Some critics attack Bro. Branham’s comparison of eagles to the gift of prophetic foresight. In this article we will examine the origin of that teaching and its basis in scripture.
Believers are comparable to Eagles
The bible compares all believers to eagles. (Isa. 40:31, Duet 32:11) In Deuteronomy, Moses compares God to an eagle and his followers to eaglets being protected in a nest until they are ready to fly. In Isaiah, we are told that all believers who trust and wait on God will be given wings like eagles by which they can soar high above the difficulties of their life. These scriptures help form the basis of comparison between a Christian and an eagle. These passage use the characteristics of an eagle to demonstrate to the reader how God gives protection and victory to believers.
There is another aspect in which Christianity has interpreted the significance of an eagle. The eagle has incredible vision and can see great distances. This has been interpreted to symbolize the gift of prophetic foresight, and used to link eagles as a symbol of prophets.
Where did the association of eagles to prophetic foresight originate?
The comparison of eagles to prophets is not unique to Bro. Branham or message believers, but is a concept commonly found in modern times in both charismatic and messianic Christianity.1
The concept itself actually dates to the early church fathers, the generations of church leaders immediately following the apostles. Their writings and scriptural interpretation are preserved and are known as the patristic interpretation of scripture. Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, and others are the authors of the patristic interpretations of scripture. All three of them include in their writings a comparison of the eagle’s characteristics to prophetic foresight.23
For, [as the Scripture] says, The first living creature was like a lion,
Revelation 4:7 symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man, — an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated.
Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet, — pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.Irenaeus, Against Heresies, p. iii.11.18 , c. 160 AD
The concept of connection of the eagle to prophetic foresight actually originated in the church father’s interpretation of scripture. It began with their comparison of the eagle beasts of Isaiah 24, Ezekiel 1 & 10, and Revelation to the Gospel of Mark, which they believed emphasizes the prophetic character of Christ. The church fathers also found John’s prophetic insight via the Book of Revelation to be comparable to the vision of the eagle. From there the concept gained broad acceptance as witnessed by the symbolism of the eagle in medieval art and writings. The early church considered eagles to symbolize a prophetic gift.4 Francis Watson traces the comparison of the eagle to prophetic foresight and seers from modern times back to the early church in the same manner.5 To the best of this website’s editors’ knowledge, this is the origin of this interpretation of scripture.
The interpretation has remained in use until modern times. In more recent generations, the interpretation can be found in the writings of Charles Parham in Pentecostalism and by Charles Taze Russell among Jehovah Witnesses in his book The Finished Mystery.
Bro. Branham did not originate the teaching which connected eagles to prophetic insight. He did, however, adopt and repeat the teaching. The critics who allege this is a false teaching are not only condemning Bro. Branham, but they are condemning centuries worth of major church figures who endorsed this interpretation, including Martin Luther, Alexander of Dionysus, Irenaeus, Augustine, Charles Parham, and on and on.
It Is A Scriptural Interpretation
In summary, the concept connecting eagles with prophets derived from a interpretation of the significance of the fourth eagle beast of Isaiah 24, Ezekiel 1 & 10, and Revelation 4. The bible does not directly say “a prophet is an eagle”. That belief is derived from a scriptural interpretation of what that eagle beast symbolizes. A segment of Christianity considers the eagle in those chapters of scripture to symbolizes prophetic foresight.
In conclusion, the bible does connect an eagle to prophetic foresight, not by direct statement, but by scriptural interpretation of the significance of the characteristics of the eagle.
Eagle of vulture?
There is some debate whether the Hebrew word “nesher” should be translated as “eagle” or “vulture”. Vultures have slightly poorer eyesight than eagles, but have an incredible sense of smell which they use to similar effect. Whether eagle or vulture, the interpretation of the significance of the “nesher” (eagle) beast remains the same. The early church fathers clearly understood which animal the word was referring to, and the connection of the beast to prophetic foresight dates to their time. While we may no longer be able to certainly say which animal “nesher” refers to today, the interpretation of its symbolic significance dates to a time when its identify was still clearly known.
Most bibles translate the word “nesher” as “eagle”. The editors of this website agree with this translation. It is clear that the eagle (“nesher”) of Ezekiel 1 & 10 is the same creature as the eagle (“aetos”) of Revelation 4. Thus “nesher” in Ezekiel 1 & 10 is equivalent to the Greek word “aetos” of Revelation 4. “Aetos” is a word with a much less unambiguous interpretation than “nesher”, and is certainly an eagle. The word is still spoken in modern Greek, and it means “eagle”.
- Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae, St. Jerome p. 28.432
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, p. iii.11.18
The Apocalypse: A Commentary on Revelation in Words and Images By Robert H. Smith
- Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective By Francis Watson