The “Great Week of Time,” or Night of the Living Date-Setters

It was the mid-1990s, and I was a young man learning to practice law in rural northeast Texas.  We were approaching the millennium, and people were starting to fear that the turn of the calendar from 1999 to 2000 portended some awful cataclysm.   

I received a book from a family member who was excited that Jesus was going to come around the year 2000.  It was G. Edward Reid’s 1994 book, “Even at the Door,” and thus was I introduced to the "great week of time" theory.  For those unfamiliar with this theory, it posits that there have been almost six thousand years of world history, and each millennium of human history corresponds to one of the six days of the week, beginning on Sunday.  Christ will return to earth at the end of the sixth millennium, and the seventh millennium will be a heavenly "Sabbath" of rest.  When the New Jerusalem descends to earth at the end of the seventh millennium, judgment will be executed and the earth is purified by fire and made new.  This will be the end of history—the real “end of history,” not Francis Fukuyama’s phony version.

The theory is based upon Peter’s statement, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Pet. 3:8. Thus, each thousand years of human history corresponds to a day of celestial history.

Admittedly, the “great week of time” is a neat little theory with enormous appeal to conservative Seventh-day Adventists.  It has been around at least since the 19th Century; surfing the web, I’ve found two charts that depict the great week of time theory, and both show the Lord returning in the year 1874.  The last 150 years have diminished its appeal not one jot or tittle; only a few days ago, we had commenters hawking the great week of time theory on this very website. 

Early "great week of time" chart showing Jesus returning in 1874

Early "great week of time" chart showing Jesus returning in 1874

But despite its seductive appeal to conservative Adventists, the "great week of time" theory is wrong.  It is not biblical, it is wrong chronologically and, most importantly, it is date-setting of exactly the type Ellen White repeatedly warned us against throughout her prophetic career.

No Biblical Basis

There is no real biblical basis for this theory.  2 Peter 3:8 is not a prophecy.  Peter is only trying to explain to his readers that God’s perspective on time is very different from ours.  We live only a few short decades, and then return to the dust.  God lives forever.  Moreover, God can expand or slow down time—a day is like a thousand years—or compress it or speed it up—a thousand years is like a day, whereas we must live time linearly.

Ironically, when you warn a partisan of the “great week of time” theory that they must not set a date for the Second Coming, their immediate reaction is to argue “that only applies to prophecies, and this is not a prophecy.”  Although they side-step the admonition about forbidden date-setting, they are quite correct that 2 Peter 3:8 is not a prophecy.  Peter was not trying to tell us, in type, in figure, in symbol or in code, when Jesus’ Second Coming was going to take place.  Peter provides no support for the notion that Christ returns to the earth at the end of the sixth millennium of human history.

The Millennium in Heaven is not a Sabbath Rest

The millennium in heaven is not a sabbath rest, but a time for the saved to review the cases of the unsaved and be satisfied that God's decision was righteous in every case. It is a time for judging, not resting. (Dan. 7:22; 1 Cor. 4:5; 6:2-3; Rev. 20:1-6). Of this period, Ellen White states:

During the thousand years between the first and the second resurrection the judgment of the wicked takes place. . . . At this time the righteous reign as kings and priests unto God. . . . In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death.  Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and His people.  GC 660-61

The thorough review of the cases of the unsaved is a weighty responsibility.  Ask anyone who has ever worked as a judge whether it was restful, and you will be told that it is stressful work.  Even serving as a juror is a sobering experience requiring close concentration and elevated judgment. 

At the end of that millennium, the New Jerusalem descends to earth, the unsaved dead are resurrected, and judgment is executed in a cleansing fire that purges the earth of every remnant of sin.  (2 Pet. 3:7, 10; Rev. 20:11-14).  Only after these events are accomplished, and the Great Controversy finished, is there true rest.

Biblical Chronology provides NO Support for the GWOT theory

Per the “great week of time” theory, it is crucial to know when the sixth millennium ends, because that is when Jesus will return to this earth.  That is the date of the Second Coming.  Thus, the scholarly topic of biblical chronology, usually a musty old discipline smelling of the oil lamp, suddenly takes on the greatest urgency imaginable. 

The Bible contains genealogies tracing the ancestry of Christ back to Adam.  The fact that Genesis five and eleven contain "chrono-genealogies," as Gerhard Hasel called them--genealogies with age data supplied--has allowed scholars to construct chronologies that assign fixed calendar dates to Bible events ranging all the way back to the creation week.  Over the millennia, thousands of Biblical chronologies have been constructed, but by far the most famous and influential was Archbishop James Ussher’s.  His chronology, first published in 1650, became the standard, and has appeared in the margins of the King James Bibles since 1679.  Ussher arrived at the date of 4004 BC for the creation week.  By his calculations, the sixth millennium ended around 1997.  If both Ussher and the GWOT theory are correct, the Second Coming took place 20 years ago.  Did you miss it?  Must not have gotten much media coverage.

Just for fun, let us do a quick Biblical chronology.  The conventional dates for Solomon’s reign are 970 to 931 BC.  Solomon began construction of the First Temple four years into his reign (1 Kings 6:1), around 966 BC, which was in the 480th year after the Exodus (1 Kings 6:1), which places the Exodus around 1,445 BC.  Exodus 12:40-41 states that Israel was in Egypt exactly 430 years, thus, Israel went down to Egypt around 1875 BC (966 + 479 + 430 = 1875).  This was when Jacob was 130 years old (Gen. 47:9-12), hence Jacob was born circa 2,005 BC, when Isaac was 60 (Gen. 25:26), ergo Isaac was born around 2,065 BC, when Abraham was 100 (Gen. 21:4-5), therefore Abraham was born circa 2,165 BC (1875 + 130 + 60 + 100 = 2,165). 

From here, it is merely a matter of adding up the genealogical data in Genesis five and eleven.  From the Flood to the birth of Abram/Abraham is 292 years (Gen. 11:10-26): 2 + 35 + 30 + 34 + 30 + 32 + 30 + 29 + 70 = 292, which puts the Flood in the year 2,457 BC (2,165 + 292 = 2,457).  The antediluvian genealogy from Adam to the Flood adds up to 1,654 years (Gen. 5:1-32): 130 + 105 + 90 + 70 + 65 + 162 + 65 + 187 + 182 + 500 + 98 (Gen. 11:10) = 1,654.  Adding 1,654 to 2,457 gives us a date of 4,111 BC for the creation week. 

Uh oh.  It looks like we’re already 127 years (4111 + 2016 = 6,127) into the 7th Millennium.  Good-bye “great week of time” theory.  The GWOT is rot.

How secure is the 970 BC date for the beginning of Solomon’s reign?  Wouldn’t the destruction of the Temple circa 587-586 BC be a more secure juncture to tie Bible history to conventional history?  The authority most often cited for the chronology between 931, the end of Solomon’s reign, and 587-86, the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the 11th year of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25), is the Seventh-day Adventist scholar Edwin R. Thiele.  Thiele wrote a doctoral dissertation that later became the book, “The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings.”  Thiele developed a system of co-regencies—overlapping reigns—whereby the chronological data in 1 and 2 Kings could fit with conventional historical data regarding the ancient near east.  His work was hailed as a monumental breakthrough in biblical chronology, and became the definitive work on the topic.  Perhaps more than any other scholar, Thiele established the dates of Solomon’s reign, and the biblical chronology from Solomon to Zedekiah.  Most of the criticism of Thiele, what little there has been, has noted that the co-regencies are a kind of deus ex machina designed to dovetail the biblical data with the non-biblical history of the ancient near east. 

But if you reject Thiele’s overlapping reigns, what happens to your chronology?  Obviously, it gets longer, not shorter.  It would start Solomon’s reign even earlier than 970, giving an older age of our world.  And there is some support for an older date of Solomon’s reign, in that Josephus says Solomon’s Temple was destroyed 470 years, 6 months, and 10 days after it was built. (Antiquities of the Jews, 10.8.5).  This would push its construction back to about 1,057 BC, and push the creation week back to about 4,200 BC.

The notion that we are less than 6,000 years away from the creation week does not hold up, even using the numbers we find in our English Old Testaments. But it quickly gets worse for the GWOT theory. 

The Manuscript Differences

The patriarchal age data in Genesis 5 and 11 vary considerably among the different Old Testament manuscripts, which include: (1) the Samaritan Pentateuch, assembled in the late 5th Century BC, (2) the Septuagint, a Greek version translated during the 3rd Century BC by 70 Jewish scholars in Alexandria, and (3) the Masoretic, assembled by Jewish rabbis after the destruction of Jerusalem, but relatively early in the Christian era.  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox consider the Septuagint to be inspired, but Protestants have generally translated and relied upon the Masoretic.

The Septuagint frequently gives older age data than the Masoretic.  For example, the Masoretic states that Enoch was 65 years old at the birth of his son, Methuselah, whereas the Septuagint records that he was 165 years old.  In some cases, the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the Septuagint’s data, in some cases with the Masoretic, and in some cases with neither.  If Septuagint numbers are employed to construct a chronology, we are already very deep into the 7th millennium, possibly approaching the 8th millennium, of human history.  Again, goodbye “great week of time” theory.

There is an inchoate feeling that the Septuagint is not really the Bible, because it is a translation of the original Hebrew.  But how many of us consider the King James to be our Bible, regardless of it being a translation?  In just that same way, most of the writers of the New Testament considered the Septuagint to be their Bible, and they quoted it a lot.  And, oddly enough, the Septuagint passages they quoted sometimes do not match the Masoretic, from which our English Old Testament is translated.  Compare Paul’s quotation of the Septuagint of Hosea 13:14 in 1 Corinthians 15:55 with the Masoretic in our Old Testament, or his quotation of Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9

One could even argue that the Jewish rabbis altered Messianic passages just to spite Christians.  In Hebrews 1:6, Paul quotes the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32:43 as saying, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  That sentence was completely omitted from the Masoretic, but is in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea scrolls.  In Hebrews 10:5-7, Paul quotes the Septuagint of Psalm 40:6-8 as saying, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me,” but our English Psalm 40, translated from the Masoretic, reads, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have dug for me.” Huh? Adventist scholar Siegfried Horn argued that the Jews rejected the Septuagint because it had become “the Bible of the Christians.” 

But there are also problems with using the Septuagint numbers.  There are many variations in the numerical data among the various Septuagint manuscripts, but none in the Masoretic; hence, one cannot simply refer to “the Septuagint,” but must specify which Septuagint manuscript is being used.  The most commonly used is the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the more complete manuscripts, but not the oldest.  (Another famous Septuagint manuscript, the Codex Vaticanus, has Methuselah living 14 years beyond the date of the Flood, although he died in the year of the Flood, and his name is believed to mean “his death shall bring it [the Flood].”) 

Nevertheless, can you say with absolute certainty that the numerical data in the Septuagint is wrong and the numbers in the Masoretic are right?  I cannot, and if the Septuagint data is correct, we are very deep into the seventh millennium of human history, perhaps already in the 8th.

Setting a Date for the Second Coming is Verboten

There is no real biblical support for the “great week of time” theory, and its proponents’ chronology is hopelessly wrong, but the biggest problem with this pernicious theory is that it is an attempt to ascertain the date of the Second Coming.  This is contrary to Scripture, which tells us that no one but the Father knows when Jesus is going to return to the earth: "No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. . . . So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matt. 24:36, 44.

It is not surprising that Seventh-day Adventists should be tempted by date-setting, given that our denomination arose out of the Millerite movement, which believed that Jesus was returning to earth on October 22, 1844.  Date-setting seems to be in our DNA.  Nevertheless, we are warned not to engage in date-setting.  Ellen White has told us that no prophecy of Scripture extends beyond 1844 AD, and that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will never be given a message regarding the date of the Second Coming:

“Time has not been a test since 1844, and it will never again be a test.  . . . I saw that some were getting false excitement, arising from preaching time; but the third angel’s message is stronger than time can be.” EW 75.

“Beware of anyone who would set a time for the Lord to fulfill His word in regard to His coming, or in regard to any other promise He has made of special significance. "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. . . . We would see the truth developing and expanding in lines of which we have little dreamed, but it will never develop in any line that will lead us to imagine that we may know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power. Again and again have I been warned in regard to time setting. There will never again be a message for the people of God that will be based on time. We are not to know the definite time either for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or for the coming of Christ.” 1 SM 188

Beyond that, Ellen White tells that if you are engaging in date-setting, you are playing into Satan’s hands, you are a false prophet, and you are deceiving others and yourself:

“Those who presumptuously preach definite time, in so doing gratify the adversary of souls; for they are advancing infidelity rather than Christianity. But their failures show that they are false prophets, that they do not rightly interpret the language of inspiration.” 4 T 307.

“The more frequently a definite time is set for the second advent, and the more widely it is taught, the better it suits the purposes of Satan. After the time has passed, he excites ridicule and contempt of its advocates, and thus casts reproach upon the great advent movement of 1843 and 1844. Those who persist in this error will at last fix upon a date too far in the future for the coming of Christ. Thus they will be led to rest in a false security, and many will not be undeceived until it is too late.”  GC 457

Date-setting is a temptation for conservative Adventists; liberals have long since ceased to care about the whole topic of the Second Coming.  But is it really “conservative” to be ready and willing to ignore the most solemn prophetic warnings against date-setting?  Those who set dates for the Second Coming present themselves as fervent, believing Adventists, but they are ignoring prophetic counsel and doing the work of the adversary.

Summary and Conclusion

The “great week of time” theory is a deception.  If you imagine yourself to be a conservative Adventist but are promoting this deception, you are fooling yourself and possibly others.  You are ignoring the strongest prophetic counsel against date-setting, implicitly denying the prophetic authority of Ellen White, and making her ministry of none effect. 

I reacted strongly the other day when two commenters started promoting the “great week of time” theory on a Fulcrum7 comment thread.  One reason I had such a sharply negative reaction is that I encountered this error over 20 years ago, and had assumed the GWOT theory was all in the past, since, per Ussher’s and any other reasonable chronology, we are well into the 7th Millennium.  Alas, it seems that Satan will never allow an effective deception to go out of print.