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The So-called Gap Theory

The most popular traditional interpretations of Daniel 9:24-27 (aka the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks or the Messiah Prophecy) begin their exposition with a Persian decree, most often the one issued by Artaxerxes I Longimanus to Nehemiah. That decree is usually dated by most traditional interpreters to 445 BCE. The traditional interpretations also assume that a “week” is a time period of seven years in duration. In these interpretive schemes, an “anointed one” (assumed to be Jesus) is “cut off” (i.e., killed) at the end of the 7 weeks + 62 weeks in verse 26. But, because 7 weeks + 62 weeks = 69 weeks = 483 years, when calculated from 445 BCE, extends to somewhere between 38 CE and 40 CE, far beyond the accepted dates for the ministry and lifetime of Jesus. Consequently, some questionable calendric manipulation must be done to make everything make sense.

To overcome the embarrassment of having their interpretation end years after the death of Jesus, the 483 years are reduced to 476 years by a clever mathematical slight-of-hand achieved by arbitrarily replacing the biblical calendar years specified by God in Gen. 1:14 with what they call “prophetic years,” each such manmade year consisting of only 360 days, a calendric assumption that has no basis of support whatsoever in Scripture, ancient Jewish history, or astronomy. After all, a God-specified year has 365¼ days according to Genesis 1:14. Conveniently, by using their man-created “prophetic year,” the 483 years end with the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem during Passover week in 32/33 CE, ironically yielding yet another error in sacred chronology, since Jesus died in 30 CE.

Astoundingly, the 70th week (or in some expositions the last half of it) is then projected into the future by conjuring up a time gap, a period often called the “church age,” something that is achieved by stopping the prophetic clock from ticking for over nineteen centuries so far. In that traditional interpretive scheme, the prophetic clock does not start ticking again until the end of the church age, when the church will be raptured off the planet. That manmade interpretation of the chronology specified in Daniel 9:24-27 is widely accepted today in conservative theological circles, but that and similar interpretations are seriously flawed in the following ways:

  1. The decree specified in verse 25 that begins the Seventy Weeks was not a Persian decree but one issued by Julius Caesar and recorded in Josephus as follows: “Gaius Caesar, consul the fifth time [in 44 BCE], hath decreed, That the Jews shall possess Jerusalem, and may encompass that city with walls; and that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews [the anointed one and prince of the prophecy] , retain it in the manner he himself pleases; and that the Jews be allowed to deduct out of their tribute, every second year the land is let [i.e., in the Sabbath Year], a corus of that tribute; and that the tribute they pay be not let to farm, nor that they pay always the same tribute” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.5). The decree by Caesar is identical with the requirements specified in Dan. 9:25, whereas none of the Persian decrees actually fit the text.
  2. A “week” in verse 25 does not mean a period of seven years, as traditionally interpreted, but instead refers to the annual Jewish Festival of Weeks, which ends with the day of Pentecost. The Hebrew word shavuot, always translated as “weeks” in the Bible, does mean “seven years” in Genesis, but subsequently in four other places, in Ex. 34:24, Deu. 16:10, Deu. 16:16, and 2 Chr. 8:13, the same word is used to indicate “Feast of Weeks.” When that latter usage is applied to interpreting the Seventy Weeks in verse 24, it yields seventy Feast of Weeks, resulting in a time period of approximately seventy years.
  3. The seven-week division in verse 25 that begins the Seventy Weeks is usually not explained in traditional expositions (a very serious flaw), but is usually lumped in with the 62 weeks to make a block of 69 weeks. However, the seven weeks, by being mentioned in the biblical text as a separate time span, are important as a unit of time by themselves. They should be understood as seven Feasts of Weeks (Day of Pentecosts) that occur in a seven-year sabbatical cycle. When the seven-week time period in verse 25 is aligned with the seven-year sabbatical cycle that is known to have begun in 42 BCE and to have ended with the Sabbath Year that began in 36 BCE, it precisely locates the Seventy Weeks in history. The sixty-two weeks which follow the seven weeks are thus defined as the sixty-two Day of Pentecosts that occurred in the years 35 BCE to 27 CE, one each year. Properly locating the seven weeks in time is important because it locates the public ministry of Jesus in history, and does so precisely.
  4. The 70th week follows the sixty-nine weeks and thus is identified as the time period between the Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) that was observed in 27 CE, which concluded the 62nd week time period, and ending with the Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) in 28 CE, during which the six things that had to occur during the Seventy Weeks as specified in verse 24 are brought to completion with the baptism of Jesus.

So, if you have been taught the traditional interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, and especially if you are basing your understanding of the Book of Revelation on the time line produced by the interpretation of Daniel 9 that employs a gap theory to force its chronological details into a semblance of coherence, it may be difficult for you to admit that your traditional interpretation is incorrect. It won’t be the first time that has happened. During his ministry, Jesus encountered many Jewish scribes who based their rejection of his identity as the Messiah on erroneous interpretations of the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh. The scribes and priests were so committed to their incorrect manmade assumptions about the Messiah that they could not recognize the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies by Jesus even though they could behold him and his prophecy-fulfilling works with their very own eyes. In like manner, don’t fall into the “Gap Trap” that results from an incorrect interpretation of the chronological details in the ninth chapter of Daniel.

See chart showing The Seventy Weeks

Published inArticlesChronologyExpositionProphecy