Who was Charles Taze Russell?

Charles Taze Russell was an American preacher who turned away from orthodox Christian teaching. A portion of his followers later became known as Jehovah's Witnesses.

He was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1852 but grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania helping to run his family's clothing stores. His family originally attended a Presbyterian church, but at age thirteen, Russell switched to a Congregational church. When faced with tough questions from a skeptical friend at age sixteen, Charles Taze Russell began to doubt the veracity of his faith and started to explore other religions. He found other religions to be even less compelling that Christianity and by age eighteen, in 1870, became involved with the Adventist Movement. He then started a Bible study for like-minded thinkers called the International Bible Students' Association.

In 1876, after interacting with Adventist preacher Nelson Barbour, Charles Taze Russell began teaching that Christ would return in 1878. He also believed the Gentile Times would end in 1914 ushering in the thousand-year reign of Christ. However, when his prediction of Christ's return did not take place in 1878, Russell split from Barbour over doctrinal differences. He returned to studying scripture from his own misguided perspective. In 1878, he sold his share of the family business in order to publish his own teaching. In 1881, with the remaining money, he started The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which was incorporated in 1884 and has gone by a few different names.

Charles Taze Russell married thirty-year-old Maria Frances Ackley when he was twenty-seven years old in March 1879. However, the couple separated in 1897 with the divorce finalized in 1908. During this time, Russell became famous worldwide with his sermons printed in about four thousand newspapers reaching fifteen million people in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, his teachings were contrary to Christian creeds and doctrines which he believed were erroneous and unbiblical. Among those false teachings were ideas such as: the belief that Jesus was not God, but rather the Archangel Michael; the diminishing of the person of the Holy Spirit to an impersonal power of God manifest in the world; the belief that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead; the thought that human souls simply cease to exist upon death; and the nonexistence of hell. Russell did not claim to have received any special vision or divine resources like some other heretical movements of the time, he simply misinterpreted biblical scriptures to suit his untrained and misguided personal opinions.

In 1908, he moved the headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, New York where it remained until 2016 when they moved to Warwick, New York. During this time of growing popularity and success, Russell traveled on ministerial tours to spread his teaching. He died in 1916 at age sixty-four of a bladder infection while traveling home from a speaking trip to western and southwestern states.

After Russell's death, his followers split into different groups with differing beliefs, but the group who retained control of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society was led by Joseph Rutherford and took on the name Jehovah's Witnesses in 1931, which is why many consider Charles Taze Russell to be a founder of that group.

Charles Taze Russell issued prophecies that failed to come true (Deuteronomy 18:22) and taught doctrines contrary to the apostles' teaching (Galatians 1:8–9). He denied essential truths about Jesus Christ (1 John 4:1–3). Faithful followers of Jesus and true studiers of the Bible could see the fallacies in Russell's teaching which is why many decried him as a heretic at the time. Yet there were many unsuspecting people who fell prey to his false teaching (2 Peter 2:1). There remain over eight million Jehovah's Witnesses today who subscribe to many of the false teachings first propagated by Charles Taze Russell.

Charles Taze Russell's life story and lasting impact highlight the need for Christian discipleship (1 Timothy 4:6, 11–16; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; Ephesians 4:11–16; Hebrews 5:11–14; 2 Peter 3:17–18), examining all teaching to assess its adherence to scriptural truth (Acts 17:11), and resisting the temptation to follow teaching that simply feels good instead of teaching that aligns with God's Word (2 Timothy 4:1–5).

Related Truth:

What do the Jehovah's Witnesses believe? Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses?

How can I best witness to Jehovah's Witnesses?

Why should a Jehovah's Witness consider becoming a Christian?

Is there a good way to evangelize to people in cults or false religions?

Should Christians allow false teachers into their homes?

Return to:
Truth about Religion

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is part of Got Questions Ministries

For answers to your Bible questions, please visit