A possible example of prophecy referring to past events can be Joel's four waves of locusts, unless Joel lived even before the deportation of Israel, which is not entirely consistent with the rest of his book.

There is also the need for revelation of things past, for even if we have evidence, they are incomplete, unreliable, and incorrectly interpreted, at best. For more often than not, history is as silent and hidden as the future. For example what evidence do we have of Joshua's long day or the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan, or even of King David.

The second reason is to reveal what was happening in the spiritual unseen realm that manifested itself in parallel historical events. An example is the Prince of Persia detaining one of the likeness of man to come to Daniel.

The third reason is to be a witness to the veracity of the prophecy itself. For all things are established true by two or more witnesses and the truth of prophecy is it's foreshadowing. And such a shadow may have unfolded before the prophecy was given. Again Joel's four locusts' waves is a possible example.

But these are mere human reasoning. Where, if any, is the biblical witness for, or against, this principle of interpreting prophecy?


In the Hebrew Old Testament (Tanakh) it's often a matter of interpreting the perfect tense since Hebrew does not have past, present, and future tense. It has perfect (completed action) and imperfect (continuing action) tenses. Perfect ususally expresses past tense, but perfect was often used with prophesy to express the definiteness of the action.

However, I would agree that interpreters who do not believe prophesying the future can actually happen will tend to change prophetic perfects to express past tense.

[Uses of the Perfect Tense] (b) To express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and, therefore, in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished (perfectum confidentiae), e.g. Nu 17:27 הֵן גָּוַ֫עְנוּ אָבַ֫דְנוּ כֻּלָּ֫נוּ אָבָֽ֫דְנוּ behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Gn 30:13, Is 6:5 (נִדְמֵ֫יתִי I am undone), Pr 4:2. Even in interrogative sentences, Gn 18:12, Nu 17:28, 23:10, Ju 9:9, 11, Zc 4:10 (?), Pr 22:20. This use of the perfect occurs most frequently in prophetic language (perfectum propheticum). The prophet so transports himself in imagination into the future that he describes the future event as if it had been already seen or heard by him, e.g. Is 5:13 therefore my people are gone into captivity (גָּלָה); 9:1 ff., 10:28, 11:9 (after כִּי, as frequently elsewhere); 19:7, Jb 5:20, 2 Ch 20:37. Not infrequently the imperfect interchanges with such perfects either in the parallel member or further on in the narrative. -- Gesenius, F. W. (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar. (E. Kautzsch & S. A. E. Cowley, Eds.) (2d English ed., pp. 312–313). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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    Thanks for the answer. It seems however that there is a need to "explain" the prophets' use of the Perfect Tense, by conjecturing them getting caught up in the certainty of the—future—event, rather than accepting prima facie that the prophecy is applicable to both completed and imminent events, ie to reinterpret history in the light of the prophecy for meaning and future applications.
    – Ylzm Ma
    Jun 16 at 11:26
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    Just to add, my take away here is that, technically, Hebrew grammar does not strictly imply a future fulfillment of the prophecy. It allows for the ambiguity of reference to a past event. But that only begs the question of what is a prophecy and how are we to interpret it. Here I am stating unambiguously that we look both forward and backward in time in any interpretation, for which I seek affirmative biblical justification.
    – Ylzm Ma
    Jun 16 at 11:27

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