Did the Gospel Writers Fabricate Prophecies of Jesus? 4 Quick Responses.
One of the most common arguments for the Messianic credentials of Jesus is fulfilled prophecy. As my father and I point out in the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, numerous passages in the Old Testament foreshadow and predict events in the life of Jesus.
And yet there are some important objections to consider as well. One of the most common is that the Gospel authors deliberately crafted their biographies of Jesus so as to make it appear he fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures.
There are (at least) four reasons this objection falls short:
1. At the time the Gospels were written, the Christian church was undergoing considerable persecution. Many Christians were martyred for their faith in excruciating and inhumane ways, such as by crucifixion, being burned alive, or being fed to wild animals. Since the Gospel writers had nothing obvious to gain from inventing a new religion, and everything to lose, this suggests they recorded what they believed actually happened and what Jesus really said.
2. The Gospels demonstrate restraint on the part of their writers, since Jesus is conspicuously silent on many of the controversial topics that were debated in the early church, including whether Gentile Christians had to undergo circumcision, the role of women, the practice of speaking in tongues, etc. If the gospel writers had felt at liberty to make things up out of whole cloth, it seems likely that Jesus would have addressed such issues.
3. It is worthy to note that, although the gospel authors evidently embrace a highly elevated Christology (e.g., Jesus is identified as Yahweh in Mark 1:2, 3), Jesus himself, in quoted speech, is remarkably cryptic about his self- identity. It seems likely that, if the gospel authors had felt themselves at liberty to make things up, Jesus would have stressed his own Messianic and divine status much more emphatically.
4. The Jewish understanding of the Messianic prophecies emphasized a coming king, so that in the time of Jesus they hoped for a Messiah who would evict the Roman occupation. If the New Testament writers’ motivation was to persuade people who longed for a conquering hero, they could have omitted or downplayed the crucifixion to craft a convincing presentation. But they didn’t. Since instead they gave it emphasis, they wrote a truthful account, and in doing so they revealed in a far deeper way the saving role of the Messiah.
Fulfilled prophecy is one powerful reason to believe Jesus is the Messiah. In closing, it is worth remembering the account of Jesus’ conversation with those who were walking to the village of Emmaus just after the resurrection, for Jesus referred to “all that the prophets have spoken” and “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25, 27)
Jesus understood himself as the Jewish Messiah who fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures written long before his birth.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.