An Introduction Part Two: In Accordance With Prophecy

Something I find rather fun to do is, while engaged in conversation with colleague, end every declarative statement with the phrase, “In accordance with prophecy.” For example, “Hey, Charles, what are your plans for the evening?” “Well, Johnny, I’m going to fix some dinner and then watch the telly…in accordance with prophecy!” Sound ridiculous? It is. And yet, listening to certain “enlightened” evangelical preachers, one can only, logically, come to the conclusion that there are those out there who actually speak in this manner and those, more alarmingly, that believe in their predictions without a second thought, and some might even say without a first one either. Prophecy, especially of the Messianic or End Times varieties, plays a large role in the pontifications of many evangelical preachers, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and is more than a little significant in the role of recruiting more members of the “flock.” This should not come as a surprise for all religions, and especially the most important aspects of Christianity, are rooted in the “fulfillment” of certain obscure and ambiguously worded prophecies—the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and impending second coming of Jesus are all supposedly in accordance with various prophecies in the Scriptures.

However, what happens when a prophecy found in the perfect and inerrant Bible is proven to be false? What then does that say about the other prophecies? Can they, too, be false? Do the prophecies of the birth and resurrection of Jesus allow other essential elements of Christianity to remain true? That is, if the birth and resurrection prophecies are indeed taken as truth, can Mary’s virginity or even some of the spoken words of Jesus be simultaneously taken as truth without being contradictory? If any of the fundamental and critical aspects of Christianity can be brought into doubt or even refuted entirely, where then does Christianity as a whole stand?

To delve into these questions, in this particular piece (we shall examine the resurrection and prophecies made by Jesus in future articles) let us look first to the question of the birth of Jesus, assuming for now that he did indeed exist historically, and how the virginity of Mary hinges on whether or not Jesus is human or divine, and vice versa. We will leave alone, at this juncture, the theories that the stories of the Biblical Jesus are Christian retellings of Pagan mythology much like the Old Testament’s Noah story was essentially a “rehash” of the ancient Gilgamesh epic. For now, for the sake of this piece, let us assume that the story is an original. We are going to deal first with the Gospel of Matthew, the first gospel we encounter in the canonical text. Matthew 1: 18-19 makes it very clear that Mary was “found to be with child” before she and Joseph “came together.” Reading this with a Literalist’s eyes, one can conclude that Mary was indeed a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception. Reading further, we encounter, in Matthew 1:22-23, the problematic birth prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. The text states that, “…the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” There is some debate as to the translation of “virgin,” as it usually simply meant “young woman” in Hebrew, but we will discuss textual translation errors at a later date. For now, let us look at what we know of how Jesus was supposed to be:

1) He was to be born of a virgin.
2) He was to be a direct descendant in the line of King David.

In the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 2:4, we learn that Joseph, for all intents and purposes Jesus’ Biblical “stepfather,” “belonged to the house and line of David.” That is quite clear. Joseph is a direct descendant of King David. The Messiah will be of that line. Joseph’s son is Jesus. No problem, correct? Actually, no, Houston, we do indeed have a problem. The gospels of Matthew and Luke give genealogies of Joseph, albeit two completely contradicting ones (see Matthew 1:17 and Luke 3:23-38), both showing that Joseph is indeed in the “house and line of David.” There have been several apologists who have tried to reconcile the errors by stating that the lineage given was that of Mary and not Joseph, which fails for two reasons:

1) Mary is not mentioned in either of the passages at all.
2) It is highly unlikely for the writers of a very male-dominated culture and society to have mentioned a woman’s genealogy. Lineage was always traced from the father.

So now we have the understanding, if we read as Literalists, that Joseph is unquestionably of the “house and line of David.” How, then, can Jesus also be of the same line if Joseph did not have any part in his conception? Either Jesus is not the Messiah, or Mary was not a virgin. The two elements as understood and believed by Christians cannot logical coexist. For if Joseph is a descendant of David, and Jesus as the Messiah is also supposed to be a direct descendant, that implies that Joseph is a biological father. An adopted son may be allowed to inherit from a father and even carry on the family name, but his blood will never be the same—that is, he will never be able to draw a direct line to the same ancestors as his stepfather. If Mary was indeed a virgin, and if the “father” was indeed the holy spirit as stated clearly in Matthew, then Jesus can NOT be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures because Mary is NOT of the “house and line of David.” The divinity of Jesus and the virginity of Mary, when looked at literally and with the prophecies stated, do not stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps one can say that the Isaiah prophecy does not relate to Jesus at all. If I were to believe Jesus was indeed perfect and without sin and able to know all through his Father, I would think the same thing, for the rest of that passage of Isaiah states that “he will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right…” (Isaiah 7:15-16) It seems highly unlikely that Jesus, the only one ever born who was perfect and lived without any sins, would ever have a period where right and wrong would be a question.

In closing, it is apparent that upon careful examination, several fundamental elements of the Christian faith do not stand up to outside critiques, or even, in some cases, to several passages in the same book. In the case of the “virginal birth” and the accompanying prophecies, it is obvious that the two critical parts of the faith of Christianity can not logically coexist. But then, logic is not what religion is based upon. If the very concept of who and what Jesus truly was can be called into question so easily, how can the rest of the faith stand up? And, further, how can Literalists keep ignoring such blatant facts when we use their own techniques—i.e. reading the texts literally—against them and how, if we noticed the errors and inconsistencies so easily, can so many people be completely fooled? The short answer on the latter half of that second question is early indoctrination and, I promise, we shall get to that topic in time.

When next we meet, we shall examine the elements of the resurrection of Jesus—what the Bible says, what Jesus himself has to say about it, what apologists say, what other non-Christians say, and, of course, what I say. Until then, be well everyone.

17 comments:

Rev. Bob said...

The Honorable Elijah Mohammed tells us that this was a good article.

Daniel said...

Rev. Bob! Had any Yeti sex lately? Any other subgenius ministers on board here? Oh, wait, that's a loaded question ;)

Daniel said...

PS: nice overview of the fallacy of the virgin birth.

Kaffinator said...

> If Mary was indeed a virgin, and if the “father” was indeed the holy spirit as stated clearly in Matthew, then Jesus can NOT be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures because Mary is NOT of the “house and line of David.”

And how is it that you know that Mary was NOT of the line of David? You provided no evidence to support your claim.

And even if you discount the idea that Luke was not following Mary’s line, Luke 1:32 records the angel Gabriel as saying, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;” So whether through Mary’s Davidic blood or by adoption through Joseph’s (or both), the prophesy is considered fulfilled.

C.J. Baserap said...

If you notice, I stated that we are looking at this through a LITERALIST'S eyes, and since no where in the Bible does it mention Mary as being a descendant, a literalist cannot put that in, for a literalist will also adhere to the last words of Revelation as well. If Mary were of the line of David, the most important line in the Bible it seems, why would it be left out, then? That's quite a leap to make anyway, starting to border on Dan Brown.

And, if Mary is of the blood of David AND Joseph is of the blood of David, as you say may be possible, is incest then all right, despite the Old Testament rulings?

Paul mentions Jesus as being descended from David "according to the flesh" in Romans 1:3. That absolutely implies sexual intercourse as "ways of the flesh" was a common referrence in ancient Greek, which happens to be the language the Old Testament was written in. Similar examples of this language equated to intercourse can be found in the original Homeric Greek of the Odyssey, and of several of the original Greek texts of Plato as well as several plays written in Ancient Greece.

As for the quote you provided, you are ignoring that Jesus, or the messiah was supposed to be a direct descendant of David. The ONLY way for someone to be a DIRECT descendant is to possess the same DNA. The Bible goes out of its way to mention Joseph's sacred lineage. ven in Luke 1:27, again we see "Joesph, a descendant of David." If Mary possesses the same, why not mention it?

So now we have, as the solution to reconcile all prophecies, lineages, etc, the notion of incest? For if both are of the same blood already, is that not what that is?

Kaffinator said...

> If you notice, I stated that we are looking at this through a LITERALIST'S eyes, and since no where in the Bible does it mention Mary as being a descendant, a literalist cannot put that in […]

I do not know what rules your mythical literalist might follow. Since I hold to the infallibility of scripture perhaps I can serve as a living (but flawed) example.

You have already ruled out the Luke genealogy as evidence. So I showed you a verse which either implies that Mary was from the line of David, or that Jesus’ lineage was traced through Joseph even though “adopted”. How else would Jesus be considered a descendant? Are you suggesting that Luke, as he fabricated this story, simply forgot the implications of verse 32 as he was writing verses 34 and 35?

> And, if Mary is of the blood of David AND Joseph is of the blood of David, as you say may be possible, is incest then all right, despite the Old Testament rulings?

Actually, marriage of cousins (people sharing the same grandparents) has not always been considered incest.

> Paul mentions Jesus as being descended from David "according to the flesh" in Romans 1:3. That absolutely implies sexual intercourse as "ways of the flesh" was a common [reference] in ancient Greek, which happens to be the language the Old Testament was written in.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, not Greek. If we interpret your statement as you say, then reckoning Jesus as blood-related to David through Mary is perfectly consistent.

> As for the quote you provided, you are ignoring that Jesus, or the messiah was supposed to be a direct descendant of David. […] The Bible goes out of its way to mention Joseph's sacred lineage. ven in Luke 1:27, again we see "Joesph, a descendant of David." If Mary possesses the same, why not mention it?

One explanation is that after marriage, Mary was considered part of Joseph’s family (a common cultural tradition) and so her lineage (and Christ’s) is recorded in this case “through” Joseph’s. Perhaps this is irregular, but so after all is a virgin birth.

In the end, to maintain your objection, you must assert that Luke was profoundly ignorant of the very text he wrote. If Luke was packed with other self-contradictory material you might have something, but in fact Luke reads with logic, precision, and internal consistency. So the most reasonable conclusion is that Luke reckoned Mary’s lineage as Davidic, and Christ’s lineage through hers.

You need to understand that this objection is not new, CJ. Far from it. And Christians wiser than either of us have considered the issue and found adequate resolution. I would encourage you to seek those answers out before playing this kind of objection as your trump card.

C.J. Baserap said...

Hey Kaff, I meant to write NEW Testament with the Greek. That was an error on my part!

Thanks for the correction though, glad you caught it. I was writing two things at once!

As for rules of a literalist, I would say they are simply reading the Bible literally and taking every word as fact, not adding or implying or putting your own spin. That's reading interpretively.

Even if Luke itself possesses no other internal contradictions, it does contradict other Gospels.

When does Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple? Read John, and then read the other three Gospel accounts?

Compare John 3:17 to Luke 12:49-53.

When did the census happen? History points to it as around 5 or CE.

How many women appear at the tomb? What is the condition of the tomb?

Individually, the Gospels are one thing, but collectively, they do not mesh. They could very well be interpetted different by the authors who wrote many years after the death.

Many apologists have said that they are eye-witness accounts and therefore accurate. As a police officer in DC, one of the first things we learn in the Academy is that eye-witness reports are actually the LEAST reliable sources for many reasons. One of which is that people see things differently depending on their emotional state, etc.

Perhaps there is an element of truth, if one reads the Bible in a non-literal manner, that one can gather.

Here is an example from the Secret Service Police Exam: (I'm paraphrasing)

A crime is committed and four people witnessed the suspect. One says he is 6'0" with a black coat and blue jeans and a red hat. One says he is 5'6" with a blue coat, blue jeans, and an orange hat. One says he is 6'5" with a white shirt, blue jeans and no hat. The last says he has a black coat, black pants, and a red hat.

Based on that information, by four eyewitnesses, we see a problem. Most likely the suspect was wearing blue jeans, as 3 of the 4 witnesses had that in their description. When we put out a "look out" for the individual we try and match the "majority" comments. It's not always perfect.

I've been flagged down by a person who stated, "The knife he had was at least 9 or 10 inches," and when we caught the guy, it was a two inch knife. The victim's stress and emotional state distorted her perception.

The knife was really there. It just wasn't exactly as she described.

Applying this to the Gospels, we can say that it's possible there was a Jesus, since everyone mentioned him. We can say he was born, and died. But the details surrounding them differ.

If the Gospels are perfect, then why the differences? Why four different points of view? (and more, if we count the "heretic" ones?) How can someone say they take it literally as word for word truth and explain discrepancies?

You see my point? If you are adding implications, and you said you showed me a verse that IMPLIES Mary as a descendant of David, then you are not a true literalist. A true literalist takes what is there at face value.

I worked with a born again Christian woman from Haiti who believed in that way. She feared changing anything based on the last words of Revelation.

C.J. Baserap said...

And you are right about the fact that men far wiser than us have examined this and I know I am far from the first to bring this up.

However, what is their adequate solution, and who is it adequate for?

These are Christians trying to prove themselves wrong? How often is it possible that they took "evidence" against them and disregarded it.

Perhaps then, neither of us, being too "attached" to either side can find the true answer. Perhaps it needs to be from someone with no concerns either way?

I have seen people tell me a mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds while ignoring all scientific evidence to the contrary.

And I have just as often seen people tell me that Jesus was never mentioned in any other sources other than Christian texts, despite the evidence to the contrary.


In both

Kaffinator said...

> As for rules of a literalist, I would say they are simply reading the Bible literally and taking every word as fact, not adding or implying or putting your own spin. That's reading interpretively.

Even those Christians who hold strictly to inerrancy agree that a process of interpretation is required. That’s why we have a field known as hermeneutics. I think your literalist is merely a strawman that anybody could knock over.

> Even if Luke itself possesses no other internal contradictions, it does contradict other Gospels.

Whether or not Luke contradicts other gospels (another topic entirely), you have failed to interact with my rebuttal. Your argument has a flaw: it insists that Luke massively contradicted himself in Chapter 1 and somehow didn’t notice. I pointed out that Luke’s narrative is not self-contradictory elsewhere so we should assume (as we would for any other reasonable source) that Luke did not understand the passage to contain a contradiction.

> I worked with a born again Christian woman from Haiti who believed in that way. She feared changing anything based on the last words of Revelation.

I will not impugn her faith, but your friend may not have had an adequate grasp of text criticism, the principles of hermeneutics, or an historically-informed understanding of the origins of the four gospels. You should not take her perspective to reflect the mainstream of informed Christian orthodoxy.

> How often is it possible that [Christians] took "evidence" against them and disregarded it.

Do honestly think you are the first critic of Christianity? No, there have always been opponents willing to pick up and use what a Christian might disregard. In other words that sort of sloppiness with the evidence would immediately be exposed and used against the church.

> Perhaps then, neither of us, being too "attached" to either side can find the true answer. Perhaps it needs to be from someone with no concerns either way?

I highly doubt any such person exists. At any rate I won’t be waiting for him before proceeding in faith.

> I have seen people tell me a mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds while ignoring all scientific evidence to the contrary.

See, that’s just the kind of thing that is the result of bad hermeneutics. Jesus wasn’t making a statement about biology. He was making the point (in his typical hyperbolic, visual teaching style) that a small faith can produce big results.

Anyway, you have yet to "show your work" and prove somehow that Mary was NOT descended from David. I think there is plenty enough to suggest that she was, therefore there is no real issue here.

DagoodS said...

Kaffinator – what do you do about the problem of Je(coniah)? Matthew places him in Jesus’ genealogy. (Mt. 1:11) Luke wisely skips him but places his son (Shealtiel) and grandson (Zerubbabel) Luke 3:27.

Yet YHWH says in Jeremiah 22:24-30 that none of Jeconiah’s offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.

If you want Jesus as the offspring of David, and sit on the “throne of David” then both Matthew and Luke blew it. They put the wrong ancestry in his lineage.

Even granting him the house of David is not enough. You need to, somehow, extract some of his grandfathers from the accounts in the Gospels.

Daniel said...

C.J.,

Your point in the post is a good one -- that the prophecy of Jesus being born to a virgin is suspect from the OT text. Kaffinator has sidetracked you [unintentionally] into a genealogy debate.

One of the most interesting critiques of Isaiah 7:14 is by Jim Lippard, independent of the words almah, bethulah, parthenos, which bog me down in a hurry:
But the most serious problem with this alleged messianic prophecy is that it has been taken out of context. Looking at the entire seventh chapter of Isaiah, it becomes clear that the child in question is to be born as a sign to Ahaz, King of Judah, that he will not be defeated in battle by Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, son of the King of Israel. Jesus' birth was some seven centuries late to be such a sign. In Isaiah 8:3-4, a prophetess gives birth to a son--Maher-shalal-hash-baz--who is clearly described as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.[3]

I had never heard this particular approach before. James Still, Richard Carrier, Farrel Till, and others have used the textual approach to refute the virgin birth prophecy, but by far, the most convincing and clear refutation I've ever read came from Jewish scholars. If you can read that essay and come away convinced of the Evangelical Christian interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, you are dogmatic and dishonest in your preference to truth.

Two quotes:
Origen:
The old mythological fables, which attributed a divine origin to Perseus, and Amphion, and Aeacus, and Minos, were not believed by us. Nevertheless, that they might not appear unworthy of credit, they represented the deeds of these personages as great and wonderful, and truly beyond the power of man; but what hast thou done that is noble or wonderful either in deed or in word?

Justin Martyr:
And when we say also that the Word, who is First begotten of God, was born for us without sexual union, Jesus Christ our teacher and that He was crucified and died and rose again and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new beyond what you believe concerning those whom you call sons of Zeus. For you know of how many sons of Zeus your esteemed writers speak: Hermes the interpreting Word and teacher of all; Asclepius, who thought he was a great healer, after being struck by a thunderbolt ascended into heaven; and Dionysus too who was torn to pieces; and Heracles, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his pains; and the Dioscuri, the sons of Leda; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who though of mortal origin rose to heaven on the horse Pergasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been said to have been placed among the stars? And what of your deceased emperors, whom you think it right to deify and on whose behalf you produce someone who swears that he has seen the burning Caesar ascend to heaven from the funeral pyre?

The embellishment and perversion of the stories was a result of the competition between religions. "My god is bigger than yours!" "Oh yeah? My god ascended to heaven!" "Oh yeah? My god was born of a virgin!"

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dagood,

> Even granting him the house of David is not enough.

Well, it’s enough to refute the OP which is all I intended to do :-)

> You need to, somehow, extract some of his grandfathers from the accounts in the Gospels.

To be honest I’ve never studied this issue so I can’t pretend to speak authoritatively nor do I feel the need to get into a discussion on it. But offhand, one could hold either that the Shealtiel/Zerubabbel pairs actually referred to two different sets of people. Or, the curse may actually have applied only to immediate descendants. There may be other explanations as well.

paul said...

Danny,
Great link to "Jewish scholars." Particularly noting the use of the word virgin vs. maiden. Isaiah used both words in the book Isaiah (be'tulah and almah, respectively), yet in the scripture in question (Isaiah 7:14) he uses almah=maiden.

Kaff,
"Even those Christians who hold strictly to inerrancy agree that a process of interpretation is required. That's why we have a field known as hermeneutics. I think your literalist is a merely a strawman that anybody could knock over."
The science of interpretation and explanation (i.e. hermeneutics) sets up a paradox when applied to the bible, given the scientific method. According to the bible, the things of God are "spiritually discerned", not scientifically. "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned." I Cor. 2:11-14. Then in I John 2:27: "...the annointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as the annointing teaches you about all things..."

Kaffinator said...

Hi Paul,

This is a point of some discussion amongst Christians. What is the relationship between the role of the Holy Spirit and our human faculties as we address scripture? I’ll just say I don’t think those two passages insist that we must close our eyes and wave our hands over the text of scripture and sort of suck up the meaning through some kind of mystical means. Rather, the Christian’s discernment, acceptance, and willingness to apply the teachings are gifts of the Spirit that apply after human ears and minds have taken in the message.

Perhaps this very thread supplies an example. Baserap, who witnesses against Christ, saw a contradiction in Luke when there really wasn’t one, in the hopes that it would allow him to dismiss the claims that believers make about Christ. But the believer, being sympathetic to Luke and sharing in the same Spirit that inspired him, is inclined to seek a reasonable explanation.

C.J. Baserap said...

I'm still trying to find where I said I saw a contradiction in Luke WITHIN ITSELF. I mentioned Luke passages contradcting OTHER Gospels, which they did. The genealogy passages were an example.

Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough and if so that's my fault.

Where I mentioned Luke, I asked why he never explicitly stated that Mary is of the line of David, since he goes at lengths to say Joseph is. That's not a contradiction. That's omission in my eyes.

What is a contradiction is passages in Luke compared to those in other Gospels. I do not recall explicitly stating that Luke contradicts himself, only that I find it hard to believe that if Mary were "true-blood" he would leave it out. The woman's lineage was not important in ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Heck, it isn't that important now in some of the same areas. How many times does the lineage say "son of" and "father of?" How many times does it say "daughter of" and "mother of?"

Either way, I cannot find where I specifically said Luke is a contradiction of "himself," only that his blatant omission was odd if it was indeed supposed to have been so. But then again, I've worked 80 hours in the past 6 days, so my eyes are shot to hell!

In any case, Kaff, have a good one. And, seriously, it is a pleasure talking to you and I hope you stay on board.

Twitch said...

i would like to point out that even though throughout the biblical text all of the "geneologies" are through the "father," true Jewish lineage is always traced through the mother. this is for a very practical reason: one always knows, no matter what, who the mother is (provided this knowledge is available). one does not always know, even in patriarchal ancient Jewish culture, who the father is.

Anonymous said...

Hello again Charles,

You must have given them fits at the Prep! It would have made for some interesting classroom discussions.

Don C....an old friend of Barbara's from the 50's in the Bronx