November 16, 2014
In this issue: Modernism's Assault on Prophecy, Part 2 by L. A. Stauffer
by L. A. Stauffer [continued from last issue]
A Formidable Task
Disposing of predictive prophecy is no easy task for the modernists. The prophetic vision into the future is no isolated phenomenon in Scriptures. The Old Testament-whether books of law, history, poetry or prophecy-is literally saturated with descriptions of coming events. More than 600 allusions to the Old Testament, much of which was predictive, are found in the New Testament. Modernists must not be allowed to forget this.
Consider, for example, the words “foreseeing” and “beforehand” in Galatians 3:8 where the apostle Paul referred to a prophecy in Genesis 12:3. “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed.” Moses likewise foresaw the raising up of a prophet like unto himself to whom men must hearken in all things (Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:22, 23). Nathan announced beforehand the coming of a king who would establish his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12, 13, 16; Hebrews 1:5) and David prophesied that this king would have “the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession” (Ps. 2:8; Eph. 1:20, 21).
Consisting of Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 2:2; Eph. 2:13-18), the kingdom, as envisioned by other prophets, was to begin at Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3; Acts 2:lff) in the days of the Roman empire (Dan. 2:44, 45; Mk. 1:15; Col. 1:13). The king would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:22, 23) at Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; Mt. 2:1, 5, 6) and live among men without sin (Isa. 53:9, 11, 12; 1 Pet. 2:22). The mighty ruler was to govern the kingdom in a glorious reign, be a priest on his throne (Zech. 6:13; Ps. 110:1, 2) and suffer as God’s servant for the iniquities of his subjects (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; 1 Pet. 2:24).
Arlie Hoover, in discussing the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, notes its detailed portrait of Jesus’ life. “Jesus,” he says, “was lowly in origin, he had God’s Spirit, he encountered opposition, he was unjustly convicted, he didn’t protest his mistreatment, he was executed with criminals, he died an atoning death, he was raised by God and he became a light to the gentiles. Can anyone else in history fit the picture so well?” (Dear Agnos, pp. 219, 220).
Hoover also notes that “Ps. 22 reads as if David wrote it at the foot of the cross. Jesus uttered the first verse from the cross: `My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46). I can count at least twelve clear references to Christ in this short passage: (1) he was scorned and despised by men (v. 6); (2) people mocked his faith in God (vv. 7, 8); (3) his birth had been in God’s plan (v. 9); (4) he was surrounded by evil men `bulls,’ a `lion’ and `dogs’ (vv. 12, 13, 16); (5) his bones were out of joint and clearly visible-a standard result of crucifixion (vv. 14, 17); (6) his heart was collapsed within him (v. 14); (7) he had terrible thirst (v. 15); (8) his enemies pierced his hands and feet (v. 16); (9) they divided his garments among them (v. 18); nevertheless (10) God delivers him from this situation (vv. 22, 24); (11) he lives to tell future generations of God’s greatness (vv. 22, 31); and finally (12) `all the ends of the earth’ and `all the families of nations’ (v. 27) shall honor God for his deliverance” (Ibid., p. 221).
To these can be added the specific prophecy of Christ’s resurrection-that “neither was he left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Ps. 16:9-11; Acts 2:25-32)-and his ascension in the clouds to God’s right hand (Dan. 7:13, 14; Acts 1:9-11). Time will fail if all the prophecies of Christ are mentioned-his betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12; Matt. 26:14, 15), the work of His harbinger, John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:3; Mal. 4:5; Lk. 1:17; Mt. 11:14), His entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5), His new covenant (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:8-12), etc. Peter exaggerated none at all when he wrote: “Yea and all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days” (Acts 3:24).
The examples cited touch only the hem of the vast garment of prophecy, and yet they reflect the challenge the modernists face. Added to this challenge is the modernists’ dilemma of not being able to win for losing. If they meet the challenge and eliminate predictive prophecy, the evidence that God has spoken is gone. If God has not spoken, the moral and social teaching of the Bible, which the modernists want, are reduced to the level of humanistic philosophy. And yet the modernists cannot have predictive prophecy if their theory of immanence is to remain.
The Modernists’ Assault
The modernists, therefore, must be on with the task of cutting their own throats. To do this they attack prophecy in four ways: one, they challenge the date of prophecy; two, the clarity; three, the fulfillment; four, the interpretation. The chief problem with any one or all of these assaults is their failure to explain away all predictive prophecy. What Bernard Ramm says of their claim that prophecy is unclear applies equally to all their criticisms. “If the critic is to make his case he must show that all fulfilled prophecies are vague in nature. Showing that two or three or twenty are vague is not sufficient” (Protestant Christian Evidences, p. 87, 88). The modernists, as Ramm notes concerning another point, “must silence all of our guns: we need to fire only one of them” (Ibid., p. 88).
Prophecy is history. Notice, for example, the modernists’ argument from Daniel that prophecy is really history in disguise. Daniel claims his prophecies were delivered during the Babylonian captivity (606-536 B.C.). The modernists, admitting the book contains an accurate history of the period between 536 and 165 B.C., arbitrarily, on the basis of anti-supernatural bias, assign the date of the book at 165 B.C. They then challenge the opposition to prove them wrong.
In the first place, no evidence can be cited for the modernists’ date. Secondly, this date is meaningless since Daniel looked beyond 165 B.C. and saw the rise of the Roman empire (Dan. 2 and 7). He also saw the coming of the anointed one, his death, his ascension and the establishment of the unshakeable kingdom in the days of Rome (9:25-27; 7:13, 14; 2:44, 45). Finally, this argument does not account for the vast body of prophecy, known to exist before the first century, outlining step by step the life of Christ from his birth of the virgin at Bethlehem unto the ascension in the clouds to God’s right hand.
‘Prophecy is vague.’ Granted, as the modernists also argue, some prophecy is vague. But can that be said of all prophecy? Before answering, one should reread those cited above. The charge, furthermore, fails to consider that prophecy, as a riddle when the solution is given, is clarified by fulfillment. “There is a measure of detail in a prophecy that is not apparent at the time of its utterance which is sharpened by fulfillment. Further, several such examples would indicate that more than human factors are at work. The calculus of probability starts to pile up in advantage for the Christian” (Ramm, op. cit., p. 87).
‘Fulfillment is contrived.’ Again, one must partly agree with modernists. Some prophecies, it must be admitted, are open to fulfillment by the power and contrivance of man. One, nonetheless, would have difficulty explaining by this method the taxation and enrollment which brought about the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem or the happenings at the foot of the cross foreseen in Psalms 22. And certainly this argument fails to dispose of prophetic utterances announcing the permanent downfall of cities and nations, such as Babylon, Edom and Tyre (Isa. 13:10; Mal. 1:2-5; Ezek. 26:14).
‘Prophecy is misinterpreted.’ It is needless to pursue modernism’s argument that prophecy is misinterpreted. It, like the others, offers no rebuttal to all prophecy. The biggest barrier to this assault is that the Jews, even before Christ, understood many prophecies in the same way Christ and the apostles interpreted them. Hoover points out that “long before Christ the Jews had a body of messianic literature that agrees substantially with what Christians said of Christ” (op. cit. p. 210).
After attempting to eliminate specific and clear prophecies, the modernists still have not met their most serious challenge. Prophecy is full of surprises and paradoxes which defy humanistic explanations.
Why, for example, would Jewish prophets, of their own wisdom, announce the coming of a kingdom that would include Gentiles alongside Jews? Or, why would they declare that the king would also be the priest of the new kingdom? Why, would they proclaim that the Messiah would be both a conquering king, the mighty God, and a suffering servant, the dying lamb? And why would they herald Bethlehem as the birthplace of this world-conquering king rather than, say, Jerusalem? The more one reads the Old Testament prophets the more irrational some aspects of their prophecies sound.
Old Testament prophecy, as Hoover notes, forms “a mysterious tangled web that puzzled many Jewish commentators. How could the Messiah be so many things at once: King, Priest, Prophet, Shepherd, Suffering-Servant, Sin-offering, Vicarious victim? Perhaps this was God’s way of making sure that no one could artificially fulfill all these vision until he should come who had the key” (op. cit., p. 221, 222).
Ramm’s conclusion, to the chagrin of the modernists, offers the Scriptural and only satisfactory explanation for the Biblical phenomenon of predictive prophecy. “The very fact that the threads of the Old Testament seem hopelessly tangled and yet are so beautifully untangled in the life of Christ is further proof that beneath the letter of Scripture is the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit” (op. cit., p. 119). ~