The Main Purpose of Prophecy

What was the main purpose of biblical prophecy?

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Some people think the main purpose of biblical prophecy is to predict the future, and certainly that is an element of biblical prophecy. But traditionally, a lot of people have spoken of prophecy as being both forth-telling and foretelling. Foretelling would be, of course, the prediction of the future. But the forth-telling is very important when you read the prophets, because, very often, much of what they say is not predictive in nature. They're confronting the people with their sin. They're accusing them of having broken God's law. They're calling them back to repentance. So, we could say it's hortatory. And I happen to believe that the predictive element is secondary, that what God is really trying to do in classical biblical prophecy — like Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, those kinds of books — is he's calling the people back to a proper relationship with himself. And very often the predictions are contingent; they're conditional. God is showing them what their future looks like if they don't repent. And actually, that's the last thing God wants to do is judge them. So, he's warning them, "If you don't repent, here's what's going to happen." But if they do repent, God may very well not bring that judgment upon them. Or in the case of a prophecy of salvation, he's showing them, "Here's what your future will look like if you continue to obey me or if you come back." So, it can be negative or positive motivation. So, I think it's very important that we merge the foretelling and the forth-telling and understand that's what biblical prophecy is really all about.

Answer by Dr. Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

Dr. Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. is Department Chair and Professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.