QUESTIONS/ANSWERS FROM THE QUESTION FORUM
Group Number 54
The following is brother Blakely's answer to a self appointed critic of Scripture. This individual questioned that Jesus was born of a virgin, stating that Matthew's reference to Isaiah 7:14 was a feeble attempt to justify the untenable view that Mary was a virgin. He appealed to the Hebrew meaning of the word translated "virgin," and emphatically denies Isaiah's prophecy had anything to do with Jesus. Some of his affirmations include the following:
"Prophecy is a muddy science, and Bible prophecy more muddy than most. . . . More to the point nearly all modern commentaries agree with Talmudic scholars that Isaiah's "sign" had nothing to do with a messiah. . . . It is clear, however, that... Isaiah 7:14 did not speak of the miraculous birth of Jesus centuries later.... The sign of Immanuel offered by the prophet to Ahaz had to do with the imminent birth of a child, of a mother known to Ahaz and Isaiah, and signified God's presence with his people . . . Of course, the author of the Gospel of Matthew had a vested interest in the nascent church and wanted to ground the new Christian mythos in Jewish prophecy whenever possible . . . Almost all scholars agree this "Matthew" was not the apostle but rather a Greek-speaking Christian living in or near Antioch of Syria, who wrote about A.D. 90, about two generations after the crucifixion . . . Also, of course, the early Christians would have liked a virgin-born savior anyway, out of sheer competitiveness, because so many other rival religions had one . . . All things considered, it is hardly surprising that "Matthew" would pull Isaiah a bit out of context and try to wring a new meaning from it . . . The various titles ascribed to him, such as "Prince of Peace" and "Everlasting Father," were apparently honorifics used by the ancient Jews for favorite kings. (You find the same sort of bread-buttering in Egyptian hymns to the pharaoh and in Babylonian royal eulogies.)"
Prophecy is a muddy science, and Bible prophecy more muddy than most.
Indeed, this is true IF prophecy is approached as a "science" – man's attempt to observe and classify. But, is this a valid view of prophecy? What rule of reasoning compels any of us to reject what the Scripture has said about prophecy? "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (1 Pet 1:20-21). What law of reasoning makes it incumbent for us to accept this man's reasoning and reject the affirmation of Scripture? Some of us choose to accept the truth of Scripture and reject the suppositions of its opponents. The duration Scripture is like a rock next to these little puffs of smoke emitting from its critics.
The only reason this man says prophecy is "muddy," is because it does not fit into his frame of reference or agree with the tenets he has embraced. But, this is of no consequence to those who have faith in God. Idle affirmations like the one above are weightless motes on the balance of eternity. They have no real consequence, and will themselves he judged by the very God they have impugned.
A moot point. For reasons stated earlier, we cannot use the child in Isaiah 9:6 as a bridge connecting Immanuel to Jesus. As Old Testament prophecies of the Christian Messiah go, this one, like so many others, has been overrated.
The seemingly scholarly approach to the understanding of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6 omits one key factor: GOD HIMSELF. The understanding of Scripture does not come through etymological research. Were that the case, the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day would have had the edge in understanding Scripture.
The words of First Peter 1:20-21 are clear, even from a linguistic viewpoint. "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." Scripture is Divinely intentional. No part of it was originated by men, but they were moved along through the Holy Spirit to record matters relevant to the great working of God. This means what Matthew said was not his interpretation, as the pretended expounder suggests. Rather, the superfluous interpretation is coming from him and those he has chosen as scholarly colleagues. If a person does not believe this, he should withdraw his efforts to speak of Scripture, for they have no relevance whatsoever apart from God Himself.
Secondly, the elaborate study that is offered concerning "'almah" is a frail straw man. The word 'almah is a general word denoting a young woman. It can be a virgin, one of marriageable age, or one newly married -- just like we would use the expression "young woman." The writer, being a purported expert in the Hebrew language, should know this. Nothing about the word itself suggests the exclusion of the young woman being a virgin--in fact, the word itself allows for this, even though the objector does not. He writes as though a young woman could NOT be a virgin, or that if she was one, it violated the use of this word. But that is an absurd notion that will stand neither the tests of linguistics nor Biblical understanding. No principle of language will confirm the erroneous supposition that 'almah cannot mean a virgin.
Matthew's reference to Isaiah's prophecy was more of an appeal to "Immanuel" than to "virgin." His particular point was that Jesus was actually "God with us." That is why he expounded on the word "Immanuel" rather than virgin. Later, he made a point of Mary's virginity by saying of Joseph, he "knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus" (Matt 1:25). The conception of the Holy Child is specifically said to be "of the Holy Spirit" "before" she came together with Joseph in intimacy (Matt 1:18). In referring to Mary, both Matthew and Luke say she was "a virgin" (parthenos) – Matt 1:23; Luke 1:27. As the objector already knows, "parthenos" does mean a virgin, whether woman or man–one who has maintained chastity.
Secondly, prophecy often has a dual significance, having a preliminary fulfillment and an ultimate one as well. Isaiah's prophecy can refer to a young woman giving birth in his time, as well as one giving birth some 700-800 years later. A similar type of prophecy is made by Hosea. 'When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hos 11:1). Hosea was referencing the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Matthew, whom the writer views as uninspired, states the prophecy was fulfilled by Joseph taking Mary and the young child Jesus out of Egypt after the death of Herod (Matt 2:14). Both deliverances were real, and a single text spoke of them. No law of interpretation or language forbids such a conclusion.
As to the use of the word 'almah not suggesting the idea of virginity, I do not know how such a supposition can be supported. Is the writer suggesting that Rebekah could not have been a virgin (Gen 24:43), even though she was not married? Is he suggesting she was promiscuous and immoral? What is there about the text concerning Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus 2:8) that demands the conclusion she could not have been a virgin? And what is there about the "maidens" that are said to play timbrels in Psalm 68:25 that infers they could not have been virgins? And, what has led the writer to assume that "the way of a man with a maiden" (Prov 30:19) means she was not a virgin before that? Were all of the maidens said to desire Solomon (Song of Sol 1:3) non-virgins? Had they all been with men before? And what would lead one to such a conclusion? One might as well affirm that no teenage girl, young lady, or young woman could be a virgin, as to say the word 'almah cannot refer to a virgin?
As to the use of the word "bethuwlah," if virginity is inherent in the word itself, why, in reference to Rebekah, is the word "bethuwlah" further qualified by the words, "whom no man had known" (Gen 24:16)? And, why are the "four hundred young virgins" of Judges 21:12 described were women "who had not known man by lying with him." Jeremiah refers to the ancient people as "the virgin (bethuwlah) Israel," charging them with being unfaithful to God and sacrificing to idols (Jer 18:13; 46:11). All of this certainly does not deny the primary use of "bethuwlah" refers to a state of moral chastity. It confirms, however, that an affirmation of Scripture, such as Matthew 1:22-23, cannot be overturned by appealing to a fixed-in-stone word definition.
(the more precise Hebrew word for "virgin") nonuse in the "Immanuel" passage is a rather loud hint that Isaiah spoke only of a young
woman, not specifically of a virgin.
The Immanuel passage was fulfilled in Mary, who was a young woman. Scripture (Matthew and Luke) further clarify beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was a virgin. The point is not a linguistic definition of Isaiah's word, but the clear declaration of the Gospel. In keeping with the very principle of Messianic prophecy, the prophecy is clarified and expounded in the Gospel.
More to the point, nearly all modern commentaries agree with Talmudic scholars that Isaiah's "sign" had nothing to do with a messiah.
The true Commentator is the Holy Spirit, not the self-appointed critics of Scripture or Talmudic scholars. He moved Matthew to say Isaiah's prophecy DID have something to do with the Messiah. Matthew himself declares his book has to do with "the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matt 1:1). If a person chooses to deny this to be the case, he must convince us that Matthew has imposed his personal opinion upon us, and was not inspired by God at all. In that effort, we have far less regard for his writings, and those upon which he relies, than the writings of Matthew.
It is clear, however, that... Isaiah 7:14 did not speak of the miraculous birth of Jesus centuries later.
Clear to who? We already have a word from Matthew that states Isaiah's prophecy DID have to do with the birth of Jesus. If the writer is suggesting that an ominous sign cannot be fulfilled in two different circumstances, how can he substantiate such a claim? On one occasion, Caiaphas the High Priest said to those who suggested they allow Jesus to live, "You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish" (John 11:50). "It is clear," as our objector would say, that he was speaking of the death of Jesus as removing the pressure of the Roman government from them. Yet, even though he spoke these words with one intent, God meant it for another. As it is written, "He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:51-52).
Does the objector suggest that God could not use the words of Isaiah, a holy prophet, to fulfill two purposes? One for the encouragement of the prophet's generation, and one to speak to a coming generation? Will he apply the same rules of interpretation to the promise of an offspring to Abraham, which applied to both Isaac and Jesus (Gen 22:17-18; Gal 3:16)? Or, to David, which applied to both Solomon and Jesus (2 Sam 7:12-13; Acts 2:30)?
By contrast, nowhere in the New Testament did any character ever call Jesus Immanuel.
The purpose of the New Testament writings is not to merely repeat the writings that antedated it. Rather, it is to expound and delineate them. Of course, the book of Matthew, which is a new Testament writing, DOES refer to "Immanuel" – unless the objector chooses to affirm it is not "in the New Testament." And what conclave of "Bible scholars" will support that postulate?
Whether in Hebrews or in Greek, the word "Immanuel" means "God with us." That truth is repeatedly expounded in the New Testament writings. "God was in Christ" (2 Cor 5:19), "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:39), "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know" (Acts 2:22), "The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36), "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell" (Col 1:19), "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10), "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves" (John 14:11), "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1,14), " . . . believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John 10:38). "At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you," (John 14:20), and "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You" (John 17:21).
Almost all scholars agree this "Matthew" was not the apostle but rather a Greek-speaking Christian living in or near Antioch of Syria, who wrote about A.D. 90, about two generations after the crucifixion.
At least some honesty faintly glimmers in this statement: "ALMOST all scholars." The church fathers, living much closer to the events than the "almost all scholars" of reference, concurred that the Gospel was written by Matthew the Apostle (Papias, Pantaenus, Eusibius, Irenaeus, Athansius. Epiphanius, Origen, and Jerom), and is accepted as representing a uniform second century tradition. The vague statement of Papias (130 A.D.), "Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best they could," is the basis for questioning that the Apostle Matthew wrote the Greek Gospel of Matthew. It does require an extensive imagination to construct such an elaborate denial upon such a vague postulate. Others who reject the Apostle Matthew as the author base their supposition on what they call frequent quoting of the Gospel of Mark–something that is purely a matter of human judgment.
Although there is some disagreement among purported scholars as to the author of Matthew, the real issue is not WHO wrote the Gospel, but WHAT it says. Throughout early church history, there was no question of its validity, or that it was inspired by God. Valid scholarship does not demand the rejection of the Apostle Matthew as its author, and no form of valid scholarship justifies the rejection of its message or the manner in which if is stated.
The practice of men, who have no power to change the human nature or alter the course of history, to sit in judgment upon the Word of the Living God, is something less than admirable. God has represented His Word as something that will outlast the heavens and the earth (Matt 24:35). He has affirmed that man lives by every Word that comes out of His mouth (Matt 4:4), and has declared the Scriptures are the appointed means of perfecting His people (2 Tim 3:16-17). The sweet Psalmist of Israel has affirmed God has magnified His Word as one of His primary qualities (Psa 138:2). Both David and Paul said God would be "justified" in all of His sayings, and overcome all who have judged Him (Rom 3:4; Psa 51:4). You may rest assured, this will come to pass!
In the meantime, those of us who are trusting in the Lord, choose to reject the words of His critics, and scrap their meager theories concerning the origin and validity of Scripture. They are too small and insignificant to direct our thinking concerning the Word of the Living God, upon which we have hung our eternal destiny.
MATTHEW has the Holy Family living in a house in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:11). No mention of an inn with no room or the manger, or a visit by the shepherds.
These Gospel accounts are not intended to be a thorough sequential record. That is rarely the intent of any portion of Scripture. Each writer, moved along by the Holy Spirit, touches upon points that are relevant to our perception of God's great salvation. Matthew tells you he is commenting on events AFTER Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt 2:1). He does not begin with Jesus' birth itself, but with the events that followed it, particularly as they relate to the coming of the wise men and the intentions of Herod. That is why the inn and the shepherds are not mentioned.
We know from Matthew's record that it took a while for the wise men from the East to get to Jerusalem. Herod's edict shows the Holy child had been born around two years earlier. Matthew writes, "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, FROM TWO YEARS AND UNDER, ACCORDING TO THE TIME WHICH HE HAD DETERMINED FROM THE WISE MEN" (Matt 2:16). In that interim, Joseph and Mary had moved into a house, choosing not to live in a stable for two years.
One should not refer to common manger scenes to gather a true picture of who saw the baby Jesus in the manger. The wise men were not there at that time, as the text shows.
LUKE starts the story in Nazareth where Joseph and Mary are already living, the reverse order of Matthew who has them living in a house in Bethlehem (Luke 1:26).
Luke is covering the entirety of the generation of Jesus, and thus begins with the announcement of His imminent birth to both Mary and Joseph. Both were living in Nazareth at the time. The appearance of the angels to the shepherds is mentioned by Luke because that is the chronology he is recording. It is omitted from Matthew because he starts AFTER Jesus had been born, and AFTER the involvement of the wise men.
After 8 days Jesus is taken up to Jerusalem (they don't flee to Egypt in Luke's account). Mary undergoes the forty day purification rites (Luke 2:22). Then from Jerusalem they return to their own town, Nazareth - not Egypt (Luke 2:39).
First, Luke leaps from eight days after Jesus' birth to the time when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus went to the Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. He does not cover the period involving the wise men, Herod, and fleeing into Egypt. Secondly, because Luke is covering the events associated with the immediate birth of Jesus, he mentions the Babe''s dedication and Mary's fulfillment of the purification rites. Both of these occurred before the lapse of two years, which was the beginning point of reference by Matthew.
The Scriptures do not say Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth from Jerusalem. Rather, they read, "So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth." That does not mean immediately, for the very next verses push us twelve years into the future. Luke's statement is one of summation, not strict chronology.
Then, according to Luke, Joseph and pregnant Mary go down to Bethlehem to fill out a census form (Luke 2:1).
I am afraid the eager critic of Scripture has a USA idea of census taking. Nothing in the text suggests Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to fill out a form, or that the census was something accomplished in a short period of time. In fact, their presence in Bethlehem for two years suggests a rather lengthy process was involved. This was a massive registration that formed the basis of taxation. Nothing about it suggests brevity.
How on earth can these two accounts be inspired by the same God? Either one of them is right or they are both fictional. Read the accounts at the beginning of Matthew and Luke and make your own mind up.
Our critic is too eager to disprove the validity of Scripture, and displays an intolerable level of ignorance and impetuosity. He (if it is a "he") has not read the accounts with a trusting heart, but with an overestimation of his own analytical powers. To take upon oneself the prerogative of judging Scripture is a gigantic task, indeed. Many through the centuries have thrust themselves into such foolishness. They are all gone, and the Scriptures remain, strengthening and nourishing the hearts of those who have faith in God. Soon, this critic will also be gone, yet, the Word of the Lord abides forever.
The proper way to approach the Scriptures is with God in mind, for they are His Word. It is our thinking that is to be altered, not the Word of the Lord. You may rest assured, we will not turn to the critics of Scripture to resolve the many dilemmas of life. Their view of the Word of God is NO testimony to their wisdom.
Another puzzling thing about this is the star that Matthew has the Magi see. They see the star rise in the east, then they go to Jerusalem to ask the Jews where the Christ was to be born. They tell them in Bethlehem, but the star guides the Magi there anyway, so why did they need to ask the Jews where Jesus would be born?
The wise men had seen the star in the East. The Scriptures do not say they followed it all of the way to Jerusalem. They came to Jerusalem because it had been revealed to them that the "King of the Jews" was to be born (Matt 2:1). The trip was long and arduous, but they knew Jerusalem was the center of Judaism. That is why they came there. We are then told that AFTER they heard king Herod, "the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was" (Matt 2:10). It stood, you will note, over a "young child," not the "babe" in the manger. Thus, the star reappeared to them--the very star they had seen in the East.
One final word to this would-be scholar. It would be to your advantage to first become thoroughly conversant with the text of Scripture. Do not read it like you read a newspaper or a magazine. These are words that were inspired by God Himself. If you begin thinking they are fundamentally flawed, that is precisely how they will appear to you. However, if you approach them as the Word of God, you will see why they have been around so much longer than our peers.
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