In a recent article on this site titled “Does the Bible Prove Itself,” I recounted how I spoke with two young men who came to my door representing the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I invited them in and we conversed for a half hour or so. As they were leaving, one of them said, “We believe the Bible proves itself.” I didn’t get the chance to ask for specifics, but I’ve puzzled over his remark ever since.
I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that he must have meant that the Bible itself somehow proves that it is the authentic word of god. My research on the question suggests that the most common Christian defense of this view appears to be the alleged successful prophecies of the Bible. One blog writer claimed that there are about 2,500 prophecies in the Bible and 2,000 have already come true. Unfortunately, no details were provided.
In most cases of supposedly accurate Biblical prophecy, it is very easy to poke holes in the claims. Sometimes, it’s just an absurd reach as when Jesus’ birth is supposedly prophesized in Matthew 1:23, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel." Great, except nowhere in the Bible is Jesus ever called Immanuel.
Often, a Biblical actor will perform an act in order to fulfill prophecy, as in Matthew 21 where Jesus rides into town on a donkey AND a colt of the donkey. As Matthew 21:4 says, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:” This kind of phony prophecy fulfillment obviously doesn’t require the hand of a god, so it’s useless as evidence.
And this scenario is related to perhaps the biggest and most common problem with Biblical prophecy. If someone makes a prophecy in chapter 2 of some book and it apparently comes true in chapter 4, is that really a successful prophecy? If the author of chapter 4 is aware of what was written in chapter 2, it’s pretty easy to make an event look like prophecy fulfillment, isn’t it? Can this be taken seriously as evidence of the involvement of a god?
Of course, there’s also the problem of the Bible being seriously flawed when it comes to historical accuracy. A fictional event cannot be a prophecy fulfillment, and no event can fulfill the prophecy of an earlier event which never happened to begin with.
In the case of many supposed prophecies, the prophecy in question is so vague as to allow an extremely broad range of actions to “fulfill” the prophecy. Or, the prophecy is written after the fact. One apologist I consulted wrote, “Thus Isaiah predicted that a man named Cyrus, who would not be born for about 100 years, would give the command to rebuild the temple which was still standing in Isaiah’s day and would not be destroyed for more than 100 years. This prophecy is truly amazing…“ It took all of 3 minutes for me to find a site claiming that Isaiah is widely believed to have at least two and perhaps more authors, and that one of them wrote in the time of Cyrus. Of course the apologist in question never mentions this.
I think one of the most damning counter arguments to Biblical prophecy is the lack of explicit day/month/year dates in any of the prophecies. I’ve found no such prophecy anywhere in the Bible. Such a prophecy would leave very little wiggle room, and seems to me just the type a real god would use if he wanted to convince people his hand was truly at work.
If accurate Biblical prophecies could prove the Bible is “the word of god,” then does that mean that inaccurate prophecies prove that it is the work of man alone? That certainly appears to be a reasonable position to me. It looks then like all we have to do is find an inaccurate prophecy in order to disprove the claim that the Bible is the word of god. Well, that proves to be ridiculously easy, thanks to the internet and the skepticsannotatedbible.com site. In “Prophecies, Promises, and Misquotes in the Bible,” [http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/proph/long.html] 231 qualifying passages from the Bible are enumerated.
There are many, many examples of failed prophecies on that site which appear to be difficult or impossible to refute. Here are just a few of the more interesting and convincing false prophecies described:
92. God says that Babylon [in modern day Iraq] will be desolate and uninhabited forever. He says that only dragons will live there. But Babylon has been dragon-free and continuously inhabited since then. (Jeremiah 51:26-37 KJV) (And, this dragon prophecy makes the claim of an inerrant Bible absolutely laughable!)
94. God promised Zedekiah (Jeremiah 34:5) that he would die peacefully and be buried with his fathers. But here we see that he died a miserable death in a foreign land. (Jeremiah 52:10-11)
100. Ezekiel prophesies that Israel will reside in its homeland safely and securely, never again to fight neighboring nations. (Ezekiel 28:24-26) [Of course, Israel has fought numerous battles with its neighbors, even in the last several decades of the 20th century.]
101. Ezekiel makes another false prophecy: that Egypt would be uninhabited by humans or animals for forty years after being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. But there was never a time when Egypt was uninhabited. Humans and animals have lived there continuously since Ezekiel's prophecy. (Ezekiel 29:10-11)
Now, please note that I didn’t take this Internet source at face value. I double checked every one of the claims above against the text of the King James Version, and every item checked out. And these 4 prophecies are just those which happened to catch my eye. The complete list makes fascinating reading and blows Biblical prophecy full of very large holes.
But these, of course, are prophecies of the Old Testament. Surely the New Testament is more accurate . . . or is it?
The favorite example of most Bible prophecy skeptics is probably Matthew 24:34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” Here, Jesus appears to be saying that at least some of those alive in his time would live to witness his return.
This certainly appears to be a pretty clear cut case of failed prophecy since Jesus has not returned and all of his contemporaries are dead by now. So, I did a bit of research to learn what the apologists say about this passage. Not so surprisingly, the “experts” frequently disagree.
At the site Y-Jesus (http://y-jesus.com/why-hasnt-jesus-come-back-yet.php), the author writes: “Peter explained the reason for Jesus’ delay, “But you should never lose sight of this fact, dear friends, that time is not the same with the Lord as it is with us—to him a day may be a thousand years, and a thousand years only a day.” The problem with this answer, of course, is that in the Bible Jesus said he would return “soon,” and the Bible was written for the instruction of man; no normal man would interpret 2,000 years to be “soon.”
Can there really be any serious doubt that when Jesus said he would return before all those of his generation had passed, he was referring to his immediate contemporaries?Another site (http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com/why-isn%E2%80%99t-jesus-back-yet/) dodges the question entirely. The author writes, “Rev. 22:20 He (Jesus) which testifies these things, says ‘Surely I come quickly.’ Jesus didn’t make a mistake when he said this. He was ready but the church wasn’t.” He then goes on to explain various problems with the ancient and modern church and its leaders. He totally loses sight of the fact that Jesus made a statement and then failed to follow through. We might perhaps call this a bait and switch approach to the problem.
On a Yahoo Answers forum the “preterist” explanation is outlined. This is the view that Jesus DID return in 70CE, when Jerusalem and its Jewish Temple were destroyed by the Romans. Other “experts” take issue with this view, citing Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” Obviously, if all eyes saw Jesus on his return, and all the people of the earth were “wailing,” there would be clear testimony to this fact in contemporary historical accounts. You guessed it; there is no mention of Jesus in the accounts of the destruction. And, this “every eye shall see him” phrase also disqualifies any explanation involving a “spiritual” rather than physical return of Jesus.
The most creative explanation of Matthew 24:34 I came across was by Marshall “Rusty” Entrekin at http://www.thingstocome.org/whatgen.htm. Entrekin admits this passage (“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”) provides a serious challenge to Christian apologists. His central answer is to show that the word “generation” can have a broader meaning than we usually give it. He writes, “Jesus was speaking of the generation of God's children. God does not have grandchildren - he only has sons and daughters. They are made His sons and daughters by virtue of the new birth. Therefore, there is only one generation of the spiritual children of God.” Thus, Jesus predicts his return before all of his followers, no matter how far into the future, have passed.
So, Jesus didn’t really mean “soon,” says Mr. Entrekin. Christians are forever telling us skeptics not to take things out of context. So, I take great pleasure at this juncture in suggesting Mr. Entrekin has ignored plenty of Biblical context in making his claim.
Please note the following: Matt 10:23: [Jesus said to his disciples] “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.” Now, how long would it take a man to walk through all the towns of Israel? A couple months? A year or two? Certainly not 2,000 years! Clearly Jesus is saying his return will be within a few months or years here.
But there’s more. 1 Cor. 7:29: “The appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.” Obviously, the author of this passage meant that it wouldn’t be too great an inconvenience on the wives, because the wait for the second coming would not be long.
1 Peter 1:20: He [Christ] was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times.” Can there be any question that this author felt the end of times was already in progress? And, just to make sure we would understand, we are told ( 1 Peter 4:7) “The end of all things is at hand.”
Now, just to lay it on further still, here are another dozen passages where Jesus or one of his followers prophesizes that Jesus would return “SOON:” Mark 9:1, Mark 14:62, Rom 13:12, 1 Cor 7:31, Phil 4:5, 1 Matt 16:28, Hebews 10:37, James 5:8, 1 John 2:18, Rev 1:1, Rev 3:11, Rev 22:6.
I’d say Mr. Entrekin’s ruse has been pretty thoroughly exposed; can there really be any serious doubt that when Jesus said he would return before all those of his generation had passed, he was referring to his immediate contemporaries?
Now, my point in this article was to show that the notion that Biblical prophecy proves that the Bible is the word of god is hopelessly flawed. As I have shown, most of the supposed confirmed prophecies can be explained away as problems of interpretation, timing, historical fictions, etc. And, the total absence of even one precisely dated (day/month/year) prophecy in the bible strongly suggests the absence of a god’s hand at work. Further, the Bible is full of obviously false prophecies, even from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself. So, until those promised dragons in Babylon are spotted, I’ve got to believe the Bible was the work of humans, and only humans.