Saturday, March 12, 2011

Daniel's 70th Week, Part 1

What follows is a paper I wrote on Daniel's 70th week and the interesting topic that it is!

The 70 weeks of Daniel have caused much speculation throughout the years. It is this prophetic vision of Daniel that will be discussed in this paper. Daniel 9:24-27 says,
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, 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. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

            It is the contention of this paper that Daniel’s 70th week is a future event, taking place during the tribulation. This paper shall explore the varying interpretations given to the prophecy, objections to those interpretations, and finally present the case for the futuristic interpretation during the tribulation.
            First, it should be noted what is meant by the phrase “seventy weeks.” The meaning of the phrase itself is literally “seventy sevens.”[1] Archer maintains these are “heptads [groups] of years.”[2] These weeks are divided first into a period of 69 weeks and then into a separate week. This suggests naturally a point of division. Archer points out there are two major ways of discussing the former group of weeks. One may begin with the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (based on the command to rebuild Jerusalem in verse 25), and regard the years as 360 days each. This would result in a fulfillment of the years of approximately A.D. 26. The alternative is to view the decree as to Ezra, which results in the same date (due to the differing calculations of years.[3]
            So it seems that the view that makes the most sense is the view which says the 70 weeks are in fact groups of years, each week containing seven years. This is equivalent to 490 years. It is indeed noteworthy that Christ himself began his ministry 483 years (identifying himself as the Messiah). Yet now a fundamental question remained: when does the final week of seven years take place? A couple of views should be presented and examined here.
            First, there is a view which regards the prophecies of Daniel 9:24-27 to be already fulfilled. This is called the “historical fulfillment.”[4] Erickson mentions a somewhat unique feature of this view (as opposed to the literal view) when he says “Daniel [is taken as] merely that the tribulation will last a substantial period of time.”[5]
            Pentecost reiterates this when he shows the perceived problem of any gaps. The contention is that if any chronological gaps existed between the 69th and 70th weeks, the prophecy would be somewhat deceptive.[6] However, it seems a problem with this view is that there already is a chronological gap between both of these weeks. For instance, the end of the 69th week introduces the Messiah’s appearing. Yet we know that there was a three-year period of time between Messiah’s appearing and his being “cut off” in death. It is also true such a three-year period cannot be found from the text of Daniel 9 alone. This means the prophecy as it stands must be deceptive ex hypothesi. However, it is unlikely any serious biblical scholars would embrace such a conclusion. Therefore, this suggests the objection against there being a gap of time in between the two weeks fails.
            In between the two views lies an interesting but stark difference. Erickson mentions such an interpretation of the text is “a less literal interpretation of events of the last times.”[7] This less literal hermeneutic ought to be explored, as it is the foundation for the view aforementioned. Klein takes the book of Daniel to be in apocalyptic prophecy as a genre. As such, he claims one ought not take too literally the numbers listed or involved.[8]
            Not too much is given by Klein as to why this presupposition should be held. He mentions apocalyptic prophecies are ones “in which God ‘reveals’ his hidden future plans…[with] strange symbolism or numbers….its communication [is] less direct than the spoken ‘word’ of prophecy proper.”[9] It seems then on this basis that such numbers or details should be regarded as somewhat ambiguous. For instance, though Daniel lists the number of weeks in terms of the number seven, the interpreter should not insist upon the literal number of years involving that number.[10] Even Fee points out one must interpret prophecy considering that many times what was future to the original audience is the past to modern readers.[11]
            The holding of this presupposition results in highly varying interpretations of the prophetic books. The justification behind this is that one must understand the genres of the biblical text before one attempts to interpret accurately that text. If one does not, he runs the risk of misunderstanding or misapplying the text. For example, if one reads prophetic literature as though it is narrative or didactic in nature, he may assume the coming judgment to be upon himself![12] However, this presupposition is inexplicably extended to making prophecy more symbolic than may have been intended.
            In fact, this presupposition may be due in large part to the commitment to the Church’s being the new Israel. While Klein surely is not advocating the idea that Israel has no prophetic future, he nonetheless endorses the idea that “in most cases, OT prophecies about Israel and Zion find their fulfillment spiritually in the Church.”[13] Indeed, he moves to offer just one alternative: “those that seem to pertain more to a physical nation of Israel may anticipate a historical fulfillment.”[14]
            The result of these commitments places the student of the Bible in a position from which there is no escape. If he encounters prophecy in the Old Testament, he must interpret prophecies in a symbolic manner. His only recourse is if it seems apparent the prophecy was fulfilled historically, then he should believe that instead.
            In fact, it is this which seems to be the guide for the non-literal hermeneutic which drives the interpretation of Daniel 9. For the question must be raised: “When does one use a literal hermeneutic, and when does one use a symbolic one?” With this guide, the student may apply this principle to Daniel 9: 24-27.
            One must also examine the results of this hermeneutic. For instance, when this framework is applied to this particular text, can a historical fulfillment be seen? It seems not, at least completely. Certainly the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt and the Messiah was cut off. Yet it also seems as though Antichrist has not come to destroy the city, or to confirm a covenant with the people of Israel. Terms and words such as “the end of the war” (v. 26) and “the consummation” (v. 27) indicate these are the times of the end, and therefore not completely fulfilled as of yet.
            If the answer to the question of historical fulfillment is a partial “no,” then according to Klein and Fee the interpreter ought to search for a spiritual or symbolic fulfillment. It is not clear what a non-historical, symbolic fulfillment of this passage would look like. Erickson contends though the Christian may not know what such a passage entails, he nonetheless may regard that fulfillment as literal.[15]
            If the answer to the question of historical fulfillment is an unequivocal “yes,” however, a different line of thought emerges. This is due to the “position of dishonesty” Pentecost describes.[16] These who hold this position believe that the sixty-nine weeks cannot be chronologically separate from the final week because of verse 24 (“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people…). In much the same way as the final week concerns the same subject (the people of Israel), so the time periods are ultimately linked as well.
            Their answer to this prophecy’s fulfillment remains somewhat ambiguous. It seems such an interpreter would need to claim Antiochus Epiphanes as the “prince” of verse 26.[17] In this way, a consistent, linear view of the prophecy may be maintained.
            There are a few, separate issues with each of these answers to the historical questions regarding the passage. First of all, the symbolic fulfillment does not offer an actual interpretation. This does not result in an advancement to prophetic knowledge whatsoever. Indeed, it is not borne out of necessity either (so that one not only finds no reason to accept this interpretation, but no reason to reject a traditional interpretation either). Secondly, it seems not to account for a literal, historical fulfillment of the prophecy of verses 24-26a.[18] The Messiah historically came in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14), and he came in the literal number of years (483) after the decree to rebuild. If the Messiah came literally, it seems only fair to be consistent and apply the literal hermeneutic to the rest of the prophecy as well. Daniel also seems to concern himself with literal years by being linked to Jeremiah’s prophecy of seventy literal years of captivity (in ) and in 9:1-2.[19]
            As for the pure historical view, LaSor mentions, “it [the book of Daniel] was intended ‘for the time of the end,’” and not simply for “the days of Antiochus Epiphanes…[or] the destruction of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70, or in any calamity the world has yet known.”[20] This is also bolstered by the fact that no reckoning of the sixty-nine prior weeks results in Messiah’s being cut off; it only results in the commencing of His public ministry. This means, inherently, a passing of time exists between the end of the week and the beginning of the seventieth week. This undercuts the largest objection to the literal interpretation. If a passing of time is permissible between Messiah’s appearing and being cut off, why can there not be a period of time between Messiah’s being cut off and the confirming of the covenant for the final week?
            However, despite the fact this historical view is not necessary, perhaps it is nonetheless the correct view to hold. It seems this is not tenable because of the prophecy itself. In verse 26, it speaks of the “end” of the sanctuary and the city. In verse 27, again, the “consummation” is mentioned. As an apocalyptic genre it seems highly unlikely this could have been fulfilled historically (since the end of this present world is not yet upon us). Because of these things, it seems the literal but historical fulfillment is both unnecessary and insufficient as an interpretive model for this passage.

                [1] The Hebrew words involved are שָׁבֻעִים שִׁבְעִים.

                [2] Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2007), 380. What boosts this view is that Daniel clearly has years in mind in 9:1-2. This would preclude literal weeks or days.
                [3] Ibid. Archer also claims one need not understand the date to “pinpoint” the date of the crucifixion, since it is only after Messiah’s appearance that He is cut off. The date would be commensurate with the start of Christ’s ministry.

                [4] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 165.

                [5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1227.

                [6] Pentecost, 171.
                [7] Erickson, 1227.

                [8] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 386.

                [9] Ibid., 385.

                [10] Ibid., 386.

                [11] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 199-200.
                [12] Klein, 381-382.

                [13] Ibid.

                [14] Ibid.
                [15] Erickson, 1227. In fairness to Erickson, it should be noted he regards the future prophecies as having a literal fulfillment; he simply believes the numeric figures involved symbolize a large period of time. This is due to the genre’s penchant for using imagery to convey a point.

                [16] Pentecost, 171.

                [17] William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 569.
                [18] Archer, 380-381.

                [19] LaSor, 568. The literal, contextual use of “years” or even “many days” to point to a literal time referent reinforce the likelihood Daniel intends the symbolic language to represent literal years.
                [20] Ibid., 569-570.

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