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The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9 Four Interpretations

This article began as part of our Interpretation section within our Introduction to the Book of Daniel article.  It then split out as part of the Interpretation of Daniel’s Prophetic Visions article.   We finally decided that it would be best to publish this material as a separate article.

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel is basically a prophetic roadmap of highly significant events in what is, in relation to our time, past history and history still to come.  The timeframe extends from the Jewish exile to Babylon (~605 BC) to the Future Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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Comments on the Text of Daniel 9

The primary test for our discussion will be Daniel 9:24-27.  For context, we'll also include v20-23.  The text is from the ESV translation.

20While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.  22He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.  23At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved.  Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

24Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place [or the most holy One].  25Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.  Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.  And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.  Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

27And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering.  And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

Most interpreters view each week as a period of seven years.  The Hebrew for “seventy weeks” (šib'îm šabu'îm) is literally translated as “seven sevens”.  Likewise the Hebrew for “one week” (šabûa') is literally translated as “one seven”.  Thus, the seventy weeks would refer to a period of 490 years, seven weeks would mean 49 years, sixty-two weeks would mean 434 years, one week would be 7 years and half of the week would be 3.5 years.  This numbering (or counting) system was introduced by God to Moses when setting up the Year of Jubilee.  “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years” (Lev 25:8).

There are disagreements however, amongst interpreters regarding the exact historical and/or future time period of the various “weeks”.  In addition, some interpreters also interpret the “weeks” or “sevens” as symbolic periods of time since the timelines for the various events would not coincide with their view.  We discuss timing aspect of the events in the “Various Interpretations” section below, but let’s first examine the predicted events.

In verse 24, “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness”,  refers to the first advent of Christ when, although sin and unrighteousness continue to exist, believers are relieved from the penalty of sin.  Thus, in effect, sin has been put away (Heb 9:26).  “To anoint the most holy place or One” is typically seen as referring to the Temple or to Christ.  The original Hebrew simply reads “the most holy”, but translators have added either “place” or “One” to some English translations.  Thus, it is interpreted as referring either to Christ, or to the Temple.  Those who favor the Temple interpretation believe it to be the Millennial Temple as described in Ezekiel 40-48, while others believe it may refer to Christ and His church (Mt 12:6; Eph 2:19-22).

The degree to rebuild Jerusalem in verse 25 is either that of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1), Artaxerxes in 458 BC (Ezra 7), or Artaxerxes in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-6).  The “anointed one” of both verses 25 and 26 are typically seen as the Christ, with the “shall be cut off and have nothing” specifically referring to His crucifixion.  The Hebrew for “anointed one” is mashiakh, which translates into English as “Messiah”.

The identity of the “people of the prince” depends on the interpreter’s view.  Some associate this sentence as referring to the Roman General Titus who destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, thus linking it with verse 25 as referring to the first advent of Christ.  Others see a transition to the future, linking it to the second advent of Christ with verse 27 (note that there we no chapter and verse numbers in the original Bible texts).  In this case, the prince would be the coming Antichrist.  Still another relatively smaller group who denies the Messianic connection (and thus the Nwe Testment), believes the prince to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes and verses 26 and 27 refers to the time of the Maccabees in the second century BC.

Finally, there are varying interpretations of the one week (70th week) in verse 27.  We'll discus these as well as additional interpretational aspects of our subject below.

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Graphic Representation of the Views

For a better overview of the various views, we've developed this graphic representation of the various timelines and events.  Since this is my first graphic work with this software, I want to give a shout-out to the developers of Inkscape.  Inkscape is a free, open source, General Public License software that is surprisingly powerful.

Note that we have attempted to accurately represent the belief of the majority within each interpretive view.  Obviously, beliefs within each view may differ somewhat on some details and/or times of the various events.  We'll attempt to expand on some of these, along with other additional information below the graphic.

70 Weeks of Daniel 9 - Four Views

As we noted in the chart, the Preterist, Covenantal, and the Literalist views are all considered within the realm of Orthodox interpretation of Scripture.  This does not mean that all aspects of each interpretation is true, particularly since certain aspects of each view that can't be completely reconciled with the corresponding element of one or more of the other views.  It simply means that the explanations of those particular views can be reached without violating any of the historically accepted methods of Bible interpretation.  We begin our review of the various views by looking at the exception.

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An Unorthodox View

Old Testament / Maccabean View

Those holding to the Old Testament view interpret the seventy weeks as the period from the Babylonian Exile to the Time of the Maccabees in the second century BC.  The main proponents of the view are the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews), Orthodox Jews, and others who accept only the books of the Old Testament as Canonized Scripture.  In this view, the anointed one who was cut off is seen to refer to the murder of the High Priest Onias (171 BC) and the desolator is seen to be Antiochus IV.  The anointed prince is usually seen as Judas Maccabeus, although some suggest an unknown Jewish podt-exilic leader or warrior.

This is considered an un-orthodox position by most since it denies the clear Messianic tie-in and fulfillment of these verses.  While a case can be made that certain events can be initially fulfilled by Antiochus IV, it is extremely difficult to make a case for anyone other than Jesus Christ as the Anointed One or Messiah of Daniel 9:25&26.  Although there were some disagreements among the fathers as to which event in His life marked the end of the 62nd week (His birth, baptism to begin His ministry, His crucifixion etc), they were almost unanimous in their belief that these verses could not refer to anyone other than Jesus the Messiah.  In addition, about two hundred years after the time of the Maccabees, Jesus Himself stated that the desolator was still in the future (Mt 24:15).

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Three Orthodox Views

Since the three orthodox views are very similar on their views of the first 69 weeks or sevens, we'll examine these together.

The First Sixty Nine Weeks

Since the three orthodox views are very similar on their views of the first 69 weeks or sevens, we'll examine these together.  The seventy weeks of Daniel begin with the degree to rebuild Jerusalem (v25).  As we mentioned above, there were actually three separate decrees, that of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1), Artaxerxes in 458 BC (Ezra 7), and of Artaxerxes in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-6).  Proponents of the Preterist or Covenantal view, take an allegorical approach to the time period and generally accept the Degree of Cyrus or the first degree of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7).  Dispensationalist take a more literal view of the number of years, so most accept the first or second degree of Artaxerxes since either can be shown to fit using solar years for the first or lunar months for the second.  One popular calculation using the lunar sabbatical method concludes that the 69 weeks end on Monday of Passion Week (the Triumphal Entry) in 32 AD.  Since there was no year zero, adding a year comes out to 33 AD.  The exact year of the crucifixion is not known for sure, but using various astronomical and other data, the most likely years are either 30 or 33 AD.

Each view agrees that the sixty nine weeks spans the time period from the degree to rebuild Jerusalem to the beginning of the New Covenant or the Church Age.  The exact time period can vary however, either literally of figuratively depending on the view.

Disagreements Between the Views - the 70th Week

After the 69 weeks or sevens are complete, the three views diverge significantly, so we'll now address them individually.  Most significantly, the Preterist view associates the 70th week with the First Advent of Christ, while the Dispensational view associates this period with His Second Advent (Second Coming).  The Covenantal view sees this period as the unknown length of time between the Crucifixion and Second Coming of Christ.  We must also mention that, even within each categorical view, individuals can differ somewhat with regard to certain details.

The Preterist View

Before we begin discussing Preterism, we should include a few remarks about its inclusion with the orthodox views.  While Preterism technically can be considered within the scope of orthodoxy, one must make liberal use of allegorical interpretations to make the view fit.  While allegorizing is often a perfectly acceptable interpretation method, many of the biblical prophecies and events make much more sense when interpreted literally.

Interpreters who subscribe to the Preterist view believe the Seventy Weeks of Daniel (and all other biblical prophecies relating to the “end times”) have already been fulfilled within history.  The “end times” or “last days” are generally interpreted as referring to the end of the Old Covenant.  Thus, Preterists typically see the 70th week beginning with the coming of the anointed prince (v26), believed to be either the birth or baptism of Jesus.  Some hold that the week ends with either his resurrection, ascension, or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Others believe in an alternate ending,  identifying the people of the prince who will destroy the city and sanctuary (v26) as the Romans.  Thus, the prince who would put an end to sacrifice and offering (v27) would be the Roman General Titus who destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.  Still others believe that Jesus is the one who put an end to sacrifice and offering (v27) by His once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross (Heb 10).

Finally, we mention that, a somewhat more moderate approach also developed, known as “Partial Preterism”.  Some who hold this position even consider “Full Preterist” to be heretics.  Partial Preterists believe that Daniel’s prophecies have already been fulfilled, but they also believe that there could be additional end-times fulfillments such as the Second Coming, final judgments, and a new Heaven and Earth.  Some are Amillennialists (no Millennial Kingdom), while others believe in an allegorical millennium of undetermined time length, generally corresponding to the New Covenant period. 

The Covenantal Futurist View

We first note that we refer to this view as the Covenantal “Futurist” View since many interpreters who subscribe to Reformed Covenant Theology actually hold to the Preterist or Partial Preterist view of prophecy.

Proponents of the Covenantal view generally take an allegorical approach in interpreting most prophecies.  Thus, most believe the 70th “seven” to be an undetermined period of time that begins with the Baptism or the Crucifixion of Jesus, and ends with the Second Coming of Christ.  Most Covenantalists also subscribe to an Amillennial or Postmillenial position with regard to the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (see the links in “Related Articles” below for more info on these views).

Most Covenantalists, similar to some Partial Preterists, see Jesus as the one who is cut-off (v26) and makes the covenant (v27) during the first half of the final week, and Titus as the one who destroyed the city (v26).  The second half of  the final week is generally seen to correspond to the Church Age in which we're currently living.  For most holding this viewpoint, the prophecy is understood to end with the Second Coming of Christ, when He will bring about the final defeat of Satan and the Antichrist, and institute the final consummation of the New Covenant and the eternal Heavenly Kingdom.

The Dispensational View

Dispensationalists take an essentially literal view of the Scriptures.  To clarify what we mean by “literal interpretation”, we’re not speaking of a strict verbatim meaning that excludes various literary genre forms that were typically used by the original author.  We mean that we seek an accurate realistic interpretation of the author’s actual meaning.  If the plain, straightforward meaning makes perfect sense within the context, then this is usually the correct interpretation.  If it’s obvious that the author is using hyperbole or a number of other literary forms, then we must alter our interpretation accordingly.  In essence, to interpret the Bible literally means to interpret it as written, or as it was intended to be read by the original author.  See our Bible Literalism article for further discussion.

We’ve already noted the literal interpretation of the “First Sixty Nine Weeks” above.  The key to understanding Dispensationalism is to understand the relationship between God and His chosen people Israel and with the Gentiles (non-Jews).  We often think of the New Covenant as being made between God and His Church, and it is, at least in a sense.  According to the prophet Jeremiah, the New Covenant would be made with the “house of Israel” (Jer 31:31-34).  However, all Gentile believers are “grafted in” (Rom 11:11-24) to the New Covenant through Jesus Christ the priest-king and true Son of David, while the vast majority of the Jews were temporarily hardened (Rom 11:1-10).  While Jesus was sent primarily to the lost sheep of Israel, He never once rejected a Gentile who demonstrated faith in Him (Mt 15:21-28).

So when, after the Sixty Nine weeks, the Jewish people rejected and cut off their Messiah (v26), God paused the clock. He was no longer dealing with Israel as a whole.  Thus, there is an unknown length of time in which God is now dealing primarily with His Church, known as the “Church Age”.  Note that the Church is made up of all true believers in Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles.

At an unknown time in the future, the 70th Week, or (seven year) period known as the “Tribulation” will commence.  Most Dispensationalists believe that this will begin with the Rapture of the Church (1Th 4:16-17), although some believe that the Church will be raptured at the middle or at the end of the Tribulation.  The Antichrist is seen as making the covenant with Israel at the beginning of the Tribulation (v27) and breaking it in the middle (v27), thus ushering in the “Great Tribulation”.  The prophecy ends with the Second Coming of Christ, who binds Satan and ushers in a literal 1000-year Millennial Kingdom.

Before wrapping up this article, I’ll attempt to comment on and/or clarify a common misconceptions about, and disagreement within, the Dispensational system.  First, some Dispensationalists, particularly “Hyper-Dispensationalists”, believe in a separate plan for Gentiles and Jews.  While God does have some variances when dealing with the two groups historically, both past and future, there is no difference in His plan of salvation.  Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  He revealed this to Peter in Acts 10, and to the other Apostles through Peter’s testimony in Acts 11:1-18.  The Apostle Paul later confirmed this fact on multiple occasions (Rom 1:14-16; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11).

In this article, we attempted to be brief by confining ourselves primarily to the views of these particular interpretative  “systems” on the seventy weeks of Daniel.  In addition to the articles linked below, we hope to do further writings regarding  interpretation differences, including strengths and weaknesses of each, on various other biblical subjects.

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Related Articles

Interpretation of Daniel’s Visions and Prophecies

Views on the Book of Revelation

Views of the Millennium / Millennial Kingdom

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