Monday, 15 February 2010

How to be a False Prophet

Looking around I found an neat collection of readings aimed against Catholicism. The basic thesis is that the Pope is the AntiChrist and so on. (Anti-Christ, meaning, "in the place of Christ" - they argue that the Pope is Christs Vicar and thus represents him or stands in his place. This would be benign semantics but for Revelations.)

But I was more interested in this page on False Prophets. Here's what it tells us:

Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
This is quite odd: If there be... This is God talking: doesn't He know? Without that "if" the statement seems better, except: how is this an improvement? God is, right there, speaking direct. Now he says that he will also speak to one of them through dreams? What's the point?

Unless He intends not to speak directly any more. Beats me but He's God so who am I to argue. It's just that there's an immediate problem: God stops coming to meetings but people want to know what to do. So they ask around: Anybody having dreams from God? We'll do whatever you say... And a dozen people raise their hands.

Clearly, at most, only one can be right. You can just see the argument:

TRUE P: I am the prophet!
FALSE P: No, I am the prophet!
TRUE: No! me! Kill the false prophet!
FALSE: No! Me! Kill the others!
PEOPLE: Enough of this: kill them both!
BOTH: Now hang on a minute ...

This must have been a serious problem, and God had to clarify the situation in another personal appearance.

Jer 23:21 I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Well yeah - saw that one coming. So how are we supposed to tell the bad ones?
Jer 23:22 But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
If they were the real deal, they would have been successful?

Jer 26:4 And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.
Oh I get you: if I'm going to pretend to be a prophet, I should at least look the part! If I go on about how Holy I am, I'd better act Holy.
Jer 35:15 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me.

Interestingly, it is not being a false prophet that condemns me, it is my failure to act according to The Law. Possibly lying about being a prophet is against that Law - but that is not actually stated in this collection. According to what is here it is OK to be a false prophet as long as I preach obedience. That pretty much lets ordinary preachers off the hook.

Seriously, this smacks of poor management. Couldn't he have just handed out a badge or something similarly unambiguous. How about in the original announcement just pointing the fellow out to everyone while he was still there and save all this trouble? Then Numbers would be a bit different:

Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: There be a prophet among you, I point to him now: it is he, the LORD indicated one who was amongst us, and I will speak unto him later in dreams. Num 12:7 And He who was pointedeth out did humbly accept this burden that He his LORD did place upon him Himself and no other could claim the mantle of prophecy unto himselfe falsly for all there witnessed and would speak unto the false sayer and say "don't give me that, you don't look anything like him."

But that did not happen, and no amount of expanation worked either, because God had to spell it out to Isiah too:

Isa 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
These guys just don't learn do they? Its as if God goes away and after a bit everybody starts acting up again.

Modern Cult-leaders seem to have managed to figure most of this out though - they make sure they have based their teachings in whatever they can convince people is actually in accordance with Gods wards. There's the rub: so far we have a blueprint for misleading the faithful by pretending to be a prophet. All this can be faked!

God noticed this, but seems to have waited some time before bringing it to anyone's attention. Probably lots of people had noticed, and complained already.

Deu 18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 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 answer is quite startling - read it again.

This passage insists that we apply mondern scientific philisophy. If the prophecy comes true, then the speaker may be a true prophet, but if it does not come true, then the speaker is definately a false prophet.

Scientists know we can apply this principle more widely than suggested here. It is also at the heart of the fundamental conflict between Church and Science. By applying this principle widely, Science risks finding out that some Chuches accepted prophet was not true. That would be pretty bad for the Church, even though all the Bible warns is that you are not as well prepared for when bad stuff happens (Jer 14:14-16).

Science generally concerns itself with statements about the World. So if any prophet in the Bible makes a statement about the World, claiming that this is the Word of God, and it turns out to be false, then all that prophets teachings must be held suspect. At the very least, he was just another preacher.

This is why early science was commonly at serious odds with the Church and why many Churches are so keen to re-interpret the Bible symbolically to allow for the empirically determined age of the Earth and the amount of time evolution takes. Seven literal days is not enough.

If a prophet says that the Earth is the center of the Universe, where we know it is not, then he meant it is a spiritual sence. It is not intended to be taken literally. That way, pretty much anyone can dodge the empirical test of Deuteronomy and we are back where we started. If he says, as in Jeremiah 14:14-16, that famine etc will not touch Jerusalem, and it does, why: he meant spiritual famine - and only if people didn't sin too much shame on you.

This is the Obiwan hedge... Darth Vader did kill your father Luke, just not literally.

More generally this can be taken in a softer form: what we say we know are expressions of our beliefs about God. We can be wrong. For example - it used to be believed that there could be no extictions as God who counts every sparrow would not allow one of his creations to die out. We now know that this belief about God was wrong: God may see every fall, but God does not stop the fall. Whole species can get wiped out by predation or just a dumb accident.

What else do we know about God which will later turn out to be wrong? The only verifiable test God offers us to find out is through empirisism.

But if we are to take the test honestly, and remember, this is what God commands we do, then what are we to make of the following passage in Genisis?

Gen 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

This is God making a prophesy. This has to be a true prophesy - by definition. But we know from the same book that Adam and Eve did eat of the tree of knowledge. And they did die (because they got chucked out of Eden before they could eat of the tree of life too - which is another matter). But how long did it take them to die?

The prophesy says that they will surely die in the same day. This did not happen. According to Genisis, Adam and Eve lived to a ripe ald age.

If God is exempt from his own test in Deuteronomy, then God is a hypocrite. If God made a mistake, then God is not all powerful etc. If God changed his mind (God took pity on the two humans and changed their fate) then it was still not a true prophesy. I don't see how God can get out of this unless... the verse itself is wrong!

If the verse is wrong, then what else in the bible is wrong?

We are left with the Obiwan hedge: when God said "die" He meant a spiritual death. Having obtained knowledge of good and evil they were no longer innocent. That happened the same day they ate, fulfilling the prophecy, and God is off the hook.

The same passage values knowledge over ignorance, yet casts the removal of ignorance as a bad thing. Probably it is the disobedience which is the sin and not the knowledge itself. And so it runs on in a big tangled knot.

Clearly there is something wrong with theism based on the Bible. You can see the attraction that Gordian knot-cutting atheism has.

But even if you don't, you should be able to see in the deuteronomy test that God requires that we use scientific method to test our ideas about Him and His Creation. We shouldn't take anything for granted.

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