During October 19-20, the Village Seventh-day Adventist church in Berrien Springs Michigan hosted a Daniel 11 Prophecy Conference. It was historic, in that it was the largest conference in Seventh-day Adventist history specifically focusing on the prophecy of Daniel 11.
With twenty-one speakers, including both scholars, evangelists, and especially interested members, an opportunity was provided to share presentations, dialogue, and discuss the key points of the major interpretive approaches Adventists have historically proposed for this highly complex and detailed prophecy. One point that all agree upon is that this prophecy clearly extends to the end of time.
Unlike some other prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, for which there exists a general consensus leading Adventists to use them in their evangelistic materials, Daniel 11 has eluded a majority opinion. Several different interpretations have been popular during the past century, but many of them have not proven satisfying, nor have proven useful in evangelism. The purpose of this conference was to respond to the interest by many Adventist members to encourage the church at large to again study the prophecy and determine its relevance for today.
The organizing committee, chaired by Dr. Conrad Vine (director of Adventist Frontier Missions), and the Village church senior pastor, Ron Kelly, alongside Dr. Frank Hardy, Pastor John Witcombe, Dr. Roy Gane, Pastor Ivor Myers, and doctoral candidate Michael Younker, decided to make the conference an inclusive one, bringing together the disparate views that Adventist members have proposed, both in the past and present.
It was hoped that such an environment could provide a platform for cordial sharing and dialogue—something that has never before occurred (infamously, our pioneers Uriah Smith and James White disagreed about Daniel 11, and Ellen White’s comments are ambiguous). Judging from the comments by the presenters near the close, this objective was attained.
Almost all of the presenters expressed appreciation for the opportunity to share their perspectives, and listen to and learn from the others. At the same time, it is probably true that some attendees not already well studied in the issues may have been overwhelmed by the complexity and conflicting perspectives.
Amongst Adventists, there is a general (although not full) agreement on the first half of Daniel 11, verses 4-22. In particular, almost all Adventists see Christ in verse 22, as the “prince of the covenant.” However, from verses 23-45, the opinions diverge greatly.
Although there are three main alternative views at present, there are also other minority interpretations of the last half of Daniel 11, and a few of these minority views were shared on Friday morning and afternoon. However, the decision by the organizing committee was to focus the Sabbath afternoon presentations around the three major views prominent today.
Additionally, during Sabbath morning and for the divine service hours, general presentations were made by Kim Kjaer and Jon Steffanson, addressing some basic hermeneutical issues, with sermons by Ivor Myers and Conrad Vine on the importance of prophecy and the second coming.
The three major views diverge, in particular, on 11:40-45, where a King of the South goes against the King of the North, with an apparent conflict following their encounter, with the King of the North defeating the King of the South, prior to him also being destroyed sometime around the time that Michael (Christ) stands up and the second coming occurs. A few variant readings also exist.
In any case, the first position (originally articulated by Uriah Smith) suggests that Daniel 11 is a straightforward literal prophecy, and the King of the North, at the end of time, is Turkey (which is north of Israel), and the King of the South is located in Egypt (south of Israel). For advocates of this view today, either the prophecy was already mostly fulfilled around 1798, or will soon be (variations of opinion on this exist).
The main hermeneutical point here is that the language of the prophecy is not symbolic at any point, and thus the prophecy is consistent within itself, given it never ‘signals’ any transition from literal to symbolic language.
The second popular position emerged from James White—though others, such as William Miller and Martin Luther, shared variations on it previously—and has received some modifications as time has passed after White, such as during the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States.
In this view, the King of the North is the Papacy (as it is understood by many to be earlier in Daniel 11:31), and the King of the South is atheism. Atheism is represented as attacking the Papal King of the North, either around 1798 through France, or, possibly, as attacking the Papacy later through the rise of evolutionary theory, or atheistic communism.
Although this view’s advocates believe the prophecy to be literal and non-symbolic prior to verse 22, during the era of the “new spiritual Israel” of Christianity, the Middle East, and Israel in particular, cannot be understood to be literal in any prophecy. This is done, by some, to protect Adventism from dispensationalists who support Zionism and a role for Israel at the end times.
The third popular view, which is the newer view, is that the King of the North again represents the Papacy, but the King of the South represents the religious and political power that occupies Egypt and other territories primarily south of Israel (specifically, Islam).
Advocates of this view believe the basic essence of Smith’s approach to be correct (it is literal), but believe Smith erred on several points of historical application. That is, Smith’s history simply doesn’t match with the text, not just in 40-45, but also in earlier verses, which help guide the historical flow into the present (verses 25-30 describe two earlier conflicts between the same two Kings, the Latin-Arab conflict, and the Latin-Ottoman conflict). This position is one that is still developing.
Many feel this Conference was the first step toward more opportunities to dialogue and exchange ideas, which it appears is needed. All the presenters agree the prophecy should be studied more, and that now is the time to invest energy and time into it.
Other interesting papers were shared, such as one by Hugo Leon, focusing on the Maskilim or “wise ones” in Daniel 11 and 12—those who seek God for wisdom appropriate to their time. It was the collective prayer of this group that we as a church may embody the wise ones and make the understanding of this prophecy happen soon, as God leads.