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Jehovah's Witnesses
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Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) are a religious group that describes itself as Christian, and based on the teachings of the Bible.

The modern denomination traces back to some Bible study groups founded in the 1870s in Pennsylvania by Charles Taze Russell. During Russell's lifetime, the study groups multiplied, and their members came to be known as the International Bible Students. They founded the Watch Tower Society in 1881, and registered in 1884 with Russell as president. (The full name was originally Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, now Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.) Later, in 1914 they founded International Bible Students Association in the UK, and in 1931, when Joseph Franklin Rutherford was president of the society, they adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses." The name Jehovah's Witnesses was inspired by Isaiah 43:10, which states, "Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah . . ." (ASV).

The group's members are noted for their racially diverse and close-knit brotherhood, the use of the name Jehovah, door-to-door evangelizing, conviction that the present system of things will soon come to an end, rejection of many holidays, refusing to accept blood transfusions, non-participation in politics and military service, and separation from other religions. At times in their history, they have been the subject of religious and political controversy (See Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses). Jehovah's Witnesses generally exhibit a high degree of commitment to their religion, attending meetings three times a week in their local Kingdom Halls and in private homes.

Larger gatherings, called assemblies or conventions, are held, usually three times a year, in assembly halls that are owned or maintained by the Watchtower Society or rented public facilities, such as sports stadiums or auditoriums.

Table of contents
1 Membership
2 Publications
3 Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses
4 See Also
5 External Links


As of August 2003, Jehovah's Witnesses has a world-wide practicing membership of more than 6.4 million active individuals. The membership figures refer to the number of registered 'publishers' or door-to-door evangelists and are therefore not always comparable with statistics produced by other religious groups. Besides excluding those who are not really active, counting only publishers also excludes most children under 10 years old. Therefore, it can be said that their statistics are rather conservative. Well over 16 million people attend the Lord's Supper, which is celebrated once in a year. They among the top ten international religious bodies in the world.


Jehovah's Witnesses make vigorous efforts to spread their beliefs throughout the world in a variety of ways, with particular emphasis on the written word. Their teachings are mainly presented through two monthly journals, both based exclusively on the Bible's teachings. Awake, published in 87 languages, is a general-interest magazine covering many topics from a religious perspective. The Watchtower, published in 148 languages, focuses mainly on doctrine. With an average circulation of 25 million copies semimonthly, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed religious magazine in the world, and is available in a large-print edition, in Braille, on audiocassettes, in American Sign Language (on videocassette and DVD) and on CD, in MP3 format. Both The Watchtower and Awake! are published simultaneously in dozens of languages. At their yearly conventions, new books, brochures, and other items pertaining to the religion's current doctrine are usually released. Additionally, a number of audio- and videocassettes have been produced featuring various aspects of the group's beliefs and practices. Recent years have seen a proliferation of material available on their website.

Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses

Throughout their history, their beliefs, doctrines and practices have met controversy. Political and religious animosity against them has at times led to the point of mob action and government oppression, including being targeted in the Holocaust — and widespread criticism from leaders of other faiths. Hostility from fundamentalist and evangelical Christians has been particularly virulent primarily because of this group's rejection of the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

In the United States, many Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses have shaped First Amendment law. Significant cases affirmed rights such as these:

By 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court had reviewed 71 cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses, two thirds of which were decided in their favor. Most recently, in 2002, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society disputed an ordinance in Stratton, Ohio that required a permit in order to preach from door to door. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Witnesses.

Controversy has also arisen over the Witnesses' refusal of blood transfusions. All active, baptized Jehovah's Witnesses carry personal identification cards with advance medical directives explaining their position regarding blood transfusions, as well as their wishes regarding alternative treatment (i.e., use of blood fillers or substitutes, etc.) should major loss of blood occur.

Many criticise the organization's practice of excommunicating - called "disfellowshipping" - members. JWs who have family members who are disfellowshipped are encouraged to have contact with the disfellowshipped family member only if such contact is important, such as the passing of another family member.

Much criticism has also come from the Watchtower Society's reference to itself being the "Faithful and Discrete Slave" of Matthew 24:45-47.

See Also

External Links