Just How Much of the Bible is Prophecy?

By David M. McNabb

An exciting, pulsating, vital third of all the Bible is devoted to prophecy." This statement is echoed in the classrooms of Bible colleges and from the pulpits of churches around the world. It is often taught that "the Bible is one-third history, one-third poetry, and one-third prophecy." It is further clarified that the portion that is prophecy is found in the books of the major prophets, the minor prophets, the Revelation, "and in various scriptures scattered throughout the other books of the Bible."

Notwithstanding, Jesus Himself declared in Luke 24:44, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me." So the Bible is one-third prophecy, one-third history and one-third poetry. However, some of the history and poetry also contains prophecy. Of course, this causes the reader to wonder which verses fall into which category.

But is the Bible-is-divided-into-thirds doctrine valid? Where did it come from? Is it found in Scripture, or is the Word of God silent on this subject?

In the 1930s, Herbert W. Armstrong started a radio ministry and a small magazine. Armstrong often focused on areas in which his conclusions were different from traditional doctrines. This aroused interest. He emphasized the unusual, the never-before-understood. With advertising flair, he created interest in various doctrines by teaching things that other preachers did not. Most people did not accept his unusual views, but he persuaded a few people that traditional churches were wrong, and that he had the truth. In 1947, Herbert Armstrong moved his ministry to southern California, and his "Worldwide Church of God" grew through the 1950s and 1960s.*

After his death in 1986, the WCG began to analyze their doctrine. Today, the WCG leaders reject their founders doctrinal errors and have become a part of the Christian Evangelical movement. (1)

The opening statement of this article, "An exciting, pulsating, vital third of all the Bible is devoted to prophecy," is quoted from page 3 of Herbert Armstrong's book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It was Armstrong's promotion that the Bible is a third prophecy, and though he was rejected by Christian leaders, and now by his own church, this doctrine found its way into the mainstream.

That H. W. Armstrong was in some things doctrinally errant does not necessarily mean that he did not teach any truth. In fact, many true believers in Christ promote some error, as do many churches of error promote some truth. You cannot preach the Bible and not advance some true teachings. The fact alone that a minister teaches some errant doctrine does not negate all of his teachings. Nevertheless, is Herbert Armstrong's doctrine of one-third prophecy valid? Today's Christian theologians and ministers seem to think so, but what does the Bible say?

Paul told Timothy, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, ... That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, ... Preach the word." (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2) Any doctrine, no matter at how it is arrived, must be contained in the text of the Word of God. If it is worthy of teaching, it can be found in the Scripture. However, nowhere in Scripture do any writers declare that one-third is this and one-third is that and so on.

Paul continues in 2 Tim. 4:3-4, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables." This is what the prophet Isaiah declared in Isa. 8:16-20. "Bind up the testimony, seal up the law among my disciples. ...And when they shall say unto you, 'Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and mutter...' To the law and to the testimony (prophecy): if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

Paul and Isaiah describe the same condition of the people. These "teachers" that Paul said they would heap to themselves, are they whom Isaiah calls "wizards that peep, and mutter." But there is a simple test to prove whether our teachers and ministers are right: if they speak according to the law and prophets.

Now one might say, "Here comes the Old Testament legalistic rhetoric." That is a common misunderstanding of the term "The Law and the Prophets." This term, used in Scripture - even by Jesus Himself - is how they referred to the volume of holy scriptures. It is their equivalent of the term "Bible." Of course, the New Testament was not yet recorded, so their Bible consisted of the O.T. Whereas we would say that something is written in the Old Testament, they would say that it could be found in The Law and the Prophets.

So, just how much of the Bible is prophecy? Does the Bible itself say?

When Jesus said that He had fulfilled all that was written about Him in the law, and in the prophets and in the psalms (Luke 24:44), He showed something about the nature of the Bible. Another of Jesus' statements is even more inclusive. He said, "For all the law and the prophets (the Old Testament) prophesied until John." (Matt. 11:13) In John 10:34, Jesus asked, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, Ye are gods?'" Here Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6, confirming that the "poetical" books are included in "the Law and the Prophets."

Our own Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our Faith rejected the one-third-prophecy doctrine, declaring all the Scripture to be prophetic. Whereas those who teach that the Bible is one-third prophecy "speak not according to the law and the testimony," Jesus' words can be supported by Old Testament scripture.

In Ecclesiastes 3:14,15 we read, "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." Every thing that has been recording in the pages of God's Holy Word is relevant and is "required" by God to happen.

The whole Bible prophesied, as Jesus has said. Many prophecies are recorded from the men God raised up to speak to His people. And yet many other passages contain prophetic types, shadows and allegories.

As Jesus also said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matt. 5:18)

1. Note: These two paragraphs contain excerpts from the history section of the WCG website.