“Wrong expectations” sounds much nicer than “false prophecies.” Accordingly, the Watchtower often defends itself against a charge of being a false prophet by comparing itself with Bible prophets who had misunderstandings.
Let’s examine this defense in some detail and consider how to respond.
Watchtower False Prophecy Defense #4: Bible writers expressed wrong expectations sometimes as well, but that doesn’t make any of us false prophets.
Watchtower Example #1: Nathan the prophet misinformed King David regarding building of the temple.
The Watchtower says, “Nathan the prophet encouraged King David to go ahead with what was in his heart regarding the building of a house for Jehovah’s worship. But later Jehovah told Nathan to inform David that he was not the one who would build it. Jehovah did not reject Nathan for what he had said earlier but continued to use him because he humbly corrected the matter when Jehovah made it plain to him.—1 Chron. 17:1-4, 15.” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, p. 134).
In response, ask one of the Witnesses to read 1 Chronicles 17:1-4 aloud: “As soon as David was settled in his own house, he said to Nathan the prophet: ‘Here I am living in a house of cedars while the ark of the covenant of Jehovah is under tent cloths.’ Nathan replied to David: ‘Do whatever is in your heart, for the true God is with you.’ On that very night, the word of God came to Nathan, saying: ‘Go and say to my servant David, “This is what Jehovah says: ‘You are not the one who will build the house for me to dwell in.’” (Watchtower translation, emphasis added)
- How long did it take God to correct Nathan’s misstatement? The very night Nathan made the statement, God corrected him and sent him to David so that David wouldn’t act on a false message that supposedly came from God.
- Is the comparison valid? Where is the evidence that when the Watchtower published their erroneous statements Jehovah immediately corrected them? Didn’t those mistakes go uncorrected for years?
Example #2: Jonah prophesied the imminent destruction of Nineveh but it didn’t happen.
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have told me that Jonah mistakenly announced that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days but it didn’t happen (Jonah 3:4, 10). That didn’t make him a false prophet. Therefore, the Watchtower is not a false prophet.
The best response to that is that Jonah understood that if the Ninevites repented God would spare them (Jonah 4:2), and it was evident also to the Ninevites that God was giving them an opportunity to repent (Jonah 3:4-9). So Jonah was not spreading a false message in God’s name.
Watchtower Example #3: Jesus’ apostles expressed wrong expectations also.
The Watchtower says, “The apostles and other early Christian disciples had certain wrong expectations, but the Bible does not classify them with the ‘false prophets.’ —See Luke 19:11; John 21:22, 23; Acts 1:6, 7” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, p. 134).
If the Witnesses give you this defense, ask them to cite you specific Scriptures. Let’s look at the verses the Watchtower cited in the quotation above.
Luke 19:11: “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”
Does this passage say that these people were claiming to speak for God and promoting prophetic misinformation that other people were relying on? Not at all.
John 21:22-23: “Jesus answered, ‘If I want him [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’”
Here, some unidentified Christians misunderstood what Jesus had said about John and spread mistaken rumors. John himself corrected them. This is not a case of the apostles spreading false expectations while claiming to be God’s spokesmen.
Acts 1:6-7: “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’”
Here, all these disciples did was ask Jesus a question about what was about to happen. They didn’t teach as truth something that was false.
- When the Watchtower published expectations that turned out to be wrong, did the fault lie with Jehovah or with the Watchtower writers?
- How do you know that the Watchtower’s current statements about the nearness of Armageddon truly come from Jehovah and aren’t merely the mistaken expectations of fallible men?
Have you ever discussed the “wrong expectations” defense with Jehovah’s Witnesses? How did it go?
Share your thoughts in the comments.