This chapter addresses the objection that “God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children”. The second half of the chapter, however, deals with the question of whether the Bible is actually divinely inspired. I’m a little bit at a loss to figure out the connection between the questions “God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children” and “is the Bible divinely inspired”. Maybe Strobel is jumping from the negative argument “we know the Biblical (child-killing) God isn’t actually God” to a positive argument “we know the Bible was written by God because…”.
This section of the book is only 12 pages long, but the “Bible is validated by prophecy” section requires a lot of examination – especially when Geisler or Strobel will say their ideas are supported by a particular Bible passage, but avoid doing anything more than mentioning it.
Within a few paragraphs, Strobel hauls out the ‘atheists reject the evidence of God to legitimize their evil lifestyles’ idea yet again. (I should really maintain a count of the number of times Strobel repeats this canard. I think this is the third or fourth time he’s said it, and we’re only half-way through the book.)
During my years as an atheist, I mocked the fantastical tales and and blatant mythology that I believed disqualified the Bible from being a divinely inspired book — an opinion, incidentally, that quite conveniently relieved me from any need to follow its moral dictates. Although I had never throughly studied its contents, I was quick to reject the Bible in order to free myself to live the kind of corrupt lifestyle that was blatantly at odds with its tenets. (p.179)
The effect of this claim, of course, is to create a framework for Christians to view atheists: atheists mock Christianity to legitimize their immoral lifestyles, and they know nothing about the Bible, even if they pretend that they do. Thus, when the reader encounters atheists they are primed to dismiss the atheist’ arguments as ignorant justifications to legitimize their immoral lifestyle.
“Everything hinges on whether the Bible is true. What’s your basis for believing it is?”
“There’s lot’s of evidence I could talk about,” he began. “I could talk about the Bible’s unity — sixty-six books written in different literary styles by perhaps forty different authors with diverse backgrounds over fifteen hundred years, and yet the Bible amazingly unfolds one continuous drama with one central message. That points to the existence of the divine Mind that the writers claimed inspired them. (p.179)
With the “fifteen hundred year” claim, Geisler is assuming Moses lived around 1400-1450 BC and actually wrote the first few books of the Old Testament. Not only is it questionable that Moses existed, or wrote those books, but the dates Geisler assumes are also questionable (other sources would put Moses two-hundred years later in history). There are actually no copies of the Old Testament which have been dated to that period – the earliest copies come from 250 B.C., and some archaeologists claim the Old Testament was written around the seventh century B.C..
Further, there is a five-hundred year gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the God of the Old and New Testaments often seems like two different Gods. In fact, there was once a belief that the Gods of the Old and New Testaments were actually two different Gods: a judgmental Old Testament God and a greater New Testament God who came to save us from him. Many people today have problems unifying the God of the Old and New Testament.
Additionally, there were books that weren’t included in the Bible. Once you have a committee to decide which books are divinely inspired (based on how well they conform to the existing canon), then it’s hard to use “they all fit together so well” as an argument for divine inspiration. Some of the books that are included by some versions of Christianity, but not others:
Included by Orthodox and Roman Catholics, but excluded by Jews and Protestants:
* 1 Maccabees
* 2 Maccabees
* Wisdom (of Solomon)
* Ben Sira
* Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah) (included as Baruch chapter 6 by Roman Catholics)
* Additions to Daniel
* Additions to Esther
Included by Greek & Slavonic Orthodox:
* 1 Esdras (see Esdras for other names)
* 3 Maccabees
* Prayer of Manasseh (included in the Book of Odes)
* Psalm 151 (included as an appendix to the Psalter)
Included by Georgian Orthodox:
* 4 Maccabees
* 2 Esdras (also included in the Latin Vulgate Appendix)
Included by Ethiopian Orthodox:
* Apocalypse of Ezra (also in the Armenian Appendix)
* 1–3 Meqabyan
* 4 Baruch
Included in Syriac Peshitta Bible:
* Psalms 152–155
* 2 Baruch (Apocalypse of Baruch)
* Letter of Baruch (sometimes part of 2 Baruch) (Source)
And that just covers the Old Testament. The book of revelation was almost excluded from the New Testament (a little too weird). Of course, there’s also the gnostic gospels – which are different in style from the rest of the New Testament – so maybe I can’t be too hard on the fact that they were left out. However, when you have any group of people deciding what should be in their Bible, it produces a selection mechanism that results in the books containing similar messages. No one would accidentally put the Bhagavad Gita into the Bible because it’s theology is too different. But, then Christians want to turn around and say, “the theology of all these books is so similar, they must’ve all been divinely inspired”.
Once you add-in the effects of people picking an choosing which books to include in the canon (which includes tossing out any books that seem too different from the existing canon), combined with the fact that all the writers had the same basic theology (as established sufficiently in the first few books of the Bible), combined with the fact that Christians find ways to smooth over any rough spots (like unifying the Old and New Testament versions of God), I don’t think there’s anything miraculous about the Bible’s continuity.
“And there’s the Bible’s transforming power – from the beginning, it has renewed people; given them hope, courage, purpose, wisdom, guidance, and power; and formed an anchor for their lives. While early Islam was spread by the sword, early Christianity spread by the Spirit, even while Christians were being killed by Roman swords. (p.179-180)
All religions have some transforming power. Yet, I’m sure Strobel would deny that all religions are true. If you truly believe God is good, wants you to be good, and is going to give you and all the other believers a place in heaven for eternity, it might change your outlook on life. The book “Chicken soup for the Soul” might give people “hope, courage, purpose, wisdom, guidance, and power”, too, but just because something is inspiring doesn’t mean it’s divinely inspired.
Further, while Geisler attacks Islam for being “spread by the sword”, there’s no doubt that many muslims converted voluntarily and were probably transformed by it. The fact that Christians were killed for their belief doesn’t mean it’s true. Is Strobel and Geisler going to conclude that Mormonism is true because the Mormons maintained their faith despite persecution and killing of Mormons? I doubt it.
“I believe the most convincing evidence falls into two categories, however. First, there’s archaeological confirmation confirmation of its reliability, and, second, there’s miraculous confirmation of its divine authority.”
Reason #1: Confirmation by Archaeology
Geisler started his discussion of the archaeological evidence by quoting the words of Jesus, who said: “I have spoken to you of early things and you do not believe’ how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”
“Conversely,” said Geisler, “if we can trust the Bible when it’s telling us about straightforward earthly things that can be verified, then we can trust it in areas where we can’t directly verify it in an empirical way.”
Yikes. What a horrible non-sequitur. Maybe if the Bible speaks about earthly things that the authors would not / could not have been known, then he might have a point, but if the authors are merely speaking about things they would’ve known (e.g. Jerusalem exists, Israel was invaded by the Bablylonians), then those earthly facts don’t add to their credibility.
“There have been thousands — not hundreds — of archaeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record. There was a discovery not long ago confirming King David. That patriarchs — the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — were once considered legendary, but as more had become known these stories are increasingly corroborated. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was thought to be mythological until evidence was uncovered that all five of the cities mentioned in Genesis were, in fact, situated just as the Old Testament said. As far as their destruction goes, archaeologist Clifford Wilson said there is ‘permanent evidence of the great conflagration that took place in the long distant past’ (p.180-181)
The existence of King David doesn’t really prove much of anything. If King David actually existed, and authors wrote about him, what does that prove about the validity of the Bible? It proves that they included real people (perhaps long after their existence) in their religious stories? Some historians think King Arthur may have actually existed (but wasn’t named “Arthur”). If he was a real person, does that mean the stories about Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table are true? No, of course not.
I highly doubt any of the information about the patriarchs has been corroborated except in a highly superficial way (like verifying that the city of Ur actually existed). And the stories about Sodom and Gomorrah? How do we know that the Israelites didn’t simply find the remains of ancient cities and make-up stories about God’s punishment with fire and brimstone in the same way that North American stories about Paul Bunyan are used to “explain” the existence of the Grand Canyon and other landscapes.
“Furthermore,” Geisler added, “various aspects of the Jewish captivity have been confirmed. Also, every reference in the Old Testament to an Assyrian king has been proven correct … there is evidence the world did have a single language at one time, as the Bible says; the site of Solomon’s temple is now being excavated; and on and on. Many times, archaeologists have been skeptical of the Old Testament, only to have new discoveries corroborate the biblical account.
The Bible makes about three dozen references to the Hittites, but critics used to charge that there was no evidence that such people ever existed. Now archaeologists digging in modern Turkey have discovered the records of the Hittites.” (p.181-182)
I like how Geisler slips in “there is evidence the world did have a single language at one time” among the list. He never talks about what this evidence might be. Further I’ve talked about the conflict between the Biblical history and archaeology before — and you certainly won’t hear any of the problems with the Biblical timeline from Geisler. If Geisler thinks things really happened the way the Bible says, and he puts Moses as living around 1400 BC (as his earlier comment implies), then I have to wonder how he explains the Egyptian pyramid construction and dynasties (beginning around 3000 BC) over the time-period when that Noah’s global flood occurred (somewhere around ~2500 BC according to Geisler’s numbers). Further, most of the things Geisler mentions as “confirming the Bible” only confirm that the ancient authors knew about people and places in their area. Are we supposed to be surprised that Jews knew details about the Babylonian exile (beginning in 586 BC)? All that proves is that they knew more about the ancient world they lived in than we do.
The argument was strong: if archaeology shows the Bible was accurate in what can be checked out, why would it be any less accurate in its other points? That only proves so much, however. (p.183)
I really hope Strobel is kidding here. The archaeological argument is tremendously weak. At least he undercuts his argument by admitting it “only proves so much”. It only shows that the authors of the Bible didn’t write the Bible so long after the events that details were lost. My opinion is that the miraculous stories are all ahistorical, and the Bible’s mundane history gets less accurate the further back you go. Sure, the Jews probably wrote about the Babylonian captivity while it was going on (beginning in 586 BC), but were they writing things down accurately about King David (who would’ve lived around 1000 BC)? Maybe some of it is accurate. Was there an exodus and invasion of Cannan (around 1400-1200 BC)? Doubtful. Did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exist (~1700 B.C.), and are their stories accurate? Hard to believe they did. Those events would’ve been “inspired revelation” from God, because I don’t think anyone (not even Jews or Christians) believes those stories were written down contemporaneously and saved through four hundred years of “slavery in Egypt”.
“Even if archaeology does confirm that the Bible is historically accurate, that doesn’t mean it’s divinely authoritative,” I said.
“Correct,” Geisler said crisply. “The only reason why anyone should accept the Bible as divinely authoritative is because it has miraculous confirmation.” (p.183)
Gee, why did Strobel even include “Reason #1: Confirmation by Archaeology” in the book? They spend four pages talking about this reason for believing the Bible is true, and then say it isn’t really a reason to believe it’s divinely inspired.
Reason #2: Evidence of Divine Origin
“It all goes back to whether the first verse of the Bible is true when it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Geisler said. “I believe there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that it is true — everything that has a beginning has a beginner, the universe had a beginning, therefore it had a beginner; the universe was tweaked and fine tuned from the very moment of creation for the emergence of human life; and so on.” (p.183-184)
Booyah! The Bible says God created the universe, the universe exists, therefore the Bible was divinely inspired. Now all we have to do is dismiss all the other creation myths that we just proved to be divinely inspired. (Did I mention that Geisler wrote the book on apologetics? The 864-page Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.)
Strobel mentions that he already talked about the fine-tuning argument with Craig, so they move along:
“First, the Bible is miraculously confirmed by the fulfillment of predictive prophecies, and second, it’s confirmed by the miracles performed by those who purported to be speaking for God.”
Confirmation by Prophecies
Geisler began with a sweeping sentence: “The Bible is the only book in the world that has precise, specific predictions that were made hundreds of years in advance and that were literally fulfilled.”
Gesturing toward one of the books packed into his shelves, he continued by saying, “According to Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, there are 191 predictions in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ, including his ancestry, the city in which he would be born, that he would be born of a virgin, precisely the time in history when he would die, and so on.” (p.184-185)
It’s important to differentiate between prophecies Jesus did fulfill, and prophecies Jesus was claimed (by New Testament authors) to have fulfilled.
Regarding Geisler’s claim that the Old Testament predicts Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, he’s referring to Micah 5:2:
But 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)
Let’s be clear about what exactly this verse is saying.
First, there is some debate about whether “Bethlehem Ephratah” referred to the town of Bethlehem, person named Bethlehem, or a clan. If you lookup different translations of the verse, even the translators seem to have different ideas about this. (The NIV suggests that Bethlehem is a clan, but the NLT says it is a town.)
Second, while the reference to “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” is suggestive of a supernatural being, it’s not entirely clear that this is a messianic/Christ prophecy. Many of the verses surrounding Micah 5:2 are talking about the attacks of the Assyrians on the Israelites, which raises the question of whether this was a prophecy about a leader who would fight-back the Assyrians.
The verse immediately before Micah 5:2 says:
“Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.” (Micah 5:1)
It’s a weird transition – unless this “ruler in Israel” in Micah 5:2 is going to fight-back the Assyrians. A few verses later:
“And he will be their peace. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders.” (Micah 5:5-6)
For Christians reading Micah 5:2, this is somehow a short Messianic prophecy (that would happen 500 years later) and it’s placed in the middle of a chapter talking about the contemporary problems with the Assyrians. (Talk about not staying on topic.)
Third, whether Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem is uncertain (versus a detail about his life that was imagined to be true and written into the Bible by his followers to legitimize the claim that he was the messiah). The whole Bethlehem story seems like it could’ve been contrived to place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Joseph brings his 9-month pregnant wife on a trip to Bethlehem? The Romans require a census where everyone must return to their hometown? (There is no record of any Roman census with that requirement, and besides – what would be the logic of it? It would uproot vast sections of the population for no gain. The Romans would be more interested in where the people were now – which is why all known Roman census didn’t require that people travel to their homeland.) In short, the fulfillment of the “Bethlehem prophecy” seems contrived. And it is known that the New Testament authors were aware of this Old Testament “prophecy” because they make explicit reference to Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy (Matthew 2:5-6). In fact, many of the prophecies about Jesus have no independent confirmation outside of the New Testament. For example, New Testament authors claim to trace Jesus’ ancestry accurately back to King David (a thousand years earlier). Really? They have records going back one thousand years? In fact, Luke claims to trace Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, four thousand years earlier. If someone today claimed to be able to trace his lineage back to one of the twelve apostles, people would justifiably laugh at them. But, because this is Jesus and he is the primary figure in Christianity, the claim is simply accepted as true and used as evidence that he is the messiah?
Fourth, Geisler claims that the Old Testament predicts where Jesus would be born. Actually, the verse says that “out of thee shall he come forth”, which isn’t exactly a birth prediction. One could make a claim that Jesus “came forth” from Nazareth, even if he really did spend his first couple days in Bethlehem.
In fact, Psalm 22:16 says his hands and feet would be pierced; verse 14 says his bones would be out of joint; verse 18 talks about the casting of lots for his garments; and Zechariah 12:10 says he would be pierced, as Jesus was with a lance. That’s obviously a picture of his crucifixion — however, it was written before crucifixion was even implemented as a method of execution by the Romans. The Jews stoned people to death back then. (p.185)
But what exactly do these verses say? (Link to Psalm 22) Psalm 22 gives no indication at all that it is a prophecy or a messianic prophecy. Rather, Christians found it similar to the crucifixion, and then turned it into a “prophecy” after the fact. Psalm 22:16 “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” which suggests crucifixion, is disputed. The original Hebrew uses the word kaaru (unknown meaning). Christians have assumed the word is karu (to dig/to excavate – as in to dig a well, to dig a grave) and translated it as “to pierce”, even though there were existing words for “pierce”. Modern Hebrew manuscripts use the word kari, which translates as “like a lion”, as in “Like a lion, they are at my hands and feet.” (Some Bibles contain a footnote about the “like a lion” translation.) In the end, it’s doubtful that kaaru should be read as “to dig”, and also doubtful that “to dig” should be read as “to pierce”, which suggests crucifixion. Further, that is the only verse in Psalm 22 that gives any hint of a crucifixion at all. (See here for pro and con arguments about the translation of Psalm 22:16.)
Regarding the other details of Psalm 22 which seem to match gospel accounts of the crucifixion, there is no independent confirmation of the details of the crucifixion, so I’m not convinced that the details of Psalm 22 weren’t written into the New Testament because it was assumed to have happened. For example, the “casting of lots for his garments” (Psalm 22:18 ) – were any of the apostles there when the soldiers did this? (No, they were in hiding.) What about Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, which matches Matthews account of the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:46)? Of the four gospels, this quote is only included in Matthew. I’m doubtful that these kinds of details weren’t simply transplanted from Psalm 22 into the New Testament accounts. Perhaps the apostles felt inspired by the Old Testament verse and assumed they were real details describing the crucifixion (which they didn’t witness), or maybe their recollections became tainted with Old Testament verses to the point that they forgot what was real and what was read in the Old Testament. And there was plenty of time for that to occur; New Testament scholars admit that decades passed between Jesus death and the writing of the gospels.
So, Psalm 22 describes a person who is suffering, mocked and attacked by his enemies, and God isn’t helping. It isn’t defined as prophetic or as a messianic prophecy. It describes some things that match the New Testament details of the crucifixion (casting lots for clothes, asking “why have you forsaken me?”) but are questionable whether they actually happened. And a possible reference to “digging” his hands and feet which sounds a little like a crucifixion. But, it also contains some details which do not describe Jesus’ crucifixion: “Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (Psalms 22:13), “Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” (Psalms 22:20-21). So long as Christians trust the translation “to pierce”, think that the details of the New Testament crucifixion story are independently verified facts, and skip-over the verses which don’t match-up with the crucifixion, then I could understand how Psalm 22 is seen to describe the crucifixion. But, once you take into account all of the problems and potential false memories of New Testament authors, it’s not very persuasive. I’d say that Psalm 22 does a pretty good job of metaphorically describing the suffering of Job, too.
Strobel had also mentioned Zechariah 12:10:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10)
Unlike Psalm 22:16, Zechariah 12:10 uses the word “daqar” (to pierce or to stab through) where the word “pierce” appears in the text. However, it doesn’t describe any particular kind of stabbing (it doesn’t mention hands or feet). Elsewhere, the word is used to describe stabbing someone with a sword. (Christians say that this is a prophecy predicting that a Roman soldier would stab Jesus’ body with a spear before taking him off the cross – John 19:33-37.)
Contextually, the verse is a little odd again. The verse before it says that God will destroy Israel’s enemies: “On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.”, which clearly didn’t happen – in fact, the Romans destroyed Israel a few decades after Jesus death. The verse after that: “On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.” But, the there wasn’t any great mourning over Jesus’ death in Jerusalem – as if all the Jews suddenly realized they had killed their messiah. While the verse is written in the future (“They will look on me”), and therefore prophetic, it’s not at all clear that this was written as a messianic prophecy.
“And, of course, Isaiah 53:2-12 has perhaps the most amazing predictions about Christ in the entire Old Testament. It foretells twelve aspects of his passion that were all fulfilled — he would be rejected, be a man of sorrow, be smitten and afflicted by God, be pierced for our transgressions, be wounded for our sins, would suffer like a lamb, would die with the wicked, would be sinless, and would pray for others.
I spoke up. “Wait a second,” I said. “If you talk to a rabbi, he’ll tell you that passage refers symbolically to Israel, not to the Messiah.
Geisler shook his head. “In Old Testament time, the Jewish rabbis did consider this to be a prophecy concerning the Messiah. That’s the opinion that’s really relevant,” he said.
“Only later, after Christians pointed out this was obviously referring to Jesus, did they begin saying it was really about the suffering Jewish nation. But clearly that’s wrong. Isaiah customarily refers to the Jewish people in the first-person plural, like ‘our’ or ‘we,’ but he always refers to the Messiah in the third person-singular, like ‘he’ and ‘him’ — and that’s what he did in Isaiah 53. Plus, anyone who reads it for themselves will readily see it’s referencing Jesus. Maybe that’s why it’s usually skipped over in synagogues these days. (p.185-186)
One of the interesting things that consistently happens in these ‘prophecies’ is that they never begin with an obvious, “The coming messiah will…”. Instead, chapters like Isaiah 53 speak in pronouns without ever using the word “messiah”. As such, if you find ten sections of the Old Testament that talks in vague pronouns, and one of them seems to match the New Testament story of Jesus, that section is declared prophetic, but none of the other sections are declared “prophecies which weren’t fulfilled by Jesus”.
Additionally, despite Geisler’s claim that Isaiah never refers to Israel in the third-person singular, just a couple chapters earlier, Isaiah does exactly that: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Isaiah 49:3)
Regarding the chapter itself, it describes a servant who is innocent, but suffers because of the sins of other people (the Christian translations claim that this punishment somehow removed people’s sin, but Jewish sources don’t). Also, note the reference four chapters earlier to “my servant, Israel” and compare it to the title given to the prophecy: “The Suffering and Glory of the Servant“. There are certainly some parallels with Christian teachings about Jesus. Although, since Christian doctrine was influenced by these verses, it raises questions about its prophetic value. It also contains passages that really don’t seem to apply to Jesus. For example:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
While Jesus had a bad couple of days during the crucifixion, and was hated by the religious authorities of the day, he apparently drew crowds of thousands, and people desperately wanted to meet him. The phrase “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” doesn’t really seem to describe Jesus. Compare that verse to Luke 4:14-15:
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.”
Strobel raises the question of Nostradamus predictions – that maybe the Old Testament wasn’t so special if other people can do it, too. They quickly dismiss Nostradamus’ predictions as being “enigmatic, ambiguous, and inaccurate”. Giesler goes on:
“[M]any prophecies are very specific. How much more detailed can you get than accurately predicting when Jesus would die, as Daniel 9:24-26 did? When you do the math, you find that this passage pinpoints when Jesus would enter human history.” (p.188)
What exactly is this prophecy in Daniel 9:24-26?
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
Now, all this talk about “Seventy ‘sevens’”, “seven ’sevens,’” and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” seems pretty ambiguous to me. Are they talking about seven times seven weeks, months, lunar cycles (since the Jews used a lunar calendar), years, generations, or something else? Weeks is the most obvious choice since a week is seven days – thus seventy ‘sevens’ would be seventy weeks. Yet, Geisler is claiming that the Bible is “very specific”, in contrast to Nostradomus’ predictions?
I also think the unnatural love of the numbers seven and twelve by the Old Testament God is interesting. Having an attraction to certain numbers seems like a very human quirk. People all over the world have concepts of ‘lucky numbers’ (for example, the Chinese consider 3 and 8 to be lucky numbers, and pay big bucks for phone numbers with lots of 3′s and 8′s). Yet, a divine, omniscient mind has this same bizarre attraction to certain numbers? Call me skeptical.
Doing a little research, I found one website claiming that these numbers refer to years (70*7 = 490 years, 7*7 = 49 years, 62*7 = 434 years). According to that website, the decree to “rebuild Jerusalem” (actually it was the decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem) happened in 444 BC. Add (7*7 + 62*7 =) 483 years, to that number and you come up with 40 AD. A little fudging by using a 360-day calendar, allowed that website to put the date on April 22, 33 AD – which is miraculously close to the crucifixion (although, it’s not clear exactly which year Jesus died – maybe somewhere in the 29 AD to 33 AD range). But, why a 360-day year? His justification for a 360-day year is that ancient people used a 12-lunar month calendar, which is “360 days”, but that’s not true, 12-lunar months is 354 days. The Babylonians (who conquered the Jews) used a 12-month, 30-day = 360 day calendar, however, they occasionally added an extra month to compensate for the slippage. They began doing this in the 21st century B.C. – 1500 years before Isaiah was written. When you use a 360-day solar calendar, you find out pretty quickly that your calendar is bad. You slip by 5.24 days per year. Within 35 years, your calendar is completely upside-down: your “New Year” is in the middle of summer, and your summer holidays are in the winter. This is why no one used a 360-day calendar, and talking about that calendar isn’t relevant. My conclusion is that the 360-day calendar explanation is a hack.
To look at this deeper, we could ask how many possible permutations would result in a significant date. There are four possible starting dates:
Isaiah 44:28 / Ezra 1:1-4 says King Cyrus gave a decree to rebuild Jerusalem: “[The Lord] says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”” (Isaiah 44:28) “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.” (Ezra 1:2) This happened in 537 B.C. Construction of the second Temple in Jerusalem was started in 535 B.C., completed in 516 B.C., and dedicated in 515 B.C. This seems like the most significant decree, since it is the first and it lead to the reconstruction of the Temple – the center of Jewish religious life. (In fact, it’s the position of the modern Jews that the 537 B.C. decree fulfilled the prophecy.)
The decree from Darius in 519 B.C. (Ezra 5).
A decree from Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. (Ezra 7:11-16)
Permission from Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-8)
Not surprisingly, Christian websites have played-up the significance of the 444 B.C. date. For example, one website says Daniel’s chronology is:
1. There would be a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
2. Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt.
3. Then an anointed one (messiah) would be “cut off” (an idiom for “rejected” or “killed”).
Then it goes on to claim 444 B.C. was the fulfillment of #1 – which completely ignores the fact that the Temple was rebuilt 70 years before 444 B.C., it ignores Cyrus decree almost 100 years earlier “Let [Jerusalem] be rebuilt”, and ignores the fact that Jerusalem was most certainly occupied before 444 B.C.
Next, because there are no time qualifiers mentioned, it leaves it up to the believers to fill-in whatever time qualifier works best – days, weeks, months, lunar-cycles, 365-day years, 360-day years, generations, etc. Also, the chapter (again) doesn’t mention the messiah, it simply says “anointed one”, which is ambiguous. There are plenty of “anointed ones” in the Bible. For example, Isaiah 45:1 describes King Cyrus of Persia as “his anointed”, the prophets are referred to as anointed ones, King David is referred to as an anointed one. The words “anointed one” really just means someone approved by God for some task.
And for an alternative explanation, the Jews for Judaism begins the seven ‘sevens’ with the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), followed by the decree of Cyrus in 537 B.C. (49 years later – matching the seven ‘sevens’). (Although, it’s unclear when Daniel was written, so it’s unknown if that was a prediction or a post-diction.) They claim that the anointed one being cut-off at the end of sixty-two ‘sevens’ was fulfilled when the High Priest Alexander Yannai (who was very evil; killed tens of thousands of Pharasees according to Josephus) came to power in 103 B.C. Further, they point out that the Christian translation contains significant errors that causes them to misread the passage. They claim that, according to the Hebrew, the decree happens after the “seven sevens”, and therefore, the gap between the decree and the anointed one would be 62 sevens (434 years), not 69 sevens (483 years). When there are multiple ways to interpret a passage, and people are arguing about which events fulfilled the prophecy, it raises a serious red flag about its validity and persuasiveness as a prophecy.
What this means is that we have all kinds of possible “prophesied” dates:
537 B.C. + 434 years = 103 B.C.
537 B.C. + 483 years = 54 B.C.
519 B.C. + 434 years = 85 B.C.
519 B.C. + 483 years = 36 B.C.
457 B.C. + 434 years = 23 B.C.
457 B.C. + 483 years = 27 A.D.
444 B.C. + 434 years = 11 A.D.
444 B.C. + 483 years = 40 A.D.
And, of course, if those don’t work, you can change “years” to decades, months, lunar-months, generations, 360-day years, or some other time-period. Yet, Geisler claims that “this passage pinpoints when Jesus would enter human history”?
I would also add that Geisler leaves out the very next verse in the passage for obvious reasons, Daniel 9:27:
He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.
What this verse is predicting is that after the “anointed one” is “cut off” (read by Christians as Jesus’ death), then there will be a seven year period where (apparently) an evil person will take control of the temple and the end of the world will occur. This should’ve happened in 40 A.D. I think Christians generally believe there is a 2000 year gap between verse 26 and verse 27, even though all the numbers (7+62+1=70) fits together in the seventy ‘sevens’ mentioned at the beginning of the passage.
In the end, this prediction is not “very specific” – it gives no time durations (it doesn’t say years), it doesn’t say exactly what decree we’re talking about (giving us multiple possible starting points), and it doesn’t define who/what this ‘anointed one’ is. To make this fit with Jesus, requires: assuming the time-duration is years, assuming a 444 BC starting date (instead of 537 B.C.), assuming a 360-day year, assuming “69 sevens” (483 years) instead of “62 sevens” (434 years) between the decree and the anointed one – which Jews claim is a mistranslation, and assuming the ‘anointed one’ is the messiah (even though there are plenty of ‘anointed ones’ in the Bible). Strobel and Geisler barely talk about Daniel 9 except in one paragraph, where they claim:
How much more detailed can you get than accurately predicting when Jesus would die, as Daniel 9:24-26 did? When you do the math, you find that this passage pinpoints when Jesus would enter human history. And what about predictions of his birth place or how he would suffer and die? The specificity is astounding — and they have invariably proven to be true. (p.188)
This leaves the reader to assume they’re right.
“Mathematics has shown that there’s absolutely no way [the prophecies] could have been fulfilled by mere chance.” (p.190)
Hmm. The Biblical ‘prophecies’ sound a lot like the vague details psychics give. They say, “I’m getting an M or a G” and the listener says, “Oh my God! You much be talking about Mary.” A psychic says, “I’m seeing pain in the head or chest”, and the listener says, “Yes, yes, it was a heart attack! This psychic is amazing. There’s no way they could’ve gotten that by chance.” If God was really inspiring these prophecies, I trust that he could give a little more detail than “The people of the ruler who will come”. Heck, I’m sure God could actually use a proper name once in a while instead of constantly using pronouns and vague labels.