Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Multiple fulfillments

Some Christians, myself included, appeal to multiple fulfillments to explain certain prophecies. To outside observers, this probably smacks of special pleading. 

And there is the danger of fooling ourselves by becoming too creative in how we defend a belief-system in the teeth of prima facie evidence to the contrary. Cult members fall into that trap. Of course, it also depends on how much positive evidence you have for your belief-system. The Christian faith is up to its neck in evidence. We have to stand tiptoe to keep from drowning in the evidence. 

However, the question I'd like to briefly explore is whether there's something intrinsically ad hoc about the multiple fulfillment principle. To take a comparison, the Bible contains Gospel promises. If you repent of your sins, trust in Jesus for salvation, commit your life to Christ, you will be saved. But that's certainly consistent with multiple fulfillments. 

Likewise, the Bible contains prayer promises. If you pray for something, God may grant your request. Once again, that's certainly consistent with multiple fulfillments.

Not only do multiple fulfillments not falsify Gospel promises and prayer promises, but if the promises were not fulfilled on multiple occasions, then that would falsify the promises. Suppose, in the course of church history, only one prayer by one Christian was answered. That singular fulfillment would disprove the prayer promises. In order for them to be true, they require multiple fulfillments. These are general promises. So there's nothing ad hoc in principle about something having more than one fulfillment. 

Promises often involve a type/token relation, viz. one promise, but many instances of answered prayer. A one-to-many relation between the promise and the outcome. 

And when you think about it, prophecies are like promises (or threats) about the future. And just as promises can be conditional or unconditional, prophecies can be conditional or unconditional. Just as promises can have a one-to-one fulfillment as well as a one-to-many fulfillment, so can prophecies. 

It might be objected that if a prophecy has so many candidates vying for fulfillment, that makes the prophecy vacuous. But that's not true as a matter of principle–any more than multiple candidates for answered prayer makes prayer promises vacuous.

I'm not suggesting that every prophecy is open to multiple fulfillments. I'm just examining whether, as a matter of principle, it's special pleading to consider that explanation. 

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