Jesus and "Self-Fulfilling Prophecies"

By Jeff Laird

I was recently asked if Jesus' completion of predictions of the Messiah were really just "self-fulfilling prophecies." In other words, was there a loop of expectations and behaviors which made the predictions "come true" just by the very fact that they had been predicted? Or, to put it yet another way, did Jesus act to fulfill the prophecies because people thought He was Messiah, or did people think He was Messiah because He fulfilled the prophecies? It's not a common attack, per se, but it is one that comes up occasionally when discussing Biblical prophecies.

In practice, self-fulfilling prophecies can only be specific, personal issues which are primarily under that person's control. For example, "I'm going to lose my job because I worry too much," or "this class is too hard, I'm never going to understand the material," or "I'm sure I'll wind up buying that thing sooner or later." The person making those claims is the one with the most control over whether or not they're fulfilled. Their belief can inadvertently cause the prediction to come true, and the same principle could apply to a group or culture. Those could legitimately be called "self-fulfilling prophecies."

That concept does not apply to all predictions, though. Comments like, "lightning is going to strike my house", or "it's going to snow every day while I'm on vacation," or "those guys are going to hit me in the face, but not the stomach," can't be "self-fulfilling" prophecies, because the person doesn't have control over those details.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are also not the same as when a person deliberately acts to fulfill a prediction, such as when Christ rode into Jerusalem on a colt (Zechariah 9:9). Or, even His own resurrection (John 2:19). Those, one could argue, were purposeful fulfillments of which Jesus was in total control. Those fulfillments were not incidental or accidental or circumstantial, they were intentional. And yet, that doesn't change the fact that they were fulfilled. It's a strangely circular logic which says, "Jesus said He was going to rise from the dead, then He did, so His resurrection is just a self-fulfilling prophecy." He did what He said He would do, and what was predicted He would do!

So, the biggest problem with this attack is a misunderstanding of what a "self-fulfilling prophecy" really is. Most of Jesus' prophetic fulfillments were outside of His control. That is, Jesus was in no position to artificially comply with those predictions, so they can't be written off as "self-fulfilling." The claim also doesn't explain the miracles Jesus performed, which were also signs of His legitimacy. If the Bible says Messiah will die and be resurrected, and a man claims to be Messiah, dies, and is resurrected, calling that resurrection "self-fulfilling" is irrelevant — it happened!

What's more important to note is that Scripture, written centuries before Christ, predicted details such as the Messiah's heritage (Genesis 49:10), era of birth (Daniel 7:25-26), place of birth (Micah 5:2), miraculous nature of birth (Isaiah 7:14), and early family history (Hosea 11:1). Jesus had absolutely no control over any of those. And He could never have controlled all of the details of His suffering (Isaiah 53), death by crucifixion (Psalm 22), or that His bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20). Roman crucifixion victims were typically left to rot on their crosses — Jesus said He'd be buried (Matthew 12:40). And, a fraudulent Jesus could certainly not have "chosen" to rise bodily from the dead (Luke 9:22).

And so on, and so forth. Dismissing Jesus' prophetic fulfillments as "self-fulfilling" requires a simplistic attitude towards both prophecy and the Bible. The circumstances of those fulfillments are evidence for, not against, them being legitimate predictions meant to prove Jesus' claims.

TagsBiblical-Truth  | History-Apologetics  | Jesus-Christ

comments powered by Disqus
Published 6-14-14