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How should we interpret prophecies in the Bible?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by NateT, Sep 27, 2005.

  1. NateT

    NateT Member

    Oct 25, 2000
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    Here is an interesting read
  2. Helen

    Helen <img src =/Helen2.gif>

    Aug 29, 2001
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    Yes, it was interesting. There were several good points, but the idea that somehow we can change future events did not wash with me. For instance, the author seemed to expressly ignore such statements as "Woe to the world becuase of the things that cause people to sin! Such things MUST come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" (Jesus speaking in Matthew 18:7)

    There exists what a pastor of ours where we lived before calls 'the Divine Paradox.' God indeed, having created time, knows all that will happen in it. Nothing is hidden from Him, as He states in Isaiah "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." (Isaiah 46:10).

    On the other hand, we have totally free choice in how we live our lives (at least within the strictures of the circumstances we live in. I will never be queen of Belgium for instance!).

    The author, in arguing against the predestination of Calvinism, swings way far the other way in saying that we can change the future and that prophecies were couched in terms that would allow for this.

    But the Bible argues against this.

    Somehow, while we have freedom of choice, God knows exactly what we will do with that freedom. Thus prophecies stand firmly, but warnings and choices God gives us are still real and applicable.

    The interesting thing about prophecies when you look back at the ones that have so far been fulfilled is that the people before their fulfillment did not have the meanings right. This is clearly shown in the Incarnation.

    In the same way, I doubt very much that we will be able to honestly say, when all is said and done, "Yup, that's just what I thought would happen!"

    So perhaps it is better not to try to interpret prophecies at all, but simply see how God fulfills them. In the meantime, knowing that HE KNOWS is a wonderful reassurance in the hard times, and perhaps that is what a lot of them are for. And as for the 'choose this day' warnings, they should be heeded by all today. This day.
  3. Paul of Eugene

    Paul of Eugene New Member

    Oct 30, 2001
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    Absolutely right! God's prophecies will be seen to have been there after the fact, and we have a great track record, which will continue, of that we may be assured, but there will be surprises for us all.
  4. NateT

    NateT Member

    Oct 25, 2000
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    I think this is the summation of the article. I don't think he was saying that man is free to the point of changing the course of history to the point where we make it something God didn't know about. Instead, I took it to mean that God operates in a way that accounts for the choices that men and women will make. If the King of Nineveh had not repeneted, I believe they would have been wiped out.

    So too, for us today.

    It was a refreshing change of view from the ideas of examining how Desert Storm 1 or Desert Storm II plays into the end times etc.

    Just a note: IIIM's (Third Mill) web page states that they hold to the Westminster Catechism, which would seem to state that they aren't really trying to pull away from Calvinism.
  5. Me4Him

    Me4Him New Member

    Dec 28, 2004
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    You are both "RIGHT" and "WRONG", No, I haven't "lost my mind". [​IMG]

    From the Beginning until "About" Columbus's time (Discovery of America) the doctrine that future events (Prophecy) could be changed was taught by both the Jews and the Church.

    The "Crusades" of the 10th, 11th centuries were fought because of this belief, they believed that by recapturing Jerusalem, they could hasten the return of the Lord.

    Columbus wrote Queeen Isabell that he had discovered enough "gold" to "take Jerusalem". (finance the war)

    Suppose the Jew had not rejected Jesus, what would have happen, the Jews would be the "LIGHT OF THE WORLD" today instead of the CHURCH.

    Did God "predestine" the Jews to reject Jesus, "NO", no more than he predestine Adam to sin, and in "BOTH CASES" the "FUTURE" was determined by the "CHOICES" people made, "NOT GOD".

    So "PROPHECY" (Future) isn't "set in stone" by "Predestination", Just as the "CHOICES" by Adam/Jews changed the FUTURE, the early church also believed the future (prophecy) could be changed.

    Suppose "EVERYONE" in the world became "SAVED", God would have to "Cancel" the Tribulation period, and nothing would "PLEASE" God anymore than for all people to "come to the knowledge of "TRUTH".

    The "POSSIBILITY" of changing prophecy exist,


    God's "FOREKNOWLEDGE" tells HIM/US, that "MAN" will keep making the "WRONG CHOICES", and his "JUSTICE/JUDGMENT" will have to be meted out.
  6. rjprince

    rjprince Active Member

    Dec 7, 2004
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    I most certainly disagree with where he seems to be taking this. Have not read it all, yet. Again, give me a few days, but this (from page 1) makes me very nervous...

    “As we will see, events taking place after predictions often directed the course of
    history in ways not anticipated by prophetic announcements. Sometimes future events
    conformed to a prophet’s words; sometimes they did not.”

    When God gave the Land covenant in Deut 29-30, He plainly anticipated Israel’s incomplete obedience and rebellion. He further predicted their dispersion throughout the world. The words of Deut 30:1-6 bear a striking semblance to the words of Jer 31; Matt 24: and Luke 21:

    Deut 30:1 And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,
    2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
    3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
    4 If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
    5 And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
    6 And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

    Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
    32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
    33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
    34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

    Matt 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
    31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
    Matt 23:38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
    39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

    Luke 21:22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
    23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
    24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
    25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
    26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
    27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
    28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

    There are CLEAR Statements that the Jews will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord....” “God will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah... [writing His law] ... in their inward parts... and ... in their hearts” “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”. If this is all about the destruction of physical Israel, why are they told to “lift up their heads for redemption draws nigh”? It is not hard to understand from a contextual literal grammatical viewpoint. Especially when you also read, Zech 12-14. Physical Israel will be redeemed and restored per Rom 11.

    Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
    26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
    27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

    The denial of the literal nature of the prophecies is synonymous with Covenant Theology. I am sure that is where Pratt is going, but I was wrong once before. Hope to read later this evening and will post more then, deo volente.

    of course there is always the possibility that my response is a Prov 18:13 answer, if so I will indeed duly offer my "profound apology", unlike Gerstner.

    [ September 28, 2005, 05:54 PM: Message edited by: rjprince ]
  7. Johnv

    Johnv New Member

    Oct 24, 2001
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    We should make the prophecies read in a manner which points to contemporary events, put in in print, and sell lots of books.

    It seems to have worked for lots of others in the past.
  8. NateT

    NateT Member

    Oct 25, 2000
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    I've got a good book titled 6 reasons the world will end in '06, I started with 88 reasons, but that didn't sound convincing to me :D
  9. rjprince

    rjprince Active Member

    Dec 7, 2004
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    It is easy to look at extremes like Wisenhnunt (spelling?) but that does not focus on the real issues. Have spent hours today on the article re interpreting prophecy. Am about 3/4 done. Will post some extensive comment when through, hopefully sometime tomorrow. Oh, I do not think my first ideas about this one were far off base...
  10. rjprince

    rjprince Active Member

    Dec 7, 2004
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    here is my response:

    from page 1, “...events taking place after predictions often directed the course of
    history in ways not anticipated by prophetic announcements. Sometimes future events
    conformed to a prophet’s words; sometimes they did not.”

    I find this to be an incredible statement from a conservative evangelical seminary professor! Sometimes the future did not conform to the words of the prophet! Will look for instances and examples to support such a bold statement as I read.

    from page 2, “Does this notion not contradict the immutability of divine decrees?”

    Yes, the idea that the clear predictions of the prophets did not occur most certainly does contradict the immutability of divine decrees. (his Harvard Th.D. is bleeding through, all over the page!!!)

    “interpreters of the prophets who stand in continuity with historical expressions of the Reformed tradition must strongly affirm the immutability of God’s character and eternal decrees.”

    Waiting for him to suggest that you can sacrifice the immutability of specific OT prophetic utterances while at the same time retaining immutability for the decrees.

    From page 5, “...This passage acknowledges”

    interesting use of "passage" to refer to a quote from the WCF.

    “God often waits to see what his human subjects will do and directs
    the future on the basis of what they decide.”

    Hopefully this is an anthropomorphism, God does not need to wait to see what they will do. He knows already and has known from eternity past. His eternal decree includes all of the aspects of human free will and Bible prophecies most certainly account for these "contingencies".

    From page 6, “Most interpreters have recognized that intervening historical contingencies play some role in the prediction-fulfillment dynamic of Old Testament prophecy.”

    Not to the degree that the substance of the prophecy is changed, but, only to the degree as to how and when the prophecy is fulfilled. (Harvard, Harvard, Harvard...)

    “predictions qualified by conditions. They explicitly made fulfillments dependent on the responses of those who listened”

    Strongly disagree!!! The fulfillment was not at all dependant on the responses of the hearers, the MANNER of fulfillment was dependent on the hearers!

    From page 7, “Jeremiah approached Zedekiah with two choices for the house of

    This is an overly broad generalization that significantly impacts other much more specific and unconditional prophecies regarding David's throne and his Heir to the throne (Jer 33:17-26). The prophet plainly declares that God will "cause their captivity to return and have mercy on them". Isaiah declared that Messiah would sit on the "throne of David" (Isa 9:6-7). Gabriel announced that Jesus would receive "the throne of His father David" and would "reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Luke 1:22-23). Of course, we know that CTs reinterpret "the house of Jacob" to mean the NT Church, to the great distress of the clear wording of the text.

    “The future of Judah’s nobility depended on human actions.”

    Absolutely NOT!!! Only the immediate and intermediate future of Judah's nobility depended on human actions. THE ULTIMATE FUTURE DEPENDS UPON THE CLEAR AND UNCONDITIONAL PROHECIES OF THE OT!!!

    “When prophets spoke about things to come, they did not necessarily refer to what the future would be. At times, they proclaimed only what might be.”

    This is imprecise. The prophets declared that one of the two outcomes WOULD be and that one would not be. This is not the same as some imagined "prophetic potential"!

    From page 8, “their predictions warned of judgment and offered blessings in order to motivate listeners to participate in determining their own future.”

    "in determining their own future" -- agreed. Obedience or disobedience often did directly impact the initial audience to whom a prophecy was given. IT DID NOT IMPACT ULTIMATE FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECIES THAT REACHED BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THE IMMEDIATE HEARERS!!!

    “told the people of Judah that their continuance in the land of promise was dependent on their obedience. He did not spell out other contingencies.”

    Note that in Jeremiah's temple sermon, even though the expulsion from the land of the current generation, the statement that the land was given to the forefathers forever and ever is clearly evident!

    “considering unexpressed conditions is vital to a proper interpretation of prophecy.”

    While this may be so, this consideration of "unexpressed conditions" must be consistent with the whole of Scripture and not just one's particular theological construct

    From page 13, “Israel is like clay in the hands of Yahweh, the Potter; he may do with her as he
    pleases (Jer 18:5-6).”

    Yes, as He pleases within the limits of both His character and other specific revelation.

    from page 15, “The realizations of all unqualified predictions were subject to modification as Yahweh reacted to his people’s responses.”

    I am waiting to see if this generalization is going to be applied to words that are spoken directly by Yahweh, i.e. the Abrahamic, Land, Davidic, and New Covenants... I expect that this is where he is going, consistent with the tradition of those who did not reform their eschatology, but continue to embrace the eschatology of the RCC.

    From page 16, “no such limitations on conditionality appear in Jeremiah 18:1-12.”

    There is no need for any "limitations on conditionality" in Jer 18:1-12! Compare Scripture with Scripture and it is clear that Israel will be restored from the desolation of Jer 18. Just look at Jer 31:31 & ff.! There is no need for an explicit statement of exception, only a need to keep reading for about 13 more chapters!!!

    “On the contrary, they looked to past revelation to understand the parameters to which Yahweh had bound himself. To be more specific, the prophets looked to Yahweh’s covenants to guide their expectations of what the future held.”

    What an incredible statement! The prophets looked to earlier revelation to understand the parameters to which Yahweh had bound himself! No dispensationalist could ever have said it better...

    From page 17, “The pervasive curses and blessings announced by the prophets
    corresponded to the Mosaic covenant. Even the threat of exile and the hope of restoration to
    the land stemmed from the Mosaic covenant.:”

    VERY WRONG!!! The threat of exile and the hope, nay, the promise of restoration did not stem from the Mosaic Covenant at Horeb, but rather from the Land Covenant in the land of Moab (Deut 30-31). Pardon my incredulity, but this guy is a Harvard Th.D., OT Dept Head at RTS, and cannot make this clear distinction!!! Note the words of Deut 29:1 -- "These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb." Deut 30 speaks of their dispersion and regathering as part of this Land Covenant. Words like we find Deut 30:3-6 could certainly lead some evangelicals to conclude that God will restore the Jews to the promised land -- "God will turn thy captivity... have compassion... will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee... the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed... and the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart." Yep, words like that could make one think that God would bring them back to the land and make a New Covenant with these people, the Jews.

    “Divine covenants were not declarations subject to revision. They were divine oaths whose
    invariance reflected the immutable character of God himself.”

    This is precisely why the NT cannot abrogate or annul clear promises that God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David.

    From page 21 “Gabriel announced that Jeremiah’s “seventy years” had been extended to “seventy weeks of years” or “seven times seventy years” (Dan 9:24)”

    While the principle of the seven times increase is indeed interesting, nothing in the text of either Jer 25 or Daniel 9 provides compelling reasons to understand the seventy sevens prophecy as an "extension" of the seventy years prophecy. The seventy years prophecy ends with the destruction of Babylon by the Medes and the Persians and the seventy sevens prophecy begins with the command to restore and to build Jerusalem. One ends with a conclusion to the seventy years captivity and one begins with the return to Jerusalem. Therefore, it is hardly proper to call the second prophecy an extension of the first, in spite of apparent parallels with Lev 26.

    From page 22, under Conclusion... “If all Old Testament predictions are subject to variation, and most may be completely reversed, then what good are they?”

    This is a very big "if" and an "if" that has certainly not been demonstrated as conclusively as Pratt seems to want to believe! Particularly when there are no reversals that are inconsistent with the promises of the covenants. Further, even if his thesis had been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, he readily admits that the promises of the covenants are not so easily discarded. It is on the basis of these clear and unconditional covenant promises that contemporary evangelicals anticipate a national restoration of Israel and a literal theocratic kingdom.

    “As we have seen, with rare exception, Old Testament prophets did not speak of what
    had to be, but of what might be.:”

    In this brief presentation, he suggests that he has dealt with a majority of OT prophecy? "With rare exception" he suggests. It is more likely that the prophecies that are "reversed" as he suggests, are themselves the "rare exception". No matter, declare it dogmatically and frequently – and many will believe it to be so.

    I categorically DENY that the bulk of OT prophecy concerned "what might be".

    Page 24, “Daniel tried his best to insure that Jeremiah’s prediction of restoration would take place”

    This assertion is neither supported by the text nor the historical record. Israel did not wait 490 more years for restoration, but the command to restore and to build Jerusalem came very soon after Daniel's prayer of chapter 9. Nor is there clear indication that Daniel anticipated a potential delay in the accomplishment of Jeremiah's prophecy.

    He then continues with this inconclusive assertion and builds upon it as if its foundation were sure.

    If one fails to examine the foundation, the building erected thereon may indeed appear secure, but it is not!

    From page 24, “if we make proper use of biblical predictions, they will enhance our
    hopes for the future and incite us to live today in ways that will hasten the consummation of
    all things.”

    This is incredible. Believers cannot understand with certainty details about the future, but the manner of our living has the potential to "hasten the consummation of all things. We may not be able to understand what will happen, Pratt suggests, BUT PRAISE GOD WE CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN QUICKER!!!

    I was not impressed with the article over-all. Numerous unfounded assertions and a prevailing theological bias... Nope, could not recommend the article or the author. He is not a Baptist. He is a Presbyterian. I would not have expected him to have embraced the contextual literal grammatical hermeneutic. Yes, it was an interesting read, but it was pretty much what was expected for the most part.
  11. robycop3

    robycop3 Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Jul 31, 2000
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    There are some prophecies which God made "either or". For example, He had Moses spell out what the results of carefully ogeying Him would be, and also what the results of NOT obeying Him would be. of course He made many prophecies which were to come to pass precisely as prophesied no matter whit men did.

    Babylon was NOT destroyed by the Medes/Persions; it was CONQUERED by them. But they doubtlessly slew many Babylonians in the process, and made rich Babs into poor ones. They made King Nabonidus swear obedience to Cyrus The Great, and the city of Babylon continued for several hundred years as a provincial capital. It fell into disuse when a new provincial capital was built. Alexander hauled away some of its stone for some of his construction projects, as did other builders, and just as God said, it finally stood desolate.

    God said He was gonna restore both Israel and Judah, and who among Bible readers can deny He's been restoring Judah for the last 57 years?

    Prophecy should be "taken" LITERALLY.
  12. rjprince

    rjprince Active Member

    Dec 7, 2004
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    Absolutely some that were either or. And as Pratt rightly points out, there were some where the either or was not specified and the outcome was indeed dependant on the response of the hearers. Jonah announced God’s judgement upon Nineveh with no declaration of mercy if they repented. Yet, they did repent and God was merciful. This was not a failure of his prophecy, indeed it was the God’s desired result of his preaching, even if it was not Jonah’s own desire.

    Re the restoration of the nation of Israel, I simply cannot understand how CTs, amils, and postmils who have watched this happen can still declare that there will be no literal restoration of Israel. IT HAS AND IS HAPPENING IN A VERY LITERAL SENSE. HOW CAN IT BE DENIED!?!?!?

    Ezekiel’s vison of the valley of dry bones is very instructive in this regard:

    Ezekiel 27:1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
    2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
    3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.
    4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
    5 Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
    6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
    7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
    8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.
    9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
    10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
    11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
    12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
    13 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
    14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.

    Note how the sequence of events in the prophecy has followed through so far....

    The bones have come together, sinew, flesh and skin have covered them. But Israel has not yet embraced her Messiah, when that happens, she will live and He will put His Spirit in her. After they accept the Messiah and live, Israel will know that God is the one who has done all of this. I might just add, that the rest of us will know as well.

    Yep... taken literally, recognizing that the bones are symbolic of the house of Israel. Why do we know that? Because at one point somewhere else in the Word bones are used in a symbolic manner? NO. Because the immediate context tells us that the bones are the house of Israel.

    Contextual. Literal. Grammatical. Not really all that complicated, at least not here. Just let the Word of God be the Word of God, that’s all.