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The End that Wasn’t: The False Prophecies of the Watchtower

By Clete Hux –

And you may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deut. 18:21-22).

As the biblical text quoted above makes clear, the test for discerning a false prophet is whether or not an alleged prophet’s predictions come to pass. The Watchtower Society (WTS) agrees, citing the same biblical text and standard.1 Thus, the WTS correctly states that prophets whose prophecies fail to come to pass are false prophets.2

Yet, at the same time, the WTS claims to be Gods voice on the earth. They claim, that is, to be a prophet. Consider this crucial statement made by the WTS:

So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of changes and to declare things to come? . . . .These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet?. . . .This prophet was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Student s. Today they are known as Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. Of course it is easy to say that this group acts as a “prophet” of God. It is another thing to prove it. The only way that this can be done is to review the record. What does it show?3

Again, in one of the WTS’s most authoritative books used in door-to-door encounters, we read what JWs are supposed to do “If someone says, My minister said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are false prophets.” One of the replies they are instructed to give is: “I’m sure you’ll agree that specific evidence should back up such a serious charge. Did your minister mention any specific examples?4

In this article, I intend to follow the instructions of the WTS itself and review the record. Though the author of the above quotes assumed that the record would vindicate the WTS as a prophet of God, the opposite is in fact the case. We will see that the WTS has made The WTS has made numerous false prophecies over the years.

Why point out these errors? The WTS requires absolute commitment from Jehovah’s Witnesses, requiring them to follow the organizations teachings in all areas of life. Since the Society claims to be speaking for Jehovah, to obey the Society is to obey Jehovah, and to disobey the society is to disobey Jehovah. Of course, if the WTS does not speak for God, then ordinary JWs are being deceived and spiritually harmed. This article will demonstrate, from the WTSs own literature, that they have consistently misled their members and are in fact a false-prophet organization.

Predicting the End of the World

The WTS has made false prophecies about many topics. For example, they have made false predictions about the resurrection of the men of Sodom,5 about space travel,6and many other things. However, due to space limitations, we will concentrate simply on the major false prophecies relating to their prediction of the end of the world.

1874: Christ’s Invisible Presence?
Charles Taze Russell, the WTS’s first leader, came under the influence of a Second Adventist preacher named Nelson H. Barbour. Barbour convinced Russell that the year 1873 had marked the end of 6000 years of human history. Barbour and other Adventist were hoping for a visible second advent of Christ and the earth’s destruction in that year. Since these things did not take place in 1873, Russell agreed with Barbour that the arrival of Christ’s invisible presence had taken place in October of 1874.7

This teaching on Christ’s invisible presence was repeated in several WTS publications. For example, in Creation we read that “the second coming of the Lord therefore began in 1874,”8 and in Prophecy it says that the Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D.9

1914: The Overthrow of Human Governments?
Despite their insistence that 1874 marked the coming of Christ, the society changed it s prediction to 1914. In one WTS publication, for example, we read about people who “refuse to discern the invisible, spiritual presence of Jesus Christ in Kingdom power since the close of the Gentile Times in 1914.”10

Russell also had a strong conviction that 1914 would bring a cataclysmic end to the world as we know it. He wrote that

within the coming twenty-six years all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved. . . . In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdom of this world, and the full establishment of the kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914.11

What was considered an “established truth” and could not be delayed12–the coming of
Armageddon-the WTS later claimed it did not positively say.13 As a matter of fact, in later editions of the same work, the WTS changed the 1914 date to 1915. Instead of saying that the end would come by the end of 1914, later editions read that it would come near the end of A.D. 1915.14 The WTS flip-flopped on this, despite being quite confident of the 1914 date. As Russell himself wrote, “We see no reason for changing the figures-nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God’s dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.”15 Yet, Russell never saw his predictions come true. He died in 1916. For the record, the WTS has now changed the meaning and significance of 1914. Their current claim is that Christ’s second presence occurred in 1914; Armageddon is yet in the future.16

1918: The Downfall of Christianity?
J.F. Rutherford, the WTS’s second president, continued the WTS’s date-setting habit. In the 1917 edition of The Finished Mystery, Rutherford wrote, “Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the Church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the Downfall of Christianity.17 When the orthodox churches did not “go done to oblivion” in 1918 as Rutherford prophesied, the WTS tweaked the prediction in the 1926 edition of The Finished Mystery , which altered the first line to read: “Also, in the year 1918, when God begins to destroy the churches.”

1925: The Return of the Prophets?
With 1914 having failed to produce Armageddon, the WTS, under Rutherford, began looking at 1925 as “… even more distinctly indicated by the Scripture than 1914”18as the date of the final cataclysmic end of the age. In a 1920 sermon, Rutherford even predicted that the end would be precipitated in 1925 by the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophet s of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter 11, to the condition of human perfection.19 The WTS even built the “prophets of old” a home to live in called Beth-Sarim (House of Princes).20 Even as late as 1942, the WTS was still expecting the prophets at any day.21 But they never came. Rutherford himself finally moved into the home and, after his death, the Watchtower quietly sold the property.

1975: When Armageddon Breaks Out?

In the 1960s, the WTS began to teach that Armageddon and the end of human history would come in 1975:

How can it be determined when 6,000 years of human history will end? According to reliable Bible chronology, Adam and Eve were created in 4026 B.C.E. This would leave only seven more years from the autumn of 1968 to complete 6,000 full years of human history. That seven-year period will evidently finish in the autumn of the year 1975.22

Similar calculations, of course, had earlier led the WTS to claim that the end would come in 1914. To explain away this discrepancy, they taught that what was really meant was that the 1914 generation of JWs who had understanding of the events of 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon happens.23 In 1975 many of that generation would still be alive. Of course, 1975 has come and gone, and Armageddon has not occurred. As of 2005, one wonders how many of the 1914 generation still live.

Even up to October of 1995 the WTS was saying that it was “the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new order before the generation that saw the event s of 1914 C.E. passes away.”24 But, time has almost run out on that generation. So, in November of 1995, the WTS replaced the above wording with “the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things.25 Note the absence of the phrase “before the generation that saw the events of 1914 C.E. passes away .” Time is always the worst enemy of a false prophet!

Dancing Around the Facts

How do JWs deal with the challenge posed by the history of their faulty date-setting? One of three ways.  First, they may insist that the WTS has never claimed to be a prophet.26   Therefore, these predictive failures do not justify calling them false prophets. Second, they may say that even Gods prophets sometimes err , but that did not disqualify them as false prophets. As an example, they may refer to 1 Chronicles 17:1-4, where the prophet Nathan told David to build a temple for God, but God later commanded David not to build one. Third, they sometimes say that Jehovah is giving “new light” on such matters, claiming that the light is getting brighter on prophecy now.27 The failed predictions of the past were made on the basis of inadequate light.

The first strategy is patently false. The WTS has claimed to be a prophet numerous times in its publications. For example, the April 1, 1972 issue of The Watchtower (quoted above) clearly calls the WTS a prophet. Consider the following as well:

“Consider too the fact that Jehovahs organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God’s holy spirit or active force.”28

“Jehovah’s organization has a visible part on earth which represents the Lord and is under his direct supervision”29

The WTS claims to be a prophet in the same sense that Ezekiel and Jeremiah are prophets.30

The WTS’s attempt to cover their tracks by stating that they have never claimed to be a prophet is highly ironic given their own statements about how false prophets seek to avoid detection:

Jehovah, the God of the true prophets, will put all false prophets to shame by not fulfilling the false predictions of such self-assuming prophets, or by having prophecies fulfilled in a way opposite to that predicted by the false prophets. False prophets will try to hide their reason for feeling shame by denying who they really are. . . .[H]e will certainly say, “ I am no prophet. I am a man.”31

 

A JW may claim that the above bullet points and quotes are quoted out of context. If he does, it is important to point out to him that he would at least be agreeing that these statements, if quoted accurately, ACTS would be fatal to WTS authority. He should be shown Photostats of the relevant pages or encouraged to look up these quotes himself in the original sources. To prompt such critical reflection, the reluctant JW should also be reminded of the WTS’s own (ironic) instructions. As noted earlier, the WTS states that “it is easy to say that this group acts as a prophet of God. It is thing to prove it. The only way this can be example, they may done is to review the record” (emphasis mine). And elsewhere they say, “We need to examine not only what we personally believe but what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. . . .If we are lovers of the truth, there is nothing to fear from such and examination.”32

The second strategy-claiming that even true prophets sometimes err-would work to deflect criticism if it were not the case that prophets are required biblically to be 100% accurate. Even JWs acknowledge this truth. One issue of the Watchtower states, “How are we to know whether one is a true or a false prophet?. . . .If he is a true prophet, his message will come to pass exactly as prophesied.”33 The teaching continues: “The true prophet today will be telling forth what the Bible teaches [exactly what the WTS claims to be doing], and those things the Bible tells us are soon to come to pass. He will not be sounding forth man-made theories or guesses.” The article goes on to assert that those men noted in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5 as well as groups of people who claimed that World War I would be the end of all wars are those men who foretell things out of harmony with the Bible statements [and] are false prophets. . . .Their prophecies did not come true. Therefore, they are false prophets, and the people should not trust them as safe guides.”34 In a recent cover story on false prophets, the WTS declares, “The false prophets stole the force and effect of Gods words by encouraging the people to listen to lies rather than to the true warning from God. They were telling, not the magnificent things of God, but their own ideas.”35 Consider, moreover, the confidence with which the WTS asserted the accuracy of the 1975 prediction:

True there have been those in times past who predicted an “end to the world”, even announcing a specific date. . . .Yet, nothing happened. The “end” did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying. [Note that they fail to mention that the WTS made such false predictions!] Why? What was missing? Missing was the full measure of evidence required in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Missing from such people were Gods truths and the evidence that he was guiding them and using them. But what about today? Today, we have the evidence required, ALL of it. And it is overwhelming! All the many, many parts of the great sign of the “last days” are here, together with verifying Bible chronology.”36

Are we to believe that this failed prophecy can be dismissed with the simple reply, “Prophets sometimes make mistakes?” Apparently, the WTS has a double-standard when assessing their own performance as a prophet.

Moreover, they have misinterpreted the text from 1 Chronicles 17. It is clear from even a cursory reading that when Nathan first told David to build the temple he was speaking on his own authority without having consulted God. Only later  after God spoke to him, did he tell David not to build the temple. This is not a case of a prophet claiming to speak for God and making a mistake.

What is at issue here, then, is that the WTS has made prophecies as a prophet and those have failed to come to p ass. By biblical standards and by the WTS’s own standard, the WTS is a false prophet.

Regarding their third strategy of claiming that the prophetic light is getting brighter, we must point out, once again, the WTS’s own statement s on this matter: “New light never contradicts old light but merely adds to it.”37 We have seen in this article, though, that the so-called new light on prophetic predictions by the WTS does more than add to what was said earlier; it positively contradicts it.

Also, one might ask, as some have,” [H]ow can they [i.e., JWs] trust what they are taught now by the Watchtower?” Will what they are being taught now change also?38 The JW
ought to wonder, then, whether the light truly is getting brighter on prophecy, or whether the WTS has “played with the light switch” so much that he should no longer put his trust in an organization that has failed its own test.

Conclusion
The great tragedy in the false prophecies of the WTS is the effect it has had on the lives of ordinary JWs. Many have had their lives turned upside down by their confidence that the end of the world was near. Consider just the 1975 prediction alone. Many JWs made important life decisions regarding marriage and whether or not to have children. Many who forsook having children now have no one to care for them in their old age. Others sold their homes, moved to a different area, or re-mortgaged their homes, all at the encouragement of the WTS which still takes no responsibility for its failed prophecies.39 Every JW needs to be freed from his bondage to this hurtful organization. Christians need to share with them the freedom that only Christ can give: If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).

 

False Prophecy Timeline

1799    The “Time of the End” begins

1873    The end of 6,000 years of human history and beginning of the Millennium

1874    Arrival of Christ’s invisible presence

1877    Russell predicts that 1914 will bring the end of the time of the Gentiles

1878    The resurrection predicted to occur

1889    Russell predicts that Armageddon to occur 1914

1914    The prophesied year of Armageddon and the fall of all human governments and Christian churches

1915    The revised date for Armageddon

1918    The revised date for the fall of Christian churches

1920    Rutherford predicts that the prophets of old will return in 1925

1925    The prophesied date for the return of the prophets

1942    Armageddon only months away!

1975    The new prophesied date for the end of human history

1995    Last statement of Watchtower that the new world order will arrive before the 1914 generation passes away

Clete Hux is the Counter -Cult specialist for the Apologetics Resource Center.

NOTES

1 The Watchtower (March 1, 1965): 151. See also Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society [hereafter WTBTS], 1985, 133.

2 Light, vol. 2 ( Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1930), 47.
3 The Watchtower (April 1, 1972): 197.

4 Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NT: WTBTS, 1985), 137.
5 The Watchtower (June 1, 1988): 31.
6 The Truth Shall Make You Free (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1943 ed.), 285.
7 M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed (Toronto; University of Toronto, 1958), 18.

8 Creation (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1927), 289.
9 Prophecy (Broklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1929), 65.

10Mans Salvation Out of World Distress At Hand! (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1975), 288.

11 The Time Is at Hand ( Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1902), 99.
12The Watchtower (July 15, 1894): 226.
13The Watchtower (November 1, 1914): 325.

14S tudies in the Scriptures , vol. 2 (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1888), 98-99.
15The Watchtower (July 15, 1894): 226.
16The Truth Shall Make You Free (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1943), 300.

17 The Finished Mystery (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1917), 485.
18The Watchtower (July 15, 1924): 21 1.

19Millions Now Living W ill Never Die (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1920), 89-90.
20Salvation ( Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1939), 311-312. 21The New World (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1942), 104-105.

21 The New World (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1942), 104-105.

22 Awake (October 8, 1968): 14.

23 The Watchtower (May 1, 1967): 262.

24 Awake (October 22, 1995): 4.

25 Awake (November 8, 1995): 4.

26 The Watchtower (May 15, 1976): 297.

27 The Watchtower (March 15, 1986): 19.

28 The Watchtower (July 1, 1973): 402.

29 The Watchtower (May 1, 1938): 169.

30 See The Watchtower (April 1, 1972): 197; and The Watchtower (October 1, 1982): 26-27.  See also The Nations Shall Know that I Am Jehovah (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1911), 58, which adds that the WTS, like Ezekiel, is “commissioned to serve as the mouthpiece and active agent of Jehovah.”

31 Paradise Restored to Mankind—By Theocracy (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1972), 353-354 (emphasis mine).

32 The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life (Brooklyn, NY: WTBTS, 1968), 13.

33 The Watchtower (May 15, 1930), 154.

34 Ibid., 155-156.

35 The Watchtower (Feb. 1, 1992): 4.

36 Awake (October 8, 1968): 23.

37 The Watchtower (Feb., 1881), 3.

38 Quote from “False Prophecies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses” (internet article found at www.carm.org/jw/false_prophecies .htm).

39 Kingdom Ministry (May 1974), 3.

 

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