Does Daniel Predict the Future? Understanding Images

“While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.”(Daniel 8:15-16)

Image

Vision of the Ram and Goat, Zurich Bible

When reading Daniel 7-12 or Revelation, our first question should be “What did this mean to the original readers?”, not “When will these things happen?”

Apocalyptic literature, like Daniel 7-12 and Revelation, frequently uses images. In Daniel 7, God is an ‘Ancient of Days,’ sitting as a judge on a throne. To the original readers this would not be a literal description of God. God is not an old man sitting on a physical throne. The same would have been true of hybrid beasts or the Son of Man: the original readers would not have understood these literally, but as images pointing to greater realities.

If we try to interpret the images of Daniel 7-12 and Revelation literally, we are headed for confusion and misinterpretation.  This does not mean we can’t understand Daniel’s or John the Revelator’s images at all, but understanding these images will require more work than your typical Bible study.  We will get a glimpse of the future when we carefully study apocalyptic literature, but we will also see some ‘gray areas.’

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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2 Responses to Does Daniel Predict the Future? Understanding Images

  1. Zee Bee says:

    I believe this about scriptures. I believe that God has written to us in a way that we can take what He says literally, and be correct, and go on our merry way. Or we can, look at what is written as metaphors – and still be correct. Then we have the issue of interpreting the sympbols. My problem is: How do we separate scriptures into literal or metaphorical? So since I’m not prepared to do that right now, I believe Daniel’s book is what he says it is: It is a prediction of what is to come. Some perhaps already fulfilled; some yet for our future.

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