A long time ago I read a book which (primarily) examined a bunch of Biblical prophecies which had come true in verifiable history, and attempted to estimate the mathematical probability of this happening by guesswork. The book was Science Speaks, by Peter Stoner, a college professor of mathematics and astronomy, and I have just found it is now available on the internet.
Of course the study found that it was quite implausible that these correct prophecies could have been made by chance, and I remember being very impressed at the time. But the argument for the truth of the Bible from fulfilled prophecy has since fallen on hard times. Should we be using it today?
Criticisms of the argument include:
- Some events in the life of Jesus are said to be in fulfillment of prophecy, but the original Old Testament passage was not, it is argued, a prophecy at all.
- It is often disputed whether a prophecy was actually fulfilled in history. In some cases believers and sceptics use the same example but make different assessments of it. Some prophecies are fuzzy enough to make their fulfillment a matter of interpretation.
- Some prophecies have not yet been fulfilled, apparently, but may still be in the future. This make sit hard to assess the overall picture.
- To make a fair assessment would require assessing every prophecy in the Bible for its probability, and comparing the cumulative probability of the ‘successes’ with that of the apparent failures.
Assessing the arguments
At The fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy I have begun the process of assessing the argument overall and individual prophecies, beginning with a famous oracle by Ezekiel against the city of Tyre. I will add more reviews in coming days.
What may we conclude?
- Scholars have long recognised that the essence of prophecy is not so much prediction as a message of warning or encouragement. We misrepresent prophecy if we forget this.
- Even when prophecy is predictive, it generally takes a long term perspective (fulfillment may occur in stages) and is more interested in God’s message than the details. It is notable that when Jesus and the New Testament writers quote Old Testament prophecy, they do not always take a literalist view.
- Ezekiel’s prophecies concerning Tyre were loosely fulfilled, but only partly fulfilled literally. We need to be careful in using them to make claims they do not necessarily support.
- By the same reasoning, we need to be very sure of our historical ground before we use any argument from prophecy. Much that is written lacks rigorous assessment. But if we do our history well, I think a useful argument may perhaps be constructed.
Does any reader have any prophecies they think are good (or bad) examples of fulfilment?