The Seventy Weeks of Daniel
by Thomas Ice
In this final installment on the seventy weeks of Daniel, I want to deal with the history of the church’s interpretation of it. What has the church believed about this passage down through the years. One of the main reasons for spending time on this matter is that some have said that our view that sees a gap of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel is a recent development in church history. Truth of the matter is that it is the oldest known view in church history. Read on and see.
Recent Development Charges
Over the last few years, I have come to expect outburst against all aspects of the literal interpretation of Scripture from preterists who believe that Bible prophecy is a think of the past. They come through in predicable fashion concerning this issue of the historical interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27.
Gary DeMar is perhaps the most strident on this issue when he says, "nearly all Bible scholars agree that the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy refer to the time up to Jesus’ crucifixion, only dispensationalists believe that the entire seventieth week is yet to be fulfilled." In a later edition of the same book, DeMar asserts concerning a non-gap view that it "has been the standard interpretation for centuries, except for minor differences in details. John Nelson Darby and other changed all this with their church-parenthesis hypothesis." After the first sentence of DeMar’s statement, he footnotes a reference to an errant source on the matter, Philip Mauro, who declares the following: "Nor, so far as we are aware, was any other meaning ever put upon them until within recent years, and then only by those belonging to a particular ‘school’ of interpretation." Of course, Mauro’s recent "school" is reference to those of us who see a future seventieth week in Daniel’s prophecy. Mauro certainly was not aware of what was taught in the early church, as we shall shortly see.
Preterist, Dr. Kenneth Gentry, speaking of his non-gap interpretation insists that "Conservative scholars widely agree on such an interpretation, which is virtually ‘universal among Christian exegetes’—excluding dispensationalists." Later, Dr. Gentry continues his inaccurate statements by saying "that the early Father held to a non-eschatological interpretation of the Seventieth Week." This is just not true, as shall be noted below. Now I will examine just what the early church did believe about the seventy weeks of Daniel.
Early Church Views
The main point for which I am looking into the early church view of Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy is whether they held to a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of years. Interestingly, an article of note was done on this subject, published in a Reformed Journal, which is the general theological orbit of Gary DeMar and Dr. Kenneth Gentry. The article was written by Louis E. Knowles and referenced errantly by Dr. Gentry when he said, "that the early Father held to a non-eschatological interpretation of the Seventieth Week." Dr. Gentry’s statement is clearly in error when compared with the writings of the early church fathers.
The earliest extant writings of the church fathers reveal just the opposite of Dr. Gentry’s claim, with the exception of The Epistle of Barnabas (about a. d. 90-100), which presents a short and incomplete treatment on the subject. Knowles divides the early church (Barnabas through Augustine) into two interpretive groups, "the eschatological and the historical." By eschatological, Knowles refers to those who took the seventieth week of Daniel as future prophecy leading up to Christ’s return. By historical, he means those who believe that Daniel’s final week has already been fulfilled. Knowles concludes that Barnabas "envisioned the completion of all the weeks before the development of the church."
When Knowles deals with the next major contributors—Irenaeus (130-200) and his disciple Hippolytus (170-236)—he describes their views as "undoubtedly the forerunners of the modern dispensational interpreters of the Seventy Weeks." Knowles draws the following conclusion about Irenaeus and Hippolytus:
. . . we may say that Irenaeus presented the seed of an idea that found its full growth in the writings of Hippolytus. In the works of these fathers, we can find most of the basic concepts of the modern futuristic view of the seventieth week of Daniel ix. That they were dependent to some extent upon earlier material is no doubt true. Certainly we can see the influence of pre-Christian Jewish exegesis at times, but, by and large, we must regard them as the founders of a school of interpretation, and in this lies their significance for the history of exegesis.
Thus, it is clear "that in Irenaeus and Hippolytus we have the originators of that method of interpretation that places the seventieth week of Daniel at the time of the consummation."
Although, Irenaeus does not explicitly spell out a gap in his writings, there is no other way that he could have come up with his view of a future tribulation period of at least at least three and a half years. Irenaeus speaks of how "three years and six months constitute the half-week" in his section on the prophecy of Daniel 9. This is why Knowles says that in Irenaeus "we have the basic concept for a futuristic construction of the Seventy Weeks, viz., the position of the last week at the end of the age." Hippolytus, Irenaeus’ pupil is even clearer.
Hippolytus is the first known person in the history of the church to write a commentary on any book of the Bible, and he wrote on Daniel. "Hippolytus give us the first attempt at detailed interpretation of the Seventy Weeks," observes Knowles. "He is dependent, no doubt, upon Irenaeus for the foundational proposition that the last half-week of the seventy is to be connected with the Antichrist, but the detailed development is not found in Irenaeus." In fact, Hippolytus refers to a gap or, in his words "division," multiple times. Hippolytus says,
For when the threescore and two weeks are fulfilled, and Christ is come, and the Gospel is preached in every place, the times being then accomplished, there will remain only one week, the last, in which Elias will appear, and Enoch, and in the midst of it the abomination of desolation will be manifested, viz., Antichrist, announcing desolation to the world.
Le Roy Froom grudgingly admits that "Hippolytus . . . arbitrarily separates by a chronological gap from the preceding sixty-nine weeks, placing it just before the end of the world." "Certainly Hippolytus’ interpretation does not have the refinements of the later development, but it is the direct ancestor of it," concludes Knowles.
There were a number of others in the early church, up till the time of Augustine (354-430), who spoke about the subject of the seventy weeks prophecy found in Daniel 9. Jerome (340–420) in his commentary on Daniel is reluctant to set forth his own interpretation of Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy, "because it is unsafe to pass judgment upon the opinions of the great teachers of the Church and to set one above another." So Jerome simply records the various views up till his time. The first view that Jerome cites is that of Africanus (160-240), who does not mention a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks, but does, like early gap proponents "definitely views this passage as eschatological and decidedly Messianic." Thus, Africanus fits into the eschatological camp, making him closer to the futurist gap position, and not the historical.
Eusebius (270-340), the father of church history, teaches an historical view, but he places a gap of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. Knowles explains:
In regards to the last week, we have some rather distinct views in Eusebius. We must recall that the last week does not follow immediately upon the sixty-ninth, but comes after the ‘indeterminate space of time’ in which the events of vs. 26 are being fulfilled. This last week, then, covers a period of seven years that extend from three and one-half years before the crucifixion to three and one-half years after it.
Knowles speaks of a writer named Hesychius whom Augustine refers to as an opponent of his historical fulfillment view. "Hesychius has questioned Augustine about the fulfillment of the Seventy Weeks, and seems to be an adherent of the futurist school of interpretation." Thus, it is clear that even in the early fifth century there are still proponents of the eschatological and futurist schools of interpretation of Daniel’s seventieth week. "We have seen the formation of two definite schools of interpretation. . . ." notes Knowles. "All the later developments in Christian literature will be found to fit into one of these categories."
In one sense it does not matter what others who have come before our current generation think on an issue, since in reality a matter rises or falls upon whether it squares with God’s Word. However, in another sense it does matter what others have thought down through church history, since if something is taught in the Bible then it may be legitimate to ask why others have not understood a particular teaching. While there are a number of doctrines that have gone well over a thousand years before members of Christ’s church have come to realize what was there in Scripture all along, the necessary gap of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel is not one of those late teachings. Why opponents of a future seventieth week of Daniel want to make matters worse for themselves by saying that we do not have ancient historical precedent is beyond me. It is obvious that our futurist view was found early and often throughout the early church, and only became scarce when premillennialism was banded from the medieval church as a result of the influence of Augustine and Jerome. "But the saints shall never possess an earthly kingdom," declares Jerome, "but only a heavenly. Away, then, with the fable about a millennium!" With Jerome’s banishment of early premillennialism went the literal interpretation of prophecy. History would have to wait more than a thousand years for the revival of a literal interpretation of Bible prophecy and the literal approach to the seventieth week of Daniel. Maranatha!
EndnotesLink to Word document containing footnotes