(Heb. nebuah; Gr. prophemteia). The word used in the OT to describe the message of men who spoke to the people of Israel under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. This message, often introduced with a “thus saith the Lord,” came sometimes in the form of a commandment; sometimes as a promise of deliverance either in the immediate or more remote future; sometimes as a word of judgment and condemnation; and sometimes as a word of admonition, a lamentation, hymn of praise, or the like. In the written form in which OT prophecy has been preserved for us, these various types of oral utterance have been worked together either by the prophet himself or by later editors to convey his total message.

In declaring his message-be it one of reproof and admonition of the wicked, or one of comfort and consolation for the righteous-the prophet is always conscious of the fact that he speaks as God's mouthpiece, that his word is the word of Him who is the Lord of history, who declares “the end from the beginning” and makes His counsel to stand

Isa. 46:10). It is for this reason that the prophet's message embraces the future (“foretelling” as well as “forthtelling”) and that the people know that what does not come to pass is not spoken of the Lord (Deut. 18:22). (The ultimate test of true prophecy, however, is not the outcome of a prediction, but faithfulness to the relevation given through Moses-Deut. 13. Much has been said about the nature of prophetic inspiration in an effort to understand how the word of the Lord came to certain men in a unique way; but it is doubtful that we can say more than that the prophets were personally aware of a mighty divine influence which came over them and gave the words that they used the ultimate authority of a message from God Himself. (Hence the New English Bible correctly concludes many prophetic oracles with: “This is the very word of the Lord.”)

Whereas the spoken word is the primary form of prophecy, the prophets sometimes embodied the word in symbolic acts to convey their message. Isaiah walked naked and barefoot (Isa. 20); Jeremiah shattered a potter's vessel (Jer. 19); Ezekiel dug through a wall (Ezek. 12); and Ahijah rent his coat, giving ten pieces to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29f.). One might assimilate these symbolic acts to the visible word of the sacraments in the NT.

Prophecy, in the NT, means much the same things as in the Old, only now the word of consolation and admonition, as well as the word of prediction, relates to Christ and His kingdom and to His coming triumph over the powers of evil in the world. (In this sense the Apocalypse as a whole is called a word of prophecy-Rev. 1:3; 22:18,19.) In contrast with the OT, every Christian, in a sense, is a prophet, since the Spirit of Christ has come upon all flesh “and they shall prophesy.” In the NT church, however, there seems to have been a special group called “prophets” who were next to the apostles in rank, though ministering to a single congregation (“in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers”-1 Cor. 12:28). It would seem from this passage that Paul gave great weight to the gift of prophecy as uniquely edifying to the church. It was a gift used in the worshiping congregation; it involved the knowledge and communication of spiritual truths, resting upon inspiration; it was uttered, not in ecstatic, but rational, speech; and, in contrast with teaching, which was bound to the “tradition,” prophecy had the character of revelation (see 1 Cor. 12-14 passim). However the “spirits” are to be “discerned” (1 Cor. 14:29), the criterion being the “analogy of the faith” (Rom. 12:6), that is, the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints by the apostles, who were the ultimate authoritative teachers in the church.

The exact content of these prophecies is difficult to ascertain, but evidently they consisted of utterances given by a sudden impulse in the form of a lofty discourse and in praise of the divine goodness and wisdom-utterances which illuminated the truth in a way that could not be achieved by reason alone.

Note the juxtaposition of “the gift of prophecy” and the understanding of “all mysteries and all knowledge” in 1 Corinthians 13:2. With death of the apostles, who had no successors, gradually those with the gift of prophecy also disappeared, so that from the third century onward, of the original triad of apostles, prophets, and teachers, there remained only the teachers. In the Didache the church is admonished to respect apostles and prophets, if they are true prophets, and instructions are given concerning them which would indicate that they were wandering teachers who might settle with a given congregation for a certain length of time.

The author of the Didache, Justin Martyr,* and Eusebius all discuss the problem of false prophecy. With the rise of Montanism* in the second century claiming new prophetic insights which did not correspond with the tradition received from the apostles, the church began to distinguish such prophecies from the true prophecies contained in Scripture. From this time on, the prophetic gift appears here and there, but increasingly it gives place to teaching. By the time of Hippolytus (235) and Origen (250), the word “prophecy” is limited to the prophetic portions of Scripture. In the place of the prophet one finds the teacher, specifically the catechist and apologist, who oppose all false doctrine and seek to support their exposition of true doctrine by appealing to the authoritative word of Scripture.

Enthusiasts have arisen on the fanatical fringe of the church down through the ages, claiming prophetic inspiration. Their followers, however, like those of Theudas and Judas, have, for the most part, come to nought. In our own day, Pentecostal assemblies have revived what they believe to be the NT “gift of prophecy.” It differs from tongues in that it is given in intelligible speech, but unlike conventional preaching, it is unprepared and spontaneous. It is not given to fanaticism.

A.B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy (1903); H.H. Rowley (ed.), Studies in Old Testament Prophecy (1946); H.A. Guy, New Testament Prophecy, Its Origins and Significance (1947).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

prof’-e-si, prof’-e-si, prof’-ets:


1. The Seer and Speaker of God

2. Prophetical Inspiration

3. Relation to Dreams

4. Freedom of Inspiration

5. Supernatural Visions of the Future

6. The Fulfillment


1. Abraham

2. Moses

3. Period of the Judges

4. Schools of Prophets

5. Period of the Kings

6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea

7. Poetical Form of Prophecy

8. Prophets of Judah, Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah

9. During the Exile, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Daniel

10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

11. Cessation of Prophecy

12. Prophecy in the nodetitle


1. Contents of Prophecy

2. Conception of the Messiah

3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance)

4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples

5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah)

6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy

8. Partial Character of Prophecy

9. Perspective Character of Prophecy


1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft

2. The Mantle Art

3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles


I. The Idea of Biblical Prophecy.

1. The Seer and Speaker of God:

According to the uniform teaching of the Bible the prophet is a speaker of or for God. His words are not the production of his own spirit, but come from a higher source. For he is at the same time, also, a seer, who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive; compare 1Sa 9:9, where nabhi’, "speaker," and ro’eh, "seer," are used as synonymous terms. Jer 23:16 and Eze 13:2 f are particularly instructive in this regard. In these passages a sharp distinction is made between those persons who only claim to be prophets but who prophesy "out of their own heart," and the true prophets who declare the word which the Lord has spoken to them. In the latter case the contents of the prophecy have not originated in their own reflection or calculation; and just as little is this prophecy the product of their own feelings, fears or hopes, but, as something extraneous to man and independent of him, it has with a divine certainty entered the soul of the prophet. The prophet has seen that which he prophesies, although he need not have seen it in the form of a real vision. He can also "see" words with his inner eyes (Isa 2:1, and often). It is only another expression for this when it is frequently said that God has spoken to the prophet. In this case too it is not necessary that there must have been a voice which he could hear phonetically through his natural ear. The main thing is that he must have been able sharply to distinguish the contents of this voice from his own heart, i.e. from his personal consciousness. Only in this way is he capable of speaking to the people in the name of God and able to publish his word as that of Yahweh. In this case he is the speaker of Yahweh (nabhi’), or the mouth of the Lord (compare Eze 7:1 with 4:16). Under these conditions he then regards it as absolute compulsion to speak, just as a person must be filled with fear when he hears a lion roar nearby (Am 3:8). The words burn in his soul until he utters them (Jer 20:7,9).

2. Prophetical Inspiration:

3. Relation to Dreams:

In a certain respect the dream can be cited as an analogous phenomenon, in which also the ideas that are slumbering in the soul uninvited put in their appearance without being controlled by consciousness and reason. On the other hand, prophecy differs pecifically from dreams, first, because the genuine prophetical utterance is received when the prophet is clearly conscious, and, secondly, because such an utterance brings with it a much greater degree of certainty and a greater guaranty of its higher origin than is done even by a dream that seems to be prophetical. In Jer 23:25 ff it is declared that these two are entirely dissimilar, and the relation between the two is compared to straw and wheat. The Moslem Arabs also put a much lower estimate on the visionary dream than on the prophetic vision in a waking condition.

4. Freedom of Inspiration:

5. Supernatural Visions of the Future:

The attempt has often been made to explain prophecy as a natural product of purely human factors. Rationalistic theologians regarded the prophets as enthusiastic teachers of religion and morals, as warm patriots and politicians, to whom they ascribed nothing but a certain ability of guessing the future. But this was no explanation of the facts in the case. The prophets were themselves conscious of this, that they were not the intellectual authors of their higher knowledge. This consciousness is justified by the fact that they were in a condition to make known things which lay beyond their natural horizon and which were contrary to all probability. Those cases are particularly instructive in this respect which beyond a doubt were recorded by the prophets themselves. Ezekiel could indeed, on the basis of moral and religious reflections, reach the conviction that Zedekiah of Jerusalem would not escape his punishment for his political treachery and for his disobedience to the word of Yahweh; but he could never from this source have reached the certainty that this king, as the prophet describes the case in 12:8 ff, was to be taken captive while trying to escape from the besieged city and was then to be blinded and taken to Babylon. Just as little could he in Babylon know the exact day when the siege of Jerusalem began (24:2). If this prophet had learned of these things in a natural way and had afterward clothed them in the form of prophecy, he would have been guilty of a deception, something unthinkable in the case of so conscientious a preacher of morality. But such cases are frequently met with. Jeremiah predicts to Hananiah that he would die during the year (28:16), but it is not only such matters of detail that presuppose an extraordinary vision of the prophet. The whole way also in which Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as inevitable, in direct contrast to the hopes of the Jerusalemites and to the desires of his own heart, shows that he was speaking under divine compulsion, which was more powerful than his own reflections and sympathies. On any other presupposition his conduct would have been reprehensible cowardice. The case of Isaiah is exactly the same. When he gives to Ahaz the word of God as a guaranty that the Syrians and the Ephraimites would not capture Jerusalem (7:4 ff), and when he promises Hezekiah that the Assyrians would not shoot an arrow into the city, but would return without having accomplished their purpose (37:22,33), these things were so much in contradiction to all the probabilities of the course events would take that he would have been a frivolous adventurer had he not received his information from higher sources. Doubtless it was just these predictions which established and upheld the influence of the prophets. Thus in the case of Amos it was his prediction of a great earthquake, which did occur two years later (1:1); in the case of Elijah, the prediction of the long dearth (1Ki 17:1); in the case of Elisha the undertakings of the enemies (2Ki 6:12), and in other cases. It is indeed true that the contents of the prophetic discourses are not at all confined to the future. Everything that God has to announce to mankind, revelations concerning His will, admonitions, warnings, He is able to announce through the mouth of the prophet. But His determinations with reference to the future as a rule are connected with prophetical utterances of the latter kind. The prophets are watchmen, guardians of the people, who are to warn the nation, because they see the dangers and the judgments approaching, which must put in their appearance if the divine will is disregarded. The prophets interpret also for the people that which is happening and that which has occurred, e.g. the defeats which they have suffered at the hands of their enemies, or the grasshopper plague (Joel), or a famine. They lay bare the inner reason for external occurrences and explain such events in their connection with the providential government of God. This gives to prophecy a powerful inner unity, notwithstanding the great differences of times and surrounding circumstances. It is prophecy which the Hebrew people must thank for their higher conception of history. This people know of a Highest Author of all things and of a positive end, which all things that transpire must serve. God’s plan has for its purpose to bring about the complete supremacy of His will among the children of men.

6. The Fulfillment:

II. Historical Development of the Prophetic Office.

1. Abraham:

It is a characteristic peculiarity of the religion of the Old Testament that its very elementary beginnings are of a prophetical nature. The fathers, above all Abraham, but also Isaac and Jacob, are the recipients of visions and of divine revelations. Especially is this true of Abraham, who appeared to the foreigners, to whom he was neither kith or kin, to be indeed a prophet (nabhi’) (Ge 20:7; compare Ps 105:15), although in his case the command to preach the word was yet absent.

2. Moses:

Above all, the creative founder of the Israelite national religion, Moses, is a prophet in the eminent sense of the word. His influence among the people is owing neither to his official position, nor to any military prowess, but solely and alone to the one circumstance, that since his call at the burning bush God has spoken to him. This intercourse between God and Moses was ever of a particularly intimate character. While other men of God received certain individual messages only from time to time and through the mediation of dreams and visions, Yahweh spoke directly and "face to face" with Moses (Nu 12:6 ff; De 34:10; compare Ex 33:11). Moses was the permanent organ through whom Yahweh brought about the Egyptian plagues and through whom He explained what these meant to His people, as also through whom He led and ruled them. The voice of Moses too had to explain to them the divine signs in the desert and communicate to them the commandments of God. The legislation of Moses shows that he was not only filled with the Spirit of God occasionally, but that he abode with God for longer periods of time and produced something that is a well-ordered whole. A production such as the Law is the result of a continuous association with God.

3. Period of the Judges:

Since that time revelation through prophecy was probably never entirely wanting in Israel (De 18:15). But this fountain did not always flow with the same fullness or clearness. During the period of the Judges the Spirit of God urged the heroes who served Yahweh rather to deeds than to words. Yet Deborah enjoyed a high rank as a prophetess, and for a long time pronounced decisions of justice in the name of the Lord before she, through her prophetical utterances, aroused the people to rise up against their oppressors. What is said in 1Sa 3:1 concerning the times of Eli can be applied to this whole period, namely that the word and vision of the prophet had become rare in the land. All the more epoch-making was the activity of Samuel, who while yet a boy received divine revelations (1Sa 3:1 ). He was by the whole people regarded as a "seer" whose prophecies were always fulfilled (3:19 f). The passage 1Sa 9:6 ff shows that the people expected of such a man of God that he should also as a clairvoyant come to the assistance of the people in the troubles of life. Such a professional clairvoyant, indeed, Samuel was not, as he was devoted entirely to the service of his God and of his people and obeyed the Divine Spirit, even in those cases when he was compelled to act contrary to his personal inclinations, as was the case when the kingdom was established in Israel (8:6 ff).

4. Schools of Prophets:

Since the days of Samuel we hear of schools of prophets, or "sons of prophets." These associations probably originated in this way, that an experienced prophet attracted to himself bands of youths, who sought to receive a measure of his spirit. These disciples of the prophets, together with their families, lived in colonies around the master. Possibly Samuel was the first who founded such a school of prophets. For in or near the city of Ramah we first find nayoth, or colonies of such disciples (1Sa 19:18 f; 20:1). Among these pupils is found to a much greater extent than among the teachers a certain ecstatic feature. They arouse their feelings through music and induce a frantic condition which also affects others in the same way, in which state they "prophesy" and, throwing off their garments, fall to the ground. In later times too we find traces of such ecstatic phenomena. Thus e.g. in Zec 13:6; 1Ki 20:37,38, the "wounds" on the breast or on the forehead recall the self-mutilation of the priests of Baal (1Ki 18:28). The deeds, suggestive of what the dervishes of our own day do, probably were phenomena quite similar to the action of the prophets of the surrounding tribes. But that prophecy in Israel was not, as is now not infrequently claimed, merely a less crude form of the heathen prophetic institution, is proved by such men as Moses and Samuel, who even in their times represent something much higher. Also in the colonies of prophets there was assuredly not to be found merely an enthusiasm without the Spirit of God. Proof for this is Samuel, the spiritual father of this colony, as Elijah was for the later colonies of this kind. These places were rather the centers of a religious life, where communion with God was sought by prayer and meditation, and where the recollection of the great deeds of God in the past seemed to prepare for the reception of new revelations. From such centers of theocratic ideas and ideals without a doubt there came forth also corresponding influences that affected the people. Perhaps not only was sacred music cultivated at these places but also sacred traditions, which were handed down orally and in writing. Certain it is that at these colonies the religion of Yahweh prevailed.

5. Period of the Kings:

6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea:

However, the flourishing condition of the kingdom under Jeroboam II had an unfavorable influence on its spiritual development. Soon Amos and Hosea were compelled to announce to this kingdom its impending destruction through a great world-power. These two prophets have left us books. To put prophetic utterances into written form had already been introduced before this. At any rate, many scholars are of the conviction that the prophecies of Obadiah and Joe belong to an earlier period, although others place them in the post-exilic period. In any case, the expectation of a day of settlement by Yahweh with His people was already in the days of Amos common and current (5:18 ff). As the writing of individual prophecies (Isa 8:1 f; 30:8; Hab 2:2 f) had for its purpose the preserving of these words in permanent authentic form and later to convince the reader of their wonderful fulfillment, thus too the writing down of larger collections of prophecies had for its purpose to intensify the power of the prophetic word and to secure this as a permanent possession of the people (Jer 30:2; 36:1 ). Pupils of the prophets assisted them in this writing and in preserving their books (compare Jer 36:4; Isa 8:16).

7. Poetical Form of Prophecy:

It is to this custom that we owe our knowledge of the very words of the utterances of many of the prophets of a later period. In addition to the larger books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, we have a number of smaller prophetical books, which have been united into the Book of the Twelve Prophets. These utterances as a rule exhibited an elevated form of language and are more or less poetical. However, in modern times some scholars are inclined to go too far in claiming that these addresses are given in a carefully systematized metrical form. Hebrew meter as such is a freer form of expression than is Arabic or Sanskrit meter, and this is all the more the case with the discourses of the prophets, which were not intended for musical rendering, and which are expressed in a rhythmically-constructed rhetoric, which appears now in one and then in another form of melody, and often changes into prose.

8. Prophets in Judah Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah:

9. During the Exile, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Daniel:

In the time of the exile itself we find the period of the activity of Ezekiel. It was significant that this prophet became the recipient of divine revelations while on Babylonian territory. His work was, in accordance with the condition of affairs, more that of a pastor and literary man. He seems also to have been a bodily sufferer. His abnormal conditions became symbolical signs of that which he had to proclaim. Deutero-Isaiah, too (Isa 40 ), spoke during the Babylonian period, namely at its close, and prepared for the return. The peculiar prophecies of Daniel are also accorded to a prophet living during the exile, who occupied a distinguished position at the court of the heathen rulers, and whose apocalyptic utterances are of a kind different from the discourses of the other prophets, as they deal more with the political condition of the world and the drama of history, in so far as this tends toward the establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh. These prophecies were collected in later times and did not receive their final and present form until the Greek period at the beginning of the 2nd century BC.

10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi:

After the return from Babylon the Jews were exhorted by Haggai and Zechariah to rebuild their temple (about 520 BC). At that time there were still to be found prophets who took a hostile attitude to the men of God. Thus Nehemiah (Ne 6:6-14) was opposed by hostile prophets as also by a prophetess, Noadiah. In contrast with these, Malachi is at all times in accord with the canonical prophets, as he was an ardent advocate for the temple cult of Yahweh, not in the sense of a spiritless and senseless external worship, but as against the current indifference to Yahweh. His style and his language, too, evidence a late age. The lyrical form has given way to the didactic. This is also probably the time when the present Book of Jonah was written, a didactic work treating of an older tradition.

11. Cessation of Prophecy:

Malachi is regarded by the Jews as the last really canonical prophet. While doubtless there was not a total lack of prophetically endowed seers and speakers of God also in the closing centuries of the pre-Christian era, nevertheless the general conviction prevailed that the Spirit of God was no longer present, e.g. in the times of the Maccabees (compare 1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). It is true that certain modern critics ascribe some large sections of the Book of Isa, as well as of other prophets, even to a period as late as the Greek. But this is refuted by the fact mentioned in Ecclesiasticus (beginning of the 2nd century BC) that in the writer’s time the prophetical Canon appeared already as a closed collection. Daniel is not found in this collection, but the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets is. It was during this period that apocalyptic literature began to flourish, many specimens of which are foundamong the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These books consist of eschatological speculations, not the product of original inspiration, but emanating from the study of the prophetic word. The very name Pseudepigrapha shows that the author issued his work, not under his own name, but under the pseudonym of some man of God from older times, such as Enoch, Ezra, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, and others. This fact alone proves the secondary character of this class of literature.

See Apocalyptic Literature.

12. Prophecy in the New Testament:

III. Historical Development of Prophecy.

1. Contents of Prophecy:

The contents of prophecy are by no means merely predictions concerning the future. That which is given by the Spirit to the prophet can refer to the past and to the present as well as to the future. However, that which is revealed to the prophet finds its inner unity in this, that it all aims to establish the supremacy of Yahweh. Prophecy views also the detailed events in their relation to the divine plan, and this latter has for its purpose the absolute establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh in Israel and eventually on the entire earth. We are accustomed to call those utterances that predict this final purpose the Messianic prophecies. However, not only those that speak of the person of the Messiah belong to this class, but all that treat of the coming of the kingdom of God.

2. Conception of the Messiah:

The beginnings of the religion of Israel, as also the chief epoch in its development, emanated from prophetical revelations. The prophet Moses elevated the tribal religion into a national religion, and at the same time taught the people to regard the religion of the fathers more ethically, spiritually and vitally. Samuel crowned the earthly form of the concrete theocracy by introducing an "Anointed of Yahweh" in whom the covenant relation between Yahweh and Israel was concentrated personally. The Anointed of the Lord entered into a much more intimate relationship to Yahweh as His Son or Servant than it was possible for the whole people of Israel to do, although as a people they were also called the servant or the son of God (compare Ps 2:7 f; 110). The Psalms of David are a proof of this, that this high destiny of the kingdom was recognized. David himself became a prophet in those hymns in which he describes his own unique relation to Yahweh. But the actual kings of history as a rule corresponded too imperfectly to this idea. For this reason the word "prophetic" already in David’s time directs to the future, when this relationship shall be more perfectly realized (2Sa 7:12 ; compare David’s own words, 2Sa 23:4 ).

See Messiah.

3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance):

4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples:

In recent times scholars have pointed to the fact that in the old Orient, among the Egyptians, the Babylonians and elsewhere, the expectation of a miraculously-born King of the future, who was to bring to His own people and to all nations salvation and peace, was entertained at an early period. Yet so much is certain, that Isaiah and Micah did not base their hopes on the vague dreams of the Gentileworld, but upon the prophetic establishment of a divine sanctuary and kingdom of Zion. The personal figure of this Son of David is not so much in the foreground in the other prophets down to the period of the exile. These prophets mention only casually the Good Shepherd, as e.g. Jer 23:1 ff; 33:12 ff; Eze 34:23 f. But after that time this Messianic expectation became a permanent element in the hopes of Israel.

5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah):

Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40:1-66:24), during the time of the Babylonian captivity, enriches prophecy in an extraordinary manner, through the figure of the true "Servant of Yahweh," who in a peaceful way, through his words of instruction and especially through his innocent sufferings and his vicarious deeds, converts Israel, the undeserving servant, and also wins over the Gentileworld to Yahweh. It was not possible that the picture of a suffering man of God, who through his death as a martyr attains to exaltation, should be suggested to the Jews by the altogether different figure of a death and resurrection of a Babylonian god (Thammuz-Adonis!). Since the unjust persecutions of Joseph and David they were acquainted with the sufferings of the just, and Jeremiah’s life as a prophet was a continuous martyrdom. But the writer of the second part of Isaiah had before his eyes a vision that far excelled all of these types in purity and in greatness to such a degree as did David’s Son in Isaiah and Micah surpass His great ancestor. He brings to a completion the kingdom of God through teaching, suffering and death, and attains to the glory of rulership. In this way He unites the offices of prophet, priest and king.

6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi):

After the exile prophecy continues its work. The Messianic expectations, too, are developed further by Haggai, and still more by Zechariah. Malachi announces the advent of the Day of Yahweh, but expects before this a complete purification of the people of God. God Himself will come, and His angel will prepare the way for Him. The visions of Daniel picture the transformation of the world into a kingdom of God. The latter will mark the end of the history of the world. It comes from above; the earthly kingdoms are from below, and are pictured as beasts; the Ruler of the kingdom of God is a Son of man. The latter comes with the clouds of the heaven to take possession of His kingdom (Da 7:13 ). Then the judgment of the world will take place and include also each human being, who before this will bodily arise from the dead, in order to enter upon blessedness or condemnation. Here we find indicated a universal expansion of the kingdom of God extending over the whole world and all mankind.

7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy:

If we survey this prophecy of the kingdom of God and its divinely-blessed Ruler, the Messiah, from a Christian standpoint, we find that a grand divine unity connects its different elements. The form of this prophecy is indeed conditioned by the views and ideas of the time of utterance. The prophets were compelled to speak so that their hearers could understand them. Only gradually these limitations and forms become spiritualized, e.g. the kingdom of God is still pictured by the prophets as established around the local center of Zion. Mt. Zion is in a concrete manner exalted, in order to give expression to its importance, etc. It is the New Testament fulfillment that for the first time gives adequate form to divine revelation. At least in the person of Jesus Christ this perfection is given, although the full unfolding of this kingdom is yet a matter of the future.

8. Partial Character of Prophecy:

A second characteristic feature of prophecy is the partial nature of the individual prophetical utterances and prophetical pictures. One picture must be supplemented by the others, in order not to be misunderstood. Thus, e.g. according to Isa 11:14; Zec 9:13 ff, we might expect that the kingdom of God was to be established by force of arms. But the same prophets show in other utterances (Isa 9:6 f; Zec 9:9 f) that these warlike expressions are to be understood figuratively, since the Messianic King is more than all others a Prince of Peace.

9. Perspective Character of Prophecy:

A third feature that deserves attention is the perspective character of prophecy. The prophet sees together and at once upon the surface of the pictures things which are to be fulfilled only successively and gradually. Thus, e.g. Deutero-Isaiah sees in the near future the return from captivity, and directly connected with this a miraculous glorification of the city of God. The return did as a matter of fact take place soon afterward, but the glorification of the city in which Yahweh Himself had promised to dwell was yet in the distant future. The succeeding prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, predict that this consummation shall take place in the future.

Also in the predictions concerning the future made by Jesus and in the Apocalypse of John these characteristics of prophecy, its contemporaneous and perspective and at times symbolical features, are not disregarded. The firm prophetic word is intended to give the congregation certain directive lines and distinctive work. But an adequate idea of what is to come the Christian church will become compelled to form for itself, when the fulfillment and completion shall have taken place.

IV. Analogous Phenomena among the Gentiles. 1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft:

The uniqueness of Biblical prophecy is grasped fully only when we try to find analogies among the Gentile peoples. Here we find everywhere indeed the art of sooth-saying, the headquarters for which was Babylon. But with this art the prophecy of the Old Testament stands out in bold contrast (compare the prohibitions in Le 19:26,31; 20:6,27; De 18:10 ff, prohibitions that refer to necromancy for the purpose of discovering the future). This art was practiced through a medium, a person who had an ’obh (Babylonian, ubi), i.e. a spirit that brought forth the dead in order to question them. The spirits were thought to speak in murmurings or piping sounds (Isa 8:19), which could be imitated by the medium (ventriloquist). According to the Law, which forbade this under penalty of death, Saul had tried to destroy those who practiced incantations, who generally were women (1Sa 28:9). This practice, however, continued to flourish. In addition, the Babylonians and other peoples had also a developed art of interpretation in order to find omens for the future. Especially was the examination of intestines practiced by them. The liver of sacrificial animals particularly was carefully examined, and, from this, predictions, good or bad, were inferred (compare Eze 21:21). See Divination. This art passed over from the Babylonions to the seafaring Etruscans, and through these came to the Romans. But other phenomena also were by the different nations interpreted as prophetically significant and were by those skilled in this art interpreted accordingly. Among these were miscarriages by human beings and animals, the actions of hens, horses, the flight of birds, earthquakes, forms of the clouds, lightning, and the like. Further, mechanical contrivances were used, such as casting of lots, stones, sticks, etc.

2. The Mantic Art:

More spiritual and popular was the interpretation of dreams. It also was the case that mediums intentionally would convert themselves into a semi-waking trance. In this way the suitable mediums attained to a certain kind of clairvoyance, found among various peoples. This approaches the condition of an ecstatically aroused pseudo-prophet, of whom mention is made above. In Greece, too, oracles were pronounced by the Pythian prophetess, who by vapors and the like was aroused to a practice of the mantic article In Dodona it was the voice of the divinity in Nature, which they sought to read in the rustling of the trees and the murmuring of the water. How uncertain these sources were was well known to heathen antiquity. The ancients complain of the enigmatical character of the Sibylline utterances and the doubtful nature of what was said. See Religion in Ancient Greece. In contrast to this, Israel knows that it possesses in prophecy a clear word (Nu 23:23).

3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles:

But the contents also of the Biblical prophecies are unique through their spiritual uniformity and greatness. The oracle at Delphi, too, at times showed a certain moral elevation and could be regarded as the conscience of the nation. But how insignificant and meager was that which it offered to those who questioned it, in comparison with the spontaneous utterances of the prophets of Israel! Also what has in recent times been said concerning the "prophetical texts" from ancient Egypt (Gressmann, Texte und Bilder, I, 20 ff) may indeed show some external similarity to the prophecies of Israel; but they lack the spiritual and religious depth and the strictly ethical dignity of the prophets of the Scriptures, as also the consistency with which these from century to century reveal the thoughts of God and make known with constantly increasing clearness their purposes and goal.


Witsius, De prophetis et prophetia, 1731; Chr. A. Crusius, Hypomnemata ad theologiam propheticam, Part I, 1764; A. Knobel, Der Prophetismus der Hebraer, 1837; F. B. Koester, Die Propheten des Altes Testament und New Testament, 1838; B. Duhm, Die Theologie der Propheten; Kuenen, The Prophets and Prophecy in Israel; F. E. Koenig, Der Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, 1882; C. von Orelli, Die alttestamentliche Weissagung von der Vollendung des Gottesreiches, 1882; W. Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History, 1882; E. Riehm, Die messianische Weissagung, English translation, 1885; Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecy, 1891; A. T. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; G. French Oehler, Theologie des A T, 1891; Ed. Koenig, Dos Berufungsbewusstsein der alttestamentlichen Propheten, 1900; F. H. Woods, The Hope of Israel, 1896; R. Kraetzschmar, Prophet und Seher im alten Israel, 1902; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903; Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und dos A T, 1902; C. von Orelli, Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte; M. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 1903; Gressmann, Ursprung der israelitisch-judischen Eschatologie, 1905; W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 1905; C. S. Macfarland, Jesus and the Prophets, 1905; G. G. Findlay, The Books of the Prophets in Their Historical Succession, 1906-7; Gressmann, Alt-orientalische Texte und Bilder zum A T, 1909; Selwyn, Christian Prophets.

C. von Orelli