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.
Portions of the article are still in progress as of October 2, 2020. We hope to finish within the next few weeks.
Table of Contents
- Comments on the Text of Daniel 9
- Graphic Representation of the Views
- An Unorthodox View
- Three Orthodox Views
- Related Articles
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.
24“Seventy 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.
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.
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).
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 Anointed One being cut-off (v26) as the Crucifixion of Jesus, and the strong covenant (v27) as Jesus making the New Covenant, both happening during Passion week. In addition, the destruction of the city and sanctuary, as well as putting an end to sacrifice and offering (v27) refers to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman General Titus in 70 AD.
One weakness of this view is that the prince that destroys the city and sanctuary (v26) and the one who makes a strong covenant and puts an end to sacrifice (v27) appears to refer to the same person. In addition, it does not address the Millennial Kingdom or the Second Coming of Christ.
Thus, a somewhat more moderate approach 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 View
Proponents of the Covenantal view generally hold that the 70th “seven” as 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 take an allegorical approach in interpreting most prophecies. This typically leads to an Amillennial or Postmillenial position with regard to the Millennial Kingdom of Christ.
In these views, the Church is seen as symbolically fulfilling the millennium prophesies (see the links in “Related Articles” below for more info on these views). Thus, many believe that we are currently living in the millennium and/or that it runs concurrently with the New Covenant period. Some Postmillenialists believe that a future “golden age” of Christianity will bring about the Second Coming of Christ. After the two world wars of the twentieth century however, almost all Postmillenialists converted back to Amillennialism. In the Covenantal view, Daniel’s prophecy ends with the return of Christ and the final defeat of Satan and the Antichrist.
The Dispensational View
In Progress as of Oct 26, 2020.
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Views on the Book of Revelation
Views of the Millennium / Millennial Kingdom
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