The Watchtower, 1 July 2004 On page 8 we read a statement that is made fairly regularly: “… since 1914 he has had authority over God’s newly established Kingdom” We have not written on this forawhile and so here again is the clear evidence that 1914 cannot be a marked date in Scripture and anyway Russell did not point forward to 1914 as the starting point rather it was the finishing point.
From the beginning the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has been fascinated with dates. Although the dates may have changed, and, indeed what was supposed to have happened on those dates, one has remained constant – 1914. This becomes the pivotal point of their belief covering both the ‘return’ of Jesus Christ and the starting point to date the ‘end of the world’. But there are no dates in the Bible and so how do the Society arrive at this number? The answer is chronology, and an understanding of it is helpful when talking with a Witness about these things.
In summary the Watchtower chronology goes like this:
An absolute date – an event in the Bible and in secular history – is decided upon. The Watchtower chose the fall of Babylon in 539 BC.
Now, using the Bible alone, they say two years later, 537 BC, Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem. Thus, 537 is the end of Jerusalem’s seventy years of desolation, which therefore began, at its fall, in 607 BC.
Daniel’s dream in chapter 4 and the ‘Bible rule’ that a day equals a year, show that the Gentile Times, which began at Jerusalem’s fall in 607 BC, would be 2,520 years long, ending in 1914.
We’ll look at each step in detail.
Step 1: The Absolute Date
To date an event with a ‘BC’ date, you must accept scientific chronology. The Witnesses say that they are using biblical chronology, but that only places events in their right order with the correct interval of years in between. Their article in The Watchtower, 15 August 1968, entitled The Book of Truthful, Historical Dates, showed that to establish the absolute date of 539, they must use secular historians. They quote twenty-five reliable authorities to fix 539 but at least twenty-two of these also conclude that Jerusalem fell in 586/587 BC, not 607 as claimed by the Society.
If these authorities are reliable over 539, surely they are reliable over 586? In any case, why choose 539 as the starting point when we could equally use 586 as the absolute date and miss out the first two calculations? Sound scholarship means that we must either accept both 539 and 586 as reliable or reject both. This is further shown by the basis for fixing 539. The Watchtower article mentioned above explains:
“… a stone document… (which) gives precise details… This, in turn, enables modern scholars, with their knowledge of astronomy, to translate these dates into terms of the Julian or Gregorian calendars.” – p. 490.
Similarly, we can fix the absolute date for the fall of Jerusalem as 586 BC, based on a clay tablet with precise details that can be translated into terms of our modern-day calendar by the same accurate astronomical tables used for 539.
The Witnesses must have realised they were skating on thin ice because a few years after the article in The Watchtower they changed their mind:
“… the co-relation of astronomical data with human events in the past is subject to various factors and human interpretation, allowing for error.” Insight on the Scriptures, Vol.1, p.454.
This means that 539 is not an absolute date and there is no reliable Watchtower chronology!
Step 2: From 539 To 537
Once 539 is accepted, Jehovah’s Witnesses will proudly tell you that only the Bible is used to establish their chronology, the first step being from 539 to 537, the two years between the fall of Babylon and the decree of Cyrus. Where are these years found mentioned in the Bible? The answer is nowhere! Even the Society agrees: “… It is very probable that the decree was made by the winter of 538 or toward the spring of 537.” – Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. l, p.458 (emphasis added). There is not enough information in the Bible about these events to be exact. Starting from 539 and using the Bible alone, all we could say is that the people returned to the land somewhere between 538 and 536.
Step 3: 70 Years of Desolation
The Watchtower is adamant that 70 years of complete desolation took place after the fall of Jerusalem in 607. The Society’s article on Chronology reads:
“From 607 BCE to return from exile. The length of this period is fixed by God’s own decree concerning Judah, that ‘all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years’ – Jer 25:8-11. The Bible prophecy does not allow for the application of this 70-year period to any time other than between the desolation of Judah… and the return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland… 2 Chronicles 36:20,21 states: ‘Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon… to fulfil Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths’… Jerusalem… fell in… Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th year of actual rule (counting from his accession year in 625 BC)… However, ‘some of the lowly people of the land’ were allowed to remain… they fled into Egypt, finally leaving Judah completely desolate (2 Kings 25:9-12,22-26). This was in the seventh month… Hence the count of the 70 years of desolation must have begun about October 1, 607 BCE ending in 537 BCE.” – Insight on the Scriptures, Vol.1, p.463.
The term ’70 years’ appears 6 times in Scripture. 3 times in Jeremiah; once in Daniel; once in Zechariah and once in 2 Chronicles 36:21. The key to this period is the prophecy of Jeremiah. First, what did he say?
Jeremiah 25:11, 12
This message came in the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar (25:1). For 23 years, the Lord had spoken against the inhabitants of Jerusalem and His patience had run its course (v. 3). Now the Lord says, “I will bring the King of Babylon against you” (v. 9). After preaching the same message for 23 years without response and now telling the people what would happen, do you think the Lord would wait another 18 years (till Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th year) to fulfil the judgement? Probably not. However, this is not conclusive by itself.
Verse 1 says that Jeremiah spoke these words while he was still in Jerusalem but some had already been taken captive to Babylon. For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfil My good word to you, to bring you back to this place’ (29:10). Jeremiah was talking about the 70 years having already started, before the final destruction of Jerusalem; proof that the 70 years cannot start from that event. Do other Scriptures support this?
Daniel mentions the desolations of Jerusalem. In the Watchtower’s chronology article they mention one group being taken captive at the destruction of Jerusalem, but Daniel mentions at least two devastations. The Society’s article on Nebuchadnezzar (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, p.480), mentions that Neb
uchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem earlier, when quoting from the Babylonian Chronicles.
“In this his ascension year he returned to Hattu and… he took the vast booty of Hattu to Babylon.”
Hattu is Judah and this becomes clear when the Chronicles mention the destruction of Jerusalem, [Hattu]. Nebuchadnezzar, on the Society’s own admission, had been to Jerusalem before and taken away booty in his first or ascension year, the very year in which Jeremiah made the prophecy. Daniel expected the 70 years to be tied in with the devastations of Jerusalem, that is the period would start from its first devastation, but from where did he draw this conclusion? Jeremiah the prophet. We therefore need to go back to Jeremiah 25:11,12 to see what led Daniel to that conclusion:
“These nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
Jeremiah did not prophesy, and therefore Daniel could not deduce, that the 70 years would start when Jerusalem fell. He said, and Daniel correctly understood, that the 70 years would begin when Jerusalem first came under the servitude of the King of Babylon. History and the Bible tells us that this was in the first year of his reign not his nineteenth. It is only by ignoring historical evidence, and even worse by ignoring God’s Word, that the Society can conclude that the 70 years ran between 607 and 537.
Step 4: `The Times of the Gentiles’
The dream of Nebuchadnezzar recorded in Daniel 4 is the basis of this calculation. The tree in the dream represents ‘divine rulership… through the kingdom of Judah’ and the seven periods that elapsed after it was cut down are the ‘Gentile Times’. The kingdom being restored to Nebuchadnezzar after these seven periods represents the Lord Jesus taking His seat on the throne vacated by King Zedekiah.
Unlike other dreams recorded in Daniel, the fulfilment is also recorded. It is not for the ‘end times’ as others are. The word used for ‘fulfilled’ in verse 33 means ‘to have an end of’. The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, which is difficult to equate with the understanding of the Society that it represents divine rulership.
“What was really meant was… domination exercised by the kingdom of God.” – Babylon the Great has Fallen, 1963, p.177.
It is a foolish man who seeks to correct God.
Luke 21:24 mentions the ‘Time of the Gentiles’ and it explains that during this time Jerusalem will be trampled down. That could not possibly have ended in 1914, but the Jehovah’s Witness will try to wriggle out of this by saying it is the heavenly Jerusalem that was trampled down until 1914. However, the trampling started on earth and therefore must finish there. Is it scriptural to say that the heavens were trampled down until 1914? See Ephesians 1:20-23 (past tense in AD 60!).
According to the dating of the Society, Daniel was taken to Babylon in 617 and the fall of Jerusalem was ten years later in 607 BC. In addition, this dream is a prophecy concerning the fall of Jerusalem. However, these two statements cannot be reconciled. The dream indicated a future event, to take place at least one year later (Dan 4:29). If that event is the fall of Jerusalem, then the dream must have been received at the latest in 608. That is impossible because the dream in Daniel 4 comes after the dream in Daniel 2 (compare 2:48 with 4:9); and the Watchtower date Daniel 2 (albeit falsely) as 605, two years after the fall of Jerusalem.
The word for ‘time’ here is only found eleven times in the Old Testament and all are in the Book of Daniel. It is against sound biblical exegesis to isolate this one instance and compare it with Scriptures in Revelation. Daniel speaks of seven ‘times’, these were times when there was no king of Israel ruling. Instead, God’s people were dominated by a foreign power that did not recognise the God of the Jews. Rev.12:6,14 shows another time of testing for the people of God where three and a half ‘times’ equals 1,260 days. This translates into the fact that seven ‘times’ equals 2,520 days. Revelation is talking about a specific period of trouble for God’s people that lasts seven years. This, of course, is not enough and therefore has to be linked with the next step.
Step 5: Day-years
The Society need to transfer days into years and call upon the year for each day theory, or as they say a ‘Bible rule’. Edmund Gruss deals with this matter in detail in his book The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation. In summary, we should note that this ‘rule’ actually appears only twice in Scripture. First, we read in Numbers 14:34 of the guilt of the children of Israel. Because of their disobedience they would bear the guilt for forty years – a year for every day. The second example is found in Ezekiel 4:6 which, very interestingly, speaks again of the guilt of God’s people. Ezekiel was a ‘visual aid’ to the people for forty days – a day for every year.
There is no historical or biblical evidence to use a calculation of 2,520 years as the period of the Gentile Times. In addition, both Scriptures called on to turn days into years speak of the same matter, the guilt of God’s people. The rule is not general but specific. In any case, the verses do not say the same thing: Numbers 14:34 is a year for a day but Ezekiel 4:6 is a day for a year.
The fall of Jerusalem in 607 BC is disproved by scientific chronology.
The date of 586 BC for the fall of Jerusalem is established both by scientific and biblical chronology.
Starting from an absolute date of 539 BC it is impossible, solely using the biblical record, to show that Jerusalem fell in 607 BC.
The way the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society use Scripture is not sound interpretation but a taking of individual passages at random to prove a point that has been determined beforehand.
The result of these conclusions is that 1914 is not proven as the significant date of Christ’s invisible return. And the claim that since 1914 Christ has had authority over God’s newly established Kingdom has no justification whatsoever.