In my first article about the shaky foundation of the Jehovah’s Witness belief system focused on the credibility, or lack thereof, of their Bible (the New World Translation). Basically we’ve identified how other modern translations used techniques and scholars in such a way that anyone using these versions of the Bible can have confidence that they are reading a reasonably accurate, and more importantly unbiased translation of the original text. Neither of these (accuracy or bias) can be verified in the case of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation. Now I plan to step away from translation techniques, and start looking at interpretation techniques.
The first issue that I want to look at is the idea that they hold to about when the Kingdom of God is (or was supposed to be) ushered in. While the actual date has moved around quite a bit, the year 1914 remains an important year for the Jehovah’s Witness faith. That is the year that Jesus supposedly took His place on the throne of the Kingdom of God. Now I am not an expert (yet) on this whole idea of what they believe that this means to them, but I do want to look at how they arrived at the date. Their publication titled, “What Does The Bible REALLY Teach?” has a great appendix that explains how this date was identified.
The first reference comes from the book of Daniel (see), where it states that an angel said that a chopped down tree should remain that way for “seven times”. They claim that because one other Biblical author (Ezekiel) used trees in reference to rulership, then Daniel’s reference to a tree also meant that he was referring to rulership, especially when speaking of the rulership of the Kingdom of God.
One of the core rules of Bible interpretation states that, “you cannot use a verse from somewhere else in the Bible to help you interpret a verse.” Therefore, according to this rule, just because Ezekiel used the tree/rulership analogy, does not mean that every other reference in the Bible to a tree was meant to be interpreted as rulership. Even if you overlook this flaw in interpretation, the breaking of this rule does not stop here…
The next reference to finding the date that Jesus will return to take His rightful place on the throne is in Revelation (see). The reference here is to help us determine how long a “time” is. Basically, the (very loose) interpretation of the text in Revelation states that three and a half times equals 1,260 days. Therefore, one only has to do the math to figure out that the “seven times” that Daniel speaks of, being twice Revelation’s “three and a half times”, means that Daniel is referring to a period of 2,520 days. Again, Daniel’s intent, message, and measures were quite different than those that John would have used. Not to mention that the two books were written to two very different audiences, literally hundred of years apart. Daniel’s message would have needed to be clear to his contemporary readers, so it would have been impossible for him to make a reference that needed another writing from hundreds of years in the future to be understood.
The third and final reference that is used to arrive at the date of 1914 is one from Numbers (see) that speaks of a “year for each day”. Therefore the 2,520 days of Daniel is actually 2,520 years. Now I think that this reference is also an extreme stretch of a second meaning (typical of prophecy, but not of narrative where this reference is found), but we again are using the idea of translating every reference in the Bible based on one example that doesn’t even intend to communicate this as a standard of truth.
So, now we have the number of years, so all we have to do is calculate it out to figure out when Jesus is due to take the throne. Now we just need the starting date. According to the Jehovah’s Witness, the time starts in 607 B.C. when the Babylonians overtook the city of Jerusalem and officially ended the Davidic reign on the throne (the chopping down of the tree). 2,520 years from that time is the year 1914, and then is when the Davidic reign (through Jesus) is supposed to resume. Aside from the absolutely horrible interpretation of the scriptures, archeology has actually helped to confirm that the final fall of Jerusalem did not actually happen until 586 B.C.!
So, why is there so little “evidence” that what the Jehovah’s Witness people say happened regarding Jesus’ return exist? Well the short answer is that it looks like they were really stretching in their interpretation of the scriptures, but they also based their calculations on an incorrect date anyway. So when it comes to trusting what the Jehovah’s Witness say about the Bible shows that not only is their translation of the text in question, but also the interpretation of that text is extremely flawed.
Regarding the return of Jesus, my Bible has a little quote from Jesus that goes something like this…
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven…. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13:26-27,32 (ESV)
Stay tuned for more in this series!
Other posts in this series: