What are the Odds?

According to the Hebrew requirement that a prophecy must have a 100 percent rate of accuracy, the true Messiah of Israel must fulfill them all or else he is not the Messiah. So the question that either vindicates Jesus or makes him culpable for the world’s greatest hoax is, did he fit and fulfill these Old Testament prophecies?

Let’s look at two of the specific prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament.

“You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” (Micah 5:2, NLT)

“The Lord himself will choose [a] sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel-‘God is with us.'” (Isaiah 7:14, NLT)

Now, before considering the other 59 prophecies, you have to stop and ask yourself how many people in the category of potential Messiah throughout history were born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem. “Well, let’s see, there’s my neighbor George, but … no, never mind; he was born in Brooklyn.” In the case of 61 detailed prophecies being fulfilled by one person, we are talking about virtually impossible odds.

When forensic scientists discover a DNA profile match, the odds of having the wrong person is frequently less than one in several billion (something for deviants to keep in mind). It would seem we are in the same neighborhood of odds, and numbers of zeros, in considering a single individual fulfilling these prophecies.

Professor of mathematics Peter Stoner gave 600 students a math probability problem that would determine the odds for one person fulfilling eight specific prophecies. (This is not the same as flipping a coin eight times in a row and getting heads each time.) First the students calculated the odds of one person fulfilling all the conditions of one specific prophecy, such as being betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver. Then the students did their best to estimate the odds for all of the eight prophecies combined.

The students calculated that the odds against one person fulfilling all eight prophecies are astronomical-one in ten to the 21st power (1021). To illustrate that number, Stoner gave the following example: “First, blanket the entire Earth land mass with silver dollars 120 feet high. Second, specially mark one of those dollars and randomly bury it. Third, ask a person to travel the Earth and select the marked dollar, while blindfolded, from the trillions of other dollars.”¹

People can do some pretty squishy things with numbers (especially with a last name like that), so it’s important to note that Stoner’s work was reviewed by the American Scientific Association, which stated, “The mathematical analysis … is based upon principles of probability which are thoroughly sound, and Professor Stoner has applied these principles in a proper and convincing way.” ²

With that as an introduction, let’s add six more predictions to the two we’ve already considered, giving us a total of Professor Stoner’s eight:

Prophecy: The Messiah would be from the lineage of King David.
Jeremiah 23:5
600 B.C.
Fulfillment: “Jesus … the son of David …”
Luke 3:23, 31
4 B.C.
Prophecy: The Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver.
Zechariah 11:13
487 B.C.
Fulfillment: “They gave him thirty pieces of silver.”
Matthew 26:15
30 A.D.
Prophecy: The Messiah would have his hands and feet pierced.
Psalm 22:16
1000 B.C.
Fulfillment: “They came to a place called The Skull. All three were crucified there-Jesus on the center cross, and the two criminals on either side.”
Luke 23:33
30 A.D.
Prophecy: People would cast lots for the Messiah’s clothing.
Psalm 22:18
1000 B.C.
Fulfillment: “The soldiers … took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said, ‘Let’s not tear it but throw dice to see who gets it.’ ”
John 19:23-24
30 A.D.
Prophecy: The Messiah would appear riding on a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9
500 B.C.
Fulfillment: “They brought the animals to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.”
Matthew 21:7
30 A,D.
Prophecy: A messenger would be sent to herald the Messiah.
Malachi 3:1
500 B.C.
Fulfillment: John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not know.”
John 1:26
27 A.D.

The eight prophecies we’ve reviewed about the Messiah were written by men from different times and places between about 500 and 1,000 years before Jesus was born. Thus there was no opportunity for collusion among them. Notice too, the specificity.

Bible scholars tell us that nearly 300 references to 61 specific prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The odds against one person fulfilling that many prophecies would be beyond all mathematical possibility. It could never happen, no matter how much time was allotted. One mathematician’s estimate of those impossible odds is “one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion.”³


¹Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 97-110.

²Stoner, 5.

³Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 262.


The above post was excerpted from the Y-Jesus article The Path of the Prophets: Was Jesus the Messiah?