Thursday, September 20, 2007

Calvin on the 70 Weeks

John Calvin (1509–1564) wrote his commentary on Daniel in 1561. It was quickly translated into English, with a second English translation by Thomas Myers published in 1853 in two volumes (Smith, n.p.). Below is a summary of Calvin’s interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24–27.
I should make clear that I am not a Calvin scholar. That will probably become clear by reading the postings.
The passage from Daniel in the Latin translation included with Calvin’s commentary runs thus:
(24) Septuaginta hebdomades finitae sunt super populum tuum, et super urbem tuam sanctam, ad claudendum scelus, et obsignandum peccatum, et expiandam iniquitatem, et adducendam justitiam aeternam, et obsignandam visionem, et prophetiam, et ungendum sanctum sanctorum. (25) Cognosces ergo et intelliges, ab exitu verbi de reditu, et de aedificanda Jerosolyma usque ad Christum ducem hebdomadas septem, et hebdomadas sexaginta duas, et reducetur, et re-aedificabitur platea, et murus, idque in angustia temporum. (26) Et post hebdomadas sexaginta duas excidetur Christus, et nihil erit, et urbem et sanctuarium perdet populus ducis venientis, et finis ejus cum inundatione erit, vel, in diluvio, et ad finem belli definitio desolationum. (27) Et roborabit foedus multis, hebdomade una : et dimidia hebdomade quiescere faciet sacrificium, et oblationem : et super extensionem abominationum obstupescet, et ad finem, et ad determinationem stillabit super stupentem.
This paragraph comes at the end of a chapter in which Daniel has prayed to God on behalf of his people, after having read the words of Jeremiah about the exile. The reference is to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years that Israel would be exiled from their own land by the Babylonians: “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:11). The text says that Daniel, who himself was one of these exiles, had read this passage and discerned that the 70-year period was nearing completion (Dan. 9:2). He, therefore, called on God to forgive his people and restore them to their land. In response, God sent to Daniel an angel with a message about a 70-week period (9:24–27).
Calvin’s comments on this passage appear in the second volume of Myers’ translation, pp. 195–231. They occupy parts of four separate lectures, numbers 49–52. Calvin relies explicitly on St. Jerome's Commentary on Daniel, and he seems to access patristic interpretation largely through Jerome, who made it his habit to survey opinion, sometimes without even giving his own. Calvin also tries to interact with, and mostly refute, contemporary Jewish opinion, especially as represented by, to use Calvin’s expression, “that impure and obstinate Rabbi, Barbinel” (p. 206). Calvin mostly comments on the Latin, but does consult the Hebrew and even cites some Hebrew words in Hebrew characters (see especially the beginning of lecture 52, pp. 225–31). I don’t know anything about how proficient Calvin was at Hebrew, but Blacketer’s new book on Calvin’s OT exegesis should provide some help, especially page 11.
This post is the first in a series that will give the gist of what Calvin says about the 70 weeks. For now, I will cover the latter part of lecture 49, with references to the page numbers of the second volume of Myers’ translation. Of course, like most Christian interpreters throughout history, Calvin understands the 70 weeks to be a true prophecy about an actual chronological period that would follow the time of the prophet.
Calvin first encounters our passage at the middle of his 49th lecture, and spends his time here refuting Jewish opinion (pp. 195–202). He points to Lev. 25:8 to justify his taking these “weeks” as “weeks of years,” and admits that the Jews do likewise, counting a total of 490 years (pp. 196–97). Why does Daniel not say 490 years, but rather 70 weeks? He wanted to draw an analogy with Jeremiah’s prophecy. “The Prophet’s language must be interpreted as follows,--Sorrowful darkness has brooded over you for seventy years, but God will now follow up this period by one of favour of sevenfold duration, because by lightening your cares and moderating your sorrows, he will not cease to prove himself propitious to you even to the advent of Christ” (p. 200).
He says that the Jews view the 70 weeks as a period of God’s wrath, which is completely wrong, according to Calvin, since it is instead a period of consolation following upon the 70-year long exile. Calvin further alleges that the Jews count the 70 weeks from the destruction of the first temple to the destruction of the second temple. “The Jews again include the years which occurred from the ruin of the former Temple to the advent of Christ, and the final overthrow of their city” (p. 197). This is easy to refute, since, as Calvin says, this time period exceeds 600 years.
In my next post, I will look at lecture 50, where Calvin really begins to deal with the chronology of the 70 weeks.
Works Cited
Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 1561, trans. Thomas Myers, 2 vols. (1853; reprint: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948).
Smith, Wilbur M., “Introduction,” in John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, trans. Thomas Myers (reprint: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), vol. 1, n.p.
Blacketer, Raymond A., The School of God: Pedagogy and Rhetoric in Calvin's Interpretation of Deuteronomy, Studies in Early Modern Religious Reforms (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006).
Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, trans. Gleason L. Archer, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958).

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