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Joseph Franklin Rutherford

and His Successors

Donna Morley

No one knows the Scriptures but me...

Read my books and then you’ll know the Scriptures...

If you understand the Scriptures different from me,

you’re wrong, you’re lost, you belong to Satan,

you will be destroyed, there’s no hope for you...

You must read my books and take my interpretation of the Scriptures.


Joseph F. Rutherford1

        Charles Taze Russell had just died, and left behind him thousands of mourners. And while these people grieved, there was a different feeling at the Watchtower headquarters. It was a feeling of anxiety as men in leadership had their eyes on the president's empty chair. One man wanted to sit in that chair more than most. His name was Joseph Franklin Rutherford.

         Rutherford didn't want to wait to see whom the board members at the Society might choose to take Charles' spot. No, he couldn't wait, for what if the Society choose someone else? He had to do something. And so he did. He hurriedly nominated himself as the new president of the Society.

         The Watchtower Board members opposed such an unbelievable action. They wouldn't stand for it! And, if there was any question as to whether they should consider Joseph Rutherford as the new president, his actions certainly disqualified him now. They wouldn't have him. Rutherford didn't seem to care what they thought. Having been the Society's attorney he used a legal technicality against the opposing board declaring that they were "not legal members of the board." He dismissed them all, refused them to speak at the next Watchtower convention, and replaced each one of them with his own loyal supporters. 2

         After seizing control of the Watchtower, many "Russellites" left, many faithful stayed, and many more people were coming into what would become Joseph's fold. From the very beginning of his presidency, Joseph instilled more dictatorial authority than Charles Russell could have ever dreamed of. But, Charles' dreams no longer concerned Joseph Rutherford. And in time, his jealousy over this dead man's "angelic" image would create in him a demon. He did whatever it took for people to forget Charles Russell and to now focus upon him--their new spiritual leader. Yes, despite having no theological background or training, it would be a new new day for the Society, and an enhancement of its beliefs, instilling a revisionist theology and establish dictatorial authority.

          Let's take a look at this man's personal, religious, and political life--all of which influenced the direction of the Society--even to this day.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford

         Joseph Rutherford, was raised in a farming, Baptist family. With his father’s blessings, he went to law school. During his early years, he became attracted to the teachings of Charles Taze Russell, and joined the Society. He would become Charles Russell's attorney. One would think he would become disillusioned when he witnessed Russell lying, in court, as well, hear with his own ears that Russell had absolutely no theological background. It didn’t phase him. He was simply hanging around, looking forward to grabbing Russell's torch upon Russell’s death. And, after much fighting, he got that torch (with no theological background, either). He would lead the Bible Students (who will become Jehovah’s Witnesses) for the next twenty-five years.

         "Judge" Rutherford (as he was called after substituting for a local judge a few times) was, like Russell, a controversial figure. He was arrested during WWI for writing literature (The Finished Mystery, posthumously, Charles Taze Russell). The book encouraged hostile attacks on the clergy and military. 3 As a result, he and seven directors of the Watchtower Society were arrested and charged with sedition and sentenced to 20 years in the Federal Penitentiary at Atlanta Georgia. They were released on bail of $10,000 each, pending further trial. On May 14, 1919, Judge Ward stated:


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. 4


         Judge Ward's orders meant the men were free unless the government would decide to re-prosecute. However, the war was over and they knew that it would be impossible to get a conviction.5 Although Rutherford was released, he would find himself back in court, several years later.

Rutherford's First False Prophecy

           In 1925 Rutherford wrote a booklet entitled Millions Now Living Will Never Die (provided on our website). Like Russell, he had his own Armageddon prophecy. He warned the living that the world would be destroyed in 1925, but that those who joined the Watchtower organization would be spared. A righteous government would form under the auspices of the Watch Tower Society. Joining this government would be the resurrected Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other biblical characters.

         As we know, the end of the world didn't come, but Rutherford encouraged his followers by telling them the end would indeed come--and soon! Conveniently, the stock market crash was a great opportunity to convince the devotees that the end was already at hand.

Rutherford's Scams & Another False Prophecy

           Just as Russell had his scam with the "miracle wheat," Rutherford had a few of his own. One was to encourage followers to sell their home and businesses and take to the road to sell his books. They were to live in their cars while they went door to door being "faithful." Their reward? Not only would they one day be in the blessed earthly kingdom, but they would get Rutherford's material at a discount. All proceeds were sent to the Watchtower.

          While the followers believed the money went to spread their beliefs, quite a bit of the proceeds went to help another of Rutherford's schemes, called "Beth Sarim." In Hebrew it means "House of the Princes." It was a mansion that Rutherford had built for himself (and the princes were included on the deed of the home). Rutherford told the followers that the house wasn’t for him, but for the “princes” that were to show up, on earth, anytime now.

         One day, two young Witnesses came to our door (for the third time). Brian and I conversed with Courtney and Rita, and the subject of Beth Sarim came up. At the mention of the place, Brian quickly left the room and returned with a book saying, "Take a look."

         "What is it?" asked Rita

         Brian replied enthusiastically, "It's a book on Beth Sarim, written by a friend and a former Jehovah's Witness. It's titled, Jehovah's Witness: The Monuments to False Prophecy."

         Neither would look at it, so I asked, "Have you ever been told about Beth Sarim?"

         Courtney said, "Well, years ago there was some explanation given, but I honestly don't remember what I was told."

         I questioned, "Would you remember if you were told that Rutherford insisted the "princes" of Hebrews 11 (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthae, David and Samuel) needed a place to live when they came back to earth? And, it is for that reason the Jehovah's Witness organization needed to build for them a $15,000 mansion, during the depression, in sunny San Diego? (A very nice home, during the depression, could be purchased between three to five thousand dollars).

         Courtney looked a little nervous, but replied, "No, I wasn't told that." 

         I continued, "Were you ever told that Rutherford lived in that mansion, ready to identify the 'princes' when they came?" (Only Rutherford or the Watch Tower Society had the authority to identify the "princes").

         Courtney said, "No."

         I asked, "Would you remember if you were told that Rutherford falsely predicted the 'princes' would indeed come and for that reason they were to inherit Beth Sarim if they came back after Rutherford's death?"  

         Again, "No."

          Rita jumped in to defend Rutherford: "People often misinterpret things, they take them out