The Evangelical Free Church of America and Premillennialism

According to an article published in Christianity Today, the Evangelical Free Church of America stepped back from its premillennial convictions. According to the news report written by Morgan Lee, “The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) has changed its position on end times doctrine. The denomination recently voted to drop the word ‘premillennial’ from its statement of faith.”

In a document titled “The Proposal to Amend our Statement of Faith: A Rationale for the Change,” the denomination stated that “Many churches in the EFCA, recognizing that premillennialism is merely a denominational distinctive and not an essential of the gospel, simply do not enforce it as a required doctrinal position for members, elders or even for pastors.”

In the article published in Christianity Today, Daniel Hummel, a historian of US religion, said: “Historians often see the shift towards premillennialism happening in the mid-nineteenth century with the Civil War, with a more pessimistic view of the future coming into a lot of American’s minds. And there’s also new theological influences that are making premillennialism much more popular. Premillennialism becomes sort of the main tradition and the air that a lot of evangelicals breathe, throughout the 20th century.”

Premillennialism is predominantly found among conservative evangelicals who continue to use the King James Bible and modern translations which continue the tradition of the Authorized Version. Christians who adhere to fundamentalist theological views believe that before the millennial there will be the seven-year tribulation and that the church will be raptured before the tribulation. Thus, the premillennial view, that the church will be taken before the millennium begins.

The problem with premillennialism is that the doctrine is based on a poor translation of Daniel 9:25 in the King James Bible. In this essay, I want to deal with the translation of Daniel 9:25 and how this faulty translation produced the so-called “the seventy weeks of Daniel.” The King James Version translates Daniel 9:25 as follows:

“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.”

According to this translation, “the Messiah” shall come after 69 weeks (7 weeks + 62 weeks). Then “the Messiah” shall be cut off at the end of the 62nd week (v. 26). In my next post I will discuss how the King James Version deals with the translation of the word “Messiah.”

A similar translation was used by the Holman Christian Standard Version. The HCSV reads: “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and 62 weeks.”

The problem with these two translations and others that follow the same reading is that they do not take into consideration the Hebrew accentuation of verse 25. The issue of Hebrew accents is difficult, but a few words can clarify the issue.

In Hebrew there are two types of accents and they act as punctuation marks. The strong accents serve as stops (periods), colons, and semicolons. One of these accents is called the Athnah. The function of the Athnah is to mark the first half of a verse and serves as a strong break within a sentence.

In his discussion of punctuation marks, J. Weingreen, in his book, A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew said (1959: 21-22) that in the Hebrew Bible there are two kinds of punctuation marks which may conveniently be called “Stops” and “Continuation” marks. The first major stop is called the Silluq which always appears under the last word of a verse. The Silluq is naturally the greatest stop in a verse. The second stop mark is called the Athnah. The Athnah is the second greatest stop and divides the verse into two logical parts.

The Hebrew text of Daniel 9:25 contains an Athnah under the Hebrew word for “seven”, which in the text closes the first period of sevens. Thus, in Hebrew the Athnah makes a separation between the two periods of weeks. If the translator of the KJV had followed the Hebrew accentuation, the translation of Daniel 9:25 would read as follows:

“Know therefore and understand that from the going out 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.”

This is the translation adopted by the English Standard Version (ESV). The Revised Standard Version and a few other translations have adopted a similar reading. Notice that the coming of the anointed one comes at the end of seven weeks, not at the end of sixty-nine weeks.

The difference between the ESV and the KJV is that the ESV follows the Masoretic Text (MT) while the KJV follows the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Theodotion text.

The issue among interpreters is which text reflects the original reading of Daniel 9:25. Those who advocate Theodotion do so because his translation was finished in the second century A. D., while the Masoretic text found its final form in the ninth or tenth century A. D. Many people believe the Masoretes changed the text to avoid the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 9:25, whereas Theodotion’s translation supports the Messianic view.

Those who take the traditional translation of Daniel 9:25, represented by the King James Version and other translations, are led to believe that “the Messiah,” “the Prince,” was killed at the end of the 69th week. Since the “Messiah,” and the “Prince,” are interpreted to be Jesus, then the dates are calculated so that the conclusion of the 69th week ends in A. D. 32, the year that Christ died.

But this calculation leaves the last week, the 70th week of Daniel unfulfilled. This is where the dispensationalism of Scofield enters in. Since the 70th week does not fit historically, dispensationalists talk about “The Great Parenthesis.” As one proponent of the theory wrote:

“Between the sixty-nine and the seventieth weeks we have a Great Parenthesis which has now lasted over nineteen hundred years. The seventieth week has been postponed by God Himself, who changes the times and the seasons because of the transgression of the people.”

According to this view, the reason the last week was postponed was because when Christ died on the cross, “the prophetic clock stopped” until the age of the church comes to an end.

This infusion of ideas into Daniel 9:25-27, a process that is called eisegesis, is what leads people into dispensationalism and premillenialism. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting the Bible in which the interpreter tries to make the Bible say something that is in accordance with some pre-existing idea about a particular issue or doctrine.

Those who use eisegesis to interpret the Bible generally are not willing to allow the Bible to be understood as it was intended by the original writer. Rather, those who infuse ideas into the Bible are trying to prove something they already believe in.

People who use eisegesis can find aliens and astronauts in the Old Testament. They can also find America and Russia in Ezekiel, extra-terrestrials, the rapture and the tribulation, and a host of others things that are not in the Bible.

So, who was the anointed one of Daniel 9:25? In order to answer this question, there are several things that must control the interpretation of the text. Again, using the text of the ESV, the identification of the anointed one must fall within these guidelines:

First, an anointed one, who is also a prince of the community, must come at the end of the first seven weeks: “Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks” (v. 25a).

Second, after the coming of the anointed one, Jerusalem would be built again: “Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time” (v. 25b).

Third, at the end of the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be killed: “And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (v. 26a).

Fourth, after the death of the anointed one, the people of a prince shall destroy the sanctuary: “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (vv. 26b-27).

When the biblical text is taken at face value, the text speaks of two anointed ones and two princes. Also, when the biblical text is taken at face value, the dispensationalism of Scofield, the Great Parenthesis, the seven year tribulation, the premillennial rapture and all the other issues related to this doctrine, are found to have no biblical basis.

In my next post I will address the way the King James Bible translates “Messiah” in Daniel 9:25. My goal in this post was only to demonstrate how a biased translation of a text can lead people astray. Translators have a responsibility of being neutral in their translation of the biblical text.

In “The Proposal to Amend our Statement of Faith” the leaders of The Evangelical Free Church of America said, “we believe there is a significant inconsistency in continuing to include premillennialism as a required theological position when it is clear that the nature of the millennium is one of those doctrines over which theologians, equally knowledgeable, equally committed to the Bible, and equally Evangelical, have disagreed through the history of the church.”

I want to commend The Evangelical Free Church of America for not requiring its members to believe in a doctrine that was established on a shaken foundation. A great denomination such as The Evangelical Free Church of America should welcome into its fellowship all those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior without requiring them to be dogmatic about the time of his coming.

Read the Companion Post: The Messiah in Daniel 9:25

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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This entry was posted in Book of Daniel, Evangelicals, Exegesis, Messianic Prophecies, Translation Problems and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Evangelical Free Church of America and Premillennialism

  1. Charles says:

    Keep in mind that there is the view called historic(al) premillenialism that does not include a pretribulational rapture.

    Like

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