The Finished Mystery, 1917, pages 62, 64, said with great authority:
The data presented in comments on Rev. 1:1…. prove that the Spring of 1918 will bring upon Christendom a spasm of anguish greater even than that experienced in the Fall of 1914.
The awakening of the sleeping saints, A.D. 1878, was just half way (three and one-half years each way) between the beginning of the Times of Restitution in 1874 and the close of the High Calling in 1881. Our proposition is that the glorification of the Little Flock in the Spring of 1918 A.D. will be half way (three and one-half years each way) between the close of the Gentile Times and the close of the Heavenly Way, A.D. 1921.
These predictions, of course, also failed. Perhaps the most forceful language used was in the predictions of a terrible destruction due to come on Christendom’s churches and their members in 1918, with their dead bodies strewn about unburied. Pages 484-485 said:
Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of “Christianity.”
Page 513 said:
In the year 1918, when Christendom shall go down as a system to oblivion…. God will cause the nations to shake with gigantic revolutions.
The book also predicted stupendous events for 1920. On page 258 it said:
Even the republics will disappear in the fall of 1920….
Every kingdom of earth will pass away, be swallowed up in anarchy….
The three days in which Pharaoh’s host pursued the Israelites into the wilderness represent the three years from 1917 to 1920 at which time all of Pharaoh’s messengers will be swallowed up in the sea of anarchy.
On page 542 it said:
As the fleshly-minded apostates from Christianity, siding with the radicals and revolutionaries, will rejoice at the inheritance of desolation that will be Christendom’s after 1918, so will God do to the successful revolutionary movement; it shall be utterly desolated, “even all of it.” Not one vestige of it shall survive the ravages of world-wide all-embracing anarchy, in the fall of 1920.
The book Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1920 Edition, said on pages 89-90:
As we have heretofore stated, the great jubilee cycle is due to begin in 1925. At that time the earthly phase of the kingdom shall be recognized…. Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter eleven, to the condition of human perfection.
On page 97 it said:
Based upon the argument heretofore set forth, then, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and that the new order is coming in, and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction, it is reasonable to conclude that millions of people now on the earth will be still on the earth in 1925. Then, based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die.
The Society sometimes refers to the “Millions Campaign,” but does not inform its readers that the whole foundation of the claim that “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”1 rested on the predictions about 1925, predictions that proved utterly false, and about which J. F. Rutherford later admitted to the Bethel family, “I know I made an ass of myself.”
The Society published many statements that the 1925 date, and all others within its chronology, were absolutely firm. In an article on chronology, the May 15, 1922 Watch Tower said:
We have no doubt whatever in regard to the chronology relating to the dates of 1874, 1914, 1918, and 1925.
It was on this line of reckoning that the dates 1874, 1914, and 1918 were located; and the Lord has placed the stamp of his seal upon 1914 and 1918 beyond any possibility of erasure. What further evidence do we need?
Using this same measuring line…. it is an easy matter to locate 1925, probably in the fall, for the beginning of the antitypical jubilee. There can be no more question about 1925 than there was about 1914. The fact that all the things that some looked for in 1914 did not materialize does not alter the chronology one whit. Noting the date marked so prominently, it is very easy for the finite mind to conclude that all the work to be done must center about it, and thus many are inclined to anticipate more than has been really foretold. Thus it was in 1844, in 1874, in 1878 as well as in 1914 and 1918. Looking back we can now easily see that those dates were clearly indicated in Scripture and doubtless intended by the Lord to encourage his people, as they did, as well as to be a means of testing and sifting when all that some expected did not come to pass. That all that some expect to see in 1925 may not transpire that year will not alter the date one whit more than in the other cases.
Amazingly, the failed expectations resulting from earlier time prophecies are all charged up to the Lord’s account, “doubtless intended by the Lord to encourage his people.” Nothing strange is seen in this concept that God and Christ would use falsehood as a means of encouragement for their servants. Yet 1 John 1:5 says that “God is light and there is no darkness at all in union with him.” The idea that God or his Son employ error in their guidance of Christians is foreign to Scripture.
The Watch Tower of June 15, 1922 said:
The chronology of present truth might be a mere happening if it were not for the repetitions in the two great cycles of 1845 and 2520 years, which take it out of the realm of chance and into that of certainty…. where the agreements of dates and events come by the dozens, they cannot possibly be by chance, but must be by the design or plan of the only personal Being capable of such a plan — Jehovah himself; and the chronology itself must be right.
In the passages of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh the agreement of one or two measurements with the present-truth chronology might be accidental, but the correspondency of dozens of measurements proves that the same God designed both pyramid and plan — and at the same time proves the correctness of the chronology….
It is on the basis of such and so many correspondencies — in accordance with the soundest laws known to science — that we affirm that, Scripturally, scientifically, and historically, present-truth chronology is correct beyond a doubt. Its reliability has been abundantly confirmed by the dates and events of 1874, 1914, and 1918. Present-truth chronology is a secure basis on which the consecrated child of God may endeavor to search out things to come.
The July 15, 1922 Watch Tower, under the heading “The Strong Cable of Chronology,” said:
This chronology is not of man, but of God. Being of divine origin and divinely corroborated, present-truth chronology stands in a class by itself, absolutely and unqualifiedly correct….
In the chronology of present truth there are so many inter-relationships among the dates that it is not a mere string of dates, not a chain, but a cable of strands firmly knit together — a divinely unified system, with most of the dates having such remarkable relations with others as to stamp the system as not of human origin….
It will be clearly shown that present-truth chronology displays indisputable evidence of divine foreknowledge of the principle dates, and that this is proof of divine origin, and that the system is not a human invention but a discovery of divine truth…. we believe that it bears the stamp of approval of Almighty God.
It would be absurd to claim that the relationship discovered was not the result of divine arrangement.
The Watch Tower, September 1, 1922, said on page 262:
…. all Europe is like a boiling pot, with the intensity of the heat ever increasing. If any one who has studied the Bible can travel through Europe and not be convinced that the world has ended, that the day of God’s vengeance is here, that the Messianic kingdom is at the door, then he has read the Bible in vain. The physical facts show beyond question of a doubt that 1914 ended the Gentile times; and as the Lord foretold, the old order is being destroyed by war, famine, pestilence, and revolution.
The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion much longer; and that even before 1925 the great crisis will be reached and probably passed.
The 1922 Cedar Point, Ohio, convention is regularly referred to in Watchtower publications as a major milestone in the organization’s history. Today the Society quotes a small portion of the keynote address in support of 1914. It ignores the fact that 1799 and 1874 figured with equal strength in the argument advanced and in the conclusion the audience was called upon to reach. The November 1, 1922 Watch Towerreproduced the talk:
Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. Fulfilled prophecy is otherwise designated the physical facts; and these facts are indisputable….
Since [Christ] has been present from 1874, it follows, from the facts as we now see them, that the period from 1874 to 1914 is the day of preparation. This in no wise militates against the thought that “the time of the end” is from 1799 until 1914….
For six thousand years God has been preparing for this kingdom. For nineteen hundred years he has been gathering out the kingdom class from amongst men. Since 1874 the King of glory has been present; and during that time he has conducted a harvest and has gathered unto himself the temple class. Since 1914 the King of glory has taken his power and reigns. He has cleansed the lips of the temple class and sends them forth with the message. The importance of the message of the kingdom cannot be overstated. It is the message of all messages. It is the message of the hour. It is incumbent upon those who are the Lord’s to declare it. The kingdom of heaven is at hand; the King reigns; Satan’s empire is falling; millions now living will never die.
Do you believe it? Do you believe that the King of glory is present, and has been since 1874? Do you believe that during that time he has conducted his harvest work? Do you believe that he has had during that time a faithful and wise servant through whom he directed his work and the feeding of the household of faith? Do you believe that the Lord is now in his temple, judging the nations of earth? Do you believe that the King of glory has begun his reign?
Then back to the field, O ye sons of the most high God! Gird on your armor! Be sober, be vigilant, be active, be brave. Be faithful and true witnesses for the Lord. Go forward in the fight until every vestige of Babylon lies desolate. Herald the message far and wide. The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.
Stirring words, indeed. But have they stood the test of time? Two of the three key dates mentioned have already been abandoned. Of the millions then living that were to never die, most of them have. Interestingly, this talk also moved the events that had been taught to have occurred in 1878, up to 1914.
The Watch Tower, April 1, 1923, said on page 106, in the “Question and Answer” section:
Question: Did the order go forth eight months ago to the Pilgrims to cease talking about 1925? Have we more reason, or as much, to believe the kingdom will be established in 1925 than Noah had to believe that there would be a flood?
Answer: …. There was never at any time any intimation to the Pilgrim brethren that they should cease talking about 1925…. Our thought is, that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures, marking the end of the typical jubilees. Just exactly what will happen at that time no one can tell to a certainty; but we expect such a climax in the affairs of the world that the people will begin to realize the presence of the Lord and his kingdom power. He is already present, as we know, and has taken unto himself his power and begun his reign. He has come to his temple. He is dashing to pieces the nations. Every Christian ought to be content, then, to do with his might what his hands find to do, without stopping to quibble about what is going to happen on a certain date.
As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had (so far as the Scriptures reveal) upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.
The Watch Tower, July 15, 1924, said:
Let no one now be deceived by calculations as to just when the Lord will cease his work with the Church on earth. The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in the Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914; but it would be presumptuous on the part of any faithful follower of the Lord to assume just what the Lord is going to do during that year.
The Watch Tower, January 1, 1925, page 3, began to hedge, when it said:
The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during the year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his own people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire during this year that they would fail to joyfully do what the Lord would have them to do.
The Watch Tower, February 15, 1925, pages 56-57, began to lay a foundation for major damage control by suggesting that any future blame for failed predictions should be laid upon “the friends”:
That 1925 will be a phenomenal year in many respects is evident… It seems to be a weakness of many Bible Students that if they locate a future date in the Bible, immediately they center as many prophecies upon that date as possible. This has been the cause of many siftings in the past. As far as we recall, all the dates foreseen were correct. The difficulty was that the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason; and that when their imaginations burst asunder, they were inclined to throw away everything. No doubt Mr. Miller was correct in locating 1844 as a Bible date. But he expected too much. 1874 was also easily located. 1878 was also a marked date, and one which caused Brother Russell a severe trial until he corrected his expectations, as noted in his “Harvest Siftings”, of April, 1894, now out of print. Many can remember how “absolutely sure” some were about 1914. No doubt the Lord was pleased with the zeal manifested by his servants; but did they have a Scriptural basis for all they expected to come to pass that year? Let us be cautious, therefore, about predicting particulars. The Lord will make them clear as fast as they become meat in due season.
By this time, far from continuing dogmatically to predict that in 1925 the “ancient worthies” would be resurrected and God’s Kingdom established on earth, the article lamely continued:
We may reasonably expect that 1925 will be a very active year for the saints on this side the vail; and also that the adversary will be increasingly active in his opposition, as he knows that his time is shortening… No one may safely predict exactly what will take place, even within the next year; but God has given general indications in his Word of many things which are yet to come to pass.
The Watch Tower, September, 1925, page 262, began the damage control in earnest:
It is to be expected that Satan will try to inject into the minds of the consecrated, the thought that 1925 should see an end to the work.
The August 1, 1926 Watch Tower, on page 232, blamed the failure of its predictions on its readers:
Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not so state.
At a number of assemblies in 1975, one of which I attended, Fred Franz, the vice-president of the Watchtower Society, gave a talk in which he told how J. F. Rutherford characterized his proclamation of the 1925 date:
I know I made an ass of myself.
The above characterization was not one which Rutherford gave for consumption by the Bible Student community. On the contrary, the 1980 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells on page 63 of his visiting Switzerland in 1926 and his participation in a question meeting in which this interchange took place:
Question: Have the ancient worthies returned?
Answer: [by Rutherford] Certainly they have not returned. No one has seen them, and it would be foolish to make such an announcement. It was stated in the ‘Millions’ book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion.
How do recent publications of the Society depict the 1925 situation? The 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses attributed the problem, not to the organization that published the information, but to “the brothers” who read it, saying (page 146):
The year 1925 came and went. Jesus’ anointed followers were still on earth as a class. The faithful men of old times — Abraham, David and others — had not been resurrected to become princes in the earth. (Ps. 45:16) So, as Anna MacDonald recalls: “1925 was a sad year for many brothers. Some of them were stumbled; their hopes were dashed. They had hoped to see some of the ‘ancient worthies’ [men of old like Abraham] resurrected. Instead of its being considered a ‘probability,’ they read into it that it was a ‘certainty,’ and some prepared for their own loved ones with expectancy of their resurrection.”
Does this view square with any of the published statements from The Watch Tower shown above? Does the above information show that the Society has been faithful to God’s Word or has been discreet? If Rutherford’s claim that what was published were only opinions, then how could the Society claim that what was published was spiritual “food in due season”? And how can it be justified that those who questioned such teachings at the time they were promulgated were belittled and had their loyalty and humility before God questioned?
The 1931 book Vindication I, page 338, indicated that Rutherford had learned his lesson:
There was a measure of disappointment on the part of Jehovah’s faithful ones on earth concerning the years 1914, 1918, & 1925, which disappointment lasted for a time…. and they also learned to quit fixing dates.
But did the Society really learn to quit fixing dates? Let’s see.
In 1930, using $75,000 in money (note this is depression dollars) donated by a wealthy Bible Student, J. F. Rutherford completed construction on a large mansion in San Diego, California, called Beth Sarim, which means “House of the Princes.” The house appears to be worth about $2,000,000 today. Beth Sarim was built to provide a place to which the “princes,” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others, could return just before the closing events of the end. The house would be turned over to them when they appeared and properly identified themselves. As the 1939 book Salvation stated:
At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim…. the purpose of acquiring that property and building the house was that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of the earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY in trust, to be used by the president of the Society and his assistants for the present, and thereafter to be for ever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes on the earth…. if and when the princes do return and some of them occupy the property, such will be a confirmation of the faith and hope that induced the building of Beth-Sarim.
In typical lawyer fashion Rutherford made sure that only he or persons he approved of could use the estate, and that no imposters could take possession of it. The deed stated:
IT IS FURTHER PROVIDED that if the said JOSEPH F. RUTHERFORD while alive on the earth shall by lease, deed or contract provide that any other person or persons connected with the said WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY shall have the right to reside on said premises until the appearing of David or some of the other men mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews as above set forth even such person or persons so designated by the said JOSEPH F. RUTHERFORD in such lease or other paper writing shall have the right and privilege of residing on said premises until the same be taken possession of by David or some of the other men herein named and this property and premises being dedicated to Jehovah and the use of his kingdom it shall be used as such for ever. Any persons appearing to take possession of said premises shall first prove and identify themselves to the proper officers of said Society as the person or persons described in Hebrews chapter eleven and in this deed.
The 1942 book The New World reported, p. 104:
…. hence those faithful men of old may be expected back from the dead any day now…. In this expectation the house at San Diego, California, which house has been much publicized with malicious intent by the religious enemy, was built, in 1930, and named “Beth Sarim”…. It is now held in trust for the occupancy of those princes on their return.
So in spite of having “learned to quit fixing dates,” Rutherford was going full steam ahead with something equally foolish.
After Rutherford died in 1942, the Society wanted to bury him on the Beth Sarim estate, but this request was denied by San Diego officials. An article entitled “San Diego Officials Line Up Against New Earth’s Princes” in the May 27, 1942 Consolation, page 3, castigated those officials for their refusal:
Before his death Judge Rutherford made the simple request that his remains be buried somewhere on the hundred-acre estate at San Diego, California, held in trust for the New Earth’s Princes. The house built thereon he named “Beth-Sarim”; it was deeded to those princes. On March 14, more than two months after he passed to his reward on January 8, the San Diego County Planning Commission handed down the decision that nowhere upon this land could his bones repose.
The Society quietly sold Beth Sarim in 1948. It seems to be somewhat embarrassed by it today, and prefers that its true purpose not be known. The 1975 Yearbook said on page 194:
In time, a direct contribution was made for the purpose of constructing a house in San Diego for Brother Rutherford’s use. It was not built at the expense of the Watch Tower Society. Concerning this property, the 1939 book Salvation stated: “At San Diego, California, there is a small piece of land, on which in the year 1929, there was built a house, which is called and known as Beth-Sarim.”
As World War II neared, J. F. Rutherford found fertile soil for more predictions of the end. The 1939 book Salvation said:
The abundance of Scriptural evidence, together with the physical facts that have come to pass showing the fulfillment of prophecy, conclusively proves that the time for the battle of the great day of God Almighty is very near and that in that battle all of God’s enemies shall be destroyed and the earth cleared of wickedness…. (page 310)
Likewise today, all the nations and peoples of earth are face to face with the greatest emergency. They are being warned as God commands, that the disaster of Armageddon is just ahead (page 361).
The 1940 book Religion said:
The prophecies of Almighty God, the fulfillment of which now clearly appears from the physical facts, show that the end of religion has come and with its end the complete downfall of Satan’s entire organization…. (page 336) …. The day for final settlement is near at hand (page 338).
The September 1, 1940 Watchtower said on page 265:
The witness work for THE THEOCRACY appears to be about done in most of the countries of “Christendom.”….
…. Now the totalitarian rule has suppressed the Theocratic message, and it should be expected that when they quit fighting amongst themselves all the totalitarian rulers will turn their attention to the complete suppression of everything pertaining to the THEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT.
What, then, does it mean that the THEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT is now suppressed in many nations? It means that the hour is rapidly approaching when the “sign” of Armageddon will be clearly revealed and all who are on the side of Jehovah will see and appreciate it.
The Watchtower, September 15, 1941, page 288, said concerning the distribution of the book Children:
Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.
Do “the physical facts” show that any of these predictions came to be fulfilled? Can it be said that the time was so near, when the children receiving Children have come to be grandparents?
By the mid-1960s the Society had apparently forgotten much of what it had learned about setting dates. The book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God, 1966, said on pages 26-30:
The time is fast drawing near for the reality that was foreshadowed by the Jubilee of liberty to be proclaimed throughout the earth to all mankind…. Most certainly the near future would be the most appropriate time for it. God’s own written Word indicates that it is the appointed time for it…. In this twentieth century an independent study has been carried on that does not blindly follow some traditional chronological calculations of Christendom, and the published timetable resulting from this independent study gives the date of man’s creation as 4026 B.C.E. According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E….. So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence.
How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make of this coming seventh period of a thousand years a sabbath period of rest and release, a great Jubilee sabbath for the proclaiming of liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants! This would be most timely for mankind. It would also be most fitting on God’s part, for, remember, mankind has yet ahead of it what the last book of the Holy Bible speaks of as the reign of Jesus Christ over earth for a thousand years, the millennial reign of Christ…. It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the “Lord of the sabbath,” to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence.
Although the writer had not said flat out that 1975 would see the start of the millennium, he certainly intimated it. It would seem reasonable that if he said that it was “fitting” for God to do certain things, then he must have a good measure of certainty. If he was not certain then he was presumptuous. By saying “it would be according to the loving purpose of God” that the two millennia would coincide, does he not assure the reader of its certainty? Especially since all the suggestions of the “faithful and discreet slave” are to be accorded great weight?
The October 8, 1966 Awake! carried an article entitled “How Much Longer Will It Be?” and under the subheading “6,000 Years Completed in 1975,” it too reasoned that the millennium would be the last 1000 years of a 7000-year rest day of God. Abandoning some of the caution shown in the above it said on page 19-20:
Hence, the fact that we are nearing the end of the first 6,000 years of man’s existence is of great significance.
Does God’s rest day parallel the time man has been on earth since his creation? Apparently so. From the most reliable investigations of Bible chronology, harmonizing with many accepted dates of secular history, we find that Adam was created in the autumn of the year 4026 B.C.E. Sometime in that year Eve could well have been created, directly after which God’s rest day commenced. In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man’s existence and also the first 6,000 years of God’s rest day come to an end? The year 1975. This is worthy of notice, particularly in view of the fact that the “last days” began in 1914, and that the physical facts of our day in fulfillment of prophecy mark this as the last generation of this wicked world. So we can expect the immediate future to be filled with thrilling events for those who rest their faith in God and his promises. It means that within relatively few years we will witness the fulfillment of the remaining prophecies that have to do with the “time of the end.”
The October 15, 1966 Watchotwer followed suit with the following comments (pp. 628-31):
Only a liberated people can preach a release to captives, conventioners were told in the speech “Preach a Release to the Captives,” which thrilled them with its hopeful outlook. “Jehovah, the God of freedom and liberty, has freed his people from Babylonish bondage and has given them a work of liberation to do. That work of liberation and salvation must go on to the finish! To give aid today in this critical time to prospective sons of God,” announced President Knorr, “a new book in English, entitled ‘Life Everlasting — in Freedom of the Sons of God,’ has been published.” At all assembly points where it was released, the book was received enthusiastically. Crowds gathered around stands and soon supplies of the book were depleted. Immediately its contents were examined. It did not take the brothers very long to find the chart beginning on page 31, showing that 6,000 years of man’s existence end in 1975. Discussion of 1975 overshadowed about everything else. “The new book compels us to realize that Armageddon is, in fact, very close indeed,” said a conventioner. Surely it was one of the outstanding blessings to be carried home! …
At the Baltimore assembly Brother Franz in his closing remarks made some interesting comments regarding the year 1975. He began casually by saying, “Just before I got on the platform a young man came to me and said, ‘Say, what does this 1975 mean? Does it mean this, that or any other thing?'” In part, Brother Franz went on to say: ‘You have noticed the chart [on pages 31-35 in the book Life Everlasting — in Freedom of the Sons of God]. It shows that 6,000 years of human experience will end in 1975, about nine years from now. What does that mean? Does it mean that God’s rest day began in 4026 B.C.E.? It could have. The Life Everlasting book does not say it did not. The book merely presents the chronology. You can accept it or reject it. If that is the case, what does that mean to us? [He went into some length showing the feasibility of the 4026 B.C.E. date as being the beginning of God’s rest day.]
‘What about the year 1975? What is it going to mean, dear friends?’ asked Brother Franz. ‘Does it mean that Armageddon is going to be finished, with Satan bound, by 1975? It could! It could! All things are possible with God. Does it mean that Babylon the Great is going to go down by 1975? It could. Does it mean that Babylon the Great is going to go down by 1975? It could. Does it mean that the attack of Gog of Magog is going to be made on Jehovah’s witnesses to wipe them out, then Gog himself will be put out of action? It could. But we are not saying. All things are possible with God. But we are not saying. And don’t any of you be specific in saying anything that is going to happen between now and 1975. But the big point of it all is this, dear friends: Time is short. Time is running out, no question about that.
‘When we were approaching the end of the Gentile Times in 1914, there was no sign that the Gentile Times were going to end. Conditions on earth gave us no hint of what was to come, even as late as June of that year. Then suddenly there was a murder. World War I broke out. You know the rest. Famines, earthquakes and pestilences followed, as Jesus foretold would happen.
‘But what do we have today as we approach 1975? Conditions have not been peaceful. We’ve been having world wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences and we have these conditions still as we approach 1975. Do these things mean something? These things mean that we’re in the “time of the end.” And the end has to come sometime. Jesus said: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) So we know that as we come to 1975 our deliverance is that much nearer.’
By the next year expectations were high. The following is taken from a talk entitled “Serving with Everlasting Life In View,” given at a circuit assembly in the spring of 1967 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin by a representative of the Society. The speaker emphasized the nearness of Armageddon and specifically said that it would come before 1975. Speaking of the world to come after Armageddon, he said:
Well, now, who will be there, of us here tonight? For the Society has made application of this scripture, in pointing out that those of us among Jehovah’s Witnesses that are not regularly associating with his people, without good cause, such as being flat on our back, will not be in the new order. And we’re the ones that are going to come around when the doors close, and say ‘I want in now. Sir, open to us!’ And Jesus will have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t even recognize you.’ Now wouldn’t that be an awful thing. Do you see now why the Society implores us, year in and year out, the same old thing, ‘Brothers, get in the flock. Don’t let any excuses get in our way. Nothing of any nature. There’s only one thing that’s going to count when that time comes, and that’s that we are inside.’ And we hope that all of us here tonight are going to listen to the Society’s imploring. We’re going to listen to the agonizing entreaty, ‘Brothers get in!’, because they know what’s coming. And it’s coming fast — and don’t wait till ’75. The door is going to be shut before then.
The May 1, 1968 Watchtower continued this stimulation of anticipation. Using much the same argument as the above article, it said on page 272:
The immediate future is certain to be filled with climactic events, for this old system is nearing its complete end. Within a few years at most the final parts of Bible prophecy relative to these “last days” will undergo fulfillment, resulting in the liberation of surviving mankind into Christ’s glorious 1,000-year reign. What difficult days, but, at the same time, what grand days are just ahead!
Similarly, the October 8, 1968 Awake!, on page 13, emphasized the shortness of the time:
The fact that fifty-four years of the period called the “last days” have already gone by is highly significant. It means that only a few years, at most, remain before the corrupt system of things dominating the earth is destroyed by God.
In 1998, thirty years later, we may ask, What does the phrase “the immediate future” mean? How many years are “a few years at most”?
The Watchtower, August 15, 1968, spoke at length about the significance of 1975 on pages 488-501. In the article “The Book of Truthful Historical Dates” it said on page 488:
Do we know that the seventh year from now will conclude the 6,000th year since Adam was created? And if we live to that year 1975, what should we expect to happen?
In this Watchtower, the article “Why Are You Looking Forward To 1975?” raised a good deal of anticipation when it said on page 494:
What about all this talk concerning the year 1975? Lively discussions, some based on speculation, have burst into flame during recent months among serious students of the Bible. [which students, and who started the fire?] Their interest has been kindled by the belief that 1975 will mark the end of 6,000 years of human history since Adam’s creation. The nearness of such an important date indeed fires the imagination and presents unlimited possibilities for discussion.
…. of what benefit is this information to us today?…. why should we be any more interested in the date of Adam’s creation than in the birth of King Tut?…. in the fall of the year 1975, a little over seven years from now…. it will be 6,000 years since the creation of Adam.
Note the sense of urgency, and the implication that 6000 years is a figure of special significance. Continuing on page 499:
Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes. [What can we say of this from the perspective of 1998?] Our chronology, however, which is reasonably accurate (but admittedly not infallible), at the best only points to the autumn of 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth. It does not necessarily mean that 1975 marks the end of the first 6,000 years of Jehovah’s seventh creative “day.” Why not? Because after his creation Adam lived some time during the “sixth day,” which unknown amount of time would need to be subtracted from Adam’s 930 years, to determine when the sixth seven-thousand-year period or “day” ended, and how long Adam lived into the “seventh day.” And yet the end of that sixth creative “day” could end within the same Gregorian calendar year of Adam’s creation. It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years.
Note how this reasoning produces a sense of urgency in the reader. It also ignores the express statement in Genesis 2:23 “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Why would the Bible use the term “at last” if only a short period of less than one year were involved? The Society is well aware of this; Fred Franz did most of the translating of the Hebrew Scriptures and he wrote Life Everlasting In Freedom of the Sons of God, in which this reckoning was first emphasized. Also, there is no scriptural justification for requiring that Eve’s creation marked the end of the sixth creative day. There is plenty of room for extra time, as the events since 1975 have borne out.
Actually there is no scriptural justification whatsoever for Fred Franz’s continual strong emphasis that the 6000 or 7000 year figures mean anything at all. C. T. Russell placed the acceptance of the 6000 year prophetic scheme in proper perspective when he wrote, in The Time Is At Hand, 1889, page 39:
And though the Bible contains no direct statement that the seventh thousand will be the epoch of Christ’s reign, the great Sabbath Day of restitution to the world, yet the venerable tradition is not without reasonable foundation.
One of the people Russell got many ideas from was a Lutheran minister from Philadelphia named Joseph A. Seiss. For many years Seiss was the editor of a magazine called The Prophetic Times. In the January, 1870 issue, Vol. VIII No. 1, pages 12-3, Seiss discussed his ideas on Bible chronology, giving figures that he said were evidence that “1870 brings us to the commencement of the Seventh Thousand of the years since the present world began.” In contrast with Barbour and Russell, Seiss was not dogmatic about these figures: “We lay no great stress upon the arithmetic of prophecy; because the starting-points, as well as many of the integers of the calculations, lack in certainty.”
As for the “Great Sabbath Day” tradition, Russell wrote:
It has been a very old, and a very widely accredited theory, that the world, of which Adam was the beginning, is to continue 6000 years in its secular, ailing and toiling condition; and that the seventh thousand is to be one of glorious sabbatic rest, ushered in by the winding up of this present age or dispensation.
The idea is indeed a venerable tradition. It may ultimately be based on an old tradition that the seventh creative day of Genesis is itself 7000 years long, and that the Messiah would reign during the final 1000 years of it. A very early source, quite possibly 1st century A.D., is the New Testament apocryphal book called “The Epistle of Barnabas.” There exist a number of early Christian writings sometimes referred to as the apocrypha of the New Testament, which were at one time or another considered for membership in the New Testament canon. From the 1979 reprint of a 1926 English translation of these, called The Lost Books of the Bible, here are the relevant passages:
Furthermore it is written concerning the sabbath, in the Ten Commandments, which God spake in the Mount Sinai to Moses, face to face; Sanctify the sabbath of the Lord with pure hands, and with a clean heart. And elsewhere he saith; If thy children shall keep my sabbaths, then will I put my mercy upon them. And even in the beginning of the creation he makes mention of the sabbath. And God made in six days the works of his hands; and he finished them on the seventh day, and he rested the seventh day, and sanctified it.
Consider, my children, what that signifies, he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this; that in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end. For with him one day is a thousand years; as himself testifieth, saying, Behold this day shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, shall all things be accomplished. And what is that he saith, And he rested the seventh day: he meaneth this; that when his Son shall come, and abolish the season of the Wicked One, and judge the ungodly; and shall change the sun and the moon, and the stars; then he shall gloriously rest in that seventh day. [The Lost Books of the Bible, p. 160-2; Chap. 13, The Epistle of Barnabas]
I wrote a letter to the Society in the early 1970s, expressing my misgivings about the 6000 and 7000 years as exact numbers. Their reply said, essentially, that rounding off the numbers is an assumption, i.e., since we are near the 6000 year mark already, and the end is so close, the round number 6000 looks awfully nice.
Another point is that if 6000 years, as an exact number, has any meaning, and if Jesus was actually the one through whom God created everything else, and if angels were witnesses to all that creative activity, as Job 38:7 seems to indicate, then Jesus and the angels would have been able to figure out when the final end of the world would come. But Jesus said explicitly: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” Therefore the 6000 year round number assumption must be incorrect.
Ignoring these considerations, the August 13, 1968 Watchtower article continues, on page 500:
This time between Adam’s creation and the beginning of the seventh day, the day of rest, let it be noted, need not have been a long time. It could have been a rather short one. The naming of the animals by Adam, and his discovery that there was no complement for himself, required no great length of time.
Note how definite the writer is on this point. It is clear that producing a sense of urgency is the whole point of the article. Continuing on pages 500-501:
One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24:34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent.
The article even implies that one should be careful about putting too much weight on Jesus’ own cautionary words:
This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that “concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the “day and hour.”
The article even justifies producing a sense of urgency:
There was a ring of alarm and a cry of urgency in all their [the apostles] writings…. And rightly so. If they had delayed or dillydallied and had been complacent with the idea the end was was some thousands of years off they would never have finished running the race set before them.
As if the apostles needed to be kept in the dark or they would have slacked off. This speaks volumes as to the Society’s attitude toward those in its care.
The Watchtower, May 1, 1968, abandoned all caution when it said on page 271, paragraph 4:
Thus, Adam’s naming of the animals and his realizing that he needed a counterpart would have occupied only a brief time after his creation. Since it was also Jehovah’s purpose for man to multiply and fill the earth, it is logical that he would create Eve soon after Adam, perhaps just a few weeks or months later in the same year, 4026 B.C.E. After her creation, God’s rest day, the seventh period, immediately followed.
The study question for this paragraph then asked, “When were Adam and Eve created?” Paragraphs 5 and 6 then said:
After [Eve’s] creation, God’s rest day, the seventh period, immediately followed. Therefore, God’s seventh day and the time man has been on earth apparently run parallel. To calculate where man is in the stream of time relative to God’s seventh day of 7,000 years, we need to determine how long a time has elapsed from the year of Adam and Eve’s creation in 4026 B.C.E…..
The seventh day of the Jewish week, the sabbath, would well picture the final 1,000-year reign of God’s kingdom under Christ when mankind would be uplifted from 6,000 years of sin and death. (Rev. 20:6) Hence, when Christians note from God’s timetable the approaching end of 6,000 years of human history, it fills them with anticipation. Particularly is this true because the great sign of the “last days” has been in the course of fulfillment since the beginning of the “time of the end” in 1914.
Compare this with what Russell had said in The Time Is At Hand (see above) — the idea the sabbath day pictures the 7th 1000 year period was a venerable tradition even in his day.
The Watchtower article added a cautionary note on page 272:
Does this mean that the year 1975 will bring the battle of Armageddon? No one can say with certainty what any particular year will bring.
However, this cautionary note was bound to be lost in view of the strong previous statements. That some Watchtower writers lost their caution is further emphasized by the statement in the October 8, 1968 Awake!, which said on page 14:
According to reliable Bible chronology Adam and Eve were created in 4026 B.C.E.
The 1969 book Aid to Bible Understanding indicated that Adam and Eve were created in the same year. On page 333, under the subject “Chronology,” it said that the time from Adam’s creation to the birth of Seth was 130 years, and on page 538, under the subject “Eve,” it said that at the age of 130 Eve gave birth to Seth. Since this book was published as an authoritative, encyclopedia-like reference, these comments again assured the reader that the Society was certain that Adam and Eve were created in the same year, and implied that it was certain that “everything would be over” by 1975.
The 1969 booklet The Approaching Peace of a Thousand Years was also definite about 1975. On pages 25-26 it said:
More recently earnest researchers of the Holy Bible have made a recheck of its chronology. According to their calculations the six millenniums of mankind’s life on earth would end in the mid-seventies. Thus the seventh millennium from man’s creation by Jehovah God would begin within less than ten years….
In order for the Lord Jesus Christ to be “Lord even of the sabbath day,” his thousand-year reign would have to be the seventh in a series of thousand-year periods or millenniums.
The above material is remarkably similar in spirit to the admittedly asinine claims made by J. F. Rutherford in Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
Some very direct statements about 1975 came from the Kingdom Ministry. The March, 1968 issue urged getting into pioneer service, saying:
In view of the short period of time left, we want to do this as often as circumstances permit. Just think, brothers, there are only about ninety months left before 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth is completed.
The Kingdom Ministry of June 1969 mentioned approvingly that some were turning down scholarships and employment in the spirit of increased service.
The May, 1974 Kingdom Ministry, having referred to the “short time left,” approvingly said:
Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.
At this point some may say, “Oh, but all of this stuff just shows that the Society was merely speculating about 1975.” Not so! The 1974 book God’s “Eternal Purpose” Now Triumphing for Man’s Good shows that the idea that the 7th “creative day” began in 4026 B.C.E. was by this time a well-established doctrine. Without reticence, page 51 displays the subtitle “‘Evening’ of Seventh Creative ‘Day’ Begins, 4026 B.C.E.”
In view of the above quotations, it is clear that the Society dogmatically taught that Adam and Eve were created in 4026 B.C.E., that the 7th creative day began then, that 6,000 years of human history would end in 1975, and that the Millennium would be the last part of the 7th day. These dogmatic statements lead inevitably to the conclusion that the Battle of Armageddon would have to be over by late 1975.
I know a number of Witnesses who were married during the early 1970s, and have since expressed amazement at having had their children grow to the same age they were when they were married.
As 1975 approached, the Society backed off a bit from the earlier dogmatism. Sometimes when commenting on the “Adam and Eve gap” the Society or its representatives would say that it was not known for certain how long this “gap” was, but would then turn around and imply strongly that it had to be “a short time.” For example, Fred Franz gave a talk at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on February 10, 1975. In his address, “Time in Which We Are Now Interested,” Franz stated that 6,000 years of human history would definitely end at sundown, September 5, 1975. He also disclosed what many Witnesses were expecting in 1975:
Now [in] our inquiries around the world with brothers as to what they’re expecting to occur between now and the end of 1975, it is revealed, that some, are very sanguine about matters in the near future, and they’re expecting the great tribulation to occur and the destruction of Babylon the Great and the annihilation of all the political systems of this world and then the binding of Satan and his demons and their abyssing to occur before this year is ended. This year 1975. And immediately thereafter the thousand year reign of the Lord Jesus Christ to begin. So they expect a great deal. And they’re venting their views to their brothers and sisters in the congregations and raising their expectations very, very high indeed. Well now, we’re not saying that by the end of this year 1975 all these things cannot take place. That God cannot bring all these things about! He can! He’s almighty. And this omniptent One can bring this about in a hurry if He wants to do so. But, in view of what the Scriptures inform us, are we warranted in expecting so much to occur by September 5, 1975? …
Franz then explained again the significance of the “Adam and Eve gap,” that there was a time interval between Adam’s creation and Eve’s, and that the 6th creative day ended only after Eve’s creation. So while September 5, 1975 would mark the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence, it did not necessarily mean that mankind would be 6,000 years into the 7th day. This view was later presented in the October 1, 1975 Watchtower. If this time interval were one month, then things could terminate in October, if two months, November, and so on. Franz stated, “Well, since that is the case, then we do not necessarily have to insist or even expect that everything is going to be through and over with by September 5 of this year….”
Despite such words of caution, Franz lapsed into producing the usual sense of urgency:
… After September 5, things could happen, and it looks very likely they’re going to happen, according to the way that affairs are going in the world …
… So it could come, quickly, within a short time after the terminal day of the lunar year 1975. And we should not jump to wrong decisions on that account and say, well, the time after September 5, 1975 is indefintely long and so it will allow for me to realize my human aspirations, getting married and raising a family — kids; or, going to college for a few years and learning engineering and finding a fine position as an engineer … or some other prominent, fine paying job. No! The time does not allow for that dear friends …. Evidently there is not much time left …
So according to Franz, who was in practice the head theologian of the Society, Armageddon and the millennial reign of Christ could take place almost immediately — or at some time during the next few years.
The Watchtower, May 1, 1975, said that Franz soon addressed a Watchtower Bible School of Gilead graduation held on March 2, 1975, and said much the same as at the Los Angeles Sports Arena:
Another speaker, F. W. Franz, the Society’s vice-president, forcefully impressed on the audience the urgency of the Christian preaching work. He stressed that, according to dependable Bible chronology, 6,000 years of human history will end this coming September according to the lunar calendar. This coincides with a time when “the human species [is] about to starve itself to death,” as well as its being faced with poisoning by pollution and destruction by nuclear weapons. Franz added: “There’s no basis for believing that mankind, faced with what it now faces, can exist for the seventh thousand-year period” under the present system of things.
Does this mean that we know exactly when God will destroy this old system and establish a new one? Franz showed that we do not, for we do not know how short was the time interval between Adam’s creation and the creation of Eve, at which point God’s rest day of seven thousand years began. (Heb. 4:3,4) But, he pointed out, “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” for the Bible proves that Jehovah is “the greatest chronologist” and “we have the anchor date, 1914, marking the end of the Gentile Times.” So, he continued, “we are filled with anticipation for the near future, for our generation.”
If this is not building anticipation without quite saying specifically what the anticipation should be based on, I don’t know what is.
The Society was even more direct in its private communications with its own officials. The following excerpt is taken from a letter from the Society to District Overseer Lester Duggan, apparently sometime in 1975, in answer to a question regarding the subheading on page 51 in the “Eternal Purpose” book (this subheading was mentioned above).
While the beginning of the “seventh day” is admittedly tentative, the end of the six thousand years of man’s history in the fall of 1975 is not tentative, but is accepted as a certain date. So in good faith and with right motive to enhance Bible education, the date 1975 has been presented with confidence, as one of considerable significance. While some outsiders have come to be quick in denouncing the Society, yet we calmly wait for the completion of this Biblical year of 1975, as we continue to strengthen ourselves spiritually. From Jehovah’s viewpoint and his eternal purpose for the earth, the completion of six thousand years of man’s residence on this earth is bound to be important.
Even the year texts for the early 1970s reflected the sense of urgency the Society was building.
1974: “Although the fig tree itself may not blossom,…. I will exult in Jehovah himself.” — Hab. 3:17, 18.
1975: “I will say to Jehovah: ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold'” — Ps. 91:2
The sense of urgency continued to be built, through 1974 and on into 1975. Note how the following excerpt from the December 15, 1974 Watchtower (pp. 764-66) does so:
… now, as the critical year of 1975 enters, it may well be asked: Has the Most High God of prophecy made a name for himself? The answer is self-evident, Yes! By whom? Not by Christendom or by Jewry, but by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses!’ …
Only from the end of the year 1928 was the prospect opened up to the spiritual understanding of the anointed remnant of the “Israel of God” to survive the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har- Magedon and enter here on earth into Jehovah’s righteous new order… And now, as the year 1975 opens up, some thousands of the anointed remnant, still alive on this earth, look ahead to realizing that joyful prospect. The increasing “great crowd” of their sheeplike companions look forward with them to entering the New Order without interruption of life. In the New Order Jehovah God will add to the “length of days” of the anointed remnant on earth to the point of satisfying the members thereof. It remains to be seen whether they will be yet retained here on earth to see the start of the resurrection of the earthly dead and to meet faithful witnesses of ancient, pre-Christian times. They would enjoy that, before being taken off the earthly scene to the heavenly reward with Christ.
Note how the above-quoted article emphasized “the critical year of 1975.” If, as some apologists today claim, the Society only suggested 1975 as a possible date for “the end,” then why did the article call the year “critical”? What was “critical” about it, except that it was probably going to be the year of “the end”?
In December 1975 a revised version of the book The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation (Edmond C. Gruss, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972, 1975) was published. On pages vii-viii it quoted from the London religious newspaper Evangelical Times of January 1975, which printed an article “Will the World End This Year?” (by ex-Witnesses Richard E. Cotton and George Terry). It said:
The year 1975 has dawned, and with it comes the question: Could this be the year of Nemesis, of retribution, for Jehovah’s Witnesses? Could it be the year of yet another dashed hope?
To many of the rank and file within the Watchtower Movement, 1975 has meant only one thing — the long awaited year of Divine Wrath. The time of judgment, when God would destroy the wicked and restore this old earth to a paradise state. Eternal life in the restored earth has been the hope of most Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For almost ten years 1975 has hung over the heads of the faithful like a chronological carrot. True, very little has been written about it in official Watchtower publications, but a great deal has been said at grassroot level. And when Witnesses are taught to believe that God is using the Watchtower organisation to the total exclusion of all other churches or bodies (for this is their claim) it only requires a hint of a date to begin a wave of speculation. This is very understandable in a group maintaining that we are living at the very end of the Bible’s “time of the end.”
A date like 1975 had a fine apocalyptic ring when it was still ten years or so ahead. In 1966 a publication called Life Everlasting — in Freedom of the Sons of God announced that independent research into Bible chronology had established that 6,000 years of human history would come to an end in the autumn of 1975. As Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there will be a millenium to complete a divine cycle of 7,000 years, it was clear that the long awaited period would begin around the autumn of 1975.
When the date was made public 1966, the present writer was a Witness and was able to see what happened. Very little apart from that statement was ever published, but things began to be said and great was the speculation. No doubt many can recall the famous football star who stated on television that the Bible taught that the end would come in 1975. He was so certain of this, viewers were told, that if the expected results did not materialise, he would throw his Bible away.
In the months and years that followed overseers and visiting speakers of the cult were known to speak to the congregation about the “short time left.” Some of the more convinced would total up the number of days to October 1975. When told by indignant householders, “You people are always round at our doors,” one full time worker would answer: “We shall not be calling many more times.”
Bible Studies with the unconverted were limited to a certain number of weeks because of the nearness of the end. Some Witnesses never bothered to increase their mortgage repayments as interest rates shot upwards. They were hoping for a permanent settlement on the amount outstanding in 1975. Some were so convinced the world was on its last legs that they speculated the system could not last until 1975.
D.I.Y. fans in the movement were known to remark in the early ’70s that the house would not need repainting ever again. There was even the JW in need of surgery who preferred to live with the condition until the healing rays of the Millenium restored all to perfect health.
How many Witnesses, we wonder, will be suffering from loss of memory this year about their expressed hopes of only a year or so back? But these things were said and no amount of forgetting can unsay them.
To add to the fires of speculation some Witnesses got hold of typed copies of a talk which it was claimed was given by one of the Watchtower Directors in some far away country. This explosive material indicated that soon calamities and even flesh-consuming plagues of a cosmic nature would befall the world of men. Yet members of the Watchtower Movement would be untouched by these manifestations of divine anger.
How sure everyone seemed. Yet now 1975 is here and the dilemma of the Witnesses continues to increase….
But this is not all. Other problems now arise for the Witnesses’ world view. They no longer have the luxury of being able to extend their time of waiting for still further years. For decades now the publications have emphasised that the second coming or presence of our Lord began in the year 1914. Using this year as a chronological anchor for the plan of the “last days,” they confidently state (“from” Matt. 24:34) that in less than the passing of one human generation from 1914 all will be completed.
The honest observer may well be asking what many thinking JWs are asking. How long is a generation? From 1914 to 1975 is 61 years, a rather long time. If we think in terms of 40 years as a reasonable and scriptural figure then the cult has lost out. Even if we stretch the post-1914 period to its full limit by giving it a full biblical “threescore years and ten”, we still find problems.
As stated before, the Movement stresses that it is the generation that is alive and witnessed 1914 that will still be around when the final end comes. So we are dealing with a time period years less than a full 70 years.
Time is no longer on the side of the Watchtower. Their prophetic hourglass is empty, but for a few grains of sand. As the critical year progresses, it may well be that pressure will be eased by diversionary tactics. We do not doubt the ability of the “men at the top” to make fresh calculations for the future, but the fact remains that this year may well be a critical one for the movement.
The predictions the above article made with respect to the Watchtower Society’s actions after 1975 proved close to the mark. In 1977 the Witnesses began seeing a drop in membership for the first time since the late 1920s. By 1995 the Society had realized that its prophetic speculations even about the length of “the generation of 1914” were wrong, and so it detached “the generation” from 1914 altogether by making it open-ended.
By early 1976 it had become evident that the Society’s expectations for 1975 would not be realized, just as they had not been for 1914 and 1925. Did the Society follow the excellent example of Bible writers and own up to the error? Did it show same candor as the Bible writers? No. Instead it followed exactly the same course J. F. Rutherford had followed after the 1925 failure, and blamed the disappointment on Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. The July 15, 1976 Watchtower, on page 441, approached the problem sideways. Without actually mentioning 1975 it said:
…. it is not advisable for us to set our sights on a certain date, neglecting everyday things we would ordinarily care for as Christians, such as things that we and our families really need. We may be forgetting that, when the “day” comes, it will not change the principle that Christians must at all times take care of all their responsibilities. If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.
How cynical can you get? Who was it that provided the “wrong premises”? Did each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, individually, conclude that 1975 was to be the end of 6000 years of human history, that “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” that “according to reliable Bible chronology Adam and Eve were created in 4026 B.C.E.,” that “the seventh millennium from man’s creation by Jehovah God would begin within less than ten years,” that Jesus’ “thousand-year reign would have to be the seventh in a series of thousand-year periods or millenniums,” and that “God’s seventh day and the time man has been on earth apparently run parallel”? I know I never thought of such things on my own. Nor would I have been permitted to express or act on them if I had.
By 1979 it became evident that the 1975 failure had produced a serious credibility gap. Even worse, the years 1977 and 1978 had shown a drop in the worldwide number of publishers for the first time in decades. So in early 1980 the Society finally admitted it had been wrong, that it had had at least some part in building up the false hopes for 1975.
The March 15, 1980 Watchtower article “Choosing the Best Way of Life” contains, on page 17, the acknowledgement that the Society misled people by its promotion of the 1975 date. That it came at all is surprising; I remember my own reaction upon reading it when it first came out. That it came more than four years after the failure of the 1975 prediction became evident is inexcusable. The article said:
In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth. With the appearance of the 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.
In its issue of July 15, 1976, The Watchtower, commenting on the inadvisability of setting our sights on a certain date, stated: “If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.” In saying “anyone,” The Watchtower included all disappointed ones of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hence including persons having to do with the publication of the information that contributed to the buildup of hopes centered on that date.
Note how even this admission is buried in an article about something else, “choosing the best way of life.” It does not candidly admit that the Society had some responsibility for what happened. Rather, it uses the passive voice to shift responsibility into outer space: “it is to be regretted” that these things happened. Again, how cynical!
As for the fact that the statements of urgency overshadowed the cautionary ones, was that not the intention from the very start? Why else would such information be emphasized? What other result could possibly have been expected? Especially since the Society has published many statements on how it expects Jehovah’s Witnesses to view what it publishes, such as:
Do we truly appreciate how Jehovah is directing his visible organization?
When we appreciatively accept the spiritual provisions that come through the ‘slave’ class and its Governing body, for whom are we showing respect?
Their duties include receiving and passing on to all of Jehovah’s earthly servants spiritual food at the proper time.
How vital it is for everyone in God’s family to submit loyally to the teachings and arrangements of the Great Theocrat, Jehovah, and his King-Son, Christ Jesus, as transmitted through the ‘faithful slave’ on earth!
The Society did candidly acknowledge some responsibility for the hopes it raised by the 1975 prediction, but it was not for general public consumption. The 1980 Yearbook, on pages 30-31, spoke of a talk given at the 1979 conventions, called by the title of the above Watchtower article, “Choosing the Best Way of Life.” The talk
acknowledged the Society’s responsibility for some of the disappointment a number felt regarding 1975.
Today, all the decade-long buildup of hopes centered on 1975 is discounted as being of any particular importance. Many people who became Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1975 have little idea of the sense of urgency that was in the air. The essence of Russell’s words in 1916 is again expressed by the organization: It “certainly did have a very stimulating and sanctifying effect upon thousands, all of whom can praise the Lord — even for the mistake.”
1 The campaign got its start in a talk called “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living May Never Die,” given February 24, 1918 by J. F. Rutherford in Los Angeles [1975 Yearbook, p. 127; W83, 7/1, p. 18; Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, p. 648]. The talk apparently struck such a chord that its name was soon changed for even stronger effect.