Double Reference in Biblical Prophecy

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Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt


There are a number of prophecies in the OT which have a primary application to the millenial kingdom or the eternal kingdom, but are fulfilled in part in the church age. Furthermore, there are prophecies which seem to focus on the immediate historical context of the prophet, yet there is a more complete fulfillment later.

This tendency to speak of events that are separated by time, as though they were not, is called the principle of double reference.

The tendency of scripture to reveal God's plan by way of double reference is consistent throughout the OT. For example, the promise of a "son" and a "house" to David (II Sam. 7) is fulfilled in his son Solomon, but not wholly. The full effect of the promise is not realized until the "Son of Man" and his kingdom.

Four Classes of Double Reference

Four different kinds of double references can be distinguished in Scripture:

A. Type

In the case of a type, or a typical prediction, the seer's eyes are fixed on the closer of the two events exclusively. In other words, details of the prophecy are completely satisfied by the earlier event or person. Yet scripture states (either in the original passage or elsewhere) that there is also a subsequent event or person foreshadowed by the prediction.

EXAMPLES: Dan. 8:17-26; Jer. 31:15 (see Mt. 2:17,18)

B. Gap

When the prophet predicts one event or person, followed without notice by a reference to a later event or person, it constitutes a "prophetic gap". It should be noticed in this case, that the predictive material referring to the later event will not fit the earlier event. Neither will the description of the earlier event fit the later event. There are very few pure gap prophecies.

EXAMPLES: Is. 11:1-5; Is. 61:1,2 (see Lk.4:17-21); Dan. 2:40-44; Dan. 7: 7-12

C. Type-Gap

Often, type and gap are combined. In this case, the prediction of the earlier event or person is typical of the later, but the description of the later event or person does not fit the earlier very well.

EXAMPLES: Is. 13; Dan. 11:20-45; Joel

D. Unforeseen Partial

In the final kind of double reference, the prophet's focus is exclusively on the later event. Later, it is revealed by scripture that there is also an earlier event which, although unforeseen, is a real, but incomplete fulfillment of the prophecy. Frequently, the unforeseen event concerns the Church Age, which was not clearly revealed to the Old Testament prophets.

EXAMPLES: Joel 2:28-32 (see Acts 2:16-21); Jer. 31:31-34 (see Heb. 8:8-13;10:16-18)