Literary Form

1. Historical Narrative
2. Prophecy
3. Apocalypse

There are three basic literary forms in the book of Daniel, namely Historical NarrativeProphecy and Apocalypse.



The historical narrative section can be found in the first six chapters of Daniel, which give a background of Daniel and his ministry in Babylon.

Daniel was an Israelite of royal descent from the tribe of Judah who was carried into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the third year of Jehoiakim in 605BC (Dan 1:1-6). Daniel, along with his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were trained in their youth for the royal service of the Babylonian king. Therefore, they were given Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. True to their Jewish faith, they refused to transgress Jewish dietary laws, and at the end of three years all had become renown for their wisdom and found favour with the king.

Daniel’s Ministry
Daniel was appointed an advisor in the courts of foreign kings and remained in government service through the reigns of the kings of Babylon and into the reign of Cyrus king of Persia. God gave Daniel the extraordinary ability to understand all kinds of visions and dreams (Dan 1:17). Through Daniel, God declared judgment on the Babylonian kingdom and revealed the future to demonstrate His sovereignty over the history of man.


The Prophetic Section of Daniel is found mainly in Chapters 7 – 12.

Greek < propheteia > signifies “the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God” (pro, “forth,” phemi, “to speak). It means “to speak forth, to proclaim”. Thus prophecy is the declaration of that which cannot be known by natural means, the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future. It is often uttered through the human spokesman, and may be expressed in many different forms through the prophet himself, whether by mouth or some bodily actions. Since the completion of Scriptures, there is no longer any new revelation.

Prophecy can be further classified as “forthtelling” if the message is relevant to the present situation, or “foretelling” if it refers to the future.

God’s word as spoken through His prophet is often relevant to the present circumstances of His hearers. He encourages His people when they are fearful under adverse circumstances, rebukes them if they fall and warns them of judgment if they do not repent of their sins. God’s message of judgment also extends to other wayward nations. God’s judgment on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and urge to repentance (Dan 4) is an example of forthtelling in the book of Daniel.

Foretelling is a message from God that is purely predictive ie. it speaks of events that will take place in the future. For example Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the Great Image (Dan 2) is a prediction of the 4 empires in world history.

Role of Prophecy in Daniel

Judah was deported into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem. Despite decades of solemn warning by Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and other prophets, the people’s flagrant apostasy and immorality brought about the total destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. From a human viewpoint, the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, was apparently unable to deliver his people from the worshipers of Asshur, Bel, and Nebo. Ethical monotheism was exposed to universal scorn as an empty fraud when Yahweh’s temple was burned to its ruins. Therefore, it was important at this time in Israel’s history for God to show that He is the one true God and the sovereign Lord of history. He vindicated biblical monotheism over against its detractors and convinced the supreme rulers of Babylon and Persia that Yahweh was the greatest power both on earth and in heaven. He proved through His miraculous acts that He had allowed His people to go into captivity, not through weakness, but rather to maintain His integrity as a holy God, who carried out His covenant promises both for good and for ill according to the conduct of His people.

1. To demonstrate the absolute sovereignty and omnipotence of Yahweh, the God of Israel. The Great Image in Dan 2, the judgment on Nebuchadnezzar due to his overweening pride (Dan 4), the terrible prediction inscribed on the wall during Belshazzar’s banquet and its speedy fulfillment (Dan 5) all clearly showed that the Lord God of Israel is in charge of the tide of human affairs and is perfectly able to deliver His people from pagan oppression during their captivity.

2. To reveal the long-range purview of God’s program of redemption to His people. This includes His marvelous plan and sovereign purpose to redeem His people through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Dan9:25-26 etc).

3. To display the indomitable grace of God. Even after the severe judgment of near total destruction had overtaken the nation in 587 BC, the Lord was merciful and gracious to His people during exile. Though Isaiah, Micah, and Ezekiel foresaw the return of the remnant at the end of their chastisement, it was Daniel, living with the exiled nation through its captivity, who witnessed their release under Cyrus to set up the second commonwealth back in the Promised Land. God never abandoned His people to the full consequences of their sin, but in loving-kindness He subjected them to an ordeal that purged them of idolatry.

Modes of Inspiration
In time past, God spoke to man through the prophets “at sundry times and in diverse manners” (Heb 1:1), the usual method being dreams and visions.

1. Revelational Dreams

One of the ways God revealed His plans to the prophets was by means of dreams, which were given during sleep. However, not all dreams contain revelation. An example is King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a Great image (Dan 2).

2. Ecstatic Visions
Ecstasy is a state of intense, perceptive consciousness (which only God can bestow) where the prophet is elevated above the sphere of outward sense, providing the deepest concentration of soul and clearest perception of revelation. In this state, the prophet sees and hears things which do not lie in the domain of the natural. The mind of the prophet becomes so concentrated on the revelation being transmitted that the natural current of thoughts and senses breaks off and temporarily ceases to function. The prophet is conscious of what is going on, but has no power to alter it. He is conscious of being laid hold of by the Spirit of God to receive a message which he knows is not the product of his own reflective or imaginative mind. But it is not necessary to suppose that the ecstatic visions of Bible prophets are accompanied by excitations, convulsions, and ravings. When Daniel was given the vision of the glory of God (Dan 10:4), he heard words like the sound of a tumult, which was beyond the natural realm. He was also conscious of the natural surroundings and the reaction of the men with him even though he was unable to control. In this state of spiritual consciousness, Daniel was especially conscious of his sinful nature as he saw the glory of God and no strength was left in him.

Interpretation –
Bible prophecy can be classified into literal and symbolic representation. The former uses words that are usually plain to its audience at that time while the latter uses symbols to represent people, things or events. It is necessary to interpret a prophecy according to the form in which it was written.

Literal Interpretation –
To interpret “literally” is to explain the original sense of the writer according to the normal, customary, and proper usages of words and language. To understand the Bible, it is necessary to interpret Scripture according to the accepted rules of grammar and rhetoric, as well as the factual historical and cultural data of Bible times.

Basis for Literal Interpretaion

1. Prophecy is Intended to be Understood
– When Christ makes the statement -” whosoever readeth, let him understand”, He points out the fact that God wants prophecy to be understood. Thus prophecy must be written in words that are subjected to the basic rule of communication, which assumes that a common meaning is fixed to each word in a sentence so that all parties can understand it.

2. Language is a Medium of Divine Revelation
Since creation, God has given man the gift of intelligible speech and communication. The diversity of languages that arose from the Tower of Babel also came about as a direct act of God (Gen 11:9). Moreover, God chose the human language as the medium of revelation. Thus, despite the depths and infinite riches of God’s truth, human language, written according to common rules of communication, stands sufficient to convey all that God wants man to know.

3. Historical Fulfillments
A practical way to determine how to interpret predictions of the future is to look at how God fulfilled prophecies in the past. Since every prophecy was fulfilled literally and with absolute accuracy, we can conclude that the fulfillment of prophecy is always literal. The prophecies regarding the four world empires and the Messiah had been fulfilled literally. Daniel himself also believed in the literal fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prediction about the seventy years desolation of Jerusalem (Da 9:2; Jer 29:10), and it was this belief that prompted Daniel to pray and ask God to restore His people at the end of 70 years.

4. Early Church Precedent
The early church believed in the imminent return of Christ and His earthly reign in the Millennium. This is because early Christians interpreted prophecy literally. This sets a precedent for us to interpret prophecy literally and believe that it will be fulfilled with accuracy.

5. Logical Necessity
If literal interpretation is compromised, all objective is lost as one method of interpretation appears, disappears, and reappears under the whims and fancies of the interpreter and over time.

Symbolic Representation
This shall be covered under the Apocalypse section.

Fulfillment of Prophecy
Prophecy in Scripture can be either fulfilled partially or completely.

1. Complete Fulfillment:

The Writing on the Wall
Dan 5:28 “this is what these words mean:
…….: Your Kingdom is divided and given to the Medes andPersians.

Vs 30: That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians.,
was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom…..

Most prophecies when designated as fulfilled, are fulfilled completely and once and for all. When the assurance has been given that what had been predicted has already taken place, it does not expect any more fulfillment of that prophecy. E.g. The prediction of the fall of Babylonian kingdom (Dan 5) was fulfilled completely on the same night when the Persians captured Babylon.

2. Partial Fulfillment:

Some prophecies in Scripture have been partially fulfilled but continue to look forward to their final and complete realization. The already fulfilled portion of the prophecy acts as a guarantee that the unfulfilled portion will also be fulfilled. E.g. In the prophecy of the Great Image (Dan 2), the head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze and legs of iron were fulfilled in the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires respectively (Dan 2:32-33a). However, the prophecy of the feet of partly iron and partly clay and the stone that smites the great image awaits fulfillment in the End Times and the Messianic Kingdom.

3. Double Fulfillment/ Double Reference:

The terms “Double Fulfillment” and “Double Reference” refer to the same thing but are viewed from different perspective. The former views the prophecy as being partially fulfilled first time in history and at the same time awaiting complete fulfillment in distant future.
The latter sees the prophecy as the same event referring to two persons separated at different point in The prophecy concerning a coming world ruler (Dan 8:23-26) finds its initial and partial fulfillment in Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the great persecutor of Jews during the Greek period. The final and more complete fulfillment of the prophecy will take place in the End Times, when the final world ruler, the Antichrist, will rise to power. Like Antiochus, the evil ruler Antichrist will persecute the Jews and stop all Jewish sacrifices in the Temple. Thus, the persecution under Antiochus is an illustration in history of what will take place in the yet-future Great Tribulation.

Progressive Revelation:

Prophecies are usually given in stages. Revelation could be given from macro level to micro details or it could be given according to the sequence of events. In Daniel, God did not reveal the entire world history to Daniel at one time. Instead, He presented the visions to him in stages over the years.
In Daniel 2, God revealed a bird’s eye view of the Gentile Kingdoms from Daniel’s time into the end times. Subsequently in the following chapters 7, 8, 5 and 11, He zoomed into the details of the vision in Daniel 2. Chapter 7 provides greater characteristics of all the kingdoms while chapter 8, 5 and 11 only selectively provide more details about certain kingdoms.

Time Perspective in Prophecy

The Perspective of Prophecy or Prophetic Foreshortening (also known as “the law of time relationship”) means that two or more future events, widely separated in time, may be seen by the prophet in a single profile or side by side. This is because during the transmission of prophecy, the prophets are stationed in space and not in time. But not all bible prophecies possess this characteristic. Foreshortening is usually found in prophecies that bear some relationship to one another or are related to one future program. It is particularly true of the predictions of the Major Prophets, where many times prophecies concerning the Babylonian captivity, the events of the day of the Lord, the return from Babylon, the worldwide dispersion of Israel, and their future regathering from all the corners of the earth, are grouped together almost discriminately.

Illustration of Foreshortening

Example from resurrection of saints and sinners – From Dan 12:2, it appears that there is only one general resurrection at the same time for all, the righteous to heaven and the unrighteous to hell. However, when comparing with a parallel passage in Rev 20, it becomes apparent that when Christ comes, the righteous will be resurrected and shall reign with Christ a thousand years, whereas “the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years were finished”, and that this is the first resurrection. Thus the two resurrections, placed side by side in Daniel, have a time gap of at least a thousand years. Due to the foreshortening of their horizons (see Fig. 3), Daniel did not perceive the thousand years gap. Further revelation of Scripture supplements this lack of time perspective in the prophecy.

Figure 3: Time Gap between two Resurrections


Definition –
The Book of Daniel is often classified as “apocalyptic” from the Greek apokalypsis (meaning, to uncover, to unveil) because many of its prophecies were revealed using symbolic forms. Symbols, such as objects and concepts, are used to represent people, things or a chain of events. The meanings of these symbols are usually given in the context. Other apocalyptic books in the Scripture are Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation. Though most prophecies in the Bible involve known objects and concepts, there are also instances where figures and symbols unfamiliar to the prophets were used. In Daniel 7, the prophet saw four beasts, which appear so unearthly that he used analogies (e.g. “like a lion”). But the fourth best was so unlike anything Daniel had ever seen that he did not bother to use an earthly analogy to describe. Surely these representations could not have originated from Daniel’s own “imaginative” mind, but from God.

Purpose for Use of Symbols:

1. A Means of Illumination – God used objects to highlight certain characteristics of future people, events or things to the prophets.

2. Prevent Man’s Deliberate Intervention
This is because prophecy sets forth the future, much of which relates to the rise and fall of nations, the outcome of wars and struggles, and the destinies of peoples and individuals. Under God’s sovereignty, the fulfillment of these prophecies is to be brought about by the instrumentality of men. If the prophecies had been delivered in plainer terms, some persons would endeavour to hasten their accomplishment, as others would have attempted to defeat it.

Principles of interpretation of symbolic language

The best possible material for the interpretation of symbols is the context in which the symbols are found. The context could be immediate, i.e. within the same passage, or remote, i.e. in the wider context of the same book or the rest of the Bible.

1. Immediate context – Generally, the two most symbolic books of the Bible – Daniel and Revelation – explain their own symbols immediately after the text. The four ferocious bests (Dan 7:4) are said to represent four earthly kingdoms (Dan 7:17) immediately after the vision.

2. Remote context – When the immediate context does not give a clear meaning to a symbol, the interpreter should examine similar or analogous symbols used elsewhere in prophecy. Thus, the “time and times and half a time” (Dan 7:25; 12:7) must be compared with “forty and two months” (Rev 11:2) and ” a thousand two hundred and three score days” (Rev12:6), as well as with Daniels’s prophecy of the 70th week (Dan 9:26-27). However, sometimes the meaning of a given symbol may not be readily understood from its near or far context. In such instances, one must withhold decision on the case until contexts, parallel passages, and the harmony of prophetic symbolism have been consulted.

The use of Types in Prophecy

Definition of a Type – A type is an Old Testament institution, event, person, object, or ceremony which has reality and purpose in Biblical history, but which also by divine design foreshadows something yet to be revealed. There is a large group of things and events in the Old Testament, which is uniquely related to elements in the New Testament. These divinely intended resemblances beautifully depict the organic unity of the Word of God. In fact, as far as basic natures and characters are concerned, a type is no different from a prophecy. Prophecies and types both point to things future and are predictive in their natures. However, as a prophecy verbally delineates the future, a type prefigures coming reality. The former is couched in words and statements while the latter is expressed in events, persons, and acts. Thus, one is active while the other is passive.

Example of a Type – In Daniel 9:27, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a wicked ruler who persecuted the Jews during the Greek times, is a type of the Antichrist, a future world ruler who will also persecute the same people during the Great Tribulation in the future. The former’s evil character and deeds is a shadow of the latter Antichrist who is yet to ascend the world throne.