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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 of context, and they get facts twisted. There's a logical explanation for this."

         Brian said to both Courtney and Rita, "The documentation is all here: here's a picture of the mansion, here's a copy of the actual deed , stating the princes shall have possession of the mansion and property (the deed is on our website) and here's a copy of another deed for another one of Rutherford's properties called, Beth Shan."

         Both the young Witnesses were looking away.

         Brian said, "Please don't ignore this--look."

         Rita and Courtney did take a look, and it's obvious they were quite disturbed.

         Brian then explained to Rita and Courtney about Beth Shan, part of the 100 acre estate. On the land is built a bomb shelter. As well, it's where Rutherford wanted to be buried (it never happened because neighbors fought it in court).

         Rita and Courtney continued to listen and were very quiet. What could they say? The facts spoke for themselves.

         I almost felt sorry (yet I was also rejoicing inside) for Rita and Courtney. Their bubble was being bursted before our very eyes. Not just on the Beth Sarim/Shan issue, but on a doctrinal issues, such as Rutherford’s theocracy.

Rutherford's Theocracy

           Rutherford was busy building a theocracy, a word which you'll hear most Jehovah's Witnesses use. A theocracy is government by God, and the Witnesses say they are ruled by Jehovah God, through the president and officers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. They are Jehovah's visible representatives on earth. To obey the Watchtower officers is to obey Jehovah. It has been through the theocracy that Jehovah's Witnesses have received many of the required "do's and don'ts" such as not submitting to government authorities (that has changed), not going to war, not saluting the flag, not saying the Pledge of Allegiance or celebrating holidays or birthdays. They must also give ten percent of their income, and devote their time going door to door sharing the "good news" of Jehovah and eternal life on earth.

         Along with do's and don'ts, Rutherford wanted his followers to forget their first president, Charles Taze Russell. Russell's false teaching about the Great Pyramid of Gizeh had put a damper on the organization and had turned off many outsiders. And so, Rutherford put a fresh new face upon an otherwise dark organization. He called it the Jehovah's Witnesses, and denounced Russell’s pyramid theology, crediting the pyramid to Satan rather than to Jehovah God.

         Many "Russellites" were upset at Rutherford for dissing Russell, so they left. In order to get them back, Rutherford threaten that they would "suffer destruction" if they didn't repent and recognize Jehovah's will as expressed through the Society.6

         To this day, Jehovah's Witnesses want to stay away from Russell (though to you, they'll speak highly of him). The fact is, they can't. He's part of their disturbing history, but more, the Watchtower still quotes him, and they still believe in the doctrines he set forth.

Rutherford’s Writing "Ministry"

         From the years 1926 until Rutherford's death in 1942, he wrote all the books and supervised everything that went into the Watchtower magazine. Rutherford wrote a three volume book called, Vindication (see list of all of Rutherford’s books 7) He advertised, in regard to this book that,


"JEHOVAH caused to be written, more than 2500 years ago, what in the Bible is called Ezekiel's prophecy. During the centuries that prophecy has been a mystery sealed to all who have sought to unlock it. God's due time has now come for the prophecy to be understood.8


         He also said of his book, Vindication, that its three volumes "announces the judgments of God."9

         Rutherford told his followers that Jehovah gives the Organization the material for the Watchtower, and then passes that information to them. He said,


It is announced with confidence that the Lord uses the columns of The Watchtower to transmit to his consecrated people things that he reveals to them and provides for them to know. It is the privilege of The Watchtower to publish explanation of the prophecies... There is no attempt on the part of The Watchtower to interpret prophecy, for the reason that no human creature can interpret prophecy.10


         Rutherford was listed as the author of all JW books from 1926 until his death in 1942 and "supervised everything that went into" the Watchtower magazine. 19 Putting all this together, the upshot of this would seem to be that no one could understand a Scripture text or a book of the Bible until Rutherford published one of his books that explained it! For example, the Society said that the Book of Revelation and the publication of Rutherford’s books, Light I and Light II that,  

For nearly 2000 years the Book of Revelation, written in highly symbolical language, has been a sealed book. Now, because the time is ripe, LIGHT unlocks the seals.11


         They also said that the book of Ezekiel was a "mystery" to all until 1931 and 1932 when Rutherford published his three volumes entitled Vindication. Only then could the prophecy of Ezekiel be understood for the first time during the past two and a half millenniums! It is therefore easy to see why The Golden Age stated:


Every reader of The Golden Age knows that we consider Judge Rutherford's books the most important ones in the world.12


         Why are Rutherford’s books important? Because “Judge Rutherford voices, not his own, nor anyone’s opinion.”13 Because, “What is set forth in the following pages [“Government”] is not the opinion of man. The facts are plainly stated as they exist.” 14 Because, “... this book [“Riches”] does not contain the opinion of a man, but sets forth the truth taken from the Word of God.”15

Personal Matters

           Not much is known about Rutherford's wife, Mary, nor his son Malcolm. All we know is that, because of Rutherford's alcoholism, Mary quietly divorced Rutherford. She and Malcolm moved to Los Angeles. The official Watchtower, doesn’t mentioned the divorce, nor would they ever admit to Rutherford’s alcohol problem. They just inform the followers that the Rutherford’s separation was due to Mary’s “poor health.”16

         Mary wasn’t the only one who noticed Rutherford’s alcohol problem. In court

documents, (Moyle v. Fred W. Franz, et al. Case, docket #15845) we can find that many were appalled by Rutherford’s drinking habits, and the influence he was making upon the boys at the Bethel House. Bethel House? Let me explain.

The Bethel House

         The Bethel House is important, only because we will discuss some testimony, regarding a certain behavior at the Bethel House, during Rutherford’s presidency.

         Jehovah’s Witnesses (married and single, alike) were welcome to live at the New York Bethel complex (as they are now). They get free housing and food, in exchange for devoting all their time to the “ministry” of the Watchtower organization.

         You might be wondering why the name, "Bethel," was given. It is a Hebrew word meaning "House of God" and refers to those Witnesses who lived at the complex. They were thought of, at the Watchtower, as the ones completely devoted to the Lord because they were committed to giving their entire life to the various functions of the Watchtower Society.

         The Witnesses at the Bethel House were considered a “Family.” Back when Rutherford was President, the Family called him "Pap."17 While Rutherford had housing, elsewhere, he was given his own dining room and kitchenette despite the fact he didn’t live at Bethel."18

         The Family lived in the same complex, and all took their meals together. They assemble at 7 a.m. in the dining room, and read out of their Yearbook, which has a Bible text for each day of the year. Then, they devote 10 or 15 minutes to a discussion of that. Questions were then asked by the members of the Family, and thereafter the Chairman would call upon various people to comment and then throw open the discussion to anybody who volunteers a comment. At the conclusion of this the Chairman sums up the discussion and he has the Yearbook comment (given by the Watchtower) read as the final complete summary. After that the Family rises and the Chairman conducts the morning prayer, asking God's blessings on the day's activities. Judge Rutherford almost exclusively offered those prayers when he was present, when he was alive, and at the conclusion of this leading there all of the Family join with the Chairman in saying the Lord's prayer. Then they would have the blessing upon the meal, eat their breakfast, then go to work. They would reassemble in the dining room at 12:15 for their lunch, and when the family is sufficiently fed up they would have time thrown open for any service announcements or for Bible questions. Likewise, at the evening meal, which was at six o'clock, during the progress of the meal they would listen to the radio from Station WBBR, their own station, and then towards the close of the meal they would throw the time open for service announcements and any Bible discussion.          While those at the Bethel house were acting like “family,” Rutherford wouldn’t get that sense of brotherhood from one of the brethren. On October 7, 1940, Olin R. Moyle, formerly of the Jehovah's Witness legal staff met with Joseph Rutherford and several members of the Watch Tower board of Directors in court. Moyle was suing these men for libel. It all started when Moyle protested, in a letter to Rutherford, against conditions that appeared to Moyle "to be unfair and oppressive of the brethren at Bethel" 19 Specifically, Moyle complained that,

1. The frequent scoldings and upbraidings given Bethel brethren by the Society's President.


2. Discrimination by the President against his brethren in favor of himself in the matter of comforts and conveniences. Note: I did not object to Brother Rutherford having comforts and conveniences. The point made was that if he had them, his brethren should also have comforts and conveniences. I referred specifically to the conditions of the Kingdom Farm. The remedy would consist in giving comforts to them, not in removing them from the President.


3. Undue exaltation of the use of alcohol at Bethel.


4. Over indulgence in vulgar and smutty language at Bethel.

Moyle said, "as a result of this letter, on August 8th I was expelled from Bethel, branded a religionist, a murmurer and complainer, a Judas, a Jesuit, and fit only for second death. Shortly thereafter an interdict was issued barring members of the Bethel family from communicating with me in any way."

         Moyle wasn't just expelled from the Bethel house, but a letter went out to all Jehovah's Witnesses in The Watchtower magazine. The article (which was approved by Rutherford, and written by the board), stated that Moyle's letter, addressed to President Rutherford, was "filled with false slanderous and libelous statem