Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the role that prophesy plays in helping Christians determine whether a writing or group of writings ought to be accepted at Scripture. We’ve discussed both the importance of “Testing a Prophet” and examined the application of “The Test of Uniqueness” to prophetic utterances. This week, we’re continuing our series with a discussion of another important test: the test of detail.
One of the most distinguishing marks of Biblical prophesy is (drum roll, please) – its specificity. Do you remember our prophesy about a balloon crashing atop a house in Manhattan tomorrow? While the prediction failed the test of prophesy in that it didn’t come true and fails the test of uniqueness in that such a crash could be orchestrated and thus, self-fulfilling, it does fulfill the test of detail. And similar detail is evident throughout the Christian Scriptures. Take, for example, Psalm 22:14-18:
“I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.” (NASB)
Known as “The Psalm of the Suffering Servant”, the text is replete with detail. The man described has been pierced in his hands and feet, his bones are visible, and men are gambling for his clothes! If these details form an image in your mind, it isn’t surprising. That’s just what they (and all genuine prophesy) were meant to do. They illustrate a specific, identifiable, situation (in this case John 19:16-30).
One of the best tests of a prophet, both Biblical or otherwise, is in whether he “hedges his bets” with vague descriptions (like that a cataclysmic event will occur sometime within the next hundred years) or whether he’s willing to put it all on the line by detailing his prophesy. In this case, the Psalmist who wrote the description painted a vivid description of a form of execution which would be popularized by the Persians beginning in the 6th century B. C. – nearly 400 years after his poem was written! (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropedia Ready Reference, 1988) While readers (or listeners) may not immediately be able to recognize or anticipate the events described in a prophesy, the details are sufficient to ensure that many who have heard the prophet will recognize the fulfillment of his words when it takes place.
And this leads us to another important test of whether a prophesy should be considered Scripture: “Does the prediction offer something of genuine value to its readers?”
We’ll take a look at this question next week, but for now, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropedia Ready Reference (Fifteenth ed., Vol. 3). (1988). Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.