The gospel of John says that Jesus’s disciples still didn’t understand that Jesus was going to rise from the dead… even after Jesus had already risen from the dead.Continue reading Did the disciples know Jesus would be resurrected?
What belief is the most essential to Christianity? Probably the atonement: The idea that by sending Jesus to die, God has made it possible for your sins to be forgiven. Unfortunately for Christianity, nothing about that idea makes any sense.
How exactly does the death of Jesus make salvation possible?
Did Jesus bring forgiveness for sins, or did he pay for our sins? Those are not the same thing at all. If fact, they’re mutually exclusive. So why do people usually seem to talk about Jesus as if he had done both of those things? Which one did he actually do? It can’t be both. If the sins were forgiven, then there was nothing to pay for. And if they were paid for, then there was nothing to forgive.
If God decided to forgive people, why couldn’t he just forgive people? Why would someone still have to pay the penalty for everyone’s sins? The book of Hebrews says there can be no forgiveness without shedding blood, but it offers no explanation for that barbaric and absurd claim.
When you forgive someone, do you insist that there has to be some kind of bloodshed involved, or else you won’t really have forgiven them? Do you think the only way you can possibly forgive someone is by either having them tortured and killed, or having your son tortured and killed? Is that what Jesus expects us to do when he encourages us to forgive each other? Is he telling us to torture and murder our sons?
Why would God have to do anything before he could forgive people? Especially if he makes the rules, if he’s the ultimate authority on morality, as Christians like to say. If that’s true, he could have just declared that it was right for him to forgive sins without anyone having to be tortured and killed first, and it would be so. Or he could have just decided that none of the finite things people do make them deserve to be tortured forever in the first place.
An all-powerful God who can prescriptively define morality always has the option to NOT torture people forever, and a loving God who had a choice would never choose to torture people forever. That is not how you treat people you love.
According to one concept of atonement, what Jesus is taking away is “original sin”. That term refers to the idea that just by disobeying God once, Adam and Eve brought “sin” on all their descendants, making everyone guilty of “sin” regardless of what they actually do. (And so God decided to repay that insignificant offense with the infinitely disproportionate punishment of eternal torture for everyone.)
If that’s the case, even the reason atonement is needed in the first place doesn’t make any sense. People aren’t guilty because of what other people do. People can only be guilty because of their own actions. God even says so.
If God thought Adam and Eve’s descendants were all going to be “guilty” by default, why did he allow them to reproduce at all? Why not just start over with a new pair of humans? He said later that he was going to wipe out humanity with a flood and start over, but he didn’t actually do it. He kept a few of the sin-infected people alive, and then he let them fill the earth right back up with sinful people. He should have actually started over, with brand new sinless people. And he should have done it back before anyone had children. He could have separated Adam and Eve for the rest of their lives, and removed that pointless troublesome tree that he never should have put in the Garden of Eden, and then he could have made some new people in the garden.
Some branches of Christianity believe that Jesus and his mother were both conceived free from “original sin”. If God can make exceptions like this, if he can produce sinless people from sinful parents, why not just do that with everybody, and save Jesus the trouble of dying?
Early Christians thought they could explain why Jesus had to die. The generally accepted story in the early centuries of Christianity was something quite different from now: Satan had somehow gotten possession of everyone’s souls, and the only way God could possibly get them back was to give him Jesus as a ransom, because Satan demanded it. (Which makes God look pretty weak. And which ignores the fact that that sort of thing is against God’s principles. And the fact that the Bible says Jesus was a sacrifice to God, not to Satan.)
Then they decided that Satan didn’t even know who Jesus was, but for some reason he still agreed to trade many souls for what he thought was just one ordinary soul. So God tricked him into giving up all the souls, by giving him one that he didn’t realize he wouldn’t be able to keep. God somehow fulfilled the requirement of justice by just pretending to pay off his debt to Satan. That was the generally accepted view for several more centuries,1 till they decided that didn’t make God look very good either.
So after Christianity had existed for over a thousand years, theologians finally started coming up with accounts that didn’t involve God making a deal with the devil, and they ended up with the modern atonement doctrine, where our sin is a debt that we’re unable to repay. But this version doesn’t explain why God couldn’t just forgive everyone if he wanted to forgive them. St. Anselm thought that God just forgiving everyone without being “repaid” would go against God’s justice, but making someone who doesn’t owe God anything pay the debt for everyone else isn’t just either.
Penal substitution theory
Christians commonly say Jesus was punished in place of everybody else, so the requirement for justice was fulfilled, and now nobody else has to be punished. Except that’s not justice. Punishing an innocent person for what a different person did is absurdly unjust.
It doesn’t matter if Jesus was willing. That doesn’t make it just for God to punish the innocent, or to let the guilty go unpunished. Sure, someone could volunteer to, in effect, pay a fine for someone else, by giving them a gift of money which they could then use to pay the fine themselves. But that doesn’t work with other kinds of punishments. Guilt is not transferable. And even in the case of fines, let alone execution, none of the purposes of punishment are fulfilled if the wrong person is being punished.
No court would accept someone who had nothing to do with a crime offering to be executed in place of the criminal. And any judge who intentionally had an innocent person physically punished for someone else’s crime would lose his job.
Some people have made analogies attempting to show that we do normally accept guilt being transferred from one person to another. But those alleged examples are all flawed: Either the person who ends up being held responsible was already in fact at least partly responsible for what happened, or no actual punishment was ever going to be required in the first place,2 or the responsibility can at best only be transferred in the wrong direction.
God even says that at least some sins can only be atoned for by the blood of the one who committed the sin, so that rules out the possibility of anyone else’s blood atoning for them. So do the passages in the Bible that say that no payment can ever be enough to ransom or redeem someone’s soul so they can have eternal life. God says the one who sins is the one who must die. If God executes anyone other than the guilty person, God is violating his own law.
Some Christians say Jesus took on everyone else’s sin, so that God considered him guilty and everyone else innocent. That would mean either that Jesus (who they believe is God) was actually incredibly sinful, or that God was wrong, neither of which seems compatible with what Christians believe God is like.
Was Jesus even punished in our place at all? Not really. If he was, he would be in hell. Yet the Bible says he’s in heaven. Jesus would have to spend eternity in hell if he was really taking the punishment for humanity, but the Bible says all he had to do was die. And even that wasn’t an eternal punishment, since he’s an immortal God that can’t truly die. Because Jesus wasn’t damned, the best his “death” could be expected to accomplish would be to save us from having to die… and he didn’t even accomplish that.
Other theories of atonement
The death of Jesus is often described as a sacrifice. Which kind of sacrifice would that be? God has specific rules for these things, you know. If Jesus was female, or if he was a goat or a bull, then maybe he could be a sin offering. Or if he was just one year old, then maybe he could be a Passover lamb. But Jesus wasn’t any of those things, so why would God accept him as an offering?
If Jesus is God, this sacrifice would be God sacrificing God to God. I can comprehend someone sacrificing himself. But how can you make a sacrifice to yourself? You would end up still having whatever you were supposed to give up, and then you wouldn’t have actually sacrificed anything. Or how about sacrificing someone to himself? Can you make any sense of that? “I’m going to sacrifice you to you. By killing you. Hope you appreciate the sacrifice I’m making for you!”
If we ignore all the parts of the Bible that portray God as sacrificing someone else, and just say that God paid the price for sin himself, does any of this make more sense that way? Well, if you forgive a debt that was owed to you, you are giving up that value. So by forgiving humans, you could say God is paying the price… to the people who were supposed to pay him? That’s backwards; that doesn’t actually fulfill anyone’s obligations.
And God isn’t who people are really indebted to, anyway. Do you know how Jews think about sin and forgiveness? It makes so much more sense than what Christians believe. People are sinful because they actually commit sins, not just because they were born. Sins that harm other people are sins against those people, not sins against God. As the Bible says, your actions don’t affect God; they only affect other people.
So Jews say God is conditionally willing to forgive sins that were actually committed against him. But God can’t forgive you for sins that you committed against other people. Only the actual victims can do that. What kind of jerk would declare that you were forgiven for harming other people, without even bothering to ask those people what they thought about it?
Maybe rather than punishing Jesus in our place, God punished us by harming Jesus? Like a whipping boy. It could reasonably be considered a punishment to know that someone you care about is suffering or dying. But harming an innocent person because of what someone else did would still be outrageously unjust.
If the innocent person willingly agreed to be harmed, then maybe this could be an acceptable thing to do. In that case, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t deserve punishment, since he’s not actually being punished. He’s just being treated the way he willingly chose to be treated. But it doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus was willing to be tortured and killed.
There are more problems with vicarious punishment: It vicariously harms people who don’t deserve to be punished, since the wrongdoer will probably not be the only person who cares about the proxy person. It’s unnecessary, since doing wrong will already have natural consequences that the wrongdoer can feel bad about. Hearing what happened to somebody else is not that much of a punishment for people who never actually met the guy or saw what happened to him. If the person really doesn’t mind being treated that way, that’s even more reason not to feel bad for him. And feeling bad for someone else is way too small a punishment to substitute for eternal torture.
Some people have tried to make sense of what Jesus accomplished in terms of a barbaric archaic concept of “honor” that doesn’t make any sense morally to begin with.
Christians have to keep trying and trying to explain how killing an innocent person is good and removes the need to punish guilty people, because none of those attempts have ever succeeded, because their core tenet just doesn’t make any sense.
Embracement theory: Humans committed the worst possible sin, and God… decided to just let them? And that somehow makes it okay, and means sin doesn’t matter anymore?
Shared atonement theory: Jesus is God, and the universe can’t exist without God. So when Jesus died, God died, and the universe died, and everyone died. And then they all came back with Jesus, so now everyone has already been punished, I guess? Except everyone didn’t die. Other people were clearly still alive in the Bible when Jesus was dead. And if nobody even noticed anything happening to them, that wasn’t a punishment. Also, this wouldn’t affect people who weren’t living at the time.
I bet I could come up with a much more coherent account of what the death of Jesus accomplished. How about this? God tried to save mankind from hell by killing the guy who was going to judge them and send them there. (And then God defeated his own plan by resurrecting him, so now most people won’t be saved after all. Whatever. Still makes more sense than any of the standard explanations. No matter what good the death of Jesus was supposed to do, it’s negated if he gets to just come right back to life like that.)
Or how about this? God is the author of human nature. God is the one who programmed our nature into our brains. Therefore, God is the one who is actually responsible for everyone’s sins. God knew exactly what humans would do if he made them the way he did. If he didn’t like it, he could have designed them differently. Since God somehow ended up designing humans so badly, and since he was so bothered by humans behaving exactly the way he designed them to, God had to punish himself. He never actually needed to punish us, because our nature is his fault, not ours.Continue reading Why it makes no sense for God to forgive your sins because Jesus died
Lots of people have claimed to be the Messiah, or have been claimed to be the Messiah. Why should we think Jesus is the real one? Christians say you can tell that Jesus really is who he says he is because he fulfilled all those messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. One problem with that idea is the fact that he didn’t.
All the prophecies that Jesus supposedly fulfilled either aren’t accurate descriptions of Jesus, or are out-of-context quotes of passages that have nothing to do with Jesus or the Messiah, or weren’t even originally written as prophecies, or can’t be found in the Old Testament at all.
Prophecies Jesus allegedly fulfilled
The New Testament has quite a few passages that quote the Old Testament while talking about Jesus, but don’t actually have anything to do with what the gospels say Jesus did. The passages quoted in those parts are clearly not messianic prophecies, so I’m not going to bother listing all of those. But I will look at the things that actually look like they could potentially be fulfilled messianic prophecies, and I’ll show why they’re not.
Not in the Old Testament
These “predictions” mentioned in the New Testament don’t actually appear in the Old Testament at all. It looks like the gospel writers just made them up.
The gospel of Matthew claims that the prophets said the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, but it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Old Testament. (Maybe the author was thinking of the part where it says somebody will be a Nazirite… which is not the same thing as a Nazarene, and was not said by the prophets, and was clearly about somebody else.)
Jesus told his disciples that everything that was written by the prophets about him (also in the books of the law and the Psalms) was about to be fulfilled: He would be handed over to the Gentiles to be tormented and killed, and then come back to life on the third day, and forgiveness through repentance would be preached everywhere in his name. Paul said the prophets predicted something like that as well. None of that is actually in the Old Testament, though.
The gospel of John says people knew that when the Messiah came, no one would know where he was from, and that he definitely wouldn’t come from Galilee. Not only do the prophets not actually say that, but even if they did, that would mean Jesus didn’t qualify.
Jesus claimed that Judas had to be doomed to destruction so the scriptures would be fulfilled, but there doesn’t seem to be anything about that in the Old Testament scriptures.
Peter claims that all the prophets said that anyone can get their sins forgiven by believing in Jesus. Really, all of them? I’m not sure I can find even one Old Testament prophet who sounds like he was saying that.
Paul attempts to quote a passage about a deliverer coming from Zion and changing Israel’s behavior, which Paul seems to think is about Jesus enabling both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, or something. But that passage doesn’t even appear in the Old Testament at all. The closest thing I can find is Isaiah talking about a redeemer coming to Zion in response to Israel’s behavior changing.
The book of Acts says David talked about the kings of the earth conspiring against God and his anointed one, and it interprets that as a prediction about the various people who were involved in getting Jesus killed. But if this was indeed David talking about God’s anointed one in the quoted psalm, I would think he was just talking about himself. There’s nothing about the quoted passage that makes it seem like it’s a prediction about somebody else.
And if it is an attempt to predict what happened to Jesus, it’s wrong. None of the people involved in the supposed fulfillment were kings, not even Herod (Antipas). Also, whoever that psalm was about seems to be awfully violent and oppressive. Doesn’t really sound like Jesus, does it?
The New Testament also says that by appointing Jesus to his role, God fulfilled another passage in that same psalm which mentioned God declaring someone to be his son now. But again, the passage in Psalms sounds like it’s just the psalmist talking about himself. He says “He said to me”, not “He will say to somebody else who will be born a thousand years from now”.
Peter (slightly mis-)quoted a psalm where David was obviously talking about himself and how he was sure that God would always save his life. But since David did eventually die of old age, Peter concluded that he must have actually been talking about Jesus, and how he would only die temporarily. A more plausible conclusion would be that David was wrong, or that he just meant God wouldn’t let his enemies kill him.
In support of the idea that that psalm was about Jesus, Paul offered what appears to be an attempt to quote a verse from Isaiah, maybe, which mentioned God giving someone the blessings promised to David. But the original passage in Isaiah is about God offering things to whoever needs them, not to anyone special in particular.
The gospel of John says the way the soldiers who crucified Jesus took his clothes for themselves happened in order to fulfill the scriptures. But the quoted passage is from Psalms, and isn’t actually a prediction at all, just David describing his own current situation.
Some people also claim that the same psalm includes a prediction of how Jesus was mocked, though the mockers really aren’t saying the same thing at all. And they say it contains a prediction of Jesus’s hands and feet being pierced when he was crucified, but that’s a mistranslation. It doesn’t even say “pierce” in the Hebrew Bible, but that’s how the early Christians happened to interpret it at one point when they made a translation of a translation of that psalm. And since that came out looking so much like a prediction of Jesus, Christians have always opted to translate it that way since then.
John says the fact that they didn’t break Jesus’s legs after he died was to fulfill the scripture that says not one of his bones will be broken. But the passage that says that in Psalms isn’t a prediction about a specific person. It’s just David saying what he thinks happens to righteous people in general.
Jesus’s preferred explanation for his own bad reputation at the time was that it was the fulfillment of a prophecy: “They hated me without reason.” He said that was written in the Jewish law, but that sentence doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Old Testament. There are a couple of psalms where David mentions people hating him without reason, though. But those aren’t written in the law, nor are they prophecies. David is just describing his own current situation. So no, there was no prophecy for Jesus to fulfill by being unpopular. He was just unpopular.
David’s comment about his friends and companions staying away from him has been claimed to be a prophecy about Jesus’s followers keeping their distance during his trial and execution. Of course, David is just talking about himself, not about the sinless Christian Messiah. He clearly says that everything that’s happening to him is the result of his own sin.
The book of Hebrews quotes (or probably misquotes) a passage from Psalms where David claims he wants to do God’s will, but also that God isn’t interested in all those sacrifices he commanded his people to make. But Hebrews claims that this is something Jesus said, and oddly doesn’t even mention that it’s from the Old Testament. If Jesus did say that, it obviously wasn’t a prophecy when he said it. And when David said it, it wasn’t a prophecy either. He was just talking about himself, as usual.
Jesus said Judas’s betrayal was a fulfillment of what the scriptures said about the one who shared someone’s bread turning against him. But again, the passage he’s quoting out of context here is from Psalms, and it’s not a prediction about someone in the future, but David describing his own current situation.
The book of Hebrews quotes a badly written psalm that can’t decide who it’s addressed to, which states that God or a king or whoever it’s talking about is righteous and has been anointed by God and his throne will last forever. Hebrews claims that that passage is about “the Son”, but whoever it’s about, it doesn’t appear to be a prediction (besides the part about the throne lasting forever, which is not something that has been or can be confirmed to be true). If it’s about a king, it’s about the one who was king at the time.
The gospel of John suggests that Jesus’s temple tantrum was a fulfillment of a scripture about being consumed by zeal for God’s house. Paul thinks that passage has something to do with Jesus too. But once again, the quoted passage from Psalms is just David describing his own current situation. (John misquotes it to make it sound more like a prediction.)
It says Jesus said he was thirsty in order to give people an opportunity to fulfill the scriptures by giving him vinegar to drink. The quoted passage, of course, is from Psalms, and isn’t a prediction at all, just David describing his own current situation. (Notice how different David’s attitude toward his enemies is from Jesus’s. Shouldn’t they be the same, if David is really talking about Jesus?)
The gospel of Matthew claims that by speaking in parables, Jesus fulfilled the words of a prophet. The quoted passage is from Psalms, and isn’t actually a prediction at all, just the psalmist announcing that he’s going to tell a parable.
There’s a psalm that briefly mentions a “son of man” by God’s right hand, but it doesn’t actually predict anything or give any additional information about this man, so there’s not really any reason to think that’s referring to either the Messiah or Jesus.
The gospels claim that when Isaiah mentioned someone saying to prepare the way for the Lord, he was predicting John the Baptist preparing people for Jesus. Again, this doesn’t look like it was even meant to be a prediction. And if it was, it’s an excessively vague one that could have just as well meant a lot of other things. (Especially since Isaiah probably didn’t even say the one calling would be in the wilderness. It looks like the gospels may have misinterpreted Isaiah as saying that, when he actually meant the way should be prepared in the wilderness.)
A verse in Isaiah about being beaten and spat at has been claimed to be fulfilled when Jesus was arrested, even though it’s just Isaiah talking about himself, and even though it really doesn’t have that much in common with what the gospels say happened to Jesus.
The gospel of Luke says Jesus read a passage from Isaiah and claimed to have “fulfilled” it, even though it was just Isaiah talking about what God had told him to do, not predicting what somebody else would do. Jesus also throws in a line about healing the blind, which isn’t actually in that passage, which is too bad because that was the main thing that made it sound like it could be about Jesus.
Matthew claims that by killing lots of babies in an attempt to kill Jesus, Herod fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy about “Rachel weeping for her children“. Looking at that Old Testament verse in context, it doesn’t seem to be a prediction at all. It’s just a description of how things already were, and the actual prediction comes after that. The prediction was that the children would come back, which has no fulfillment in the gospel story. It also sounds like Jeremiah was talking about the descendants of Jacob1 in general seeming to be doomed,2 not about somebody’s actual children dying. And that alleged slaughter3 happened in Bethlehem, not Ramah.
Matthew also gives a mangled attempt at a quote that he thinks is from Jeremiah, which he claims was fulfilled when Judas gave the 30 pieces of silver back to the priests and they bought a potter’s field with it. Jeremiah did mention buying a field, but not from a potter or for 30 pieces of silver. Perhaps what Matthew was trying to quote was Zechariah’s confused shepherding story, where he gets paid 30 pieces of silver for his work, and then “throws it to the potter”. Either way, the prophets are just describing their own actions here, not predicting what a group of people would do in the future. And neither of the prophets’ stories really matches the gospel account very well.
Jesus living in Egypt as a child is supposed to have fulfilled a “prophecy” about God calling his son out of Egypt. If you look at the actual verse in Hosea, you’ll find that it’s not a prophecy at all. It’s God talking about something that happened in the past. And when he mentions “his son”, he’s referring to Israel, and when he mentions calling him, he’s talking about calling idolators to repent. When it’s not being quoted out of context, it’s obvious that this passage has nothing to do with Jesus.
Not about the Messiah
Often if you look at the context of the Old Testament passage the New Testament is quoting and claiming corresponds to what’s happening with Jesus, you’ll find that the original passage is clearly talking about something completely different, and has nothing to do with Jesus.
(Those passages usually don’t have anything to do with the Messiah, either. A lot of the things Christians associate with the Messiah, and that they think are predicted in the Old Testament, aren’t actually part of the original Jewish concept of the Messiah at all. The Messiah being a virgin-born miracle-working divine being who sacrifices himself and resurrects so that people all over the world can overcome their state of sin and be “saved” is entirely a Christian invention.)
Some people claim that when God said the offspring of the woman and of the serpent would be enemies and would injure each other, he was actually talking about Jesus suffering and defeating Satan, which is a huge stretch. Humans and snakes can be considered enemies in general, so there’s no reason to think the offspring of the woman means any specific person. If it was, it could be anybody. And Satan isn’t a descendant of a snake, is he?
In the book of Acts, Peter quotes Moses telling his people that God will send them another prophet like him, and telling them they need to listen to that prophet. Peter seems to think that was about the Messiah, but it could just as easily be about any prophet of God.
Peter also quotes a psalm where David states that God wouldn’t let him die, then he points out that David did die, and then he somehow concludes that what David said about himself was actually a true prediction about the resurrection of the Messiah.
Paul also mentions that “prediction” from Psalms, and he thinks that by giving that blessing that he promised to David to Jesus instead, God was fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah. But the actual passage in Isaiah he’s quoting isn’t addressed to Jesus. It’s addressed to anyone who needs what God has to offer.
Some people interpret it as a messianic prophecy when God refers to a son of David as his own son, and tells David that he’ll establish that son’s kingdom forever, that the son will build a house for God, and that he’ll be flogged by human hands. But that’s obviously about David’s actual son, Solomon, who built God’s first temple. Also, it says this son will be punished when he does wrong, so it can’t be about Jesus if Jesus never did anything wrong.
Peter quotes another psalm that says something about a rejected stone becoming a cornerstone. Okay? What does that have to do with the Messiah or Jesus? Peter asserts that that’s what it’s about, but there’s absolutely no reason anyone who didn’t have that preconceived idea would get anything like that out of the original verse.
The New Testament quotes David telling what God said to “my lord” as if God was talking to the Messiah or Jesus, including that he would be a priest forever like Melchizedek. But David never made it clear at all who he was referring to. (And the godlike properties the book of Hebrews attributes to Melchizedek have no basis in the Old Testament.)
Matthew claims that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about a virgin giving birth to a son, but that’s clearly not actually about Jesus, for a bunch of reasons. First of all, it’s a mistranslation. Isaiah didn’t actually say anything about a virgin giving birth, just a young woman, so that could be about anybody.4 Isaiah specified what this son’s name would be, and it wasn’t Jesus. Jesus is supposed to be God, so he should have had a perfect sense of morality from the beginning, unlike the child Isaiah was talking about. And the point of what Isaiah said was to give an idea of how soon the kingdom of Israel would end, so it would make no sense for him to be referring to someone who wouldn’t even be born till hundreds of years after Israel was conquered.
The gospel of John claims that when Isaiah mentioned God preventing people from listening to him and repenting, he was talking about people who heard Jesus and didn’t believe him. But of course, that passage doesn’t say anything about Jesus or the Messiah or the future.
John also claims that another verse from Isaiah is about the same thing, the verse that asks who has believed a message and had God’s arm revealed to them. That verse in Isaiah is actually the beginning of a chapter that Jesus claimed was about him, and it’s saying he’s the one who has believed. So apparently that was not a rhetorical question suggesting that the answer is no one, so it has nothing to do with any later event where nobody believes a message.
Daniel has a passage about God permanently giving power over the whole world to “one like a son of man“, and maybe even letting everyone worship that guy. If you’re used to hearing Jesus call himself “Son of Man”, you might assume this is about him. But judging by what it says just a few verses later, it sounds like the Jews are the ones being given the world, and it clarifies that God is the one being worshipped.
Daniel gives a vague estimate of long it would be before the Anointed One (which is what the word “Messiah” means) would be put to death and would put an end to sacrifice. This time estimate is pretty ambiguous, but it can be interpreted as pointing roughly to Jesus’s time.5 And Christians believe the death of Jesus made sacrifice rituals no longer necessary. But despite those particular details seeming to match fairly well, this is not a prophecy about Jesus, or at least not a true one. This prophecy is about someone who would set up an abomination in the temple and lead people to destroy Jerusalem.
The gospel of John quotes part of a verse from Zechariah about “the one they have pierced”, and claims that this was fulfilled when a soldier stabbed Jesus’s dead body with a spear. But I don’t see anything in the chapter that’s from that indicates that it has anything to do with the Messiah. What I do see there is a prediction that everyone in Jerusalem would be very upset that the one who was pierced had died. Did that ever happen with Jesus?
Zechariah said something about a prophet saying he got his wounds from his friends, and apparently a lot of people think that somehow has something to do with Jesus. They think it’s a prediction about the wounds Jesus got when he was crucified, or maybe a prediction of how Jesus was “wounded” by his friend Judas.
Zechariah was actually talking about a lot of prophets, not one particular prophet. He considered these people to be false prophets, and he thought God was against them. He said their own parents were going kill them, with God’s approval. Does any of that sound like Jesus?
What Zechariah says about wounds is premised on the idea that those are a typical mark of a prophet. So if he was just predicting that a prophet would have wounds, that would be a completely unimpressive prediction. (Zechariah also seems to think being wounded by your friends is nothing unusual.)
What Zechariah is actually predicting is that these people are going to lie about where their wounds came from. Either Jesus is many ungodly lying false prophets who were disowned by their parents and then had to pretend they were farmers and had never been prophets… or this passage has nothing to do with Jesus.
The gospels misquote Malachi, mentioning a messenger sent by God to prepare the way for someone else. Malachi actually said the messenger was to prepare the way for God, and didn’t say anything about a man coming. Either way, this description is so vague, there’s no good reason to think it’s about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
Malachi said God was going to “send the prophet Elijah”, which Jesus claimed also meant John the Baptist, though John the Baptist disagreed. Jesus said everything that was written about this “Elijah” had happened to him, despite the fact that the prophecy about Elijah didn’t actually say anything about what would happen to him, and really doesn’t have any resemblance to anything that happened in John’s life at all.
Not true of Jesus
Some people call it a fulfillment of prophecy when the New Testament quotes the Old and asserts that what it says is true of Jesus, when the New Testament writers clearly have absolutely no reason to think it is true of Jesus other than the fact that they read an Old Testament passage that they thought must be about him. So this is basically just the Old Testament passages being taken as somehow being the fulfillment of themselves. These are obviously not actual cases of fulfilled prophecy.
And when the predicted events are included in the actual story, and not just in a statement that a prophecy was fulfilled, that’s not much better. The gospel writers, who were convinced that Jesus had to have fulfilled a bunch of prophecies, very likely wrote stories about him based on the Old Testament prophecies, rather than based on any actual knowledge of what Jesus did. So if Jesus’s life appears to match things the Old Testament says, that’s probably why. That said, I’m going to mostly ignore that fact, and show that no prophecy fulfillment has taken place even if you assume the gospel stories are true.
Paul seems to think that when God told Abraham he would bless all nations through him, he was talking about Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and be saved. The Old Testament doesn’t actually say it was about anything like that, though. And according to the gospels, Jesus never intended to save Gentiles at all.
Jesus is claimed to have fulfilled prophecies from Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah about a king of the Jews or a ruler of Israel, who would reign on David’s throne. This is what the Messiah is supposed to be, and this is what Christians claim Jesus was. But Jesus actively refused to be king of the Jews, and the Jews didn’t consider him their king either. His “kingdom” was something else. Something unrelated to David’s throne.6
Jesus isn’t even qualified to be the king of the Jews. If he was even a descendant of David at all, he was a descendant of Jehoiachin (AKA Jeconiah), whose descendants the prophet Jeremiah said could never rule on David’s throne again.
Matthew made sure to write his story in a way that would “fulfill” what he thought Zechariah had predicted about how this “king” would arrive, no matter how little sense it made… except he forgot to “fulfill” the part about the Messiah coming to bring peace. And in the story, Jesus was clearly fulfilling the donkey prophecy on purpose. So even if it’s a true story, there’s nothing impressive about the fact that what Jesus did matched the prophecy.
Several more prophecies in the Old Testament mention a king, who they refer to as a “Branch”. The Branch is a righteous king descended from David who is to bring God’s people together again, which is what the Jewish Messiah is supposed to be. Does Jesus match the description of this Branch? Not really,7 but even if he did, it wouldn’t matter. That position has already been filled. According to the Bible, the Branch was Joshua son of Jozadak, a high priest who lived around 500 years before Jesus.8
Paul attempts to quote a verse from Isaiah, which he thinks is about a descendant of David ruling over foreign nations. Why should that be taken to be about Jesus, rather than one of the actual kings descended from David who reigned after Isaiah said that? Maybe none of them ruled over foreign nations? Well, Jesus didn’t rule over any nations.
Even if Jesus had become king and reigned forever, Jeremiah’s prophecy that David would never fail to have a descendant on the throne of Israel would still be false, since David’s line already failed to do that a long time ago.
Isaiah mentioned a chosen servant of God who would not cry out or be heard in the streets. Jesus did cry out, and was heard in the streets, so Jesus must not be who that was about. Unlike the part of Isaiah that Jesus misquoted as if it was a prediction of him healing the blind, this chapter actually mentions someone healing the blind. But it says whoever’s healing the blind will also free people from prison, which isn’t something the gospels say Jesus ever did.
Isaiah has a whole chapter about one innocent man taking the punishment for everyone else’s sins, and coming back to life after being killed. Despite the fact that it’s in the past tense, Jesus and his disciples thought this was a prediction about Jesus. But this chapter can’t be about him, because unlike Jesus, this man suffers silently. It says this man was pierced, but then it also says he was crushed. Why should we think this prophecy has been fulfilled by someone who only had one of those things done to him?
Matthew also misquotes one verse from that chapter so he can claim it’s about Jesus healing people, but even Matthew’s version of that verse doesn’t accurately describe what the gospels say about Jesus. He makes it sound like Jesus ended up suffering from all the conditions he took away from other people!
Also in that chapter of Isaiah is a statement that this man was given a grave with the wicked and the rich, which some people think was fulfilled when Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus in his own tomb. Joseph of Arimathea is described as rich, but not wicked, so that doesn’t work.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem,9 which is where Micah predicted a ruler would come from,10 who Matthew equates with the Messiah. But the person Micah was talking about was supposed to rescue Israel from the Assyrians, and I don’t think Jesus ever did anything like that. The New Testament doesn’t even mention Assyria.
Actual messianic prophecies that Jesus failed to fulfillContinue reading Jesus did not fulfill any messianic prophecies
Jesus gave his twelve disciples authority to drive out demons, and they went out and drove out many demons. After that, he sent out a larger group of his followers, who he didn’t specifically say he was giving authority over demons. And the demons submitted to them, too.
In fact, Jesus said everyone who believes in him will be able to drive out demons. People Jesus hasn’t personally chosen can drive out demons if they invoke his name. And people who consider themselves followers of Jesus, even if Jesus disagrees with them about that, can still drive out demons.
There was at least one time when Jesus’s disciples failed to drive out a demon. Depending on which gospel you read, Jesus’s excuse for this failure was either that this particular demon was of a kind that required a different exorcism process, or that his disciples didn’t have enough faith to drive out demons at all. Either way, it wasn’t enough that these people were Jesus’s closest followers, and that he had personally given them authority over demons. They still couldn’t do it.Continue reading Does following Jesus enable you to drive out demons?
The purpose of Jesus’s trip to Jerusalem was to die. He went there because that’s where prophets die. (Besides, not having to live with the people of his generation anymore would be a relief.) Jesus described his approaching death as him laying down his life of his own accord, rather than others taking his life from him. The epistles describe it the same way, as a willing self-sacrifice.
Jesus didn’t think having your earthly body killed was anything to be afraid of. He could have easily avoided death if he’d wanted to, but he chose to let people kill him in order to fulfill the scriptures. When Peter tried to defend Jesus from the people who wanted to kill him, Jesus told him to stop, because Jesus wanted to do whatever his father’s will was, and God’s will was for Jesus to die.Continue reading Did Jesus want to die?
During the last supper, Jesus was drinking wine. Then he told his disciples that he would not drink from the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of God came.1
Later, before he was crucified, Jesus was offered some wine, and he refused it, as you would expect after what he had said. But then when he was about to die on the cross, he was offered some wine vinegar (which is made from grapes, the fruit of the vine), and he accepted that drink.Continue reading Did Jesus drink from the fruit of the vine between the last supper and the second coming?
Of all God’s children, who is the firstborn? Paul says Jesus is God’s firstborn, having been there before he made anything else. But the gospel of John suggests that Jesus wasn’t created in the beginning, much less born. He was just always there. So the only way Jesus could be God’s firstborn would be if God had no other children before Jesus was actually born, 2000 years ago.
Is that really the case? The Bible says it’s not. Instead, it calls David God’s firstborn.
God also says Ephraim is his firstborn son, and Ephraim was born long before David. But wait, that same verse also says God is Israel’s father. And Israel was Ephraim’s grandfather. So Israel must be a son of God who was born before Ephraim, right?Continue reading Who is God’s firstborn?
Some people claimed that followers of Jesus were speaking against the law and saying that Jesus was going to change the customs given by Moses. But those were false witnesses. Paul didn’t believe Christ promoted sin. Jesus himself said he had not come to abolish the law. He said as long as the world exists, not even the smallest bit of the law will disappear. After he healed a leper, Jesus told him to go through with the rituals that the law of Moses requires.
According to Jesus, the law is still very important. Keeping the commandments is how you get eternal life! So you must be careful to do everything the teachers of the law tell you. You can’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you’re even better at obeying the law than law-obsessed people like the Pharisees. (Even they didn’t keep the law thoroughly enough to satisfy Jesus.) And even after you make it into the kingdom of heaven, he says your status there will be determined by how strictly you keep the law.
A lot of the things Jesus taught were in contrast to the Jewish law given by Moses. Jesus would specifically mention one of Moses’s laws,1 and then contrast that with how he thought people should behave. Sometimes he was just adding to what Moses taught, but other times he was telling people not to do what Moses had told them to do.
For instance, Jesus thought the command to love your neighbor also said you should hate your enemy. It doesn’t actually say that, but that’s what Jesus seemed to think the law was. And he said you should do the opposite. Then there’s the “eye for an eye” rule, which actually is in the Old Testament law. Jesus told people to disregard that law, and to instead encourage people who mistreat you to mistreat you even more.Continue reading Did Jesus want people to obey the law?
The gospel of John repeatedly refers to Jesus as the light of the world. It says John the Baptist was sent to testify about “the light of all mankind” that was coming into the world. One of the ways it describes God sending his son into the world is by saying that light has come into the world. And most importantly, it has Jesus call himself the light of the world.Continue reading Who is the light of the world?
The Bible says shortly before the soldiers crucified Jesus, they offered him some wine, which he refused.1 But the gospels disagree on what was mixed in with that wine.Continue reading What was in the wine Jesus was offered before he was crucified?