Was the true faith taught by the apostles lost or corrupted within the first generation after the apostles? If so, then the true faith was not successfully transmitted anywhere in the evangelized world of the first and second centuries — including churches established by the apostles, with leadership appointed personally by them. A "great apostasy" would require an extraordinary event: the simultaneous loss of faith by an entire generation of Christians throughout the civilized world. Included in this apostasy would be disciples of the apostles themselves, as well as those who witnessed the thousands of martyrs who, just a short time previously, refused to deny Christ, either explicitly or by worshiping pagan gods.
A great apostasy, wherein the doctrines of Greek pagan philosophy replaced apostolic teaching, would most likely have begun in areas where the church was accepting a large number of converts with backgrounds in Greek religion and philosophy, such as Alexandria, Egypt. The prominent western churches established directly by the apostles, such as those in Rome and Antioch, would likely have fallen into heresy more slowly. But the historical facts do not support this (or any other) scenario of a "great apostasy." Had a great apostasy begun immediately after the death of the apostles, as the Watchtower claims, a mixture of "true Christianity" (i.e., Watchtower–type teachings) and "pagan heresy" (i.e., orthodox Christian teachings) would be discernible in the literature of the early church, which was widespread in its geographical points of origin.
Is it possible that all the writings of the followers of the "true faith" were completely destroyed by the paganized church? Such a view is highly improbable. Many manuscripts have survived from Gnosticism (a widespread religious movement of this period which combined elements of Greek paganism and eastern mystery religions), despite several centuries of concerted attack and condemnation by the church. Yet not a single document exists pointing to a group who believed as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do today.
The absence of such early "Watchtower" literature causes one to doubt the existence of the so-called "faithful and discrete servant class." After all, the stated purpose of these 144,000 anointed servants in Jehovah’s plan is to provide "meat in due season" — that is, literature that imparts "accurate knowledge" about the Bible. If these early Jehovah’s Witnesses were true to the kingdom gospel, handed down to them by the apostles, they would have written sufficiently to provide the faithful with an understanding of the Scriptures. Keep in mind that the Watchtower Society teaches that the Scriptures cannot be properly understood without such aids. Yet where is the Watchtower literature of the first and second centuries — or for that matter, of any century prior to the 1870s? Its absence is most telling, and highly damaging to the claim of a general apostasy with just a few of the dedicated faithful surviving.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against a universal early apostasy may be found in the commissioning and empowering of the apostles themselves. If a universal apostasy occurred immediately after the death of the apostles, we would have to judge the apostles as incompetent or negligent evangelists who utterly failed to accomplish Jesus’ commission to make disciples. Such an apostasy would reflect poorly on Jehovah God as well, whose "holy spirit" was unable to preserve His followers for even a single generation.
There is, therefore, no reason to believe that a great apostasy occurred following the death of the apostles, with the resulting loss of the "true" Christian faith for over 1800 years. This conclusion seems undeniable in view of the Great Commission, the power of the Holy Spirit, the absence of literary evidence for an alternative group of believers with a gospel similar to that preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the implausibility of the required simultaneous loss of faith by an entire generation of geographically dispersed Christians.