Are "double prophecy fulfillment", such as that done by JWs interpretations always wrong?
I am deeply grateful for your research and teaching for brothers and sisters in the faith. Your web-site and publications have been so helpful, insightful and informative. I have been a Christian for over 21 years now, and your works, and those of other teachers, have proven helpful as tools to help deepen my Bible study and solidify my walk with God. Thank you, brother, for all your work. Now, on to my question! I’ve just concluded what has been an incredibly helpful, eye-opening three month study with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses specifically regarding the Kingdom of God. One of the most significant things I became aware of during this time is a belief (on their part) that prophecies of the Bible more often than not carry dual meaning. In short, for example, I’ll touch on Daniel 4. In my opinion/understanding, the presentation of Daniel 4 is pretty clear that it was a dream that was interpreted… and then stated as fulfilled in the lifetime of those people. However, during the aforementioned study, it was posed that this passage is also a prophecy of the end times and the establishment of God’s Kingdom. I find this view suspect, at best. Where I’m going with all of this is: upon being compelled to do more research regarding dual prophecies and fulfillment, I’ve discovered that the idea of dual prophecy is quite pervasive in the Christian world as a whole, not just confined to the doctrine of JWs. So far, from my own study/experience, my understanding is that God meant what He said in Deuteronomy 30: that what’s presented to us is not difficult to understand. He’s not going to be convoluted in what He’s endeavoring to impart to us. For our hard-headed simplistic sakes He states He’ll keep things simple! Because this is my own, non theology-school backed, understanding of the Word, this premise of dual prophecy/fulfillment strikes me as being convoluted, muddying the simple truth presented. It seems, in all cases I’m aware of, that this concept is applied to scriptures that would speak of the “end times”, and comes across as a means to press forward a particular agenda. To me, the Bible is pretty straight forward as to when it’s speaking of the time of final judgment (like Daniel 12) and when it’s speaking of other things. Am I throwing the baby out with the bath water? If there are, in fact, examples of dual prophecy/fulfillment in the Bible that would set a precedent for people to believe that it could be applied to other prophecies of the Word, would you please share them? And then, would you please share what basis would help a person resist the temptation to apply such a notion indiscriminately/understand when it was appropriate to view a prophecy dually?
Like you, I am disturbed by the very poor Bible “interpretation” of the Jehovah Witness group. Probably, their false teachings about end times are not as serious as their false teaching about the nature of Jesus (denying that he is God), the Holy Spirit (denying that he is a person) and the reality of hell (they deny that there will be punishment in hell). Similarly, many evangelicals use “double prophecy” to support incorrect interpretations regarding end times–falsely concluding that there will be a rapture of the saved, leaving behind the lost, that Jesus will come back to reign in Jerusalem and other teachings. By the way, I agree with you that Daniel 4 is certainly NOT a prophecy of end-times and the JWs take this one way out of context to bend it into anything other than what it is–a prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar.
Having said all that, we should avoid the temptation to assume that, just because a kind of interpretation is falsely made by one group that this mode of interpretation is always false. Each case should be taken on its own merit. It is very tempting to swing the pendulum to oppose something we do not agree with. Often we end up being wrong ourselves when we do this.
I believe that this applies to the question of whether there are prophecies with a “double fulfillment.” One example of a prophecy which is fulfilled in more than one way is Hosea 11:1. When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” According to Matthew (Matthew 2:15) this prophecy is fulfilled when Jesus was carried down to Egypt and later back to Judea. This scripture also applies to Israel itself. God called Israel out of Egypt. God also calls all of us “out of Egypt” in that he calls us out of slavery to sin. This analogy is used in the scripture in Hebrews 3 & 4. God called Moses “out of Egypt.”
You are right that God does not try to confuse us in the scripture, but even Peter acknowledges that some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand (2 Peter 4:15-16) However, Deuteronomy 30 (v. 11-14?) is not a promise that everything described in the Bible is simple to understand. The overall message of the Bible is simple and easily grasped by even relatively simple people, but this does not mean that all that is in the Bible is easily understood. There are layers of prophecy, some of which are only discerned upon careful consideration. The three days it took Abraham to come to Mt. Moriah, after which he received his son “back from the dead” is a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Hebrews 11:17-19). This is not easily understood. The meaning of the prophecies of Gog and Magog as well as Daniel’s vision in Daniel 11:36-45 are relatively difficult to understand, but careful Bible students can understand their meaning. Some of the prophecies and visions in Revelation are difficult to interpret.
So, yes I think that you just might be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” if you simply assume that there can be no prophecy which is fulfilled in more than one way. Your logic seems fair enough, but it is human logic and it is not supported by any statement in the Bible that this does not happen as far as I know. There are other examples of prophecies which appear to be fulfilled in more than one way, although I believe this may not be a common thing. I do not have a definite set of rules for this, although in my book “From Shadow to Reality” (www.ipibooks.com) I do propose a set of rules for interpreting types, prefigures and foreshadows that might be useful. A good rule of thumb is that if the Bible tells us that an event is the fulfillment of a prophecy, then it is. There are many examples of this, both in the New and the Old Testament. For example, Daniel (Ch 11)correctly saw the events of his day as a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jer 29
Matthew was specific about the fulfillment of many messianic prophecies. Paul was specifically told us that the events in the life of Abraham, Sarah, Isaad and Ishmael were fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 4:21-31). Another rule is that we should be relatively conservative. What I mean is that we should only publicly interpret biblical or historical events as fulfilling a particular prophecy if the case is very strong. If you read my book on Daniel, I hope I set a good example of how to do this (Daniel, Prophet to the Nations www.ipibooks.com)