What Third-Day Prophecy?
by Farrell Till
1996 / March-April
Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.
Thank you Mr. Till!
New Testament writers claimed that the resurrection of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament. The weakness of this claim is apparent in the fact that none of these writers ever cited an Old Testament prophecy whose face-value meaning was so obvious that no reasonable person could deny that the prophets were indeed predicting that the Messiah would rise from the dead. The best they could do was distort a statement in Psalm 16:8-11 to try to make it mean something that the psalmist never intended:
- I have set Yahweh always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. My flesh also will rest in hope. For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy: at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Pardon my ignorance, but if there is a clear cut prediction of a resurrection in this passage, I simply cannot see it. Yet the apostle Peter, in a sermon that Luke put into his mouth, quoted this scripture on the day of Pentecost and said that it was a prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection. “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, *being a prophet,* and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, *foreseeing this,* spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:29-31).
One would think that if Yahweh’s eternal plan was for his son to die and then rise from the dead, he could have had the prophets predict this in terms far more distinct than what was said in the passage Peter allegedly quoted. If someone from a culture not familiar with the Bible simply read the 16th Psalm, what would be the likelihood of his thinking that the verses Peter cited were speaking of a resurrection from the dead? He would be much more likely to think that the first-person narrative in this poem was referring to the writer’s own state or condition. It took the imagination and desperation of someone trying to establish a foothold for a new religion to see a prophecy of resurrection in the statement.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s just assume that the intention of this psalm was to speak of a resurrection from the dead. Even if that were so, why wouldn’t the reader understand that the writer was speaking of his own resurrection? After all, the writer spoke consistently in terms of “I,” “me,” and “my” throughout the passage Peter quoted, and first-person pronouns are clearly references to the person speaking or, in this case, writing. To apply the statement to a third-person party who would live hundreds of years later is to take unwarranted liberties with the text. It is the kind of liberty that could prove just about anything from any written text. With such interpretative methods, Moslems could prove that their Koran is God’s word, and Latter Day Saints could prove that their Book of Mormon is inspired.
If Peter really made the speech that Luke attributed to him, he no doubt recognized this problem, because he made a strained attempt to prove that David (who may or may not have been the author of this psalm) was not speaking of himself. His argument was that “David is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). Well, if that were so and if it could be determined beyond question that “David” was speaking of a resurrection from the dead in this passage, why wouldn’t it be reasonable to argue that David prophesied of his own resurrection and that this prophecy had failed because “his tomb is with us to this day”? In other words, why must we assume that Peter was right in the slant that he gave to the 16th Psalm? Why couldn’t it be that Peter was mistaken in his interpretation of what “David” had written? To show that he was not mistaken, inerrantists will have to explain why it is logical to believe that the first-person pronouns (“I,” “me,” and “my”) of a 10th-century B. C. psalmist were in actuality references to someone who would not be born for another thousand years.
Inerrantists cannot argue that they can know Peter’s application of the passage was correct because he was speaking by the inspiration of the Holy spirit, for that would be a flagrant attempt to prove inerrancy by assuming inerrancy. Biblicists must first prove that Peter spoke by the inspiration of the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit, and then they can argue that this divinely guided insight is proof that he was right in what he said that “David” meant in Psalm 16. So the task for inerrantists who support Peter’s view is to analyze the text of Psalm 16 and give compelling reasons why the language of the passage gives sufficient reason to understand that it was speaking about a resurrection from the dead.
I don’t think that inerrantists can give any compelling reasons in support of Peter’s view, but I can definitely give some compelling reasons to reject his view. First, there are the facts already noted: (1) the psalm was written in the first person and so the situations spoken about can best be understood as personal references to the writer’s own condition, and (2) there is simply no language in the psalm that can be interpreted only as references to a resurrection from the dead. In addition to all this, there was a strategic error that Peter made in his zeal to prove that the 16th Psalm was speaking of the resurrection of Jesus. After saying that David was “both dead and buried” and that “his tomb is with us to this day,” Peter went on to say, “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, *He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,* he foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ…” (vs:30-31).
To prove Peter’s argument, inerrantists must show us where the Old Testament says that God swore with an oath to David that he would “raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.” The clear implication of Peter’s statement is that God had sworn with an oath to David that he would resurrect the Christ to sit on David’s throne; otherwise, Peter made no sense when he said, “He [David] foreseeing this [that the Christ would be resurrected to sit on his throne], spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ.” So just where in the Old Testament did Yahweh ever speak with an oath to David that a Messiah from “the fruit of his body” would be resurrected to sit on his throne”?
The best that reference Bibles can do in support of Peter’s claim is list Psalm 89:3; 132:11; and 2 Samuel 7:12. If we examine them individually, however, we will see that they do not refer to the resurrection of any of David’s descendants for the purpose of having them sit on David’s throne. Psalm 89:3 says, “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: your seed I will establish forever; your faithfulness you shall establish in the very heavens.” Establishing David’s seed forever is at best a promise to establish his throne through a process of having a natural descendant of David occupy it in each succeeding generation, so where is the oath in this statement that God would resurrect a descendant of David to sit on his throne? It isn’t there, except in the minds of those who are desperate to prove an untenable position.
Admittedly, the prophets promised that David’s throne would be established forever, but they clearly meant the literal throne of David that would be maintained by an endless line of David’s descendants. In their fanatical ethnocentrism, the Hebrew prophets thought that their little nation was favored of Yahweh, who would always protect them and see that their kingdom lasted forever, but in no sense were the Jews looking for the establishment of some “spiritual kingdom.” This was an idea that was hatched up by the New Testament writers as a way of presenting an allegedly resurrected Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. This can clearly be seen by analyzing Psalm 132:11, the second reference-Bible proof text for Peter’s claim. “Yahweh has sworn in truth to David; He will not run from it: `I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.'” Again, there is nothing in this statement that even implies that the psalmist meant that a descendant of David would be resurrected from the dead to sit on David’s throne. It was simply a promise that the throne of David would be established through his descendants. That this was the clear intention of the statement is shown by the very next verse: “If your sons will keep my covenant and my testimony which I shall teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever.”
What could be clearer than this? Yahweh promised to establish the throne of David “from the fruit of [David’s] body” and if these sons [plural] of David kept Yahweh’s covenant and his testimony, their sons also would sit upon David’s throne forever. Obviously, this was not a promise that just one person (Jesus) would be resurrected from the dead to sit on David’s throne. It wasn’t a promise of a resurrection (period); it was simply a promise that Yahweh would establish David’s throne forever through his sons and then their sons if they kept Yahweh’s covenant. So what is the compelling reason for us to believe that Peter was right when he said that God had sworn with an oath to David that he would resurrect one of David’s descendants to sit on his throne?
Both of the quotations from the Psalms appear to refer to 2 Samuel 7:12- 14. Yahweh, speaking to David through the prophet Nathan, said, “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men.” It cannot be claimed that this “son” who would come from the seed of David was Jesus, because Yahweh said, “If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men,” but Jesus was allegedly without iniquity. Whoever this “son” was, he was going to “build a house for My Name,” and this sounds very suspiciously like a reference to Solomon. The first part of this chapter (as well as the part after the above quotation) discussed the building of a house for Yahweh so that he would not have to dwell in a tent (the tabernacle). It is simply a matter of Old Testament record that Solomon was the one who built this house or temple (1 Kings 6-8), so clearly this promise of a son who would sit on David’s throne was a reference to Solomon and not some descendant who would be born a thousand years later.
There is simply no Old Testament support for Peter’s claim that Yahweh had sworn with an oath to resurrect one of David’s descendants to sit on his throne, but there is a New Testament statement attributed to the apostle Paul that makes it logically impossible for the Old Testament to contain any prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus. In a speech allegedly made in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, Paul said of the crucifixion of Jesus, “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb” (Acts 13:29). Please notice what Luke attributed to Paul in this sermon. He said that all that had been written concerning Jesus had been fulfilled when they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. Now if all that had been written of Jesus was fulfilled when they took him down from the cross (tree), then the resurrection could not have been written about in the Old Testament, because the resurrection allegedly happened after Jesus was taken down and laid in a tomb.
Some may point to verses 33-37 and say, “That can’t be right, because Paul went on to quote the same passage that Peter did from Psalm 16 as a prophecy of the resurrection.” That’s true, but Paul can’t have it both ways. If everything that had been written of Jesus when they took him down from the cross had been fulfilled, then there could have been no prophecies of Jesus’s resurrection, but if there were prophecies of Jesus’s resurrection, then everything that had been written about him could not have been fulfilled when he was taken down from the cross. Either way, inerrantists have a problem, and I would be happy to see them satisfactorily explain away either one.
So all of the evidence points to misrepresentation or distortion of Old Testament scriptures by the New Testament writers who claimed that the prophets had foretold the resurrection of Jesus. There are simply no reasonable grounds for claiming that there had been prophecies in the Old Testament of the Messiah’s resurrection, and there are certainly no grounds for the VERY specific prophecy claim in Luke 24:46. Here it is alleged that Jesus said the night of his resurrection, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead *the third day.*” So we have Jesus claiming that the resurrection had not just been written about but that it had been written that it would occur on the *third* day. The apostle Paul made a similar claim in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day *according to the scriptures.*”
Here are two passages that claim the scriptures had spoken of the resurrection of Jesus on the *third* day. And here is a challenge to inerrantists who claim that the Bible contains no mistakes. Produce an Old Testament statement that prophesies of the resurrection of the Messiah in language too clear to be misunderstood, and I will publish it on the masthead of *The Skeptical Review* from now on as long as this paper continues to be published. Produce an Old Testament prophecy of the resurrection of the Messiah on the third day, and I will immediately cease publication of *The Skeptical Review.* I would think that this is an offer that loyal inerrantists would find hard to refuse.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The preceding article was written especially for Paul Nanson to reply to. This name will be instantly recognized by most subscribers who are active on the internet. Nanson maintains a list called Apologia-l on which he tolerates very little dissension. Those who disagree with his views of the Bible are likely to be expelled from his list. Nanson expelled me, even though I informed him when I requested a subscription that I was a professional debater and the publisher of a paper devoted to debunking biblical inerrancy.
Although Nanson tolerates little dissent on his list, he likes to lurk on other lists and post insults. After daring me to give him space in *TSR,* I wrote the article above and sent it to him for rebuttal. He declined the opportunity.