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For those living in 1844, calculation of the date was both simple and believable. Now, only those who are sympathetic with the Disappointment experience would interpret Daniel and Revelation in the way Adventists have interpreted them. The parallel with the Incarnation is worth noting: Only Christians who are sympathetic with the story of Jesus would interpret the Old Testament in the way Jesus did. Jews who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah would interpret the OT in quite a different way.

Given the distance in time between our day and 1844, it is helpful to review the key biblical passages and arguments which have resulted in the Adventist understanding of Jesus’ ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. We must remember, however, that rarely is a doctrine is taken directly from a single passage of Scripture. The doctrine of the resurrection as argued by Paul in 1 Corinthians might be the one notable exception. There is no clear passage, for example, that spells out the doctrine of the “Incarnation” or the doctrine of “Redemption.” A host of witnesses speak to the issues; believers then synthesize them into doctrines, a process that takes a great deal of time.

The simplicity of the events surrounding Jesus’ life and death is a powerful simplicity, one noted in this C. S. Lewis quotation:

The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had – and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a “great man,” but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The “Gospels” come later, and were written, not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made. – The Screwtape Letters, 23:3.

Here, then, are the essential elements involved in the 1844 event and the biblical passages which contributed to the Adventist understanding of that event:

The Adventist Understanding of 1844

Key Verse: Daniel 8:14 (2300 days)

Key dates: 457 BCE – 27-31-34 CE – 1844 CE

457: Daniel 9:25 (KJV): “From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince…” (Cf. Ezra 6:14 and 7:13).
27-34: Daniel 9:27 (KJV): “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week….”
31: Daniel 9:27 (KJV): “And in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.”
1844: Daniel 8:14 (KJV): “Unto two thousand and three hundred days….”

Key Chapters:

  1. Daniel 8-9: Dating (linking the 2300 days of Dan. 8 with the 70 weeks of Dan. 9)
  2. Leviticus 16: Analogy with the annual Day of Atonement
    • Terms to know: Type and Antitype
    • Comparisons to note: Jesus as the Passover lamb, “Disappointment Friday”
  3. Revelation 10: Historicist “prediction” of the “Disappointment”: Sweet, then bitter little book.
  4. Revelation 14: First angel’s “Judgment hour” message (Daniel 7:13 and the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25 illustrate the actual events. cf. GC 426-27)

Comment: From about 1000 CE, the day-year principle became believable. Millerites adopted it on the basis of the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9, Numbers 14:34, and Ezekiel 4:6. A beginning date for the 2300 days can only be found by seeing a close relationship between Daniel 8 and 9: the theme is the same (sanctuary); the date is not explained in 8; the same angel comes to interpret (Gabriel, 9:21); both Daniel (9:21) and the angel (9:23) refer to the “vision” (i.e. of 8).

The Initial date expired on March 21, 1844. The interim came to be known as the time when “the bridegroom tarried” (cf. Matt. 25:1-13; GC 393, but contrast COL 405ff). The “midnight cry” began in Aug. 1844 as a result of Snow’s conclusions. The Seventh Month movement takes its name from the date in the 7th month (10th day) of the Jewish calendar (Karaite reckoning). After the Disappointment, those who would eventually become SDAs believed “the door was shut.”

Miller & Co. had assumed the sanctuary to be the earth. Hiram Edson began to develop the view of the heavenly sanctuary on Oct. 23 as a result of insight which came during a walk through the cornfield.

Sanctuary and Daniel 8:14: Background Issues, Current Issues

Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” THE biblical passage responsible for 1844. Key factors contributing to the Adventist view:

  1. Second Great Awakening (ca 1787-1825), beginning in eastern colleges and spreading to the western frontier.
  2. Protestant “historicist” method of interpreting biblical prophecy (Note current alternatives: preterist, futurist, idealist)
  3. Biblical context: “time of the end” is explicit in Daniel 8:17 and 19.

Transition from Advent to Judgment: When Christ did not return as expected, the Advent believers shifted their attention to the only sanctuary remaining (the heavenly), aided by Hiram Edson’s vision. Then, just as early Christians saw Jesus as the antitype of the annual Passover event, early Adventists began to see 1844 as the beginning of the antitypical Day of Atonement, corresponding to the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). By the mid-1850s James White was using the term “investigative judgment” to refer to the pre-advent judgment (a concept already taught by Josiah Litch before the Disappointment). In practical terms the Sanctuary doctrine can be a negative motivator (standing in judgment before a holy God) and a positive motivator (Jesus’ plea on our behalf, based on his sacrifice at Calvary).

Contemporary Issues:

  1. The experiential difficulty: Those sensitive to God’s holiness and their own unworthiness can be crushed by the challenge of standing “in the sight of a holy God without a mediator” (GC 425). A strong emphasis on righteousness by faith (the courtroom model) can bring assurance, but does not integrate human responsibility into the larger picture. In 1979, given a heavy emphasis on sinless perfection in the church, Desmond Ford attempted to redress the experiential difficulty by declaring that there was no biblical foundation for the doctrine of the investigative judgment. He attempted to win his case by attacking the historicist approach to Daniel 8 and 9, arguing that the context of Daniel 8 does not point to a heavenly sanctuary, but to an earthly one.

    Note: See Appendix D for a review of Clifford Goldstein’s book, Graffiti in the Holy of Holies (PPPA, 2003). The review of Goldstein’s book (a response to the writings of the former Adventist, Dale Ratzlaff), critiques three different reactions to the 1844 experience: Goldstein’s, Ratzlaff’s and Desmond Ford’s.

  2. The contextual difficulty: A straightforward reading of the literary context of Daniel 8 and 9 apart from the historical context of 1844, would not result in the Adventist interpretation. But sophisticated interpreters recognize how believers re-appropriate and re-cast earlier passages to address experiential and doctrinal issues in the present. The Book of Hebrews, for example, shows how Christians used the Old Testament to flesh out their understanding of Jesus’ ministry. But such an interpretation is not “coercive” based on the Old Testament alone. Similarly, Adventists have drawn on Scripture, re-appropriating it and re-casting it to bring meaning to their own religious experience. Evangelical opponents of Adventism will accuse Adventists of teaching “non-biblical” doctrines, without realizing how that same argument would destroy their own “Christian” position.

The following list of biblical passages notes the contribution each passage makes to the Adventist understanding of 1844. In many cases, the historicist interpretation provides an additional perspective beyond that which is suggested by the strictly contextual understanding of the biblical passage. The best biblical parallel of that type of methodology is provided by the New Testament writers’ use of the midrashic method to provide additional insights on Old Testament passages, insights which often extend beyond the plain reading of the text. The gospels of Matthew and John, and the epistle to the Hebrews are particularly rich in this type of methodology.

Key “1844” Passages Summarized

Leviticus 16 Annual Day of Atonement (typical), the basis for projecting the once-for-all antitypical Day of Atonement beginning in 1844
Daniel 7 The judgment scene: the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days.
Daniel 8 The only biblical passage (8:14) to mention the 2300 days; dating can only be established by linking it with Daniel 9.
Daniel 9 The chapter that contains the 70-weeks prophecy, following Daniel’s prayer for the “sanctuary” that lies desolate. Only by assuming that the 70 weeks prophecy explains the initial segment of the 2300 days (time is the key factor left unexplained in Daniel 8), can one arrive at a starting point for the 2300 days, namely 457 BC. In the traditional historicist interpretation, the 2300 days runs from 457 BC to 1844; the 70 weeks are “cut off” from that longer period and run from 457 BC to AD 34. The last week is applied to Jesus’ earthly ministry: 27 (baptism), 31 (crucifixion; end of the sacrificial system), 34 (gospel to the Gentiles; end of Jewish privilege)
Matthew 25 Parable of the 10 virgins: In historicist interpretation a road map of the Disappointment experience: Loud cry (summer of 1844), the Bridegroom coming (October 22, 1844), the shut door (the closing of opportunity after October 22).
Revelation 10 In historicist interpretation, John’s swallowing of the little book (Daniel), sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly, is an illustration of the 1844 experience: Great hope followed by great pain.
Revelation 14 Three angels’ messages (judgment hour; fall of Babylon; mark of the beast)
Revelation 18 The other angel’s message, preached in connection with the second angel’s message: Come out of Babylon because Babylon is fallen.

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