Rereading Daniel 9:25-27: The Coming of the Messiah

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.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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12 Responses to Rereading Daniel 9:25-27: The Coming of the Messiah

  1. >Dr.Mariottini,I am in complete agreement with you here. (not that it matters)I was raised on the Scofield Bible. Trained in College using the Scofield. Preached from one for 15 plus years. I currently use the ESV. I do wish I could get the ESV with an Oxford binding. Gotta love those Oxford Bibles. :)Anyway……..I know I was tremendously influenced by the Scofield Bible. (that and Clarence Larkins book on Dispensational truth) The Scofield Bible set the agenda for my preaching. I even used the section breaks in the Scofield Bible as my sermon breaks. Somwhere in the late 1980’s I came to the conclusion that Scofield was leading me where he wanted me to go rather than the Holy Spirit doing the leading. I got rid of my Scofield Bible and I purchased a KJV that did not have any notes. Reading the Bbile without Scofield to interpret for me opened up the Scriptures to me in a tremendous way. As a result my theology changed greatly, particularly in the area of eschatology.Every theologian, pastor, professor, and student of the Word (which should be all of us) must always be aware of the danger of being led to wrong conclusions by fallible men. As a Baptist, I read Calvin’s Institutes and profited from them but I marveled that he was “brain dead” concerning baptism (at least through my Baptist eyes)I do wish Scofield had died out…………we would then not have to endure the “Left Behind” books.I have enjoyed your posts in this series.Thank youBruce Gerencser

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  2. >Bruce,I appreciate your comments about my post on Daniel 9:25. It is sad that so many people believe that the Scofield notes are as inspired as the Bible itself. I have talked to several people who refer to the Scofield notes as “the Bible says . . .. ” They confuse the notes with the message of the Bible.The ESV is a good Bible. Once I referred to it as a glorified King James, but I was wrong. There are many things to commend about the ESV.Best wishes in your work. Shalom.Claude Mariottini

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  3. >Dr. Mariottini,I posted this comment on the BBB. However, better here. Could you recommend a recent relatively neutral translation of the Bible? Thanks.

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  4. >Suzanne,The answer to your question is not easy. The fact is that there is no neutral translation of the Bible because scholars who translate the Bible bring their own preferences to their work. Translators should be neutral, but, at times, the views of a translator or of a committee can influence the way a word or a sentence is translated.I would say that the old RSV or the new ESV may be better translations than some of the translations available today. Since there are so many translations available today, Christians who desire to study the Bible in-depth must read and compare two or three translations. The devotional reading of the Bible may not require that much work, but in-depth study requires much more work.May the Lord bless your study of God’s Word.Claude Mariottini

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  5. >You say, it seems that some Bibles reflect a bias in the translation of some textsSince you said ‘some’ Bibles here I had hoped that you might be able mention a Bible whose bias is not obvious. I appreciate your honest response but I am unwilling to give up my search for a Bible to recommend to a church that does not want to visibly endorse either complementarian or egalitarian tradition but simply preach the Word without the distraction of provoking on that issue either way. I have recently been reading the ISV. Are you familiar with that?

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  6. >Suzanne,You have to remember that all versions of the Bible have their strong points and all versions have their weaknesses. The work of translation is not easy and translators have to make decisions about how to translate a specific verse. And when they do, there will always be critics who may not agree with the way they translate a verse.You mentioned that you have been reading the ISV. I have to say that I am not familiar with this version. I downloaded some of the sections that have become available to the public. So, I look in the ISV to see how they translated 1 Samuel 13:1. Now, read 1 Samuel 13:1 in the ISV and then read my post on that verse. To read my post, visit http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2005/12/rereading-1-samuel-131.htmlThank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini

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  7. Tim Kauffman says:

    >Professor,Along these same lines, I don’t understand why “chathak” is not translated as “divided” in Daniel 9:25. The specific word (BDB 02852, “to divide, determine”), only occurs once in all of scripture, and when used, it is in the context of Gabriel “dividing” the Seventy Sevens into three separate sets of Sevens.I note, as well, that the english word “determined” occurs throughout the passage (using “charats” BDB 2782), but not in 9:25. It just seems to me that there is some significance to Gabriel’s word choice, and since it is used only once, and in the context of a division, why not translate it “Seventy Sevens are divided for thy people…”, since that is the plainest translation, and the most contextually obvious usage?Thank you!!!Tim Kauffman

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  8. Tim Kauffman says:

    >Oops! I meant 9:24.Thanks!Tim Kauffman

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  9. Kátia says:

    >Professor. Sou brasileiro, Adventista do Sétimo dia e me chamo Eleazar. Achei interessante sua visão de Daniel 9:25, mas como Dr. o senhor saber que todo monrante diacrítico-massorético foi acrescido entre os anos 500 e 950 d.C. Sendo assim, não se pode sustentar a idéia de que as sete semanas estão separadas das sessenta e duas semanas por causa do Atnah (idéia que se apresentou nas entrelinhas de seu artigo). Até porque ele não tem apenas a função de ser um acento disjuntivo.Outra coisa importante é analisar o WAW conjuntivo, em Dan. 9:25 tem-se uma Oração Coordenada Sindética Aditiva, pois está conectada por um Waw conjuntivo, o que necessariamente a torna parte integrante do texto como um todo.Além disso, qual foi o "ungido" que veio depois de 7 semanas (49 anos)? quando começa e termina essa data? Em que data termina as 62 semanas?Se quiser mandar a resposta para o meu e-mail: eleazardomini@hotmail.com

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  10. Jzyehoshua says:

    >The problem with this statement is that it fails to address the commonly held belief of Judaism as to what Messianic scriptures are. It has been labeled a prophecy of Messiah not just by Christians but Jews also. The term 'anointed one' has long been recognized as reference to the Messiah, and to remove it would invalidate all reference to the Messiah in the OT and possibly the Jewish concept of it altogether.Furthermore, I notice you did not address any substantial concerns about the passage, merely questioned the meaning of 'anointed one' as typically applied to the Messiah, and threw a vague concern out about the dating. Yet even those who give a late date for the book of Daniel place it before the time of Christ, making such a prophecy valid one way or the other.

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  11. Jzyehoshua says:

    >Even if questioning the meaning of the term 'anointed one' you are left to explain the coming of a an 'anointed one' special enough to merit such a prophecy around roughly 30 A.D. As mentioned, dating questions don't allow for dating the book early enough to invalidate the prophecy, and questioning the interpretation of Messiah doesn't negate the fact of an 'anointed one' to come around 30 A.D. as precisely prophesied by this Scripture in question. So what exactly then, do you disagree with the Scofield about?

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  12. Pingback: Rereading Daniel 9:25-27: The Seventy Weeks of Daniel | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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