If there's one thing that drives me nuts about my fellow Christians, it's how we sometimes are so certain that some prophecy is associated with some historical event. It reminds me of the Midianite soldiers who dream about barley bread and say, "Surely this can be none other than the sword of Gideon!" (My paraphrase.) In the same way, someone might see something like the number of the beast and say, "Surely this can be none other than UPC bar codes!"

On the other hand, there's a long history of Historicism in Christian hermeneutics and it would be odd to say, "We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints (but not those that say the Pope is the Antichrist)." Just because I don't like the answers other people give, doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to give them.

Now, if a post makes no attempt to answer the question, that's one thing. We are not the place for geopolitical conspiracy speculation. But if an answer does address the question and makes an argument that some prophecy is to be identified with a current world event with sources, how should we respond?

(For the sake of argument, let's assume Jack's version of the FAQ is in effect.)

  • @Soldarnal: Thanks for the edit. Do you know I never knew there was a distinction between "prophesy" and "prophecy"! Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 17:43
  • 1
    It's the same difference as there is between advise and advice.
    – TRiG
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:22
  • @TRiG: Also something I recently learned (relearned maybe?). Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:31
  • @GoneQuiet: There is a chain of logic. The context talks about how people will not be able to buy and sell without that mark. So it isn't totally out of the realm of possibility. However, there have been many interpretations, including imperial seals, Roman coinage, and anti-tefillin (the mark is said to be attached to the hand and forehead). There's a good chance that any time there's a regulation about currency, someone will mention the Mark of the Beast. Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 17:46
  • Those watching this thread might be interest to read the Marginalia review of Magne Sæbø (ed.), Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of its Interpretation, Volume III/1: The Nineteenth Century — A Century of Modernism and Historicism (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2013).
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 15:23

4 Answers 4


I agree with the existing answer by James. I would like to simplify it a bit.

Jon asked:

If an answer does address the question and makes an argument that some prophecy is to be identified with a current world event with sources, how should we respond?

I propose we treat Questions and Answers regarding prophecy the same as any other Q & A.

1) Questions should be rooted in a particular text/prophecy. They should not be rooted in assumptions, doctrines, persuasions, preconceived notions as to events thought to fulfill prophecies.

2) Questions should seek to understand a specific passage/prophecy, element, or elements thereof. They should not seek to understand interpretations about the prophecy.

3) Questions should show some effort at attempting to understand the passage/prophecy:
-the historical context in which the prophecy was written.
-the language of the text
-the Scriptural context

1) Answers should show their work. They must demonstrate step by step exactly how the go from the passage to their answer regarding an historical (or even contemporary event).

2) Answers should support all assertion by demonstrating exactly what particulars of an event, or events, line up with the particulars of the prophecy.

3) Answers should provide reputable/credible sources that confirm the specific elements of the event which are said to correspond or fulfill the prophecy, so others can confirm the information.

This creates room for all kinds of healthy Q & A in regard to prophecy.
It allows for open questions about what a passage, a symbol, or a whole prophecy means.
It allows users from various camps to weigh in.

  • So you say, "They should not be rooted in assumptions, doctrines, persuasions, preconceived notions as to events thought to fulfill prophecies." Wouldn't that mean you could never bring later historical information to bear on the text?
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:45
  • We must Draw a distinction between questions and answers. Questions may not be rooted in such. Answers also must be rooted in the text, however, they may see historical events beyond the history of the text itself as fulfillment of the passage in question.
    – user2027
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:47
  • good distinction. My problem is that I don't see any way to make a leap to a historical event without at least some speculation that would have no work shown for it by this site's standards. But that's just me. I haven't voted either way on this as of yet.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:48
  • 1
    I decided to give this a +1. I'd love to see a caveat that makes one's hermenutic principles clear for this kind of answer, too. I could tolerate a Christian eschatalogical answer that states up front that it follows a Christian Dispensationalist Premillenial hermeneutic and then proceeds to unpack a text within that framework. The problem is that this is often left unstated.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:51
  • Also, if you could clarify where your answer differs from Jas3.1's that would be good, too. It appears his is still a little more strict than yours since it appears he would close some questions you might accept under this standard.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 21:02
  • @Dan This may swing the door a bit more open than Jas.1's answer. But, it leaves the main thing the main thing, ie. the text and the meaning of the text. Let the confines of the rules and procedures already established do the work of securing quality well formulated Q & As. And let the members deal with answers they do, or do not agree with, through voting. My answer differs from Jas3.1's in that it circumvents the ins and outs of prophecy entirely. It also avoids splitting hairs, or bogging us down with additional regulations when the existing ones suffice if applied.
    – user2027
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 22:15

I think the purpose of this site is to discuss hermeneutics and seek exegetical answers. Thus, questions about whether entity X is the true fulfillment of Prophecy Y are off-topic, unless the answer can be determined exegetically.

The distinction might be better demonstrated than articulated, so allow me to propose some representative examples for what is on-topic and what is off-topic:

Good questions: (These are the kind of questions we want more of.)

  • How might one's hermeneutical approach influence their interpretation of the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7?

  • What clues does Daniel 7 provide about the identity of the "little horn" of Dan. 7:8?

  • What does "Son of Man" mean in Daniel 7:13?

Bad questions: (These are off-topic and should be closed.)

  • Assuming the fourth beast of Daniel 7 was Rome, which ten "powers" did the ten horns of Daniel's vision refer to, and which three were "uprooted" by the Antichrist?

  • Was the "little horn" Nero, or the coming Antichrist?

  • Is "666" talking about barcodes?

Essentially, the "bad questions" ask for an identification that cannot be made from the text. To answer these, the interpreter must go beyond the text and decide that some entity from history did (or will) fit the bill well enough to conclude that this is the true interpretation of the prophecy. The problem is that these interpretations are so varied and depend so much on which hermeneutic you follow (and what your presuppositions are) that the answers can hardly be called exegetical.

I would suggest that there is another set of questions that are neither good nor bad; they are:

"Acceptable" questions: (These may deserve a down-vote, but probably not a close-vote.)

  • Do the horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7 definitely refer to "kings," or could they refer to "powers" (such as governors or popes)?

  • Is there anything in the text of Daniel 7 that would prevent Nero from being a valid interpretation of the "little horn"?

  • Could the "Son of Man" in Daniel 7:13 be referring to Jesus?

These "acceptable" questions are asking whether the exegesis of the text allows for a given interpretation. I think these are OK, though I would prefer "good questions" over these.

I have focused on questions here because an answer is merely judged by how well it satisfies the request of the OP. If the question is good and the answer is "666 = barcodes", chances are, the answer was off-topic.

  • 2
    I think you final paragraph is critical. Good questions will prompt good answers. If we are uncomfortable with answers, we should first check to see if the question is really about the text and then check to see if the answer really answers the question. One note: if an answer draws heavily from historical interpretations (i.e., quoting a famous expositor/commentator) we can probably be a little more lenient. After all, past interpretations are very helpful in correcting the biases in modern interpretation. Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 23:30
  • 2
    I mostly agree with you here, but one issue with Daniel has to do with dating. Critical scholars with a late dating may consider the horns identifiable because they refer not to future but past events
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 22:56
  • I think most of your examples are poor questions but the overall rule you were trying to illustrate is a very poor one. There is nothing more nonsensical than 'staying within the text' if we did that we could never conclude Jesus was the Messiah as an option. This is just hermaneutical philosophy gone wild. I know you have read a few books on the subject recently but if you read a few more you will arrive at a better sense which you probably had before you started. Sorry for the harshness but this is really the worst idea I have seen in a while.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 17:33
  • 1
    @Mike The purpose of this site is not to conclude from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Messiah... and if you include the New Testament text it's easy to conclude. The purpose of the site is to handle Q&A on the topic of hermeneutics (philosophy of interpretation) and exegesis (drawing the meaning from the text.) Doctrine and other non-exegetical interpretations are just simply outside of the scope of the site. It's not a question of how we think people should understand the Bible, it's a question about what the purpose of this site is. If you disagree with the scope, idk... talk to a mod.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 22:25
  • @Jas3.1 Exegetical interpretation from a text that argues from history 'outside the text' must be allowed on this site, if it is to allow the practice of hermeneutics (historicism is a hermeneutic) . This means the possibility of arguing that Jesus 'did not' fulfill (or did fulfill) ancient prophecies based on the facts of history to which the prophecies foretell... is all about this site. It's as simple as that. This is not a debate, it is an open-and-shut case.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:12
  • @Mike You seem very upset, and I don't want to upset you more, but I think you are confused about what the term "exegesis" means. Exegesis is not argued from "outside the text" -- by definition. It's argued from the text. This site is not the place for "the practice of hermeneutics"... again, this is a misunderstanding of the term "exegesis" and of the scope of the site.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:18
  • @Jas3.1 - I understand what you are arguing I just do not think it officially represents the view of this site. I know you think it does and I know there has been a lot said that comes close to your conclusion by mods, but I think you are slightly off from the reality and this slight confusion is the difference of making questions about prophecy relevant or not on this site. Basically if what you said was true we should really move most all questions about prophetic text 'from' this site to another. Currently they sit here and are commonly answered with up votes using historicism.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:32
  • 2
    @Mike The presence of off-topic Q&A does not justify the presence of off-topic Q&A.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:40
  • 1
    @Mike FWIW, I don't have a problem with historicism... and I don't necessarily agree or disagree with it. I just don't think "Is the Pope the antichrist?"-type questions are the type of questions we're trying to handle here. That would be a much better fit on C.SE.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:43
  • 1
    @Jas3.1 - let's just agree to disagree. I do not think we can resolve our different views. We proabbly could in an extensive chat but I just donot have that kind of free time. I have spent to much time on is issue as it is and am moving on. BTW 'Is the Pope the antichrist'? is not a good question for either site in my view. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 23:52
  • @GoneQuiet - funny you linked a post that I upvoted so you may think Imam arguing with myself but rather I am just pointed out something we have not taken into account. We must protect historicism and every Jewish and Christian commentator uses it extensively. I am simply trying to educate and it seems I am only arguing with Jas (1 person) but for some reason you think it includes you.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 16:17

Historicism is a popular interpretive method used in Protestant Christian eschatalogical hermeneutics. Questions seeking to identify a symbol in a text (especially in apocalyptic literature where the referent is unclear) as a later historical event outside the scope of the historical timeline in which the Bible was written (later from the frame of reference of the text) are off topic because they are seeking to apply the text in the terms of the belief and praxis of historic and contemporary faith communities.

Historicist interpretations are often inconsistent and consist largely of conjectures and speculations that cannot be drawn from the text. There is no agreement about various outlines of Christian church history, and historicist readings of the book of Revelation have been continually revised throughout history. It is best to avoid a bunch of speculation reading later geopolitical persons, places, and events back into biblical texts. There are too many theological and (often) anachronistic assumptions that must be brought to the text in order to support such interpretations that we would not tolerate in other types of posts.

  • I do not think it is wise to draw the line so tight with prophecy that foretold events. When such was spoken/written, it was not yet fulfilled. If we confine interpretation to the period in which the Bible was written, we allow only one view to check in--that which believes it was all fulfilled by the time the writings of the Bible were completed.
    – user2027
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 19:58
  • @Sarah very true, I'd encourage you to weigh in with your own answer. For what it's worth, I don't expect too many upvotes on this answer, I intended to write multiple answers but didn't have the time earlier.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:30
  • You are good at that.
    – user2027
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 20:48
  • Regarding this (I can't log into chat from here) I think the question about the third woe is on-topic because it could be answered from the text based solely on the text (purely exegetically), whereas "who was the antichrist that was to come" cannot.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 20:53
  • @Jas3.1 10-4, thanks for weighing in!
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 23:33
  • @Daи-Correct on one point,"historicism is a popular interpretive method...". I believe the issue is confused between classical 'historicism' which has it's basis in Covenant Theology and has been used(or mis-used) in interpreting Biblical events as occuring in the 1st Century. "Historical Interpretation" on the other hand is a subset of exegesis dealing with the fulfillment of prophecy; we would have Mark Twain's bible if we ruled it out. IF=In the text; THEN=On topic for exegetical interpretation. Of course, those who like straight data points and linear interpretation will always be nervous.
    – Tau
    Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 4:32

Historicism is a fundamental hermeneutic equal in honor to the grammatical-historical or any any proposed hermeneutic. The entire Christian religion is based upon applying the historical events of the life of Jesus to various Hebrew prophecies spanning many generations. It is finding the meaning of a text from information outside the text in history. The Bible student must be a student of history if he is to properly apply sound exegetical analysis which must include comparing the text to events outside the text in order to arrive at the intended understanding. Questioning historicism is like questioning reason, we need not consider it a negative thing that needs 'handling' but a positive one that needs more work and discipline in using.

Of course the joke about misplaced confidence is a real one and applies to any exegetical attempt using any hermeneutic. Every foolish doctrine proposed from the Bible, which is after all nothing but the conclusions of our exegetical work according to our hermeneutic, is made with full confidence every day according to the endless foolishness of men. There is noway to handle foolishness we must just let it exists as it will anyway.

  • Here is historicism being used to answer a question. Most of my answers (accepted ones) to Kazark's Questions on Zecharaiah is using historicism. If a prophecy can't be matched by something in history it is determined future. That is how I handled the splitting of mount olives. You still lean heavily on the text but you must go outside the text to make any progress in the exegeses. I think as you realize what I am talking about you will cheer me on. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2102/…
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 15:59
  • 1
    @GoneQuiet - I think most hermeneutics are just labels for certain observed practices. It simply means using history to decipher what appears to have been fulfilled in prophecy and that which has no apparent fulfillment becomes futuristic. The best way to understand is by example. If you read a Jewish commentary on Daniel Chapter 2, you will no as much as I do about how to use historical approaches to biblical interpretation. If you still have questions I am sorry my family is getting angry at me for not being more involved in my summer vacation so I have to drop off for several days now
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 17:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .