(Investigator 206, 2022 September)


In the mid 1920s a debate between Dr Shadduck for the Methodists and Judge Rutherford for the Russellites (or Millennial Dawnists) seemed likely.

What were their backgrounds and did either have the talent and preparation to be victorious?

"Russellism" and "Millennial Dawn" were names of the sect founded by Charles T. Russell in the 1870s which in 1931 became Jehovah's witnesses.

Christians of mainline denominations had received Russellite publications and Dr Shadduck wanted to expose the books in public debate as non-Christian.

Shadduck and Rutherford were both born in 1869, both grew up on a farm, both married in their early 20s, both became champions for their religion, both were superb public speakers, and both were prominent authors.

Shadduck edited The Sunday School Times and also criticized the theory of evolution.


Bertram Henry Shadduck (1869-1950)was born in Pennsylvania (USA). 

Although no family members were churchgoers he at age 18 joined the Salvation Army. He married Emelie Sheldon in 1893 and in 1894 joined the Methodists.

Shadduck commenced religious studies in 1900, graduated with the "highest honors ever granted for the entire course", and was ordained an elder in 1904, and became a Methodist pastor. After doing postgraduate work he received in 1912 the degree Doctor of Philosophy.

Two events redirected Shadduck to fighting against Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
First, in 1924 The Chrysalis, a sculpture of a man emerging from an ape 'cocoon', was unveiled in a New York City Unitarian church. Second, the 1925 "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee pitted creationist prosecuting attorney William Bryan against evolutionist defense attorney Clarence Darrow and made national headlines.
Shadduck in response authored the anti-evolution booklets Jocko-Homo Heavenbound (1925), Puddle to Paradise (1925) and The Toadstool Among the Tombs (1925). After that he authored some 8-12 pages pamphlets:

•    100 Questions for Evolutionists;
•    When Snakes Began to Nurse Their Young;
•    Cousin's Day at the Zoo; and 
•    Buzzard's Eggs in the Eagle's Nest
In 1928 Shadduck criticized churches tolerant of evolution in Alibi, Lullaby, By-By and The Gee-Haw of the Modern Jehu besides authoring Rastus Agustus Explains Evolution.

He also challenged Russellism with the booklet The Seven Thunders of Millennial Dawn (1928) This was an informed critique since his specialty was theology and he had studied the cult's seven volumes of Studies in the Scriptures.

Then, for 11 years, Shadduck discontinued as author but remained in demand as a public speaker in churches and schools. In 1940-1946 he continued the attack on evolution:

•    Spiritism and Kindred Beguilements;
•    Mistakes God Did Not Make;
•    Dust and Deity;
•    Man, the Harness Maker;
•    Eagle Wings;
•    Stopping the Stork;
•    Puzzles of Genesis (1946).
His critiques of evolution, while sometimes insightful, were not scientific treatises, but informal to appeal to churchgoers. For example:

Not all biologists believe in Santa Claus.  To such I offer apology.  I am discussing the theories of those who do. All living things, plants and animals, have equipment that enables them to deal with their environment...  Some text books speak of these items of equipment as adaptations, thus assuming that in the far past, plants and animals lacked such equipment, but Santa Claus brought them. The Santa Claus in this case was Father Time.... (Dust and Deity, 1940)

RUTHERFORD (1869-1942)

Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded Charles Russell as president of the American and British corporations of the cult, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) and the International Bible Students Association.

Rutherford exercised one-man rule over the cult from 1917 until 1942 and authored most of its books, booklets, and articles in The Watchtower.

Rutherford's parents, James Calvin (c.1837-1912) and Lenora Strickland (1843-1926), were married for almost 50 years. They lived on a small farm near Versailles in central Missouri.

The 1880 census lists their children:
•    Virginia aged 20 — school teacher
•    Anna 19
•    Salena17
•    William 15
•    Florence 13
•    Joseph 11
•    Bertie 4

Two more, James and Ella, were born later. The entire family were members of the nearby Freedom Baptist Church. Sunday School records list William and Joseph as "scholars" in 1882. The oldest sister, Virginia, was the only family member besides Joseph to join Russellism.

Joseph Rutherford entered teachers college at age16, switched to law at 18, and at 20 became the court reporter for several courts in Boonville, central Missouri. 

An 1891 issue of The National Stenographer published his photo and a biographical sketch:

Mr. J. F. Rutherford, whose portrait appears on another page of this issue, (notes on page 272) is the official court reporter in the First Judicial Circuit of Missouri, located at Boonville. He received his shorthand education at the Normal Shorthand Institute, Carbondale, Ill. Mr. Rutherford is one of the foremost writers of the Sloan-Duployan system of shorthand; is young in the profession, but, having followed Legal work exclusively since finishing his shorthand course at the above named school, and having been a law student previous to that time, he is gradually, but surely, marching toward the top of his profession.  Mr. Rutherford has reported some noted cases, among which are the Turlington murder case, Otterville train robbers, trail of Ex-treasurer E.T. Noland, and has reported several prominent speakers, including Roger R. Mills and others; all of which speaks well for his ability.-Melton.

Rutherford was admitted to the Boonville bar (i.e. obtained a license to practice law) in May 1892 and became one of three partners in Draffen & Company which practiced law, sold insurance, and brokered real-estate.

Whenever a presiding judge was absent a local attorney substituted in minor court cases. Rutherford served as judge on four days — 2/17/1897, 6/3/1899, 3/15/1905, and 3/29/1905 and heard cases on two of those days. Other attorneys served in this capacity without giving themselves the title "Judge" for life.

Rutherford also compiled the 128-page book Laws Of Missouri Compilation of the Laws and Legal Forms for the Convenience of Farmers and Mechanics Merchants And Banker Business Manual (n.d. Stahl & Stahl). The publishers' preface calls him "one of the leading members of the Boonville bar."

Rutherford at age 22 married Mary M. Fetzger in1891; in 1906 they  joined the Russellite cult. He became Russell's lawyer and spoke regularly at the cult's conventions. By 1923 he and Mary had separated and neither she nor their son Malcolm were ever mentioned in WBTS publications.

Rutherford became president of the WBTS after Russell's death and sealed his authority in the cult by:
•    Publishing the book The Finished Mystery (1917);
•    Predicting 1925 as the date when Millions Now Living Will Never Die;
•    Implying Russell has no successor and his teachings would be adhered to:

The great drama of the Gospel age opened with the Apostle Paul as the chief messenger, or angel, to the church. It closes with Pastor Russell as the seventh, and last, messenger to the church militant. (Watchtower Reprints 1917, November 1, page 6591)

Rutherford and seven other leaders were prosecuted in 1918 under the Espionage Act for discouraging American participation in World War I, and sentenced to 20 years, but release in 1919.

James Penton, Professor of history, writes:

Rutherford was a big man, who, by his very appearance, could demand respect. He had a loud, booming voice, and looked every inch like a southern or border-state American senator. In relating to friends, he could be despotic; in dealing with enemies, ruthless... In fact, he was moody and sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness with an explosive temper that could occasionally excite him to physical violence. He also had a streak of self righteousness which caused him to regard anyone who opposed him as of the Devil. But most curious was the fact that while in some ways he was a Puritan of Puritans, in others he was thoroughly dissolute. He used vulgar language, suffered from alcoholism, and was once publicly accused by one of his closest associates of attending a nude burlesque show with two fellow elders and a young Bible Student woman…"

Rutherford hated mainstream Christianity because of his imprisonment, which he blamed on the "clergy", and because of the ridicule his cult suffered due to its many false predictions. Around 1930 he introduced as doctrine the claim that all church members will perish at Armageddon and only people in the Watchtower organization would survive:

All who have taken their stand on the side of Jehovah must abide in his organization under Christ, if they would live. There is no exception to this rule. (w1934, August 15. p. 248)


A previous confrontation between Russellites and Methodists occurred in 1903 when Reverend Ephraim Eaton of Allegheny, pastor of the prestigious North Side Methodist Episcopal Church, debated with Russell. Eaton subsequently authored the booklet The Millennial Dawn Heresy (1911).

Rutherford debated with Baptist minister Reverend Troy in 1915. Troy included comment on Russell's failed prophecies and summed up the cult: "Of all the rot, of all the evaporated nonsense that I ever worried my brains to get to the bottom of, this Millennial Dawn stuff takes the prize."

Negotiations for a debate between Russellites and Dr Shadduck took place around 1926-1927.

Who the Russellite debater would have been is unclear. However, the most experienced, the one who hogged all the limelight, and likely to attract the greatest public interest, was  Judge Rutherford.

In The Seven Thunders (Revised Edition c.1934) Shadduck explained:

Arrangements were under way for such a debate, but when the Russellites presented in writing their propositions governing the debate, they were found to include the following:

That B. H. Shadduck furnish a bond of $500 as guarantee that he will not…refer to any quotation contained in any periodical or book published by the International Bible Students Association, and if B. H. Shadduck shall…refer to any quotation or book published by the International Bible Students Association he shall at once pay the sum of $500 to his opponent in this debate. (p. 3)

One talking-point of the "witnesses" is the boast that the clergy are afraid to debate with Mr. Rutherford.  The answer is two-fold.
(1) Not one clergyman in 500 has read the books of Mr. Russell and not one in 5000 has contrasted the early and late editions.
(2) If one who is informed accepts the challenge, they impose impossible conditions. I have repeatedly offered to debate. My last experience was with a gentleman in the mid-West. He demanded that I come to his town, bear my own expense, debate with him twice a day for twenty days, discuss the questions he proposed and no other, and be silenced by the chairman if I introduced other matters. Not one question, under this rule, would permit me to discuss doctrines peculiar to this cult. I offered to submit the matter to arbitration and this was refused. (p. 31)


With fair debate refused Shadduck authored The Seven Thunders (1928) detailing issues he would have focussed on.

He would have revealed the cult's adulation of Russell as God's virtually-inerrant, final messenger; Russell's false predictions and excuses for them; and revisions in subsequent printings of Russell's books. The Second Edition of The Seven Thunders comments also on Judge Rutherford and his failures such as the "Millions Now Living Will Never Die" prediction.

Rutherford had nothing to gain by debating. The Seven Thunders is carefully researched and referenced. A debate allowing its selection of material would have exposed cult members to the "rot" and "nonsense" in their own religion of which most of the new converts in the 1920s were ignorant.

When Shadduck died in 1950 the Russellites had suffered hundreds of further doctrinal revisions that Rutherford introduced, but had also increased from 19,000 (in 1927) to over 300,000.


Eaton, E.L. 1911 The Millennial Dawn Heresy (1911).

Penton, M.J. 2015 Apocalypse Delayed, Third Edition, University of Toronto Press, p. 69

Dr Shadduck's booklet The Seven Thunders appears to be out of copyright,
therefore may be reprinted on this website and join more than 180 other articles about JWs:

Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses at: