The ability to foretell future events was to many Old Testament prophets an endorsement of their divine commission. As a supernatural phenomenon it was also a strong evidence for the claims of Israel's God to be the only and true God of the universe. Modern scholars have been at issue with those who accept the Bible as a divine revelation. They deny the reality of predictive prophecy in the sense that Seventh-day Adventists have believed it. The position of these scholars emanates from the idea that there is no such thing as divine revelation, and that so-called prophecies can be easily explained in natural historical terms. They endeavor to humanize all manifestations of the prophetic gift exactly as they try to eliminate the supernatural from the Old and New Testament.
This idea is expressed by Pfeiffer in his Introduction to the Old Testament, page 755.
There he states concerning prophecies that they "lie outside the realm of historical facts." He recognizes that "the correct . . . prediction of history belongs to the realm of the supernatural" but also asserts that "historical research can deal only with authenticated facts which are within the sphere of natural possibilities."
This concept of Biblical criticism also explains the tendency of many scholars during the past century to lower the dates of numerous Old Testament writings, thereby automatically placing the date of the prophecies after the prophesied events had already taken place. C. C. Torrey's radical attitude in this matter often led him to extremes in dating certain books of the Old Testament. "By far the greater part of this [prophetic] literature," he says, "was produced after the extinction of the Hebrew kingdom, and we are gradually becoming aware of the fact that the time of greatest production was in the late Persian and early Greek periods."—The Second Isaiah, p. 85.
In view of the denial of a supernatural revelation bolstered by an alleged historical support resulting from establishing low dates of certain Biblical writings, one cannot be too astonished at the erroneous conclusions found in certain textbooks that have appeared during the past century. As early as 1833 F. Hitzig wrote, "The Messianic interpretation is altogether contrary to the character of prophecy, which excludes prediction."—Der Prophet Jesaja (Heidelberg), quoted in Christoffer North, The Suffering Servant, p. 30. C. C. Torrey's explanation as to why, in his opinion, prediction is excluded is stated thus:
The true prophet must be a clairvoyant and an infallible oracle. These notions—and their modern perpetuation—belong properly to the sphere of folk-lore, and the oft-cited passages quoted above have no significance whatever for the actual history of the great line of Israel's teachers.—The Second Isaiah, pp. 87, 88.
As long as Old Testament criticism succeeded in maintaining its untenable position of the late origin of prophetic books, prophecy, in many instances, could not be established as being fulfilled in history. Frantically, some scholars clung to their theories as is illustrated by the strange conclusion of Sh. Spiegel, which contradicts sound reasoning. On the assumption that there is no such thing as predictive prophecy, his argument, in effect, is that if "prophecies" are fulfilled, they are proved not to have been prophecies but merely a later addition or change of the text, and that if some utterance is not fulfilled, it is to be accepted as a true prophecy, being written before the event. This is what he says:
Since the prophecy did not come true, it is a genuine prophecy, spoken undoubtedly before the events, and not thereafter retouched to suit them.— Sit. SPIEGEL, Noah, Daniel and Job, pp. 321, 322, in Ginzberg Jubilee Volume.
Some scholars, of course, have been aware of the weakness of their position. The very day Old Testament critics were obliged to accept an earlier or traditional date for the prophetic writings, the arguments against predictive prophecies became invalid. Our ministry should be aware of the impact of archeology upon Old Testament study and the consequent tendency of Old Testament scholars toward a more conservative attitude toward the Bible. This trend can be found in the writings of William F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, The Biblical Period, The Bible After Twenty Years of Archeology, and more recently in the paperback edition of From Stone Age to Christianity.
All recent discoveries in the field of Biblical archeology have weakened the position of modernism to the same extent as they have strengthened traditional data of the Bible. Professor Albright, in his introduction to the last-mentioned book, summarizes some of the changes that new and astounding discoveries have brought about in the field of Biblical studies. Every student of the Bible will find Professor Albright's introduction, and especially pages 17 to 19, very worth-while reading.
In his introductory comments on prophecy and prophets Albright makes some striking statements that are indeed significant admissions from the mouth of one of the foremost scholars in Biblical archeology in our time.
That the prophets were not only dedicated men, but also predictors of the future, is fully recognized in Biblical tradition but has been under-emphasized by modern Biblical scholars, including myself in 1940-46. Since then I have seen my error and I now stress the predictive element again, though perhaps from rather novel points of view.—From Stone Age to Christianity, p. 17.
Albright goes on to say, "It is wholly unnecessary to reckon with 'prophecies after the event': we have exceedingly few cases of vaticinium ex eventu in the Hebrew Bible before the third or second century, 13.C."—Ibid., p. 18. While he does defend the prophets even in cases where their prophecies did not come to pass, Albright apparently is still anxious to maintain the underlying contention of modern scholars that the explanation of the phenomenon of prophecy is through natural causes. He in part attributes it to "the capacity for intuitive grasp of wide fields of perception which has characterized certain figures of the last 250 years, at least in occasional moments of exaltation."—Ibid., p. 19. There are, however, as we know, hundreds of prophecies written in the Bible that have been fulfilled throughout history, and that are far too remarkable to be explained on the basis of human intuitiveness.
The observations of Professor Albright have still another aspect for this denomination. In referring to prophetic insight in more recent times, he says: "We need to refer only to the famous prophecies of the future of Germany and France by Heinrich Heine and Leon Bloy, or to the fantastic previsions of future technology by Jules Verne, or to the glimpses into the future on the part of Emanuel Swedenborg and Ellen White."—Ibid., p. 19. Modern man's archeological rediscovery of the trustworthiness of the Bible has thus resulted in a more orthodox and realistic recognition of Biblical prophecy. Mr. Albright's admission that the Bible does indeed contain true predictive prophecy and his recognition of the genuine predictive element in the writings of Ellen G. White are of special significance, coming as they do from one of the foremost Biblical scholars and archeologists of our time.