Sunday, May 25, 2014

Daniel's fourth kingdom

Our present day witnesses no Roman empire. This fact has required a slight shift from the positions enunciated in the early Jewish and Christian writings in that it has led many to postulate the coming of a "restored" Roman empire in some form. Others have tried to suggest ways in which the Roman empire might be considered to have continued in some form beyond the fall of Rome. This includes political models—of which dozens exist[12] - as well as religious models. Such "extended" empire views have changed as history has progressed. The "restored" empire view, on the other hand, has not required the same flexibility. 
The "restored" empire view has its roots in early Church history, though the view itself is not early. When Irenaeus spoke of Rome breaking down into ten parts, he did not give any indication that he expected a gap of unknown length to intrude between the fall of Rome and the stage of the ten horns. In fact, we would not expect this gap to become part of the theory until Rome itself had fallen. When do we first see this particular position, and what is its rationale? 
Western Rome fell in 476, but interpreters of that period would not feel a mandate to adjust their view because the empire continued in the east and, of course, the Holy Roman Empire was later formed in the west. It would take no great imagination to see the fourth kingdom as still being in existence through that period. 
The Eastern Empire fell in 1453, but even then the title of Roman Emperor continued to be used - by the Hapsburgs, for example the abdication of Francis II in 1806. Throughout this period any interpretation that saw the ten horns as still future understood that the Roman empire was still in existence. 
It is only in the nineteenth century, when the existence of the Roman empire became much more difficult to maintain, that the view arises concerning an indeterminate length of time, a gap in prophecy, after which the Roman empire would be reconstituted as a ten-nation alliance. But this then is not the same view as that which had been held throughout previous Church history. Even in the nineteenth century the "restored" empire view is a difficult one to find.[13] It is more common to find the papacy identified with an "extended" empire view. 
In summary, three positions are commonly held among evangelicals today, all of which posit Rome as the fourth empire: (1) The fourth empire and the ten horns are all in the past, and the kingdom of God is represented and fulfilled in the Church. Fulfillment is viewed as complete. This view is at least as old as Augustine. (2) The fourth kingdom is still in power through the continued influence (political, religious, cultural, etc.) of the Roman empire, but the ten-horns stage is still future. An early proponent of this view is Jerome, and it seems to be the most popular view, historically speaking. But it is held by very few today because of the historical difficulties. (3) The fourth kingdom is over, and we are now in a prophetic gap that will end when a ten-nation confederacy reconstitutes the Roman empire. This view is scarce, if not nonexistent, prior to the nineteenth century.
I find Walton's objection to the Roman interpretation odd.
i) To begin with, if we take the view that the fourth empire is past and the church age represents the kingdom of God, isn't that consistent with the Roman interpretation? You still have the chronological sequence of four successive kingdoms, leading up to Rome–and beyond. Christianity arises in the Roman era, but supplants it. 
ii) However, why assume that "Rome" is past? Walton seems to operate with a narrowly political definition. But surely there's a sense in which "Rome" as a cultural template continues apace. European culture is a continuation of Roman civilization. European colonies in North and South America, India, and Africa, are extensions of Rome. When Western missionaries evangelized Europe, then the global south, that's an extension of Rome. Same with Eastern Orthodoxy. "Rome" needn't be restored. 
So one needn't introduce a gap between Rome and the kingdom of God.
iii) Perhaps Walton would object that this view of Rome is too attenuated. But it's not as if the language of Daniel lays down exacting criteria.


  1. Steve, regarding Rev. 17:10, do you believe it's referring to seven kingdoms/empires or to seven Roman emperors?
    As I understand it in Biblical times kings were so connected and associated with their kingdoms that to speak of a king could refer to either the individual king and/or his kingdom (even beyond his personal death).

    10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. - Rev. 17:10-11

    1. I believe the numerology is symbolic.

  2. I don't think he's read too many commentaries on Daniel. Since he came from Moody probably only dispensational ones (hence his antagonism of the 4th kingdom and a ten horn gap) and the extact opposite, preterist. EJ young's daniel commentary the ten horns are none of those three positions and his seems the most satisfying interpretation I have come across and he's not the only commentator holding that view. His view is that the ten horns are symbolic for the completion of kingdoms until the end of time and as such they are present.