The Bible Examiner
GENTILE TIMES: WHEN DO THEY END?
Text and images of this article can be found here: archive.org, pastorrussell.blogspot.com
The Bible Examiner was published by George Storrs (wikipedia.org) who was a leader of the Second Adventists and therefore associated with William Miller, Jonas Wendell, Nelson Barbour and Joshua V. Grimes. (Grimes went on to initiate the Seventh Day Adventists, along with James & Ellen G White).
“Doubtless” is the first published word we know from Russell’s first published paragraph, and will literally reappear at least 2,000 more times in Watch Tower publications over the next 150 years, very often with a similar purpose. Note the proximity of this word to the word “possibly” in the same paragraph, and to the words “guess and suppose” in the next paragraph. “Doubtless” can obscure the fact that we are covering material that may require some ‘guessing and supposing.’ It admits a level of doubt, while intending to minimize it.
Note that the common expression the “seven Gentile Times” was originally an interpretive conflation of Luke 21:24 and Leviticus 26:27. On closer inspection however, it’s apparent that Leviticus doesn’t refer to 7 “time durations” but to “7 times as much,” in other words an emphatic “multiplying factor” not a duration, per se. Leviticus 26:21, for example, says “‘But if you …refuse to listen to me, I will then have to strike you seven times as much, according to your sins.” (NWT) Here, Leviticus doesn’t mention time in the original Hebrew, although the original of Daniel 4 does. This realization removed one step of logic from Russell’s original article. (In fact, Leviticus 26 could potentially replace the “day for a year” formula with one that merely multiplies by a factor of 7 instead. This idea of multiplying “times 7” actually has just as important a Biblical precedent as the idea of a “day for a year.” The 70 years of Jeremiah becomes seven times 70 years (or 490 years) in Daniel 9:24, for example. (7 x 70 = 490.) And Matthew 18:22 per the New Living Translation, says: 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”
Also note that the end of the Gentile Times would be the time when the “Jews are delivered.” Russell would later expand on this greatly with Jewish national Zionism as a key element, but which is no longer a part of the 1914 doctrine.
There are elements of Russell’s logic which do not hold as perfectly as he appears to claim:
For example, Russell mentions that Jesus is not foretelling a (future) “treading” on Jerusalem by Rome. Yet, the direct meaning of the language indicates that Jesus is doing exactly what Russell says he is not: making a future prediction about Rome coming to trample Jerusalem. (Of course, admitting that more natural reading would spoil the ability to take the “start” back to 606.) Russell also takes a small step beyond the rules of strict logic to claim that the “treading” and the “Gentile Times” must be parallel periods that both start at the same time.
In this early treatise no attempt was made to explain why a dream about a Gentile king losing his kingdom and being brought low for 7 times was to be fulfilled by Gentile kings gaining a kingdom and ascending on high for 7 times, nor why a pagan Gentile king somehow represented the Messianic line of Kings culminating in Jesus. In effect, Nebuchadnezzar as an insane beast somehow represents Jesus. The closest explanation is given in the October 15, 1990 Watchtower which states that only Jesus was the “lowliest one of mankind” by “willingly leaving his heavenly glory to be born as a human…who suffered the most humiliating and cruel death….”
“Yes, in Revelations [sic] we learn that three and one-half times, 42 months, and 1260 prophetic days, literal years, are the same (it has for years been so accepted by the church).” Today JWs do not so easily rely on church tradition to translate 1,260 days to years. In fact, JWs no longer interpret the 1,260 days here as years. So the easy leap of logic Russell had available to him is now replaced, in current JW material, with an explicit reference to a verse where “a day for a year” is applied in a specific context and then assumed it can be seen as a a general rule. (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6).
The current equation that JWs use is not as straightforward either. We use 607, not 606 as the date for Jerusalem’s destruction. Also, we use 539, not 536, as the date of the Cyrus decree to allow the Jews to return home after Babylonian captivity. (Although there are some complexities to discuss elsewhere, we basically needed to move 606 to 607 when we confirmed that there was no “0” year, i.e., that there is only 1 year between 1 BCE and 1 CE.)~~
However, there might even be another idea going on here. At the time of this writing, Russell might not have been thinking of Jerusalem’s actual destruction in 606. It’s true that Russell mentioned King Zedekiah earlier, but he may only be thinking of the time period in general that included a 70 year period “during which” Zedekiah was removed. Evidently the source of these dates were from Nelson Barbour “Horae Apocalypticae” which uses the 606 date, not as the destruction of Jerusalem, but as the beginning of the desolations and deportations of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar. In other words, the 70 years begin in 606, but refer to the period of captivity, including that of Daniel himself. (Today, we do not argue that the 70 years started with the first desolations and deportations, only with the actual destruction, but we have changed the date of that destruction to match the 606 date.)
Also we take Cyrus to be 539 now, and merely accept that there must have been an additional 2 year gap before enough of the Jewish population reached from Babylon to Judea to end the desolation. (607 to 537).
Note also that the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 could only mean that in 1914 the nations would be dashed to pieces. “When Gentile Governments shall have been dashed to pieces; when God shall have poured out of his fury upon the nation, and they acknowledge, him King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Of course, in 1914, there was no freedom for the Jewish race, nations were not dashed, nor did they at that time acknowledge Jesus.
One additional point to notice is that Russell did not consider this theory from Daniel 4 to be the clearest of the available arguments about 1914.
“If the Gentile Times end in 1914, (and there are many other and clearer evidences pointing to the same time)…”
The Daniel 4 exposition was at the time merely one additional line of reasoning that helped prove that the other dating schema must have been true and confirmed. The other lines of reasoning that were “clearer evidences” have all been dropped in favor of this particular one as the ONLY available chronological method to reach 1914 that does not go through 1874 to get there.
It was 1874, which had so many lines of numerical and chronological evidence pointing to it so that it was, in effect, “infallible.” Not able to be moved in either direction by even a single year. ~~
All those other nearly infallible lines of evidence have long since been abandoned. However they are almost all tied directly to William Miller. It was only a minor adjustment to Miller’s schema that Barbour had made to correct 1843/4 to 1873/4. This was the reason that Russell could still accept William Miller as “Father Miller.” After all he was clearly the “Father” of this chronological schema.
It should be clarified that there is not much here that can be credited as original to Russell. The ideas were evidently taken from earlier writings of Nelson Barbour from the previous year, which Russell elsewhere says he discussed thoroughly with Barbour.
Barbour himself may not be credited with all the chronology ideas himself, either. Storrs was already aware of many of these ideas. Barbour mentions that a source for much of his chronology was not only William Miller (published mostly between 1830 and 1844) but also E. B. Elliot’s 1844 “Horae Apocalypticae” which had a run of 5 editions. Most of the relevant chronology was specified in the 1846 and 1847 editions. E. B. Elliot was dependent on many sources, too, and referenced many of them in his work.
More details of the history of these ideas is chronicled here.