Part of a series: Notes on the Gentile Times and 1914
- Part 1: Summary
- Part 2: Discussion of Historical Evidence
- Part 3: Scriptural Arguments
- Part 4: Other Considerations. Conclusions
- Part 5: Appendix A
- Part 6: Appendix B: The Pivotal Date 539 B.C.
- Other Considerations
- Are the Gentile Times seven times of 2520 years?
- Does parousia as used at Matt. 24:3 mean “presence” or “coming”?
The Society presently argues that Jerusalem fell in 607 B.C. However, C. T. Russell’s predictions about 1914, based on those of N. H. Barbour, put the fall in 606 B.C. They arrived at this by using a date for the first year of Cyrus that was accepted by some scholars at the time, but not most, 536 B.C. (The Time is at Hand, p. 42). Counting forward 2520 years from 606 B.C. we actually arrive at 1915 A.D. Barbour and Russell had neglected to account for the lack of a “zero” year between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D. The Society did not begin using 607 B.C. as the start of the Gentile Times until 1943, with the publication of The Truth Shall Make You Free. On page 238-239, in a hand-waving sort of explanation,3 the Gentile Times are explained as actually having begun in 607 B.C. due to a difference in the way the beginning of the year was reckoned in ancient and modern calendars. This interpretation has been retained ever since. Note that the date of Jerusalem’s destruction was explicitly retained as the summer of 606 B.C. This event was not dated to 607 B.C. until the following year, where the change is explained away in a footnote at the bottom of page 171 of The Kingdom Is At Hand. The footnote essentially claims that The Truth Shall Make You Free changed the date, but this is simply not true.
So the original 1914 prediction was based on an incorrect date. It should also be pointed out that not one visible thing that Russell had predicted about 1914 came true. All the Society’s doctrines that are advanced today about 1914, except for the invisible end of the Gentile Times, came after 1914, and as a result of the failure of the original predictions.
Interestingly, the book Revelation — Its Grand Climax At Hand!, on p. 105, mentions the conversion of the date, but makes it appear as if God were somehow directing things, and calls the change an “adjustment”:
“It was in B.C. 606, that God’s kingdom ended, the diadem was removed, and all the earth given up to the Gentiles. 2520 years from B.C. 606, will end in A.D. 1914.*” — The Three Worlds, published in 1877, page 83.
* Providentially, those Bible Students had not realized that there is no zero year between “B.C.” and “A.D.” Later, when research made it necessary to adjust B.C. 606 to 607 B.C.E., the zero year was also eliminated, so that the prediction held good at “A.D. 1914.” — See “The Truth Shall Make You Free,“…
Note that the Revelation book is not clear on exactly what went from 606 to 607 B.C. The Truth Shall Make You Free talked only about the start of the Gentile Times changing from 606 to 607, and it explicitly stated that Nebuchadnezzar “destroyed Jerusalem in the summer of 606 B.C.” This seems to be another case where the Society simply glosses over embarrassing information with vague references.
It is entirely clear that the only reason The Truth Shall Make You Free changed the date is that the Society realized that neglecting the zero year in counting the 2520 years could no longer be ignored. Interestingly, this miscount had been known by both C. T. Russell and J. F. Rutherford. The Revelation book’s referring to this reason by the vague term “research” confirms my contention that the Society would prefer that Witnesses not know how the 607 B.C. date actually evolved. See my essay on “The Evolution of 606 B.C. to 607 B.C. In Watchtower Chronology” for much more information about this change. Also see “The Watch Tower Society and Absolute Chronology” by Karl Burganger, 1981, for related information.
There is no positive proof that the seven times of Daniel 4 apply to anything other than the events related to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness. There is no proof that the reference to the “appointed times of the nations” in Luke 21:24 apply to these seven times. The claim that the seven times actually refers to seven periods of 360 years each requires a long chain of shaky reasoning, pulling texts from here and there, with no justification whatsoever. The Society and others have made many attempts to put together chronologies based on using the day-year principle with various numbers mentioned in the Bible: 1260 days, 1290 days, 1335 days, 2300 days, three and a half times, etc. All have been abandoned for the simple reason that they did not work. All predictions based on them failed.
Certain scriptures indicate that Jesus was enthroned shortly after his resurrection in 33 A.D., not 1914. “To the one that conquers I will grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) “he [Jehovah] raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship.” (Eph. 1:20, 21) “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Matt. 28:18) How, then, can it be held that “Jerusalem,” understood as being the Kingdom of God, was trodden down by the Gentiles right up to 1914? The Society has never satisfactorily explained how the Gentile trampling of Jerusalem stopped in 1914.
Matthew 24:3 has been the object of much discussion among Bible scholars. The disciples asked Jesus (New World Translation):
When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?
The word “presence” is translated from the Greek parousia, and is usually translated “coming.” So the usual understanding is that the “sign” would precede or accompany Christ’s coming or arrival. The interlinear translation The Emphatic Diaglott translated parousia as “presence,” about 1870, and the Society has used the interpretation that this has been an “invisible presence” since its inception.4 If this translation of parousia is correct, the disciples did not ask for the sign preceding or accompanying Christ’s arrival, but for the sign which would follow his arrival and mark his (invisible) presence. But does parousia really mean “presence?”
Parousia has the literal meaning of “presence” or “a being alongside,” but also has the secondary meaning of “arrival” or “coming,” and it has the technical meaning of “the visit of a ruler.” The well-known Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, devotes fourteen pages to a discussion of the word parousia, thirteen of which are given to the “Technical Use of the Term.” It presents very strong evidence for the conclusion that parousia, when used in connection with Christ’s second coming, is used in its technical sense.
There is very little support among Bible translators for rendering parousia as “presence.” In all but a few translations they render the word as “coming,” “advent,” “arrival,” or by similar terms. They do this despite the fact that all of them agree that “presence” is the primary meaning. Why? Is it logical to believe that so many experts on the original language of the Greek Scriptures have somehow failed to grasp the true sense of parousia?
The earliest translators, going back to the 1st century, did their work while the koine Greek was still a living language. In nearly every verse relating parousia to the coming of Christ they render it as some form of “coming” or “arrival.” For example the Latin Vulgate and even older Latin translations used the word adventus (literally “a coming to”) from which the English word “advent” is derived. They did so despite the fact that the primary meaning of parousia is “presence.” For centuries the reason they did this was somewhat of a mystery, until excavations around the turn of the century turned up hundreds of thousands of inscriptions and texts that revolutionized the understanding of koine Greek. For example, it was found that the Bible was written in the language of the common people.
The word parousia had light shed on its meaning in the classic work by Professor Adolf Deissmann in 1908, Light from the East. His discussion of parousia opened with the following explanation:
Yet another of the central ideas of the oldest Christian worship receives light from the new texts, viz. parousia [parousia], ‘advent, coming,’ a word expressive of the most ardent hopes of a St. Paul. We now may say that the best interpretation of the Primitive Christian hope of the Parousia is the old Advent text, ‘Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.’ [Matthew 21:5] From the Ptolemaic period down into the 2nd cent. A.D. we are able to trace the word in the east as a technical expression for the arrival or the visit of the king or the emperor.
Thus there is a general consensus among modern scholars that parousia in the Greek Scriptures, when used of the second coming of Christ, is used in its technical sense of a royal visitation. Such a visitation of course results in a subsequent presence, but the emphasis is on the arrival.
The Society has given several explanations of why it always renders parousia as “presence.” After acknowledging the above points about the technical meaning, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation, 1969, said:
However, this does not deny or disprove that in the Christian Greek Scriptures the word has the meaning of presence where it is used in connection with Jesus Christ and others. To prove what a word means the Scriptural context is more decisive than any outside papyrus usage of the word in a technical way.
Unfortunately the line of argument is dropped and no examples of how the context proves the point are given.
A more recent discussion of parousia is given in the 1984 New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures with References, pp. 1576-7 (Appendix 5b), which starts by citing four Bible translations that render parousiaas “presence” at Matt. 24:3. However, the first three were published before the discoveries of Deissmann and his colleagues, and the fourth is The New World Translation. The major reference work quoted, The Parousia by Israel P. Warren, dates from 1879.
Several modern Greek lexicons are referred to, which all give “presence” as the primary meaning of parousia. But readers are not told that these same lexicons emphasize that the word is used in its technical sense when the Greek Scriptures refer to the parousia of Christ. The TDNT (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) that is referred to uses 13 out of 14 pages explaining this use.
Insight, Vol. 2, p. 676, refers to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words in support of its translation of parousia. While this is generally an excellent reference work, W. E. Vine was a member of a subgroup of the Plymouth Brethren, and was one of the most outspoken advocates of the “secret rapture” doctrine in our century. This apparently caused him to define parousia in a way that supported his theological views, but this brought conflicts with other scholars.
The Kingdom Interlinear Translation referred to earlier said that one must look at the context of a word in the scriptures to ascertain its correct meaning. What does the context of Matt. 24:3 show?
First, it cannot be denied that Christ’s second coming is “the visit of a king.” That the disciples used the word parousia in its technical sense is clearly indicated by Matthew 24 as a whole. The Society even admits this in the 1973 book God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached on pages 168-9. Did the disciples have in mind an invisible presence and want to know the sign of it, in Matthew 24:3? The Watchtowerof January 15, 1974, gives the answer on page 50:
When they asked Jesus, “What will be the sign of your presence?” they did not know that his future presence would be invisible. (Matt. 24:3) Even after his resurrection they asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) They looked for a visible restoring of it.
Now, if they thought that Jesus’s future presence would be visible, why did they ask for a sign in proof that he would be present invisibly? Would not his visible presence be sign enough? Evidently they wanted to know the sign accompanying or preceding his arrival, as is confirmed by the way Jesus answered their question. After having mentioned wars, food shortages, earthquakes, the great tribulation, and his coming on clouds, he said:
Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (Matt. 24:32)
Note that he did not say: “as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is present.” Then he continues:
Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. (Matt. 24:33)
“All these things,” therefore, would prove that he “is near at the doors,” not that he has already come through the doors and is now invisibly present, just as the young branch of the fig tree growing tender and putting forth leaves proves that the “summer is near,” not present. So the comparison is in time, not space — between the summer as being near, and Christ as being near. It would make no sense to claim the illustration meant that summer was “alongside,” because the point of the illustration was that summer was not yet there. Evidently “all these things” mentioned by Jesus would precede his arrival, not follow it. This view puts a very different perspective on the rest of Matthew 24 than the Society has always advanced. It should also be kept in mind that none of the visible events C. T. Russell predicted to occur by 1914 actually happened.
That this is the correct understanding is verified by the way the account in Mark 13 frames the disciples’s question. The question for the “sign” refers to the destruction of the temple only. It certainly is impossible to think that they needed some “sign” to convince them that the temple had been destroyed or that its destruction was taking place. They wanted some indication in advance of that event. The New English Bibleshows clearly this is the intent in its rendering of Mark 13:4:
‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen? What will be the sign when the fulfillment of all this is at hand?’
The New World Translation renders Matthew 24:37-39 thus:
For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be…. they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.
The New World Translation with References, in Appendix 5b, p. 1576, says:
From the comparison of the parousia of the Son of man with the “days of Noah,” in Mt 24:37-39, it is evident that this word means “presence.”
It is not at all evident from Matthew that this is what it means. On the contrary, Jesus is not comparing the parousia with the period preceding the Flood, but with the surprising coming of the Flood itself. Note how the New American Standard Version renders these verses:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah…. they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
The coming of the Son of Man is paralleled with the coming of the Flood. Like the Flood his coming will be a revolutionizing event, a divine intervention that will immediately and unmistakably change the situation for all mankind. Just as in the days of Noah men were swiftly taken unawares in the middle of their daily occupations, so it will be also in the “day when the Son of man is to be revealed.” (Compare Luke 17:30 and Matt. 24:39)
Other scriptures indicate his parousia will come without warning. The verses following Matthew 24:37-39 show this clearly:
Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned; two women will be grinding at the hand mill: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned.
The events are clearly portrayed as happening swiftly and without warning. How could they logically be applied to a period that has already lasted nearly eighty years?
In certain parables Jesus emphasized the need for his servants to be alert and on the watch, and he presents his judgment as like that which follows a master’s returning to his household. The master’s coming or arrival, not some invisible presence, is what he describes. It is not as if the master slipped into the area and invisibly proceeded to pass judgment on what his servants were doing, only later revealing himself to them. On the contrary, the master’s return, though perhaps unexpected, is quickly evident to all his servants, the faithful and the unfaithful. It is manifest from the beginning of his arrival, and his judgment is not made from some invisible hiding place but in a most open manner.
What about the “composite sign” that the Society says is so much a part of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21? This sign is said to include world wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes and increasing lawlessness. The opinion of many Bible commentators today is well summarized by several statements from early Watch Towers. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses would be surprised to know that C. T. Russell held exactly the opposite opinion to what the organization holds today.
The March, 1884 Watch Tower printed a reader’s question and Russell’s answer:
Does Matt. 24:6 teach that “Wars and rumors of wars” are a sign of the end of the Gospel Age?
A. No; we think not. Wars and rumors of wars have characterized earth’s history, with varying frequency and cruelty, ever since the fall of man. But the Scriptures assure us that the time of the end of the Gospel Age, or end of the dominion of the “prince of this world,” will witness a more general and widespread warfare than was ever known before, involving all the powers of earth….
So also famines and pestilences and earthquakes are not to be regarded specially as signs of the end. Though they will doubtless be frequent, and perhaps more so in the time of the end, like wars have been a part of Satan’s policy from the first.
An article in the September, 1884 Watch Tower, by H. Grattan Guiness, said:
Now consider the subject of the signs of the times. Remarks on this subject are too often made which betray a want of intelligent comprehension of the nature of the signs that are according to Scripture to indicate the “time of the end.” A careless reading of our Lord’s prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives seems to be the cause of much of this misapprehension. His predictions of wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, are quoted as if they and such like things were to be the signs of the end of the age. A little accurate attention to the order of his statements would at once show that, so far from this being the case, he mentions these as the characteristic and common events of the entire interval prior to his coming. Wars and calamities, persecution and apostasy, martyrdom, treachery, abounding iniquity, Gospel preaching, the fall of Jerusalem, the great tribulation of Israel, which has, as we know, extended over 1,800 years; all these things were to fill the interval, not to be signs of the immediate proximity of the second advent. How could things of common, constant occurrence be in themselves signs of any uncommon and unique crisis? What commoner all through the ages than wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes? These, as marking the course of the age, can never indicate its close….
…. No, there was nothing special to alarm the antediluvians before the day that Noah entered into the ark; nothing special to startle the men of Sodom ere the fire from heaven fell; and like as it was in those days, so will it be in these. All going on just as usual, no single sign to attract the world’s attention. “None of the wicked shall understand” the true state of affairs, only the “wise” enlightened by the word of prophecy.
It should be clear that if such signs are capable of such flexible interpretations and applications as the Society and others have given, certainly they cannot be used to prove that Christ has been invisibly present since 1914 and that the “time of the end” began at that time.
From all the evidence presented in this essay, and a great deal more that is not, it is clear that the Watchtower Society’s interpretations conflict with both the Bible and with historical facts. If the historical evidence that Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C., rather than the Society’s claimed 607 B.C., contradicted some clear statement in the Bible, the choice would be clear on what should be accepted. But the contradiction is with the Society’s interpretation of portions of the Bible, which gives them a meaning not stated in the Bible itself. The uncertainties in such human interpretations are certainly equal to the uncertainties in unraveling ancient history.
Now, all these arguments would go up in smoke if, as the November 1, 1986 Watchtower said, on p. 6:
When Did the “Seven Times” Really End?
Some people argue that even if the “seven times” are prophetic and even if they last 2,520 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses are still mistaken about the significance of 1914 because they use the wrong starting point. Jerusalem, they claim, was destroyed in 587/6 B.C.E., not in 607 B.C.E. If true, this would shift the start of “the time of the end” by some 20 years. However, in 1981 Jehovah’s Witnesses published convincing evidence in support of the 607 B.C.E. date. (“Let Your Kingdom Come,” pages 127-40, 186-9) Besides, can those trying to rob 1914 of its Biblical significance prove that 1934 — or any other year for that matter — has had a more profound, more dramatic, and more spectacular impact upon world history than 1914 did?
The answer to the Society’s question is a definite Yes. Many historians state that the year of the French Revolution, or other years, were more significant than 1914 in terms of world history. A detailed study of what the Society claims is happening with regard to earthquakes, pestilences, famines, and the other features of the “composite sign” shows that the 20th century is no worse, and in some cases much better, than preceding centuries. For example, historian Barbara Tuchman, in the book A Distant Mirror, shows how the 14th century was similar in many ways to the 20th, and in some cases much worse. The black plague, for instance, killed about one third the population of the entire world. Nothing even remotely like that has yet happened in the 20th century.
The most conclusive evidence that the “composite sign” is a myth is the fact that the 20th century has experienced a tremendous population explosion. If famines, pestilences and wars had been killing people at the rate they did before the 20th century we would not have a population problem today. It was only the fact that all these things were so rampant before the 20th century that prevented the population explosion from occurring earlier. That is why world population was about the same in 1000 A.D. as at the time of Christ.
As far as earthquakes are concerned, research into a data base of worldwide earthquakes going back to 2100 B.C., obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Data Base System, shows that the 20th century is pretty much the same as any other, both in terms of number of quakes per year and in number of people killed per year. In fact the two decades prior to 1914 had about twice the average number of magnitude 8 and up quakes as any decade since. The Society’s figures in these regards are based on incomplete data and a gross misuse of statistics. Reading between the lines in some of the later Watchtowers, it is clear the Society is aware of all of this, but it has no choice but to continue to claim what it has since the 1920s.
As shown above, a detailed analysis of The Watchtower’s claim that “in 1981 Jehovah’s Witnesses published convincing evidence in support of the 607 B.C.E. date” in Let Your Kingdom Come, shows that this, too, is nonsense. The book ignored or misrepresented much evidence, lamely stating:
…. even if the discovered evidence is accurate, it might be misinterpreted by modern scholars or be incomplete so that yet undiscovered material could drastically alter the chronology of the period.
Clearly, the Society realizes there is no historical evidence supporting the 607 date. A chronology resting on “yet undiscovered material,” yet demolished by the discovered material, has no foundation. All false ideas could be retained on the same principle. A faith founded upon such ideas is not based on “the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” but upon blind credulity.
It should be unacceptable to honest persons to know that they have been misinformed. It would be even worse for them to knowingly misinform others. The 1974 book Is This Life All There Is?, on page 46, sums it up nicely:
Knowing these things, what will you do? It is obvious that the true God, who is himself “the God of truth” and who hates lies, will not look with favor on persons who cling to organizations that teach falsehood. (Psalm 31:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 21:8) And, really, would you want to be even associated with a religion that had not been honest with you?
3 Page 238: “Beginning in 606 B.C., and being seven in number, when would these ‘times’ end and the righteous overlordship of God’s kingdom be established?”
Page 239: “In Nebuchadnezzar’s time the year began counting from the fall of the year, or about October 1, our time. Since he destroyed Jerusalem in the summer of 606 B.C., that year had its beginning in the fall of 607 B.C. and its ending in the fall of 606 B.C.”
“Inasmuch as the count of the Gentile “seven times” began its first year at the fall of 607 B.C., it is simple to calculate when they end.”
4 The idea of an invisible presence goes back to the 1820s, when it was first suggested by a London banker, Henry Drummond. The “invisible presence” or “two-stage coming” theory, better known today as the “secret rapture” theory, was adopted by many other expositors of the prophecies. These included the British Irvingites, the followers of John Nelson Darby (the Plymouth Brethren), and various other millenarian groups. The well known Bible commentators W. E. Vine, C. I. Scofield, and in his later years, J. B. Rotherham, had their roots in these groups, and their reference works reflect this bias.
In 1876, under the influence of the Adventists Nelson H. Barbour, George Storrs, and others, Charles Taze Russell adopted “presence” as the only acceptable meaning of parousia to explain how Christ could have come in 1874, as Barbour had predicted, without being noticed by anyone. Russell’s adopting this view, then, was due to a failed prediction and it was used as a means of explaining away the 1874 failure. This explanation was retained by the Watchtower Society until 1943, when the book The Truth Shall Make You Free shed “new light” on the subject and said that Christ’s “invisible presence” had begun in 1914 instead of 1874.
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)