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In last week’s study we introduced the topic of the inspiration of the Bible by considering the Bible’s claim of inspiration, the importance of that claim to the faith of the Christian and by defining what is meant by the term “inspiration.” We also noted that the Bible sets forth concerning itself that it was verbally inspired (cf., 1 Corinthians 2:13). In this present study, we will consider one of the principal evidences of inspiration, namely, predictive prophecy.
At the outset of this study, please notice the qualifying term “predictive.” We probably think of predicting the future when we hear the word “prophecy, but not all prophecy is predictive in nature. Much of the prophecy in the Old Testament was intended to teach God’s people how to live so as to please him. Speaking through Moses in Deuteronomy 18, God promised Israel to raise up “a Prophet from among their brethren.” Concerning the prophet, God pledged to “put my words in his mouth: and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19). Here it is obvious that the prophet’s work is not predicting the future, but teaching principles of righteousness. Regarding the matter of inspiration, we are not concerned with this aspect of the prophet’s work, but rather with that part of his prophecy that was predictive.
Just as with the term inspiration, it is also important to correctly define the term “predictive prophecy.” Predictive prophecy is more than just making a good guess. A prophet does more than look at the situation and determine what will probably happen next. By its very nature, predictive prophecy is outside the realm of human possibility. C. P. M’ilvaine, in his book The Evidences of Christianity, wrote that predictive prophecy is “a declaration of future events, such as no human wisdom or forecast is sufficient to make . . . so that, from its very nature, prophecy must be divine revelation.” Football forecasters predict who will be number 1; weather forecasters predict tomorrow’s weather; political forecasters give us their assessment concerning election results; but none of these meet the requirements of predictive prophecy.
Two passages from the book of Isaiah make it clear that predictive prophecy is from God. First, in Isaiah 41:22, 23, God said concerning idolatrous gods, “Let them bring forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods . . .” In this passage the ability to predict the future is considered proof of deity. In a second passage from Isaiah, God makes it clear that He and He alone is able to predict the future by means of predictive prophecy. “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 my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9, 10).
Isaiah 55:8 tells us “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” This is evident in the matter of predictive prophecy. Prophecy is often contrary to human thinking. For example, the Jewish people had long anticipated the coming of the Messiah. Yet, the prophets of the Old Testament predicted that his own people would reject him (Isaiah 53:3) that he would be forsaken by his disciples (Zechariah 13:7); that he would be crucified (Psalm 22:16); and that he would be mocked (Psalm 22:7, 8). The prophet did not get this from human thinking -- it had to have been revealed by God.
Three things must be true about a statement before it meets the requirements of predictive prophecy. First, the fulfillment of the prophecy must be remote enough so that it cannot simply be determined by human reasoning. Biblical prophecy differs greatly from weather forecasting or football prognosticating in that the matters under consideration in prophecy are far into the future. For example, when Isaiah prophesied that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” this prophecy was given over 700 years before the birth of Christ. Obviously, Isaiah was not close enough to the fulfillment of this prophecy to anticipate it. The only way he could have made this statement was by divine revelation.
A second requirement of predictive prophecy is that the prophecy must be specifically stated. The prophets of the Old Testament did not make general statements that could be fulfilled by any number of different events. Rather, they were often very precise and detailed in their predictions. The prophecy under consideration from Isaiah 7:14 is an example. Isaiah did not just say that a child would be born, he said a “son;” neither did he just say that a son would be born, but that he would be “born of a virgin.” Further, Isaiah did not just say that a son would be born of a virgin, but that this virgin-born son would be “God with us.” Only one event in history could have (and did) fulfill this prophecy -- the birth of Jesus.
Finally, the fulfillment of predictive prophecy must be certain and unmistakable. Just as it is necessary for the prophecy to be specific, so the fulfillment cannot be obscure and indefinite. Again, in the case of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, such is the case. There is no mistaking that the birth of Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of a virgin birth (cf., Matthew 1:18-25). Without fail, Biblical prophecy meets these requirements and offers convincing proof that the Bible is of divine origin -- that the Bible is inspired of God.
Time and again the Scriptures appeal to predictive prophecy as the unanswerable proof of divine origin. It is perhaps the greatest single proof of the Bible’s veracity. The sheer volume of prophecy in the pages of the Bible is astonishing. Its fulfillment can often be verified outside of the Bible. And as an argument for the Bible’s divine origin, it simply cannot be refuted. As Paul correctly stated in his last letter to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16).