Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
My friends are divided about the interpretation of the term “continual” in Daniel 8. Does that refer to pagan Rome, or to the mediation of Christ?
This is an old debate among Adventists; and it’s not going away. What makes this particularly difficult is that at times individuals develop conspiracy theories around it in an attempt to demonize those whose views differ from theirs. This is spiritually dangerous. I cannot deal with the history of this topic, but I will share with you my personal view of the biblical materials.
1. Usage of the Term in the Bible: The Hebrew word for “continual” is tāmîd. Translators use different terms to render it into English. As an adverb it commonly means “always,” “daily,” “continually” (e.g., Deut.11:12).It also used as a substantival adjective, that is, in conjunction with another noun it functions as a noun. In those cases we find, for instance, the following translations: “continuance,” “unceasing,” “daily,” “regular.” Daniel used it as a noun with the article (Dan. 8:11, 13). In general we could say that tāmîd designates what happens continuously, or at regular intervals, or in perpetuity.
2. Use in the Context of the Sanctuary: Most of the usages of the term are found in relation to the sanctuary services and the role of the priest as mediator. Aaron was always/continually to wear the breastpiece and the plate of gold attached to his turban (Ex. 28:30). He was to keep the fire burning on the altar continuously (Lev. 6:13), keep the bread of the presence before the Lord regularly (Ex. 25:30; Lev. 24:8), burn incense daily (Ex. 30:8), and keep the lamps burning (27:20; Lev. 24:2-4). Tāmîd is also used to refer to the daily burnt and cereal offerings (Num. 28:3, 6; Ps. 50:8; Lev. 6:20; Num. 4:16). Those activities were performed by the priests on a daily and regular basis. A summary of those services is found in 1 Chronicles 16:37, NIV: “David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister there regularly [tāmîd], according to each day’s requirements.” That was the priests’ daily service of mediation.
3. Tāmîd in Daniel: First, in the case of Daniel, tāmîd has an article and should probably be translated as “the continuance.” Most Bible translations find in the term an abbreviated reference to the “daily sacrifice.” Such rendering is arbitrary, because in the context of the sanctuary the term is employed in connection with a multiplicity of priestly activities, not exclusively one of them.
Second, the tāmîd is directly connected to the work of the Prince of the heavenly hosts (chap. 8:11). As we noted, the term is primarily related to the sanctuary services performed by the priest. In Daniel and the Prince is a heavenly high priest performing a work of mediation. It is to this same activity that Hebrews refers when it states that Jesus “always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25, NIV).
Third, the Hebrew verb translated “to take” (rûm) means “be high, arise, exalt, be removed, lift up.” The verbal form used in Daniel 8:11 means “be removed exalted.” The meaning of the verb in Daniel can be further defined by the preposition used with it; the continual is removed “from.” Whenever the verb rûm is accompanied by that preposition, it always expresses the idea of separation. Something is removed from someone or something (see Ex. 29:27; Lev. 4:10; I Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7; Isa. 57:14). At times removing, or separating, someone from others results in exaltation (see I Kings 14:7; Ps. 113:7, 8), but the fundamental idea of the verb continues to be that of “removing from.” Only the context will indicate whether the idea of exaltation is also present. The little horn removed the continual from the Prince by usurping His priestly work. The conflict described in the text is between Christ and the little horn, not between the two phases of Rome.
The tāmîd is never used in the Old Testament to refer to a pagan system of religious mediation. It describes the work of the priest on behalf of God’s people. It is therefore contextually and linguistically inappropriate to apply it to pagan Rome.