Wednesday, March 02, 2011

False Prophecy or Misguided Interpretation of Prophecy?

There is a big difference between misguided and immature exegesis of prophecy or scripture and outright false prophecy. The later is an attempt to deceive by contradicting true prophecy and scripture.

One challenge offered to Jehovah’s Witnesses is to admit that they made mistakes. There is no cognitive dissonance about this. As one would expect from sincere Christians, this challenge is very easy to meet, as this one example shows:

The October 1, 1984 issue of The Watchtower on page 24, ‘Jehovah Has Dealt Rewardingly With Me,’ stated:
“Regarding his [Rutherford’s] misguided statements as to what we could expect in 1925, he once confessed to us at Bethel, I made an ass of myself.
Another such admission is found in our faith-strengthening history book Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom:
“Later on, during the years from 1935 through 1944, a review of the overall framework of Bible chronology revealed that a poor translation of Acts 13:19, 20 in the King James Version, along with certain other factors, had thrown off the chronology by over a century. This later led to the idea—sometimes stated as a possibility, sometimes more firmly—that since the seventh millennium of human history would begin in 1975, events associated with the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign might start to take place then.

Did the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses on these matters prove to be correct? They certainly did not err in believing that God would without fail do what he had promised. But some of their time calculations and the expectations that they associated with these gave rise to serious disappointments.” (pages 632-633)
Thus, it was a breakthrough in deciphering Bible chronology and uprooting an inherited and cherished error from the 19th century that led to the sensational (and sometimes immaturely expressed) expectations for 1975. But this did not prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from continuing to study the Bible and improve our understanding of it.

Additionally, it states:
“In the years following 1966, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses acted in harmony with the spirit of that counsel [the main point about not being specific about what might happen]. However, other statements were published on this subject, and some were likely more definite than advisable. This was acknowledged in The Watchtower of March 15, 1980 (page 17). But Jehovah’s Witnesses were also cautioned to concentrate mainly on doing Jehovah’s will and not to be swept up by dates and expectations of an early salvation.” (page 104)
That cited Watchtower stated:
“With the appearance of the [1966] book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated.”
So blame was not cast on the Witness community, but on the ones taking the lead among them. Additionally, one cautionary comment declared the following near the end of 1974:
The publications of Jehovah’s witnesses have shown that, according to Bible chronology, it appears that 6,000 years of man’s existence will be completed in the mid-1970’s. But these publications have never said that the world’s end would come then. Nevertheless, there has been considerable individual speculation on the matter. So the assembly presentation “Why We Have Not Been Told ‘That Day and Hour’” was very timely. It emphasized that we do not know the exact time when God will bring the end. All we know is that the end will come within the generation that sees fulfilled on it the sign that Jesus Christ said would then be in evidence. (See Matthew chapters 24, 25.) All indications are that the fulfillment of this sign began in 1914. So we can be confident that the end is near; we do not have the slightest doubt that God will bring it about, the speaker stressed. But we have to wait and see exactly when, in the meantime keeping busy in God’s service. (The Watchtower 1974 October 15 p. 635, Growing in Appreciation for the “Divine Purpose”)
While cautions such as this may have been given less weight in light of the enthusiasm of others, it is most important to see the humility that was expressed then despite the disappointment that ensued.

Ones who wrestle with this issue of how God could be using people who in times past made immature date setting would do well to consider the psalmist King David’s words recorded at Psalm 69:5-7:
“O God, you yourself have come to know my foolishness,
And from you my own guiltiness has not been hidden.
O may those hoping in you not be ashamed because of me,
O Sovereign Lord, Jehovah of armies.
O may those seeking you not be humiliated because of me,
O God of Israel.
For on your account I have borne reproach,
Humiliation has covered my face.”
In this Psalm he speaks prophetically in the person of Jesus Christ. As such, the verses above could apply only to Christ’s representatives, his congregation, on earth.[1] Thus, this messianic prophecy includes the acknowledgment that Christ’s brothers would at times do foolish things, which is only to be expected, especially during the early years of coming out of Babylon the Great with Christendom’s false teachings of the Trinity and hellfire.

(All underscoring added by me.)

[1] See page 368 of the June 15, 1965 Watchtower.

The 1993 Awake! March 22 issue on page 4 Why So Many False Alarms? stated in a footnote:
Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their eagerness for Jesus’ second coming, have suggested dates that turned out to be incorrect. Because of this, some have called them false prophets. Never in these instances, however, did they presume to originate predictions ‘in the name of Jehovah.’ Never did they say, ‘These are the words of Jehovah.’ The Watchtower, the official journal of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has said: “We have not the gift of prophecy.” (January 1883, page 425) “Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible.” (December 15, 1896, page 306) The Watchtower has also said that the fact that some have Jehovah’s spirit “does not mean those now serving as Jehovah’s witnesses are inspired. It does not mean that the writings in this magazine The Watchtower are inspired and infallible and without mistakes.” (May 15, 1947, page 157) “The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic.” (August 15, 1950, page 263) “The brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views. (Prov. 4:18)”—February 15, 1981, page 19.

Additional reading:

Introductory picture is the Puyehue volcano in Chile, (AFP/File/Claudio Santana).