What’s Wrong With: Biblical Prophecy?
Religious believers, especially of the Christian persuasion, tend to think their Bible contains “prophecy” or predictions of the future. Over the centuries they’ve distilled out of the Bible many different predictions they claim it makes, especially about “the End of the World.” In particular, the last 19 chapters of the book of Revelation constitute one long prediction of how the world will end. The Bible contains enough text that it’s relatively trivial to sift through it, collect snippets, interpret them metaphorically or gather up numbers from them, and boil those cherry-picked selections down to some specific date.
Obviously, all of the many predictions of “the End” which have been made, have failed to come true. It would be easy to say that all such predictions are bullshit, solely due to this dismal, 100%-wrong track record.
But that alone isn’t why I say that all Biblical prophecies are bullshit. Not at all. That people have rendered bullshit out of the Bible and it’s proven wrong, is almost beside the point!
No, the reason I say that all Biblical prophecy is bullshit, is because most of the specific predictions made in the pages of the New Testament — which are not believers’ distillations, but actual words, on the page — have shown themselves demonstrably and irrefutably false. This may sound hard to believe, but it’s true. Allow me to explain.
Failed Prophecies in the Epistles
In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul describes Jesus’ return, including a timeframe for when it would occur (emphasis in this and all other quotations is mine):
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Th 4:15-17)
Clearly Paul expected that he, and at least some of his readers in Thessalonica, would be alive when Jesus returned. Unfortunately, he and his readers have been dead for well over 1,900 years — yet Jesus has never returned. Thus, his prediction failed. Utterly.
Two other epistles (i.e. the epistle to the Hebrews, and the epistle of James) are much less specific, yet they contain similar statements that Jesus would return very soon:
For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. (Heb 10:37)
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (Jas 5:8)
End-times apologists argue that the phrases “in a very little while” and “the coming of the Lord is near” may well be true, from God’s perspective (since scripturally, a day for him is 1,000 years for us as stated in 2 Pt 3:8). This rationale probably satisfies the religious mind, but it ignores the consideration that these epistles had originally been written to first-century Christians; it would have made no sense at all to have told them that Jesus would return “soon,” and that he “would not delay,” if his plan had always been to wait over two millennia to return.
Jesus’ Own Prophecies
But much worse than Paul’s prediction failing, and Jesus choosing not to return “soon,” Jesus Christ — the founder of Christianity himself, and according to nearly all Christians, the living God in the flesh — made predictions which plainly turned out not to come true.
Among the best-known gospel passages in which Jesus describes the future in some detail, is chapter 24 of the gospel according to Matthew. He explains what will happen in the days leading up to his own return. Jesus concludes his warnings as follows:
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mt 24:34)
He was, therefore, telling his listeners that they would live to see his return. Reinforcing this, later in the same gospel, Jesus tells the high priest, Caiaphas, that he too will live to see him return in glory:
Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mt 26:64)
The very same point is repeated just a short while earlier in Matthew, and in an abbreviated version of Matthew 24 that’s found in the gospel according to Luke:
“Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Mt 23:36)
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.” (Lk 21:32)
It would seem fairly clear that Jesus was telling the people in front of him — i.e. others living in the Levant in the early 1st century CE — that he would return in their own lifetimes. Now … some “End Times” apologists often say that, well sure … all those people will see Jesus return; they’ll be dead, and watch him as ghosts (or something), but they will nonetheless see him return. They also point out that, when Jesus was talking about “this generation” seeing his return, he was actually referring to the generation that happens to be alive at the time he returns, not the generation of people standing in front of him while he was talking.
As with the “divine time” objection I mentioned previously, these tend to work on religious people prone to believe such things. But as it turns out, the Bible contains an absolute, unequivocal refutation of both these points, which is also found in Matthew:
“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Mt 16:28)
This same verse is confirmed in both Mark and Luke:
And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mk 9:1)
“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:27)
Thus, people standing right in front of Jesus at the time he was alive — not some future generation — would not die prior to his return, meaning they would not watch him come back as ghosts, but rather as living, breathing people.
Again, therefore, we have several clear instances of Jesus predicting something which quite obviously never came to pass in the timeframe he said it would.
The Value of “Biblical Prophecy”
Given that explicit, plain predictions found within the pages of the Bible have demonstrably proven false, I can’t help but wonder why people like William Miller, Edgar Whisenant, and Harold Camping — to name just a few — think they can possibly have any credibility by taking Biblical metaphors and interpreting dates for Armageddon out of it. The credibility of the Bible as a predictor of the future, is clearly non-existent. Continuing to treat it as though it has any predictive credibility is just plain foolish.
There’s no other logical conclusion one can reach, then, that all Biblical prophecy is just plain bullshit. Period. End of story.