Thursday, December 1, 2016

Did Russell Claim to be a Prophet?

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.
1886
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. -- Divine Plan of the Ages, page 13.
1890
Our own views are not prophecy, but interpretations of the holy prophets of old. -- Watch Tower, October 1890, page 8
1893
Neither must you lean upon the DAWN and the TOWER  as infallible teachers. -- Watch Tower, June 1893, page 168.
By "DAWN," Russell was referring to his book series "Millennial Dawn," which were later renamed "Studies in the Scriptures."
1901
We claim no infallibility for our presentations. -- Watch Tower, April 15, 1901, page 136.
1908
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. -- Watch Tower, January 1, 1908, page 5.
1910
I am not a prophet. The very most I try to do, dear friends, is to interpret prophecy.” -- What Pastor Russell Saidpage 272.
1910
We try to be careful about every word that goes into the Watch Tower, but we do not claim to be infallible; we are doing the best we can. -- What Pastor Russell Saidpage 57.
1912
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.
1914
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.
1914
We do not claim infallibility. -- What Pastor Russell Saidpage 83
1914
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.
Anyone who proclaims any kind of message could be viewed as a prophet in the sense of  "proclaimer".
Some various references regarding the word "prophet" (we do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given):
Addendum 1
Doesn't Deuteronomy 18:22 prove that Russell was a false prophet?
Deuteronomy 18:22 - when a prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah, if the thing doesn't follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Jehovah 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 Jehovah, as those words had been given to him from Jehovah. Such a prophet would be claiming to speak as a prophet of Jehovah, 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 Jehovah.  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.
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 give 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 Jehovah 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.

ADDENUM 2:

Some are quoting something Russell stated in his book, The Time is at Hand, as proof that he was assuming the role of a prophet. What is being presented is:

In this volume we offer a chain of testimony on the subject of God's appointed times and seasons, each link of which we consider Scripturally strong, while the whole of it when viewed together, in the relationship which one part bears to another, gives evidence of a plan so broad and comprehensive, a design so deep, and a harmony so perfect, as to clearly manifest to the studious and reverent inquirer that it is beyond the breadth and depth of human thought, and therefore cannot be of human origin. These prophecies now unfolding were designed by our Lord. -- The Time is At Hand, pages 15,16.

First, we should note that there is a problem with the quote, in that the latter part is presented as a sentence as though it is referring to the "evidence" presented, and thus it makes it appear that the evidence presented is being referred to as "prophecies". Actually, the last sentence is not even in the same paragraph or on the same page as the words presented before it. It is therefore being quoted out of context and misapplied. The last sentence is part a paragraph that reads (we have added some comments in brackets):
We find in prophecy the beginning and the ending of this harvest period clearly marked, as well as the events due to occur in it. And to call attention to and trace the various lines of prophetic time to the events in which they culminate is, in substance, the object of this volume. To receive its testimony, the reader will need to have an ear to hear (Rev. 2:7; Matt. 11:15), and must expect meekly to cast away many preconceived opinions as fast as he comes to see their lack of harmony with God's Word. To such as are thus minded, and who pursue the lessons of this volume with patience and care, and in the order of their arrangement, we doubt not it will be a great blessing. If its lessons are received into good and honest hearts, we trust it will be a power to separate them from the world and to ripen them as wheat for the garner. To thus quicken and ripen and separate the saints, as wheat from tares, in this time of harvest, is the object for which, we apprehend, these prophecies now unfolding were designed by our Lord.
So what are "these prophecies" that Brother Russell was referring to? Was he claiming that the evidences and conclusions that he presented were themselves "prophecies?" Obviously not; he was referring to the prophecies of the Bible, which he believed were then unfolding. When Russell said "we", he was not speaking as being he head of an organization, such as the JW organization, nor was he speaking as a prophet. Those prophecies in the Bible are indeed, designed by God and Jesus, which Russell believed was being unfolded -- fulfilled -- in his day. Russell found in those prophecies what he believed to be a clear marking of when the harvest began (1874) and when it was to end (1914). Russell was definitely not claiming to be a divinely inspired prophet as spoken of in Deuteronomy 18, nor was he assuming authority, as does a false prophet. 
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We may be adding more to this page as we find them; if anyone knows of another quote that belongs here, please comment below.
See also:

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