Peter Stoner’s probabilities of Jesus fulfilling 8 prophecies over which He had no human control

Empirical Data of God’s Involvement in History — Part I

Peter Stoner’s probabilities of Jesus fulfilling 8 prophecies over which He had no human control —

This excerpt comes from Peter Stoner from his book “Science Speaks”, and is endorsed in its forward by H. Harold Hartzler of the American Science Affiliation, Goshen College — http://www.geocities.com/stonerdon/science_speaks.html#c8

A challenge to critics is added by Stoner’s grandson (starting on page 4).

***

If the reader does not agree with the estimates given, he may make his own estimates and then carry them through to their logical conclusions.
We considered the following eight prophecies:

1. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

This prophecy predicts that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem. Since this is the first prophecy to be considered there are no previously set restrictions, so our question is: One man in how many, the world over, has been born in Bethlehem?

The best estimate which we can make of this comes from the attempt to find out the average population of Bethlehem, from Micah down to the present time, and divide it by the average population of the earth during the same period. One member of the class was an assistant in the library so he was assigned to get this information. He reported at the next meeting that the best determination of the ratio that he could determine was one to 280,000. Since the probable population of the earth has averaged less than two billion, the population of Bethlehem has averaged less than 7,150. Our answer may be expressed in the form that one man in 7,150/2,000,000,000 or one man in 2.8 x 105 was born in Bethlehem.

2. “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Mal. 3:1).

Our question here is: Of the men who have been born in Bethlehem, one man in how many has had a forerunner to prepare his way? John the Baptist, of course, was the forerunner of Christ. But since there appears to be no material difference between the people born in Bethlehem and those born any other place in the world, the question can just as well be general: One man in how many, the world over, has had a forerunner to prepare his way?

The students said that the prophecy apparently referred to a special messenger of God, whose one duty was to prepare the way for the work of Christ, so there is a further restriction added. The students finally agreed on one in 1,000 as being extremely conservative. Most of the members thought the estimate should be much larger. We will use the estimate as 1 in 103.

3. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon … a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9).
Our question then is: One man in how many, who was born in Bethlehem and had a forerunner, did enter Jerusalem as a king riding on a colt the foal of an ass? This becomes so restrictive that we should consider an equivalent question: One man in how many, who has entered Jerusalem as a ruler, has entered riding on a colt the foal of an ass?

The students said that this was a very hard thing to place an estimate on. They knew of no one but Christ who had so entered. The students thought that at least in more modern times any one entering Jerusalem as a king would use a more dignified means of transportation. They agreed to place an estimate of 1 in 104. We will use 1 in 102.

4. “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends”(Zech. 13:6).

Christ was betrayed by Judas, one of His disciples, causing Him to be put to death, wounds being made in His hands.

There seems to be no relation between the fulfillment of this prophecy and those which we have previously considered. We may then ask the question: One man in how many, the world over, has been betrayed by a friend, and that betrayal has resulted in his being wounded in his hands?
The students said that it was very rare to be betrayed by a friend, and still rarer for the betrayal to involve wounding in the hands. One in 1.000 was finally agreed upon, though most of the students would have preferred a larger number. So we will use the 1 in 103.

5. “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12).

The question here is very simple: Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver?
The students thought this would be extremely rare and set their estimate as one in 10,000, or 1 in 104. We will us 1 in 103.

6. “And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord” (Zech. 11:13).

This is extremely specific. All thirty pieces of silver are not to be returned. They are to be cast down in the house of the Lord, and they are to go to the potter. You will recall that Judas in remorse tried to return the thirty pieces of silver, cut the chief priest would not accept them. So Judas threw them down on the floor of the temple and went and hanged himself. The chief priest then took the money and bought a field of the potter to bury strangers in. Our question is: One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, had returned the money, had it refused, had thrown it on the floor in the house of the Lord, and then had it used to purchase a field from the potter?

The students said they doubted if there has ever been another incident involving all of these items, but they agreed on an estimate of one in 100,000. They were very sure that this was conservative. So we use the estimate as 1 in 105.

7. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
One man in how many, after fulfilling the above prophecies, when he is oppressed and afflicted and is on trial for his life, though innocent, will make no defense for himself?

Again my students said they did not know that this had ever happened in any case other than Christ’s. At least it is extremely rare, so they placed their estimate as one in 10,000 or 1 in 104. We will use 1 in 103.

8. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet”(Ps. 22:16).
The Jews are still looking for the coming of Christ; in fact, He might have come any time after these prophecies were written up to the present time, or even on into the future. So our question is: One man in how many, from the time of David on, has been crucified?
After studying the methods of execution down through the ages and their frequency, the students agreed to estimate this probability at one in 10,000 or 1 in 104, which we will use.

If these estimates are considered fair, one man in how many men, the world over, will fulfill all eight prophecies? This question can be answered by applying our principles of probability. In other words, by multiplying all of our estimates together, or 1 in 2.8 x 105 x 103 x 102 x 103 x 105 x 103 x 104. This gives 1 in 2.8 x 1028, where 28 means that we have 28 ciphers following the 2.8. Let us simplify and reduce the number by calling it 1 in 1028. Written out this number is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

This is the answer to the question: One man in how many men has fulfilled these eight prophecies? But we are really concerned with the answer to the question: What is the chance that any man might have lived from the day of these prophecies down to the present time and have fulfilled all of the eight prophecies? We can answer this question by dividing our 1028 by the total number of people who have lived since the time of these prophecies. The best information available indicates the number to be about 88 billion or 8.8 x 1010.

To simplify the computation let us call the number 1011. By dividing these two numbers we find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017.

Editor’s note: It is probable that 88 billion or 8.8 x 1010 assumes a growth rate for the earth’s population which is much too small – that most of the people who have ever lived are still alive today – suggesting that this number may be too large by a factor of ten. If so, this will affect the final result by the same factor of ten; ten times fewer total people who might have fulfilled these prophecies means only one tenth the chance that one of them might have done it by accident. Our number would become 1018 instead of 1017. The number used in this book is very conservative.

This was added by Stoner’s grandson:

A Challenge to Critics of Chapter 3
By Don Stoner

Critics of my grandfather’s book have suggested many possible errors. Among these, that the estimates may be too high, or that the events are statistically connected – so that fulfilling one prophecy will virtually guarantee fulfillment of another. Although my grandfather repeatedly invited critics to supply their own estimates and see what happens, I have found that most critics are content to skip the exercise; so, I have included this chapter as an example of what sort of numbers a person playing the devil’s advocate might obtain. Every attempt has been made to keep these estimates conservative beyond any reasonable challenge:

1. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

This prophecy predicts that the Christ will come out of Bethlehem. In Micah 5:3 we learn that Bethlehem is also to be his place of birth. This greatly limits the total number of candidates which could possibly be the Messiah to those who came from Bethlehem. In this passage (particularly Micah 5:4) we also see that the Christ must be male.

The present population of Bethlehem is about 20,000, but the average population of the ancient city stayed well under 10,000. If we assume a very high birth rate of 40 / year / 1000 population (modern Africa averages 41, Asia 24, Europe 11), this means less than 400 individuals per year would have been born in Bethlehem. Because about half of these would be female, this further restricts the total number of possible Messiah candidates to less than 200 individuals per year.

2. “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah, the Prince, (Anointed One, the ruler) comes, there will be seven `sevens’, and sixty-two ‘sevens.'”

Daniel 9:25

In addition to where the Messiah will come from, we are also told when he will come. This will further restrict the candidates from which we can draw.

The clock started in 445 B.C. when Artaxerxes Longimanus issued the decree to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem”. From that time we are told to count off 49 (7×7) and 434 (62×7) periods (understood as years in other similar Biblical passages). This puts the Messiah at about 483 years after 445 B.C. or at about A.D. 39 (there being no zero year). Because different calendars were used by different ancient people, the length of these “years” might have been as short as 360 days (very likely the length of the calendar Daniel used in Babylon) or as long as 365.25 days. If the shorter year is assumed, the 483-year span is reduced by 360/365.25 to about 476 years – 7 years less or about A.D. 31 (coincident with the final part of Jesus’ ministry – when “his hour had come”).
There are many different ways we might understand “when” the Messiah “comes.” These might include, when he is born, when he assumes power, or when he is “cut off” (e.g. Daniel 9:26). If we assume the Messiah lives 100 years, in addition to the 7 year uncertainty in our date, we have a 107 year window beginning in 69 B.C. and extending until A.D. 39 for the birth of the Messiah. Taken together with the place of birth, this reduces the number of candidate Messiahs to less than 107 x 200 or less than 21400.

If we allow that there might have been as many as about 25,000 men who could potentially have been considered the Messiah, we are being sufficiently generous that we probably will not be challenged. King Herod, in Matthew 2:16, appears to have felt he had a much tighter window (2 years) than we have assumed here. (Of course, Herod had additional information which we cannot use here.)

3. “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Mal. 3:1).

This prophecy evidently refers to a special messenger of God, whose one duty was to prepare the way for the work of Christ, so there is a further restriction added. Our question here is: Of the men who have been born in Bethlehem during the allowed window, one man in how many has had a forerunner to prepare his way? John the Baptist, of course, was the forerunner of Jesus, but for how many of the other 25,000 might we have allowed that the prophecy had been adequately fulfilled? This was a time of unrest for Israel and various false prophets of one kind or another were fairly common. Most, of course, were proclaiming themselves. Were there as many as a hundred prophets proclaiming someone other than themselves? A thousand? Of these, how many were featuring a Messiah from Bethlehem?

Let’s assume there were 1250 prophets (about one a month) all featuring a Messiah, from Bethlehem, other than themselves. (Assuming one in every 20 candidates had a prophet to “prepare the way”.) Surely we are being sufficiently generous. This brings our candidates down to 1250 – one a month from Bethlehem, and with a forerunner.

4. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon … a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9).
Our question then is: One man in how many, who was born in Bethlehem and had a forerunner, did enter Jerusalem as a king being lowly and riding on a colt the foal of an ass? If we assume that a plot is afoot to imitate the Messiah for profit or other gain, we might expect the perpetrators to deliberately set this one up. Unlike the “messenger” above, this one requires no lengthy advance planning. And perhaps even a seeker of wealth and power could act lowly long enough to pull this one off.

5. “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends”(Zech. 13:6).

5b. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet”(Ps. 22:16).

Christ was betrayed by Judas, one of His disciples, causing Him to be put to death, puncture wounds being made in His hands and feet. Betrayal is, by definition, not an element subject to advance planning. Neither is crucifixion something one would deliberately want to include in one’s plans. Still, crucifixion was the standard method of execution at this time and betrayal was not too unusual.

Let’s assume one man in 10 of those in high profile roles got betrayed and crucified. Now our number of candidates is down to 125. (All from Bethlehem, all with forerunners, and all betrayed and crucified within the critical century.) If this sounds less than generous, remember that the population of Bethlehem is less than 10,000 and we are assuming a crucifixion rate totaling more than 2% of its male population within 107 years (ignoring any additional crucifixions of those not having forerunners – presumably a much greater number).

6. “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12).

The question here is: Of the people who have been betrayed, one in how many has been betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver? Remembering that betrayal is not a planned element, this must be left to chance alone. If planning is involved, we must consider the likelihood that the religious leaders of the day might wish to avoid prophesied quantities, such as “30 pieces of silver,” in their payoffs.

What motivation causes one friend to betray another? A small amount of money? Not likely. We might expect either a larger amount or different motivation entirely. Perhaps the chances are as good as one in fifty of exactly matching the amount; they are certainly not as good as one chance in 10.

If we assume one in ten, the number of viable candidates are now down to less than 13.

7. “And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord” (Zech. 11:13).

This is extremely specific. All thirty pieces of silver are not to be either kept or returned. They are to be cast down in the house of the Lord, and they are to go to the potter. You will recall that Judas in remorse tried to return the thirty pieces of silver, but the chief priest would not accept them. So Judas threw them down on the floor of the temple and went and hanged himself. The chief priest then took the money and bought a field of the potter to bury strangers in.

Our question is: One man in how many, after receiving a bribe for the betrayal of a friend, would return the money, have it refused, throw it on the floor in the house of the Lord, and then have it used to purchase a field from the potter? This is also outside of the control of conspirators.
Money is valuable. Most who accept it keep it. Those few who attempt to return it are likely to find willing help. This has to be a one in a hundred shot from the beginning, without including the “temple” and “potter” elements.

Furthermore, if we are allowing for conspiracy, we must remember that the others involved in this drama have their own goals. If the Messiah knows to line up a donkey, we should expect the Jewish priests be motivated to avoid destinations like a “potter” as determinedly as amounts like “thirty.” These elements must be considered chance at best. A one in a thousand shot for this prophecy must be considered conservative.

If 13 candidates are each subjected to a one in a thousand chance, there is less than one chance in 75 than even one of them will succeed.
8. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
One man in how many, after fulfilling the above prophecies, when he is oppressed and afflicted and is on trial for his life, though innocent, will make no defense for himself? It is difficult to imagine why anyone would do this. Any conspiracy theory has to end here – there is nothing left to gain and a great deal to loose. One in a hundred is probably generous. Perhaps a candidate who was mute would fulfill this prophecy; we should not expect it of one who was able to speak. We will assume one in a hundred.

This brings the chances against a candidate fulfilling these prophecies down to less than one in 7500.

9. “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Psalm 22:18

Dividing of garments between attending Roman soldiers was normal at crucifixions, but casting lots was not. We know from John 19:23,24 the reason why this exception was made; one garment was seamless so they decided to cast lots for it instead of tear it. What are the odds against this exception? This seems to have been a rare event since the soldiers had to discuss how to deal with it. Surely it would be conservative to assign a probability of one in twenty-five.

This brings the chances down to one in 187,500.

10. “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death.” Isaiah 53:9

The fact that he was crucified probably takes care of the first half of this prophecy. But how many are buried with the rich? In Matthew 27:57 we find a rich man named Joseph getting the body of Jesus from Pilate and placing it in his own tomb. What odds do we assume here? One in ten? One in six?

If we say one in six, our chances drop to less than one in a million of any man fulfilling these 10 prophecies.

If the odds of the Biblical authors of making these predictions, without divine aid, are as “good” as one in a million, we must still conclude that it was sufficiently improbable as to be unreasonable to assume. We must still conclude the presence of divine inspiration.

The above is taken from:
http://www.geocities.com/stonerdon/science_speaks.html#c8

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance and now coordinates the CAA Catechism. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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One Response to Peter Stoner’s probabilities of Jesus fulfilling 8 prophecies over which He had no human control

  1. Ichthus says:

    Even it is given that the material universe always existed (illogical infinite regress of causes aside) — the mixing (of past, present, future) is creative action on the part of the Creator. Therefore, the universe is created and needs a Creator—that we cannot explain how He creates does not negate that such a fixed mix is the action of an intelligent being. The Creator is not created and therefore does not need a Creator. As the Transcendent, He is the “More beyond which there is no more,” [338, Introduction to Philosophy / A Christian Perspective (Geisler, Feinberg)].

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