The Bible gives us some guidelines to help discern a prophet from a false prophet:
"Whosoever will not hearken unto my words which [the Prophet like Moses] shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, that shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak ... that same prophet shall die. And if thou say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which Jehovah hath not spoken? when a prophet speaketh in the name of Jehovah, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing Jehovah hath not spoken: the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him." - Deut. 18:19-22, American Standard Version.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing [under false pretenses], but inwardly are ravening wolves [preying on others for their own advantage]. BY THEIR FRUITS ye shall know them." - Matt. 7:15, 16, ASV.
So we can recognize someone as a false prophet if he declares that he is speaking Jehovah's words actually revealed to him by direct revelation from God - an inspired prophet ("speaketh in Jehovah's name") and his message proves to be false. And we can also recognize a false prophet (even if something he says turns out to be correct) by the rest of his teachings, words, and deeds (his "fruits").
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This study concerns the 1 April 1972 Watchtower article, "They Shall Know That a Prophet Was Among Them," which so many anti-Watchtower critics and dissenting ex-Jehovah's Witnesses quote to "prove" that the Watchtower Society is a "false prophet." Dr. Walter Martin is a leader among these critics who use this article to accuse Jehovah's Witnesses of being "false prophets." We will see statements by Martin concerning "Christian" prophets later.
What do Jehovah's Witnesses believe was the basic meaning intended by the Bible writers when they wrote about a prophet? Here is a quote from one of their most-used reference books, Aid to Bible Understanding, 1969:
The English word `prophet' comes from the Greek `pro phe' tes.' `Pro phe' tes' literally means `a speaker out' [Gr. pro, `before' or `in front of,' and phe-mi, `to speak'], and thus describes a proclaimer, one who makes known messages attributed to a divine source. (Compare Titus 1:12.) Though the English word retains this same basic meaning, to many persons today it conveys only the restricted thought of a predicter of the future. But, as the foregoing information shows, the fundamental meaning of the word is not that of prediction. - p. 1347. (Also see p. 694, Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2.)
But the true prophet was not solely or even primarily a prognosticator, as has been shown. Rather, he was an advocate of righteousness, and his message dealt primarily with moral standards and their application. He expressed God's mind on matters. - p. 1348. (p. 696, Insight.)
Authorities of Christendom agree with the Watchtower definition of prophet:
Dr. Robert Young (author of Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible and Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary) writes:
PROPHET - is used of one who (professedly) announces the will or celebrates the works of God, whether these relate to things past, present or future, and it is applied to patriarchs, orators, singers, songstresses, priests, and preachers. - Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible, "Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation," #68.
Dr. Young also wrote: "The Hebrew idea of a prophet is not that of one who foretells future events, but one who receives a revelation [`God's disclosure ... of his will to man, as through ... laws, etc.' - Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary] of God's will and proclaims it to others." - Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary, p. 48.
The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that, although the idea of prediction gradually came to be attached to the word, it originally meant "one who speaks out":
Etymologically prophetes] denoted `forth-telling' [speaking out], not `fore-telling' [speaking before (in time)]. - Vol. 18, p. 586, 1956.
An Encyclopedia of Religion, Ferm, (ed.) states:
The prophets were not forecasters or philosophers, but ... preachers, moralists, ... and men of action who felt themselves to be mouthpieces of Yahweh ... and instruments of Yahweh's creative purpose in man's historic life. - p. 614.
Today's Dictionary of the Bible tells us, "we must regard `prophet' as a forth-teller, not a Foreteller." - p. 509, Bethany House Publishers, 1982.
A footnote for Matt. 7:22 in The NIV Study Bible states:
prophesy. In the NT this verb primarily means to give a messsage from God, not necessarily to predict.
And Richard Lattimore, "the eminent translator" (NY Times Book Review) and "one of the most distinguished living translators of Greek" writes in notes for 1 Cor. 11:4 and 14:1 -
`prophesies.' This is not here introduced as if it were an activity requiring extraordinary gifts, and presumably may mean nothing more than reading, quoting, or interpreting Scripture. See also 14:1 ff. - Acts and Letters of the Apostles, p. 281, Dorset Press, 1982.
C. T. Russell clearly taught this same meaning for "prophet" and applied it to all Christians who were able to teach the truth as "public orators" - May 1, 1902 WT. Even Christians who made honest errors in their public teaching (or "speaking forth") were still to be considered "prophets." Their statements must all be checked carefully against scripture, however, and the hearer must be sure that he holds fast only to the proven "good" or truth in their teachings - June 15, 1909. So, if Russell called himself a modern prophet (I don't know that he did), it would certainly be an accurate term according to his own teaching concerning that word!
Well, what does the Watchtower Society call those people in the Bible who received messages directly from God? They, too, are described as being prophets, or, more clearly, as being inspired prophets.
Does the Watchtower Society claim to be an inspired prophet, receiving information directly (and therefore perfectly) from God?
The Watchtower has said:
"We have not the gift of prophecy." - January 1883, page 425.
"Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible." - December 15, 1896, page 306.
"[the fact that some have Jehovah's spirit] does not mean those now serving as Jehovah's witnesses are inspired. It does not mean that the writings in this magazine, The Watchtower, are inspired and infallible and without mistakes." - May 15, 1947, page 157.
"The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic." - August 15, 1950, page 263.
"The brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views. (Prov. 4:18)" - February 15, 1981, page 19.
No, as the preface to every Watchtower magazine for the year 1972 (including, of course, the April 1, 1972 issue which had the article, "They Shall Know That a Prophet Was Among Them") says:
No, `The Watchtower' is NO INSPIRED PROPHET, but it follows and explains a Book of prophecy ....— Which Book? The Sacred Bible of the Holy Scriptures, written by inspiration in the name of the creator of heaven and earth, the only living and true God.
C. T. Russell wrote in an October 1, 1907 WT article):
"A dear Brother inquires, Can we feel absolutely sure that the Chronology set forth in the Dawn-Studies is correct? - That the harvest began in 1874 and will end in A.D. 1914....?"
"We answer," Russell continues, "as we have frequently done before in the Dawns and Towers and orally and by letter, that we have never claimed that they were knowledge, nor based upon indisputable evidence, facts, knowledge; our claim has always been that they are based on faith. We have set forth the evidence as plainly as possible and stated the conclusions of faith we draw from them....
"Many have examined these evidences and have accepted them; others equally bright do not endorse them....
"We neither urge nor insist upon our views as infallible, nor do we smite or abuse those who disagree; but regard as `brethren' all sanctified believers in the precious blood.
"On the contrary, it is those who differ who smite us and speak evil of us .... They are our critics who always claim the infallibility. We go humbly onward following the Apostle's example and words, `We believe and therefore speak,' whether others hear or forbear to hear. Is not this in accord with the Spirit of Christ? ....
"But some of those who come to a trifling point on which they disagree seem to imagine that the entire harvest work must be overthrown, or at least stopped, until they get their little jot or tittle satisfactorily adjusted." ....
"If, therefore, dearly beloved, it should turn that our chronology is all wrong, we may conclude that with it we have had much advantage everyway. If the attainment of our glorious hopes and present joys in the Lord should cost us such disappointment as our friends fear, we should rejoice and count it cheap!"
And in the Jan. 1, 1911 WT, Russell wrote:
"Suppose that our chronological calculations (never set forth as infallible) should prove to be fallible and in error. Our conclusion would merely be that the error could not be very great ....
"If, then, it should prove eventually that the crisis of earthly government will not be reached by the end of 1914, should we not be very faithful anyway, and remember that had it not been for that alarm clock which helped awaken us from the worldly stupor, we might not have been sufficiently awake to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful spiritual blessings which daily crown our lives?"
So, how would a Witness who has read the preface to his Watchtower magazine, which clearly shows `The Watchtower' is not an inspired prophet, understand the 1972 article "They Shall Know That a Prophet Was Among Them"? Why, obviously something other than an inspired prophet was meant by the word "prophet" in that article, and what could be more obvious than that it was the basic meaning of the word as used by the ancient Bible writers that was intended, as `The Watchtower' has explained for many years in its reference works?
Notice how this Jan. 1, 1971 Watchtower magazine explains it, for example.
Jehovah's people today .... are having a share in the fulfillment of the prophecy, `your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy.' (Joel 2:28) Not that these prophesy in the sense of foretelling events under inspiration, but rather in that they are making public proclamation of the inspired dreams and visions long ago recorded. They prophesy in the sense of being God's spokesmen. That this is one of the meanings of `prophesy' is apparent from the fact that Jehovah God appointed Aaron to be prophet to his brother Moses. Aaron did not foretell things to Moses, but he served as Moses' spokesman or mouthpiece - Ex. 7:1. - p. 32. (Compare WT, Oct. 1, 1961, p. 593.)
But to make it even clearer and less liable to misunderstanding, The Watchtower Society wrote the word in such a manner in that 1 April 1972 WT article that everyone should have known that "prophet" was being used in a special sense.
You see, quotation marks have a number of uses. There are two times when quotation marks are used around a single word (such as "prophet"). One is when you are talking about it as a word. For example: The word "is" was used as a verb in the last sentence. Or: we have discussed the fundamental meaning of the word "prophet." Another use for quotation marks around a single word is when the writer is indicating that he is using that word in a special sense, different from how the reader might ordinarily understand it.
The Handbook of Effective Writing, Moore, 1966, p.145, explains it:
Double quotation marks are used to enclose ... a word used in an unusual way.
And The Guide and Handbook for Writing, Griggs-Webster, 1964, p. 487, says:
Use quotation marks to indicate a word used in a different sense than someone else has used it.
For example, the Watchtower Society has also taught the importance of Christian women being "daughters" of Sarah. - p. 264, Life Everlasting in the Freedom of the Sons of God (Also see p. 162: "bride," "wife," "rock-mass"). Persons with no regard for truth (ravening wolves in sheep's clothing) could take such statements and insist that the Watchtower Society teaches that you must be a physical Jew (or at least a literal physical descendant of Sarah) in order to be a Christian woman. This is obviously untrue and the use of quotation marks around "daughters" helps show that the Watchtower Society intended a figurative meaning: that Christian women are to be similar to Sarah only in certain respects! (1 Peter 3:6)
In the 1 April 1972 Watchtower article in question the word "prophet" was enclosed with quotation marks at least 12 different times when the word was applied to the Watchtower Society. E.g.,
He had a "prophet" to warn them. This "prophet" was not one man, but was a body of men and women.... Today they are known as Jehovah's Christian witnesses. - p. 197.
The quotation marks alone tell the reader that "prophet" as applied to Jehovah's Witnesses in that article is not to be understood as an inspired Biblical prophet but in a different sense.
It is intellectually (and morally) very dishonest to accuse the Watchtower Society of being a false prophet in the complete Biblical sense of an inspired prophet (including inspired prediction of future events) if the accuser is aware of that society's teaching on the subject (or even understands the common meanings of quotation mark use).
You see, the Watchtower Society has also taught (from the beginning, I believe) that the miraculous gifts of the spirit (including the gift of inspired prophecy) were no longer given to earthly men after the death of the last Apostle.
Examine these statements found in the Aid book and a 1971 Watchtower magazine:
"Evidently, with the death of the apostles, the transmittal of the gifts of the Spirit ended, and the miraculous gifts of the spirit ceased altogether as those having received these gifts passed off the earthly scene." - - - - "Prophesying was a greater gift than speaking in tongues .... the particular ones having the miraculous gift of prophesying were able to foretell future events, as did Agabus." - Aid, pp. 655, 656.
1971 Watchtower, pp. 502, 503, 504: Speaking of the first century miraculous gifts of the spirit -
"The gift of `prophesying' included, besides speaking the magnificent things of God, the inspired ability to speak accurately of things to come. This inspired foretelling of events seems to have been generally limited, however, to things that affected the congregation at that time, enabling it to meet the foreseen situation, as in the case of the famine in the time of Emperor Claudius, foretold by the Christian prophet Agabus." - - - - "Are the miraculous gifts of the spirit necessary for the congregation to carry on its work and to maintain its cleanness, uprightness and unity? No, such gifts are not needed...." (p. 503) - - - - "Inspired prophesying today would be superfluous. The prophecies written in the Bible being complete as a guide to the congregation today, nothing needs to be added. Accordingly, since God's Word provides a perfect guide, there is no need to have the gift of discernment of prophecies in a miraculous sense, for there are no inspired prophets now authorized by God." (p. 504)
In other words, the Watchtower Society believes there ceased to be miraculous gifts bestowed when the "Church" reached "maturity" around 100 A.D. The "Church" was firmly established by this time and all the inspired scriptures had already been written and transmitted to the congregations. (1 Cor. 13:2, 8-11)
Others have taught this very same belief. Even W. E. Vine, "recognized as one of the world's foremost [NT] Greek scholars" and a favorite of many in orthodox Christendom, affirms the following quotation: "With the completion of the canon of Scripture prophecy apparently passed away, 1 Cor. 13:8, 9." - p. 893, Vine.
The Society has always taught this understanding. Even Russell taught it in his WT articles (e.g., WT Sept. 15, 1911). Since they have always believed that no Christian for the past 1800 years at least has been able to predict future events infallibly by direct inspiration, how could we honestly accuse them of being false prophets in that sense?
The Society also teaches that scripture shows that these gifts were only transmitted when one or more of the twelve Apostles were present. Now whether the Society is right or wrong in this understanding is not the point. What matters here is that this understanding governs the intended meaning of the word "prophet" as used by the Watchtower Society in the very rare instances when they may apply that term to themselves.
For any person who is familiar with Watchtower teachings to pretend that the Watchtower Society is calling itself an inspired predicter of the future in this 1 April 1972 WT article when it obviously figuratively applies the word "prophet" to itself is extremely dishonest!
But, even setting quotation marks and previous Watchtower teaching about prophets and prophecy aside, most Jehovah's Witnesses would have known (ALL should have known) what that 1 April 1972 Watchtower article intended at the time it was published merely because of the background they have in the organization and by reading the entire article with even ordinary care and objectivity. You see, this article was the fourth in a series of at least six articles that drew a parallel between the Book of Ezekiel and modern times.
Just as the first Christians drew upon Old Testament writings and pointed out how something there prefigured, in some ways, events or persons in New Testament times, so Witnesses like to do today.
For example, Paul calls Jesus our "passover": "For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ." - 1 Cor. 5:7, ASV. This refers to the literal lamb of Ex. 12:1-11. This literal lamb was to have been a perfect 4-legged, woolly lamb that was only one year old. It was to be slaughtered and its blood spattered upon the door posts of the faithful Israelites. Its literal flesh was to be roasted with fire and then the followers of God were to literally eat the flesh and completely burn up any part of the lamb that was left. This was "Jehovah's passover" - Ex. 12:11.
Knowing this, no Jehovah's Witness would dream of insisting that since Paul called Jesus our "passover" he meant it in the literal Old Testament meaning as everyone understood it at that time. They know that Paul intended it in a figurative sense because they are familiar with the rest of Paul's (and the other Bible writers') teachings.
Witnesses know immediately that Paul was simply saying Jesus' sacrifice was prefigured, in certain respects only, by the passover lamb. They would not for a moment think that Paul meant Jesus had four legs, a woolly hide, or was only one year old at the time of his death. They would never even consider the possibility that his faithful followers literally drained his blood and spattered it upon their doorposts. They would never give a thought to the idea that his followers literally ate the meat off the dead Jesus' bones and then burned up all the rest of his body and that was why it was completely gone when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to see Jesus' body! (You can imagine what dishonest deceivers would have you believe that Jesus meant at John 6:53-59!)
There are a few obvious parallels, however, between the passover lamb in Moses' time and the "passover" (Christ) that Paul was speaking of, but to insist that Paul meant every aspect of the Old Testament parallel was to be found in Jesus' sacrifice would be extremely dishonest!
If there had been punctuation marks in the time of Paul, he might well have used quotation marks around "passover" if he had thought anyone might have misunderstood his using the word in a different sense like that. So it is with most (if not all) of the persons, things, events in the Old Testament that prefigured later persons, things, and events. And Jehovah's Witnesses are thoroughly familiar with this scriptural method of teaching.
So, when Witnesses read the six Watchtower articles that drew parallels between the Book of Ezekiel and these modern last days, they knew that not every possible aspect of the parallels was to be taken completely literally.
In the first article they read how the "secretary" of Ezek. 9:2-4 prefigured modern Jehovah's Witnesses - (not as literal secretaries, of course). - p. 47, Jan. 15, 1972 WT. In the second article it was explained what the "mark" on the forehead (Ezek. 9:4) represents today - (not a literal mark, of course). - p. 50.
Then they read in the third article: "Wanted—A Messenger," pp. 189-190, 15 March 1972 WT:
`Therefore, when it came time for the name of Jehovah and his purposes to be declared to the people along with God's warning that Christendom is in her "time of the end," who qualified to be commissioned? Who was willing to undertake this monumental task as Jehovah's "servant"? Was there anyone to whom Jehovah's heavenly "chariot" could roll up and whom it could confront? More accurately, was there any group on whom Jehovah would be willing to bestow the commission to speak as a "prophet" in his name, as was done toward Ezekiel back there in 613 B.C.E.? What were the qualifications? [Notice the use of quotation marks around individual words within this article.]
`Certainly [continues the article], such a messenger or "servant" group would have to be made up of persons who had not been defiled with bloodguilt as had Christendom and the rest of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, by sharing in carnal warfare. In fact, they would be a group that had come out from the religious organizations of Babylon the Great. More than that, they would be persons who not only saw the hypocrisy and God-defaming action of these religions, but in addition actually rejected them and turned to Jehovah God in true worship of him as set forth in the Bible. Who would they be?
`In identifying the group that is truly commissioned as God's messenger, these are points for us to consider seriously. God does not deal with persons who ignore his Word and go according to their own independent ideas. Nor does he recognize those who make a profession of serving him and at the same time associate with religions that teach God-dishonoring doctrines. No one can serve two masters, claiming to be a worshiper of God and meddling with the politics, the radical movements and other schemes of this world. (Matt.6:24) Jehovah's chief representative, Jesus Christ, said: "Not everyone saying to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will."—Matt. 7:21.
`It is of importance to every individual on earth to identify the group that Jehovah has commissioned as his "servant" or messenger. We must recognize and understand the warning that he brings. We need to take action on the warning to safeguard our lives, for they are in a danger as grave as that of the lives of Jerusalem's citizens as that city neared destruction. For this reason forthcoming issues of the Watchtower will further discuss the identity and work of Jehovah's commissioned messenger as revealed in his vision to Ezekiel.' (End of quote from 15 March 1972 Watchtower.)
We can see from this exactly which aspects of "prophet," "servant," or messenger are being applied to a modern-day parallel by the Watchtower Society. Inspired prediction is not being considered as an aspect of the modern-day "prophet" or messenger. And discussion of these same aspects continue in the follow-up Watchtower articles which are quoted below.
The fourth article in the series (the one which some apostate ex-Witnesses have used so dishonestly), "They Shall Know That a Prophet Was Among Them," pp. 197-200, 1 April 1972 WT, told us that this modern group
`doing a work in Christendom paralleling Ezekiel's work among the Jews, were manifestly the modern-day Ezekiel, the "prophet" commissioned by Jehovah to declare the good news of God's messianic kingdom and to give warning to Christendom.'
Again, the specific function of the modern "prophet" is clarified. It is to speak out the message that is already in the Bible. (Incidentally, the second use of the word "Ezekiel" in the above quotation could properly have had quotation marks around it if the writers had so chosen since it is also obviously used in a figurative sense.)
In the fifth article, "Your Life Is In Danger—How? Why?", pp. 252-255, 15 April 1972 WT, we read that the scroll given to Ezekiel
"represented all the declarations in the entire Bible that have to do with the judgments, spiritual plagues and tribulations that are to come upon Christendom and her religious and political associates in the `time of the end.'"
It is clear that the modern "prophet" is to declare the messages found in the Bible (not any new inspired revelations or predictions from God). This article goes on to explain about those members of Christendom who already claim to accept the Bible as the word of God:
`There is no excuse for them not to understand what the modern "Ezekiel" says. If they do not respond with hearing ears it is because they do not want to.'
Here we do see quotation marks around "Ezekiel" because only a certain aspect of Ezekiel is being considered. Obviously the Watchtower Society is not saying that the modern "prophet" is literally Ezekiel any more than it is saying it is literally an inspired prophet as Ezekiel literally was. (This is somewhat similar to John the Baptist's being called "Elijah" by Jesus Christ even though he was certainly not literally Elijah - cf. Matt.17:11-13 and John 1:21.)
Finally, in the sixth article, "Why Do Jehovah's Witnesses Call On You Repeatedly?", pp. 277-280, 1 May 1972, it is explained that Jehovah called Ezekiel a "watchman" even though he wasn't really a watchman in the literal sense of the word at that time (Ezek. 3:17-21). It is then pointed out that the modern "prophet" is also a "watchman," and the warning of Ezek. 3:17-21 also applies to them: They must warn others or be considered bloodguilty by God.
"Therefore," says this final article,
"Jehovah's Witnesses, having embraced God's name, and knowing his laws and judgments, are like a sentry who, if he should fall asleep and fail to guard his sleeping comrades, would lose his own life. Accordingly, Jehovah's Witnesses must call to give their fellow humans opportunity to know what God is going to do and what he requires, so that all who desire to live may do so and not die."
Then, on the last page, p. 280, this article says:
"They [Jehovah's Witnesses] do not claim any divine inspiration .... rather, they rely on God's word the Bible. They trust in God's spirit to aid them in having courage to speak."
So, no matter how others may choose to understand the article, "They Shall Know That a Prophet Was Among Them," all informed Jehovah's Witnesses know that their organization simply does not claim to be an inspired prophet in the sense that included inspired prediction, and, in fact, it is exceedingly rare that it even applies the term "prophet" to itself in any sense.
Therefore, while it seems to be an impressive accusation to members of Christendom for them to claim that the Watchtower Society has called itself a "prophet" (and also apparently been mistaken in some interpretations concerning dates), it is a tremendous waste of time and effort to expect a properly informed Witness to be impressed by such specious reasoning.
It also tells us a great deal about those ex-Jehovah's Witness dissidents who should know all this but still select such material to "prove" to others that Jehovah's Witnesses are "false prophets."
I would like to share some Bible facts about some men of the Bible who truly were God-inspired prophets and their use of time prediction.
King David said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains." - 2 Sam.7:2, NASB. It is obvious that David intended to build a house or temple to replace the tent over the ark. God's statements at 2 Sam.7:5-7 show that this is certainly what was in David's mind to do. And notice Nathan the prophet's reply to David at 2 Sam.7:3:
"And Nathan said to the king, `Go, do all that is in your mind, for [Jehovah] is with you.'" - NASB.
So we see that Nathan, the inspired prophet of God, told David to go ahead and build a house for the ark because Jehovah loves David and approves of what he does!
Now this information had not been received by Nathan directly from God but was Nathan's own reasoned interpretation based on his own knowledge of God and David and their relationship. And Nathan was wrong!! He was a prophet of Jehovah, and what he told David was wrong, but he still was not a false prophet because he had not spoken in Jehovah's name! (Deut. 18:20-22).
Jehovah later gave Nathan a direct, inspired message that King David was not to go ahead and build the temple - 2 Sam. 7:4-7, 12-13. Nathan relayed it to David, speaking in Jehovah's name. If Nathan had said in Jehovah's name "Thus saith Jehovah" (verses 5, 8) "I, Jehovah, tell you to go ahead and build the temple," he would have certainly been a false prophet. His original statement to David, however, was an interpretation (his very own understanding of God's will) and, even though wrong, in no way made him a false prophet!
If God had not given Nathan an inspired message on the subject, then Nathan's own interpretation (whether right or wrong) would have stood, and David would have built (or attempted to build) the temple. Of course, if it were not God's will, the temple would not have been completed by David anyway, no matter what Nathan or King David or anyone else thought.
Certainly King David understood that a man who is truly an inspired prophet of God can still make an error in his own interpretation: he had no thought of having Nathan put to death (or punished or reprimanded in any way) for being a false prophet. Nathan continued in the capacity of an inspired prophet of God. - 2 Sam. 12:25; 2 Chron. 9:29; 2 Chron. 29:25. Of course if he had made his initial interpretation in Jehovah's name ("Thus saith Jehovah, `Go, do what is in thy heart, build the temple'"), he would have made himself a false prophet and been liable to death!
I believe that Isaiah was an inspired prophet of God. I believe the account of 2 Kings 20:1-6. There may be aspects of a Bible account that I find strange or difficult to believe, but I am duty-bound to accept them all as the word of God unless or until such time as they might be proven to be improper additions or changes made by copyists in the past. So, when I read that Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and told him to get his things in order because Jehovah had said it was time for him to die (2 Kings 20:1), I must believe it. And when we see that Hezekiah repented and did not die at that time as Isaiah had prophesied, but 15 YEARS LATER (2 Kings 20:6) -- I must believe it. I most definitely, however, would not accuse this man of God, this truly God-inspired prophet, of being a false prophet because the literal TIME given in his initial prophecy proved to be wrong!
Again, we know that Jesus himself referred to Jonah as a prophet (Matt. 12:39). But what did Jonah predict and what actually happened? Jonah was told by Jehovah:
"Arise, go to Ninevah the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me." - Jonah 1:2, NASB.
When Jonah got to Ninevah, "he cried out and said, `Yet forty days and Ninevah will be overthrown.'" But God, after seeing the sincere repentance of the people of Ninevah, did not destroy them at that time. They were not destroyed until many generations later.
When you actually examine the account of Jonah you find it is not, as Dr. Walter Martin has publicly declared, that Jonah's prophecy was "conditional" and that God said, "IF you don't repent, Ninevah will be destroyed in forty days." If God told Jonah that it was conditional, then Jonah sure didn't proclaim it correctly: What he spoke in Jehovah's name, in that case, would still have been wrong!
Yes, if we actually examine the account, we find Jonah prophesied: "In forty days Ninevah WILL BE destroyed!" - Jonah 3:4, GNB. There's certainly nothing "conditional" there. Examine all Bible translations. None of them translate it as a "conditional" prophecy! Not even Christendom's Living Bible; BBE; NLV; ETRV; and GNB translations, which, being paraphrase Bibles, are able to (and often do) take great liberties with the actual original Bible texts in order to enhance trinitarian and other "orthodox" interpretations, translate Jonah's prophecy as though it were conditional!
Furthermore, we know Jonah didn't tell them that Ninevah would be destroyed in 40 days unless they repented (as Martin says) because of Jonah 3:8-10 -- the king of Ninevah believed what Jonah prophesied and said to his subjects:
"Everyone ... must give up his wicked behavior and his evil actions. PERHAPS God will change his mind; PERHAPS he will stop being angry, and we will not die!" .... So [God] CHANGED his mind and did not punish them as he had said he would." - GNB.
Jonah even became angry because his prophecy did not come true! - Jonah 4:1-4. He certainly would not have done so if he thought the prophecy was conditional!
None of Jehovah's Witnesses would ever say that Jonah was a false prophet because the literal time schedule mentioned in his prophecy was not fulfilled. But those who use that same argument against an organization that has called itself a "prophet" in a restricted, figurative sense must also use it against Jonah, a true, GOD-INSPIRED PROPHET.
We know that Jesus was not only a God-inspired prophet but was the Prophet of God. We know that, at Matthew 12:40, he prophesied: "for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." - NASB.
And yet Jehovah's Witnesses (as well as nearly all of Christendom) believe that Jesus died late Friday afternoon and was resurrected at or before sunrise Sunday morning (John 20:1). This means Jesus was in the tomb for a very short time on Friday day (first day) and all Friday night (first night) and all Saturday day (second day) and all (or at least some of) Saturday night (second night) and none, or at best only minutes or seconds of Sunday day although John 20:1 seems to rule even that out, (third day) and absolutely NONE of Sunday night (third night)!
According to this actual schedule of events, then, Jesus was not, as he literally prophesied, either in "the heart of the earth" nor was he in the tomb "for three days and THREE nights."
You know, then, what those who accuse the Watchtower Society of being a false "prophet" because of apparent literal "time" errors must necessarily (unhypocritically) also say about Jesus, the Prophet!
Jehovah's Witnesses would never make such a blasphemous accusation! -- (This example is one where Jehovah's Witnesses agree with most of Christendom that the "three days and three nights" really was parts of three days [at most] and two nights. But they agree, not because of secular historians but because of what the Bible actually says - John 19:31, 20:1; also Luke 23:54, 24:1.)
The Destruction of Jerusalem - 607 B.C.?
Some who wish to accuse the Watchtower organization of being a "false prophet" claim that the 607 B.C. date chosen by the Society for the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon is proof. Christendom endorses and teaches the date of 587 B.C. (which is the opinion of secular historians today).
Most secular historians tell us that some captives were taken from Jerusalem in 598 B.C., but that the city was not harmed at that time. They also tell us that a later siege in 587 B.C. destroyed Jerusalem and that all but a handful of the inhabitants of all of Judah were deported from the land at that time.
"All archeologically studied towns of Judah (see Jer. 25:11, 17, 18) were DESTROYED at this time (587 B.C.)." - Encyclopedia Americana, 1957, v. 3, p. 9.
They also tell us that
"the edict of Cyrus in 538 B.C., substantially confirmed by modern archeological discoveries, permitted the Jews to return to their homeland." - Americana.
Now if we insist on perfection in the statements of God's inspired prophets of the Bible concerning time factors, then either the inspired prophets who warned of the desolation of Jerusalem by Babylon must have proclaimed a 49 (or 50) year desolation of Jerusalem - from 587 B.C. to 538 B.C. (or 537 B.C. if we properly allow for preparation and travel time after Cyrus' edict)! OR the secular historians of today are wrong about the 587 B.C. date which most of Christendom (and apostate ex-Jehovah's Witnesses) accepts.
Now Jehovah's Witnesses accept the 538 B.C. date for the edict of Cyrus since the evidence produced "by modern archeological discoveries" is probably better established for it, and it certainly correlates more properly with Bible chronology. And since the date 587 B.C. for the beginning of the desolation period is probably more doubtful than that of the "substantially confirmed" 538 B.C. date for the edict which led to the end of the desolation period and does not fit proper Bible chronology, Jehovah's Witnesses have decided that the date of the desolation of Jerusalem must have been 607 B.C. Why? Because Jehovah's Witnesses believe the inspired prophets Jeremiah and Daniel are more likely to be correct than secular historians! (Be sure to read pp. 186-189 in Let Your Kingdom Come, 1981 Watchtower publication.)
Daniel wrote that he was "reading the scriptures and reflecting on the SEVENTY years which, according to the word of the Lord [Jehovah] to the prophet Jeremiah, were to pass while Jerusalem lay in ruins." - Dan. 9:2, NEB. Also see Jer. 25:8-11, 17, 18.
Now isn't it interesting that Christendom (especially those most vocal dissident ex-Jehovah's Witnesses) condemns Jehovah's Witnesses as being false prophets for interpreting certain ancient dates (most notably the destruction of Jerusalem as 607 B.C.) based upon the clear statements of inspired Bible prophets which seem to contradict the conclusions of secular historians today?
Think about it. What's really happening when certain "Christians" insist that a figurative "prophet" be perfect in its interpretation of time and then turn around and say,
"Yes, Daniel was an inspired prophet (and so was Jeremiah), but, although he literally said Jerusalem would lie desolate for 70 years, HE REALLY MEANT 50 YEARS. We believe the authorities today who tell us it was really 50 years," these `Christians' say, "more than we believe the literal accuracy of the inspired prophet, Daniel (or Jeremiah)."?
In other words, it's o.k. to condemn those who have never claimed to be inspired prophets for an apparent error in the interpretation of a date and proclaim them false prophets, and, in so doing, indirectly (but necessarily) accuse the truly inspired Bible writers, who, they believe, made the very same kind of time "errors," of being false prophets .
Yes, those who insist on the secular historians' dates (which make a 50 year desolation) are, by necessity, insisting that the Bible prophets stated the wrong chronology (70 years of desolation). By their insistence on the 587 B.C. date they are saying the inspired prophets did not prophesy a literally accurate time!
The real difference is that Jehovah's Witnesses admit to being human, making nonessential errors at times, and not being an inspired "prophet." They truly believe the organization, as a whole, and over the long term, has the guidance of Holy Spirit, but this does not mean that every step, every thought, every utterance of every member will be perfect in this present system of things. The first Christians, who were obviously guided by Holy Spirit, admitted as much about themselves. And yet these Jehovah's Witnesses, imperfect as they may be, are courageous enough to say that Daniel and Jeremiah are inspired prophets of God and are certainly more likely to be correct than secular historians.
If Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong on this nonessential "time interpretation," does that make them false prophets because they have chosen the literal accuracy of God's inspired prophets over the statements of uninspired historians? I think not! I believe, instead, a strong statement of their obedience to proper authority (the Bible in this case) is being made in spite of the ridicule and dishonest accusations of many false Christians.
On the other hand, what if the actual inspired prophets (Daniel and Jeremiah) are literally correct? Where does that put those "Christians" who are, in actuality, saying that Daniel and Jeremiah were false prophets? It seems we have a real test of faith and proper heart condition here.
Now let's return to the original attack as promoted by Dr. Walter Martin (and others) in his anti-cult books and tapes: Martin declares that the Watchtower Society claims to be a prophet of God in its 1972 Watchtower article we have just examined. Therefore, he concludes, they must make no errors, or they are false prophets. And, since they have looked forward to certain dates in fulfillment of Bible interpretations which have turned out differently from their expectations, they have made errors. Therefore, he concludes, they are false prophets.
But notice how this respected "Cult Buster" further analyzes what makes a "false prophet." In his popular book, The Kingdom of the Cults (KOTC), 1985 ed., Martin discusses the date-setting predictions of Baptist minister William Miller. This man led a movement which believed Jesus would return to earth in 1843. Martin calls him "an honest forthright Christian" (p. 413, KOTC) who, in spite of his "disastrous date-setting career" (p. 413, KOTC), "now enjoys the presence of the Lord" (p. 415). Yes, Martin believes this Baptist "man of God" was a true Christian who has gone to his reward in heaven in spite of his proclaiming FALSE PROPHECIES concerning certain dates based on Bible interpretation. How can this "false prophet" be considered a true, faithful Christian? Because, according to Martin, he believed and taught "traditional" doctrines of Christendom. By far the most important of these teachings is the knowledge of God.
As Dr. Walter Martin himself teaches:
"Our main concern ought to be the centrality of the Christian faith and that is the [trinitarian] doctrine of God. If you are right in every [other] area of your theology and you are wrong on the doctrine of God, you are wrong enough to lose your soul for all eternity .... [the teaching of the trinity] is of primary importance." - from Martin's cassette tape recording, "Jehovah's Witnesses Versus the Holy Trinity."
"the answer to Jehovah's Witnesses...is the Deity of Jesus Christ, and in teaching that one cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, all energy ought to be expended to the uttermost." - p. 113, KOTC, 1985 ed.
Yes, William Miller, like Walter Martin himself, was a Baptist minister who taught the trinity doctrine (and other "traditional" doctrines) and is therefore, according to Martin, a good, faithful Christian who merely made some "honest, forthright" mistakes (prophecies concerning future events which proved false). Martin even expresses admiration for Mr. Miller's honesty in admitting his errors.
As I understand it, Mr. Miller made no claims to being an inspired prophet or receiving direct revelation from God. He merely believed he was interpreting the Bible correctly. As such, I personally would not call him a false prophet in the Biblical sense based on those incorrect predictions alone. I, too, (like Martin) would base my evaluation of his actually being a true spokesman ("forth-teller") for God on the truth or falsity of the essential Bible teachings he taught.
Martin then discusses another "good Christian" - the Seventh-day Adventist prophetess, Ellen G. White. The Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that Mrs. White had a "gift of prophecy" like that described in 1 Corinthians 14 (p. 446, KOTC).
For many years it has been known that Mrs. White actually plagiarized some of her material even though she swore to the end of her life that she hadn't copied anything but had received it all first hand by inspiration. As late as the 1980 international Seventh-day Adventist convention, however, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was still officially claiming that Ellen G. White is "inspired in the same sense as were the Bible prophets." (Awake!, 22 Jan., 1981, p. 29.)
It is now known that Ellen G. White copied extensively from already-published materials by religious writers from various denominations for over 70 years. In fact she copied and borrowed "for almost everything" she wrote. (See Awake!, 22 Jan. 1981, p. 29 and 22 April 1981, p. 29.)
Walter Martin is aware of these facts about the Adventist "Prophet" but tells us in his Kingdom of the Cults, 1985 ed., p. 445:
"It is my considered opinion that Ellen G. White had an extremely complex personality and plagiarized materials because she believed the Lord had shown her that what the sources said was the truth. She simply appropriated material and gave it out [in her own name and as inspired]. Her actions cannot be excused, but they can be understood as the actions of a Christian who made mistakes. She was both mortal and a sinner like anyone else. I think those around her aided and abetted her in her `cover-up.' Also I think the White Estate continued the cover-up after her death for many years. No objective person, in possession of all the facts, can doubt that.
"The difference between her and, for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses, is not the crime itself. That was wrong. The difference is in the nature of the person we are talking about. Was Jehovah's Witness founder Charles Russell a Christian? Did he hold to the foundations of the gospel? Did he promulgate the things of Christianity and stand in their defense? No. Did Ellen White? Yes. Therefore, although she committed the same crime [?] he did, she cannot be judged on the same basis as Charles Russell. She was a Christian who committed a sin. Christians can and do commit sins.
".... of course, technically, all would agree that the person who prophesies in the name of God and turns out to be wrong, has prophesied falsely. But Mrs. White is not a biblical false prophet because she was a true Christian, even though what she did was sinful." - p. 445, KOTC.
So, in "Cult-buster" Martin's eyes, being a false prophet doesn't really depend on making a mistake about a date concerning a Bible-based interpretation. What really determines it is what that person is teaching ("speaking-forth") about basic, essential Christian doctrines.
If it should turn out that Jehovah's Witnesses are correct in the essential doctrines, then it is they (not Miller, Mrs. White, nor the rest of tradition-bound Christendom) who are the Christians who have made an honest, forthright error in certain date-setting interpretation (and have admitted it). Unlike some others, such as Mrs. White, they have committed no sin in this respect (plagiarism, false denial for 70 years, claim to be inspired prophets, etc.). But being human individuals, they can and do occasionally make errors.
Therefore, the "false prophet" issue by Martin and others based on honest Bible-based interpretations is meaningless (even hypocritical for Martin in light of the above information) in comparison with the importance of discerning who is actually teaching the essential, life-saving Bible truths. If, as Martin and much of Christendom claim (see p. 1, KNOW study paper), the knowledge of who God and Jesus are "is the only important question [relatively] that means anything" (from Martin cassette tape recording), then the real key to everything is: Are trinitarians correct about God being three persons: Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? Or are Jehovah's Witnesses correct about the essential doctrine that means eternal life or death? (John 17:3; 2 Thess. 1:8) – See the ISRAEL; CREEDS; HIST; IMAGE; etc. study papers.
The course of wisdom is to carefully examine everything possible that is taught by trinitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses concerning their teachings (speaking-forth) on this crucial knowledge of God. - Prov. 2:4, 5. Only then will we see who is the "False Prophet" in this time of the end. Only then can you be assured of the first step in finding the gate that leads to eternal life. (Matt. 7:13, 14, 22, 23)
For more, see:
Jerusalem 607 B.C.E.