In the U.S. there used to be a weekly newspaper called Weekly World News (WWN).
This newspaper was advertised as “The world’s only reliable newspaper”. It focused on bizarre stories which were the product of a creative staff with a wild sense of humor. It was all very tongue-in-cheek though many of its less-educated readers took the articles seriously.
Sometimes it would feature predictions, often reputedly Bible-based, such as this cover from November, 1999. The trouble with predictions is that they can’t be verified ahead of time, and after the predicted time has passed few people look back and check to see what predictions have failed (it’s only when predictions succeed that people generally pay attention). That way the fortune tellers get to stay in business and make new predictions each year. In this case, for instance, that winter proved to be the warmest on record. But who went back and checked their old November WWN newspaper in March?
Here are a couple more classic covers from WWN:
By now you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with my usual topic of conversation: The Watchtower; a publication that also advertises itself as reliable:
The “Watchtower” An Outstanding Bible Aid…Since 1879 it has been published regularly for the benefit of sincere students of the Bible. Since that time it has proven itself dependable.
(Advertisement in the back of the 1953 edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures).
Actually, if you replaced the WWN heading with the Watchtower logo in the above “Bible Prophecies” cover it works quite well.
But the Watchtower goes WWN one better: not content to make mere “predictions” based on the Bible, they make prophecies:
Such persons should remember that the Watchtower sets out the words of God’s prophet.
When a “prophet” makes a prediction we call it a “prophecy”. Have you ever seen anything similar to the WWN headlines, albeit less sensationalized, in a Watchtower?
Have they ever made a prophecy that was to have a verifiable event tied to a particular year? For instance, in the above headline the WWN claimed to have “proof” that the year 2000 would be doomsday. Now that the year 2000 has come and gone, I think it’s a safe bet to say that was a false prediction. Therefore, what WWN considers “proof” is not proof at all, so all of their news stories are highly suspect. In a word, we no longer have any reason to believe anything they might print. (Well, except for the Bigfoot diet tips, of course.)
So what about the Watchtower? They’re less inclined to put their sensational predictions on the covers, so we have to look for the quotes contained in their publications. For instance, in the early 1920’s, the Watchtower published the following statements:
We may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old … 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of the reconstruction…
— Millions Now Living May Never Die, pp. 89, 90, 97
We have no doubt whatever in regard to the chronology relating to the dates of 1874, 1914, 1918, and 1925.
— Watchtower 1922 p. 147
The physical facts show beyond question 0f a doubt that 1914 ended the Gentile times; and as the Lord foretold, the old order is being destroyed by war, famine, pestilence, and revolution.
The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by
the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave
to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one
wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion
much longer; and that even before 1925 the great
crisis will be reached and probably passed.
— The Watchtower 9/1/22, page 262
Our thought is, that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.
— The Watchtower, 4/1/23, page 106
I selected the above prophecy because it is so crystal clear. We have none of the hemming and hawing and feeble qualifications that we heard regarding 1975. No; the 1925 prophecy was as clear as could be: it was a certainty for which the Christian had proof: more proof than for the Noachian flood or for the pivotal year 1914! More certain than death and taxes (since they were among the “millions who would never die”, and had quickly gone back to calling themselves a “religion” so they wouldn’t have to pay taxes) there was nothing more certain in the organization than that they’d be rubbing shoulders with Abraham and Isaac et al. out in the door-to-door ministry come 1925. Imagine the privilege for the proud brother assigned to show King David how to work the gramophone to play Rutherford’s speeches at the householders’ doors!
It may not have made a cover, but the Watchtower sensationalized this idea in its own way: by publicizing the purchase of “Beth-Sarim”: a mansion in San Diego deeded to King David and the “Ancient Worthies” (and held in trust by Rutherford until their appearance).
1925 came and went, and unless Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et al. have been hiding out in the Beth-Sarim basement for the past 87 years, the Watchtower made a false prophecy. Therefore their writings are to be no more trusted than the WWN.
Challenge question for my Jehovah’s Witness readers: What do you call a prophet who makes false prophecies? Do you call such a prophet a “true prophet” or a “false prophet”? We’d love to call them a “non-prophet” (like the WWN), but they’ve already claimed to be a prophet, so that appellation just doesn’t fit.
Follow-up question: In light of the following Scripture, should you be afraid when the Watchtower threatens you with eternal death for leaving the organization?
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.
(Deut. 18:20-22 KJV)
Advice for false prophets: What to do after you’ve been found out!
There are several things the false prophet or predictor can do after a prophecy or prediction has failed to come true:
- Just ignore it and hope everyone else does too. This is what the WWN has always done (though actually they don’t care; it just makes their paper all the funnier when their predictions fail.) The Watchtower chose this method for Beth-Sarim: quietly selling it a few years after Rutherford’s death.
- Pretend that it really did come true; but in a different way than everyone expected. This is the method the Watchtower chose for their failed prophecy regarding 1914. When everything they had prophesied about it failed to come to pass they simply reinterpreted the meaning and shifted things around a bit (just like with the “generation” prophecy.)
- Pretend that you never made such a prophecy, and accuse your followers of misinterpreting your statements. Amazingly — given the strong certain language they had used in making the prophecy — this is the method the Watchtower chose for their failed prophecy regarding 1925:
1925 was a sad year for many brothers, some of them were stumbled; their hopes were dashed. They had hoped to see some of the ancient worthies resurrected. Instead of being a “probability” they read into it that it was a “certainty.”
— 1975 Yearbook, p. 146
So the Watchtower has been versatile in the aftermath of their false prophecies: using every one of the devious means available to squirm out of the truth about themselves.
Such skills may be admirable amongst con-men: not so admirable in men claiming to be faithful and discreet.