Relevant Biblical Passages: Daniel 9
The Promise (and the Pain) of Prophetic Interpretation. For those without interest or expertise in the detailed interpretation of Daniel 9, the following two points are well worth exploring:
- Daniel’s prayer. Daniel 9:3-19 presents a powerful penitential prayer. Though Scripture records no “sin” against Daniel, he identifies fully with a sinful people. Was he genuine, truly pained by his own participation in sin, or was he simply being “magnanimous”?
- The promise. In Daniel 9:24, the angel assures Daniel of ultimate restoration: “Seventy weeks are decreed “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity; and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy” (KJV). Sir Isaac Newton, in his commentary on Daniel, described the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-47 as “the foundation stone of the Christian religion.”
Challenges to the “traditional” (historicist) interpretation of Daniel 9:
- Difficult Hebrew. The Hebrew in 9:25-27 is notoriously difficult.
- Modern translations. Several modern translations, including the NRSV, translate the passage so that it refers more naturally to Antiochus Epiphanes rather than to Christ.
- Different dates. Commentators differ on the beginning date marked by the decree: 538 (Cyrus), 458/57 (Artaxerxes), 445 (Artaxerxes). Modern reference works rarely give the date for the crucifixion of Christ as 31 CE. Most could place it somewhere between 27 and 32 CE. The dates used for the Adventist interpreation (457-27-31-34) were first established in the Reformation era by Johann Funck (d. 1566).
- Different assumptions, different conclusions. Preterists shape their interpretation to refer to Antiochus; Futurists move the 70th week to the end of time, interpreting the 69 weeks as ending with the triumphal entry. Futurist, Alva Mclain, sees the prophecy as predicting “the very day” of Christ’s appearance (Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks, 10). His dates for the 69 weeks are 445 BCE to 32 CE. Futurist Leon Wood comes to the same event, but with different dates: 458 BCE to 26 CE.
Crucial Questions: Given the complexities and uncertainties in interpretation, the following suggestions are worth pondering in terms of the needs of a “world” church:
- Present the traditional historicist and Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8 and 9 in the setting of “Adventist history” rather than in front-line evangelism. A post-evangelism follow-up seminar on Adventist History could more readily address issues in historical context.
- Present Daniel 8 and 9 as the Adventist birth narrative, using the KJV and traditional dates. If God’s purpose was to bring Adventism into existence through the 1844 movement, why should “later” insights be allowed to put the movement at risk? We don’t criticize the author of Hebrews for using the Greek instead of the Hebrew Bible, and quoting passages out of context. To change his Bible would destroy his logic and his message, one that was very meaningful at the time.
- Shift our outreach emphasis to the story of Jesus and the power of his life, placing less emphasis on “predictive” prophecy. “Proofs” have an exaggerated importance in western thinking. We can learn from other parts of the world where the people just want to learn from the sacred text.
- See God’s purpose through the 1844 experience as bringing God’s moral law to His people. The Disappointment pointed us to the sanctuary, then to the ark, then to the law and the Sabbath; in 1888 God used Jones and Waggoner to show us Jesus. Law provides structure; Jesus gives salvation.
Further study: A. Thompson, “The Best Story in the Old Testament: The Messiah” (chapter 7 in Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?). On the Web: http://homepages.wwc.edu/staff/thomal/