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    Whiston’s Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies {IV}

    July 7, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    You probably thought that I forgot I was reading this book. Not to fear, I never forget, except when I fail to remember. But books are never far from my heart, even books covering odd subjects, and so it is only natural to spend an afternoon attempting to choose between a nap and a book. The book wins. For now.

    For those of you just joining us, I have been typing out my notes on a work by William Whiston, who is most famous for translating the works of Josephus in the seventeenth century. He did such a great job, we still use his translation today, though often updated for “modern” language and spelling.

    Here are my notes on this current section:

    1. Concerning the “prophetick stile,” as Whiston was apt to spell it, it is explained that prophecy isn’t always expressed in the future tense. Whiston says that future events are instead often referred to in what he calls the praeterperfect sense, in which, at first glance, events sound as if they are already in the past. As an example, he refers to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:

      Who hath believed our report, and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? He was despised and rejected of men; he was despised and we esteemed him not; surely he took away our griefs, and removed our diseases; and we thought him to be stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. And he was wounded for our transgressions, and he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. We have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

      This is a future event that, when translated into English, is written in such a way as to sound like a past event, and this tense is what Whiston calls the praeterperfect sense.

    2. This next insight into the prophetic style of writing is meant to give insight into the point above. Whiston explains that the Prophets {or the Holy Spirit speaking through them} speak as though they are located at a different place in time. Essentially, prophets seem to feel themselves to be at that future point in history about which they are speaking. Then, when they tell others about what they saw, they describe it in that past tense which Whiston above called the praeterperfect sense. As examples, he references Jacob’s blessing upon the twelve patriarchs, many of the messianic and prophetic Psalms, Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Gog of Magog {where the prophet curiously refers to the ancient nature of his own prophecy, making obvious the dramatic length of time he expects before its fulfillment}, and later where Ezekiel claims that this is the day of which the prophecy is speaking, even though he is actually referring to a future event. The idea, again, is the prophets experience their visions as being present and then relay them to others in either the present or the past tense.
    3. Whiston goes on to admit the disjointed nature of prophetic literature. He calls it “short, abrubt, and disturbed by the coming on of other matters of a very different Nature.” At this point he questions whether the prophecies appear in their original order, or whether they have been disturbed over time by their enemies, most especially Antiochus Epiphanes, who attempted to destroy them. He then explains God’s providence that the Holy Books survived all sorts of difficulties, including tyrants, dispersion, and so on.

      On a personal note, this makes me uncomfortable. He seems to think that they would be so much more understandable if we could just put them back in order. But it seems to me that prophecy is by its very nature a mystery {hence Daniel sealing up his scroll}, and Whiston is simply convinced that some new order of pages and paragraphs will automatically cause every other scholar to agree with him. Scholars never agree with each other, and no ordering aright will change this fact. It seems to me strange to be, on the one hand, amazed at how God managed to preserve these texts through wind and storm and war and famine and other misfortunes, and then to doubt that His preservation was altogether perfect, and I don’t mean in regard to a tiny scribal error here and there, but rather the entire ordering of the book of Ezekiel. This is rather akin to expecting the blind man Jesus healed to have need for glasses to correct a mild astigmatism.

      I’m just saying.

      And I’m not a textual critic, and admittedly a little naive in this area.

      Anyhow, after Whiston continues some tangential exposition on the nature of prophetic textual ordering, he reasserts his idea that prophecies are sometimes, but not always, abrupt, short, and disturbed. An instance of this is in the third chapter of Isaiah, where Isaiah explains how horrible it will be for Israel, and how her men will die by the sword, and then suddenly he explains how wonderful it will be for Israel when the Messiah reigns. Whiston explains that often, after describing misery through judgment, prophets will turn around and reference the grace and mercy of God.

      A second example he uses is in the book of Daniel:

      Thus also in the 8th Chapter of Daniel, when the Holy Spirit had been describing the Miseries to be brought on the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, at the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th verses; in the 13th and 14fh verses Daniel hears an Holy One speaking, and another Holy One answering; and the Subject thereof is not at all about Antiochus, but about the Period of the final Miseries of the Jews, and the conclusion of the Pollution or Desolation of the Temple which is not yet over, or the famous 2300 Evening Mornings; after which the Temple is to be cleansed hereafter, as I have shewn upon another occasion. This Prophecy comes in so abruptly, that almost all Commentators have mistook its meaning, and apply’d it to the Times of Antiochus, how little soever the facts could be made to answer such an Interpretation.

      The point of explaining this is to reinforce Whiston’s assertion that, in order to understand prophetic Scripture passages, we must understand the nature of prophetic language.

    And that, my friends, is enough for today.

    Read More:
    Whiston’s Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies
    Whiston’s Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies {II}
    Whiston’s Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies {III}

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  • Reply Brandy July 10, 2009 at 10:41 pm


    I like thinking of it that way: written past-tense because fulfillment is such a certainty. I will remember that!


    It does feel miraculous to be getting our normal life back. Of course, part of the reason I hide out in the office these days is that my husband is sleeping on the couch, but, my, am I glad to have him home! 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer July 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Brandy- it is just a miracle to see you able to post on your normal interests and activities! God is so good. I am blessed to once again be able to read your analyses of all things esoteric : )

  • Reply Mystie July 7, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    My pastor (who has a series going through Isaiah) explained that prophetic tense as the prophecy being so certain, so sure, that it is as good as accomplished already.

    Good for you for keeping up the reading and thinking. A nap won out for me this afternoon, even with a book in hand. 🙂

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