in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?
II – Prophecies in the New Testament
“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but
prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy
This article is a continuation
of our series “Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of
Man?” In Part I, we examined five
well-known prophecies in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). Using the same methodology outlined in that
article, we will now examine prophecies from the New Testament which, along
with the Tanakh, makes up part of the Christian Bible.
in the New Testament
prophecies that will be examined comprise a small sample of New Testament
passages that discuss future events. But
as with our selection method in Part I, in this article, we have again only
selected prophecies that were affiliated with events that can be historically
Mark 13:2 –
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one
stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Discussion: In this prophecy, Jesus (peace be upon him)
allegedly stated that the great Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and it
is indeed a well-known fact that in 70 CE (some 40 years after), the Romans did
destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Hence,
assuming that the prophecy was actually made by Jesus (peace be upon him),
it certainly came true. However, it only
partially came true since the
prophecy stated that “not one stone here will be
left on another”, an obvious exaggeration which never happened. One need only look at pictures of the Wailing
Wall to see that there are many stones from the original temple that were left
on each other. So, perhaps a later editor simply assumed
that the Temple had been completely destroyed and expected the Romans to leave
no stone unturned. Indeed, the late
Biblical scholar Geza Vermes observed that the prophecy reflected the views of
the Christians who lived in the time of the Roman-Jewish war:
“…the Discourse reflects the situation prevailing some forty
years after the death of Jesus, and the evangelists voice the later ideas of
the apostolic church.”
Hence, while the temple was destroyed as it was prophesied,
the extent of the destruction was not as described. Some stones were indeed left unturned and
were left on each other. An entire wall
was left by the Romans, and it is this wall that has become the holiest site
for modern-day Jews.
2. Mark 13:9-10 –
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local
councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before
governors and kings as witnesses to them.
And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.”
Discussion: This prophecy foretold that the disciples would
face persecution for their beliefs.
According to Christian sources, this indeed happened, as most of the
disciples were martyred by Roman and Jewish officials. However, while scholars recognize that some persecution
of Christians did occur, in reality it was sporadic and usually
short-lived. Of course, that does not
necessarily mean that the prophecy actually came true, since the Gospel of Mark
was written sometime in the 60s of the first century, possibly after the first
Roman and Jewish acts of persecutions would have already started. But let us assume that this was a genuine
prophecy that was made before the events actually occurred, and that it was
fulfilled during the apostolic age (c. 35 CE to 90 CE). Even with this generous assumption, the next
part of the prophecy suffers from complications.
Mark 13:11 -
“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry
beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for
it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
to the second part of the prophecy found in Mark 13, the disciples were
instructed that they would not need to defend themselves when they were brought
before a tribunal, since the “Holy Spirit” would speak through them. In other words, the “Holy Spirit”, which is
supposed to be the all-knowing “Spirit of God”,
would inspire the disciples on what to say.
Hence, the prophecy stated that the persecuted Christians would have the
Holy Spirit to guide them, which implies that they would be unable to make
false statements. Yet, we find a curious
case in the New Testament itself where this was clearly not the case.
Acts 7 describes the trial and
stoning of Stephen by the Sanhedrin, as well as Stephen’s impassioned speech
before his death. In previous articles,
we have noted the Bible’s erroneous usage of the Egyptian title “Pharaoh”,
which had not been used to refer to the king of Egypt before the reign of
Tuthmose III, who reigned from 1504 – 1492 BCE. The Bible, however, uses the word consistently
to refer to the rulers of Egypt even during the time of Abraham (peace be upon
him), even though it would not have been used in that sense. And the author of Acts 7 has Stephen repeat
the erroneous passage from the book of Genesis, obviously not realizing that it
was an anachronism. Yet if the Holy
Spirit is supposed to be “all-knowing”, then surely it should have been able to
inspire Stephen to correct this anachronism, which it did not. Therefore, we must conclude that Stephen, if
he actually did give his famous speech before the Sanhedrin,
was not being guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus, the prophecy from the Gospel
of Mark is false. It is also possible
that the entire event was made-up by the author of Acts.
Mark 13:12-13 –
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a
father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put
to death. Everyone will hate you because
of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Discussion: This prophecy foretold that the disciples would
be hated even by their own families for following Jesus (peace be upon
him). While there is no evidence that
the disciples faced persecution from their own families, it is safe to assume
that it has been fulfilled throughout Christian history. But even if the disciples did indeed suffer
these things, it simply cannot be demonstrated that the prophecy was made
beforehand. The best we can do is to say
that it is plausible. On the other hand, it is also plausible that
the “prophecy” was the product of a 2nd-century editor, as Vermes
“General hatred for Christians points to a late (second-century
AD) date in the New Testament age. […]
Encouragement to perseverance is a recurrent
feature in societies motivated for an extended period by eschatological
If this is true, then it is not a prophecy at all, but
rather an after-the-fact observation. And even if we accept that it was
a genuine prophecy (which is another generous assumption), it does not protect
it from being proven at least partially
false since the second part clearly failed, as we will see next in the case
of Matthew 10:23.
“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I
tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son
of Man comes.”
Discussion: In the second part, it was prophesied that Jesus
(peace be upon him), who was identified as the “Son of Man”, would return
before the disciples had gone to every city in Judea. In other words, the second coming was
supposed to occur during the lifetimes of the disciples, which of course did
not happen. Some apologists have tried to deny this clear
fact by making the baseless and preposterous assumption that the coming of the
“Son of Man” was a reference not to the second coming of Jesus (peace be upon
him) but to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans. For example, Barnes claimed the following:
“By "the coming of the Son of Man," that is, of
"Christ," is probably meant the destruction of Jerusalem, which
happened about thirty years after this was spoken. The words are often used in
Of course, he presented no evidence in support of this
claim, besides quoting verses from the other Gospels, which ironically
constitute no proof at all. Instead,
like most apologists, Barnes was obviously unwilling to accept the facts and
was rather content with resorting to mental gymnastics. If the prophecy was actually talking about the
destruction of Jerusalem, then why didn’t it just say so? Why would the phrase “the coming of the Son
of Man” not refer to the coming of Jesus (peace be upon him)? Christians
go to great lengths to explain this clear false prophecy, but it would be prudent
to just accept the plain truth. As the
late Biblical scholar Walter Wink observed:
“Exegetical gymnastics aimed at circumventing the clear intent
of these statements are simply attempts to avoid the embarrassment of having to
admit that the Bible was wrong.”
On a side note, the Gospel of Matthew states elsewhere that
the end would not come until the “gospel” had been preached throughout the
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole
world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
This verse seemingly contradicts the prophecy in Matthew
10:23, for it states that the gospel would have to be preached to “all
nations”. However, when we consider that
the context is again referring to the apostolic
age, it is actually not contradictory at all. It is, however, still a false prophecy since
the gospel was hardly preached to “all nations” during the apostolic age.
“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing
where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in
Judea flee to the mountains.”
Discussion: This is perhaps the most disturbing prophecy
found in the Gospels (at least among those which can be historically
verified). It speaks of the “abomination
that causes desolation”, a phrase used three times in the Book of Daniel:
“He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he
will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an
abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out
“His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress
and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination
that causes desolation.”
“From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the
abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.”
In all three cases, the “abomination” is a reference to a
pagan idol that was placed within the Temple grounds. We know of at least two historical instances
when such an abomination was indeed placed at the site of the Temple. The first occurred during the reign of the
Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who persecuted the Jews and installed an
idol of the Greek god Zeus in Jerusalem in 167 BCE. The second occurred after the Romans
destroyed the temple in 70 CE, and the legionnaires of the Roman army installed
a pagan altar and made sacrifices in the Temple court.
In the case of the Daniel prophecies, scholars are in agreement that they were
written in the context of the Jewish struggle against Seleucid tyranny, which
would place its authorship in the 2nd-century BCE, and not during
the Babylonian exile, as is traditionally claimed. But if, as stated in the Gospel of Mark, the
“abomination” was a reference to an altogether different event which would occur
in the future, we must examine whether it has yet to be fulfilled (as Christian
apologists would maintain) or if it actually was referring to events in the
apostolic age. It seems quite obvious,
given our discussion in #5 above, that the latter scenario is preferred. The New Testament books were in complete
agreement that the end would occur within the time frame of the apostolic age,
as stated in Mark 13:30:
“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away
until all these things have happened.”
So while the “abomination that causes desolation” could
perhaps have been fulfilled in the Roman desecration of the Temple in 70 CE, if
we assume that the prophecy was not a later addition,
then the rest of the prophecy clearly failed.
The “Son of Man” did not descend as promised (Mark 13:26).
this article, we have examined six prophetic statements in the Gospels. Unlike the Tanakhic prophecies examined in
Part I, all of which were shown to have failed, the prophecies studied in this
article have produced mixed results.
Some appear to have been genuine prophecies which were fulfilled, while
others were dismal and clear failures.
However, regarding the former, it must again be emphasized that they may have been genuine prophecies, but
that this conclusion is only possible if we make a few generous assumptions, as
if we assume that these were genuine prophecies, how do we reconcile them with
the false prophecies and what ramifications do they have regarding the
Gospels? The answer, in the opinion of
the author, is that perhaps it is the long history of editing that the Gospels
have undergone (like the books of the Tanakh) that is the reason that these
books have some (apparent) truth as well as some clear falsehoods. The corruption of the message of Jesus (peace
be upon him) by later Christians may be to blame for the presence of false
prophecies alongside seemingly fulfilled prophecies.
One thing is
clear, however. The presence of the
false prophecies will not impress anyone sincerely searching for truth and
salvation. Only those who already
believe will accept the claim that the New Testament contains prophecies which
could only have been the product of an All-Knowing and Supreme Being. To those who accept the evidence, the only
reasonable conclusion is that the New Testament (or at least significant
portions of it) is the product of fallible human beings who worked with the
limited knowledge they had. So, in contrast to the words of 2 Peter 1:21,
the false prophecies of the New Testament do indeed have their origin in the
“human will” and are not from God. In other words, they are the folly of
man. And Allah knows best!
translations are again from the NIV.
Regarding the date of the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, see note #8.
Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p.
seems likely that the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) did genuinely prophesy
the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but that when the Gospels were
written, the authors exaggerated the destruction, which explains the phrase “[n]ot one stone here will be left on another”. However, it could also be that he made no
such prophecy and that it was the product of later editors who added it after
they witnessed or heard about the destruction of the Temple. Interestingly, it appears that the Q Gospel
did mention the prophecy in the form of the “lament
over Jerusalem” (http://earlychristianwritings.com/q-contents.html).
example, Peter is said to have died during the persecution of the Roman emperor
Nero in the 60s CE.
Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
(New York: Paulist Press, 1973), p. 16.
Brown stated regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Mark:
“I accept the common scholarly opinion that Mark was the first
of our written Gospels (composed in the 60’s?).”
However, this fails to prove
that the prophecy was made before the events in question, since the persecution
of Christians under Nero began in the year 64 CE. Also, the 1st-century Jewish
historian Flavius Josephus mentioned that James was brought before the
Sanhedrin and stoned to death around 62 CE (see note #14 for more). In all likelihood, the gospel was written after
the events in question. Hence, in the absence of direct evidence that the
Gospel of Mark was written before the persecution began, it cannot be used as
evidence for the authenticity of the prophecy.
In addition, not all scholars
are of the view that the Gospel of Mark was written in the 60s, but rather sometime
after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. According to Reza Aslan:
“...in triumphant Rome, a short while after
the Temple of the Lord had been desecrated, the Jewish nation scattered to the
winds, and the religion made a pariah, tradition says a Jew named John Mark
took up his quill and composed the first words to the first gospel written
about the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth...” (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013), pp. 69-70).
is only with the generous assumption that the prophecy was made beforehand and
not after, as discussed in note #8.
seems at least plausible that Stephen and the other disciples could have been
brought before the Sanhedrin, since Josephus mentions that James and “some
others” were put on trial and stoned for being “breakers of the law” (Antiquities
of the Jews, 20:9).
However, scholars generally accept that Stephen's speech
is most likely the invention of the author of the Book of Acts (who was
probably Luke) and also has other errors, in addition to the incorrect usage of
the word "Pharaoh". As Reza Aslan states:
“The speech, which is obviously Luke's creation, is riddled with
the most basic errors: it misidentifies the burial site of the great patriarch
Jacob, and it inexplicably claims that an angel gave the law to Moses when even
the most uneducated Jew in Palestine would have known it was God himself who
gave Moses the law” (Aslan, op. cit., p. 168).
also Matthew 10:21-22.
context of the prophecy shows that it was made with regard to the disciples, so
it is another generous assumption to apply it to Christians in general.
 In his
well-known commentary on the Bible, the 19th-century theologian
Albert Barnes stated the following regarding the prophecy:
In other words, Barnes admitted that there was no extant
evidence to prove that the prophecy came true, but that it must have existed at
some point. However, even if this was
true, it would still fail to prove that the “evidence” was present after the “prophecy” was actually
made. Hence, the truth of the prophecy
still remains “plausible” at best.
op. cit., p. 295.
 The next
portion of the prophecy is not found in Mark, but only in Matthew.
Barnes’ commentary on verse 23.
also Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1 and 13:30, Luke 9:27 and 21:32 and John 1:51. In John 1:51, Jesus (peace be upon him)
allegedly told his disciple Nathaniel (or all of the disciples) that:
“…you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and
descending on the Son of Man.’”
Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man
(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002), p. 171.
Matthew 24:14. See also Mark 13:10.
we consider that in the 1st century CE it was not known just how
vast the earth was, we can understand the context of the prophecy. People did not know that there were other
continents and civilizations still waiting to be discovered. It was not until the “Age of Exploration”
more than 1500 years later that the “New World” was even discovered. Hence, if we keep the historical context in
mind, the reference to “all nations” is not to the whole “earth”, but to the
“earth” that was known at the time.
This fact is clearly demonstrated when we read Paul’s letter
to the Romans. In Romans 10, Paul
criticized the “Israelites” for failing to believe in the “message” of Jesus
(peace be upon him), despite the fact that the message had been preached
throughout the earth (!):
“But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah
says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from
hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out
into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’”
If Paul believed that the message had already “gone out into
all the earth”, then he could not have possibly meant that the gospel had been
preached in North America or Australia, since those continents had not yet been
discovered! Hence, he must have meant
that the gospel had been preached throughout the earth as he knew and
understood it, which was nothing like the earth that actually was.
It is also clear from other passages that Paul was convinced
(as were other Christians) that the end would occur within his lifetime. In Romans 13:11-12, he stated:
“The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber,
because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is
nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness
and put on the armor of light.”
Also, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul was clear that
“the time is short”, when answering questions regarding the issue of marriage:
“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the
time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not;
those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as
if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep;
those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in
them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
It is clear from this passage that Paul was convinced that
the end was near. His answer to the question of marriage was that
Christians could get married, but that since “the time [was] short”, it was
probably better not to. Why would he
have said that if he was not convinced that the end was near? Surely, he was not speaking to Christians
2,000 years later, who are still waiting for the end to come!
Finally, 1 John 2:18 was even more crystal-clear that the
end-times were here:
“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as
you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have
come. This is how we know it is the last hour.”
The author did not say that the “last hour” was coming. He said it was already here. In other words, as Paul said it, time was
This is one of the few issues on which the various New
Testament books are in total agreement. They all agreed that the end would occur in
the "apostolic age", not thousands of years later.
op. cit., p. 297.
if apologists could sufficiently prove that the book was written during the
Babylonian exile, they cannot deny that it has irreconcilable chronological
errors. Even the Catholic scholar
Raymond E. Brown acknowledged these errors:
“…the discovery of the Neo-Babylonian chronicles made it lucidly
clear that the dates assigned to various Babylonian interventions in Daniel
were wrong; no longer could exegetes say that those dates might be true because
of our ignorance of Babylonian chronology.
One may very well answer that the author of Daniel was not writing
history, but surely he used those dates because he thought they were correct” (The
Critical Meaning of the Bible: How a Modern Reading of the Bible Challenges
Christians, the Church, and the Churches (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1981), p.
Furthermore, even if we allow for the traditionalist
assumptions, it only produces yet another difficulty for the apologists, since
the author would have then made a false prophecy regarding the demise of the
tyrannical ruler who would erect the “abomination that causes desolation”. It is accepted even by Jewish and Christian
scholars that this ruler was Antiochus IV.
Rashi stated in his commentary on Daniel 11:17:
Similarly, Albert Barnes stated regarding Daniel 11:21-45:
“There can be no doubt that this portion of the chapter refers
to Antiochus, and it contains a full detail of his character and of his doings.
The account here, though without naming him, is just such as would have been
given by one who should have written after the events had occurred, and there
is no more difficulty in applying the description in this chapter to him now
than there would have been in such a historical narrative” (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/daniel/11.htm).
Yet, Daniel 12 clearly states that the tyrant would meet his
doom when God would intervene and send the archangel Michael to destroy his
kingdom (Daniel 12:1), after which the dead would rise to be judged (Daniel
12:2). This, of course, did not
happen. Antiochus died from an illness,
and the Hasmonean dynasty (founded by the Maccabees) ruled the Holy Land for
the next century, minus the Messiah. As
the skeptic Chris Sandoval (a pseudonym) states:
“In real history, the Messianic Kingdom never appeared as
predicted. Antiochus fell ill and died in 164 BC while he was looting the treasuries
of the temples in the Persian territories of his empire (1 Maccabees 6:1-17; 2
Maccabees 1:11-17; 9). The Maccabee family (also known as the Hasmoneans)
surprised everybody by driving out the Seleucid armies and eventually setting
up an independent Jewish state under their rule that was to last for over a
is the best case scenario, if we allow for the assumption that the destruction
of the Temple was a genuine prophecy.