What The Great Disappointment of 1843-44 Should Teach Us

In Point Four Of This Article I Say a Little About William Miller, the Real Founder of Adventism and of the Conspirational Approach to Bible Prophecy.

A few of my friends worry that I might be missing out when so often I treat Bible prophecy guros and Bible prophecy websites with a certain amount of disdain and a mighty pinch of salt!

What is my big problem with the topic of Bible prophecy and the way it is so often handled?

I think I can break this down into about 5 points:

  1. There is too much speculation involved!

    One can read a long page of information about how this or that prophecy has been fulfilled or is about to be fulfilled and it can be quite intriguing but then one suddenly realises that everything one is reading is about 99.9% speculation – there are no hard, definite facts anywhere to be found; it is all 'perhaps' or 'maybe' or 'many people think' or 'all prophecy experts agree' – that last one is especially annoying since it is almost always the exact opposite of the truth; more likely it is a case of 'some prophecy experts think'. Sometimes one can read a long page of such speculation then suddenly realise that all of this is based on the interpretation of about 3 biblical verses – all of which are quite capable of being interpreted entirely differently. But – probably even worse – sometimes such speculation is treated as though it is established, proven fact when it simply is not and this can really deceive the impressionable! (1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

  2. Most Bible prophecy specialists engage in 'eisegesis', rather than 'exegesis'!

    Let me explain: 'exegesis' refers to drawing truths out of the Bible by very careful interpretative work. This means checking the context of a group of verses, checking the context of the chapter, and of course checking the context of that entire book of the Bible. Then the Greek will need to be carefully considered (Hebrew in the case of the Old Testament). A skilled interpreter will not rush to any rash judgment, realising that this is the inspired Word of God!!

    But 'eisegesis' has the opposite meaning; it refers to the practise of reading things into the inspired text – rather than drawing things out! It refers to imposing ones own preferred ideas/concepts upon the Bible. Of course, most people who do this are quite sincere but that is not the point – it is dangerous interpretive practise. We have no right to impose our own opinions – or the opinions of our favourite prophecy guro - into the sacred Word of God (Revelation 22:18-19).

  3. Most Bible prophecy experts are never willing to consider that their private interpretation could be completely wrong!

    If any of you out there have found some Bible prophecy writer willing to admit that he could be completely wrong, please tell me about him because such a person is probably very rare!! But they are showing 'faith' only in their own judgment – not in the Holy Scriptures! They steadfastly hold to their own interpretation or maybe to the interpretation of somebody who they first learned it from – that is quite different to steadfastly holding to the clear scriptural revelation of Jesus Christ and His gospel – now that is the really important thing. It is possible to find 2 or 3 equally commited prophecy writers all covering the same prophecy in a different way yet none of them prepared to admit that they could be at least partly in error – I'm afraid that I find that nothing more than vanity!

  4. If the particular interpretation offered is in error, it can be spiritually dangerous for one's followers!

    In the 19th century United States one William Miller came up with some extreme and very specific interpretations of Bible prophecy which Miller insisted were “sure to come to pass” - he predicted the very return of Christ for the Hebrew year running from March 21st, 1843, to March 21st, 1844, after carefully studying Scriptures in Daniel and Revelation. In a very real sense Miller was the founder of a whole series of cults and sects who would come along and closely base their approach on his. Miller built up thousands of loyal supporters many of whom started to sell up their farms and homesteads around 1842 believing Christ's return was only months away, but of course Christ did not return in 1843-44! This period became known as The Great Disappointment and a disappointment it certainly was, for thousands walked away from the Christian faith altogether, some became commited to mental asylums and at least one of Miller's supporters took his own life! The followers of Miller later developed into the Seventh Day Adventists after Miller himself had passed from the scene.

    But Miller was not the last – others have followed his approach with later dates being foolishly set for the Parousia (Christ's Second Coming). Today most have at least learned not to set dates, yet Miller's unwise overall approach of putting all one's prophetic eggs into one basket (Prophetic Particularism) can still be found all over the place. I am deeply saddened that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ just do not learn. Make no mistake: the unwise use and application of Bible prophecy can lead to the shipwrecking of one's faith! (2 Peter 2:1-3).

  5. Overly focusing on Bible prophecy often leads to taking one's eyes off Christ!

    As many of you know, my wife and I once fellowshipped with the original Armstrongist group, the Worldwide Church of God (now no longer Armstrongist). Bible prophecy was important within that group yet even there probably most held it in some sort of balance, but we certainly had some prophecy extremists; some of these people would come up with whole graphs and charts of how prophecy would finally work out: they would name names and often quote dates (not usually the date of the parousia though). One might visit their homes and sometimes find these charts pinned on their walls – these people were so, so certain that their charts/graphs were accurate! But almost invariably prophecy was the only part of the Bible which appeared to seriously grab their attention.

    Truth is, I never found one of these prophecy extremists for whom Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel was central! They were not too interested in the gospel. Yes, I have heard of other prophecy extremists since that time of other backgrounds and all too often I find great similarities; its as though the pure message of the gospel is not exciting enough for them, they just love intrigues, conspiracies and plots; they feel that they have found those things in the Bible, but why do I get the feeling that if they had not found those things there they would have gone looking elsewhere for them?

    Okay, What CAN We Say About Bible Prophecy?

    If you want an excellent little book which will tell you how most of the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled, try to obtain the marvellous Halley's Bible Handbook – a marvellous pocket-sized book which never ages, a testimony to the supreme wisdom and biblical understanding of Henry Halley. Let me say here quite clearly that most of the prophecy contained within the Holy Bible (probably over 80% of it) has in my opinion already – quite clearly – been fulfilled! Since there is so much misunderstanding on this point I will probably soon – time allowing! - commence a series of articles outlining some of these prophecies.

    Regarding the future, the Second Coming of Christ is, I think, nearer than many of us dare believe; the resurrection will then occur, followed by the Great Judgment and the restoration of all things. These things are sure and certain! But regarding events leading up to Christ's return I am generally not prepared to speculate since the relevant Scriptures are capable of more than one interpretation but I do sincerely believe that for a short time prior to the Parousia all Christian witnessing and preaching will be banned world-wide. Moreover I already see moves being made which will lead to this ban. But to what extent specific nations or specific world figures are going to be involved in the events leading up to the Second Coming I do not speculate and let me suggest to you that if you do name names, nations and instituitions you could be being very unwise!! The lesson of the rampant Bible prophecy speculation of the last two hundred years is that probably 75% of it has already been shown to be in error – are you sure you want to join that group?

    Robin A. Brace, 2005.

    We have other articles which discuss Bible prophecy. Here are just a few of them:

    The Golden Rules of Biblical Interpretation

    Ending the Abuse of Bible Prophecy

    Burdened About Prophecy Fever

    Are There Prophets in Today's Church?

    Why Did John Use Apocalyptic To Write Revelation?

    The Move Away From Legalism



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