Presumably, the purpose of biblical prophecies is to provide evidence that the biblical God is real. Therefore, the more improbable the fulfillment of a prophecy is, the stronger its evidentiary weight. The Bereans are said to have “searched the scriptures” to see whether what they had heard about Jesus mapped to Old Testament prophecies. This is commendable, but did the Bereans employ rigorous standards of evidence to Jesus’ alleged fulfillment of prophecy? Let’s compare the quality of prophecies an actual God who desires prophecy to constitute evidence of his existence and power would offer against the prophecies we find in the Bible. The chart below will provide us with a rigorous standard.
Let’s first look at Matthew 2:15.
And [Jesus] was there [in Egypt] 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.’
Now let’s looks at the actual prophecy found in Hosea 11:1-2 which we’ll tag “A“.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
Let’s assess this prophecy/fulfillment duo against the criteria in the chart at the upper-right to determine its evidentiary weight. Based on the dating of manuscripts, we can be reasonably certainty that this prophecy was made prior to the fulfillment. This is a very basic criterion in the assessment of any prophecy. We would not want our prophecy uttered or written after its “fulfillment” since it would then only be a worthless “postdiction”. But this factor #1 is the only factor of the ten listed that this prophecy satisfies, making this a very weak prophecy, if it can be called a prophecy.
Let’s take some liberties and strengthen this prophecy.
When Israel [he] was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
If we eliminate the initial fulfillment of the idol-worshiping Israelites being brought out of Egypt, we can not then be accused of parallel hunting, and we now also have a prophecy that is potentially falsifiable we’ll call “B“. This satisfies factor #2 on our chart, and we now have a slightly stronger statement that might be considered an actual prophecy.
Yet, there is no reason an actual God employing prophecy as
evidence of his existence and power should be satisfied with a prophecy this vague. Let’s make one more improvement.
When he was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I brought this child, my son.
The prophecy we’ll tag “C” is now much more semantically rigorous (#3).
But we can do better since the prophecy contains few details that would make a fulfillment unequivocal. Let’s try again.
When Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter was five years old during the occupation of Israel, I loved him, and brought him and his parents out of Egypt back to Israel.
Now the prophecy we’ll call “D” contains so many details that no one can claim it was just a lucky parallel (#4) plucked from thousands of biblical statements. However, it appears we have only the one source of a Jesus devotee (Matthew) claiming Jesus went to and returned from Egypt. For the sake of this mental exercise, let’s give ourselves corroborating sources.
News Release: Archeologists last week uncovered documents from several reliable historians corroborating the scriptural claim that a man named Jesus of Nazareth went to Egypt.
With this corroboration (#5), we finally have a prophecy with some weight we will call “E“. However, our corroborating documents do not precisely map very well to the prophecy. Jesus did not exist as a man when he was allegedly in Egypt. Let’s imagine the documents found more precisely mapped to the prophecy.
News Release: Archeologists last week uncovered documents from several reliable historians corroborating the scriptural claim that a 5-year-old boy named Jesus of Nazareth went to and returned from Egypt with his parents Mary and Joseph.
This clear corroboration gives us a much stronger claim that our prophecy, we’ll now rename “F“, has been truly fulfilled. However, independent corroborating sources are perhaps difficult to find since some events may not be very public. How might an actual God make sure his prophecies are credible enough to serve as evidence for his existence and power? Let’s imagine we have no corroborating evidence. This is problematic since our one source of Matthew knew the Old Testament scriptures, and he could have easily fabricated the claim of Jesus going to Egypt. How can we avoid the accusation of a fabricated fulfillment? One possible way would be for the initial prophecy to have been discovered only after the death of Matthew. If this initial document could still be dated before the life of Matthew, this would still constitute a reliable prophecy (#7) we can promote to “G“. Another problem related to Matthew’s knowledge of the prophecy is the possibility of Matthew intervening in the life of Jesus to ensure he went to Egypt to make the prophecy appear fulfilled. This seems improbable for this particular prophecy we can call “H“, but intentional intervention (#8) would have been far easier in respect to other prophecies such as the alleged prophecy of the alleged messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey while with Matthew as written in Matthew 21:1-9.
Are there any other ways a God using prophecy as evidence of his existence and power could strengthen the evidentiary weight of our prophecy? Yes. Such a God could, along with the basic prophecy, include information unavailable to humans at the time. For example, the prophecy about Jesus in Egypt could have included information about a certain precise configuration of the planets at that time before precise knowledge of planetary motion was available, and have been promoted to “I“. Or the prophecy could have been coupled with information foundational to formerly unknown technologies or medicines (#9). In addition to all the other factors listed, an actual God of the universe employing prophecy to establish his existence
and power could have easily provided a prophecy we could categorize as “J” of an event so inexplicable to naturalistic science (#10) that it would give us sufficient reason to suspect the book containing the prophecy was truly divine. A prophecy of a televised healing of amputees validated by scientists is one example.
How do alleged Bible prophecies fare against these criteria?