Monday, December 11, 2017

Seers and time-travelers

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to use a different illustration to make the same point. A common objection to the argument from prophecy is that Bible prophecies are said to be too vague. In general, they don't have a name, date, and address. 

But predicting the future poses something of a paradox. It's necessary to strike a balance between to much specificity and too little.

A seer is like a time-traveler who takes a trip into the future, then returns to his own time. He literally meets himself coming and going. 

But he doesn't simply come full circle. He returns with additional information. That's potentially disruptive, because he now knows what he will do before he does it. Yet foreknowledge of his own decisions now threatens to affect the decision-making process. He will make decisions about the future knowing how things turned out. But that advance knowledge is likely to influence his decision-making, resulting in different decisions than if he hadn't witnessed the future. Knowing the future carries the risk of changing the future. 

That's a familiar conundrum in time-travel stories. If you see the future, you act in light of the future you saw, which may in turn change it. Your intrusion replaces the future you initially saw with an alternate future. 

That's why prophecies are, by design, more clearly seen in retrospect. Once fulfilled, it's too late to willfully or inadvertantly frustrate the prediction. 

One safeguard is multiple prophecies. It won't be clear in advance how these synchronize. And so it won't be possible to disrupt the predicted outcome. How they're coordinated can't be discerned ahead of time. But once they converge, the predicted outcome is recognizable, after the fact. 


  1. For those who are interested, we have links to a lot of our posts on Biblical prophecy in the topical indexes linked under our banner graphic above. I put together the one titled Triablogue Topical Index several years ago, and I occasionally add more posts to it. I just added this thread to it, and you can access a lot of Steve's other material on related subjects on the prophecy page there.

  2. Indeed. It's the fine line between the almost cliche distinction between foretelling and forthtelling and highlinghts the difference between the two purposes of prophecy.

    To be clear, all prophecy is foretelling the future. Sometimes it's a contingent future, sometimes it's an absolute future.

    Contingent futures are given as certain in order to persuade people to change their minds. A presentation of the Gospel is like this. If you don't repent you will go to hell. If you repent, and trust Christ with all perseverance, then you will be with him in eternity. These are certain possible futures contingent on a decision that is contingent on a calling of the elect that we have no knowledge of. Jonah was to carry this message to Nineveh, and we are often dismayed that he only told part of the prophecy. Nevertheless, the part he told was enough. God did as much with Moses when he threatened to destroy the Israelites and then relented upon Moses' pleading. Did God know that he ultimately wouldn't destroy the Israelites? Sure. What he told Moses was sufficient to get Moses to plead with God in the way he did. God was building his leader for the task ahead. Was God being disingenuous? No. Moses knew God was omniscient, although he had to be reminded of it from time to time.

    [Parenthetically, contingent prophecies are what false prophets throughout time, and even today, have typically employed in seeking to influence people's decisions by claiming to bear some divine fiat: "God says that you better do this..." with an implicit or explicit "or else." This is why God provided a test for prophets.]

    Absolute future: It's perhaps a misnomer to call one of these categories an "absolute" future, since both are really absolute, but I use it to refer to the teleology rather than the ontology of the prophecy. Prophets of the true God have foretold the future for the purpose of marking his revelation. Knowing this future can't change it. Herod tried and failed. The Pharisees tried and only ended up accomplishing God's purposes and fulfilling Messianic prophecies through Christ's atoning sacrifice. In retrospect, the prophecies were known but not understood. Looking back on the fulfillment with understanding, the prophets were validated. Christ validated both the canon of the OT as well as the NT through the fulfillment of prophecy.