Vos Group #49 — The Conception of a Prophet: Names and Etymologies

We continue our #VosGroup series in pages 191–194 of Vos’ book Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments to consider the biblical conception of prophetism. Vos beings by considering critical theories of prophetism based on the term “prophet.” Vos instructs us that all quests for seeking the conception of the prophet in etymology, rather in the teaching of the text, the meaning and function of Nabi (the Hebrew word for prophet) in the biblical text, are fraught with uncertainty and speculation.

This is always the case when you seek to find the meaning of the text behind it in a critically reconstructed theory of the origin of the meaning in the text itself. Of course, if you want to say that the text takes you to what is behind it—the history of special deed revelation which the word revelation interprets, that is fine, even critical to affirm. But what Vos is helping us see is that we do not seek to find the meaning of the biblical text in a critical reconstruction of what sources we think might yield the meaning “behind” the text. Such an approach, characteristic of the modernist scholarship in Vos’ day (and continuing in our day) strips authority from the biblical text and makes it a fallible window through which we seek to get “behind” the text to its true historically reconstructed sources. Such an approach divests the Scripture of its revelatory character and intrinsic authority.

The point: “even to the pre-Mosaic Hebrew consciousness a nabhi is an authorized spokesman for the Deity, and that in his word a divinely-communicated power resides” (193). Contrary to the modernist conception of the prophet as an insightful, inspiring religious genius who shares his mysterious insight into the divine (and therefore is an ethical example for us), the prophet is first and foremost one who receives and is authorized to transmit (to speak and write) the Word of God do you have the prophet. All the emphasis lies on the actual speaking, the true communicating, of something out in the open, where it reaches the mind of man and directs him in his religious fellowship bond with God. It is there that you find the essence of the prophet’s activity.

It is not the mere passive reception of some ineffable mystery; it is the open declaration of the oracles of God—words from God that address God’s people in covenant fellowship with Himself. Vos is warning us, once again, of the errors of Liberalism or Modernism—where the trend is always to reduce the Scriptures and the prophets in this case, to a record of religious experience–religious feeling set forth in speech. Rather, the Scriptures in general and the prophets in particular bring into view the supernatural approach of God for fellowship with his covenant people, as that relation is rooted in the substance of what the prophets will proclaim–Christ crucified and Christ raised (I Peter 1:10–12).

The point, as we move toward unpacking that gospel content, is that God speaks to his people for the purpose of consummating a redemptive bond of fellowship—communion in covenant—that lies at the core of our religious relation to God.



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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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