Joseph Franklin Rutherford
and His Successors
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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
"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
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
Neither would look at it, so I asked, "Have you ever been told about Beth
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?"
Rita jumped in to defend Rutherford: "People often misinterpret things, they
take them out