Skip to comments.What is Biblical Prophecy? What Biblical Prophecy is NOT, and What It Really IS
Posted on 07/14/2012 10:36:38 AM PDT by Salvation
Contrary to what many fundamentalist preachers or late-night radio hosts would have you believe, biblical prophecy is not primarily about "predicting the future" or finding clues in the Bible that correspond to people or events in our own day and age! The prophets of Ancient Israel did not look into some kind of crystal ball and see events happening thousands of years after their own lifetimes. The books they wrote do not contain hidden coded messages for people living in the 20th or 21st centuries!
Rather, biblical prophets were mainly speaking to and writing for the people of their own time. They were challenging people of their own world, especially their political rulers, to remain faithful to God's commandments and/or to repent and turn back to God if they had strayed. They were conveying messages from God, who had called or commissioned them, rather than speaking on their own initiative or authority. However, because the biblical prophets were transmitting messages on behalf of God (as Jews and Christians believe), much of what they wrote for their own time is clearly also relevant for people living in the modern world. The overall message of faith and repentance is timeless and applicable in all ages and cultures.
To understand what biblical prophecy really is, let's look more closely at the origins, definitions, and uses of some key biblical words.
In the Hebrew Bible, the word for "prophet" is usually nabi' (lit. "spokesperson"; used over 300 times!), while the related feminine noun nebi'ah ("prophetess") occurs only rarely. Both words are derived from the root verb naba' ("to prophesy; to speak on behalf of another"). The root meaning of "prophet" is clearly expressed in several biblical passages, such as when God tells Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet" (Exod 7:1). Aaron's role was not to predict the future, but rather to be the spokesperson or mouthpiece of Moses, who evidently did not wish to speak to Pharaoh directly (see Exod 4:10-17). Later, God also tells Moses, "I will raise up for [the Israelites] a prophet like you from among your own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet who shall speak to them everything that I command" (Deut 18:18).
Two other Hebrew words (ro'eh and hozeh) are closely related, but usually translated "seer" rather than "prophet." The word ro'eh seems to be older, as explained in the Bible itself: "Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, 'Come, let us go to the seer' (ro'eh); for the one who is now called a prophet (nabi') was formerly called a seer (ro'eh)" (1 Sam 9:9). In contrast, hozeh seems to be a newer word, since it is used mostly in the Chronicles. All three words are used of three different people in 1 Chronicles 29:29: "Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the records of the seer (roeh) Samuel, and in the records of the prophet (nabi) Nathan, and in the records of the seer (hozeh) Gad." In other texts, nabi' and hozeh are practically synonymous and are sometimes even used for the same people.
|Hebrew||English||Torah/Law||Frmr. Proph.||Lttr. Proph.||Writings||HB Total|
In the biblical Greek of both the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, abbreviated LXX) and the New Testament (originally written in Koine Greek), the word for "prophet" is profhthV (prophetes), which stems from two other words: pro + phemi. The verb phemi simply means "to speak." The preposition pro has many different possible meanings, depending on the context in which it is used; it can mean "before" (which is why many people think "prophets" are those who "speak before" something happens, thus "pre-dicting" it), but it can also mean "for" or "on behalf of" (which is why most biblical scholars insist that "prophets" are those who "speak on behalf of God"). Which of these two possible meanings is more appropriate should be judged from the actual usage in the Bible.
|Greek||English||Pent.||Hist.||Wisd.||Proph.||LXX Total||Mark||Matt||Luke||John||Acts||Paul||Hebr||Cath||Rev||NT Total|
A careful study of the hundreds of relevant texts shows that biblical prophets rarely speak about future events as if they were inevitable, but much more often transmit various kinds of messages on behalf of God to the people, conveying God's interpretation of the past, present, and future aspects of people's lives. Thus, a "prophet" in the Bible is primarily a "spokesperson for God," someone who receives messages from God and conveys them to other people. If a prophet speaks words that are not from God, he or she is considered a false prophet or sometimes called a prophet of another god (e.g. "prophets of Baal" in the OT).
The messages transmitted by the biblical prophets are not only or primarily about the future, but about the past and present as well. They provide interpretations--from God's perspective--about past events, present circumstances, as well as future possibilities. Note that I say "future possibilities" rather than "future events," because when biblical prophets speak about the future, it is usually not about what will inevitably happen, but rather about what might happen, depending on how people choose to react and act: whether they listen to the prophetic message and live their lives accordingly, or ignore the words of the prophets and suffer the consequences.
What can we learn from this story? At least one crucial point about the nature of biblical "prophecy," namely, that even when prophets speak about the future, they are not predicting an inevitable, unalterable future! Rather, they are warning people about a possible future that might come upon them if they continue in their evil ways and do not turn back to God. But if the people do listen to the prophet's message and react appropriately, with prayer, repentance, and faithfulness to God, then the future will look very different than what the prophet had foretold!
Of course, not all biblical texts make the conditional nature of the future so explicit; the two alternatives ("If you don't repent, here's what will happen; but if you do repent, then God will be merciful to you.") are not always clearly stated, but might remain implicit. Some texts may even presuppose that people will not repent, and thus will be punished for their wickedness; but if they do, even contrary to all expectations, then the disasters foretold by the prophets will not come about after all!
The role of biblical prophets as spokespersons for God, speaking God's words primarily to people of their own time (and only secondarily to people of future generations), can also be seen in the various "introductory formulas" found so often in the prophetic books of the Bible. The messages God wishes to convey through the prophets to the people are often preceded by some very familiar phrases:
Moreover, when biblical prophets convey God's messages to the people, they do so not just in words but sometimes also in deeds, not just by speaking or writing, but also by performing various symbolic and/or miraculous actions. Examples are found throughout the Bible, esp. in the stories surrounding the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the books of Kings and in the book of the prophet Ezekiel:
Which books of the Bible are considered "prophetic"? The answer depends on which Bible you mean! Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians all use slightly different versions of the Bible, count different books among the "prophets," and arrange them in different orders in their respective Bibles.
The categorization of a biblical book can significantly affect how you interpret it, especially in the case of the Book of Daniel. Is this a "prophetic" book much like all the other prophets, as some Protestant Christians emphasize? Or is it somewhat "prophetic" but more accurately described as an "apocalyptic" book, as other Protestants and most Catholics maintain? Or is it not really "prophetic" at all, but rather belonging to a different literary genre that should be read differently, as most Jews agree?
Moreover, most biblical scholars emphasize that in order to interpret the writings of the biblical prophets properly, one must understand the historical context in which the prophets lived, since they were primarily addressing the people and political situations of their own day. To complicate matters, the canonical order of the prophetic books (how they are arranged in our Bibles) is not the same as the historical order (when they were originally written):
|Era / Century BCE||
Prophetic Books [with other named Prophets]
|Pre-Monarchy (13th11th Cent.)||Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, beginning of 1 Samuel|
|Early/United Monarchy (10th Cent.)||1 & 2 Samuel, most of 1 Kings [incl. Nathan & Ahijah]|
|Divided Monarchy (9th Cent.)||rest of 1 & 2 Kings [esp. Elijah & Elisha]|
|End of Northern Kingdom of Israel (8th Cent.)||Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah 1-39|
|End of Southern Kingdom of Judah (7th Cent.)||Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, most of Jeremiah|
|Babylonian Exile (597/587520 B.C.)||some of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40-55|
|Early Post-Exilic Restoration (late 6th - early 5th Cent.)||Haggai, Zechariah 1-8; [also Ezra & Nehemiah]|
|Persian Era (5th4th Cent.)||Isaiah 56-66, Jonah, Zechariah 9-14, Obadiah, Joel, Malachi|
|Hellenistic Era: Ptolemies (3rd Cent.)||Daniel 1-6 (more prophetic)|
|Hellenistic Era: Seleucids (early 2nd Cent.)||Daniel 7-12 (more apocalyptic)|
In addition to the prophets who have separate biblical books named after them (and who are sometimes also mentioned in other biblical books), quite a few other people are also called "prophet" or "prophetess" in the Hebrew Bible. Many of them are true prophets (who speak on behalf of the God of Israel), while some are false prophets (who serve other gods of other nations). Moreover, whole groups of prophets (lit. called "the sons of the prophets") appear in certain biblical stories. The following are some of the most important individuals referred to as "prophets" of God:
Although all of these prophets speak on behalf of God, rather than on their own authority, how they came to be prophets or when God first commissioned them for this role is only rarely narrated or alluded to in the Bible. The best know stories include:
False prophets, or prophets serving other gods, are sometimes also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Several biblical texts mention explicit criteria for distinguishing true vs. false prophets (Deut 13:1-5; 18:20-22), while other texts name certain groups or individuals as false prophets:
On a more artistic note, see the woodcut illustrations of several of the prophets in the Doré Bible Gallery.
Most of the NT references to "prophets" (mentioned 144 times in the NT, 116 of which are in the Gospels and Acts) are to the prophets of the OT, either generically as a group or often explicitly naming individual prophets (esp. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah, but sometimes also Jonah, Daniel, Elisha, Joel, Moses, Samuel, and even King David!). Some NT passages speak of the role of prophets in general, such as when Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward" (Matt 10:41).
In addition to these references to the ancient Hebrew prophets, the NT also refers to certain people of its own day as "prophets," including John the Baptist, Jesus, and many early Christian leaders, either individually or generically:
In addition to all these individuals who are named prophets, the gift of "prophecy" (Gk. profhteia / propheteia) and the action of "prophesying" (Gk. profhteuw / propheteuo) are very important in the life of the early Christian communities, as seen in various NT texts:
(This page is still under construction; more will be added some day, although I cannot "predict" when! :-)
(a.k.a. Mikra or TaNaK/Tanakh)
(based on larger versions of LXX;
exact contents & editions vary)
(based on Alexandrian canon of LXX;
with seven Deuterocanonical books)
|Torah / Books of Moses
1) Bereshit / Genesis
2) Shemot / Exodus
3) VaYikra / Leviticus
4) BaMidbar / Numbers
5) Devarim / Deuteronomy
|Nevi'im / Former Prophets
8) Samuel (1&2)
9) Kings (1&2)
9) 1 Kingdoms (= 1 Sam)
10) 2 Kingdoms (= 2 Sam)
11) 3 Kingdoms (= 1 Kings)
12) 4 Kingdoms (= 2 Kings)
13) 1 Chronicles
14) 2 Chronicles
15) 1 Esdras
16) 2 Esdras (=Erza + Nehemiah)
17) Esther (longer version)
20) 1 MACCABEES
21) 2 MACCABEES
22) 3 Maccabees
23) 4 Maccabees
9) 1 Samuel
10) 2 Samuel
11) 1 Kings
12) 2 Kings
13) 1 Chronicles
14) 2 Chronicles
19) Esther (longer version)
20) 1 MACCABEES
21) 2 MACCABEES
9) 1 Samuel
10) 2 Samuel
11) 1 Kings
12) 2 Kings
13) 1 Chronicles
14) 2 Chronicles
17) Esther (shorter version)
|Nevi'im / Latter Prophets
13) The Book of the Twelve:
|Khetuvim / Writings
14) Psalms (150)
17) Song of Solomon
21) Esther (shorter version)
22) Daniel (12 chapters)
24) Chronicles (1&2)
24) Psalms (151)
25) Odes (w/ Prayer of Manasseh)
28) Song of Solomon
30) WISDOM of Solomon
31) SIRACH, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus
32) Psalms of Solomon
23) Psalms (150)
26) Song of Solomon
27) WISDOM of Solomon
28) SIRACH, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus
19) Psalms (150)
22) Song of Solomon
49) LETTER of JEREMIAH
51) Daniel (2 chapters listed separately):
53) BEL and the DRAGON
32) BARUCH (incl. LETTER of JER.)
34) Daniel (14 chapters)
27) Daniel (only 12 chapters)
Studying the propheys Ping!
Oddly enough, most "fundamentalist preachers" don't teach this, either.
Studying the prophets Ping!
Nevertheless, a good foundational piece.
Most of the Book of Revelation is Prophecy future.
Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and many of the other prophets
as well as the New Testament clearly define prophecy
that pertains to the end times, or the Day of the Lord, or in the last days, etc.
This egghead seems to be trying to create a problem where there isn't one.
It is unsurprising that a Catholic writer would deny the authenticity of the Bible. The Book of Daniel, for example, was written by Daniel during the Babylonian exile if one believes the scripture. Instead, it lists it as being written after Alexander, most probably since Daniel predicted the rise of Alexander and the splitting of his kingdom into 4.
Prophecy is indeed any message from God, but God gave to men also expectations of the future, of which Daniel’s 70 weeks was one of the greatest and most exact. Jesus also predicted the fall of Jerusalem, which would not happen until 70ad.
Salvation, have you heard of the book “Isiah 9:10”? Read about it on Spirit Daily, kind of scary.
Homey likes the propheys!!! :)
I did not read the whole thing because it is too long but was the telling of Jerusalem being restored in the latter days for the people back then?
We saw it happen, and even those people who don,t from nothing about the scriptures can see it.
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
This world has seen at least 95 percent of the increase of knowledge in our life time.
People of my age saw their dads or even older brothers walking behind horses or mules and some even did it them selves.
The famous movie stars were getting from the pacific to the Atlantic on coal powered trains or in the old cars, an old hotel in Gallup new Mexico well knew most of the stars because they had to make two or three stops en route.
Only the better off people had electricity and running water in the west even in the 1940s
No tv until 1948 or 49 and that was just for a few and commercial airlines a little later.
I believe Danial was talking about the times we live in.
Actually more lies, half-truths, distortions and sophistry from the RCC cult.
Where did you get the idea that Catholics don’t read/deny Daniel?
It’s in my Catholic Bible. Are you sure you weren’t talking about something else. Look closely. I was surprised by it too.
OK, second time through. Who doeos the writer say denies Daniel?
I don’t see half truths or I wouldn’t have posted it. Any specific?
Immediately after the section where it makes the point about when the books were written. It lists the book of Daniel, just as an easy example, as being written after Alexander’s empire was split. It was written by Daniel during the Babylonian captivity.
Era / Century BCE
Prophetic Books [with other named Prophets]
Pre-Monarchy (13th11th Cent.) Books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, beginning of 1 Samuel
Early/United Monarchy (10th Cent.) 1 & 2 Samuel, most of 1 Kings [incl. Nathan & Ahijah]
Divided Monarchy (9th Cent.) rest of 1 & 2 Kings [esp. Elijah & Elisha]
End of Northern Kingdom of Israel (8th Cent.) Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah 1-39
End of Southern Kingdom of Judah (7th Cent.) Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, most of Jeremiah
Babylonian Exile (597/587520 B.C.) some of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40-55
Early Post-Exilic Restoration (late 6th - early 5th Cent.) Haggai, Zechariah 1-8; [also Ezra & Nehemiah]
Persian Era (5th4th Cent.) Isaiah 56-66, Jonah, Zechariah 9-14, Obadiah, Joel, Malachi
Hellenistic Era: Ptolemies (3rd Cent.) Daniel 1-6 (more prophetic)
Hellenistic Era: Seleucids (early 2nd Cent.) Daniel 7-12 (more apocalyptic)
This is a direct contradiction of the testimony of scripture.
As a survivor of years of Scholastic training at the hands of the Benedictines, I shall be happy to interpret Jesuitical writings for 50 Drachma per line, with a 50% surcharge if the line is in a dead language. 10% discount to FReepers, of course.
As far as "Fundamentalist" preachers go, I might, "Might," I say, be tempted to sincerely doubt that this august member of The Society of Jesus has actually ever listened to one. Rather he may be setting up the "Fundamentalist Preacher" as a theological 'straw man.'
One might find it a fairly good idea to always consult a Benedictine-trained chap such as myself, et cum grano salis, when trying to wade through the abstruse theological writings of our brothers, the Jesuits.
The Jesuits, formed by St Ignatius of Loyala, to spread the Gospel and then to stem the Protestant tide with the true Faith have wavered from their original calling. They've come a long Universalist Unitarian way, baby.
Well I'll say this for Fr. Just, S.J., Ph.D.: his article would probably get him lynched in Texas. St. Ignatius might be happy about that. But I catch your drift on the S.J.s in general. I sent one of my brighter kids to them and he came back somewhere to the Left of Trotsky and talks like Barbra Streisand.
Now about my brother ... who became a Unity minister ... splain that!
at least I can get you a deal on that bumper sticker.
They were challenging people of their own world, especially their political rulers, to remain faithful to God's commandments and/or to repent and turn back to God if they had strayed.
The folks I normally read and listen to are apt to point to the prophet's role as covenant messenger, pressing the suit of the great king (God himself, in this case) against his errant vassal people.
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