Personal Reflections on His Life
by a Former Third Generation Jehovah's Witness
by Paul Blizard
by Paul Blizard
e-mail Paul Blizard
On December 24, 1992, The New York Times reported the death of Frederick William Franz, fourth president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Franz's obituary said he died December 22 at his residence in the society's headquarters in Brooklyn. He was 99. The obituary said, "A high point in his career was the 1958 convention of the Witnesses, when he addressed an audience of 253,922 people from 123 countries gathered at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds." That was my first encounter with him. I was just a child that summer when our family, as good Jehovah's Witnesses, packed up our 1955 Pontiac automobile and headed for the International Assembly in New York City. The only vacations we took were these annual treks to such assemblies.
I will never forget the thousands of people crammed into Yankee Stadium for the "Divine Will" International Assembly that steamy July. The convention lasted a grueling eight days. We stayed in a ramshackle hotel that gave us a good rate, all arranged by the Watchtower Rooming Department. One afternoon in the stadium, my mother nudged my father and showed him the program, "Brother Franz is speaking next!" she said excitedly. I had not remembered hearing of "Brother Franz." I had heard of "Brother Knorr," the president. I wondered, "Who was Brother Franz?" The crowd was hushed when he was introduced as if Jehovah himself were about to speak. Franz stepped up to the microphone and, in a loud voice, began to imitate a fish vender from the Middle East. His yelps and cries grabbed my attention as he began his talk. I soon lost interest as Franz got caught up in the rhetoric of prophecy and fulfillment. Later, my mother said to friends, "Wasn't Brother Franz's talk 'deep!'" It was "deep" all right. It was confusing. Franz always seemed to be on a different wavelength than most Witnesses. His talks were filled with Old Testament types and antitypes that could rarely be followed. Thus, this was my first knowledge of "Brother Franz." I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. My grandfather became a "Russellite" around 1910 and had an "Ecclesia," or International Bible Students meetings, in his home. I believe that given the era and his profession as a physician, my grandfather personally met Watch Tower founder Charles Taze Russell. Many members of the Watchtower Governing Body were house guests and personal friends of our family. This perspective gives me a view of the Watchtower Society that few others have. Over the years I became more acquainted with Franz. In our local Kingdom Hall we were constantly reminded of his scholarship and his command of eight languages, including Hebrew and Greek. The Watchtower Society made available in Kingdom Halls copies of A.H. Macmillan's 1957 book, Faith on The March (Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.).
Macmillan was a longtime Watchtower official and family friend who went by the name "Mack" around our house. He could be trusted. After all, he was from Bethel, Watchtower world headquarters. Macmillan wrote of Franz in his book: "he carried away the honors at the University of Cincinnati and was offered the privilege of going to Oxford or Cambridge in England under the Rhodes plan" (pg. 181). ... "Besides Spanish, Franz has a fluent knowledge of Portuguese and German and is conversant with French. He is also a scholar of Hebrew and Greek as well as Syriac and Latin, all of which contribute to making him a thoroughly reliable mainstay on [President Nathan Homer] Knorr's editorial staff" (pg. 182). I was about 8 years old when my mother introduced me to Knorr at a Kingdom Hall. She knew him personally. In 1940, Knorr had invited her to be in the first class of his newly formed missionary school. She declined, fearing she would be sent to Africa. It was scary to meet "the president." As I shook his hand, my mother said to him, "Paul wants to go to Bethel when he grows up." I remember Knorr sternly looking down and saying, "It's hard work. Remember, it's hard work." I nodded my head and continued to shake his hand. Little did I realize that about 12 years later on April 14, 1973, as a 19-year-old, I would receive a letter from Knorr inviting me to Bethel. Certainly he did not remember me when I arrived at Bethel. I was just one of many "new-boys" who had arrived to work. I soon learned that the only reason Knorr would know anyone by name was if they were in trouble. Knorr was a cold businessman with little personality and little regard for other people's problems. He had little patience and ruled with an iron fist. Most Bethel staff members were terrified of him. Franz, on the other hand, was congenial and polite. I first met him in 1973 in the hallway at Bethel. His clothing struck me as weird. He often wore a plaid flannel shirt with pocket full of pens, a silk tie and brown corduroy slacks. We at Bethel snickered at his attire -- to ourselves, of course. Our dining room was atop the "Squibb" complex, which was two blocks from the main Bethel building. Franz often would want someone to walk with him to the dining room because of his poor eyesight. I remember walking him many times down Columbia Heights to the complex. It was exciting to get so close to the man I had admired all my life as one of Jehovah's "finest." Later, I became a part of a group that met with Franz on Wednesday nights, listening to him pontificate. We would discuss the "daily text," a scripture passage. I will never forget his voice as he stretched out the syllables, "Brooother Blizaaaaard, what comment do you have on this text." I would try my best to interpret it. Once, I asked the wrong question and drew a violent response.
Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that Jehovah God himself deals directly only with a group known as "the remnant" and that other Jehovah's Witnesses must deal with Him through the Watchtower Society. The arrangement puzzled me. I asked: "Brother Franz, since the Watchtower Society in Brooklyn is the only outlet for God to speak through, by way of the printed materials and so forth, how would someone of the 'remnant' get information from God to other Witnesses? I mean ... how would an older sister, say, way out in the country, for example, give Spiritual food from Jehovah to others?" Franz's face turned red and he replied: "How? ... How? ... By supporting what is printed in the Watchtower, that's how!" With that, he went to his room. End of discussion. I had no idea that the question would draw such a reaction. The question was one that could not be answered by anyone at Bethel without admitting that they were the sole distributors of truth, which contradicted what they taught. I believe Franz's reaction was demonic. When one begins to question the foundations of the Watchtower, Satan reacts. Franz never claimed to be an administrator. He was a writer and researcher. Knorr, on the other hand, never claimed to be a Bible scholar. Knorr's forte was writing rules for rank-and-file Witnesses. Knorr relied heavily on Franz for scripture interpretation. One joke at Bethel went: "If there's an article on sex, Knorr wrote it; if it is on the Bible, Franz wrote it." One could say that Franz was the molder and shaper of Watchtower theology for more than 70 years. I believe Franz ghost-wrote many books attributed to Joseph Rutherford, the Watchtower's second president. If one compares Watchtower books produced in the 1920s and 1930s with those written by Franz in the 1950s and 1960s, Franz's style is unquestionably there. Franz, of course, was the principal "translator" of the Watchtower's New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which is the exclusive Bible translation of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is likely that aside from founder Charles Taze Russell, no person influenced Watchtower beliefs more than Franz.
Even after leaving Bethel in 1976, I continued to respect and admire Franz. I considered him a spiritual mentor. All others I knew on the Governing Body, with the exception of Milton Henschel, Franz's successor as president, appeared to be cold businessmen. In fact, Henschel, a family friend, was kind enough to lend me some money in an emergency while I was at Bethel. Knorr and the others would never have considered it. Years later, when my wife and I became Christians, we discovered the truth about Franz. I can now look back and see the deception of this man and the "spirit of delusion" which blinded him to the truth of the Gospel. Believing also that he was the principal architect of Watchtower teachings for more than 70 years, I realize how demonically controlled he was. I recall Franz having an aura about him. Few ever challenged him. He was the only one at Bethel, to my knowledge, who roomed alone. All other single people had roommates. I recall one occasion where a message was to be delivered to Franz's room. I volunteered to deliver it. I was stopped by a personal friend of Franz who said, "Don't bother him. We'll just send it through the mail. He may be in there getting some revelation." We raised our eyebrows then, thinking that Jehovah God had a special connection with him. >From a Christian perspective, Franz's story is tragic. He was a bright, sincere youth who claimed to have been called to the Christian ministry. Instead he was led astray by Satan. I have obtained a copy of Franz's 1911 Woodward High School Yearbook. Note the bio next to his senior picture:
After graduation from Woodward High in Cincinnati in 1911, he attended the University of Cincinnati. However, he did not graduate, according to testimony he gave under oath during a 1954 court trial. I have also obtained Franz's college transcript from the University of Cincinati which reveals that while he was an adept young man, Macmillan stretched his credentials in the book: Faith on the March.
View scanned copy of Fred Franz's University of Cincinnati Transcript:
While his transcript shows he was an above-average student, earning a 3.63 grade-point average on a scale of 4.0, he could not have "carried away any honors," as Macmillan stated, because he did not graduate. He completed six semesters and earned 84 credit hours. He dropped out in the middle of his junior year in the spring of 1914. Franz said he was preparing to become a Presbyterian minister, but in the fall of 1913 he was recruited into "Russellism" and dropped out of the University of Cincinnati. Perhaps, like many other college students seeking direction, Franz fell into the hands of slick recruiters of the Watch Tower and was swallowed up.
Some Witnesses say that Macmillan's book would not be considered authoritative any more, since it was published in 1957. However, Watchtower leaders did cite it as late as 1981 to validate Franz's credentials. In January 1981, a letter of inquiry was sent to Bethel asking about Franz's credentials. The Watchtower said in its response, dated Feb. 20, 1981: "Your letter of January 23, 1981, now has our attention. In response to your inquiries regarding scholastic abilities of Brother Franz, we are enclosing a photocopy of page 181 from the publication Faith On the March. We trust our comments prove helpful to you." The letter was stamped with the official signature: Watchtower B. & T. Society of New York, Inc. More recently, the Society and Franz have admitted that Macmillan's book was inaccurate. Franz wrote his autobiography in the article "Looking Back Over 93 Years of Living" for the May 1, 1987, Watchtower magazine. In it, he wrote: "I had been chosen to go to Ohio State University to take competitive examinations with others to win the prize of the Cecil Rhodes Scholarship." Taking the exams to qualify for a scholarship is a far cry from Macmillan's claims that "he carried away the honors at the University of Cincinnati and was offered the privilege of going to Oxford or Cambridge in England under the Rhodes plan." Franz continued, "I appreciated that I had measured up to the requirements for gaining the scholarship." Franz then admitted that he did not receive the scholarship, but "measured up to the requirements," which is far removed from being "offered the privilege of going to Oxford or Cambridge in England under the Rhodes plan," as Macmillan had written.
Where did Macmillan get his information for his 1957 book? Undoubtedly from Franz himself. When writing his autobiography, Franz probably never imagined that his 1911 transcript would surface. Again, the transcript proved him a liar. First, compare Macmillan's claims of Franz's linguistic knowledge with the transcript. Macmillan wrote: "Franz has a fluent knowledge of Portuguese and German and is conversant with French. He is also a scholar of Hebrew and Greek as well as Syriac and Latin." Again, irrefutable evidence is revealed in Franz's college transcript. Franz's major language studies were in classical Greek, in which he accumulated 21 semester hours. There was only one course in biblical Greek offered then at the University of Cincinnati. According to the 1911 catalog, page 119, the course is titled: "The New Testament--A course in grammar and translation." Franz took this two-hour course, which is nothing more than a survey of New Testament Greek. The Greek Franz studied has a different grammar system from that of biblical Greek. The claims to his being a scholar of "Hebrew, Syriac and Latin" are lies. Hebrew and Syriac were not offered at the University of Cincinnati. Franz only took 15 hours of Latin, which would hardly qualify anyone as a scholar. Second, compare Franz's own biography with his transcript: "What a blessing it was to study Bible Greek under Professor Arthur Kensella! Under Dr. Joseph Harry, an author of some Greek works, I also studied the classical Greek. I knew that if I wanted to become a Presbyterian clergyman, I had to have a command of Bible Greek. So I furiously applied myself and got passing grades" (The Watchtower, May 1, 1987, pg. 24). The Franz autobiography gives the impression that the bulk of his Greek studies were "Bible Greek" under "Professor Kensella" and that classical Greek was secondary under "Dr. Joseph Harry." The opposite is true. Franz only took one, 2-hour credit class of "Bible Greek." The other 21 hours of Greek were classical. Also noteworthy, according to the course catalog of 1911, is that Arthur Kensella was not a professor of Greek, as Franz wrote, but an "instructor in Greek." Kensella did not have a Ph.D. Therefore, Kensella taught entry-level courses. Franz never objected to the inaccuracies in Faith on the March. The modus operandi of the Watchtower has and will continue to be patterned after its founder, the "liar" Satan. Jesus said: "Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." Franz wasted his life working for the Watchtower, living a lie and receiving the accolades of men. Franz had every opportunity to see the truth of Jesus Christ from his years of study, but continually rejected it and twisted the Gospel. The final line of Fred Franz's obituary said: "There are no immediate survivors." Yes, Franz left no survivors...only victims.