Early Testimony to Prophetic Truth


(This is a very small section of Mr B W Newton’s reply to the prophetic views expressed by Mr Elliott and Dr Cumming.  It is extracted from the book ‘Aids to Prophetic Enquiry’, published in 1881).


The doctrine that days mean years is a comparatively modern notion.  The following quotations sufficiently show the prevailing doctrine on this subject during the early centuries.


Irenaeus, in the second century, says: ‘When Antichrist shall have ravaged all things in this world, reigning three years and six months, and shall have sat in the Temple at Jerusalem, then the Lord shall come from Heaven in clouds, in the glory of the Father, to cast him and those who obey him, into the lake of fire.’ (Irenaeus, Adv. Heres., chapter 30).


Hippolytus, in the third century, says, commenting on Daniel: ‘Time, times, and half a time; by which Daniel means three and a half


Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D.360, says: ‘Antichrist shall reign three and a half years only.  I say not this from the Apochryphal writings, but from Daniel, for he says, and it shall be given into his hand until a time, etc; now a time is one year(Catech 15).


Jerome, in the fifth century, says: ‘Time signifies a year: times (according to the idiom of the Hebrews, who themselves have a dual number) signifies two years; half a time six months.’ Jerome speaks of this as being the doctrine which ‘all ecclesiastical writers have delivered(Jerome on Daniel).


Theodoret, who lived in the middle of the fifth century, says in his commentary on Daniel 7: ‘By a time, times, and half a time, the prophet means three and a half years, during which that horn which speaketh great things shall prevail


Bede, who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries, commenting on Revelation 12 and 13, says: ‘Time signifies a year; times, two years; half a time, six months: for before the three and a half years, he (Antichrist) does not blaspheme openly.’ (aperto ore).


Quotations to this effect might be almost indefinitely multiplied, but it is unnecessary.  Even Mede allows, that until the twelth century, all expected an Antichrist ‘who would last for three years and six months’ (Triennalem et semestrem expectabant).


Indeed, Mr Elliott himself says ‘It is, I believe, the fact that for the first four centuries, the days mentioned in Daniel and the Apocalyptic prophecies respecting Antichrist, were interpreted literally as days, not as years, by the Fathers of the Christian Church ... They looked perpetually for the breaking up of the Roman Empire into ten kingdoms, as a sign of its near approach; that division being understood by them to mark the time of Antichrist’s revelation; and in accordance with the literal interpretation of the prophetic days, as the forerunner, at only three and a half years’ interval, of the coming of the Son of Man.  Such was the expectation of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Cyril, Chrysostom, Jerome, and in fine Augustine’ (Elliott, Vol 3, p 966).


Nor are testimonies to this effect confined to writers before the twelth century.


Sebastian Munster, born in 1489, originally a Franciscan monk, but eventually one of the Reformers, and said by Dupin to have been one of the ablest of those who embraced the Protestant faith, in his commentary on Daniel 7, writes thus: ‘God, says the Prophet, will not permit the tribulation from Antichrist and his followers to assail His elect with undue severity; but it shall continue for a time, that is a year; and times, that is two years; and half a time, that is half a year; in other words, it shall not last through a septenary period.  For those days shall be shortened for the elects’ sake’ (See Critici Sacri in loco).


Clarius also, a Benedictine of the sixteenth century, and Vatablus, Professor of Divinity at Paris in that century, write to the same effect.  Their remarks may be seen in the commentaries on Daniel given in the Critici Sacri.  See also the commentary of Zeger on the Apocalypse given in the same work.


Grotius gives the same interpretation, and quotes in confirmation the following passage from Josephus, who speaking of Antiochus, says, that he despoiled the Temple, and caused the daily sacrifice to cease for three years and six months (Josephus on the Jewish War, Lib 1, Cap 1).


Clarius also refers to this; after saying that the saints would suffer under Antichrist for three years and a half - or as stated by John, forty and two months - he adds ‘for so long a time the Temple was profaned by Antiochus, who was himself a type of Antichrist


The passage from Josephus clearly proves that he understood days to mean days.  The following passage shows the doctrine of the Jews on this subject at a later period.  Aben Ezra, who lived in the twelth century, referring to Saadias, a celebrated Jewish teacher, says, ‘Now Saadias expounds correctly and well; know also that in Holy Scripture days are always days, and never years.  Yet it is possible that the word days may mean an entire year, since the repetition of the days produces a return of the year; as when it is said, Exodus 13: 10, from days to days, that is from year to year.  But when the number is stated, as two days, three days, it cannot mean years, but must be days, as it stands’ (Aben Ezra, as quoted by Maitland. See also Dr McCaul).


It is of course possible that all these writers may have been wrong.  On many most important truths, their teaching was wrong; but in such cases we are able clearly to disprove their statements by the Word of God.


(There is another passage, of considerable length, written by Mr Newton on the teaching of the early fathers and this appears in the unabridged editions of ‘Prospects of the Ten Kingdoms,’ now quite rare).