Changes at the Watchtower

Over the past century, Jehovah's Witnesses have dramatically altered their teachings.

Edward Eugene Ross is a freelance writer and researcher in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Jehovah's Witnesses began in 1872 when 20-year-old Charles Taze Russell and several friends formed a Bible study class. Much has changed as the movement has grown to include more than four million members.

One thing has remained the same: JW1 leaders still claim to be the voice of God presenting His message to the world.2 They say that God "has made understanding the Bible dependent upon" being connected with JWs,3 who alone have the Holy Spirit4 and alone enjoy divine direction.5 JWs assert that "there is no God anywhere except among the Witnesses." 6 All non-JW "religious leaders . . . are under the control of Satan" and "are enemies of God." 7 Predictably, JWs are not favorable toward Seventh-day Adventists. Of us they say: "Their leaders and teachers . . . seem to be hopelessly entangled in false teachings." 8 They "worship the firegod, the sun, the heathen god." 9

JWs base their claims on a consistent proclamation of unchanging truth: "A new view of truth never can contradict a former truth. New light never extinguishes older light, but adds to it. If you were lighting up a building containing seven gas jets, you would not extinguish one every time you lighted another, but would add one light to another and they would be in harmony and thus give increase of light: So is it with the light of truth; the true increase is by adding to, not by substituting one for another." 10

According to JW leaders, the way to prove they are the "prophet of God ... is to review the record. What does it show?"11 Actually the record shows that JWs have taught many things they now disbelieve. Let us examine a few examples.

Never a contradiction?

From at least 1882 to 1927, JWs correctly taught that the "higher powers" of Romans 13:1-7 are "earthly rulers . . . , the governments of this world." 12 In the late 1920s, however, JWs said that all "the nations of the world are under the control of Satan." 13 "Only" Jehovah God and Jesus Christ constitute the higher powers; 14 they "alone . . . , not the kings and dictators and presidents or other political rulers." 15

By their own testimony, then, previous JW teaching was a "perversion . . . and . . . misapplication of Scripture," 16 a false doctrine "inherited" from paganism. 17 But wait, in the 1960s they again reversed themselves, explaining Romans 13:1-7 as "not Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, but the political rulers." 18 "Paul ... is clearly talking about authorities in the governments of this world." 19

Another instance in which JW leaders found new light that contradicted older teaching relates to the pyramids of Egypt. For about 40 years JWs taught that "the Great Pyramid [of Gizeh, Egypt]. .. commends itself to us as a work of God" 20 and "God . . . placed the Great Pyramid" in Egypt.21 But soon after 1927 this stone "Witness" was dumped by the very leaders who had been endorsing it. They decreed that "those who have relied upon the pyramid . . . have been led away from God and from His service. ... It is certain that the pyramid of Gizeh was not built by Jehovah God; nor was it built at His command. . . . It is more reasonable to conclude that the great pyramid . . . [was] built by the rulers of Egypt and under the direction of Satan .. . and . . . may be called Satan's Bible, and not God's stone witness . . . , [for] the Devil himself superintended the building of the pyramid." 22

Consider that in the light of this assertion of JW leadership: "What we say is not of our own originality but from God." 23 However, a back-and-forth representation of the God who never changes suggests otherwise.

Misstatements on health

JW leaders also have misspoken for God in matters of health. They used to promote "a simple cure for appendicitis symptoms. The pain in the appendix region is caused by the biting of worms near the junction of the transverse colon with the small intestines, low down on the right side of the abdomen. This remedy is recommended also for typhoid fever, which is also a worm disease. The medicine is Santonine: dose, three grains, an hour before breakfast; repeated for four mornings, or until all the symptoms disappear. Then one dose per month for three months to eradicate all germs." 24 Of course, any one with basic medical knowledge understands that appendicitis and typhoid fever are not worm diseases!

JW leaders also published antivaccination statements that proved mistaken: "Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccination, because the latter sows the seed of syphilis, cancers, . .. . scrofula, consumption, even leprosy, and many other loathsome afflictions. Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion." 25 "Vaccination has never saved a human life. It does not prevent smallpox." 26 "Vaccination is a direct violation of the holy law of Jehovah..., is against the sovereign will of ... God." 27

Several years later, JW leaders changed "the holy law of Jehovah," lifting "all objection to vaccination on Scriptural grounds." 28 JW members are now told: "Make a 'personal decision ... on the basis of what you feel is the best course... for your own health.'" 29 A decree from JW leaders, not the Bible, made the difference! Incidentally, they now acknowledge that "vaccinations appear to have caused a marked decrease in ... smallpox . . . [and] polio" 30 and are "effective in eliminating diseases that were once scourges measles, small pox, typhoid, diphtheria, and others." 31

Failed prophecies

As the years have passed, JW leaders also have had to cope with failed expectations of prophecy. In 1889 they predicted: "Within the coming 26 years all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved; ... the final end of the kingdoms of this world ... will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914 ... [Armageddon] will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete over throw of earth's present rulership."32 They made seven major predictions to be fulfilled by 1915. All failed.

Later date-setting attempts also misfired, such as this one: "In the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions. ... In the year 1918, when Christendom shall go down as a system to oblivion." 33 Succeeding time-setting failures involved the years 1925, 1941, and 1975.

Regarding the prophecy of Daniel 8, they declared: "2300 days ... 2300 literal years," 34 from "455 B.C." 35 to "1846,... when the Sanctuary was due to be cleansed." 36 They later switched to only "six years four months and twenty days, . . . from . . . May 25, 1926 ... to October 15, 1932." 37 Later still: "At the earliest this was . . . June 1, 1938 ... to ... (October 8), 1944."38

JW leaders have also changed their minds about the meaning of Christ's second coming. For more than 40 years they taught that Jesus' first coming was a physical and personal one. Regarding John 14:3, where Jesus promised to come again, "Jesus taught His second personal coming" 39 "His second personal presence and appearing." 40 The literal, bodily, personal "Christ came ... in 1874";41 "the second coming . . . , second advent, . . . second presence . . . , in Autumn of 1874." 42

Thus, from 1879 until 1928 (about 54 years after 1874, and 14 years after 1914), JW leaders were teaching that Jesus had physically and personally returned to earth in 1874: "The Lord has come and is now present [since 1874]. . . . The hour and the day have already passed. He is here! . . . The Lord has returned and is here, invisible to human eyes." 43 About this same time they began switching to 1914 and an in spirit coming. They doctrinally installed "Christ as King" of God's kingdom in heaven "in 1914," calling this "Jesus' second 'coming,' or His 'presence,' " 44 "the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ invisibly in 1914." 45 "Christ's second advent . . . has taken place even though he actually resides [re mains] in heaven. He has returned in that he has turned his attention to ... earth . . . , his return by directing his attention to ... earth." 46 "Christ's return is not a literal coming back to earth," 47 for "Christ's second presence is in spirit" only,48 merely a "return in spirit," mentally, in thought.49 This eliminates and rejects a second personal coming in 1874 or 1914 or in the future, for they don't believe Jesus is ever coming again. They now teach that Jesus is to re main always in heaven, never returning to earth.

Escaping from error

JW leaders have often claimed that their denominational "presentations are orthodox, correct, and sound doctrinally," 50 and if their teaching of "truth ... be not of God we would be glad to have it overthrown, that we and others might be delivered from error." 51

In light of such statements, it should not surprise us that some JW members, learning of all the errors and contradictions, have let the truth set them free. Many will yet become Seventh-day Adventist Christians when we present them with God's love and His truth.

1. "JW" was originally coined and used by their president in 1931, and is still being used by them 7975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pp. 149-151; Awake!, Feb. 22, 1990, p. 20.

2. Edward Eugene Ross, Jehovah's Witness Leaders: False Prophets, pp. 10-17.

3. Watchtower, Nov. 1, 1961, p. 668.

4. Qualified to Be Ministers, 1955 ed., p. 151.

5. Watchtower, July 1, 1973, p. 402.

6. Ibid., July 1, 1974, p. 407.

7. Salvation, p. 255; Watchtower, June 15, 1929, p. 185.

8. Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1892, pp. 275-279.

9. The Finished Mystery, 1917 ed., pp. 160, 227, 426.

10. Watchtower, July 1880, p. 7; February 1881, p. 3.

11. Ibid., Apr. 1, 1972, p. 197.

12. Studies in the Scriptures I (henceforth called Studies), p. 266.

13. Salvation, pp. 260, 261.

14. Religion, p. 206.

15. Salvation, pp. 125, 255.

16. The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 311.

17. Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, p. 91.

18. Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1966, p. 608.

19. Ibid., Aug. 15, 1972, p. 502.

20. Ibid.. May 1881. p. 5.

21. Ibid., Sept. 1883, p. 3.

22. Ibid., Nov. 15, 1928, pp. 340, 343, 344.

23. Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook, pp. 110, 122.

24. Watchtower Reprints, vol. 6, p. 4963.

25. The Golden Age, May 1, 1929, p. 502.

26. Ibid., Feb. 4, 1931, pp. 293. 294.

27. Ibid., Apr. 24, 1935, p. 471.

28. Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1952, p. 764.

29. Awake!, Aug. 22, 1965, p. 21.

30. Ibid., p. 20.

31. Ibid., Nov. 22, 1990, p. 9.

32. Studies II, 1889 ed., pp. 98-101.

33. The Finished Mystery, 1917 ed., pp. 485, 513.

34. Bible Students' Manual, 1909 ed., p. 159.

35. Babylon the Great Has Fallen, pp. 386-390.

36. Studies III, p. 108.

37. Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1959, p. 601.

38. Watchtower, Dec. 1, 1971, pp. 724, 725.

39. Ibid., July 1879, pp. 1, 2. (Italics theirs.)

40. Studies II, p. 105.

41. Watchtower, Oct. 1879, pp. 3, 4.

42. Ibid., Mar. 15, 1902, pp. 85-88.

43. The Harp of God, 1928 ed., pp. 216, 239, 257, 269.

44. From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, pp. 173, 174.

45. Watchtower, Jan. 1, 1961, p. 32.

46. Ibid., Aug. 15, 1969, pp. 485, 486.

47. Make Sure of All Things, 1965 ed., p. 431.

48. Jehovah's Witnesses, 1966 ed., p. 16.

49. This Means Everlasting Life, p. 221.

50. Watchtower, June 15, 1900, pp. 180, 181.

51. Ibid., July 15, 1909, pp. 215, 216.

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Edward Eugene Ross is a freelance writer and researcher in Grants Pass, Oregon.

September 1994

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