Can I trust the Bible? – Daniel (Case Study 1)

We are asking the question “Can I trust the Bible – or is it just a load of made up stories?” In the first article we said that what the Bible says is consistent with the World around us, including history. So over the next few days we are going to pick up some examples from the Bible and see why we can rely on them to be trustworthy and true.  These will include another  look at Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction, Joseph in Egypt and The story of the Exodus. Today we start with the book of Daniel, one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.

Daniel, the person is introduced as one of the young men taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 1). There he rises to prominence as one of the King’s wise advisors and gains a reputation as the interpreter of dreams. Daniel also receives dreams and visions too which predict the future. These are recorded in the book.

Daniel 11 accurately describes the events surrounding the life of Antioches Epihanies -a Seleucid ruler between 175 and 163 BC. A lot of scholars therefore assume that Daniel was written around about 165BC many years after the supposed  events of Daniel’s life in Babylon and after the events he prophesied.  The claim is that history is made to look like prophecy.

There are three problems with this.[1]

First, as Davis explains:

“The Daniel texts found at Qumran have implications for the date of the canonical book. Fragments of eight manuscripts of Daniel have been identified among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest dating from 120-115 BC. All twelve chapters are represented among the Qumran materials.”[2]

The problem is that Daniel is treated by the Qumran community as a prophet on par with Ezekiel and Isaiah. The manuscripts at Qumran date from around 115 BC. As Davis comments.

“That strains probability: a mere fifty years for a work to become extant, be circulated among the Jewish people and accepted as Scripture.”[3]

Secondly, the theory runs that the author writes pseudonymously using the mythical life of Daniel in captivity to encourage people living under Antiochus’ oppressive rule to faithfully resits and even face martyrdom. However, the stories of Daniel’s life don’t appear designed to teach such a message. Far from resisting, Daniel’s faith is seen as he serves in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius the Mede.[4]

Thirdly, linguistic analysis suggests that the Hebrew and Aramaic in Daniel belong to an earlier period.[5]  Kitchen identifies the Aramaic as “Imperial Aramaic” datable to between 600-330 BC.[6] Whilst Archer’s analysis of the Hebrew finds that it is not contemporary with the 2nd Century BC.[7]

In other words, the primary reason for dating Daniel late is the presupposition that predictive prophecy is not possible.[8] Yet, it is not possible to date the book late enough to remove the need for some prediction. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you are predicting 400 plus years into the future or 200 years, you are still making predictions.

Both the internal and external evidence point to a book which accurately predicts future events.  The book of Daniel is a fantastic example of why we can trust the Bible and conclude that it isn’t just a load of made up stories.

[1] See Dale Ralph Davis, The Message of Daniel (BST. Nottingham: IVP, 1988), 16. John E Goldingay, Daniel (WBC 30. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1996), xxxix-xl. Donald E Gowan, Daniel (AOTC. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2001), 20-22.

[2] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 18.

[3] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 18.

[4] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 18-19.

[5] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 19.

[6] KA Kitchen, “The Aramaic of Daniel” pages 31-79 in  D.J. Wiseman, T.C. Mitchell & R. Joyce, W.J. Martin & K.A. Kitchen, Notes on Some problems in the book of Daniel (London: Tyndale, 1965), 75.

[7] Gleason L. Archer, Jr, “The Hebrew of Daniel Compared with the Qumran Sectarian Documents’, pages 470-481 in John H Skilton (ed.), The Law and the Prophets (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974).

[8] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 20-21. Goldingay, Daniel, xxxix.