Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The flawed methodology behind Christadelphian Bible Prophecy

Bible Prophecy was always at the forefront of the Christadelphian message while I was growing up. It was often cited in public lectures, and youth group talks, as one of the reasons we could be confident that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and therefore that we could trust everything it said to be accurate.

But is it as reliable as they say? Let's find out.



Rather than get into a detailed discussion of the various prophecy claims that Christadelphians make, I want to instead take a different approach. I want to look at how they got there in the first place.

What are some of the methods Christadelphians use in relation to Bible Prophecy, and are these methods reliable?

Pin the tail on the donkey

One of the favourite methods of Bible Prophecy advocates right across the world, and not just Christadelphians, is that of substituting modern nations for ancient ones, based mainly on the approximate geographical regions they occupy (and the obvious fact that the ancient nations are no longer in existence).

If you were raised in a Christadelphian environment, this may seem like an obvious and natural thing to do. But the more I think about it the less sense it makes. In fact, this practice starts to quite obviously lean towards the desires of the reader rather than those of the author. In many (perhaps all?) cases, it is not clear that the author even intended to write about any nations other than the ones they specifically named. Perhaps readers may like to inform me of passages where the author specifically named a nation while clearly intending for the reader to replace them with other nations who would later occupy the same or similar territory.

I have looked for a passage in the Bible that might endorse this practice, but have found none. I have also asked Christadelphians why this method is used, but have not (yet) received an answer. Perhaps someone will be kind enough to leave a comment here with a well-reasoned answer to this question. Please include evidence to justify your reasoning. That would be most appreciated.

Why is this considered a reliable method for interpreting Bible Prophecy?
What is the justification and reasoning behind it?

A couple of problems

You don't need to think about this very long to realise that there are some quite serious problems with this approach to interpreting Bible Prophecy, besides the obvious ad-hoc nature of it.

1. If a nation that is referred to no longer exists, why shouldn't we interpret that to mean that the prophecy failed?

If we allow ourselves the freedom to reinterpret the prophecy every time an existing interpretation is falsified, the prophecy would therefore be limited only by the number of possible interpretations that someone could come up with. Given that there are a potentially large number of ways to interpret many of the prophecies in the Bible (and history bears witness to this fact), we run the risk of making the prophecy effectively unfalsifiable. That significantly undermines the reliability of this method. An unfalsifiable claim cannot be proven true.

2. Some of the nations referred to in the Bible have been replaced by other nations with different borders, such that it becomes difficult to determine whether the territory is now occupied by just one, several, or even half a nation. On what basis should we select the nation or nations that now occupy the designated region? There are many possibilities, but all of them seem rather ad-hoc and even perhaps ridiculous. Again, what justification is there for any such method?

Did I say one? I really meant two

The dual-fulfilment idea is another popular argument among prophecy apologists. The simple fact is that there is no prophecy in the Bible that explicitly claims to have multiple fulfilments. The idea exists only in the mind of the believer, and was invented for the simple reason that without it the believer would need to acknowledge that either the primary or the secondary fulfilment was a false positive. And if one of them was a false positive, why not both?

Also, if a single prophecy could match two completely separate and distinct events, that actually serves as pretty good evidence that the prophecy is too vague to be meaningful. If it matched two events (that we know of), what other events might it have matched if history had played out differently?

Circularity

Many Christadelphians seem eager to use world events as their benchmark for their interpretation of Bible Prophecy. They say, "This must be the correct interpretation because look how well it fits world events". The problem with this is that you cannot then turn around and claim that the prophecy miraculously predicts world events. The circularity of such an argument should be obvious, and yet many people seem to find it convincing. This just highlights the need for greater skepticism and critical thinking among believers.

You need to be able to justify your interpretation of a prophecy completely from either within the text itself or from the author's own worldview. In most cases we don't have much information about the latter, and we've already discussed the problematic nature of textual interpretation.

For example, Wikipedia lists at least 10 different ways to interpret the book of Revelation. Any book with that amount of scope for different interpretations seems pretty useless as a predictive source. There are probably more interpretations that it doesn't list as well.

Then there's the "day for a year" idea and other tricks believers have up their sleeve to avoid falsification.

Getting it right seems like more of an art than a science. Without a divine tap on the shoulder when we arrive at the one "correct" interpretation, how shall we proceed beyond ignorance and agnosticism?

Where does it get us?

Another issue with Bible Prophecy is that it cannot go the distance that apologists intend it to. It won't take us all the way to declaring that the Bible is divinely inspired. Let me explain why.

As you are probably aware, the Bible is not a single book. It is composed of several books written by different authors over some period of time. If one of those authors amazingly predicted some future event, what could we conclude? At best, it seems to me, we could perhaps say that the author had access to information from some external source that could see into the future (who the author identifies as God). At worst, we could conclude that the author made an extremely lucky guess. It tells us nothing about any other author. You're still left with the task of proving that every other book was divinely inspired. Prophecy gets us nowhere.

Also, what if an author made several predictions, some successful and some not? What should we do with that information? I am of course speaking of Ezekiel, who, it is claimed, predicted the return of the nation of Israel. Yet the same prophet also predicted that Egypt would be completely uninhabited for 40 years, beginning during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. That prophecy failed. How should we resolve this?

Cloud spotting

The last issue with Bible Prophecy that I want to draw attention to is the almost limitless ability of people to see patterns in things. It is well documented that people see faces in almost everything, and also that they see patterns everywhere - even in random data.

In general, humans are quite good at finding patterns, almost too good. In fact, we are very prone to finding false positives. That is, we see patterns where none exist. Conspiracy theories are a good example. There are many others, including the belief in invisible intentional agents acting in the world.

Given the afore-mentioned freedom and creativity in interpretation that is often applied to Bible Prophecy, and the fact that world events are often similarly afforded the same degree of freedom of representation, it does not seem all that surprising to me that people would find patterns and similarities between the two. What is not clear to me at all is whether the similarities actually exist outside the imaginations of those who wish to believe in them. In fact I'm not even sure how to find out. To what extent is any event similar to any other event? Is not such a comparison highly subjective? Again, are the events themselves similar, or is it only the language describing the events that is similar?

The problem with cloud spotting is that there's no way to rule anything out. Suppose someone predicted that sometime in the future you'd see a cloud in the shape of a boat. Then a few years later you see one that kind of looks like a fishing boat. Was the prediction confirmed true at that point? Or was that not actually the intended "boat" that was predicted? Maybe it was really two clouds, and only looked like one cloud from your particular vantage point? Perhaps the "real" boat is still coming...how would you know?

Perhaps 50 years later you see another cloud that looks even more like a boat than the original one you saw. Was the old one a misinterpretation? A false positive? Is this new one a second fulfilment? What if they're both false positives? What if the "real" boat is again still in the future? Again, how would you know?

And so it is with Bible Prophecy.

If you need faith in order to believe that the prophecy was fulfilled, that kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it?

The Verdict

When there's no time limit, no criteria for success or failure, no way to verify that you interpreted correctly, no way to justify your methodology, and no way to rule out coincidence, I fail to see how Bible Prophecy could be considered convincing by anyone but those who already believe.

And perhaps therein lies its true purpose.

23 comments:

  1. Steve, generally I agree with you. A well laid out and logical article.
    However, you asked for examples, so here's what I could think of.
    Nothing conclusive, and I don't necessarily agree with all of it anyway.

    One that could come close on double fulfilment is Matt 24/Mark 13/Luke 21 (the "Olivet Prophecy"). There Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple. The disciples asked when it would happen, and when Jesus would return and the age would close. Perhaps they assumed these three things would happen at the same time? As we know, the temple was destroyed in AD 70, while Jesus did not return then. It seems possible that it was intended that some parts of his discourse were intended to refer to one event, some to the other, and perhaps some to both. That is how it is typically interpreted, though Jesus didn't say he was talking about two different times and there is a lot of debate about which parts apply when.
    Any cases where the NT reinterprets an existing OT prophecy to apply to a different time would have to either support the idea of some dual applications, or the idea that the NT writers didn't know what they were talking about (your call).

    As to geographical equivalence. You are right that both it and double fulfilment can be used as a "get out of jail free" card to work around unclear or incomplete fulfilments. However, I think it could be reasonable if you are willing to assume that God had some need to tell people then about the future - talking about Russia or Iran or Palestine might make sense to us, but not very helpful to them. (does beg the question "Why would such a God want to tell it to those people rather than the people who would actually understand it?" I don't have an answer to this question).
    An example might be Daniel 11, where it goes through events typically related to the Ptolemy-Seleucid wars, then explicitly changes time to the "time of the end". Rightly or wrongly, this is why people right now are excited by Russia's involvement in Syria, as Seleucid territory.

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    1. //As we know, the temple was destroyed in AD 70, while Jesus did not return then.//

      Careful. The words themselves were written after 70CE, so there was no prediction here, in the strict sense.

      In any case, it is irrelevant if people interpreted this as having dual fulfilments. That would only mean that those people are doing the same as believers are doing today, and probably for the same reasons (to avoid falsification). It doesn't justify the practice.

      For dual-fulfilment, I'm after examples where the prophecy actually specifically claimed to have multiple fulfilments. Even then, it would need to explicitly say there were only two, otherwise you couldn't be sure that a particular event wasn't just one in a long line of fulfilments to come.

      //Any cases where the NT reinterprets an existing OT prophecy to apply to a different time would have to either support the idea of some dual applications//

      See above. The NT writers were (in many respects) in no better position than we are in, when it comes to interpreting the OT texts.

      There's another aspect with some NT writers as well. Matthew interpreted many passages as prophetic when they were clearly not prophetic (Isaiah 9:6 and 7:14 for example). I'm led by some scholars to believe that what Matthew was actually doing was a form of the rabbinical practice of Midrash (or perhaps I'm mistaken about the specifics), where OT passages were deliberately reinterpreted for a theological purpose.

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    2. //However, I think it could be reasonable if you are willing to assume that God had some need to tell people then about the future - talking about Russia or Iran or Palestine might make sense to us, but not very helpful to them. (does beg the question "Why would such a God want to tell it to those people rather than the people who would actually understand it?" I don't have an answer to this question).//

      The question you identified is exactly the sort of question I had in mind. :P

      Using the names of nations that were familiar to them, to describe events that would not actually involve those nations, wouldn't have been very helpful to them either. It helps no one.

      There was no need to tell anyone at that time about events that would happen ~2500 years later. In fact the prophecy doesn't even indicate that that is what it is doing.

      But we're already going too far. If we assume that the words were divinely inspired before we've actually demonstrated that a prophecy was fulfilled, we've just used circular reasoning.

      //An example might be Daniel 11, where it goes through events typically related to the Ptolemy-Seleucid wars, then explicitly changes time to the "time of the end". Rightly or wrongly, this is why people right now are excited by Russia's involvement in Syria, as Seleucid territory.//

      The "explicit change" to the "time of the end" probably only appears abrubt/explicit because people sub-consciously imagine that the "time of the end" is still future. It then appears that there is a huge time gap in there. But that's just reading things into the text that aren't there. How do you know that "the time of the end" wasn't a reference to the end of the war that is being narrated?

      It actually still makes sense if you read it as NOT having a time gap. In that case, it's just a failed prophecy. If we discount all interpretations that lead to the prophecy having failed, that's just committing the logical fallacy of question begging, and it also makes the prophecy unfalsifiable.

      Christadelphians' use of Daniel 11 is interesting because they use all of the flawed methods I listed in the article to interpret this one chapter!

      * Substituting new nations for old ones
      * Claiming a dual application
      * Attempting to retrofit modern events into the language of the prophecy, and then claiming it was a miraculous fulfilment.
      * Failing to realise that even if Daniel did correctly predict an event, it doesn't validate any other book in the Bible.
      * Seeing similarities and patterns where none exist

      There is so much reinterpretation going on in the mind of the reader, yet none of it has any justification whatsoever. From where I'm sitting, it looks like they've invented ways to interpret the prophecy SO AS TO make it fit modern events.

      As I mentioned in the article, the only people who find this stuff convincing are those who need it to be true.

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  2. All good points. I had forgotten that 70AD was before the gospels were written. I think similar is claimed of Daniel 11?
    There may be better examples of dual fulfilment out there, but those were the best I could think of.

    Matthew in particular uses the OT in a way we would think suspicious in our speakers. I agree with you on Isa 7:14. It's either dual fulfilment as claimed by Matthew or it's got some other meaning that we're not looking for. I've never considered Isa 9 current to Isaiah's time (after all, verse 1 has "the latter time"), though I can see how it could make sense.

    //If we assume that the words were divinely inspired before we've actually demonstrated that a prophecy was fulfilled, we've just used circular reasoning.//

    This is key. I was reading a list of reasons to believe the Bible yesterday, and the first on the list was "The Bible says it is inspired by God". As you can imagine I was convinced by how profound this insight was.

    Some of our courses say "Isn't it amazing how the Bible was written by 40 people over 1,500 years, and is all the message of God". As you know, this gives more to defend: how were these books combined into one, and how can you establish that each one is the word of God, and that other books are not the word of God (your Daniel 11 point).

    //Christadelphians' use of Daniel 11 is interesting because they use all of the flawed methods I listed in the article to interpret this one chapter!//

    Yes, and I obviously still read it with a Christadelphian interpretation. I didn't think of reading it the way you did. However, I don't think it's actually being claimed as "dual-fulfilment", merely as "time gap in the middle of the prophecy". At least as I was suggesting it, up to v39 applied to the past, 40 - 45 applied to the future, and none of it applied to both. It also continues in chapter 12, where it talks about resurrection and judgement, so I don't think it's completely unreasonable pushing that to end times. Most of the attempts to make Daniel 11:40 apply to today feel contrived, but if it were true we might not know which was the true fulfilment until the resurrection and judgement, which is a bit late to act on the warning of Daniel 12:3.

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  3. //I had forgotten that 70AD was before the gospels were written. I think similar is claimed of Daniel 11?//

    Not just "claimed". It is the view of many scholars.

    "Traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, modern scholarly consensus considers the book pseudonymous, the stories of the first half legendary in origin, and the visions of the second the product of anonymous authors in the Maccabean period (2nd century BCE). Its message is that just as the God of Israel saved Daniel and his friends from their enemies, so he would save all of Israel in their present oppression."
    Wikipedia (See footnotes within)

    If you're interested in Daniel, you may find this an interesting read:
    The Failure of Daniel's Prophecies

    //It's either dual fulfilment//

    I will accept "dual fulfilment" as valid if and only if the author of the prophecy explicitly stated that this was the intention. To my knowledge this is never the case.

    //At least as I was suggesting it, up to v39 applied to the past, 40 - 45 applied to the future, and none of it applied to both. It also continues in chapter 12, where it talks about resurrection and judgement, so I don't think it's completely unreasonable pushing that to end times.//

    Ok, so no "dual fulfilment", but the rest of the methods still apply?

    I think it is completely unreasonable to assume that the "end times" refer to YOUR end times, rather than the "end times" as the author imagined it. And it's anyone's guess what that was, but I would say he probably thought they were in his near future or not far beyond it (at least the way the text naturally reads to me).

    Incidentally, you probably imagine that the "end times" are in your near future. I've not heard of anyone imagining that the end times are thousands of years in the future. That idea doesn't seem to sell very well. In fact it seems that people have always thought the "end times" were coming soon. So it's not a leap to think that when the author mentions "end times" they are doing the same as you are.

    //but if it were true we might not know which was the true fulfilment until the resurrection and judgement, which is a bit late to act on the warning of Daniel 12:3.//

    And here is the fear factor creeping in. This is just a form of Pascal's Wager, is it not?

    You said "we might not know which was the true fulfilment", but that begs the question that there is/was a true fulfilment. What if there isn't one? What would rule it out?

    I don't understand how you could use the fact that the prophecy hasn't been fulfilled as a reason to interpret it as "still future", while not realising that this is just more question begging, and it makes the prophecy unfalsifiable, and therefore useless.

    Let's recap here, because I really don't want an endless discussion on this. I am not interested in discussing the fine details of someone's particular interpretation of any one prophecy. The burden of proof is not on me to falsify that. The burden is on that person to justify their interpretation and their claims. That has so far not happened.

    I asked for justification for any of the methods I listed in the article, and so far you have not justified any of them, nor have you provided any examples where the author of a prophecy specifically claimed that there were dual fulfilments, or where the author specifically asked readers to substitute future nations for the ones listed.

    It seems to me that we've gotten nowhere. All of the points raised in the article still stand.

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    1. Sorry if I sound rather blunt at the end here. I'm not angry or anything like that so please try not to read emotion into it.

      I do respect you and I appreciate your comments.
      I'm just trying to keep the discussion on topic.

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    2. Steve, I'm not trying to waste your time.
      Just to step back, I was trying to produce the best evidence I could think of to answer your question (whether or not I agreed with it). If I can't produce any evidence, then that says something as well. I could see flaws in the evidence I presented, but you then demonstrated additional assumptions I was unaware of making.
      My comments on Daniel 12 were not "how I interpret it", but "what is the best argument I could think of for split interpretation". You've heard my views about Pascal's Wager and fear-based appeals. The comments weren't meant to be taken seriously. Similarly for the end times being near. I have heard enough people claiming on flimsy argument that we are in the last days, and can read similar comments right through Christadelphian history and even back to the NT. It may just be reaction to this, but I don't see the end of the world being near.
      If I accepted a simple "let scripture interpret scripture" then I'd have no trouble taking the NT as testimony to dual interpretation. However, as I've already said, I don't think it's as simple as "the Bible is one indivisible book which says it's inspired, so you'd better believe it".
      Like you, sometimes (often) I see the "It was just humans with a barrow to push" as the logical explanation. It's not about whether I want to see it that way, just that it is simple and I'm no longer blind to it.

      That over, one simple question: "Have you set the bar for evidence too high?" Any prophet (or any writer) is going to make some assumptions about what their audience already knows. They're not going to spell out every single detail. Do you know what assumptions the prophets were making about their audience? (personally, I don't).

      Note: I'm not trying to shift the burden of proof to you, simply to ask if you have set the bar for believers to prove unreasonably high. If there's actually a difference between those two.

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    3. All good, I just wanted to keep track of where the discussion was at and rein it in a bit.

      //The comments weren't meant to be taken seriously.//

      I did spot some humour in your comments, but I must have missed the sarcasm in that part. My apologies.

      //If I accepted a simple "let scripture interpret scripture" then I'd have no trouble taking the NT as testimony to dual interpretation.//

      That would require the assumption that the NT writers were divinely inspired. If you're going to start with that assumption, why bother with prophecy?

      //Like you, sometimes (often) I see the "It was just humans with a barrow to push" as the logical explanation.//

      I don't necessarily think the authors had a barrow to push. For the most part I think they were genuinely deceived. In general I think the Bible makes the most sense as a human book, and it is actually a pretty interesting collection of texts in that light. I think the idea of divine inspiration cheapens it, and also cheapens any notion of a god, if one exists.

      //That over, one simple question: "Have you set the bar for evidence too high?" Any prophet (or any writer) is going to make some assumptions about what their audience already knows. They're not going to spell out every single detail. Do you know what assumptions the prophets were making about their audience? (personally, I don't).//

      That's a good question. Did you have a specific instance in mind?

      I don't think it's possible to know what assumptions the authors were making. But I don't think that gives us license to make some up.

      In any case, if their audience was their own nation at the time, why were they writing to them about a prediction that would not be fulfilled in their lifetime?

      If their audience was not their own nation at the time, they should not have made any assumptions about them.

      I didn't think this article was about evidence at all, really. What I'm trying to do is to ask the question "How would I know (or be reasonably sure) I'm not fooling myself?" and therefore I'm trying to come up with ways to rule out false positives.

      Have I set the bar too high? How high is too high? Too high for whom?

      I don't think it's unreasonable to devise methodology that would rule out human bias and wishful thinking. That's what I'm attempting to do here. I don't think I've set the bar too high.

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    4. When I say "a barrow to push" I don't mean they are dishonest. Matthew, for example, had something to prove: that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God. I'm sure he believed it, but he was still writing a book to sell it to others.

      With accuracy of prophecy, I think the scriptural model was that if you made a short-term prophecy and got it right, you were clearly a messenger from God and everyone should accept your long-term prophecies. Doesn't help us, but could mean that they didn't feel the need to explain in detail exactly what they were doing (particularly if they were acting under inspiration - or thought they were).
      Both geographic equivalence and dual fulfilment feel like they could be things that were assumptions made by all prophets, though I'm not aware of any evidence for that.
      I stick to my position: reasonable in principle, but easily twisted or mis-applied to explain away problems with prophecies.

      Ultimately though you are right: It doesn't matter how many believers think a prophecy is convincing, if you can't find it convincing you can't accept it.

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    5. I don't find ad-hoc assumptions reasonable.

      It isn't just that the prophecies aren't convincing. I can't even get to that point. I am not aware of any justifiable reason for even believing that people have interpreted the prophecies correctly. The whole thing just looks like a desperate attempt to find meaningful patterns in old texts. There is no way to validate any of it. And the worst part is that no one seems to care. No one bothers to check whether their methods could lead to truth. No one bothers to consider whether their methods could rule out false positives and wishful thinking.

      This has almost nothing to do with what I personally find convincing or not. If you or anyone else cannot justify your methods for interpreting the prophecies and matching them up with world events, then no one should find it convincing.

      Of course many people will find it convincing, for the same reason people believe in creationism, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, alternative cures, pseudo-science, etc. People are credulous.

      I firmly believe that scepticism and the scientific method offer the most reliable and tested path to finding truth. I have been convinced of many things by following these methods. Prophecy isn't one of them.

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    6. Btw I don't understand your focus on what assumptions the authors might have made. That's irrelevant.

      The critical detail is how someone living today can pick up this text and interpret it accurately and reliably enough to be able to confirm beyond reasonable doubt that a specific prediction has been made regarding modern events. The second part is to try to determine, again beyond reasonable doubt, that some later event sufficiently matched the prediction. All of this is slippery and I don't think we're even close to getting the first bit right.

      If the author didn't include enough detail, then tough. That means you don't have a case. We can sit here all day imagining what the author might have intended, or we can even invent creative ways to interpret the details, but none of that is useful when it comes to nailing down the actual interpretation. We would just be fooling ourselves.

      That's the situation I think you're in with prophecy. I hope that helps you understand why I think your answers haven't made any progress on the original article.

      Any fool can come up with ad-hoc explanations to make the pieces fit. That's what people do when arguing for Noah's ark for example. Perhaps the animals all hibernated. Perhaps this, perhaps that. It's a waste of time. It won't get you to the truth. It might be good enough to convince people who already believe, and stop them asking more questions, but it won't work here. If that's all you have, then you don't have a case.

      Sorry to be so blunt. Perhaps it's my aussie culture. :P

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    7. It's simple, and totally off-topic for this post: I don't want to be too quick to overrule my doubts. That cuts both ways: doubts because some interpretations of prophecy seem to completely miss the point, and doubts when it seems an entire class of prophecies are being written off too glibly. The bolder the claim, the more likely I am to question it, whichever side it is on.

      Maybe the "assumptions the author made" is a red herring, but it feels almost like you are trying to dictate the way they should have framed their prophecy. I can see the logic of your position and may come to the same conclusion - just not all in one jump. I'm certainly not objecting because I'm wedded to a particular interpretation of prophecy, though maybe a few years ago I would have.

      But as it's now more about me than about the article, I think it's conversation over.

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    8. I don't think you're getting it.

      I'm not ruling out any particular interpretation. I'm just defining criteria by which a particular interpretation may be ruled in (in such a way as to avoid fooling myself, as much as possible).

      Maybe one interpretation is correct and if so would lead to the conclusion that a prophecy had been fulfilled. My point is that we don't have enough information to know that, and therefore we cannot make that claim.

      I think prophecy carries a high burden of proof (because it is always more likely that we are mistaken or fooling ourselves) and that burden of proof is squarely on the person claiming that a prophecy has been fulfilled.

      If someone cannot show good justification for their interpretation of a prophecy, then it seems more likely to me that they are simply choosing an interpretation that says what they want it to say, and therefore there is no way to rule out the very real possibility that the "miracle" is all in their head. If we judge an interpretation by how closely it matches modern events, that's circular. If we rule out interpretations that would falsify the prophecy, for that reason, that's begging the question.

      I don't think we have enough information to confirm any prophecy as fulfilled. There is no justification for the way christadelphians go about it.

      But yes I agree there is probably little value in continuing. I will leave it with you.

      Thanks for the chat :-)

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    9. //when it seems an entire class of prophecies are being written off too glibly.//

      Where did I do that? All I'm asking for is justification for the methods used to interpret the prophecy and the methods used to claim prophecy fulfilment. That's kind of the opposite of glib.

      If you could justify these, and demonstrate why your interpretation is the correct one, and then demonstrate sound methods for arriving at the conclusion that a prophecy had been fulfilled, then you'd be in the clear. I'd probably even consider publishing your methods in a new article.

      But it sounds like you're arguing that people shouldn't need to justify the methods they used in order to arrive at their conclusion. Or maybe you're arguing that as long as their reasons "sound plausible" then that should be fine?

      I don't see how that would rule out false positives. Are you happy to be deceived? Why wouldn't you want to employ stricter methods in order to avoid that? Weakening the criteria for prophecy interpretation or fulfilment just doesn't help you. It only increases the likelihood that you are fooling yourself.

      Anyway, sorry to harp on.

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  4. Steve, I think I get it, I just don't (yet) agree with it.

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    1. No worries. You're under no compulsion to believe or agree with anything. Thanks for your patience and your time.

      Take care :)

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  5. Steve/JJ,
    So maybe you did drift off topic a bit, but no matter, I've enjoyed this discourse. As someone who left the 'delphs primarily because of what I saw as an over reliance on dubious interpretation of prophecy it still baffles me why they get so dug in over it. Recently Nottingham Christadelphians had a special talk on the Russia/Syria business and trotted out all the usual stuff. I lost interest but one of the questions was about the role of Afro-Caribbean 'delphs in the Kingdom. I've been gone 8 years now so the validity of this stuff has nearly faded away.
    For probably 3 or 4 years, I could have slid back into my previous life of an evangelical Anglican, but the CD family pressure stopped this. Recently I was reading an essay by Thomas Paine (look for it at www.deism.com), about the prophecies that (supposedly) refer to Christ, it's an amusing read whatever your position.
    As JJ has alluded to above, Matthew had a "barrow to push", but of course Matthew ended up in the canon of scripture, which is, from a CD point of view, inerrant.
    This would lead me to think that JJ or indeed any Christadelphian would take them at face value, despite them looking very dubious on close examination. Am I right JJ?- Steve, if you have the time, perhaps you could do an article on these "undesputed" fulfillments.

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    1. I think I found the essays you were referring to:
      False prophecies of Jesus I
      False prophecies of Jesus II

      He raises good points, and it's a fairly good overview of the problems with the "Jesus" prophecies.

      One of my favourite sources on prophecy is this one:
      Prophecies: Imagined and unfulfilled by Farrell Till.

      Somewhere along the way I formed the opinion that the book of Matthew is not a reliable source of historical information. Very few scholars accept the historicity of several of the events he lists, including the trip into Egypt following the birth of Jesus and also the dead rising from their graves following the crucifixion.

      As for doing an article on the prophecies about Jesus (is that the "undisputed fulfilments" you were referring to?), I'm not sure I could do the topic justice. There are so many claimed fulfilments that to list them all would take several articles. I also am not qualified, and have no wish, to get involved in debates about each of these claims. My line of reasoning would follow something very similar to that of Paine and Till from the links above.

      Perhaps there is room for something similar to this article, where I could show the types of errors being made regarding messianic prophecies, listing a couple of examples for each. That might be feasible.

      But probably one of the simplest arguments against the prophecy claims about Jesus is that the Jews, whose ancestors wrote the Old Testament and who are arguably the foremost authority on it today, do not believe that Jesus was the messiah or that he fulfilled any of the prophecies.

      If it is possible for the Jews, who hold the Old Testament as divinely inspired and sacred, to see a different interpretation in their own prophets' writings, and absolutely deny any connection to Jesus, while still claiming that a future fulfilment is coming, then the burden of proof on Christians to prove otherwise just got a whole lot heavier. When they've convinced the Jewish scholars (who know more about their book than I do), then I'll take them seriously.

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    2. Joe, my answer is somewhat conflicted.
      The traditional Christadelphian understanding would definitely be that all of the New Testament is inspired, and as part of that that any prophecy it claims is fulfilled must be accepted, no matter how unlikely the interpretation seems. It also gives us bonus points for understanding the Old Testament where no other Christian group does.
      This approach is even taken into translation, where translators will take the version of the text that sounds most like the one used in the NT (often the Greek rather than the Hebrew).
      I find it hard to see a version of inspiration that allows the NT writers to make lots of blatant errors, but also find it increasingly hard to accept some of the prophetic fulfilment claims.

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    3. Steve, either I don't understand your argument or I disagree with it.
      That the Jews disagree with Christians on interpretation of prophecy is an interesting data point, but I'm not sure that it has any more value than Christians disagreeing with other Christians or Jews disagreeing with other Jews. Some Jews have been persuaded by the Christian position and accepted Jesus as Messiah. Some Christians have been persuaded by the Jewish position and rejected Jesus as Messiah. So?

      I'm unsure why you are privileging Jewish interpreters today over the gospel writers. Surely your concern about the length of time between the prophets and the interpreters in the case of Matthew applies at least as much to Jewish scholars today?

      The NT presents a couple of creditable reasons why Jesus wouldn't be taken seriously by all Jews:
      1. The authorities felt that a popular Messiah threatened their authority, and increased the risk of rebellion that would destroy the country (a threat that was fulfilled in the Bar Kokhba revolt).

      2. Christianity was available to all nations, weakening the Jewish claim to be a special nation with special laws and customs (like circumcision).

      The second one in particular could still apply today. Jewish scholars could be more interested in preserving their own culture than seeking out truth.

      From what little I have seen of Jewish scholarship it concerns me in the same way as deep Christadelphian study. It is possible to dig so far into the details looking for deep hidden points that you miss the main point. I don't trust either group to give me an authoritative exposition of the OT prophecies.

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    4. I'm not interested in defending any arguments for this here. I was simply coming up with simple answers that might apply if I were to write such an article. At this point in time I have no plans to do so.

      If you claim to know the correct interpretation of an OT passage, and/or if you claim that a prophecy was fulfilled, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate it. Until then, my interest in arguing the point is approximately zero.

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  6. Evidence is mounting that the gospels were written well before AD 70 as was revelation. All or nearly all was fulfilled in AD 69/70 and the second coming of Christ in all his glory in the clouds etc is documented in Josephus. Paul clearly thought the age was going to end in his lifetime too. And another thing Daniel writes about the book/prophecy being sealed up for the time in which it applies and revelation clearly says it was to be unsealed because the time was near. Now that time gap was what - 400 or so years? Yes, and the books have now been unsealed for 2000 more years!!! Something is clearly wrong with modern interpretation. And another thing, most interpretation of "end-time" prophecy assumes that the West are the good guys in the middle East. They are clearly not! Jesus also told us that judgement was coming soon - the axe was already at the root of the tree etc etc. I could go on but suffice it to say that a logical reading of the NT clearly indicates most if not all prophecy has already happened.

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    1. I published your comment so people can see some of the crazy ideas some people have.

      //Evidence is mounting that the gospels were written well before AD 70 as was revelation.//

      Nope. It isn't. There has been no new evidence in that area for some time now.

      //the second coming of Christ in all his glory in the clouds etc is documented in Josephus//

      Lol. I guess we all missed it.

      //And another thing Daniel writes about//
      //Now that time gap was what - 400 or so years? //

      The book of Daniel was written in the 2nd century BCE. That is the mainstream scholarly consensus. It's not me you need to argue with. It's them.

      If you're just here to preach, your comments will be deleted. Unless you're actually going to discuss the article, please don't bother commenting again. You're just wasting everyone's time - including yours.

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