Day-for-a-Year Principle

Can this be justified from the Bible?

W.E. Read, Retired Administrator

From time to time questions arise con­cerning our position on the recognition of the day-for-a-year principle in the interpretation of the prophetic periods in symbolic prophecies. We are reminded that the two passages we have used through the years, namely, Numbers 14:34 and Eze­kiel 4:6, deal with matters somewhat dif­ferent from the prophetic periods such as the 1260-, 1290-, and 2300-day prophecies. It is true that the context and application give some point to this question. But be­fore we permit this to influence us too strongly, would it not be well to investigate the matter, and especially the texts just mentioned? Then we shall be able to reach a more reasonable and accurate conclusion.

Before doing that, however, we must bear in mind that we are not the originators of this principle; it existed in the Christian church and in Jewish circles before ever we were a people. We are not alone in holding to this concept. Many Bible expositors, even in our day, advocate the year-day principle in their explanation of the prophetic time periods of Daniel and the Apocalypse.

But let us look at the matter historically before we come to the Biblical evidence.

I. The Historical Aspect

This will be referred to but briefly 1 and for one purpose only, and that is to show that our adoption of this plan is not some­thing that stems only from the great Sec­ond Advent awakening from 1820-1847, including the William Miller movement; it goes back beyond the medieval centuries, and even before that. In fact, there were advocates in both Jewish and Christian circles in the early centuries of the A.D. period.

Rabbi Dosa, in the fourth century A.D., said: "God's day of vengeance is a year, as in the case of the Spies on account of whom the Israelites were condemned to wander 40 years . . . —a year for each day."

Rabbi Johanan, in the second century A.D., remarked: "It is written: 'After the number of the days in which you spied out the land.' Did they then sin forty years? Was it not forty days that they sinned?"'

Hippolytus, bishop of Porto, c. A.D. 160­235, wrote: " 'I shall make a covenant of one week. . . . By one week he indicates . . . seven years.' "4

Going back even a century earlier we read of Akiba ben Joseph, A.D. 50-132, re­ferred to in a modern work by a Jewish author that "from the letters of R. Akiba [we learn] that the world will come to an end in 6093 A.M." 5

Abba Hillel Silver, in a paperback edi­tion of his work published in 1959, lists several Jewish commentators who recog­nized the year-day principle as applied to the 1290, 1335, and 2300 days of Daniel's prophecies.'

However, the principle was recognized much earlier than this, as we shall see in the next section on the Biblical evidence.

II. The Biblical Aspect

I. Our historical position.

We are naturally more concerned with the Biblical data on this matter, but it is helpful to know that it has been recog­nized for many centuries.

In thinking of evidence from the Scrip­tures, we will look first of all at our time-honored texts in Numbers and Ezekiel. Is there something in these passages that many have overlooked? Let us see. In these texts we read the expression "each day for a year." It is there just once in each text. If we look at the marginal reading of Ezekiel 4:6 in some of our K.J.V. Bibles, we shall see it stated twice—"a day for a year, a day for a year." Now, why is this? Is this merely a translator's note? Is it an alter­native translation of the Hebrew text? Some of our English Bibles render it this way in their actual text' The fact is that it ap­pears in the double form in the Hebrew text, and also in the Aramaic Targum text. So the marginal rendering after all is cor­rect.

Now, what is the significance of this repetition? Did it have a special meaning to the Hebrew mind? According to Hebrew authorities this form indicates, among other things, the idea of definite emphasis. We see an instance of this in Isaiah 26:3. This is one of the comforting and assuring prom­ises of our God. It reads: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace." Notice the adjective, but this is not in the Hebrew text. There it reads, "Peace, Peace." But that doesn't convey to our minds what it did to the Hebrew reader. But the repetition did mean something to him. He might not use adjectives and adverbs as we would to express this. We would do so, as in the word "perfect." With the Hebrew concept in mind, we could just as well read the text, "Thou wilt keep him in peace, yes inexpressible peace, peace that is wonder­ful beyond all description."

Might not this text from Isaiah have been in the apostle's mind when he wrote to the church at Philippi: "The peace of God which surpasses all power of com­prehension" (Phil. 4:7)? *

This same emphasis must be carried over to "a day for a year, a day for a year." It is as though Moses and Ezekiel were saying, "A day for a year," "Yes, and never forget it, that is what I mean."

See other instances of this emphasis in footnote number seven.'

Does not this repetition enhance the im­portance of this twice-repeated phrase in

Ezekiel 4:6? It doesn't answer the query raised at the beginning of this article, but it does stress its vital significance, and es­pecially so in the light of our historic interpretation.

2. The wide range of meaning of the original words.

The main Hebrew word rendered as "day" in the Old Testament is the noun yom, or yamin (plural). In the Greek LXX, and in the Greek New Testament, it is hemera, or hemerai (plural). These words have a wide range of meaning.

A. In the Old Testament

In most places the Hebrew word ydm generally means "day" and is so translated in our K.J.V. Bibles more than 1,200 times.

Furthermore, quite generally it means a 24-hour day (Gen. 1:5). Sometimes it means just the light part of a day (verse 16). But one of the ways in which it is translated is by using the word "year." One concordance lists no less than 23 instances of this, and notice the first use: "Thou shalt there­fore keep this ordinance [of the passover] in his season from year to year" (Hebrew —miyamim yamimah; Ex. 13:10). But the Hebrew word yamim is used twice in the plural form, which idiomatically means year to year, for the Passover was an an­nual festival.

B. In the Septuagint

What applies to the Hebrew word ydm, or yamim (plural), applies also to the Greek word hemera, singular or plural. This is rendered "year" in the same texts in the LXX. (See footnote 8.)

C. In the New Testament

There are just three instances of hemara translated as "year" in the New Testament. See Luke 1:7, 18: "Elisabeth was . . . well stricken in years" (hemerais): Luke 2:36: Anna "was of a great age"—in the Greek text it is "advanced in years" (hemerais).

3. The word "day" can mean a long period of time.

This is obvious, even in our own lan­guage, but concerning the Hebrew word, note: "a day of wrath" (Zeph. 1:15). "The day of trouble" (Eze. 7:7). "The day of vengeance" (Isa. 61:2). "The day of afflic­tion" (Jer. 16:19). "The day of judgment" (Matt. 10:15). "A day of salvation" (Isa. 49:8).

4. The words "day" and "year" are equated in places.

The words "day" [yom] and "year" [shanah] are in several instances equated. Note the following: "The day of the Lord" (Eze. 30:3); "The . . . year of the Lord (Isa. 61:2). "The day of visitation" (Isa. 10:3); "The year of . . . visitation" (Jer. 11:23). "The year of recompences" (Isa. 34: 8; "The days of recompence" (Hosea 9:7). In each instance "day" in Hebrew is yom, and "year" is shanah. In the Greek LXX the word "day" is hemera, and "year" is eniautos.

This equation can be seen also in one verse as in the following: "David . . . hath been with me these days [yamim], or these years" [Shanim] (1 Sam. 29:3). "And the time literally. 'days,' [yamiml that Jehu reigned over Israel . . . [werel twenty and eight years IShanim]" (2 Kings 10:36). And in Ezekiel 22:4 it reads: "Thy days [yamim] to draw near, and art come even unto thy years" [Shaniml. In these examples the Hebrew words rendered as "days" and as "years" are yamim and shanim.

In this review we have seen that the word "day" [ydm] was used in a variety of circumstances, and applied to many dif­ferent aspects of human affairs and rela­tionships. So ought there to be any real difficulty in understanding that the same principle of recognizing that a day repre­sents a year could be applied to the pro­phetic periods?

One other thing that might be queried is whether Daniel understood the 2300 "days" (Dan. 8:14) to be lust twenty-four-hour days or whether they meant years to him. We must remember that he would be ac­ouainted with the day-for-a-year concept in Numbers 14:34. We should bear in mind also that he was a contemporary of Ezekiel.

Furthermore, we must remember that Dan­iel's mind was on the seventy years of captivity, and on the time when that period was going to end. When he heard the answer of the holy one in heaven to the question, "How long . . . ?" the idea that 2300 days would be literal days would have meant nothing to him—just six and one-third years, at most. But, if he understood the 2300 days to be years, then we can appreci­ate, to some extent at least, why he fainted at the idea of a period of 2300 years when he had been thinking of 70. This certainly would have been enough to cause him to be not only "astonished" (chap. 8:27), but "confounded" (Rotherham), "appalled" (Moffatt),- or "dazed" (Knox).

Observe also the significant comment of Ellen G. White on this revelation to the prophet:

Through another vision further light was thrown upon the events of the future; and it was at the close of this vision that Daniel heard "one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision?" Daniel 8:13. The answer that was given, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (verse 14), filled him with perplexity. Earnestly he sought for the meaning of the vision. He could not understand the relation sustained by the seventy years' captiv­ity, as foretold through Jeremiah, to the twenty-three hundred years that in vision he had heard the heavenly visitant declare should elapse before the cleansing of God's sanctuary.—Prophets and Kings, p. 554. (Emphasis supplied.)

Let us bear in mind also that the same principle was endorsed by Ellen G. White in the interpretation and application of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, that "a day in prophecy stands for a year" (The Desire of Ages, p. 233; Prophets and Kings, p. 698).


We are naturally more concerned with

1 L. E. Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers.

2 Rabbi Dosa, in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin II, 99a, p. 670, Soncino Press, London.

3 R. Johanan, Talmud, Hagigah 5b, p. 25.

4 Hippolytus, Fragment 21, in Ante-Nicene Church Fathers, vol. 5. p. 247.

5 Abba Hillel Silver, Messianic Speculation in Israel, p. 14.

A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel  from the First Through the Seventeenth Centuries, First Beacon Paperback edition, published 1959. Beacon Press, Boston, pp. 54, 66, 71-75, 83, 84, 88, 108, 124, 139, 142, 207, etc

7 See Leeser. Douay, Knox, Young. Fenton, etc.

8 Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuests Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament: Vol. III. Eerdmanns, 1959.

9 In Zech. 4:7 it reads: "Grace. grace unto it." This was said by the people at the completion of the Temple. Note the English translations: Knox, "How fair, how fair!" Jerusalem, "Blessings on it." Rotherham, "Beautiful, Beautiful." Mof­fatt. "Splendid, Splendid."

 10 Lev. 25:29; Num. 9:22: Joshua 13:1; judges 11:40; 17:10; 21:19; 1 Sam. 1:3, 21; 2:19; 20:6; 27:7; 2 Sam. 14:26; 1 Kings 1:1; Amos 4:4.


+ From The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright by James Moffatt 1954. Used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

W.E. Read, Retired Administrator

August 1968

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Words to Ministers*

Advice from Ellen G. White

On the Gaza Road

Where are the bible instructors?

Using the Sidetracks

A look at the railroad philosophy

Preparation for the Campaign

Public evangelism in the context of full-time ministry.

Securing and Holding an Audience

Guidance on advertising and persuasion.

The Pew Looks at the Pulpit: Know Your Limitations

This is a part of the viewpoint column.

Heaven is for Youths

Heaven updated! 1968 B.C. or A.D.?

Motives and Destinies (Conclusion)

As leaders of the church of God we have the dual assignment of helping our people to develop a sound spirituality for themselves and of motivating them to work for the salvation of others.

How do You Baptize?

All ministers should give deep thought and practice to be able to baptize more attractively, beautifully, and more pleasantly in the sight of God and man.

Chewing the Cud

An examination of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

Practical Principles of Revival and Evangelism

Revival and evangelism are crucial in God's plan.


Adopting a good attitude!


By the Ministry Staff

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)