Is the Year-Day Principle Biblical?
By George Desnoyers
October 25, 1999
Statement of the Year-Day Principle
The Principle is often stated this way: "In predictive prophecy, where a number of days is given, that number of years is meant." In other words, when a predictive prophecy is given, and a number of days is stated, you arrive at the true meaning of the prophecy by substituting the word "years" in place of "days." This statement of the Principle is nearly exactly the wording Dr. Dwight Nelson used in the Seventh-Day Adventist Churchs Next Millennium Seminars which were broadcast worldwide via satellite in 1998.
Some SDAs add that the Principle should only be applied in apocalyptic predictive prophecies.
Limited Acceptance of Year-Day Principle Among Christian Churches
The Year-Day Principle lacks wide support. It is accepted only by Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Worldwide Church of God. Most textbooks of Biblical hermeneutics do not even mention the possibility of a Year-Day Principle.
Daniels Seventy Weeks Why "Days" Equal "Years" in This Unique Case
Before looking into whether Scripture teaches or supports the use of a Year-Day Principle, let's look at one predictive prophecy in which nearly all Bible scholars agree that days do represent years. It is the prophecy of the seventy weeks found in Chapter 9 of the Book of Daniel. (The "days" are presumed days, of course. The prophecy doesn't actually use the word "days." It speaks of "weeks." The word used could also be literally translated "sevens.")
Why are the seventy weeks (literally seventy "sevens") correctly interpreted as seventy weeks of years, i.e. 70 times 7 years, or 490 years?
It is because of the following three important ideas with which Daniel's audience would be very familiar.
The first idea is that the seventy-year Babylonian captivity was a punishment (Jeremiah 25:4-11).
The second is the concept of an original punishment being multiplied by seven (Leviticus 26:14-39, especially verses 18, 21, 23-24, and 27-28).
The third concept is that of weeks of years, i.e. years in groups of seven (Leviticus 25:1-8).
There is a fourth idea that is also important in correctly interpreting the seventy weeks. It is the idea that Daniel employs figurative language. Daniel 2:39, for example, uses hyperbole when it says that the third kingdom will rule all over the world. This has never been true of any historical empire. Daniel also uses numbers symbolically. Most Bible scholars feel that the number "seven" is used symbolically in Daniel 3:19; 4:16,23,25, 32, and quite likely in Chapter 9 as well.
Although the first three ideas lead nearly all commentators to agree that seventy weeks of years is meant, idea number four tells us that we should not necessarily look for exactness in either the total number of years (490), or in the breakdown into groups of seven weeks (49 years), sixty-two weeks (434 years), and one week (7 years). These are not necessarily exact periods of time any more than the furnace was heated exactly seven times hotter than normal (Daniel 3:19).
In the case of Daniel's seventy weeks, it is clear that days do represent years. They do so, however, not because of a Year-Day Principle, but because of the reasons enumerated above (ideas 1-3). The correct interpretation of Daniel's seventy weeks neither requires, nor justifies, a Year-Day Principle.
Does the Bible Support a Year-Day Principle?
While most SDAs readily acknowledge that there is no explicit statement of the Year-Day Principle in Scripture, they usually go on to say, "We get it from Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:4-6."
First, lets look at Numbers 14:34 - "According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you shall know my opposition." (NAS)
If you have accepted, or are on the verge of accepting, the Year-Day Principle, you may do yourself a big favor by spending a few moments thoroughly examining this verse.
The following things are true about Numbers 14:34:
(1) The word "days" means days.
(2) The word "day" means day.
(3) The word "year" means year.
(4) The word "years" means years.
(5) The words "days" and "day" are not even involved in the predictive prophecy part of the verse. What is explicitly predicted is not forty days, but forty years, of suffering in the wilderness. That's what is meant. And that's what it says forty years.
(6) If you substituted "years" in place of "days" in this verse, as the Year-Day Principle would suggest, all you would get is a lie. It would then say that the Israelites spied out the land forty years, which, of course, they didn't do.
(7) This is clearly not a case of one word being used to mean another. What is said equals what is meant. This is simply a case of correspondence: the number of years of suffering in the wilderness is going to correspond to the number of days the spies had observed Canaan.
What about the other text used to justify the Year-Day Principle? Ezekiel 4:4-6 is another case of correspondence, just like Numbers 14:34. It is definitely not a case where the word "days" means years. In Ezekiel 4:4-6 Ezekiel is to lie down on one side for 390 days, and on the other side for forty days. That is exactly what was meant. You cannot change those days to years. Those days merely correspond to the number of years over which Israel and Judah are going to bear (the punishment for) their iniquity.
In summary, the following points can be made about Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:4-6: (1) Neither text contains an example of the word "days" really meaning years. (2) Neither text contains any instruction for our substituting "years" for "days" in any other text. (3) Consequently, neither text provides any justification for the supposed Year-Day Principle for interpreting predictive prophecy.
Application of the Year-Day Principle in Interpretation of Scripture
The Principle is very unevenly applied. According to the SDA Bible Commentary, it is applicable to Daniel 8:14 (2300 days), Daniel 7:25, 12:7, and Revelation 12:14 (time and times and half a time), Revelation 11:2 and 13:5 (forty-two months), Revelation 11:3 and 12:6 (1260 days), Daniel 12:11 (1290 days), and Daniel 12:12 (1335 days). However, there are many places where a predictive prophecy is given, and a number of days given, where the Principle is not applied.
In some cases, when the Principle is not applied the predictive prophecies are not in apocalyptic sections. These include:
Matthew 26:2 - Jesus predicted he would be arrested in 2 days;
Matthew 12:40 - Jesus predicted he would be buried for three days;
Matthew 27:63, Mark 8:31, John 2:19-22 - Jesus predicted His resurrection after three days;
Jonah 3:4 - Jonah's prediction of the overturning of Nineveh in forty days; (This was a conditional prophecy. However, from the reaction of the people of Nineveh, and Jonah, it's clear that Nineveh was not being given forty years instead of the stated forty days.)
2 Kings 20:5 - Hezekiah is to be healed in three days.
In three cases where predictive prophecies occur in sections often thought to be apocalyptic, it seems that SDAs are divided as to whether the Year-Day Principle should be applied:
Revelation 2:10 - Smyrna is to suffer tribulation ten days; (Some SDAs may apply the Year-Day Principle here, but it isn't applied in the SDA Bible Commentary.)
Revelation 11:9,11 - The two witnesses are to lie unburied three and one-half days; (Some SDAs interpret this as referring to a three and one-half year period when religion was outlawed during the French Revolution.)
Finally, those who believe in the Year-Day Principle usually do not apply it in their interpretation of the "thousand years" of Revelation 20:2-7. This important time period is not stated in days. However, neither is the forty-two months of Revelation 11:2 and 13:5, nor the three and one-half years of Daniel 7:25, 12:7 and Revelation 12:14, and advocates for the Year-Day Principle do apply it in interpreting those texts.
Applying the Year-Day Principle: Two Pragmatic Rules
Examining places in Scripture where advocates for the Year-Day Principle do, and do not, apply it reveals a pattern indicative of two pragmatic rules regarding use of the Principle:
(1) When a predictive prophecy includes a stated number of days, and application of the Year-Day Principle would appear plausible to a significant percentage of people, the Principle is applied.
(2) When a predictive prophecy includes a stated number of days, but application of the Principle would be viewed as silly, the Principle is not applied. (This is the situation, for example, with the prophecies in which Jesus predicts his arrest, burial, and resurrection.)
Why is the Principle not applied to the thousand years of Revelation 20:2-7 while it is applied to the three and one-half years of Daniel 7:25, Daniel 12:7, and Revelation 12:14? Applying it to the thousand years would appear silly to most people because it is difficult to conceive of a prophecy covering a span of 360,000 years. It is too foreign to our experience.
The Year-Day Principle - Summary and Conclusions
The Year-Day Principle is not taught anywhere in the Bible. And, with the exception of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9, there are no clear examples of the word "days" meaning years in predictive prophecies. Supporters of the Principle wrongly assert that, "We get it from Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:4-6." It is held only by some SDAs, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Worldwide Church of God. The great majority of textbooks of Biblical hermeneutics don't even mention the possibility of a Year-Day Principle.
Those who believe in the Principle often fail to apply it consistently and uniformly. They sometimes apply it to times not stated in days, e.g. three and a half years, and forty-two months. And they do not apply the Principle in several cases where a number of days is stated in a predictive prophecy.