According to Live Science, “most experts think planet Earth can support about 10 billion people”: https://www.livescience.com/16493-people-planet-earth-support.html. By then, we will be obliged to turn vegetarians because it will be too uneconomical to rear animals (livestock or poultry) for meat. The video says that if all the 3.5 billion acres of farmable land on Earth is converted to grow food for people, and we all become vegetarians, the planet can only support 10 billion people at most.
Confirming this, in his book “The Selfish Gene,” evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes,
“The present population of Latin America is around 300 million, and already many of them are undernourished. But if the population continued to increase at the present rate, it would take less than 500 years to reach the point where the people, packed in standing position, formed a solid human carpet over the whole area of the continent. This is so, even if we assume them to be very skinny—a not unrealistic assumption. In 1,000 years from now they would be standing on each other’s shoulders more than a million deep.” (p. 111)
1,000 years is not that far away: considering that, according to “Wikipedia,” we humans have existed for 300 times as long: “Homo sapiens … [is] the only extant member [of the genus Homo]. Anatomically modern humans emerged around 300,000 years ago in Africa”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human.
If, by any chance, some readers think that this problem of overpopulation is limited to the Latin American continent, think again. This is what theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes about the world’s future in his book The Universe in a Nutshell.
“If the population growth and the increase in the consumption of electricity continue at their current rates, by 2600 the world’s population would be shoulder to shoulder, and electricity use will make the Earth glow red-hot.” (p. 158)
Is there a solution?
I think there is a rather simple solution that does not require abortion or sexual abstention. In my opinion, abortion at any stage is the equivalent of murder because, once a human zygote is conceived, there is no way one could re-conceive that future individual. Although helpless, as a unique future person, it should be protected as a baby normally is. This is not the case if some form of ‘non-abortive’ contraception is used during sexual intercourse because the zygote is not conceived yet.
The formula for population growth, starting from a single couple, is as follows:
Pn = 2x[C(n-y+1)]x[Cy-1]/[C-1] (from In the Minds of Men by Ian Taylor, p. 440), where Pn is the population in n generations; n is the number of past and present generations = (elapsed time)/(average lifetime); y is the number of living generations (e.g., y=3 if grandparents live to see grandchildren), and C is half the number of children per female.
According to this formula, assuming an average of only three children (C=3/2=1.5) per female and people living an average of fifty-odd years, it will take approximately 30 years for the world population to grow from approximately 8 billion to about 10 billion. In other words, according to Live Science, we should be seeing a global population crunch in the next generation or so.
So what is the solution?
The interesting thing, in the above formula, is that if (C=2/2=1), there will be no population growth: it will remain relatively constant. Consequently, we must, voluntarily, limit the birthrate to two children per female using non-abortive contraceptives, without our trying to choose their sex either, because it creates other problems.
My (nominal) Church, the Roman Catholic Church, is very wrong in disallowing any use of contraceptives (apart from the rhythm method): I guess it wants more children so that it can grow numerically.
There are various temporary methods of non-abortive contraception: mechanical, chemical, and hormonal; the most common are the condom, a spermicide, and the pill respectively. There are also permanent methods of contraception: a vasectomy for men and a tubal ligation for women. To prevent global overpopulation, the important thing is that every female limits her lifetime offspring to only two births.
On the other hand, I think the Catholic Church is right in disallowing abortion. I’m sure there will be many women who will disagree with me here, claiming that they have the right to do what they like with their own body. The fact is, however, during pregnancy, besides one’s body there is another person involved: the zygote, embryo, or fetus. And when it comes to ‘choice,’ one doesn’t really have a choice to do something wrong. Not only that, but even those women who generally disagree with abortion object strongly to retaining the zygote, embryo, or fetus to its completion (birth) in the case of rape. However, fact is the unborn offspring is innocent as it did nothing wrong. Besides, “two wrongs do not make a right”: murder doesn’t fix the rape. Naturally, the newborn may be given up for adoption, once it is born.
I can almost hear some women retort that I’m saying this because I am a man; but, very often, one shouldn’t be emotionally involved to be truly able to discern what is right or wrong—albeit I understand the aversion of bearing a child under such repulsive circumstances, and I do admit it might be very difficult to come to terms with it. Of course, whatever decision the mother makes, God alone will be her best judge.
In my opinion, the only circumstance in which abortion is justified is when both the mother’s and the baby’s life are threatened, say during childbirth. In such a case one should usually make the decision to save the mother as she’s more important to the family than the baby: one sacrifices a life for another’s life. In that case, I think, God is asking the husband to make a quick decision, and not to wait for nature to take its course, as the Catholic Church suggests: that is, letting one of them die; it might then be too late to save the other. This is like grabbing and saving one of two children who are drowning: when one knows full well one cannot save them both—a life for another life. One doesn’t wait for one of them to die: that might be too late.
If you liked this article, kindly marked “liked” in the “blog” of my website. You may also leave a comment, especially if you disagree with some points.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene; New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006. (ISBN 9780199291151)
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell; New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2001. (ISBN 055380202X)
For those readers who might be interested in buying any of my books, following are the publisher’s (iUniverse’s) links. If you find the hard copies expensive, the soft copies are only US$3.99 each. Should you decide to buy any of my books, kindly also remember to leave a review after reading it (2 or 3 sentences would do).
The number 666 supposedly refers to the “Antichrist.” Who is this Antichrist? Is it the incarnate son of the devil to come at the ‘end of the world? Church Father Origen of Alexandria (185–254 CE) thought he is “the son of the wicked demon, and of Satan, and of the devil”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antichrist. Indeed, most Christians believe that in the ‘end times,’ that is, just prior to Jesus’s Second Coming, the devil will impregnate a woman (or a jackal as in “The Omen” movies)—the same way Jesus, the Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Spirit. They also believe that he will possess (both politically and magically) great power on earth and cause global havoc to our noble spiritual values. This article tries to answer these questions.
Source and Interpretation
Let us first see where “666” and the concept of the “Antichrist” come from.
(1) In the last book of the Bible, the “Book of Revelation,” we read,
“Here is wisdom [needed (NAB)]. Let him that hath understanding count [calculate] the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six .” (Revelation 13:18, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice especially the clause, “it is the number of a man.” Now, keep in mind that most Christians believe the Bible is God’s word and that the Book of Revelation, especially, foretells what will happen in the end times.
(2) Church Father Irenaeus of Smyrna (c. 130–202 CE) was “certain” that this number represents the number of the name of the Antichrist: in the introduction to book 5 chapter 30 of his treatise Against Heretics, he writes,
“Although certain as to the number of the name of Antichrist, yet we should come to no rash conclusions as to the name itself, because this number is capable of being fitted to many names.” (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm, emphasis mine)
Now, let us see what modern biblical scholars think. The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible that prides itself of 1,200-odd biblical scholars with an advanced degree in biblical studies irrespective of religious affiliation—the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA). Commenting on Revelation 13:18, it has,
“Each of the letters of the alphabet in Hebrew as well as in Greek [the language in which Revelation was originally written] has a numerical value. Many possible combinations of letters will add up to 666, and many candidates have been nominated for this infamous number. The most likely is the emperor Caesar Nero, the Greek form of whose name in Hebrew letters gives the required sum. (The Latin form of this name equals 616, which is the reading of a few manuscripts.) Nero personifies the emperors who viciously persecuted the church.” (NAB, Revelation 13:18n)
Notice the clause, “the Greek form of whose name in Hebrew letters gives the required sum,” as well as the ‘hint’ Revelation’s author gives the reader, “Let him that hath understanding.” The book was written in code form under the very noses of the watchful Roman colonizers: only ‘insiders’ could understand the real meaning.
Every one of the Greek letters of the alphabet, when written with a horizontal bar on top, represented a number instead of a letter. Here’s the list of Greek numerals: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_numerals. Scroll down to the first table and look at the “Byzantine” column for the numbers 6, 60, and 600, respectively: so 666 would look something like ‘XES’ (i.e., χξϛ) (in Greek numerals, χ represents 600, ξ represents 60 and ϛ represents 6). Unlike our 666, it’s not something like ‘SSS’ (i.e., ϛϛϛ).
In the introduction to the Book of Revelation, the New American Bible states,
“Revelation … abounds in … symbolism … one of the chief characteristics of apocalyptic literature. … Such literature enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian circles from ca. 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. This book contains an account of visions in symbolic and allegorical language … it was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis. The book itself suggests that the crisis was ruthless persecution of the early church by the Roman authorities; the Harlot Babylon symbolizes pagan Rome, the city of seven hills (17:9). … The author of the book calls himself John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), who because of his Christian faith was exiled to the rocky island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony.” (NAB, pp. 385–86, emphasis mine)
So, it’s easy to see why the book was written in ‘code form.’ Note also that the author uses Babylon, the nation that exiled the Jews and caused them so much heartache, when referring to Rome; but ‘insiders’ knew what he was talking about. In 17:9, the author again gives the reader a clue:
“Here is [a clue for (NAB)] the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” (Revelation 17:9, KJV, emphasis mine)
616—The Number of the Beast
The New American Bible also states that,
“The Latin form of this name equals 616, which is the reading of a few manuscripts.”
I thought I’d add the following video to convince the reader that the number 616 is indeed the original ‘number of the beast.’ The speaker of the following video is the founder and executive director of the ‘Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts,’ senior professor for the ‘Research of Studies of the New Testament’ at the ‘Dallas Theological Studies,’ and consultant for several Bible translations. Between 1:05:15 and 1:08:45, he confirms and discusses the textual difference (616 versus 666) in two manuscripts that he viewed personally. As one can see in the following video, the number 616 was found underneath (overwritten by) the number 666: so it must be an earlier or older version of the Bible: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ5cgQUJnrI. The speaker is a believer in the Bible’s infallibility. I suggest one views the entire video: it shows how reliable the copying of biblical manuscripts has been over the centuries.
Irenaeus knew about this discrepancy but he dismisses it as a scribal misprint; he writes,
“I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one. (I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.)” (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm, emphasis mine)
However, the Greek letter ‘xi,’ ( ξ ) representing the number 60, looks like a ‘3’ facing the other way; it’s a far cry from an ‘iota’ ( ι ), which looks like an ‘i.’ In my opinion this explanation is farfetched: especially when one considers the fact that the same ‘error’ (never a different/random letter) is made on several (“some,” per Irenaeus) manuscripts.
It wasn’t a typo! At the turn of the first century CE, there were two predominant languages: Greek, the literary language, and Latin, the language of the people in the entire Roman Empire. Most ordinary people wouldn’t have known who the ‘beast’ was if they had to know Nero’s name in Greek rather than in Latin. So, the original number was 616, but then later scribes, realizing it was a Greek document anyway, probably thought it was more appropriate to refer to Nero’s name in Greek (using Hebrew letters, of course—code-form, remember?).
In the interest of fairness, in their footnote on Revelation 13:18, the biblical authors of the New American Bible also opine that,
“It has also been observed that ‘6’ represents imperfection, falling short of the perfect number ‘7’ [for the Jews—e.g., the days of the week], and is represented here in a triple or superlative form.” (NAB, Revelation 13:18n)
I’m afraid I must disagree with this interpretation because, as I already mentioned in passing above, the biblical author would have written something like ‘SSS’ (i.e., ϛϛϛ) for ‘666’, not something like ‘XES’ (i.e., χξϛ). The ‘imperfect number’ for the Jews is ‘6’ ( ϛ ), not ‘60’ ( ξ ) or ‘600’ ( χ ).
The Roman emperor Nero is a thing of the past, not of the future: there are no prophecies in the Book of Revelation; so don’t be scared of whatever it says. This confirms what I showed in two of my previous articles concerning “Bible Prophecies”: there is no such thing as biblical prophecies.
Irenaeus of Smyrna, Against Heresies translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1: edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885). Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm.
New American Bible: Revised Edition; “translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources” by (1200-odd biblical scholars with an advanced degree in biblical studies irrespective of religious affiliation of) the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA), authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010: ISBN 9780899429519. (NAB)
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)
For those readers who might be interested in buying any of my books, here are the Amazon links. (Select “Buy on Amazon,” right click, then select “Open link in new window.”) If you find the hard copies expensive, the soft copies are only US$3.99 each. Should you decide to buy any of my books, kindly also remember to leave a review after reading it (2 or 3 sentences would do).
(1) Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation:
(2) Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation:
(3) Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines:
Christianity believes the Bible is packed with prophecies because it is God’s Word, and he knows the future. I this article, I shall address supposed biblical prophecies claimed by Christian denominations and determine whether they are genuine.
I think the examples of biblical prophecies Jehovah’s Witnesses give in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? are typical representatives of what the majority of other Christian denominations believe. They are staunch believers and defenders of the Bible, so all their accounts are biblically attested: needless to mention, most, if not all, Christian denominations never question the Bible’s text anyway. So, I shall use their examples and arguments as a template for the belief of mainstream Christianity in biblical prophecy. (Please note that I am not talking about their theology and practices here, which admittedly might be well outside that of mainstream Christianity, but strictly about the prophecies they perceive in the Bible.) I am confident the reader will agree with me regarding this topic after reading this article.
To start with, they claim there are many ancient prophecies in the Old Testament that transpired in such minute detail that many Bible critics argue they were written after the fact. Of course, they object strongly to such a suggestion; they assert, biblical prophesies that came true are evidence of divine inspiration, not of late authorship (p. 117). I do believe in miracles, and I would therefore have no problem believing in prophecies as well. However, can it be shown, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they were not indeed after-the-fact reports? This is the question this article will try to answer.
As their first example, Jehovah’s Witnesses mention Isaiah’s late-eighth-century-BCE supposed prophecy of the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah (consisting of the two Hebrew tribes of Judah and Benjamin), which was to be carried out by Babylon, even though it was very unlikely at the time it was reportedly prophesied. Jeremiah reiterated the prophecy one-hundred-odd years later, that is, a few years before it indeed happened.
According to Isaiah, around 703 BCE (NAB, Isaiah 39:1n), God allowed King Hezekiah of the kingdom of Judah to recover from a mortal illness (NAB, Isaiah 38:5n); after which, he was visited by a Babylonian delegation. At this, the king might have felt somewhat important and started to show off his treasuries; more than likely, however, it was because he wanted to set up an alliance with Babylon against the Assyrian Empire, which had previously annihilated the other ten northern Hebrew tribes in 722 BCE. The prophet Isaiah objected strongly to this, maintaining that the king should rely solely on God’s power of deliverance, not on Babylon’s help.
I don’t think I would have agreed with the prophet Isaiah because I believe that “God helps those who help themselves”: not to just sit there and wait for God’s intervention or deliverance. By the same token, I don’t agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assessment of the situation: namely, that Hezekiah’s best defense was to trust in God rather than seek Babylonian assistance (p. 118). I think this is equivalent to trying to sell a product that doesn’t work. Normally, God does not come down with his angels to defend the righteous: occasionally, I surmise, he uses human means (other people, say) to achieve his aims—if indeed he does. Take, for example, a good man like John the Baptist; God did not come to deliver him: he was beheaded by evil people (see Matthew 14:3–13).
Of course, Hezekiah’s showing off his treasures may not have been a prudent action; it shows indiscretion: it might even have stirred up envy or dreams of plunder in the neighboring nation. Moreover, I’m not condoning the king’s policy of social injustice and frivolity at the time, to which Isaiah also objected strongly; evil has a tendency of catching up on one, in the long run, and making one suffer the consequences of one’s actions. Anyway, following this incident (i.e., around 703 BCE), Isaiah reports,
“Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left,” saith the Lord.’” (Isaiah 39:5–6, KJV)
For the next one-hundred-odd years, Judah’s kings, in general, persisted in their evil ways; so again, around 605 BCE the prophet Jeremiah renewed Isaiah’s prophecy (NAB, Jeremiah 25:1–14n):
“Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; ‘Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ saith the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’” (Jeremiah 25:8–11, KJV, emphasis mine)
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses sketch the following approximate history concerning the kingdom of Judah: (a) 612 BCE, Jeremiah made the above prophecy; (b) 608 BCE, Judah became part of the Babylonian Empire; (c) 605 BCE, a few Jews were taken captives, and some of the Jerusalem Temple wealth was taken to Babylon; (d) 601 BCE, Judah revolted against Babylon; and (e) 597 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, appropriated all its wealth, and took many Jews captives into his kingdom: thus, confirming Jeremiah’s (as well as Isaiah’s) prophecy (p. 119).
Now, according to the New American Bible (which is a Catholic Bible), the above prophecy was originally made by Isaiah himself (NAB, p. 863), so there is no way he could have known beforehand what would happen one-hundred-odd years later: considering that Babylon was still a relatively weak nation back then, and Assyria, at that time, was still a very strong nation. Although it does not specify exactly when it was going to happen, at first blush, it seems like a genuine prophecy.
One problem in checking this out is that our earliest manuscript of Isaiah only dates back to 150 BCE—at best: it was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts. Luckily enough, unbelievable correspondence was verified between the present version of Isaiah and this complete copy found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. If one excludes the time following the invention of the printing press, one notes that Isaiah was copied faithfully from the middle of the second century BCE to the middle of the fifteenth century CE: that is, about sixteen centuries.
It is only reasonable, then, to assume that it was copied faithfully prior to that: that is, from the eighth century BCE to the second century BCE, which is only about six centuries. Still, even so, it might be difficult to convince skeptics who refuse to believe such a thing. Why? According to the New American Bible, more than a third of Isaiah was written, by disciples of Isaiah, many years after his death: it contends that chapters 1 through 39 were written by Isaiah himself starting around 742 BCE, chapters 40 through 55 were written before the end of the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE, and chapters 56 through 66 were written before the building of the second Temple in 515 BCE (NAB, pp. 862–63).
It is not unheard of that religious people try to make God look better than he, in fact, reveals himself to be: thinking that, by so doing, they are doing him a favor or giving him commendable service. In reality, God does not need the manipulation of evidence to hold his own: one should let the dice fall whichever way they will; that is good enough for God because he is always on the side of the truth. Conceivably, therefore, pseudo-Isaiah writing Second Isaiah (i.e., chapters 40–55) could easily have tweaked the text in First Isaiah.
If, for example, authentic Isaiah simply expressed his concern about the then-current social injustice and/or Hezekiah’s indiscretion in showing his treasures, someone much later, during the time of the Jews’ exile, could have added the prophecy of Judah’s fall. I am not saying this is what happened—I don’t know; but it shows a plausible scenario undermining one’s belief in prophecies, and hence, in the inspiration of the Bible. Needless to add, the onus of proof lies on the Bible believer’s shoulders.
So, to summarize, is the above recorded prophecy of Isaiah genuine? In my opinion, it can go either way: it’s possible but not provably so. The odds turn heavily against its authenticity when one considers the evidence we have of later editing by disciples of Isaiah: such as the one we encountered in my previous article “Bible Prophecies (Textual)” in the section on “Emmanuel,” namely, the addition of Israel’s demise after sixty-five years from the time of the alleged prophecy to Ahaz (see Isaiah 7:9). Unfortunately, we shall encounter more instances of tweaking in Isaiah later in this article. So, I doubt whether Isaiah’s alleged prophecy, regarding the Jews’ exile to Babylon, is authentic: there are a too many question marks.
I also lean toward disregarding Jeremiah’s prophecy since it started to transpire only four years later. Given the then-current situation of social injustice, frivolity, and Babylon’s strength, human intuition could possibly foresee the future that far. Not to mention (as we shall see more clearly in the section on “Christ”), the fact that the Babylonian exile only lasted fifty-seven years—rather than seventy years as reportedly foretold by Jeremiah—shows that Jeremiah’s so-called prophecy was partly wrong anyway.
The second example in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book is Ezekiel’s foretelling the destruction of Tyre. Ezekiel was a Jewish priest who was deported to Babylon in the early sixth century BCE; God commissioned him as his prophet while the nation was in exile (NAB, p. 1013). At that time the city of Tyre was built on a coastal island and had subordinate towns and villages on the Phoenician mainland (NAB, Ezekiel 26:4–5n, Ezekiel 26:6n). Their book claims that this Bible prophecy was fulfilled meticulously (pp. 120–22). Let me start with the biblical account: it portrays Ezekiel as God’s oracle saying,
“It came to pass in the eleventh year, in the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came unto me [Ezekiel], saying, ‘Son of man [Human being], because that Tyrus [Tyre] hath said against Jerusalem, “Aha, she is broken that was the gates [gateway] of the people [nations]: she is turned unto me: I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste”’: therefore thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it,’ saith the Lord God: ‘and it shall become a spoil to the nations. And her daughters [towns and villages] which are in the field [mainland] shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the Lord.’ For thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people. He shall slay with the sword thy daughters in the field: and he shall make a fort against thee, and cast a mount against thee, and lift up the buckler [shield] against thee. And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers. By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee: thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as men enter into a city wherein is made a breach. With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets: he shall slay thy people by the sword, and thy strong garrisons shall go down to the ground. And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water. And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard. And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it,’ saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 26:1–14, KJV, emphasis mine).
As usual, the prophecy does not specify ahead of time when it was going to happen, it is open-ended; however, at least, it does specify that Nebuchadnezzar was going to deal the blow.
The reader may have noticed the standard formula of these so-called doom-prophecies: they throw everything at the accursed. “Throw enough mud at a wall and some of it will stick.” Then, typically, Bible-inerrancy believers will only look at one or two details that transpired and say, “Oh, wow! Look at the detail in which the prophecy was fulfilled: it must have been God’s inspiration.”
Let us now look at what happened to Tyre according to the Bible itself later in the same book. Perhaps needless to remind the reader, practically all of Christianity believes the Bible to be God’s Word—not just Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“It came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me [Ezekiel], saying, ‘Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it’: therefore thus saith the Lord God; ‘Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me,’ saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 29:17–20, KJV, emphasis mine).
So, the prophecy of Tyre’s demise apparently ended sixteen years later: that is, from the “eleventh year” to the “seven and twentieth year” (27-11 = 16). Now, history tells us that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the mainland towns and villages of Tyre, but then spent thirteen years (587–574 BCE) sieging the island city unsuccessfully until it surrendered on condition of its not being plundered by the Babylonian army (NAB, Ezekiel 26:4–5n & Ezekiel 26:6n). Thus, Ezekiel’s so-called prophecy was presumably uttered just three years (16-13 = 3) prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s initial attack on the mainland; so again, probably one could humanly foresee such an attack was about to happen.
True, the towns and villages on the mainland were destroyed completely and “slain by the sword” as supposedly foretold; however, nothing of what was allegedly prophesied of the city proper (on the island) actually happened. The Babylonian army was supposed to “destroy the walls,” “break down [its] towers,” “destroy [its] pleasant houses,” “lay [its] stones, … timber, and … dust in the midst of the water,” “scrape her dust from her,” and “make [it] like the top of a rock”—“a place to spread nets upon.” God also allegedly foretold that the Babylonian army would “make a spoil of [its] riches,” and “make a prey of [its] merchandise”; Tyre was supposed to “become a spoil to the nations.” None of all this, in fact, ever happened—as the Bible itself tells us later. Finally, regarding the island city of Tyre being “built no more”: it is still inhabited today: there were about 117,000 inhabitants in 2003. Of course, one could still insist that history is wrong, and the Bible is right, as is argued by Bible-inerrancy believers in the case of science; but when the Bible itself tells us what happened, where can one go? There is nowhere to hide or run, so to speak.
Incidentally, what is one supposed to think of God’s rewarding Nebuchadnezzar by allowing him to despoil Egypt instead, for his supposed “service” in attacking Tyre? The Bible makes a joke of divine justice here. As I suggested several times before in my website, despite their good intentions, sometimes the biblical authors got things wrong: thus, proving the Bible is only a book written by humans—not inspired by God.
Now, despite all the above evidence against this alleged prophecy, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ book still insists that Tyre’s prophecy came true, but in 332 BCE through Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king. Where did that come from? Nebuchadnezzar was the only king mentioned in Ezekiel, no? Anyway, they point out that according to The Encyclopedia Americana 1989, Alexander bridged the mainland to the island.
“With the debris of the mainland portion of the city, which he had demolished, he built a huge mole [bridge] in 332 [BCE] to join the island to the mainland.”
Hence, they conclude,
“Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in all its details. Even the ‘stones and … timber … and dust’ of Old [mainland] Tyre were placed ‘in the midst of the water.’“ (p. 122)
Oh, really? First, Alexander was not even mentioned in Ezekiel’s so-called prophecy—only Nebuchadnezzar was mentioned. Second, this happened more than two and a quarter centuries after Nebuchadnezzar had died (in 562 BCE). In my opinion, a completely open-ended prophecy disqualifies it from being a genuine prophecy: it is only hindsight that might suggest it. Third, if one reads the biblical text carefully, it was the island’s—not the mainland’s—“stones, timber, and dust“ that were supposed to be laid in the sea making it a naked rock and “a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea.” In short, Ezekiel’s prophecy regarding the utter destruction of Tyre was far from fulfilled.
It never ceases to amaze me how Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as most Christian Bible-inerrancy exegetes) can split hairs and even refer to the original Greek or Hebrew texts to prove a dubious point and yet be so sloppy in interpreting certain obvious biblical details when it suits them. The information they give is truncated at strategic points, and certain information is stretched to fit their preconceived notions: thus, fooling the gullible, Bible-ignorant person. Naturally, the reader might think their interpretation involving Alexander here is an outlandish one; however, this is not something unheard of: as I amply show in my book Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines, the Catholic Church also often quotes the Bible out of context to buttress dubious doctrines. Despite their good intentions, God does not need anyone to manipulate facts in his favor; he can hold his own under any circumstances: he is always on the side of truth.
Incidentally, in the chapter prior to Tyre’s alleged prophecy, Ezekiel also prophesied similar destructions to another four nations surrounding the Jews: namely, the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Philistines. When a nation is situated in the middle of other nations, being attacked by those nations comes with the territory: it is the price one must usually pay. As one can see, these doom prophesies are levelled against everyone in sight; it would be interesting for the reader to investigate for oneself whether they transpired or not, but I lack the space for it here. I could be wrong, but I think I am quite safe in betting that none of them transpired.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ third example refers to Isaiah’s supposed prophecy against Babylon in the late-eighth century BCE: the book portrays the prophet as God’s oracle foretelling its destruction:
“Behold, I [God] will stir up the Medes against them [the Babylonians]. … And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.” (Isaiah 13:17, 19–20, KJV, emphasis mine)
First note that it was Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, who in 539 BCE invaded Babylon—it was not the Medes but the Persians who defeated the Babylonians.
The New American Bible contends that this section of Isaiah has been edited significantly by later writers (NAB, Isaiah 13:1–23:8n). For example, it points to the fact that Babylon was not yet a great empire at the turn of the seventh century BCE, the presumed time of its writing: so, it was not yet “the glory of kingdoms” at the time of Isaiah: that is, not until about a century later when in 609 BCE it defeated Assyria. Clearly, then, we have an anachronism in the above Isaian text. However, the fact that pseudo-Isaiah mentions the Medes (rather than the Persians) also suggests that this particular supposed prophecy was edited prior to 550 BCE, at which time the Persians overpowered and subjected the Medes (NAB, Isaiah 13:1–22n).
Now, this date is not that far from the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE: possibly many people could foresee or perhaps even desire the collapse of the Babylonian Empire by the Medes since they were a world power at that time. Of course, the sub-author of First Isaiah could not foresee (or better guess) the unexpected; namely, that the Persian king Cyrus the Great would oust his grandfather, the Median king Astyages: thus, turning the Median Empire into the Persian Empire overnight (Wikipedia: “Medes”). But God should have been privy to this information, no? So, should not the Bible have prophesied that Babylon would be overthrown by the Persians rather than by the Medes? After all, it was only a few decades ahead.
Anyway, in their book Jehovah’s Witnesses continue their account of the fall of Babylon by mentioning that it was no easy task to attack Babylon: it was fortified by high walls all around, and the Euphrates River, running through it, enhanced its protection. They refer to Greek historian Herodotus’s account of how Cyrus took possession of the city (p. 124).
“He [Cyrus] placed a portion of his army at the point where the river enters the city, and another body at the back of the place where it issues forth, with orders to march into the town by the bed of the stream, as soon as the water became shallow enough. … He turned the Euphrates by a canal into the basin (an artificial lake dug by a previous ruler of Babylon), which was then a marsh, on which the river sank to such an extent that the natural bed of the stream became fordable [walkable]. Hereupon the Persians, who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered the stream, which has now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man’s thigh, and thus got into the town.” (Herodotus bk. 1. 191)
To show the prophecy’s detail in its fulfilment, Jehovah’s Witnesses then cite the following two verses from Jeremiah, which portray God’s foretelling how the city of Babylon would fall.
“There is a devastation on her waters, and they will be dried up.” (Jeremiah 50:38, NWT)
“The mighty men of Babylon have forborn [declined] to fight, they have remained in their holds: their might hath failed.” (Jeremiah 51:30, KJV)
They argue that Babylon was defeated exactly as foretold by Jeremiah (as well as previously by Isaiah); they then ask the reader to note the detail in which the prophecy, as reported, was fulfilled:
“There was literally ‘a devastation on her waters, and they [were] dried up.’ It was the lowering of the waters of the Euphrates that enabled Cyrus to gain access to the city. Have ‘the valiant men of Babylon … forborne to fight’? … The Bible … records that the Babylonians were actually feasting when the Persian assault occurred.” (pp. 124–25)
They also point out that both Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon confirm this account; they add that the “Nabonidus Chronicle”—a cuneiform (Sumerian writing), clay-tablet document—states that Cyrus’s army entered Babylon “without battle.”
At first blush, it sure looks like the alleged prophecy materialized in quite some detail. However, on reading the entire oracle text in Jeremiah, one notices that there are a whole slew of doom verses prophesied against Babylon; namely, 46 verses in one chapter and 64 verses in the next. To pick and choose a couple of favorable verses out of 110 verses is not exactly scientific analysis.
For example, I cannot understand how Jehovah’s Witnesses could simply ignore something as significant as the following verse, which was prophesied in the same oracle but did not transpire at all:
“Shout against her [Babylon] round about: she hath given her hand [surrendered]: her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance upon her; as she hath done, do unto her.” (Jeremiah 50:15, KJV, emphasis mine)
Recall that Babylon’s walls were not destroyed: it was surrendered without a fight. Nevertheless, let me play ball in their home court.
According to Wikipedia, the battle between the Babylonian and the Persian armies, which took place in September 539 BCE at the city of Opis, situated on the Tigris River, was a “major military engagement” that ended in a “decisive victory” for the Persian army. The city of Sippar, situated on the Euphrates River, “was captured without battle” a couple of weeks later; consequently, Cyrus and his Persian army were allowed to enter Babylon, a couple of days after the surrender of Sippar, again “without a battle.”
Wikipedia also points out that the above information comes from two contemporaneous sources: (a) the “Nabonidus Chronicle,” which consists of a cuneiform-inscribed, clay tablet forming part of a collection of similar tablets known as the Babylonian Chronicles on which Babylon’s history was recorded; and (b) the “Cyrus Cylinder,” a cuneiform-inscribed, clay cylinder from Cyrus’s lifetime.
Wikipedia adds that the Greek historians mentioned above, fifth-century-BCE Herodotus (c. 485 BCE–c. 425 BCE) and fourth-century-BCE Xenophon (c. 430 BCE–354 BCE), not only fail to mention the battle at Opis but also their accounts of Cyrus’s Babylonian campaign are significantly different from the above-mentioned contemporaneous sources. Naturally, “most scholars prefer to use the Nabonidus Chronicle” as the more reliable source, since it is a contemporaneous document and the discrepancy is significant.
Although the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon agree with the biblical account in Daniel: namely, that the Babylonians were celebrating and taken by surprise; they were probably relying on traditional “folk tales and legends” or they were simply “inventing” such historical details (Wikipedia: “Battle of Opis”). Wikipedia finally states,
“Scholars are in general agreement that Herodotus’s account is an invention, while [historian Amélie] Kuhrt comments that Xenophon’s account in his Cyropedia is ‘virtually impossible to use … as a strictly historical source’ due to its literary form, as a moral treatise on Cyrus in the form of an historical novella.” (Wikipedia: “Battle of Opis”)
Now, Persia is east of Babylon, and the Tigris River is east of the Euphrates River. So, from the Persians’ perspective, both Sippar and Babylon, which are on the Euphrates River, were past Opis, which is on the Tigris River. Yet, Herodotus and Xenophon do not even mention the battle at Opis.
So, since there seems to have been only one battle, at Opis, unlike what Jehovah’s Witnesses contend, apparently there was no draining of the Euphrates River at all. However, they take the later (and therefore usually less accurate) accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon because they conform better to the above biblical verses in Jeremiah and the account in Daniel (chapter 5)—even though both historians and biblical scholars agree that they are not historically reliable. Typical of Bible-inerrancy exegetes, it is not the case that they were unaware of the “Nabonidus Chronicles” since they quote a portion of it that serves their purpose. This is not exactly a candid, historical analysis of the alleged prophetic account of the fall of the city of Babylon.
(4) World Powers
There is significant disagreement between what Christian denominations believe and what biblical scholars contend regarding the following supposed prophecies in Daniel. According to the New American Bible, Daniel was probably written around 165 BCE (pp. , 1065); still, in their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that Daniel was written as claimed in the book’s text, namely, in the early sixth century (c. 600) BCE. They believe that Daniel prophesied the succession of world powers from that time to the establishment of the British Empire in the early seventeenth century (c. 1600) CE: that is, more than twenty-two centuries later (pp. 125–30). At first blush, their interpretation might seem outlandish or somewhat idiosyncratic and dubious, but as I shall show later they are not the only Christians who believe so. These so-called prophecies in Daniel are in the form of visions the protagonist of the book reportedly had; the visions consist of a succession of symbolic animals.
“I [Daniel] saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made [to] stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse [different or unlike] from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things [arrogantly].” (Daniel 7:2–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
To understand this and subsequent visions in Daniel, the reader is asked to focus on the “little horn” that grew out of the fourth beast, which originally had “ten horns,” and the “little horn” grew “among them” replacing “three” of them. Daniel also observed that this fourth beast was, somehow, unlike the other three; I shall show how it differed later in this section. Try to remember these details regarding the fourth beast since there is a great deal of disagreement in its interpretation. Also keep in mind that the previous beast, that is, the third beast, had “four heads.” Daniel asks one of the supernatural beings, who were attending to God in his vision, to explain the meaning of the vision; he replies,
“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints [holy people] of the most High [God] shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (Daniel 7:17–18, KJV)
Daniel then asks the supernatural being for further information regarding the fourth beast; he goes on,
“The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse [different or unlike] from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another [the ‘little horn’] shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first [those before him], and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great [arrogant] words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints [holy people] of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing [half] of time.” (Daniel 7:23–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice again the phrase “ten horns” representing “ten kings” all of whom belonged to this fourth kingdom (“ten horns out of this kingdom”); so also did the “little horn” that came “after them,” ousting “three kings,” belong to the same kingdom: note also that it arose out of the same beast (“rise after them”). Incidentally, look at the last phrase, “until a time and times and the dividing [half] of time”—talk about cryptic language in so-called biblical prophecies.
Anyway, two years later, Daniel had a second vision.
“I [Daniel] saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai. Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand [withstand it]; but he did according to his will, and became great. And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable [great] horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler [anger] against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. Therefore the he goat waxed [grew] very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones [horns] toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land [Israel]. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven [heavenly army]; and it cast down some of the host [heavenly army] and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince [commander] of the host [heavenly army], and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary [the Temple] was cast down [desecrated]. And an host [strength] was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression [because of sins], and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.” (Daniel 8:2–12, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice again the reference to the “little horn” in this vision: it is the critical link in this puzzle. Observe also that this “little horn” succeeded in removing the “daily sacrifice” offered to God and desecrated his Temple—“the place of the sanctuary was cast down.”
A canonical (official) book of the Catholic Bible, First Maccabees, which was written around 100 BCE (NAB, p. 540), confirms such a thing happening during the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes around 167 BCE—about the time the book of Daniel was written.
“The king [Antiochus] sent letters by the hands of messengers to Jerusalem, and to all the cities of Juda [Judah]; that they should follow the law of the nations of the earth [Hellenism]. And should forbid holocausts and sacrifices, and atonements to be made in the temple of God. And should prohibit the Sabbath, and the festival days to be celebrated. And he commanded the holy places to be profaned, and the holy people of Israel. And he commanded altars to be built, and temples, and idols, and swine’s flesh to be immolated, and unclean beasts.” (First Maccabees 1:46–50, DRC).
Admittedly, neither Protestants nor marginal Christian denominations consider First Maccabees as part of their Bible, and so they don’t consider it God’s revelation; but in any case, it is a contemporaneous book that sheds some light on the above puzzle in Daniel.
At Daniel’s request, the Archangel Gabriel explained this second vision to him.
“The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough [he] goat is the king of Grecia [Greece]: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king [Alexander the Great]. Now that being broken [dead], whereas four [kings] stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his [same] power. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors [sinners] are come to the full, a king [the “little horn”] of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences [skilled in intrigue (NAB)], shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without [a] hand [being raised (NAB)].” (Daniel 8:20–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
I’m sure the reader is utterly confused by now; however, a case in point, this is the type of obscure scriptures Bible-inerrancy believers and the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations rely on to convince themselves that the Bible is inspired directly by God himself. Not only that, regrettably, they also fashion their entire lives and the lives of others accordingly. Nonetheless, let me try to sift through this maze and let the reader decide whether there is any justification to their claims.
There is not much disagreement, among Christian denominations and biblical scholars, regarding this last vision of Daniel because the explanation is given in the book itself, and it is quite explicit. The two horns of the ram represent Media and Persia; with Persia eventually overpowering Media. The great horn of the he-goat represents Alexander the Great, the first king of the Greek or Hellenistic Empire, which was subsequently divided between “four kings” immediately after his death in 323 BCE. The Douay-Rheims Bible explains that the “four horns” refer to,
“Seleucus [I Nicator], Antigonus [I Monophthalmus (i.e., the one-eyed)], Philip [III Arrhideus], and Ptolemeus [Ptolemy I Soter], the successors of Alexander [the Great], who divided his empire among them.” (DRC, Daniel 8:8n)
There were significant changes to the above distribution of the Hellenistic Empire following the battle of Ipsus (a village in the ancient district of Phrygia in modern Turkey) which occurred in 301 BCE; however, Alexander’s empire still remained divided in four major portions: (a) Cassander ruled in Greece, Macedonia, and Thrace (which adjoined Macedonia & Turkey); (b) Lysimachus ruled in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Syria; (c) Ptolemy I ruled in Egypt and the neighboring regions, including the eastern Mediterranean: starting the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt; and (d) Seleucus I ruled in Mesopotamia (Babylon), Persia, Central Asia, and India: founding the Seleucid Empire. Daniel’s author is mainly concerned with the last of these four kingdoms since it was the one that affected the Jews most: it carried out oppressive and even violent religious persecution against them under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Now, in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret Daniel’s first vision above as follows:
“The Babylonian [Empire (612–539 BCE)] was pictured by a lion, the Persian [Empire (550–331 BCE)] by a bear, and the Greek [or Hellenistic Empire (336–31 BCE)] by a leopard. … [The] fourth wild beast prefigured the powerful Roman Empire [(264 BCE–1453)].” (pp. 127–28)
The Calvinists (Presbyterian/Reformed Churches) too, following Jerome of Stridon (c. 347–420 CE), agree with this interpretation; it has also been the traditional interpretation of the four kingdoms in Daniel by both Jews and Christians alike for two millennia. Also Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians share in the belief that the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire, and that the bishop of Rome, the pope, is the “little horn” emerging from the breakup of the Roman Empire. (Wikipedia: “For Kingdoms of Daniel”) So, one can safely conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation is in line with that of several other Christian denominations.
They further explain that in the early fifth century (c. 500) CE, the Western Roman Empire started to fall apart, resulting in smaller kingdoms being formed: so, the “ten horns” arise—they do not specify them. Ultimately, they contend, Britain defeated Spain, France, and the Netherlands forming the British Empire (1606–1997 CE): thus, they conclude, the “little horn” subdued “three” of the original “ten horns.”
In short, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the first beast represented Babylon, the second Persia, the third Greece, and the fourth Rome. What about Britain? There was no fifth beast in Daniel’s vision. Can one argue that Britain was a part of the Roman Empire too? I don’t think so.
I had heard this explanation before, in my early teens, but it never made much sense to me. It would have been truly amazing were Daniel’s author capable of predicting world history until the establishment of the British Empire in the early seventeenth century CE; even though he did not give us exact dates.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the New American Bible (which prides itself of 1,200-odd biblical scholars possessing an advanced degree in biblical studies) interprets Daniel’s first vision very differently. It explains that the ancient Babylonian Empire was symbolized by a winged lion with forepaws raised (NAB, Daniel 7:4n), the Median Empire was symbolized by a bear (NAB, Daniel 7:5n), and the Persian Empire was symbolized by a leopard. The leopard’s swiftness, it adds, paralleled the speed with which the Persian Empire was established by Cyrus the Great; and the “four heads” stood for the four kings of Persia. (NAB, Daniel 7:6n) Recall what I pointed out at the beginning of this section: that the third beast had “four heads.” We again find another reference to the four kings of the Persian Empire in a third vision—an angelic vision—Daniel had; in it, the angel tells Daniel,
“Now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings [Cyrus II (the Great), Cambyses II & Darius I (Wikipedia: “Achaemenid Empire”)] in Persia; and the fourth [Xerxes I] shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia [Greece]. And a mighty king [Alexander the Great] shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.” (Daniel 11:2–3, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice especially, in this last vision, the phrase “in Persia”: meaning that the third beast represents the Persian Empire; consequently, the fourth beast must represent the Greek-Hellenistic Empire as indeed the biblical text implies—not the Roman Empire as several Christian denominations contend.
Now, recall also what was said of Daniel’s first vision: that the fourth beast was “unlike” the other three. Commenting on this word, the New American Bible points out that Alexander’s empire was different from the other three because, unlike all the other empires which originated from the east of Israel, it originated from the west; moreover, it was much more powerful and occupied a far greater geographic area. It adds that the “ten horns” belonging to the fourth beast stood for the ten kings of the Seleucid Empire: the empire that concerned the Jews most. The “little horn” was, of course, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who seized the throne, replacing three rulers (Seleucus IV Philopator, Heliodorus & Demetrius I Soter, according to Wikipedia: “Antiochus IV Epiphanes”), and started persecuting the Jews. (NAB, Daniel 7:7–8n)
In Daniel’s undisputed second vision given above, the same phrase, “little horn,” is used there as well; recall the relevant verses:
“The he goat waxed [grew] very great: and when he was strong, the great horn [Alexander the Great] was broken [died]; and for it came up four notable ones [the Hellenistic Empire’s four divisions] toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land [Israel].” (Daniel 8:8–9, KJV, emphasis mine)
Undoubtedly, therefore, the phrase “little horn” is a derogatory term referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes—for his persecuting the Jews, the people of Daniel’s author—not to the British Empire or the pope as several Christian denominations contend.
I think the confusion stems mainly from the fact that in Daniel’s undisputed second vision, the author combines the Medes and the Persians together in one animal—the ram. But he does mention that it had two horns, and that one, Persia, grew stronger than the other, Media.
“The two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.” (Daniel 8:2, KJV)
Media was northwest of Persia, and Cyrus II (the Great) defeated his Median grandfather, Astyages, without a military battle in 550 BCE. They were so close to each other that it was not easy for outsiders to distinguish them: like England and Scotland, say; but neighbors are often rivals too.
Consequently, several other Christian denominations were possibly misled by this second of Daniel’s vision, and they completely missed the boat in their ensuing explanation of the supposed world powers prophecy.
One of the historical facts that probably threw them off is the fact that the Medes never defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE. It was the Persians who defeated them. If one were to assume the Bible to be infallible, as most Christian denominations do, it can easily mislead one to come to the wrong conclusion. But the fact is that the Median Empire was inexistent for more than a decade by then. Still, there was another empire, the Median Empire (605–550 BCE), that existed immediately before the Persian Empire, but it never ousted the Babylonian Empire. Historically, it never entered the fray, but it is included as one of the four successive kingdoms in Daniel. This is where Daniel’s author got confused; most probably because, as we shall see, that is what more ancient scriptures reportedly foretold: that the Medes will oust the Babylonians.
Now, why did Daniel’s author confuse the history of allegedly his own time (the sixth century BCE) but know more about the alleged future history (the second century BCE)? The answer is very simple; he did not belong to the time he claims (the sixth century BCE): he was writing in the second century BCE. His information is much more accurate regarding Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews around 165 BCE.
In support of this hypothesis, the New American Bible explains that Daniel is an early case of a special type of literature termed apocalyptic. This type of literature started around the early second century (c. 200) BCE and continued until the early fifteenth century (c. 1500) CE. Both Jews and Christians used it, predominantly in times of persecution. It was a kind of code-form writing understood mainly by insiders, thus avoiding the watchful eye of the ruling nation. So, the symbolic style of literature used in Daniel, luckily or unluckily (depending on how one looks at the Bible), reveals the approximate date when it was written: like the fashion of certain clothes would reveal the date of a movie setting. The New American Bible, in its introduction to Daniel, tells us clearly when it was written:
“This work [the Book of Daniel] was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167–164 B.C.). (NAB, p. 1065)
It adds that its aim was to help the Jews get through these difficult times. This view is also supported by many others, for example, The Encyclopedia Americana 1977 (vol.8, p. 482).
Moreover, in the same introduction to Daniel, the New American Bible states, point blank, that the book is not historically accurate; here is exactly what it says:
“The stories bristle with historical problems and have the character of historical novels rather than factual records.” (NAB, p. 1065)
Is it not interesting that such a statement should come from believers in God’s inspiration and infallibility of the Bible—Catholics? One might therefore ask, “Where are these historical errors in Daniel?”
To begin with, the author writes about Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:31; 11:1) who never even existed in history. According to Daniel, after the protagonist interpreted the writing by a ghostly hand on the wall (see Daniel 5:25–28), the Babylonian “king” (coregent rather) Belshazzar was slain, and he was succeeded by Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:30–31). The New American Bible comments bluntly on this verse that “Darius the Mede [is] unknown outside the Book of Daniel.” (NAB, Daniel 6:1n)
Why? Technically, the Median Empire was inexistent at the time of this account because, as we have seen, it was superseded by the Persian Empire. Darius’s character in Daniel, however, resembles that of Darius the Great (522–486 BCE), the third king of the Persian Empire. Daniel’s author seems to be confusing the Medes with the Persians, at times.
Indeed, the New American Bible contends that Daniel’s author seems to follow biblical prophecy rather than actual historical facts: according to which the Median Empire would defeat the Babylonian Empire and follow it immediately afterward. (NAB, Daniel 6:1n) For example, in Jeremiah, we read,
“Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple.” (Jeremiah 51:11, KJV, emphasis mine) See also Jeremiah 51:28–30 & Isaiah, 13:17–19.
Oddly enough, it seems that Daniel’s author prefers scriptural prophecy, to actual history. I wonder what Bible-inerrancy believers think of that.
Let us now quickly compare history with Daniel. History says: (a) The last Median king, Astyages, surrendered to Cyrus in 550 BCE. So, technically, the Median Empire did not even exist when Belshazzar died in 539 BCE: so, he could not have been succeeded by a Median king. (b) Belshazzar was never a king of the Babylonian Empire; he was coregent from 550 BCE to 539 BCE: his father, Nabonidus, was the king. (c) Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of the Babylonian Empire; Nabonidus was the last.
Daniel’s book is far from historically accurate: (a) Unlike what Daniel says (see Daniel 5:1, 9, 30; 7:1; 8:1), Belshazzar was never king of Babylon; he was the first-born of the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, (who reigned from 556 BCE to 539 BCE). His father only handed over to him all responsibility, but not the title of king. (b) Unlike what Daniel says (see Daniel 5:2, 11, 18), Belshazzar’s father was not King Nebuchadnezzar (who reigned from about 605 BCE to about 562 BCE); Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylon—far from being the last. (c) Darius the Mede (see Daniel 5:31; 11:1) never even existed.
As just mentioned, according to Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father; but someone might argue that by the word “father” in the Bible may mean ancestor. Clearly though, the New American Bible does not even hint at such an interpretation (NAB, Daniel 5:2n). This is probably because Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father, is not even mentioned in Daniel. From the book’s context, it is clear that Daniel’s author indeed thought Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father. As I also pointed out above, Daniel’s author did not know the history of the alleged time of his protagonist (i.e., the sixth century BCE) too well: yet he knew much more accurate details about the history during which his book was probably written (i.e., the second century BCE).
Now, in another symbolic dream the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar reportedly had, Daniel’s author erroneously reaffirms that the Median Empire was in power in between the Babylonian Empire and the Persian Empire. Just prior to the following passage, God had somehow revealed Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel, who then proceeded to retell and explain it to the king.
“Thou, O king [Nebuchadnezzar], sawest, and behold a great image [statue]. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands [human intervention], which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream; and we [Daniel] will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom [of silver] inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men [intermarriage]: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” (Daniel 2:31–45, KJV, emphasis mine).
The New American Bible explains Daniel’s interpretation very succinctly as follows:
“The four successive kingdoms in this apocalyptic perspective are the Babylonian (gold), the Median (silver), the Persian (bronze), and the Hellenistic [or Greek] (iron).” (NAB, Daniel 2:36–45n)
It was obviously the Greek-Hellenistic Empire that was, metaphorically, fractured into iron and clay: exhibiting both strength and weakness. Recall that after Alexander the Great died, his generals divided the Hellenistic Empire among themselves. Later, the emergent emperors were unsuccessful in trying to reunite the original mega-empire through intermarriage and war. Two of the empires that eventually emerged affected the Jews most: (a) Syria (ruled by the Seleucids—on which Daniel’s author concentrates) and (b) Egypt (ruled by the Ptolemies). The “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” represents God’s future kingdom—the messianic times.
Notice that the legs of the statue in the king’s vision consist of solid iron: that is, while Alexander the Great was still alive, it was a solid empire. It is only the feet and toes that consist of both iron and clay: that is, after his death it developed weaknesses. Yet, it was still made partly of the same material (iron): because Alexander’s successors were his own generals. While Alexander was still alive, they were united (they were solid); but after his death they were divided, and so became vulnerable.
Keep in mind what I mentioned above, however, that, historically, the Medes never ousted the Babylonians—the Persians did. As the New American Bible scholars allude to above, it is only an apocalyptic perspective tailored on biblical prophecy, which imagines that the Babylonian Empire was immediately followed by the Median Empire. The Median Empire existed prior to the Persian Empire, yes, but as an aside—like an appendix.
Could one interpret the iron legs, feet, and toes of the statue as representing the Roman Empire, as several Christian denominations contend? Well, to begin with, the Roman Empire did not start strong and become weak; on the contrary, it started weak (c. 500 BCE) and got stronger (c. 100 BCE); however, it did get weak again after a significant length of time (c. 500 CE). If this were the case, however, the previous empire, the Greek-Hellenistic Empire, would be represented by the brass belly and thighs. Now, if one were to assume the brass belly and thighs represented the Greek-Hellenistic Empire, there would be no indication of its becoming weak through division after Alexander’s death: it was solid (strong) all along—which was certainly not the case historically.
As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree strongly with the New American Bible scholars that Daniel was written around 165 BCE: they claim all the above is real prophecy, not an after-the-fact account; and they give supporting evidence. They state that: (a) Daniel is mentioned in the second-century-BCE Catholic canonical book First Maccabees at 2:60. (b) It is also included in the Septuagint version of the Bible—a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was started in the mid-third century BCE. (c) Moreover, fragments of Daniel were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were carbon-dated around 100 BCE. Their conclusion is that it must have been written long before any of these dates: that is, allowing for the time required for wide circulation (p. 129).
However: (a) According to the New American Bible, First Maccabees was written around 100 BCE (p. 540). (b) According to Wikipedia, the Septuagint translation was only started in the mid-third century BCE; it was completed in 132 BCE (Wikipedia: “Septuagint”). (c) The fragments of Daniel found among the Dead Sea Scrolls were dated around 100 BCE, which Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves confirm.
Notice that the earliest of these three dates is 132 BCE, which is more than thirty years after Daniel was presumably written. Admittedly, it may be cutting it a little close for a book to become popular in those days; however, one cannot absolutely rule out the possibility.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also aptly point out that historians, such as Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, Xenophon in the fourth century BCE, and Berossus in the third century BCE, do not mention anything about Belshazzar, the last Babylonian ruler (see Daniel, 5:1, 9, 22, 30; 7:1; 8:1). Their inference is that Daniel’s author could not have known about him, unless he was in fact present at the time, namely, around 539 BCE (pp. 129–30). In other words, they contend that if historians didn’t know about him, neither would the biblical author have known about him.
One must concede that the case of Belshazzar (coregent: 550–539 BCE) is rather strange; it is still possible, however, that Daniel’s author had some fragmentary information about him that was unavailable to the historians mentioned above—possibly because he lived in a different location—the information being eventually lost. Recall, however, that Daniel’s author is inaccurate in his Belshazzar account and even downright wrong about sixth-century-BCE history.
In summary, Daniel’s apocalyptic writing style was never used prior to 200 BCE: a style used mainly in times of persecution (Antiochus’s). The author is much more in line with second-century-BCE history and downright wrong regarding sixth-century-BCE history. Evidently, this shows it is more likely that he lived and wrote in the second century BCE rather than in the sixth century BCE. Belshazzar’s mention in Daniel is insufficient to override the biblical scholars’ contention; besides, the author’s information on Belshazzar is inaccurate anyway.
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Daniel also foretold the coming of Jesus Christ—the Messiah first promised to King David.
Before we embark on our discussion, we first need to understand that, probably needless to mention, “Christ” is not Jesus’s last name: it is our English rendering of the Greek word christos, meaning “anointed,” which is the translation of the Hebrew word mashach, from which we get the word “Messiah.” But, at the same time, we need to keep in mind that there were many ‘messiahs,’ or ‘anointed ones’: that is, people delegated by God or the Hebrew nation to perform a mission or a task—like a king or a high priest, for example. In an article entitled “Messiah” in the Bible Study Tools website, theologian and Old Testament scholar Gerard Van Groningen informs us that
“Persons who were anointed had been elected, designated, appointed, given authority, qualified, and equipped for specific offices and tasks related to these.”
These people were officially/ritually commissioned/delegated by a superior’s anointing of their head with a perfumed ointment.
Jehovah’s Witnesses start their discussion of the supposed prophecy foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ in Daniel by quoting a portion of the following passage portraying the Archangel Gabriel telling Daniel,
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish [atone for] the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah [Christ (DRC)] the Prince [an anointed ruler (NAB)] shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two [i.e., 62] weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.” (Daniel 9:24–25, KJV, emphasis mine).
Why most religious institutions, including biblical scholars, interpret the word “weeks” in this text as ‘weeks of years’ (i.e., seven years) has always been puzzling to me; but I shall explain, in this section, why the New American Bible agrees.
Personally, I would simply write off this so-called prophecy, right at the start, if one must interpret the word “week” as ‘week of years’ to make it meaningful: this is another classic example of the type of cryptic language used in so-called biblical prophecies. Naturally, trying to sell such an interpretation as reliable prophecy to an outsider is sheer lunacy. But since biblical scholars do so without second guessing, I shall play ball in their home court.
Now, as we have already seen in the section on the Jews’ “Exile” above, Jeremiah supposedly prophesied that they would be deported to Babylon for seventy years. Seventy was a perfect number for the Jews: what nowadays we might call a round number, like one hundred or one thousand. Recall that the book portrays the prophet as God’s oracle to the Jews saying,
“This whole land [of Judah] shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jeremiah 25:11, KJV)
“Thus saith the Lord, ‘That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.’” (Jeremiah 29:10, KJV)
Historically, there were two main groups of Jewish deportations to Babylon: one in 598/597 BCE and the other ten years later in 588/587 BCE. For simplicity, I shall totally disregard a third deportation of fewer people, which took place six years later around 582/581 BCE. Contrary to what Jeremiah’s prophecy supposedly foretold, the Jews were out of the Babylonian captivity after only sixty-odd years (598/597–539/538 BCE) or fifty-odd years (588/587–539/538 BCE), depending on which date one takes as the beginning of their exile—even less for the third deportation.
The New American Bible explains that, although Jeremiah prophesied a Jewish exile of seventy years in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10), it was only intended as a rough estimate—comparable to the complete passing away of the then-current generation. This supposed prophecy was considered fulfilled by the Jews when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon (in 539 BCE) and allowed them to return to their country. In my opinion, however, God’s word should be more precise: that is the only way of telling that it is coming from God—otherwise it becomes just human guesswork.
Anyway, as we have seen in the last section on “World Powers,” in the second century BCE (i.e., between 175 and 164 BCE), the Jews were being oppressed once again by the Seleucid Empire. Although that was four-hundred-odd years later, they felt that God had not really delivered them from oppression. And this oppression seemed even worse; it was destroying them at the core: they could not even practice their religion. Apparently, Daniel’s author, writing in this period, felt uneasy changing the ‘magical’ number seventy, used by the prophet Jeremiah; so he arbitrarily changed it to “seventy weeks,” implying ‘weeks of years,’ of course: that is, four hundred and ninety (70×7 = 490) years; thus, extending the Jews’ oppression close to his time (i.e., about 430-odd years later). The New American Bible explains it as follows:
“The author of Daniel, living during the persecution of Antiochus, extends Jeremiah’s number to seventy weeks of years (Daniel 9:24) to encompass the period of Seleucid persecution.” (NAB, Daniel 9:2n)
This seems to be the reason why the word “weeks” is usually interpreted as ‘weeks of years’: quite a massaging of a previous supposedly prophetic text, in my opinion.
Naturally, in deciphering the above so-called prophecy about Jesus Christ in Daniel, one must first figure out the initial, or reference date: that is, where one starts counting from. In the above quote, the reference date seems to be “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” This date, however, is not so easy to interpret: there is significant disagreement between biblical scholars and Christian denominations. So, I must warn the reader beforehand that the following interpretations can get rather confusing.
On the one hand, we have Jehovah’s Witnesses saying,
“The command to restore and build Jerusalem ‘went forth’ in ‘the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king’ of Persia, that is, in 455 B.C.E. (Nehemiah 2:1–9).” (p. 131)
They cite the following account in Nehemiah.
“It came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king [of Persia] … I [Nehemiah] said unto the king, ‘If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres [tombs], that I may build it.’ And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) ‘For how long shall thy journey be? And when wilt thou return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.” (Nehemiah 2:1, 5–6, KJV) On the other hand, we have the New American Bible that interprets the start date: “from the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy” (NAB, Daniel 9:24n); that is, around 605 BCE. This interpretation might seem a bit odd to the reader at this point, but I would like to keep things simple for a little while: I shall show, later in this section, why its scholars interpret it this way. Right at the very start, therefore, we have a difference in opinion of about 150 years. This is the first major problem. Who is right?
The biblical text seems to, legally, support what Jehovah’s Witnesses say is the starting date. However, I suppose it also depends, to some extent, on how one interprets the biblical texts because, in reality, things did not happen that simply.
For example, according to Ezra, the order to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple (not the city) came in the first year of Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Persian Empire in 539/538 BCE:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus [the Great] king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, ‘Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God), which is in Jerusalem.’” (Ezra 1:1–3, KJV).
Admittedly, there is no mention, in Ezra, of an order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, but naturally, besides the Temple, the Jews also proceeded rebuilding the city anyway. So, the then-residents of the land wrote a letter to the Persian king complaining,
“Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.” (Ezra 4:12, KJV)
That is, until the king forced them to stop:
“Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.” (Ezra 4:21, KJV)
So, practically, one could also propose 539/538 BCE as the starting date for the above supposed prophecy: which would still have given us a difference of more than 80 years. Now, would Bible-inerrancy believers have refrained from using this date as the starting point had it fitted what they want to believe?
Next, we have the question of when Jesus was anointed. This is another problem because, in fact, he was never anointed. He was only anointed by a woman—possibly a sinner—but certainly not by a superior (see Mark 14:3–9; Matthew 26:6–13; John 12:1–8); and he was obviously not commissioned by her because women were considered inferior to men in the Old Testament.
Like most Christians, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus’s baptism substituted his anointing: they contend that Jesus was anointed by a spiritual ointment—the Holy Spirit. Like baptism with the Holy Spirit instead of water (see Matthew 3:11; John 1:34; Acts 1:5), I suppose.
Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses write,
“Counting the full 483 years (7 plus 62 weeks of years) [see Daniel 9:25] from 455 B.C.E., we arrive at 29 C.E. This was, in fact, ‘the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,’ the year when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. (Luke 3:1) At that time, Jesus was publicly identified as God’s Son and began his ministry of preaching the good news to the Jewish nation. (Matthew 3:13–17; 4:23) He became the ‘anointed one’ or Messiah.” (p. 131)
They are not the only ones who think so, of course, the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, for example, seems to concur: a note annexed to Daniel 9:25 says,
“From the going forth of the word, etc. … That is, from the twentieth year of king Artaxerxes, when by his commandment Nehemias [Nehemiah] rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, 2 Esdras 2 [i.e., Nehemiah 2]. From which time, according to the best chronology, there were just sixty-nine weeks of years, that is, 483 years to the baptism of Christ, when he first began to preach and execute the office of Messias [Messiah].” (DRC, Daniel 9:25n)
Since Jesus was never formally anointed, why do they not use his year of birth as the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s alleged prophecy? Jesus was even recognized as “the Christ” when he was presented in the Temple forty days after his birth (see Luke 2:26–32). I suppose it is because this date does not happen to fit: had it fitted, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would have chosen Jesus’s birth instead of his baptism.
I propose that God never bothered to prophesy Christ’s coming in Daniel or elsewhere in the Bible: same as he never even tried to officially anoint him according to established protocol. No? You don’t agree? Keep reading.
Let me now show why the New American Bible came up with 605 BCE as the initial reference date and then the reader may decide whether it makes more sense. Now, even though this goes against my grain, keep in mind that the New American Bible takes a more liberal approach regarding the dates given; it claims that they are only approximate rather than hard and fast dates—somewhat like Jeremiah’s Babylonian captivity prediction. Recall that they contend the “seventy years” were only a rough approximation (NAB, Daniel 9:24n): they turned out to be less than sixty years. Keep in mind also that according to these biblical scholars, Daniel was written around 165 BCE: things will be much clearer for the reader to understand.
The first interesting detail one observes in Daniel’s supposed prophecy, quoted above (Daniel 9:25), is that there are two dates given: “seven weeks” and “threescore and two [i.e., 62] weeks.” This suggests that the author is referring to two ‘messiahs’ rather than one, but in the ordinary sense of an ‘anointed of the Lord’—at different times, of course. Thus, the first “anointed prince” (or “ruler”), in Daniel, came after “seven weeks” of years, that is, after forty-nine (7×7 = 49) years; the second “anointed one” came after “sixty-two weeks” of years: that is, after four hundred and thirty-four (62×7 = 434) years. Let us see how these dates fit in.
According to the New American Bible, the first “anointed prince/ruler” is not Jesus Christ (as contended above); he is either the Persian king Cyrus, who freed the Jews from captivity and was called God’s “anointed” in Isaiah 45:1, or the high priest Jeshua mentioned in Ezra 3:2, who led the rebuilding of the Jerusalem altar after the Jews’ return home from the Babylonian captivity (NAB, Daniel 9:25n). “Seven weeks” of years, or forty-nine (7×7 = 49) years, was the exact time of the second Babylonian exile of the Jews (588/587–539/538 BCE); that is, if one were to give Daniel’s author the benefit of the doubt in the starting date of the Babylonian exile, which indeed was the most numerous. Remember that seven was a magical number for the Jews: even more so was seven times seven or forty-nine; so, a Jewish author would bend over backwards to use such a number rather than any other odd number.
Again according to the New American Bible, Daniel’s author considers the beginning of the Seleucid persecution to be 171 BCE; that is, when the high priest Onias III was murdered (see below). Going back “sixty-two weeks” of years or four hundred and thirty-four (62×7 = 434) years from this date brings us to the year 605 BCE (171+434 = 605), which is around the time Jeremiah apparently predicted the Babylonian exile: this is the initial reference date the New American Bible suggests. Not bad, right? However, one must keep in mind that Daniel’s author was writing in hindsight—not exactly prophecy!
Daniel portrays the Archangel Gabriel concluding the above supposed prophecy concerning “Christ” (or rather the “anointed ones”) as follows:
“After threescore and two  weeks [of years] shall Messiah [Christ (DRC); an anointed one (NAB)] be cut off [slain], but not for himself [with no one to help him (NAB)]: and the people of the prince [a leader (NAB)] that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined [decreed (NAB)]. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week [of years]: and in the midst of the week [of years] he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate [the desolating abomination (NAB)], even until the consummation [end], and that determined [decreed ruin (NAB)] shall be poured upon the desolate [desolator].” (Daniel 9:26–27, KJV, emphasis mine)
Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret this passage as follows. Jesus preached almost exclusively to the Jews and Samaritans who followed the Mosaic Law, so they believe that the word “many” in the above quote refers to them; mid-way through the last seven years of the Archangel Gabriel’s supposed prophecy (“in the midst of the week” of years), Jesus “sacrificed” his life: he was “slain.”
Then they resort to first-century-CE theology to explain why Jesus “caused the sacrifice … to cease”: they cite a couple of verses from Paul’s Galatians, which basically say that Jesus’s death implied the end of the Mosaic Law.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the [Mosaic] law, being made a curse [himself] for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13, KJV)
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Galatians 24–25, KJV).
In other words, in their opinion, after Jesus’s sacrificial death, “the sacrifice” in the Temple stopped.
But, historically, the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem did not stop until long after Jesus’s death, which was around 30 CE; they continued until the year 70 CE when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans: this does not fit their interpretation at all.
Anyway, they proceed to explain that the early Christian church continued Jesus’s mission with the Jews and Samaritans, exclusively, for the remaining half of the final seven years of the Archangel Gabriel’s supposed prophecy. Then in 36 CE (i.e., 7 years after Jesus’s baptism in 29 CE), Peter, the apostles’ leader, was divinely inspired to preach to and baptize the gentiles, starting with Cornelius (see Acts 10:1–48): thus, ending the covenant with the “many”—that is, the Jews and Samaritans.
Finally, they conclude, in 70 CE the Roman general Titus (the “leader”) destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. They contend that God did not protect the Jews from the Romans because they not only rejected Jesus but also plotted to have him crucified. Thus, they close, the prophecy “the people of the prince [leader/ruler] that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” was also fulfilled (pp. 131–32).
But 70 CE is too far out in time with reference to the alleged prophecy: following their very own interpretation, the entire prophecy should be over by 36 CE (29+7 = 36). So, their interpretation does not hold much water.
Now, recall that the New American Bible interprets the second “anointed one” differently: it does not think that Daniel’s author was even thinking of Jesus Christ at all (as Jehovah’s Witnesses contend above); it says that he was referring to Onias III, a high priest who was killed in 171 BCE while in exile. It also adds that Daniel’s author takes this date as the starting date of the Seleucid persecution (NAB, Daniel 9:26n).
Consequently, the New American Bible contends that the “leader” mentioned in the alleged prophecy above was Antiochus IV Epiphanes; and the “many” were the Jews who went along supporting the Hellenistic regime: abandoning the Mosaic Law. Now, historically, Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews lasted seven years (“one week” of years) until his death in 164 BCE (171-7 = 164). Mid-way (“in the midst of the week” of years) through his persecution, that is, in 167 BCE (171-4 = 167), he desecrated the Temple: “sacrifice ceased” and there shall be in the Temple “the desolating abomination”: the “abomination” was probably a pagan altar or a statue the Greek god Zeus Olympios (NAB, Daniel 9:27n & 8:13n) or a statue of the emperor himself. Recall that the Jews objected strongly to statues of gods (or emperors declared divine) especially in the Temple.
However, there is just one snag with the above interpretation by the New American Bible: the numbers do not add up exactly. Yes, seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks plus one week add up to seventy weeks (7+62+1 = 70); however, keep in mind that the first seven weeks are included in the sixty-two weeks. So, Daniel is fifty-odd years (“seven weeks” of years = 7×7 = 49) out in its alleged prophecy calculations. I presume this is why the New American Bible makes the stipulation that the seventy weeks of years, the sixty-two weeks of years, and the seven weeks of years are only approximate (ballpark figures): just like Jeremiah’s “seventy” years of captivity, which turned out to be sixty-odd or fifty-odd years, depending on when one deems the start of the Jewish captivity. I shall let the reader decide which interpretation is best.
Not without reason does American Episcopalian clergyman James Alan Montgomery describe the history of this supposed prophecy’s interpretation as a “dismal swamp” of critical exegesis. I think all this confusion shows clearly that, most probably, there is no prophecy at all about Jesus Christ in Daniel. But try to explain all this, in a nutshell, to Bible-illiterate believers.
(6) Jesus’s Life
Jehovah’s Witnesses end their discussion on so-called prophecies on Jesus by referring to several supposed Old Testament prophecies concerning his life: his birth, passion for God’s Temple, preaching, betrayal for thirty silver pieces, and lots cast for his garments. (Needless to add, most Christian denominations have similar beliefs.) They conclude that the fulfillment of all these so-called prophecies leaves no doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah originally promised to King David, and that, consequently, the scriptures were divinely inspired (pp. 132–33). I don’t have enough space to address all their claims here: I think I addressed enough alleged prophecies in this article; still, I do address some of them, sporadically, in the various chapters of my book Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines.
I will only make one more observation regarding these claims in the previous paragraph. Assuming the four evangelists knew the Old Testament scriptures well, is it not possible that they made up gospel accounts to satisfy the alleged prophecies in these scriptures? They were all written after the fact: that is, after Jesus had died, and I have shown such an instance of historical fabrication by the evangelists in my last article “Bible Contradictions (Textual).” People who believe they are on God’s side have been known to do strange and also evil things, thinking they are doing him a favor; even to the point of crashing passenger airplanes into high-rises.
As I have shown in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, personally I do believe Jesus is the Christ, the promised Davidic Messiah (pp. 517–21); however, not because of alleged prophecies in the Old Testament, but because there is compelling evidence for his resurrection in the New Testament—especially in Paul’s seven undisputedly authentic letters.
In Genesis, right after the Fall of Adam and Eve, God tells the serpent,
“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed [offspring] and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, KJV)
To most Christians, this seems to foretell or promise the coming of a ‘Savior,’ presumably Jesus Christ. They even interpret the child’s heel-bruising as Jesus’s death and the serpent’s head-bruising as Jesus’s resurrection. In fact, they dubbed it by the Latin term of protoevangelium or ‘proto-gospel’—the first hint of the gospel. Is this a prophecy of Jesus Christ then?
The problem I have with this supposed prophecy is that, as I show in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” the story of Adam and Eve is an adopted Sumerian myth adapted to monotheism. Being a myth, in all practical probability, therefore, it never even happened; consequently, God could not possibly save us from something that never happened.
Moreover, if one examines this supposed prophecy, it has no specifics whatsoever: it does not say, for example, that God would send “the Prophet,” “the Messiah,” or “his only Son” to accomplish this. It seems to be a very general prediction of ‘good’ prevailing over ‘evil.’
Furthermore, it always bothered me why the Jews did not pick up on this so-called prophecy: to this day, they do not believe anything of the sort; after all, the Old Testament is their Bible. Were it clearly a prophecy about a ‘Savior,’ and Jesus was truly its fulfilment, how could they miss him for all these centuries, despite our inculcation? To many of us Christians, it might be a matter of faith, but it does not seem to be an obvious prophecy to outsiders: to say the least, therefore, it is debatable.
In fact, while Jehovah’s Witnesses concur that Jesus was foretold in this biblical verse, they disagree with most Christian denominations that Mary is the “woman” mentioned. They contend that “the woman … is spirit and not human.” Go figure! They believe that the “woman” represents God’s “heavenly organization of spirit creatures, from which Jesus descended” (p. 158).
Now, since the Jews don’t believe Jesus was this promised Savior, what might this alleged prophecy mean to them? I suppose Genesis’s author is simply predicting the permanent conflict between good and evil: evil might seem to be winning at times, but good will eventually prevail in the end. This may be just wishful thinking for humanity, of course, but it sure gives hope to people of good will during tough times in their battle against evil.
On the other hand, it may not be just wishful thinking; it might just work out: because evil or violent people tend to eliminate one another, while good-willed people tend to cooperate with one another. As light has a certain advantage over darkness, good has a similar advantage over evil, deep down in our human nature: God seems to have hardwired us this way. Naturally, I do not preclude the possibility that God might be there, at times, to help us somehow: as he did when he conceived his Son.
(8) End Times
I will add one last alleged biblical prophecy that keeps many Bible believers on edge: even to the point of giving them sleepless nights.
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to predict that the present condition of the world will soon come to an end; and that Jesus will be coming back shortly afterward to rule the ensuing new world order—termed Second Coming or Parousia. They contend that, starting in 1914, the beginning of World War I, the world started on a downhill roll to total annihilation. They claim that this alleged biblical prophecy is currently being fulfilled before our very eyes and that it will even happen in our time—maybe not mine.
I wish I had a dollar every time I heard the prediction that the end of the world is near: I would probably be filthy rich by now. John the Baptist said it, Jesus of Nazareth said it, Paul of Tarsus said it, all four evangelists said it, John of Patmos said it, practically every televangelist airs it, Seventh-day Adventists preached it prior to 1844 (Wikipedia: “Seventh-day Adventist Church”), and so many other Christian denominations I would not even try to enumerate.
The reader might find it strange that also Jesus said so, but after predicting the end of the world as we know it (see the full passage below), Matthew’s gospel portrays him saying,
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
No doubt, Jesus’s generation is all dead; yet, heaven and earth are still here: and so also will Christianity’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses’ end-time predictions turn to dust.
Let us first look at the entire biblical passage they cite. In the following passage, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple followed, shortly afterward, by the end of the present world order—or disorder, rather.
“Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, ‘See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, “I am Christ”; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows [labor pains]. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended [led into sin (NAB)], and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, “Lo, here is Christ,” or “there”; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, “Behold, he is in the desert”; go not forth: “behold, he is in the secret chambers”; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase [carcass] is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman [man-in-charge] of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.’” (Matthew 24:1–44, KJV, emphasis mine; see also Mark 13:1–37 & Luke 21:5–36).
It is undoubtedly true that there were several false messiahs prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE. However, the evangelist Matthew knew all about them because he wrote his gospel around 80 CE (NAB, p. 10), so it was not really prophecy, was it?
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses go through a whole list of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and “wild beasts” (a metaphor for violent, predatory people) to prove that starting in 1914 evil has increased exponentially, and that the end of the world must therefore be near as we are told in the above supposed prophecy (pp. 134–48). May I ask, however, could it perhaps be the case that nowadays we get to know more news than in the past since communication has also increased exponentially, especially in the last century? Now, as I already pointed out above, whatever else Jesus supposedly prophesied about the end of the world should have happened before Jesus’s generation had passed away, say by 100 CE—not in our time—the gospel text itself says it (Matthew 24:34). So clearly, Jehovah’s Witnesses are here interpreting the above passage in Matthew out of context. Whatever they say, therefore, is all irrelevant. It is ludicrous to try to assert that a God-inspired prophecy would happen centuries after the time limit clearly spelled out in the prophecy itself.
I was thinking to myself: why do they leave out such an important detail in their treatment of this alleged prophecy? Do they translate the relevant Bible verse the same way? So, I decided to check it out; and the answer is yes, they do translate it the same way. The verse in their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures reads,
“Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Matthew 24:34, NWT, emphasis mine)
It makes one wonder therefore why they do not reveal the whole truth; but then scare tactics have always been the favorite method used by all religious institutions to control their followers—they have no police to enforce the rules, so they don’t have much choice.
These are the people who pride themselves to be an “outstanding example of human behavior” (p. 181), the “most honest … tax payers,” and most exemplary citizens (p. 182); not to mention that they also claim to possess “accurate knowledge [of] the Bible” (p. 178).
Had I believed in God’s inspiration of the Bible, I would have thought that God inserted this gospel verse in there simply to tell us to disregard such nonsense as trying to predict the end-times. As if inserting it once were not enough, it seems that God wanted to make sure we got the message right by inserting it in the Bible, not just once, but three times—in three of the four gospels—the synoptic Gospels:
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:34, KJV)
“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” (Mark 13:30, KJV) and
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:32, KJV)
Notice the word “all” in the clause, “till all these things be fulfilled.” There was never a catastrophic upheaval of the earth or the universe; nor did the Son of Man come to earth in judgement.
So, when all is said and done, the above end-times prediction is all smoke and mirrors. Apparently, Jesus thought the end of the world would come in his generation, but it didn’t: so the alleged prophecy did not transpire. And if Jesus truly said these words, he was wrong—end of story.
A few decades ago, I started my own search for the truth regarding God’s inspiration of the Bible. Ever since, whenever I researched proposed biblical prophecies, all I found was cobwebs. This clearly demonstrates that the Bible is simply a human book because the odds of us humans foretelling the future are miniscule. Therefore, concerning proposed or declared prophecies in the Bible, my conclusion, also from this decisive aspect, is that the Bible is not God’s Word—but man’s. To preach otherwise is, in my opinion, to do a disservice to the Christian religion and to humanity in general—wherever missionary activity is undertaken. The so-called ‘biblical prophecy’ does not measure up to its reputation as the ultimate ‘litmus test’ of the Bible’s infallibility.
Attard, Carmel Paul. Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2020. (ISBN: 9781663210937)
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)
Herodotus. The History of Herodotus in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 6: 1952.
Kuhrt, Amélie. “Babylonia from Cyrus to Xerxes” in The Cambridge Ancient History: Vol IV—Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean, pp. 112–38. Boardman, John, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
New American Bible: Revised Edition; “translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources’ by (1200-odd biblical scholars with an advanced degree in biblical studies irrespective of religious affiliation of) the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA), authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB, ISBN: 9780899429519)
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Wallkill, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013. (NWT)
The Encyclopedia Americana 1977.
The Encyclopedia Americana 1989.
The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay and Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)
Whenever I ask Bible inerrancy believers why they think the Bible is God’s Word, their answer is invariably because of the prophecies contained in it: of course, they mean prophecies that have supposedly transpired. This article is intended to validate, or reject, this claim from the evidence concerning these so-called ‘prophecies.’
Most Bible inerrancy believers contend that there are many biblical prophecies that indeed came true. It is important to realize, however, that it is enough to show that just one prophecy failed to transpire to prove the Bible fallible. I don’t think most of them realize this. Again, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment: I shall only show that most, if not all, alleged biblical prophecies never transpired.
There are two types of prophecies in the Bible: the first type consists of prophecies claimed in the biblical text itself; the second type consists of those prophecies claimed by various Christian denominations. I shall deal with the first category, the ‘textual’ prophecies, in this article and with the rest in the next.
(1) Let me start with the alleged textual prophecies by the only well-known biblical author—Paul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul). In his undisputedly authentic First Corinthians, Paul writes,
“I delivered unto you first of all [as of first importance (NAB)] that which I also received, how that Christ [Jesus] died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of [by] Cephas [Peter, the leader of Jesus’s original apostles], then of [by] the twelve [Jesus’s original apostles].” (First Corinthians 15:3–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the iterated phrase “according to the scriptures.” Incidentally, this quote seems to have been one of the first creeds of Christianity. So, Paul himself (who was previously a Pharisee, and therefore, very knowledgeable in the Scriptures) seems to have believed that Holy Scripture (for him the Old Testament) predicted that: (a) Jesus is the ‘Christ,’ (b) he would die for our sins, and (c) he would rise from the dead. Let’s see whether we can find such predictions in the Old Testament.
(a) Jesus is the ‘Christ‘
Now, ‘Christ’ is our English rendering of the Greek word christos meaning ‘anointed,’ which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashach, which we render as ‘Messiah’ in English. In ancient Hebrew custom, before someone was delegated on a special mission, his head was anointed with an oily perfume by his superior. The New American Bible explains that power was conferred on both kings and high priests through such an anointing ceremony (NAB, Psalms 2:2n).
Therefore, one must be careful in distinguishing between a messiah (any anointed individual) and the Messiah: the promised ‘Anointed One’ from the line of King David. This brings us to the fact that one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is that Jesus was the ‘Christ,’ the ‘Messiah’ par excellence, promised to King David by God himself: in fact, we get our name from him. (In this article, therefore, I shall use the upper key, ‘Messiah,’ for the promised descendant of King David and the lower key, ‘messiah,’ in the general case.) This is how the early Christians preached Jesus to the Jews they tried to convert to Christianity in the first century CE: that he was the Messiah promised to David, the Israelites, and humanity by God himself.
So, first I would like to show how far Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah transpired in the person and life of Jesus. If things turned out meticulously as described in the Old Testament, that would be a strong indication of true prophecy in the Bible; if not ….
I shall here give Christianity the benefit of the doubt by playing in its home court and assume, for a moment, the Christian belief that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah (the Christ) and summarize how far the various so-called ‘messianic prophecies’ have been fulfilled in him.
We read how it all started in Second Samuel, which portrays the prophet Nathan telling King David,
“The Lord telleth thee [King David] that he will make thee an house [dynasty (NLT)]. ‘And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep [die (NLT)] with thy fathers, I [God] will set up thy seed [descendants (NLT)] after thee, which [who] shall proceed out of thy bowels [offspring (NLT)], and I will establish his kingdom. He [King Solomon] shall build an house [temple (NLT)] for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from [King] Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.’ ” (Second Samuel 7:11–16, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the clauses, “I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” and “thy throne shall be established for ever.” In other words, God supposedly promised David that his descendants will rule Israel indefinitely. According to the Bible, therefore, God promised David that there will be no end to his descendants, that the Messiah would come from his line, and that he will rule Israel forever. As far as Jesus is concerned, the second of these two promises apparently materialized: that is, Jesus seems to have been a descendant of David. It was common knowledge to the Jews of Jesus’s time that the Christ would be a descendant of King David: John’s gospel clearly says so.
“Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42, KJV)
I do not think there is any doubt that Jesus was a descendant of King David. According to the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus was a descendant of David by both parents: by birth through Mary (Matthew 1:6–16) and legally by adoption through Joseph (Luke 3:23–31). According to the Revised English Version website, the “Joseph” mentioned in Matthew 1:16 is not Mary’s husband, but Mary’s father; there seems to have been a mistranslation between Matthew’s Aramaic and Greek originals: that is why the two genealogies do not match: https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16.
We cannot tell, for certain, whether there was an end to David’s descendants, since the original records seem to have been lost around 70 CE when the Jerusalem Temple was burned by the Romans. I suppose, however, there were enough of David’s descendants to last indefinitely: there are even modern claims on the internet to this effect. So, we may also assume that the first of these promises: that is, that there will be no end to David’s descendants, has also materialized so far, and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue to materialize—the odds are in its favor.
However, in several verses, the Bible also says that God promised David that his reign would last indefinitely. For example, besides the passage above from Second Samuel, we also read in Psalms,
“My mercy will I [God] keep for him [King David] for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed [descendants] also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven [forever].” (Psalms 89:28–29, KJV, emphasis mine)
So King David’s dynasty should have lasted indefinitely: even to the present day. This absolutely didn’t happen; the kingdom of Israel was inexistent at the time of Jesus: Israel was only a Roman colony, and naturally Jesus was never king of Israel.
However, some passages in the Bible make this promise conditional upon later monarchs of David’s line remaining faithful to God and the Law of Moses—the ‘Torah.’ For example, also in Psalms, we read,
“The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; ‘of the fruit of thy body [offspring] will I [God] set upon thy throne. If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.’” (Psalms 132:11–12, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the conditional “if.” In this case, the promise would also have materialized (in a negative kind of way, of course) since most later Jewish kings, in fact, failed to remain faithful to God and the Torah. But then, Jesus’s being the Messiah would make no sense since all bets were off—so to speak, no? Not to mention that there is no way of reconciling another blatant contradiction in the Bible: the fact that we have texts saying the promise of David’s unending dynasty was conditional and others that say it was unconditional—even in the same book (Psalms, in the above two examples).
That the king of Israel would reign over all the other kings of the earth and rule the whole world never happened. Psalms, for example, portrays God telling “his anointed,” presumably the Israelite king in the ‘end-times,’
“Ask of me [God], and I shall give thee the heathen [Gentiles] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalms 2:8–9, KJV, emphasis mine)
Such concepts have the ring of the wishful thinking of a beleaguered nation rather than a promise by God. Jesus never even tried to rule Israel: he apparently also shied away from an opportunity to be made king:
“When Jesus therefore perceived that they [the crowd] would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15, KJV.)
That Jesus (or rather the Messiah) would bring peace and justice to the whole world also never happened—far from it. In Isaiah, we read,
“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV, emphasis mine)
God tried to sow a seed for world peace through Jesus, his Son; apparently it took root for a while (see Acts 2:42–47), but it never materialized fully: it stalled. God never does all the work himself: he always works with seeds. He waits for us to participate and do our part: he never forces us to do anything, even if it happens to be for our own good.
Despite the above discrepancies between the New Testament Jesus and the Old Testament’s supposed ‘messianic prophecies,’ I do not preclude the possibility that David might have had a personal revelation from God that a special personality (possibly the same as the Prophet of Moses’s caliber promised to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 18:15–19) would be one of his descendants: a personal revelation that somehow ended up in the Hebrew Bible. Since David was “a man after his [God’s] own heart,” (First Samuel 13:14, KJV) he might have had a special relationship with God. God might have promised him that he would send someone who would lead us to living a full life in a close relationship with God. Such a promise might have been blown out of proportion, over time, to a political leader and liberator from oppression by the Romans: a development that might have simply been wishful thinking of an oppressed people. The fact that Jesus never even tried to attain political power seems to confirm such wishful thinking. What goes down in scriptures does not automatically become infallible; the Bible is not a truth factory.
It is also worth adding here that John the Baptist had serious doubts as to whether Jesus was the promised Messiah; so, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus the question, point-blank. Apparently, Jesus’s reply was that he truly was the expected Messiah; but he also added that John and his disciples should not be surprised that he did not turn out to be what most people of his time expected the Messiah to be—or what the Scriptures said, for that matter. Following is the account of the incident, in Matthew’s gospel.
“When John [the Baptist] had heard in the prison the works of Christ [Jesus], he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended [shocked] in [by] me.’” (Matthew 11:2–6, KJV, emphasis mine).
Note, especially, the last sentence: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be [shocked by] me.” Of course, this incident, which is also narrated in Luke’s gospel (7:19–23), passes the criterion of dissimilarity. Doubting whether Jesus was the Messiah was not something a Christian—one who believed Jesus was the Christ—would write, out of the blue; so, it most probably did happen. It is therefore a clear indication that Jesus did not turn out to be the same kind of Messiah predicted in Old Testament scriptures: John the Baptist knew it and so did Jesus himself. This clearly undermines the concept of the so-called ‘messianic prophecies’ in the Old Testament—despite what Paul says in First Corinthians 15:3 (“according to the scriptures”).
In conclusion: is Jesus the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament? In short, even though personally I believe he was the Messiah God promised David and possibly Moses, I do not think he would have had a case in a court of law.
We now come to what authentic Paul preached was foretold in Holy Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament): namely, (b) Christ would die for our sins, and (c) Christ would rise from the dead.
(b) Christ’s Atonement
(i) Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus, right after his resurrection, discussing with two of his disciples, who were on their way to the town of Emmaus:
“Then he [Jesus] said unto them [the disciples], ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, KJV)
I tried looking for these alleged scriptural texts many times, but I couldn’t find any. Rather than just tell you about my failure, let me quote biblical scholars and other experts.
First, the New American Bible, which is a Catholic Bible, commenting on this passage, states that the concept of a suffering Messiah is only found in the New Testament; it has,
“The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period.” (NAB Luke 24:26n)
Undoubtedly, this statement undermines the evangelist Luke’s claim.
Second, in his book Jesus the Servant-Messiah, New Testament Exegesis and Early Christian Literature professor Marinus De Jonge writes,
“One should realize that in the OT [Old Testament] the term “anointed” [messiah] is never used as a future savior/redeemer, and that only in later Jewish writings of the period between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100 the term is used only infrequently in connection with agents of divine deliverance expected in the future.” (ABD 4.777–88)
Third, in his article “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity,” New Testament scholar and author Craig Evans writes that the Messiah, in the mind of the Jews of Jesus’s time, was supposed to be a great King, the likes of King David, who would deliver them from oppression, particularly Roman occupation.
Fourth, in his book Did Jesus Exist?—The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, after discussing the various scholarly first-century-CE views regarding the Messiah as derived from the original documents, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman summarizes,
“In short, ancient Jews … held a variety of expectations of what the future messiah would be like. But all these expectations had several things in common. In all of them the messiah would be a future ruler of the people Israel, leading a real kingdom here on earth. He would be visibly and openly known to be God’s special emissary, the anointed one. And he would be high and mighty, a figure of grandeur and power.” (pp. 162–63)
(ii) But what about the Suffering Servant portrayed in Isaiah? Who is this Servant of the Lord anyway?
First, in Isaiah we read,
“[God] said unto me, ‘Thou art my servant, O Israel [the nation], in whom I will be glorified.’” (Isaiah 49:3, KJV)
So, in this verse, it seems that the ‘Servant of the Lord’ is Israel—that is, the Jewish nation—not Jesus.
Second, a couple of verses ahead in the same chapter of Isaiah, we read,
“Now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob [Israel] again to him, though Israel [the nation] be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, ‘It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob [Israel], and to restore the preserved [remnant (NET)] of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:5–6, KJV)
In this passage, Isaiah seems to be thinking of an individual, not a nation. In view of this obvious duality in the identity of the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ it cannot be taken seriously as a prophecy of a suffering Messiah.
Third, in her article “Servant of the Lord,” theology graduate and Presbyterian Church pastor Elaine Wilson confirms this.
“In many of Isaiah’s prophecies, he’s talking about the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. … But as Christians most of us probably immediately assume the Servant is Christ. … But the passage is vague about the identity of the Servant. … But this passage is not just about Jesus the Christ, and this passage is not just about the people of Israel, because we are also called to be God’s servants. We are called to be this Servant of the Lord, this ‘Servant for justice.’”
The ‘Servant of the Lord,’ therefore, seems to be more of a concept—an ideology—rather than a real person.
Fourth, in his book Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman asks, “But weren’t there any Jews who expected the Messiah to suffer and die?” To which he replies, “The short answer is that so far as we [scholars] can tell, there were not” (p. 165). He then explains further why we, Christians, believe so.
“The single greatest obstacle Christians had when trying to convert Jews was precisely their claim that Jesus had been executed. … They had to deal with it and devise a special, previously unheard of theology to account for it. And so what they invented was … the idea of a suffering messiah. That invention has become so much a part of the standard lingo that Christians today assume it was all part of the original plan of God as mapped out in the Old Testament. But in fact the idea of a suffering messiah cannot be found there.” (p. 173)
Fifth, in his article “Judaism and a Dying Messiah,” Rabbi Moshe Shulman refers to first-century-CE historian Flavius Titus Josephus (37 CE to c. 100 CE) to prove this.
“We see further proof of this in Josephus. He mentions a number of figures who were ‘Messianic’ in his two works, Antiquities of the Jews, and The Jewish War. Suffering and dying was never an accepted part of their program.” (http://judaismsanswer.com/dyingmessiah.htm)
(c) Jesus’s Resurrection
(i) Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus referring to Jonah’s incident after being confronted by the Jewish religious authorities to prove his authority to them.
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Master, we would [want to (NLT)] see a [miraculous (NLT)] sign from thee.’ But he answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous [unfaithful to God’s covenant (NAB)] generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas [Jonah]: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” (Matthew 12:38–40, KJV)
Concerning its protagonist, the book of Jonah narrates,
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17, KJV)
Does this account predict Jesus’s three-day burial and resurrection? Or is Matthew’s passage the fruit of Christian hindsight?
First, Jonah’s text is talking about the prophet Jonah, not about the Messiah. There is nothing in Jonah that even hints that the Messiah is going to have a similar experience.
Second, Matthew’s passage does not mean that Jesus actually said those words while he was alive. Written fifty-odd years after Jesus’s death, disqualifies it from being a prediction of Jesus’s resurrection: it is only hindsight. It looks more like Christian wishful thinking: that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. In fact, the Jews still don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, despite this biblical text.
Third, Jesus was not buried for “three days and three nights,” as Jonah’s text says: traditionally, he was buried from a Friday afternoon to an early Sunday morning—that is only two nights—not to mention that the three days were far from complete days: they were more like one and a half days. (However, I concede that “three days” might have been a figure of speech for ‘three partial days’—a Jewish way of speaking—but it still makes a sloppy prophecy.) It seems the evangelist is stretching this incident to fit hindsight (i.e., what happened to Jesus)? Objectively, one can take it or leave it: depending on whether one wants to believe in biblical prophecies or not.
(ii) By the time Acts was written around 110 CE—eighty-odd years after Jesus’s death—Christians had had ample time to look up Scriptures. So, in Acts, the evangelist Luke portrays the original apostles’ leader, Peter, quoting Psalms to the crowd that gathered after the commotion caused by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community at Pentecost.
“‘Because thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in hell [Hades (NKJV)], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.’ Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre [tomb] is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins [descendants], according to the flesh [offspring], he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [Hades], neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.’” (Acts 2:27-32, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Hades” is the Greek name for the ‘abode of the dead,’ often translated as “hell,” especially in older English translations of the Bible.
If one follows Luke’s syllogism (through Peter’s speech) above, it does seem that Psalms kind of predicted Jesus’s rising from the dead.
According to the King James Version, the Psalms original text reads, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalms 16:10, KJV)
The problem, however, is that the author of the Acts of the Apostles (the evangelist ‘Luke’), probably did not know Hebrew and was using a Greek translation (the ‘Septuagint’) of the original text: which did not convey accurately what the psalmist, had said. The (Catholic) New American Bible using the original Hebrew text, renders the above verse in Psalms as,
“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one to see the pit [grave].” (Psalms 16:10, NAB)
“Sheol” is the Jewish name for the ‘abode of the dead’—equivalent to the Greek “Hades.” So, the psalmist is only talking about God’s prolonging a righteous person’s life. In a proper translation of the verse there is nothing about the Christ, his resurrection, or even his body not decaying.
Interpreting such a verse as prophecy of the resurrection of Christ is a total misunderstanding of the original text.
(iii) Elsewhere in Acts, the evangelist ‘Luke’ portrays Paul quoting Psalms to fellow Jews and sympathizers of Judaism in the synagogue at Antioch.
“We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm [verse 7], ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.’” (Acts 13:32–33, KJV)
But was not Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, through his mother Mary, some thirty-three years before his resurrection? Why, then, “this day”? I could not see the connection between this verse and Jesus’s resurrection. How ‘Luke’ (through Paul’s speech) saw a prophecy of Jesus’s resurrection in this verse was puzzling to me. I suppose verse 2 of this psalm 2 has something to do with the misinterpretation because it is sometimes translated as,
“The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.” (Psalms 2:2, DRC, emphasis mine)
However, most modern Bible translations, including the (Catholic) New American Bible, render the phrase “his Christ” as “his anointed,” from the original Hebrew text: https://biblehub.com/psalms/2-2.htm.
In the footnote to this verse 2 of psalm 2, the NewAmerican Bible confirms what I already mentioned above: that power was officially conferred on both Israelite kings (see Judges 9:8, First Samuel 9:16 & First Samuel 16:12–13) and high priests (see Leviticus 8:12 & Numbers 3:3) through a superior’s anointing the candidate’s head with a perfumed ointment. In actual fact, this psalm 2 refers to a coronation of a newly appointed king of Israel; as is quite clear from its verse 6.
“Yet have I [God] set my king upon my holy hill of Zion [a synonym for both Jerusalem and Israel].” (Psalms 2:6, KJV)
Now, with this background in mind, the clause: “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” makes much more sense. Metaphorically, of course, God is adopting any new king of Israel as his son—on the day of his coronation. Despite what Luke writes in Acts, this psalm has nothing to do with Christ, the Messiah.
(2) Jesus’s Virgin Birth
In Matthew’s gospel, the evangelist tells us that Jesus’s conception happened through a virgin’s impregnation by a sperm from the Holy Spirit, and that all this was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily [privately]. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.’ Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [Isaiah], saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, ‘God with us.’ Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18–25, KJV)
It always bothered me why Jesus was not named ‘Emmanuel,’ to conform more fully to the prophecy; but anyway, let’s take a closer look at the associated account in Isaiah. I shall start with some historical background to the relevant text.
Israel/Ephraim, in the north, consisted of ten of Jacob’s (or Hebrew) tribes, while Judah, in the south, consisted of only two of Jacob’s tribes: namely, the tribe of Judah, his fourth-oldest son, and the tribe of Benjamin, his youngest son. King David was a descendent of Judah. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, Samaria was the capital of Israel, and Damascus was the capital of Syria. In the Isaiah account that follows, Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of (north) Israel, visited Ahaz, king of Judah, proposing the formation of an alliance against Assyria. When Ahaz refused to join them, both Syria and Israel attacked Judah.
“It came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Syria is confederate [allied] with Ephraim [Israel].’ And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, ‘Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; and say unto him, ‘Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah [Pekah]. Because Syria, Ephraim [Israel], and the son of Remaliah [Pekah], have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, “Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal.”’ Thus saith the Lord God, ‘It shall not stand [be], neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five  years shall Ephraim [Israel] be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim [Israel] is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son [Pekah]. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.’ Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.’ And he [Isaiah] said, ‘Hear ye now, O house of David [Judah]; is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin [young woman (NAB)] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [Emanuel]. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.’ … And I [Isaiah] took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare [bore] a son. Then said the Lord to me, ‘Call his name ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ [meaning ‘quick spoils, speedy plunder’ (NAB)]. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, “My father,” and “My mother,” the riches of Damascus [Syria] and the spoil of Samaria [Israel] shall be taken away before [by] the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 7:1–16; 8:2–4, KJV, emphasis mine)
I shall here quote self-declared atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who, in his book The Selfish Gene, happens to comment, in passing, on this alleged prophecy.
“Several distressed correspondents have queried the mistranslation of ‘young woman’ into ‘virgin’ in the biblical prophecy, and have demanded a reply from me. … The point is in fact well known to biblical scholars, and not disputed by them. The Hebrew word in Isaiah is almah, which undisputedly means ‘young woman,’ with no implication of virginity. If ‘virgin’ had been intended, bethulah could have been used instead (the ambiguous English word ‘maiden’ illustrates how easy it can be to slide between the two meanings). The ‘mutation’ occurred when the pre-Christian Greek translation [of the Hebrew Bible] known as the Septuagint rendered almah into … parthenos, which really does usually mean virgin. Matthew (not, of course, the Apostle and contemporary of Jesus, but the gospel-maker writing long afterwards), quoted Isaiah in what seems to be a derivative of the Septuagint version (all but two of the fifteen Greek words were identical) when he said, ‘Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name ‘Emmanuel.’”’ (Matthew 1:22–23) It is widely accepted among Christian scholars that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus was a late interpolation, put in presumably by the Greek-speaking disciples in order that the (mistranslated) prophecy should seem to be fulfilled. Modern versions such as the New English Bible correctly give ‘young woman’ in Isaiah. They equally correctly leave ‘virgin’ in Matthew, since they are translating from his Greek.” (p. 270)
Some readers might retort asking, “What do you expect an atheist to say?” I believe, however, that atheists do help us believers keep our feet on the ground.
Because of the importance of this supposed prophecy of Jesus’s virgin birth in the Old Testament, I decided to challenge Dawkins’s claim and see what biblical scholars really had to say. Sure enough, the first place I looked agreed with him to a significant extent. According to the biblical scholars of the New American Bible,
“[The] Hebrew [word] ‘almah designates a young woman …. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos … [a] virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23. (NAB, Isaiah 7:14n)
Please understand that I am not trying to say here that Jesus was not born of a virgin; personally, do I happen to believe it. (See my article on “Mary’s Virginity”: https://faith-or-reason.com/2021/11/27/marys-virginity/.) What I am saying is that, even though this belief is of prime importance in Christianity, there actually was no prophecy in the Old Testament concerning it—it just happened—if indeed it did. I am also saying that the evangelist ‘Matthew’ was wrong about there being an Old Testament prophecy concerning Jesus’s virgin birth. Had God really been the author of ‘Matthew’s’ gospel, he would have known better, and he would have prevented his ‘transcriber’ from writing erroneous facts. In other words, ‘Matthew’s’ gospel is not ‘gospel truth’; and, by inference, neither is the Christian Bible infallible.
While I was researching this prophecy concerning Jesus’s virgin birth, something told me to check out Isaiah’s original prophecy, concerning the child that was supposed to be born in his time, that is, Emmanuel.
According to the New American Bible, Ahaz was king of Judah from 735 BCE to 715 BCE. As mentioned above, because he refused to ally with Israel (the north) and Syria against Assyria, a coalition of the two kings of Israel and Syria attacked his capital city, Jerusalem, the same year Ahaz started his reign in Judah—see also Second Kings Ch 16 (NAB, Isaiah 7:1n). Rather than relying on God to protect his kingdom and nation, as the prophet Isaiah insisted, Ahaz sought the protection of the king of Assyria.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel’s mother was pregnant with him. Now, allowing one year for the attacks on Jerusalem, another year for Emmanuel’s pregnancy, and another year for the child to start talking, brings us to the year 732 BCE: the exact date of the fall of Damascus.
Perfect timing: even though it only happened three years later, that is, it could be humanly foreseeable. However, the fall of Samaria was also prophesied to happen simultaneously; but it didn’t happen until ten years later, that is, around 722 BCE. According to the New AmericanBible, Damascus fell in 732 BCE, Samaria fell in 722/721 BCE, and Sennacherib invaded Judah in 701 BCE. (NAB, 2 Kings 16:1–20n). Can we really call this a fulfillment of the prophecy? I don’t think so—only 50% of it was fulfilled—not to mention that three years ahead might have been humanly foreseeable.
And that is not all; the prophecy also predicted the total annihilation of the north of Israel and Samaria in sixty-five years. Well, they were certainly both still standing in Jesus’s time—more than 700 years later: Jesus was, in fact, born in the north of Israel, Samaria still existed, and Paul was in and out of Damascus, Syria.
It is not that I want to rub it in, but I think the reader should know the whole truth about the Bible. Regarding the clause “within threescore and five  years shall Ephraim [north Israel] be broken, that it be not a people” the New American Bible aptly comments that such a distant (sixty-five years) so-called prophecy would not have comforted Ahaz in the least—since he would probably be dead by then; consequently, its scholars write,
“Ahaz would not have been reassured by so distant a promise; the phrase is probably a later addition.” (NAB, Isaiah 7:8–9n)
Please note it is biblical scholars who are saying this: in other words, it was probably changed several times until the sub-authors of Isaiah finally gave up. How many times does one have to poke holes through an allegedly impregnable armor? The concept of fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible is generally untenable. We have obvious evidence here that Isaiah’s text was manipulated by his later disciples. And this could have happened several times without our getting to somehow know about it in other cases of alleged prophecies.
Moreover, it also seems that the prophet Isaiah was proved wrong since, unlike what he prophesied: “this shall not be,” Ahaz was, in fact, defeated as is related in the Bible itself in Second Chronicles:
“Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem [Judah]: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father [ancestor (NLT)]: for he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim [Baal (NLT)]. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom [Ben-Hinnom (NLT)], and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen [Gentiles] whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Wherefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of [north] Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter. (2 Chronicles 28:1–5, KJV)
Furthermore, as the New American Bible also points out, in actual fact Ahaz ruled Judah for 20 (not 16) years (735–715 BCE). (NAB, Isaiah 7:1n)
In other words, according to Second Chronicles in the Bible text itself, and contrary to what Isaiah prophesied, rather than Syria and Israel (the ten northern Hebrew tribes) being destroyed by the time the child Emmanuel (whose birth was foretold in Isaiah) could speak, it was Judah (the two southern Hebrew tribes) that ended up doubly destroyed by them both in succession. Needless to mention, one cannot say much for so-called biblical prophecies, and when the Bible text itself shows that a particular prophecy failed to transpire, there is nowhere to hide or run.
(3) The Great Tribulation
The Great Tribulation is allegedly foretold in all three synoptic Gospels. I suggest reading the following three parallel gospel passages without interruption: Matthew 24:1–36 (don’t stop at verse 31), Mark 13:1–32 (don’t stop at verse 27), and Luke 21:5–33 (don’t stop at verse 28). In all the three synoptic gospels we have an account of (a) the destruction of the temple, (b) the ‘great tribulation’ before the end of ‘this age,’ (c) the coming of the Son of Man, followed by (d) the parable of the fig tree. In every version of the parable of the fig tree we have, “this [Jesus’s] generation shall not pass till ALL these things be fulfilled,” or something similar; here they are exactly:
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:34, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be done.” (Mark 13:30, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away, till ALL be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:32, KJV, emphasis mine)
One must be practically blind or hopelessly biased to miss this statement THREE times. Even the biblical scholars of the (Catholic) ‘New American Bible’ reluctantly admit, “The difficulty raised by this verse cannot be satisfactorily removed.” (Matthew 24:34n) Jesus thought that the Great Tribulation would happen within his generation, prior to 100 CE, say, but he was wrong by almost nineteen centuries and counting. So all bets are off, I’d say.
(4) Historical Fabrications
The evangelists also seem to have made up stories in order to cook up so called ‘prophecies’ from the Old Testament. I shall only give a couple of examples, just to make the point.
(a) The first example comes from Luke’s account of the alleged census at the time of Jesus’s birth.
“It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the [Roman] world should be taxed [enrolled (NAB)]. (And this taxing [census (NLT)] was [the] first made when Cyrenius [Quirinius (NAB)] was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed [enrolled], every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea [Judah], unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David). (Luke 2:1-4, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrase “all the world” in this passage, which was synonymous to the Roman Empire in those days.
The problem with this passage is that, apart from the New Testament, there is no record of such a universal decree by Caesar Augustus. The New American Bible comments here that we only know of three universal censuses of Roman citizens: in 28 BCE, 8 BCE, and 14 CE; we also know of several provincial censuses of those who were not Roman citizens. However, if the New Testament is excluded, “a universal census of the Roman world under Caesar Augustus is unknown.” Besides, Luke’s statement “when Cyrenius [Quirinius] was governor of Syria,” creates serious historical discrepancies and “the various attempts to resolve the difficulties have proved unsuccessful.” Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed legate governor of the province of Syria in 6 CE, at which time the Roman province of Iudaea (which consisted of Judaea/Judah, Samaria immediately north of it & Idumea immediately south of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaea_(Roman_province)) was added to the province of Syria. “At that time a provincial census of Judaea [i.e., Iudaea] was taken up” (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n, emphasis mine). Notice the phrase “provincial census”—it was not a universal census.
Now, Nazareth (where Jesus’s parents lived), was in Galilee, and Galilee was in the north of Israel while Judea (or Judah) was in the south of Israel; so, Galilee was not part of the Roman province of Iudaea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galilee. In other words, the fact that there was a census of Iudaea does not imply, in fact excludes, that there was also a census of Galilee.
(Note: To put things in the right perspective in what follows (for the benefit of the reader who might not be aware of it), the Common Era (CE/AD) was originally intended to start at the birth of Jesus. But, in fact, Jesus was born around 5 BCE (not 1 CE): it so happened that a small error in calculation was made when this (our current) dating method was first introduced by a sixth-century Christian monk; unfortunately, this minor error persisted over the centuries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Era.)
The New American Bible, commenting further on this passage, points out that if we postulate Quirinius was governor of Syria before Jesus was born (i.e., besides his 6–12 CE known legateship), it would have had to be prior to 10 BCE because we happen to know all the governors of Syria from 10 BCE to the death of King Herod the Great, estimated in 4 BCE. However, as we shall see presently, dating the census prior to 10 BCE would not jibe with what Luke’s gospel itself has in 3:1 and 3:23. But let us first look at some historical and politico-geographical facts around the turn of the first century CE before we delve into all this.
The Romans made Herod the Great king of all Israel in 37 BCE. When he died in 4 BCE, his kingdom was divided among his four children, who were subsequently called tetrarchs, from the Latin phrase meaning ‘ruler of a fourth part’ of a country or province. He is not to be confused with his son, Herod Antipas, who became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea after his father’s death.
In Jesus’s time, west of the River Jordan, Israel was divided in three regions: Galilee (which included Nazareth) in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea/Judah (which included Jerusalem and Bethlehem) in the south; east of the River Jordan, it was divided in four regions: Iturea, Trachonitis, and the Decapolis (Greek for ‘ten cities’) in the north, and Perea in the middle (NAB, p. 12a). As just mentioned, Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea.
Luke introduces John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s ministries as follows:
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea [i.e., Iudaea], and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee [& Perea], and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene [in Syria], Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John [the Baptist] the son of Zacharias [Zachariah] in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1–2, KJV, emphasis mine).
“Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age.” (Luke 3:23, KJV).
Now, as I was saying, if one were to postulate that Quirinius was governor of Syria at some other time (i.e., besides his 6–12 CE legateship), the New American Bible contends that it would have had to be prior to 10 BCE because all the governors of Syria between 10 BCE and the death of King Herod in 4 BCE are known.
However, 10 BCE would have been too early for the time of Jesus’s birth given in Luke’s gospel. Combining: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came unto John [the Baptist]” with “Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age,” (Luke 3:1–2, 23, KJV) from these two verses, one can calculate the date of Jesus’s birth according to Luke. We know that Emperor Tiberius reigned from 14 CE to 37 CE. Since John the Baptist started his ministry after fifteen years of Tiberius’s reign, John must have started baptizing around 29 CE (14+15 = 29). Now, since Jesus started his ministry shortly after this, and Luke’s gospel says that he was then about 30 years old, this places Jesus’s birth at, or shortly before 1 BCE (29-30 = -1). Consequently, the New American Bible argues that (assuming these two gospel statements are correct) Quirinius could not have conducted a census at the time of Jesus’s birth: the Bible would have a historical error of about a decade: from say 11 BCE (just prior to 10 BCE) to 1 BCE (11-1 = 10).
Summarizing: The alleged universal census in Luke’s gospel, if it ever happened, had to be either prior to 10 BCE because Quirinius was definitely not governor of Syria between 10 BCE and 4 BCE (the estimated year of King Herod’s death) or else after 6 CE when, we know, Quirinius became governor of Syria. But these dates are either too early or too late for the year of Jesus’s birth (which presumably happened at the same time as the census).
(i) If we follow the biblical scholars’ estimate for Jesus’s birth (i.e., 5 BCE), after 6 CE is ten-odd (5+6 = 11) years too late for Jesus’s birth; while prior to 10 BCE (say 11 BCE) is five-odd (11-5 = 6) years too early.
(ii) If, on the other hand, we follow the estimate for Jesus’s birth from Luke’s gospel (i.e., 1 BCE), prior to 10 BCE (say 11 BCE) is ten-odd (11-1 = 10) years too early; while after 6 CE is five-odd (1+6 = 7) years too late. (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n)
Finally, as the New American Bible points out, postulating that Quirinius was governor of Syria at some time in between 4 BCE and 6 CE would not have worked out either because it would contradict the statements by both Luke (1:5) and Matthew (2:1), that Jesus was born while King Herod the Great was still alive. Let us see exactly why.
Following are the verses the New American Bible cites here. In Luke, we read,
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias [Zachariah], of the course [priestly division (NAB)] of Abia [Abija]: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” (Luke 1:5, KJV, emphasis mine)
And in Matthew, we read,
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea [Judah] in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [magi] from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1–2, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the word “king,” not “tetrarch,” in both the above quotes: so they are referring to King Herod the Great, not to Herod Antipas who was only a tetrarch, not a king. From the first verse of this last quote, especially, we may safely conclude that King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born (at least according to the Gospels) because King Herod entertained these wise men or magi.
So, a census between 4 BCE and 6 CE is out of the question because King Herod the Great would have been dead after 4 BCE: consequently, Jesus would have already been born, but the alleged census conducted by Quirinius took place just before Jesus was born. In other words, it would contradict the above statements by two evangelists.
Therefore, the New American Bible concludes that ‘Luke,’ writing his gospel around 90 CE, was only going by some hazy memory of the provincial census Quirinius had conducted eighty-odd years earlier (i.e., in 6 CE). It has,
“Luke may simply be combining Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with his vague recollection of a census under Quirinius.” (NAB, Luke 2:1–2n)
As if this were not bad enough, in Acts, the same author, ‘Luke,’ writes there:
“[Pharisee Gamaliel] said unto them [the Sanhedrin], ‘Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men [the apostles]. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing [census], and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.’” (Acts 5:35–37, KJV, emphasis mine)
The New American Bible comments here that Theudas’s movement occurred between 44 CE and 46 CE. Now, according to Wikipedia, Judas the Galilean resisted registration to Quirinius’s provincial census around 6 CE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_of_Galilee. Yet, Luke places Judas and the census after Theudas. In Acts, ‘Luke’ is, therefore, some fifty-odd (45+5 = 50) years off regarding the census that allegedly happened just prior to Jesus’s birth around 5 BCE: showing his very poor knowledge of historical facts (NAB, Acts 5:36–37n).
‘Luke’ probably made some assumptions from his own recollections, or he confused the dates and the names, or (at worst) made everything up: any of which cases does not say much for the historical accuracy of the New Testament or the Bible.
So, in conclusion, why did Luke fabricate such a universal census? He had an agenda. He needed to conform to the birthplace of Jesus as was supposedly foretold by Old Testament scriptures. He wanted to show how Jesus was born in David’s city of Bethlehem, as the prophet Micah had declared:
“Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2, KJV)
Now, in any kind of Roman census (provincial or universal), Jesus’s family could have registered their names in their own village, Nazareth, or perhaps a nearby town in Galilee (not to mention that Mary was not required to be present, only the “‘paterfamilias’ [head of the family] had to appear in person”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_censor). But ‘Luke,’ somehow, needed to explain why Jesus’s family lived in the north of Israel (Nazareth) and yet Jesus was born in the far-away south (a journey of a week or longer in those days—with Mary pregnant: https://www.stcatherinercc.org/single-post/2017/12/06/how-long-is-the-trip-from-nazareth-to-bethlehem), in Bethlehem of Judah, as was supposedly foretold by the prophet Micah. So, was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Maybe! The fact is we do not really know, but it is very unlikely. What we do know for sure is that Luke fabricated the circumstances that might have led up to its happening on vague recollections: but, unfortunately, it does not hold water—he never anticipated his writings would be scrutinized centuries later.
(b) The second example of historical fabrications in the New Testament comes from Matthew: King Herod’s ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ around the time of Jesus’s birth.
“Then [King] Herod, when he saw that he was mocked [tricked] of [by] the wise men [magi], was exceeding wroth [angry], and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not [no more (NAB)].’” (Matthew 2:16–18, KJV)
Did this actually happen? For starters, we do not find ‘Matthew’s’ account of the murder of the innocents in any of the other three gospels. Nor is it corroborated elsewhere by unbiased historians. According to Wikipedia, for example, we do not even find it recorded in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, which was written around 93 CE, where he mentions many of King Herod’s atrocities like the murder of three of his sons. Consequently, Wikipedia concludes, “some scholars consider it folklore inspired by Herod’s reputation”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents.
So, why does ‘Matthew’ write this then? Simply because he wants to show that Jesus’s coming was foretold in Holy Scripture by the prophet Jeremiah:
“Thus saith the Lord; ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel [Rachel (NAB)] weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not [no more (NAB)].’” (Jeremiah 31:15, KJV)
From Josephus’s accounts, therefore, Herod was definitely ruthless in protecting his reign. So, a legend along the same lines (i.e., Herod’s taking bloody measures to prevent Jesus from taking his kingship) would hardly be questioned by anybody: it fit the contemporaneous ‘paradigm’ like a glove. Keep in mind that ‘Matthew’ was writing for a Jewish-Christian audience some fifty years after Jesus’s death; so he figured there would not be anybody questioning him. The evangelists had no idea that their writings would be adopted in Holy Scripture. Assuming, of course, that the Bible is a book written by humans, not dictated personally by God, this would be something one would expect. As I argued above, ‘Luke’ was not perfect; neither was ‘Matthew.’ He probably thought that lying for a good cause was helping God’s interests and would be commendable. Moreover, ‘Matthew’ probably sincerely believed that Moses prefigured Jesus in many ways: so, narrowly escaping death as an infant while all other male children of his age were killed would be a desirable parallelism for Jesus with Moses (i.e., that Moses was a ‘pre-type’ of Jesus). (See Exodus 1:15–2:10.)
In his article “The Real King Herod, the Bible’s Bloodiest Tyrant,” editor of the book Why I Am Still a Catholic and ex-editor of the Catholic Herald periodical, Peter Stanford, confirms that the evangelists made up some of the details to fill up gaps or to agree with Old Testament alleged prophecies; he writes,
“Their [The Gospels’] writers, composing accounts of Jesus between 30 and 100 years after his death, played fast and loose with details, making some up to fill in the gaps or chime with Old Testament prophesies.” (Daily Mail, May 10, 2007)
Consequently, the massacre of the innocents may just be a tale so as to agree with the above verse from Jeremiah: thus, exalting it to the higher level of prophecy. Such an accusation of King Herod would also have been quite easy to sell, given his horrible reputation.
As one can see, there is not one single ‘smoking gun’ where one can comfortably say, “Yes, that is a genuine biblical prophecy.” It makes me wonder therefore, what makes Bible inerrantists believe the Bible is God’s Word. Not to mention, as I pointed out above, that one single ‘prophecy’ that failed to transpire disqualifies the Bible’s being God’s Word.
New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops; Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010: ISBN 9780899429519 (NAB)
New English Translation Bible. Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press LLC, 2017. (NET)
As I argued in the previous article, one can safely conclude that the Bible is fallible if one can find irreconcilable contradictions in its own text. One cannot have it both ways: textual contradictions imply that at least one of the versions is false—if not both. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate litmus test for the Bible’s infallibility or otherwise since the Bible is supposedly God’s word, and presumably God cannot contradict himself: it defeats the opponent on one’s own home court, so to speak. Naturally, as in the previous article, I shall let the Bible speak for itself.
This article consists only of textual contradictions we find in the Old Testament and between the two Testaments. I’m sure the reader will appreciate that this article is not an exhaustive study of the Bible or even of the Old Testament, for that matter; so a few examples will have to suffice. Indeed, being written, edited, and re-edited by many authors and sub-authors, the Bible is overloaded with contradicting accounts and statements; there are many, perhaps hundreds, of contradictions: reflecting the different opinions of these authors/sub-authors. To the pure of heart, however, even one clear such instance should prove, unequivocally, that the Bible is fallible. We find all sorts, a whole spectrum, of contradicting texts throughout the Bible.
Order of Creation
According to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, humans (both male and female) were created after all the animals.
“God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light ‘Day,’ and the darkness he called ‘Night.’ And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament [dome (NAB) or vault (NIV)] in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the [rain] waters from the [lake/sea] waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament ‘Heaven.’ And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear’: and it was so. And God called the dry land ‘Earth’; and the gathering together of the waters called he ‘Seas’: and God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth’: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth’: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light [the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.’ And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind’: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ …And it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:3–28, 30–31, KJV)
Here’s a short summary of the above Genesis passage for easy reference and comparison with that of chapter 2 below.
(1) On the first day of the Creation, God created light.
(2) On the second day, he created a dome/vault (the heavens/sky—thought to be made of a shiny metal).
(3) On the third day, he created the seas, the land (earth), the plants, and the trees.
(4) On the fourth day, he created the sun, the moon, and the stars.
(5) On the fifth day, he created the sea animals, the fish, and the birds.
(6) On the sixth day, he created the insects, the land animals, and finally humans (both male and female—together).
According to Genesis chapter 2, however, Adam was created before all the animals. Compare the above summary, with the following passage.
“These are the generations [makings] of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust [slime (DRC)] of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison … the name of the second river is Gihon … the name of the third river is Hiddekel [Tigris (NAB)] … and the fourth river is Euphrates. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [suited (NAB)] for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet [suited] for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” (Genesis 2:4–11, 13–22, KJV, emphasis mine)
Here’s a short summary of Genesis chapter 2 for easy reference and comparison with that of chapter 1 above.
(1) First, God created heaven and earth.
(2) Then, he created the plants and grasses.
(3) Afterward, he created a man (Adam).
(4) Next, he created the trees.
(5) Later, he created the land animals, the birds, and every other animal.
(6) Finally, he created a woman (Eve).
So, contrary to Genesis chapter 1, clearly, in Genesis chapter 2, Eve was not created at the same time as Adam: Adam seems to have been created before the animals, while Eve seems to have been created after the animals (Genesis 2:7 & 2:22). Which version of the Creation is the correct one: chapter 1 or chapter 2?
Why does the Bible contradict itself in the same book, just a couple of pages apart? Why is God’s word so sloppy? Or, maybe, it is not God’s word after all. Maybe, the Bible is simply a book written by ordinary people. Being a meticulous person, these and similar discrepancies, which I discovered while reading the Bible cover to cover, made me rethink my initial assumption: namely, the Catholic (and Christian) doctrine that the Bible is infallible.
In all fairness, however, in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses make a good attempt at reconciling this discrepancy. They argue that while Genesis chapter 1 is a chronological account, chapter 2 is written in order of topical importance. They contend that in Genesis chapter 2 other information is added subsequently as required. They explain that after a short introduction, Genesis chapter 2 starts with the main subject: that is, the creation of man, Adam. Next, it tells us that Adam was to live in a pleasure park, and so details about the garden are added. They continue,
“Jehovah [God] tells Adam to name “every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens.” Now, then, is the time to mention that “Jehovah God had been forming from the ground” (Genesis 2:19, NWT) all these creatures, although their creation began long before Adam appeared on the scene” (pp. 94–95).
As much as this might be a possibility, I do not see it this way for the following three reasons.
First, since, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, both Adam and “his family” constitute the main subject (i.e., of first importance, p. 94), I do not see why Eve was not mentioned in the beginning with Adam: that is, before the animals and the garden. In Genesis chapter 1 they are mentioned together.
Second, if one examines the context of Genesis chapter 2, the tenses of the verbs do not add up to what Jehovah’s Witnesses are saying above. Following their own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, we read:
“Then Jehovah God said: ‘It is not good for the man [Adam] to continue to be alone. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.’ Now Jehovah God had been forming from the ground every wild animal of the field and every flying creature of the heavens, and he began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man would call each living creature, that became its name. So the man named all the domestic animals and the ﬂying creatures of the heavens and every wild animal of the ﬁeld, but for man there was no helper as a complement of him. So Jehovah God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of his ribs and then closed up the ﬂesh over its place. And Jehovah God built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman [Eve], and he brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:18–22, NWT, emphasis mine).
Notice the future tense in the clause: “I am going to make a helper for him.” I think that is when God decided to create the animals to serve as a helper for Adam. He did not create them beforehand: the same way he decided to create Eve, later, when none of the animals worked out as Adam’s suitable helper. The past tense in the clause: “God had been forming from the ground every wild animal” does not jibe with the future tense used in the previous sentence. In fact, the New American Bible has,
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.’ So the Lord God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.” (Genesis 2:18–19, NAB, emphasis mine).
Notice the introductory word “So.” I found three (i.e., two more) translations with this introductory word “so,” but I also found five (i.e., four more) translations with the past tense “had formed”: https://biblehub.com/genesis/2-19.htm.
Third, I think the actual writing sequence clinches the argument. I contend that anyone’s interpretation of the Bible is only an opinion: it is not what the Bible, in fact, says. In a court of law, it is usually what one does that matters most: intentions must be supported by factual evidence. In my opinion, therefore, there were, probably, two different authors (or groups, like the ‘Yahwists’ and the ‘Elohists’ NAB: pp. –, Genesis 1:1–2:3n, 2:4n) who initially wrote the first two chapters of Genesis, and they thought differently: God does not seem to have interfered at all to reconcile them.
To add weight to my observations above, I here quote New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, who in his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), specifically mentions some of the contradictions and scientific shortcomings in Genesis.
“The Creation account in Genesis [chapter] 1 is very different from the account in Genesis [chapter] 2. … Are animals created before humans or afterward? Is ‘man’ the first living creature to be created or last? Is woman created at the same time as man or separately? Even within each story there are problems: if ‘light’ was created on the first day of creation in Genesis [chapter] 1, how is it that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day? Where was light coming from, if not the sun, moon, and stars? And how could there be an “evening and morning” on each of the first three days if there was no sun?” (pp. 9–10)
I agree with all Ehrman says above except regarding “light.” I used to think like him too, that is, that the sun had to be created before light. However, the first thing that seems to have happened in our universe, according to the big bang theory, was its being full of electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves consist of all sorts of energy waves of different wavelength, namely, gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared (heat), microwaves, and radio waves (in order of increasing wavelength). So, visible light happens to be a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. In my opinion, if I were God inspiring a biblical author to write an accurate account of the beginning of the universe, I too would tell him to write “light” as the first thing created: given the fact that humanity was unfamiliar with any other portion of the electromagnetic spectrum—except heat, perhaps, but it is much less descriptive.
I am writing this clarification to show the reader that I have been wrong before, and I am willing to admit it: I am only interested in finding the best version of the truth. Moreover, I do not take for granted whatever experts say; that is, not without researching, considering, and weighing other opinions.
According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were the first and only people created directly by God on earth. Initially, that is, at the time the following episode happened, they had only two male children: first Cain then Abel.
“Adam knew [had intercourse with (NAB)] Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare [bore] Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the Lord.’ And she again bare [bore] his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep [shepherd], but Cain was a tiller of the ground [farmer].” (Genesis 4:1–2, KJV)
Cain killed his brother, Abel, because he was jealous of God’s preference for Abel’s behavior. God punished Cain for his crime by making the ground (soil) unproductive for him; forcing Cain to become a wanderer. (See Genesis 4:3–12.)
“Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew [had intercourse with (NAB)] his wife; and she conceived, and bare [bore] Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” (Genesis 4:16–17, KJV)
Now, where did Cain’s wife come from, if at that time there were only three humans on earth (i.e., Adam, Eve, and Cain)? How did she grow up so fast?
In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest one examine the context to find out where she came from; so let me do just that.
From the verse in which Cain’s wife appears suddenly (verse 17) to the end of that chapter there are almost ten more verses, and the next chapter in Genesis is simply a genealogy of Adam’s descendants. Now obviously, eventually Adam had to have more children through Eve; otherwise there would be no humanity (i.e., if one were to assume that the world started with only one male-female pair of humans). So, they (as well as all other Bible-inerrancy believers) propose that Cain married a sister or a niece (pp. 90–91). Of course, there must have been a time lag of twenty-odd years for Cain to marry a sister and forty-odd years for him to marry a niece. Naturally, this would have been feasible at a time when people supposedly lived eight or nine hundred years. (See Genesis 5:1–32.)
The problem I find with this explanation is that, in fact, the Bible context does not show it, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim: there is absolutely no delay in the biblical text. I took here their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, so there would be no debating.
“Then Cain went away from before Jehovah [God] and took up residence in the land of Exile, to the east of E’den. Afterward Cain had sexual relations with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to E’noch.” (Genesis 4:16–17, NWT, emphasis mine).
In the original Hebrew, there is no corresponding word for “Afterward” or “Later”: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/genesis/4-17.htm. (Should the reader decide to check the annexed link, please note that Hebrew is written from right to left—i.e., backward.) In other words, the original context tells me exactly this: that Genesis’s author slipped and overlooked the details—typical of a human book, not a divine book—and that Bible-inerrancy believers now try to cover up the textual problem.
Even a lower than average writer would feel the need to explain where Cain’s wife came from—let alone God (if he were truly the Bible’s author). In my opinion, had God really anything to do with this verse, it would have been to tell us clearly not to take the account too seriously.
Now, if science were to prove categorically that humans evolved from apes, this would be almost irrefutable evidence that the Bible supported science in this respect. And I have no doubt whatsoever that Bible-inerrancy believers would use it to their advantage. They would contend that this is where Cain’s wife came from—from other developed ape communities—and the Bible knew it!
I here adhere closely to the biblical text in figuring out how many Israelites left Egypt in their supposed ‘Exodus.’ My derived number from the Book of Exodus text shows clearly a blatant contradiction with the biblical text in the Book of Numbers.
Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 29 & 30), was Moses’s progenitor. Jacob (recall he was renamed Israel in Genesis 32:28) and eleven of his sons joined Joseph (Genesis 46) after he was sold by his brethren (Genesis 37) and became famous in Egypt (Genesis 41). According to Exodus, from Jacob (Israel) to Moses there are only four generations. (Focus on the italicized names.)
“These be the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben. And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon. And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare [bore] him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.” (Exodus 6:14-20 KJV, emphasis mine)
So, summarizing the above italicized names (from Jacob/Israel to Moses), we have: (1) Jacob (Israel) had Levi, (2) Levi had Kohath, (3) Kohath had Amram, and (4) Amram had Moses.
Note also that Levi’s brothers, Reuben and Simeon, had no more than six male children each. Even if we assume that every male in every generation bore twelve children (i.e., six male and six female), after four generations the Israelite male population (young and old) would only reach about 3,100: 1×12+12×6+12x6x6+12x6x6x6 = 12+72+432+2,592 = 3,108, assuming nobody dies in the four generations.
Now, according to the Book of Numbers, about two years after leaving Egypt, God asked Moses to take a census of the Israelite male population, who were more than twenty years of age and fit for war.
“The Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.’” (Numbers 1:1–3, KJV, emphasis mine)
Numbers also gives the final figure.
“So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel; even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty [603,550 men]. (Numbers 1:45-6)
Keep in mind that this number excludes those under age twenty and those too feeble or handicapped to fight. So, compare a maximum of 3,100 men with well over 603,550 men. Is my calculation far out or is Numbers exaggerating the Israelites’ population?
If I am right, the Israelite ‘nation’ that was freed from the slavery of Egypt was not a nation at all; but just a sizable band of people. I hate to undermine the Jews’ most treasured ‘history,’ but numbers don’t lie. Moreover, I am only using information given in their Bible: to me, it looks like the event was mythologized over time.
In fact, according to the Rational Wiki website, there is no geological evidence that a great nation spent forty years migrating from Egypt to Israel: like a concentration of broken pottery or buried corpses strewn along the way there.
“Archeologists from the 19th century onward actually expressed surprise when they failed to find any evidence whatsoever for the events of Exodus. By the 1970s, archaeologists had largely given up the Bible as any use at all as a privileged field-guide. … Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog provides his view on the historicity of the Exodus: ‘The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century BCE—of a history that never happened.’ Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology Eric H. Cline also summarizes the scholarly consensus in his book Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (published by Oxford University Press and winner of the 2011 Biblical Archaeology Society’s ‘Best Popular Book on Archaeology’): ‘Despite attempts by a number of biblical archaeologists—and an even larger number of amateur enthusiasts—over the years, credible direct archaeological evidence for the Exodus has yet to be found. While one might argue that such evidence would be difficult to find, since nomads generally do not leave behind permanent installations, archaeologists have discovered and excavated nomadic emplacements from other periods in the Sinai desert. So if there were archaeological remains to be found from the Exodus, one would have expected them to be found by now. And yet, thus far there is no trace of the biblical “600,000 men on foot, besides children” plus “a mixed crowd…and live stock in great numbers” (Exod. 12:37-38) who wandered for forty years in the desert.’ Nevertheless, another current consensus among scholars suggests that some historical elements lie behind the Exodus narrative, even if Moses and the Exodus belong more to collective cultural memory than to verifiable history. According to Avraham Faust, a professor of archaeology in the department of General History at Bar-Ilan University in Israel: ‘While there is a consensus among scholars that the Exodus did not take place in the manner described in the Bible, surprisingly most scholars agree that the narrative has a historical core, and that some of the highland settlers came, one way or another, from Egypt.’ Those Canaanites who started regarding themselves as Israelites would likely have been joined or led by a small ‘Exodus group’ of Semites from Egypt, likely carrying stories and collective memories that made it into the written composition of Exodus: ‘It appears that while many individuals, families and groups were involved in the process of Israel’s ethnogenesis throughout the Iron Age, and that many of those who eventually became Israelites were of Canaanite origins, the first group was composed mainly of Shasu pastoralists. Other groups, probably including a small ‘Exodus’ group which left Egypt, joined the process, and all were gradually assimilated into the growing Israel, accepting its history, practices and traditions, and contributing some of their own. Traditions and practices that were useful in the active process of Israel’s boundary maintenance with other groups were gradually adopted by “all Israel”. It appears that the story of the Exodus from Egypt was one such story.’” http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus.
This confirms exactly what I said above: the numbers in the Bible don’t jibe.
In the Book of Job, God asks the protagonist,
“Where wast thou [Job] when I [God] laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?” (Job 38:4–6, KJV)
In the same book, Job tells his friend Bildad,
“He [God] stretcheth out the north [firmament/heavens (NAB note)] over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7, KJV)
So, which is it? Does the earth have “foundations,” or does it hang “upon nothing”? One would naturally opt for what God says (which would, in fact, turn out to be wrong) rather than for what Job says; but it does not matter here: one of them is wrong, anyway.
I shall now change gears and address contradictions between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Book of Deuteronomy portrays Moses as God’s oracle telling the Hebrews,
“See now that I [God], even I, am he, and there is no god with me.” (Deuteronomy 32:39, KJV)
And again Isaiah portrays God saying practically the same thing.
“Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his [Israel’s] redeemer the Lord of hosts; ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. … Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.’” (Isaiah 44:6,8, KJV)
Isaiah also portrays God declaring to the Persian king Cyrus the Great,
“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.” (Isaiah 45:5, KJV)
So clearly, according to the Bible, there is only one God. However, in John’s gospel we read there is another God (the “Word”): that also Jesus is God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
Later, in the same chapter, the evangelist John makes it very clear that by the “Word” he means Jesus because he writes,
“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)
Of course, I know that Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians believe in the Trinity, and that they declare it a mystery that defeats human understanding. Maybe, however, there is no mystery at all; the solution to the riddle may simply be that the Bible is fallible: that one should not assume that every biblical verse is true, and that there might even be contradictions in its own texts—as I have shown in this and my previous article. (See also my article on “The Trinity.”)
On the other side of the religious fence, even though Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe the Bible to be infallible, they do not believe that Jesus is God. This, therefore, constitutes a major discrepancy in the interpretation of the same Bible.
How do they reconcile these two seemingly conflicting biblical statements? Their translation of the first verse in John’s gospel is a little different; they have,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god [or divine (note)].” (John 1:1, NWT, emphasis mine)
Notice the article “a” and the lower key (not capital) in “god.” So, they claim that the so-called ‘contradiction’ in the biblical statements is only apparent and can be reconciled by proper translation of John’s text. Personally, I disagree with both their and other Christians’ doctrines: I contend it is simply a biblical contradiction like all the examples I have given above and below.
Let me start my discussion of the subject with an overview of the Gospels. The first gospel written, Mark’s around 70 CE (NAB, p. 69), does not narrate anything from Jesus’s infancy: it portrays him only as an adult and claims he is “the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, KJV). However, this begs the question: how is it, exactly, that a human being became the Son of God? So, the two later gospels, Matthew’s (written around 80 CE, NAB p. 10) and Luke’s (written around 90 CE, NAB p. 96), try to answer this question by informing us that Jesus was the Son of God from his conception: they give us an infancy narrative of Jesus telling us that the Holy Spirit somehow impregnated his mother, Mary. (See my article on “Mary’s Virginity.”) So far, so good, miracles do happen occasionally, and God, possibly, decided to personally mold a special person for us. Still, this was not enough for the early Christians. For some reason, they started to believe that Jesus existed with God even before his birth: so, initially, they identified him with God’s personified “Wisdom” in the Old Testament, or the way he thinks—his “Thought.” So, the latest gospel, John’s (written around 100 CE, NAB p. 144), declares that Jesus existed “in the beginning” (John 1:1, KJV) of the Creation, and that God sent him on earth to reveal to us his Father. Therefore, John identifies him with God’s “Word”: words are the expression of one’s thoughts, and God created the entire universe simply by his word—according to Genesis. That is why John’s gospel also starts, like Genesis, with “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1, KJV): meaning in the beginning of the Creation or the universe. (Scientists now say in the beginning of ‘time.’)
Naturally, John’s gospel, and by inference the Bible, does not make much sense in today’s concept of God. It may have been excusable, however, in John’s time since many considered even the living Roman emperor, although human, to be divine. In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes,
“Other human beings who had greatly benefitted their fellows were divinized only after their death, but [Roman Emperor] Caesar Augustus [63 BCE–14 CE] was unique in having achieved divine status while still alive. Nothing like him, therefore, had come before or would come after him.” (p. 19)
I develop this theme in more detail why this happened under “First-Century Divinity” in my article on “The Trinity.” Over time, the early Christians tried to extol Jesus more and more, until they eventually made him God like the Roman emperor. Recall that John’s gospel was the last canonical (official) gospel written: it therefore lends itself to being the least authentic because of the lack of eyewitnesses who could question it at the time it was written. In fact, Jesus’s divinity is only claimed in John’s gospel: one does not find such a claim in any of the other three gospels—the ‘synoptic’ Gospels.
In trying to emphasize Jesus’s importance, John ended up making Jesus greater than he really was. However, it backfired on him because Christianity, later believing his book to be infallible, came to the wrong conclusion of the Trinity: that is, roughly, that there are three ‘Gods’ in the one God. The three Gods in the Trinity are best described as Siamese twins (triplets rather) or possibly like the three-headed Greek mythological monster, Cerberus. At the time the Trinity was defined in 381 CE, Christians were still highly influenced by Greek philosophy and mythology. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and main author of the US Declaration of Independence, compares the Trinity to Cerberus in his 1822 letter to theologian James Smith; he wrote,
“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-3202) Indeed, if you read the entire letter, he was confident that the Unitarianism (one God) would be the new religion of the new world.
“I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States.”
Because, he adds, it was the religion of the early Christians:
“No historical fact is better established than that the doctrine of one god, pure and uncompounded was that of the early ages of Christianity.”
Unfortunately, his dreams did not pan out.
I honestly do not really understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses mean exactly by “a god” or “divine” in their translation of the first verse of John’s gospel—except what ordinary folk, like you and me, think they mean. Whatever translation one adopts, the word used in John’s gospel is misleading: typical of a human book. If it were truly God writing John’s gospel, he would not have used the word “god” or “God” for a created supernatural being like an angel, say: he would have used a word like ‘spirit.’
If one really thinks about it, all this mess stems from a ludicrous assumption that every Bible verse is infallible: Christians promoted a simply human book to divine status; but Christianity is not a truth factory, nor is the Bible. The whole mystery of the Trinity would be no mystery at all if one were to concede that the Bible is fallible: which, I believe, I manage to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation.
Even though I disagree with their somewhat weird translation of the first verse in John’s gospel, I think that, of all Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the best concept of who, or what, Jesus is. I find it hard to admit this because it goes against what I believed most of my life. Still, I disagree with them that Jesus pre-existed from the beginning of the universe (or earlier) simply because a handful of New Testament verses, mostly from John’s gospel (John 1:1, 14, 30; 8:24, 28, 56–59; 10:30–33, 37–38; 13:19; 14:20; 17:5, 21–24; 18:5–8. 20:27–28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1), happen to say so. Again, if one were to simply forget about the initial assumption, the ‘axiom,’ that the Bible is totally infallible, it would be easy to come to the right conclusion: namely, that Jesus did not exist before his birth—like every one of us.
I suppose what the evangelist John tried to convey in his text was the concept that Jesus is most like his Father (God), that he is like a chip of wood taken from a large tree; in other words, that he is of the ‘same substance’ as his Father—but not physically, of course: he is as close as a human being could possibly get to being like God. Having said this, I believe Jesus was still totally human, and his existence only started when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in his mother Mary’s womb—no more. We are all made in the image of God, but he is the image of God par excellence.
Now, is there any biblical support for my opinion? Surprisingly enough, there is quite a bit. The early Christians thought that God exalted Jesus to his ‘right-hand,’ but only after his resurrection. The first such passage comes from one of Paul’s undisputedly authentic letters, Philippians (written in the mid-50s CE, NAB p. 301); he writes,
“Let this mind [attitude (NAB)] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form [essence (AMP), or nature (NIV), or father-son living image (mine)] of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant [slave (NAB)], and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, KJV, emphasis mine)
According to Plato (c.428–c.347 BCE), the form is an imitation of a concept: like drawing a circle or a triangle, say, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms. Observe the word “exalted” in the above passage. Had Jesus been God, how could he be “exalted” any higher? Paul, like John, probably perceived Jesus as closest to the nature of God himself: like a son is to his father; indeed, Jesus was known as the “Son of God.” Paul too recognized Jesus as the Son of God in the Galatians passage (1:16) we saw at the beginning of the previous article: but not exactly God—there was only one God for Paul.
Moreover, in Acts, we find a second passage showing that the early Christians did not believe Jesus was God. About fifty days after Jesus’s resurrection, the original apostles’ leader, Peter, addressed the crowd that gathered following the commotion at Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community) as follows:
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. … This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by [to (NKJV)] the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], he hath shed forth [upon us (NLT)] this, which [what] ye now see and hear.” (Acts 2:22–23, 32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Again, notice the clause “to the right hand of God exalted” and the phrase “a man” (not ‘a god’). Was Peter being heretical, then? Of course not, the source of this speech is probably from very early Christianity; at which time Christians simply thought of Jesus as a special person: “a man approved of God.”
We find the same clause again in Acts, which portrays Peter before the Sanhedrin saying,
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [cross]. Him hath God exalted with [to (NKJV)] his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)
But later in Christianity, there was a concept evolution: trying to understand how, exactly, Jesus was so closely connected to his Father. Unfortunately, this evolution went in the wrong direction.
Furthermore, John’s gospel itself gives us another verse showing that John himself didn’t believe that Jesus was equal to God; he writes, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28, KJV). The Douay-Rheims Bible tries to explain this embarrassing, contradicting verse as follows:
“It is evident, that Christ our Lord speaks here of himself as he is made man: for as God he is equal to the Father. (See Philippians 2:5–11.) Any difficulty of understanding the meaning of these words will vanish, when the relative circumstances of the text here are considered: for Christ being at this time shortly to suffer death, signified to his apostles his human nature by these very words: for as God he could not die. And therefore as he was both God and man, it must follow that according to his humanity he was to die, which the apostles were soon to see and believe, as he expresses, [in the next verse] ver. 29, ‘And now I have told you before it come to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe.’” (John 14:28n, DRC, emphasis mine)
Notice the clause: “as God he could not die.” Presumably, however, neither does a human soul die when one dies, but we still talk about a person dying.
According to Christian doctrine (Council of Chalcedon 451 CE), Jesus is supposedly one person with two natures: in whom both divinity and humanity are inseparable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 104, ¶ 467).
“This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person [prosopon] and subsistence [hypostasis—essence/substance], not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.” (https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/chalcedonian_definition.htm)
Therefore, following this doctrine, when Jesus says “I,” it should include both his humanity and his divinity: just as when a person says “I,” it includes both one’s body and one’s soul. The lengthy explanation the Douay-Rheims Bible gives is only an indication of biblical contradiction.
Personally, like early Christianity, I tend to think of things a little simpler than later Christianity: I believe Jesus is Mary’s son through a special sperm donated directly by God (or better, by the Holy Spirit—God’s emissary). Admittedly, a small miracle, creating a special sperm, was required of God: but then, God is capable of much greater miracles—as I detailed in the chapter on “Miracles” in my book Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation (pp. 283–324).
The Gospels’ evangelists, as well as later New Testament authors, over time, mythologized Jesus (like Robin Hood or Zorro) and tried to exalt him to a higher and higher position: until he became equal to God. Finally, he was also declared God: one of the persons of the Trinity. But I think that, all along, this was only wishful thinking on the part of Christians. (See my article on “The Trinity” for further political insight.)
In short, John’s gospel and a couple of New Testament letters (Titus & Second Peter) written after John’s gospel contradict the Old Testament assertion that there is only one God; the so-called mystery of the Trinity is merely a miserably-failing attempt to work around this contradiction.
Assuming the Bible was inspired by God himself, one would expect it to be a book advocating ‘proper’ morality. One would also imagine that God’s laws wouldn’t change over time: what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong: time, places, and customs should not be a factor, no?
There is hardly any question, at least nowadays, that monogamy (one wife) is proper morality while polygamy (more than one wife) is devious morality—possibly even evil.
Genesis starts by saying clearly that monogamy is the way to go.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife [singular]: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, KJV)
So then, why did God allow polygamy in the Old Testament?
In the First Book of Samuel, the Bible says that God himself considered David “a man after his own heart.” It portrays the prophet Samuel telling King Saul, the Israelite king preceding David,
“But now thy [Saul’s] kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, [David] and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.” (1 Samuel 13:14, KJV, emphasis mine)
In Acts, Luke portrays Paul confirming God’s opinion of David, given above, stating,
“When he [God] had removed him [Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.” (Acts 13:22, KJV, emphasis mine)
Yet, this same David had many wives, six for starters: in the Second Book of Samuel, we read,
“Unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.” (2 Samuel 3:2–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
David continued to increase the size of his ‘harem’ after he captured Jerusalem.
“David took him [himself] more concubines [plural] and wives [plural] out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.” (2 Samuel 5:13, KJV)
Of course, there was also the well-known Bathsheba, with whom David committed adultery, practically murdered her husband, Uriah, and then married her too. (See 2 Samuel 11:1–27.)
As if this were not bad enough, King Solomon, one of David’s four sons through Bathsheba, is said to have had a thousand wives and concubines:
“He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses [queens (DRC)], and three hundred concubines: and his wives [women (DRC)] turned away his heart.” (1 Kings 11:3, KJV)
How can one justify this drastic morality change in the Bible?
The answer is very simple: morality depends on the times, locations, and customs. If men are scarce because of wars or exile, I suppose women would rather have half a loaf than no bread: so, under such circumstances, polygamy becomes acceptable to them—naturally, men will not object to it.
Contrary to what Jehovah’s Witnesses claim in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? (pp. 168–70), this inconsistency of moral principles in the Bible shows, quite clearly, that it is not even a yardstick for what is right and what is wrong. Inconsistencies in moral laws are across the Bible: from incest among Adam and Eve’s children, to polygamy as we saw in this subsection, to divorce as I shall show in the next subsection. The obvious conclusion is that the Bible is not a divine book but a human book.
Divorce is a similar subject that is easily allowed in the Old Testament but, practically, absolutely prohibited in the New Testament: again, showing inconsistency of moral principles in the Bible. The New Testament has no problem admitting that divorce was allowed in the Mosaic Law.
“The Pharisees came to him [Jesus], and asked him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?’ tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ And they said, ‘Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation “God made them male and female [Genesis 1:27]. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh [Genesis 2:24].” What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.’” (Mark 10:2–12, KJV)
Now, some might argue that in the New Testament Jesus set things right and that one should read the entire Bible. Perhaps it is the case here but ….
I am afraid though, one cannot even buy that argument because the New Testament, for example, never condemns slavery as being wrong; yet nowadays, after the American civil war, practically everybody agrees it is wrong. The abolition of slavery might have been recommended in early Christianity but never actually condemned as being evil in biblical texts: showing that morality is time-dependent and not absolute. It took a civil war, not the Bible, to make it wrong.
Paul’s opinion was that there should be no race, gender, or class distinction among Christians. In his authentic Galatians (written in the early 50s CE, NAB p. 283), he writes,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV, emphasis mine)
Consequently, in the early 60s CE (NAB, p. 335), he asks his friend Philemon to free his slave Onesimus, who had escaped from his master and become a Christian.
“For perhaps he [Onesimus] therefore departed for a season [a while], that thou [Philemon] shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant [slave (NAB)], but above a servant [slave (NAB)], a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon 1:15-17, KJV)
So far, so good, the Bible measures up, to some extent.
But then, after the 80s CE (NAB, pp. 293, 308), pseudo-Paul comes along and writes in the Letter to the Colossians,
“Servants [Slaves (NAB)], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” (Colossians 3:22, KJV)
And later in the same letter, he also writes,
“Masters, give unto your servants [slaves (NAB)] that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1, KJV)
These last two quotes are biblical texts too: one cannot just close an eye to them.
I do not know where people ever got the idea that the Bible is God’s word or that it sets high moral standards, as Jehovah’s Witnesses (as well as most Christian denominations) contend (pp. 168–70). Possibly because they are biased and only focus on the uplifting sections in the Bible, or they never read it in its entirety.
Now that I have basically torn the Bible apart with its own contradicting accounts, what should we do with it? I hope you agree, by now, that we cannot consider it infallible any longer because of these numerous contradictions; besides (as I show in my book Is the Bible Infallible?) failed prophecies, myths, historical inaccuracies, and fabricated accounts, not to mention scientific errors. When first I realized this, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was shocked to discover that the Bible was not infallible (something I had believed for fifty-odd years), but on the other hand, it was a real liberation in my life: I did not have to believe blindly everything that the Bible (or the Catholic Church) said any longer, and I did not have to try to reconcile its blatant contradictions. Most important of all, I was so relieved that I did not have to believe in the Christian hell any longer! The source of the Christian hell, as I show in my article on “Hell,” is misinterpreted metaphorical quotes from the Gospels.
In fact, in his book Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman confirms this; he writes,
“There is not literally a place of eternal torment where God, or the demons doing his will, will torture poor souls for 30 trillion years (as just the beginning) [eternally] for sins they committed for thirty years. What kind of never-dying eternal divine Nazi would a God like that be?” (p. 276).
So now, as far as our faith is concerned, how do we determine what is true in the Bible, especially in the Gospels? Do we pick and choose the verses we like and leave out those verses we do not like? This sounds like a dangerous proposition. Again, in the same book Ehrman explains and advises us,
“It is important to recall the historical view that the biblical authors were all living in a different world from ours and reflected the assumptions and beliefs of people in their world. … Some people may think that it is a dangerous attitude to take towards the Bible, to pick and choose what you want to accept and throw everything else out. … In my opinion, people need to use their intelligence to evaluate what they find to be true and untrue in the Bible. This is how we need to live life generally. Everything we hear and see we need to evaluate.” (pp. 280–81)
In other words, the biblical authors could not possibly think outside their ‘box’: we need to re-evaluate what they once wrote for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is all we have—this is our legacy!
For the reader who would prefer to see a biblical quote to this effect, I believe that also Deuteronomy gives us the proper answer to this question: it portrays God saying to the Hebrews—and us by inference,
“This commandment which I [God] command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, KJV)
God’s word (i.e., morality: good and evil, right and wrong) is imprinted deep within us (like God’s signature on our being): we can, therefore, sort out biblical texts intelligently, using reason and our conscience, provided we are honest with ourselves and, if possible, take the time to study the scriptures (and religion) carefully. Even atheists agree with religious people, in most moral cases, as to what is right and what is wrong. However, major differences do seem to creep in over time: in decades or centuries; but the golden rule, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, never changes.
Many of the biblical passages are inspirational: they are conducive to our living a harmonious life together. I suggest we assume any particular biblical verse to be true unless we have positive proof of its falsity: namely, there are other verses that contradict it elsewhere or, most importantly, provided nothing deep down inside us tells us that something is wrong with what we are reading. In other words, believe the Bible critically not blindly: something like we treat a nation’s wisdom—the sayings or proverbs. Everyone believes or assumes there is a lot of wisdom in the sayings of a nation, but nobody takes them as infallible: yet, we still use them somehow. I suggest we treat the Bible the same way. I believe there is no other way of reading (or rather studying) the Bible: otherwise, we might as well throw the Bible away, but would you dispose of a nation’s sayings?
The reader, I am sure, will now appreciate that the fact that the Bible, including the Gospels, is not reliable enough has colossal ramifications for us Christians. We cannot quote it any more as a source of divine wisdom or revelation to prove something or to give us insight about God, Jesus, heaven and hell, the resurrection, the soul, original sin, morality, and so on. We are basically at the same level as the atheists, with perhaps a slight advantage over them, or possibly even at a disadvantage at times. So, we need to build mutual respect with the atheists: if nothing else, they keep our feet on the ground, preventing us from being carried away by superstitious and, perhaps, dangerous beliefs and actions resulting from blind faith. Of course, a similar argument applies when dealing with people of other religions.
Here, I would like to make one last important point. In his authentic Second Letter to the Corinthians, written around 57 CE (NAB, p. 266), Paul (to whom God “revealed” his Son, and who also saw and talked to the resurrected Jesus) describes Jesus as “Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4: 4, KJV) Therefore, I believe God conceived Jesus for three reasons:
(1) To tell us what the Father is really like,
(2) To show us, through a living example, the best way to the Father, and
(3) To set Holy Scripture straight.
The Old Testament, for example, portrays God as a neurotic ogre while, in actual fact, he is the greatest gentleman. God is our “Father” according to Jesus; and “God is love” itself—the personification of love—says the First Letter of John (4:8).
So, Jesus’s authentic words (as opposed to the evangelists’) and actions are paramount in finding the truth: that is, deciding whether a particular concept represents God’s word or not. (If someone writes a story about Jesus, and puts words in Jesus’s mouth, it doesn’t mean he actually said them.)
Notice my emphasis on the word ‘authentic.’ I realize it is not easy to determine which of Jesus’s sayings or actions are authentic: a lot of research is required. Frankly, I don’t know exactly where to draw the line; but then, I also believe God has a preference for variety rather than clones: we only have to look at nature around us to perceive this. He has no problem having an intimate relationship with all kinds of people. In other words, we don’t have to get things right all the time, he would still love us anyway: as long as we show interest rather than apathy, he doesn’t mind our conclusions. (But, please, don’t try to fool yourself with preconceived notions.) We are his children, and his love for us is always unconditional!
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2017. (ISBN: 9781532012228)
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)
Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Translated by Concacan Inc. Ottawa, ON: Publications Services, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994. (ISBN: 0889972818)
New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB) (ISBN: 9780899429519)
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Wallkill, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013. (NWT)
The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752. (DRC)
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769. (KJV)
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.Wikipedia s.v. “Theory of Forms,” last edited June 9, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms.
One can safely conclude that the Bible is fallible if one can find irreconcilable contradictions in its own text. One cannot have it both ways: textual contradictions imply that at least one of the versions is false—if not both. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate ‘litmus test’ for the Bible’s infallibility (or otherwise) since the Bible is supposedly God’s word, and presumably God cannot contradict himself: it defeats the opponent on one’s own home court, so to speak. In this article, I shall let the Bible speak for itself.
This article consists only of textual contradictions we find in the New Testament; my next article will consist of textual contradictions we find in the Old Testament and between the two Testaments. The reader will surely appreciate that these two articles are not an exhaustive study of the Bible; so a few examples will have to suffice. Indeed, being written by various authors, the Bible is overloaded with contradicting accounts and statements: there are many, perhaps hundreds, of contradictions. To the pure of heart, however, even one clear such instance should prove, unequivocally, that the Bible is fallible. We find all sorts, a whole spectrum, of contradicting texts throughout the Bible.
I’ll start with a passage most Christians are quite familiar with: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) to Christianity, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Now, Acts seems to have been written by the same author as Luke’s gospel. We don’t know who the authors of the gospels are, but, for simplicity, I shall keep calling the evangelists by their traditional names.
“Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord [Jesus], went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way [Christians], whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [sharp sticks to guide cattle].’ And he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’ And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.’ Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints [followers] at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.’ But the Lord said unto him, ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel [means] unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat [food], he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:1–20, KJV, emphasis mine)
It looks perfect in the absence of any other account, no? Now, according to biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, in his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, this account was written after 120 CE (p. 432); and its author, as mentioned, is unknown. (All biblical authorship datings in this article are taken from this book or the New American Bible.) Keep in mind that this is more than 90 years after Jesus had died; naturally, all the apostles and practically all the generation of Jesus’s time had died by then: so, there was hardly anyone left who would be able to challenge or even question it.
Let us now read about the same incident from another source in the Bible itself. Again according to Crossan, the following account from the letter to the Galatians was written much earlier, in 52–53 CE, and the author is known to be Saul/Paul himself (p. 427).
“For ye have heard of my conversation [way of life (NIV)] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews’ religion above many [of] my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in [to] me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood [anyone (ESV)]: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter [the original apostles’ leader], and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that ‘he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.’” (Galatians 1:13–23, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice that God himself “revealed” to Paul that Jesus was his (God’s) own Son. Notice also that Paul did not consult anybody or meet any Christians for three years—not three days, as the author commonly known as Luke would have us believe. Indeed, immediately after his conversion, he went first to Arabia, not Damascus. Moreover, Paul swears “before God” that he is telling the truth about all this.
In his coauthored book In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan opines that if one studies Luke’s writings, one observes that the latter had an agenda; he wanted Christians of his time to believe in the unity of the Church: that all Christian authority started in Jerusalem, that Paul was subordinate to the twelve apostles first chosen by Jesus, and that Paul was initially instructed in the faith by the disciples in Damascus. On the other hand, Paul claims that his apostleship came directly from God (p. 29). In other words, Paul claimed that he learnt practically everything about Christianity from God himself, as he says in this passage, and the resurrected Jesus, as he says in other passages. To Paul this was of prime importance, as is shown by his oath here.
I personally believe Paul is telling the truth. Why? Because he was a skeptic of early Christianity; he was a Pharisee who initially persecuted Christians, and who suddenly, without any logical explanation, started to preach Christianity: “he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” So, something drastic must have happened to him: in the above passage he himself tells us why: “it pleased God … to reveal his Son [to] me.” He spent three years alone, I presume, reconciling his old religion (Judaism) with the new religion (Christianity).
For example, one problem Paul might have had is that Deuteronomy says that whoever is hung on a tree (crucified) is cursed by God—and Jesus was crucified!
“If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be [condemned] to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree [cross]: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23, KJV, emphasis mine)
Had not God somehow “revealed” Jesus to Paul, the latter would still have believed (according to Holy Scriptures) that Jesus was cursed by God.
Luke, on the other hand, seems to be distorting the truth because, as mentioned, according to Crossan, he had an agenda. Moreover, it also seems that Luke invented that whole section about Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, as well as Paul’s three-day blindness caused by the alleged “light from heaven.” Wow! Interestingly, in all my decades as a Catholic, I never heard this passage from Galatians in church: I had to read the Bible privately to get to know about it. Now recall that this same Luke also wrote one of the four gospels. So, how can we believe anything else he says? So much, then, for the reliability of Luke’s gospel! I am not saying that all of it is lies; but, to me at least, it sure raises a red flag.
Still, it does not really matter here who we believe—Paul or Luke—the Bible has a contradiction that cannot be reconciled in this incident: it follows, therefore, that they cannot both be the infallible word of God.
Not only did Luke, at times, invent his accounts, but he actually manipulated the truth to suit his purpose. In his coauthored book In Search of Paul, Crossan shows this quite clearly through the following example. The first version again comes from Acts. In this extract, Saul/Paul is in Damascus.
“After that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him [Saul]: but their laying await was known of [to] Saul. And they watched the gates [of Damascus] day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” (Acts 9:23–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
We find Paul’s own account of the same incident is in his authentic Second letter to the Corinthians.
“In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
In Paul’s account, therefore, the danger arose from Arabs, not Jews: the Nabatean (nomadic Arab) ruler Aretas IV held the city of Damascus between 37 CE and 39 CE. This passage was written around 57 CE (NAB, p. 266); Luke’s, you may recall, was written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 432).
Luke, some sixty years later, wanted to blame the danger on the Jews. According to Crossan, throughout his book Luke portrays pagans accepting Christianity after the Jews had rejected it; the Jews then opposed gentile conversions “out of jealousy.” Luke knows the details of the above incident, as one can see when one compares Paul’s account, yet he distorts the truth to help promote his own agenda (Crossan & Reed p. 31). So we find anti-Semitism in Luke’s writings: namely, Acts and Luke’s gospel. Does the reader think God would inspire anyone to stretch the truth in prejudice of a particular nation?
Some might argue that there is not much difference between an Arab and a Jew; but these people have fought each other for centuries: ever since my youth I have always known them fighting each other. It is ludicrous to identify them as one and the same nation.
True, Luke might not have been aware of the difference, but God should have known better if he were truly dictating to Luke, no? If it was a lack of Luke’s knowledge, it is the type of error one finds in a human book, but one would not expect to find such an error in a divine book. God does not make mistakes, not even small ones, right?
Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism; yet Christians were ostracized from worship in the Jerusalem Temple and from Jewish synagogues: they ended up having nowhere to worship God. They had to resort to private homes for a while. In his book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Catholic Church historian Garry Wills states that, while it might be true that Jews persecuted Christians as heretics of Judaism, over time, Christians augmented the Jews’ responsibility for Jesus’s death, and downplayed the Romans’ (p.22).
Naturally, Christians developed a certain animosity against the Jews that was to last a very long time—centuries—which got worse over time to the point of calling the Jews deicides; that is, God killers. In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, we read,
“Then answered all the people [Jews], and said, His [Jesus’s] blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25, KJV, emphasis mine)
No doubt, a human book would show such sentiments as a reaction, but presumably not a divine book since God is impartial and loves everyone equally; not to mention the fact that the Jews only thought they were killing a mere man—a heretic at that. In short, Christian anti-Semitism has its roots in the New Testament scriptures themselves.
Anyway, again it doesn’t matter here which version one believes—Paul’s or Luke’s—one of the versions is wrong. The Bible has here a significant discrepancy; therefore, one of the versions cannot be God’s word.
Flight into Egypt
In Matthew’s gospel, we read that Jesus narrowly escaped King Herod the Great’s ‘slaughter of the innocents’ because Jesus’s family fled to Egypt beforehand.
“When they [the magi/wise men] were departed [from the infant-Jesus’s house], behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph [Jesus’s foster father] in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother [Mary], and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for [King] Herod [the Great] will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:13–15, KJV, emphasis mine)
However, in narrating Jesus’s infancy, Luke’s gospel does not say anything about Jesus’s family’s flight to Egypt. Instead, it says that when Jesus was eight days old, he was circumcised; when Jesus was forty days old, his family visited the Jerusalem Temple; and they all went straight back home to Nazareth, Galilee, where they stayed at least until the child was twelve years old. Here’s the Lukan account.
“When eight days [from Jesus’s birth] were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called ‘Jesus,’ which was so named of [by] the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her [Mary’s] purification [i.e., 33 days more] according to the law of Moses [see Leviticus 12:2–4] were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord [in the Temple]. … And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:21–22, 39–42, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, again, we have a contradiction between Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels which is impossible to reconcile. The explanation, according to Wikipedia,
In other words, it seems that Matthew, who was apparently writing for a Jewish-Christian community, opted to send Jesus on a detour to Egypt in his gospel; thus fabricating a so-called ‘prophecy’ from Hosea:
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1, KJV)
Of course, God’s “son” in this verse refers to Israel (i.e., the Jewish people), not Jesus, which Matthew is trying to portray to his audience as a type of Christ—in addition to Moses who, as an infant, also narrowly escaped death from Pharaoh (see Exodus 1:22–2:10).
Anyway, either Matthew’s or Luke’s account of Jesus’s childhood is false: it does not really matter which, as far as this article is concerned.
The Empty Tomb
Who was the first to find Jesus’s tomb empty? All four canonical (official) gospels disagree, except that they all agree Mary Magdalene was among the various groups the evangelists describe. Following are the four gospel accounts. According to Matthew,
(1) “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre [tomb]. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers [guards] did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, ‘Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which [who] was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’” (Matthew 28:1–6, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, Matthew says two women were the first to discover Jesus’s tomb empty, and an angel announced his resurrection. According to Mark,
(2) “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him [Jesus]. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre [tomb] at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, ‘Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?’ And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, ‘Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which [who] was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.’” (Mark 16:1–6, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, Mark says three women were the first to discover Jesus’s tomb empty, and (what seems like) an angel announced his resurrection. According to Luke,
(3) “And that day was the preparation [day], and the Sabbath drew on [near]. And the women also, which [who] came with him [Jesus] from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre [tomb], and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”’ And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven [Jesus’s original apostles], and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.” (Luke 23:54–24:10, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, Luke says there were, at least, five women who first discovered Jesus’s tomb empty, and (what seems like) two angels announced his resurrection. According to John,
(4) “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre [tomb], and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter [the leader of Jesus’s original apostles], and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.’ Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.” (John 20:1–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, John says one woman alone saw Jesus’s tomb empty first, but it was immediately confirmed by two men; no angels are mentioned.
As mentioned earlier, in all four canonical (official) gospels, Mary Magdalene is among those who first discovered Jesus’s tomb empty. The problem, in first century CE Judaism, was that the testimony of a woman was not worth much if anything. Moreover, the testimony of at least two witnesses was required to make it believable. Consequently, we see all four evangelists scrambling for a second witness, but they could not agree. According to Matthew, it was “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (28:1, i.e., two women) who first found Jesus’s tomb empty; according to Mark, it was “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” (16:1, i.e., three women); according to Luke it was “Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women” (24:10, i.e., at least five women); and according to John, Mary Magdalene alone discovered that Jesus’s body was missing (20:1–2, i.e., one woman alone) even though it was promptly verified by two men (20:5–8). Reading between the lines, this tells me that it was Mary Magdalene, alone, who first found out that Jesus’s body was not where it was buried. All four evangelists then tried to ‘dress-up’ the bare truth. One must admit this has the ring of truth: it satisfies the so-termed criterion of dissimilarity—something embarrassing, but has the ring of truth.
In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples alive on the same day he was resurrected (see Luke 24:1–49) and right after this apparition, that same day, he ascended to heaven.
“He [Jesus] led them [his disciples] out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50–51, KJV)
So, the final chapter of Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus ascending to heaven the same day he resurrected from the dead: there is no hint of any delay in between. (I suggest the reader check it out to convince oneself.)
Now, in the beginning of Acts, written twenty-odd years later, the same author, Luke, seems to have forgotten what he had written in his own gospel because he writes,
“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up [to heaven], after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1–3, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to Acts, contrary to Luke’s gospel, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing to his apostles/disciples, before he ascended to heaven: there is no indication in any of the New Testament books that he zigzagged back and forth between heaven and earth.
We, therefore, have here another contradiction by the same biblical author nonetheless: between the end of his first book and the beginning of his second book surprisingly enough. Not much to write home about regarding Luke’s consistency and consequently the Bible’s infallibility.
Following is Paul’s opinion regarding Christian equality from his authentic Galatians, which was written in 52–53 CE (Crossan, p. 427).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
So, according to authentic Paul, Christians should not be distinguished by nationality, social status, or gender—they are all equal. He does not say anything about pagan or Jewish relationships; he only defines Christian relationships—of course, his ideas needed improving over time, but that is another issue.
Moreover, in his also authentic letter to Philemon, written in 61–63 CE (NAB, p. 335), Paul asks his Christian friend, Philemon, to voluntarily free his escaped slave, Onesimus, whom Paul had just baptized in prison.
“Perhaps he [Onesimus] therefore departed for a season [a while], that thou [Philemon] shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant [slave (NAB)], but above a servant , a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” (Philemon, 1:15-17, KJV)
On the other hand, in the letter to the Colossians, which was probably written after Paul’s death, according to Crossan some time prior to 80 CE (p. 430), pseudo-Paul writes,
“Servants [Slaves (NAB)], obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” (Colossians, 3:22, KJV)
And later, in the same letter, pseudo-Paul writes,
“Masters, give unto your servants [slaves (NAB)] that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians, 4:1, KJV)
Here pseudo-Paul concurs with inequality in the Christian community. Compare these last two quotes with authentic Paul’s opinion from his authentic Galatians above.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
In First Timothy, which according to Crossan was written after 120 CE (p. 433), pseudo-Paul writes,
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11–12, KJV)
Again, compare this with authentic Paul’s opinion from his Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond [slave (NAB)] nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, KJV)
Moreover, the author of First Timothy sounds nothing like the Paul in his authentic Romans, which according to Crossan was written in 55–56 CE (p. 427), where he writes,
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister [fellow Christian], which is a servant [deacon (NAB)] of the church which is at Cenchrea [a seaport in Corinth]: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints [God’s people], and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer [helper] of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the clause “that you receive her.” So, it seems that it was a female deacon who hand-carried Paul’s letter to the various Christian communities/houses in Rome.
Furthermore, does the above passage from First Timothy sound anything like the Paul, who wrote the following in the same Romans?
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives [Jews] and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ [Christians] before me.” (Romans; 16:7, NAB, emphasis mine)
So, Junia was a female apostle. How about that?
According to biblical scholar John Crossan, Andronicus and Junia were probably husband and wife (Crossan & Reed, p. 115); albeit biblical editors, over the years, tried to interpret her name as belonging to a male by changing it to “Junias”—talk about manipulating Holy Scripture.
For example, here is the Douay-Rheims version, which is based on a translation of the conventional Latin Vulgate.
“Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners; who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Romans 16:7, DRC).
The New American Bible comments on this verse as follows.
“The name Junia is a woman’s name. One ancient Greek manuscript and a number of ancient versions read the name ‘Julia.’ Most editors have interpreted it as a man’s name, Junias.” (Romans 16:7n)
I’ll pose this question to the reader now. Which of these two versions of treating women and slaves does the reader think is God’s word—God’s desire? Which one does the reader think was Jesus’s teaching? Does the reader think that later Christian generations were right in changing authentic Paul’s teaching? Finally, which manuscript or translation would be God’s word?
In another undisputedly authentic letter, First Corinthians, Paul writes:
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” (1 Corinthians 11:4–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
Disregard, for the present discussion, the covering or non-covering of the head—it is irrelevant to my discussion here. This passage seems to assume that women did lead prayers and preach to the church assembly (“every woman that prayeth or prophesieth”) like men did.
(Now, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the word ‘prophet’ comes from two Greek words: pro meaning ‘for’ and phanai meaning ‘to speak.’ Thus a prophet is ‘one who speaks for’ God: not necessarily one who foretells the future, as is commonly understood by the word nowadays. Since presumably only God can foretell the future, it was later in time that the word adopted this meaning.)
However, later on in the same letter, First Corinthians, we read,
“As in all churches of the saints [God’s people], let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Corinthians 14:33–36, KJV)
Notice the condescending tone toward women. Did Paul change his mind in the process of writing this letter?
According to the New American Bible, it so happens that, in the original language (Greek) this letter was written in, we find, in these last-quoted verses, differences in vocabulary and style. (Every writer has a characteristic vocabulary and style.) Moreover, in some manuscripts, these verses are transposed to the end of chapter 14: that is, they are not found in the same location—they are placed four verses ahead. Although these verses seem to be present in all available manuscripts, they “are often considered an interpolation, reflecting the discipline of later churches.” (NAB: 14:33b–36n) Alteration (tweaking) of documents by copyists, to conform to their own later beliefs, was quite common in antiquity.
Tell me now—which one would be God’s word regarding women preaching/speaking publicly in church; the former (Paul’s) or the latter (pseudo-Paul’s)? Whichever one the reader chooses is immaterial: if the Bible were truly the infallible word of God then it would, at least, have been consistent, not contradictory.
In Matthew’ gospel, written around 90 CE (Crossan, p. 430), we have the following account of how Judas Iscariot (Jesus’s traitor) died.
“He [Judas Iscariot] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, ‘It is not lawful for [us] to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.’ And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, ‘The field of blood,’ unto this day.” (Matthew 27:5–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
In Acts, written after 120 CE (Crossan, p. 430), the original apostles’ leader, Peter, also described Judas’s death while addressing the first Christian community gathered in Jerusalem.
“This man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, ‘Aceldama’ [Akeldama], that is to say, ‘The field of blood.’” (Acts 1:18–19, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, how did Judas die? Did he commit suicide by hanging himself; or did he die of a bad fall? Or did both evangelists (Matthew & Luke) simply want to portray Judas coming to a tragic end for his betrayal of Jesus? And who bought the field, the chief priests or Judas? Why, one may ask, is God’s word so sloppy with the details?
Aware of this discrepancy, the Douay-Rheims Version manipulates the translation of the first verse of the last quote, trying to cover up the obvious biblical contradiction by conflating both methods described for Judas’s death; it has,
“He indeed hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out.” (Acts 1:18, DRC).
In Luke’s gospel, which was written in the 90s CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist was related to Jesus. Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and Mary, Jesus’s mother, were supposedly cousins or (at least) relatives.
“The angel [Gabriel] answered and said unto her [Mary], ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [child] which shall be born of thee shall be called the “Son of God.” And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.’” (Luke 1:35–36, KJV, emphasis mine)
On the other hand, in John’s gospel, written after 100 CE (Crossan, p. 431), we read that John the Baptist never knew Jesus.
“The next day John [the Baptist] seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, “After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.” And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.’ And John bare record, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he [God] that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”’” (John 1:29–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Strictly speaking, it is possible that John the Baptist was related to Jesus and at the same time never knew Jesus, but it is highly improbable because of the following additional biblical texts.
According to Luke’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth were close enough relatives (“cousins”) that the former went to assist the latter during the last three months of her pregnancy (see Luke 1:39–40, 56). It also seems Elizabeth was aware of Jesus’s greatness for the evangelist writes,
“It came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.’ … And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.” (Luke 1:41–44, 56, KJV, emphasis mine)
How is it possible that Elizabeth had never spoken of Jesus and Mary to her son, John the Baptist? That is, unless, of course, Elizabeth died while John the Baptist was still very young. Admittedly, she could have died while her son was very young because she was advanced in years when she bore him (see Luke 1:7).
However, it would still be hard to explain why Mary never told Jesus about John the Baptist, never went to see Elizabeth and/or Zechariah again, or told John the Baptist anything about Jesus: that is, not even that they were related. Why? Because, again according to Luke’s gospel,
“Now his [Jesus’s] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” (Luke 2:41–42, KJV, emphasis mine)
Consequently, it is very improbable that Jesus’s family went to Jerusalem every year for at least twelve years, and probably through Jesus’s adolescence and adulthood (see Luke 2:51–52; 3:23), but never visited John the Baptist who lived near Jerusalem: since his father, Zechariah, was a priest at the Jerusalem Temple (see Luke 1:5, 8–9).
Before I end this section I would like to address the different Bible translations of verses 31 and 33 in John’s first chapter. For example, the New Living Translation renders verse 31 as “I did not recognize him as the Messiah” and verse 33 as “I didn’t know he was the one.” There are also a handful of translations that render the two verses as “I did not recognize him.” However, some two-dozen translations render these two verses as “I did not know him” or “I knew him not,” including the Berean Literal Bible: see https://biblehub.com/john/1-31.htm and https://biblehub.com/john/1-33.htm. No doubt, the “I did not recognize him” translations are influenced by a desire to resolve the apparent biblical contradiction and are not faithful translations. Moreover, in my opinion, trying to fudge the translation of this couple of verses is a tacit admission of a genuine contradiction.
Faith and Works
A much-debated theological question among Christians is whether good deeds or simple faith in Jesus Christ is required for ‘salvation.’ Lutherans and Calvinists uphold the concept of justification by faith alone, which precludes salvation being earned by the good deeds in one’s lifetime. They contend that good deeds should only follow as a result of a strong faith, but good deeds as such, without faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, are ineffective in acquiring salvation.
In Ephesians, probably written posthumously in Paul’s name after 80 CE (NAB, p. 293), we read,
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of [good] works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, KJV)
However, the author of the letter of James (I shall keep calling him James for simplicity) contradicts pseudo-Paul’s theology above; he writes,
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
In my opinion, if it’s dead, it does not produce any results. While discussing these two opposing concepts in their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s?, Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that they only apparently contradict each other; they actually complement each other if one considers the context in which they were said. They attempt to reconcile this apparent conflict in biblical texts by pointing out that pseudo-Paul was speaking to converted Jews, who believed that obeying the Mosaic Law minutely made them righteous people: that is, people pleasing to God and deserving of salvation, or heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that,
“We can never become righteous—and thus deserve salvation—by our own works [good deeds], for we are inherently sinful. We can only be saved by faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.” (p, 91)
They also cite Paul’s authentic Romans to strengthen their argument.
“Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18, KJV, emphasis mine)
However, they contend, James only seemingly disagrees with this doctrine because he was speaking to Christians in general—not to converted Jews. I must admit that their explanation, that the two quotes were addressed to different audiences, is an interesting interpretation.
They add that James makes a crucial point: namely, that if one’s faith is not complemented by acts of love, kindness, and generosity, it is worthless; they add,
“An inactive faith is a dead faith and will not lead to salvation. … No work [good deed], however, that a Christian can do … will earn him the right to everlasting life. This is “the gift God gives” (Romans 6:23, John 3:16) to those who exercise faith.” (p. 92, emphasis in original)
What they are in effect saying here is that they agree with both pseudo-Paul and James, even though they seem to contradict each other. Pseudo- Paul says one must have faith to be saved; James says that if one does not help others, one does not have faith and therefore cannot be saved. Let us go along, for a moment, with the interpretation that both faith and good deeds are required for salvation.
However, if one were to insist that faith in Jesus is a requirement for salvation, we find that it does not jibe with the following passage in Matthew’s gospel, which portrays Jesus telling his disciples,
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31–46, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice, at the beginning, that the passage speaks of “all nations,” not just Christians; and there is absolutely no mention of any faith in Jesus being required of them here: in fact, those saved or damned did not need to know who this “Son of Man” was. Now, most ‘Son-of-Man’ passages elsewhere in the Gospels refer to Jesus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity). (But see my article on “Son of Man.”) So, how can one explain this passage? It does not jibe with the above quote from Ephesians that we absolutely need faith in Jesus for our salvation, and that whatever else we do for others is basically ineffective unless we believe in Jesus.
Now, recall that Ephesians is not one of the undisputed Pauline letters. True, the above verse from Romans (5:18) seems to portray Jesus as the world’s (everyone’s) Redeemer (“all men”), not just those who profess faith in him; however, the text in Romans is not exclusive of ‘good deeds’ to merit salvation. In fact, authentic Paul also writes later in the same Romans:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet’; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to authentic Paul, the fulfilment of the Mosaic Law is love. Ultimately, it seems that pseudo-Paul was wrong in his assessment of the importance of our faith in Jesus: he overrated it. And so did Martin Luther and other Protestant followers possibly because of this couple of verses in Ephesians. I believe that Jesus’s mission from God was only to set us a perfect, living example of brotherly love not to redeem us from sin, which boils down to following the Mosaic Law. In fact, Matthew portrays Jesus saying,
“Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot [speck] or one tittle [dot] shall in no wise pass from the [Mosaic] law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18, KJV)
I think being good to others is more important for salvation than believing that Jesus is the Son of God or that he ransomed us from original sin. In any case, I show clearly in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” that the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis seems to be an adaptation of a prior pagan myth and bears no relation to reality; that is, it never happened: thus, the concepts of both original sin and redemption from original sin become meaningless.
Therefore, I contend that anyone belonging to any faith can be ‘saved’ simply by loving one’s neighbor: that is, following one’s conscience—which is imprinted, like God’s signature, onto every human alike. God loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved. God is not partial to anybody, as Acts portrays the original apostles’ leader, Peter, saying during the conversion of the centurion Cornelius and his family.
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth [respects] him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with [by] him.’” (Acts 10:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrase “in every nation.”
In short, therefore, I think that pseudo-Paul’s statement in Ephesians (2:8–9) contradicts Matthew’s passage (25:31–46). (Indeed, in my article on the “Son of Man” this speech, most probably, originated from Jesus himself.) Pseudo- Paul says that faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for salvation, while Matthew says it is not: good deeds are what earn us salvation. Interesting interpretations (like Jehovah’s Witnesses’) do not trump what the Bible text says.
To add weight to my argument here, in his book God and Empire (pp. 152–53), biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan sheds further light on the subject of ‘faith and works’; he gives a plausible explanation for Paul’s (or his followers’) apparent insistence on faith rather than works. To start with, Crossan discloses what seems to be another subtle biblical contradiction: between what Paul says and what Luke says. He points out that, unlike what Luke says in Acts, Paul did not first preach to the Jews and then to the gentiles (see Acts 13:46): in his authentic Galatians, Paul clearly states that he preached exclusively to the gentiles (see Galatians 1:15–16; 2:8–9). (The reader may want to check out these citations—they are very convincing.)
Crossan then explains that Luke also introduces a group to whom Paul preached and considered gentiles, the God-worshipers—or God-fearers, as Acts calls these people throughout (see Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26). (Jesus described God as “our Father.” Should we ‘fear’ our Father? Should we consider this another biblical contradiction?)
Anyway, these God-worshipers presumably believed in one God: they did not think much of Greek or Roman polytheism. So, they were sympathizers of the Jewish religion: they helped the Jewish communities financially, but they did not adopt all their beliefs, and they certainly were not circumcised like the Jews. This is probably why Paul might have had a problem with works without faith: in fact, in Romans he writes, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, KJV) He did not like people sitting on the fence, neither here nor there: he wished them to become totally committed and involved in their faith (Crossan, p. 158). However, this does not mean, as Luther thought and taught, that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved, and whoever doesn’t will be damned.
Luther’s conclusion that we can never do enough good deeds to deserve salvation and that Jesus did it all for us is totally false. He was interpreting Paul’s letters (including the inauthentic ones) almost fifteen hundred years later when their true meaning was blurred or lost; and he was making a common mistake of his time (and ours): that is, assuming every verse in the Bible constitutes a portion of God’s word. In actual fact, biblical texts can even be contradictory: as this article and the next show clearly.
Moreover, in his book God and Empire, Crossan states,
“It is certainly correct … to call Jesus’ death—or in fact the death of a martyr—a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of a sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the [non-violent] radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’ execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation.” (pp. 140–41, emphasis in original)
So, according to Crossan, the biblical concept of Jesus atoning for our sins is totally skewed.
Finally (what I consider the strongest argument), if it were only faith in Jesus that ‘buys’ us ‘salvation,’ then out of the current world population of 7.9 billion people, only 2.4 billion people can possibly be ‘saved,’ the other 5.5 billion people will be lost eternally in a ‘fiery hell.’ If this were truly the case, then Satan (evil) has defeated God (good) throughout the ages—hands down!
Both God and Son of God
John’s gospel starts with the verse,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
Later, in the same chapter, it has,
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)
Therefore, there is no doubt, from this last quoted verse, that the “Word” in the previously quoted verse refers to Jesus, who became man.
So, basically, in the first chapter of his gospel, the evangelist John is saying that Jesus is “God.” However, toward the end of his gospel, he also writes,
“Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice, therefore, that in the same book, John’s gospel, the Bible says that Jesus is “God” and at the same time he is also the “Son of God.” How can one reconcile these two statements? The two clauses: “the Word [Jesus] was God” and “Jesus is … the Son of God” simply do not jibe: as I explain in the next paragraph, he cannot be both God and the Son of God.
We naturally assume that the son of a dog is a dog, so the son of God should be a god, no? But not in the case of God because God is the first cause; the Son of God cannot be the first cause. By “God,” we normally mean “God the Father” of Jesus; Jesus cannot be both “Father” and “Son”: it’s a contradiction in terms. (See my article on “The Trinity.”)
Not to mention that, according to Isaiah 45:5: “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (KJV), there is only one God. Ultimately, therefore, we have another Bible contradiction—if not a real mess.
Following is the evangelist Luke’s version of Jesus’s genealogy as far back as King David—a summary is given after the two biblical texts (Luke’s & Matthew’s) for comparison purposes.
“Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge, which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er, which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim, which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David.” (Luke 3:23–31, KJV, emphasis mine)
However, this doesn’t agree with the evangelist Matthew’s version of Jesus’s genealogy—a summary is given after the biblical text.
“David the king begat [begot] Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; and Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: and after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” (Matthew 1:6–19, KJV, emphasis mine)
For example, the father of Joseph (Jesus’s foster father) was “Heli” according to Luke and “Jacob” according to Matthew.
Bible inerrantists argue that one genealogy is Joseph’s and the other is Mary’s. However, that’s not what the gospels say. Both genealogies are those of Joseph (Jesus’s foster father): in Luke 3:23, we read, “Jesus … being as was supposed the son of Joseph”; and in Matthew 1:16, we read, “Joseph the husband of Mary”—they both refer to the same person. So the Bible text is clearly contradictory.
Despite this blatant biblical contradiction, the Revised English Version (REV) contends that Matthew 1:16 should read “Joseph the father of Mary”—not “the husband of Mary”: thus, attributing the error to a scribe not to the biblical author or God. It comments on Matthew 1:16 as follows.
“The Greek … anēr (ἀνήρ) … means ‘an adult human male.’ Anēr is generally assumed to mean ‘husband’ in this verse, but that cannot be the case. For one thing, the list of the three sets of 14 generations that go from Abraham to Christ (vs. 2–16), makes this impossible. If Joseph is the husband of Mary, there would only be 13 generations in the last list of ‘14 generations.’ Also, the Aramaic text reads differently in this verse than it does in verse 19, and in verse 19 Joseph is unmistakably referred to as the ‘husband’ of Mary. The difference in the vocabulary indicates a difference in the relationship. The Gospel of Matthew contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his mother Mary. In contrast, the Gospel of Luke contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph. There has been a lot of controversy about the genealogy of Jesus because at first reading, both Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 seem to indicate a genealogy that comes through Joseph, which is confusing. For one thing, Joseph ends up with two different fathers, ‘Jacob’ (Matthew 1:16) and ‘Heli’ (Luke 3:23), and Mary, who is the blood link between David and Jesus, ends up having no genealogy in the Bible. … It was very important that Matthew portray a pattern of three sets of 14 generations. We know that because if we count the actual generations, there were more than just 42 people (3 times 14) from Abraham to Christ. To make the pattern fit, some people had to be left out of Matthew’s list [why on earth?]. When the genealogy in Matthew is compared with the other genealogies in the Bible, it is clear that there are people missing from Matthew’s genealogy. For example, in Matthew 1:8, between Jehoram and Uzziah, there are actually three unmentioned generations. ‘Jehoram begat Ahaziah’ (2 Kings 8:25), ‘who begat Joash’ (also called Jehoash; 2 Kings 11:2, 21), ‘who begat Amaziah’ (2 Kings 12:21) [so, we have more biblical contradictions]. These three names do not appear in Matthew, and there are some other unmentioned names as well [biblical contradictions never end]. … Thankfully, the Aramaic text of Matthew has good evidence that Matthew 1:16 should read ‘father.’ In the Greek text, both Matthew 1:16 and 1:19 use the word anēr (‘man’ or ‘husband’). Matthew 1:19 clearly refers to Joseph as the ‘husband’ of Mary because it speaks of Joseph thinking of divorcing her. However, the Aramaic text of Matthew does not use the same word in Matthew 1:16 and 1:19, but has two different words, and thus makes a distinction between the two men. In Matthew 1:16, the Aramaic word is gavra, which means ‘mighty man,’ ‘father,’ or ‘husband,’ while in Matthew 1:19 the word is bala, which is ‘man’ or ‘husband.’ Thus the Aramaic text preserves the truth that there is a difference between the ‘Joseph’ of verse 16, the ‘mighty man’ of Mary, and the ‘Joseph’ of verse 19, the ‘husband’ of Mary.” (https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16)
In my opinion, however, God should have somehow inspired the translator of Aramaic to Greek that he was making a mistake: he should have protected the authenticity of his ‘word’ for us; besides, the canonical version of Matthew’s gospel is strictly the Greek—that’s our official version. In other words, it still does not vindicate the biblical error; that is, unless ‘anēr’ is translated as ‘father’ in verse 16—as in the Revised English Version (REV).
Now, according to tradition (the “Protoevangelium of James”), Mary’s parents were Joachim (not Joseph) and Anna; ever since I was a child I was told this. However, while Matthew’s gospel was written around 80 CE (NAB, p. 10), according to religious scholar Willis Barnstone, this ‘Christian Apocrypha’ was written after 150 CE (p. 384). By then the Jerusalem Temple (where male birth records for Levites [since priests inherited their office] and Davidic descent [to track the Messiah’s ancestry] were kept) had been destroyed and burnt (in 70 CE) for over 80 years: so it cannot be relied on; not to mention that the Gospels should take precedence over apocrypha.
Luke’s gospel portrays one of the two “revolutionaries” (Mark 15:27, NAB) or criminals, crucified on either side of Jesus, asking for a favor.
“He [the criminal] said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43, KJV, emphasis mine)
So according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was going to be in paradise/heaven (together with the criminal) that same day he died. But, according to the Apostles’ Creed,
So, since Jesus was in “hell” for three partial days, he couldn’t possibly also be in paradise/heaven the same day he died. However, someone might object saying that the Apostles’ Creed is not part of the Bible and is therefore not infallible. True, but check this out. In First Peter, we read:
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by [brought to life in (NAB)] the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by [from] water.” (1 Peter 3:18-20, KJV, emphasis mine)
Regarding the phrase “those spirits that were in prison” the Douay-Rheims Bible comments as follows:
“See here a proof of a third place, or middle state of souls: for these spirits in prison, to whom Christ went to preach, after his death, were not in heaven; nor yet in the hell of the damned: because heaven is no prison: and Christ did not go to preach to the damned.” (DRC: 1 Peter 3:19n)
So, according to Douay-Rheims interpretation of First Peter, Jesus went to purgatory, not to hell, for three partial days. But, in any case, this still contradicts the statement that Luke made, namely, that the penitent criminal was going to be with Jesus in heaven, or “paradise,” the same day they died.
Moreover, apparently Luke himself forgot what he had written in his own gospel when he wrote his second book, Acts. At the very beginning of this book he writes,
“The former treatise [Luke’s gospel] have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost [Spirit] had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of [by] them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. … And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up [to heaven]; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel.” (Acts 1:1–3, 9–10, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to Acts, Jesus went up to heaven about 43 days after he was crucified and died—not the same day he died. We have no evidence, in the New Testament, that he zig-zagged back and forth between heaven and earth.
However, it seems that the above apparent contradiction can be reconciled, even though it seems airtight at first blush. Most apologetic explanations I encountered (on other issues) are tortuous and unconvincing, but the following explanation I am willing to concede.
One of the best defenses, I found, to apparent biblical contradictions in general, concerns the above verse of Jesus’s promise to the penitent criminal.
“Jesus said to him [the criminal], ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43, NKJV)
In their booklet Heaven & Hell, the United Church of God came up with the following explanation of this verse:
“The placement of the comma after ‘you’ and before ‘today’ would certainly seem to indicate this [i.e., going to heaven that same day]. However, notice how an entirely different meaning is conveyed if the comma is placed after ‘today’ rather than before.” (p. 38)
It would read, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Their booklet then adds that, in the Bible’s original texts, there were no punctuation signs: which is undeniably true.
I referred to 27 other Bible translations of this verse; although none of them renders the verse in question with a comma after the word “today,” (or the phrase “this day”): https://biblehub.com/luke/23-43.htm, still, one must admit that the United Church of God could be right. It is not messing around with interpretations: it is only presenting facts about the original text. It might interest the reader that also Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their New World Translation, render this verse in a similar manner.
So, one might ask, why do I still present it as a contradiction in the Bible? Only to show the reader that I am willing to listen to a solid or subtle argument and even change my mind—despite what the opinion of the majority might be. The reader probably knows by now what is my opinion regarding the infallibility or otherwise of the Bible: one more or one less biblical contradiction is not going to make much difference; but still, I do not want to be close-minded—I am always open to discussion.
On the other hand, one must not go overboard trying to find discrepancies everywhere in the Bible. In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely right in pointing out that if two (or more) people write about an event, one would include certain details that the other leaves out and vice versa (p. 87). They also give a couple of good examples.
Their first example deals with the following narrative in Matthew’s gospel:
“When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.’” (Matthew 8:5–6, KJV)
However, Luke’s gospel gives a somewht different version of the same account.
“Now when he [Jesus] had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this: ‘For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.’” (Luke 7:1–5, KJV)
Jehovah’s Witnesses reasonably conclude that the man sent the Jewish elders to speak for him (p. 88).
Their second example treats the following incident in Mark’s gospel:
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him [Jesus], saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ They said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’” (Mark 10:35–37, KJV)
Again, in Matthew’s gospel, we find the same account altered slightly.
“Then came to him the mother of Zebedees’ children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he [Jesus] said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’ She saith unto him, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20–21, KJV)
Jehovah’s Witnesses again logically conclude that Zebedee’s sons asked their mother to make the request on their behalf (p. 89).
One must be unreasonably biased against the Bible to consider such cases contradictions. However, although this concept is a very valid one in these two cases, it is often used by Bible inerrantists as a smokescreen: to gloss over genuine contradictions—balance is the key in the search for truth.
A Biblical Scholar’s Experience
Now, I am not a biblical scholar; at the same time, I don’t want the reader to think that what I am writing is just my opinion. So, before I leave the subject of biblical contradictions in the New Testament, I would like to quote the overall, over time, experience of an expert: that of a biblical scholar. To this effect, I would like to give the reader a short account of the personal experience of a New Testament scholar nonetheless, Bart Ehrman, who was initially an Evangelical Christian and a staunch believer in the Bible’s inspiration by God himself, down to its very words (Ehrman, pp. x–xi), but is now a self-declared agnostic (Ehrman, pp. 277–78), or even an agnostic atheist https://ehrmanblog.org/on-being-an-agnostic-or-atheist/.
In the preface of his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), he writes about the time prior to his going to a “liberal” seminary to obtain a doctorate in biblical studies.
“I came … armed to take on all those liberals with their watereddown view of the Bible. … I was ready to fend off any attacks on my biblical faith. I could answer any apparent contradiction and resolve any potential discrepancy in the Word of God, whether in the Old or New Testament. … I was not about to learn that my sacred text had any mistakes in it.” (p. xi, emphasis in original)
Here’s what happened to him eventually.
“I did not change my mind willingly—I went down kicking and screaming. … It became clear to me over a long period of time that my former views of the Bible as the inerrant revelation from God were flat-out wrong. My choice was either to hold on to views that I had come to realize were in error or to follow where I believed the truth was leading me. In the end, it was no choice. If something was true, it was true; if not, not.” (p. xi)
Have another look at the subtitle of his book. In the final chapter of this book, Ehrman writes that he did not stop believing Jesus is a historical figure, but he came to believe the Christian religion is built on myths rather than historical facts.
“I continued to believe that Jesus himself certainly existed. … Jesus’s death was not a myth, but the idea that it was a death that brought about salvation was a myth. … The death of Jesus was, for me, an act of self-giving love. … Jesus was willing to live, and die, for the sake of others. This was an idea that I found to be both noble and ennobling. I believed that his example of self-sacrifice made Christ a being worthy of worship, and felt that his was an example for me to emulate. This was not because I could prove this self-sacrifice as a historical fact but because I could resonate with it personally.” (p. 276, emphasis mine)
What Ehrman means here, unless I am misunderstanding, is that Jesus probably ended up a victim of the church and the state of his time because of his teachings; however, this was not good enough for his followers. They came up with a ‘story,’ namely, that Jesus had to die for our sins in order to save us from damnation in hell. I discuss this further in my article on “Adam and Eve—Original Sin.”
Now, some readers might think that I should have started this article with Ehrman’s experience: to establish it more forcefully initially. However, I purposely placed it at the end because I wanted to gradually convince, rather than brainwash, my readers. I hope that, by this personal account from a biblical scholar, I have set the reader’s mind to examine the evidence I presented here, without prejudice or unreasonable bias one way or the other.
In his book, Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman aptly asks what we are to make of these biblical discrepancies. Are they important as far as our faith is concerned? His answer,
“The discrepancies are significant because they show that the view of the Bible as completely inerrant appears not to be true. There are errors, if the Bible is looked at historically.” (p. 59)
He explains that if the details of two accounts of the same event contradict each other, one of them must be wrong (if not both); they cannot both be right, at least historically: that is, as far as to what really happened. Consequently, he asks whether we should simply discard the Bible as an outdated piece of literature. His answer,
“Not in the least. … We should continue to read, study, and cherish the Bible—but not as an inerrant historical account.” (p. 59)
The biblical contradictions are not only historical but also sociological and doctrinal. Why bother with the Bible, then? Because many of the biblical passages are inspirational: that is, conducive to our living a harmonious life together—it is our spiritual heritage. It’s not perfect, but ….
If the reader is interested, in my book Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, I show many ‘more subtle’ biblical contradictions, sporadically, along the whole book.
Attard, Carmel Paul. Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2019. (ISBN: 9781532078446)
Barnstone, Willis, ed. The Other Bible: Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures, Kabbalah, Dead Sea Scrolls. New York, NY, HarperCollins, 2005. (ISBN: 9780060815981) “The Infancy Gospel of James (The Birth of Mary)” pp.383–92.
New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010. (NAB) (ISBN: 9780899429519)
So far, scientists have no clue what causes consciousness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is. Mainstream science claims it’s the unavoidable consequence of the complexity of the brain. But is it? From our experience, do complex computers or robots become conscious? Absolutely not! So, what is the source of our consciousness? This article tries to answer this question.
Let me first distinguish between the brain and the mind. The brain consists of the physical cells at the top of our head—the machine or computer—the hardware. The mind is the operating system—the computer program that runs the brain—the software. By itself, a computer is ‘dead’; it doesn’t do anything: it just sits there without an executable program. The program alone (when on a separate disk) doesn’t do anything either: it needs a medium (a computer) to be able to express itself, and they must be compatible. The brain and the mind complement each other and are practically inseparable.
Note: If a different type of computer is used, the executable program must also be changed in order to perform the same function: it must be reformatted and recompiled to the new machine language to be able to communicate with the new computer; the BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) of this new computer would also be different from that of the original computer. All this is termed compatibility.
The brain gets its information from the surroundings as well as from the five senses in our body; the mind makes its calculations and comes up with a decision. Likewise, therefore, we can distinguish between body and soul: the body is the hardware while the soul is the software.
Now, if you ask someone, “Are computers smarter than humans?” You’ll probably get an answer like, “No, because it’s people who design computers: computers are actually stupid.” If we think a little about this last word, “stupid,” I think it needs some explanation. It’s not so clear-cut. If a student learns from a teacher, isn’t it possible for the student to become smarter than the teacher?
I have a bachelor of science degree in mathematics, so most people would probably rate me in the top-ten-percentile (10%) of humanity in general regarding mathematical ability. Yet, a $10 pocket calculator will outrun me, hands down, in making any mathematical calculation—simple or complex. So, how good must a calculator or computer be for us to stop calling it stupid? We probably wouldn’t even call a human with a mathematical ability in the lowest ten-percentile stupid. What’s so special about us? Is it just human pride?
No, it isn’t just human pride. What every one of us has that computers don’t have, no matter how sophisticated they might be, is consciousness or self-awareness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is.
In his “Chinese Room” thought experiment, philosopher John Searle contends that computers cannot know what they are doing. Wikipedia explains Searle’s argument as follows:
“Searle’s thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input [questions] and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output [answers]. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: [that is,] it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being. The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally ‘understand’ Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese? … Searle then supposes that he is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program [instructions], along with sufficient papers, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. Searle could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output, without understanding any of the content of the Chinese writing. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, says Searle, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually. … However, Searle himself would not be able to understand the conversation. (‘I don’t speak a word of Chinese,’ he points out.) Therefore, he argues, it follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room (accessed June 13, 2022).
Computers make decisions strictly on syntax: that is, the exact position of information in a command string. A computer might do fast complex calculations, but it doesn’t really know what it is doing: it follows instructions mechanically; its programmer, however, knows exactly what is going on.
If you think about it, therefore, consciousness is only a property living ‘things’—animals, rather. So far, no man-made computer or robot has ever become conscious: no matter how complex it might have been. Mainstream scientists, however, challenge the concept that we can never make computers conscious: they contend that computers spontaneously develop consciousness at some critical point of complexity. Searle disagrees with them.
Now, what is the difference between a living person and one who just died of a heart-attack? Physically and chemically, the corpse of a person who has just died is practically the same as when it was still alive; yet there is some irreversible damage: it lost its principle of life—the soul—the software. Without software (much like a program-less computer), the body alone becomes useless. And this is where things become tricky: depending, to a great extent, on what one believes regarding the origin of life, the supernatural, and the afterlife.
I fully agree with self-declared atheist Richard Dawkins that whether God exists or not is ultimately a scientific question (The God Delusion, p. 70). Does God occasionally come into the picture or not? For example, we now know that life only comes from other life. Did inanimate matter become alive spontaneously, or did God coax the first life to emerge? Likewise, did God create the universe, or did the universe just happen?
In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that the first life evolved through chance combined with natural selection (or survival of the fittest); he writes,
“No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of phenomena … is the central problem that any theory of life must solve. … But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.” (p. 145)
In this conclusion, however, he assumes that initially a rough-and-ready replicator happened to emerge by chance alone. In his book The Selfish Gene, he writes,
“At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator.” (p. 15)
Notice the phrase “by accident.” Of course, natural selection can only kick in after replication is established. But I think that this is only the wishful thinking of an atheist: he offers no specific viable chemical mechanism of how this might have happened.
The problem I have with his argument is that when it comes to inanimate matter, contrary to living organisms, according to the second law of thermodynamics, things tend to get worse, not better: entropy (or disorder) increases. So before these replicators have enough time to evolve into better replicators, they are prone to encounter what is termed an error catastrophe, become unable to reproduce and/or cease to exist.
The living cell is similar to a complex factory involving several ‘catch-22’ situations where certain complex molecules need to be present together simultaneously for it to be able to work, let alone reproduce. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins writes,
“The ‘Catch-22’ of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes [protein-based biological catalysts] in order to catalyze [aid] the process. Proteins can catalyze DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence of amino acids. How could molecules of the early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural selection to get started? Enter RNA.” (p. 420)
I think this is too much to ask of random mutation coupled with undirected, Darwinian evolution. In his book Signature in the Cell, science philosopher Stephen C. Meyer writes,
“If, on the one hand, [one] invoked natural selection early in the process of chemical evolution (i.e., before functional specificity in amino acids or nucleotide strings had arisen), accurate replication would have been impossible. But in the absence of such replication, differential reproduction cannot proceed and the concept of natural selection is incoherent. On the other hand, if [one] invoked natural selection late in the scenario, he would need to rely on chance alone to produce the sequence specific molecules necessary for accurate self-replication.” (pp. 275–76)
To make a long story short, Meyer calculates the odds against a bacterium (the simplest reproducing) cell happening by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1 (p. 213). Ordinary people think that anything can happen in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed, but this is simply false since time is like atoms, it cannot be divided smaller than the Plank time (~5.4×10-44 sec.) and, therefore, there is only a limited number of possible interactions (trials) between all the particles of the universe to be able to create life.
According to mathematician and philosopher William Dembski’s The Design Inference (p. 209), our universe’s total probabilistic resources are only 10150 (i.e., 1 followed by 150 zeros)—see section below. If the odds against something happening exceed this number, it means that it is, most likely, designed (like writing a book). This is far too low compared with the odds against forming a bacterial cell by chance. In other words, science is practically telling us that it was God who designed life.
I know this sounds like a god-of-the-gaps argument, but if we don’t accept probabilities, chance would become our god, and we wouldn’t need any science: chance would be a ‘theory for everything’ we cannot explain. If we are to decide whether God got into the equation or not, we must treat him like any other scientific hypothesis or phenomenon if the odds are astronomically high in his favor. Scientists usually take 5-sigma (i.e., odds of 3.5 million to 1) to be sufficient proof.
Besides, the fossil record particularly the Cambrian Explosion does not support macroevolution; not to mention the utter failure of laboratory experiments in genetic engineering and evolution to produce novel organisms.
Regarding our universe, the argument in God’s favor is even more compelling; and in this case, there’s no question of Darwinian evolution clouding results obtained from chaos theory. In his book Other Worlds, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies states that the odds for a starry universe (rather than a black-hole universe) happening after the big bang, assuming the current laws of physics, are 1:101030; that is, 1 followed by a million trillion trillion (1030) zeros; he writes,
“In the case of the sun, whose disorder is only one hundred-billionth-billionth [10-1020] of the equivalent black hole, the chances against the sun, rather than the [black] hole emerging from a purely random process will be roughly one followed by the same number of zeros! That is one followed by one hundred billion billion zeros , which is pretty improbable by any standards. If the same argument is applied to the entire universe, the odds piling up against a starry cosmos become mindboggling: one followed by a thousand billion billion billion zeros  at least.” (p. 169)
Not to mention the odds against a life-sustaining universe (1010 to 1), given by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose in the coauthored book Quantum Gravity 2.
Even the 10500 (i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) universes, assuming the highly questionable multiverse hypothesis, derived from the just-as-controversial string theory is a drop in the ocean compared to the odds against a starry universe, let alone a life-sustaining universe like ours.
In my opinion, therefore, life is a bridge between the natural and the supernatural: a space-permeating field like gravity or magnetism. There is no string in between pulling things to the ground, or a magnet to the refrigerator door.
In his book The Physics of Immortality (pp. 13–14), mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Tipler contends there is a space-permeating field that he identifies with the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in the Nicene Creed, Christians profess/pray, “We believe in the Holy Spirit … the giver of life”: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495 (accessed June 13, 2022).
When the body dies, it loses this connection with the divine (the principle of life) and the soul (consciousness) either ceases to exist (which is probably the case with animals & plants) or returns to God, if one believes in an afterlife.
The Human Soul
Consequently, I believe consciousness (and life) is a direct connection with God—a spark of the divine—and is therefore something external to the brain/mind: the latter is only the receiver and processor (transducer) of information, including consciousness as a ‘sixth sense’ or another direct input from God, who Christians believe is always present with us.
Humans might have evolved physically from apes or chimpanzees because our body is so similar to theirs, but our intelligence is astronomically superior to these animals: indeed, far superior to that of any animal, even those with a much larger brain than ours. In my opinion, therefore, this is another indication of God’s intervention to create a special species—us humans including our soul.
So, apparently, God entered the equation at least five times over time: (1) creating the universe, (2) creating the first life, (3) creating many living species/families, (4) furnishing consciousness to animals, and (5) creating the human soul. God does not seem to be an absentee landlord.
Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences
Near-death experiences (NDEs) and out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are evidence of such an entity as consciousness/soul existing external to the body.
In the interest of fairness, certain OBEs can probably be explained scientifically. According to neuroscientist Olaf Blanke, if a certain integrating area of the brain is damaged, or if a small electric current/field is applied to it, the brain introduces a phase difference (un-focus) between the physical body and its normal mental perception of the body. Consequently, the mind thinks it’s ‘seeing’ another body external to it. Related phenomena are the phantom limb sensation, and the rubber hand illusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daUnVir0qUE&ab_channel=Science%26Cocktails (accessed June 13, 2022). This might explain local OBE’s but not roaming OBEs, of course. Neither does the damaged brain hypothesis hold much water explaining the astronomically heightened self-awareness usually experienced by Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs), not to mention their spiritual or supernatural experiences.
Now, if one doesn’t believe in God, the following CIA report might offer some insight. Using the right lobe of the brain, the mind creates a hologram of the universe: it attunes itself to the energy fields (some static & some dynamic) of the universe. Using the left lobe of the brain, it creates another hologram of the individual’s memory, compares the two holograms, and comes up with a beat signal of ‘reality’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXfzxo4rumE&ab_channel=BrianScott (accessed June 13, 2022). According to this report, this gives the impression of consciousness. Our mind does a job similar to our senses; for example, the eyes block all electromagnetic frequencies they receive except the visible spectrum, that is, 4×1014–8×1014 Hz.
There’s something more fundamental than classical physics in nature, and that’s quantum physics. The Double Slit Experiment, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB_2Qd5xNvE (accessed June 13, 2022), shows that reality ‘crystalizes’ only after observation. In a way, therefore, our thoughts create reality, thus enabling us to exercise free will. Apparently, therefore, information ‘subtends’ all of science.
In his book The Universe in a Nutshell, mathematician and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes,
“We cannot even suppose that [a] particle has a position and velocity known to God but are hidden from us. … Even God is bound by the [Heisenberg] uncertainty principle and cannot know the position and velocity; He can only know the wave function.” (p. 107)
This uncertainty or indeterminacy is what ‘topples’ Newtonian determinism in our universe: it’s what allows us to have free will and do whatever we like. I hate to say it, but I think that God doesn’t really know our future. Were he to know our future, we would be predestined, and no matter what we try to do to change things (live better or worse), whatever he ‘foresees’ about us will simply transpire. Were this to be the case, we wouldn’t really have any free will, right?
I think we’re probably missing a basic scientific breakthrough (the likes of E=mc2) that is undermining our ability to explain consciousness: for example, we didn’t know anything about software a hundred years ago. However, consciousness doesn’t seem to be solely generated in the brain/mind: it seems to be something external to the body as well, like gravitational or magnetic attraction between any two bodies. There is no string attached between a body and the earth pulling it down, but the attracting field permeates all of space; likewise with magnetic attraction. That is, unless one believes in a supernatural connection, which probability seems to suggest.
This extension is for the benefit of those readers who are not mathematically inclined to enable them to understand better the full implications of the above article.
Imagine a thief trying to open a combination safe with 3 registers of 10 digits each: 0 to 9. Imagine also, that for better security, the opening combination is changed by the bank manager every evening before going home.
There are 1,000 ways of programming the opening combination: 000, 001, 002 … 997, 998, and 999. The odds of the thief opening the safe the first time is 1,000 to 1 against him: not much of a chance. However, if he has all night, it’s a different story. If he tries two combinations, the odds against him are halved: that is, 500 (=1,000/2) to 1 against; if he tries ten combinations the odds against him are reduced ten times: becoming 100 (=1,000/10) to 1 against. So the new odds are obtained by dividing the original odds by the number of attempts. He can start systematically from 000 through 999 and open the safe. (Chance doesn’t quite work that way, however: he might get some repetitions if he tries random numbers.) Once he gets over 500 trials (half way), common sense (and science) says the odds turn in his favor.
Now, suppose the thief can try a combination in one minute; so, he can try to open the safe 60 times in an hour. Let’s say the night cleaner leaves at 10pm, and people start coming in at 6am; so that gives him 8 hours to open the safe. If it’s the weekend, it will give him 56 (=24+24+8) hours.
In 8 hours he has the opportunity of trying 480 (=8×60) times. He figures this is too close to half, so he decides to leave it for the weekend. In 56 hours he can try to open the safe 3,360 (=56×60) times: the odds are therefore 3.36 (=3,360/1,000) to 1 in his favor. That gives him ample opportunity to open the safe, so he opts to use the weekend.
The number 3,360 is termed his total probabilistic resources (assuming there are no long weekends); the number 480 is also a probabilistic resource, but it’s not the total probabilistic resources.
Now, If he could try a combination in 10 seconds, say, that is, he can try 6 combinations in one minute: then that will give him 360 (=60×6) opportunities per hour; and in 8 hours he will have 2,880 (=8×360) opportunities—which should do the job. If he uses the weekend, he would have 20,160 (=56×360) opportunities. Notice, therefore, that the total probabilistic resources depend on the time it takes to perform an operation: 1 minute as opposed to 10 seconds, in this case.
Let us now suppose the safe has 10 registers instead of 3. The odds against a thief opening it the first time is 10,000,000,000 (10 billion) to 1. Recall that when we had 3 registers, the odds against his getting it right the first time was 1,000 (= 103, i.e., 1 followed by 3 zeros) to 1. Now that we have 10 registers, we shall have 10 zeros after the 1 (i.e., 10,000,000,000 = 1010) to 1. (103 means ’10 to the power of 3,’ or 10 multiplied by itself three times; similarly, 1010 means ‘10 to the power of 10’ or 10 multiplied by itself 10 times.)
So (in this ten-register scenario), he needs at least 5,000,000,000 (5 billion) tries to have a decent chance of opening the safe. But his TOTAL probabilistic resources (at 10 seconds a trial and over the weekend) is only 20,160 (=56×360), which is far from half way (i.e., 5 billion).
In this case, the odds of his opening the safe are the original odds against him, 10,000,000,000, divided by total probabilistic resources, 20,160, which turns out to be about 496,032 to 1 (almost half a million to 1) against him. Imagine trying to pick a white marble out of half a million black marbles (blindfolded): those are his new chances of success. So he decides to stay home with his family instead.
Trying to pick a white marble among 9 black marbles (blindfolded) is quite a feat: the odds against are only 10 to 1. Trying to pick a white marble among 99 or 999 black marbles (blindfolded), you might as well give up: yet, the odds against are still only 100 to 1, and 1,000 to 1, respectively. Notice that every time a single zero is added the odds get ten times worse.
A billion is a thousand millions (=109). You need about 5 large pools (40ft x 20ft x 6ft) to fit a billion 1 cm diameter marbles. Picking a white marble among a billion black marbles (blindfolded) is nothing short of a ‘miracle’; yet a billion has only 9 zeros (1,000,000,000 = 109). A trillion is a million millions = 1012 (i.e., 1 followed by 12 zeros), and a trillion trillions is 1024 (i.e., 1 followed by 24 zeros).
Universe’s Total Probabilistic Resources
Now, physics says we cannot keep halving time indefinitely: time is not a continuum; it’s like the atoms in matter—there comes a point where you cannot split it smaller any more. Reality is like ‘slides’ of an old movie, and things happen (change) only within these slides. The time between these slides is termed the Plank time, which is about 5.4×10-44 (i.e., 5.4 divided by 1044) of a second. This means we get about 1.9×1043 such slides in one second.
The age of the universe is about 13.8 billion years, which comes to about 4.4×1016 seconds.
The total number of elementary particles in the universe is estimated around 1080.
So the total number of opportunities (the total probabilistic resources) the universe had to produce life is equal to (its total number of particles) x (the total number of seconds it has existed) x (the number of Planck ‘slides’ per second) = (1080) x (4.4×1016) x (1.9×1043) = 8.4×10139 ~ 10140 (simply add the powers, i.e., the small superscripts: 80+16+43 = 139).
Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski then takes a safety margin of 10 billion (1010), so that if the odds against something existing spontaneously exceeds 10150 it is most probably ‘designed’ by an intelligent agent—like a written book, for example. Notice that this number only takes one and a half (1.5) lines of zeros if 100 zeros (with no commas in between) fit in a line.
Odds against Life’s Emergence
As mentioned above, through chemical analysis, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer calculates the odds against the simplest reproducing cell (a bacterial cell) arising spontaneously by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1.
If we divide this by the universe’s total probabilistic resources we get: 1041000 divided by 10150, which equals 1040850 (simply subtract powers, i.e., 41,000-150 = 40,850). This means that the odds against life happening in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed is 1040850 (1 followed by 40,850 zeros) to 1. So, far from everything can happen in fourteen-billion-odd years.
Recall that a billion has only 9 zeros; this number has 40,850 zeros—it’s humungous. Also remember that every time you increase just one zero, the odds worsen 10 times: so 10 zeros mean 10 billion. A number with 40,850 zeros is unimaginable to the human mind: the zeros would take more than 408 lines (i.e., more than 8 pages with 100 zeros per line, with no commas in between, and 50 lines per page) to write fully.
Odds against a Starry Universe
As if this were not bad enough, when it comes to the existence of our universe, the odds are even more mind-bogglingly in God’s favor.
As mentioned above, from chaos theory, it’s possible to calculate the odds against forming a universe containing stars (rather than only black holes) after the big bang. Chemical elements larger than hydrogen and helium such as carbon (the basis of life) and oxygen (which we breathe) are only formed in stars. So for any life form to spring to existence, stars are indispensable. According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies this turns out to be 101030 (i.e., 1 followed by a million trillion trillion zeros) to 1. Dividing this number by the universe’s total probability resources (i.e., 10150) doesn’t even budge this number (subtracting 150 zeros from a million trillion trillion zeros doesn’t change it by much). Such a number would take 200 trillion trillion (2×1026) pages consisting of 50 lines and every line containing 100 zeros (with no commas in between) to write fully. Not to mention that our universe is not only a starry universe, but a life-sustaining universe as well: many species live in it.
Finally, I think the reader will now realize how small the number of other alleged universes in the questionable multiverse (10500, i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) is compared to these astronomical odds: it only takes 5 lines of 100 zeros per line to write fully—compared to trillions upon trillions of pages.
Tipler, Frank Jennings. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1995. (ISBN: 9780385467995.)Wikipedia s.v. “Chinese Room”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room, last edited June 13, 2022.
Assuming the alleged prophecy in the Old Testament book of Daniel, Jesus thought the kingdom of God would transform the world, as we know it, and start a ‘new age.’ Moreover, he thought this was going to happen within his generation, by 100 CE, say. As it turned out, however, he was wrong by two millennia and counting.
What did the book of Daniel prophesy? In Daniel, the protagonist supposedly had this vision:
“I [Daniel] saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God], and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14, KJV, emphasis mine),
So Jesus envisioned a worldwide ‘kingdom’ in which God would ‘rule’ supreme in the mind and ‘heart’ of humans: a kingdom of justice, sharing, love, equality, truth, and peace. He jump-started this kingdom and, indeed, it took some roots according to the Acts of the Apostles:
“All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour [goodwill] with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:44–47, KJV).
However, it stalled.
As mentioned, Jesus thought this kingdom of God would be in ‘full bloom’ within his generation; for example, in Mark’s gospel, we read,
“He [Jesus] said unto them [his disciples], ‘Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.’” (Mark 9:1, KJV).
Jesus also thought that the inauguration of this kingdom of God would spell the end of the world, as we know it, and initiate a new world order—a ‘regeneration’ of the world. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen as Jesus supposedly foretold: his initiation of God’s kingdom, for some reason fell through.
Let’s first look at what Jesus is portrayed predicting in Mark’s gospel.
The Great Tribulation
“As he [Jesus] went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, ‘Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’ And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.’ And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, [his apostles] Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?’ And Jesus answering them began to say, ‘Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, “I am Christ”; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. And then if any man shall say to you, “Lo, here is Christ”; or, “lo, he is there”; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.’” (Mark 13:1–32 emphasis mine)
Let me summarize the above passage for the benefit of the reader. Jesus first supposedly foretells the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The four apostles ask him for the signs preceding the destruction of the temple. Jesus replies that after the wars in Jerusalem and elsewhere, there will still be some time left before the end-times. The wars will be followed by earthquakes and famines on earth; after which, Jesus’s followers will be harshly persecuted. The end-times will be extremely near when an imperial shrine (or a pagan altar) is erected in the Jerusalem Temple. At that time, great tribulations will occur, and false messiahs will appear; after which there will be a bout of cosmic upheavals. The “Son of Man,” whom the evangelist later identifies with Jesus (Mark 14:62), will then come to earth (his Second Coming), and he will execute universal judgement. All this was supposed to happen within the then-living generation. Admittedly, Mark adds that we cannot know the exact time when this will happen—a cautious insertion; but, of course, he was way off by two-thousand-odd years. Christians are usually amazed that a prophecy Jesus supposedly made didn’t transpire. They are even scandalized if you dare say that Jesus was wrong in this instance. But those are the facts according to the gospel text!
Now, as the reader probably knows, if a single star were to fall on earth, it would incinerate the earth before it arrives—nothing would be left of the earth but ‘dust’—and there wouldn’t be anybody left alive to “see” anything. Surely, not a single star has fallen on earth prior to 100 CE, or ever. Can we then still insist that Jesus was scientifically right as well here? Jesus, or rather the evangelist, went by the paradigms of his time. But, technically, that makes Jesus wrong in what he supposedly ‘said.’
We have similar accounts in Matthew 24:1–36 and Luke 21:5–33. According to all three synoptic gospels, therefore, Jesus was wrong in his predictions both scientifically and historically. Indeed, two of the synoptic gospels admit that he didn’t know when the end-times would occur:
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32, KJV, emphasis mine)
“But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, except the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36, BLB, emphasis mine)
Luke, conveniently, omitted this verse.
Still, Jesus, or rather the synoptic evangelists, persisted in predicting that the destruction of the temple, the great tribulation, the cosmic cataclysms, the end-times, and the kingdom of God would happen in Jesus’s generation. The only thing that transpired was the destruction of the temple, which happened in 70 CE; that is, prior to the first gospel written, Mark’s. So much for biblical prophecies!
Book of Revelation
In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan points out that although Mark’s gospel separates the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple from Jesus’s supposed return, he clearly indicates that the latter will follow very shortly afterward—and certainly within the lifetime of his listeners. Moreover, Mark’s ‘Little Apocalypse’ precedes Jesus’s return. By inference, therefore, any violence God may have had to perform to renew the earth will be over by the time Jesus comes again: so, in effect, Jesus could not possibly promote any warfare during his return (pp. 216–17). This is diametrically opposed to what Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, predicts in 19:11–21:
“I [John of Patmos] saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called ‘Faithful and True’ [Jesus], and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called ‘The Word of God’ [Jesus]. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ [Jesus]. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.’ And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse [Jesus], and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse [Jesus], which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” (emphasis mine)
It portrays Jesus as an armed conqueror to which Crossan (p. 223) strongly objects:
“To turn the nonviolent resistance of the slaughtered Jesus into the violent warfare of the slaughtering Jesus is, for me as a Christian, to libel the body of Jesus and to blaspheme the soul of Christ.” (Pp. 234–35).
Talk about biblical contradictions: so much for biblical consistency!
Since Jesus was taken away so suddenly from his followers, early Christians believed that he would come back a second time to finish what he had started: the Messiah (Hebrew for ‘Christ’) would return to earth and transform it totally in the end-times. This belief persists even today: after two millennia.
They also believed, however, that the second time around he would not come to suffer and die; he would come victorious to rule the whole world: just as a first-century victorious emperor would visit a city in what was termed Parousia. In fact, in the Nicene Creed, Christians profess,
“He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” (“The Nicene Creed” accessed May 7, 2022)
In my opinion, this is pure and simple wishful thinking.
As mentioned, the early Christians also thought he would come back in their generation. Almost two thousand years later, he has not come back yet. Could it possibly be the case that they were wrong, and that also we are wrong?
Both biblical scholar John Crossan and New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman contend that John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul of Tarsus believed that God was going to clean up the world single-handedly in a swift violent action very shortly; that is, in their own generation. Indeed in Matthew’s gospel, we read,
“As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:27, KJV)
In one of the alleged messianic passages, Isaiah has,
“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice, especially, the last clause: “the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
In his book God and Empire, Crossan argues that both Jesus and Paul believed that God had already started cleaning up the world of its evil, and that this cleanup would be completed within the then-living generation’s lifetime: they were both quite wrong, of course (p. 207).
As it happened, just prior to Paul’s writing First Thessalonians in the early 50s CE, many of the Thessalonians had experienced harsh persecution and some even suffered death. This upset many of them considerably. Why? Crossan explains that since they assumed Jesus was going to return in their own lifetime, their immediate question was: would the martyred Thessalonians miss out on something, simply because they were already dead? (p. 207). After all, it was the dead who had suffered most for the benefit of the Christian community. Paul tries to console them by assuring them that this is not the case: he, therefore, parallels Jesus’s Second Coming to an emperor’s Parousia, which was a happy, quite possibly, once-in-a-lifetime event. So, in his (authentic) First Thessalonians, Paul writes,
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, KJV, emphasis mine)
This couple of verses has caused so much controversy among the various Christian denominations.
“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40–41, NKJV; see also Luke 17:35–36)
However, this is how Crossan explains the background for Paul’s verses:
Inhabitants of ancient cities, naturally, did not bury their dead inside the city walls; they buried them just outside the city along any of the major roads. So, as one approached the city, one first allegorically ‘met’ the city’s dead and later the living. Now, the technical term Parousia involved the arrival of the emperor, a conqueror, or an emissary at a city. Such important personalities were first greeted outside the city gate and then escorted into the city. Thus, it is ludicrous to think that the city inhabitants met the imperial figure outside the gate and then departed with him to where he came from, leaving their city deserted. That was not the background of the metaphor used by Paul here (Crossan pp. 204–6).
So, Paul tried to explain that, at his Second Coming, Jesus would first ‘meet’ with the dead Christians outside the ‘city’ (“in the clouds,” or “in the air,” not “in heaven”) and bring them back to life—resurrected. The living would then also join them there, and everyone would enter inside the ‘city’ (i.e., back on earth) in a great celebration, and live in a just and nonviolent earthly ‘paradise’ where Jesus would reign forever—in the ‘kingdom of God.’
The phrase “caught up” is variously translated as ‘taken up,’ ‘snatched up,’ or ‘raptured’; but, following the metaphor, we will not be taken up to heaven: we will return to earth, if anything. This is the real explanation of the so-called ‘Christian Rapture’; it is a complete misunderstanding of Paul’s metaphor: as happens often, its intended meaning has been completely lost over time (Crossan, p. 208).
To me, the Second Coming seems more like wishful thinking on the part of the early Christians—nothing more. In fact, I believe Crossan would agree with me, for he writes:
“The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon … violently … [or] literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence” (pp. 230–31).
The Second Coming of Christ will happen when the Mystical Body of Christ (i.e., his Church) becomes totally Christ-like—if that will ever happen.
The above so called biblical prophecy keeps many Bible believers on edge: to the point of giving them sleepless nights. All it shows, however, is that the Bible is neither a truth factory, nor is it able to foretell the future.
In their book The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to predict that the present condition of the world will soon come to an end; and that Jesus will be coming back shortly afterward to rule the new world order. Jehovah’s Witnesses have this to say about the subject. They contend that, starting in 1914, the beginning of the First World War, the world started on a downhill roll to complete annihilation. They claim that this alleged Bible prophecy is currently being fulfilled and that it will even be consummated in our time—maybe not mine. I wish I had a dollar every time I heard the prediction that the end of the world is near: I would probably be filthy rich by now. John the Baptist said it; Jesus of Nazareth said it; Paul of Tarsus said it; all four evangelists said it; John of Patmos said it: practically every modern evangelist on television preaches it; Jehovah’s Witnesses preach it, and so many others.
The reader might find it strange that also Jesus said so, but after predicting the end of the world as we know it, in Matthew’s gospel, he is portrayed saying,
“Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till ALL these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
Presumably, Jesus’s generation is all dead, but the great tribulation never happened; yet, heaven and earth are still here: and so also will Jehovah’s Witnesses’ predictions turn to dust.
The biblical passage they reference in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 24:1–51) portrays Jesus foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple followed, shortly after, by the end of the present world order—or disorder, rather.
It is undoubtedly true that there were several false messiahs prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. However, the evangelist Matthew knew all about them because he wrote his gospel around 80 CE, so it was not really prophecy, was it?
In their book, Jehovah’s Witnesses go through a whole list of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and ‘wild beasts’ (metaphoric: violent, predatory people) to prove that starting in 1914 evil has increased exponentially, and that the end of the world must therefore be near (pp. 134–48). May I ask, however, could it perhaps be the case that nowadays we get to know more news than in the past since communication has also increased exponentially in the last century?
Now, as I already pointed out above, whatever else Jesus allegedly prophesied about the end of the world should have happened before Jesus’s generation had passed away—not in our time—the gospel text itself says it! (Matthew 24:34–35) So clearly, Jehovah’s Witnesses are here interpreting the above passage in Matthew out of context. Whatever they say is all irrelevant because, even according to Matthew’s gospel itself, what was allegedly prophesied should have happened within Jesus’s generation (Matthew 24:34–35). It is ludicrous to try to assert that a ‘God-inspired’ prophecy would happen centuries after the time limit clearly spelled out in the prophecy itself. All bets are off by now.
I was thinking to myself: why do Jehovah’s Witnesses leave out such an important detail in their treatment of this alleged prophecy? Do they translate the relevant Bible verse the same way? So, I decided to check it out; and the answer is yes, they do translate it the same way. The verse in their New World Translation reads,
“Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Matthew 24:34, NWT, emphasis mine)
It makes one wonder therefore why they do not reveal the whole truth; but then scare tactics have always been the favorite method used by all religious institutions to control their followers: it’s understandable because they have no police force.
These are the people who, in their book, pride themselves to be an “outstanding example of human behavior” (p. 181), the “most honest … tax payers,” and most exemplary citizens (p. 182); not to mention that they also claim to possess “accurate knowledge [of] the Bible” (p. 178).
Had I believed in God’s inspiration of the Bible, I would have thought that God inserted this gospel verse in there simply to tell us to disregard such nonsense as predicting the end-times. As if inserting it once were not enough, it seems that God wanted to make sure we got the message right by inserting it in the Bible, not just once, but three times—in three of the four gospels—the synoptic gospels. (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 & Luke 21:32)
Jehovah’s Witnesses then refer to the gospel being preached before the end of the world arrives, as stated in the following verse from Matthew’s passage:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14, KJV)
They claim they are the ones currently doing this work supposedly prophesied by Jesus: it seems they made this their agenda by preaching door to door; they seem to be doing their utmost to make this ‘prophecy’ come true single-handedly. Should not prophecy happen spontaneously rather than forcefully? They remind me of the evangelists who made up accounts corresponding to ancient so-called prophecies.
They claim they are the ones being persecuted, hated, and prosecuted because of this; as is supposedly foretold in the following verse from Matthew’s passage:
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9, KJV)
They don’t realize their ‘persecution’ stems from holding on to outdated biblical concepts. They claim that they are the final bearers of Christianity’s banner by their good works and love of neighbor. They describe all of Christendom (Catholics & Protestants alike) as mere failures, stating that their “religion is all but dead” (pp. 146–47). I suppose they have in mind another alleged prophecy in Luke’s gospel:
“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8, KJV).
They seem to follow the gospels meticulously except that they do not show any love for their fellow Christians (pp. 25–36, 146), which is what Jesus said would be the distinguishing feature of a Christian (pp. 134–89). Recall that in John’s gospel Jesus presumably says,
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35, KJV).
This verse does not mean that we should just love fellow believers; it means we should love everybody: recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30–37) Are they also trying their best to make another Matthean verse, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” come true? (Matthew 24:12, KJV). It is easier to be charitable to someone living a block away than to one’s next-door neighbor.
In his lifetime, Jesus did denounce the Pharisees and the Sadducees of his time for focusing their efforts on exterior behavior without giving any importance to love of God or neighbor. I suppose Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have the right to take over Jesus’s job condemning everyone else. However, Jesus was God’s Son, and he was beyond reproach.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses to condemn everyone else they too must be beyond reproach; otherwise criticisms are going to flow back and forth between religious organizations—resulting in religious division. As it was in Jesus’s time, there probably are no religious institutions worth joining—including Catholics and Protestants. All religions should be looking for God; they should therefore draw us closer to God and unite us—not separate us.
I am totally against violence stemming from different religions or religious denominations. I detest divisive attitudes among religious institutions because of different beliefs or opinions. I think the various religions and religious denominations should do their utmost to inspire us to love God and neighbor, and to stop bickering and pointing fingers at other religious institutions: this “I’m holier than thou” attitude among all religious people must stop.
When all is said and done, the above Jehovah’s Witnesses’ end-times prediction in our generation is all smoke-screening. The key question here is: why do they insist this was a prophecy for our times when it is clearly stated, in three gospels nonetheless, that it should have happened within Jesus’s generation? It seems Jesus thought the end of the world would come in his generation, but it didn’t: the alleged prophecy therefore did not transpire—end of story.
The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Oxford, UK, 1769. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s? Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, 1989.
If you were to ask a Christian, or rather a gospel-reading Christian, who the ‘Son of Man’ is, invariably, you will get the answer that he is Jesus. As this article will show, what is surprising is that the very early Christians did not believe that Jesus was the Son of Man. In fact, one never finds the phrase in any of Paul’s writings, whose authentic letters span the fifties CE. Moreover, despite what the gospels say, reading between the lines, in all probability, Jesus thought the Son of Man was someone else. Furthermore, there is serious doubt whether the Son of Man actually exists or ever existed.
The phrase ‘son of man’ appears roughly 200 times in the Bible, about 70 of which appear in the gospels. Ordinarily, it means ‘human being,’ and it always has this meaning in Ezekiel, where it appears about 90 times. For instance, in Ezekiel chapter 2 alone it appears 4 times:
“And he [God] said unto me [Ezekiel], ‘Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.’ And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, ‘Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, “Thus saith the Lord God.” And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.’ And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” (Ezekiel 2:1–10, KJV, emphasis mine)
All 4 occurrences of the phrase “son of man” in this passage mean ‘human being’ and it is not a title of any sort.
In the gospels, however, most of the time, it refers to Jesus, and it is a sort of title. Some of the verses are very clear who the phrase refers to; to give a few examples:
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’” (Matthew 16:13, KJV, emphasis mine)
Note the all-telling phrase “I the Son of man.”
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40, KJV, emphasis mine)
Jesus was the one buried for three partial days.
“As they [the apostles Peter, James, and John] came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.’” (Matthew 17:9, KJV, emphasis mine)
Jesus was the one who resurrected.
“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples [apostles] apart in the way, and said unto them, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.’” (Matthew 20:17–18, KJV, emphasis mine)
Jesus was the one who was betrayed by his apostle Judas and consequently sentenced to death.
But there are several exceptions in the gospels where it’s not so obvious who the phrase refers to; for example:
“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me [Jesus] and of my words in this adulterous [unfaithful] and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the word “also,” which gives the impression that the “Son of Man” is someone other than Jesus. Luke’s gospel, written around 90 CE, twenty-odd years after Mark’s, gives the same verse almost word for word, except that it strategically leaves out the word “also”—presumably, not to leave any doubt in the reader’s mind.
“Whosoever shall be ashamed of me [Jesus] and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
Mark’s version (the one that includes the word “also”), however, passes the ‘criterion of dissimilarity’: something embarrassing Christians would not make up—like Jesus’s crucifixion or baptism—but which has the ring of truth. This means that it is, most probably, what Jesus said originally. Recall that Mark’s gospel was the earliest gospel written (around 70 CE) and so probably the most authentic. Luke’s version is what later Christians (who wanted to extol him higher than he claimed to be) started to believe in Jesus. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains this much better in his book Did Jesus Exist?
“The sayings in which Jesus talks about himself as the Son of Man cannot pass the criterion of dissimilarity. But the sayings in which Jesus seems to be talking about someone else do pass the criterion: surely Christians who thought Jesus was the Son of Man would not make up sayings that appear to differentiate between him and the Son of Man.” (p. 306)
So, what made Christians start to believe that Jesus was the Son of Man? Look at the following two gospel verses:
“Jesus said unto them [his apostles], ‘Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [new world order] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matthew 19:28, KJV, emphasis mine)
The ‘new world order’ corresponds to the ‘kingdom of God/heaven’—a kingdom of justice, sharing, and love—as we have seen in the last posted article by the same title.
“That ye [apostles] may eat and drink at my [Jesus’s] table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:30, KJV)
Now, if the apostles were going to judge the tribes of Israel, it stands to reason that Jesus (as their master) would judge the whole world. In fact, in the Apostles creed, which can probably be traced back to the first century CE, we still pray,
“From there [heaven] He [Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Catholic Online: “The Apostles’ Creed,” accessed April 11, 2022)
Now, look at this verse from Matthew’s gospel:
“As therefore the tares [weeds] are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40–42, KJV, emphasis mine)
In this passage, again it is uncertain whether Jesus is referring to himself: but the “Son of Man” seems to be a ‘cosmic’ character sent by God to judge the whole world at the ‘end-times’; that is, prior to the inauguration of the ‘kingdom of God’ (or ‘kingdom of heaven’). In fact, it hardly seems that Jesus is referring to himself here: throughout his life, he always tried to convert, not eliminate, sinners. It sounds more like a warning than a threat.
Let me start our discussion of this subject by first quoting New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? Regarding the kingdom of God, he writes,
“The future kingdom [of God] would be brought by a cosmic judge whom Jesus called the Son of Man.” (p. 305)
In other words, according to a biblical scholar, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ does not seem to refer to Jesus himself. I must admit I was quite astonished when I first read about this concept: I always thought that Jesus simply referred to himself by the phrase ‘Son of Man.’
Book of Daniel
But who could this cosmic judge be if not Jesus? We find the answer in the Old Testament book of Daniel. The protagonist of the book had the following vision:
“I [Daniel] saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God], and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, according to Daniel, a world-wide kingdom of God was transferred to this “Son of Man” to rule it indefinitely. Jesus, of course, never questioned scriptures; so, he assumed the existence of this cosmic ruler, the Son of Man, in his speeches and teachings.
It seems, therefore, that Daniel’s vision was a future one: the Son of Man was supposed to come in the ‘end-times’ to judge everyone prior to establishing God’s kingdom on earth. So, it’s not clear whether the Son of Man, in fact, existed during Daniel’s vision. Notice also that there is absolutely no indication that this Son of Man was supposed to suffer at all, nor die as the gospels suggest above. Have a look at this verse, which is much clearer:
“For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” (Luke 17:24–25, KJV)
Of course, such verses are made-up nonsense by the evangelists: it doesn’t jibe with Daniel’s portrayal of the Son of Man.
Now, Daniel was written around 165 BCE (although its author claims he wrote it around 600 BCE); but in any case, there is no doubt that Jesus, as a human being, was inexistent when this book was written.
However, because of the many gospel verses identifying Jesus with the Son of Man, and assuming that the Son of Man existed in heaven at the time of Daniel’s vision, Christians reasoned that it was Jesus who appeared in Daniel’s vision. Indeed, they believe Jesus existed prior to his birth, from the beginning of the universe, as God’s “Word.” In fact, in John’s gospel, we read,
“In the beginning [of creation] was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14 KJV)
Some Christian denominations, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe that Jesus is Michael the Archangel in human form. (Reed, accessed April 12, 2022) So, Jesus is supposedly ‘God’s Word,’ the ‘Son of Man,’ and Michael the Archangel; not to mention also ‘Son of God’ and even ‘God.’ All this confusion clearly shows that from the Bible one cannot tell who Jesus really is. I like to keep things simple: I do believe Jesus was born of a sperm donated directly by the Holy Spirit to his mother, Mary; but I also believe that he was inexistent before his birth (i.e., around 5 BCE) like all of us.
Again, in his book Did Jesus Exist? New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman continues,
“The sayings that make this differentiation [between Jesus and the Son of Man] are always ones that predict what will happen in the future, when the Son of Man comes in judgement on the earth. These sayings are also multiply attested in early sources …. Conclusion: Jesus appears to have talked about a future Son of Man who would bring God’s kingdom.” (pp. 306–7, emphasis mine)
The ambiguous references to the ‘Son of Man,’ therefore, always relate to his coming in judgement in the end-times. Notice that Ehrman adds, “These sayings are also multiply attested in early sources”; so, it is probably the case.
It follows, therefore, that we have another contradiction in the Bible (a subtle one, perhaps): that is, passages that say that Jesus is the “Son of Man” and passages that say (or at least imply) that the “Son of Man” is someone else.
So much also for the Apostles’ Creed where it says, “from there [heaven] he [Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.” Although that is what Christians believe, Jesus himself did not seem to think that he was going to be the judge of all of humanity: as far as he was concerned, the Son of Man was given that responsibility. So, oddly enough, our most ancient Christian creed is not even authentically Christian.
Not convinced yet? Here is another interesting passage from Matthew’s gospel; it portrays Jesus saying,
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat [food]: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’ Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’ Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:31–46, KJV)
First, notice that in this passage, there is absolutely no mention of Jesus: the only reference is to the “Son of Man.” Second, according to this passage, all one must do to enter the “kingdom” of the “Father” (the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of heaven’) and gain “life everlasting” is to do good deeds to others in need. So basically, all one must do is to observe the core of the Mosaic Law.
Probably needless to mention, this is contrary to Christian theology because one of the tenets of Christianity is to believe in Jesus’s death, resurrection, and his being the Son of God and our Savior to enter the kingdom of God (or heaven). In the above passage, the “righteous” had no clue who the “Son of Man” was, and they still entered God’s kingdom! So, the title “Son of Man,” here could not have originally referred to Jesus: because according to early (and even modern) Christian teaching, one could not possibly enter the kingdom of God (or heaven) unless one knew and acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son and one’s Savior. Consequently, the evangelist Matthew seems to have slipped here. The above gospel passage, therefore, passes the criterion of dissimilarity and, consequently, it’s most probably authentic: that is, what Jesus actually said.
Let me now quote New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman to confirm what I just wrote here: this way, I will be more convincing. He comments as follows on the last passage from Matthew’s gospel:
“The future [last] judgement is based, not on belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection, but on doing good things to those in need. Later Christians—including … Paul … [and] other writers of the Gospel—maintained that it was belief in Jesus that would bring a person into the coming kingdom. But nothing in this passage even hints at the need to believe in Jesus per se: these people didn’t even know him. … The conclusion? The sayings of the passage probably go back to Jesus.” (pp. 312–13, emphasis mine)
Let me reiterate Ehrman’s conclusion here: “The sayings of the passage probably go back to Jesus.” This means they bear much more weight, for us Christians, than any other passages in the New Testament, including those by Paul. Consequently, belief in Jesus as well as ‘substitutional atonement’ (Savior) seem to be false doctrines. In fact, in his book God and Empire, John Dominic Crossan states,
“It is certainly correct … to call Jesus’ death—or in fact the death of a martyr—a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of a sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the [non-violent] radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’ execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation [well-being].” (pp. 140–41, emphasis in original)
Apparently, the apostles lost Jesus (a great miracle worker) so abruptly that the only way they could make sense of it was assuming it was all part of God’s plan and that Jesus had to die to deliver us from our sins. And that’s what they taught Paul when he converted to Christianity. Paul, being new to Christianity, regurgitated their then-current ‘creed’:
“I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” (First Corinthians 15:3, KJV)
But, in fact, there are no Old Testament scriptures saying that the ‘Messiah’ (Jewish for ‘Christ’) must suffer. The Messiah was supposed to be a great Israelite king (the calibre of David and Solomon) who would rule the whole world with God’s help.
It goes without saying, that despite what Christians believe, the above theological concepts are false; they rob God of his impartiality: God gives rain to everyone—good or bad. Since modern Christians equate the kingdom of God to heaven, these doctrines condemn the majority (about 5.5 billion) of humanity to hell, possibly leaving only (about 2.4 billion) Christians who can go to heaven. If this were truly the case, then Satan has defeated God—hands down—throughout the ages.
Although, throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to refer to himself as the Son of Man, in his book God and Empire, also biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan makes it clear that he does not think Jesus adopted the title himself; he believes that the evangelists assigned it to him (p.127): basically agreeing with Ehrman that Jesus is not the Son of Man.
So, it seems Catholics are right in this respect: we probably all have to pay a fair price for our sins in purgatory before we can enter heaven. In other words, Jesus did not pay for our sins, as Protestants believe. Here’s another quote from Matthew’s gospel confirming this:
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16: 27–28, KJV, emphasis mine)
In other words, Jesus thought that the coming of the kingdom of God (in which God ‘rules’ in our heart) was imminent—within his generation; he was wrong, of course, by two millennia and counting: showing that he was only human: it shows he didn’t know everything, so he couldn’t possibly also be divine (God).
Of course, I don’t believe the punishment for our sins will be eternal. (Refer to my article on “Hell” to see why.) Recall also that, in Jesus’s mind, the ‘kingdom of God’ was a kingdom on earth: in fact, in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ we still pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth” (Catholic Online: “The Our Father,” accessed April 13, 2022, emphasis mine). See my last article on the “Kingdom of God/Heaven.”
In short, most of the time in the gospels, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ refers to Jesus because later Christians assigned this ‘title’ to him; however, in fact, the Son of Man should not refer to Jesus. Jesus himself probably believed that there would be a universal judge inaugurating the beginning of the kingdom of God.
Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus thinking that the Son of Man will accomplish his task in one fell swoop: like lightning flashes across the sky from east to west.
“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:27, KJV)
This verse is repeated, almost word for word, in Luke’s gospel. (Luke 17:24)
According to the gospels, following the coming of the Son of Man, the end of the earth as we know it will ensue. In Matthew’s gospel, the above verse is immediately followed by these words of Jesus:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. … Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24:29–31, 34, KJV, emphasis mine)
So, Matthew portrays Jesus predicting the end of the earth as we know it prior to the establishment of a brand new one within the then-living generation. The same concept of the ‘end-times’ is also found in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. (See Mark 13:24–27 & Luke 21:24–28, 31–32, 36)
Notice also that Jesus did not seem to realize that if a single star (like the sun) were to fall upon the earth, it would disintegrate the earth—the earth would not survive the conflagration. However, in those days, people taught that stars were small—the size of a fig, say. This means that, even according to gospel texts, Jesus did not know everything, especially scientific facts: which implies that he was only human; thus showing he cannot be God.
Note, however, that Jesus seems to keep himself distanced from this ‘cleansing’ action: the task is delegated to the Son of Man. Naturally, this conforms with Jesus’s totally-non-violent character.
Incidentally, Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other Christian denominations) believe there are no humans in heaven, except Jesus, because of the following verse in John’s gospel portraying Jesus telling Pharisee Nicodemus:
“No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which [who] is in heaven.” (John 3:13, KJV)
Of course, their belief crumbles all to dust if Jesus is not the Son of Man himself: in other words, if this is truly the case, not even Jesus is in heaven—by their own teaching.
Still, the Son of Man possibly only existed in Jesus’s imagination: the way he understood Scriptures as written in Daniel; it does not even follow that he really exists. For all we know, it was only a vision or a dream Daniel had: we don’t really know whether what he saw was factual. So the very existence of the Son of Man, even biblically, is questionable. The introduction to Daniel’s dream or vision goes,
“Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream.” (Daniel 7:1, KJV)
Remember also that Jesus was only human, and keep in mind that the Bible is not a truth factory, either.
Incidentally, Jesus could not possibly have said the last clause “who is in heaven” if he was referring to himself. In writing the last clause “who is in heaven,” the evangelist John seems to have forgotten, momentarily, that Jesus was supposed to be speaking in this account—not the evangelist himself: Jesus could not possibly be in heaven while speaking to Nicodemus. It may be worth clarifying what the evangelist means here. At the time his gospel was being written (i.e., some 70 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection), Jesus had presumably ascended into heaven. Since Jesus was referring to himself in the text, he could not possibly have uttered this clause while speaking to Nicodemus (i.e., while he was still alive); naturally, he only went to heaven after he died and was resurrected. Talk about ‘gospel truth’!
In his book Did Jesus Exist? New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains how the phrase kingdom of God is used in the New Testament: it might be a little surprising to some readers; he writes,
“When people today hear the term kingdom of God, they typically think of heaven, as the place where souls go once they die. But that is not what [was] meant …. For Jesus the kingdom was an actual place, here on earth, where God would rule supreme. … The kingdom was a real tangible place, where love, peace, and justice would prevail.” (p. 305)
Ehrman then refers to a few quotes from the gospels to show this is the case.
Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus telling his apostles that, in this new kingdom, they were all going to be rulers sitting on thrones and judging the twelve Hebrew tribes; we read,
“Jesus said unto them [his apostles], ‘Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [new age (NAB)] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matthew 19:28, KJV)
Of course, it goes without saying that, if his apostles were going to be rulers, Jesus would still be above his apostles: that is, he would be their head, or the ‘king,’ of this so-called kingdom of God.
Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus thinking that there would be normal eating and drinking in this new kingdom.
“He [Jesus] said unto them [his apostles], ‘with desire I have desired to eat this Passover [meal] with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.’” (Luke 22:15–18, KJV)
And again, Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus warning people that they might be left out of this new kingdom unless they measure up; we read,
“There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28, KJV)
In my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin” I argued that the story of Adam and Eve is only a myth and, therefore, no original sin was actually committed; consequently, God never expected Jesus to atone for original sin or our sins. So, what did God desire of Jesus? I believe God begot his Son, Jesus, so that he could show us, through example, the best way to live this gift of life: never to use violence and establish a personal relationship with God.
In fact, John’s gospel portrays Jesus telling the Pharisees, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, KJV) I don’t think he was talking about riches, here. And elsewhere, the same gospel portrays Jesus telling his apostle Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6, KJV) Assuming Jesus did really utter this last clause, I interpret it as ‘through Jesus’s teachings’ because they apply to all humans: that is, not through belief that Jesus is God’s Son, nor through his intercession with the Father.
Humanity, in the time of Jesus, was completely lost: it had no sense of direction; perhaps the same as nowadays, I would dare say. God did not beget his Son to die atoning for our sins; Jesus’s death was a consequence of his mission from his Father. Let me explain why.
In one of the undisputed Pauline letters, First Corinthians, we read,
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–8, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrases: “not the wisdom of this world” and “the wisdom of God.” What, exactly, is the “wisdom of this world” and how does it differ from “the wisdom of God”?
Violence has been the drug of choice of humanity throughout all ages. Particularly, Rome’s ‘theology’ at the time of Jesus was: conquer by the violence of war, and once victory is achieved, it would be followed by ‘peace’—the famous Pax Romana, Latin for ‘Roman Peace.’ There would be nobody left in the conquered land, anyway; so, there had to be peace: everybody was killed by the Roman legions.
In this article, I shall show how God gradually guided Jesus what to teach humanity: that the kingdom of God can only come on earth through the non-violent means of justice, sharing, equality, love, kindness, mercy, and truth; followed inevitably by true peace and happiness. Naturally, the rest of the world did not have much faith in this type of behavior. In fact, Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven [i.e., kingdom of God (see next section)] suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12, KJV)
[Apparently the evangelist momentarily forgot that Jesus (and not himself) was supposed to be speaking in this verse.] What this verse means is that, since the time of John the Baptist (i.e., around 30 CE) to the time of Matthew’s writing his gospel (i.e., around 80 CE)—that is, for about half a century after Jesus died—Jesus’s opponents had been trying to prevent people from accepting the kingdom of God and to snatch it away from those who had received it by violent means. From experience we know that frequently justice is hindered and injustice perpetrated by violent means. John the Baptist’s and Jesus’s deaths were two obvious examples of such violence—not to mention Peter’s and Paul’s in the mid-60s CE.
Kingdom of Heaven
From various texts in Matthew’s gospel, one can deduce that the author’s congregation was “originally strongly Jewish-Christian” (NAB, p. 10). So, in most instances, the author substituted the expression ‘kingdom of heaven’ for ‘kingdom of God’ out of respect for the name of God, which was normally “avoided by devout Jews of the time” (NAB, Matthew 3:2n).
Let us examine one obvious case, from the synoptic gospels, just to prove the point.
Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,
“Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them [his disciples], ‘Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24–25, KJV, emphasis mine)
Luke’s gospel has practically the same thing.
“When Jesus saw that he [the would-be follower] was very sorrowful, he said, ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25, KJV emphasis mine)
But Matthew renders these verses,
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’” (Matthew 19:23–24, KJV, emphasis mine)
That is, Matthew uses the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” synonymously.
As mentioned, to Jesus the kingdom of God was a kingdom of justice, non-violence, sharing, equality, peace, happiness, love, kindness, mercy, and truth. However, the phrase “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew’s gospel introduces overtones of the afterlife. This is where and how our confusion started from.
In the above verses by the three synoptic evangelists, Jesus warns us that it is much harder for rich people to join the kingdom of God, which is an earthly kingdom. Of course, he says it in the form of a hyperbole and should not be taken literally; however, it is true that rich and powerful people (addicted to money and power) tend not to play fair and to lord it over others. Obviously, such an attitude is not conducive to an environment of sharing and equality. So, the erroneous conclusion from these verses by later Christian churches (equating the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to heaven) was that most, if not all, rich people will go to hell. But the kingdom of God (or equivalently the kingdom of heaven) was supposed to be a kingdom on this earth.
It might also interest the reader that, according to Wikipedia, there are other considerations to this rather strange last verse. It says that fifth century CE Christian church patriarch “Cyril of Alexandria … claimed that ‘camel’ was a Greek scribal typo where kamêlos (… camel) was written in place of kamilos, (… meaning ‘rope’ or ‘cable’)” (Wikipedia: “Eye of a Needle,” accessed March 4, 2022).
Still, it is rather impossible to thread a rope through the eye of a needle, but it is more in line with the verse’s exaggeration—it makes more sense.
Alternatively, Wikipedia adds:
“The ‘Eye of the Needle’ has been claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could not pass through this smaller gate unless it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no widely accepted evidence for the existence of such a gate” (Wikipedia: “Eye of a Needle,” accessed March 4, 2022).
Personally, I tend to lean toward this latter explanation.
Something like this explanation is a classic example of how biblical concepts become tangled over time. Obviously, this verse became quite an incentive for a rich person to donate one’s wealth to the church on one’s death-bed.
Anyway, the most important point, I want to make here, is that the phrases ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels are one and the same thing. They both mean a somewhat utopian ‘kingdom’ of the heart on this earth and have nothing to do with the afterlife. If the reader is still unconvinced, recall the words of the prayer commonly known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ or the ‘Our Father.’ It says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”—notice my emphases.
Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God can only come on earth if everyone pitches in.
Imagine a place where people do not drive on one side of the road, they drive any which way they feel like and they have no driving rules. It would be a nightmare trying to get from one place to another. Cars will have to move much more slowly and cautiously. We would drive nowhere close to one hundred kilometers (c. 62 mi.) per hour or faster.
Likewise, think of people’s behavior in a building on fire—they push, stumble, and step on one another: with the result that hardly anyone gets out and saves oneself. Meanwhile, had they tried to organize themselves and move out rationally, and perhaps some of them tried to control the fire in the meantime, many more would be able to escape the fire.
Our solidarity in sin, has, over time, constituted dominating systems that are now equivalent to what one might call ‘powers of evil’ that one person alone cannot defeat. Besides the fact that the whole of society must realize that we must all act together, I doubt whether we can achieve this by ourselves; that is, without any direct help from God himself.
About two millennia ago, Jesus came to help us accomplish this—he jump-started things for us—but after two-thousand-odd years, it still did not happen. It looked like it was going to happen initially:
“All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44–47)
But it stalled. So naturally we expect Jesus to come a second time to finish the job. But, would a second coming make any difference?
I think a wait of two thousand years for Jesus’s Second Coming should be enough for us to reconsider our thinking. I think God is waiting for us to wake up. We need to give up our drug of choice first—violence. God will help us; but first we must realize what we are doing wrong and decide that we really want to do this together. Then Jesus will be in our midst again, not necessarily physically, but certainly in spirit: when the whole of humanity is living in a kingdom of God’s making.
We figured out that we must drive on one side of the road—that all of us must do it. We have learnt to trust what the other person is going to do on the road. But we have not yet figured out what to do in a burning building. Complete honesty and trust in God are the requirements for his special assistance. Personally, I do not think I could think and act rationally in a burning building—unless God gives me special help at that very moment. I have, however, in the past, experienced special help from God that enabled me to do things that I did not believe I could do. Perhaps the reader has too—on very rare occasions.
Let us, however, for a moment, forget about rare situations like terrorism, ideological or ethnic wars, and burning buildings; let us concentrate on everyday life and share what we have with others: practice will then enable us to do the harder things, when and if the time comes. God assures us that he will be there for us on the side of good and truth, ready to help us. He also assures us that the power of good is greater than the power of evil. Like light has an advantage over darkness: it simply cuts through darkness. He also assures us that doing good to others is contagious and spreads like wildfire or a weed. In fact, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,
“Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” (Mark 4:30–32, KJV)
However, it so happened that in the process of preaching the kingdom of God, Jesus got killed by the church and state of his time; he was an accusatory stumbling-block to both. Jesus (and his Father) probably knew that he was going to end up killed because of this, but he had to show us that in following him, we too will probably have to suffer. Jesus died as a consequence of our sins—because of our sins, because of the way the world had become—not to pay for our sins. It is easy to confuse these two concepts.
The sequence of what normally happens is clearly shown in John’s gospel. First the church accused Jesus.
“The Jews answered him [Pilate], ‘We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:7, KJV)
Then the state accused Jesus.
“But the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.’” (John 19:12, KJV)
Finally, the church joined the state in accusing Jesus.
“The chief priests answered: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:15, KJV)
In failing to recognize a man of God and a miracle-worker, like Jesus, one might wonder where God fitted in the lives of these chief priests.
Jesus came to challenge the social paradigms of his time: proclaiming a better life. He did not come to form his own government; in fact, he apparently avoided kingship according to John’s gospel.
“When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15, KJV)
He also taught that God and state are compatible.
“Jesus answering said unto them [the Pharisees and Herodians], ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Mark 12:17, KJV)
God is not interested in a political kingdom: he only wants to ‘reign’ in our heart/mind.
John’s gospel portrays Jesus conversing with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, during his trial.
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence [here].’ Pilate therefore said unto him, ‘Art thou a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” (John 18:36–37, KJV)
Jesus here declares that his kingdom (the kingdom of God), unlike any other earthly kingdom, is a kingdom of non-violence and truth. He also declared that this is the reason why he was born—to be the king of such a kingdom—hence, the meaning of ‘Christ the King.’
However, Jesus, like God, wants to reign in our heart—he does not desire a political kingdom: politics and God’s kingdom are, therefore, compatible. What is a little harder to understand is the phrase “this world”; it means the world of those days—the Roman Empire: its ideology, which, as I argued, was based on war, victory, and what it called ‘peace.’
Unfortunately, over time, the here and now changed to the hereafter—getting us off the hook. The clause “but now my kingdom is not from hence [here]” may be misleading: we might think it is a kingdom in heaven. Yet, it is a non-violent earthly kingdom, which has heavenly roots: “as it is in heaven.”
Son of God
An interesting and important question is whether Jesus was aware that he had a mission from God, and that he was supposed to promote this ‘kingdom of God.’
In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit who donated a sperm to his mother, Mary; we read,
“The angel [Gabriel] said unto her [Mary], ‘… Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest [God] ….’ Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man [have no husband]?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [offspring] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:30–32, 34–35, KJV, emphasis mine)
Assuming this was the case, I presume Jesus’s mother, Mary, would eventually have told him about all this. So, I would not be surprised that Jesus may have considered himself to be literally the Son of God, and that he had to do something about it. Incidentally, Mary’s acceptance of such a role (see Luke 1:38) was breathtaking: in those days, adulterers, especially women, were stoned to death (see John 8:5).
Donating a special sperm so that Mary could conceive Jesus is not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things: God can perform much greater miracles; take, for example, the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ near Fatima, Portugal. I believe that Jesus’s virgin birth did happen (see my article on “Mary’s Virginity”) and that, therefore, Jesus is the Son of God par excellence. But then I do not believe that Jesus is also God, or that he existed before his birth—as most of Christianity tends to believe—I think there is only one God, and Jesus is only human.
In the New Testament, there is hardly any doubt that Jews despised their ruling Romans. For starters they hated paying taxes to Rome, and they considered native tax collectors traitors and even public sinners.
They also hated, in a special manner, the Roman legions. Here is an account of a miracle in Mark’s gospel, supposedly performed by Jesus, showing Jewish sentiments toward the Roman legions.
“They [Jesus and his apostles] came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, ‘What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.’ For he said unto him, ‘Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.’ And he [Jesus] asked him, ‘What is thy name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’ And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, ‘Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.’ And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand); and were choked in the sea.” (Mark 5:1–13, KJV, emphasis mine)
I find Jesus’s alleged behavior—allowing the evil spirits to enter the swine—somewhat unbecoming of his general character. Moreover, it seems that two-thousand-odd demons’ possessing one person is unlikely. But then, a legion consisting of several thousand (c. 5,000) legionaries might have personified the devil incarnate to a patriotic Jew.
Although Jesus might have performed an exorcism of some sort, I think the account is exaggerated and shows the hatred the Jews had for Rome and its legions. Whenever a Roman colony rebelled, the Romans sent their legions, and they levelled it to the ground: they were hated and had the worst of reputations. Indeed, they also levelled Jerusalem and destroyed its temple in 70 CE. This miracle account reeks of superstitious overtones too; to the Jews of that time, inside a pig was one of the worst places one could end up in—the pig was such a despicable animal: recall the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:15–16). The Roman legionaries’ place was inside pigs. That must have triggered a chuckle.
Furthermore, Jews hated the Roman Empire: revolutions abounded in Israel. The author of Revelation, the exiled John of Patmos, writes against Rome in code form: calling it Babylon (the nation that had exiled the Jews from 597 BCE to 537 BCE), comparing it to a whore, and telling Christians to stop sleeping with the devil, so to speak (Crossan, p. 142).
“I [John of Patmos] heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’” (Revelation 18:4, KJV)
Biblical scholars detect erotic language in this verse; it is crudely telling the Christian church, “Interrupt your intercourse with her lest you become infected by her venereal diseases.”
In his article “Roman Religion,” ancient and medieval history teacher Donald Wasson writes that one wise policy the Roman Empire had was freedom of religion. The Romans did not force anyone to adopt their religion or any of their gods; while, at the same time, they adopted and included most foreign gods with their own—lest the deities might be offended if they did not.
Since the Jews believed in only one God, they did not participate in the worship of the Roman gods, nor did they offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or the emperor—who was declared divine—as the rest of the empire did. Jews were therefore considered ‘atheists’ of some sort by Roman standards, but still they were fairly tolerated because they were firmly established throughout the Roman Empire; albeit they might have been blamed for many a misfortune because of their, so called irreligion (Wasson, accessed March 4, 2022).
So, had the chief priests accused Jesus of claiming to be the ‘Son of God,’ Pilate would have asked them which god and probably told them to get lost. His point would have been that it was a religious matter and that, consequently, it had to be sorted out by the religious authorities.
The problem for the Jews who wanted Jesus dead was that the Romans did not allow capital punishment to be carried out by the local people: only the Roman governor had the authority to execute a death penalty. But the religious authorities wanted Jesus dead for blaspheming—claiming to be literally the Son of God. I cannot say I blame them entirely; we would probably have reacted the same way nowadays if someone were to claim to be, literally, the son of God. So, they had to somehow show the governor conspiracy against the state: a strictly religious accusation would not have been enough for Pilate to consent to capital punishment.
In John’s gospel, initially the chief priests tried to be elusive in their accusations, but Pilate quickly put them in their place.
“Pilate then went out unto them [the crowd], and said, ‘What accusation bring ye against this man?’ They answered and said unto him, ‘If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.’ Then said Pilate unto them, ‘Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews therefore said unto him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’” (John 18:29–31, KJV)
True, the Jews despised the Roman colonists so much they would never have delivered one of their own to Pilate: probably not even if one was truly a revolutionary.
So that did not go too well with Pilate: they knew they could not execute him. So, they resorted to another plan: trying to explain blasphemy to Pilate.
“The Jews answered him, ‘we have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:7, KJV)
But the chief priests probably also knew that this was not going to fly: Pilate could not care less about their laws or religious beliefs.
This was probably something that Jesus had claimed for the longest time. So, why did the chief priests not arrest him for it before? Because it was strictly a religious charge, and that would not have impressed Pilate at all.
They needed something more politically sensitive. Such opportunity was, apparently, given them by Judas Iscariot, who, according to the gospels, is said to have ‘betrayed’ Jesus. So, the crucial question is; when the gospels say that one of Jesus’s apostles, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus: what exactly did they mean, what did he tell the religious authorities to make them think they had enough evidence to have him convicted of a capital offence? What did they pay Judas thirty silver pieces for?
This is what enabled the chief priests to bring out their third ace up their sleeve—the information Judas Iscariot gave them.
“But the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.’” (John 19:12, KJV)
Where did that come from? Jesus never declared himself king.
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, in his book How Jesus Became God, explains what probably happened; we must read between the lines, of course. The gospels give us the impression that Judas Iscariot led the Jewish authorities to Jesus at a time when he was away from the crowds. Ehrman does not buy this explanation. He asks why they did not have him followed. Hiring an insider was totally unnecessary; he argues,
“There are reasons for thinking that in fact Judas betrayed something else. Here are two facts to bear in mind. The first is to reaffirm that we have no record of Jesus ever proclaiming himself to be the future king of the Jews, the messiah, in public context. This is never his message. His message is about the coming kingdom to be brought about by the Son of Man. He always keeps himself out of it. The second fact is that when the authorities arrested Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, the consistent report is that the charge leveled against him at this trial was that he called himself king of the Jews. If Jesus never preached in public that he was the future king, but this was the charge levelled against him at his trial, how did outsiders come to know of it? The simplest answer is that this is what Judas betrayed. Judas was one of the insiders to whom Jesus disclosed his vision of the future. Judas and the eleven others would all be rulers in the future kingdom. And Jesus would be the king. … He told the Jewish authorities what Jesus was actually teaching in private, and it was all they needed.” (pp. 121–22)
Although many gospel verses identify Jesus with the Son of Man, in the next post, by the same title, I shall show that Jesus did not think himself to be this Son of Man. The Son of Man was a character from the book of Daniel to whom was given dominion over God’s kingdom: he would judge and clean up the world in the end-times. It was a misinterpretation by the evangelists identifying Jesus as the Son of Man.
Reading between the lines of the following subtle, probing question, which in John’s gospel the chief priest asks Jesus right after he was arrested, agrees with what Ehrman contends above.
“The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.’” (John 18:19–21, KJV)
Although the evangelist John portrays Jesus saying nothing different in private than in public, Ehrman argues that Jesus might have said something that could be misconstrued by outsiders. As we saw at the beginning of this article, he apparently told his apostles that in the coming kingdom of God they would all be judges of the Hebrew tribes, and that, by inference, he would be king of Israel. (See Matthew 19:28)
In fact, it is interesting to note that Jesus does not deny most of the Jews’ charges before Pilate. John’s gospel continues:
“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, ‘Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence [here].’ Pilate therefore said unto him, ‘Art thou a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” (John 18:33–37, KJV)
After this discussion Pilate realized that Jesus was not a military threat: that Jesus was an idealist; he probably also thought that Jesus was just a dreamer, and so from then on he tried to release him. (See John 19:12)
In fact, he later makes a joke of the phrase ‘king of the Jews.’ After having Jesus scourged, he showed him to the crowd, also crowned with thorns.
“He [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:14–15, KJV)
Although it seems Pilate was toying with them, this last sentence must have struck him like a rock. Naturally, Pilate could not risk his career for a simple peasant; so, he went along with them in his verdict and condemned Jesus to death.
“Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was ‘Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews.’” (John 19:19, KJV, emphasis in original)
Thus, Jesus ended up the victim of church and state.
In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Crossan writes that people in the first century CE could hardly separate (distinguish between) church and state. The early Christians were not only religious but also political: church and state were like the two sides of the same coin. He points out, for example, that even Caesar’s coins had ‘Divi F’ inscribed, which is short for Divi Filius, meaning ‘Son of God.’ In the first century CE, church and state were synonymous, as the Church of England was a few centuries ago, or Christianity in the Roman Empire after Constantine adopted Christianity as the religion of the state. The ultimate question for the early Christians, therefore, was to whom does the world belong: God or the emperor? And how should it be run? (Crossan, p. 117) So, they adopted the Roman emperor’s titles and invested Jesus with them.
According to Unitarian Universalist Pastor Carl Gregg, in the days of the Roman Empire, it was dangerous to declare God king of the whole world because the emperor occupied that position.
“One aspect of historical Jesus studies that almost all scholars actually agree about is that a central aspect of Jesus’ ministry concerned speaking about the kingdom of God. And to speak about God being king, when Caesar had declared himself divine, was audacious to say the least.” (Gregg, accessed March 4, 2022, emphasis in original)
The phrase ‘whole world’ was synonymous to the Roman Empire.
Why is all this not clearly stated in the gospels? Well, following Jesus’s mandate to preach the gospel to the whole world, Christians wanted to infiltrate the Roman Empire (the whole world of that time). Consequently, they could not openly admit that Jesus might have been construed as an insurgent under Roman law, and that he might have been justly condemned by the Roman authorities; so, Christians blamed his death on Jewish envy of Jesus. In fact, even in the earliest gospel, Mark’s, we read, “For he [Pilate] knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.” (Mark 15:10, KJV)
The reader should not be naïve enough to think that there are no politics involved in religion. Everyone knew for whom crucifixion was reserved—revolutionaries: there was no need for the evangelists to emphasize it in their writings. Had Christians admitted that Jesus might have been condemned fairly, they would not have been able to settle anywhere in the Roman Empire. Christians tried to integrate and merge with people in the Roman Empire as unobtrusively as possible. They obviously realized they had to somehow pussyfoot around Jesus’s crucifixion in the Roman Empire.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was also a special person—by God’s standards, I mean. If one were to believe what Luke’s gospel says, his birth was also almost miraculous; we read,
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course [priestly division (NAB)] of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken [advanced] in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, ‘Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.’” (Luke 1:5–13’ KJV)
In short, although Elizabeth was barren and past her age of fertility, she still conceived a son—John the Baptist. As I argued above, I have no problem with miraculous (or almost miraculous) accounts; in other words, I have no reason to question this account since it does not contradict anything else in the gospels.
Now, according to Luke’s gospel, it also seems that John the Baptist and Jesus were related. Luke continues his account.
“After those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.’ And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.’ And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, ‘Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest [God]: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob [Israel] for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’ Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man [have no husband]?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest [God] shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [offspring] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be [is] impossible.’” (Luke 1:24–37, KJV, emphasis mine)
According to Luke, therefore, Mary and Elizabeth were ‘cousins’; so, chances are that John the Baptist and Jesus knew each other. Now John’s gospel contradicts this (see John 1:31, 33), but since Luke’s gospel was written prior to John’s gospel, I shall assume the former is the correct version of the facts.
Luke continues his account.
“Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her [Mary] from the Lord.’” (Luke 1:39–45, KJV)
So, it is quite clear from this gospel that Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, somehow knew quite well what was going on with Mary’s pregnancy.
John the Baptist, therefore, probably realized that God wanted something special from him, too, because, I presume, his parents told him about his almost miraculous conception and the angel’s apparition telling Zachary that “he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Luke 1:15, KJV) He, therefore, started a mission of preaching repentance of personal sins and baptizing (symbolizing both cleansing and rebirth by immersion in water) people in the River Jordan: he believed there was going to be an imminent cleanup of the whole world executed by God himself.
I also presume that his mother, Elizabeth, eventually told him about Jesus and Mary: that his relative Jesus was miraculously conceived by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, John knew that his relative Jesus was someone even more special—by God’s standards, that is.
As a result, in Mark’s gospel, for example, we read about John the Baptist referring to Jesus’s greatness.
“[He] preached, saying, ‘There cometh one [Jesus] mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.’” (Mark 1:7, KJV)
In Luke’s and John’s gospels (Luke 3:16 & John, 1:27), we read practically the same thing.
John the Baptist seems to have had a fiery personality, so he thought that God would come to clean up the whole world violently: that is, disposing of all evildoers in one swoop fell so that the righteous could live in harmony together. In Matthew’s gospel, for example, we read,
“But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet [evidence (NAB)] for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, “We have Abraham to [for] our father”: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.’” (Matthew 3:7–10, KJV, emphasis mine).
In Luke’s gospel (3:7–9), we read practically the same thing.
But when, decades later, God did not come to clean up the world violently (simply because it is not God’s nature to do such things) all the evangelists toned down John the Baptist’s words foretelling the end of the world as we know it; they wrote that he was only preparing or announcing the coming of Jesus—the Messiah/Christ—the ‘Anointed One’ of God. But that is not quite right; John the Baptist was foretelling a violent divine cleanup of this evil world: like that described in Revelation by the exiled John of Patmos.
John the Baptist might have thought that everything hinged on Jesus, but he was still confused by Jesus’s somewhat passive nature: God’s kingdom, however, was nothing like he or anyone else had expected.
In fact, while he was imprisoned, he sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, point blank, whether he was the Messiah or whether the Messiah was someone else who still had to come.
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ [Jesus], he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in [shocked by] me.’” (Matthew 11:2–6, KJV)
Jesus here quotes John several verses from Isaiah (26:19; 29:18–19; 35:5–6; 61:1). Was it a prophecy? Possibly! Personally, I just think it was more like Isaiah’s dream-wish. Although some miracles might have happened in Jesus’s time, we know, for a fact, that all the above wonders stopped happening nowadays.
Judas the Galilean
Before I move on to Jesus of Nazareth, I would like to take a quick look at an important historical figure (also mentioned by first-century-CE historian Josephus) who came from Jesus’s backyard, so to speak, and from whom Jesus might have had inspiration.
In his books The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus labeled Judas’s resistance a fourth philosophy; the other three being: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Judas preached that God alone was the ruler of Israel, and therefore no taxes should be payable to Rome: in his opinion, submitting to a Roman tax census was, therefore, equivalent to substituting Rome for God. According to Wikipedia, around 6 CE Judas instigated Jews not to register for Roman tax-paying purposes, and whoever complied with the Romans had his house burned and his cattle stolen by Judas’s followers. (Wikipedia: “Judas of Galilee,” accessed March 4, 2022)
Apparently, however, he used no violence against the more powerful and radically retaliatory Romans. According to Crossan in God and Empire, Judas’s resistance was nonviolent: possibly one of the first of its kind. Judas’s followers were willing to suffer torture, martyrdom, as well as the extermination of their kinsmen; but they were unwilling to pay taxes to Rome. Crossan concludes his introduction of Judas the Galilean,
“Thus, Judas [the Galilean], not Jesus, was the first Galilean to proclaim nonviolent resistance to violent injustice in the first quarter of the first century CE.” (pp. 91–94)
I contend that Jesus, being human, might have learnt something from him.
Jesus of Nazareth
Since most of Christianity believes that Jesus is God (or some pre-existing spirit—like Michael the archangel in human form—Reed, accessed March 4, 2022) we frequently assume that he knew everything in advance. It may come as a surprise to the reader, as it was to me, that Jesus was completely human: he learned from his experience, his mistakes, and others’ mistakes. God did not reveal everything to him up front; however, it seems God provided enough happening around him to formulate a good-enough plan of action: God instructed Jesus like us—gradually.
Like John the Baptist, Jesus also probably knew that God wanted something special from him because, again I presume, Mary and Joseph probably told him about his miraculous birth by the Holy Spirit. They probably also told him about the almost miraculous birth of his relative, John the Baptist; Jesus’s first move, therefore, was to join a man of God he knew almost first hand: he went to be baptized by John.
There is hardly any doubt about Jesus’s baptism by John: all four gospels testify to it, and it sure passes the criterion of dissimilarity that New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman explains in some detail in his book Did Jesus Exist? Briefly, an incident passes the criterion of dissimilarity if it is an odd or embarrassing account that has the ring of truth—like Jesus’s crucifixion, say. (pp. 291–93) Mark simply mentions Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:9); Matthew tries to justify it (Matthew 3:13–15); Luke practically hides it (Luke 3:21); and John only implies it (John 1:32–34). Ever since I was very young, Jesus’s baptism has always bothered me: baptism with water is presumably a figurative cleansing: so, why did Jesus have to be baptized if he was without sin? Possibly, as a ritual to join John the Baptist’s group: the same way we are first baptized to become Christians.
In God and Empire, Crossan opines that, initially, Jesus also probably thought that God would clean up the world through a swift violent action. However, when John the Baptist got arrested and God did not come to his rescue, he learnt from experience; presumably, he realized that violence was not God’s nature: God only uses conviction and conversion. So, from then on, Jesus started to think that, possibly, God’s kingdom was already present on earth, but in ‘seed form,’ and that it would grow slowly to a tree, or like a weed, to immeasurable proportions. (Crossan, pp. 114–15)
How did Jesus think God’s kingdom was being realized on earth? According to Crossan, it involved healing (especially spiritual healing), getting to know one another by eating together, and looking forward to the coming of a new, divine world order—the kingdom of God. (Crossan, p. 118)
Commensality (sharing meals) is a symbol of equality: the celebration of the Eucharist was originally a full meal. In Corinth, however, Paul still found inequalities in the celebration of the Eucharist—better known as the ‘Lord’s Supper’ or the ‘Breaking of the Bread’ in those days. (1 Corinthians 11:17–34) It consisted of three parts: (1) the breaking of the bread (1 Corinthians 11:23–24), (2) the main meal (1 Corinthians 11:25a), and (3) the passing of the wine cup (1 Corinthians 11:25b–26). The separation of bread and wine at the beginning and end of the meal symbolized the separation of Jesus’s body and blood during his sufferings. (Crossan pp. 170–71)
Crossan explains further that equality does not necessarily mean that everyone gets the same thing or the equivalent. One person might be smaller than another, and one might not require the same amount of food. However, everyone’s needs were satisfied, as usually happens in a normal family. (Crossan p. 159)
Now, I have no doubt that the power of performing miracles helped Jesus jump-start the Christian movement tremendously—especially his own resurrection from the dead. But I also think that from Judas the Galilean he learnt the importance of utter non-violence and not trying to avoid paying taxes to the Roman emperor. He also learnt, from John the Baptist, that normally God does not intervene to protect an individual—not even a good individual: like a good father, he is impartial and lets all his children sort things out among themselves.
Starting with the non-violence principle, for example, when Jesus was arrested the night before he was executed, we read the following incident in Matthew’s gospel:
“Behold, one of them which were with Jesus [Peter (see John 18:10)] stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote [cut] off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, ‘put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’” (Matthew 26:51–52, KJV)
Jesus then proceeds to heal the servant’s severed ear. (See Luke 22:51)
And regarding paying taxes, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians,
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17, KJV)
Both Matthew and Luke concur. (See Matthew 22:21& Luke 20:25)
Oddly enough, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus, like John the Baptist, believing that the kingdom of God would come to earth in full bloom within his generation.
“He [Jesus] said unto them [his disciples], ‘Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.’” (Mark 9:1, KJV)
Matthew and Luke have similar verses. (See Matthew 16:28 & Luke, 9:27)
The synoptic evangelists (Mark, Matthew & Luke), and probably Jesus himself, seem to have truly believed this—and so did Paul; but they were wrong by almost two thousand years, and counting. (Crossan, p. 127) I think this is enough proof (at least as far as what the gospels tell us about him) that Jesus was only human. Needless to add, these verses pass the criterion of dissimilarity: Jesus didn’t know everything.
So, one can conclude that although Jesus may have initiated God’s kingdom on earth, he also needed a considerable amount of help from God and human experience—the same way we will need God’s help and to learn from experience to be able to bring it along. Can we bring God’s kingdom to earth by ourselves—without any of God’s help? I would say no. Yet, possibly, God might be waiting for us to make a move. But, what can we do? We do not have the power to perform miracles. What chance do we stand if even Jesus failed? Good question!
Disease is a physical ailment that can be cured. Illness is a mental ailment that can be healed: usually the result of a disease, social environment, or lack of resources. Nobody has miraculous powers to cure; however, modern medicine can cure diseases that Jesus cured—like blindness and leprosy. Moreover, everybody can heal family members and friends by a simple smile, words of kindness and understanding, or financial and physical help. In other words, God’s kingdom can still come to earth as Jesus envisioned it. However, all of us must start from the little things; God will then help us achieve the rest. Matthew’s gospel portrays Jesus saying,
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33, KJV)
Religion, patriotism, racism, and sexism all tend to be divisive and, consequently, detrimental to the coming of the kingdom of God. We still have much to learn: especially organized religion, which should be in the forefront promoting human equality.
Finally, Jesus learnt something else from his association with John the Baptist. He also realized that when John was arrested, the latter’s movement stalled and eventually ceased; so, he made sure that the growth of God’s kingdom did not solely depend on him: to Jesus, the concept was more important than its leader. The evangelist Mark describes an interesting incident to this effect.
“John [Jesus’s apostle] answered him [Jesus], saying, ‘Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.’” (Mark 9:38–40, KJV)
Luke relates the same incident, almost word for word. (See Luke 9:49–50) Anybody is welcome to promote God’s kingdom: the more there are of us the better are its chances of success.
John of Patmos
According to Crossan in God and Empire, we have a difference of opinion in the Bible between Jesus and John of Patmos. According to Revelation, John of Patmos also believes that the kingdom of God already existed in his time, but in heaven—not on earth. (Crossan, p. 228) Now, according to Revelation, the kingdom of God will come on earth after the current wicked earth is destroyed by God, and a new one is created; he writes,
“I [John of Patmos] saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, [the] New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And he said unto me, ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful.’” (Revelation 21:1–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the clauses: “the first earth … passed away,” “the former things are passed away,” and “I make all things new.”
Crossan concludes that, according to Revelation, the kingdom of God will come from heaven to earth, but only after the earth is destroyed—not reformed: that is, by completely replacing the current corrupt earth. On the other hand, Crossan also adds, both Jesus and Paul believed the new world would come about non-violently: that is, by our cooperating together and adopting God’s recommendations of justice and love. (Crossan, p. 230) Thus, even in the first century CE, Jesus’s followers diverged: Paul of Tarsus accepted Jesus’s method of radical nonviolence; John of Patmos did not. (Crossan, p. 142)
John of Patmos, in the last book of the Bible, believed that God must act violently to get rid of all the evil on earth prior to establishing a new divine world order. So, many Christians ended up waiting for God to act violently; while God is probably waiting for us to participate and cooperate with him to change the world non-violently. The Bible, therefore, again contradicts itself in this matter: leaving it wide open to an individual’s or a church’s interpretation.
To inculcate the last point I make in the previous paragraph, even people who follow the Bible to the point of calling their congregation place the ‘Kingdom Hall,’ Jehovah’s witnesses believe something completely different from mainstream Christianity, either way (i.e., coming from heaven or originating on earth).
According to Jehovah’s witnesses, God’s kingdom on earth will be ruled by 144 thousand people from heaven—with Jesus as king there. Only the righteous will be left on earth, and they will live harmoniously forever in an earthly paradise: very much like the original garden of Eden in Genesis.
The righteous will be granted immortality: that is, resurrected from the dead never to die again. The wicked will die permanently after being punished for their sins in fire. Jesus will then supposedly rule God’s kingdom for a thousand years and then give it back to his Father—God. (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Good News from God!” pp. 14–15)
In the Lord’s Prayer, we Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth daily; but most of us, early Christians included, do not know or follow what Jesus preached.
Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315)
Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: Harper One, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)
Ehrman, Bart D. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York, NY: Harper One, 2014. (ISBN: 9780061778186)