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Who was Joseph Franklin Rutherford?

Joseph Franklin Rutherford
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Joseph Franklin Rutherford (November 1869—January 1942), also known as “Judge” Rutherford, became the second president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, better known today as Jehovah’s Witnesses, shortly after the death of the sect’s founder, Charles Taze Russell. Known for his forceful personality and oratorial skills, Rutherford, originally the organization’s chief legal representative, assumed the top leadership role of the Watchtower Society from 1917 until his death at the age of 72.

Based in Brooklyn, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is a pseudo-Christian cult known for their door-to-door proselytizing and their long history of failed prophecies. Watchtower doctrine denies the Triune nature of God, the deity of the Lord Jesus and His bodily resurrection, and the personal nature of the Holy Spirit. The Watchtower also promotes a works-based salvation.

Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Like his predecessor, Russell, Joseph Rutherford made many end-times predictions. A public talk, The World Has Ended; Millions Now Living May Never Die, was first delivered In Los Angeles in 1918. A subsequent book, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, was published by the Watchtower in 1920. Faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses who supported the organization’s work were promised health, prosperity, and everlasting life on the New Earth.

Beth Sarim

In his book Joseph Rutherford predicted Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other patriarchs of old would rise from the dead in 1925 to establish a worldwide theocratic government. To house these Old Testament pillars of the faith, a ten-room, Spanish-style mansion, dubbed Beth Sarim (House of Princes), was erected in Kensington, a neighborhood in San Diego. Of course, 1925 came and went without the promised resurrection, so Rutherford made personal use of mansion and a yellow, sixteen-cylinder Cadillac, intended for the resurrected patriarchs’ transportation needs (www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/news/a-mansion-for-the-resurrected-in-kensington, accessed 12/29/21).

In The New World, published by the Watchtower in 1942, Beth Sarim was praised as a monument to the faithfulness of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rutherford still believed the San Diego mansion would become headquarters for the new worldwide government. A later Watchtower publication, Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993), made no mention of the Old Testament patriarchs. Rather, the organization insisted Beth Sarim had been built as a rest home for Rutherford, who suffered from pulmonary issues.

Changes under Rutherford

It may be argued that Joseph Rutherford’s organizational and doctrinal policies have proven more influential than those of the sect’s founder, Charles Taze Russell. During Rutherford’s 25-year reign, over twenty books were published in his name. Also,

• 400 million copies of his books and pamphlets were distributed
• the organization took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses
• meeting houses came to be called Kingdom Halls
• celebrations of birthdays and holidays were banned
• members were forbidden from serving in the military, saluting the flag, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
• all members had to engage in door-to-door preaching and literature distribution and submit written reports
• weekly training programs were initiated
• 1914 was proclaimed the year of Christ’s invisible return to earth
• the teaching emerged that Jesus died on a torture stake, not a cross—subsequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the cross to be an idolatrous symbol.

Rutherford’s final prophecy

Undeterred by his false prophecy concerning 1925, Rutherford made another end-times prediction. In 1941, as America was preparing for war, he announced the Battle of Armageddon was only months away: Jehovah would destroy all earthly governments and establish His rule upon the earth. A short time later, Joseph Franklin Rutherford died, and his final prophecy remains unfulfilled.

Conclusion

Like most cult leaders, Joseph Franklin Rutherford was a charismatic personality who believed he was the sole purveyor of God’s truths. During his tenure as president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rutherford stirred his followers to action with outlandish predictions, a steady diet of religious propaganda, and dictatorial policies. Unlike the apostle Paul, who praised the noble-minded saints in Berea for examining his teachings in the light of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), cult leaders like Joseph Franklin Rutherford demand blind obedience and loyalty without question. They mislead multitudes with false christs and false gospel messages.

The apostle Paul warned, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:3–5, ESV).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022