400 Silent Years between the Prophets and the Coming of Christ?

by Steve Ray on December 21, 2020

When I was a Protestant we spoke of the “400 years of silence” between the last of the OT prophets (Malachi) and the coming of Jesus. Is that correct? I was asked this question earlier today.

I have been enjoying The Chosen TV series, ever since I saw an article where Dr. Janet Smith gave it a good recommendation.  Their Christmas special mentioned “400 years of silence” before Jesus was born.  A singer named Chris Tomlin sang a song on this special which mentioned this same 400 years of silence.  I have never heard of this concept in Catholic circles.  Is this 400 years taking into account the Books of Maccabees?  Maybe the Maccabean times are not considered prophecies, strictly speaking.

Here is how I answered:

download (3)Regarding the 400 silent years — you rarely hear this terminology in Catholic circles or in Catholic books and documents. I believe this is mainly a Protestant idea. Since they discarded the seven Deutero-canonical books, mostly written in Greek and some fitting in during the “400 years of silence” before the coming of John the Baptist, the Protestants have a big gap in their Bibles and in the story of salvation.
As a popular Protestant commentary says,

 

After some four hundred years of silence and absence, the Holy One of Israel had again come to his people. About four centuries had passed since the voice of Malachi, the last of the prophets, had been heard. ( H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., St. Luke, vol. 1, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 11.)

There is an assumption that God was not only silent but even absent.

The last prophet was Malachi and he prophesied from about 420-397 BC. After him, there was no prophet speaking God’s word publically until John the Baptist appeared on the scene as the last of the OT prophets and the first of the NT prophets.
          This is mentioned also by Dr. Peter Kreeft, but interestingly, this is the only Catholic reference I could find to the “four hundred years of silence” in over 15,000 resources in my Catholic software Verbum.

 

John would not appear for over four hundred years. Malachi is apparently the last Old Testament prophet—unless Daniel was written much later than the rabbinic tradition has believed. He is followed by four hundred years of silence from God. The silence was broken by John the Baptist’s voice quoting Isaiah 40:3 (Mt 3:3). Jesus called John the greatest of the prophets (Mt 11:11). Malachi may have been the closest to him in time. He is at least the closest to him in the pages of the Bible. (Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical Guide to Each Book in the Bible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 160.)

So from this standpoint, there were no public prophets speaking to Israel like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Malachi during those 400 years, but as the seven books of the Deutero-canon demonstrate, it is clear God was still at work with the people of Israel and therefore not silent nor absent. 
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