# Prophecy Fulfillment and Probability PROPHECY FULFILLMENT AND PROBABILITY Farrell Till Bib

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Prophecy Fulfillment and Probability

PROPHECY FULFILLMENT AND PROBABILITY

Farrell Till

Bible apologists love to use probability arguments, and most readers
have undoubtedly encountered them in apologetic literature. Some
situation perceived to prove either the existence of God (life
developing from nonlife) or the inspiration of the Bible (prophecy
fulfillment) is analyzed in terms of likeliness or probability.
Most of these arguments, of course, are based on purely arbitrary
factors selected to make the theistic or biblical position look
good. I have yet to see one that can survive careful scrutiny.

At the debate in Portland, Texas, that Earle Beach referred to
in the foregoing article, my opponent applied probability to the
prophecy-fulfillment argument. He mentioned several times how
truly amazing it was that so many Old Testament prophecies had
been fulfilled precisely and exactly in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
His premise was that over 300 such prophecies were made and later
fulfilled. At one point when he was under cross-examination, he
stated that the probability of any 50 of these prophecies being
precisely fulfilled was 11 sextillion 250 quintillion to one.
The figure written out would look like this: 11,250,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Since the statement was made under cross-examination, I could
not respond directly to it without calling for a resumption of
time, and at the moment I was pursuing a line of questioning that
I wanted to continue. In reviewing the tapes, I was reminded that
I forgot to return to this issue to show the absurdity of the
statement, so I will do that now. If Mr. Dobbs wishes to respond
to my comments, we will gladly publish his statement in the next
issue. My prediction is that he won't respond. If he doesn't,
I wonder what he would say the odds are that I could make a prophecy
like this and have it fulfilled.

The major problem with Mr. Dobbs's argument is that it simply
assumes that prophecies were both made and fulfilled, but he has
no real evidence to support those assumptions. As I did point
out in the debate, when these fulfillment claims are studied within
their original contexts, one can easily see that most of them
had nothing at all to do with the applications that New Testament
writers arbitrarily gave to them. An excellent example would be
the one that Earle Beach cited in his article. [ref001]Jeremiah 31:15
is a statement that in the original context was referring
Jeremiah figuratively referred to this as Rachel weeping for her
children, but within the context of the statement, there was a
promise in the very next verse that these children would "come
back from the land of the enemy." Obviously, then, Jeremiah
was in no sense talking about a brutal massacre of Jewish children,
so to twist the passage and give it the application that Matthew
did can only be seen as an act of desperation on the part of someone,
with no real evidence on his side, trying to prove that his man
Jesus had fulfilled Jewish prophecies of the coming Messiah. When
we add to that the complete lack of reference in contemporary
secular histories to Herod's slaughter of the innocents, we have
compelling reason to believe that this event that Matthew claimed
was a prophecy fulfillment never even happened.

In his article, Earle Beach mentioned that the dangerous-child
myth on which this story was obviously based is a common theme
in pagan religions that antedated Christianity. Space won't allow
a review of all these myths, but the Hindu version is worth looking
at, because it is strikingly parallel to Matthew's story. According
to Hindu literature, when Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the
god Vishnu, was born to the virgin Devaki, he was visited by wise
men who had been guided to him by a star. Angels also announced
the birth to herdsmen in the nearby countryside. When King Kansa
heard about the miraculous birth of this child, he sent men to
"kill all the infants in the neighboring places," but
a "heavenly voice" whispered to the foster father of
Krishna and warned him to take the child and flee across the Jumna
river. (In this Hindu legend, we recognize many other parallels
to the infancy of Jesus other than the dangerous-child element.)
In _Bible_Myths_and_Their_Parallels_in_Other_Religions_,
author T. W. Doane cited a work by Thomas Maurice, _Indian
Antiquities_, vol. 1, pp. 112-113, which described an "immense
sculpture" in a cave-temple at Elephanta that depicts the
Indian children being slaughtered while men and women apparently
representing their parents are standing by pleading for the children
(p. 167).

A study of pagan mythology would establish similar parallels in
the stories of Zoroaster (Persian), Tammuz (Babylonian), Perseus
and Adonis (Greek), Horus (Egyptian), Romulus and Remus (Roman),
Gautama (the founder of Buddhism), and many others, because various
elements of the dangerous-child myth can be found in the stories
of all these pagan gods and prophets. All of these myths antedate,
usually by many centuries, Matthew's account of the massacre of
the children at Bethlehem. Krishna, for example, was a Hindu savior
who allegedly lived in the sixth century B. C., so when a study
of ancient world literature shows that an unusual event like the
slaughter of the innocents seemed to have happened _everywhere
_, reasonable people will realize that it probably happened
_nowhere_ or, at best, that it happened only once
and was thereafter plagiarized. Since the story occurs many times
before Matthew's version of it, we can only conclude that no such
event happened in Bethlehem as Matthew--and only Matthew--claimed.
Just like that, then, Mr. Dobbs finds one of his fifty amazing
prophecy-fulfillments vaporizing right before his eyes.

If space permitted, I could easily establish that many of the
other alleged prophecy fulfillments in the life of Jesus have
their parallels in ancient mythology. Mr. Dobbs alleged that the
miracles of Jesus had been prophesied in Isaiah 53:4-5, his crucifixion
in Psalm 22:16, his resurrection in Psalm 16:10, and his ascension
in Psalm 68:18. Examination of these passages in context, however,
reveal the same problem that Earle Beach and I discussed above
relative to Jeremiah 31:15. The statements are notoriously obscure
and become prophecies only through the arbitrary claims of the
New Testament writers who lifted them out of context and applied
them to situations that the original writers were not referring
to. So there is no way that anyone can establish that these "prophecies"
were originally intended to be prophecies. All we have is the
mere unsubstantiated word of the New Testament claimants that
they were meant to be prophecies, and that is not a good enough
foundation to build a probability argument on.

To that problem must be added the one cited above. Christianity
is not the only religion to claim that its savior performed miracles,
was crucified, was resurrected from the dead, and ascended into
heaven. Hindu writings attributed all of these to Krishna. In
fact, the lives of Jesus and Krishna, as related in the respective
literatures of their followers, are so strikingly parallel that
reasonable people can only conclude that the New Testament gospel
writers borrowed many of their ideas from a savior mythology that
had evolved long before the first century. In fact, virgin-born,
crucified and resurrected saviors were as common as dirt in pagan
mythology, and if that does not destroy probability arguments
(as they pertain to prophecy fulfillment) in the minds of Mr.
Dobbs and all others who see merit in them, then they are obviously
determined to believe the folly of the Christian myth no matter
how compelling the evidence to the contrary.

Another fallacy in this probability argument is that it completely
discounts the possibility of deliberate contrivance. At one point
when I was the cross-examiner, I pressed Mr. Dobbs to tell the
audience if it would be at all possible for someone to study the
Old Testament scriptures, interpret a number of obscure passages
as prophecies, and then write a biography of a fictional character
to make it appear that all of these "prophecies" had
been fulfilled in his life. The tapes will show that Dobbs desperately
three times.

In a letter to fundamentalist writer Chuck Missler, Jim Lippard
very effectively addressed this same issue in commenting on a
probability argument that Missler applied to prophecy fulfillments:

(Y)ou estimate the probability of a Messiah claimant entering
Jerusalem on a donkey based on how many candidate Messiahs have
done this, assuming (without evidence) that it is less than one
in a hundred. Not only is this probably wrong, the correct question
to ask is, "How many prospective Messiahs, knowing of the
existence of this prophecy, would bother taking the trouble to
fulfill it?" It's not as though entering Jerusalem on a donkey
is beyond the capacity of a human being to intentionally fulfill.
I'd assess the probability as on the order of one in one (June
8, 1993, p. 2).

My purpose in questioning Dobbs was to show that these alleged
prophecy fulfillments never even happened, that the gospel writers
simply went through the Old Testament looking for statements that
they could construe as prophecies and then wrote the biographies
of their Messiah to make it appear that all of the prophecies
had been wonderfully fulfilled. Lippard's approach was to show
that, even if the acts of "prophecy-fulfillment" actually
did happen, they could have been done deliberately in order to
give the pretending Messiah occasion to claim that he had indeed
fulfilled the Jewish prophecies. Either way of looking at it,
there would be nothing exceptional to claim, in this case, about
a man riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. How many Jews descended
from Abraham through David can we suppose rode into Jerusalem
on a donkey at one time or another? Any one of them could have
claimed that he had fulfilled this "prophecy."

With this background established, I can now demonstrate the absurdity
of Dobbs's probability argument. I have not had an expert on probability
factors check the argument to verify that the probability against
the fulfillment of "any fifty" of the "more than
300" prophecies about Jesus would be over 11 sextillion to
one. For the sake of argument, I will simply assume that the math
is correct. If the figures are correct, all that Dobbs has accomplished
is to show that the odds against his being able to prove that
50 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the life of Jesus
would be 11 sextillion to one.

To show why this is so, let's return to the slaughter of the innocents.
The claim was made that this event was prophesied in Jeremiah
31:15, so we will let this "prophecy" be number one
on the list of fifty. To begin proving his probability argument
Dobbs would have to demonstrate _ABSOLUTELY_, beyond
_any_ question, that Jeremiah intended the statement
as a prophecy of Herod's slaughter of the innocents. If there
is any doubt at all that Jeremiah so intended the statement, then
no fact of prophesy utterance has been established. Since I dispute
that this was what Jeremiah meant and since there are hundreds,
even thousands of others like me, who also dispute it, this is
positive proof that Dobbs has not yet established beyond even
reasonable doubt, much less _absolute_ doubt, that
Jeremiah's statement meant what it must mean in order to be a
prophecy. Let's assume, however, just for the sake of argument
that Dobbs could prove that Jeremiah did mean for the statement
to be a prediction of the slaughter of children at some time in
the prophet's future. After he has done that, Dobbs must then
prove _ABSOLUTELY_ that Herod's massacre of the children
at Bethlehem can be established as a historical fact. The complete
absence of any reference to such an event by any other New Testament
writer or any secular historian contemporary to the times makes
this an impossible task for Dobbs or anyone else. However, if
an event that is allegedly a prophecy fulfillment cannot be factually
established, how can any rational person contend that it was a
prophecy fulfillment?

Again, for the sake of argument, let's assume that Dobbs could
somehow prove that Herod's massacre of the innocents did in fact
occur. At that point, all he would have accomplished is to prove
that ONE--just one--prophecy was fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
Now he would have to take the 49 others and go through the same
process, one by one, painstakingly proving in each case that (1)
the original statement was indeed intended as a prophecy of something
that would happen in the life of the Messiah and that (2) the
event prophesied did in fact happen to Jesus. This would necessitate
taking the prophecy claims about the virgin birth of Jesus, the
miracles he performed, his triumphal entry, his betrayal, his
crucifixion, his treatment during the crucifixion, his resurrection,
his ascension, and forty-one other alleged prophecy fulfillments
and proving what was hypothetically proved about the slaughter
of the innocents. No reasonable person can believe that Dobbs
or anyone else could possibly do this, because the very moment
that the least element of doubt arose in any one of the 49 remaining
steps (after proving prophecy fulfillment in the massacre of the
innocents), the entire probability argument would collapse like
a house of cards.

So if Mr. Dobbs's math is correct in his calculation of probability,
the odds against his proving that Jesus fulfilled 50 different
prophecies would be over 11 sextillion to one. So much for probability
and prophecy fulfillment!

[ref001] http://www.calvin.edu/cgi-bin/bible?Jeremiah+31:15

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