Reclaiming Prophecy


Despite the bizarre reinterpretations of the concept by end-time Christianity, prophecy as we find it in the Bible is an intervention, not a prediction. Yes, the great prophets of Israel evolved out of the traditions of seers and ecstatics, but they were neither, even if their prophetic utterances retained some of the elements of one or both. The massively popular end-time misinterpretation of prophecy depends upon the unbiblical notion of a secret predetermined plan (God’s) which the “prophecy” merely reveals, exposing crucial elements of the plan to the savvy reader. The lure of this fantastic misinterpretation is that it provides people ignorant of the Bible with the certitude of being “in the know.” The more insidious “advantage” end-time Christianity offers is the ability to be righteous in dismissing one’s own enemies as Christ’s enemies who have chosen (but perhaps also been predestined for) destruction. So, there would seem to be no need for concern whether they have a choice and no need for compassion, because their destruction is God’s holy plan.

Biblical prophecy is an intervention. 

Biblical prophecy is an intervention

It does not predict or reveal what must inevitably be. Rather, prophecy declares the unrecognized truth of the present situation and calls for a change of course, whether from the self-delusion of those who imagine themselves religiously and politically secure even as they exploit their neighbors or from the depression of exiles reluctant to risk hope again. The goal of prophecy is a turning. God is usually presented as eager to turn from visiting upon the people the results of their evils, if only they will turn from doing them. Likewise, in the situation of exile, God is eager to give the people a new future if only they will let their hopes rise in response to the promise.

Prophecy is by nature situational. The prophet speaks God’s word to particular people in their particular context in life and history. The contextual nature of prophecy still holds true even in its later apocalyptic forms (biblically, much of Daniel and the Newer Testament book of Revelation, as well as the mini-apocalypses in the synoptic gospels). Forget the grand design for all of history. Prophecy is a word spoken to particular people in their particular situation, as seen from God’s point of view.

Biblical prophecy is also a matter of mediation, not in the sense of reaching a compromise, but in the sense of a mediator who represents both estranged sides to each other. The true prophet primarily represents God to the people but must also represent the people to God, arguing, against God’s judgment, for understanding and compassion. The prophet must call the people to “repent” (turn), but sometimes must also call upon God to repent. Such is what God requires of the prophet. So, the true prophet cannot be cold and detached, superior in bearing to the people and unconcerned about their suffering, deserved or undeserved. The true prophet must love God and the people, both, no matter how much at odds the two may be from each other.

The end-time notion that prophecy merely pulls back the curtain and reveals God’s unchangeable scheme for history is, biblically, nonsense.