I was doing some research recently for a lengthy (book length!) project I am working on and was searching Amazon for some books on Bible prophecy. I came upon a work by John Walvoord called Every Prophecy of the Bible. It looked interesting, so as always, took a look at the high reviews as well as the low reviews. I looked at the one star reviews and came upon one by a user named “gavin.”
I was perplexed by his (a male, judging by the picture) objection to confirming the Bible as true through prophecy. He wrote, “The book basically runs off a list of biblical prophecies that have supposedly been fulfilled. Amazingly pretty much all the evidence for these so called fulfilled prophecies comes from the same book making the prophecies in the first place ie the bible.” He then proceeded to ridicule Christians who do believe this as holding to an “infantile” belief.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have seen an objection like this. Put simply, the objection is that the Bible can’t confirm itself, because that would be a circular argument. In other words, one can’t use material from one part of the Bible to confirm other parts of the Bible because then one is arguing for the truth of the Bible from the Bible.
Most people should immediately see what the problem is. Although the Bible as we have it today is a single “book” in the sense that its contents share the same binding, it is really a collection of independent works written across over a thousand years by various authors in different parts of the world. In other words, the Bible is not “one book,” at least in the sense that one needs to maintain for this objection. Thus, if there is a prophecy found in one book which we know to be earlier than a book which is later that records its fulfillment, then there seems to be at least some evidence, prima facie, for the truth of the prophecy. (Of course this would be contingent upon the historical accuracy of the books, etc., etc. but the simple fact of an alleged prophecy’s existing before its fulfillment is an interesting facet to consider.)
A friend, Anthony Weber, made an analogy: think of the Bible as a library of books. Would it not be silly to think you couldn’t pull one book of the shelf and say that it confirmed another book? Suppose each book was about history, and one made a mere mention of a topic, while another featured a more detailed description. Would we not be surprised if someone came along and objected, saying “Well, they’re in the same library, so we can’t trust them!”
Christians need to realize that this has implications for doctrine as well. For example, those who maintain inerrancy–and I strongly believe that consistent Christians should do so (see my arguments to this end and defense of the doctrine here)–may be concerned that viewing the Bible in this fashion comes in danger of breaking it up piecemeal and pitting each segment against the others. But this is not what follows at all. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgment that the Bible is a collection of works in different genres written at different times in different places which, when put together, form a coherent whole.
Concluding call for intellectual honesty
In light of what I have explored, I want to first issue a call to the atheists out there: I know that you (atheists) do not all hold to objections like this and would find someone else using this objection a bit alarming. I call you to challenge your fellow atheists to a more honest interaction with positions of faith. If you want to criticize someone else’s position, fine. But do it without completely misrepresenting them. Call out your fellow atheists when they try to put forth this kind of drivel as a serious objection to Christianity. I try to call out fellow Christians when they do the same with other views.
To my fellow Christians: be aware that objections like these are not the backbone of atheism. Frankly, I think people like “gavin” are just grasping at anything to maintain unbelief and ridicule others they choose to look down on as “infantile.” Let’s engage with people who make these objections, but if they persist, dismiss the objection as the ridiculous notion it is. Finally, if you catch yourself treating the Bible like one book without any distinction in genre, time, place, etc., stop yourself. It is important to note the Bible is united in message, but God used different people as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It wasn’t delivered all by divine dictation.
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If you are researching Bible prophecy, please consider two thoughts that I have come to believe as of paramount on this subject:
1) All Bible prophecy is ultimately of Christ
2) All Bible prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ (including the Second Coming)
The point of these two thoughts is that God is faithful to His word and that Christ is His central and all-consuming work.
Frankly, I think people like “gavin” are just grasping at anything to maintain unbelief and ridicule others they choose to look down on as “infantile.”
I’ve also encountered “Gavin” and this is fairly representative of the depth of his commentary.
I agree about our need to hold each other to the highest possible standards, and I cringe when I see Christians acting and writing without charity – this is totally against our own belief and doctrine, so undermines what we have ot say.
“Thus, if there is a prophecy found in one book which we know to be earlier than a book which is later that records its fulfillment, then there seems to be at least some evidence, prima facie, for the truth of the prophecy.”
If I order a glass of scotch at the bar, and it is delivered to me, is that evidence of prophecy? Or did someone merely hear (or read) what I said and, since the results weren’t hard to supply, fulfilled my request?
That analogy is a far cry from having one historical book confirm another. Moreover, the analogy is clearly contrived, for it doesn’t actually match anything regarding prophecy. That is, how, in any way, is ordering a glass of scotch at a bar analogous to making a prophecy of, say, the coming of four successive kingdoms, each more powerful than the last, the last of which will be a unification of various peoples and so crumble eventually under its own weight?
Again, I walk up to a bar, sit down, and tell someone whose job it is to provide me with what I order to provide me with a scotch. In the other case, I write down a ‘prediction’ of sorts that some series of historical events will take place. Show me how those two are similar, please.
“That is, how, in any way, is ordering a glass of scotch at a bar analogous to making a prophecy of…”
You’re right. The ordering of scotch is much more specific and evidence based.
“Show me how those two are similar, please.”
“Hey, this book says that our new leader will enter the city riding a donkey. Quick, somebody find a donkey!”
Right, so this is the typical objection that people went around intentionally fulfilling all the prophecies. Apart from being question begging, it has little to do with the actual argument in this post.
And, as I noted, hardly does anything to many of the prophecies of the Bible (such as the one in Daniel about the four kingdoms). I guess you’d also argue that the nations of the world got together and conspired to fulfill that prophecy as well.
“Right, so this is the typical objection that people went around intentionally fulfilling all the prophecies. ”
Not necessarily. People could also have ‘fulfilled them’ because prophecies are vague and easy to ‘fulfill’ by simply saying they have been.
So, the Roman executioner’s of Christ pierced his side, broke his legs (things that were never done), gambled away his garments all in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, which they would have known well as Roman polytheists and pagans. Since he was being crucified as a blasphemer and a threat to the State, they wanted nothing more than to show that he was indeed the promised saviour and Messiah.
Take this argument and apply it to the hundred other specific prophesies and I think you can see that it holds no water..
“So, the Roman executioner’s of Christ”
Was reported and recorded by non-eye witnesses years later by people who had access to the original prophecies.
Not convincing. In the least.
It is a sad reality that some folks are that shamefully ignorant. I encountered a similar objection when I presented the case for resurrection of Jesus. The objection was that all references(Mark’s, Paul’s, and other NT writers) were from the same book written over c. 2000 years by Middle East peasants.
Thank you for leading the battle against ignorance that hinder some folks to seriously examine the truthfulness of Christianity.
“..Not convincing. In the least…”
I assume that you’ve studied these things, so all I can say is that whereas the evidence is not convincing in the least to you, it is very convincing to many.
I am a scientist, and I have a very high standard of proof. I came to an assent to the veracity of Christ as God through a methodical and thorough study. The cumulative case was rather more overpowering than I had imagined. Since that time, many years ago, every further area of inquiry has only confirmed this truth.
My point is that the same evidence, when seriously investigated and understood has led many of us to a strong belief and faith in Christianity. An attitude of openness, an understanding of our presuppositions, world-view, and unexamined assumptions, and a willingness to follow the evidence wherever it might lead, is all crucial to discovering or getting closer to the truth.
“I am a scientist, and I have a very high standard of proof.”
Sorry, but you really don’t.
And the standard you do have isn’t even consistent. If it were, you’d believe the claims of all those who say that they were abducted by aliens. Because as anecdotes go, those ones are stronger than the ones about Jesus.
Because I sense that you have little interest in knowing the truth and seem to not have done much homework, I think there’s nothing more I can say. Mr. Daniel’s comment seems to apply here.
The main objection against the fulfilled prophecy argument is that it is never possible to prove that the prophecy in question has not been written after the event .
I am certainly open to the supernatural and genuine prophecies but there is just no way to show it occurred that way.
As for the Chicago version of inerrancy, I consider its falsity to be extremely likely .
Let us consider the numerous atrocities found in the Old Testament , such as God ordering soldiers to murder babies and toddlers or God ordering to stone women having been raped and not having dared scream.
There are basically two explanations.
A) the morally perfect Almighty Creator of everything gave these commands
B) people at that time projected their thoughts, prejudices and sins on Him.
Which is the most likely one?
Holding fast to the Chicago statement of inerrancy has disastrous consequences for Evangelicalism for it leads a growing number of Evangelicals to give up their faith altogether and become militant atheists because they rightly recognize the extreme spuriousness of apologists such as William Lane Craig or Paul Copan trying to defend the morality of these horrors.
These militant atheists have become completely close to the Gospel and view the whole Bible as an evil book similar to Mein Kampf.
I had a discussion with such a former Evangelical (which I highly recommand you to read) and it was truly depressing.
While I find you bring forward many interesting and smart ideas, I am convinced you are dead wrong about the Chicago statement of inerrancy which leads to an intellectual disaster.
Friendly greetings from Europe.
Regarding prophecy being written after the event–we know that this is not the case for at least some prophecies. For example, the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea scrolls predates the time of Christ. Thus, the objection is unfounded (and question begging).
Regarding the atrocities: first, I would argue that the language you use is intentionally tilted to try to question God. Frankly, I think it is fairly absurd to think that humans are capable of judging God. But that type of answer doesn’t seem satisfactory for others (and sometimes not for myself). Thus, I would also point out (as I have in the past) that I simply think your literalistic interpretation of these texts is more of the problem than the texts themselves.
In your own post on the topic, you wrote: “While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even tough [sic] human beings are faillible creatures they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong…”
This statement confuses the capability of humans to judge their own actions morally right or wrong with the capability to judge God. One must, I think, seriously think about this confusion. How did questioning God’s motives turn out for someone like, say, Job? Right… God demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Job simply doesn’t have the cognitive capacities to judge God. Your own judgment of God, I think, deserves a similar answer. You presume much when you sit in the judgment seat and tell God what is perfection and not.
[And I want to emphasize I think a huge part of this problem is your own literalistic reading; I wonder whether you keep it up throughout the Bible.]
Again you bring up the notion that the Bible may be viewed as evil by atheists if certain portions are true (in a sense with which you disagree). Once more, I say: and? I thought we were concerned with truth; not with modifying the truth whenever it is convenient. If something is true, we don’t go around changing it because other people might be offended by the truth.
Thus, regarding your comment, I first think that you are overly literalistic in your reading of the Bible. Second, I think that you set yourself above God as judge of the earth. Third, I think your concern is demonstrably not with finding truth. I know these are strong words, but I think they’ve been fairly demonstrated.
So it is never possible to judge God, right?
Suppose that terrorists say God ordered them to blow up a building and rape the surviving children before the very eyes of their terrified parents.
Could someone (knowing nothing about the Bible) say: “A morally perfect could never have done that?”
Or should he say: “Well we don’t have the abilities to know what a morally perfect being could or could not do?”
If the first answer is the right one, it seems you also believe that one can judge God’s morality.
If you opt for the second one, we have absolutely no common ground.
I do want to find truth and correctly interpret the Biblical texts in their historical contexts.
But then I consider what they wrote as human words about God rather than sentences directly stemming from the mind of the Almighty.
I question the morality of their theology in the same way you question the morality of the theology of Christian authors between 400 AC. and the modern time.
I am not a Protestant and don’t view the Bible as being more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books.
Finally, the prophecies of Isaih referring to Jesus can be very well explained away as the Gospel writers fitting their description of Christ’s life to them.
Once again, I am completely open that people in the past really got supernatural messages about the future.
But it cannot be proven because the Skeptic can always say:
1) the text has been written after the event
2) the text has been edited after the event
3 the description of the event has been distorted so as to fit the prophecy.
This is why I am agnostic about the validity of these prophecies, I neither accept nor reject them.
Please don’t view me as your foe.
I have nothing against you and am very willing to expose my ideas and writings to criticism in order to improve them.
If you know examples of prophecies where all three loopholes can be closed, I would gladly accept this.
Lovely greetings from Europe.
The analogy you provided is a false analogy because it confuses subjective communications from God with the word of God as written. That is, we already have divine revelation in the word of God; this is not to say God cannot reveal other truths, but to turn around and compare whatever one may claim is a revelation from God with the explicitly affirmed Scriptural revelation simply does not work.
You wrote, “But then I consider what they wrote as human words about God rather than sentences directly stemming from the mind of the Almighty.”
Despite cutting against the grain of essentially the whole of Christian interpretive history, this statement is unsupported by argument. It seems to me your position is once more setting itself up as the judge of what God may or may not do; in this case, despite what the Scriptures themselves affirm, God is incapable or unwilling to give propositional knowledge via revelation to human beings. Moreover, this statement continues the confusion I have sensed in other comments from you, wherein you seem to present the alternatives as either the most extreme literalism or utter reduction of the authority of the Scriptures. I’ve said it many times: this is a false dichotomy. Repeating it doesn’t make it less so.
Regarding prophecy: your rejection (?!) of prophecy seems grounded in the notion that so long as there is a way to deny its truth, we should not affirm it. Your methodology would essentially force us into skepticism about everything. I’m not sure why you take such a radically skeptical view of prophecy, but consistently applied, you would have to be radically skeptical about any and all truth. Consider the claim which you wrote: “I… don’t view the Bible as more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books.” If I were to apply the criteria of truth you applied to prophecy to this statement (namely, any possible skeptical position, if even epistemically possible, undermines a truth claim), I could easily point out that: “It is possible God gave some books more authority than others.” Unless you were to assert this is, in fact, impossible, then by your own standards of truth you should hold your own affirmations from an agnostic perspective.
Thus, I am forced to conclude that so far you have provided no good reason for the rejection of inerrancy. Moreover, the only reasons you have tried to provide for rejection of prophecy (or, a standard of agnosticism towards it) leads to agnosticism towards any truth claim which has any possible counter-claim. As I reject radical skepticism as an epistemological framework (and see no reason for accepting it), I find the arguments presented here unconvincing.
I fail to see how to believe that
“1) the text has been written after the event
2) the text has been edited after the event
3 the description of the event has been distorted so as to fit the prophecy.”
commits me or anyone else in principle to a position of radical skepticism.
Do you know examples of prophecies were these three possibilities can indeed be ruled out as extremely unlikely?
I am not asking that to challenge you.
I am genuinely open to that possibility, does not reject it out of hand and would be extremely glad if you were to give me interesting links where these criteria are met.
The usual apologetic stuff I have read until now (McDowell and many others) was not very promising, though.
I sincerely hope you have not taken offense at anything I have written until now.
It is rather hard to guess the feelings of someone you have only interacted with using Internet messages and I apologize if I unwittingly bothered you.
Friendly greetings from Europe.
I am not at all upset. I’m enjoying our conversation.
I wasn’t saying the three possibilities you wrote entailed radical skepticism. Rather, the principle you seemed to invoke. When your comments are viewed in full:
The line of reasoning was like this: “I am open to prophecy… but it cannot be proven because someone ‘can always say’ 1-3… therefore, I am agnostic.”
That same line of reasoning is devastating for the truth value of any contingently true proposition. I just got home from work. It is possible [to use your terminology, ‘the skeptic can always say’]: 1) I am lying; 2) I have been kidnapped by a mad scientist and had my memories changed; 3) my comment got stuck in internet limbo for an hour before posting so it is not accurate.
Now we follow the exact same reasoning you used in regard to prophecy: “I am open to the notion that you just got home from work… but it cannot be proven because of 1-3… therefore, I remain agnostic.”
I could construct endless numbers of just such parallel arguments. The difficulty with your view is not with prophecy; it is with your epistemology.
I entirely agree that epistemology is of crucial importance, actually I wrote a long post arguing that debates between Skeptics and believers can often be traced back to disagreement about the principle “Extraordinary claim demands extraordinary evidence” or if the phenomenon in question should be viewed as extremely unlikely to begin with.
I think that if we content ourselves with normal evidence, then we have good grounds for seeing a residual number of UFO cases as being real and having involved some kind of foreign intelligence (which could be made up of deceitful spiritual beings).
It is true that Skeptics speak of reliable witnesses having a stable psychology having experienced hallucinations in situations where such a claim would be considered as utterly ludicrous if it had involved some mundane claims about drug trafficking.
But if you yourself explain away UFO cases in the same way, you are in a very weak position to believe in Biblical prophecies.
For the evidence about residual UFOs in the twenty century are far more stronger than that of old prophecies dating back to more than two millenniums.
The bible is written by many prophets following the times that went by. You are right the bible isn’t just one book. It is based on many biblical stories.
After explaining that the Bible is a collection of books, as J.W. has done, I like to use the encyclopedia analogy that you can’t use anything within the encyclopedia to prove anything else within the encyclopedia because it’s all one book.