The Silent Years

Question from a Site Viewer
Here’s a quick question about Luke 2:36. Anna is referred to as a prophetess, which puzzles me. Now, the question is this, isn’t it true that there were 400 silent years (silence from God) between the Old Testament and birth of Christ? So, if Anna is called a prophetess, was she a female prophet (meaning foretelling as well as forth-telling) and if so, can we assume she had been doing this for years since she was older (over 100)? Is there a place in the Bible that says that God was silent for 400 years? If there is, I can’t find it. Can we conclude that God was silent for those 400 years? I would like to hear your take on this one as I have researched what we have here and come up without answers.

Tim’s Answer
You ask whether God was silent during the 400 years between the prophet Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and the opening of the New Testament with the announcement of Gabriel to Zechariah. These are often referred to by Christians as “the silent years.” That term may be based somewhat on Amos 8:11-12 where Amos prophesies that the days were coming when there would be a famine of hearing the words of the LORD, that people would wander from sea to sea and from north to east seeking the word of the LORD and not finding it. But I think it is a mistake to equate Amos 8:11-12 to the time between the two Testaments. Amos links that day to the fall of the northern kingdom (see Amos 8:13-14). Scattered Israel would strain to find the word of the LORD because God was withdrawn from them. But, God continued to speak through prophets to Judah, and this prophetic utterance continued through the captivity and after the return. And I believe God continued to speak through the inter testament period.

While both the Jews and most Protestant Christian groups see the 400 years as silent in terms of the writing of sacred Scripture, this does not and should not be equated with the absence of God from direct communication with people. Jesus seemed to view a continuation of the prophetic line down to John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:13, Jesus said:

For all of the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

There is no sense that Jesus saw a break in this line. And, as you point out, Anna herself was a prophetess who had lived a long time as a prophetess before Jesus ever came on the scene. There is no sense in Luke 2:36 that Anna was remarkable as the first of the new line of prophets or prophetesses. She is not even known as “the prophetess,” as Huldah was in the days of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:22) indicating that there may not have been others during Josiah’s time. Anna is simply introduced to us as:

And there was Anna, a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, out of the tribe of Asher.

Apart from Anna, the New Testament also tells us about Simeon, another person to whom apparently the Holy Spirit had spoken some time before the birth of Christ (Luke 2:25-26). Again, while the revelation was special, Luke presents it almost matter of fact that the Spirit was communicating to people during this time period.

Certainly, during these 400 years, God was at work. The prophecy of Daniel in Daniel 11 is largely about this time. The rise of the Maccabees and the miracle of the lights are testaments to God’s presence, as were the rise of the Pharisees and the presence of godly people. Luke opens with righteous people who lived during this time, Zechariah and his wife (Luke 1:6).

I suspect that the writers of the apocrypha would think it a strange concept that God was silent, as would the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I do not believe that God spoke Scripture during this time (I do not accept the apocrypha as sacred Scripture), but this does not mean that God was silent. No Scripture was written during the times of Abraham, but God certainly was not silent. And no Scripture has been written in the last 1,900 years, but God certainly has not been silent.

For these and similar reasons, most scholars who speak of the 400 silent years speak of them in terms of the speaking, writing, or uttering Scripture. They do not speak of them as a time of God’s silence to individuals.

Thanks for writing.


2 thoughts on “The Silent Years”

  1. Thanks for your article, I also believe God was never silent. Psalms 91 and Romans 1:18-19 also says our God always speaks through His creations.

  2. Since our God has no beginning and no end.He is everlasting, I don’ think God is silent in relation to the history of the world events.Because He himself is the Creator of the world from time past to present and even future . So i don”t think God is ever silent.He stil speak today through events that is hapenning in this world that we live in.

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