Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bible contains many failed prophecies

There are many prophecies in the Bible. Creationists insist that each and every one has come true or will soon come true. They contend that this huge number of fulfilled prophecies would not be possible unless the Bible was the word of God.

There are numerous problems with this claim.

First of all, there are actually a number of unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible. The Internet has web sites that list hundreds of unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible[1]. Creationists claim that those are generally unfulfilled simply because we haven’t waited long enough yet; they believe that those prophecies will come true in the future.

That’s sort of silly. I could predict that I will win the lottery and simply say each week that I don’t win the lottery that I haven’t waited long enough yet. Who would believe that?

But many of the unfulfilled prophecies simply can’t come true.

Some are fairly trivial, though to a Biblical literalist there is no such thing as a “trivial” problem with the Bible.

For example, Isaiah 19:18 says this:

“In that day five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD Almighty…”

The problem is that the Canaanite language was never spoken in Egypt and it is now a dead language. No one speaks it. I don’t believe that no one really studies the language any more. It is impossible to imagine any realistic scenario under which this prophecy could come true. Even as languages evolve (and they do evolve) there is no plausible way that anyone would adopt an old language not in use anywhere that lacks things like modern technical terms.

I have had creationists say that Hebrew was a “dead language” just like the Canaanite language when it was adopted by the Jewish people who created Israel in 1948. But note the differences. Hebrew was still actively studied because the Bible was written in that language. Many people understood it. Those things are not true for the Canaanite language.

There are some more significant failed prophecies, however. The most important ones are those that predict that Jesus would return soon after his crucifixion.

Here are a few examples:

In Matthew 16:28, Jesus says this:

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Matthew doesn’t stop there, adding this in verse 24:34:

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

Mark 9:1 says something very similar:

“He said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’”

As does Luke 9:27:

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

John 21:22 puts it a bit differently claiming that Jesus will return while John himself is still alive:

“Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’”

Since Jesus was crucified nearly 2000 years ago, it is safe to say that no one who heard him speak the words recorded in the Bible is still alive. For any Christian, knowing when Christ will return is a very significant piece of information which the Bible mistakenly prophesizes.

Creationists tend not to know about the relatively minor failed prophecies, such as the one about the Canaanite language being spoken in five cities in Egypt. But surely they know about the many predictions of Christ’s return within a generation of his death. So how do they explain this obvious problem?

They don’t explain it very well.

Here’s something that one creationist said in order to justify these prophecies:

> "This generation shall not pass" meant that the
> generation which will live in the time of the
> events Christ talked about will see those things
> what [sic] He predicted.

A “tautology” is defined like this:

“Logic - An empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.[2]

This defense is clearly nothing but a tautology. It is logically impossible to be false. The argument is that the people who are alive at the time that the events happen are the people who will see them. Really it says nothing at all. I can reliably prophesize that the team that wins the Super Bowl at the end of the next football season will be the team that celebrates winning the Super Bowl! I wonder what odds I can get in Las Vegas for that prediction.

So there are failed prophecies in the Bible.

[1] http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/proph/long.html, referenced on August 1, 2008
[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tautology, referenced on August 1, 2008

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