Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe (an old-earth Creationist ministry) claims that the Bible has thousands of fulfilled prophecies, and he gives us his top 13. I find claims of prophecy particularly interesting as arguments for the truth of the Bible. Apologists often make bold prophecy claims, but they’re rarely backed up with an argument. And the argument here isn’t from an incoherent sign-carrying wacko but from the founder of a ministry that takes in $7 million per year.
Let’s continue our critique with arguments 7 and 8 (part 1 here).
7. “The exact location and construction sequence of Jerusalem’s nine suburbs was predicted by Jeremiah about 2600 years ago.”
After Israel became a modern state in 1948, “the construction of the nine suburbs has gone forward precisely in the locations and in the sequence predicted.”
Ross points to Jeremiah 31:38–40 for this precise layout of future Jerusalem (helpful interpretations of this unclear passage are here and here). One immediate problem is that modern scholars don’t agree on the location of most of the landmarks referred to in this passage—the Tower of Hananel, the Hill of Gareb, Goah, and so on. There goes Ross’s claim from his introduction that “there is no room for error.”
A second problem is that when you map out Jeremiah’s expanded Jerusalem, it extends the ancient walled city to the west and south, and maybe a bit to the southeast. But five of Jerusalem’s new suburbs are north of the ancient city. No, there is no connection between what Jeremiah imagined God predicting for Jerusalem and how it actually expanded.
8. Both the Old Testament and the New predict conquest and enslavement.
“The prophet Moses foretold (with some additions by Jeremiah and Jesus) that the ancient Jewish nation would be conquered twice and that the people would be carried off as slaves each time, first by the Babylonians (for a period of 70 years), and then by a fourth world kingdom (which we know as Rome). The second conqueror, Moses said, would take the Jews captive to Egypt in ships, selling them or giving them away as slaves to all parts of the world. Both of these predictions were fulfilled to the letter, the first in 607 BC and the second in AD 70. God’s spokesmen said, further, that the Jews would remain scattered throughout the entire world for many generations, but without becoming assimilated by the peoples or of other nations, and that the Jews would one day return to the land of Palestine to re-establish for a second time their nation.”
Fire from the sky to punish the unfaithful + Babylonian conquest
Ross cites five passages for support. First, Deuteronomy 29 has Moses cautioning the Israelites to not tolerate anyone within their ranks who worships the gods of other nations. “The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster” (29:21). As with prophecy #6, this disaster is of the Sodom and Gomorrah type: “The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it” (29:22–3). Both the singling out of just the backsliders and the fire-and-brimstone punishment conflict with Ross’s view that this describes a conquest by either Babylonians or Romans.
Not only does this not fit Ross’s conquest hypothesis, but the dates don’t work out, either. The Babylonian conquest happened in 605 BCE, with enslavement happening in stages from 597–581. Moses supposedly lived long before that, but Deuteronomy was “discovered” (or planted) by King Josiah in 622*, and then it was edited over the next century. Chapter 29 (and more) were added after the end of the exile in 539 BCE. There’s not much of a prophecy when a document written after 539 BCE is accurate about something that happened decades earlier in 605 BCE.
Gathering of the tribes
Second: Isaiah 11 says that a descendant of King David will usher in a time of peace in which “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” It won’t be so peaceful for the countries that Israel conquers, however.
Ross cites 11:11–13, which says that, as part of reuniting Israel, God gathers in scattered people from the twelve tribes. Modern Israel does exist, but neither the prophesied supernatural peace nor Israel conquering Edom, Moab, and Ammon (roughly modern Jordan) has happened. Many Jews have indeed returned to Israel, but less than half of Jews worldwide live there.
70 years of captivity
Third: Jeremiah 25:11 says, “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
Let’s check some dates: Jeremiah was written in 627–586 BCE. The first captives were sent to Babylon in 597, and Cyrus freed them in 539 BCE, which is a captivity of 58 years. If we round it up to the pleasing 70 (seven is the number of completion) by saying that people returned to Judah in stages, have we finally found a prophecy that is sort of correct? Not really, since Jeremiah may have been edited after the exile.
Fourth: Hosea 3:4–5 talks about Israel enduring a long period “without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without [sacred garments] or household gods.” After this, they will return, trembling, to God.
But the exile that this anticipates is that due to the Assyrians, which completed their conquest of Israel in 722 BCE. Ross, you’ll remember, was instead referring to the Babylonians.
(The positive reference to “household gods” may be startling, especially since the Deuteronomy passage cautioned against worshipping the gods of other nations. It’s possible that at this early stage of Judaism, not only were other gods acknowledged, but some gods of limited power could be worshipped along with Yahweh the supreme god. More about Hebrew polytheism here.)
Ross’s final citation is Luke 21:23–4, which talks about the destruction of Jerusalem, but where’s the prophecy? The First Jewish-Roman War ended in 73 CE, and Luke is thought to have been written in 80 CE or later.
Ross really needs to avoid bold claims like “fulfilled to the letter.” Go back to 1 here and reread all that Ross says these passages clearly prophesy to see how badly wrong he got it.
Continue in part 4.
but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
— Frederick Douglass
*Richard Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? p. 116–17.
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/26/16.)
Image from National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, public domain