IBRI Research Report #26 (1985)


 

Finding Truth in Religion:
Is There a Factual Basis?

John A. Bloom
Biola University,
La Mirada, CA

Copyright © 1985 by the Bloomsbury Research Corporation. All rights reserved.

This paper or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the copyright owner. Permission will be quickly granted to reviewers, authors, teachers, and others engaged in promoting Bible study.

 

ABSTRACT

Given the countless variety of religions being propagated today, is there any means to determine which one(s), if any, have any basis for adhering to them for other than cultural, philosophical or emotional grounds? Is there any external-to-the-believer, testable evidence that any religion is true? A simple test proposed by the God of the Bible allows the man-on-the-street to distinguish truth from error quickly and effectively, and gives an objective foundation for Biblical Christianity in contrast with other religious systems. 

EDITOR'S NOTE

Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

ISBN 0-944788-26-2


Finding Truth in Religion: Is There a Factual Basis?

John A. Bloom, Ph.D.

"How do you know you're right?" A good scientist focuses his entire research program on this question. He presents objective experimental data and justifies his theoretical assumptions in the effort to prove that his model best fits the objective data available. Emotions, however, have no place in scientific endeavor. Many a scientist has felt absolutely convinced that his theory and experimental data were true, only to find that someone else's results blew his beautiful theory right out of the water.

Is such a "hard-nose" approach to truth unrealistic? Certainly it is obvious that in most areas of life one must act on the basis of facts and not trust in our emotions. When driving a car we stop at intersections if the light is red, not because we feel like it, but because if we don't the odds are that we will eventually be hit by another car, or be stopped by another red light, this time accompanied by a siren.

The more important the decision, the more important it is to look for facts upon which to base that decision. A doctor does not judge the drugs he prescribes on the basis of their color and flavor, but on their effectiveness. When people set out to buy a house, they tend to ask if it has termites, if the roof leaks, whether the basement floods every spring, and how attractive the neighborhood is. However, all realtors know that some foolish people will select a particular house merely because they like its color. Thus in the real world, one of the wisest things we can do is ask ourselves, "How can I be sure that this is right?" By doing so we can prevent being tricked by our emotions into doing something we later regret.

Assuming that by 'religion' we mean any philosophy or system of belief that purports to tell us what will happen to us after we die, certainly it is important to ask such a question of the various religions. After all, our condition after we die may depend upon decisions which we make while we are alive. Unfortunately, religion seems to be one area where questions like "How do you know you're right?" are never asked; or if they are, the answer is: "Because I just know it's true!" or,"I prayed and asked God to show me it was true, and I felt this burning in my heart that it was!" To the thinking person, such subjective criteria only beg the question.

Another problem with religion is that it comes in so many brands that differ and even conflict in telling you what you must do in order to survive death happily. For example, Mormons say that you must be baptized in one of their special ceremonies in order to "make it," while Evangelical Christians argue that you can only be saved by trusting in Christ's death on the cross to be the total and sole payment for your sins - baptism and the like are symbols, but not essentials. Who is right? In science, when people come up with differing theories, there is an immediate appeal to the physical, reproducible, experimental data to verify their claims. However, most religions appeal to emotional ("spiritual") experiences in order to "verify" theirs. For example, in the flyleaf of the Book of Mormon, we find written:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God... if these things are not true, and... he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."
In practice this ''manifestation '' is a subjective inner experience. In essence Mormons are promising that you can have the same emotional experience as they have had. Of course, every scientist knows that if you set up your experiment in exactly the same way as a previous researcher, you can usually duplicate their results. Duplication proves consistency, but not truth.

While feelings may be an adequate system of judgment for use in deciding what clothes we put on after we get up in the morning, emotions certainly should have no place in our search for truth in religion. The questions that should be asked are: How do they come to think that they are right? Is their basis something testable, or am I asked to have "blind faith?" Worse, am I told to trust in some emotional experience I have? Is a gushy feeling ("inner witness") the only assurance they can offer to prove to me that if I believe what they say, then I will be in good shape after I die?

Obviously, the best test for various religions would be to believe in one, die, and come back again if it did not work and try another. However, we do not have any objective proof that people can do this (aside from some peoples' emotional experiences again), so it may be wise to begin with those religions which claim that a person has only this one life to make the right decision.

Of these, let's begin by looking at one of the few religions which claims to have severe consequences for not believing it when we die: Biblical Christianity (in contrast to Catholicism and liberal forms of Christianity). How are we to know that the claims of the Bible, as opposed to those of religious books from other cultures, are to be taken as true? Does the Bible offer us "proof" in the form of emotional experiences, like others? Consider:

"Present your case," says the LORD. "Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.

"Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come - yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one."

Isaiah 41:21-24, 44:7-8
It appears that the God of the Bible is calling for a test: A test which involves the objective prediction of future events in human history. Thus it seems the God of the Bible does not ask us to trust him on the basis of blind faith or emotional experiences. Logically, we can reverse this challenge to other "gods" and ask if the God of the Bible can predict the future himself. If he can, and if no other religion can substantiate a similar claim, then we have an objective, historically testable verification that the God of the Bible alone exists.
 

DEFINITION.

Before proceeding, we must define what we mean by "predicting the future." In general, four criteria should be satisfied:

1) The prediction must be clear enough to be recognized when it has occurred.

2) The prediction must be known to have been made before it is fulfilled.
Otherwise, how could it be called a prediction?
3) A fulfillment should not be influenced by the predictor himself, or by his zealous band of followers. 4) A prediction must be more than a good guess. To clarify our terminology, we will call any prediction that meets all of the above requirements a "prophecy."

Obviously, prophecies are extremely difficult to make: Ask any weatherman. It seems that more often than not, one hears a radio announcer predicting a fine sunny afternoon while it is actually raining outside. Sports announcers are also particularly adept at "putting their foot in their mouth" when they try to guess which team will win.
 

ASSORTED HOAXES.

From time to time in history, various religious groups have claimed to have a special ability to predict the future; however, after some study, one finds that their "prophecies" fail the above criteria.

1) The ancient Greeks are famous for vague prophecies: One of the more tragic cases concerns Croesus, King of Lydia, who went to the Oracle of Delphi to inquire about his planned attack on Cyrus, King of Persia. The 'prophetess' there informed him, "If you march out and attack Cyrus, a great empire will be destroyed." Not catching the ambiguity, Croesus was greatly encouraged, and went out to attack Cyrus, and indeed a great empire was destroyed - his own!

2) The Mormons also claim to have fantastic fulfilled prophecies. In the flyleaf of the Book of Mormon we read:

These would truly be incredible prophecies but for one problem: The earliest date for any known tangible manuscript of the Book of Mormon is 1823. Thus the claim to be 2500 years old is only that - a claim, which may be accepted on blind faith.

There are other Mormon prophecies, but many of them have not come true. One recent example has to do with the acceptance of blacks into the Mormon priesthood. Brigham Young, one of the founders of Mormonism, taught that blacks "never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam [whites] have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood.... Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children [whites] are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain [blacks] cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, pp.290-29l). However, on June 9, 1978 the Mormon church issued a new revelation that blacks would now be allowed to hold the priesthood. Such an adjustment of an '' inspired'' prophetic utterance given by one of their great prophets, as commendable as the final result may be, still establishes him as a false prophet. For more examples and information, contact the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

3) There are some people today who can make accurate prophecies. The most famous is Jeanne Dixon, who predicted Kennedy's assassination. However, when one studies the various predictions which she has made over the years, one finds that many of them have not come true at all. Does this mean that Jeanne is a 40% prophet, or that we can trust what she says 40% of the time? On this point, the God of the Bible makes an important comment:

"But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."
Deuteronomy 18: 20-22
Thus the God of the Bible asserts that complete predictive accuracy will characterize those who are actually his prophets: If anyone who claimed to be a prophet ever made a mistake in even one prediction, he was to be executed. Certainly this additional test quickly narrows down the field of contestants. We need not be afraid of, nor should we trust in, any prophet who has made obvious mistakes.

Very few religions offer objective prophecy to support their truth claims. The Koran is one of many religious books which does not even try:

Q: "Why has no sign been given to him (Mohammed) by his Lord?"

Ans: "Signs are in the hands of Allah; my mission is only to give plain warning. Is it not enough for them that we have revealed to you this book for their instruction?

The Koran, Sura 29 ("The Spider") 50/49
Mohammed did give ample predictions about the Last Judgment; however, by the time we can verify those prophecies it might be too late to change teams.

Thus it seems that few "gods" will permit their authority to be challenged by any evidence which we can test today. Now that we have a specific test to work with, we can investigate the Biblical prophecies themselves.
 

PROPHECIES FROM THE BIBLE.

From reading the Old Testament, we find that its writers were regarded as true prophets. Of course, we cannot check the predictions which proved this claim to their ancient audiences, because we have no proof today that their short-range predictions were made before the events took place. However, we can ask if they made any long-range predictions; ones which were obviously fulfilled well after the prophecy was given. For our purposes, this is any time near or after the time of Christ, as by then the Old Testament corpus was over 200 years old and was widely distributed throughout the Roman Empire both in Hebrew and Greek translation, making it difficult to insert "corrections."

After finding that prophecies in the Koran and Book of Mormon are non-existent, it might seem strange to note that there are so many long-range prophecies in the Bible that this brief essay would turn into a book if they all were covered. But then one might regard it as rather inconclusive evidence if all of them could be covered in one short paper. Hence, we will consider some examples. The Bible and the history books are open to all.

1. MEMPHIS.

Memphis, the great capital city of ancient Egypt, was also the northern center for Egypt's many religious cults. Thus we are not surprised when the God of the Bible declares through Ezekiel: "I will destroy the idols and put an end to the images in Memphis" (Ezekiel 30:l3). Was this fulfilled? At around the time of Christ, Strabo (the Greek historian) found the city "large and populous, next to Alexandria in size." He then described the many gods, temples, and statues which occupied this religious center. The Encyclopaedia Britannica makes the dry comment that zealous Christians during the 3rd century defaced and destroyed some of the idols in Memphis. This is noble, but not what one could call a fulfillment of prophecy.

However, in the 7th century the scene changed: The followers of Mohammed swept through the Middle East, conquering city after city, and converting people from idolatry to Islam by the threat of the sword. As the Islamic empire expanded, the Moslems decided that new regional capital cities should be built at sites where no pagan gods had ever been worshipped. The site selected for the Egyptian center, where Cairo is today, just happened to be ten miles from Memphis. As this new city grew, the population of Memphis drifted to Cairo, and the stones of Memphis became an convenient quarry for expanding the new capital city.

At the turn of the century, the famous archaeologist Flinders Petrie had difficulty in finding the site of ancient Memphis, for the area was forested and there was no rubble visible above ground. Excavation of the area gave a poor yield of statues: Petrie found one small sphinx about the size of a man, and one large statue of king Ramses II which was broken into three pieces (these have since been moved to museums).

Thus the idols and images of Memphis have been destroyed and used to build the city of Cairo. Notice how exactly this prophecy came true: It certainly would not be fulfilled no matter what happened. True, all ancient cities have been attacked and destroyed at least once by now, and many sites have been abandoned, but rarely have their ruins been quarried to the point that nothing is left of them today. As a control, let us consider the prophecy concerning another Egyptian religious center.

2. THEBES.

Thebes, the largest city in southern Egypt, was another world-famous center for the Egyptian cults. In the same context as the above prophecy concerning Memphis, the God of the Bible says: "I will... inflict punishment on Thebes. I will... cut off the hordes of Thebes. Thebes will be taken by storm." (Ezekiel 30:14-16). From history we find that God clearly did execute judgment on Thebes. While Nebuchadnezzar and Cambyses both captured Thebes and burned it, only much later do we find this prediction being fulfilled. Ptolemy Lathyrus (the grandfather of Cleopatra) attacked it in 92 BC, and after a three year siege, sacked and burned the city in anger. Afterwards, Thebes never again regained its stature as a city. When Strabo visited the city in 25 BC, he noted that this huge city had been reduced to several small villages. Today nine small villages dot the area. Certainly the hordes of Thebes have been "cut off" (Hebrew colloquialism for "killed"). yet the area is still sparsely populated (in contrast with prophecies against other cities like Petra, of which it was predicted that no one would live in them any more).

Moreover, the ruins of Thebes still stand; The Encyclopaedia Britannica has a long article on Thebes showing many color photographs of the temples, idols, and statues of this ancient religious center. Note that if Ezekiel had made a simple mistake and merely reversed the names of these cities, both prophecies would be wrong. The idols are gone from Memphis; they still stand in Thebes. Memphis was never attacked and ravaged as severely as Thebes. The people of Memphis were not wiped out; they moved to Cairo.

We have seen two cases of prediction made centuries before the fulfillments occurred. The predictions were concise, but not vague so that they could be applied to any ancient city. No zealous band of followers assisted the fulfillment of these prophecies (Moslems are not fond of Ezekiel). It appears then that these are genuine prophecies which were given by the God of the Bible to substantiate his claim that he can be trusted.

3. TYRE.

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers, I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD. She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army. He will ravage your settlements on the mainland with the sword; he will set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you. He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons. His horses will be so many that they will cover you with dust. Your walls will tremble at the noise of the war horses, wagons, and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city whose walls have been broken through. The hoofs of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground.

"They [note the change from "he"] will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones,timber, and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets.You will never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD."

Ezekiel 26:3-14
This prophecy concerning the destruction and fate of Tyre is one of the more startling of all Biblical predictions against ancient cities. In the time of Ezekiel, Tyre was the greatest maritime city on the coast of the Mediterranean. Geographically, it was situated on the coast, with an excellent natural harbor protected by an island a half mile offshore. The main city was on the mainland, but apparently some 'suburbs' were built on the island. As predicted, Nebuchadnezzar took the mainland city in 573 BC after a thirteen year siege. However, most of the people had moved their wealth out to the island, and since Nebuchadnezzar did not have a navy, he abandoned any further attacks on Tyre.

In 332 BC Alexander the Great attacked Tyre on his way to Egypt. Since Nebuchadnezzar's time, Tyre had remained on the island, not rebuilding appreciably on the mainland. Having no navy to aid him, Alexander used "brute force" to build a land bridge 200 feet wide through the ocean out to the island. This was no easy task; it took the combined labor forces from the many nations he had already conquered. For building material, Alexander used the walls and buildings of the old mainland city; so much material was needed to finish the road that the workers had to scrape the area bare. Alexander finally succeeded in capturing Tyre, but the city on the island quickly recovered. At the time of Christ, Tyre was still a major port.

During the crusades, Tyre was fought over heavily. In 1291 it was recaptured by the Moslems who then completely destroyed it to prevent its use as a beach-head for future incursions. The site remained desolate for hundreds of years and in the late 1700's a small fishing village began on the island. Today this village has a population of about 12,000, but it does not occupy the ancient mainland site of Tyre. These fishermen use the large flat, bare areas as a place for spreading their nets out to dry.

Even if it were true that the parts of this prophecy which refer to Nebuchadnezzar were '' predicted'' after his attack on Tyre (as alleged by anti-Christians although there are no data to support their hypothesis), the long-range aspects that the rubble of the old city was thrown into the sea, that the metropolis was never rebuilt after its devastation in 1291 and that fishermen today use the site as a place to dry their nets show that the bulk of the prediction was certainly not guesswork.

As most ancient cities have become ruins, we should look at the fate of other Lebanese coastal cities as a scientific control for Tyre. Sidon, today a major modern port 20 miles up the coast, is a particularly good control as for many centuries it was considered a twin city with Tyre. When we look in the Bible for any prophecies regarding Sidon, we find:

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'I am against you, O Sidon, and I will gain glory within you. They will know that I am the LORD, when I inflict punishment on her and show myself holy within her. I will send a plague upon her and make blood flow in her streets. The slain will fall within her, with the sword against her on every side. Then they will know that I am the LORD.'"
Ezekiel 28:22-23
Note there are no comments here that "Sidon will be destroyed and never rebuilt." We see again that if the names of two cities, here only twenty miles apart, were reversed in the prophecies, we would have to admit they had failed. This shows that there is no double-talk or vagueness in these Biblical prophecies: What was predicted has simply happened.

4. BABYLON.

"Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there. But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. Hyenas will howl in her strongholds, jackals in her luxurious palaces."

"'No rock will be taken from you for a cornerstone, nor any stone for a foundation, for you will be desolate forever, declares the LORD."

Isaiah 13:20-22; Jeremiah 51:26
Here again we find prophecies that have come true to the letter. At the time of Alexander the Great, Babylon was still a great city; but after a long series of political struggles and battles for control after his death, the Seleucids decided that it would be easier to build a new city than to restore Babylon. By the time of Christ, Strabo could only comment, "the great city has become a desert."

Today the site of Babylon is one of desolation. The nearest civilization is found in Al Hillah, six miles away. For superstitious reasons, Arabs do not live in the ruins, so they have become the home of desert animals. The soil in the area is so poor that it does not provide enough grass for sheep. Most amazingly. natives who vandalize the site for building materials only take bricks; they burn the stones they find for lime. Even nonchristian archaeologists who visit the site are amazed that Isaiah's picture of the ruins of Babylon is so accurate (cf. H.M.F. Saggs, in Archaeology and OldTestament Study, edited by D. Winton Thomas, p.41).

Perhaps there is a reason why Isaiah said: "O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the stronghold of the foreigners to be a city no more (Isaiah 25:1-2).

From a brief investigation of the prophecies regarding some ancient cities, we have found evidence far
different from that in the Koran or the Book of Mormon. We have word-pictures and descriptions of the ruins which agree with what we see today, and further, many of these cities have met their destruction after the time of Christ. Cities which were predicted to be destroyed and never rebuilt, have been destroyed and never rebuilt; cities which were not predicted to be desolate, still flourish.

Fortunately, many prophecies in the Bible concern themselves with subjects more relevant to us than ancient cities. Those regarding the Bible's chosen people, the nation of Israel, are worth our special attention.

5. ISRAEL.

When Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land, the God of the Bible gave the Israelites a series of laws and promised to bless them greatly if they obeyed Him. However, if the Israelites disobeyed Him, then the LORD promised:

"You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods - gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, 'If only it were evening!' and in the evening, 'If only it were morning!' - because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. The LORD will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
Deuteronomy 28:63-68
While the general history of the Jews since the final capture of Jerusalem has been one of almost constant persecution as the God of the Bible predicted, it is tragic but noteworthy that this last specific promise, that the Jews would be shipped back to Egypt as slaves, was literally fulfilled in 70 AD. After Titus took the city, every survivor over 17 years of age was shipped to Egypt to be sold into slavery and to work in the mines there. This influx of Hebrew slaves thoroughly saturated the Egyptian slave market.

Throughout the Bible we find predictions that if the Israelites disobey God, they will be scattered, but if they return to obedience, they will be regathered to form a nation again. That this happened several times in their history is evident from reading the Old Testament. However, there is one unusual prophecy about a return of the Jews to their homeland found in Hosea 3:4-5:

"For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.
Here we find predicted that the Jews will continue for some time:

a) Without any official or recognized national ruler.

b) Without any sacrifice or ephod (a priestly garment). c) Afterward the Israelites would return. Some people think that the Jews have always been eager to return to their homeland, especially in light of the persecution they have endured over the centuries. However, at the turn of the century, most Jews had no interest in hacking a new country out of their old homeland, which had over the centuries become a desert. John Urquhart, in his classic book The Wonders of Prophecy, notes that Rabbinowitz went to Palestine in 1882 to check the feasibility of this idea, but had to abandon the notion due to the poverty of the soil and the oppression of the Turkish government.

However, when Hitler came to power in Europe and tried to eradicate the Jews, it became obvious that they needed to form a separate nation so they could at least fight together. Thus after World War II the Jews who survived the gas chambers fled to Palestine, and in 1948 Israel once again became a nation. Today the anti-Jewish sentiments of Communist-block countries continues the post-war influx of immigrants to their homeland.

Another prophecy concerning this final return of the Jews is given in Isaiah 11:11-14:

"In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Ephraim's jealousy will vanish, and Judah's enemies will be cut off; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them."
Today in Israel we find no hostility between the various family lines, as there was in ancient Israel: What counts is that you are a son of Abraham; further distinctions are not considered important.

In closing we note a prophecy concerning the ancient city of Ashkelon:

"Gaza [an inland city] will be abandoned and Ashkelon [a coastal city] left in ruins. The land by the sea, where the Kerethites dwell [i.e., around Ashkelon], will be a place for the shepherd and sheep pens. It will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon.
Zephaniah 2:4,6-7
Ashkelon was a major port on the Mediterranean until it was destroyed by Sultan Bibars in 1270 AD. To prevent further use of the natural harbor, they filled it with stones. The surrounding lands then became a sheep herding area, as predicted. However, after the Israelites returned in 1948, they have cleared the harbor and rebuilt the coastal city, as was also predicted. In contrast, the site of ancient Gaza, several miles inland, remains abandoned and comparatively inaccessible to this day.
 

NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECIES.

Given its shorter length and different emphasis, the New Testament does not brim with prophecies as much as the Old. However, several startling ones occur which specifically warn about future apostate "Christian" groups:

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth."
1 Timothy 4:1-3
Is there any group in Christendom today who forbids marriage to at least a part of their members (if it forbade marriage to all, it would quickly die out), and who has ever forbidden its members to eat certain foods on Fridays and during Lent? Thus we find here an example of prophecy which has clearly been fulfilled today.

Another example concerns the prostitute of Revelation chapters 17-18, who is said to have her headquarters on the city of seven hills, to be drunk with the blood of Christians she has martyred, and yet be an organization which obedient Christians need to be warned to leave. This prophecy is too extensive to discuss here, but is certainly worth reading thoughtfully.
 

CONCLUSIONS.

Imagine that you lived in Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar; Babylon is a thriving metropolis of close to a million people, and you are a well-to-do merchant, supervising the caravans bringing spices from India to Egypt. You go to the temple of Marduk every week, and have ten good servants, several beautiful wives, and fourteen beloved children who are all going to school; one son is even training to serve in Nebuchadnezzar's court. Marduk has certainly been good to you.

But one of your best servants is from Judah, some third-world trouble spot which old Neb wiped off the map several years ago. He keeps politely refusing to go to temple with you, and every time he gets an opportunity he tries to tell you about the fantastic God of Israel, who brought his people out from Egypt through the Red Sea, who shattered the walls of Jericho, who sent incredible prophets like Elijah.... But every time you just laugh back at him, and say, "How can you cling to your God like that? Marduk has conquered and scattered you! Why should I bother with the God of your little country, when you lost, and especially when you say he's the only God?"

All these people are dust now. The people of Babylon, of Memphis, of Thebes, of Tyre, of Ashkelon and Gaza - and all of the goals and gods they worked for - are dust now too. Yet the God of Israel seems to have survived to have the last laugh. The predictions his prophets made about these ancient cities who chose to ignore him, and about the Jewish people who disobeyed him, have come to pass.

Moreover, remember that the purpose of these prophecies is not merely to satisfy our curiosity about the future or to amuse us for an afternoon. Looking back over the above passages from Isaiah, it seems that the God of the Bible wants to prove a point: That he alone is God because he, among all the gods of this world, can faithfully predict the future. It seems that the God of the Bible is giving verifiable, objective evidence and demonstrating, even to us in the 20th century, that he alone can and should be believed among the hordes of religions. Perhaps he is aware, even more than we are, that in another hundred years our bodies will be dust, and we will have each had to face that final test of "How do you know that you are right":Death. Could it be that the God of Israel wants us to come through death on his team? Could it be that he wants us to have a more sound basis for trust than the usual "religious" experiences? Consider the testimony of one of the New Testament writers:

"We did not follow cleverly concocted stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place...."
2 Peter l:16-19
Peter does not claim that after he had this (objective!) religious experience, he just knew in his heart that Christianity was true; what clinches it for him is that the things which Jesus did, and what people did to him, were all prophesied hundreds of years before he came. Further, for us who were not eyewitnesses, Peter recommends that we heed not our own emotional experiences, or even trust his personal report about the things he has seen: No, Peter calls us to heed the data that can be tested and retested - the prophecies.

What is the advantage of prophecy over eyewitness experience? Prophetic data is objective and written. If we worry that we misinterpreted something, we can go back and check again. The evidence of prophecy and history does not change with our mood; we can trust this type of data as much as we can trust that the sun rose this morning.

Someone may feel that the data presented here just isn't enough to be convincing, especially when the existence of a supernatural being other than themselves is at stake. Unfortunately, one cannot condense all of the Biblical prophecies and all the world's history into one short paper. For more examples, see The Wonders of Prophecy, by John Urquhart and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell.

Others may be made so uncomfortable by the "threat" of Christianity that they cease to be objective, saying, "I won't believe in Jesus unless someone came back from the dead and stood right here in front of me, and warned me about hell!" While it's possible for God to do this, it's dangerous to set hypothetical limits which must be exceeded before we can be convinced. The core question in any objective investigation is not, "Do we have all of the data that we want?" for this never happens. Rather, we must ask, "Do we have enough reliable data to make a reasonable decision?" In the physical sciences no one ever gets all of the data he desires, for more questions and new areas of research are continually opening up. Yet, by cleverly designing his experimental approaches, enough data can usually be gathered to enable the researcher to make an intelligent decision as to which of several models is clearly most accurate. We must be careful not to demand more data from God than we commonly use in other important decisions.

In Luke 16:29-31 Jesus tells us the evidence contained in Moses and the Prophets is sufficient. Maybe it is not as exciting and glamorous as we want, but then glamor is as bad a guide to truth as emotion. Is there a reasonable basis to conclude that the God of the Bible exists and he should be heeded? Certainly in comparison to the rest of the gods of this world, that answer is simply "Yes."

John A. Bloom
 
 

Produced for IBRI
PO Box 423
Hatfield, PA 19440


You can contact IBRI by e-mail at: rnewman@biblical.edu
Return to the IBRI Home Page

Last updated: January 19, 2002