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I came across an article on the FAIR Mormon wiki that discusses the prophetic test (Deut. 18). It applies the test on some Biblical prophets, and shows how someone could claim these prophets fail the test.

The one I find interesting is Jonah's prophecy against Nineveh:

Jonah 3 (ESV)
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you." 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

What did happen was that the people of Nineveh repented and God did not destroy the city:

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

I'm interested in the Protestant answers to the following questions:

  • How does this fit with Deut. 18, where God says that if the word of a prophet doesn't come to pass, it's not from the Lord?
  • Should the inhabitants of Nineveh have considered Jonah as a false prophet?
  • Should we consider Jonah as a false prophet?

For reference, the passage from Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 (ESV)
20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' 21 And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

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Personally, I think this would be a better question without the bit about Joseph Smith. We just need the question itself, not an explanation of how that question occurred to you. The background is unnecessary, distracting, and potentially inflammatory. –  TRiG Oct 25 '11 at 15:53
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Well, all I know about Protestantism comes from Veggietales, and according to the most popular vegetable movie of all time, Jonah was a Prophet, but he never really got it. –  Peter Turner Oct 25 '11 at 20:35
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@PeterTurner +1 just for mentioning Veggietales. –  Waggers Oct 26 '11 at 7:34
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Jonah is a morality lesson, not a history. –  TRiG Mar 16 '12 at 13:21

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

What's clear from the account of Jonah is that God would have destroyed the city if it were not for the people's repentance. Jonah's prophecy was accurate in that it articulated what God was going to do, but God relented. There was no failing in Jonah's ability to discern and communicate the will of God prior to the people's repentance, but that remarkable repentance was a hugely significant event that altered the subsequent history of that city.

There is a bit of chicken-and-egg here. God could of course have prevented Jonah from making this prophecy since he knew the people would repent, in which case the people of Nineveh wouldn't have heard about what God had in store for them. They therefore might not have repented, and the city would have been destroyed... it's similar to the liar paradox. In other words, the people needed to hear Jonah tell them what was in store if they didn't repent in order to repent: the prophecy was conditional.

You could also argue that Jonah's prophecy holds true: the city was overthrown within 40 days, but in a spiritual sense rather than a physical one.

In the case of Joseph Smith, those who maintain he was a false prophet argue there were no such events that altered history in the same way yet still his prophecies did not come to pass; this isn't a case of God relenting, it's simply a case of getting it wrong in the first place. (Mormons of course disagree and maintain that some of his prophecies were later cancelled and others came to pass to a certain degree).

There are several supporting online resources... these are from a Google search, so may not all be representative of mainstream Christianity: Let Us Reason Ministries | Christian Research Institute | Third Millennium Ministries | Mormonism Research Ministry

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Nice use of pipes!||!1!! –  Richard Oct 25 '11 at 19:22
    
@Richard Thanks! I was originally trying to create a bullet list but in the small font, but that didn't work. I think pipes look better anyway :) –  Waggers Oct 26 '11 at 7:33

Consider this: If the only words that Jonah spoke were "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown." the Ninevites would not "have believed God and repented". This is because they would not have known upon what authority Jonah was speaking, nor would they have known what to do.

It's clear from the actions of the Ninevites and the unchanging nature of God, that Jonah preached: "This is what the Lord your God says: 'Repent of your wickedness or in forty more days Nineveh will be overthrown.'"

The author of this story explained the context surrounding what Jonah was to do, which gives him plenty of reason to leave out the exact phrase that Jonah spoke and instead paraphrase it.

How does this fit with Deut. 18, where God says that if the word of a prophet doesn't come to pass, it's not from the Lord?

The Ninevites believed that God would overthrow them in forty days if they had not repented, why is it that we would not believe that God would have done this? To say that God would not have done this, thus Jonah spoke presumptuously, even though the author makes it clear that God commanded Jonah to say something, is ignorant and scoffing of this story.

Should the inhabitants of Nineveh have considered Jonah a false prophet?

If the inhabitants of Nineveh hadn't believed Jonah in any way shape or form, then they would have been given plenty of evidence that Jonah was a true prophet, as they would have been overthrown. That is clear.

The inhabitants of Nineveh believed that Jonah was a true prophet, because Jonah preached that they should repent of their wickedness, or else perish. This warning is in complete coherence with the nature and the will of God, therefore the Ninevites believed that he was a prophet.

If Jonah had preached that the Ninevites should become Holy by their own standards and Lord it over each other in order to become Gods themselves, well, this is not in coherence with anything that God has ever told us. Therefore Jonah would have died a false prophet.

Should we consider Jonah a false prophet?

This Bible story gives us a complete context to this situation that Jonah was placed in. If you compare the message that Jonah spoke with the actions of God and the actions of the Ninevites, then it's clear that Jonah was a prophet.

Again, the Ninevites believed Jonah and God relented of His destruction against Nineveh.

What Jonah preached was exactly what happened, therefore this story gives us every reason to believe that Jonah was a true prophet of God.

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Jonah was the only prophet in the Hebrew Bible that was sent to some of the Gentiles. Generally there was no reason to send a prophet to the Gentiles, since they were not given the same set of laws as the Israelites. So unless they got totally depraved, God left them as they were.

It's interesting to note, that even in that case, when the Gentiles needed to correct their ways - they were able to do it without any Jesus. Jonah does not preach to them about having faith in Jesus as the only way to attain forgiveness from God. On the contrary, they are simply told to do it the old (testament) way - avoiding from immoral behavior. Jesus is never mentioned.

The story of Jonah is quite striking to the Christian theology. Not surprising that the only useful moral that the New Testament's writers were able to make out of that story is, to mention that Jesus was believed to be dead for three days (48 hours?), the same amount of days that Jonah spent in the stomach of the whale.

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So as long as we abolish income tax, stop interfering with market mechanism, and justly reward everyone based on productivity, then things will go well? –  Sharen Eayrs Nov 21 '13 at 0:46

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