The claim of the gospel is that it is God’s idea and plan. Now there are many claims to Divine messages behind religions and prophets in all sorts of places and times – that hardly makes the gospel unique. But the gospel is unusual in that it backs up its claim in part by basing it on ancient prophetic themes that were fulfilled in Jesus. In other words if we go back to these ancient prophets we find them pointing in (their) future to Jesus. Or taken another way, it is like discovering that the Sequel (Jesus) is embedded into the Prequel (Old Testament) that predates it by hundreds of years.
In this session we consider these prophetic themes. There are many of these themes and I cannot cover them all, but we get a start so that we can get a better feel for this topic. When you go through the videos different explanations and hypotheses to explain the themes will likely go through your mind. They went through my mind anyways. Explanations that I considered were along the lines of:
– This could simply be due to chance. Unusual patterns do happen – and by chance. Perhaps this is a case of events in history being repeated so taken together they look just like patterns.
– The New Testament writers in essence made up large swaths of the Jesus story to make it fit with the Old Testament
– This is a case of over-imagination on my part.
This is the interesting part of this exercise – we all can come to our own conclusions as to the meaning of these prophecies. But may I suggest you consider these points as you reflect on the videos:
1) The Old Testament themes are explicitly forward-looking in a prophetic manner. This is not a question of simple pattern recognition where we ‘see’ patterns in the Old Testament which are repeated by Jesus – making the dual occurrences of the events look ‘prophetic’. These Old Testament writers, in effect, are going out on a limb by saying explicitly ‘X will happen’. To simply dismiss these themes as coming from over-imaginative or biased New Testament writers repeating a pattern of the Old Testament is too simplistic and does not capture the Old Testament utterances. Where do the OT writers get the confidence to predict and write down that certain things will come to pass?
This is corroborated in that there was (and still is) an expectation among the Jews that a ‘SomeOne’ was coming. This anticipation of a Coming One was because of these Old Testament themes that explicitly gave future-based predictions looking to a certain fulfillment. Whether Jesus fulfills them or not is another, but related, issue.
2) These themes that are developed in the Old Testament are not random but make sense of the person and career of Jesus. In other words, these themes are not meaningless ones but go to the heart of the significance of Jesus. If the themes are random in the sense that they are based simply on any patterns that repeat themselves then we would expect them (or some) to be patterns that have no meaning. But the Old Testament themes of ‘Branch’, ‘Christ’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Priest-King’ etc. are packed with meaning irrespective of whether they are fulfilled in Jesus or not.
3) The Old Testament prophecies come in definitive themes where the different Old Testament authors build and expand on specific themes inaugurated by predecessors that they did not know because they are separated in history by multiples of human lifespans. The interplay between these OT authors, most of whom could not have known each other, is remarkable. When I see the disagreements that arise between theologians of the same religion – and this across all religions – the fact that these OT writers could build such consistent and interdependent themes is remarkable and I think unique in literature.
4) At the same time these themes deal with different aspects of Jesus. Some deal with his identity, some with his lineage, others with his death etc. Like lines converging on a single point from various angles, these themes converge on Jesus from different perspectives.
5) Some of these themes are verified by sources outside the New Testament. So explaining the ‘fulfillment’ of these themes as simply due to the New Testament writers making up an account of Jesus to make it fit the Old Testament themes is too simplistic. Outside (usually hostile) sources corroborate Jesus’ name, lineage, date of death, place of death, impact of career etc. The New Testament writers could not simply have made this up.
6) There are many of these prophetic themes and it is the cumulative weight of them that should be considered. Probability theory tells us that the probability of multiple events occurring is the product of the probability of each event. So, for example, I show herein that the name of ‘Jesus’ is predicted. Let’s say we reason that 10% of Jewish males were named ‘Jesus’ then there would be a 10% chance of this prophecy being ‘fulfilled’ by chance. And similarly the chance that he would die in Jerusalem (as per Session 5) is (say) 10% since it was the religious and cultural capital and many came there and thus many would die there by chance. These prophecies taken separately are not too remarkable, 10% each I could estimate. But the probability of both of these occurring in the person of Jesus is the product of the two thus 1/10* 1/10 = 1/100. The odds have gone up a fair bit. And every time we factor in another theme we need to multiply the probability of that particular fulfillment with the others to get the total. So when we factor in that the prophetic sign (again as per Session 5) was that he was going to die on a Passover = 1/365, that he was going to be cut off 483 years after Artaxerxes decree (let’s estimate that one at 1/100), that he would come from the Davidic Dynasty (1/50 say), then we are now dealing with a probability of 1/10* 1/10 *1/365 * 1/100 * 1/50 = 1 out of 182 million and we have not started incorporating the details of his death as covered by Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Come up with your own odds for these events if you find mine too generous and you will still find that the odds grow very quickly indeed.
But probably the biggest hurdle that keeps us feeling the force of these prophetic themes is that they are partly obscured for us since we do not know Old Testament history and because we are not aware of the impact of the Septuagint on the translation of certain key names and titles. Please read posts ( I and II) on the Septuagint and the first video that will provide key background information to help us better understand what we encounter in the subsequent two videos that deal directly with these prophetic themes.
In the 2nd video I explore the Old Testament prophetic themes of `Christ`, ‘The Branch’, ‘Jesus’, and the ‘Priest-King’. I argue that these themes are prophetically fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. I show why the title ‘Christ’ = ‘Messiah’ = ‘Anointed One’, showing that this theme has its roots in the Psalms of David. I also show that ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’ and this was the name predicted by Zechariah which would be ‘The Branch’. I look at the prophecies stating that the roles of King and Priest – which was kept strictly separate in the Old Testament period – would one day be united in one person – The Branch.
In the 3rd video I explore the prophecies of Old Testament which describe in detail how the ‘Priest-King’ would atone for sin. First I look at Daniel who tells us when the ‘Christ’ was to come and then be ‘cut off’. His prediction looks about 500 years into his future and he lands on the time of the death of Jesus. How was he to be ‘cut off’? We look at Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 to see the detailed predictions of how he was to die. But Psalm 22 does not end with the death of Jesus – it describes the impact of his career to ‘future generations’ and they have come true. I also look at prophecies describing his nature
Blog Posts Related to this Session
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Hey Rag, I’m glad you made this post. I’m no expert on Biblical prophecies so I can’t contribute much to this discussion, but I have come across atheists with coherent responses. One is Ferrell Till, who wrote the following article (link: http://www.theskepticalreview.com/tsrmag/983front.html)
“What about all of the prophecy fulfillments? Biblicists almost always ask this question when their belief in biblical inerrancy is challenged. No doubt those who ask the question sincerely believe that prophecy fulfillment is irrefutable proof that the Bible was divinely inspired, but in reality the question reflects a naive view of the Bible for which no credible evidence exists. The “evidence” most often cited by prophecy-fulfillment proponents will usually fall into two categories: (1) Unverifiable claims by biased biblical writers that certain events fulfilled certain prophecies. (2) “Fulfillments” of prophecies that were probably written after the fact. Anyone can successfully refute prophecy-fulfillment assertions by simply demanding clear evidence when confronted with either category of claims. In other words, if a biblicist cites a New Testament claim that such and such event fulfilled such and such prophecy, simply insist on seeing reliable nonbiblical corroboration that the alleged fulfillment event actually happened. Herod’s massacre of the children in Bethlehem would be an example of an uncorroborated event. The massacre allegedly fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy (Matt. 2:18), but no one has ever found an extrabiblical source that corroborates the lone biblical reference to this event. If corroborating evidence of a fulfillment event should exist, then demand evidence that the “prophecy” of this event was undeniably written before the event. In the debate over Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy, which resumes in this issue of TSR (pp. 4-11), the demand for clear, undeniable evidence that this prophecy was made before the fact has proven to be an insurmountable hurdle for Dr. Price, who has yet to produce extrabiblical corroboration of the prophecy.
Another–and even more effective– counterargument to use against those who claim that prophecy fulfillment proves the inspiration of the Bible requires sufficient knowledge of the Bible to show that many Old Testament prophecies obviously failed. Anyone who is willing to put the time into learning just a few of those failures will have no problems rebutting the prophecy-fulfillment claims of any biblicists he/she may encounter. The prophetic tirades of Isaiah (13-23) and Ezekiel (24-32) against the nations surrounding Israel provide a treasure house of unfulfilled prophecies. Ezekiel, for example, prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Egypt and leave it utterly desolate for a period of 40 years, during which no foot of man or beast would pass through it (chapter 20), but history recorded no such desolation of Egypt during or after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
Ezekiel also prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre, which would never again be rebuilt (26:7-14, but Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Tyre failed to take the city, and Tyre still exists today. A curious thing about this prophecy against Tyre is that Isaiah also predicted that Tyre would be destroyed, but, whereas Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would be permanently destroyed and “nevermore have any being,” Isaiah prophesied that it would be made desolate only for a period of 70 years. A comparison of these two prophecies is an easy way to show the silliness of claiming that prophecy fulfillment proves the inspiration of the Bible.”
I don’t know about the dude’s first claim — you showed in Session 4 that many events in the Bible are corroborated by external sources — but what about unfulfilled prophecies?
HI Justin. You ask a good question (the unfulfilled prophecies of Tyre etc). May I suggest the following course of reflection. First consider seriously what I look at in the videos of this session. I am not sure you have done this yet because I deal with Till’s rebuttal #1 and #2. Some can fall in category 1, but I do not cover these. Some can also fall in category #2 but I also do not cover these. In other words, there are so many of these foretellings that one can pick several (and I do) that meet his objections 1 and 2. But you have to engage with the material in order to see it. There are good answers to Tyre etc. but they require more background knowledge to follow. And if one does not take the time to get a grasp of the basic and easy-to-verify and follow points one will not take the time to track the more specific ones. I plan to deal with some Old Testament foretellings of nations (like Tyre etc) later but the main point of the Old Testament writers was the coming Messiah. You should look at the videos and then go to his website and see if they address his points concerning the Messiah. Once that is done one can turn to more obscure (to us) issues like what happened to Tyre 2300 years ago.
You obviously don’t need me to admit it to know it’s true, but no, I didn’t watch the videos of this session. I didn’t watch them because I was fairly certain they would be addressing the stuff in Till’s first paragraph, which has already been debunked in my mind (which is why I said “I don’t know about the dude’s first claim” — though maybe I should have used “first paragraph”), either by your other videos or in discussions we’ve had in person. That being said, I probably should have left out that paragraph when copy-and-pasting. I just wanted to display the entirety of his argument.
I might also add that while I don’t study Old Testament prophecies, there are many who do — and yet they come to very different conclusions, so it can’t be as clear-cut as all that. I am thinking in particular of Jewish rabbis, who spend their lives studying this stuff, yet reject the New Testament.
Hi Justin. Yes you are right, many Jewish rabbis reject the New Testament. But if you look carefully at what I am saying this is not about the New Testament. This is about the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament. And I show that many things that the Old Testament prophets foretold are NOT only ‘fulfilled’ in the New Testament. I am not sure if you saw the videos because I emphasize that.