Guest Blogger: Pastor Dan- What are the Odds?
From the middle of March into the first couple days of April, I’m a basketball fan. Filling out a March Madness bracket for the NCAA tournament is one way that I stay connected to my friends all across the country. I ended last year’s tournament with, having successfully predicted the outcome of 24.8% of the games. With that much accuracy, I was ranked 8,283,617th among people using ESPN.com to manage their brackets. I have won my group in the past, but it doesn’t happen often.
I really enjoy hearing people talk about how they make their picks for the tournament. Charlotte will pick Charlotte, whenever they make it into the tournament. I’ve been known to pick Weber St. for at least one win. Some people pick based on geography. You might pick based on mascots (dogs over cats). And I know several people who make their predictions based on jersey color. “I like blue, so I picked Duke to win it all.”
No matter how many games you watch or how much time you spend studying statistics, there can always be that “Cinderella Team” that nobody saw coming. We can make all kinds of assertions about what will happen, but we don’t actually know. Our predictions or prophecies all turn out to be [informed?] guesses.
Because Jesus predicted his crucifixion and resurrection over and over again (as in Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), and it happened, I’d like to share a little bit about predictions in the Bible which are fulfilled in Jesus. (If you are interested, I have many resources in my office detailing all the prophecies in Scripture, as well as books that much more fully develop the thoughts below.) My goal here is to give you a glimpse of what it means that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy.
To accomplish that goal, I’ll need to throw a few numbers at you. (If you don’t like math, you have my permission to jump down to the last paragraph for the bottom line.)
Court cases will sometimes rely on the statistician’s “product rule.” The “product rule” is a way of looking at the probable occurrence of mutually independent events. In “Tourney Talk,” the probability of both Butler defeating Texas and Oregon defeating Oklahoma State can be reasonably estimated. If we say that each team has a 50/50 chance at winning, then the chance of Butler winning is 1/2, and the chance of Oregon winning is also 1/2, then the chance of both of them winning is 1/4. If we were to add 6 more teams to our equation, the odds of all 8 winning (again, assuming a 50/50 chance for each game) would be 1/256. In math lingo, it looks like this: 1/xn (where 1/x is the probability of a single event, and n is the number of independent games/events).
For the sake of simplifying this (simple for who?), let’s just say that the Old Testament makes 25 predictions about the Christ. Some of these predictions seem wild, like “the virgin will conceive.” Others seem pretty ordinary, like “out of Egypt I called my son.” So, for the sake of the argument, let’s just say that there’s a 1 in 4 chance of any given person meeting that requirement. In other words, 1 out of every 4 people might be called out of Egypt at some point. And 1 out of every 4 people might be born of a virgin. But we want to look at the chance of someone both being born of a virgin and being called out of Egypt. 1/42 (a 1 in 4 chance, over the course of 2 events) gives us a probability of 1/16. So there’s a 1 in 16 chance that person might be both born of a virgin and called out of Egypt. For the sake of argument, I’ve obviously given very generous odds.
But keeping those same generous odds (that is, there being a 1 in 4 chance that a given person might fulfill an OT prophecy about the Christ), what is the likelihood that Jesus would meet many of the predictions? What about 25 predictions? As you may know, the Old Testament makes far more than 25, but this number will make the point. If there’s a 1 in 4 chance that any given person will satisfy any single prediction, and if there are 25 independent predictions, our equation looks like this: 1/425. And the result is this: 1 in a thousand trillion. Or in scientific notation: 1.12589991 × 1015. Or like this: 1,125,899,910,000,000.
(To put that number into some context, you’d be more than 500 times more likely to find a single particular fish in the ocean. And you’d have much better odds of taking a pair of dice and rolling snake eyes 50 times in a row. And to tie it back to the Tourney, you’re about 100 times more likely to pick the winner of every single game for the entire tournament.)
Adding more of the OT prophecies, along with making the odds more realistic, would only make that number even more astronomical. The odds that one man could fulfill all that the Old Testament predicted are essentially zero. And yet, by God’s power, He can and does accomplish everything He predicts. Most notably, Jesus predicted the empty tomb, and it happened. And when He promises that your tomb will one day be empty, you can know it’s true.
And even though He doesn’t promise that Gonzaga will win many games this March, it would sure help my bracket.