Tactics and Tools

Three Criteria for Using Prophecy in Apologetics

Author Robby Lashua Published on 07/28/2022

If you were God, how would you grab people’s attention? You’d have to do something out of the ordinary, something that would pique people’s interest—something miraculous.

The Bible is a record of God doing this very thing. But what about those of us who have never seen a miracle in our life? How does God get our attention? One way is by performing miracles using history, time, and written records. We call it prophecy.

Biblical prophecy is often overlooked as an apologetic for Christianity. We need to change this. One type of Old Testament prophecy predicts the coming of the Messiah. In fact, some have counted three hundred prophecies predicting when, where, and what the Messiah would be. If we can show these predictions came true, it would help us to build a case for the validity of Scripture, God, and Jesus.

There are three important criteria for using a messianic prophecy in apologetics.

  1. Jesus didn’t fulfill the prophecy deliberately.
  2. The prophecy predates its fulfillment.
  3. The fulfillment of the prophecy can’t be a coincidence.

Once, Jesus appeared to fulfill a prophecy on purpose. Zechariah 9:9 predicted the Messiah would come into Jerusalem seated on a colt. The fulfillment is recorded in Matthew 21:1–11 and John 12:12–16. Jesus, knowing what Zechariah 9:9 had predicted, deliberately fulfilled this prophecy by asking for a colt for his triumphal entry. This kind of fulfilled prophecy would not be persuasive to a non-Christian.

Next, what evidence do we have that a prophecy was written prior to Jesus’ life? If there isn’t evidence the prediction predated the fulfillment, we can’t claim a specific event was foretold and fulfilled in Jesus. We need evidence the prophecy predated Jesus’ life.

Finally, to show fulfilled prophecy isn’t just a coincidence, we need something else: specifics. If a prophecy is vague or general and can be interpreted to mean multiple things, then it’s difficult to claim Jesus fulfilled it. We need a prophecy that’s specific and unambiguous.

With those criteria in mind, let’s look at Micah 5:2.

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.

This prophecy gives a specific location for Messiah’s birth: Bethlehem Ephrathah. Most of us are familiar with this prediction, but its precision is amazing. In Israel, there are actually two towns named Bethlehem. Bethlehem of Zebulun is in northern Israel about seven miles from Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown (Josh. 19:15, Judg. 12:8–10). This Bethlehem would’ve been more convenient for Mary and Joseph to travel to for Jesus’ birth.

Micah’s prophecy, though, says “Bethlehem Ephrathah,” which is in Judah, a 90-mile trek from Nazareth. Ephrathah is the older name for this city (Gen. 35:16,19; 48:7). Micah says this Bethlehem is so insignificant it wasn’t even listed among the cities of Judah when Joshua divided the land (Josh. 15:20–63). This specific location is the very place Jesus was born (Matt. 2:1–6; Luke 2:4–5; John 7:41–44).

Micah lived during the 8th century BC, so this prophecy clearly predates Christ. How do we know for sure? Among the manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 1940s was a scroll of the twelve Minor Prophets that included Micah and his prophecy. That scroll dates to 50 BC. Micah’s prophecy of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, then, for sure predates its fulfillment by at least 50 years.

This prophecy is precise, it clearly antedates its fulfillment, and Jesus couldn’t dictate where he would be born. He couldn’t manipulate his own birthplace to fulfill this prophecy.

Micah 5:2 meets all three of our requirements and so gives evidence that God was supernaturally involved in the writing of this prophecy.

Fulfilled prophecy is evidence that God communicates and is involved in mankind’s history. Pointing out all that Jesus fulfilled can help us draw people’s attention to his message and ministry. Let’s begin to use fulfilled prophecy in our apologetic approach.