Bible prophecies

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Many people believe that the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) made prophecies about the future : including prophecies supposedly about the medieval era, the Renaissance, Holocaust,  destruction of the Twin Towers, war with Iraq, etc. How do people convince themselves that this is so? They select verses from the Tanakh and then apply to these much later historical events. They then say that this “proves” that the Bible is true.

What do all of these events have in common? You guessed it – they all occurred in the past. If the Bible had made specific prophetic statements about, for example, the American Revolution, or the American invasion of Iraq under Bush, then by definition we’d know about these events ahead of time. Yet what we see is this: no one notices these predictions until _after_ the events had happened. So they are actually the opposite of predictions of the future – they are modern-day post-dictions of the past.

Postdiction is an explanation after the fact – an effect of hindsight bias that explains claimed predictions of significant events such as plane crashes and natural disasters. Although biblical prophecies (and similar prophecies in other religions) appear to have come true, they actually were written after the events supposedly predicted, or their text or interpretation may have been modified after the event, to fit the facts as they occurred.

Postdiction is also how psychics, astrologers and other paranormalists appear to have predicted an event.  Most predictions from such figures as Nostradamus and James Van Praagh are written with such deliberate vagueness and ambiguity as to make interpretation impossible before the event, rendering them useless as predictive tools. After the event has occurred, details are shoehorned into the prediction by the psychics or their supporters using selective thinking — emphasize the “hits”, ignore the “misses” — in order to lend credence to the prophecy and give the impression of an accurate “prediction”. Inaccurate predictions are omitted.

(adapted from Wikipedia, Postdiction)

The following has been quoted from the WordPress blogger, 500Questions:

I want to take a look at prophecy in general, and its potential to confirm the Bible and the existence of God. I thought a good place to start would be to note exactly how many prophecies are made in the Bible. Surprisingly, some Christian sources claim there are hundreds, others number them in the thousands, and still others said tens of thousands. Obviously, numbering these prophecies is somewhat subjective, but the largest list I could locate was in the hundreds.

So… what is prophecy?

Prophecy, for our purposes, is simply the ability to predict the future. Because the future is unknown, it’s inferred that someone with prophetic ability must have a special power or they are in contact with someone from another realm, a realm where the future is already known. But proving that someone has accurately predicted the future, and that this information originated from another realm, can be quite challenging….

Top 20 Problems with Prophecy

1) Everyone who’s anyone is doing it

Prophecy is a popular phenomenon. Nostradamus, astrologers, psychics, palm readers, mediums, cult leaders, fortune cookies, present-day prophets, voodoo priests, religious texts, and your mother’s real estate agent have all claimed to see the future. Regardless of howthey do it, the fact that everyone claims to do itshould make us skeptical of any claim built upon prophecy.

2) Prophecies are always made prior to their fulfillment

One of the most obvious problems with prophecy is that the prediction always precedes the predicted event. This can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, confirmation bias, or people lying about a prophecy’s fulfillment. When examining a prophecy, we must make certain that the prophecy couldn’t have influenced the event.

3) Prophecies are often vague

If a prophecy if vague, it can take on many different meanings. The more meanings it can take on, the greater the probability that someone will find a match.

For this reason, prophecies should be specific, improbable, and there meaning should be clearly understood in advance of the event. For example, if someone predicted “On May 12, 2021 at 3:14PST, there will be a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in San Francisco that will kill 665 people… and Cameron Diaz,” that would be highly specific. Or if a psychic could repeatedly predict upcoming lottery numbers, or give the exact GPS coordinates of missing persons, I would find this quite remarkable (or highly specious!).

4) Prophecies can be self-fulfilling

For example, if Warren Buffet predicts the stock market will crash, everyone may sell and crash the market. Or if millions of people believe that Israel will become a country again, they may work towards seeing this prediction come to fruition.

5) The prophecy may have been probable

Every prediction has its own probability of coming to pass on its own. For example, it means nothing to predict “The sun will rise again tomorrow” or “In the future there will be earthquakes and wars.” If a prophecy is probable, it is of little value.

6) Prophecies may be based on good observation

A good prophet may just be very observant. For example, before watching a “chick flick” with my wife, I will sometimes say, “I predict that in the beginning they will fall in love, and then one of them will screw up somehow, and spend the rest of the movie trying to make up for it.” I’m no prophet, I’ve just seen enough movies to observe a pattern.

7) Predictions take advantage of the power of suggestion

When you read your horoscope, you become aware of what to look for and, as a result, you often find it. However, if I hand you last week’s horoscopes with all the associated signs removed, you’d probably be hard pressed to determine which one was intended for you. Suggestions can create an expectation, which cause us to actively search for events that we would’ve otherwise ignored.

Similarly, if you move into a house and someone tells you it’s haunted, just the suggestion can make everyday noises and events suddenly seem eerie.

If the Old Testament never predicted the coming of a Messiah, would we have ever found one? If the world seems to find new prophets even when they’re not actively looking for them, how much more then should we find a Messiah when we are looking?

8) We may be ignoring the failed prophecies due to confirmation bias

Humans naturally seek out and interpret information in a way that aligns with their preconceptions. This effect is even stronger for emotionally charged issues and deeply entrenched beliefs. We then cherry-pick what helps to confirm our bias, and ignore what doesn’t.

For example, Christians often point to the destruction of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:1-21) as an example of prophecy, but seem to ignore (or reinterpret) the failed prophecies concerning the destruction and abandonment of Damascus and Egypt (Isaiah 17:1 and Ezekiel 29:8-12).

9) Prophecy may be read into a text where a prophecy was never intended (aka “shoehorning” or “eisegesis”)

Many religions read prophecies into the Bible to support their own conclusions. For example, many Mormons see the following verse as a prophecy concerning the golden plates that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith would one day dig up:

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. ~ Psalm 85:11

And John 10 as a prophecy about Jesus appearing in the Americas after his crucifixion:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. ~John 10:16

And Muslims see the following verse as a prophecy concerning the coming of Muhammad (not the Holy Spirit):

Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. ~John 16:7

But did the Bible really predict the coming of Muhammad and the Book of Mormon? Or were followers of these religions just reading these things into the text? And if it can happen with Mormonism and Islam, why not Christianity?

10) A prophecy may have been written after the fact (known as postdiction, or “Vaticinium ex eventu”)

To prove a prophecy, we must be able to prove it was written before the event it predicted.

11) A prophecy may have been edited after the fact

A prophecy may also have been doctored after the prophesied event. If we don’t have the original documents, it may be impossible to prove that the details remained unchanged from the original prophecy.

12) Failed prophets may have been excluded from the Bible

We don’t know how many tens, hundreds, or thousands of prophetic texts were excluded in antiquity. Perhaps out of a thousand prophetic texts, only a small handful made the final cut many years later.

Imagine if we asked 1,000 people to write prophecies about the future, and in 100 years someone compiled a book (with the benefit of hindsight) featuring only the top 10 most impressive predictions. The resulting book might seem quite extraordinary… if you didn’t know they’d eliminated 990 other prophecies.

13) Prophecies may be translated with bias

When going from one language to another, some Christian bias can slip in. For example, if a translator translates Isaiah 53:5 to read “He was pierced for our transgressions” instead of the less compelling (but more accurate) translation “He was wounded for our transgressions,” then he probably has a special someone in mind.

14) The person defending a prophecy may be employing a double standard

If we agree to accept prophecy as proof of a claim, then we must also be willing to accept someone else’s prophecy as proof of their claim, otherwise we may be employing a double standard.

To avoid a double standard, some will claim that other prophecies are just a test from God (Deut. 13:1-3). But if a competing religion also has fulfilled prophecies, then prophecy alone is no guarantee that God is endorsing a particular religion.

This also presupposes that the Bible is true. Perhaps the prophet Zoroaster (who founded Zoroastrianism, formerly one of the world’s largest religions) was right about Ahura Mazda being the one true God, and the evil Angra Mainyu (his adversary) inspired the authors of the Bible just to test Zoroastrians! Or perhaps Satan was behind the Jesus story, in an attempt to lure people away from the truth about the Jewish God!

15) A prophecy may be considered fulfilled regardless of the outcome

If a prophet says “God will spare your city if you repent,” then he has actually predictedall possible outcomes. If nothing happens, then he predicted God would spare the city. If the city is destroyed, he predicted its destruction….

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