Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Can Ezekiel Pass the Deuteronomy 18 Test?

Some of our critics proclaim that a single apparently failed prophecy is all it takes to reject a prophet, according to their application of a test based on Deuteronomy 18:22. It reads:
When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
This doesn't exactly say that one mistake makes a false prophet. James L. Mays, editor of Harper's Bible Commentary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, p. 226), writes:
Prophecy in the names of other gods is easily rejected, but false prophecy in God's name is a more serious matter. This dilemma requires the application of a pragmatic criterion that, although clearly useless for judgments on individual oracles, is certainly a way to evaluate a prophet's overall performance.
The problem with applying Deut. 18:22 to a single, individual prophecy is that some prophecies can be fulfilled in complex ways or at times much later than anticipated by the hearers. Moreover, God sometimes appears to reverse certain prophecies, as He says He is free to do in Jeremiah 18:7-10:
7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Be careful in how you apply Deut. 18:22, for you threaten to reject some true prophets in the Bible! There are examples where a true prophet prophesied something which did not happen as he stated, to the best of our knowledge. An example is found in the story of Jonah, who was told by God to prophesy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah prophesied that the people would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4) - no loopholes were offered, just imminent doom. God changed things, however, when the people repented and He chose to spare them - much to the chagrin of that imperfect (yet still divinely called) prophet, Jonah. Jonah, in fact, was "displeased ... exceedingly" and "very angry" (Jonah 4:1) about this change from God, perhaps because it made Jonah look bad. In spite of an "incorrect" prophecy and in spite of the obvious shortcomings of Jonah, he was a prophet of God and the Book of Jonah in the Bible is part of the Word of God. Yet if that sacred text had been lost, only to be restored by Joseph Smith, perhaps as part of the Book of Mormon, it would be assaulted as the most damning evidence against Joseph Smith. Just imagine how the critics would dismiss the Book of Jonah as being evil, contradictory, ludicrous, anti-Biblical, unscientific, and unchristian (of course, there are plenty already who reject it as it is, unable to believe major parts of the story).

The prophet Ezekiel provides another example of how true prophets may err or give prophecies of uncertain accuracy. In Ezekiel chapters 26, 27, and 28, we read that Tyre (a fortified island city) would be conquered, destroyed, and plundered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The riches of Tyre would go to Babylon (Ezek. 26:12). Nebuchadnezzar's army did lay siege to Tyre, and its inhabitants were afflicted, apparently so much that they shaved their heads bald, as prophesied in Ezek. 27:31. However, the 13-year Babylonian siege apparently was not quite as successful as Ezekiel had predicted, perhaps because the land-based tactics of Babylonian sieges were less effective against a fortified island city with significant maritime power. The result of the siege may have been a compromise or treaty rather than total destruction and plunder, for Ezekiel 29:17-20 reports that the predicted plundering did not take place. Almost as if in compensation, the Lord now announces that He will give Egypt to the Babylonians, which is the theme of chapter 29. Here are verses 17-20:
17 And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
18 Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it:
19 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.
20 I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD.
Yes, Tyre was eventually destroyed, but its complete destruction apparently did not occur during the Babylonian siege, and certainly the Babylonian army did not get the riches of Tyre as has been prophesied. It is Ezekiel himself who reports this "prophetic failure." (The analysis above is derived from an article by Daniel C. Peterson in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1995, pp. 49-50.)
D.C. Pyle has also commented on Ezekiel's prophecy of Tyre:
Of course, my favorite part of the prophecy against Tyre is the part found in Ezekiel 26:14 and 27:36, where the Lord states that Tyre would "not be rebuilt" and "exist no more forever."
Of course, after it was left unconquered by the Babylonian armies, it eventually fell to the Greeks under Alexander and was destroyed by his armies.
But then, the city which was never to be rebuilt forever rose again to wealth and power in 125 BCE! During the Roman period, the city rose to even more prominence and had a Christian community living in the mainland portion. Muslims reduced the city to ashes in 1291. It was rebuilt again sometime after this. In 1983, it had an estimated population of 23,000.
The prophecy stated that the place would "be a bare rockface for spreading nets and would never be rebuilt" but today, the place has become a fairly important maritime center.
To those who refuse to believe that Tyre still exists today, pictures can be see at http://tyros.leb.net/tyre/index.html. Note that there are many buildings - it has been rebuilt. A literal interpretation of Ezekiel's prophecy coupled with a belief in Biblical inerrancy leads to obvious problems.

My purpose in discussing the prophecies about Tyre is not to question the truthfulness of the Bible (it is true - we just need to struggle to understand it properly, as we must with all scripture and all prophecy, and we need to understand its potential limitations). My primary purpose in discussing Tyre is to point out that an overly critical attitude and a strict application of Deut. 18:22 may reject even true, Biblical prophets. If we try hard enough to find reasons to reject a prophet, we will surely succeed - but beware lest we judge unwisely and reject those whom God has sent and anointed, even though they be mortal and fallible. As for Tyre never being rebuilt, I think it's fair to mention that Hebrew writers used extreme words like "never" or "all" or "forever" in a rather loose way. Tyre was "never" to rebuilt and animal sacrifices were to continue "forever" - but these expressions can best be understood as figures of speech rather than absolutes. But if we're going to take the reasonable, thoughtful path of understanding the Bible rather than looking for apparent flaws to condemn it out of hand, we should extend the same courtesy to the Book of Mormon and the words of modern prophets.


Anonymous said...

Jeff someone got spam through.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I get the main point of your argument and I agree with it, but I think you and brother Peterson are greatly mistaken about the Tyre prophecy. You haven’t carefully read it. It is one of the great evidences that Bible prophets had supernatural insight into the future.

If you read carefully you will see that verse 3 says that “many nations” will come “ as the sea causeth his waves to come up.” In other words, there won’t be one attack from one nation, but there will be many successive attacks from many nations.
Note then that verses 4-5 use the term “they” in reference to the many nations that will come upon them. Then verses 6-11 changes and focuses only on the immediate, what Nebuchadnezzar will do. These verses always, without exception use the pronoun “he” and “his” never “they or their”
Everything in verses 6-11 was accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar on mainland Tyre, (Tyre had a mainland city, and they had an island portion of the city. The island portion withstood Nebuchadnezzar, the mainland was destroyed by him, but the city had a habit of moving their treasures to the island city when they were under attack leaving very little for the spoils.)

A very odd thing happens though in verse 12. We see a complete switch again from the pronoun “he” which referred to Neb, to the pronoun “They” which we saw in the earlier verses refered to the nations (plural) that would come in succession as waves of the sea.
So we see that the spoils promised in verse 12 would go to “them” not “him”, or in otherwords, to the nations, not necessarily to Neb.

As far as being rebuilt. The chapter, as far as I can tell, actually never promises anything about there never being a city at the same sight again but it says this:
14 And I will make thee like the atop of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I theLORD have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.

This was fulfilled literally when Alexander decided that the best way to take the island, was to scrape all the buildings from the mainland and throw the rubble into the ocean to create a land bridge to the island. All of the great buldings were never built again because they were totally destroyed and buried in the sea to create the land bridge becoming “like the top of a rock”
Note that verse 4 says “I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock.”
How awesome is it that this literally happened hundreds of years after it was predicted. The prediction is so odd that it sounds like it would never happen, yet it did.

For more on this miraculous prophecy see the LDS old testament manual
Please don’t misrepresent Bible prophecies in order to justify other prophecies that haven’t yet been fulfilled.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comments. Please note that I am not saying that Ezekiel was a false prophet, but that the nature of his prophecy shows that some flexibility and patience is needed in what we demand of the prophets and in our evaluation of their words. You have demonstrated a very high degree of flexibility and patience in this case, which is very considerate of you in your faithful defense of Ezekiel. But I think you are looking past the mark and stretching things a bit much in the effort.

Surely nobody could have heard Ezekiel's prophecy and imagined that it in spite of Nebuchadrezzar's attack, the city would not be spoiled and completely destroyed, and that it would take another several centuries to be completely fulfilled. Oh, not quote completely even then., for surely none hearing Ezekiel's voice would have imagined that the large city we have there now would accurately comply with words like "thou shalt be built no more" (v. 14).

The fact that some buildings would be knocked down and maybe those specific buildings wouldn't be rebuilt does not make for a wonderful and powerfully clear fulfillment of the prophecy if other buildings are left standing and new buildings are built and people continued to live there for centuries, until this day.

This is a prophecy that forces us to recognize there are some gaps between what one might have expected from the literal words and what actually happened. Accurate in large part, but the details leave one wondering and compel some patience and flexibility, if one wishes not to be harsh and critical.

The statement about the waves and the nations just doesn't seem to be saying a slow, gradual process of centuries will be required. Neb. is not coming alone--he's bringing many people with him, an international collection of soldiers and followers ready to inundate Tyre like the waves. Shifting from "he" to "they" is reasonable because Neb. brings numerous forces and they are reasonably the "they" referred to.

Remember that it is Ezekiel who later self-reports that the prophecies spoilage didn't quite happen, and so some other compensation will be given to Neb.

Kevin Christensen said...

As I have long been interested in the notion of testing Prophets, I searched the Bible and located 28 distinct tests for true prophets, all neatly paired with complementary tests for false. I noticed that tone test most qualified by precept and example within the Bible, and also the one most abused within the Bible, is the test of fulfillment. That is because of issues of interpretation, recording transmission, and how long to wait. The difficulties there are more than compensated by the clarity and breadth of the full set of 28. See my FAIRwiki entry on Biblical Keys for Discerning True Prophets.


Kevin Christensen

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. I do see what you mean about it being reasonable to interpret the prophecy as having Babylon receive the spoils. I think however a prophecy should be judged according to what it says, and what actually happened. The less ambiguous a prophecy, the better evidence it is of divine intervention but even if some parts are ambiguous, if they are fulfilled in one manner or another, that fulfillment ought to be recognized and pointed out instead of hidden and ignored.

This prophecy does have some rather ambiguous parts to it, but its predictions were all fulfilled as promised. As Paul stated, “we know in part and we prophesy in part”. God chooses how much information will be given, and we get to work with what we get. It would have been nice if the Lord specifically mentioned that 300 years would pass between the time Neb attacked, and the city finally fell as foretold, but I think it is a stretch to say that Ezekiel “self-reports that the prophecies spoilage didn't quite happen” He does state that Neb hasn’t received the spoilage of Tyre and that God will reward him the land of Egypt as wages but he says nothing about the earlier prophecy promising spoils to Neb.

There is no report here that “the PREDICTED plundering did not take place.” (my emphasis on “predicted”) He only states that the plunder he had been after did not take place. This is an important distinction.

Anonymous said...

When speaking to the critics and pointing out what you mentioned Jeff, the critics get quiet, then angry, then resort to personal attacks because they do not have answers. They sure have a double standard when it comes to the LDS church.
This was very informative, thank you.


Mormography said...

JG -

I would be interested to know more about these “critics”. Regardless of who they are, you imply an excellent point: The entity that struggles to formulate a rational response to rational discussion tends to be exposed as the more irrational one lead by immature emotions.

However, you should also be made aware that Mormanity has declared that "silence = consent" (link) a fallacy . I am not sure what he meant by “consent”, as if critical analysis is asking someone out on a date. So, JG, when you state “the critics get quiet”, Mormanity would have to describe you, JG, as ”unpleasant” (link) to maintain consistency (avoiding his own double standard).

Many of Mormanity’s arguments have been responded to in abundance in prior posts. Simple search engines searches provide abundant retort to the Jonah-was-a-false-prophet defense presented by Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. Mormanity does not allow those links has he has deemed them anti-Mormon. It was only after considerable insistence that Mormanity eventually provided the LDS method of proofing a prophet false (linked here) However, to date he has been silent to how the “other gods” criteria is applied to Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, the Pope, David Koresh, etc., or for that matter James Strange (the accepted successor to Joseph Smith by many of the Book Of Mormon “Witnesses”), Warren Jeffs, or Chris Nemelka who believe in the same Book of Mormon and priesthood as Mormanity.

So, JG, given that to date Mormanity has claimed that he does not have “time” to explain, can you JG, explain how to apply Mormanity’s “other gods” rejection criteria to Warren Jeffs, Chris Nemelka, and James Strange?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Mormog: "Mormanity does not allow those links [as] he has deemed them anti-Mormon." Huh? I've never called any defense of the Jonah argument anti-Mormon or banned a link to such an argument, not that I can remember. None have been posted here that I know of. So what on earth are you talking about, Mormog?

I do object to links to genuinely anti-Mormon sites, but they are a minute percentage of the websites discussing religion and biblical issues.

Arn said...

During my mission, I was challenged by other Christians who argued that Mormonism is incompatible with the Bible for various reasons. This motivated me to find ways in which the Bible was sometimes incompatible with itself. I thought that if I applied the arguments against LDS beliefs to the Bible, I could show that parts of the Bible fare no better than Mormonism. This would furnish me with a reason to disregard such arguments. My approach was very much like the one that Jeff Lindsay has taken in this blogpost.

As I continued to read about the research of Bible scholars, I gradually began to see how much of the Bible has a wholly human origin and how much of its claims are incompatible with science and other forms of scholarship. Problems with my belief in Mormon doctrine arose when I saw that many LDS beliefs are contingent on, or at least identical to, many problematic biblical claims. It became clear that some of the things that LDS leaders claim are inspired cannot be. I'm still active in the church and do my best to reinterpret some LDS teachings in a way that I can extract the most truth from them, but I can't believe the way that I used to. Sometimes it's difficult and painful to remain affiliated.

So be careful with these kinds of arguments, Jeff. If you pursue them to their logical conclusions, you could end up as unhappy as I am.

Mormography said...

Arn – It is implausible to believe that Mormanity has not followed his arguments to their logical conclusion. Unlike you, he obviously finds little value in intellectual honesty, preferring group conformity as cool as drinking the Kool-Aid. It is morally concerning the manner in which he repeats his exposed errors as if they have not been exposed and sprints away from challenges. The highly plausible conclusion is he just does not care.

Mormanity – Sighhh, whatever ……. I am still waiting for your definition of “genuinely anti”. But I get it, though you obviously have time for phony outage, you have no time to define anti with a consistent standard.

Mormanity, when you make time to nick pick all you demonstrate is your inability to explain how your “other gods” rejection criteria is apply to Warren Jeffs, Chris Nemelka, and James Strange is not genuinely due to a lack of time, but your awareness of the inevitable logical conclusion.