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Messianic Prophecies

One of the most often stated "proof" of Jesus' divinity offered by fundamentalists is that the details of Jesus' life were clearly foretold in the Old Testament. We find this assertion made by pastors in sermons [1], by lay Christians in their "debates" with skeptics[a] and in various fundamentalist books.

Perhaps the most often cited example is that by Josh McDowell in his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In chapter nine of that book he cited 61 passages claimed as prophecies in the Old Testament that were supposedly fulfilled in Jesus.[2]

Modern critical historical scholars no longer accept this method of interpreting almost any passage in the Old Testament as foretelling the coming of Jesus. In fact today very few passages are interpreted as messianic prophecies; these are Isaiah 8:23-9:6; 11:1-9, Zechariah 9:9, Micah 5:1-4 and Isaiah 7:10-17. Even in this short list the last two are accepted only with major reservations, as the passages refer to people and events in the prophet's own time and the messianic allusions are based on later interpretations. [3]

It should also be mentioned that even this short list of more or less authentic messianic prophecies talked about the coming of the messiah in the Jewish tradition, one who is mainly a political leader. Messiah comes from the Hebrew word masiah which means "anointed" and refers to the investiture of the king by anointing with oil. [4]

We begin by noting that many of the "prophecies" presented by McDowell in Evidence are nonsensical prophecies. These are passages which, even upon a very cursory inspection, are clearly not prophecies at all. One suspects that these were placed there to simply add "padding" to the number of Old Testament prophecies that were supposedly fulfilled in Jesus.

Of course many of the non-prophecies did not originate from McDowell but from the evangelists themselves. Matthew for instance was very fond of forcing reading of prophetic messages from Old Testament. And when they did not, he would tweak the OT verses ever so slightly to make them work as prophecies concerning Jesus. We give two examples of this below.

There are however a few "core" prophecies which, most fundamentalists believe, clinch the case for Jesus' divinity. McDowell presents eight sets of prophecies which he claims are "totally beyond human control", i.e, could not have been deliberately fulfilled. [5] Let us look at these eight:

We see that all these were either based on mistranslations, wishful thinking and even outright fabrication. In short there is no Old Testament prophecy which point to Yeshua ha Notzri who lived around the first three decades of the first century as a messiah or as a divine person.

Non-"Prophecies"

Many of the prophecies presented in Evidence could be easily dismissed as mere wishful thinking. Let us look at a few:

Prophecy No.13: Jesus' Pre-Existence

The prophecy given here is from Micah 5:2. This is the verse as given in his book:[6]

Micah 5:2
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His going forths are from long ago, From the days of eternity.

The "fulfillment" of this prophecy is supposedly the passage below:

Colossians 1:7
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Amazing! McDowell is claiming that an unfounded assertion by a (probably)[b] anonymous author in the New Testament makes for fulfilled prophecy! Even if the author is Paul, the passage is nothing more than an empty assertion. It takes someone really gullible and seeped in the belief of biblical inerrancy to even to begin to consider this to be a case of prophecy fulfillment.

That is not the only problem with the passage. Modern translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) showed no such allusion of the messiah's pre-existence: [7]

Micah 5:2 NRSV
from you shall come forth for me, one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

The passage, as read in the NRSV, simply shows that the messiah's ancestors are ancient. The Good News Bible (GNB) translates this even more clearly:

Micah 5:2 GNB
but out of one of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.

Prophecy No.15: Jesus Called Immanuel

Next McDowell sites the following passage from Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:14
"Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin is with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel".

(We will ignore for the moment some problems with the translation of the passage and with McDowell's rather liberal use of capital letters.) According to McDowell the above phrase is fulfilled by the following passage:

Matthew 1:22-23
And this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel-which means 'God is with us'".

Another startling and puzzling assertion. With this passage he claimed that Jesus was called Immanuel. But Matthew's passage was simply a repeat of the passage from Isaiah and nowhere else in the gospels was Jesus ever referred to by that name. Clearly the claim is meaningless and nonsensical.

Prophecy No.17: Jesus as Priest

The Old Testament passage is this:

Psalms 110:4
"The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

The supposed fulfillment, get this(!), is:

Hebrews 5:5-6
"So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high Priest, but He who said to Him, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee'; just as He says also in another passage, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchidezek.'"

I am running out of superlatives here, but the idiocy here is mind numbing. A reference by the anonymous author of Hebrews to the very same passage in the Old Testament is taken as it's fulfillment!

Prophecy No.32: Seated at the Right Hand of God

Here the "prophecy" is also in Psalms:

Psalm 110:1
"The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet."

The supposed fulfillment:

Hebrews 1:3
"...When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high

Again an unfounded assertion by an anonymous author about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God is taken as a "fulfillment". Pure nonsense.

These examples can be repeated ad nauseum, but I believe the four examples above should suffice.

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Matthew's Tweaking of Old Testament Prophecies

Sometimes the evangelists actually changed portions of the Old Testament passages to make them fit what they believed were details of Jesus' life.

The Return of Joseph and Mary from Egypt

Suprisingly, this example is not in McDowell's list of fulfilled prophecies on Jesus, although Matthew explicitly noted that it was in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. McDowell did however indirectly cite this passage from Hosea when he listed 332 distinct Old Testament passages supposedly fulfilled in Jesus (from another fundamentalist apologetic) work in the same chapter.

Matthew 2:14-15
And he [Joseph] rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord has spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt will I call my son."

The Old Testament passage Matthew was quoting came from the book of Hosea. Let us look at that passage in its context:

Hosea 11:1-2
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols.

It takes either a very gullible person, or someone who is bent on believing no matter what, to actually believe that the passage in Hosea above relates to Jesus.

  • In the first place the passage was in past tense ( "I called" as opposed to Matthew's "will I call"). Thus Matthew had tweak the Old Testament passage ever so slightly.
  • And in the second place it is not even a prophecy at all. The whole passage talks about the calling out of the Israelites from Egypt as narrated in the Pentateuch. Thus my son in this passage meant the whole Israelite nation. The portions italicised clearly could not be applied to Jesus (who was sacrificing to Baal and burning incense to idols on the way back from Egypt? Joseph? Mary? Jesus?) yet the passage is obviously an organic whole. This is also another example of a prophecy taken out of it's context. [8]

Prophecy No.12: Herod's Slaughter of the Children

We have seen elsewhere that the tales of the slaughter of the innocents is not historical. This fact is enough for us to discard the prophecy below. But there is another reason we are looking at this. The prophecy for this "event" is given in Matthew:

Matthew 2:16-18
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they were no more

Let us look at the relevant passage in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:15-17
Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentations and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children:
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are not.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for your work shall be rewarded,
says the Lord:
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for the future,
says the Lord, and your children will come back to their own country.

Note that here we have another case of taking a quote out of context. This time the whole sense of the passage has been changed. As Jeremiah 31:17 showed Rachel's children, far from being slaughtered, will come back home. Seen in this context it is obvious what is meant by the phrase "they are not" in Jeremiah 31:15. It means that her children are at the moment not physically present in their homeland, they are in the land of the enemy where they shall return. Thus Matthew had given a meaning to Jeremiah 31:15 that it did not have. [c]

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The Prophecies "Totally Beyond Human Control"

Prophecy No.10: Jesus' Birth in Bethlehem

The passage supposedly prophesying Jesus birth is found in the book of Micah

Micah 5:2
But you O Bethlehem Ephranath, who are little among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel

Of course both Matthew (2:1) and Luke (2:4-7) mentioned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Thus, while we do not doubt that both Matthew and Luke claimed that Jesus was born there, how certain are we that this is actually historical? (Remember that we have already shown that the Bible is not inerrant. Therefore just because it was mentioned in these two gospels does not mean it is necessarily true.)

We begin by noting that:

Next we note that there is every possibility that the story of Jesus birth in Bethlehem could have been concocted by the early Christian tradition, not from historical evidence, but from the very Old Testament prophecy which calls for this! Our argument for this goes:

  • There was an established tradition in Jewish culture called the midrash. It is a method used by the ancient Jewish theologians to interpret and expand the sacred scripture. It is the belief that current events are somehow tied to past sacred events in a very systematic way. That it is present in the Old Testament has been long known to theologians. [9] One example of this should suffice: Moses parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22-31) which showed he was God's prophet. To ensure continuation of this prophetic line, the authors of the Old Testament repeated the same archetypal events in Joshua's miraculous parting and crossing over the River Jordan (Joshua 3:14-17), Elijah did the same thing (II Kings 2:7-8) and when Elisha took over the waters parted again (II Kings 2:14). Now we know these events were mythical, the fact that they are repeated in the same form shows the midrash in action. Thus mining the Old Testament for allusions to newer sacred stories was not something new.

  • The early Christians, too, treated the Old Testament as "proof text" on Jesus' life. Thus if there was something they wanted to find out about Jesus, searching for it in the Old Testament was the most natural thing to do. For the belief that Jesus was the messiah came first, then the belief that Jesus and the major events in his life must have been alluded to in the Old Testament. We see this in the passage below in John which puts the following words into the mouth of Jesus: [d]

    John 5:39
    You search the scriptures...; and it is they that bear witness to me.

    All the other evangelists shared the same paradigm: that major events in Jesus' life were in fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecies (e.g. Matthew 21:7 [Zechariah 11:12-13]; Mark 14:27 [Zechariah 13:7]; Luke 3:4-6 [Isaiah 40:3-5]).

  • The attitude then was that the Old Testament was a reliable source for events in the life of Jesus. Proof of this attitude can easily be found. We have seen from the episode of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Mark, Luke and John (Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29-35 and John 12:12-26) gave a reasonably believable scenario of Jesus making arrangements and then riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Now Matthew, however, had Jesus sitting on two donkeys simultaneously (Matthew 21:1-7) instead of one!

    We know from our previous analysis that Matthew incorporated a large portion of the gospel of Mark into his own gospel. We must conclude therefore that Matthew considered Mark to be a reasonably reliable document. Thus Matthew obviously have Mark's description of the triumphal entry in front of him when he wrote the account. [e] That being the case, why would Matthew here consciously alter the Markan account by deliberately replacing a natural account of the triumphal entry for a more absurd one?

    This is because he thought that the passage in Zechariah 9:9 called for two donkeys instead of one. Thus, although he was heavily dependent on the gospel of Mark, he overwrote the obviously more commonsensical story in Mark because the Old Testament compelled him to do so! This is a very important point: that to the author of Matthew, and the other evangelists also as we shall see below, exact fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies over-rode other considerations [f] even if these were factual and commonsensical descriptions from more contemporaneous source documents (such as Mark obviously was to Matthew).

  • We have also seen elsewhere that the evangelists sometimes make use of Old Testament passages to construct stories about Jesus. Many details of the nativity (which no one claims were messianic) such as Mary's song of praise and the annunciation can be shown to be constructed from Old Testament passages.

  • Therefore the very fact that a Old Testament passage calls for the messiah to be born in Bethlehem would have led the early Christians to conclude that Jesus must therefore had been born in Bethlehem! Because the tradition of the birth in Bethlehem surfaced relatively late, it was certainly enough time for oral tradition to develop this myth. We have seen that the old argument that there would have been eyewitness to point out this myth if it was untrue is untenable. For there would not have been many eyewitnesses around when (and where) Matthew and Luke were written.

To summarize, the passage in Micah cannot be said to be a fulfilled prophecy because:

  • We are not certain that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem. The accounts of how he was born there given in Luke and Matthew are contradictory.
  • Other alternate traditions seems to imply he was born in Nazareth.
  • The tradition of the birth in Bethlehem surfaced late, almost a century after the event was supposed to have happened.
  • We also know that the evangelists were not beyond twisting (as was the case with the two donkeys) or even inventing stories (as was the case with the annunication in Luke) about Jesus from Old Testament passages.
  • The very fact that the birth of the future messiah in Bethlehem was prophesied in the Old Testament would have led the early Christians to conclude that Jesus must have been born there.

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Prophecy on the Time of the Messiah's Coming

Surprisingly this was not placed by McDowell within the 61 prophecies "fulfilled" in Jesus but placed almost as an afterthought in his "answers to objections" section in chapter nine of Evidence. This is the main passage which supposedly predicted the timing of Jesus' coming:

Genesis 49:10
"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples

His argument is quite convoluted. Firstly for "sceptre" read "tribal staff" and for "tribal staff" apply the meaning "national identity". And for "departure of the sceptre" read the "removal of the identity of Judah" and the "suppression of judicial power". These are then related to the advent of the Idumean King Herod and to the Sanhedrin's loss of the right to capital punishment under Herod's successor Archelaus in 11 CE. Then Shiloh is asserted to mean the messiah.[10]

The one thing the reader will note is how extremely subjective the whole line of reasoning is. In other words, the prophecy only begins to work if you read into it hard enough. Let us note where the subjectivities lie:

  • His description of the advent of Herod the Great as the first loss of "national identity" is extremely tenuous. He mentioned that Herod took over from the Maccabees who were "Jewish", thus prior to Herod there was still the "national identity". But the passage was clearly describing the tribe of Judah. The Maccabees, however, were from the tribe of Levi.

  • Why should "suppression of judicial power" be taken to mean "departure of the sceptre"? And more specifically why should "suppression of judicial power" be viewed merely as the loss of the right of capital punishment? For the Sanhedrin even then retained substantial judicial powers (as McDowell himself cited) such as excomunication, imprisonment and corporal punishment.

  • In fact it is not even historically certain that the Sanhedrin had lost that right to capital punishment. Other evidence points towards the Sanhedrin still retaining the right. For example, Acts 7:58 described the stoning to death of Stephen by the Sanhedrin. There is even archaeological evidence to support this. Archaeologists discovered incised stone notices of the Jerusalem Temple which warns of the death penalty for any Gentile who trespass the temple's exclusively Jewish areas. These stone notices can be found in the Archaeological Museum at Istanbul and in the Rockefeller Museum at Jerusalem. [11]

  • Next we have the assertion that Shiloh is a "code name" for the messiah. The name Shiloh appeared 37 times in the Old Testament. In 36 passages it refers to a city in Ephraim. Yet in this one single time, we are told to accept that Shiloh unambiguously refers to the messiah because "for centuries Jewish and Christian commentators alike have taken the word "Shiloh" to mean a name for the Messiah".

These ambiguous and tenuous logic is not the only problem here. The Hebrew here in the Massoretic text is unclear. The phrase "until Shiloh comes" is not the only reading there but could be read as "until he comes to Shiloh" or even "until tribute comes to him". The syriac manuscripts read "until he comes to whom it belongs".[12] In fact the association of one of the readings with the city of Shiloh makes for a much simpler explanation for the passage. The prophet Samuel was brought to Shiloh as an infant to be raised by the priests there. (I Samuel 1:21-28) And it was Samuel who anointed David as King (or messiah) in Bethlehem (I Samuel 16:13).

Most modern critical historical scholars interpret the passage in Genesis 49:9-10 as referring to the dominance of Judah under David. Of course even here it is not considered prophetic but merely provides a clue to the period in which that portion of Genesis (normally thought to be part of the "J" Document) was composed. [13]

To summarise:

  • The passage in Genesis 49:10's connection with Jesus is non existent.
  • The passage in Hebrew is unclear and could be rendered in several ways.
  • The most likely explanation for the text is an allusion to the hegemony of Judah under King David.

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Prophecy No.3: Born of A Virgin

Perhaps the most well known messianic prophecy is this:

Matthew 1:22-23
And this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel-which means 'God is with us'".

Matthew was quoting from Isaiah 7:14. Yet as we have shown elsewhere in this website that:

Thus Isaiah 7:14 is not a messianic prophecy at all but simply a mistranslated passage taken out of context by the early Christians. Furthermore the virgin birth is unhistorical and was a pagan concept imported into nascent Christianity.

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Prophecies No. 33 thru' 36: The Betrayal by Judas

These prophecies are presented in Evidence thus:

No.33 Betrayal by a Friend
Prophecy
Psalms 41:9
"Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heels against me"
Fulfillment
Matthew 10:4
"...Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him."
No.34 Sold for 30 Pieces of Silver
Prophecy
Zechariah 11:12
"As I said to them, 'If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!' So they weight out thirty shekels of silver as my wages"
Fulfillment
Matthew 26:15
"...'What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?' And they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver."
No.35 Money to be Thrown in God's House
Prophecy
Zechariah 11:13b
"So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord"
Fulfillment
Matthew 27:5a
"And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed."
No.36 Price Given for Potter's Field
Prophecy
Zechariah 11:13b
"So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord"
Fulfillment
Matthew 27:7
"And they counseled together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers."

While these seemingly detailed correspondence may look impressive at first sight, a few preliminary considerations show that there is no prophecy and no fulfillment. We have looked at the episode of Judas betrayal elsewhere. Here we need to note the highlights of what we have found:

  • Firstly, we will note that the whole story of the betrayal by Judas is very probably unhistorical [g] for a few reasons:
  • Secondly, there are divergent and contradictory accounts of what was done with the thirty pieces of silver supposedly prophecised. Matthew 27:3-5 said that Judas threw the money into the temple and then went away to hang himself and it was the chief priests who used the money to buy the potter's field. Acts 1:18-19 openly contradicts this by saying that it was Judas himself who bought the field where he fell and died.
  • Thirdly, we note that Matthew made the mistake in attributing the prophecy to Jeremiah (Matthew 27:9) what can only be found in Zechariah (11:12-13)! And this mistake gives a very strong clue as to how Matthew constructed the whole story.
  • Finally, as is the case with the prophecy of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem above, we note that many of the details in the story were probably constructed from Old Testament sources.
Apart from the obvious unhistorical nature of the details of the Judas betrayal there one more additional point to mention. Tim Callahan pointed out in his book Bible Prophecy "lifted up his heels" from Psalm 41:9 implies an action meant to insult and not assault. In other words it is not a prophecy about betrayal at all but a lament about being insulted by a trusted friend. [14]

To summarise- there can be no claim of prophecy fulfillment on contradictory reports that are of an obviously fictional nature.

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Prophecy No.44: Hands and Feet Pierced

As I had mentioned elsewhere, I believe the crucifixion of Jesus was an historical fact. The crucifixion is supposedly prophesied by the passage below from Psalms.

Psalms 22:16
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

This is certainly a sharp (pardon the pun!) correspondence with the crucifixion. Certainly older English translations, such as the King James Bible and the Revised Standard Version have left this as the main translation. Could this be the passage about an historical event in the life of Jesus that was prophesied in the Old Testament? No.

It is important to point out that the the word pierced is not found in the original Hebrew Bible. This word is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word, kaari, which means "like a lion". The original mistranslation first appeared in the Latin Bible and, of course, it was too fortuitous to be corrected. We provide a deeper analysis elsewhere in this website. Thus, there is no piercing, no prophecy of the crucifixion in Psalms 22:16. [15]

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Prophecy No.41 and 42: Details of the Crowd Behaviour at the Crucifixion

The Old Testament verses given in Evidence are as follows:

No.41 Smitten and Spit Upon
Prophecy
Isaiah 50:6
"I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover my face from humiliation and spitting"
Fulfillment
Matthew 26:67
"Then they spat in his face and beat him with their fists; and others slapped him."
No.42 Mocked
Prophecy
Psalms 22:7-8
"All those who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the Lord; let him deliver him; Let him rescue him, because he delights in him."
Fulfillment
Matthew 27:31
"And after they had mocked him, they took his robe off and put his garments on him, and led him away to crucify him."

Perhaps McDowell was being a bit modest here, there is a passage in Mark which fits the prophecies above even more exactly:

Mark 15:29-31
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from your cross and save yourself!" In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also hurled insults at him.

The correspondence about the crowd "shaking their head" and asking Jesus to "safe himself" is an almost perfect correspondence to Psalms 22:7-8. But that is probably the reason why McDowell did not use this passage. It makes the construction of the whole episode from Old Testament episodes look too transparent.

The theologian D.E. Nineham had convincingly demonstrated that, the contents of the passage above show that the evangelist had no historical sources for this. [16]

  • In the first place the insults hurled by the passersby amount to no more than a repetition of the charges brought against him by the Sanhedrin (his threat to destroy the temple and his claim of messianic status).
  • Secondly the presence of the chief priests and scribes at the scene of the crucifixion on the first day of Passover strains our credulity.
  • Thirdly many of the details reflect Old Testament passages so closely that it is improbable that these account did not stem ultimately from them. Some of the passages are given below:

    Lamentations 2:15
    All who pass along the way...they hiss and wag their heads

    Psalms 22:7
    All who seek me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads.

    Psalms 69:9
    For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

    Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-20
    Let us see if his words are true and let us test what will happen at the end of his life, for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insults and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for according to what he says, he will be protected.

  • In fact the Greek word for insult in the Septuagint version of Psalms 69:9 is exactly the same used in Mark 15:32. The exact correspondence between these Old Testament passage and Mark's account points to the fact that Markís source was not working from the traditional eye-witness material but from a belief that the Old Testamentís contains predictions about Jesusí life. And since Matthew, as we know, copied from Mark, it is obvious that the source for the former is also the Old Testament (and Mark), not eyewitness accounts.

We do not need to stop here, other details of the crucifixion can easily be shown to be unhistorical and derived from Old Testament sources:

  • Prophecy No.54: The Drink Given to Jesus at the Cross
    The evangelists contradict each other on what drink was given to Jesus at the cross. Obviously these contradictory accounts can't all be true. Yet all these allusions were obviously taken from Old Testament passages.

  • Prophecies No: 55 and 56: Jesus' Last Words
    Jesus last words given by Mark/Matthew, Luke and John all contradict on another, thus they can't all be true. Further they all can be shown to be taken from Old Testament sources.

These passages prove that the details of the crucifixion were manufactured from whole cloth based on Old Testament sources. Why did the evangelists resort to this? Because very likely there were no witnesses to this event. For according to Mark 14:50 the disciples deserted him upon his arrest. As we have seen, John's story about Jesus' mother being close to the cross is clearly fictional.

These considerations show us that no weightage can be given to other details in the crucifixion such as that he was crucified between two thieves (Prophecy No.45), the darkening of the sky (Prophecy No. 60) and the dividing of his garments (Prophecy No.52). Like the examples above, these are fictional embroidery to an event which the early tradition had no eyewitness.

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Prophecy No.59: His Side Pierced

The prophecy and fulfillment verses are given thus:

Prophecy
Zechariah 12:10
"They look on me whom they have pierced"
Fulfillment
John 19:34
"...But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear"

The author of John claims to be an eyewitness to this. It is important to look at the passage in full:

John 19:31-35
Now it was the day of preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses on a Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it had given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tell the truth, and he testifies so that you may have faith.

John's claim notwithstanding, the whole episode looks very much like a hastily done insertion. We see that the Jews asked for the legs to be broken and the bodies to be taken down. Pilate, according to John, acquiesced to that. Yet just a few verses later (John 19:38) Joseph of Arimathea was reported to have come later and did the same thing (i.e. asked for permission to remove Jesus from the cross). [17]

The breaking of the legs and the piercing of Jesus' side with the lance clearly fulfills Old Testament prophesies, as John himself admits:

John 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture should be fulfilled, "Not one of his bones will be broken." [Exodus 12:46], and as another scripture say, "They will look on the one they have pierced." [Zechariah 12:10]

The assertion that Jesus' bones were not broken, is found only in John and nowhere else. The other three gospels make no mention of it at all. It is important to note that Exodus 12:46 is not a messianic prophecy at all. In fact, the passage doesn't even refer to a human being but to the passover lamb! That John meant Jesus to be the new paschal lamb cannot be doubted for, as we have seen elsewhere, unlike the synoptics, he made the time of Jesus' death coincide with the slaughter of the passover lamb. With such a heavily theological stench it is hard to credit John's passage with any veracity.

The piercing of Jesus' side and the gushing out of water and blood had been claimed by believers to be an acute observation of a physiological fact. [18] It has been suggested, among others, that the water was actually the pericardial fluid, or that Jesus was suffering from pleural effusion. Unfortunately for the believers, both these suggestions are flawed.

Pericardial fluid, could not be found in the quantity described by John, who had the water flowing (not trickling) out with the blood. The amount is very small and there is no way it could have been observed to flow out from the body.

The pleural effusion hypothesis meets the same end. The human lungs are at sub-atmospheric pressure, so if a man's side is pierced when there is fluid in the pleural cavity, air will rush in, not fluid flow out. In fact, in modern medicine, the fluid had to be sucked out under pressure. [19]

The source for the fluid flow is not to be found in physiology but in theology: the water represents baptism and the blood represents the Eucharist. [20]

We can conclude that the whole episode of the breaking of the legs and piercing the sides was a hastily done insertion by the author of John to fulfil his theological purpose and has no grounding in history.

Once again we see how the fundamentalists had got it backwards. It wasn't the events in Jesus' life that fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, it was the Old Testament prophecies that were used to construct details in the life of Jesus!

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Prophecy No.61: Buried in Rich Man's Tomb

McDowell used this verse from Isaiah as the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus was burial in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb:

Isaiah 53:9
"His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, Yet with a rich man in his death..."

We have noted elsewhere that the tradition of the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea is probably not historical.

There is a further problem to this, as Tim Callahan pointed out [21]. The translation for this passage varies and pivotal here is the use of "yet" by McDowell. Most modern translations use "and". The verse as translated in the RSV is as follows:

Isaiah 53:9 RSV
"And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death..."

The use of the word and is a Hebrew poetic parallelism (much like the donkey and the foal episode (Zechariah 9:9) above which confused Matthew). This means that in Isaiah 53:9, the rich man is identical with the wicked. We have seen that all the gospels potrays Joseph as a good man (Mark 15:43, Matthew 27:57, Luke 23:50-51 and John 19:38). This the prophecy could not have been about Joseph of Arimathea. This of course, again like the case of Matthew's description Jesus triumphal entry by riding on two donkeys simultaneously into Jerusalem, could have been misunderstood by Mark who used it to first construct the episode in his gospel.

Again, no prophecy, no fulfillment.

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Notes

a.Since this website was posted, I had received many e-mails from believers alluding to these "messianic prophecies". Although I have treated these issues throughout my site, these letters convinced me that a page which collate all these arguments against the fulfillment of such prophecies would be of help.
b.The Pauline authorship of Colosians is disputed by scholars.
c.That these two prophecies are clearly taken out of context is not easily denied. The best Lee Strobel could do in his widely cited (by fundamentalists) book The Case for Christ (Zondervan 1998) is quoting a Jewish convert to Christianity, Louis Lapides, as saying "You know I go through the books that people write to try and tear down what we believe. That's not fun to do, but I spend the time to look at each objection individually and then try to research the context and the wording in the original language. And every single time, the prophecies have stood up and shown themselves to be true." (p250) And that's it! No supporting arguments, nothing, were given after that. We are supposed the take the word of one fundamentalist with a masters degree in divinity from a seminary that it is "all okay". Wow, I'm convinced!..not!
d.It is a general consensus among critical historical scholars that Jesus did not utter these words. The Five Gospels (p416-417) gives the reasons thus:

This lecture on authority [John 5:30-47] is case in the first person, which is uncharacteristic of Jesus' mode of speech...This kind of boasting contravenes the image projected by Jesus who warns his disciples that those who seek to be first will be last (Matt 20:6) and those who promoted themselves will be demoted (Luke 18:14b; compare the parable of the Pharisee and toll collector, Luke 18:10-14a). Rather than authentic words of Jesus, the author of the fourth gospel is presenting his own meditations on the theological significance of Jesus...Jesus is made to claim that the sacred scriptures give evidence on his behalf...it was early Christian practice to search the criptures for evidence that Jesus' appearance as the Anointed had been anticipated by Moses and the prophets. The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar doubt that Jesus himself indulged in such speculation.

e.The reader is reminded that we have determined earlier that the author of the gospel of Matthew was not the apostle by that name but is anonymous to us.
f.Note that this assertion does not contradict what we had discovered earlier: that the evangelists (including Matthew) were fond of lifting Old Testament stories out of context to construct details in the life of Jesus. For they read the Old Testament in a way, although nonsensical to us today, which allowed them to look at a passage in total exclusion to it's surrounding story. In other words these allusions were embedded (much as some fundamentalist belief that some "bible code" of prophecy were embedded in the Old Testament-for example Drosnin's The Bible Code) in the Old Testament. We see this in the examples above were Matthew simply lifted out one line from Hosea 11:1 ignoring the following line which actually contradicts the way he was planning to use it in this gospel and to construct the story of the return from Egypt and his use of just one paragraph from Jeremiah 31:15 in Herod's slaughter of the innocents ignoring the follow up passage. Thus the belief was that the relevant passage must be a prophecy, not the whole document or even the story where that passage was taken from. Let us call this basic relevant passage an "oracular unit". Thus in the case of the two donkeys, Matthew obviously felt that the passage in Zechariah 9:9 was one "oracular unit".
g.In his book The Case for Christ, (p248) the journalist turned pastor, Lee Strobel, quoted a Jewish convert Louis Lapides, as saying that these could not have been constructed by Matthew due to three reasons. Firstly he claimed that these were circulated during the lifetime of the people who would have been eyewitneses. Secondly why would Matthew allowed himself to be matryed for what he knew was a lie. Thirdly the Jewish comunity would have been around to refute any false assertions by the Christians.

Typical of fundamentalist defenses, these only work if the reader is ignorant of the basic facts of biblical research. All three arguments are flawed. We have noted earlier, why this defense does not work with the gospel accounts. Remember that Matthew was written circa 90 CE, or a full six decades after the event. How many eyewitnesses to these events would be alive then? The same could be answered of his third defense. Many of the Jews who could conceivably have some knowledge of the events would have been killed during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. As for the second argument, that "Matthew" would not have died for a lie, this only works if we know the author of the gospel is the apostle of that name. As we have argued earlier, this is certainly not the case.

References

1.Dr. (Pastor) Bob Rogers, Sermon May 21st 2000
2.McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: p141-166
3.Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament: p257
4.Metzger, Coogan, Oxford Companion to the Bible:p513-514
5.McDowell, Evidence: p166
6.McDowell, Evidence: p151
7.Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p120-121
8.Bradlaugh, Humanity's Gain From Unbelief: p137
9.Spong, Resurrection: Myth or reality: chapter one
10.McDowell, Evidence: p168-169
11.Guignebert, Jesus: p463
Maccoby, Revolution in Judea: p204
Wilson, Jesus:The Evidence: p103-104
12.See footnote to the text Genesis 49:10 in NRSV
13.Anderson, A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament: p34
Asimov: Guide to the Bible: p117
Soggins, Introduction to the Old Testament: p75
14.Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p117
15.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p895
Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p122
16.Nineham, Saint Mark: p425
17.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p189
18.Wilson, Jesus:The Evidence: p110
19.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p190
20.Guignebert, Jesus: p487
21.Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p122

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