Have you ever heard a preacher say that the odds against Jesus accurately fulfilling so many prophecies is essentially statistically impossible? They will happily tell you about as many supposedly fulfilled prophecies as they can remember, and they will probably expect you to take them at face value.
One of the most common sources used in this argument is from Peter Stoner who claimed in “Science Speaks” in 1963 that the probability of one man (Jesus) fulfilling 48 Biblical prophecies was 1 in 10157, and they make it sound even more impressive by stating that it is more than the number of electrons in the universe (estimated at 1079).
The main reason for this astounding number is that the believers are assuming from the start that these prophecies were all made and fulfilled perfectly. When we look at them in more depth though, how accurate and amazing do the prophecies really seem?
To consider a prophecy made and fulfilled, we should first prove that it at least meets these three criteria:
- The prophecy was made before the event happened.
This is a simple demand, but difficult to prove. Unless manuscripts have been found which predate the supposed fulfillment of a prophecy, we can not know that the prophecy was written before the event.
In cases where we do not have the original manuscripts and can not absolutely date their writing, it is also insufficient evidence to prove that a prophecy was not made prior to the event, but this should not lead us to just assume greater antiquity and credibility.
Prophecies which can not be verified to have been written before the events they foretell must be viewed as suspect.
- The event actually did happen, in the manner specified, and at the time specified (if such was given).
Again this can be difficult to prove or disprove in the cases of many Biblical prophecies, but the astonishing lack of evidence for even such monumental events as “the massacre of the innocents” and many other prophecy-fulfilling elements of Jesus’s life leads to the conclusion that these events are unlikely to have happened.
If we have no evidence of the fulfillment of a prophecy other than the uncorroborated word of someone who has ulterior motives for saying that it happened, as the Bible’s authors and editors did, we are unwise to take it as definitively true.
When there is no supporting evidence of an event, it can only be taken on faith. When evidence is expected but not found, or when contrary evidence is found, then belief in the event even pushes the limits of faith.
- The supposed prophecy was actually intended to be a prophecy of this future event.
Strangely some New Testament authors inappropriately used certain Old Testament passages as if they were prophecies when they were never intended to be. Some of the best examples are the from Psalms where at least a dozen different supposed prophecies are made and later fulfilled by Jesus.
Psalms is a book of songs, similar to a modern hymn book, and the songs included in it were never meant to be used as prophecy. Therefore, not being prophecies at all, they could not be fulfilled and the supposed fulfillment of these non-prophecies is only more evidence to support the idea that the New Testament authors were embellishing the truth or completely making things up.
Already the probability that Biblical prophecies are true and accurate is dropping rapidly, and the foundation of the “1 in 10157” chance is looking pretty shaky.
Tomorrow in Part II we will add the basic requirements for an impressive prophecy, and then finally in Part III we will examine a specific prophecy and then attempt to draw some conclusions.