An Example of Popular Prophecy Holding Tradition Over Scripture

Much of what we think we know about the end times comes from traditional teachings that have been around with us for up to 1800 years.

Hippolytus, the First Christian Commentator

Hippolytus was bishop of Rome around AD 200 when he wrote his opinion about the fulfillment of Daniel 8.* He wrote,

“The prophet [Daniel] having thus instructed us with all exactness as to the certainty of the things that are to be, broke off from his present subject, and passed again to the kingdom of the Persians and Greeks, recounting to us another vision which took place, and was fulfilled in its proper time . . .” (emphasis added)

Hippolytus begins by telling us that the writing of Daniel is already solved in 200 AD. The exactness of events and the certainty of things that are to be, as he writes, are due to his view that the vision has been fulfilled, and exactly. We cannot fault him for this because in 200 AD, as he writes in another volume, he believed the coming of Christ and the end of the world was only 300 years away. And since he obviously would have read Daniel 8:17, 19, and 26 saying the vision pertains to the end time might still be able to say (at a stretch) that the Persian Empire and Alexander were the fulfillment. After all, those were the only possible fulfillments back at that time. The church, eager to have some interpretation for Daniel 8, readily accepted it and over eighteen centuries made it part of their precious tradition.

Hippolytus continued,

“For by the ‘ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward,’ he means Darius, the king of the Persians, who overcame all the nations; ‘for,’ says he, ‘these beasts shall not stand before him.’ And by the ‘he-goat that came from the west,’ he means Alexander the Macedonian, the king of the Greeks; and in that he ‘came against that very ram, and was moved with choler, and smote him upon the face, and shivered him, and cast him upon the ground, and stamped upon him,’ this expresses just what has happened.” (emphasis added)

The Birth of a Tradition

Those words written by Hippolytus began a tradition in the church. Hippolytus could not be faulted since he believed Christ was coming in 300 years, and the events he thought fulfilled Daniel 8 only occurred 500 years before.

But then the centuries rolled by. Century after century, Hippolytus’ explanation was added to and made dear to the hearts of theologians. The appearance of Alexander the Great and Antiochus IV Epiphanes receded to 700 years in the past, and 1,000 years in the past.

In AD 1000, it was clear that no more fulfillment occurred for Daniel 8 in literally 1,000 years – so how could Hippolytus’ guess in light of Daniel 8:17, 19, and 26 (where three times the vision is said to pertain to the end times) still be considered correct?

Still the tradition continued – through the medieval period, through the Renaissance and Reformation, into the Industrial Revolution. At that point, just before the American Civil War, those ancient events written by Hippolytus were now TWO millennia in the past.

Tradition Defended

And so one century after that, in 1955, Nils Lund the Lutheran pastor and clergyman wrote about Daniel 8 which showed how tradition had become embedded and equal to Holy Writ in his own theology as it was in everyone’s:

“In Daniel 8:5-14 we have a vision of the he-goat and the ram. We are told in vs. 17 the meaning of the vision: ‘Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongeth to the time of the end.’ When are we to look for this ‘time of the end’? Surely not at the end of the world if, as the explanation explicitly says, the vision portrays the conflict between the kings of Media and Persia and the king of Greece, together with the division of Alexander’s kingdom after his death with the resulting struggles of the Jews with Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.) as indicated by the book of Daniel. This conflict, we know from history, took place before 323 B.C., when Alexander the Great died. ‘The time of the end,’ therefore, can in this instance only indicate the prophetic horizon of Daniel’s visions up to 168 B.C.” (emphasis added)

He quotes Daniel 8:17. He even repeats the phrase “the time of the end,” so he is aware of what that verse says. But he uses tradition to go against the words of Scripture: “surely not at the end of the world.” Stop for a moment and let this sink in. Reread the quote. Why would he write such a thing? The traditional interpretation has taken such a hold the author dismisses the words of the Bible in favor of what we think we all know. Lund says Daniel 8 “explicitly says” the vision portrayed the conflict between Persia and Greece before 168 BC. Where does the text of Daniel 8 say that? It doesn’t. To me, this is an amazing and obvious case in modern times of tradition trumping the Word.

The tradition started eighteen centuries earlier has taken such a strong hold on the minds of theologians that the plain words and plain meaning of the Bible are ignored because of precious tradition.

In Matthew 15:6 Jesus tells some Pharisees that they “nullify God’s word for the sake” of tradition. They changed the meaning of the Word to accommodate their tradition on gifts. Likewise, are not theologians today, supporting the old popular prophecy interpretation, nullifying God’s word by saying “surely not” in favor of their precious traditions?

Let Us Watch out for Tradition

In fact, when Daniel 8 says the vision pertains to the end time, we who are alive twenty-three centuries after the events of traditional fulfillment need to realize the events have not been fulfilled yet and we need to keep our eyes open.

We also need to wake up, with the help of the Holy Spirit teaching us, to all the traditions we have been brain-washed into thinking are gospel, and question what we think we know.

 

* All quotes of Hippolytus taken from his Commentary on Daniel, Book LI, The Interpretation by Hippolytus, (Bishop) of Rome, of the visions of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Taken in Conjunction. Sections 8, 9. AD 200.



Categories: Signpost Theology

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3 replies

  1. Good cross-examination on your part, Mark, as it is written: “He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” –Prov 18;17 (RSV).

  2. New book soon? Before year’s end?

  3. Jim,
    It looks like I’ll be turning the manuscript over to the publisher in January.

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