Seventh-day Adventism and the William Miller Connection
In order to really understand the Seventh-day Adventist sect we really have to understand the Adventist movement of the early 19th century, and in particular what happened just a couple of years after what has come to be known as “the Great Disappointment” of 1844, where in midst of this confusion coupled with the already great confusion of 100’s of Protestant sects teaching hundreds of different doctrines, a little girl – a teenager – named Ellen Gould White, stood up and said, “Thus saith God!” “I’ve got the truth here folks and it comes straight from God!”
Say what you will of Ellen White. Wrong as wrong can be on many things? Yes. Heretic? Absolutely. But in the words of wise Yoda: “Fascinating woman, she is!”
For my Apostolic Insiders, you are here going to get the inside view of a ton of research that is going to be the foundation of a new CD set I am putting together on the Seventh-day Adventist sect (from here forward, I will refer to it as the “SDA”) that I will be taping probably within the next month to two months. It probably will not have the detail, however, that you are going to get here.
I will do this over two posts now, and I’ll probably give you several more “insider” posts in the next couple months. Get ready!
At any rate, here we go…
SDA and the “prophet” Ellen White
The History of the Adventist movement is characterized by two crucial categories we are going to focus on over these first two posts on the SDA. You have to understand these in order to both understand and to be able to respond to, the claims of the SDA:
1. The SDA obviously emphasizes the ADVENT or coming of the Lord. They’ve got the scoop that everybody else misses when it comes to the Advent of Christ.
2. The emphasis upon a living prophet or “the spirit of prophecy” as Ellen White called it, that gives clarity to Scripture, not only concerning the coming of the Lord, and to future events, but also in clarifying the true beliefs of Christians. That is the “prophetic” word. Ellen Gould White, the Founder of the Seventh-day Adventist community, the only surviving major denomination (there are some smaller ones) from the Adventist movement, is to this day considered to be a prophetess. In fact, in the SDA’s 1988 declaration of the 27 essentials of faith (which they raised to 28, in 2005, by the way), called “Adventists Believe,” they declare Ellen White to be a prophet, in Fundamental belief #17. And by the way, so did Ellen White. And this is extremely important to remember: She said of her visions, prophecies, and teachings, that they are either all true or they are of the devil. There is no middle ground, right? (That would be in “Testimonies for the Church,” Vol. 4, pg. 230, and Vol. 5, pg. 98. A true prophet, she was (there goes Yoda, again!).
Well, then, that makes things easy for we apologists. If what Ellen White said is true, we would only need to find one bogus prophetic word from her to check her off the list of possible prophets, right?
Well, here’s two for you right off the bat. How’s that? First, we’ll consider a “prophetic utterance” dealing with a past event (from White’s vantage point, anyway, because remember the “spirit of prophecy” does not only speak to matters in the future, but it simply means to “speak forth the mind of God).”
In her book, “the Great Controversy Between Jesus Christ and the Devil,” published in 1858, Ellen White speaks of one of the great Adventist preachers of her youth, Josiah Litch, who in 1838 prophesied, says Ellen White, just two years “before it happened,” the demise of the Ottoman Empire! And she goes into glorious detail of just how prophetic Josiah Litch really was!
Are you getting this?
Folks, tell the 1.5 million Armenians and the 100 thousand Greeks who were slaughtered by that same monstrous empire during and after WWI that they actually no longer existed! Folks, the Ottoman Empire began in the 13th century and ended in 1922! They outlasted Ellen White who died in 1915!
What does this mean?
Folks, she couldn’t even get the prophetic word right when she was speaking of events in the past! In this case, she was speaking of an event that occurred, but really didn’t occur, 20 years earlier.
How about her prophesies of the future you ask? Okay. In “Testimonies for the Church,” Vol. 1, 131-132 (this is from a nine volume set published in 1909 that chronicles over 2,000 of Mrs. White’s “visions”), White speaks of a conference she spoke at where she had a vision during the conference and an angel appeared to her and said of the throngs of people that were there: “Some [of these will be] food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues [from Rev. 8 and 9], some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.”
Really? Obviously, Jesus didn’t come during the lives of any of those conference-goers. Can we all say together, “False prophet!”
The SDA and history
Let’s go back in time, now, to the very beginning, even before the beginning of the SDA, and to the Adventist Movement itself out of which the SDA would historically arise to really get a sense of what constitutes the SDA:
What about the “Advent” part of the “Adventist movement?”
The “Adventist movement” historically grew out of a frenzied climate of movement after movement in Protestantism in the late 18th and early 19th century in America that led to a number of preachers passionately preaching the end of the world.
Oh boy, we’ve never seen that before, have we? Wink, wink!
This movement consisted of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and more, but with a Baptist Minister named William Miller eventually taking the helm. Miller was heavily influenced by the commentary of an Anglican Clergyman, James Ussher, who was an Anglican during its heavy-Calvinist period in the early 1600’s. He himself was an avowed Calvinist. And he became well-known for creating a timeline “from the Bible” that determined creation to have OCCURRED in 4,036 B.C.
NOT 4,035 B.C. mind you! 4,036 B.C.! And he would also (wrongly) date the decree of King Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:11-25 to the reign of Artaxerxes I and to have been decreed in 457 B.C. rather than what it truly was: a decree of Artaxerxes II in ca. 400 B.C. (more on this later!) And this decree, he said, is the key to understanding Daniel 9:24-27, which, he said, claimed it would be 69 weeks of years from the time of that declaration that Christ would come! This is wrong, folks, as we will see, but this would later become one of two key dates foundational to the Adventist movement and later to the SDA denomination that is foundational to their belief system even to this day. More on that in a moment. But first…
We must understand that, as Laura Vance points out in her book, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, Miller adopted both the Protestant principle of interpretation “sola scriptura,” that is, that the Bible is “self-authenticating (at least, as Calvin said) and solely sufficient,” but he also accepted a “biblicism” that most Protestants today would not even agree with, namely, “the principle that the Bible is wholly homogenous, meaning that any passage can be used to clarify the significance of any other passage irrespective of context (Vance, page 15).” For Miller, all you really need is a Bible, a concordance to find Scriptures, and the most important thing… FAITH! This will be important to remember to make sense out of some of Miller’s exegesis that makes no sense! Well, it didn’t have to make sense!
Convenient, wouldn’t you say?
William Miller’s four key principles for understanding prophecy
William Miller claimed to have discovered four key principles to understanding the Book of Daniel that unlocked the door to understanding everything concerning the coming of the Lord in Scripture, whether in Daniel or elsewhere. Are you ready for this?
First Principle: In prophecy in Scripture, a day always means a year. And not just when the Scriptures speak of “seventy weeks of years” like we see in Daniel 9:24, but always!
If you asked him why, of course, he would probably have said in good W.C. Fields fashion, “Get away from me kid, you bother me!” He didn’t really have a biblical reason! And he was wrong as we’ll see in a moment…
But at any rate, that was the first key. And why? Well, this leads us to his:
Second Principle: The seventy weeks of years, minus one week of years (or “490 weeks of years,” as it is presented in Daniel, seven of which, or “one week of years” apply only to the final destruction of the temple in AD 70 because Jesus employs the language of Daniel in Matt. 24:15 when he says the destruction of the Temple would be the fulfillment of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” And he got this partly correct, by the way) refers to 483 “years” (69 weeks of years) in Daniel 9:24-26, and begins with the declaration, says William Miller, that King Artaxerxes I decreed commanding that the Jews be allowed and funded to rebuild the Temple and city of Jerusalem, in Ezra 7:11-26. Also, Miller says, these years end with the coming of the Lord 2,000 years ago. And that decree, mind you, occurred in 457 BC. 483-457= 26 or 27 AD.
And if you asked Miller why 457 B.C., this time he would probably say, “Because James Ussher, the Anglican clergyman said so!” Remember, the same guy who said the creation occurred in 4,036 B.C.? That’s the guy!
And if you asked him why we should accept James Ussher’s opinion here? What would he say? In good W.C. Fields fashion, once again, he would probably have said, “Get away from me kid you bother me!”
William Miller’s theory exposed
Miller has a number of key presuppositions that are demonstrably wrong. The first of which is this: the Book of Ezra gives us a definite timeline that excludes the possibility that Miller could have been wrong about the decree of King Artaxerxes. But let’s first read Daniel 9:24-26:
Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.
Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed.
I should note here that it is commonly understood among the Fathers of the Church that this prophecy of Daniel does refer to the coming of Christ. However, early Christian writers like Julianus Africanus, in his Chronicles, Bk. 5, written in the late second or early third century, and Sulpitius Severus, writing ca. AD 400, understood first that it was Artaxerxes II that gave the order to rebuild the Temple and city in Ezra 7:11-26 that Miller refers to as being Artaxerxes I and in 457 B.C. All one has to do is go through Ezra and you see a clear timeline.
First of all, we have to know what historians generally agree, from Josephus’s “Antiquity of the Jews,” to Scripture itself, is the general timeline of the Rulers of the Persian Empire:
550-529 BC – Cyrus II (the Great) He issued the famous “decree” of Ezra 1 (see also Isaiah 45:1)
529-522 – Cambyses
521-486 – Darius I
485-465 – Xerxes I
465-424 – Artaxerxes I
424 – Xerxes II
424 – Sogdianius
423-404 – Darius II
404-358 – Artaxerxes II
358-338 – Artaxerxes III
338-336 – Arses
336-330 – Darius III
Given this timeline, we first discover in Ezra 1 that God stirred the heart of Cyrus the Great, after having conquered Babylon and the whole known world at the time, to empty the treasures of Nebuchadnezzar which he carried away from Jerusalem so that the Jewish people could rebuild the temple (and the city is implied) the Babylonians had destroyed. This is why Cyrus is referred to by God himself as “my anointed” in Isaiah 45:1. Ezra 1 says “in the first year,” but this probably refers to “the first year” after he had conquered Babylon. We know that this occurred in 539 BC, the eleventh year of his reign. Ezra chapters 2-3 talk about the building that begins and continues for years. It was an enormous task. First, you had to re-establish the priesthood, ensure the genealogies were right, etc.
But after years of endeavor, problems arose and the people already living there including some from the Northern tribes (that is, not members of the tribe of Judah or Benjamin, the Southern Kingdom) began to cause trouble and impede Judah from building from the time of Cyrus until Darius I, according to Ezra 4:4. Then, in verses 5-6, it says this continues during the reigns of “Ahasuerus” or “Xerxes” (Greek name), and then during the reign of “Artaxerxes I,” according to Ezra 4:7. Then, during the reign of “Artaxerxes I” (had to be the first if you look at the above timeline), the people who were against Judah wrote letters to the king telling him he should halt the Jews from completing the task. They tell him to search the archives and know that this people will be nothing but trouble if you let them finish the work and re-establish themselves. Artaxerxes then orders a halt to building that would last, Ezra 4:24 says, “Until the second year of the reign of Darius (Had to be Darius II).”
In fact, Daniel 9:1, refers to his same “Darius” as “the son of Xerxes.” There is no “Xerxes” or “Artaxerxes” before Darius I, but there is one before Darius II, folks! And by the way, in order for Miller’s prophecy to be true, the temple would have had to have been finished during the reign of Darius I, which is impossible because the building was clearly halted until the reign of Darius II.
Are you with me?
And then in Ezra 5 we see the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stir up the people to begin building again. “We must obey God, rather than men” was the essence of their message.
Well, as you might imagine word gets back to government officials who come to them and ask them who gave them authority to build. They respond, “Cyrus…” and then a letter is sent to Darius who checks the archives and discovers Cyrus the Great did order this and so he issues a decree (in chapter six) declaring it to be the death penalty for anyone who would attempt to “altar this edict” (Ezra 6:11). He even opened up the royal treasuries of Persia so that the work could be assured to be finished. And Ezra 6:15 says they finished the building of the temple “during the reign of King Darius [II]”.
Then, in Ezra 7, which begins with “After this…” After what? After the building of the temple during the reign of Darius II, we see another Artaxerxes [II] issuing another decree in support of the Jews. In short this would be the Artaxerxes who would aid in rebuilding the wall with Nehemiah, would marry Esther, and would see to it that the decree of Cyrus would come to complete fruition.
So what does this mean for William Miller’s second essential principle? It’s bogus. To say Artaxerxes I issued the edict, mentioned in Daniel 9:25: “From the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one…” is unbiblical. The only edict we have from Artaxerxes I was to “halt” the building of the temple!
But this error does not end with Miller. It begins with William Miller, then proceeds to Ellen White who then “prophesied it” to give it the divine seal of approval, then to the SDA, which has enshrined it as one of their core beliefs.
Now to add insult to error here consider this: Actually, it was not even Artaxerxes II’s decree of ca. 400 B.C. that was being referred to in Daniel 9 at all! The initial decree was issued under divine impetus by Cyrus II, or Cyrus the Great in ca. 539 B.C.!
Now, it’s nice and seems to fit better to say it’s 483 years from 457 B.C. because that gets you right to 26 or 27 AD. But actually, folks, trying to fit prophecy into a pre-programmed time frame is never the way to go. As Sergeant Friday (on the TV show, “Dragnet”) used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am… just the facts.” And actually this kind of specificity and exactness really doesn’t fit the m.o. of biblical prophecy anyway. Usually, prophecies are approximations. God does not normally give us exact dates of things. He does not overwhelm us, or overpower our free will in these matters either. Moreover, and as Cardinal Ratzinger says in his book “God and the World,” prophecies often have wiggle room to allow for the free responses of men to change things a bit here and there (think of Ezekiel 3:18ff and 33:14ff, “If I declare that a man is to die… if he repents…”).
But some will say here. Okay, but you substract the 483 years from 539 you have about 56 B.C. being the year of fulfillment. That doesn’t fit either. I argue it does. Again, most likely, the “490 years” was not intended to be strictly literal (and that is a whole ‘nuther matter! Years have symbolic meaning, “seven times 70,” think of “1,000” “144,000”, etc.), but at any rate, this is an approximation that leads to the general time of the coming of the Lord. This would have most likely been one of the reasons why there was a lot of fervor at and before the time of Christ for the coming of the Messiah. Daniel 9:26-28 says:
And after the sixty-two weeks (plus the six weeks already mentioned=69 weeks, or 483 years), an anointed one shall be cut off… until the decreed end…” (which would be the destruction of the temple in AD 70).
And by the way, Miller interpreted “the end” here as referring to the Second Coming of Christ. We know “the end” refers to the destruction of the temple, at least in one sense, because Jesus specifically tells us, in Matt. 24:15 that this is the prophetic destruction of the temple that would happen in AD 70. He uses the very same language Daniel uses in describing this destruction in Daniel chapters 9, 11, and 12: “The abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”
Anyway, the term “after” the sixty two weeks (plus six) is crucial here. “After” does not necessarily mean “immediately,” but some unspecified time “after” about 57 B.C.
But at any rate, there is more we could say here about this, but most important is to note Miller’s error concerning the year “457 B.C.,” because this leads us to William Miller’s THIRD KEY PRINCIPLE to understanding Daniel, and the end times and THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT of all and the foundation for the entire Adventist movement. Red flags, sirens, whoop, whoop! This is important! Whoop whoop!
But you’ll have to read our next edition of “The Apostolic Insider” to get the next two key principles.
Stay tuned “insiders!”