by Norman H. Young | 24 May 2022 |
In Fern Seeds and Elephants (p. 78–79) C.S. Lewis gently described one of Adventism’s most revered forefathers as “poor William Miller,” whom he took “to have been an honest fanatic.” Lewis deemed efforts to calculate the date of Christ’s return as vainly attempting to do what Jesus declared was impossible (Mark 13:32–33, 35). That “neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows when Jesus will return (Matt 24:36) would suggest that the effort to discover it was doomed to fail.
What, then, persuaded “poor William Miller” to think that he had successfully achieved what was beyond the angels and Jesus? Fifteen supposedly independent proofs that he had discerned in Daniel and elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures convinced Miller that he had cracked the code.
Establishing the date
To his mind these fifteen proofs all pointed to a date for the return of Jesus sometime between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. He was creative in the codes he used in his fifteen proofs and very selective in his starting dates. Let me give a summary of the “proofs.”
- Proofs 1–3 assume one year equals 360 years (7 times 360 years equals 2520 common years minus the year of “the captivity of Israel and the king of Judah, Manasseh, that is 677 B.C.E.,” which gives 1843 C.E.).
- Proof 5 assumes one year is only one year (7×7) x 50 years (Jubilee years) equals 2450 years minus 607 years (the end of Josiah’s reign B.C.E.) equals 1843 C.E.
- Proof 8 takes one time to be equivalent to 360 years. Daniel 12:6–7 gives us “time, times and half a time,” which meant for Miller, 360 years plus 720 years plus 180 years: 1260 years in total. Israel was scattered with Manasseh in 677 B.C.E., which continued until they fled into the wilderness in 538 C.E., which totals 1215 years. The 1260 years then start with 538 C.E. and ends in 1798 C.E. The remainder between the 1215 and the 1260 years is 45 years, which, when added to 1798, climaxes in 1843 C.E.
- In proofs 4, 6, and 10 one day is 1000 years. Creation took six days, which equals 6000 years (2 Peter 3:8), and “we shall find this year, 1843, the 6000 years from Adam’s fall will be finished” (Miller). Miller also managed to find 1843 C.E. in Hosea 6:1–3: “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” In 158 B.C.E. the Jews made a treaty with Rome and 2000 years (that is, “two days”) from that date ends in 1842 C.E. That means the third millennium (that is, “the third day”) begins in 1843 C.E.
- In proofs 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 one day is 1 year. The 1290 and the 1335 days (Daniel 12:11–12) are years, and both date from the end of pagan Rome in 508 C.E. and the setting up of Papal Rome. The 1290 years then conclude in 1798 C.E., the year that the Papacy’s supreme rule ended, and the 1335 years terminate in 1843 C.E. when Jesus returns.
- In proof 15 one number 666 equals 666 years (see Rev 13:18). Deduct the 158 years B.C.E. (when Jews made a treaty with Rome) from the 666 years, which gives the date of 508 C.E., to which add the 1335 years of Daniel 12:12 for the date 1843 C.E.
The end date, 1843, appears to be the controlling factor as to which code is used and, furthermore, the selection of the beginning date seems to be chosen on the basis of the final date. F. D. Nichol, in his defense of Miller, conceded that his secondary proofs were “farfetched,” “fanciful,” and “strained” (The Midnight Cry, 523–24).
Sadly, both March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, came and went, but Jesus did not appear. Miller concluded that there must be a minor discrepancy in his calculations and continued to believe the return of Jesus was imminent. Samuel Snow soon provided a correction by noting that if the 2300 years of Daniel 8:14 began in the autumn of 457 B.C.E. they would climax in the autumn of 1844 C.E. and not the springs of 1843 or 1844. Snow accordingly linked the autumn feast of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) to Daniel 8:14, which, as it was in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar year, gave rise to what became known as the Seventh-month Movement.
Refining the date
Linking the 2300 days (years) prophecy to the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri) enabled Snow to give an even more precise date than Miller was able to do. Snow claimed that according to the older Karaite Jewish calendar the Day of Atonement occurred in 1844 on October 22. Snow’s specific date, which gave the precise day of Jesus’ return, ignited the zeal of the Millerites, who were devastated by the failure of their former prediction to materialize. Snow’s new calculations led to an urgent, intense, and zealous but short-lived evangelistic campaign. The catch-cry of this Seventh-month Movement was “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (Matt 25:6).
Snow published his views on August 22, 1844, in a new journal titled The True Midnight Cry. He attempted first to explain how he could precisely date the Second Advent when Jesus said it was impossible to do so (Mark 13:32–33, 35). Having done that to his satisfaction, he focused on three proofs to demonstrate that the Advent would occur in the autumn of 1844. The first proof assumes that from creation to the Advent is 6000 years (see Miller’s proofs 4, 6 and 10). According to Ussher the Christian era began 4004 years after the world’s creation, but Snow claimed to have found an error of 153 years in Ussher’s chronology, which gave the correct number of years as 4,156. “Deducting this from 6000 years, the remainder is 1843 and a fraction. Therefore the period will end within A. D. 1844” (The True Midnight Cry, 1–2).
His second proof, titled “The Seven Times of the Gentiles,” argues that “the seven prophetic times amount to 2520 years” (7 x 360 years, see Miller’s proof 1–3). From 677 B.C.E. (Israel’s scattering with Manasseh), 2520 years terminate in 1844 C.E. Snow’s third proof is the 2300 days (years) of Daniel 8:14 (see Miller’s proof 7). In these three proofs Snow avoided Miller’s error and always added a year for the transition from dates before the Common Era to dates after it. Thus, since, on his reckoning, the 2300 days (years) began in the autumn of 457 B.C.E., they would terminate in the autumn of 1844 C.E.
The day of atonement
However, Snow’s major contribution was his emphasis on the types of the Law of Moses for his calculation of the time of the return of Jesus. He coupled the Day of Atonement text (Lev 16) with Daniel 8:14 to provide a date more precise than merely the year 1844 C.E. “For God,” he affirmed, “is an exact time keeper … time is an important point in the law of the Lord; therefore type and antitype must correspond exactly as it regards time.” The climax of the earthly Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month was when the high priest, having completed the “reconciliation” in the most holy place, came out to the waiting people. “The high priest was a type of Jesus our High Priest; the most holy place a type of heaven itself; and the coming out of the high priest a type of the coming of Jesus the second time to bless his waiting people. As this was on the tenth day of the 7th month, so on that day Jesus will certainly come, because not a single point of the law is to fail. All must be fulfilled.” And according to Snow, that day in the Karaite calendar was October 22, 1844.
Those Millerites who accepted Snow’s precise date as biblical truth were energized by it, and from August until October 21 they preached widely and with intense conviction. Many embraced the call “to go out to meet him,” and then added themselves to those proclaiming it. In due course the elevated and excited expectation of the return of Jesus was dashed by the arrival of dawn on October 23, and bitter and shattering was their disappointment. For the second time, instead of accepting the falsity of their calculations, they assumed a minor error in their data was the explanation of the delay. Accordingly, various dates for Jesus’ return were promoted: 1845 or 1846, or 1847 or 1851, or 1853–1855 (Richard W. Schwartz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers, 52). Gradually, however, most Millerites were weaned from their penchant for calculating the date of Christ’s return.
Energized to disappointed
The rise of the Seventh-month Movement—which based its specific date on Snow’s creative exegesis—invigorated Millerism for a short time. Unfortunately, its precise date also failed, and with the failure came a loss of fervor, as it is difficult to maintain a movement’s commitment by endlessly recalibrating the date. Many of the disappointed Millerites desperately held onto what cannot be known: the time of Jesus’ return (Matt 24:36).
The Seventh-month Movement so captivated the hearts and minds of some Millerites that they found it impossible to deny that God had led them in and through their experience. These stalwarts were prepared to modify their hope of the imminent Advent rather than accept that the Seventh-month Movement with its fixed date was a human blunder and not a divinely inspired experience.
If it were not the Advent that was prophesied to occur on October 22, 1844, then what did happen on that date? That, of course, was the ultimate question for the resolute defenders of the Seventh-month Movement and the precise date that inspired them. Progression to a solution that satisfied them did not proceed with clear and logical steps. Various disparate ideas were independently proposed until they somehow coalesced into a form that was acceptable to them.
However, is their solution still viable almost 178 years since Snow’s recalculation of Miller’s original date? That question requires another essay.
Norman H. Young is a New Testament scholar and retired senior lecturer from Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia.