Hi, Here is some of my research on this, some from Ray Franz books.
Previous Watchtower Belief & Background
For nearly half a century, (1879 to the late 1920s) the time prophecies published by the Watchtower Society were contrary to all their current beliefs, and that only after the signs and predictions about 1914 failed to come true, were new and different dates and times assigned to each one.
From what I learned as an Adventist in my teens I know that these time prophecies were taught to CT Russell by the Second Adventists, but they had got them from John Aquila Brown, who first published the method and calculation in 1823 (29 years before Russell was born). In short, I believe the 1914 date is arrived at as follows:
In Daniel, chapter 4, there is described a period of ?seven times? the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar. The ?seven times? is said to be prophetic of the period of time from
The ?seven times? = 7 lunar years of 360 days (12 lunar months x 30 days)
7 x 360 = 2,520 days.
Other prophesies (from a completely different context) refer to the expression ?a year for a day? so 607BC + 2,520 years = 1914AD.
The practice of applying ?a year for a day? formula to Bible time periods was first done in the first Century, by Jewish rabbis. By the 9 th century, a succession of rabbis began making calculations and predictions for the time periods of 1,290, 1,335, and 2,300 days found in Daniel?s prophecy (but they applied their results to the appearance of the Messiah).
The practice started amongst professed Christians in the 12 th century with the Roman Catholic abbot, Joachim of Floris who also used the ?year for a day? method to the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation (11:3 & 12:6). Many dates started to be predicted eg 1260, then 1364, then a spate in the 16 th century. Through the decades and centuries, as one date after another passed without the foretold events taking place, changes, either to the dates, or to the interpretations of events, became necessary.
Then eventually, a breakthrough (or coincidence?). In 1796 George Bell predicted the fall of the Antichrist (in his view the Pope) in either 1797 or 1813. Shortly after this prediction the Pope was taken captive by the French and forced into exile. This was seen as a remarkable fulfilment of Bible prophecy proving that 1798 was the end of the prophetic 1,260 days and 1799 marked the beginning of the ?last days?.
In 1823 John Aquila Brown published that 1844 would mark the end of the 2,300 days of Daniel. Second Adventist pioneer, William Miller supported this conclusion. Brown also originated the interpretation of ?seven times? in Daniel 4 that gave the 2,520 years still used today by the Watchtower Society and several other religious groups. This method was first published in 1823, 29 years before CT Russell was born and 47 years before he began his independent Bible study group.
All these facts were uncovered in research during the 1970s by a respected Jehovah?s Witness elder and scholar, and were brought to the attention of the Governing Body. The same elder also presented overwhelming evidence that the 1914 date was in error by 20 years, but for some reason the Governing Body decided to stand by the dates already widely published. However, the details of the origins of the 1914 date were published by outside sources in 10 years later (1983). As a result, the Watchtower Society then formally acknowledged the calculation had originated with Brown in 1823 (50 years before Russell appeared on the scene).
If these time prophecies and dates, had been around for so long, I wonder how did they seem to originate with Jehovah?s Witnesses & the Watchtower?
After failed expectations about 1844, the Adventists split into several groups each predicting new dates for Christ?s return. One of them, N H Barbour used the Brown method but used 606BC as the starting point & came up with an ending of 1914 for the ?end of the gentile times?. (mis-calculated as this is only 2,519 years not 2,520) Adventist Barbour published these dates in 1873 and by 1878 Russell had joined Barbour and become assistant editor of the Adventist ?Herald of the Morning?.
In the Watchtower of Russell tells the story. Before meeting Barbour he had despised time prophecies, but after a visit from Barbour he changed his mind. Thereafter time prophecies dominated Russell?s writings and those of the Watchtower he soon founded.
Both Barbour and Russell taught:
The key date of 1874 marked the end of 6000 years of human history. But the year turned out to be just another date that passed without incident, but then another Adventist B W Keith noticed one version of Scripture could be translated Christ?s ?presence? instead of His ?coming? so they ?knew? their date was correct but reasoned that his presence to carry out judging work in 1874 was invisible. Other Christians were sure the date was false, simply because of Christ?s teachings. However, an invisible presence was, and is, a difficult thing for Christians to disprove.
From reading Watchtower publications it appears that for nearly 50 years the Watchtower leadership, in their role as ?prophet?, heralded that the invisible presence of Christ began in 1874. They were still teaching this in 1929, fifteen years after even the 1914 date. It seems that for decades they also believed and published the following:
- Christ?s kingdom rule began & fall of in 1878
- the last days began in 1799
- resurrection of the anointed in 1881 (?fall? ie Autumn)
- harvest would run from 1874 to 1914
- destruction of all human institutions & ?s complete destruction in 1914 or 1918
WT15 June 1911
??these parallels we find 1874 as the beginning of this harvest?1878?when rejected?October 1914?will witness the full end of ??
WT Book ?The Time is at Hand?
?we present the Bible evidence proving that the full end?will be reached in 1914?. Russell had predicted world-wide trouble, not later than 1905 or 1907.
Predictions were ?established truths? and ?will be accomplished by 1914? ?we present proofs? ??close of that battle is definitely marked in Scripture as 1914, its beginning dating from October 1874.? ?we see no reason for changing the figures?nor could we?God?s dates, not ours?but bear in mind 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the trouble?.
Many years later, after more failed predictions about 1918, 1920, 1925, the 1940s and 1975, the problem was addressed in Awake magazine:
Awake page 3 ?Why So Many False Alarms?
?when their words do not come true, they should not be viewed as false prophets such as those warned against in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. In their human fallibility they misinterpreted matters?.
My question, how does the Watchtower Society?s record of interpreting or misinterpreting matters compare with other Christian groups?
?But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak?that prophet shall die. 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 presumptuously. You shall not be afraid of him.? (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
Weren?t the Old Testament Prophets also human and fallible? or did they only prophesy what God commanded them to?
I am very hazy on the precise role of the Watchtower Society. Is it prophet, messenger, interpreter of Scriptures? In the case of each mistake, did the Watchtower Society leadership claim to speak in God?s name? (?God?s dates, not ours? ?established truth? ?proved?).
C. T. Russell died in 1916 leaving behind a legacy of time prophecies, not one of which had brought the foretold results.
In the 1930 book ?Light 1? page 194
?The Lord?s people looked forward to 1914?When that time came and passed there was much disappointment, chagrin and mourning, and the Lord?s people were greatly in reproach. They were ridiculed?and pointed to with scorn because they had said so much about 1914, and what would come to pass, and their ?prophecies? had not been fulfilled.?
In 1916, shortly before his death, C. T. Russell wrote the forward to a new edition of ?The Time is at Hand?
??this was a natural mistake to fall into, but the Lord overruled it?the thought that ?all gathered to glory by 1914, certainly did have a stimulating and sanctifying effect upon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord ? even for the mistake?
My conscience troubles me to read such words, which implicate the Lord in what were clearly serious human errors.
All this was a long time ago and errors have been acknowledged, so why should it be at all relevant to me today? The answer is that we must learn from our mistakes. There is also the question of the Watchtower Society?s understanding and divine authority.
In 1916 did the publishers of the dates recognise that they were not ?God?s dates? but human speculation?
Was there any justification for Russell to find such merit in the false predictions?
Seeing merit in error, not only seems unscriptural, but could it have helped to encourage or justify more erroneous human speculation in the future.
?Woe to those who are saying that good is bad and bad is good, and
those who are putting darkness for light and light for darkness, those
who are putting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.? (Isa 5:20)
In 1917, a new President and more ?light??:
??Scriptures prove that Spring 1918 will bring upon Christendom a spasm of anguish greater that that experienced in the Fall of 1914. Re-examine the table of the parallel dispensations in Studies in the Scriptures??
??also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions??
Then about 1920:
?Even the republics will disappear in the Fall of 1920?Every kingdom of earth will pass away, be swallowed up in anarchy..?
These are just examples of many quotes for all these dates and predictions.
In 1920 President Rutherford published a famous booklet ?Millions Now Living Shall Never Die? which made remarkable predictions, this time about 1925.
?a simple calculation?brings us to this important fact: That period of time beginning 1575 before AD 1 of necessity would end in the fall of the year 1925.?
??Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old?in 1925?resurrected, fully restored, made the visible legal representatives of the new order of things on earth.?
?Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter 11, to the condition of human perfection?millions of people will be still on earth in 1925?Based on the promises set forth in the divine word?we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die.?
I have at home a photograph of the luxury house (Beth-Sarim) built by the Watchtower Society to house Abraham and the others. There was a worldwide campaign with Large billboards in major cities ?Millions Now Living Will Never Die? and Newspaper advertisements were taken out. Public talks were given on a massive scale.
?I did not send the prophets, yet they themselves ran. I did not
speak to them, yet they themselves prophesied.? (Jeremiah 23:21)
More and more failed predictions led to serious doubts even among the most faithful so a change of doctrine was announced. Instead of ?that faithful servant? being Russell, it was now switched to a faithful and discreet slave ?class?. This way doctrines could continue to be changed, and more importantly the new ?slave class? could command authority and suppress understandable doubters. Anyone who questioned the ?slave? were now depicted as lacking faith, or proud, haughty, self-willed etc.?
By the mid 1930s the official dates for key events were moved up as follows:
Start of last days
Christ?s kingdom?s active rule
Beginning of resurrection