Prophesy and the Bible
Back in May, I began this little journey with a prophesy by Pat Robertson, that on the face of its utter ridiculousness had made its way around the internets. This led to a discussion on the nature of revealed knowledge with Bryan at the Narrow (Bryan has since given up blogging but maintains his archives -- I will miss him, and wish him well on his noble cause of focusing on the family). Bryan took the stance that revealed knowledge was allowable if it coincided with that found in the Bible. He used as evidence of this, all the prophesies in the Bible which had come true. I maintained then, as I do now, that I was not referring to biblical knowledge, only that any revealed knowledge which said that the Bible is true is no different than the type on revealed knowledge Pat Robertson had, and which is completely unusable as proof of anything -- including the validity of the Bible. But I never said anything about the Bible itself; then. Now I am.
I suggested a few mucked up prophesies in the last post. I would like to expand on that now. First I would like to give a shout out to a real source of inspiration to me, Dan Barker. His book, Losing Faith in Faith, has a chapter (chapter 25) on biblical prophesy. He discusses the first five prophesies found in Matthew concerning the birth and life of Jesus. I will not retell what he has already written so well, rather I will bring out a point he makes and give some further examples. The point Dan makes is that there are no examples of fulfilled biblical prophesy (not a single one) . Even when fundamental Christians are asked to supply examples, they can not come up with one --- wars, wicked children, and natural disasters do not count ala Pat.
I mentioned Isaiah 7:14 in my last post. This is probably the most common example supplied by Christians, and one Dan covers thoroughly. It turns out not to be a prophesy of Jesus at all, rather a (failed) prophesy of a Hebrew leader who will overthrow the rule of the Assyrians. Simply reading Isaiah chapters 7 and 8 proves this to be true. To make this into a prophesy of Jesus is to read into it (i.e. reinterpret the supposedly un-reinterpretable Word of God) something that simply isn't there. Like I pointed out, this could be done with any passage of the Old Testament to make it into anything one wants. This is not prophesy, it is midrash. (Also like Dan Barker points out, Matthew got it wrong anyway, Isaiah 7:14 is not about a 'virgin' giving birth, rather a young woman giving birth. The Hebrew word is not virgin (they have a different word for virgin) rather it is young woman.
So why is this method of reinterpreting the Word of God not prophesy? The answer is clear; and it is one that can have no rebuttal by Christians who think this is actual real and fulfilled prophesy. This method says that anything written in the Bible can be used for any purpose to foretell anything. It is simple to reinterpret certain passages in the Old Testament to show it predicted Osama bin Laden and the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers, the invention of the computer, the Salem witch hunts, both the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and the explosion of the Hindenburgh. Any event you care to imagine can be culled from the Scriptures if enough distortion and out-of-context retooling is employed.
Here's an excellent example of how absurd it is to claim that the Bible prophesies things, and those things come true. Did you know that the gospels and Acts contain a prophesy of me, your humble jeffperado? It does. Just like Isaiah predicts that Jesus real name is Emmanuel (as we all know from that traditional Christian song, "Emmanuel"), the Bible predicts me. You see, my nickname in the past has been 'jefe', a spanish play on my real name, Jeff. Jefe in Spanish means 'boss.' Now as every Christian knows, Jesus is Lord. That is, He is the one true boss (scriptural proof of prophesy: 1 Cor 3:10, "as a wise boss I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it"). Amazing! It also says that there will be 'false Christs' who preach a gospel different than that of Paul, and I do (scriptural proof of prophesy: Gal 1:8 "But even if we, or another boss, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed"). Unbelievable! The Bible not only predicts what I will do, but connects it to me through my name! The predictive power of the Bible has no limits! Ok, maybe the cynicism is a bit over the top here, but it perfectly paints just how wrong it is to claim that biblical predictions have come true. (And believe me, I could have chosen a dozen other passages from the Old Testament to further my contention that the bible prophesied me, if I took them out of context, changed a few words, and ignored larger story in which they were embedded.)
The flip side to this idea of biblical prophesy is where the Bible foretold something that never came to pass (in other words, failed to prophesy correctly). I gave the example of Jesus prophesying that the end times would occur in the lifetimes of the current living generation. Here I will defer to the wise words of Ken Ham (and here I agree with him completely). Ken Ham has said, "Sometimes a day means a day." He used this statement in defense of a six-day creation period as found in Genesis 1 and 2. I will steal that concept from the good Ken, and say "Sometimes a generation is a generation." Jesus said that those living would witness the end times. Unless there are some 2,000 year old men living today, he was wrong. Today Christians use an alternate meaning of generation, that being era. They say we are living in the same generation as Jesus was, and that the end times are just around the corner (as they have been for the last 2,000 years). I will use Ken Ham's assertion here to claim them to be wrong, and that biblical prediction to be a failed one.
Note: a corollary to this is one of absurd prophecies bound to fail. Revelation provides ample examples of the absurd that only someone having lost all grip on reality could believe. The monsters predicted by revelation do not exist, thus could never appear on earth, meaning a prophesy that could never be true. Unless, of course, we come across some extraterrestrials who vaguely resemble the Revelation monsters -- something exceedingly unlikely.
There is a third category of prophesy that we find in the Bible, that of post-fulfillment prophesy. This is what I mentioned in my last post when I referred to Jesus and his saying that he would rise up in three days. This account was never mentioned by Paul (the first Christian writer) and only told by the gospel writers decades after the events supposedly transpired. The problem is that this is evidence of nothing. If there were records that predate the death of Jesus which showed that he had predicted his resurrection, and then records that prove his rising from the dead, then it could be claimed to be an actual prophesy. For example, if there were Roman records of Jesus' trial which recorded his claim to rise in three days, and then later Roman records showing that Jesus was indeed walking among the living three days later. This would serve as evidence (but it would not prove that Jesus actually did die and come back from the dead) that the prophesy was accurate. Instead all we have is after-the-fact attestation to the story. It would be like saying that Harry Truman foretold of the assassination of Kennedy, and supplying as proof of this a witness who swears that Truman told him, quote, "A number of years from now, a president, Kennedy, will be murdered." Since the only evidence of this is my post here, no one else could possibly take it as proof that Truman actually foretold the future. But this is exactly what Christians offer as proof of the power and accuracy of prediction in the Bible. It is as flimsy and useless as my proof of Truman's prophesy.
Next time we will return to the idea of revealed knowledge in the Bible. Is it revealed or acquired through experience? If it is revealed, then what can be used to prove it? If it is acquired, how can that be proven?
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