Case by Casebolt: William Miller’s Two-Day Prophecy

Case by Casebolt: William Miller’s Two-Day Prophecy

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Published:
April 5, 2022

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


In last month’s inaugural “Case by Casebolt” article, I documented Ellen White's endorsement of William Miller's 2520-year prophetic interval, "The Seven Times of the Gentiles," which she included in her 1851 White/Nichols chart. I also noted that Clinton Wahlen, writing for the Biblical Research Institute, asserted that Leviticus 26 does not contain a time prophecy of 2,520 years, despite Ellen White's 1851 prophetic chart to the contrary.

The 2,520-year interval was just one of Miller's fifteen mathematical, biblical proofs that the first resurrection would occur "about 1843." At age twelve, Ellen Harmon was converted by such Millerite "biblical" proofs. She envisioned William Miller as being a forerunner to Christ's Second Advent like John the Baptist was for Christ's First Advent and asserted that she saw angels guiding his mind.

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]

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 farfetched at best. Beyond historical questions, they cannot be sustained on a sola scriptura basis. One of the texts best illustrating Miller's fanciful methods and results is Hosea 6.

The common but erroneous paradigm concerning William Miller is that he merely let Scripture interpret itself and that his hermeneutic provides literal explanations of prophecies. He asserted that "every word and every particular has had an exact and literal accomplishment.” Therefore, "unfulfilled prophecies in their accomplishments will be equally as evident and literal."[2]  Miller's method is known as historicism, and it is still practiced in Seventh-day Adventist prophetic interpretation. For example, in a contribution to The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, Gerard Damsteegt, retired professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, cites Ellen White's recommendation that Adventists should search “the Scriptures upon the same plan that Father Miller adopted.” She "particularly endorsed" several of Miller's rules. One was that "every word must be given its proper bearing on the subject." The next was that each passage on a given topic must be compared and integrated with all other passages on the same topic. The final was that "Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself." Miller and Ellen White asserted that if a Bible student followed these rules, they could reach their conclusions "without a contradiction, you cannot be in error." Damsteegt further notes that Ellen White objected to the practice of some who seized "upon the figures and symbols of Holy Writ," [and] interpret[ed] them to suit their fancy." She accused them of presenting "their vagaries as the teachings of the Bible."[3] Ironically, Miller's interpretation of Hosea 6 is a textbook example of just such "vagaries."

According to Miller, the text of Hosea 6:1–3

is one of the richest and most interesting prophecies that was ever delivered to mortals by any prophet since the world began. Every word speaks, and is full of meaning; every sentence is a volume of instruction. No wisdom of man could communicate as much in as few words. It is a pearl of great price, lying deep in the waters of prophecy; it is a diamond, which will cut the film which covers the visual organ of the readers of God's word; it is a gem in the mountain of God's house, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.[4]

The prophecy of Hosea 6:1–3 (KJV) follows:

Come let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us; in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to the Lord, his going forth is prepared as the morning, and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

The context of this passage is that Hosea, a native of the Northern Kingdom, speaks during the reign of Jeroboam II, occurring 734 to 721 when Samaria fell to the Assyrians. It was an extremely turbulent period with four Israelite kings being assassinated in fifteen years. Hosea attacked injustice, violence, and idolatry. Hosea is exhorting the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to repent. It acknowledges that Yahweh has punished their infidelity by the scourge of the Assyrians but that "shortly" Yahweh will reverse their fortunes.

Yet according to William Miller, this passage "teaches us the manner of Christ's coming, and the time when all these things will be fulfilled." He further asserts that the phrase "after two days will he revive us" teaches "the time specified when the work [of salvation] will be finished." It furnishes the Bible student with a specific date for the Second Coming and First Resurrection. This, Miller insists, is because "revive us" "must mean, to raise to life." It "must mean, therefore, their [God's faithful] resurrection from the dead." Moreover, he claims that the phrase "in the third day he will raise us up" is "still stronger proof that the prophet has reference to the resurrection of the saints." He concludes that "the time specified to accomplish these things is three days."[5] Miller is adamant that these "three days" cannot be literal, nor can they be historical "year-days." Rather, utilizing a variant tenth rule, he insists that each of these "days" is equal to 1,000 years, citing 2 Peter 3:8.

Miller continues by expounding on the word "morning" in the text. He claims that "morning" determines the "manner and object of Christ's coming to the earth." Why morning? Because, says Miller, "there are two parts to the morning––daybreak and sunrise." This is Miller's mode of giving every word "its proper bearing on the subject." He imagines he is complying with this rule when he asserts that he finds both the first and second coming of Christ in this passage. Christ's first advent was "the daybreak" and his second advent will be the "sunrise." Using the same type of reasoning, Miller asserted that "the latter and former rain" of the text also refer to the first and second advent.[6]

According to the renowned day-year historicist belief, the "days" in this passage could mean a historical year. But Miller argues that "days" in this passage cannot mean either a literal day or a historical year. "Therefore, the days spoken of in our texts must mean so many thousand years."[7] Thus far, Miller has made two major errors: First, the passage has nothing to do with the Second Coming––when given a literal, commonsense interpretation. Second, the term "day," given a literal, commonsense interpretation, cannot indicate a historical year, not to mention a millennium. But even if Hosea had the second coming in mind, and even if Hosea's "days" lasted a thousand years, there is no indication of when the two thousand years should commence. Nonetheless, Miller now proceeds to give various allegorical arguments that he thinks can provide a precise date when the two days, two thousand years began. He concludes that "they would have ended last year" [1840-41]. Several pages of allegorical-typological argumentation follow.

Miller makes an obscure reference likening Christ's first advent to a daystar. Therefore, he supposes that "a part of the first thousand years had actually passed away when our bright and morning star first appeared." He claims that Hosea 5:8-12 gives "more light on this subject." He then proposes a very strained typological relationship. He asserts that Ephraim, or the 10 Northern Tribes, described here and in Isaiah 7:8, is a type of the "sects and churches" of the 1840s. Just as God broke Ephraim, "God has already began to break our sects in judgment!" This is his "strong proof," "remarkably fulfilled at the present day by all the sects in Christendom." God's judgment on the sects "will be as literally and certainly fulfilled" as God's judgment on Ephraim. Ephraim represents the people of God under the New Testament, and Judah represents those who were called the people of God under the Old Testament. With typical hyperbole, Miller claims: "This prophecy has been as literally fulfilled as it is possible for it to be."[8]

Continuing, Miller asserts that the apostate Jews who united with Assyrians were a type of the "sects" who united with Miller's opponents who taught a "spiritual millennium." Further, as the Jews were ruined by pagan Rome, the nominal Christians who opposed Miller were ruined by papal Rome. This is the same procedure by which the Millerites "historicized" themselves when they asserted that the first angel and the second angel of Revelation 14 could be dated to two distinct periods of the Millerite movement.

Finally, Miller returns to Hosea 5:13 to explain the two-day (two thousand years) prophecy: "Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb." This, he contends, was fulfilled when the Jews made an alliance with Rome in 158 BC. This is "a sure place to begin our date." This is because "158 + 1842 = 2000 years, or two days." Miller integrates the prophetic proof with several of his other proofs at this point. This includes his assertion that a 666-year period stretched from 158 BC to AD 508 and that a 1335-year period lasted from 508 to 1843. For some reason, he states that one must "add 666 + 1335 = 2001, which would carry us one year into the 3000, or to the year 1843 after Christ." He concludes that the KJV phrase "in the third day" carries him to "the third thousand year, (which will begin in the year 1843).” At this time, the first resurrection will occur and the Millerites will reign with Christ during this third thousand years.[9]

Thus, one observes that Miller's interpretive method is far from being commonsense and literal. Specifically, "every word" is not given its proper meaning. Rather, every key word is given an allegorical meaning limited only by Miller's imagination. Second, the Scripture that he cites to shed light on his chief text, Hosea 6:1–3, does not have any bearing on that text. Coincidental phrases/words such as "daystar," "former and latter rain," "Ephraim, and "sunrise," are interpreted arbitrarily in an allegorical manner. Third, he does not exegete in context. Rather, he performs eisegesis. His manner of using a concordance is an Achilles’ heel––not his strong point. The best example in this passage is his interpretation of "day." Just because the word "day" is used in one biblical location does not mean it has the same application in all its locations.

Miller is not attempting to deceive his audience when he claims that he is attempting to interpret the Bible literally. He has convinced himself that he is doing something correctly. This self-deception is a critical factor in Miller's date-setting millennialism. Similarly, many use the same Millerite method endorsed by Ellen White, including O. R. L. Crosier, Joseph Turner, Apollos Hale, and James White.

Ellen White envisioned that God regularly sent angels to guide Miller. She assumed that given this fact, his conclusions must be correct. This is analogous to what she "saw" regarding the proper translation of "the daily sacrifice." She believed she had a vision proving that "sacrifice" was illegitimately supplied by the translators of the KJV and could not refer to literal burnt offerings. But returning to the original text demonstrated that she was incorrect.[10]

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.[11]

Further installments in this series will provide evidence that neither Miller's method nor his conclusions demonstrated that he had any special understanding of eschatological prophecies. The case of Hosea 6 is just one of about a dozen cases substantiating that Miller's method and results were mistaken—even if fervently and sincerely expressed. It raises the question: if Miller can be so flagrantly faulty in his interpretation of Hosea 6, what credibility does he have regarding his other prophetic interpretations?

 

Previously in the “Case by Casebolt” series:

Why BRI Considers Ellen White to Be "Incorrect" (March 4, 2022)

 

Notes & References:

[1] White, Spiritual Gifts, 1:128.

[2] William Miller, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ (Boston, MS: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 2.

[3] P. Gerard Damsteegt, "Prophetic Interpretation," in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, eds. Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 1060-1064.

[4] William Miller, A Familiar Exposition of the Twenty-fourth Chapter of Matthew, and the Fifth and Sixth Chapters of Hosea. (Boston, MS: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 45–46.

[5] Miller, A Familiar Exposition, 50-52.

[6] Miller, A Familiar Exposition, 53-55.

[7] Miller, A Familiar Exposition, 63.

[8] Miller, A Familiar Exposition, 64–66.

[9] Miller, A Familiar Exposition, 68–74.

[10] Donald E. Casebolt, "The Lost 1,335-Year Prophecy: A Case Study," Spectrum 50:1 (2022), 74–85. Furthermore, other modern language translations such as the German, the French, and the Spanish which also translate the Hebrew phrase as "sacrifice" are additional evidence that the alleged KJV mistranslation assertion is untenable. This is not a Hebrew-English mistranslation phenomenon.

[11] White, Spiritual Gifts, 1:128.

 


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 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: William Miller and prophecy chart (public domain)

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