TACKING INTO THE WIND WITH NO DESTINATION
A Short History of Jehovah's Witnesses
Copyright (C) 1995, 2001 by Timothy Campbell
This article may be freely distributed in unaltered form
Mail: 80 Mornelle Court #310, Toronto, ON, Canada M1E 4P8
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the organization run
by the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims that it is the sole
channel of information between God and humanity.
They base this claim on a complicated, Bible-based
chronology devised by the Adventist N.H. Barbour in 1875. The founder of
Jehovah's Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, obtained many of his ideas from
Adventists and others who speculated in Bible prophecy. In 1884, Russell
founded the Watchtower Society, which became the legal corporation used by
the International Bible Students, the early name for Jehovah's Witnesses.
The chronology stated that Jesus had invisibly returned to
earth in 1874 to set up his kingdom, and that in 1914, at the end of the
"Gentile Times", Jesus would come to judge the earth and annihilate the
When nothing supernatural happened in 1914, the Watchtower
Society started transferring all of the doctrines about 1874 to 1914. They
explained that Christ's kingdom had been set up invisibly in 1914, and that
although secular governments were still in place, their rule was no longer
valid. Based on the Society's writings, Jehovah's Witnesses looked forward
to momentous events in the year 1918.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1918, the Watchtower
Society looked forward to momentous events in 1925.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1925, the Watchtower
Society lost three quarters of its members.
Charles Taze Russell had been held to be the "Faithful and
Wise Servant" of Matthew 24:45-47, but by 1928 the Society applied that to
its leaders. They taught that the scripture was a prophecy, and that in 1918
they had been chosen by Jesus "over all that he hath". Since they believed
Jesus was ruling the world invisibly, they claimed for themselves a position
as God's channel of communication with mankind.
The Society checked its predictions and explained that all
of the prophecies in Matthew 24 and 25 would take place within a "single
generation" (Matthew 24:34), so the time of "the end of the world" (Matthew
24:3) could be delayed as long as 30 or 40 years. In 1929, the Society built
a mansion ("Beth Sarim") to house the resurrected prophets, who were
expected to arrive soon. The new definition of "generation" promised
momentous events during the 1940's.
When nothing supernatural had happened by 1945, the Society
extended the meaning of "generation" to 80 years (the maximum lifespan of a
typical man, as explained in Psalms 90:10). "Beth Sarim" was eventually
Although 1914 plus 80 equals 1994, in 1966 the Watchtower
Society decided that the year 1975 was "significant", because they had
calculated that it marked the end of six thousand years since the creation
of Adam and Eve. Watchtower publications strongly hinted that "the end"
would come in 1975.
When nothing supernatural happened in 1975, the Watchtower
Society lost many members. It explained that the time between Adam's
creation and Eve's creation was not known, so the 1975 date was only
In 1980, the Society suggested that the Witnesses and the
publishing staff had been overly enthusiastic about the "possibility" of
Armageddon in 1975. This failed to lure back thousands who had left, but
regular door-to-door preaching restored the rapid growth the Witnesses had
enjoyed since the "significance" of 1975 had been announced.
When the year 1994 arrived (1914 plus 80 years), nothing
supernatural happened. The Society had not ascribed any special significance
 to 1994, but the "generation" issue was becoming awkward. The ranks of
the Society's special members (the 144,000 who were "anointed", based on an
interpretation of Revelation) were dying out. The claim that Jesus had
appointed the Watchtower Society special status in 1918 was becoming hard to
In 1995, the Watchtower Society decided that "generation"
did not mean a physical generation (i.e. 80 years) but meant "age", as in
"era". This extended the "end times" indefinitely, although when the last of
the 144,000 special members die out, the Society will have to be run by
A close inspection of Matthew 24:34 in context makes the
"age" interpretation hard to understand, since Jesus speaks of the
generation "passing away" (which sounds like a physical event). The
Watchtower Society states that it alone understands that "generation" means
"age" because it has special status, which was granted to it in 1918.
The Watchtower magazine, published by the Society, has said
the end is "soon", in every issue since it was first printed ... in 1879.
 "No Special Significance"
The Society did not consider 1994 "special", because the end was supposed to occur within the time of a typical human lifespan (as "generation" was then interpreted), not at the end of a generation. Here are some quotations from Watchtower literature that illustrate their position prior to November 1995:
Watchtower 1968/12/01 p. 715:
... did not Jesus say that this generation will not pass away until all things are fulfilled? A generation, according to Psalm 90:10, is from seventy to eighty years. The generation that witnessed the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 does not have many more years left. - Luke 21:24, 32-36.
Watchtower 1967/12/15 p. 751:
... the expression "this generation" was used by Jesus to mark a very limited period of time, the life-span of members of a generation of people living during the time that certain epoch-making events occurred. According to Psalm 90:10, that life-span could be of seventy years or even of eighty years. Into this comparatively short period of time must be crowded all the things that Jesus prophesied in answer to the request for a "sign when all these things are destined to come to a conclusion." (Mark 13:4)
Awake! masthead from March 1988 until November 1995:
Most importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.
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