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Biblical prophecy

What are the criteria that need to be met by a
successfully fulfilled, supernaturally inspired, prophecy?

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Criteria of a "real" prophecy:

In order for a prophecy to be considered a truly supernaturally inspired prediction, one might argue that it should meet a number of criteria. 

In the text below:

bullet "Prophecy" refers to a prediction of the future, and 

bullet "Event" is the happening that is said to fulfill the prophecy.

Six suggested criteria are:

  1. The prophecy must be clear and unambiguous.  It must not allow for a multitude of possible events. For example, Ezekiel 39 fails this test. It makes a prediction involving two military powers: Gog and Magog. "Gog has been interpreted as Gyges, king of Lydia, the Goths, and even a modern or future leader of Russia. Magaog has been interpreted as the Scythains, the Chaldeans, the Huns and modern-day Russia among others." 1 Almost any military conflict in history could be cited as a fulfillment of this prophecy.

  2. The event must be a fulfillment of the prediction. That is, the prophecy and the event must be closely related. Some feel that Isaiah 7:14 predicts the virgin birth of Jesus. It is commonly quoted at Christmas time. But it can be argued that Isaiah's prediction describes a birth which happened centuries before Jesus, and may or may not have been fulfilled in the 8th century BCE. Jesus was born circa 4 to 7 BCE.

  3. The event must have actually happened. Countless predictions of the end of the world have failed; the world continued as normal afterwards. Ideally, there should be historical or archaeological evidence that the event really occurred.

  4. The prophecy must have happened before the event. The book of Daniel describes a Jewish hero, Daniel, who many believe lived at the beginning of the 6th century BCE. It discusses the rise of various empires in Daniel's future. But religious liberals and secularists generally believe that the book was written about 166 BCE. If the liberals and secularists are correct, then most of the predictions in the book about the rise of various empires were not predictions of the future inspired by the Holy Spirit. They were actually historical recollections of the past written after the events really happened.

  5. The event must not have been artificially created by a person who knew of the prophecy, with the intent of fulfilling it. For example, during a crucifixion by the Roman army, the legs of the victims were generally broken. This hastened their death by asphyxiation. But the Gospels record that Jesus' bones were not broken. When the Roman guards came to break his legs, they found that he had already died. There are a number of possible scenarios about this event. Three are:

    bullet As John 19:31-37 states, this happened "... that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken..." In this case, the prophecy came true in spite of the odds against it happening.

    bullet Jesus might have been physically exhausted as a result of his scouring and blood loss. He may have died on the stake or cross earlier than expected. Thus the Roman soldiers had no need to break his legs. Jesus intact legs were correctly reported by the Gospel writer(s).

    bullet The guards might have followed standard procedure by breaking his legs. But the author(s) of the Gospel of John may have ignored this event, and written that it did not happen, in order that a prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures would be fulfilled.

    In this example, it would be impossible to tell if the prophecy:
    bullet Came true because it was divinely inspired.
    bullet Came true by chance, due to an accidental occurrence.

    bullet Did not come true, but was fraudulently reported as having happening. Reporting of the event was falsified in order to make it appear as if the prediction in the Hebrew Scriptures came true. 

  6. The prophecy must not have been a logical guess. For example, a person in mid-1939 who prophesied that a European war would break out before 1950 would simply have been describing the inevitable outcome of pre-existing Nazi expansion plans and activities. Hundreds of millions of people at that time expected a European war. A physic might predict a major volcanic eruption and a serious earthquake rated at over six on the Richter scale somewhere in the world during the current year. But these events are so likely to occur each year that the prophecy would be a sure thing. Similarly an ancient prophet might notice the Assyrian army approaching Israel from the East, conquering country after country in its path. He might quite logically guess that Israel was next.

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  1. Tim Callahan, "Bible prophecy: Failure or fulfillment?," Millennium Press, (1997), Page 6. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright © 2000 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUN-30
Latest update: 2012-DEC-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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