December 13, 2013

Heart and Soul: Biblical Studies

I recently discovered something new (new at least to me): the best and brightest, the feted experts, the world’s most educated, knowledgeable, and informed—they often get it so wrong. And, as a people entrusted with truth, a people called to proclaim truth, it’s naive for us to underestimate the importance, not just of these errors, but of the fact that the best and the brightest make them.

Daniel 2

Though hovering somewhat amorphously amid my thoughts for years, this frightful realization crystalized during my latest foray into the book of Daniel.

In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream that he couldn’t remember; only later did Daniel tell him the dream and, then, interpret it. The king saw an image: “The head of the statue,” said Daniel, “was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay” (verses 32, 33)
. Afterward, a stone “cut out, but not by human hands” (verse 34)smashed the metals of the image to pieces so that “the wind swept [the pieces] away without leaving a trace” (verse 35),and that same stone “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (verse 35).

Those metals depicted four empires (Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome) that would arise one after another until, symbolized by the stone cut out without hands, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (verse 44).

The crucial point? The kingdom that came up after Greece, the fourth kingdom, the kingdom depicted as the iron legs and then the iron in the feet and the toes (see verse 33), goes all the way to the end of time, when God sets up His eternal kingdom. That is, after Greece only one more earthly empire is depicted, and this empire extends to the end of the world, a time in the future even for us today.

Daniel 7

In Daniel 7, the same sequence of events is depicted as in Daniel 2, but with different symbols and more details. In this case, instead of four metals, four beasts arise, one after another—a lion, a leopard, a bear, and a dragonlike beast out from which a little horn comes up (cf. Dan. 7:3-8). As in Daniel 2, we have Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. A judgment takes place in heaven during the time of the last power (in the little-horn phase) and, as a direct result of this judgment, God establishes His eternal kingdom: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).

Daniel is then given the interpretation of these beasts: “Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (verses 17, 18).The crucial point here is the same as in Daniel 2: The power that comes up after Greece, the fourth power, the one depicted as the dragonlike beast with the terrible little horn coming out of it (but that remains part of it until the end), extends to the end of the world, to the time the saints possess “the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18). That is, after Greece only one more earthly empire is depicted, and this empire extends to the end of the world, a time future even to us today.

Daniel 8

In Daniel 8 the same sequence appears, with the exception of Babylon, which is excluded, probably because by the time of this vision Babylon was, as predicted, to pass away (see Dan. 8:1)
. So instead of four powers, three are depicted—a ram, a goat, and a little horn, each rising one after the other (verses 3-11).Daniel is then given the interpretation. The ram was “the kings of Media and Persia” (verse 20). The goat, he’s told, “is the king of Greece” (verse 21). He then explains the last symbol, the little horn, a vicious and violent power that, arising after Greece, exists until it is “destroyed, but not by human power” (verse 25)—a clear reference to the stone cut out “but not by human hands” in Daniel 2, the stone that not only ended the last earthly kingdom but ushered in God’s eternal one.

In Daniel 8, as in Daniel 2 and 7, the power that comes up after Greece, in this case the little horn, exists until it is supernaturally destroyed at the end of time (see also Dan. 8:19, 26)
. That is, after Greece only one more earthly empire is depicted, and this empire extends to the end of the world, a time future even to us today.

The Last Kingdom

With Daniel 2, 7, and 8, three of these four kingdoms are identified. In Daniel 2:38 the first kingdom was named as Babylon. In Daniel 8 Media-Persia and then Greece are named (see verses 20, 21)
. The only one not named is the last one, the one arising after Greece and extending to the end of time, when it’s supernaturally destroyed and God establishes His eternal kingdom. What other power could it be, though, other than Rome—first pagan then papal—because what other world power arose in that part of the world right after Greece and exists up through our time and beyond?

It’s crucial to remember the defining element of the last power in all three chapters—that it arises after Greece and exists until the end—because, almost without exception, every Bible commentary and scholar today names this power, especially in Daniel 7 and 8, not as Rome but as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, despite the fact that he died in the second-century B.C., nowhere near the time that the visions depict his end.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes?

Who was Antiochus IV Epiphanes? After Alexander the Great’s death, in 323 B.C. (described in Daniel 8:8 as the notable horn on the he-goat being “broken”), his empire had been divided by four generals (depicted in Daniel 8:8 as “and in its place [the notable horn] four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven”). One of the four, Seleucid, carved out a dynasty of more than 20 kings, who ruled from 311 to 65 B.C. before being subsumed by Rome. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was eighth in the line of these kings, and his rule—from 175 to 164 B.C.—was hardly preeminent, even among the Seleucids. Yet, because of the few years when he harshly persecuted the Jews in Judea and offered pagan sacrifices in the Temple, he’s almost universally seen as that final power in Daniel 7 and 8. That is, picking up on a few superficial similarities between what Antiochus did and what the texts say, all Bible commentaries and scholars, with rare exception (usually only Seventh-day Adventist),
1 identify that final power in Daniel 7 and 8 as Antiochus, despite the overwhelming evidence against it.

For example, the
Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (1978) identifies the little horn of Daniel 8 as Antiochus IV Epiphanes; commenting on Daniel 8:23, 24, the commentary says: “It was in 175 B.C. that Antiochus IV began his infamous reign, and in 169 he first entered the Temple.”2 The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (2000) on the little horn of Daniel 8 says: “The description in [verses] 23-25 pertains to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who reigned from 175 to 164 B.C.”3 How, though, could they identify it as Antiochus when this little-horn power is described as greater than either Media-Persia or Greece (compare Daniel 8:4, 8 with verse 9), something that Antiochus definitely was not?

Second, the little horn of Daniel 8 is “destroyed, but not by human power” (verse 25), a reference to the stone cut out in Daniel 2, which not only ended the last earthly kingdom but ushered in God’s eternal one. Antiochus died by natural means more than 150 years before Christ, so the text could not be referring to him.

Meanwhile, the
Abington Old Testament Commentaries (2001), The Anchor Bible Commentary (1997), and even The Encyclopedia Judaica (2007) all identify the little horn in Daniel 7 as Antiochus, even though the heavenly judgment that destroys it ushers in God’s eternal kingdom (Dan. 7:26, 27). How can one reconcile that major identifying factor with a king who died in 164 B.C. and whose domain was overrun by another earthly kingdom, Rome?

You can’t.

The Best and the Brightest

Yet one after another expert does just that: identify the little horn of both chapters as Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Remember, these are the experts, biblical scholars who have spent their lives mastering Old Testament languages, history, and exegesis. And yet they get this
so wrong.

It’s not just the prophecies of Daniel. Look at how many of the best and brightest believe that life evolved by chance over billions of years. The world’s greatest scientists, Nobel laureates, undisputed intellectual giants renowned for their knowledge, skills, and vision—are wrong here, too.

And what about the fourth commandment? Almost every Adventist knows how solid the biblical texts are for the seventh-day Sabbath. And yet, how many of Christianity’s best and brightest have embraced it? What big names are openly seventh-day Sabbathkeepers? Almost none. Again, the experts, the scholars, the universally acknowledged masters—they can’t even get something as important as the Ten Commandments right.

The End

What’s the point? The point is that, sooner or later, the end-time persecution centering on “the mark of the beast”(Rev. 19:20)and the commands of God (Rev. 14:12)will come. And when it does—the world’s best and brightest, the feted experts, the renowned masters, scholars, historians, philosophers, linguists, and scientists will unite against Sabbathkeepers. Some will come over, but if the past is any indicator of the future, most won’t.

“Where is the wise person? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). God has made it foolish, and it remains foolish even when “the wisdom of the world” enters the church, including our own.

As we have been told, “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only.”
4 One day we will have to stand firm on the clear teaching of the Bible (and how much clearer can it be on the seventh-day Sabbath?) even when the best and the brightest declare that we are wrong, as they tacitly do now by their positions on such things as Creation, the Sabbath, and the identity of the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8.

  1. For a scholarly refutation of Antiochus IV Epiphanes as the little horn of Daniel 8, see William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, rev. ed., Daniel and Revelation Committee Series (Silver Spring, Md.: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), vol. 1.
  2. Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978), vol. 21, p. 159.
  3. John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, eds., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 744.
  4. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 595.