The Difficulty of Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy -- By: Robert D. Culver

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 114:455 (Jul 1957)
Article: The Difficulty of Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy
Author: Robert D. Culver

The Difficulty of Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy

Robert D. Culver

[Robert D. Culver is Assistant Professor of Bible and Philosophy at Wheaton (Illinois) College and the author of Daniel and the Latter Days.]

As is usual in projects like the present one, the first task of the writer is to limit and define his subject. A definition of prophecy is, then, the first consideration. From the standpoint of the Bible’s own theory of canonicity, the author of Scripture must be a prophet of God (2 Pet 1:20–21; Heb 1:1–2; cf. Deut 13:1ff; 18:19). By virtue of such prophetic mediation, an oracle or other deliverance, whether spoken or written, is a prophecy. This extends to portions customarily designated as history, law, or poetry. The historical books are prophecies about the past; the poetical books are simply prophecies of many varieties in lyrical form (as are also large sections of the so-called Major and Minor Prophets); the Law of Moses is prophecy distinguished by its basic character in relation to the rest of the Bible and by the unique character of the man Moses who was the prophet responsible for it (Hos 12:13; Dan 9:10). Students first exposed to the fact that most of that section of the Scripture called prophecy is history—prediction being the exception rather than the rule therein—always find it a surprise.

In a more restricted sense, however, technical discussion recognizes the oracular portions of the Old Testament as prophecy. R. H. Pfeiffer, for example, in his well-known Introduction to the Old Testament, speaks of prophecies in the historical books with reference to oral and written deliverances of the prophets presumed to have been imparted to the prophets by special divine revelation. It is this-oracles imparted to prophets under some direct special supernatural power or influence—that is usually more eminently designated by the term prophecy. Prophecy thus conceived is found in most of the books of the Old Testament. Examples are the dying blessings of Jacob on his sons in

Genesis, the Balaam prophecies of Numbers, the oracles of Deborah in Judges, Samuel’s visions, and the unusual deliverances of Elijah in the Samuel-Kings books. There are also Messianic Psalms of David in the Psalter, etc. Of course, there are large sections of such prophecy in the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve Minor Prophets. It is erroneous to suppose that the...

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