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In Christianity, there is a school of interpretation where God sometimes describe future events using past tenses. God, being outside of time, see future events as if it already happens and hence use perfect/past tenses. Thus, for example, in Isaiah 9:5, when Isaiah said that a child was born for us, Christians think that it actually refers to a future child, Jesus. (This is a continuation of an answer on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange about that verse.)

Also, many of the other prophecies of Isaiah are rendered in past tense. Atheists say that those prophecies were written by someone other than Isaiah (deutero Isaiah) after the events happened. Christians believe that there is only one Isaiah and all the prophecies are written long before return from Babel happened.

  • What's Judaism's point of view and how reasonable are other alternative points of view?
  • Is it common for the Bible to use past/perfect tenses to refer to future events?
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

To posit some sort of "prophetic perfect tense" or the like is entirely superfluous. I am confident that one is unable to grammatically distinguish between regular and "prophetic" usage.

However we do find examples where a prophet will speak from a point of view in which a future event is seen as having transpired, see Numbers 24:17 for example. This is not a special "tense" but regular grammar applied to prophetic vision of the future.

[With regard to the issue of Christian proof-texts in my experience there are no cases where the criticism of the Christian interpretation is predicated upon the verse being in the past tense and have only found such arguments made by those who at any rate not inclined to affirm prophecy.]

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Why are you using Numbers 24:17 to prove past tense being used to describe future events? –  avi Dec 30 '13 at 8:18

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