What’s Wrong With: Biblical Prophecy?

The End is Not NearReligious 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.

Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible.

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  • bobo

    You may be putting a little too much stock in the word "generation" …

    Looking the online bible you link to (biblegateway.com) it's footnoted that "generation" here also means "race".

    • I used Biblegateway as a link to the words of the Bible so that people could verify my quotation and also read their contexts, not as a learning aid for studying Greek. I did not link to any of their linguistic materials, just to the Bible texts. No one will acquire a working knowledge of classical Greek from that site.

      I'm sure that millions of literalist Christians would love to believe what you said. Unfortunately, they don't know Greek, can't read it, and have no idea of the etymology of the Greek word γενεα (or genea) which is the word in question. Semantically it refers to "birth," and therefore is a very close, if not precise, equivalent of the English "generation." Besides, the context of those verses shows very clearly that Jesus was speaking of "those born and living now" and was not referring to "nations."

      As a matter of fact, Mt 16:28 and Lk 9:27 are rather clear and specific on this matter. Neither contains the word γενεα (or genea) so this objection does not even apply to them. As noted, in both of these, Jesus says "those who are standing here who will not taste death" until the future events he describes are to take place. He absolutely is NOT referring, in either of those verses, to races, nations, or anything of the sort. He said "those who are standing here."

      Again, that was "those who are standing here."

      Nice try at a clever dodge. Unfortunately I'm way ahead of you, and nowhere near stupid enough to fall for something like that. Please, do yourself a favor and never assume I'm an idiot, or that I am not aware of what the Bible actually says. OK?

      • Shane Turner

        In the last days, all are without excuse, itching ears will hear what they want to hear, my thoughts and ways are than yours, and the wisdom of the world is foolish in God's eyes etc. are all in the buybull. Nothing but master manipulated bullshit used to control people's minds. A lot of things are predicted in the buybull of what happens to people by using psychology when you threaten people with the idea of eternal torment or the rapture. It will cause utter contempt in most people towards the idea of such dogma. There is no credible evidence to even suggest any of this bullshit is even true.

    • Rohger

      Bobo,I have studied a bit of eschatology for the last five years.No way can you slice it or dice it…Jesus was to return in the first century. Every explanation in the world has been thought of to negate the real meaning of those “return” scriptures.

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  • Elliot Roland

    You're an idiot.

    • Wow, what an incredibly enlightening comment! I’m truly impressed.

      • Robert

        The Argumentum Ad Hominem is the rhetorical H-bomb. Once tossed, the debate (if there ever really was any) is OVER. When two opponents are in a sealed concrete room, each holding an AAH-bomb, the first to toss his AAH-bomb WINS the argument/discussion. Give it up. You have been defeated.

        • Re: "Give it up. You have been defeated."

          Wrong, YOU were defeated. You were defeated centuries ago, when Mt 16:28, Mk 9:1, and Lk 9:27 failed to come to pass as Jesus stated. Grow up already.

  • Jeff Lange

    That prophecy is not "failed," it's just misread. Paul is not referring only to Thessalonian believers, but all believers. He's saying that some of us believers will be alive when Jesus returns, and therefore will not need to be raised from the dead. For example, if Jesus returned today, believers today would not need to be raised, however, Paul and the others will, of course, need to be raised. 1Cor 15 has similar wording on the same topic, "We [i.e. believers] shall not all sleep [i.e. be dead] but we shall be changed [i.e. given new bodies; cp. Philip 3:21]."

    Most of your arguments about a generation not passing away can be explained by realizing that these NT prophecies are not referring to Jesus' return. Much of the prophecy from Mt. Olivet is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Seeing that Jesus made that prophecy sometime around AD 33, it was certainly true that that generation wouldn't pass away until his words had taken place.

    As for the words in Matt 16 that some would not taste death until they had "seen the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom," this did take place as well. In the very next chapter, three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, are blessed with the opportunity to see the transfiguration of Christ–a glimpse at the glory and power he will come in when he returns to set up the Kingdom.

    I like your critical thinking, and I think you raised some good discussion points. Nevertheless, the passages brought up are, as demonstrated, very explainable.

    • Re: "That prophecy is not failed,' it's just misread."

      Ah. Sort of like the old "that was taken out of context" objection. Sorry but no. Paul's prediction failed to come true as written. Period.

      Re: "Paul is not referring only to Thessalonian believers, but all believers."

      Correct. But that doesn't change the fact that Paul's prediction failed to come true as written.

      Re: "He's saying that some of us believers will be alive when Jesus returns, and therefore will not need to be raised from the dead."

      Ah, but the salient point is that he included himself among those who would still be alive. That part of his prediction was something I put in bold in my quotation so that it wouldn't be missed. Apparently you missed it. Sorry about that … but you definitely missed it.

      Re: "For example, if Jesus returned today, believers today would not need to be raised, however, Paul and the others will, of course, need to be raised."

      Unfortunately for you, that's not actually what he said. He didn't include himself among those who would be raised. He said very clearly that he would be "alive" and among "those who remain." Not that he would be dead and raised up.

      Re: "1Cor 15 has similar wording on the same topic, 'We [i.e. believers] shall not all sleep [i.e. be dead] but we shall be changed [i.e. given new bodies; cp. Philip 3:21].'"

      Too bad neither of those other verses changes the fact that the specific prediction in 1 Th 4 failed to come true as written.

      Re: "Most of your arguments about a generation not passing away can be explained by realizing that these NT prophecies are not referring to Jesus' return."

      Uh, no, Jesus doesn't mention Jerusalem until after his lament about what will happen to the scribes and Pharisees and assorted other characters he loathes. In any event, he doesn't explicitly predict Jerusalem's destruction there. He just says, "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" (v. 38). Desolation can mean abandonment rather than destruction.

      Re: "Seeing that Jesus made that prophecy sometime around AD 33, it was certainly true that that generation wouldn't pass away until his words had taken place."

      Except that he didn't predict Jerusalem's destruction there. At best he mentioned it being "desolate." Which could, I suppose, allude to "destruction," but the two aren't the same in spite of any overlap they might have.

      Re: "As for the words in Matt 16 that some would not taste death until they had "seen the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom," this did take place as well."

      Except that the Transfiguration was a vision, and doesn't coincide with what Jesus says in v. 27 (emphasis mine): "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds." The Transfiguration didn't include a judgement by Jesus of "every man according to his deeds."

      Re: "I like your critical thinking, and I think you raised some good discussion points. Nevertheless, the passages brought up are, as demonstrated, very explainable."

      Not "explainable," but "rationalizable," perhaps. I mean, if one is determined to paint them in the best-possible light so as to make them appear plausible, one can certainly do that. However, as a critical thinker, I know that details matter. If Paul includes himself among those who will be alive to see Jesus return in 1 Th 4, it doesn't matter that you can find some way to make any of the rest of it make sense. That it fails in that one detail, means his prediction failed. Likewise, to say the Transfiguration represented "the Son of Man coming into his glory," conveniently leaves out that he didn't judge all humanity at the Transfiguration.

      I'll grant you a certain amount of cleverness. However, as I've said so often, I'm way ahead of you guys. And there's a reason for that: I was once one of you. I know all the rhetoric, the logical twists, the semantic games, and the glossing over of details. I get it. I've been there. You can't pull the wool over my eyes … and you can't make the words on the page mean something other than what they mean. It just doesn't work.

      I suppose what I don't get is why people can't simply accept this reality. Would it really hurt you or your religion to admit these predictions didn't actually come true as written? Would it harm you that much to have to make that admission? Is this Wizard of Oz game of "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" really worth all that much to you?

  • Robert

    "Would it really hurt you … to admit these predictions didn't actually come true as written?"
    No. Not at all.
    "Would it really hurt … your religion to admit these predictions didn't actually come true as written?"
    Yes. Any provable or demonstrable fault and the entire foundation is swept away. Being that all other religions are false, that would be the end of religion as far as I am concerned. From then on it would be "Eat, drink, be merry, marry and give in marriage, for tomorrow we die." (a compilation)
    As naturalism, which would be all that would be left, appears to predict that the earth is but an infinitesimal speck of dust in an apparently infinite cosmos, and that it is materialistically totally meaningless, along with all of us and all our works, and will be blown to muons, gravitons or something when the sun, an insignificant little glowing ball of gases, explodes, flares out, or goes "poof!" and conks out, nothing materialistic matters.
    Arguing about this sort of thing is a total waste of time, as if that matters.

    "Would it harm you that much to have to make that admission?"
    No. Not at all.

    • Re: "'Would it really hurt … your religion to admit these predictions didn't actually come true as written?' Yes. Any provable or demonstrable fault and the entire foundation is swept away."

      Well, consider it done. The supposed power of the Christian Bible as a prediction engine was utterly been destroyed back in the 1st century when Jesus' own predictions, in Mt 16:28, Mk 9:1 and Lk 9:27 failed to come true as he stated them. So consider yourself harmed, already, and long ago.

      Re: "Being that all other religions are false, that would be the end of religion as far as I am concerned."

      They are? I'm sure that's news to the billions of people who follow non-Christians religions. Please, by all means, I invite you to prove this to them.

      Re: "As naturalism, which would be all that would be left, appears to predict that the earth is but an infinitesimal speck of dust in an apparently infinite cosmos, and that it is materialistically totally meaningless, along with all of us and all our works, and will be blown to muons, gravitons or something when the sun, an insignificant little glowing ball of gases, explodes, flares out, or goes "poof!" and conks out, nothing materialistic matters."

      And all of this would be bad, because … hmm … uh … what was that again? Because it angers you to think it's true? Too fucking bad. It doesn't matter that something makes you mad. All that matters is whether or not it's true.

  • Ahsan

    Paul was a false apostle.
    Deuteronomy 18 verses 1 -20 is referencing the continuation of prophethood, one who speaks boldly fearlessly and prophecizes arrogantly and it DOES come to pass is a true prophet, one who's predictions don't, dont.
    The Bible today is NOT the message of Jesus,
    The Gospel of Jesus has been lost
    Deut 18:18 God tells Moses that he will raise up a prophet like him (meaning this prophet like Moses would be accepted by his people, would be born naturally, die naturally, be married, have children, lead an army, be a law giver, migrate from his own city,)
    but from the brethren of the Jews.

    Abraham had 2 sons, Isac and Ismael.
    Isaacs progeny turns into the Jews
    Ismaels turns into the sons of Kedar becoming the Arabs.
    The brethren of the Jews are the Arabs.
    The only person in History that fits the prophecy told by God through Moses is Muhammad.

    Also check out song of solomon chapter 5 verse 14-20
    it says his face will be like lebanon
    his hair locks will be wavy
    and black as a raven
    he shall be altogether lovely (but if you look at that verse 15 where it says altogether lovely, it is translated from Hebrew "Muhammadim" "im" is a suffix for respected. Lilke for Alai, Alohim (the "im" is the royal plural, respected, not plural) So the verse doesnt mean multiple muhammads. But the respected Muhammad, which has been translated, you can't translate someon'es name.

    Also the book of ISaiah prophecizes that when the book is given to him who is not learned and told to read by the angel Gabriel and he replies that I cannot read i am not learned….
    Prophet Muhammad according to Islamic faith received revelation at the age of 40, (just like Moses) in a cave with the Angel Gabriel telling him to read, and he could not read or write and said I cannot read, I am not learned.

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s a terrific example of how easy it is to go cherry-picking through the Bible texts, creatively interpreting (and re-interpreting) those snippets so that one can say it supports virtually any contention one wishes to support.

      As for "the only person in History that fits the prophecy told by God" being Mohammad, that’s not clear at all. The word in question in Song 5:16 actually contains different Hebrew consonants than are found in his Arabic name. So technically, he’s not named there. The thing about the -im being a token of respect rather than an actual plural (meaning more than one person is mentioned) is also not clear at all. The "royal plural" was used at times in ancient Near Eastern languages, but not all instances of it can safely be assumed not to refer to multiple persons. The context matters, and in this case it could go either way. The word may well also be an adjective rather than a noun (which is how it’s translated nearly all of the time).

      In any event, as I explained at the end of my original post, the notion that the Bible contains accurate "prophecy" is belied by the fact that it contains overt predictions which not only have failed to come true, but which cannot possibly ever come true. Nothing you’ve said here refutes that.

      Please, by all means, Muslims, Christians and Jews should continue sifting through these texts, sifting out snippets they want, ignoring others, and arguing with one another over it the supposed "predictions" those snippets make. Sometimes you even come to blows over it. Keep it up! We outside observers find it all very amusing. Just leave us out of it, OK?

  • Dina

    Thanks.

  • Real Bible prophecy is exactly that REAL – leave your doubts for a moment and check out http://www.thesecondadam.com

    • Sorry to say, this is not about "doubts." "Doubts" are irrelevant. Disparaging what I say as mere "doubts" don't make what I say unimportant or insignificant, either (I'll give you credit for trying, though!).No, this is about demonstrable fact. And as I explained in this page, it is a demonstrable fact that Jesus' reported prediction — recorded in Mt 16:28, Mk 9:1, and Lk 9:27 — not only has failed to come true as stated, but it cannot possibly ever come true as stated.When explicit, verbatim predictions made in the Bible fail this utterly, nothing else in it can be treated as credible "prophecy." That's really all there is to say — and no amount of believers' protests to the contrary can ever change that.

  • Eddie Lim

    The bible was written long after Jesus was gone…one version said he never died on the cross but fled to India and died there.

    The bible is a collection of books. There were dozens and compiled longer after Jesus was gone. It took a major Church council to decide which book to be included. Not sure what is so “Holy” about the bible when it was not written by Jesus nor by any of the pre-Jesus prophets.

    Even the Four Gospels have contradictions. Why four Gospels? Why not have one Gospel?

    Best not to believe everything in the Bible.

    • Re: “It took a major Church council to decide which book to be included.”

      You’re correct that the content of the Bible was arbitrarily decided, but the first Council to address the matter head-on (among many other topics) was the Council of Trent, which met in the 16th century and only applied to the Roman Catholic Church. The content of the Bible had, effectively, been decided centuries prior. The canon was also discussed at some localized councils (e.g. the Carthage synod of 397) but none of these carried authority outside certain regions.

      How the Biblical canon developed is actually a complex story. It was a long-term, dynamic process which moved in fits and starts. Along the way, some books gained favor, and ended up being included despite early resistance to doing so (e.g. Revelation), while other books which had been widely revered ended up on the cutting-room floor (e.g. the Shepherd of Hermas).

      As for the “Jesus in India” thing, that was supposedly recorded on manuscripts or scrolls seen by a 19th century Russian reporter who later admitted he’d made it all up.

  • Eddie Lim

    Last year in Sept, a fervent Christian wrote to tell me about the super Shemitah and that disaster is coming upon the world. It would last another additional year to Sept 2016 as I was the Super Shemitah. Well, we have another week and I want see the End of the World. Amen.

    Then I see several Youtubes that forecasts end of the world, collapse of world economy in Sept 2016. It was the same in 2015, 2014… There will be yearly forecasts of doom and end of the world till 2100 and beyond. It is just a big bullshit…selling books, trying to frighten the naïve, getting people to donate their tithing to the church, etc.