By Juan Baixeras
This paper is geared for the member of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). It is not a paper intended to put down Jehovah’s Witnesses, for I agree with some of their major doctrines such as the sleep of the dead, the kingdom of God on earth, and the falsehood of the Trinity. But in all my studies I have yet to find a denomination that is correct in all its teachings, Jehovah’s Witnesses included. I agree with the JW teaching that the kingdom of God is on earth, but I disagree completely with their claim that it started in 1914.
I have met many JW and I admire their dedication. I also remember how they pass out their literature and ask you to "just read it and see what you think." I believe that people should read everything, and then throw out the bad and keep the good. If you do not do that, it is very difficult if not impossible to determine if what you believe is truly Biblically correct. I hope that any JW that comes across this paper is not hypocritical and uses their own advice "just read it and see what you think." My reason for writing this paper for JW can best be summarized from a quote in the Watchtower magazine dated January 15, 1974.
"When persons are in great danger from a source that they do not suspect or are being misled by those they consider their friends, is it an unkindness to warn them? They may prefer not to believe the warnings. They may even resent it. But does that free one from the moral responsibility to give that warning?"
The purpose of this study is to thoroughly review the concept held by Jehovah’s Witnesses that the year 1914 was the end of the "Gentile Times" spoken of in Luke 21:24, and that in that year Christ Jesus actively took up his kingdom power and began to rule invisibly to human eyes. We will review how this date came about, why, and by whom. Let us first start with a detailed outline of what JW believe in connection with the date of 1914.
1. That in 1914 Christ Jesus now became "present," invisible to human eyes, but now beginning a judgment period for all his professed followers and for the world.
2. That in 1914 Christ Jesus now began active ruler ship toward the entire world, his kingdom officially taking power.
3. That 1914 marks the start of the "last days" or the "time of the end" foretold in Bible prophecy.
4. That the generation of persons living in 1914 and having the ability to understand what they saw occurring then would be the ‘generation that will not pass away until all things are fulfilled,’ including the destruction of the existing system of things.
5. That three and a half years after 1914 (in 1918) the resurrection of Christians sleeping in death, from the apostles onward began.
6. That about that same time (1918) Christ’s true followers then living went into spiritual captivity to Babylon the Great, being released the following year, 1919, at which time Christ Jesus acknowledged them collectively as his "faithful and discreet slave class," his approved agency for directing his work and caring for his interest on earth, his sole channel for communicating guidance and illumination to his servants earth wide.
7. That from that time forward the final "harvest" work has been in progress, resulting in all the people being divided into two classes as "sheep" and "goats," with salvation or destruction as their respective destinies.
The date of 1914 is crucial to the doctrinal superstructure that rests on it. To change or remove that date could mean the collapse of all the doctrinal and authority structure founded on it. That is how crucial this date is.
Yet, very few JW know that for almost fifty years (1879-late 1920s) the time prophecies that were published in the Watch Tower magazine and related publications were essentially contrary to all the beliefs just outlined. Very few know that for fifty years the Watchtower had assigned different times and dates for every one of the things just listed, and that it was only the failures of these expectations that led to an assigning of new dates for the fulfillment of those prophecies. Let us now see how this date was arrived at and by whom.
THE CALCULATION OF 1914
The 1914 date is arrived at in the following manner: In Daniel 4:17, 23-33, the expression "seven times" occurs, applied there to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and describing a period of seven years of insanity the king would experience. JW teaches that those "seven times" are prophetic of something greater, namely, of the period of time extending from the destruction of Jerusalem (dated by JW at 607 BCE) down to the end of the "Gentile Times," explained as meaning the period during which the Gentile nations have uninterrupted control of the world.
The "seven times" are interpreted as meaning seven Hebrew years, each year consisting of 360 days. If you multiply 7 by 360 it will give you 2,520 days. Other prophecies such as Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 are then used which use the expression "a day for a year" to change the 2,520 days into 2,520 years. Using the start date of 607 BCE (the destruction of Jerusalem) and applying 2,520 years brings you to the year 1914.
The enormous problem facing this calculation is on its use of the year 607 BCE as the year that Jerusalem was destroyed, which is then used as the starting point on which to add the 2,520 years. NOWHERE outside of JW publications is this date confirmed as the date on which Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. All historians point to a date twenty years later in 587 or 586 BCE There are tens of thousands of baked clay cuneiform tablets from the Mesopotamian area that date back to the time of ancient Babylon. In all of these there is nothing to indicate that the period of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (in which Nebuchadnezzar reigned) was of the necessary length to fit the 607 BCE date for the destruction of Jerusalem. Everything points to a period twenty years shorter. Let us take a look at a few sources.
The Encyclopedia Britannica Macropedia 15th Edition Volume 22 pg. 359A under "Jerusalem" states:
"In 586 BC the city and temple were completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the captivity began."
The New American Bible Dictionary on page 424 under "Jerusalem" states:
"Destroyed in 586 BC, it was rebuilt by the Jews who returned from the exile."
The Zonderman Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Volume 3 pg. 476 & 490 under "Jerusalem" states:
"A final desperate revolt under Judah’s last king, Zedekiah, ended in a two and one-half year siege of Jerusalem, from Jan., 588, to July, 586 (2 Kings 25:1-3). One month later, the Babylonian commander burned the Temple, the palaces, and the houses of Jerusalem and broke down its surrounding walls (vv.8-11). No known significant remnant of the pre-exilic city survives to the present."
"No significant surface remains have survived Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC"
The facts are simple and very easy to verify. There is absolutely no historical support for the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 607 BCE this is a major stumbling block for the year 1914 because when you add 2,520 years to the date of the true destruction of Jerusalem (586 or 587 BCE) you will arrive at a date of either 1934 or 1935. But there is an even greater stumbling block with the prediction that the kingdom started in 1914.
I do not think that there is a member of JW or Christianity as a whole that would dispute the fact that Jesus has been the greatest interpreter of the Old Testament ever. Jesus was in fact intimately familiar with Daniel’s prophecies. In Matthew 24:15 Jesus quotes Daniel when speaking of the end times. In other words, Jesus had the same material that Charles Russell (the founder of JW) had, and when asked by his apostles when the kingdom would come he answered in Matthew 24:36:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father alone."
There are also all the parables of always being prepared because no one knows when the master will return, such as the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant in Matthew 24:45 and the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1.
So basically, this JW teaching is asking me to believe that Charles Russell knew more about the Scriptures and the end times than did Jesus. That Charles Russell was able to figure it out but Jesus was not, even though Jesus is the Christ of God, the king of that kingdom. I find this impossible to accept.
HOW DID RUSSELL ARRIVE AT THIS DATE?
The idea of applying years to days can be traced back to Jewish rabbis in the first century CE In the ninth century more rabbis applied it to Daniel’s prophecy in connection with the time periods of 1,290, 1335, and 2300 days in reference to when the Messiah would appear. Among Christians it first appears in the twelfth century by a Roman Catholic abbot named Joachim of Floris. As time passed, an incredible amount of dates were arrived at by different interpreters. Dates were regularly changed as one date after another passed without the predicted event taking place.
In the early 1800’s a man named John Aquila Brown published an explanation of the 2,300 days of Daniel in chapter 12, showing these as ending in 1844. This view was also adopted by William Miller, the pioneer of the Second Advent movement.
John A. Brown also developed another explanation that is intimately related to the year 1914 as that date figures in the teachings of JW. Brown was the real interpreter of the "seven times" of Daniel chapter four, the interpretation that produces the 2,520 years by means of the day-year formula. Brown first published this interpretation in 1823 and his method converted the "seven times" into 2,520 years in exactly the same way found today in Watch Tower publications. This was twenty-nine years before Charles Russell was born, more than half a century before the book "The Three Worlds" (co-authored by Russell, which is where most JW think that this teaching originated) appeared. Brown however used 604 B.C.E as his starting point and so arrived at 1917. After the failure of the expectations of 1844, a split of various Second Advent groups resulted. One of these groups centered around a man called N.H. Barbour. Barbour studied Brown’s work and adopted much of his interpretation, but changed his starting point to 606 BCE and arrived at the year 1914. Actually this is a miscalculation since that would be only 2,519 years. This would have the end date at 1915. This was not acknowledged for over sixty years. It was not until 1942 that a change was made regarding the year 606 .BCE as the starting point for the 2,520 years. Then, quietly, the year was moved back to 607 BCE allowing for the retention of the year 1914.
Barbour then published a Second Advent magazine called "Herald of the Morning" of which Russell was "assistant editor."
Barbour adopted Brown’s chronology. Russell adopted Barbour’s chronology. In a publication of the Watch Tower in July of 1906 Russell tells how he came to be associated with Barbour and how he came to adopt his chronology. But way before the date of 1914 became the prominent date, Barbour and Russell had picked other dates as the return of Jesus’ presence. In the same issue of the Watch Tower of July 1906, Russel talks about how Barbour came to see him to discuss the date of 1874 as the date of the Lord’s return.
"So I paid Barbour’s expenses to come to Philadelphia… to show me fully and Scriptually, if he could, that the prophecies indicated 1874 as the date at which the Lord’s presence and the "harvest" began. He came, and the evidence satisfied me."
They believed that 1874 marked the end of 6,000 years of human history, and they expected Christ’s return that year. When it passed, they felt disillusioned. Then a contributor to Barbour’s magazine noticed that a certain New Testament translation, The Emphatic Diaglott, used the word "presence" instead of "coming" in texts referring to the Christ’s return. Keith advanced to Barbour the idea that Christ had indeed returned in 1874 but invisibly, and that Christ was now present carrying on a judging work. This explanation was also adopted by Russell. An invisible presence is hard to prove, but it is just as hard to disprove.
Very few JW know that for nearly fifty years the Watch Tower announced and heralded that such an invisible presence began in 1874. They were still teaching this as late as 1929, fifteen years after 1914.
JW today believe that Christ officially began his Kingdom rule in 1914. The Watch Tower taught for decades that this took place in 1878.
JW today believe that the resurrection of anointed Christians who died from Christ’s time forward began to take place in 1918. For more than forty years the Watch Tower taught that it began in 1881.
JW today believe that from 1914 and particularly 1919 onward the great harvest work is under way, to be climaxed by the destruction of the present system and all who have not responded to their preaching activity. From its beginning, the Watch Tower taught instead that the harvest would run from 1874 to 1914, and that by 1914 the destruction of all human institutions of this world would take place.
JW today believe that the fall of Babylon the Great (the world empire of false religion) happened in 1919. For four decades the Watch Tower placed it in 1878, with Babylon’s complete destruction in 1914 or 1918.
As a JW you might ask, "What is the reason for all these major changes in their teachings?" The reason is simple. The failure of their published expectations to be realized. In other words, the date came and nothing happened.
From Watch Tower publications from 1879 onward you can see that JW believed that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874, and that soon after in 1878 he had begun his kingdom rule. They expected their transferal to heavenly life very soon. They also expected that long before 1914 the world would enter a state of anarchy and that by 1914 everything would be over. That Christ would have taken full control of earth’s affairs. This is shown clearly in the issue of the Watch Tower of January 1881. With no visible evidence to discredit them, these claims could be, and were, maintained.
When after 1914 there was no overthrow of all earthly kingdoms, no takeover of all earth’s rule by Christ, no transition of the anointed to heavenly life, no destruction of "Babylon the Great", and no conversion of Israel to Christianity; many Watch Tower adherents had serious doubts.
In 1917 Judge Rutherford became president of JW. In 1922 at Rutherford’s talk at Cedar Point, the invisible teachings of Russell were moved up from 1874 to 1914, a date that had proved empty for all the things hoped for. It was the start of a transferal of events assigned to pre-1914 dates up to 1914 and post-1914 dates.
There were also other predictions that did not happen. I will not cover them in this paper, but they included dates in 1918, and 1920. In 1924 JW published a booklet called "The way to Paradise" in which it claimed that in 1925 they could expect to see the awakening of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David and many others mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven. 1925 came and went with no ancient worthies awakened. In 1966 they moved this date again to 1975. 1975 came and went with no fulfillment of predictions.
Summary – Russell did not as many JW believe originate the idea of 1914. In fact, he was more concerned with 1874. Brown originated the idea, Barbour adopted it from Brown, and Russell adopted it from Barbour. Later when nothing happened in 1874, Keith advanced the idea that it had happened invisibly. All the beliefs surrounding this date (1874) were transferred up to 1914 in 1922 by Judge Rutherford at his speech in Cedar Point.
Failed predictions have been the norm not the exception. The reason for this failure is evident, we are not supposed to know. As Jesus said in Acts 1:7:
"It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority."
Or is Jesus wrong?
OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THIS TEACHING
Another huge problem with the JW interpretation is in their claim that Jesus came invisibly. This is simply not what the Bible teaches us. To come to the conclusion that Jesus came in 1914 invisibly, is to stretch Bible interpretation to its limits. Let us closely examine this claim.
In the Bible, the Second Coming of Jesus is always portrayed as something that will be obvious to the whole world. In other words, there will be no doubt that Jesus has returned. Jesus in Matthew talks about his return. Matthew 24:27:
"For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be."
Jesus is comparing his coming to lightning in the sense that you can see lightning from horizon to horizon. And just as you can see lightning from east to west, we will all be able to see Jesus Second Coming. Notice also that his coming is "SEEN," it is not invisible. In Matthew 24:30 Jesus goes on to say:
"And the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and ALL the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will SEE the Son of Man coming upon the clouds with power and great glory."
Speaking of the resurrection, Paul states in 1 Cor. 22-23:
"For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits, then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ."
Here we have the resurrection of the righteous connected to Jesus’ Second Coming. In order to claim that Jesus’ Second Coming took place invisibly in 1914, one has to also claim that the resurrection of the righteous took place in 1914. I guess an invisible resurrection would be hard to disprove, but the resurrection of the righteous also includes those of us in Christ who are alive at the Second Coming of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 states:
"That we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself with a word of command, with the voice (authority) of an archangel and with the trumpet of God will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."
This event has obviously not taken place yet. Multitudes of living people have not been seen in the clouds with the Lord Jesus.
I hope that I do not misrepresent the JW position, but I have been led to believe that JW believe that they are the only ones that will be saved. If this is true, then as of 1914 there should be no JW that has not either been resurrected from the dead or been changed from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal. Speaking of the resurrection, Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51-54 states:
"We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
I do not mean to sound sarcastic, but basically if you are a JW and you believe that Jesus did in fact come back in 1914, and you are still mortal, then you have a big problem. Either you missed the resurrection event along with a couple of million other JW, or the JW interpretation is incorrect. Not to mention that nobody else saw this event, which contradicts completely Matthew chapter 24 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.
Another problem with Jesus’ Second coming in 1914 is that Jesus’ return is to be proceeded by calamities that the world has never seen, from the darkening of the sun and moon (Matthew 24:29) which I do not think anyone will claim has happened, to wars and famines (Matthew 24:7-8) that will reduce the population of the earth by one third (Rev. 9:15). In 1914 the population of the earth was around the 5 billion mark. I have not seen anything in any history book that tells us of any group of calamities that have reduced the population of the earth by 1.6 billion people prior to 1914. In the middle ages the worst plague in human history (the Bubonic Plague) killed 33 million people. Even the greatest war in the history of mankind (WWII, which took place after 1914 in 1939-1945) killed only 54 million people. Both of course do not fit the JW time frame for the arrival of the kingdom. But even if they did, the greatest plague and war would only account for 87 million dead. It would still be short 1 billion 513 million people. But as of today, nothing has killed off a third of the world’s population. All this has to happen BEFORE the return of Jesus. It is only AFTER the tribulation that Jesus’ Second Coming takes place. Matthew 24:29-30 states:
"Immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And THEN the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven."
I just do not see how the JW point of view can account for this fact.
A PEACEFUL WORLD
Another major problem with the claim that the kingdom of God started in 1914 is that the kingdom of God is supposed to be a kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice. Let us examine a few verses.
Isaiah 2:4 – "He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again."
Jerimiah 33:15-16 – "In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot, he shall do what is just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure."
Isaiah 9:6 – "His dominion is vast and forever peaceful."
Psalm 46:9-10 – "Come see the works of the LORD, who has done fearsome deeds on earth, who stops wars to the ends of the earth."
Psalm 72:2-4 – "That he may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment…that he may defend the oppressed among the people, save the poor and crush the oppressor."
These are just a few verses, there are many more. As you can see, in the kingdom of God there will be no more wars. Since 1914 we have had the bloodiest period in human history. I will list only the major conflicts, this does not include small wars and other conflicts that have taken place.
1914 to 1918 - WWI, 9 million dead.
The Communist purges from 1916 to as late as 1975 in Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Spain, and the rest of eastern Europe which totals close to 50 million dead.
1939 to 1945 – WWII, 54 million dead.
1950 to 1953 – The Korean War, 4 million dead.
1955 to1975 – The Vietnam War, over 3.5 million dead.
1978 to present – The Afghan War, up to know over 5 million refugees have fled the country. Total dead as of today is unknown. It is still not over.
The world we live in today in 1999 is anything but peaceful. Countries are still waging war against each other, and all countries still train for war. If you believe that we live in a peaceful, just world, turn on the evening news and that should take care of that belief. The oppressors of the world have by no means been crushed. Jerusalem is by no definition of the word, "dwelling secure."
Summary - The earthly kingdoms of the world have not been destroyed, as they should have been if the year 1914 is correct. The world has NOT been, nor is it at PEACE!
THE GENERATION THAT WILL NOT PASS AWAY
JW teach the following: That the generation of persons living in 1914 and having the ability to understand what they saw occurring then would be the ‘generation that will not pass away until all things are fulfilled,’ including the destruction of the existing system of things.
JW today are having a real problem with this belief. According to JW that I have talked to, there is some discussion in the leadership about changing this view. The reason being is that there is almost no one left alive that was alive in 1914 and had the ability to understand what they saw occurring. According to the JW point of view, these people that were alive in 1914 are supposed to see everything fulfilled, including the destruction of the existing system of things. But now in 1999 there are very few of these people left. If you put the age of understanding at 15, then these people will be turning 100 years old this year. It will be interesting to see what the governing board of directors of JW does with this problem.
CONCLUSION – I consider JW to be a very dedicated group of individuals, with a real zeal for God and his kingdom. I do however; think that they have been misled. They have been given erroneous interpretations, whether intentionally or not, I cannot say. I believe that when the movement started in the 1800s that it was unintentional. Whether that holds true today is hard to say.
I think people are drawn to JW in part because they are the most well-known group that teaches that the trinity is not Biblical. I think that when people see that this is indeed true, they are so happy to see the truth on this matter that they embrace all of JW’s doctrines. This is unfortunate.
I hope that all JW that read this paper will reexamine JW teachings to make sure that they are indeed correct. Unfortunately, I do not think that that is what you will find.