Covers of the Public and Study editions of The Watchtower
|Circulation||Public Edition 58,987,000 bimonthly
Study Edition 15,252,000 monthly
|Publisher||Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc.|
|First issue||July 1879|
|Based in||United States|
The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published semimonthly in 254 languages by Jehovah's Witnesses via the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and printed in various branch offices around the world. Along with its companion magazine, Awake!, Jehovah's Witnesses distribute The Watchtower—Public Edition in their door-to-door ministry. The Watchtower—Public Edition is the most widely circulated magazine in the world, with an average print run of nearly 59,000,000 copies bimonthly, starting in 2016. "The Watchtower - Public Edition" was monthly between 2008-2015.  The Watchtower—Study Edition is used at congregation meetings, with an average monthly print run of 15,252,000.
The publication was started by Charles Taze Russell on July 1, 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 1908 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.
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The stated purpose of The Watchtower, as suggested by its subtitle, Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, 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 spreading the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, and includes articles relating to Bible prophecy, Christian conduct and morals, as well as the history of religion and the Bible.
The Witnesses' worldwide "Field Service" report appeared each year in the January 1 issue of The Watchtower from 1882 until 2004, and in the February 1 issue from 2005 to 2007. As of 2008, the "Field Service" report does not appear in The Watchtower but continues to appear in the annual Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, and on the official website.
Previously, each issue of the Watchtower contained study articles and other regular features and was distributed to the general public. As of 2008, two editions of The Watchtower are produced each month. The issue dated the 1st of each month is distributed to the public and is referred to as the Public Edition. The subjects covered in the issue as well as the style of writing are intended to appeal to non-Witnesses. The issue dated the 15th, called the Study Edition, contains "pointed information prepared especially for Jehovah’s Witnesses" and is generally distributed only to members but is made available to members of the public attending the study of The Watchtower at congregation meetings.
The Public Edition of The Watchtower contains biblical articles relating to a theme shown on the cover. Other regular sections are:
- A Letter From..., a first-person account from a Jehovah's Witness in a specific country;
- Did You Know?, a consideration of questions relating to a specific biblical account;
- Draw Close to God, an article about an aspect of God's personality;
- For Young People, an exercise for children to answer questions about a biblical account, based on illustrations and cited scriptures (as of January 2013, this feature appears only on the website)
- Imitate their Faith an article about a Bible character;
- Keys to Family Happiness, advice on how to deal with family problems;
- Bible Questions Answered, a consideration of Bible questions based on chapters from their publication What Does the Bible Really Teach?;
- Interview, an interview with someone who became a Jehovah's Witnesses, and why;
- My Bible Lessons, a series to help parents teach biblical ideas to infants (as of January 2013, this feature appears only on the website);
- Our Readers Ask, a consideration of beliefs specific to Jehovah's Witnesses;
- Teach Your Children, a moral lesson for children based on a specific Bible character (as of January 2013, this feature appears only on the website);
- The Bible Changes Lives, brief life stories of Jehovah's Witnesses relating how the Bible helped them;
In January 2013, The Watchtower—Public Edition was reduced from 32 to 16 pages, with greater focus on the official Jehovah's Witnesses website. As of the January 2016 issue, the Public Edition is published bimonthly.
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. In this meeting, each paragraph is read aloud by a designated reader, after which the conductor asks the question printed at the bottom of the page for that paragraph; members of the congregation are then called upon 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."
Other regular sections of the Study Edition are:
- Cover art, (monthly, from January 2012) a picture of Jehovah's Witnesses preaching, with the original photograph on page 2 and facts about the preaching work in the nation depicted;
- From Our Archives (semi-regularly, from January 2012), an article about the organization's history;
- Questions From Readers (semi-regularly), a consideration of a doctrinal question based on a specific scripture;
- Do You Remember? (three times each year), a brief summary of points from recent issues of the magazine.
The November issue of each year contains an article outlining the various ways that donations can be made to support the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Writing Committee of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses oversees the research, editing, and development of the articles. The articles are mostly contributed 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 never included in the magazine. All articles are produced under the authority and supervision of the Governing Body; the content is therefore considered the official teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Since the first issue of The Watchtower in 1879, with 6,000 copies printed, circulation of The Watchtower continued to increase, and the magazine has not missed an issue. The magazine is printed in nineteen different countries; about 25% of the total is printed at one of the organization's printeries in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The Public Edition has an average monthly print run of nearly 59,000,000 copies, making it the magazine with the largest circulation in the world. The monthly print run of the Study Edition is not stated in the English edition; the Russian edition states a print run of 15,252,000.
The magazine is distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses, who consider their preaching work to be a public service. Witnesses commonly offer these magazines in the course of their house-to-house ministry. They are also distributed by approaching people in public places, or given informally to doctors, academics, politicians and acquaintances. The Watchtower may also be seen left as reading material in public places, including bus terminals, or laundromats. The Watch Tower Society advises against distribution practices such as mailbox drops and placing large stacks in public places, which they consider to be less effective methods of arousing interest compared to personal presentation of the literature.
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. As of September 2013, digital files for The Watchtower—Simplified Edition are also available for download in these formats.
- Sign language: Since 2003, study articles have been released in American Sign Language on videocassette. Since 2004 The Watchtower has been made available monthly in American Sign Language on DVD, and in other sign languages as the publishers consider practical. Sign language videos of selected past articles are available for download.
- Simplified Edition: In July 2011, the The Watchtower—Study Edition was published in simplified English on a trial basis. From the January 2013 issue, the Simplified Edition is also available in other languages.
- 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 of The Watchtower have been available for download since August 1, 2010, and the complete study edition is available as of the February 15, 2011 issue. It has since been made available in various other digital formats, including MOBI and Rich Text Format.
Until March 1990, The Watchtower and its companion Awake! were 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. The article "Use Our Literature Wisely", which appeared in the May 1990 issue of Our Kingdom Ministry, 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.
- Jehovah's Witnesses publications
- List of Watch Tower Society publications
- List of magazines by circulation
- The Watchtower, December 1, 2015, page 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.
- "The Watchtower" (PDF). Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. January 1, 2015. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
- Meares, Joel (May 13, 2010). "The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World". The New York Review of Magazines (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism). Retrieved March 26, 2011.
- The Watchtower Study Edition, January, 2016, page 2 (russian)
- Watch Tower, July 1, 1879
- Watch Tower Publications, Watchtower Publications Index, 2008
- The Watchtower: Pg.2. January 1, 2013. Missing or empty
- 1981 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 7
- Report of Jehovah's Witness-Simple at bottom
- Worldwide Report of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2013 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, pages 178-187.
- Our Kingdom Ministry, July 2007, p. 1 Exciting Changes for The Watchtower!
- "You Are Warmly Invited", The Watchtower, February 1, 2009, page 21, "The Watchtower Study begins with a song. The information discussed and the questions posed by the conductor appear in the study edition of this magazine. You may obtain a copy of the study edition from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses."
- "Jehovah's Witnesses—Featured Items". Retrieved 2009-01-14.
- "Overseers Taking the Lead—The Watchtower Study Conductor". Our Kingdom Ministry: 8. December 1998.
- "Follow the Christ District Convention Program". 2007.
- The Watchtower. 15 July 2009; 15 September 2009. Check date values in:
|date=(help); Missing or empty
- Yes, This is the Study Edition!, The Watchtower, January 15, 2012, page 3.
- "Jehovah’s Witnesses—1994 Yearbook Report", 1994 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, ©Watch Tower, page 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.
- The Watchtower, March 1, 1987, page 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."
- Our Kingdom Ministry, July, 1979, page 1
- The Watchtower, November 1, 2005, page 27
- "Question Box", Our Kingdom Ministry, March 1988, page 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"
- "Good News on the Internet", Our Kingdom Ministry, November 1997, page 3, "Our Internet Web site has the address http://www.watchtower.org and contains a selection of tracts, brochures, and Watchtower and Awake! articles." (In September 2012, the official website changed to http://www.jw.org.)
- "Announcements", Our Kingdom Ministry, June 2008, page 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.".
- ws_E_20110715 - Retrieved 2011-04-15. "This new edition will be tried for one year, and if it is helpful, it will continue to be printed." (Introduction letter, p. 3.)
- Global News - Simplifying The Watchtower, August, 15, 2012
- The Watchtower: 4. May 15, 1950. Missing or empty
- Our Kingdom Ministry: 2. October 1989. Missing or empty
- 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.
- Our Kingdom Ministry: 7. May 1990.
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.Missing or empty
- 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.