The "1914 generation"

The Watchtower Society said this in God's name:
"Jehovah's prophetic word through Jesus Christ is: 'This generation [of 1914] will by no means pass away until all things occur.' (Luke 21:32) And Jehovah, who is the source of inspired and unfailing prophecy, will bring about the fulfillment."
--THE WATCHTOWER May 15, 1984, pages 6-7 The expression "[of 1914]" is in the original.

Does "new light" excuse false prophecy?

Since the Watchtower Society has told JWs to "avoid independent thinking...questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization" (WATCHTOWER January 15, 1983, page 22), any free discussion must originate from outside--primarily from those of us who have left the organization.

"...the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away"

--AWAKE! magazine, page 4, each issue from March 8, 1988 through October 22, 1995.

Suddenly, Jehovah's Witnesses no longer believe in "the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away." Why this major change in teaching? What happened?

Since the late 1940's AWAKE! magazine had been promising the "sure hope for the establishment of a righteous New World" on page 2 of each issue. Then in 1964 it added the assurance that this would happen in this generation: "...reflecting sure hope for the establishment of God's righteous new order in this generation."

In 1975 it was no longer AWAKE! magazine's promise but now became the Creator's promise: "...the Creator's promise of a new order of lasting peace and true security within our generation." (January 8, 1975) It was a very serious step to add this expression, since it meant that the Watchtower Society was now prophesying in the Creator's namečin God's name. The Creator warns in the Bible against doing this without receiving a command from Him to do so:

"But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."--Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NIV

Did the Creator really command the Society to say that He promised the new order would come "within our generation"?

Elsewhere, the Society specified more precisely what it meant by "our generation":

"Jesus was obviously speaking about those who were old enough to witness with understanding what took place when the 'last days' began. ... Even if we presume that youngsters 15 years of age would be perceptive enough to realize the import of what happened in 1914, it would still make the youngest of 'this generation' nearly 70 years old today....Jesus said that the end of this wicked world would come before that generation passed away in death." --AWAKE! October 8, 1968, page 13

In 1982 the Watchtower Society changed the prophecy on page 2 of each AWAKE! issue to include the same thought about 1914. It was no longer a vague "our generation" that would see the world's end, but the generation that saw the events of 1914: "...the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new order before the generation that saw the events of 1914 C.E. passes away." (January 8, 1982)

Nearly identical wording repeated this prophecy in each issue until January 8, 1987, when AWAKE!'s statement of purpose was moved to page 4 in a redesigned format. Starting with that issue, the 1914 generation prophecy was dropped entirely, without explanation.

Then it was restored--again without explanation--on page 4 of the March 8, 1988 issue: "...the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away"--wording that continued to appear through October, 1995.

By then, however, the generation that saw the events of 1914 had largely passed away. All that remained were a relatively few surviving individuals in their late 90's--people nearly a hundred years old. Obviously, the prophecy had failed. Continuing to print it as spiritual food for Jehovah's Witnesses was like serving meat or milk long after the "sell before" date stamped on the package. Like spoiled food, the expired prophecy began to stink. JW leaders in Brooklyn finally replaced it in the November 8, 1995 Awake! by returning to language similar to that used prior to 1964. Awake! now declares "...the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things."

Actually the prophecy on page 4 of each Awake! is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. It is the most prominent part of a whole chronological system of Bible interpretation that has proved false. This is the most noticeable revision, so far, in a process of changing beliefs that has only just begun.


adapted from an article by David A. Reed in the Winter 1996 issue of COMMENTS FROM THE FRIENDS. (See the actual issue for pages of additional information.)

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Last updated: March 10, 1996