What is a prophet?

Over many years I am given lines of scripture (usually from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) and told that some event was a fulfillment of this line of scripture. For instance, it is often understood in some Christian circles, that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies from the virgin birth to the amount of money Jesus was betrayed for. It is often then shared that because Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, this is proof for the story of Jesus and we should believe. Often I have head it expressed that in light of all these prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, you would have almost have to be an idiot not to believe. "I mean look at all this proof right in the Bible!"

Critics of this way of thinking often point out that these scriptural prophecies are not at all about Jesus and are taken out of context. Still others would say the above approach to understanding prophetic scripture is circular logic ('the Bible is true, because the Bible says it is true').

I am beginning to see these conversations are no longer helpful. People will forever take scripture out of context in order to prove a point on all sides of the theological spectrum. Therefore, I am not going to argue that these prophetic scriptures are being taken out of context to prove a point. Rather, I think the issue is the difference between a Prophet and a Predictor.

A person who predicts the future uses all sorts of ways to get others to believe an idea. Malcolm Gladwell writes of an idea called "creeping determinism". That is β€œthe sense that grows upon us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable.” This is the genius of many Tarot card readers and palm examiners. When you know the end of a story it is rather easy to point to things over the course of time in order to create the illusion that the end of the story is inevitable.

It is my understanding of the basics of Biblical criticism that Prophets are not Predictors of the future. They did not sit there and as they got a vision they were writing it down for some point in the future. A Prophet is trying to do something much harder and something which ultimately demands something that the Predictor does not - Faith.

The Prophet is seeing events happen and is trying to understand how these events fit into the larger God Narrative. Sometimes there are events that happen that are easy to see them fit into the God Narrative (such as the life of Jesus) and sometimes there are events that happen that are not easy to see them fit into the God Narrative (the Holocaust). The Prophet must discern how these events fit into the larger God Narrative. This is why Faith is needed for the working of the Prophet. I can see how Jesus fits into the Narrative of God, but I do not see how the Holocaust does. Yet, I have faith that God is still present in those events. I cannot tell you where God is exactly, but I have faith that God is there.

The message of the Prophet requires faith because we don't know all of God's Narrative. We cannot see the largest picture. We only know in part. We have to have Faith in more than what we can see. The Prophet gives an interpretation of events in ways that through Faith we can begin to make sense of them or at the very least we have faith that there is meaning in these events.

The Biblical Prophets are not Predictors. They are not advocating creeping determinism as though what has happened was inevitable. The destruction of the Temple was not inevitable in the moment but only in hindsight. The Holocaust was not inevitable in the moment but only in hindsight. The death of Jesus was not inevitable in the moment but only in hindsight.

I wonder what we are missing if we read the Prophets as Predictors?