Thursday, July 13, 2006

Prophetic fulfillment

“If a prophecy is not falsifiable, it is as worthless as a newspaper astrology column. Making a prediction specific enough to be understood in advance is hard. Re-interpreting a text to make it predict past events is easy, and the techniques (like shoehorining) are well-understood. It can be done with Nostradamus and Biblical acrostics. It can be done to fit normal Biblical prophecies to non-religious figures like Napoleon.”

The initial sentence is a valid inference from a false premise. I never said or implied that Bible prophecy was unfalsifiable.

What I said is that it would be self-defeating for a prophecy to be too specific, since that would invite efforts to thwart the prophecy.

Hence, no one Messianic prophecy (to take one prophetic class for purposes of illustration) is going to give you the who, what, when, where, why, and how of its fulfillment.

Rather, we have a set of prophecies which, taken together, give the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their collective fulfillment.

It’s like espionage—in which information is compartmentalized. Different agents are given different folders which, taken together, spell out the game plan.

“Because of this problem, sensible people demand that it be possible to correctly interpret Biblical prophecies in advance.”

This is self-refuting by Hallquist’s own examples. He doesn’t regard Nostradamus as a true prophet. Indeed, he clearly regards Nostradamus as a charlatan.

But Hallquist didn’t live before the time of Nostradamus, now did he? Hallquist is judging the prophetic quality, or lack therefore, of the famous quatrains after the fact.

Either that or Hallquist is very well preserved for his age.

And does he really believe that Bible prophecies are equally adaptable to figures like Napoleon?

Or does he believe that Bible prophecies are false?

1 comment:

  1. Hallquist fails to make the distinction I referred to earlier, the distinction between typological and non-typological prophecies, and he doesn't seem to realize that his Napoleon example is an argument against his position rather than for it. See the discussion of the Suffering Servant prophecy in the article he links to, for example. Napoleon is disqualified by the details of the text. The prophecy is about a Jew who lives among the Jewish people. The details surrounding the Suffering Servant's death are different from the details surrounding Napoleon's death. Napoleon is far from qualifying to fulfill Isaiah 53:9. The appeal to a silent movie about Napoleon's life to explain Isaiah 53:7 is ridiculous. Christians don't do anything comparable to explain the passage. He refers to Napoleon's willingness to suffer for the people of France, but Isaiah doesn't just refer to a willingness to suffer for the benefit of other people. Rather, he specifies that the willingness to suffer is a willingness to die as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. The article Hallquist links to, in an attempt to explain Isaiah 53:12, comments that "Napoleon Bonaparte remains one of the greatest, most intriguing military generals and rulers in all of recorded history." But the passage is about the Suffering Servant's exaltation after death and as a result of how he died. The passage is about how the Suffering Servant will live after death (Isaiah 53:10). Being remembered in "recorded history" isn't the same as living in exaltation after death, and being mentioned in history books as a "military general and ruler" isn't the same as being exalted because you gave your life to make atonement for the sins of others. Details like these make a fulfillment by Napoleon implausible, and they refute the claim that the prophecy isn't detailed enough. The passage does go into detail, and some of those details are of a highly unusual nature. If Napoleon is the best candidate Hallquist can think of as an alternative, then his inability to come up with a plausible alternative does more to help the Christian case than hurt it.

    Probably the best alternative that could be offered would be the argument that the Suffering Servant is Israel. But though that argument isn't as bad as the case for Napoleon, it isn't sufficient. The text distinguishes between the Suffering Servant and Israel grammatically and contextually. As we see earlier in the book of Isaiah itself, Israel failed as a servant of God. Isaiah was more faithful as a servant, but even he was "a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). As the book of Isaiah develops, what we see is that there are a few different entities who are called servants of God. Israel is among those entities, but we eventually see another servant who is distinguished from Israel, both grammatically and in character. “So, in the light of the connexions with Isaiah 6:1 and 57:15, the meaning of Isaiah 52:13 is that the Servant is exalted to the heavenly throne of God.” (Richard Bauckham, God Crucified [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], p. 51) Apparently, what Isaiah has in view is that God Himself (Isaiah 9:6), as the Suffering Servant, will accomplish what Israel, Isaiah, and other servants failed to do.