Things The Bible said would happen, but didn't
March 25, 2015 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Outside my work today I got to talking with a Jehovah's Witness. When talk turned to the Bible, I said I didn't take any of it literally. None of it REALLY happened like that.

She said what about all the biblical prophesies and changes that came true

I said what about all the ones that didn't

Said she had never thought of that.

I said I had never thought of that either until now, but that not everything in the Bible has come true. God was going to do all sorts of things he or she hasn't, right?

She said she didn't know. She said she had never been asked that question, but all the same would I please take these three pamphlets and read them when I had a chance.

I said I would, if she agreed to read something I would bring her about things in the Bible that never came true.

She said she would.

Which brings us up to now, and the fact that

a) I don't know anything about the New Testament

b) anything I knew about the Old Testament I forgot within a month of my Bar Mitzvah (almost 30 years ago)

which means

c) I have nothing to give this woman to read, unless the hive can give me some chapter and verse on bad predictions, things that never happened, pitches way outside the strike zone.

posted by BadgerDoctor to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here are six.
posted by jabes at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Failed biblical prophecies.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 4:32 PM on March 25, 2015

Assuming I understand your question correctly, you probably want the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.

It may be worth noting that English-speaking JWs generally advocate their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. It does have some departures from other English translations for doctrinal reasons e.g. John 1:1, so you may receive some reply back from her that a particular verse is a problem in conventional translations but not in the New World Translation.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:34 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: " God was going to do all sorts of things he or she hasn't, right? "

Well, no, because the Old Testament (and New) primarily use "prophet" to mean "a guy whose job is to indict the current culture's wrongdoing, not to predict future happenings, that's a psychic." (The literal translation of the Hebrew is probably more like "spokesman" or "one under the influence of divine spirits.") The Israelites (and modern Jews) for the most part do not understand the prophets as predicting the future so much as explaining the problems in the present. Non-fundamentalist Christians typically understand the prophets as "predicting" the future only in a very limited way, which is by providing "types," which is sort-of like a stereotype to be fulfilled by Jesus. (Like, Isaac and Ishmael is seen as both a story about the past, and a "type" for the future, where Isaac/Christianity/the preferred son will supplant Ismael/Judaism/the not-preferred son.) This is really pretty obvious if you actually read the latter "prophets" in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets), who are basically all going "SUUUUUUUCK LESSSSSS ISRAEL" and not "in the far distant future, God will do these various things!" For the most part only post-1800 Christian fundamentalist sects that are separated from traditional Bible scholarship attempt to read the Hebrew prophets as "predictions." (These days. This is a persistent mode of Biblical interpretation that pops up constantly, dies out, and pops up again.)

The word "prophet" in Hebrew is "Nevi" (or in the plural, "Nevi'im") and the Nevi'im refers to both the "latter prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12) and the "former prophets" which are what most Protestants call "the Histories" -- Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Because "prophecy" in Hebrew encompasses an idea of instruction, not prediction, and some of that instruction is gathered from historical narratives, and some from current newspaper editorials calling out the 1% for its impiousness.

In Greek, the word "prophet" emphasizes the idea of someone interpreting God's will, not predicting the future. "Greek prophetes (Doric prophatas) "an interpreter, spokesman," especially of the gods, "inspired preacher or teacher," from pro- "before" (see pro-) + root of phanai "to speak," from PIE *bha- (2) "speak" (see fame (n.)). "

But yeah, this is a fundamental theological attitude problem, not a textual problem. If you get a really credulous fundamentalist, they're often thrown by the fact that 1 Kings 7:23 defines Pi as 3 (not 3.14 etc), but they have to be really darn credulous (and also have passed high school math) not to have already learned rebuttals to this while still being bothered by it. I mean, if you're loosely Jewish and she's a JW, just be like, "Look, I don't believe in your Messiah." But Wikipedia has a whole article about Unfulfilled JW predictions if you really want.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 PM on March 25, 2015 [26 favorites]

According to my very religious parents there are no biblical prophesies that haven't happened, just ones that haven't happened yet.
posted by Cosine at 6:03 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used to be friends with a devout Jehovah's Witness. I don't want to say it like you're being taken advantage of, but--I don't really know how else to put it. You are under the impression that you are having a genuine discussion about theology that the other party might be enlightened by. She is under the impression that if she can keep at you long enough, she is going to get a convert, which is one of the most important things in the world to her. JW's do not use the same Bible as everybody else and believe a number of things that even other Christians think are unsupported, but it's a matter of faith. Continuing to engage in a lot of ways is just not very nice to the other party, because she might not be operating in good faith, but you know exactly what her mission here is--and it is definitely a mission--and you know you're not going to be persuaded.

If you have been given contact information, call, or at the time she comes back, tell her that you've had a chance to think about it and you're sorry but you're not interested in engaging in this. Don't waste a lot of time gathering a boatload of evidence like it's going to "gotcha" her out of being a Jehovah's Witness. It isn't.
posted by Sequence at 6:46 PM on March 25, 2015 [20 favorites]

What about the contradictions in the bible.
Most famous of these, Man is created twice in the Bible. (Gen 1:26 - and Gen 2:7, 2:19-22)

David meets Saul for the first time twice.
Jericho is defeated twice.
There are others.

The Bible was written piecemeal, by different groups, at different times.
posted by Flood at 4:44 AM on March 26, 2015

Yeah, Sequence has a good point. You should really be careful about engaging this person about religion or at all really if they're a stranger. I had a JW come to my door once and I just politely made (non-religious) conversation with him for a few minutes, took his little pamphlets, etc.

After that I guess I got tagged as a potential convert because this man and his wife showed up at my house every single week for MONTHS to see if I was interested in bible classes or whatever.
posted by Kimmalah at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't link to it at the moment, but I think if you google 'the bible as fanwank' it will take you to a (really interesting) metafilter thread, which has a link to an article which explains how a lot of the books in the Old Testament were chosen as they had prophesies that were fufilled in the New Testament, whereas those that predicted things that didn't come true weren't included. So IIRC, you're up against a big selection bias.
posted by Ned G at 6:53 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

"which has a link to an article which explains how a lot of the books in the Old Testament were chosen as they had prophesies that were fufilled in the New Testament, "

That is not the case; the canon of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament, if you like) was set by the Jewish community, not the Christian one, in a process spanning about 600 years. In fact they would have had a pretty vested interest in NOT predicting Jesus (canon formation on the HB continued about forty years more after the death of Jesus although it was really pretty well set already when Jesus was wandering around) as they decided he wasn't the Messiah they were looking for.

But Jesus doesn't really figure into the canon formation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at all.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used to be part of the JWs as a child for a couple of years and got the training and spent days and evenings knocking at doors, and I cannot favourite Sequence's answer enough. It's fine if you want to provide some material thinking that this might be the one time that a JW is positioned to have an open mind and logic her way out of years of community indoctrination, because it certainly does happen (have a look at ex-mormon sites). But the chances of it are low.

She is probably going to 4-5 bible studies and groups a week where the group collectively explains away any of these inconsistencies. More to the point, when she said she hadn't thought of that that is actually one of the core answers of JWs, because then they invite you to explore it more with them.

I actually have studied with JWs as an adult. And I find them as a group somewhat touching in that almost all the JWs I have interacted with are sincere, truly do tithe, live simple lives, etc., in line with their faith, and devote a lot of hours to studying the Bible and trying to convert people knowing that mostly they will fail. But logic as the rest of us understand it is not actually a strong characteristic of JWs as a whole. Their logic begins with the goodness of God and eternal life -- literal life on Earth as a paradise, as in everyone's bodies rising from the grave -- as the sine qua non.

A really neat movie that ends up saying a lot about these tactics is The Big Kahuna, highly recommend it.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:45 AM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Jesus did not return in glory (yet). Much of the more controversial advice that St. Paul gives is based on the belief that Jesus would return with divine intervention in his lifetime. This give some perspective in why he counseled that people not marry, and that slaves return to their masters; he thought it would only be for a short time.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2015

Agreed with Sequence and warriorqueen. Have spent a lot of time on my front porch (and in my house when they send the shock-troops for follow-up discussions) talking these issues over with JWs. (Haven't been to a Kingdom Hall yet but haven't been invited either.)

She won't read what you give her, so don't just print it out and expect to hand it to her; she'll likely do exactly what you did with your Watchtower or Awake! or whatever she gave you. (She could probably get into trouble for reading stuff like that, e.g., that Wiki article linked above.) What she's looking for is prolonged discussion, so if you want to "help" her in good faith then, at best, you can be prepared to discuss some of these issues orally. Remember that as a publisher she's cataloging her hours spent with you as part of her required field service. Most people simply blow JWs off, so if they're going to reach their hours they really need to be talking to someone and not just standing around or leaving piles of Watchtowers at bus stops.

If you don't want to be that "deep discussion" person, just tell her so.
posted by resurrexit at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2015

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