Case by Casebolt: William Miller’s Jubilees

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Published:
September 26, 2022

“Case by Casebolt” is a recurring series examining the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from William Miller.

In the first installment of this series, I provided evidence from the 2,520-day-year prophetic period—the seven times of the gentiles. In the second installment, I provided evidence from William Miller’s interpretation of Hosea 6:1–3. The case of the Muslim world in Revelation 9 was the third installment. The case of Luke 13:32–33 is the fourth installment. Now for the fifth, I examine Miller’s jubilee prophetic period proof, which provides an interesting case study into how the same methods that undergird the 2,300-year prophecy led Miller astray over and over.

As this series has repeatedly emphasized, Ellen White was convinced that Miller had special divine guidance that resulted in an explosion in Millerite understanding of “the last days.” White wrote,

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]

As a result, Miller was able to discover 15 mathematical proofs that the end would come in 1843. In 1843, Miller stated his thesis in one sentence: “Time proved in Fifteen Different Ways.” These 15 ways of prophetic chronology prove the end to be in 1843.”[2] He had so many proofs that he had difficulty in persuading his editors to include any more than four or five at any one time. All 15 of them would not fit in the 1843 Millerite chart. As this now fifth case study shows, Miller’s actual textual interpretations do not evidence a high quality “understanding” of “prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people.”

One of Miller’s lesser-known prophetic periods is that of the jubilees. The text that Miller (and then Ellen White) relied on as proof was Leviticus 25:8, 10–12 KJV:

And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of the years unto thee, seven times seven years, and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. . . . And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A Jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you; ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.

Despite the fact that predictive prophetic language is completely missing, this still gave Miller free reign to exercise his imagination. Miller could propose any length of time that struck his fancy for the length of his hypothetical jubilee “prophetic period.” In this case, he asserted that the text described a jubilee of jubilees. This, he proposed, was “49 times 50 years = 2,450 years.”  Why 2,450 years? Because, Miller said, there were seven kinds of sabbaths, which would culminate in the perfect sabbath in heaven that would begin at the second coming in 1843 with the first resurrection. When would the 2,450 years commence? According to Miller, only a free Jewish nation could celebrate a jubilee. Therefore, the last Jewish jubilee had been celebrated in the last year of the reign of Josiah before the Jews were taken into captivity. This he dated to 607 BC. Then, he simply calculated so clearly that a 12-year-old like Ellen Harmon could understand: 2,450 – 607 = 1,843. The jubilee prophetic period was merely one of 15 “ways of prophetic chronology [that] prove the end in 1843.”[3] But as Kai Arasola noted in The End of Historicism, Miller was unable to find a single text pointing to a 50th jubilee. Neither did he address the scholarly debate as to whether the Jews historically celebrated a jubilee every 49 years or every 50 (49+1) years.[4]

Ellen White was absolutely correct when she credited Miller with citing multiple scriptural texts to bolster his arguments. But even a superficial reading of the actual texts cited indicates that the texts did not state what Miller speculated that they said. Certainly, in regards to his jubilee hypothesis, Leviticus 25 is in no way a predictive prophetic period. It is clearly prescriptive. Even if one were to concede that it was predictive, there is no clear or even murky prophetic interval of 2,450 years described. Furthermore, if a 2,450-year interval could be discerned, there is no well-defined commencement date other than in Miller’s imagination. Miller has created a 2,450-year interval virtually ex nihilo.

To anyone without Miller’s predilection for finding predictive prophetic periods lurking behind every text with numbers in them, it is clear that Miller’s jubilee proof is preposterous––to put it mildly. Therefore, it is a mystery why Ellen White credited him with supernatural prophetic understanding––except when her own historical, psychological, and sociological context is considered. She was a twelve-year-old, suffering a chronic brain injury, caught up in an isolated subculture that castigated Miller’s reasonable critics as the “synagogue of Satan,” as Ellen phrased it in her initial visions. As she states in her first dream, she was suffering great terror and anxiety about her own uncertain salvation should she not enter the Temple of Millerism as experienced in her dream.[5]

The next case study will explore Miller’s prophetic proof of the sixth millennium.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Ellen G.White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1858), 1:128.

[2] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism (Sigtuna, Sweden: Datem Publishing, 1990), 91–94.

[3] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism (Sigtuna, Sweden: Datem Publishing, 1990), 91–94.

[4] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism, 115–16.

[5] Casebolt, CHILD of the Apocalypse, 23–26.

 


Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard Universitat Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White in 2021. A second bookFather Miller’s Daughter, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.

Title image: William Miller and prophecy chart (public domain)

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