What a wonderful addition to patristic scholarship to have T.C. Schmidt’s translation of Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel. The commentary is divided into four books. Book Four contains Hippolytus’ interpretations of Daniel 7-12, and the 59 chapters therein interested me most. In this blog, I will elaborate on some of his expositions.
1. In 4.14.3 Hippolytus speaks of “when the Judge of judges and the King of kings in the future comes from heaven.” Notice that he is expecting Christ to come from heaven in the future. He apparently does not believe, like some today do, that Christ returned from heaven in AD 70.
2. In 4.15 Hippolytus, writing about the Antichrist, says that “the fig shall sprout and the fruit of apostasy will prosper.” In 4.49.5 he says of Antichrist, “He, being lifted up over every king and every god, shall build the city of Jerusalem and he shall raise the converted Temple, he shall restore both all the land and its borders to the Jews, and having summoned their people from the slavery of the nations, he shall exhibit himself to them as king…” Today, our dispensational brothers teach that the “budding of the fig tree” is a symbol of the rebirth of the nation of Israel that happened in our generation, and that that event was a miracle of God in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Hippolytus, just a little over a hundred years after the apostles, taught that the Antichrist, not God, was the one who would restore the Jewish people back to their land, and interpreted the budding of the fig tree as the coming of the great end-time Apostasy. The contrast between this patristic interpretation and the modern one is quite stark, isn’t it?
3. Hippolytus was writing in a time of terrible persecution. As often happens, some of the faithful were seeking to know the day and the hour of the end, when the Antichrist will come, and the time of the Lord’s appearance from heaven. Hippolytus discouraged them from doing so, saying: “But one will say, ‘And when will these things be? In what season or time is the deceiver about to be revealed? And what shall be the day of the appearing of the Lord?’ The disciples also similarly sought to learn these things from the Lord, but he concealed the day from them, so that he may render them all as watchful…” (16.1-2) We also today ought not to ask questions about the time, nor put much stock in the prophecy of 2012 for the end of the world, but rather be watchful.
4. Hippolytus saw part of the Olivet Discourse as having already been fulfilled in the Roman-Judean war of the first century, particularly Luke 21:20. In 4.17.3 he wrote, “For just as he said concerning the city of Jerusalem, ‘When you see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then you know that her desolation draws near,’ and what was spoken about her has come, in this way it is needful to also now expect the rest to follow.”
5. In 4.19 Hippolytus relates a story about a pastor in Pontus who predicted that the day of the Lord would occur within a year, so that his congregation allowed “their lands and fields to be desolate.” When that pastor’s prophecy was not fulfilled after a year, he was shamed, “the brothers were found scandalized,” and the people went back to their daily activities of marrying and farming. It is a good historical lesson for sociologists and law enforcement officers when dealing with apocalyptic groups. When such a group experiences a disappointment related to failed prophecies, it will not necessarily turn violent, nor will its members necessarily try to bring about Armageddon themselves. Some apocalyptic groups just accept the fact that they were deceived and go on to living life much like they did before the prophetic frenzy started. Understanding this may help us to avoid another Waco tragedy.
6. In 4.29 Hippolytus talked about certain events in the future having been predestined. “Forasmuch as has already been predestined by God as occurring and proclaimed by the prophets, these in the same way will be fulfilled in their own time.” The purpose of my drawing attention to this is not to fashion Hippolytus into a Calvinist. Book 4.58.6 about free choice leads to the contrary. But for Hippolytus there is a connection between eschatology and the theology of grace, and I think he’s right on this. If one believes that future events like the Second Coming of Christ, the general resurrection, and the Last Judgment will certainly take place, then it is logical to believe in God’s predestination or foreordination of those events. For my brothers and sisters who squirm at the word “predestination,” it is something to consider.
7. One of the great benefits of this translation of Hippolytus’ commentary is that it gives us access to some of the earliest eschatological traditions in Christian history. In my book, The Seven Seals of the Apocalypse I showed how several medieval commentators on Revelation explained the seven seals as truths about Christ that were “sealed” or concealed in the Old Testament and now “opened” or revealed in the New Testament. This interpretive approach to the seals apparently had a precedent way back in Hippolytus. In 4.34, commenting on Rev 5:1-10 about the seven seals, Hippolytus wrote, “And so all which has been sealed long ago now through the grace of the Lord, has been opened to the saints…And so he took the book and loosed it, so that what was spoken long ago secretly concerning him, now may be preached with boldness upon the rooftops.”
8. Was Hippolytus a cessationist when it came to the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit? In 4.38, commenting on Dan 10:7– “And, I, Daniel alone saw the vision.”–Hippolytus wrote, “For if one now expects this also to be conducted in the church, he has not the fear of God, and the assembly of the saints helps him in nothing.” Interestingly, within a hundred years of the apostles, we have this presbyter in Rome saying that the Christians should not expect prophetic visions. It confirms what the apostle Paul taught in Eph 2:20, that the gift of prophecy was for the foundation of the church. Once the superstructure had been laid, prophetic visions were no longer considered normative for the church. Perhaps Hippolytus was reacting against the Montanists, an ancient sect which encouraged prophetic visions, which most likely made its way to Rome by Hippolytus’ time. Today, Kidd, Burgess, and others teach that the charismatic continued throughout the second and third centuries, but their quotations from the fathers are selective.
I am very thankful for Schmidt’s translation. If you are interested in patristic eschatology, Hippolytus, or how the book of Daniel was interpreted in the early church, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this enlightening book.