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What is the significance of biblical prophecies?

I was arguing theology with a friend a few days ago. He brought up so-called “prophecies” that were created and accurately foretold Jesus’s life. Is there any truth behind the existence of these prophecies?

Posted: April 26th 2008

SmartLX www

Perhaps not in all cases, but the writers of the New Testament had the Old Testament to work from. It’s claimed in specific cases that this or that author couldn’t have known a particular prophecy, but you have to take into account not only the authors but the editors and translators (of the books that both make and fulfill the prophecies) all the way along.

They mostly knew what prophecies had to be fulfilled in order to give both halves of their eventual opus some mutual credibility. That doesn’t guarantee that the prophecies had not really been fulfilled, but if they hadn’t could any of the NT authors have said so and still had their work included in the final cut? (Remember, the Bible was edited down from an initial pool of over 400 “books” to just 66. The Gospel of Thomas is one famous deleted account.)

If you really want to find the specific issues with the prophecies as they relate to Jesus, talk to a Jewish scholar. The Jews read the same Old Testament with all the same prophecies, but they’re still waiting for their Messiah. Jesus just didn’t fit the bill. Consider well the fact that so many people who actually regard the prophecies as genuine, and who generally accept that Jesus existed, proceed to completely reject him as their saviour or as the fulfillment of anything at all.

The other major point is that it’s far easier to point to a fulfillment of an existing prophecy than to make a new one and let people watch it come true. The most famous example is the fact that Nostradamus’ prophecies have been interpreted so widely that they could apply to any current event at all.

What predictive power does a church or do the religious have today? Aside from predicting the end of the world non-stop until it happens, what accepted recorded historical event have they seen coming, and prepared for? What’s Pat Robertson’s batting average, for example?

Posted: April 30th 2008

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flagellant www

The problem with biblical prophecies is that they set up statements that ignorant people wanted to believe.

Take the example of the virgin birth. Firstly, according to modern scholars, e.g Bishop John Shelby Spong, the original biblical prediction was ambiguous. Within the context, it was more likely that it meant that 'Immanuel’ would be born of a young woman, not a virgin. The passage in Isaiah 7:14 predicts that a woman would conceive – not a very unusual event. This would normally preclude her being a virgin. It would appear that Matthew invented the virgin birth myth. There were, after all, several much earlier stories about someone great being born of a virgin. You can find it in early Greek history, for example.

Mark’s gospel was written earlier than Matthew’s. Can you imagine that Mark would have left 'the virgin birth’ out if it were true? The problem is that so much of the later bible was altered by enthusiastic people who wanted to make their story more believable. What could be more effective than telling the story as a fulfilment of an ancient prophecy, never mind the mistranslations?

I would take biblical 'prophecies’ more seriously if they weren’t self-fulfilling within the same text. How, objectively, do we know that the predictions were actually made and how do we know that they really came true? If 'virgin birth’ is typical, there’s not a lot to go on.

(Your friend should really read John Shelby Spong’s excellent book Jesus for the non-religious. It seriously and studiously debunks a great deal of church dogma.)

I’d consider a biblical prophecy more seriously if it told us something that seemed wrong at the time but was later found correct by science. Instead, it’s the other way round. The bible is wrong, wrong, wrong. It doesn’t even tell us that the Earth goes round the sun; and it doesn’t explain disease, famine and floods other than by calling them punishments from 'God’.

Posted: April 30th 2008

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