Daniel’s prophecies

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The prophecies in Daniel are one part of the Bible that Adventists love to interpret to their heart’s content … and to misinterpret.  Daniel provides Adventism with a lot to fuel their anti-Catholic desires.  And when you don’t accept their interpretation of the prophecies, they often want an alternative interpretation.

That is poor logic … in order to refute an error, one only needs to show why it is an error, and one doesn’t necessarily need to provide a new theory to replace it.  Most Christians who study Daniel can see that Adventism’s theory is in error, but that doesn’t mean they are sure what it means themselves.

To say, “Teaching X is in error, that much is clear, but feel free to develop your own understanding of the passage, because we don’t specify what it means, although we do see the clear error in some interpretations.” is quite acceptable.  And this is what Adventists need to understand.

Hugo, an ex-Adventist, now Catholic, on the SDA2RC blog, goes into his own understanding of Daniel’s prophecies, which he has placed on his Dies Domini website (see his blog post for the direct link [not available any longer] to the PDF, but it can be found with a set of related articles here.)  He also gives another link to a similar perspective.  His views are what I find most logical, and in agreement with historical and biblical evidence.  But the Catholic Church does not impose one interpretation of this – and most other – passages on us.  For us, spiritual growth is more important than working out the details about the end of the world … although that can be an exciting topic.

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Posted by Jared Olar on December 17, 2006
I read that study paper at the SDA2RC weblog the other day. He makes a good case for the Hellenistic theory. The footnotes in the New American Bible endorse a version of that theory.

Unfortunately the NAB footnotes also endorse the Maccabean dating of the Book of Daniel, insisting that Daniel’s stories and prophecies are fictional. “Vaticinio ex eventu” I think is the Latin term for it — history written in a way to deceive people into thinking it is a prophecy. I find it impossible to believe that the God of Truth would use deliberate falsehoods to get people to believe in prophecy. The unanimous consent of the Fathers is that Daniel’s prophecies are real prophecies. The NAB editors don’t have any problems with the Hellenistic theory of Daniel 2 and 7 because they don’t believe Daniel’s prophecies are real prophecies anyway. Therefore they expect Daniel’s prophecies never to be fulfilled, and don’t have a problem with the Book of Daniel’s prophecies failing to match history.

Also, for what it’s worth, I am pretty sure that most if not all of the Fathers who commented on Daniel’s prophecies saw the fourth kingdom of iron, and the fourth beast with ten horns, as the Roman Empire, not the short-lived empire of Alexander that immediately was broken into numerous lesser kingdoms. I would be more comfortable with the Hellenistic interpretation of Dan. 2 and 7 if it had some patristic support.

I also diagree with his interpretation of the stone carved out without human hands that shatters the feet of the image and causes the destruction of the entire image and then grows to fill the entire earth. That stone is obviously Jesus and His Kingdom, the Catholic Church. But Jesus was born after the last of the successor states of Alexander’s Empire had been swallowed up by the Roman Empire. There simply were no more Hellenistic kingdoms around by the time the Kingdom of God arrived. In addition, Christianity was instrumental in the dissolution of the pagan Roman Empire. Consequently I see no way to avoid the traditional patristic interpretation of the iron kingdom, the beast of ten horns, as the Roman Empire. That interpretation is supported by St. John’s Revelation, in which we see a Beast and an Image, and the Beast has all the characteristics of the four kingdoms of Daniel 7. St. John identifies the Beast as the pagan Roman Empire. The Fathers clearly identified that Beast with Rome. Thus, it seems the Holy Spirit Himself intends us to see the fourth kingdom as pagan Rome, not the Hellenistic kingdoms.

Posted by stephen on December 17, 2006
Thanks … there will always be different ways to interpret it, I think. For me, it’s not important. If the book of Daniel records history instead of future events (relative to his time) it can be explained as apocalyptic writing, rather than prophecy – that I have no problem with. The 10 horns – Antiochus Epiphanes works whether Daniel predicted it or recorded it; but it also works for the Roman Emperors, supposedly – I haven’t paid that much attention there. If I recall, some of the Church Fathers do propose the Antiochus Epiphanes idea … but I don’t have references at hand.

Posted by Jared Olar on December 18, 2006
I’d have to dig out my references — as you might expect, since my conversion to Catholicism almost seven years ago, I don’t spend all that much time (well, any time at all) studying prophecies of the end times any more — but I think you’re right that some of the early Fathers, like St. Hippolytus, understood Daniel as having prophesied Antiochus Epiphanes. I’ll have to look that up to refresh my memory.

Anyway, Daniel’s visions of “one like a Son of Man,” and “Messiah the Prince,” have always been accepted as genuine Messianic prophecies by both Jews and Christians. Classifying Daniel as a pseudo-apocalypse would create problems for seeing those prophecies as genuinely about Jesus, or about anybody at all. Then, of course, there are Jesus’ own words citing “Daniel the prophet” as foretelling the desolation of Jerusalem by Roman armies. It’s undeniable that Jesus and the Apostles saw Daniel’s prophecies as legitimate, not history in the guise of prophecy.

By the way, you may also be interested to know that the Maccabean dating of the Daniel is really no longer tenable ever since quotations and allusions to some of Daniel’s prophecies were discovered in the Hebrew text of the Wisdom of Ben-Sirach. Since that book was written no later than 180 B.C., the book of Daniel had to have been around for a good while — long enough for Ben-Sirach to regard it in such a way that he would treat it the same way he treated the Book of Psalms and other poetic passages of the Old Testament (not unlike the way St. Polycarp of Smyrna quoted the New Testament in his epistle to the Philippians). But if the Book of Daniel was written before the time of the Maccabees, then either it contains real prophecies or else we’re dealing with a huge heap of amazing coincidences.

All that being said, as I indicated above, I really don’t spend a lot of time, if any, thinking about Daniel and Revelation. That’s the sort of thing that Adventists and Armstrongists do. I can’t say I have any hard and fast commitment to any particular interpretive theory of Daniel or Revelation. I am, however, convinced that Daniel was written long before the time of Ben-Sirach, and that Holy Scripture does not contain any pseudo-apocalyptic material, and I think the “Roman” theory makes more sense than the “Hellenistic” theory. If I go much beyond that, things get pretty hazy and uncertain for me. But I trust that God in His own good time will make clear to the Catholic Church anything about those books that we really, really need to know.

Posted by stephen on December 18, 2006
Is Revelation not apocalyptic writing?

As for the Hellenistic vs Roman theories … it’s the Romanist theory (i.e. Catholic / papal) that is clearly wrong, and my major concern.

Posted by Jared Olar on December 19, 2006
“Is Revelation not apocalyptic writing?”

Yes. Actually it may well be the very first apocalypse ever written. Although “apocalyptic” sorts of prophecies and visions appear in books like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, those books were not actually “apocalypses” per se. Apocalypses as such only really appear in the latter half of the first century A.D. and the second and maybe third centuries (II Esdras, II and III Baruch, Apocalypses of Peter or of Paul, etc.). It really does look to me like St. John’s Apocalypse may have pioneered the genre.

“As for the Hellenistic vs Roman theories … it’s the Romanist theory (i.e. Catholic / papal) that is clearly wrong, and my major concern.”

Yes, that’s the kind of interpretation I was taught as an Armstrongist — the “little horn” supposedly represents the Papacy, the Great Whore of Babylon is the Catholic Church, the Image of the Beast is Roman Catholic Canon Law (???) — that kind of nonsense. It’s just impossible that God would send St. John visions of “things that must shortly come to pass,” but most the visions were really about things that wouldn’t come to pass until centuries and centuries after the death of St. John. No, I would think that many if not most of those visions were about events that were about to happen in St. John’s day — not the return of Christ and the Last Judgment, of course, but those Beasts and such ought to have been understandable to the original audience of the Apocalypse, and there’s just no way they ever would have even remotely suspected that the visions had to do with medieval Catholicism.

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