“How do we know the gospel story is true? Because it confirms the prophecies of the Old Testament. How do we know the prophecies of the Old Testament are true? Because they are confirmed by the gospel story. Evidence, so-called, is bounced back and forth between the testaments like a tennis ball; and no other evidence is given us. The two testaments form a double mirror, each reflecting the other, but neither the world outside.” (i)
Can you predict the future? Is astrology true? What about fairies? Could anyone in the past have predicted events in the future. If a “prophecy” sounds a little vague or ambiguous, is it best practice to interpret it in a narrow precise sense that suits your ideological agenda?
I maintain that it is breaking the laws of physics to see the future (or travel through time for that matter). The best we can hope to do is to judge the statistical probability of an event occurring based on past experience, or just to make an educated guess. I feel those Christians who back up their faith in Jesus by trusting bronze age “prophecies” are building a house on the sand.
(1) It is probable that the gospel writers were influenced by the Hebrew (Old) Testament in the construction of their stories about the life of Jesus. In other words they shaped their stories about Jesus by making his life fit some of these details; e.g. Luke’s concoction of a census in order to get Mary to Bethlehem so Jesus could be born there according to “prophecy” (Mic.5:2; Matt.2:6)
(2) For a specific example of how Greek (New) Testament writers based their stories on the Hebrew (Old) Testament look at Zechariah 9:9 where Hebraic parallelism is used, the second line repeating the point of the first line: “Rejoice…your King comes to you ..riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” Matthew misunderstands this (21:2) and has Jesus requesting both a donkey and a colt to ride into Jerusalem! (How?) There is only one animal in Zechariah, but Matthew thinks he means both a donkey and a colt, so that’s what he wrote in order to fit prophecy. How may other examples of his ropy competence at interpreting Hebrew scriptures are there in his gospel?
(3) OK, here’s one: Hosea 11:1 says “Out of Egypt have I called my son” , referring to God calling Israel out of Egypt into the exodus. This wasn’t even a prediction. Matthew refers to it in 2:14-15 “Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night , and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’.”
(4) Again, Matthew 2:17-18 sees Jeremiah 31:15 as fulfilled when Herod the king ordered all small boys in Bethlehem 2 years old and younger to be killed. Then we read that what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:” A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” But Jeremiah’s mourning is for those who will be cast into Babylonian captivity. The claim in Matthew 2:17-18 that this refers to Herod’s killing young boys is simply fraudulent. Jeremiah wasn’t even making a prediction, nor was he using the future tense.
(5) In my last example, Matthew simply invents a “prophecy” to lend strength to his case. In 2:22-23 we read that Joseph “came and lived in a town called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: He shall be called a Nazarene.” Oh yeah? I can’t find it, and better men/women than me haven’t been able to find it either, so I’m offering a reward to anyone who can find it!
To quote John Loftus to whom I am much indebted in the writing of this Post (ii):
“I defy someone to come up with one statement in the Old testament that is specifically fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that can legitimately be understood as a prophecy and singularly points to Jesus as the Messiah using today’s historical-grammatical hermeneutical method. It cannot be done.”
(i) Frye, N. “The Great Code. The Bible and Literature” Harcourt Brace (1982)
(ii) Loftus, John “Why I became an atheist. A former preacher rejects Christianity” Prometheus (2012) p.359
TO BE CONTINUED