Articles in this series:
- [Intro] Important CHANGES in March 15th, 2015 Watchtower Explained
- [1 of 6] “This Is the Way You Approved” …The Prodigal Son
- [2 of 6] “This is the Way You Approved” …Elijah/Elisha (below)
- [3 of 6] The New and “Approved” Type of Watchtower Explanation
- [4 of 6] “Will You Keep on the Watch?”The Ten Virgins (avail. soon)
- [5 of 6] “Learn From the Illustration of the Talents” (avail. soon)
- [6 of 6] The March 15, 2015 Watchtower and the Contexts of Jesus’ Stories in Matthew 25 (pdf)
This article is part of a series of “commentary” articles we are presenting about the March 15, 2015 study issue of The Watchtower. Note that emphasis (italics, bold, color) may be added in all quotations in this article.
The previous article in the series, and the one you are reading now are intended to cover the basic groundwork about the use of the “type-antitype” methods. This will set the foundation for further articles that will comment more directly on the actual wording and content of the March 15, 2015 Watchtower material. Getting the background explanatory material out of the way up front will help to avoid getting bogged down later when discussing the Watchtower content.
WHY DISCUSS ELIJAH AND ELISHA?
The Watchtower itself gave a couple examples of the “type-antitype” method for explaining Biblical narratives and parables, but the simplicity of those examples didn’t give a complete picture of the kinds of problems the Watchtower mentioned. The article on page 10 spoke of “type-antitype” explanations as “difficult to grasp,” “hard to remember and to apply,” and stated that they may obscure the “moral and practical lessons of the Bible accounts.” Agreed.
In the previous article we covered “The Prodigal Son” in some detail because it is a good example to see these problems in a parable, and it expands on the example of the Good Samaritan (which the Watchtower article did mention). In this article we will cover “Elijah and Elisha” because it provides a good example of these problems in a Bible narrative, and it expands on the example of the “Ahab, Jezebel and Naboth” narrative (which the Watchtower article also did mention).
In fact, the “Ahab, Jezebel and Naboth” example was originally presented in Watch Tower publications as only a small part of the much larger “Elijah/Elisha” example.
Checking the 1930-1985 “Watch Tower Publications Index” under the terms “Naboth” and “prophetic significance” we see only the following three references:
- Let Your Name Be Sanctified (1961) p.324
- Watchtower 1932 p.201
- Vindication Vol.3 (1932) pages 32-33.
Only three of these “type-antitype” explanations about Naboth in the 55 years covered here! But the book, Let Your Name Be Sanctified (1961) with just that one single page about Naboth, contains literally hundreds of references to Elijah and Elisha. Elijah, for example, is mentioned in 11 consecutive chapters (240 out of 378 pages), and sometimes as many as 73 times in a single chapter!
The biggest reason to discuss Elijah and Elisha is that this has been the most important, overused, and abused of the “type-antitype” examples. It was important to the Second Adventists before Russell, and became the most referenced example of the “type-antitype” method. It was the first major doctrine that Rutherford changed after the death of Russell. And it shouldn’t be difficult to see why, after looking at the major features of the narrative.
ELIJAH OR ELISHA: WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR THE EGO?
Elijah was a prophet whose ministry was apparently blessed by God. He prophesied for 30-some years, performed 8 miracles, and even raised someone from the dead. Pretty good credentials! If you were a religious leader who dabbled in prophecy, you might be honored if someone compared you to Elijah. Not only that, but he was one of the very few people in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) for whom it was stated or implied that he was taken up to heaven.
But then, after Elijah, comes Elisha. At the end of Elijah’s career, he passed his “mantle” (his coat) to his protégé, Elisha, to carry on the work. Now, Elisha, seems to get a “double-portion” of God’s spirit. Elisha ends up working with Elijah and then prophesying on his own for a total of 60-some years! He performed about 16 miracles, twice as many as Elijah, including curing the sick and also raising someone from the dead.
At this point, a self-important person might prefer to be likened to Elisha rather than just Elijah. After all, if you claim to be represented by Elisha, it’s like being twice as effective, or twice as important as your predecessor.
But it might prove interesting to see how this kind of thinking couldn’t work until the original version of the Elijah/Elisha explanation was changed by Rutherford in 1919, and then again under “Knorr/Franz” in 1942. In fact, under Russell’s explanation, saying that someone was of the “Elisha class” could literally be used as an insult. And believe it or not, this was also a part of this doctrine’s Watch Tower history. (See the section heading: “THE ELISHA-DO-LITTLE CLASS.”)
BUT JESUS SAID JOHN THE BAPTIST ALREADY FULFILLED ELIJAH, RIGHT?
There is this one big problem if you ever wanted to be represented by either Elijah or Elisha. It’s true that Elijah was considered to be the great prophet who is a forerunner introducing something greater to follow. And it’s true that Malachi predicted Elijah would come again to prepare the way for something even greater. Malachi 3:1; 4:1,5 state the following:
(3:1) “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will clear up a way before me…. (4:1) For look! the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the presumptuous ones …will become like stubble.… (4:5) Look! I am sending to you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awe-inspiring day of Jehovah. (NWT)
The Greek Scriptures (New Testament) tell us that John the Baptist, was that “messenger,” the person who acted as the forerunner, preparing the way for Jesus. Therefore John the Baptist was already the fulfillment of this prophecy about “Elijah.”
Matthew 17: 12,13 “Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him….Then the disciples perceived that he spoke to them about John the Baptist.”
Luke 1:17 Also, he [John the Baptist] will go ahead of him with Elijah’s spirit and power.
Luke 4:24-27 “[N]o prophet is accepted in his home territory. For instance, I tell you in truth: There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah …Yet Elijah was sent to none of those women,… Also, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian.”
The Greek Scriptures indicate that Jesus performed each of the types of miracles that both Elijah and Elisha performed. And any “type-antitype” fulfillment for Elijah as a prophet was already finished, already completed. The greater prophet, Jesus, already followed John the Baptist. Therefore, John said about Jesus Christ: “The one coming after me is stronger than I am, whose sandals I am not worthy to take off.” So it would surely seem presumptuous if someone were to try to apply the Elijah and Elisha “types” to some other persons after John the Baptist and Christ Jesus already fulfilled this “picture.” As Jesus himself said: “Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him.”
Recall that Malachi 4:1 also warned of presumptuousness. Could someone really read Malachi chapter 4, knowing that it was already fulfilled and still be presumptuous enough to say that they, too should be pictured or even “prophesied” by either Elijah or Elisha? There have now been over 135 years of Watch Tower history to answer that question.
SO WHO DOES THE WATCHTOWER SAY ELIJAH IS?
For well over 80 years, until recently, a key to the explanation has been based on the portion of the Biblical narrative where Elijah parts the waters of the Jordan with his mantle (coat), and is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, in a whirlwind, and then the work is passed on to Elisha. That was the key to Rutherford’s explanation in 1919, and it was also the key to the updated explanation from Knorr and Franz after Rutherford died.
Keeping in mind that Rutherford died on January 8, 1942, here is a portion of what “Let Your Name Be Sanctified” stated, in chapter 17:
In 1942, in the throes of World War II, the Elijah work passed. It passed away…. It was taken away in divine favor….but it finished with success and in integrity. It left the interests of God’s kingdom to a faithful successor who would cling to the commission from God through the anointed Elijah class, just the same as this successor had stuck to the Elijah class to the end. The carrying out of the Elijah commission kept on without a hitch.
8 The anointed Elisha class undertook the responsibility of carrying out fully the divine commission as symbolized by Elijah’s official garment. Five days after Rutherford’s death the boards of directors of the Watch Tower corporations for New York and for Pennsylvania held a joint meeting and unanimously elected N. H. Knorr, one of the anointed remnant, to be president of both corporations of the Society. There was grief over the passing of a faithful fellow worker, but there was no interruption of the work for the sentimental purpose of mourning over the dead. The change in personnel did not cripple the work, because this is not a man’s organization but God’s visible organization on earth. …
9 To get back to work with the “sons of the prophets,” Elisha had to make a test of God’s spirit upon him and get back across the Jordan River. He did so by repeating Elijah’s miracle of causing the waters of the Jordan to divide. Likewise with the Elisha class in 1942. …
10 In the very same [Feb. 1, 1942] issue of The Watchtower that announced the death of J. F. Rutherford as “a faithful witness,” appeared the special leading article entitled “Final Gathering.”…
[Questions from the bottom of page 338 for the above paragraphs]
8. What responsibility did the Elisha class undertake, who was elected president of the legal Society, and why was there no crippling of the work at this time?…
10. Along with announcement of Rutherford’s death, what work did The Watchtower describe as yet ahead of the Elisha class, and so what assembly was held in 1942?
[Additional questions from the same chapter]
- 13. What did the president‘s speech reveal…?
- 14. What did the president‘s public address disclose…?
- 17…(b) At the directors’ meeting of September 24, 1942…?
- 18. What did the president of the Society inaugurate…?
You could get the impression that both Elijah and Elisha represented the living “remnant” of the “anointed” (who were themselves represented by the board of directors of the Watch Tower corporations, and are now considered to be the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses). But did the work of the anointed, or the board of directors, or the “faithful slave” die in 1942? No, only Rutherford died in 1942.
In other words, officially the Elijah class referred to the anointed under Rutherford’s presidency, and the Elisha class referred to the anointed under Knorr’s presidency. Unofficially, Elijah was J. F. Rutherford and Elisha was N. H. Knorr. Notes from the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead (55th Class, 1973) include simply “- Elijah: Rutherford; – Elisha: Knorr.” Gilead students who have discussed this publicly have said this was taught to them as official doctrine. Elijah’s life was a “prophecy” inspired by Jehovah about Rutherford. Elisha’s life was a “prophecy” inspired by Jehovah about Knorr who would take the presidential “mantle” from Rutherford in 1942.
Understanding the overall picture of these “prophetic dramas” and how deeply embedded into the history and thinking of the Watch Tower Society’s leadership gives us a better sense of the reasoning behind them. The other narratives found within the framework of the lives of Elijah and Elisha are also given related prophetic significance. For example, “Naboth Ahab and Jezebel” and the “anointing of Jehu” were events described within the narrative about the time of Elijah. The resurrection of the son of a Shunamite couple and curing of Naaman’s leprosy were during Elisha’s time. Another often repeated type-antitype narrative from the Elijah/Elisha time period is that of Jehonadab (Jonadab) picturing the “great crowd.”
BUT WHAT ABOUT BEFORE RUTHERFORD GAVE HIS COAT TO KNORR?
The Watchtower couldn’t have known in advance that Knorr would succeed Rutherford in 1942. In fact, they didn’t come up with the Rutherford-as-Elijah explanation until nearly 20 years after the event. So what was the prior explanation? Who did Rutherford say Elijah and Elisha were?
Rutherford inherited a theory from Russell that had the Elijah class (the “Church”/”Bride of Christ”/”remnant”) going to heaven in 1878; and failing that, 1881; and failing that, 1910; and failing that, 1914; and failing that, 1915; and failing that “the spring of 1918.” Rutherford went along with that for as long as he could, finally stretching “the spring of 1918” to “the summer of 1918.” But then he went to prison over the “Finished Mystery” book in 1918 and didn’t get out until 1919. That’s when he had to come up with a new theory and he did!
But before Rutherford looking at the new understanding he came up with in 1919, it’s very informative to see how the previous understanding had been used. To Russell, Elijah was a type of the “then-living” church (“little flock”) about to be transitioned to heaven. But Russell was famous for always making mistakes in all of his date predictions concerning the time of that transition. Here’s where Elijah was able to come to his rescue.
ELIJAH’S FIRST “MODERN” MIRACLE: HE GIVES RUSSELL A WAY TO BLAME HIS MISTAKES ON JEHOVAH!
The “Elijah/Elisha” narrative provided a great excuse for these mistakes. It would make the mistakes seem like they were predetermined by God himself. Note what Rutherford said about Russell’s beliefs in a 1918 Watch Tower:
“Several times during the harvest… the Lord has permitted his people to think that they were about to go. Brother Russell expected the church to go beyond the veil in 1878, 1881, 1910, and 1914….just as with Elijah, who went with Elisha to four different places before he was actually taken. These seeming disappointments were divinely foreknown, ‘his appointments.'” (Watch Tower, April 15, 1918, Reprints page 6237)
Shifting the blame to Jehovah for these four chronology mistakes might have helped Russell’s reputation a little. After all, getting those dates right would have gone against God’s prophetic designs for the “Elijah class.” But it would take nothing short of a miracle to stop this modern-day “Elijah” from making more of the same errors.
Russell himself had already been invoking Elijah to cover for his mistakes:
“…The taking up of Elijah into heaven, typically [meaning, as a “type”] represents the final passing of the church from the earthly conditions to the Heavenly. We have seen, too, that when Elijah’s time for translation came, he was sent from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel to Jericho and from Jericho to Jordan; and that these different points were measurably disappointing; yet that Elijah and Elisha were not discouraged, but went on –Jordan representing the end of the Times of the Gentiles, 1915. As Jordan was the last point to which Elijah was directed, so 1915 is the last point to which the church has been directed. As Elijah went on, not knowing any further place, so the true church is going on without any definite time-point before it. Soon the chariot of fire will separate the Elijah class from the Elisha class.” (Watch Tower January 1, 1916. p.4)
Here are a few things to notice about Russell’s statement just quoted. Russell is saying that Elijah’s time for translation to heaven had already come but “he was sent” to four different places and measurably disappointed at four different places. (Russell evidently believes he can still avoid a complete disappointment over 1914 if he merely stretches the end of the Gentile Times from 1914 to 1915.) So that would cover Russell’s four biggest mistakes to date, and make it look like he didn’t have much choice, because Jehovah had sent Russell to these four places that represented the disappointments of 1878, 1881, 1910, and 1914. So, although Elijah is officially the “remnant of the anointed Church,” Russell was the one who “was sent” to these four dates. Therefore, Russell himself is claiming to be the representative or spokesperson of the Elijah “class.”
Rutherford spoke of Russell in the same manner in May 1, 1918, saying:
“Time and again the church has been told through [Russell] the channel which the Lord chose as his mouthpiece during the church’s last experience that Elijah is a type of the overcoming church….” (Watch Tower, May 1, 1918).
THE GENTILE TIMES ENDED IN…WAIT FOR IT…1915!
But by 1916 it was also obvious that 1914 had not only failed as the Church’s transition date, it had also failed as “the end of the Gentile Times.” The best that Russell could do now is just let it slip that “the end of the Gentile Times [was] 1915.” (Refer again to the Watch Tower, January 1, 1916, page 4, quoted previously.) This doesn’t say much for the Watch Tower’s ability to watch the supposed “sign” that the “anointed” were supposed to perceive in 1914. It shows that these “anointed” must have missed it altogether, in spite of the most recent definition of the “generation” in the January 1, 2014 Watchtower: “The first group was on hand in 1914, and they readily discerned the sign of Christ’s presence in that year.” But that’s another story!
FORGET THE GENTILE TIMES! DIDN’T RUSSELL SAY WE COULD USE 1918 IF WE NEEDED IT?
When the Watch Tower first claimed that the Gentile Times had ended in 1915, instead of 1914, things still weren’t looking any better for 1916 either. So the idea that Elijah had only been sent to four places became kind of a trap. He needed a fifth date. Russell didn’t know it but he was in the final year of his life, and he did happen to mention one more date in the month before he died. So in September 1916, Russell went back to saying the Gentile Times ended in October 1914 (not 1915) and added:
At first we were inclined to surmise that the Harvest proper had closed in October, 1914, and that the work since going on was a gleaning work; but the facts seem not to bear this out. … Besides, we are being more and more impressed with the closing features of the Elijah and the Elisha type. More and more we are impressed that Elijah’s smiting of the river Jordan, the waters thereof being thus divided, pictures a mighty work yet to be accomplished, and apparently in the very near future. What will be the antitype of the folding up of Elijah’s mantle, symbolizing his power?…But…we could still not expect the results in less than about three years. We are not fixing the time, however, for we know of no time features applicable before us — even as Elijah and Elisha were not sent to any definite place after reaching Jordan. (Watch Tower, September 1, 1916)
[Further down the page of this same issue, we see an adjustment to the previous Jewish and Christian parallels:]
A.D. 33-36 A.D. 1878-1881; …
A.D. 29-33 A.D. 1874-1878; …
A.D. 36-73 A.D. 1881-1918[*]
[*previously 33-70 A.D 1881-1914 (later 1915). See, Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 220-222]
…We imagined that the Harvest work of gathering the Church would be accomplished before the end of the Gentile Times; but nothing in the Bible so said. …Anyway, the harvesting of the Jewish Age, gathering “Israelites indeed” into the Gospel Church, did not close with A.D. 70, but progressed in various parts of the world thereafter. … Incidentally we remark that some historians put the end of the Jewish Time of Trouble as April A. D. 73, which would correspond to April 1918. (Watch Tower, September 1, 1916)
Russell had seemed pretty reluctant about this this new April 1918 date, but it was mentioned, nevertheless, and would certainly come in handy for Rutherford.
Just two weeks after the April 15, 1918 Watch Tower where Rutherford listed Russell’s four prior disappointments, quoted above, he also claims that Russell’s last expression about the harvest was “the spring of 1918.” That’s not exactly accurate, but fair enough. So the Watch Tower of May 1, 1918 mentions it, cutting it pretty close, since summer would start about June 21st:
“Time and again the church has been told through [Russell] the channel which the Lord chose as his mouthpiece during the church’s last experience that Elijah is a type of the overcoming church and that Elisha probably represents in a measure the great company class.” Brother Russell’s last expression concerning the harvest was that it would end in the spring of 1918…Rejoice…the work of harvesting… is done…..soon we shall be home….There may be a little more work…aiding the Elisha class. During the past forty years the harvest of the age has been in progress. That the harvest began in 1878, there is ample and convincing proof. The end of the harvest is due in the spring of 1918” (Watch Tower, May 1, 1918).
A “TIME” FOR EVERY “SEASON” (or, JUST GIVE US TWO MORE MONTHS AND OUR WORK IS DONE HERE!)
Nothing happened, of course in Russell’s “spring of 1918,” and by the time the July 1, 1918 Watch Tower would come out, it would be summer. Rutherford had painted himself into a seasonal corner and was running out of room to maneuver. Rutherford wouldn’t exactly perform an Elijah-like miracle to get out of this little predicament but he would need to perform a “seasonal adjustment” to make his dates meet in due season, so to speak:
“Brother Russell stated that the work of the harvest would end in the summer of 1918, the door would close and the dark night would settle down” (Watch Tower, July 1, 1918)
Rutherford is probably not telling the truth of course, (a summer reference is not to be found) but by now he’s got a lot of other things on his mind. A federal judge has just thrown the book at the “Judge.”
The problems with the “Finished Mystery” book (“Seventh Volume”) are overwhelming and due to claimed offenses against the “1918 Espionage Act,” Rutherford wrote the following letter on July 3, 1918 just before being shipped off to prison in Atlanta for several months. Note how just as Russell stretched 1914 to 1915 and then snapped it back to 1914, so Rutherford stretched spring to summer, but a few days later he also snaps back to spring:
“When without self seeking, but by the will of God, I was placed in the position of executive of the Society which the Lord had organized for his harvest work…. Brother Russell’s last expression concerning the harvest was that it would end in the spring of 1918. …The spring of 1918 came; and the evidences began to increase that the harvest was closing….Rejoice now, Beloved; the work of harvesting the church is done. The dark night is rapidly on, and soon we will be home. There may be a little more work for the faithful … in aiding the Elisha class….We are advised that seven who opposed the Society and its work during the past year attended upon the trial and lent aid to our prosecutors. We warn you, Beloved, against the subtle efforts of some of them to fawn upon you now in an attempt to get hold of the Society.” — Rutherford, Letter, July 3, 1918, published March 27, 1919 “The Labor Tribune” (Pittsburgh)
Rutherford’s manner of gaining control of the Watch Tower started with legal and political moves that he began making immediately after Russell died on October 31, 1916, which left many Bible Students with the impression that Rutherford was nothing if not “self-seeking.” The harvest work was done. he said in the letter above. But just in case, he also expressed his concern over the legal battle to wrest control of the Society away from him. He needed to remind the audience that “being placed in the position as executive of the Society” was “the will of God.” This is not added here just to be insulting to Rutherford. It’s actually relevant, as Rutherford will try to use the Elijah/Elisha explanations to strengthen his control over the Watch Tower. (Some would prefer the expression: “began to beat his fellow slaves.”)
THE “ELISHA-DO-LITTLE” CLASS
At this point, in 1918, Rutherford had not yet gone beyond Russell’s view of Elijah and Elisha. Russell had said as late as October 1915 that:
“While we are certain that Elijah typed the church of God in the flesh, we may not be quite so positive that Elisha was also a type and represented a secondary class of God’s people, …the ‘foolish virgin’ class…the servants of the bride class…sometimes as a great company. ” (Watch Tower, October 1915)
In keeping with the second-class, less worthy nature of the “great crowd,” they were also the “foolish virgins.” Two major Watch Tower issues on the Elijah/Elisha classes appeared in the early 1918 Watchtowers and they were still aligned with Russell’s view on who Elijah and Elisha represented, and the February 15, 1918 issue even strengthened the definitions of the Elisha class which had been less certain under Russell.
While the Elijah class was identified definitely at the time, the “Elisha” class was thought to be most likely the “great crowd” (“great company”/”great multitude”), so that the “Elijah-little-flock” would go to heaven first and the “Elisha-great-crowd” would go to heaven later. (That teaching would also change, so that the “great crowd” would later become an “earthly” class, and no longer associated with Elisha.) At this time, however, the “great crowd” was still “anointed.” The February 15, 1918 Watch Tower made that point clearly:
“No one could be either of the little flock or of the great company class unless he is spirit-begotten.“
In the same Watch Tower article, Rutherford added a few choice insults about the Elisha class partially to prove that he was no part of this dirty, lazy, less honorable class. But it reveals his thinking that explains why he came up with the specific solution he finally came up with:
TWO CLASSES IN THE CHURCH — …But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earth; and some to honor, and some to less honor … The Scriptures clearly teach that…there will be four classes…(1) the little flock, who are to sit with Christ on his throne…(2) the great company [“great crowd”] …who are to be servants before the throne, like unto angels…...BE NOT AT EASE (IDLE) IN ZION…Some who have participated …under the direction of the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY have recently assumed a position in opposition to its work…saying that those having to do with its present management are of the great company class. The purpose could only be to induce those actively engaged to cease their efforts and to discourage others….We believe the whole matter may be summed up in a few words by saying that the little flock is zealously faithful…even unto death, whereas those composing the great company class become indifferent and negligent….the great company class is represented by Rahab who was in the citadel of Jericho when it fell…while the Christ class, causes it to fall….Again the apostles represent the great company class as being double-minded…Furthermore the great company class is likened unto those who, while they love the truth, fail to become active…saying, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended…”…They are also pictured as those who do not keep their garments unspotted from the world….EXPERIENCES OF ELIJAH AND ELISHA…THE ANTITYPICAL CHARIOT…ELIJAH NOT ELISHA USED THE CHARIOT…SIGNIFICANCE OF ELIJAH’S MANTLE…We emphasize the fact that the church–Elijah and Elisha–were standing in 1914, talking together. When Brother Russell died in 1916 everything seemed to have come to a standstill. No one seemed to know exactly what should be done. Then suddenly something was delivered to the church. What was it? All remember how that on a certain day in July, 1917, the message of the truth wrapped up in compact form in “The Finished Mystery” was delivered into the hands of the church; and then the antitypical Elijah had the message in such form that it could be used for the smiting of the antitypical Jordan; and the smiting began. (Watch Tower February 15, 1918)
Ironically as, Rutherford was figuring ways to smite his enemies by throwing a certain book at them….
A JUDGE THROWS THE BOOK AT “THE JUDGE”
The climate of suspicion raised during the ongoing war, and was justified through the new “Sedition Act” of 1918. Therefore, accusations about the book “The Finished Mystery” had escalated. A federal judge sentenced Rutherford and other Watch Tower leaders on June 21, 1918 to serve a prison sentence, which they served for 9 months until March 26, 1919. By that summer, Rutherford had a new doctrine about Elijah and Elisha that was presented at the 1919 Cedar Point Convention and in the Watch Tower issues of August 1 and August 15, 1919.
Rutherford made both Elijah and Elisha “types” of the “little flock,” moving away from the idea that Elisha was the less important “great crowd.” Here’s how he put it:
In the spring of 1918, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was bearing a fiery message, a message due at that time. At the same time there was great trouble. …Elisha would take up the mantle—the message borne by Elijah—and use it according to the Lord’s direction.
“…Elijah typed the little flock up until a certain stage of the work done and performed by the followers of Jesus; to wit, up to the time the fiery trial came upon the church in 1918, at which time the mantle, that is, the message of truth, particularly represented in “The Finished Mystery,” was thrown down and the remaining work to be done by the church in the flesh is pictured by Elisha….”
“Therefore. that the Prophets Elijah and Elisha both typify the same class, to wit, the little flock; that where the Elijah picture ended the Elisha picture began, and in the antitype two of the same character of work done by the same class of people are shown….it means that there must yet be another smiting of the waters with the mantle of truth.” (Watch Tower, August 1, 1919)
The first thing that strikes people who have read “The Finished Mystery” is that this is an awful lot of emphasis on the “message of truth” in a book that no Jehovah’s Witness is allowed to believe today without the risk of being disfellowshipped. The entire book is an embarrassing display of non-sense. Most of it is no longer considered to be true today.
At any rate, the Elijah work was now seen as running from 1874 to 1918 (later 1878 to 1918), and the Elisha work from 1919 onward. It might have been tempting for Rutherford to see Elijah as the little flock under Russell and Elisha as the little flock under Rutherford. But there was a glitch. Russell died in 1916, two years too soon. He also had gone to heaven immediately in 1916 based on the belief that the “first resurrection” had already occurred (in 1878). Later, the “first resurrection” would move to 1918, which would serve to strengthen this teaching about Elijah and Elisha.
Upon getting out of prison, Rutherford spent the rest of his Watch Tower career highlighting that his imprisonment from 1918 to 1919 was the all-important “assault upon the Society” and was an event that fulfilled literally dozens of Bible prophecies. So at least partially, Rutherford would be represented by both Elijah and Elisha. That meant that he would have to explain how Elijah could be taken to heaven and still be on earth.
Elijah typed a class of persons; and the fiery chariot and whirlwind might not be the last earthly experiences of the persons composing that class. …The taking away of Elijah in the whirlwind might represent a marked point in the church’s career and yet many persons composing the church might remain in the flesh for a time after having that antitypical experience. (Watch Tower, August 15, 1919)
Although the 1918 date didn’t create an ideal Russell/Rutherford split, yet Rutherford over the next 20 years would use it as if that’s what it meant. He began to use it to oppose those who didn’t accept his management of the Watch Tower and who preferred Russell’s earlier teachings.
And now that Elisha was no longer the “less honorable” great crowd, Rutherford was free to drive home the point that the Elisha work, now under Rutherford, was doubly blessed. More importantly notice how he uses the explanation as a way to “Lord it over” everyone else, quite literally. He claims that his explanation is Jehovah’s explanation and if you don’t agree you are in outer darkness in opposition to the Lord. There are many such examples, although we can’t do much better than to include the same quotes that I find that the particular quotes selected by Edmond C. Gruss made use of for his excellent book “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Their Claims, Doctrinal Changes, and Prophetic Speculation” page 163:
“We understand it was in 1918 when the Elijah work ceased, and that in 1919 the Elijah work began, and those who discerned this fact,…received a double portion of the spirit…”
“True to his promise greater light has come to the church of God since 1918….greater light has been shining and continues to shine. It was in the year 1919 that the Lord permitted the church to see for the first time that Elijah pictured the work of the church prior to 1918 and [Elisha] pictured the work of the church thereafter.”
“While still some may doubt that we have passed from the Elijah phase of the church’s activity into that of Elisha. and that the Lord has in very fact poured forth a double portion of the spirit upon his people, those who are abiding in the secret place of the Most High and who are ‘walking in the light as he is in the light’ are in no doubt about the point.”
Those who have seen and appreciated these great truths from the Lord have rejoiced, while those who have not discerned the difference between the Elijah and Elisha work of the church, and the blessed truths revealed in connection therewith, continue to complain, and many have entirely gone into outer darkness. —At the Cedar Point convention in 1919 and in The Watch Tower, many scriptures were produced supporting the conclusion that the Elijah work ended in the fiery trouble of 1918 and that now the Elisha work of the church must begin. It was a voice from heaven, because it was Jehovah’s voice.“
In a letter in The Watch Tower which had been sent in answer to a Society representatives questions, Rutherford writes: “The Elijah work ended in 1918. Any attempt to carry on the Elijah work thereafter would be an attempt to revive a dead thing, and hence out of harmony with the Lord
For these types of comments, not repeated in current histories of the Watch Tower Society, Rutherford was often seen as amazingly unsophisticated in methods that came across as “bullying.” He has often been accused of exposing himself as unfaithful, unwise, indiscreet, and presumptuous.
AND WHAT ABOUT NOW?
For many years after Rutherford’s 1919 version of the teaching, the idea stayed the same, although the emphasis on “The Finished Mystery” or the insulting rhetoric from Rutherford was downplayed. The doctrine, as we have seen, was turned into a useful tool for rooting out Russell’s remaining doctrines, especially through the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
In spite of that, from the 1940’s until the 1960’s, the doctrine may have had the effect of legitimizing the work of Russell, starting in the late 1870’s. This is because it repeated the idea that the Bible prophesied the work of Russell from the 1870’s. This may have kept up a dangerous interest in his doctrines, which the Watch Tower Society realizes are very embarrassing, when looked at too closely. In effect, it kept the late 1800’s “on the books” by having doctrines about them, and in this case, prophecies that were fulfilled in the 1800’s. Most of these doctrines were related to the Elijah/Elisha sequence, which were dropped with the 1961 release of “Let Your Name Be Sanctified.” Here are some examples, from the 1950’s.
*** w50 8/1 p. 229 pars. 9-11 Serving with the Servant ***
9 The Lord Jesus Christ was enthroned as the new world’s King in 1914, as all the prophecies of old and facts of today testify. …Before this all-important date, there had been a preparatory work going on for years. The 40-year period of time (from 1878 to 1918) was foretold in Scripture prophecy, and generally has been referred to as the “Elijah” or “John the Baptist” work, and so named because it constitutes a large-scale, modern-day fulfillment of their prophetic works.
*** w52 8/1 pp. 472-473 pars. 17-18 Power and Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ ***
17 In these last days Jehovah’s people have been engaging in the Elijah work, particularly from 1878 to 1918,
*** w54 3/1 p. 150 par. 5 Restoration of True Religion Today ***
5 … there is first an “Elijah” work performed, like the work of John the Baptist, ….Such a work was prosecuted in a particular way from 1878 to 1918, though similar work still continues with greater intensity, and is known as the “Elisha” work, and this goes on until Armageddon, when Jehovah “smites the earth with a curse.”
SINCE THE 1960’s, ALL PROPHECIES ABOUT THE 1800’s ARE NOW OBSOLETE
Any talk about any specific fulfillment of any prophecy that included a date from the 1800’s was extremely rare after the 1960’s. The late 1800’s were mentioned in general as fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 4:10 about not despising “the day of small things.” At various times the history of the Watch Tower Society might also refer to the significance of 1918 which had never been given a specific basis except due to the fact that it was 40 years from the start of a period that had started in 1878, but the 1878 date was usually ignored. The following two examples give a good sense of the disappearance of prophetic references to the 1800’s.
*** w73 7/1 p. 395 pars. 7-8 Organized to Praise God ***
About January 1876, C. T. Russell came in touch with the journal The Herald of the Morning, published by N. H. Barbour … and Russell became coeditor of the Herald, also giving financial aid. But in 1878….Russell firmly upheld the Biblical doctrine of the ransom….Then, in July 1879, C. T. Russell published the first issue of Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, now called The Watchtower. In no uncertain terms this journal has always declared the Scriptural truth about the ransom.
That was a “day of small things,” but it was not to be despised. (Zech. 4:10)
1878 is apparently treated as just another year in the early history of Russell’s activities. And the “fulfillment” of Zechariah 4:10 appears very generic here. After the 1960’s, the closest the Watchtower ever got to “resurrecting” the idea of a prophetic 40-year period from 1878 to 1918 comes from the following quote in the March 15, 1990 Watchtower. Note, below, that nothing is said against a prophetic significance for 1878, but the quote references the forty year period only in a generic, matter-of-fact way, presenting a prophetic significance only for 1918 (when the Lord came to the temple).
*** w90 3/15 p. 14 pars. 19-21 ‘The Faithful Slave’ and Its Governing Body ***
In its issue of November 1, 1944, The Watchtower stated: “In 1878, forty years before the Lord’s coming to the temple in 1918, there was a class of sincere consecrated Christians . . . The following year, namely, in July, 1879,…The Watchtower, began to be published.”…“Five years later [in 1884] Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated and served as an ‘agency’ to minister spiritual food to thousands of sincere persons seeking to know God and to understand his Word ….
In 1918, when Jesus Christ inspected those claiming to be his slaves, he found an international group of Christians… In 1919 it truly turned out to be as Christ had foretold: “Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”
THAT MEANS THAT 1918 IS NOW OBSOLETE, TOO
Even in the above quote, 1878 is not necessarily any more special than 1879 or 1884. Of course, 1918 was still considered a special year of a prophetic fulfillment. But without anything specific to base it on, it is no longer considered important today. It is suggested as “an interesting possibility” that the “first resurrection” might still have occurred in that year, but the Watchtower no longer insists on it. Even the timing of this “arriving” and “appointing” and who makes up “that slave.”
*** w07 1/1 p. 28 par. 12 “The First Resurrection”—Now Under Way! ***
“…resurrection of his faithful anointed followers began…in the spring of 1918? That is an interesting possibility. Although this cannot be directly confirmed in the Bible….”
Since even before the last major “prophetic” discussion of Elijah’s and Elisha’s lives, (September 15, 1997), the Watchtower had already begun to leave out most of the details from any of these discussions. But they have not been specifically replaced with any new information or changes. In fact, up until the March 15, 2015 Watchtower, the 1961 version of the doctrine is still quasi-supported, but probably with some level of “deniability” about the specifics. For example, as recently as 1997 The Watchtower has a footnote that says:
“See chapters 18 and 19 of the book “Let Your Name Be Sanctified,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.” (Watchtower, September 15, 1997)
Even in 1997, they probably hoped no one would really go to the trouble to look up the footnotes. The material in the articles does, however, argue for modern-day Elijah and Elisha parallels, but not “fulfillments,” specifically. It hints at the previously promoted time period “as the world entered ‘the time of the end'” and “during World War I” without specifying 1918, though. “The clergy’s reaction to exposure” is mentioned, and this idea has always accompanied discussions of “The Finished Mystery” and Rutherford’s administration.
*** w97 9/15 p. 13 par. 13 Will You Be Faithful Like Elijah? ***
All of this taken together indicated that something further would take place as represented by the work that Elijah had done. What is that?
Elijah’s work not only had a parallel in the activities of John the Baptizer but also has one in those of anointed Christians in this critical period leading up to the coming “day of Jehovah.” …As the world entered “the time of the end,” … the small group of anointed Christians enjoyed regular supplies of God-given spiritual food “at the proper time,” even as Jehovah saw to it that Elijah was fed during the famine of his day….The clergy’s reaction to exposure was similar to that of Jezebel upon learning that Elijah had killed the prophets of Baal. …Because of intense persecution during World War I, some anointed Christians succumbed to fear and stopped preaching. … Like Elijah, faithful anointed ones accepted divine correction and recovered from inactivity….And for over 60 years now, God has been using these anointed ones to spearhead the work of making disciples of people to whom he has given the wonderful hope of life eternal on a paradise earth.
THE DIVISION BETWEEN ANOINTED AND GREAT CROWD ….AGAIN
The primary interest in dates has apparently shifted to the mid-1930’s (“for over 60 years now”) when the “great crowd” were beginning to officially join the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
*** w97 9/15 p. 17 par. 4 Who Will Survive “the Day of Jehovah”? ***
Zeal for God’s service is vital if we are to survive “the day of Jehovah.” Elijah and Elisha were zealous in Jehovah’s service. With similar zeal, the remnant of anointed Christians today render sacred service to Jehovah and take the lead in preaching the good news. Since the mid-1930’s, they have encouraged all those accepting the Kingdom message and hoping to live forever on earth to dedicate themselves to Jehovah and get baptized.
The shift to the 1930’s appears to be part of a goal to provide just enough reference to the old doctrine to be able to authoritatively differentiate the “anointed” from the “great crowd.” That’s because the new reason for these discussions is to make sure the “great crowd” humbly appreciates all that the “anointed” have done for them.
For example, Elisha raising the son of the couple from Shunem was explained like this:
*** w97 9/15 p. 17 par. 5 Who Will Survive “the Day of Jehovah”? ***
5 Those who do good things for Jesus’ “brothers” because these anointed ones are his followers have the hope of surviving “the day of Jehovah.” A married couple in the village of Shunem were greatly blessed for being kind and hospitable to Elisha and his attendant. …What rich rewards for showing hospitality to Elisha!
The example of Elisha healing Naaman of leprosy is explained in the next paragraph of the article like this:
6…Humility is needed in order to accept Bible-based direction from Christ’s “brothers” with the hope of surviving Jehovah’s day. The leprous Syrian army chief Naaman had to show humility … Naaman’s pride was hurt, and he became angry, but after he humbly went …he became clean.” …Determined not to profit materially from God-given powers, Elisha came out to meet Naaman but would not accept any gifts. …
7 By humbly following the Scriptural counsel of anointed ones, millions are richly blessed today. … And their devotion to God and his service will be rewarded in their being spared from the eternal destruction about to befall proud, unrepentant sinners in the rapidly approaching “day of Jehovah.”
These weren’t just some subtle hints sprinkled throughout the articles. The last paragraph concludes with a repetition of these same points. In other words it’s not very subtle in asking the “great crowd” to do good to the “anointed,” offer humble acceptance and obedience in following the counsel of the “anointed.” Make sure you consider it “divine instruction” or you might be eternally destroyed.
*** w97 9/15 p. 20 par. 19 Who Will Survive “the Day of Jehovah”? ***
“Yes, survival may be your experience if you do good to Christ’s spiritual brothers because they are his followers, as the Shunammite couple were hospitable to Elisha. For survival you must also be like Naaman, who humbly accepted divine instruction and became a worshiper of Jehovah. If you yearn to live forever in an earthly paradise, you must demonstrate heartfelt support for true worship, as Jehonadab did.”
That conclusion should not be surprising. It’s a common theme of many of the lessons that Jehovah’s Witnesses are now expected to learn from examples found in Biblical narratives and parables. One of the reasons for the lack of subtlety may very well be that the disappearance of once-prominent “prophetic” dates (like 1878 and 1918) leaves a further gap in the doctrinal authority of the “anointed.” Even the date 1931 (and to a lesser extent 1935) was once given “doctrinal authority” through prophetic parables and prophetic narratives. These were key dates for the distinction between the “anointed” and the “great crowd.”
Why is that important? Because there are only two modern dates left in Watch Tower doctrine: 1914 and 1919. A lot of attention is given to 1914 as it relates to a supposed prophecy. But the same can’t be said for 1919, which is supposedly the date when the “faithful and discreet slave” and/or “Governing Body” was given authority to provide the spiritual food for the “domestics.”
The only doctrinal support for 1919 is based on 1914. And there are no specific reasons why this “stamp of approval” would need to start nearly 5 years after 1914. It’s only this vague notion that the most powerful King of the Davidic line was not quite ready to “hit the ground running” in 1914.
Jehovah’s Witnesses may be surprised at some of the places where we now see this extra concern over “authority” raised. Where will continued respect for the doctrinal authority come from as they try to dismantle every one of these awkward modern-day fulfillments? And all the while they must try desperately not to dismantle “1919” the most awkward one of all! That’s because 1919 is the time that Jesus supposedly conferred authority upon his “faithful and discreet slave” which is now considered the “Governing Body” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The most serious problem is that 1919 as a prophetic date has no stable Biblical support, and the very idea of a “faithful and discreet slave” class being fulfilled in prophecy, is based on one of these “type-antitype” parables (Matthew 24:42-46). Therefore 1919 is a Catch-22.*
Wikipedia said it best in the definition of Catch-22 (logic)
The next posted article in this series will discuss the specific textual content of the article “This Is the Way You Approved” from the March 15, 2015 Watchtower. It will discuss accuracy, the logic, and both current and future implications of the doctrinal changes found in the article.