4

Speaking to the King of Babylon, the prophet Daniel says:

Daniel 4:27 NABRE

O king, may my advice be acceptable to you; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your contentment will be long lasting.

The chapter concludes with the story of Nebuchadnezzar's descent into insanity followed by his turning to God, regaining his throne and expressing the joy of his salvation/restoration. Daniel's advice seems to go against traditional Christian doctrine that atonement requires a blood sacrifice. Does Daniel 4:27 mean something other than what it says - that by good works a person can atone for his sins?

1
  • 1
    Note that answers must be focused specifically on the text of Daniel, and not just the general theology of atonement.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 13, 2023 at 3:42

5 Answers 5

5

The OP's translation is somewhat misleading - the word "atone" does not appear in the verse. Here are some better translations of Dan 4:27 -

  • NIV: Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”
  • ESV: Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
  • BSB: Therefore, may my advice be pleasing to you, O king. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.”
  • NKJV: Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
  • NASB: Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: wipe away your sin by doing righteousness, and your wrongdoings by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’

The pertinent verb here is פְרַק (pereq) = "to tear away, break off" (BDB).

Thus, the verse contains no suggestion of atonement via good deeds. Indeed, Isaiah correctly observed:

Isa 64:6 - Each of us has become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.

Further, according to Paul, there is only one righteous act that can atone for sin, and that was done by Jesus:

Rom 5:18 - So then, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness [Jesus' death on the cross] brought justification and life for all men [including Nebuchadnezzar!].

5
  • It does indeed seem to be a translation issue. Oct 12, 2023 at 13:47
  • Is this the same word as "repent"?
    – kutschkem
    Oct 12, 2023 at 15:41
  • @kutschkem It is a turning away from one thing to another, such as repentance from dead works (Hebrews 6:1) Oct 12, 2023 at 19:12
  • @kutschkem - it is a quite different word from that used for "repent". The word in this passage is פְרַק (pereq) = to break off or turn away.
    – Dottard
    Oct 13, 2023 at 8:47
  • Iniquities? Did he mean inequities?
    – Sixtyfive
    Oct 13, 2023 at 9:41
5

This looks to me like a call to repentance, replacing bad works with good ones. Isn't this the same advice that John the Baptist was giving? (Luke ch3 vv10-14). Compare also Isaiah ch1 v16, where "wash yourselves, make yourselves clean" is unpacked as meaning "cease to do evil, learn to do good", while in v13 of the same chapter offerings are being condemned as "vain" because they are combined with continued iniquity.

And by not mentioning blood sacrifice, Daniel is tacitly anticipating the verdict of Hebrews ch9 that the shedding of animal blood does not cleanse the conscience.

1
  • +1 Having seen @Dottard's answer I think it is indeed a call to repentance. The NABRE translation that I used isn't the best. Oct 12, 2023 at 13:53
3

Insofar as the root of these "good deeds" is a contrite spirit, then yes. In the causal chain leading to the forgiveness of sins by God the element of repentance is always present conjointly with its entailment, namely, the amended -- or rather, in a recurring process of "amending", never finished for as long as we remain in this age -- conduct that finds its impetus in the remoulded heart of the individual.

However, as @Dottard pointed out, the word used in the original text is not כָּפַר (kaphar), which in Hebrew is what signifies atonement, but פְּרַק (peraq), which seems to be associated with a process more the result of the volition of the person, as supplanting these wicked acts with acts of goodness, without implying the occurrence of forgiveness, which is something more contingent upon the resolution of God, in his grace.

2
  • 1
    Hey, good to see you! Good answer, +1 Oct 12, 2023 at 16:44
  • 1
    More in line with "bringing forth fruit in keeping with repentance", yeah? Welcome back. +1 Oct 12, 2023 at 19:14
1

It may be worth noting that the king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar did not have a covenant with God. Daniel's advice in Daniel 4:27 did not say 'by good works he can atone for his sins'. It said 'by good works his contentment will be long lasting'.

When Nebuchadnezzar turned to God, his sanity was restored. He just recovered his earthly glory. Perhaps the NIV translation avoid using 'long lasting' has a better sense.

Daniel 4:27 NIV

27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.

It is unknown if 'your prosperity will continue' to his afterlife.

2
  • I don't see how not having a covenant with God is relevant if "atone" is the right verb. But the NIV translation seems to be better. Oct 12, 2023 at 13:50
  • To my understanding, atonement for sins is under the Mosaic law, it is supersede by faith alone in Christianity. The uncircumcised Babylonians were not bound by the Mosaic law, their atonement did not result the same as the Jews. The NIV translators might aware of this and use 'renounce' to replace 'atone', avoid the confusion. Oct 12, 2023 at 14:28
-1

As others have said, this appears to be a poor translation.

However, in another example, there is no translation issue. In this case, Phineas made an atonement by skewering two people:

[Num 25:6-13 NASB95] [6] Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. [7] When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, [8] and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. [9] Those who died by the plague were 24,000. [10] Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [11] "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. [12] "Therefore say, 'Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; [13] and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'"

I'm not sure if that is helpful in your research or not.

4
  • It's hardly helpful due to not focusing on the text in question. Further, Phinehas killed the two adulterers to stop the plague of death such rebellion brought on the nation of Israel. Up till then, 24,000 of the people had died. His action stopped more deaths, that could have seen the nation effectively wiped out. His zeal for the righteous standards of God ensured an everlasting priesthood. Daniel called for renouncement of sin by one individual. Phinehas acted to stop sin and its resultant mass death in its tracks.
    – Anne
    Nov 9, 2023 at 17:06
  • @Anne Did you miss this verse?: [13] and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 9, 2023 at 17:08
  • Not at all, for verse 13 serves to show how radically different the case of Phinehas is from the case of Nebuchadnezzar in the Daniel verse in question. If the OP wants to enlarge his examination of atoning through good deeds, another Q could be asked about the case of Phinehas, but as Moderator curiousdannii stated, "Note that answers must be focused specifically on the text of Daniel, and not just the general theology of atonement."
    – Anne
    Nov 9, 2023 at 18:02
  • 1
    @Anne No worries. That's why I put my disclaimer. May you prosper in your quest.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 9, 2023 at 18:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.