1844---is it biblical?
Did anything special happen in heaven in 1844? Some Seventh-day Adventists, even pastors, are unconvinced that Jesus began a final phase in His high priestly ministry.
Many would-be defenders of the faith rush to the rescue with Ellen White quotations. In respect for her prophetic gift, however, we do well to take her own counsel and stand upon the solid rock of sola scriptura. If 1844 is not an authentic prophetic landmark in Scripture, then let's pull the extrabiblical plug of artificial life support and then respectfully lay it to rest. If, however, our theology about 1844 is supported in Scripture, then let's support it ourselves and enthusiastically proclaim it.
One fact recognized by all is that the year 1844 as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy stands or falls on the 2300-day time span of Daniel 8:14. This article focuses on four assumptions that, if legitimate, affirm our historic interpretation of the 2300 days/years of Daniel 8:14. If:
(1) one apocalyptic day equals one literal year, and
(2) Daniel 9 explains the mystery of Daniel 8, and
(3) the 490 years of Daniel 9 are cut off from a longer time span of 2300 years, and
(4) the starting date for that 2300- year prophecy is 457 B.C., then the year 1844 must be biblically authentic. That fact established would vindicate the claim of Seventh-day Adventists to be a prophetic movement of destiny.
Much is at stake as we examine these four assumptions, one by one.
1. One apocalyptic day equals one literal year.
Adventists did not invent this principle of prophetic interpretation; 450 years ago it was the historic position of the Protestant reformers. Even some Catholic and Jewish scholars interpreted Daniel's 2300 days as 2300 literal years. 1 As documented a generation ago by the late Adventist scholar LeRoy E. Froom and substantiated more recently in the seven-volume Daniel and Revelation Committee series from the Biblical Research Institute, there is both historic precedent and scriptural support for the day/year principle. The fact that most commentators of the past 150 years have forsaken their own heritage of historicism is no reason for us to follow them over the cliff into futurism or to plunge into the stagnant pond of preterism.2
So the day/year principle was not the invention of overeager Millerites in the nineteenth century, nor was it merely an exegetical ace up the sleeves of pope-hating reformers in the sixteenth century. Solid biblical scholarship supports the conviction that a day in apocalyptic time prophecy equals a literal year. And we don't need to replicate the proof-texting heroics of our Adventist pioneers! Far more convincing is contextual evidence.
For example, the context of both chapters 7 and 8 of Daniel negates the notion that their time spans could be literal. Chapter 7' s little horn emerges from the fourth world empire in the sixth century A.D. and survives till the time of the judgment and the Advent; verse 25 shows that the period of "a time, two times, and half a time" (RSV) must extend over most of those many centuries. This would be impossible if only three and a half years were intended.
Moving into Daniel 8, we see in verse 17 that the 2300 days of verse 14 extend from the restoration of the sanctuary, which would happen in the fifth century B.C., until "the time of the end" a span of about 2300 years. Its fulfillment is specifically aligned with the latter days, the time immediately preceding the final proclamation of the gospel by the "wise" (see Dan. 12:3,4). Critics overlook the fact that Daniel 8:17 when linked with Daniel 12:3-13, conclusively shows that the 2300-day prophecy covers many centuries.
William H. Shea of the General Conference Biblical Research Institute has done extensive analysis of time prophecy as it relates to the day/ year principle. 3 Particularly fascinating are his scholastic safaris into the Old Testament poetic writings 4 and the post-Qumran interpreters. 5 Shea bolsters his case for the day/year principle by suggesting: "At this time in our church history when our attention has been called to some of the doctrines of the Reformers, such as justification and righteousness by faith, we would do well to heed their principles of prophetic interpretation also." 6
2. Daniel 9 explains the mystery of Daniel 8.
Chapter 8 of Daniel closes with the aged prophet in deep distress. Horrified at the atrocities that the trampling little horn would inflict upon God's people, His sanctuary, and His truth, the elderly prophet faints. By the time he recovers, the angel is gone, leaving Daniel "astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it" (Dan. 8:27).* We should note that the only element of the Daniel 8 vision yet unexplained was its timing.
A decade or so passes with the timing of that tribulation still a mystery. Then we come to Daniel 9, which opens with a reference to Jeremiah's prediction that Jerusalem's desolation was supposed to last 70 years (see verse 2). Only a couple of years remained before that scheduled restoration, yet nothing seemed to be happening. Was the deliverance delayed? Perhaps so, because along with the pledge of restoration for Jerusalem, Jeremiah had warned that God's promises were conditional upon the cooperation of His people (see Jer. 18:9,10). As Daniel witnessed the continued wickedness and "open shame" (Dan. 9:7) of his people, he feared that God indeed might decide to delay their deliverance.
In that context, the elderly prophet fervently prayed with "fasting, sack cloth, and ashes" (verse 3).In one of the most heart-touching supplications of all Scripture, Daniel pled the mercy of God for sinners. He poured out his heart in concern for the "desolate sanctuary" (verse 17). Then he added: "Do not delay, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name" (verse 19).
Despite the desperate situation, Daniel's supplications were mingled with hope and even confidence. He knew that God loves His people and is ever eager to forgive. Furthermore, the Lord had commanded Gabriel to "give this man an understanding of the vision" (Dan. 8:16). This mandate to Gabriel was yet unfulfilled, leaving the 2300 days and the desolate sanctuary shrouded in mystery.
Suddenly the answer came. Gabriel appeared again and announced: "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. . . .So give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision" (Dan. 9:22, 23). Since the prophet's prayer for understanding had involved the timing of the promised restoration, Gabriel begins with an explanation of time: "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place" (verse 9:24).
What vision was Gabriel referring to? The only possible answer is the vision left unresolved by the previous chapter. Thus the explanation of Daniel 9 solves the mystery of Daniel 8. As noted by Gerhard F. Hasel,7 there is a compelling connection be tween the two chapters.
3. The 490 years of Daniel 9 are "cut off from the longer time span of 2300 years.
This point is both crucial and easily demonstrated. While most translations of Daniel 9:24 use words such as "determined" (KJV, NKJV) or "decreed" (NASB, NIV, RSV), the translation could just as easily and quite accurately be given as "cut off." William Shea notes that "analysis of Hebrew writings such as the Mishnah reveals that although chathak can mean 'determine,' the more common meaning has 'to do with the idea of cutting.'" 8 Ancient rabbinic literature employed the word as "amputated." 9 "The well-known Hebrew- English dictionary by Gesenius states that properly it means 'to cut' or 'to divide.' " 10
More than a few classical Christian commentators concur with historic Adventist interpretation here. Consider Phillip Newell's commentary, for example: "The Hebrew word used here . . . has the literal connotation of 'cutting off' in the sense of severing from a larger portion."11 The Pulpit Commentary is in accord that "determined" as already indicated, means "cut off."12 The lexicon in Strong's Concordance supports the same conclusion. Seventh-day Adventists are justified, then, in seeing the 490 years of Daniel 9 as cut off from the larger time span of the 2300 years in Daniel 8.
The only question left is when to start the prophetic countdown. Daniel 9:25 said it should commence with the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. What year did that happen?
4. The 2300-year prophecy started in 457 B.C.
Archaeology now documents the Adventist timetable for the historic decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Accordingly, a recent Zondervan book widely advertised and acclaimed among evangelicals, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, sets 457 B.C. as Daniel 9's prophetic starting date (although the author attempts no connection with Daniel 8). 13
Actually, before the twin Jesuit j heresies of futurism and preterism undermined biblical historicism, many respected scholars of various backgrounds during the last millennium placed the starting date for the 2300 day/year prophecy in the fifth century B.C. 14 Among Catholics, "about 1292 Arnold of Villanova said that the 2300 days stand for 2300 years, counting the period from the time of Daniel to the Second Advent.. . . Better known to most church historians is the illustrious Nicholas Krebs of Cusa, Roman Catholic cardinal, scholar, philosopher, and theologian, who in 1452 declared that the 2300 year-days began in the time of Persia." 15 "In the century after the Protestant Reformation, many Protestant expounders from English theologian George Downham (died 1634) to British barrister Edward King in 1798, declared the number 2300 involved the same number of years. John Tillinghast (died 1655) ended them at the Second Advent and the 1000-year reign of the saints. Tillinghast was the first to assert the 70 weeks of years to be a lesser epoch within the larger period of the 2300 years."16
John Fletcher, an associate of John Wesley, in 1755 interpreted the cleansing of the sanctuary as a restoration of truth from papal error at the end of a 2300-year period that began with Persia.17 And Johann Petri, a German Reformed pastor, "in 1768 introduced the final step . . . leading to the inevitable conclusion and climax that the 490 years (70 weeks of years) are the first part of the 2300 years. He began them synchronously, 453 years be fore the birth of Christ terminating the 490 years in A.D. 37, and the 2300 years in 1847. . . . Soon men on both sides of the Atlantic, in Africa, even in India and other countries, began to set forth their convictions in similar vein."18
Those who seek to dismantle the prophetic platform of Seventh-day Adventists should pause and consider that if we deserve censure for our interpretations, so should the illustrious company of biblical scholars who gave us our prophetic heritage. We are simply carrying their torch.
Clarifying those confusing decrees
At this point some would protest that the actual wording of the command of Artaxerxes I of 457 B.C. makes no explicit mention of any order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem in fulfillment of Daniel 9's starting point. This threat to Adventist interpretation disappears when we consider that the decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem was actually a combined unit of three decrees linked as one that culminated in the year 457.
The first of these decrees by Cyrus the Great in 538 (or maybe 537) permitted the Jewish exiles to resettle in their homeland and empowered them to build for God "a house in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:2-4). The second decree came around 519 from Darius I, con firming Cyrus' original decree (Ezra 6:1-12). So under Cyrus the rebuilding began, and it was finished under Darius (Ezra 6:15). However, it was Artaxerxes who restored, or "adorned" (Ezra 7:27) the completed temple. This third decree (Ezra 7:11-26) put the crowning touch on the first two, for it commissioned Ezra to appoint judges with full political and religious authority. Not until this final order was Jerusalem restored as the national capital. This explains why the three decrees are listed as a single unit in Scripture: "They finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree [singular] of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14).
To illustrate this, imagine that Cyrus began building a car and Darius finished its construction, but not until Artaxerxes issued the vehicle registration certificate could the car roll down the prophetic highway. And so we must date Jerusalem's rebuilding and restoration from the order of the third king.
Let us remember that the desolation of Jerusalem involved much more than the destruction of buildings, and so the Daniel 9 prophecy included restoration as well as rebuilding. The privilege of Jerusalem to administer God's laws had been lost, so the restoration of the city required the rein stating of civil and religious government. This at last was accomplished by the decree of Artaxerxes in the year 457 B.C., a date we have noticed is acknowledged by evangelical scholarship.
In conclusion: It is true that (1) one apocalyptic day equals one literal year; (2) Daniel 9 explains the mystery of Daniel 8; (3) the 490 years of Daniel 9 are "cut off from the longer time span of 2300 years; and (4) the starting date for the 2300-year prophecy is 457 B.C. Therefore, the year 1844 in Bible prophecy must be legitimate---and by extension, the authenticity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a prophetic movement of destiny.
1844 must be biblical
Jesus launched His mission as Messiah in A.D. 27 right on schedule, to "seal up vision and prophecy" in Daniel 8/9 regarding the reliability of the predicted time scale. In the midst of the seventieth week of years, Christ was "cut off on the cross---right on schedule. He then ascended to heaven's sanctuary to mediate the benefits of Calvary's once-for-all sacrifice, and at the end of the 2300 years in 1844---right on schedule---He began the final phase of His celestial ministry.
Everything has happened just as the Bible said it would, in harmony with our historicist heritage. For us Adventists, this means we can have full confidence about God's leading in our message and our mission. And for the world, people need to know what we have to share.
In this article we have reviewed both scriptural and historical testimony regarding the year 1844 and also confronted questions about this landmark of Bible prophecy. The evidence is clear for all who have eyes to see it and a heart to believe it. Perhaps it all comes down to intellectual honesty and spiritual commitment qualities that will not be lacking in God's final remnant.
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* Unless otherwise noted, all texts are from the New American Standard Bible.
1. See LeRoy E. Froom et al., Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), pp. 309-316. See also chapters 4, 12, and 23 in Seventh-day Adventists Believe... a Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference Ministerial Association, 1988).
2. Put simply, "futurism" is the belief that the bulk of Bible prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. At the opposite extreme, "preterism" teaches that most prophecies met their fulfillment intime past. "Historicism" holds that prophecy has had an unfolding fulfillment throughout history, leaving room for its grand culmination in the future coming of Christ.
3. See William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1982), pp. 56-93. Shea's book is one volume in the Daniel and Revelation Committee series, compiled by the Biblical Research Institute and available at Adventist Book Centers. Perhaps all Adventist pastors would do well to purchase and read the gold mine of exegetical information, particularly in volumes 1 through 5.
4. Ibid., p. 68f.
5. Ibid., pp. 92, 93.
6. William H. Shea, "The Year-Day Principle in Prophecy," Pacific Union Recorder, Sept. 22, 1980, p. 2.
7. Gerhard Hasel notes that whereas "the normal designation for 'vision' in Daniel is the term hazon," the word used in 8:16 and 8:26, 27 is mar'eh. Significantly, it is mar'eh that appears again in 9:23: "understand the vision." "Different scholars have recognized a link between chapters 8 and 9 because of the usage of this term." (Gerhard F. Hasel, "The Audition About the Sanctuary," in Frank B. Holbrook, ed., Symposium on Daniel [Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Institute, 1986], p. 437.) See also Gerhard F. Hasel, "Revelation and Interpretation in Daniel," Ministry, October 1974, pp. 20-23.
8. Shea, "The Relationship Between the Prophecies of Daniel 8 and Daniel 9," in The Sanctuary and the Atonement, editor Arnold Wallenkampf, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1981), p. 242. Cited in Seventh-day Adventists Believe ..., p. 330, n. 40.
9. Jacques Doukhan, "The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9: An Exegetical Study," Sanctuary and the Atonement, p. 263f, n. 11.
10. Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scripture, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, reprinted, 1950), p. 314. Cited in Seventh-Day Adventists Believe ..., p. 323.
11. Cited in Desmond Ford, Daniel (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1978), p. 225.
12. The Pulpit Commentary, ed. H.D.M. Spence (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1950), Vol. XIII, p. 218.
13. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982). See p. 290.
14. Questions on Doctrine, pp. 309-316.
15. Ibid., p. 311.
16. Ibid., p. 312. Emphasis by author.
17. LeRoy E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), Vol. II, p. 688.
18. Questions on Doctrine, p. 313.