Betting on Biblical Prophecy? Chances Are You’ll Lose.

Betting on Biblical Prophecy? Chances Are You’ll Lose. March 20, 2015

bible prophecyNow and again I come across bold statements that are widely accepted within Christian circles but that are passed along without evidence, like urban legends. The Christian who shares them usually doesn’t know why they should be believed.

For example, the claim that Mark was the assistant to an eyewitness and wrote the gospel named Mark (I wrote about that here).

That it’s impossible for oral tradition to lose the essential facts of a story even after two generations (I wrote about that here).

That the apostles wouldn’t die for a lie (I wrote about that here).

And that the probability of just eight of Jesus’s 300 fulfilled prophecies coming true randomly—that is, without him being the real deal—is 1 in 1017. Cover the state of Texas in silver dollars two feet deep and find a particular one, blindfolded, by dumb luck—that’s the equivalent probability. In other words, probability shows the reliability of the evidence for Jesus. Who’s going to argue with probability?

At least, that’s the question we’re meant to focus on. The proper question: Who says the probability is 1:1017? And what was the calculation?

I finally had a chance to explore this claim when I stumbled across the source, Science Speaks by Peter Stoner, originally published with a different title in 1944. The online version is here (go to chapter 3).

The computation examines eight different prophecies, determines the likelihood of their happening to anyone, and then multiplies them together to get the minuscule 1:1017.

Stoner was the chair of the departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College, so he should know something about reasoning. Let’s step through these eight prophecies and see.

1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Stoner asks the probability of someone being born in Bethlehem as opposed to anywhere else in the world and concludes that one birth of every 280,000 worldwide happens in Bethlehem. In other words, if Jesus could have been born anywhere, that he was born in Bethlehem was quite unlikely.

Let’s ignore the fact that a character in a book about Israel was far likelier to be born in Bethlehem than in Boston, Berlin, or Beijing, so comparing Bethlehem against the rest of the world is meaningless. Let’s also ignore that Stoner simply assumes that Jesus was divine.

At least we have it on good authority that the Micah reference, “out of you [Bethlehem] will come … one who will be ruler over Israel,” actually refers to Jesus, because the gospel of Matthew says so (Matt. 2:6).

Or do we? When you actually read Micah 5, it is clear that this ruler of Israel will be a warrior who will turn back the Assyrians, the empire that began conquering Israel piecemeal beginning in 740 BCE. “Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed” (Micah 5:9) doesn’t sound like any event in the life of Jesus.

Additionally, Stoner takes the historical accuracy of the gospel story as a given, but why assume that? The authors of Matthew and Luke were obviously literate, and they would have read Micah. Did they accurately record Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, or did they just throw in Bethlehem to jazz up the story with a “fulfilled” prophecy?

2. Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem carried in regal splendor but riding humbly on a donkey (Zech. 9:9). Stoner asks: Of all the men who entered Jerusalem as a ruler, what fraction did so on a donkey? He gives this a probability of 1 in 100.

But again, this simply assumes the historicity of the gospel story. It’s like asking, “How many people who walked the Yellow Brick Road did so after landing on a witch in a house?”

Let’s take a closer look at Zech. 9:9. It says that the victorious king will come

lowly and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

What are they saying here? Is this a mother donkey with her colt? No, this is synonymous parallelism, a poetic form found in the Old Testament, where the last line simply echoes or restates the previous line.

All four gospels have Jesus enter Jerusalem on a donkey, and Matthew and John both mention the prophecy. But Matthew doesn’t understand the poetic structure and thinks that it means two donkeys: “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on” (Matt. 21:7).

What’s more likely—that Jesus rode two animals like a circus acrobat or that Matthew was inventing the fulfillment of a prophecy?

And like the previous prophecy, the king is a warrior. This time, his domain after his victories will extend from sea to sea, which (again) doesn’t match the Jesus of the gospels.

3. Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). Stoner’s question: “Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver?”

The gospel fulfillment (Matt. 27:9) refers to Jeremiah, not Zechariah. Oops—I guess divinely inspired authors are only human. But even when we find the reference in the correct book, the Zechariah story has nothing to do with betrayal.

And so on. There’s no need to dig into the remaining prophecies; you see how this plays out. Not only are these “prophecies” very poor matches for the Jesus story, the probability calculations for these eight examples simply beg the question by assuming that the gospels are history (which is the question at hand) and make meaningless estimates of probability to create the fiction that actual science is going on here.

Are we dealing with actual prophecies? No—the allusions to Old Testament stories are easily explained if we suppose that the authors of the gospels simply searched the Scriptures for plot fragments that they could work into the Jesus story. The probability calculations are meaningless.

Don’t suppose that the gospel authors were journalists writing history. Scholars don’t categorize the gospels as biography but as ancient biography, which is not the same genre. An ancient biography isn’t overly concerned about giving accurate facts but with making a moral point.

When we have a plausible natural explanation like this, the supernatural explanation doesn’t hold up.

(Other posts on prophecy: Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, virgin birth claim, and Daniel)

When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. 
When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist.
— Archbishop Helder Camara

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/29/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • XTheist

    Another thing you’ll hear a lot of Christians say is “the Bible is the most reliable ancient text”

    Reliable in what way? That’s such a vague sweeping statement that preachers will make and lay people will repeat. The same people will even admit that the bible is not scientifically accurate all the time but that’s because it’s “not a textbook.” Well okay, I agree, but then what is meant by the claim that it’s the most reliable ancient text?

    I think really the point of this Gish gallop of claims is to assuage the fears of the Christian that they might just have no good reason to believe the stuff they do. That sounds condescending, but I’ve been that person. I know how impossible and ludicrous the skeptical position on Christianity seems to a believer.

    • Mike

      I would say that the amount of Christians that believe the bible to be the most reliable ancient text (I am assuming you mean by this that it is the most factually correct) is a very small minority. The vast majority of Christians are not biblical literalists and in that sense, they do not believe that a lot of the bible is factually correct (or reliable).

      • XTheist

        The point is that Christians will repeat the phrase “the Bible is the most reliable ancient text” and I suspect that the reason for this is to help them feel rational for accepting its supernatural claims. I know well that many don’t believe the Bible to be %100 scientifically or factually accurate, that’s why I ask what is meant by “most reliable ancient text.” I don’t mean to give you less credit than you deserve, but did you read past the first line of my comment?

        • Mike

          I am just simply pointing out that you are describing a small minority, that is all.

        • Guest

          citing comprehensive polls?

        • Kodie

          They are probably thinking the argument from place names or something. The bible uses a lot of references to people and places that did exist, so is that “accurate” or “reliable”? Does that make it one of the most reliable texts for its time? I guess so. I meant to bring this up in another recent thread but didn’t get around to it, but it strikes me pretty hard that the bible is so revered because it has everything. Normally we’d call it cherry-picking, but I think people find it amazing and miraculous that you could consult such a book and find something appropriate to your situation. All things to all people but not all the same things to everyone. How many books do you have on your shelf that you could consult at any time for just about any human problem or decision that needs to be made?

      • Pofarmer

        And yet, what amount of Christians in the U.S. are currently 7 day young Earth Creationists? An awful, awful lot.

        • Jack Baynes

          Many many of them who supposedly belong to denominations that do not preach Young Earth Creationism…

        • Mike

          There are about 30 million young earth creationists in the US, which is about 1% of the total Christian population of 2.6 bilion people.

        • Yes, we must not confuse all Christians with U.S.-only Christians. Still, the number of Americans who reject evolution and say that the universe is 10,000 years old is, what, 40%?


        • Ignorant Amos

          I think it is a lot more than that…

          More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades. Half of Americans believe humans evolved, with the majority of these saying God guided the evolutionary process. However, the percentage who say God was not involved is rising.

          Of course this depends on the reliability of polls, but it would seem that even so, more than 1% would be a reasonable probability.

          Edit: at 42% of 319 million.

        • Greg G.

          Young Earth Creationists have consistently been polled as 40 to 45% of the US population so that’s about 120 million. I doubt that those are the only YECs in the world of Christianity. Many of their leaders are immigrants from down under.

        • rw23

          That figure of 2.6 billion is the total population of people in nominally Christian countries. The number of actual, believing Christians (rather than cultural Christians and non-Christians) will be much smaller, probably less than half.

  • Rudy R

    And why were there Jews that didn’t convert to Christians back in the day? Because for most, Jesus did not fulfill the OT messiah prophesies.

    • Exactly. One of the biggest prophecies on the Messiah says he would bring about peace on Earth, even between animals, with the lion lying down with the lamb. That obviously never happened.

      • MNb

        Patience, my son, have patience. Eventually our Earth will have Piece.

        Then all living beings finally can lay down their tormented souls to rest.

        • It’s a very long time until then. None of us will be around.

        • Kodie

          It’s nice just to know it will happen.

  • Ann Kah

    The more probable thing is that (1) the prophesies occurred after the events, much like those annoying people who always say “I KNEW that was going to happen!”, or (2) the events happened BECAUSE of the prophesies, such as “Here’s a baby in Bethlehem, he must be the one”, like searching for a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Or (3) it’s all a crock.

  • wtfwjtd

    Here’s another bit of irony: Even if we grant that the gospels are history, that Jesus was the son of God, that it all happened just the way the Bible says it did–there’s still not one shred of credible evidence that believing all of this will deliver Christianity’s ultimate promise: heaven. Since this ultimate promise must be accepted on faith anyway, Stoner’s numbers racket is just a diversion, a creation to make the believer think that his faith is based on science-sounding evidence. What a farce.

    • ajginn

      But once the Bible proves itself trustworthy in one area you can trust it everywhere, right?

      On the other hand once it proves itself untrustworthy in one area, there’s no way to know whether it can ever be trusted.

      Pretty much settles the issue, doesn’t it?

      • But once the Bible proves itself trustworthy in one area you can trust it everywhere, right?

        And archaeology shows that the Bible is super-duper accurate!

        On the other hand once it proves itself untrustworthy in one area, there’s no way to know whether it can ever be trusted.

        O-o-o-o-oh dear …

    • It’s like Hitchens pointed out once: “You’ve got to believe me because my mother was a virgin” (and the rest) is a complete non sequitur.

  • Maggie

    It was my understanding that historical Jesus was born in Nazareth and that the new testament storytellers placed him in Bethlehem to fit the prophecy.

    • I’ve heard that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that the clues are in the Matthew and Luke accounts. Last time I looked, I couldn’t find this.

      Has anyone uncovered this?

      • Rudy R

        There are only two passages of the New Testament that narrate the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, which are Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 and they take place in Bethlehem. NT scholars have compelling reasons to believe he was born in Nazareth, even prominent Roman Catholic scholars. I guess it only really makes a difference for those that believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and without contradictions and inaccuracies.

        • But what are those reasons for placing his birth in Nazareth if Matt. and Luke don’t do so?

          Ophis mentioned the “he will be called a Nazorean” thing, a fulfilled non-prophecy, and I’ve heard that as a clue. Perhaps that’s the grounding of the idea.

        • Greg G.

          I think four of the five times the word “Nazareth” appears in Mark are probably original, where it is not disciples using the term. It is not clear that the word was supposed to mean “of Nazareth”. Matthew shows his desperation trying to find a prophecy to account for Jesus of Nazareth, though.

      • I don’t think he was born in Nazareth, or had any strong association with it. Jesus is occasionally called “Nazarene”, meaning someone from Nazareth, but he’s more commonly called “Jesus the Nazoraean”, and the early Christians referred to as Nazoraeans. “He shall be called a Nazarene” should actually be translated “he shall be called a Nazoraean”.

        Nazoraean is a name of a sect, rather than a reference to a place. We have ancient references to it, and the Mandaeans (followers of John the Baptist) continue to use the name today, particularly for their priests. So Jesus the Nazoraean means, roughly, “Jesus the member of the Baptist sect”.

        This would create some obvious problems for the early Christians (similar to the problems with having Jesus getting baptised, but even bigger). So rather than acknowledge that Jesus was a follower of somebody else, they claimed or assumed that it must be a reference to the town of Nazareth. It’s an accidental or deliberate confusion of the original sectarian title.

        If we have to take a guess at where Jesus was born, Capernaum is probably the best bet.

        • I’ve heard that the extensive John the Baptist birth narrative in Luke was simply a merging in (and usurping) of a prior cult into the Jesus cult.

          “Oh, sure we revere John. We’re on the same page there. It’s just that John was subordinate to our guy.”

        • Well John’s cult seems to have survived, since there are references to it later, and it seems to have survived to the present. But it’s likely that Christians were trying to take their followers, and there’s hints of that in Acts, so having John as a (subordinate) prophet would help with that. I think Jesus was originally a member of John’s cult, and after they split the Christians still acknowledged John’s role but tried to make him subordinate to Jesus.

          The Mandaeans have the same names for John’s parents as Luke does, and a similar belief of a miraculous pregnancy to aged parents, which supports the idea that Luke borrowed the story. There’s definitely been borrowing going on, it’s just a matter of working out which direction it happened.

        • I’ve heard this is a reference to the Nazarites, or Nazareth referred to a tribe of people, not a town.

        • The link to the Nazarites doesn’t work all that well; it’s an attempt to explain where the prophecy is supposed to come from, since it isn’t found anywhere in the OT, so maybe it’s meant to be the verse about Samson becoming a Nazarite. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be clearly portrayed as a Nazarite, and it still doesn’t explain where “Nazoraean” comes from. Whereas the existence of another cult calling themselves Nazoraeans, and revering John the Baptist, suggests an obvious link.

        • Greg G.

          I think Matthew tries to make that connection. It is not clear which OT reference he refers to but the Samson/Nazirite is the only one close.

          There are three or four passages in Mark that point to Capernaum as Jesus’ home.

        • It’s possible Matthew’s doing that, but if so, he’s stretching it. Matthew’s usually clearer about where he’s getting his prophecies from so I think it’s possible that he’s referring to a prophecy making the rounds within some particular sect, rather than reading it in the OT. Or maybe he’s heard it, assumed it must be in there somewhere, and therefore decided to just cite it as being from “the prophets” despite not really knowing where it comes from.

        • Greg G.

          Jesus began to preach in Galilee (Mark 1:14) and gained fame throughout the region. (Mark 1:28) It was reported that he was home when he returned to Capernaum. (Mark 2:1) People gathered there until there was no more room for them. (Mark 2:2)

          After the Transfiguration, they returned to Capernaum and went to the house. (Mark 9:33) Whose house was it? Apparently, it was Jesus’ home.

          Matthew 4:13-16 says Jesus moved to Capernaum to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2, which mentions Galilee, land of the Gentiles, but Nazareth would have fulfilled that as a prophecy, being in Galilee. Matthew 2:23 says Jesus’ family moved to Nazareth when they returned from Egypt to fulfill a prophecy that “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Perhaps Matthew was thinking of Judges 13:5 that said Samson would be a “nazirite”, which is described in Numbers 6:1-21 as a person consecrated to God and has nothing to do with a location.

          That’s two vague prophecies cited by Matthew on the subject of Jesus moving to Nazareth and moving away from Nazareth.

        • Matthew does have a tendency to name which book/prophet he’s quoting though (even when he gets it wrong). The fact that he’s not doing that here seems a little odd to me, as if he’s either not sure where exactly this prophecy comes from, or he doesn’t want people looking it up and checking. If he’s using that bit of Judges, he’s conflating “Nazirite”, “Nazareth”, and “Nazoraean”, so he’s really putting in an effort to make it all fit. But Matthew might well do that.

          Or maybe his copy of the Septuagint just had a smudge on “Nazirite”. Sometimes I hate history.

        • Greg G.

          Or maybe his copy of the Septuagint just had a smudge on “Nazirite”. Sometimes I hate history.

          lol, always a possibility.

        • Greg G.

          Below are how Jesus is referred to in Mark besides “Teacher” or “Rabbi”, often by by characters making cameo appearances:

          Mark 1:1 The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

          Mark 1:9 In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
          (Nazara, this word is used in every gospel and in Acts but only once in Mark and not in the parallel passages of Matthew and Luke.)

          Mark 1:24 saying, “Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy One of God!”
          (Nazarēnos, Mark uses this word three times but the only place it is used elsewhere is Luke 4:34, a parallel of this verse.)

          Mark 3:11 The unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, “You are the Son of God!”

          Mark 5:6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and bowed down to him, Mark 5:7 and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, you Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, don’t torment me.”

          Mark 10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!”
          (Nazōraios, this is the only place Mark uses this word and Luke 18:37 does as well in a parallel.)

          Mark 14:66 As Peter was in the courtyard below, one of the maids of the high priest came, Mark 14:67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus!”

          Mark 16:6 He said to them, “Don’t be amazed. You seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen. He is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him!

          I think “Nazara” is an interpolation in Mark 1:9 for the reasons mentioned.

          It is interesting that Legion does not use the term in Mark 5:6-7 as the demons do in Mark 1:24, though Legion does use a superlative title. That leads me to believe the use of “Nazarēnos” may be a superlative title, too, instead of a reference to his hometown.

        • Mark’s pretty consistent with using “nazarenos” (nazarene). Matthew, John and Acts consistently use nazoraios (nazorean); Luke is mixed. I’m not sure what “nazarenos” could mean other than a reference to Nazareth, whereas “nazoraios” is well-established as a sect name. So I think Mark’s just trying to bowdlerise the title, with obvious motivations, while the others are reverting to the older version.

        • Greg G.

          I’m thinking that “Nazarēnos” may have been Mark’s attempt to write “nazirite” in Greek.

          I’m not sure what “nazarenos” could mean other than a reference to Nazareth

          Which would be exactly the same thought the other gospel authors would have had. Matthew seems to have no clue about where Nazareth was as he concocts a prophecy of Jesus moving to Capernaum as that prophecy is about moving to Galilee.

          I am puzzled by Mark’s use of “Nazōraios‘ in Mark 10:47. Scribe’s error? Poetic license? Perhaps it became the preferred term by the sect after Mark wrote?

        • I’m tempted by the idea that Mark might have slipped up and reverted to using the old title there. But scribal error’s a strong possibility.

          The wiki list has nazarenos there, so presumably both variants occur in different manuscripts.

      • bornin43

        As to Jesus having been born in Nazareth, Reza Aslan discusses this in Ch. 3. ‘You Know Where I Am From’ in his book “Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”. although he doesn’t make any reference to clues in Matt. or Luke. He makes a good case for his birth in Nazareth, IMO.

    • ajginn

      I’m sure there were plenty of historical Jesuses born in Nazareth. It was a popular name.

      Oh you mean the Son of God Jesus? Pretty sure that guy didn’t exist.

      • Rudy R

        Jesus was a very popular name in that geographical area in those days. I think the conservative figure was 1 in 25 were named Jesus. Makes you sorta wonder whether all the Jesus accounts were about the same person.

  • Mary

    I recommend this open lecture series from Yale University: , which will be an eye-opener as to how the gospel was written, and what agenda each author had in its crafting. It will bring light on the subject.

    • ajginn

      And yet, Dr. Martin still considers himself a Christian in the “Jesus is really God” sense. Hard to believe.

  • Otto

    What are the chances that a particular set of Jews read the Jewish scriptures in a particular way and then formed their messiah stories to fit the narrative as they interpreted it? I mean c’mon, as someone once said… isn’t it a bit like ordering a steak and then predicting that the waitress would bring you a streak? IT’S A MIRACLE!!!

    • wtfwjtd

      Not just a miracle, but a 1:10 gazillionth power miracle! Who knew?

    • 🙂

    • Greg G.

      But of all steaks cut in the world, what are the odds of getting that particular steak.

      • Otto

        Pretty good if that is the one you asked for….;-)

  • Ron

    What amuses me is that Stoner pulled the numbers assigned to each of these events straight out of his ass.

    • ajginn

      When I was a kid sitting in church and heard these “odds” I was amazed. When I got older and realized there was no way to actually quantify them I realized they were bullshit. Some people never get to that point or never allow themselves to get to that point.

    • Otto

      The probability he assigns assumes that the prophecies and the people reporting them fulfilled existed independent from each other when they were part of the same culture and tradition. The people reporting the prophecies as being fulfilled wanted them to be shown to be fulfilled which therefore shrinks that probability to near certainty. And the only corroborating evidence that any of these things actually happened come from the very people who had a vested interest in it. To say this type of argument is dishonest is putting it mildly.

    • Ah, but have you read Stoner? You’ll see that he’s quite conservative. You’ll read something like, “We guessed that the probability was one in a gazillion, but we cut that down by a factor of 100 to be conservative.”

      There ya go! No crazy stuff at all.

  • ajginn

    Regarding #3: who actually witnessed this event and confirmed it? Did Matthew and Luke run to Caiphas and interview him after the fact? This is like the whole Herod asking the Wise Men to tell him where Jesus was so he could worship him too or Pilate’s discussion with Jesus in John. There was no one there to witness these events who would later record them. Everything points to them being literary inventions, just the type of thing that a person who was trying to fit a “prophecy” would do.

    • I suppose that, since people say the Gospels are divinely inspired, they might claim that God told the authors what happened.

      • rw23

        You’d think they’d be able to get their stories straight if that were the case.

        • Yeah, you would. Is it so hard to ask for one version?

        • rw23

          Of course it would make three of the authors essentially redundant, unless they were into plagiarism.

        • I believe Mark was first, with Matthew and Luke plagiarized partly from it. John came later.

        • Greg G.

          I think John used Mark, too. I think Luke knew John and his Lazarus in Hades is a rejection of John’s resurrection of Lazarus. There are many parts of that story spread out through Luke as well.

        • Ah, interesting. I had heard that they disagreed with each other. I suppose the later Gospels were rebuttals.

        • Greg G.

          Mark has John’s baptism as being for the remission of sins. The other gospels have Jesus being special from before birth so that is an embarrassing claim for them. Each tries to back off from it in different ways.. Matthew uses 90% of Mark but erases the spit miracles and the non-instantaneous ones.

          Elaine Pagels, among others, says John refutes the Gospel of Thomas.

        • Elaine Pagels, among others, says John refutes the Gospel of Thomas.

          I’m pretty sure John has something against the followers of Thomas, since he singles out Thomas as the one apostle who doubted Jesus’ return.

        • Spit miracles?

          I remember the Gospel of Thomas is more Gnostic.

        • Greg G.

          Jesus rubs spit in a blind man’s eyes and has to do it twice to complete the miracle and once he licks his finger and sticks it in a deaf man’s ears.

        • Wow, I don’t remember that part.

        • Greg G.

          For the deaf mute, compare Mark 7:31-37 with Matthew 15:29-31.

          The blind man from Bethsaida is Mark 8:22-26. I wonder how he knew what trees would have looked like to compare humans walking around to them? That passage is among the 10% of Mark not covered by Matthew. It took Jesus a second try to clear that up.

        • If he wasn’t blind from birth and remembered trees, that might make sense. I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t manage to fully heal him right away however.

        • Warren

          Yep. Jesus is Steven Universe.

        • wtfwjtd

          Well, calling it plagiarism is anachronistic, but it was a common story-telling technique of the day to take a story and “improve” it or change it to adapt it for another audience.

        • rw23

          Well, yes, but my point was that if God told each of them what actually happened, then you’d expect the accounts to be near-identical, with at most just a bit of poetic licence thown in — if anyone would even dare try to improve upon the spoken word of God!

    • wtfwjtd

      There’s a guy on You Tube, his handle is Truth Surge I believe, who’s done a whole series on the Gospels called “Excavating the Empty Tomb.” In it, he theorizes that the book of John was added to the synoptic gospel trio for just this reason: Someone early on recognized there were several scenes in the synoptics where there were no witnesses. He “plants” his own witness in a couple of these, and deletes several of the scenes where it isn’t really feasible to do so. Far from being an “independent source”, John is heavily entwined with the other three gospel stories.
      I highly recommend that series by Truth Surge, it’s full of great information that is presented in a very clear and compelling way.

      • ajginn

        Thanks. That sounds interesting.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      They most likely would explain it the same way they explain how the identities of Moses and Elijah are known when they suddenly show up… and really don’t have any impact in the narrative… in the New Testament. “Well, Jesus must just be imparting the knowledge of who they are, and we will just know who everyone is without asking when we get to heaven- it’s definitely NOT shameless and sloppy name-dropping to enforce the idea that Jesus is a credible religious authority, Nnnnooooo!” In other words: a holy spirit did it!

      • They were wearing name-tags.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          … stapl- I mean- sealed to their foreheads.

    • RichardSRussell

      This is the same literary technique that Orson Welles used in Citizen Kane when he had Kane’s last whispered word be “Rosebud” — barely audible even if he weren’t completely alone (which was the point of the movie, that he’d alienated himself from absolutely everybody) — and then have the reporter spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out what it meant.

  • Without Malice

    Who gives a damn if Jesus fulfilled any of those prophecies? He told the folks listening to him preach that he would return to set up the kingdom of God on earth before they died. Told his disciples he would do it before they had gone over the land of Israel. Told the high priest that he would see him coming in the clouds of glory. None of these things ever happened. He was a failed prophet.

    • Leah Eld

      Obviously none of those things are literal. (sarcasm)

  • Greg G.

    As loose as OT passages are called prophecies in the NT, what are the chances of somebody not fulfilling many of them? Eve gave Adam a fruit. My wife gave me a tangerine. Samson never drank alcohol. I didn’t drink alcohol for an hour once. Ruth uncovered the feet of Boaz. My wife uncovered my feet when she rolled over and hogged the blanket. I had an ancestor named David. I must be the Son of God. Send me 10% of your income.

    • ajginn

      I can’t turn water to wine, but I can turn beer to piss.

      • Greg G.

        Jesus got Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed to make him a sandwich. I used to get my mother out of bed to give me milk. I stopped that months ago, though.

        • Ignorant Amos

          That sounds wrong on many levels.

      • Ignorant Amos

        I can turn beer and kebab into vomit…is that a trinity?

        Edit: to correct inebriated typing.

        • Greg G.

          Isn’t “reverse peristalsis” something like “transubstantiation”?

        • Ignorant Amos


          Hmm, there’s a thought. I did have a very large tumbler of blended malt too….perhaps the Hitch?

          BTW, Richard Carrier has an interesting review of Bart Ehrman’s latest book up at Freethoughts if anyone is interested…

          He makes reference to the fig tree yarn in Mark.

        • MNb

          An unholy trinity.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Aye….that too….bloody predictive text and alcohol….

        • Ignorant Amos

          Matthew Gregory McLaughlin, California Lawyer, Proposes Ballot Measure Allowing Execution of Gays

          Couldn’t be, could it?

  • RichardSRussell

    The all-time greatest subject ever for conspiracy theorists was the assassination of President Kennedy. Right-wingers think it was a conspiracy by the left; left-wingers think it was a conspiracy by the right; off-the-spectrum nutjobs think it was space aliens; whole flocks of people, without any political alignment at all, think it was “somebody else” other than Lee Harvey Oswald. It’s been estimated that, since 1963 Nov. 22, there’s been about one book per day published with some variant on this theme.

    One prime specimen of the genre pointed out the exceedingly large number of people connected to the assassination who died premature deaths and suggested that, like the 10^–17 chance quoted above, this was so terribly, terribly unlikely that there had to be some nefarious force at work. Utterly ignored in the analysis, of course, was the fact that the author only cherry-picked for his probability computation people who had actually died, which naturally vastly increased the odds of death, since 100% of the people in the numerator were guaranteed deaders. Left off the list of “inexplicable” premature deaths were Gov. and Mrs. John Connolly and Jacqueline Kennedy, who were fellow passengers in the car with the president but lived many years thereafter, and Lyndon Johnson, the vice-president who was also in Dallas that day and succeeded Kennedy in office and who also lived many more years.

    And the same cherry-picking is at work here, as is evidenced by my favorite example of “prophecy fulfillment”, namely that we can’t even escape the very first chapter of the very first book of the New Testament without encountering this thigh-slapping howler:

    “(23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name EMMANUEL, which being interpreted is, God with us….

    (25) And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”

    And, despite this selection being read from every pulpit in America every Christmas, they never even notice!

  • Scott_In_OH

    Or do we? When you actually read Micah 5, it is clear that this ruler of Israel will be a warrior who will turn back the Assyrians, the empire that began conquering Israel piecemeal beginning in 740 BCE.

    I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to go back and read the OT “prophesies” in context and see how they very obviously have nothing to do with Jesus. It’s amazing how much of the Christian story is cherry-picking and mis-interpreting Jewish scripture.

    • Rob

      Cleverly suggesting the Jewish scripture is a thing that should not be ignored? Or, should not be misinterpreted? I hope I am missing your point.

      • Scott_In_OH

        My point is that a lot of times when NT writers or Church teachings quote OT scripture as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, they are quoting out of context.

    • Warren

      My big one was that bit after Herod kills all the babies. Matthew quotes Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping; Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Thus is supposed to be a prophecy that the recent slaughter just fulfilled.

      The very next verse? “This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded. They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants. Your children will return to their own land.”

      In short, Matthew pulls a passage out of Jeremiah, removes it of context, and makes it say the exact opposite of what Jeremiah was saying. That was a pretty big blow that made it impossible for me to trust Matthew again.

  • RichardSRussell

    Every cake is the miraculous fulfillment of a prophecy called a recipe.

  • Pofarmer

    I thought this Matt Dillahunty and hos co host did a great takedown of Kalam’s first premise

    • Otto

      Matt does a great job of breaking down a position. I get more impressed with Tracy Harris (co-host) every time I hear her. Here is a link to a great call they took, starts at about the 12 minute mark and goes for the rest of the show. It is long but the final 2 minutes are worth it. Buckle up I know you will enjoy it Pofarmer….;-)

  • Sophia Sadek

    Jesus predicted that the world would be inherited by the meek. It is now run by accountants and there is nobody meeker.

    • curtcameron

      Do you know how to tell an introvert accountant from an extrovert accountant?

      The extrovert accountant looks at your shoes when you’re talking with him.

      • Sophia Sadek

        That joke has also been applied to NSA cryptoanalysts.