Prophecy doesn’t justify Trump’s Jerusalem statement

Dec 14, 2017 by

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In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, the evangelist Pat Robertson welcomed President Trump’s announcement about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “It’s absolutely crucial in terms of biblical prophecy,” Robertson said.

While I know firsthand the harsh conditions imposed on Palestinians, my comments here focus on the claim that actions today by and for modern Israel are justified by “biblical prophecy.”

Like many evangelicals, Robertson believes the modern state of Israel fulfills a biblical prediction that was a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus. The near return of Jesus is then linked, it is believed, to supporting the state of Israel regardless of how it acts and in spite of the political consequences. The question of Jerusalem is a piece of this scenario.

The scenario is based on predictions that describe a shifting collection of entities, including the United States and Russia, the United Nations, a worldwide banking system involving credit cards and the internet, and much more. None of these things were close to coming into existence when the Bible was written.

The predictions use selected verses, taken from Hebrew and Greek scriptures, written 2,000 or more years ago, across a wide span of time by multiple authors addressing a variety of contexts. The claim is that these references, lifted out of their original contexts, form a unified prediction of events happening some 2,000 years in the future.

All writers expect their audiences to be able to understand what is written. But to both authors and early readers, nonexistent nations in a nonexistent United Nations on an unknown continent and a world linked by late 20th-century technology would be mere gibberish.

Proponents of predictions will claim that God can do anything and thus God could have guided the biblical authors to send a message to 21st-century readers. But that claim makes God deceitful, since the authors thought they knew their audience, and the readers assumed it was addressed to them and they could understand.

Besides, Robertson and company are not the first to make such predictions. There is a long history, stretching back to the early Middle Ages, of efforts to use the Bible to identify future events coming true for contemporary readers. Absolutely all — 100 percent — of such predictions have been wrong. For a recent survey of such 20th-century predictions, see When Time Shall Be No More by the late University of Wisconsin professor Paul Boyer. The reason these predictions fail is that the authors were not making predictions: They were addressing readers in their own time.

To understand the biblical materials, we need to take seriously the original audience. When the Hebrew prophets warned about the destruction of the Israelites, it was Assyrian or Babylonian armies that threatened. When a prophet spoke of a return, it concerned return from the Babylonian exile. When the Gospels have warnings, it is about looming devastation if Rome is provoked — which happened with the destruction of the city in 70 CE. The seven seals in Revelation are not seven ages of world history but symbolic references to the emperors who ruled between the time of Jesus and the time of the book’s author.

Since the Bible is not making predictions about things impossible for the original readers to grasp, Bible readers should stop judging actions and policy today on the basis of the failed idea of predictions. Those who want to apply the Bible should consider the many texts from the Hebrew prophets that speak of letting “justice roll down like waters,” and the words of Jesus who quoted one of those prophets when he announced that his mission would “proclaim release to the captives” and “let the oppressed go free.” Following these biblical statements would reorient Middle East policy greatly.

J. Denny Weaver is professor emeritus of religion at Bluffton (Ohio) University. He is a member of Madison (Wis.) Mennonite Church. This article was originally published in The Cap Times of Madison.


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