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The End of Historicism?

Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 14/2 (Fall 2003): 15–43.
Article copyright © 2003 by Jon Paulien.

The End of Historicism?
Reflections on the Adventist Approach to
Biblical Apocalyptic—Part One
Jon Paulien
Andrews University

The Seventh-day Adventist Church derives its unique witness to Jesus
Christ from a historicist reading of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and
Revelation. Historicism understands these prophecies to portray a relentless
march of God-ordained history leading from the prophet’s time up to a critical
climax at the end of earth’s history.1 The interpretation of biblical apocalyptic
was at the center of Adventist theological development in the formative years of
the Adventist Church and its theology.2
There were many reasons for this emphasis on apocalyptic. 1) Daniel and
Revelation provided much of the content that makes Adventist theology unique

in the Christian world. 2) These apocalyptic books furnished the core of Ad-
ventist identity and mission, leading to the conviction that the Advent movement

was to play a critical role in preparing the world for the soon return of Jesus.
3) The apocalyptic sense that God was in control of history supplied confidence
to go on even when the movement was small and difficulties were large. 4) The
sense of an approaching End fostered by the study of Daniel and Revelation
motivated Adventists to take their message to the world at once. While many
Christians, including some Adventists,3 disagreed with the conclusions that the
Adventist pioneers drew from Daniel and Revelation, few in the early years
The Adventist definition of “historicism” does not bear the usual literary and historical
meaning common in scholarship today, but goes back to a more traditional usage, in relation to the

way biblical prophecy is applied in today’s world. See Reimar Vetne, “A Definition and Short His-
tory of Historicism as a Method for Interpreting Daniel and Revelation,” JATS 14/2 (Fall, 2003),

By “formative years” I mean the mid-1840s through the end of the 19th Century.
These included the “first-day” remnants of the Millerite movement as well as individuals who
separated from the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers over these issues, such as D. M. Canright.



challenged the historicist pre-suppositions4 behind those conclusions, as they
were widely held within Protestant scholarship in North America through at
least the mid-1800s.
In the 20th Century, however, the historicist approach to apocalyptic has
been increasingly marginalized in the scholarly world. A book charting that

marginalization was written as a doctoral dissertation by Kai Arasola, an Ad-
ventist church administrator in Sweden.5 Arasola points out that before the time

of William Miller (1782–1849), the founder of the movement that spawned the

Seventh-day Adventist Church, among others, nearly all Protestant commenta-
tors on apocalyptic utilized the historicist method of interpreting prophecy. In

his book Arasola discusses the excesses of Miller’s historicist hermeneutic that
caused historicism to be generally discredited among scholars. Within a few

years of the Great Disappointment,6 the “centuries-old, well-established histori-
cal method of prophetic exposition lost dominance, and gave way to both dis-
pensationalist futurism and to the more scholarly preterism.”7 Extremely well-
written and carefully nuanced, the book is not a diatribe against historicism, as

some have suggested from its title, but is rather a historical documentation of the
process by which historicism became sidelined within the scholarly debate on

According to Arasola, historicism as an interpretive method became gener-
ally discredited in large part because the followers of Miller shifted, in 1842 and

1843, from a general anticipation of the nearness of the Advent to an attempt to

determine the exact time.8 With the passing of the time set by the “seventh-
month movement” under the leadership of Samuel Snow, the methods of


See Vetne, who offers the following definition of historicism as a method for interpreting bib-
lical apocalyptic: “Historicism reads the literature of biblical apocalyptic as prophecy intended by its

ancient author to reveal information about real, in-history events in the time span between his day
and the eschaton” (7). 5
Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism: Millerite Hermeneutic of Time Prophecies in the Old
Testament, University of Uppsala Faculty of Theology (Sigtuna: Datem, 1990). 6
The “Great Disappointment” is the term given by Adventists to the Millerite experience in the
year 1844. The Millerites came to believe, on the basis of their understanding of Daniel 8 and 9
combined with calculations based on the Karaite Jewish calendar, that the return of Jesus would
occur on October 22, 1844. The failure of this calculation was devastating to the movement. For a
detailed and sympathetic review of Millerite prophetic interpretation, see LeRoy Edwin Froom, The

Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (Wash-
ington: Review and Herald, 1954), 4:429–851. Briefer, more critical reviews can be found in Ste-
phen D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (New York: Oxford UP,

1994), 93–133; and Kenneth G. C. Newport, Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical
Eisegesis (New York: Cambridge UP, 2000), 150–171. 7
Arasola, 1.
Ibid., 14–17.



Millerism and Miller himself became the object of ridicule,9 a ridicule that con-
tinues in some scholarly circles to this day.10

In conclusion, Arasola soberly suggests that Miller’s heritage is two-fold.
“On the one hand, he contributed to the end of a dominant system of exegesis,
on the other he is regarded as a spiritual father by millions of Christians who
have taken some parts of the Millerite exegesis as their raison d’etre.”11 While
historicism has been replaced in the popular consciousness by preterism and
futurism, it is not, in fact, dead. It lives on in a modified and partly renewed
form in the churches that built their faith on Miller’s heritage.
The purpose of this article is to take a candid look at the current scholarly
debate over apocalyptic and its implications for Seventh-day Adventist study of
Daniel and Revelation. The particular focus is the degree to which the historicist

approach is still appropriate to the biblical apocalypses of Daniel and Revela-
tion. I begin with a brief look at how the process Arasola described is beginning

to erode confidence in historicism among the “millions” of Miller’s spiritual
descendants. I will then review the current state of the scholarly debate over
apocalyptic and how that impacts the Seventh-day Adventist (hereafter SDA)
perspective. After suggesting some guidelines for appropriate interpretation of

biblical apocalyptic, I will argue that a historicist approach, in spite of the schol-
arly consensus against it, is in fact the most appropriate approach to certain pas-
sages within biblical apocalyptic.

I. Recent Developments Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church
A. Speculation. Within the last generation, a number of challenges have
damaged the SDA consensus that the historicist understandings of Daniel and
Revelation offer a solid foundation for Adventist faith. One source of damage,
ironically, arises from among those who are most committed to the method. As

various interpretations put forth by the SDA pioneers fail to connect with to-
day’s generation, some supporters of historicism have tried to update the rele-
vance of historical apocalyptic to connect various prophecies with recent history

or even the current world scene.12 An example of the kind of interpretation I
have in mind here is where some SDA evangelists have tried to see the fifth
trumpet of Revelation as a prophecy of the Gulf War, with the locusts of 9:7–10
Ibid., 17–19; 147–168. While most Adventists today still appreciate Miller and Snow’s outline
of the 2300 days leading to 1844, most are not aware that Miller had fifteen different methods for
arriving at the date of 1843–1844, most of which no SDA would find credible today. See ibid.,
90–146. 10I recall a scholarly panel discussion around 1990 in which all popular attempts at interpreting
prophecy were ridiculed as “Millerism.” I doubt the leaders of the session were aware how many
theological descendants of Miller were in the audience on that occasion! 11Arasola, 171–172.
12SDAs are not alone in this tendency, as Paul Boyer points out at length in When Time Shall
Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Studies in Cultural History (Cambridge:
Belknap, 1992).



corresponding to the Marine helicopters with their gold-tinted windshields! Oth-
ers, usually on the fringes of the SDA Church, have sought to use apocalyptic as

a basis for determining the date of Jesus’ Coming or of other end time events,
mistakenly focusing on dates such as 1964, 1987, 1994, and the year 2000.13
Even the SDA pioneers were not always attentive to the biblical text in making
applications to history.14 Awareness of these speculative tendencies has caused
many thoughtful SDAs to question the entire validity of historicist interpretation

of apocalyptic. Such SDAs have found two other interpretive options increas-
ingly attractive.15

B. Alternative Approaches. 1. Preterism. A number of SDA thinkers, par-
ticularly those educated in religion and history, have seen increasing light in the

preterist approach to biblical apocalyptic. This approach, the primary one among

professional biblical scholars, treats books like Daniel and Revelation as mes-
sages to their original time and place, not as divinely-ordained chains of future

historical events. According to this approach, believers benefit from these books
not by seeing where they stand in the course of history, but by applying spiritual
principles drawn from the text to later situations.
This approach should not be automatically treated as an abandonment of
faith. It is, in fact, the approach that believing Jews and Christians (including

Adventists) take to the bulk of the biblical materials. The letters of Paul, for ex-
ample, must be understood as the products of a human writer’s intention re-
flecting a specific purpose and aimed at a particular audience. To read such let-
ters as if they were philosophical treatises with a universal purpose is clearly

inappropriate.16 Nevertheless, in recognizing God’s purpose in including these
letters in the Bible, believers feel free to draw principles from Paul’s letters and
apply them to their own time and place as the Word of God. When done with
sensitivity to the original context, this is entirely appropriate for Paul’s letters
and also for parts of Daniel and Revelation.17
13I have described some of these date-setting speculations in What the Bible Says About the
End-Time (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1994), 19–24, and The Millennium Bug (Boise: Pacific
Press, 1999), 39–40. 14For an easily verifiable example, see the work of Uriah Smith on the seven trumpets of
Revelation (Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Daniel and the Revelation: [Battle
Creek: Review and Herald, 1883], 596–636). In the course of forty pages of interpretation there is
but one exegetical statement. Verses are printed according to the King James Version followed by
pages of historical detail without a single reference back to the text or its background in the Old
Testament. 15See the helpful discussion in Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on
the Book of Revelation (Berrien Springs: Andrews UP, 2002), 9–12. 16I am aware of no evidence that Paul ever thought he was writing Scripture when he caused
these letters to be written. His purpose was very much concerned with the time and place of writing. 17I think here of the many preterist/idealist uses of the seven letters of Revelation and of the
narratives of Daniel 2–6 in Adventist preaching and writing. For example, Mervyn Maxwell sees
value in a preterist/idealist approach to the seven letters of Rev 2–3 in God Cares: The Message of
Revelation for You and Your Family (Boise: Pacific Press, 1985), 2:90–91. The very title of Max-



What preterism as an approach to apocalyptic does is treat all of Daniel and
Revelation as if these books were little different than Matthew or Romans.
While such an approach is certainly appropriate to the narratives of Daniel and
the seven letters of Revelation 2 and 3 (Rev 1:11; 2:1, 7, 8, 11, etc.), I will argue
below that preterism alone is not an adequate approach to the symbolic visions
of Daniel and Revelation. I will offer evidence in a future article that certain
texts in Daniel and Revelation belong to the genre of historical apocalyptic and
should, therefore, be interpreted in terms of historical sequence. I believe that to
ignore this evidence on philosophical or other grounds is to impose an external
system on the exegesis of the text.
2. Futurism. A very different alternative to historicism sees apocalyptic as
concerned primarily with a short period of time still future from our own day. In
my experience this alternative has attracted a larger number of SDAs than the

preterist one, particularly those educated in law and various branches of medi-
cine, or those who have not had the opportunity of higher education. While re-
jecting the dispensational form of futurism popularized by the Left Behind se-
ries, such SDA Bible students are seeking end-time understandings in every

corner of Daniel and Revelation.
A major motivation toward a futurist approach is “relevance.” Many SDAs
feel that both the preterist and historicist approaches confine interpretation to the
dusty past. They are seeking cues in the text that would enable them to speak
more directly to current issues in the world than traditional SDA applications or
scholarly exegesis appear to do. And it seems clear that many aspects of Daniel

and Revelation were intended to portray events that the biblical authors per-
ceived as distant from their time (Dan 8:26; 12:13) or directly concerned with

the final events of earth’s history and beyond. (Dan 2:44–45; 7:26–27; 11:40;

12:4; Rev 6:15–17; 7:15–17; 19:11–21; 21:1–22:5). So an examination of Dan-
iel and Revelation without an openness to a future understanding would be an

inappropriate limitation of the divine supervision of these books.
Approaches to Daniel and Revelation that limit the meaning of most of the
text to end-time events, however, have consistently proven to claim more than
they can deliver. In my experience Adventist forms of futurism tend toward an
allegorism of dual or multiple applications that loses touch with the original
meaning and context of these apocalyptic works. The futurist applications are of
such a nature that they tend to be convincing only to a limited number who share
the same presuppositions as the interpreter.
C. Post-Modernism. One challenge to historicist understandings of Daniel
and Revelation arises from a major philosophical shift in Western experience,
well’s commentaries shows his desire to draw timeless applications from all the passages in Daniel
and Revelation. His father, “Uncle Arthur,” had already pursued this approach years before with
regard to the narratives of Daniel in his books for children.



sometimes called post-modernism.18 Beginning with “Generation X,” younger
people have tended to reject sweeping solutions to the world’s problems. They

question both the religious certainties and the scientific confidence of their eld-
ers. The apocalyptic idea that there could be a detailed and orderly sweep to

history seems hard to grasp and even more difficult to believe. While post-
modernists are more likely to believe in God than their baby boomer elders, they

have a hard time imagining that anyone has a detailed hold on what God is actu-
ally like. While everyone, to them, has some handle on “truth,” no one has a full

grasp of the big picture. The confidence Adventist pioneers had about their place
in history seems, therefore, out of step with the times.

Post-modernism raises some valid concerns about the “modernistic” confi-
dence with which SDA evangelists and teachers have trumpeted questionable

interpretations of prophecy in the past. Many have been all too quick to promote
personal viewpoints as absolute truth. But while it is healthy to acknowledge
that everyone, including SDAs, is ignorant about aspects of the “big picture,”
there is no reason to deny that a big picture exists. While we may never grasp
truth in the absolute sense, the Bible teaches that absolute truth was embodied in

Jesus Christ and revealed sufficiently in His Word that we can have a meaning-
ful relationship with Him. I will argue below that one aspect of that revelation is

apocalyptic of a historical variety.
D. Conclusion. As a result of these and other challenges, SDAs today are
paying less and less attention to the historic Adventist approach to apocalyptic.
Liberal, conservative, old, and young alike are experimenting with alternative
approaches and questioning traditional ones. But this lack of attention is not a
neutral matter. It is creating a radical, if unintentional, shift in the core message
of the Adventist Church. Prophetic preaching and interpretation is increasingly
left to the evangelists, while weekly sermons focus more on social scientific
insights and story telling. The result is, in my opinion, a crisis in Adventist
Biblical interpretation is often subject to pendulum swings. The excesses or
mistakes of those who follow one approach may cause the next generation of

interpreters to swing to the opposite extreme, albeit for good reason. But bal-
anced biblical interpretation draws its impetus from the biblical text rather than

fashion or external assumptions. Historicism has been prone to excesses. It has
been applied to texts where it probably doesn’t belong (like the seven churches
of Revelation). But I will nevertheless argue that it offers the best way to read
many texts in Daniel and Revelation, texts supportive of the historic Adventist
18Some outstanding analyses of post-modernism from a Christian perspective include Brian D.
McLaren, The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2000); idem, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey
(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001); and J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth Is Stranger
Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995).



identity. Totally abandoning the method would cause us to misinterpret these
portions of the biblical message.
In the next section of this article I will examine some recent trends in

apocalyptic scholarship, in general first, and then with particular focus on Ad-
ventist concerns and issues. I conclude the section with a proposal for re-
invigorating Adventist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation.

II. Recent Developments in Apocalyptic Scholarship
A. The Definition and Genre of Apocalyptic. Over the last three decades

apocalyptic scholarship has focused intently on issues of genre and on the defi-
nitions of terms like apocalypse and apocalyptic.19 The leading figures during

this period of study have been John J. Collins and his mentor Paul Hanson.20
Working with a team of specialists under the auspices of the Society of Biblical

Literature, Collins has helped shape the definitions that are in working use to-

19While the last thirty years have been formative for the current discussion, apocalyptic study

prior to 1970 is helpfully reviewed in Paul D. Hanson, “Prolegomena to the Study of Jewish Apoca-
lyptic,” in Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Memory

of G. Ernest Wright, ed. Frank Moore Cross, Werner E. Lemke, and Patrick D. Miller, Jr. (Garden
City: Doubleday, 1976), 389–413. 20Interest in the topic was awakened by Klaus Koch, who wrote Ratlos vor der Apokalyptik
(Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1970), trans. Margaret Kohl as The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic [Naperville:
Allenson, n.d., but probably 1972]) in 1970. The significance of the work of Collins and Hanson for

evangelical scholars is recognized by the choice of Collins to write the article “Apocalyptic Litera-
ture” in the Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter

(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 40–45. While Collins has had the most prominent role in the

scholarly discussion over the last thirty years, he affirmed his debt to Hanson in a personal conver-
sation on November 19, 2000, in Nashville, Tennessee.

The book that more than any other launched the current debate was Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn

of Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975). See also Hanson’s Old Testament Apocalyptic (Phila-
delphia: Fortress, 1987). The contributions of John J. Collins are too numerous to list here. Some of

the most significant works are: (as editor) Semeia 14 (Missoula: Scholars, 1979), entire issue; (along
with Bernard McGinn and Stephen J. Stein) The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, 3 volumes (New
York: Continuum, 1998); (as author) Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Routledge,
1997); and The Apocalyptic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). 21Other works of importance over the last half century on the subject of apocalyptic include

Adela Yarbro Collins, Cosmology and Eschatology in Jewish and Christian Apocalypticism, Sup-
plements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, vol. 50 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996); idem, “The

Early Christian Apocalypses,” Semeia 14 (1979): 61–121; and the following: David Aune, “The
Apocalypse of John and the Problem of Genre,” Semeia 36 (1986): 65–96; Johann Christian Beker,
Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel: The Coming Triumph of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982); David
Hellholm, ed., Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (Tübingen: J. C. B.
Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1983); Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in
Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1982).



The term “apocalypse” is drawn from the introductory phrase of the Book
of Revelation (Rev 1:1) and means “revelation” or “disclosure.”22 From the 2nd

Christian Century onward it became increasingly used as a title or “genre la-
bel”23 for extra-biblical works of a character similar to Daniel and Revelation in

the Bible. As modern scholars took note that a whole collection of similar works
existed in ancient Judaism, they applied this later label also to books like Daniel,

Ethiopic Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and other works produced before and con-
temporary with Revelation.24

Paul Hanson was among the first to distinguish between the terms apoca-
lypse, apocalyptic eschatology, and apocalypticism.25 For him as for most oth-
ers, “apocalypse” designates a literary genre, which has since been given a

scholarly definition (see below).26 Hanson defines apocalyptic eschatology, on
the other hand, as the worldview or conceptual framework out of which the

apocalyptic writings emerged.27 Apocalyptic eschatology was probably an out-
growth of prophetic eschatology.28 “Apocalypticism” occurs when a group of

people adopt the worldview of apocalyptic eschatology, using it to inform their
interpretation of Scripture, to govern their lives, and to develop a sense of their
place in history.29

There is a general consensus among the specialists that the genre of apoca-
lypse should be defined as follows:30

22Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Lit-
erature, 2nd ed., trans., rev. and adap. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Bauer’s

5th German ed. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979), 92. 23Michael Smith, “On the History of Apokalypto and Apokalypsis,” in Apocalypticism in the
Mediterranean World and the Near East, 9–20. 24John J. Collins, in Dictionary of New Testament Background, 41. 25John J. Collins, on the other hand (“Early Jewish Apocalypticism,” Anchor Bible Dictionary,

ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. [Garden City: Doubleday, 1992], 1:283), does not seem to distin-
guish between apocalyptic eschatology and apocalypticism, using the later term in the same way

Hanson uses the former, as an expression of worldview or, to use Collins’ terms, a “symbolic uni-
verse.”26Paul D. Hanson, “Apocalypses and Apocalypticism,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1: 279. 27Hanson, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:280. 28In another place I have outlined this development briefly (What the Bible Says About the

End-Time, 55–71). There I point out that the prophetic view of the end involved an inbreaking of

God into the present system of history without overturning it. The apocalyptic view of the end con-
tains a more radical break between the present age and the age to come, usually including the de-
struction of the old order before the creation of the new. 29Cf. Hanson, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:281; John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination,

2–14.30According to Hanson (ibid., 1:279), Collins’ team of scholars analyzed all the texts classifi-
able as apocalypses from 250 BC to 250 AD and based the definition on the common characteristics.

There are occasional voices of protest, however. J. Ramsey Michaels, for example, writes that
“Definitions of this kind are almost inevitably circular. Scholars assemble a group of documents

suspected of belonging to a genre called apocalypse and list the common features of these docu-
ments to define the genre. For example, the definition quoted above appears to be tailored to fit the



An apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative

framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly be-
ing to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is

both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and
spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.31

As I understand this definition, an apocalyptic work like Daniel or Revela-
tion is revelatory literature, which means it claims to directly communicate in-
formation from God to humanity. This is accomplished in the form of a story, a

“narrative framework,” rather than poetry or some other form. The revelation is
communicated to a human being by “otherworldly beings” such as angels or the

twenty-four elders of Revelation. The revelation discloses “transcendent real-
ity,” that which is beyond the ability of the five senses to apprehend, about the

course of history leading up the God’s salvation at the End and about the heav-
enly, “supernatural” world.32

While this definition is general enough to seem a fair description of books
like Daniel and Revelation, I find what it does not say extremely interesting. For
one thing, it does not insist that pseudonymity is a necessary component of
apocalyptic literature.33 This is very significant for Adventists, whose view of
Book of Revelation, or at least to make sure of its inclusion” (J. Ramsey Michaels, Interpreting the
Book of Revelation, Guides to New Testament Exegesis, Scot McKnight, gen. ed. [Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1992], 26). Below I note a number of ways in which Revelation does not quite fit the genre of
apocalypse as defined above. 31John J. Collins, “Introduction: The Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 (1979): 14. While
this definition is widely disseminated to this day, an expansion of the definition was suggested a few
years later: “. . . intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world
and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means
of divine authority.” Cf. Adela Yarbro Collins, “Introduction: Early Christian Apocalypticism,”
Semeia 36 (1986): 7. Interestingly, John J. Collins, Yarbro Collins’ husband, ignores her suggested
addition in his summary article in Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, 41, published in 2000,
and in the second edition of his The Apocalyptic Imagination, 5, published in 1998. 32According to Angel Manuel Rodriguez (Future Glory: The 8 Greatest End-time Prophecies
in the Bible [Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2002], 9–14), further distinguishing characteristics of

apocalyptic include the use of visions and dreams, the abundant use of symbolic language and im-
ages, and a focus on the centrality of the cosmic conflict. 33If one does not believe in the possibility of predictive prophecy, Daniel’s startlingly accurate

depiction of the Persian and Greek periods in Dan 11 suggests that the book was written after the

events prophesied, around 165 BC. The implied author of the book, “Daniel,” would then be a pseu-
donym (false name) for the real writer, who lived not at the time of Nebuchadnezzar but at the time

of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
Pseudonymity does not necessarily imply a conscious or even unconscious deception. A later
uninspired writer believes that he or she has genuinely understood and expressed what the earlier
inspired writer would have said to the later writer’s situation. An analogy within Adventist thought
today is the genre of selections compiled from Ellen White’s writings with the intent of expressing
what she would have said to today’s situation. Compilers are often unconscious of the degree to
which their selection and placement of her statements reflect their own theological opinions. There is
no intent to deceive, but rather to put together what Ellen White might have said in response to the



God-ordained prophetic history is dependent on the possibility of predictive
While not present in the above definition of “apocalypse,” scholars also
distinguish between two types of apocalyptic literature, the historical and the
mystical.35 The historical type, characteristic of Daniel, gives an overview of a

large sweep of history, often divided into periods,36 and climaxing with a pre-
diction about the end of history and the final judgment.37 Historical apocalyptic

visions tend to be highly symbolic; the images themselves are not intended to be
literally true, but they refer to heavenly and earthly beings and events.38 While

the prophetic visionary views this symbolic sweep of history, he does not usu-
ally play a role in the visionary narrative itself.39

later situation. I suspect that ancient apocalyptic writers who used pseudonyms were operating with
similar motivations. 34More on this later. A vigorous expression of this view can be found in Gerhard F. Hasel,
“Fulfillments of Prophecy,” in 70 Weeks, Leviticus, Nature of Prophecy, ed. Frank B. Holbrook,

Daniel and Revelation Committee Series [hereafter DARCOM], vol. 3 (Washington: Biblical Re-
search Institute, 1986), 291–316. 35John J. Collins, Dictionary of New Testament Background, 41. As examples of historical

apocalyptic Collins lists Daniel 7–12, the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 83–90), the Apocalypse of
Weeks (1 Enoch 93 and 91), Jubilees 23, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch (cf. “Introduction,” Semeia 14
[1979]: 14). As examples of mystical apocalyptic he lists 1 Enoch 1–36, the Similitudes of Enoch (1
Enoch 37–71), the Apocalypse of Esdras, the Ascension of Isaiah 6–11, 3 Baruch, the Testament of

Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah (ibid., 15). In what may be a slip-up, Collins later in-
cludes Revelation along with Daniel in the category “historical apocalypse.” John J. Collins, “Genre,

Ideology and Social Movements in Jewish Apocalypticism,” in Mysteries and Revelations: Apoca-
lyptic Studies since the Uppsala Colloquium, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, Supple-
ment Series 9, ed. John J. Collins and James H. Charlesworth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991),

Martha Himmelfarb has argued unsuccessfully that the two types reflect distinct genres. See
Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature (Philadelphia, 1983) 61. The
original distinction of each into three sub-types (in Semeia 14) has not proven as useful. See John J.
Collins, idem, 14. 36Hence the scholarly term for this has become “periodization of history.”
37Ibid. This kind of apocalypticism is often called millenarianism, from the expectation of a
thousand-year reign of God at the end of time. For John J. Collins, the book of Daniel is a review of
the history of the Persian and Greek periods after the fact, with the (failed) prediction of the last
events being the only genuine part of that prophecy.
Within the Adventist context, the historical type of apocalyptic is addressed by Kenneth Strand
in terms of “horizontal continuity.” He states that “Apocalyptic prophecy projects into the future a
continuation of the Bible’s historical record. . . . apocalyptic prophecy’s horizontal continuity [my
emphasis] is a characteristic that stands in sharp contrast to the approach to history given in classical
prophecy.” See Kenneth A. Strand, “Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” in Symposium on
Revelation—Book I, ed. Frank B. Holbrook, DARCOM, vol. 3 (Washington: Biblical Research
Institute, 1992), 19. 38Adela Yarbro Collins, Cosmology and Eschatology, 11. Collins notes the visions of Daniel 2

and 7 as examples. 39In passages like Daniel 2, of course, the visionary is part of the narrative that includes a de-
scription of the vision.



The mystical type of apocalypse, on the other hand, describes the ascent of
the visionary through the heavens, which are often numbered.40 This journey

through the heavens is usually a sustained and straightforward narrative involv-
ing the author or the implied author of the apocalypse.41 While symbolism may

be used in mystical apocalyptic, there is more of a sense of reality in the de-
scription, the visionary ascends into a real place where actions take place that

affect the readers’ lives on earth.42

There is some debate among scholars whether these two types of apoca-
lypse should be viewed as distinct genres. Both types, however, can clearly oc-
cur in a single literary work.43 Both types, the historical and the mystical, con-
vey a revealed interpretation of history, whether that history is past, present

(heavenly journey), or future.44 For SDAs, as we have seen, the historical type
of apocalypse has traditionally been of primary interest.
Some scholars believe that the historical type of apocalyptic thinking began
with Zoroaster, a pagan priest of Persia, but the relevant Persian documents are
quite late and may be dependant on Jewish works rather then the other way
around.45 It is more likely that the “dawn of apocalyptic” can be traced back to
the prophetic works of the Old Testament, like Isaiah 24–27, 65–66, Daniel,
Joel, and Zechariah.46 When the prophetic spirit ceased among Jews during the
40For a significant overview of this type of apocalypse, see Martha Himmelfarb, Ascent to
Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (New York: Oxford UP, 1993). A more recent example
of this type of apocalypse can be found in the work of Dante. 41Ibid., 104.
42Adela Yarbro Collins, Cosmology and Eschatology, 12. 43John J. Collins, Dictionary of New Testament Background, 41. An example Collins mentions
is the Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham (cf. “Introduction,” Semeia [1979]: 14). While Collins seems
to disagree, I think Revelation is another example, as I will attempt to demonstrate in a future article. 44Adela Yarbro Collins, Cosmology and Eschatology, 15. 45Hanson, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:281; John J. Collins, Dictionary of New Testament
Background, 41–42; idem, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 29–33; David E. Aune, “Apocalypticism,”
in Dictionary of New Testament Background, 46. The evidence for a Persian origin of apocalyptic is

presented in Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apoca-
lyptic Faith (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993). 46Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic; see also Aune, Dictionary of New Testament

Background, 47. Hanson, of course, would not include Daniel in this list, but is responsible for con-
vincing Collins and others that the prophetic background to Jewish apocalyptic is primary.

Although Hanson’s view (originally stated by Luecke, according to Aune, 46) that apocalyptic
is a natural outgrowth of OT prophecy seems to be a general consensus among scholars today, other
views of the origin of apocalyptic are worthy of mention here. Gerhard von Rad sees the “clear-cut
dualism, radical transcendence, esotericism, and gnosticism” of apocalyptic mirrored in the wisdom
literature of the OT (Aune, 47; cf. Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, [New York: Harper
and Row, 1962–1965], 2:301–308). While these links are considered undeniable, von Rad’s proposal
has garnered little support among scholars (Aune, 47–48).
Kenneth Strand has made the intriguing proposal that the origin of apocalyptic should instead
be traced to the historical narratives of the OT; Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (Kenneth A. Strand,
“Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” 18). As mentioned earlier, he argues that apocalyptic
prophecy projects into the future a continuation of the Bible’s historical record. “God’s sovereignty



Persian period (6th to 4th centuries BC),47 pseudonymity became a way that
uninspired writers sought to recapture the spirit of the ancient prophets and write
out what those ancient prophets might have written had they been alive to see
the apocalyptist’s day.48 How the book of Daniel fits into this larger historical
picture will be taken up below.

B. The Apocalyptic Worldview. The term “apocalypticism,” as noted ear-
lier,49 designates the worldview that is characteristic of early Jewish and Chris-
tian apocalypses, such as Daniel and Revelation.50 The worldview of apocalyp-
ticism centered on the belief that the present world order is evil and oppressive

and under the control of Satan and his human accomplices. The present world
order would shortly be destroyed by God and replaced with a new and perfect
order corresponding to Eden. The final events of the old order involve severe
conflict between the old order and the people of God, but the final outcome is
never in question. Through a mighty act of judgment God condemns the wicked,
rewards the righteous, and re-creates the universe.51
The apocalyptic worldview, therefore, sees reality from the perspective of
God’s overarching control of history, which is divided into a series of segments
or eras. It expresses these beliefs in terms of the themes and images of ancient
apocalyptic literature.52 Although this worldview can be expressed through other

genres of literature,53 its fundamental shape is most clearly discerned in apoca-

While many consider the apocalyptic worldview inappropriate for a post-
scientific world, many fundamental SDA beliefs are grounded in biblical

apocalyptic. In other words, for Adventists the books of Daniel and Revelation
and constant care for His people are always in the forefront of the Bible’s portrayal of the historical
continuum, whether it is depicted in past events (historical books) or in events to come (apocalyptic

prophecy). Both Daniel and Revelation reveal a divine overlordship and mastery regarding the on-
ward movement of history beyond the prophet’s own time—a future history that will culminate

when the God of heaven establishes His own eternal kingdom that will fill the whole earth and stand

forever (Dan 3:25, 44–45; Rev 21–22)” (ibid.). Since Strand never went beyond this brief sugges-
tion, and since this view of origin does not cover all forms of apocalyptic (such as the mystical), the

view has not attracted much scholarly attention. 47See D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1964), 73–82, for a review of the ancient evidence regarding the decline of prophecy in the Persian
and Greek periods (539 to 63 BC in Palestine). 48Ibid., 178–202.
49See pages 13–14.
50David E. Aune, Dictionary of New Testament Background, 46. 51Ibid., 48–49.
52Ibid., 46. See also the elaborated listing on page 48.
53John J. Collins, Dictionary of New Testament Background, 43. Collins notes the apocalyptic
worldview in such non-apocalypses as the Community Rule found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at
Qumran. Collins goes on to note that the apocalyptic worldview is widespread throughout the New
Testament and can be clearly seen in such non-apocalypses as Matthew (chapter 24 and parallels in
Mark and Luke), 1 Corinthians (chapter 15), the Thessalonian letters (1 Thess 4 and 5, 2 Thess 1 and
2), and Jude.



are not marginal works; they are foundational to the Adventist worldview and its

concept of God. Rejecting the apocalyptic worldview would inaugurate a fun-
damental shift in Adventist thinking. The purpose of this article is not to settle

whether such a shift would be a good thing, but to examine whether careful bib-
lical scholarship is capable of sustaining the biblical basis for the Adventist

C. Recent SDA Scholarship on Apocalyptic. In reaction to the work of
Desmond Ford,54 an earlier generation of Seventh-day Adventist scholars sought
to distinguish the genres of prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology.55 “Prophetic”
literature was divided into two major types; 1) general prophecy, represented by
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and others, and 2) apocalyptic prophecy, represented by

Daniel and Revelation.56 General prophecy, sometimes called “classical proph-
ecy,” was seen to focus primarily on the prophet’s own time and place, but with

glimpses forward to a cosmic “Day of the Lord” culminating in a new heaven
and a new earth. Apocalyptic prophecy, on the other hand, was seen to focus on
history as a divinely guided continuum leading up to and including the final
events of earth’s history.57 William Shea, for example, felt that general prophecy

focuses on the short-range view, while apocalyptic prophecy includes the long-
range view.58

It was argued that general prophecy, because of its dual dimensions, may at
times be susceptible to dual fulfillments or foci where local and contemporary
perspectives are mixed with a universal, future perspective.59 Apocalyptic
prophecy, on the other hand, does not deal so much with the local, contemporary
situation as it does with the universal scope of the whole span of human history,
including the major saving acts of God within that history. The greater focus of

54Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment (Cassel-
berry: Euangelion, 1980). 55The anonymous document “The Nature of Prophecy” in Ministry (October, 1980): 28–33,

seems to be a summary of discussions on the topic at the Glacier View Conference in August of
1980, where the views of Desmond Ford where examined by a large committee of church leaders,
pastors, and scholars. The Daniel and Revelation Committee subsequently (1982–1985) took up the
issue and dealt with it at greater length in the third volume of the Daniel and Revelation Committee
Series. See particularly William G. Johnsson, “Conditionality in Biblical Prophecy with Particular
Reference to Apocalyptic,” in 70 Weeks, Leviticus, Nature of Prophecy, 259–287 and Strand,
“Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” 16–19. 56Ministry (1980): 28. While not utilizing this exact terminology, Gerhard Hasel seems to have
been working with a similar distinction in mind in his DARCOM article, “Fulfillments of Prophecy,”
291–322. 57Johnsson, 269; Strand, “Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” 16. SDA scholarship has
not until now dealt with the distinction between historical and mystical apocalypses addressed

above.58William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, DARCOM, vol. 1 (Wash-
ington: Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1982), 59. 59Hasel, “Fulfillments of Prophecy,” 306–307; Strand, “Foundational Principles of Interpreta-
tion,” 16.



general prophecy is on contemporary events; the greater focus of apocalyptic
prophecy is on end-time events.60 While general prophecy describes the future
in the context of the prophet’s local situation, apocalyptic prophecy portrays a
comprehensive historical continuum that is under God’s control and leads in
sequence from the prophet’s time to the End.
General prophecies, which are written to affect human response, tend to be
conditional upon the reactions of peoples and nations.61 On the other hand,
apocalyptic prophecies, particularly those of Daniel and Revelation, tend to be
unconditional, reflecting God’s foreknowledge of His ultimate victory and the

establishment of His eternal kingdom.62 Apocalyptic prophecy portrays the in-
evitability of God’s sovereign purpose. No matter what the evil powers do, God

will accomplish His purpose in history.63 These distinctions are summarized in
the box below:

Characteristics of General and Apocalyptic Prophecy
General Prophecy Apocalyptic Prophecy
Present and End-Time Events Mixed
Short-range View
Dual Fulfillment
Immediate Focus
Local Situation in View

Series of Historical Events
Long-range View
Single Fulfillment
End-Time Focus
Whole Span of History

I believe that insights from both general and SDA scholarship can be com-
bined in a useful way. When dealing with Daniel and Revelation, therefore, it is

vital to determine the genre of a given passage before deciding how that passage
should be interpreted. SDAs have tended to see historical sequences in nearly
every part of Daniel and Revelation, even in the epistolary64 and narrative65
60Ministry (1980): 28–29. 61Hasel, “Fulfillments of Prophecy,” 297.
62Johnsson surveys the field on pages 278–282 of his DARCOM article on the subject. After
considerable attention to the evidence of Daniel he concludes, “We search in vain for the element of

conditionality” (278–279). Daniel is thoroughly apocalyptic and thoroughly unconditional. Zecha-
riah, on the other hand, is apocalyptic in form but covenantal in approach. Its prophecies are, there-
fore, conditional on human response (280–281). Interestingly, while Matt 24 and its parallels are

more general than apocalyptic in form, Johnsson argues (his brief comments of eight lines are more
of an assertion) that they are thoroughly unconditional (282). The same is said for Revelation (282).
Johnsson concludes that, “Except in those passages where the covenant with Israel is the leading

concern, apocalyptic predictions, whether OT or NT, do not hinge on conditionality” (282). Condi-
tional prophecies highlight the concept of human freedom. Unconditional prophecies emphasize

divine sovereignty and foreknowledge (282–285). 63Ministry (1980), 31. 64SDAs commonly interpret the seven letters of Revelation 2–3 as a prophecy of seven eras of

church history, an approach one would not naturally take to the letters of Paul, for example. In dis-
cussions regarding the letters to the churches, the Daniel and Revelation Committee failed to find

convincing evidence for a historicist reading of the seven letters, but its work was closed before
work on that topic could be published.



portions at times. I believe that Adventist interpreters need to pay much closer
attention to the genre of a given text before making judgments regarding how to
interpret the passage. A historicist approach is appropriate wherever the genre of

a passage is clearly historical apocalyptic. Other genres call for other ap-
proaches. When the genre has been determined, the appropriate approach can be

While the distinction between general prophecy and apocalyptic is helpful,
apocalyptic as a genre is not limited to the historical variety, as the Adventist
discussion seems to assume.66 It may be more helpful to think of a prophetic
continuum67 with general prophecy and historical apocalyptic at the two ends

(characterized in the above box) and a variety of apocalyptic expressions in be-
tween, including mystical apocalyptic and types that focus on personal eschatol-
ogy or include elements of both historical and mystical apocalyptic.68

D. The Distinctiveness of Biblical Apocalyptic. While there is much
common ground in the above developments, Adventists tend to differ from most
scholarship on apocalyptic on account of their view of predictive prophecy.

Biblical scholarship today generally approaches the books of Daniel and Reve-
lation with the assumption that they are similar in character to the non-biblical

apocalypses.69 Adventists, on the other hand, see a distinction between canonical
and non-canonical apocalyptic. For them, canonical apocalyptic (mainly Daniel
and Revelation) is inspired; non-canonical apocalyptic is not. For Adventists,
Daniel and Revelation offer windows into the mind of God and His ability to
“know the end from the beginning” and announce ahead of time “what is yet to
come” (Isa 46:10; John 16:13). While Adventists acknowledge the existence of
65The Millerites saw the “seven times” of Daniel 4 as a year-for-day prophecy running from
677 BC to 1843 AD. 66Collins actually identifies six different subcategories of apocalyptic, three of which are found

in early Jewish apocalyptic. John J. Collins, “The Jewish Apocalypses,” Semeia 14 (1979): 21–59. 67Collins notes that a sharp distinction between apocalypses of the historical and mystical va-
rieties is hard to maintain, particularly from the 1st Century AD on. Collins, “Morphology,” Semeia

14 (1979), 16. 68Rather than historical reviews, some apocalypses “envisage cosmic and/or political eschatol-
ogy,” which I find much like what Adventists have called “general prophecy” (cf. ibid., 13). 69John J. Collins, Daniel with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, The Forms of Old

Testament Literature, vol. 20, edited by Rolf Knierim and Gene M. Tucker (Grand Rapids: Eerd-
mans, 1984), 34. In his Hermeneia commentary on Daniel (Daniel [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993],

25–26), Collins rejects the conservative notion that positions like his rest on a “dogmatic, rationalis-
tic denial of the possibility of predictive prophecy” (26). He goes on, “For the critical scholar, how-
ever, the issue is one of probability.” Collins argues that since the prophecies of Daniel 11, in par-
ticular, were early recognized (by Josephus and Jerome, as well as Porphyry, to apply to Antiochus

Epiphanes, the issue becomes: Why would a prophet of the 6th Century focus minute attention on
the events of the 2nd Century? And why would the Hellenistic period be prophesied in greater detail
than the Persian or Babylonian period? In his opinion, the burden of proof must fall on those who
wish to argue that Daniel is different in character from other examples of the genre.



pseudo-authorship and ex eventu prophecy in non-biblical apocalyptic,70 Ad-
ventists have understood the inspired apocalyptic of the Bible to be substan-
tively different.

In light of this, the date of Daniel becomes a crucial issue of interpretation
for Adventists. The book of Daniel’s stated setting is in the courts of Babylon
and Persia in the 6th Century BC. During that period of history the gift of
prophecy was exhibited in the work of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and perhaps others.
Thus, Daniel would be counted among the inspired works of Scripture written
around that time. On the other hand, few scholars of Daniel would question that
chapter 11 includes a remarkably accurate portrayal of certain events in the
fourth, third, and second centuries before Christ.71 Most scholars would argue
that a 2nd Century BC date makes the most sense of that reality.
If one places Daniel in the 2nd Century BC, it would clearly speak to a time
when people believed that the prophetic spirit had been silenced (Ps 74:9;
70History is divided into twelve periods, for example, in 4 Ezra 14:11–12; 2 Apoc Bar 53–76;
and the Apocalypse of Abraham 29. There is a ten-fold division of history in 1 Enoch 93:1–10 and
91:12–17, Sib Or 1:7–323, and Sib Or 4:47–192. History is divided into seven periods in 2 Enoch
33:1–2 and bSanhedrin 97. I know of no one who argues that any of these books were written by the
original Enoch, Abraham, Ezra, or Baruch. 71According to John J. Collins (Daniel with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, 34), any
discussion of apocalyptic must distinguish between the ostensible setting given in the text and the
actual settings in which it was composed and used. The ostensible setting of Daniel is clearly the
courts of Babylon and Persia in the 6th Century BC. Already in ancient times, however, Porphyry
pointed out that the predictions in Daniel 11 are correct down to (but not including) the death of
Antiochus Epiphanes (mid-second-century BC), but are thereafter incorrect or unfulfilled (ibid., 36).
This phenomenon of partial accuracy is common in all non-biblical apocalypses. So scholars like
Collins suggest that the burden of proof must fall on those who wish to argue that Daniel is different
from other examples of the genre (ibid., 34). Collins, for one, is open to the possibility that the court
narratives of Dan 1–6 are earlier than the 2nd Century. The crucial issue for him, as it is for SDAs, is
the authenticity of the predictions in Dan 7–12.

Scholars who date Daniel in the 2nd Century before Christ do not always point out that Por-
phyry was a pagan opponent of Christianity who was seeking to demonstrate its inauthenticity. Since

predictive prophecy is a powerful evidence for the validity of the Bible, Christianity’s sacred text,
Porphyry interpreted Daniel as a hostile witness, seeking to demonstrate that the crucial historical
sequences of Daniel were all written after the fact. Before Porphyry’s time (circa 230–300 AD),

however, Christian readers of Daniel had no difficulty seeing the prophecies of Daniel being accu-
rately fulfilled in Rome, two centuries after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. See the writings by

Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 25.3–5; 26.1–2); A. Cleveland Coxe, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.
1, The Apostolic Fathers [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 553–556), Hippolytus (Treatise on Christ
and Antichrist, 28; A. Cleveland Coxe, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, Fathers of the Third
Century [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 210), and possibly Barnabas (Epistle of Barnabas, 4.1–6);
J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapid: Eerdmans,
1992], 278–281). See discussion in Froom, 1:210, 244–246, 273.
It should be noted that at least one major evangelical commentary (John E. Goldingay, Daniel,

Word Biblical Commentary, 30 [Dallas: Word, 1988], xxxvi–xl) leans toward the 2nd Century posi-
tion. While Lucas is sympathetic to the 2nd Century position, it is not clear which of the two posi-
tions he prefers. See Lucas, 306–312.



1 Macc 4:44–46; 14:41, cf. m. Aboth 1:1).72 Without the gift of prophecy it
would be impossible for anyone to write history in advance. Having said this,

however, the historical time periods of ex eventu prophecy reflected the convic-
tion that a true prophet such as Enoch, Moses, or Ezra would be capable of out-
lining history in advance.73 So if Daniel was actually written in the 6th Century,

it stands as a remarkable evidence of predictive prophecy.74 Since evidence for a
6th Century date for Daniel has been given elsewhere, that issue will not be
taken up here.75

72Russell, 73–103.
73Lars Hartman, Prophecy Interpreted, trans. Neil Tomkinson, Coniectanea Biblica, NT series,
no. 1 (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells, 1966), 25; Russell, 96. 74While Adventist scholars have tended to see this as a “life and death” issue, Lucas, arguing
from an evangelical perspective, disagrees (Daniel, 308–309). Those who support a 2nd Century
date for Daniel do not necessarily deny that the visions are genuine, but argue that the significance of
the prophecies of Daniel lies not in their prediction of history, but rather in their interpretation of it.
Interpretation of past history is as much a part of the prophetic legacy as prediction is. Lucas argues
that the use of pseudonymity, which is seen as problematic today, should not be judged by modern
standards of literary appropriateness, but by ancient practices, in which pseudonymity was quite
I grant that Adventists may have been inclined to damn all who promote a 2nd Century date for
Daniel as skeptics (which would be unfair), but they rightly take issue with these points on two
grounds. 1) The issue of integrity in Scripture. Does divine revelation portray that which is clearly

false, and intentionally so? 2) The fulfillment of divine prediction is a tremendous source of encour-
agement that unfulfilled predictions (such as the reality of the Jesus’ return, cf. 1 Cor 15:12–24) will

take place and will do so in a way that substantially resembles that which was predicted. Rightly or
wrongly, Adventists have not been comfortable with the fuzzy uncertainty regarding the future that

eventuates from much preterist scholarship. On the other hand, Adventists have often been too con-
fident that God’s plans for the future can be mastered in detail. 75Gerhard F. Hasel, “Establishing a Date For the Book of Daniel,” in Symposium on Daniel:

Introductory and Exegetical Studies, DARCOM, vol. 2, ed. Frank B. Holbrook (Washington: Bibli-
cal Research Institute, 1986), 84–164. See also Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel, Tyndale OT Commentary

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 35–46; Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel
(London: SPCK, 1923), 1–12 and passim; Arthur J. Ferch, “The Book of Daniel and the ‘Maccabean
Thesis,’” AUSS 21 (1983): 129–141; Kenneth A. Kitchen, “The Aramaic of Daniel,” in Notes on
Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale Press, 1965), 31–79; William H. Shea,
Daniel 1–7 (Boise: Pacific Press, 1996), 34–44; D. J. Wiseman, “Some Historical Problems in the
Book of Daniel,” in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale, 1965), 9–18;
Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 23–26.
Among the arguments for an early date for Daniel: 1) The way Daniel handles months and
years is almost unknown in the writings of the 2nd Century, but quite common in the 6th. 2) The
Aramaic of Daniel is much more like the Aramaic of the Persian period (Daniel’s time) than that of

the Qumran scrolls (shortly after the time of Antiochus). 3) Some of the Daniel manuscripts at Qum-
ran would probably be dated before the time of Antiochus were such a result considered possible. 4)

Daniel’s awareness of Belshazzar’s existence and position, something unknown in the 2nd Century.
5) Recent evidence from the field of archaeology is much more supportive of a 6th Century date than
a 2nd Century one.



III. A New Approach to Apocalyptic Genre

A. Revisiting the Genre of Daniel. While Daniel and Revelation are often
thought of as quintessential apocalyptic books,76 neither is a consistent example
of the genre definition offered above. Daniel has a number of characteristics that
do not fit the definition. With the exception of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream/vision
in 2:31–45, the first six chapters of Daniel are of a largely narrative character.
While a “narrative framework” is a defining characteristic of apocalyptic, the
stories of Daniel 1–6 have few of the other characteristics of apocalyptic. Within
the larger genre of narrative, these stories instead fall into a category often called
“court tales,” which is fairly rare in the extant literature of the ancient world.77
Furthermore, at significant points in the book (Dan 2:20–23; 9:4–19),
prayers occur. The first of these is in poetry, the second in prose! Other elements
of Daniel are also written in verse; prominent among these is the heavenly
judgment scene of Dan 7:9–10, 13–14.78 There are aspects of the book that also
fit very well into the Old Testament wisdom tradition.79 Even the visions of
Daniel don’t always precisely fit the definition of apocalyptic. The closest fit is
in chapters 11 and 12, which are clearly historical apocalyptic.80 Questions have
been raised, on the other hand, whether the visions of Daniel 7 and 8 truly fit the
While assessing the genre of whole apocalyptic books is a most interesting
pursuit, therefore, it may not be as helpful to the interpretation of Daniel as a
more nuanced approach. Daniel clearly exhibits a mixed genre, with elements of
narrative, poetry, and prayers sprinkled among the apocalyptic visions. Whether
one wishes to describe these elements as “genres,” “sub-genres” or “forms,”

careful attention is needed on a text by text basis to determine that a given pas-
sage should or should not be interpreted as historical apocalyptic.82

76Collins is unequivocal with regard to Daniel, “Taken as a whole, Daniel is an APOCALYPSE,
by the definition given in the discussion of that genre above. More specifically, it belongs to the

subgenre known as “HISTORICAL APOCALYPSE, . . .” Collins, Daniel with an Introduction to Apoca-
lyptic Literature, 33. In its title (Rev 1:1), the Book of Revelation supplies the word “apocalypse,”

which has been used to cover the entire genre. 77The book of Esther and the court stories of Joseph (Genesis 41–50) are the only true parallels
in the Old Testament. From ancient Mesopotamia comes the story of Ahikar, along with several
others from ancient Egypt, Sinuhe being the best known. 78For a summary of the scholarly debate over the existence and extent of poetry in Daniel 7 see
Susan Niditch, The Symbolic Vision in Biblical Tradition (Chico: Scholars, 1983), 190–191. 79Gerhard von Rad was the first to see a strong wisdom background to apocalyptic in general
(Old Testament Theology, 2: 301–308). He was supported by comparative work in mantic wisdom
traditions (H. -P. Müller, “Mantische Weisheit und Apokalyptic,” Studia in Veteris Testamenti 22
[1972]: 268–293, cited in Lucas, 311). 80Lucas, 272–273, 310.
81Ibid., 311; Niditch, 177–233. Collins speaks of the visions of Daniel 7 and 8 as “Symbolic
Dream Visions” in Daniel with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, 78, 86. 82John J. Collins is clearly moving in that direction with his interpretive distinction between
the court tales of Daniel and the historical apocalyptic passages in Daniel (Hermeneia), 38–61.



The importance of careful attention to genre is powerfully argued by Lucas
in his recent commentary on Daniel.83 Lucas points out that all readers have

some sense of the different genres of literature that exist in their culture. Be-
cause of this, readers approach a given text with certain expectations based on

the kind of literature they perceive it to be. If an author wishes to connect with
an implied audience, that author needs to adopt a genre that will communicate to

readers within that audience’s culture. Not to do so would risk great misunder-

Later readers who wish to understand a text, therefore, need to identify the
place any given text has within the generic options available to the original

audience. While the original audience will make such identifications uncon-
sciously, the later interpreter will need to carefully observe the text under re-
view, noting literary markers that indicate genre within the culture and world-
view of the original audience. There is great potential for misunderstanding, of

course, when later generations read a text. To treat a court tale or a classical
prophecy as if it were historical apocalyptic would be to draw false conclusions.
On the other hand, to treat historical apocalyptic as if it were something else
would also lead to inappropriate and misleading acts of interpretation.
Seventh-day Adventist interpreters have had the tendency to treat most or
all of Daniel and Revelation as historical apocalyptic, without specific attention
to the textual markers that would indicate such interpretation. As a result, texts

like the seven letters of Revelation 2 and 3 or the “seven times” of Nebuchad-
nezzar’s dream were interpreted in a historicist fashion, even though there was

no specific textual evidence for doing so.85 This approach was plausible when

Daniel and Revelation were thought of as completely apocalyptic, but the evi-
dence now calls for a more nuanced approach.

When it comes to Daniel, the interpreter must decide whether the genre of a

given passage is narrative (court tales), poetry, prayer, or apocalyptic. If the pas-
sage is apocalyptic, the interpreter must determine whether the evidence of the

passage points to mystical or historical apocalyptic.86 In a forthcoming article I
will argue that the visions and explanations of Daniel 2 and 7 exhibit the marks
of historical apocalyptic. I believe that most scholars would agree with me in
that designation. As we have seen, the primary point of difference between the
Adventist understanding of Daniel and the scholarly majority has to do with the
Collins discusses the genre of the court tales on pages 38–52, and the genre of the visions on pages
52–61. He anticipated this approach in his short commentary in the Forms of the Old Testament
Literature series (Eerdmans, 1984). 83Lucas, 22–24.
84Ibid., 23.
85It might be appropriate at this point to note that Adventist “futurists” seem equally oblivious
to genre when they treat most or all the passages of Revelation as End-time regardless of the kind of
textual evidence that might or might not have led the original audience to draw such a conclusion. 86As we have seen, the consensus of scholarship seems to be that the apocalyptic visions of
Daniel are normally of the historical variety.



date of the book, whether the visions are predictive or interpretations of history
after the fact.
B. Revisiting the Genre of Revelation. A problem that previous Adventist
discussions have not adequately addressed is the relationship of Revelation to
the larger genre of apocalyptic prophecy. It has been largely assumed that
Revelation is of the same character as Daniel (which Adventists generally treat
as an apocalyptic prophecy).87 Its visions, therefore, are usually interpreted as
unconditional prophetic portrayals of the sequence of both Christian and general
history from the time of Jesus to the end of the world.88 This assumption, as we
have seen, has not been found compelling by specialists in the field.
Rather than exhibiting a consistent use of historical apocalyptic, as many

Adventists assume, Revelation seems to smoothly blend characteristics of gen-
eral prophecy,89 mystical apocalyptic,90 and historical apocalyptic.91 One can

also find the genres of epistle,92 and perhaps even narrative.93 Like general
87Christopher Rowland, on the other hand, shows that the two books are significantly different.
See The Open Heaven, 12–14. 88William Johnsson, in his article on the nature of prophecy (DARCOM, 3:282), provides only
two paragraphs on Revelation. Kenneth Strand goes much further. He states without argument that

Revelation, along with Daniel, is generally classified as apocalyptic prophecy, in contrast to “classi-
cal prophecy.” He then goes on to list the characteristics of apocalyptic prophecy (“Foundational

Principles of Interpretation,” 11–19). Strand does soften this assertion somewhat on page 22, how-
ever. He notes the epistolary nature of the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, giving

Revelation “a certain flavor of exhortation,” an element of conditionality. He limits this exhortatory
character of Revelation, however, to appeals and does not apply its conditionality to the prophetic
forecasts of Revelation.
My own work in the same volume states that Revelation is both prophetic and apocalyptic, but
I don’t address the implications of that distinction (“Interpreting Revelation’s Symbolism,” 78–79).
One reason for this mild contradiction is that the Daniel and Revelation Committee was disbanded
before finishing its work. Strand’s opening articles, a compendium of his earlier work, were added
later but were never seriously discussed in the committee. 89I find the prophetic genre exhibited in the seven seals of Rev 6:1–8:1.

90I see the mystical apocalyptic genre of heavenly ascents exhibited in Rev 4–5, mingled per-
haps with elements of the prophetic genre. See David Aune, Revelation, Word Biblical Commentary,

vol. 52A (Dallas: Word, 1997), 276–279. 91In this sentence I go against the grain of some leading scholars’ opinions. Elisabeth Schüssler

Fiorenza, for example, asserts that “strictly speaking,” Revelation does not belong to either the his-
torical or the heavenly journey type of apocalypse (“The Phenomenon of Early Christian Apocalyp-
tic,” in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East, 298). She argues that the

book contains no reviews of history, is not pseudonymous, and has no developed heavenly journey.
The argument regarding pseudonymity does not seem to apply to the genre question (see page 42);

the other two arguments are observational and intuitive. I question the former in this series of arti-
cles. A point in Fiorenza’s favor is that the systematic review of history so dominant in some of the

Jewish apocalypses is entirely absent in Christian “apocalypses,” such as The Apocalypse of Peter,
Hermas, the Book of Elchasai, and 5 Ezra (ibid., 298–299, 310). The latter two are fragmentary, so

the evidence is incomplete. She does, however, note the affinity between Revelation and the Synop-
tic Apocalypse in the prophetic-apocalyptic combination of eschatological events and paraenesis

(exhortation). Ibid., 300. Cf. John J. Collins, “Introduction,” Semeia 14, 14–16. 92Most scholars would agree that Rev 2–3 best fits the epistolary genre.



prophecy, it is written to a specific time and place, and the audience is local and

contemporary (Rev 1:1–4, 10–11, 2:1–3:22).94 Its message was meant to be un-
derstood by the original audience (Rev 1:3).95 It describes its author as a prophet

and his work as a prophecy (1:3, 10–11; 10:8–11; 19:10; 22:6–10, 16, 18–19). It
is not, therefore, simply a replay of the visions of Daniel.96
At the same time, much of the language and style of Revelation is clearly
apocalyptic. Unlike classical prophecy but like Second Temple apocalyptic,
Revelation exhibits a radical and complete break between the old order and the
new.97 Like mystical apocalyptic, Revelation includes reports of the writer’s
forays into heavenly places (Rev 4–5; 7:9–17; 12:1–4; 14:1–5; 19:1–10). Like
historical apocalyptic, there are clear traces of historical sequence in Revelation
(Rev 12:1–17 and 17:10).98 So the genre of Revelation as a whole seems mixed.
The early scholarly consensus was that the book of Revelation as a whole
was primarily apocalyptic.99 But that early consensus has needed qualification.
The similarity between portions of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings
does not negate the prophetic character of the book.100 Not only so, but some

scholars feel the difference between prophetic and apocalyptic genre is not al-
ways clear-cut.101 The apocalyptic War Scroll found at Qumran, for example, is

93While Rev 1:9–20 has prophetic-apocalyptic features, one could argue that this represents

narrative genre. 94The prophetic portion of the book cannot be arbitrarily limited to the seven letters at the be-
ginning, as Rev 22:16 clearly states that the entire book was intended as a message to the churches. 95Rev 1:3 states, “Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy

[oi ̊ aÓkou/onteß touß lo/gouß thvß profhtei÷aß], and keep the things written in it, for the time is
near.” The accusative form of touß lo/gouß indicates that the author of Revelation intended his
original readers not only to hear the book, but to understand and obey it (“keep the things written in
it”). 96In Daniel, by contrast, there are texts that seem to postpone understanding: Dan 8:27; 12:4,
13. 97See Paulien, What the Bible Says About the End-Time, 55–71, concerning this shift from the
historical and geographical continuity of Old Testament prophecy to the radical break between the
ages of Jewish apocalyptic. 98Strand, “Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” 17. In the article to follow, I examine
these traces in some detail for chapter 12. 99John J. Collins, “The Genre Apocalypse in Hellenistic Judaism,” in Apocalypticism in the
Mediterranean World and the Near East, 531–548; idem, Semeia 14:1–20. Adela Yarbro Collins,
The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation, Harvard Dissertation Series, no. 9 (Missoula: Scholars,

1976), 2; Jan Lambrecht, “The Book of Revelation and Apocalyptic in the New Testament: Collo-
quium Biblicum Lovaniense XXX (August 28–30, 1979),” Ephemerides théologique Lovaniensis 55

(1979): 392. 100Graeme Goldsworthy, The Lion and the Lamb: The Gospel in Revelation (Nashville: Tho-
mas Nelson, 1985), 88; Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 135; Frederick David Mazzaferri, The Genre of the Book of Revela-
tion from a Source-Critical Perspective (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989). 101David Hill, “Prophecy and Prophets in the Revelation of St. John,” New Testament Studies

18 (1971–1972): 401; Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation, 168; G. K. Beale, Revelation, New Interna-
tional Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 37; D. A. Carson, Douglas J.



saturated with Old Testament prophetic language.102 On the other hand, the pro-
phetic books of the Old Testament, even the “classical” ones, contain many

features common to apocalyptic, such as the eschatological upheavals preceding
the End (Joel 2:30–31; Isa 24:3)103 and the inbreaking of the End-time itself
(Amos 8:8–9; 9:5–6).104 So to completely distinguish between prophetic and
apocalyptic books is extremely difficult if not impossible.105
It is perhaps safest to say that the Apocalypse is a unique literary work, one

that utilizes the expressions of apocalyptic literature, but also reflects the con-
viction that the spirit of prophecy had been revived (Rev 19:10).106 George

Eldon Ladd, therefore, proposed a hybrid categorization.107 In between pro-
phetic literature and apocalyptic literature,108 Ladd placed a new category that he

called “prophetic-apocalyptic.” Here he would place literature such as Revela-

Some would go a step further than Ladd. They would argue that while there
are elements of Revelation that hark back to both OT prophecy and Jewish
apocalyptic, the entire book is portrayed as a letter to the seven churches of Asia
Minor (Rev 22:16).110 Ulrich B. Müller points out that despite the tension in
Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992),
478–479. 102Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Composition and Structure of the Book of Revelation,”
Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (1977): 355–358. 103John J. Collins, Daniel with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, 12. 104George Eldon Ladd, “Why Not Prophetic-Apocalyptic?” Journal of Biblical Literature 76
(1957): 197. 105Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation, 168. 106Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Apocalypse (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1976), 26;

David Hill, New Testament Prophecy (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 75; idem, “Prophecy and Proph-
ets,” 406; Donatien Mollat, Une lecture pour aujourd’hui: L’Apocalypse, 2nd ed. (Paris: Editions du

Cerf, 1984), 30. Jeffrey Marshall Vogelgesang (“The Interpretation of Ezekiel in the Book of Reve-
lation,” [PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, 1985], 2), following Dieter Georgi, contends that

Revelation is an “anti-apocalyptic book”: though written in the genre of an apocalypse, it offers a
message contrary to that of contemporary apocalyptic literature. According to Vogelgesang, these

differences were due to the Revelator’s belief in Jesus and his particular understanding of the impli-
cations of that belief. 107Ladd, 192–200. Cf. the position of Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Apokalypsis and Proph-
eteia: The Book of Revelation in the Context of Early Christian Prophecy,” in L'Apocalypse johan-
nique et l'Apocalyptique dans le Nouveau Testament, ed. J. Lambrecht, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum

Theologaricum Lovaniensium, vol. 53 (Gembloux: Leuven UP, 1980), 105–128. 108Ladd calls this “non-canonical apocalyptic.” 109Fiorenza (The Book of Revelation, 138, 168) agrees with Ladd that there is no either/or so-
lution to the complexity of Revelation. 110Carson, Moo, and Morris, 479; David E. Aune, Revelation, 1:lxxii–lxxv; Fiorenza, The

Book of Revelation, 51, 170. Fiorenza (4) would add that in addition to OT prophetic and Jewish
apocalyptic traditions, Revelation also reflects the influence of Pauline, Johannine, and other NT-era

prophetic traditions. I don’t doubt that this is the case, but as a practical matter, I take these back-
grounds to be more speculative than helpful, since it is far from clear what NT books John would



character between the seven letters and the apocalyptic portions of Revela-
tion,111 the fundamental prophetic content is the same.112 The apocalyptic war is

not only played out in heaven, but it is also played out in the everyday life of the

churches. While the epistolary character of the seven letters is clear, categoriz-
ing the whole book of Revelation as an “epistle” does not seem to make

sense.113 Ladd’s designation “Prophetic-Apocalyptic” and the Adventist phrase
“Apocalyptic Prophecy” seem more appropriate designations for the genre of
Revelation as a whole.

C. Adventists and the Genre Debate. What is clear from the scholarly de-
bate is that the genre of Revelation as a whole is a mixed one whose character

cannot be determined with exactness.114 The appropriateness of historicist
method for Revelation, therefore, is much less obvious than is the case with the
visions of Daniel. Most Seventh-day Adventists have not yet felt the force of

this difficulty. Having inherited the historicist approach from Protestant fore-
bears in the middle of the 19th Century,115 Adventist interpreters have assumed

that approach to be the correct one for Revelation, but have never demonstrated
it from the text.116
have been familiar with, if any. These difficulties are illustrated in the work of Louis Arthur Vos,
The Synoptic Traditions in the Apocalypse (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1965). 111Ulrich B. Müller, “Literarische und formgeschichtliche Bestimmung der Apokalypse des
Johannes als einem Zeugnis frühchristlicher Apokalyptik,” in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean
World and the Near East, 602. 112Müller, 606; Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation, 121. 113Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia 14: 70–71. She notes that the epistolary parts of the book are
in service of its revelatory character, not the other way around. Also the book begins not with the
prescript of a letter, but with the apocalyptic introduction that characterizes the book not as letter, but
as apocalypse and prophecy (Rev 1:1–3). John J. Collins (The Apocalyptic Imagination, 270) notes
that even if it were determined that Revelation was primarily an epistle, that designation would not

be helpful in understanding the content of the book. 114Typical of more recent discussion is the eclectic approach of G. K. Beale, Revelation, espe-
cially 37–43. He quotes Ramsey Michaels (from Interpreting the Book of Revelation, 31–32) with

relish: “If a letter, it is like no other Christian letter we possess. If an apocalypse, it is like no other
apocalypse. If a prophecy, it is unique among prophecies.” 115The works of E. B. Elliott and Alexander Keith seem to have been particularly influential. 116This came into focus in the context of recent Adventist conversations with representatives of
the Lutheran World Federation. It was clear that the Lutherans had a hard time understanding the
Adventist approach to Daniel and Revelation. When it came time to write the Adventist response,

the Adventist representatives decided that exegetical justification for a historicist approach to Reve-
lation was needed. But no one was able to suggest Adventist literature where such a justification

could be found.
My own subsequent search turned up only one Adventist argument for a historicist approach to
Revelation. It goes something like this (an example of this approach is Roy C. Naden, The Lamb

Among the Beasts [Berrien Springs: Andrews UP, 1996], 44–48): The book of Daniel clearly exhib-
its a series of historical events running from the prophet’s time to the end. The Book of Revelation

quotes Daniel and is similar in style to Daniel; therefore, the seven-fold series of Revelation are also

to be understood as historical series running from the time of the prophet until the end. This argu-
ment by itself is not satisfactory.



It should be evident for our purpose that there are significant differences in
the conclusions of scholarly research with regard to Daniel and Revelation.

While, for example, the visions and explanations of Daniel are generally under-
stood to bear the marks of historical apocalyptic, as most Adventists have

thought, there is disagreement regarding the time of the visions and the genuine-
ness of the book’s stated historical context.

Unlike Daniel, there is little dispute over the date of Revelation. Nearly all
scholars would agree that the book was written somewhere within a 30-year
span.117 But also in contrast with Daniel, it is far less obvious whether any given
passage of Revelation should be interpreted as historical apocalyptic. But if a

historicist approach to Revelation is to have any validity, it must be demon-
strated from the text, not assumed from long tradition.

While the focus of scholarship until now has been on classifying Revelation
as a whole, there is increasing interest in the genre of its parts.118 I sense that

precision regarding the genre of Revelation as a whole has not made a huge dif-
ference in the interpretation of the book’s parts.119 I therefore agree with J. Ram-
sey Michaels that for Revelation it will be more useful to pay attention to the

genre of the parts than of the whole.120 One could say that Michaels and I are
117A recent summary of the issues regarding the date of Revelation is found in G. K. Beale,
The Book of Revelation, 4–27. Two other summaries of research on the issue are found in John A. T.

Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 224–225, and J. Chris-
tian Wilson, “The Problem of the Domitianic Date of Revelation,” New Testament Studies 39

(1993): 587–597. Aside from Robinson and Wilson, scholars who have held to an early date for at

least part of Revelation (usually in the reign of Nero and in the mid to late 60s) include J. B. Light-
foot, Biblical Essays (London: MacMillan, 1893), 52; idem, Essays on the Work Entitled Supernatu-
ral Religion (London: MacMillan, 1889), 132; J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, Anchor Bible, 38

(Garden City: Doubleday, 1975), 3–4; A. A. Bell, “The Date of John’s Apocalypse: The Evidence of
Some Roman Historians Reconsidered,” New Testament Studies 25 (1979): 93–102; Christopher
Rowland, The Open Heaven, 403–413; and K. L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of
Revelation (Tyler: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989). While the difference between a Neronic
and a Domitianic date for Revelation obviously makes a big difference in interpretation for preterist
scholars, the difference is not significant for our purpose in this article. 118Note the following two examples, which focus on the songs of Revelation: Robert Emerson
Coleman, Songs of Heaven (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1980); and Klaus-Peter Jörns, Das
Hymnische Evangelium, Studien zum NT, vol. 5 (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1971).
Michael Stone early noted that large parts of “apocalyptic” books are not really apocalyptic in
content, style, or ideology; therefore, genre studies of whole “apocalyptic” books would be doomed
to a certain amount of frustration right from the start. See Michael Stone, “Revealed Things in

Apocalyptic Literature,” in Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God, 439–444. John Collins acknowl-
edges that it is more appropriate to speak of the “dominant genre” of works as a whole rather than

insisting on an umbrella designation for works that are often composite anyway (Mysteries and

Revelations, 14). 119Beale forcefully agrees in his commentary (24). He says that genre studies are yielding “di-
minishing returns.” 120Ramsey Michaels, Interpreting the Book of Revelation, 32; cf. overall discussion in pages

29–33. Adela Yarbro Collins seems to hint at such an approach to Revelation in Semeia 14: 70. She



thinking of “genre” more in the expanded German sense of Gattung, which can
be used for smaller literary units within a work as well as for the work as a
whole.121 One would call work in the smaller literary units an analysis of
“forms,” but this might result in confusion with the methods of Form Criticism
as applied to the gospels.122 So for now I will speak of the respective genres of
the various parts of Daniel and Revelation.

If Adventists wish to revive the historicist approach to Revelation, there-
fore, they will need to pursue a thoroughgoing examination of the genre of

Revelation’s visionary passages on a case-by-case basis.123 One way to do this is
to demonstrate that portions of Revelation fit the genre of historical apocalyptic
better than other options. I will attempt such an evaluation of Revelation 12 in a
future article. If there is historical apocalyptic in the Book of Revelation, it will
be discerned in the genre of the particular text, as is the case with Daniel.
D. Historical Apocalyptic in Revelation. Unlike the case with Daniel, few
scholars argue that the Book of Revelation is pseudonymous.124 Most scholars
understand that John is the name of the actual author and that his prophecies are
says, “To determine the literary form of the book of Revelation as a whole, one must ask what the

dominant literary form is or how all these smaller forms are integrated into a coherent whole.” 121For a brief summary of how “genre,” “form,” and “Gattung” are used within biblical schol-
arship, see Lars Hartman, “Survey of the Problem of Apocalyptic Genre” in Apocalypticism in the

Mediterranean World and the Near East, 330; in the same book see also E. P. Sanders, “The Genre
of Palestinian Jewish Apocalypses,” 450–454. Sanders seems to have raised some of the same issues

I am addressing here. 122Cf. Sanders, 450, especially note 18. 123In the Daniel and Revelation Committee session that was held at Newbold College in Eng-
land in 1988, considerable discussion was given to this issue. A developing consensus seemed to be

that the churches, seals, and trumpets of Rev 1–11 respectively exhibited the characteristics of the
three main genre types found in the book of Revelation. It was felt that the seven letters portion of
the book (Rev 2–3) reads most naturally along the lines of the New Testament epistles; the seven
seals (Rev 6–7) bore the character of classical prophecy, along the lines of Matt 24; and the seven
trumpets (Rev 8–11) were the most apocalyptic in nature. Upon further reflection in light of recent
scholarship, I would today classify the letters as epistles, with some elements of classical prophecy,
the seals as mystical apocalyptic with elements of classical prophecy, and the trumpets as essentially

historical apocalyptic. Further refinement of these categories and further examination of the evi-
dence is needed. 124Major examples of the majority view are Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The

Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 27–28; idem, “The Early Christian
Apocalypses,” Semeia 14 (1979): 71; John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 211; idem,
“Pseudonymity,” 330–331; Horst R. Balz, “Anonymität und Pseudepigraphie im Urchristentum,”
Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 66 (1969): 416–417, 427–428; Christopher Rowland, The Open
Heaven, 61–70. For examples of the minority view that Revelation is pseudonymous, see P. Joachim

Becker, “Erwägungen zu Fragen der neutestamentilichen Exegese: 3. Pseudonymität der Johanne-
sapokalypse und Verfasserfrage,” Biblische Zeitschrift 13/1 (1969): 101–102; Roderic Dunkerley,

“The Five Johns,” London Quarterly and Holburn Review 30 (1961): 298; Georg Strecker, “Chili-
asmus und Doketismus in der Johanneischen Schriften,” Kerygma and Dogma 38 (1992): 33, espe-
cially note 11; Ugo Vanni, “L’Apocalypse johannique: État de la question,” in L’Apocalypse johan-
nique et L’Apocalyptique dans le Nouveau Testament, 33.



genuine attempts to outline future events.125 My question is, what is the nature
of that outline? Is it the more general and immediate perspective of a classical
prophet, or does it project a historical sequence like the apocalyptic visions of
Daniel? While the time frame of John’s understanding is certainly short (Rev
1:1, 3; 22:10), the latter option needs to be considered possible. Why?
The historical time periods of ex eventu prophecy (in Jewish apocalyptic)
reflected the conviction that a genuine prophet such as Enoch, Moses, or Ezra
would be capable of outlining history in advance.126 In other words, the literary

strategy of ex eventu prophecy would have no credibility with its audience un-
less that audience believed in the general concept of sequential predictive

prophecy. Note the language of D. S. Russell:

The predictive element in prophecy had a fascination for the apoca-
lyptists and it is to this aspect of the prophetic message that they de-
vote so much of their interest and ingenuity. . . . The predictive ele-
ment in prophecy is not simply accidental, as Charles would have us

believe. It belongs to the very nature of prophecy itself.127
Since John, the author of Revelation, believed that the prophetic spirit had
returned (Rev 1:3; 19:9–10; 22:6–10),128 he would have every reason to believe
that the cosmic Christ could reveal to him the general outline of events between
his day and the consummation. The return of genuine prophets would signal the
return of predictive prophecy.129 If the Book of Revelation is genuine prophecy,

not ex eventu, it needs to be addressed differently than non-canonical apocalyp-

The question to examine then becomes: In his outline of future events (Rev
1:1), did John the Revelator understand any of his visions to be in the genre of
125Note the powerful affirmations of John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 212; ibid.,

“Pseudonymity,” 330–331, 339–340. 126Lars Hartman, Prophecy Interpreted, 25. 127Russell, 96. The “Charles” mentioned in the quote is R. H. Charles, the influential com-
mentator on Revelation, who wrote in 1920. 128John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 212; ibid., “Pseudonymity,” 331. 129Jon Paulien, “Eschatology and Adventist Self-understanding,” in Lutherans and Adventists

in Conversation: Report and Papers Presented, 1994–1998, edited by B. B. Beach and Sven G.
Oppegaard (Silver Spring: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and Geneva: Lutheran

World Federation, 2000), 239–240. 130To borrow a phrase from John J. Collins, the author of Revelation applied “the logic of peri-
odization” to his genuine prophecy. See Collins’ “Pseudonymity,” 339–340, where he argues for

genuine prophecy in Rev 17 as an example; see also page 330, where Collins is explicit on the ab-
sence of pseudonymity and ex eventu prophecy in Revelation.

For further study see Jon Paulien, Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets: Literary Allusions and the
Interpretation of Revelation 8:7–12, Andrews University Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, vol.
11 (Berrien Springs: Andrews UP, 1988), 357–362.



historical apocalyptic?131 Did he see himself in the heritage of Daniel and the
apocalyptic writers as a portrayer of historical sequence? And if he did, what
passages in Revelation need to be interpreted along the lines of historical

IV. Conclusion

Since the concept of predictive prophecy is grounded in the inspiration and
authority of the Scriptures, it should not surprise anyone that the vast majority of

Biblical interpreters throughout Christian history believed in predictive proph-
ecy and felt that Daniel and Revelation in some way offered an outline of Chris-
tian history leading to the end of the world.132 Most Adventists, like them, see

no indication in the text of Daniel and Revelation that the events symbolized in

the visions were to be confined to the distant past or the far future. They under-
stand Daniel to address the entire course of history from his time until the end.

They understand that the Book of Revelation speaks to the entire Christian era
from the cross to the second coming of Christ.

If portions of Daniel and Revelation bear the character of historical apoca-
lyptic, they were intended to portray the chain of events leading from the vision-
ary’s time to the end of all things. Whatever time frame Daniel had in mind for

this chain of events (assuming a 6th Century perspective), it involved a sequence
of kingdoms in control of God’s people before the end. While Daniel’s personal
time frame was short at first, the visions suggest that Daniel experienced a
stressful lengthening of that time perspective through the visions (7:28; 8:27;
9:24–27; 12:11–13).
In applying a historicist approach to Revelation, on the other hand, it is not
necessary to claim that John himself, or any of the other writers of the New
Testament, foresaw the enormous length of the Christian era, the time between
the first and second advents of Jesus. If the Parousia had occurred in the 1st
Century, no one would have been troubled on account of any statement in the
New Testament. The finality of the Christ event is such that looking beyond the
1st Century was not conceivable, even for the apostles.
Regardless of John’s own perception of time, the question here is whether

or not John saw the future in terms of a sequence of events or purely in the im-
mediate terms typical of the OT Day of the Lord prophecies. Time has continued

far past John’s expectation. If John’s Apocalypse is a genuine revelation, the
131John J. Collins specifically denies (although without argument) that Revelation contains any
example of historical apocalyptic (Semeia 14, page 16). He categorizes it among “Apocalypses with
Cosmic and/or Political Eschatology,” which for him have neither historical review nor otherworldly
journeys. On the other hand, he later makes a puzzling off-hand comment including Revelation with
Daniel in the category of “historical apocalyptic” (John J. Collins, “Genre, Ideology and Social
Movements in Jewish Apocalypticism,” 16). John M. Court agrees with the latter assessment in
Revelation (Sheffield: JSOT, 1994), 81. 132See Froom, passim.



question becomes whether or not God used the immediate intention of a human
writer, who thought he was close to the End, to say anything substantive about
the events that lay beyond his time.
Given the immediate perspective of Revelation, historicism must draw
meaning from an extended significance (sensus plenior?) that unfolds only with
the passage of time. A valid historicism will build on the natural meaning of

John’s intention, but come to see a deeper divine purpose through the confirma-
tion of history and/or later revelation.133 There is an analogy for this in the NT

itself. The NT writers viewed the OT with the wisdom of time passed and saw
God’s hand in those texts in ways the human authors of those texts did not fully
perceive. Should we not be prepared for a similar expansion of meaning from
our own perspective of time passed? The passage of more than 1900 years

means that Revelation’s attempts at periodization have been stretched far be-
yond John’s recognition. I would argue that such a “divine reading” is valid if

based on exegesis and proper attention to genre, but invalid if it loses touch with
text and context.
As Paul has said, “We see through a glass darkly” and “we prophesy in
part” (1 Cor 13:9, 12). Only from the perspective of the Parousia will history

speak with perfect clarity. Any rebirth of historicist interpretation among schol-
ars of faith, therefore, will need to avoid the minute details and “newspaper”

exegesis of previous interpretation, while taking seriously the plain meaning of
the symbols in their original context.134

In a follow-up article I intend to examine two of Daniel’s visions, in chap-
ters 2 and 7, to lay out the kinds of markers in the text that indicate the presence

of historical apocalyptic. I will then attempt to outline a strategy for detecting
similar passages in the Book of Revelation, using chapter 12 as a test case. I

believe the evidence will show that historicist interpretation should not be a pri-
ori excluded from the study of Revelation on account of the excesses of the past.

As Arasola concluded in his seminal work, declarations of the “end of histori-
cism” may prove to have been premature.135

Jon Paulien is Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Chair of the New Testa-
ment Department at the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University. He was

awarded a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis in New Testament in 1987. The focus of

his dissertation was the use of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, with par-
ticular focus on the seven trumpets. Before coming to the seminary in 1981, he was a

133For a clearer picture of my view on the interaction between the divine and the human in
John’s visionary experience, see Jon Paulien, “Interpreting Revelation’s Symbolism,” in Symposium
on Revelation–Book I, 77–78. I have used the expression “John’s intention” in this article for the
sake of convenience and ease of expression. I do not intend to imply that the book is merely a human
product. 134For examples of the above fallacy see the voluminous historicist interpretation of Edward B.
Elliott and the material on the seven trumpets of Revelation by Uriah Smith, 596–636. 135Arasola, 171–172.



pastor in the Greater New York Conference for nine years. He has written more than ten
books and has produced more than 150 other publications over the last fifteen years. He
is married and has three children, ages 12-18, and enjoys travel, golf, and photography on
the side.