International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol 1, No 1 (2010)

How Prophecy Succeeds: Jehovah's Witnesses and Prophetic Expectations

George Chryssides
Issued Date: 29 Jul 2010


Leon Festinger’s notion of prophecy as prediction that is liable to failure has been widely accepted in religious studies. The author argues that this understanding of prophecy is not shared by biblical scholars or by the Watch Tower Society. The article explores in detail the various calculations that the Society has used in devising its views on the last days, and how these have changed over time. Four periods of development are identified: (1) the era of founder-leader Charles Taze Russell; (2) the early Rutherford period; (3) a changed chronological system in 1935; and (4) the Society’s present-day understanding. Discussion is given to the key dates of 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975, and to the Society’s changed understanding of the ‘generation that would not pass’ until the fulfilment of prophecy. It is argued 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. 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.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsnr.v1i1.27

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