Monday, July 12, 2010

Future present

In Scripture, prophecy typically involves visionary revelation. There’s a sense in which the prophet “sees” the future, or sees a representation of the future.

But this raises the question of what he actually perceives. What images of the future does God disclose? Does God reveal the future in future terms, or does he reveal the future in present terms?

If, for instance, God were to reveal to Isaiah some calamity to befall Manhattan in the 23C AD, would God do so by showing Isaiah a preview of Manhattan as it appears in the 23C AD? Or would he depict a scaled up version of an 8C BC metropolis?

To judge by various endtime prophecies in Scripture, what a prophet sees is the future in present-day terms. “Present” in relation to the time and place of the prophet.

And that’s only logical. A depiction of the future which is too far removed from the experience of the prophet or his audience would be unintelligible. So it makes sense if God represents the future in terms familiar to the prophet and his audience.

If, however, that’s the case, then it has some ramifications for the Biblical hermeneutics:

1.It makes it harder for us to anticipate the precise terms of the fulfillment in advance of the event. We don’t know what exactly the fulfillment will look like. The fulfillment itself will select for the corresponding terms. So that’s something which will be easier to discern after the fact.

2.It also means that we need to avoid glib accusations about a failed prophecy. For in considering the fulfillment of a prophecy, we must take into consideration the difference between the future event and the representation of a future event. Especially in the case of endtime prophecies.


  1. Hmmm...

    While I understand where you're coming from here, I wonder about the unintended benefits of this prophetic hermeneutic to the LDS and Watchtower Society, for example.

    Any thoughts on this angle?

    In Christ,

  2. Since there's such a brief interval between the inception of those 19C cults and their predictions, they can't take refuge in the claim that the futuristic world of their predictions is all that different from the world in which the predictions was made.