Here is the second answer provided to me in the My Questions for a Bible School Student series, again with some commentary and response from me. As explained in more detail in part 1, my comments are meant to provide some intellectual challenges and potentially-new information of the kind that I wish I had confronted at the Bible school stage of my life (or sooner). Please assume a gentle tone, as tone is not easily conveyed.
Now let’s talk about prophecy…
Question From Me
Why is it more reasonable to believe that Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by actual historical events in Jesus life, rather than view them as legends that sprung up among wishful thinkers who wanted connections to their old book?
Answer From Student (with my commentary)
“Again, this question boils down to whether or not you believe in the legitimacy of Scripture. If you believe that the Old and New Testaments are self-contained and consistent within itself, then it will be the most reasonable explanation.”
The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations lists over 40 New Testament-era books written about Jesus that were not included in the Bible canon because they were considered fiction, not counting those we don’t know about lost to history. These 40 compared to 4 gospels (or 27 New Testament books). On a statistical basis, how can one say that accuracy is “most reasonable”? Even if there is a mountain of external evidence for the four selected, surely fraud is the default position given the numbers.
If you already believe it’s true, then it seems true?
“To reject this one would have to completely ignore the fact that Jesus, after His resurrection appeared to more than five hundred eye witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6) who could have contested to His resurrection if it were a fake.”
On what basis would a person consider this appearance to be a fact?
Interestingly, this verse is literally the only place — biblical or extra-biblical — that this 500 person claim is made. And Paul, the person who made the claim, explicitly says in the same verse that he was not one of them. He was not a witness, by his own words. (Some say this passage is actually a creed that Paul is reciting, but that just makes the history on it murkier.)
For the sake of argument, let’s say that I take to the news and claim, “Donald Duck performed a concert for 500 fans 10 years ago.” Whom would you propose should come forward to contest this? You weren’t at the concert, on that basis would you speak up? Who could possibly provide evidence that such a thing didn’t happen?
Alternately, how do we know that this wasn’t highly contested at the time?
“The life and death of James is very highly recorded by many sources,”
Do you mean the James, the brother of John, who was reported killed by Herod in Acts 12? The only other source I can find is a mention by church historian Eusebius written in the fourth-century — he quotes a lost work by Clement of Alexandria who himself is retelling a story “from those who had lived before him”. That was 300-year-old fourth-hand gossip at the time of writing.
Or perhaps you mean the James, brother of Jesus, mentioned in one sentence of Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1? For the sake of argument, I could leave out my “fruit of a poisonous tree” objections of the earlier Testimonium Flavianum forgery, and count this. But as James’ death isn’t mentioned in the Bible, this would still be just a single source.
“and it would be completely illogical for those who gave their lives for this ‘superstition’ that Josephus mentions to die in such brutal ways for something that was either a lie, or not even thought of at that time.”
Please research how you know how the apostles died. The Bible describes Judas and James, son of Zebedee, so you can just focus on the other ten. What sources tell us how they died? What sources tell us why they died? Could any of them have saved themselves by recanting their claims? (Spoiler – There are no church-accepted sources that tell us any of this. It comes only from sources considered apocryphal and outright heretical. But please research yourself.)
As a short-cut, I do actually go through all twelve fates in my recent An Evidence Attested Resurrection? post, along with my thoughts on the idea that resurrection wasn’t what the apostles were looking for. (Which is, I suppose, tangentially related to the “wishful thinking” prophecy question.)
“Here is a link listing forty-four separate messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in His life with the Old Testament prophecies and New Testament fulfillments.”
I’m quite familiar with the lists (some are 100 or 300 long) of supposed prophecy fulfillments. Unfortunately, none of them can be confirmed to have been fulfilled. Most aren’t even prophecies, just cherry-picked phrases from irrelevant passages. Embarrassingly, two of these prophecy fulfillments were based on errors in the Greek translation of the Hebrew (virgin will give birth, and two donkeys on Palm Sunday). See my Prophecy or Easter Eggs? Jesus’ Secret Origins post for excruciating detail.
When I was at Lucasfilm, I had the pleasure of working with the story group whose responsibility it was to ensure that new stories added to the Star Wars universe were consistent with the established stories. Often we would point out ways that the new stories could connect with the old. To borrow your phrase, the Star Wars universe was “self-contained and consistent within itself”. And yet, it is fiction. It was written to be thus.
My question was, why is it more reasonable to look at the gospels as prophecy fulfillment rather than a sequel designed to fit the original work? The gospel writers often made explicit connection, so they had access to the old material when writing the new, and demonstrated clear motivation to make the fit.
Your answer asserted Jesus’ resurrection as fact, along with the life of James. While these did not address the question of prophecy, this was presumably to help attest to the general reliability of the gospels (though these examples were from Corinthians and Acts).
However, there are at least 40 false gospels that you would call fiction, many of which contain details you consider historical (Pilate, resurrection, etc). In addition, there are other gospels for other non-Jesus messiahs from other Jewish sects at the time, with some historical details about Roman occupation. In addition, there are non-Jewish religious texts from the same region and period, prior to Constantine making Christianity the state religion. All of these you consider to be fiction. Per my question, since the vast majority are fiction, why would treating these remaining four also as fiction an unreasonable position?
I’ve written before that for a prophecy to be a falsifiable prediction, it must be made clearly and demonstrably prior to the events predicted, intended to be a prediction, an extraordinary non-mundane claim, answerable by a single clear verifiable occurrence, not open to interpretation and not something people are actively working to fulfill. Of the list you supplied, I don’t see any that match. Oddly enough, the Jews are heirs to these prophecies, and they are not convinced either.
I completely agree with your assessment that “this question boils down to whether or not you believe in the legitimacy of Scripture”. It is reasonable to take the writers at their word, only if you already take them at their word.
How would you have answered this question? How would you have responded to the answer? Where did I go wrong, or too far, or not far enough? Or miss the point? Let me know in the comments below.
Stay tuned for question #3.