Last week I wrote a blog in response to Mr. Jack D. Hook’s invitation to read his book, Babylon the Great is Falling. In that blog, I disagreed with Mr. Hook’s interpretation of Daniel 9:25-27. I wrote:
“Incorrect interpretations of Daniel 9:25-27 have produced a type of theology exemplified by the teachings of the Scofield Bible, the rapture, the tribulation, and the Left Behind phenomenon. In a future post, I will discuss the problem with Mr. Hook’s interpretation of Daniel 9:25-27. The problem with Mr. Hook’s book is that his interpretation of Daniel 9:25-27 is based on the theology taught in the Scofield Bible” (read my blog by clicking here).
I wrote that when interpreting a text, “the reader must take the interpretation that reflects the plain meaning of Scripture.” I also wrote that “I believe it is possible to arrive at the original intent of the writer, even when we may not truly understand his message.”
I concluded by saying that “when the biblical text is read and studied without any preconceived ideas, the plain meaning of the text can be discovered and the true message of the author can be understood. When this happens, then, in the end, we honor the original intent of the writer of the biblical text.”
In reply to my views, Bruce Gerencser in The Hungarian Luddite, asked: “Is there any such thing as neutral Biblical study and interpretation?” His answer was: “Nah Baby Nah!”
Gerencser also said: “In the real world all of us have preconceived ideas and no one has an unbiased, neutral mind. No one! All of us study and interpret the Scriptures through the grid of our upbringing, training, theological bent.”
I agree with him that much of biblical scholarship today is not neutral. For instance, those who accept biblical criticism interpret the Pentateuch using the principles derived from source or tradition criticism. Those who uphold Mosaic authorship interpret the Pentateuch from the perspective that Moses wrote everything in the 15th century B.C.
But the focus of my essay was not solely on biblical interpretation but on the translation of a text. From my perspective, it seems that some Bibles reflect a bias in the translation of some texts. I believe that Daniel 9:25-27 is one of those texts. Before I discuss Daniel 9:25-27, let me say a few words about translations and translators.
Translating the Hebrew text of the Old Testament into another language is a difficult task. Translating is difficult because the structure of one language is different from others and what makes sense in one language does not make sense in another.
Another factor that makes translating difficult is that languages change from time to time. Language is always evolving to meet the challenges of culture, customs, religion, and politics. The English used by the translators of the King James Version in 1611 is different from the English used by people today.
Eugene Nida, in his book Toward a Science of Translation (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964), discusses the many challenges translators face. For instance, translators must use Hebrew dictionaries and grammar written in English. Thus, the structure of the English language is bound to be an influence in any translation, “regardless of the translator’s wish to avoid ‘linguistic contamination’” (p. 148).
Nida notes that one basic requirement for translators is that they must have empathy for the original author. The words which translators must employ to translate a text are already set out for them by the original author. Using this empathetic spirit, translators must be like the original author; translators must not try to improve or to excel the original author.
Nida wrote that the translator “must exert every effort to reduce to a minimum any intrusion of himself which is not in harmony with the intent of the original author and message” (p. 154).
Nida also notes that at times, translators purposely and consciously “attempted to change a message in order to make it conform to his own . . . religious predilections” (p. 155). According to Nida, “These are particularly evident when a translator feels inclined to improve on the original, correct apparent errors, or defend a personal preference by slanting his choice of words.”
Today I will study Daniel 9:25. In this study, it does not matter whether one accepts that Daniel was written in the 6th century B.C. or in the 2nd century B.C. An unbiased translation of this verse will produce the same result.
The King James Version reads: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.”
The translation “Messiah the Prince” is adopted by the American Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and others. The New International Version has “the Anointed One, the ruler.” Following the Septuagint, the Douay-Rheims Bible has “unto Christ the prince.” It is clear that the translators of this text slanted their choice of words in Daniel 9:25.
The Hebrew word behind the word “Messiah” is mashiah. The word means “anointed one” and is used to designate kings, priests, and even Cyrus, King of Persia (Isaiah 45:1).
The word translated “Prince” is naGiD, a word that literally means a “ruler,” or a “leader.” The word is applied to people in the military, in government, and in religion. Thus, the word naGiD refers to a captain in the army, to a king, and to a priest. Azariah, the high priest was called “the ruler [naGiD] of the house of God” (2 Chronicles 31:13).
In Daniel 9:25 the word “the” as in “the Messiah,” is not present in the Hebrew text. Thus, the Hebrew text is talking about “an anointed one,” one who could be a priest or a king. However, when the translators of the King James Version used the words “the Messiah,” with a definite article and a capital letter M, Christians immediately say: “there is only one person who is ‘The Messiah,’ and that person is Jesus Christ.”
Thus, readers of the King James are predisposed by the translation to see Jesus Christ in Daniel 9:25. However, if one adopts the translation of the Revised Standard Version, the whole idea of the text changes.
The RSV reads: “Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.”
Even E. J. Young, in his commentary, The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), follows the translation of the RSV. He translates the words in question: “unto an anointed one, a prince.” Now, this is good translation. But then he inserts this comment: “The fact is that there is only One in history who fully satisfied the two essential requisites of the theocratic king, Jesus who is the Messiah” (p. 204). Now, this is (good or bad) interpretation and this is the same principle that has influenced translations of Daniel 9:25.
In discussing Daniel 9:25, I have not made any reference to date or authorship. This is irrelevant when it comes to the issue of translation. A commentator may inject his theological bias on the interpretation of the text and decide who that anointed one was. However, the translator does not have that luxury. The translator must follow the intent of the original author and avoid making the decision of who in history fully satisfies the two essentials of leadership mentioned in Daniel 9:25, as the translators of the King James did.
So, you may ask: who was the anointed one mentioned by Daniel? The answer to this question requires another study: it all depends on how the seventy weeks of Daniel is understood. Here again, I believe that the translators of the King James allowed their view of Jesus to influence the translation of the text. If you want to read my understanding of the seventy weeks of Daniel, you will have to return next week.
Now, I return to the comments of the Hungarian Luddaite. I agree with him that interpreters bring their views and prejudices to the interpretation of the biblical text. This is not the ideal because such practice deprives many readers of the proper understanding of what the Bible says.
This is the reason I believe the notes of the Scofield Bible are not helpful. Many good people, influenced by the notes of the Scofield Bible, have developed a system of theology that cannot stand the scrutiny of an impartial reading of the biblical text. I am convinced that, if the Scofield notes had not been included into a Bible, the teachings of Scofield would have perished a long time ago.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary