During the first quarter of this year, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will once again study the bible book Daniel. In recent years we have had a number of Sabbath School quarterlies about the prophecies, and especially about the so-called apocalyptic parts of the Bible. Each time we were presented with the traditional Adventist interpretations. The explanations invariably followed the historicist approach, i.e. that the fulfilment of the prophecies of Daniel’s and Revelation was found in the course of historical events. An important part of this was the emergence of apostate religious systems which, in the end times, will cause more and more problems for the relatively small group that remains faithful to God and his Word. We also find this approach in the study guide of the quarter that has just begun.
One could ask why it is necessary to focus on these topics again and again for a full quarter. Is it because the originators of the study material for the weekly Bible study are afraid that these topics have gradually ceased to interest many church members? That might indeed be the case. I suspect there are a number of reasons for this.
Unfortunately, the focus on Bible reading and Bible study among Adventists is no longer what it once was. And there also appears to be a certain fatigue, due to the fact that the treatment of the content of Daniel and of Revelation hardly brings any new points of view. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is the fact that many traditional interpretations, also of the book of Daniel, no longer sound so convincing to many of us. Many church members have gradually become aware that other approaches to this book of the Bible are also possible. According to the vast majority of Bible scholars in our time, the book of Daniel was written, or compiled, in the second century BC and not in the sixth century BC. The book reflects the time when Israel was in the power of the Seleucids (one of the powers that arose from the Greek world empire). Scholars are quite generally of the opinion that King Antiochus Epiphanes was the great evildoer (the ‘little horn’). He had caused the Jerusalem temple to be defiled in a gruesome way!
The new quarterly does not address this problem. By the way, other things about which there are serious questions are not mentioned either. I might mention the year-day principle as an example. The quarterly presents it as if it is an established fact that in ‘time prophecies’ a day symbolically represents a year. It is essential to accept this idea if we want to arrive, via Daniel 8 and 9, at the year 1844. But the basis for this theory is quite weak. More and more Adventist theologians, who teach in our colleges and universities, agree. But they don’t get the space to openly admit that we have a problem that needs to be addressed.
When the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Commentary was produced, now some sixty years ago, the writers and editors were struggling with a number of difficult issues, including the question of the day-year principle. Raymond Cottrell, one of the most important persons behind this major project, later admitted that there were a number of issues that could no longer be defended (including the day-year principle), but that had become so much part of the Adventist tradition that pastoral considerations made them decide not to tinker with these!
I don’t have an answer for all the problems that arise from a study of the book Daniel. But I am convinced that concealing these and other very real problems does not serve the Church. It’s time to explain in a responsible, open way where the bottlenecks are. And even if certain sacred cows will have to die, we can still continue to draw a lot of inspiration from the book of Daniel.