William Miller

William Miller

The Great Disappointment was a major event in the history of the Millerite movement, a 19th century American Christian sect. William Miller, the preacher from whom the movement took its name, prophesied that Jesus, the Savior of the Christian religion, would return to [Earth on October 22, 1844. When Jesus did not appear as expected on the appointed day, great numbers of Millerites abandoned the sect, clearing the path for its eventual dissolution. However other Christian groups would spawn from it, and still others were influenced.


Millerite 1843 chart 2

1843 prophetic chart illustrating numerous interpretations of prophecy yielding the year 1843

Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller, a [Baptist]] preacher, played a notable role in what historians have called the Second Great Awakening. The Millerite movement, named for William Miller, had significant influence on popular views of biblical prophecy, including upon the movement that later consolidated as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Miller preached a set of fourteen rules for the interpretation of the Bible.[1] Based on his study of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 , Miller calculated that Jesus would return to Earth sometime between 21 March 1843 and 21 March 1844.[2] Around 50,000 to 100,000 Christians waited in hope. After the latter date came and went, the date was revised and set as October 22, 1844 based on the yearly Day of Atonement in Karaite Judaism.

When Jesus did not appear, Miller's followers experienced what came to be called "the Great Disappointment". Most of the thousands of followers left the movement. A group of the remaining followers concluded after biblical study that the prophecy predicted not that Jesus would return in 1844, but that the investigative judgment in heaven would begin in that year.

Miller recorded his personal disappointment in his memoirs: "Were I to live my life over again, with the same evidence that I then had, to be honest with God and man, I should have to do as I have done. I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment."[3] Miller continued to wait for the second coming until his death in 1849.

Psychological PerspectiveEdit

The Great Disappointment is viewed[4] as an example of how the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance manifests itself through failed prophecies which often arise in a religious context.[5] The theory was proposed by Leon Festinger to describe the formation of new beliefs and increased proselytizing in order to reduce the tension, or dissonance, that results from failed prophecies. According to the theory, believers experienced tension following the failure of Jesus' reappearance in 1844 which led to a variety of new explanations. The various solutions form a part of the teachings of the different groups that outlived the disappointment.


  1. Miller's Rules of Scriptural Interpretation
  2. Miller Mistakenly Set a Date for Christ's Return
  3. Sears, William (1961). Thief in the Night, London: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-008-X.
  4. O'Leary, Stephen (2000). "When Prophecy Fails and When it Succeeds: Apocalyptic Prediction and Re-Entry into Ordinary Time" Albert I. Baumgarten (ed.) Apocalyptic Time, p. 356, Brill Publishers. "Examining Millerite accounts of the Great Disappointment, it is clear that Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance is relevant to the experience of this apocalyptic movement."
  5. James T. Richardson. Encyclopedia of Religion and Society: Cognitive Dissonance. Hartland Institute. URL accessed on 2006-07-09.
  • Jon R. Stone (2000). Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92331-X.


See alsoEdit

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