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Relevant Biblical Passages: Daniel 8

Prince, Polluter, and the Sanctuary. Currently in Adventism, no verse in the Bible is likely to be so hotly debated – and so cheerfully ignored – as Daniel 8:14. In the KJV it reads: “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” The time period in this verse gave birth to Adventism in the Great Disappointment on October 22, 1844. These are the issues and some questions to ponder:

1. With no names attached, what’s going on, and when does it all end? If one were simply to “watch” this chapter on video, disregarding any historical applications, what is the plot and what is the stance of the key actors? Such an approach can provide a universal (“idealist”) application. Clearly there is conflict, pollution, and ultimate triumph for God and His people.

2. The differing perspectives on the “little horn.” Note how one’s philosophical bias determines the specific interpretation of the chapter. Everyone agrees on the ram and the goat, the great horn and the four horns, for the chapter itself identifies them. But after that, interpreters scatter according to their assumptions. Of particular interest is how each one deals with the references to the “time of the end” in 8:17 and 19:

Preterist. Since there is no real “time of the end” (except in the author’s mind), the polluting “little horn” seems to be a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes when he polluted the Jerusalem temple in 168/67 to 165/64, offering pig on an altar to Zeus in the temple courtyard.

Futurist. The primary polluter is again Antiochus, but since futurists do believe in a “real” end, some futurists (e.g. Leon Wood, Daniel, 223f) begin to slip toward an idealist model with Antiochus “foreshadowing” the final Anti-Christ.

Historicist. Since the fourth kingdom is Rome and the “little horn” is the papacy, an outgrowth of pagan Rome, the polluter must be the papacy. In Adventist interpretation, the “pollution” of the little horn has been applied to the papal distortion of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary since that is the only sanctuary left at the “time of the end.” Historicists are faithful to the context when they apply the pollutions to a sanctuary at the “time of the end.” Since they do not expect an earthly sanctuary, the only one left is the heavenly.

Idealist. The “little horn” can be any polluter at any time. If the primary polluter was Antiochus, he simply typifies every polluter who ever destroyed the truth about God. What is most helpful in this perspective is that it recognizes how God’s people have interpreted and applied the vision at different points in history. Thus, for Daniel himself, the “desolating sacrilege” (or “abomination of desolation”) was the destruction of the temple in 587/86 BCE; for the Jews in 168/67 BCE, it was the desecration of the temple at the hands of Antiochus; in the New Testament, it was the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 CE; finally, after the destruction of all earthly temples, the believer looks to the heavenly sanctuary and its restoration, an insight that came to Seventh-day Adventists as a result of the Great Disappointment on October 22, 1844. In a sense then, the “time of the end” is always “today,” to borrow a line from Hebrews 4.

Note how “tempting” the idealist interpretation is, even for those whose primary loyalty is to another system. As indicated above, Wood (futurist) sees Antiochus “foreshadowing” the final Anti-Christ. Similarly, Mervyn Maxwell, a thorough-going Adventist historicist, inadvertently slips toward the idealist camp when interpreting Daniel in the light of Jesus’ comments in the New Testament:”Old interpretations are bound to be inadequate,” writes Maxwell (God Cares 1:270, emphasis his). Speaking with reference to Daniel 11, Maxwell admits that the Antiochus interpretation “is very old.” But, “only interpretations made in relatively recent years have any chance of getting the real issues straight.” Maxwell is arguing, of course, for the “correct” historicist interpretation. But he is only a small step away from the idealist’s both/and perspective.

A key New Testament comment is found in Matthew 24:15 where Jesus refers to the “desolating sacrilege…spoken of by the prophet Daniel” as still being future. That rules out a strict preterist view (at least from a Christian perspective), but still allows for the other three. Any Jew living in Jerusalem at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes would have seen the prophecies of Daniel looming large on the horizon. The Jewish books 1 and 2 Maccabees constantly use the language of Daniel in describing Antiochus’ desecrations. The idealist view allows one to affirm that application of the prophecies of Daniel to Antiochus without considering it to be exclusive or final.

Another biblical illustration of multiple applications. One of the best “Adventist” illustrations of reapplication comes from the history of the “dark day. In its original context in Joel 2:10-11, 25, 28-32, the dark day clearly refers to a grasshopper plague in Joel’s own lifetime. The dark day is also linked to other signs in the heavens and to the appearance of the prophetic gift. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter applies Joel’s prophecy to the events surrounding Pentecost. Finally, in Revelation 6:12-17, the same imagery points to the second coming under the sixth seal. In strict historicist style, Uriah Smith (Daniel and Revelation, 437-51) argues that the earthquake, dark day, and falling stars in 6:12 are the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the dark day of 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833 (cf SDABC 7:779-80). Yet the imagery of the sixth seal clearly refers to the cataclysmic events which mark the second coming itself. Idealists have the great advantage of not having to choose one interpretation or the other. They can keep both — have their cake and eat it too.

3. The Adventist discontent over Daniel 8:14 and its causes. Only Adventists are in anguish over Daniel 8:14. Our interpretation of that chapter could never be shared by anyone else; it’s our story and our story alone. So why are we embarrassed about it? Some observations under three heads:

A. Assurance and the doctrine of judgment: The present religious mood, at least in American culture, tilts strongly toward hedonism and is marked by an exaggerated craving for assurance. The ascetic impulse in religion is in sharp decline: the monastic movement is in trouble; even Jehovah’s Witnesses have turned from newsprint to attractive four-color tracts. That cultural mood contributes to the challenge facing the church right now, for, in my view, Adventism, with its free-will orientation, is still wrestling with perfectionism and does not do a good job of preaching Paul, that great champion of substitutionary theology. Also playing a key role, at least for an older generation still imprinted by Ellen White, is that haunting line from The Great Controversy (p. 425): “We must stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator.”

At least two biblical models can mediate assurance to the believer, and most of us end up incorporating significant elements of both: the “family” model with the figure of the waiting Father; and the “courtroom” model with Jesus’ substitutionary death. The family model is best seen in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and in John 14-17 (“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” 14:9). Indeed, in the light of John 16:26, 27 the dreaded “threat” of having to stand in God’s presence without a mediator can be transformed into a promise: “On that day you will ask in my name. I do NOT say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” Still, such an approach which sees the Mediator presenting the Father to us (rather than the other way around) works best for those who are nurtured by the family model.

Romans and Galatians are the primary sources for courtroom theology with its strong emphasis on substitution. A keynote can be found in those vivid words from Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” At the 1888 General Conference, Jones and Waggoner brought Adventism face-to-face with that Pauline emphasis on assurance through Jesus. Many resisted, but many were blessed, including Ellen White: “Let the law take care of itself,” she exclaimed. “We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (MS 10, 1890).

But because Adventism has listened largely to the more threatening version of “The Investigative Judgment” from The Great Controversy (chapter 28, pp 479-491), rather than to the more reassuring one presented in Prophets and Kings (“Joshua and the Angel,” chapter 47, pp 582-92), many Adventists have not felt secure in their relationship with God. And not a few have pointed to Daniel 8:14 and the sanctuary doctrine which grew out of the 1844 Disappointment as the root of the problem. Critics have zeroed in on two key points: the context of Daniel 8:14 and the historicist method of interpreting apocalyptic passages.

B. The context of Daniel 8:14 and the uniqueness of the Adventism. It is probably fortunate that the Adventist battles over Daniel 8:14 have been fought largely over the more superficial methodological issues (exegesis, context, historicism) rather than over the more deeply rooted philosophical and soteriological ones. The truly monumental cleavage in Christendom divides the human family between those who affirm and defend divine sovereignty on the one hand, and those who affirm and defend human freedom on the other. It is the theocentric-anthropocentric divide, pitting Paul against James in the New Testament, Augustine against Pelagius (400 CE), Calvin against Arminius during the Reformation, Whitefield against Wesley in the 1700s, and still today, the Reformed Evangelicals against the Wesleyan Methodists.

As the unashamed defenders of justification and grace, the Calvinist/Reformed spokespersons assure believers of their place in God’s kingdom. But when they take their position to its so-called logical conclusion, the result is a theological determinism in which God makes all the decisions — predestination, in other words. After he himself had moved into a full predestinarian theology, Augustine (d. 430) claimed that he could find no middle ground between grace and free will: “In trying to solve this question,” he wrote, “I made strenuous efforts on behalf of the preservation of the free choice of the human will, but the grace of God defeated me” (Retractationes ii.1, cited by Henry Chadwick, Augustine [Oxford, 1986], 117).

On the other side of the equation, the Arminian/Wesleyan spokespersons affirm the importance of human freedom, responsibility and holy living. When driven by a religious impulse, this free-will emphasis can develop into a troublesome perfectionism. But it can also move in the opposite direction, slipping away from religion toward a thorough-going rationalism, which is all too easily secularized, even to the point of atheism. The human looms ever larger on the horizon and God simply disappears.

In the days of our sectarian isolation, Adventists were much more resistant, both to the anthropocentric, secularizing impulse on the left, and the theocentric, evangelical impulse on the right. But with Adventists becoming more active in the social and economic mainstream, we are now more vulnerable on both fronts. In the 1950s we brokered a peace of sorts with Evangelical Christians and published Questions on Doctrine (1957). Then in the 1960s, Adventist colleges began to clamor for PhDs in virtually every academic discipline and Adventists entered academia with a vengeance. In 1969, Spectrum was born, sponsored by the newly-formed Association of Adventist forums. Inevitably, if we are too eager to please an audience “out there,” whether evangelicals on the right or academics on the left, we can become embarrassed over the idiosyncracies which properly mark our identity.

So what does all this mean for the “contextual” reading of Daniel 8? A preterist (the academic with no religious ax to grind) will readily conclude that the narrative roughly fits the experience of Antiochus Epiphanes. Without hesitation preterists will note that 1 and 2 Maccabees interpret Antiochus’ pollution of the temple using the language of Daniel. “Time of the end”? Not a problem, because the preterist would say that author of Daniel thought Antiochus’ desecration signaled the end. In short, the “critical” preterists are potentially in a position to be consistent in interpreting the book of Daniel, noting that each line of prophecy ends in restoration. In Daniel 2, the great stone fills the earth; in Daniel 7, the saints receive the Kingdom; in Daniel 8 and 9, the sanctuary is restored; in Daniel 10-12, resurrection comes and Michael delivers God’s people. The problem is, that while preterists can interpret the book consistently, typically they don’t actually believe that restoration is possible, for a personal God capable of intervening in the world has slipped from their horizon.

Enter the Evangelicals. How would they interpret Daniel 8? As applying to Antiochus. But the references to the “time of the end” would be a source of awkwardness. An idealist, of course can see Antiochus as a type of all tyrants, even ones at the end of time. But where is a sanctuary at the “real” end of time? Evangelicals, because they still believe in a personal God who speaks through Scripture, have no difficulty in noting that Matthew 24:15 clearly teaches that “the desolating sacrilege…spoken of by the prophet Daniel” was still future in Jesus’ day. But what does the cleansing/restoring of the sanctuary have to do with the “real” end? This is where the Adventist1844 experience enables us to be consistent with the whole book of Daniel, taking our own experience seriously, but incorporating insights from the “critical” preterists as well as from the “devout” Evangelicals. If the sanctuary was polluted in 587/86 BCE by Babylon, in 168/67 BCE by Antiochus, in 70 CE by Rome, what happens after that? The only sanctuary left is the heavenly sanctuary, a truly universal symbol. Futurists believe there will be a future sanctuary in Jerusalem. But the exegetical basis for such a move is seriously flawed and the whole perspective is driven by a philosophical bias which does not recognize the conditional element in Scripture.

There remains the issue of historicism. Recent critics of Adventism, especially those departing from the community, are inclined to scoff at anyone “dumb” enough to believe in historicism… Not so fast, please. We should remember Norman Porteous’s comment on the link between “the contemporary climate of thought” and methods of interpreting Scripture. In a preface justifying the exceptional reprinting of a 1928 book in 1955, he said: “Books of Biblical exposition tend to date very rapidly, and eventually to become almost unreadable; so close is the connection between such writing and the contemporary climate of thought” (preface to Adam Welch, Jeremiah: His Time and Work, Oxford, 1955, p vi). In other words, a touch of humility is in order: the “wisdom” which tempts us to laugh at yesterday, could make us the laughingstock of tomorrow.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our historicist heritage. Scholars of the nineteenth century openly state that “historicism” was standard fare among premillenial Protestants at the time Adventism was born. Here are two quotes worth noting:

“In the immediate post-Napoleonic era, events took place that appeared to confirm the pre-millinnial view for a number of British Christians. As historicist premillennialists – and all premillennialists were such between 1815 and 1830 – they saw a number of signs that indicated the nearness of the Second Coming” (Ian Rennie, “Nineteenth-Century Roots,” in Carl Amerding and Ward Gasque, eds., A Guide to Biblical Prophecy [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (1977) 1989], 46 [emphasis supplied]).

“All Protestants expected some grant event about 1843, and no critic from the orthodox side took any serious issue on basic principles with Miller’s calculations” (Whitney R Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 [New York: Harper & Row, 1965], 321. Cited by Rolf Poehler, Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching [Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000], 23).

To repeat, the basic pattern of historicism is solidly rooted in the book of Daniel. Where we may now differ with our forbears is in seeing a more flexible pattern in the prophecies and the possibility of multiple applications. The words of Ernst Kaesemann are worth repeating more than once, “Apocalyptic is unbeatable because it is reheatable.” The fact that Daniel 2 explicitly identifies only the head of gold (Babylon) and Daniel 7 leaves all the kingdoms unnamed, makes it easier to move toward universal applications. And, as noted earlier, at least one first-century Jewish source explicitly confirms a “new” interpretation for the fourth kingdom. Most scholars agree that 2 Esdras (IV Ezra) 12:11-12, written about 90 CE, indicates that Daniel’s fourth kingdom had earlier been interpreted as Greece, but came to be seen as Rome as Rome rose in prominence: “The eagle which you saw coming up from the sea is the fourth kingdom which appeared in a vision to your brother Daniel. (12) But it was not explained to him as I now explain or have explained it to you” (RSV).

In concluding this section, I would simply note that observations from “secular” sources are
often very useful in affirming the synthesis of those biblical materials which Adventists have drawn together in the shaping of the “sanctuary” doctrine. Daniel 8:14 only provides the time [2300 days] and place [sanctuary]. The setting comes from Daniel 7 [“The judgment was set and the books were opened.”] The announcement of the event comes from the first angel’s message in Revelation 14:7 [“The hour of his judgment is come.”] But perhaps most significant of all, is the parallel drawn with the annual Day of Atonement, described in some detail in Leviticus 16, a parallel suggested, no doubt, by the term “sanctuary” in Daniel 8:14, though the Day of Atonement was indeed a day of “judgment” for Israel, the only “fast” day in a cluster of annual events which otherwise called Israel to feasting.

What possible justification is there for drawing a parallel between a “typical” annual Day of Atonement in Israel and an “antitypical” one beginning in October 22, 1844? A significant one: the Christian parallel between the “typical” Passover and Jesus the “antitypical” Passover lamb. But that parallel is “biblical,”our evangelical critics might say, meaning, I presume, that it is solidly based on “contextual, biblical exegesis.” So taking the “Bible” of Jesus and the apostles, namely, the Old Testament, which “context” declares that the coming Messiah would be the Passover lamb? I know of none. Which “context” declares that the Messiah must suffer and die? Isaiah 53 comes to mind immediately, but that chapter speaks only of the “suffering servant”and is nowhere identified as the Messiah, either in the immediate context or anywhere else in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, only one passage explicitly identifies Jesus as the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The Passover parallel is not mentioned at all in Hebrews. In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist twice calls Jesus the “lamb” (1:29, 36), in one instance (vs. 29) saying that he takes away the sin of the world. But there is no explicit link with Passover. Likewise, in 1 Peter 1:19, Jesus is the “lamb without blemish,” but without an explicit tie to the Passover. The Book of Revelation bristles with references to the “Lamb,” 29 in all with 4 of the contexts (7 of the references) referring either to the blood of the lamb or to the fact that the lamb was slain. From the standpoint of later theology, however, perhaps the most surprising verse is Matthew 8:17, which applies a line from Isaiah 53: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4) to Jesus’ healing ministry rather than to his substitutionary death.

Clearly the New Testament made the link between Jesus and the sacrificial system, but that link is nowhere explicit in the Old Testament. What one does find in the Old Testament, however, are numerous passages which describe how the Messiah will come to rule, to destroy to crush. Balaam’s “star” will “crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth” (Num. 24:17, NIV); Isaiah’s “shoot” will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth” and “kill the wicked” with “the breath of his mouth” (Isa. 11:4, NRSV). Even the passage which Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue to describe his mission proclaims “the day of the vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2). But Jesus didn’t read that violent part, choosing to conclude his reading with the gentle line just before it, the one proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19, NRSV).

How could Jesus tinker with the context that way? How was it that a host of “contextual proofs” could be lined up, all of which could so easily and clearly point the people in the wrong direction? I have vivid memories of such questions, for one of my mentors during my doctoral studies had become a devout evangelical during his teen years, but then lost his faith, in part, because his Evangelical community refused to budge from inerrancy, leaving him with an approach to Scripture which could not account for what he saw there. Writing as believer-turned-atheist, this is what he said about messianic prophecies in response to the chapter on the Messiah in my book, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Paternoster, 1988; Zondervan 1989; Pacesetters, 2000; see chapter 7, “The Best Story in the Old Testament: The Messiah”):

“If these OT messianic prophecies were meant to prepare the way for Jesus, why are they so badly designed for the job that they produce such a popular misunderstanding? And if only Jesus can reveal the true meaning of the prophecies, in what way can they function as a preparation for accepting rather than, as the Jews inevitably did, rejecting him? Jews found, and find, the Christian argument unconvincing because Jesus fulfilled only the mysterious prophecies not the overt ones.”

I suspect that a too-rigid view of prophecy had prepared the way for his loss of faith. I am increasingly convinced that we Christians are on dangerous spiritual ground when we build our faith on external proofs, whether from prophecy, science, or archeology. When the proofs seem strong, we easily become arrogant; when they are weak, our faith is at risk. Jesus taught a different way, one which puts trust in a relationship, not on external proofs. And often, the Spirit can only teach us Jesus’ way through struggle and disappointment. The Disappointment experience on October 22, 1844, shows striking parallels with the Disappointment experience on the day Jesus died. In short, being too confident in our external “proofs” can be deadly. C. S. Lewis came close to capturing this mysterious truth when he penned these words after his wife’s painful and tragic death: “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not” (A Grief Observed [1961], 52).

While paying close attention to context is essential for good exegesis, there is much more to reading the Bible than simply clinical “exegesis.” The fluidity of texts, the incorporation of previous materials into new shapes, and the use of materials out of context in the process is now a well-accepted phenomenon. And the Spirit can use all those to point us toward truth. And if Evangelicals want to appeal to the “context” argument to dismantle the Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8:14, they should recognize that one of their “favorite” New Testament books, the book of Hebrews, “sins” against context with greater zeal than Adventists ever thought of doing with Daniel 8:14. If one strictly follows modern rules of good exegesis, then every single Old Testament passage cited in the first two chapters of Hebrews is quoted “out of context.” If we are guided by the Spirit, however, that should be intriguing, not embarrassing and by God’s grace, even a source of blessing.

Our devout evangelical friends can teach us much through their deep devotion to God; but when it comes to being absolutely honest with the text of Scripture, they may not be our best mentors. In my own experience, it has been my academic training, even at the hands of non-believers, which has enabled me to make crucial distinctions within Scripture and to recognize how much all of us are shaped by our assumptions. Though my own experience is more Johannine, I am hoping and praying that those with a more Pauline experience will help us redress the imbalance within Adventism. John and Paul belonged to the same body of Christ. We who follow in their footsteps should ponder their example very carefully before we do anything to hurt each other or the church we love.

C. Simplifying Adventist Beliefs. Since any approach to Daniel 8 and 9 which involves the computation of dates requires reading and study skills far beyond the ability or interest of most church members and the population in general, I would suggest addressing the issue as follows:

1. Reinstate the “original” Adventist covenant. When the first local conference was organized in 1861 (Michigan), it adopted the following covenant be used when local churches were organized. I believe it could again be useful. Placed at the head of our current statement of Fundamental Beliefs, it would provide a simple statement on which all Adventists could agree, namely, that God’s law gives structure to our lives and that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything else in Adventism could then be seen in its proper light, as commentary on the nucleus to which the whole church subscribes:

“We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together, as a church, taking the name, Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus Christ.” – Review and Herald, October 8, 1861

2. Distinguishing between Goal and Motivation. When I took piano lessons in my younger years, my teachers often used a sequence of stars to motivate me: Gold, Silver, Blue – in that order. Those stars had absolutely nothing to do with piano playing – but still had a great deal to do with my development, helping to motivate me until my “love” for the piano became its own motivator. Maybe the Adventist “sanctuary” doctrine is like that, providing the full spectrum of “motivational” elements necessary for dealing with every kind of human behavior: Judgment is the negative motivator for those who need threats and warnings; Jesus’ high priestly ministry on our behalf is the positive motivator. When God’s ideal is fulfilled in us, the need for judgment simply falls away and we have joyous fellowship in his presence. The new covenant promise puts it this way: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33-34, NRSV). Judgment is clearly secondary to the content and goal of faith; it is a crucial motivator, and can help or hinder. But let us not confuse it with the essence of God’s will for us. Seen in that way, the Adventist understanding of the sanctuary can truly “hang” on Jesus two great commands (Matthew 22:40), and is never confused with the essence and goal of our faith.

For further study:

1. Collegiate Quarterly commentary on Daniel 8 (February 22-28, 1987)
View on the Web at:
“Unique” (Part 1: Introduction), 79.
“Daniel’s Appalling Vision” (Part 2: Logos), 80-82.
“The Advocate” (Part 3: Testimony), 83.
“Interpretations Old and New” (Part 4: Evidence), 84-85.
“Judgment, Grace, and Obedience” (Part 5: How To), 86.
“Present Truth” (Part 6: Opinion), 87.

2. Diversity in Adventism: Liberals and Conservatives
View on the Web at:
“We Need Your Differences,” Adventist Review, 2 November 1989, 17-20.

3. Diversity in Adventism: Peter, Paul and Apollos (three types of Adventists)
View on the Web at:
“The Adventist Church at Corinth.” Sabbath sermon, WWC Church, 9 December 1989.
“The Adventists at Corinth and Their Favorite Preachers,” unpublished chapter originally written for Inspiration, October 1991.

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