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The Year-Day Principle and the 2300 Days
by Jerry Moon, Chair
of Church History Department and Editor of
University Seminary Studies, Seventh-day Adventist Theological
Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
In the May-June 2002 issue of Adventist Today, Toby Joreteg addressed the issue of the year-day principle in biblical prophecy. The article seemed to imply (1) that the year-day principle was unknown until the ninth century c.e. It further argued (2) that "there are only two Bible texts that clearly use" this principle, (3) that the year-day principle applies only in contexts of "sin/sinners/judgment," (4) that Dan 8:14 has nothing to do with judgment, and therefore (5) the 2300 days of Dan 8:14 are to be interpreted simply as ordinary days, not as 2300 years. I will present evidence to the contrary on each of these points.
Working Definition and History of Interpretation
The year-day principle is one of the distinguishing features of historicist prophetic interpretation as contrasted with preterism and futurism. Historicists hold that in certain time prophecies, a "prophetic day" represents an entire year of "actual calendrical time"(William H. Shea, "Year-Day Principle, Part I," in Selected Studies in Prophetic Interpretation [Review and Herald, 1982], 56).
As early as the third century b.c.e., the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 were understood to be 70 "weeks of years," i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years. The LXX, in translating the Hebrew for "weeks" in Dan 7:25-27, inserted the additional phrase "of years," providing the first published example of what would later be called the "year-day principle" (L. E. Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 4 vols. [Review and Herald, 1950], 1:170, 174-176).
Not until enough centuries had passed to make such long ages of prophecy comprehensible, were the longer prophecies of 1290 days, 1335 days, and 2300 days understood as years. Thus Rabbi Nahawendi in the early ninth century c.e. was the first to recognize the year-day principle as operative in the 1290 and 2300 days (Froom, 1:713). But the year-day principle had been recognized in Daniel 9 at least as early as the 3rd century b.c.e., and in such an authoritative Jewish writing as the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The linguistic background of the year-day principle is found in many OT texts where the word "days" actually stood for "year" or "years." Note, e.g., the formula that recurs ten times in Gen 5: "All the days of x were so many years, and he died." Old Testament poetry also used "days" and "years" in equivalent parallelism, referring to the same period of time. "For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our years are threescore and ten"(Ps 90:9-10). After many such examples, Shea observes that this closely parallel use of "days" and "years" prepared the "ancient Semite, whose mind was steeped in this parallelistic type of thought," to intuitively associate the "days" of chronological prophecies with calendar years, especially in symbolic passages where literal days do not make logical sense (Shea, 67-69).
Biblical Usage of the Year-Day Principle
The earliest biblical text that directly reflects the year-day principle is Lev 25:1-7. Here the command to "keep a Sabbath," previously associated with the seventh day of the literal week, is applied to a seventh year. Verses 3-4 are parallel in structure to the fourth commandment, Ex 20:8-11, except that the word "year(s)" is substituted for the word days(s). The Sabbath here commanded is not the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, but a seventh-year Sabbath (Shea, 69-70).
This furnishes a textual background for the prophecy of Dan 9. In Lev 25:8, seven weeks of years, or 7 x 7 years, reaches to one jubilee. In Dan 9:24, seventy weeks of years, (70 x 7 years, or 10 jubilees) reaches to the Messiah, the personification of the jubilee.
Num 14:34 and Ezek 4:6 provide further confirmation that in certain contexts the prophetic message was constructed on the basis of a scale or symbolic correspondence between prophetic days and calendar years.
Year-day Principle Not Limited to Judgment Passages
While the day-year correspondence does often occur in contexts of judgment, it also occurs in non-judgmental contexts. The sabbatical year and jubilee ordinances of Lev 25:1-8 were not focused primarily on judgment in the punitive sense but on rest, deliverance, and restoration.
Is the idea of judgment absent from Dan 8:14?
Lev 25 shows that year-day texts need not be directly concerned with judgment. Therefore, if the idea of judgment were absent from Dan 8:14, that would not prove the year-day principle to be irrelevant to Dan 8:14 and the 2300 days. To the contrary, however, both the main verb and the context support the conclusion that Dan 8:14 is concerned with judgment. The Hebrew verb nisdaq has a range of meanings including to "vindicate," "restore," "justify," "put right," "declare right," "make righteous," etc. Its root sadaq and cognates are commonly used in judicial or forensic settings in Scripture. Furthermore, the "vision" mentioned in Dan 8:13 concerns the little horn's criminal activities against the true sanctuary of the "prince of the host,"and the vindication or restoration of that sanctuary when the horn will be "broken without human hand" (v. 25). Thus the 2300 days of Dan 8:14 are directly concerned with divine judgment on the little horn.
Additional evidence comes from the larger context. Historicists recognize that the visions of Dan 2, 7, and 8-9 are essentially parallel, with each recapitulation marking progression from simple to more complex. Thus Daniel 7 features the same four kingdoms as Daniel 2, with the further elaboration of ten horns and a little horn that would grow out of the fourth. When Daniel asked the meaning of the vision, the angel summarized that after the little horn's career of persecution (7:25), "the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever" (7:26). Thus in Daniel 7, the career of the little horn (7:25) climaxes in judgment (7:26), just before the "kingdoms under the whole heaven" are "given to the people of the saints of the most high" (7:27).
The analogy between Daniel 7 and 8 shows that the "cleansing/vindication/restoration" of the sanctuary in Dan 8:14 stands chronologically parallel to the "court shall be seated" in Dan 7:26. Both mark the turning point that leads to the destruction of the pretender little horn and the rewarding of the persecuted "saints of the Most High." Thus to deny that Dan 8:14 concerns judgment is to overlook both the immediate context (8:13-14, 25), and the parallel in Dan 7:25-27.
A further evidence that the days of Dan 8:14 represent years comes from the question of Dan 8:13 niv, "How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled?" The answer given in 8:14 is 2300 days. If these are literal days, the period is some six years, three months, 20 days. But the "vision" began in the Persian period and spanned the Greek and Roman periods, the time of the little horn's supremacy, and on to "the time of the end" (Dan 8:17, 20-23). The span of the vision specified in Dan 8:13 demands that the 2300 days be understood as representing years.
The year-day principle rests not on two texts only, but on
a broad Scriptural foundation. (Shea gives 23 lines of biblical evidence.)
The translators of the LXX applied the year-day principle to the 70 weeks
of Daniel 9 at least as early as the third century b.c.e. The year-day
principle is used not only in "judgment" passages, but in
contexts of rest and restoration, such as the sabbatical and jubilee
years. Even if the year-day principle were restricted only to judgment
passages, the immediate context of Dan 8:14 is two parallel chapters
(Daniel 7-8) that both concern overt eschatological judgment. Hence there
appears to be no valid reason to exclude the year-day principle from Dan