Watchtower Society Redefines '1914 Generation'
James K. Walker
People alive in 1914 may not live to see Armageddon after all, according to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society's latest doctrinal revision. In the 1 November 1995 Watchtower, Jehovah's Witnesses abandoned their decades-long belief that Christ's. words "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34) was a reference to the people living in 1914 (p. 17).
Simultaneously, the Watchtower dropped all reference to 1914 from their Awake! magazine's "Why Awake! Is Published" masthead. The previous version 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" (22 October 1995). The new version reads "Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked lawless system of things" (8 November p. 4).
With those alive in 1914 being at least in their 80s, the Watchtower was apparently willing to concede that the time had expired on their 1914 prediction. Critics and former members had anticipated that the Watchtower's leaders would eventually be forced to make some change in the 1914 doctrine (See Expositor, Vol. 9, No. 6; Vol. 12, No. 3). George Weissman, who left the Watchtower in 1992, told the Los Angeles Times, "I've been waiting to see how they were going to wriggle out of 1914" (21 October 1995).
Calling it a "more precise viewpoint," the Society attempts to salvage portions of their earlier 1914 doctrine while avoiding its obvious weakness (Watchtower, 1 November 1995, p. 20). They still teach that 1914 started the "last generation," but they have changed their definition of the word "generation." Rather than a reference to people who were living in 1914, the term generation now means an unspecified length of time that is relatively short "compared with the thousands of years of Satan's rulership" (Ibid., pp. 18-19).
This new doctrine buys the Watchtower some much needed time. In a telephone interview with Watchman Fellowship, Malcolm Allen, a local Watchtower leader, could give no "biblical" reason why Armageddon could not be hundreds of years away according to this new interpretation. By solving one problem the Watchtower has created several others. Critics now have more opportunity to raise questions concerning false doctrine and failed prophecy (See related story: "A Watchtower History of 1914" p. 4).
Even the Watchtower's staunchest supporters may have reason to be troubled by the new doctrine. Many loyal witnesses, quite naturally, have made important personal education and career decisions based on the "Creator's promise" that the end would come within the lifetime of those alive in 1914. It is easy to see how plans concerning children, savings, finance, and even life insurance would be greatly influenced by the promise that God's "peaceful and secure new world" would arrive during the life span of those alive in 1914. They would have every right to be upset or have doubts concerning their leaders after they announce this "more precise viewpoint."
Similar reinterpretations led to hge losses in membership following failed predictions concerning 1925 and 1975 (Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of Christ's Kingdom, p. 633).
"Sheep and Goat Judgment" Also Delayed
In a related move, the Watchtower has also announced that the current door-to-door work is not the sheep and goats judgment spoken of by Jesus. For decades the Watchtower claimed that knocking on doors and making converts was "separating the sheep from the goats" judgment foretold by Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). After 1914 failed to bring Armageddon as originally announced, the Watchtower had slowly reinterpreted their prediction claiming that 1914 was the year that Jesus "sat down in judgment" in heaven. Since 1914, the Watchtower had supposedly been helping Jesus with that judgment by "separating the sheep from the goats." The "sheep" were those who became Jehovah's Witnesses and supported the Watchtower while the "goats would be "destroyed because they fail to help Christ's anointed 'brothers' in their service to God" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, p. 183).
Apparently the Society feels that the judgment period has stretched too far. Its been over 80 years since the judgment began in 1914. They are now saying the Bible, "does not show that such judging would continue over an "extended period of many years" (Watchtower, 15 October 1995, p. 22). So the Society now says that Christ sat down as King in 1914, but he did not sit down as Judge in that year. "Although Jesus is now King of the Kingdom, his further activity mentioned in Matthew 19:28 will include sitting on a throne to judge during the Millennium. At that time he will judge all mankind. . ." (Watchtower, 15 October 1995, p. 21). So the sheep and goats judgment is not current since 1914, it is the future - during the Millennium.
The importance of this doctrinal change is magnified by the fact that the Watchtower had in effect caled their old interpretation a revelation from Jehovah. They claimed that, "The Lord revealed to his people the meaning of the parable of the sheep and the goats, showing how the 'sheep' only would be spared by Jehovah when his wrath is expressed at Armageddon. All this information came not from or by man, but by the Lord God. . ." (Watchtower, 1 February 1938, p. 35). Obviously, their old interpretation could not have been "revealed" by Jehovah since they now admit that their old "meaning of the parable" was wrong. Moreover, how can only those judged as "sheep" be spared, and the "goats" be destroyed, at Armageddon, when the "sheep and goats judgment" does not take palce until during the Millennium, after - not before - Armageddon.
Both doctrinal changes are seen by critics as delaying tactics, although the Watchtower denies this motive. "Officials of the Watchtower. . .deny that the leadership felt a generational pressure to change," says Witness spokesman Bob Pevey (Newsweek, 18 December 1995, p. 59). While these new doctrines may provide the Jehovah's Witnesses some much needed breathing room, in the end they may suffocate the Watchtower with the most damaging and conclusive charges of false prophecy to date.