I’ve begun a series of posts that examine the prophecies in the Bible. You can find the first one here. Biblical prophecies have always been touted as providing proof that the Bible is actually the inspired word of God. But do they really stand up to scrutiny?
In this post, I’d like to look at two prophecies that end up not being prophecies at all.
Out of Egypt
In Matthew 2:14-15, we’re told that when Joseph and Mary fled with the infant Jesus to Egypt, it was to fulfill a prophecy from Hosea 11:1, “out of Egypt I called my son.” However, when you read the passage in Hosea, it says this: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” And from there, Hosea talks about Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord in serving after Baal, etc. Obviously, Hosea is talking about the nation of Israel, and there’s no reference at all to any future event, much less the Messiah.
So this is not a prophecy that Jesus had to fulfill in order to be seen as the Christ. In fact, it’s not a prophecy at all. No one would have connected this passage with the Messiah until Matthew came along. Furthermore, this entire episode seems to just be a literary invention when you compare it to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. We’ll talk more about that in a later post.
Matthew 2:16-18 tells the story of Herod ordering the deaths of all male children 2 years old and under in the area around Bethlehem. We’re also told that this fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah 31:15, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
But once again, when we actually look back in Jeremiah 31, we see that this passage is talking about Israel’s captivity. “Rachel” is weeping because the nation of Israel (sometimes referred to simply as Ephraim, Rachel’s grandson) was taken into captivity by Assyria. In fact, Jeremiah offers comfort in verses 16 and 17 by saying that they would return from the land of the enemy.
There’s nothing in the passage that references actual children being killed, and there’s no indication that this is trying to foretell some future event. In fact, if we call this a prophecy of Herod’s death sentence for these children, then what do we make of Jeremiah’s promise that they’ll come back?
These are prophecies I had heard about my entire life. But when I finally looked into them for myself (and all it took was reading them in their original context), I was shocked at how weak they are as evidence of prophecy fulfillment. What Matthew has done is simply cobble together some random verses in an attempt to attach contemporary meaning to them. This would be no different than if I claimed I had predicted the events of 9/11 when I knocked down a tower of blocks as a child.
The truth is, many of the “prophecies” referred to in the New Testament don’t actually hold up as prophecies when you really start looking at them. It can be very shocking when you’ve spent most of your life thinking that they were solid evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. And we’re not done looking at them. We’ll examine another prophecy in the next post.
16 thoughts on “Prophecy Part 3: Egypt & Rachel”
Not exactly what I was hoping to find. You make very clear points that again bring into question the validity of the gospel of Matthew. The passage from Jeremiah 31 was especially troubling.
Yes, it is troubling. And yeah, as you start going through these things, Matthew starts to stick out like a sore thumb. His use of the OT is pretty shocking…
I agree with you on so called prophecies such as these. Does what Herod did “compare” to what Jeremiah speaks of? Yes. Might a Jew be reminded of such a past? Yes. Do we still have racial strife today because of things we do reminding people of what happened in the past? Yes. Again, I don’t know who your mentors have been that used these scriptures as some kind of proving prophecy, but it still seems to me you had some bad mentors. I see nothing here that disproves the Bible. It only proves that some people were teaching you wrong.
Well, I’m out of time again. I’m supposed to be losing the Internet any time now. I’m going to miss getting to see how you twist verse 14-15. I’ve really been enjoying trying to do more study as you suggested I do. Your material is the easiest way for me to do that. It’s going to be good for me to be downtown in the Library rubbing elbows with other nonbelievers. I’m looking forward to it, but it is also a bit inconvenient. Oh, I too have loved comic books and the movies that go with them. I don’t read them any more, but the movies have been great.
why don’t you pray and ask god to give you some internet?
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. “And ALL THINGS you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22 NAS)
seems simple enough, you just have to believe.
In some ways, you’re right. But this does start to chip away at the notion of “fulfilled prophecy.” You’ve probably heard the same claim I’ve heard, that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies — what else could explain that other than him truly being divine?! But those “300 prophecies” are made up of things just like this, or worse.
Another thing to consider is that it wasn’t just a handful of people around me claiming that this was prophecy fulfillment; the writer of Matthew makes the same claim:
Kudos on the study, btw.
While you’re at the library, you might want to see if they have Jesus, Interrupted, or Misquoting Jesus, both by Bart Ehrman. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s a New Testament scholar at UNC Chapel Hill. He’s no longer a Christian, but he’s very well respected in his field. His books are worth checking out, because he talks about New Testament textual criticism in a way that’s easy for lay people like ourselves to interact with. And the information he provides, while startling to most church-goers, is not controversial in the scholarly community. It’s the same information that pastors and Christian scholars have been aware of for a very long time.
Have a great weekend. 🙂
or he might just want to pray for that internet,
that should prove how “inerrant” the bible is. 🙂
Well, yeah, there’s always that… 🙂
I used to be impressed by the fulfilled prophecy in regard to Jesus. But four factors have caused me to review that position:
1) in many cases the prophecy fulfillment claimed is not a natural interpretation of a text but forced;
2) often only part of a passage is taken as referring to Jesus, almost like a cut and paste, the parts that can be related to Jesus are claimed and those that don’t work are ignored;
3) some of the Biblical stories such as birth in Bethlehem seem contrived to change the story of Jesus so it does fulfill the prophecy;
4) ultimately we are reliant on the Gospels for these stories, it would have been very helpful if God had provided some small degree of eternal confirmation. Given the Gospels were written at least a generation after the death of Jesus and appear written as theological more so than factual works (the earliest reference to a Gospel account was that of Pappius, who implied as much) it should not surprise us that they claim fulfilled prophecy.
First, we do not really know what the ancient Jews believed about the OT writings, for as far as I know, no pre-Christian Jewish commentaries still exist, outside of the Talmud, but that’s different.
Second, you say it “seems to be just a literary invention” which is what I call the “it seems to me” fallacy. See here:
As for Matthew referring to Jeremiah 31, this also has a valid answer, see here:
I see what you’re saying about the “seems to me” fallacy. I do think that “seems to me” reasoning can be taken too far. However, I don’t think it should be discounted entirely. We all use it to some degree. I would imagine that your belief in Christianity uses at least a little “seems to me” logic, since you come to your conclusion based on what seems most logical to you.
There are several reasons why I think the writer of Matthew probably just invented this episode. First, no other source documents it at all. No other passage in the Bible, and no secular sources either. Secondly, as I point out in another post, the writer of Matthew uses this event as the reason for Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt, but Luke appears to be completely ignorant of the episode. In fact, his version of Jesus’s birth doesn’t seem to allow for an event like this to have occurred at all.
So I don’t feel like I’ve resorted to a “seems to me” argument just on a whim, but for some pretty solid reasons.
For the “Rachel Weeping” prophecy of Jeremiah 31, I still don’t find explanations like the one in your post very compelling. It’s clear that the passage in Jeremiah is not foretelling anything about the Messiah or about Jesus specifically. If it weren’t for Matthew’s insistence, no one would assume the two passages could be connected. I just think an actual prophecy should be clearer than this.