Bible Prophecies (Textual)
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.
“The Davidic covenant is clearly echoed in the promise that the ‘throne of David’ will be ‘over his kingdom, to establish it … forever’ (Isaiah 9:7).” … “Simon’s [Simon ben Kosiba’s] messiahship seems to have been a very earth-bound, David-like rule intended to liberate Israel from Gentile oppressors.” https://arts.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/teams/2/CLARE/Chair_Christian_Thought/2004nov2_evansmessianichopes.pdf (pp. 13, 33).
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 American Bible, 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.
Bible Hub: https://biblehub.com/.
De Jonge, Marinus. Jesus the Servant-Messiah. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.
Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2012. (ISBN: 9780062204608)
Evans, Craig A. “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity.” Acadia Divinity College, posted November 2, 2004: https://arts.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/teams/2/CLARE/Chair_Christian_Thought/2004nov2_evansmessianichopes.pdf.
Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Nelson, Thomas, 1982. (NKJV)
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“How long is the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem?” in St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church: https://www.stcatherinercc.org/single-post/2017/12/06/how-long-is-the-trip-from-nazareth-to-bethlehem.
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)
Revised English Version Bible (REV), Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, “Matthew 1:16 Commentary,” https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Matthew/chapter1/16.
Shulman, Moshe. “Judaism and a Dying Messiah” in Judaism’s Answer, posted 2012: http://judaismsanswer.com/dyingmessiah.htm.
Stanford, Peter. “The Real King Herod, the Bible’s Bloodiest Tyrant,” in Daily Mail, May 10, 2007.
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)
Wikipedia, s.v. “Common Era,” last edited September 15, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Era .
Wikipedia, s.v. “Galilee,” last edited July 21, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galilee.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Judaea (Roman Province),” last edited September 18, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaea_(Roman_province).
Wikipedia, s.v. “Judas of Galilee,” last edited March 18, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_of_Galilee.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Massacre of the Innocents,” last edited September 10, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Roman Censor,” last edited May 28, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_censor. Wilson, Elaine. “The Servant of the Lord” in Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church, posted January 2015: http://strathcona-park-presbyterian.ca/files/2015/01/JN2815ServantOfTheLord.pdf (website no longer available).