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Q&A

Does the Bible ever talk about futuristic concepts which the original authors and audience would know nothing about?

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Note: I have already posted this on Biblical Hermeneutics SE

Some time ago I read a book where the author was doubting the divine inspiration nature of the Bible by using the following reasoning:

  • Since the Bible is inspired by God who is able to know the future, it should contain some concepts from times long after those parts were written
  • There is no such concept in the Bible and the authors use only words (concepts) that are understood by the persons back then

I am wondering about the second statement (since it is hard to prove a negative) and it could be simply refuted by finding such a concept. To make it clearer what I am looking for is something like the following:

  • a word or expression that is very similar to a concept developed (found) by humans a long time after the Bible was written (e.g. imagine "laser" is written more than 1000 years ago)
  • that word or expression would have had no meaning for the writer

Question: Is there a word or expression in the Bible that confirms that God can know the future?

P.S. Not 100%, but I think the book containing this idea was 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I will try to locate the exact part containing what I have described.

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The answer is that it depends, and this is highly subjective. The question presupposes an epistemology not shared by all Christians, but I'm going to follow it for the sake of answering the question and make the case that this can't be objectively demonstrated using a modern empirical epistemological approach from the biblical texts for a variety of reasons, considering a few possible approaches as examples.

Some Christians would point to fulfilled prophecies as evidence of divine knowledge of the future. However, it's hard to demonstrate whether certain texts (i) originally prophesied about the supposed fulfillment event(s), (ii) actually were written before the event(s) took place, and/or (iii) were understood as prophetic when originally recorded.

There are also instances of (fundamentalist) Christian apologists using anachronisms to ascribe modern wisdom to ancient writers. For example, such Christians might point to passages like Isaiah 40:22 which mentions "the circle of the earth" as evidence of the biblical texts teaching a cosmology involving a spherical, rather than flat, Earth (see also Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27). However, this anachronistically reads our modern cosmology into ancient texts. When understood in context, ancient Israelites (along with their Mesopotamian neighbors) viewed the earth as flat with a dome over it to keep the waters at bay from above and below.[1]

The biblical texts also talk about life after death (or rather, as N.T. Wright puts it, "life after life after death"). The ideas about this evolved over time as is evident within the texts themselves, and they borrowed ideas that were prevalent at the times of writing. This is also virtually impossible to verify via empiricism, unless you've died and come back from the dead. Christians point to Jesus as the One who has done just that, and is therefore uniquely qualified to teach about life.

This latter point depends heavily on one's views on biblical inspiration. In the perspective of Christians who don't outright reject critical biblical scholarship, biblical authors used the language and concepts with which their contemporary readers were familiar in order to convey ideas. Christians believe that God progressively revealed Himself to His people throughout history in ways that they could understand. The biblical texts are incarnational—that is, divine and human—just like Jesus. God's revelation also frequently mentions God's ineffable nature (e.g., Isaiah 55:9; Psalm 139:6; Romans 11:33–34). Arguably, human language (and our finite brains) are incapable of grasping an infinite divine being.

Again, not all Christians will agree on how to answer this question (nor share the epistemological assumptions inherent in the question). Some Christians may also vehemently disagree with my dismissal of some of the examples presented in this answer. However, from the worldview presupposed in the question, there is no such futuristic concept in the biblical texts; the authors used languages and ideas that were understood by the original audience.


  1. See, e.g., N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America, 1987), chapter 13: "The Three-Story Universe". https://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/gre13.htm ↩︎

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