Christian apologists sometimes claim that the Bible records hundreds of prophecies and their fulfillment. One problem is that many of these claims don’t hold up.
For example, Micah’s prediction of a Bethlehem birthplace doesn’t fit the details of the life of Jesus. Zechariah’s prediction of a king entering Jerusalem on a donkey is likewise talking about someone besides Jesus. Zechariah’s anecdote of the payment of 30 pieces of silver has nothing to do with betrayal as in the Judas story.
But let’s not worry about that. Instead, imagine a Bible prophecy that came true. Let’s say that the Jews returning to Israel is a fulfilled prophecy. As evidence, apologists might cite verses such as these.
I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. (Ez. 20:34)
[In that day, the Lord] will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Is. 11:12)
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. (Jer. 23:3)
The first question, of course, is the context of these verses. Conquest, exile, and repatriation are important topics in the Old Testament because they’re part of Israel’s history. The ten tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel were conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE and their inhabitants scattered. The southern kingdom of Judea was conquered by Babylon, and Jews were taken there beginning in 605 BCE. After Babylon was conquered by Persia, exiled Jews returned home beginning in 538 BCE. Could this be the re-gathering that these Old Testament books are talking about?
Put that aside. Let’s imagine that the Old Testament said that Jews will return to Israel and, sure enough, Israel once again became a Jewish state in 1948. How big a deal is this?
Not very. It’s vague—no time is mentioned. It’s mundane—exiles have scattered and returned in other situations, including Judea itself. It was also potentially self-fulfilling when Passover Seders within the Jewish diaspora worldwide concluded with the wish, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
(By contrast, I list common-sense rules followed by good predictions here.)
But if National Enquirer-caliber predictions are all we’re looking for, they’re not that hard to make.
You, too, can be a prophet!
To see how to create a record of correct prophecies, imagine a commodities broker who wants to attract new wealthy clients. He buys a mailing list of 1000 candidates who live in the rich part of town, and he makes up a fancy name for his proprietary technique of predicting the swing in commodity prices. To half of his candidates, he mails an introductory letter saying that he is able to take on a few select new clients. To prove his capability, he gives a free prediction: the price of gold will rise in the next month. To the other half, he predicts that the price will fall.
A month later, gold has either gone up in price or gone down, and he’s lost credibility with half his audience. No matter—to the other half, he mails another letter to remind them of his accurate prediction and gives another free prediction, this time about sugar (or natural gas or soybeans). To half, he says the price will rise, and to the rest, that it will fall.
And so on with a few more commodities. He discards the failures along the way. At the end of this process, he has 50 to 100 wealthy individual to whom he can say, correctly, that he has given them three or four accurate commodity swings in a row using his special method.
He has “predicted” the future by predicting in hindsight. The unskeptical potential clients don’t see the big picture.
You see the same thing in the days before a presidential election. There’s always the news story about the U.S. county with the longest streak of picking the winning president. Obviously, some county will be the most accurate, just like some path through a tree of random commodities predictions will be the most accurate.
With low standards like those that satisfy many Christian apologists, some of the many prediction-like verses in the Bible are bound to be correct.
A visitor to the home of
Nobel-winning physicist Niels Bohr
noticed a horseshoe on the wall.
“Can you, of all people,
believe it will bring good luck?”
“Of course not,” said Bohr,
“but I understand it brings luck
whether you believe it or not.”
Photo credit: Wikimedia