1925 handbill.  Page 1 of 4 pages

W.E. VAN AMBURGH (1863-1947)

(Investigator Magazine 209,  2023 March)


What sort of person makes headlines like these:

•    Van Amburgh Says Dead Will Rise in Four Years (The Clarksburg Daily Telegram November 28, 1921)

•    Devil's Day Nearly Done, Thinks Van Amburgh (The Saskatoon Phoenix, August 8, 1921)

•    Raising Of Dead In 1925 Foretold By Bible Student (St. Louis Times, December 16, 1921)

•     Life Everlasting On Earth Predicted—Millions Now Living Need Never Die   (The Pottstown Ledger, April 11, 1921)

•    Sees Paradise On Earth In 1925 (The Boston Herald)

About 40 such headlines are reproduced on pages 2 to 4 of a 1925 handbill (pamphlet) distributed by the Russellites, the cult that later became Jehovah's Witnesses. The publisher, the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), was the British corporation of the cult.

Van Amburgh and other elders of the cult lectured on Millions Now Living Will Never Die at many venues in the 1920s.


•    Birth: 1863 in Minnesota, USA, to Daniel Stafford Van Amburgh, 27, and Fannie Sophia Patterson Van Amburgh, 24
•    Joined Methodist Church at age 10
•    High school & 2 years college
•    Lived on a farm until aged 19
•    1884-1900: Worked for the Great Northern Railways
•    1887: Married Ada May Wood
•    1895: Encountered Russellism
•    1896: Left the Methodists
•    1897: Began to promulgate Russellism
•    1900: Moved into the headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS), the main corporation of the cult
•    1903 Elected to the WBTS board of directors
•    1909-1946 Secretary-treasurer of the WBTS
•    1915: Married Luie Taft in New York
•    1924: Authored The Way to Paradise and A Bible for the Scientist
•    1947: Deceased


Van Amburgh's reckless prophesying for 1925 had no plausible basis considering that the cult's dates for Armageddon, including the destruction of all governments and religions, had already failed in 1914, 1915 and 1918-1920.

The predictions for 1914-1915 had been literal, precise and false, and were repeated many times in the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures authored by the cult's main founder, Charles T. Russell (1852-1916). For example:

THE "Time of the End," a period of one hundred and fifteen (115) years, from A.D. 1799 to A.D. 1914, is particularly marked in the Scriptures. (Studies in the Scriptures Volume III,  1891, p. 23)

And, with the end of A.D. 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy. (p. 153)


Under the cult's new president "Judge" Rutherford, elected in 1917, the cult believed that their predictions for 1914-1915 had been premature by 10 years and would now be fulfilled in 1925. Their new magazine, The Golden Age, stated:

Lo, our King is here, and the year 1925 marks the date when all shall see His mighty power demonstrated in the resurrection of the ancient worthies, and the time when "millions now living will never die." (1922, March 1, p. 350)

Rutherford instigated an international campaign to advertise the new date via books, pamphlets, public lectures, religious conventions, newspapers and radio, during which Van Amburgh was prominent.


Before joining Russellism Van Amburgh was a Methodist for 20 years, "but had never examined its creed." (Convention Report 1912, 260)

In Russellism he made fast progress — letters of his got published in Zion's Watch Tower (1898 May 1 & 1900 February 1) and he soon became a "pilgrim" (a representative who visited the congregations to conduct special meetings). One cult-member, according to the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, recalled: "He was so full of gentleness toward the 'dearly beloved' that he often made me think of what the beloved apostle John may have been like." (p. 48)

Russell's original WBTS charter in 1884 instituted a board of seven "directors" of whom three (the president, vice president and secretary-treasurer) were "officers". Van Amburgh became a director in 1903 and secretary-treasurer in 1909 making him third in the cult's hierarchy.

From 1926 to 1943 he was also assistant secretary/treasurer in the British Corporation (the IBSA).

Van Amburgh was a regular public speaker at the cult's conventions and appears in its convention reports from 1906 onwards. He testified at the "miracle wheat" trial in 1913 (where Russell was accused of profiteering from the sale of "miracle wheat"), and spoke at Russell's funeral service in November 1916 in New York  City.

Van Amburgh was also in the five-man Editorial Committee that Russell, in his  Will and Testament (The Watch Tower December 1, 1916), appointed to determine the contents of The Watch Tower after his death.


After Russell's death "Judge" Rutherford with Van Amburgh's help was elected president of the WBTS.

There followed a struggle to determine how the cult was to be managed.

It was assumed that the seven WBTS directors would jointly make decisions on doctrine and policy. But Rutherford secretly arranged the preparation of the book The Finished Mystery and dubbed it "the posthumous work of Pastor Russell". This led to a showdown at headquarters between the three officers and the four other directors. The four got expelled (and replaced with conformists) and were claimed to be the "evil slave" predicted by Jesus. (Matthew 24:48-51)

The infighting is described by James Penton (2015) and Wikipedia.

Rutherford, backed by Van Amburgh, progressively became the cult's supreme dictator.

The Finished Mystery was such nonsense that the cult afterwards discarded or revised more than 1000 of the book's interpretations of Bible verses. (Investigator 2002; 2019) The US government, however, was mainly concerned over statements in the book that could discourage the US war effort.


Slosson (1958) writes:

The espionage act of June 15, 1917, forbade false statements which might injure the prosecution of the war, incitements to disloyalty, obstruction of recruiting, and similar attempts to impede the activities of the government.

In May 1918 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a warrant for the arrest of eight cult members who included J.F. Rutherford and W.E. Van Amburgh.

The eight were accused of encouraging resistance to the draft act, and of anti-patriotic statements in The Finished Mystery such as "Patriotism was born of the devil" and "The war itself is wrong. Its prosecution will be a crime." The prediction that the world's "republics" will vanish in 1920 (p. 258) probably likewise failed to win approval.

They were found guilty under the Espionage Act of Conspiracy.

In June 1918 the eight Russellites were imprisoned in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia, where Van Amburgh and Rutherford shared a prison cell. They worked in a department where prison clothing was made, Van Amburgh at a sewing machine. Rutherford proved incompetent and was transferred to library service.

The United States District Judge (Harland B. Howe) who had presided at the trial wrote to the attorney general in March 1919:

Sir: Answering your telegram of the 1st inst., I wired you that evening as follows: ‘Recommend immediate commutation for Joseph Rutherford, William E. Van Amburgh, Robert J. Martin, Fred H. Robison, George H. Fisher, Clayton J. Woodworth, Giovanni DeCecca, A. Hugh Macmillan. They were all defendants in same case in Eastern District of New York. My position is to be generous now that the war is over. They did much damage by preaching and publishing their religious doctrines.’

The severe sentence of twenty years was imposed upon each of the defendants except DeCecca. His was ten years. My principal purpose was to make an example, as a warning to others, and I believed that the President would relieve them after the war was over. As I said in my telegram, they did much damage and it may well be claimed they ought not to be set at liberty so soon, but as they cannot do any more harm now, I am in favor of being as lenient as I was severe in imposing sentence… I am not in favor of keeping such persons in confinement after their opportunity for making trouble is past… (From: 1975 Yearbook of JWs)

In the book Light Volume 1 (1930) Chapter 11 Rutherford claimed that the suppression of the cult in 1918 fulfilled Revelation 11 which mentions "two witnesses" who would prophesy and be killed and resurrected.

Judge Howe's assessment that "their opportunity for making trouble is past" turned out mistaken.

1919 to 1947

After their release Van Amburgh remained secretary-treasurer, i.e. one of the three officers of the WBTS, until 1946. From 1926 to 1943 he was also assistant secretary/treasurer in the cult's British Corporation (the IBSA).

The Watch Tower five-man Editorial Committee introduced in Russell's Will & Testament was disbanded by Rutherford in the late 1920s. (The Watchtower 1938 June 15, p. 185) This made official what had gradually become a fact — that Rutherford was the sole arbitrator of new "truth", and the sole writer of books, booklets and main articles in The Watch Tower.

Van Amburgh authored only one book The Way to Paradise (1924; 1925) in which he implied that world peace and prosperity would start in 1925/1926 with the resurrection of Abraham, Moses and other Bible "worthies". Although this agreed with Rutherford's 1920 book Millions Now Living Will Never Die it was soon ignored.

The cult, at this time, became increasingly abrasive and judgmental of other religions calling them frauds, liars, racketeers, haters of God, tools of Satan, etc. Investigator #110 lists 200 negative, even defamatory, depictions of Christian denominations and/or their ministers published by the cult.


In 1924 Van Amburgh also authored in the The Golden Age magazine "A Bible for the Scientist" wherein he asserted that Egypt's Great Pyramid was "Bible number one". Its measurements allegedly confirmed the cult's prophetic dates 1799, 1874, 1914, 1925 and 1926.

The pyramid predictions, all of them false, were previously detailed in Russell's Studies in the Scriptures (Volume III).   

Russell taught that the Great Pyramid is "God's stone witness and prophet"; its construction was inspired by God; and the length of its corridors in inches represent years which correspond with various alleged biblical periods that terminate in 1874, 1878, 1881, 1910 and 1914:  

... its testimony agrees fully and in every detail with the entire plan of God as we have learned that plan from the Scriptures. Its wonderful correspondencies with the Bible leave no room for doubt that the same divine inspirer of the prophets and apostles inspired this "Witness" also. (Studies in the Scriptures Volume III, 1891, p. 362)

In this doctrine, as in many of his doctrines, Russell made changes. Volume  III, p. 342, of the 1901 edition, gives the length of a certain Pyramid corridor as 3416 inches which represented the years 1542 BC to 1874 AD.  Russell stated:

Thus the Pyramid witnesses that the close of 1874 was the chronological beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation…

The editions of 1907 & 1915 lengthen the same pyramid corridor by 41 inches, to 3457 inches, which now symbolized "3457 years" ending 1915 AD. Russell's new conclusion was:

Thus the pyramid witnesses that the close of 1914 will be the beginning of the time of trouble... (Studies III 1915, p. 342)

In 1922 Rutherford reasoned:

In the passages of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh the agreement of one or two measurements with the present-truth chronology might be accidental, but the correspondency of dozens of measurements proves that the same God designed both pyramid and plan—and at the same time proves the correctness of the chronology.

… we affirm that, Scripturally, scientifically, and historically, present-truth chronology is correct beyond a doubt. Its reliability has been abundantly confirmed by the dates and events of 1874, 1914, and 1918. (The Watch Tower 1922, June 15, p. 187)

Van Amburgh's "A Bible for the Scientist" (The Golden Age 1924, May 21) was revised in the December 21 edition.

In 1928 Rutherford began to oppose pyramidology and appointed several followers to criticize the doctrine. (The Watch Tower 1928 November 1 &  December 1; 1929 February 1; 1929 July 1). 

The whole pyramid system — which had the "same divine inspirer" as the apostles, and was "correct beyond a doubt"  —  was thrown out.

Van Amburgh, having publicly committed himself to 1874 (Christ's invisible second coming), 1878 (Christ's kingdom established in heaven), 1914-1915 (restoration of Israel and Armageddon), and 1925/1926 (resurrection of the ancient "worthies"), and much other crap, must have suffered terribly from humiliation. Probably no scientists took A Bible for the Scientist seriously!


In 1927 the cult began to publish annual yearbooks which included "A list of brethren who have engaged in the work ... under the direction of the SOCIETY",  later shortened to "Ordained  Ministers".

Van Amburgh is in the list from 1927 to 1947.

Meanwhile, during those years he continued to accept Rutherford's doctrinal changes, hundreds of revisions, including Rutherford's virtual ban on marriage — which the Bible calls a "teaching of demons". (I Timothy  4:1-3)


At the 1918 trial Van Amburgh explained his conversion to Russellism:

I became very deeply interested and took up the study with other translations of the Bible, the King James Version, Concordances, Helps and Dictionaries, to see whether this really is the proper interpretation of the Bible. (p. 662)

All JWs similarly claim they "study the Bible", "believe the Bible", "follow the Bible", and "teach the Bible". If such claims are true, how do JWs unitedly and repeatedly agree on countless erroneous beliefs, and unitedly switch to new beliefs, often also erroneous, although the Bible hasn't changed?

Their "Bible study" is really the study of WBTS books and of The Watchtower which tell them what various Bible verses mean, and no one is allowed to disagree.

Russell insisted that unaided Bible study leads "into darkness":

… if anyone lays the SRIPTURE STUDIES aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.

We would conclude, practically, that we could not understand anything about the Bible except as it was revealed. We would, therefore, not waste a great deal of time doing what we know some people do, reading chapter after chapter, to no profit. We would not think of doing it. We would not think we were studying the Scriptures at all. (The Watch Tower 1910 September 15 p. 298)

The leaders in 1981 similarly claimed that JWs who "read the Bible exclusively ... have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines..." (The Watchtower 1981, August 15, pp 28-29)

The claim that they "study the Bible" is therefore misinformation that JWs are indoctrinated to repeat.


New silliness that Van Amburgh accepted as Bible truth after 1930 included:

•    The League of Nations will annihilate all religions;
•    Nazi Germany and its allies is the "king of the north" (of Daniel 11);
•    The democracies including USA would go totalitarian;
•    Armageddon is only "months" away;
•    The ancient "worthies" (who failed to appear in 1925) "may be expected back from the dead any day now." (The New World 1942, p. 104)

Van Amburgh as a Methodist had stability in beliefs and, college educated, could have done much good. But he converted to the ever-changing nonsense of Russellism and wasted 50 years supporting it.


1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WBTS

Investigator #85, 2002 July, The Finished Mystery

Investigator #110, 2006 September, Indoctrination of JWs

Investigator #188, 2019 September, Thousands Of Revisions in JW Theology

Investigator #193, 2020 July, Millions Now Living Will Never Die Did this prediction come true?

Macmillan, A.H. 1957 Faith on the March,  Prentice-Hall

Penton, M. James 2015 Apocalypse Delayed, Third Edition, University of Toronto Press, 71-79

Slosson, P.W. 1958 The Great Crusade and After, Quadrangle Paperbacks, p. 67

Souvenir Notes from Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society's Conventions, 1906, 34-35

The Case of the International Bible Students Association [A transcript of the 1918 court proceedings], Witness Inc., pp 659-749

The Finished Mystery (1917), IBSA & Peoples Pulpit Association  

Van Amburgh, W.E. A Bible for the Scientist, The Golden Age 1924 May 21 pp 519-539; December 31 pp 205-222. Republished in 2005 by Lulu publisher



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watch_Tower_Society_ presiden icy_dispute_(1917)


The article about Van Amburgh (Investigator #209) says:

The Watch Tower five-man Editorial Committee introduced in Russell's Will & Testament was disbanded by Rutherford in the late 1920s.

The "late 1920s" is mistaken. Correct is October 1931, ten months after the 1920s finished — they finished on December 31, 1930.

The 1932 Yearbook of  JWs says: "During the fiscal year, at a meeting of the board of directors a resolution was adopted abolishing the editorial committee." (p. 35)

The yearbooks deal with events of the previous year — the 1932 Yearbook with events of 1931. The JWs "fiscal year" at the time was November to October. Therefore the fiscal year in question was November 1930 to October 1931.

The Watchtower 1931, December 1, says:

The Board of Directors, seeing no Scriptural or other reason why an Editorial Committee should exist or appear in The Watchtower, by resolution abolished the Editorial Committee. In the place and stead of the Editorial Committee you will observe there appears this text : 
"And all thy children shall be taught of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children." (p. 360)

Checking page 2 of the other 1931 editions of The Watchtower reveals the final listing of the Committee members in the October 1 edition.

Therefore the abolishing occurred in October 1931.

[Incidentally, Rutherford's reason for abolishing — that there is no reason for it to exist — was evasive. The cult's founder, C.T. Russell, had established the committee in his Will and Testament. (The Watchtower 1916 12/1) And Rutherford himself taught: "Brother Russell occupied the office of that 'faithful and wise servant.' He did the Lord's work in the Lord's way." (w1923 3/1 page 71)  That, if true, reads like a good reason not to abolish!]


Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses at: