Why the Little Horn of Daniel 8 Is Much More than Antiochus Epiphanes
Editor’s note: Part of Adventist Today’s mission is to be a forum for theological topics, including historical points of theology. Articles on these topics do not necessarily represent the view of Adventist Today. The identification of the little horn of Daniel 8 has been of interest to Seventh-day Adventists all the way back to the 1840s. The following piece by Adventist apologist Marvin Moore, is a response to Winston McHarg’s earlier piece here, “Why the Little Horn of Daniel 8 Must Be Antiochus Epiphanes.”
by Marvin Moore | 2 February 2018 |
Winston McHarg’s essay, “Why the Little Horn of Daniel 8 Must Be Antiochus Epiphanes” begins by stating that he believes “the true essence of Adventism [is] the robust and uncompromising search for truth.” I agree. That’s why I spent two-and-a-half years researching the biblical evidence for heaven’s final judgment, what Adventists refer to as the investigative judgment. As a result of this research I wrote my book The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation. One small but important part of that investigation was the issue of Antiochus Epiphanes and the little horn of Daniel 8.
McHarg is certainly correct that most Bible commentators understand Antiochus to be the primary fulfillment of this little horn. However, Adventists have never adopted a particular biblical view just because everyone else did. And my uncompromising search for truth led me to the conclusion that God’s intention in giving Daniel the vision of chapter 8 was that it should point to the end time, not to a minor ruler of one of the four divisions of the Greek Empire.
The primary issues
I will begin my response to McHarg with what I believe are the two most critical issues. The first is the overall context of Daniel’s prophecies, and the second is the origin of the little horn—where it comes from.
The overall context. The book of Daniel is a combination of narrative and prophecy. The three prophecies that concern us here are found in chapters 2, 7, and 8. Daniel 2 foretold the major political powers that would impact God’s people, beginning with the prophet’s time and extending to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. Adventists, together with many other Protestant interpreters, understand that the four metals in Nebuchadnezzar’s great image represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome; the feet of iron and clay represent today’s divided Europe; and the stone that destroys the image represents the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom at Christ’s second coming.
So what about chapter 8? It also begins with the prophet’s time, but this time with Medo-Persia, since Babylon was within a few years of its demise. Daniel 8 also depicts an evil entity that wages war against God, His people, and His sanctuary. So what is this evil entity, the little horn, and when does the prophecy end? Most interpreters identify the little horn as Antiochus Epiphanes, and they see the vision ending with his defeat by the Maccabeans in the second century b.c. after 2,300 literal days. But when the angel Gabriel explained the vision to Daniel, the very first words out of his mouth were that “the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17, NKJV). This fits perfectly with the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7, but the Antiochus interpretation of the little horn is a total misfit, because it ends 2,000-plus years before the time of the end. Thus, the overall context of Daniel 8 clearly suggests that the little horn is much more than Antiochus Epiphanes.
The origin of the little horn. McHarg says that “the little horn of Daniel 8 is a Greek horn. Unlike the little horn of Daniel 7, which emerges from the Roman beast, this horn is said to emerge from one of the four horns upon the Greek beast. It is crystal clear: while the horn of Daniel 7 emerges from the fourth world empire, the horn of Daniel 8 emerges from the third world empire. This fact is so plain and transparent that one can only wonder why some have overlooked it.”
This is, in my opinion, the strongest argument in favor of the Antiochus Epiphanes interpretation of the little horn in Daniel 8. And the reason is simple: logically, a horn should grow out of another horn. Therefore, Antiochus “grew” out of one of the four divisions of the Greek Empire. It’s understandable that McHarg would wonder why some interpreters, especially Adventists, have overlooked it. But I can assure you that Seventh-day Adventists have not overlooked it. I will share with you three lines of evidence that clearly point to Rome as the origin for the little horn.
First, most Bible versions, including the King James, say that the little horn came out of one of them, and coming is not the same thing as growing. While it’s true that horns don’t typically come out of winds, the fact remains that the word is came, not grew. And we have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a highly symbolic, apocalyptic prophecy. In real life, lions and leopards don’t have wings, horns don’t speak, goats don’t run so fast that their feet don’t touch the ground, and they don’t have horns between their eyes. So the idea of a horn coming from one of the directions of the compass becomes a little more reasonable.
Second, the idea of the little horn coming out of one of the winds is even stronger when we examine the nouns and pronouns involved. I’ll begin with a short grammar lesson about nouns and pronouns. A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun so that we don’t have to keep repeating the noun over and over. Thus, instead of saying, “John [noun] hit the ball and then John [noun] ran after it,” we can say, “John [noun] hit the ball and then he [pronoun] ran after it.” Obviously, the noun, what’s called the antecedent, has to be stated first. It would be rather strange to say, “He [pronoun] hit the ball and John [noun] ran after it.’ Sometimes there are two nouns, such as, “John [noun] hit the ball, Mark [noun] picked it, and he [pronoun] threw it back to John. So which is the antecedent to the pronoun he, John or Mark? It’s obviously Mark, not John. Not only is this logical; it also follows a rule of grammar, which states that the antecedent to a pronoun is supposed to be the noun that’s closest to it, in this case Mark, not John. And the point is this: in the case of the little horn, the closest noun to the pronoun them is winds, not horns.
Third, a comparison of the genders of the nouns and pronouns settles the question of where the little horn came from. In the Hebrew language, the words horn, wind, and one are all feminine while the words heaven and them are masculine. The diagram below illustrates this gender parallelism:
verse 8: “four winds [feminine] of heaven [masculine]”
verse 9: “out of one [feminine] of them [masculine] came”
Such a grammatical parallelism doesn’t work if the antecedent of “one of them” in verse 9 is one of the goat’s four horns, because the masculine “them” would have no masculine antecedent, since the Hebrew word for “horn” is feminine. But the parallelism works perfectly in matching “one [feminine] of them [masculine]” with “winds [feminine] of heaven [masculine] .”
These three lines of evidence provide strong support for the little horn coming out of one of the four winds rather than out of one of the four horns. And in my opinion this strong evidence becomes compelling when we combine it with the striking similarity in the themes of Daniel 7 and 8—what I’ve called “the overall context” that we examined a moment ago. Both horns attack God and His people; the horn in Daniel 7 attacks God’s law, and the horn in Daniel 8 attacks His sanctuary, that is, His plan of salvation; and in both cases these attacks are resolved near the end of time, the horn in Daniel 7: 21, 22 with a heavenly judgment, and the horn in Daniel 8:14 with the sanctuary being “cleansed” (NKJV) or “restored to its rightful state” (NRSV).
There are several other issues in the interpretation of Daniel 8 that create problems for the Antiochus interpretation of the little horn.
The horn’s greatness. Daniel 8 says that the ram became “great” (verse 4), the goat became “very great” (verse 8), and the little horn became “exceedingly great” (verse 9, NKJV). In other words, the little horn was greater than either ram or the goat, that is, greater than either Medo-Persia or Greece. But Antiochus was not greater than either Medo-Persia or Greece. He was the eighth of 31 rulers of the Seleucid Empire, which was one of the four divisions of the Greek Empire. Rome, on the other hand, was vastly greater than either of the two preceding empires, both in the territory it controlled and in its military might.
The directions of its growth. Daniel 8:9 says that the little horn would grow “to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful land.” McHarg says that “Antiochus did exactly that.” My response is No, he did not. Nearly all interpreters understand the “Beautiful Land” to be Palestine, but Antiochus didn’t grow toward Palestine. He controlled it from the beginning of his reign, and he lost it to the Maccabees before his rulership ended! Antiochus did carry out a military campaign against Egypt, which is south of Syria and Palestine, but he was defeated by the Romans without so much as a battle. As for the east, the Seleucid Empire did extend to the east as far as India at one time, but Antiochus’s predecessors lost control over much of that territory. Antiochus tried to regain it, but he was only partially successful. On the other hand, the Roman Empire did grow in all the directions mentioned in verse 9 plus to the west.
The 2,300 days. One of Antiochus’s most notorious accomplishments was the pollution of the Jewish sanctuary. He fulfilled that part of Daniel 8 very well. But it’s a well-known fact that from the beginning of Antiochus’s desecration of the sanctuary until it was restored by the Macabees was exactly three years to the day, which is only 1,095 days, not 2,300. McHarg interprets these 2,300 days to cover the entire period of Antiochus’s reign from 171 to 165 b.c., though he acknowledges that it’s impossible to determine the precise length of Antiochus’s reign. So Antiochus doesn’t fit the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14.
An end-time fulfillment. McHarg makes the remarkable statement that “there is much to imply that more than Antiochus alone is portrayed here. Almost all conservative scholars agree that Daniel 8 portrays Antiochus as a type of the final antichrist. Many believe that the prophecy will have a further, fuller and final fulfillment in the future.” While the way these prophetic scholars would develop a future fulfillment of Daniel 8 is much different from the Adventist interpretation, it’s an acknowledgment that the chapter has a broader meaning than just Antiochus. And this is precisely what Seventh-day Adventists have said all along. How could it be otherwise when, as I pointed out earlier, Gabriel himself, in his opening words to Daniel, said that “the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17)?
Throughout our history, Seventh-day Adventists have rejected the dual fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies, including Daniel 8 and its little horn. However, the Antiochus interpretation of the little horn in Daniel 8 has been around since the time of Antiochus himself, and it was obviously very meaningful to the Jews at that time. But this doesn’t mean that the Antiochus interpretation was the one God intended when He gave the vision to Daniel. I’ve pointed out that Gabriel himself told Daniel that the vision pertained to the end time, which has been the Adventist interpretation all along.
McHarg uses the Antiochus interpretation to dismiss the Adventist interpretation of an investigative judgment as invalid. He says, “The Adventist teaching of an investigative judgment of the professed people of God is foreign to the context of Daniel 8.” My book The Case for the Investigative Judgment, which I referred to earlier, is an evaluation of our historic doctrine of the judgment in all its aspects, and I would refer the reader to that book. Here I will only say this much: Note the similarity between the themes of Daniel 7 and 8: four great empires (chapter 8 skips Babylon), followed by a power that attacks God’s truth and His people, followed by a judgment scene in chapter 7 and the cleansing of the sanctuary in chapter 8. It seems reasonable to conclude that the judgment and the cleansing of the sanctuary, both falling at the conclusion of these parallel apocalyptic prophecies, are in some way related.
- Marvin Moore, The Case for the Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation. Pacific Press® Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, 2010, 350 pages.↑
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all Scripture quotations in this essay are from the New International Version, 1984 edition. ↑
- In chapter 7:25 God is referred to as “the Most High,” and in chapter 8:11 the little horn attacks “the prince of the host,” ie., Christ. In 7:25 the little horn attacks “the saints” (NKJV), and in chapter 8:10 it attacks “the starry host” (cf. Daniel 12:3, where stars are a symbol of God’s holy people). ↑
Marvin Moore is the editor of Signs of the Times® magazine, a prolific author with more than 30 books to his credit, and a sought-after speaker in the United States and internationally.
To read Winston McHarg’s original piece, click here.