Was God Behind the 1844 Movement?

By Dirk Anderson

Background of the 1844 Movement

It all began with a farmer named William Miller. While studying his KJV Bible, Miller came to believe that he could calculate the time of Christ's return based upon Bible prophecy. His calculations led him to believe that Christ would return in 1843. He soon started sharing his discovery with others. After a little encouragement from others, Miller began preaching his theories in the 1830s. In 1840, Ellen Harmon, at the impressionable age of 13, heard his preaching and became a believer in the 1843 return of Christ. She later wrote:

"In company with my friends I attended these meetings and listened to the startling announcement that Christ was coming in 1843, only a few short years in the future. Mr. Miller traced down the prophecies with an exactness that struck conviction to the hearts of his hearers. He dwelt upon the prophetic periods, and brought many proofs to strengthen his position."1

When Christ failed to return in 1843, many of Miller's followers abandoned the movement. Miller and his associates soon discovered a mistake had been made in the reckoning of the date of Christ's return. After further study, they determined that Christ would return on the Day of Atonement, October 22, 1844.2 They again trumpeted the Second Coming of Christ, and garnered as many as 50,000 followers, many of whom left their churches to join the fledgling movement. When Christ again failed to return there was a bitter disappointment. Over the next several years Miller and most of the believers and principal leaders of the movement admitted they were mistaken and returned to their previous churches.

Millerite leader George Storrs summed it up well when he wrote:

"As the event did not occur, we were mistaken in supposing that we were actuated by the Holy Spirit in making the cry we did in respect to the manner and the time. I repeat it, it was not of God. ... Every day confirms me more and more that it is a true word, and the fanaticism that is breaking out almost continually in some form among those who still persist that the entire movement, about the tenth day, was all of God serves to add to my conviction that we were deluded by a mere human influence, which we mistook for the Spirit of God."3

Some Millerites refused to return to their former churches for various reasons. Some were too ashamed to return. Some still held bitter animosity towards their former churches. And a few were still convinced that God was behind the movement.

Why William Miller's Theories were Rejected

When the time-setting message of Miller was preached in the early 1840s, astute Protestant pastors, scholars, and students of the Bible immediately recognized it was in error for four reasons:

1. Miller contradicted Christ's plainest word

The setting of a definite time was diametrically opposed to the strongest warning of Jesus:

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (Matt. 25:13)

For most people, this single verse was more than enough evidence to convince them the movement was not of God. How could God be behind a movement that advocated setting a date for Christ's return when Christ specifically forbid such a practice? Most Christians of all faiths loved Christ and eagerly anticipated His return, but felt they could not join any movement that was so diabolically opposed to the plainest words of Jesus Christ.

2. Time-setting is a false teaching

Protestant pastors and scholars were familiar with people setting dates for Christ's return. It had been done for centuries. They recognized that time-setting leads to false revivals and that the bitter disappointments that always follow often result in destroying the faith of those involved. Church leaders recognized that time-setting has always been an instrument of Satan, and they could not endorse any movement involved in setting a date for Christ's return.

3. Prophecies had not yet been fulfilled

Protestant leaders were aware that not all of the prophecies in the book of Revelation and other parts of the Bible had been fulfilled in 1844. One undeniable example is Christ's prediction that the gospel would be preached in all the world before He returned:

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matt. 24:14)

There were literally thousands of languages and dialects that had never heard the gospel in 1844. This was before the great missionary David Livingstone had opened up the heart of Africa to the gospel. Clearly, Christ could not come in 1844 in opposition to His own word!

4. Miller's proofs used incorrect methods of Biblical interpretation

Another reason Protestant leaders rejected the 1844 movement was because William Miller used poor Biblical exegesis in coming up with his "15 proofs" of Christ's return in 1844. Here is the first of his "15 proofs":

"ONE: I prove it by the time given by Moses, in the 26th chapter of Leviticus, being seven times that the people of God are to be in bondage to the kingdoms of this world; or in Babylon, literal and mystical; which seven times cannot be understood less then seven times 360 revolutions of the earth in its orbit, making 2520 years. I believe this began according to Jeremiah 15:4, 'And I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.' and Isa. 7:8, 'For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Resin: and within three score and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people',--when Manasseh was carried captive to Babylon, and Israel was no more a nation,--see chronology, 2 Chron. 33:9, 'So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel,'--the 677th year B.C. Then take 677 our of 2520, leaves A.D. 1843, when the punishment of the people of God will end.4

This is an example of the wild "proof-texting" used by Miller to prove his theory. Look at Leviticus 26:18:

If also after these things, you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.

This verse says absolutely nothing about the second coming of Christ! The word "times" is not even in the original Hebrew in this verse; rather, the emphasis of the passage is on the degree of punishment, not the length of time. Of course Miller would not have known this because he had no understanding of the original languages. The other 14 proofs Miller used are equally dubious. It is easy to understand why Protestant scholars who were knowledgeable of the original languages rejected Miller's proofs.5

One of Miller's "15 proofs" taught that the 2300-days of Daniel 8:14 would end in 1844, with the "cleansing of the sanctuary." He claimed the beginning date for the 2300-days was 457 BC. How did he arrive at a beginning date of 457 BC? Miller took a totally unrelated vision, in Daniel 9, and claimed the 70-week vision of Daniel 9:24 was "cut off" from the 2300-days of Dan. 8:14. Since the 70-week vision began in 457 BC, he concluded that the 2300-day prophecy also began in 457 BC, although there is no direct evidence linking the two visions together.6 The proofs violated all rules of solid Biblical exegesis and were rightly rejected by Protestant leaders.

The Prophetess Ellen G. White: God is Behind the 1844 Movement

To summarize:

  1. The Millerite leaders afterward admitted the movement was not of God.

  2. Protestants scholars enunciated four powerful, Biblical reasons proving that God was not behind this movement.

Now let us contrast the four solid reasons presented above with 20 statements taken from Ellen White's Early Writings7:

  1. William Miller's mission was similar to that of John the Baptist:
    EGW: "As John the Baptist heralded the first advent of Jesus and prepared the way for His coming, so William Miller and those who joined with him proclaimed the second advent of the Son of God."
    NOTE: The analogy of Miller to John breaks down because while John was correct about the First Coming, Miller was wrong about the Second Coming. John the Baptist went down in history as a hero and a martyr, while Miller went down in history as yet another deluded man who admitted making a tragic mistake that led many astray.

  2. God directed Miller in his understanding of Prophecy:
    EGW: "God directed the mind of William Miller to the prophecies and gave him great light upon the book of Revelation." "Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one [Miller], to guide his mind and open to his understanding prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people."
    NOTE: When Miller's 15 proofs are investigated, it becomes clear that God's angels were not guiding Miller. One of his 15 proofs has the number 666 ending in 1844! Did the "angels" guide his mind to say 666 ends in 1844? If God was really directing Miller's mind, then one would presume the angels would have directed his attention to Matthew 25:13, which says that no man can know the date of Christ's return.

  3. God was behind the mistaken 1843 time-setting:
    EGW: "I saw that God was in the proclamation of the time in 1843."
    NOTE: Ellen White saw in vision that God was behind the proclamation of time, which would mean that God was behind time-setting, a practice he warned against in Matthew 25:13.

  4. The time-setting of 1843 was a "truth" that God was going to test His people with:
    EGW: "It was His design to arouse the people and bring them to a testing point, where they should decide for or against the truth."
    NOTE: Mrs. White is saying that whoever accepts the false date for Christ's return is deciding "for the truth" while those who reject the false date are "against the truth." In effect, she is saying falsehood is truth, and truth is falsehood!

  5. The spirit of Elijah was manifested in the proclamation of the "truth":
    EGW: "Thousands were led to embrace the truth preached by William Miller, and servants of God were raised up in the spirit and power of Elijah to proclaim the message."
    NOTE: Mrs. White is here referring to the prophecy of Malachi which talks about the return of Elijah before the Day of the Lord. This so-called Elijah, whoever he was, must have been deluded by Miller, because he came at least 175 years too early. All the people alive in 1844 to hear this Elijah are now dead, so this Elijah did not benefit anyone. Again, Mrs. White calls Miller's preaching "truth", but history has shown us, and Miller himself admitted, that he was not preaching "truth" but falsehood.

  6. Those who pointed to Jesus warning in Matt. 25:13 were hypocrites and scoffers:
    EGW: "The preaching of definite time called forth great opposition from all classes, from the minister in the pulpit down to the most reckless, heaven-daring sinner. "No man knoweth the day nor the hour," was heard from the hypocritical minister and the bold scoffer."
    NOTE: History has proven the so-called "hypocrites and scoffers" were correct while Ellen Harmon and the Millerites were wrong. It seems the "hypocrites and scoffers" could tell truth from falsehood better than Ellen Harmon, her visions, and her "righteous saints."

  7. Pastors who loved Christ's appearing yet rejected the time-setting were "unchristian" and "did not love Jesus":
    EGW: "Many shepherds of the flock, who professed to love Jesus, said that they had no opposition to the preaching of Christ's coming, but they objected to the definite time. God's all-seeing eye read their hearts. They did not love Jesus near. They knew that their unchristian lives would not stand the test, for they were not walking in the humble path marked out by Him."
    NOTE: What was the "humble path marked out" for the shepherds to follow? To accept a false teaching, to tell their flocks Jesus was coming in 1844, and lead their people to believe a delusion! Supposedly this would prove their love for Jesus!

  8. Only the righteous accepted and believed the time-setting message:
    EGW: "The most devoted gladly received the message. They knew that it was from God."
    NOTE: In other words, those that did not receive Miller's false teaching gladly were not devoted to God.

  9. The "mistake" of setting the time in 1843 was God's fault:
    EGW: "His hand covered a mistake in the reckoning of the prophetic periods."
    NOTE: Wait a second! Weren't God and the angels directing Miller's understanding? Why did they "hide" something as critical as the year of Jesus' return from Miller? What good did that accomplish? Oh well, someone had to be blamed for the blunder, so why not God? If He was the one behind the whole movement, then why not blame Him for the mistake also?

  10. God wanted His people to be disappointed:
    EGW: "God designed that His people should meet with a disappointment."
    NOTE: They never would have been disappointed at all if they had stood upon God's Word (Matt. 25:13) and rejected Miller! Again, Mrs. White is casting blame upon God, saying He is responsible for their disappointment, when in fact it was their own delusion that brought about the disappointment.

  11. After the 1843 disappointment, those who left the time-setting movement rejected God and united with Satan:
    EGW: "Satan and his angels triumphed over them... They did not realize that they were rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, and were working in union with Satan and his angels to perplex God's people, who were living out the heaven-sent message."
    NOTE: Those who rejoined the churches that were correct about 1844 were slandered by Mrs. White as "working in union with Satan". The "counsel of God" was for them to continue to stay with the same group that had misled and deluded them about Christ's return.

  12. The churches who rejected the time-setting as unscriptural were totally rejected by God:
    EGW: "As the churches refused to receive the first angel's message, they rejected the light from heaven and fell from the favor of God. They trusted to their own strength, and by opposing the first message placed themselves where they could not see the light of the second angel's message. But the beloved of God, who were oppressed, accepted the message, 'Babylon is fallen,' and left the churches."
    NOTE: The churches that were correct about 1844 and rejected Miller's falsehood became "Babylon." Those who were wrong about 1844 and accepted the falsehood were the "beloved of God."

  13. Those who did not join the Oct. 22, 1844, movement were unconverted:
    EGW: "Many who professed to be looking for Christ had no part in the work of the [Oct. 22, 1844 time-setting] message...but they had not been converted; they were not ready for the coming of their Lord. "
    NOTE: In other words, in order to be "converted" one must accept a false teaching about the return of Christ.

  14. The 1844 movement fulfilled the 1st and 2nd angels' messages of Rev. 14:
    EGW: "Prophecy was fulfilled in the first and second angels' messages [of Rev. 14]."
    NOTE: Did the Millerites really fulfill the first and second angels' messages? For the answer, click here.

  15. All heaven was "indignant" with those who did not join the time-setting movement:
    EGW: "All heaven was filled with indignation that Jesus should be thus slighted by His professed followers."
    NOTE: Heaven was supposedly indignant with those who followed His Word (Matt. 25:13) and refused to set a date for His return. Why would Heaven be indignant with those who kept Jesus' Word and happy with those who ignored it?

  16. It was God's purpose to bitterly disappoint His people in 1844:
    EGW: "It had been God's purpose to conceal the future and to bring His people to a point of decision. Without the preaching of definite time for the coming of Christ, the work designed of God would not have been accomplished."
    NOTE: What a blasphemy! Mrs. White says God required a falsehood to be preached in order to accomplish His work. In other words, God had no other way of bringing people to the truth except by sending forth a man to go out and preach an error. Is this how God operates? Nowhere in the 6,000+ year history of the Bible do we find God using this method of propogating a falsehood in order to accomplish His purposes. Did God suddenly adopt new methods in the 1840s? Does He now need to use deception in order to accomplish His work?

  17. Those who recognized their mistake and returned to their churches were lost:
    EGW: "The passing of the definite time had tested and proved them, and very many were weighed in the balance and found wanting."
    NOTE: Anyone who recognized they had been deluded and returned to their former church was supposedly lost.

  18. Those who rejected the time-setting and said "I told you so!" after the disappointment were mockers who would be punished by God:
    EGW: "In like manner, those who have scoffed and mocked at the idea of the saints' going up, will be visited with the wrath of God, and will be made to feel that it is not a light thing to trifle with their Maker."
    NOTE: We have no evidence this visitation of wrath ever occurred.

  19. Jesus frowned and turned away from those who did not accept the time-setting:
    EGW: "Jesus turned from them with a frown; for they had slighted and rejected Him."
    NOTE: Mrs. White wishes us to believe that Jesus was frowning upon the very people who followed His Word (Matt. 25:13), while smiling upon those who ignored His plain warning against setting dates.

  20. Jesus asked His angels to lead people out from the Protestant churches that refused to accept the time-setting:
    EGW: "I saw Jesus turn His face from those who rejected and despised His coming, and then He bade angels lead His people out from among the unclean, lest they should be defiled."
    NOTE: What is it that would "defile" the people if they stayed in their churches? The main issue that divided the Millerites from the churches was the setting of a date for Christ to return in 1844. History has proven the churches were correct about 1844. Therefore, the people would be "defiled" by the truth if they stayed in their churches.

Let the Facts Speak for Themselves!

Now compare the Adventist position regarding the Millerite Movement with the Protestant position and ask yourself this question: Who is right and who is wrong?

1844 Adventists: Right or Wrong? 1844 Protestants: Right or Wrong?
The Millerites know the day and hour of Christ's return Only God knows the day and hour of Christ's return (Matt. 24:36)
Time-setting is God's method to stir people up to revival Time-setting is a device of the Devil. It creates a fanatical excitement and always ends in disappointment
All Bible prophecy to be fulfilled by 1844 Many Biblical prophecies were yet unfulfilled (Matt. 24:14)
Bible prophecies, such as the number 666, prove Jesus will return in 1844 There are no Bible prophecies that pinpoint the day or hour of Christ's return
The "most devoted", such as the young, uneducated 13-year-old Ellen Harmon, "knew the message was of God" Truth is not based upon how one feels or upon emotional excitement; it is based upon the Word of God
Protestant churches were fallen, deceived, and united with Satan Miller was mistaken and those that joined him were deluded about the imminent return of Jesus
God wanted His people to be deceived and severely disappointed in 1843 People would not have been disappointed had they listened to Protestant church leaders
Were proven wrong on October 22, 1844 Were proven right on October 22, 1844

You decide. Was this really God's movement? Did God inspire a man to (1) contradict His Word, (2) use time-setting methods He had explicitly forbidden, (3) set a date which could not possibly be accurate according to other Bible prophecies, (4) use as proof of that date a variety of unsound and inaccurate intepretations of Scripture such as the number 666, (5) call people away from their church homes, and (6) lead people to believe a delusion that resulted in a bitter disappointment? Is that how God operates?


1. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 14.

2. To learn how the Millerites arrived at the date of October 22, 1844, Click Here.

3. George Storrs, The Morning Watch, Feb. 20, 1845.

4. William Miller, Miller's Lectures, p. 251.

5. Dale Ratzlaff, Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists. [Editor's note: You need to read all of the proofs to understand how Biblically unsound they are. Click here to read them.]

6. For a thorough discussion of the 2300-day prophecy, click here.

7. Ellen White, Early Writings, pp. 229-249. Click here to read entire statement from Early Writings.

Category: 1844 Movement
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