History and Sources

What’s the difference between prophetic and apocalyptic literature?

It is not always possible to apply the distinction neatly to important texts in the Hebrew Bible, but it is useful to keep the following important differences in mind. First, prophets and apocalypticists have different missions. Prophets tend to be action-oriented, passing critical judgment on individual events as they unfold in the political and religious development of Israel, which is under both divine and Davidic sovereignty. Apocalyptic works are products of people dedicated to the written word as a vehicle for passing judgment on the whole of history, not just that of Israel and its monarchy. Second, the content of the biblical works they have produced differs markedly. Prophets describe specific examples of injustice seen in the context of an ethical struggle within Israel, which God’s judgment over his people will resolve on the coming “Day of the Lord.” Writers of apocalyptic works offer more generalized and highly symbolic visions of the reign of evil, visions that only a divinely commissioned “angel” can interpret. God’s judgment will be manifest in a final cosmic cataclysm, a final battle (sometimes called Armageddon) between the forces of Good and Evil. Finally, prophetic texts generally claim authorship by name while apocalyptic texts typically use a pseudonym, either to add credibility to their visions of the “future” or to avoid retaliation from the authorities of their own day.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App