A Verdict That Defies the "Evidence"
By Bernard Katz
Copyright 1982 by The American Rationalist
The fundamentalist Christians have once again resurrected themselves,
like their Savior, to attack evolution and science, sexuality
and permissiveness, and whatever else they deem that does not
square with their viewpoint. To propagandise their beliefs, they
have built a vast communications network which includes books,
pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, and radio and television stations,
as well as the most sophisticated techniques for collecting the
necessary money to fuel these apologetic arms.
One of the many books used to buttress their Christian apologetics
is a compilation by Josh McDowell. His first volume is titled
Evidence that Demands a Verdict, published by the
Campus Crusade for Christ in 1972. Since it had gone through fourteen
printings by 1977 alone, it is important that its "evidence"
or arguments be closely analysed. I shall scrutinize parts of
chapter 11, "Prophecy Fulfilled in History," pages 277-333.
This deals with the whole idea of prophecy as well as how twelve
specific ones were actually fulfilled and for this reason constitute
"one of the great proofs that there is a living God behind
the Bible and history" (p. VIII).
To McDowell, a "prophet is someone who tells God's will and
the future to the people as divine inspiration leads" (p.
278). It follows that the fulfilling of these prophecies "is
not only a demonstration of God's power, but also of His answer
to man's prayers and needs" (p. 279).
Under the section on "Tests of a Prophet" (pp. 279-80),
McDowell, in interpreting chapter 13 in Deuteronomy, concludes:
"If a prophet presented fulfilled predictive prophecy, yet
claimed a theology out of keeping with the norm set down by Moses,
the people had a false prophet" (p. 280). This statement
alone, I should think, is enough to condemn the Christian religion
outright, for there is much in the books of Moses which contravenes
Christian theology. That is the reason why the crucifixion of
Jesus on the cross was such a scandal (Galatians 3:13). For the
Mosaic law laid down in Deut. 21:22-3 declares: "And if a
man committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death,
and you hang him on a tree... for a hanged man is accursed by
God.. ." Not only did Paul have to gather all of his powers
of sophistry to twist the ignomy of Jesus' death on a cross (or
tree) from one of great embarrassment to one of a positive good,
but Christians today are still struggling with this thorny problem.
One of the many dishonest techniques McDowell uses are sins of
omission. This is what I mean. He has just told us that
the test of a true prophet is found in Deuteronomy 13. But he
doesn't tell you to read further on, especially Deut. 18:21-22.
For here is another test to distinguish the true prophet from
the false. To the question "How do we know the word which
the Lord has not spoken?" the Scripture answers: '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 which the Lord has not spoken;
the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid
of him." And just two verses before this, we find that the
punishment for such presumptuousness is: ". . . that same
prophet shall die." Since it can be proven that many of Jesus'
prophecies were not fulfilled, and I shall do so later on with
one of them, then it follows that Jesus was rightfully executed.
In his next section, McDowell tries to anticipate a major objection
by critics of predictive prophecy. He says: "As far as the
question of dating prophecies goes, many people will attack predictive
prophecy from the standpoint of post-dating, that is placing the
prophecy after the event of the fulfillment rather than before.
Unfortunately for the critic, these prophets make their prophecies
very clear-the tenses are very obvious" (p. 280-1).
Unfortunately for McDowell, the dates he accepts for the various
prophetic books don't all hold up. For example, he dates the book
of Daniel at 605-538 BC (p. 281). This is clearly false according
to the prestigious Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible,
edited by James Hastings and revised by two top Protestant scholars
H. H. Rowley and F. C. Grant.
In the article on the book of Daniel, p. 200, we discover:"...
The relations between Syria and Egypt, from the 4th to the 2nd
centuries BC are described with a fulness of detail. . . the events
from 323 to 175 BC occupy 16 versus; those from 175 to 164 BC
take up 25; at verse 34 the lines become less definite, because
this is the point at which the book was written; at verse 40 prediction
begins, and the language no longer corresponds with the facts
of history. There can be little doubt that Daniel appeared about
Further on in the article we are told that: "The theological
features are what might be expected in the 2nd century BC"
So much for McDowell's uncritical acceptance of the date of 605-538
BC for the book of Daniel and his concluding assurance that the
Bible contains no post-dated prophecies!
Or take the date McDowell says the Jews who lived in Egypt translated
the Bible into Greek and his conclusions regarding the prophetic
books based on that date: "All of the Old Testament prophets
were translated into Greek in the Greek Septuagint by about 280
BC Therefore, we can assume that all of the prophets (including
Joel and Obadiah) were written before this time" (p. 281).
This is simply not so according to another highly reputable source,
the Abingdon Bible Commentary, edited by F. C. Eiselin,
E. Lewis, and D. G. Downey. In the chapter "The Transmission
of the Old Testament," pp. 103-4, we are given this information
about the Septuagint: "The books were translated at different
times by men unequally prepared for the task, the whole process
extending over a period of approximately two hundred years, from
about 250 to 50 BC" Notice that where McDowell says that
the cut-off date for the Greek translation is about 280 BC, Professor
I. M. Price, author of the Abingdon article, tells us that that
is when the translations were actually started!
In regard to the dating of Ezekiel, which has been the subject
of much controversy, McDowell uses as a witness the famous archeologist
W. F. Albright who, according to McDowell, stated this in his
The Old Testament and Archeology:".. this critical
attitude [i.e., to the dating of Ezekiel] is not justified in
the least, and to his way of thinking [i.e., Albright's], there
seems to be every reason for going back to a more conservative
This statement, unfortunately for McDowell's case, is contradicted
by the very same Albright, who says in his From the Stone
Age to Christianity, p. 326: .... . it is clear, however,
that the manuscript tradition [i.e., of Ezekiel] must have been
very corrupt, since the present massoretic text is full of doublets
and conflate readings, many of which were not yet incorporated
in the recension used by the Greek translators of the second century
BC" Since McDowell places the book of Ezekiel at 592-570
BC, we have caught this apologist through his own witness!
That last major criticism regarding McDowell's assumptions concerns
his statement which has already been quoted but bears repetition
because of its importance: "Unfortunately for the critic,
these prophets make their prophecies very clear- the tenses are
very obvious" (underlining mine).
But, as the following citation will show, this is not true. One
of the specific predictions taken up by McDowell to prove his
case is that of the prophet Nahum's prophecy about the destruction
of Nineveh. Here is what Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
says on page 686 in its article on Nahum:
"Did Nahum prophecy before, during, or after the faIl of
Nineveh? Did he predict its fall, or only describe it after the
event? Scholars are divided on the answer to these questions.
Some of the verses use the Hebrew imperfect, and seem to point
to the future, such as 2:13; 3:5-7, 11, 15. Other verses are so
vivid and realistic in their description of the attack on the
city and its downfall that they appear to have been written after
Nineveh's capture, such as 2:1, 3-10; 3:1-4, 12 f., 18 f. Under
the principles of Hebrew syntax, the imperfect verbs may be translated
by the English present tense. It is to be considered as possible
that Nahum began to write, or to proclaim his message orally,
before or during the siege of Nineveh and completed it after the
successful capture. The last two verses.. appear to look backward
rather than forward" (underlining mine).
I believe this citation refutes McDowell's claim that "the
tenses are very obvious," as well as his declaration that
there are no post-datings in the writings of the prophets!
It should also be brought to the reader's attention that McDowell
has committed another "sin of omission" in his presentation
of the destruction of Nineveh, and that is that such a prophecy
was revoked in the book of Jonah. Here we find Jonah complaining
to God because God had destroyed the plant which was shading the
prophet. So God rebuked Jonah saying: "You have had pity
for the gourd, for which you have not labored nor made it grow,
which came up in a night, and perished in a night; and should
not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city..." (Jonah 4:10-11).
That the prediction of Nahum was annulled by the later book of
Jonah is proven by the dates in which the two books were written.
Nahum's is dated around 612 BC whereas Jonah's falls between 400
and 200 BC. By these "sins of omission" McDowell perpetuates
the great evil of dishonesty.
So much for McDowell's prologue. Let's scrutinize some of the
specific prophecies he uses for "Christian evidences."
He starts off with those concerning the ancient city of Tyre because
the prophecies about its destruction are so easily proven. McDowell
refers to chapter 26:8 of Ezekiel which predicts that "Nebuchadnezzar
will destroy the mainland city of Tyre."
To avoid confusion and to add precision to this prediction, it
should be pointed out that Tyre consisted of a mother-city located
on an island off the east coast of Palestine and a trading colony
situated across from it on the mainland. McDowell assumes that
the prediction applies to that part of Tyre located on the mainland
because on page 281 he says: "The mainland city of Tyre was
destroyed in 573... but the city of Tyre on the island remained
a powerful city for several hundred years." (If only part
of the city were destroyed, how can the prediction be true?)
But there are two further objections. One is that McDowell has
actually misread the Scripture! The actual biblical passage, and
McDowell gives it correctly on page 285 is: "He (i.e., Yahweh)
will slay your daughters on the mainland with a sword..." Now
McDowell thinks this refers to the main or "mother"
city of Tyre. But he's got his P's and Q's backwards! The metropolis
of Tyre was actually on the island fortress and the so-called
mainland city was what we would today call a suburb. How do we
know? Because the text tells us so. It says: "He will slay
your daughters on the mainland..." (underlining mine). All
ancient cities which sent out colonies designated them as either
"sons" or "daughters," depending on whether
the inhabitants were kin-folk or simply allies. In this case the
Tyranians on the mainland were allies and so were labelled "daughters."
Therefore the prediction of Ezekiel means the opposite of what
The second objection is much more serious, and is once again due
to McDowell's "sins of omission." To see that Ezekiel's
prophecy did not come true, all one has to do is to read two chapters
further on, to Ezekiel 29:17-20. Here he will be shocked, if he's
a Christian in the mold as McDowell, to find that Ezekiel admits
that he was wrong in this prediction; that Nebuchadnezzar never
"got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had
performed against it. Therefore says the Lord God... I will give
the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar." In other words, after
Ezekiel admits he was in error, he says that the Lord will recompense
the king of Babylon with Egypt for his troubles against Tyre!
Why doesn't McDowell point this out? Because his best evidence
of a fulfilled prophecy would, naturally, explode his whole argument.
After all, selectivity is the basis of Christian apologetics!
There is not space to demolish each of McDowell's examples on
which his Christian "evidence" is based. I simply picked
his best shot. Yet I want to investigate briefly one more which
I had earlier promised to do. This deals with a so-called prophetic
fulfillment from the New Testament by Jesus (p. 321).
According to chapter 11 in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus
(that paragon of loving kindness) pronounced the judgment of destruction
on four cities-Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Tiberias-for
not believing in his gospel.
Now McDowell states: "Three of these cities have perished.
Only the last named is standing today" (p. 321). If Tiberias
has never been destroyed, how could Jesus' prophecy of four cities
destroyed be considered true? Wouldn't you conclude that McDowell
has blown himself up on his own bomb? Now to the remarks contained
in McDowell's conclusion. He states: "What seemed to be a
great blow to the Christian faith, the Moslem invasion of the
Holy Land and the eventual military failure of the Crusades, is
in reality a great victory for the Christian. The Moslems catalyzed
the final sealing of many prophecies. How many condemned cities
in this study alone fell during or directly because of the Crusades
and Moslem invasions? It is rather ironical that the apparent
enemy of Christianity is, after closer study, the principal pawn
used by the Lord to complete his purpose in the Church Age"
Try convincing a Moslem with that kind of sophistry! Just as the
fall of Jerusalem to the Romans was proof to the newly formed
Christian groups that God had abandoned his people the Jews and
had accepted in their place the "New Israel" of pagans,
so the Moslems interpreted their victories over the Christians
as the ascendency of Allah over the deity of their enemies.
There is another important objection: the predictive prophecies
were not for the far distant future, hundreds of years after the
oracle was proclaimed. If the people addressed by the prophet
had to wait beyond their lifetime for its fulfillment, what good
was such an oracle to them?
Here is what The Abingdon Bible Commentary says in
the chapter on "The Prophetic Literature," page 152:
"Though prediction is not of the essence of prophecy, the
prophets were as vitally interested in the future as they were
in the present. . . Their predictions bore mainly on the immediate
future. While in details they might be vague, and occasionally
mistaken..." (underlining mine). You must admit that the
appraisal given by the Christian scholars in the Abingdon
Commentary are much closer to the truth than McDowell.
As has been frequently pointed out, McDowell commits "sins
of omission." Some of what McDowelI should have included
if he really were telling the truth can be found in the new and
prestigious Encyclopedia Judaica's article "Prophets
and Prophecy," vol. 13, p. 1167: "Furthermore, several
occasions are specifically recorded in which an oracle delivered
by an acknowledged true prophet did not materialize in the manner
in which he predicted-even within his own lifetime! Only a few
examples of unfulfilled prophecies need be cited: Jeremiah predicted
an ignominious end for King Jehoiakim (Jer. 22:19); yet II Kings
24:6 clearly belies this oracle. Ezekiel predicted the destruction
of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (26:7-14), but later acknowledged that
the king's siege of the city was unsuccessful (29:17-20). Both
Haggai's (2:21-23) and Zechariah's (4:6-7) glorious anticipation
and designs for Zerubbabel never materialized."
As you can see, there is no contest between this passage of intellectual
honesty and McDowell's mendacity! His dishonesty undermines the
hard won achievements and credibility of scholars in his own field
and sows confusion and distrust among the unsophisticated.
The only conclusion, I firmly believe, which one can come to is
that McDowell has based his so-called fulfilled prophecies on
ersatz proofs and that his is "a verdict that defies the evidence!"