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Inspiration of the Bible: Factual Accuracy

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Two Bethlehems?

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

One powerful proof of the supernatural origin of the Bible is the presence of predictive prophecy within its pages. Old Testament prophets predicted minute details of events that were fulfilled in the New Testament. The uninformed observer may take this claim with “a grain of salt,” thinking that anyone can write a book that makes predictions, and then report the fulfillment of those predictions in the same book. In other words, one might simply assume that the entire Bible was written by only one (or a few) writers who simply selected contemporaneous events at the time they were writing, and then couched their subject matter in an anticipatory format, creating the impression that they were predicting events yet future to their own day.

This methodology certainly has been followed by other books that claim to be from God. The Book of Mormon is characterized mostly by its reporting of the past. It purports to be the result of a single individual—Joseph Smith—who allegedly received gold plates from an angel, which then were translated with divine assistance (see Miller, 2003). Likewise, the Quran claims to be the result of revelations presented to a single individual—Muhammad—by the angel Gabriel. It, too, gives the appearance of being the result of a single person responding to his surroundings without the ability to predict the future.

In contrast, the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, completed prior to the formation of the New Testament, stands as an indisputable fact of history. Although the higher textual critics have attempted to reassign late dates to many of the Old Testament books, even they have not dated them beyond the second century B.C., with canonization complete by 100 B.C. (see Archer, 1974, pp. 77-79). One reason for this concession is the fixed historical fact that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was translated into Greek by seventy-two scholars in Alexandria in approximately 250 B.C. The existence of this translation, known as the Septuagint, is corroborated by several independent historical witnesses (see Harrison, 1969, pp. 228ff.; Koester, 1982, 1:252ff.; Tenney, 1976, 5:342-343). The existence of the Septuagint verifies that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament were intact over 300 years before the first books of the New Testament were penned. Likewise, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has further demonstrated a pre-Christian presence of the Old Testament books (see Finegan, 1959, 2:271ff.; Thompson, 1962, p. 264; Free and Vos, 1992, pp. 175ff.; Pfeiffer, 1969, pp. 25ff.; Archer, 1974, pp. 38ff., 505-509).

One category of Old Testament predictive prophecy is Messianic prophecy, i.e., prophecy that pertains to the coming of the Messiah—Jesus Christ. Some 332 (Free and Vos, 1992, p. 241) minute, intricate predictions are scattered throughout the Old Testament that pinpoint details of events and circumstances that transpired while Jesus lived on Earth. Included among these moments in the life of Christ are: His descent from Abraham (Genesis 22:18; Luke 3:34), through the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10; Hebrews 7:14), through the family of David (2 Samuel 7:12; Luke 1:32), through the virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22), during the Roman empire (Daniel 2:44; 9:26; Luke 2:1), while Judah still had a king (Genesis 49:10; Matthew 2:22), His escape to Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14-15), His Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:12-16), His priesthood comparable to Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:15-17), His rejection by the Jews (Isaiah 53:3; Psalm 2:2; Luke 15:25; 23:18; John 1:11; 5:43), His triumphal entry (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 62:11; Matthew 21:1-11; John 12:12-15), His betrayal by a friend (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18), for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:15), which would be returned for a potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13; Matthew 27:3-10), with His accuser replaced (Psalm 109:7-8; Acts 1:16-20), being spit upon and beaten (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 27:30), His silence when accused (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 26:62-63), by false witnesses (Psalm 27:12; 35:11; Matthew 26:60-61), mocked and insulted (Psalm 22:6-8; Matthew 27:39-40), given gall and vinegar (Psalm 69:21; John 19:29), His death with sinners (Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 27:38), with His hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16; Luke 24:39), but no bone broken (Psalm 34:20; John 19:33), while lots were cast for his clothing (Psalm 22:18; Mark 15:24), buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57-60), but in death his body would not decay (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:22ff.), and His ascension (Psalm 68:18; Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9).

One particularly striking prophecy was uttered by the prophet Micah, who lived and prophesied in the eighth century B.C. (Lewis, 1966, p. 32). He articulated a very specific reference to the place of Christ’s birth: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (5:2). This prophecy is remarkable on at least two counts. First, the fact that anyone could predict the precise city where a “ruler” would be born centuries later is unsurpassed in ordinary human experience. A charlatan would be “leaving himself wide open” to being discredited. Psychics, palm readers, spiritualists, and faith healers of today are very careful to maintain ambiguity and to keep their words sufficiently vague as to allow for adjustment, evasion, and multiple explanations. Pinpointing a specific city is specificity that is incomparable in its own right.

Second, Micah “stuck his neck out” even farther when he identified the city as “Bethlehem Ephrathah.” Few people probably realize that Palestine contained two towns named Bethlehem. Similarly, in the United States, we have Paris, Texas, and Paris, Tennessee. There’s a Jackson, Mississippi, and a Jackson, Tennessee, as well as a Lexington, Tennessee, and a Lexington, Kentucky. The Bethlehem with which most people are familiar is Bethlehem of Judah, located five miles south of Jerusalem. This town, or its inhabitants, is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 35:19; 48:7; Judges 17:7-9; 19:1ff.; Ruth 1:19), and was the birthplace of King David (1 Samuel 16:4; 17:12,15; 2 Samuel 23:14,16). After the Babylonian exile, Bethlehemites reinhabited the town (Ezra 2:21; Nehemiah 7:26). This same Bethlehem served as the birthplace of the Messiah (Matthew 2:1,5; Luke 2:4,15). In fact, King Herod’s familiarity with biblical prophecy caused him to concentrate his massacre of innocent babies on the infant population of this particular Bethlehem.

The other Bethlehem was Bethlehem of Zebulun in northern Palestine. Though mentioned less frequently in the Old Testament (Joshua 19:15; Judges 12:8,10), archaeological excavations indicate that it was a place of some importance in earlier days (Masterman, 1956, 1:449-450).

How did Micah know that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem—let alone Bethlehem Ephrathah? The only rational explanation is that Micah was inspired in his writing—supernaturally guided to predict the precise location where the Messiah would be born. The Bible stands alone—in a class by itself—apart from all other books on the planet that claim to be of divine origin. It is, in fact, the Word of God. As such, it reserves the right to require conformity to its precepts by all accountable human beings.

REFERENCES

Archer, Gleason L. Jr. (1974), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody), revised edition.

Finegan, Jack (1959), Light from the Ancient Past (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), second edition.

Free, Joseph P. and Howard F. Vos (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), revised edition.

Harrison, R.K. (1969), Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Koester, Helmut (1982), History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress).

Lewis, Jack (1966), The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Masterman, E.W.G. (1956), “Bethlehem,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1974 reprint.

Miller, Dave (2003), “Is the Book of Mormon from God?” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2243.

Pfeiffer, Charles (1969), The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Tenney, Merrill, ed. (1976), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Thompson, J.A. (1962), The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).




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