One of the most fascinating elements in Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9 verses 24-27 is its chronology of events. Thus, the prophecy is set to a schedule by five time-markers: seventy sevens, v. 24, consisting of seven sevens, v. 25, sixty-two sevens, vv. 25, 26, and one seven, v. 27, which is itself divided into half a seven.
Daniel’s chronology must be approached with three basic presuppositions: (1) it has to be taken seriously as an integral part of the prophecy, not dismissed as unintelligible or irrelevant; (2) it has to be taken with the Lord Jesus Christ as its focus and fulfilment; and (3) it has to be interpreted in the light of Christ’s words in the New Testament, which point to a yet-future fulfilment of the final seven. In this article, we will evaluate seven approaches to the chronology.
Liberal scholars see the fulfillment of the prophecy in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. Thus, the seventy sevens start with Jeremiah’s prophecies of a return from exile (606 BC) or the destruction of the city (587 BC). The seven sevens are fulfilled in the appearance of an ‘anointed Prince’, either Cyrus, Isa. 45. 1, or Jeshua/Joshua at the time of the return from exile. After the sixty-two sevens is a second ‘anointed One’, v. 26, Onias the High Priest, who was murdered in 171 BC. The seventy sevens are completed with the rededication of the Temple (164 BC), after the three years of atrocities. The problem here, of course, is that the figures do not add up: there are only 442 years between the start and finish dates. Critical scholars dismiss this discrepancy by blaming the author of Daniel with making a chronological miscalculation!1 Ironically, this epitomizes the entire critical approach; as with numerous other parts of the scheme, it just does not add up.
A variant form of the critical view is based on a different punctuation of verse 25 (see the RV, and Anderson’s treatment of the issue, who calls it ‘schoolboy translation’2). The starting point of the seventy sevens is Jeremiah’s message in 605 BC about a return of the exiles, the fulfilment of the seven sevens Cyrus’ accession to the Persian throne (not dated precisely) and the end of the sixty-two sevens as Onias’ murder in 171 BC (434 years after 605 BC). Finally, the rededication of the temple in 164 BC completes the last seven. To make this all fit, however, it is argued that the sixty-two sevens started afresh at the same point as the seven sevens; the two periods were co-extensive rather than consecutive. Apart from the dubious punctuation, however, the different sevens must add up cumulatively to seventy. Keil and Delitzsch also follow the same punctuation (although they view our Lord Jesus Christ as the centre of the prophecy) and their chronological scheme is even more confused.
Other critical commentators argue that the passage does not present us with a chronology of events, but rather a chronography, that is, ‘a stylized scheme of history’ (Goldingay,3 so also F. F. Bruce4). That is, the numbers are not meant to be counted literally, but present symbolic messages. As divergences in interpreting the numbers show, the symbolic meanings are only limited by the interpreter’s imagination. However, ‘that the present number is to be taken literally appears from its division, not into symbolical aliquot parts, e.g., 7x70, but into an irregular series, 7+62+1’.5 Baldwin exemplifies the problem with this approach, arguing that because one number, seventy, has symbolic significance, it is better to ‘be consistent and to keep to a symbolic interpretation’6 rather than to take the numbers literally. However, Baldwin applies the symbolism selectively (not consistently), not telling us what sixty-two or ‘half a seven’ mean. By cavalierly glossing over such details in a fast-and-loose fashion, the chronology is once again dismissed as irrelevant.
Jewish commentators fall into two camps. Some modern commentators take the prophecy to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean epoch. Others have followed Josephus’ lead in finding the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy in the time of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70.7 Thus, the seventy sevens are taken to refer to the time period ‘from the destruction of the First Temple in the days of Zedekiah to the end of the Second Temple – 70 years of the Babylonian exile and 420 years during which the Second Temple existed’.8 Again, of course, the chronology requires some creative accountancy, for there were 655 years between 586 BC and AD 70.
For the amillennialist, the starting point of the seventy sevens is taken to be Cyrus’ decree in 536 BC (Calvin, Matthew Henry, Young), the seven sevens are fulfilled either in the work of rebuilding the Temple (Calvin) or in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah (Young), and the sixty-two sevens are fulfilled in Christ’s baptism (Calvin, and apparently Young). The actual numbers (which don’t fit) are dismissed as irrelevant and of little worth, for we must not ‘place our emphasis … upon dates and mathematical calculations, but upon that central Figure’.9 Space forbids us rehearsing the ‘extravagant fancies’ that amillennialist expositors resort to in verse 27, arguing that the covenant confirmed at the start of the final seven is not temporary at all, but the everlasting New Covenant. Finally, some expositors are evasive about an end-point for the seventy sevens altogether.
One common way that the chronology has been interpreted is by equating the seventy sevens as years. This would seem natural enough in view of the fact that the prophecy was set against the background of the captivity of seventy years.
Many commentators (including amillennialists like Pusey and premillennialists like Archer10) argue for a 490-year chronology starting with the decree issued by Artaxerxes to Ezra in 457 BC, Ezra 7. Adding 483 years, we are brought to AD 27 and the start of Christ’s ministry. With a three-and-a -half-year ministry, this gives us a date for Christ’s death in AD 30. Amillennialist commentators taking this approach argue that Christ died at the half-way point of the final seven, and that the chronology finished with Stephen’s death or the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius in about AD 33. Premillennialists take the final seven (or, perhaps, the final three-and- a-half years) as still future.
However, there are serious problems. Firstly, the decree in Ezra chapter 7 is an unlikely starting-point, for there is no word about rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, nor did any rebuilding work begin as a result. Secondly, it is unlikely that Christ’s ministry began in AD 27, for John’s ministry began in the ‘fifteenth year of Tiberius’, Luke 3. 1, and this was AD 29. Some claim that Tiberius’ reign was counted from his co-regency with Augustus a year or two before Augustus’ death, but this is baseless, ‘this method is to be rejected because there is no evidence, either from historical documents or coins, for its employment, whereas there is abundant evidence that Tiberius reckoned his first year after the death of Augustus’.11 Lastly, to argue that any event in Acts ended the seventy sevens is pure speculation, ‘There is no hint of this in the texts of Daniel 9. 27 and Acts 8-9 to denote the fulfillment of the seventieth week’.12
Although Sir Robert Anderson is commonly credited with this idea, the commentator John Gill mentioned it over a century before, and quoted Bishop Chandler who calculated the period from Nehemiah to Christ in ‘Chaldee years’. Anderson wrote, ‘What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of “Messiah the Prince” – between 14th March, BC 445 and the 6th April AD 32? The interval contained exactly and to the very day 173,880 days, or seven times sixty-nine prophetic years of 360 days, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel’s prophecy’.13
More recently, H. W. Hoehner has modified Anderson’s calculations, showing: (1) that the twentieth year of Artaxerxes was 444 BC, not 445 BC; and (2) that AD 33 is a more likely date for the death of Christ than AD 32. Hoehner made four arguments for this AD 33 date: (1) Christ’s ministry began in the summer or autumn of AD 29; (2) Christ’s ministry lasted over three years, including four Passovers, that is, untill spring AD 33; (3) Nisan 14 (the day of Christ’s death) fell on a Friday in AD 30 and AD 33, but not AD 32; and (4) Pilate’s ingratiating attitude to the Jews at the time of Christ’s trial (in contrast with his earlier ruthless treatment of them) is best explained as a result of the fall from power of Sejanus, Pilate’s patron in Rome, and a virulent anti-Semite, in AD 31.
There are several problems with Anderson’s and Hoehner’s chronologies. Perhaps the most immediate is that a 360-day year seems somewhat contrived. However, just as Nebuchadnezzar was driven out for seven (unspecified) ‘times’ in chapter 4, Daniel’s prophecy does not actually state what units the seventy sevens are to be counted in, whether years, months, days, or combinations thereof. Further, both Anderson and Hoehner provide documentation to substantiate the claim that ‘when one investigates the calendars of ancient India, Persia, Babylonia and Assyria, Egypt, Central and South America, and China, it is interesting to notice that they uniformly had twelve thirty-day months … although it may be strange to present-day thinking, it was common in those days to think of a 360-day year’.14
Even more significantly, Daniel chapter 7 verse 25 refers to a period of persecution lasting three-and-a-half times (’time and times and half a time’), which appears to refer to the same period mentioned in chapter 12 verse 7, as well as similar three-and-a-half year periods: Rev. 11. 3, 1260 days; 12. 6, 1260 days; 11. 2, 42 months; and 13. 5, 42 months. These all appear to refer to the same period of persecution, the great tribulation, spoken of in Daniel chapter 9 verse 27 as ‘half a seven’. This would appear to show that the last ‘half a seven’ involves a 360-day year with twelve thirty-day months. This, in turn, would suggest that the entire period of the seventy sevens do too.
Secondly, if Christ began his ministry around AD 28 or 29, we must explain the comment in John chapter 2 verse 20 that ‘it has taken forty-six years to build this temple’. Herod began the rebuilding of the temple in his 18th year (according to Josephus): 20 BC. Forty-six years later would place Christ’s first visit to Jerusalem in AD 27, too early for Anderson’s and Hoehner’s chronology.
Hoehner replies that the word used here is naos, the inner shrine of the temple, as opposed to hieros, the temple precincts generally, and because the word ‘built’ here is in the aorist tense, he argues that the Jews were saying that the inner shrine was built (i.e. finished) forty-six years previously. As the first stage of the building project, the inner shrine was finished in eighteen months (by 18 BC), this would bring us to AD 28 or 29 in John chapter 2. Hoehner’s argument has three problems. First, the verse makes more sense if the Jews were emphasizing the lengthy building process rather than the durability of the building (for which 46 years is not long). Second, the word naos appears to be used sometimes for more than the inner shrine, e.g., Matt. 27. 5. Third, Moule argues that the aorist is summarizing a continuing process here,15 while the word ‘built’ is used in the aorist for an ongoing building work in Ezra chapter 5 verse 16 (LXX).
Anderson’s answer is more satisfying: Herod did not actually begin rebuilding the Temple in 20 BC. Instead, Josephus says that Herod made a speech in 20 BC proposing to rebuild the Temple, as well as promising to make elaborate preparations before the actual rebuilding work began.16 Anderson argues that the preparations were not the work of a few weeks or months and therefore it is obvious that the rebuilding of the Temple itself did not begin in 20 BC but some time afterwards. Therefore, the Passover in John chapter 2 was not in AD 26 but some time later.
The most serious problem with Anderson’s chronology (as he himself appears to be aware) is that the 14th day of Nisan (full moon) did not fall on a Thursday or Friday in AD 32. In fact, an AD 32 date for the crucifixion would mean that Christ died on Sunday or Monday.17 Anderson tries to get around this problem,18 arguing firstly, that cloudy skies and intercalations meant that a new month might be declared up to four days late and, secondly, the fact that Judas and those with him carried torches means that it must not have been full moon when Christ was taken. These arguments, and especially the second (which sounds rather desperate), amount to special pleading. Hoehner’s dating seems more dependable and less forced: Christ died on Passover Friday in AD 33.
Many commentators dismiss the idea that there is a gap in the chronology, arguing that the seventieth seven must follow on directly from the sixty-ninth. However, there are at least three proofs from within Daniel’s prophecy itself of a ‘parenthesis’: (1) the destruction of Jerusalem, not within the seventieth seven, but in AD 70, nearly forty years after the sixty-ninth seven; (2) the expression ‘wars until the end’, v. 26, which specifies an indeterminate period of time (now nearly 2000 years long) of wars over the city of Jerusalem; and (3) the gap between Daniel himself and the start point of the seventy sevens, about 100 years later. Matthew Henry (favouring a start point with Cyrus’ decree) says that ‘it looks very graceful that the seventy weeks should begin immediately upon the expiration of the seventy years’. Graceful or not, as we have seen, the wording of the prophecy requires that the start point was not until Nehemiah’s day. This being so, there is, of necessity, another gap in the chronology, right at its beginning.
Thus, the ‘parenthesis’ is not an idea imposed upon the text to suit an eschatological viewpoint; rather it is the inevitable result of the exegesis of the text itself. Further, Christ’s words in Matthew chapter 24 show that the events of the final seven have a yet-future fulfilment. There Christ promised His coming would occur ‘immediately after’ a period of ‘great tribulation’ ushered in by the ‘abomination of desolation’. These words were plainly not fulfilled in the events of AD 70.
Why there should be such a parenthesis is not explained in Daniel’s prophecy, but three reasons suggest themselves. Firstly, the exile provides both an example and a foreshadowing of God suspending His dealings with the Jewish nation because of their sins, in keeping with the terms of the Mosaic covenant, Lev. 26; Deut. 28. Secondly, for God to recognize His people no longer is righteous, for as Messiah was rejected, ‘cut off’ and left ‘with nothing’, so, in consequence, the Jewish people were cut off by God and left without city or temple. Nor will they be reconciled until their future worship of the Antichrist is finished. Thirdly, from a New Testament perspective, the fact that the gospel message is preached to all nations necessarily entails not simply the equality of Jew and Gentile, but the invalidation of Jewish ‘special-nation’ status at the present time. This implies, too, that the resumption of God’s purposes for the Jewish nation in a future day similarly entails the removal out of this scene of the Church. ‘The fulfillment of this uniquely Jewish prophecy is suspended while the gospel is preached to the Gentiles … then after the members of the church are fully gathered, the prophecy will begin to unfold once more with a final week of acute suffering and persecution for the Jewish nation’.19
Believing that the chronological notes in Daniel’s prophecy were intended to be taken seriously, and that God Himself saw to it that they were perfectly fulfilled, we may: (a) eliminate all schemes which treat the figures selectively, mystically, or imprecisely; (b) eliminate all start points except for Nehemiah’s (on the basis of the wording of Daniel chapter 9 verse 25; and (c) eliminate any other ‘Messiah the Prince’ than our Lord Jesus Christ. This leaves us with only one chronology: the so-called ‘prophetic-year’ scheme, a scheme ‘occasionally sneered at, but never answered’, McClain. The fact that the 360-day year finds support from within the prophetic scriptures relating to the final ‘half a seven’ gives us confidence that the 69 sevens were precisely and perfectly fulfilled. The final seven is yet to come.
J. A. Montgomery, Daniel, ICC, T & T Clark, 1926, pg. 393
Sir R. Anderson, Daniel in the Critics Den, Nisbet, 1909, pgs. 167-170
J. E. Goldingay, Daniel, WBC, Word, 1989, pg. 257
F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts, Tyndale Press, 1960, pgs. 67-74
Montgomery, pg. 391
J. G. Baldwin, Daniel, TOTC, IVP, 1978, pg. 196
The Antiquities of the Jews, X.11.7
J. J. Slotki, The Soncino Press, 1951, pg. 77
E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel, Eerdmans, 1949, pg. 221
G. L. Archer, Daniel, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, Zondervan, 1985, pgs. 113-116
H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Zondervan, 1977, pg. 31-2. See also Sir R. Anderson, The Coming Prince, Kregel Publications, 1984, pg. 96
Hoehner, pg. 126
The Coming Prince, pg. 127-8, emphasis in the original
Hoehner, pgs. 135-6
C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press, 1953, pg. 11
The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, Chapter 11
See Hoehner, pgs. 99-100 (n.34) and pg. 137
The Coming Prince, pgs. 99-105
J. M. Boice, Daniel, Baker Books, 1989, pg. 101