Board index Prophecy

The Bible is a unique book when it comes to prophecy, and some of its claim to authenticity as God's Word stand on the nature of and the extent of its prophecies. Let's talk about them. For specific conversations about the End Times, see the category "The End of the World."

Prophecies regarding Christ seem misapplied

Postby Hethaa » Sun Jun 04, 2017 12:14 pm

Christians are often adamant about reading scripture in its context, but why do apostles like Paul seem to consistently misapply scripture and rewrite it to say something else?

Zechariah 9:9 speaks of a King coming to Jerusalem on a donkey, but goes on to speak of raising a warrior's sword against Greece. Jews at the time can hardly be blamed for sticking to what the prophecy actually says, i.e. expecting military victory from their 'King'.

How can Psalms or Proverbs be referred to as prophecies? There are so many hymns it almost seems you could make any case by plucking a relevant Psalm or Proverb.

What I read to make me really curious about this was Galatians 3:16 where Paul talks about the promises to Abraham and his seed (singular, meaning Jesus) as opposed to how the scripture was understood as seeds, plural, meaning Israel(I think??). It seems like such a clear example of what Christians I know are adamant about not doing, which is picking a piece of scripture and reinterpreting it to match an existing idea. Is it different bc Paul is 'inspired by God'?

I find this site a really excellent resource when I have questions about Christianity, so thank you for maintaining it. Actually, I've been looking at forum posts for a couple years now, so I'm not even sure if this site is still active... but if it is, I would love to hear your thoughts on the accuracy of Old Testament prophecy. I haven't been able to find any resources that accurately answer my question, and Christians I meet seem to maintain that "the prophecies were accurate" without communicating any of the nuance that confuses me. If it originally meant something else to the people who heard it, how can we interpret it differently?


- Heather

Re: Prophecies regarding Christ seem misapplied

Postby jimwalton » Fri Jun 30, 2017 6:20 am

Heather, the site is definitely still active. I check it almost every day (I can't check it when I'm away). Your questions are excellent. I'll answer them as best as I am able, but hopefully there will be continuing dialogue between us.

First let's talk a little about the nature of prophecy. It's not mainly predictive. A prophet was a mouthpiece for God, and most often a prophet has messages for God's people (and occasionally for God's enemies). A lot of what they say is things like, "You're being disobedient. Cut it out." or "I want so-and-so as king because what's-his-face is disobeying me." These aren't predictive, but they are messages from the Lord through the mouth of the prophet.

Second, the prophecy (the message) is God's message, not the prophet's. The OT is full of "This is the word of the Lord," and the NT tells us that prophets don't speak from their own minds and/or preferences, but what God tells them to say.

Third, though, let's look at predictive prophecies, since that's your question. It is more helpful to look at prophecies as God's syllabus (like you'd get in a college class), rather than a hard-and-fast unalterable prediction of what will inevitably happen. The syllabus for the course doesn't "predict" what will happen in each class period of the term, but it presents the instructor's plans and intentions for each period. The significance of the document is that the instructor is in a position to carry it out. Likewise, when a judge passage a sentence on a convicted criminal, he's not "predicting" what will happen to that person (just like the syllabus, it's the wrong word and conveys the wrong impression of what's really going on). Rather, the judge is decreeing what ought to be done, and he is in a position to see that it is done. In prophetic writings, God is declaring his intentions and decreeing his judgments.

As such, the fulfillments have a certain amount of flex to them. Just as a professor may choose to use his class time in a different way (and that's his prerogative), God can alter what he said in prophecies. Even people can make changes in them, just as the class can about a syllabus, or a perpetrator can bring about different courses even after the verdict and sentencing. (Some criminals who get 30 years get out in 15 for good behavior, for instance.)

Look at Jeremiah 18.1-12. God explicitly says, "I change prophecies based on what people actually do." It's a fluid situation, to some degree. Jonah is a prime example of that. The prophecy was, "40 days and you're toast." But they repented, and so God did not bring the punishment to them. (Jonah was ticked.) But God said, "Don't I have a right to be merciful and forgiving? Don't I have a right to respond to people?" Yes, He does.

Where does that leave us with prophecy? It's complex. The OT prophets made predictions, and in the NT those predictions are adapted to the historical situations (primarily of Jesus). But it's not like they're just manipulated to accomplish the purpose; the NT writers say that the prophecies are being "filled up" in ways the OT prophets didn't understand.

On top of that, we do believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the NT writers to interpret the OT as they did. Paul, Matthew, and Mark (primarily), and the writer of Hebrews, are looking very deeply into the meanings of the OT prophecies. As it turns out, the new and unexpected information of Jesus as Messiah puts a whole new light on things that the HS helps them to see.

Let's look at some of the specific texts you raised. (I'm trying not to write so much that you feel overwhelmed.) Zechariah 9.9. Zechariah 9 is a message of hope about the future rule of God, and was interpreted by Jewish rabbis to be about the messiah. While it has clear teaching about the political character of the coming messiah, the NT writers, under the influence of the HS, were able to perceive that the rule Jesus would bring was a spiritual rule. Look at the clues in the whole context: The coming king would rule in peace (chapter 9), but when he would come, he would come in lowliness, humility, and suffering (riding on a donkey), be rejected as a shepherd, despised and cast away (chapters 10-11). Zech. 9.10 indicates he will completely reject all political means in securing and defending his government. His kingdom would not be established, defended, extended or maintained by force. His message will be one of peace, not war (v. 9).

Verses 1-8 of Zechariah 9 refer to Alexander's military forays southward around the Mediterranean basin, and vv. 13-17 are a prophecy of the victory of the Maccabees over the foreign invasion. It also looks further forward to the ultimate Messianic victory in the end times. None of it, upon close examination, refers to a political messiah.

"How can Psalms or Proverbs be referred to as prophecies?" Some of them, such as Psalm 2 & 118, for instance, have always been viewed
that way. The prophecy of crucifixion in Psalm 22 could not have been understood that way until crucifixion was invented by the Romans a millennium later.

Galatians 3.16. Here is Paul's reasoning, and I think it's valid:

1. The promise was made to extend far beyond Abraham.
2. Because the promise extends to all who come from the line of Abraham, Jesus is known in the Bible as the most important posterity of Abraham. The whole line comes to be represented in Him. Earlier rabbis understood Abraham's "seed" as referring to one person, Isaac. Later Judaism understood Abraham's "seed" as referring to one entity, Israel. Paul understands Jesus as the true seed of Abraham and the true manifestation of the covenant people Israel.
3. The promise had nothing to do with, or any intersection with, the giving of the Law. Therefore whatever inheritance Paul is talking about cannot be won by obedience to the Law.
4. Abraham was justified by his faith; so also all true descendants of Abraham.
5. Justification is by faith, not by works of the Law. The promise to Abraham points mostly to Christ.
6. Therefore justification is by faith in Christ.
7. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.

"The accuracy of OT prophecy." With a proper understanding of what prophecy is and how it works, I can legitimately claim that OT prophecy is accurate and reliable, "The Word of the Lord." I'm sure you have more questions, so let's talk more.
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Re: Prophecies regarding Christ seem misapplied

Postby Hethaa » Thu Jul 06, 2017 5:09 pm

Thank you for the in-depth response! I would have replied much sooner, but I was still putting my own thoughts together and thinking over other things as well.

If I can continue the conversation now... I'm interested by the points you have brought up, especially those regarding the original interpretation of scripture. That's something I certainly have heard very little about, and it does change the meaning of these prophecies... the predictive/ prescriptive thing makes sense of a merciful God, helps to place this a little more in its context. I appreciate that.

Can you tell me anything more about the way Rabbis traditionally interpreted these prophecies? How come a modern Bible in English doesn't identify where Psalms are prophecies and where they are psalms?

And while we're giving credence to the original interpretation, what is unsatisfactory about the current Jewish interpretation of these texts? Okay I know that's a whopper of a question that's not about to be settled here and now... maybe you have a resource on that you can share? Judiasm has decent grounds to claim that these prophecies were never about Jesus or that Jesus did not fulfil them.

What about the Messianic prophecies personally convinces you that they are true and apply to Jesus?

Thank you again, let me know if I can clarify anything.

Re: Prophecies regarding Christ seem misapplied

Postby jimwalton » Sat Aug 12, 2017 12:44 am

It's good to hear from you. Thanks for writing back.

Prophecy has always been a tricky business. Many prophecies just have general information ("a young woman will conceive a child," "a new king will rise up") that make them subject to various interpretations. Of course, some of these are correct and some aren't (we aren't free just to assign any interpretation we want), but some prophecies do have multiple layers (like an onion, Shrek!) of interpretation and fulfillment. As you might guess, entire books are written on the subject of how to properly approach, study, understand, and interpret prophecy, so it gets pretty complex sometimes.

> Can you tell me anything more about the way Rabbis traditionally interpreted these prophecies?

I assume you're speaking of the ones you specifically raised.

Gal. 3.16 and Abraham. It's not really speaking prophetically, but more that the promises given to Abraham continue to hold for believers. God made the promise to Abraham, and the contract is still in effect, so to speak. The original text is Genesis 13.15, "All he land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever." The rabbis took this as a reference to the land of Canaan, that it would be the possession of the Jews until the end of time. That's a legitimate interpretation. Paul takes the literal reference to the land and gives it a spiritual application because now the children of Abraham includes those who are his spiritual offspring and not just his physical offspring.

Zechariah 9.9. The Talmud and the Midrashim take Zech. 9.9-10 as messianic. A king has been appointed for Zion and promised to the covenant nation. He brings righteousness, hope, universal rule, and peace. He will be a lowly man. He will restore the Davidic dynasty. That's how the rabbis look at it.

As far as the Psalms and Proverbs, that's too large a generality to comment on. We would have to speak about specific texts.

> How come a modern Bible in English doesn't identify where Psalms are prophecies and where they are psalms?

A good study Bible will often do this, explaining which texts are more explicitly prophetic or were considered to be such by the rabbis or the Christian Church.

> Judiasm has decent grounds to claim that these prophecies were never about Jesus or that Jesus did not fulfil them.

When Jesus came, and then the apostles and Paul wrote about him and the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection, they basically told us that the entire OT is about Jesus. When people want to talk about messianic prophecies, they generally want to talk about specific texts, the “fingerprints” of messianic prophecies scattered about the Old Testament, where God marked out, "This is a prophecy about the Messiah." Some are debatable, but some are widely agreed upon. One can readily see that these texts speak of a righteous political ruler, with a throne in Jerusalem, subduing the nations and ruling with justice and power. But what of Jesus, then, who never established an earthly kingdom?

The problem arises when one is looking for Jesus only in certain Old Testament texts instead of throughout its entirety. A more accurate perspective of Jesus is to recognize that he said all of the Old Testament was prophetic about him (Matthew 5.17; Luke 24.27), not just the specifically messianic texts. In other words, all of the Old Testament Scriptures, not just the "fingerprints," speak of Jesus, his coming, his character, his work, and his reign.

The entirety of the OT is about Jesus. He was the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets. All of it. He specifically fulfilled the prophecies about his first coming (which were mostly hidden), and has yet to fulfill the ones pertaining to his second coming (what most Jews consider to be those "fingerprints," the prophecies known to be messianic). . A brief survey of the Scriptures reads:

• Genesis 1: John 1 and Hebrews 1 tell us that Jesus was the creator, that he is light and life (John 1.4), and that all things were made by him. In Jesus’ resurrection he will bring light and life where there was only darkness and death.
• Genesis 2: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12.8) and the new Adam (Romans 5). He is the source of all life and wisdom.
• Genesis 3: Jesus came to undo the problem of sin in the human heart. He is the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent.
• Genesis 4 is about acceptable offerings to God. While Genesis 4 is not about Jesus per se, it is true that Jesus is the acceptable offering to God, the blood of the sacrifice.
• Genesis 5: Enoch shows us reality of an afterlife that comes as a result of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is the one who will truly comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands (Gn. 5.29; Mt. 11.28-30).
• Genesis 6-8: Jesus is the judge of the earth (Jn. 5.22; 2 Cor. 5.10). The flood is a type of baptism as death and resurrection (1 Pet. 3.20-21).
• Genesis 9: Jesus’ resurrection is the real sign of the everlasting covenant of life.
• Genesis 10 foreshadows the rule of Jesus over every tribe, language, people and nation (Phil. 2.11; Rev. 7.9).
• Genesis 11 is reversed in Acts 2 when Jesus comes in the Spirit to fill his people.
• Genesis 12: It is through Jesus that all nations on earth will ultimately be blessed.

We could continue this through the entire biblical text. All of the Old Testament Scriptures, not just the “fingerprints,” speak of Jesus, his coming, his character, his work, and his reign.

This probably raises another bucketload of questions. Let's keep talking.

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