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The Lives of the Prophets

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Question:  Hi I would like to know more about the lives of the the prophets like Amos, Zechariah, Joel. etc. because there lives weren't very there in the bible it was mainly just God using them to prophesy. How did they die what tribulations did they face what else did they do? Thanks for your help

Response:  Thanks for your question. I think we would all very much like to have more information about all the writers of scripture. At least in the case of the New Testament, there are some semi-reliable historical sources after the fact, like Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, which give some information (if not entirely trustworthy), and it is fair to say that because of the Book of Acts and some of the personal details contained in the Epistles, we know more about Peter, Paul and John than we will ever know about most of the Old Testament prophets.

Essentially, the issue is this: we know what is in the Bible and that is all we know for certain (and in the case of the prophets you mention that is for the most part all we know in toto). Sometimes, there is indeed important biographical information contained in the writings themselves. Amos, for example, was from Tekoa (Amos 1:1), and before being called by God had tended sheep and fig trees (Amos 7:14). So for someone like Jeremiah, we have relatively more details (cf. Jer. chapter 34-44), since he was personally involved in the events of his day and directed to write about them. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, for Ezekiel. There are also occasionally references in other books of the Bible that are potentially helpful (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14 on Zechariah). However, for most of the prophets, there is little in the way of biographical information contained in their prophecies. Take Isaiah, for example. His sixty-six chapters are among the most sublime in the Old Testament, but, besides his call by God (chapter 6) and several mentions in the early chapters of the naming of his children, we know little about his life.

It should also be pointed out that one can glean quite a lot about someone from what they write, so that careful and repeated reading of these books will definitely bring one closer to "who Amos/Zechariah/Joel etc. were". But information that comes down via "tradition" is always to be judged with circumspection. For although it is true that there exist occasional extra-biblical references which have managed to survive from antiquity, most of these are highly suspect. For example, the tradition that links "being sawed in two" to Isaiah's martyrdom (cf. Heb.11:37), comes from a second century B.C. pseudepigraphical work, "The Ascension and Martyrdom of Isaiah" which most likely contains no single scrap of true information, other than what can be gleaned by any reader of the Book of Isaiah (scripture, for instance, gives us no reason to suspect an "ascension" on his part).

For further reading the following sources do a good job of working over the slim historical details and will save you a lot of time:

An Introduction to the Old Testament by Edward J. Young (Grand Rapids rpr.1983).

The Prophets of Israel by Leon J. Wood (Grand Rapids 1979).

You might also look any of these prophets up in a good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia (Interpreters or Anchor, for example).  You might also check the The Coming Tribulation: Part 1: Old Testament Sources for a run down of the eschatological significance of these prophetic books.

Please also see these links:

Are there prophets in the church today?

Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Growth

The Gift of Tongues: Part 2

The Gift of Tongues: Part 1

Jesus is the Prophet

Prophets mentioned in the Bible

Is "the Prophet" of Deuteronomy 18:18 Muhammad?

The Old Prophet who Lied

Hope this helps,

Yours in Christ,

Bob Luginbill

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