Biblical prophecy
and apparitions

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Biblical prophets, true and false

It was at the time of Moses that prophecy came to the fore amongst the Israelites. He set out the criteria for judging between true and false prophets, that is the common sense position that genuine prophecies would be fulfilled (Deut 18:13-12). During the period of the Judges prophets were rare, as the biblical text indicates in the call of Samuel: "In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions." (1 Sam 3:1), but from this time on, and during the period of monarchy, from about the eleventh to the fifth century BC., prophecy became more common.

During this period the great literary prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel flourished. There were also twelve minor prophets, and a number of nonliterary prophets such as Elijah and Elisha. The last recognised prophet was Malachi, whose book completes the canonical Old Testament. Prophecy then fell silent for about four hundred years until the coming of John the Baptist.

Opposition from false prophets

In looking at biblical prophecies it is clear that true prophets had to face opposition from false prophets, both in the sense of fellow Israelites and foreigners. In Deuteronomy we find strict condemnations of the false prophetic activities of the inhabitants of Canaan (Deut 18:9-13), while Elijah had to face the false prophets of Baal, in his struggle against the paganism encouraged by the wicked king of Israel, Ahab, and his wife Jezebel. It is significant that there were four hundred prophets of Baal ranged against the solitary Elijah (1 Ki 18).

In fact one of the main problems faced by genuine prophets was dealing with false prophets, who often did not protest against wrongdoing while falsely attempting to predict future events.
For example the prophet Micaiah had to face a further four hundred prophets who foretold victory for Ahab and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, if they attacked Ramoth in Gilead. Micaiah was summoned before the two kings, who were accompanied by the false prophets who were in a state of ecstasy, and heard one of prophets, Zedekiah, proclaim that victory was certain.

When asked his opinion Micaiah initially sarcastically agreed with this prophecy, but then gave the true verdict, that the kings faced defeat if they attacked Ramoth in Gilead. Micaiah even said that it had been revealed to him that a deceptive spirit had been put into the mouths of the false prophets, in order that Ahab should be led to his death, as in fact subsequently happened (I Ki 22:5-38).

Similarly, Jeremiah later spoke the Word of God against prophetic deceivers, whose immoral lives led them to condone wickedness, such that the whole land was effected. He proclaimed that God had not sent them and that they made up visions themselves, promising a peace which would not come. He accused them of taking their made-up prophecies from each other and warned of dire punishments for such lies (Jer 23:9-40). Similar condemnations are found in Ezekiel against both male and female false prophets (Ez 13).

Parallels between biblical prophecy and Marian apparitions

Thus we can draw some important conclusions from the history of biblical prophecy in relation to the modern Marian apparitions. Firstly, perhaps, we can see a parallel between the major and minor prophets, and the major and minor apparitions, between Lourdes and Fatima, and Pontmain and Knock, for example. In addition, it is clear that true biblical prophets had to contend with false prophets, often whole swarms of them, and so likewise we should expect genuine apparitions to be faced with false ones.

We can also see that prophecy is not necessarily continuous, that is prophets did not appear continually throughout Israel's history, but only during specific periods. In particular from about 400 BC until the time of Christ there were no prophets. God had given his message through the great literary prophets and it was up to the people to accept and live up to it, in expectation of the Messiah.

Similarly, as difficult as it might be for some people to accept, there is no reason to expect that Marian apparitions will have continued from the time of the last apparitions genuinely recognised by the Church as a whole, those at Beauraing and Banneux in the early 1930s. There have been more recent apparitions which have apparently gained the support of the local bishop, but this is not the same as acceptance by the Church in general. This is one of the points which this website hopes to explore.

The proliferation of alleged apparitions since the 1930s may well be a counterpart to the situation which prevailed in Israel in the "intertestamental" period, the time between Malachi and Christ. In other words it is possible to argue that the Church has been given a more than adequate "prophetic" message in Mary's approved apparitions, and particularly Fatima, and that it is presumptuous to expect anything more. Perhaps it is up to us to take up the message of Fatima and put it into practice, rather than to continue to look for "signs and wonders."

Source: J. Steinmuller & K. Sullivan, Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia,Old Testament,(Wagner, New York, 1959).

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