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The Year-Day Principle*

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Archives / 1964 / July

 

 

The Year-Day Principle*

Desmond Ford

Head, Bibie Department, Australasian Missionary College, Avondale

 

Next we are led to inquire whether there are any indications in the rest of the Scriptures that God has ever chosen such sym­bolism. In Numbers 14:35 and Ezekiel 4:6 we find evidence that such is the case. On other occa­sions God has chosen to use pre­cisely this symbolism, and one of these occasions was during the time of Daniel's captivity and its contemporary prophet. Therefore, that God should use the same symbolism in apocalyptic prophecy is not surprising.

6.     The pragmatic test should now be applied, and the question asked, "Have any of Daniel's prophecies already met with a precise fulfillment that accords with the principle we are studying?" Daniel 9: 24-27, the prophecy of the 70 weeks, seems to offer just such a fulfillment. While the Hebrew word here for weeks, shabua, sim­ply means a hebdomad, nevertheless the scriptural usage of this term is ever for a week of days. (It is not used, for example, in Leviticus 25:1-10 for this seven-year period.) See Gen. 29:27, 28; Dan. 10:2; Eze. 45:21, et cetera. Inasmuch as other evidence shows that this period of 490 years reaching to the Messiah is cut off from the longer period of the 2300, it is obvious that the latter must consist of years also. Thus here in Daniel 9 we have the pragmatic test met and the year-day principle justified, despite the fact that the word day is nowhere used in this passage.'

7.     Another testimony that should not be omitted is that found in Revelation 10: 5-7. Here we read: "And the angel which

I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, . . . that there should be time no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mys­tery of God should be finished." Every Bible margin refers the reader from this passage to Daniel 12:6, 7. It is obvious that the first quotation refers to the second one, and in so doing it shows clearly that the time periods alluded to in the passage quoted from Daniel still had their fulfill­ment centuries ahead from John the reve­lator's prophecy, and that they would reach to the time of the end when "there should be time no longer" and "the mystery of God should be finished." Similarly, Reve­lation 11:2 quotes from Daniel 8:14, in­dicating that the fulfillment of the 2300 days was projected well into the Christian Age. Only the year-day principle applied to Daniel's period could make these New Testament fulfillments possible, provided that these periods were meant to be as specific as other Bible periods, such as the 120 years before the Flood, or the 450 years concerning Abraham's seed, or the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

8.     The principle of repetition and en­largement that characterizes the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation also casts light on the time periods employed in these books. It is obvious to any unbiased reader of Daniel that the seventh chapter covers the same ground as the second. Similarly, chapter eight again traverses the world empires, even naming two of those first mentioned in the first outline of Daniel 2. Daniel 8 finishes with the destruction of the wicked by the stone cut out "without hands" as does Daniel 2. As certainly as the fourth empire is pictured as remaining in its fragmentary state till the Second Advent, so it is with the little horn of Daniel 8.

Furthermore, the fourth outline in Dan­iel, that of chapters eleven and twelve, again covers the identical ground of chap­ters two, seven, and eight. The description found in Daniel 11:31-45 clearly accords with Daniel 8:11-13, 23-25. The final chap­ter of Daniel gives in greater detail what is found in verses 44 and 45 of chapter two. Thus in order to interpret the period men­tioned in Daniel 8:41 it is essential that we take into consideration the fact that the chief power prominent for the 2300 days is represented in Daniel 11 as enduring until the kingdom of God is set up. The inadequacy of interpreting, therefore, the 2300 evening-mornings as days only during the Maccabean era is apparent.

Let us now consider one or two specific objections to the year-day principle. Evan­gelical scholars for whom we have respect, such as Edward J. Young, assert that pro­phetic periods are symbolic only. In answer we would quote Nathanael West:

Even granting that prophetic numbers are sym­bolic and schematic, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW that they have no temporal value. The fact that they represent an "IDEA"—and no one denies this—does not prove that they do not represent "time" also.

And in another place this writer says:

The prophetic numbers are symbolical only be­cause, first of all, they are literal. The four hundred years DID begin and end. The seventy years DID begin and end. The one thousand years SHALL begin and end. All are spoken of in the same way. The seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks, DID begin and end . . . Messiah DID come "after threescore and two weeks," and "seven weeks." "After" "until", "unto" in answer to the question, "How long?" and 0 my Lord, When?" ARE chronological.

Another objection to the year-day proph­ecy should here be considered. This is that there have been so many different dates set for the conclusion of the time periods, and thus obviously, the majority of them wrong, that therefore such a hazy method of conveying truth could not come from God. Notice the well-worded objec­tion of Thomas Maitland regarding the 1260 days:

If such an event as this [the delivery of the saints into the hands of the blasphemous and persecuting power] has taken place, is it possible that the Church of God can be at a loss to de­cide when and how it happened? Can there be a difference of opinion among pious, and learned, and laborious inquirers into the Word of God and the history of the Church? Nay, further we ask—"Is the Church at this moment in the hands of the blasphemous little horn, or is it not?" Mr. Faber, and many more, assert that it is. Mr. Cunninghame, Mr. Frere, and others, are as fully convinced that it is not. And 9/10ths of the Christian world stand silent, avowedly unable to give an opinion on the subject...2 When did the saints find out  that they had been delivered over, not for ages. Is this credible? But, in fact, when did it happen? . . . On this point, too there is a great difference of opinion. . . .3

What shall we say about this objection? Birks, in his day, affirmed that we should say that the objection is a plausible one, but that it assumes that which it sets out to prove—namely that the prophecy was of no help to the church unless all its members accurately located its application. How­ever, if the prophecy was given for the church throughout many generations, to reveal a dangerous opposer and to give light in regard to the moral features of divine providences through many centuries of time, then it is clear that all these pur­poses could be fulfilled even if the exact application was not seen for several gene­rations. And, likewise, if mistakes of even a century or more were made at first in the date of the event. All the main features and practical lessons would still be sub­stantially the same, just as surely as the features and character of a person could be well known even though we were a few years in error as to the date of his birth.

A parallel case pointed out by Birks is the revelation made to Abraham regarding his seed sojourning for 400 years and en­during persecution. It cannot be proved that the seed of Abraham did actually serve and were afflicted by a strange nation dur­ing the whole of the 400 years. Similarly, during the 1260 years, while a precise period was intended, the recognition of that time by the church could be more def­initely recognized by the people of God during part of that time rather than during the whole. And, lastly, it should be remem­bered that the maxims already declared to be the foundation of the year-day system actually demanded the situation that the critic presents. We would expect successive anticipation, for example, as to the dates involved. Only by such gradual approach to the correct view could the two main purposes have been fulfilled—growing un­derstanding of the prophecy, and a constant and unbroken anticipation of the Lord's coming. Maitland's objection as­sumes that the church must either be in total ignorance of the times, or come at once into full possession of perfect knowl­edge. All analogies of the church's past, and even of individual Christian experi­ences, declare such an objection false.

As the author of First Elements of Sacred Prophecy has well said, there are only three alternatives God could have adopted with reference to revelation of the times and seasons to His church. He could keep the church in total ignorance till the end; or translate it suddenly from complete ignorance to complete knowl­edge, or, third, give gradually increasing light, till at length the sun of righteous­ness actually arose. Suppose God had adopted the first alternative and had given the church nothing but the most general statements for her guide through the cen­turies? As century after century passed, would not believers have been lulled into slumber, believing that the return of the Master was a vague, indefinite possibility, infinitely afar off? After ten centuries of waiting could not the church rationally assume that there could quite easily be ten centuries more of waiting, and therefore relax? Each generation would have had a still weaker expectation of the Advent.

Consider the next possibility—that the light be given suddenly in its completeness. How then could the church fulfill the in­struction, "Watch and pray: for ye know not what the time is"? The testimony of the ages is that always, and on every sub­ject, the increase of knowledge has been gradual. "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." The grad­ual unfolding of the light of prophecy, the third possibility of revelation, is in exact accord with God's purpose of sus­taining His church in anticipation of His return.

The believer in the year-day principle has just as much evidence of truth of this belief as he could expect. He will admit that objections can be raised to the theory but realizes that these are few compared with the objections that can be raised to the rejection of the principle. Truth here, as in every other philosophical matter, is determined by the weight of evidence. Un­doubtedly the scales are well down on the side of the historical interpreters of the ages who represent more of the church in­visible than any other interpretative group. Thus Seventh-day Adventists find them­selves in good company in their applica­tion to years of prophecies of the 1260 and the 2300 days. Among evangelicals, those who literalize the time periods are for the most part dispensationalists, and their atti­tude in this matter is part and parcel of their erroneous literalistic and futuristic exegesis of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.'

It should be noted that the prophetic times are the most certain identifiers of the nearness of Christ's coming that the Scripture affords. It is doubtful that any of the other signs customarily quoted are nearly as conclusive. Without the time prophecies we would be left to wonder whether the world had yet another weary millennium or two to endure before Christ appears to banish sin and sorrow.

To quote Birks once more:

That entire rejection of all prophetic chronology, which follows, of course, on the denial of the year-day, is most of all to be deplored, from its deadly and paralyzing influence on the great hope of the church. . . . The prophetic times, indeed, when separated from the context, and viewed in them­selves only, are a dry and worthless skeleton: but when taken in connection with the related events, clothed with historical facts, and joined with those spiritual affections which should attend the study of God's Providences; like the bones in the human frame, they give strength to what was feeble, and union to what was disjointed, and form, and beauty, and order, to the whole outline and substance of these sacred and divine prophecies?

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Note:

6 It is a fact that the Hebrew term here employed for "weeks" does not of itself necessarily mean seven days. But neither does it of itself mean seven years. Furthermore in every other case of scriptural usage it s associated with the former and not the latter. This being. the case, how very appropriate is its employment in Daniel 9 where part of the symbolism of Daniel 8 is being interpreted. A word is chosen that harmonizes both with the symbolic "evening-mornings" of Daniel 8:14, and with its literal application of years. Daniel 9 supports the year-day principle, not just as it stands by the evidence of the chapter alone, but by virtue of its connection with Daniel 8. It is not proposed here to review the well-known evidences of this connection but we would point out one feature of linkage between the two that is often overlooked. Both chapters are vitally con­cerned with the future of the sanctuary. Daniel 8 by its references to the daily, the "evening-mornings" (burnt of­ferings), the sacrificial animals—ram and the he-goat (in contrast to the animals of Daniel 7) and the naming of the sanctuary itself as well as a technical term for the Temple service (tzaba, Num. 4:23)—clearly evidences its theme. But Daniel 9 does similarly: (1) it includes a prayer concerning the restoration of the sanctuary, (2) it specifically names the time of this prayer as being an hour of particular importance in the sanctuary ritual, .(3) it points to the anointing of the sanctuary's high priest and of the Most Holy itself (that is, the antitypical priest and sanctuary in each instance), (4) it predicts the end of the typical sanctu­ary services when the offering and the oblation would be made to cease by meeting their fulfillment, (5) the sanctuary key term "atonement" is employed (verse 25), (6) the destruction of the typical sanctuary is foretold.

Thus it is no arbitrary exegesis which asserts that Daniel 9 is a logical continuation and explanation of Daniel 8, and which makes the seventy weeks a part of the 2300 days.

7 Nathanael West, The Thousand Years in Both Testa­ments, pp. 94, 98, 99.

8T. Maitland Inquiry Into the Nature of the Prophetic Times, pp. 53, 76.

9 See Prophecy and the Church, Oswald Allis (Philadel­phia: The Presbyterian and Reform Pub. Co., 1945), p. 19.

10 T. R. Birks, First Elements of Sacred Prophecy (Lon­don: William Edward Painter, 1843), pp. 415, 416.

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