Did the Watchtower Society Predict 2000 for Armageddon?
James K. Walker
The Jehovah's Witnesses entered the year 2000 with a different kind of Y2K problem. Exactly eleven years earlier the Watchtower leaders told Jehovah's Witnesses that the Christian missionary work begun by Paul in the Bible would be completed by the end of the 20thCentury - or did they? It would all depend on which version of The Watchtower you read.
The January 1, 1989 Watchtower clearly pointed to the year 2000as the farthest limit of Christian missionary work and thus the beginning of the thousand-year reign of Christ. It stated, "The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century."1
If that missionary work was to "be completed in our 20th Century" then the door-to-door missionary activities should have ceased no later than December 31, 1999. When the missionary work has ceased, Jehovah's Witnesses know that Armageddon begins followed immediately by the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. Those who more accurately measure the 20th Century can give the Society twelve more months - to December 31, 2000. Either way, in 1989 the Society was clearly limiting the remaining time before the end of missionary activity to eleven or twelve years at most.
About a year later, however, the Watchtower Society altered the article in the bound volume version of the publication removing the time limitation.The bound volume of the same article states "The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation fora work that would be completed in our day."2
Notice that unlike "in our 20th Century," the phrase "in our day" is sufficiently vague as to avoid being tested according to Deuteronomy 18:20-28.3 It also may be significant to note that the unbound version is the one studied by the Jehovah's Witnesses in their weekly meetings and distributed door-to-door. The bound volumes did not become available until over a year later and are often used as permanent references.
This may have had the effect of maximizing the motivating effect of a date setting while minimizing the negative effects of the subsequent false prediction. When Jehovah's Witnesses first read the article, they may be justifiably motivated to work harder and plan for a future in this"old system" that can last no longer than ten or twelve years at the most.When the 20th Century ends and the disappointed Witnesses review their permanent bound volume, it seems that was not what the article said at all - they must have been mistaken.
Even before the bound volumes for 1989 were released, the Society was already backpedaling from the "20th Century" statement. In what appears to be a direct contradiction of the January 1 article, the October 1, 1989 Watchtower stated: "We have ample reasons to expect that this preaching will be completed in our time. Does that mean before the turn of a new month, a new year,a new decade, a new century? No human knows.."4
Notice that the Society never referred to the January 1 article directly.If the Watchtower's Governing Body honestly believed that the "20th Century"statement was in error, the honorable and responsible action would be to have clearly said so. They should have warned that the article contained the mistake before their readers logically made important, critical decisions for the future based on the misinformation.5
Instead the Society published contradictory statements ten months later and then quietly changed the article itself (without annotation) in the more permanent bound volumes. Thus the Watchtower can have its cake and eat it too - make clear statements about the future while maintaining some measure of deniability. Unfortunately this seems to have become a bad habit for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The year 2000 is one of the latest in a long list of dates for "the end" which the Watchtower Society has either strongly implied or explicitly stated. For example some of the dates the Society has given for Armageddon or related apocalyptic events include 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975.6
In fact 1989, the date of the Watchtower's "20th Century" prediction,was itself a year that was hinted at strongly in earlier Watchtower literature.In a 1988 Awake! article titled "The Last Days - What's Next?" under the heading "How Long Can A Generation Last?" the Society seemed to suggest that the 1914 generation would end in 1989 - the very next year. After reminding Jehovah's Witnesses that 1914 began the "last generation," the Watchtower announced that Hebrews counted seventy-five years as one generation.7 The society left the readers to do their own math (note: 1914 + 75 = 1989). Rather than bringing "the end," however, 1989 brought with it another extension stretching the culmination to the end of the century.
More recently, in 1995, the Society greatly modified their expectations concerning the "1914 Generation" abandoning all attempts to measure the generation by the human life spans. Until 1995, the organization was teaching that it was the "Creator's promise" that some the people who were alive in 1914 would survive to see "a peaceful and secure new world."8 Countless Jehovah's Witnesses planned their education, career, and retirements based on the "promise" that the 1914 generation was getting so old the end must be just a few years away. In 1995, however, the Society reversed itself saying that the term "generation" had nothing to do with the lifespan of those alive in 1914.9
Like the "20th Century" statement, the Watchtower's pattern has long been to make strong or clear predictions about specific dates, followed by backpedaling and/or altering later editions of the publications. The 20th Century will almost certainly not see the end of the Christian missionary work begun by Paul. The 20th Century will close with few Jehovah's Witnesses remembering the 1989 statement or caring much about it. Certainly when compared to the Watchtower's earlier date setting, this one was admittedly far less blatant and significant.
But before Jehovah's Witnesses dismiss the statement as an editorial oversight or typographical error, they should consider it historically. When carefully weighing all of the evidence this is clearly seen as more that an isolated mistake or a justifiable lapse. Perhaps no group in the world has been making false predictions more consistently and vocally for the past 100 years, than this organization.10 The Watchtower is leaving the 20th Century in the same way it entered it - with a legacy of rash predictions, date-setting, and false prophecy.
On the subject of false predictions, Jesus warned: "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"11 The fruit of a prophet is prophecy - one should not attempt to gather good doctrine from an organization guilty of false prophesying.12
1 "The Hand of Jehovah Was With Them," The Watchtower,January 1 (1989), p. 12 (emphasis added, original edition).
2 "The Hand of Jehovah Was With Them," The Watchtower,January 1 (1989), p. 12 (emphasis added, bound volume edition). The Society's CD-ROM, Watchtower Library 1995, which contains electronic versions of past Watchtower publications, also contains the "in our day" version.In both cases there is no note or other indication to explain or even acknowledge the change.
3 Deuteronomy 18:20-22 "But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak,or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord,if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." See endnote 8 concerning predictions made"in the name of the Lord."
4 "Questions From Readers," The Watchtower,October 1 (1989), p. 31 (emphasis added).
5 In a similar disregard for the future plans of its followers, the Watchtower commended and encouraged those who sold their homes in 1974 so they could afford to quit their jobs to sell Watchtower literature full-time for the "short remaining time" before Armageddon.(At that time they were teaching that the end was to be in 1975). "How Are You Using Your Life?" Kingdom Ministry, May (1974), p. 3 "Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service.Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end."
6 Watchman Fellowship offers a documentation workbook and cassette tape documenting and discussing these predictions, which includes instructions for use in witnessing situation. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Dating Game.
7 "The Last Days - What's Next?" Awake!, 8 April8 (1988), p. 14. "J. A. Bengel states in his New Testament Word Studies: 'The Hebrews... reckon seventy-five years as one generation'.. Likewise today, most of the generation of 1914 has passed away. However, there are still millions on earth who were born in that year or prior to it. And although their numbers are dwindling, Jesus' words will come true, 'this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.'"
8 For decades this was part of the standard masthead of the Watchtower magazine's sister publication Awake! The masthead ,"Why Awake! Is Published," read "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." Note the promise was made in the name of the Creator (the Lord, i.e., Jehovah)and see endnote 3 concerning predictions made "in the name of the Lord."The last edition of Awake! to publish this promise was October 22,1995, p. 4.
9 For a more complete discussion of the 1995 reversal,see James K. Walker, "Watchtower Redefines '1914 Generation'" and James K. Walker, "A Watchtower History of 1914," The Watchman Expositor,13.6 (1996) pp. 4-7, 21.
10 For an index of references to Watchtower literature containing false predictions see: David A. Reed, Ed., Index of Watchtower Errors, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 96-111.
11 Matthew 7:16.
12 The Society provides the following definition of false prophesying: "True, there have been those in times past who predicted an 'end to the world,' even announcing a specific date.. The 'end' did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying.. Missing from such people were God's truths and the evidence that he was guiding and using them.""A Time to 'Lift Up Your Head' in Confident Hope," Awake!, October8 (1968), p. 23.