Did Herbert Armstrong deliberately hide his sources of information so he could claim that God revealed doctrines to him directly, and that he did not get his teachings from men? Did he base his claim to be an apostle on assertions that he did not get his teachings from men? How many, if any, teachings did he actually get from the writings of other men?
Remember that the book The United States and Britain in Prophecy is only a summary of all the research that would have had to be done to produce the book. To put together all the information summarized in the book Armstrong would have had to do a lot of bible and historical research. He would have had to research a great deal of ancient history and put it together with many bible passages. He would have had to sort out a lot of truth from error. This would have been a very time consuming task even if inspired by God through the process.
It is our understanding that Armstrong first wrote about British-Israelism shortly after his conversion. He was not a historian and at that time his knowledge of the bible was quite limited. Yet we find that he apparently waded through numerous bible prophecies and forgotten historical documents in what must have been record time. It was long before the Internet age so he would likely have had to travel to find obscure records such as the ancient annals of Ireland. He would have had to find all this information, read and digest volumes of information, analyze it, evaluate it, distill it, and summarize it. He had to do all this without using a computer to find any information. He had to do all this without using any modern bible research tools (modern bible dictionaries, modern translations, software tools, on-line concordances, etc). In the mean time he had a family to feed and perhaps also a church ministry to take care of. And perhaps he was also researching a lot of other doctrines at the same time.
How did he do all this so fast? Did he simply “copy” it?
Anyone who thinks this can be done quickly should try the following exercise which is very simple in comparison: Without using the Internet or consulting any existing Anglo-Israel literature, attempt to verify every detail of every historical claim presented in the book by looking up those details in the original documents.
This “little” exercise does not require the reader to do any original research, come up with any original ideas, sort out truth from error, or seek out any new bible proof. Just try to verify the historical claims.
Just making this small web site was time consuming. And “all” I had to do was to get just two books (Armstrong’s book and Allen’s book), compare them, think about it, and write up my thoughts. I also discussed this topic with a few others to get their input. I got the books off of the Internet so although I had to reformat them, I didn’t have to type them in and I and didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home. I already knew how to make a web site so there was no time spent learning that.
But did Armstrong actually try to pass it off as his own work?
Some of Armstrong’s followers who believe that Armstrong got information from Allen insist that he did no real harm. Several explanations have been offered for this viewpoint.
The definitions of plagiarism (found earlier on this web page) show that plagiarism involves not just using someone else’s words or ideas but also trying to pass it off as one’s own work. Copying words or ideas from others is not plagiarism as long as one gives credit to the original author. Therefore, if Armstrong gave proper credit, then he did not plagiarize.
Did the rules of citing sources change?
Some say the rules of plagiarism were different when Armstrong first wrote his book, that it was not customary at the time to give credit to other writers. But Armstrong’s last revision of his book was published in 1980, and at that time giving credit was a very well established custom. Yet even at this late date there was no mention of Allen in the book.
But didn’t Armstrong give credit to Allen outside the book?
If someone can prove he gave credit to Allen please let me know and I will cite it here on this site. But even if he did give credit to Allen privately, that is not giving proper credit. Armstrong does not mention Allen in his book which is the proper place to mention him if he used Allen’s ideas.
But didn’t everyone know about Allen anyway?
Some say that Allen was widely known about in the Worldwide Church of God, so Armstrong wasn’t hiding anything. But Armstrong mailed his book to about five million people outside that church. Presumably, very few of them would have known about Allen. And even many of those in the church would not have realized how much of what Armstrong wrote on the subject was already known. Some people who were in that church for decades are quite surprised when they learn how much Allen already knew. Those who did know about Allen, didn’t seem to get that information from Armstrong.
Did Armstrong actually claim God revealed it to him?
Some say Armstrong was not trying to pass his book off as revelation from God to him personally. They say he was just writing about the subject.
However, he claimed he was Elijah prophesied to come and restore “all things” (lost doctrines) to the church. He also said British-Israelism was one of the truths he restored.
Also, please note the following statements from The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
Armstrong said he was doing the work of God:
God has said, IN YOUR BIBLE, that He would get the warning to His people Ephraim-BRITAIN. [1980, p. 225, last chapter, section God Said It!…].
Some day, people will wake up to realize this is the Work of God! [1980, p. 226].
This book has given the WARNING from God and His Word. [1980, p. 228].
By God’s direction and authority, I have laid the truth before you! (1980, p. 229, last chapter, section You Can Escape …).
He said he was the servant of God who had the secret of the lost ten tribes:
Yet the best minds in the world are in total ignorance of the unprecedented cataclysm that is about to strike. And why have these prophecies not been understood or believed? Because the vital KEY that unlocks prophecy to our understanding had been lost. That key is the identity of the United States and the British peoples in biblical prophecy.
That key has been found! We present it to those whose unprejudiced eyes are willing to see.
The events prophesied to strike the American and British peoples in the next few years are SURE!
God says: “Surely the Lord Eternal will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). … [1980, p. xii, Introduction, section, Best Minds — Total Ignorance]
Consider this last quote. Aside from the fact that Armstrong was off in his timing, since more than a “few years” have passed since he wrote this, he again implies that God is using him (and his church) to do the work of getting this message out. In other words, he says he is the servant of God leading this effort. And by calling this doctrine the lost vital key, and then quoting Amos 3:7 about God revealing his “secret” to his servants, he creates the impression that this secret was revealed to him. He quoted Amos 3:7 again later (1980, p. 225, last chapter, section God Said It!…).
In the next excerpt Armstrong excludes the possibility that Allen could have known about the lost ten tribes. Although he does not mention Allen by name, he excludes Allen in two different ways.
First, Armstrong seems to deny the existence of any Anglo-Israelite literature prior to 1950 by asserting that prophecy was sealed until “the latter half of the twentieth century” (p. 8) which would be from 1950 to 2000. According to the Wikipedia article J.H. Allen, Allen died in 1930. Clearly, Allen couldn’t have known about British-Israelism if it was not revealed until 20 or more years after he died.
Of course, Allen did know about these prophecies, so it is simply untrue that the prophecies could not be known until after 1950. If Armstrong did read Allen’s book, he should have known that wasn’t true.
(The Jewish Encyclopedia traces the theory of British-Israelism back to 1822. See here.)
The second way that Armstrong excludes Allen, is that he asserts that only those who keep the ten commandments (which would of course include the seventh-day Sabbath) can understand these prophecies. Wikipedia says Allen was a Methodist minister who was associated with the Church of God (Holiness). I don’t know what that church taught in Allen’s day, but if Allen was not a Sabbath-keeper and part of what Armstrong called the true church, this would also exclude Allen as a possible recipient of revelation from God.
Once again, if Armstrong did read Allen’s book, he should have known that those outside “the true church” could indeed understand these prophecies. (Which implies that revelation was given to someone outside the true church, or British-Israelism is not revelation.)
Even if Allen were a part of the true church, Armstrong taught that truth was lost until the Philadelphia era, which did not begin until about 1930. Allen wrote in 1902 which was during the end of what Armstrong called the Sardis era when the true church had become virtually dead and was receiving no revelation from God.
Here is the excerpt:
The plain truth is, these prophecies were written for our people of our time, and for no previous people or time. They pertain to world conditions of today, and could not have been understood until today.
One of the very pivotal books of prophecy is the book of Daniel. …
At the very close of his book, Daniel wrote: “And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end … and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:8-10).
So the prophecies of Daniel were CLOSED, sealed, locked up until now! But today we are living in “the time of the end.” Today the “wise” do understand! But who are “the wise”? Only those who fear and obey God–and who have the master key to unlock the locked-up prophecies. God says: “The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Ps. 111:10). And even most professing “Christians” [like John H. Allen?] refuse utterly to do that. No wonder they [people like Allen?] can’t understand.
And don’t forget, the specific key that unlocks these closed doors of prophecy is the definite knowledge of the true identity of the American and British nations as they are mentioned in these prophecies.
Stop a moment and think. If the prophecies Daniel wrote could not be understood by him; if they were “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” — till the latter half of the twentieth century [after 1950] — as the angel said and as Daniel wrote, then they were closed to the ancient Israelites of that day; they contained no message for Daniel’s time [or for anyone prior to 1950]. (1980 edition, pp. 7-8).
So, to recap, we have the following:
(1) Armstrong said that this doctrine was the lost key, i.e. a secret unknown to the world at large.
(2) Armstrong said that God reveals his secrets to his servants.
(3) He taught many times that ministers outside the WCG (which Armstrong founded) were the ministers of Satan, not the servants of God. Obviously, God would not reveal anything to a minister of Satan. Logically, this would include J.H. Allen who was a minister outside Armstrong’s Church of God circle.
(4) Armstrong said he was God’s servant and that he (and his organization which he totally controlled) alone were doing the work of God and that he had laid this information before the reader.
(5) He said the prophecies were closed, which implies they had to be revealed (opened up) with the key, which he had.
(6) He said the prophecies were closed until 1950 (or later), which is after John Allen died.
(7) Nowhere in the book does he mention Allen.
And so, we ask: Did Armstrong take credit for the work of others, conceal his sources, and deliberately create the impression that God revealed this “secret knowledge” to him personally?
But why would he do it?
If Armstrong plagiarized, why?
Because he did not give proper credit to Allen, one gets the impression that he wanted people to believe that God revealed this doctrine to him directly. Herbert Armstrong’s writing style shows he certainly knew how to remove doubt and make his views clear. He was also pretty thorough. Why then did he not clarify this important matter by pointing out Allen’s role? Did he do it so that he could pass himself off as a great servant of God to whom God revealed secrets?
Having the “lost key” of British-Israelism enhanced Armstrong’s claim to be doing the work of God. He told people that if they wanted to serve God they had to support his work and his alone. He told people that if they did not support his work they would suffer horribly.
Those in the true Body of Christ shall be taken to a place of SAFETY, until this Tribulation be over (Rev. 3:10-11, applying to those faithful in GOD’S WORK now going to the world; Rev. 12:14; Isa. 26:20). [p. 228]
So there is a possible motive. If he could make himself out to be one who had revelation from God, this would have allowed him to receive money to support his work and enhance his personal prestige, financial power, and control over his followers.
Does it matter where Armstrong got the teaching as long as it is true?
On this site we remain neutral on the subject of whether the British-Israelism doctrine really is true. The reader is encouraged to look at both sides of that issue objectively before deciding one way or the other.
Some Armstrong followers who believe Armstrong did copy from Allen without giving him credit, still attempt to justify his actions. In Christian theology, the ends do not justify the means, so Christians should question these justifications. Plagiarism is either wrong or it is not. If it is wrong for you and I, it was wrong for Herbert Armstrong.
Nevertheless, let’s examine some of these arguments.
One attempt at justification is the claim that the writers of the books of the bible did not give credit to their sources either.
We respond to this as follows:
a) Since God knows all things, there was no need for these writers to have any other source. They could have received all their information from him without the aid of human sources.
b) If they got information from other human sources and tried to pass it off as revelation directly from God to them, wouldn’t they be considered false prophets or false apostles?
c) It does not apply because Armstrong was not writing holy scripture.
d) This argument could be used to justify just about any plagiarism.
Another attempt at justification is that hiding Allen as the source would supposedly prevent people from being influenced by erroneous beliefs that Allen held. This explanation treats the reader like a child who cannot think for himself and needs to be “protected” by being kept in the dark and told only what Armstrong wanted him to know. Further, any false doctrines Allen had could have been refuted using the bible, and many of them probably already were refuted in Armstrong’s other writings, which were quite extensive.
If we accept these arguments we must give license to all preachers to plagiarize at will from other preachers. Not only is that unacceptable, but even the Armstrong supporter should shudder at this prospect. There would be nothing to prevent some preacher from rewriting all of Armstrong’s teachings, claiming God revealed it to him, calling himself an apostle, and starting a new church on that basis. Of course, some believe that is precisely what Armstrong did, but that he got his doctrines from more than one source.
The plagiarism laws (or principles), if followed, would help protect the public from imposters who claim revelation from God. So why do some Armstrong followers regard these laws (or principles) lightly? If Armstrong did plagiarize, did he actually break the law? Are those who continue to publish his book today breaking the law?
The bible prohibits both theft and deception. Plagiarism is considered both. Would God use a plagiarist to do his work? Many of God’s true servants sinned, but they either repented or fell away. Did Armstrong ever repent of this sin and acknowledge his sources or did he continue to hide them? He certainly had lots of time to “come clean” but even the last edition of the book (written in 1980) contains no mention of Allen.
If he plagiarized one book, maybe he plagiarized other material as well. This is a fair question that warrants investigation. A surprising number of doctrines “unique” to the WCG were actually held by one or another organization previously.
If Armstrong copied ideas from others and then claimed he got them from God, does that make him a spiritual fraud? Armstrong’s claim to be an apostle is largely based on his claim that God revealed truth to him. If God did not actually reveal truth to him, it would make Armstrong a false apostle.
If Armstrong plagiarized his book, those who continue to print his book or ride his coattails are promulgating a deception on the public and on their own church members.
In any case, it should be clear that it does matter where he got the information.
Nobody’s perfect, so is this really a big issue?
The United States and Britain in Prophecy did more to build up Armstrong’s ministry and bring members into the Worldwide Church of God than any other book. Armstrong’s World Tomorrow broadcast and his Plain Truth magazine were, to a large degree, used to spread his view of prophecy, and the key that unlocked that prophecy (as Armstrong saw it) was Anglo-Israelism. Church members saw it as their solemn responsibility to warn the nations of “modern Israel” that, unless they repent and turn to God, they would be attacked and destroyed by a united Europe. Church members believed that God raised up Armstrong to trumpet this warning.
But if the church of God really got this teaching from Allen rather than by revelation from God, then it might be just another erroneous human teaching. If Armstrong really got the teaching from Allen and not from God, one might want to review the whole doctrine to see if it was really correct.
And, if God didn’t actually reveal things to Armstrong, then perhaps he was not really doing the work of God, and so then the church was not commissioned to preach this warning after all. Herbert Armstrong taught that his work was the work of God in the end-time. Would God build his work around a teaching that was plagiarized? Would he build his work around a man who plagiarized the works of others?
Or perhaps they were warning the wrong nations (if Anglo-Israelism is not true). If that is the case, then Europe probably won’t attack the English-speaking peoples after all.
Further, if Armstrong was not up-front enough to say where he really got the information, was he really honest? What else might he have been hiding?
And finally, some who believe Armstrong was getting revelation from God might not have come to that conclusion if they knew how much of his information was already known about. Shouldn’t these people have the right to make up their own mind based on all available information? According to research by Craig White, a surprising amount of Armstrong’s other doctrines were already known before he “restored” them. White says Armstrong’s sources were the Church of God Seventh Day (the “Sardis Era” people), Seventh Day Adventists, Greenberry G. Rupert (who taught the holy days), John Harden Allen, Ethelbert Bullinger, Charles T. Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), the Scofield bible, and others. See here for more information and decide for yourself.
Can Armstrong’s claim of authorship be proven?
Those who believe that God revealed British-Israelism to Armstrong have to take Armstrong’s word for it. Would God expect his followers to take one man’s word for it? Would he do this even in spite of what would normally be considered clear evidence to the contrary? Would this be putting faith in a man? Would it be consistent with the bible command to “prove all things” (I Thess 5:21)? Herbert Armstrong made many statements in his autobiography that are impossible to either prove or disprove. Some of these claims (such as his wife’s dream that God would use them for a special purpose) are used as proof that God was using him in a special way.
Did Armstrong plagiarize most of his doctrines from others?
Several sources claim to have traced many of Armstrong’s doctrines to earlier sources. If (i) he did obtain doctrines from others, and if (ii) he passed them off as revelation directly from God, then he plagiarized those doctrines. We discuss this in more detail here. Were most of the WCG’s doctrines plagiarized?
Is it fair to question Armstrong after his death?
Someone wrote in to ask us why we didn’t discuss this with Mr Armstrong when he was alive. The answer is that, at that time, we had not seen Allen’s book and we were not aware of how much the two books had in common. Even if we had known, we didn’t have personal access to Mr Armstrong; few people did.
This person also said, “I see no point in bringing things of this sort up well after the death of the person, who then is unable to defend himself…”.
Some people must have asked Mr Armstrong about this when he was alive and so he probably had plenty of time to go on the record and defend himself before he died. He could have and should have done so when he was alive. If he did not, it’s not our fault but his. If he did not defend himself, perhaps he had little or no defense. If anyone can show us where he discussed this, please let us know and we will post it here on this site. Also, Armstrong still has tens of thousands of followers who are free to defend him, and we look forward to hearing more of their views.
But would Armstrong have refrained from questioning dead people? For example, the popes and other religious leaders he didn’t agree with? If he questioned dead people, then we can also question him even though he is dead.
If we can’t question dead people we can’t question Nimrod or the prophet Muhammad.
Do the people who think it’s not fair to question Herbert Armstrong now that he’s dead refrain from questioning dead popes, dead protestant leaders, or other dead public figures that they don’t agree with?
Those who question the fairness of looking into a man’s actions after he is dead should also question the fairness of using a man’s work after he is dead. John H. Allen died in 1930, before Armstrong wrote his book. Who is defending J.H. Allen? Would it be fair to Allen if Armstrong used some of Allen’s work and passed it off as his own when Allen was no longer around to defend his copyright? If Armstrong did plagiarize Allen’s work, there was an injustice done to Allen and to those readers who were led into thinking it was revelation that Armstrong got directly from God. Are some of Armstrong’s defenders perpetuating those injustices by trying to sweep the issue under the carpet?
What harm can come from trying to set the record straight on this web site?
The person went on to say, “It is all very easy to criticize someone who cannot answer back, I think that the people who do this need to re-think where they learned all their bible knowledge in the first place.”
This argument can be used both ways: one could say that it’s also very easy to plagiarize someone’s ideas after they are dead.
Further, even if British-Israelism is true, this doctrine (and others) might not have come from Armstrong as this person seems to assume. Maybe it came from people like Allen. If so, those who got Anglo-Israelism from Armstrong’s book should ask themselves if they actually got it from Armstrong, or merely through Armstrong. If the original source for Armstrong’s material was Allen, they really got most of it from Allen.
Those who think Armstrong’s doubters have it “easy” should remember that asking skeptical questions put one at risk of being put out of Armstrong’s church. And since Armstrong controlled the pulpits and had a large publishing and broadcast organization, he could overwhelm most other voices with a flood of information. Before the Internet made it affordable for individuals and small groups to get their message out, it would have been nearly impossible for most skeptics to get very far no matter how valid the questions they raised. So questioning Armstrong wasn’t always easy. On the contrary, questions could have been easily suppressed.
Doesn’t this subject create division? Isn’t it better not to talk about it?
Some have written to us to say that we should not talk about the subject of plagiarism because it causes division. But we do not believe that information creates division. Division is caused by error, which can come from a refusal to accept information or a failure to question, investigate or examine the issues.
For example, many churches are divided because they have different beliefs. If they corrected their errors they would no longer be divided. So error causes division, not information. An open discussion should lead to more truth, which should result in less division.
We believe that the proper way to unity is through truth. If someone can show that our facts are wrong please let us know. Silencing the discussion is not the answer.
We question the motives of those who use “creating division” as an excuse to suppress information. Why don’t they want people to see this site?
Rom 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (NKJV).
Why don’t you publish your name(s) on this site?
The reason for that is simple: possible employer discrimination. A second reason is that it really shouldn’t matter who we are. The material on this site can be judged based on the facts presented.
What are your sources of information?
We don’t want to be accused of plagiarism ourselves, so we will make it clear that we were not the first to point out similarities between the two books.
While surfing the Internet in 2009 we read something at www.bible.ca which compared a few short quotes from the two books. One of the comparisons (which we discuss in the section “Not All Americans are Californians”) sparked our investigation into this subject in earnest. We found the two books on the Internet and started comparing them. Later we obtained a short document on this from Grace Communion International (www.wcg.org) which is the new name for the Worldwide Church of God, which has repudiated almost everything their founder Herbert Armstrong taught including Anglo-Israelism. We received from GCI a Word document comparing the two books. This document can be found here.
Where can I research British-Israelism?
To readers interested in this topic we strongly recommend reading both sides thoroughly before coming to any conclusions. The Wikipedia article British Israelism contains links to a number of sites which discuss the topic.
From the archives of “Armstrong Plagiarism Research” which is hosted here on the Painful Truth.
*This article was edited for length.