Nostradamus was a French pharmacist who was born in the year 1503 and died on July 2, 1566. Nostradamus has been credited by some with prophetic writings that have supposedly predicted modern events ranging from Hitler’s rise in Germany to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. But did Nostradamus really predict any of these events? To answer that question, it is necessary to examine first what it means to speak or write prophecy.
Prophecy can be divided into two categories. First, speaking forth the Word of God (the Bible) into the lives of people that they would be edified, exhorted, and comforted (1 Corinthians 14:3). In other words, prophecy is sharing applicable Scripture verses with someone, in order to draw him closer to Jesus (edify), to encourage proper behavior (exhort), or to give assurance of the Lord’s faithfulness, control and help in any situation (comfort).
Second, prophecy is foretelling future events before they happen with specificity and with 100 percent accuracy. If the prophesied event does not happen, then it was not a true prophecy. "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). The Bible also says in Deuteronomy 13:1-3 that even if what a prophet says comes true, if he does not lead others to worship the one true God, then he is still a false prophet based upon that alone.
Nostradamus was certainly not a prophet by the first definition. But it is asserted by some that he was a prophet who foretold future events. But did he? Prophecies, in order to be verified, must be specific and detailed enough to be undeniably true. For example, in the Bible, a Messianic prophecy about Jesus the Messiah being nailed by His hands and feet is found in Psalm 22:16, where it prophetically states that "they have pierced my hands and my feet." That was written at a time when crucifixion was not a method of execution in Israel. But that is exactly how Jesus died. There are specific details that are clear and correlate to the fulfillment. There are hundreds and hundreds of such detailed prophecies about Jesus’ first advent, all of which came true.
But Nostradamus did not have this kind of detail in his prophecies. For example, this prophecy of Nostradamus 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, statements in different writings from Nostradamus had to be compiled to create this four-statement section. Second, who is the King of Terror coming from the sky, and how does that relate to the airplanes that flew into the buildings? Third, how does the sky burning at forty-five degrees relate to the burning of buildings? Finally, in no way can New York City be described as a “new city” in 2001. It is, in fact, one of the oldest cities in the country.
The extreme vagueness of the prediction, coupled with the application to things that aren’t clearly being spoken of, is called "retroactive clairvoyance." This is when something written beforehand needs to be changed and the modern event squeezed into a very vague and unspecific statement. Nostradamus' prophecies all fit into this category. Finally, whether Nostradamus actually wrote them or whether they were written after his death is still very much in question.
As Christians, we cannot trust what is spoken of in the writings of Nostradamus. Furthermore, why would we want to, especially knowing that we have a sure word of prophecy in the Bible (2 Peter 1:19) and that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10)? The Bible’s prophecies will never fail, and we are to recognize only the inspired Word of God as our sure source of prophecy.