Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Name Jehovah # 2

March 24, 2012

Recently, a very good friend, knowing my background, asked me this question:

What would be a good thing to say to Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to the door?  I don’t want to engage them, but I don’t want to offend them either . . .

I replied along these lines:

I guess that depends on what your goal is. If you don’t want to engage
them, then a polite and kind “no thank you” is sufficient.

However, if you want to plant a seed of doubt but don’t really want to get into discussions with them, you could ask something along this line:

“I really don’t have much time to discuss now. But, I do have a question that I’d like to ask. Perhaps we could discuss it briefly now or we could discus it at another time. My question, however, relates to your name: Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I understand that you guys believe that Christians are identified by using the name “Jehovah.”

[They might give a simple agreement to this statement or a more elaborate answer. It is imperative that you don't allow the conversation to get side-tracked here. You still need to ask your question.]

“I’ve read the New Testament and I’m curious: I’ve never seen the name “Jehovah” in it. I understand that your translation has the name “Jehovah” in the New Testament but from what I’ve read there are no Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which have the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in them.”

[Here is where you can ask your question. It is essential that you don't go down other rabbit trails in discussing this topic. Stick to the question as it's one that there really is no satisfactory answer for:]

Romans chapter 14 from the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (published by Jehovah's Witnesses)

“My question is: Is that true? Does the name “Jehovah” appear in any of the New Testament Greek manuscripts?”

[Now, it's possible the conversation could take a few turns here. You'll want to stay focused on your question and come back to it if the conversation strays. Some background: Witness leaders realize the liability of admitting that the name "Jehovah" does not appear in any of the Greek manuscripts. So, they have developed an elaborate theory that the name "Jehovah" was originally in the Greek New Testament but was removed. Did they find early New Testament Greek manuscripts with the name "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" to prove their claim? No, they did not. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and not one contains "Jehovah" or "Yahweh." This is your main line of evidence. Keep coming back to the New Testament Greek manuscript evidence. All the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have either "Lord" or "God" where the Witnesses' Bible has inserted "Jehovah."]

[If the Witness at your door declines to discuss this further, let them go and let them ponder your question. If they continue the discussion or return later with some answer, always come to the New Testament Greek manuscript evidence that shows there was no use of "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" in the Greek New Testament. They may show you photocopies of Greek Old Testament (from the Septuagint version) with the name "Jehovah" or "Yahweh." That doesn't answer your question about the Greek New Testament. Yes, there are a few Old Testament fragments of the Greek Septuagint which have "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" (YHWH) in them. The name "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" occurs thousands of times in the Old Testament. That's not related to the question you asked. You are asking about the Greek New Testament. The Greek New Testament, with over 5,000 manuscripts to establish its text, has no record of "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" in it.]

[If you've decided to continue discussions on this subject: ask the Witness if they have an interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Most of them do and you can use it to your advantage. A sample page from their Interlinear is shown above. On the left is a standard Greek New Testament text with a word-for-word English translation underneath. On the right is their Bible version with the name "Jehovah" inserted. You can ask them:]

“What does the Greek text say? Does it say “Jehovah” or “Lord”?”

[Clearly it says "Lord." Ask them if the name "Jehovah" appears anywhere in the Greek text of their Interlinear. It doesn't. It only appears in the right hand column, which is their Bible version which has replaced "Lord" with "Jehovah." They may possibly try to cite some later Hebrew versions of the New Testament for support of using "Jehovah" in the New Testament. You can see them listed in the footnotes of the page above, with the letter J. These are translations into Hebrew from the Greek New Testament and are only a few hundred years old. These Hebrew translations have no antiquity that compares with the Greek New Testament. Again, keep your topic narrowly focused to discussing the Greek New Testament and the Witness will have no substantial answer they can give. Many of them probably have never realized the liability or the implications of this. Additional questions you can ask:]

“So, we’re agreed that of the over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts we have available there are none that contain the name “Jehovah”?”

“If we accept the evidence as it exists, then don’t we have to admit that the early Christians did not emphasize the name “Jehovah” since it does not appear in any Greek New Testament manuscript?”

If you claim the name “Jehovah” was removed from the New Testament, do you have any evidence of New Testament Greek manuscripts that contain the name “Jehovah”?

“Which New Testament version would be more accurate: one which follows the Greek New Testament manuscripts or one that doesn’t?”

“How essential is it that Christians use the name “Jehovah”? If it doesn’t appear in the Greek New Testament manuscripts and since there are no early manuscripts of the New Testament with the name “Jehovah” in them, then is it really that important?”

If you refuse to get side-tracked onto other issues you will succeed in establishing an important contradiction to the Witness at your door. There are few issues more central to their belief system as emphasizing the name “Jehovah.” You will have shown that there is absolutely no New Testament Greek manuscript evidence that supports their contention that the early Christians used the name “Jehovah.” Instead, their explanations to counter this rely on a hoped for new manuscript find, a veritable “missing link,” which will finally vindicate their theory the name “Jehovah” was there in the New Testament, but was later removed.

Don’t expect the Witness to admit defeat in your presence. Instead, be content to have planted a seed of doubt about one of their most basic and distinguishing doctrines. If you want to continue discussions with them, there are some links below to suggest other similar contradictions you can point out in their teachings. But, having made your point that the early Christians did not emphasize the name “Jehovah,” you can stop there and pray that the seed you’ve planted may come to fruition someday.

For further reading:

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The Name Jehovah # 1

Jesus/Yahweh: The Name Above Every Name

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The 144,000 — Part One

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses — The 144,000 — Part Two

What’s Wrong With the Witnesses

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Seeds of Doubt for Jehovah’s Witnesses: The 144,000 — Part Two

November 27, 2011

Regular readers of the blog know I write occasionally on subjects related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses due to my background. This continues an earlier article which discusses the Witness teaching that only 144,000 people will go to heaven to be with Christ. The earlier article presents a couple of questions that can be asked to show the inconsistency of the JW interpretation about the 144,000. Still, what if the Witness you are discussing with wants to know what the 144,000 in the book of Revelation refers to?

I suggest these thoughts by James Kallas in Revelation: God & Satan in the Apocalypse:

To take the number [144,000] literally is to come to the exact opposite conclusion that John the author is trying to get across.

How many tribes in ancient Israel? Twelve. And how many disciples did Jesus choose as the basis of the new Israel, the Church? Twelve. And what is 12 x 12? 144! Now, before we go any further we must remind ourselves of how the ancient Jews thought, of a characteristic of their mental patterns, for John was a Jew. How did the Jew express infinity, a large and endless number? By simply multiplying the number by ten! When Peter asks Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother, seven times?”, Jesus answers him “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). What does Jesus mean? Is he to be taken literally? Is Peter to walk about with a pad of papyrus and a pen in his hand, marking down the number or times he forgives his fellow man, and when he arrives at 490 times he can stop forgiving? Of course not! Jesus is not to be taken literally here. He is speaking concretely, as a good Jew would. He is simply trying to get across the idea of infinity, of an endless series, of a continuing never ending act of forgiveness, by multiplying by ten.

And that is what Rev. 14:1 and 14:3 are attempting to say. How many will be saved? A specific limited number confined to a mere and literally understood 144,000? Not at all! What John is saying, to a discouraged and persecuted people, on the brink of despair, tempted to believe that all is lost and God will not be able to deliver his people, is that not a one shall be lost. That God’s power is sufficient to deliver all who call on his name. That all the sons of the old covenant, the remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel, and all the followers of the new Israel, adherents to the teachings of the twelve apostles, that all of them, 12 x 12 = 144 x 10 x 10 x 10 [which would equal 144,000], that all of them shall be rescued by the redemptive power of God! To take the number literally, to limit it, is to come to exactly the opposite conclusion intended by John. He is speaking of the unlimited power of God.

Witnesses will sometimes counter that the number 144,000 must be literal because in Revelation chapter 7 they are mentioned before a vision of a “great crowd” or “great multitude” which could not be numbered. To understand the relationship of the 144,000 and the “great multitude” in Revelation, chapter 7, it’s necessary to look at the text. At Revelation 7:1-9, John says:

1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,

from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,

[12,000 are sealed from each tribe]

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (pp. 60-61)

John says he heard the number of those sealed: 144,000. What he saw after he heard the number was the “great multitude” in heaven. He heard about this group before he saw them. John elsewhere in Revelation uses the same method when he describes Christ in an earlier chapter. First he is told about the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and next he sees “a Lamb as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:5-6). John Francis Coffey explains that

the great multitude “which no man could number” is not a group distinct from the 144,000, but rather, it is the same group. John is explaining one group by the other. “After this”, that is, after John “heard” the number of the sealed, he was granted a vision of the whole company of the elect. The definite number of the elect signified completeness:

All the tribes had their required number; none were missing (cf. Jn 17:12). Nor should God’s chosen people be understood as being only a tiny group, for the members were so many that John could not count them himself, he “heard” the number of those sealed – 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1,000). In apocalyptic imagery, the number 12, like the number 7 symbolizes perfection or totality. The second 12 corresponds to the tribes of Israel or the people of God. And the 1,000 indicates an immense number. In other words, the 144,000 symbolizes the great multitude of the elect whose exact number is known only to God. (The Gospel According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 119)

For further reading:

Is Your Hope Bible-Based? Questions and Reflections for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Do the Old Testament Saints Receive a Heavenly Reward?

Critiquing the Watchtower’s Latest Defense of their 607 BCE Chronology — Part Two

October 18, 2011

Jehovah's Witness Leaders claim that in 1919 they were appointed over the Christian Congregation

Last month, I shared research by my friend Doug Mason which debunks the first part of the Watchtower Society’s (the publishing agent for Jehovah’s Witnesses) latest attempt to shore up their unique Old Testament chronology which puts ancient Jerusalem’s conquest by the Babylonians at 607 BCE, instead of the commonly accepted date of 587 BCE. At first glance, this seems like an inconsequential squabble and in one sense it is. But, for the Jehovah’s Witness leaders, everything depends on the 607 BCE date as it serves as the focal point of their doctrines relating to the year 1914:

  • That 607 BCE is the beginning of a prophetic interpretation supposedly pointing to 1914
  • That Christ returned invisibly in 1914 and was enthroned as earth’s king in heaven
  • That in 1914 Christ began an inspection of his followers and this led to Watchtower leaders receiving a divine appointment over the Christian congregation in 1919
  • That the generation which saw the events of 1914 would not pass away until the final battle of Armageddon (now interpreted as one generation nearly 100 years long with two overlapping parts)

Two recent issues of the Watchtower magazine gave new defenses in support of their 607 BCE chronology. These are the October 1, 2011 and November 1, 2011 issues. The series is entitled “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?” The Watchtower’s Society’s arguments in the October Watchtower were discussed at this earlier post with a refutation provided by Doug Mason.

Doug has now completed research on the November 1, 2011 Watchtower, which has the subtitle: “What the Clay Documents Really Show.” Amazingly, in that article, the Watchtower Society publishes its own interpretation of documents that have been researched by scholars in the study of Neo-Babylonian history. The Watchtower Society gives its own novel interpretation, citing no scholarly studies on the subject in support, of crucial data that historians have used to fix the chronology of the period.

I’ll let Doug introduce his latest research which demonstrates the psuedo-scholarship used by Witness leaders, who are desperately holding onto the 607 BCE date because they know that if that date falls, their claim to spiritual authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses would also fall. In the body of Doug’s article below, you can download the refutation of the November 1, 2011 Watchtower article as he has graciously given permission for us to share it here.

Refuting the November 1, 2011 Watchtower article: “What the Clay Documents Really Show?”

By Doug Mason

While every scholar dates the destruction of Jerusalem at 587 BCE, the Watchtower Society alone says it was destroyed 20 years earlier, in 607 BCE. To arrive at this date, the Watchtower Society needs to either lengthen the reign of one or more known neo-Babylonian kings or it needs to insert additional, currently unknown kings.

Thousands of ancient cuneiform tablets exist from the Neo-Babylonian era

The Watchtower article classifies the neo-Babylonian tablets as: Chronicles, Business tablets, and Astronomical tablets. The  article denigrates the Chronicles and the Business Tablets as unreliable. However, the article does agree that business tablets exist for every known neo-Babylonian king and that with those tablets, the date of 587 BCE for Jerusalem’s destruction is reached.

The article uses Business tablets to suggest an interval between some kings’ reigns. Analysis however shows the tablets indicate overlaps, not gaps.

When it considers the Astronomical tablets, the article considers only one, dated to Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year. However, the Watchtower discounts the planetary readings and it ignores the Lunar Three measurements. When it deals with the tablet’s record of a lunar eclipse, the Watchtower creates its own calendar for 588 BCE. And without providing any substantiating evidence, the article claims that the data on the tablet fits its date for Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year.

Astronomical diary VAT 4956 which the November 1, 2011 Watchtower attempts to re-interpret to support its unique chronology

The critique provides statistical evidence that this eclipse took place in 568 BCE and could not have taken place in 588 BCE. The Critique also shows that the Lunar Three measurements on the tablet confirm Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year as 568/567 BCE.

The critique shows that the Watchtower article employs several unacceptable practices:

  • misrepresents its sources;
  • fails to provide the contexts of the sources it cites;
  • does not describe the methods it uses or the outputs from its calculations;
  • exhibits gross inconsistencies, such as accepting information from sources but rejecting the way that those sources arrived at their conclusions;
  • does not provide all the necessary statistics;
  • ignores critical data, such as the many witnesses that show the Lunar Three measurements prove Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year equated to 568 BCE;
  • reasons from innuendo and from faulty hypotheses;
  • hides the fact that calculations prove Jerusalem was not destroyed in 607 BCE;
  • presents their faulty interpretation of the “Seventy Years” as “Bible chronology”.

The critique is provided as two related parts and can be downloaded in PDF format at the links below:

For further reading:

Critique of the October 1, 2011 Watchtower article on chronology (PDF) by Doug Mason

Critique of the October & November 2011 Watchtowers on chronology (PDF) by Carl Olof Jonsson

Watchtower Leaders Try to Salvage 1914 Teaching

Were Watchtower Prophecies About 1914 Fulfilled?

Are We Living in a Special Time? by Tom Cabeen

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Are We Living in a Special Time? Part Two

September 24, 2011

By Tom Cabeen

Part One can be read here.

Are We Living in the “Last Days?”

In addition to believing that Jesus was reigning, there is also no doubt that the first Christians believed they were living in the “last days.” Peter, on the occasion of the remarkable events of the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, quoted Joel’s prophecy as proof of that fact:

“This is what was said through the prophet Joel, ‘“And in the last days,” God says, “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh.” —Acts 2:16,17

The expression “last days” here translates the Greek term eschatais hemerais, an expression used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and widely understood by Jews to refer to the Messianic era. (Isa 2:2; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1) The introduction of the inspired letter to the Hebrews reflects this perspective:

“God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son.”
—Heb 1:1, 2

The expression “at the end of these days” in the New World Translation here translates the same Greek words used by Peter at Pentecost (eschatais hemerais: see Kingdom Interlinear), but the expression is translated differently here, so its implications are not immediately apparent to any but the most diligent student.

Early Christians did not understand the expression “last days” in the same sense as we might say on a fine day just before we feel the first cool breezes of fall: “These are the last days of summer.” Jews generally believed that human history was divided into two great epochs: the “former days” or period before the Messiah appeared and the “latter days” or period after His appearance. Since Jesus’ disciples accepted him as their Messiah, they believed that his appearance marked the beginning of the “latter days,” or Messianic era, in contrast with the “former days” before he appeared, and they supported that view by references to the Hebrew Scriptures.

The first Jewish Christians had to change their initial perspective on the nature of their Messiah and his rulership. They expected a political savior who would deliver them from subjection to Rome. Instead, Jesus delivered them from sin, death and the devil. His kingdom was quite real, but was no part of this world. They became part of it by accepting and obeying him as ruler. (Col 1:13) Jesus also revealed to them that he would leave and return again at an unexpected time. Many early disciples evidently thought the second coming would occur in their lifetime. But as more and more of those who had known Jesus personally, including the apostles, began to die (many as martyrs), and persecution against them intensified, they began to understand that the Messianic era was not to be a time of physical abundance and material blessing (as many Jewish teachers taught), but would instead be an extended time of tribulation, especially for Christians. Thus, it was appropriate for Paul to warn Timothy: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.” (2 Tim 3:1) After describing the kind of people that would typify these difficult days, he told Timothy to “turn away” (“be turning yourself away” Kingdom Interlinear) from these people. Clearly he was not warning Timothy to keep away from people who would live centuries in the future. He and Timothy were, in Paul’s view, living in the last days, that is, the Messianic or Christian era.

What about the “signs” which Jesus’ predicted?

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 (and parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21, sometimes called the “Olivet Discourse” or the “Eschatological Sermon,” from the Greek word for “final things”) describes a series of events which would happen at the time of Jesus’ parousia and serve as a sign that it had begun. The purpose of this document is not to present a detailed verse-by-verse consideration of these passages, but a few comments are appropriate.

First, a brief explanation of the Watchtower understanding of the Greek word parousia in Matt. 24:3. The term is usually rendered “coming” or “arrival,” but is translated “presence” in the New World Translation. Late in the nineteenth century, some disappointed Second Adventists, men who had been influenced by William Miller, Nelson Barbour and his associate B.W. Keith in particular, who had expected Jesus to return in 1874, noticed that parousia was translated “presence” in the Emphatic Diaglott, a Greek/English interlinear translation prepared by Benjamin Wilson. Apparently impressed by the chronology enough that they did not want to give up that date, some of them came up with the idea that perhaps Jesus really did return in 1874 just as they had predicted, but invisibly.

C.T. Russell's magazine, Zion's Watch Tower, heralded Christ's invisible presence as beginning in 1874.

Russell incorporated their ideas into his own version of the “time of the end”. He saw Jesus’ parousia as a special 40-year period of invisible “presence” during which Russell’s followers, (then called International Bible Students; now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) would be in a special relationship with him. Russell saw the events described in Matt 24:3-14 as proof that Jesus had already returned, invisibly.

If Jesus’ parousia was actually to be invisible, some “sign” might indeed be needed to show that it had begun, but it would be strange for Jesus to choose things which were to be in almost constant evidence during the entire Christian era as a “sign” of some special period at its end. The difficulty that arises when one uses those things as signs is shown by the fact that Russell pointed to the very same “signs” as proof that Jesus’ parousia started in 1874 that Witnesses point to today, events mentioned in Matthew 24:6-14 (war, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, and others) to “prove” that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and put them in charge of all his kingdom interests on earth.

The word parousia, in its most common meaning, meant someone’s bodily presence, but it can also refer to the visit of a royal person, which is consistent with Jesus’ own description of his second coming:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt 25:31, 32)

“The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”—1 Thess 4:16

In Jesus’ day, many Jews believed that immediately prior to Messiah’s coming there would be a series of calamities. These “woes of the Messiah,” included wars, insurrections, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, and signs or portents from heaven. It is not unlikely that Jesus’ disciples had heard of these predictions. Since these events clearly did not appear before Jesus’ birth or baptism, when they heard him predict the destruction of the temple, they may have been asking, “Is this what we have been told to expect; the woes of the Messiah? Is the destruction of the temple part of that great time of calamity we expect to precede your coming in glory?”

If that was the intent of their question, Jesus’ answer was that disasters would definitely come, but they would not be a sign of his return. Jesus started his prophecy by warning them not to be misled, adding that when wars and rumors of wars happened, “see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matt 24:6)

Other catastrophes would also make their appearance. Even these would only be “the beginning of birth pains.” Rather than confirm that these things would be the immediate precursor to his return and their deliverance, Jesus warned them of increasing persecution and hatred by persons of all the nations, of a great rise in wickedness, and said that they would need endurance. His words did not point toward imminent deliverance, but an extended period of tribulation. The events Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24:3-14 have occurred often throughout the centuries since the days of the apostles. Periodically during those centuries, some Christians have tried to prove that Jesus’ return was imminent by pointing out the prevalence of war, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, and the like, and have been disappointed every single time. [An excellent consideration of this entire subject is found in Doomsday Delusions, © 1995 by C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines, Jr., InterVarsity Press.] Indeed, Jesus’ words have been undergoing fulfillment for nearly two thousand years, and “the end is still to come.”

Jesus’ words may have been the disciples’ first inkling that the Messianic era would not be the time of great political peace and material prosperity they may have been led to expect by some Jewish teachers. Since evidently they associated the destruction he spoke of with his return, they only asked one question, but Jesus reply encompassed two separate events: first, the destruction of the Jewish temple and second, Jesus’ return or parousia, both of which they may have thought would occur at the same time.

Jesus gave them specific instructions about what to do at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. But at the same time, he warned them that events they might have considered to be “signs” of his parousia were not true signs at all, but false signs, expected by some Jews in connection with the glorious arrival of Messiah, but not relevant to Jesus’ second coming. It is very significant that, rather than giving them a sign which would appear some significant period of time, even years, in advance of his second coming, he instead repeatedly urged them to keep alert, on the watch. He compared his return to the visit of a thief in the night. Thieves do not usually provide any advance notice before they strike. —Matt 24:43, 44


To summarize, there are serious problems with the Watchtower view. First, the idea that one can predict by any means when Christ would return is in direct contradiction to Jesus own clearly stated warning that he would return at a time that his disciples did not think it to be. The idea of any kind of sign which would give advance warning of Jesus’ return completely contradicts what He clearly said on numerous occasions, that his parousia would be both sudden and unexpected:

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:33)

If we take him at his word, Jesus’ words on the Mount of Olives do not provide a way to predict either an invisible presence or his imminent second coming.

The historical Christian belief is that Christ's Return will be visible to all.

Second, the concept of Jesus’ parousia as an invisible event cannot be reconciled with His words: “Look! I am with you always, until the conclusion of the system of things” (Matt 28:19 ) which clearly show that Jesus would always be invisibly present with his disciples. It also directly contradicts Rev 1:7, which says “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him,” which clearly states that Jesus’ parousia would be anything but invisible.

Thirdly, if we remain true to the original and most direct sense of Scripture, we must conclude that Jesus began ruling in the first century, and that all Christians who lived from the first century until now have been living in the last days ( the Messianic era).

Both biblical and historical evidence show that Jesus Christ began to reign in the first century, and that his reign has continued until now, “in the midst of his enemies.” That being so, we must also conclude that the situation that has existed among persons claiming to be Christians is what Jesus expected, and that the way things have developed is in harmony with his sovereign will as king over heaven and earth. Any group which started during the centuries following the apostolic age, then, can make no serious claim to being Jesus’ true church.

We have absolutely no reason to conclude that Jesus abandoned his followers to his enemy the devil at the end of the apostolic period, as Russell believed and taught. There is also no basis to conclude that near the end of the first century, things somehow got out of Jesus’ control and the whole body of Christ became corrupt and worthless. We must conclude that there have been true followers of Christ all down through the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, and that Christians, during the entire Christian era, would face the same types of difficulties. Each would be required to be faithful and obedient to his Lord in the situation in which each found himself or herself.

For further reading:

Historical Idealism and Jehovah’s Witnesses (an evaluation of the claim that Watchtower publications predicted Christ’s return in 1914)

Critiquing the Watchtower’s Latest Defense of their 607 BCE Chronology

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Are We Living in a Special Time? Part One

September 10, 2011

I thank my friend Tom for providing this article that refutes the Jehovah’s Witness belief that we are living in a special time. Part 2 can be read here.

Are We Living in a Special Time? — Part One

by Tom Cabeen

A long-standing and very prominent Watchtower teaching is the belief that in 1914 a special period of time Jesus called the “Gentile Times” ended, the “last days” began, and Christ began to rule over the whole earth for the first time since his resurrection and ascension to heaven. Immediately prior to that time, Jesus, in anticipation of his imminent reign, began inspecting the religious organizations of the world to see which one would be his official representative when he began to rule. He examined the teachings of all religions on earth claiming to be Christian and decided that the most “faithful” one (meaning the one with the most correct interpretation of the Bible) was the small group of Charles Russell’s followers, later to be known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, Watchtower publications teach, shortly after 1914 Jesus committed all the interests of his kingdom into their hands, and they became his only approved channel of communication between God and mankind.

If this teaching is true, something very significant changed in 1914. Things must be different since 1914 than they were for the rest of the Christian era. If this is true, that would add some evidence to the idea that, as they claim, the Watchtower Society, with its origins in the nineteenth century, is the only denomination which God approves. On the other hand, if the weight of scriptural and historical evidence points away from this conclusion, any group which proclaims this idea, including the Watchtower Society, is suspect. If we hold the idea that we are now living in a special time, we may have to reevaluate our views.

Since its origin, fundamental teachings of the Watchtower Society have been based on and intimately tied to the idea that serious Bible students could determine with reasonable accuracy when Christ would return, either through chronological calculations or observation of unique world events which would serve as a sign of Christ’s imminent return or advent (or both). Generically, Christians who believe that to be possible have been called “Adventists”.

First, let us examine the chronology which, according to their claims, establishes that 1914 marked the end of one special time period and the beginning of another.

Is Watchtower Chronology Sound?

C.T. Russell's chronology borrowed many elements from William Miller and the Second Adventists

Charles T. Russell borrowed his chronology and methodology from the Second Adventists, after William Miller’s failed attempt at predicting Christ’s return in 1843, based on the same methodology. The calculations are based largely on interpretations of passages in Daniel 4 and Luke 21:24. In brief, Witnesses teach that the “Gentile Times” is a special period of 2,520 years during which God’s kingdom, David’s dynasty, had no king. It supposedly began when Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and ended in 1914. Considering the importance of the conclusions it supports, the chronology is based on a rather tenuous series of assumptions:

First, that the dream Nebuchadnezzar had about becoming a beast for “seven times” (recorded in Daniel 2) does not refer primarily to him (as stated directly in the text), but rather that he, a pagan king, not even a worshiper of Israel’s God, actually represents God’s kingdom.

Second, that God’s kingdom or rulership over mankind somehow “ended” when Zerubbabel, a direct descendent of David, was removed from the throne of Jerusalem when it was destroyed by Babylon, and that the kingdom would “begin” again some twenty-five centuries later when Jesus, a descendent of David, began to rule in 1914. The Jews expected a descendent of David to rule as king forever, but the concept of God’s kingdom “ending” and “beginning” is never suggested in the Jewish sacred writings, and in fact directly contradicts Daniel 4:17, which is specifically connected to Nebuchadnezzar’s beastly experience!

Third, based on the first assumption, each “time” must represent a special “prophetic” year of 360 days, although no actual earthly year, solar or lunar, has 360 days. [The Aramaic word Daniel used for “time” just means a period of time, not always a year. (The word for 1 “year” is different, as used, for example, in Daniel 1:1). The word used in Daniel 4 is `idd¹n, which, according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, means “ time, period, span , year, era. ... Two basic meanings are equally a "point" in time or a "span" of time.” In this context, a “time” could easily mean a week, a month or a season. Possibly, Nebuchadnezzar only acted like a beast for seven months or seasons, not seven years.] Seven of these 360-day prophetic years would add up to a total of 2,520 “prophetic” days. To make this assumption even more shaky, each of these “prophetic” days in turn must represent a solar year of approximately 365¼ days. Absolutely nothing in Scripture, Jewish tradition, or the writings of early Christians even suggests that we make this complicated series of assumptions and calculations.

Fourth, that this period of 2,520 solar years are identical to what Jesus referred to when he used the expression translated “the appointed times of the nations” or “the times of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24 (“Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled…”), even though Jesus was specifically discussing the future destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, not its past destruction by Babylon, and despite the fact that there is not a single word in Scripture, Jewish tradition or Christian writings that indicates that the “Gentile times” refer to any time period during which God’s eternal kingdom would be inactive.

Fifth, that Jerusalem was actually destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies in 607 BC. The date for Jerusalem’s destruction is one of the most accurately fixed of ancient history. More, significantly, the historical sources that establish the date for Babylon’s fall in 539 BC, (which date the Watchtower Society does accept and, in fact, which it uses as the starting point for its 1914 calculations) are exactly the same sources that establish 587/6 BC as the date for Jerusalem’s destruction! Several independent lines of evidence (historical, astronomical, archeological, etc.) point to the date of 587/86 BC, not 607 BC, as the date of Jerusalem’s destruction. There is not a single line of historical evidence which supports the 607 BC date. (See The Gentile Times Reconsidered, Carl Olof Jonsson, Commentary Press, 1998 for a detailed discussion of this topic.)

Sixth, that all the plain passages in the Greek Scriptures that clearly state that Jesus began ruling in the first century, such as Matthew 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” don’t really mean what they say. Below is a more extended discussion of the implications of this assumption.

C.T. Russell wrote in the 7/15/1894 Watchtower that 1914 would be the end of the time of trouble.

Each of the six assumptions listed above are interrelated. All must be true before the Watchtower conclusion could be accepted with any degree of confidence. Again, the veracity of all of them together are absolutely critical to the Watchtower teaching that we are living in the time of the end and that the Watchtower Society has been chosen by Jesus Christ as Jehovah’s organization and, as such, His official channel of communication with his faithful people on earth in 1914. If any one of them is wrong, the final conclusion is invalid and the Watchtower claim is demonstrated to be false.

It is worth noting that Russell, using the same methodology, “proved” that he was living in a special time period, which would end in 1914 with Christ’s return to judge the nations. He also admitted that if any one of the assumptions upon which he based his conclusions were wrong, it would prove his entire approach would be completely invalid. That did, in fact, happen. In time, not only did every one of his assumptions get rejected, Russell’s ending date for the time of the end (1914) is now the starting date for the same period, according to current Watchtower teaching.

When Did Jesus Begin to Reign?

If the Watchtower chronology is invalid and Jesus did not begin reigning in 1914, is he reigning now? If so, when did that reign start? Watchtower publications interpret Hebrews 1:13 (“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”) as follows:

“In 33 C.E., [Jesus] died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven. … At that time, however, Jesus did not act as King and Judge over the nations. He was seated next to God, awaiting the time to act as King of God’s Kingdom. Paul wrote of him: “With reference to which one of the angels has he ever said: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13) Jehovah’s Witnesses have published much evidence that Jesus’ period of waiting expired in 1914, when he became ruler of God’s Kingdom in the invisible heavens.” —The Watchtower, 10/15/95, pg 21, par. 14-16

Hebrews 10: 12, 13 says: “But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.” If this were the only reference to Psalm 110 in the Christian Scriptures, and there was nothing else to indicate otherwise, this verse might indeed be interpreted to mean that the word “waits” in this passage refers to a period of non-rulership, which is exactly how the Watchtower Society interprets it:

“Even after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, he had to wait at his Father’s right hand until the time came for him to rule as King over mankind. (Hebrews 10:12, 13)” —The Watchtower, 6/15/94, pg 6

But is this how the apostles and early Christians understood the expression “sit at my right hand”? No! Among many ancient peoples, the imagery of a king sitting on the throne of his God was a common way to express that the king ruled with the approval and support of his God, and this is consistent with how early Christians understood this phrase. (See The Gentile Times Reconsidered, 3rd Ed. , Carl Olof Jonsson, Commentary Press, 1998, pg 264-270.)

This is not the only place where this expression from Psalm 110 is quoted in the Christian Greek Scriptures. This passage from the Hebrew Scriptures is the one most often quoted in Christian Scripture. So we can examine a number of its appearances to correctly establish just how it was used and to what arguments it was applied as support. The Watchtower interpretation that “sitting” meant “waiting” is required by their chronology-based belief that Jesus could not begin his reign until 1914, as discussed above. But it is quite clear from many other passages that the early Christians did not understand the passage to mean that. They understood the phrase “sitting at God’s right hand” to mean that Jesus was already ruling as king. One very clear example of this is Paul’s citation of Psalm 110 in his first letter to the Corinthians while discussing the resurrection. Paul actually substitutes the term “rule as king” for “sit at God’s right hand” in the source from which he quotes:

Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing. … But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone. —1 Cor 15:24-28 NW (Italics added.)

It is clear from his use of the passage that Paul understood “placing all things under Christ’s feet” to mean rulership. Why should that not be the case, since after his resurrection, Jesus explicitly stated that he had been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.” When Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel said that he would be given the throne of David his forefather, and that he would reign forever. So it would be most natural for the apostles to understand his post-resurrection words to mean that he was reigning as their king, even if the way in which he was to rule turned out to be different from what they expected. The psalmist’s statement that he was to reign in the midst of his enemies is consistent with the idea that his rulership expands until, by the end of his reign, all things are under his feet. A great
resurrection occurs at that time; thus death becomes the last enemy to be subject to him. The image is that of a ruler who sits down on his throne, at the right hand of his God, and continues to rule until all things are subject to his power. Afterward, Paul writes, the Son subjects himself to God, the Father.

Early Christians believed the ascended Christ to be ruling as king.

Many other passages show that the apostles and early disciples viewed Jesus as ruling as king in their day, several of which quote Psalm 110 for support. Here are but a few (all quoted from the New World Translation, 1971 ed.):

Matt 28:18-20: Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU. And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”

Mark 16:19: So, then, the Lord Jesus, after having spoken to them, was taken up to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

John 5:26, 27: For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to do judging, because Son of man he is.

John 17:1, 2: Jesus spoke these things, and, raising his eyes to heaven, he said: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your son, that your son may glorify you, according as you have given him authority over all flesh, that, as regards the whole [number] whom you have given him, he may give them everlasting life.

Col 2:9, 10: …it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily. And so YOU are possessed of a fullness by means of him, who is the head of all government and authority.

Acts 17:6, 7: …they dragged Jason and certain brothers to the city rulers, crying out: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also, and Jason has received them with hospitality. And all these [men] act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.”

Eph 1:18-23: It is according to the operation of the mightiness of his strength, with which he has operated in the case of the Christ when he raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come. He also subjected all things under his feet, and made him head over all things to the congregation, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills up all things in all.

Col 1: 12-14: … [The Father] delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, by means of whom we have our release by ransom, the forgiveness of our sins.

1 Pet 3:21, 22: [Baptism] is also now saving YOU, … (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is at God’s right hand, for he went his way to heaven; and angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him.

Viewed in their context, these passages indicate clearly that early Christians believed Jesus was ruling, not waiting. The entire basis of their confidence in salvation and forgiveness of sins was based on their understanding that they had a ruling high priest who could actively plead for them, that the glorified Jesus was in heaven, sitting at God’s right hand, that is, ruling with His Father’s full support, possessing complete authority to act on their behalf.

Part Two can be read here.

For further reading:

Historical Idealism and Jehovah’s Witnesses (an evaluation of the claim that Watchtower publications predicted Christ’s return in 1914)

Critiquing the Watchtower’s Latest Defense of their 607 BCE Chronology

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Critiquing the Watchtower’s Latest Defense of their 607 BCE Chronology — Part One

September 5, 2011

Jehovah’s Witnesses follow a unique chronology developed by their leaders of events in ancient Israel that diverges from the generally accepted interpretation of biblical chronology. Watchtower leaders insist that ancient Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 607 BCE, while the normally accepted chronology places that event about 20 years later. Witness leaders, while claiming to base this understanding on Scripture alone (which does not give them the support they claim it does), actually insist on their 607 BCE date to support their prophetic calculations leading to the supposed invisible return of Christ in the year 1914. For Witnesses, if Jerusalem did not fall in 607 BCE, then Christ did not return in 1914. Watchtower leaders claim that their appointment to authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses stem from Christ’s return in 1914. So, the 607 BCE date in their chronology is pivotal to the movement and its loss would signify that Watchtower leaders do not have a special commission from God to lead the movement.

The October 1, 2011 Watchtower, pp. 26-31, contains a defense of their 607 BCE chronology entitled, “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed? Why it Matters? What the Evidence Shows?” The article attempts to shore up the unique chronology that Witness leaders use to assert their authority by casting doubt on the accepted chronology that all historians accept. A second article from the November issue then attempts to interpret Babylonian clay documents from the 6th century BCE, without citing one authority who agrees with their interpretation,  totally different from all accepted scholarship to defend their 607 BCE date. One would think Witness leaders must believe there’s a conspiracy among scholars studying ancient Babylonia to discredit their unique chronology!

For readers interested in a detailed analysis of this latest defense of the Watchtower’s chronology I would recommend a study just completed by researcher Doug Mason. In it, Doug shows the circular reasoning Witness leaders use:

The false reasoning used by the Watchtower to arrive at 607 BCE

Broadly, difficulties faced by the WTS include:

  • The starting point of 539 BCE relies on secular records, secular chronologies, classical historians, and secular scholars.
  • Although the WTS calculates the date of Babylon‘s fall from secular sources, such as classical historians, business tablets, and astronomical tablets, it also denigrates those sources.
  • Without any evidence (since none exists), the WTS assumes the first Returnees dedicated the temple site in 537 BCE.
  • The WTS assumes that this event marked the conclusion of the “Seventy Years”.
  • The WTS assumes Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar just over 70 years before the Returnees assembled at the destroyed site.
  • It assumes that when the Jews entered Egypt following Gedaliah‘s murder, that this emptied Judah of every person.
  • The WTS assumes that the Jews entered Egypt two months after Jerusalem‘s destruction.
  • It assumes that this event marked the start of the “70 Years”. There is no explicit Biblical statement to that effect.

Every step in the WTS‘s “Bible chronology” is concerned with its primary objective of maintaining 1914 CE as the eschatologically significant date. Therefore, rather than seeking evidence and proof, the WTS seeks support for the conclusion it commences with.

Further, Doug Mason shows that the “70 years” mentioned in the Bible that Watchtower leaders cite to extend the Babylonian captivity another 20 years actually does not support their interpretation. (See pp. 10-25 of his study)

Doug has graciously given permission for distribution of his study. Click the link below to download the Critique of “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?” Part 1:

Critique of When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed-4


A rebuttal of Part 2 from the November Watchtower is now available and can be read here.

For further reading:

607: 1914: Seven Times

1914: The Touchstone of the Watchtower

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

An Explanation of Byzantine Chant

May 14, 2011

An explanation of  Byzantine chant by Emily Lowe from Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland:

Witnesses of Jehovah — Movie and Book

May 2, 2011

A bit dated, but a great general introduction to the Witnesses:

The book by the same name can be read online here or downloaded here.

¡En español!:

For further reading:

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Update on the Bethel “Generation of 1914″

May 1, 2011

The last of those 16 older Bethelites (workers at the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in New York) pictured on the May 15, 1984 Watchtower have been identified. Previously, we only had the last names of two of the people in that picture.

Watchtower leaders had this group pose for this picture on the cover of their main journal to give credence to their then held belief that those alive from the generation which saw the events of 1914 transpiring (supposedly indicating Christ’s enthronement in heaven as king that year, accompanied by turmoil on the earth) would not pass away before the End of the World. (This teaching has since been revised.) Various friends have helped identify these Bethelites that were pictured and using the Social Security Death Index (a public record) we were able to establish that this representative group from that generation have all passed away. The last member died in 2008.

An updated graphic is below. There is no copyright on this graphic so feel free to re-post and distribute it freely:

For complete coverage, see:

The Bethel “Generation of 1914″

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

Pilgrimage to Beth-Sarim

February 19, 2011

I squeezed in a visit to Beth Sarim when we visited San Diego in 2008

San Diego, California is a favorite with tourists due to its world famous attractions (such as the San Diego Zoo and Sea World), beautiful beaches and balmy weather. Only a few make the trek up to the historic Kensington Heights neighborhood to see the beautiful mansion built in 1929 for the Watchtower Society’s second president, Judge Rutherford. Really, it’s something that only has meaning to those who have a fascination with Jehovah’s Witness’ history. I happen to be one of those people. Now, I don’t recommend that this now private residence become a tourist destination (although

The Watchtower Society owned Beth Sarim from 1930-1948. Since then it has been a private residence.

it is listed in the City of San Diego’s list of historical places), but I’ll explain some of the reasons for my interest in this mansion that served as Rutherford’s California headquarters for nearly 12 years (1930-1942) as well as some pictures I took during that visit. This article also contains new scans of Beth-Sarim’s rather unique deed that was first published by the Watchtower Society in 1930.

Soon after J.F. Rutherford moved into the mansion, dubbed Beth-Sarim (meaning “House of the Princes”), in early 1930 it became an immediate media sensation. America was in a severe financial tailspin due to the Wall Street Crash just a few months before, headed for the Great Depression with countless thousands living homeless in Hoovervilles.  Many people were no doubt struck with the incongruity of the situation. For example, the Berkeley Daily Gazette of March 15, 1930 carried the story from UPI:

$75,000 Mansion is Willed to King David

By United Press.

San Diego, March 15.

When King David, slayer of Goliath, comes back to earth he will find the $75,000 mansion of James [actually, Joseph] Rutherford awaiting him.

According to a deed recorded today, Rutherford wants King David to have the costly Spanish-type residence. If King David fails to claim the property Rutherford put in trust for him then Rutherford wants some other biblical character to get it.

[G]ideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthae, Joseph or Samuel were named as alternatives to King David.

The identity of these named as owners of the home are to be established by the International Bible Students’ Association and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Rutherford is president of both organizations. Explaining his action, Rutherford said he momentarily expected the return to earth of famous figures of the Old Testament.

Rutherford formerly was a circuit judge in Missouri.

The New York Times (March 19, 1930) headlined:

DEEDS SAN DIEGO HOME TO KINGS OF ISRAEL; Judge Rutherford, in the Interim Occupies the House and Drives the Cars.

Time magazine (March 31, 1930) similarly ran with the story:

Big, blue-eyed Judge Joseph Frederick [actually Franklin] Rutherford, 60, lives in a ten-room Spanish mansion, No. 4440 Braeburn Road. San Diego, Calif. Last week he deeded No. 4440 Braeburn Road, an adjacent two-car garage and a pair of automobiles to King David, Gedeon, Barak, Samson. Jephthae, Samuel and sundry other mighties of ancient Palestine. Positive is he that they are shortly to reappear on earth. Said he: “I have purposely landscaped the place with palm and olive trees so these princes of the universe will feel at home when they come to offer man the chance to become perfect.”

At the time, the Witnesses believed that the resurrection of these Old Testament personages could be expected any day and was the harbinger for Armageddon. This belief (which is no longer held) was succinctly explained in the article “Return of the ‘Princes’” — pp. 17-18 of the November 26, 1941 Consolation:

The facts that have recently come to pass showing the fulfillment of sacred prophecy conclusively prove that the time for the “‘battle of that great day of God Almighty” is very near and that in that battle all of God’s enemies shall be destroyed and the earth cleared of wickedness, preparatory to the complete establishment of righteousness for ever. The affairs of the earth then will be under the complete control of the Messiah, God’s Anointed King over His Theocracy; and the faithful men of old, from Abel to John the Baptist, will be resurrected from the dead as perfect creatures and will act as the representatives on earth of that Theocratic Government. (Hebrews 11:1-40) The Scriptural evidence also abundantly shows that those faithful men will be back on the earth at the beginning of the final battle of Armageddon….

At San Diego, Calif., there is a small piece of land, on which, in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as “Beth-Sarim”. The Hebrew words Beth Sarim mean “House of the Princes”. The purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in The Theocratic Government, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY. You may soon meet Abraham, Daniel, and other like faithful men, who shall be here as perfect, men acting as governors of the new world. Eagerly seek their instruction and hang on their words of wisdom and grace, because they will lead you in the way of righteousness. They are God’s “princes”.

Earlier, a major campaign promoting the book Millions Now Living Will Never Die had predicted these “Ancient Worthies” or “Princes” from the Old Testament would appear in 1925. The failure of that prediction to materialize precipitated many defections from the religion. Despite the failure of the 1925 date, Rutherford still proclaimed the soon resurrection of these Old Testament heroes. So, the assigning of the mansion to them can be seen as a way to re-affirm what was then a central teaching.

A second series of articles about Beth-Sarim appeared in the public press in 1931. For example, the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal (Dubuque, Iowa) of January 14, 1931 described the automobile held in trust for the “Princes” as a “16 cylinder automobile” and some papers actually printed this picture of Rutherford posed in front of Beth-Sarim with this luxury car:

J.F. Rutherford at Beth Sarim in San Diego with his 16 cylinder Cadillac convertible

The Watchtower Society’s magazine The Golden Age (precursor to today’s Awake!) tried to do damage control to explain “the truth about the San Diego house.” The March 19, 1930 Golden Age (which can be read online here or downloaded here) presented this explanation written by Robert J. Martin, the factory overseer at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn. After first giving background as to why the house was needed (citing Rutherford’s poor health), Martin told how the deed to the Old Testament “princes” came to be. He explained:

The deed was written by Brother Rutherford himself.

With obvious understatement, Martin quipped:

I am certain there is no other deed to any piece of property like it under the sun.

The March 19, 1930 Golden Age (precursor to Awake!) was the first mention of Beth Sarim in Watchtower publications

The next two pages of this Golden Age issue presented Beth Sarim’s unusual deed in full.

By adding a “provision and condition” to the deed, Rutherford provided that the Watch Tower Society “shall hold said title perpetually in trust for the use of any or all of” the Old Testament personages (such as David, Samson, Gideon, Joseph etc.) whose resurrection was expected momentarily. Rutherford was given the right to be the caretaker of the property for these Old Testament heroes and would surrender the property to them once they arrived “and it shall be used as such for ever”:

Beth Sarim's deed as published in the March 19, 1930 Golden Age

Beth Sarim's deed as published in the March 19, 1930 Golden Age, con't

Martin’s explanation reveals, no doubt, the real reason for Beth-Sarim. Rutherford needed (or desired) the warmer San Diego winters instead of the severe New York winters. The part about the house being dedicated to the Old Testament “princes” was likely more of a public relations tactic to try to assuage concerns on why Rutherford would be living in such a palatial mansion. The media’s cynical reaction to the claim shows that few were convinced.

Martin’s explanation also reveals that, by this time, Rutherford had assumed complete control of the Watchtower Society. There was no Governing Body having oversight of the religion. Rutherford’s work was essential to the Watchtower Organization because he had sole oversight of and did all the production of the “spiritual food” published in Watchtower publications. Prior to 1925, an editorial committee (set up by Rutherford’s predecessor Charles Taze Russell in his Last Will and Testament) had supervised what was published in the Watchtower magazine. In 1925, Rutherford overruled the editorial committee and it was soon disbanded, leaving Rutherford in complete control (see A People For His Name, by Tony Wills, p. 120). So, if Rutherford couldn’t endure New York winters the Watchtower Society would be run by him from California, for there was no one else to lead them in his absence. In fact, after 1930 the bulk of Rutherford’s books, booklets and Watchtower magazine articles were penned by him at Beth-Sarim.

During Rutherford’s lifetime, Beth-Sarim was well-known among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was mentioned in various Watchtower publications, such as the 1931 Messenger (a convention report), pp. 6,8 and the 1939 book Salvation, pp. 311-312. References to it also continued in the public press, especially when Rutherford died at Beth Sarim on January 8, 1942. Newspapers (such as the Lawrence Journal-World of January 12, 1942) reported Rutherford’s dying wish was to be buried at Beth-Sarim. This created a conflict with San Diego officials who would not give permission for the burial in a crypt on the hillside behind Beth-Sarim overlooking the canyon behind the house (see The Evening Independent — St. Petersburg, Florida of January 26, 1942). My wife’s grandfather spent a couple of weeks in Northern California as part of a vast petition drive collecting signatures to try to sway county officials to allow the burial at Beth-Sarim but to no avail. The Witnesses gave their version of the dispute over the attempt to bury Rutherford at Beth-Sarim in the May 27, 1942 issue of Consolation.

After it was clear that permission would not be given to bury Rutherford at Beth-Sarim, Witnesses had his body shipped East. However, some sources claim that Rutherford last dying wish was not denied to him and that he was secretly buried at Beth-Sarim. The Watchtower Society maintained the property for several years but sold it in 1948. It’s been a private home for many years.

After Beth-Sarim was sold, it was not mentioned in Watchtower literature for many years. A history text-book written in 1959, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, makes no reference to Beth-Sarim. It is mentioned briefly in the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but only as Rutherford’s winter home. No mention of the unusual deed or dedication to the Old Testament “princes” is made in these history books. It wasn’t until the 1993 book Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom that an acknowledgment was made of the dual purpose of Beth-Sarim in a Witness history text. This was after many years of negative publicity about Beth-Sarim had appeared in non-Witness publications and in the film Witnesses of Jehovah. Still, the 1993 Proclaimers book doesn’t give the whole story about the deed to Beth-Sarim:

The deed, which was published in full in “The Golden Age” of March 19, 1930, conveyed this property to J.F. Rutherford and thereafter to the Watch Tower Society. (Proclaimers, p. 76)

The Proclaimers book (the current history text published by the Watchtower Society) leaves out the most interesting parts of the deed containing the “provision and condition” that the property be handed over to the Old Testament “princes” upon their return and  be “used as such for ever.”

Even though the house has such an interesting and unusual history it is hoped that people who take the detour to see the famous “House of the Princes” are respectful of the current owners. For my wife and I, Beth-Sarim was a quick side-trip. We had much more fun over on the beach behind Hotel del Coronado. Really, your time would be better spent at San Diego’s customary attractions than at this monument to a false prophecy.

After my visit in 2008, I helped edit the Wikipedia article on Beth-Sarim and started collecting and scanning related documents (along with some help from friends) and putting them online. One last document relating to Beth-Sarim that had not been put online was the complete issue of the March 19, 1930 Golden Age which includes the deed written by Judge Rutherford. Helping to get that issue ready for online access has provided the inspiration for this blog article.

Beth-Sarim close-up

Beth-Sarim side-view

The complete March 19, 1930 issue of The Golden Age with the Deed for Beth-Sarim can be downloaded here

For further reading:

Life At Bethel: The World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses

A Memorial to a False Prophecy

What’s Wrong With the Witnesses


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