Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Does the Bible Contain True Prophecies?

When I was a Christian, one of the biggest reasons I had for believing the Bible was that it contained actual prophecy — or so I thought. I mean, if a book gave specific, detailed prophecies that no one could have guessed, and then they came true, wouldn’t that be good reason for believing that God may have had something to do with that book? How could a mere human accomplish such a thing? And it’s not just that the Bible sometimes got it right, it always got it right — or so I believed.

According to the Bible, a good test of whether or not someone is a true prophet is the accuracy of their prophecy. Makes sense, I suppose. Just as chefs are judged on the quality of their cooking, so prophets should be judged by the quality of their predictions. In the case of chefs, no one claims that God is required to make them great. But if you could show that someone was a true prophet, that would be fantastic evidence that God might be speaking through them. An unreliable prophet, on the other hand…:

when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
— Deut 18:22

An inaccurate prophet is no prophet at all, in other words. He does not speak for God. This is a great litmus test for anyone claiming to have divine revelation. It was my belief that the Bible passed this test with flying colors… but does it?

When the Bible Gets It Right
When I was a Christian, one of prophecies that always stood out to me was that of King Josiah:

And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'”
— 1 Kings 13:1-2

This is a very specific prophecy. While there’s no timeline given, the prophet says that someone in David’s line would be born who would use that altar to sacrifice false priests and that the man’s name would be Josiah. In 2 Kings 23, this prophecy comes true about 300 years later! This was a prophecy that always stuck in my mind as being too marvelous for any mere mortal to accurately predict — surely God had inspired that prophet!

But as it turns out, the 300 year time difference is misleading. 1 and 2 Kings are just two halves of the same book. The same authors that wrote or compiled 1 Kings 13 also wrote or compiled 2 Kings 23. Therefore, there’s no way to know if that prophet ever existed, much less that he actually gave a prophecy concerning a king who would come 300 years later. In other words, this doesn’t really count as evidence of a true prophecy. Maybe the event really happened, but since both the event and the fulfillment were recorded in the same book, there’s no good reason to take it at face value.

There are other examples we could look at as well, but I think the point comes across. Just because something at first blush appears to be an actual prophecy, it may not be upon closer examination. Still, while this might indicate that the case for the Bible’s inspiration isn’t as strong we first suspected, this would not have caused me to question its inspiration when I was a believer. I would have needed something bigger.

When the Bible Gets It Wrong
Jeremiah 33:17 says this:

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel”

When I was growing up, this prophecy was sometimes referred to as a prediction of Christ. Hebrews 1:8 says that the throne was preserved for Jesus, and Acts 2:29-31 says this:

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”

So the literal kingdom of Judah is not what Jeremiah is talking about, according to these passages. Jeremiah was foretelling a time in which Jesus would sit on the throne of an eternal, spiritual kingdom as David’s descendant. But is that really what Jeremiah intended?

If you look at the following verse, Jeremiah 33:18, you see this:

“…and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

Can verse 17 still be taken figuratively in light of verse 18? According to books like Hebrews, Jesus became the new high priest forever when he was crucified and rose from the dead. So could that be the application of this particular prophecy? No. Jeremiah specifies that the priests would be Levitical — in other words, they would be of the tribe of Levi, which is the only tribe that was allowed to offer sacrifices. Jesus was not of that tribe. Hebrews gets around this problem by linking Jesus’ priesthood to the way God allowed priests before Moses was given the law — they were granted priesthood based on their caliber, not on their lineage. Hebrews refers to this as the “order of Melchizedek,” since Melchizedek was the most prominent person mentioned in the OT to have this honor. Refer to Hebrews 7 if you’d like more info on this.

It’s very difficult to take verse 18 figuratively, and when taken at face value it’s false. Levitical priests do not offer sacrifices today, and haven’t for a very long time. And since it’s hard to take verse 18 figuratively, it’s hard to take 17 figuratively as well. Once again, it fails as a prophecy because Israel is not a monarchy and there hasn’t been a Davidic king in over 2500 years.

When you’re an inerrantist, as I was, it’s hard to know what to do with this information. Do problems like this mean the entire Bible is wrong, or just that particular book? It turns out there are many more problems littered throughout the Bible. We’ll talk about one more in this post, but for more information, feel free to check out the links listed on the home page.

A very clear example is found in Matthew 2:14-15 where 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. Matthew appropriated this text when he (apparently) created the story of Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt. Matthew calls this a prophecy, but the original text is anything but. So many of the Bible’s prophecies fall apart in this way when researched.

While actual prophecy fulfillment would go a long way in supporting the notion that the Bible is inspired, in practice, it just doesn’t work out that way. Not only do the apparent prophecies get weaker upon inspection, but some of them are simply false. So if accurate prophecies should make us think the Bible is inspired, what should inaccurate prophecies make us think?

469 thoughts on “Does the Bible Contain True Prophecies?”

  1. Good anti-Bible School here today. This is a good post to send literalists too.
    Prophecy was part of my package when I was a Christian too. Thanks for the analysis.

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  2. This is one of the first things I ran to when my faith began to crumble. I still contend that genuine prophecy offers the strongest hope for demonstrating that there actually is something divine about the Bible. It turned out, however, when I began to dig into the prophecies that the resulting findings only served to reinforce the conclusion that the Bible is a purely human book. My research on Daniel 9 was enlightening in revealing the lengths apologists will go to for the sake of upholding their thesis. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ya know, Nate, I would guess that some folks are more susceptible-to-prophecy (STP) than others. I think I was one of them. I like it in all realms. I think it feeds those of us who can also buy into conspiracy thinking easily too. My guess is that there may be a temperament issue too which is revealed in situations of insecurity when you want to feel the world is more predictable than it seems.

    So …. the solutions:
    (1) Argue with people to show the the foolery in the prophecy/conspiracy
    (2) Help them be feel more secure in their world, then their clamoring for prophecy will also fall.

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  4. Yep–prophecy was the anvil that broke the camel’s back of my faith in the Bible.

    And the author of Matthew…holy crap. But, it kind of seems like he’s easy-pickins. Are there “prophecies” in the other gospels that fall apart in the same way?

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  5. “Good anti-Bible School here today. This is a good post to send literalists too.”

    You could but it wouldn’t do you any good. They might even laugh (and I mean that literally not rhetorically). This is probably nate’s worse post. its just awful. No literalist who studied his Bible would be taken by it especially not the first part.

    Why?

    Jeremiah 33 is very literal .

    However its future and obviously future. It foresees when messiah actually rules in Israel not gets crucified on a cross. From that point on Israel will never fail to have a king. The only way I can make any sense of Nate’s post is to think he believes the end of the seventy years captivity marked the end of the diaspora for the house of Israel and Judah and that they were then saved and living safely under persian and the roman rule (under foreign rule safe?). However thats just false and obviously false and the OT itself rebuts it because Zechariah is written after the return and it still has future wars and punishments still going on.

    Sorry nate its just bad. really bad. Firs time I ever told you this but you should consider a rewrite especially if your readers are considering sending it to Bible believers who know anything at all

    Out of Israel in Matthew? Meh common objection. Nate would probably argue it back and forth but Laws are said to be fulfilled not just prophecies and I see Matthew here using a common Midrash technique of Jews seeing Jesus as the leader of Israel represents he was called out of egypt too

    But for the Jeremiah part. Wow! so awful and obviously awful I will just leave it at that. this one just doesn’t even need any time on my part. I will just leave you to pat each other on the back but take it out to a blog of any christian who known his stuff and you will get eaten alive.

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  6. Take a step back. If the Middle Eastern god detailed in the Pentateuch was real, why would prophecy even be required? Surely, if prophecy is presented as a “proof” which this god participated in, then wouldn’t a simple message written in permanent, seven-kilometer-tall, self-translating, gold and diamond dust letters do a slightly better job?

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  7. “Out of Israel in Matthew? Meh common objection. Nate would probably argue it back and forth but Laws are said to be fulfilled not just prophecies and I see Matthew here using a common Midrash technique of Jews seeing Jesus as the leader of Israel represents he was called out of egypt too”

    Hi mike. dont you think this highlights one of the problems we keep having? Although you’d disagree, it appears as though we’d have to implant certain things into the scripture in order to have it “work out.” We can add any made up thing to any problem and resolve it, dont you think?

    so while you’re satisfied with Mathew saying Hosea was talking about Jesus, surely it doesnt take much imagination why some of us dont see it that way.

    For Jeremiah 33? You could be right, but i grew up hearing it time and again, although typically from similar passages that avoid mentioning the levitical priests – although some maintain that the levitical priests will be restored during the 1000 reign, or whatever…

    But the denomination I was part of pointed to passages like this as prophecies of christ, yet as nate pointed out, didnt believe that levi had anything to do with the NT church or christ. So to them, at least, this should mean something.

    But i am not sure i even responded appropriately, as i was not sure what you were even getting at in your reply – other than you disagreed and nate should think about rewriting his post.

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  8. zande, right. There are a number of ways to have done this better. Have the originals preserved for ever and written in stone.

    easily dated.

    could last forever, so the original is always around and no one could ever claim “forgery.”

    et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

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  9. Mike, you make a good point about the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy being a future event, so I suppose you see the Levitical priests offering sacrifices as something that will happen in the future? How / why do you suppose this would occur? Do you disagree with the Hebrew author that Jesus has become the “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”? Because his argument is that the Levitical priesthood is no longer necessary.

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  10. “We can add any made up thing to any problem and resolve it, dont you think?”

    William the problem with your approach is that you never look at the culture, history or language so you claim things are made up that are right there in the Bible.

    Consider the absurdity of reading say a piece of literature from Brazil and not wanting to look at the spanish/portuguese it was written in, the culture and habits in Brazil. No scholar does this it would be INEVITABLE that you would come with misunderstandigs even if it were written today. However if you get presented with something that is not apparent to YOU a few thousand years after the document was written and what ? your US/european culture understanding you claim its “made up”

    Fact fulfilled is not always used just in regard to prophecy in the Bible no more than “gar” to begin a parenthetical clause is not made up in the greek NT . Look it up.

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  11. “Mike, you make a good point about the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy being a future event, so I suppose you see the Levitical priests offering sacrifices as something that will happen in the future?”

    Don’t know. Right now we break bread to remember the cross. just as sacrifices look forward to the cross we may use sacrifices to look back. If you mean in this passage then it doesn’t strictly require it but says that there will not be a levitical priest needed/wanted probably because Christ assumes the head of that qualifying under the order of Melchisdek

    ” Do you disagree with the Hebrew author that Jesus has become the “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”? Because his argument is that the Levitical priesthood is no longer necessary.”

    I’d agree completely except I see only the high priest position being talked about not that there will never be uses for the house of Levi as priests but again your passage in Jeremiah says they will never want for a man for the position not that the priest will be from the house of Levi.

    In fact based on other passages beyond but including Hebrews some would say the two positions in Jeremiah 33 are held by one person “the Lord our righteousness’ that makes those two positions never to see a want again

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  12. Incidentally before anyone comes bursting in making claims I am answering questions put to me. I meant it when Is said I really don’t feel I even have to debate this one.

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  13. Hey Nate,

    The thing is for me, you can frame a prophecy a certain way and then assert that its false. Even a true prophecy.

    For example. I know some people here might have different views on say Micah 5:2 where

    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
        though you are small among the clans of Judah,
    out of you will come for me
        one who will be ruler over Israel,
    whose origins are from of old,
        from ancient times.”

    In Matthew 2:1-6

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
     When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

     “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
        are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler
        who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

    I mean how specific can you get?

    Here are some other specifics, but I’m fairly sure you have seen them before 🙂

    http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Prophecies-Jesus.htm

    and here

    http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/old-testament-prophecies-jesus-fulfilled.html

    I just don’t think its as clear as you do that its wrong

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  14. I mean I guess if people assume that the writers were not sincere and made the NT to fit the OT, then really were can we go from here based on that assumption? Apart from that though, there are some fairly clear Prophecies.

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  15. @Portal001

    The thing is for me, you can frame a prophecy a certain way and then assert that its false. Even a true prophecy.

    Ryan, It is important to always bear in mind that the writer of Matthew ripped off 600 verses from gMark.

    Matthew also includes the farcical Zombie Apocalypse during the Crucifixion.
    Please tell me you don’t give this rubbish any credence whatsoever?
    That ludicrous drivel alone should have every normal person scouring every available history book for evidence. No. Let me restate that. Normal people would consider it the nonsense that it plainly is and not even bother going further.
    So without getting all juvenile and yelling ”chucking the baby out with the bathwater” how can Matthew be regarded as anything but spurious nonsense?

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  16. “No. Let me restate that. Normal people would consider it the nonsense that it plainly is and not even bother going further.”

    Circular reasoning actually. Essentially “I don’t believe in resurrections being possible so that counts as evidence against them happening and that Matthew is lying”. Whats new? Normal people recognize when they are employing circular reasoning.

    There is no “apocalypse” in Matthew either. There are some saints which could be a reference to old testament saints or Some NT saints that had died in the three years of Christ ministry – either way many of a very small group – being raised from the dead and then only a few of those appearing to some people in Jerusalem and then only a few who would even recognize them to know they had been dead (which argues for the few believers who had died in the three years of Christ ministry – history does not record a pandemic either 🙂 )

    “scouring every available history book for evidence. ”

    and umm how many available sources do we have for Jerusalem events in the time period? One or two? as um “every available”? Plus why would they report on some people seeing what they would think were ghosts?

    I suppose every time people have claimed today they have seen a ghost historians record it for posterity? Do tell. I know of one or two people who claim it and have never been contacted by the Men in Black. The tracking beacon must be on the fritz.

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  17. “The thing is for me, you can frame a prophecy a certain way and then assert that its false. Even a true prophecy.

    For example. I know some people here might have different views on say Micah 5:2 where ”

    Actually Portal I might surprise a few here but I never consider prophecies where the fulfillment is strictly dependent on the Bible as good evidential material. For example The king Josiah thing I would never use. I actually hate how so many Christians use that circular reasoning. It muddies the waters for good examples. Now if you could verify that Jesus was born in Bethlehem outside of the NT then yes. However just because a prophecy is legit doesn’t mean its good for evidence of divine inspiration.

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  18. Hey Ryan,

    The Bethlehem prophecy is an interesting one, but I think it ties in to why we have two different accounts of Jesus’ birth. You may have read the post I’ve done on it (https://findingtruth.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/contradictions-part-5-out-of-egypt/) — I believe that Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts can’t be reconciled satisfactorily. I think they represent a true contradiction. It seems as though each of them believed that Jesus had to be tied to Bethlehem in some way, and they either invented two separate traditions, or simply recorded two separate traditions that were already in circulation. Why would they think Jesus should come from Bethlehem? Because of Micah 5:2.

    So I don’t lightly come to the conclusion that the prophecy wasn’t really fulfilled. I come to that conclusion based on the two conflicting stories that we’re given.

    Your question points to a bigger issue, however. Any time we see what appears to be an actual prophecy, wouldn’t it be easy to just say that the later writer based his version off the “prophecy” that was given long before? Yes, it would. But is that an unfair assessment? I don’t believe so.

    If all the Bible’s prophecies appeared to be legit, then we could still claim that it’s only because later writers copied from the previous writers, but it would be a much harder sell. We don’t have that situation, though, because the Bible does contain prophecies that have failed, or simply been misused. Matthew borrows many OT passages out of context just to claim prophecy fulfillment, and the issues with the way he uses scripture are pretty evident when you start looking. There are other examples as well, and from these it seems to me that heightened skepticism for the prophecies that initially seem legit is warranted. Does that position make sense? I’m not asking that in a sarcastic way — I’m genuinely interested if my line of thinking seems reasonable.

    Thanks for the great questions, as always!

    Like

  19. @Mike

    I suppose every time people have claimed today they have seen a ghost historians record it for posterity? Do tell. I know of one or two people who claim it and have never been contacted by the Men in Black. The tracking beacon must be on the fritz.

    The thing is, Hotshot, these ‘Saints’ were not raised as ghosts, but bodily resurrected and they went Walkabout in Jerusalem; and were seen by many, apparently.
    If Dean Man Walking,your god, the narrative construct, Jesus of Nazareth, a single individual, was seen by 500 witlessess then only a rank idiot would consider a group of Dead (resurrected) Saints on a lightening Tour of Jerusalem would go unnoticed and unrecorded.

    Now, if even a rank apologist such as Mike Licona can dismiss this event then I am inclined to believe it is a crock.
    But if you consider it truth and believe yourself to be a ‘normal person’ then god help those who you instruct with this diatribe.

    Furthermore, if this is the case, then what little credibility you brought to this post just got flushed down the crapper.

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  20. “The thing is, Hotshot, these ‘Saints’ were not raised as ghosts, but bodily resurrected ”

    next post try telling me what I don’t know. I was talking about the alleged historians who would have heard the story. they would have concluded it was a ghost story.

    “only a rank idiot would consider a group of Dead (resurrected) Saints on a lightening Tour of Jerusalem would go unnoticed and unrecorded.”

    or a rank idiot would persist in circular reasoning even after its been pointed out to him. its quite clear you have not thought the issue through. If a dead person came to your door fully alive how would you know he had been dead um…hotshot? 🙂 Photographs? Video recollection? oops not available.

    So the identification of a risen person would ONLY be made by someone who knew him/her and would not look the least bit conspicuous to anyone else. there would be no dragging one feet behind them moaning or craving for blood. they’ve be just like anyone else walking down the street.

    “If Dean Man Walking,”

    Ahhhh LOL I see why you used Zombie in your claim because in your TV land induced thinking you think this was like the walking dead where they looked half dead and would terrify Jersualem. LOL too funny.

    “Now, if even a rank apologist such as Mike Licona ”

    You’ve tried that before and it flopped. try something else. He is not in the Biblical text and neither are Walking dead looking Zombies. the rest of your foaming at the mouth and spittle matters not. Your circular reasoning gives you zero credibility in any adult conversation.

    The event would cause no terror to the city. the only people who would recognize the few people raised from the dead would be loved ones or people close to them that knew what they looked like – no historic moment for the city. Sorry your point fails due to watching too much TV. I like Falling Skies myself ;0

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  21. @ Mike

    Your circular reasoning gives you zero credibility in any adult conversation.

    And this from a person who believes in Scripture, an invisible sky daddy, and a man-god who he claims is the Creator of the Universe.

    Really, Hotshot, you are a laugh a minute.

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  22. “And this from a person who believes in Scripture, an invisible sky daddy, and a man-god who he claims is the Creator of the Universe. ”

    and this fro a guy who if he even thought through his own ideas believes that everything came out of nothing OR has no beginning. I’ll give you a tip Ark don’;t even try to debate me on who believes more in the supernatural. I’ll eat your lunch.

    Like

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