Preacher Math: Prophetic Probabilities (Part IV)

In Part I and Part II we laid out some basic requirements we should expect any real prophecy to fulfill. In Part III we examined a single prophecy, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry”, which Christians claim is referring to Jesus. In Part IV we will attempt to draw some conclusions, not about the improbability of Jesus accurately fulfilling a long list of prophecies as Christians claim he did, but about the probability that he actually did.

Since Biblical prophecy is such a broad subject, because we have been dealing specifically with prophecies about Jesus, and because the prophecies about Jesus are the ones most often discussed by Christians, we will continue to focus on them.

Looking just at the prophecies related to Jesus, here are some of the basic things we should see before we believe that they were made and fulfilled:

What we want to see What we actually see
Prophetic manuscripts accurately dated in their current forms to some time BCE. There actually are some manuscripts of Jewish scripture dating to the 2nd century BCE.
Evidence that the events which were foretold actually occurred. We have no contemporary extra-Biblical evidence for even the existence of Jesus, let alone anything he may have done.
The prophecies should be identified as prophecies, or at least spoken by people identified as prophets. Many of the “prophecies” Jesus is said to have fulfilled actually came from non-prophetic material such as Psalms.
Furthermore we would like to see the following.
The prophecies should be clear and specific. At least some of the prophecies are reasonably specific, but many are not.
The prophet in question should have a high degree of accuracy. In the cases where a prophet is even identified, this is difficult to determine due to lack of extra-Biblical evidence for the outcomes of their prophecies.
The event should not be easy to intentionally fulfill. As we can see from our discussion of the “triumphal entry” prophecy, this is not always the case. Some events would be much more difficult to manufacture in reality, but all are trivially easy to write about whether they happened or not.

Although it is not a requirement, it would also be nice to see one or more prophets in the Bible laying out a clear and specific set of prophecies about Jesus, as they do with other subjects.

Cherry-Picking Prophecies

If all of these “prophecies” were intended as such then why are so many of them simply a single verse or small section of a larger passage that, when read in its entirety, does not seem the prophecy that it is claimed to be?

For example, Psalm 41:9 is said to be a prophecy of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. If you read the entire 13 verse Psalm though, it is one man’s song about how the Lord will aid and protect people, and verses 9-10 are asking God to have mercy and help him through if he is betrayed by a close friend so that he can “repay them.”

Unless this is supposed to be someone writing a song as Jesus long before he was born and asking God to raise him up so that he can punish Judas for betraying him, it just doesn’t make sense. The idea of Jesus asking to be raised so that he can get Judas back really doesn’t fit with his character either, and again, the Psalms are just supposed to be songs, not prophecies.

Again this prophecy fails miserably to meet even the most basic prophetic requirements.

The Bible’s “prophecies” about Jesus are unusually scattered and disjointed, and many are not prophecies to begin with. It makes little sense to scatter a verse or two, seemingly randomly at times, in the works of each of a number of prophets without clearly identifying the subject of the prophecies, but the Bible does this. It does not inspire confidence in their validity.

Conclusion

It is difficult to be precise and accurate when dealing with all prophecy in the Bible, or even when dealing with all passages identified as prophecies about Jesus, so again we must break it down to the individual prophecy level.

Looking at the “Triumphal Entry” prophecy we have already examined in Part III, we see that it fails on one of the three most basic requirements. There is no need to look further at that point because it can not be honestly viewed as a fulfilled prophecy, unless the Bible’s accuracy as a historical document is taken on faith, and this is not a defensible position. Considering the historical, geographical, temporal, prophetic and other types of inaccuracies it contains, that is far more trust than it has earned.

It is true that the Bible contains stories about many real people and places, but so do many works which we know are embellished or largely fictional. The works of Homer for example were used to find the lost, and otherwise unknown, city of Troy. Does this make the Greek gods and monsters real? Of course not.

Neither does the author of Matthew’s knowledge of Herod The Great make his description of “the massacre of the innocents” or the author of Job’s the fire-breathing sea monster Leviathan real. Pseudo-historical documents are not only possible, but common.

In future articles we will examine some of the known inaccuracies of the Bible and prove the veracity of our claim that the Bible is not inerrant.

So where does this leave us?

Sadly this leaves us with many unanswered questions, many of which may never be answered. However, we can say with confidence that supporters of Biblical prophecy have not even come close to proving the Bible is inerrant, even on the issue of prophecy alone.

Even if we take the 10157:1 chance of Jesus fulfilling 48 prophecies as an accurate measure of probability, we know that many of these “prophecies” were never meant to foretell future events, and the probability that some or all of these supposed prophecy-fulfilling events were embellished or completely made up by the authors seems to be approaching 1:1.

Unless or until prophecy proponents can produce some reliable, extra-Biblical evidence of their fulfillment, that leaves the improbability of fulfilled prophecies argument dead in the water.

Skip to: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

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About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

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