Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses is a religious group with more than eight million members around the world. They believe that God, who they call Jehovah, will end crime, violence, sickness and death by destroying all badness in the world. They say God's kingdom will restore God's original purpose for the earth: bringing about peace for all humans who live by Bible standards.

Jehovah's Witnesses
FounderCharles Taze Russell (founded Bible Student movement)
Origin1876: Bible Students founded
1931: Named Jehovah's witnesses
Pennsylvania and New York, USA
SeparationsSee Jehovah's Witnesses
splinter groups
Members8.6 million
Official website
Statistics from 2019 Service Year Report Includes Largest Baptismal Figure in 20 Years
Meeting in Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Netherlands

In the 1870s, a preacher named Charles Taze Russell started a Bible study group in Pennsylvania in 1876, which became known as the Bible Students. They started a religious magazine called The Watchtower. After Russell died, Joseph Franklin Rutherford took over, and the Bible Students who stayed with him became known as Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931.

Some of their beliefs, especially about who God is and what his plans are for humans and the earth, are different from what is taught in most Christian churches. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven and that all the other people who obey God will live forever in paradise on earth. They do not believe that God is a Trinity. They believe Jesus died on a single pole rather than a cross. They do not use images or symbols such as the cross. They teach that when people die, they remain in the grave until God resurrects them when God's kingdom rules over earth.

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for preaching from door-to-door and in other public places, and offering their magazinesThe Watchtower and Awake! They are also well known for refusing to join armies and refusing blood transfusions.



In 1870 a young clothing shop owner named Charles Taze Russell heard an Adventist preacher speak. The preacher said the Bible contained clues that showed God was about to set up a kingdom over earth. He said the kingdom, which is mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, would be based in heaven, and it would completely change the way of life for everyone in the world. Russell studied that preacher's teachings and looked through the Bible, and he ended up with some new beliefs.



Using various Bible verses and events from history, Russell decided that God would soon call a group of "saints" to heaven to be kings there. Other faithful Christians who had since died would also make up a total of 144,000 kings in heaven. Churches at the time taught that humans were still waiting for Jesus to return to earth in his Second Coming, but Russell believed that Jesus returned in 1874.[1] Russell believed that God would start Armageddon in 1914, starting with a complete breakdown of law and order on earth, when governments and people would fight among themselves. He believed that God would then end sickness and death and allow obedient Christians to live forever in perfect health.[2]

Russell believed it was very important that all Christians, including those who were attending churches, should learn those "truths". He believed these "truths" had been hidden in the Bible for thousands of years. He started a publishing company called the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.[3][4] He wrote several books, set up Bible study classes for people to study his teachings, and started a magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, which taught that Christ was already present.

A new president


By the time Russell died in 1916, he had written 50,000 pages, with almost 20 million copies of his books printed and distributed around the world.[5] Joseph Franklin Rutherford, one of his followers, took Russell's position as president of the Watch Tower Society.

Rutherford wrote many books as well. He made some changes to Russell's teachings and required all the study groups, or congregations, around the world to agree to the teachings and rules set by the Watch Tower Society in New York. He told members not to celebrate holidays, and they should not sing at religious meetings. He also told them to preach from door to door about God's kingdom and to sell Watch Tower Society publications so more people would hear the message.[6] Many members did not agree with Rutherford's strict changes, and some started their own groups. In 1931 Rutherford called his group "Jehovah's Witnesses" to tell it apart from the other groups. By the time Rutherford died in 1942, the religion had a worldwide membership of 115,000.

Punishment and discrimination


Some of the new teachings resulted in suffering for many Jehovah's Witnesses. Thousands were sent to prison, beaten or killed in countries during World War II because they refused to fight.[7][8] In Germany, many were sent to concentration camps because they would not support the Nazi Party.[9] Later, in the United States, many of their children were expelled from schools because they refused to salute the flag. Some countries still have laws against members practicing the religion.[10][11] By 1977 they had more than two million members around the world.

Armageddon expected in 1975


From 1966, the religion suggested that God could bring Armageddon in 1975, and that the kingdom would be set up very soon after.[12] Some Witnesses sold their businesses and homes, gave up their jobs, delayed medical operations and decided against starting a family because they expected Armageddon to arrive.[13][14] Many members who thought Armageddon would come in 1975 left, but many other people joined and the group kept growing.


Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in New Zealand

One God


Like Jews, Muslims, as well as other Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses believe there is an all-powerful, all-knowing God who created everything. They also have some beliefs that are different from most Christians. They call God Jehovah (a translation of the Hebrew letters "YHWH") and they believe it is important to use that name. They believe Jesus is God's son, the first angel, and that he is also called Michael the Archangel. They say the holy spirit is God's power rather than a person. They do not believe in the Trinity.[15] They believe the Bible is a book that God used humans to write and that it is completely true and the best guide for how people should live.[16]

Adam and Eve


Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God made Adam and Eve, the first humans, and put them in a garden called Eden. They believe that when Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer had God's approval so they began to get sick and die. They were not perfect anymore and could not have perfect children. They believe that Jehovah later sent Jesus to die on a pole (not a cross, as most Christians believe) to forgive people's sins.



Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people, a number found in Revelation chapters 7 and 14, will go to heaven to be kings and priests with Jesus. They say God will start a worldwide war called Armageddon, and the people who do not obey God or worship him the way he expects will be killed. The people who he approves will survive and be given the chance to live forever. Then God will begin to turn earth into a paradise without crime, sickness, pain, aging, wars or death. They say God will also bring back billions of people who died in the past so they can learn about God and possibly live in paradise as well.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only their religion really obeys God's instructions and that God does not approve of any other religions. They believe that Satan the Devil is the real leader of all other religions and makes them think they worship God the right way.[17][better source needed] So they believe that only Jehovah's Witnesses will be saved at Armageddon, but they say God will make the final choice.[18][19][20]

What they do

Jehovah's Witnesses with leaflets outside the British Museum in London, United Kingdom

Door-to-door work

Jehovah's Witnesses preaching house to house in Lisbon, Portugal

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching. They believe Jesus ordered them at Matthew 28:19 to "go make disciples of all the nations", warning people that the day of God's judgement, or Armageddon, will happen soon. Jehovah's Witnesses believe their preaching is a fulfillment of a prophecy at Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." All Witnesses are told to spend as much time as they can in public preaching work, usually offering The Watchtower and other Watch Tower Society publications. Since the Internet, Jehovah's Witnesses also preach online. They teach people their beliefs about Jehovah and his plans for the earth. Members are told to give a monthly written report on how much time they have spent publicly preaching.



The buildings where Jehovah's Witnesses meet to worship are called Kingdom Halls. Unlike many other churches, these halls do not have altars, statues, or symbols such as the cross. Each congregation has two meetings each week, which are open to the public:

  • The midweek Christian Life and Ministry meeting
  • The weekend Public Talk and Watchtower study

Members who cannot go can listen to the meeting over the phone or by video streaming where available. They also attend one large convention and two smaller assemblies each year (some of them at hired sports arenas), where hundreds or thousands of members gather.

At their meetings, they consider what the Watch Tower Society says about the Bible and how to apply its teachings in life. At some meetings, people in the audience are invited to answer questions and make comments. The religion has elders who "take the lead" and ministerial servants who have various duties. They do not dress differently to other members and they are not paid. Most elders support themselves with their own jobs outside the religion.

Members of the religion are expected to live up to high moral standards based on how they understand the Bible. They are told they should always be honest and obey the laws where they live (unless the law says not to follow their religion).

There are many things that are against the rules for Jehovah's Witnesses, including:

Vaccines and most medical treatments or surgeries are allowed as a personal decision.

Jehovah's Witnesses are told to marry only other baptized Jehovah's Witnesses.[22] They believe God does not approve of divorce unless the husband or wife cheated. They can legally separate from a partner who hurt their family or refused to support them, but they would not be allowed to marry someone else while they are still legally married.[23] They believe that when a spouse dies, the living widow or widower is allowed to remarry if they want to. Jehovah's Witnesses are not meant to make close friends with non-Witnesses because it could make it more difficult to follow their religion.[24][25]



Jehovah's Witnesses are strict about who can be a member.[26] They only count people as members if they are baptized (or getting ready to be baptized) and they preach each month. Like other Christian groups, they believe baptism represents devotion to God and their promise to live by his teachings. Unlike some Christian groups, Witnesses are not baptized as babies. There is no set age required for baptism, but they believe baptism should be a choice made by someone who is willing and understands what it means.[27] However, it is common for young children and teenagers to be baptized.

If the elders think a baptized Witness has broken the rules of the religion, they will speak to the person and other people who know about it. That investigation is called a "judicial committee". If the elders decide the person is guilty and does not show they are sorry, he or she might be "disfellowshipped". This means the person is no longer a member of the group. When that happens, other Jehovah's Witnesses are told not to talk to or interact with that person (except in some situations such as living or working together) unless the disfellowshipped person repents and is allowed back in. When such a person is allowed back in, they have been 'reinstated'. While disfellowshipped, the person is expected to attend their religious services if they want to return to the religion, but none of the other members will speak to them.[28][29][30]

Members may also resign from the religion, which is called "disassociating". This can happen by writing a letter, or if the elders decide the person has taken an action that is not allowed such as having a blood transfusion. People who "disassociate" are treated the same as a person who is "disfellowshipped". This is a loving arrangement from the organization and it helps the punished individual to reconcile with them. Jehovah's witnesses want the best for all sorts of people.[31][32][33] The style of leadership of the group has also been described by some authors as autocratic and totalitarian, because members have to be completely submissive to the organization.[34]


  1. "A sketch of the development of present truth", Zion's Watch Tower, July 15, 1906.
  2. Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watchtower. p. 42.
  3. Historical Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses by George D. Chryssides, Scarecrow Press, 2008, page xxxiv, "Russell wanted to consolidate the movement he had started. ...In 1880, Bible House, a four-story building in Allegheny, was completed, with printing facilities and meeting accommodation, and it became the organization's headquarters. The next stage of institutionalization was legal incorporation. In 1884, Russell formed the Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, which was incorporated in Pennsylvania... Russell was concerned that his supporters should feel part of a unified movement."
  4. Religion in the Twentieth Century by Vergilius Ture Anselm Ferm, Philosophical Library, 1948, page 383, "As the [unincorporated Watch Tower] Society expanded, it became necessary to incorporate it and build a more definite organization. In 1884, a charter was granted recognizing the Society as a religious, non-profit corporation."
  5. Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. pp. 13–46. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
  6. Franz, Raymond (2007). "Chapter 4". In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. ISBN 978-0914675167.
  7. "Jehovah's Witnesses".
  8. Kaplan, William (1989). State and Salvation. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.
  9. "Nazi Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses". Retrieved 2018-02-11.
  10. "Russia Jehovah's Witnesses ban in force". BBC News. 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2018-02-11.
  11. "Russia's ban is far from the only act of repression against Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe". Newsweek. 2017-05-05. Retrieved 2018-02-11.
  12. See "Witnessing the End" in the July 18, 1969 Time magazine. In the article it states,"Witnesses cautiously avoid a flat prediction linked to that year." Available online at: [1]. Retrieved March 20,2017.
  13. Raymond Franz. "1975—The Appropriate Time for God to Act". Crisis of Conscience (PDF). pp. 237–253. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-12-09. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
  14. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. pp. 151–4. ISBN 0415266106.
  15. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0415266092.
  16. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 172. ISBN 0802079733.
  17. Hoekema, Anthony A. (1963). The Four Major Cults. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. p. 286. ISBN 0802831176.
  18. "Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium", The Watchtower, September 1, 1989, page 19, "Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the 'great crowd,'as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil."
  19. You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth,, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1989, pg 255, "Do not conclude that there are different roads, or ways, that you can follow to gain life in God's new system. There is only one … there will be only one organization — God's visible organization — that will survive the fast-approaching 'great tribulation.' It is simply not true that all religions lead to the same goal. You must be part of Jehovah's organization, doing God's will, in order to receive his blessing of everlasting life."
  20. "Our Readers Ask: Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?", The Watchtower, November 1, 2008, page 28, "Jehovah's Witnesses hope to be saved. However, they also believe that it is not their job to judge who will be saved. Ultimately, God is the Judge. He decides."
  21. "Why Don't Jehovah's Witnesses Accept Blood Transfusions?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  22. "Do Jehovah's Witnesses Have Rules About Dating?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  23. "What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Separation? | God's Love". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  24. "School Friendships—How Close Is Too Close? — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY". Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  25. "Watch Your Associations in These Last Days | Study". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  26. Stark and Iannoccone (1997), Why the Jehovah's Witnesses Grow So Rapidly: A Theoretical Application (PDF), Journal of Contemporary Religion, pp. 142–143, archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-06, retrieved 2008-12-30.
  27. "What Is Baptism? | Bible Questions". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2018-02-11.
  28. "What Disfellowshiping Means — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY". Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  29. "Do Jehovah's Witnesses Shun Those Who Used to Belong to Their Religion?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  30. "What if You Commit a Serious Sin?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  31. "Can a Person Resign From Being One of Jehovah's Witnesses?". JW.ORG. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  32. Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 22, 163. ISBN 0415266092.
  33. Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Constable, 1969, page 50.
  34. Beckford, James A. (1975). The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 89, 95, 103, 120, 204, 221. ISBN 0631163107.

Other websites




Jehovah's Witnesses' brochures about the name Jehovah