“Case by Casebolt” is a recurring series examining the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from William Miller.
Ellen G. White’s perception was that God regularly sent angels to guide Miller. She envisioned William Miller as being a forerunner to Christ’s second advent like John the Baptist was for Christ’s first advent. She likened him to the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people.1
She assumed that given this fact, his conclusions must have been correct. However, the primary thesis of this monthly series is that what Miller wrote did not demonstrate that God had “opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people.” Indeed, a thorough examination of Miller’s interpretations demonstrates that they were consistently fatally flawed. In this column’s first installment, I provided evidence from the 2,520-day-year prophetic period, the seven times of the gentiles. In this column’s second installment, I provided evidence from Miller’s interpretation of Hosea 6:1–3.
The case of Revelation 9 is the third installment in a series of about a dozen cases substantiating that both Miller’s method and results were mistaken—even if fervently and sincerely expressed.
One of the critical prophetic periods in Millerite eschatology was that of Revelation 9:13–20, the trumpet blast of the sixth angel. When this trumpet sounded, four angels bound at the Euphrates River were to be loosed. When the action of the sixth trumpet concluded, the seventh trumpet would announce the end of history and the inauguration of Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Verse 15 mentions units of time, and Miller interpreted these as intervals according to his day-year principle rather than as a point in time. The King James version of verse 15 reads, “And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.” There is no point of time identified when any proposed interval would commence. Nonetheless, following the teachings of William Miller and Josiah Litch, the twelve-year-old Ellen Harmon came to believe that this scripture was fulfilled exactly on August 11, 1840. Miller and Litch were following well-worn tradition.
Two centuries earlier, Joseph Mede had claimed that Muslims fulfilled this prophecy—but after a different “year” interval and commencing this “prophetic period” on a different date. Many sixteenth century Protestant interpreters, impressed with the Ottoman’s penetration to the very capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna, assigned a variety of dates to the Muslims in the Revelation 9. (A future column will document how Miller’s treatment of Daniel 11–12 parallels his chronology of Revelation 9:13–20. Both Miller’s exposition of Daniel 11–12 and Revelation 9:13–20 ended in 1839 with the First Resurrection.) Indeed, Martin Luther said that the Little Horn was not the Papacy but the Muslim power. In his introduction to Daniel, Luther says: “A little horn shall also come forth from among them and shall pluck out three of the foremost horns of the ten. This is Mohammed or the Turk who today has Asia, Egypt, and Greece in his claws.”2
Protestant theologians like Georg Nigrinus (1530–1602) concurred. He believed that the little horn referred to the Turk who had been given 1,260-years from 623, the date of Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina, until 1883, almost a century after the 1798 date preferred by Miller and followed by Ellen White.3 Joseph Mede (1586-1639) published his Clavis Apocalyptica in 1627. It projected the end of the world by 1716 and identified Muslims as fulfilling the fifth and sixth trumpets. Mede calculated that the year, month, day, and hour of Revelation 9 represented 396 historical years. Mede assumed a 365-day solar year for the “prophetic” year. Therefore, the prophetic year (365) + month (30) + a day (1) equaled 396 historical years. Mede asserted that this interval began in 1057 and ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims. This was certainly a major event in world history. Doubtless because the text provided no specific starting date, various commentators rather arbitrarily picked an assortment of dates. Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), for example, asserted that a 391-year interval, (allowing only 360 years not 365 years in his prophetic years), began in 1281 and ended in 1672 when the Muslims enjoyed their last victory over the Poles.4
By Miller’s time, 1453 was over three centuries in the distant past and needed major revision. He and Litch claimed that a prophetic year should only be allotted 360 historical years not 365 historical years. Furthermore, they began their resultant 391-year interval in 1449, only four years before Mede’s calculation ended. For two centuries, Protestants made a colorful assortment of short-lived, contradictory interpretations identifying Muslims with the fifth and sixth trumpets. The fact that the family Bible in Ellen Harmon’s home was a 1822 King James Bible with explanatory footnotes supporting the 360-day-year figure probably influenced her to prefer prophetic years of 360-years rather than 365-years.5
Revelation 9 was one of the prophecies that Ellen White believed was opened to Miller’s understanding. Unlike the 2,520-day-year prophetic interval, this interval is still prominently cited in Seventh-day Adventist reference works.6
According to Miller, this day-year prophecy would be fulfilled simultaneously with the end of the world. Most Adventists are well acquainted with the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. This was not Miller’s first failed date for the end of the world. Miller previously had predicted the second coming for March 21, 1844. This came to be known as the little or first disappointment. But in 1831 when Ellen White was only four years old, Miller had predicted the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and “the end” in 1839 when “Christians will be persecuted unto death, and dens and caves of the earth will be their retreat. . . . And this, if I am right in my calculations, will begin on or before A.D. 1839.”7 Josiah Litch altered the date to 1840. In 1842, Charles Fitch included this Muslim interpretation in the 1843 Millerite chart. Before 1841, Millerites claimed it was fulfilled exactly, to the day, on August 11, 1840. Twelve-year-old Ellen Harmon was one of them. In the 1851 White/Nichols chart, which Ellen White envisioned and created in 1850, a Muslim prophetic entity occupies about a quarter of the space.8
A large percentage (see title image) of the 1851 White/Nichols chart is dedicated to the belief that the Muslim world powers were predicted by the Bible, with particular emphasis on the supposed collapse of the Ottoman Empire exactly on August 11, 1840.
Miller calculated that the 1,260-years ended in 1798 and that “according to Daniel, forty-five years will complete the whole plan of redemption.” He claimed that the “sixth vial was poured out about the year 1822, when the Ottoman power began to be dried up. This is an important sign that we are on the brink of the judgment day.” Then the “last great battle” will occur and “will take place at the pouring out of the seventh vial, in the year 1839 or 40 [emphasis added]. At the pouring out of the seventh vial, a voice from the throne will pronounce the word, “It is done.” Miller wrote that “whoever lives until the year 1839 will see the final dissolution of the Turkish Empire, for the sixth trumpet will have finished its sounding.”9 Then, he says, “the seventh trump and last woe begin” during which all worldly powers will be destroyed and “the world cleansed.” This last expression was identical with his interpretation of “the sanctuary” of Daniel 8:14, which he says would be “cleansed” with fire at the second coming. Thus, by 1839 Miller predicted that there will be “no more time for mercy” because “your day of probation ‘should be no longer.’” “The Bridegroom has come, and shut to [sic] the door.” With the fall of Turkey in 1839, “the third woe cometh quickly.” “The seventh trumpet begins to sound,” and when the “last trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raised [emphasis added].” In 1839, cosmic events of the last woe and last trump will occur “quickly.” The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Millerism was not merely a mundane, earthly event but a cosmic event that would end history. Indeed, at the bottom of the 1843 Millerite chart, Daniel 12:12 is explicitly cited with the seventh trumpet and the third woe. Then “Dan 12:13 Daniel will stand in his lot at the Resurrection, end of the days” is the caption listed just below the date 1843 in bold, large print.
The Ottoman Empire did not collapse, nor did the world end, nor did the resurrection take place in 1839/1840. Nonetheless, Millerites like Litch claimed that the prophecy was fulfilled when the European powers sent diplomatic notes to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Pasha of Egypt. (Ellen White claimed that August 11, 1840, represented a “remarkable fulfillment of prophecy” that was “exactly fulfilled.”)10 This was such an anemic fulfillment of the original cosmic prediction that Isaac Fuller, Miller’s longtime mentor and defender, frankly chastised him and said that “the falsehood of your whole system is already proved by your failure in this particular.”11
W. W. Prescott realized that Ellen White’s statements regarding this interpretation of Revelation 9 were errant over a century ago. During World War I he observed that, following Ellen White’s lead, many Seventh-day Adventist publications were promulgating untenable positions regarding the Ottoman Empire’s role in prophecy. Ben McArthur documented that during this period, Adventists formulated new interpretations of Turkey’s role during WWI.12 On November 23, 1916, in a letter to A.O. Tait, Prescott wrote, “I had known for some time that the date August 11, 1840, would not stand the test of historical facts. Two years ago, at the Fall Council we presented reasonably full information upon this subject, but nothing has been done and in the meantime our books and the most of our publications are repeating the unwarranted statements concerning the chronology of the fifth and sixth trumpets.”
He then recounts a summary of various alternative interpretations, each of “which is just as unsound as the old one.” He points out that Turkey never lost its sovereignty: “Turkey did not lose her independence at any of these [newly proposed] dates.” He concludes, “Why should we not cast aside all this effort to make history fit our idea of prophecy, instead of allowing history to be the interpreter of prophecy?”13
This question is still relevant over a century after Prescott. Miller erroneously initially predicted the second coming and first resurrection in 1839/40; he predicted them again by March 21, 1844; he predicted them again by October 22, 1844. This alone should be sufficient evidence to persuade the candid reader that Miller was not given special angelic/divine insight into “prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people,” as twelve-year-old Ellen Harmon believed when Miller converted her in the spring of 1840. Nor, when Ellen Harmon was only sixteen, on October 23, 1844, had Miller gained any increased consecrated understanding.
Previously in the “Case by Casebolt” series:
“Why BRI Considers Ellen White to Be ‘Incorrect'” (March 4, 2022)
“William Miller’s Two-Day Prophecy” (April 5, 2022)
Notes & References:
1. Ellen G.White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1958), 1:128.
2. LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1948), 2:269. "Asia, Egypt, and Greece," of course, were the three horns plucked up by the little horn.
3. Froom, Prophetic Faith, 2:327. One of multiple, contradictory speculations about an exact 1260-year period. For centuries the most popular 1260-year period was 606 to 1866. In the 1843 Millerite chart the year 606 was given to the rise of the Muslim Empire.
4. LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946), 3:352. Fuller also claimed that the Muslims "glittering harness and use of gunpowder are both foretold." This minute, obscure detail was a staple of Millerite interpretation and was copied into the 1851 White/Nichols chart.
5. This was Joseph Teal's Columbian Family and Pulpit Bible (1822) mentioned by Ron Graybill, Visions & Revisions: A Textual History of Ellen G. White's Writings (Westlake Village, CA: Oak and Acorn Publishing, 2019) ,45, footnote 16.
6. P. Gerard Damsteegt, "Prophetic Interpretations," in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, edited by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 1060–1064.
7. William Miller, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ (Boston, MS: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 60–67.
8. See my first column for documentation of the divine sanction which Ellen White said the 1843 and 1851 chart had.
9. William Miller, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ (Boston, MS: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 70–75.
10. See Eric Anderson, "The Millerite Use of Prophecy: A Case Study of a 'Striking Fulfilment,'" in The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, (Bloomington, IA: Indiana University Press, 1987), 78–91 for a textbook example of a disconfirmed "exact" continuous-historical calculation.
11. David L. Rowe, God's Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 135–37, 139, 201.
12. Benjamin McArthur, A. G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2015),333–396.
13. See Gilbert Valentine, W. W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005), 250–267 for his explanation of how Prescott attempted to correct Ellen White's account of this prophetic interpretation. He refers to the Prescott correspondence with Tait as well as a presentation to the 1914 Annual Council in footnote 41 page 267.
Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard University at Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He recently published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White. A second book, Father Miller’s Daughter, will be published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.
Title image: 1851 White/Nichols prophecy chart (public domain)
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