Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In Deuteronomy, Moses promised that God will raise up 'a prophet':

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers —it is to him you shall listen —(Deuteronomy 18:15, ESV)

But after this promise the text in verse 20-21, quickly switches to the subject of how to test false prophets, implying a plural number:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. ’ (Deuteronomy 18:20, ESV)

The question then in are we to understand a single prophet Jesus by the word 'a' or are we to understand the 'a' as representative of a plural number of prophets that all serve to culminate in Jesus?

It does seem that Jesus may have referred to this verse when he said 'Moses spoke of him' (John 5:45–47) and even the Samaritans seem to have founded an expectation of the messiah from these word (John 4:25). Not to mention the various locations in Acts where this 'a' referred to Jesus. However, since the entire prophetic office can be considered singular as (according to the Christian testament) it served to totality culminate in Jesus I can also see this as representing a plural number.

Is 'a' singular or plural?

share|improve this question
1  
How do you interpret all the prophets between Deuteronomy and Daniel if you understand that there will be only one? I don't understand the basis of the question. (Granted, you asked about Christian exegesis and that's not my area, so maybe this is obvious to others.) –  Gone Quiet Jan 28 '13 at 18:10
    
@MonicaCellio - What I am thinking is that maybe the concept of many prophets was already understood, but Moses was referring to 'a' single prophet, more 'like him', i.e. founder of a covenant. Christian's can go both ways on this and I am undecided. This would then tie in with...Deuteronomy 34:10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face –  Mike Jan 28 '13 at 23:47
2  
This question does not welcome Christian, Jewish, atheist, and other individuals who takes seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts to respond. –  Daи Nov 12 '13 at 16:47
add comment

3 Answers

My quick answer (without looking at commentaries or translating):

Moses is referring to a prophet archetype. That is, a prophet (or prophets) will be given by the Lord God for the good of the people. The singular is used generally; it isn't necessarily prescriptive. (I believe this is why the NRSV offers "or 'prophets'" in its footnote for v.15.)

This becomes more clear in the continuing verses--how do you know whether a prophet is from God? It's also best to interpret v.15-22 in light of v.9-14--prophets are God's response to other nations' diviners/soothsayers/augurs/sorcerers.

(Christ, for his part, believes in the validity of the Hebrew Bible prophets, although that doesn't necessarily prove that this text is referring to multiple prophets.)

Both the Jews and early church interpreted prophecies as having multiple references, rather than a specific, exclusive reference (e.g. the Isaiah Messiah-references had a "now" application, in addition to the "future" Messiah application). The best reading of this reference applies to any future prophet of Israel, including but not limited to Christ.

(The phrase "culminating in Christ" implies that no prophet would come after Christ. While not necessarily disagreeing with you on this point, I'd suggest it's a separate question.)

share|improve this answer
1  
Hello and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. Do you happen to have a source for Jewish multiple-fulfillment interpretations? (BTW, I don't think you meant to imply that Jews see, e.g., Isaiah as talking about Jesus, but that's how your penultimate paragraph reads to me.) –  Gone Quiet Jan 28 '13 at 21:12
add comment

There seem to be three personas that appear in the Hebrew Bible as significant figures in predictive prophecy. It is not clear in the Hebrew Bible whether or not these three personas overlap. Let us approach this subject in topical sequence in lieu of a chronological sequence to see who these three personas are, and then we will conclude with a summary from the perspective of the New Testament.

First and most significant is the Son of David. The Covenant with David (2 Sam 7:4-17) provides for the anointed “Son of David,” whose throne will be established “forever.” While Solomon was the partial fulfillment of this promise (for example, please see 2 Sam 7:14), its complete fulfillment is yet future on account of the fact that the Babylonian Captivity had terminated the line of Jewish kings. So this “Anointed One” (Meshiach) is the future king of an undivided nation of Israel and who will "smash the nations" as described in Psalm 2:1-12.

Secondly, there is the pesona of the so-called “prophet,” who will be the Second Moses. That is, Moses had indicated that another prophet like him (Moses) will rise and lead the Israelites (Deut 18:15-19). So now the second Moses is the second persona of predictive prophecy in the Hebrew Bible.

So let us stop and ask for a moment, “Is the Son of David in fact the Second Moses, or are they two separate people in the Hebrew Bible?” It is not clear in the Hebrew Bible.

The third persona that appears in predictive prophecy in the Hebrew Bible is Elijah. That is, in Malachi 4:4-6, which are the final verses of the chronological Hebrew Bible, there is the explicit predictive prophecy that Elijah is going to appear “before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.” Please note that this predictive prophecy is not that Elijah would announce the coming of Meshiach, the anointed Son of David, but that Elijah would appear “before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.”

Now the “messenger who will clear the way” mentioned in Malachi 3:1 is not identified as Elijah per se, but he appears correlated with Elijah, because Elijah’s name of course pops up in Malachi 4:4-6. So now we are left wondering whether “the messenger” and Elijah are in fact two people, or perhaps one and the same person (Elijah). If they are two people, then one person (John the Baptist) only fulfills Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:6 (according to Luke 1:17). But John the Baptist did not fulfill Malachi 4:4-5, which only applies to the person whose name is "Elijah." (John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah in John 1:21.) That is, the Elijah of the Hebrew Bible therefore has yet to appear in the future (predictive prophecy). When he appears, he will fulfill both Malachi 3:1 and the entirety of Malachi 4:4-6, since the second coming of Christ occurs during the “great and terrible Day of the Lord.”. As a quick sidenote, "the voice in the wilderness" in Isaiah 40:3 is not in any way associated with Elijah, but is an exclusive reference to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:3.) So Elijah and John the Baptist are intertwined in primary and secondary fulfillment of prophecy, but John the Baptist was not Elijah.

Let’s go back to “the prophet” (Second Moses) for a moment.

Could Elijah, who is yet to appear, also be “the prophet,” whom Moses described would later come and lead the Israelites (since Elijah’s name has popped up in the last verses of the last book of the last prophet of the Hebrew Bible)? Was Elijah from the tribe of Judah? If so, then could he possibly be the future anointed Son of David as well? There are no biblical sources to indicate that Elijah was from the tribe of Judah (and therefore the line of David), so we can rule him out as the promised Son of David (“the Anointed One”), although doubts still linger.

What does the New Testament say about these three personas?

The New Testament indicates that “the Prophet” described by Moses in Deut 18:15-19 was in fact Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:22 and Acts 7:37). Several miracles attest as such: for example, Jesus walked on water, whereas Moses (and Elijah) had to walk through parted waters, thus the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth as “the Prophet” was apparent in the gospels. One example that singled Jesus out as the Second Moses was the bread and meat (fish) that he created and distributed to masses of Israelites “in a desolate place,” which was akin to the manna (and quail) fed to the Israelites through the ministry of Moses “in the wilderness.”

Secondly, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth was the biological descendant of Nathan (son of David), and so he (Jesus) met the criterion as an eligible biological descendant of David, or Son of David. Since he was not the biological descendant of Joseph (husband of the virgin Mary), he did not receive the curse of (Je)Coniah, whose descendants had been cursed from ever prospering on the throne of David (Jeremiah 22:24-28 and Jeremiah 37:1). But since Jesus was the LEGAL son of Joseph (although not his biological son), he had access and right to the throne of David (as the LEGAL son of Joseph), since Joseph was descended from Solomon, through whom the Davidic Covenant was passed. That is, the Davidic covenant was not passed through Nathan (Mary’s ancestor) but through Solomon (Joseph’s ancestor).

Last but not least, and to wrap this all up, John the Baptist is the one who had anointed Jesus of Nazareth in the River Jordan with the “oil” of the Spirit of God. This anointing not only identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ (“the Anointed One”), but also John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the “messenger” of Malachi 3:1, which is a verse that Elijah will also fulfill as predictive prophecy still yet future (“before the great and terrible Day of the Lord”). John the Baptist also fulfilled Malachi 4:6 (according to Luke 1:17), but he did not fulfill Malachi 4:4-5. In other words, while John the Baptist was neither Elijah nor "the prophet" (John 1:19-23), he did in fact come in the spirit and power of Elijah (please compare Luke 1:17 with Matthew 17:12).

How can we wrap all this up, and make sense of who is who?

First, the “Day of the Lord” is the denouement of major portions of predictive prophecy in the Bible, when the visible and eternal reign of the Son of David will begin. (In Psalm 110:1, King David writes that Meshiach --"my Lord"-- will have his enemies finally placed under his feet as a footstool, and so there is an anticipatory delay at the present time.) In anticipation of this great and final event, Elijah will appear. There are going to be other personas who will attempt to exploit the ambiguity of the Hebrew Bible and purport themselves as the (false) prophet and the (false) Christ during the “night” phase (period of darkness upon the earth) of the Day of the Lord. (The day in the Hebrew Bible starts with the darkness of night and culminates in the light of day.) Please click here to review a simplified chart of these personas and their interaction within the pages of Scripture, and will clarify who is who, when, and where (and why). In response to these false perpetrators, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus the Christ will make their debut in final fulfillment of the predictive prophecies of the Bible.

share|improve this answer
add comment

This answer is from a Christian perspective (as requested), and reflects the position that the promise was Christ, and not all prophets (culminating in Christ.)

"Exhibit A"

We have a Divinely-inspired Christian interpretation of the passage in Acts 3. After Peter healed the Lame Beggar, the men of Israel stood amazed. Peter asked why they were staring at him and John as if they had done this miracle themselves, and clarified that God had done this to glorify Jesus, whom they killed. This brings us to Acts 3:18-26 which says:

"But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return . . . that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you . . . "Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. . . . "And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. . . . For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you”

Peter says all the prophets predicted the coming (and suffering) of the Christ -- including Moses. As evidence, Peter quotes Moses' prophecy that God would "raise up" a prophet "for them." He then goes on to explain that the prophecy came to pass when God "raised up" Jesus "for them." The weight of Peter's argument rests on the prophecy from Moses being about the Christ, and not merely a bunch of prophets, including (and culminating) in Christ.

"Exhibit B"

John the Baptist -- a prophet -- made it clear that Moses was not writing about him:

This is the testimony of John [the Baptist], when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” -John 1:19-21

The Jews were referring directly to Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy. If that prophecy was intended to point to all prophets, including John the Baptist, then John the Baptist's response would have been inaccurate. John the Baptist was a prophet, but he was not the prophet Moses was referring to.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 - Think this is a valid interpretation (I actually keep changing my mind between both views). I did find Luther agrees with this. –  Mike Feb 15 '13 at 1:59
    
@Mike I didn't want to go into it in this answer, but I actually think this prophecy (like most) is ultimately speaking of something eschatological (Christ), but is also alluding to an immediate natural illustration (the next prophet to arise). However, I think that technically my view is closer to the view I presented in this answer than it is to the "all prophets culminating in Christ" view, because in my view the true fulfillment is Christ - the rest is just for illustration. –  Jas 3.1 Feb 18 '13 at 19:50
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.