Prophets in Perspective
by B. Davie Napier


The story is told of a little girl who approached her librarian one day and asked for a book on penguins. The book was found, and she went eagerly home with it. The next morning she was waiting to return the book when the library opened. "I wanted to learn something about penguins," she said sadly, "but not this much."

Prophets in Perspective first began to take shape a few years ago when I was asked to write an almost book-length article on "Prophet and Prophetism" for The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Before the article was finally submitted it underwent the critical scrutiny of one of my seminars at the Yale University Divinity School. The article appeared with the publication of the IDB in the fall of 1962.

After considerable alteration and revision, parts of that study of prophetism were delivered in February, 1961, as the Jackson Lectures at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. I welcome this opportunity to thank Abingdon Press for permission to use the material, and to express my appreciation to all who helped make that occasion such a memorable one for me, and for Mrs. Napier, who accompanied me.

The subject matter of the article and lectures was the basis of a three-weeks’ course of study at the Eastern Pastors’ School of the (now) United Church of Christ, at Deering, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1961. Sections of the Lectures have also been delivered before college groups and church lay people.

Now, for this small volume, my study of prophetism has been renewed, further revised, and expanded.

I suppose one can get more than one wants of penguins or prophets. This book was not written with the little girl in mind. Graduate theological students have found some sections to be ground-breaking exploration for them. At the same time, however, lay people, college students, and parish ministers have given attentive and comprehending hearing to this discussion of prophetism. They have made constructive suggestions which have been gratefully incorporated, and they have persistently urged its publication in this form.

I have not tried to write a breezy popularization of Old Testament prophetism, but a serious, responsible, comprehensive review of that phenomenal movement which produced such giants in the history of religion as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and that crowning figure of prophetism, the Second Isaiah. It is all right for a little girl to learn a little about penguins, but superficial knowledge of religion and theology among adults is rampant and destructive on the American scene, and even within the American church, not entirely excepting, alas, the clergy. Such superficiality needs no further feeding.

I would like to think I have hit a happy medium here, but I would rather the book be returned or discarded than that it satisfy any reader who hopes only to be entertained for an evening by that living prophetism which proclaimed and still proclaims God’s judgment and redemption of Israel, and through her life, of the world.

B. D. Napier