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What Does Daniel Chapter 11 Mean?

Theologians review and debate Adventist understandings.

The 2019 Daniel 11 Prophecy Conference hosted by the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, presented an opportunity for new understanding of a difficult prophetic passage of the Bible.

The October 17-19 event brought a dynamic blend of scholars with expertise in biblical Hebrew, as well as laypeople without formal training. Each day included multiple time segments set aside for singing, praying, and seeking God together. A beautiful spirit was sensed among participants — people from opposing viewpoints drawn together by a bond much deeper than their interpretation of Daniel 11.

The opening presentations on Thursday morning — by Kim Kjaer, a retired pastor, and Brendan Valiant, a layperson who has done a lot of studying and writing on the topic — explained two different hermeneutical methods for interpreting Daniel 11.

In the afternoon, Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary professor Denis Fortin gave a survey of interpretative approaches that Adventists have used from William Miller’s time to the present. Retired White Estate administrator William Fagal’s presentation answered questions regarding the extent to which Ellen White, a co-founder of the Adventist Church and 19th-century prophet of God, endorsed Uriah Smith’s interpretation. 

Some of the presenters at the 2019 Daniel 11 Prophecy Conference held October 17-19, 2019, included (from left to right) Brendan Valiant, Roy Gane, Michael Younker, Ron Kelly, Martin Probstle, Kim Kjaer, Conrad Vine, Samuel Nunez Sr., Tarsee Li, Jerome Skinner, Oliver Glanz, and Amanda McGuire-Moushon, pictured at the Village church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. [Photo: Jonathan Min, Lake Union Conference News]

Some of the presenters at the 2019 Daniel 11 Prophecy Conference held October 17-19, 2019, included (from left to right) Brendan Valiant, Roy Gane, Michael Younker, Ron Kelly, Martin Probstle, Kim Kjaer, Conrad Vine, Samuel Nunez Sr., Tarsee Li, Jerome Skinner, Oliver Glanz, and Amanda McGuire-Moushon, pictured at the Village church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. [Photo: Jonathan Min, Lake Union Conference News]

The roundtable discussion on Friday and Saturday (Sabbath) focused on understanding the language of the Hebrew text. The forum involved professors from nearby Andrews University, Oakwood University in Alabama, United States, and Austria’s Bogenhofen Theological Seminary.

The three basic Adventist interpretations of the book of Daniel 11 are discussed below.

The Turkey and Egypt Position

The first view holds fairly closely to what Uriah Smith wrote in his 1884 book, Daniel and the Revelation and defends a strong literal interpretation throughout the entire chapter. 

The King of the North in verses 40-45 is interpreted as being Turkey, either as the Ottoman Empire in its conflict in 1798 AD with Napoleonic France and the breakaway rulers of Egypt (verses 40-44), or as a last-days reincarnation of the Caliphate; and the King of the South in verses 40-45 represents Egypt. 

Uriah Smith’s interpretation argues that all the verses up to and including verse 44 have already been fulfilled. The modern exponents of this position argue that verse 45 is to be interpreted as Turkey, leading a re-established Caliphate, which will establish a newly restored Caliphate in Jerusalem, after which this power meets its end, leading to the final time of trouble of Daniel 12:1.

This position has many adherents because (1) it appears to use a consistently literal hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) throughout the chapter, that is to say, the King of the North is always a literal, earthly power situated/based to the north of Jerusalem, and the King of the South is always a literal, earthly power situated/based to the south of Jerusalem; and (2) Ellen White appears to provide strong support for the views contained in Uriah Smith’s preaching on the “Eastern Question” and the contents of his chapter on Daniel 11 in his book.

It should be noted that some recent Adventist commentators cast doubt on the extent of White’s support for this interpretation. 

The Papacy and Atheism Position 

The second position takes the latter half of the chapter symbolically, arguing that the papacy is represented in its persecuting phase during the 1,260 years of papal supremacy. 

This position agrees with the first position of a literal/historical interpretive framework for verses 1-22, down to the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary, but argues that after Calvary, the New Testament (NT) consistently applies a more spiritualized interpretation of Old Testament (OT) literal actors. 

For instance, historical Babylon in Daniel becomes spiritual Babylon in Revelation; ethnic Israel through the OT era to the end of the 490-year prophecy of Daniel becomes spiritual Israel in NT times; and so on. 

Thus, although this position identifies historical actors from verse 23 onward, these historical actors are no longer considered to represent the literal earthly powers to the north and south of Jerusalem, but rather they represent spiritual powers that are manifest in earthly realities, such as, for instance, the papacy as the King of the North. Verses 36-39 represent the full flowering of the blasphemous and persecuting papal power before 1798 AD. 

In verses 40-45, the papacy remains as the King of the North and atheism as the King of the South. This position parallels the identification of the atheist French Revolution in Revelation 11, and Revolutionary France being the power that overthrew the papacy in 1798 AD. This view came into vogue from the 1940s onward, after the writings of Louis Were, and is driven by two main factors: (1) literary parallels between the little-horn papal power of Daniel 7 and 8 and the King of the North from verse 36 onward; and (2) seeking to correlate the eschatology of Revelation 12-14 and 2 Thessalonians, with the actors mentioned in Daniel 11. 

This view is probably the most commonly held view in the Adventist Church today.

The Papacy and Islam Position

The third (and most recent) position among Adventists reads Daniel 11 as the third, basically literal interpretation of the symbolic vision in 8:1-14, after the interpretations in 8:17-26 and 9:24-27. 

Daniel 11:2-21 profile a sequence of historical events after the time of Daniel that affects his Jewish people and comprise background to the Messiah’s coming. Verse 22 predicts the death of Christ under imperial Rome at the heart of the chapter. Verses 23-30 trace the rise of the religio-political church of Rome and its political-military exploits, including the Crusades and later campaigns against Islamic power, in which Catholic forces coming to the land of Israel from the north and Muslim armies coming to it from the south sought to control it (verses 25-30). 

Then verses 31-39 flesh out the predictions in Daniel 7 and 8 concerning the papacy’s unique and astonishing religious pretensions and vicious persecutions (verses 31-39; see also 2 Thessalonians 2). In verses 40-43, the papacy and its allies (“Babylon” in Revelation) finally triumph over Islamic power, its long-time religio-political nemesis (see also the fifth and sixthtrumpets in Revelation 9), during the “time of the end” (after 1798 and 1844). 

In the course of a final campaign, which apparently aims to persecute God’s true people, the papacy abruptly meets its end (verses 44-45) just before a “time of trouble” and Christ’s second coming (12:1-3). This interpretation accepts religious emphasis and globalization developing after Christ’s first coming as Israel becomes the Christian church and Rome becomes the papacy. However, God’s true Christian people are also affected by the political-military activities of Rome and Islam at particular times and locations.

About the Conference

According to the theologians’ group website, the steering committee’s mission is “to provide a forum for Seventh-day Adventists to engage in deep and honest study of Scripture in accordance with biblical principles of interpretation, accompanied by prayerful and respectful dialogue.” They add that it must be “characterized by humility and an openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to provide as full an understanding of Daniel 11 as God sees fit to open to our understanding.”

The steering committee, chaired by Village Church member Conrad Vine, is planning to go further in the prophetic studies at the next Daniel 11 event, which is scheduled for October 22-24, 2020.

The original version of this story was posted on the Lake Union Conference news site. You can read some of the papers and watch video presentations of the 2019 conference.