Was Nostradamus a Prophet?


QUESTION: What’s your take on Nostradamus?  Was he a prophet?

:  First, we should ask what a prophet is.  Every culture and worldview system has its predictors of the future, because there’s always a market for prognostication.  Why?  Well, if you could truly get accurate knowledge of the future, it would have a lot of handy applications:  Comfort, direction, betting advice.

But being a Jewish prophet was different than your run of the mill shaman, witch-doctor, soothsayer, tea-leaf or palm reader.  They all claimed to know the future through trances, or reading the flights of birds or the entrails of animals or the position of stars.

Thus the pagan had no objective basis for confidence, it was all mystery and fatalism.  The Jew on the hand shunned necromancy, and spiritism of all kinds because only if their omniscient, eternal God was real, was real prophecy a confident possibility.

Thus Isaiah will say:

When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?

Isa 8:19-20

Of course, the Jewish approach to prophecy means God is in the driver’s seat.  He reveals what he wants, not what WE want.  And God’s purpose in revealing the future was always for courting or building relationship with us.  Meanwhile, the pagans thought clairvoyance was about reading the predetermined script of Fate, for no larger purpose than personal gain or banal curiosity.

Despite all these differences in the source of prophecy, the real proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  Which mode of prophecy has proven trustworthy?  Here too we see a difference in biblical prophecy, because the Jewish Scriptures are not at all fuzzy about the accuracy standard:  100%.

“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him”

Deuteronomy 18:22

A lot of “prophets” (I’m looking at you National Enquirer) would have lost all credibility (and income) if we applied this standard.  This standard made the ancient Jews a thinking, non-superstitious people.  Fear of the occult was pervasive back then, but God specifically wants to allay these fears with a simple standard:  prophecies, in order to be verified, must be specific and detailed enough to be shown undeniably true.

Now, with this standard in mind, how does the Bible fare against Nostradamus?  I’ll list just a few predictive prophesies made by Bible prophets that were fulfilled.  Then we’ll see how Nostradamus compares.

  • Ezekiel 26 predicted, 250 years in advance, how Alexander would conquer Tyre.
  • Psalm 22:16 would predict that the Messiah would be pieced in hands and feet – clearly alluding to a mode of execution (crucifixion) that hadn’t been invented when the prophecy was made.
  • Predicting Messiah would not decay in the tomb (Ps 16).
  • Predicting Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
  • Predicting Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
  • Predicting Messiah would be a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1), and many others.

Of course Jesus shows up fulfilling all these predictions, but then he ALSO makes prophetic predictions himself – the most startling of which was predicting the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple within a generation of his life.  In 70 AD the Roman general Titus leveled the city fulfilling Jesus word to the letter. (Luke 21:5-6)

Now, let’s turn to Nostradamus.  Is there anything like this kind of detail with specific fulfillment?  What follows is a few examples that show either Nostradamus is so vague and unclear that his accuracy could never be assessed confidently OR when he is very specific and clear, he is proven false.

For example, this passage is believed by some to foretell the 9/11 attacks:

“In the year of the new century and nine months, From the sky will come a great King of Terror. The sky will burn at forty-five degrees. Fire approaches the great new city.”

The problems with this “prophecy” are numerous.

  • First, this isn’t taken from a single section, but rather it’s a collection of statements culled from different sections to make a more cohesive sounding prediction that is made to match an historical event.
  • Second, terror coming from the sky matches 9/11, but not this reference to a King.  The “king” (Bin Laden?) stayed home that day. 
  • Third, it’s not buildings that burn for Nostradamus, but rather the sky that burns at “forty-five degrees”.  What does that mean?  No one knows. 
  • Finally, New York City has the word “new” in its title, but in 2001 it was the oldest city in the country.  In what sense is it new?

We can admit that collected artificially in this way, there’s some similarity – albeit very figurative – to 9/11.  But taking these bits of Nostradamus out of context (as if everything he wrote was somehow magically predictive, but in a way unconnected his own flow of thought or logic) strains credibility to the breaking point.

Another example:

The young lion will overcome the old one,
On the field of war in single combat:
He will burst his eyes in a cage of gold,
Two fleets one, then to die, a cruel death.

Allegedly, this has reference to the death of France’s king, Henry II.  He was wounded in a jousting contest in 1557; he died ten days later. Well, here’s what actually happened:

Only six years separated the ages of Henry and his opponent in the tournament; it was hardly a contest between the young and the old (Henry was only forty). The accident occurred during a friendly sporting event, not on a battlefield.  There is no evidence that Henry was wearing a gilded visor (cage) of gold. Also, the king’s eyes were not damaged; a splinter from the lance pierced his skull and entered the brain. The reference to “two fleets” is utterly unconnected.

These are just two examples of how extremely vague Nostradamus’ writings are. This provides an opportunity for wild speculation and “retroactive clairvoyance.”  Many have made him a genius by squeezing modern events into the very large openings provided by his imprecision and ambiguity.

However, there is one instance when Nostradamus was less vague and refreshingly clear. In his preface to “The Centuries” – a letter to his son – Nostradamus finally writes in unambiguous terms:

From the time I am writing this [1 March 1555], before 177 years, 3 months and 11 days, by pestilence, long famine, and wars, and more still by inundations, the world between this day and that, before and after, shall be diminished, and its population so reduced that there will hardly be hands enough to attend to agriculture, and the lands will be left as long without culture as they have been under tillage.

The deadline for this prediction is easily tallied:


June 12, 1732.

The truly apocalyptic destruction and depopulation predicted here is very specific and the effects very long-lasting. So we can say with confidence that none of this has occurred and yet the deadline passed by long before the United States became a nation.

So, when I compare Nostradamus to the incredible line of specific and fulfilled prophecy of Scripture, I find him untrustworthy.  And it leads to this question – why would we want to trust him?  Especially knowing that we have the markers of authentic prophecy in Scripture affirmed and crowned by the long-predicted Christ.