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Case by Casebolt: History of the Interpretation of Daniel 9’s 70 Weeks (Part 1 of 3)

Froom Daniel 9 Interpretation

I initiated this series of “cases” on March 4, 2022, because William Miller proclaimed that he had discovered 15 biblical proofs demonstrating that the second advent was programmed for 1843. Even after his prediction was disproved by the facts, his preaching had already convinced Ellen Harmon that Miller was to the second advent what John the Baptist was to the first. She was persuaded that she had “been shown”—God gave him divine wisdom, via angelic visitations, that gave him light on prophetic periods obscure to God’s people for almost two millennia. Yet most of the fifteen prophetic periods are unknown to Seventh-day Adventists. My first seven cases were intended to make the reader aware of the bizarre content of these proofs.  

On March 4, 2022, I began by examining the 2,520 years—the Seven Times of the Gentiles—that appeared on the 1843 prophetic chart. Miller claimed it began 677 BC and ended in 1843 with the second advent. On April 5, 2002, I analyzed Miller’s assertion that Hosea 6:1-3 was a prophecy of 2,000 years beginning in 158 BC and ending in 1843. On May 9, 2022, I examined Miller’s claims that Revelation’s 6th trumpet foretold the collapse of the Ottoman Empire on August 11, 1840. On June 20, 2022, I assessed Miller’s conclusion that Luke 13:32-33 foretold another 2,000-year prophetic period lasting between 158 BC to 1843, using his little known “a day = a thousand years” principle. On September 27, 2022, I surveyed Miller’s claim that a Jubilee prophetic period of 2,450 years from 606 BC to 1843 also predicted the Second Advent.  On November 19, 2022, I discussed Miller’s version of the Millennial Sabbath theory in which he asserted that creation did not occur in 4004 BC as claimed by Ussher but rather began 4157 BC and ended in 1843. My seventh case dealt with the 666 of Revelation 13. Miller asserted that a 666-year period began in 158 BC and ended in 508; then he further calculated that 508 was the foundation for the 1335-year period which took him to 1843’s second advent. 

Did God send angels to give Miller the “light” on all the aforementioned prophetic intervals? Or, as F. D. Nichols described them, are these calculations “farfetched?” If Nichols is correct, that these calculations seem to have been retrofitted, starting in 1843 and subtracting the various prophetic periods to calculate a starting point, then what about Miller’s more mainstream, less eccentric interpretations—like the Seventy Weeks of Years? 

Below, in this first of a three-part analysis of Daniel 9:24-27, I begin a dissection of a more reputable prophecy, one that is not peculiar to Adventists. It serves as an example of historicists’ application of the year-day hypothesis. The first thing to note is that the original prophecy overflows with cryptic, ambiguous terms, symbols, and syntax. Thus, any exact mathematical precision attributed to it derives more from post hoc observations than from predictions. Only centuries after the events was the text assigned a “predictive” nature, giving it dubious value as a prediction. This will be documented in part two’s survey of the early church fathers’ interpretations of the text.

The classic historicist explanation of Daniel 9:24-27 ignores the context of the rest of Daniel 9. It does not appropriately consider Daniel’s reference to Jeremiah’s other use of 70. Finally, the historicist interpretation of the little horn does not consider that the Septuagint (or LXX Greek translation of Daniel is admitted by Froom to have been fulfilled in the person of Antiochus Epiphanes.

The cumulative result was that Miller did not lay “aside all commentaries,” but assumed and absorbed their conclusions as his foundation. He was saturated by their assumptions, methods, and ideology. Further, these commentators themselves did not analyze this text considering either the immediate context of Daniel, or Jeremiah, nor use their concordances to understand that the word seventy was symbolic rather than an exact literal number. The 1260, 1290, 1335, and 2300 day-year periods were not interpreted as years until after 1200 simply because the apostolic church could not conceive of a delay of the parousia lasting that long. The day-year hypothesis was applied to the Seven Seventies earlier than these because it was more than twice as short (490 compared to 1260).

It was therefore more comprehensible at an earlier date to imagine that they fit into the time historically available. Later, about 1200-1300, it was conceivable that a 1260-year prophetic period fit the available time. However, its earliest proponents predicted the end of history circa 1200-1300 rather than 1844 or 1798.

Bible & Concordance Only: Miller “Laid aside all commentaries.”

According to Ellen White, William Miller spoke with prophetic authority and with unique insight into biblical prophecies. This was because Miller had laid aside all human tradition and was therefore able to articulate the original divine meaning. Miller himself claimed that he had “laid aside all commentaries” and all the “peculiar and partisan interpretations of the Bible,” and “using only a copy of Cruden’s concordance” arrived at truths which had been obscured for almost two millennium.1 White described Miller’s method this way: 

Endeavoring to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and dispensing with commentaries, he compared scripture with scripture by the aid of the marginal references and the concordance.2

I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophesies which had ever been dark to God’s people.3

In sum, Miller’s interpretation of biblical prophecies was considered as authoritative by Ellen White, and therefore the Seventh-day Adventist church, because Miller’s mind was a tabula rasa. He had cleansed his mind of all previous commentaries, arriving at stunning truths de novo, straight from God. However, this was not the case. Rather, Miller relied on an application of a dubious year-day hypothesis. He did not lay aside all human commentary and merely let the Bible interpret itself. He was utterly dependent on previous human commentators who themselves can be demonstrated to have arrived at their interpretations based on erroneous assumptions and faulty methods. Given the fact that that, without exception, the church fathers for at least a half of a millennium had no clear idea of the exact date when Christ was born, baptized, or died, one is not justified in making out Daniel 9:24-27 to be an exact prediction, or proof of the validity of the day-year hypothesis.

70 weeks of years?

Probably the most frequently cited proof of the historicists’ apologetic is Daniel 9:24-27’s reference to the seventy sevens. Seeing how it evolved into its present state from humble beginnings is instructive. According to the current Adventist interpretation, this interval is precisely demarcated by a Persian king’s decree, effective in the autumn of 457 B.C., which commences this period, and ends exactly 490-years later in 34 with the stoning of Stephen and the giving of the gospel to the gentiles. As it was exposited from the King James Version by William Miller, it would be worth reviewing here:

24 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.

25 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.

26 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.

27 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.

Both the grammar and meaning of these verses are cryptic and ambiguous. Clearly, to construct a mathematically precise chronological prediction on such a foundation is dubious.  Compare the New International Version:

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finishtransgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. 

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” 

Despite these difficulties, standard Adventist exposition holds that one can find specific historical events which can be assigned to precise chronological markers in the text. One of the key assumptions of the Adventist paradigm is that both this prophetic interval and the 2300-year prophecy start simultaneously:

“The 2300-day prophecy, of which the 70-week prophecy is a small part, was to begin at the command that effected the restoration of Jerusalem. This command went forth under King Artaxerxes Longimanus in the year 457 BC (Ezra 7:12-13).

From this starting point, we can determine all the other time markers of the prophecy. Seven weeks were allotted for the restoration of Jerusalem. True to the prophecy, Jerusalem was rebuilt 49 years after 457 BC, which was 408 BC.

Seven weeks (49 day-years) for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and another threescore and two weeks (62 weeks or 434 day-years) brings us to “the Messiah the Prince.” Beginning in 457 BC and applying the day-year principle, we can determine the passing of 483 years from 457 BC which brings us to 27 AD (allowing for the conversion from BC to AD being one extra year).

In 27 AD, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit on the occasion of His baptism which marked the beginning of His ministry (Luke 3:21-23). This baptism marked the event in Daniel’s prophecy “unto the Messiah the Prince.” When Christ proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15), He was referring to this part of the prophecy.

The end of the prophecy is 34 AD, 7 day-years after the baptism: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease (Daniel 9:27).”

Christ would confirm the covenant made with Israel for one prophetic week (7 years), but oblation (offerings) would cease in the middle of the week (3 ½ years after 27 AD). This mid-point brings us to 31 AD—the year Christ was crucified. It was at His death that he put an end to the system of offerings practiced by Israel for so many years.”4

In other words, in 49-years ending in 408 B.C.E, Jerusalem would be rebuilt; and 483-years from the 457 B.C. decree of the Persian king, the baptism of Jesus was predicted to occur in 27 C.E., his crucifixion would occur precisely in 31.C.E., and the 70 weeks would terminate precisely in 34 C.E. Superficially, these multiple precise dates are impressive. However, as will be documented in the survey of the history of interpretation of these verses, none of these dates were recognized either at the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, during the life of Christ, or for several centuries thereafter. On the contrary, multiple, contradictory interpretations were made, demonstrating that the apostolic church was completely unaware of such fulfillments.

There are several major problems with the classical historicist explanation of Daniel 9:24-27.  First, the historicist explanation completely disrupts the connection between Daniel 9:1-19 and Daniel 9:20-27. The focus of Daniel’s prayer is Jeremiah’s oracle concerning the seventy years which must start approximately 605 B.C. and end approximately 539-516 B.C. And the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 must have some connection with this time period. The Hebrew expression of seventy sevens in Daniel 9:24-27 is an intensification of Jeremiah’s seventy. Much in the spirit of when Peter asked Jesus if he must forgive seven times and Jesus answered that the requirement was seventy times seven. 

Second, nowhere in the entire New Testament is there the slightest indication that the writers of the New Testament promoted the idea that the life and ministry of Jesus climaxed a 490-year period beginning in 457 B.C.  

Third, for the first few centuries of the Christian Era none of the church fathers proposed what became the standard Adventist historicist chronology for Daniel 9.5 Fourth, when the first tottering exegetical steps were taken in this direction, one can easily observe the trial-and-error method utilized in arriving at a post hoc prediction.

No relation between Jeremiah’s 70 years and Daniel’s 70 weeks?

The pivotal point of Daniel 9 is Daniel’s perplexity over how and when Jeremiah’s 70 years would be completed, specifically when the devastated holy city and desolated sanctuary will be reinstated. The whole of Daniel 9:1-19 is laser-focused on discovering when the city and the sanctuary will be not just restored but recreated. It is hardly conceivable that Daniel 9:24-27 is not intended as an answer to Daniel’s ultimate concern. Yet standard Adventist exegesis presumes that the time element in Daniel 9:24-27 is totally disconnected from the time element of Jeremiah’s seventy years! One (Jeremiah’s) lasts something like 587-516 B.C. and the other (Daniel’s) lasts something like 457 B.C. to 34 A.D. Totally out of phase with each other. 

NT does not remark that Christ’s ministry and death fulfilled Daniel 9

One of the most striking pieces of evidence which undercuts standard Adventist exegesis is that although multiple New Testament writers in multiple places make claims that Jesus fulfilled many Hebrew Bible predictions, never once do any of them claim that Christ’s ministry and death were proofs that a 490-year period of Daniel 9:24-27 was fulfilled by his career. Neither did the several earliest post-apostolic fathers enunciate the standard Adventist exegesis.

What did they actually say? What did their contemporaries understand by these words? In the immediately preceding context, Daniel is concerned about his fellow Jews, their current sanctuary and Jerusalem. When his angelic interlocutor utilized terms “sanctuary,” “host,” and “Jerusalem,” did they have no physical-historical Old Testament reference? Did the language of Daniel 8 and 9 have only a cryptic signification which became meaningful only centuries into the future? As Froom himself admits on multiple occasions, the apostles and immediate post-apostolic generations expected the second advent very soon; so soon that such a time scale reaching to the 1840s was inconceivable to them. In fact, Froom goes into considerable detail in criticizing the Septuagint version of Daniel precisely because it obviously understood Daniel in a much different manner than Froom would prefer. He criticizes it severely because it modified “the text so as to give it the obvious appearance of an early fulfillment, in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.”  

Thus, stunningly, the translators of the LXX around two centuries before the lifetime of Jesus clearly understood these verses in Daniel to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes! 

In fact, Froom must acknowledge the fact in his summary of the “Pre-New-Testament Jewish Exposition of Prophecy” that the “Little Horn emerging from one of them, [the four secondary horns], “is Antiochus.” The LXX, he scolds, “dismembers the text” of verses 24 to 27. “The result is a distortion and confusion of this four-verse section.” An outcome: “That made any application, as to time, well-nigh impossible [emphasis added].” In sum, the Greek speaking church could not possibly conceive of the Millerite “application, as to time.” Now, it is well known, and Froom acknowledges this, that Jesus, the apostles, and the apostolic church of the first several centuries, favored the LXX translation over the Hebrew original. Thus, the LXX is powerful evidence that demonstrated how the earliest church understood Daniel 9. However, as centuries accumulated in their rearview mirrors, later commentators discovered rationalizations to explain the delay of the Second Advent. They used circular reasoning to justify their approach.

There was no prediction in Daniel 9 that Jews, after 539 B.C., used to foretell events. Rather, well after Christ’s lifetime, Christians across centuries, began creating speculative hypothesis attempting to fit various historical events to biblical verses. The “year-day” hypothesis, so vital to historicist exegesis, started with Daniel 9:24-27 because a millennial-long delay in the Parousia was inconceivable to the primitive church. Until the thirteenth century, millennial -long periods (1260, 1290, 1335, and 2300 years) were not “regarded as years in the early church. They would not have thought such long periods possible.”6 Using Daniel 9 as an exact time period proof became a tradition only centuries after its purported terminus. As Froom concedes, the seventy weeks prophecy was the first “predictive” time prophecy that was only interpreted as such ex eventu “because they were recognized as actually past…”7 prior to all the purported, chronological time periods relative to the second advent, no one conceived of those texts as exhibiting foreknowledge. This was because, as Froom must concede: “Time was naturally foreshortened to them, for they looked for the speedy return of their Lord.”8 In other words, due to the fact that, above all other books, the Apocalypse promised a very speedy return of Christ, the year-day concept was not yet conceived of—because it did not and could not coexist with this belief.  

Then a historicist interpretation of Daniel 9 set a precedent for matching up other verses in Daniel and the Apocalypse to various historical events: As the centuries passed, the speculative use of a day-year tool was utilized by Christian exegetes, in a semi-cabalistic fashion, to explain the mysteries of apocalyptic texts.  

A major problem they faced is that the Bible used a confusing plethora of ambiguous and cryptic numbers in reference to the second coming. The climax of history was supposed to come at the end of 1260-days, 1290-days, 1335-days, 2300-days, 391/396-days, and 490-days (see discussion on Clement of Alexandria below, for example). As commentators tried to apply these, they inevitably ran into contradictions.

About the author

Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard University at Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. He published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White in 2021 and Father Miller’s Daughter in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner. More from Donald E. Casebolt.
  1. David L. Rowe, God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 74, 107. ↩︎
  2. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1950), 319-320. ↩︎
  3. Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Tellico Plains, TN: Digital Inspiration, 2020), I:128. ↩︎
  4. For a typical explanation see as quoted here. ↩︎
  5. Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, Volume I of IV (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1948), I:173, 203.  Hereafter Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers will be abbreviated as PF. ↩︎
  6. Froom, PF I: 889. ↩︎
  7. Froom, PF I:242. ↩︎
  8. Froom, PF I:242. ↩︎
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