I decided to start a new series of articles addressing key doctrines of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” by examining the published dogma of the Watchtower Society. To start off this series, we’ll begin by looking at what the Watchtower has to say about the all-important (to them) date of 1914. To do this, I thought it’d be best by considering carefully the Watchtower’s latest material on the matter. Thus, I will consider the appendix section from the Watchtower’s What Does the Bible Really Teach? book (PDF) on pp. 215-218 entitled “1914–A Significant Year in Bible Prophecy.” Without further adieu, here is my analysis…
What “significant developments” did “Bible students” proclaim exactly? Did the “significant developments” they proclaim actually occur? Let’s read on…
Alright. So far, so good. While it’s not explicitly stated anywhere in scripture, we can reasonably assume that–in a sense–Jerusalem could be considered a “symbol of Jehovah’s rulership.”
Wait a second… We jumped here. In the first paragraph the article stated that “Jerusalem was thus a symbol of Jehovah’s rulership”. Christ indeed prophesied that Jerusalem would be trampled upon by the nations, but there’s a distinct but important difference between a symbol of God’s presence on Earth and God’s literal sovereignty itself.
Furthermore, we read that “…in 607 B.C.E… Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians.” Was it really? Why is it that both biblical scholars and secular historians agree that Babylon invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in either 586 or 587 B.C?
Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 21:24 that Jerusalem will be [future tense] trampled? What is there in Luke 21 to indicate that Jesus was prophesying something that occurred in the past?
Is it just me or does this sound terribly convoluted? The “seven times” of Daniel 4:16 along with the tree itself are both clearly explained in Daniel 4:20-27. To get 2,520 years out of “seven times” in Daniel is poor exegesis to say the least.
First the article states “In the Bible, trees are sometimes used to represent rulership”. Absolutely, in this case it was used to represent the rulership of King Nebuchadnezzar as explained for us in the account of Daniel itself (Daniel 4:22). From there it goes on to state “So the chopping down of the symbolic tree represents God’s rulership, as expressed through the kings at Jerusalem, would be interrupted.” That statement does not follow the previous one. Where in scripture does it ever indicate that the tree represents “God’s rulership, as expressed through kings at Jerusalem”? The article is quite literally reading in to the scriptures something that’s not there.
William Miller used this exact line of reasoning to prove how the world would end in 1843. Suffice it to say he was disappointed. He used a bogus start date of 677 B.C for the fall of Jerusalem. Is 607 B.C.E really any more valid?
C. T. Russell later used this reasoning, adopted from the Second Adventists, to first predict the return of Christ in 1873. When that failed, he later claimed that Christ really did return but did so invisibly in 1874. He then predicted that the world would end in 1914. When that failed, he predicted it would end in 1915. The end finally came in 1916… for Russell. Rutherford then predicted that Armageddon had indeed started in 1914, but that the world would finally come to an end in 1925. When that failed as well, the “invisible return” idea was gradually re-dated to 1914 from 1874.
What all three of these men failed to understand was Acts 1:7 where Jesus said “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
So, finally we come to the footnote. That’s right, one footnote (the Watchtower isn’t exactly big on scholarship). So let’s see what it has to say…
Alright, so we have here the explanation that there is no “zero year.” Even the most casual student of history knows that already, but the Watchtower feels it necessary to explain anyhow. Perhaps because they made that silly blunder themselves? We’ll read more about that in a bit…
So here we have a big graphical chart to illustrate how 2,520 years plus 607 B.C. takes us to 1914 A.D. Of course, that’s all rather irrelevant considering how none of these numbers are based on anything remotely sound biblical hermeneutics. Not only is the hop-scotch-through-the-bible approach needed to arrive at “2,520 years” terribly convoluted, the date of 607 B.C. was made up completely on a whim! By way of explanation, both William Miller and C. T. Russell made the “zero year” mistake I mentioned before.
Miller originally proclaimed the world would end in 1843. People got on their rooftops in white robes expecting Jesus to return on one particular night that year. When nothing happened they were understandably disappointed and stopped following Miller. When Miller realized there’s no 0 year, he adjusted his prediction to 1844 and gained even more followers (who were subsequently disappointed).
Russell originally claimed that Jerusalem fell in 606 B.C., and from that derived 1914 via Miller’s 2,520 year mumbo jumbo. When the world failed to end in 1914, he realized there’s no 0 year and moved the date up a year just like Miller to 1915 and was similarly disappointed.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting however…
After Russell died, it was realized that WWI seemed too significant to just pass up. Rutherford, therefore, retroactively changed history (which he did frequently with old Watchtower reprints anyhow) and moved the date for the fall of Jerusalem back one year from 606 to 607 in order to preserve 1914. I think any rational person would start to wonder about the historical validity of 607 B.C.E based on that fact alone.
“Just as Jesus predicted”? Actually, Jesus Christ specifically warned against false prophets that would claim He had returned “invisibly” (Matthew 24:24-27).
So, basically to paraphrase… In order for 1914 to have any kind of validity at all, 607 B.C.E must first be a valid historical date. I would like to emphasize here, however, that this is not a matter of secular history versus the biblical record.
The truth of the matter is that the Bible is simply silent on the matter. The Bible does not give absolute dates, but only relative dates. The date of 586/587 B.C.E is based on the same evidence we use to establish the date of the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. The 70 years referenced in Jeremiah 25:11 could not possibly be a period from 607 B.C.E. to 537 B.C.E. How could it be when it explicitly states “these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years”. The “king of Babylon” was dead for two years in 537 B.C.E. He was killed when Babylon was overthrown two years earlier in 539 B.C.E.
It would be much more logical and historically coherent to assert that the “seventy years” of Jeremiah 25 were those of servitude beginning in 609 B.C.E. When Judah rebelled against Jehovah’s servant, Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9), the temple was destroyed and the nation was taken into captivity in 586/7 B.C.E. This would be historically accurate, harmonize with prophecy, and would really be the most sound biblical interpretation overall. Check out 607v587.com for more information.
There’s only one problem here, however… According to the October, 15, 1988 edition of The Watchtower “The Babylonians came in 607 B.C.E. and stripped Jerusalem bare. Her people and her wealth were carried off to Babylon. The city was destroyed, the temple was burned, and the land was left desolate.” We thus see that the destruction of the temple and the decimation of Jerusalem are tied to the same year (which is historically true). However, that year is cited as being 607 B.C.E. If we substitute 607 B.C.E for the historically accurate and biblically sound date of 586/7 B.C.E we come to 1934/5 not 1914. That’s assuming that the “seven times” can be reasonably interpreted as a period of 2,520 years (which is a convoluted supposition at best).
So, instead of admitting this embarrassing fact, the Watchtower continues to maintain that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. and that this somehow validates the doctrine of Invisible Jesus’ Return in 1914. With scant knowledge of history and a lazy acceptance of the Watchtower’s convoluted exegesis, the math seems impressive to a potential convert. And it all seems to point at 1914. And that was the first World War! Right?
Well, depending upon how one defines the “world” and “war”, there have been numerous largescale international conflicts before 1914. The campaigns of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napolean are some easy examples. Also, if we really get down and examine what the Watchtower is saying specifically, Invisible Jesus didn’t return until October 1914. Yet, curiously enough, World War I actually started in the Summer, months before .
World War I itself has more overall “significance” in setting the stage for World War II than anything else. And curiously enough, World War II–which was by far bloodier, longer, and world-shaking than the first great War–goes completely unmentioned in the Watchtower’s eschatology. As does the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 following WWII, the moon landing in 1969, and other highly historic moments in time.
In conclusion, and to put it simply: 1914 is a bogus date.
P.S.: Just for fun, here’s an actual photograph of Jesus’ return in 1914 ;-)
Click any of the [highlight] links to see a scan of the referenced page with applicable text highlighted in yellow. To see the image in a new tab at full resolution, right-click and select “open in new tab” (or middle-click if supported) or “open in new window”.
1. ^ Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology Selected from Manuscripts of William Miller with a Memoir of his Life by Joshua V. Himes. For information in summary, consult Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/) or any other such exhaustive online Encyclopedia for the “Great Disappointment” or “William Miller”.
2. ^ Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873; or the Midnight Cry by Nelson H. Barbour (a close associate of Russell’s, compare Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom  p. 120 [highlight])
6. ^ Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1920) pp. 88-90 [highlight], 97 [highlight], Golden Age 01/04/1922, p. 217 [highlight], Watchtower, 05/15/1922 p. 150 (w1922 PDF) [highlight], Ibid. 09/01/1922 p. 262 [highlight], Ibid. 04/01/1923 p. 106 (w1923 PDF) [highlight]
9. ^ For instance, compare editions of The Time Is At Hand prior to mid-1912 with editions after mid-1912, p. 101 [highlight]. The change was done in the middle of the printing run for the 1912 edition of 1,209,000. The March 1, 1915 Watch Tower called attention to some of these changes, on page 5649 of Reprints. It said: “We call attention to a few slight changes which have been made in four pages of Vol. II. and six pages of Vol. III., ‘STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES.’ These are all trivial and do not alter the real sense and lesson, but conform to the facts as we have them today.” Then are listed the changes pointed out above, from pages 77-81 of The Time Is At Hand, but for some reason the changes on pages 99-101 are not listed. As to the claim that the real sense is not altered, the reader may judge for himself. The proper way of handling changes such as these is to label the changed books as “Revised Editions.”
10. ^ One has only to search for “607 B.C.E” on any search engine (i.e Google.com) to see how particular this year is to Watchtower chronology. While Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and others claim Jerusalem fell in 606 B.C., and actually reliable historians claim it was either 586 or 587 B.C, it is by-and-large only the Watchtower organization that claims it was 607 B.C.