church []Seventh-day Adventist Church[Seventh day Adventist Church] , whose adherents were part of a larger Christian millennial movement of the nineteenth century. Born into a Presbyterian family in Pennsylvania in 1852, Russell struggled with his faith as a young man. He joined a Congregational church at the age of fifteen but continued to question the Christian doctrines of predestination and eternal punishment. By the age of seventeen, he was very skeptical of Christianity in general and of the Bible in particular. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Russell, Charles Taze Christianity;Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society [kw]Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is Founded (1870-1871) [kw]Bible and Tract Society Is Founded, Watch Tower (1870-1871) [kw]Tract Society Is Founded, Watch Tower Bible and (1870-1871) [kw]Founded, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is (1870-1871) Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Russell, Charles Taze Christianity;Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society [g]United States;1870-1871: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is Founded[4410] [c]Religion and theology;1870-1871: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is Founded[4410] [c]Organizations and institutions;1870-1871: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society Is Founded[4410] Miller, William Rutherford, Joseph Franklin

In 1870, Russell’s faith was reestablished when he attended a Bible study meeting of Second Adventists. The Second Adventists (predecessors of the modern Seventh-day Adventist Church) can be traced to the Millerite movement Millerite movement of the 1830’s. William Miller Miller, William of upstate New York preached that the Bible contained encoded information that proved that the second coming of Jesus Christ Jesus Christ [p]Jesus Christ;and millenarianism[Millenarianism] would occur in 1843; many Americans believed him, and these Millerites (who called themselves Adventists) awaited the world’s end and Christ’s second coming. Miller withdrew from public life after his predictions were not manifested. Some of his followers maintained that Miller had been correct in that the end of the world and the second coming would be complete only after an indefinite period of “investigative judgment” in which Christ would judge the righteousness of the living and the dead.

Charles Taze Russell around 1910.

(Library of Congress)

Inspired by the Adventists, Russell organized and conducted his own Bible study meetings in 1870 and 1871. Disenchanted with the failed predictions of the Adventists, however, he emphasized that the second coming would be a spiritual and invisible event rather than an actual one. Russell wrote the pamphlet “The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return,” in which he outlined his views on Christian theology. Reading similar views in Nelson H. Barbour’s journal The Herald of the Morning, the two men agreed to jointly edit the journal. Russell and Barbour wrote Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World (1877), in which they argued that Jesus Christ had returned to Earth invisibly in 1874 and that a forty-year period would elapse before the arrival of the end-time.

By the end of the 1870’s, Russell began to disassociate himself from Barbour and The Herald, and in 1879 he began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (later the Watch Tower). The new journal was very influential in the formation of thirty more congregations of Russell’s followers in seven states. In 1881, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was informally established, and in 1884 the society was incorporated as an official religious organization. “Zion” was dropped from the name in 1896 and, in 1931, the name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted. The 1884 charter stated that the group’s purpose was for the “dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents.”

In 1886, Russell began writing his Studies in the Scriptures. He would later write that true Christians needed to read both the Bible and his Scripture studies and that neither was sufficient without the other. Studies in the Scriptures was originally published in the Watch Tower and was republished in six separate volumes. The Bible Bible;and Jehovah’s Witnesses[Jehovahs Witnesses] was considered infallible by Jehovah’s Witnesses. (In 1961, the group published its own English-language version of the Bible called the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.)

Russell’s interpretation of Christianity held that God (called “Jehovah”) was the all-powerful and all-knowing entity of the Hebrew Scriptures and did not recognize the Trinity. Russell preached that Satan is the enemy of Jehovah and that the way to resist the devil is by learning about Jehovah. He argued that the soul is mortal and that the resurrection will be of both body and soul. He argued that salvation came from accepting Jesus as Lord but that failing to meet Jehovah’s requirements could result in the loss of salvation; only members of Jehovah’s Witnesses would, however, achieve salvation in Heaven.

Hell, on the other hand, did not exist in Russell’s teachings; he argued that a loving god would not subject souls to such torture. Those who did not qualify for salvation would simply disappear at the second coming. Finally, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot celebrate holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or birthdays because, as Russell and his followers believed, they are remnants of ancient false religions. The one day Witnesses were encouraged to celebrate is the anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ during Passover.

Russell lived to see the forty-year period of the invisible second coming reach an end in 1914. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine, Christ did return to establish a heavenly paradise; Satan and his evil angels were banished from heaven and now live on Earth. This is how Jehovah’s Witnesses explain crime and violence in the world today.

Russell died in 1916 and was succeeded as the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses by the group’s lawyer, Joseph Franklin Rutherford Rutherford, Joseph Franklin . It was under Rutherford’s presidency that the group became more centrally organized and also suffered schisms. Under his leadership the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was adopted, and members were discouraged from joining the armed forces. Rutherford died in 1942 and was succeeded as president by Nathan Homer Knorr, who served during the publication of the New World Translation. Knorr was succeeded in 1977 by his vice president, Frederick W. Franz; he was succeeded in 1992 by Milton G. Henschel.


The nineteenth century was a time in which many Americans reexamined the doctrines of their Christian faith. During the 1820’s, after increasing industrialization greatly disrupted traditional social and economic structures in the United States, evangelists across the nation began encouraging people to rededicate themselves to their beliefs in God and Jesus Christ.

The series of religious revivals that followed during the next decades (commonly known as the Second Great Awakening) saw many schisms in established churches, as well as the formation of new religious groups and utopian communities (including those at Brook Farm in Massachusetts, Oneida in New York, and New Harmony in Indiana). Some of the new groups explained the disruptions within society (including the carnage of the U.S. Civil War) as proof that the world was to come to an end soon and that the second coming of Jesus Christ was imminent. These millennialist groups, including the Millerites Millerite movement , the Seventh-day Adventists Seventh-Day Adventist Church[Seventh Day Adventist Church] , and Jehovah’s Witnesses, attracted large numbers of adherents, but most of them lost large numbers of members when appointed days for the end-time came and went without incident.

Jehovah’s Witnesses successfully weathered the religious storm that confronted many of the millennialist religious groups of the nineteenth century. The doctrines of Charles Taze Russell allowed for the second coming of Jesus Christ into a modern world that seems to have proved the particulars of his theology.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horowitz, David. Pastor Charles Taze Russell: An Early American Christian Zionist. New York: Philosophical Library, 1986. A biography of the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Rendered from the Original Languages by the World Bible Translation Committee. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1961. The translation of the Bible by a committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Penton, M. James. Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 2d ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1997. A survey of the history and theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, Charles Taze. Studies in the Scriptures. 6 vols. Philadelphia: P. S. L. Johnson, 1937. The doctrinal writings of Russell, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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Categories: History