Servants' News

May/June 2000

Analysis of HWA’s book Mystery of the Ages

by Bruce Lyon

In the past few years there has been some ado about Herbert W. Armstrong’s final book, Mystery of the Ages. Most “Church of God” groups ignore it, but others teach from it—like the Philadelphia Church of God (PO Box 3700, Edmond, OK 73083; which reprints it and gives it to whomever asks. (Quotes in this article are from the PCG edition which sometimes differs by a page from the original 1985 edition.)

Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong -- image of front cover textI believe Mr. Armstrong, in general, well analyzed the “why” of God’s choosing of unconverted Israel:

“[God] was going to prove to the world that without His Holy Spirit… the mind of MAN, with its one spirit… could not solve human problems… The nation Israel would be his guinea pig to demonstrate that fact.” (Page 169)

“God let many generations of ancient Israel and Judah PROVE by hundreds of years of human experience, that the best of humanity, without God’s Holy Spirit CANNOT SOLVE HUMAN PROBLEMS AND EVILS!” (Page 174)

Pages 175-176 also show that man is “HELPLESS” and “cannot be righteous” without God’s Spirit.

That God is the “SUPREME RULER over all the nations, governments and kings—that GOD RULES THE UNIVERSE!” and that “Satan the Devil remains on earth’s throne only because God allows it” (pp. 297-298) are truths that we sometimes confuse with subordinate concepts.

Authority of the Book

What authority does the book have? Was it directly inspired by God? Mr. Armstrong’s own words show that he regarded this book as nearly on a level with the Bible:

“Time may prove this to be the most important book written in almost 1,900 years” (Page xii)

“…this book, written since God’s time for it has come… I have been led to write this book… to share… the answers that… God reveals in his Word…” (Page xiii)

“These are the SEVEN GREAT MYSTERIES… The PLAIN TRUTH of all these mysteries is revealed in the Bible…” (Page 5)

“…these GREAT TRUTHS” (Page 12)

Also on this page he draws comparisons to the revelations God gave to Moses and Paul. On page 30 Mr. Armstrong again asserts that the truths in this book are revelations from God.

The question he never does answer is, “How can anyone be sure these are revelations from God?” Most Bible writers clearly claim that they heard God’s voice or had a vision or dream. Mr. Armstrong does not say that anything was specifically given to him in some miraculous way by God. He claimed to find it in the Bible, just like we can.

I find that, along with the good material, there are noticeable errors, and even concepts contrary to the Bible. Even though Gerald Flurry, David Hulme and other heads of “Church of God” groups continue to say great things about Mystery of the Ages, none of them has any miraculous proof we can observe. All we can do is check it against the Bible. Notice what Mr. Armstrong says about the Bible:

“Does it [the Bible] speak with authority? That question puzzled me and is the mystery to be cleared up in this volume.” (Pages viii-ix)

“I found absolute… proof of the existence of the Supreme Creator God and also of the absolute authority of the Holy Bible as the Word of God…” (Page x)

“The Bible is the basic mystery…” (Pages 3, 5)

Mr. Armstrong states that he will show that the Bible is authoritative (page ix above). Yet, he does not follow through on that claim:

“This is not the place for a lengthy, detailed account of my intensive search in the Bible… The essential point here is the simple fact that I did find irrefutable PROOF of the divine inspiration and supreme AUTHORITY of the Holy Bible…” (Page 25).

This is exactly the place for such proof! Herbert Armstrong’s words are not proof. A book that is to be the most important book since the Bible should establish the Bible as supreme. True, one can only accomplish so much in one volume of 363 pages. But Mr. Armstrong’s autobiography (in two volumes) totaled over 1,300 pages. Surely, the “GREAT MYSTERIES” are more important than that!

Hit the High Spots in Order

There are many good points to the book, but I will not promote them here. (If you read the book—it does a good job of promoting itself.) I will cover the major problems and errors in the book. There are many minor problems, which, for space, cannot be covered here. Chapter 1 has several examples of such problems, but they are related to the more significant problems of chapters 2 and 3.

Angels and Evil Spirits

Mystery number two, Mystery of Angels and Evil Spirits, has the same fundamental errors noted in my previous article on The Incredible Human Potential book (back-issues may still be available from The Journal, September 25, 1997 issue or from Servants’ News). The concepts are similar.

Of course I agree with the Bible as Mr. Armstrong quotes on page 62: “Are not all angels merely spirits in the divine service, commissioned for the benefit of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14, Moffatt Translation).

Where I do find significant error is in Mr. Armstrong’s idea that God’s original purpose was to build holy, righteous character in the angels and upon their successful completion of His purpose for them, they would be rewarded with the rest of the universe to populate and finish the creation thereof. The plan to reproduce Himself through mankind was only a secondary backup plan (more fully expounded by Mr. Armstrong in The Incredible Human Potential), in case God’s first plan for the angelic realm proved faulty beyond repair (which it did!). Here is a sampling (refer for more details to my previous article):

“What was God’s ULTIMATE OBJECTIVE for the angels? Beyond question it is that which, now, because of angelic rebellion, has become the transcendent potential of humans!” (Page 70)

“Evidently if the now-fallen angels had maintained the earth… improved it [etc.]… they would have been offered the awesome potential of populating and carrying out a tremendous creative program throughout the entire universe.” (Page 88)

The Bible does not state or demonstrate the above two quotes.

“How must God have looked at the situation, as he started renewing the face of the earth—after the colossal debacle of the angels!” (Page 87)

“As God surveyed this cataclysmic tragedy…” (Page 93)

“God saw that no being less than God, in the God Family, could be certainly relied on never to sin… And that is why God put man on the earth! That is what caused God to do this most colossal, tremendous thing ever undertaken by the supreme, almighty God—to reproduce himself! The following chapter will make this undeniably clear.” (Page 94)

What is undeniably clear in this scenario: (1) God created a class of beings (angels) and a plan for them that could not succeed (hence, God Himself actually failed to plan well enough for them); (2) God did not accept the success of the other two thirds of the angels (and archangels Michael and Gabriel) who did prove loyal, holy and righteous, due to their original poor design capabilities.

Mr. Armstrong stated the correct principles on pages 13 and 122, “His [God’s] purpose shall stand”; and page 87, “God does nothing in vain.” In mysteries two and three he forgets these fundamental truths.

In my previous article about The Incredible Human Potential, I cite scriptures from Genesis to Revelation (see mystery number three below for a sampling) showing that God does not fail in His purposes and plans. We should have complete confidence in the ability of “the supreme, almighty God” (regarding His part) to bring His plan for us humans to perfect and successful conclusion (Phlp 1:6—NKJV throughout when I quote the Bible; HWA mostly uses KJV).

“The good news is God’s purpose through mankind and the fact that the two thirds of the angels who are holy and righteous outnumber the demons and remain as God’s invisible agents to minister to and help in the righteous character development of the myriad of humans who shall yet become… members of the great God family.” (Page 95)

God needs no help. He uses angels, but not because He needs them. All the archangels and regular angels are no match against the infinite and almighty creator God. A majority on God’s side is not necessary. God is the majority! (1 Kings 8:27; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 40:12; Jeremiah 23:24).

The Mystery of Man

Mystery number three, The Mystery of Man, also has problems because it is linked inextricably (according to Mr. Armstrong—see page 99) to the previous mystery of the angels. Again, my previous article deals with this unbiblical concept (that God had to implement a “better idea” after His first plan failed).

“Much supposed ‘Christian’ teaching has been that God created the first man a perfect immortal being, but that when God was not looking Satan stole in and wrecked this wonderful handiwork of God. Salvation is then pictured as God’s effort to repair the damage, and to restore mankind back to a condition as good as when God first created him.” (Page 124)

This is remarkably similar to what Mr. Armstrong has taught in this book, and in his previous book, regarding the “first plan” with the angels and the “secondary backup plan” with mankind scenario:

1. God created the first beings (angels) perfect immortal spirits (though still unproven in loyalty, etc.).

2. God had not looked forward enough in His designing and engineering of the plan for the angelic realm so Satan stole in, corrupted the angels under him, and wrecked the wonderful handiwork/purpose-of-God for them—not only for the rebellious one third of the angels, but also for the loyal two thirds—actually exposing the fact that God had an unworkable plan for all the angels and archangels.

3. The salvation of mankind is then pictured as God’s effort—via a better plan—to repair the damage done to the Government of God which had been nullified on earth by Satan, and to restore that Government back to a condition as good as when God first created other beings.

This is contrary to what God says about His own ability to plan ahead and be successful in any and all endeavors. See Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 33:11, 104:24, 147:5; Proverbs 8:14, 22, 23; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Isaiah 14:24, 46:9-11, 55:11; Ezekiel 36:36; Luke 1:37; Ephesians 1:11; to name a few verses.

Mr. Armstrong ends mystery number three on page 135:

“God created man on the earth to build in us what the sinning angels refused to let God build in them—his perfect CHARACTER!”

But two thirds of the angels did NOT refuse; they succeeded! So should we humans not exist? Plainly, something is very wrong with Herbert Armstrong’s (NOT God’s!) scenario of mysteries two and three (which were taken directly from his previous book, The Incredible Human Potential).

God’s Government Nullified?

One constant theme in both his last books: Mr. Armstrong says we humans were placed here to restore God’s Government that had been nullified on the earth by the sinning angels (see pages 50, 73, 94, 100, 103, 113, 114, 122, 131, 137, etc.).

God’s Government has never been nullified anywhere in the universe at any time (Genesis 14:19, 22; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 103:19; etc.—also page 20 of The Good News, March/April 1998).

God only allows individuals and groups to stand, for a time, in opposition to Him for His purposes. So, all this was His choice, not ours. God chose to place us here on the same planet with Satan and the demons. Nothing forced Him to do this. God makes the rules. God rules (Psalm 103:19)!

The lessons from all this Satanic/human civilization experience—where the great majority of mankind has lived in poor to utterly horrendous circumstances throughout history—without the true knowledge of God, His law, His Spirit—are invaluable and should aid most to know deeply the value of choosing God’s perfect way when the opportunity for spiritual free moral agency is given to them in the future.

Even for God’s own converted children now, He often does not heal immediately or even intervene in life-threatening situations. Nor does He alleviate financial and other burdens.

God by His wisdom and love knows what is in our best interests. And that is despite His overall desire that we “may prosper in all things and be in health.” Nothing can keep God from giving us the full benefits of 3 John 2; Psalm 103:3; Malachi 3:10; and Psalm 91:9-12, for examples (and I am talking about converted people making sincere, diligent effort toward God). God chooses when and where and in what measure to implement His stated desires for us. These are not yardsticks by which to judge our brethren spiritually.

The apostle Paul was not known for his material wealth, or for complete healing, or for absolute physical protection from all harm (1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5, 10, 11:23-25, 27, 30, 12:5, 7-10; Galatians 4:13-15).

What the Bible Says About the Tree of Life

“Had Adam taken of the proffered tree of life the whole course of civilization would have been entirely different. Peace, happiness, joy, health and abundance would have spread over the earth.” (Page 140)

Just how plainly did God offer the tree of life to Adam and Eve?

Adam and Eve were unconverted, though not yet sinners, when they met Satan. Contrary to what Mr. Armstrong often alleged, they (per the biblical record) are not shown to have been given much knowledge by God aside from some material instructions (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:15-17, 19-20, 22-24, 3:1-3).

The Bible does not say that God even mentioned the tree of life to Adam and Eve. The only reference to it before their sin is the narrative account in Genesis 2:9). God gave a simple, clear command NOT to eat from the evil tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:2, 3, 11, 17). Other than that prohibition, the other trees are simply lumped together as edible. Is it possible that Adam and Eve had to try all of the trees to find which was the tree of life?.

Why is there no positive command recorded regarding the utilization of the tree of life to Adam and Eve? Later, God gave clear instructions about good and evil to the Israelites, as well as a positive command to “choose life” (Deut 30:19).

We see Satan’s clever sales pitch to Eve (Genesis 3:1-6, 13, 17). Satan was allowed to call God a liar. Note also that these two babes-in-the-garden didn’t even know enough to be startled by a talking snake!

So, where was the Almighty God of the Universe’s even greater sales pitch of the incredible potential of partaking of the good tree? If Adam and Eve were clearly promised eternal life by eating it, wouldn’t they eat of it first?

Why does the Bible record God giving Adam and Eve a healthy warning against Satan on one hand, but no positive encouragement to eat the right tree on the other? If this is to be a fair fight, should not Adam and Eve be prepared for both? How is it they so quickly and easily went astray at the first drop of a forked tongue?

And who allowed the arch-deceiver and most consummate liar in the universe (who already had successfully deceived millions of spirit beings, each superior to any human) into God’s own garden? — God did.

I don’t believe any human—or group of humans—without God’s Spirit actively assisting them can possibly outwit the great evil archangel Satan (Revelation 12:3-4, 9; Isaiah 14:12-17)—the “super DECEIVER!” (page 33).

And God barred all people from that point from even the possibility of stumbling upon the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). The Bible does not clearly say that Adam and Eve ever knew where it was.

How were Adam and Eve to know whether the first being (God) was entirely truthful or not? Satan’s offer appealed to their human nature: Eve wanted what looked good and sounded like an extra bargain. Adam failed to exercise good leadership and went along with his wife. What leadership training had he received prior to this?

“Had he [Adam] taken of the tree of life, he himself undoubtedly would have succeeded Satan on the throne of the earth, restoring the government of God…” (Page 141)

I doubt this was God’s plan at all; the Bible does not corroborate this conjecture. The Bible says that all sin (Romans 3:9-28; Ecclesiastes 7:20), not that “Adam could have had salvation without Christ”. Even hundreds of years into the Millennium in utopian circumstances, with no Satan around, and under the perfect rule of Jesus Christ with millions of perfect God Beings assisting Him, the Bible still shows that no human will ever partake of the tree of life and walk on into God’s Kingdom having never sinned.

God has so designed and engineered us in His infinite wisdom and perfect planning so that each of us will be in absolute need of the Savior, even without Satan around (as during the Millennium). So, our nature does not come directly from Satan exclusively.

How we naturally are as humans and how we naturally become is all part of our nature: human nature. This is how God created us. “In Romans 8:7 it is stated plainly that the natural mind of humans is hostile against God” (pages 37, 239).

It is not a matter of a possibility, or even of a probability, that we humans will sin in our lives (1Jn 1:8). It is an absolute certainty. This is no accident.

Yet, God is absolutely against sin. Sin is absolutely evil, always. God commands us not to sin. Yet God also has absolutely assured us, by how He made us, that we will sin in our physical lives. See Romans 1:23, 6:19, 8:20-26; 1 Corinthians 1:19-29, 15:42-50, 53-54; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 7:28; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Psalm 89:47; Jeremiah 10:23.

This is a paradox, at least to our limited logic. So, why would God still find fault with us? Is this fair?

Was it fair that Christ, who was perfectly innocent, died the hideous death on the cross? It is not a matter of what is fair, but what is necessary (as God has determined—Luke 22:22; John 19:10-11). See Romans 9:11-23. What God offers us is far greater than fair (Rev 21:7).

We still have our personal responsibility. Though we have done things in ignorance or weakness, we have also willingly participated in things we knew were wrong. The dynamics in us toward sin are exceedingly strong; overall stronger and more relentless than we are. Again, this is no accident. It is the challenge God has given us. By this He will know who is really interested in what He offers.

Only the omnipotent God of love can make the end justify the means. Remember, He even sacrificed His own innocent Son (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). I believe Romans 8:8-23, 28, 32, 35-39 fit here. God has created not only good things, but also detrimental things: harmful bacteria, viruses, diseases, poisonous plants and spiders, savage beasts, venomous snakes, biting insects, etc. (Isaiah 45:5-7; pages 39, 57, “God is Creator of ALL…”)

God could have created the human reproductive system to conceive and deliver only healthy, perfectly formed babies. He could have made us so that we all die quickly once the results of age or massive injury occurred, versus death after often long, painful situations.

Who bound foolishness in the heart of children (Proverbs 22:15)? God knows the answer to His own rhetorical exclamation in Deuteronomy 5:29.

This latter verse, along with Genesis 6:5-7, shows that God is not emotionless about what He allows to go on. It does seem plain that the extremes of sinful behavior and atrocities are mostly the direct result of Satan’s and the demons’ influence (e.g. pre-Flood violence, recorded history, the endtimes, the end of the Millennium—Ephesians 6:12). Yet God allows all these up to an amazing point (billions killed, tortured, maimed, including many saints; including Christ!) before He intervenes. The extremes God allows are hard for us in our limited minds to accept or understand.

Romans 9 helps us see some of the difference in God’s logic versus our logic and perspective. Also Isaiah 55:8-9.

God did create us the way we are and the way we naturally become, and He knew exactly what He was doing.

God has ensured that there will be no boasting (Rom 3:27-28; 1Cor 1:29, 4:7; Eph 2:7-10). And that we will be grateful forever (Psalms 136, 144-150, many others). God owes us nothing. But He offers us everything good forever (Rev 21:7).

God want us to know just how exceedingly evil sin really is (Rom 7:13).

We are not absolved from personal responsibility by all this. Once God calls us, then He expects us to turn from sin and overcome, through Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit. That is then our choice. It is God’s universe, and we either cooperate wholeheartedly and live (but eternal life is still a gift, because God owes us nothing), or we become self-satisfied in sin and therefore die.

Racial Issues

A fair portion of the Mystery of Civilization and Mystery of Israel chapters (pp. 147-174, 341-342) contain dominant themes regarding racial purity and condemning interracial marriage.

The Bible is not concerned with the color of one’s skin in any way pertaining to salvation. Even in Ancient Israel, a racially “mixed multitude” (Ex 12:37-38) went up with Israel out of Egypt. God said there was one law for them all (verses 48-49; Lev 19:33-34). Provisions were made for other races to join the congregation of Israel (Deut 21:10-13; 23:8).

Notice the following quotes that do not reference a scripture, because there is none to reference:

“There was rampant and universal interracial marriage [before the Flood]—so exceedingly universal that Noah, only, was unblemished or perfect in his generations—his ancestry.” (Page 147)

“It is amply evident by the time of Noah there were at least the three primary or major racial strains on earth, the white, yellow and black, although interracial marriage produced many racial mixtures.” (Page 148)

“It is evident that Adam and Eve were created white.” (Page 148)

Where does it say that in the Bible? If all mankind is created in the image of God, why would that make any difference whatsoever?

“God originally set the bounds of national borders, intending nations to be SEPARATED to prevent interracial marriage. Notice, ‘when the most High divided to the nations their inheritance [speaking of land or geographical boundaries], when he separated [notice—he separated] the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people…’ (Deuteronomy 32:8).” (Page 148)

By itself, this is not proof that God’s overriding concern was to prevent interracial marriage. Certainly the land-inheritance system that God doubtless will utilize in the Millennium, as He did in ancient Israel, would minimize interracial marriage. But the Bible does not at all prohibit interracial marriage per se.

“His [Noah’s] wife and three sons were of that same white strain. But Japheth evidently had married an Oriental woman, and Ham a black.” (Pages 148-149)

“God intended to prevent racial intermarriages.” (Page 151)

“Ham, married to a black woman, had black children… Japheth, married to a yellow woman, started his own family, which were of yellow extraction. The early history recorded in the Bible speaks of ‘families,’ rather than ‘races’.” (Page 154)

This creates quite a problem! Would God condemn the world because of interracial marriages, then preserve the races through two interracial marriages to Noah’s “white” sons? By this logic, the marvelous, interesting variety of ethnic groups throughout mankind are a direct result of Japheth’s and Ham’s mixed marriages. Maybe God preserved the races that way, maybe He did it another way. But why make such dogmatic statements without biblical or historical proof—or the clear word of God?

“The probability is that these people [Israelites] were all—or nearly all—of the white racial strain, unchanged since creation… He [Abraham] prevented his son Isaac from inter-marrying among the dark Canaanites then in the land… The whole community of Haran, where Laban [Jacob’s uncle] lived, was of the same family ancestry as Abraham… Even the maids [from whom four of Jacob’s sons were born] were undoubtedly of pure Hebrew stock.” (Page 167)

Words like “probability”, “dark Canaanites”, “whole community”, and “undoubtedly” do not sound like the Bible, history or divine inspiration. They are guesses. Pharaoh gave Joseph (son of Israel) an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife. Was she white or dark? Actually, the Bible makes no effort to give us racial details of most people in it. There is no clear section of the Bible dealing with interracial marriage and racial purity.

God gave Israel prohibitions against intermarrying with other peoples, but it appears that these things are for religious (spiritual) not racial (physical) reasons. There are examples of Israelites marrying people of other races who have accepted Israel’s God—and these people are called righteous. But Mystery of the Ages continues, ignoring such examples:

“Jesus Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, and it was necessary that He be of the original pure racial strain, even as Noah was.” (Page 174)

The Bible teaches that Christ’s ancestry was mixed. His genealogy mentions mostly men, but specifically four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba (Matthew 1:3-6). Some historians believe they were all Gentiles. Two unquestionably were Gentiles: Rahab was from Jericho before Israel conquered it; Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4); Bathsheba was formerly the wife of Uriah, a Hittite, and the daughter of Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (2Sam 11:3; 2Sam 23:34—Gilon is a Gentile area). Tamar, Judah’s “harlot” came from Adullam, the same place where Judah’s wife came from, who was a Canaanite (Gen 38:3-30).

Christ had at least two Gentile ancestors. And one, Rahab, came from the “dark” Canaanites then in the land.

Ephraim and Manasseh

“Ephraim and Manasseh journeyed on into the British Isles. They became a colonizing people, and according to prophecy they were to lose their first colony.” (Page 183)

I have never seen this prophecy quoted in WCG literature and I do not believe it is in the Bible. Remember that Ephraim and Manasseh—the progenitors of the birthright tribes—were half-blooded Egyptians. See pages 42, 103, United States and Britain in Prophecy, 1980 edition, by Mr. Armstrong. The ancient Egyptian people (Mizraim) descended from Ham and his “black” wife, as did Canaan.

“…neither America nor Britain has come out on top in any major conflict since that time [Korean War, 1950-1953]!” (Page 189)

Wrong! Britain won the Falklands War (1982). America led and mostly staffed the successful Gulf War (1991); Iraq was booted out of Kuwait according to the UN mandate. Mr. Armstrong wrote this book in 1985—a very uninspired knowledge of history and prophecy.

The Mystery of the Church

“Peter was the first and chief apostle.” (Page 221)

The Bible does not use the term “chief apostle” (or words to that effect) in exclusive reference to the apostle Peter. My reading of various key verses does not indicate the “primacy of Peter”. See Acts 8:14, Acts 15; Galatians 2:6-9; 1 Corinthians 7:17. The Bible says that Christ holds this honor (Hebrews 3:1).

“The Pharisees KNEW JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH!” (Page 224)

The Bible does not say that. Some thought that He was a teacher from God (John 3:2), but there are numerous statements where they denied His authority, teaching and even His miracles.

“The Messiah, and he alone, would be able to overcome and conquer Satan—to QUALIFY to replace Satan ON THE THRONE OF THE EARTH! Only through him could the sons of Adam be reconciled to GOD…” (Page 235)

Another constant theme in both Mr. Armstrong’s last two books was that Christ had to “qualify” in order to replace Satan on earth’s throne, as just quoted. That God the Father required Christ to go through what He did as a human—yes, He had to withstand Satan’s best shots. There was the calculated risk that He could sin.

And, of course, God required a sacrifice for our sins according to His plan, applicable upon godly repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). But was Christ at any time unqualified to be King or even less qualified than Satan? What scripture could anyone use to prove that?

“God left them [sons of Adam] to their own devices—knowing full well they would willingly and willfully follow automatically Satan’s ‘GET’ way.” (Page 235)

I agree.

“‘For GOD hath concluded them all in unbelief [“disobedience” per NKJV], that he might have mercy UPON ALL!’ (Romans 11:32)” (Page 236)

I believe that God planned all along that we humans begin spiritually from a sinful state (whatever time after birth once we first sin) and that we struggle—with God’s help and mercy all the way (Colossians 1:10-29; Philippians 2:12-13; etc.)—toward the tree of life (Revelation 2:7 and 22:14).

On pages 48-50, 205 to 273, and 325 to 351, Mr. Armstrong holds forth in no uncertain terms that the Church must believe exactly the same things and cannot be divided into more than one organization. And it must be hierarchical (such as we experienced during his time) with one man in control and command under Christ.

I believe God’s Church is a spiritual organism that cannot be, in this age, defined by any human or visible organizational boundaries.

Also on page 251 he refers to the 18 restored truths (published by Joseph Tkach some time after Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, see also pages 241-251). The very first of these “truths” prohibits a general conference and voting as a means of governance. Even though the UCG-IA may verbally embrace the “18 truths”, they are not following the first one. I think they are learning.

Imperfect Prophetic Interpretation

“Nebuchadnezzar was the first real world ruler. He had conquered a vast empire…” (Page 297)

Nebuchadnezzar ruled the region of the fertile crescent and Egypt. By the standards of the day it was a great empire. But it was only a relatively small chunk of the whole world. The previous Assyrian Empire ruled that same region.

“[Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was] to reveal—preserved in writing for us TODAY—what is to happen ‘in the latter days’—actually within the next two decades—THIS LAST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY!” (Pages 297-298)

Those events (including Christ’s Return, Daniel 2:44), therefore, must come to pass by December 31, 2000 AD. This is yet another example of Mr. Armstrong setting dates.

I distinctly recall Mr. Armstrong saying, with obvious satisfaction, that whilst others in the Church had set dates for the endtime events, he himself never did. He claims to have been the latter-day Elijah (carefully read pages 9, 10, 24, 157, 251, 267, 289-291). Elijah had been a prophet in ancient Israel. God actually spoke to him. “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him (Deut 18:22).

“Now here [Daniel 2] we have described FOUR universal world empires—the only four that ever existed!” (Page 301)

This is gross historical inaccuracy! This time he says “universal world” empires. This is even stronger than his previous simple “universal” empires he wrote about in 1978 (when he also set a date for the endtime events).

Many empires from before and after those four empires have been as large or larger: Median, Assyrian, Persian, Arab, Turkish, Mongolian, Chinese, British, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German, for prime examples.

A Mixture of Truth and Error

“All teaching came from Christ through the apostles… God’s Church today, as in the first century, receives its teachings from the living Christ, through an apostle, just as in AD 31.” (Page 350)

Considering the plain errors noted in a number of the teachings of this book and the previous book (The Incredible Human Potential), something is terribly wrong here. I’ll trust the Bible over Herbert Armstrong any day. Sure, I could go through this book and list a dozen or more good things. However, I did not come to praise this book, but to bury it.

I honestly thought we had allowed these two books, Mystery of the Ages and The Incredible Human Potential, to die natural deaths after they were both withdrawn by the WCG about 1990. They were rarely, if ever, referred to even before 1990 in my experience. I assumed that was because the numerous obvious errors were plain to many—especially to educated elders.

When books have upwards of ten percent error, then they are as much or more trouble as they are worthwhile.

In the categories of unproven statements and opinions stated as fact (many of which I believe are easily disproved), along with information that is simply erroneous, I estimate that The Incredible Human Potential is 30% or more flawed (and not just chapters 4 and 5!). I estimate that Mystery of the Ages is at least 25% flawed. I have only shown some of the problems in this book.

As a whole, these books have way too many holes!

When truth is greatly interlaced with errors, the credibility of the whole suffers and the credibility of those who promote it. Even unconverted people can often see some of the false concepts, scriptural and historical, noted above.

The mixture of good and error in these books is strongly intertwined. Several themes and concepts Mr. Armstrong weaves throughout both books are false or unsupported by the Bible (yet stated as fact).

My desire is simple: let’s get rid of obvious biblical errors and other misinformation (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and let’s not be unbiblically cult-like in any way.

God was never dependent on Herbert Armstrong. Nor does our salvation depend on Mr. Armstrong in any way; it never did.

If grossly inaccurate books are retained as beneficial and recommended, then continual and needless controversy and confusion will result. This is already the case.

In 1969 a 19-page double-spaced article was sent to the Plain Truth editorial staff for publication. The headline began like this:



Things Which Have Been Kept Secret From the
Foundation of the World But Are Now Re-
vealed in The Pages of Your Bible
So You can Understand!


Was this Herbert Armstrong’s initial version of Mystery of the Ages? Actually, no. It was an article by Bernard H. Kelly, a 1963 Ambassador College Graduate and editorial employee of the Worldwide Church of God. Whilst Mystery of the Ages is obviously a much longer work and contains many things not in Bernard Kelly’s article, the concept of the Bible revealing the mysteries of God is the same. Herbert Armstrong showed that he was not above plagiarism with his books titled: U.S. & BC in Prophecy, Has Time Been Lost? and The Missing Dimension in Sex. (For details, see Servants’ News issues Nov 1998, p. 19, 23 and May/June 1999, p. 32.)

Photocopiers were not common in the 1960s and Mr. Kelly said he did not make a carbon copy. We don’t have any specific proof that Mr. Armstrong used this article in writing Mystery of the Ages, but he did review most articles considered for publication in the 1960’s. Also, we can be sure that he did collect a lot of research material for his last book. He quotes extensively from C. Paul Meredith’s thesis, which was published in the early 1960s. He also makes use of the U.S. & B.C. in Prophecy and quite a few other Church of God publications. Mystery of the Ages was clearly not written by Mr. Armstrong typing or dictating all new material, but was a compilation with some new writing.

For more details, Bernard Kelly may be reached at 130 W. Huntington Dr, #120, Arcadia, CA, 91007-3025.


He recently began producing a paper entitled The Bible Expositor.

—Norman Edwards


Back to front page   May/June 2000 Index
Latest Issue   Previous Issues    Literature List
About Servants’ News    Contact   Help    Subscribe

Permission is granted to reproduce any article in its entirety