Why I Don’t Believe “Fulfillment of Prophecy” is a Convincing Proof of Inspiration

Before you decide to mark me as some liberal anti-Christian heretic, read this sentence:

The Bible is inspired by God, and evidence of the wonderfully amazing fulfillment of prophecy is all throughout the Bible.

But I don’t believe that it’s a very good tool to use in convincing people that the Bible is inspired.  I know preachers who think that “fulfillment of prophecy” is the biggest and best proof that the Bible is from God.  That it is the “ace in the hole” for convincing skeptics.  I was told that by one of my teachers in preaching school, and I’ve heard it many times since then.

But I don’t think it’s very convincing.

Don’t get me wrong, as someone who already believes in the Bible, I find the fulfillment of prophecy to be phenomenal.  It blows my mind and leaves me awestruck that God could prophesy things hundreds–even thousands of years before they actually happened.  Every time I discover another type/antitype or foreshadowing prophecy in the Bible, I get excited and it makes my faith even deeper.

But that’s because I already believe the Bible is inspired.

I want you now to imagine that you don’t believe the Bible is from God.  In fact, you think that it was something put together by a bunch of folks who were writing after the fact, and that it is full of contradictions.  Imagine that you are opposed to the very idea that the Bible could be from God.

With that mindset, I want you to see how you would respond to these arguments:

(1) In Isaiah, it says that God would raise up a man named Cyrus, and in Ezra, we learn that Cyrus–150 years later–was the name of the king of Persia.  See, Isaiah even named him over a century before he was born!

If I didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible, I’d say something like, “Prove Isaiah was written 150 years before Cyrus was born.”  Or, “the oldest copies of Isaiah are 400 years AFTER Cyrus was king.”  Or “It’s easy to claim that it was written before then, but claiming doesn’t prove it.”

(2) In Nahum, God says that Nineveh (the capitol of Assyria) would be “dissolved,” and that’s literally what happened less than 100 years later when Babylon diverted the river and dissolved the mud bricks that Nineveh was built with!

If I didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible, I’d say, “the oldest copies of Nahum came 400-500 years after Nineveh was destroyed.  It was written after the fact.”

(3) The Old Testament foretells that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, and would suffer and die, and establish His kingdom.  All of those things were fulfilled in the New Testament.

If I didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible, I might say something like this: “In the Harry Potter books, things that are foretold or foreshadowed in books one through six came to pass by the time book seven was completed.  According to your logic, then, Harry Potter is inspired by God.”

The point is this: if someone doesn’t already believe the Bible is inspired, then quoting prophecy and fulfillment in something they think is fiction anyway is not going to prove that it is from God.  They’ll write it off as men looking at what was already written and trying to tie up loose ends in later books and letters.

There are much better ways of proving the inspiration of the Bible.  And once someone is convinced that the Bible is inspired, fulfillment of prophecy is a great tool to further convince them.  It will help deepen their faith.  But if they don’t already believe the Bible is from God, fulfillment of prophecy won’t convince them.

Just some food for thought.

–Bradley Cobb

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5 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Believe “Fulfillment of Prophecy” is a Convincing Proof of Inspiration”

  1. Very nice work, Brad. The paper I wrote for Dr. Gilmore’s “Christian Evidences” class was on predictive prophecy. You hit the nail on the head that anyone who wants to use biblical predictive prophecies to convince a skeptic must be prepared to tackle the dating of the books, which is tied in with their authorship. I also think almost all biblical prophecies are contingent and subject to change depending on the reaction of the recipient(s). Prophecies of doom are often warnings that offer a hope that the doom will not take place (see Jonah and Nineveh); prophecies of blessings may fail to materialize if the intended beneficiaries turn away from God. So while there are numerous predicitive prophecies that are fulfilled, I also think there are a lot that are unfulfilled, or maybe fulfilled in unexpected ways. So, the contingent nature of prophecy is another phenomenon that may undermine the apologetic use of prophecies. A third issue is that later biblical writers interpret earlier biblical writers’ prophecies somewhat loosely and allegorically. I’m thinking here especially of Matthew’s use of prophecies in his birth narrative. The best evidence of Christianity is the way God transforms individual lives. Keep up the good work!

  2. Interesting take, fulfillment of prophecy may not alone satisfy an unbeliever, for that matter a man risen from the dead is not enough proof to satisfy some unbelievers ( see Lazarus of Bethany, the story of the rich man and the beggar and of course Jesus Himself). However, it can be a powerful tool to convince some unbelievers while not satisfying others. Many people are “awe-struck” to this day by proclamations that men like Nostradamus supposedly made, or look at the attention that things like the Mayan calendar have created. Obviously if false prophetic elements would so inspire belief in people true prophetic elements would stand a chance as well.

    My take is on this is not the abandonment of the “fulfillment” argument but rather to make sure this is not our sole arrow in the quiver. Other approaches may need to be entered such as historical, a proof called the “acid test” for example, deductive reasoning or even sometimes a delving into scientific reasoning and argumentation depending the conversation and the scenario.

    So to your question of how would I reply to the unbeliever doubting the scripture was written before the event, I would concede the point (that I cannot prove it was written beforehand; even though he could not prove it was solely written afterwards) and move unto another approach or way of reasoning. Of course their will always be unbelievers that cannot be convinced even if they saw dead walking about them.

    This is a very well written and thought provoking article, I hope you will follow it up by sharing your approach to proving the inspiration of scripture.

    Thanks again for the read.

    1. Well thought through, Brad. I reached this conclusion many years ago after reading Bernard Ramm’s “Christian Evidences” book, in which his approach to using fulfilled prophecy as evidence for inspiration was to use prophecies that have ongoing present day fulfillment, like the prophecies about Tyre and Sidon and Babylon not being rebuilt. Check it out if you can find a copy somewhere. Thanks for your article.

  3. Not a fan of this article. It is not well thought out and assumes that fulfillment of prophecy is not provable. Sorry Brad, you don’t prove your case.
    Question: If fulfillment of prophecy is not proof, then why does God spend so much time on the telling and fulfillment in the OT and the NT?

    1. Chad, who said it wasn’t provable? What I said was that to someone who doesn’t already believe the Bible is inspired won’t be convinced by “fulfilled prophecy,” because they believe it was all written after the fact anyway.

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