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    Whiston’s Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies

    May 15, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Si and I have been going through various parts of Whiston’s Works of Josephus, which is a ponderous volume, to say the least. You see, in the 1700s, while America was still a distant twinkle in our yet-to-be-born forefathers’ eyes, William Whiston was spending his time translating amazing works from antiquity, including the complete works of the Jewish historian Josephus, as well as other works, such as Euclid’s geomotery. Josephus alone is two or three Bibles in length {maybe longer…I am not good with guessing concrete measures}, and I find myself fascinated that one man could accomplish all of this in one lifetime.

    Anyhow, there are parts of Josephus that I have difficulty understanding, such as when he refers to the fulfillment of certain prophecies. It was not customary for him to write out Scripture references, or even give the dates of the events to which he was referring in the history he was documenting. I was excited, then, to find online {I love you, Google Books!} a collection of eight sermons on this very subject, delivered by Whiston himself, and published in their entirety in 1708, and dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    I thought I’d share some of my notes. I find myself designing at least a term of antiquities study based on such primary sources as Josephus and Philo. Certain people can do this in the original languages, but I think that would be a stretch for our family, which is an understatement.

    Here are some of my notes:

  • Focusing on the writings of the Apostle Peter to the Jewish Christians of his day, Whiston points out that in order to assure these Jewish Christians that their faith is true, Peter consistently appeals

    to the Sure word of Prophecy; or to the ancient Predictions of the Jewish Prophets, and their remarkable completion in Christ Jesus, as another most uncontestcd evidence for the Truth of his Religion. {emphasis his}

  • Whiston gives some basic rules for understanding Prophetic literature:
    1. In Jewish {by this I believe he means Old Testament/Old Covenant} prophecies, a “year” literally means a year.
    2. In Christian prophecies {New Covenant}, a “day” means a year.
    3. We compute these numbers according to how the prophet himself, in his particular age and nation, would have computed them.
    4. Number four sounds just like number three to me and I’m having trouble making the mental distinction. It sounds to me that it is simply re-emphasizing principle three in light of difficult passages he will cover later in his sermons.
    5. Prophecies, especially from the latter part of the Old Testament, which are expressly said to take place in the “last days,” “latter days,” and “time of the end” are not referring to the literal end of the world as we know it, but rather the Last Great Age, which Whiston repeatedly refers to as the “Days of the Messias.” And, no, I don’t know why “Messias” appears to be plural.
    6. Numbers are used with great exactness in prophecy. So, for instance, there is little leeway on either side for some event to happen and still be accurately called a fulfillment. Whiston says that a “year” allows six months on either side, a “week” allows fifteen days on either side, and a “day” only twelve hours.
    7. General words used indefinitely are to be understood in their most remarkable sense. He gives no examples here, but I am anticipating some in the future.
    8. Because so many difficult-seeming {at the time of their writing} prophecies have already been easily and obviously fulfilled, we can trust that the same will be able to be said of those events which have not yet taken place. I took this to mean that we do not need to fret over the possiblity of vague future fulfillments.

    These are Whiston’s fundamental eight principles, and I believe they were considered to be the traditional understanding of the Church over the ages. Am I the only one surprised that he did not explain what a “week” is meant by in the Book of Daniel?

  • More to come…

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Kathy: Sorry your comment sat in moderation so long! I only have the blog set to moderate comments on posts older than a month old, so I don’t have a good habit of checking my mod folder. 🙁

    I’m glad you enjoyed the link. I never did finish reading this because my husband became ill. It’s been a few years now; I’d have to start all over. In situations like this, I wish I had a hard copy!

  • Reply Kathy January 25, 2012 at 3:49 am

    “Messias” isn’t plural, but is (I believe) an English transliteration of the word “Messiah” as it would have been written by the Greeks, when *they* transliterated it from Aramaic. It’s the same reasoning that the KJV spells certain OT names differently when they’re given in the NT, e.g., Isaiah in the OT is frequently (always?) translated Esais in the NT, and Joshua is rendered Jesus, because although they were the same name in the original Hebrew (both Joshua and Jesus meaning “Jehovah saves”, and both spelled/pronounced Yeshua), the names were slightly different when translated out of Hebrew into Greek, when the NT was written.

    Thanks for the link to the 8 sermons; I look forward eagerly to reading it, since I haven’t been able to find a free/online copy of his “Literal Accomplishments of Bible Prophecy”. However, I will be reading it with a grain of salt, after reading more about Whiston, and how that he denied the Trinity and other widely accepted Biblical doctrines, and also that he published a tract titled something along the lines of, “Proof that Jesus returned to heaven the day after His resurrection”, which I cannot believe, since the Bible is quite explicit in multiple places that He remained on earth for many days.

    Still, I am glad that I read “Wars of the Jews” (I’m reading “Antiquities” now, and find it interesting, though fallible — not just that it expands upon some things in the Bible, but that it changes some things, e.g., Joseph’s cup that he framed Benjamin for stealing is silver in the Bible while Josephus has it as being gold. That doesn’t mean I doubt what Josephus records that he actually witnessed or knew of first-hand or second-hand from his time, but rather it shows how the oral traditions became corrupted while the written word was transmitted accurately.

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