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Ever since human beings first walked the earth, they have attempted—whether by extension of logic or through the use of magic—to divine what the unknown future holds in store for them. For a variety of reasons—to comfort themselves, to prepare themselves—human beings have been eager to know what tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the next month, the next year, the years to come, will do to them and in what ways the future will affect their lives and their fate.
The Bible establishes the standard for discerning the claims of a prophet. It’s quite simple. He or she must be 100% accurate (Deut. 18:20–22). No mistakes. No adjustments. No ex post facto explanations as to why a prophecy did not come to pass as specified. In fact, the Bible bases its authority on its own claim of unquestioned prophetic integrity. With nearly two thousand predictions on everything from the birth of a promised redeemer to the destruction of particular nations, it only takes one failed prediction to call the others into question. God has set the highest standard possible. You will never hear modern-day “prophets” make the claim that all their prophecies came to pass as written. They and their reading public are satisfied with a better than average percentage of accuracy.
In biblical terms, it is not enough for a self-proclaimed “prophet” like the late Jeane Dixon (1918–1997) to boast that her “record of accuracy is unequaled.” As compared to what? As compared to other self-proclaimed “prophets” who have a lower percentage of accuracy. Today’s popular prophets are like baseball players who only like to talk about how many career-hits they got. They don’t want to be reminded about how many times they struck out. For example, Babe Ruth is best remembered for hitting a record 60 home runs in 1927 and 714 in his career records that have since been eclipsed. But few Ruth fans want to remember that he struck out 1330 times. Compare Ruth’s strike-out numbers to those of Joe DiMaggio who only struck out 369 times in his thirteen-year career. It takes an impartial statistician to keep it all in perspective. While the modern Major League record for the highest season batting average of .426 by Rogers Hornsby in 1924 is impressive by any baseball standard, it is less than remarkable by any biblical standard concerning fulfilled prophecy.
Carl Sagan, a skeptic of all supernatural claims, demanded the same level of accuracy for prophecy as he did for science. He believes that accuracy is a sign of legitimacy for both science and religion.
Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? There isn’t a religion on the planet that doesn’t long for a comparable ability—precise, and repeatedly demonstrated before committed skeptics—to foretell future events. No other human institution comes close.
As history attests and Sagan admits, science has not been 100% reliable. “The history of science,” Sagan concedes, “is full of cases where previously accepted theories and hypotheses have been overthrown to be replaced by new ideas which more adequately explain the data.” To cite just three of hundreds of examples, Louis Pasteur’s fellow scientists opposed him on the germ-theory origin of disease. In the 1860s, spontaneous generation was still being debated in the prestigious French Academy of Sciences. Science books more than ten years old are considered to be obsolete. Sagan’s claim that the reason science works so well is that it has a “built-in error-correcting machinery” doesn’t fly. False prophets are constantly correcting themselves after the fact as well. Bible prophecy has a far better record than the history of science. In fact, there is no comparison.
The Bible is not like a horoscope that claims to chart life’s opportunities and pitfalls. The Bible’s prophecies, like its miracles, are designed to point us to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Luke 24:25, 27, 44; John 21:24–25). Biblical prophecy is not a religious curiosity; it’s an integral part of God’s character which stands as a faithful witness to the outworking of His redemptive plan in time and history.
Carl Sagan asks, “Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?” Most certainly. Here is a great way to “test the spirits,” as the Bible tells us to do. The Old Testament includes numerous prophecies concerning the first coming of Christ. No single person, no matter how clever, could have manipulated the circumstances around his life to fit the prophetic specifics of so many prophecies. There are too many prophecies over which he would have no control. Consider just eight Messianic prophecies (any eight could be used):
1. Place of birth: Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:5–6; Luke 2:4)
2. Time of birth: based on the seventy weeks of years given to Daniel (Dan. 9:25; Luke 2:25–32)
3. Manner of birth: born of a virgin (Is. 7:14; Luke 1:34)
4. Price of betrayal: thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12; Matt. 26:15; 27:9–10)
5. Manner of death: crucifixion (Ps. 22:16, 18; Matt. 27:35; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; 20:25)
6. Condition of the body: no broken bones (Ps. 34:20; John 19:31–33) but a pierced side (Zech. 12:10; John 19:34, 37)
7. Loyalty of his disciples: deserted by His followers (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31)
8. Burial place: buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is. 53:9; Matt. 27:57–30)
The only reason Mary and Joseph were in the insignificant city of Bethlehem in Judea was due to a Roman decree to tabulate a census for tax purposes (Luke 2:1). How could Jesus have been sure that He would be crucified instead of stoned to death, since stoning was the Jewish form of punishment? (John 8:59; Acts 7:58). There was no way that Jesus could have known that the Roman soldiers would not break His legs. Of course, as a dead man, Jesus had no say in where He would be buried. He could not be sure that the Romans would give up His body to His family for burial. These and many more prophecies were fulfilled in the life of Christ. “It has been calculated that twenty-nine Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in the final twenty-four hours of [Jesus’] life alone.”