Hermeneutical Factors In Determining The Beginning Of The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25) -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 06:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: Hermeneutical Factors In Determining The Beginning Of The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25)
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Hermeneutical Factors
In Determining The Beginning Of
The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25)

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Westminister Theological Seminary

What is the date for the beginning point (terminus a quo) for the period of “seventy weeks” prophesied in Dan 9:24–27? There has been much debate about this. But sufficient attention has not yet been paid to the role of hermeneutical differences in reaching a conclusion. One crucial factor is what we mean by “grammatical-historical interpretation,” when applied to Dan 9:24–27.

1. Alternative Dates

First of all, let us look at the major alternatives. According to Dan 9:25, the “seventy weeks” begins with a “decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25, NIV). What is this “decree”? Most conservative interpreters have identified the decree either as the decree of Cyrus king of Persia in about 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:2–4),1 or the decree of Artaxerxes concerning Nehemiah’s rebuilding (Neh 2:8–9), in 445 or 444 B.C.2 Other dates have sometimes been proposed (e.g., 457 B.c.),3 but I wish at this point to con-

centrate on the main options.

The date of 444 B.C. is particularly attractive because it is almost exactly 69 x 7 = 483 years before the death of Christ. Now Dan 9:26, according to many, predicts the death of Christ after 69 weeks. Reckoning backwards to the beginning of the weeks, with each week seven years long, leads to a date in Nehemiah’s time. However, such a procedure appeals to facts not known when Daniel was originally written. Are we justified in doing this? Is this a part of gramatical-historical interpretation? Gramatical-historical exegesis, in the narrowest sense, interprets each passage against the background of its original historical context, taking into account what information is known and not known at the time. Hence we must consider how the principles of grammatical-historical interpretation impinge on the interpretation of this passage

2. Hermeneutical alternatives

There are at least three alternative hermeneutical approaches. First, we might argue that we should confine ourselves to grammatical-historical interpretat...

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