Revisionism and Reality

Posted by Tom on March 28, 1999 at 07:22:46

In the post "Known To Be Untrue" COMF has offered proof that the WTBTS in later publications has falsely portrayed the eschatological views of the 19th century Bible Students, principally about 1914.

I would like to amplify on that point a little, proving that this has not been simply an honest mistake made in either an isolated time period or group of publications. This depiction of an illusory picture of harmony between current and past beliefs regarding the Parousia has been an ongoing practice spanning nearly 50 years, and can be found in the books, booklets, yearbooks, magazines, and pamphlets published by the WTBTS.

The November 1, 1952 issue of The Watchtower on page 658 said:

"As for the time of Christ's second presence, Daniel's prophecy is again the one that gives the chronology for it. (Dan. 4:16) It was figured out as pointing to AD 1914, and The Watchtower called notice to the significance of 1914 in the year 1879."

Reality: Zion's Watch Tower had not pointed forward to 1914 as "the time for Christ's second presence." For over fifty-three years it was taught clearly and in no uncertain terms that the date for this event was 1874.

The April 1, 1953 issue of The Watchtower on page 215 said:

"It was therefore not a mere occurrence when devoted men and women began to be gathered out of faithless Christendom from and after the year 1870. God purposed to use them as an organization to do a twofold work. First, they must proclaim that the Gentile times that began in 607 B. C. were due to come to an end A. D. 1914, at which time Jehovah would take to himself his official power and begin to reign in the heavens by his anointed King. So for some thirty-seven years prior to 1914 this proclamation was sounded."

Reality: The Bible Students could not have sounding the proclamation that Christ's reign would start in 1914 "for some thirty-seven years prior to 1914" since it was taught clear up until 1922 that 1878 was the date for this event.

The June 15, 1954 issue of The Watchtower on page 370 said:

"Why, then, do the nations not realize and accept the approach of this climax of judgment? It is because they have not heeded the world-wide advertising of Christ's return and his second presence. Since long before World War I Jehovah's witnesses pointed to 1914 as the time for this great event to occur."

Reality: Again, the Witnesses "long before World War I" could not possibly have been pointing ahead to 1914 as the date for this great event. They taught clear up into the 1930's that it had occurred in 1874.

The 1958 publication From Paradise Lost To Paradise Regained said on page 170:

"In the "Watchtower" magazine of March 1880, they said: "The Times of the Gentiles extend to 1914, and the heavenly kingdom will not have full sway till then." Of all people, only the witnesses pointed to 1914 as the year for God's kingdom to be fully set up in heaven."

Reality: That was an incomplete quotation. The March 1880 issue, on page 2, had said:

"The Times of the gentiles" extend to 1914, and the heavenly kingdom will not have full sway till then, but as a "Stone" the kingdom of God is set up "in the days of these (ten gentile) kings," and by consuming them it becomes a universal kingdom-a "great mountain and fills the whole Earth."

Russell did not predict that the Kingdom of God would be set up in heaven, in 1914. He taught that the Kingdom would be set up on the earth in 1914 and believed that it had been set up in heaven in 1878.

The 1963 publication Babylon The Great Has Fallen! God's Kingdom Rules! said on page 515:

"The historical facts show that 1919 was the year when the remnant on earth of the 144,000 Kingdom heirs began to be freed from Great Babylon. In that year the message of God's established kingdom began to be preached from house to house and publicly by Jehovah's Christian witnesses in a fearless way. This preaching of the Kingdom as established in 1914 was in fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24:14: "This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations."

Reality: This is again incorrect. It was not until 1925 that the earlier prediction regarding 1914 was "spiritualized" into a heavenly invisible event. In 1919, the Bible Students were still looking forward to an earthly establishment of the kingdom, which they believed was due in 1925

The July 15, 1965 issue of The Watchtower on page 428 said:

"As we look back over the years, we can clearly see how God's organization in modern times has progressed in understanding. For example, it learned that Christ's second presence was to be in the spirit, and not in the flesh as many professed Christians believe. His rule would be from the heavens. This was a new revelation of great importance to God's people who had been anxiously awaiting his second presence toward the end of the nineteenth century."

Reality: This quote deviates from the truth in two distinct ways. First, the 19th century Bible students were not "anxiously awaiting his second presence." From its inception in 1879, their principal journal was called Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence because its purpose was to call attention to the fact that Christ was already present and had been since 1874. Second, Russell published nothing prior to 1877 indicating that Christ's return would be invisible and according to The Harp Of God did not embrace the idea of an invisible presence until 1875. (1921ed. P. 238) Therefore, one cannot truthfully say that Russell taught anything about what "was to be" but only about what "was," or had already occurred.

The September 15, 1966 issue of The Watchtower on page 557 said:

"They particularly heralded that the year 1914 was a marked year for the ending of "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24, AV.) and for the time of the establishment of Christ's kingdom in heaven."

Reality: The Bible Students most certainly did not herald the year 1914 as "the time of the establishment of Christ's kingdom in heaven."

The 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses on page 37 said:

"Even earlier, however, C. T. Russell wrote an article entitled "Gentile Times: When Do They End?" It was published in the Bible Examiner of October 1876, and therein Russell said: "The seven times will end in AD 1914." He had correctly linked the Gentile Times with the "seven times" mentioned in the book of Daniel. (Dan. 4:16, 23, 25, 32) True to such calculations, 1914 did mark the end of those times and the birth of God's kingdom in heaven with Christ Jesus as king. Just think of it! Jehovah granted his people that knowledge nearly four decades before those times expired."

Reality: The Bible Students did not even begin to teach that 1914 marked the birth of God's kingdom in heaven with Christ Jesus as king until 1925. Jehovah did not grant the Bible Students this knowledge "nearly four decades in advance."

The 1977 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses on page 203 said:

"Some whose expectations for 1914 were too great were disappointed and left the truth. But, for the most part, the brothers remained faithful. Today we know that they were right in believing that the Gentile Times of 2,520 years would run out about October 1, 1914. The Messianic kingdom then started to rule in heaven. One of the greatest events in human history had occurred, and the brothers had been privileged to share in announcing it!"

Reality: Once again, the claim is made that the establishment of the heavenly messianic kingdom in 1914 had been announced by the Bible Students before the year 1914, which is untrue. At the time, the Bible Students were announcing the year 1878 as the start of the messianic rule, not 1914. Further this excerpt attempts to portray the disappointment experienced when 1914 came and went as just that which was experienced by "some whose expectations were too great," which is very misleading. Anyone who had actually read and believed what was published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society both in the magazine Zion's Watch Tower and the Studies In The Scriptures book series would have been disappointed.

The December 1, 1984 issue of The Watchtower said on page 14:

Russell and his associates quickly understood that Christ's presence would be invisible. They disassociated themselves from other groups and, in 1879, began publishing spiritual food in Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. From its first year of publication, this magazine pointed forward, by sound Scriptural reckoning, to the date 1914 as an epoch-making date in Bible chronology. So when Christ's invisible presence began in 1914, happy were these Christians to have been found watching!

Reality: Concerning the Parousia it is not truthful to say that Russell had taught anything about what "would be" but only about what "was." Further, the implication is made that the Bible Students had understood in 1914 the significance of that date as it is taught by Jehovah's Witnesses today, which is completely untrue.

The same issue said on page 18:

"Late 19th-century and early 20th-century Christians were enabled to live in expectation of God's Kingdom rule well before 1914 because they calculated when "the appointed times of the nations" were due to end."

Reality: The "kingdom rule" that they were "enabled to live in expectation of" was a kingdom rule on earth.

The 1985 publication Life -- How did it get here? By Evolution or by Creation? on pages 227-229 said:

"The Bible also provided chronological evidence that 1914 would mark the birth of God's heavenly Kingdom, to be followed by unprecedented world trouble. But was anyone living back then aware that 1914 would be such a turning point in history? Decades before that date, there was an organization of people who were making known the significance of 1914."

Reality: The Bible Students did no such thing. The claim that the "significance of 1914" as understood by the Bible Students "decades before that date" included the knowledge that "1914 would mark the birth of God's heavenly Kingdom" and the beginning of "unprecedented world trouble" is completely untrue.

The 1986 publication Jehovah's Witnesses Unitedly Doing God's Will Worldwide said on page 8:

"Russell and his associates also saw that Christ's presence was to be invisible, in spirit. The Gentile Times, during which period God's sovereignty was not being expressed through any government on the earth, were to end in 1914. Then God's Kingdom would be established in heaven. These teachings are identified with Jehovah's Witnesses today. Russell and his companions announced these truths far and wide by talks and printed page."

Reality: Russell and his companions did no such thing. They did not teach that 1914 would see a heavenly establishment of the Kingdom. This "spiritualizing" of the prediction was done long after the 1914 date had come and gone. Further, concerning the Parousia, they saw nothing about what "was to be" as they embraced the concept of an invisible presence after 1874

The March 22, 1993 issue of Awake! said on page 10:

"If you are inclined to dismiss all of this as pie in the sky, too good to be true, pause again and reflect. In addition to the features of the composite sign of Christ Jesus' presence, there is Bible chronology that pointed to 1914 as the beginning of his presence. Jehovah's Witnesses published the date 1914 as a significant year in the development of Jehovah's Kingdom rule of the earth, doing so in the Watch Tower magazine of July 1879. Many historians and observers of world affairs have noted that the year 1914 ushered in an entirely different and significant period in human history, as the accompanying box indicates."

Reality: This quote deviates from the truth in at least three distinct ways: First, The July 1879 issue of Zion's Watch Tower makes no mention of either the 1914 date or the Gentile times. The year 1914 is not mentioned in this magazine until the December 1879 issue, page 3, as being the end of the "day of wrath." The idea that the "Times of the Gentiles" extend to 1914 is not mentioned until the March 1880 issue, page 2. Second, This chronology pointed to 1874, not 1914, as the beginning of "Christ's invisible presence." Third, Russell predicted that by 1914 all the kingdoms of the world and false religion would have been destroyed and God's kingdom established in the earth. So he did not "predict" the First World War, because the nations who would have participated in it were to have already been destroyed by 1914.

The September 15, 1998 issue of The Watchtower said on page 15:

"Similarly, a prophecy providentially caused sincere 19th-century Bible Students to be in expectation. By linking the "seven times" of Daniel 4:25 with "the times of the Gentiles," they anticipated that Christ would receive Kingdom power in 1914."

Reality: The 19th century Bible Students believed that Christ had received his Kingdom power in 1878. They were not looking forward to 1914 as the date when this event would occur. The idea that this event had occurred in 1914 did not appear until 1925.

From this sampling of quotes, it can be seen that as far as 1914 is concerned, the Society has indulged in a great deal of revisionism. It can further be seen that this revisionism has been an ongoing practice spanning almost 50 years, and not simply and honest mistake that was made in one or two publications.