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.