Translating the Bible: Hebrew Accentuation

Bible Translations

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 is, that the church will be raptured 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).

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 (1959: 21-22) said 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:

[The word in red has an Athnah ( ) under it. The word in yellow has the Silluq () under it].

“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: “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” (Daniel 9:25 ESV).

The Revised Standard Version has a similar reading: “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” (Daniel 9:25 RSV).

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, the RSV, and the KJV is that the ESV and the RSV follow 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-ninth 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.

For other studies on translating the Bible, see my post, Studies on Translation Problems in the Old Testament.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

NOTE: Did you like this post? Do you think other people would like to read this post? Be sure to share this post on Facebook and share a link on Twitter or Tumblr so that others may enjoy reading it too!

I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post by leaving a comment below. Be sure to like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Tumblr, Facebook, and subscribe to my blog to receive each post by email.

If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of topics.

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

6 Responses to Translating the Bible: Hebrew Accentuation

  1. llamapacker says:

    Whoa! Thought provoking and, again, very interesting.

    Like

  2. Dr. Igal German says:

    Do you see Daniel 9 as a Messianic prophecy?

    Like

  3. Dieter Schlaepfer says:

    It would be interesting to consider the Septuagint version of this passage, since it’s a snapshot of the Hebrew text used for the translation into Greek.

    Like

    • Dear Dieter,

      The translation of the Old Greek is king of confusing. The Theodotion has become the basis for most English translations. Here is the translations taken from NETS (Oxford):

      Old Greek:

      “And after seven and seventy and sixtytwo weeks, an anointing will be removed and will not be. And a king of nations will demolish the city and the sanctuary along with the anointed one, and his consummation will come with wrath even until the time of consummation. He will be attacked through war.”

      Theodocian:

      “And you shall know and shall understand: from the going forth of the word to respond to and to rebuild Ierousalem until an anointed leader, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, and it will return, and streets and a wall will be built, and the seasons will be emptied out.”

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.