The anchor text cited to support this doctrine is Daniel 8:14. It reads: “He said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” (King James Version) Because of the phrase “then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,” many Adventists link this verse with Leviticus chapter 16. It describes the cleansing of the sanctuary by the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement. They also connect Daniel’s words with Hebrews chapter 9, which describes Jesus as the Greater High Priest in heaven. One SDA scholar says that this reasoning is based on the “proof-text” method. A person finds “a certain word like sanctuary in Dan. 8:14, the same word in Lev. 16, the same word in Heb. 7, 8, 9” and holds “that they are all talking about the same thing.”
The Adventists reason this way: Ancient Israel’s priests performed a daily ministry in the temple compartment called the Holy, resulting in forgiveness of sins. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest performed an annual ministry in the Most Holy (the temple’s innermost room) that resulted in the blotting out of sins. They conclude that Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven consists of two phases. The first began with his ascension in the first century, ended in 1844, and resulted in the forgiveness of sins. The second, or “judgment phase,” began on October 22, 1844, still continues, and will result in the blotting out of sins. How is this accomplished?
Since 1844, Jesus is said to be investigating the life records of all professing believers (first of the dead, then of the living) to determine if they merit eternal life. This examination is the “investigative judgment.” After people are thus judged, the sins of those who pass this test are blotted out of the record books. But, explained Ellen White, those who do not pass will have ‘their names blotted out of the book of life.’ Thus, “the destiny of all will have been decided for life or death.” At that point, the heavenly sanctuary is cleansed and Daniel 8:14 is fulfilled. So Seventh-Day Adventists teach. But the SDA publication Adventist Review admits: “The term investigative judgment is not found in the Bible.”
A Missing Linguistic Link
This teaching has troubled some Adventists. “History shows,” says one observer, “that loyal leaders in our ranks have undergone agony of soul as they contemplated our traditional teaching on the investigative judgment.” In recent years, he adds, agony turned to doubt as scholars began to “question many pillars of our usual sanctuary presentation.” Let us now examine two of them.
Pillar one: Daniel chapter 8 is linked with Leviticus chapter 16. This premise is weakened by two main problems—language and context. First, consider language. Adventists believe that the ‘cleansed sanctuary’ in Daniel chapter 8 is the antitype of the ‘cleansed sanctuary’ of Leviticus chapter 16. This analogy seemed acceptable until translators learned that “cleansed” in the King James Version is a mistranslation of a form of the Hebrew verb tsa·dhaqʹ (meaning “to be righteous”) used at Daniel 8:14. Professor of theology Anthony A. Hoekema notes: “It is unfortunate that the word came to be translated be cleansed, since the Hebrew verb usually rendered cleansed [ta·herʹ] is not used here at all.”* It is used in Leviticus chapter 16 where the King James Version renders forms of ta·herʹ as “cleanse” and “be clean.” (Leviticus 16:19, 30) Hence, Dr. Hoekema correctly concludes: “If Daniel meant to refer to the kind of cleansing which was done on the Day of Atonement, he would have used taheer [ta·herʹ] instead of tsadaq [tsa·dhaqʹ].” Yet, tsa·dhaqʹ is not found in Leviticus, and ta·herʹ is not found in Daniel. The linguistic link is missing.
What Does the Context Reveal?
Now consider the context. Adventists hold that Daniel 8:14 is “a contextual island,” having nothing to do with the preceding verses. But do you get that impression when you read Daniel 8:9-14 in the accompanying box entitled “Daniel 8:14 in Context”? Verse 9 identifies an aggressor, a small horn. Verses 10-12 reveal that this aggressor will attack the sanctuary. Verse 13 asks, ‘How long will this aggression continue?’ And verse 14 answers: “Until two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; and the holy place will certainly be brought into its right condition.” Clearly, verse 13 raises a question that is answered in verse 14. Theologian Desmond Ford says: “To detach Dan. 8:14 from this cry [“How long?” verse 13] is to be exegetically at sea without an anchor.”*
Why do Adventists detach verse 14 from the context? To avoid an awkward conclusion. The context ascribes the defilement of the sanctuary, mentioned in verse 14, to the activities of the little horn. However, the “investigative judgment” doctrine attributes the defilement of the sanctuary to the activities of Christ. He is said to transfer the sins of believers to the heavenly sanctuary. So, what happens if Adventists accept both the doctrine and the context? Dr. Raymond F. Cottrell, a Seventh-Day Adventist and former associate editor of the SDA Bible Commentary, writes: “To pretend to ourselves that the SDA interpretation reads Daniel 8:14 in context then would thus be to identify the little horn as Christ.” Dr. Cottrell honestly admits: “We can’t have both context and the Adventist interpretation.” With regard to the “investigative judgment,” therefore, the Adventist Church had to make a choice—accept the doctrine or the context of Daniel 8:14. Unfortunately, it embraced the former and dropped the latter. No wonder, says Dr. Cottrell, that informed Bible students blame Adventists for “reading into Scripture” what cannot “be drawn from Scripture”!
In 1967, Dr. Cottrell prepared a sabbath school lesson on Daniel, which was sent to SDA churches worldwide. It taught that Daniel 8:14 does relate to its context and that the ‘cleansing’ does not refer to believers. Significantly, the lesson omits any mention of an “investigative judgment.”
Some Remarkable Replies
How great is Adventist awareness that this pillar is too weak to support the “investigative judgment” doctrine? Dr. Cottrell asked 27 leading Adventist theologians, ‘What linguistic or contextual reasons can you give for the link between Daniel chapter 8 and Leviticus chapter 16?’ Their response?
“All twenty-seven affirmed the nonexistence of any linguistic or contextual reasons for applying Dan. 8:14 to the antitypical day of atonement and the investigative judgment.” He asked them, ‘Do you have any other reasons for making this link?’ Most of the Adventist scholars said that they had no other reasons, five replied that they made this link because Ellen White did, and two said that they based the doctrine on a “fortunate accident” in translation. Theologian Ford remarks: “Such conclusions offered by the cream of our scholarship assert in effect that our traditional teaching on Dan. 8:14 is indefensible.”
Any Help From Hebrews?
Pillar two: Daniel 8:14 is linked with Hebrews chapter 9. “All our early works draw heavily on Heb. 9 when explaining Dan. 8:14,” says theologian Ford. This link was born after the “Great Disappointment” in 1844. Searching for guidance, Millerite Hiram Edson dropped his Bible on a table so that it would fall open. The outcome? Hebrews chapters 8 and 9 were facing him. Says Ford: “What could be more appropriate and symbolic of the Adventist claim that these chapters hold the key to the meaning of 1844 and Dan. 8:14!”
“That claim is crucial for Seventh-day Adventists,” adds Dr. Ford in his book Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment. “Only in Heb. 9 . . . can be found a detailed explanation of the significance of . . . the sanctuary doctrine so vital to us.” Yes, Hebrews chapter 9 is the chapter in the “New Testament” to explain the prophetic meaning of Leviticus chapter 16. But Adventists also say that Daniel 8:14 is the verse in the “Old Testament” that does so. If both statements are true, there must be a link between Hebrews chapter 9 and Daniel chapter 8 as well.
Desmond Ford observes: “Certain things stand out immediately as one reads Heb. 9. There is no obvious allusion to the book of Daniel, and certainly none to Dan. 8:14. . . . The chapter as a whole is an application of Lev. 16.” He states: “Our sanctuary teaching cannot be found in the only book of the New Testament which discusses the significance of the sanctuary services. This has been acknowledged by well-known Adventist writers around the world.” So, then, pillar two is also too weak to support the troubled doctrine.
However, this conclusion is not new. For many years, says Dr. Cottrell, “Bible scholars of the church have been well aware of the exegetical problems our conventional interpretation of Daniel 8:14 and Hebrews 9 encounters.” Some 80 years ago, influential Seventh-Day Adventist E. J. Waggoner wrote: “Adventist teaching concerning the sanctuary, with its ‘Investigative Judgment’ . . . , is virtually a denial of the atonement.” (Confession of Faith) Over 30 years ago, such problems were presented to the General Conference, the SDA Church’s leadership.
Problems and an Impasse
The General Conference appointed a “Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel.” It was to prepare a report on how to resolve the difficulties centering on Daniel 8:14. The 14 committee members studied the question for five years but failed to propose a unanimous solution. In 1980, committee member Cottrell said that most committee members felt that the Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8:14 could be “established satisfactorily” by a series of “assumptions” and that problems “should be forgotten.” He added: “Remember, the name of the committee was the Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel, and the majority was suggesting that we forget the problems and not say anything about them.” That would have amounted to an “admission that we had no answers.” So the minority refused to back the majority’s view, and there was no formal report. The doctrinal problems remained unsolved.
Commenting on this impasse, Dr. Cottrell says: “The issue of Daniel 8:14 is still with us because we have been unwilling, thus far, to face up to the fact that a very real exegetical problem does exist. That issue will not go away so long as we keep pretending that there is no problem, so long as we insist on holding our heads, individually and collectively, in the sand of our preconceived opinions.”—Spectrum, a journal published by the Association of Adventist Forums.
Dr. Cottrell urges Adventists to make “a careful reexamination of the basic assumptions and the principles of exegesis on which we have based our interpretation of this—for Adventism—indispensable passage of Scripture.” We would encourage Adventists to examine the doctrine of “investigative judgment” to see whether its pillars are based solidly on the Bible or are founded on the unstable sands of tradition.* The apostle Paul wisely urged: “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.”—1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Daniel 8:14 in Context
DANIEL 8:9 “And out of one of them there came forth another horn, a small one, and it kept getting very much greater toward the south and toward the sunrising and toward the Decoration. 10 And it kept getting greater all the way to the army of the heavens, so that it caused some of the army and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it went trampling them down. 11 And all the way to the Prince of the army it put on great airs, and from him the constant feature was taken away, and the established place of his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 And an army itself was gradually given over, together with the constant feature, because of transgression; and it kept throwing truth to the earth, and it acted and had success.
“13 And I got to hear a certain holy one speaking, and another holy one proceeded to say to the particular one who was speaking: ‘How long will the vision be of the constant feature and of the transgression causing desolation, to make both the holy place and the army things to trample on?’ 14 So he said to me: ‘Until two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; and the holy place will certainly be brought into its right condition.’”—New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.