4271 cvr final CC.indd“The story of God’s plan for the creation and how that plan is consummated is prophetic from start to finish.”

When most people talk about Biblical prophecy they usually think of what is called predictive prophecy. That is, prophetic statements/utterances from the prophets (the mouthpieces of God) about future events, usually in the distant future; far removed from the original hearers of the prophecy. The line in the sand is not always clear as to what texts of Scripture fit this category, regardless of your eschatological position. But is predictive prophecy all we can talk about when it comes to prophecy?

Far from comprising the majority of prophetic texts, predictive prophecy of the far future is just one category of prophetic texts. In their new book, Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach (Kregel, 2015), authors Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle seek to expand our understanding of what comprises Biblical prophecy and how we understand it in light of all of Scripture.

Defined as “divine communication”, prophecy “is in many respects the flesh and bones of biblical revelation.” (17) Traditionally prophecy has been understood in terms of foretelling (telling the future) and forthtelling (the proclamation of the Word of God). It is the latter understanding under which all of the Bible falls and which the former is only a part of. “A healthy and robust conception of prophecy must carefully navigate the complexity of prophecy” in both of these areas. Even the OT prophets did more than just tell the future on God’s behalf.

Seeing prophecy as “divine communication”, which defines all of the Bible, this book seeks “to give the reader a framework of how to interpret any passage in the context of the Bible.” (9) While not your standard hermeneutics textbook, this book aims at presenting, as the subtitle states, a biblical-theological framework for understanding prophecy. They answer the question, “How are the various aspects of Biblical prophecy to be understood in light of the whole Bible’s narrative?”

While the authors have different eschatological views (Bandy is historic premillennial and Merkle is amillennial), they have much in common that enables them to write this book together. There is much about this book that does not chart new ground. It covers the standard definitions of prophecy, the threefold categories of unconditional, conditional, and fulfilled prophecy, messianic prophecies, and the fulfillment of the future prophecies of the NT. These areas are standard fair when discussing prophecy.

What makes this book stand out (perhaps more so from most books on prophecy) is its theological bent. Since neither of the authors are Dispensational premillennial (thus they do not believe in a future 7 year tribulation), their understanding of what constitutes as a biblical-theological approach is different than what a Dispensational premillennialist approach would be. This is not a book that Dispensational premillennialist would use to support their views; though reading it might change or, at least, sharpen their eschatological minds.

This is a book that has a distinct view of the eschatological nature of prophecy, Jesus as the center and fulfillment of prophecy, the nature and future of the land promises to Israel, typology, etc. All of these pre-understandings shape how the authors tackle the traditional topics on prophecy; namely, who constitutes Israel, does ethnic Israel have a future, and relationship between Jesus and the land promises given to ethnic Israel.

As an historic premillennialist myself, I found myself loving much of the book while thinking some of it went to far. Each reader will have a different experience. One of the areas of contention I had is the significance the authors place on the first coming, death, and resurrection of Jesus within redemptive history as it relates to prophecy. A few quotes will suffice to show this.

A gospel-centered hermeneutic filters all prophecy through the lens of the resurrected Christ. This biblical-theological perspective sees Christ as the center of redemptive history, the pinnacle of divine revelation, and the fulfillment of the broad sweep of biblical prophecy. (29)

Many who read the Old Testament tend to read certain prophecies (especially Old Testament promises concerning the restoration of ethnic Israel) as being fulfilled not in the first coming of Christ, but only in his second coming. It is our contention that this is a flawed way of reading such prophecies. (82)

But if we interpret the many Old Testament restoration prophecies regarding the nation of Israel literalistically, then we are forced to say that such prophecies do not find their fulfillment in God’s greatest work. Instead, the first coming of Christ becomes ignored and all attention shifts to Christ’s second coming and the millennial kingdom. (119)

Affirming that the restored people of Israel will rebuild the temple, reinstate the priesthood, and restore animal sacrifices, seems to minimize the complete and perfect work of Christ. His death and resurrection is the focal point of God’s great work in redemptive history. To go back to the shadows and image of the Old Testament is to neglect the centrality of Christ’s finished work on the cross. (123)

To be clear, I can sympathize with a number of statements in here and certainly, the necessity of upholding the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ. However, there seems to be a conflation between the first and second coming of Christ in what they are intended to do, signify, and what is to happen afterwards. While some may ask Christ to do too much at His second coming, it seems the authors have done the opposite with His first.

Christ’s first coming does signify the beginning of the fulfillment of many OT prophecies concerning the end of the age as well as actually completely fulfilling others. However, it does not completely fulfill ALL OT prophecies concerning the end of the age. This is ok because it was not intended to and to say so does not equate to the minimization of its significance. Christ’s first coming is the beginning of the end and His second coming will bring it to its end. They both play a role in redemptive history. We cannot talk about the first coming, death, and resurrection of Christ such that His second coming is nothing more than a period at the end of a sentence. Christ’s second coming will complete what His first began.

While the above represents what is perhaps a major critique, it should not distract from the good use that this book has. Astute readers will be able to gain much from this book even while disagreeing with some of its theological foundations and conclusions. Some of the best books to read on various subjects have part with which readers may strongly disagree. This is one of those.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”