I’ve had the Tekton Apologetics Ministries (TAM) in my blogroll on the right for a little while, and I’ve been meaning to review some of the articles that are posted there, so let’s take a quick field trip and have a look around, shall we?
The main page is very well done–professionally laid out, neatly organized, colorful without being garish. Content matters more than window dressing, but first impressions matter too, and the first impression we get when we look at the site is that this is a much better than average source for Christian apologetics. They seem to have quite a bit of material here, and I expect these guys will do a better than average job presenting the arguments Christians use to try and make up for the fact that their God consistently and universally fails to show up in the real world.
This site offers tons of material to the interested reader and no one post of mine is going to be able to do more than scratch the surface of what’s here. Since this is just a quick trip, let’s have a look at what’s listed under “P” on the Answers in a Nutshell page. (Typography as per the original page.)
Prophecy Does the NT misuse the OT for prophecy “fulfillment”? No. Summation of depth article found here:
- In NT times, ALL major groups within the Judaism of the day could, and did, use various text types. The early Christians were accordingly NO DIFFERENT than their non-Christian counterparts; they reflected the prevailing ‘methods’ and understandings of 1st century “good Jewry.”
- The NT authors were not in any way departing in radical fashion from their non-Christian counterparts in 1st century Judaism, in the area of exegetical practice. Instead, they were squarely within acceptable praxis, and indeed, may have constituted the most exegetically conservative of the groups at the time.
Did you catch that? The problem is that the value of a “prophetic” witness lies in the need for divine inspiration to explain the prophet’s foreknowledge. The style of interpretation used for the “fulfillments,” however, is so loose and flexible as to guarantee a “fulfillment” whether the prophet knew what the fulfillment was going to be or not. In other words, the “fulfillment” demonstrates only the interpreter’s ingenuity in manipulating the text, without the need for any actual foreknowledge on the prophet’s part.
The apologetics solution to this problem? Hey, all the theologians were using the “loose/flexible” style of interpretation back in the Bronze Age. In other words, “Aw, mom, everybody’s doing it!” If Christians adopt a style of interpretation that requires no actual foreknowledge on the part of the prophet, that’s ok, because the practice has been theologically validated by unbelieving Jews and superstitious pagans.
I guess that settles that.
No doubt the TAM author is quite correct that this style of interpretation was popular among other superstitious groups who needed some way to make it sound like their prophets had an inside scoop on their god’s view of the future. And it doesn’t hurt that the prophecies involved are worded vaguely enough that “fulfillments” are relatively easy to manufacture. According to the Law of Moses, if a prophet made a prediction and the prediction failed to come true, that prophet was to be put to death. So it’s no surprise that any prophet who lived long enough to become famous also developed the politician’s knack for saying things that sound deeply significant without actually pinning him down to anything specific.
The main problem with this answer is that it leaves the main problem unaddressed: following the superstitious practices of the ancient pagans and unbelieving Jews merely eliminates the need for the prophet to have any actual foreknowledge of what the fulfillment was going to be. It’s like predicting the weather by saying “The weather will be good tomorrow.” If it’s sunny, we say “Good day for a hike!” If it’s rainy, we say “Good for the crops!” And if there’s a tornado, we can say we were talking about the weather after the tornado. The “fulfillment” does not require any actual foreknowledge on our part, merely some ingenuity in interpreting the results.
The other problem with this answer is that we can’t apply it consistently, or else it becomes too easy to manufacture both “prophecies” and “fulfillments.” Joseph Smith, for example, took Jesus’s reference to “other sheep” as a prophecy of the discovery of the Book of Mormon and its story about migrant Jews living in America. David Koresh also saw himself as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy–many, many prophecies, in fact. Heck, we can even invent our own “fulfillments.” I doubt, for instance, that the Apostle Paul foresaw a day when Intelligent Design proponents would attempt to address the material assertions of Darwin’s theory by buying a Darwin doll and crushing its head in a vise. But we’d certainly be justified in calling this sort of behavior “boastful, proud, abusive…without love, unforgiving, slanderous…[and] brutal,” so why not claim that it’s a fulfillment of I Tim. 3:1-5?
Or why limit it to ancient Jewish texts? In Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, Shakespeare wrote “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we’re allowed enough flexibility in our interpretation, that could be a prophecy that was “fulfilled” by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Or by the discovery of planets beyond Saturn. Or by string theory. Or whatever.
In short, by appealing to the idea that Christians were only doing what everyone else at the time was doing, the TAM author inadvertently documents the fact that “fulfilled” prophecies really work by adopting a procedure so lax that it works for everybody, without the need for any genuine foreknowledge. As such, “fulfilled” prophecies are worth exactly nothing as evidence of a supernatural deity.