Was Jonah a false prophet?

The topic of prophecy can be confusing. Are there modern day prophets who give extra-biblical prophecy today? This is a topic that couldn’t possibly be covered exhaustively in a short blog article. However, something needs to be said in part because the subject comes up often especially with Mormons who believe that Joseph Smith and their church Presidents are modern day prophets like in the Old Testament.

First we should recognize that if a prophet who spoke on behalf of God got it wrong, he had committed an act that the Bible says deserved death, “But the prophet who dares to speak a message in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.” Deut 18:20

BUT on the other hand… If there are examples of true prophets in the Bible who did get it wrong, then there would be a legitimate argument that while 100% prophetic accuracy was the goal, it did not always happen that way in practice. That would give a major pass to modern day prophets and their prophecies.


Let’s look at the Jonah example:

God told Jonah… “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:2).

So then… Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be demolished’ (Jonah 3:4).

So what did Nineveh do… “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5).

They city was not destroyed in 40 days. Then Jonah was a false prophet, right? At the very least this prophecy was incorrect, right? Wrong.


The reason God told Jonah that He was going to destroy the city was because of the city’s great “wickedness” (cf. Jonah 1:2). But when Nineveh was confronted with their sin, they repented, clothed themselves in sackcloth, and started a fast 1 verse after Jonah pronounced God’s judgment on them. Pretty amazing.

God tells us that if He pronounces judgment on a city and the city repents, He will show mercy (cf. Jer 18-7-10). This is called conditional prophecy. If the city is not repentant it will be destroyed. The good news is that Nineveh repented immediately, and she was spared. The nature of this conditional prophecy is explicitly stated at the end of Chapter 3, “God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10 Jonah rightly spoke what God commanded. The pronouncement of judgment had its intended affect–repentance. Then God showed mercy. What a great God we serve!

What about Balaam or Caiaphas? Did they not pronounce prophecies that came true? Certainly they were not 100% correct.

Geisler and Nix say it better than I can so I’ll quote them, “It should be noted in this connection that occasionally the Bible contains true prophesies from individuals whose status as men of God is questionable, such as Balaam (Num 24:17) and Caiaphas (John 11:49). However, granted that their prophecies were consciously given (in the case of Caiaphas it would seem that the prophecy was given unwittingly), these prophets were not writers of Bible books, but were merely quoted by the actual writer. Therefore their utterances are in the same category as the Greek poets quoted by the apostle Paul (cf. Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12).


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