By Ronald R. Day
One claims that Russell was a "self-appointed prophet." Did Charles Taze Russell claim to be a prophet? Did he claim not to be prophet? Did he claim to be infallible? Did he claim that he was fallible? Did he present his expectations as "prophecy"?
We first need to note that although it wildly assumed that Charles Taze Russell was the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, in fact, Russell was never a member of that organization, nor did he believe in such an organization. It was Rutherford and his associates [not Russell] that promoted the idea of "join us or be eternally destroyed in Armageddon" dogma.
We are providing a few short quotes below from Russell concerning how he viewed himself regarding infallibility or as being a prophet.
We trust, however, that a wide distinction will be recognized between the earnest, sober and reverent study of prophecy and other scriptures, in the light of accomplished historic facts, to obtain conclusions which sanctified common sense can approve, and a too common practice of general speculation, which, when applied to divine prophecy, is too apt to give loose rein to wild theory and vague fancy. Those who fall into this dangerous habit generally develop into prophets (?) instead of prophetic students. --, page 13.
Our own views are not prophecy, but interpretations of the holy prophets of old. -- page 8, October 1890,
Neither must you lean upon the DAWN and the TOWER as infallible teachers. -- page 168., June 1893,
By "DAWN," Russell was referring to his book series "Millennial Dawn," which were later renamed "Studies in the Scriptures."
We claim no infallibility for our presentations. -- Watch Tower, April 15, 1901, page 136.
We are not prophesying; we are merely giving our surmises, the Scriptural basis for which is already in the hands of our readers in the six volumes of SCRIPTURE STUDIES. We do not even aver that there is no mistake in our interpretation of prophecy and our calculations of chronology. -- , January 1, 1908, page 5.
I am not a prophet. The very most I try to do, dear friends, is to interpret prophecy.” -- page 272.,
We try to be careful about every word that goes into the page 57., but we do not claim to be infallible; we are doing the best we can. -- ,
We have not prophesied anything about the Times of the Gentiles closing in a time of trouble nor about the glorious epoch which will shortly follow that catastrophe.... We merely state that we believe thus and so, for such and such reasons. -- Watch Tower, December 1, 1912, page 377.
Some one may ask, Since the fulfilment of the various time prophecies demonstrates that God's methods of operating are slow, may it not be that the Kingdom will not be ushered in for five, ten or even twenty-five years? Our reply is, we are not a prophet; we merely believe that we have come to the place where the Gentile Times have ended. If the Lord has five years more for us here, we shall be very glad to be on this side of the veil; and we feel sure that all the Lord's truly consecrated children also will be glad to be on this side if it is the Lord's will. If the Lord has even one more year for us as good as the past year has been, what more could we ask? -- Watch Tower, November 1, 1914, page 329.
We do not claim infallibility. -- page 83,
So far as I can see, however, this railroad strike is likely to be settled in an amicable way. I think it will be. I am not a prophet. It looks to me as though it would be. -- What Pastor Russell Said, page 676.
In 1908, Russell wrote concerning prophets:
The signification of the word prophet is "proclaimer"--not necessarily a proclaimer of future things, however. For instance, the Scriptures refer to the prophets and seers, the latter-named referring particularly to the seeing of visions and the foreseeing of coming events. Strictly speaking, a prophet is one who teaches or proclaims, though in many instances the two qualities are combined in one individual. -- Watch Tower, January 1, 1908, page 8.
It should be obvious that when Russell stated that he was not a prophet, that he meant that he claiming that he was not one seeing of visions and the foreseeing of coming events. This is what is meant by "prophet" in Deuteronomy 18:15-19; it should be obvious that this does not apply to Russell, since he never claimed to have received any message or commandment from God -- no visions, no angels, etc. He simply claimed to present his conclusions based on study of prophecy as already given in the Bible.
Some various references regarding the word "prophet" (we do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given):
Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. "Hebrew Lexicon entry for Naba'". "The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon".
Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. "Hebrew Lexicon entry for Nabiy'". "The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon"
Doesn't Deuteronomy 18:22 prove that Russell was a false prophet?
Deuteronomy 18:22 - when a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing doesn't follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you shall not be afraid of him.
Deuteronomy 18:20 But the prophet, who shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.
In context, Moses is speaking of a prophet who claims to be speaking the words of Yahweh, as those words had been given to him from Yahweh. Such a prophet would be claiming to speak as a prophet of Yahweh, claiming to have received a vision or dream (Numbers 12:26), or had a received a visit from an angel, and thus he would be professing what he was saying were the words of Yahweh. Russell made no such claim; in fact, he disclaimed being such a prophet.
Nevertheless, we believe that Russell's expectation that the "time of trouble" would begin in 1914 proved to be true, and that we have been in that time of trouble ever since 1914. His expectation that the harvest would end in 1914, and that the church would be completed and exalted in 1914 did not happen.
See our series on Russell's Expectations for 1914
Someone asks: Didn't Russell's prophecies concerning 1914, 1915 and 1918 fail, and thus, does this not prove him to be a false prophet? The fact is, however, that Russell never made any prophecies concerning 1914, 1915 or 1918. Russell, at various times, did given what he believed would happen on those dates, but he never spoke of his expectations as being something directly from God, as did the prophets in the Old Testament, or as Jesus.
Someone asks: "If Charles Taze Russell got his conclusions from bible prophesy then why couldn't he tell us the scriptures stating the dates he gave?" Both Barbour and Russell did provide the scriptures. See Russell's Studies in the Scritptures, Volume 2 and Volume 3.
One quotes Strong's definition of the New Testament word #4394, which states:
4394 propheteia prof-ay-ti'-ah from 4396 ("prophecy"); prediction (scriptural or other):--prophecy, prophesying.
The claim is made that this is what Russell did; Strong did not usually elaborate to much on meaning, as many others did. The Greek word #4394, as Strong's states, is from #4396. Strong gives the latter the meaning:
4396 prophetes prof-ay'-tace
from a compound of 4253 and 5346; a foreteller ("prophet"); by
analogy, an inspired speaker; by extension, a poet:--prophet.
Thus, he gives several different definitions for the word. Strong, however, is not infallible, nor is any other scholar who attempts to give definitions for Bible words. We gave links earlier to some works that give more elaborate definitions for both the Hebrew and Greek words involved. Often, however, such works go beyond how the words are used in the Bible to add later theological meanings and/or meanings found in other works aside from the Bible.
Nevertheless, if any statement by anyone at any time of his expectations for anything to happen at a future dates constitutes that person as a prophet who, if his stated expectations did happen, means that the persons is a false prophet, then every preacher in every church of every denomination could be subject to being such a false prophet. For example, a minister states his expectation of giving a sermon on a specific topic on a specific date, but when the date arrives, he may be ill, or some other unforeseen circumstance prohibits him from fulfilling his stated expectations. Are we to think of him as a "false prophet" because his expectations failed to materialize? How many of us state expectations concerning next Monday, next Wednesday, next month, next year, based on what we know at the time. If our expectations fail to materialize, are we then all false prophets?
At any rate, Russell was certainly not a prophet claiming to be speaking the words of Yahweh as though he had been given any visions, or that an angel appeared to him, etc. In fact, as we have shown he disclaimed such many times. He openly admitted that his conclusions could be in error, but he believed that the Bible prophecies were true, even if his conclusions concerning those prophecies were true or not true. Russell indeed never ever once claimed to be a prophet.
Nor was he a prophet claiming to have special authority to speak for God, or for Christ, as such a prophet spoken of in Matthew 7:15; 24:11,24; Mark 13:22; Luke 6:26.
Neither did Russell speak as a "central authority" for an organization, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell did not believe in such a sectarian authority. See also the following links:
Nevertheless, the Greek forms are based on the Hebrew, not the Hebrew on the Greek.
One claims that Charles Taze Russell's expectations are no different than the predictions of Jim Jones. As already shown, Russell's expectations were not prophecies. Jim Jones claimed not only that he was a prophet of God, but that he was God, that he was Jesus, that he was Buddha, and he made many other claims. As already shown, Russell disclaimed any such thought. Jones was very sectarian in his claims; Russell endeavored to remain free from sectarianism. Russell did not use his expectations to incite fear or as a means to get others to submit to him; Jones did. Very little comparison.
It is claimed that Jim Jones had a major following after scaring people with his nuclear apocalypse of 1961, and that the Charles Taze Russell had the same reactions, to that they "reformed" into an organization and became "Jehovah's Witnesses". I am not sure exactly how this is meant to tie together; Russell did not believe in the a JW-type end of the world, nor in a JW-type of Armageddon, nor was he ever expecting such. In the year 1915, approximately one year before his death, Russell was still preaching against sectarianism. See his sermon on "St. Peter's Keys" .
We are not associated with the Jehovah's Witnesses, nor was Russell; if one wishes to bring up their organization, or that the JW organization is one is one of many deceptions of Satan (Revelation 12:9), we agree that the JW organization is one of the tools by which Satan is misleading people today. Russell, however, was not responsible for the creation of the organization.
We may be adding more to this page as we find them; if anyone knows of another quote that belongs here, please comment below or click here to contact us.
If the above link does not display properly in your browser, click here.