Speculative readings of predictive prophecy occur when “a predictive prophecy is too readily explained by the occurrence of specific events, despite the fact that equally committed biblical scholars consider the interpretation highly dubious.”
The prophetic speculation errors of the Watchtower are enough to fill a book—maybe several books.
I am going to highlight just some of the things it has said over the years about the significance of the year 1914. Note how—instead of giving up making predictions and assertions—the Watchtower simply changes its teachings and keeps on making prophetic claims.
God’s Kingdom to completely overthrow earth’s rulership in 1914
- 1888 “In this chapter we present the Bible evidence proving that the full end of the times of the gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in A.D. 1914; and that the date will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men. And be it observed, that if this is shown to be a fact firmly established by the Scriptures, it will prove; Firstly, that at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, Thy Kingdom come, will obtain full, universal control, and that it will then be set up, or firmly established, in the earth, on the ruins of present institutions.” (The Time Is At Hand, 1888, pp. 76-77)
- 1889 “Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is pointed out in prophecy as due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty (Rev. 16:14) which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced. The gathering of the armies is plainly visible from the standpoint of God’s word.” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 2, The Time Is At Hand, 1889 Ed., p. 101. The 1915 Edition of this texts changed “A.D. 1914” to read ‘A.D. 1915’)
- 1894 “Seventeen years ago people said, concerning the time features presented in Millennial Dawn, They seem reasonable in many respects, but surely no such radical changes could occur between now and the close of 1914: if you had proved that they would come about in a century or two, it would seem much more probable. What changes have since occurred, and what velocity is gained daily? ‘The old is quickly passing and the new is coming in.’ Now, in view of recent labor troubles and threatened anarchy, our readers are writing to know if there may not be a mistake in the 1914 date. They say that they do not see how present conditions can hold out so long under the strain. We see no reason for changing the figures-nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God’s dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” (Zion’s Watchtower, Can It Be Delayed until 1914? C. T. Russell July 15, 1894, Also in Watchtower Reprints, l894 p. 1677)
- 1902 “In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914.” (The Time Is At Hand, 1902 edition, p. 99)
- 1914 “Studying God’s Word, we have measured the 2520 years, the seven symbolic times, from that year 606 B.C. and have found that it reached down to October, 1914, as nearly as we were able to reckon. We did not say positively that this would be the year.” (Watchtower, November 1, 1914, p. 325)
- 1916 We see no reason for doubting, therefore, that the Times of the Gentiles ended in October, 1914; and that a few more years will witness their utter collapse and the full establishment of God’s kingdom in the hands of Messiah.” (Watchtower Reprints, VI, Sept 1, 1916, p. 5950)
- 1924 “The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914. (Watchtower 1924, p. 211)
- 1927 Prophecy cannot be understood until it has been fulfilled or is in the course of fulfillment. From 1874 to 1914 the prophecy concerning the Lord’s coming was being fulfilled and could be understood, and was understood, by those who were faithful to the Lord and who were watching the development of events, but not by others. (Creation, 1927, p. 290)
- 1930 “The Watchtower, and its companion publications of the society, for forty years emphasized that fact that 1914 would witness the establishment of God’s kingdom and the complete glorification of the church. During that period of forty years God’s people on earth were carrying on a witness work, which work was foreshadowed by Elijah and John the Baptist. All of the Lord’s people looked forward to 1914 with joyful expectation. when that time came and passed there was much disappointment, chagrin and mourning, and the Lord’s people were greatly in reproach. they were ridiculed by the clergy and their allies in particular, and pointed to with scorn, because they had said so much about 1914, and what would come to pass, and their prophecies had not been fulfilled. (Light, Book 1, 1930, p. 194)
Covering up the errors through euphemisms
- 1951 “Under the guidance of God’s spirit of freedom the magazine today known as the Watchtower but known back there as Zion’s Watch Tower, began to be published in July, 1879. In the first year of its publication it pointed to the date 1914 as marked in the Bible.” (What Has Religion Done For Mankind?; 1951; p. 308)
- 1968 “1914 a marked year. Years in advance Bible Scholars realized that 1914 was to be a year of great significance. They expected great changes to take place, and the facts confirm that 1914 was, indeed, a marked year.” (The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life, 1968, p. 91)
- 1974 “…this remnant of anointed ones have identified themselves on the pages of history since 1914 C.E. Before this year members of this anointed remnant had been earnestly studying God’s Word apart from Christendom. They put the Holy Bible ahead of man-made religious traditions. As early as 1876 they were publishing that the Gentile Times of 2,520 years would terminate in the year 1914. Events that have taken place from that year onward prove they were not wrong.” (God’s “Eternal Purpose” Now Triumphing For Man’s Good; 1974; p. 178-179)
- 1995 “Why Awake is Published” [before November 8, 1995] Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.”
- [Beginning November 8, 1995, reference to ‘1914 generation’ deleted] “Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things.”
Combatting This Error
If you try to show Jehovah’s Witnesses this evidence without justifying the investigation, they will probably conclude that you are persecuting them and break off contact.
The best way I know to justify the investigation in their eyes is to show them that the Watchtower has encouraged you to do it.
In the April 1, 1972 Watchtower there was an article entitled, “They Shall Know that a Prophet Was Among Them.” It identifies this “prophet” as Jehovah’s Witnesses and makes the following statement (p. 197):
Of course, it is easy to say that this group acts as a ‘prophet’ of God. It is another thing to prove it. The only way that this can be done is to review the record. What does it show?
Here, the Watchtower specifically claims to be God’s prophet and says that the only way to check out this claim is to review its record. All you are doing is accepting its invitation.
Don’t just summarize what the Watchtower has said. Don’t just read the quotes aloud. Instead, show Jehovah’s Witnesses this error is to show them the evidence out of Watchtower literature.
David Reed’s website, answerjw.com, is a helpful resource. Don’t ask a Witness to go to that site. Instead, go there yourself and print out the Watchtower publications.
It’s always a challenge to know how much evidence to present to a Witnesses. One item wouldn’t be enough, but showing them too much would be counterproductive overkill.
The best way I know to find the right amount is to present things one at a time and follow up after each by saying, “There’s more I can show you. Do you want to see it?”
Let them decide.
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), pp. 157-158