J. F. Rutherford

J. F. Rutherford books and biography

Joseph Franklin Rutherford

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Joseph F. Rutherford
Joseph F. Rutherford

Joseph Franklin Rutherford 8 November 1869—8 January 1942, is best known as the second president of the Watch Tower Society, the legal organization used by Jehovah's Witnesses. During his tenure as president (1916—1942), the Bible Students experienced a schism. The Bible Students that remained in line with Rutherford's Watch Tower Society adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses. He was preceded by Charles Taze Russell, and followed by Nathan H. Knorr.


Early life

Rutherford was born to a farm family in Morgan County, Missouri, his parents being Baptists. His father opposed his interests in law studies, but allowed him in the end to go to college. After completing his education, he worked as a court reporter and was admitted to the bar at Boonville, Missouri. Still later he became a special—or substitute—judge in the same Fourteenth Judicial District of Missouri. Because of this background in law, he was often referred to as "Judge Rutherford".

He became interested in the teachings of The Bible Students in 1894, after he and his wife had seen three of the books of Charles Russell's work Millennial Dawn (later titled Studies in the Scriptures). He was baptized as a Bible Student in 1906, and in 1907 he became their juridical counselor. He served as a travelling overseer in the following years. He was elected President of the Watch Tower Society in 1916, after Russell's death.


The seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures (entitled The Finished Mystery) included strong criticism of Christendom's clergy which prompted clergy pressure for government censure and eventually a wave of persecution in North America and Europe. Finally, in 1918 he served an imprisonment together with seven associates in Atlanta, Georgia, for allegedly opposing Selective Draft Act and the Espionage Law. However, on May 14, 1919, the U.S. circuit court of appeals in New York ruled: “The defendants in this case did not have the temperate and impartial trial to which they were entitled, and for that reason the judgment is reversed.” The prosecution did not pursue a retrial of the case, and the charges were dismissed by action of nolle prosequi.

Rutherford and his associates were therefore completely exonerated. This is evidenced by the fact that he remained a member of the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court from his admission in 1909 till his death in 1942. From 1939-1942, he served as an attorney in 14 cases before that court, presenting oral arguments in two of those cases—Schneider v. State of New Jersey (1939), Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940).

While in prison, poor air circulation in his cell contributed to him developing a lung condition from which he never fully recovered. After his release from there, in his weakened condition he contracted pneumonia. Thereafter, under doctor's advice, he spent much of his time in San Diego, California, especially during the winter months.

Contributions to Jehovah's Witnesses

Joseph F. Rutherford

Rutherford served as President of the Watch Tower Society until his death in 1942 and was known as a strong preacher. Starting in 1919 he began a lecture series entitled "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" which became the focus of the movement for the next 6 years. Calculations based on "Jubliee cycles" from the Old Testament predicted the earth to become a paradise in the year 1925. The lecture was also distributed in book form.

The period that followed 1919 brought changes in the thinking and activity of the Bible Students. The period was a time of constant change and development. During the upcoming decades they quit celebrating Christmas and birthdays and using the cross as a symbol.

In San Diego, California in the 1920s, the Watch Tower Society built a house in California called Beth Sarim. The Hebrew words Beth Sarim mean 'House of the Princes'. It was funded by specific donations for the stated purpose of "housing the prophets and godly men of old", who were expected to be physically resurrected before Armageddon to help with Christ's Millennial reign over the earth. Rutherford resided at the villa in his last years of ill health until his death in 1942. In 1948 the villa was sold. Soon after, the The Watchtower, November 1, 1950, pages 414-17 published a changed understanding of the aforementioned teaching to one where the "earthly forefathers of Jesus Christ would be resurrected after Armageddon."—Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, p. 76 "House of Princes" picture/box footnote

Rutherford's presidency is noteworthy for increasing the drive to "advertise the King and His Kingdom" found in Jesus's model prayer. The advertising work has become the prime hallmark for which Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized today. At the same time, Jehovah's Witnesses also made a conscious effort to avoid following any human leader as some had tended to do with Pastor Russell. In 1931 at a convention in Columbus, Ohio, Rutherford delivered a talk proposing the adoption of a new name for the group, up till then only known as "Russellites", International Bible Students or Bible Students. The new name of "Jehovah's Witnesses" was adopted there.

Rutherford was succeeded by Nathan Homer Knorr as President of the Watchtower Society.

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