Unique among all books ever written, the Bible accurately foretells specific events-in detail-many years, sometimes centuries, before they occur. Approximately 2500 prophecies appear in the pages of the Bible, about 2000 of which already have been fulfilled to the letter—no errors. ~ Dr. Hugh Ross
With these words Dr. Hugh Ross simultaneously opened and eviscerated his article Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible. Are there really about 2000 prophecies that have been fulfilled “to the letter” with no errors? Is that claim reliable? Is it true in any sense of the word? Would it pass peer review? There is only one answer to these questions: a definitive NO spoken with profound exasperation and pity. His claim is so far off the charts of absurdity that it can only be described as the ravings of an utterly delusional mind. And worse, the evidence he presents is riddled with the most elementary errors in logic and fact. He repeatedly begs the question by assuming the reliability of the Bible on the very points required to prove it. He committed this fallacy numerous times in his short article which lists thirteen examples chosen because they “exemplify the high degree of specificity, the range of projection, and/or the ‘supernature’ of the predicted events.” I begin with his second example:
(2) In approximately 700 B.C. the prophet Micah named the tiny village of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Israel’s Messiah (Micah 5:2). The fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Christ is one of the most widely known and widely celebrated facts in history.
The assertion that it is a “fact” that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is absurd. There is no evidence outside the Bible if, let alone where, Jesus was born. Ross simply assumed it is a fact because the Bible says so. It’s no different than if he claimed the virgin birth was “one of the most widely known and widely celebrated facts in history.” And worse, the Biblical record is highly dubious on this point because the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke strongly contradict each other. Luke has the family living in their home town of Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem because of a census (which almost certainly never happened and which contradicts Matthew’s timeline), and returning to Nazareth shortly after the birth. Matthew, on the other hand, speaks as if they were residents of Bethlehem when Jesus was born and has them moving to Nazareth only after they returned from their flight to Egypt long after the birth. Luke makes no mention of the slaughter of the innocents or the flight to Egypt and Matthew seems entirely ignorant of the fact that they lived in Nazareth before the birth. The most rational resolution of this confusion seems to be that Jesus was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” in the earliest layer of the oral tradition since he is known by that title in all four Gospels (a rare point of unanimous agreement). It looks like Matthew and Luke simply invented stories (which clearly stretch credulity) to account for the contradictory traditions that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but known as “Jesus of Nazareth.” And in his characteristic style, Matthew justified the move to Nazareth by claiming that it fulfilled a prophecy:
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)
Now consider the irony here. The Gospel writers, especially Matthew, had a habit of accenting their stories with claims of “fulfilled prophecies” that are, when examined, found not to be messianic prophecies at all. They are simply ripped out of context and arbitrarily applied to Jesus. Here are four examples just from the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel:
- Virgin Birth: So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matt 1:22)
- Flight to Egypt: When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matt 2:14)
- Slaughter of the Innocents: Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matt 2:17)
- Move to Nazareth: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt 2:23)
Not one of these supposed “prophecies” was actually written as a prophecy in the Old Testament, let alone a prophecy about the coming of a messiah. The fourth one is not even found in the Old Testament. And there is yet another problem. Matthew misquotes the prophecy from Micah! So much for “to the letter” accuracy. Ross’ claims are not merely wrong, they are egregiously wrong. They are absurd. We see the same kinds of problems with his third example:
(3) In the fifth century B.C. a prophet named Zechariah declared that the Messiah would be betrayed for the price of a slave—thirty pieces of silver, according to Jewish law-and also that this money would be used to buy a burial ground for Jerusalem’s poor foreigners (Zechariah 11:12-13). Bible writers and secular historians both record thirty pieces of silver as the sum paid to Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus, and they indicate that the money went to purchase a “potter’s field,” used—just as predicted—for the burial of poor aliens (Matthew 27:3-10).
Again, Ross simply assumes that these unsubstantiated Bible stories are fully reliable historical facts. Did it never cross his mind that someone might have made things up after the fact? At least Ross got one thing right – the prophecies are from Zechariah. Unfortunately, Matthew disagrees and erroneously claims the prophecies are from Jeremiah:
Matthew 27:3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, “and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.”
This is supposed to inspire confidence in the reliability of the Bible? The book can not even quote itself correctly and we are supposed to believe it can predict the future? And again, what actually happened is highly dubious. As with the contradictory birth narratives, the Bible does not agree with itself about what happened to Judas or even who bought the Potter’s Field! Matthew says the priests bought the field after Judas “threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself” whereas elsewhere we read that he bought the field himself and then “falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out” (Acts 1:18). This is supposed to be “to the letter” accuracy? If anyone has fallen “headlong” and had their “entrails gush out” it sounds more like Christian apologists who try to prove that the reliability of the Bible. Their endeavor is the destroyer of minds.
Moving on to Dr. Ross’ final example, we see him indulging yet again in a blatant public display of petitio principii:
(13) One prophet of God (unnamed, but probably Shemiah) said that a future king of Judah, named Josiah, would take the bones of all the occultic priests (priests of the “high places”) of Israel’s King Jeroboam and burn them on Jeroboam’s altar (1 Kings 13:2 and 2 Kings 23:15-18). This event occurred approximately 300 years after it was foretold.
In this case, there really was a prophecy given in 1 Kings 13:1-2:
And behold, a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. Then he cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar! Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you.’ “
And the record of the fulfillment is stated quite directly in 2 Kings 23:15-16:
Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words.
One little problem. The books of first and second Kings were originally one book that was probably written by a single individual who told many other amazing stories about such things as prophets causing an iron ax head to float on water, calling fire down from heaven, flying up into heaven in a fiery chariot, and sundry other somewhat dubious historical narratives. I cannot imagine how anyone could suggest anyone put confidence in a single man’s story of a prediction and its fulfillment. My head hurts.
With each of his examples, Dr. Ross presents a guess about the probability of a chance fulfillment. He gives a chance of 1 in 105 for the prophecy of the birth in Bethlehem, 1 in 1011 for the crucifixion, and oddly, 1 in 1013 for the prophecy about Josiah (which was one of the weakest). He then calculates the probability that all thirteen could be fulfilled and concludes that the Bible is more reliable than the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
Since these thirteen prophecies cover mostly separate and independent events, the probability of chance occurrence for all thirteen is about 1 in 10138 (138 equals the sum of all the exponents of 10 in the probability estimates above). For the sake of putting the figure into perspective, this probability can be compared to the statistical chance that the second law of thermodynamics will be reversed in a given situation (for example, that a gasoline engine will refrigerate itself during its combustion cycle or that heat will flow from a cold body to a hot body)—that chance = 1 in 1080. Stating it simply, based on these thirteen prophecies alone, the Bible record may be said to be vastly more reliable than the second law of thermodynamics.
Dr. Ross did not give the details of his calculations, but I think we can be pretty sure that he didn’t account for the possibility that the “fulfillments” could have been written after the fact by over-enthusiastic and/or deluded believers since that would have made the probability about the same as flipping a coin and getting either heads or tails. Likewise, we can also be pretty sure he didn’t account for the possibility that they could have evolved through a natural process of rumor mixed with religious fervor, a willingness to believe, and a deep desire to for proof. I mean, what historian would be so foolish as to think that miraculous events written in ancient religious texts could contain anything but reliable history? It’s not like any believers have ever make up stuff (like utterly meaningless statistics with outrageously ludicrous conclusions) to prove their beliefs are true!
It is beyond my ability to articulate the absurdity of Ross’ conclusion. The Second Law is one of the most strongly established of all scientific laws. It is proved directly and by implication every moment of every day. To suggest that the Bible has any kind of reliability like this is so far off the charts it can only be hinted at with numbers like … say … 10138. We would need a new scale of lunacy to measure the mind of Dr. Hugh Ross.
Hugh Ross is a “doctor” because he earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy before committing himself full-time to his ministry Reasons to Believe, his vehicle for presenting his abysmal psuedoscientific arguments, such as the idea that the Bible reveals knowledge of modern cosmology it speaks of the heavens being “stretched out like a tent.” I don’t know what he teaches about the “pillars” that are supposed to be upholding the earth or the solid dome that holds up the waters above. And what do other cosmologists think of him? A good example is the leading cosmologist Sean Carroll who wrote about him in his post Reasons to Believe (that creationists are crazy) after hearing him speak at the Origins Conference sponsored by the Skeptics Society. After describing things about the conference that he liked, he gave his opinion of Ross:
But all of that just fades into the background when put into the same room as the sheer unadulterated looniness of the remaining speaker, Hugh Ross. Despite warnings, I didn’t really know anything about the guy before the conference began. The taxonomy of crackpots is not especially interesting to me; there are too many of them, and I’d rather engage with the best arguments for positions I disagree with than spend time mocking the worst arguments (although I’m not above a bit of mockery now and then).
So I was unprepared. For those of you fortunate enough to be blissfully unaware of Ross’s special brand of lunacy, feel free to stop reading now if you so choose. For the rest of you: man, this guy is nuts. And he’s not even the most nuts it’s possible to be — he’s an “old-earth” creationist, willing to accept that the universe is 14 billion years old and that the conventional scientific interpretation of the fossil record is generally right. Still: totally nuts.
Carroll went on to speculate why intelligent skeptics would invite such a ridiculous lunatic, offering this possibility:
Perhaps the conference organizers wanted to ridicule belief in God by having it defended by Hugh Ross, or perhaps they wanted to energize the skeptical base by exposing them to some of the horrors that are really out there.
The word “horrors” is not an overstatement. Dr. Ross has been actively contributing to the decay of society for decades by supporting religious delusions with utterly fallacious “reasons to believe.” It should come as no surprise that the subject of my article The Art of Rationalization: A Case Study of Christian Apologist Rich Deem began his career as an apologist under Hugh Ross. Read that article and you will see a detailed analysis of how commitment to delusions literally disintegrates the mind.
It is for these reasons, and many more, that I have concluded that Evangelical Christianity breeds a contempt for the truth. It corrupts the minds and morals of believers. This looks something like the apotheosis of irony when compared with their claim to worship the truth in the person of Jesus.