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Case by Casebolt: William Miller Misunderstood Luke 13:32–33


In this series's first installment, I discussed the 2,520-day-year prophetic period, that is, the seven times of the gentiles. In the second installment, I explored William Miller's interpretation of Hosea 6:1–3. The third article focused on Revelation 9. Now, Luke 13:32–33 serves as the fourth in this series of about a dozen cases showing that Miller's interpretive method and results were mistaken.   

As early as 1833, Miller offered Luke 13:32–33 as a textual proof for one of his 15 prophetic periods indicating that the second coming would occur in 1843.1 In 1843, he presented his thesis in two sentences: "Time proved in Fifteen Different Ways. These several [15] ways of prophetic chronology prove the end in 1843."2 Most Adventists are only aware of one of Miller's 15 proofs. But Ellen White clearly recognized that he claimed to have found 15 prophetic periods. In chapter 23 of her first volume of Spiritual Gifts, she refers to "prophetic periods" repeatedly. "Ministers were convicted and convinced of the correctness of the positions taken on the prophetic periods," she stated. She charged that the "hypocritical minister and the bold scoffer" refused to be instructed that the Bible pointed to "the year" when "the prophetic periods would run out." Furthermore, she asserted that God's hand "covered a mistake in the reckoning of the prophetic periods" and that "the prophetic periods reached to 1844." Her most significant and emphatic statement is: "I saw that they [converts to the Midnight Cry] were correct in their reckoning of the prophetic periods."3

Jon Paulien has observed that Ellen White believed Miller's interpretations of the "prophetic periods" to be divinely ordained. Thus, Miller was the source of her "basic conviction that an end-time explosion [emphasis added] in the understanding of Daniel and Revelation was the key factor behind the rise of the Advent movement." God had "lifted a veil from these books enabling them to be fully understood" by Miller.4 The growth in such understanding was manifest in Miller's discovery of 15 proofs based on "seven diverse ways of calculating 1843 as the final year of world's history." Ironically, according to Kai Arasola, only "two of the seven stem from the book of Daniel and none from the Apocalypse." Miller stressed that he had an abundance of biblical texts that supported 1843: "These several ways of prophetic chronology prove the end in 1843."5 As this series has repeatedly emphasized, Ellen White was convinced that Miller had special divine guidance that resulted in increased understanding of "the last days."

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.6

However, Miller's actual textual interpretations do not indicate an advanced "understanding" of "prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people."

The key to his particular interpretation is that he uses his "day=a thousand years principle" to reach 1843 for the millennial Sabbath. (While reading Miller's dense quotes and convoluted chronology below, keep in mind Ellen White's claim that Miller's speculations are so plain and clear that a child can easily grasp them). The following presents his  principles of interpretation. He wrote: 

We have another prophecy of Christ himself, agreeing with one in Hosea.7 "And he said unto them, go ye and tell that fox behold I cast out devils, and I do cure, to-day [a thousand years] and to-morrow, [a second thousand years] and the third day [a third thousand years] I shall be perfected. Nevertheless, I must walk to-day and to-morrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem," Luke 43:32-33 [sic].8

In this passage, three days are again mentioned in similar language to the one in Hosea: to-day and to-morrow the same as two days. The only difference is, Hosea spoke of them as future; Christ as living in the first day; and these two days in Luke were to be employed by Christ in casting out devils, and doing cures, and the third day he should be perfected; that is, as I humbly believe, the third day, the church or body of Christ would be perfect,9 and "presented a glorious church without spot or wrinkle" like unto Christ a glorious body, united to him, and made one with him. And then the Lord Jesus Christ will have accomplished his mediatorial work on the earth of casting out devils and doing cures. That this passage means literal days, no one can believe [emphasis added], for Christ himself destroys that explanation in the same passage by saying, "Nevertheless, I must walk to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following," plainly indicating that he did not mean common days. That he meant phrophetic [sic] days is equally evident; for the spirit of God has done cures, and cast out devils more than two years–so that literal or prophetic days cannot be the time designated. And I know of no other construction that can be put upon this passage, except the same I have fixed to that in Hosea. [Based on his principle that a "day" can mean a thousand years (per 2 Peter 3:8) as easily as it can refer to a year by his day=year principle]. 

In this passage in Luke, they came to Christ and told him that Herod sought his life; and Christ answered and said, "go tell that fox," as much as if he had said; although he is cunning as the fox, and "understands dark sentences," as Daniel had long before prophesied of him; and although he, or the fourth kingdom, under which he exercises his authority, is permitted to punish the transgressions of my people; yet I will cast out devils and do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day my kingdom shall be perfected. That is two thousand years, my gospel shall be proclaimed [emphasis added],10 my grace perform its work, and children shall be regenerated and adopted into my kingdom, and in the third thousand it will be complete, in spite of all opposition.11

Then, Miller goes on a homiletic reverie imagining the glorious third day and millennium before concluding:

"We have only to apply these days the same as we did those in Hosea, and we are again brought down to the year A. D. 1843, which is the commencement of the day of rest, [millennial Sabbath], the year Christ will come in the clouds of heaven, … resurrection of the righteous dead,12 the sanctuary be cleansed,13 and the church made perfect…. All these things will take place in the commencing of the last day, which if I am right in my calculations of the times, (that have been thus far examined,) will come to pass in the year A. D. 1843, that is, if our chronology since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is right; if not, then it will vary accordingly. Some say we have lost four years; if so, then we may look for the fulfilment in 183914—but I believe we may not expect it until, 1843, which I have strong reason to believe is the true time, from the events that happened in 1798.15

In sum, Miller assumes that when Christ states that today and tomorrow he will cure and cast out devils, it refers to two millennia that span 158 BC to 1842, on the same basis as he expounded in his interpretation of Hosea 6: 1–3. These two millennia must commence with a league made between the Romans and the Jews in 158, which takes him to 1842. Then the "third day" refers to a third millennium beginning with the second coming of Christ and the first resurrection taking place in 1843. This third millennium is the same thousand-year period mentioned in the book of Revelation, during which the devil will be imprisoned in the abyss. 

Note that simultaneously in 1843, Luke 13:32–33 proves that Christ will come, the righteous dead will be raised, "the sanctuary be cleansed, and the church made perfect." I leave it to the reader as to whether Miller's method of interpreting Luke 13 demonstrates that he had a superior "understanding" of eschatology. 

The critical question concerning Miller's and White's method of historicism and handling of the biblical text is: What evidence (other than relying solely on Ellen G. White's assertion that Miller demonstrated a superior understanding of multiple "prophetic periods") is there that he indeed demonstrated "superior" insight? It will be instructive as to whether or not the Biblical Research Institute or the members of the Adventist Theological Society can provide evidence to support Ellen G. White's assertion. 


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)

Revelation’s 6th Trumpet & The Ottoman Empire” (May 9, 2022)


Notes & References:

[1] William Miller, Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year A.D. 1843 (Syracuse, NY: T.A. & S.F. Smith, 1835), 39, 40.

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

[3] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1858), vol. 1, chapters 23 to 25.

[4] Jon Paulien, "The Book of Revelation" in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, ed. by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 1085.

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

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

[7] Miller alludes to the biblical admonition of establishing the validity of any fact from a minimum to two witnesses, in this case Hosea and Luke. Additionally, he stresses that it is a prophecy spoken by Christ Himself, claims highly persuasive to Ellen Harmon.

[8] In an evident misprint the citation is given as Luke 43:32, 33, rather than Luke 13:32, 33.

[9] That is, by the millennium the Church of Christ will be perfect.

[10] Given that Miller's two thousand years starts 158 BC, it is incongruent that Christ's "gospel shall be proclaimed" for 2,000 years when He will not be born nor His ministry started until about 158 years later.

[11]William Miller, Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year A.D. 1843 (Syracuse, NY: T.A. & S.F. Smith, 1835), 39, 40.  

[12] At the end of the multiple prophetic periods, including Daniel 8:14, the first resurrection was expected. Ellen G. White (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 143) concurred that they "believed without a doubt that JESUS would then come and raise the dead."

[13] Note the clear reference to Daniel 8:14 which terminates simultaneously with all Miller's other prophetic periods such as Hosea 6, Luke 13, Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 15, Jeremiah 34, Ezekiel 39, Exodus 31:17, Daniel 12, and others.

[14] This is a critical chronological date because it was exactly 1839 that Miller originally predicted for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in his interpretation of Revelation 9. He placed the Second Coming and first resurrection in 1839 on the basis of a prophetic period of 391 years, per Miller's calculation. 

[15] The year 1839 does not fit into Miller's system as neatly as 1843. See Miller, Evidences (1835), 40. He much prefers 1798 not only as a pivotal point for the end of the 1260 years but equally for the 1335 years which he has obtained by first subtracting the 1290 years to arrive at his critical 508 date for the abolishment of paganism. Then he added 1335 to 508 to arrive at 1843 for the end of the world and added 1290 also to 508 to arrive at 1798 which marks the beginning of the "last days."


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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