Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Was Christ's Birth Preceded by 400 Years of Divine Silence?

Russian Icon, The Prophet Simeon, (17th c.)
Here's an anti-Biblical myth that many Protestants hold to, without knowing it: a belief in a so-called “intertestamental period” or “400 years of silence,” in which God allegedly (and inexplicably) ceased communicating with His People between roughly 400 or 450 B.C. and the Incarnation of Christ. GotQuestions? describes the mainstream Protestant view:
The time between the last writings of the Old Testament and the appearance of Christ is known as the “intertestamental” (or “between the testaments”) period. Because there was no prophetic word from God during this period, some refer to it as the “400 silent years.” 
There are several things wrong with this belief.

First, this belief in an “intertestamental period” or “400 silent years” has absolutely no Scriptural support. You won't find any Scriptural references supporting this, because they don't exist. The Protestant sources I've found explaining the doctrine don't bother defending it Scripturally; rather, they just assume it.

That's because the doctrine of intertestamental silence doesn't originate from Scripture. Rather, it is a perversion of a (post-Christian) Jewish teaching that God permanently ceased prophetic revelation in 450 B.C. The Bablyonian Talmud teaches that “When Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” But that's an argument against Christianity, not just against the Deuterocanon. In any case, it's contradicted elsewhere in the Talmud, since the Talmud quotes the Book of Sirach as Scripture. For more on this, see the section entitled “Bad Theology: The Holy Spirit Stopped Prophesy in 450 B.C.?” in this post. Needless to say, the Talmudic teaching serves as an extremely weak foundation, particularly for Christians.

Second, even as an assumption, the intertestamental period” is contrary to the whole logic of Scripture. A belief in “400 silent years” is an awfully peculiar position to simply assume. Both Catholics and Protestants tend to agree that the Old Testament exists for the sake of Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 1:1-2; Luke 24:27; Matthew 5:17). As Erich Sauer said,
“The Old Testament exists for the New Testament. Christ Himself is the goal and soul of the pre-Christian historical revelation. He is the Goal of Old Testament history; the meaning of Old Testament worship to God; the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecy.”
The whole of the Old Testament slowly unfurls with increasingly-clear prophesies about Jesus Christ. But if that's the case, if the Old Testament exists primarily to prepare the world for Christ, it's exceedingly odd to assume that for the roughly 450 years prior to the Incarnation, God simply stopped preparing them. If Sauer and the innumberable Catholic and Protestants who agree with him on this point are right, this is precisely when we would expect there to be Christological Scriptures.

Third, Jesus refutes this 400 years of silence theory. As I've mentioned before, this notion of an “intertestamental period” is at odds with Jesus' own account of salvation history, that “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:23).  Without a doubt, this is the most important point.

Where Protestants posit a gradual unfurling over centuries, abruptly and inexplicably stopped for nearly half a millenium, Christ suggests the opposite: that this gradual unfurling continued until John the Baptist, who stands as the clearest and most direct witness of Jesus.

Fourth, other places in the New Testament also dispel the myth of intertestamental silence. For example, Luke 2 mentions the aged prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna in the Temple, showing that prophets (and prophetesses) were active in Judaism prior to the birth of Christ. Simeon received a prophesy of Christ's immanent birth (Luke 2:26). Zechariah additionally receives a pre-Christian revelation tied to Jesus, with the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-17).

A Biblical Alternative

Aert de Gelder, Simeon’s Song of Praise (c. 1710)
How should we understand the relationship between the Old and New Covenant, then? As one of continuity and fulfillment. It's significant that in Luke 1-2 Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna are all oldZechariah describes himself as old in Luke 1:18, Simeon is awaiting death (Luke 2:26, 29), and Anna is of “great age” at 84 (Luke 2:36-37). Christ, in contrast, is an infant, a mere forty days old (Luke 2:22). So the Old and New Covenant are reflected in the ages of those present.

As St. Bede the Venerable (673-735) explained, this signified Israel's long wait for a Messiah, and its fresh fulfillment in Christ:
Simeon and Anna, a man and a woman of advanced age, greeted the Lord with the devoted services of their professions of faith. As they saw him, he was small in body, but they understood him to be great in his divinity. Figuratively speaking, this denotes the synagogue, the Jewish people, who, wearied by the long waiting of the incarnation, were ready with both their arms (their pious actions) and their voices (their unfeigned faith) to exalt and magnify him as soon as he came.
And St. Ephraim the Syrian described the encounter in this way:
The Son came to the servant not to be presented by the servant, but so that, through the Son, the servant might present to his Lord the priesthood and prophecy that had been entrusted to his keeping. Prophecy and priesthood, which had been given through Moses, were both passed down, and came to rest on Simeon.
In this view, the elderly priest and prophets represent the Old Covenant, while Christ embodies the New. This captures both the continuity of the New with the Old , as well as the radical newness. Something exciting and new was happening in Israel, but it wasn't a repudiation of what had come before. There is, rather, a sort of passing of the torch between old and new.

We see the same thing in the respective ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, of course. In John 3:25-30, John the Baptist praises those leaving him to follow Christ:
Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.
Yet Christ nevertheless appears to wait until John's public ministry had come to an end before beginning His own in earnest (Matthew 4:12-17):
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Caper′na-um by the sea, in the territory of Zeb′ulun and Naph′tali, 14 that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zeb′ulun and the land of Naph′tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
But this view leaves no room for the break that the “400 years of silence” imagines. There's a continual witnesses with Old Covenant prophets up to, and including, John the Baptist.

This turns out to be an important issue, because it impacts how we view the Deuterocanon, the set of disputed Books (which Catholics and Orthodox believe are canonical, but which Protestants reject). If you view the four centuries (or so) prior to Christ as a time when God went silent, of course you're going to reject the canonicity of these Books. But if you believe that God was still revealing His plan of salvation during this time, the case for the Deuterocanon is rather strong.

22 comments:

  1. It is a well written article. However, the Jews themselves didn't include the OT apocrypha in the Old Testament; when Jerome included it in the Latin Vulgate, it was at the request of Augustine. Jerome even included notation with the OT apocrypha that they did not carry the same weight as the canon. Additionally when the church fathers quoted it they did not treat it with the same "authority" as Scripture. It was not until Trent that the RCC decided the apocrypha was to be included as canon. And as the author of the article mentions neither Paul or Jesus quotes from it. The RCC hemmed themselves during the early Middle Ages with the creation of indulgences and purgatory - the greatest support for these doctrines are in the OT Apocrypha, which according to us Protestants is a pretty big reason it was canonized by the RCC and rejected by the Protestants.

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    1. John,

      Thanks for your gracious comment. There are several of your claims that I would challenge, however:

      However, the Jews themselves didn't include the OT apocrypha in the Old Testament;

      False. The Jews after Christ rejected the Deuterocanon, as did some of the Jews before Christ. But as I noted above, the Talmud quotes Sirach as Scripture, showing that it used to have widespread Jewish acceptance. The Qumran community had Deuterocanonical Books and excerpts amongst their Scriptures. The LXX, the Jewish canon used by Greek-speaking Jews (who were the majority, by the time of Christ) contained the Deuterocanon... and it was this version of the Bible that Christ primarily quoted from.

      Here are a few posts on the question of Jewish consensus, the alleged Jewish Council of Jamnia, the differing Jewish canons at the time of Christ, and the LXX's inclusion of the Deuterocanon.

      when Jerome included it in the Latin Vulgate, it was at the request of Augustine. Jerome even included notation with the OT apocrypha that they did not carry the same weight as the canon.

      This is partially true. Jerome doubted the canonicity of the Deuterocanon, because he was aware that the Jews of his age rejected it. But he was aware, and acknowledged, that he was going against the grain on this. And it was more than Augustine who disagreed: the pope is the one who commissioned the Vulgate, with the Deuterocanon, and Jerome acquiesced.

      Additionally when the church fathers quoted it they did not treat it with the same "authority" as Scripture.

      False. Perhaps some of the Fathers did, but I think with enough work, I could provide you with dozens of Deuterocanonical citations that unambigiously treat it as Scripture. For now, this will have to suffice: Defending the Deuterocanon, Book by Book, Part I, and Part II. Those two posts provide direct quotations from the Church Fathers in which they quote each and every Book of the Deuterocanon as Scripture.

      It was not until Trent that the RCC decided the apocrypha was to be included as canon.

      False. The Council of Florence, an Ecumenical Council attended by Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts, and officially accepted by all three (at least briefly: it's still accepted by Catholics) affirmed the Deuterocanon as Scripture. See Part III here. The Council of Carthage and the Synod of Hippo, both in the fourth century, also affirmed the Deuterocanon as Scripture, but they were only regional councils, so didn't carry the same weight.

      More to the point, it would be a big mistake to assume that the Church doesn't believe something until it's dogmatically defined. This is the mistake that the Dan Brown crowd makes with the Trinity, but it's just not how the Church works. By definition, the Church can only dogmatically define something She already (and always) believed.

      (cont.)

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    2. And as the author of the article mentions neither Paul or Jesus quotes from it.

      True, but nobody in the New Testament quotes from Esther, Judges, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Ezra, or Nehemiah, either.  Protestants employ a double-standard on this score: requiring the Deuterocanon to be quoted directly, while allowing in the Books they want in with the much lower standard of New Testament “allusions.”

      If you require direct Scriptural quotations to prove the canonicity, much of the Protestant Old Testament is out. If you allow indirect Scriptural allusions, much of the Catholic New Testament is in. But in any case, canonicity by quotation is a bad standard, since non-inspired works are quoted or referred to directly, while some inspired ones are not.

      The RCC hemmed themselves during the early Middle Ages with the creation of indulgences and purgatory - the greatest support for these doctrines are in the OT Apocrypha, which according to us Protestants is a pretty big reason it was canonized by the RCC and rejected by the Protestants.

      False: indulgences and Purgatory date back before the Middle Ages. As you note, there's support for praying for the dead in the Deuterocanon, which predates Christianity.

      If anything, the widespread Jewish and Christian acceptance of these Books should cause you to revisit your views on indulgences and Purgatory. After all, even those pre-Reformation Christians who rejected the canonicity of the Deuterocanon still thought that the Books were orthodox.

      The Protestant belief (the Deuterocanon is both uninspired and heretical) just isn't held by any sizeable contingent of pre-Reformation Christians: I can't name a single Christian who held this belief. If you can, I would welcome it.

      In Christ,

      Joe

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    3. Need to look closely at history. The Saducees accepted only the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Pharisees accepted the modern 39 book OT that you guys love so much. The Essene Jews accepted every the Protocanon (minus Nehemiah and Esther) plus Sirach and Tobit. The Alexandrian Jews accepted the entire Catholic OT. Plus, the Pharisees that you guys get your OT from rejected Jesus and the entire NT as well. Don't forget, they accepted Simon Bar Kokhba as their Messiah. Why trust them for your OT?

      As for other things, Pope Damasus I at the Council of Rome (382 AD) gave an exact Catholic OT (before St. Jerome rejected the Deuterocanon); the same Council that you guys look to for your NT. As for your statement about St. Augustine, he came after Pope Damasus I as well.

      As for the Early Church Fathers not treating it as Scripture, read Gary Michuta's WHY CATHOLIC BIBLES ARE BIGGER. He provides good references of which Early Church Father quotes which Deuterocanonical passage.

      Also, you say that the NT does not quote the Deuterocanon. Lets put your proposed standard under scrutiny. If quotation equals canonicity argument, goodbye Ezra, Ecclesiastes, Nahum, 1 and 2 Chronicles.

      As for Trent, that Council merely reaffirmed that which was already affirmed by the Council of Rome (382 AD), Hippo (393 AD), Carthage (397 AD), Pope Innocent (408 AD) and Florence (1442 AD).

      So you trust the Pharisees for your OT yet trust the Catholic Church for your NT? Two groups that are diametrically opposed to one another when it comes to Jesus?

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    4. Joe can probably point out his articles where he discusses this in depth. But if you look at the side bar he discusses where the different early church fathers DID consider the deuterocanon (we dont typically use the term apocrypha since it has a different connotation/ meaning) to be a part of Biblical canon.

      Trent was mostly because of Protestant objections. Prior to that the deuterocanon was defined by other smaller and less church wide councils to be part of scripture. Again Joe wrote about that.

      Jesus participated in Hannukah. Joe discusses that too.

      I've heard various reasons for their rejection by Protestants. Martin Luther rejected them. Other early Protestant groups did not necessarily follow suit. Considering the sheer number of different denominations why the broad brush?

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  2. Ack! Missed Joe's comment. I must have been writing. My children you understand take up more of my attention as they should.

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    1. Ha! You never need to apologize for being a good mom. In any case, you pointed out things in your comment (like Hannukah) that I hadn't mentioned in my own.

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    2. Well I may be a good mom but my housekeeping skills are another story. :D

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  3. Joe, when you say the 'Talmud quotes Sirach as Scripture, showing that it used to have widespread Jewish acceptance." what do you mean by "quotes as Scripture." This implies some kind rule for knowing that a quote used is meant to be understood as Scripture. What is that for you in this argument here? Because:

    NT never quotes the apocrypha, even though it refers to Gk poets
    Acts 17:28-- Phaenomena, by Aratus (3rd cent. BC Cilician poet)
    1 Cor 15:33-- Thais, by Menander (late 4th cent. BC Greek poet)
    Tit 1:12-- not extant, but attributed by Clement of Alex. To Epimenedes. Some scholars say Callimachus
    (3rd cent. BC Alexandrian poet)

    and to Jewish traditions and pseudepigraphical writings
    2 Tim 3:8 Jewish tradition
    Jude 9-- Assumption of Moses (not extant)
    Jude 14-- Book of Enoch (not in RC or Orth apoc)

    So, if the Bible (OT and NT) quotes other things as well, how do we know which ones are considered authoritative?











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    1. John,

      Good question. And I agree with you, mere quotation doesn't mean something is understood to be Scripture (which is why I don't find your earlier argument, that the Deuterocanon isn't directly quoted, to be very strong).

      But there's an obvious exception to this: if someone says, for example, “Scripture says...” you can be sure that they understand the thing they're quoting as Scripture. That's what we find in the case of the Talmud.

      The Talmud explicitly describes Sirach as part of the Hagiographa (which is the Greek name for the Ketubim, the third of the three parts of the Jewish Old Testament structure, the TNK). Here's the direct quotation:

      “This matter was written in the Pentateuch, repeated in the Prophets, mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, and also learnt in a Mishnah and taught in a Baraitha: It is stated in the Pentateuch as written, So Esau went unto Ishmael [Genesis 28:9]; repeated in the prophets, as written, And there gathered themselves to Jephthah idle men and they went out with him [Judges 11:3]; mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, as written: Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal...  [Sirach 13:5].”

      So the idea that the Jews never accepted the Deuterocanon is just historically false, and demonstrably so.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Purgatory is explicitly Jewish. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12446-purgatory

      and

      http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9110-kaddish

      Intercessory prayer via the saints is explicitly Jewish.

      http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5019-death-views-and-customs-concerning#anchor7

      and http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/562222/jewish/Is-it-okay-to-ask-a-deceased-tzaddik-to-pray-on-my-behalf.htm

      As far as the canon, it's time Protestants have the intellectual honesty--which I pause to note it includes both actual intelligence and actual honesty, something lacking from some Protestant academia--to admit that the logical corollary of "It never was Jewish Scripture" is that they were Catholic forgeries.

      To dispel that wicked notion, I cite the canon of Ethiopian Jews which includes "These include Sirach, Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Esdras, 1 and 4 Baruch, the three books of Meqabyan, Jubilees, Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, the Testament of Isaac, and the Testament of Jacob. The latter three patriarchal testaments are distinct to this scriptural tradition." Wikipedia then has a footnote: "Because of the lack of solid information on this subject, the exclusion of Lamentations from the Ethiopian Jewish canon is not a certainty. Furthermore, some uncertainty remains concerning the exclusion of various smaller deuterocanonical writings from this canon including the Prayer of Manasseh, the traditional additions to Esther, the traditional additions to Daniel, Psalm 151, and portions of Säqoqawä Eremyas."


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  4. Who are the Protestants that hold the view you are refuting so well?

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    1. Unknown,

      I quoted some of the specific advocates for it. This view transcends denominations. I know of no denomination that officially teaches it, but I don't think you would have trouble finding it widely held by members of nearly any of the major Protestant denominations.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Joe,

      You quoted 1) Got Questions?, 2) The Babylonian Talmud, 3) Erich Sauer, 4) St. Bede the Venerable, and 5) St. Ephraim. Am I missing some well known Protestants who you quoted that hold this position? If the view is so widespread, can't you give just a handful of the most known names? Two or three Protestants? I just want know who they are.

      Pax,

      Bradley

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    3. Sure, I can. R.C. Sproul claims that “in John [the Baptist]’s day the voice of prophecy has been silent for 400 years according to various extra-canonical writings.” Mark Driscoll likewise claims that the Angel Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah came “after 400 years of silence.” Tim LaHaye talks about these 400 “silent years” in one of his books. So does John MacArthur. Jon Bloom (at Desiring God, John Piper's blog) mentions the alleged 400 years of silence in passing. And so on: I could give plenty of other examples, but you see the point.

      This isn't something I'm making up: this is a myth that many big-name Protestants buy into. But perhaps more importantly, this is a myth that lots of ordinary Protestants buy into. So it seems worth refuting.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    4. Bradley the TheophiRogue,

      Norman Geisler "Fifth, even the Jewish community, whose books they were, acknowledged that the prophetic gifts had ceased in Israel before the Apocrypha was written..." Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, 1995, p. 167.

      Matthew Henry http://books.google.com/books?id=Gt0fAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA18-IA55&dq=prophecy+ceased+400+years&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZQKgUruHIMnskQfJ4IFg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=prophecy%20ceased%20400%20years&f=false

      John MacArthur http://books.google.com/books?id=8I7t6Kfj1tcC&pg=PA323&dq=prophecy+ceased+400+years&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tQKgUtHTOYLekQfYgIGoBQ&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAzgU#v=onepage&q=prophecy%20ceased%20400%20years&f=false

      Mark Driscoll http://marshill.com/2013/11/27/how-have-you-loved-us-sermon-recap


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    5. I would throw in Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict but I gave it to a friend and can't find the exact reference online (and he quotes Geisler so much it's possible that might be a double-count anyway)...

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  5. Joe & DanielSon,

    Thanks. I wasn't doubting there were Protestants who believed this, but the more I studied critical literature (of the widely respected scholarly type) the more certain teachings of people like R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur have become a vague part of my memory since they write so much popular literature. It was bugging me to remember who held these type of views. Now that you mention these names, it doesn't surprise me.

    Thanks for the clarification and the links.

    Bradley

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    1. Bradley,

      No problem. And I absolutely agree that this view seems to be found more on the popular level than the scholarly level. Also, it often works in the background, so to speak. The individual simply assumes that there were 400 years of silence, without really considering the warrants or coherence of that position. But it still colors the way that many Protestants approach the canonicity of the Deuterocanon (and Judeo-Christian history more broadly), so it's worth pointing out its falsity.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      P.S. DanielSon and TheophiRogue? Are you two trying to start a band or something?

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    2. About that. ..misread Theo's tone and got a little hot-tempered.

      Sorry to both of you about that.

      Btw, Theophilogue, I can't tell from your blog if you are Prot or Catholic.

      M Div in seminary put not a priest says Prot.

      But your top 10 posts are preoccupied with theologians that are the pinnacle of High Church ecclesiology.

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  6. I wonder who made the idea up first? Probably Matthew Henry.

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  7. Speaking at least of one deuterocanon i.e Book of Tobias: The book is clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit and affirmed throughout Church history. Clearly the allusion to it by the Lord Jesus in his discussion with the Sadducees (about the woman who married 7 different husbands at different times, who all died on the night of the wedding) is an important factor in affirming its canonicity.
    Besides the Book of Tobit is the only book in the Bible where the name of St. Raphael the Archangel is explicitly mentioned. Now consider the many apparitions of St.Raphael the Archangel down the centuries (e.g Cordova, Spain in the 15th century and in the 18th century to the Neapolitan nun, St. Maria Fracesca of the Five Wounds).
    Therefore to me, to dismiss the book of Tobias is to dismiss St. Raphael the Archangel who stands before the throne of the Most High God.
    I don't think any Christian, catholic or protestant would want to do that.

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