The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published monthly by Jehovah's Witnesses via the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Along with its companion magazine, Awake!, Jehovah's Witnesses distribute The Watchtower—Public Edition in their door-to-door ministry.
|Circulation||Public Edition: 83 million triannually|
Study Edition: 14 million monthly
|Publisher||Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania|
|First issue||July 1879(as Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence)|
|Based in||Warwick, New York, United States|
The Watchtower—Public Edition has an average circulation of approximately 83 million copies every four months in 353 languages. The Watchtower—Study Edition is used at congregation meetings, with an average monthly circulation of around 14 million.
The magazine was started by Charles Taze Russell in July 1879 under the title Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. According to its first issue, the magazine's purpose was to draw attention to Russell's belief that people of the time were "living 'in the last days' 'the day of the Lord'—'the end' of the Gospel age," and that "the dawn of the 'new' age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony."
In 1909 the name was changed to The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. In 1920, the Watch Tower Society reprinted all issues from 1879–1919 in seven volumes, known as the Watchtower Reprints, which have since been reprinted by various Bible Student groups. On 15 October 1931, the magazine was renamed The Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence; in January 1939, The Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Kingdom; from March 1939 until the present, its full name has been The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom.
The stated purpose of The Watchtower is to draw attention to the kingdom of God, which Jehovah's Witnesses believe is a real government that will soon replace all earthly governments. According to the magazine's mission statement:
THIS MAGAZINE, The Watchtower, honors Jehovah God, the Ruler of the universe. It comforts people with the good news that God's heavenly Kingdom will soon end all wickedness and transform the earth into a paradise. It promotes faith in Jesus Christ, who died so that we might gain everlasting life and who is now ruling as King of God's Kingdom. This magazine has been published continuously since 1879 and is nonpolitical. It adheres to the Bible as its authority.
The Watchtower is the primary means of disseminating Jehovah's Witness beliefs, and includes articles relating to biblical prophecies, Christian conduct and morals, and the history of religion and the Bible.
Previously, each issue of the Watchtower contained study articles and other regular features and was distributed to the general public. In 2008, content was divided into a Public Edition distributed to non-Witnesses and a Study Edition, which contains "pointed information prepared especially for Jehovah's Witnesses".
The Public Edition of The Watchtower contains biblical articles relating to a theme shown on the cover. In January 2013, The Watchtower—Public Edition was reduced from 32 to 16 pages, with greater focus on the official Jehovah's Witnesses website. Initially issued monthly, as of January 2016 the Public Edition was published every two months, and was further reduced to three issues per year as of January 2018.
The Study Edition contains study articles written for the Watchtower Study, as well as other intra-organizational information directed to current and prospective members.
Congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide discuss the same article each week at the Watchtower Study. At this meeting, each paragraph is read aloud by a designated reader; the study conductor then asks questions printed at the bottom of the page for each paragraph and calls on members of the congregation to answer the questions based on the printed information. They are encouraged to put the information in their own words and to "draw attention to scripture application, supporting arguments, or practical application of the material."
The Writing Committee of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses oversees the research, editing, and development of the articles. The articles are mostly submitted by writing committees from worldwide branch offices, which are then checked by editors and translated into the languages of publication; all involved are volunteers. Women are permitted to write articles that are not of a doctrinal nature. The names of the authors (except in first-person life stories), and other publishing staff are not provided. Articles are produced under the authority and supervision of the Governing Body, and are considered the official teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.
As of September 2019, each issue of the Public Edition has an average circulation of 83,449,000 copies in 353 languages. The monthly production of the Study Edition is not stated in the English edition; in January 2018 the Russian edition stated a circulation of 13,825,000.
The Public Edition is distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses from house-to-house and by approaching people in public places, given informally to acquaintances and professionals, or left as reading material in places such as bus terminals and laundromats. The Study Edition is generally distributed only to members but is made available to members of the public attending the study of The Watchtower at congregation meetings.
In addition to printed editions, The Watchtower has been published in other forms. Since 1997, Jehovah's Witnesses' official web sites have carried articles formatted for the Internet, and began hosting digital downloads in 2008. Specific accessibility efforts include:
- Braille: In 1976, The Watchtower became available in Grade II English Braille.
- Audio: In 1988, articles from The Watchtower were recorded on audio cassette, and later on audio CD; audio cassettes are no longer produced. From 2004 until 2009, The Watchtower was released on CD in MP3 format; digital files are now available for download in MP3 and AAC/M4B formats.
- Sign language: Since 2004 The Watchtower has been made available monthly in American Sign Language on DVD, and has since been made available in more than 30 sign languages.
- Simplified Edition: A simplified English edition of The Watchtower—Study Edition was introduced in July 2011, with additional simplified language editions available from January 2013. In 2019 the separate English Study and Simplified editions were replaced by a simplified Study Edition.
- Digital formats. As of 2010, study articles from The Watchtower—Study Edition have been made available as PDF files. PDF files of the Public Edition have been available for download since August 1, 2010, and the Study Edition is available as of the February 15, 2011 issue. It has since been made available in various other digital formats.
Until March 1990, The Watchtower was available for a small charge that varied over time and in different countries. For example, in the United States, the suggested donation per issue was $0.05 in 1950, gradually increasing to $0.25 in 1989. On January 17, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against Jimmy Swaggart that sales of religious literature were subject to taxation, which introduced ambiguity into the formerly tax-free practice of suggesting a specific amount in exchange for the magazines. The Watch Tower Society supported Swaggart in the case, arguing that the perceived sale of religious literature should be exempt from taxation.
From March 1, 1990, the journals were made available at no cost, on a freewill donation basis in the United States, with the stated purpose of simplifying their Bible educational work and distinguishing themselves from those who commercialize religion. An article in the May 1990 issue of Our Kingdom Ministry—a newsletter provided to members—stated that "there are growing pressures against all religious elements" and went on to say that their main concern was to move ahead in the worldwide preaching work, "without hindrance."
The sale of Jehovah's Witnesses' literature was gradually phased out in other countries, and The Watchtower has been distributed free of charge worldwide since January 2000, its printing being funded by voluntary donations from Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the public.
- "Contents page". The Watchtower. September 2019. p. 2.
- "The New Study Edition of The Watchtower". The Watchtower. January 15, 2008.
- Holden, A. (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. p. 67.
- "Contents page" (PDF). The Watchtower (in Russian). January 2018. p. 2.
- "Prospectus". Zion's Watch Tower. July 1, 1879. p. 3.
- Watchtower Publications Index. 2008.
- "Contents page". The Watchtower. January 1, 2013. p. 2.
- "Jehovah's Witnesses—Featured Items". Retrieved 2009-01-14.
- "Overseers Taking the Lead—The Watchtower Study Conductor". Our Kingdom Ministry. December 1998. p. 8.
- "Do Not Tire Out". The Watchtower. April 15, 2013. p. 30.
- 1994 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Watch Tower Society. p. 29.
The Watchtower is regularly printed in 116 languages. During the past year, many of the translation teams that care for languages used in the magazines were being strengthened, and those that are working on another 70 languages were being trained. Included among these are languages used in Eastern Europe, southern Asia, and Africa, as well as among Indian tribes in South America, and by peoples on the Pacific islands. Developing such teams involves locating, training, and equipping translators, checkers, and proofreaders. All of these must be dedicated Christians, volunteers who are also able to make themselves available for such work.
- Branch Organization Manual. Watch Tower Society. pp. 24–1.
Those used as writers must be dedicated, baptized brothers or sisters in good standing with their local congregations and who have writing ability. ... Some articles will deal with spiritual matters, and these should be written by brothers.
- "'Upon the Watchtower I Am Standing'". The Watchtower. March 1, 1987. p. 15.
Each article in both The Watchtower and Awake! and every page, including the artwork, is scrutinized by selected members of the Governing Body before it is printed.
- "Contributions That Warm God's Heart". The Watchtower. November 1, 2005. p. 27.
- "Question Box". Our Kingdom Ministry. March 1988. p. 4.
Perhaps some back issues of the magazines could be distributed free when visiting nursing homes and hospitals. They could be left at Laundromats or in the lobbies of residential buildings where our work is restricted. However, good judgment should be exercised as to how many and how often magazines are left at one place. ... No literature of any kind should be left in mailboxes
- "Exciting Changes for The Watchtower!". Our Kingdom Ministry. July 2007. p. 1.
- "Good News on the Internet". Our Kingdom Ministry. November 1997. p. 3.
- "Announcements". Our Kingdom Ministry. June 2008. p. 3.
Since January 2008, audio files of The Watchtower and Awake! in English and Spanish have been made available at the Web site www.jw.org.
- "Introduction letter" (PDF). The Watchtower. July 15, 2011. p. 3.
- "Global News—Simplifying The Watchtower". Watch Tower Society. August 15, 2012.
- "Publication details". The Watchtower. May 15, 1950. p. 4.
- "Announcements". Our Kingdom Ministry. October 1989. p. 2.
- Swaggart Ministries v. California Board of Equalization, 493 U.S. 378 (1990)
- Edmond C. Gruss (2003). The Four Presidents of the Watch Tower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). Xulon Press. pp. 72–73.
- "Use Our Literature Wisely". Our Kingdom Ministry. May 1990. p. 7.
At the end of February 1990, it was explained that magazines and literature will be provided to publishers and to the interested public on a complete donation basis, that is, without asking or suggesting that a specific contribution be made as a precondition to receiving an item.
- 2001 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. p. 18.
Another factor in reaching more people with the good news has been the simplified literature distribution arrangement. ... The voluntary donation arrangement is explained to people, but no charge is made for the literature. As of January 2000, that arrangement was extended to all lands where it was not already in operation.