Daniel Revisited: The Anatomy of a Heresy
by Andrew Hanson
Des Ford was defrocked by the Adventist Church because he didn’t believe that 1844 A. D. was the beginning of God’s Investigative Judgment in which Christ would eventually determine the fate of every human being, i.e., whether they would be saved or lost. (1) That date, according to official Adventist doctrine, was derived from a prophecy contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Furthermore, Ford believed that the notion of an investigative judgment undermined the Protestant belief in salvation by grace. (2)
The Desmond Ford Controversy has always fascinated me. It seemed to me that Des Ford could have made a much stronger defense of his position if he were not a “selective biblical literalist”. (3) When Ford made the decision to argue his case based on this hermeneutical assumption, he couldn’t win. In matters of interpreting “Daniel’s original intended meaning,” he was simply outgunned. What he “believed” didn’t stand a chance against the invested, published, foundational, and traditional belief of his church. In matters of belief, there can be no appeal to fact.
The following five paragraphs are taken from the “Statement on the Desmond Ford Document” from Ministry Magazine, October, 1980, Subhead 4, Year-Day Principle. Note the words “believe” and “believes.” (Page references are to Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment, Ford’s 900+page defense of his position.)
Dr. Ford believes that the year-day tool became a providential discovery "after the Advent hope of the early church had faded away" (p. 294). But coupled with his uncertainty regarding the use of the year-day principle is his uncertainty regarding the dates for the beginning and ending of the time prophecies of Daniel (pp. 320, 321, 344).
Because Ford believes that the year-day principle was not God's original intent for Daniel's time prophecies, he believes its present use, in harmony with God's "providential" arrangement, should not be with punctiliar precision.
We believe, however, that the year-day principle is a valid hermeneutical tool and called for by the context containing the time prophecies. When the context relates to historical narrative with literal people, literal time periods are used in Daniel 1, 3. 5. and 6. In the apocalyptic passages, when time periods accompany symbolic figures, it is natural and appropriate to expect those time periods also to be symbolic in nature. Numerous other reasons help the prophetic interpreter to distinguish between literal and symbolic time.
We further believe that all of the apocalyptic prophecies in which time elements are found have stood the pragmatic test. That is, their predicted events did occur at the intervals expected, according to the application of the year-day principle.
In reference to Daniel 8:13, 14, we believe that the context requires the use of the year-day principle, and thus a fulfillment beginning in 457 B.C. and ending in A.D. 1844.
We thus reject Dr. Ford's assertion that Daniel 8:14 "applies also to every revival of true religion where the elements of the kingdom of God, mirrored in the sanctuary by the stone tablets and the mercy seat, are proclaimed afresh, as at 1844" (p. 356).
Des Ford could not marshal evidence using the historical-critical method (4) because that hermeneutical approach would be tantamount to proclaiming himself a non-Adventist theologian (5) and his wish was to inform and reform the church he loved. And even if Ford had been allowed to present arguments suggested by the historical-critical approach, there was no way “new light” could have penetrated the armor of traditional belief. (6)
One of the most extensive scholarly reviews of the Book of Daniel can be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia. The authors unanimously agree that Daniel was essentially an historical novel written between 164 and 167 B.C. (7)
I have included two critical reviews of the book to give the reader a taste of conservative scholarly reasoning.
Louis F. Hartman writes: "Having lost sight of these ancient modes of writing, until relatively recent years Jews and Christians have considered Daniel to be true history, containing genuine prophecy. Inasmuch as chapters 7-12 are written in the first person, it was natural to assume that Daniel in chapters 1-6 was a truly historical character and that he was the author of the whole book. There would be few modern biblical scholars, however, who would now seriously defend such an opinion. The arguments for a date shortly before the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164 B.C. are overwhelming. An author living in the 6th century B.C. could hardly have written the late Hebrew used in Daniel, and its Aramaic is certainly later than the Aramaic of the Elephantine papyri, which date from the end of the 5th century B.C. The theological outlook of the author, with his interest in angelology, his apocalyptic rather than prophetic vision, and especially his belief in the resurrection of the dead, points unescapably to a period long after the Babylonian Exile. His historical perspective, often hazy for events in the time of the Babylonian and Persian kings but much clearer for the events during the Seleucid Dynasty, indicates the Hellenistic age. Finally, his detailed description of the profanation of the Temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C. and the following persecution (9:27; 11:30-35) contrasted with his merely general reference to the evil end that would surely come to such a wicked man (11:45), indicates a composition date shortly before the death of this king in 164 B.C., therefore probably in 165 B.C." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 448)
W. Sibley Towner writes: "Daniel is one of the few OT books that can be given a fairly firm date. In the form in which we have it (perhaps without the additions of 12:11, 12), the book must have been given its final form some time in the years 167-164 B.C. This dating is based upon two assumptions: first, that the authors lived at the later end of the historical surveys that characterize Daniel 7-12; and second, that prophecy is accurate only when it is given after the fact, whereas predictions about the future tend to run astray. Based upon these assumptions, the references to the desecration of the Temple and the 'abomination that makes desolate' in 8:9-12; 9:27; and 11:31 must refer to events known to the author. The best candidates for the historical referents of these events are the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the erection in it of a pagan altar in the autumn of 167 B.C. by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The inaccurate description of the end of Antiochus' reign and his death in 11:40-45, on the other hand, suggests that the author did not know of those events, which occurred late in 164 or early in 163 B.C. The roots of the hagiographa (idealizing stories) about Daniel and his friends in chaps. 1-6 may date to an earlier time, but the entire work was given its final shape in 164 B.C." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 696)
So Now What?
Can Adventism survive without the beasts of Daniel and a doctrine that places Jesus in a heavenly sanctuary in front of a celestial computer consigning some of us to Eternal Oblivion and some to Eternal Life? (As a kid I wondered if He worked eight-hour days.) At that time I was told that if my name came up during my lifetime, probation closed for me at that moment. So I better ask forgiveness for my sins at least daily. (The admonition to live a life of prayer seemed a good idea.)
A larger question presents itself: Is being a follower of Christ enough? Is it “safe” to be a Christian Adventist rather than an Adventist Christian? If some of the Adventist “Truth” I was taught as a child no longer seems reasonable; if I have trouble visualizing the God of the universe in front of a celestial computer in a heavenly tabernacle; if I believe the beasts described in Daniel are the product of human imagination, should I resign my church membership?
I wonder if Ted Wilson would grandfather me in today, in spite of my current doubts and unbelief. After all, I was baptized at 10, before there were 28 Fundamental Beliefs. I paid my dues with nightmares about being murdered by Catholics, in addition to worrying about my probation closing and the fate of my mother who sometimes watched the news after work on Friday night.
Fundamental Belief # 24
Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary: There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16, 17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)
A detailed outline of Ford’s heresy is outlined in the blog, Jesus is Wonderful, along with the moderator’s refutation of his heresy.
Selective literalism as the tendency to elevate certain biblical principles over others in order to best accommodate one’s personal opinions. For example, most Christians do not believe that rebellious children should be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18), but many support the death penalty as punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6).
A more common name for this method is hermeneutical-grammatical. It attempts to discover the author's original intended meaning in the text.
Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient text in order to understand "the world behind the text".
The primary goal of historical criticism is to ascertain the text's primitive or original meaning in its original historical context and its literal sense or sensus literalis historicus. The secondary goal seeks to establish a reconstruction of the historical situation of the author and recipients of the text. This may be accomplished by reconstructing the true nature of the events which the text describes. An ancient text may also serve as a document, record or source for reconstructing the ancient past which may also serve as a chief interest to the historical critic.
from Go Forward: the Milestone Address by Elder Ted NC Wilson to General Conference Delegates
General Conference Sabbath Sermon – July 3, 2010
Go forward, not backward! Let Scripture be its own interpreter. Our church has long held to the Historical-Biblical method of understanding scripture, allowing the Bible to interpret itself; line upon line, precept upon precept. However, one of the most sinister attacks against the Bible is from those who believe in the Historical-Critical method of explaining the Bible. This unbiblical approach of “higher criticism” is a deadly enemy of our theology and mission. This approach puts a scholar or individual above the plain approach of the scriptures and gives inappropriate license to decide what he or she perceives as truth based on the resources and education of the critic. Stay away from this type of approach because it leads people to distrust God and His Word. Selected Messages, Book 1, pp 17-18 speaks directly to this issue. “When men, in their finite judgment, find it necessary to go into an examination of scriptures to define that which is inspired and that which is not, they have stepped before Jesus to show Him a better way than He has led us……..let not a mind or hand be engaged in criticizing the Bible……cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost.”
In 1955, according to Raymond Cottrell, the editors of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary found it "hopelessly impossible" to combine both solid Bible scholarship with what Adventists believed and taught about Daniel 8 and 9. In 1958 when revising Bible Readings for republication, he sought the opinion of 27 North American Adventist theologians who knew Hebrew, and also heads of religion departments, concerning the interpretation of Daniel 8:14. Without exception, the scholars responded by acknowledging "that there is no valid linguistic or contextual basis for the traditional interpretation of Daniel 8:14."(5)
After being notified, the General Conference appointed a secret "Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel", which met from 1961 to 1966 but was unable to reach a consensus. (In 2001 Cottrell would publicly criticize the doctrine, yet remained an Adventist. He also wrote papers and a lengthy book on the subject – Eschatology of Daniel. It remained unpublished, and Cottrell stated, "the manuscript awaits a climate of openness and objectivity in the church, which is essential to a fair examination of the facts.")