Wednesday, February 27, 2013

CHAPTER 1: PROPHECY

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:20-21)


The prophecy of the Scripture has suffered so much in the hands of End-times Church Futurologists and has been so commercialized within the market of secularists nowadays. Christian Futurists are discarding biblical prophecy in favor of a "doom and gloom" stance. Others are willing to disregard the "analogy of faith" [Scripture interprets Scripture] method in order to not frustrate the "Second Coming" expectation among all professing Christians. In other words, vain imaginations or sheer speculations have overrun biblical prophecies that were already fulfilled. True exegesis seems to be waning even among the most conservative church members. So how are we going to respond to these issues?

When a Christian thinks of prophecy, he must consider prophecy facts as seen in the Scripture: 1) the biblical author [divine and human], 2) the text [prophetic language, interpretation, and meaning of the message], and 3) audience relevance.

All of these prophecy facts have had significant effects on the typical Christian's ability to detect truth from error. There is a vast difference between prophesying in denominational churches today and the prophecy of the Scripture. A major difference can be realized as we give the biblical answer to the question, "What is prophecy?"

THE AUTHOR OF PROPHECY

Prophecy
[Greek "propheteia" = prophecy, prophesying; prediction (scriptural or other)]

In 2 Peter1:21, Peter says, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

Divine Author

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man – Prophecy of the Scripture is not a product of man's volition or determination; holy men were separated by God from the world to speak and write the words of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Spirit is both the author and interpreter of the Holy Scriptures. As Peter indicates, "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter1:21). It was the Spirit of truth who was the Guide of the apostles "into all truth" and the Revealer of "things to come" (John 16:13). Moreover, the Spirit of God reveals "the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10) and teaches believers all things concerning Christ's doctrines (John 14:26). Thus the Spirit of God who moved holy men to prophesy and to write Scriptures is the same Spirit who interprets it.

One particular point of interest in Christendom has been the bestowal of "spiritual gifts" by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). It is also important at this point to note that prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Human Author

In the old time, if there would be a prophet among the people of Israel, it is recognized that the Lord made Himself known unto that prophet in a vision and spoke unto him in a dream (Numbers 12:6). However, Moses warned the people of Israel to reject any words of a prophet or a dreamer of dreams who entices them to go after other gods [idols]. Moreover, that prophet who entices them to idolatry must be put to death because he is directing people to forsake God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

In 1 Corinthians 14:3, when Paul speaks of prophesying, he was possibly referring to preaching because "he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." Moreover, "he that prophesieth edifieth the church" (1 Corinthians 14:4).

Back in the old time, it was foretold that God would raise up a Prophet among the people of Israel and through him God would speak His commandments (Deuteronomy 18:15-19); eventually, this promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (John 1:45, 6:14).

This portion proposes that even if there were prophets, God himself is still the ultimate authority in prophecy; furthermore, the Holy Spirit has apportioned this gift of prophecy to whomever he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

The Prophetic Text

"Biblical Prophecy" is an overwhelming subject. In fact, the prophecy of Scripture is filled with expressions which are dependent upon figures of speech, symbols, parables, types, dreams, visions, and spiritual ecstasies. Therefore, as an agent in the revelation of God, prophetic language must be determined according to God's expressive and prescriptive words.

Prophetic Language

There are two kinds of prophetic language: 1) Expressive prophetic language – a dramatic proclamation of prophecy showing its audience what is going to or about to happen; and 2) Prescriptive prophetic language – a prophetic declaration on how something should be done or what someone should do before or when events come to pass.

Prophetic language can be illustrated as follows: 1) Expressive prophecy: "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (Matthew 24:24); 2) Prescriptive prophecy: "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not." (Matthew 24:23).

Prophecy 1) reports that during the Great Tribulation, false Christs and false prophets shall arise in order to deceive the elect. But this prophetic proclamation does not encourage or discourage any kind of action. On the other hand, Prophecy 2) prescribes a particular action. That is, the disciples must not believe false appearances of Christ during the Great Tribulation.

If the words of prophecy are shown in their expressive sense, the interpreter usually will approach prophetic text through the eyes of its author [divine and human]. If the prophetic text is an authentic word from the Spirit of God, it is authoritative and truthful. If the prophetic text is contradictory to the whole revelation of the Spirit of God in the Bible, then it definitely is an alarmist statement [making people unnecessarily worried about dangers that do not exist] and it raises apprehension [anxiety about the future].

But, if the words of prophecy are shown in their prescriptive sense, the interpreter will approach prophecy as obligatory [mandatory, binding]; thus, prescriptive prophecy requires faith, obedience, and complete fulfillment.

More to the point, the interpreter should value the written Word and not misinterpret the expressive and the prescriptive prophecies or promises that were originally addressed to God's chosen people in the Old Covenant period. Recall that the nation of Israel received the Messianic promises, prophecies, and covenants. It was to the nation of Israel that God originally revealed His blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28).

It must also be observed that the whole Bible abounds in allegories and it's our job, as interpreters, to discover and reveal the literal truth.

Interpretation of Prophecy

Every Bible student must familiarize himself first with the prophecy of the Scripture. But the basic question is, "How do we interpret a Bible prophecy?"

In 2 Peter1:20, Peter says, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." 

No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation – A Christian must consider this as a foremost principle in the interpretation of prophecy; that is, every prophecy of the Scripture did not originate from the prophet's own knowledge or conjecture.

According to a Futurist exposition on 2 Peter1:20, Gill states:

"that no prophecy of the Scripture, that is contained in Scripture, be it what it will, is of any private interpretation: not that this is levelled against the right of private judgment of Scripture; or to be understood as if a private believer had not a right of reading, searching, examining, and judging, and interpreting the Scriptures himself, by virtue of the unction which teacheth all things; and who, as a spiritual man, judgeth all things; otherwise, why are such commended as doing well, by taking heed to prophecy, in the preceding verse, and this given as a reason to encourage them to it? the words may be rendered, "of one's own interpretation"; that is, such as a natural man forms of himself, by the mere force of natural parts and wisdom, without the assistance of the Spirit of God; and which is done without comparing spiritual things with spiritual; and which is not agreeably to the Scripture, to the analogy of faith, and mind of Christ; though rather this phrase should be rendered, "no prophecy of the Scripture is of a man's own impulse", invention, or composition; is not human, but purely divine"[1]

With regards to the special revelation of God in the form of prophecy, Thiessen, another Futurist, observes:

"God revealed himself in prophecy. Prophecy here means the foretelling of events, not through mere human insight or prescience, but through direct communication from God."[2]

Thus, an interpreter must recognize that the prophecy of the Scripture is also the Word of God itself.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

All methods of interpretation must measure up to the inspired Scriptures and interpretations must be in harmony with the whole prophetic design of God.

Scripture interprets Scripture

In assessing or testing prophecy, one must also consider the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture.

John Brown writes:

"It appears, then, that is Scripture be the best interpreter of Scripture, we have in the Old Testament a key to the interpretation of the prophecies in the New."[3]

Showalter, a Preterist, calls this "the analogy of faith" and defines the method thus:

"The analogy of faith means that scripture interprets scripture. This means that when we want to arrive at an eschatological conclusion we are to use the clear and easily understood passages of scripture to help us understand the less clear. We don't build our eschatology using the veiled or difficult to understand prophecies and then shove the obvious scriptures into that paradigm. The analogy of faith is a safeguard that should help us from reading in to the scriptures something that is not there. If one scripture seems to contradict another, then we must turn to what is easily understood, and then continue digging until we have reconciled the apparent contradiction or difficult understanding. God is not the author of confusion, and I believe his word is adequately clear to show us the answers."[4]

Also, this method of interpretation seeks to establish an objective data – definition, etymology, sentence structure, common sense, history, theology, topography, archaeology, etc. So the Bible is directing interpretation when the interpreter lets Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Meaning of the Message

The Bible believer must listen to the Holy Spirit as he leads us in understanding the prophetic text and finding the meaning of the message in it. Of course, this includes both particular meaning to the original authors and original audience; likewise, it includes meaning for us as the new audience.

The utmost concern here is truth. But what is the relationship between truth and the meaning of the message, specifically, the prophecy of the Scripture?

The Truth of God. As we have noted earlier, an authentic word from the Spirit of God is authoritative and truthful. Likewise, the prophecy [preaching] of the Scripture is the means by which God's voice can be heard. Moreover, God speaks through the voices of men, his witnesses; they were either prophets or not (1 Samuel 19:20-24).

Concerning the communication of the truth of God, Futurist Erickson writes:

"While revelation is the communication of divine truth from God to man, inspiration relates more to the relaying of that truth from the first recipient(s) of it to other persons, whether then or later."[5]

That which was spoken, God's truth, and afterward was written preserves the content of what was revealed. However, not all of God's revelations were written down. For example, in John 21:25, the Apostle John says, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."

Therefore, God's truth is either hidden or revealed:

"The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever..." (Deuteronomy 29:29)

So if the Spirit of God directs holy men to speak or write down divine revelations, the Spirit of God also has the authority "to seal up the vision and prophecy" (Daniel 9:24).

A More Sure Word of Prophecy. An additional point to be noted is that the prophecy of the Scripture, the Written Word of God, is surer, more truthful, and more authoritative than experience.

In 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter says, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount."

Notice that Peter revealed [made known] to his original audience [fellow Jews of the Dispersion] "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" through his personal testimony, but it must also be observed that Peter was an eyewitness of Christ; what he saw and heard at that time was real. Yet Peter gave more emphasis to the prophecy of the Scripture than his experience:

"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed..." (2 Peter 1:19)

This means, further, that the words of the Scripture is actually God's Word.

Furthermore, just as God's majesty was manifested through Jesus Christ and his purposes were revealed through the apostles and prophets in the first century, subsequently this personal God is made known to us today through the elucidation of the Holy Spirit by the Holy Scriptures.

Principle of Audience Relevance

It is clear that the Bible is about God and his relationship with man. More particularly, God has revealed himself to his people, Israel. Though the Scriptures show a universal distinction between those who know God [Israel] and those who don't [Gentiles], in reality, not all of those who were Jews in the flesh were the true Jews (Romans 2:28, 9:6); moreover, some Gentiles feared God and prayed to him always (Acts 10:1-2). So this brings up another subject in the study of prophecy, the original audience.

According to David Showalter, the principle of audience relevance means that "whatever a passage meant, or whatever words spoken in scripture meant, it meant or had direct application to the original intended audience."[6]

Thus, each prophecy of the Scripture was addressed by real speakers/writers to real listeners/readers in their own real time.

[1] John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, 2 Peter 1:20 
[2] Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 13 
[3] John Brown, vol. i . p. 200 
[4] David Showalter, Biblical Eschatology (Studying the Scriptures Anew) 
[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 200. 
[6] Showalter, Biblical Eschatology