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Four Hundred Silent Years?

Jimmy Akin

According to Protestants, the last book of the Old Testament to be written was Malachi, which was penned around 440 B.C. Following this, they believe, there was no further divine revelation until the births of John the Baptist and Christ, as reported in the first chapters of Luke and Matthew. There were “four hundred silent years” between the Old and New Testaments.

To support this theory, Protestants often appeal to a particular passage in 1 Maccabees. It states that “there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them” (1 Macc. 9:27). Protestants seize on this to support the claim that there were no prophets between Malachi and John the Baptist. Thus there could be no Scripture written in this period, they argue, and the deuterocanonical books not belong in the Bible.

Needless to say, there are problems with this argument. First, not all of the deuterocanonical books were written during this supposed “silent period.” The book of Baruch was written by the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah in 581 B.C., well before the supposed “silent period” began.

A second problem is that Scripture doesn’t have to be written by a prophet, just someone writing under divine inspiration. Much in the Old Testament was written by people who were not prophets in the ordinary sense of the word — public proclaimers of divine oracles. King David and King Solomon, who contributed to Scripture, were not prophets. They did not have that public role. They did, though, write under divine inspiration when they wrote their psalms, songs, proverbs, etc.

There are many books of the Old Testament for which we have no idea who wrote them (all of the historical books, for example). We don’t know if their authors were prophets or just historians, yet these books are divinely inspired.

Protestants also have misread the verse in 1 Maccabees. It does not imply a permanent cessation of prophets. If it did, then John the Baptist and other prophets in the New Testament never would have come. Nor does it imply that the Hebrews recognized that the time of the Old Testament prophets had ended. They did not think in terms of there being an “Old Testament” or a sequence of “Old Testament prophets.”

To them there were just scriptures and prophets, and they did not recognize either as having stopped. After the Maccabees retook the temple, they dismantled the altar the Gentiles had defiled and “stored the stones in a convenient place on the Temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them” (1 Macc. 4:46). The book later states that they decided “Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise” (1 Macc. 14:41). Though there may not have been a public prophet operating in their day, the Maccabeans did not believe that all revelation had ceased. In 2 Maccabees, Judah Maccabee himself is given a prophetic dream by God (2 Macc. 15:11-16). He did not have the office of prophet, but he received divine revelation.

What we see in the Maccabees literature is no different from that we see elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is part of the same pattern we see all the way through biblical history-divine revelation being given, at least on a personal level, with public prophets appearing at various points. The Maccabees were in a lull between public prophets, but that was nothing new. Scripture tells us that when Samuel was a boy “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sam 3:1). Yet a generation later, when Samuel anointed Saul king, there was a company of prophets travelling Israel: “Behold, a band of prophets met him; and the spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he prophesied among them. . . . Therefore it became a proverb, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?'” (1 Sam. 10:10-12). Another lull is mentioned in Lamentations , which states that Jerusalem’s “prophets obtain no vision from the Lord” (Lam. 2:9)-this despite the fact that we are reading the word of a prophet in a book of inspired Scripture. The Psalms tell of a gap in the line of prophets: “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long” (Ps. 74:9). Yet again, we are reading Scripture written in the prophetic gap.

We find that God gave revelations before the ministry of John the Baptist. When Jesus is born, we meet Simeon the priest, who had been given a private revelation: “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26; cf. 2:27-35). We also meet the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36), though we never learn a single one of the prophecies that earned his this title before Christ was born.

God was not silent in the four hundred years between Malachi and John the Baptist. There may have been a lull in prophetic activity, as in other periods, but God did not stop giving his word to individuals. Moreover, he did not stop inspiring Scripture then any more than he did in other lulls. The view that corresponds to Scripture is the Catholic understanding of a God who gives revelation to man in all periods-even today, in private revelations-not the Protestant view of a God who remains utterly silent, century after century.

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