Monday, 7 May 2018

Part 4. Can we still believe the Bible? A prophetic perspective.

In this essay, I consider the trustworthiness of the Bible from a prophetic angle. Although Biblical Criticism scholars often reject the very notion of "prophecy", in my view prophecy is, in fact, one of the testable aspects of the Biblical claim to being divinely inspired. So, how strong is this kind of evidence? I discuss the messianic prophecies as well as other remarkable prophecies. I also develop good principles for judging prophetic material. What does that say about prophecies concerning the future?

The Bible is a many-faceted book. One of the most important characteristics of the Bible is the many oracles and prophecies that we find therein. In our scientific age, people are in general sceptical about all things supernatural, including prophecy, insofar as this refers to some kind of superhuman knowledge about future events. To the secular mind, it does not make sense that anyone can know the future. As such, some scholars from the Biblical Criticism tradition have found ways to discredit the Biblical idea of prophecy. The question is: Are they right? Is there really something called prophecy?

About one-third of the Bible consists of prophetic writings. This prophetic dimension of the Bible is actually extremely important in deciding what kind of book the Bible is. Although the Bible includes many historical narratives which tell about God's involvement in history, those stories cannot in themselves provide evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be, namely a divinely inspired book. Insofar as their truth can be established, they can at most show that the Biblical witnesses gave a trustworthy account of historical events (see parts 1, 2, 3 of this series for a detailed discussion thereof [1, 2, 3]). It is the prophetic aspect which is in the final instance the most important measure of the Biblical claim that it is no human book but a divinely inspired work - and contains God's message for humankind.

So, there is a lot at stake when it comes to Biblical prophecy. If we can show that the Biblical prophecies had indeed been fulfilled, then this goes a long way to establishing that the Bible is indeed what it says. Prophecy is one of the aspects of the Bible (see also the Biblical worldview [4]) which may provide scientifically measurable "evidence" for the existence of God insofar as the true fulfilment of prophecy goes beyond the possibility of scientific explanation and hinges on the Biblical claim that God knows the future and has through the ages revealed that to his prophets as we read: "I am the LORD: that is my name... new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Is. 42:8-9).

The question therefore arises: Can we believe the Bible insofar as its prophetic claims are concerned? On the one hand, many Biblical Criticism scholars reject the notion of true prophecy (it does not fit into the "scientific" study of the Bible). On the other hand, we find that fundamentalist Christians often wrongly announce some date in which some prophecy such as the return of Jesus Christ would happen. This also discredits the notion of prophecy. Are there enough evidence to support the notion of true prophecy?

The problem with prophecy is that it is often very difficult to prove that the relevant events did, in fact, happen after the prophecy was given and was not retrospectively so named (this is due to our angle on history - living so long after the relevant events). As such, there are many Biblical prophecies which cannot be shown to be true in this sense. There are, however, some prophecies where we know that the related events do, in fact, came later. In that case, other considerations come into play: there may be various versions as well as interpretations of the prophetic texts where only one is consistent with an outcome that may be regarded as the fulfilment of the prophecy. As such, an evaluation of the evidence for and against the true fulfilment of prophecy is no easy task.

In this essay, I consider the typical arguments that Biblical Criticism scholars bring against Biblical prophecy. I discuss the problem in evaluating whether some prophecy can be shown to have indeed been fulfilled. I also discuss the problem of the variety of possible interpretation of a book such as Revelation. I establish good principles for judging prophetic material. I show that we do have good examples of Biblical prophecy that had been remarkably fulfilled. In the final instance, I also consider those prophecies which concern future events.

Biblical Criticism and prophecy

In Biblical Criticism, the aim is to study the Bible from a scientific perspective. The aim is to clear the text of all unhistorical data - of everything that scholars from a scientific point of view assume cannot have happened. From this angle, the ability to "predict" the future is obviously not possible in any scientific sense. So, when it comes to the Biblical prophets, such scholars tried to reconstruct the Sitz im Leben ("setting in life") in which the prophet operated – this is the historical context in which he presented his message within the social circumstances of the time. For these scholars, it is the ethical dimension of the prophet's message which is of special importance. The predictive aspect was considered as secondary – at most, it could have included some vague "predictions" which are not to be taken seriously because it would most probably be wrong.

What about bold statements about the fulfilment of prophecy found in the Biblical text? In their view, this should be interpreted either as vaticinia ex eventu (foretelling after the event) or that the author created fictional events to give the impression that some prophecy was fulfilled (some mention, for example, events from the life of Jesus in this regard [5]). So, when there are two options for reading the text which cannot be decided by independent means, namely that the prophecy was given beforehand or was retrospectively so interpreted, these scholars always assert the second option. A good example is the dating of the gospels later than 70 AD to allow for some knowledge by the authors about the Roman attack on Jerusalem - if the texts were written earlier it implies that this event was correctly foreseen by Jesus, which such scholars reject.  

One may ask: Is this good methodological practice? In this approach, the possibility of divine intervention in human affairs is excluded in principle. Although scholars can obviously not exclude the possibility that the prophetic interpretation in the text postdates the events mentioned therein, excluding the alternative as a matter of dogmatic belief pre-empts the outcome of independent research. Sometimes this even goes directly against the available evidence. In the case of Jesus's prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem found in the gospels, we actually have good reasons to think that it is a true prophecy. 

We can establish this from the most logical date when the Acts of the Apostles was written - which was by the same author who previously wrote the Gospel of St. Luke in which we find the prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem (see Acts 1:1). Now, the story told in Acts stops when St. Paul had been in Rome for three years, which was in 62 AD. If there was more to say - such as what eventually happened to St. Paul in Rome etc. - then the author would surely have done so. This means that the Gospel of St. Luke could be dated before that (it was written first) - probably to 58 AD - which is well before the Romans captured Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is consistent with the author using the first person "I" (and "we") in the second part of Acts in accordance with the tradition that the St. Luke who wrote the book is the very same Luke who joined St. Paul on his missionary journeys.

Biblical Criticism scholars, in fact, presuppose what they eventually find! In presupposing that true prophecy is impossible (as well as all supernatural intervention in history), the only possible explanation acceptable to them is the one of natural science. In this way, they merely find what they set out to find! They never seriously consider the alternative possibility that there are more to this world than natural science. So, they reduce religious studies to a secular science without any consideration for the alternative. This is an obviously bad methodology in which Biblical studies is reduced to a secular science even though those "scientists" do not have the scientific means in the discipline to in any sensible way evaluate those claims. They merely assume them to be wrong! 

This is also bad hermeneutics! It is the kind of hermeneutics which believes that the contemporary scholars are - in contrast with the "primitive" people who wrote the texts - the only ones who have a truly scientific and "objective" view on the world from which the texts originated. Not only is this claim false (there is no "objective" angle on history [6]), it also shows an astonishing disrespect for the Other in the context of the dialogue taking place in hermeneutics. To quote Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), who greatly influenced this discipline: "Following our modern historical world-view, truly not an imaginary construct but based on the observation of facts, we consider the other view entirely impossible" [7].

Using the insights of the great philosopher of hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), we can view our interaction with these texts as a conversation in which readers from our generation are in conversation with the authors of those texts (and with many others who have already throughout the ages participated in this conversation). What happens in the one-sided conversation which Biblical Criticism scholars have with those ancient authors, is that the one participant in the dialogue ignores the views of the others as being totally irrelevant to their our fixed opinions! They arrogantly believe that they know it all and that the other persons in the conversation are not worth listening to. What they should keep in mind that the whole modernist philosophical approach used to establish the foundations of the discipline has since been fundamentally discredited [6] - which should caution any scholar to be humble in their approach to these issues. 

Gadamer writes that such an approach to hermeneutics "destroys the true meaning of this tradition" [8]. The point is that, although contemporary scholars may not believe in true prophecy, those authors obviously did! They believed that the oracles were God-given and this influenced their whole perspective on life. Once this aspect is removed, we do not arrive at some “objective” point of view – we arrive at a reductive view with no correspondence to the historical situation. The fact is that they held those beliefs. The prophet, as well as those who listened to him, believed that these oracles came from God. This was part of their worldview; it determined their whole concept of life and the place of major (especially catastrophic) events therein. This is the historical situation! [9]

To reduce the prophetic message to a mere ethical message and prophecy to mere poetry is not only reductionist – it creates a new idea about that reality which is totally divorced from the true historical reality which existed in the context of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. It forces a certain rational view, typical of the modernist perspective, onto Biblical times without any concern for the views of the people who lived during that period. It gives the false impression that this is an “objective” view – the only one that is valid (so typical of the colonial spirit of modernism) – whereas it is, in fact, a total distortion of the real situation. Without doing so consciously, these scholars force their own paradigm onto the text which totally overshadows the voices therein, namely those of the author and the tradition from which the authors came. If we want to know something about the real situation, we have to listen to the voices present in the text and allow them to tell us something about their world. We have to be open to their truth - especially since we cannot prove them to be wrong!

Messianic prophecy?

There are, however, also prophecies which had been given long before the time when the events associated with their fulfilment took place. A good example of this is the messianic prophecies which are usually taken by Christians as being fulfilled in the life and person of Jesus Christ. 

There are many events from the life of Jesus which the Biblical authors understood in terms of the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. We often find that the authors of the gospels mention that such or such an event was in accordance with the sayings of one of the prophets. The question is whether there is any value in the assessment by those Biblical authors that the Biblical passages which they refer to were indeed real prophecies? Biblical Criticism scholars are of the opinion that the "messianic allusions" in the four gospels are based on later interpretations. In their view, the passages were wrongly interpreted by the early Church and should not be understood in that way. This scholarly assessment is the reason why we find that all capital letters previously used to mark references to the Messiah in typical messianic prophecies had been dropped in some modern translations of those passages such as in Isaiah 53.

Why would one assert that the authors of the gospels held wrong interpretations of typical messianic passages? The main reason for this assessment is that these scholars assert that those passages are not predictions made with the Messiah in mind. Now, this shows a remarkable disconnect with the longstanding Hebrew tradition of understanding prophecy. We read, for example, in 2 Peter 1:19-21: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation [i.e. his predictions]. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". True prophecy is not based on the prophet's own interpretation of events and his own ideas about the future but was believed to have been supernaturally given through the inspiration of the Spirit of God [10]. The intentions of the prophet, therefore, play no role in prophecy!

According to Hebrew tradition, the prophet often did not even know that he or she was speaking of the Messiah - for the simple reason that the Spirit of God inspired them in a way which they themselves did not understand. The prophet often did not realise that he was speaking about events pertaining to the distant future. This is the Hebrew understanding of prophecy in contrast with the modern scholarly understanding which confuses prophecy with prediction and forces this interpretation onto the text. 

As such, some messianic prophecies originally concerned the king or the people of Israel but was interpreted as having reference to the Messiah (for example, Hos. 11:1 and Matt. 2:15; Ps. 2:9 and Rev. 2:27). The reason for such messianic interpretations was often that the poetic language used had undertones which suggest that there was more to it than that which seems to have been said [11]. One finds, for example, in Psalm 110 that the author prophecises that God's anointed would be a king, who sits on Yahweh's "right hand", as well as a priest "forever". 

So, how can we establish what is true prophecy and what not? When would it be that the New Testament author is merely taking Scriptural passages that seem to fit the events to assert his point? The answer is actually quite simple. Their interpretation of such passages did not happen in a vacuum - there was a well-established Hebrew tradition in which certain passages were marked as "messianic". The scholar Alfred Edersheim, who studied this issue extensively, showed that there were 456 separate Old Testament passages which the rabbinic scholars of the time interpreted as "messianic" [12] - which is miles away from the Biblical Criticism view that only a few passages can be so taken (Is. 7:10-17; 8:23-9:6; 11:1-9; Zech. 9:9; Mic. 5:1-4). 

Edersheim wrote: "A careful perusal of their [the Rabbi's] Scripture quotations shows that the main postulates of the New Testament concerning the Messiah are fully supported by Rabbinic statements" [12]. And this is the important point: the passages were so understood before Jesus arrived on the scene and can, therefore, be understood as consistent with the messianic expectations of the people of Israel. To try and reinterpret the idea of prophecy in such a way that typical messianic prophecies are disqualified seems to be a weak effort to overcome the substantial evidence that such prophecy was overwhelmingly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

There are, however, some Biblical prophetic passages which do not seem to support the meaning given to them by the authors of the gospels. A well-known one is the prophecy of Isaiah about the virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, named Emmanuel (Is. 7:14). How could the Biblical authors be so uninformed that they thought that the Hebrew word “almâh” (veiled) means "virgin" whereas it actually means "young maiden". The reason is, again, quite simple: They understood the word exactly as the translators of the Septuagint understood it when they translated the Tanakh in the third to second centuries BC, namely as meaning "virgin". It seems that the alternative interpretation developed later from the Jewish reaction against Christianity! 

Too many interpretations of one passage?

One of the problems with prophecy, and especially such prophecies as those in the Book of Revelation, is that there are so many different interpretations thereof. Biblical Criticism scholars often assert that St. John's visions as described in that book are not even prophecy at all but merely adheres to the apocalyptic genre of the time in which visions and symbols are used by the authors as a literary device. This, however, seems to go against an explicit statement in the text to the contrary, namely that the book is about "things to come" (Rev. 1:1, 19). The difference is between taking the book as the product of the imagination of the author or as containing true God-given visions as the author asserts [13]. 

Now, it is true that there are at least four interpretations of Revelation. The Preterists take the book as referring to past events from the period before the book was written (especially 70 AD). The Historists believe that the events described are those major events which impacted Middle Eastern history since the time of the writing of the book until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Idealists/Allegoricalists read the book as symbols pertaining to the ongoing struggle between Good and Evil and sees no prophecy in the book. The Futurists believe that the main part of the book concerns future events.

These are indeed very divergent views about the meaning of the book. Does that mean that one should discard it as not containing true prophecy? The fact that there are various interpretations of the book does not necessarily mean that it should not be taken as prophecy given the opposite claim made at the beginning of the book (Rev. 1:1, 19). When we allow for the possibility that it might be true prophecy, then one might suggest that we take the Old Testament prophecies which the Biblical authors took as referring to Jesus as the point of departure in interpreting those of Revelation for the simple reason that the book stands within the same Judeo-Christian tradition. In the very same way that the particular details in those Old Testament prophecies (such as those in the Book of Daniel) were important, the same would apply to the Book of Revelation where one finds similar details. 

When we allow that the Book of Revelation contains true prophecies - in spite of the Biblical Criticism claim that no such prophecy exists (as discussed above) - then one immediately allows that they might find an exact fulfilment just as the other prophecies regarding Jesus were interpreted (even if one holds another view). This means that one allows for the possibility that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah and would one day return during the Second Coming. And then, it seems very likely that his Second Coming would be a real event just like his first appearance (and not merely an invisible event as some maintain regarding the events of 70 AD). In the final instance, this all hinges on the question whether God did, in fact, inspire the prophets and whether Jesus Christ was, in fact, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah? If this possibility is allowed (which cannot be excluded since so many prophecies have indeed been fulfilled in his person), then other prophecies about future events preceding Jesus's Second Coming might also eventually be fulfilled.

I sometimes get the feeling that one of the reasons why some interpreters are careful to avoid accentuating any details in the Book of Revelation - and stay with vague comments within a symbolic framework - is that they fear that they may be wrong. Now, this is indeed a problem that there are interpreters who make proud pronouncements which consequently turn out to be wrong. This should be a serious warning to be cautious. But is there no other way in which we may allow such details into our interpretation? I would like to suggest that scholars should develop eschatological models (similar to the theoretical models used in science) which can then be tested in the progress of time (more about that below). In this way, our interpretation of the details of the prophecy is not asserted as facts about future events but merely as a sensible reconstruction and integration of the details in prophetic passages. 

Principles for prophetic judgment

I suggest that any open-minded reader would allow for the possibility that real prophecy exists - even if they are inclined to think that the opposite is true. In that case, we may ask how one would decide what counts as real prophecy. In my view, the following principles are important:

1) Good hermeneutics requires that we engage with the texts with respect for the view of the author and the tradition from which s/he originated and not immediately reject his/her view out of hand because of our preconceived views about the world. In the same way that the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) introduced respect as the basis for our moral behaviour, Gadamer introduced it in the context of the dialogue which takes place in all interpretation. Even when we disagree, we should value the point of view of the Other. Even though we might think his position to be nonsensical, we should remember that we do not have an objective view on the world and it is always possible that we are actually wrong in our assessment (as happened regarding the modernism of the Biblical Criticism of the early twentieth century [6]). As such, we must not only allow for the possible existence of true prophecy but also for other interpretations of prophetic passages than our own.

2) Biblical prophecy stands within a long tradition in which the Biblical text had been read in a certain way. The philosophers Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) taught us that we all belong to a paradigm or cultural setting which forms our minds in a particular way. We are people of our time - just as the Biblical authors were of theirs. Today with the emergence of mass media it is possible to change culture quite rapidly - but that does not apply to the ancient world of old Israel. Their culture and tradition stayed the same even in the context of the early Christian Church which evolved from their midst. As such, we should acknowledge their prophetic tradition not only insofar as the texts are concerned but also insofar as their interpretation of those texts is concerned. Our modern interpretation of their texts cannot be better than their own for the simple reason that we are very much removed from their interpretive tradition.

What is also important is to understand that the prophecies in the New Testament which concerns the Second Coming of Jesus Christ stand in the very same prophetic tradition as those which concerned his first appearance. As such, we should remember that the very same people who took the Old Testament prophecies in a literal sense as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ also expected that the prophecies concerning his Second Coming would be fulfilled in such a manner. This suggests that the Idealists/Allegoricalists' attempt to find some "deeper meaning" than the obvious one (say, of the period of "42 months" (3 1/2 years) mentioned in Revelation) is not consistent with the prophetic tradition from which those texts originated. Those people did not have any knowledge of that very Greek approach at that early period [14]. We should allow that the details of the prophecies might, in fact, be literally fulfilled even when the text includes metaphors and symbols.

3) All prophecies are applied to world events. This application might refer to events in the distant past or the future. The process in which this application is done is, however, also important. So often we find that interpreters see something happening in the world which they then on an ad hoc basis relate to prophecies which they think could be relevant to those events. This is, however, not good hermeneutic practice. We should develop good eschatological models pertaining to future prophecy and only then apply them to world events in a systematic way - very much in the same way that we apply theoretical models in science to empirical data. In this way, the eschatological model is known beforehand and the fulfilment thereof can be better evaluated. This means that scholars do not have to be afraid to engage in a more substantial manner with prophecies about the "future". This, however, does not mean that they have to accept everything that had become associated with the Futurists (especially regarding the Rapture [15]).

Re-reading the Bible

We can now consider some Biblical prophecies in more detail. Although there are many Biblical prophecies which the Biblical authors believed (and believers in general believe) to have been fulfilled, I only discuss ones of which the fulfilment can be shown to have happened sometime after the prophecy was given. I discuss two very remarkable such prophecies.

The first is the well-known prophecy of Jeremiah that Jerusalem would be given in the hands of the Babylonians for a period of seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12). We know that this period was understood by the exiles to have commenced when the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar first conquered Jerusalem which was also when Daniel and his friends are said to have gone into exile to Babylon (see Dan. 9:1, 10; the city was taken again in 597 BC and 587 BC). The Neo-Babylonian rule came to an end when the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC. 

According to the Book of Daniel, the first ruler of the Persians was King Darius, "of the seed of the Medes", in whose first year the prophet Daniel is said to have received one of his prophecies (Dan. 9:1-2; which would have been in about 538 BC). Although the historicity of this Darius is disputed, there is no good reason to doubt that such a person lived (archaeological data has certain limits - see [16]). After him came the well-known Cyrus, who allowed Israel to return to their homeland in the first year of his reign in Babylon (Ezra 1:1). If we assume that Darius ruled for two years (Dan. 9:1-2 seems to imply a reign of more than one year), then Cyrus gave his command in about 536 BC. When we allow for prophetic reckoning (a prophetic year was considered to be 360 years; see Rev. 11:1-2), then the prophecy of Jeremiah may be considered to have been remarkably fulfilled. The period from 605 BC to 536 BC is exactly 70 prophetic years.

Another remarkable prophecy is the one attributed to Daniel in the above-mentioned passage (Dan. 9:20-27). In this case, we read about a period of 70 "weeks" of years, which is 70 x 7 = 490 years, which is in turn subdivided into two periods of 69 "weeks" of years (483 years) and the final period of one "week" (7 years) [17]. The first 69 "weeks" of years is our present concern. According to the prophecy, it would commence with the command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and end just before the "anointed one" (Messiah) would be "cut off" (i.e. dies). Although scholars differ in their interpretation of the meaning of the two events mentioned, there is a general consensus that the period of 69 "weeks" of years refers to the time in between them (for a discussion of all the views, see [18]).

The only command that was ever given to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, was the one given in the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus (Neh. 2:5). This was in the year 445 BC (Artaxerxes's rule is calculated from the death of his father Xerxes in July 465 BC [19]). The three previous commands that were given by Persian rulers, were all concerned with the building of the temple – not the city of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4; 5:13; 6:3-14; 7:12-26). When we take this date as the starting point for the 69 "weeks" of years or 483 years, then the period came to an end during the time of Jesus's ministry on earth, which would be consistent with him being the Messiah. This reading is also consistent with the general expectation that the Jewish Messiah would appear in the time when Jesus did (Lu. 2:26; 3:15; Joh. 1:19, 20) - which was most probably based on this very prophecy of Daniel.

The period of 69 weeks of years would come to an end when Messiah, a Prince, appears - which is just before he would be "cut off" [20]. Given that the prophecy seems to have reference to Jesus, we might ask: To which event during the earthly ministry of Jesus does the prophecy refer? Or to put it differently: when did Jesus present himself as Messiah and King (Prince) to Israel? This clearly happened when Jesus rode upon the donkey into Jerusalem in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). When that happened, the crowd cried out: "Hosanna, Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Joh. 12:13).

Entry into Jerusalem, Giotto
The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto (1305 AD)
From the details in the Gospel of St. Luke, we know that John the Baptist started his ministry in the fifteenth year of Cesar Tiberius (Luk. 3:1-3). The fifteenth year of Tiberius commenced on 19 August 28 AD. Jesus was therefore baptized in the autumn of 28 AD. This means that he was crucified three-and-a-half years later in the year 32 AD [19]. The year 32 AD is also the only year in which the calendar agrees with the events of that time. Jesus would, therefore, have entered Jerusalem on the donkey on the Sunday before the crucifixion in the year 32 AD (see Joh. 12:1, 12).

This period of 69 weeks of years, i.e. 483 years, that is from 445 BC to 32 AD, ends long after the latest possible date that the text could have been written (in about 164 BC as is accepted in Biblical Criticism circles). This means that a considerable part of the prophecy refers to events that happened long after the text was written (by the latest estimates). Traditional Christians believe that the prophecy dates much earlier, namely to the time mentioned in the Book of Daniel (538 BC; right at the beginning of the Persian rule over Babylon). Irrespective of the position taken, the 483 years obviously ends long after the latest accepted date for the writing of the book. One can also not think that Jesus could have calculated the date to superficially "fulfil" the prophecy because the kind of mathematics necessary to do the calculations was not available at that time.

When we do the calculations, we find that the period between these events in 445 BC and 32 AD is exactly 173880 days (for a detailed discussion, see [21]). Again, when we use prophetic years (360 days in the year; see Rev. 11:1-2), then we find that the period is precisely 69 prophetic years – even to the exact day! One cannot but to say that this is truly astounding. This is one of those cases where we have a prophecy with sufficient details to be tested rigorously as well as the tools to do that test. However one sees this, one cannot but to at the very least accept that this is an astonishing coincidence. 

Prophecies about the future

This brings us to the future. As we have good reasons to think that Biblical prophecy has been accurately fulfilled in the past (and I do not know about any such prophecy that was, in fact, wrong), we may think that the same would happen in the future. In this case, however, I would like to merely present an eschatological model which take another prophecy in the Book of Daniel as the point of departure, namely the one in Daniel 7 (for a more detailed exploration of this model, see [22]). 

In this prophecy, all the different empires which would rule over the people of Israel since the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the time of judgment is depicted as symbolic beasts. At the time of judgment, we read that "one like the Son of man comes with the clouds of heaven", who would receive dominion, glory and everlasting kingship over all the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus applied this prophecy to his Second Coming, saying that "the Son of man [would] come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). When we take this prophecy in the Book of Daniel seriously, we might view it as describing events throughout history to the Second Coming (which has obviously not yet arrived; it would not happen in secret but with "great power and glory").

What is further remarkable about this prophecy, is that it has a twin: there is another prophecy in the Book of Daniel which agrees on each point with this one, even though other symbols are used (in Daniel 2). In the vision of the prophet described in chapter 7, various beasts rose from the sea. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2, a metal statue is depicted. The four beasts (lion, bear, leopard and a dreadful and terrible beast that was exceedingly strong with great iron teeth) correspond with the four metals from which the statue was made (gold, silver, brass, iron). In both cases, the last one is depicted as stronger than all the others, as a beast/metal which "brake in pieces" (Dan. 7:7; 2:40) and devour/subdue. The great beast had ten horns whereas the statue had ten toes. The "Son of Man" who came with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment agrees with the rock which broke the statue in pieces and filled the earth. Both prophecies mention the "everlasting kingdom" that would follow.

The largest part of the prophecy has been remarkably fulfilled if we take the symbols in the following manner (which is by far the most reasonable explanation - for a detailed discussion of all the different views, see [23]): the lion/gold refers to the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC); the bear/silver refers to the Persian Empire (550-330 BC); the leopard/brass refers to the Greek Empire (of Alexander the Great; 356-323 BC) which was divided into four in the time after his death (323-63 BC) in agreement with the four heads of the leopard; the great and terrible beast or iron which is depicted as stronger than all the others refers to the Roman Empire (27 BC- 476 AD) which was divided into two in agreement with the two legs of iron.

One may suggest that the two feet (made of iron mixed with clay) which came after the two iron legs but preceded the ten toes (made of the same), refer to the two empires which came in the place of the eastern and western parts into which the old Roman Empire was divided, namely the Byzantine Empire (306-1460 AD) in the east and the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806 AD) in the west. These two empires included the core areas of the two parts of the old Roman Empire. In my view, the iron refers to the Latins (Romans) and the clay to the Germanic peoples who lived (for the most part) to the north of the Roman Empire but later settled within its boundaries. Both of these were included in these later empires, whose geographical areas changed a lot over the duration of their existence. 

The ten horns/toes would refer to an empire that comes after these empires (the feet) but which has not yet appeared [23]. These are "ten kings" who will rise from the (geographical area of the) old Roman Empire (Dan. 7:24) to rule over a single end-time empire (Dan. 2:42). After that an eleventh horn appeared from between the ten other horns (in Dan. 7) and grew greater than them; this depicts a great Antichristian figure [24] who would persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years (Dan. 7:25) in the time directly before the coming of the Son of man with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment (Dan. 7:13-28).

This interpretation may be refined by including other relevant prophecies which mention these same things (for example, in the Book of Revelation). This is not the place to do that (see [22]). What this model proposes, is that a final antichristian empire would rise from the ashes of the old Roman Empire. In the end of times, a great empire would rise in the geographical area of the old Roman Empire over which "ten kings" would rule - which may refer to some kind of "council of ten" (we can only speculate) - and which would eventually hand over their power to the final Antichrist [25].

One may suggest that the current efforts to integrate the European Union may eventually lead to the establishment of such an empire. If the democratic EU evolves into such an empire, we would see history repeating itself since the old Roman Empire also evolved out of the Roman Republic. It is indeed quite amazing that the EU has, in fact, been rising in the exact geographical area where the prophecy predicts that the end-time empire of the final Antichrist will appear. This means that we must consider developments in the EU in this light which would eventually show if this model is correct. 

The slow but steady process through which the EU has become ever more centralised and more powerful is consistent with this interpretation of the prophecy - but it is obviously still very far from the empire which one would expect in accordance with the prophecy. As such, I think that we may still have to wait a very long time before the world situation develops in accordance with the prophetic picture described above. If the remarkable correspondence between this prophecy and world history (as discussed above) is for real (one can never exclude the possibility of an astounding coincidence!), then it seems very likely that the future would also unfold as foretold in the prophecy.  


In this essay, I discuss the Bible from a prophetic angle. Are the oracles and prophecies in the Bible for real? Did God really inspire the prophets in such a way that the things which they wrote have reference to future events? I argue that we have good reasons to accept that true prophecy exists. I also argue that we should take statements about prophecy in the Bible serious. We should at the very least be open to the prospect that such prophecies had been fulfilled in ancient times exactly as the authors assert - we have no good reasons to distrust their judgment! 

I also discussed some prophecies that had been remarkably fulfilled, such as the one of Jeremiah about the 70 years of exile or the one of Daniel about the 70 "weeks" of years. The fact that Israel did, in fact, went back from Babylon 70 years after Nebukadnezar first took the city and that Jesus did, in fact, revealed himself in Jerusalem as the Messiah exactly 483 years after the royal command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem - exactly as foretold - should be good reasons to believe that these prophecies (and more generally, the Bible) were inspired by God. Even if we think of some reason to doubt this, I think anyone would have to admit that it is an astounding coincidence that one is able to find such a precise fulfilment in the first place! Finding even one such an extraordinary "black swan" (and I discussed a few) is good enough to show that they do indeed exist.

In my view, the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible provide strong evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and that he would, therefore, one day return as foretold. In this case, we also have prophecies about future events that would precede his Second Coming. Again, it seems to me very remarkable that we can, in fact, fit the prophecy of Daniel about the various world empires (Dan. 7) so beautifully with world history. Within this framework, the next empire which would arise would be the final world empire (corresponding to the ten horns/toes). 

As such, it is again amazing that we do, in fact, find that a great political power is rising in the exact geographical area (of the old Roman Empire and the two succeeding empires) where such an empire is expected and also in the right timescale (about 150 years after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire). The question is: Will the EU brake apart or will it continue to grow geographically and in power? Although we cannot assert that the second outcome will happen - we are merely working with an eschatological model - this would definitely be a strong indication that we are seeing the fulfilment of true prophecy. It seems to me that one would be extremely foolish to reject prophecy and the God who inspire without at least careful consideration.

[1] Part 1. Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective.
[5] These are mostly events which cannot be independently verified. But this implies an extreme form of scepticism which is not consistent with good hermeneutics.
[7] Gunkel, Hermann. 1901. Genesis. Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht.
[8] Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. Truth and Method (translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, second revised ed.). New York: Crossroad.
[10] One of the good examples of prophecy which was never previously understood in a particular way until the time of its fulfilment, is those passages which concern God's inclusion of the heathen in his plan. St. Paul writes: “the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:25, 26; see also 11 Pet. 1:19-21).
[11] We find something similar in so-called "prophetic perspective", also called "mountain peaks of prophecy", where various events happening some time apart are believed to have been included in the same prophecy. The Prophetic Discours is an example, where the reference to the capture of Jerusalem by the heathen is interpreted as referring to both the events of 70 AD when the Romans took the city as well as future events in the time of the Antichrist.
[12] Edersheim, Alfred. Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah (Warburton Lectures for 1880-1884, 1885).
[13] The radical scepticism of Biblical Criticism comes down to saying that scholars should accept as their point of departure that the Biblical authors, in general, gave false testimonies and impressions, i.e. they lied. This radical scepticism goes back to the positivist roots of the discipline which asserted that nothing that is not supported by evidence can be believed. This philosophical approach has since been discredited and no philosopher of science worth the name takes it seriously. We know today that archaeology is not an empirical science and that not finding evidence can never be taken as proof of no evidence [15]. In contrast, the Biblical authors such as St. Paul claim that "holy men of God" wrote the texts and that their testimony is true and trustworthy. 
[14] Pentecost, J. Dwight. 1981. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
[15] The Rapture: The different views.
[16] A Critique of Archaeology as a Science
[17] The first period of 69 x 7 = 683 years are also subdivided into two periods of 7 and 62 weeks of years but that has no direct bearing on the discussion.
What about the final period of one week? According to this prophecy, the death of the "anointed one" (or: Messiah) would be followed by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary by "the people of the prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26). This happened in 70 AD when the Romans captured the city (about 40 years after the crucifixion). The last week (7 years) is mentioned only after these events are referred to in the prophecy, which may imply that it follows sometime after that (for a detailed discussion, see [18]).
Some interpreters are very sceptical of the "gap" between the first 69 weeks and the final week (of years) and are therefore even uneasy with the astounding fulfilment of the 69 weeks! The reason for this seems to me due to the connection between the final week (placed at the end of this era) and the dispensational view which take this week as a dispensation on its own (and so justifies a rapture of the church "before the final seven years"). This needs not be the case. The fact that these seven years concern the people of Israel does not necessitate a dispensation of its own. There is no conflict therein that some prophecies about Israel are fulfilled in the present era (dispensation, if you like). In fact, it seems strange that God would revert to some previous (or similar) dispensation in the process of his progressive revelation. For a detailed discussion on the issue (see [15, 18]). 
[18] The Final Seven Years: The different views
[19] Anderson, Robert. 1984. The Coming Prince. Michigan: Kregel.
[20] One might argue that there are other interpretations of this prophecy in which these details are understood differently. Even when that is accepted, it is still astonishing that any interpretation of the prophecy (at all!) could agree so precisely with the historical facts on the ground given the chances of that happening. The agreement with these facts suggests that this is, indeed, the correct interpretation.
[21] A Very Remarkable Prophecy
[22] When can the Second Coming of Jesus be expected?
[23] The Rise of the Final World Empire: The different views.
[24] The Final Antichrist: The different views.
[25] In the Book of Revelation, we read that the rule of the "ten kings" is still in the future. They will rule together with the "beast" (who will persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years; Rev. 13:5-7) to whom they will give their power and against whom Jesus Christ will fight in the great battle (Rev. 17:12-14; 19:19, 20).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics; MA in philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Part 1. Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective
Part 2. Can we still believe the Bible? An archaeological perspective
Part 3. Can we still believe the Bible? A scientific perspective

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