Every method of interpreting biblical prophecies has strengths and weaknesses. Here are 10 things about Seventh-day Adventist historicism that strike me as weaknesses. Adventist historicism is the belief that the primary purpose of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation is to foretell selective important events from their times until the second coming of Jesus and beyond. The Sabbath school lessons for April, May, and June of this year use this method.
1. It marginalizes the meaning and importance of the books of Daniel and Revelation for those who first read them or had them read to them.
2. Its prophetic interpretations concentrate so strongly on developments in Europe and North America that they pertain only indirectly to the majority of Christians who once lived in other parts of the world and now do again.
3. It sometimes thinks more about prophetic charts than about Jesus Christ.
4. It often commends earlier historicists, such as John Calvin, for being prophetically correct without giving sufficient emphasis to the more important matter of how horrible their pictures of God were.
5. Its clarification that explicitly unconditional prophecies can turn out to be implicitly conditional ones lessens the helpfulness of the distinction.
6. Its correlations between when things happen on earth and when they happen in heaven rarely put front and center Scripture’s caution that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
7. It frequently treats the Book of Revelation as though it were a code book or a calculating machine instead of the magnificent work of art it actually is.
8. It exaggerates the differences between prophetic and apocalyptic prophecies in ways that stifle the prophetic power of the apocalyptic.
9. It agrees with the unscriptural claim that Christianity has replaced Judaism, and this belief of many Christians has contributed to the anti-Judaism that was eventuated in the Holocaust and continues to plague contemporary societies.
10. Its specifications are so detailed and so distant from everyday life that very few Seventh-day Adventists around the world would get 100 percent on an unexpected exam regarding its names, dates, persons, places, things, passages of Scripture, and why they should be understood this way rather than that. How many ordained and not-ordained people who work at the General Conference would pass such an exam is uncertain.
Such weaknesses are prompting three primary responses from Seventh-day Adventists. The first is to retain Adventist historicism as it now is. The second is to update it in ways that continue its strong features but not its weak ones. The third is to drop it altogether and develop new methods of interpreting biblical prophecies that are better than all of the current ones. The discussion of these and other options will continue. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the best alternatives will eventually surface. We are in no rush.
David Larson is an emeritus professor in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
Title image: “Daniel's Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks” by Lukas Stipperger, 1797 (public domain).
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