The Creation of a Theocracy

On 6 January 1917, Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford,1 for some years Russell’s personal lawyer, was chosen president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and its associate organizations to replace the late pastor. With his election, a new era in the history of the Bible Student – Jehovah’s Witnesses began.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford

Born on 8 November 1869 in Missouri and raised on the small farm of his Baptist parents, Rutherford was a very different man from Russell. Instead of growing up in a big-city atmosphere under the loving guidance of a prosperous and benevolent father, Rutherford had to work very hard in near poverty. By dint of great personal effort, he studied law under the old apprentice system then quite common in the United States and passed his bar examinations in 1892. On four occasions he served as a substitute judge.2 Probably as a result of these early experiences and a commitment to the populist ideals of William Jennings Bryan,3 he developed a strong personality, an outspoken although seldommanifested sympathy for the downtrodden, and a thoroughgoing contempt for big business, politicians, and later, the clergy.

Like Russell, Rutherford was a big man who, by his very appearance, could demand respect. He had a loud, booming voice and looked every inch like a southern or border-state American senator. In relating to friends, he could be despotic; in dealing with enemies, ruthless. The Watch Tower Society’s first official history, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose , describes him as “a brisk and direct type of person” with a “directness in approach to problems in dealing with his brothers which caused some to take offense.”4 In fact, he was moody and sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness with an explosive temper that could occasionally excite him to physical violence. He also had a streak of selfrighteousness which caused him to regard anyone who opposed him as of the Devil. But most curious was the fact that while in some ways he was a Puritan of Puritans, in others he was thoroughly dissolute. He used vulgar language, suffered from alcoholism, and was once publicly accused by one of his closest associates of attending a nude burlesque show with two fellow elders and a young Bible Student woman on a Wednesday evening before the celebration of the yearly Memorial of the Lord’s Supper.5

However, there was much more to him than this terse, unflattering description would indicate. Rutherford first became acquainted with the Bible Students in 1894. In 1906 he was baptized and shortly thereafter became a pilgrim. After a time he became quite popular with his fellow believers because, as an attorney, he fought suits at law to clear Russell’s name, debated publicly in defence of Bible Student doctrines and, in 1915, penned an apology on behalf of Russell entitled A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens.

It was, therefore, Rutherford’s ability, his dynamic rhetoric, and his willingness to deal with Bible Student adversaries like a twentiethcentury Jeremiah that made him a logical successor to Russell. Hence, in just over two months after the latter’s death, he was unanimously elected president of the Watch Tower Society and its associate organs, although Russell had certainly not designated him as his spiritual heir.

In fact, Russell had hoped that his position as chief spokesman for the Bible Students would be taken over by a collective leadership. According to his will, The Watch Tower was to be under the superintendence of an editorial committee of five, and no article was to be published without the agreement of at least three members of that committee.6 Interestingly, Rutherford was not named to the committee and was named only as one of five possible alternate members.7 So while Russell had had no intention of passing on his authority or role intact to any individual successor, Rutherford had other ideas.

Rutherford was an autocrat who obviously believed that for the good of the Society – and all Bible Students – he should rule it with a rod of iron rather than simply administer the decisions of its board of directors. Although he refused to assume the title “Pastor” in deference to Russell’s memory,8 he used Bible Student reverence for Russell as a prop for his own authority. Furthermore, it is obvious that from before the time of his first election, he intended to wield as much if not more power than his predecessor.9

The Watch Tower Schism of 1917

Official Witness history suggests that during the short period between Russell’s death and Rutherford’s election as Watch Tower president, others were scheming to attain that office as well. Several figures are listed as among the “schemers,” but the arch-villain, according to this account, was Paul S. L. Johnson. Accordingly, Johnson is described as the prime instigator of what was shortly to become a major schism in the Bible Student community during the summer of 1917. Briefly stated, the Watch Tower account goes as follows.

Before his death, Russell had instructed Alexander H. Macmillan, his personal, presidential assistant, to send Johnson to Great Britain to oversee the activities of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA) there. Consequently, as one of the triumvirate which administered the society’s affairs from November 1916 through the first week of 1917, Rutherford dispatched him to London. When he arrived, he discovered the British organization in turmoil and dismissed two of the society’s local officers, H. J. Shearn and William Crawford. According to Johnson, these men were plotting to create a separate organization independent from the Watch Tower Society in America. But Johnson himself then attempted to assume an independent role and claimed that he, personally, was Russell’s successor and the steward of the penny mentioned in Jesus’s parable at Matthew 20:1-16. Upon receiving word of what was transpiring, Rutherford cabled Johnson with the demand that he restore Shearn and Crawford.10

At that point Johnson began to send cables to Rutherford, certain that if he were “enlightened,” he would support him. He believed that Rutherford was “undoubtedly the victim of a cablegram campaign engineered by Shearn and Crawford.”11 So he dispatched cablegrams of 85 to 115 words in which he identified himself and others with Ezra, Nehemiah, and Mordecai. Evidently he asked Rutherford to serve as his “right-hand man.”12

Rutherford became convinced that Johnson was demented and cabled him to return to America. Thereupon Johnson sent a cablegram to Watch Tower Vice President Alfred I. Ritchie and Secretary-Treasurer William E. Van Amburgh, the other two members of the triumvirate, repudiating Rutherford’s authority. Using the statement of powers granted him when he had been sent to Britain, he tied up the International Bible Students’ bank account and took over the London offices of the IBSA. He and another Bible Student named Housden seized all mails, opened the association’s safe, and took all its on-hand funds. As a result, Rutherford, by then president, sent written cancellation of Johnson’s appointment, and the latter’s lawyer was forced to drop a suit to prohibit Rutherford loyalists from using £8oo which had been temporarily tied up in the bank.13

Led by Rutherford loyalist Jesse Hemery, a group of Bible Students at the IBSA’s London offices and residence eventually barricaded Johnson in his room. To escape, he was forced to leave by his window and climb down an outside drainpipe. Thereafter, he returned to New York where “Rutherford established that Johnson was perfectly sane on every point but one, himself.”14 Rutherford then reorganized the society’s work in Britain under Hemery and brought peace. Johnson continued to demand to be sent back to that country, but Rutherford refused to send him.15

Then followed a bitter fight between Joseph F. Rutherford and four members of the Watch Tower Society’s board of directors: Alfred I. Ritchie (who had been replaced in January as vice president by Andrew N. Pierson), Robert H. Hirsh, Isaac F. Hoskins, and J. Dennis Wright. According to the Watch Tower version of events, these men were unhappy with Rutherford early in 1917 and “ambitiously sought to gain administrative control of the Society.” As a result, when Johnson returned to Brooklyn he influenced the four members of the board of directors to work against Rutherford.16

The Watch Tower account then states that the board of directors determined to amend the society’s bylaws in order to strip Rutherford of his legitimate authority and turn him into a figurehead. As a result, Rutherford was forced to remove them from office. He obtained the written opinion of a non-Bible Student Philadelphia lawyer to the effect that since the four directors had not been legally elected in January 1917, but were merely Russell’s appointees, they had no legal right to remain in control of the Society. The 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses states:

C. T. Russell had appointed those men as directors, but the Society’s charter required that directors be elected by vote of the shareholders. Rutherford had told Russell that appointees had to be confi rmed by vote at the following annual meeting, but Russell never took that step. So, only the offi cers who had been elected at the Pittsburgh annual meeting were duly constituted board members. The four appointees were not legal members of the board. Rutherford knew this throughout the period of trouble, but had not mentioned it, hoping that these board members would discontinue their opposition. However, their attitude showed they were not qualifi ed to be directors. Rightly Rutherford dismissed them and appointed four new board members whose appointment could be confi rmed at the next general corporation meeting, early in 1918.17So, on 12 July 1917, Rutherford secretly declared the four removed and replaced them with A. H. Macmillan, W. E. Spill, J. A. Bohnet, and G. H. Fisher, all Rutherford supporters who were to be confirmed at the society’s next annual general meeting.18

On 17 July, Rutherford released The Finished Mystery as a seventh volume to Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures.19 Russell had often spoken of writing the seventh volume20 but had never found the “key” or, more likely, the time and energy. Now, however, Rutherford released a book made up of various comments from Russell’s works, plus numerous additions by the co-authors, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H Fisher, in a commentary on Revelation, Ezekiel, and the Song of Solomon. Styled the posthumous work of Pastor Russell, The Finished Mystery was an allegorical interpretation of the three books of Scripture and a panegyric to Russell.

The release of The Finished Mystery to the assembled Watch Tower Bethel family – the staff – at breakfast came as a “bombshell” and, according to Watch Tower history, served to cause an open schism. Johnson, the deposed directors, and their supporters censured Rutherford in a long, bitter, noon-meal debate.21 On 27 July, to keep peace, Rutherford asked Johnson to leave Bethel, and shortly thereafter, he did the same with the ex-directors.22

In all of this, Rutherford’s supporters have pictured him as longsuffering and completely justified in his actions. Alexander H. Macmillan, writing many years later, remarked falsely: “He did everything that he could to help his opposers see their mistake, holding a number of meetings with them, trying to reason with them and trying to show them how contrary their course was to the Society’s charter and the entire program Russell had followed since the organization was formed.”23 But, in fact, the official Watch Tower account and Macmillan’s picture of Rutherford are nothing more than thoroughgoing distortions of the truth.

Even the basic outline given in Watch Tower accounts is not accurate. It is quite true that several may have seen themselves as prospective  successors to Russell in November and December of 1916. It is also quite true that Paul Johnson was a strange, erratic person who had influenced Russell to return to his early Mystery doctrine and who had visions of glory, to say the least.24 Otherwise, the official version of the events of 1917 is false history.

In the first place, Rutherford and his supporters were playing hardfisted church politics and were no angels. Although Rutherford had certainly been the most outstanding candidate for the presidency, his election had been engineered largely by two men – Alexander H. Macmillan and William E. Van Amburgh.25 Second, at the time of his election he had insisted that the directors pass a series of bylaws which gave the society’s officers greatly expanded authority.26 Third, Rutherford’s commissioning of the writing and publication of The Finished Mystery was a high-handed, unilateral action which certainly ignored the rights and prerogatives of the board and several members of the society’s editorial committee.27 Although Rutherford claimed he was exercising rights granted him under the People’s Pulpit Association charter which gave the president “the general supervision and control and management of the business and affairs of said corporation,” this did not give him plenipotentiary powers to formulate policy.28 Furthermore, just as is the case today with the New York Watchtower Society, the People’s Pulpit Association was, for all practical purposes, treated as subsidiary to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and received all its operating funds from that corporation. Fourth, he and his “kitchen cabinet” virtually ignored the supervisory rights, not only of the four directors, but of Vice President Pierson as well.29 Fifth, Rutherford, by trying to act as had Russell, in effect was ignoring Russell’s expressed wishes as outlined in his will.30 And, finally, had Rutherford ever been taken to court for dismissing the four directors, he probably would have lost. His contention that they were not legally elected does not bear up under close scrutiny, particularly in the case of Robert Hirsh who had never been appointed by Russell and had, for a time, been a Rutherford supporter. Then, too, the ousted directors’ lawyers and Paul Johnson all pointed out, if the directors were not legally elected, neither were the society’s three officers: Rutherford, Pierson, and Van Amburgh. In order to have been chosen officers in January 1917, they would have had to have been legally elected directors. Yet they had not been, and hence, by Rutherford’s own logic, did not hold office legally.31

The suggestion that Rutherford and his supporters were reasonable, while their adversaries were not, does not fit the facts either. It is now clear that Rutherford had asked Paul Johnson if Russell would have a successor on 2 and 3 November 1916 at the Brooklyn Bethel, less than a week after Russell had died. This is documented in Johnson’s books Merarism, pp. 614–16; The Epiphany Messenger, pp. 345–9, and also in The Present Truth, May 1934, p. 68. It is not mentioned by Rutherford, but it explains Johnson’s cablegram of 24 February 1917 from England.32 For that reason it is clearly verified. After one night’s sleep, while using his penchant for typology, Johnson told him that Russell would have a spiritual successor since he had not given the “penny” of “the parable of the penny” found at Matthew 20:1–16. Thus, he, Russell, could not have been the “steward.” So a “steward” was to be expected. Rutherford asked who that would be, and Johnson told him he did not know, but in due time it would become obvious. Significantly, both Johnson and Rutherford were later to conclude that they, individually, were that “steward.”

The view that Rutherford was the “steward” and that The Finished Mystery was the “penny” originated with Rutherford himself. This can be seen from examining Harvest Siftings, pages 19 and 20, where he wrote “that there would be murmurers, complainers,” and so on, and that “immediately” after announcing the so-called “Seventh Volume” on 17 July 1917, “the attacks began upon me by Brothers Hirsh and Hoskins.” The “murmurers” mentioned were of course meant to describe the Watch Tower president’s critics, using Jesus’s words at Matthew 20:10–12 in the King James Version. Further, on page 24 of Harvest Siftings , Rutherford stated: “I have had the blessed privilege of a little part in placing before the Church Brother Russell’s last work, the Seventh Volume of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES. I have tried to be faithful.” Hence, by these statements, Rutherford revealed that he believed he was the “steward” who had delivered “the penny.” That The Finished Mystery was considered to be the “penny” was made plain by the picture of a penny on its dedicatory page along with a reference to Matthew 20:9, which reads according to the Authorized Version: “And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.”

Harvest Siftings bears the date 1 August 1917, although it was prepared earlier. Clayton Woodworth gave a talk based on the claims in Harvest Siftings at a Boston, Massachusetts, Bible Student convention on 4 August 1917, which was later produced as a five-page pamphlet called the “Parable of the Penny.” In it he claimed the penny actually represented The Finished Mystery, Christ was the “Lord of the vineyard,” and the steward to whom Christ spoke in the illustration was none other than Judge Rutherford. There can be no doubt that Woodworth got his ideas from Rutherford.

With respect to that allegorical interpretation, Woodworth even outdid Johnson, a fact that has caused one historian to remark that “in all probability, Johnson was as sane as his accusers.”33 Actually, one is tempted to wonder if, in so far as the use of the Scriptures was concerned, Johnson, Rutherford, and Woodworth were all equally mad.34 Unless, of course, Rutherford was simply playing politics.

Macmillan, who continued as presidential assistant under Rutherford, was an intelligent man with an open, pleasant personality. But he was also deeply disliked by the directors as a schemer and a religious politician of the first order.35 Van Amburgh, a tall, thin, dapper, whitehaired man with rimless glasses and a goatee, detested democratic procedure and controlled Watch Tower accounts so that no one else but the society’s president could see them.36 During the Miracle Wheat trial, Russell v. Brooklyn Eagle, which was heard in May 1915, Van Amburgh had hurt C.T. Russell as much as he had helped him by his unwillingness to give frank testimony.37 But the least rational of all was Clayton J. Woodworth, one of the co-authors of The Finished Mystery. In later years he was to prove himself a thoroughgoing health faddist and hater of the medical profession, while in 1917 he was given to the sort of wild, allegorical interpretation that Paul Johnson engaged in.38

No doubt it was Rutherford’s personal behaviour, however, rather than that of his party which caused most of the problems. He was extremely secretive and refused to show any sense of responsibility to the board of directors. He not only kept the printing of The Finished Mystery a secret from the society’s editorial board, but used donated money for its printing which was never placed in the society’s accounts.39 Equally seriously, he and Van Amburgh adamantly refused to allow anyone to inspect the society’s books or to audit them. When Vice President Andrew N. Pierson, the man who had originally nominated Rutherford for the office of president, asked to see them, he was told that he could only do so if he would agree to resign his office.40 Pierson stated publicly in writing: “We never had a satisfactory report from the treasurer since I have been a director. We do not know how the trust fund stands, nor how the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society stands. What are the financial relations between the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the People’s Pulpit Association? How is the trust fund invested? What are the securities? What do they draw?”41 Then, too, few others saw in Rutherford the kindness that Macmillan did. Johnson claimed that during the hearings which the judge held with him after returning from Britain, Rutherford was both cruel and hateful.42

Just before Johnson was forced to leave Bethel on 27 July 1917, the deposed directors claimed that Rutherford rushed at him in a rage and attacked him physically. Their full account states:

At the noonday meal, Brother Rutherford reported to the Bethel Family that we would be compelled to leave the Bethel home by Monday noon. The brethren then considered it their duty to make some statement to the Family. Brother Rutherford wished the Family to hear only his statement; but we persisted, and one of our number said that he wished to read a letter from Brother Pierson stating that he would stand by the old Board. Brother Rutherford refused to let the letter be read and shouted that Brother Johnson had been to see Brother Pierson and had misrepresented the matter to him. Upon Brother Johnson’s firm denial of this, Brother Rutherford hastened to him and using physical force, which nearly pulled Brother Johnson off his feet, said in a fit of passion: “You will leave this house before night if you do not go you will be put out.” Before night this threat was carried into effect. Brother Johnson’s personal effects were literally set outside the Bethel Home and brethren as watchmen were placed at various doors to prevent him from entering the house again.43

In seizing complete control of the Watch Tower Society in 1917, Rutherford acted fully as though he was carrying out a Communist party purge rather than protecting the society from “opposers.” He had seen nothing wrong with having Macmillan call on a policeman to have Wright, Hoskins, Ritchie, and Hirsh – then still fully recognized directors of the Watch Tower Society – ejected from the society’s offices on Hicks Street,44 even though he was still bound to regard them as brothers in Christ. And when the four were forced to leave the Brooklyn Bethel, they were treated with the greatest harshness that Rutherford and his supporters could manifest. Later Hirsh and Hoskins were removed as directors of the People’s Pulpit Association, probably quite illegally, when on 31 July Rutherford and Macmillan used proxies from shareholders of that organization, which had been entrusted to them for the election of the previous January, to vote them out of office.45

It should not be inferred from this that the ousted directors were faultless; they were not. The New York ecclesia of Bible Students saw fault on both sides of the quarrels within the society.46 Vice President  Pierson vacillated between Rutherford and his adversaries. Although he initially supported the ousted directors, he later went along with Rutherford. Ultimately, however, he became an independent Bible Student and died as such.47 Nevertheless, in retrospect, what Ritchie, Hirsh, Hoskins, and Wright demanded of Rutherford seems far more reasonable and principled than the society would like to admit today. Perhaps even the society’s officers know that. As recently as the late 1950s when William Cumberland, then working on a doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa, sought to examine documents from the society relative to the 1917 schism, they refused to let him have them. He was forced to obtain them from the Dawn Bible Students, indirectly the heirs of Rutherford’s adversaries.48

The expulsion of Johnson and the ex-directors from Bethel was followed by a pamphlet war, with the various parties presenting their sides of the issue. Rutherford’s opponents hoped to unseat him at the upcoming annual meeting of the society’s shareholders scheduled for January 1918. They suggested that Menta Sturgeon, Russell’s private secretary and the man who was with him when he died, would make a good president.49 But Rutherford completely outmanoeuvred them.

The judge called for a democratic straw vote among the Bible Students in November 1917. While the vote was not binding, it laid the basis for his and his associates’ re-election. No doubt the Bible Student community looked upon the Watch Tower Society as a sacred institution because it had been so closely associated with Russell. Thus, since Rutherford controlled it during the autumn and winter, he obtained the support of most Bible Students, even though few knew what was going on.50

When the shareholders met, Rutherford was re-elected while his opponents received only a small percentage of the votes. Even Vice President Pierson, who had wavered in his support of the judge, failed to maintain a position on the board of directors.51 The four deposed directors and Johnson had, therefore, to submit to Rutherford and his associates or separate permanently. They chose the latter course.

By the spring of 1918 the dissidents determined to meet separately for the annual celebration of the Memorial of the Lord’s Supper with those groups of Bible Students who supported them. Two new movements developed: one around two of the four former Watch Tower directors and another around Paul Johnson. These were the Pastoral Bible Institute and the Layman’s Home Missionary Movement.52 On the west coast of the United States and Canada a third group, calling themselves “Standfasters,” also broke with the society. Although they were no doubt affected by events in New York, their primary concern was that the society had not firmly opposed involvement in patriotic endeavours during the First World War.53

The Bible Students and the First World War

As indicated earlier, Russell and the Bible Students were strongly opposed to participation in the war. Although they saw it as a fulfilment of prophecy, they regarded the nations involved as demonically controlled and outside God’s favour. As a result, Bible Student men who refused to serve as combatants when conscripted for military service often underwent imprisonment and brutal treatment, and in a few cases were executed.54

When the Watch Tower Society launched a stinging campaign against clergy support for the war in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain during the summer of 1917, reaction was not long in coming. During the autumn of that year Canadian Bible Students distributed great numbers of The Finished Mystery and tracts entitled The Bible Students Monthly, both of which carried attacks on militarism and the clergy.55 In January 1918, the Canadian government banned those publications and began an all-out campaign of persecution against the Bible Students.56

The clergy and others took up a cry against them in the United States. Bible Students began to be arrested, mobbed, tarred and feathered, and harassed throughout the country.57 Warrants were issued for the arrest of seven leading men in the Watch Tower Bible Student movement plus an Italian Bethel worker, Giovanni De Cecca. The leaders were J. F. Rutherford, W. E. Van Amburgh, A. H. Macmillan, R. J. Martin, C. J. Woodworth, G. H. Fisher, and F. H. Robison. All eight were charged with sedition under the terms of the American Espionage Act. On 21 June, seven of them were sentenced to twenty years each in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia; De Cecca was given ten years. Thirteen days later, after they were refused bail pending appeal, the eight were taken to Atlanta where they were to be held for nine months. At that time, the remaining headquarters staff of the Watch Tower Society moved from Brooklyn back to Pittsburgh. Though they continued to publish The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, in most other ways the Bible Students seemed nearly destroyed as a movement.58

Over the winter, Rutherford and his fellow directors were heartened by their re-election to office by members of the Watch Tower Society meeting in Pittsburgh in January 1919. Macmillan looked upon that election as a sign of Jehovah’s favour. Unintentionally admitting that all previous elections of the society’s officers had been predetermined – including the one held in 1917 – he stated to Judge Rutherford: “This is the first time since the Society was incorporated that it can become clearly evident whom Jehovah would like to serve as president.”59 Of course, the anti-Rutherford group had already been purged from the society’s ranks and was no longer any threat. Second, the imprisoned directors were now seen as martyrs by Bible Students who were themselves experiencing persecution. All things being considered, it would have been surprising had Macmillan not received his sign of divine favour.

In March 1919, Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court ordered that Rutherford and his fellow directors be released on bail. In April, Judge Ward of the Federal Second Court of Appeal at New York declared: “The defendants in this case did not have the temperate and impartial trial of which they were entitled, and for this reason judgement is reversed.” A year later the United States government dropped all charges against them.60

Post-war Reorganization

Upon release from Atlanta, Judge Rutherford began a major reorganization of Bible Student activities. On 4 May 1919, he addressed a convention at Los Angeles, and when his remarks were well received he determined to call a general convention of American and Canadian Bible Students at Cedar Point, Ohio.61 At Cedar Point he declared that the Bible Students must “bear the divine message of reconciliation to the world”; and to aid them, he announced the publication of a new magazine, The Golden Age,62 in violation of a specific provision in Russell’s will.63

In the autumn of 1919, the Bible Students began regular house-to-house distribution of The Golden Age.64 More important, in 1920 “class workers,” that is individual Bible Students engaged in public evangelism, began to report their activities to the Watch Tower Society. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose indicates somewhat incorrectly what was then taking place under the new Watch Tower Society president: “The tightening up of preaching responsibility began in 1920 when everyone in the congregation who participated in the witness work was required to turn in a weekly report. Before 1918 only colporteurs or pioneers [full-time evangelists] had reported their service activity. Definite territory assignments were being made to the congregations for their own field work. For the first year of reporting, 1920, there were 8,052 ‘class workers’ and 350 pioneers.”65 Thus began one of the greatest proselytizing campaigns in history – one which continues to this day.

Rutherford was anxious to extend preaching activities in lands outside the United States. So in 1920, at the same time that the public preaching work was being reorganized at congregational level, he made a number of important changes in Bible Student organization abroad. The Canadian branch office of the International Bible Students was moved from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Toronto, Ontario.66 On a trip to Britain, the European continent, Palestine, and Egypt, the judge provided for the establishment of a Central European Watch Tower branch office and printing plant at Zurich, Switzerland.67 In addition, he created another branch at Ramallah, Palestine, within sight of Jerusalem.68 In 1921 there was further expansion, and the Watch Tower counted eighteen foreign branches and twelve domestic American branch offices, formed to serve foreign-language groups in the United States.69

Millions Now Living Will Never Die

A major factor in Bible Student growth in numbers and activity during the early 1920s was something besides improved organization; it was the “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” campaign. Shortly before his imprisonment in 1918 J.F. Rutherford had delivered a talk with that title in California, but it was not until September 1920 that a book by the same name was published and heralded by a major speaking program and newspaper advertisements. The book was translated into eleven foreign languages – including Yiddish, Malayalam, and Burmese – and became a bestseller. What evidently sparked so much interest besides the title of the new publication was the suggestion that the millennium would begin in 1925. That projection, based on jubilee year calculations found originally in Three Worlds, caused Rutherford to speculate that there would be a “full restoration” of mankind at that time. Further, he stated: “We may expect 1925 to witness the return of those faithful men of Israel [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] from the condition of death, being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth.”70

It is true that the judge, like C. T. Russell before him, claimed no inspiration for his ideas and in the next year took a more careful stance in The Harp of God. There he remarked: “Chronology, to some extent at least, depends on accurate calculations and there is always some possibility of mistakes. Fulfilled prophecy is the record of physical facts which are actually existent and definitely fixed.”71 Neither Rutherford nor his colleagues really paid much attention to this caveat, however, and continued to proclaim the forecasts published in Millions Now Living Will Never Die. For example, in The Way to Paradise, published in 1924, William E. Van Amburgh prophesied in even greater detail all that was to transpire in the following year and immediately thereafter.72 Consequently, as 1925 drew near, great excitement was generated among the Bible Students. According to reports still circulated by persons who were then members of the Bible Student community, many gave up their businesses, jobs, and even sold their homes in the expectation that they would soon be taken to heaven and many humans – including the Jews – would be living in a post-Armageddon earthly paradise. So when Rutherford admitted in the 15 February 1925 Watch Tower that perhaps too much had been expected for that year, 73 it was too late. Numerous Bible Student farmers in both Canada and the United States refused to seed their spring crops and mocked their co-religionists who did. Thus, when 1926 came without the appearance of Abraham or the other “ancient worthies,” and with no signs of the rapture of the church or an earthly paradise, there was great disappointment.

Although Rutherford failed to admit any real fault in the matter in the society’s publications, he did give uncharacteristic apologies at IBSA conventions. Evidently, he was chagrined, for years later Governing Body member Karl Klein stated that the judge had admitted that he had “made an ass of himself over 1925.”74 Yet this did not stop him from continuing to proclaim that the end of the world was “near at hand” and might be expected within a few years or even a few months. Neither did the fact that he had prophesied falsely seem to give him second thoughts about the Bible Students’ preaching campaign, his ministry, or his desire to maintain and increase his personal powers. But as events were to show, many Bible Students felt quite differently: the debacle of 1925, coupled with a growing resentment against the Watch Tower’s president, was to cause many thousands to leave the movement within the next few years. This is shown by the dramatic rise in Bible Student Memorial attendance in the years leading up to 1925 and the equally dramatic fall in that attendance by 1928 as depicted in the following graph.

Rutherford’s Ministry

During the years following 1925, Rutherford poured forth a flood of new books and booklets including Deliverance in 1926, Creation in 1927, Reconciliation, Government and Life in 1929, and a number of others until the publication of Children, his last work, in 1941. In fact he produced an average of one book per year, and his publications reached a total of 36 million copies.75 But he was not just a writer. He proved to be every bit as much a human dynamo as C. T. Russell had been. Again and again he spoke at Watch Tower conventions, over national and international radio between the mid-1920s and 1937, and on many phonograph recordings.


Very important also was the fact that Rutherford made Bible Student– Jehovah’s Witness conventions into great publicity events. Although they had been important in Russell’s lifetime, they had been little more than spiritual gatherings for the Bible Students themselves. Under Rutherford that changed dramatically.

Between 1922 and 1928 the Watch Tower Society held a series of conventions which Jehovah’s Witnesses today believe were the seven angelic trumpet blasts mentioned at Revelation 8:1–9 and 11:15–19.76 Accordingly, each convention condemned part of “Satan’s organization” or Satan himself. In 1922 at Cedar Point, Ohio, the clergy’s support for the League of Nations was condemned as disloyalty to Christ’s kingdom. Immediately thereafter some 45 million copies of a resolution to that effect were distributed throughout the world. In the following year, at Los Angeles, attending Bible Students approved a resolution entitled “A Warning” which again attacked the clergy and again was circulated throughout the globe. At Columbus, Ohio, in 1924, they adopted the “Indictment” against men of the cloth and distributed even more copies of a leaflet entitled Ecclesiastics Indicted than they had done with former resolutions. Then, in 1925, at Indianapolis, Indiana, they proclaimed a “Message of Hope” for humanity but continued to damn Christendom and its religious leaders. At London, England, in 1926, they shouted their approval of “A Testimony to the Rulers of the Nations” which censured Great Britain and the world. The next year, at Toronto, Ontario, Rutherford read a resolution to 15,000 assembled Bible Students entitled “To the Peoples of Christendom.” A supporting talk, “Freedom for the Peoples,” was broadcast over an international chain of fifty-three radio stations, an amazing number for that day. Finally, in 1928, at Detroit, Michigan, the Bible Students accepted a “Declaration against Satan and for Jehovah.”77

In later years other conventions were also of prime importance, especially one held at Washington, DC, in 1935, and another held at St Louis, Missouri, in 1941. At the latter assembly, Judge Rutherford’s last, some 115,000 persons were present,78 and Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to openly defy the terrible persecution that was then striking at them like a tidal wave as a result of the charge that they were unpatriotic enemies of the nations in which they lived.

Rutherford’s Growing Power

While he was carrying on his writing and preaching activities, Rutherford gradually began to gain greater control over the Bible Student community. He had become absolute in so far as the society’s business affairs were concerned in 1917. In 1925 he became equally absolute in the determination of what doctrines should be taught in Watch Tower publications. Over the objections of the society’s editorial committee, he published an important and doctrinally revolutionary article entitled “Birth of the Nation.”79 As a result, he destroyed the committee.80 But the ecclesias were still relatively independent under their own elected elders. That was not to last, however. As Paul Johnson had suspected earlier, 81 Rutherford was determined to bring them under centralized Watch Tower control in the name of what he later chose to call “Theocratic Government.”

According to Rutherford, the prime purpose of the Bible Student community was to preach. In order to fulfil that requirement, everything had to be done to promote evangelism – especially door-to-door evangelism with the society’s publications. Thus, every convention from 1919 on stressed the importance of advertising the Watch Tower message.

Eventually, the constant barrage of propaganda convinced many Bible Students that, in a strange sense, they must “publish or perish.” By the 1920s Rutherford had come to claim that all Christians must preach publicly in fulfilment of Matthew 24:14. Yet, in spite of such constant pressure, others – perhaps a majority – resisted being dragooned into the preaching work. Many still maintained the belief from Russell’s day that character-building or Christian sanctification was more important than proselytizing. Many could not accept the argument that all were required to witness from door to door. And, most important, numerous elected elders resented the society’s growing authority over and manipulation of local congregations. Hence, to gain his end of complete domination of the Bible Student community, Rutherford had to take a number of steps. Among them, he had to destroy the concept of sanctification or character development, and also the idea that Russell had been the faithful and wise servant.

In order to accomplish the first step, he published an article in The Watch Tower of 1 May 1926, in which he completely discredited the term character development. Interestingly, if one looks at that article and compares it with Russell’s statements on the matter, he will see that Rutherford was attacking a straw man. Nevertheless, by discrediting the older Bible Student concept of sanctification as “work righteousness,” he could, paradoxically, place greater stress on the work of evangelism.

It was obvious, however, that as long as the society distributed Russell’s works and continued to regard him as the faithful and wise servant, Bible Students would be reluctant to adopt Rutherford’s ideas without question. So, in the 1 January 1927 Watch Tower Rutherford published an article which was obviously produced to discredit Russell’s reputation. Among other things that article stated: “It is the enemy’s scheme to turn man away from God, by inducing man to reverence some other man; and thereby many fall into the Devil’s snare.”82

Shortly thereafter, in February of the same year, the society abandoned the idea that Russell had been the faithful and wise servant; henceforth “that servant” was to be seen to be the remnant of the elect of God on earth – those of the 144,000 saints of Revelation 14:1 who had not yet been joined with Christ in heavenly glory.83

While Rutherford was discrediting Russell’s memory and his teachings, he was enhancing his own authority. As Timothy White so convincingly points out by quoting excerpts from The Watch Tower, what Rutherford did was to change the definition of the term “Society” to mean the entire Bible Student community – in effect, the church. According to White, in 1919 and 1920 Paul Johnson circulated an article entitled “The Church Organized in Relation to the Society.” In that article Johnson argued that the society should be the servant of the church (the Bible Students) rather than its master. In reply, Rutherford held: “While the Society is a body corporate with required officers and servants, yet alone these do not constitute the Society. In the broader sense the Society is composed of the body of Christians organized in orderly manner under the Lord’s direction for the carrying on of his work.” By this definition, as White asserts, Rutherford was claiming that by being the president of the society, he was also actually the “president of the church.”84 Although the judge did not dare to make such a claim in so many words, by 1940 the Watch Tower Society had come to recognize that fact. Consolation (The Golden Age under a new name) stated: “The Theocracy is at present administered by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, of which Judge Rutherford is the president and general manager.”85

The New Name

During the years following 1919, Rutherford and his associates labelled fellow Bible Students who no longer accepted the society’s directions as “evil servants,” the “Judas class,” and the “Delilah class.” Nevertheless many Watch Tower Bible Students still continued to regard such persons as brethren in Christ. Consequently, in order to differentiate more clearly his followers from the many independent Bible Students, on 26 July 1931 at 4:00 p.m., he read a resolution before an assembled Watch Tower convention at Columbus, Ohio, which called on them to accept the new name: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”86

The arguments which the judge used were a masterpiece of faulty logic and bad exegesis. For example, he used Isaiah 62:1, 2 from Rotherham’s translation of the Bible to show that God’s people would ultimately be given a “new name.” But as Timothy White notes, had he bothered to read on another two verses he would have discovered that the new name was to be “Hephzi-bah,” not “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”87 Nevertheless, the selection of the new name was a bold stroke of genius on Rutherford’s part. For probably more than anything, it gave prominence and uniqueness to Watch Tower supporters that nothing else could have done. It served also as a major psychological break with Russell and the Bible Student past and was an important step in the creation of a highly centralized “theocratic” arrangement under Rutherford and his handpicked successors. Of course it offended some Bible Students who had formerly remained loyal to the society; it, in effect, meant the adoption of a sectarian name contrary to one of Russell’s most heartfelt teachings. But Rutherford no doubt wanted such persons to submit or leave the movement anyway. To the judge, anyone who was not totally for him was against him – and Jehovah as well.

The Development of Theocratic Government

Changes in Bible Student doctrines with respect to eschatology, character development, and the faithful and wise servant caused many to leave the movement.88 The Watch Tower article “Birth of the Nation” in 1925 alone evidently caused many to do so.89 Yet as long as local congregations or ecclesias were ruled by their own elders and organized their own affairs, they could, if they chose, ignore most of Rutherford’s pronouncements and remain in fellowship with other Bible Students. Rutherford, therefore, decided to dominate the elders, or, if that did not work, to abolish them as a class.

As noted above, he used the argument that the society (the entire community of Bible Students) was consecrated to carry out a grand testimony or preaching work in the last days. Consequently, anyone who opposed the work of the society (the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) as directed by its president was opposing the will of God. Thus, he held that local elders who refused to go along with directives from Brooklyn were “puffed-up,” “self assuming,” and a host of other epithets by which Rutherford was wont to refer to them.90

The judge was too wise to simply attack the elders without having others to put in their place. During the years from 1919 to 1932, he gradually increased his control over local Bible Student congregations by developing new, society-directed preaching activities which were placed under the superintendence of the service directors who had first been appointed to distribute The Golden Age in 1919. These new activities included the circulation of various convention resolutions and, beginning in 1926, the house-to-house distribution of Watch Tower literature. Consequently, what Rutherford was doing was building up a corps of pro-society preaching directors in each congregation. While they were nominated locally by the ecclesias, they were appointed by the society, and they tended to be loyal to Rutherford and the society in every way.91

At the same time, Rutherford determined to weaken congregational autonomy by changing the nature of local meetings. He suggested that the traditional Bible Student prayer and testimony meetings be divided into two parts with one becoming a “service meeting” – one devoted almost exclusively to promoting public preaching work. Public talks or sermons, delivered on various themes selected by the elders, were discouraged while question-and-answer studies in The Watch Tower were encouraged. Thus, gradually and subtly, the judge came to control more and more of the spiritual diet fed to Bible Student congregations.92

Rutherford and his supporters were still, as late as 1932, irritated by the independence of some elders and their unwillingness to accept without question the dictates of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. After much discussion, the judge decided to solve the problem by eliminating the elders. So, there appeared in the 1 February 1932 Watch Tower a letter – obviously planted with an eye to coming events – from Charles Morrell, a long-time Bible Student and private secretary to Canadian Supreme Court Justice Sir Lyman Duff. The letter, which appeared on page 47, read:

The following question is submitted, as much for consideration as for answer, as I presume if the point involved is sound it will be dealt with by The Watch Tower in due course.

In substance, the apostle says that the holy spirit made the elders overseers of the flock of God. The Lord himself having taken oversight of Zion now, is there justification for the service of elders any longer?

Expressed differently, was it not the purpose of the Lord to limit the jurisdiction of the elders to the time of the absence from the earth of the Lord Jesus, commencing with his ascension, and the giving of the holy spirit as a guide or teacher, and the coming of Christ Jesus to the temple?

An extraneous evidence of this might lie in that there has been room for considerable criticism of the elders in recent years, particularly since 1922. Called to serve, many of them have been found to be a “thorn in the side” of the Society, the directors, the service organization, and the faithful workers. Their election, presumed to express the “Will of the Lord” by the holy spirit, has frequently been found to result in opposition to the “mind of the Lord” as manifest through the Society.

Would not the withdrawal of the holy spirit imply the end of the church government from the “ranks up,” and the coming of the King to his temple imply church government from the “throne down”? And, if so, haven’t we a dual organization, governed from the “throne down” and from the “ranks up”?

Answered in the affirmative would it not be in the interests of the kingdom, and Scripturally correct, to dispense with elders and deacons altogether, and substitute teachers in the same manner as are the directors appointed?

With warmest Christian love, by His grace, I am,

Your brother,

Charles Morrell, Ontario.

In direct reply to Morrell’s questions, The Watch Tower issues of 15 August and 1 September 1932 called for the abolition of the elective congregational elders, even going so far as to assert that the office of elder was clearly unscriptural. As a result, the system of democratically elected elders and deacons which had existed for more than fifty years was ended. Henceforth, the society’s publications continued to pour scorn on the former elected elders. They were described as “haughty” and “lazy,” not willing, in most cases at least, to engage in the work of preaching the good news of Christ’s kingdom.93 In fact, their primary sin had been in refusing to buckle under willingly to Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford.

For a time, the service committees which replaced the elders and deacons were elected by the local congregations. But in 1938 all their officers or “servants,” as they were by then called, came to be appointed by the Watch Tower Society. Congregational democracy was superseded by theocratic government. The Bible Students, now Jehovah’s Witnesses, had become an army of evangelizers. Even the names they used were military in nature. No longer were they to refer to their congregations as “classes,” “ecclesias,” or “churches” as they had done for so long; they were “companies” under “company servants,” the successors of the service directors. Colporteurs were now full-time evangelizers known as “pioneers,” many of whom had served as “sharpshooters” in a spiritual war against the Devil and his system.

Growing Social Alienation

Other significant changes under Rutherford’s presidency tended to make the Bible Student – Jehovah’s Witnesses more sociologically sectarian or, as Werner Cohn has described them, more “proletarian” in the original Marxian sense of that term.94 In effect, they became more thoroughly isolated and alienated in a psychological sense from the rest of society, a community which lived and worked in, but did not partake of, larger societies.

Rutherford came to feel, for example, that fewer persons would be resurrected than had Russell. The pastor, a generally warm, kindly human being when his authority was not being challenged, had not believed in universal salvation, but had come close to it. But to the shock of many Bible Students, in 1923 The Watch Tower stated straightforwardly that there was no hope for the clergy of Christendom.95 Later, dissenting Bible Students were classified as “evil servants” and the “man of perdition,” and therefore also condemned to everlasting destruction.96 By the late 1930s, the society’s literature was teaching, in stark contrast to Russell’s views, that Adam and Eve, Cain, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Solomon, the scribes and Pharisees, and a host of others had perished eternally. Furthermore, it came to hold that anyone who rejected the message of Jehovah’s Witnesses after 1918, plus all small children, including babes in arms who might die at Armageddon, would have no hope of resurrection.97 And while old-fashioned Bible Students who remained in association with the society often quietly refused to accept such teachings, new converts, who gradually replaced and soon outnumbered the handful of Watch Tower loyalists from Russell’s day, did.

In The Watch Tower issues of 1 June and 15 June 1929, Rutherford also introduced a new exegesis of Romans 13:1–7 which caused Witnesses to regard the secular state as totally demonic and virtually without redeeming features. In 1932, he and the society abandoned a long tradition which had taught that natural Jews and Zionism had a special role in Jehovah’s divine plan; thereafter, the Witnesses themselves were to be seen as the only Israel of God.98 And in 1935 the Witnesses, encouraged by the actions of their brethren in Germany and a speech by the Watch Tower president, took a strong position against saluting national flags and standing for national anthems.99

Rutherford and those close to him had an ever-increasing influence on the Witnesses in other ways as well. The judge was a man with strong biases and deep prejudices. Thus, as an old-fashioned Populist, he had a loudly proclaimed sympathy for the poor and, following in Russell’s footsteps, generally manifested a sense of racial tolerance. Yet, curiously, his outward sympathy towards Jews and blacks was often mixed with white, southern American bigotry towards those groups. For example, while giving a talk on the return of the Jews to Palestine in prophecy at a Bible Student convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the early 1920s, he interjected: “I’m speaking of the Palestine Jew, not the hooked-nosed, stooped-shouldered little individual who stands on the street corner trying to gyp you out of every nickel you’ve got.”100 As far as women were concerned, he was a thoroughgoing misogynist. He lived apart from his wife for years and hated feminists. Thus, he even went so far as to suggest that it was morally wrong for Christian men to tip their hats to ladies, rise when they entered a room, or to show any particular deference to women. Mother’s Day he regarded as a feminist plot. But perhaps most startlingly, he openly quoted Kipling’s description of a woman as “a hank of hair and a bag of bones.”101 Not surprisingly, many Witnesses, particularly lower-class, blue-collar workers, took up the judge’s values, either as explicitly stated or implied. Yet despite his male chauvinism, there is evidence that Rutherford depended on two women who evidently adored him. One of these was his secretary, Bonnie Boyd Heath, who called him “Pappy,”102 and the other was Berta Peal, his personal nurse, dietician, and perhaps his mistress as well.103

Although he had too great a liking for liquor and a rather high lifestyle, the judge was sometimes an austere person, and austerity became a rule of Witness life. Christmas, birthday parties, and other popular customs were described as of pagan origin, unchristian, and hence, not to be celebrated or practised.104 For a time even congregational hymn singing was outlawed.105 Beards, often worn by Bible Students in emulation of C.T. Russell, were prohibited at Watch Tower offices and printeries throughout the world.106 A beard was regarded as a sign of vanity, though many older Witnesses ignored Rutherford on the matter and continued to wear one.

Rutherford was not the only influence on the Bible Student – Jehovah’s Witness community in the 1920s and 1930s, although he was certainly the major one. Clayton Woodworth was a close second, and therefore deserves some description as well. As noted above, Woodworth was more than a little eccentric. In consequence, he was to impose some very unorthodox ideas on the Witnesses through the pages of The Golden Age, of which he was the editor. Among other things, he hated the American Medical Association, denied the germ theory of disease, constantly attacked smallpox vaccination as the filthy custom of injecting animal pus into the human system, and carried on a vendetta against the aluminum industry. Aluminum cookware, according to Woodworth, was poisonous.107 Thus, from him the Witnesses were to pick up some additional strange attitudes and practices. Often, when they became nauseated after eating in a restaurant or cafe, Witness families would attribute their sickness to aluminum cookware rather than to food poisoning, although the latter was more probably the cause.

Jehovah’s Year of Ransom (From The Golden Age, 13 March 1935, 381)

Perhaps Woodworth’s most extreme activity involved the creation of a new Jehovah’s Witness calendar. In The Golden Age issues of 13 March, 27 March, and 10 April 1935, he published a three-part article entitled “The Second Hand in the Timepiece of God.” With his usual zeal, he poured verbal vitriol on the clergy of the Church of Rome and went on to describe practically all calendars in current use as of the Devil. After a long-winded discussion of various Bible texts and astronomical calculations, he presented his new theocratic calendar on page 381 of The Golden Age of 13 March. All the names of the months and the days of the week were changed from those in popular use. In addition, the new calendar was to start with the crucifixion rather than the birth of Christ, and new years were to begin in the spring. Finally, the number of days in the new months was changed somewhat. Fortunately, Rutherford had the good sense never to allow Woodworth’s theocratic calendar to be used.108

The Growth of the Bible Student  Jehovah’s Witness Community

During most of Rutherford’s administration, the growth in the number of Bible Student – Jehovah’s Witnesses was surprisingly slow, particularly in view of the vast quantities of Watch Tower literature distributed, the number of Rutherford’s sermons preached over radio, and the number of hours spent in making house calls by zealous “kingdom publishers.” There was practically no permanent growth at all before 1928, and during the next decade the number of active publishers or preachers increased only 2.97 per cent per year to a total of 59,047.109 In 1938, only 69,345 attended the annual Memorial of the Lord’s Supper.110 So, in terms of numbers, Jehovah’s Witnesses could as yet hardly be said to have become a great success, and Rutherford’s great proselytizing campaign had probably alienated far more members of the public than it had attracted.

A major factor inhibiting faster growth was that, while numerous new converts were being made, almost as many old-time Bible Students were severing association with the society.111 Continual doctrinal changes and the struggle between J. F. Rutherford and the elders caused many to drift away; and when in 1929 and 1930 a more active, traditional “Russellite” movement, the Dawn Bible Students Association, began to come into being, many joined it.112 Thereafter, when Jehovah’s Witnesses sought more liberal and traditional Bible Student fellowship, they tended to gravitate to that group.

Slowly, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to expand and, in the last few years of the judge’s life, thousands of new converts joined them. A number of factors, all of which deserve some analysis, were responsible for that growth. These included improved organization under theocratic government, the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s name, the new doctrine of the “great multitude,” and serious world-wide conditions caused by the Depression, the rise of Fascism, and the outbreak of the Second World War. Finally, the steadfast faithfulness of the Witnesses during terrible persecution in the 1930s and 1940s gave them a prominence and sympathy which drew many to them.

Theocratic government changed the nature of the Witness community. Not only were company servants and their assistants appointed directly by the society, but local companies were organized into “zones” under “zone servants” who visited them regularly to encourage the preaching work and “maintain unity of action.” About twenty congregations were formed together in a particular area to form a zone and from time to time zone conventions were held. The zones were in turn organized into regions under regional servants who visited the zones at convention times. On 1 October 1938, the United States was divided into eleven regions which were subdivided into 148 zones.113 Thus, theocratic government entailed the creation of a full-fledged system of hierarchical governance with “servants” who wielded every bit as much authority among Jehovah’s Witnesses as did archbishops and bishops among Roman Catholics. And these servants emphasized, as had never been done to the same extent before, that if one wanted to be approved by the society, and therefore Jehovah, he or she must preach.

By 1938 few of the more independent-minded Bible Students were left in association with the Watch Tower Society. To oppose the theocracy in any way was to be branded a “troublemaker” and shunned. With few exceptions this meant that most Jehovah’s Witnesses were thoroughly supportive of door-to-door preaching and everything else published in The Watchtower. As one elderly California Witness woman put it: “If The Watchtower said the moon was made of green cheese, I’d believe it.” Fortunately, The Watchtower did not go that far; yet when the society instructed the Witnesses to carry on a regular evangelizing campaign under any and all circumstances they were ready to obey unto death itself. Small wonder that the Nazis considered them to be a dangerous, rival political movement.114

The Vindication of Jehovah’s Name

An important factor behind such zeal was the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s name, a doctrine taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses until the 1980s.115 Under Russell, the central doctrine of Bible Students had been that of the ransom atonement of Christ which was seen as the expression of God’s love for mankind. Consequently, to Russell and the Bible Students of his day, the New Testament was regarded as more important than the Old. Although they sometimes stressed the importance of God’s wrath, it was not a primary doctrine to them. Under Rutherford that all changed. Writing on page 320 of the book Jehovah, published in 1934, he stated boldly: “God provided that the death of Christ Jesus, his beloved son, should furnish the ransom or redemptive price for man; but that goodness and loving-kindness toward mankind is secondary to the vindication of Jehovah’s name.” The judge stressed how, by being faithful to their commission, God’s witnesses throughout history had had a part in the vindication of the divine name. But the ultimate vindication of the Almighty would come at Armageddon when the wicked would be destroyed. Using allegorical interpretation, Rutherford argued that in bringing down vengeance upon the wicked in the days of ancient Israel, Jehovah was simply prefiguring what he would do in the last days of this wicked world. So it became of ultimate importance that men should choose: they would have to join with Jehovah, Christ, and the Theocracy, or go down with the Devil and his system at the battle of the great day of God the Almighty.

Significantly, the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s name was in many ways like John Calvin’s doctrine of the majesty of God; it was no doubt a major factor in developing a burning, almost fanatic zeal in the Witnesses of the twentieth century just as Calvin’s teaching had done among his followers in the sixteenth. That meant that, like the Calvinists of that era, the Witnesses became ever more intolerant of everything and everyone not in harmony with God’s new nation, “the Theocracy,” as they saw it.

The Attack on Religion

Linked with the doctrine of the vindication of Jehovah’s name was a bitter campaign of invective against those whom the Witnesses regarded as God’s enemies. Judge Rutherford and those in close association with him never forgot the trauma of 1918 and 1919. So, until his death in 1942, he poured forth a series of bitter attacks on commerce, politics, and religion – “the three chief instruments of the devil.” As far as capitalism was concerned, the judge hated it. It is therefore somewhat understandable that the Bible Students and the Witnesses of the 1930s should have occasionally been accused of Marxist, or at least socialist, sympathies.116 The judge, however, had no more use for leftist politicians than for any others; all, he asserted, would be destroyed at Armageddon. Yet neither commerce nor politics came in for the verbal abuse that Rutherford, Woodworth, and the Witnesses heaped upon the churches and, particularly, on the clergy.

Rutherford blamed members of the clergy for his imprisonment in 1918 and, although he was certainly negative towards Protestantism and Judaism, he saved his choicest epithets for the priests and hierarchy of the Church of Rome. For example, in typical fashion, in the book Enemies, the judge stated: “All organizations on earth that are in opposition to God and his kingdom, therefore, necessarily take the name of ‘Babylon’ and ‘harlot,’ and those names specifically apply to the leading religious organization, the Roman Catholic church, which claims to be the mother of the so-called ‘Christian religion.’ That mighty religious organization, foretold in the Scriptures, uses the method of harlots to induce politicians and commercial traffickers and others to fall into her arms and yield to her supposed charms.”117

Rutherford’s attacks became more and more vitriolic, particularly as Witnesses came under terrible persecution in Nazi Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Eventually he even came to use the term “religion” to mean false religion which he publicly damned as “a snare and a racket.”118 And, as Rutherford’s jeremiads grew more severe, the Witnesses took more delight in publishing them.

When, in the mid-1930s, the judge was forced off the airwaves as the result of pressure from both the business community and the churches in Canada and the United States,119 the Watch Tower Society produced phonograph records of his booming denunciations which were played on portable phonographs carried from door to door by willing Jehovah’s Witnesses. In other instances, those same Witnesses would play Rutherford’s talks over loudspeakers to whole communities, often to irate Catholics. In one instance, in the province of Quebec, they even went so far as to build an armour-plated sound car – of which various pictures are extant – from which they could broadcast condemnation of the Church of Rome to hostile mobs in two languages. 

In other instances, Witness publishers invaded hostile towns and cities in the hundreds, often in violation of local anti-peddling ordinances and in the face of threats of mass arrests.120 Finally, in displays of both courage and their contempt for “Satan’s world,” great numbers of them, young and old, male and female, would march through cities and towns of the English-speaking world in what were called “information marches.” Spread out in long lines, they would tramp through busy thoroughfares carrying signs and placards bearing slogans coined by Rutherford such as “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and “Serve God and Christ the King.”121

Naturally, many found the Witnesses’ behaviour offensive and bizarre. Yet their constant attacks on commerce, politics, and religion attracted many to them. During the 1920s and throughout the Depression, labour leaders frequently praised Rutherford for his attacks on big business.122 Labour, political liberals, and socialists admired his equally severe denunciations of Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, and rightwing movements throughout the world. Thousands of Protestants and anti-clericals agreed with everything the Witnesses had to say about the Roman Catholic hierarchy and admired their courage in saying it. Finally, as Jehovah’s Witnesses often openly courted and met martyrdom with bravery, even their enemies began to develop a degree of respect for them.

The Great Multitude

Probably the most significant contributor to the more rapid growth of the Witness community during the last years of Rutherford’s life was the new doctrine of the “great multitude.” Almost from the beginning of his ministry, C. T. Russell had taught that the Bible Students were members of the elect class of 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 and 14, who would rule as king-priests with Christ during the millennium. In addition, he stressed that the vast majority of mankind would inherit perfect life through the resurrection in a restored paradise earth. But besides the elect and the majority of saved humans, The Watch Tower had taught there was a third group, the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9, which would receive heavenly life on a secondary plane. The Watch Tower also explained in 1923 that there would be a “sheep class” mentioned in Matthew 25:31– 46, which would be divided from the goats in the time of the end. In 1932 Rutherford stated that those sheep were pictured by the ancient Rechabite chieftain, Jonadab, who had joined King Jehu of Israel at the time of his destruction of Queen Jezebel’s priests of Baal.123

Such concepts were complex and, more significantly, they meant that the Witnesses saw their preaching work as directed only to the gathering of the 144,000 elect of God. Jehovah himself would deal with the other classes of mankind in his own due time. That all changed dramatically when, in the spring of 1935, the Watch Tower Society’s president delivered a speech at Washington, DC, in which he argued that the “great multitude,” “the sheep” of Matthew 25, and the “Jonadabs” were all one class that would receive everlasting life on earth as a reward for faith and obedience to Christ’s kingdom.124 As a result, the Witnesses felt that they must gather great numbers of men to God’s organization so they could be saved from the impending battle of Armageddon for life on a new earth. Instead of simply preaching to gather the elect and announce the world’s coming end, they began to make a far more concentrated effort to gain converts.

Rutherford’s Personal Life and Last Days

Sometime after becoming president of the Watch Tower Society, Judge Rutherford and his wife, Mary, were quietly separated. Although she is generally described by older Witnesses as a semi-invalid who could not render the judge his marital dues, their separation was caused by more than her health or his work. They were alienated and apparently quite bitter towards one another, though just why is unclear. Factors that may have caused strife between them included what amounted to his desertion of her when he became president of the Watch Tower, his choleric and self-righteous temperament, and what quite evidently developed into a serious case of alcoholism.

Although Jehovah’s Witnesses have done everything possible to hide accounts of the judge’s drinking habits, they are simply too notorious to be denied. Former workers at the Watch Tower’s New York headquarters recount tales of his inebriation and drunken stupors. The late Carl Prosser, who was present at the time, recounted how difficult it was to get him to the podium to give a talk at the 1927 Toronto Bible Student Convention because he was so drunk. In San Diego, California, where he spent his winters from 1930 until his death, an elderly lady long spoke of how she sold him great quantities of liquor when he came to purchase medicines in her husband’s drugstore. But perhaps the most damning account of his drinking habits appears in an open letter to him from former Canadian Watch Tower branch overseer Walter Salter.

For years, Salter was a close friend and confidant of the judge, but in 1936 he broke with him over doctrinal issues and was excommunicated. So on 1 April 1937 he published the letter referred to above which was a stinging personal indictment of Rutherford and one that in its general outline, at least, is quite accurate. Accordingly, Salter claimed that he had purchased “whiskey at $60.00 dollars a case” for the Watch Tower president “and cases of brandy and other liquors, to say nothing of untold cases of beer,” all with the society’s money. So that no one might think that what was bought was for others, the former Canadian branch overseer stated: “A bottle of liquor or two would not do; it was for the PRESIDENT and nothing was too good for the PRESIDENT.” Then after describing Rutherford’s ostentatious style of life, Salter said with bitter irony: “And oh Lord he [Rutherford] is so courageous and his faith in Thee so great that he gets behind four walls, or surrounds himself liberally with an armed bodyguard and bellows away his dreams … and sends us out from door to door to face the enemy while he goes from ‘drink to drink’ and tells us if we don’t we are going to be destroyed.”

As far as personal accommodations and creature comforts were concerned, Salter relates that Rutherford lived like a prince or baron of industry. In New York he rented an apartment with luxurious furnishings which Salter estimated as easily worth $10,000 a year during the Depression. Besides that, the Watch Tower president had a “palatial residence” on Staten Island, “camouflaged” as essential to the Society’s broadcasting station WBBR. Also on Staten Island he maintained a small, secluded residence in the woods where he could isolate himself from the world. Expensive quarters were kept for him in a number of other places including London and, prior to the Nazis’ rise to power, in Magdeburg. And if that were not enough, because of his health, in  1929 he began building Beth Sarim, a San Diego mansion which was to become his winter home.

Strangely, Rutherford found a doctrinal excuse for building Beth Sarim which, in part at least, he may really have believed. According to the society’s exegesis of Psalm 45:16 (King James Version) – “instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth” – Christ would resurrect Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and many other pre-Christian servants of Jehovah to rule mankind during the millennium. Furthermore, Daniel, also one of those “ancient worthies,” had been told that he would stand in his lot at the “end of the days” which the Watch Tower Society taught would be before Armageddon. Rutherford and the society therefore concluded that those faithful, pre-Christian men could return any time within the next few years or even months. In fact, many ordinary Jehovah’s Witnesses would often expect the resurrected “princes” to be present at the next major Watch Tower convention. Thus when the judge was evidently donated the money to build Beth Sarim on a one-hundred-acre San Diego estate, he “humbly” had the deed for it made out to himself in trust for David and the other “princes” who would shortly need somewhere pleasant to reside.125 That, however, did not stop him from living in it with a fairly large retinue of retainers and with one of his two sixteen-cylinder Cadillac cars that, according to popular Witness lore, had been given to him “as the greatest man on earth” by a wealthy Iowa believer.126

What about the suggestion that Rutherford had a mistress? While it certainly seems probable, it cannot be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet what gives a degree of credence to it are some of the judge’s comments found in the pages of The Watch Tower. In a five-minute radio lecture entitled “Who Are God’s Worst Enemies?” reprinted in the society’s official magazine, he began his remarks by quoting the Apostle Paul from the King James Version of the Bible:

In 1 Corinthians 6: 9, 10 are found these words: “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor couvetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Many other scriptures condemn these evil practices, together with murder, lying bribery and profanity.

Then, after stating how the clergy took a strong stand against these vices in their missionary endeavours, he went on to say:

The people who commit these offences are sinners, but they are not the most wicked people on earth; neither are they God’s worst enemies. In many instances they are not God’s enemies at all, but are victims of circumstances, environment, or improper education and training. Oftimes they are hampered by fl eshly weaknesses which they are powerless to resist. Very seldom do they have any proper conception of God’s laws, and hence do not realize how fl agrant their sin is in the sight of God. The Bible calls these people sinners, but does not call them wicked.127

A few months later, Rutherford went even further in excusing sins of the flesh. He asserted:

Yielding to the inherited or acquired weaknesses of the fl esh is not the sin unto death, and yet the Devil has led everybody to believe that lying, stealing, swearing, committing adultery, getting drunk or losing one’s temper, or any other of the long list of fl eshly weaknesses, construes sin unto death. But on the contrary, all these things are forgivable. This explains why David could be called a man after God’s own heart. His heart was loyal, but his fl esh was weak.128

The judge’s attempts to absolve sins of the flesh were made two years after Carl Prosser had witnessed his drunkenness. So, Rutherford was no doubt speaking and writing of his own weaknesses as much as those of others. Yet in some strange way he continued to take himself and the doctrines he proclaimed seriously. When the Second World War came, it therefore seemed to him to be a fulfilment of apocalyptic prophecy, and he became convinced that the war would lead directly to the destruction of both the demons and wicked mankind at Armageddon. In the last year of his life, as he showed unmistakable signs of being a very sick man dying from cancer, from Beth Sarim he began to disassemble part of the theocratic organization’s structure that he had just recently put in place. In December 1941, he discontinued the offices of regional and zone servants and terminated the custom of holding zone conventions. At the time he wrote: “‘The strange work’ of the Lord [the public preaching work] is drawing to an end and requires haste, with watchfulness, sobriety and prayer.”129 Yet he insisted that every Witness should continue with that work until God called a halt to it. “With full determination to be obedient to the Lord,” he said, “let these words of the apostle be a guiding slogan: ‘This one thing I do’ that is to advertise THE THEOCRACY.”130

Rutherford’s Death and Legacy

Rutherford died at Beth Sarim on 8 January 1942, after a long illness. Yet he died still active or, as his fellow Witnesses reported, “fighting with his boots on.”131 He had wanted to be buried on a canyonside about a hundred yards beneath the House of the Princes that he had long used and enjoyed while it awaited the return of the ancient pre-Christian “worthies,”132 but that was not to be. The area was not zoned for the creation of private cemeteries, and the neighbours complained that to bury the judge where he had requested would lower the value of their properties. Hence, local officials refused to issue a burial permit.133 Watch Tower publications asserted bitterly that this was simply a last act of spite by the Devil’s organization against Jehovah’s faithful, departed spokesman,134 and local Witnesses carried on a protracted, three-month battle to honour Rutherford’s last wish.

Records of the case show that there was little substance to Watch Tower charges of religious prejudice,135 and physical evidence at Beth Sarim suggests that the neighbours had some reason for concern. For instead of wanting to bury Rutherford’s body in a simple canyonside grave, as they later asserted, his closest personal retainers – the Beth Sarim “family” – wanted to place it in a large, rather imposing, cement crypt which they began building as he was dying. Thus, the neighbours no doubt feared that Rutherford’s prospective tomb might well become a monument which would be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses from far and near.

Of course that did not happen. When San Diego County officials finally refused to allow Rutherford to be interred at Beth Sarim, his remains were taken to Rossville, New York, laid to rest there,136 and were quickly forgotten by all but a few close friends. The records of the attempt to have him buried at Beth Sarim show that neither high Watch Tower officials nor even his widow or son, Malcolm, seemed greatly concerned about his last resting place, for they were notable at public hearings on the matter by their absence. Furthermore, since the judge himself had taught the Witnesses to be loyal to Jehovah’s organization, the theocracy, rather than to any man, they quickly gave their full allegiance to his successors at the Brooklyn Bethel. So today, only a handful of Witnesses who are in their late seventies or older know much about the man who reshaped their movement, and fewer still are aware that Beth Sarim and Rutherford’s uncompleted cement crypt still stand as monuments to him – although the House of the Princes is no longer kept for all the righteous men from Abel to John the Baptist.

J. F. Rutherford’s real monument is not a cement crypt; it is the movement which, upon Pastor Russell’s death, he shepherded through the dark days of the First World War and reshaped thereafter. In a real sense it was he, rather than Russell, who developed Jehovah’s Witnesses into what they are today – a fact continually emphasized by anti-Watch Tower Bible Student groups. While he was doubtlessly a hard, ruthless, and frequently cantankerous person whose reasoning was dominated far more by casuistry than his fellow Witnesses would like to admit, it is probable that only someone like him could have created the basis for making Jehovah’s Witnesses the important, world-wide sectarian movement that they are today.

For under his severe exterior he seems to have believed, as had Russell before him, that he had a divinely appointed mission. In spite of Bible Student schisms, outside persecution, personal imprisonment, and the failure of the world to end either in 1918 or 1925, he was able to maintain control over a body of zealous men and women who continued to look forward to the near approach of Christ’s apocalypse at the battle of Armageddon. And it was his hardness and organizational abilities, unpopular as they often were, which were to give Jehovah’s Witnesses the iron-like character which they needed to pass through the persecution of the 1930s and 1940s.

As William Whalen has noted, Judge Joseph F. Rutherford was to Pastor Charles T. Russell what Brigham Young was to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.137 While both Smith and Russell were able religious leaders, to a great extent both were rather naive visionaries who could – through the use of fertile imaginations – mislead themselves as much as others. Both Young and Rutherford were, however, hard-bitten pragmatists who gave a degree of permanency to the movements they dominated. While the judge may secretly have kept a mistress, unlike Young, he did not flaunt his sexuality with a whole harem of wives. Still, he resembled the stern Mormon Lion of the Lord in a great many ways – although neither Jehovah’s Witnesses nor Mormons will likely appreciate the comparison.


1 – There is a body of growing information on Rutherford, much of which appears in Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography, compiled by Jerry Bergman with an introduction by Joseph Zygmunt (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1999). In addition, much is to be found on him in numerous public documents such as court transcripts of record, State Department documents, and press reports.

2 – See Edward Lodge Curran, Judge – “for four days” – Rutherford (Brooklyn, NY: Catholic Truth Society, 1942).

3 – Rutherford actually campaigned for Bryan in 1896.

4 – Page 68. See also the Watch Tower’s latest history, Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Society of New York and IBSA, 1993), 66–8.

5 – On 27 April 1926, George H. Fisher wrote a letter to W. Nieman of Magdeburg, Germany, accusing Rutherford of attending Al Jolson’s Winter Garden Theater to see the Paris Edition of the then-notorious show “Artists and Models.” Fisher wanted to bring Rutherford, as an ex-officio elder of every Bible Student ecclesia, before the individual churches for discipline. Fisher claimed that he had the necessary witnesses to do so. But in July of the same year, Fisher died and the matter never went further. Nieman did, however, publish Fisher’s letter and an analysis of his charges in a German leaflet entitled “Bruder George H. Fisher.” Rutherford’s lame answer to Fisher’s charge was that he was too busy in the Lord’s work to be bothered with replying to such criticism and, in any case, had never seen Al Jolson in his life and did not know what he looked like. See The Golden Age (4 May 1927), 505, 506.

6 – WT, 1916, reprints 5999, 6000.

7 – Ibid.

8 – Ibid., 1917, reprints 6035.

9 – For further details, see below.

10 – A. H. Macmillan, Faith on the March (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1957), 75–76; 1973 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses , pp. 101–6.

11 – 1973 Yearbook , 101.

12 – Ibid., 101, 102.

13 – Ibid., 102, 103.

14 – Ibid., 103–5.

15 – Ibid., 106; 1975 Yearbook , 90.

16 – Macmillan, 76, 77; Divine Purpose , 70; 1975 Yearbook , 87.

17 – Pages 91, 92.

18 – J. F. Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I (Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association, 1917), 17.

19 – 1975 Yearbook, 90.

20 – WT, 1906, 3825.

21 – Divine Purpose, 70, 71.

22 – Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part II, 30. For other accounts of this event, see J. D. Wright, A. I. Ritchie, I. F. Hoskins, and R. H. Hirsh, Light after Darkness (Brooklyn, NY: printed privately, 1917); Paul S. L. Johnson, Merarism (Philadelphia: Paul S.L. Johnson, 1938), 73–84.

23 – Macmillan, 81.

24 – See Johnson’s own comments in Harvest Siftings Reviewed (Brooklyn, NY: printed privately, 1917), 8, where he states: “It seemed to me that my experiences in Britain were pictured by those of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Mordecai (Brother Hemery believed that he antityped Eliashib and Hanani in Nehemiah): that my credentials were in Ezra 7:11–26 and symbolized in Esther 8:2, 15. I concluded that I was privileged to become the steward and Brother Russell’s successor.” Rutherford thought that Johnson was mentally ill on the subject of his own role, and he was not alone. Francis H. McGee, a Bible Student assistant attorney general for the State of New Jersey who supported the four dismissed directors, certainly thought so. In an open letter written to the four on 15 August 1917 which was published in Light after Darkness, he made that abundantly clear. See page 18.

25 – Johnson, Harvest Siftings Reviewed, 83, 84; Light after Darkness, 5, 6; Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I, 10; Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (London: Constable and Co., Ltd., 1969), 33, 34.

26 – Johnson, Harvest Siftings Reviewed, 82, 83. Wright et al., 3, 4.

27 – Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I, 20.  

28 – Ibid., 16.

29 – See “Vice-President’s Statement against the Management in August,” in A. I. Ritchie, J. D. Wright, I. F. Hoskins, and R. H. Hirsh, Facts for Shareholders of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Brooklyn, NY: printed privately, 1917), 5.

30 – Russell’s will, as published shortly after his death, may be found in WT, 1916, reprints 5999 and 6000.

31 – This fact is completely ignored in Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. See pages 66–8.

32 – See Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I, 4–7 for the judge’s basic attack on Johnson and for a copy of Johnson’s 24 February cablegram in which he stated, “Since January Twenty-am Steward…”  

33 – Cumberland, 131.

34 – It is evident that Woodworth was drawing on ideas that had originally been developed by P. S. L. Johnson but were seized by Rutherford.

35 – Macmillan’s nastiness is recounted in two sources. The first is found in a letter from Bible Student William Abbot, the editor of the St. Paul Enterprise , to his daughter while he was attending C.T. Russell’s funeral. It was reprinted in the 7 November edition of the Enterprise . His statement regarding Macmillan reads: “Bro. MacMillan is so petulant, lacking in tact and egotistical that I have been tempted very sorely by him. I love Brother MacMillan, but I cannot do other than resist several little traits he is possessed with. I could tell a heart-breaking story of his persistent attempts to humiliate me, but I have striven as bravely as I can to permit none of it to disturb the serenity and even tenor of my way, but it seems to me deplorable that even in the death of our great leader and the solemn days at hand the spirit of enmity for me could not be buried.” The second is an account by Isaac Hoskins. It appears on page 9 of Light After Darkness and reads: “As an example of the turn of mind on the part of Brother MacMillan, the brother approached Brother Hoskins at the time of Brother Russell’s funeral in Pittsburgh, November 6, and only a few feet removed from the dead body of our Pastor, Brother MacMillan said: ‘Brother Hoskins, I have something to say to you that I know will hurt you very much, and I haven’t any idea that you have strength of character sufficient to follow my advice; but I am going to tell you, anyway. I think every one of you Directors except Brothers Rutherford and Van Amburgh ought to resign and give a chance for some decent men who know anything to be put in your places. There is not one of you fit to manage anything, and you ought to resign; and if you don’t resign you will, every one of you, get kicked Notes to pages 76–7 419 out.’” Significantly, Macmillan never denied Hoskin’s account. See also William H. Cumberland, “A History of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1958), 131.

36 – Wright et al., 4.

37 – For an apt description of Van Amburgh, based on the transcript of record of Russell’s suit against the Brooklyn Eagle , see Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 119–20.

38 – This becomes clear from his portion of The Finished Mystery and later in many articles that he wrote in The Golden Age. Like Johnson, he apparently suffered from mental problems. At the Asheville, North Carolina, Bible Student Convention in 1913 he openly stated in relation to his initial rejection of Russell’s “vow” that he had for a time been under demon influence. See Souvenir Notes – Bible Students’ Conventions – 1913 .

39 – Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I, 19, 20.

40 – Ritchie et al., 5.

41 – Ibid. 

42 – Rutherford, Harvest Siftings – Part I, 20; Johnson, Harvest Siftings Reviewed, 19.

43 – Wright et al., 8.

44 – Ibid., 6; Macmillan, 78–80. The accounts given by the ousted directors and A.H. Macmillan as to what happened on this occasion are in agreement except that the ousted directors claim that the policeman did not force them to leave while Macmillan claims he did. The account from Light after Darkness is as follows: “‘Officer, put these men out!’ said the President’s representative. ‘Move on, Gentlemen!’ said the policeman to the Directors. ‘You have no right to put us out, Officer,’ replied one of the Directors; ‘we are employed by this Society and are not disturbing anybody or anything.’ ‘Of course I have no right to put you out!’ responded the policeman. ‘It is I who should go out instead’; and away he went.” Macmillan’s account reads: “I said ‘Officer, these men have no business here. Their place is up at 124 Columbia Heights, and they are disturbing our work here. They refused to leave when we ordered them to. Now we just thought we would call on the law.’ They jumped up and began to argue. The policeman twirled his stick and said: ‘Gentlemen, it’s after being serious for you now. Faith, and I know these two, Macmillan and Martin, but you fellows I don’t know. Now you better be after going, for fear there’ll be trouble.’ They grabbed their hats and went down the steps two at a time and hurried up to Borough Hall to get in touch with a lawyer.” Whatever the facts of the case, Macmillan admits he did not want the directors to get a quorum to transact business and was determined to stop them from holding a business meeting while Rutherford was away. Macmillan was therefore lying when he said that the directors were disturbing the work of those at the Hicks Street offices. Furthermore, he fails to mention that the four were in the Hicks Street chapel when he called the police to have them ejected.

45 – Wright et al., 10.

46 – “An Open Letter to the People of the Lord throughout the World” and “A Petition to Brother Rutherford and the Four Deposed Directors of the W.T.B. and Tract Society,” both undated, 1917.

47 – A letter from Pierson in The Watch Tower of January 1, 1918, reprints 6197, 6198, explains his attempt to become “neutral” in the struggle between Rutherford and the deposed directors. However, the December 1  Herald of the Kingdom, a publication of the Pastoral Bible Students, contains Pierson’s obituary that shows clearly that he died in fellowship with Rutherford’s detractors rather than with the judge.

48 – Cumberland, 118.

49 – Ritchie et al., 3.

50 – WT, 1917, reprints 6184, 61.

51 – Rogerson, 39.

52 – For discussions of these movements since 1918, see Alan Rogerson, “Qui est schismatique?” Social Compass 24:1 (1977): 33–43; and J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religion (Wilmington, NC: McGrath Publishing Co., 1978), 487–91.

53 – The Standfasters also believed that the preaching work was over and that the door to the “higher calling” (to sainthood among the 144,000) was closed. The “Preamble and Resolutions of the Stand Fast Bible Students Association” of 1 December 1918 began with the words: “WHEREAS, Now that Passover 1918 is passed, and therefore the ‘Harvest’ has ended, the ‘Gospel Age’ closed, the ‘Wheat’ garnered, the ‘Saints’ sealed and the ‘Door’ shut…” For further details on the Standfast movement, and groups that grew out of it, see Johnson, Merarism, 731–49.

54 – The Golden Age (British and Canadian edition), 29 September 1920, passim; J.F. Rutherford, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association, 1920), 83; M. James Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976), 56–62.

55 – Divine Purpose, 74–8.

56 – Penton, 69–80.

57 – Divine Purpose, 81–3; The Golden Age (29 September 1920), passim.  

58 – Divine Purpose, 83.

59 – Macmillan, 105, 106.

60 – Ibid., 107–9.

61 – Ibid., 112, 113.

62 – WT, 1919, 280; Divine Purpose, 89, 90.

63 – Russell had stated specifically: “As the Society is already pledged to me that it will publish no other periodicals, it shall also be required that the Editorial Committee shall write for or be connected with no other publications in any manner or degree. My object in these requirements is to safeguard the committee and the journal from any spirit of ambition or pride or headship, and that the truth may be recognized and appreciated for its own worth, and that the Lord may more particularly be recognized as the Head of the church and the Fountain of truth.” WT, 1916, reprints 5999.

64 – Divine Purpose, 95.

65 – Ibid., 96.

66 – Penton, 84.

67 – Divine Purpose , 96, 97.

68 – Ibid.

69 – Ibid.

70 – Rutherford, Millions Now Living Will Never Die , 88.

71 – J. F. Rutherford, The Harp of God (Brooklyn, NY: International Bible Students Association, 1921), 230, 231.

72 – Pages 214–36.

73 – Page 57.

74 – Klein gave this account in a footnote to his life story which appeared in The Watchtower of 1 October 1984 on page 24.

75 – William J. Whalen, Armageddon around the Corner (New York: The John Day Company, 1962), 66.

76 – “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1969), 209–47, 283–96.

77 – Ibid. See also Divine Purpose, 101–11; and the 1975 Yearbook, 135–9.

78 – 1975 Yearbook , 192.

79 – WT, 1925, 67–74.

80 – WT, 1938, 185. See also White 186–8. The other members of the editorial committee – W. E. Van Amburgh, J. Hemery, R. H. Barber, and E. C. Stewart – were all Rutherford loyalists. But when they opposed the judge’s ideas, he felt that they were acting contrary to the Lord’s will. Writing in 1938 in the issue of The Watchtower cited above, he stated: “the Watchtower of 1 March 1925, published the article ‘Birth of the Nation,’ meaning the kingdom had begun to function. An editorial committee, humanly provided for,  then was supposed to control the publication of The Watchtower , and the majority of the committee strenuously objected to the publication of the article ‘The Birth of the Nation,’ but by the Lord’s grace, it was published, and that really marked the beginning of the end of the editorial committee, indicating the Lord himself is running the organization.”

81 – White, 181, 182.

82 – Page 7.

83 – WT, 1927, 51–7.

84 – WT, 1921, 329; White, 181, 182.

85 – Consolation, 4 September 1940, 25.

86 – WT, 1931, 278, 279.

87 – White, 260.

88 – See the chart on page 83.

89 – No doubt much of the chagrin caused by this article was linked with the failure of Watch Tower Society prophecy concerning 1925 and the gradual repudiation of Russell’s teachings.

90 – To realize how completely Rutherford and the society’s officers detested the elected elders, note a list of articles attacking them under such headings as “exposed and unclean” and “rebellious” in the Watch Tower Publications Index: 1930–1960 , 91.

91 – 1975 Yearbook, 165. See also William J. Schnell, Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956), 56, 57, 59.

92 – This was begun as early as 1923. Divine Purpose, 104.

93 – See for example WT, 1938, 87, 233.

94 – Werner Cohn, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Proletarian Movement”,  The American Scholar, 24 (1955), 281, 282.

95 – WT, 1923, 310–13.

96 – WT, 1930, 275–81.

97 – Consolation, 6 May 1936, 508; WT, 1938, 133, 313, 314, 326, 376, 377; 1939, 170; J. F. Rutherford, Salvation (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1939), 43.

98 – J. F. Rutherford, Vindication – Book II (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1932), 257, 258.

99 – Divine Purpose, 143, 144.

100 – Based on an account by my father, Levis B. Penton, who was present at the time.

101 – Rutherford, Vindication – Book I, 155–7, 188, 189; The Golden Age (20 June 1934), 594. Rutherford’s quotation of Kipling was made at the St Louis, Missouri, Watch Tower convention in 1941 before thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It caused some offence among those present.  

102 – See page 1404 of the transcript of record of Moyle v. Franz et al., 47 N.Y.S. 484.

103 – Berta Peal, a “consecrated Jehovah’s Witness” and member of the “anointed remnant,” deserted her husband of fifteen years to come to the Brooklyn Bethel in 1938. He divorced her for abandonment in 1940. Although she had no training as a dietician or nurse, she served Rutherford in those official capacities until his death. She also travelled with him extensively and seems to have remained with him wherever he went. She confided to a member of her family that “he [Rutherford] was like a husband to her in every way.” The information on these facts, buttressed by additional research, was provided by the late Dr Carl Thornton and Mrs Thornton, Berta Peal’s grand-nephew and grandniece-in-law.

104 – 1975 Yearbook, 147–9.

105 – It was not restored until two years after Rutherford’s death. Divine Purpose, 215.

106 – 1975 Yearbook, 97, 98.

107 – White, 173. A clear picture of Woodworth’s ideas can only be seen by examining The Golden Age itself. Although White describes Woodworth as “intelligent,” one must question his emotional and mental stability in publishing the many things that he did.

108 – According to Olin Moyle, Rutherford called Woodworth a “jackass” before the entire Bethel family or work force after having received a letter from him saying that all present calendars were of the Devil. Woodworth evidently responded that he was a jackass for having written the letter. See Moyle’s letter to Rutherford and Woodworth’s testimony on the matter in the transcript of record of Moyle v. Franz et al., 1103, 1732–3.

109 – Divine Purpose, 312.

110 – Ibid., 313.

111 – It is impossible to say just how many who were Bible Students during C.T. Russell’s time eventually broke their association with the society, but Rutherford himself admitted that many had done so. WT, 1930, 342. See also White, 251–8.

112 – When Pastor Russell Died, 24–30. Melton, 491.

113 – Divine Purpose, 190.

114 – John S. Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933–1945 (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1968), 195–200.

115 – The terminology and hence the doctrine was dropped without any formal declaration in Watchtower publications. Like so many past teachings, it was simply to be forgotten by the Witness community.

116 – Penton, 128.  

117 – Page 198.

118 – This was the title of another one of Rutherford’s phonograph records.

119 – Divine Purpose, 134–40; Penton, 94–110.

120 – Divine Purpose, 133.

121 – Ibid., 145.

122 – Penton, 98, 106.

123 – Divine Purpose, 140.

124 Ibid. 

125 – The Golden Age (19 March 1930), 404–7; Herbert H. Stroup, The Jehovah’s Witnesses (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945), 42.

126 – Divine Purpose, 191, 192.

127 – WT, 15 March 1929, 93.

128 – WT, 1 September 1929, 271.

129 – Divine Purpose, 191.

130 – Ibid.

131 – Ibid., 194.

132 – The San Diego Union (12 January 1942), 2A.

133 – The Tribune-Sun (San Diego), 21 January 1942, 12; The San Diego Union, 21 January 1942, 3A.

134 – WT, 1945, 45; Consolation , 4 February, 17 and 27 May, 3–16.

135 – Minutes of Regular Meeting of the County Planning Commission (San Diego, California), 24 January 1942, 229–35; Meeting of the Board of Supervisors (San Diego, California), 26 January 1942, no. 63; Minutes of the Meeting of the County Planning Commission, 28 February 1942, 240–3; Minutes of the Meeting of the County Planning Commission, 14 March 1942, 247.

136 – Whalen, 67

137 – Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *