What is the biblical definition of prophecy

Do prophecies that have come true prove that the Bible is the word of God?

There are numerous prophecies in the Bible that have literally been fulfilled. At least that is what fundamental Christians claim. However, such a claim does not stand up to critical examination

It is said that the predictions in the Bible are so numerous and correct that all attempts to find a scientific explanation are doomed to failure. Since only God personally can develop so much fortune-telling power, contemporaries who are faithful to the Bible feel confirmed in their view that the Bible is the word of God.

Sects like Scientology, Mun or Bhagwan have seen better days. UFO sightings, questionable psychological training and crop circle theories have also been in decline for years, as reported by the esoteric critics of the GWUP (Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences).

Has a new wave of rationality reached our society? Certainly not, as a more detailed analysis shows. It is more likely that borderline and pseudoscientific theories are often subject to fashion trends - while some are disappearing, others are becoming popular. One of the increasingly popular spiritual teachings today is clearly those that promote a literal interpretation of the Bible. The best-known consequence of this is certainly the currently increasingly discussed rejection of evolution (creationism), which is widespread in the USA, for example. When Christians who are faithful to the Bible justify their position, the prophecies in question usually come into play.

Is there a biblical proof of God?

How fundamental Christians argue on the subject of biblical prophecies is, for example, in the book “Questions That Are Asked Again and Again” by the engineer and preacher Werner Gitt1. In this work, which is popular with many Bible-faithful groups, we read:

We want to show the question of biblical truth using a selected example that has the advantage of being mathematically understandable. The Bible contains 6408 verses with prophetic information, of which 3268 have so far been fulfilled, while the remaining prophecies concern future events. No forecast has been changed.

Then Gitt calculates - mathematically completely correct and in great detail - that the chance occurrence of so many predictions is about as likely as winning the lottery. However, provided that the lottery ticket has significantly more fields than there are atoms in the universe. Given these impressive numbers games, Gitt comes to the following conclusion:

The prophecies [in the Bible] are divine, they cannot come from any human being.

Now Gitt only gives a few examples in his book of the prophecies in the Bible, which he valued so highly, but a quick look at a website like dasjahrderbibel.de provides more detailed information. There we read, for example, that many biblical prophecies concern Jesus of Nazareth. These predictions can all be found in the Old Testament, the content of which - no serious historian doubts this - was written centuries before the birth of Jesus. So one can assume that the prophecies are actually older than the prophecy. On the other hand, it looks less convincing if you ask yourself how specific the individual prophecies are. This is illustrated by the following example (Psalm 22:17):

For dogs have surrounded me, and the wicked gang has surrounded me; they dug through my hands and feet.

Since the Hebrew, in which the Old Testament is written in the original, is a tricky language, some Bibles also say “pierced” instead of “digged through”. The quoted passage from the Bible is therefore interpreted by fundamental Christians as a prophecy of the execution of Jesus, during which nails pierced his hands and feet. However, this interpretation is not exactly mandatory. This already begins with the fact that the quoted sentence refers to an event in the present at that time and is therefore not a prophecy at all. There is also no mention in this psalm that the person described is Jesus. What the dogs are supposed to have to do with the crucifixion of Jesus also remains a mystery. And last but not least, the Hebrew language allows instead of “digging through” also “being bitten through” as a translation, which is not entirely unlikely in connection with dogs. In the end, there is nothing more than a non-existent prophecy without concrete content, which on top of that has been completely taken out of context.

A second example should clarify that the alleged prediction mentioned is not an isolated case. The following sentence can be found in the Old Testament (Zechariah 11:12):

And I said to them, If you like it, give me my reward; if not, leave it alone. And they weighed me the reward, thirty pieces of silver.

This passage, too, is by no means a prophecy, but refers to an event in the past. In addition, there is no discernible reference to Jesus of Nazareth. However, resourceful Bible exegetes are not bothered by that. In their opinion, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas is prophesied at this point, for which the latter is said to have received 30 pieces of silver. Unfortunately, such far-fetched interpretations are more than typical in this context, and so the list of less meaningful bogus prophecies on the life of Jesus could be extended significantly. Just put it to the test: Take the “Prophecies about Christ” from the website dasjahrderbibel.de or a similar source and look up the biblical passages mentioned. You will find that neither the ministry of Jesus in Galilee (Isaiah 9: 1-2) nor the betrayal by a trusted friend (Psalm 41: 9) nor the death among criminals (Isaiah 53:12) is prophesied in the named places. It was only afterwards that the corresponding statements were interpreted in the desired way.

The fact that the alleged Jesus prophecies in the Old Testament (there should be around 300) are anything but meaningful, however, is only one half of the coin. Fundamental Christians take advantage of another fact even more: some New Testament writers apparently had a keen interest in seeing Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. This interest is quite understandable, because then as now it was difficult for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Savior announced in the Old Testament. Prophecies that have come true could be very useful as an aid to argumentation.

This is most evident in the Gospel of Matthew, the author of which has incorporated no fewer than 130 quotations from the Old Testament into his work. In eleven places it even says explicitly that certain things happened in the life of Jesus in order for an Old Testament prophecy (or something the evangelist believes to be) to come true. The problem here is obvious: How do you know whether the numerous alleged predictions have actually come true or whether the author has not whistled something to the glory of God. Here is an example from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 21: 4), where we read how Jesus rides into Jerusalem with a donkey and a donkey foal (colt). The gospel author emphasizes that this ride cannot have been a coincidence in the following words:

But this was done so that what was said by the prophet would be fulfilled, who said: “Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your king comes to you meekly and rides on a donkey and on a colt, the boy of a beast of burden.

That the cited prophecy in the Old Testament (Zechariah 9: 9) has about the same meaningfulness as numerous other Jesus predictions (namely almost none) should only be mentioned in passing. We should be interested in another observation: This episode with the two donkeys is - in contrast to many other incidents from the life of Jesus - not confirmed in any other place in the New Testament. There are no extra-biblical sources on this anyway. Therefore, with the best will in the world, it is no longer possible to clarify whether this story really happened or whether the Mathäus evangelist helped his luck in the search for prophecies that had come to pass and invented a donkey ride.

Here, too, you can easily find more examples. In the Gospel of Matthew we learn that the tormentors of Jesus cast lots for his clothes (Matthew 27:35), as it was predicted in Psalm 22:19 according to a fundamental Christian reading. On the cross, Jesus was given vinegar and gall to drink (Matthew 27: 47-48), which Psalm 69:22 is said to have known beforehand. And the supposed last words of Jesus “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) are already in Psalm 22: 2. After almost 2,000 years it is simply no longer possible to check whether these details correspond to the facts. Alleged Jesus prophecies from the Old Testament, which refer to events such as the virgin birth, the anointing by the Holy Spirit, the resurrection or the ascension, are certainly not to be checked. Fundamental Christians still rate this as a hit.

More prophecies

Of course, not all of the supposed prophecies in the Bible refer to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, numerous predictions also concern historical events that already took place in Old Testament times. A favorite example of many Bible fans, which is dealt with in great detail both in a book by Werner Gitt2 and on the website dasjahrderbibel.de, are the events around the city of Tire in today's Lebanon. Some prophecies from the Bible are said to refer to their fate.

Indeed, in the Old Testament at Ezekiel 26 one finds the rather detailed announcement of an attack on Tire by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. God himself is said to have foretold this attack. In no less than 21 verses, Ezekiel describes how horses, chariots, horsemen and a great army would raze Tire, which lay on an island, and whose suburbs on the mainland would raze to the ground.

In contrast to many alleged Jesus prophecies, the Ezekiel lines actually represent a prediction and were not explained in retrospect. In addition, historical research confirms that this prediction has essentially come true - in any case, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tire and destroyed the suburbs. Is this proof that it is divinely inspired prophecy? Certainly not, because the matter has a small flaw: The siege by Nebuchadnezzar took place between 586 and 573 BC. While the writing of the book of Ezekiel from scientific biblical studies to the period between 600 and 560 BC. Is dated. So the prophecy could be younger than the prophecy. Of course, fundamental Christians vehemently reject this profane statement. They insist that the prophet Ezekiel knew beforehand what was going to happen, through divine inspiration. Unfortunately, there is no shadow of evidence to support this claim.

In order to save at least part of the prophecy, Bible-faithful Christians sometimes claim that parts of the Ezekiel prophecy refer to the capture of Tire by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Chr. (Dasjahrderbibel.de follows this line of argument). This conquest undoubtedly took place after the book of Ezekiel was written. However, this theory also has the flaw that it cannot be substantiated by anything - and certainly not by the text passages themselves. Finally, the sentence “and you [Tire] shall not be built again”) in the 14th verse of said prophecy causes little effort. dasjahrderbibel.de thinks that this forecast has come true, which of course one could not have known about 2,500 years ago. However, this is a matter of interpretation, because parts of the former urban area of ​​Tire have definitely been rebuilt.

Numerous other examples can also be found here. Similar to Tire it is, for example, with Babylon, whose capture by “peoples from the land of the north” is also foretold in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 50: 9). As you can read in every encyclopedia, Babylon overtook Babylon in 539 BC. BC actually the fate of the capture by the Persian king Cyrus II, whereby the said prophecy came true. Again, however, there is no evidence whatsoever that the prophecy is actually older than the prophecy. And even if this could be proven, it would not say much, because the prophecy is so vague that it could also be a wishful thinking of the author (Babylon was hated by the Jews), which was passed on with great joy after its occurrence .

The claim that Jesus (died around 30 AD) predicted the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (70 AD) also gives rise to a smile. In fact, we find Jesus' words in Luke 21: 6, for example, which herald such devastation. The explanation: The origin of the Gospel of Luke is dated by scientific biblical research to around 80-90 AD, whereby the destruction of Jerusalem was already history when it was written. Of course, fundamental Christians also reject this interpretation, because for them every word of Jesus in the Bible is authentic. However, anyone who claims there is a supernatural prophecy is subject to the rules of critical thinking, and no one has yet been able to prove in any way that Jesus ever said anything about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem.

Current events

Since the prophecies of ancient events in the Bible do not reveal much, let us now take a look at what the scriptures have to say about recent events. In the opinion of fundamental Christians, this is quite a lot. For example, in Isaiah 27: 6 we read:

One day it will come about that Jacob will have roots and Israel will blossom and green, that they will fill the world with fruits.

For dasjahrderbibel.de this is - listen and be amazed - a prediction of the fact that the State of Israel today exports large quantities of citrus fruits all over the world. However, this interpretation is not really mandatory. Or consider Isaiah 55:13:

Cypresses should grow instead of thorns and myrtles instead of nettles.

According to dasjahrderbibel.de, this is a reference to “programs for the reforestation of millions of fresh trees” that have been undertaken in Israel in the recent past. It is clear, however, that with such vague and ambiguous prophecies it is practically impossible to find no current equivalent. In any case, it is astonishing with what imagination so many Bible interpreters go to work. Take the following passage from the Bible (Obadiah 4):

Even if you go up like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, yet I will throw you down from there, says the Lord.

The aforementioned fundamental Christian author Werner Gitt seriously sees it as a reference to “satellites, spacelabs and orbital stations” 3. Probably not even Erich von Däniken would have come up with this idea.

Finally, another favorite child of the Christian prophecy followers should come to the language: the State of Israel. According to the Old Testament, the area of ​​today's Israel for the Jews is the land that God promised them and to which he wants to bring them back from all over the world (e.g. Ezekiel 36:28 or Isaiah 43: 6). The fact that the State of Israel was founded in 1948, in which Jews from all over the world have since returned to their spiritual homeland, is further proof for Bible-faithful Christians that the announcements of the Old Testament are being fulfilled.

It should be noted, however, that even in the Old Testament period the Jews lived anything but unmolested in their promised land. On the contrary: The Jews who originally wandered about as nomads first had to fight for “their” country in bloody battles (the Bible reports on this), in order to be driven into exile in Egypt and then in Babylon. As a result, the Jews developed into a people scattered across the ancient world. The undisturbed life of all Jews in the promised land was therefore already a dream of many Jews at the time the Old Testament was written, which of course was reflected in their writings.

That this dream was partially fulfilled in the 20th century, of all places, is certainly a punch line in world history, but certainly not an inexplicable miracle. Since the relevant passages in the Bible are once again kept very vague and also contain no time information, nobody can seriously claim that the authors of the time knew the current events in Israel. It is astonishing, however, that Christians of all people insist that the much criticized wars that Israel waged to assert its territorial interests should be God's will.

Despite some searching, no one has yet found an alleged prophecy from the Bible that could not be easily explained without divine inspiration.This doesn't bother some Bible fans in the slightest, which is why such claims are still part of the standard repertoire of Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups to this day. However, constant repetition does not make a wrong statement any more correct.

The article was taken from the author's recently published book: Klaus Schmeh: Planets and Prophets. A critical look at astrology and fortune telling. Alibri Publishing House. 170 pages with numerous pictures and cartoons. 14.00 euros.

Klaus Schmeh is a computer scientist and part-time journalist. He is a member of the Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences (GWUP) and its regional group Rhine-Ruhr. His personal homepage: www.schmeh.org.

(Klaus Schmeh)

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