PROPHECIES: IMAGINARY AND UNFULFILLED
Prophecy fulfillment is a popular argument that bibliolaters rely on in trying to prove the divine inspiration of the Bible. They claim that the Bible is filled with recorded events that prophets foretold years and even centuries before they happened. They argue that there is no way to explain how these predictions could have been so accurately made except to conclude that the Holy Spirit enabled the prophets who uttered them to see into the future. In prophecy fulfillment, then, they see evidence of God's direct involvement in the writing of the Bible.
A very simple flaw in the prophecy-fulfillment argument is that foreseeing the future doesn't necessarily prove divine guidance. Psychics have existed in every generation, and some of them have demonstrated amazing abilities to predict future events. Their "powers," although mystifying to those who witness them, are not usually considered divine in origin. If, then, Old Testament prophets did on occasions foresee the future (a questionable premise at best), perhaps they were merely the Nostradamuses and Edgar Cayces of their day. Why would it necessarily follow that they were divinely inspired? Even the Bible recognizes the possibility that uninspired prophets can sometimes accurately predict the future:
"If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, `Let us go after other gods'--which you have not known--`and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for Yahweh your God is testing you to know whether you love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 13:1-3, NKJV with Yahweh substituted for "the LORD").
By the Bible's own testimony, then, natural psychic ability could offer a perfectly sensible explanation for any example of prophecy that bibliolaters might cite in support of the inerrancy doctrine, but an unbiased contextual examination of the alleged prophecy will very likely uncover an even more rational explanation. Usually, Bible "prophecies" turn out to be prophecies only because imaginative Bible writers arbitrarily declared them to be prophecies. The same can be said of their alleged fulfillments: the fulfillments are fulfillments only because obviously biased New Testament writers arbitrarily declared them to be fulfillments.
Later, I will examine several examples of these "imaginary prophecies," but a more logical place to begin examination of the prophecy-fulfillment argument would be with what, for lack of a better term, I will call "nonprophecies." These involve those cases where, although alleged prophecies were quoted or referred to by New Testament writers, Bible scholars have been unable to find the original statement. An example is found in John 7:38 where Jesus said, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." If Jesus was right in saying that scripture said this, just where was it said? No such statement in the Old Testament scriptures has ever been located, yet "the scripture" to Jesus would certainly have been the Old Testament. In this statement, then, we apparently have a fulfillment that was a fulfillment of--what? How could there be a fulfillment of a prophecy that was never even made?
Jesus claimed another fulfillment of nonprophecy in Luke 24:46. Speaking to his disciples on the night of his alleged resurrection, he said, "Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day." That the resurrection of Christ on the third day was prophesied in the scriptures was claimed also by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures." In two different places, then, New Testament writers claimed that the resurrection of the Messiah on the third day had been predicted in the scriptures. Try as they may, however, bibliolaters cannot produce an Old Testament passage that made this alleged third-day prediction. It simply doesn't exist.
Confronted with a challenge to produce such a scripture, Bill Jackson, a Church-of-Christ preacher from Austin, Texas, said in my debate with him that "the prophecy had to do with the event... and the fleshed-out details need not have been given at the time" (Jackson-Till Debate, p. 20). He had to say something, of course, but all the talk in the world about fleshed-out details doesn't remove the fact that Jesus plainly said it had been written that he would "rise again from the dead the third day" and that the Apostle Paul agreed that such a prophecy had been written. The claim of a third-day resurrection prediction, then, was just another example of nonprophecy.
In another example, Matthew said that the purchase of the potter's field with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas cast back to the chief priests and elders fulfilled a prophecy made by Jeremiah: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price; and they gave them for the potter's field as the Lord appointed me" (27:9-10). The only problem is that Jeremiah never wrote anything remotely similar to this, so how could this be a fulfillment of "that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet"? Some scholars have suggested that Matthew was quoting "loosely" a statement that was actually written by Zechariah (11:12-13) rather than Jeremiah. If this is true, then one can only wonder why a divinely inspired writer, being guided by the omniscient Holy Spirit, would have said Jeremiah instead of Zechariah. To offer this as a solution to the problem posed by the passage doesn't do much to instill confidence in the inerrancy doctrine. Furthermore, if Matthew was indeed referring to Zechariah 11:12-13, then he certainly was "quoting loosely," so loosely, in fact, that any semblance of a connection between the two passages is barely recognizable: "Then I said to them, `If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.' So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And Yahweh said to me, `Throw it to the potter'--that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of Yahweh for the potter" (NKJV). Many versions (RSV, NRSV, JB, NAB, REB, GNB, NWT, Moffatt, and Lamsa's translation from the Peshitta text) translate this passage to read treasury for potter, and the Septuagint (the Holy Spirit's favorite version) reads furnace for potter. All of these variations indicate that the meaning of the original certainly wasn't clear enough to claim this as a prophecy of the purchase of the potter's field with the money that Judas was paid to betray Jesus. If it was, then fundamentalists owe us an answer to the question posed earlier: Why did a divinely inspired writer attribute to Jeremiah a prophecy that was made by Zechariah? Of course, when bibliolaters talk about "wonderful prophecy fulfillments," they don't have much to say about this one. The reason why they don't should be obvious.
Matthew was quite adept at citing nonprophecies. When Joseph took his family to Nazareth upon their return from Egypt, Matthew said that he did so "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene"(2:23). Bible scholars, however, have been unable to find any statement that any prophet ever made that this could be a reference to. As a matter of fact, the Old Testament prophets never referred to Nazareth, period. The word Nazareth, as well as Nazarene, was never even mentioned in the Old Testament. If this is so, how then could the period of Jesus's residency in Nazareth have been prophesied by the prophets?
This matter also came up in my debate with Bill Jackson. He tried to circumvent the problem by claiming that the prophecy was only spoken by the prophets and that nothing was said to imply that it had ever been written (Jackson-Till Debate, p. 20).This is at best a far-fetched quibble that fails to take note of the fact that Matthew routinely introduced written "prophecies" by saying that they had been spoken by so-and-so. He said, for example, that the "voice heard in Ramah" had been "spoken through Jeremiah the prophet" (2:17-18). Earlier he had said that the famous virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 had been "spoken by the Lord through the prophet" (1:22). He introduced Isaiah 9:1-2 by saying that this had been "spoken through Isaiah the prophet"(4:14). He introduced Isaiah 42:1-4 by saying that this had been "spoken through Isaiah the prophet" (12:17). There are numerous other examples in Matthew to show that his style was to introduce alleged prophecies by saying that they had been spoken by such and such a prophet. If the prophecy-fulfillment argument offers such wonderful proof of divine inspiration, then, we have every right to demand that bibliolaters show us just where it was prophesied that Jesus would be called a Nazarene as Matthew claimed in the passage cited from his gospel account. How can there be proof of divine inspiration in a prophecy statement that may never have been made?
In two oral debates, my opponents have quibbled that Old Testament scriptures called Jesus a Nazarene when the Messiah was referred to as a "branch" that would come out of Jesse (Is. 11:1; 53:2), because the Hebrew word netser (branch) is the word from which the town of Nazareth derived its name. Strong's Concordance, however, declares that the name Nazareth is of uncertain derivation, and Eerdmans Bible Dictionary says that the name was derived perhaps from naser, which means watch or neser, "a sprout or descendant" (1987, p. 751). There is obviously scholastic doubt over the linguistic origin of the name Nazareth, and as long as that is true, this "argument" is completely without merit.
In "The Holy Bible--Inspired of God: a Look at the Evidence," Wayne Jackson a well-known defender of Bible inerrancy in the Churches of Christ listed three criteria that prophecy must comply with in order to be "valid." The second of these was, "It must involve... specific details--not vague generalities or remote possibilities" (Christian Courier, May 1991, p. 2).To this, I give my unqualified endorsement. Why anyone wanting to prove the inspiration of the Bible by appeals to prophecy fulfillment would make an admission as damaging as this one is hard to understand, because when it is applied honestly and objectively to the prophecy fulfillments alleged by New Testament writers, they all must be rejected as "valid" prophecy fulfillments. With the exception of two or three that will be analyzed later, none of them contain details specific enough to pass Jackson's validity test.
In their desperation to give credibility to their new found religion, New Testament writers often distorted Old Testament scriptures or quoted them entirely out of context to shape them into "prophecies" that seemed to fit contemporary people and events they were writing about. In the book of Acts, Luke twice resorted to this in his application of Psalm 16:8-10 in sermons allegedly preached by Peter and Paul (2:27-28; 13:35-36):
I have set Yahweh always before me: Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
The apostles presumably saw this passage as a prophecy of the resurrection, because in both places they cited it as proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. However, looking at it with the honesty and objectivity previously mentioned, we have to ask, "Where are the specific details that Mr. Jackson spoke about?" We see only vague generalities and not even remote possibility in the statement. Who reading this statement in the original context would have supposed that it was a prophecy of a resurrection that would occur centuries later? The entire psalm was written in first person and had obvious reference to matters that concerned the writer's present condition. In the opening verse, he said of the god to whom the psalm was addressed, "I have no good beyond thee." Does this sound like something that the sinless Jesus would say? After the statement that Peter and Paul allegedly quoted as proof of the resurrection, the psalmist said, "Thou (Yahweh) will show me the path of life" (v: 11). Are we to believe that Jesus, who was the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6) and not just that but was God himself (Jn. 1:1), would need Yahweh to show him "the path of life"?
The context of the statement certainly lacks the "specific details" that it needs to convince rational readers that it was a prophecy of Jesus's resurrection. So what proof do we have that it was what Peter and Paul allegedly said it was? Well, after citing it, Peter went on to say, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption." Allegedly, Paul made the same application of the passage in Acts 13:35-36.
So there we have it. Luke said that Peter and Paul said the statement had to refer to Jesus on the grounds that David's body had been buried and had seen corruption. Wow, with proof like that what can I say? Well, I can say the same thing I would say or Mr. Jack-son would say if either of us should be approached by a representative of a non-Christian religion citing anything as vaguely written as this as proof that his holy book contained the prophecy of a resurrection. I would tell him I wanted to see details so specific that they could not be misinterpreted--not just vague generalities or remote possibilities--before I could accept the statement as an undeniable prophecy.
For one thing, there is some question in scholarly circles about what the psalmist meant by corruption: "Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption." In Hebrew, the word here was shahath, which literally meant pit or grave, and was so translated much more often than corruption was used. The KJV rendered the word corruption only four times (Job 17:14; Ps. 16:10; 49:9; Jonah 2:6), and even then all good KJV reference Bibles will have footnotes by the word corruption to inform the readers that it could mean pit. Many later versions have used pit in all of these places except Psalm 16:10, and there are indications that corruption is retained here only because the Septuagint, which Peter and Paul quoted, had translated the verse to convey the idea of decay or corruption. The New American Bible retains corruption but with this footnote:
To undergo corruption: some commentators render this: "to see the grave," understanding this to mean that God will not let the psalmist die in the present circumstances. But the Hebrew word "shahath" means not only "the pit," "the grave," but also "corruption." In the latter sense the ancient Greek version rendered this passage, and it was thus quoted by St. Peter (Acts 2:25-32) and St. Paul (Acts 13:35-37), both of whom interpret this as referring to Christ's resurrection.
This situation certainly shatters any illusion of "specific details" that inerrantists might stubbornly claim for this famous "resurrection prophecy." Specific details are simply not there. Even what little claim for specificity can be made for the word corruption seems to rest entirely upon an arbitrary translation decision that was made by the Septuagint translators, and biblical scholarship is keenly aware of faultiness in this ancient translation.
Despite the influence of the Septuagint, some translations have used pit or equivalents in this passage rather than corruption. The RSV rendered the verse like this: "For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit." The NRSV translated it the same except for using "faithful one" for "godly one" and substituting modern equivalents for thou and thy. The Jerusalem Bible also used "pit," so there are sound reasons for believing that the psalmist meant no more than what the footnote in the New American Bible said: Yahweh would not let him die and go into his grave in the present circumstances he was writing about.
As long as this possible meaning exists, Psalm 16:10 does not contain details specific enough to be considered a "valid" prophecy. Peter's and Paul's reasoning principle that they applied to this verse is therefore flawed, because David certainly did "see the pit (grave)" in the sense that he was buried. They both acknowledged that in their sermons. As already noted, Peter said that David "both died and was buried" (Acts 2:29). Paul said that David "fell asleep and was laid with his fathers" (Acts 13:36). So they both admitted that David "saw the pit." On what grounds, then, can anyone argue that Psalm 16:10 is specific enough in language and details to qualify as prophecy? To say, "Well, Peter and Paul thought it was a prophecy, so that's good enough for me," would be a flagrant resort to question begging. One cannot prove prophecy by assuming prophecy. Besides that, we don't even know if Peter and Paul really thought that Psalm 16:10 was a prophecy of the resurrection. All we actually know is that Luke said that they said it was a prophecy.
Before leaving this "prophecy" to languish in the infamy it deserves, we should look at something else in the RSV and NRSV accounts quoted above. They both used the present tense rather than the future tense found in the Septuagint, KJV, ASV, and other translations. They did so because the statement was written in the present tense in He-brew. Young's Literal Translation of the Holy Bible rendered the verse like this: "For Thou dost not leave my soul to Sheol, Nor givest thy saintly one to see corruption." So the tense of the original supports the alternate interpretation of this verse suggested by the NAB footnote: the writer was merely expressing confidence that God would not let him die in his present circumstances.
To argue that Hebrew had no future tense doesn't solve anything as far as this passage is concerned, because Hebrew writers relied on past tense when they wanted to convey the certainty of the future. Young explained this in the introduction to his literal translation:
The Hebrew writers often express the "certainty of a thing taking place" by putting it in the "past" tense, though the actual fulfillment may not take place for ages. This is easily understood and appreciated when the language is used by God, as when he says, in Gen. xv.18, "Unto thy seed I have given this land"; and in xvii.4, "I, lo, my covenant is with thee, and thou hast become a father of a multitude of nations." ... Again in 2 Kings v.6, the King of Syria, writing to the King of Israel, says: "Lo, I have sent unto thee Naaman, my servant, and thou hast recovered him from leprosy" (original emphasis).
This peculiarity of the Hebrew language should drive the final nail into the coffin of this marvelous resurrection prophecy that Peter and Paul seemed so excited about. If the certainty of the Messiah's resurrection at some time in the future had been the clear intention of the psalmist, he would surely have said, "For Thou hast not left my soul to Sheol; Neither hast Thou suffered thy holy one to see corruption (the pit)." The fact that he didn't state it this way, along with all the other problems noted in this passage, is sufficient grounds to reject the claim that it was a prophecy of Jesus's resurrection.
Imaginary prophecy fulfillments like this one abound in the New Testament. In Matthew 13:35, for example, we are told that Jesus taught his disciples in parables in order to fulfill a prophecy that had said, "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hid-den from the foundation of the world." Without this statement from Matthew, however, no one reading the original passage in Psalm 78:2 would ever think that it was intended to be a prophecy: "Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us." The psalmist then proceeded to give a running, seventy-verse account of Hebrew history, beginning with the covenant made with Jacob and ending with the selection of David to be king. There is nothing in the context to suggest that the writer thought he was prophesying. The last part of the statement in question even differed substantially from the way Matthew quoted it. The psalmist pro-posed to utter sayings that had been "heard and known" that "our ancestors have told us," but in Matthew's application of the verse, Jesus had presumably uttered "things hidden from the foundation of the world," an appreciable variation to say the least. The important thing, however, is that the psalmist obviously intended his remarks to have an immediate application to a contemporary audience and situation. His parable statement, then, became a "prophecy" only because Matthew capriciously made it a prophecy.
The same is true of the greater part of the prophecy "fulfillments" boasted of in the New Testament. A careful study of the original contexts will cast serious doubts on the efforts of the New Testament writers to construe them as prophecies. In Matthew 2:18, for example, we are told that Herod's decree to kill all male children under two in and around Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy of Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more." If, however, one reads this statement in its original context in Jeremiah 31 and the two preceding chapters, he will see that the passage was addressing the problem of Jewish dispersion caused by the Babylonian captivity. Time and time again, Jeremiah promised that the Jews would be recalled from captivity to reclaim their land. Finally, in the verse quoted by Matthew, he said, "Thus says Yahweh: `A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more'" (31:15). That Jeremiah intended this statement to apply to the dispersion contemporary to his times is evident from the verses immediately following, where he promised a return of those who had been scattered: "Thus says Yahweh: `Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says Yahweh, And they [Rachel's children] shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says Yahweh, that your children shall come back to their own border" (vv:16-17). If verse 15 (the weeping verse) was indeed a prophecy of Herod's massacre, why would the rest of the passage, which promised the re-turn of Rachel's children, not also be prophetic? Indeed, it would have to be, wouldn't it? Yet there is no claim in Matthew's gospel account that the children slaughtered under Herod's edict were ever brought back to their border, which would have necessitated a restoration to life. Hence, in this case, Rachel's "work" was never "rewarded," and these children of hers never "came back." Aside from this, children was obviously being used by Jeremiah in a figurative sense to mean the descendants of Rachel, adults as well as children, and not to designate literal children only, as would have to be the case if events in Matthew 2 are to be interpreted as fulfillment of a "prophecy." The conclusion, then, is inescapable: Jeremiah 31:15 was a prophecy of Herod's massacre only because Matthew distorted it into one.
Aside from this problem with Matthew's claim of prophecy fulfillment in Herod's massacre of the innocents, we have good reasons to suspect that no such event ever even happened. None of the other gospel writers mentioned it nor did any secular historian con-temporary to the times. Except for Matthew's reference to it, history is strangely silent about this exceptionally barbaric act, and in some cases the silence is significant enough to cast serious doubt on Matthew's claim that it happened. The Jewish historian Josephus chronicled the reign of Herod in Book 18 of Antiquities of the Jews. In doing so, he made no apparent attempt to whitewash Herod's character. He related, for example, Herod's execution of John the Baptist, an event related by three of the gospel writers, but he said nothing about the massacre of the children at Bethlehem, which would have undoubtedly been the most heinous crime that Herod committed. If the atrocity actually happened, as Matthew claimed, for a historian of the era to omit it in detailing the life of the political ruler who ordered it would be comparable to a modern historian writing about Adolph Hitler but omitting any reference to the massacre of the Jews that happened under his dictatorship.
To say that history is silent about Herod's massacre of the innocents is not to say that the story is at all unusual. Parallel versions of it are so common in the folklore of ancient societies that mythologists have even assigned a name to the story and call it the dangerous-child myth. Space won't allow a review of all these myths, but the Hindu version is worth looking at, because it is strikingly parallel to Matthew's story. According to Hindu literature, Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, was born to the virgin Devaki in fulfillment of prophecy and was visited by wise men who had been guided to him by a star. Angels also announced the birth to herdsmen in the nearby countryside. When King Kansa heard about the miraculous birth of this child, he sent men to "kill all the infants in the neighboring places," but a "heavenly voice" whispered to the foster father of Krishna (who, incidentally, was a carpenter) and warned him to take the child and flee across the Jumna river. (In this Hindu legend, we can recognize many parallels to the infancy of Jesus other than the dangerous-child element.) In Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, author T. W. Doane cited a work by Thomas Maurice, Indian Antiquities, vol. 1, pp. 112-113, which described an "immense sculpture" in a cave-temple at Elephanta that depicts the Indian children being slaughtered while men and women apparently representing their parents are standing by pleading for the children (p. 167).
A study of pagan mythology would establish similar parallels in the stories of Zoroaster (Persian), Perseus and Bacchus (Greek), Horus (Egyptian), Romulus and Remus (Roman), Gautama (the founder of Buddhism), and many others, because various pieces of the dangerous-child myth can be found in the stories of all these pagan gods and prophets. All of these myths antedate, usually by many centuries, Matthew's account of the massacre of the children at Bethlehem. Krishna, for example, was a Hindu savior who allegedly lived in the sixth century B. C., so when a study of ancient world literature shows that an unusual event like the slaughter of the innocents seemed to have happened everywhere, reasonable people will realize that it probably happened nowhere or, at best, that it happened only once and was subsequently plagiarized. Since the story occurs many times before Matthew's version of it, we can only conclude that no such event happened in Bethlehem as Matthew--and only Matthew--claimed. Just like that, then, fundamentalists who put so much stock in prophecy-fulfillment find one of their "fulfillments" vaporizing right before their eyes.
Matthew also saw prophecy fulfillment in the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. When the wise men inquired about the birth of the king of the Jews, Herod called the chief priests and scribes together and asked where the Christ would be born:
So they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: `But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel'" (2:5-6).
The place where this was written was Micah 5:2, which we should look at to get a sense of how New Testament writers sometimes distorted Old Testament scriptures to suit their needs:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel."
As we will soon notice, the differences are important enough to show that Matthew tampered with the text to make it fit the situation he was applying it to.
For the moment, let's notice that Matthew's application of the statement was typical of his writing style. No contemporary event seemed too insignificant for him to see prophecy fulfillment in it. This fact doesn't seem to faze Bible fundamentalists. If Matthew said it, that's good enough for them. What they seem completely unable to understand, however, is that just because this is good enough for them doesn't mean that it's good enough for people who use logic to determine what should or should not be believed. Matthew, for example, saw fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 in the flight into and return from Egypt of Joseph's family, (2:15). And what does Hosea 11:1 say? "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." The context of this statement shows very clearly that Hosea intended this statement as a reference to the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Bibliolaters can talk from now until doom's-day about the "double intention" of some prophecies, and the truth will still remain: if Matthew had not imaginatively applied this statement to Jesus, no one would have thought it referred to anything but the Israelite exodus. Matthewstretched and distorted Old Testament scriptures in this way, yet bibliolaters expect us to swoon over his claim that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem fulfilled Micah 5:2.
The "Bethlehem" in Micah 5:2, rather than being a town, was very likely intended as a reference to the head of a family clan. What many people who stand in awe of this allegedprophecy fulfillment don't know is that a person named Bethlehem was an Old Testament character descended from Caleb through Hur, the firstborn son of Caleb's second wife, Ephrathah (I Chron. 2:18; 2:50-52; 4:4). Young's Analytical Concordance, p. 92, identifies Bethlehem as this person in addition to its having been the name of two villages, one in Zebulun and the other in Judea.
An examination of the Micah 5:2 "prophecy" in context indicates that it was indeed a reference to the clan rather than the town: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel." The fact that the Bethlehem in this verse was described as "little among the thousands of Judah" casts serious doubt on Matthew's application of the statement. In a region as small as Judah, one could hardly speak of a town as one of "thousands," yet in terms of a Judean clan descended from Bethlehem of Ephrathah, it would have been an appropriate description for an obscure family group that hadn't particularly distinguished itself in the nation's history. The NIV translates that part of the verse like this: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah...." Similar renditions are made by the RSV, NRSV, NAS, NAB, the Jerusalem Bible, and other translations, all agreeing that Micah referred to a family clan rather than a town.
Even more damaging to Matthew's application of the verse is the Septuagint translation, the version that Matthew and other New Testament writers most often relied on when quoting OT "prophecies":
And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah, art few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Judah: yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel (Brenton Translation).
In his quest for prophecy fulfillments, Matthew most often quoted the Septuagint version of the alleged prophecy, but in this case, he obviously didn't. "Bethlehem, house of Ephratha came out "Bethlehem, land of Judah." The word house was often used in Hebrew to signify a family or a clan as in "the house of Judah" or "the house of David." It was never used in the sense of "land" as Matthew applied it here. It would also be rather strange to call an insignificant village a "prince of Judah," as Matthew did, yet not at all inappropriate to refer to the head of an undistinguished clan descended from Caleb as a prince. Notice also that the Septuagint described this Bethlehem, "house of Ephratha" as something that was "few in number," another indication that a small clan was intended rather than a single town. So why in this instance did Matthew deviate from his habit of quoting the Septuagint and make the textual changes that are evident in his rendition of this verse? The fact that he did raises the distinct possibility that Matthew intentionally distorted the original statement to make it better suit his purpose of wanting it to appear to be a reference to the town of Bethlehem rather than a family clan. It is on "evidence" just as flimsy as this that bibliolat-ers make their outrageous claim of marvelous prophecy fulfillments in the life of Jesus.
In my debate with Bill Jackson, he cited the birth of Jesus in Behlehem as an exam-ple of prophecy fulfillment. After I had pointed out to him many of these same problems, he said, "Till may not like it or see it (the prophecy fulfillment alleged), but Matthew did and the chief priests and scribes of Judaism could see it" (Jackson-Till Debate, p. 20)! Such a response as this is characteristic of inerrantists. They want to assume everything. Just because Matthew "said" that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem fulfilled Micah 5:2, they assume that it has to be true, that Matthew could not have been mistaken. Just because Matthew said that the chief priests and scribes said that Bethlehem of Judea would be the birthplace of the Messiah, inerrantists assume that they really did say this. They discount completely the possibility that Herod never made any such inquiry of the chief priests, that Matthew just made it up in order to give his story more credibility. What kind of objectivity is that, especially in the light of the evidence I have cited to show that Matthew often distorted OT scriptures to make them fit his needs?
In the New Testament, such distortion was commonplace in the frantic quest for prophecy fulfillment. In a long list of complaints, a psalmist lamenting treatment accorded him by his enemies said that when he was thirsty they gave him vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21), and centuries later the writer of John's Gospel would have us believe that Jesus could not die on the cross until this "prophecy" was fulfilled: "... Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst" (Jn. 19:28). In response, he was given vinegar from a sponge; then he said, "It is finished," bowed his head, and died.
Biblical scholars have found no Old Testament references to anyone who was given vinegar to quench his thirst except in the passage above (Psalm 69), so it is considered the scripture that Jesus "fulfilled." To say the least, however, the problems in accepting the event as fulfillment of a prophecy are enormous. For one thing, a contextual examination of the alleged prophecy indicates that the psalmist was writing about his own personal misery, that he had sunk deep in mire (v:2), that he was weary of crying (v:3), that he was hated by enemies more numerous than the hairs of his head (v:4), that he had borne reproach and shame (v:7), etc., etc., etc. Furthermore, the plaint of this distressed psalmist included also (in the same verse that mentioned the vinegar) a reference to gall that he was given for meat when he was hungry. So if it was necessary for Jesus to be given vinegar on the cross to fulfill this scripture, why did he not have to be given gall too? By what logic is half of the verse prophecy and the other half not?
An even greater problem concerns the character of this psalmist. If he was in any way intended to be a Christ figure, how do we explain the difference in the attitude he displayed toward his enemies and the one that Jesus displayed to his? Everyone knows the famous spirit of forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated before and during his crucifixion, yet this "Christ-figure" psalmist was quite the opposite. He asked God to blind his enemies (v:23), to make their habitation desolate (v:25), to add iniquity to their iniquity (v:27), and to blot them out of the book of life (v:28). It seems strange indeed that God would have chosen a person as spiteful and vengeful as this man to serve as a prophetic figure of the forgiving Jesus.
This same psalm provides other examples of the extremes that some New Testament writers resorted to in trying to make prophecies of simple statements that were never intended as prophecies. The disciples of Jesus saw his expulsion of money changers from the temple (Jn. 2:13-17) as fulfillment of verse 9, "Zeal of your house has eaten me up," and the Apostle Paul considered Jesus's desire to please not himself fulfillment of the last part of the same verse, "The reproaches of them that reproached you are fallen upon me" (Romans 15:3). Thus, an act of violence and a spirit of acquiescence were divergently considered fulfillments of a single verse of "prophecy." The only comment that this deserves is that these prophetic fulfillments existed only in the arbitrary and capricious opinions of the "inspired" New Testament writers who made the original statements prophecies in the first place.
As noted earlier, this remarkably prophetic psalmist, in his distress, entreated God to punish his enemies with various afflictions. "Let their habitation be desolate; let none dwell in their tents," was one of his vindictive requests (v:25). When the apostles assembled in Jerusalem to select a successor to Judas, Peter referred to this same verse as having been fulfilled when the field that Judas had purchased with "the reward of his iniquity" was left cursed and abandoned: "Let his habitation be made desolate, and let no man dwell therein" (Acts 1:18-20). Suddenly, a statement that the psalmist had made in reference to his "enemies" in general, all of them (plural), was made to appear as if he had referred to only one person. "Their habitation" became "his habitation," and the adverb therein was substituted for tents as a convenient reference back to habitation. With that kind of license to change scriptures to fit the situation, just about anyone could make any statement into a prophecy. Where, for example, this same psalmist said, "I am become a stranger to my brethren, and an alien to my mother's children" (v:8), we could make this a prophecy of Jesus's rejection by his own brothers as recorded in John 7:3-5. "I am weary with my crying" (v:3) was fulfilled (we could say) when Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn. 11:35), and, of course, when the Apostle Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead (Acts 5:1-10), that fulfilled verse 28: "Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the righteous." These applications would be no more far-fetched than those that "inspired" writers made of other verses in this psalm.
Most other so-called prophecy fulfillments of the New Testament cannot survive contextual analysis any better than those just noted. Upon examination, they show flaws so obvious that only the very credulous can accept the tenuous claims that they are fulfillments of prophecy, yet some of them are widely considered remarkable examples of divine foresight. Possibly the best example of these is Matthew 1:23 where it was claimed that an angel's announcement to Joseph that his betrothed wife Mary would give birth to a child conceived by the Holy Spirit was done to fulfill a prophecy spoken by Isaiah: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." In the original context, however, Isaiah made this statement as a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah, that an alliance recently formed against him by Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel, would not succeed in defeating him. The Lord (Yahweh), as he was prone to do in those days, had sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that the alliance would not prevail. Isaiah begged Ahaz to ask for a sign that his prophecy was true. Finally, Isaiah said to him, "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore Yahweh Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:13-14). Hence, the context clearly shows that this so-called prophecy was made not to foretell the birth of Jesus some 700 years later but the birth of a child to that time and that situation. How could a birth that would happen 700 years later, after Ahaz was dead and the battles had long since been fought, have been a sign to him that the Syrian-Israelite alliance would fail? The premise is too absurd even to contemplate.
THE DOUBLE-APPLICATION DODGE
To deal with contextual problems like the one in Isaiah's virgin-birth prophecy, bibliolaters have invented the double-application doctrine. "Yes, the prophecy in Isaiah did refer primarily to an immediate situation," they admit, "but it contained also, as did many other prophecies, a double-entendre that, in this case, makes it applicable to the birth of Jesus too." Contextual evidence, of course, necessitates their admission that prophecies such as this one were indeed intended for the times in which they were made, but if inerrantists are going to claim a "double-application" of Isaiah 7:14, they have a responsibility to do more than just claim. They must also prove. If Isaiah really had a double-meaning in mind, then who was the virgin of that generation who gave birth to a son? That is a legitimate question, because if Isaiah meant virgin in the strictest sense with reference to a woman who would give birth 700 years later, then he had to mean virgin in the strictest sense for the woman of his time who would bear a son. If not, why not?
The truth is that evidence to prove a double-application theory isn't so easy to come by. In this case, we have nothing--absolutely nothing--but Matthew's unsubstantiated word that the birth of Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy. Isaiah said nothing in the context of the original passage to imply a double intention, and none of the other gospel writers in recording the circumstances of Jesus's birth in any way related the event to Isaiah's prophecy. This latter fact seems particularly significant in the case of Luke whose gospel account included many more details about both the annunciation of the birth and the actual event itself than did any of the others. Mark and John, in fact, were completely silent about the birth. Doesn't it seem strange, then, that this remarkable "prophecy fulfillment" would have been treated with silence by three of the four "inspired" writers who recorded the life of Jesus? Only Matthew mentioned it, and that is the sum total of the proof we have that Jesus's birth fulfilled Isaiah's "prophecy."
"Well, isn't it enough that Matthew identified the fulfillment?" bibliolaters will demand. "How many times does God have to say a thing before we can believe it?" Thereby, they simplistically overlook an issue that is central to the controversy. That issue is not whether Matthew declared Jesus's birth a fulfillment of the prophecy (obviously he did) but whether in so doing God was speaking through him. There are good reasons for doubting that he was.
First of all, Matthew was notorious for seeing prophecy fulfillment in just about everything, even the most trivial events. To return to an example already mentioned, let's notice again that he even saw prophecy fulfillment in the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt to save their child from Herod's edict. When they returned to Israel, this fulfilled, so Matthew claimed, what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called My Son" (2:15). This "call out of Egypt" refers to Hosea 11:1, where it was said, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son." As I said, the original statement was obviously a reference to the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and therefore became a prophecy pertaining to Jesus only in Matthew's wild imagination. It is about as convincing as Matthew's claim that Joseph took his family to Nazareth to fulfill the prophecies that said Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Apparently, it didn't take much for Matthew to see prophetic connection.
Matthew's credibility is also impeached by major discrepancies between his gospel account and the three others:
Matthew said that Jesus was born in the reign of Herod, who died in 4 B. C. (2:1). Luke said that Jesus was born during the Syrian governorship of Quirinius, who was not even appointed to the position until 6 A. D. (2:2).
Matthew indicated that the centurion went in person to ask Jesus to heal his servant who was near death (8:5-13). Luke said that the centurion stayed at home and sent elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to heal the servant (7:2-10).
Matthew said that Jairus reported his daughter dead when asking Jesus to go heal her (9:18-25). Both Mark (5:23) and Luke (8:42) said that she was still alive but dying.
Matthew said that Jesus healed two blind men as he was going out of Jerico (20:29). Both Mark (10:46) and Luke (18:35) indicated there was only one man who was healed, and Luke said that it was done when Jesus "drew nigh unto Jerico."
Matthew said that Jesus, in sending his disciples out to preach, told them to take no necessities with them, not even a staff (10:10). Mark, however, said that Jesus allowed them to take staffs (6:8).
Matthew said that the women present at Jesus's crucifixion beheld him "from afar" (27:55-56). John disagreed in some particulars with the identities of these women and said that they stood "by the cross of Jesus" (19:25).
Matthew disagreed with all the other writers in many details concerning the resurrection: who exactly went to the tomb, the time that they went, what they found upon their arrival, when and where Jesus was first seen after his revivification, and a host of other conflicting details.
This widespread disagreement among the gospel writers in effect discredits them all, but the only matter we need be concerned with at this point is that the discrepancies most assuredly give us reason to question Matthew's reliability as a chronicler. Someone--or possibly even all four of them--was wrong in the way the gospel story was told, and as far as we know, without any reliable evidence to exonerate him, it could have been Matthew as easily as any of the others. How then can we be sure that Matthew was right in saying that the birth of Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's famous Immanuel prophecy? All we have is the word of an imaginative zealot who at best had a questionable knowledge of Old Testament scriptures. Even the law of Moses, as brutal and demanding as it was at times, required agreement between at least two witnesses before prosecutable offenses could be established (Deut. 17:6), and in concluding his second epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul implied that the tradition should be applied to settle internal problems in the church (13:1). With reference to the fulfillment of Isaiah's virgin-birth "prophecy," however, we don't even have the agreement of two witnesses. We have only Matthew's unconfirmed word, and we don't even know if he was really the one who wrote the gospel story that bears his name. This is hardly compelling evidence.
Even if we concede the personal honesty and integrity of Matthew, we would still have to reject his testimony in the matter of the virgin birth, because it is at best hearsay. The only person who could have possibly known that Jesus was born of a virgin would have been Mary herself, but we have no personal testimony from her. She wrote no books--at least not any that Christians consider "canonical"--and left no affidavits, so we have exactly nothing by way of evidence from the only person who was in a position really to know whether she was a virgin at the time of Jesus's birth. By all recognized rules of evidence, then, Matthew's testimony can carry no logical weight because of its hearsay nature.
More damaging than all of these holes in Matthew's claim, however, is clear textual evidence that Isaiah did not consider his statement in 7:14 to be a prophecy of some distant event. As noted earlier, so that Ahaz would have a sign that the Syrian-Israelite alliance would fail, Isaiah predicted the birth of a child who would be named Immanuel. For this to have been a "sign" in the biblical sense of the word, it would have had to have had some application to contemporary events. Jewish scholars who read the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) in the original language have had no difficulty recognizing that contemporary application. Shmuel Golding, editor of Biblical Polemics, published by the Jerusalem Institute of Biblical Polemics, has explained that verb-tense problems alone in this passage make it impossible for people who are knowledgeable in Hebrew to accept it as a prophecy of a distantly future event:
In Hebrew the verse reads in the present tense is with child and not as according to the Christian Bible will conceive and bear a child. In Hebrew it states she is pregnant, not will be pregnant. In fact, the Catholic Bible (Isaiah 7:14) reads as follows: The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son. Jesus was not born until seven hundred years after this sign was given, which could not be described as "soon." The text reads "is with child," so how could this woman be kept pregnant for seven hundred years until Jesus arrived ("Who Changed God's Diapers?" [pam], p. 1)?
That Isaiah did have in mind a child who would be born to a contemporary mother is made plain by a statement that followed on the heels of the birth prediction: "Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings" (vv: 15-16). To say that this statement had reference to a child who would be born 700 years later reduces everything the prophet said to nonsense, for what possible consolation could it have been to Ahaz to know that 700 years after he was dead the land whose two kings he hated (Syria and Israel) would be forsaken?
Furthermore, Isaiah did not say that the birth would be a miraculous event, as Matthew's application of the statement would require it to be. The popular misconception that Isaiah was predicting a virgin birth results from a faulty translation of the Hebrew word `almah, which merely meant "maiden" or "unmarried female." Bethulah was the Hebrew word that signified a woman who was sexually pure; this was the word used in such passages as Deuteronomy 22:13-24 where sexual purity was obviously under consideration. The other word (`almah) was used in such passages as Genesis 24:43 where, although translated virgin in many English versions, reference to the sexual purity of the woman wasn't necessarily intended. If, then, Isaiah had meant to imply that the child in his prophecy would be miraculously conceived, he would have surely used the Hebrew word that unequivocally meant virgin.
Viewed in these linguistic perspectives, the prophecy loses much of the mystique that has traditionally surrounded it, because there would have been nothing particularly amazing about an unmarried female giving birth to a child. It happens all the time. But it loses even more of its resplendence when we consider textual indications that Isaiah intentionally arranged circumstances to guarantee a birth that could be seen as "fulfillment" of his prophecy. Isaiah 8:1-4 tells how Yahweh intended to take "faithful witnesses," Uriah, the priest, and Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah, to record as Isaiah went in to a prophetess who conceived and bore a son. In effect, he was covering all of his bases. He had predicted the birth of a child to an unmarried female, so now he was making sure that one would be born. And it was in this type of duplicity that Matthew saw divine involvement!
As incredible as it may seem, there is even more to question in this wonderful virgin-birth prophecy. After saying in his prophecy that the child to be born would be called Immanuel, Isaiah named the son borne by the prophetess not Immanuel, as he had predicted, but Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:3). It was as if he wanted both to fulfill and to invalidate the prophecy!
The fact that this child was given a name other than Immanuel has led some Bible apologists to argue that he was not the one predicted in Isaiah's prophecy. But even if they could unequivocally prove this argument true, which they cannot, that would do very little to restore Isaiah's credibility as a prophet, because Jesus, who presumably fulfilled the prophecy in at least a secondary sense, was not named Immanuel either. No record exists of Jesus ever having been called Immanuel by his contemporaries. Those who in later times applied the name to him, and still continue to, have done so only in labored attempts to make Matthew's statement a valid interpretation of prophecy. So of what value is a "double-sided" prophecy that has been shown to have serious flaws on both sides?
The argument of bibliolaters not withstanding, there is convincing evidence that Isaiah did intend his son born of the prophetess to be seen as fulfillment of his prophecy. First, Isaiah, although naming his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, did after the child's birth refer to him as Immanuel while warning that the Assyrian king in overthrowing Syria and Samaria would also subdue Judah and "fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel" (8:5-8). So at least once the child of that generation was called Immanuel, and, as previously noted, that is once more than Jesus, in his lifetime, was ever called by the name. As a matter of fact, the name was used only three times in the entire Bible, twice (as just noted) in Isaiah and the third time when Matthew quoted Isaiah's "prophecy." This is hardly sterling proof of prophecy fulfillment.
Further proof that Isaiah considered his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz to be the fulfillment of his prophecy is seen in a close examination of context. When he made the prophecy to Ahaz (as a sign that the Syrian-Israelite alliance would not prevail), he also promised that "before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread (Syria and Samaria) will be forsaken by both her kings" (7:16). This same prediction (prophecy, sign, whatever) was repeated after the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz was born: "For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, `My father,' and, `My mother,' the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria" (8:4). Both statements are identical in substance; both show also that Isaiah intended his prophecy to apply to a political situation of his day rather than to some event in the far-flung future. And, more important for the moment, the context of the passage gives sufficient reason to believe that the child who was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz instead of Immanuel was contemporarily considered a fulfillment of the prophecy. Why Isaiah did not name the child Immanuel is a mystery, but stranger mysteries than that are recorded in the Bible.
With reference to what was said about the period before the child would know "to refuse the evil and choose the good" (Is. 7:16), inerrantists have another problem. If this was indeed a reference to the son who would one day be born to the virgin Mary, does this mean that there was a time in the childhood of Jesus when he didn't know the difference in good and evil? If not, why not? And if so, then how could this be? Jesus was the incarnate "Word of God" (Jn. 1:1,14), who was in the beginning with God (v:2), who made all things and without whom "nothing was made that was made" (v:3). If all of this is true, how could there have been a time in the life of Jesus when he didn't know "to refuse the evil and choose the good"?
On the subject of strange things, what could be stranger than this? Isaiah made the prophecy to assure King Ahaz that the Syrian-Israelite alliance would not prevail against him, yet the Bible record shows that the alliance not only succeeded but did so overwhelmingly. Second Chronicles 28 reports that Ahaz's idolatrous practices caused "Yahweh his God" to deliver him "into the hand of the king of Syria" (v:5). (This king was the Rezin of Isaiah 7:1.) The Syrians "carried away of his a great multitude of captives" and took them to Damascus (v:5). Simultaneously, the Israelites attacked Judah under the leadership of Pekah (the same Pekah of Isaiah 7:1), and in one day 120,000 "valiant men" in Judah were killed and 200,000 "women, sons, and daughters" were "carried away captive" (vv:6-8). The battle casualties included Maaseiah, Ahaz's son; Azrikam, the governor of the house; and Elkanah, who was "next to the king" (v:7). If these results were Isaiah's idea of Syrian and Samarian failure, one wonders what kind of drubbing the alliance would have inflicted had Isaiah prophesied its success.
Furthermore, Isaiah's assurance that Assyria would be Yahweh's instrument in defeating the alliance (Isaiah 8:4-8) failed to materialize too. When the Edomites (Samarians) struck Judah a second time and "carried away captives," Ahaz sent "to the kings of Assyria to help him" (2 Chron. 28:16-17). In response, Tilgath-Pilneser, king of Assyria, "came to him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not" (v:20). As a prophet, then, Isaiah seems to have struck out all the way around. In fairness to him, however, it should be noted that Assyria's role in the conflict was reported with different results in 2 Kings 16, where Ahaz also fared a little better than reported in 2 Chronicles 28. Nevertheless, these discrepancies in the two accounts are more of an embarrassment to bibliolaters than a benefit, because such variations in the Bible record place on inerrancy believers the added burden of trying to explain why "inspired writers" would give contradictory reports of the same events.
There is yet a final absurdity to notice in this wonderful Messianic prophecy. With the Syrian-Israelite alliance posing a threat to Judah, Isaiah was sent to Ahaz to prophesy that the alliance would fail. After doing so, he said in his very next breath that Yahweh would bring the king of Assyria against Judah and that he would desolate the land (7:17-25). Imagine, if you can, the absolute absurdity of this. The prophet came, in effect, to say, "Don't worry; Syria and Samaria will not defeat you. Assyria will." What kind of consolation was that supposed to be? It was as if in our day the people of our country, fearing an attack from Russia, should be told by a prophet, "Fear not; Russia will not defeat you. China will." Yet, despite this flaw and the many others noted, millions of people consider this "prophecy" a remarkable example of divine foresight. In reality, the only remarkable thing about it is that so many intelligent people could have been duped into believing that it was remarkable.
JESUS CHRIST: STUNT RIDER
As noted earlier, no event was too trivial for Matthew to see prophecy fulfillment in it, and one of his silliest prophecy-fulfillment claims concerned the so-called triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem shortly before his betrayal and crucifixion. The story was related by all three synoptic-gospel writers, but Matthew's version differs significantly from Mark's and Luke's. Mark and Luke simply had Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt to the cheers and hosannas of the multitudes (Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-40). Matthew, however, had to build it into a dramatic prophecy-fulfillment:
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them (21:1-7, NRSV).
There are two conspicuous points of difference in Matthew's version of this event and Mark's and Luke's: (1) Matthew had Jesus riding BOTH a donkey and her colt; Mark and Luke had Jesus riding only a colt, and (2) Matthew saw it as fulfillment of a prophecy; Mark and Luke said nothing at all about prophecy fulfillment being involved.
I won't address the familiar fundamentalist "explanation" of the numerical inconsistency that says, "Well, if there were two donkeys, then there had to be one." Inerrantists invariably resort to this dodge to "explain" numerical discrepancies in the Bible. Did the gospel writers appear to disagree on the number of people who went to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection? Well, no problem! John simply chose to tell about one of them (Mary Magdalene); Matthew chose to tell about two (Mary Magdalene and the other Mary); Mark chose to tell about three (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome). If, however, there were several who went, as Luke indicated, then there is no error, because if there were several, then there was one, exactly as John said, and there were two, exactly as Matthew said, etc. Although this argument apparently satisfies diehard fundamentalists who are going to believe in Bible inerrancy regardless of what evidence to the contrary may exist, it offers no sensible explanation as to why the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit would inspire John to write an infallibly perfect account of the visit to the tomb that mentions only one person, but on different occasions the same omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit would inspire Matthew, Mark, and Luke to write infallibly perfect accounts of the same story that all differ in the matter of who went to the tomb. After the first "perfect" gospel story had been written, what could have been going through the Holy Spirit's mind on these subsequent occasions that made him decide that this point had to be changed, not just once but three times? That is a confusing matter, to say the least.
As I said, however, my purpose is not to analyze quibbles that fundamentalists resort to in their frantic efforts to preserve the inerrancy doctrine, but to expose flaws in their prophecy-fulfillment argument, and there are plenty of them in Matthew's claim that Jesus's alleged act of riding two donkeys into Jerusalem fulfilled prophecy. As to Matthew's reference to two donkeys rather than just the one that Mark and Luke mentioned, I will simply ask how Jesus managed to ride two donkeys. Was this a type of stunt riding like we see in circuses and rodeos where the rider stands with one foot on separate horses? If so, what was the purpose of the theatrics? Was it to demonstrate that he could perform not just miracles but feats of physical dexterity too?
In my oral debate with H. A. "Buster" Dobbs in Portland, Texas, he suggested that the text could mean nothing more than that Jesus rode one donkey while touching the other or that he rode one for a while and then switched to the other. However, this doesn't seem to be what Matthew meant. He clearly said that the disciples brought the donkey and her colt to Jesus, "laid their clothes on them, and set Him [Jesus] on them" (v:7). So Matthew was obviously saying that in some way the disciples set Jesus on both of the animals.
There is a far more sensible explanation for the discrepancy in Matthew's version of this story and the other synoptic accounts than the far-fetched, how-it-could-have-been scenarios that Bible inerrantists resort to. Unfamiliar with the structure of Hebrew poetry, Matthew simply misunderstood the parallelism in the original statement of Zechariah, so this resulted in a misquotation:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt, the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9, ASV).
Parallel emphasis was used extensively in Hebrew literature, and that was all that Zechariah was doing in this text. The ass was a colt, the foal of an ass, and this was all that Zechariah meant. Certainly, he did not mean for his readers to understand that this king (whoever he was) would ride on both an ass and her colt, as Matthew interpreted the statement to mean. (Incidentally, this mistake constitutes implied proof that whoever wrote the gospel of Matthew was non-Jewish and therefore unfamiliar with a Hebraic literary form that the real apostle Matthew would probably have known had he been the actual writer.) The misinterpretation resulted in an absurdity that is missing from Mark's and Luke's versions of the story, because they correctly understood the original statement.
There are far too many examples of parallel emphasis in the Old Testament to look at all of them, but a few will illustrate how ridiculous it is to attribute divine inspiration to a writer who was unable to recognize how it was used. Zechariah himself used it frequently. "And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius," he wrote, "that the word of Yahweh came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev" (7:1, ASV). Obviously, the ninth month was Chislev, and Chislev was the ninth month; the two were the same. Elsewhere, he wrote, "And they of Jerusalem shall yet again dwell in their own place, even in Jerusalem" (12:6, ASV). Their own place was Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was their own place. The two were the same.
This technique was by no means stylistically unique to Zechariah; it occurred throughout the Old Testament. Here are just a few of many examples that could be cited:
And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even the ten commandments (Deut. 4:13, ASV).
Yahweh hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David (1 Sam. 28:17).
Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and portray upon it a city, even Jerusalem, and lay siege against it (Ezek. 4:1-2).
In each case, it is easy to see that the statement introduced with "even" is parallel to the statement before it. The two are the same. It was simply a Hebraic literary device employed to emphasize. Had the Greek author of "Matthew" understood this, he would not have misinterpreted Zechariah's statement and put Jesus into the absurd posture of riding into Jerusalem on two donkeys.
The fact that Matthew made this error and the fact that neither Mark nor Luke in telling the same story claimed that the event fulfilled prophecy are sufficient to discredit the claim that this was a prophecy fulfillment. After all, both Mark and Luke also attributed prophecy fulfillment to certain events in the life of Jesus, as well as Matthew did, so if the triumphal entry was indeed a fulfillment of something a prophet had predicted, wouldn't they, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have known this and so informed their readers? Wouldn't they have been just as interested as Matthew in letting their readers know that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testaent? To say no in answer to these questions would be to say that Mark and Luke and the Holy Spirit lacked common sense.
Besides all these problems with Matthew's claim that the "triumphal entry" fulfilled prophecy, there is the contextual one. When Zechariah's statement is examined in context, it becomes evident that Matthew, as he did in so many other instances, ignored original intention and pulled an Old Testament verse out of context to make it appear that an event in the life of Jesus fulfilled prophecy. As noted in a verse from Zechariah (7:1) quoted above, the prophet claimed that inspiration from Yahweh had come to him in the "fourth year of king Darius." This would have been during the postexhilic era when the Jews were concerned with rebuilding Jerusalem and their sacred temple. Much of what Zechariah wrote was intended to inspire confidence in the people who had set themselves to completing a difficult task. The chapter in which Zechariah wrote of a king riding on an ass, even a colt, the foal of an ass, predicted a general humiliation of the surrounding nations who were traditionally hostile to Israel. The prophet predicted that Yahweh would destroy Tyre and that she would be "devoured by fire" (v:4). The Philistine strongholds of Ekron, Ashkelon, and Ashdod would be cut off and become uninhabited (vv:5-7). Through the prophet, Yahweh promised to "camp around [his] house" (v:8) so that armies could no more pass through (v:8).
It was within this context that Zechariah spoke of Zion's king who would come riding on an ass, even a colt, the foal of an ass, because, quite naturally, in times of oppression and adversity a Hebrew prophet would predict the coming of a deliverer to save Yahweh's people. So this statement was made to instill confidence in the people of that generation, to assure them that they would succeed in their task and that Yahweh would protect them from their adversaries. To apply this to a man who would not live until five centuries later is to misapply it as flagrantly as did Matthew in twisting Isaiah 7:14 to make it appear that it was speaking of a woman who would bear a son 700 years in the future. Such was the desperation that New Testament writers were driven to in their attempts to prove that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets had spoken about.
YAHWEH'S FAILED LAND PROMISE
On several occasions prophetic statements were made in the Pentateuch about the land that Yahweh, the tribal god of the Israelites, had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were clearly stated promises that Yahweh would give the land of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites to the seed of Abraham. In Deuteronomy 7:17-24, for example, Yahweh presumably made this emphatic promise:
"If you shall say in your heart, `These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?'--you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what Yahweh your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which Yahweh your God brought you out. So shall Yahweh your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover Yahweh your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left, who hide themselves from you, are destroyed. You shall not be terrified of them; for Yahweh your God, the great and awesome God, is among you. And Yahweh your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. But Yahweh your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed. And he will deliver their kings into your hand, and you will destroy their name from under heaven: no one shall be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them."
The substance of this prophecy was repeated in such places as Exodus 23:20-33; Deuteronomy 4:33-39, 7:1-2, and 31:1-8. In some of these passages, the names of the "seven nations greater and and mightier than you" to be driven out of the land were also specified as they were above: the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, and the Perizzites.
When Joshua assumed the leadership of Israel after the death of Moses, the land promise was renewed in very specific terms:
After the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh, it came to pass that Yahweh spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' asssistant, saying: "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them-- the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them" (Joshua 1:1-6).
Just before crossing the Jordan, Joshua repeated the promise:
So Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of Yahweh your God." And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites, and the Jebusites: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan" (Joshua 3:9-11).
There were no ambiguity problems in these land promises. The language was about as detailed and specific as any prophecy could be: Yahweh would drive out all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan and give it to the Israelites to fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To stress the emphatic nature of parts of the land promises that Yahweh made to Israel, I have emphasized in italics and bold print certain statements. So when all of the passages I have quoted and listed are considered, we see that the prophecies included all of the following:
Without fail, God would drive out of the land beyond the Jordan ALL of the people then possessing it.
No man among these people would be able to stand before the Israelites all the days of their lives.
The Israelites would drive out the nations possessing the land and utterly destroy them and the memory of their name under heaven. They were to make no covenants with the nations in this land or show mercy to them (Deut. 7:2).
Every place that the sole of their feet would tread upon, God would give to them.
Their empire would stretch from the Red Sea unto the river Euphrates and from the great sea (Mediterranean) to the going down of the sun.
To circumvent obvious contradictions that result when Yahweh's promises are compared to biblical history recorded later, inerrantists contend that the land promises made to the Israelites were conditional on their good behavior, but there is no support in the Bible for that dodge. In Deuteronomy 9:3-6, another prophetic passage relating to the land promise, specific notice was taken of the fact that the Israelites of that generation were undeserving of the land but that it would be given to them anyway for the sake of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
Therefore understand today that Yahweh your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and bring them down before you; so you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly, as Yahweh your God has said to you. Do not think in your heart, after Yahweh your God has cast them out before you, saying, `Because of my righteousness Yahweh has brought me in to possess this land'; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh your God drives them out from before you, AND THAT HE MAY FULFILL THE WORD WHICH YAHWEH SWORE TO YOUR FATHERS, TO ABRAHAM, TO ISAAC, AND TO JACOB. Therefore understand that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiffnecked people.
So here is another clear statement. God was not giving the land to the Israelites because of their righteousness; in fact, he considered them a stiffnecked, undeserving people. (See also Exodus 33:1-6.) He was giving the land to them because of the unconditional promise that he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unless he did this, he would have reneged on a promise made to the patriarchs with no strings attached (Gen. 12:7; 13:14-16).
The unconditional nature of Yahweh's land promise was restated in Leviticus 26:42-45:
(T)hen I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them: they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am Yahweh their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am Yahweh.
So time and time again, it was specifically said that the Israelites would be given the land of Canaan, regardless of their own conduct, so that Yahweh could fulfill the promise that he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Inerrantists who deny this are denying biblical statements worded just as plainly as anything ever said on the subject of creation, the resurrection, baptism, final judgment, and other important Christian doctrines.
As proof that the land promise was dependent on the good behavior of the Israelites, inerrantists like to cite Exodus 23:20-33 where a conditional suggestion was attached to the promise: "But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries." In emphasizing the IF in this verse, they overlook an important point. If Yahweh said that he would fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regardless of the wickedness of the generation that went in to possess the land, he could not turn around later and say that he would make good his promise only if the people were obedient. That would put a contradiction into the scriptures that the inerrantists would have to explain, because the land promise could not have been both conditional and unconditional at the same time. And clearly the passages cited earlier were unconditional in promising the land to the Israelites.
So after Yahweh had unconditionally promised to the Israelites that they would be given the land beyond the Jordan, under Joshua's leadership they went in to possess it, and initially the Bible claims that they succeeded. The claim, in fact, was that Joshua thoroughly and completely subdued the land:
So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, AS YAHWEH THE GOD OF ISRAEL HAD COMMANDED. And Joshua conquered them from Kadesh Barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even as far as Gibeon. All these kings and their land Joshua took at one time, because Yahweh the God of Israel fought for Israel. And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal (Josh. 10:40-43).
In places, the Bible is almost boringly repetitious, but this writing characteristic of the "inspired" spokesmen of God often works to the advantage of those who seek to debunk the myth that God verbally inspired the writing of the Bible. In this case, it makes it easy to establish that a complete, unqualified fulfillment of the land promises was claimed by the "inspired" men who wrote the Old Testament. Consider, for example, the clearly stated claim of the following passages:
But Yahweh said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them (the armies of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites poised for battle against the Israelites, "FT"), for tomorrow about this time I will deliver ALL of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire." So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. And Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpeh eastward; they attacked them until they left none remaining. So Joshua did to them as Yahweh had told him: he hamstrung their horses, and burned their chariots with fire.
So Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword: for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms. And they struck all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them. THERE WAS NONE LEFT BREATHING. Then he burned Hazor with fire.
So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, AS MOSES THE SERVANT OF YAHWEH HAD COMMANDED. But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned. And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the children of Israel took as booty for themselves; but they struck every man with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they left none breathing. AS YAHWEH HAD COMMANDED MOSES HIS SERVANT, SO MOSES COMMANDED JOSHUA, AND SO JOSHUA DID. He left nothing undone of all that Yahweh had commanded Moses.
Thus Joshua took ALL this land: the mountain country, all the South, all the land of Goshen, the lowland, and the Jordan plain--the mountains of Israel and its lowlands, from Mount Halak and the ascent to Seir, even as far as Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings, and struck them down and killed them (Josh. 11:6-17). So Joshua took the WHOLE land, according to all that Yahweh had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Then the land rested from war (Josh. 11:23).
So Yahweh gave to Israel ALL the land of which he had sworn to give to their fathers; and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. Yahweh gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. and not a man of ALL their enemies stood against them; Yahweh delivered ALL their enemies into their hand. NOT A WORD FAILED OF ANY GOOD THING WHICH YAHWEH HAD SPOKEN TO THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL. ALL CAME TO PASS (Josh. 21:43-45).
These statements are fully as clear as passages that proclaim the virgin birth, the resurrection, the final judgment and other important doctrines of Christianity. Yahweh gave unto Israel ALL the land that he swore to give to their fathers, and the dimensions of that land were clearly laid out in such passages as Exodus 23:20-33 and Joshua 1:1-6. Its borders extended from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, from the wilderness, to Lebanon, and to the great river Euphrates. Furthermore, the fulfillment claims state that the Israelites left none alive to breathe and that not a man of all their enemies stood against them. Who were those enemies? Time and time again, they were named in the land prophecies: the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, and the Perizzites. Yet after audaciously claiming in the passages noted above that every aspect of Yahweh's land promise had been fulfilled, the writer(s) turned around and brazenly admitted that some parts of the land were not conquered and some of the peoples in these lands were not driven out:
Now Joshua was old, advanced in years, and Yahweh said to him: "You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed. This is the land that yet remains: all the territory of the Philistines and all that of the Geshurites, from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, as far as the border of Ekron northward (which is counted as Canaanite); the five lords of the Philistines--the Gazites, the Ashdodites, the Ashkelonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians as far as Aphek, to the border of the Amorites; the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon as far as the entrance of Hamath; all the inhabitants of the mountains from Lebanon as far as the Brook Misrephoth, and all the Sidonians--them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide it by lot to Israel as an inheritance, as I have commanded you (Joshua 13:1-6).
This statement flatly contradicts the claim in Joshua 11:23 that Joshua "took the whole land, according to all that Yahweh had spoken to Moses" so that the land had rest from war. All of the territorial regions singled out in this passage as land that remained to be possessed lay within the boundaries that were laid out in Joshua 1:1-6 to specify the scope of the land that Yahweh would give to the Israelites. So if Joshua had indeed taken "the whole land, according to all that Yahweh had spoken to Moses," as claimed in Joshua 11:23, how could it be said later that "very much land" remained to be possessed? Perhaps some inerrantist reader(s) can answer this question. They are good at coming up with far-fetched, how-it-could- have-been scenarios to "explain" obvious contradictions in the Bible.
Most of the rest of the book of Joshua and the better part of Judges contradict all of the fulfillment claims that I have noted above. Joshua 15:63 says, "As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day." Yet the Jebusites were specifically named as one of the seven nations "greater and mightier than you" that would be utterly destroyed. Joshua 16:10 says, "And they did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites to this day and have become forced laborers." But the Canaanites were specifically listed as one of the seven nations that would be utterly destroyed. Joshua 17:12-13 says, "Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out." Yet the promise had clearly been that the Canaanites would be utterly driven out, that no man would be able to stand against the Israelites all the days of their lives. Making servants of them can hardly be considered fulfillment of a prophecy declaring that they would be "utterly driven out." In fact, it contradicts a restriction already noted that expressly prohibited the Israelites from making covenants with the inhabitants of their promised land.
In Joshua 16:10; 17:12-13; Judges 1:1-5; 1:9; 1:21; 1:27-36; 3:1-6 and many other places, references are made to the people that the Israelites could not drive out of the land, and many of these were specific references to people from the "seven nations greater and mightier than you" that Yahweh promised to drive out without fail. But he didn't, and so the inerrancy champions have some serious explaining to do. If "Yahweh gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers" (Joshua 21:43-45) and if "they took possession of it (the land) and dwelt in it" (Ibid.) and if Yahweh "gave them rest all around, according to ALL that He had sworn to their fathers" (Ibid.) and if "not a man stood of all their enemies" (Ibid.) and if "Yahweh delivered all their enemies into their hand" (Ibid.) and if "not a word failed of any thing which Yahweh had spoken to the house of Israel" (Ibid.) and if "ALL CAME TO PASS" (Ibid.), how could it have been that some of the enemies of Israel were still in the land during the time of the book of Judges and how could it have been that some of the people of the "seven nations greater and mightier" than the Israelites were still dwelling with them "to this day"? Bibliolaters who boast that prophecy fulfillment proves the divine inspiration of the Bible have a lot of explaining to do in the matter of Yahweh's failed land promises.
FAILURE OF THE ETERNAL KINGDOM
Another glaring prophecy failure happened in the case of Yahweh's promise to establish David's throne forever in an everlasting kingdom that would never be destroyed. This, like the land prophecy just discussed, was an unconditional promise stated in specific language. Repeated several times in the Old Testament, it was first made in 2 Samuel 7:11-16:
Also Yahweh tells you [David] that He will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.
Inerrantists will insist that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who in a figurative sense now sits on the throne of David, but that interpretation presents too many problems. For one thing, if this was a prophecy concerning Christ, why did Yahweh say, "If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with blows of the sons of men"? A cardinal doctrine of the New Testament is that Jesus was completely sinless. Obviously, then, the statement referred to the literal kingdom of David and to the descendants of David who would be capable of committing iniquity. In the same way that modern day zealots think that God is on the side of America, the prophets of Israel naively believed that God would see that the kingdom of Israel endured forever. Bible fundamentalists like to point to "Messianic" prophecies like Jeremiah 33:17, where it was asserted that "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel," and insist that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, a descendant of David who now sits upon the spiritual throne of David. However, the very next verse in this passage says, "(N)or shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me [Yahweh], to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually." Is that passage now being "figuratively" fulfilled? If so, in what sense? Certainly there are no Levitical priests standing before the temple altar today to offer burnt-offerings and meal-offerings to Yahweh continually, and there haven't been for centuries. This whole passage, which incidentally is in a section that was not in the Septuagint translation, the version that the Holy Spirit presumably directed New Testament writers to rely on (see "The Jeremiah Dilemma," The Skeptical Review, Autumn 1990, pp. 6-10, 12), was obviously written by someone who thought that Yahweh would ensure the survival of the Israelite kingdom and religion forever.
That the promise to establish David's throne forever was understood by the Old Testament writers in a strictly literal sense is clearly indicated in such passages as 1 Kings 11:9-13:
So Yahweh became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from Yahweh, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what Yahweh had commanded. Therefore Yahweh said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen."
When time for the "fulfillment" of this statement came and the impending division of the kingdom was announced to Jeroboam by Ahijah the prophet, Yahweh again made it clear that at least part of the kingdom had to be preserved in order to keep his promise to David:
And he (Ahijah) said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces (of the garment Ahijah had torn to pieces, "FT"), for thus says Yahweh the God of Israel: `Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David. "However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes." But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and give it to you--ten tribes. And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put my name there. So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you'" (1 Kings 11:31-38).
Of the reign of Abijam in the southern kingdom of Judah after the division, it was said, "In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maachah the granddaughter of Abishalom. And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; his heart was not loyal to Yahweh his God, as was the heart of his father David. Nevertheless for David's sake Yahweh his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, by setting up his son after him and by establishing Jerusalem; because David did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kings 15:1-5). Later, in the reign of Jehoram, a king of Judah in the days of Elisha the prophet, it was said that "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done... and he did evil in the sight of Yahweh" (2 Kings 8:18). So did Yahweh take the kingdom away from Judah because of Jehoram's iniquity? No, the claim was that Yahweh could not do this because of the promise to David. "Yet Yahweh would not destroy Judah, for the sake of his servant David, as He promised him to give a lamp to him and his sons forever" (v:19). Presumably, Yahweh delivered Jerusalem from a siege by the Assyrian king Sennacherib "for my servant David's sake" (2 Kings 19:34). This statement was repeated in 2 Kings 20:6.
Obviously, then, the writer(s) of 1 and 2 Kings considered the promise of an everlasting kingdom made to David to be both literal and unconditional, because no matter how evil David's successors were, the prophets made it clear that the kingdom had to be and would be preserved "for David's sake." As long as Judah managed to survive the threats to its sovereignty, its military successes could be regarded as fulfillments of Yahweh's promise to David, but after Judah ceased to exist as a sovereign kingdom the prophets and writers of the Old Testament were caught with a lot of theological egg on their faces. Yahwists ever since have tried to salvage something from the mess they were left with by insisting that the promise made to David concerned a spiritual kingdom and that Jesus has provided the fulfillment of that promise. Such a view has two major weaknesses:
ONE: It completely disregards all of the passages like the ones I have just cited that show that the Old Testament writers and prophets thought that the promise of an everlasting kingdom referred to the literal throne of David.
TWO: It offers no explanation for the vacancy of David's throne from the time of the captivity until the establishment of Jesus's kingdom. Jeremiah said that David "shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel," yet there were 600 years between Zedekiah and Jesus when David did in fact "lack a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel."
The point is that unconditional prophecies were often spoken in Old Testament times and that the eternal establishment of David's kingdom was one of those unconditional promises, just as the land promise to the seed of Abraham was unconditional. Any figurative application of the obviously literal promise to establish David's throne forever or attempts to make it conditional on the conduct of his descendant kings are nothing but dodges, just as any attempt to make the land promise conditional on the good behavior of the Israelites is only a desperate way of avoiding the embarrassment of having to admit that the prophets of old were often wrong in their predictions.
Possibly the most pessimistic of the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel proclaimed impending doom upon everyone from Judah itself to the enemy nations surrounding it. The failure of his prophecies to materialize as he predicted makes a compelling argument against the Bible inerrancy doctrine. In one of his doom's-day prophecies, Egypt was to experience forty years of utter desolation:
Therefore, thus says Yahweh God: "Surely I will bring a sword upon you and cut off from you man and beast. And the land of Egypt shall become desolate and waste; then they will know that I am Yahweh, because he said, `The River is mine, and I have made it.' Indeed, therefore, I am against you and against your rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Ethiopia. Neither foot of man shall pass through it nor foot of beast pass through it, and it shall be uninhabited forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate; and among the cities that are laid waste, her cities shall be desolate forty years; and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries" (29:8-14).
Talk about extravagant rhetoric, we certainly have it in this passage. No such desolation has ever happened to Egypt; there never has been a time in recorded history when Egypt was not inhabited by man or beast for forty years, when its cities were laid waste and desolate, when its people were all dispersed to foreign lands, etc. Bible defenders, of course, resort quickly to figurative and future applications, but their strategy just won't work. Future fulfillments are excluded by patently clear references that Ezekiel made to contemporary characters who were to figure in the fulfillment: "Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him" (29:2). Although Egypt still survives as a nation, its rule by pharaohs ended long ago. Furthermore, Ezekiel identified Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as the instrument Yahweh would use to bring about Egypt's desolation: "Therefore thus says Yahweh God: `Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage, and that will be the wages for his army'" (29:19). Clearly, then, Ezekiel had in mind a contemporary fulfillment of this prediction. As for spiritual or figurative explanations of the prophecy, just what events in Egyptian history were so catastrophic in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and the pharaohs that they could justifiably be considered a figurative desolation of forty years? Unless bibliolaters can identify such a catastrophe, their figurative interpretations must be regarded as just more attempts to sweep aside another embarrassing prophecy failure.
Ezekiel just as rashly predicted the utter destruction of Tyre, a prediction whose failure has become even more embarrassing to bibliolaters than his doom's-day prophecy against Egypt:
Therefore thus says Yahweh God: "Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken," says Yahweh God; "it shall become plunder for the nations. Also her daughter villages which are in the fields shall be slain by the sword. Then they shall know that I am Yahweh."
For thus says Yahweh God: "Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots, and with horsemen, and an army with many people. He will slay with the sword your daughter villages in the fields; he will heap up a siege mound against you, build a wall against you, and raise a defense against you. He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timber, and your soil in the midst of the water. I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. I will make you like the top of a rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets, you shall never be rebuilt, for I Yahweh have spoken," says Yahweh God (26:3-14).
Ezekiel's tirade against Tyre continued through three chapters. His prediction was that the city's destruction would be complete and permanent: "The merchants among the peoples will hiss at you; you will become a horror, and be no more forever" (27:36). So sure was he of Tyre's eternal destruction that he repeated it: "All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you: you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever" (28:19).
That this prophecy was never fulfilled can be verified with no more difficulty than a trip to the public library. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre and that "you (Tyre) shall never be rebuilt" (26:14) and "shall be no more, though you are sought for, you will never be found again" (26:21). History, however, records the fact that Nebuchadnezzar not only didn't destroy Tyre, he didn't even capture it. The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Micropedia, Vol. 10, 1978) said this in reviewing the long history of Tyre:
... and in 585-573 (B.C.) it successfully withstood a prolonged siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II (p. 223).
In its summation of this same period of Tyrian history, The Encyclopedia Americana (Vol. 27, 1984) says:
The neo-Babylonian conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar II, subjected the island to a 13-year siege (585-572) without success (p. 331, emphasis added).
Nebuchadnezzar did capture the mainland suburb of Tyre, but he never succeeded in taking the island part, which was the seat of Tyrian grandeur. That being so, it could hardly be said that Nebuchadnezzar wreaked the total havoc on Tyre that Ezekiel vituperatively predicted in the passages cited.
Even Ezekiel himself admitted the failure of this prophecy. Three chapters after predicting the everlasting destruction of Tyre, Ezekiel, as he often did in his prophecies, dated a long tirade against Egypt: "And it came to pass in the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me..." (29:17). There is no general agreement on the interpretation of Ezekiel's dating system, but at least we can use it to determine when one prophecy was made with reference to another. For example, his prophecy against Tyre was made in "the eleventh year, on the first day of the month," (26:1). If, then, the prophecy against Egypt in chapter 29 was made in the 27th year (whatever that year was), this would mean that sixteen years separated the prophecy against Tyre in chapter 26 and the one against Egypt in chapter 29. Ezekiel's doom's-day prophecies against the nations surrounding Judah were apparently motivated by their delight in the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in 587 B. C., because he often mentioned this as the reason why Yahweh was pronouncing judgment against them (25:3-4, 6, 8; 26:2). Obviously, then, these doom's-day prophecies had to have been made after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B. C., so even if Ezekiel's prediction of Tyre's destruction was made as quickly as the day after the fall of Jerusalem, his prophecy against Egypt, which (as noted above) came 16 years later, could not have been made before 571 B. C. By then, Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre, which lasted from 585-572 B. C., was over, and Ezekiel would have known that his prediction had failed.
His prophecy against Egypt did show a clear awareness that he had botched his prediction that Nebuchadnezzar would decimate Tyre:
"Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw; yet neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre, for the labor which they expended on it. Therefore thus says Yahweh God: `Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage; and that will be the wages for his army'" (29:18-19).
This statement referred to Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre as a completed act, which of course by this time it would have been (as the chronological analysis above clearly proves). That being true, it necessarily follows that the book of Ezekiel could not have been written, at least not in its entirety, until after the siege of Tyre was over. To say the least, then, serious questions must be raised about Ezekiel's credentials as a bona fide prophet. A prophet who completed his book after the facts he had prophesied about! What kind of prophet was that? And, in Ezekiel's case, we have a prophet who apparently didn't even have the good judgment to go back and revise his predictions after unfolding events had proven them wrong. Are we supposed to see this as compelling evidence that the Bible was inspired of God?
Furthermore, Ezekiel's prophecy against Egypt frankly admitted Nebuchadnezzar's failure to destroy Tyre. It plainly said that Nebuchadnezzar and his army "had no wages" for their "labor" against Tyre. As a result, Yahweh, according to this prophecy, had decided to award Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as payment for his services: "Therefore thus says the Sovereign Yahweh: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off her multitude, and take her plunder, and take her prey: and that will be the wages for his army" (29:19). Strangely enough, Ezekiel was admitting in this statement that his prophecy against Tyre had failed, for if Nebuchadnezzar had taken the island part of the city, he surely would have carried off its multitude, taken its plunder, and taken its prey, and these would have been his "wages." If one wonders why a man claiming divinely endowed prophetic powers would make a prediction and then three chapters later admit that his prediction had failed, I can only say what I said before: stranger things than this can be found in the Bible.
Some bibliolaters have tried to mitigate the failure of Ezekiel's Tyre prophecy by extending its scope beyond Nebuchadnezzar to Alexander the Great, who did succeed in capturing the island part of Tyre in 332 B.C. But this ploy won't work. Ezekiel clearly identified Nebuchadnezzar as the avenging instrument that Yahweh would use to bring about a total, everlasting destruction of Tyre. If Alexander the Great was to be a part of the scenario, why didn't Ezekiel name him too? After all, Ezekiel was a prophet, and prophets can see into the future, can't they? Inerrantists delight in pointing to 1 Kings 13:2 where a prophet allegedly mentioned Josiah by name almost 300 years before he was born and to Isaiah's alleged references to Cyrus by name over 100 years before he was born, so if Ezekiel had meant for his Tyre prophecy to include Alexander the Great as Yahweh's instrument of destruction, why didn't he refer to him by name? If other "prophets of God" could pull off amazing feats like these, why couldn't Ezekiel? Why would the predictive talents of one inspired prophet of God have been so consummately inferior to others'?
Even if bibliolaters could somehow prove that Ezekiel had intended Alexander the Great to be a part of the prophecy against Tyre, they would still have to explain why the complete and everlasting destruction of the city did not happen as predicted. Most assuredly, nothing comparable to the scope of destruction predicted occurred at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and although Alexander the Great did succeed in capturing the island part of the city, Tyre by no means ceased to exist after this conquest. In The History of Tyre, Wallace B. Fleming said this of the city's defeat by Alexander:
Alexander then left the city which was half burnt, ruined, and almost depopulated. The blackened forms of two thousand crucified soldiers bore ghastly witness to the completeness of the conquest. The siege had lasted from the middle of January till the middle of July, 332 B.C. The city did not lie in ruins long. Colonists were imported and citizens who had escaped returned. The energy of these with the advantage of the site, in a few years raised the city to wealth and leadership again (Columbia University Press: New York, 1915, p. 64, emphasis added).
So Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would "be no more forever," but, to the embarrassment of Bible inerrantists, it just didn't happen that way. Tyre existed after Ezekiel in the days of Jesus, who "withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon" at one time during his personal ministry (Matt. 15:21), and it existed in the time of the Apostle Paul, who, returning from one of his missionary journeys, stopped there, found disciples, and tarried with them seven days (Acts 21:3). In fact, Tyre still exists today, as anyone able to read a map can verify. This obvious failure of a highly touted Old Testament prophet is just one more nail in the coffin of the Bible inerrancy doctrine.
Moses, in speaking of a prophet "like unto me" that Yahweh would raise up, gave a simple, logical formula that anyone can use to determine if a prophet was indeed speaking by inspiration of God: "And if you say in your heart, `How shall we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?'-- when a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Deut. 18:21-22). Thus, the Bible itself indicts Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah as false prophets for uttering prophecies that did not come to pass, and, as such, Moses said earlier in the passage just quoted that they deserved death (v:20) rather than the irrational adulation bibliolaters have accorded them.
These three, however, were not the only false prophets. The Bible abounds with unfulfilled prophecies, as well as prophecies whose outcomes were the exact opposite of what was predicted. I would have to write a book to analyze all of them in detail, but these are some of the more notable Old Testament examples of unkept promises and prophecy failures:
Zedekiah to die in peace: In predicting Jerusalem's fall to Babylon, Jeremiah prophesied that Zedekiah, the king of Judah, would "die in peace":
"Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: `Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, "Thus says Yahweh, `Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon.'"' Yet hear the word of Yahweh, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says Yahweh concerning you: `You shall not die by the sword. You shall die in peace; as in the ceremonies of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so they shall burn incense for you and lament for you, saying, "Alas, lord!" For I have pronounced the word, says Yahweh'" (Jer. 34:2-5).
The prophecy was that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon and Zedekiah would be captured and taken to Babylon but would "die in peace." So what happened? Jerusalem was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar for two years and finally fell. Zedekiah and all his men of war fled the city by night but were pursued and overtaken on the plains of Jericho. Read what happened next:
But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they (the Chaldeans) took the king (Zedekiah) and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he pronounced judgment on him. Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. And he killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He also put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in bronze fetters, took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death (Jer. 52:9-11).
If this was Jeremiah's idea of "dying in peace," one can only surmise how horrible Zedekiah's fate would have been had the prophet predicted a dreadful death. Also, there is no indication that incense was burned in memory of Zedekiah as Jeremiah had predicted. Indeed, how could there have been with Judah defeated and its people scattered abroad?
Josiah to die in peace: After Shaphan the scribe read to King Josiah from "the book of the law" that had recently been discovered in the house of Yahweh, Josiah sent emissaries to the prophetess Huldah to inquire of Yahweh concerning Judah's fate for having disobeyed the words of the book. Huldah predicted dire things for Judah for having forsaken Yahweh, but she assured Josiah that he personally would fare much better:
But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Yahweh, in this manner you shall speak to him, "Thus says Yahweh God of Israel: `Concerning the words which you have heardÄbecause your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before Yahweh when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,' says Yahweh. "Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring upon this place" (2 Kings 22:18-20, emphasis added).
Rather than dying in peace, as the prophetess here predicted, Josiah was killed at Megiddo in a battle with Egyptian forces (2 Chron. 35:20-24). Struck by a volley from Egyptian archers, Josiah said to his servants, "Take me away, for I am severely wounded." These were hardly the words of a man who was "dying in peace." He was removed from his chariot and taken to Jerusalem, where he died and was buried.
Jehoiakim's body to be desecreated: Jeremiah prophesied that the body of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, would be desecrated after his death:
Therefore thus says Yahweh concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: "They shall not lament for him, saying, `Alas, my brother!' or `Ah, my sister!' They shall not lament for him, saying, `Alas, my master!' or, `Alas, his glory!' He shall be buried with the burial of a donkey, dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jer. 22:18-19).
Jeremiah was so sure of himself on this point that he repeated the prophecy fourteen chapters later:
Therefore thus says Yahweh concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: "He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. I will punish him, his family [seed, KJV and ASV], and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring on them, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the men of Judah, all the doom that I have pronounced against them; but they did not heed" (36:30-31).
So what happened to Jehoiakim? The answer depends on which Bible writer you choose to believe. His death was recorded in 2 Kings 24:6, where it says that "Jehoiakim slept with his fathers." This is a familiar Bible expression that was used to denote a peaceful death and respectful burial. David slept with his fathers (1 Kings 2:10), and so did Solomon (1 Kings 11:43). Likewise did Jeroboam and Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:20, 31), as did Baasha (1 Kings 16:6), Omri (1 Kings 16:28), Asa (2 Chron. 16:13), etc. Whoever recorded Jehoiakim's death in 2 Kings 24:6 was apparently unaware that his body was desecrated, if indeed it ever was.
On the other hand, 2 Chronicles 36:5-6 states that Nebuchadnezzar came against Jehoiakim, bound him in fetters, and carried him to Babylon. Judging from the treatment Zedekiah was accorded when the Babylonians bound him and carried him away to Babylon, one might justifiably argue that his body probably was desecrated after his death. Jeremiah, however, predicted that Jehoiakim's own people would be his desecraters, that his own people would not accord him lamentations appropriate for a king, that his own people would cast his body "out beyond the gates of Jerusalem." How could this have been done if he was carried away to Babylon?
Part of the desecration prophecy was that Jehoiakim would "have no one to sit upon the throne of David" (36:30), but this too was proven false. Upon Jehoiakim's death, his son Jehoiachin "reigned in his stead" for a period of three months and ten days (2 Chron. 36:8,9; 2 Kings 24:6-8). Even more devastating than that are the biblical genealogies that show Jehoiakim to be a direct ancestor of Jesus (1 Chron. 3:16-17; Matt. 1:12). As noted earlier, Bible inerrantists try to explain the failed throne-of-David prophecies by assigning figurative meaning to them. Jesus, a direct descendant of David, now sits on a spiritual throne of David in a spiritual kingdom, so the inerrantists say, but if that is true, then a descendant of Jehoiakim is now sitting on David's throne in contradiction to a plainly spoken prophecy of Jeremiah. So emphatic was Jeremiah about Jehoiakim's fate that he pronounced the same prophetic curse upon him another time, using Jeconiah, or Coniah, another name for Jehoiakim:
"Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol...? Thus says Yahweh: `Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah'" (Jer. 22:28-30, emphasis added).
If inerrantist are correct in saying that the throne-of-David prophecies have been figuratively fulfilled in Jesus's reign on a spiritual throne in a spiritual kingdom, then it absolutely must be that Jeremiah's prophecy that none of Jehoiakim's seed would ever sit upon the throne of David was a false prophecy. Why do Bible fundamentalists never refer to discrepancies like these when they rhapsodize the wonders of prophecy fulfillment?
Jacob's name change: After Jacob had wrestled through the night with a man presumed to be an angel, his name was changed from Jacob to Israel: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel," the angel said, "for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). As clear as the angel's statement was, however, the Bible continued after this event to refer to Jacob by his original name rather than Israel. In the four remaining verses of this chapter, he was called Jacob three times, and Israel was used only once and that in reference not to him but to his descendants. The next two chapters of Genesis use Jacob 16 times and Israel only once and that in an anachronistic reference to the nation of Israel that didn't even exist at the time.
As if the inconsistency of this were later recognized, the prophecy was repeated in Genesis 35:9-10, this time by God himself (presumably): "Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, `Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.' So He called his name Israel." The statement here from God's own lips was plain enough for anyone to understand: your name shall not be called Jacob anymore. Apparently, it wasn't plain enough for the writers of the Bible to understand, however, because Jacob was still called Jacob after this. Through the rest of Genesis, he was called Jacob at least forty times. The name Israel, although appearing some, was used only occasionally. At the time of Jacob's death, in fact, he was still being called by his original name: "And when Jacob made an end to charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed and yielded up the spirit, and was gathered to his people" (Gen. 49:33). Even after his death, the name Jacob was frequently used in referring to him, as any check in a concordance will verify. He was referred to as Jacob eleven times in the book of Exodus alone. Yet if we are to believe the Bible, God himself appeared to Jacob twice before his death and said, "Your name shall not be called anymore Jacob." So if we can't believe God, whom can we believe?
Jerusalem to enjoy perpetual security: "Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes will see Jerusalem a quiet home, a tabernacle that will not be taken down. Not one of the stakes will ever be removed, nor will any of the cords be broken" (Is. 33:20). The imagery of this prophecy, of course, was that of the Hebrew tabernacle, a tent that was carried from encampment to encampment during the wilderness wanderings from Egypt to Canaan. It was an impermanent structure, so in describing Jerusalem as a tabernacle "that will not be taken down" and whose stakes and cords would never be "removed" or "broken," Isaiah was obviously predicting that Jerusalem would become a continuous sanctuary for the Jews. Had Jerusalem remained permanently in Jewish domain after the Babylonian captivity and not experienced any catastrophes and foreign occupations, bibliolaters would point to this passage as an amazing example of prophecy. Such has not been the case, however, because the history of Jerusalem has been a history of constant struggle and subjugation. Only in recent times have the Jews regained control of Jerusalem after a long period of foreign domination, and even now that control is tenuous at best. Certainly, one could not say that none of the stakes of it had ever been removed from Jerusalem.
Jerusalem never to be entered again by the uncircumcised and unclean:"Awake, awake; put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for from now on there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean" (Is. 52:1, ASV). This verse is only the beginning of an entire chapter that promised a permanent, perpetual deliverance of Jerusalem and its people from foreign domination. To say that this prophecy was ever fulfilled would require a blatant disregard of known historical facts. Various armies from nations that did not practice the rite of circumcision have since occupied Jerusalem, and even today tourists and visitors from various cultures that reject the rite of circumcision have free access to Jerusalem. The "uncircumcised" pass in and out of the city each day.
Bible fundamentalists try to circumvent these problems by speaking of "spiritual" and "figurative" or even "future" fulfillments of this and similar prophecies like the one predicting the permanent security of Jerusalem. This is a common ploy. When historical facts contradict the prognostications of their cherished prophets, bibliolaters turn to spiritual, figurative, or yet future applications. Their equivocations, however, cannot survive the scrutiny of contextual criticism. Examined in context, this and the permanent-security prophecy of Isaiah, as well as many of his others, seemed obviously intended to comfort a people weary of foreign oppression. At least in the case of Isaiah 52:1, the expression from now on plainly denotes that this was so. The expression means "from this time forth," so why would the prophet have said, "from now on (this time forth) there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean," if he were speaking of something that would not occur until some time in the distant future? Thereafter would have been the appropriate word to use.
Rather than a wondrous prophecy, then, we have in these words of Isaiah only the extravagant rhetoric of an overzealous mystic who, like most of his Hebrew contemporaries, fanatically believed in a divinely ordained ethnic superiority of his people. We have had 3,000 years of history to show us just how misguided and misdirected their ethnocentrism was.
WHAT ABOUT SPECIFIC DETAILS?
No discussion of Old Testament prophecies would be complete without analyzing those which, all else being equal, did contain details specific enough to be considered "valid" prophecies. In the article cited earlier (p. 3), Wayne Jackson pointed to the prediction of Sennacherib's assassination in 2 Kings 19:6-7 as an example of "remarkable" prophecy (Ibid., pp. 2-3). This "prophecy" was made by Isaiah after Hezekiah had received a message from the Assyrian king threatening to destroy Jerusalem:
And Isaiah said to them, "Thus you shall say to your master, `Thus says Yahweh: "Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land."'"
As Jackson pointed out in his article, "(S)ome twenty years later, he (Sennacherib) was assassinated by his own sons, who smote him with the sword, while he was worshipping in his pagan temple" (Isaiah 37:37-38). The assassination was also recorded in 2 Kings 19:37.
To inerrantists like Jackson, who are frantically looking for something with which to prop up their inerrancy doctrine, this may be a "remarkable" prophecy, but it loses its remarkableness when it is analyzed in the context of its timing. In listing his criteria of "valid" prophecy, Jackson said that it must also "involve proper timing (i.e., significantly preceding the fulfillment)." In this respect, Jackson's remarkable prophecy fails miserably. He may be right in saying that Sennacherib was assassinated twenty years after the context of events in which Isaiah's prophecy was written, but how can we know that the prophecy was actually uttered at the time attributed to it and not just written into that context after the fact of Sennacherib's assassination? The book of 2 Kings could not have been completed until approximately 150 years after Sennacherib's assassination. We know this from specific chronological details that are recorded in the book after Sennacherib's death. Hezekiah was king of Judah at the time, and he outlived Sennacherib by 15 years (20:6). Upon his death, Manasseh his son reigned in his stead (20:21) for 55 years (21:1). Amon reigned after Manasseh for two years (21:19), and then Josiah reigned for 31 years (22:1). After Josiah, Jehoahaz was king for three months (23:31), and then Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years (23:36). His son Jehoiachin reigned for three months, after which he was taken away captive by Nebuchadnezzar, who made Zedekiah king (24:10-17). Zedekiah reigned for 11 years (24:18), and then he was carried away to Babylon (25:6).
All of these reigns add up to 123+ years that transpired after Sennacherib's assassination. The book of 2 Kings ends by stating that Evil-Merodach, king of Babylon, "in the year that he began to reign, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison." This was in the 37th year of Jehoiachin's captivity (25:27). If we subtract the 11 years that Zedekiah reigned between the time of Jehoiachin's captivity until his release 37 years later, we have an additional 26 years to add to the 123 above. So the writer of 2 Kings obviously did not finish this book until about 150 years after Sennacherib's death. At the time, he was recording details about the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, he knew the circumstances of Sennacherib's death, so how do we know that he did not conveniently write into the context of this story a "prophecy" that Sennacherib would "fall by the sword in his own land" upon his return home? What guarantees can Jackson or any other inerrantist give us that the "prophecy" did not occur in this way? Unless they can, by their own criterion of "proper timing," they do not have a "valid" prophecy, much less a remarkable one.
Jackson also cited as examples of "remarkable prophecies" the passages that called Josiah and king Cyrus of Persia by their names 300 and 150 years, respectively, before they were born (1 Kings 13:2; Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). But he has the same problem here that he had with the "prophecy" of Sennacherib's assassination. He must prove his criterion of "proper timing." He must prove that these statements were unquestionably made before the times of those kings whose reigns were allegedly predicted in terms so specific that even their names were used. And how can he do that? How can anyone do it? The facts previously cited about the so-called prophecy of Sennacherib's assassination clearly show that the writer of 2 Kings was not above writing his historical narrative to make it appear that "remarkable" prophecies had occurred. Did this person also write 1 Kings? If so, how do we know that he (she) didn't do the same thing in the case of the Josiah prophecy?
Only the most brazen-faced inerrantists will deny that anachronisms occur throughout the Bible. In 2 Samuel 1:18, it was said that a song about the exploits of David was written in the book of Jashar. If this was true, then obviously the book of Jasher could not have been written until the time of David. Yet we read in Joshua 10:13 that the famous feat that Joshua accomplished when he made the sun and moon stand still was also recorded in the book of Jashar. Bible fundamentalists want us to believe that the book of Joshua was written if not by Joshua himself at least by someone contemporary to his time. The events in Joshua, however, occurred some 400 years before David, so how could a contemporary of Joshua have known that this famous stunt was recorded in a book that would not be written till at least 400 years later?
I could cite other anachronisms that clearly show that most Bible books were not written by the people or in the times they have been traditionally attributed to. As long as that is the case, Wayne Jackson or any other fundamentalist will have a hard time proving that the prophecy about Josiah was actually made 300 years before his birth and not just written after the fact into the historical narrative of 1 Kings.
I have only to appeal to the test of Occam's razor to support my point here. Named after William of Occam, a 14th century English logician who first enunciated it as a valid rule of evidence, Occam's razor states that when there exist two or more explanations for an occurrence, especially an unusual one, the least incredible one is most likely to be the right one. So in this matter which is more likely? Did a prophet actually foresee the reign of a king and call him by his name 300 years before he was even born, or did the writer of 1 Kings, after the fact, merely write this "prophecy" into his historical narrative? There is no doubt which of the two explanations is the more likely one, so until Bible fundamentalists can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the more likely explanation could not have occurred, they do not have any proof at all in this "prophecy" that God inspired the writing of the Bible.
The same problem of "proper timing" applies to "Isaiah's" references to Cyrus of Persia by name. How can anyone prove that those references were actually written 150 years before the time of Cyrus? Recognizing that he had a problem on his hands, Jackson said of the timing factor involved here, "It is on account of such remarkable prophecies as these that liberal critics want to redate the books of the Bible centuries after the time of their composition" (Ibid., p. 3)! He said nothing, however, to prove that "liberal critics" are wrong in their dating of the books in question, and he offered no evidence to show that "the time of their composition" was when he thinks it was (wants it to be). Apparently, he doesn't understand that one doesn't prove anything by arbitrarily declaring it to be what he wants it to be. If there is proof that Isaiah actually referred to Cyrus of Persia by name 150 years before he was born, then let him show us the proof. But if the proof doesn't exist, he should be honest enough to admit that Occam's razor favors those who say that the references to Cyrus were redacted into the text of Isaiah after the reign of Cyrus had become a fact.
The best biblical scholarship has long recognized that the book of Isaiah was not written in its entirety by the prophet who lived 700 years before Christ. That the book was added to and edited in later years is so critically obvious that scholars openly refer to the divisions in the book as First and Second Isaiah. On this point, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, not exactly a hotbed of liberalism, said this:
From a literary standpoint, the book can be divided into two major sections, Isa. 1-39 and 40- 66, on the basis of content and, concomitantly, theological concepts. Indeed, the majority of critical scholars accept the view suggested as early as Abraham ibn Ezra (twelfth century A.D.) that only the first portion can be ascribed to the eighth-century B.C. prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah. The second section is attributed to an unknown prophet, commonly designated Second or Deutero-Isaiah, living among the Jews in Babylon toward the end of the Exile (ca. 550-538). Many scholars further identify chs. 56-66 as the work of Third or Trito-Isaiah, addressed to the restoration community perhaps in the period immediately preceding Ezra and Nehemiah. More extreme critics posit even more "Isaiahs" (1987, p. 531).
Bible fundamentalists think that they can dismiss all critical opinions as these as "liberal" nonsense, but calling someone a liberal for applying critical analysis to the Bible text doesn't resolve the problem. Which is more likely, that a prophet referred to a king by name 150 before the king had even been born or that a redactor living after the time of that king added materials to a previously written work? To settle this matter, all that bibliolaters have to do is produce undeniable evidence that the book of Isaiah was written in its entirety by a man who lived 150 years before Cyrus of Persia. If they can't do that, then they have no proof of predictive prophecies in "Isaiah's" references to Cyrus. The matter is that simple. If they cannot prove "proper timing," then they cannot prove prophecy.
NEW TESTAMENT FAILURES
Except for the book of Revelation, the New Testament isn't considered as prophetic as the Old Testament; nevertheless, one can still find examples of unfulfilled prophecies and broken promises in the New Testament.
All twelve apostles to be rewarded: When Peter asked Jesus what reward the apostles could expect for forsaking all to follow him Jesus said, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28). A lot of theological rhetoric has been expended on the meaning of "the regeneration." Did Jesus refer to the church era that began on the day of Pentecost when he would sit on the "spiritual" throne of David or did he have in mind a period that would follow his second coming? Regardless of the time period he was referring to, the passage poses a problem. How, for example, could Judas, who was one of the twelve at the time this was said, ever be permitted to sit on a throne in a judge's capacity? In another gospel account, Jesus himself called Judas the son of perdition (John 17:12). So will the "son of perdition" be awarded a throne to sit on during the regeneration? That hardly seems possible, because Jesus said at the last supper that it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born (Mark 14: 21). If he should be awarded a throne in Jesus's kingdom that would make this statement false, wouldn't it? How could it, in any sense, be said of a man elevated to such a position as this that it would have been better for him if he had never been born? Some Bible apologists argue that Jesus, omnisciently knowing that Matthias would be chosen to succeed Judas (Acts 1:23-26), said twelve thrones instead of eleven because of his intention to keep his apostolic crew in full force. If that is so, one might argue that he, omnisciently knowing that Saul of Tarsus would later be called into the apostleship as "one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8), would have been more exact had he said thirteen thrones rather than twelve. Others insist that the number twelve should not be interpreted so literally, that this is just a case of the figure of speech known as ampliatio, the retention of a name or designation after the reason for the original designation has ceased to exist. In counterargument, however, the opposition has every right to ask if there will ever be an end to figurative and spiritual interpretations of scriptures that pose serious problems for the inerrancy doctrine. There were twelve apostles present when Jesus made this prophecy, so why should we not believe that he meant twelve?
The efficacy of prayer: Extravagant claims for the efficacy of prayer are recorded in the New Testament. Jesus said, "And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" (Matt. 21:22). Mark's account of this agrees: "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (11:24). Substantially the same promise was made in John 14:13-14: "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." And again in John 15:7: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." The same rash promise was repeated in 1 John 5:14-15: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of him."
Theologians have wrestled for centuries with problems created by the extravagant rhetoric of these promises. A favorite hedge is to say that many prayers are not answered because of the conditions and limitations set forth in the promises. Admittedly, the promises did stipulate conditions. The one praying has to believe the petition will be granted, he must also be an obedient believer, and his petition must be in accordance with God's will. Nevertheless, to argue that the many observable absences of divine response to prayer are always attributable to lack of faith on the petitioners' part, or sin and disobedience in their personal lives, or the solicitation of things contrary to God's will is too ridiculous to warrant comment. God, for example, presumably wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4), so if an obedient Christian should pray for a massive, world-wide conversion, sincerely believing that it would happen, why would his petition not be granted? It would meet all of the specified conditions. Yet this very prayer, we can reasonably assume, has been uttered time and time again to no avail, and still today Christianity, in terms of world population, remains a minority religion. I frequently receive correspondence from a subscriber to The Skeptical Review who affixes to his cards and letters a sticker that says, "Nothing Fails Like Prayer." Truer words were never spoken, and the frequent failure of prayer is a perpetual witness to the absurdity of Bible inerrancy.
The imminence of the second coming: Jesus prophesied that his second coming would occur during the lifetime of his generation. Upon leaving the temple in Jerusalem, he predicted its destruction to his disciples, saying that "not one stone shall be left here upon another" (Matt. 24:2). When they reached the Mount of Olives, his disciples said to him, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age [world, KJV, ASV]?" (v:3). In reply, Jesus spoke at great length about wars and rumors of war; nations and kingdoms rising against kingdoms; famines, earthquakes, and pestilences; the rise of false Christs and prophets; etc., all of which would be accompanied with great tribulation, "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (v:21). Then he declared that "(i)mmediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (vv: 29-31).
Some inerrantists argue that in this passage Jesus was speaking only of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A. D., and not of his second coming, but this dodge ignores the primary concern of the apostles, which was to know when. "When shall these things be," they had asked Jesus, "and what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world [KJV, ASV]?" To argue that in all the things Jesus said in this passage he was not referring to his second coming and the end of the world is to argue that Jesus did not answer the question his apostles had asked. But, in fact, he did answer their question: "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it [he, KJV, ASV] is nearÄat the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place (vv:32-34). Mark (13:24-30) and Luke (21:25-32) agreed in substance with Matthew that the generation hearing Jesus speak would not pass away until it had seen all these things, one of which things was "the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven." Needless to say, that generation passed away centuries ago without witnessing the second coming, so Jesus proved himself to be a false prophet. We can rest this conclusion on the words of Moses himself: "When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Dt. 18:22). Earlier in the context of this statement, Moses said that such a prophet deserved to die (v:20).
Bibliolaters have made elaborate attempts to show that Jesus was not promising his generation that it would literally witness his second coming but only his coming as the head of a spiritual kingdom. This was fulfilled, they say, on the day of Pentecost when the church was established, and so the generation of Jesus's day did live to witness that. But if ever a biblical interpretation was fraught with problems, this is one of them. If indeed Jesus was not speaking of his second coming, he was guilty of gross deception, because the disciples had specifically asked him, "(W)hat shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?" Furthermore, his disciples had apparently understood that he was answering their question, because some of the very terminology that Jesus used, the catastrophic signs in heaven (v:29), the coming-in-the-clouds-of-heaven statement (v:30), the universal observance of the event (v:30), the angels descending at the sound of trumpets (v:31), the comparison to the days of Noah (vv:37-39), the thief-in-the-night imagery (v:43), and the general attitude of complacence (v:24), was later used by some of these disciples and others in obvious reference to the second coming and the end of the world:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night [Mt. 24:43], in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Pet. 3:10).
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God [Mt. 24: 31]. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night [Mt. 24:43]. For when they are saying, Peace and safety! [Mt. 24:38-39], then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape (1 Thess. 5:1-3).
Behold, he is coming with clouds [Mt. 24:30], and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him [Mt. 24:30]. Even so, Amen (Rev. 1:7).
It seems strange indeed that all of these terms that Jesus used only to depict a destructive overthrow of Jerusalem would have been universally employed later to describe his second coming and the end of the world. The fact is that bibliolaters would never have tried to make this passage into anything but a clear reference to his second coming had Jesus not rashly predicted that the signs and events he described would be witnessed by his generation.
This passage poses such problems that some in the Church of Christ, which I was once affiliated with, are espousing the A.D. 70 Doctrine, a theory first proposed by Max King that declares the second coming and the accompanying general resurrection to be faits accomplis that occurred in 70 A.D. Apparently, many congregations are being troubled by the doctrine, and old-line preachers are expending a lot of energy to combat it. If I may be so presumptuous, I have a suggestion for both sides. The old liners should seriously consider why anyone would feel the need to formulate a doctrine like this. After making clear references to his second coming, Jesus plainly and unequivocally said, "This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished." So what choices does this statement leave one with? He must either resort to interpretations more absurd than the A.D. 70 Doctrine or else take the position King is now preaching.
To adherents of the A. D. 70 Doctrine, I would suggest that there is yet a third alternative to consider. You have obviously seen that, if one is to believe the Bible is God's infallible word, acceptance at face value of what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 will require belief that somehow (even though no witnesses left testimony of either event, despite the fact that every eye was to behold him) the second coming and general resurrection occurred during the lifetime of the people who heard Jesus preach. Having recognized the absolute need to go this far, why not go just a step farther and see that the inerrancy doctrine is a pipe dream that all rational-minded people must reject?
A CATCH-ALL DODGE
Jeremiah once depicted Yahweh as a god who could change his mind about prophetic promises:
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it, if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do to them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, with which I said I would benefit them (18: 7-10).
Inerrantists have referred to this passage (even with straight faces too) to explain why some Bible prophecies appear not to have been fulfilled. The circumstances under which the prophecies were made simply changed, so the argument goes, and the prophetic promises in them were withdrawn. The subjects of the prophecies (people or cities or nations) changed from evil to good or good to evil, depending on whether a prophecy was one to curse or to bless, and so the threats or promises were accordingly withdrawn. Nineveh has been cited as an example of how the principle worked. Jonah was sent to prophesy against Nineveh: "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (3:4). The people heeded the warning, repented in sackcloth and ashes, and so Nineveh was spared.
This could easily have been the case, the argument continues, in some of the examples cited earlier. Ezekiel prophesied against Tyre, but for all we know Tyre repented and was spared. Zedekiah was told that he would die in peace, but he could have sinned afterwards and as a result lost the favor God had promised him. Such eventualities, rather than being prophecy failures, were merely applications of a divine law governing prophecy exactly as Jeremiah enunciated it.
The chief problem with this argument is its patent absurdity. In debating with bibliolaters, however, one soon learns to expect the absurd, so there is no reason to be surprised that they would resort to such a ploy as this to defend a position that is in fact indefensible. There are many vexing questions that the argument does not answer.
ONE: Presumably God is omniscient. This is so frequently proclaimed in the Bible that it is hardly necessary to cite references. If, then, God knows everything, why would he utter prophecies that he well knew would never materialize because of his divinely ordained change-of-heart factor? Why run the risk of having his messengers appear to be false prophets to those who might not understand his change-of-heart policy?
TWO: There are no records, either biblical or extrabiblical, to indicate that Tyre, Egypt, Zedekiah, or any of the cities, nations, or individuals who were subjects of the aforementioned prophecies ever underwent changes that would have warranted nullification of clear prophecies that had been proclaimed about them. If, then, these prophecies were in fact nullified by the change-of-heart factor that inerrantists appeal to, why did God not record the changes so that mankind would better understand his divine plan? Did he want to confuse people and make them think that his prophets were not real prophets? That seems like a strange way to go about creating faith in his divine plan.
THREE: Yahweh is presumably a god who shows no respect of person (1 Sam. 14:14; Acts 10:34), so why wasn't this change-of-heart policy administered fairly and impartially? When Hilkiah the high priest discovered the book of the law during the reign of Josiah, upon hearing it read Josiah understood that the people had been disobedient to its precepts. After receiving warning from the prophetess Huldah that Yahweh would "bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of it" because of their disobedience (2 Kings 22:16, ASV), Josiah called unto him all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, all the men of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and prophets, and all the people both great and small (2 Kings 23:1-2) and had the book read to them. Almost an entire chapter was then devoted to describing a general reformation that followed. All relics of Baal and the other "hosts of heaven" were removed from the temple, all idolatrous priests in the kingdom were "put down," the houses of the sodomites were broken down, all the groves and high places devoted to idols were destroyed, all idols were smashed into pieces and ground into dust, etc., etc., etc. Yet after all of this was done, Yahweh maintained his resolve to fulfill Huldah's prophecy: "Nevertheless, Yahweh did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. And Yahweh said, `I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, "My name shall be there"'" (2 Kings 23:26-28). There seems to be a streak of vindictiveness, not to mention inconsistency, in this god Yahweh.
Likewise, when Saul disobeyed Yahweh's command to utterly destroy the Amalekites, the prophet Samuel was sent to him to say, "Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, He also has rejected you from being king" (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul immediately repented and said, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of Yahweh and your words, because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship Yahweh" (vv:24-25). To this, Samuel said, "I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of Yahweh, and Yahweh has rejected you from being king over Israel" (v:26). On hearing this, so distressed was Saul that when Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed the skirt of the prophet's mantle and tore it, and to that, Samuel said, "Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent [repent, KJV, ASV]. For he is not a man, that he should relent" (vv:28-29).
As every Bible student knows, Saul was subsequently killed in battle and David was anointed king. So in this story, we see no indication at all that Yahweh was willing to nullify a prophecy if a change of heart was demonstrated by the subject of the prophecy. To the contrary, Samuel clearly said that Yahweh will not "lie or relent, for he is not a man that he should relent." This, in direct contradiction of Jeremiah's proclamation, indicated an obdurate inflexibility on Yahweh's part. Once he had pronounced sentence, he was unwilling to change it. Yet, oddly enough, immediately after Samuel said that Yahweh was not a man that he should relent [repent], this very chapter ended by proclaiming that "Yahweh repented that he had made Saul king over Israel" (v:35, KJV and ASV).
Such stories as these refute not only the argument under examination but also the general claim of Bible inerrancy. The Bible, rather than being a work of marvelous unity and harmony, is in fact a hodgepodge of hopeless contradictions and inconsistencies. If one studies it with an unbiased mind, he will have to admit to these flaws in its structure. And in this respect, the so-called prophets were the biggest offenders. Whereas contradictions in census numbers, battlefield casualties, lengths of reigns, etc. might be plausibly attributed to carelessness at a time when all copies had to be laboriously produced by hand, a prophecy that failed to materialize can hardly be explained satisfactorily. When a prophet rashly predicted the utter destruction of a city or nation in long tirades, like those characteristic of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and it didn't happen, that became a matter of general substance. The failure happened not because a scribe inadvertently omitted a word or a line or incorrectly transcribed numbers or carelessly transposed names in a genealogy but because history proved the general context of the prediction to be erroneous.
What bibliolaters don't take into account in their mad rush to defend the Bible with arguments as flimsy as those based on alleged prophecy fulfillments is that the Old Testament prophets were merely politicians of their times. As such, they would scheme and connive, plot and conspire, lie and cheat, and do whatever else was necessary to protect their interests. Because of the superstitious times in which they lived, they were powerful figures and no doubt knew it. The Bible is full of stories of kings and leaders who were afraid to act until they had consulted their seers. The seers in turn knew this and used it to their advantage. Is it any wonder, then, that Jeremiah would proclaim the catch-all formula cited above? Prophets had to have some protection. If a rash sign or prediction were given, the formula would give the prophet a way out of a situation that might otherwise compromise his position. He could merely plead that a change of circumstances had caused Yahweh to change his mind. One may accuse these prophets of many things, but stupidity is not one of them. They knew how to use the politics of their times to protect their power base. As an example of how politics entered into biblical prophecies, we have only to notice what happened after Israel split into two kingdoms after the reign of Solomon. The southern kingdom (Judah) rallied to Rehoboam, Solomon's son, and the northern (Israel) to his adversary Jeroboam. Thereafter both kingdoms had their rival "prophets," each side prophesying according to their special interests, although those who wrote the books that dealt with this period by and large considered the prophets of the southern kingdom (Judah) to be the good guys and the northern prophets the bad guys. A story of "prophet politics" at work in the divided kingdom was related in 2 Kings 3. Jehoram of the northern kingdom and Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom had agreed to put their differences aside temporarily and form an alliance with the king of Edom to fight against Moab for refusing to continue payment of tribute to Israel after King Ahab's death. The expedition ran out of water and, fearing disastrous military consequences, sought the advice of the prophet Elisha, who was politically aligned with the southern kingdom (Judah). When the three kings appeared before Elisha, he said to Jehoram, upon seeing the Israelite king in the trio, "What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother" (v:13). It was only after Elisha had been assured that "Yahweh has called these three kings together" (something we must wonder why he wouldn't have known, since he was the prophet) that he agreed to cooperate in helping them find water. "As Yahweh of hosts lives, before whom I stand," Elisha said to Jehoram, "surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you" (v:14). That sounds very much like a politically biased statement to me.
But, politics aside, consider the absurdity of the story. The kings of "God's chosen people" were on a military expedition, presumably to do Yahweh's will, and in a time of desperate need, a prophet of Yahweh pettily refused to render them aid because of a rival king's presence. If Elisha were indeed a prophet in touch with God, why did he have to be told that Yahweh had "called these three kings together"? Wouldn't that be rather incidental information for an inspired prophet to know? After all, Elisha was a man who could read the heart of a greedy man and then afflict him with leprosy (2 Kings 5:27), command wild beasts to do his bidding (2 Kings 2:23-25), and even raise the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37). Yet he apparently didn't know that Yahweh had called the leaders of the divided kingdom together on a special mission. We can only conclude that this story, although ably demonstrating the pettiness of party politics, does very little to establish confidence in Elisha as a true prophet of God.
About as ridiculous as this is the wonderment that bibliolaters attribute to Elisha's divinely given advice that solved the water problem of the kings on this occasion. The prophet called for a harpist, and while the musician was playing "the hand of Yahweh came upon him" (v:15). Whether this "him" was the harpist or the prophet is anyone's guess. As all serious students of the Bible know, Hebrew writers, despite the inspirational help that they received from Yahweh, were very careless in giving their pronouns clear antecedents. Probably the "him" was the prophet, because he then declared how the kings could find water:
And he (Elisha?) said, "Thus says Yahweh: `Make this valley full of ditches.' For thus says Yahweh: `You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.' And this is a simple matter in the sight of Yahweh; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. Also you shall attack [overthrow, KJV & ASV; conquer, RSV & NRSV] every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones."
Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly came water by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water (vv: 16-20).
The kings needed water, and the prophet told them to go dig for it. This is an example of wonderful prophecy fulfillment?
Another curious feature of this prophecy was its failure on a vitally important part. Elisha clearly said that the Israelites, after finding water, would go on to "overthrow [conquer] every fortified city and every choice city" (v:19). Kir-Hareseth, the capital city of Moab, must not have been a choice, fortified city, however, because the Israelites did not take it. When the battle for this city seemed to be going against the Moabites, Mesha, their king, sacrificed his eldest son as a burnt offering on the wall of the city. As a result, "there was great wrath against Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land" (v:27, ASV). Here is a biblical implication that Mesha's sacrifice to the pagan god Chemosh was in some way efficacious enough to bring upon the Israelites a "wrath" of some kind that was severe enough to force their retreat. How can anyone read such drivel as this and seriously believe that it is the inspired, inerrant word of God?
A similar story of political rivalry between "prophets" is related in 2 Kings 13. After the political division of Israel, Jeroboam, the king of the northern empire, turned to idolatrous worship and was quickly the subject of Yahweh's wrath. A prophet was sent from Judah (the southern kingdom) to confront Jeroboam at his pagan altar, during which confrontation the prophet withered Jeroboam's arm and then restored it when proper penitence was shown. Out of gratitude, Jeroboam extended the hospitality of his home to the man of God, but the invitation was refused, because the prophet had been divinely instructed not to eat bread or drink water while on his mission and to return home by a different route. An "old prophet" living in Bethel heard about this event and schemed to trick the Judean prophet into violating the restrictions Yahweh had placed upon his mission. The northern prophet followed after the Judean prophet and lied to him, saying that an angel had declared that it would now be all right for him to eat bread and drink water. Tricked by the deception, the Judean prophet accepted the other one's invitation to refresh himself. While they were seated to eat, the "word of Yahweh came unto" the northern prophet, who cried out to the other: "Thus says Yahweh: `Because you have disobeyed the word of Yahweh, and have not kept the commandment which Yahweh your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which Yahweh said to you, "Eat no food, and drink no water," your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers'" (1 Kings 13:20-22). After the Judean prophet left to go home, a lion met him in the way and killed him. Upon hearing of a body lying in the way with a lion standing over it, the northern prophet proclaimed, "It is the man of God who was disobedient to the word of Yahweh. Therefore Yahweh has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke to him" (v:26). For whatever it was worth, the northern prophet retrieved the body and buried it with a request to his sons that he too, upon his death, be buried in the same sepulcher, prophesying that all that the man of God from Judah had proclaimed against Samaria "shall surely come to pass" (v:32).
There are so many problems with this story that it is hard to decide where to begin discussing them. First, one wonders why Yahweh, through the prophet Ahijah, had selected Jeroboam to become king over the ten northern tribes (1 Kings 11:29-37) if Jeroboam was going to apostatize as quickly as he did. The thing about Solomon that had so displeased Yahweh was his idolatry, so why would Yahweh divide the kingdom and select a northern king who was going to turn so quickly to the same offense? Why didn't Yahweh, in his omniscient wisdom, choose a man of sterner mettle, who would be at least a little more faithful to the mission he had been called to? Were there no more dependable men than Jeroboam in all of Israel? It looks suspiciously as if Yahweh lacked the omniscience to foresee Jeroboam's apostasy.
Be that as it may, the story at hand raises many other fundamental questions:
ONE: If the "old prophet" was indeed a vessel of Yahweh's word, as the text clearly indicates, why didn't Yahweh use him to reprimand king Jeroboam rather than bringing up a second prophet all the way from Judah?
TWO: Why would Yahweh choose to work through "prophets" whose interests conflicted as obviously as those of these two men?
THREE: Why would God use as an instrument deliver his word a man who would scheme and lie as the northern prophet did?
FOUR: If the Judean prophet was truly in touch with Yahweh, why wouldn't he have known that the old prophet was lying to him about the angel's visit?
So rather than instilling belief in its divine inspiration, stories such as these confirm to the discerning reader that the Bible is in reality a collection of superstitious nonsense that was put together in very unenlightened times by men who were undoubtedly sincere but nevertheless mistaken in their interpretations of events occurring in their times. If an omnimoral God does indeed exist, we would expect any involvement of his in the affairs of men to rise above the pettiness of party politics like what is depicted in this story and others like it in the Old Testament.
Furthermore, if such a god as this were going to choose men to serve as prophets of his word, surely he would have selected men of high integrity. Integrity, however, was a quality that was often lacking in the Old Testament prophets. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, deliberately lied in order to gain his release from a prison dungeon. King Zedekiah brought Jeremiah out of the dungeon to get advice on how to deal with the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah told him that if he went out of the city he would live; if he stayed inside, the city would fall and he would die (38:17-18). After consulting with Jeremiah, Zedekiah said to him, "Do not let anyone know of this conversation, or you will die. If the officials should hear that I have spoken with you, and they should come and say to you, `Just tell us what you said to the king; do not conceal it from us, or we will put you to death. What did the king say to you?' Then you shall say to them, `I was presenting my plea to the king not to send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there'" (vv:24-26, NRSV). Afterwards, the princes of Judah did come to Jeremiah and ask him what was discussed in the meeting with Zedekiah, and Jeremiah "answered them in the very words the king had commanded" (v:27). In other words, Jeremiah lied to protect himself and to gain release from the dungeon. The princes were fooled by the lie, and Jeremiah was given the freedom of the prison court until the day that Jerusalem fell.
Jeremiah's duplicity continued even after the fall of the city. When Jeremiah was captured, Nebuchadnezzar gave charge of him to Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard: "Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he may ask you" (39:12). Jeremiah, recognizing when he had a good thing going for him, in effect became a stooge for Nebuchadnezzar. He cooperated with Gedaliah, whom the Babylonians had appointed governor of Judah, and prophesied against the Egyptians who had opposed Nebuchadnezzar during the siege of Jerusalem. With Jerusalem now defeated, Nebuchadnezzar was free to direct his forces against Egypt, and in a long series of prophecies from chapters 42-46 Jeremiah did everything he could to curry Babylonian favor by predicting glorious victory for Nebuchadnezzar. In one of those prophecies, he called the Babylonian king a servant of the God of Israel (43:10) and predicted that he would be God's instrument in overthrowing Egypt. Such conduct as this can be called a lot of things, but integrity is not one of them.
So Jeremiah, as so many other people have been in perilous times of military occupation, was nothing more than a survivor. If surviving meant lying, he was willing to lie. If surviving meant cooperating with the enemy, he was willing to cooperate. He really shouldn't be faulted for this. (How many of us, given the same circumstances, would have done the same thing?) But he doesn't deserve to be considered a fearless prophet of God either.
The conclusion is inescapable: there is no internal proof that the Bible writers possessed divinely inspired prophetic abilities. In view of the overwhelming evidence to support this conclusion, why do so many people cling to the illusion that examples of prophecy abound in the Bible? No doubt much of this is attributable to an appalling ignorance of Bible content. The Bible is a dull, repetitious, boring book to read, so the blunt truth is that not many Christians bother to read it beyond a relatively few select passages that teach those ideas basic to their fundamental beliefs.
Other than this, they have been educated to believe in Bible prophecy in the same way that Moslems have been educated to believe in the prophetic talents of Mohammed. Once they have been brainwashed from childhood through adulthood to believe this, they are going to believe it come what may. In the same way, Christians go to church and hear preachers proclaim that the Bible is filled with amazing examples of prophecy, and so they believe it no matter what proof to the contrary may be presented to them. If they had been trained from childhood to believe that the Washington Monument is God Almighty, they would believe that the Washington Monument is God Almighty. In matters of religion, people do not generally think logically.
A recent historical example will illustrate how this is true. Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah's Witness movement, proclaimed that the world would end and the millennial reign of Christ begin in 1914. This date passed and nothing happened, so Judge Rutherford, the second president of the movement, refined Russell's prediction and fixed a new date at October 15, 1932. Earlier, on March 24, 1918, he had delivered a speech at Brooklyn Academy entitled "Millions Now Living Will Never Die." Needless to say, October 15, 1932, came and went with no fulfillment of the prophecy even in sight, so another refinement was made. An official article published October 8, 1966, predicted that Armageddon would occur in 1975, and now 1975 has also come and gone with no prophetic fulfillment having materialized. One would assume that such a pathetic prophecy record as this would have wrecked the Jehovah's Witness movement, but such an assumption fails to consider the blind loyalty of man's religious disposition. To this day, millions of people still profess faith in the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witness movement.
A little known Bible story (little known for obvious reasons) also illustrates how that flagrantly false prophecy will not deter man from believing what he has been conditioned to believe. The 19th and 20th chapters of Judges tell the story of a certain Levite who was shamefully mistreated by a band of sodomites during an overnight stay in the village of Gibeah. In the process, his concubine was sexually abused and murdered. The Levite carved her body into twelve parts and sent a piece to each of the tribal divisions of Israel. As a result, the nation rallied to his support and planned a retaliatory attack on Gibeah. First, however, the men of Israel went to Bethel "to inquire of God" (20:18), asking in particular which tribe should go up first in the battle against Gibeah. Yahweh said that Judah should go first. This was done, and in the ensuing battle, the Judeans were routed in a defeat that cost them twenty-two thousand casualties. One would think that such an outcome would have given the Israelites pause in seeking Yahweh's advice again, but such an assumption does not take into account the illogical base of man's religious nature. The very thing they did, in fact, was to seek the counsel of Yahweh again. "Then the children of Israel went up and wept before Yahweh until evening" (20:23) and asked if they should go to battle again. Yahweh said, "Go up against him [the tribe of Benjamin]." So they attacked again the next day and this time suffered a defeat that cost them eighteen thousand swordsmen (v:24).
So what do you think? Had these Israelites had it, so to speak, with the advice of Yahweh? No. To assume so is to think rationally, and one should never expect rational conduct from religiously indoctrinated people. Again the Israelites sought the advice of Yahweh. This time all the people went up to Bethel and wept. They sat before Yahweh, fasted until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to Yahweh (20:26). They asked if they should go against the city again, and Yahweh told them to go, that he would deliver it into their hands.
A third battle was fought the next day, and this time, through a change of military tactics that led their enemy out of the city and into an ambush, the Israelites did win, according to the story, if indeed it could be called a victory. Twentyfive thousand enemy soldiers were killed, but the "victory" had cost the Israelites forty thousand casualties.
In the case of this story, one might cynically say that the third time must have been charmed. If one seeks the "advice of Yahweh" enough, just through the sheer strength of odds, Yahweh is bound to be right eventually. The important thing about this story, however, is its effective illustration of man's religious naivety. Once people are conditioned through their cultural environment to believe a religious philosophy, they are going to believe it come what may. Inconsistencies and contradictions, absurdities and proven inaccuracies, and, in this case, failed prophecies and broken promises will not deter them from believing what they are determined to believe. Who can imagine a scribe putting a tale like this one into the "inerrant word of God"? To the primitive minds of that period, there was probably nothing illogical or even improbable about the story. After all, didn't the people of that time consult their gods in everything they did? And after seeking the counsel of their gods, didn't they fail in their endeavors as often as they succeeded, in the same way that people today pray and receive no answers to their prayers and yet continue to pray? So whoever put this story into the Bible text undoubtedly saw nothing improbable about it. Once it was embedded in the inspired text, however, modern minds that have been exposed to principles of critical analysis but that nevertheless want desperately to believe in an inerrant word of God must stretch imagination to accommodate stories like this. With the proper religious training, that isn't hard to do.
It is with that understanding of human nature that this study of unfulfilled Bible prophecy is submitted for public consideration. Those who are determined to believe that the socalled Bible prophets were men of God inspired to see into the future are going to go on believing that no matter how convincing arguments to the contrary might be. At the same time, however, there is always hope that a logical mind here and there will read the arguments and give pause to reexamine their thinking. If so, they will surely see that there is nothing in the Bible by way of prophetic materials to suggest that an omniscient, omnipotent deity had anything to do with its authorship.
If bibliolaters would just once in their lives put aside all of their pet theories and take an objective look at the Bible, they would begin to see that the men who wrote the Old Testament were just ordinary religious zealots who thought that they and their people had been specifically chosen of God. The fanaticism with which they believed this led them to proclaim absurdly ethnocentric prophecies that history has proven wrong, much to the embarrassment of Bible fundamentalists who desperately want to believe that the Bible is the verbally inspired, inerrant word of God. They have no substantive proof on their side. All the proof declares very definitively to anyone who really wants to know the truth that the Bible is a veritable maze of nonsense and contradictions.