# Skepticism and the Multiplication of Probabilities – Part 2

If two events or states of affairs are independent, then the probability that both will occur is equal to the multiplication of the probabilities of those two events.

If p is an event (or state of affairs) that is independent of an event (or state of affairs) q, then:
P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q)
But if p and q are dependent events, then the probability formula is a bit different:
P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q/p)
Suppose p is ‘getting heads on coin toss 1′ and q is ‘getting heads on coin toss 2′. Assuming that the outcome of coin toss 1 has no influence on the outcome of coin toss 2, we can conclude that p and q are independent events, and use the first, simpler formula above:

P(p & q) = .5 x .5 = .25
But if p is “It will rain in Seattle today” and q is “The streets in Seattle will get wet today”, then the truth or falsehood of p has an obvious influence on the truth or falsehood of q, namely if p is true, then it is virtually certain that q will also be true. Since these are dependent events, we must use the second, more complex formula to calculate the probability of the conjunction of the two claims:

P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q/p)
Since it is virtually certain that q is the case given the assumption that p is the case, P(q/p) is approximately equal to 1.0, so the probability that both p and q are true is about the same as the probability that p is true.

In arguments where two or three premises work together to support the conclusion, each of the two or three premises must be true in order for the argument to work and provide rational support for the conclusion. We can thus determine the probability that all two or three premises are true by using one of the above probability formulas. But we should use the simpler probability formula (where the probability of each event/premise is multiplied with the probability of the other premise(s) only if the events/premises are independent.

One example of mistaken multiplication of probabilities occurs in arguments about Jesus allegedly fulfilling Old Testament prophecies:

Stoner [Peter Stoner] says [in Science Speaks] that by using the modern science of probability in reference to eight prophecies…”We find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in [10 to the 17th power].” That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.(Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, revised edition, p.167)
McDowell does not bother to provide Stoner’s calculations, but I strongly suspect that the probability of each of the eight predictions was multiplied together to get the tiny probability mentioned above. If so, then Stoner mistakenly applied the simple formula for determining probability of a conjunction of events. The problem with using the simple formula is that it assumes that all of the events are independent from each other, but this is not the case with the eight prophecies:

1.The messiah will be born at Bethlehem (based on Micah 5:2).
2. The messiah will be preceded by a messenger (based on Malachi 3:1).
3. The messiah will enter Jerusalem on a donkey (based on Zechariah 9:9).
4. The messiah will be betrayed by a friend (based on Psalms 41:9).
5. The messiah will be sold for 30 pieces of silver (based on Zechariah 11:12)
6. The 30 pieces of silver [received from the ‘sale’ of the messiah] will be thrown in the house of God and then used to buy a potter’s field (based on Zechariah 11:13)
7. The messiah will be silent before his accusers (based on Isaiah 53:7)
8. The messiah’s hands and feet will be pierced when he is executed along with criminals (based on Psalm 22:16 and Isaiah 53:12).

Obviously, if (6) is true, then (5) must also be true, because (6) presupposes the truth of (5). So, if the probability of (5) applying to a randomly chosen person was, say, one chance in a billion, it would be a mistake to multiply that probability times the probability of (6) in order to get the probability that both (5) and (6) were the case. Rather, the probability of both (5) and (6) being true is simply the probability of (6) being true, because if (6) were true, then (5) would automatically and necessarily also be true.

There is also an obvious relationship between (1) and (3). Someone who was born in Bethlehem will have a pretty good chance of also being a person who enters Jerusalem on a donkey, as compared with someone who was born in San Francisco, Paris, or Tokyo. Bethlehem is located only about five miles from Jerusalem while San Francisco is about 7,400 miles from Jerusalem. Being born just a few miles away from Jerusalem makes it somewhat likely that one will at some point enter Jerusalem on a donkey (especially if one lives in a period of history when donkeys were a common mode of travel).

What is that chance that some randomly chosen human being will (in his/her lifetime) enter Jerusalem riding a donkey? Out of the billions of people who are alive right now, only about 800,000 live in Jerusalem. But lots of people visit Jerusalem, so perhaps millions of people will enter Jerusalem each year. Only a small fraction of the visitors will ride donkeys as they enter the city. Most will ride a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle. In a decade, I would guess that no more than a million people ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (in modern times). In a century, no more than 10 million would do so. In one century perhaps 10 billion people will be born and live, so a rough ratio would be 10 million out of 10 billion, or one million out of one billion, or one out of a thousand. That seems a bit high, but let’s just go with that rough estimate for purposes of illustration.

We cannot take the small probability that a randomly chosen person would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (.001) and simply multiply that times the probability that a randomly chosen person would have been born in Bethlehem in order to arrive at the probability that some random person would satisfy both (1) and (3). A person who was born in Bethlehem has a much greater chance of riding a donkey into Jerusalem than just a randomly selected human being. Such a person might well have one chance in a hundred of riding a donkey into Jerusalem (probability =.01) or possibly even one chance in twenty of doing so (probability =.05).

Finally, there is another obvious relationship between (5) and (4). Jesus was not literally ‘sold’ for thirty pieces of silver. He was ‘sold out’ for thirty pieces of silver (or some amount of money). He was, that is, betrayed for a sum of money. If Jesus was betrayed for a sum of money, that makes it somewhat likely that he was betrayed by a friend, for a friend is often in a position to betray one, while strangers and others are not so often in such a position. In any case, the truth of (5) makes it probable (or certain?) that Jesus was betrayed, which is part of the way towards (4) being true, thus (5) increases the likelihood of (4). These are not two independent events.
================
Side note: In my view some of these eight predictions are false (or probably false). Nails were probably not used in Jesus’ crucifixion, in which case Jesus’ hands and feet were not pierced. If nails were used, they might have only been used on his feet (such as with the one and only example of the bones of a crucified man found in Palestine), or only used on his hands and not his feet. Furthermore, if nails were used to attach Jesus’ arms to the cross, most scholars believe that he would have been nailed through the wrists, in which case his hands would NOT have been pierced. In my view Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem, but rather in Nazareth. Many NT scholars doubt the historicity of the birth stories found in Matthew and Luke. Although Judas might have accepted a bribe to betray Jesus, I doubt that anyone other than Judas and the person who gave the bribe knew how much money and how many silver coins were involved. In that case it is very unlikely that the bribe was exactly 30 pieces of silver. The gospels themselves clearly indicate that Jesus spoke when he was accused, both in the (alleged) Jewish trial, as well as when he was (allegedly) tried by Pilate, so the claim that Jesus was silent before his accusers is false (or probably false). If Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, there is a good chance that he did so precisely in order to satisfy prediction (3), which would nullify whatever assumed tiny probability was assigned to that prediction by Peter Stoner in his calculations.=================

So, the point of this discussion is simply to highlight an important qualification in the use of multiplying probabilities of premises: If the event or state of affairs of one of the premises has some causal or logical relation to an event or state of affairs asserted in one of the other premises, such that the truth of one premise would have a significant impact on the probability of the other premise, then one cannot simply multiply the probabilities of the premises in order to determine the probability that all of the premises are true.

• http://www.blogger.com/profile/01786844757672182664 K-Dog

Thanks Brad. I really appreciate your two responses thus far. I was wondering if just as more than one argument for the same conclusion can move the probability of that conclusion in the greater than direction, if more than one sub-argument for each premise in an overall argument would raise the probability in the greater than direction as well? For example, if we had a deductive argument that consisted of two premises and a conclusion, but each premise had three sub-arguments in its favor, wouldn't each sub-argument 'update' the probability of the conclusion making the final probability higher than if their were only one sub-argument supporting each of the two premises?

Thanks.

Peter Stoner's book is available on the web. Here is the chapter on prophecies allegedly about Jesus:

http://sciencespeaks.dstoner.net/Christ_of_Prophecy.html#c9

It looks like he does not make the mistake of simply multiplying probabilities by the simple formula.

I will examine this chapter further and report back later.

k-Dog said…

I was wondering if just as more than one argument for the same conclusion can move the probability of that conclusion in the greater than direction, if more than one sub-argument for each premise in an overall argument would raise the probability in the greater than direction as well?
==============
Response:

Yes. Each premise can also be viewed as a conclusion to some other argument or arguments. A parent can also be a child.

So, in addition to asking the question 'Are there any other arguments for the conclusion that might raise (or lower) the probability of that claim?', you are pointing out that the same question can and should be applied to the premises and to the probability estimate assigned for each premise: 'Are there other sub-arguments that might raise (or lower) the probability of that claim?'.

A potentially infinite regress looms underneath every argument, so at some point in the regress we make a probability judgement that is not calculated from other probabilities. But wherever we choose to halt the analysis, your question is a fair one.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks, by Peter Stoner:

We considered the following eight prophecies:

1. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2).

This prophecy predicts that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem. Since this is the first prophecy to be considered there are no previously set restrictions, so our question is: One man in how many, the world over, has been born in Bethlehem?

The best estimate which we can make of this comes from the attempt to find out the average population of Bethlehem, from Micah down to the present time, and divide it by the average population of the earth during the same period. One member of the class was an assistant in the library so he was assigned to get this information. He reported at the next meeting that the best determination of the ratio that he could determine was one to 280,000. Since the probable population of the earth has averaged less than two billion, the population of Bethlehem has averaged less than 7,150. Our answer may be expressed in the form that one man in 7,150/2,000,000,000 or one man in 2.8 x [10 to the 5th power] was born in Bethlehem.
=========
Comment:

His basic reasoning looks correct on this first point.

His arithmetic here looks correct too.

Here is my calculation, based on his assumptions:

7,150 divided by 2 billion =
7.150 divided by 2 million =
3.575 divided by 1 million =
1 divided by 279,720 =
1 divided by
2.7972 x 10 to the 5th power

The main problem with this first point is that Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem, in which case Jesus could not be the Messiah, since satisfying this requirement is a necessary condition for being the Messiah. So, the first point provides a reason AGAINST the conclusion.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks by Peter Stoner:

2. "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me" (Mal. 3:1).
Our question here is: Of the men who have been born in Bethlehem, one man in how many has had a forerunner to prepare his way? John the Baptist, of course, was the forerunner of Christ. But since there appears to be no material difference between the people born in Bethlehem and those born any other place in the world, the question can just as well be general: One man in how many, the world over, has had a forerunner to prepare his way?
The students said that the prophecy apparently referred to a special messenger of God, whose one duty was to prepare the way for the work of Christ, so there is a further restriction added. The students finally agreed on one in 1,000 as being extremely conservative. Most of the members thought the estimate should be much larger. We will use the estimate as 1 in [10 to the 3rd power].
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Stoner asks the correct question, at least to start:

“Of the men who have been born in Bethlehem, one man in how many has had a forerunner to prepare his way?”

When one event or state of affairs has an influence on the probability of another event or state of affairs, then we cannot use the simple multiplication rule to determine the probability of both events occurring. Stoner is correct that when determining the probability of the second prophecy/prediction, one should assume the first one to be true. Suppose that someone was born in Bethlehem, what is the probability that such a person would have the characteristic specified in the second prediction?

I suppose Stoner is right in claiming that there is no obvious relationship between being born in Bethlehem and having “a forerunner to prepare” one’s way. If so, then one can indeed set aside the assumption that the persons in question were born in Bethlehem (since that assumption doesn’t make a difference in this case).

There are a couple of problems with the second prophecy.

First, it is unclear what is being predicted, what would count as a hit.

Second, the clarification offered makes it more or less impossible to determine an objective probability.

If having “a special messenger from God, whose duty was to prepare” the way for someone is how we interpret the unclear prediction, then we cannot assign a probability of this occurring, unless we agree that there is no God, in which case the probability would obviously be zero.

So, we would need to assign a probability to the existence of God first. But then, even assuming the existence of God, it is uncertain how often, if ever, God would send 'a special messenger' who has a duty to prepare the way (whatever that means) for someone else. Would God do this once in the history of mankind? Or would God doe this once every millennium or once every century? Would God do this on a monthly or daily basis?

I don’t see how we can objectively assign a probability here, even assuming that God exists. So, we have to make at least two probability judgments that are very difficult to establish or determine: (1) the probability that God exists, and (2) the probability that, assuming God exists, God would send a special messenger with the duty to prepare the way for someone else.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

3. "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 … a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9).
Our question then is: One man in how many, who was born in Bethlehem and had a forerunner, did enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a colt the foal of an ass? This becomes so restrictive that we should consider an equivalent question: One man in how many, who has entered Jerusalem as a ruler, has entered riding on a colt the foal of an ass?

The students said that this was a very hard thing to place an estimate on. They knew of no one but Christ who had so entered. The students thought that at least in more modern times any one entering Jerusalem as a king would use a more dignified means of transportation. They agreed to place an estimate of 1 in [10 to the 4th power]. We will use 1 in [10 to the 2nd power].
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Stoner is reasoning correctly here by starting with the assumption that predictions 1 and 2 hold true (of some subset of human beings), and then asking how many (i.e. what proportion of that set) would satisfy this third requirement/prediction.

By assuming the applicability of the two prior predictions, Stoner in effect is following the more complex rule for multiplication of probabilities:

“Our question then is: One man in how many, who was born in Bethlehem and had a forerunner, did enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a colt the foal of an ass?”

So, my suspicion that he mistakenly used the simple multiplication rule to calculate the probability of the conjunction of predictions (1), (2), and (3) was wrong. He did not make that mistake.

Given the problems with assigning a probability to prediction (2), that prediction should drop out of the picture, and we should consider, at this point, the probability that both (1) and (3) would be satisfied by some particular person (selected at random from the set of human beings who have lived since the time the predictions were made).

Jesus was NOT a king, so this prediction is false. Prediction (3) thus provides evidence against Jesus being the messiah. Oddly enough, the first two predictions that can be assigned a probability are false when applied to Jesus!

But, Christians will say, Jesus was really ‘the King of Kings and Lord of Lords’, so he was a king, in a manner of speaking.

In other words Jesus is the omnipotent ruler of the universe, so he counts as a ‘king’even though he was not literally a king. This is still playing with words; Jesus was not literally a king.

Furthermore, if we want to stretch the meaning of ‘king’ to cover an omnipotent person, there is still the problem of establishing that Jesus was in fact an omnipotent person.

But if we can establish that Jesus was an omnipotent person, then there is no need for this silly argument from Old Testament prophecy to show that Jesus was ‘the messiah’. This is putting the cart before the horse.

First one shows that Jesus was ‘the messiah’ and then that can be used as a stepping stone on the way to showing that Jesus is the omnipotent ruler of the universe. It is question begging at this point in the game to assume that Jesus is the omnipotent ruler of the universe in order to show that he was the messiah.

So, either Jesus was not a king, and prediction (3) is false (implying that Jesus was NOT the messiah), or else Jesus is to be considered a ‘king’ in view of his being the omnipotent ruler of the universe, in which case Stoner is begging the question in asserting that Jesus was in fact a 'king'.

If we just ignore the phrase “as a king” and focus on the rest of the sentence (“enter Jerusalem…riding on a colt the foal of an ass”), and if we assume that the relevant subset of humans is those who have been born in Jerusalem, then 1 in 100 seems very reasonable, especially considering the fact that people don’t ride around on donkeys in Palestine as much as they used to in previous centuries.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew was so anxious to show that Jesus fulfilled this prediction that he invented a second animal for Jesus to ride upon, based on a misreading of the Old Testament passage. So, it is possible that the whole riding into Jerusalem on a donkey story is a bit of fiction generated by this very desire.

Furthermore, it is also quite possible that Jesus intentionally rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to imply that he was the messiah. Such intentionally fulfilled predictions have no value for identifying the true messiah, especially since it is fairly easy for anyone (at least back in Jesus’ time) to buy or borrow a donkey and ride it into Jerusalem.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

4. "And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends"(Zech. 13:6).
Christ was betrayed by Judas, one of His disciples, causing Him to be put to death, wounds being made in His hands.

There seems to be no relation between the fulfillment of this prophecy and those which we have previously considered. We may then ask the question: One man in how many, the world over, has been betrayed by a friend, and that betrayal has resulted in his being wounded in his hands?

The students said that it was very rare to be betrayed by a friend, and still rarer for the betrayal to involve wounding in the hands. One in 1.000 was finally agreed upon, though most of the students would have preferred a larger number. So we will use the 1 in [10 to the 3rd power].
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

First of all, Jesus was probably not nailed to the cross, in which case his hands were not wounded. Even if Jesus was nailed to the cross, it may have been only his feet that were nailed while his arms were tied to the cross with ropes. Furthermore, most scholars believe that when nails were used to attach a victims arms to a cross, the nails were put through the wrists rather than the hands.

Second, the translation of Zechariah 13:6 used by Stoner appears to be incorrect. The verse actually refers to ‘wounds between your hands’ (see HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV note on this verse), which in the NRSV is translated this way: ‘wounds on your chest’.

So, if we translate the verse literally, then it does not refer to wounds in someone’s hands, and if we follow the reasonable interpretation in the NRSV of the literal phrase, it still does not refer to wounds in someone’s hands. So, the prediction (if we take it to be about the messiah) is that the messiah will be wounded in the chest.

Crucifixion does not involve wounding someone in the chest. So, the fact that Jesus was crucified does not show that he fulfilled this prediction.

But what about the spear wound that Jesus received while hanging on the cross? I would argue that no such spear wound was inflicted upon Jesus. The spear wound incident is only found in the Fourth gospel, and only the Fourth gospel has the story of Doubting Thomas being invited by Jesus to touch the wound in his side/chest. Furthermore, there a various good reasons for believing that the Doubting Thomas story is fictional or that it is an historically unreliable account. I won’t make the case for that here.

In my estimation, this is yet another prediction that Jesus did not fulfill. Jesus was probably NOT wounded in the chest, so we have yet another good reason to conclude that Jesus is not the messiah.

Also, the prediction refers to ‘wounds’ on the prophet's chest, not just to a single wound. So, even if the spear wound story was correct, that only shows that Jesus had one wound on his chest, not that he had multiple ‘wounds’ on his chest.

According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the wounds on the chest of the prophet in this passage refer to self-inflicted wounds: “The result of self-mutilation in moments of prophetic frenzy (cf. 1 Kgs 18:28-29).” (p.358). Based on this plausible interpretation, the verse speaks of multiple self-inflicted wounds on a person’s chest.

Jesus did not, to my knowledge, ever have multiple self-inflicted wounds on his chest, so this prediction would (on this interpretation) be false in the case of Jesus, and would give us good reason to conclude that he was not the messiah.

Furthermore, if Jesus was wounded in the chest by a spear while he was on the cross, then he did NOT receive this wound while being “in the house of” his “friends”. He was outside hanging from a cross, not inside of anyone’s house.

One might try to interpret the phrase “in the house of my friends” very loosely to mean “in my own country”, but if such loose non-literal interpretations are allowed whenever it is convenient, then one can re-shape thousands of Old Testament passages to fit them with some detail or other about Jesus. Also, broadening out the meaning of this phrase robs it of its specificity and thus makes it something that is easy to fulfill.

Most people who are injured are injured in their own country, because most people spend most of their lives being in their own country. So this crude attempt to avoid falsification of the prediction makes the prediction so broad that it becomes insignificant.

Finally, the verse in Zechariah does not say that the prophet/messiah would be betrayed. Rather, it suggests that the prophet/messiah was injured in the house of his friends. But that does not mean the prophet/messiah was injured by his friends, or that his friends caused him to become injured.

Furthermore, the prophet who is speaking in that verse appears to be lying in order to make people think he is not a prophet. He is indicating to others that he was injured by an accident or by a beating, rather than telling the truth, which is that he wounded himself during a fit of prophetic frenzy. So, the whole bit about being wounded at the house of friends is intended to be read as a lie and a falsehood, not as something that is actually true about the prophet/messiah.

Understood this way, the prediction does not imply that the messiah will be wounded in the house of some friends. If anything it implies that the messiah would NOT be wounded in the house of some friends, but rather would wound himself in the chest at some other location.

Stoner interpreted the OT passage (Zech. 13:6) as making two predictions: (1) the messiah will be betrayed by a friend or friends, and (2) the messiah will be wounded in his hands.

While (1) appears to be true of Jesus, (2) appears to be false of Jesus, giving us a good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah.

[On the other hand, pretty much everyone wounds his/her hands at some point (usually at multiple points) in a lifetime. So, it is likely that Jesus cut a finger or skinned his knuckles or smashed his
thumb with a hammer at some point in his life. But if one goes with this interpretation of having wounded hands, then pretty much everyone satisfies the requirement!]

But a careful reading of the OT passage suggests that (if it were a prediction about the messiah) it predicts neither of those two things, but rather predicts that the messiah will self-inflict multiple wounds on his chest. Given this interpretation, it is very improbable that Jesus satisfied this prediction, giving us a good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah.

So, whether we go with Stoner's dubious interpretation, or my more careful interpretation, the OT passage gives us good reason to believe that Jesus was not the messiah.

I missed an obvious point about the prediction concerning Bethlehem. So, one more point on that alleged prophecy.

Stoner interprets Micah 5:2 as a prediction that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But the verse says nothing about someone being BORN in Bethlehem. Rather it says "from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth one who is to rule in Israel…".

According to this passage, the messiah will be "from" Bethlehem.

But one person can be "from" many different towns and cities. I, for example am "from":

1. Santa Monica, CA (was born there)
2. Healdsburg, CA (grew up there)
3. Santa Rosa, CA (the biggest city within less than 30 min. drive from Healdsburg, and where I later attended a Jr. College to learn about auto mechanics, and lived my first years of marriage)
4. San Francisco, CA (a large world-famous city less than an hour's drive from Healdsburg)
5. Cambria, CA (where I went to high school)
6. San Luis Obispo, CA (the largest city within 30 min. drive from Cambria, and where I first attended college)
7. Cotati, CA (where I lived while attending Sonoma State Univ to study philosophy)
8. Rohnert Park, CA (where the SSU campus is located)
9. Windsor, Ontario (where I lived while studying philosophy at the University of Windsor)
10. Detroit, Michigan (a large world-famous city that was a short 15 minute drive from Windsor)
11. Goleta, CA (where I lived when my wife returned to college at UCSB, and where I lived while we both attended grad school there)
12. Santa Barbara, CA (a world-famous city that was only about a 15 minute drive from Goleta)
13. Ballard, WA (where I lived when I first moved to the NW)
14. Seattle, WA (a large world-famous city less than a 15 minute drive away from Ballard)
15. Kirkland, WA (where I have been living many years since moving to the East side of Lake Washington)
16. Renton, WA (where I worked for several years)
17. Bellevue, WA (one of the largest cities within about 15 minutes drive from Kirkland)

So, I am from at least 17 different towns and cities. It would not be an unreasonable guess to say that people (who are adults) on average come from about 10 different towns and cities.

Therefore, Stoner's probability estimate concerning being BORN in Bethlehem might well be off by an order of magnitude, since the prediction was not that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but rather would be from Bethlehem.

The probability would be more like 2.8 x 10 to the 4th power (not to the 5th power).

Yet, even when we widen the scope of this first prediction, Jesus still apparently fails to satisfy the requirement. If Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, which I believe to be the case, then he is not from that town on that account. But he grew up in Nazareth, so he is also not from Bethlehem on that account. Jesus probably visited Bethlehem, but there is no indication in the gospels that he lived there, so Jesus was NOT, as far as we can tell, from Bethlehem, and thus Micah 5:2 gives us good reason to believe that Jesus was not the messiah.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

5. "And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver" (Zech. 11:12).

The question here is very simple: Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver?

The students thought this would be extremely rare and set their estimate as one in 10,000, or 1 in [10 to the 4th power]. We will us [sic] 1 in [10 to the 3rd power].
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Here Stoner drops the assumptions that the previous predictions apply (born in Bethlehem, preceded by a messenger from God, as a king rode a donkey into Jerusalem), presumably because he thinks these characteristics have no influence on, or relevance to, whether a person will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. However, there does appear to be some connection between these characteristics from the earlier predictions and prediction (5).

The use of pieces of silver as money was more common in Palestine in centuries past than it is in, say, the USA in modern times. Since the other predictions specify that the messiah will be a king, born in Bethlehem, who rides a donkey into Jerusalem, the previous predictions make it very likely that we are talking about a man who lived in Palestine before modern times. This would significantly increase the probability that a payment would be made using pieces of silver. If we think about payments made in the USA and in Europe in the 20th century, compared to payments made in Palestine between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE, I would think that payments in the latter category would be made in pieces of silver fairly often (perhaps 1 in 10, while payments in the former category would be made in pieces of silver only rarely (perhaps 1 in 1,000,000).

Because the previous predictions make it very likely that the messiah would be a Palestinian man who lived between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE, the applicability of the earlier predictions would make it much more likely that the payment for a betrayal would be made in pieces of silver, as opposed to dollars, francs, euros, credit cards, debit cards, checks, diamonds, platinum, etc. So, Stoner has here made the mistake of using the simple method of multiplying probabilities, when he should have used the more complex method, thus his reasoning on the probability of this prediction being satisfied is faulty.

However, setting aside the question of the type of money or payment used, there is still the issue of the amount of money given in the payment. There is obviously a wide range of amounts of money that could be used to pay for a betrayal. Some people will commit murder for as little as 100 dollars, while others, who are professional hit men, might require as much as ten thousand dollars to murder someone. If we count money discreetly, dollar-by-dollar, that means there is a large number of different amounts of money that could be paid in exchange for a murder, specifically at least 10,000 different dollar amounts. Thus, Stoner’s probability estimate of 10 to the 3rd power seems reasonable, even a bit conservative, just considering the possible variation in the amount of money that could be paid for a betrayal.

There is, however, nothing in Zechariah 11:12 about the money being given in payment for a betrayal. Stoner is again demonstrating great carelessness about the interpretation of his chosen text.

In the context of that passage, a shepherd has quit his job tending the sheep, and he is then given his final wages: 30 shekels of silver, which is, apparently, a small sum of money, and thus the payment implies that his services were not very appreciated:

"So they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver."
( the last sentence of Zechariah 11:12, NRSV)

Now the shepherd in this passage is actually a prophet who is playing a role as a shepherd in order to make a point using symbolism. A shepherd is traditionally a symbol representing a king or ruler. The idea here is that some king whose rule was not very appreciated by his subjects would step down from his position of authority. Thus, we see the connection with the messiah, who was supposed to be the king of Israel.

So, if we take the meaning of this passage in context, and take it very simply and straightforwardly, then it predicts that (a) the messiah will be king over the nation of Israel, but (b) will step down from the throne at some point, and (c) will be paid 30 pieces of silver, an insultingly small amount of money, for his unappreciated service as king.

But Jesus was not a king of Israel, nor was he a king or ruler over Jews in Palestine, nor was he ever a king or ruler over any people whatsoever during his lifetime. Thus, Jesus never stepped down from the position of being a king or ruler, nor was he ever paid an insultingly small amount of money for services as a ruler. In short, Jesus completely and utterly fails to satisfy any part of this prediction. Thus, the passage from Zechariah 11:12 gives us yet another good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

6. "And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord" (Zech. 11:13).

This is extremely specific. All thirty pieces of silver are not to be returned. They are to be cast down in the house of the Lord, and they are to go to the potter. You will recall that Judas in remorse tried to return the thirty pieces of silver, cut the chief priest would not accept them. So Judas threw them down on the floor of the temple and went and hanged himself. The chief priest then took the money and bought a field of the potter to bury strangers in. Our question is: One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, had returned the money, had it refused, had thrown it on the floor in the house of the Lord, and then had it used to purchase a field from the potter?

The students said they doubted if there has ever been another incident involving all of these items, but they agreed on an estimate of one in 100,000. They were very sure that this was conservative. So we use the estimate as 1 in [10 to the 5th power].
= = = = = = = = = = = =

The thirty shekels of silver is not just any thirty shekels, but is the thirty shekels that was previously mentioned in verse 12. In verse 12 a shepherd quits his job and is paid thirty shekels of silver as wages for his previous service as a shepherd. Since a shepherd is symbolic of a king or ruler, the thirty shekels is money given to a king after the king steps down from his position of authority as payment for his service as ruler.

Since Jesus was never a king of Israel or king of any nation or people during his lifetime, there can never have been a payment of thirty shekels to Jesus for his previous service as king or ruler.

Prediction (6) cannot be true, because it presupposes the truth of prediction (5) and prediction (5) is false. Thus, prediction (6) gives us another good reason to believe that Jesus was not the messiah.

Let’s set aside this problem, and suppose that any collection of thirty shekels will do. What does verse 13 say must happen with the thirty shekels? It depends on which translation you use:

“So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the LORD.”
(the last sentence of Zechariah 11:13, NRSV)

“So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD.”
(the last sentence of Zechariah 11:13, NASB)

Who is speaking here? The prophet is speaking here, playing the role of a shepherd. Shepherds symbolize kings, so a king of Israel, or the messiah, is the speaker here, not someone who has betrayed the king or messiah. So, if this passage is a prophecy about the messiah, then the prediction is that the messiah will threw thirty shekels of silver into either the treasury or to the potter in the temple.

There is no mention in any of the Gospels that Jesus threw thirty shekels of silver into the Temple treasury nor that Jesus threw thirty shekels to a potter in the Temple. It is possible that Jesus did so, but we have no evidence that he did, and given that such a very specific action is somewhat unlikely for any particular person (even for any particular Jewish person living in Palestine prior to modern times), it is unlikely that Jesus performed this action.

So, Jesus fails to fulfill prophecy (6), because he was never a king or ruler of Israel nor of any other people or nation, and even if we ignore the fact that the thirty shekels were supposed to be a payment for the services of a king who has stepped down from his position of authority, it is still the case that Jesus probably did not fulfill the rest of the prediction, since Jesus probably never threw thirty shekels into the temple treasury or to a potter in the temple.

Prediction (6) thus gives us a good reason to believe that Jesus was not the messiah.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

7. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isa. 53:7).

One man in how many, after fulfilling the above prophecies, when he is oppressed and afflicted and is on trial for his life, though innocent, will make no defense for himself?

Again my students said they did not know that this had ever happened in any case other than Christ's. At least it is extremely rare, so they placed their estimate as one in 10,000 or 1 in [10 to the 4th power]. We will use 1 in [10 to the 3rd power].
= = = = = = = = = = = = =

The passage does not state that this occurs when the messiah is “on trial for his life”; however, the trial(s) of Jesus before the Jewish leaders and before Pilate can reasonably be interpreted in terms of the analogy of Jesus being “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (NRSV), and the very next verse in Isaiah says that “By a perversion of justice he was taken away…” (NRSV), which indicates a legal or trial situation.

But the prediction is not that the messiah will “make no defense for himself” but rather that he “did not open his mouth” and that he remained “silent” (NRSV)when he was on trial.

According to the Gospels Jesus did not remain silent when he was brought before the Jewish leaders, nor did Jesus remain silent in his trial before Pilate:

…Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of
the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds
of heaven.’”
(Mark 14:61-62, NRSV)

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He [Jesus - see vs. 1] answered him, “You say so.”
(Mark 15:2, NRSV)

Jesus did not remain silent at these trials; he did not keep his mouth shut, so he failed to fulfill this prediction. Thus, prophecy number (7) gives us yet another good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah.

Note:
There is even more discussion between Pilate and Jesus according to the Gospel of John (18:28-19:16), but I view that exchange as completely fictional. Also, I strongly doubt the historicity of the Jewish trial, so Mark’s account of that trial is probably fictional too. But if there was no Jewish trial, then it is still NOT the case that Jesus remained silent at the Jewish trial (since there was no such trial).

The trial before Pilate might also be fictional, but I’m less certain about that. Perhaps Jesus did appear before Pilate and was briefly interrogated by Pilate, as Mark indicates.

From Chapter 3 of Science Speaks:

8. "For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet"(Ps. 22:16).

The Jews are still looking for the coming of Christ; in fact, He might have come any time after these prophecies were written up to the present time, or even on into the future. So our question is: One man in how many, from the time of David on, has been crucified?

After studying the methods of execution down through the ages and their frequency, the students agreed to estimate this probability at one in 10,000 or 1 in [10 to the 4th power], which we will use.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

First of all, the quotation given by Stoner does NOT specify that someone has been “crucified”. Rather, it states that some wicked people have “pierced my hands and my feet”.

Crucifixion does not require that a person’s hands and feet be pierced, so the fact that Jesus was crucified does not imply that his hands and feet were pierced. More commonly, victims of crucifixion were tied with ropes to trees, crosses, or stakes. The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion do not state how Jesus was attached to the cross.

The only specific mention of nails in the Gospels occurs in the Gospel of John, specifically in the Doubting Thomas story. But there are several good reasons for doubting the historicity of the Doubting Thomas story, so the Gospels do not provide us with credible evidence that Jesus was nailed to the cross.

Since the use of ropes to attach a victim to the cross was more common, and since the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus remained at the crucifixion site (thus negating the need for the use of nails, which were to prevent victims from being rescued by family or friends when soldiers would leave the victims unattended), it is probable that Jesus was not nailed to the cross.

Furthermore, when nails were used, they were not always used on both the hands and the feet of the victim. Finally, even when nails were used to secure the victims arms, the nails were probably driven into the wrists rather than into the hands. So, even if nails were used to secure all four of Jesus limbs, it is still probably the case that his hands were NOT pierced.

Thus, if the verse from Psalms 22 predicted that the messiah's hands and feet would be pierced, then this gives us a good reason to believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah, since it is unlikely that both Jesus' hands and feet were nailed to the cross.

However, the passage quoted might not say anything about hands and feet being “pierced”. The meaning of the relevant Hebrew is uncertain, and the NRSV gives a different translation than what Peter Stoner used:

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers
encircles me.
My hands and feet have
shriveled;
(Psalms 22:16, NRSV)

Bible Commentaries on this verse agree that the Hebrew is unclear in this passage, opening it up to various possible translations, so it is uncertain what the author of this passage had in mind.

===================

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p.530):
Very difficult: lit., “Like a lion my hands and feet.” Suggested transls. include: “They have pierced [lit. , “dug”] my hands and my feet” ; “they have picked clean my hands and my feet”; “my hands and my feet are shriveled up (by illness).”

HarperCollins Bible Commentary (Revised edition, p.403):
A series of metaphors in vv. 10-18 articulate physical and psychological pain. Therefore, it is better not to take literally the “they pierce my hands and my feet” (v. 16b). In fact, the Hebrew does not support this reading, but declares, “Like a lion [they maul] my hands and my feet.”

The Oxford Bible Commentary (p.374):
The last line of v. 16 is difficult. The familiar ‘They have pierced my hands and my feet’ (retained by NIV) [New International Version] comes from the LXX [Septuagint]. The Hebrew is literally: ‘like a lion my hands and feet’. Instead of the NRSV’s [New Revised Standard Version’s] ‘My hands and feet have shriveled’ REB [Revised English Bible] reads ‘They have bound me hand and foot’.

New International Bible Commentary (second edition, p.572):
16. they have pierced: MT [Massoretic Text] (NIVmg) [New International Version margin] seems to be corrupt. The versions suggest a verb: either (cf. LXX, Syr., Vulg.) [Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate] ‘pierced’ (lit. ‘dug’) or (cf. Aq., Sym.) [Aquilas’ Greek translation of the Old Testament, Symmachus] ‘bind’ (i.e. for burial). ‘Cut’ (cf. NEB) [New English Bible] or ‘tear’ (GNB) are possible.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament (p.524):
The understanding of the description of the hands and feet here has been problematic. The Hebrew verb, traditionally translated as “pierced,” occurs only here and can only be translated that way if it is emended. As it stands it indicates that the psalmist’s hands and feet are “like a lion,” which some commentators have interpreted to mean that the psalmist’s hands and feet were trussed up on a stick as a captured lion would be. Unfortunately, despite all the lion-hunting scenes that are preserved and described, no lion is shown being transported that way. If a verb is desirable here, a suitable candidate must be found among the related Semitic languages. The most likely one is similar to Akkadian and Syriac cognates that have the meaning “shrink or shrivel.” Akkadian medical texts speak of a symptom in which the hands and feet are shrunken.

==========================

There are at least six different translations/interpretations of Psalms 22:16. Thus, there are at least six different predictions about the messiah that this verse might be making.

The hands and feet of the messiah…

1. will become shriveled
2. will be bound
3. will be pierced
4. will be mauled/torn
5. will be cut
6. will be picked clean

In the context, the NRSV’s translation seems the most likely (“My hands and feet have shriveled”). The HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV, has a footnote that makes a good deal of sense:

“The picture here [in 22:16-18] is of one wasted away by illness and the taunters and persecutors already distributing the victim’s clothing as death nears…” (p.818)

But the other translations cannot be ruled out. I would assign a probability of .3 to interpretation (1), a probability of .2 to interpretation (2), and also to interpretation (3), and a probability of .1 to each of the remaining interpretations.
I have previously argued that it is improbable that both Jesus hands (as opposed to his wrists) and his feet were nailed to the cross, and I would assign a probability of .1 to this possibility.

The NRSV translation of Psalms 22:16 seems to be the most likely to be correct. Assuming that this verse was a prophecy about the messiah, the prediction would thus be that the messiah would become ill and as a result his hands and feet would shrivel.

There is no indication in the Gospels that Jesus became seriously ill, nor that his hands and feet shrivelled up. Jesus was healthy enough to make the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem on foot, so he was probably in good health just prior to being crucified.

There is no reason to believe that crucifixion causes one's hands and feet to shrivel up, so we can conclude that on the most likely interpretation of Psalms 22:16, Jesus failed to fulfill the prediction. Thus, this passage gives us some reason to believe that Jesus was not the messiah.

However, it is likely that Jesus' hands and feet were both tied to the cross, in which case one of the interpretations of Psalms 22:16 would apply to Jesus: that the messiah's hands and feet would be bound.

One interpretation might apply (piercing); a second does not apply (shrivel); another probably applies (bound); still others don't apply (torn. cut, stipped clean).

So, there is no clear result from examination of this OT passage, other than that God is not very clear when communicating important information that might help us to identify the messiah (or, more plausibly, the words of the Old Testament were not inspired by God).

CLOSE | X
HIDE | X