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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tempus fugitive

So when they met together, [the disciples] asked [Jesus], “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
– Acts 1, 7-8, NIV.

What is the “day-year principle”?
A prophetic “day” in classical prophecy is a literal day. But in apocalyptic books (such as Daniel and Revelation), a prophetic “day” symbolizes a literal year.

Where does the Bible state this principle?
Adventist writers point to three texts:

  • Numbers 14:34 – just as the Israelite spies took 40 days to scout out the Promised Land, so too Israel will wander in the wilderness 40 years.
  • Ezekiel 4:5-6 – just as Ezekiel was paralyzed 430 days, so too God will punish Israel 390 years, and Judah 40 years.
  • Daniel 9:24-27 – seventy “weeks” are determined on God’s people – a time that nearly everyone agrees means 490 years.

Neither the Book of Numbers nor the Book of Ezekiel are apocalyptic prophecies.

And Ezekiel is actually a “classical” prophet.

So where do we get to use this principle?
Three time-prophecies:

  • the 1260 “days” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 12 (which we believe extend from AD 538 to AD 1798).
  • the 2300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 1844).
  • And of course, the 70 “weeks” of Daniel 9 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 34).

What about the 1290 and the 1335 day prophecies of Daniel 12? Or the half-hour silence of Revelation 8? Or the thousand years of peace in Revelation 20?
Don’t be silly.

So how do we know those other time-prophecies extend over a period of years, and not just days?
Because of the way these time-prophecies tie in with events.

And how do we know that we’ve picked the right events?
Because of the way these events tie in with the time-prophecies.

That’s a tautology!
But it works for us. As historicists, remember, we believe that apocalyptic prophecy describes all of earth’s history from the time of the prophet to the time of the end. The “day-year principle” gives us the elbow-room we need to do that.

But if you say that the “days” of these prophecies are actual, literal, 24-hour days, then you’re left with two alternatives:

  • Either these time-prophecies refer to events long past,
  • or the time-prophecies refer only to “the Time of the End.”

The first alternative is no fun; that’s why just about anyone who doesn’t have a PhD in Old Testament studies quickly moves on to the second.

But applying these time-prophecies to "end-time events" leads to the kind of wild-eyed speculation that would have Uriah Smith turning over in his grave.

Wait a minute – you’re saying the day-year principle makes it impossible to apply these time-prophecies to current events?

Most people today would say that makes them irrelevant.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing these time-prophecies do teach us, after all, it’s that God only gives us so much time.

Now we can spend that time fiddling with these prophecies – trying to make them fit the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Paris Hilton, or whoever is in the news just now.

Or we can do the things Jesus asked us to do: preach the Good News. Heal the sick. And cast out evil in whatever form it appears.

Why can’t we do both?
Because we don’t have the time.


Blogger Dave said...

What about the 1290 and the 1335 day prophecies of Daniel 12?

The BRI just published a pamphlet with interprits these prophecies with the day year principle.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Pastor Greg said...

The SDA Bible Commentary discusses them both as well -- it states the 1290 days end with 1798, but begin with conversion of Clovis in 508; the 1335 days begin in 508 and end with 1843 (which it justifies as "a significant date in relationship to the great advent awakening in America, generally known as the Millerite movement").

I dunno -- they both sound pretty ad hoc to me. (

5:34 PM  
Blogger Ron Corson said...

I like your post this time Greg. Indeed the SDA tradition on Daniel is a tautological argument. Which we have taken way to far. For instance we have carried it so far as to establish the unique nature and mission of our church upon our insistence that we are the church which teaches the truth about the investigative judgment which began in 1844. We have seen the circular reasoning that got us to 1844 and that being so successful we continue with the circular reasoning by saying that it is our unique mission to announce the commencement of the investigative judgment. Being that it is our church who found the investigative judgment we are therefore the church predicted to come out of 1844.

If you take away the circular part of the argument you are left with one real fact. That is that we as a church did come out of the 1844 disappointment.

9:18 PM  

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