Jehovah’s Witnesses

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Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York
Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York

Jehovah's Witnesses is a restorationist,[1] millenarian[2] Christian denomination.[3][4][5] The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism;[6] they report convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual Memorial attendance of over 18 million.[7][8] They are directed by a Governing Body of elders which exercises authority on all doctrinal matters. Witnesses base their beliefs on the Bible, and prefer their own literal, conservative translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.[9][10]

The group emerged from the Bible Student movement,[11] founded in the late 19th century by Charles Taze Russell, with the formation of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society. Following a schism in the movement, the branch that maintained control of the Society underwent significant organizational changes, bringing its authority structure and methods of evangelism under centralized control.[12][13] The name Jehovah's witnesses, based on Isaiah 43:10-12, was adopted in 1931.

Since its inception, the Watch Tower Society has taught that the present world order is in its last days.[14] Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the current world order will be destroyed at Armageddon, and that God will decide who survives,[15] but that only they “have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system".[16] Survivors and resurrected individuals will have the opportunity to live forever in an earthly paradise, ruled by Christ and 144,000 humans raised to heaven. In the years leading up to 1914, 1925 and 1975, the Society's publications expressed strong expectations of Armageddon or the establishment of Christ's kingdom over the earth occurring in those years.[17][18][19]

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distribution of literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!, and for their refusal of military service and blood transfusions even in life-threatening situations.[20][21][22] They consider use of the name Jehovah—one of the common English-language pronunciations of the Tetragrammaton—vital to proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe celebrations such as Christmas,[23][24] Easter or birthdays[25] because of their perceived pagan origins. Members commonly refer to their body of beliefs as "the Truth", and adherents consider themselves to be "in the Truth".[26] Jehovah's Witnesses regard secular society as a place of moral contamination under the influence of Satan, and limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.[27]

Baptized members who violate the organization's fundamental moral principles or who dispute doctrinal matters can be subject to disciplinary action. Members who are considered unrepentant after counselling may be subject to a form of shunning called disfellowshipping.[28][29][30] Members who formally announce their resignation from the religion are also shunned.[31]

The religion's position regarding conscientious objection to military service and refusal to salute national flags has brought it into conflict with governments, particularly those that conscript citizens for military service.[32][33] Consequently, activities of Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned or restricted in some countries.[34] Persistent legal challenges by Jehovah's Witnesses have had considerable influence on related legislation and civil rights in the United States and other countries.[35]


Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916)
Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916)

1870-1916: Charles Taze Russell and the Bible Students

In 1870, Charles Taze Russell and others formed an independent group to study the Bible; in particular, Russell cited contributions by Advent Christian Church pastor George W. Stetson, and George Storrs, an Adventist preacher and former Millerite.[36][37] In 1877 Russell jointly edited a religious journal, Herald of the Morning, with Nelson H. Barbour. In July 1879, after separating from Barbour, Russell began publishing the magazine Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence,[38] highlighting his interpretations of biblical chronology, with particular attention to his belief that the world was in "the last days".[39] In 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[40] to disseminate tracts, papers, doctrinal treatises and Bibles; three years later, on December 15, 1884, Russell became president of the Society when it was legally incorporated in Pennsylvania.[38]

Watch Tower supporters gathered as autonomous congregations to study the Bible and Russell's writings. Russell firmly rejected as "wholly unnecessary" the concept of a formal organization for his followers, and declared that his group had no record of its members' names, no creeds, and no sectarian name.[41] In 1910 he announced that the group would identify itself as the International Bible Students Association.[41][42] Russell died on October 31, 1916, and control of the Watch Tower magazine was temporarily passed to an Editorial Committee as outlined in Russell's will, with an Executive Committee in control of the Society pending the election of a new president.[43]

1917-1942: Joseph Rutherford

Organizational changes

In January 1917, the Watch Tower Society's legal representative, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, was elected as its next president. A power struggle developed between Rutherford and four of the Society's Board of Directors, who objected to his style of leadership.[44][45] On July 17, 1917, Rutherford replaced four of the directors, claiming they had not been legally elected.[46]

On the same day, he also announced the release of The Finished Mystery as the seventh volume of Russell's Studies in the Scriptures series. The book was widely advertised to the public as "a posthumous publication ... of Charles Taze Russell", though much was actually written by two other Bible Students under the direction of Joseph Rutherford.[47][48] The Finished Mystery strongly criticized Catholic and Protestant clergy and Christian involvement in war.[49] Patriotic fervor during World War I and other animosities fueled persecution of the Bible Students in America and Europe,[50] including mob violence and tarring and feathering.[44]

Citing this book, the United States federal government indicted Rutherford and the new board of directors for violation of the Espionage Act on May 7, 1918. They were found guilty and sentenced concurrently to 20 years' imprisonment.[51] During their imprisonment, elections for the Watch Tower directors took place again, and Rutherford was re-elected as president.[52] In March 1919, the judgment against them was reversed and they were released from prison;[53] the charges were later dropped.[54][55][56][57]

Opposition to Rutherford among the Bible Students began to mount, prompting a significant number of members to cut ties with the Watch Tower Society and form new organizations.[58] Rutherford continued to tighten and centralize organizational control of those who remained loyal to the Society, with the Brooklyn headquarters appointing a "director" in each congregation in 1919, and a year later instructing all congregation members who participated in the preaching work to report their preaching activity weekly.[41]

In 1925, following a dispute over a proposed article, Rutherford overruled the Watch Tower's Editorial Committee and took full control of the organization and of material published in the magazine.[45][59] On July 26, 1931, the name Jehovah's witnesses was adopted by resolution at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, based on the American Standard Version's rendering of Isaiah 43:10: "Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah". In 1932, Rutherford eliminated the system of selecting elders by congregational vote. In 1938, he introduced a "theocratic" or "God-ruled" organizational system, under which all appointments in congregations worldwide were made from the Brooklyn headquarters.[41]

Doctrinal changes

At an international convention held at Cedar Point, Ohio, in September 1922, a new emphasis was made on house-to-house preaching.[60] Significant changes in doctrine were made under Rutherford's leadership, including the 1918 announcement that Jewish patriarchs (such as Abraham and Isaac) would be resurrected in 1925, marking the beginning of Christ's thousand-year reign.[61][62] The failed expectations for 1925, coupled with other doctrinal changes, resulted in a dramatic reduction in attendance at their yearly Memorial, from 90,434 in 1925[63] to 17,380 in 1928.[64][65] In 1932 it was announced the Jews had no special role in God's earthly kingdom[66] and by 1933, the timing of the beginning of Christ's presence (Greek: parousía), his enthronement as king, and the start of the "last days", were each moved to 1914.[61][67][68][69][70] From 1935, it was considered that converts to the movement, if worthy, would survive Armageddon and live in a paradise on Earth. Previously, membership was generally composed of those who believed they would be resurrected to live in heaven to rule over the earth with Christ.71]

As their interpretations of Scripture continued to develop, Witness publications taught that saluting the flag and standing for the national anthem are forms of idolatry. They were also instructed to refuse alternative service provided for conscientious objectors. (Objection to alternative civilian service was maintained until 1996, when it was deemed a 'conscience matter'.)[72][73] In Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses came under persecution, with as many as 5000 imprisoned in concentration camps.[74][75] Witnesses also experienced mob violence in the United States, and their activities were banned in Canada and Australia because of their refusal to accept military service.[76][77][78][79]

1942-present: Knorr, Franz, Henschel and Adams

Nathan Knorr was named the third president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society following Rutherford's death in January 1942. Knorr instituted major new training programs—the Theocratic Ministry School for all congregation members, and the Gilead School for missionaries. He also organized large-scale conventions, which attracted as many as 253,000 Witnesses to sports stadiums in the United States, Canada and Germany,[80] and began a campaign of real estate acquisition in Brooklyn to expand the organization's world headquarters. He commissioned a new translation of the Bible, which was released progressively from 1950 before being published as the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 1961. Knorr's vice-president, Frederick William Franz, became the religion's leading theologian,[81] and helped shape the further development of explicit rules of conduct among members.

Jehovah's Witnesses are known for their preaching from house to house.
Jehovah's Witnesses are known for their preaching from house to house.

From 1938 to 1955, the Witnesses launched a series of cases in the US Supreme Court to defend their right to worship and proselytize, winning 36 out of 45 cases.[82]

From 1966, Witness publications began using their interpretations of biblical chronology to heighten anticipation of Christ's thousand-year millennial reign beginning in late 1975.[83][84][85] Focus on 1975 was intensified with talks given at conventions;[86][87][88] in 1974 a Watch Tower Society newsletter commended Witnesses who had sold homes and property to devote themselves to preaching in the "short time" remaining.[89] The number of baptisms increased significantly, from about 59,000 in 1966 to more than 297,000 in 1974, but membership declined after expectations for the year were proved wrong.[90][91][92][93] In 1980, the Watch Tower Society admitted its responsibility in building up hope regarding 1975.[94]

The offices of elder and ministerial servant were restored to Witness congregations in 1972, with appointments being made from headquarters.[95] In a major organizational overhaul in 1976, the power of the Watch Tower Society president was diminished, with authority for doctrinal and organizational decisions passed to the religion's Governing Body.[96] Reflecting these organizational changes, publications of Jehovah's Witnesses began using the capitalized name, Jehovah's Witnesses.[97] Prior to this, witnesses was consistently uncapitalized, except in headings and when quoting external sources. Following Knorr's death in 1977, the position of president has been occupied by Frederick Franz (1977–1992), Milton Henschel (1992–2000) and Don A. Adams (2000-). The office now moves on a rotational basis among members of the Governing Body. See also: Development of Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine See also: Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany and Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses by country

For more articles, see External Link below.


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  • 2. Oxford English Dictionary. "Jehovah's Witness: a member of a fundamentalist millenary sect" (Emphasis added)
  • 3. "Religion & Ethics Jehovah's Witnesses".
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  • 5. Organisational charter, Denomination of Jehovah's Witnesses in Bulgaria, as cited by Donald T. Ridley, Watch Tower Society, in "Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood: obedience to scripture and religious conscience", Journal of Medical Ethics, December 1999, footnote 1.
  • 6. "Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Media Web Site: Our History and Organization - Membership". Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses. "While other religious groups count their membership by occasional or annual attendance, this figure reflects only those who are actively involved in the public Bible educational work [of Jehovah's Witnesses]."
  • 7. "“Guided by God’s Spirit”", Awake!, June 2008, page 32, "In 2007, more than 12 million people attended over 3,200 of such conventions!"
  • 8. Statistics at Jehovah's Witnesses official website, 2010.
  • 9. Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. 1993.
  • 10. Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Constable, 1969, page 123.
  • 11. "Denominational profile". The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA).
  • 12. Botting, Heather; Gary Botting (1984). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 60–75. ISBN 0-8020-6545-7.
  • 13. Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. p. 190. "Rutherford wanted to unify the preaching work and, instead of having each individual give his own opinion ... gradually Rutherford himself began to be the main spokesman for the organization." (Franz quoting Faith on the March, 1957, A. H. MacMillan)
  • 14. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 1.
  • 15. "Watchtower 11/1 2008 Page 28 - Our Readers Ask; Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe That They Are the Only Ones Who Will Be Saved?". Quote:"Like adherents of many religious faiths, Jehovah’s Witnesses hope to be saved. However, they also believe that it is not their job to judge who will be saved. Ultimately, God is the Judge. He decides.—Isaiah 33:22."
  • 16. "Remaining Organized for Survival Into the Millennium", The Watchtower, September 1, 1989, page 19, "Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the 'great crowd,' as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil."
  • 17. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation, Edmond C. Gruss, 1972, ISBN 0-87552-306-4, pages 11, 21.
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  • 32. "Armenia violates Jehovah's Witnesses' rights-Amnesty". Reuters. 16 January 2008.
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  • 34. "Tajikistan: Jehovah's Witnesses Banned". F18News. 18 October 2007.
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  • 36. "Working in the “Field”—Before the Harvest", The Watchtower, October 15, 2000, page 28
  • 37. "Proclaiming the Lord’s Return (1870-1914)", Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, p. 44-46
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  • 43. "A Time of Testing (1914-1918)". Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. p. 64.
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  • 55. Apocalypse Delayed at Google Books
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  • 57. Rutherford gives his defense against the charges in the tract The Case of the IBSA
  • 58. Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, Constable, 1969, pages 38-44.
  • 59. Wills, Tony (2006). A People For His Name. Lulu Enterprises. ISBN 9781430301004.
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  • 61. Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. p. 144.
  • 62. Gruss, Edmond C. (2001). "Chapter 24". Jehovah's Witnesses: Their Claims, Doctrinal Changes, and Prophetic Speculation. What Does the Record Show?. Xulon Press. ISBN 193123230X.
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  • 64. Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 1959. p. 313.
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  • 66. Penton, M. James (1997, 2nd ed.). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
  • 67. The Harp of God. 1921. pp. 231–236. states that "the Lord's second presence dates from 1874."
  • 68. he Harp of God at Google Books
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  • 70. Thomas Daniels (PDF). Historical Idealism and Jehovah's Witnesses. pp. 3–37. Retrieved 2006-02-01.
  • 71. Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 1993. pp. 84–85.
  • 72. "Paying Back Caesar’s Things to Caesar". The Watchtower: 19. 1 May 1996.
  • 73. "Strengthening Our Confidence in God’s Righteousness". The Watchtower: 17. 15 August 1998.
  • 74. "United States Holocaust Memorial Museum". Retrieved February 22, 2005.
  • 75. Hesse, Hans (2001). Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi Regime. p. 10.
  • 76. American Civil Liberties Union (1941) (PDF). The Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses. pp. 1–24.'s_Witnesses_-_ACLU.pdf. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  • 77. Harrison, Barbara (1978). Visions of Glory. pp. 185, 281.
  • 78. Persian, Jayne (December 2005). "The Banning of Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia in 1941" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  • 79. Adelaide Company of Jehovah's Witnesses, Inc. v. The Commonwealth of Australia, 67 116, 124 . (PDF, 68MB)
  • 80. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. p. 86.
  • 81. Franz, Raymond (2007). Crisis of Conscience. Commentary Press. p. 72.
  • 82. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. p. 89.
  • 83. (PDF) Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 1966. pp. 29–35. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
  • 84. "How Much Longer Will It Be?". Awake!: 17–20. October 8 1966.
  • 85. Awake!. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. October 8, 1968. p. 14. ""Does this mean that the above evidence positively points to 1975 as the complete end of this system of things? Since the Bible does not specifically state this, no man can say...If the 1970s should see intervention by Jehovah God to bring an end to a corrupt world drifting toward ultimate disintegration, that should surely not surprise us."".
  • 86. Franz, Raymond. "Chapter 9". Crisis of Conscience.
  • 87. Penton, M. J. (1997). Apocalypse Delayed. University of Toronto Press. p. 95.
  • 88. Botting, Heather; Gary Botting (1984). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-8020-6545-7.
  • 89. "How Are You Using Your Life?". Our Kingdom Ministry: 63. May 1974. "Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.".
  • 90. Franz, Raymond. "1975—The Appropriate Time for God to Act" (PDF). Crisis of Conscience. pp. 237–253. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
  • 91. Singelenberg, Richard (1989). "The '1975'-prophecy and its impact among Dutch Jehovah's Witnesses". Sociological Analysis 50 (1): 23–40. doi:10.2307/3710916. Notes a nine percent drop in total publishers (door-to-door preachers) and a 38 per cent drop in pioneers (full-time preachers) in the Netherlands.
  • 92. Stark and Iannoccone (1997) (PDF). The Journal of Contemporary Religion. pp. 142–143. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  • 93. Dart, John (January 30, 1982). "Defectors Feel 'Witness' Wrath: Critics say Baptism Rise Gives False Picture of Growth". Los Angeles Times: p. B4. Cited statistics showing a net increase of publishers worldwide from 1971–1981 of 737,241, while baptisms totaled 1.71 million for the same period.
  • 94. The Watchtower. March 15, 1980. p. 17. "With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God, ... considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. ... there were other statements published that implied that such realisation of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated. ... persons having to do with the publication of the information ... contributed to the buildup of hopes centered on that date.".
  • 95. Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 1993. p. 106.
  • 96. 1977 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. p. 258.
  • 97. First occurrence: "Cruelties Go Unchecked in Malawi". Awake!: 3. 22 March 1976.
  • 98. Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 211–252. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3.
  • 99. Twelve members as of September 2005 (See The Watchtower, March 15, 2006, page 26)

Schroeder died March 8, 2006 (See The Watchtower, September 15, 2006, page 31) Sydlik died April 18, 2006 (See The Watchtower, January 1, 2007, page 8) Barber died April 8, 2007 (See The Watchtower, October 15, 2007, page 31)

  • 100. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 2007 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. pp. 4, 6.

External Link

Wikipedia Article on Jehovah's Witnesses

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