The day-year principle, year-day principle or year-for-a-day principle is a method of interpretation of Bible prophecy in which a day in apocalyptic prophecy is sometimes understood to represent a year of actual time. It is used principally by the historicist school of prophetic interpretation.[1] It is not popular among contemporary scholars, but was held by most Protestant Reformers[2] and is retained by groups such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Jehovah's Witnesses today.


Application to three-and-a-half-days

The day-year principle was first used in Christian exposition in 380 AD by Tychonius, who interpreted the three and a half days of Revelation 11:9 as three and a half years, writing 'three days and a half; that is, three years and six months' ('dies tres et dimidium; id est annos tres et menses sex'). In the 5th century Faustus of Riez gave the same interpretation of Revelation 11:9, writing 'three and a half days which correspond to three years and six months' ('Tres et dimidius dies tribus annis et sex mensibus respondent), and in c. 550 Primasius also gave the same interpretation, writing 'it is possible to understand the three days and a half as three years and six months' ('Tres dies et dimidium possumus intelligere tres annos et sex menses'.[3] The same interpretation of Revelation 11:9 was given by the later Christian expositors Bede (730 AD), as well as Anspert, Arethas, Haymo, and Berengaud (all of the ninth century).[4]

Primasius appears to have been the first to appeal directly to previous Biblical passages in order to substantiate the principle, referring to Numbers 14:34 in support of his interpretation of the three and a half days of Revelation 11:9. [5]

Very few of the Early Fathers actually commented on the three and a half days of Revelation 11. They are not expounded by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Cyprian, Jerome, or Augustine, even though these were the most prolific eschatological commentators among the Early Fathers (it is uncertain, but it seems Victorinus interpreted them as literal days). But of the three who did expound this time duration explicitly, all understood the three and a half days here to represent three and a half years.

Application to long time periods

The day-year principle was first applied to the longer time periods in the ninth century by the Jewish Karaite scholar Benjamin Nahawandi, who interpreted the time periods of Daniel as pointing to the coming of the Messiah in AD 1010. The principle was subsequently adopted by other Jewish thinkers, and then by medieval Catholic theologians. The Joachimites pointed to the end of the Christian era in AD 1260 on the basis of the principle. Many of the Protestant Reformers accepted the day-year principle, but it has since fallen into disfavour among most Catholics and Protestants.

Biblical basis

Proponents of the principle, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, claim that it has three primary precedents in Scripture:[6]

  1. Numbers 14:34. The Israelites will wander for 40 years in the wilderness, one year for every day spent by the spies in Canaan.
  2. Ezekiel 4:5-6. The prophet Ezekiel is commanded to lie on his left side for 390 days, followed by his right side for 40 days, to symbolize the equivalent number of years of punishment on Israel and Judah respectively.
  3. Daniel 9:24-27. This is known as the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks. The majority of scholars understand the passage to refer to 70 "sevens" or "septets" of years—that is, a total of 490 years. However, many non-historicist scholars do not see the day-year principle as being necessary for this interpretation, as "septet" is not the ordinary Hebrew word for the time period "week".

Astrological basis

One day equals exactly one year at the north pole.

The sun at the North Pole is continuously above the horizon during the summer and continuously below the horizon during the winter. Sunrise is just before the March equinox (around March 19); the sun then takes three months to reach its highest point of near 23½° elevation at the summer solstice (around June 21), after which time it begins to sink, reaching sunset just after the September equinox (around September 24). When the sun is visible in the polar sky, it appears to move in a horizontal circle above the horizon. This circle gradually rises from near the horizon just after the vernal equinox to its maximum elevation (in degrees) above the horizon at summer solstice and then sinks back toward the horizon before sinking below it at the autumnal equinox.


Three and a half day prophecy

Historicist interpreters typically understand the 'three and a half days' of Revelation 11:9 as three and a half years.

Seventh-day Adventists may understood them to have taken place during the era of the French Revolution, between the years 1789 and 1796.[7]

1260 day prophecy

Historicist interpreters have usually understood the "time, times and half a time", "1,260 days" and "42 months" mentioned in Daniel and Revelation to be references to the same time duration (though some have considered them separate durations). They are typically understood to represent a period of 1260 years.[8] These time periods occur seven times in scripture, in Daniel 7:25, Daniel 12:7, Revelation 11:2, Revelation 11:3, Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14 and Revelation 13:5.

Historicists usually believe the "1,260 days" spanned the Middle Ages and concluded within the early modern or modern era. Although many dates have been proposed for the start and finish of the "1,260 days", three time spans have proven overwhelmingly popular. The majority of historicists throughout history have identified the "1,260 days" as being fulfilled by one or more of the following three time spans [9]:

  • 312 AD to 1572
  • 606/610 AD to 1866/1870
  • 533/538 AD to 1793/1798

Edward Bishop Elliott in his four-volume Horae Apocalypticae regarded the prophetic periods as representing the same temporal period, 606 - 1866CE. His view of the symbolic nature of the day-year principle was similar to the 'man as microcosm' argument; that a day in the life of a man could be likened to a year in the life of the wider world. Among his illustrations for this were Ezekiel 16 where the youth of a woman is likened to the growing in maturity of the Jewish people.[10] Similarly, the sabbath as a day for the individual is mirrored in the seventh fallow year of an agrarian society. Likewise, Ezekiel 4:1-7 where the prophet lies prostrate for a number of days to mirror the number of years of iniquity of Judah and Israel. "I have appointed thee each day for a year." He says another interesting, if problematic, illustration is Isaiah 20:2-3 where Isaiah appears to walk naked for three years. Elliott suggests that his prophetic act would have lasted three days as a sign of what the Assyrians would accomplish three years thence.

Seventh-day Adventists believe the prophecy stretches from 538AD to 1798AD, allegedly a period of papal supremacy.[8]

2300 day prophecy


Beginning of the 70 Weeks: The decree of Araxerses in the 7th year of his reign (457 BC) as recorded in Ezra marks beginning of 70 weeks. King reigns were counted from New Year to New Year following an 'Accession Year'. The Persian New Year began in Nisan (March-April). The Jewish civil New Year began in Tishri (September-October).


Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of the 2300 day prophecy time line and its relation ot the 70 week prophecy

The distinctly Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the divine investigative judgment beginning in 1844, based on the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8:14, relies on the day-year principle. The 2300 days are understood to represent 2300 years stretching from 457 BC, the calculated starting date of the 70 weeks prophecy based on the 3rd decree found in Ezra, to 1844.[11] The Seventh-day Adventist Church traces its origins to the William Miller, who predicted that the second coming of Jesus would occur in 1844 by assuming that the cleansing of the Sanctuary of Daniel 8:14 meant the destruction of the earth and applying the day-year principle.

Seven times

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the "seven times" of Daniel 4:25 represents 2520 years (7 × 360) terminating in 1914, when Jesus became king in heaven, and began his rule amidst his enemies, invisible from Earth. (See Eschatology of Jehovah's Witnesses).



The day-year principle is used by descendants of the Adventist movement, as well as by Christadelphians (who developed independently of the Adventist movement) and a few others; however it has very few supporters within mainstream evangelical Christianity and institutional Christian churches such as the Anglicans, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. Most theologians from the mainstream Christian denominations do not regard the principle as valid.

Critics[who?] argue that Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:5, 6 do not satisfactorily establish the day-year principle.

For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. Numbers 14:34
Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. Ezekiel 4:4-7

These verses give no indication that the words "day" or "year" are meant to be taken symbolically, nor do they indicate that a rule is being established to be used elsewhere in Scripture. The use of Daniel 9 to support the day-year principle is also criticised. The prophecy literally refers to seventy "sevens" (or "septets", or "heptads"), rather than seventy "weeks", and the word "day" is not found in the passage.

Criticism of Seventh-day Adventist usage

Some within the Seventh-day Adventist Church question the validity of the day-year principle. For example, the progressive theologian Desmond Ford challenges the use of the day-year principle in his critique of the investigative judgment doctrine.

A wise man changes his mind sometimes, but a fool never. To change your mind is the best evidence you have one. The last redoubt holding out for me was the year-day principle (on which I had written a defense in 1972 for the Southern Publishing Association Daniel volume which was published in 1978). This collapsed when I handled hundreds of books of commentary on Revelation in the Library of Congress stacks and found that the respective authors had in many cases suggested dates that seemed appropriate for their own time but ridiculous later. It became clear that we, as Adventists, had done the same as our predecessors. So when I gave the Forum meeting at Pacific Union College all the problems I had been fighting tumbled out, my rearguard action was over.

Desmond Ford[12]

In recent years, few others besides Adventists have attempted to substantiate the interpretation that the 1260 days represent 1260 years spanning AD 538 and 1798 (the Christadelphians are an exception). The majority of historians[who?] do not consider this a period of papal supremacy, and it is disputed whether the events which Adventists allege took place in AD 538 did in fact occur in that year. Critics of the traditional Seventh-day Adventist interpretation point out that the word "day" does not appear in the Hebrew of Daniel 8:14; instead the phrase "evenings and mornings" is used, indicating that literal days, not symbolic ones, are in view.

It is pointed out that Adventists do not apply the day-year principle consistently[who?]. That is, there are other contexts[where?], besides the 1260 and 2300 day prophecies, where the principle is not applied and references to time are taken literally[where?]. The decision when to use the principle may thus appear arbitrary. However there are two prophetic principles that Adventists use in Biblical and prophetic interpretation:

1. Accept a statement as literal, unless it is plainly figurative. If there is any absurdities in the statement when interpreted literally, or if it would not harmonize with other parts of Scripture, then it must be a figure.

The Signs of the Times, Vol 8 (1882)[13]

2. Figures that are in common use must be interpreted as they would be in any other book; give them their most obvious meaning. Any word in the Bible has the same meaning that it has anywhere else, unless the sense requires that it should be understood as figurative.

The Signs of the Times, Vol 8 (1882)[14]

In the case of the 2300 day prophecy there are 4-5 changes in world powers. A 7 year period (roughly 2300 literal days) would be an insufficient period of time for all the changes to occur.

Another criticism[who?] is that the Adventist application of the day-year principle to prophetic periods makes it impossible for Christ to have returned prior to the year 1798, when in fact the New Testament church believed themselves to be living in the "last days" (Hebrews 1:2) and expected the second coming of Christ to occur at any moment (Revelation 22:20). Christ himself is noted to have suggested to his followers that his coming could be within their lifetimes (Mark 13:28-37). However, this criticism fails to consider that Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians (2Thessalonians 2:1-8) reveals that the early church understood that there were specific events to precede the second coming.

However, not all Adventists who believe in the day-year principle limit Jesus' second coming to a late date such as above. Instead, a few emphasize the conditional nature of prophecy. In fact this point was debated during the writing of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, when associate editor Raymond Cottrell originally wrote that all prophecies are possibly conditional, whereas editor-in-chief F. D. Nichol modified the statement by adding a qualifier that the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are not conditional.[15]:42

Raymond Cottrell wrote about challenges presented to him as the associate editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary,

"What should an editor do with 'proof texts' that inherently do not prove what is traditionally attributed to them—as, for example, Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6;... In most of these and a number of other passages, pastoral concern led us to conclude that the Commentary was not the place to make an issue of the Bible versus the traditional interpretation, much as this disappointed us as Bible scholars and would be a disappointment to our scholarly friends who know better."[15]:43–44

The "us" Cottrell is referring to were some "[m]embers of the editorial team".[15]:43

See also


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Day-year principle. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Jerry Moon. "The Year-Day Principle". SDAnet. 
  2. Luther himself does not seem to have considered the problem but Andreas Osiander set out the concept of the 'angelic day' which was equivalent to one year in human reckoning. Because angels were not sub-lunary beings, the only unit of time of which they would be aware (their 'day') would be the solar year. This view does not seem to have been contested by others.
  3. EB Elliott, 'Horae Apocalypticae', volume III, page 280, fifth edition, 1862
  4. The Early Fathers - Times And Seasons
  5. 'More Scripturae loquentis utentes, quod dictium legius de quadraginta diebus quibus exploratores terram Channan circuierunt, anus pro die reputabitur; ut hic, versa vice, dies pro anno positus agnoscatur', Prismasius as cited by EB Elliott, 'Horae Apocalypticae', volume III, page 280, fifth edition, 1862
  6. Seventh-day Adventists Believe - An Exposition of the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2nd edition, Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2005, pp. 48 
  7. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Review and Herald Publishing Association
  8. 8.0 8.1 Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2nd ed). Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. 2005. pp. 184–185. ISBN 1-57847-041-2. 
  9. Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers, volume II (1948) pages 784, 787; volume III (1946) pages 744-745; volume IV (1982) pages 392, 395-397, 399-400
  10. Edward Bishop Elliott Horae Apocalypticae London: Seeley, Jackson & Halliday 5th ed (1862) Vol 3 p. 263
  11. Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2nd ed). Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. 2005. pp. 358–359. ISBN 1-57847-041-2. 
  12. "Desmond Ford on His Previous Defense of the Year Day Principle", 'Adventist Today, 2006
  13. The Signs of the Times, Vol 8 - November 30, 1882
  14. The Signs of the Times, Vol 8 - November 30, 1882
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary by Raymond Cottrell in Spectrum 16:3 (August 1985)

Further reading

  • William H. Shea, "Year-Day Principle, Part I," in Selected Studies in Prophetic Interpretation Review and Herald, 1982, page 56 (supporting)
  • Daniel and Revelation Committee Series contains two chapters defending the day-year principle

External links