Was God Really “Silent” for 400 Years?

Well…the answer to that question depends on who you talk to. Most Protestants would probably say that yes, God was silent between the prophecy of Malachi 4.5-6 and the entrance of John the Baptist in the gospels. This 400-year timeframe is commonly called the “Intertestamental Period.” I respectfully disagree. Much of the literature written during this time period has been neglected or ignored for quite some time now. If we take the time to read and interact with some of the literature from the Intertestamental Period, we might be surprised to discover that God never stopped communicating with his people.

In my studies on the literature and history of the Second Temple Period (500 BCE-100 CE), I’ve had the opportunity to engage the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic), the Samaritan Pentateuch, the New Testament (Greek), the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Philo and Josephus, and the writings of several historians from that time period. Much of the Jewish literature written from 500 BCE-100 CE suggests that God was still at work and that He was still communicating with people through various means, much of which can also be found in both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament.

A couple of ways in which I believe God continued to communicate throughout the Second Temple Period are 1) through prophetic dreams and visions and 2) through the interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures for the original audiences of these writings.

Prophetic/apocalyptic dreams and visions in the writings of the Second Temple Period are similar to that of the prophecies found in the Jewish Scriptures. In most cases throughout the Jewish Scriptures, prophecies had to do with 1) a call to repentance, 2) the recognition of a need for a messiah-type figure, 3) an explanation of why the current situation is what it is, and 4) hopes for God to intervene and to set right everything that had gone terribly wrong. The same is true of the writings of the Second Temple Period. The authors of the Second Temple writings spent years studying the Jewish Scriptures, they had dreams and visions, and they believed God was using them to communicate His will to the people in their communities. They claim to have been empowered by the Spirit/Spirit of God/Holy Spirit to relay what God wanted to say through their prophetic/apocalyptic dreams and visions to their audiences in such a way that the recipients would 1) turn or return to God, 2) understand their need for a messianic-type figure, 3) view their current situation in light of eternity, and 4) live in accordance with their eschatological hopes. If we look at the New Testament, we find that the same is true in their writings as well.

Another way in which God continues to communicate throughout the Second Temple Period is through the interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures for the local community. In certain places throughout the Jewish Scriptures, we find instances in which a passage is referred to or reinterpreted in another passage (e.g., 1 and 2 Samuel/1 and 2 Kings in 1 and 2 Chronicles). Authors of various texts throughout the Second Temple Period do something similar in that they understand and value the authority of the Jewish Scriptures, and they do their best to explain what the Jewish Scriptures mean for their community as based on their historical-cultural context and their hopes for the ending of this Present Age and the beginning of the Age to Come. The authors of the New Testament do the same thing. The big difference between the writings of the Second Temple Period (outside of Scripture) and the New Testament is that the authors of Second Temple literature use the Jewish Scriptures to express their continued desires and hopes for God’s apocalyptic intervention in the world, whereas the authors of the New Testament use the Jewish Scriptures to explain their beliefs concerning Jesus, who has already inaugurated the ending of this Present Age but has not yet consummated the Age to Come.

So…was God silent for 400 years? I think not.

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