Bible Students History

Do you want to know more about the Bible Students Movement in the U.S.?

The future leader of the Bible Students Movement, Charles Taze Russell, was born in 1852 to parents of Scottish-Irish descent in Pittsburgh, PA.  As a youth, he attended the Presbyterian Church with his parents.  In his teenage years, Charles joined the Congregational Church and the Y.M.C.A. He became thoroughly devoted to the Lord and active in mission work.  In keeping with his Calvinist upbringing, he was zealous to warn people about a hell of eternal torment.  By 1868, sixteen-year-old Russell began to question how a loving God could predestinate people to everlasting torture. He then discovered that the Church teachers and elders were not able to answer his questions. After an investigation of various creeds, he rejected them all, including the Bible, which he assumed was the basis for those creeds. Though he still believed in God, he tried to understand the purpose of God using various sources, even the heathen religions.

When he found both the creeds and the heathen religions unsatisfying, he stumbled upon Adventism.  Almost by accident, he stopped in one evening to hear the preaching of Mr. Jonas Wendell. That lecture re-established his faith in the inspiration of the Bible.  Thereafter, he distinguished between creeds and the Bible, and he set out in earnest to study the latter.

He met George Stetson and George Storrs and studied the Bible with them from 1869 to 1872, which shaped his belief in the “Lord’s work as our ransom price” and as the “foundation of all hope of restitution.” George Storrs (founder of the newspaper “Bible Examiner”) seemed to have the greatest effect on Russell’s early thinking.  He appeared to use ideas from Storrs and Adventism along with the biblical commentaries of Adam Clarke and Sir Isaac Newton when he wrote and published 50,000 copies of a pamphlet titled “The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return” in the mid-1870s.  After publishing other tracts and small books starting in 1881 (“Tabernacle Shadows” and “Food for Thinking Christians”), he published six volumes of “Studies in the Scriptures,” starting in 1886, which were topical studies of the Bible.

In 1878, he founded a new magazine, “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.”  In 1884, Charles Russell incorporated the Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society and in 1909 the Peoples’ Pulpit Association was formed.  In 1914 a corporation called the “International Bible Students Association” was established.

After the death of Pastor Russell in 1916, a power struggle ensued for control of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society governing board, leading to J.F. Rutherford being “elected” as president of the Watchtower Society in 1917.  Due to turmoil within the movement and the autocratic rule of Rutherford, the Pastoral Bible Institute (publisher of “The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom”) and the Layman’s Home Missionary Society broke with the Watchtower Society and were formed in 1918.

To learn more, please click below to read insightful and factual booklets about the movement.

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