The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses is the ruling council of
Jehovah'sWitnesses based in the group's Warwick, New York headquarters. The body formulates doctrines, oversees the
production of written material for publications and conventions, and administers the group's worldwide
operations. Official publications refer to members of
the Governing Body as followers of Christ rather than religious leaders.
Its size has varied, from seven (2014–2018) to eighteen (1974–1980) members. New members of the Governing Body are selected
by existing members.
Since its incorporation in 1884, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
has been directed by a president and board of directors. Until January 1976, the president exercised complete
control of doctrines, publications and activities of the Watch Tower Society and the religious denominations
with which it was connected—the Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses. When the Society's second president,
J. F. Rutherford, encountered opposition from directors in 1917, he dismissed them.
In 1925 he overruled the Watch Tower Society's editorial committee when it opposed publication of an article
about disputed doctrines regarding the year 1914. In 1931, the editorial committee was dissolved.
In 1943 The
Watchtower described the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society as the "legal governing body"
of anointed Jehovah's Witnesses. A year later, in an article opposing the
democratic election of congregation elders, the magazine said the appointment of such ones was the duty of "a
visible governing body under Jehovah God and his Christ." For several years, the role and specific
identity of the governing body remained otherwise undefined. A 1955 organizational handbook stated that "the
visible governing body has been closely identified with the board of directors of this
corporation." Referring to events related to their 1957 convention, a
1959 publication said "the spiritual governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses watched the developments [then] the
president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society [acted]." The 1970 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses noted that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of
Pennsylvania was the organization used to plan the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses and provide them with "spiritual
food", then declared: "So really the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses is the board of directors of the Watch
Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania."
On October 1, 1971, Watch Tower Society vice-president Frederick Franz addressed the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania corporation
in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, stating that the legal
corporation of the Watch Tower Society was an "agency" or "temporary instrument" used by the Governing Body on
behalf of the "faithful and discreet slave". Three weeks later, on October 20, four
additional men joined the seven members of the Society's board of directors on what became known as a separate,
expanded Governing Body. The board of directors had until then met
only sporadically, usually to discuss the purchase of property or new equipment, leaving decisions about Watch
Tower Society literature to the president and vice-president, Nathan Knorr and Fred Franz.The
Watchtower of December 15, 1971 was the first to unambiguously capitalize the term "Governing Body of
Jehovah's witnesses" as the defined group leading the denomination, with a series of articles explaining its
role and its relationship with the Watch Tower Society.
The focus on the new concept of "theocratic" leadership was accompanied by statements that the structure was
not actually new: The Watch Tower declared that "a governing body
made its appearance" some time after the formation of Zion's Watch Tower Society in 1884, though it had not been referred to as such
at the time. The article stated that Watch Tower Society
president Charles Taze Russell had been a member of the governing body. The 1972
Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses stated that following Rutherford's death in 1942 "one of the first
things that the governing body decided upon was the inauguration of the Theocratic Ministry School" and added
that the "governing body" had published millions of books and Bibles in the previous thirty years. Former member of the Governing Body,
Franz, stated that the actions of presidents Russell, Rutherford and Knorr in overriding and
failing to consult with directors proved the Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses had been under a monarchical rule until 1976, leaving no decisions to any "governing
In 1972, a Question From Readers article in The Watchtower further reinforced the concept of the "Governing Body"; the magazine
said the term referred to an agency that administers policy and provides organizational direction, guidance and
regulation and was therefore "appropriate, fitting and Scriptural." Organizational changes at the highest levels
of the Watch Tower Society in 1976 significantly increased the powers and authority of the Governing
 The body has never had a legal corporate existence and operates through the Watch
Tower Society and its board of directors.
After its formal establishment in 1971, the Governing Body met regularly but, according to Raymond Franz, only
briefly; Franz claims meetings were sometimes as short as seven minutes, to make decisions about branch appointments
and conduct that should be considered disfellowshipping offenses. Franz claims that in 1971 and again in 1975,
the Governing Body debated the extent of the authority it should be given. The Governing Body voted in December 1975 to
establish six operating committees to oversee the various administrative requirements of the organization's
worldwide activities that formerly had been under the direction of the president; furthermore, each branch overseer
was to be replaced by a branch committee of at least three members. The change, which took effect on January 1,
1976, was described in the Watch Tower Society's 1993 history book, Jehovah's
Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, as "one of the most significant organizational readjustments in
the modern-day history of Jehovah's Witnesses."
In 1980, dissent arose among members of the Governing Body regarding the significance of 1914 in Jehovah's
Witnesses' doctrines. According to former Witnesses James Penton and Heather and Gary
Botting, internal dissatisfaction with official doctrines continued to grow, leading to a
series of secret investigations and judicial hearings. Consequently, dissenting members were expelled from the
Brooklyn headquarters staff in the same year. Raymond Franz claimed he was forced to
resign from the Governing Body, and he was later disfellowshipped from the group.
The Watch Tower Society responded to the dissent with a more severe attitude regarding the treatment of expelled
Witnesses. In his 1997 study of the denomination, Penton
concluded that since Raymond Franz's expulsion in 1980, the Governing Body displayed an increased level of
conservatism, sturdy resistance to changes of policy and doctrines, and an increased tendency to isolate dissidents
within the organization by means of disfellowshipping.
The April 15, 1992 issue of The Watchtower carried an article entitled
Jehovah’s Provision, the “Given Ones” which drew a parallel between
ancient non-Israelites who had been assigned temple duties (the "Nethinim" and "sons of the servants of Solomon") and Witness elders in
positions of responsibility immediately under the oversight of the Governing Body who did not profess to be
Both that issue of The Watchtower and the 1993 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses carried the same announcement:
In view of the tremendous increase worldwide, it seems appropriate at this time to provide the Governing Body with
some additional assistance. Therefore it has been decided to invite several helpers, mainly from among the great
crowd, to share in the meetings of each of the Governing Body Committees, that is, the Personnel, Publishing,
Service, Teaching, and Writing Committees. Thus, the number attending the meetings of each of these committees will
be increased to seven or eight. Under the direction of the Governing Body committee members, these assistants will
take part in discussions and will carry out various assignments given them by the committee. This new arrangement
goes into effect May 1, 1992. For many years now, the number of the remnant of anointed Witnesses has been
decreasing, while the number of the great crowd has increased beyond our grandest expectations.
Each of the current Governing Body members served as a committee "helper" before being appointed to the Governing
Body itself. The appointment of helpers to the Governing
Body committees was described in 2006 as "still another refinement."
2000 and beyond
Until 2000, the directors and officers of the Watch Tower Society were members of the Governing Body. Since then,
members of the ecclesiastical Governing Body have not served as directors of any of the various corporations used by Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Governing Body has
delegated such administrative responsibilities to other members of the group.
The Governing Body functions by means of its six committees, which carry out various administrative
functions. Each committee is assisted by "helpers," who
do not necessarily profess to be of the "anointed". Governing Body meetings are held weekly in closed
session. According to Raymond Franz, decisions of the
body were required to be unanimous until 1975, after which a two-thirds majority of the full body was required,
regardless of the number present.
The Personnel Committee arranges for volunteers to serve in the
organization's headquarters and worldwide branch offices, which are each referred to as Bethel. It oversees arrangements for the personal and spiritual
assistance of Bethel staff, as well as the selection and invitation of new Bethel members.
The Publishing Committee supervises the printing, publishing and
shipping of literature, as well as legal matters involved in printing, such as obtaining property for printing
facilities. It is responsible for overseeing factories, properties, and financial operations of corporations used
by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Service Committee supervises the evangelical activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, which includes traveling
overseers, pioneers, and the activities of congregation publishers. It oversees communication between the
international headquarters, branch offices, and the congregations. It examines annual reports of preaching
activity from the branches. It is responsible for inviting members to attend the Gilead
school, the Bible School for Single Brothers, and the Traveling Overseers’ School, and
for assigning graduates of these schools to their places of service.
The Teaching Committee arranges congregation meetings, circuit
assemblies, and regional and international conventions as well as various schools for elders, ministerial servants,
pioneers and missionaries, such as Gilead
school. It supervises preparation of material to be used in teaching, and oversees the
development of new audio and video programs.
The Writing Committee supervises the writing and translation of all
material published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, including scripts
for dramas and talk outlines. It responds to questions about scriptural,
doctrinal, and moral issues, specific problems in the congregations, and the standing of members in
The Coordinator's Committee deals with emergencies, disaster relief and
other matters, such as investigations. It comprises the coordinators, or a representative, from each of the other
Governing Body committees and a secretary who is also a member of the Governing Body. It is responsible for the
efficient operation of the other committees.
Initially, the Governing Body directly appointed all congregation elders. By 1975, the appointment of elders and
ministerial servants was said to be "made directly by a governing body of
spirit-anointed elders or by them through other elders representing this body." In 2001, The Watchtower, stated that recommendations for such appointments were submitted to
branch offices. As of September 2014, circuit overseers
appoint elders and ministerial servants after discussion with congregation elders, without consulting with the
The Governing Body is said to provide "spiritual food" for Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide. Until late 2012, the Governing Body described
itself as the representative and "spokesman" for God's "faithful and
discreet slave class" (approximately 11,800 Witnesses who profess to be anointed) who are collectively said to be God's "prophet" and "channel for new spiritual
light". The Governing Body does not consult with
the other anointed Witnesses whom it was said to represent when formulating policy and doctrines or approving
material for publications and conventions; the authority of the Governing Body was presumed to be analogous to
that of the older men of Jerusalem in cases such as the first-century circumcision issue. The majority of Witnesses who profess to be
anointed have no authority to contribute to the development or change of doctrines. Anointed Witnesses are instructed to remain
modest and avoid "wildly speculating about things that are still unclear," instead waiting for God to reveal his
purposes in The
In 2009, The Watchtower indicated that the dissemination of "new
spiritual light" is the responsibility of only "a limited number" of the "slave class", asking: "Are all these
anointed ones throughout the earth part of a global network that is somehow involved in revealing new spiritual
truths? No." In 2010 the society said that "deep truths"
were discerned by "responsible representatives" of the "faithful and discreet slave class" at the group's
headquarters, and then considered by the entire Governing Body before making doctrinal decisions. In August 2011, the Governing Body cast doubt
on other members' claims of being anointed, stating that "A number of factors—including past religious beliefs or
even mental or emotional imbalance—might cause some to assume mistakenly that they have the heavenly calling." The
Governing Body also stated that "we have no way of knowing the exact number of anointed ones on earth; nor do we
need to know", and that it "does not maintain a global network of anointed ones." At the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Watch Tower
Society, the "faithful and discreet slave" was redefined as referring to the Governing Body only and the terms are
Governing Body members
The following people are members of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses (year appointed in parentheses):
Prior to 1971, various Watch Tower Society directors were informally identified as members
of the "governing body". Jehovah's Witnesses publications began capitalizing Governing Body as a proper noun in 1971; The
Watchtower that year announced "The present Governing Body comprises eleven anointed witnesses of
Jehovah." These eleven members are indicated in italics in the list below. Years active are shown in parentheses. All
members served until their deaths unless specified.
3.Jump up ^
"Our active leader today", The Watchtower, September 15, 2010, page 27, "They recognize, however, that
Christ is using a small group of anointed Christian men as a Governing Body to lead and direct his disciples on
15.Jump up ^Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. p.
16.Jump up ^The Watchtower. July 15, 1943. p. 216, paragraph 24. Missing or empty
17.Jump up ^"Theocratic Organization in Action". The Watchtower. November 1, 1944. p. 328.
18.Jump up ^Qualified to be Ministers. Watch Tower Society. 1955. p. 381. cited by Raymond Franz, Crisis of
Conscience, page 74
19.Jump up ^"Divine Will International Assembly
of Jehovah's Witnesses". The Watchtower. February 15, 1959. p. 115. So with intense interest the
spiritual governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses watched the developments... Without delay the president of the
Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society closed a contract with the owners to use the Polo Grounds simultaneously with
22.Jump up ^Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience. p. 44. The seven directors at October 20 were Nathan Knorr, Fred
Franz, Grant Suiter, Thomas Sullivan, Milton Henschel, Lyman Swingle and John Groh. The additional four to form the
Governing Body were William Jackson, Leo Greenlees, George Gangas and Raymond Franz.
23.Jump up ^
Testimony by Fred Franz, Lord Strachan vs. Douglas Walsh Transcript, Lord Strachan vs. Douglas Walsh, 1954, as
cited by Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, 2007, page 75-76.
44.Jump up ^"Governing Body
Addition". The Watchtower. November 1, 1994. p. 29. The new member is Gerrit Lösch. ... Lösch has served
in the Executive Offices and as an assistant to the Service Committee
45.Jump up ^"New Members of the Governing
Body". The Watchtower. January 1, 2000. p. 29. The new members, all anointed Christians, are Samuel F.
Herd; M. Stephen Lett; Guy H. Pierce; and David H. Splane. Samuel Herd ... was also serving as a helper to the
Service Committee. Stephen Lett ... was a helper to the Teaching Committee. Guy Pierce ... had been serving as a
helper to the Personnel Committee. David Splane ... had been a helper to the Writing Committee.
46.Jump up ^"New Members of the Governing
Body". The Watchtower. January 1, 2000. p. 26. Geoffrey W. Jackson and Anthony Morris III—would be added
to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. ... In April 2003, [Jackson] became part of the United States Bethel
family and began to work in the Translation Services Department. Soon thereafter, Brother Jackson was made a helper
to the Teaching Committee of the Governing Body ... 2002 [Morris] worked in the Service Department at Patterson and
later as a helper to the Service Committee of the Governing Body.
55.Jump up ^"A "Body of Elders" with Rotating
Chairmanship". The Watchtower. November 15, 1971. p. 699,700. how will the “body of elders” in each
congregation be selected? The governing body through the Watch Tower Society will send out a letter asking the
committee that now looks after each congregation’s activity to...prayerfully consider who within your congregation
really meets the qualifications of an elder or overseer. ...Then recommendations will be made to the governing
body. ...After the governing body receives recommendations from the congregation, then proper appointments will be
made. The governing body will do the appointing of elders in every congregation and this information will be sent
out by the governing body through the various offices of the Society throughout the world.
60.Jump up ^"Keep Holding Men of That Sort
Dear". The Watchtower. October 1, 1988. p. 18-19. [The] traveling overseers sent forth by the Governing
Body to preach the good news and help the congregations should be received hospitably and with respect. ...Elders,
in particular, should show proper respect for these visiting representatives of the Governing Body. They are sent
to the congregations because of their spiritual qualities and their experience, which is usually more extensive
than that of many local elders.
61.Jump up ^"Cooperating With the Governing Body
Today". The Watchtower. March 15, 1990. p. 19-20. Since February 1, 1976, each of the branches of the
Watch Tower Society has had a Branch Committee made up of capable men appointed by the Governing Body. As
representatives of the Governing Body for the country or countries under the supervision of their branch, these
brothers must be faithful, loyal men. ...Branch Committees recommend mature, spiritual men to serve as circuit and
district overseers. After being appointed directly by the Governing Body, they serve as traveling overseers. These
brothers visit circuits and congregations in order to build them up spiritually and help them apply instructions
received from the Governing Body.
64.Jump up ^
Gov. Body as "Faithful & Discreet Slave" is explained in 8 minute clip. "2012
Annual Meeting Program". Official website of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society of Pennsylvania.
70.Jump up ^Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. p.
71.Jump up ^"The Faithful Steward and Its
Governing Body". The Watchtower. June 15, 2009. p. 23-24. They do not believe that their being of the
anointed gives them special insights beyond what even some experienced members of the "great crowd" may have. They
do not believe that they necessarily have more holy spirit than their companions of the 'other sheep' have. They do
not expect special treatment; nor do they claim that their partaking of the emblems places them above the appointed
elders in the congregation.
73.Jump up ^"Insight That Jehovah Has
Given". The Watchtower. March 15, 1989. p. 22. It is through the columns of The Watchtower that
explanations of vital Scriptural truths have been provided for us by Jehovah’s 'faithful and discreet slave.' The
Watchtower is the principal instrument used by the 'slave' class for dispensing spiritual food.
74.Jump up ^"The Spirit Searches into the Deep
Things of God". The Watchtower. July 15, 2010. p. 23. When the time comes to clarify a spiritual matter
in our day, holy spirit helps responsible representatives of 'the faithful and discreet slave' at world
headquarters to discern deep truths that were not previously understood. The Governing Body as a whole considers
adjusted explanations. What they learn, they publish for the benefit of all.
84.Jump up ^1973 Yearbook of Jehovah's
Witnesses. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. p. 257. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s
Witnesses consists of eleven brothers, all anointed of God. They are as follows: Frederick W. Franz, Raymond V.
Franz, George D. Gangas, Leo K. Greenlees, John O. Groh, Milton G. Henschel, William K. Jackson, Nathan H. Knorr,
Grant Suiter, Thomas J. Sullivan and Lyman A. Swingle.
86.Jump up ^"He Ran for "The Prize of the Upward
Call" and Won!". The Watchtower. September 15, 1974. p. 554. On October 31, 1932, he [Sullivan] was made
a member of the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania; he was also one of
the eleven-member governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses.
87.Jump up ^Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers
of God's Kingdom. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. p. 71. Thomas (Bud) Sullivan, who
later served as a member of the Governing Body, recalled: “It was my privilege to visit Brooklyn Bethel in the late
summer of 1918 during the brothers’ incarceration.
88.Jump up ^1939 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. p. 195. The
corporation, the WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY, pursuant to its charter and by-laws, and the laws of the
State of Pennsylvania, held its annual meeting at Pittsburgh, North Side, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on the
first day of October, A.D. 1938, at which annual meeting a Board of Directors was elected as follows, to wit: J. F.
Rutherford, C. A. Wise, W. E. Van Amburgh, H. H. Riemer, T. J. Sullivan, Wm. P. Heath, Jr., and Grant Suiter, to
hold office for a period of three years, or until their successors are duly elected.