I want to suggest three sets of prophesies that the New Testament writers couldn't have manipulated, because they were outside of their control.
(1) Israel Would Be Under Roman Control
Rome, the fourth kingdom, rules Jewish Israel from 64 B.C. until about 70 A.D.(when the Jews are sent into Diaspora, and Israel is crushed). That's a fairly tiny window for the Messiah to arrive, yet Christ lived, died, and was resurrected during this span. Now, obviously, the New Testament writers couldn't have controlled whether or not the Romans controlled Israel during this period. More on that here.
(2) The Christ Would Die from Crucifixion
|Callisto Piazza, |
Nailing of Christ to the Cross (1538)
Dogs surround me,a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among themand cast lots for my garment.That sounds a lot like Crucifixion: after all, how many other forms of capital punishment involve being stripped, having your hands and feet pierced. and being put on public display? What's more remarkable is that we know that the Romans relied heavily upon crucifixion in the first century.
So Psalm 22 appears to predict a form of capital punishment that wouldn't exist for centuries, this form of capital punishment was used by the Romans in the first century, and would certainly have been used upon Christ for His alleged crimes. None of these are facts that the New Testament writers could have controlled. Put another way, had the Death of Christ taken place at virtually any other time or place, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which His Death would have fit Psalm 22 so believably.
|Matthias Grünewald, The Crucifixion (1515) (detail)|
Here, the evidence is so strong that it was once thought that the evidence was forged. Psalm 22:16 literally says that “they dug my hands and my feet,” a very graphic image of being nailed to the Cross. Skeptics used to think that Christian forgers had changed the Hebrew (from ka’ari, “like a lion,” to ka’aru, “they dug”) to make this sound prophetic. Today, we know that isn't true: a first-century parchment was found, proving that the passage wasn't some later forgery.
(3) The Second Temple Would Still Be Standing
|The Dome of the Rock (background) and the Wailing Wall (foreground)|
- Haggai 2:1-9 promises that, while smaller in size than its predecessor, the Second Temple would exceed the First Temple in glory.
- Malachi 3:1 tells us that the reason for this is that “the Lord you are seeking will come to His Temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”
We're told in the New Testament that Christ fulfills this, entering the Temple, driving out the money-lenders, and declaring it His House, and a House of prayer (Matthew 21:12-13). Again, the fulfillment is perfect: He is both the Message and the Messenger, and He's the only possible Messiah who could call the Second Temple His Temple, since it was created for Him (and at His command).
But the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. All that remains is the Wailing wall, what used to be the western wall of the Temple. So if the Messiah didn't come by 70, it seems these prophesies were wrong. Once again, whether the Temple stood or fell was outside of the New Testament authors' control. But we again see a clear Messianic window: if the Messiah didn't come by 70, He wasn't coming.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Plenty of other prophetic passages pointing to the same time period (Dr. Taylor Marshall mentions another: the 490 years from King Artaxerxes to Christ prophesied in Dan. 9:24-27). If the New Testament authors were con men, they were insanely lucky con men, since the stars aligned just perfectly for them to convincingly claim that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies. To be sure, we can't go back and verify that each of the events that they're describing occurred. But the events which we do know -- for example, that the Old Testament predates the time of Christ, that Someone named Jesus lived in the early first century, that the Romans used crucifixion to punish certain crimes, that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., etc. -- all match up perfectly.
My challenge, to anyone who thinks that the Gospel accounts are mythologies, and that Jesus is simply a fictional character created to fulfill these events, duplicate it. Who else in history (either real historical figures, or someone imaginary) fits these prophesies, and the innumerable other Old Testament Messianic prophesies?