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Assessing the Foundation of the SDA 2300-day Structure

By Eduardo Martínez-Rancaño

Seventh-day Adventism shares a good deal of Biblical doctrines with the rest of Christendom. Even some doctrines that are seen as suspect by many Evangelicals, such as conditional immortality and Sabbath observance, are or have been shared by other Christians and reputed scholars throughout history. As the Seventh-day Adventist Church admits herself, the only doctrine that is entirely unique to them is their understanding regarding events that supposedly started in heaven in the year 1844, precisely on October 22.

Several excellent essays are available on this web site and elsewhere on the Internet about the serious exegetical and historical difficulties involved in that Adventist claim, so their content need not be repeated here. The only drift of this research is to establish the validity of the starting date of a 2,300-year prophecy that Seventh-day Adventism claims started ticking in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I of dated, according to Adventist literature, in 457 BC. We will not be considering the exegesis of Dan. 8:14, which is where Adventist pioneers got their idea of a 2,300-year prophecy ending in 1844. In any case, the reader should not take for granted that we accept the claim that the period mentioned in Dan. 8:14 started sometime during the reign of Artaxerxes I or any other Persian king. Similarly, nobody should assume that we accept the notion that the prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 started at the same time as the 2,300 evenings and mornings of Dan. 8:14, or that either prophecy, or both, have some connection whatever with Artaxerxes I.

The only thing we will be concentrating on is the validity of Ellen G. White’s statements about the purported chronological start of the 2,300 “years” sometime in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, as accepted by Seventh-day Adventism.

There are several somewhat generic references by Ellen White to the year 457 as the beginning of the 2,300 years that supposedly ended in 1844. For instance,

In the seventh chapter of Ezra the decree is found. Verses 12-26. In its completest form it was issued by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, 457 B.C. But in Ezra 6:14 the house of the Lord at Jerusalem is said to have been built “according to the commandment [“decree,” margin] of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” These three kings, in originating, reaffirming, and completing the decree, brought it to the perfection required by the prophecy to mark the beginning of the 2300 years. Taking 457 B.C., the time when the decree was completed, as the date of the commandment, every specification of the prophecy concerning the seventy weeks was seen to have been fulfilled.1

Thus far every specification of the prophecies is strikingly fulfilled, and the beginning of the seventy weeks is fixed beyond question at 457 B.C., and their expiration in A.D. 34. From this data there is no difficulty in finding the termination of the 2300 days. The seventy weeks—490 days—having been cut off from the 2300, there were 1810 days remaining. After the end of 490 days, the 1810 days were still to be fulfilled. From A.D. 34, 1810 years extend to 1844. Consequently the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 terminate in 1844. At the expiration of this great prophetic period, upon the testimony of the angel of God, “the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” Thus the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary—which was almost universally believed to take place at the second advent—was definitely pointed out.2

About seventy years after the return of the first company of exiles under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Artaxerxes Longimanus came to the throne of Medo-Persia. The name of this king is connected with sacred history by a series of remarkable providences. It was during his reign that Ezra and Nehemiah lived and labored. He is the one who in 457 B.C. issued the third and final decree for the restoration of Jerusalem. His reign saw the return of a company of Jews under Ezra, the completion of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah and his associates, the reorganization of the temple services, and the great religious reformations instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah. During his long rule he often showed favor to God’s people, and in his trusted and well-beloved Jewish friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, he recognized men of God’s appointment, raised up for a special work.3

Our calculation of the prophetic time was so simple and plain that even children could understand it. From the date of the decree of the king of Persia, found in Ezra 7, which was given in 457 before Christ, the 2300 years of Daniel 8:14 were supposed to terminate with 1843. Accordingly we looked to the end of this year for the coming of the Lord. We were sadly disappointed when the year entirely passed away, and the Saviour had not come.4

The decree of Artaxerxes was made in the seventh year of his reign, B. C. 457. Once more the dispersed of Judah were given opportunity to work out the purpose of God in restoring Zion. In the raising up of Ezra as a leader, God’s providence was manifest. Some discerned this, and gladly took advantage of the privilege of returning under circumstances so favorable.5

However, she was more specific on several occasions when trying to pinpoint when in 457 BC Artaxerxes’ decree was issued. Her earliest statement that has come to my attention was written not later than 1868:

It was not at first perceived that if the decree did not go forth at the beginning of the year 457 B.C., the 2300 years would not be completed at the close of 1843. But it was ascertained that the decree was given near the close of the year 457 B.C., and therefore the prophetic period must reach to the fall of the year 1844. Therefore the vision of time did not tarry, though it had seemed to do so. We learned to rest upon the language of the prophet. “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”6

So, according to this paragraph, Artaxerxes’ decree “was given near the close of the year 457 B.C.” And this was “ascertained” by those involved in Adventist calculations. We would probably be wise if we interpret that “near the close” means sometime in the second half of the year, that is, sometime between July 1 and December 31, 457 B.C.

Mrs White is even more specific in some later texts:

“From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks”—namely, sixty-nine weeks, or 483 years. The decree of Artaxerxes went into effect in the autumn of 457 B.C. From this date, 483 years extend to the autumn of A.D. 27. (See Appendix.) At that time this prophecy was fulfilled. The word “Messiah” signifies “the Anointed One.” In the autumn of A.D. 27 Christ was baptized by John and received the anointing of the Spirit. The apostle Peter testifies that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power.” Acts 10:38. And the Saviour Himself declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.” Luke 4:18. After His baptism He went into Galilee, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled.” Mark 1:14, 15.7

It is to be noted that in the two decades that had elapsed from her original 1868 presentation, Artaxerxes’ decree was now seen as going into effect, not simply being given. As we will see, this is highly significant. In addition, the autumn is pinpointed as the time of the year when the decree “went into effect.”

All the remaining passages are similar:

That which led to this movement was the discovery that the decree of Artaxerxes for the restoration of Jerusalem, which formed the starting point for the period of the 2300 days, went into effect in the autumn of the year 457 B.C., and not at the beginning of the year, as had been formerly believed. Reckoning from the autumn of 457, the 2300 years terminate in the autumn of 1844. (See Appendix note for page 329.)8

Let us notice that the notion that Artaxerxes’ decree “went into effect” in the autumn of 457 BC was a “discovery.” Unfortunately, we are not informed who the discoverer was. Perhaps we should interpret that it was the same individual or individuals who had also “ascertained” that the decree had been “given near the close of the year 457 B.C.”

To accept this conclusion was to renounce the former reckoning of the prophetic periods. The 2300 days had been found to begin when the commandment of Artaxerxes for the restoration and building of Jerusalem went into effect, in the autumn of 457 B.C. Taking this as the starting point, there was perfect harmony in the application of all the events foretold in the explanation of that period in Daniel 9:25-27. Sixty-nine weeks, the first 483 of the 2300 years, were to reach to the Messiah, the Anointed One; and Christ’s baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit, A.D. 27, exactly fulfilled the specification. In the midst of the seventieth week, Messiah was to be cut off. Three and a half years after His baptism, Christ was crucified, in the spring of A.D. 31. The seventy weeks, or 490 years, were to pertain especially to the Jews. At the expiration of this period the nation sealed its rejection of Christ by the persecution of His disciples, and the apostles turned to the Gentiles, A.D. 34. The first 490 years of the 2300 having then ended, 1810 years would remain. >From A.D. 34, 1810 years extend to 1844. “Then,” said the angel, “shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” All the preceding specifications of the prophecy had been unquestionably fulfilled at the time appointed.9

The burden of Christ’s preaching was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Thus the gospel message, as given by the Saviour Himself, was based on the prophecies. The “time” which He declared to be fulfilled was the period made known by the angel Gabriel to Daniel. “Seventy weeks,” said the angel, “are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy.” Dan. 9:24. A day in prophecy stands for a year. See Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6. The seventy weeks, or four hundred and ninety days, represent four hundred and ninety years. A starting point for this period is given: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks,” sixty-nine weeks, or four hundred and eighty-three years. Dan. 9:25. The commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, as completed by the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus (see Ezra 6:14; 7:1, 9, margin), went into effect in the autumn of B. C. 457. From this time four hundred and eighty-three years extend to the autumn of A. D. 27. According to the prophecy, this period was to reach to the Messiah, the Anointed One. In A. D. 27, Jesus at His baptism received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and soon afterward began His ministry. Then the message was proclaimed. “The time is fulfilled.”10

Finally, in her posthumous book on the period of the Hebrew monarchies, we find this paragraph, whose manuscript original we have been unable to ascertain:
The time of the first advent and of some of the chief events clustering about the Saviour’s lifework was made known by the angel Gabriel to Daniel. “Seventy weeks,” said the angel, “are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy.” Daniel 9:24. A day in prophecy stands for a year. See Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6. The seventy weeks, or four hundred and ninety days, represent four hundred and ninety years. A starting point for this period is given: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” (Daniel 9:25), sixty-nine weeks, or four hundred and eighty-three years. The commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, as completed by the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus, went into effect in the autumn of 457 B.C. See Ezra 6:14; 7:1, 9. From this time four hundred and eighty-three years extend to the autumn of A.D. 27. According to the prophecy, this period was to reach to the Messiah, the Anointed One. In A.D. 27, Jesus at His baptism received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and soon afterward began His ministry. Then the message was proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled.” Mark 1:15.11

The above quotations are enough to establish that, in Ellen G. White’s opinion, Artaxerxes’ decree was either “given” or “went into effect” sometime during the autumn of 457 BC. Since she links this date with the decree recorded in Ezra 7, where reference is made to the seventh year of Artaxerxes (verses 7-9), let us assess how accurate her estimate is.12

Artaxerxes I was the son of King Xerxes, famous in classical literature for having attempted the subjugation of Greece. Apart from epigraphic sources originating in the Persian Empire, there are several Greek sources that mention various incidents in the life of Xerxes, including his death. The joint testimony of all these sources, paying particular attention to the Elephantine papyrus AP 6, indicates that Xerxes was assassinated in the latter part of the year 465 BC, sometime between August and December, probably before December 17. Although the transition between Xerxes and Artaxerses was not smooth, Artaxerxes’ regnal years were counted from the moment of his father’s death. In the Egyptian calendar, Artaxerxes’ accession year was 466/465 BC (December 17, 466 to December 17, 465); in the Persian (Babylonian) calendar, beginning in spring, his accession year was 465/464 BC (April 24, 465 to April 12, 464); in the Hebrew calendar, beginning in autumn, his accession year was also 465/464 BC (October 18, 465 to October 6, 464). In other words, since the Jewish New Year’s Day, starting in the seventh month, began some six months after its Babylonian counterpart, Artaxerxes’ first year, following immediately the close of his accession year, began on April 12, 464 BC according to the Babylonian calendar, but on October 6, 464 BC according to the Jewish calendar. This makes it easy to compute when the seventh year of Artaxerxes actually began. In the Babylonian calendar, it was on April 8, 458 BC; in the Jewish calendar, it was on October 1, 458 BC.

Now we are in an excellent situation to determine when Ezra left Babylon on his journey to Jerusalem. Ezra 7:9 says that, following the stipulations of Artaxerxes’ decree, Ezra left Babylon on the first day of the first month. If we are to compute this according to the Babylonian calendar, then Ezra would have departed on April 8, 458 BC; on the other hand, if this date follows the Jewish reckoning, Ezra would have left Babylon on March 26, 457 BC. He arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month of the same seventh year (verses 7, 9), that is, either August 3, 458 BC if it is a Babylonian date, or, in the Jewish reckoning, July 23, 457 BC. The conclusion of this is that Ezra could not possibly have arrived in Jerusalem later than mid-summer, 457 BC. In that year, the Hebrew New Year, on the first day of the seventh month, fell on September 19, although the astronomical autumn itself began on September 28, and the first new moon after this was October 19. In other words, if Ezra travelled to Jerusalem in 457 BC at all, he arrived there 88 days before the calendrical beginning of the actual autumn season, or 58 days before the Hebrew New Year. Of course, if his travel had taken place the year before, he would have arrived in Jerusalem 443 days before the calendrical beginning of the actual autumn season, or 413 days before the Hebrew New Year of the Julian year 457 BC.

Naturally, the above considerations create a very serious problem of credibility for Ellen White. Considering that, to begin with, Ezra had left Babylon in fulfilment of the specifications of Artaxerxes’ decree, and seeing that he arrived at his destination, at the very latest, some three months before Mrs White’s specification about “the autumn of 457 B.C.”, what sort of criteria must be used to state that the decree “went into effect” three months after the arrival? How can it possibly have come into effect seven (or nineteen) months after the departure that the decree itself authorised? The only explanation would seem to be that the decree went into effect immediately before Ezra’s departure, or otherwise his departure would have been illegal; then, the decree was suspended until Ezra arrived and then had a three-month (or nineteen-month) holiday; then it went into effect again. As this is probably too stretched for even Mrs White’s most ardent supporters, it cannot be taken into consideration. The decree itself cannot possibly have been issued after Ezra’s departure from Babylon, which means that, at the very latest, it was published sometime in winter, early in 457 BC, or perhaps early in 458 BC or even before that.

The above considerations are valid irrespective of whether we agree or not with other related concepts in Seventh-day Adventism’s convoluted line of reasoning, particularly the very nature of Artaxerxes’ decree, the condition of Jerusalem at the time, the reality of the connection of that decree and the start of the 70 weeks, the nature of the 70 weeks, and the supposedly coincident beginning of the 2,300 evenings and mornings and the 70 weeks. Actually, a little reflection shows that, apart from the devastating nature of the actual dating of Artaxerxes’ decree, this decree had no relationship whatsoever with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, for Jerusalem was already regarded as rebuilt early in the reign of Darius, Artaxerxes’ grandfather; consequently, the 70 weeks, whose assumed messianic content cannot be seriously upheld, cannot have started in the days of Artaxerxes; finally, the beginning of the 2,300 evenings and mornings is not related with the start of the 70 weeks at all, although both seem to end simultaneously. 

This objective evidence casts very profound doubts on Mrs White’s claims that someone “ascertained” or “discovered” that the “going into effect” of Artaxerxes’ decree took place in the autumn of 457. Most certainly, it did not go into effect at that time, so such an erroneous notion cannot possibly have been “ascertained” or “discovered” by any competent researcher. It could have been arrived at or “discovered” by someone who had no idea what they were talking about, and everything seems to indicate that it was “confirmed” by some self-deluded person or persons who mistook hallucinations of their own devising for visions from heaven. Such is the chronological foundation on which the 1844 edifice, whose walls and roof are even less solid, rests.

NOTES

1. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (1911), pp. 326-327; originally published in the 1888 edition on the same pages.

2. Ibid., p. 328; originally published in the 1888 edition on the same page.

3. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (1917), p. 607; slightly modified from the original in RH, January 30, 1908 par. 1.

4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (1855-1868), p. 52. The same text reappeared in Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (1915), pp. 57-58 and in Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White (1922), p. 49.

5. Ellen G. White, RH, February 13, 1908 par. 1.

6. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (1855-1868), p. 52. The same text reappeared in ST, March 30, 1876 par. 2, and then in Life Sketches of James White and Ellen G. White (1880), pp. 185-186, in the 1888 edition of the same book (same pages), in Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (1915), p. 58, and in Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White (1922), p. 50. Emphasis provided.

7. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (1911), p. 327. This had originally appeared in the 1888 edition of the same book (same page). Emphasis provided.

8. Ibid., pp. 398-399. This had originally appeared in the 1888 edition of the same book (same pages). Emphasis provided.

9. Ibid., p. 410. This had originally appeared in the 1888 edition of the same book (same page). This text also appears in The Faith I Live By (1958), p. 208, and in Maranatha (1976), p. 247. Emphasis provided.

10. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (1898), p. 233. This text also appears in God’s Amazing Grace (1973), p. 12. Emphasis provided.

11. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (1917), pp. 698-699. Emphasis provided.

12. Those wishing to verify the following information can profit from studying Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1953). The drift of this Seventh-day Adventist scholarly book is to show that there were several calendrical systems in the Ancient Near East in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah and that it is possible to state that the seventh year of Artaxerxes I encompassed some months of the Julian year we call 457 BC, depending on the calendar system employed.


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