1844 -- Is It Prophetic?

Recently, I listened to a presentation by Raymond F. Cottrell at a meeting of the Adventist Forum. He told publicly what he had been discussing privately for almost 30 years, and it was an amazing story. In the 1950's, as an editor of "The SDA Bible Commentary", Elder Cottrell tried to defend the SDA interpretation of Daniel 8:14. He resented Dr. Donald Barnhouse's comment that the investigative judgment idea had not a Bible text to support it. But after laboring with Daniel 8:14, using the original languages and the historical-grammatical method of interpretation, Cottrell found that he could not substantiate the Adventist position. At the suggestion of F.D. Nichol he sent a questionnaire to 27 leading Adventist scholars and found that they too had no adequate biblical defense for it. Some expressed the thought that Daniel 8:14 had nothing to do with its context and that the inaccurate word *cleansed*, which had lead the pioneers to connect Daniel 8:14 with the cleansing of the sanctuary in Leviticus 16, was simply a fortunate accident.

A committee appointed by the General Conference met for five years and could not resolve the issues. A minority admitted that the Adventist position could not be proved from the Bible. The majority wanted to solve the problem by ignoring context and language altogether.

At the meeting of the forum Elder Cottrell declared that despite exhaustive efforts he could not prove the SDA view from the Bible. (In the 1950's Don F. Neufeld of the 'Adventist Review' had reached the same conclusion.) Cottrell does not want to abandon the traditional teaching. In fact, he desperately wishes to retain it. But he believes it solely on the say-so of Ellen White.

The gospel is a bright and certain light. The Old Testament was only a shadow of it. The Old Testament revelation was given "in many fragments and by various methods" (Hebrews 1:1, Weymouth). Because the Old Testament is a shadow of things to come, many of its statements are enigmatic. They are difficult to understand.

The story of Christ, on the other hand, is so clear that it really does not matter which version of the Bible we use. This history will shine through any version in any language on earth. Scripture testifies that all who repent and believe that Jesus is the Son of God risen from the dead are judged and forgiven and have eternal life. (John 5:24; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:24-26, 10:9).

This great testing truth is not based on a few scattered texts, much less on a doubtful interpretation of a difficult Scripture. But people are prone to set other tests. In the place of this bright light of the gospel many want to make less certain things into tests of faith. Some of these tests rest on the interpretation of a single doubtful text.

In this category I must place the traditional Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8:14. I do not mind if the Adventist wants to think his calculations give him an exact prophetic reckoning, including his use of a Karaite calendar. What concerns me is that this interpretation of a single text, with no other scriptural witnesses and no New Testament confirmation, should be made an article of faith alongside faith in the sinless life and resurrection of Jesus. Some Adventists think that believing this interpretation of Daniel 8:14 is as important as believing in Christ. October 22, 1844, is considered an event in salvation history that a person must believe as fully as one believes that Christ is risen from the dead. The mentality that makes a particular interpretation of Daniel 8:14 an article of faith to be placed alongside the certainties of the New Testament is rank sectarianism. It is esoteric and cultic.

Many Adventists will not really accept other Christians as sound in the faith if they do not believe that Jesus passed from one heavenly compartment to another in 1844. Yet not one Adventist in a thousand would know how to prove it from the Bible, and scholars like Raymond Cottrell and Don Neufeld have stated that it cannot.

Think of the obstacles the traditional Adventist must surmount to reach his desired goal of 1844:

  1. He must prove that 2,300 evening and morning sacrifices equal 2,300 full days when there is no evidence from Daniel 8:14 -- or any text of Scripture -- to show it.
  2. He must prove that in prophecy a day equals a year, and that an evening and a morning sacrifice equals one day which he can then turn into one year.
  3. The context implies that the period began when the daily sacrifice was suspended. He must show that it began in 457 BC; a date having nothing to do with the daily sacrifice.
  4. He must prove that the "cleansing of the sanctuary" means cleansing it from the confessed sins of the saints when the context refers to cleansing it from pollution by the enemy of the saints.
  5. He must prove that confessed sins defile the sanctuary; an idea stated nowhere in Scripture.
  6. He must assume the 490 years are cut off from the 2,300 year although nothing is said of this in Daniel 8 or 9.
  7. He must assume that the 2,300 years and the 490 years begin together.
  8. He must maintain that the reconsecration of the sanctuary (Daniel 8:14) and the anointing of the sanctuary (Daniel 9:24) are not the same thing, though they seem to.
  9. He must prove that the "word" (Daniel 9:25) was a kingly decree, and that the king was Artaxerxes.
  10. He must prove that the cleansing of the sanctuary merely "commenced" (when Dan 8:14 says nothing about "commencing") in 1844.
  11. He must show that the Karaite calendar is more reliable than the Rabbinical, and that in 1844 they celebrated the Day of Atonement in October.
  12. He must prove that the "cleansing" of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 is of the kind typified in Leviticus 16.
  13. He must show that the Day of Atonement began in 1844, and he must explain why Christ's *act* of Atonement is separated from the *Day* of Atonement by 18 centuries.
  14. He must then show that there are two apartments in the heavenly sanctuary and that Christ moved from the holy place to the Most Holy place in 1844. He must also show that when the New Testament says Christ entered God's presence (Hebrews 9:12), this means the *first* apartment.
  15. He must then prove that the judgment which began in 1844 was an "investigative judgment" of God's professed people, not a judgment (as the text implies) of the wicked.

Having juggled texts and leapt across gaps he has finally reached his goal. But he might well fear that someone will ask him to support the matter with one clear Bible text.

How can we continue to insist that this elaborate and tortured exercise should be a test of faith? It is one thing to think our interpretation of a passage of Scripture is correct. It is another thing to treat those who doubt our argumentation as apostates. Surely this is rank sectarianism.

It is not difficult to believe an interpretation if you want to believe it. Miller "showed" that many verses would climax in the 1840's. For instance, Miller showed that the seven times of Daniel 4 (2,520 years) would end in 1843. He even showed that the number 666 would end in 1843.

This was the heyday of historicism. The pioneers saw the Bible prophecies were focused not only on the 19th century but on themselves. If the Book of Revelation were a series of predictions on such events as the invasion of the Turks, the French Revolution, the rise of the United States, and "1844," what sense could it have made to Christians of the first century who were commanded to read and understand the book?

[All of the above is taken from Robert Brinsmead's "Judged By the Gospel", 1980]

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