Bible Prophecies: Fulfilled or Failed?

Bible Prophecies: Fulfilled or Failed? April 27, 2021

Reasons to Believe is an old-earth Creationist ministry, which means that they accept science’s age of the earth but reject evolution. They claim that science supports the Bible and that “the Bible is 100% without error.”

Hugh Ross of RtB says that there are thousands of accurate biblical prophecies. From those, he has picked out 13 to highlight in “Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible.”

Let’s see if 13 is a lucky number for Dr. Ross.

Prophecies in the Bible

He begins:

Approximately 2,500 prophecies appear in the pages of the Bible, about 2,000 of which already have been fulfilled to the letter—no errors. . . .

Since the probability for any one of these prophecies having been fulfilled by chance averages less than one in ten (figured very conservatively) and since the prophecies are for the most part independent of one another, the odds for all these prophecies having been fulfilled by chance without error is less than one in 102000. (emphasis added)

I love it when apologists rely on volume over accuracy. “Uh, okay I know that most of these UFO reports are crap, but if we say that each has just a one percent chance of being accurate, when you consider the enormous number of them, this is very strong evidence!”

Uh huh. Does the same logic make astrology accurate, too?

Ross again:

The acid test for identifying a prophet of God is recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:21–22. According to this Bible passage (and others), God’s prophets, as distinct from Satan’s spokesmen [by this he means mediums and clairvoyants such as Jeanne Dixon or Edgar Cayce], are 100 percent accurate in their predictions. There is no room for error.

Ross cites a passage from Deuteronomy, but I notice that he excluded the preceding verse, which demands death for any false prophet. He’s claiming that all of his prophecies came true perfectly, so consider the upcoming critique to see how he does. Ross says that there is “no room for error”? We’ll return to that claim uncomfortably often to check.

1. The book of Daniel predicts the crucifixion of Jesus.

Daniel predicted that the Messiah would begin his public ministry 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, that the Messiah would be killed, and that the second destruction of Jerusalem would follow. “Abundant documentation shows that these prophecies were perfectly fulfilled in the life (and crucifixion) of Jesus Christ.”

“Probability of chance fulfillment = 1 in 105.”

I’ve written at length about the various interpretations of Daniel. Christians have several, so Ross would get pushback from other Christians who believe in a contradictory interpretation.

I’ll let that earlier post discuss the details of what Daniel says, but note that the Bible doesn’t record a decree to rebuild Jerusalem, it records four of them.* Apologists pick the one that best serves their calculations and hope no one notices the others.

The interpretation that best fits the facts has the book written, not by Daniel in the sixth century BCE, but by an unknown author around 167 BCE. The atonement and the end of the world were expected in about 164 BCE. (More.)

I would say more about the probabilities assigned to each individual prophecy, but there’s not much to say. Ross justifies these values with little more than that they come “from a group of secular research scientists.” Presumably, Ross wants the fact that they’re not Christian to show that they’re objective, but without their work, these numbers are based on nothing.

How would you even assign a probability to this one given that there’s a plausible and completely natural explanation? There was no fulfilled prophecy, so the calculation is meaningless.

2. The prophet Micah names Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.

Matthew 2 says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and cites the relevant verses in Micah 5 as prophecy. But since Matthew had read this “prophecy,” this makes him an unreliable source to report the fulfillment of that prophecy.

There is even a scholarly term for this error, vaticinia ex eventu, which means “prophecies after the event.” It’s like saying, “I predict that it will be sunny yesterday.” That may be correct, but it’s hardly a prophecy.

What does it say about the Bible’s historical reliability when historians need such a term? This is the kind of error that Christians would spot in an instant in a claim from another religion, and yet Christians like Ross either don’t notice or have a different standard for their religion’s prophecies.

Ross is right that Micah refers to Bethlehem as the birthplace of someone important:

Though you [Bethlehem] are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel. (Micah 5:2)

However, we must read it in context. Micah was written when Assyria was attacking both Israel and Judea. This “ruler” would be the one to lead the fight against the invaders:

[You] will deliver us from the Assyrians when they invade our land. . . . Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed. (Micah 5:6–9)

Does this sound like any part of the gospel story? You still want to pretend that this “ruler over Israel” is Jesus?

This “prophecy” is also given a probability of chance fulfillment of 1/105, which is ridiculous when the natural explanation is obvious and the supernatural explanation doesn’t even fit.

3. Zechariah predicts that “the Messiah would be betrayed for the price of a slave—thirty pieces of silver.”

The prophecy is fulfilled when Matthew records that very payment made to Judas the traitor.

Actually, Zechariah 11:12–13 laments that God is unappreciated by the people of Israel. There is nothing about a Messiah or betrayal. And then when Matthew 27:3–10 attempts to connect the Judas/30-pieces-of-silver story with the prophecy, it gets the prophet wrong and names Jeremiah instead.

Oops. So much for the Bible being 100% without error, as Ross claims.

Zechariah refers to a potter, not a potter’s field; nevertheless, Ross sees that as an important parallel between Zechariah and Matthew. But the New Testament isn’t even consistent internally. Look at the two stories of the last hours of Judas (Acts 1:18–19 vs. Matthew 27:4–8) to see that they’re incompatible.

  • Who possessed and spent the thirty pieces of silver? Acts says that Judas bought a field with the money. Matthew says that Judas returned the money to the priests, which they declared tainted, and they bought the field.
  • How did Judas die? Acts says that he died from a fall, while Matthew says that he hanged himself.
  • There is a “Field of Blood” in both stories. Why was it named that? In Acts, it was named this because Judas fell and died in it. In Matthew, it was because it was bought with the blood money.

The probability given here is 1/1011, which is ridiculous when, yet again, this is a prophecy after the fact and the claimed connection simply isn’t there.

Ross said that Bible prophecies have “no room for error.” That’s a good criterion, but in that case, these are not Bible prophecies.

Continued in part 2.

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

You’re telling me that the best an all-powerful god can do
is to create these one-off miracles that leave no trace whatsoever
of having been performed?
Where’s the wine? Drunk.
Loaves and fishes? Eaten.
The healed sick? Dead and buried.
The risen Lazarus? Re-dead and re-buried.
The risen Jesus? Invisible in heaven.
These are all “the dog ate my homework” miracles.
— commenter Kevin K.

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/19/16.)

Image from NOAA, public domain

*The Old Testament has four decrees for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, each with a different date (Ross’s calculations use the third one):

  • Decree of Cyrus: 538–536 BCE (2 Chronicles 36:22–3)
  • Decree of Darius Hystaspes: 521 BCE (Ezra 6:6–12)
  • Decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra: 458 BCE (Ezra 7:11–26)
  • Decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah: 444 BCE (Nehemiah 2:1–8)

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