Watchtower Bible & Tract Society – Date Setting


The Watchtower Society (WTS) – the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s) – is famous for its long list of failed dates. Individual Witnesses know about the ‘prophetic years’ of 1914, 1918, 1935 and 1975, but many are completely ignorant about the history of their movement! When asked today, they are most likely to deny that the WTS ever said anything about ‘the end of the world’ in 1914 and 1925. Even for a recent episode like 1975 the JWs will often flatly deny that the WTS ever proclaimed Armageddon within no more than a few months from October 1975.

This list is intended to be comprehensive, if not exhaustive. There’s a massive amount of research by many individuals behind this short summary, but we can never guarantee there are no errors. If you find any, please let us know.


End of 1260 days of Revelation 12. Start of “the last days”. Three Worlds (1877), p114.Replaced by 1799 no later than 1889, with SiS2. [Note 1]

Start of “the last days”. Napoleon debased the pope and ended the 1260 days of Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 11:1-3. WT Jan-Feb 1889 [repr p1093]. SiS2 p256. SiS3 p58,63,64 Replaced by 1914 in 1930 [Note 2]

End of the 1290 years (from 539AD) of Daniel 12:11, when William Miller’s (to become root of SDA church) movement started. SiS3 p84, SiS7 p40, 60, 163. Our Lord’s Return (1929) p27. Abandoned in 1930

William Miller’s “end of the world”. To Russell, start of the 30 year “tarrying time”, corresponding to 30 years from Jesus’ birth to his baptism. SiS2 p240
Abandoned in 1930

End of the 2300 days, G. Storrs and others abandoned false doctrines, “sanctuary cleansed”. Also start of “evangelical alliance” between protestant churches, called “spiritistic”. SiS3 p108, SiS7 p163. Abandoned in 1930

6000 years of human existance ends, start of seventh millenium: THE millenium of Revelation; the Day of the Lord. See SiS2 foreword, p39. (New chronology making 1975 the end of 6000 years was adopted in 1943, but 1975 was not made an official prophetic date until 1966, with Life Everlasting.) Abandoned in 1930

The start of Christ’s invisible presence. Russell’s most important date. Three Worlds p175, SiS2 p170, Our Lord’s Return p27, Proclaimers p133 footnote. Until around 1904, Russell taught that this year marked the start of the Battle of Armageddon, WT 1/15/92 p21-3 [repr p1355]. SiS2, p101.
Abandoned in 1930; [Note 2] WTS itself claims it was abandoned in 1943

End of “Great Jubilee Cycle.” End of 1335 days in Dan 12:12. The invisible resurrection of the saints started. (Note also that Russell held that the “Biblical year” 1875 started Oct 1874.) Three Worlds p108.
Idea of invisible resurrection in 1875 replaced by 1878 in 1881?

End of gospel age, the rapture of the saints. Three Worlds p68; Proclaimers p632; Divine Purpose p19. Naturally abandoned after 1878

Heavenly resurrection of dead saints. God’s favor returning to the Jews. Kingdom of God started to exercise power. WT Oct 1879 [repr p39]. SiS2 p101. SiS6, p663. Millions (1920) p27-8. 1928 editions of The Harp of God had removed this date from the text (see pp236, 244 in earlier editions).
Abandoned in 1928

Rapture of the saints, including Russell and other Bible Students. WT Jan 1881 [repr p180], Dec 1880 [repr p172], compare May 1881 [repr p224].
Abandoned and even denied from May 1881

Close of “high calling” to be among 144.000. Fall of Babylon. Proclaimers p632. Replaced by 1918 in 1922?. Close of “high calling” later moved to 1935

Expected rapture of the Saints, based on measurments in corridor in the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. SiS3, p364, versions issued before 1910.
Naturally abandoned after 1910

The end of this world, Christ’s literal return, the end of Armageddon and latest possible date for rapture. Jews expected to return to God’s favour.
“Present truth” until the end of 1914, but replaced by 1915 from around 1912 to Aug 1914 (start of WWI, which was felt to somehow fulfil the above prophecies about 1914).

Christ’s invisible return, start of reign as King, end of last days. “Gentile times” ended, but this has no visible effect, except an (JW-imagined) increase in violence, wars, pestilence, earthquakes and other calamities since that year. Current JW doctrine. From 1922 this was held to be start of Christ’s *reign*, from 1930 also the start of invisible presence (earlier held to be 1874). [Note 2] Until recently, the WTS taught that some of those who experienced the events in 1914 would be alive to see the end of the world. This “1914 generation” doctrine was removed in November 1995. See WT 11/1 1995 p17. The “Creator’s promise” about the end of the world before the 1914-generation died was removed from masthead (p4) of Awake! in 11/8 1995 issue. Whole idea of “generation” in Mt 24:34 being specific individuals is now abandoned.

The end of the world. From ~1912 until start of WWI this year replaced 1914 in Russell’s writings, since 2520 years from 606BC ends in 1915 not 1914 as Russell had thought. The fact that there is no zero year was “forgotten” when some events happened in 1914. In 1943 the idea that had been promoted in SiS7, namely to move Jerusalem’s destruction from 606 to 607BC, was officially adopted (The fact that Jerusalem according to Bible chronology fell in 587BC does not interfere with Watchtower chronology.)
Year abandoned after start if WWI

False religion, especially Christendom, to be destroyed. Demons would enter the minds of clergy, the “swine class”, causing them to do stupid things that provokes “the masses” to destroy them. “Church members by millions” thus killed by God. SiS7 p128, 485. Naturally abandoned after 1918

Fall of Babylon, close of call to be among 144.000. This year is still held by JWs to be date for fall of Babylon, “all false religion.” See Revelation Climax p260 which says “So by 1919 Babylon the Great had fallen”. Current JW doctrine. Close of “high calling” was later moved to 1935.

The Bible Student/Watchtower movement chosen by Christ to be only “channel” of communication from God to men. Current JW doctrine.

Worldwide anarchy, collapse and fall of all earthly governments. SiS7 p258.
Naturally abandoned after 1920

The end of the world immediately following the resurrection of “men of old” (Biblical heroes listed in Hebrews chapter 11). Establishment of Kingdom in Palestine. SiS7 p128, Millions p88,97. Very definite statements in WT 6/15 1922; 4/1 1923, elsewhere. Naturally abandoned after 1925, even though the date itself was held to be somehow fixed in the Scriptures even as late as in 1931 (Vindication I p338).

Close of “high calling” to be of the 144.000. From this date, JWs have taught that the “great Company/Crowd” in Rev 7 will live on Earth, not in heaven. The “Great Crowd”, all JWs except ~8000 living now, is not considered anointed Christians, is not “born again,” do not partake in communion and does not have Christ as mediator. They expect eternal life on Earth. See WT 6/15 1992 p23; Proclaimers (1993) p166. This date is justified only on the fact that the doctrine about earthly hope for “great crowd” was created in 1935. Current JW doctrine

WW2 was expected to end in Armageddon, God’s War. WT 9/15 1941 p288 talked about the “remaining months before Armageddon.” Idea abandoned in 1943, after death of Rutherford, when the Watchtower Society started to proclaim a “very short” period of peace after WWII.

This was 37 years after 1914, like Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD, which was 37 years after Christ’s death (WTS chronology). Some WT articles in 1950 hinted strongly to this parallell. WT 11/1 1950 p407; 9/1 1950 p277; compare WT 3/15 1951 p179 and 4/1 1951 p214 both pointing out that “we are 37 years into the ‘time of the end’ of this world.” Idea was abandoned in WT 9/1 1952 p542

Theoretical length of 1914-generation after the old “30-40 years” definition. See WT 9/1 1952 p542. “Generation” idea based on Matt 24:34, but it was finally abandoned in WT Nov 1, 1995. Replaced by 70-80 year generation in 1952

End of 6000 year of human history after WTS chronology. Strongly hinted to be end of the world; could only be a matter of “days and months, not years” before Armageddon. Life Everlasting p26-30; WT 7/15 1967 p446-7; 8/15 1968 p499; 5/1 1975 p 285. See also YB 1980 p30-31. Abandoned and now even denied after 1975. When challenged by older JW’s who were looking forward to the date, they will blame the fault on “overzealous” members!

Object for much speculation about maximum length of a generation, based on 70 years from 1914 and Psalm 90:10. See WT 9/1 1952 p542; WT 12/1 1968 p715. Abandoned silently as date approached and eventually past.

Declared by United Nations to be “International Year of Peace,” which caused much expectations with JWs about the expected declaration of “peace and security”, a sign of the imminent end based on a special interpretation of 1Th 5:3. WT 10/1 1985 p18. Silently forgotten after 1986

Object for much speculation about maximum length of generation, again like 1984. See WT 9/1 1952 p542; WT 12/1 1968 p715.
Abandoned silently as date approached and past.

End of world expected to come before end of century. WT 1/1 1989 p12 (work to be completed “…in our 20th century”, text changed in bound volume); WT 10/15 1980 p31 (“highly improbable” that this world continues to 2000); 3/1 1984 p18-19 (“end much closer than [2000]”).


Note 1: References to this beginning of the “last days” in 1798/9 is found to be remarkably absent in many of Russell’s writings. In fact, 1798 was a part of in Barbour’s chronology, with the (alleged) start of papal rule in 538AD as a basis year, but Russell replaced it with 1799 (539AD basis) in the beginning of 1889. The 1799 date was emphasised as late as in Our Lord’s Return, a Rutherford booklet from 1929, but evidently abandoned with almost all of the old chronology in 1930, with Light I. See Note 2.

Note 2: Sometime between the booklet Our Lord’s Return in 1929 and Vindication I in 1931 Rutherford rejected almost all of Russell’s old chronology and many other central doctrines. The book Light I (1930) emphasised the time from 1879 to 1918 as a time of preparation, and 1918 as the coming of the Lord to his temple. 1914 is stated to be the year God put Christ on his throne. 1874 is understood to be wrong. The first explicit statement about Christ’s “parousia” from 1914 seems to be in the 1932 booklet What is Truth? which says “The prophecy of the Bible, fully supported by the physical facts in fulfilment thereof, shows that the second coming of Christ dates from the fall of the year 1914.” For some strange reason, the WTS book God’s Kingdom (1973), p207-9, claimed this change from 1874 to 1914 came in 1943, when the WTS completed a new chronological system, which included moving Jerusalem’s destruction from 606BC to 607BCE to keep the 1914 date while finally accounting for the non-existing “zero year.” See also Proclaimers p133.

Note 3: Some Watchtower dates are NOT included in this listing, notably those who were derived from earlier chronology but were abandoned long before that year approached. One example: SiS7 p61, 62 says “The actual depopulation of the whole of Palestine did not occur until the year 135 A. D. (corresponding to our year 1980), . . . It is possible that A. D. 1980 may have something of special interest for Fleshly Israel, but certainly not for us. It is 70 years beyond 1910, the date when Pastor Russell gave his great witness to the Jewish people in the New York Hippodrome.”

Key to Publication Codes

Three Worlds:
Nelson Barbour and C. T. Russell: Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World, Rochester, NY 1877. Written by Nelson Barbour. Russell financed the publication and is listed as co-author (Note: NOT a Watch Tower Society booklet, but still listed in their Watch Tower Publications Index).

C. T. Russell/Rutherford et al/anonymous: Zion’s Watch Tower, Watch Tower and The Watchtower, periodical issued by Watch Tower Society. Semimonthly in English and most major languages. Editor from start in 1879 to 1916 was Charles Taze Russell. Abbreviation “repr” refers to page numbers in “reprints” issued by WTS in 1919 and still printed (1879-1916 volumes) by some Bible Student groups in the USA.

Studies in the Scriptures, volumes 1-6 by C. T. Russell and Volume 7 by Woodworth and Fisher. Series also named Millennial Dawn before 1904; see Proclaimers p53 footnote. Note that new revisions with sometimes substantial changes were reissued by Russell and the Watch Tower Society until at least 1926. Changes are not noted, and it’s often difficult to know when a particular book is printed.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures I: The Divine Plan of the Ages, 1886.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures II: The Time is at Hand, 1889.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures III: Thy Kingdom Come, 1891.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures IV: The Day of Vengeance, 1897. Later called The Battle of Armageddon.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures V: The At-one-ment Between God and Man, 1899.

C. T. Russell: Studies in the Scriptures VI: The New Creation, 1904.

Studies in the Scriptures VII: The Finished Mystery, 1917. This volume was claimed to be the posthumous work of Russell, but was really written by Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher under supervision of Rutherford.

Joseph Rutherford: Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1920. Booklet.

The Harp of God:
Joseph Rutherford: The Harp of God, 1921.

Rutherford/anonymous: Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Annual book with official reports and statement for the previous year, and usually giving the history of the JWs in one or two specific countries.

Our Lord’s Return:
Joseph Rutherford: Our Lord’s Return, 1929. Booklet.

Light I:
Joseph Rutherford: Light I, 1930.

Vindication I:
Joseph Rutherford: Vindication I, 1931.

What is Truth?:
Joseph Rutherford: What is Truth?, 1932. Booklet.

Anonymous: Periodical by Watch Tower Society. Semimonthly in English and most major languages.

Divine Purpose:
Anonymous: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, 1959. Previous official history of the JWs.

Life Everlasting:
Anonymous: Life Everlasting – in Freedom of the Sons of God, 1966.

God’s Kingdom:
Anonymous: God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years has Approached, 1973.

Revelation Climax:
Anonymous: Revelation – Its Great Climax is at Hand!, 1988. “Commentary” to the book of Revelation. JWs have a historicism (and premillenistic) interpretation of the book of Revelation, applying JW events in our time to symbols and events in the Revelation.

Anonymous: Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, 1993. Current official history of the JWs.

Nb: This article was sent to Mandate Ministries without due recognition of an author? If anyone recognises the article, please contact us and we will annotate accordingly. MM