Is the Watchtower Organization a Trustworthy Interpreter of Scripture?

by Luke Wayne

Jehovah's Witnesses identify their governing body, the Watchtower Organization, as the "faithful and discreet slave" of Matthew 24:42-46. They believe that only with this organization's Spirit-guided help can one properly understand the Bible. As one Watchtower publication put it:

"All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the 'greatly diversified wisdom of God' can become known only through Jehovah's channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave," (Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1994, p. 8).

They have identified themselves collectively as God's prophet, and have admitted that if people were to study the Bible on their own, they would arrive at traditional Christian beliefs like the Trinity rather than at the distinctive teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses. We are, therefore, asked to abandon the obvious meaning of the Bible and instead accept the Watchtower's interpretation as authoritative. The Watchtower Organization, however, has proven itself to be a completely untrustworthy interpreter of the Bible. One clear proof of this comes to us from the fact that the Watchtower system of interpretation consistently produces specific predictions. When they use their approach to the Bible to predict future events (which they have done on many occasions), they fail every time. The Watchtower writers admit that this is a perfectly fair test, having themselves said:

"Jehovah God is the Grand Identifier of his true messengers. He identifies them by making the messages he delivers through them come true. Jehovah is also the Great Exposer of false messengers. How does he expose them? He frustrates their signs and predictions. In this way he shows that they are self-appointed prognosticators, whose messages really spring from their own false reasoning – yes, their own fleshly thinking!" (Watchtower, 1997 May 1, pg. 8)

The problem is not only that they make false predictions on the authority of God's word and are thus false prophets. That is certainly a huge problem and is more than sufficient reason to reject them, but there is more. The problem is also that the system of interpretation that leads them to these false predictions betrays the fact that they have no clue how to read and understand the Bible properly, and therefore have absolutely no grounds to insist that their own failed interpretations must be believed over against the plain meaning of the text. Such false predictions are the result of their particular method of interpretation. This is clear evidence that this interpretation is, to use their own words, "false reasoning - yes, their own fleshly thinking!"

1925 and the Jubilee

We will take as one clear example the failed prediction of a 1925 resurrection of the saints. A 1922 Watchtower article begins:

"We have no doubt whatsoever about the chronology relating to the dates of 1874, 1914, 1918, and 1925," (Watchtower, 1922, pg. 147)

and ends:

“Those who follow Jehovah’s Chronology are manifestly his people; for, said Jesus Christ, ‘The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth; he will shew you things to come’; and ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew his servants things which must shortly come to pass’ - John 16:13, Revelation 1:1,” (Watchtower, 1922, pg. 219)

And what exactly was significant about 1925 about which the Watchtower organization was so sure?

"Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection," (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1918, p. 89).

Obviously, this did not happen. What they said there was "no doubt" of was, in fact, false. They claimed that those who believed this chronology were manifestly God's people, but the chronology was dead wrong. How did they arrive at this date in the first place? Through a really poor way of reading and applying the Bible, of course!

Leviticus 25:1-12 describes the year of Jubilee. Every seven years the land was to be allowed to rest rather than being planted and worked. After seven of these cycles of seven years (or 49 years of work and rest,) the fiftieth year was the year of Jubilee when all debts were to be forgiven, and slaves set free. The Watchtower writers pointed to this practice, then combined it with Jeremiah's prediction that Israel would face 70 years in captivity (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10). The Watchtower literature taught that what Jeremiah really meant was not that there would be 70 years of captivity in Babylon, but that there would be 70 of these fifty-year Jubilee cycles. The text of Jeremiah never implies this at all, but the Watchtower writers insist that when Jeremiah says "year" he must mean "year of Jubilee." What's more, they did not even count these Jubilee cycles from Jeremiah's time or from the time of the Babylonian captivity that Jeremiah was plainly discussing. Instead, they inexplicably insisted that one must count from when the Jubilee was first instituted back in the time of Moses, which they calculated to be 1575 B.C. Thus, counting forward 70 cycles of 50 years (or 3,500 years), they arrived at 1925 A.D. as the fulfillment date of Jeremiah's prophecy. In 1925, they said, the symbol of the Jubilee year would be fulfilled in the ultimate reality to which it pointed, the restoration of all things beginning with the resurrections described in the quote above.1

If that all sounds more than a bit convoluted to you, you are not alone! But this is the way the Watchtower literature interprets the Bible; a verse grabbed from over here and a chapter from over there are cobbled together and made to fit a system they have nothing to do with. Jeremiah's 70 years were clearly years of captivity in Babylon. You don't have to take my word for it, 2 Chronicles 36:21-22 tells us that explicitly, and says that they were fulfilled when Cyrus brought the people of Israel back to the land! Daniel 9 does use Jeremiah's prophecy to point to a bigger reality, but it was not some forced connection about Jubilee cycles or a 1925 resurrection of the saints. It was about the coming of the Messiah and about the ultimate salvation in Him that the return from Babylon prefigured. It was about the appearance of Jesus which we see fulfilled in the New Testament! The Watchtower society missed all of that because they cannot interpret the Bible correctly. They proved that they cannot because they used these passages to make one of their many false predictions that betray the failure of their interpretive system.

  • 1. This system is explained in full detail in the Watchtower publication Millions Now Living Will Never Die on pages 87-89 and in the February 1925 Watchtower magazine, page 52