What is truth? That was the rhetorical question of Pontius Pilate when he was facing Truth, in Person. Like Pilate, we are all faced with this basic challenge: “What is truth?” Perhaps that question can be refined even more, to the most crucial question: “How do we know the Bible is true?”
The first step is to recognize today’s skeptical environment. There are attacks on every side for the very existence of truth. Society espouses relativism by saying, “You have your truth; I have mine.” This is accompanied by attacks on the Bible itself—the very fountain of truth for mankind, the very basis of our heritage. Of course, there are also attacks on the Lord Himself.
This is all happening with a cosmic warfare going on in the background. Scripture makes it clear that we are faced with spiritual adversaries whose principal weapons are deceit and doubt. That was Satan’s first move in the Garden of Eden. To ask the question, “Hath God said?” raises doubts that God really said what He said. That strategy echoes throughout the centuries and is very, very pervasive in our civilization today.
So how do we know the Bible is true? The traditional approach to defending the Bible tends to be a bit scholastic. There is another approach that uses branches of science that would not commonly be connected with the Bible. It’s quite astonishing to realize how the discoveries of modern science in just the last century have totally altered our understanding of the reality in which we live. This approach is an exploration of the very boundaries of what we think of as reality.
It may seem strange, but this approach will even require consideration of messages from outside the boundaries of our reality. These are messages that are extraterrestrial; they actually have their origin outside the space-time of earth. There are also some hidden discoveries in the Biblical text itself that may be surprising.
The Ancient Manuscripts
Old Testament Texts
While the many books of the Bible were being produced since the days of Moses, the full canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, complete with the major and minor prophets, was compiled during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (circa 515 B.C. - 458 B.C.). The Tenach was reproduced with great care by Hebrew copyists, who recognized that the words they painstakingly wrote out had been breathed by God.
The original text of any translation is called its “vorlage” - from the German word for “prototype.” Any particular text will have its vorlage - its source.
After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the subsequent scattering of the Jews in the centuries that followed, it became increasingly important for Jewish scribes to preserve the pronunciation of the Hebrew text. Medieval scribes from Tiberias were charged with Old Testament text preservation from about A.D. 500 and following. These Masoretes codified the earlier Hebrew text and invented a “pointing” system for implied vowels in the Hebrew. The oldest dated manuscript that we have is the Codex Cairensis from about A.D. 895, copied by Moses Ben Asher in Tiberias. This book contains the Prophets portion of the Tenach, including what the Hebrew Bible calls the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). The oldest complete Old Testament was once the famous Aleppo Codex, produced in about A.D. 930 and attributed to Aaron ben Moses ben Asher. In 1947, a large portion of the Aleppo Codex was either burned or the pages were stolen. The Leningrad Codex is very similar to the Aleppo Codex, and is now the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, dated to A.D. 1008. The official copy of the Masoretic Text (MT) used today is based largely on these manuscripts.
Sometime after the Samaritans won their independence in the 4th century B.C., they produced a version of the five books of Moses using their own alphabet. Copies of this are preserved to this day as the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). It contains about 6000 variants from the Masoretic Text of the Pentateuch, 1000 of which are fairly significant. A variety of passages in the SP are expanded and added, much like an amplified Bible.
In 285 B.C., Ptolemy II Philadelphus funded the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. He had established a library at Alexandria in Egypt and wanted to include a copy of the Jewish Scriptures. Greek was the language of the land, and most people - including the Jews - spoke Greek. The Jewish people of Egypt used Hebrew primarily for ceremonial purposes, much as Roman Catholics consistently used Latin before Vatican II. Not all Jewish people had facility in Hebrew. Alexandria was one of the major literary centers of the world in those days, and according to tradition, 70 scholars (some say 72) were funded to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Thus, the Greek work was given the name “Septuagint” from the Greek word for 70. The Septuagint translation is usually abbreviated with LXX, which is “70” in Roman numerals.
The five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, were translated first, and they were done quickly - though perhaps not in 72 days as the legend said. The rest of the books were likely translated within a few years, but it’s difficult to know exactly how soon they were finished. We know for certain the whole Old Testament was completely translated into Greek by the time Jesus the son of Sirach alluded to them in his Prologue in B.C. 130, but they were certainly finished long before that date. The son of Sirach complains that there are some major differences between the LXX and the Hebrew originals. It was a difficult thing to translate Hebrew ideas into Greek, because the Hellenistic culture simply didn’t have corresponding words to use.
There are certain things to note about the LXX: the translators used a clearly Alexandrian form of Greek, and they often pulled their texts from the Samaritan Pentateuch rather than the copies of the Pentateuch used in Jerusalem. They also used their own interpretations of passages to move them from the “understood” language of Hebrew to the highly precise language of Greek. As Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton wrote in the Introduction to his English translation of the Septuagint:
One difficulty which they had to overcome was that of introducing theological ideas, which till then had only their proper terms in Hebrew, into a language of Gentiles, which till then had terms for no religious notions except those of heathens. Hence the necessity of using many words and phrases in new and appropriated senses.
These remarks are not intended as depreciatory of the Septuagint version: their object is rather to show what difficulties the translators had to encounter, and why in some respects they failed; as well as to meet the thought which has occupied the minds of some, who would extol this version as though it possessed something resembling co-ordinate authority with the Hebrew text itself.
The Septuagint is a valuable document for many reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that the prophecies detailed in the Old Testament were in black and white virtually three centuries before Christ’s ministry. The existence of those prophecies are beyond dispute, because they are locked away in a book that an Egyptian king had translated into Greek several centuries before Christ’s birth. It also gives us a precise Greek rendering of the Old Testament. The translators chose their Greek terms carefully, and these help us better understand what the Alexandrian Jews of the day believed was the correct understanding of certain passages. For instance, where the Hebrew calls the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men nephilim - fallen ones - the Septuagint translates them gigantes - “earth born” – which had the connotation of “giants.” The Septuagint translation gives us greater insight into the Hebrew understanding of these strange hybrids. The Greek gigantes truly were giants, not just strong men or warriors.
The Septuagint is also significant because it became the Bible of the early Church. The early Greek Christians used the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament along with the letters of Paul and the other apostles as their Scriptures. The Septuagint is the most-often quoted text in the New Testament, and the text can be correlated with the same passages in the Hebrew.
There are a variety of different “targums” of the Old Testament, which originally began as oral explanations of the text. It was initially forbidden to write down these lessons, but written copies eventually came out. Aramaic became the official language of the Persian Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., and the targums eventually included full translations of the text into Aramaic as the Hebrew became less well understood by the general population. Post-exilic synagogue liturgical needs led to several translations. The official targum of the Pentateuch is the Targum of Onkelos, which is highly venerated. There is also the Targum of Jonathan, the Jerusalem Targums/Palestinian Targum, and the Targum on the Hagiographa. The Samaritan Pentateuch has an Aramaic targum of its own.
There are some very interesting differences between the Onkelos translation and the King James Bible. In Genesis 4:26, Enosh is listed as the first son of Seth. The second part of that verse in the King James states, “…then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” This is a weak interpretation of the true meaning of the verse. The passage in the Targum of Onkelos states, “…Then in his days the sons of men desisted (or forbore) from praying in the name of the Lord.” The Targum of Jonathan adds even more commentary: “…That was the generation in whose days they began to err, and to make themselves idols, and surnamed their idols by the name of the Word of the Lord.”
There is another document we might mention: the Peshitta is the Eastern Aramaic targum used in the Syriac church. The word peshita means “simple” or even “common.” The Peshitta contains translations of both the Old and New Testaments. Its literary history is very complex and problematic; there is debate about exactly where it originated, and it did not originally include 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, or Revelation. It is believed the Old Testament portion of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew, and the New Testament was translated from the Greek. Luke tells us in Acts 11:26 that the members of the early Church were first called Christians at Antioch; a Syrian version of the New Testament writings would have reasonably come into translation fairly early in Church history.
New Testament Texts
There are a multitude of ancient documents from the New Testament. They come in four different forms:
Papyri were written on papyrus (a plant material) and date to about 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Papyri are brittle and deteriorate easily in the damp, and 127 have survived, according to the most recent count by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research.
Uncials were written on parchment, which was made from the skin of animals. While parchments were far more resilient than papyri, they were also more expensive and did not come into popular use until the 4th century when the Church became respectable in Rome (although there do exist important uncials that are older than many papyri). There are about 320 of these uncials on parchment.
Both the papyri and uncials are written in “uncial” or “majuscule” script. That is, they were written in an upper-case continuous-text form of writing, and there were no forms of punctuation or spaces between the words in the early days. This writing style easily leads to confusion.
By the ninth century, a form of cursive had developed that sometimes included punctuation and spaces and breathing marks. Miniscules were manuscripts written in cursive hand, and they number as many as 2903. Finally, lectionaries were developed for liturgical use, and they can be found in either majuscule or miniscule script and on parchment or papyri. There are about 2445 of these in existence as of this writing.
In other words, there are nearly 5800 texts of the New Testament documents, and scholars are confident about the meaning of most New Testament passages. Study Bibles include any variations in the footnotes, and alternate wordings or textual differences are minor and do not bring into question any major Christian doctrines.
The oldest (nearly) complete texts of the New Testament are found in three major manuscripts: Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. The first two date from the fourth century, and the last from the fifth century. There are papyri older than these three codices, and their great age does not necessarily make them the most reliable (as we’ll see in a few chapters), but they are important, complete New Testament texts.
Latin versions of Biblical texts show up in the second century under the early Christian writer Tertullian (A.D. 190). We find fragments of text in Old Latin as Latin began to replace Greek as the common language in the third century. In A.D. 382, a priest named Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Old Latin texts of the Bible and translate them into the common Latin of the people. His “commonly used” version was published into what is now known as the Latin Vulgate. It is a composite of the Septuagint, Hebrew, Latin and other manuscripts available at that time. Jerome finished his translation in A.D. 405. It was Jerome who first called the non-canonical books of the LXX the “Apocrypha.”He translated them, but he did not regard them as the Word of God.
Dead Sea Scrolls
We can’t talk about the Biblical manuscripts without making allusion to one of the most important finds in Biblical archaeology: the Dead Sea Scrolls. These contain a multitude of manuscripts, including 127 different scrolls from just the five books of Moses. Between 1946 and 1956, 981 different texts were found in eleven caves from the area of Qumran near the Dead Sea. Of these, about 230 scrolls are considered Biblical, while others are routine documents that describe the daily life and rules of the community that lived in Qumran during the first century.
During the past half century, a vast 60,000 fragments have been discovered (85% parchments, 15% papyrus), many of which have yet to be examined. Every Old Testament book except Esther has been found among the fragments. There are additional books, including those contained in the Pseudepigrapha and previously unknown works. The ancient documents can be confidently dated prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The biblical texts agree closely with either the Septuagint or the Masoretic Text, and thus these materials offer highly significant corroboration of the Bible we hold in our hands.
Researchers were able to compare the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Masoretic Text (MT) and demonstrate the great care in copying that had preserved the holy texts for centuries. It was found that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls more closely followed the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and some more closely followed the MT. In these cases, there are clearly differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Masoretic Text that are linked to differences between the MT and the SP. However, the majority of the relatively few differences between the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls are related to spelling and syntax. The Great Scroll of Isaiah is a notable example. Considering the thousand-year passage of time between the Scrolls and the MT, the copyists had made very few mistakes, and none that had any effect on any core doctrine of the Bible.
Hidden in Plain Sight
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
Are there hidden messages in the Bible? Some say no. Let us look further.
It comes as a surprise to many that there are numerous hidden messages in the Bible and one of the most remarkable is hidden in a genealogy in Genesis Chapter 5:8. This is one of those chapters which we often tend to skim over quickly as we pass through Genesis; after all, it’s only a genealogy of ten people, from Adam to Noah.
But God always rewards the diligent student. Let’s examine this chapter more closely.
In our Bible, we read the ten Hebrew names: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah. Since these are proper names, they are not translated, but only transliterated to approximate the way they were pronounced. But what do these names signify in English?
Original Roots Needed
The meaning of proper names can be a difficult pursuit since a direct translation is usually not readily available. Even a conventional Hebrew lexicon can prove disappointing. Many study aids, such as a conventional lexicon, can prove superficial when dealing with proper names. A study of the original roots, however, can yield some fascinating insights. (However, views concerning the meaning of original roots are not free of controversy and variant readings.)
The Mystery of Methuselah
Here is a question to ask your Biblically literate friends: If Methuselah was the oldest man in the Bible, how could he die before his father? That’s a real puzzler to most people!
That’s because since most people forget who his father was: His father was Enoch, who didn’t die, but was caught up directly to heaven. Enoch also happens to be one of the most fascinating characters in the Old Testament.
The Flood of Noah did not come as a surprise. It had been preached on for four generations. But something strange happened when Enoch was 65, from which time “he walked with God.” Enoch was given a prophecy of the coming Great Flood, and was apparently told that as long as his son was alive, the judgment of the Flood would be withheld; but as soon as he died, the Flood would be sent forth.
Enoch named his son to reflect this prophecy. The name Methuselah comes from two roots: מוּת, muth, a root that means “death”; and from שלח, shalach, which means “to bring,” or “to send forth.” Thus, the name Methuselah signifies, “his death shall bring.” (Can you imagine raising that kid? Every time the boy caught a cold, the entire neighborhood must have panicked!)
And, indeed, in the year that Methuselah died, the flood came. Methuselah was 187 when he had Lamech, and lived 782 years more. Lamech had Noah when he was 182. The Flood came in Noah’s 600th year. 187 + 182 + 600 = 969, the year Methuselah died.
It is interesting that Methuselah’s life was, in effect, a symbol of God’s mercy in forestalling the coming judgment of the Flood. It is therefore fitting that his lifetime is the oldest in the Bible, symbolizing the extreme extensiveness of God’s mercy.
The Other Names
Since there is such significance in Methuselah’s name, let’s examine the other names to discover what may lie behind them. (Bear with me on this: it’ll be worth it!)
The first name, Adam, אדם, adomah, means “man.” As the first man, that seems straightforward enough.
Adam’s son was named Seth, שֵׁת, which means “appointed.” “When he was born Eve said, “For God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”
Seth’s son was called Enosh, אֱנוֹשׁ, which means “mortal,” “frail,” or “miserable.” It is from the root anash: to be incurable, used of a wound, grief, woe, sickness, or wickedness.
It was in the days of Enosh that men began to defile the name of the Living God.
Enosh’s son was named Kenan, from קֵינָן which can mean “sorrow,” “dirge,” or “elegy.” (The precise denotation is somewhat elusive; some study aids unfortunately presume that Kenan is synonymous with “Cainan.” Balaam, looking down from the heights of Moab, employed a pun upon the name of the Kenites when he prophesied their destruction.)
We have no real idea as to why these names were chosen for their children. Often they may have referred to circumstances at their birth, etc.
Kenan’s son was Mahalalel, from מהלל, which means “blessed” or “praise”; and אל El, the name for God. Thus, Mahalalel means “the Blessed God.” Often Hebrew names included El, the name of God, as Dani-el, “God is my Judge,” Nathani-el, “Gift of God,” etc.
Mahalalel’s son was named Jared, יֶרֶד, from the verb yaradh, meaning “shall come down.” Some authorities suggest that this might be an allusion to the “Sons of God” who “came down” to corrupt the daughters of men, resulting in the Nephilim (“fallen ones”) of Genesis 6.
Jared’s son was named Enoch, חֲנוֹך, which means “teaching,” or “commencement.” He was the first of four generations of preachers. In fact, the earliest recorded prophecy was by Enoch, which, amazingly enough, deals with the Second Coming of Christ (although it is quoted in the Book of Jude in the New Testament):
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
To execute judgement upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
Enoch was the father of Methuselah, whom we have already mentioned. Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah. Apparently, Enoch received the prophecy of the Great Flood, and was told that as long as his son was alive, the judgment of the Flood would be withheld. The year that Methuselah died, the Flood came.
Methuselah’s son was named Lamech, לֶמֶךְ, a root still evident today in our own English word, “lament” or “lamentation.” Lamech suggests “despairing.”
(This name is also linked to the Lamech in Cain’s line who inadvertently killed his son Tubal-Cain in a hunting incident.)
Lamech, of course, is the father of Noah, נֹחַ, which is derived from nacham, “to bring relief” or “comfort,” as Lamech himself explains:
And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.
The Composite List
Now let’s put it all together:
The Blessed God
Shall come down
His death shall bring
Rest, or comfort
“Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the Blessed God shall come down teaching (that) His death shall bring (the) despairing rest.”
Here is a summary of God’s plan of redemption, hidden here within a genealogy in Genesis! You will never convince me that a group of Jewish rabbis deliberately contrived to hide a summary of the Christian Gospel right here in a genealogy within their venerated Torah!
Evidences of Design
The implications of this discovery are far more deeply significant than may be evident at first glance. It demonstrates that in the earliest chapters of the Book of Genesis, God had already laid out His plan of redemption for the predicament of mankind. It is the beginning of a love story, ultimately written in blood on a wooden cross which was erected in Judea almost 2,000 years ago.
This is also one of many evidences that the Bible is an integrated message system, the product of supernatural engineering. This punctures the presumptions of many who view the Bible as a record of an evolving cultural tradition, noble though it may be. It claims to be authored by the One who alone knows the end from the beginning.
It is astonishing to discover how many Biblical “controversies” seem to evaporate if one simply recognizes the unity—the integrity—of these 66 books. Every number, every place name, every detail—every jot and tittle—is part of a tightly engineered design, tailored for our learning, our discovery, and our amazement.
What Does Prophecy Prove?
The world has in its possession a collection of sixty-six books that we glibly call the Bible. It is sixty-six separate books, penned by over forty authors, over several thousand years.
There are two strategic discoveries every one of us needs to make about this book. The first discovery reveals this as an integrated message. It’s not simply a theme where the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament; it’s much more than that. Every detail is deliberately designed in anticipation of what follows. Each of us needs to discover that for ourselves.
That leads to the second discovery; one that’s even more startling. We can prove that the origin of that message had to come from outside the time domain. It’s provable simply because it accurately describes, with astonishing precision, history before it happens. That is a hallmark of this book, as well as its authentication.
Every number, every place-name is positioned there deliberately. Jesus gave a hint of that when He said:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Jot and tittle are Hebraisms. A jot is one of the twenty-two Hebrew letters; one that might be mistaken for an apostrophe. The tittle is a little decorative hook on some of the letters. It’s like saying, “Not the crossing of a t or dotting of an i will pass until all the law is fulfilled.” It’s a call to take it very seriously.
Measuring Our Confidence
With that in mind, consider the Bible’s description of prophecy, or history before it happens. By at least one catalog, there are over 8,000 predictive verses, with almost 2,000 different predictions, on over 700 different matters. That’s from J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy.
If that’s true, can we measure how confident a person can be about the Bible?
Peter wrote in his second letter:
We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
2 Peter 1:16
He is of course alluding to Matthew 17, the Transfiguration.
A few verses later, he said something startling. He said:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts
2 Peter 1:19
What on earth did he mean? He was an eyewitness, and yet he says, “We have even something better. We have the more sure word of prophecy.” What is he talking about?
William Thomson, known as Lord Kelvin, made an interesting remark. He said, “Until we can measure a thing, we really know very little about it.” That’s what drives many scientists to really measure things, to really make sure we understand them. Are there measurements that would increase our confidence in the authenticity of the Bible?
The following discussion is anchored on one manuscript fact. The Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, were translated into Greek by 270 B.C. It’s called the Septuagint Version, and you have access to a copy through almost any bookstore. The point here is that these prophecies are all documented by the Septuagint hundreds of years before their fulfillment. They could not have been created or altered after-the-fact, in order to make a better match between the prophecy and its fulfillment.
These Hebrew Scriptures contain over 300 prophecies that detail the coming Jewish Messiah. Here are a few of these Old Testament prophecies.
- He would be of David’s family (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:3-4; 110:1; 132:11).
- He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
- He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
- They will sojourn in Egypt (Hosea 11:1).
- He would live in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2; 11:1).
- He’d be announced by an Elijah-like herald (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; 4:5).
- This would occasion the massacre of Bethlehem’s children (Genesis 35:19-20; Jeremiah 31:15).
- His mission would include the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-4).
- His ministry would be one of healing (Isaiah 53:4-5).
- He would teach through parables (Isaiah 6:9-10; Psalm 78:2).
- He would be disbelieved and rejected by the rulers (Psalm 69:4; 118:22; Isaiah 6:10; 29:13; 53:1).
- He would make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 118:26).
- He would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:1-13; Psalm 41:9).
- He would be like a smitten shepherd (Zechariah 13:7).
- He would be given vinegar and gall (Psalm 69:21).
- They would cast lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18).
- His side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10; Psalm 22:16).
- Not a bone would be broken (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20).
- He would die among malefactors (Isaiah 53:9, 12).
- His dying words were foretold (Psalm 22:1; 31:5).
- He’d be buried by a rich man (Isaiah 53:9).
- He would rise from the dead on the third day (Genesis 22:4; Psalm 16:10-11; Jonah 1:17; Hosea 6:2).
- His resurrection would be followed by the destruction of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:26; 11:31).
This is just a sampling of a list of over 300. We will examine only eight of the simplest prophecies, and come to some conclusions about them.
Eight Messianic Prophecies
First, let’s take the one that’s popular on Christmas cards.
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
There are a number of gems tucked away in this one verse, but we’re going to extract just one fact. Where was the Messiah to be born? Obviously, it was in Bethlehem.
Question: what is the probability of any person fulfilling this prophecy? They must be taken at random, over the last few thousand years. If the population of Bethlehem is less than 10,000 during that period of time, and if there’s an average of a billion people on the planet earth, then we can divide that out to about one chance in 100, 000, or less, that a person that you pick at random would have been born in Bethlehem. It’s probably much rarer than that, but that generous figure will serve the purpose.
Let’s take another one.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Obviously, Jesus Christ went out of His way to fulfill this very specific one, but how many people in the last several thousand years have presented themselves to Jerusalem as a king riding a donkey? We could safely say less than one in a hundred, and that’s being generous.
Here is another one.
And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.
How many people have been betrayed for precisely thirty pieces of silver? Let’s say the probability of someone being betrayed for that specific price is less than one in 1,000.
And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord
This particular one may require a little more familiarity with the New Testament. You may recall that in the Gospel of Matthew, after Judas betrayed Christ:
When he [Judas] saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders
Saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” And they said, “What’s that to us? See thou to that.”
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went out and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, “It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury because it is the price of blood.”
And they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.
Wherefore, that field is called the field of blood to this day.
Understand that the Temple had the obligation to pay for burial when someone died in the precincts and there was no one to take the body. They couldn’t put the money in the treasury, but they could prepay anticipated expenses. So they bought a field that would be a cheap place to acquit themselves of this burial obligation.
Notice the particulars here:
— The price was thirty pieces of silver;
— The location of the transaction was in the house of the Lord, the Temple;
— The potter, the owner of that field, gets the money.
It’s interesting those conditions all come from Zechariah’s prophecy. The probability of this happening as a random occurrence is likely to be less than one in 100,000.
There’s another prophecy in Zechariah that is personally touching to me. It says:
One shall say unto him, “What are these wounds in thine hands?” then he shall answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
When I first encountered this, I was a teenager, and I was on a memory kick. So, when I came across this prophecy, I typed up a little card and put the verse on one side and the reference on the other, to try and learn it. I always carried a few of these as I added to my repertoire.
As I tried to memorize this, I got more confused because I recognized it looked like prophecy at first, but it didn’t make sense. I could not visualize Jesus with the Roman soldiers driving spikes through His wrists as saying this was “in the house of my friends.” That just didn’t compute.
I was reading the Gospel of John once, and it said:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
I realized it wasn’t the nails that wounded Christ, it was Thomas’ unbelief.
Getting back to Zechariah 13:6, how many people, taken at random, have been wounded in their hands in the house of their friends, in whatever context? Let’s say less than one in a thousand, to be generous.
Take another one:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
This is a chapter that details the crucifixion, even though it was written as a pillar passage in the Old Testament. How many prisoners accused of a capital crime, a death penalty situation, make no defense even though they’re innocent? Out of all the prisoners, less than one in a thousand would be a generous number.
He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
How many died among the wicked, yet were buried with the rich? We will assign this less than one in a thousand.
Here’s the last one. Psalm 22 reads as if it was dictated, first person singular, as He hung on the cross, even though it was written 700 years earlier.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet
This is remarkable because it was written hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented. The official form of capital punishment in Israel, at that time, was stoning. Here, the Messiah is to be crucified, not stoned. (Crucifixion was invented by the Persians, and widely adopted by the Romans.)
How many people, taken at random in the last 2,000 years, have died by having their hands and feet pierced? There were many thousands of course, but can we say less than one in 10,000 of the entire population?
With that last one, we have now established the probability for eight prophecies. Here’s a list of them:
- Born in Bethlehem – 1:100,000
- King on a donkey – 1:100
- 30 pieces of silver – 1:1,000
- Transaction of the temple to the potter – 1:100,000
- Wounds in His hands – 1:1,000
- No defense, though innocent – 1:1,000
- Died with the wicked, grave with the rich – 1:1,000
- Crucified – 1:10,000
The probability for each prophecy is entered beside each one. The next issue is to determine the probability that a particular person fulfilled all eight of these prophecies. That will involve composite probabilities, and for that, we need a little tutorial background.
Composite Probabilities Applied
Assume there are 100 people; 60% of them are male and 40% are female. What is the probability that if one is picked at random, it would be a female? Well, the answer to that is pretty straightforward. It’s 40%. If there are forty out of a hundred people who are female, the random chance of picking this female would be a probability of 0.4, or 40%.
Here is a different example. If the population is 60% right-handed and 40% left-handed, what’s the probability that a left-handed person would be chosen at random? (Assume that those properties are randomly distributed among the group.) The answer is 40%, again.
Using those two examples, what’s the probability of selecting a left-handed female?
To solve this requires combining the distribution, or percentage, found for each group: left-handed and female. The probability for females was 0.4, and the probability for left-handedness was also 0.4. Simply multiply the distributions to get the probability. Doing the math, the solution is 16%, or a probability of 0.16 of randomly choosing a left-handed female from our crowd.
The same process, multiplication, is used to find the probability of one person fulfilling the eight prophecies in our list. The numbers are conveniently in powers of 10, making it very simple to multiply them by counting the zeros. Take 10 times 100 and get 1,000. Just count the zeros in 10 and 100, then put that many zeros (there are three) in the answer (1,000).
Here are the prophecies again, with their probabilities.
- Born in Bethlehem – 1:100,000
- King on a donkey – 1:100
- 30 pieces of silver – 1:1,000
- Transaction of the temple to the potter – 1:100,000
- Wounds in His hands – 1:1,000
- No defense, though innocent – 1:1,000
- Died with the wicked, grave with the rich – 1:1,000
- Crucified – 1:10,000
The probability of one person fulfilling these eight prophecies is 10 with 28 zeros after. That has to be divided by the total population involved. A good estimate is about 1011 people for the total population. So, we have 1028 divided by 1011, equaling 1017. That’s a very large number.
It can be hard to picture what this really means, so start by visualizing what one chance in a hundred would look like. Take a large bucket, and put 100 silver dollars in it. Next, mark one of the silver dollars and shake up the bucket so that the marked coin has an equal chance of being anywhere in the bucket. Blindfold someone and have them reach in and pick one silver dollar. The chance of that person picking up the marked silver dollar is one chance in a hundred. That’s what it means to say there is a probability of one in a hundred.
Instead of a hundred silver dollars, we have 1017 silver dollars. A bucket is too small to hold 1017 silver dollars. This will take the entire state of Texas. If 1017 silver dollars are poured in, the entire state would be about two feet deep in silver dollars.
Just like before, one person must be blindfolded, and then they must be allowed to walk as far and as long as they like. This creates an equal chance of getting any particular silver dollar. What’s the chance of walking for days, reaching down while blindfolded, and picking up the silver dollar that was marked? That person has one chance in 1017 of succeeding. Now you have a picture for such a large number.
This example with prophecies only took eight out of a possible 300. Let’s take another eight, but to save time, just stipulate that the next eight prophecies are no less likely than the first eight. In reality, that’s a fiction because the next eight will be more precise, and more rare, but we will ignore that.
Take the total for the first set of prophecies, which was 1028 (there were twenty-eight zeros), times the second set, which is also 1028, and the product equals 1056. Next, divide by 1011, like last time, and get 1045.
Even the state of Texas is too small for that amount of silver dollars. This time, we need to build a ball of silver dollars that is thirty times the distance from the earth to the sun. That’s a ball, not a line, and it’s not just one trip to the sun, but the size of thirty trips. That would take 1045 silver dollars. This illustration shows how absurdly huge these probabilities have come so far.
Taking one more, we will triple it from sixteen to forty-eight prophecies. Again, assume no decrease in likelihoods, and multiply 1028 six times. That comes to 10168 (the easy way is to simply add twenty-eight six times.) Divide that by 1011 again, and the result is 10157.
To demonstrate a probability of 10157 silver dollars is challenging because the number is so large. So use an atom instead of a silver dollar, and make a ball of atoms instead of a bucket of coins.
A ball of atoms using every atom in the universe would have 1066 atoms. That’s a long way from 10157 atoms. Suppose that each atom from that ball could be used to create a new ball of the same size. That’s 1066 times 1066, or 10132 atoms. That is still a long way from 10157.
Repeat this whole exercise every second since the universe began, assuming a 16-billion-year lifetime. That will only be 10149 atoms; still a long way from 10157 atoms. The total is short by 100 million times.
This exercise goes beyond any reasonable threshold of conceptual reach. But, this example only deals with 48 of over 300 prophecies; not even a quarter of the total.
Here’s another way to say it. I’m convinced that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of Israel. I’m more confident in that fact than I am of my name being Chuck Missler, or even the fact of my own existence. It is that certain that Jesus Christ was, and is, the Messiah.
The 69 Weeks Prophecy
There are some amazing prophecies we have skipped, such as the detailed genealogy of Jesus. But, one in particular deserves our attention. It’s found in Daniel 9, where Gabriel tells Daniel about certain events five centuries before the fact.
Gabriel told Daniel that from the commandment to restore and re-build Jerusalem, to the Messiah the King would be a particular period of time. This is recorded in the Septuagint, three centuries before Christ was born—300 years before the event. Gabriel told Daniel that it would be 173,880 days from that commandment to the Messiah presenting Himself as King.
It was exactly 173,880 days from the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus (March fourteenth, 445 B.C.) to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. That was the only time that Jesus allowed Himself to be presented as the King. He also fulfilled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We are indebted to Sir Robert Anderson who was knighted, served as head of Scotland Yard, and whose landmark work in 1894 unveiled all of this to us.
Go through the arithmetic of the calendars from 445 BC to 32 AD is 173,740 days (remember there is no year zero). From March 14 to April 6 is twenty-four days, and a correction for leap years yields 116. Notice that Gabriel’s announcement was precise to the very day, five centuries before the event. There is just no way, with intellectual integrity, that this can be attributed to random chance or accident. This message came from outside the dimensionality of time, from the Creator Himself.
If God went to such great lengths for Messiah’s first coming, what should we expect for the second coming? The return of Christ to rule the planet earth has over 1,800 references in the Old Testament. Seventeen books give prominence to the event in the Old Testament. There are 318 references to this in the New Testament, and they are found in 216 chapters. That means twenty-three of the twenty-seven books give prominence to this event. For every prophecy of Christ’s first coming that we’ve detailed, there are eight of His second coming.
This epistemological approach starts by establishing the integrity of the design of Scripture. You don’t have to wade through ancient manuscripts to do that. All you have to do is study the Bible you already have, and discover that there are idioms in the Old Testament that make no sense except to the extent they’re fulfilled in the New Testament.
For instance, Moses raised a brazen serpent in the wilderness for everyone to look at and be healed. That makes no sense at all, until you get to the New Testament where Jesus explains it:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
Abraham is told to offer his son Isaac on a mountain. He knew he was acting out a prophecy, and so “Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14). He apparently realized that another Father would offer His Son on that exact spot two thousand years later.
There is example after example after example of this. The Bible has unexplained events in the Old Testament that make sense and become relevant only when the explanation is given in the New Testament.
Most of us, as Christians, are blind to much of what’s there because we haven’t done our homework in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not make the Old obsolete; it fulfills it. It’s one book; it’s an integrated package that requires both parts.
Once you establish the integrity of the book’s design, then that will establish the identity of Jesus Christ.
Once the identity of Jesus Christ is established, then the design of the whole package is authenticated. That’s the epistemological approach presented here.