Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. (Jeremiah 14:14.)
In this relatively quiet period before the next semester begins, I’m moving forward on a project that I started some time ago, and which I think will make a nice addition to my essays.
The theme is biblical prophecies. One of the recurring arguments I hear from believers is that the Bible must be true because of the fulfillment of so many of its prophecies.
Over the ages, people have claimed to have the ability to predict the future. However, be it a Biblical prophet or a modern day astrologer, not one of these people has shown his or her skills to be resistant to careful scrutiny.
So, my aim here is to demonstrate that all the well-known prophecies in the Bible can easily be explained by mechanisms other than real clairvoyance.
The remainder of this post describes the format I use for my analysis, and the categories of explanations that most prophecies fit into. Here, though, is a list of the prophecies I have already analyzed:
I will publish a post on each prophecy. These posts will all follow the same basic format, made up of the following components:
- A description of the prophecy and its context.
- A straightforward interpretation of the prophecy’s success, as it might be gauged by an impartial, non-scholarly reader.
- An apologist’s interpretation of the prophecy’s success. This will comprise the most widely accepted interpretation of the prophecy among the Christian community.
- Explanation. An explanation for the prophecy that does away with the need for actual clairvoyance.
My explanations for biblical prophecies will generally belong to one or more of the following categories:
Self-contained fabrication: The prophecy and its fulfillment are both invented, at the same time, by a single author. There is no independent evidence that the prophesied event actually occurred, even though it is described by the author. (For instance, there is no archaeological evidence that the Israelites were ever enslaved in Egypt, despite biblical claims to the contrary.)
Ex eventu: An author reports an event that is known, through independent sources, to have occurred. However, for reasons perhaps known only to the author, a prophecy for the event is inserted into the text after the event actually happened (hence “ex eventu“).
High probability event: The prophecy predicts something that could easily have been foreseen by anyone, regardless of clairvoyant talent. For instance, someone might “prophesy” that his king’s army of 10,000 soldiers will defeat the enemy’s army of only 200. Well, duh.
Vagueness: Related to the high probability explanation, vagueness concerns prophecies that are so generalized and non-specific that any number of events could reasonably be assumed to fit the prophecy. Such prophecies are like seine fishing: cast a wide enough net, and you’re bound to catch something.
Fail. The prophecy fails because events do not unfold as predicted.
I do not consider any prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled. There is nothing at all remarkable about predicting something that hasn’t happened yet.