Tim Callahan, author of the book Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Millennium Press: 1997), is in some ways a fair-minded and intelligent critic, but one still ill-informed. One cannot fail to be unimpressed with the source work: A mere seven encyclopedias, several Bibles, two Bible commentary sets (including one from 1929), and less than 20 total sources are used in support of the authors' own viewpoint.
In contrast, less than a dozen conservative works are used including McDowell's ETDAV and Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Callahan is apparently unaware that there are more capable warriors on the field for our side. (The fact that he uses the word "fundamentalist" throughout his work in a derisive manner - while never really defining it - suggests that he is a bit too inclined towards a desire to tweak the "religious right".)
Here is what we shall cover:
Callahan's Preface, Introduction, and Chapters 1 through 3 will be reviewed.
Chapters 4 and 5, respectively, cover the same area as articles written at a different time, so we will link to those.
Chapter 6 is a brief introduction to apocalyptic literature that, while containing some material we find disagreeable, we will not address, for it should be obvious that such a broad topic cannot be adequately covered by Callahan in such a small space.
Chapter 7, on Daniel, we have covered elsewhere.
Chapters 8 through 10 - In these last three chapters, we have Callahan's expose' of the less desirable elements of "doomsday" Bible prophecy experts ranging from the "black helicopter" crowd to Hal Lindsey who interpret every world event in light of the Book of Revelation.
Our comments here shall be limited, because quite frankly, Callahan is correct in the overwhelming majority of his criticisms here. Nevertheless, we do not recommend Callahan's work on this subject except perhaps as a primer. The Christian reader is better served material noted here.)
We will not cover again objections that we have already covered on this sire, so if you happen to be reading along, check our Scripture Index (see left sidebar) if we pass over something you want to know about.
Preface and Introduction4
- Here's a chestnut from 2 Kings 2:23-4:
- On a more positive note, here is a compliment for Callahan. Many have been the Skeptics who have cited Ezekiel 4:12-15 -- the account of him baking bread over human dung -- as repulsive, disgusting, etc. We have noted that this is a case of imposing their own sanitary codes on an age that didn't share them, and often had little choice in the matter.
But Callahan makes a point on this that I truly applaud. He chides his fellow Skeptics gently for getting caught up in the "filthy" aspect of the story without understanding the context, which he says is "what we might call a form of performance art" . The comparison is an apt and a clever one.
- Less positively, here is an objection I've run across for the first time. Commenting on harmonization, Callahan writes:
If one verse in Judges says that the Israelites took the town of Jebus from the Canaanites and another verse says that they failed to take it, the two verses can no more be harmonized than can a red shirt with a green shirt) see Judges 1:8, 1:21, 19:11-12 and 2 Samuel 5:6-8).
Callahan does not quote these verses, but let's look at them, starting with 1:8 --
The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.
Clear enough? Perhaps - but look at verse 21:
The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
There are several things to notice here, however.
First of all, there is a difference between "taking" a city on the one hand and dislodging all of the previous inhabitants on the other. One might "take" a city, but fail to drive out all persons in it, perhaps on a calculation that to try to do so (i.e., to pass by harder defenses) would be more trouble than it is worth, or than is able to be done.
The Hebrew word here is lakad - "to catch". To lakad a city does not include driving out the inhabitants; indeed, Numbers 21:32 (see also 32:39; Deu. 2:34) suggests that these are or can be different activities:
After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured (lakad) its surrounding settlements and drove out (yarash) the Amorites who were there.
There is thus no contradiction at all between these two verses.
Now to the third cited by Callahan, Judges 19:11-12, and the fourth, 2 Samuel 5:6-8:
When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night." His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah."
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, "You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off." They thought, "David cannot get in here." Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. On that day, David said, "Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those 'lame and blind' who are David's enemies. " That is why they say, "The 'blind and lame' will not enter the palace."
With the above two verses resolved, there is really nothing to keep us from an effective harmonizing with these last two: In the intervening years between Judges 1 and 19, the Israelites lost their control of Jerusalem/Jebus. Holding a city was a much more difficult proposition for a hostile invading force in this day and age; ancient cities traded hands frequently, and this is not surprising in this case, because in between the Israelites suffered some pretty serious oppression from their neighbors.
- Callahan cites as a false prophecy Isaiah 17:1, where he says it "says that Damascus will become a heap of ruins" . A little later in the book  he also cites a verse that says that the cities of Damascus will be "deserted forever." Damascus is still thriving today, he says, so what's up with that?
He would probably grant that verse 1 is figurative for a loss of Damascus' power, and that's how we would look at it as well, but what about the second verse, saying that the heap is forever? Actually the verse says no such thing: The correct reading of the verse is "The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid." Aroer is a city in Moab, so it is generally thought that this verse has been misplaced from the oracle against Moab (chs. 15-16).
Callahan is apparently using some version that tried to make sense of this verse in the context of the Damascus oracle, but that's really not the likeliest solution. (It also explains why, as Callahan wonders, this "unfulfilled prophecy" is not mentioned by either Archer or McDowell in their books.)
- Callahan cites 1 Kings 13:32 --
For the message he declared by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true."
This is part of a prophecy in 1 Kings 13:2//2 Kings 23:15-18 that Callahan supposes to have been written "after the fact" - and we should note that in some cases, he does fairly state that whether some prophecies were real or written after the fact is a matter of choice rather than proof, which agrees with our assertions elsewhere.
In this case, however, he supposes that the mention of "Samaria" in the verse above proves that the prophecy 30 verses earlier was written after the fact, because "Samaria" was not used to refer to the northern kingdom as a whole (as opposed to merely the city by itself) until much later than this prophecy was supposed to have been made.
I would dispute that this is necessarily true -- one asks how it could possibly be known when exactly "Samaria" came into use in this way, and why this verse cannot be regarded simply as the first recorded instance of it - but even otherwise, one could suggest that only the phrase about Samaria was a later insertion of the sort often done in ancient texts.
- Callahan closes the introduction with a rather brief summary of the alleged problem of the incompatibility of free will and divine foreknowledge. One would be better served by consulting a work like Craig's The Only Wise God - if you can still dig it up.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
You can hear the argument by outrage at once, but more specifically, Callahan writes [TC.BPFF, x]:
There is really no way to interpret this story other than that God sanctions the killing or at least mauling of children for a sin as trivial as making fun of a bald-headed man. Is this a God anyone would care to worship?
Actually, yes. See now my corresponding films.
In chapter 1 of his book Callahan offers up a review of "who wrote the Bible" - and, not surprisingly considering the limited range of sources he uses, arrives at all of the usual conclusions supporting the JEDP theory, Q, etc.
Not that we expected him to re-invent the wheel, but perhaps he should have simply stated these matters as presuppositions and avoided any pretence of doing a careful analysis altogether. He has basically lifted concepts here from badly outdated general and biblical encyclopedias (with such whoppers as saying that Yahweh was "originally one of the gods of the Canaanite pantheon"[!] - 11) and presumed that they are still and all that is available.
- The first real issue we encounter deals with the extended passages of 1 Samuel 16:18 through 1 Samuel 18:2. Briefly, this is the place where David gets hired at Saul's court as harpist in chief, followed by the encounter with Goliath.
Callahan, apparently following some theorist of the JEDP school, parses these passages to obtain what he thinks are two independent and sensible stories [19ff].
But let's look at that issue more closely.
- Callahan notes these two verses, 1 Sam. 16:18-22 and 17:12-5 --
One of the servants answered, "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him." Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep." So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, "Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him."
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul's time he was old and well advanced in years. Jesse's three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's sheep at Bethlehem.
Callahan and/or his source find evidence of two different stories mashed into one here, inasmuch as in the first passage, David "seems to have already made himself a reputation as a warrior and has considerable sophistication," whereupon he is called to serve as Saul's armor-bearer. But in the latter verse, Callahan tells us, David is mentioned "as though he had not been mentioned before," saying that he was the 8th of Jesse's sons and that he shuttled back and forth between Jesse and Saul.
The use of the passage from Ch. 17 goes a bit further, but let's stop here a moment. Callahan and his source are correct in seeing two stories, but there's no need for a division that sees 16:21-3 continuing at 17:32. The true division and beginning of a new story is at 17:12.
The reason that David is mentioned "as though he had not been before" is that 17:12 begins a new unit that was undoubtedly originally an independent unit of oral tradition. It was told without the previous material having been told, so that introducing the main character anew is not the least bit extraordinary -- it is only when the introductory formula was included in the stage when the material was compiled in writing that it took an appearance that looked strange to our eyes.
Furthermore, there is a specific reason to make a note reminding us about Jesse and that David was the 8th of the sons. Note that only the three oldest sons are named, and that they followed Saul. Since Saul's three oldest sons served also (cf. 31:6), it is likely that there was some sort of "draft" that requested that fathers send their three oldest sons for the sake of the war.
Thus the passages make perfect sense together: David is being shuttled in and out of his position at court because he is needed at home to help replace the three eldest sons who are at war. That, of course, is the point in mentioning that Jesse is a bit on the oldish side. The accounts make perfect sense as they stand, once we account for the oral background of the stories.
But this is not Callahan's only recourse: He also cites these verses, 17:28-30 ---
When Eliab, David's oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, "Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle." "Now what have I done?" said David. "Can't I even speak?" He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.
Callahan says, "Here David is clearly unfamiliar with what Saul has said concerning Goliath." 
Yes, he is: No doubt he missed it being out on "shuttle launch", as the story, as a cohesive unit, clearly indicates.
Callahan then objects, however, that David's lines above "smacks of chronic, petty sibling rivalry" not suitable for a king's armor bearer and a man of valor.
First of all, if anyone's comment "smacks" of such rivalry, it is Eliab's, not David's. Any such "rivalry" must be read into the text.
Second, I think most of us with siblings will realize that it is quite possible to be one way with them and another way with our employers. Even if this happened to be a bit of whining on David's part, it hardly seems extraordinary in the tapestry of human reactions.
Callahan also goes on to suggest that David would not "be running around the camp pestering the soldiers" about the reward for killing Goliath, which simply reads too much into the text: Furthermore, many of these "soldiers" were likely to have been young men just as wet behind the ears as David was. Let us not have the impression of a tiny, loquacious punk in jeans and T-shirt bothering seasoned veterans in combat fatigues.
After this, Callahan makes the usual cite of these verses, 17:55-8:
As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, "Abner, whose son is that young man?" Abner replied, "As surely as you live, O king, I don't know." The king said, "Find out whose son this young man is." As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine's head. "Whose son are you, young man?" Saul asked him. David said, "I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem."
Callahan uses this to suppose that Saul does not know who David is. But the question is clearly, who is David's father, and note that David was only one of Saul's armor-bearers (16:21). We do not know how many of these there were under Saul, but if there were more than a few, say five or six, and if David had been away from court for a while, then it is certainly not surprising that in the heat of a pressed battle situation Saul happened to forget whose son was whose. However, we may suppose that the question was rhetorically designed for the sake of rounding off the story the same way it began in 17:12 --- something that makes perfect sense in an oral culture.
After this, Callahan finds inconsistency in that David is taken back into Saul's service (18:2), but the verse says "From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house." - in other words, the shuttle trips were at an end now. For more on this, see here.
- Callahan notes these two verses, 1 Sam. 16:18-22 and 17:12-5 --
- Here's another chestnut, involving the story above, along with verses (updated Nov 2010):
2 Sam. 21:19 In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod.
1 Chr. 20:5 In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod.
Many conservative commentators, like Archer, have supposed that in the first verse, "Lahmi the brother of" was somehow transformed into "the Bethlehemite". Alhtough I priorly considered this a suitable textual explanation, I am now persuaded that it requires more explanation (on this, see our response to Human Faces of God, ch. 7). Even so, Callahan's objections are not sufficient. He objects as follows (here, and now we add, in Secret Origins of the Bible ):
- First, he says, "Archer is using a method that he would scoff at if it were used by advocates" of the JEDP hypothesis. Indeed? Unless Callahan finds a place where Archer actually does this to an explanation of the same sort advanced by a JEDP theorist, he is merely making an ad hoc accusation.
- Second, he says he finds "no particular reason" to accept Archer's idea "over a more simple and direct one of a later writer trying to resolve an inconsistency."
Well, I do: It has to do with giving ancient documents the benefit of the doubt; it has to do with textual criticism; it has to do with not assuming that ancient people were too foolish to see the obvious. Archer's explanation is quite within the canons of textual criticism.
- Callahan wonders then why both Samuel and Chronicles use the "like a weaver's beam" in their conclusions. The use of the phrase elsewhere is exactly the sort of thing that would induce an errant scribe to use it elsewhere in an effort to make the text coherent, or make it more memorable in an oral-based society. Callahan's comment that a scribe would have to both move a portion of the word while leaving it there at the same time is mistaken -- this is a perfect description of a known type of textual error called dittography.
- Finally, Callahan objects that the explanation contradicts Archer's earlier assertion that "God kept the authors of the books, and by logical extension the editors of the canon, from error." Archer may or may not argue this, but it doesn't matter anyway. We do not believe that God preserved copyists from error. This is not asserted in any doctrinal statement on inerrancy (such as the Chicago Statement).
For the record, here is a summary of Archer's explanation: 1) a copyist first mistook the sign of the direct object before "Lahmi," which was '-t, for a b-t and got Bethelehemite; 2) the copyist also misread the word for "brother" ('-h) as the sign of the direct object before "Goliath" and made "Goliath" the object of "killed" instead of "brother" as Chronicles does; 3) the word "weavers" was also misplaced after "Elhanan" to make the name "son of the woods of weavers," which is quite an unlikely name.
- Callahan next finds disharmony in 2 Chronicles 28:20 --
Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help.
This, he says, is "at variance with 2 Kings" as well as being "at odds with history as well. Tiglath-Pileser never attacked Judah." 
No, he did not, and this verse does not say he did. The very next verse goes on to say: "Ahaz took some of the things from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace and from the princes and presented them to the king of Assyria, but that did not help him."
One of the big problems here is that Callahan is using a version that interprets 28:20 as saying that Tiglath "came against" Ahaz rather than strengthening him -- this does not refer to a military excursion but to the pagan religious influence of the Assyrians which Ahaz fell to. The Chronicles writer (probably Ezra) knew very well that Tiglath had come to the military aid of Ahaz (for he had the book of Kings as a source); but in the day of this writer, such help from pagan enemies was not to be highlighted. Rather, it was the spiritual results that were to be put forward, and in that respect, Tiglath was a decidedly bad influence on King Ahaz.
Ezra did not want to leave any implication that a pagan king had "helped" -- especially not the king of a land that had been bad news for Jews in another time-frame.
- Turning to the NT, Callahan accepts uncritically all of the usual arguments re Q, Markan priority, and evangelistic freedom; he cites all of the usual bits re Mark's alleged ignorance of geography, and this verse, Mark 10:12:
And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.
This is said by many, including Callahan , to indicate that the evangelists felt free to alter Jesus' words: A woman was not allowed to divorce her husband under Jewish law; therefore, this must have been added later for the sake of Mark's Roman readers. But there are a number of factors that count against pure invention.
First, obviously, "there's a law against it" does not equal "it didn't happen"; else we need to empty out our prisons.
Second, we know from Josephus that one of the Herodian queens did indeed divorce her husband, as Josephus points out, in spite of this regulation - and it may be that Jesus had this very event in mind.
Third, a Jewish woman could always get a divorce under Roman law. It would get her thrown out of Judaism, but if they were appealing to the Romans in the first place, we can be pretty sure they didn't care.
Mark may be reporting one of several versions of Jesus' teaching on divorce, or, he may have taken a separate observation by Jesus and arranged it topically with the other material. But there is absolutely no reason to suppose that he invented the saying out of whole cloth for the sake of his readers.
- Callahan also wonders about the "loss" of other letters written by Paul. "Anything from the hand of Paul would likely have been considered inspired had it survived," he tells us. 
Since it is likely that Paul himself was the one that did the choosing, however, this poses no problem at all. (See Appendix to this article.)
- And of course, there are all the usual objections about the authorship of the Pastorals and Christian doctrine supposedly not being formulated until Nicea; as well as a few arguments by Christian commentators that I do not care to defend. Thus does Chapter 1 end.
In this chapter Callahan tells us "How to Think About the Bible." It is a review of the nature and function of prophets and prophecy along with a good serving of basic history of the sort one might find in an encyclopedia. As such, it is generalized and contains little that we need to address, and little that we have not addressed before. The objection about Jepthah's daughter is present and accounted for. Here's a new one, about 2 Kings 3:27 --
Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.
The "he" here is the king of Moab, who is taking on the Israelites and was losing pretty badly up to this point. Callahan sees this verse as evidence that Yahweh was at one time a mere tribal deity, not the overall Creator, and "the Israelites believed that Yahweh had no power in Moab" against Chemosh, the Moabite god - for otherwise, what is the "wrath" here, and why would they withdraw in the face of victory?
There is one big thing that speaks against this "wrath" being from Chemosh - in this war against Moab, Israel was not alone: They were accompanied by the Edomites and by the armies of Judah, and there is no indication that either of these armies had to take a break from the field.
However, Herzog and Gichon in Battles of the Bible  provide the answer: Child sacrifice was often performed in the ANE because of imminent plague. The Israelites would have interpreted the sacrifice as an indication that plague was already in the city, and therefore would have made haste to leave as soon as possible.
The word for "wrath" means indignation or strife, and "against" is a preposition that can mean among, between, concerning, or through.
In this chapter Callahan devotes attention to the earlier prophets. He accepts uncritically arguments about the division of Isaiah (his main source for this is from 1895 - for a brief look at the unity of Isaiah, see here). Let's have a look at some specifics.
- The first verse of concern is Isaiah 7:16 --
But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
The two lands referred to here are Syria and Israel. Callahan acknowledges that Syria fell in time, but claims that Israel did not - for Samaria fell in 722 BC, 10 years after Syria, and the boy would have been beyond the age of "knowing enough to reject the right and wrong."
Or would he? Some commentators place this age at 12 (which would fit the fulfillment sufficiently); we would say for our own children at age 3, but recall that the age of 12 is special in Judaism. Since it could go other way, Callahan's criticism cannot be accorded any validity.
- Along the same lines, Isaiah 8:4 is noted:
"Before the boy knows how to say 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria."
This prophecy is declared false because the child "would have spoken his first words even before the fall of Damascus." 
This may or may not be true: A child may speak understandable words at a very early age, or may wait until as long as age 3 to do so. Isaiah made this prophecy around 1 1/2 to 2 years before the fall of Damascus, and it was about a year more before Assyria invaded Israel, replacing king Pekah with Hoshea and in all likelihood taking some plunder with them. (Note that two different Hebrew words are used for wealth and plunder, the latter indicating spoils of war, not conquest.)
- Also in the same set, Isaiah 7:18 --
In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.
This prophecy is said to be false because Egypt did not occupy Judah, but this is not what the verse is saying at all. It merely indicates a forthcoming battle between these two foes, which did happen in 701 BC.
- Noted a little later (past some arguments we need not deal with) is Isaiah 39:6-7, a prophecy to Hezekiah:
"The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
Callahan has a version that uses "sons" instead of "descendants" - hence he supposes  that this was not fulfilled entirely since none of Hezekiah's actual sons went to Babylon.
- A brief note is also in order in regards to one of Callahan's observations on the sequence of events in Is. 36-39. He objects that events are reported out of order, inasmuch as the death of Sennacherib at the hands of his sons (37:38) took place some 20 years after events recorded in Isaiah. 
From this he draws certain conclusions against the validity of the prophecies therein, but they are all superfluous: He is expecting history to be done in strictly chronological order in a time when the process of writing history was still under construction. In this time, it was also possible to write history topically rather than according to strict chronology.
Thus the writer here simply "took care of business" by tying up the loose end of Sennacherrib's story right there and then, rather than placing it in a chronological order according to the events he reports.
Regarding the same passages, Callahan argues against validity by noting that parts of what was written is "copied verbatim from 2 Kings". That Isaiah might have written first is dismissed because "the common material is in prose and is in the style of 2 Kings, whereas the prophecies of Isaiah were mostly in poetic form."
Well, one wonders what it is that could possibly have kept Isaiah from writing in both poetic and prose form, but either way, Callahan's case is pretty thin to rest on only two verses from each book (2 Kings 20:16-18; Is. 39:5-7). This type of argument is simply baseless, and has long been abandoned by sensible Biblical scholars - though not some of the scholars referred to by Callahan.
- Finally from Chapter 3, we have a matter from this verse, Micah 2:12 --
"I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people."
This prophecy is declared "obviously false" because "Those taken into exile from Israel by Assyria never returned."  But the prediction is not to the people then alive, but to "Israel" the corporate entity. It is fulfilled if ANY members of the nation return, and that indeed happened.