All Prophets Were False!
by Stephen Van Eck
According to the Bible, false prophets were to die ( Dt. 18:20; Zech. 13:3). Such were to be determined by the simplest of tests: whether or not their prophecies came true ( Dt. 18:22). Well, according to the Bible, the label of “false prophet” should be applied to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and even Jesus himself! All of them issued prophecies that turned out to be false.
The role of the prophet among the ancient Hebrews was to serve as a national scold, to denounce the people, even the temporal rulers themselves, for their sins, principally their frequent deviations from the strict religious standards the priests were struggling to establish. Their role was not primarily to predict the future like an archaic Jeane Dixon. This misconception of the prophet is the product of the wholesale abuse of the prophetic scriptures by the fabricators of the New Testament. Thomas Paine is but one of the honest, objective Bible scholars who have pointed out that the so-called Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were an extreme misunderstanding. In brief, they were not issued as prophecies. They were taken out of context, and they were distorted to make Jesus appear to be the fulfillment of prophecies–prophecies that were not even issued as such.
The process of scriptural distortion started in the popular imagination as obsessed Jews read the scriptures in an oracular manner and came to possess a detailed consensus on what the ever-coming Messiah would be like. Somewhere along the line, these popular conceptions were systematized into a narrative account of the Messiah as if he had already come, and thus a popular legend became a gospel “reality” that took on a life of its own.
In addition to rendering denunciations against the sins of the people, the prophets frequently issued threats of dire consequences for them if they did not reform (as in Jeremiah 6:19; 11:11, and 22:6-7). A frequent warning was that foreign powers would conquer them and take them into captivity. This was a historical reality, thanks to the Assyrians (who destroyedIsrael) and the Babylonians (who conqueredJudah, although taking only an estimated 10,000 captives). The apparent fulfillment of these prophecies has wowed Bible readers for centuries, helped inculcate a deep faith in the validity of the Old Testament, and made people less inclined to raise questions about the dubious nature of the alleged Messianic prophecies. And they would indeed be considered authentic prophecies, were it not that they were written after the fact!
Objective Biblical scholars agree that up to the time of the Babylonian Exile, there was no Old Testament per se. The scriptures existed primarily as an oral tradition and were comprised of the Psalms and the Proverbs, along with the most prominent prophetic rantings. The captivity provided the impetus for the scriptures to be formalized and recorded, impelled by the fear that the Jews in Babylonia might otherwise lose their religion, as had the lost tribes ofIsraelbefore them, who lost their very identity as well. This gave the priests the opportunity to take whatever liberties with the text would suit their interests. Just one of the things that they could do was “predict” things that had already come to pass, namely the Babylonian conquest ofJudahand the captivity of the Jews. Historical accounts of events were recorded in the form of prophecies.
This was not necessarily done as a con game but to show the hand of God in all the events that befell them and to offer a guilt-laden superstitious explanation for them. Actually, though, the only explanation was that the ancient Hebrews were relatively small and weak, and were surrounded by more powerful neighbors who acted typically for the time and place. All the piety in the world wouldn’t have made any difference to the fate of their nation. A strategic mistake of the prophets was to give in to wishful thinking and desires for revenge and, thus, to solace themselves by issuing predictions of ruin against their neighbors. Despite the ceaseless warfare of the times and the inevitable waxing and waning of cultures, these prophecies did not come to pass in the excessive manner in which they were issued and may therefore be dismissed as false prophecies (a fact that Christians all too conveniently ignore).
Isaiah condemned Babylon, “predicted” its overthrow, and said that it would never be inhabited again ( 13:19-20), but the Persians had already conquered it by the time the final version of Isaiah was actually written. Thus, it is doubtful that this was a valid prophecy. And whileBabylon as an important city may no longer exist, to state that it should be so uninhabited that you couldn’t find even so much as a shepherd in the vicinity is contradicted by historical fact. The town ofHilla exists today in that location and was built in part from the ruins of Old Babylon.
In 19:4, Isaiah seemed to correctly predict that the Egyptians would be conquered. This, however, has happened several times, both before and since the time of Isaiah, and as a prediction is less than impressive. (It’s like predicting that Tampa Bay will miss the playoffs next season.) But when he predicted the Nile would dry up and the reeds and rushes and everything sown by the river would wither and be no more ( 19:5-7), he obviously went too far. Likewise, in 19:18, when he predicted the Egyptians would be speaking the now dead language of Canaan, he prophesied something that never happened–and never can. He was also wrong when he predicted a highway from Egypt to Assyria, which would bring the Assyrians into Egypt and take the Egyptians into Assyrian bondage ( 19:23).
Next Isaiah denounced Idumea ( chapter 34). Predicting the dissolving of the mountains in blood ( v:3) was a blatantly absurd hyperbole, and prophesying that it would become a wasteland that none would ever pass through ( v:19) has been contradicted by historical reality.
We can’t leave Isaiah without pointing out that the famous “Immanuel” prediction of 7:14 was not only not about Jesus but was instead a self-fulfilling prophecy whose fulfillment Isaiah himself guaranteed by impregnating the “young woman” (not virgin) in 8:3. This child was not only not named “Immanuel,” but his birth was offered as a sign that Israel and Syria would not prevail against Judah ( 7:5-7, 14-16). Well, Isaiah was dead wrong about that! Second Chronicles 28 reveals that what he said wouldn’t happen is exactly what did happen. So much for Isaiah as a prophet.
In much of his book, Jeremiah argued against other prophets who disagreed with him ( 5:31; 23:16, 25, 26; 27:9; 29:8-9). Written after the fact, his predictions were made to appear prescient that Babylon would conquer his people, but he failed the acid test when he assured Zedekiah that while the Babylonians would take him hostage, he would die in peace ( 34:5), and in 38:17, Jeremiah said that the city would be burned but that Zedekiah and his house would live. In Chapter 39, Zedekiah fled Jerusalem and was captured by the Babylonians, who killed his sons before him and then gouged out his eyes ( vv:6-7). He was bound in fetters and carried away to Babylon, where he died in prison ( 52:11) (That’s not “dying in peace” to me.) In 34:22, Jeremiah said that the cities of Judah would be a desolation without an inhabitant, which was hardly the case. After Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, only some of the Jews were taken captive to Babylon, and Gedaliah was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to be “governor over the cities of Judah” ( 40:1-5). Jeremiah was allowed to “dwell with him [Gedaliah] among the people that were left in the land” ( v:6). Finally, Jeremiah predicted, when God was through using Babylon as his instrument against Judah, he would turn around and punish Babylon with a similar desolation ( 51:28-29), which was not only dastardly of him but just more hyperbole as well.
If all this weren’t bad enough, in Lamentations 4:22, Jeremiah stated that God would no more send his people into captivity. Obviously, he was not prophet enough to foresee the final Diaspora at the hands of the Romans (something the Gospels were able to hint at, after the fact) or the concentration camps in our own century.
Ezekiel, the maniac prophet, blew it when he predicted the restoration of Sodomand Samariato their former status ( 16:55). Like Jeremiah, he predicted the desolation of Edom (Idumea] “by the hand” of Israel ( 25:13). The worst that happened to the Edomites was their amalgamation into another culture, as was often the case in theMiddle East’s stewpot of ethnicities.
Most grandiose was Ezekiel’s prediction of the destruction of Tyre( 26:3-4, 19-21). Zeke claimed it would be scraped away “like the top of a rock” and would “never be found again,” yet the city was later known and referred to in the Bible itself ( Mark 3:8; Acts 21:3). [D. James Kennedy, in his book, Why I Believe, actually credited this prophecy as a fulfilled one, despite Tyre’s New Testament appearance, citing its destruction by Alexander the Great as proof. But Ezekiel predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would be the one to destroy it ( 26:7) and more thoroughly and finally than was the case when Alexander captured it.Tyre was famous in later Roman times for its university, and the Lebanese town ofSur is located there at this very day.]
Ezekiel surpassed Isaiah in his scenario for the destruction of Egypt( 29:10-13). The oft-conquered Egypt was not only never made desolate, but its population was never dispersed ( 30:23, 26), so any “regathering” ( 29:13) thus becomes moot. Chapter 30 issued more captivity predictions for various countries and cities, none of which is known to have occurred. And how about 32:5-6, wherein Ezekiel predicted that dead bodies would fill up the valleys, and blood would rise to the tops of the mountains? To believe this would render one as much an idiot as a lunatic, for it could not come true even if one tried to make it so.
Ezekiel went on to predict that the mountains of Israelwould be made so desolate that no one would pass through them ( 33:28). Another clear prophetic failure! He echoed Jeremiah’s ( 30:9) little-known prophecy of the resurrection of David in 34:23-24 and 37:24, who would be immortal ( v:25). He predicted that the lost tribes of Israel would be regathered ( 36:24; 37:21), an utter impossibility once that they had been absorbed into neighboring cultures. His fanciful imagination even had their dead bodies coming out of the graves in 37:4, 12, an image later appropriated in Matthew’s unbelievable, solitary, and unsubstantiated account of resurrected saints on the day Jesus was crucified ( Matt. 27:52-53).
Jesus, although primarily a moral teacher, also issued a few prophecies. Most significant was the expectation that his second coming would happen in short order ( Mark 9:1) and before the original generation of his disciples had died off ( Matt. 23:36; 24:34). This was a false expectation, plain and simple, that cannot be made true at any future time, and it is sufficient to prove that Jesus was neither infallible nor God.
It’s amazing that with every opportunity to cook the books, the Bible still possesses so many prophetic failures. Equally amazing is that these failures go unnoticed by believers. But by the Bible’s own criteria, the most revered prophets of all were false. Their track record is an abysmal one. This should be enough to disabuse any rational mind from the notion that the so-called prophets were inspired by God, but fundamentalists are notoriously resistant to letting go of untenable ideas. If fundamentalists need a handy excuse for the prophet’s shoddy performance, they might take solace in Ezekiel 14:9 –“And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” The prophet is thereby off the hook. But, of course, that only makes God look mighty fishy himself.