What is Bible prophecy?

The Hebrew word for prophecy simply means inspired communication. It could be delivered by speech, by song or in writing. The Greek word has the same meaning, but includes the idea of poetry. In the Bible the word prophecy is always used to indicate divinely inspired communication. The ministry of a prophet was to deliver a message from God. A false prophet would therefore be someone who was pretending to declare divine messages. The current idea of prophecy associates it with predicting future events.

There are several reasons for prophecy. The primary reason was to deliver a message from God. This did quite often include prophecy that we would call “predictive.” It would also deal with current issues of the time the prophecy was delivered. An important reason for predictive prophecy in the Bible is to demonstrate the divine origin of the message, not only to those who first heard it, but also to those in our present time. Many times a message given would be for people who would not be born for many centuries.

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Confirming the message.

And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

The question is, how do we know that a prophet is really telling us what God has spoken? The answer is that what he has spoken will come to pass. Obviously this type of confirmation needs to happen within the lifetime of the prophet. The prophets in the Bible always declared prophecy that came to pass in their lifetime and almost always prophecy that would not happen for many years after they were gone.

Both long term and short term prophecy work together to confirm that the message of the prophet was from God. For if a prophet delivered a message that was only for the time it was written then 1000 years later how could it be confirmed as true? If a prophet did not speak at all of current events, but only declared something that would happen 1000 years later, why would the people believe he was from God? What would motivate them to save the records of his prophecies? So by declaring things that immediately came to pass and also things that were to take place many years later God was making sure his message could be confirmed in the present and in the future. The people who first heard it were able to confirm it and today we can also confirm it.

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Prophecy shows that God is in control.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. (Isaiah 46:09-100

Some claim that the Bible writers never intended to write predictive prophecy. Yet the above passage found in one of the oldest manuscripts we have in existence shows that prophecy was indeed to speak of future events. The idea that a prophet could speak a message given by God and that the authenticity of the message was based on its fulfillment are both found in the Bible.

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Does the Bible really predict the future?

To say that the Bible predicts the future could be more accurately stated as the Bible records the future in advance. What’s the difference? Bible prophecy is not guessing about the future based on what we see now. A prediction most often is a statement about the future based on clues you look at now. The passages in the Bible that talk about future events were not guesses. They tell of what would happen, rather than what might happen. They declared things that God, who is eternal, already knew. The purposes were to warn people about the results of their actions, to give instruction, to give people hope in times of despair and to show the authenticity of God’s Word.

The most important examples of how and why God included prophecy are the hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah. If those prophecies were not there, anyone could claim they were the Messiah. Even so, many did, to the peril of those who followed them, because they ignored God’s Word. Other prophecies include what will happen to certain nations in the future. As the prophecies came to pass obviously they became more meaningful. After a prophecy has come to pass not only can we still benefit from the message, but it becomes the fingerprint or seal of God on that message. There is no other book in history with this fingerprint on it.



Should we test to see if the prophecies in the Bible are valid? Absolutely. There are many ways someone could make up a prophecy that seems to be fulfilled or for someone to fulfill a prophecy and claim God was involved in its fulfillment. Are the prophecies in the Bible of this sort?

1. Self fulfilling a prophecy.

When a person who knows the prophecy causes it to take place then it can be called a self fulfilling prophecy. But this can be the case only if all aspects of a prophecy can be engineered by the person or people desiring its fulfillment. An example from the Bible would be when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on the very day it was predicted that the Messiah would come. Jesus knew the prophecies and chose to fulfill them by his actions. But does this disqualify the accuracy of the original prophecies?

If these were the only prophecies about the Messiah then they would certainly be disqualified. Jesus chose to ride in on a donkey, he also chose the correct day. Any one could have done that. How many other would be Messiahs rode in to Jerusalem on that day? If that were all there were to being the Messiah then anyone could have fulfilled it. But there were a number of things required that Jesus could not have guaranteed. The unbroken donkey colt would have to be ridden. The crowd had to declare that he was Messiah and King. The religious leaders had to reject him. Jesus specifically chose several aspects of the prophecy that the Messiah was to fulfill, but he could not have engineered the rest.

Also there were hundreds of prophecies, many of which were out of Jesus’ control. When Jesus was born the wheels preparing for the Messiah had been in motion for well over a thousand years. But because there were certain prophecies that Messiah had to do and do successfully. Jesus had to deliberately fulfill them, giving sight to the blind for example. So even if a prophecy can be deliberately fulfilled it can be considered authentic if other non-self fulfilling prophecies were contingent on it or related to it. If we eliminate the few prophecies which the prophets themselves caused to pass, there are still many hundreds left to consider.

2. Fake it.

Imagine someone writing a prophecy about an event that had already occurred and then claiming it was written by someone else at an earlier time. This act of fraud is often claimed of the Bible, but has yet to be shown true. The Old Testament was finished 400 years before Christ and translated into Greek 270 years before Christ. The prophecies contained in scripture about Christ therefore could not have been written after the fact as some claim. There are many other prophetic events that occurred well after the books that predicted them were written, events that occur even after the most liberal dates given by any scholars. A good example is the book of Daniel. Liberal scholars have attempted to assign it the date of 165 BC because the book contains an accurate history of the Greek empire up to that point in history. But Daniel lived in the 6th century BC. So since the scholars don’t believe that prophecy is possible, Daniel must have been a 2nd century BC impostor. The problem is that the book of Daniel continues to accurately predict events that occur after 165 BC. So how did an imposter writing history after the fact accurately predict events and dates in the life of Jesus? Prophecy can be faked, but the Bible is authentic.

3. Revise the text.

This would be an attempt to alter existing documents so it looks like they were originally predictive. This only works when you have a few copies. Once you have many copies the changes have to be made to all existing copies in order for a revision to go unnoticed. We have thousands of copies of the Bible, and while there is a small amount of disagreement, mainly spelling, very few have any impact on prophecy in the Bible. Remember also that the prophecies of the Messiah were in the Torah, the Jewish Holy Book, what we call the Old Testament. They would have had to agree to alter all the existing texts to make it look like it contained the prophecies of the Christ that Jesus fulfilled. There have been many archeological confirmations that the Bible we have today is in fact very close to the original. So while it is possible to revise or change a document, the evidence tells us that this did not occur with the Bible.

4. Be vague.

A prophecy could be written in such a way that the prophecy could fit a lot of things. Such as “A great leader will come and make war with his enemies.” The Bible however is not vague. It gives names, places, times, actions and details. Bible prophecy was not written in such a way that it can fit anything. For one thing all prophecy leads back to one of these subjects, the Messiah, the Jews and the Church. It is the real revelation of God to his prophets, it can sometimes use analogy or symbolism. But it is not at all vague.

5. Predict the obvious.

When the enemy is at the doorstep of a city and your king’s armies have been defeated, the citizens have been reduced to eating moldy bird dung and you say, “Very soon the city will fall.” That’s nothing more than what you might get in the morning news headlines. The Bible however does not make predictions of likely events. It often was very contrary to what people thought would take place. Consider the fact that in the nineteenth century many Bible scholars scoffed at the idea that Israel would ever become a nation again in spite of what the Bible clearly said. So to solve the contradiction many held to the doctrine that the Church had taken the place of Israel. Even today whenever they read “Israel” or “Jew” in the New Testament, they replaced it with “the Church.” Its amazing how so many can still hold to this doctrine today even with the evidence right before their eyes. Another example is that the details of the crucifixion first appeared in prophecy five to seven hundred years before crucifixion was even invented. Sometimes things in scripture may seem obvious to us only because we live centuries after the fulfillment took place. The predictions in the Bible were not predictions based on the obvious, but on the truth.

6. Set no time limits.

This allows a prophecy to be fulfilled at any time after it was written. We of course assume that this would increase the likelihood of a prophecy being fulfilled because it has a longer time to happen. That’s the same mentality that justifies evolutionary stories. But in reality, time limit or no, the longer a prophecy is left unfulfilled, the less likely it is to be fulfilled. Things change, civilizations and governments rise and fall. How could a prophet know what was going to happen centuries later based on what he could see then? Three of the prophecies that triangulate the period of Messiahs life had no date attached to them. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the Jews loss of the control of capital punishment and the destruction of Jerusalem. None of these had a specific date for fulfilment when they were written, but as they were fulfilled they created a window of time that the Messiah would come. Historically, that window occurred between the years of 7AD and 70AD, with the central date being in 32AD. The Bible contains both prophecies with a date and those with no specific date for fulfillment.

7. Cover all the bases.

If a lot of things are predicted then a few of them might actually happen. People are often impressed with the writings of Nostradamus because some of his predictions seemed to have come to pass. Yet only a small percentage of his prophecies can be tied to events that actually occurred, and those require interpretation. His prophecies would be a good example of covering all the bases and vagueness. The Bible does contain a lot of prophecy, but those prophecies are not ones that just proclaim random things or numerous possibilities that are likely to occur given enough time. The facts tell us that Bible prophecy hits it right on the mark, over and over again. Why else would the liberal scholars attempt to date, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and many others as being written after prophecies were fulfilled? They know the prophecy is an accurate record. But their belief compels them to reject the idea that the records could have been written before they happened. The fact is that even the liberal scholars don’t believe that prophecies are just thrown out hoping some will stick. The prophecies in the Bible are specific and they relate to the Bible’s message. They are not just there for dramatic effect. They were made for a purpose and hundreds of them have been fulfilled. That’s not the result of lucky guesses.

Does the Bible fit neatly into any of the above categories? The answer is no. The prophecies in the Bible are authentic and prove its divine origin. As you look at Bible prophecy it is good to test it against the above ideas. You will not find that it can be labeled as fraudulent, or that it has been tampered with, or that it is just plain lucky.



Non-literalists tend to assume that man is on a continuous intellectual and for some “spiritual” journey. They tend to believe that education and position guarantees understanding. The Bible writers, in their view, where not equipped to understand God as well as we can today or they reject the idea that the writers knew God at all. They believe that the Bible was not inspired to anticipate our culture. Many also believe that the Bible writers misinterpreted reality, manufactured stories and that the spiritual stuff was probably a delusion. Yet they often attempt to honor the Bible writers in some way. For instance after telling you all the mistakes they think they have found, they say, “But the prophet really had some good points here. He was right!” But in fact they are correcting the prophet and presenting their own (better) message. This viewpoint is due to a number of poor ideas, biases and errors that they apply to their interpretation.

1. Assume that the traditional writer is not the actual writer.

What if Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch, if David didn’t write the Psalms, if Isaiah didn’t write Isaiah or if Daniel didn’t write Daniel? Let’s assume the books were written by other people, who history never recorded. Since we don’t know their names, we will assign labels. But first we need to establish rules that recreate the cultural conditions and possible beliefs that were held by these unknown authors. We don’t know who they were or when they actually wrote, but we do know what they believed, since we have their writings. But actually, since their writings clearly misrepresent what they actually knew to be true, we must be suspicious about what they wrote and hence what they believed. So then it falls to us to tell you what they actually believed, and this provides clear evidence that the traditional authors were fabrications.

Considering this, we know that the books of Moses were compiled from four sources, we’ll call them J, E, D and P. Those were not their first initials. Then there is Isaiah. He was actually two or more people, we’ll call them 1 and 2. That’s not father and son, i.e. Isaiah I and Isaiah II. This is the way many scholars choose to interpret the scriptures. They don’t actually have any evidence for the “authors” or “compilers” that they claim gave us the Bible. They interpret the scriptures through their own beliefs and then assign their beliefs to the documents. They break them apart, not because they have found any physical evidence that they were ever in that condition, but according to rules they invented based on what they believe about history. They distrust the true origins of scriptures for a number of reasons. The main reason would be their desire to be the arbiters of truth, rather than allowing God’s Word to have authority.

The fact is that the names we have, Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, were established nearly 1800 years before any of these scholars were born. Moses isn’t here to tell them, “Yes I did write that.” Their evidence is what they believe about the origins of the text. They are like those in the past who have attempted to strip God’s Word of its authority.

2. Assume the message given was only for the time it was written.

LikeUs-sIf you don’t think the message was from God, then it’s easy to conclude that the prophets were writing only in response to events in their own time. In reality God’s intention when he inspired His Word was to impact all people throughout all time. Truth by definition must be ancient and it also must be applicable to the present. That means the 21st century as well as the century when it was given. The messages in the Bible still carry a very great impact if you understand them and believe them. If you look at the Bible with the idea that ignorant people with a religious agenda wrote them thousands of years ago and that they were pieced together by other ignorant people with a religious agenda hundreds of years after that, then all you’re going to see is an intellectual reflection of your beliefs. The sense of your superior intelligence will blind you to its real meaning.

3. Assume the message was from a man.

This is an extension of the last problem. When we assume that God didn’t inspire the message or that the authors did not know God we must therefore conclude that it contains only the wisdom of the men who penned it. From there it naturally follows that the culture and knowledge of the author was central to the meaning. But if God was the source we miss the real message. Attempting to reconstruct the unknown feelings and unwritten thoughts of the people who wrote it and compiled it and then reinterpreting the text through those ideas creates the contradictions and discrepancies that liberal scholars often see. When you try to reconstruct someone else’s thoughts without actually talking to them, the thoughts are actually your own. That’s called “putting words in someone else’s mouth.” It’s not something you want to do with the Word of God.

4. Assume the prophets understood the message.

This again ties in with the beliefs that the message was not from God but from the prophet. Yet if a prophet was receiving the Word of God about events that wouldn’t happen for several centuries, how would the prophet understand all of it? God wrote the Bible for all ages, not just the one in which it was written. Therefore, the belief that the message is from man and understood fully by the writer actually causes a misunderstanding of the message.

5. Assume that the messages were not really intended to be prophetic.

If the prophet was fabricating prophetic material then we must conclude that the prophet either never expected any of them to actually happen or must have been deluded by his faith. The message may have been couched in prophetic terms that promise fulfilled future events, but the prophet’s intent was to motivate, not predict. In fact, there idea of a prophet sounds very much like those who reject the authority of the Bible yet call themselves Christians. They are people who have a message to get out, people who claim it is relevant for today, who are often a part of the church or have theological training. They make declarations that they know are from their own hearts rather than from the heart of God.

6. Assume that the Bible is man’s gradual attempts at understanding God.

We are not the heirs of spiritual authority. The Bible is God’s gradual revelation to man, not man’s gradual revelation of God. Some religious leaders and scholars are under the impression that they are the ones who will continue the tradition of revealing God or the idea of God to the people. Their revelation is tied directly to education and intellect, rather than inspiration from God. Therefore they often believe that the picture of God must be modernized because man has changed and man has grown. The God of the Bible becomes primitive in their eyes. What people thought of God 3000 years ago might be interesting, but it must certainly be irrelevant to us. We can improve on it. Therefore they proclaim that their understanding of God supersedes what is recorded in the Bible. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is not the guesswork of ancient religious writers.

Prophecy is the fingerprint of God on his Word. It is there for our benefit. It is not fraudulent, nor is it mistaken. Like anything else there are things in prophecy we don’t understand. Don’t start with the assumption that the problem is the Bible. Assume it’s you and ask God for help.

Proverbs 2:6
For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

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