XFiles Friday: So who cares?June 19, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)
Back in Chapter 12, Geisler and Turek had this to say about the significance of prophecy, in the context of a hypothetical case of the trees in your back yard moving 5 feet overnight.
[L]et’s suppose that [the] tree moving event occurred in the following context: Two hundred years in advance, someone claiming to be a prophet of God writes down a prediction that all of the trees in one area of Jerusalem would indeed move five feet one night during a particular year. Two hundred years later, a man arrives to tell the townspeople that the tree moving miracle will occur shortly…
Then one morning numerous eyewitnesses claim that the trees…actually moved five feet during the night.
That would certainly be a remarkable prediction, because how could someone 200 years ago have such detailed and specific knowledge about a remarkable event that didn’t occur until a couple centuries after his lifetime, especially when the event in question is not predictable by any known principles of science? Such evidence would indeed be difficult to account for in naturalistic terms. But is that in fact what we are actually dealing with when we look at the “Messianic” prophecies that Christians claim Jesus fulfilled?
We’ve come to the portion of Chapter 13 that Geisler and Turek call “The Box Top of Prophecy,” referring to their earlier analogy of life as a giant jigsaw puzzle and the Bible as (allegedly) the top of the box the puzzle came in, showing the whole picture so we can tell how to put the pieces together. As we’ve seen in preceding weeks, it’s a rather misleading analogy, since they have to rather mangle a lot of the pieces in order to put them together into the picture Geisler and Turek want us to see.
The mangling continues in this week’s episode, as Geisler and Turek invite us to consider three possible interpretations of Psalm 22, traditionally attributed to King David and taken by many as a prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion.
First, some Christian scholars agree with the skeptics on verses like this. They say Psalm 22 is not intended to be predictive…
Second, other Christian scholars point out that some biblical prophecies may apply to two different people at two different times. Both David and Jesus certainly had enemies and difficulties in their lives…
The third option—which is the one that seems most plausible to us—is that Psalm 22 is solely predictive of Jesus. After all, the psalm contains several distinct references to Christ’s crucifixion experience. It begins with his cry from the cross…and then describes…the scorn, mocking, and insults of his accusers…his thirst…his pierced hands and feet…his unbroken bones…his divided garments…the fact that his enemies cast lots for his garments…his ultimate rescue by the Lord…and even his public praise of God to his fellow Israelites after his rescue.
There are, of course, a number of problems with this interpretation, even overlooking the fact that we don’t normally apply the term “rescue” to a situation where the “rescuer’s” inaction results in the death of the victim.
Is David speaking of Jesus’ experiences, or are latter-day Christians incorporating the details of Psalm 22 into their narrative about the crucifixion? David doesn’t mention crucifixion, or any of the uniquely distinctive characteristics of death by crucifixion. He speaks in more general terms about persecution, and being forsaken by God, and suffering mistreatment and ridicule at their hands. Christians associate these emotion-laden descriptions with the emotion-laden descriptions of the crucifixion, but the association is sufficiently vague that, as Geisler and Turek admit, even some Christian theologians doubt that Psalm 22 is predicting the cross.
Then there are the inconsistencies. The Hebrew text, as revised by the Masoretes, has verse 16 as “they have pierced my hands and my feet,” but not all ancient texts have the same reading. (If you click on the link above, you’ll see a footnote stating that some texts have “like a lion” instead.) And the text nowhere says anything about all his bones being “unbroken.” The verse says, “I can count all my bones,” a clear reference to the advanced emaciation that comes from extreme and prolonged suffering. Breaking a bone does not render it uncountable!
The psalmist speaks of a man abandoned by God over a long enough period of time that he can complain about how God does not answer even though the psalmist beseeches Him “by day and by night.” Again, this is perfectly consistent with a period of suffering long enough to emaciate someone to the point where they can count all their bones, but not at all consistent with the relatively swift death of crucifixion. If you count the midnight arrest as part of the experience, you could squeeze in one “day” and one “night,” but that’s hardly enough to justify the psalmist’s complaint. Certainly, Christians don’t regard God as having “forsaken” them after less than 24 hours with no answer to their prayers.
Notice too that the psalmist cries out for mercy and for deliverance from the sword, and then ends with the exultant expectation that God will indeed deliver his life from those who seek to kill him. But God did not deliver Jesus—he died at the hands of his enemies (or more precisely, at the hands of the Romans, who weren’t particularly his enemies, but were just carrying out an execution for political expediency). There’s no indication in Psalm 22 of God allowing the psalmist to actually die, and certainly none of Him doing anything so astonishing as bringing anyone back from the dead; the psalmist’s prayer and expectation is that God will step in and rescue him so that his enemies don’t kill him in the first place.
The similarities to crucifixion are vague, superficial, and in some cases coincidental. There is no indication that David had any concept of what death by crucifixion would be like, or that he intended to express the idea that some important future personage would ever experience it, and then subsequently be resurrected from the dead. David’s description of himself as a man who finds himself far from God, and who has trusted in God from his earliest days, at his mother’s breast, is a far cry from the Trinitarian view of God the Son Who can never be separated from God because that would mean being separated from Himself.
So why do Geisler and Turek prefer the interpretation that Psalm 22 refers only to the crucifixion of Jesus? How do they answer all the skeptical criticisms of the Messianic interpretation of this Psalm?
The skeptic may say, “But you’re only interpreting Psalm 22 that way because you now know what happened to Christ. It probably wouldn’t have been apparent to someone living in Old Testament times that Psalm 22 was about Christ.”
To which we reply: even if that is true, so what? It may be true that certain messianic prophecies in the Old Testament become clear only in the light of Christ’s life. But that doesn’t mean those prophecies are any less amazing.
Did you catch that? David, the author of Psalm 22, was an Old Testament king. If you have to know the events of Jesus life in order to interpret Psalm 22 as a Messianic prophecy, and David clearly did not do that, then he never intended his psalm to be taken as a prediction of death by crucifixion. That would certainly explain the nagging inconsistencies between what Psalm 22 says and the events that actually happened in Jesus life. But notice the breathtaking response of Doctor Geisler and Doctor Turek to this problem: “So what? It doesn’t make the prophecies any less amazing.”
Isn’t that mind-boggling? Geisler and Turek don’t care whether their interpretation of Psalm 22 matches what the author was actually trying to say. All that matters is whether they can get an “amazing” prophecy they can use to bolster their claim that Jesus accomplished something remarkable by having his followers report that this, that, and the other unverifiable claim somehow matched, or nearly matched, specific verses and phrases from Psalm 22.
Compare that to the tree-moving event discussed in Chapter 12. The prophet in their scenario clearly knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew specifically what was going to happen, he knew where it was going to happen, he knew when it was going to happen, 200 years in advance, and he wrote down specific, measurable, verifiable details about what the result of the event was going to be. The whole point of issuing the prophecy was to demonstrate that he did indeed know exactly what he was talking about, and that what he wrote was what he meant and what he understood about it, when it was not naturally possible for him to have such accurate foreknowledge.
That’s the kind of standard Geisler and Turek want us to think their interpretation of prophecy lives up to, but if in fact the evidence fails to support the conclusion that David had any clue what their interpretation would someday be, their response is just a shrug and a “Who cares?”.
These guys are doctors of theology. They’re professional, trained apologists. And they don’t care whether or not their interpretation accurately reflects the author’s intended meaning. In their superstitious world view, the fact that they can twist and adapt Psalm 22 to suit a Christian agenda is proof enough that God always meant for them to do so. They’re not distorting the meaning of the texts, they’re revealing its “true,” secret, retroactive meaning, which coincidentally happens to be just what they want it to be, even if the words don’t all quite fit.
And they named their book I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST. And neither one has been struck by lightning. Need we any further proof that their God does not exist?