From *The Skeptical Review*, May/June 1998:
By Farrell Till
What about all of the prophecy fulfillments? Biblicists almost always ask this question when their belief in biblical inerrancy is challenged. No doubt those who ask the question sincerely believe that prophecy fulfillment is irrefutable proof that the Bible was divinely inspired, but in reality the question reflects a naive view of the Bible for which no credible evidence exists. The "evidence" most often cited by prophecy-fulfillment proponents will usually fall into two categories: (1) Unverifiable claims by biased biblical writers that certain events fulfilled certain prophecies. (2) "Fulfillments" of prophecies that were probably written after the fact. Anyone can successfully refute prophecy-fulfillment assertions by simply demanding clear evidence when confronted with either category of claims. In other words, if a biblicist cites a New Testament claim that such and such event fulfilled such and such prophecy, simply insist on seeing reliable nonbiblical corroboration that the alleged fulfillment event actually happened. Herod's massacre of the children in Bethlehem would be an example of an uncorroborated event. The massacre allegedly fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy (Matt. 2:18), but no one has ever found an extrabiblical source that corroborates the lone biblical reference to this event. If corroborating evidence of a fulfillment event should exist, then demand evidence that the "prophecy" of this event was undeniably written before the event. In the debate over Jeremiah's 70-year prophecy, which resumes in this issue of TSR (pp. 4-11), the demand for clear, undeniable evidence that this prophecy was made before the fact has proven to be an insurmountable hurdle for Dr. Price, who has yet to produce extrabiblical corroboration of the prophecy.
Another--and even more effective-- counterargument to use against those who claim that prophecy fulfillment proves the inspiration of the Bible requires sufficient knowledge of the Bible to show that many Old Testament prophecies obviously failed. Anyone who is willing to put the time into learning just a few of those failures will have no problems rebutting the prophecy-fulfillment claims of any biblicists he/she may encounter. The prophetic tirades of Isaiah (13-23) and Ezekiel (24-32) against the nations surrounding Israel provide a treasure house of unfulfilled prophecies. Ezekiel, for example, prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Egypt and leave it utterly desolate for a period of 40 years, during which no foot of man or beast would pass through it (chapter 29), but history recorded no such desolation of Egypt during or after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
Ezekiel also prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre, which would never again be rebuilt (26:7-14, but Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre failed to take the city, and Tyre still exists today. A curious thing about this prophecy against Tyre is that Isaiah also predicted that Tyre would be destroyed, but, whereas Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would be permanently destroyed and "nevermore have any being," Isaiah prophesied that it would be made desolate only for a period of 70 years. A comparison of these two prophecies is an easy way to show the silliness of claiming that prophecy fulfillment proves the inspiration of the Bible.
As noted in my exchanges with Matthew Hogan on Ezekiel's tirade against Tyre (September/October 1997; November/December 1997), Ezekiel clearly predicted that Tyre would be destroyed, become a bare rock and a place for spreading nets, and would be built no more forever (26:7-14, 21; 27:28; 28:19). As Ezekiel did, Isaiah in his prophecies of destruction against the nations around Israel also predicted the overthrow of Tyre. In 23:1, he said, "The burden of Tyre. Howl, you ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Kittim it is revealed to them." The prophecy continued in typical fashion through the chapter, predicting waste and devastation, but beginning in verse 13, Isaiah indicated that the destruction of Tyre would be only temporary, not permanent:
- Look at the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people; it was not Assyria. They destined Tyre for wild animals. They erected their siege towers, they tore down her palaces, they made her a ruin. Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for your fortress is destroyed. From that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the lifetime of one king. At the end ofseventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song about the prostitute: Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten prostitute! Make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered. At the end of seventy years, Yahweh will visit Tyre, and she will return to her trade, and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. Her merchandise and her wages will be dedicated to Yahweh; her profits will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who live in the presence of Yahweh.
So Ezekiel predicted a permanent destruction of Tyre that would last forever, but Isaiah predicted just a temporary destruction that would last only 70 years or the estimated lifetime of one king. The fact is that neither prophecy was ever fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre forever, and it was never made desolate for a period of 70 years. Even when Alexander the Great succeeded in his campaign against Tyre in 332 B. C., the city was soon rebuilt (Wallace B. Fleming, The History of Tyre, Columbia University Press, p. 64) and has existed ever since. Matthew Hogan was objective enough in his consideration of the evidence to admit later that Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre had failed ("From the Mailbag," TSR, March/ April 1997, p. 12), but regardless of whether this prophecy failed or succeeded, it was impossible for both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies against Tyre to succeed. At least one of them had to fail, and so proponents of biblical prophecy fulfillment have a problem that they must explain. If the Bible was really inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, why would he have directed one prophet to predict a temporary destruction of Tyre and then later direct another prophet to predict that Tyre would be destroyed forever and never be rebuilt? A likely answer is that neither prophet was divinely inspired; they both simply blustered in the exaggerated rhetoric typical of biblical prophets and, working independently, contradicted each other.