Understanding Old Testament Prophesy

A TEST CASE.Joel 2:28-32

In order to understand the prophetic prediction of Joel 2:28-32 and it’s correlating fulfillment in Acts 2:14-21 in view of multiple referents, one must first understand the determinative meaning of each individual passage. In the book of Joel God is speaking through the prophet to warn the people that the locust plague that ravaged the land was a warning of greater judgement that was immanent in the Day of the Lord unless the people repented and returned to a full reliant fellowship with God.

Joel was probably one of the earliest of the minor prophets. Joel was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reign of Uzziah. These were days of unparalleled prosperity in both Judah, and Israel. Joel’s message from the Lord was that the locust plague in Judah that ruined crops, destroyed the economy, and threatened the continuance of the sacrificial offerings was only a warning of the impending judgement on the Day of the Lord.

In these terrible circumstances Joel saw the Judgement of the Lord. The people of Judah had taken for granted the blessing given during the reign of Uzziah. Because of this complacency their faith had degenerated, and their lives fell into moral decadence. God imparted, through Joel, the message of reliance upon His sufficiency, and upon His prior covenant promises. And with the thought of further judgement Joel was led to reveal God’s intentions for the eschatological times.

Throughout the book of Joel the basic tenet is that God is sovereignly guiding the affairs of earth’s history toward His preconceived final goal. In chapter 2 verses 28-32 God is directly speaking to His people. This particular block of verses is a tightly written, self-contained unit within the book of Joel, and in fact in the Hebrew Bible these verses form a separate chapter. Verse 28 begins with the phrase “It will come about after this.” This places the following events after those that are detailed in the verses preceding them. This particular prophetic prediction occurs after the judgement of the locusts, and after the promise of deliverance. In these verses we see the prediction of the fullness of the coming of the divine kingdom on Earth. Here Joel pictures a time when God will “pour out [His] Spirit on all mankind.” However, the central concern of this passage is God’s actions toward His people in Judah because they were the original recipients of this revelation. Although God may chastise His people He “has reserved a remnant to Himself. On them he will pour out his Spirit, [and] to them he will manifest himself with marvelous signs.” This prophetic prediction was expanded by God beyond Judah to include all of mankind, but in this expansion Judah is not excluded.

A key to understanding Joel’s prophecy is understanding the term “Day of the Lord.” Many times this concept refers to a time of immediate judgement, whereas in other passages it refers to God’s eschatological judgement at the end of the age. The Day of the Lord includes three aspects: God’s judgement on unbelievers, the cleansing and purging of God’s people, and the salvation of God’s people. Through the revelation of God Joel used a locust plague of his day to warn people of the Day of the Lord.

A Look at History and History in Progress

Today in Iraq history is being made. Never has a Middle Eastern country so quickly accepted the essential ideas of democracy. While this is an historic event it is not without precedent. In WWII we faced an equal evil to terrorism, Imperialism. In Japan the United States had an enemy, motivated by an animistic religious mindset, which could not surrender. Does this sound familiar at all? It should sound very familiar, because in terrorism we face an enemy motivated by Islamic teaching.In WWII it was the kamikaze pilots who killed thousands of soldiers by flying their planes into military targets. Pilots who were willing to make such a great sacrifice were promised honor (not to mention if they did not do it they most likely would have been executed anyway). Today we battle suicide bombers who strap themselves to c-4 and run into a crowd. They are promised eternal life (not to mention the virgins). To a Muslim this must seem very appealing. In a religious system so steeped in works it must be very tempting, even to the point of blowing yourself up, to attain eternal security. Unfortunately neither the Japanese Imperialist in WWII, nor the Islamic terrorists today have spiritual life.

In WWII we faced a Japanese military that was at the will of the Emperor. At that time the Emperor was viewed as deity. He was a god, and he was not to be questioned. The authority that the Emperor had in Japan is not all that different from the authority that Muslim leaders today have. While the clerics and leaders are not viewed as deity they are to be obeyed without question. In a society that is illiterate the people blindly trust their leaders to interpret the Qu’ran. All that the suicide bomber knows is that the local cleric told him that Allah wanted him to go down in a ball of flames with as many infidels as possible.

In light of these similarities between these two enemies the question that we should be asking is: “What can we learn from our victory over Japan?”

The first thing that the Allies did was defeat their enemy. President Truman knew what he was up against when he made the decision to use atomic warheads. He knew that the Japanese would not surrender and they would fight until millions of Japanese citizens, and thousands of American soldiers had died. Truman made what was one of the most strategic decisions in U.S. military history; he dropped the bomb. He saved countless lives by taking many lives. Truman ended WWII. Not to mention that no one has ever used another atomic warhead. It was the right choice.

In this instance history should teach us that it takes sacrifice and hard choices to win a war. Thankfully this is what we are doing. Despite ludicrous cries from the left wing to leave Iraq now; President Bush is making the difficult choice to stay the course and win the war.
The next step in the Allied victory over Japan was taking the power away from the Emperor, and establishing a new government.

The authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government will be subject to the Supreme Commander, who will possess all powers necessary to effectuate the surrender terms and to carry out the policies established for the conduct of the occupation and the control of Japan. If we take a look at the offer of surrender to Japan I think that we will see some very interesting things.

“In view of the present character of Japanese society and the desire of the United States to attain its objectives with a minimum commitment of its forces and resources, the Supreme Commander will exercise his authority through Japanese governmental machinery and agencies, including the Emperor, to the extent that this satisfactorily furthers United States objectives. The Japanese Government will be permitted, under his instructions, to exercise the normal powers of government in matters of domestic administration. This policy, however, will be subject to the right and duty of the Supreme Commander to require changes in governmental machinery or personnel or to act directly if the Emperor or other Japanese authority does not satisfactorily meet the requirements of the Supreme Commander in effectuating the surrender terms. This policy, moreover, does not commit the Supreme Commander to support the Emperor or any other Japanese governmental authority in opposition to evolutionary changes looking toward the attainment of United States objectives. The policy is to use the existing form of Government in Japan, not to support it. Changes in the form of Government initiated by the Japanese people or government in the direction of modifying its feudal and authoritarian tendencies are to be permitted and favored. In the event that the effectuation of such changes involves the use of force by the Japanese people or government against persons opposed thereto, the Supreme Commander should intervene only where necessary to ensure the security of his forces and the attainment of all other objectives of the occupation.”


Thankfully that is what we are currently doing in Iraq. We deposed a ruthless dictator, and we are working on a new government today.

The final step that I will mention (I have obviously omitted quite a bit including economic rebuilding, military neutralization, etc.) is Allies’ approach to religion. Look at this section of U. S. INITIAL POST-SURRENDER POLICY FOR JAPAN:


3. Encouragement of Desire for Individual Liberties and Democratic Processes.

“Freedom of religious worship shall be proclaimed promptly on occupation. At the same time it should be made plain to the Japanese that ultra-nationalistic and militaristic organizations and movements will not be permitted to hide behind the cloak of religion.

The Japanese people shall be afforded opportunity and encouraged to become familiar with the history, institutions, culture, and the accomplishments of the United States and the other democracies. Association of personnel of the occupation forces with the Japanese population should be controlled, only to the extent necessary, to further the policies and objectives of the occupation.
Democratic political parties, with rights of assembly and public discussion, shall be encouraged, subject to the necessity for maintaining the security of the occupying forces.”

This requirement is a declarative statement that the religious and political practices of Imperialism were inferior to those of the United States. Think about. The previous system elevated the emperor to deity, but under the offer of surrender the Emperor relinquished his authority and the people had religious freedom. This was absolutely necessary because as long as the Emperor was in control as deity he could wage is own wars at the expense of his people. Just as they had to obey him in WWII they would have had to obey him in any later wars. But the surrender agreement ended that.
The question is how does this relate to Iraq? We have given the people freedom from tyranny, but do they have the freedom from Islam. In today’s relativistic inclusive society we would never ban a religion. But I can’t help to wonder what would have happened if the previous generation had done the same in Japan.
For more information visit http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/

Understanding Old Testament Prophesy

Double Referent: “The already not yet.”

Another methodology for ascertaining the meaning of Old Testament prophecy, and its New Testament counterparts sees more than one referent to a specific prediction. This view in many ways combines the three interpretive principles used to determine the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. However, this differs slightly from the view that there is more than one meaning, or sense, to a specific prophetic prediction. A double meaning would be defined in this way:

If we ascribe to any passage of Scripture a literal, obvious, historical
sense, and interpret it as conveying the meaning which its words
naturally and obviously seem to convey, and yet at the same time
ascribe to these same words another meaning which is occult or
obscure but is still designed to be conveyed by those same words,
we then make out a double sense.

Whereas, to see more than one referent to a single prediction is to say that “an Old Testament prediction may have a single determinative meaning with multiple fulfillments.” One could say that these Old Testament predictions have a single sense to them, but that the referent of the predictions may not be specified until the fulfillment. The idea here is that a prophetic prediction “begins with a word that ushers in not only a climactic fulfillment, but a series of events, all of which participate in and lead up to that climactic or ultimate event in a protracted series that belong together as a unit because of their corporate or collective solidarity.”

According to this view the prophet may be able to see the future implications of a contemporary situation. He is divinely enabled to see both the near and the far effect of his prophetic predictions, and the two are so closely linked that the prediction possesses one meaning in a collective whole. That is to say:

In this way, the whole set of events makes up one collective totality
and constitutes only one idea, even though the events may be spread
over a large segment of history by the deliberate plan of God. The
important point to observe, however, is that all that parts belong to
a single whole. They are generically related to each other by some
identifiable wholeness.And so the perspective of the prophet blended together the near and far aspects of a prediction into one vision. “Old Testament predictions have a sense, that sense would have been known to those who heard the prophecy uttered and to us through the application of historical-grammatical hermeneutics, but that the referent is not specified until the fulfillment.” And to say that there can be an expansion of referents within one meaningful prophetic prediction does not require that exclusion of the original referent is required. If one accepts the view that there is more than one referent to a specific prediction, then it is possible to properly account for the original determinative meaning of a prophetic prediction, and determine how the New Testament writers have interpreted these prophetic predictions.

Paul’s Exposition of Isaiah: Romans

For some reason the idea that the apostle Paul changed the teaching of Christ, and established what Christianity would be has been widely propagated. The main argument for this idea goes something like this:“Jesus’ audience was Jewish, and in order to spread the gospel Paul and others had to adapt the gospel to be more Greek.”Unfortunately this is a distortion of the truth. For this to be true we would have to ignore Paul’s dependence on the OT (a Jewish book). If you are a student of Scripture you probably have noticed Paul’s clear dependence on the OT texts in the shaping of his theology. There was probably no more influential book in Paul’s life than the book of Isaiah. Paul quoted from the book of Isaiah more times than all the other prophets put together. As you make your way through the book of Romans, Paul’s most extensive Gospel treatise, you will notice that Paul actually uses the prophet’s writings as a skeleton of his Gospel presentation. Look at the quotations of Isaiah from Paul in the book of Romans:

“As it is written, ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:24; Isaiah 52:5, LXX).

“Their feet are swift to shed blood: ruin and misery mark their paths and the way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:15-17; Isaiah 59:7-8).

‘Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites should be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry our his sentence on earth with speed and finality.’ It is just as Isaiah had said previously” (Romans 9:27-28; Isaiah 10:22-23, LXX).

“Just as Isaiah said previously, ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been like Gomorrah.’” (Romans 9:29; Isaiah 1:9, LXX).

“As it is written, ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall’”(Romans 9:33a; Isaiah 8:14).

“and ‘the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’” Romans 9:33; Isaiah 28: 16, LXX).

“As the Scripture says, ‘He who believes in him will not be disappointed’” (Romans 10:11; Isaiah 52:7, LXX).

“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’” (Romans 10: 15; Isaiah 52:7).

“For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’” (Romans 10:16; Isaiah 53:1, LXX).

“And Isaiah boldly says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me, I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me’” (Romans 10:20; Isaiah 29: 10, LXX).

“What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not attain, but the elect did. The others were hardened as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day’” (Romans 11:7 -8; Isaiah 29: 1 0, LXX).

“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and he shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins’” (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20-21, LXX).

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34; Isaiah 40: 13, LXX).

“For it is written, ‘As I live, sayeth the Lord’” (Romans 14:11a; Isaiah 49: 18).

“Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11b; Isaiah 45:23, LXX).

“And again, Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him’” (Romans 15:12; Isaiah 11:10, LXX).

“Rather, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’” (Romans 15:21; Isaiah 52:14, LXX).

What we can obviously see from Paul’s extensive and systematic use of Isaiah is that he did not haphazardly use the prophet’s writings. These quotations work systematically through the development of God’s working in the salvation of man. Paul did not simply use the Prophet Isaiah in his writings, he depended on him. Paul’s systematic explanation of the Gospel, Romans, is in large part the result of rigorous exposition of the book of Isaiah.


I have just finished reading James Montgomery Boice’s book “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? Rediscovering the Doctrines that Shook the World.” I have read Boice before, his commentaries on Genesis are some of the best around, but I had a hard time tracking with him some of his thoughts in this book. I am sure that you can chalk it up to my own ignorance, but there were a couple of things that I just did not really follow.There were really only two things that I did not really grasp. The first was his criticism of TV in chapter 2, and the second was his evaluation of music in chapter 8. Admittedly I am coming to the table with some preconceived ideas about both of these issues, but I just couldn’t track with him. I will only look at his view of TV today, maybe as I work through it I will begin to grasp his logic.

When it comes to TV maybe I didn’t necessarily agree with Him because I love TV. One of my favorite things in the world to do is to sit down and watch a baseball game. This is probably why I had a hard time grasping JMB’s criticism of TV. Here is what JMB had to say:

“…the chief cause of our mindlessness is television” pg 51

The chief problem with television is that, for those who watch it consistently, it undermines and eventually destroys the ability to think. This is because it communicates primarily through images, not by words, and words are necessary if we are to perceive logical connections and make judgments as to what is right and what is wrong. An image cannot be true or false. Images just are. Although images can tell a story or establish a mood, they cannot make an argument.” Pg 52

Speaking about the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas JMB goes on:

Those debates were held in public fairgrounds. They lasted six or seven hours, and after the debates were over the reporters sent the essences of the arguments over the telegraph to the newspapers, in which they were read and discussed by people everywhere the next morning. In those days people were able to hear, understand and form opinions about such complex issues as slavery, the authority and limits of federal government, and states’ rights because their minds had been nurtured by the printed page. Unfortunately, television does not operate by or foster rational communication, which is why we are becoming an increasingly mindless culture.” Pg 54

First of all, I think that TV can be a very dangerous thing. Just like everything else it must be in moderation. Too much TV means not enough time in God’s Word, not enough family time, not enough service, not enough fellowship, and not enough time reading good books. All this being said, I am not sure that there is something inherently bad about the medium of TV.

I am not really sure what JMB means with the second quote that I have given you. Sure TV uses images, but we are no loner in the age of the silent movie. An image cannot make an argument, however an image of a person accompanied by the sound of a person making an argument can. Right? For instance, I know that there are video tapes of JMB giving lectures. I would have loved to have been at those lectures, but isn’t the same information being presented via TV on the tapes?As to the last quote that I have given, I am not exactly sure what to think of it either. My first reaction was “What if the debate had been televised?” Wouldn’t the people have had a more honest representation of the fact of the debate? They wouldn’t have had to read about it from the perspective of someone else’s world view. I am not a pre-civil war historian, but the apperance given by JMB is that everyone understood the issues and had meaningful coversations concerning the issues. Here is a little excerpt from the first of seven debates between Lincoln and Douglas:

Douglas’ Speech:
In 1854, Mr. Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Trumbull entered into an arrangement, one with the other, and each with his respective friends, to dissolve the old Whig party on the one hand, and to dissolve the old Democratic party on the other, and to connect the members of both into an Abolition party under the name and disguise of a Republican party. (Laughter and cheers, hurrah for Douglas.) The terms of that arrangement between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Trumbull have been published to the world by Mr. Lincoln’s special friend, James H. Matheny, Esq., and they were, that Lincoln should have Shields’s place in the U. S. Senate, which was then about to become vacant, and that Trumbull should have my seat when my term expired. (Great Laughter.) Lincoln went to work to abolitionize the Old Whig party all over the State, pretending that he was then as good a Whig as ever; (laughter) and Trumbull went to work in his part of the State preaching Abolitionism in its milder and lighter form, and trying to abolitionize the Democratic party, and bring old Democrats handcuffed and bound hand and foot into the Abolition camp. (“Good,” “hurrah for Douglas,” and cheers.)

To me this sounds a lot like the rhetoric, and crowd pandering of today’s presidential debates. I know that this is only an excerpt and that there was meaningful debate, but it is obvious that those in attendance were not so focuesed on meaningful conersation that Douglas couldn’t pander to them by mocking his opponent.


Overall I think that this book is a great book. I do agree that we live in a somewhat mindless culture. I am not sure if it is progressively becoming more and more mindless, or if it has always been this way, but I am saddened to see the church influenced by a spiritually mindless culture.

December 7th, 1941

64 years ago today the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by nearly 200 Japanese aircraft in a raid that lasted just over one hour and left nearly 3,000 dead. Many of us will go through our today without thinking about the significance of Dec 7th. But to many this day will never be forgotten. To those who were there, to those who lost a loved one there, and to those who never had the opportunity to meet a loved lost there Dec 7th will never be forgotten.My Great Grandfather, Grandaddy, was not there, but he will always remind me of the importance of this date. It was this one act that took a reluctantly involved Nation and pushed it into WWII. From this date forward we were no longer friends of the allies, we were the allies. Grandaddy was not there, but he was at Normandy. And after Normandy he signed up again and went to the Pacific front. Grandaddy knew what was right, and he fought for it. He was not at Pearl Harbor but it changed the course of his entire life.Don’t just let today go by. Remember all that God has done for us, particularly today remember all that God has done for us

through the military. Remember the men and women who had the courage to face an awesome evil and defeat it. Let the great sacrifices of those before us remind you of what U.S. forces are currently doing. They are facing an awesome evil, and all they want is to defeat it.

Understanding Old Testament Prophesy

Last Wednesday I re-launched a look at OT prophecy. This is by no means a comprehensive study on the subject; rather it is a look how the New Testament authors understood the Prophets. In an effort to try and understand this complex issue I want to take a Look at Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:14-21. What I want to do is look at two of the major hermeneutical approaches to this passage: sensus plenior, and the double referent position.


Many interpretive approaches have been implemented to determine the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. These various principles can basically be categorized into three separate categories. The allegorical approach to the Old Testament searches for a deeper spiritual meaning. The doctrinal approach supposes that both the Old Testament and the New Testament take the same approach to doctrinal issues. And the historical approach supposes that there are internal doctrinal changes within the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is validity within each of these approaches. However, it is best said with respect to the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament that the people of God share the experience of the living God who intervenes in their lives. Thus, in order to interpret both the Old Testament and the New Testament it is necessary to decipher the purpose of the text in the context of it’s original audience and author. All of Scripture has its own determinative sense. The question now lies in how the bible interpreter uncovers this determinative sense. In terms of how the two testaments relate “[i]f one cannot determine accurately the meaning of the Old Testament predictions, then there is no way to tell how the New Testament writers have used the text.”


Many different methodologies have been used not only to find this determinative sense, but also to define it. One such methodology that uses more of an allegorical approach to Old Testament Prophecy is Sensus Plenior. Sensus Plenior stipulates that:

The human authors at times spoke better than they knew. They did not always understand the meaning of things that they spoke. When the New Testament writers find fulfillment on the Old Testament text they often go beyond anything that the Old Testament authors understood them to mean even though their writings were inspired.

This particular view, which in its exagerated version has become very popular among catholic interpreters, is based on an understanding of 1 Peter 1:10-11. Here Peter writes:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that
would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to
know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was
indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to
follow. 1 Peter 1:10-11

Sensus Plenior interprets this passage to mean that the prophets were ignorant of the exact meaning of some of their predictions. However, this passage does not teach that the prophets were searching for what would be the impact of their predictions. They were not in search of the meaning of their prophetic writings. Their search “was an inquiry into the temporal aspects of the subject, which went beyond what they wrote.”

To better understand what the prophets understood, one must better understand who the prophets were. The office of prophet did not primarily entail predicting the future. The prophets were God’s messengers. Their calling was to declare “the word of God to a contemporary culture that needed to be challenged to cease it’s resistance to [God].” In light of this purpose it does not seem reasonable to say that the prophets preached words that had no meaning for them. Walt Kaiser, in opposition to Sensus Plenior, claims that there are five aspects of a prophetic prediction that the Prophets must have understood. First, they understood that a Messiah would come. Second, they knew that the Messiah would suffer. Third, they knew that the Messiah would ultimately be glorified. Fourth, they knew that before the Messiah would be glorified he would suffer. And finally, they understood that this message had been revealed to them not only for their own day, but also for future generations.

Based on Kaisers observations, as well as observation about the office of prophet, one must conclude that prophetic predictions were part of a message to the contemporary culture. That is why “the prophets related their prophecies to contemporary events, and circumstances.” Therefore, “[t]hese things which are not a part of the prediction in the Old Testament should not be read into the Old Testament.”

Sensus Plenior does not properly account for the original determinative meaning of a prophetic prediction, and consequently cannot determine how the New Testament writers interpreted Old Testament prophecy.