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Prophecy Controversy

Updated: Mar 16

My last post referred to the 351 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus, even though they were written at least 400 years before He was born (some as early as 1600 years before). What is the 'best fit' explanation to account for statements that accurately predict the future?


Some question the interpretations of the prophecies and the supposed fulfilment. For example, it is assumed the genealogy in Luke’s Gospel outlines Jesus’ ancestry from King David through His mother Mary’s line. However, in the text it refers to Joseph[1]. If both Gospel genealogies represent Joseph’s line (who wasn’t a blood relative of Jesus) – how can Jesus have a claim to David’s throne? Thus, the conclusion is that Jesus wasn’t the long-awaited Messiah.

Others have questioned whether some of the prophecies could be true of many people’s lives and therefore don’t hint at divine revelation. For example, being mocked, despised, rejected and spat upon are hardly experiences that are unique only to the Messiah. How do we know that the 351 Old Testament verses/passages should be interpreted as Messianic predictions? They are scattered throughout the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible and weren’t labelled in the original texts with sub-headings direct from God to tell us that they are Messianic (although sub-headings have been added to the texts retrospectively to aid interpretation). In the Psalms passages, the prophecies are interwoven in the prayers of David about his life (he suffered a lot of hardship and rejection[2]). It’s not exactly obvious that David thought he was writing about a future individual instead of the perils of his own existence.

Still others take the sceptical position regarding the ulterior motives of the Gospel writers. They propose that sinister fabrications have been added to the accounts, in order to make people believe Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews were very familiar with these Old Testament prophecies, and so if you wanted to create a 'movement' around one specific person, you simply need to slip these prophecies into the story of Jesus’ life and claim that He fulfilled them all. Hey presto, you achieve notoriety and fame, and possibly a big enough rebellion to overthrow the dreaded Romans from Israel’s territory.


These criticisms have caused me to wrestle in doubt over the prophecies of Jesus and how much they can be used as a source of evidence to believe in a God who revealed them. I have reasons to hope, rather than doubt however that my original argument in the previous post still stands.

Regarding the first argument about the genealogy in Luke, there is a strong case that it must refer to Mary as it has differences to the Matthew genealogy which is linked to Joseph. After David, many of the names are different. Either the Gospel writers inaccurately traced Joseph’s line and presented two contradictory versions or Luke was documenting Mary’s line. Mary’s descendants would demonstrate Jesus’ physical ancestry, which linked him to David, while Matthew’s account shows Jesus’ kingly line back to David. Legally, the Jews of Jesus’ day would have looked upon Jesus as a son of Joseph, so it was important to prove the Davidic claim through both parents. In Luke’s account he writes that Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,”[3] and then proceeds to outline the genealogy. Thus, Luke was making the point crystal clear that Jesus wasn’t related by blood to Joseph. Next, he outlined Jesus’ actual blood descent, which although not explicitly stated was through Mary, is implied to be, as the only known blood descendant. “The son of Heli”[4] is argued to be Mary’s father, as Matthew states that "Jacob" was Joseph’s father[5].

To respond to the charge that many of the prophecies are dubious or vague enough to apply to anybody – I would encourage you to read my previous post, where I outline the odds of one individual fulfilling just eight of the prophecies. The probabilities are incredibly extreme against them being fulfilled: being born of a virgin; born in Bethlehem; dying of crucifixion; being resurrected; and being betrayed for a set price do not seem vague in the slightest. It is easy to argue that the prophecies could refer to anybody when you only look at a set few which have been deliberately chosen because they are among the more vague on the list. However, when considering all 351 prophecies[6], and comparing them to Jesus’ life, this line of argument looks weak at best and lazy at worst.

Did the Gospel writers add in the prophecy details to their accounts for some selfish gain or innocent delusion? In my earlier posts, I put forward arguments in favour of treating the Gospels as reliable historical documents. We know from secular historical sources in the Roman world that Jesus was crucified (reported by Tacitus). So at least the prophecies of Jesus’ crucifixion can claim fulfilment. The Gospels declare on numerous occasions that the disciples didn’t understand Jesus when He talked about His mission. If the prophecies have been added to the Gospel accounts as a false conspiracy by the disciples to start a revolutionary movement then that would go against the grain of how these Messianic passages were traditionally interpreted.


Jesus often explained to His disciples that He had come to Earth to die and three days later would be resurrected[7]. Peter reacted strongly against this teaching by declaring “Never Lord!...this shall never happen to you!”[8] The Jews thought that the Messiah would be a strong military/political leader who would rescue Israel from foreign empires; they had no awareness that the plan was for Him to die[9]. My point is, the Gospels were written to try and tell others the good news about Jesus Christ and to accept Him as the Messiah. It was a risky strategy to include the prophecies at all to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus fulfilled them. The prophecies were traditionally interpreted in a very different way! So what could be the reason they did include them? Maybe because it was true. Jesus’ life did fulfil all 351 minute details and it was only afterwards that the disciples finally understood the correct interpretation of the prophecies. Messiah was the Suffering Servant; the Passover Lamb.

Some of these prophecies may seem insignificant and full of unimportant details. Why would God reveal that none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken[10]; that 30 pieces of silver would be the going rate for betraying Him[11] or that He would come riding to them on a donkey[12]? Maybe God was trying to make it as obvious as possible that Jesus is the long-awaited One. All of history points to Him and it’s all about Him. It is like it being written in the stars for all to see. Search the scriptures to see it for yourself.


References/Footnotes

[1] Luke 1:23

[2] See 1&2 Samuel

[3] Luke 3:23

[4] Luke 3:23

[5] Matthew 1:16

[6] Explore them for yourself here: https://www.newtestamentchristians.com/bible-study-resources/351-old-testament-prophecies-fulfilled-in-jesus-christ/

[7] Matt 16:21, Mark 8:31-38

[8] Matt 16:23

[9] How they missed this vital job description of the Messiah is baffling. I challenge you to read Isaiah 53 and reach any other conclusion than that the Jewish Messiah had to die in place of others and be brought back to life.

[10] Psa 34:20

[11] Zech 11:12-13

[12] Zech 9:9, Matt 21:1-5

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