In my last post, The Evangelical Free Church of America and Premillennialism, I discussed the decision of The Evangelical Free Church of America to change its position on the doctrine of the last days by dropping the word “premillennial” from its statement of faith. As I discussed in that post, I believe that the dispensational view of the second coming of Christ is based on a faulty translation of Daniel 9:25.
In fact, the translation of Daniel 9:25 in the King James Bible has introduced theological bias in the interpretation of the text. This has allowed many Christians to misinterpret the message the biblical author was trying to convey to his audience. Christians have always debated the events related to the last days. These debates opened the doors for people to bring their own views into the interpretation of biblical texts.
In an interview with Christianity Today about the church’s position on the events related to the last days, Daniel Hummel, a historian of US religion, said: “There are debates happening all through the Middle Ages and before, but this really becomes a decisive issue after the Bible gets in a lot of different people’s hands and a lot of different languages, and people are bringing their own readings of the Bible to the forefront, and actually creating denominations and creating movements based on these readings. And so coming out of the Reformation, you get a lot of millennialist-type sects who see the end near, or who see a certain way that the end is supposed to come.”
Hummel’s statement that “people are bringing their own readings of the Bible to the forefront, and actually creating denominations and creating movements based on these readings” reflects the problem one faces when interpreting the Bible. In my next post I will deal with the problem of interpreting the biblical text.
The interpretation of Daniel 9:25 is one good example of “people bringing their own reading of the Bible to the forefront.” In my previous post I dealt with the seventy weeks of Daniel. In this post I want to deal with the concept of “the Messiah” as it appears in the KJV. The KJV 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.”
Many Christians when reading this text, take for granted that the Messiah as it appears in the KJV is a reference to Christ. For instance, Leon Wood in his commentary on Daniel wrote that the words Messiah and Prince “clearly refer to Christ. He is the supreme Messiah and Prince; no one else fits the chronology developed in the text; the One is said in the next verse to be ‘cut off,’ which fits for the crucifixion of Christ” (Wood 1973: 251). This view is shared by many Christians today. 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.
It is crucial that when interpreting a text, the reader must take the interpretation that reflects the plain meaning of Scripture. I believe it is possible to arrive at the original intent of the writer, even when we may not truly understand his message. 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.
However, in interpreting the text, one must ask, “Is there any such thing as neutral biblical study or interpretation?” People who interpret the Bible have preconceived ideas and no one has an unbiased or neutral perspective of the text. Most Christians study and interpret the Bible from the perspective of their Christian upbringing, their educational training, or their theological predispositions.
It is true 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 study is 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 is one of those texts. Before I discuss Daniel 9:25, 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, 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 it 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 definite article “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 of the text 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, follows the translation of the RSV. He translates the words in question: “unto an anointed one, a prince.” Now, this is a 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 not a good interpretation, and this is the same principle that has influenced many translations and interpretations 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. In my previous post I discussed the seventy weeks and how to interpret the role of the anointed one. Here again, I believe that the translators of the King James allowed their view of Jesus to influence their translation of the text. If you want to read my understanding of the seventy weeks of Daniel, click here.
It is true 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.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Nida, Eugene, Toward a Science of Translation. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964.
Wood, Leon. A Commentary on Daniel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973.
Young, E. J., The Prophecy of Daniel. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949.