Prophets, the Freedom of God, and Hermeneutics -- By: Willem A. Vangemeren

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: Prophets, the Freedom of God, and Hermeneutics
Author: Willem A. Vangemeren


Prophets, the Freedom of God, and Hermeneutics*

Willem A. VanGemeren

* I am grateful for the opportunities of developing and presenting this material and for the interaction at the regional IBR (Fall 1987), the Southwest section of ETS (March 4, 1988), and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Old Testament Colloquium, May 24, 1988).

In the last twenty years three major issues have surfaced in the interpretation of the prophetic word. First, the distinction between true and false prophets has been blurred.1 Second, the problems arising from the nature of fulfillment have opened up a reevaluation of the hermeneutics of the prophets.2 Third, the connection between prophetic and apocalyptic

literature has raised the question of continuity.3 In this article I explore these three developments as they relate to the matter of interpreting the prophetic word.

I. Who Is a Prophet of God?

Who is a prophet of God and who is not? The biblical criteria for the true prophet are clear and specific. According to Deut 13:1–3 and 18:14–22 the prophet of God (1) is called by the Lord; (2) speaks the word of God as God’s spokesperson; (3) speaks in the name of the Lord; (4) is an Israelite who addresses himself primarily to Israel; (5) stands in the tradition of the Mosaic covenant; (6) encourages loyalty to the Lord and to his revelation and condemns apostasy; and (7) authenticates his mission with “signs.”

The validation of a true prophet was often difficult. The godly had to discern between the true and the false, between Scripture and tradition, between the “old” revelation and the “new” revelation, between claim and counterclaim. The prophets of God rooted their message in God’s revelation to Moses and called on God’s people to respond anew by living in full

accord with divine revelation. The deterioration of revelation to religion in Israel encouraged the rise of the popular prophets. The people looked for those religious leaders whose values did not significantly differ from their own. The people in Israel and Judah were complacent, syncretistic, and readily abandoned the way of revelation for the way of popularity with its lack of distinctiveness. The false prophets encouraged a selective lifestyle that combined elements of continuity with God’s revelation and an ability to adapt to the cultural changes...

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