Geisler began with a sweeping sentence: "The Bible is the only book in the world that has precise, specific predictions that were made hundreds of years in advance and that were literally fulfilled."
Gesturing toward one of the books packed into his shelves, he continued by saying, "According to Barton Payne's Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, there are 191 predictions in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ, including his ancestry, the city in which he would be born, that he would be born of a virgin, precisely the time in history when he would die, and so on.
"In fact, Psalm 22:16 says his hands and feet would be pierced; verse 14 says his bones would be out ofjoint; verse 18 talks about the casting of lots for his garments; and Zechariah 12:10 says he would be pierced, as Jesus was with a lance. That's obviously a picture of his crucifixion-however, it was written before crucifixion was even implemented as a method of execution by the Romans. The Jews stoned people to death back then.
"And, of course, Isaiah 53:2-12 has perhaps the most amazing predictions about Christ in the entire Old Testament. It foretells twelve aspects of his passion that were all fulfilled-he would be rejected, be a man of sorrow, live a life of suffering, be despised by others, carry our sorrow, be smitten and afflicted by God, be pierced for our transgressions, be wounded for our sins, would suffer like a lamb, would die with the wicked, would be sinless, and would pray for others."
I spoke up. "Wait a second," I said. "If you talk to a rabbi, he'll tell you that passage refers symbolically to Israel, not to the Messiah."
Geisler shook his head. "In Old Testament times, the Jewish rabbis did consider this to be a prophecy concerning the Messiah. That's the opinion that's really relevant," he said.
"Only later, after Christians pointed out this was obviously referring to Jesus, did they begin saying it was really about the suffering Jewish nation. But clearly that's wrong. Isaiah customarily refers to the Jewish people in the first-person plural, like 'our' or 'we,' but he always refers to the Messiah in the third-person singular, like 'he' and 'him'-and that's what he did in Isaiah 53. Plus, anyone who reads it for themselves will readily see it's referring to Jesus. Maybe that's why it's usually skipped over in synagogues these days.
"So here you have incredible predictions that were literally fulfilled in the life of one man, even though he had no control over most of them. For instance, he couldn't have arranged his ancestry, the timing of his birth, and so on. These prophecies were written two hundred to four hundred years in advance. No other book in the world has this. The Bible is the only book that's supernaturally confirmed this way."
I pondered this. "But Old Testament prophets weren't the only ones in history who have made predictions that have amazingly come true. For instance, Nostradamus, the physician and astrologer who lived in the 1500s, is famous for having made forecasts about the future. Didn't he predict the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany?" I said, more as a statement than a question. "If he can do that, what's so special about the predictive prophecies of the Bible?"
"The problem with Nostradamus and so many other so-called psychics is that their predictions are often very enigmatic, ambiguous, and inaccurate," Geisler retorted.
"But what about the Hitler prediction?" I demanded. "That's pretty specific."
"Actually, it wasn't specific at all," he replied.
Geisler stood up and strolled over to his bookshelf, pulling down one of his books and rummaging through it until he located what he was after. Then he read the words of Nostradamus' prediction:
Followers of sects, great troubles are in store for the Messenger. A beast upon the theater prepares the scenical play. The inventor of that wicked feat will be famous. By sects the world will be confused and divided Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers. Most of the army will be against the Lower Danube [Hister sera]. The great one shall be dragged in an iron cage when the child brother [de Germain] will observe nothing.28
Continued Geisler, "Obviously, this is not a reference to Adolf Hitler. The word isn't 'Hitler' but Hitter,' and it's clearly not a person but a place. The Latin phrase de Germain should be interpreted as 'brother' or 'near relative,' not Germany. He doesn't cite any dates or even a general time frame. Besides, what does he mean by 'beasts' and 'iron cage?' It's so confusing that the entire prophecy is meaningless.
"The pattern is that Nostradamus' predictions are very ambiguous and could fit a great variety of events. His followers are inconsistent in how they interpret what he said. And some of his prophecies have been shown to be false. In fact, not a single prediction of Nostradamus has ever been proven genuine."
"I'll concede that many psychics, like Nostradamus, are vague in their predictions," I said. "But you have to admit that the same is true of some of the biblical prophecies."
"Granted, not all biblical prophecy is sharp," Geisler replied. "However, many prophecies are very specific. How much more detailed can you get than accurately predicting when Jesus would die, as Daniel 9:24-26 did? When you do the math, you find that this passage pinpoints when Jesus would enter human history. And what about predictions of his birth place or how he would suffer and die? The specificity is astounding-and they have invariably proven to be true."
I countered with a contemporary example of a psychic whose predictions often were quite detailed. "In 1956, Jean Dixon predicted a Democrat would win the 1960 presidential election and be assassinated in office. That was fulfilled in John F Kennedy-and that's a pretty specific prophecy."
Geisler wasn't impressed. "She also predicted the 1960 election would be dominated by labor, which it wasn't. She later hedged her bets by saying Richard Nixon would win, so there was a one hundred percent chance one of those predictions coming true. As far as the assassination, three of the ten presidents in the twentieth century had died in office and two others were critically ill at the end of their terms. The odds against her weren't too bad.
"Besides, unlike the biblical prophets, she made numerous predictions that turned out to be false-that Red China would plunge the world into war over Quemoy and Matsu in 1958; that World War Ill would begin in 1954; that Castro would be banished from Cuba in 1970. My favorite is that she predicted Jacqueline Kennedy would not remarry-and the very next day, she wed Aristotle Onassis!" he said with a chuckle.
"A study of the prophecies made by psychics in 1975, including Dixon's, showed they were only accurate six percent of the time. That's pitiful! You probably could just guess and get a better record than that. Besides, you'll find that Dixon, Nostradamus, and other psychics commonly deal with occult practices-she used a crystal ball, for example-and that could account for some of what they predicted."
As someone skeptical of psychics, I didn't want to get pushed further into a position of trying to defend them. And Geisler's point had been made: they are completely different from biblical prophets. I decided to advance to a more potent criticism of biblical prophecy, which is the allegation that Christians wrench them out of context and claim they predicted the coming of Jesus when actually they were dealing with another issue. One example popped into my mind.
"Do you mind?" I asked as I reached over and took Geisler's Bible. I turned to Matthew 2:15, which says: "So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son."'
That's a reference to Hosea 11:1. I turned to that verse and read it to Geisler: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." Closing the book and handing it back to Geisler, I said: "Now, obviously that passage is about the children of Israel coming out of Egypt in the Exodus. It's not about the Messiah. Isn't that Yanking a prophecy out of context?"
"That's a good question," Geisler remarked. "You have to understand, however, that not all prophecies are predictive."
"Meaning what?" I asked.
"It's true that the New Testament did apply certain Old Testament passages to Jesus that were not directly predictive of him. Many scholars see these references as being 'typologically' fulfilled in Christ, without being directly predictive."
"In other words, some truth in the passage can appropriately be applied to Christ even though it was not specifically predictive of him. Others scholars say there's a generic meaning in certain Old Testament passages that apply to both Israel and Christ, both of whom were called God's 'son.' This is sometimes called a 'double-reference view' of prophecy.
"I can see the merit of both views. But, again, these passages were not directly predictive, and I don't use them that way. There are certainly, however, a sufficient number of examples of prophecies that are clearly predictive to establish the divine authority of the Bible. Mathematics has shown that there's absolutely no way they could have been fulfilled by mere chance."
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