Armstrong's Doctrines Unique?

Below is an excerpt, with our comments, from the Ambassador Report, March 31, 1981, discussing evidence that Armstrong plagiarized from various sources.

We took this excerpt from here.


Lately there has been a spate of articles in such publications as Time and the Los Angeles Times accusing Seventh-day Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White of plagiarism in compiling 53 volumes of religious writings. We find that amusing because we have reported in past ARs how Herbert Armstrong is guilty of this very vice himself. One of his oldest and most heavily advertised booklets, The Proof of the Bible, was taken, in part, from a much earlier Adventist publication, Prophecy Speaks!, which, by the way, contained certain biblical and archaeological inaccuracies that Herbert gullibly accepted without challenge. To this day he has never acknowledged his booklet's errors concerning prophecies about Tyre and Babylon. Evangelist Herman Hoeh, realizing the stupidity of some of the booklet's historical claims, took it upon himself in the Dec. 1980 Good News to point out some of the fallacies in Herbert's arguments.

Hoeh declared that the prophecy about Tyre, a modern-day Lebanese city, "is not the challenge to the skeptic we assumed. It is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ..." (p.39). Hoeh, in an uncharacteristic display of humility, admitted: "I was wrong" (p.5). But very wisely, he never once says Herbert was wrong. Nevertheless, we heard that an enraged Herbert had the magazine recalled two weeks after it had been mailed to subscribers.

After listening to Herbert and skimming through his rambling writings, one cannot help but notice that he claims many of his doctrines are revelations from God -"unique truths" revealed to God's "true church." But what unsuspecting members haven't realized is that most of Herbert's "new" truths were taught in essentially the same form by other church groups decades before Herbert decided to become a man of the cloth.

Recently another book on the Armstrong movement came to our attention: Ambassadors of Armstrongism by Paul N. Benware. One of the most scholarly books on Armstrongism we've seen - it has 15 pages of footnotes and a 7-page bibliography - this book spends almost a whole chapter illustrating how several of Herbert's "unique concepts" were being taught by other religious groups long before Herbert became a minister.

Author Benware explains that "Herbert Armstrong was affiliated for several years with the Church of God (Seventh-day), which is an offshoot of Seventh-day Adventism. The influence of Adventism is readily apparent by comparing quotations from Armstrong's writings and those of Adventist writers, and Mr. Armstrong himself admits studying much of their literature" (see The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, 1967, p.338).

In chapter 2 Benware documents the similarity of the teachings of Herbert Armstrong to those of the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and the Church of God movement. Here are some of the major areas of similarity he discusses:

Seventh-day Adventists: sabbath keeping, Sunday observance is the mark of the beast, keeping the Ten Commandments is necessary for salvation, the moral and ceremonial laws are different, man is mortal and has no soul, immortality is conditional, the new birth is connected with the resurrection, et al.
Jehovah's Witnesses: the trinity is pagan, the holy spirit is a force, Jesus rose in a spiritual body, the wicked will be annihilated, et al.
Mormons: the deity is the ultimate goal for men and men will eventually join the Godhead, the Fall was planned by God, the true church has been lost since the apostles' day, the name "Elohim" shows a plurality of Gods, et al.
The Church of God movement: the idea of "church of God" being the true name of the church, the insistence that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday and rose on a Saturday, sabbath keeping, the declaration that certain holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) are pagan and should not be observed by Christians, both organizations had a pamphlet entitled "Has Time Been Lost?", et al.

Benware points out, as the AR has on several occasions, that Herbert's teachings on the U.S. and British Commonwealth in prophecy are not unique to him but were copied wholesale from J. H. Allen's book, Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright (first published in 1902), and British-Israelism theory, which flourished in the 1800s.

It is Benware's conclusion that the WCG's system of teachings is "eclectic" because the church "has evidently borrowed, incorporated and revised doctrines from others and brought them into its system. It cannot legitimately say that it holds the key to the truth of the Scriptures, while at the same time holding too the identical teachings of other groups.... This is especially true when the other systems were on the religious scene years before the founding of the Worldwide Church of God" (p.26).

For those interested in obtaining a copy of this book, write to Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Box 817, Phillipsburg, NJ 08865. The price, which includes postage, is $3.20-NJ residents should add 5 percent sales tax. [Note that this was the price and address circa 1981].

Comment by A.P.R.:

If this excerpt is correct (the reader is advised to investigate that for himself), it appears that Armstrong took many doctrines from other churches. If he did so and then said he never got his teachings from men, he must have lied. But was it plagiarism?

In Nov 2009, gave the following definitions for "plagiarism":

So, according to these definitions, getting ideas (e.g. doctrines) from other churches and passing them off as direct revelation from God, without any human intermediaries, would be plagiarism.

Were most of the WCG's doctrines plagiarized?

According to research by Craig White, a surprising amount of Armstrong's doctrines were already known before he restored (?) them. White says Armstrong's sources were the Church of God (Seventh Day), Seventh Day Adventists, G.G. Rupert (who taught the holy days), J.H. Allen, Ethelbert Bullinger, C.T. Russell, the Scofield bible, and others.

See White's research paper here and decide for yourself. (But note that White does not have a proper understanding of plagiarism).