The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international religious organization that rejects much of modern Christianity in favor of what they believe to be a restoration of first-century Christianity. The religion was developed in response to what was perceived to be "compromise and corruption in mainstream Christianity” and it repudiates common Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, hellfire, immortality of the soul, and clergy-laity divisions, interpreting them as illegitimate additions to the original church's teachings. The name "Jehovah’s Witnesses" is derived from a number of biblical passages in which the disciples of YHWH (pronounced "Jehovah" by the group) are called "Witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10). The community adopted the term "Jehovah' Witnesses" in 1931.
Jehovah's Witnesses are governed by their understanding of scriptural laws and principles based on instructions received from the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that is, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., a legal organization in use by Jehovah’s Witnesses for their ministry work. The Watchtower Society has been publishing religious materials since the late nineteenth century: its most widely known publications being the magazines The Watchtower and Awake! The number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2006 was estimated at approximately 6.5 million.
According to the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses, their origins can be traced back to the ancient Israelites. The original Jehovah's Witness is said to have been Abel, son of Adam who is proclaimed to be one of "many witnesses" of God in Hebrews 12:1. Important biblical figures including Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are also referred to as "Witnesses." Ancient Israelites were a nation dedicated to God, and for that reason they too are also called Jehovah's witnesses.(Isaiah 43:10)
Jesus Christ is also called the faithful witness of God in the Bible, as in Revelations 1:5. After his death, early Christians became witnesses of Jesus as well as of God Himself because they experienced firsthand the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11).  In the year 56 C.E., however, it is said that an apostasy occurred among the immediate followers of Christ, and their philosophies began to grow divided (Acts 20:29, 30). After the death of John, the last apostle, this apostasy began to spread rampantly (2 Timothy 2:17). Jehovah's Witnesses believe that at this point, important biblical teachings were dismissed, with Hellenistic philosophy and other heathen teachings corrupting the true vision of Christ. According to Jehovah's witnesses, these apostate Christians went on to form Christendom as it is known today, which exists as a complete corruption of Christ's original teachings.
The modern institution of Jehovah's Witnesses can be traced back to the religious movement known as the Bible Students, which was founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. The group consisted mainly of Russell's friends and family, who came from a variety of religious backgrounds, particularly Second Adventists, a group that arose after the Millerite "Great Disappointment" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An interest in Bible prophecy was sparked among group members due in no small part to Jonas Wendell, a passionate Adventist preacher. In 1876, Russell met Nelson H. Barbour, a Millerite Adventist, and subsequently adopted his eschatology, including Barbour's prediction that the visible return of Christ would occur in 1873. However, when that failed to occur, Russell rescheduled the second coming for 1874.  Soon after what was apparently Barbour's second disappointment, his group decided Christ had indeed returned to Earth in 1874, although he had come in an invisible form  With this in mind, a gathering of the saints in heaven was expected for 1878, with the year 1914 demarcated as the time of the final end of human governments.
In July 1879, Russell broke with Barbour over the concept of substitutionary atonement, and soon began publishing his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence (now known simply as The Watchtower). After the break, Russell and his followers retained the bulk of Barbour's eschatological views. They also maintained the Adventist rejection of the traditional view of Hell, and by 1882 had rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Charles Taze Russell came to be referred to as "Pastor Russell," and by 1881 had formed the legal entity that would become The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. In 1884, the society was incorporated, with Russell as president. By 1914, Russell's legal entity had extended to the United Kingdom, where he founded the International Bible Students Association.
Following Russell's death on October 31, 1916, an editorial committee of five was set up to supervise the writing of the Watch Tower magazine, as set forth in Russell's Last Will and Testament. On January 6, 1917, Joseph Franklin Rutherford was elected second President of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to replace Russell. A power struggle soon developed between Rutherford and four of the seven members of the society's Board of Directors, due in part to the fact that new by-laws had been passed at the time of Rutherford's election strengthening the President's authority. The June 20, 1917 meeting of the full board of directors tabled, for one month, a proposal to return control of the Society to the board, but Rutherford prevented the board from meeting again.  Rutherford, as chief legal counsel for the Watch Tower Society, had written the new by-laws. Initially, the Board of Directors for the Watch Tower Society accepted this change, but four of the board members withdrew their support.
Matters reached a climax on July 17, 1917 when Russell's book The Finished Mystery was released to the staff of Bethel, which is the name by which the headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in Brooklyn is known.  The book was controversial in its criticism of Catholic and Protestant clergy as well as Christian involvement in war. Citing this book, the United States federal government indicted Rutherford and the new board of directors on May 7, 1918 for violating the Espionage Act. They were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. However, in March 1919, the judgment against them was reversed and all parties were released from prison; the charges were later dropped. Rutherford gives his defense against the charges in Souvenir Report of the Bible Student's Convention (1919)  In the aftermath, Rutherford promptly announced to the staff that he was dismissing the four directors and replacing them with new members, claiming they had not been legally elected. As a result, the four dismissed directors set up the Pastoral Bible Institute and began publishing their own religious journal. Dissension and schisms ensued in congregations of Bible Students worldwide as a result of these events, and also as the consequences of new predictions made for the years 1918, (in which the God was to destroy all churches),  1920 (in which widespread anarchy would ensue) and 1925. Those who remained supportive of the Watchtower Society adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931 under Rutherford's leadership, while those against Rutherford formed various Bible Student groups that have retained Russell's teachings. Jehovah's Witnesses no longer use "Bible Students" in association with their religion.
The Jehovah's Witnesses began to emphasize their trademark house-to-house preaching in 1922. In spite of these efforts, attendance at their yearly Memorial dropped from a high of 90,434 in 1925 down to 17,380 in 1928, due to the previous power struggle, the failed predictions for the year 1925,  and a number of significant doctrinal changes that alienated those who sided with Russell's views. By 1933, the year 1914 was reinterpreted as the beginning of Christ's presence and therefore the start of the "last days" rather than the terminal date in their chronology.  Under Rutherford, the downward trend in membership would soon reverse itself, and the movement's membership grew to about 115,000 at the time of his death in 1942.
Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany persecuted Jehovah's Witnesses. Many followers were imprisoned in concentration camps, bearing purple triangles by which they were identified. In a book on Jehovah's Witnesses under the Nazi regime, Hans Hesse commented, "Some five thousand Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps where they alone were 'voluntary prisoners', so termed because if they recanted their views, they could be freed. Some lost their lives in the camps, but few renounced their faith." During this time period, Witnesses also experienced mob violence in America and were even temporarily banned in Canada and Australia because their abstinence from conflict was perceived to undermine the war effort.
Nathan H. Knorr succeeded Rutherford as president of the Watch Tower Society on January 13, 1942. Membership rose from 115,000 to over two million under Knorr's presidency. Knorr also founded the Gilead school to train missionaries, as well as the Theocratic Ministry School to train preaching and teaching at the congregational level. Several significant Supreme Court victories for Jehovah's Witnesses involving their rights to practice their religion were not only successes for the church, but also had a great impact on legal interpretation of these rights for others. In 1943, for example, the United States Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses attending school could not be compelled to salute the flag along with their schoolmates.
Knorr's vice-president Frederick W. Franz became the most prominent theologian in the history the Jehovah's Witnesses. In 1976, the leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses was reorganized, and the power of the presidency passed on to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. Subsequent presidents of the Watch Tower Society after Knorr's death in 1977 have been Frederick William Franz, Milton George Henschel and Don A. Adams.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, various references were made in Witnesses' literature and at assemblies to the effect that Christ's thousand-year millennial reign might very well begin by 1975. The chronology pointing to 1975 was well-noted in the secular media at the time. Subsequently, from 1975 to 1980, the years following the failure of this prediction, there was a drop in Jehovah's Witnesses membership.  In 1980, the Watchtower Society admitted its responsibility in building up hope regarding the year 1975. 
Jehovah's Witnesses view God as the creator of the universe and the supreme being within it. Witnesses believe that the proper name of this being is Jehovah, a derivative of the Tetragrammaton, and that its use is a requirement for true worship. Jesus, meanwhile, is believed to literally be the only begotten Son of God, His first creation, and thus is considered an entity independent from God. In this sense, Jehovah's Witnesses reject the notion of Trinity. In contrast to trinitarian doctrine, they believe that the holy spirit is not an entity comparable to God or Jesus but is instead God's "active force". 
Jesus' most important theological function for Jehovah's Witnesses is as the sole means by which to approach God in prayer. His role as mediator between human beings and God can only be enjoyed by those individuals going to heaven. Witnesses believe that only Jesus Christ is their leader and that he is head of their Congregation. As such, their leaders must obey him (Heb. 13:7).
While Jesus is still acknowledged by Jehovah's Witnesses as the sole means of salvation for all worthy human beings, he is understood somewhat differently. For example, Witnesses believe that Jesus did not die on a cross, as is traditionally recognized by mainstream Christianity, but instead on a "torture stake". This event is commemorated yearly in an event referred to as "the Memorial," the most important annual event for Jehovah's Witnesses. The Memorial is held after sundown on the day of the year corresponding to Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar.
Jehovah's Witnesses employ the Bible as their foremost text, specifically the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. This version extensively uses the name "Jehovah" in place of the Greek word for "Lord" over 200 times in the New Testament in order to refer to God. Frederick Wilhelm Franz is believed to have been the principal translator of this version of the scripture, although this has never been officially confirmed since the translation was intended to remain anonymous.
Witnesses consider the entire Biblical canon, excluding the Apocrypha, to be the inspired word of God. They interpret many of the scriptures literally, though it is acknowledged that biblical writers and characters employed symbolism, parable, figures of speech, and poeticism.  Jehovah's Witnesses hold that the Bible alone should be used for determining issues of doctrine. Interpretation of scripture and codification of doctrines is considered the exclusive responsibility of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Jehovah's Witnesses expect that their faith will allow them to one day live on a renewed paradise on Earth. Their surviving component will not be a soul, at least not in the traditional sense, since they do not believe in the concept of an immortal immaterial entity that dwells inside the body. Instead, the component that survives after death is claimed to be the individual person as he or she is. Thus, souls of deceased persons who are not immediately resurrected to heaven are considered dead, and death itself is a state of non-existence with no consciousness. Jehovah's witnesses do not believe in any sort of Hell wherein a sinner suffers an eternity of fiery torment. Rather, they designate Hades or Sheol to be the common grave of all humankind.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the eschaton (end times) began in 1914, and that full-fledge Armageddon is imminent. This will commence with the destruction of all false religions, after which point governments will also be annihilated. Any who are not deemed faithful by God will be destroyed at this juncture with no hope of resurrection. The fate of some, such as small children or the mentally ill, remains to be decided by God. After Armageddon, an unknown number of people who died prior to Armageddon will be resurrected, with the prospect of living forever in paradise.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe the ideal family structure is patriarchal, with the husband considered the final authority on all family decisions. The husband is, however, strongly encouraged to solicit his wife's thoughts and feelings in reaching any given decision. As is typical in Christianity, marriages are required to be monogamous. Premarital sex, Homosexuality and all other variations of intercourse in which the ends are non-procreative, are considered to be sins.  Abortion is considered to be murder. In order to preclude the possibility of temptation, modesty is heavily encouraged in dress and grooming for both females and males. Gambling is also strictly forbidden, as it too is considered a hazard to proper family life.
The Jehovah's Witnesses regard blood as sacred based on an literal interpretation of the Biblical admonition to " abstain from … blood," based on Acts 15:28, 29, and also on Leviticus 17:11, 12, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood … No soul of you shall eat blood." Therefore, Jehovah's Witnesses reject allogeneic and pre-operative autologous transfusions of whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets or plasma. Despite this prohibition of transfusion, it is left as a personal decision for individual witnesses as to how their own blood will be handled in the course of a medical procedure. Baptized Witnesses who violate the prohibition on blood are subject to organized communal shunning under Scriptural doctrine. 
Witness publications have acknowledged that abiding by this doctrine has led to premature deaths due to blood loss, but there are no published statistics on total deaths. Jehovah's Witnesses have been known to actively speak out in order to make known the dangers of blood transfusions. For instance, Witness representatives have stated that plasma volume expanders are often sufficient means for dealing with various medical emergency situations. In response, a growing number of hospitals are offering bloodless techniques in medicine and surgery.  Some experts in the medical surgical profession have even collaborated with Jehovah's Witnesses to produce information regarding the benefits of bloodless techniques and therapies. 
Witnesses are known for the vigorous efforts made by members to spread their beliefs throughout the world, primarily by travelling from door to door, visiting the residents of each house in a given community. During these encounters, Witnesses discuss their religion, as well as the nature of religion in general with those who engage them, usually leaving Watchtower publications such as Awake! and The Watchtower for non-members. This missionary work is carried out by Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide, and accordingly, their literature is published in hundreds of languages.
Since Jehovah's Witnesses firmly believe that their allegiance belongs solely to God's Kingdom (which is viewed as an actual perfected government, of sorts), members abstain from partaking in any observances promoted by the secular state. For example, Witnesses do not salute the flag of any country or sing nationalistic songs, nor do they recognize common celebrations or national holidays such as birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They believe that partaking in such observances and celebrations would be tantamount to worshipping false idols, thereby constituting idolatry. Members are still expected to observe the protocols of good citizens, however, obeying all laws and statutes of the country in which they reside so long as these do not violate what they view as God's law. The Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral, a sentiment which they express by way of their almost total detachment from secular politics, and their refusal to participate in any sort of military service, even when it is compulsory.
Aid work after large natural disasters is considered an important part of the Jehovah's Witnesses' mission, although it is secondary to their preaching effort. Large sums of donated money are used within impoverished areas for purposes of rebuilding communities and providing aid. The focus of relief efforts is primarily on helping fellow members and rebuilding Kingdom Halls, while providing assistance to others in need within the area in which they are working. Examples of relief work include that which was provided to Hutu and Tutsi victims during the Rwandan genocide, as well as that given to refugees of the Congo. Witnesses have also had an active share in the relief work responding to hurricane Katrina which crippled the southeastern United States in 2005. Preaching work is considered to be the ultimate form of humanitarian effort, since it gives people a means of hope for the future.
Jehovah's Witnesses are currently led by a small Governing Body located at the Watchtower headquarters. The number of men who make up the Governing Body has ranged from nine to seventeen. As of 1971, the chairmanship of the group began to rotate annually. The Governing Body, through the departments of its various legal organizations, directs the operation of the 112 branches throughout the world.  Individual members volunteer to conduct the hands-on operation of these branches. Within each local congregation, elders assigned by the branch organize the congregation's public ministry and schedule various speakers for congregational teaching. They also decide on qualified members of the congregation for the positions of elder or ministerial servant, which require the approval of higher leadership.
Elders are prominent in congregational matters, particularly in religious instruction and spiritual counseling. Ministerial servants generally assist elders in a limited administrative capacity. Both are unpaid positions, but circuit and district overseers receive a small financial living allowance for their efforts. Male Witnesses are encouraged to work towards becoming ministerial servants or elders for their congregation. Within local congregations the role of women is minimal in terms of responsibility; they cannot serve as elders or ministerial servants, though they do carry out a significant proportion of the preaching work.
Jehovah's Witnesses employ various levels of congregational discipline in the form of controls administered by elders in the congregation. After a substantial accusation of serious wrongdoing is made by or against a baptized member of the congregation, a committee is formed in order to determine their guilt or innocence. Ultimately, this decision is adjudicated by a 'judicial committee' usually composed of three elders. If a member of the congregation is found guilty, a variety of punitive controls can be enforced, such as marking, which is employed when a member persists in conduct that is considered a clear violation of Scriptural principles, yet not of a sufficient seriousness to warrant excommunication. Alternatively, a shamed member can be given "reproof," in the case of sins which are more serious than those for which one would be "marked," and is given before all who have knowledge of the transgression.
The most severe discipline, administered as a last resort after the aforementioned assistance has failed, is known as disfellowshipping. The main factor determining whether an individual would be disfellowshipped or not is based on whether or not the wrongdoer is showing repentance for his or her actions. Disfellowshipping invariably leads to shunning by the congregation, wherein all congregation members avoid any association with the offending party, a practice which has been criticized by many non-members. Disfellowshipped members are still permitted to attend Kingdom Hall meetings, but are not allowed to take an active part in meetings or the ministry. If a disassociated or disfellowshipped individual requests reinstatement to the congregation, a Judicial Committee, usually consisting of the elders who sat on the original committee if available, is formed to review the evidence. Once a decision is made to reinstate, a brief announcement is made to the congregation that the disfellowshipped member is once again a Jehovah's Witness.
The publishing arm of Jehovah's Witnesses, known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, produces The Watchtower since 1879 and Awake!. They also publish brochures, tracts, books, Bible maps, and the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Since January 1, 2000, all publications have been offered free of charge around the world.
Jehovah's Witnesses have an active presence in most countries, though they do not form a large part of the population of any particular nation. Brazil, Mexico, and the United States are the only countries where the number of active Witness members exceeds half a million. Since the mid-1990s, the number of members actively involved in preaching has increased from 4.5 million to 6.7 million. However, there has been a decline in growth rates, from over 8 percent per annum in the mid 1970s, to 5 percent per annum in the mid 1990s, to about 2 percent per annum since 1999.
The theology of the Jehovah's Witnesses has incurred much controversy. Most of the doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses differ from those of mainstream Christianity, and are considered heresy by most Christian scholars. In contrast, the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Christian church gradually diverged from the original teachings of Jesus on several major points.
Some have also criticized the publications produced by the Jehovah's Witnesses, including the New World Translation of the Bible, which is believed by some scholars to have been unreasonably shaped by the group so as to suit their doctrine.   Critics state that the Watchtower Society has made a number of unfulfilled predictions and doctrinal changes over the years, while claiming that it is the "one and only channel" used by God to continually dispense truth.
Critics have also argued that various Witness policies and practices — including the treatment of members who dissociate themselves or who have been disfellowshipped by the congregation, limiting of external information about the group from former members, and the regulation of members' lives — limit the ability of members to exercise personal freedom. Witnesses teach that "freedom to make decisions [is] to be exercised within the boundaries of God’s laws and principles"  and that “only Jehovah [is] free to set the standard of what is good and bad.” As such, the will of the group seems to overshadow the will of any individual member given this stricture. Some countries such as Uzbekistan, Cuba, Belarus, and the city of Moscow have opposed the building of Jehovah's Witness facilities (such as Kingdom Halls), as well as the assembly of large conventions upon their territory.
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