Bible Prophecies: Crucifixion, Cyrus, and Babylon

Bible Prophecies: Crucifixion, Cyrus, and Babylon April 30, 2021

Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, an old-earth Creationist ministry, claims that the Bible has thousands of fulfilled prophecies. We’re critiquing his top 13. Keep in mind that Ross has a doctorate in physics, so he’s no dummy . . . well, at least not in physics.

Let’s continue with part 2 (part 1 here).

4. Psalms and Zechariah both predicted the execution of Jesus.

These books described the crucifixion and correctly stated that no bones would be broken (not true of many crucifixions).

Ross gives three Old Testament references.

  • “[Yahweh] protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken” (Psalm 34:20). This is a psalm of praise, and one of the many good things God does is protect his favored people from injury. How is this a prophecy, let alone a flawless prophecy of the crucifixion, resurrection, and atonement of Jesus?
  • “They will look on me [that is, God], the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10). In this chapter, God is listing what he will do to protect Judah from enemies. The only suggestion of the passion narrative is the word “pierced.”
  • Psalm 22 is the final citation. I’ve discussed that in detail, but in brief, Psalm 22 is about the woes of Israel, portrayed metaphorically as an abused man. There are as many elements of the psalm that can’t be shoehorned into the crucifixion narrative as there are parallels, hardly what we’d expect from the “100% accurate” prophecy of a god.

It’s ridiculous to imagine that these feeble connections to the Jesus story are anything but imagined, especially when Ross claims that the chance of the Bible saying what it does in this instance without this being a fulfilled prophecy is 1/1013. Where is the resurrection? Where is the explanation for Jesus’s sacrifice?

5. Isaiah predicted that Cyrus would destroy unassailable Babylon and free the Jewish exiles.

“Isaiah made this prophecy 150 years before Cyrus was born, 180 years before Cyrus performed any of these feats (and he did, eventually, perform them all), and 80 years before the Jews were taken into exile.”

Ross cites three verses from Isaiah (44:28, 45:1, and 45:13) in which God declares that Cyrus is his anointed, who he will help to “subdue nations”; Cyrus will command that Jerusalem be rebuilt; and Cyrus will set free the Jewish exiles held in Babylon without demanding a ransom.

These verses are so glowing and accurate that it’s almost like Cyrus became the champion of the Jews and then they honored him (and gave the credit to God) by writing this account. And that’s indeed what almost surely happened. Isaiah the prophet lived in the mid- to late-eighth century BCE, and he only wrote the first 39 chapters. Chapters 40–55 were written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and the final version of the book was only completed around 70 BCE.

6. Babylon was said to be indestructible, and yet both Isaiah and Jeremiah accurately predicted its ruin.

To see why Babylon was considered so formidable, just look at its size. It was 196 miles square and enclosed by a double wall, each of which was 330 feet high and 90 feet thick. “These prophets further claimed that the ruins would be avoided by travelers, that the city would never again be inhabited, and that its stones would not even be moved for use as building material.”

Let’s pause and consider the size of these fortifications. Take Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, and stack another on top. That’s roughly the height and thickness of this wall. Now make it 196 miles long, and then make a second identical wall. That would be a big construction project now, and this was the sixth century BCE.

Wikipedia gives Babylon’s maximum area at 2200 acres, which could be enclosed by a wall just seven miles in circumference. We actually have several contemporary estimates of the size of Babylon’s fortifications, some far more modest than the dimensions Ross cites.

Ross can’t be faulted for inaccurate reporting from ancient historians, but he can be for highlighting data he likes without even acknowledging the contradicting evidence.

Ross points us to Isaiah 13:17–22, which does indeed declare that God will overthrow Babylon and that Babylon “will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations.” Jeremiah 51:26 and :43 repeat that Babylon will be “desolate forever.” But, once again, when we read the verses closely, we find that Ross hasn’t told us the whole story.

  • God will destroy Babylon “like Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19). Unlike prophecy #5, there is no mention of God using Cyrus as his tool. God will personally destroy it in Sodom-and-Gomorrah fashion—that is, with fire and brimstone. Where’s the evidence of this?
  • It also states that on this terrible day when God opens his can of whoop-ass on Babylon, “The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Is. 13:10), and the land will be made desolate and the sinners destroyed. “I [God] will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.” The destruction of Babylon is highlighted, but this is just a part of a worldwide (or at least regional) judgment.
  • When will all this happen? Isaiah 13:22 tells us: “[Babylon’s] time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged.” But if Isaiah wrote this part of the book before 700 BCE and Cyrus took Babylon in 539 BCE, Ross must explain the delay.
  • Jeremiah 51 also makes this bold prediction: “The sea will rise over Babylon; its roaring waves will cover her.” Didn’t happen. Babylon is hundreds of miles from the sea and about 35 meters above sea level. Ross could argue that this was hyperbole, but to maintain his claim that “the Bible is 100% without error,” he enters dangerous territory. He has given himself permission to decide himself what’s literal and what’s figurative.
  • Both Isaiah and Jeremiah were edited after Cyrus, so they’re not even reliable historical accounts.
  • Babylon would never again be inhabited? Wrong again. Cyrus didn’t destroy Babylon but used the city, as did the next king, Darius the Great. The New Testament even refers to “The church that is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13).

Six prophecies down and seven to go—who thinks they’ll get any better? Continued in part 3.

See also: 8 Tests for Accurate Prophecy and Why Bible Prophecies Fail

Every cake is a miraculous fulfillment
of a prophecy called a recipe.
— commenter RichardSRussell

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/21/16.)

Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain
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