Nostradamus

Christians and Heathen Prophecy

Heard someone’s perspective on this recently, and it seemed a good blog topic. Frankly, it’s been on my mind for a long time, so this is likely going to be a long one. You might want to get some coffee–I can’t guarantee it will be exciting enough to keep you awake…

Is it OK for Christians or Christian teachers to cite heathen prophecies–that is, to refer to them? Of course it is. There is nothing wrong with simply referring to them. We’ve done so in the Tomorrow’s World magazine, for instance, when Pope Francis I was elected. We mentioned the so-called St. Malarkey… (oops! sorry…) Malachy “prophecy” of the list of popes building up to the supposed final pope “Petrus Romanus.” The list, by the way, is surely fraudulent and is easily demonstrated to be a rather inaccurate “prophecy” likely motivated by Catholic politics (actually, the Wikipedia article on it is not bad; I personally think that Louis Moréri had it right), but it is still a curiosity and there is nothing wrong with mentioning it. Also, Mr. Meredith mentioned as 2012 arrived that, given the hoopla surrounding the date drummed up by ninnies and “spiritualists,” it would be interesting if demons took advantage of the year and the sentiment, though nothing on a grand scale happened at all (breathless commentary and predictions by non-prophets notwithstanding). And in the past, Mr. David Jon Hill authored an article for the Good News magazine about how some heathen, Catholic prophecies looked like deceitful perversions of the true prophecies of the Bible. (Some say he wrote two different articles, but on reading them it is clear that he did not. It is one article published twice with some “sprucing up” done to the later version to add contemporary news information.)

There is nothing wrong with simply referring to heathen prophecies, especially if it is to show them for the junk they are. Jeremiah exposed Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, just as Micaiah does to Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 18, both pointing out that lying spirits were at work in the false prophecies of their contemporaries. (I note here that they did not use the false prophecies for anything; they simply exposed them for what they were: lies.) We have no record of Peter, Paul, or the other apostles doing anything too similar in the New Testament–Paul quotes the “prophets” (poets) Aratus and Epimenides in his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17) and in his letter to Titus (Titus 1) but does not quote any real “prophecies”–but we can comfortably say, I believe, that if a false prophecy were being actively spread in their presence that needed to be addressed, they would have no problem addressing it.

But the context in which I heard about this question recently presented it as a straw man to attack. The problem isn’t simply referring to heathen prophecies in such manners. The problem is wallowing in them and seeking to obtain new prophetic information from them. The Bible makes God’s abhorrence of such activity plain and ties the use of heathen prophetic sources in that manner to false prophets misusing the name of God. I’ve heard many excuses from those addicted to divining new details about the future from heathen prophecy, and none of them pass muster. Let’s look at some, and I will mention the things we need to keep in mind among my responses.

Excuse: But sometimes the devil may inspire true prophecy! If we use the Bible to discern truth from error, perhaps we can learn new details about the future from what the devil may have inspired.

Answer: The devil loves excuses like that. But it doesn’t fit the Bible, and for multiple reasons.

For instance, in Acts 16, a demon-possessed slave girl keeps following Paul and Silas and proclaiming, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” We note that (1) the “spirit of divination” that possessed the girl may have been accurate sometimes, as her owners apparently made a very good profit from her “fortune-telling” (v.16), and (2) she was actually saying something true! Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God and they were proclaiming the way to salvation!

What was Paul’s reaction? After all, some would say that this girl’s comments added to their credibility.

But rather than allow it to go on and on, Paul couldn’t withhold himself any longer and he commanded the spirit to leave the girl, in the name of Jesus Christ. In essence, he said, “Shut up!”

True servants of God do not need the testimony of demons or demon-inspired prophecy. God’s word can stand on its own just fine.

Does it matter if heathen prophecy is true? Does that mean that it is OK to play with it and to try and sneak information out of it, past the devil’s nose? To build new knowledge on it? No, it simply does not. No one can read Deuteronomy 18 and come to any different conclusion:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

Can God be any clearer? The heathens have their soothsayers, diviners, etc. But the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.

If God Almighty has not appointed those heathen prophets, fortune tellers, diviners, etc. for us, then are we not in opposition to Him if we seek to pull knowledge and information about the future from their words? Even if we use God’s word to “filter” it, has He appointed that “information” for us to filter?

Frankly, that’s the same excuse many give for keeping the pagan practices of Christmas, Easter, etc. “Yes, they are from heathen sources, but we only use them in good ways and we discard the bad, based on God’s Word.” But what if God says it is all bad? What if He says that it isn’t appointed for you in the first place? Who do we think we are to say, “Well, God, don’t worry–I know what I’m doing…”?

Consider, too, Isaiah 8. Verse 19 is often quoted when it comes to identifying false teachers and false prophets, as well it should be:

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19)

In fact, several self-appointed (false) prophets over the years who have come from the Church of God tradition like to quote v.19 because they feel it backs them up (which technically, it can’t do; it can shoot down others, but, alone, it can’t validate them). “After all,” perhaps they surmise, “I keep the Sabbath! I keep the Holy Days! I love the commandments! Isaiah 8:19 doesn’t apply to me!”

Ah, not so fast. Isaiah 8:19 does not exist in a vacuum. It is, actually, the climactic statement of a paragraph that gives it context. If the false prophets Isaiah was writing about were failing to keep to the law and were contradicting the testimony, where were they failing? If they were not speaking “according to this word,” what mistake were they making? The verses immediately before give the answer! Look at it again, but look at the preceding verse, not just v.19:

“And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:18-19)

So clear! Someone who tells you to consider what a heathen prophet is saying, because the devil may have inspired something in them that could be true–or because we can use the Bible to “decode” the heathen prophecy to our benefit–so that we can glean new, potential details about the future is, essentially, saying, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter…”

“Hey, look at what Dead St. So-and-So said about the future! And look, here, at what Nostradummy divined! Since we know the truth in God’s Word, we can avoid the devil’s traps and maybe learn some details about his plan for the future!” Wrong, but thanks for playing… Isaiah 8:18 says that a “prophet” who wallows in such mire is to be avoided (again, the words of Dead St. So-and-So and Nostradummy “are not appointed for us,” God says — Deut. 18:14.) How ironic that some out there addicted to divining new information from heathen prophecies will quote Isaiah 8:19 when their violation of v.18 shows that v.19 actually condemns them.

In fact, the very idea that we should somehow “mix” holy, biblical prophecy with the heathen prophecies of pagans and apostates in an effort to divine new details about the future beyond what God’s Word reveals should be nauseating to us. Paul said very clearly, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16). What communion, indeed! The idea that Christians–let alone anyone claiming to bear Christ’s standard as a “leader” of Christians–would make a common practice to mingle the unclean and the clean, the prophecies of Christ and of Belial, in an effort to somehow divine additional knowledge and extra-biblical details of future events is simply vomitous. Paul’s command in that passage is quite the opposite and is very clear: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

Be separate! Come out! Do not touch what is unclean! Hardly the same as, “Well, go ahead and dive deeply into the devil’s prophecies looking for new details about the future, as long as you use the Bible to, you know, sort it all out and stuff.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I’m spending a lot on this excuse, but let me make a personal observation based on a woman I spoke with once. She was a woman who had been very deep in the occult and demonism. She was seeking to get out of those things, but old friends of hers were often trying to get her back into them. Once, she said, some of her friends mentioned a book they had gotten that explained people could supposedly capture a demon and trap him in your basement so that you could use him for your purposes but he would be unable to harm you if you stayed out of the basement. Her response, based on her experiences, was instructive. She saw through the foolishness of her friends’ claims, and said, “That’s the thing with the devil. He tricks you into thinking you have him and you can safely use him. But it’s always the other way around: he has you.”

Those who think that, armed with their Bibles, they can wade into the prophecies of heathens to glean new possible details about the future have fallen into the devil’s trap. Deuteronomy 18 and other passages make it clear that God does not give us permission to use His Word to help us divine new, extra-biblical details about prophecy from the realm of the devil, and we are spiritual morons if we think that God is bound to honor our actions and bless our understanding if we seek to do so.

Enough of that one — let’s look at a different excuse…

Excuse: But the Apostle Paul used the writings of heathens to relate to heathen cultures. Shouldn’t we strive to be “all things to all people”?

Answer: Yes, it’s a great idea to strive to be “all things to all people,” but it is not an excuse to sinfully wallow in heathen prophecies seeking to divine extra-biblical insights into the future, which Paul never, ever did.

Why in the world would someone think Paul dabbled in interpreting heathen prophecy to divine details about the future?

It is certainly true that Paul sought to approach his listeners from their point of view. In my opinion, from what we have recorded, he was a master. We see him arguing in the synagogue with the Jews from the Scriptures in Acts 13. And we see him in the Areopagus arguing with the gentiles from reason and logic in Acts 17, even though his goal was a biblical one (to help them realize that God disapproves of idolatry).

To that end, at the Areopagus he apparently quotes a couple of heathen poets: Epimenides and Aratus. Here is the passage in Acts 17:26-28:

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)
Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)

The statement “For we are also His offspring” from one of “[their] own poets” seems to come from Aratus, who wrote in his Phaenomena:

“Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

While it is possible that it may be a poet other than Aratus, by Paul’s own words it is some heathen poet.

Also, Paul says “some of your own poets,” indicating that he may have been referring to the comments of more than one. And, in fact, the statement he makes right before that, “for in Him we live and move and have our being,” does match precisely to a pagan poet–indeed, a specific paragraph (“stanza” for sticklers) of a pagan poem–we know from a different part of Scripture Paul was familiar with: Epimenides. Here is the paragraph from Epimenides’ Cretica:

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.

Epimenides of Crete
Epimenides of Crete

Not only does the last line (in a passage also about Zeus) match Paul’s own words, but the additional line I placed in bold, about Cretans, will be familiar to those who remember Paul’s words to Titus: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons'” (Titus 1:12).

So, Paul did, indeed, use turns of phrase from the culture of the Greeks in his efforts to preach the truth to them. When Paul said that he strove to “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22), he wasn’t kidding.

But to conflate Paul’s wise and effective approach with consorting with the devil’s prophecies and seeking to divine new prophetic details from them is to abuse both the man and the Scriptures–and for several reasons.

Here’s one (and not even the biggest): As one writer I read many years ago noted, it is foolish to take these statements as evidence that Paul studiously poured over the writings of the heathens to put these statements together. These statements were very possibly (even probably) very commonly known and recognized statements of the day. Not only is this idea bolstered by the observation that both of Paul’s quotes come from the very same paragraph of Epimenides, but it is also bolstered by common sense. (Admittedly, common sense is in short supply today, but still…) How many of us can quote, “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” or “Et tu, Brute?” without being even half-way diligent students of Shakespeare? How many of us talk about the (admittedly disputed) Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” without having studied Chinese culture? How many know the proverb, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” without having gotten a Masters Degree in Klingon culture?

It makes sense that Paul was not using some obscure poems and uncommon texts to appeal to the crowd but, rather, was using statements that would have been commonly heard at the time–all the better to warm the crowd to his message, by using turns of phrase that were common knowledge with which they were all familiar. No diligent study of Greek poetry (let alone prophecy) necessary at all.

But that isn’t even the most important point. Even more damaging to the excuse is the fact that these couple of quotes are FAR from examples of Paul using pagan prophecy to divine additional details about the future. They are not even close. As we’ve already highlighted, such attempts at divination would be forbidden by God, and Paul clearly does nothing of the sort. To try and dissect heathen prophecies–human-inspired at best and demon-inspired at worst–to discover new, extra-biblical details about the Two Witnesses, or the Beast Power, or the final Antichrist, etc. and then to point to Paul’s quotes of Epimenides and Aratus as supposed “examples” is a hideous perversion of what Paul actually did and an insult to the Apostle.

Rather, what would be the real equivalent of Paul’s quotes from these men? Easy enough! I’ve heard some in the Church quote from the famous and well-known poem (or “proem” as it may be, since some tellings do not rhyme), “Footprints in the Sand” (or just “Footprints”). C’mon–you know you know it! A person is walking with Christ along the beach, symbolizing his walking with Christ, and at times there is only one set of footprints instead of two, etc. It’s a moving depiction, commonly known in our culture, and easily accessible to those in our culture. Using that poem to help explain the comfort Christ provides in difficult times would be an example of what Paul did. Also, using a choice quote about God or manhood from C. S. Lewis in a sermon might be an example–taking advantage of a good turn of phrase that would carry weight in the culture, but without endorsing everything the man said or wrote. Mr. Armstrong’s quoting Huxley on occasion would be an example.

Here’s an example from Jerome, a Catholic “luminary,” I could quote: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” And it’s true! Such a turn of phrase could be helpful to reaching some Catholics, perhaps. No problem.

But what all of these, along with Paul’s quotes, have in common is that they are not what the perverse purveyor of pagan prophecies claims is “OK” in the name of being all things to all people: Attempting to divine additional, extra-biblical details about the future from heathen, ungodly prophecies.

To one who says that we should be able to dip ourselves into the muck of heathen, potentially devilish prophecies to hunt around for new insights into how the future might unfold and who point to Paul’s couple of quotes as supposed “examples,” I would ask: “Please show me where Paul has done as you do by delving in great depth into obscure and generally arcane heathen prophecies to divine additional potential details about future prophetic fulfillment in contradiction to God’s Word?” There can only be two possible responses to such a question: silence or lies.

So, the excuse maker would be 0 for 2! Let’s consider another excuse one might give…

Excuse: Well, the Church of God has derived new prophetic details from heathen prophecies before! Look at David Jon Hill!

Answer: Actually, no, the Church of God has not. If you think that you are either self-deceived or being deceitful…

Don’t take my word for it. Read Mr. David Jon Hill’s 1961 Good News article for yourself. Click here for a PDF copy of the original article. It is a good read, and it’s point is a good one: There are some heathen prophecies out there that look as though they are perversions of true, biblical prophecy — painting the conquering Messiah as the Antichrist. (Many people have noted the same thing about “aliens from space” movies, like “Independence Day.”) It’s a great article! It was reprinted later in a 1964 Good News with an updated introduction.

However, that article is not only a rarity (one article and one updated reprint in more than half-a-century’s worth of articles), it is also not at all what some are doing with heathen prophecy. That is, it is not an attempt to divine a host of new prophetic details from extra-biblical prophecies. Notice what is actually done in the article… It never divines “new” prophetic details about the future from the heathen sources. Mr. Hill is consistent: He establishes what will happen from the Scripture and biblical prophecy, and then only uses the heathen sources (mostly Hippolytus) to show how those things can be twisted to deceive. He never uses Catholic “prophecies” to determine a menagerie “new possibilities” about the future, sticking only to God’s Word for such things.

The idea of swimming in one heathen prophecy after another like a rat in a sewer is simply not a practice seen in the publications of the Church of God over the better part of the last century and certainly not in the Bible. About such an obsession, some may wish to argue that their perverse fascination should be acceptable, but we can use the words of the Apostle Paul: “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).

And we don’t. Again, we’ve referred to heathen prophecies (ancient frauds like the Malarkey…(there I go again!)…the Malachy “Prophecy” and modern frauds like the non-Mayan non-pocalypse), and there’s nothing wrong with pointing them out as curiosities, as frauds, as hoaxes, as counterfeits, etc. But seeking to derive new prophetic knowledge from them? Determining that one of the Two Witnesses will like wearing dark suits or the name of his hometown or whether he will be thin of fat? Sorry — that’s divination. And God is clear: It isn’t appointed for us.

One last excuse comes to mind, for now…

Excuse: Paul says that we shouldn’t be ignorant of the devil’s devices! By exploring all of these pagan prophecies, we can come to understand his plan better–in fact, we’re actually obeying Paul’s command by doing so.

Answer: Wow. That is just… Wow. The devil must be giddy that you actually think that. Is that really what Paul is telling us to do? Let’s look at that…

First, instead of just grabbing a convenient verse and paraphrasing it in the way we believe it will suit us best, let’s read the actual verse in its context:

“Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:10-11).

Taking this statement and turning it into an endorsement of using pagan prophecies for delving into future events is vastly more than a simple “stretch”–it does violence to Paul’s words and pridefully turns them into license for sin. (We’ve already established: God says that those diviners, soothsayers, fortune-tellers are not appointed for us, remember?)

Yes, we are aware of his devices, and lies are definitely among his devices, including lying prophecies. But does that mean that we should give ourselves license to ignore God’s Word, delve into the arcane details of heathen prophecies, and try to divine additional details about the future? Who would be so insane as to suggest that this is what Paul meant?

For instance, among Satan’s devices is to pull us away into sexual lust. Must we study and explore all the perverted means by which Satan does that? Every enticement, every perversion, every–whatever? Or is it simply necessary to know the truth about godly sexuality and to ensure we are fortified in what God’s Word has to say about it? Isn’t that sufficient? As in recognizing counterfeits, isn’t the key to know the truth thoroughly and not to memorize every possible counterfeit? (Hmmm… I’ve seen a telecast that talks about that…)

In fact–and I will try to talk more about this when I wrap up this post–other than the fact that it is sin to wallow in the mire of diviners and soothsayers, one of the strongest reasons why we should not try to filter details out about the future from the devil’s prophecies is precisely because we know his devices! Let me explain…

The devil is a liar. He is the father of lies. Jesus describes lying as an essential part of the devil’s very nature, saying that “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44-47). However, that does not mean that he is unwilling to use the truth. In fact, a great quote comes to mind: “The devil will tell a thousand truths to sell one lie.”

I’m not disputing the idea that the devil’s prophecy contains both truth and lies. The devil is unimaginably skilled at using truths in the service of lies. Of course there will be elements of truth in his lying prophecies. Those things that contradict Scripture will, of course, be lies. But those things that do not contradict Scripture aren’t necessarily truths, either. All of it is part of the spider’s web. And those who are not ignorant of his devices will avoid the web altogether. They will not fall for the lie that the fly can decide which parts of the web are safe and which parts of the web trigger the spider. They don’t believe, in pride and vanity, that they can tease the relevant truths out of the lies and not be tainted and caught in the trap.

That is the path of fools–those who claim to know the devil’s devices but clearly do not truly understand them. Such fools think they can use the devil for their own purposes, even press him into service for God. But the young woman I talked to is right: You think you have him, but he has you.

God’s advice is universally the opposite in Scripture: Put distance between you and the devil. Don’t dance with him, thinking that you are leading. Don’t play games with him, thinking that you are winning. Don’t linger in contact with him, thinking that you remain clean. Those who think they can do otherwise are flies in the web, and by telling those around them, “See, look at what I found!” all they do is get those who pay them any mind entangled in the devil’s web with them.

Yes, Christ gives us victory over Satan and his demons. Yes, there are times when demons must be confronted, just as Christ did. But the purpose for confrontation is to cast out–“out,” as in “away.” We never say, “Demon, be gone! But, you know, not too gone… Hang around a little so that I can squeeze a few facts out of you at my own discretion, OK buddy?” We just cast them out.

The devil wants us to do otherwise. He wants us to see some of what he has done, or some of what he inspires within the latitude God allows him, as useful to us in some way. That way, rather than cast it completely aside, we will hold on to it a bit. “Sure it’s the devil’s, but it can be made useful if we’re careful, right?” No. Not right.

Jesus said that Satan had “nothing in him” (John 14:30). When the devil offered Him a shortcut to world rulership, Jesus shut Him down and wouldn’t touch his offer for a moment (Luke 4:5-8). He didn’t strike a bargain. He didn’t use the devil for anything. He lived uncorrupted by the ruler of this world, and He died uncorrupted by Him. It is His example we are to follow.

We don’t dive into the prophecies and visions of heathens and pagans in order to try to divine the devil’s plan. We avoid getting caught up in such things and binding ourselves to them because we are already aware of his devices. And we know that such foolishness is exactly what he would want us to do.

Really, think about it… Imagine you have your Bible open on your study desk as well as a book of Catholic, Buddhist, New Age, [fill in the blank] visions, divinations, and prophecies, while you try to use God’s Word to help you tease out some true tidbits and details about the future in addition to what God’s Word reveals. Which do you think is likely true…

(A) Satan the Devil is watching you figure things out and is cowering and trembling in a corner, saying, “Oh no! Oh NO! He’s going to figure out parts of my plan! Oh whatever shall I DO?!?!” Or…

(B) Satan the Devil is watching you as a big grin starts to form on his face?

I’m sorry, but to me the answer is obvious.

But apparently it isn’t to others.

It is easy to imagine someone who has delved very deeply into the prophecies of heathens, far beyond the boundaries of what God would ever allow–perhaps, caring more about the private prophecies of Catholics than even Catholics do. I could easily imagine such a one. I can imagine him beginning to see himself in those “prophecies”–with the obscure word here and the pleasant coincidence there combining with the prideful self-esteem he already held toward himself, but enhancing it… strengthening it. Next thing he knows, he is looking for other passages that could confirm his suspicion that he is a Prophet–even one of the Two Witnesses. “I’ll use the Douay translation there–I like the way it spells that word more like my own last name… That literal description fits me there!… That description there doesn’t, hmmm… BUT, it could be speaking symbolically instead of literally, so it actually could fit me!…” He doesn’t actually think those words, of course, but those are the whispers of his Jeremiah 17:9 heart. The crazy dance would go on, with him and the devil. As time goes on, he would believe that he is using God’s truth to whittle away the lies and reduce the devil’s prophecies down to useful, precious, additional little understandings and details, but–in actuality–like someone wading through the muck of the sewers looking for some morsels of undigested food, he would find that some efforts aren’t worth the price you pay. As Paul warns us, little leaven leavens the whole lump, and the corruption would spread. Thinking he could use the Bible to help him sort the truth from the lie in the devil’s prophecies, it would work the other way around, and the corrupt touch of the devil’s prophecies would begin to infect his own understanding of the Bible. In time, it would be almost impossible for him to see anything clearly anymore.

You think you have him. But he has you.

Very easy to imagine… Thankfully, if I were ever to get delusions of grandeur and think I were one of the Two Witnesses (haven’t yet, by the way!), my wife would be quick to pitch in and douse the flames of my insanity. “Don’t get the big head,” she would say. “I’ve seen you in your underwear.” Yes, she actually does say that sometimes, and we laugh when she does, but it always does the trick! 🙂 [French essayist Michel de Montaigne also had a quote that helps put in perspective those who think they are high and mighty, but it is a bit crude to write in a post in a family blog.]

But not everyone has a wife kind enough to put him in his place when needed and remind him that, “No, the Bible is not actually talking about you. And, no, those Catholic / Buddhist / Alien / Whatever prophecies aren’t talking about you–put them down, leave them alone, and back away.” And, admittedly, if I were so inclined to delusions of grandeur, it might be that nothing she said could keep me from such lies. We all have free will. The devil, aided by our personal ambitions and our Jeremiah 17:9 hearts, can do a lot of damage to us if we choose to let him. And, sadly, some do.

I’ve gotten off track a good bit. Suffice it to say: We avoid the trap of trying to decipher the prophecies of heathens to entice new prophetic truths out of them because we are not ignorant of the devil’s devices, not because we need to indulge in them to discover his devices. That is simply not sane. At the very least, it isn’t biblical.

Frankly, the idea that we must gluttonously feed on the prophecies of deceived heathens in addition to the Bible in order to fight the devil more effectively sounds very devilish, indeed. I won’t fall for that. Will you? Are you ignorant of his devices?

In summary:

Anyone who engorges himself in a multitude of the prophecies of those deceived by the devil in order to discern new tidbits of prophetic understanding is violating Scripture, disqualifying himself according to Isaiah 8:18-19, corrupting his understanding, and falling for the devil’s tactics while deluding himself that he is somehow uncovering them. Self-delusion is almost certain to follow. Those who so engorge themselves are not working to be all things to all men. They are working to be of no use to anyone but the devil. Saying that, “Well, the end times are here, so we now need to do these things,” is a lie. God’s commands don’t change.

Yes, the Church of God has noted from time to rare time that there are such “prophecies” out there. It has noted them as curiosities. It has shown them as false and deceptive. It has noted that the devil has counterfeited the truth in some of them. And it has spent far more of its time on other things. It has not made a habit of wallowing in such “prophecies” and in the words and writings of heathen seers and deceived mystics in a satanic effort to divine numerous additional details about the future from such sources, in defiance of the commands of God Almighty in His Word. It has not returned like a dog to its vomit or a washed sow to its mire, after escaping such pollutions through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22). Who in the world would wish to set aside the mercy of God in order to do such a thing?

God says plainly and simply that such things are not appointed for us (Deut. 18:14). And if God has not appointed them for us, then who has?

No, wallowing in the prophecies of the heathen to discern new prophetic possibilities is not for Christians. May God have mercy on those who give themselves over to doing so. It is a mercy they will surely and sorely need.

Herbert Armstrong (crop) (from Autobiography, Vol 1)

Flashback: Thank you, Mr. Armstrong

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite pictures of Mr. Herbert Armstrong.
Herbert and Loma Armstrong

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the death of Herbert W. Armstrong. I hope that we’re all thankful for the work he did–really, the work that God did through him–and for the impact it had and continues to have as the ministry he invigorated continues through those he personally trained to carry on God’s Work.

I was starting to write something today about Mr. Armstrong (in fact, I already had it titled: “Many thanks, Herbert W. Armstrong”) when I realized while adding a link that virtually everything I wanted to say I had already written exactly two years ago on this same anniversary in a previous post: “Thank you, Mr. Armstrong.” Rather than essentially rewrite the same post over again, I think I will just refer folks to that one and make today a “rerun” day.

So as not to split the topic’s comments into two different locations, I will disable comments on this post, but comments can still be made on that post by following the link.

Here’s the post: “Thank you, Mr. Armstrong”

Illustration Euclid's Elements

Finding God in Geometry Class

There's a reason I named my first car "Euclid" (Frankly, since Euler is pronounced "Oiler", it seemed a confusing option...)
There’s a reason I named my first car Euclid (Frankly, since Euler is pronounced “Oiler”, it seemed a potentially confusing option as a name for a car…)

This post deserves to be much longer and deeper than it will be, but I’m still going to post it while I have this brief opportunity.

Plato once said, “Geometry aims at the eternal.” For me, this statement was very true as a 9th grade geometry student in high school, except that it is missing a capitalization: “Geometry aims at the Eternal.”

That was an important year for me. While the years leading up to it and those immediately following it were certainly important as well, including the manner in which they complemented my 9th grade year, but that particular year saw my introduction to high school geometry. I had been a good math student, though not the self-starter I should have been, I believe. (Bad memory from 7th or 8th grade there–can’t remember which.) And I enjoyed math to a certain extent, I think. I remember in Algebra I class in Middle School finishing my work early and being allowed by the teacher to peruse some of the books on her shelf. The books were beyond me, to be sure, but the symbols I discovered there fascinated me and introduced me to the concept of mathematics as a language. I think it was the moment that I moved into a real interest in the subject, though not to the extent this would be true later.

But it was the next year–in Geometry class with Mrs. Paula Russell–that things really changed. I’m not sure if it is still as prominent today (this was before “Informal Geometry” had really caught on), but proofs were still a HUGE part of high school geometry work: assuming postulates, proving theorems, etc.

Seeing a mathematics based on clearly defined assumptions, using those to prove theorems–more complicated and less obvious statements–and then building on those theorems to prove other theorems, etc. was something transformative for me. Though mathematical points, lines, and planes were abstractions and not truly real world objects, it felt as if I were in a completely new universe with new objects to play with and examine. Yet, it wasn’t that it was a new universe that was somehow unrelated to our own. Quite the contrary: It seemed a deeper universe–something more fundamental, on which our own universe was built. A bright, glorious, beautiful place, where the pillars of reality might be seen and touched and felt in some magical way.

I had always been a “science kid” as far back as I can remember, and the idea that we live in a universe that could be mathematically described was not new. But the fact that this is an extraordinary reality about the world had not struck me, perhaps because I didn’t yet see mathematics unshackled from its applications. I don’t know. But I saw it unshackled in Geometry class. For the first time, I saw a truth such as this one I quoted from Clifford A. Pickover on Twitter yesterday:

I felt, perhaps for the first time, that I was sitting at God’s desk and looking at instruments unique to His own work. There seemed something eternal about it, as if those of us in class were simply exploring a place that, for all intents and purposes, had always existed in a way that the physical world around us simply hasn’t. A infinite place that was both workspace and playground. And there was something glorious about it.

These words and descriptions certainly didn’t come to mind back then, but the sentiment was there. And it came at an important time for me, in which my religious sentiments were undergoing a transformation, as well, and I do believe that this class played an active role in that transformation. That such ethereal objects as points, lines, and planes–postulates and theorems and proofs–could be made so very nearly tangible to me, added a tangible sense to God and His realm and thoughts to me, as well. The order in His Creation became so much more real to me that year. Well, that’s not quite right. Rather, my awareness of the reality of order seemed to change in nature a bit. I had known it was there (my science books had always emphasized that), but the fact of its presence became a startling thing–something wondrous and mysterious and not to be taken for granted.

To take things up to a melodramatic level (and I will take them back down in a moment), it reminds me of Job’s statement in chapter 42. It was not that before his trials Job did not know God–I dare say that even then he likely knew God more fully than virtually anyone reading this blog post could claim. Yet, through the trials and God’s lesson at the end of them, he makes the remarkable statement:

“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (v.3 & v.5)

Geometry class certainly did not propel me to such an understanding as Job surely had! Wow, would that be a pretentious claim. 🙂 But, it did have that sort of clarifying and enriching effect on me. The God I knew after that class was richer in detail, fuller in substance, larger in scope, and more different in kind. It’s not a coincidence to me that my 9th grade year was the year God seemed to accelerate His calling in me. It has always been a benchmark year in my life.

These thoughts have been on my mind recently, as I’ve been examining my relationship with numbers — moving from seeing them in a platonic “numbers are real” sort of sense to something else — and, thus, with mathematics, too.

And it highlights the role good teachers play, especially in mathematics. I was blessed with Mrs. Russell. In the hands of a lesser teacher, perhaps I would have been distracted by various “school dynamics” and not been free to really discover what an amazing subject I was studying. I guess I can’t know for certain, but regardless — having Mrs. Russell as my teacher was a very good thing, and I will always be grateful.

Beyond that, I think I will just say that you never know what God may use in your life to help you see Him more fully. For me, He showed up in my Geometry class, and my life has been different ever since.

Movie poster from the new film "Thor 3: Attack of the Sugar Plum Faries"

Because He was born, I do not keep Christmas

Movie poster from the new film "Thor 3: Attack of the Sugar Plum Faries"
Movie poster from the new film “Thor 3: Attack of the Sugar Plum Faries”

I forgot today was Christmas.

Last night my family and I arrived home after a long drive, and early this morning I had to drive my son to work. As we were driving through town it was eerie and calm. The “school zone” light was blinking, but there were no children and no cars on the road, and I said, “Wow, it’s creepy! Like some sort of ghost town.” He responded, “Yeah, I wonder why it’s like this?” We half-jokingly speculated that everyone knew something we didn’t, considering biohazard accidents and the rest.

Then it hit us: Oh, yeah! It’s Christmas!

Actually, the whole reason I was even taking him to work is because his employer is in our Church and he, too, was working. Today Boy #1 was apparently going to be helping to clean up after a little local flooding from some rains this weekend.

It aided our ignorance that we were on the road for ten hours last night, coming in a bit late. The fact that it was Christmas Eve meant that many of our potential stops for dinner were closed, but other than that the normal things associated with the evening (comments on TV, etc.) weren’t there, allowing us to wake up in our little bubble of no-Christmas reality.

Every year (or, perhaps, almost every year) I try to write a bit about why I don’t keep Christmas. I’ll try to keep it quick and simple this year: It is because of the fact of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that I don’t keep Christmas.

I wholeheartedly do believe that more than 2000 years ago a child was born of a virgin in the “little town of Bethlehem.” That child was God Incarnate–He was the Living Word who had existed with the One we now call God the Father for all Eternity Past. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And then, all of a sudden, here He was, in mortal, vulnerable, human flesh: One of us. I believe that He lived a life in perfect obedience to God, that He taught of the coming Kingdom of God and that God commands repentance to be a part of that Kingdom, that He was executed unjustly, that His blood was shed for humanity’s sins, that He was raised from the grave, and that He is in Heaven now, at His Father’s right hand, interceding for the saints, living within converted Christians through His Spirit, and awaiting the moment when He will return to complete the work of destroying the works of the devil and bringing to complete fullness the Kingdom of God in the Creation.

I am a Christian, and I believe with my whole heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, my Lord and Savior, my High Priest, and my soon coming King.

Consequently, I do not celebrate Christmas.

The reason is simple: The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ would not want me to do so. And if I seek to follow Him, I will not keep a tradition He would find displeasing.

That Christmas is a celebration of pagan origins is an undisputed fact of history. Even mainstream Christianity agrees. I’ve seen Dr. James Dobson agree. I’ve seen Dr. R. C. Sproul agree. What we now call “Christmas” was introduced into Christianity from pagan sources, well after the time when Christians were being warned to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered” (Jude 3) due to the corrupting influences coming into that faith. From Christmas Trees to the gifts beneath them, from the wreath of holly on the door to the mistletoe above it, from the burning Yule logs in the hearth to the ornaments that reflect its light–all of them are customs originating in pagan observances and worship traditions. Even some of the most conservative of mainstream Christian scholars agree on these facts.

The relevant question is whether or not Jesus Christ cares.

That really is the question: whether or not we keep such customs — whether or not we accept a day bearing His name that represents an observance born of the heathen worship days and customs of Saturnalia, Bruma, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, and the rest — really comes down to whether or not our Lord and Savior wants us to do so.

And our means for knowing whether He would want us to is the Word He has left us with, the Bible, and how His Spirit confirms that word.

From the Bible’s perspective, the facts are simple. Jesus Christ condemned violating God’s laws and commandments in favor of our traditions, regardless of how “religious” those traditions might be (e.g., Mark 7:6-9). God clearly does not want us to adopt pagan customs to worship Him (e.g., Deut. 12:29-31, Jer. 10:1-2).

In the Scriptures we find clear condemnation of adopting the practices of heathen cultures and worship traditions for the sake of worshiping God. It doesn’t make a difference if we claim to be worshiping God instead of the false gods for which those practices were originally designed. Consider Deut. 12:31a, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way…” and Aaron’s comment in Exodus 32:5b, where Aaron declared time set aside to worship the golden calf idol a “feast to the LORD (YHVH).” Attaching God’s name to something He forbade and choosing to worship Him with those practices did not make them acceptable in God’s eyes.

Such commands stand between us and the Christmas celebration. And what did our living Lord and Savior tell us? Does He give us permission to set aside those commands so that they are no obstacle between us and the traditions we want? No, He did quite the opposite. He condemned such choices: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:8). Jesus loved God’s commands, and He taught His followers not to lay those commands aside in order to keep traditions we think are better.

God commands not to worship Him through the practices of the pagans. Jesus condemns laying aside those commands for the sake of our traditions, however well-loved they may be.

Consequently, as a follower of Jesus Christ and a believer in the fact of His birth to a virgin so long ago, I cannot observe Christmas.

I know many who do, to be sure. My mother, until she died, kept Christmas. She didn’t understand what I and those who worship God in my Church have mercifully been shown. I know that she will have an opportunity in the future to learn, and I am thankful for that. I do not judge the sincerity of those who do keep these days — many of them do so with a passion and a zeal that I look at as an example to me, personally. But good intention does not excuse those who know better. And–through no wisdom or intelligence of my own, to be sure!–I know better.

I choose to worship Jesus Christ. I want Him to see in me, however imperfectly, someone He would see as a disciple–as a Christian. So I do not keep the day the world has attached His name to. I do not observe Christmas.

And I’m happy that way. Even if He had not provided other, biblical Holy Days to observe (and thankfully He has), I would still be happy. For although Christmas is generally understood and experienced as a day of joy for those who keep it, there is a profound joy I never would have accessed had I not learned the blessing of stepping away from Christmas and toward Christ. And in His mercy, He helped me to do that.

I know some who come across this post will find it offensive. It isn’t meant to be, and, yet, at the same time I would simply challenge you to make it a profitable offense and begin studying the matter. You might be surprised by what you find, but not all surprises are a bad thing. And it will be a more life changing surprise than anything you found under the tree this morning.


If you’ve got the courage, check out these magazine articles and explanatory booklets:

For those interested in past blog posts on the same or similar subjects, here are some:

COE (square)

Another great Council of Elders meeting

Not too long a post tonight. I’m tuckered!

Just wanted to thank those of you out there who have been praying for the Living Church of God Council of Elders meetings that have taken place this week. They went swimmingly!

On one hand, they were sobered by a variety of current events, not the least of which was the plight of those we still haven’t heard from in the Philippines (though we are thankful for the clearly miraculous protection received by one family we have connected with). That area is so devastated, and I hope they are in our prayers, daily.

On the other hand, the meetings were so uplifting! What a remarkable group of men, and what a privilege to get to participate in their discussions. I won’t go on and on (I believe I have done enough of that in a previous post or two about the Council meetings in the recent past; I’d add links to those posts if this WordPress app for the iPad made it easier), but suffice it to say that this meeting was very much like the others I’ve mentioned: a room full of brothers delighted to be serving together in the most rewarding work we can imagine and taking their task very seriously before God. Compared to the sort of “political” environments I have experienced in circumstances outside of the Church, the level of teamwork and unity and “politics free” discussion in the group stands out that much more. As before, I felt a great degree of freedom to speak my mind, even with a contrary or alternate opinion or thought, and it was a real joy. Dr. Meredith, as well as Mr. Ames and Dr. Winnail under him, have done a wonderful job creating a very free atmosphere where counsel can be freely given and openly discussed and considered. Kudos to them and to the great fellows I have the privilege to work with, who also play such a big role in making that atmosphere possible.

In other news, I am not taping two programs Thursday like I had planned. Mr. Ciesielka told me that they are just two weeks away from some major upgrades to the “stage right” (viewer’s left) portion of the studio — changes we’ve wanted to make for quite some time (no more Dome of the Rock!) — and that it might be good if I could put off taping until after that. That was music to my ears, since I was behind on my script work, so it looks as though my family will leave a little earlier for the Charlotte weekend next month so that I can squeeze those tapings in. Still, thanks to all of you who we’re praying for the programs — keep praying! 🙂

Tomorrow I will be doing some work on a new article and participating in some promotional photographs for the telecast. Since all four telecast presenters are here — plus Mr. Gerald Weston and Mr. Mario Hernandez, who present for our outside-the-US programs — this seemed like a great opportunity to get some pictures of all of us together. I wonder if I can lose 50 pounds before tomorrow morning and grow some more hair? And muscles? Probably not. And besides, I’d hate for my wife to wake up and not recognize me.

Thanks, again, to all of you who have been praying for our meetings! They really have been fantastic and such a pleasure to be a part of. Many are traveling tomorrow and Friday, so please pray for their safe travel, as well (ours, too!), and we look forward to being back in our own area soon.

[EDIT – 11/20/2013: I heard that some weirdo out there says that Mr. Meredith was barely at the meetings due to his wife’s health and his own, which (according to the weirdo) is supposedly not well. The weirdo, who is not in our fellowship at all and who routinely says things that are about as close to being the opposite of the truth as is possible, is clearly not taking his medication or else has gotten into some bad peyote. Mr. Meredith chaired virtually the entire meeting with the exception of about an hour-or-so after lunch on Day 2 and an hour-or-so after lunch on Day 3, both instances of which were related to caring for his wife. How some people can take zero information and talk about it as if they know something they do not know is beyond me. I don’t want to assume that they know they are lying, which feels awful, yet the only other thing to assume is that they are truly and completely deluded and/or given over to a lying spirit. And assuming that feels pretty ugly, too. I think I will stick to the “bad peyote” theory, since it seems the most charitable. – WGS]

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Got Me a Title!

[EDIT, 11/10/2013: In other way more important news than the subject of this post: No, I have not heard any word of how our brothers and sisters in the Philippines have fared. We do have Filipino members in the hard hit areas of Leyte and Samar. Mr. Rod McNair says that we have congregations in Tacloban, Naval, Hinabangan, and Borongan. Please do pray for all of those suffering in that region—especially for those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). With communications so ravaged, it is terribly hard getting word out. How truly horrific, and I hope that those suffering the effects of living in this lost world which cries out in birth pangs for deliverance are present in our passionate prayers]

Not too much time today. We are on the road to Charlotte and my Beautiful Wife is driving, so I thought I would throw up a quick post for kicks – a nice break between other things working on. I actually have a few other Non-Prophet Techniques I’m more interested in blogging about, but this should be a quick and easy one.

Self-Appointed Prophets (or S.A.P.s) sometimes go further than take on to themselves a role God has not given them—however sincerely they may believe He has given it to them, notwithstanding. Sometimes it is not enough for them to drape a mantle on themselves and simply claim to be a Prophet. They also grab for themselves a Very Important Title™.

One of the most egregious of such title-grabs that comes to mind is the case of one S.A.P. who took on the title “That Prophet” from the wording of John 1:21 (KJV) and Acts 3:23. It is egregious because it is startlingly blasphemous. Scripture makes clear that Jesus Christ is “that Prophet,” fulfilling the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18. The people certainly thought so (John 6:14, 7:40), but—of infinitely more importance—God declares him so through the divinely inspired words of Peter (Acts 3:22-23, noting that in v.24 he says he is applying the words “these days” and the subject of the passage is clearly Jesus Christ) and of Stephen before his martyrdom (Acts 7:37, noting that he was speaking of the foretelling of the “coming of the Just One” (v.52) whom they had betrayed and murdered, not some dude in our day). That God inspired a specific description of what it means to be a “prophet like Moses” in Deuteronomy 34:10-12—including such descriptions as knowing God “face to face,” and doing signs and wonders moving some to terror—doesn’t seem to enter into the equation.

Claiming that “the Christ” and “the Prophet” must be different because of John 1:25 and similar verses and that these other clear references should be reinterpreted is pure nonsense. A big part of Jesus’ ministry was pointing out how the Pharisees and such were thoroughly misunderstanding the Scriptures. Nothing would motivate a person to see “That Prophet” as himself instead of Jesus Christ other than planetary sized ego and/or a delusion from the devil. It is blasphemy, pure and simple.

Yet, there are other Very Important Titles™ that Non-Prophets will add to themselves. Of great popularity, for instance, is making oneself one of the Two Witnesses. I know of one Self-Appointed One who is apparently very convinced that he is one of the Two Witnesses, based on a mixture of a few Bible comments “creatively” and self-servingly interpreted and on a lot of heathen “prophecy” which is open to all sorts of imaginative manipulation, with which the devil is more than happy to help with (to be discussed another time). Though this particular fellow’s ambition has not yet grown to the point that he has declared himself such—perhaps waiting to see if someone else will call him that so that it will seem more credible (“the mouths of two or three witnesses,” and such)—it is just a matter of time, it seems. (And when it does happen, no, it does not make me a prophet, either.)

Others have no qualms about it. One I know of, currently enjoying some jail time courtesy of American tax laws, has declared that he is one of the Two Witnesses and that his wife as the other. That he “prophesied” many things that did not come to pass doesn’t seem to rob him of his supposed office and title despite Deuteronomy 18:20-22, oddly enough. Frankly, there are lots of Two Witnesses out there. Maybe we should rename them the One Hundred Forty-Seven Witnesses. Mr. Meredith has mentioned that in his long career, he has been “declared” one of the Two Witnesses by imaginative people many times over in the past (the other being various ones: Dr. Hoeh, GTA, and others). To his credit, he never took the devil’s bait. Many who would claim to be his peer or better, on the other hand, have bitten hook, line, and sinker.

(As a graduate of Texas A&M, I must mention one of my favorite jokes: “Did you hear about the three Aggies who went to Charlotte to convince Mr. Meredith they were the Two Witnesses?” Yes, I think that is very funny. 🙂 )

Other titles have come and gone… Various Self-Appointed Prophets and Luminaries of Imagined & Alternate Realities (L.I.A.R.s) have declared or implied that they have been given the title of or are the prophesied individual Elijah, Elisha, Zerubabbel (son of Shealtiel, though I wonder why one prefers the spelling in the Catholic Douay Rheims: “Salathiel”; interesting, that), Joshua, et al. Maybe you have heard a title I haven’t. If so, I’m not sure I want to know…

That none of these who consider themselves Prophets actually are any of these people or have any right to any sort of title is one thing. But the point of post (which I thought I would never get to!) is that it is yet another technique and not just a personal obsession. Sure, it generally represents a delusionary mindset and an incredible ego, but it also adds a level of “excitement” to the Self-Appointed One’s self-appointed “ministry”: Wow, this is a guy spoken of in the Bible, itself! More importantly, it has the potential to lend an authority to the individual’s words that neither the individual nor the words have earned.

It is not that there are no titles in the Bible and it is not that the Bible cannot make a claim about an individual in our day. It certainly can and it certainly does. But how terribly badly some lust after being such an individual! In some cases they must search the Scriptures seeking out what they can apply to themselves. In other cases, they simply seem to have an ego and pride that the devil can take advantage of, “helping” them to “see” themselves in God’s own words (and in some cases, in the words of heathen “prophecies,” as well) over time.

It is a useful technique for Non-Prophets because increasing their credibility—being taken seriously—is vitally important to them. However, they have not earned the sort of credibility that justifies their self-declared “Prophet” status. Consequently, they must seek out other sources of credibility that can give them a short cut. For instance, it would be difficult to earn the sort of credibility the Two Witnesses will eventually have when God empowers them (cf. Rev. 11:3). Clearly, Revelation says the Two Witnesses are a couple of fellow who should be listened to.

However, while it would be difficult to earn “Two Witness” levels of credibility, it is less difficult to twist some scriptures here and there (borrowing a few “prophecies” from pagan sources can help in this, too) and display a few bowls of “wax fruit” (also something I will try to discuss later) to convince others that you are one of those Witnesses. Then, you can claim all the credibility of the Witnesses for yourself without actually earning it yourself. Bingo: Shortcut!

Not all Non-Prophets feel the need to take a title on themselves, to be sure (I won’t speak to the temptation they may have to do so, as I do not know) as it takes a really special level of self-delusion (or, on the flip side of the coin, a special level of confidence in one’s powers of con-artistry). Nevertheless, it is a technique that is on display out there in the Parade of Self-Appointed Ones time continues to present to us.

Well, I said I was short on time, yet, as usual, I have spent more time than I planned! On to other things. My telecast scripts for this week are suffering a good bit of neglect and I need to let them know I still love them. 🙂

CaptureFromKalamVideo

Nice video about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Just a quick post… I posted a new video I came across on our local congregational website concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. I have commented on that argument before here on the blog (specifically, here: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Unwin’s Pursuit of P(G)”), and I thought the video by Dr. William Lane Craig’s organization was very well done. It’s concise, it gets the point across without getting lost in minutia, and it is pleasantly and professionally produced.

Feel free and watch it for yourself. And you might use it as a spur to do what I recommended to my congregation: Take advantage of this Sabbath to ask someone why they personally believe that God exists and share your own reasons, as well.

The video is here, below. (And, as with all such links and embeds, the standard caveat applies.)

(And for those who have never read it, please consider our booklet: “The Real God: Proofs and Promises”)

The man behind the curtain

Techniques of Non-Prophets: The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step

Today I thought I would bring up another technique of Non-Prophets.

Last time, I discussed “Arbitrage through Tautology” — Making statements that look impressive on the surface but which, when you really look at them, cannot possibly be false. While it is a shady technique and easy to see when one is aware of its existence, it is not uncommon and as I mentioned I don’t think it is used insincerely, in general, but, rather, is often the unexamined product of the Non-Prophet’s underlying insecurity in his own (non-)ordination and is simply his attempt to make sure he is covered. The statement actually communicates no real information because, deep down, the Self-Appointed Prophet (or S.A.P.) has no real information to communicate.

This time, I want to discuss another technique popular with Non-Prophets: the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. It is a means of eating one’s cake and having it, too. And it is something you will see not only in Fake Prophetdom, but you will also see it in Fake Wall Street Expertdom and other places where someone is trying to sell you on their success or credibility.

It is a technique for not only covering yourself in the event that something doesn’t turn out like you say, but also for generating some “wax fruit” (a topic in itself that I want to cover one day) to bolster your Self-Appointed Prophetic status. After all, if you claim to be a Prophet, people are going to expect results, right? They are going to expect you to say things are going to happen and then to see them happen. Consequently, you have to go out on a limb and actually make some predictions. However, you aren’t actually a real Prophet, and God is not actually telling you things like He does with real prophets. So, what’s a S.A.P. to do?

Sadly, there are lots of things you can do. And one of those things that Non-Prophets do is the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step.

First, they speculate about the future. Admittedly, speculation isn’t particularly prophetic! Anyone can do it, and, in fact, all of us in our own way speculate about the future, even if it’s just about whether our boss is going to give us a bonus this year or not given the economy. In fact, much of our “news” reporting is just that: speculation.

Case-in-point: The recent papal election. Many commentators were speculating about what sort of pope the conclave would elect, and a variety of ideas were thrown out including a number of names of potential successors to the throne of not-actually-Peter. It’s what news analysts do.

English: Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archb...
What? All those guesses and I wash’ t on the list? What am I, chopped liver? What sort of “prophet” are you? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ditto with some Non-Prophets out there. Some were throwing out names like Rip Taylor throws confetti. (A dated reference for some of you younger folks, I know. Please hand me my cane and shut up. 🙂 ) As the election neared, the speculations increased. Here’s a partial list of papal candidates thrown out by just one Self-Appointed Prophet hoping to catch the next pope in his pronouncements as the countdown closed: Taracisio Bertone, Peter Erdo, Kurt Koch, Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Marc Ouellet, Odilio Pedro Scherer, Christoph Schönborn, Peter Turkson. (You’ll notice that Jorge Bergoglio — now known as Pope Francis I — is not on that list.) And the speculated reasons for such individuals from the Non-Prophet was just as robust: The presence of the name “Peter” (based on the Malarkey prophecy hoax–misspelling intentional), the growth of the RCC in Africa, the European origins of the individual, the Italian origins of the individual, the Germanic origins of the individual, the importance of Central and South America to the RCC, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.

A LOT of personal speculation. Again, no problem. People speculate. Real Prophets generally don’t need to, but Prophets are human beings and surely they would (though whether they would make the majority of their public discussion their own personal speculations is another matter). I, myself, remember thinking, “Hmmm… I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked someone to appeal to the growing Latin American demographic.” When Bergoglio was picked, I certainly didn’t suddenly declare myself the heir to Elijah. 🙂

(An interesting aside: I actually saw a fellow’s comment on a mainstream news blog–Yahoo, I think–who said, before the pope’s election, that he hoped the new pope would name himself Francis I, due to the hopeful symbolism the name would embody. And, of course, the Jorge Bergolio did just that. That didn’t make the blog commenter a prophet. More important, I didn’t see a follow up comment where he claimed a prophet gift. It’s a rare level of pride that takes a person to such places where they are so easily willing to “appoint” themselves prophets…)

So, speculation: no problem.

BUT, where the difference comes in is when the speculation fails or succeeds — that is, when it is finally shown to be either wrong or right.

If the Non-Prophet’s speculation is wrong, then generally you won’t hear about it again. After all, real prophecies are never truly wrong and thus real Prophets should never have the need to say that something God has shown them would happen was actually wrong. Personal speculation is not a main feature of their public pronouncements, so there isn’t much to apologize about.

However, if the speculation is right, things often go very differently! Then, the speculation becomes “evidence” that the Non-Prophet has special, God-given insight! Sometimes it is stated in a subtle way, as in “If you recall, back in 2010 [or 2007 or 2011 or 2004 or whatever] I said blah, blah, blah which has now happened.” Of course, they don’t say, “And I also said blah, blah, blah which, as we all know, didn’t come true.” (Unless they can add an “at least, not yet” which is a great cover-all, also.) I say “subtle” but, really, it isn’t that subtle. Especially if they do it time and time again, which some will do. And sometimes they will also cut-and-paste a little excerpt of what they said to bolster the fact that they had “predicted’ what is now happening — with any wrong parts removed, of course.

Sometimes they become even more blatant and reference their speculation as “evidence” of special divine insight in a completely-not-subtle-in-any-way fashion, as in including it in a list of their “Successful Predictions” that are somehow supposed to convince others of their Personal Prophetic and Predictive Powers.

For instance, a S.A.P. might claim, “Before the election of Pope Francis, I predicted that the growing Latin American demographic would very possibly lead to a Latin American cardinal being elected!” The “very possibly” aside (another technique to be discussed another time), the statement would then be simultaneously true and misleading–and the devil loves that sort of tool! It would be true, because the Non-Prophet actually did make a statement about that possibility. But it would be misleading because that statement was made amidst many other speculative statements which turned out to be false.

Then, the super-weasely part: Should someone call the Non-Prophet on the now-false statements, he can always say, “Well, that was personal speculation! Can’t a guy speculate?”

Of course a guy can speculate. But if he wants his false speculations ignored and not considered evidence against his supposed “prophetic” gift, then he can’t turn around and have his other speculations count as evidence for his supposed “prophetic” gift.

That’s why I call it the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. If it turns out wrong, even if he is called on it, the Non-Prophet steps in the “Well, it was only speculation” direction. If it turns out right, then he steps in the “Well, see, I told you that would (might) happen!” direction. Eat cake, and have cake. A great deal!

[Aside: You see the same thing in some advertisements and books by stock investment “geniuses” — they report some amazing investment gains (300%! 450%! 1,293%!) for some stocks they invested in using their “strategy.” But they don’t mention the ones that bombed. And if called on it, “Well, hey, it’s the stock market — you can’t win all the time! What do you expect?” (Which is why they are selling books instead of sitting on their vast stock market-based wealth…)]

Here’s another example I’ve seen in the wild (paraphrased in my own words): “The Bible says that your women will rule over you, so I would not be surprised at all if Mrs. Hillary Clinton runs for office and becomes President of the United States. She’s already fulfilled that prophecy in other ways, as a senator and as Secretary of State, but don’t be surprised if she runs for the office of Chief Executive, as well. I’ve often said she might do this.”

This actually illustrates multiple Non-Prophet techniques, but let’s focus on the one at hand: The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. If Mrs. Clinton were not to run for office or to run and not win and choose to stop seeking the office and another Mr. Male-type-person were elected, our Non-Prophet can always say, “Well, that was simply my speculation. She’s fulfilled prophecy in other ways–I was simply speculating on how far she might go.” Yet, if Mrs. Clinton were to win, you can guarantee that the Non-Prophet would say at the earliest opportunity, “You’ll note that back in [whatever year], I wrote about Mrs. Clinton running and winning the Presidency.” The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step. Ignore what I said if it ends up wrong, but be sure to notice what I said if it ends up right.

However, God didn’t intend for those claiming to be Prophets to both eat their cake and have it, too. If having some successful speculations is supposed to be evidence of possession of the divinely given gift of prophecy and the actual office of Prophet, then having failed speculations should be evidence against the gift and the office.

The gift of prophecy–in the sense of receiving information directly from God and not through Scripture–is a lot more than insight and decent (or indecent) speculation. Otherwise, most of the Self-Appointed Prophets out there actually have less claim to a divine title than many secular, carnal news-watchers or investors. Unless Warren Buffett’s “title” as the Oracle of Omaha is actually a divine office, then a hit-and-miss approach to speculating about the future is hardly evidence of anything but “Hey, I can read the Bible and watch the news” status.

In reality, anyone who watches the news can generate a list of speculations. It takes no special skill. And anyone can then make a smaller list of those speculations that turned out great. But if such a list is supposed to mean that the speculator is a Prophet, then we are surrounded by prophets — they write for our newspapers and talk on our 24-hour news channels. If we must disregard all of their mistaken pronouncements as “only speculations” but must look at their successful pronouncements as “evidence of inspiration” then we’ve got more “Prophets” in our midst than at any time in history — and there ain’t much special about it.

Don’t let anyone get away with that. Actually pronouncing a real-life, committed, specific prophecy — versus throwing out a speculation — is meant to be risky business. A real prophecy is meant to be held up to strong standards and to say something about the one giving the prophecy (and, thus, if there is One behind him or her). Don’t let someone do the Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step on you, dancing around the implications of Deuteronomy 18:22 and other scriptures. Stick with the Texas Two-Step. It’s a much more pleasant dance, and, well, you know: “Texas.” 🙂

EDIT: Just hit me that I should probably add links to these for previous items. The last one was “Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology.

This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn't! So, does that make ma a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology

This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn't! So, does that make ma a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)
This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn’t! So, does that make me a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)

I have thought for some time that it would be fun to make a tongue-in-cheek series of posts titled “How To Be a Convincing False Prophet 101” in which I list common techniques of Non-Prophets or S.A.P.’s (Self-Appointed Prophets) to appear powerfully predictive and prophetic when, in reality, they are absolutely not in any way.

However, I have been trying to reign in that impulse to be tongue-in-cheek so often. It isn’t an evil impulse in and of itself, but it does risk spraining the tongue and bruising the cheek if done too often. But the information about the techniques such Non-Prophets use is still worthwhile, so today I list one: “Arbitrage through Tautology.”

In my studies as an actuary, arbitrage opportunities in investment were one of the elements we examined, looking at how a perfect theoretical market allows no arbitrage. Arbitrage is essentially a risk-free profit opportunity. It should never exist in a perfect market, because there is supposed to be an inviolable relationship between risk and reward: No risk = no reward; greater risk = greater potential reward (or failure). Wikipedia (“Always right, except when it’s not!”™) describes arbitrage very simply: “the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost” In that way, the name fits the technique I am about to mention perfectly: Non-prophet arbitrage is the possibility of risk-free “prophecy” at zero cost. (Except the cost isn’t truly zero, since it destroys your credibility among those who are paying attention…)

Consider the following statement — a mercifully paraphrased version of a statement actually seen in the wild: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the antichrist.”

Wow! Sounds powerful and prophetic! Except that it is neither powerful nor prophetic. It is actually contains virtually no information whatsoever and is a risk-free pronouncement since it is virtually a tautology — that is, a statement that must be true and cannot be false. In rhetoric, a tautology is a statement that is constructed in such a way that it appears to be saying something when, in the end, it really says nothing. For instance, had someone said last year, “I can tell you one thing, either President Obama will win in 2012 or else he won’t,” he would, in the end, be saying exactly nothing. Of course the President will either win the election or he won’t. In the late 80s, the proper response to such a statement was, “No duh.” (And I note that James Taranto of the WSJ’s “Best of the Web Today” feature consistently mocks such statements in the news under his regular “Out on a Limb” feature.)

This explains why statements about the pope such as that one are neither powerful nor prophetic in any way. They are, instead, what experts call “super-duper wimpy” (a technical theological term).

Let’s look at it: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the final antichrist.”

Given that the pope is in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, this statement is virtually a tautology — a statement that cannot be false in any way. For instance, consider the universe of possibilities:

1) The next pope is the final antichrist. Done! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2) The next pope is not the final antichrist. Is still correct! Look at possibilities:

2A) The next pope continues Catholic teachings as they are. Done! Time moves forward, the stage continues to be set for the final antichrist, and the way continues to be paved! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2B) The next pope changes things. Well, if he changes them in a way that would make things more like what one would picture concerning the final antichrist: Done! The way continues to be paved, only faster. But, if he changes them in a way that would seem to resist the sort of arrangement that the future final antichrist would want: Still done! His actions resist the direction of the final antichrist. In both cases, non-prophet is “proven” correct.

Really, how can such a statement be false? It can’t be. No matter what happens, the “statement” is correct. It’s risk-free and completely non-prophetic. It’s a gutless statement that makes a mockery of the biblical office of Prophet.

Now, it isn’t that statements such as that don’t have a function in instruction, such as in clarifying the universe of choices for a person in terms they can understand. I do it all the time with my kids. But when it comes to prophecy, they are pointless. One might as well go to Disneyland, point at the guy wearing the Mickey suit and say, “If he lives long enough, Mickey Mouse either will be the final antichrist, will support the final antichrist, or will be against the final antichrist.” Given that in the context of biblical prophecy, neutrality is not an option, such a statement is going to be true no matter what happens in the future. And when a pronouncement is just as true of Mickey Mouse as it is the pope, you don’t have a Prophet in your midst.

And, importantly, when someone makes such a statement and then points back to it (“See, I said that the next pope might pave the way for the final antichrist!”), they are making no substantive claim whatsoever. Though claiming prophecy-proving fruits, in reality they are making no claim at all. Their previous comment was completely devoid of information, so they were making a risk-free statement: Creating a cost-free, risk-free arbitrage opportunity for themselves. Not exactly the biblical model for prophetic statements. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s neither prophecy nor even carnal “prediction” — it’s just wasted words.

Yet, as I mentioned, it isn’t truly cost-free. When such statements are made, those who are thinking will notice and will understand the spirit that motivates them, and it isn’t a “prophetic” one. And the Non-Prophet will lose credibility. At least, we should hope so.

I’ll consider posting more such deceptive techniques in the future, and regrettably “Arbitrage through Tautology” is only one of many. The Bible says that there would be many false prophets in the end times seeking to deceive God’s people and coming in Christ’s name (e.g., Matt. 7:15-20; 24:4-5, 11; 2 Peter 2:1; et al.), and they may be sincere — not just deceiving, but self-deceived, as well (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13), since Jeremiah 17:9 applies to all of us — but as Mr. Armstrong frequently said, one can be sincere but sincerely wrong. Frankly, such wishy-washy, risk-free tautologies aren’t necessarily crafted by people out to deceive in many cases — often the statement is simply an outgrown of the person’s own inner doubts and the fact that they are not, actually, a prophet. So in expressing all the possibilities they need to express in order to ensure they will be correct, the result is a tautology that never will be — the only kind of guaranteed “prophecy” a plain old, human, carnal mind can come up with.

Making statements and pronouncements that sound impressive but, in reality, are wishy-washy and cannot truly ever be false because they cover every realistic possibility does not a Prophet make. But for a Non-Prophet wanting to look prophetic, they do great.

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New TW Short: “The Gathering Storm”

Very nice. I think we’re getting better at these shorts. Personally, I’d love to make one to enter the contest they announced this Sabbath.