From the sect’s earliest days to the present, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been foretelling what would happen on certain dates, only to be proved wrong when the time arrived.
For example, The Time is at Hand, second volume in the Watchtower Society’s Millennial Dawn or Studies in the Scriptures series was published in 1889 with this prophecy: “… the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of a.d. 1914.” (page 99)
The seventh volume in the same series, released in 1917 as The Finished Mystery features this prophecy on the page following the heading “The Churches Cease To Be”:
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.”
Millions Now Living Will Never Die, a paperback published by the Society in 1920 prophesies that “1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old” (page 97) and that “we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old” (pages 89–90).
Release of the book “Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God” in the summer of 1966 triggered considerable prophetic speculation regarding the year 1975, as this magazine article later that year notes with approval:
It did not take the brothers very long to find the chart beginning on page 31, showing that 6,000 years of man’s existence end in 1975. Discussion of 1975 overshadowed about everything else. “The new book compels us to realize that Armageddon is, in fact, very close indeed,” said a conventioner.
—The Watchtower, October 15, 1966,
During the next couple of years articles and convention talks continued to focus on 1975 as the likely time for Armageddon, culminating in a major article titled “Why Are You Looking Forward to 1975?” Like other official pronouncements on the subject, it indicates that the date might be off a bit, but not by more than a few weeks or months—certainly not years:
Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes.… It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years.
—The Watchtower, August 15, 1968,
pages 494, 499
I was an active Witness myself at that time, and I put off having needed dental work done, in the expectation that 1975 or 1976 at the latest would bring Christ’s millennial reign and a restoration of perfect health. The Society used its internal Kingdom Ministry monthly to encourage even greater steps of faith in the 1975 prophecy:
“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.”
—Kingdom Ministry, May, 1974, page 3
Painfully conscious of the need to defend themselves against the charge of being false prophets due to the failure of Armageddon to occur by 1975, Watchtower leaders have used extra caution since then when making predictions. Nonetheless, they have continued to make such predictions. One technique they have employed is to say enough to convince Jehovah’s Witnesses of the likelihood of Armageddon by a certain date, without actually spelling it out in black-and-white. In this way they inspire their followers to put extra time into their door-to-door work in a final home-stretch effort—without leaving an incriminating trail of failed prophetic quotes.
Thus Watchtower and Awake! articles in October 1985 tied in the United Nations proclamation of 1986 as an “International Year of Peace” with the biblical warning, “Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them … ” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 New World Translation). The October 1 and 15 Watchtower magazine covers displayed photos of U.N. headquarters, along with the bold headline “PEACE AND SECURITY”. Although unrecognizable to outsiders as a prophecy that 1986 would see the end of the world, the message came across loud and clear to JWs and sent them practically running from door to door to sound the final warning.
Less than two years later the April 8, 1988, Awake! magazine added to its prophecy of “a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away” (page 4) the authoritative statement that “The Hebrews … reckon seventy-five years as one generation … ” (page 14). Jehovah’s Witness readers worldwide added 75 years to 1914, and come up with 1989. Without coming right out and saying that 1989 would bring Armageddon, Awake! concluded the discussion of 1914 and the 75-year generation by saying, “… today, most of the generation of 1914 has passed away.… Jesus’ words will come true, ‘this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’ This is yet another reason for believing that Jehovah’s thieflike day is imminent.” (page 14) Although they avoided making another statement that could be quoted later as a false prophecy, Watchtower leaders still created in JW minds great expectations for the year 1989.
These subtle predictions for 1986 and 1989 are cited here as evidence that the corporate false prophet has not repented. However, the earlier, more blatant predictions for 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975 are easier to quote in discussions with JWs. Still, many Witnesses will find it difficult to believe that the organization actually published such statements. If you show them photostatic copies reproduced in my book How to Rescue Your Loved One from the Watchtower they will suspect that the copies were tampered with. Even copies furnished by the impartial Interlibrary Loan network from Watchtower originals in public libraries may be regarded with suspicion. You will do well to suggest to a JW that he or she confirm the quotes by comparing them with origin
als in Kingdom Hall libraries or in the personal libraries of long-time Jehovah’s Witnesses. (The quotes supplied above are but a small sampling of more than a hundred prophetic quotes listed in my Index of Watchtower Errors published by Baker Book House in 1990.)
Little comment is needed when presenting this material, since it speaks for itself. The best commentary is that found in Scripture:
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
—Deuteronomy 18:20–22 niv
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
—Matthew 24:11 kjv
After furnishing examples of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ failed prophecies in the previous section, why follow here with another discussing identifying the Witnesses as false prophets? Because the sect’s latest defense tactic employs the argument that promoting false prophecies does not make them false prophets.
Until recently JWs were largely unfamiliar with past prophetic failures and would refuse to believe that such prophetic statements had been made. Now, however, with counter-cult groups giving the facts wider publicity, the Watchtower Society has begun teaching JWs to respond that those “mistakes” on dates don’t matter, that prophetic failures do not make one a false prophet: “… they should not be viewed as false prophets … In their human fallibility, they misinterpreted matters.” (Awake!, March 22, 1993, page 4)
To defeat this argument, a good first step would be to isolate it from the parties involved. Ask the Jehovah’s Witness, Would that defense have been valid for a prophet in ancient Israel whose prediction proved false? Deuteronomy 18:20–22 prescribed the death penalty if a prophet’s prediction failed, regardless of the reason. Obviously every false prophet in Israel could have said that he “misinterpreted matters” and could have pointed to his own “human fallibility” as the reason his prophecy failed, but Deuteronomy made no provision for such excuses.
Another recent Watchtower defense argues that JW leaders are not false prophets because their failed prophecies were well-intentioned: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their eagerness for Jesus’ second coming, have suggested dates that turned out to be incorrect.” (Awake!, March 22, 1993, page 4) Does eagerness excuse making false prophecies? Ask the JW to read 1 Samuel 13:8–14 and to comment on whether God accepted Saul’s eagerness as a valid excuse for disobedience. God punished Saul in spite of his excuses.
A third Watchtower defense hinges on a technicality: “Never did they say, ‘These are the words of Jehovah.’ ” (Awake!, March 22, 1993, page 4) Deuteronomy’s condemnation applies if “what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true.” (Deuteronomy 18:22 niv) In whose name has the Watchtower Society prophesied? Ask a JW to open to page 4 of any issue of Awake! magazine from March 8, 1988 through October 22, 1995, and have him or her read the last sentence under “Why Awake! Is Published.” Point out the prophecy that is printed there in each issue to the effect that the end will come “before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.”* The sentence introduces this as “the Creator’s promise.” Similarly, a hundred years ago when the Watch Tower set prophetic dates that have since failed, it claimed, “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.” (July 15, 1894, p. 1677 Society reprints) So, the sect’s leaders have indeed made their false prophecies in God’s name.
If a Witness objects that Watchtower publications set most of their prophetic dates without declaring the predictions to be “in God’s name,” call his or her attention to this statement:
Those who are convinced that The Watchtower is publishing the opinion or expression of a man should not waste time in looking at it at all. Those who believe that God uses The Watchtower as a means of communicating to his people, or of calling attention to his prophecies, should study The Watchtower.
—The Watchtower, January 1, 1942,
A magazine that claims not to be publishing men’s thoughts but rather boasts of being God’s means of communicating God’s dates cannot later protest that its prophecies were not made in God’s name.
In Matthew 7:15–16 Jesus warned specifically, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (niv) People receive false prophecies from false prophets, and that is their recognizable identity—even when they attempt to disguise themselves as harmless sheep.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.