This post is the third article in a dialogue with Dave Gamble, who, I think, considers himself an Atheist, while I am a born-again Christian.
My first article was,” Fulfilled Prophesy and the Atheist”
Dave’s response was, “Does the Bible really contain Prophecy that came true?”
While Dave nor I are formally trained in Christian theology, we both have a passion for the truth. As Dave has said, this friendly conversation is intended to be an exploration of opposing views with no expectation of changing each other’s mind. However, both of us acknowledge that we hope to impact the minds of our readers. To have a meaningful discussion on the subject, I requested that we each accept two presuppositions, which Dave agreed to.
- The Old Testament predates Jesus (in the physical, earthly sense). – “Yes”
- The Bible translations we hold today are without error. Dave responded, “Yes, I would generally accept them to be accurate, and the various translations we have today are as close to the original as is possible.”
The discussion began when Dave asked me to provide ONE example, my best example, of Old Testament prophesy, fulfilled in the New Testament. I offered two concrete examples and one broad observation, with a post entitled “Fulfilled Prophesy and the Atheist”. Dave responded to that post with “Does the Bible really contain Prophecy that came true?”. To be clear, what underpins this conversation has more to do with the question of the existence of a Supreme God of the universe than it does about fulfilled prophesy from His love letter to us, the Bible. Further, and perhaps more to the point, if the Bible is the inerrant Word of the God of the universe, it makes claims about an after-death eternity in Heaven or Hell. Finally, and most importantly, the Bible gives us a clear and easy path to a relationship with Him, both on this earth, and eternity in Heaven. Both from an Atheist’s and Christian’s point of view, the truth or fallacy of the Bible represents a worthwhile study.
This post is my response to Dave’s critical assessment of the Old Testament prophetic examples I offered as evidence of the miraculous nature of the Bible. For clarity, I have highlighted Dave’s challenges in yellow.
The research links I have used in this response to Dave’s challenges typically, but not always represent the first returns from a conventional internet search. Obviously when one digs online you can find any opinion on any subject. Search the words “flat earth” to confirm the weight of evidence available for this “theory”. The point being that Dave or anyone else can find opposing views to those presented below. However, I have done my best to fairly represent expert sources who have taken time to look deeply into these topics. I rely on a term called “Domain Authority” for my research. It is a paid, very secular service that ranks websites for their overall authenticity and accuracy. To make my point, the domain authority of www.openbible.org is only 64%. This site is very heavily used and exclusively devoted to presenting Bible verses on selected search terms. No commentaries, no opinions, just Scripture verses. The mean average of my links in the research is 70%. It would be even higher if I took the time to obtain original source documents rather than quotes with references.
The Micah Prophecy
Briefly summarized, Micah 5:2 stated that a “ruler in Israel” who “is from of old, from ancient days”, would come from a small town called Bethlehem. I contend this verse was referring to Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem 800 years later.
Dave acknowledges, “The evidence of fulfillment is that both Matthew and also Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Beyond those gospel references, there is no other source to verify this, that is all we have.”
I actually offered further evidence it in my earlier response by referring to Herod who killed all the male children in Bethlehem, seeing Jesus as competition. If Dave is saying only the Bible documents Jesus as being born in Bethlehem, the Jewish translation of Micah, in the Torah, also confirms Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Even Wikipedia, the source for all things Biblical, weighs in favorably on the matter. But really, none of that is the point….
What is the Point?
Since Dave could not refute my first prophecy example, agreeing that Micah 5:2 was fulfilled in two books of the New Testament, he quickly redirects by attempting to dismantle the OTHER differences between these two accounts (Matthew and Luke). We can go back and forth on the many differences in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Theologians have poured over and defended the basis and reasons for those differences down through the ages. However, as Dave clearly knows, that was not the framework of his request. His challenge was to offer a prophecy in the Old Testament that was fulfilled in the New Testament. I provided this and he acknowledged it. One has to wonder how Micah knew? Miraculously, the prophecy was fulfilled.
Psalm 22:16-18 Prophesy
Briefly summarized, this psalm offers a prophetic picture of the death of Jesus. Specifically, it documents that:
- He would be surrounded by his detractors.
- His hands and feet would be pierced.
- He would be able to count all his bones (Christians believe this is a reference that his bones were not broken which was atypical.)
- His clothes would be divided among those who crucified Him by casting lots.
Dave makes the following claims (yellow); below them are my responses:
- ” Psalms is not a book of prophecy, but instead is poetry.“
Correct. Psalm 22, known by some as the “Crucifixion Psalm”, is not part of the Old Testament prophetic books.
“The book of Psalms is a collection of inspired songs used in the worship of God, and many of them foretell the coming of the Messiah and predict events that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. In total, twenty-five different psalms (one out of every six) include at least one messianic prophecy. Messianic psalms are quoted in eleven New Testament books, especially the gospels and the book of Acts.” Reference – GotQuestions.org
I would argue, as with the author of the quote above, that just because Scripture is written poetically, it does not mean it should be disregarded as lacking in prophesy. Much of the Old Testament began as oral tradition. Songs were a way to more accurately memorize and repeat those historical facts before they were codified as Scripture.
2. “No Jewish tradition claims that the Messiah should die.”
Correct. Not only does Jewish tradition ignore the death of Jesus, Jews do not accept Jesus as their predicted Messiah, even today. How can the Jews predict the death of someone they do not believe has yet appeared in 2021? Jews, if they believe at all, are still waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. Reference – Quora, Ask the Rabbis, etc. Interesting that the Bible, written by Jews, is the most popular book ever written, and revered by Christians, not Jews. Also, interesting that the Jewish writers of the Old Testament wrote about a future event that they did not believe in (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Scripture talks about this blindness (Acts 13:45-46), lending credence to the true author of the Bible. I believe a Supreme God is in there somewhere, do you?
3. “Nor does it in any way suggest that the individual within this psalm is the Messiah.”
Dave makes this blanket statement with no referential support other than his own opinion. I would offer that many theologians, who have spent their lives and reputations on this question, would disagree.
EvidenceForChristianity.org – “The weight of the evidence leans overwhelmingly in that [Jesus is referred to in Psalm 22] direction.”
IsJesusAlive.com – “6 Clear Reasons Why Psalm 22 Can’t Possibly Describe Anyone Else But Jesus of Nazareth”
Ligonier.org – “The Suffering and the Glory of Psalm 22”
Bible.org – “Psalm 22: The Sufferings And Glory of Christ”
GotQuestions.org – “Which psalms predict the coming of Jesus Christ?”
These links are just a few in the overwhelming number of theologians who consider Pslam 22:16-18 all about Jesus.
4. “Translation of the Hebrew within the Psalm is also COMMONLY [emphasis mine] challenged.”
Dave makes the observation that, based on Wikipedia, the translation of “They have pierced my hands and feet” has not been correctly translated, and should actually read “like lions (they maul) my hands and my feet.” To clarify, what Wikipedia actually states is that,
“Jewish and some Christian commentators translate this line differently…although there is no evidence of deliberate mistranslation.”
Wikipedia uses only a reference from the rabbinical (Jewish) Masoretic Text to make the “lions-maul” claim, acknowledging other biblical translations use the word “pierced”. I would contend that to be a Jew, still waiting for the Messiah, it would be humorously challenging to accept this Old Testament prophecy of the death of the Messsiah as being fulfilled by Jesus. Finally, its worthy of note that,
Wikipedia makes the statement, in bold letters, “This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources.”
Dave takes that animal imagery (lion and maul), and claims it discounts the prophetic nailing of Jesus to the cross (i.e., pierced). I honestly did not dig deeper into the actual document; however, it is interesting to note that,
Wikipedia states “the Masoretic Text is used as the basis for most Protestant translations of the Old Testament such as the KJV, ESV, NASB, and NIV.”
That is enlightening given my point on those same translations, below.
The Scripture in question follow with hot links to 54 English translations for each verse. These translations, especially the major ones (KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, AMP, ASV, CSB, HCSB, NLT) all translate Psalm 22:16-18 the same (check it out). These translations have been painstakingly researched and published by peer-reviewed theologians (some of which were historians, not Christians). They have been in print for many years. Finally, they were translated directly from source Hebrew manuscripts, many of which we still hold copies of today.
- Psalms 22:16 – “pierced my hands and feet” – 35 translations used these words– all major translations use these exact words – nearly all the remainder used words like “oh, my poor hands and feet”, “pin my hands and feet”, “cut through my hands and feet”, “my hands and feet have shriveled”.
- Psalms 22:17 – “count all my bones” – Though not part of Dave’s comments, one can note that all these major translations are almost, word for word, the same.
- Psalms 22:18 – “divided my garments” & “casting lots for my clothing” – Same, same.
I could leave it there but, in fairness to Dave’s “lion” reference, which is considered in some translations… John MacArthur, in his Biblical study notes states,
“The Hebrew text reads ‘like a lion’, i.e. these vicious attacking enemies, like animals, have torn me. Likely, a messianic prediction with reference to the crucifixion.” MacArthur and others cross reference this verse to Isaiah 53:5 (“but he was pierced for our transgressions…”) and Zechariah 12:10 (“the one they have pierced…”).
So, in fairness, MacArthur does refer to “lion” and there is clearly “animal imagery” within the context of these verses (ex. “dogs”). However, I would stand with MacArthur, and those 35 noted translations above, that the reference is about Jesus and the crucifixion.
5. “The only narratives we have of the crucifixion are the Gospels.”
To begin, the four gospels are the books intended to document the life of Jesus. In those four books, it should be noted that 14 verses speak directly to the crucifixion. Further, the agreement between Dave and I was to document one Old Testament verse fulfilled by the New Testament. I would argue Psalm 22:16 was fulfilled by Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:33 and Mark 15:24 which was more than sufficient for that challenge. Add to that the probability of fulfilling Psalms 22:18 (above) in those exact same verses in Matthew and Mark (again, check it out). However, beyond those references, the Bible also provides:
- 1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
- Galatians 2:20a I have been crucified with Christ.
Neither Dave nor I are theologians. However, I offer the following additional documentation for consideration from theologians and secular historians whose life’s work and reputations are embedded in this topic.
Gary Habermas – “one of the great scholars on the question of the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus”, authored a book on the extra-biblical sources which supports the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. He reviewed (ch.9) the writings of 17 documents of antiquity including Tacitus, Flavius, Suetonius, Thallus, and for official documentation, he worked on writings by Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian, and Emperor Lucian, to name a few. (Habermas, 2011, pp. 181-228).
Bart Ehrman, a skeptic specializing in ancient history, wrote that “there [are] more historical records of the existence and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth than of any other figure of his time. He [Bart] asserts that all the eminent scholars of antiquity are unanimous on this fact (Ehrman, 2012: 12). And he goes on to say that he can in no way pretend to ignore historical evidence in favor of ideological interests. (Ehrman, 2012: 338).”
James Dunn states, “the crucifixion is one of two facts in the life of Jesus [which] command almost universal assent… so high on the ‘almost impossible to doubt or deny’ scale of historical facts.”
Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson states, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”
Historian Gerd Ludemann states that “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable”.
John Dominic Crossan, Jewish scholar Paula Frederickson, The Jewish Seminar (skeptical group), Marcus Borg, early church fathers (within less than a generation from Christ) such as Ignatius, Saint Clement, Justin Martyr, etc., all state categorically that Jesus was crucified.
I could quote more sources, original witnesses as well as scholars on the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I think it is safe to say that it happened.
Lots of Other Prophecies
I began my first post to Dave by trying to make the point that there are over 40 prophecies in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New. I provided links to authors who detailed them. Dave, understandably, wished to limit debate on my examples above (Micah 5 and Psalm 22). He did not want to deal with the overwhelming evidence that compounding probabilities, based on multiple prophecies, could add to the miraculous nature of the Bible. We both could spend our lives, as many theologians have, refuting and defending all of it. Dave can be quoted as saying, “I’ll not be playing whack-a-mole with a constant trickle of such comments [other fulfilled prophesies] if there are any… I’m not looking for an argument, remember that I’m just explaining why I don’t believe.” To Dave’s point, I strongly agree. I too am not looking to debate the veracity of my response. As I have said in my first article, fulfilled prophesy is not even the basis for why I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.
However, just stating that neither of us wants to deal with the back and forth on these, or the other fulfilled prophesies, or the myriad of other Biblically-based phenomena, does not negate their existence or value in an honest, objective analysis of what I consider to be the miraculous nature of the Bible. It remains a document more debated, more challenged, more controversial than any other text in history. The reason for that is its impact. Once you say that the Bible is true and written by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being, it places your views on everything against a perfect judge. That is both scary and perceived as limiting. Add to that the words in Scripture that challenge us to not only “live a Christian life”, but to be prepared for the eternal consequences of a God who holds the power to forgive sin. This is shattering.
The solution is to experience God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. He desires to have a personal relationship with you, in this life, and in the one to follow. Billy Graham, among countless others, understands that each of us must profess a true heartfelt acknowledgment that:
- We are all sinners, and we need to ask God to forgive us of our sins and
- We acknowledge Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sins and that He rose from the dead, and
- God is Lord of our life.
This is all God is asking. Accepting His son, Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior will truly change your life, forever. It did mine, some 32 years ago. My testimony, how and why I finally accepted the three points above, had nothing to do with the validation of prophecy. However, it did initially have to do with logic and science. More on that in a future article.
After publishing this response, Dave responded indicating he was not inclined to continue a dialogue, accepting that each of us have different views, and wishing to leave it at that. I agree. As I said above, theologians and historians have debated these issues for hundreds of years. In the end, it boils down to faith and the acceptance of a Supreme God or not. Facts influence head knowledge, however, God’s domain is the heart (Hebrews 4:12).