Jehovah’s Witnesses have falsely predicted the end of the world 20 times.
The beliefs unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses involve their interpretations of the second coming of Christ, the millennium and the kingdom of God. Watch Tower Society publications have made, and continue to make, predictions about world events they believe were prophesied in the Bible. Some of those early predictions were described as “established truth”, and “beyond a doubt”. Witnesses are told to accept such teachings without question and face expulsion if they oppose them.
Failed predictions that were either explicitly stated or strongly implied, particularly linked to dates in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975, have led to the alteration or abandonment of some doctrines. The Society’s publications have at times dismissed previous statements, asserting that members had “read into the Watch Tower statements that were never intended.” or that the beliefs of members were “based on wrong premises.” Other failed predictions are ignored; in the book, The Finished Mystery (1917), events were applied to the years 1918 to 1925 that earlier had been held to occur prior to 1914. When the new interpretations also failed to transpire, the 1926 edition of the book altered the statements and removed the dates.
Raymond Franz, a critic and former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, has cited publications that claimed God has used Jehovah’s Witnesses as a collective prophet. Critics including James A. Beverley have accused the religion of false prophecy for making those predictions, particularly because of assertions in some cases that the predictions were beyond doubt or had been approved by God, but describes its record of telling the future as “pathetic”. Beverley says the Watch Tower Society has passed judgment on others who have falsely predicted the end of the world (he cites a 1968 Awake! that says other groups were “guilty of false prophesying” after having “predicted an ‘end to the world’, even announcing a specific date”).
The Watch Tower Society rejects accusations that it is a false prophet. It says its explanations of Bible prophecy are not infallible and that its predictions are not claimed explicitly as “the words of Jehovah.” It states that some of its expectations have needed adjustment because of eagerness for God’s kingdom, but that those adjustments are no reason to “call into question the whole body of truth.” Raymond Franz claims that the Watch Tower Society tries to evade its responsibility when citing human fallibility as a defense, adding that the Society represents itself as God’s appointed spokesman, and that throughout its history has made many emphatic predictions. Franz adds that the organization’s eagerness for the Millennium does not give it license to impugn the motives of those who fail to accept its predictions.
George D. Chryssides has suggested widespread claims that Witnesses “keep changing the dates” are a distortion and misunderstanding of Watch Tower Society chronology. He argues that, although there have been failures in prophetic speculation, the changing views and dates of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are more largely attributable to changed understandings of biblical chronology than to failed predictions. Chryssides states, “For the Jehovah’s Witnesses prophecy serves more as a way of discerning a divine plan in human history than a means to predicting the future.”
Predictions (by date of publication) include:
- 1877: Christ’s kingdom would hold full sway over the earth in 1914; the Jews, as a people, would be restored to God’s favor; the “saints” would be carried to heaven.
- 1891: 1914 would be “the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men.”
- 1904: “World-wide anarchy” would follow the end of the Gentile Times in 1914.
- 1916: World War I would terminate in Armageddon and the rapture of the “saints”.
- 1917: In 1918, Christendom would go down as a system to oblivion and be succeeded by revolutionary governments. God would “destroy the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions.” Church members would “perish by the sword of war, revolution and anarchy.” The dead would lie unburied. In 1920 all earthly governments would disappear, with worldwide anarchy prevailing.
- 1920: Messiah’s kingdom would be established in 1925 and bring worldwide peace. God would begin restoring the earth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful patriarchs would be resurrected to perfect human life and be made princes and rulers, the visible representatives of the New Order on earth. Those who showed themselves obedient to God would never die.
- 1922: The anti-typical “jubilee” that would mark God’s intervention in earthly affairs would take place “probably the fall” of 1925.
- 1924: God’s restoration of Earth would begin “shortly after” October 1, 1925. Jerusalem would be made the world’s capital. Resurrected “princes” such as Abel, Noah, Moses and John the Baptist would give instructions to their subjects around the world by radio, and airplanes would transport people to and from Jerusalem from all parts of the globe in just “a few hours”.
- 1938: Armageddon was too close for marriage or child bearing.
- 1941: There were only “months” remaining until Armageddon.
- 1942: Armageddon was “immediately before us.”
- 1961: Awake! magazine stated that the heavenly kingdom “will, within the twentieth century, cleanse the entire earth of wickedness.”
- 1966: It would be 6000 years since man’s creation in the fall of 1975 and it would be “appropriate” for Christ’s thousand-year reign to begin at that time. Time was “running out, no question about that.” The “immediate future” was “certain to be filled with climactic events … within a few years at most”, the final parts of Bible prophecy relating to the “last days” would undergo fulfillment as Christ’s reign began.
- 1967: The end-time period (beginning in 1914) was claimed to be so far advanced that the time remaining could “be compared, not just to the last day of a week, but rather, to the last part of that day”.
- 1968: No one could say “with certainty” that the battle of Armageddon would begin in 1975, but time was “running out rapidly” with “earthshaking events” soon to take place. In March 1968 there was a “short period of time left”, with “only about ninety months left before 6000 years of man’s existence on earth is completed”.
- 1969: The existing world order would not last long enough for young people to grow old; the world system would end “in a few years.” Young Witnesses were told not to bother pursuing tertiary education for this reason.
- 1971: The “battle in the day of Jehovah” was described as beginning ” shortly, within our twentieth century”.
- 1974: There was just a “short time remaining before the wicked world’s end” and Witnesses were commended for selling their homes and property to “finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service.”
- 1984: There were “many indications” that “the end” was closer than the end of the 20th century.
- 1989: The Watchtower asserted that Christian missionary work begun in the first century would “be completed in our 20th century”. When republished in bound volumes, the phrase “in our 20th century” was replaced with the less specific “in our day”.