OT Allis, Higher Criticism, Prophecy, Christotelic Hermeneutics

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
One of the recent threads discussed the ideas of multiple authors, redaction and OT Allis and that piqued my interest. I ended up coming across this article and was curious as to your thoughts, especially @iainduguid and @greenbaggins
In sum, he seems to argue that OT Allis wasn't consistent in his methodology by applying notions of later redactors to the Pentateuch but not to Isaiah. It is also argued that Allis is actually missing the nature of prophecy that the higher critical scholars were attempting to correct.
H. H. Rowley criticized Allis in a 1951 review: “The author completely ignores the nature of the argument for Deutero-Isaiah, which is that here we do not have a prophet’s announcement to an eighth century [sic] audience of things that should be in the distant future, but that we have a prophet’s assumption that he and his hearers are in a sixth century [sic] background.”44 Many of the critics were not concerned with the question of whether the prophets could predict the future by divine inspiration, but rather whether the prophets would predict the future, especially in a manner that seemed to disregard their contemporary situation

Since only God could know the future in such detail, to demur that the prophet offered such a view of the future obscured and therefore denied the supernatural element. Allis failed to ask what it means that “Isaiah was intended for a particular readership (Israel) but that its message had non-Israelite implications (for ‘the nations’).”46 It seems necessary on Allis’s view to say that prediction held little significance for the prophet’s own generation, particularly since the present generation would never be able to apply the prophetic test of Deut 18:21: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken presumptuously.” Ironically, this tends to sever the significance of the prophet’s words for his own generation from the significance for later generations—exactly what Allis accused the critics of doing. Finally, Allis’s assumptions are also partly grounded in what we might call a “mechanistic view” of prophecy in general and of prediction in particular. Allis assumed that prediction must have an “obvious sense”: objective,non-metaphorical, and well-defined.47 This may be a consequence of the realist-empirical atmosphere at Princeton, which also tended to view historical writing as an objective collection of facts. The critical question was also partially a genre question, which Allis neglected to address because of this assumption.
Ridderbos is then quoted right after:
The function of prophecy is consequently not that of a detailed projection of the future, but is the urgent insistence on the certainty of the things to come. . . . Just as the time of the future is ultimately contracted to one point, so the worldspace is to him [the prophet] a totality and not an accurately differentiated magnitude. We see that the prophets paint the future with the palette of their own experience and project the picture within their own geographical horizon
So it seems that the question revolves around the nature of prophecy. Surely, we all agree that context is king yet, isn't the idea that the prophets are only forthtelling for their generation, as opposed to foretelling, basically a denial latter, especially in the NT?
This certainly impacts the New Testament use of OT. Is there where the two readings and christotelic view comes from, where the NT authors are alleged to smatter proof texts irrespective of context? What of 'multiple fulfillments'?

Additionally, I have been reading a book that exegetes Genesis 2 that constantly refers to it as the second creation and to the author as the Yahwist, yet supposedly holds the Bible as still authoritative. If such redactors and authors are contradictory in their alleged beliefs and writings, doesn't the view of inspiration and authority break down into absurdity when pressed logically?

Thoughts in general on the article?
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Staff member
Trent, while I can't speak entirely for Allis, I can respond as if someone had lodged this criticism against my own position (which is very similar to Allis on both the Pentateuch and on Isaiah). There is a fairly substantial difference between saying that a few later editors did some minor editing to an otherwise essentially Moses-authored Pentateuch, versus entire sections of Isaiah purporting to come from Isaiah, and yet somehow coming from at least three different authors. If I say that Moses did not write the last chapter of Deuteronomy, and say instead that Joshua appended it under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, I am not espousing a particularly difficult or controversial position. It is possible, of course, that Moses wrote about his own death ahead of time by inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but is it the most likely explanation? I think not. Still, even with this, and with a few other verses that seem to have a west-of-the-Jordan perspective, we still say that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. This is quite different from saying that vast sections of Isaiah were not written by Isaiah, even though the NT quotes it as Isaiah, and there is absolutely zero textual evidence that 40-66 ever spent time apart from 1-39. The author of the article does not seem to take this difference into account at all. Editing is different from redacting. The latter is authorial in nature, whereas the former might not be at all.

As to the nature of prophecy, the author of the article even admitted fairly early on that Alexander allowed for non-predictive meaning for prophecy, and that Allis built his foundation on Alexander, a surely non-controversial historical claim. All Wood has proven is that Allis believed future prediction essential to the nature of prophecy. Wood never proved that Allis believed future prediction to be the exclusive nature of prophecy. As far as I can tell from what Wood quoted, Allis was fighting those he believed to be taking away the future element.


Puritan Board Sophomore
The article describes fairly accurately the difference between the classic understanding of the authorship of Isaiah and what we might describe as relatively "conservative" critical views on authorship such as those of men like Christopher Seitz and John Goldingay (who follow in the tradition of A.B. Davidson, against whom Allis was writing, and H.H. Rowley, who critiqued Allis' view). It is clear that the author's sympathies lie with the latter.

The fundamental issues are those that I discuss in my opening lecture in my prophets class every semester. On the one hand, we must not adopt a knee-jerk conservatism merely for the sake of it. It is clear that some minor editorial redaction has taken place on the Pentateuch (e.g. the place name of Dan in Genesis 14, and the final chapter which describes the death of Moses and the absence of a prophet like him since then). The same is clearly true for some of the prophets. Ezekiel 1:2-3 clearly explains who the "I" of verse 1 is for an audience unfamiliar with the prophet; likewise, the final chapter of Jeremiah may well have been added by a later hand (perhaps Baruch?), unless the prophet himself lived to an extreme old age in Egypt. We have no problem with "late" authors interpreting the significance of earlier events for a contemporary audience (Chronicles, for example, as well as Genesis being authored hundreds of years later by Moses). We have no problem with scribes recording the material of their teachers or different editions of Biblical books (see Jer. 36:6 for both).

The problem is that critical scholarship goes much further than that. It assumes that prophecies purporting to foretell the future (in anything more than the sense of predicting who is likely to win the AL East next season) are made up after the event. Interestingly, this is not necessarily entailed by late authorship. Moses records the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 48-49, many years after those prophecies have already begun to be fulfilled. The key divergence, however, is our insistence that Jacob actually said these things ahead of time. So too, if later disciples were to be recording the words of Isaiah, we would have to insist that Isaiah had actually said these things earlier, which then removes anything that is gained by positing the work of the later disciples in the first place! This is like the argument that later authors inserted laws into the mouth of Moses in the Pentateuch to give them greater authority.

For all the protestation that predictive prophecy is not really being ruled out, the result is that in practice it is eliminated. John Goldingay's work on Isaiah and Daniel, helpful though it is in many ways, is a case in point. He has remarkably little to say on Isaiah 44:6-8, where the Lord hangs his claim to uniqueness on his ability to foretell the future. It would be easy for any of the idols to make a similar claim, of course. The thing that would really make the Lord's uniqueness clear would be for him to make some very specific predictions and then carry them out... Hence the Lord's insistence in Ezekiel that when the things prophesied come about the people will know that there has a prophet among them.

Perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the rhetorical function of detailed predictions of the distant future on the prophet's immediate audience, however. It is taken as axiomatic that unless a prophecy is to be fulfilled immediately, it is irrelevant to the hearers. This is clearly nonsense, as any good pastor knows. The great ultimate battle of Armageddon between the forces of light and darkness may not happen in our lifetimes (and certainly did not happen during the lifetimes of the original audience of John's hearers) but is it impossible to preach on it profitably in the meantime? So too, the anticipation of the future fulfillment of an extremely detailed prophecy of hope can encourage the faith and hope of an audience who knows that they will not personally live to see it fulfilled. Rhetorically, that has to be the literary function of passages like Daniel 11: Daniel himself can have had little detailed knowledge about how the revelation shown to him would come about, but it taught him at least two very relevant truths: 1) the end is not yet nigh - the seventy years of Israel's exile that were almost at an end in his day would not bring about the end of history; there was much more for God's people to suffer before that day; and 2) God was in control of every minute detail of history - history is not a "trashbag of circumstances blown open in the wind" but a carefully orchestrated story by which God is working his purposes out. That message is as relevant to a 6th century audience looking ahead to these events by faith as it is to a second century audience looking back on the precise fulfillment of them. The same is true of Isaiah's prophecies of a restoration for God's people after the Babylonian catastrophe (which is already anticipated by Isaiah himself in Isaiah 39!): they form a message of hope to the small group of the faithful in the 8th century BC who believed the prophet's words ahead of time.
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