The Problem With Christians Interpreting Daniel 9

Chapter 45


Part 1


There a problem with Christian interpretative credibility.  I am referring to those Christians  ̶ ̶  theologians, laymen, missionaries or would-be missionaries who know what the original language texts actually say but who distort their meaning through deliberate mistranslations and the like because they feel it’s more important that people believe in Jesus as their Messiah and Savior than know that such beliefs are based on falsehoods.  Special note should be taken of those Christian Bible translations that deliberately craft their renderings of important texts to hide the true meaning in order to manipulate Jewish and Gentile readers alike into believing the translator’s preconceived theological beliefs.

As it is, all scriptural reference said to be messianic are interpretations, whether Jewish or Christian.  So why do we say Christian interpretations are dishonest, don’t they have a right to their own opinion?  They have a right to their own opinion, but have no right to manufacture false facts.  Daniel’s Seventy Week’s is among the passages most abused by Christians in their attempt to prove Jesus is the Messiah.  Who says Daniel 9:24-27 is a messianic passage pinpointing the Messiah’s arrival and why do they say it?   For centuries Christians have offered explanations of Daniel 9 based on manipulation of the text through fallacious translations, ignoring what the text actually states, and by providing erroneous computations to arrive at pre-selected years that coincide with the life of Jesus.  When all else fails, they resort to accusing the Jews of altering the Hebrew text.  A charge made all the more despicable by their own alterations of the text in translation.

Many of the most vocal Christian interpreters of the Seventy Weeks passage follow the inaccurate speculative computations of Robert Anderson and/or Harold Hoehner that state that only the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus explicitly gives permission for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem.

Anderson’s attempt to explain the angel’s message is ingenious, but totally incorrect.  His assumptions work out only to the extent that he chose dates that fit in with his notion concerning the number of days involved in a sixty-nine week period.  Moreover, he uses an unnatural unit of time  ̶ ̶  years of 360 days.  This is based on the assumption that there is something called a “prophetic year” and that it contains 360 days.  Despite Anderson’s claims it is not known in what year the crucifixion took place, an essential factor in verifying his assertions.  According to some calculations, the 32 C.E. date for the crucifixion would mean that Jesus’ execution took place on either a Sunday or a Monday.  Additionally, it cannot even be said with any certainty that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before his crucifixion, is what is meant by “until one anointed, a prince.”  Indeed, if his calculations coincide with dates of his own choosing this proves nothing about the actual dates on which the events took place.  Anderson takes subjective assumptions and makes objective conclusions based on them, without any justification for doing so.  His calculations are for naught.  An in-depth study of Daniel 9:24-27 yields information which demolishes Anderson’s claim that Gabriel’s words refer to Jesus.  Based on the evidence:  Anderson’s faulty reasoning in establishing a starting date, his assumption that there is one, not two anointed ones mentioned in this passage and his not realizing there is no zero year between B.C.E and C.E. dates go to show that his calculations are proved incorrect.  Harold Hoehner uses Anderson’s method but not his dates to establish an alternate chronological time frame for Jesus’ alleged fulfillment of Daniel 9.  As a result, he too is incorrect.1

This passage is one of the most contested passages among Christians themselves.  The inter-Christian antagonism goes beyond differences of interpretation and is often accompanied with vitriolic attacks and accusations of heresy.  There are a plethora of Christian interpretations of the Seventy Weeks prophecy that differ fundamentally with each other.  They are all “carefully” crafted to give the desired results sort after.  The often irreconcilable and conflicting interpretations are nothing short of bordering on theological anarchy.  Suffice it to say that the Jewish Scriptures are overwhelmingly supportive of the decree of Cyrus as the edict allowing for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem (see Isaiah 44:28, 45:13; Zechariah 1:16; Ezra 6:14).

In conversation with missionaries and would-be missionaries concerning this passage, Jews do not have to explain or defend Jewish interpretations of the Seventy Weeks.  The whole purpose of the Christian conversation is to show that Jesus is the subject of the passage.  They often appeal to non-literal Jewish renderings that seem to support some Christian contentions, but such translations have no relevance to the discussion.  The Jewish response need not be to show a better translation or interpretation but rather to show why a simple reading of the original Hebrew text indicates that it cannot refer to the Jesus of Christian theology.  In reading the Christian translation of this passage, one must ask, “Are we looking at as literal a rendering as is possible or one dependent on preconceived Christian traditions and views that are not supported by the text?”  And, yes, we desire the same standard from Jewish translations as well!

The plain reading of a scriptural text is always to be sought in order to understand it in its literal sense.  Translation by its very nature often involves interpretation.  Nevertheless, it is no excuse for renderings to deliberately champion preconceived theological doctrines.  It is a matter of one’s self-serving opinion in contrast with the simple facts delineated in the text.  In the Seventy Weeks passage Christian translations read too much christology into the literal text to justify their translation of key words and phrases.  But does that mean the interpretation is wrong?  One should not confuse translation with interpretation.  Take, for instance, the use of the Hebrew word mashiach in verses 25 and 26.  All agree that the word means an anointed one in and by itself, but what does it mean in the context of this passage?  Does it have reference to two separate anointed individuals, to one anointed individual not specifically named in the text, specifically to the Jewish Messiah and by further Christian inference to Jesus?  What can we learn from the literal text itself and what is actually in the realm of interpretation?  Is there justification for reading too much into the text by translating it as “the Messiah” (or “Messiah”) with all its implications (expressed in the use of the definite article and the capitalization) as opposed to the literal “an anointed one” (or even “the anointed one” as in some Jewish renderings)?  Is there justification for mistranslating v’ein lo as “but not for himself,” even for those who, while admitting the phrase means “he shall have nothing,” nevertheless give the mistranslation as a legitimate alternative?  They have no justification because they reluctantly acknowledge the correct meaning while advocating the counterfeit translation in practice.

In spreading the Christian message, they disregard the proper translation, and combine the dishonest renderings of “the Messiah” and “but not for himself” to wrongly show that this passage is a prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s atoning death.  The text implies neither a reference to the Messiah par excellence nor to his undergoing an atoning death.  Christian translators cannot be forgiven for seeking to obscure the text and falsely create the impression that it says that the Messiah is referred to in this passage and that it moreover, declares he will die an atoning death for others.  Some Christians, in defense, say the translators merely sought to bring the true meaning out even more clearly than the original text intended.  Such misrepresentation and defense we call lying for Jesus.  They are true disciples of Paul who declared:  “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

It simply will not do to assume, as some Christians do, that verse 26 speaks of the death of the Messiah, and that Christian Bible translations are fully justified in explaining Daniel 9:24-27 in Messianic terms.  Rendering “anointed” as Messiah in this context and the implications of the word Messiah generally is making an interpretative judgment about the meaning of the text, whether a specific figure is identified as Messiah or not.  To deny the literal text that identifies two different anointed ones living hundreds of years apart and to render the text corruptly by omitting the definite article before “threescore and two weeks” in verse 26 in order to support a theological belief is simply dishonest.  There is no textual reason for capitalizing the initial letter of the word mashiach in translation or pretending there is a definite article before it and then to render it as the Messiah (verse 25); neither is there justification for the deletion of the definite article before the mention of sixty-two weeks (verse 26).  These are beliefs that should be properly confined to footnotes and not to a rendering of a scriptural text that millions rely on as being “the literal word of God” (e.g., the KJV renders mashiach as “anointed” throughout its entire translation except in two places Daniel 9, verses 25 and 26).

Where do these mistranslations lead?

Two words in verse 26:  v’ein lo, are translated dishonestly to encapsulate what Christians consider the supposed central purpose of Jesus’ mission.  The mistranslation is completely transparent to anyone knowing the Hebrew language, of which we presume the translators had knowledge.  There is no other explanation for their rendering then it is disingenuously used to support a belief that Jesus had to die for the sins of mankind.  Some Christians point to this phrase as the clearest support from the Jewish Scriptures for the claim that Jesus died as a sacrifice for others.  The irony of the matter is that Daniel’s text makes no such connection.

Getting past the Christian references to an imaginary “prophetic year” of 360 days and the manipulating of dates and numbers that add up to conflicting and competing calculations developed  in the imagination of Christian apologists let us see what the text actually says.  When approached by Christians with this passage the discerning reader should ask:  Why do Christians put definite articles before “an anointed one” and “a prince” respectively, in verse 25, when none is indicated by the Hebrew text?  Why do Christians ignore the ‘atnach positioned between the “seven weeks” and the “sixty-two weeks,” in verse 25 that significantly divides the two periods and indicates that there are two anointed ones referred to in the verse?  Why do Christians disregard the definite article before the “sixty-two weeks” mentioned in verse 26 that emphasizes the division in the sequence?  Why do Christians ignore that verse 26 speaks of a second “anointed one” coming “after the sixty-two weeks”?  Why do Christians mistranslate v’ein lo, “he shall have nothing” (in reference to the second anointed one’s condition after death) obscuring its implicit denial of any reference to the Jesus of Christian theology?

If Daniel 9 pinpoints the coming of Jesus as the Messiah down to the exact date, then why is there no clear reference to this passage in the New Testament?  There are no calculations in the New Testament that would show Jesus’ contemporaries that the long-awaited Messiah has come.  In particular, there are no calculations in the New Testament to support an alleged connection between the Seventy Weeks and contemporary Christian claims.  Where are the apostles to proclaim:  “Jews of Jerusalem, get out your quill and parchment and do the calculations!

Where in the New Testament is Peter or Paul to cry out that the dates are all there and that it all adds up to Jesus, according to the Scriptures?  The silence is not deafening, it is revealing of the fraudulent Christian misuse of this passage.

The conclusion arrived at by answering these questions honestly is straightforward and to the point:  this passage does not speak of Jesus.  Moreover, it is not a messianic passage and certainly finds no fulfillment in the life and death of Jesus.

© Gerald Sigal


1 For an in depth review of Anderson’s and Hoehner’s chronology errors, see Gerald Sigal, The 70 Weeks of Daniel (9:24-27), Xlibris:  Bloomington, IN., 2013.