Sunday February 19, 2017

Prophetic Interpretation

Daniel & Revelation

Russell closely followed sixteenth century Protestant Biblical interpretive methodology, seeing Bible Prophecy as pointing to modern day fulfillment (where modern is the time period of the interpreter). Rather than try to determine from the text what the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation mean, the Watchtower uses eisegesis to fit prophetic meanings to current times. This has led to a constant change of understanding and interpretation.

A small sampling of prophecy that has undergone complete interpretive re-engineering follows, particularly regarding the significant changes made to the understanding of the prophetic days of Daniel and Revelation. Whereas Russell borrowed extensively from the Adventist movement to prove parallels in the 1800's, Rutherford found fulfilment in twentieth century events.

Prophetic Days

Scripture Prophecy Original interpretation Current Interpretation
Daniel 12:7 Revelation 11:3-6 1260 days 538 A.D. - 1799 A.D. The period of Papal rule 1914 - 1918 Rutherford's imprisonment
Daniel 12:11 1290 days 538 A.D. - 1829 A.D. Start of Papal rule to start of Miller movement 1918 - 1922 Formation of League of Nations to the Cedar Point Convention
Daniel 12:12 1335 days 539 A.D. - 1874 A.D, Start of Papal rule to the Lord's second presence 1922 - 1926 Cedar Point Convention to the English Convention
Daniel 8:14 2300 days 454 B.C. - 1846 A.D. Rebuilding of the temple to modern cleansing of the sanctuary 1938 - 1944 Reinvigoration of theocratic order after World War II
Daniel 4 2520 days - 7 times End of the Last Days Beginning of the Last Days

Elijah and Elisha

  Elijah Elisha Reference
Russell 144,000 Heavenly Great Crowd W1889 August p.1
Rutherford Pre 1919 work Post 1919 work w1937 p.126
Knorr Work pre Rutherford Work post Rutherford w1965 August 15 pp.492-9

As will be shown, from Rutherford onwards interpretation became less logically consistent. Lack of consistent methodology has allowed desired explanations to be squeezed from almost any Scripture.

Franz' imagination knew no bounds; as seen from the 42 types and prophecies in You May Survive Armageddon into God's New World (1955) pages 367-368 that were supposed to point to the Great Crowd. This included Rahab the Harlot, Lot and his daughters and "the very great multitude of fish that come to life in the healed waters of the Red Sea."

Current interpretation lacks consistency in many areas due to combining a matrix of methods to explain each passage, and arbitarily choosing what to explain as literal or figurative. For instance, at times the word 'days' will be said to be literal days, at other times times years and at yet other times be considered figurative. In the 1800's, the 1260 days of Revelation 11:3 were interpreted as years extending to 1799 A.D.(Three Worlds 1877 p.114), now they are literal days during World War One. And whilst the 1260 days of Revelation 11:3 are interpreted as a literal period of time, six verses later the 3 ½ days at are said to be figurative. (Revelation, Its Grand Climax At Hand! pp.164-168)

Likewise, in the description of the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4 and 14:1, the number 144,000 is taken as literal but the statement that they are virgins, Jewish, male and standing on Mount Zion are all explained as figurative. (Revelation, Its Grand Climax At Hand! pp.116, 117, 198, 199) This method of interpretation makes it possible to arrive at whatever preconceived meaning is desired. That is why it is possible to have a new interpretation created every few decades.

Revelation

A book could be devoted to the changing Watchtower interpretation of Revelation. Rather than show each change, it is noted that within one century there were five major Watchtower publications attempting to interpret Revelation, each one substantially different than the one before. In 1917 The Finished Mystery was released. Then came Light (1930), followed by Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God's Kingdom Rules (1963), Then Is Finished the Mystery of God (1969) and most recently Revelation, Its Grand Climax At Hand! (1988). The September 2006 Kingdom Ministry insert listed 70 changes that need to be made to the Revelation Climax book.

The Watchtower claims that Jesus commenced his inspection of religious groups in 1918, and choose the Watchtower Society as the sole organization worthy of representing him, based on the spiritual food being served. Some of the food at that time is contained in the 1917 book The Finished Mystery. This was held up as the fulfilment of prophecy, "God-given interpretation" (Watch Tower 1917 December 15) and "the first and only book that makes clear every part of Revelation and Ezekiel." (Watch Tower 1917 October 1) It continues to proudly be described in the Proclaimers and Revelation Climax books as a powerful classic.

"Through the close of 1917 and into 1918, the Bible Students energetically distributed the new book, The Finished Mystery. By the end of 1917, the printers were busy on the 850,000 edition. The Watch Tower of December 15, 1917, reported: "The sale of the Seventh Volume is unparallelled by the sale of any other book known, in the same length of time, excepting the Bible." Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.69

"In 1917 the Bible Students published The Finished Mystery, a powerful commentary on Revelation and Ezekiel."  Revelation - Its Grand Climax At Hand! p.165

In reality, almost every page of The Finished Mystery contains information that a Witness today would mock if they did not know it was one of their own. The majority of its teachings were incorrect and discarded in following publications. Some of the claims in The Finished Mystery were;

  • 88 "proofs" that Christ's "Second Advent occurred in the Fall of 1874" (pp.68-71)
  • The remaining Anointed would all be taken from earth to heaven in the spring of 1918. (p.64)
  • "Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions...." (p.485)
  • "Even the republics will disappear in the fall of 1920....Every kingdom of Earth will pass away, be swallowed up in anarchy." (p.258)
  • The rider on the white horse in Revelation 6:2 is "the Bishop of Rome, the embryo Pope, the personal representative of Satan" (p.106)
  • Michael the Archangel is the pope of Rome. (p.188)
  • "Leviathan" of Job 41:2-19 is a locomotive. (p.85)
  • "The chariots rage in the streets, they jostle one another" of Natham 2:4 are the clanking and the bumping of railway cars. (p.93)
  • The "valiant men" of Nathum 2:3 are an engineer and a fireman. (p.93)
  • Demons will invade the minds of churchgoers in 1918, leading to their destruction. (p.128)
  • "Behemoth" of Job 40:15-24 is a stationary steam engine. (p.84)
  • The "voice from heaven" of Revelation 18:4 is the voice of The Watchtower Society. (p.276)
  • The glory of the angel of Revelation 18:1 refers to modern discoveries such as correspondence schools, celluloid, Divine Plan of the Ages, talking machines, vacuum cleaners, induction motors, pasteurization, Panama Canal, shoe sewing machines, subways, skyscrapers, Roentgen rays. (p.273)
  • Revelation 14:20 predicted the precise distance from the place where The Finished Mystery was produced in Stranton, Pennsylvania to its shipping destination in Bethel in New York City (p. 230)

New books explaining Revelation have been necessary to replace preceding wrong interpretations. Even the latest Revelation book still contains ideas that are clearly wrong and will need to be changed again over time. The number of contradictory interpretations that the Watchtower Society have presented shows that these are little more than stabs in the dark, not a collection of teachings directed by God's Holy Spirit. How does the Organization explain such a major rewrite of the prophetic explanations? Revelation, It's Grand Climax At Hand! P.8 states; 

"As early as 1917, the Watch Tower Society published the book The Finished Mystery. This was a verse-by-verse commentary on the Bible books of Ezekiel and Revelation. Then, as world events continued to unfold in fulfilment of Bible prophecy, a timely two-volume work entitled Light was prepared, being released in 1930. This offered an updated study of Revelation. Light continued to 'flash up for the righteous,' so that in 1963 the Society published the 704-page book "Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God's Kingdom Rules!"

The claim is made that these changes signify 'a flash of new light'. But wasn't The Finished Mystery said to be 'God given'? Can it truthfully be said that God gave the original interpretation if it was blatantly incorrect? When there have already been 5 vastly different attempts to get it right how can people believe a rewrite is new light from Jehovah and not just more of the same wrong light?

Take as examples the explanation of what the star named Wormwood is meant to signify, or who Michael the Archangel signifies. This was not "new light" resulting as "world events continued to unfold".

Wormwood

Revelation 8:10-11 "And the third angel blew his trumpet. And a great star burning as a lamp fell from heaven, and it fell upon a third of the rivers and upon the fountains of waters. 11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned into wormwood, and many of the men died from the waters, because these had been made bitter."

There have been three different versions of 'God given light' in the Watchtower publications so far;

1. Calvin

"Calvin is entitled to the honor of having at one time been a papal star .... Is called Wormwood. -- What an ideal name for the doctrine which has caused more bitterness against God than any other doctrine ever taught, and for the man who roasted Servetus at the stake"Studies in the Scriptures Series VII- The Finished Mystery p.151

2. Satan

"The 'great star' falling from heaven as a burning lamp was Satan .... The name of this star is called 'Wormwood', which means bitter. Being cast out of heaven Satan is in the 'gall of bitterness'" Light I  pp.126, 127

3. Clergy of Christedom

"In view of these features about it. what religious class of people could this blazing, falling 'great star' picture but the apostate Christian clergy of Christendom, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant and otherwise sectarian? . . . But what should have been spiritual 'water' to sustain the spiritual life of the peoples, the apostate Christian clergy have turned into undrinkable, deadly, bitter wormwood waters…false, pagan, unchristian, unbiblical doctrines …" Then is Finished the Mystery of God pp.224,225

Michael the Archangel

Michael the Archangel is described in Daniel 10:13 as "Mi´cha·el, one of the foremost princes" and at Revelation 12:7 it says " Mi´cha·el and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled." In the fifty years between 1880 and 1930 there were five changes as to who Michael was.

1. An Angel that worships Jesus

"Hence it is said, "Let all the angels of God worship him;" [that must include Michael, the chief angel, hence Michael is not the Son of God] and the reason is, because He has "by inheritance obtained a more excellent Name than they."" Zion's Watch Tower 1879 Nov p.4

2. The Pope and Antichrist

"Michael and his angels"--the papacy and its supporters--fought against the dragon--pagan rulers, etc.,-- and the great dragon was cast out of heaven. Zion's Watch Tower 1879 Dec p.6

3. Michael was the pre-human Jesus Christ

"Can it be that he who was called Michael--Jehovah's chief-messenger--was none other than our Lord in his pre-human condition? … we conclude that HE must have been "chief messenger."" Zion's Watch Tower 1883 Jun p.3

4. The Pope again

"Michael.--- "Who as God," the Pope." <em >The Finished Mystery1917 p.188

5. Jesus in heaven

Since the 1930's Michael is explained to be the heavenly name for Jesus.

"For many years Jehovah's Witnesses have taught that Michael is a heavenly name for the only-begotten Son of God, who was named Jesus while on earth." Watchtower 1984 Dec 15 p.26

The Governing Body of the Watchtower Society demonstrate that they have no idea as to how to interpret Revelation.

Daniel

A number of the prophetic interpretations for Daniel show another classic struggle of attempting to find a modern day fulfillment that does not exist, resulting in contradiction, changes, inconsistencies and little hint of divine guidance. The current understanding is often quite amusing. The prophecies discussed here are;

  • 1260 days
  • 1290 days
  • 1335 days
  • 2300 days
  • 2520 days - Seven Times

During the 1800's Russell taught that the 1260, 1290 and 1335 days all started at the beginning of papal rule in 539 A.D. With 539, 1799 and 1874 no longer being considered relevant the explanation for these prophecies also have changed.

1260 days

At Daniel 12:7 and Revelation 11:3-6 it discusses a period of 3 ½ years, or 1260 days. During the 1800's the Watchtower claimed this was prophetic of 1260 years. Now it is said to be a period of days that roughly correspond to 1260 literal days.

1800's

The 1260 days were explained to be the period of power for the Papal Church. At first this was 538 - 1798 A.D. (Zion's Watch Tower December 1881 p.7). This was later adjusted to 539 - 1799 A.D.

"Literally in the three and one half years in Elijah's day in which there was no rain (James 5:17) and spiritually in the three and one half times, or 1260 years, from A. D. 539 to 1799 in which the showers of blessing were withheld from the world" Studies in the Scriptures VII - Finished Mystery p.173

1900's

In the 1900's, the 1260 days were changed to be literal days.

In 1930, Light I explained the 1260 days extend from November 7 1914 with the release of a specific Watch Tower article, concluding May 7th 1918 when an arrest order on Rutherford and the Watchtower board members was issued.

"The article published in the November 1 issue of The Watch Tower would be in the hands of its readers by the end of the first week or about the seventh day of November, 1914. … Forty-two months of thirty days each, or 1260 days, which is equivalent to three and one-half years solar time, beginning the first week in November, to wit, November 7, 1914, would end on the 7th day of May, 1918. … Exactly forty-two months after the publication of the forementioned "sackcloth" article in The Watch Tower, to wit, on the 7th day of May, 1918, all the officers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and who were then the publishers of The Watch Tower, were "overcome", in this, that they were arrested under warrant charging a violation of the espionage law and trading with the enemy, and their work stopped." Light I pp.198,199

In 1969, the start of the 1260 days was changed, now extending from end of Gentile Times October 4th 1914 to the memorial of March 26th 1918. (See Then is Finished the Mystery of God, p261-263)

In 1977, the start of the 1260 days was changed to Dec 28th 1914, ending June 21st 1918. This was the period from when the Bible Students expected to be persecuted until Rutherford's release from imprisonment.

"The "finishing of the dashing of the power of the holy people to pieces" evidently occurred on June 21, 1918. On that day the American federal court sentenced the president and the secretary-treasurer of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and five of their headquarters associates to long prison terms, amounting to a total of 140 years. … Well, June 21, 1918, fell, according to the Biblical lunar calendar, on Tammuz 11, 1918. Three lunar years back from that, or Tammuz 11, 1915, fell on June 23, 1915. Then the half of a lunar year, or six lunar months, back from that would be Tebeth 11, 1914, which coincided with December 28, 1914. … That date, December 28, 1914, was very appropriate. During the year from early in January the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society had been showing the famous Photo-Drama of Creation." Our Incoming World Government - God's Kingdom pp.128-129 

In 1988, the Revelation book went back to the 1969 interpretation.

"Additionally, at the beginning of the Lord's day, there was a marked period of three and a half years when the hard experiences of God's people matched the events prophesied here-starting from the outbreak of the first world war in the latter part of 1914 and continuing to the early part of 1918." Revelation - It's Great Climax is at Hand! p.164

In 1993, the Watchtower returned to the 1977 interpretation.

The 1,260 Days

"Since January 1914 they had been showing the Photo-Drama of Creation, a Biblical presentation that drew attention to Daniel's prophecies. In the summer of that year in the Northern Hemisphere, war broke out. In October, the appointed times ended. By the end of the year, the anointed remnant were expecting persecution, as seen from the fact that the year text chosen for 1915 was Jesus' question to his disciples, "Are ye able to drink of my cup?" based on Matthew 20:22, King James Version. Hence, from December 1914, this small band of witnesses 'preached in sackcloth,' humbly enduring as they announced Jehovah's judgments. … Finally, on June 21, 1918, J. F. Rutherford, the new president, together with the directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, was sentenced on false charges to a long term in prison. Thus, at the end of the prophetic period, the "little horn" killed the organized public preaching work." Watchtower 1993 Nov 1 pp.9-10

In 2007 Jehovah's Witnesses once more reviewed the 1993 Revelation book at their Book Study. The September 2006 Kingdom Ministry insert made the following change regarding the 1260 days.

It is amusing to think a Witness will consider this "new light", when in actual fact it was old light from 1977, re-replacing incorrect new light.

What is interesting when examining the 1993 understanding is that from December 28th to June 21st is not 1260 days, but 1272 days. Additionally, why start December 1914? World War 1 started in August and the Gentile times apparently ended in October. The Watchtower simply decided the event of June 21st 1918 to have been an auspicious date, worthy of prophecy, and then counted back roughly 1260 solar days to a non-eventful month in 1914.

Note: The 1260 days of Revelation 11:3 are not to be confused with the 1260 days of Revelation 12:6. This second period is described as;

"Revelation 12:6 says 1,260 days. Revelation 12:14 calls the period a time, times, and half a time; in other words, three and a half times. In fact, both expressions stand for three and a half years, extending in the Northern Hemisphere from the spring of 1919 to the autumn of 1922. This was a period of refreshing recuperation and reorganization for the restored John class." Revelation - It's Great Climax is at Hand! p.184

1290 days

1800's

Originally the 1290 days of Daniel 12:11 were the 1290 years that extended from 539 A.D, to 1829. This marked the start of the Miller movement and the message of the Second Advent of Christ. (Studies in the Scriptures, Series 3 p.84, Series 7 pp.40, 60, 163. Watchtower 1914 Nov 1)

1900's

The 1290 days now have been given a rather unusual 20th century application. This time period is now said to refer to days and not years, and be related to the period of time between the set up of the League of Nations in January 8th 1918 to the Cedar Point convention on September 3rd 1922.

Strangely enough there are not 1290 days, but 1334 days between these two conventions, so the prophecy is around two months out. To make it fit the Watchtower makes the claim that Daniel was referring to 30 day months and hence 43 months. From January 1918 to September 1922 is 43 months if you do not count the first and last month. In other words solar days are converted to lunar months and then applied to solar months to make this prophecy fit, quite a stretch of the imagination.

"The 1,290 days are therefore reckoned from the date of the setting up of the abomination, which was in the latter part of January, 1919. This period of 3 years and 7 months ends at September, 1922-the very time of the Cedar Point Convention mentioned above." Watchtower 1951 Jul 15 p.433

In more recent times the Watchtower presents the information in a manner that makes it almost appear to be a literal 1290 days.

"The League was proposed in January 1919. If we count 1,290 days (three years, seven months) from that time, we arrive at September 1922." Watchtower 1993 Nov 1 pp.10-12

1335 days

Daniel 12:12 "Happy is the one who is keeping in expectation and who arrives at the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days!

1800's

The 1335 days was interpreted to mean 1335 years after papal rule had started in 539 A.D, coming to "the Lord's second presence" in 1874 A.D. (Creation 1927 2,175,000 ed. p.298)

1900's

The prophecy of 1335 days is now applied to the time period between the Cedar Point convention on September 3 1922 and the London convention held May 1926.

"Counting from September 1922, this brings us to the late spring (Northern Hemisphere) of 1926. What happened during those 1,335 days? … In May 1926 at the London, England, convention, a resolution was adopted entitled "A Testimony to the Rulers of the World."" Watchtower 1993 Nov 1 pp.10-12 

This appears to be the same reasoning as used with the 1290 days. In this case there are about 1360 days between these two conventions. Consistent use of the convert lunar-to-solar-months-in-between method as applied to the 1290 day prophecy would make this prophecy over shoot the convention by a couple of months.

2300 days

1800's

In the early 1800's John Aquila Brown taught that the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 ended in 1844. Russell felt the cleansing of the sanctuary at the end of the 2300 days occurred in 1846, understood to be when Storrs abandoned false doctrines. Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 pp.67,108 and Series 7 p.163 explains that 2300 years extends from 454 B.C. (the start of the prophecy of the 70 weeks with the rebuilding of the temple) to 1846 A.D.

1900's

The current understanding of the 2300 days show just how strange Watchtower interpretation has become in a vigorous effort to find some 20th century application. From June 1st 1938 to October 15th 1944 is about 2320 days.

"For "the holy place" to be "brought," or restored, to what it should be, the 2,300 days must have begun when it previously was in the "right condition" from God's standpoint. At the earliest, this was on June 1, 1938, when The Watchtower published part 1 of the article "Organization." Part 2 appeared in the issue of June 15, 1938. Counting 2,300 days (6 years, 4 months, and 20 days on the Hebrew calendar) from June 1 or 15, 1938, brings us to October 8 or 22, 1944. On the first day of a special assembly held at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on September 30 and October 1, 1944, the Watch Tower Society's president spoke on the subject "The Theocratic Alignment Today." At the annual corporate meeting on October 2, the Society's charter was amended in an effort to bring it as close to a theocratic arrangement as the law would allow. With the publication of clarified Biblical requirements, theocratic organization was soon more fully installed in the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses. … In fact, The Watchtower of October 15, 1944, contained an article entitled "Organized for Final Work." It and other service-oriented articles of the same period indicated that the 2,300 days had ended and that "the holy place" was again in its "right condition." Pay Attention to Daniel's prophecy pp.177-179

2520 days - Seven Times

Daniel 4 contains the prophecy of seven times. This prophecy has also changed from a 19th century centric understanding to a 20th century one. During the 1800's, this prophecy was to signify the end of the system of things in 1914. During the 1900's, this prophecy was changed to signify the beginning of the system of things in 1914.

Utilising yet another method of calculation, the Seven Times are explained as 'lunar' days converted to 'solar' years. Taking a 'time' to be equal to a 360 day lunar year, seven times are 2520 days, which become 2520 lunar years. However, from 607 B.C. to 1914 A.D. is 2520 solar years, so this prophecy is worked out as 1 lunar day equalling 1 solar year.

Conclusion

The Watchtower Society uses a plethora of principles to explain prophecy, allowing them to arrive at any range of different understandings. By this method explanations were kept fresh and exciting for those living in the 1800's, replaced in the 1900's with new explanations with seemingly current application. Now that we have entered the 21st century, the application to articles and conventions from almost one hundred years ago seem distant and irrelevant, even humorous. Russell's 19th Century applications contained far more logical reasoning than Rutherford's 20th Century application, and are still accepted by some Adventist religions.

Almost every time that the Watchtower now applies a portion of Revelation to itself or the modern era, closer examination shows nothing in the text uniquely points to such a application. Consider examples such as;

  • The trumpet blasts of chapters 8-11 corresponding to Rutherford's 1920 Watchtower declarations
  • The 1260 days of chapter 11 corresponding to Rutherford's imprisonment
  • The 1260 days of chapter 12 corresponding to the revitalisation of the Watchtower Society
  • Babylon the Great being false religion. Babylon the Great is simply described as a city that rules over the earth that carries on trade, signifying Rome sitting on seven hills. Revelation 18:21 "Thus with a swift pitch will Babylon the great city be hurled down, and she will never be found again."
  • The 144,000 being Anointed Jehovah's Witnesses
  • The Great Crowd being Jehovah's Witnesses that survive Armageddon

Five books have been dedicated to the meaning of Revelation, each one overthrowing much of the understanding of the previous one. To say God gave these woefully contradictory and wrong interpretations is uncalled for. If the understanding of prophecy changes dramatically over time and is revised when something that sounds more relevant occurs, can it be said interpretations are "flashes of light" revealed by Jehovah? Would it not be more correct to say it is written by eager Bible students fumbling around with doctrine?

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