Accuracy in a prophecy is closely related to the specificity of the prophecy (the subject we covered in the last unit). Details of purported prophecies often claim to be accurate regarding calendar dates. As the year 2000 draws near, we will (sadly) continue to be bombarded by prophecies of the end -- whose accuracy can be tested and refuted. This is what is experienced at every turn of the century, and even more frequently at the hands of many self-styled prophets and prophetesses. Before providing an example of biblical accuracy in predicting dates, let's enjoy some levity in connection with the turn of the last two millennia. (That's millennia with two 'n's, as opposed to the millenia car with one 'n'!) First, we will be entertained by "true" history. Next, enjoy some purely concocted history I received -- as so many of us do -- through the e-mail this week.
The Year 999 (Y1K)
Ever since the second century, there have been would-be interpreters of the Bible who have taken the thousand-year period of Revelation 20 (Latin millennium) literally. For those who claimed to take this obscure passage in a highly colorful and figurative book, Revelation (also called the Apocalypse), the year 1000 seemed a good bet for the Big Day. As my local paper carried a recent story,
"A few doomsday boosters took up this theme, but none with the exuberance of Roger Glaber, an itinerant monk from Burgundy who couldn't hold a job but wrote a sizable history of the period, insisting that a spate of bad news and weird events (including the appearance of Halley's Comet in 989) seemed to agree pretty well with Revelation" (Washington Post, 5/12/99).
Glaber recalculated, adding 33 years, thus updating his prediction - as false prophets tend to do! Alas, the year 1033 also came and went, and here we are today! Glaber was not alone. There were likely hundreds of doomsday proclaimers. (Doomsday comes from the Old English for the day of judgment.) For example, Archbishop of England (Wulfstan) claimed early in the 11th century (the 1000s) that the world was speeding towards its end. It is interesting that no pope or king ever officially endorsed the idea that the world would end in 1000.
The Year 0 (Y0K)
(Yes, I know that there was no year zero. But not everyone knows this well-kept secret. Shhhh!!)
Are you still working on the Y zero K problem? This change from BC to AD is giving us a lot of headaches and we haven't much time left. I don't know how people will cope with working the wrong way around. Having been working happily downwards forever, now we have to start thinking upwards. You would think that someone would have thought of it earlier and not left it to us to sort it all out at this last minute.
I spoke to Caesar the other evening. He was livid that Julius hadn't done something about it when he was sorting out the calendar. He said he could see why Brutus turned nasty. We called in the consulting astrologers, but they simply said that continuing downwards using minus BC won't work. As usual, the consultants charged a fortune for doing nothing useful. As for myself, I just can't see the sand in an hour glass flowing upwards. We have heard that there are three wise men in the East who have been working on the problem, but unfortunately they won't arrive until it's all over. Some say the world will cease to exist at the moment of transition.
Anyway, we are still continuing to work on this blasted Y zero K problem and I will send you a parchment if anything further develops.
Hopefully you have enjoyed the levity. Now it's time for gravity - not for falling to the ground, but for seriousness.
The Real McCoy (Authentic Predictions)
Although time-linked predictions are not an enormous portion of biblical prophecy, there are a good number of clear, accurate predictions. Here is a short list, intended to be accurate though in no way exhaustive (there are scores of detailed prophecies):
The eighth century prophet Isaiah, a century and a half in advance, explicitly prophesied that it would be Cyrus (the 6th century Persian king) who would defeat the powers of Babylon and support a return to the religion of God in Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:28-5:1). This took place in 539 BC.
The sixth century prophet Daniel, in interpreting the ominous dream of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, prophesied the succession of kingdoms: Babylon-Medo-Persian-Greece-Rome (Daniel 2 and Daniel 7). Not only that, through him God revealed that in the time of the Roman kings the God of heaven would establish a spiritual kingdom (Daniel 2:44-45).
The seventh century Nahum prophesied the destruction and burning of Nineveh, which (with Nimrud) was one of the two capitals of Assyria (Nahum 1-3). As historians acknowledge, this was fulfilled in 612 BC. (I have stood in the British Museum's Nineveh room and seen the burnt walls of the palace, once so intimidating to the enemies of Assyria.)
Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed in the generation of his hearers (Matthew 24:34). He spoke around 30 AD -- the Temple was razed by the Romans in 70 -- in the lifetime of most of his hearers. In addition, Jesus provided a number of details concerning the siege, destruction, and aftermath.
Examination of the Element of Accuracy in Biblical Prophecy Continued
A key text for understanding the nature of biblical prophecy -- especially predictive prophecy--is Deuteronomy 18:18-22:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
Notice that total, consistent accuracy is demanded. An aborted prediction is evidence of a false prophet! This is not to say that God himself does not occasionally "revise" his own predictions in response to heart changes among his creatures, as in the case of Jonah, who predicted that Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, would be destroyed in 40 days (without any qualifier). The Assyrians repented, and God was moved. This is in accordance with another principle God has revealed to us (Jeremiah 18:6-10). In short, any man or woman who "gets it right" sometime, or even most of the time, is a false prophet. Do not be influenced by him/her (Deuteronomy 13)!
What's the big deal?
And why should accuracy be so important? Because it distinguishes the man of truth from the quack. In these days of New Age teaching, many drop the name of Nostradamus, the medieval mystic who uttered thousands of prophecies, some of which his fans claim were fulfilled in our time. Let us, for the moment, give the benefit of the doubt. Let's say there were ten or twenty prophecies that "came true." Now if Mr. N. made only ten predictions, and they all came true, that might be impressive'provided the prophecies were specific. But if he made 10,000 prediction, and ten came true, that would constitute a pathetically low 1/10% accuracy rate! I guess anyone can be impressed who is desperate enough, but I do not find such "mystic, crystal revelations" impressive in the least!
To illustrate, anyone could buy 10,000 lottery tickets and reasonably hope to recover some of his investments through occasional wins. His lack of "accuracy" can be partially overcome by his investment in multiple "prophecies." But he will be the loser in the end.
One vital mark of true prophecy, in addition to specificity and accuracy, is personal challenge. That is, God through the prophet calls the person/people to change. As simple as it is, the principle Challenge