Identifying the author of the book of Daniel is bit tricky. Many parts of the second half are explicitly from the pen of Daniel, so Daniel was certainly an author to the book that bears his name. Chapter 4 is the written testimony of Nebuchadnezzar, so he is also partly an author of the book. Yet when most people consider who wrote the book of Daniel, they are often thinking of who wrote the narrative portions and who (perhaps) compiled the book into its final form. The most logical assumption would be that it was also Daniel himself; however, since we are not told, there is likely no way to know for sure.
However, the general consensus among many modern scholars has been that none of the book was actually penned by Daniel (nor by Nebuchadnezzar); instead, because of the precision of the prophecies concerning Alexander the Great and Antiochus IV Epiphanes, they argue that Daniel was written in the mid-2nd Century BC. They often also point to the burst of apocalyptic literature written during the intertestamental period as evidence that Daniel belongs among them.
First of all, we who affirm the existence of God Almighty should have no problem with Him supernaturally revealing the events of history almost four hundred years prior to His servants. The future, after all, is already history to the One who began time and will still be ruling and reigning whenever it has ceased. To the second concern, these scholars miss the simple answer that Daniel bears many similarities to apocryphal apocalyptic literature because those later books were inspired by the book of Daniel, especially as they began to see Daniel’s predictions come to pass.
As believers in both God and His sovereignty over history, we should have little problem affirming that the book was composed, at least mostly, during the 6th Century BC.
Three big themes pervade the book of Daniel: 1) the sovereignty of God, especially above all kings and nations, 2) the temporal rule and reign of all earthly kings and kingdoms, and 3) the call for God’s saints to be faithful under the rule of the wicked.
Daniel is set against the backdrop of the Babylonian Exile. Long after the foolishness of Rehoboam divided Israel into two kingdoms (Judah in the south and Israel in the north), God had brought his judgment upon the kingdom of Israel through the Assyrian Empire’s decimation Samaria, Israel’s capital city. God spared Judah a little while longer, yet because their continued sin, He pledged that their turn for destruction would nevertheless come.
That day came in stages under the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Daniel belonged to what is commonly called the first wave of exiles, a small group of youths from the royal family and the nobility. A larger second wave took place a few years later, which involved 10,000 captives (including the prophet Ezekiel). The third and final wave of exile resulted in the decimation of Jerusalem and of the temple. Jeremiah witnessed these events firsthand, writing Lamentations in response to such sorrow. Belonging to the first wave of captivity, Daniel and his friends would only have heard the news of their homeland’s sufferings five hundred miles away in the very capital of its destroyer.
The opening date of Daniel’s exile was approximately 605 BC, which was likely the year that Nebuchadnezzar ascended to the throne of Babylon. The final timestamp of the book in 10:1 refers to the Cyrus’ third year as conquering king of Babylon, which was about 537 BC. These dates mean that Daniel served the Babylonian Empire during the height of its power but also watched its collapse and conquest by the Persians. It also means that Daniel did not simply write about the rise and fall of kingdoms; he watched it unfold before his very eyes.
As noted about Daniel’s theme, the purpose of the book is to summon God’s people to faithfulness even when dwelling in the midst of wicked governments and rulers. This faithfulness, of course, must be rooted in a confidence in the sovereignty of God over all things.
The book of Daniel is easily divided into two halves, the first narrative and the second apocalyptic. Too often the two halves of Daniel are divorced from one another and taught separately. I believe, however, that they both necessarily feed into one another and should, therefore, be kept and taught together.
In the narrative first half of the book, we see these themes at work in the lives of Daniel and his friends, who have found themselves as young men (likely only teenagers) serving in the court of their conqueror. The first sign of their faithfulness arrives as they enter Babylon’s reeducation program and refuse to eat and drink of the king’s delicacies, which subtly marked their intention to never truly become Babylonians. The two great trials of faithfulness, however, come in chapter 3’s fiery furnace and chapter 6’s lions’ den (unsurprisingly, these are also the two most well-known portions of the book). They stand as examples for us to follow, knowing that God can deliver His people out of execution, even though He allows many to face the death of a martyr. Sandwiched between those chapters are two warnings about God’s sovereignty over rulers. Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling is a hopeful reminder that the faithfulness of God’s people can impact even the greatest and proudest of kings. Belshazzar’s destruction, however, is a warning for rulers to “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (Psalm 2:12).
The second half of the book is a series of apocalyptic visions that Daniel received from the reign of Belshazzar to the reign of Cyrus. The visions of chapters 8–12 appear to particularly address the great suffering of God’s people that would arrive during the reign of Antiochus IV in the 2nd Century BC. These visions warn the saints that the coming abominations were not outside the sovereign will of Most High and that they would need to choose faithfulness over their own comfort and even lives, just as Daniel and his friends had done.
The visions of chapters 2 and 7 tie the book together by transcending the times of Babylon, Persia, or Greece. These two visions reveal the perpetual movement of history with kingdoms of lesser and greater power vying to dominate the earth. However, in their quest to rule like gods, they become beasts instead, occasionally producing a “little horn” (an antichrist) who severely persecutes God’s people before being broken and judged by the LORD. Thus, the book of Daniel was not only for the Babylonian captives nor solely for the Jews living during Antiochus IV’s abominations; instead, it speaks to all believers at all times under all kings to be steadfastly faithful to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.