Jehovah's Witnesses: Books & Symbol

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we delve into the publishing history of the Jehovah's Witnesses. We'll look at their magazines, books, and translation of the Bible. Additionally, we'll explain why they use the watchtower symbolism.

Knock Knock

If you ever opened your door to Jehovah's Witnesses ministering to your neighborhood, you've likely seen a copy of their most notable publication, The Watchtower magazine. What you might not know is that the Jehovah's Witnesses have a long history of publication dating back to their founder, Charles Taze Russell. In fact, their organization has had their own publishing company, The Watch Tower Bible, and Tract Society, now named Watch Tower Publications, since their very beginning. Let's take a look at their publication history and why they use the symbol of a watchtower.

Portrait of Russell with modern colorization techniques
Portrait of Russell

Early Work in Publishing

Before there was a Watchtower or even an official sect called the Jehovah's Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell joined the staff of The Herald of the Morning, a magazine for the Adventist group led by Nelson H. Barbour. The early Adventists based their teachings on the biblical prophecies regarding the Second Coming of Christ.

The Herald of the Morning
The Herald of the Morning

They believed that Christ's return was imminent and the end of the world was at hand. Some of the movement's leadership even went to so far as to predict an exact date for the return. The Herald of the Morning published articles about these prophecies but when the predicted date in 1874 passed, they struggled to maintain readership. They attempted to justify the error by claiming that Christ actually had returned on the predicted date, but had done so invisibly. They further predicted that the rapture, the vanishing of God's chosen who would be taken to heaven, would happen in 1878.

When the 1878 date also passed uneventfully, Barbour published numerous articles reinterpreting the prophecies and creating new doctrines for the movement. Russell, however, rejected these ideas and persuaded a number of others to reject them as well. This led Russell to end his partnership with Barbour and start his own publication, entitled Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, in 1879.

The Watchtower
The Watchtower

The use of the watchtower symbolism stems from the Adventist movement in which the Jehovah's Witnesses are rooted. It is a reminder to be observant and watch for signs of God fulfilling biblical prophecy as well as to watch for the imminent return of Christ. Interestingly, the Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to use the symbol of the cross used in other Christian faiths, citing their own biblical translation that Christ died on a stake and not on a cross. They also avoid using symbols in their worship, even the watchtower symbol, to avoid the sin of idolatry.

Watchtower Symbol
Watchtower Symbol

The title of his publication was eventually shortened to The Watchtower, and focused on interpreting world events as evidence of prophecy. Eventually, the splinter group that became the Jehovah's Witnesses began publishing a second magazine called Awake! which focused on issues of daily faith and following doctrine.

The Millennial Dawn

In the last decades of Charles Taze Russell's life, he wrote a series of six books titled The Millenial Dawn which was later changed, after his death, to Studies in the Scriptures. The following is a list of those six volumes and their topics.

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