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The Prophetic Perfect
The Prophetic Perfect
The "prophetic perfect" is the use of the past tense or past participle verb forms (present and past perfect tenses) when referring to future events in prophecy. On occasion, Old Testament prophets prophesied using these forms "to express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and therefore, in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished."13 Isaiah used the prophetic perfect in Isaiah 53 to prophesy of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice more than seven hundred years before Jesus' mortal ministry. Note the use of the past and perfect tenses (both in italics) in the following phrases, each of which expresses a future event:
- he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4)
- he was wounded for our transgressions (v. 5)
- he was bruised for our iniquities (v. 5)
- the chastisement of our peace was upon him (v. 5)
- the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6)
- he was oppressed, and he was afflicted (v. 7)
- he was cut off out of the land of the living (v. 8)
- for the transgression of my people was he stricken (v. 8)
Book of Mormon prophets also used the prophetic perfect in their prophecies. Lehi declared, "I have obtained a land of promise" (1 Nephi 5:5) long before he actually arrived in the promised land; and Nephi spoke of Jesus' baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost as though those events had already happened: "Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove" (2 Nephi 31:8).
After quoting Isaiah 53:, Abinadi taught a concept that seems to indicate he was aware of the prophetic perfect: "And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption" (Mosiah 16:6). Similarly, Jarom recorded, "Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was" (Jarom 1:11). Further, King Benjamin stated, "And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men . . . that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them" (Mosiah 3:13; compare Mormon 8:35).The Book of Mormon, with its prophetic perfect forms, reads like an ancient scriptural work rather than a nineteenth-century text.