Solutions Proposed in the Past
The intriguing riddle of the sixty-nine weeks has inspired a legion of authors, both ancient and modern, to attempt its solution. The following survey of this literature will mainly consider contributions during the modern era, although it will also notice some contributions of older vintage.
Solutions setting the starting point in the first year of Cyrus
According to John Calvin, the sixty-nine weeks began at the decree in the first year of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2–4; the first year of Cyrus was 538/537 BC (1)) and ended at Christ’s baptism (2). The great difficulty in choosing these limits is, of course, that the interval between them is more than eighty years overlong, if traditional chronology is correct. In answer to those who would find in this discrepancy a good reason to doubt Calvin’s solution, Philip Mauro and David L. Cooper argued that we cannot trust any chronology derived from heathen sources (3). Edward J. Young accepted Calvin’s limits but denied that the sixty-nine weeks were intended to formulate the exact time between them (4). Much the same stance was taken by Gerard Van Groningen (5). Both Nathaniel West and William M. Smith, confident that Cyrus’s decree was indeed the starting point of the sixty-nine weeks but reluctant to abandon traditional chronology, decided that the sixty-nine weeks are broken by a gap (6). West set an interval of fifty-seven years between the third and fourth weeks. Smith put a gap of unspecified length between the first seven weeks and the last sixty-two. Neither procedure can be recommended as any more than an ad hoc adjustment to save a solution at variance with the facts. In defense of the same starting point, David H. Lorie ventured farther afield into arbitrary definitions by proposing that each week in the seven is actually fourteen years although in the sixty-two they are only seven years, and he set the endpoint at Christ’s birth (7).
Solutions setting the starting point at Ezra's return to Judah
Among the solutions still widely favored is one that has attracted many able proponents down through the centuries: these include Humphrey Prideaux in the early eighteenth century, Carl August Auberlen and E. B. Pusey in the nineteenth century, and Charles H. H. Wright, Charles Boutflower, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Leon Wood, Robert J. M. Gurney, and James Smith in the twentieth century (8). The continuing popularity of this solution is probably due to its recommendation by Halley’s Bible Handbook, first published in 1927 (9). According to these scholars, the opening word to rebuild Jerusalem is the decree of Artaxerxes authorizing Ezra to return to Judah and reorganize the nation’s government and public worship (Ezra 7:11–26), the weeks are 483 solar years, and the terminal event is the baptism of Jesus. The inaugural and terminal dates given by Wright, Boutflower, Halley, and Smith are 457 BC and AD 26, but AD 26 is the result of miscalculation, since it confines the interval to only 482 years. Perhaps the error arose from failure to consider that there was no year 0. The comparable dates given by Auberlen, Pusey, and Archer are 457 BC and AD 27. We now know, however, that the king’s decree could not have come later than the spring of 458. Ezra departed for Judah at the very beginning of the king’s seventh year, which ran from the spring of 458 to the spring of 457 (10). Wood and Gurney escaped this difficulty by defining the endpoints of the sixty-nine weeks as 458 BC and AD 26. But the solution advanced by the company of scholars who follow Prideaux is untenable because of an irremediable flaw. As argued earlier, the baptism of Jesus most certainly fell somewhat later than 26 or 27.
The solution offered by Isaac Newton was similar in some respects, but unique in others (11). He viewed Ezra’s actual return to Jerusalem as the starting point of the seventy weeks, arguing that his reforms established Judah as a true body politic. Yet Newton denied that the sixty-nine weeks of Daniel 9:25 belong to the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24. The seventy weeks, according to Newton, came to fulfillment at the death and Resurrection of Christ, which were the events marking the end of sins, the introduction of everlasting righteousness, and the anointing of the Most Holy. The Most Holy, Newton said, was Christ Himself, designated "the anointed one" (the Messiah) in the following verse. Newton placed Ezra’s return early in year 4257 of the Julian Period (a form of astronomical reckoning using 4713 BC as year one): that is, 457 BC. On the assumption that reforms were executed after the next Jewish year commenced in the autumn, he counted forward seventy weeks (490 years) and by inclusive reckoning determined that the 490th year spanned the autumn of AD 33 and the autumn of AD 34. He himself believed that the Crucifixion fell in 34 but, in deference to a common belief, allowed 33 as possibly the correct year. He observed that if 33 is correct, the year of Ezra’s return—from autumn 458 to autumn 457 BC—should be counted as the first of the sum. Yet no such adjustment is necessary, since we now know that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem about two months before the autumn of 458.
When compared with other historic solutions, Newton’s comes as close as any to a defensible scheme of dates and intervals. But his solution never gained high repute probably because it discounted any connection between the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24 and the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks of the next verse. Indeed, he viewed the three intervals as independent prophecies with no common endpoints, and his analysis of the last two was doomed to be viewed as highly implausible. He said that the seven weeks would commence in the end times when the Jews return from dispersion and rebuild the Temple. Their culmination would be the glorious return of Messiah the Prince at His second coming. The sixty-two weeks, on the other hand, fell in the past. They started when Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem in troubled times and marked the interval until the birth of Christ. Yet to produce an acceptable date for the nativity, Newton, in disregard of both explicit and implicit markers in the text of Nehemiah, set completion of the walls in Artaxerxes’ twenty-eighth year instead of the twentieth.
Like Newton, William Stuart Auchincloss set the seventy weeks between Ezra’s return and the Resurrection, but to avoid severing the sixty nine from the seventy, insisted on a novel reading of Daniel 9:25: "Know therefore and understand, that from the [week of the] going forth of the commandment (12)." Solely on the grounds of this reading, he argued that the seventieth week preceded rather than followed the sixty-nine. He maintained that the week of verse 27 is not the seventieth, but a week outside the enumeration of weeks. By setting the starting point of the seventy weeks at the departure of Ezra and his company from the river Ahava and assigning this event to April 5, 458 BC (the date given in Ezra 8:31 is the twelfth day of the first month), and by setting the finishing point at the Resurrection and assigning this event to April 5, AD 33, he was able to match the seventy weeks with an interval of exactly 490 years. But Auchincloss’s solution wins this result only by dubious exegesis and erroneous dating. Insertion of "the week of" in Daniel 9:25 exemplifies fitting Scripture to a solution, as opposed to fitting a solution to Scripture, and Nisan 12, 458 BC, was actually April 19 (13).
All the solutions that place the beginning of the sixty-nine weeks at the time of Ezra 7–8 have the same two shortcomings, rendering them unsatisfactory. (1) The crucial identifications—the opening commandment, the week, and the event marking Jesus’ official coming—are exegetically unsound for reasons given elsewhere in this book. (2) These solutions, except that of Auchincloss, fix only the year at each end of the sixty-nine weeks. Thus, even if any employs correct numbers, it demonstrates only a rough accuracy in Daniel’s prophecy, an accuracy hitting on the right year but not on the right month or day.
Solutions setting the starting point in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes
Perhaps the dominant approach to Daniel’s prophecy places the beginning of the sixty-nine weeks in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, when he consented to make Nehemiah governor of Judah (Neh. 2:1–8) and when, shortly afterward, Nehemiah went to his homeland and accomplished the renovation of Jerusalem and its city walls, as Daniel 9:25 predicts (Neh. 6:15). The first known proponent of this mode of solution was Julius Africanus, who lived in the early third century AD (14). He argued that the whole seventy weeks measure time from Nehemiah’s work until the coming of Christ to put away sins and achieve the other benefits specified in Daniel 9:24. He dated Nehemiah’s work as the fourth year of the 83rd Olympiad (from July 1, 445 BC, until June 30, 444 BC, although Africanus was possibly using an October to September year (15)), then moved forward 475 solar years (the same as 490 Jewish lunar years, each 354 days), and arrived at the sixteenth year of Tiberius, which he equated to the second year of the 202nd Olympiad. The terminal date was therefore AD 30–31 (16). It is unclear what he viewed as the precise fulfillment. Whether it was Jesus’ baptism or crucifixion, Africanus evidently thought that it happened within a year after John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1–3). Although strong enough to show the general accuracy of prophecy, Africanus’s solution was weak in matters of detail. The interval he gives as 475 years is actually 474 (unless he was reckoning inclusively), and his case for using lunar years is not compelling. His omission of the intercalary months that keep the Jewish calendar in line with the seasons is purely an arbitrary procedure. Yet Africanus’s solution was adopted as correct by the Venerable Bede (eighth century) and a long line of other medieval theologians (17).
Hengstenberg accepted the twentieth year of Artaxerxes as the starting point of the sixty-nine weeks, although he identified the precise event as Nehemiah’s prayer in Kislev, not as Artaxerxes’ decree in the following Nisan (18). (In discussions of the sixty-nine weeks, Artaxerxes’ authorization of work on Jerusalem has generally been viewed as a formal decree, although Nehemiah leaves unclear its exact status. Hence, in reviewing the contributions of other scholars, we will call it a decree.) Yet Hengstenberg believed that the traditional chronology of the Persian kings is in error. He argued at great length that the twentieth year of Artaxerxes coincided with 455/454 rather than with 445/444. Adding 483 ordinary years to 455/454 BC, he deduced a terminal date of AD 28/29, which he supposed was the time of Jesus’ emergence as a public figure. Among the commentators who favored Hengstenberg’s solution were Albert Barnes, Paton J. Gloag, Joseph A. Seiss, S. P. Tregelles, E. C. and R. B. Henninges, and Arthur Petrie, although Seiss, Tregelles, and Petrie linked AD 29 to the end rather than to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (19). Edward Dennett cited Hengstenberg’s solution but judged that "nothing whatever is gained by this attempt at numerical accuracy" (20). Now that the traditional chronology of the Persian kings has been verified by archaeology, Hengstenberg’s solution must of course be discarded.
The most famous solution in this tradition was Robert Anderson’s, presented in his book The Coming Prince (21). He agreed with others that the opening event in the sixty-nine weeks was Artaxerxes’ decree recorded in Nehemiah 2. By dating this event as Nisan 1, 445 BC, and treating each week of the sixty-nine as seven 360-day years, Anderson calculated that the period of weeks came to a close on April 6, AD 32. This he said was the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and of His official coming as King of the Jews. Unfortunately, he made several errors. Lacking the results of modern scholarship, which has determined the actual Julian equivalents of Babylonian dates in 445 BC, he guessed that Nisan 1 was March 14. Actually, it was April 13 (22). Moreover, he surmised that Jewish procedures for starting a new lunar month were so inconsistent and inexact that "in any year whatever the 15th Nisan may have fallen on a Friday" (23). By this argument he justified treating Nisan 15, AD 32 (his date for the Crucifixion), as a Friday, whereas it was probably a Monday and certainly not a Friday (24).
After its first publication in 1881, Anderson’s solution of the sixty-nine weeks became much in vogue among defenders of the Bible. Enthusiastic champions kept it at the forefront for more than seventy years. These included Arno Gaebelein, H. A. Ironside, John Ritchie, W. C. Stevens, Sir William Whitla, A. M. Hodgkin, J. Charleton Steen, William L. Pettingill (who, however, merely stated that "according to the best chronology," it was exactly 483 360-day years from Artaxerxes’ decree until the Triumphal Entry), W. Lamb, Louis T. Talbot, C. Ernest Tatham, Philip R. Newell, Frederick A. Tatford, and Alva J. McClain (25). Others, such as G. H. Pember, Alfred H. Burton, and G. H. Lang, represented Anderson’s solution as worthy of consideration but wisely reserved judgment as to its validity (26). With the publication of Parker and Dubberstein’s tables (the various editions appearing in 1942, 1946, and 1956), the solution lost favor, but still today retains many adherents. Commentators still recommending it after 1960 include Geoffrey R. King, Lehman Strauss, August Van Ryn, J. Allen Blair, Harold S. Paisley, Renald E. Showers, David Jeremiah, and John Phillips (27). John F. Walvoord stated, "No one today is able dogmatically to declare that Sir Robert Anderson’s computations are impossible" (28).
Various authors have tried to repair Anderson’s solution. Like Anderson, Larkin assigned 360 days to each of the sixty-nine weeks, set the starting point of the whole term at Artaxerxes’ decree in his twentieth year, and brought the term to a conclusion at Christ’s triumphal entry (29). For Artaxerxes’ decree, he knew of no date better than the one given by Anderson. For the Triumphal Entry, he proposed April 2, AD 30, since it was generally believed that AD 30 was the year of the Crucifixion. When he computed the intervening time, he found that it fell short of 483 prophetic years by 734 days. To explain the discrepancy, he said that profane chronology must have given us the wrong date for the opening event.
John MacArthur endorsed essentially the same boundaries for the sixty-nine weeks. He said that exactly 483 years elapsed after Artaxerxes’ decree in 445 BC until Christ’s triumphal entry on Nisan 9, AD 30. But since the interval is not 483 years by any known reckoning, he must have believed that prophecy uses a form of heavenly reckoning otherwise hidden from us (30)
While concurring with Anderson that the start of the sixty-nine weeks belongs to the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, G. W. West felt driven by exegetical considerations to novel conclusions: that the starting point was not in Nisan, when Artaxerxes authorized Nehemiah’s work on the city, but in Tishri, at the beginning of a new sabbatical cycle; and that the seventy weeks were equal not to 490 years but to ten Jubilee periods amounting to 500 years (31). West acknowledged that "this theory makes the chronology a little more difficult. But chronology must be accommodated to Scripture, not vice versa" (32). These are not the alternatives, however. Now that the relevant dates are well established, the correct solution of the sixty-nine weeks must agree with chronology. The failure of any solution to do so is a clue that it has twisted the true meaning of the prophecy.
Hoehner tried to salvage Anderson’s solution by giving defensible dates for the events Anderson placed at the onset and finish of the sixty-nine weeks (33). The new dates Hoehner proposed were Nisan 1 (which he equated to March 4 or 5), 444 BC, for Artaxerxes’ decree and March 30, AD 33, for the Triumphal Entry. The latter date is probably correct, in light of the evidence presented earlier. Hoehner’s analysis is, however, rendered invalid by multiple errors.
- Relying on a source dated 1954, he set Xerxes’ death and Artaxerxes’ succession in December of 465 BC, whereas evidence published later relocates these events to the preceding August (see our discussion of Dan. 9:25). This error led Hoehner to misplace the Nisan of Artaxerxes’ twentieth year in 444 rather than 445.
- Nisan 1, 444 BC, was not March 4 or 5, but April 3 (34). Hoehner’s source only provides the Julian dates of new moons. It does not give the Julian equivalent of any Nisan 1 on the Babylonian calendar (35).
- His source gives March 2 rather than March 4 or 5 as the date of a new moon in 444 BC, although March 5 was the date of a new moon in astronomical year -446 (that is, 447 BC) (36).
- Hoehner assumed that the interval from March 5, 444 BC, to March 5, AD 33, both dates Julian, is exactly 483 solar years; in other words, about 173,855 days. Another twenty-five days makes a total of 173,880 (the sum we gave earlier as equivalent to sixty-nine weeks of 360-day years) and brings the date to March 30, AD 33. But it so happens that 483 Julian years are about four days longer than 483 solar years. Thus, by an actual count of days, sixty-nine weeks after March 5, 444 BC, terminates in AD 33 on March 26 rather than on March 30.
Despite the flaws in Hoehner’s solution, it has received the approbation of numerous defenders of the Bible, including Bruce K. Waltke, Josh McDowell, and Paul D. Feinberg, together with John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (37).
A solution of another sort altogether was proposed by Robert C. Newman (38). He suggested that each of Daniel’s seventy weeks corresponds to a sabbatical cycle, with six ordinary years followed by a sabbatical year. Relying on Benedict Zuckermann’s reconstruction of sabbatical cycles in ancient Judah (a standard work accomplished in the nineteenth century), Newman pointed out that the sabbatical years included 445 BC, which he accepted as the year of Artaxerxes’ decree recorded by Nehemiah. Newman defined the cycle ending in 445 BC as the first week of the seventy. It follows directly that the sixty-ninth week marking the time when the Prince would appear spanned AD 27–34. Since these years undoubtedly embrace the ministry and death of Christ, Newman’s solution does succeed in throwing the burden of proof on anyone who alleges that the prophecy was not fulfilled. But even if 445 BC was indeed a sabbatical year or close to it, his results are too imprecise to be satisfying. Recently, Kokkinos proposed a solution identical to Newman’s, except that he regarded the sixty-ninth sabbatical year, in AD 33/34, as the first year of Jesus’ ministry (39). The year of His death, in Kokkinos’s view, was AD 36, a date we have shown to be untenable. More recently, Peter J. Gentry, also seeing the weeks as sabbaticals, decided that Artaxerxes’ decree in 458 BC (which he misdated 457) was the event associated with the opening week (40). Thus, the week spanning AD 27–34 was actually the seventieth. His solution not only failed to gain more precision, and not only turned away from the clues pointing to the king’s later decree as a starting point, but also it lost the true significance of the final prophetic week. In the context of Gentry’s whole presentation, his analysis of Daniel 9:25 serves mainly as one prong of an attack on historic dispensationalism.
The view becoming dominant among conservative writers is that history confirms an approximate but not an exact fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks. This view is exemplified by Arthur E. Bloomfield, Henry M. Morris, Robert Duncan Culver, and John C. Whitcomb (41). J. J. Ross believed that the correct dates will never be found because they belong to the hidden things of God (42). F. Ellsworth Powell agreed with C. I. Scofield’s observation, "Prophetic time is invariably so near as to give full warning, so indeterminate as to give no satisfaction to mere curiosity" (43). Others who have questioned the need to find a mathematically precise fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks include E. H. Horne and Walter K. Price (44). Some of a professedly conservative outlook have strayed even farther from literalism and come to the opinion that the whole scheme of numbers in Daniel 9:24–27 is merely symbolic. Of this persuasion are C. F. Keil, Charles A. Briggs, H. C. Leupold, Philip C. Johnson, Joyce G. Baldwin, Ronald S. Wallace, A. Berkley Michelson, and Allan A. MacRae (45).