On the basis of Deut 18:22 and Jer 28:9, the gist of which is “If a prophet makes a prediction that does not come true, then that prophet is not sent by God,” Avery concludes that Jesus was not sent by God, because Jesus predicted that “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and reward each person according to what he has done. Amen I tell you, there are those standing here who will not taste death until they have seen the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom” (Matt 16:27- 28), but that isn't what happened. I concur: the prediction went unfulfilled.
A couple of comments.
If a biblical literalist is someone who "interprets the Bible at face value unless otherwise clearly indicated" (Avery's definition), then I am one. It is true, of course, that the epithet "literalist" is often hurled at someone because they take a text too literally, for example, by drawing unwarranted conclusions from it. In my view, that is what Avery does.
interpreters of an authoritative text, the Bible, the Constitution, the rules
of the highway, are not, thank goodness, strict-to-the-second-power constructionists.
Unfortunately, my local policeman is, which is why I got a $217.00 ticket for
rolling through a stop sign the other day. Mitigating circumstances, like the
fact that no other car was anywhere in sight (not even his; he was hidden
behind a building), didn’t cut it with him. I made his day.
That’s how Avery
comes across to me, a bit like my local policeman. The terms he uses for
someone who takes a text at face value, literalist and fundamentalist,
are pretty loaded. He might want to find more neutral terms to describe standard
In any case, Avery’s
strict-to-the-second-power construction of the sense of Deuteronomy 18:22,
while not surprising from a logician like him, is a form of interpretation
virtually unattested in biblical tradition. That’s why the expectation of Jesus
and his first disciples that God would bring about the restitutio of the
kingdom of Israel (that’s what the “Son of Man”
prophecy in Daniel is primarily about, which Jesus cites in the Matthew passage) in their lifetimes,
when it did not occur, was not a deal-breaker, despite the offense to Deut 18:22.
This approach to prophecy has precedent in the Hebrew Bible. Let me
illustrate. In Ezek 29:17-21, the selfsame prophet
alludes to an unfulfilled prophecy he pronounced years before (Ezek 26), and proceeds to make a new,
compensatory prophecy. Interestingly enough, it also never came to pass. Does that mean that Ezekiel
is not among the prophets? Well, he is, and that's because it was understood
that prophecy is first of all about what should happen, not necessarily about what
Examples like this abound. My favorite is one that involves two prophets, not one: Micah and Jeremiah. In the 8th cent. bce, Micah had predicted that Jerusalem would “be plowed like a field,” totally destroyed (Mic 3:12). It didn’t happen, even if it should have. The words of Micah were treasured nonetheless, and more than a century later, people cite them in Jer's defense, when he’s about to be done in for prophesying the same thing (Jer 26:18).
Jeremiah's prophecy of doom over Jerusalem and Judah did come true, in anticipation of which Jer lets God have it (Jer 8:18-22; 12:1-4; etc.). From Jer’s point of view, God should refrain from what he was planning to do. But He doesn’t. Jer goes on to prophesy dire things for Babylon, the instrument of the destruction of Judah (Jer 50-51). Things don’t work out the way Jer predicts, but Jer is still among the prophets.
The fact is, a double-standard
is at work. One standard is applied by Jeremiah to his
prophetic opponents (in Jeremiah 28:9, which Avery cites), another by tradition
to Jeremiah himself.
The double-standard, in my view, is apropos. A prophet was considered a prophet if he did not conceal bad news, no matter how unwanted, received from God. If he also predicted things everyone hoped would happen, like the destruction of the people's enemies at a future point in time, or the advent of new geopolitical order with Israel on top rather than on the bottom, the fact did not disqualify him from prophethood if the predictions went unfulfilled. The double-standard goes a long way towards explaining why the Jewish and Christian faiths have been vital forces throughout history.
A space was created for the critique of power. We tend to take it for granted that the press can criticize those in power. From a Jewish and Christian point of view, it is their responsibility to do so. If the prophetic witness is taken seriously, It is a right and duty of everyone to speak the truth to power.
A law like the one in Deuteronomy, on the other hand, doesn’t take one very far. Laws usually don’t, unless you’re a policeman. Boy did I get nailed.
For further discussion, see Lena Sofia-Tiemeyer, “Prophecy as a Way of Cancelling Prophecy - The Strategic Uses of Foreknowledge,” ZAW 117 (2005) 329-50.