The Prophet Jonah: Jonah’s “False Prophecy”

THE PROPHET JONAH- Introduction
You wouldn’t normally expect Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and skeptics to agree on much of anything. Yet all three share a similar opinion regarding, of all things, the Book of Jonah. Can you guess what it is? The CRI Perspective in a moment.

THE PROPHET JONAH- False Prophet?
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and skeptics all agree that Jonah uttered a false prophecy when he proclaimed, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). But, of course, Nineveh repented and was therefore not overthrown. Skeptics often refer to this as a clear example of false prophecy in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim this unfulfilled prophecy provides biblical precedent for the unfulfilled predictions of their own religious leaders. These arguments, however, are seriously flawed. Let me tell you why.

THE PROPHET JONAH- First…
First of all, Jonah did not make a mistake; he said exactly what God told him to say (Jonah 3:1). The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, on the other hand, do not claim that their predictions were exactly what God wanted said. Even they agree that any error is the fault of men, and not God. Therefore, Jonah is irrelevant to their case. Yet they want their teachings to be regarded with the same authority as that of biblical prophets!

THE PROPHET JONAH- Second…
Second, Jonah’s prophecy was not in error, because implied in the prophecy was a condition under which the predicted judgment would not take place. The Ninevites clearly understood what Jonah meant — namely, that their city would be overthrown unless they repented (Jonah 3:5-9). Since God spared Nineveh, obviously He meant the prophecy to be understood that way (Jonah 3:10). Even Jonah understood it that way, since he admitted in prayer that he knew God wanted to show mercy to the Ninevites (Jonah 4:1-2). So all of the parties involved — God, Jonah, and the Ninevites — understood that the prophecy was conditional.

THE PROPHET JONAH- Finally…
The same cannot be said for the erroneous predictions made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses or by the Mormon prophets. Their predictions were never understood to be conditional at all. Thus, Jonah’s prophecy gives no comfort to the false prophets of today. Nor was it a false prediction, as the skeptics wrongly claim. In fact, I like what the Bible says: “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21 NIV). On Jonah’s prophecy, that’s the CRI Perspective. I’m Hank Hanegraaff.