Studying the book of Daniel

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.

2 thoughts on “Studying the book of Daniel

  1. Linda Hughes

    Greetings Reinder,
    Having read some of your books, which I think are very thought provoking, the books in turn led me to this site, with a little encouragement from my pastor Weiers of Coleraine and Derry.
    I am recently drawn to the Seventh Day Adventist religion, mainly because of the Sabbath School, as I am of the opinion that it is good to learn, however I do have certain reservations regarding some teachings, as you yourself voice constantly.
    Having read the latest study book, if you think this quarter raises issues, just start reading the second quarter.
    I personally will have a lot of problems with this second quarter, as I feel that it is suppressing creativity and thinking, the teaching would have us follow blindly and smacks of becoming a religious cult, something I will not “buy into”.
    So apart from rending my garments and resorting to the wearing of sackcloth and ashes, I am unable to continue with being a member of the Seventh Day Adventist organisation.
    I am dismayed that a modern religious body could even consider such teachings, as it is quite clear that the intention is to force their church members to become nothing more than dumbed down cultists.
    Maybe I have read it all wrong, but this is exactly the teachings that Luther fought against, being led blindly, by leadership that appears to be totally ignorant of the fact that some In their congregations might have a brain and be thinkers in their own right, why should our church leaders take away our right to free will, free will given to us by God, who does not want us to blindly follow without thinking and reasoning each of us individually for ourselves.
    So I can only assume that the leaders of Seventh Day Adventist Church either are intent on becoming a cult, or wish to see the thinking person leave, with their brain intact, then all the leaders have to worry about are the poor brain-washed sheep that are left.
    I won’t go quietly into the night.

  2. Carson Redd

    The theory that the book was compiled sometime in the second century BC is not supported by any known facts. And the ‘day for a year’ thing was not just biblical; Daniel was writing from Babylon and it’s territories where the ‘day for a year’ concept was well known. Tammuz was aged 40 years when he died, thus the 40 days of weeping for Tammuz (a well known Babylonian god). This goes back to four generations this side of the Great Flood, and is carried on today as the Catholic Church indulges in its paganism, 40 days of Lent. The historicist interpretation of Daniel is sound and true. It is how the book was sealed. No one could understand it until the things it pointed to happened. Jesus explained this principle well when he said, “When these things come to pass, you will remember that I told you.” I don’t think I’ll waste much time reading your blog posts.

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