Fulfilled Prophecy and Mathematical Probability

by Dr. John Ankerburg, Dr. John Weldon and Dr. Walter Kaiser Jr.

Anyone can make predictions. That is easy. Having them fulfilled is another story entirely. The more statements you make about the future and the greater the detail, the better the chances are that you will be proven wrong.

For example, think how difficult it would be for someone to predict the exact city in which the birth of a future U.S. President would take place in the year 2700 A.D. But that’s what the prophet Micah did 700 years before the Messiah.

How difficult do you think it would be to indicate the precise kind of death that a new, unknown religious leader would experience a thousand years from today? Could you predict and describe now a new method of execution not currently known—one that won’t even be invented for hundreds of years? That’s what David did in 1000 B.C. when he wrote Psalm 22.

Or, how difficult would it be to predict the specific date of the appearance of some great future leader hundreds of years in advance? But that’s what the prophet Daniel did 530 years before Christ.

On the other hand, if you did think up 50 specific prophecies about some man in the future you will never meet, how difficult do you think it would be for that man to fulfill all 50 of your predictions? How hard would it be for him if 25 of your predictions were about what other people would do to him and were completely beyond his control?

For example, how could someone “arrange” to be born in a specific family? How does someone “arrange” in advance to have his parents give birth to him in a specified city, not their own? How does one “arrange” to be virgin born? How does one “arrange” to be considered a prophet “like Moses”? How does someone “arrange” (a) his own death, including being put to death by the strange method of crucifixion, (b) being put to death, not alone, but with company, specifically two criminals and (c) then “arrange” to have his executioners gamble for his clothes during the execution?

And how does one “arrange” to have God inform and send the proper “messenger” to go before one? How does one “arrange” to be betrayed for a specific amount of money (30 pieces of silver)? How does one “arrange” in advance that his executioners will carry out their regular practice of breaking the legs of the two victims on either side of him, but not his? Finally, how does a pretender to being the Messiah “arrange” to be God? How does he escape from a grave and appear to people after he has been killed?

It might be possible to fake one or two of these, but it would be impossible for any man to arrange and fulfill all these predictions in advance. If it can be proved that such statements (prophecies) were predicted of the Messiah hundreds of years in advance, and one man fulfilled all of them, then that man would logically have to be the Messiah.

God gave a great number of prophecies about the Messiah for at least two reasons. First, it would make identifying the Messiah obvious. And second, it would make an imposter’s task impossible.

To illustrate, the following account is an allegedly true story of how governments use prearranged identification signs to identify correct agents. It’s taken from the New Leader of April 2, 1951.

David Greenglass was a World War II traitor. He gave atomic secrets to the Russians and then fled to Mexico after the war. His conspirators arranged to help him by planning a meeting with the secretary of the Russian ambassador in Mexico City. Proper identification for both parties became vital.

Greenglass was to identify himself with six prearranged signs. These instructions had been given to both the secretary and Greenglass so there would be no possibility of making a mistake. They were: (1) once in Mexico City Greenglass was to write a note to the secretary, signing his name as “I. Jackson”; (2) after three days he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City and (3) stand before the statue of Columbus, (4) with his middle finger placed in a guide book. In addition, (5) when he was approached, he was to say it was a magnificent statue and that he was from Oklahoma. (6) The secretary was to then give him a passport.

The six prearranged signs worked. Why? With six identifying characteristics it was impossible for the secretary not to identify Greenglass as the proper contact.6

If that is true, think how impossible it would be not to identify the Messiah if he had been given 456 identifying characteristics.

One final thing must be said. If we assume 456 prophecies are fulfilled in one person, what does the science of probability say about this? In brief, it says if accurate predictions were made about a future Messiah and fulfilled years later by one person, this is proof that there is a God.

Here is why. The science of probability attempts to determine the chance that a given event will occur. The value and accuracy of the science of probability has been established beyond doubt. For example, probability statistics are the foundation on which all kinds of insurance rates are fixed.

Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, Peter Stoner, has calculated the probability of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were worked out by twelve different classes, involving more than 600 college students.

The students carefully weighed all the factors, discussed each prophecy at length, and examined the various circumstances which might indicate that men had conspired together to fulfill a particular prophecy. They made their estimates conservative enough so that there was finally unanimous agreement even among the most skeptical students.

But then Professor Stoner took their estimates and made them even more conservative. He also encouraged other skeptics or scientists to make their own estimates to see if his conclusions were more than fair. Finally, he submitted his figures for review to a Committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented.

For example, concerning Micah 5:2, where it states the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, Stoner and his students determined the average population of Bethlehem from the time of Micah to the present; then they divided it by the averagepopulation of the earth during the same period. They concluded that the chance of one man being born in Bethlehem was one in 2.8 x 105 or rounded, one in 300,000.

After examining eight different prophecies, they conservatively estimated that the chance of one man fulfilling all eight prophecies was one in 10 to the 17 power.

To illustrate how large the number 10 to the 17 power is (a figure with 17 zeros), Stoner gave this illustration. Imagine covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars to a level of two feet deep. The total number of silver dollars needed to cover the whole state would be 10 to the 17 power. Now, choose just one of those silver dollars, mark it and drop it from an airplane. Then thoroughly stir all the silver dollars all over the state.

When that has been done, blindfold one man, and tell him he can travel wherever he wishes in the state of Texas. But some time he must stop, reach down into the two feet of silver dollars and try to pull up that one specific silver dollar that has been marked.

Now, the chance of his finding that one silver dollar in the state of Texas would be the chance the prophets had for eight of their prophecies coming true in any one man in the future.

In financial terms, is there anyone who would not invest in a financial venture if the chance of failure were only one in 10 to the 17 power? This is the kind of sure investment we are offered by God for belief in His Messiah.

Professor Stoner concluded: “The fulfillment of these eight prophecies alone proves that God inspired the writing of those prophecies to a definiteness which lacks only one chance in 1017 of being absolute.”10

Another way of saying this is that any person who minimizes or ignores the significance of the biblical identifying signs concerning the Messiah would be foolish.

But, of course, there are many more than eight prophecies. In another calculation Stoner used 48 prophecies (even though he could have used 456) and arrived at the extremely conservative estimate that the probability of 48 prophecies being fulfilled in one person is one in 10157.11

How large is the number 10157? 10157 contains 157 zeros! Let us try to illustrate this number using electrons. Electrons are very small objects. They are smaller than atoms. It would take 2.5 times 1015 of them, laid side by side, to make one inch. Even if we counted four electrons every second and counted day and night, it would still take us 19 million years just to count a line of electrons one inch long.

But how many electrons would it take if we were dealing with 10157 electrons? Imagine building a solid ball of electrons that would extend in all directions from the earth a length of 6 billion light years. The distance in miles of just one light year is 6.4 trillion miles. That would be a big ball! But not big enough to measure 10157 electrons.

In order to do that, you must take that big ball of electrons reaching the length of 6 billion light years long in all directions and multiply it by 6 x 1028! How big is that? It’s the length of the space required to store trillions and trillions and trillions of the same gigantic balls and more. In fact, the space required to store all of these balls combined together would just start to “scratch the surface” of the number of electrons we would need to really accurately speak about 10157.

But assuming you have some idea of the number of electrons we are talking about, now imagine marking just one of those electrons in that huge number. Stir them all up. Then appoint one person to travel in a rocket for as long as he wants, anywhere he wants to go. Tell him to stop and segment a part of space, then take a high-powered microscope and find that one marked electron in that segment. What do you think his chances of being successful would be? It would be one in 10157.

Remember, this number represents the chance of only 48 prophecies coming true in one person. It illustrates why it is absolutely impossible for anyone to have fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies by chance. In fact, a leading authority on probability theory, Emile Borél, states in his book Probabilities and Life, that once we go past one chance in 1050, the probabilities are so small it’s impossible to think they will ever occur.12

Again, all of this means it is impossible for 48 prophecies to be fulfilled by chance. It is proof that there must be a God who supernaturally gave this information.

(For the sake of clarity, in the following material we have translated some passages from the Hebrew; for others we have cited the New International Version (NIV) or the New American Standard Version (NAS).)


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