Bible Prophecy FAIL!by jason on Jan. 11, 2012, under Armageddon, Biblical Inerrancy, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, Clarity, Critical Thinking, Faith, Fundamentalism, God & Bible, History, Language, Religion, Sanity, Science, The Rapture, Willful Ignorance
Here’s another contribution from Jim Wilson:
The major Monotheisms place a big emphasis on the concept of prophecy. In fact, many Christians claim that among the primary reasons they accept Christianity are the old testament Prophecies Jesus supposedly fulfilled. By prophecy, it is generally meant communications between the divine and specific human messengers, communicating important information and revelations. This is usually demonstrated in the form of predictions. I am of the opinion that no such thing has ever existed and all claims of prophecy are dubious. That however does not mean I have closed my mind to the possibility that legitimate prophecies have occurred or can occur. I just need some strong evidence in order to test this claim, and if any of our readers has any evidence for prophecy, please share it here!!
In order for me to accept that prophecy is a real phenomena, I have a few requirements that any alleged prophetic prediction needs to meet:
1. It has to be true and demonstrably so. Obviously a prediction that proves false would not be evidence of anything. Some that fail here include Ezekiel 28:26-24, which predicts Israel will live at peace with it’s neighbors (huge failure), or many instances in which God promises that Davidic line of kings will rule Judah forever (Ex: 2 Samuel 7:13-16, 1 Kings 11:34-36, and Jeremiah 33:17, which states “For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel’”)
2. It has to be independently verifiable if true and falsifiable if false. I need solid evidence that a prediction was made and that what was predicted came to pass. If both can be physically demonstrated that would be helpful, even more so if they can be demonstrated to all investigating parties. This is an area where biblical prophecy runs into trouble. We are expected to take the bible’s word that the events depicted in it actually happened. In fact, there is no contemporaneous extra-biblical evidence for a historical Jesus. Also, any claim that cannot be disproved if false is useless.
3. It has to be specific and not open to interpretation. This is where Nostradamus’ purported prophecies run into trouble. They can all be interpreted in countless ways and have been for centuries. The same can be said about the Revelation of John. Countless political events, natural disasters, new technologies and public figures have been claimed to have been foreseen by this narrative. Its writing is so vague and so heavily filled with symbolic language, that just about anything can be and has been interpreted as a fulfillment of it.
4. It has to be stated before the event it is claimed to predict. This one is pretty obvious and since much of the bible is written many years if not decades or centuries after the events the books in it describe, there is good reason to suspect this often not the case. An example of this is discussed in 6.
5. It has to something that cannot have been reasonably guessed at the time the prediction was made. After all how is making a perfectly reasonable guess evidence of anything supernatural? Vague predictions concerning possible wars, rumors of wars, the destruction of cultures or cities and natural disasters tend to be safe in general, since these inevitably happen. Interestingly, Isaiah 17, makes such a safe prediction, predicting that Damascus will “cease to be a city” and will become a ruinous trash heap. This has yet to actually happen, as Damascus still stands and is one of the worlds continuously inhabited cities.
6. It must not be self-fulfilling or intentionally fulfilled. The gospel attributed to Matthew (they were all originally anonymous, only to have names assigned to them centuries later), for example, repeatedly claims that Jesus’ actions were done to fulfill prophecies. In Matthew 21 Jesus, requests that his disciples find a donkey and bring it to him. The narrator then clearly states “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Here Jesus is deliberately acting to fulfill a prophesy (and possibly commanding an act of theft). Interestingly, what is actually said in Zechariah is: “O daughter of Jerusalem. Look! Your king himself comes to you. He is righteous, yes, saved; humble and riding upon an ass, even upon a full-grown animal the son of a she-ass,(9.9),” leading Matthew to create the awkward imagery of Jesus riding two animals simultaneously. We know that the authors of the new testament were very much familiar with the old testament and drew heavily from it. Further reading reveals that the verse Matthew is quoting was actually referring to Darius the Great and there is no evidence that it has anything to do with Jesus. It is followed by the prediction that “His ruler-ship will be from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (9.10). The author of Zachariah almost certainly made this “prediction” after the rise of Darius’ empire which did reach from Sea to Sea.
7. It has to be an actual prophecy that refers to what it is claimed to be predicting. The Zachariah verse above is a great example of this sort of mis-attribution, since there is no indication it was referring to Jesus’ life, at all.The writers from the new testament did this repeatedly in the construction of their narrative. This also happened with the virgin birth (the Isaiah passage, Isaiah 7:14-16 actually uses a Hebrew term meaning “young woman” rather than virgin and in the context it appears in, it concerns events surrounding King Ahaz of Judah), the nativity (the Micah passage, Micah 5:2, clearly refers to a clan called Bethlehem and not a city. Also note how vastly different Matthew and Luke’s nativity narratives are).The author of Matthew does this again when discussing Jesus’ return from Egypt, stating “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.” The source for this passage appears to be Hosea 11:1, which states “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This passage is clearly a reference to the events described in Exodus, and not a reference to events that will happen hundreds of years into the future.
One final example can be found in the Gospel attributed to John, which states in John 19:37 that “and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.” Here the Author of John misquotes Zechariah 12:10, which states “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” Note that in the Zechariah verse the “him and me” seem to be two different people. Also note that in the context of Zechariah, this verse is discussing an invading army and that no indication is given that it should be seen as a prophecy of events centuries later.
This event also only appears in John’s Gospel, which is generally accepted by scholars to be much later than the others probably more than a life time after Jesus supposed death. We know that the authors of the new testament were very much familiar with the old testament and drew heavily from it, so why should we find it unbelievable that they would have fudged their details so that they correspond with passages of the old testament? The author of Matthew’s Gospel makes a huge effort to find places in the old testament that correspond with his narrative, and slip references to them in, whether there is any indication that they are supposed to have anything to do with a Messiah or not. I suspect many of the events that appear in the Gospels were fabricated for this purpose. As such, I have not found a single reason to find the argument from prophecy convincing.