The WTS and the End of the World
Part 1: Why So Many False Alarms?
The Watchtower Society demands high standards from religious organizations and sometimes takes them to task when they do not live up them. The Catholic Church has come in for its share of criticism, and in the August 22, 1984 Awake! the Society responded to criticism from one reader who said that they took "cheap shots" at the Church. On page 28 the Society editorially commented:
The Catholic Church occupies a very significant position in the world and claims to be the way of salvation for hundreds of millions of people. Any organization that assumes that position should be willing to submit to scrutiny and criticism. All who criticize have the obligation to be truthful in presenting the facts and fair and objective in assessing such.
The January 15, 1974 Watchtower article "Can You Be True to God, Yet Hide the Facts?" stated the Society's position on religious error much more forcefully, on page 35:
What results when a lie is let go unchallenged? Does not silence help the lie to pass as truth, to have freer sway to influence many, perhaps to their serious harm?....
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 warning. They may even resent it. But does that free one from the moral responsibility to give that warning?
Jehovah's Witnesses under the leadership of the Watchtower Society have made many predictions about the "end of the world." Not one has been fulfilled. Many have said that these predictions, presumably made in the name of God, show the Watchtower Society is a false prophet and should be avoided according to the prescription of Deuteronomy 18:20-22. This essay examines the question in the spirit expressed by the above two quotations.
The March 22, 1993 Awake! contains three articles on the topic "The World's End -- How Near?", with the apparent purpose of answering the Society's critics. The series makes a valiant effort to show that, in spite of their false predictions, Jehovah's Witnesses are not false prophets.
However, the articles appear to have been written by someone with little knowledge of the history of Jehovah's Witnesses. We will examine the articles point by point to show why. Commentary may be found immediately after quotations from the Awake! articles; alternatively, examples that contrast with statements by Awake! may be shown to the right of them. Boldface type appearing within quotations has been added for emphasis in every case except the March 22 Awake!, where it appears in the original.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The first article is entitled "Why So Many False Alarms?" Beginning on page 3 it says:
The story is told of a boy who watched the sheep of the villagers. To stir up a bit of excitement, one day he cried out, "Wolf! Wolf!" when there was no wolf. The villagers rushed out with clubs to drive off the wolf, only to find that there was none. It was such great fun that later on the boy repeated his cry. Again the villagers rushed out with their clubs, only to discover that it was another false alarm. After that a wolf did come, and the boy sounded the warning, "Wolf! Wolf!" but the villagers dismissed his cry as another false alarm. They had been fooled too often.
So it has become with those who proclaim the end of the world. Down through the centuries since Jesus' day, so many unfulfilled predictions have been made that many no longer take them seriously.
This is a very true observation. But Jehovah's Witnesses fit this illustration more perfectly than those the article proceeds to identify because they, like the shepherd boy, have so many times cried "Wolf" that they cannot be taken seriously. As early as 1876 Charles Taze Russell1 predicted that in 1878 true Christians would be "brought home" to Christ. In 1876 he also predicted2 that the "Gentile times" would end in 1914, which year would see the setting up of God's Kingdom in the earth. Not later than 1914 a host of other significant events would occur. When nothing happened in accord with Russell's predictions, the Watchtower Society in the 1920s, under J. F. Rutherford, spiritualized the fulfillment of some of the predictions in such a way that no one could possibly dispute they had occurred, and it abandoned the rest. Beginning in 1914 the Society also predicted World War I would end by turning into Armageddon by 1918. When that prediction failed the Society said that 1925 would bring the end. J. F. Rutherford, in his later writings and public talks, predicted World War II would be transformed into Armageddon, so that Jehovah's Witnesses should put off marrying, and raising children. In 1966 Fred Franz wrote a book that emphasized that six thousand years of human history would end in 19753 and this would be an extremely significant date in human history. Enough had been learned not to make explicit predictions in print, but the message got through and virtually all Jehovah's Witnesses expected the "end of the system of things" not later than 1975.
It is fascinating to watch newer Jehovah's Witnesses react when they learn that so many false predictions were made. When they first learn the unique doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses they are very pleased, but they are not informed of the, shall we say, dirt under the carpet. Many who have become Witnesses since 1975, for example, are unaware of the attitude Jehovah's Witnesses had in the decade prior to 1975. Most who were Witnesses before then seldom speak of it, and it is hardly ever mentioned in Watchtower publications. Newer ones often first learn about the problem of 1975 when they are challenged by an outsider. The first impulse is to deny that "the end of the world" was ever promoted, but honest ones eventually find the Society really did do everything short of flat out predicting 1975 as the end of the world. In 1980 the Society apologized in print,4 but this is not common knowledge among Jehovah's Witnesses today. The Society's latest history book, Jehovah's Witnesses -- Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, describes the Society's predictions this way: "Other statements were published on this subject, and some were likely more definite than advisable." (p. 104)
Next the Awake! article lists a few failed predictions:
Gregory I, pope from 590 to 604 C.E., in a letter to a European monarch, said: "We also wish Your Majesty to know, as we have learned from the words of Almighty God in Holy Scriptures, that the end of the present world is already near and that the unending Kingdom of the Saints is approaching."
In the 16th century, Martin Luther, progenitor of the Lutheran Church, predicted that the end was imminent. According to one authority, he stated: "For my part, I am sure that the day of judgment is just around the corner."
The Watchtower Society has been saying "Armageddon is just around the corner" since 1914. Before 1914, C. T. Russell said Armageddon would be finished not later than 1914, and in fact it had started in 1874! The Society then predicted the end would come in 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, the 1940s, and 1975. Let us see if Awake! mentions any of these in its list of those who made false predictions. The article continues:
Concerning one of the first Baptist groups, it is reported: "The Anabaptists of the early Sixteenth Century believed that the Millennium would occur in 1533."
"Edwin Sandys (1519-1588), Archbishop of York and Primate of England... says,... 'Let us be assured that this coming of the Lord is near.'"
William Miller, generally credited with founding the Adventist Church, is quoted as saying: "I am fully convinced that sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, according to the Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will come.
William Miller is possibly more the spiritual founder of Jehovah's Witnesses than even C. T. Russell. After the "Great Disappointment" of 1844 Miller gave up on end-of-the-world predictions, but many of those who had followed him carried on. One such was George Storrs, who began publishing a magazine called The Bible Examiner about 1843, in which he promoted many of the doctrines he learned from Miller. Russell got many of his own beliefs from Storrs and his magazine. Beginning about 1869 N. H. Barbour became heavily influenced by some of the Millerite groups. Their teaching formed the basis of his Bible chronology, which Russell later adopted. All the groups that descended from William Miller's original, from Seventh Day Adventists to Jehovah's Witnesses, have persisted in prophetic speculation, and their predictions have invariably failed.
An Illustration on Telling the Truth
Before we move on, let us note an illustration of how people can tell lies by telling the truth. Marvin L. Lubenow is a professor of Bible and apologetics at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California. His book Bones of Contention takes evolutionists to task for not telling the full truth about certain human-like fossils:
It is possible to lie by telling the truth. It is done often. Suppose a man owes you one hundred dollars. Because you need the money, you call him to find out when he can pay you. His wife answers the phone and tells you that he is out. You take that to mean that he is unavailable. You don't know that he is standing just outside the front door of his house so that his wife can "honestly" say that he is "out." She justifies herself in that she technically told the truth. But she really lied, because she intended that you would think that "out" meant "unavailable." She lied by telling the truth. [Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992 pp. 103-4]
As will become clear in the rest of this essay, the Watchtower Society is a master of this art.
What Is A False Prophet?
Awake! continues on page 3:
Does the failure of such predictions to come true convict as false prophets those who made them, within the meaning of Deuteronomy 18:20-22? That text reads: "The prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: 'How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?' when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak."
The quotation from Deuteronomy makes very clear that it is a prophet who especially needs to watch out that what he says is really Jehovah's word. It is certainly true, as Awake! implies, that not everyone who makes predictions should be called a prophet.
What is prophecy and what is a prophet? The Watchtower Society has published clear definitions. A "prophecy", according to Vol 2. of Insight on the Scriptures, pages 690-1, is:
An inspired message; a revelation of divine will and purpose or the proclamation thereof. Prophecy may be an inspired moral teaching, an expression of a divine command or judgment, or a declaration of something to come. As shown under PROPHET, prediction, or foretelling, is not the basic thought conveyed by the root verbs in the original languages.... yet it forms an outstanding feature of Bible prophecy.... The Source of all true prophecy is Jehovah God.
It should be noted that a prophecy can be originated by men or even be inspired by demons, according to the Bible. A true prophet, according to Vol 2. of Insight on the Scriptures, page 694, is:
One through whom divine will and purpose are made known.
Note that these definitions do not require a prophet to claim inspiration. Someone who is a false prophet is certainly not inspired, but he is still a prophet. He is the object of condemnation of Deuteronomy 18. The key points are: (1) anyone claiming to speak for God is a prophet, and (2) such a prophet can be true or false. Claiming that a false prophet is not 'really' a prophet is equivalent to claiming there is no such thing as a false prophet, contrary to what Jehovah himself says. Insight also explains how a true prophet can be distinguished from a false one:
The three essentials for establishing the credentials of a true prophet, as given through Moses, were: The true prophet would speak in Jehovah's name; the things foretold would come to pass (De 18:20-22); and his prophesying must promote true worship, being in harmony with God's revealed word and commandments (De 13:1-4).
So there are three tests a true prophet must pass. Failure to pass even one makes him a false prophet. In summary, if someone claims to be a prophet, i.e., to speak for God, but his words are not in harmony with the Bible, or if he makes predictions in God's name and his predictions fail, then he is a false prophet. It's really a rather simple concept, wouldn't you say?
One of the best descriptions of these ideas is found in the May 15, 1930 Watch Tower, pages 153-5, which describes the true prophet and the false prophet:
A prophet is a person who professes to proclaim a message from Jehovah God. The Bible reveals the fact that there are both true and false prophets. The true prophet is one who always speaks as God's mouthpiece. His message is the truth, and is designed to be a blessing to his hearers. He is never boastful, and always gives God the credit for the message which he proclaims, and therefore always has the divine approval. A false prophet is a person who claims to be a representative of Jehovah and to speak in his name and to proclaim his message but is in fact the mouthpiece of Satan. A false prophet never has Jehovah's approval, and his message is always intended to deceive the people and to draw them away from God and a study of his Word.
A false prophet speaks that which is contrary to God's will; he sneers at, contradicts and denies the message of God's true prophets. It matters not whether he proclaims his message with deliberate, willful and malicious intent to deceive, or whether he is the blinded and deluded dupe of Satan and hence unwittingly used of him. In either case he is a false prophet....
Since the Bible was completed, and "inspiration" is no longer necessary, a true prophet is one who is faithfully proclaiming what is written in the Bible.... But it may be asked, How are we to know whether one is a true or a false prophet? There are at least three ways by which we can positively decide: (1) If he is a true prophet, his message will come to pass exactly as prophesied. If he is a false prophet, his prophecy will fail to come to pass.... The difference between a true and a false prophet is that the one is speaking the word of the Lord and the other is speaking his own dreams and guesses.... The true prophet of God today will be telling forth what the Bible teaches, and those things that the Bible tells us are soon to come to pass. He will not be sounding forth man-made theories or guesses, either his own or those of others.... In the New Testament, and in our day, the word "prophet" has a thought similar to that of our word "teacher," in the sense of a public expounder. Hence when the term "false prophet" is used, we shall get the correct thought if we think of a false teacher.
So The Watch Tower said that if anyone claims to represent God and speak in his name and proclaim his message and the prophecies fail, he is a false prophet. He will only have been sounding forth man-made theories or guesses. Conversely, anyone who sounds forth man-made theories or guesses in God's name is a false teacher and therefore a false prophet.
Note this clearly: The Watch Tower pointedly said that "inspiration is no longer necessary." Therefore, according to the Society, inspiration -- or the claim of inspiration -- is not a criterion for determining if one who claims to be a prophet is a true one or a false one. Therefore, a prophet is anyone who claims to speak in God's name.
Awake!, October 8, 1968, on page 23, in speaking about the Society's contention that the Bible indicates we are living in the last days, emphasized that those who falsely predicted the end of the world were false prophets:
Still some persons may say: "How can you be sure? Maybe it is later than many people think. But maybe it is not as late as some persons claim. People have been mistaken about these prophecies before.".... True, there have been those in times past who predicted an "end to the world," even announcing a specific date.... Yet, nothing happened. The "end" did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying. Why? What was missing?
Compare these statements with those above from the May 15, 1930 Watch Tower, and then compare them with what the Society said was going to occur in 1914 and 1925. These predictions are discussed in more detail later in this essay. Especially note that the 1968 Awake! said those who predicted an end to the world, even announcing a specific date, and whose predictions failed, were false prophets by virtue of their false predictions. The 1968 Awake! continued:
Missing was the full measure of evidence required in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Missing from such people were God's truths and the evidence that he was guiding and using them.
So the fact that the predictions failed was proof God was not guiding or using them.
Returning to the March 22, 1993 Awake!, the next paragraph observes that those who make false predictions are not necessarily false prophets. This is to set the stage for the claim that Jehovah's Witnesses' false predictions do not make them false prophets. Compare the statements with those from the above 1930 Watch Tower and from Paradise Restored to Mankind -- By Theocracy, quoted on the right below. Awake! continues on page 3:
There are some who make spectacular predictions of the world's end to grab attention and a following, but others are sincerely convinced that their proclamations are true. They are voicing expectations based on their own interpretation of some scripture text or physical event. They do not claim that their predictions are direct revelations from Jehovah and that in this sense they are prophesying in Jehovah's name. Hence, in such cases, when their words do not come true, they should not be viewed as false prophets such as those warned against at Deuteronomy 18:20-22. In their human fallibility, they misinterpreted matters. [g93 3/22 3, 4]
The true prophet of God today will be telling forth what the Bible teaches, and those things that the Bible tells us are soon to come to pass. He will not be sounding forth man- made theories or guesses, either his own or those of others. [w30 5/15 153-5]
Jehovah, the God of the true prophets, will put all false prophets to shame either by not fulfilling the false prediction of such self-assuming prophets or by having His own prophecies fulfilled in a way opposite to that predicted by the false prophets. False prophets will try to hide their reason for feeling shame by denying who they really are. [Paradise Restored, 1972, pp. 353-4]
This description, of course, is meant to exclude the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses from the ranks of false prophets. It is true that some who make predictions of the end of the world do not claim Jehovah has directly "inspired" them. It would be very surprising if they did claim to be inspired, as this would be claiming the same authority as Jehovah or as the Bible itself. Few are brazen enough to do this openly, but most claim to have some sort of guidance from God. But as we have seen, The Watch Tower has stated that "inspiration" does not exist today, and so Awake!'s point is a red herring.
Awake! tries to make it appear that only true prophets can 'really' prophesy in Jehovah's name. That is why it phrases its argument in terms of "direct revelations from Jehovah," "that in this sense they are prophesying in Jehovah's name." But this so weakens the requirements that only those who explicitly say the words "I am inspired by God to make these predictions" could possibly be false prophets, and in practice virtually eliminates the existence of such. It also contradicts the 1930 Watch Tower's statements quoted above.
Has the Watchtower Society Ever Claimed Inspiration?
This discussion leads to two important questions: has the Watchtower Society ever claimed to be a prophet, and has it ever claimed to be inspired? We shall demonstrate that the answer to both questions is, Yes.
Deuteronomy says that a person is a false prophet if he claims to speak in God's name and his predictions fail. It does not say he has to claim "inspiration." The Society claims to speak in God's name and to be a prophet, and has explicitly said so many times. It has constantly emphasized that it has been the "channel of communication" between God and man in the late-19th and 20th centuries. Here are a few examples.
In the Olin Moyle court case of 1943, Fred Franz said under oath that no man is the editor of The Watchtower. Who, then, is the editor?
Q. Who subsequently became the Editor of the magazine, the main editor of the "Watch Tower" magazine?
A. In 1931, October 15th, as I recall, the "Watch Tower" discontinued publishing the names of any editorial committee on the second page.
The Court. He asked you who became the editor.
The Witness. And it said --
The Court. Who became the editor?
Q. Who became the editor when this was discontinued?
A. Jehovah God.
In case the reader should object that this was only Franz's opinion and therefore of little weight, it should be noted that in 1943, Franz was for all practical purposes himself the editor of The Watchtower. He was the head theologian of the Watchtower Society and Nathan Knorr generally rubber stamped his writings. Governing Body member Karl Klein often called him the "oracle of the organization."
Here are a few examples where the Society explicitly calls itself a prophet:
Whom has God actually used as his prophet?.... Jehovah's witnesses. -- The Watchtower, January 15, 1959, pp. 40-1.
As Jehovah revealed his truths by means of the first-century Christian congregation so he does today by means of the present-day Christian congregation. Through this agency he is having carried out prophesying on an intensified and unparalleled scale. -- The Watchtower, June 15, 1964, p. 365.
There is a real need today for someone to speak as a true representative of God.... was there any group on whom Jehovah would be willing to bestow the commission to speak as a "prophet" in His name, as was done toward Ezekiel...? It is of importance to every individual on earth to identify the group that Jehovah has commissioned as his "servant" or messenger. -- The Watchtower, March 15, 1972, pp. 186, 189, 190.
The follow-on article in the next issue was entitled "They shall know that A Prophet Was Among Them," and it said:
A third way of coming to know Jehovah God is through his representatives. In ancient times he sent prophets as his special messengers.... So, does Jehovah have a prophet to help them, to warn them of dangers and to declare things to come? These questions can be answered in the affirmative. Who is this prophet?.... This "prophet" was not one man, but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today they are known as Jehovah's Christian witnesses.... Of course, it is easy to say that this group acts as a "prophet" of God. It is another thing to prove it. The only way that this can be done is to review the record. What does it show?.... Thus this group of anointed followers of Jesus Christ, doing a work in Christendom paralleling Ezekiel's work among the Jews, were manifestly the modern-day Ezekiel, the "prophet" commissioned by Jehovah to declare the good news of God's Messianic kingdom and to give warning to Christendom.... Jehovah's witnesses today make their declaration of the good news of the Kingdom under angelic direction and support.... And since no word or work of Jehovah can fail, for he is God Almighty, the nations will see the fulfillment of what these witnesses say as directed from heaven. -- The Watchtower, April 1, 1972, pp. 197, 198, 200.
Who, then, are the group of persons who, toward the beginning of this "time of the end," were commissioned to serve as the mouthpiece and active agent of Jehovah?.... Whom could the real "chariot" of Jehovah's organization roll up to and confront that He might bestow upon this qualified one the commission to speak as a prophet in the name of Jehovah?.... Jehovah has found and commissioned his modern-day "Ezekiel." It is a composite Ezekiel. It is composed of those dedicated, baptized proclaimers of God's kingdom, who have been anointed with His spirit for their work.... Jehovah commissioned this dedicated, baptized, anointed class of servants to speak to all the nations in His name.... So it was with the anointed, dedicated witnesses of Jehovah back there in the year 1919 C.E. The facts from then on down to this date prove that they received their ordination and appointment and commission for their work in this "time of the end" from Jehovah himself. -- The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah, 1971, pp. 58, 59, 61, 66, 67.
These faithful anointed Christians.... had to prophesy.... announcing Jehovah's judgments.... proclaiming his day of vengeance.... [they] had to preach.... -- Revelation -- Its Grand Climax At Hand!, p. 164.
Consider, too, the fact that Jehovah's organization alone, in all the earth, is directed by God's holy spirit or active force. Only this organization functions for Jehovah's purpose and to his praise. To it alone God's Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book.... How very much true Christians appreciate associating with the only organization on earth that understands the 'deep things of God.'.... How much we should appreciate God's earthly organization.... -- The Watchtower, July 1, 1973, p. 402.
Compare the claims expressed in the last quotation with those the Society attributes to the Catholic Church, on page 1 of this essay.
The August 1, 1971 Watchtower applied Amos 3:7 to Jehovah's Witnesses. On pages 466-8 it said:
There is an additional way, among others, to determine whom Jehovah is using today. Bible prophecy, history written in advance, comes from God.... He can foresee future conditions with total accuracy and keep his servants abreast of them.... These things Jehovah has made known to those who obey him as ruler: "The Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets." In this century who has been correctly informed about the future? the clergy? the political leaders? the economic heads? Or has it been the witnesses of Jehovah?....
Previously we examined some of the main identifying marks, or the fruitage, that those who know the truth about God must bear. We have seen that Jehovah's witnesses do bear those identifying marks. Then we should expect them to have God's prophetic truths. Does the evidence show this? Let us examine what Jehovah's witnesses have been saying down through the years.... Who has told the truth? Who today deserve our confidence as they tell of events to come in the very near future?....
How could Jehovah's witnesses have known so far in advance what world leaders themselves did not know? Only by God's holy spirit making such prophetic truths known to them.
The fact that the Watchtower Society applies Amos 3:7 to itself shows that its leaders say Jehovah's Witnesses are prophets.
The book Holy Spirit -- The Force Behind the Coming New Order!, 1976, said on pages 148, 150:
The holy spirit, which Jehovah prophesied that he would pour out in the last days, has not ceased to operate, for the remnant are still baptizing disciples of Christ in the name of that spirit.... The announced purpose behind God's pouring out of his spirit upon all sorts of flesh was that the recipients thereof might prophesy. The facts substantiate that the remnant of Christ's anointed disciples have been doing that prophesying to all the nations for a witness in favor of God's kingdom. Logically, then, they must be the ones upon whom God's spirit has actually been poured out. That spirit is behind their worldwide preaching. Why argue about it?.... After twelve years of such prophesying about God's kingdom, the anointed remnant had become better informed upon Jehovah God, the heavenly Source of the outpoured spirit....
They have not been ashamed of bearing the divine name, the name most holy. Their preaching and prophesying from house to house and from city to city on the basis of that name has resulted in magnifying that name all around the earth.
Slightly less explicit but still to the point are these statements:
.... Jehovah's organization must henceforth be guided and directed by Jehovah's spirit through the visible governing body made up of those servants whom Jehovah himself would appoint.... Jehovah's theocratically controlled organization under the immediate direction of Jehovah himself. -- The Watchtower, June 1, 1965, p. 352.
Let us now unmistakably identify Jehovah's channel of communication for our day.... Yes, particularly since 1919 has it been true that he has appointed the collective body of the anointed remnant over all the visible interests of the Kingdom.... It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the "slave" as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision. -- The Watchtower, June 15, 1957, p. 370.
In spite of its denials of claiming to be "inspired," in practice the Watchtower Society really does claim to be inspired -- it simply uses other words to say it. According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, "inspire" means to "influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration; to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on; to spur on, impel, motivate." 2 Timothy 3:16 says: "All Scripture is inspired of God." According to the Insight book, Vol. 1, pages 1202-3,
the phrase "inspired of God" translates the compound Greek word theopneustos, meaning, literally, "God-breathed" or "breathed by God."
Also, according to Insight, pages 1202-4, "inspiration" is:
The quality or state of being moved by or produced under the direction of a spirit from a superhuman source. When that source is Jehovah, the result is a pronouncement or writings that are truly the word of God.... The men used to write the Scriptures therefore cooperated with the operation of Jehovah's holy spirit. They were willing and submissive to God's guidance...., eager to know God's will and leading.... God directed them so that what they wrote coincided with and fulfilled his purpose. As spiritual men, their hearts and minds were attuned to God's will, they 'had the mind of Christ' and so were not setting down mere human wisdom nor a "vision of their own heart," as false prophets did.
The above and following quotations from Watchtower publications make it abundantly clear that the Society feels its activities fit this definition, although it reserves the word "inspiration" for the Bible alone and uses "guidance" and "direction" with reference to itself. How are guidance and direction different from inspiration? It is a distinction without a difference. Keep in mind the above definitions when reading the following quotations, as they reflect both the language we speak and the Bible's view of inspiration.
The November 1, 1956 Watchtower declared on page 666, for all practical purposes, that the Society is inspired:
Who controls the organization, who directs it? Who is at the head? A man? A group of men? A clergy class? A pope? A hierarchy? A council? No, none of these. How is that possible? In any organization is it not necessary that there be a directing head or policy- making part that controls or guides the organization? Yes. Is the living God, Jehovah, the Director of the theocratic Christian organization? Yes!
While the writer did not use the word "inspired," for obvious reasons, to be directed by God is to be inspired. That is the definition of inspiration, as shown above.
The April 1, 1972 Watchtower said on page 200:
.... Jehovah's witnesses today make their declaration of the good news of the Kingdom under angelic direction and support.
The book Holy Spirit -- The Force Behind the Coming New Order! said on pages 175-6:
Here is what he [Jehovah] says in Isaiah 51:15, 16:
"I, Jehovah, am your God, the One stirring up the sea that its waves may be boisterous. Jehovah of armies is his name. And I shall put my words in your mouth, and with the shadow of my hand I shall certainly cover you, in order to plant the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth and say to Zion, 'You are my people.'"
No obstacle put in His way by the enemies will prove to be insurmountable for Jehovah. Just as at Mount Sinai He put his word in the mouth of his chosen people through the mediator Moses and thereafter he led them under the protective shadow of his hand into the Promised Land, so he has done for the remnant of spiritual Israel. He has put his word, his message of the hour, into the mouth of the spiritual remnant for them to confess openly before all the world, for their own salvation and for that of responsive hearers. A "great crowd" of "other sheep" have acted favorably upon what they have heard and have taken God's word into their mouth.
The question at the bottom of the page asked:
In whose mouth has Jehovah put his word, and why has he covered these with the shadow of his hand?
Anyone in whose mouth Jehovah has "put his word" is inspired by him, by definition. Such words are by definition, "God-breathed," and fit the definition given above by the Insight book.
Clearly, the above material proves the Society considers its own words equivalent to those of Moses at Mount Sinai, through whom Jehovah gave his word to the Israelites. Moses was certainly inspired at that time, but in contrast to the Society, nothing that Jehovah spoke through him failed, "it all came true." (Joshua 21:45) Nor did it need to be revised at some later time, when "new light" appeared.
Similarly invoking the notion of "God-breathed," the book Survival Into a New Earth, 1984, said on page 109:
The members of spiritual Israel were looking forward to an inheritance "reserved in the heavens" for them. (1 Peter 1:3-5) But before they actually received that reward, Jehovah had a work for them to do. Concerning this, he prophetically said: "I shall put my words in your mouth, and with the shadow of my hand I shall certainly cover you, in order to plant the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth and say to Zion, 'You are my people.'" (Isaiah 51:16) He put his "words," his message, into the mouth of his servants for them to proclaim earth wide. With confidence they began to make known that God has planted the "new heavens" that neither men nor demons can uproot them. The way in which Jehovah has dealt with the representatives of heavenly Zion has clearly identified them as his people. In contrast with the spiritually and morally desolate condition of the world, the "land" occupied by spiritual Israel, their field of activity, has become a place where spiritual values and activities thrive. It is a spiritual paradise!
The above two quotations explicitly state that God causes the "anointed remnant" to speak God's words. That is inspiration.
The book Light I, 1930, said on page 12:
The remnant now "see visions"; that is to say, are given an understanding of things not heretofore understood.... The time for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Revelation seems to be from about 1879 forward until the kingdom is in full sway. It was about that date that the second presence of the Lord began to be observed, and that and other truths began to appear in The Watch Tower, which since then until now has been the means of communicating truth to those who love the Lord. All those who love God supremely believe that The Watch Tower was started and has been maintained by his power and grace.
The remnant is here claimed to be given an understanding of things by none other than Jehovah himself. On page 106 Light I said further:
Visible human creatures had to do with that message, [a resolution adopted at the 1922 Cedar Point, Ohio, convention] yet, in fact, it was a message of the Lord sent through his invisible angels, because without a doubt these are clothed with authority to direct the course of earthly members of God's organization.
The above is a case where the Society explicitly claims that what it said was not taken from the Bible, but was miraculously given to it through angels. Is this not a claim of inspiration? On page 113 Light I said:
.... it seems clear that the spirit of the Lord, operating by his invisible angels, directed his people on earth to take this action [of distributing a resolution adopted at a convention in Los Angeles in 1923].
The Watchtower, February 15, 1976, said on page 124:
We must take seriously what his Word says and what his organization reveals to us.... Would not a failure to respond to direction from God through his organization really indicate a rejection of divine rulership?
The Society has published anecdotes that attempt to show direct guidance by God of the actions of certain of its members. The 1975 Yearbook described how Jehovah's Witnesses got their name, and related this story on pages 150-1:
When he was eighty-eight years old A. H. Macmillan attended the "Fruitage of the Spirit" Assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses in the same city [Columbus, Ohio]. There, on August 1, 1964, Brother Macmillan made these interesting comments on how the adopting of that name came about:
"It was my privilege to be here in Columbus in 1931 when we received ... the new title or name ... I was amongst the five that were to make a comment on what we thought about the idea of accepting that name, and I told them this briefly: I thought that it was a splendid idea because that title there told the world what we were doing and what our business was. Prior to this we were called Bible Students. Why? Because that's what we were. And then when other nations began to study with us, we were called International Bible Students. But now we are witnesses for Jehovah God, and that title there tells the public just what we are and what we're doing....
"In fact, it was God Almighty, I believe, that led to that, for Brother Rutherford told me himself that he woke up one night when he was preparing for that convention and he said, 'What in the world did I suggest an international convention for when I have no special speech or message for them? Why bring them all here?' And then he began to think about it, and Isaiah 43 came to his mind. He got up at two o'clock in the morning and wrote in shorthand, at his own desk, an outline of the discourse he was going to give about the Kingdom, the hope of the world, and about the new name. And all that was uttered by him at that time was prepared that night, or that morning at two o'clock. And [there is] no doubt in my mind -- not then nor now -- that the Lord guided him in that, and that is the name Jehovah wants us to bear and we're very happy and very glad to have it."
Of course, almost everyone who has thought hard about a subject has experienced something similar. One might be doing something totally unrelated when a flash of thought comes along and one sees the solution to the problem. This can occur even in the middle of the night when one is lying awake thinking. People who do not think much do not experience this and cannot understand how it can happen.
The Watchtower Society sometimes publishes disclaimers that it is not inspired or infallible, but these have little practical value because it expects its members to view it as if it were inspired and infallible. That is the purpose behind the statements quoted above, such as "the anointed remnant are God's mouthpiece." That is why it disparages, and often disfellowships, members who publicly say it is not inspired or is fallible in particular instances. The Society's attitude is clearly shown in the following discussion.
Forced Acceptance of False Doctrines to Achieve Uniformity
In November 1954, the Douglas Walsh trial was held in the Scottish Court of Sessions, in which the Watchtower Society tried to establish before the British court that certain of its members were ordained ministers. High ranking leaders of the Society testified, including vice-president Fred Franz and legal counsel for the Society, Haydon C. Covington. Covington's testimony before the attorney for the Ministry of Labour and National Service included the following:
Q. Is it not vital to speak the truth on religious matters?
A. It certainly is.
Q. Is there in your view room in a religion for a change of interpretation of Holy Writ from time to time?
A. There is every reason for a change in interpretation as we view it, of the Bible. Our view becomes more clear as we see the prophesy fulfilled by time.
Q. You have promulgated -- forgive the word -- false prophesy?
A. We have -- I do not think we have promulgated false prophesy, there have been statements that were erronious, that is the way I put it, and mistaken.
Q. Is it a most vital consideration in the present situation of the world to know if the prophesy can be interpreted into terms of fact, when Christ's Second Coming was?
A. That is true, and we have always striven to see that we have the truth before we utter it. We go on the very best information we have but we cannot wait until we get perfect, because if we wait until we get perfect we would never be able to speak.
Q. Let us follow that up just a little. It was promulgated as a matter which must be believed by all members of Jehovah's Witnesses that the Lord's Second Coming took place in 1874?
A. I am not familiar with that. You are speaking on a matter that I know nothing of.
Q. You heard Mr. Franz's evidence?
A. I heard Mr. Franz testify, but I am not familiar with what he said on that, I mean the subject matter of what he was talking about, so I cannot answer any more than you can, having heard what he said.
Q. Leave me out of it?
A. That is the source of my information, what I have heard in court.
Q. You have studied the literature of your movement?
A. Yes, but not all of it. I have not studied the seven volumes of "Studies in the Scriptures," and I have not studied this matter that you are mentioning now of 1874. I am not at all familiar with that.
Q. Assume from me that it was promulgated as authoritative by the Society that Christ's Second Coming was in 1874?
A. Taking that assumption as a fact, it is a hypothetical statement.
Q. That was the publication of false prophesy?
A. That was the publication of a false prophesy, it was a false statement or an erronious statement in fulfilment of a prophesy that was false or erronious.
Q. And that had to be believed by the whole of Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. Yes, because you must understand we must have unity, we cannot have disunity with a lot of people going every way, an army is supposed to march in step.
Q. You do not believe in the worldly armies, do you?
A. We believe in the Christian Army of God.
Q. Do you believe in the worldly armies?
A. We have nothing to say about that, we do not preach against them, we merely say that the worldly armies, like the nations of the world today, are a part of Satan's Organisation, and we do not take part in them, but we do not say the nations cannot have their armies, we do not preach against warfare, we are merely claiming our exemption from it, that is all.
Q. Back to the point now. A false prophesy was promulgated?
A. I agree that.
Q. It had to be accepted by Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. That is correct.
Q. If a member of Jehovah's Witnesses took the view himself that that prophesy was wrong and said so he would be disfellowshipped?
A. Yes, if he said so and kept persisting in creating trouble, because if the whole organisation believes one thing, even though it be erronious and somebody else starts on his own trying to put his ideas across then there is disunity and trouble, there cannot be harmony, there cannot be marching. When a change comes it should come from the proper source, the head of the organisation, the governing body, not from the bottom upwards, because everybody would have ideas, and the organisation would disintegrate and go in a thousand different directions. Our purpose is to have unity.
Q. Unity at all costs?
A. Unity at all costs, because we believe and are sure that Jehovah God is using our organisation, the governing body of our organisation to direct it, even though mistakes are made from time to time.
Q. And unity based upon an enforced acceptance of false prophecy?
A. That is conceded to be true.
Q. And the person who expressed his view, as you say, that it was wrong, and was disfellowshipped, would be in breach of the Covenant, if he was baptized?
A. That is correct.
Q. And as you said yesterday expressly, would be worthy of death?
A. I think -- -- --
Q. Would you say yes or no?
A. I will answer yes, unhesitatingly.
Q. Do you call that religion?
A. It certainly is.
Q. Do you call it Christianity?
A. I certainly do.
"In practice, such trifles as contradictions in principle are easily set aside; the faculty of ignoring them makes the practical man." -- Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams
Fred Franz, then vice-president of the Society, also answered questions for the attorney for the Ministry of Labour and National Service.
Q. In addition to these regular publications do you prepare and issue a number of theological pamphlets and books from time to time?
Q. Can you tell me this; are these theological publications and the semi-monthly periodicals used for discussion of statements of doctrine?
Q. Are these statements of doctrine held to be authoritative within the Society?
Q. Is their acceptance a matter of choice, or is it obligatory on all those who wish to be and remain members of the Society?
A. It is obligatory.........
The British government counsellor later directed attention to certain teachings that the Society had in time rejected, including some involving specific dates. What, he asked, if someone, at the time when such teaching was promulgated, had seen the error in it and had therefore not accepted it? What would the organization's attitude toward such one be? The testimony explains:
Q. Did [Pastor Russell] not fix 1874 as some other crucial date?
A. 1874 used to be understood as the date of Jesus' Second Coming spiritually.
Q. Do you say, used to be understood?
A. That is right.
Q. That was issued as a fact which was to be accepted by all who were Jehovah's Witnesses?
Q. That is no longer now accepted, is it?
Q. But it was a calculation which is no longer accepted by the Board of Directors of the Society?
A. That is correct.
Q. So that am I correct, I am just anxious to canvas the position; it became the bounden duty of the Witnesses to accept this miscalculation?
Q. So that what is published as the truth today by the Society may have to be admitted to be wrong in a few years?
A. We have to wait and see.
Q. And in the meantime the body of Jehovah's Witnesses have been following error?
A. They have been following misconstructions on the Scriptures.
A. Well, error.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Esquire
Again the question as to how great the authority attributed to the Society's publications is came in for discussion. While at one point the vice president says that "one does not compulsorily accept," his testimony thereafter reverts back to the earlier position, as can be seen:
A. These [Watchtower Society] books give an exposition on the whole Scriptures.
Q. But an authoritative exposition?
A. They submit the Bible or the statements that are therein made, and the individual examines the statement and then the Scripture to see that the statement is Scripturally supported.
Q. He what?
A. He examines the Scripture to see whether the statement is supported by the Scripture. As the Apostle says: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good".
Q. I understood the position to be -- do please correct me if I am wrong -- that a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses must accept as a true Scripture and interpretation what is given in the books I referred you to?
A. But he does not compulsorily do so, he is given his Christian right of examining the Scriptures to confirm that this is Scripturally sustained.
Q. And if he finds that the Scripture is not sustained by the books, or vice versa, what does he do?
A. The Scripture is there in support of the statement, that is why it is put there.
Q. What does a man do if he finds a disharmony between the Scripture and those books?
A. You will have to produce me a man who does find that, then I can answer, or he will answer.
Note Franz's waffling. He is unwilling, even under oath, to admit that present understanding can be in error, even though he just finished testifying that what is published as truth today may be error in a few years.
Q. Did you imply that the individual member has the right of reading the books and the Bible and forming his own view as to the proper interpretation of Holy Writ?
A. He comes -- -- --
Q. Would you say yes or no, and then qualify?
A. No. Do you want me to qualify now?
Q. Yes, if you wish?
A. The Scripture is there given in support of the statement, and therefore the individual when he looks up the Scripture and thereby verifies the statement, then he comes to the Scriptural view of the matter, Scriptural understanding as it is written in Acts, the seventeenth chapter and the eleventh verse, that the Bereans were more noble than those of Thessalonica in that they received the Word with all readiness, and they searched the Scripture to see whether those things were so, and we instruct to follow that noble course of the Bereans in searching the Scripture to see whether these things were so.
Q. A Witness has no alternative, has he, to accept as authoritative and to be obeyed instructions issued in the "Watchtower" or the "Informant" or "Awake"?
A. He must accept those.
To recap, Haydon C. Covington basically said that the Watchtower Society views unity as more important than even doctrinal truth, and that this desire for unity may even result in a forced acceptance of false prophecy. Fred Franz's testimony confirmed this, and further showed that, while the Society makes a show of encouraging people to examine its doctrines in light of the scriptures "to see whether these things are so" (Acts 17:10, 11), it does not allow its members to freely act upon the results of that examination if the Society's claims are found wanting. Since the Society will never admit to members that it is wrong right now, it does not truly allow them to examine its doctrines to see "whether these things were so," but in practice requires them to examine the scriptures to confirm that these things are so, and to "readjust" their thinking if they are unable to do that. In other words, no matter what an individual finds, he is obligated to believe whatever the Society teaches at that moment. At least, he is obligated not to publicly or privately disagree with the Society, and so if he really cannot bring himself to accept some doctrine, he must pretend to accept it, and live a lie in order to remain in good standing. Since Psalm 51:6 says of Jehovah, "you have taken delight in truthfulness itself in the inward parts," and the Bible says that Jehovah is a God of truth, this attitude would appear inconsistent with his will.
So, even though the Society states it is fallible and is not inspired, no member is allowed to act on this without serious consequences ranging from loss of congregational privileges to disfellowshipping. The Society wants every member to believe, as Covington testified, that any member who acts on the fact that Watchtower Society leaders are not infallible is worthy of death.
1 Several groups dispute that Jehovah's Witnesses are the spiritual successors of Russell, such as the Dawn Bible Students and the Laymen's Home Missionary Movement. These groups still adhere to most of Russell's teachings and continue to republish his works, whereas the Watchtower Society has all but abandoned Russell's works and most of his teachings.
2 Russell did not originate these predictions, but adopted them from the Second Adventist Nelson H. Barbour when he accepted all of Barbour's chronological theories early in 1876. Barbour later abandoned these chronological speculations, while Russell retained them. The various sects that split off from Russell's original organization still retain the basics of this chronology, although differing in detail.
3 At one point Franz decided this should be 1974, but after one article was published the point was not raised publicly again.
4 See 1980 Yearbook, pp. 30-1; The Watchtower, March 15, 1980, p. 17.
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Sign of the Last Days -- When? by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst.)