Be sure to read the previous installments in my response to Elton Hollon.
IS FAILED PROPHECY OKAY?
“Preterists assume that accurate forecasting is the sin quo non of prophecy, but this criterion is controversial. The death penalty is mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:20 for non -Yahwistic prophets and those not commissioned by Yahweh who make false predictions” (P.6). He proceeds to claim that: “People could make mistakes and still be received as prophets because ‘the prophet’s task was not to announce the future but to shape the present.’ Other conditions essential to the prophetic role, moral theology for example, but not 100% predictive accuracy. Therefore, error need not mean that Jesus was a prophet ‘rejected by God’, and the question of Jesus’ status is presumably answered by his resurrection (p. 7).
Hollon then cites Deuteronomy 13 and chapter 18 as support for his claims:
Deut. 13– “Chapter 13 sets the stage for chapter 18 in noting that the prophet would try to lead Israel away….Thus, it did not matter if his prediction was true– he served a false god. The point being that prophecy fulfilled, spoken by Yahwistic prophets or those claiming to be that, had to be fulfilled.
Deut. 18: 21f: “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
He then adds “Accuracy is insufficient to identify true prophets. Not only is it insufficient, however, it is unnecessary” (p.6).
However, these claims fly directly in the face of Deuteronomy 18, where Moses emphatically stated:
“If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Fulfillment was patently at least a partial criteria for acceptance. Deuteronomy 13 does not justify acceptance of failed prognosticators. Just the opposite. It cautions against acceptance of a man, even if his predictions came true, if he tried to lead Israel away from YHVH. There simply is no acceptance of failed prophecies here.
It appears that Hollon has set up a false “either / or” argument by claiming that prophets were not necessarily about telling the future but functioned “to shape the present.” This is not the whole story. The prophets commonly attempted to “shape the present” by telling them (prophesying) what was going to happen if they did not change. That was assuredly the function of Micah, Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, etc. There is no disconnect between the prophetic role of the prophet and their moral messages.
The suggestion that failed prophecies would be acceptable is itself falsified in God’s challenge to the prophets of the pagans.
Present your case,” says the Lord. “Bring forth your strong reasons,” says the King of Jacob. “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; Let them show the former things, what they were, That we may consider them, And know the latter end of them; Or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that you are gods; Yes, do good or do evil, That we may be dismayed and see it together. Indeed you are nothing, And your work is nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.
In Isaiah 43:21f Adonai challenged the pagan prophets to predict the future stating that only He declares the end from the beginning. “Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me.” See also Isaiah 46:9ff: “Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.”
These passages show that fulfilled prophecies were a criteria for acceptance of a prophet. The reality is that the prophet had to be both faithful to YHVH, and, his predictions had to come true. That was Jesus’ own litmus test of faith in him.
I think it worthwhile to look at the Jews’ attitude toward failed prophets. In Acts 5, Peter and John had been arrested for preaching the resurrection in Jesus, the Messiah. Members of the Sanhedrin wanted to kill them, but Gamaliel stood up and said:
Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God (Acts 5:35-39).
The historical reality is that both men mentioned had been prophets who predicted the imminent coming of the kingdom, the deliverance of the Jews from Roman oppression. They prophecies failed! Thus, they were rejected. Not only because the Romans killed them, but because their prophecies had failed.
Hollon tells us that, “Jesus’ status is presumably answered by his resurrection.” This actually confirms the necessity for the fulfillment of prophecy to establish the prophet as God’s spokesman. In this case- to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus clearly foretold – prophesied – his death, burial and resurrection. And Paul said, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise” (1 Corinthians 15:13-15). Paul was appealing to the fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions of his Passion. Failure of fulfillment would totally destroy the very foundation of Christianity. Upon what basis can it be said that Jesus had to be resurrected to confirm his Son ship, but, his prophecies of his parousia – the capstone of his soteriological work – (Hebrews 9:28) – did NOT have to be fulfilled?
Hollon seems to be implying that Jesus’ resurrection was the only one of his predictions that had to be fulfilled to vindicate him as the prophet and Son of God. Needless to say, it is foundational. After all, both John in John 20:30-31 and Paul in Romans 1:4 declare that Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But is that the totality of the story? Look at John 10:37-38:
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.
For Jesus therefore, fulfillment of the tasks given to him by the Father – all of them – were the criteria for faith. Among those tasks was his actions in judgment, judgment as he had seen the Father work:
Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him (John 5:19-23).
We cannot fail to note that the Father had judged – and thus, Jesus had seen Him judge – many times in the Tanakh. When He judged, “heaven and earth” was destroyed as, “His voice was made to be heard” and the mountains melted under His feet, the earth shook at His presence and the nations trembled as fire went before Him (Isaiah 64). These are the works that Jesus had seen the Father work and the works that the Father had now given him to do. It should be obvious that Jesus was not drawing on Hellenized notions of eschatology. He was drawing on the diachronic history and language of the Tanakh rather than a synchronic data source. And that source utilized hyperbolic and metaphoric apocalyptic language to describe the judgment praxis of YHVH.
Jesus constantly appealed to the works that he did as the work of the Father: “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36). This would mean that if Jesus’ prediction of his parousia failed, then it would in fact be the work of the Father that failed. How and why would Jesus’ prophecy of his imminent parousia be exempted from Jesus’ challenge to not believe in him if his words did not come true?
The Gospel of John is one “challenge” of Christ after another in which Christ pointed to his works as the definitive proof of his identity as the Son of God. In fact, as John A. T. Robertson noted: “Jesus rests his case on his doing ‘the works of my Father’ (tou patros mou), repeating his claim to sonship and deity.” Leon Morris likewise noted: “Jesus tells them to let his works be the criterion. They show the reality of the situation. He is ready to stand or fall by the works.” It certainly seems disjunctive, based simply on the number of times Jesus predicted his parousia versus the number of times that he predicted his death, to suggest that the predictions of his death had to be fulfilled, but fulfillment of his prophecies of his consummative parousia was not necessary.
Not only did Jesus’ resurrection declare, with power, that he is the Son of God, (Romans 1:4), but it must be remembered that his parousia was to “reveal” him as enthroned in the heavens (Matthew 24:30). His parousia was to reveal him as King of kings and Lord of lords. How would failure of the parousia accomplish anything?
Paul urged Timothy to hold fast until the parousia, by way of a reassuring paranesis:
That you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen (1 Timothy 6:14-16).
So, Paul affirms that one of the purposes of Christ’s epiphany (epiphaneias / ἐπιφανείας) was to show (δείξει / deixei) that he is: “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Just as YHVH’s judgment comings in the Tanakh were to show, “then shall they know that I am God” Christ was to act in judgment for the same reason.
If my count is correct that phrase is used 80+ times in the book of Ezekiel alone, in texts concerning the Day of the Lord. That Day of the Lord would be for the purpose of showing that He is truly God, whether by means of judgment or in blessings. Those Days of the Lord were when, “I have put my sword in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar” (Ezekiel 30:24-25) as noted above. Yet as we have shown, not once had YHVH literally and visibly descended out of heaven. Thus, as the Father had judged and the Son had witnessed that, the Father had committed all judgment prerogative and authority to the Son, “so that men might honor the Son as they honor the Father” (John5:21f).
I suggest that in light of all of this evidence and more that could be adduced, it is not tenable to suggest that Jesus’ predictions of his first century parousia did not have to be fulfilled.
In our next installment, I will examine a very important societal “thought world” that has a significant bearing on our discussion here, so stay tuned!