In Part I we examined the basic criteria that every prophecy should meet. Today we will strengthen the requirements to a level that actually makes them impressive.
Using just the basic criteria of a prophecy, being made (with the intent of telling the future) and fulfilled, anyone can make prophecies all day long with nearly 100% accuracy. Even saying “I prophesy that within the next 10 minutes you will breathe” would meet the basic criteria, but it would also almost always be true for a living person, so it is very unimpressive. So what would make it more impressive?
To be truly amazing, after meeting the most basic criteria a prophecy would also have to meet at least three further requirements:
- It must be specific.
Saying in 1920 “One day The Soviet Union will dissolve” would not have been much of a prophecy, just a statement of the overwhelmingly probable.
On the other hand, saying in 1820 that the Soviet Union would rise in 1917, spreading from Russia through much of eastern Europe and Asia, and then it would collapse in 1991 following a failed coup against a man with a coffee-stain-like birthmark on his head, that would be much more impressive.
- The person who made the prophecy should not have made a large amount of failed prophecies along with the accurate one(s).
Anyone can make hundreds or thousands of predictions about the future, and if they are trying then they are likely to get at least some of them correct. This is not impressive.
If we assume that the Bible is actually a complete and accurate record though, it does not appear to have a huge number of failed prophecies along with the accurate ones. However, it does have failures.
Ezekiel’s prophecies of the destruction of Tyre and Egypt by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for example. Despite the semantic games some apologists try to play to make them appear to have been fulfilled, they were not and can not be now that Nebuchadnezzar is dead.
If we believe that the Bible is inerrant, as many Christians do, then it should have no failed prophecies at all, but even if we assume that the Bible is a completely accurate record of prophecies made by a series of real prophets, there are prophecies which have clearly failed, and in some cases we can see clear proof of their failures today.
We can not know how many unrecorded prophecies were made, or whether or not they were fulfilled, but even looking only at prophecies recorded in the Bible, we can see that the Biblical prophets are not infallible.
- The event should be something that a person reading and intending to fulfill the prophecy could not just decide to do to fulfill the prophecy.
An example of this is the difference between prophecies of a series of plagues as depicted in Exodus, which would have been far beyond the means of a person of that time to instigate, and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as Jesus is said to have done in John 12 (or on two donkeys as Matthew 21 claims).
If you wanted people to believe you were the Messiah, and there was a prophecy saying that you would do something so simple, would you not do it? If a famous psychic said “The reincarnation of Elvis will ride into Graceland in a pink Cadillac.”, do you think there would not be a nearly endless parade of Elvis impersonators “fulfilling the prophecy”? And this isn’t the savior of the world, just a human celebrity!
Evidence of Jesus?
The most commonly used “evidence” of Jesus is the single passage about him in the works of Josephus (a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus is said to have died).
Unfortunately we do not have the original documents and in the copies we do have this passage has clearly been altered at least, or quite possibly just completely added by a later scribe.
One of the main reasons we know this is not Josephus’s original work is that the passage calls Jesus the Messiah, and since Josephus lived and died as a Jew, never converting to Christianity, this is not something he would have said.
The biggest problem we have when trying to determine the validity of Biblical prophecies is that we can not establish any of the most important elements in most cases!
It’s true, there is evidence that certain cities were destroyed at some time in the past, but proving that they were destroyed at the right time, in the right manner, and that accurate prophecies of these events were made before the events happened has proved to be much more difficult.
Jesus’s birth, miracles, death and resurrection fare worse still. Even his historical existence seems to lack any real evidence. (See Evidence of Jesus?)
It may be true that a single person accurately fulfilling dozens or hundreds of prophecies while not failing to fulfill any prophecies from “real prophets” would be a near impossibility, but we have no evidence to suggest that many (if any) of these prophecies were real.
Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of probabilities. The probability that the Bible’s authors simply wrote their stories to appear to be fulfilling prophecies is starting to seem like a much more plausible explanation.
Tomorrow in Part III we will delve further into just one of the prophecies of Jesus to see if we can determine anything about its authenticity, and then we will attempt to draw some conclusions about these probabilities.