Friday, March 13, 2009

Chapter 23 - Was Jesus' coming Prophesized?

Rather, "Chapter 23 - Did you really just say 'prophesized?'"

In the eyes of Christians, one of the things that irrefutably proves that Jesus is God is the fact that Jesus fulfilled many prophesies from the Old Testament. For example, if you look at the Web site for the Campus Crusade for Christ, you find this paragraph:

More than 300 prophecies like this were made in the Old Testament and then fulfilled through Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The chances of one person fulfilling a mere 8 of these prophecies are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. For one person to fulfill 48 of these prophecies, the number becomes staggering--1 chance in 10 to the 157th power (1 with 157 zeros after it). Add to that the 250 other prophecies and it becomes impossible for any other person except Jesus to ever fit that particular sequence of time and events. [ref]

300 certainly is a huge number of prophesies, and Christians put a lot of stock in them.

However, the "prophesies" that Jesus fulfilled are odd. According to whom, exactly? They are a collection of rather strange, oblique references scattered throughout the Old Testament. Strange? Oblique? Where are you getting these words from? People have grabbed onto them as somehow indicative of something having to do with Jesus, although it is not clear why they do that. With some, maybe. With others, it's pretty clear. Let me show you several of them so that you can see what I mean.
Why thank you, Mr. Brain.

Example 1

Here is a complete chapter from the book of Isaiah so that you have plenty of context: So you've suddenly realized the benefit of reading things in context? Or is this only when its convenient for your case?

Isaiah chapter 7:
    1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

    2 Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

    3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood-because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

    " 'It will not take place,
    it will not happen,
    8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
    Within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
    9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.
    If you do not stand firm in your faith,
    you will not stand at all.' "

    10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."

    12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test."

    13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore 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. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 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. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah-he will bring the king of Assyria."

    18 In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 19 They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. 20 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River-the king of Assyria-to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also. 21 In that day, a man will keep alive a young cow and two goats. 22 And because of the abundance of the milk they give, he will have curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. 23 In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. 24 Men will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. 25 As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.

That's a lot of stuff. So you look at it. You read it closely. You read it again. You read it again in a different translation. You read a commentary on this passage. You read another commentary on this passage. You look up words in the original language that you don't understand. You read about this passage from a historical perspective. It is pretty dense, I realize, and much of it is completely nonsensical (see chapter 17 on irrelevant material in the Bible). Any further comment about material being "nonsensical" or "irrelevant" will be ignored, for this reason: such a comment betrays a petulant chronocentricism, a very basic ignorance of the Bible, and a lack of desire to actually understand anything we say. I will make you a wager that you cannot get halfway through it without your eyes glazing over, but try to muscle through it and read the entire thing. If you really wanted to get the meaning of the passage, you would complete the rest of what I said too. In there is an important prophecy of Jesus' life. Can you see it? It is in verse 14. The sentence is:
    14 Therefore 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.
According to Christians, this sentence prophesizes that Jesus will be born of a virgin mother. And also, Immanuel means "God with us," which seems to be very indicative of God himself showing up. That is one of the 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that prove that Jesus is the son of God.

You have the context of the entire chapter -- do you see anything here that indicates we are talking about Jesus? Well, yes. The child in question would be born of a virgin, called "God with us," he will always choose good over evil, and he will come at a time where Israel needs redemption and salvation. Then there are all the other "prophesies" in this same chapter -- the flies and the bees, the curds and honey, the razor from across the river, the cow and the goats, the briers and thorns, etc. What is the relationship between curds and honey and Jesus?
It shows that this child would grow up like any normal child; he would eat the same food as everyone else, not eating some sort of divine food.

Example 2

Here is another example. In the book of Hosea, chapter 11, there is an important prophecy about Jesus. This is the entire chapter so you have plenty of context:
    1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Ba'als, and burning incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught E'phraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one, who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them in their fortresses. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me; so they are appointed to the yoke, and none shall remove it. 8 How can I give you up, O E'phraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboi'im! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy E'phraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy. 10 They shall go after the LORD, he will roar like a lion; yea, he will roar, and his sons shall come trembling from the west; 11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD. 12 E'phraim has encompassed me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah is still known by God, and is faithful to the Holy One.
So you look at it. You read it. You read it again. Etc. Once again you notice that the material is completely nonsensical (see chapter 17). In there is an important prophecy of Jesus' life. It is in verse 1. This is supposedly the prophecy that Jesus will be called out of Egypt after God sends him there to avoid the murder of thousands of babies (see chapter 16).

You have the context of the entire chapter -- do you see anything that indicates we are talking about Jesus besides the random pair of words "my son"? Well, it's actually "Out of Egypt I called my son." Even verse 2 is nonsensical. How? It is a statement that people sacrificed to idols. They either did, or didn't. Nothing is nonsensical about saying they did. There are all the other "prophesies" in this same chapter -- the Ba'als, the incense, E'phraim, the bands of love, the return to the land of Egypt, the kingdom of Assyria, the sword, the yoke, Admah, Zeboi'Im, the lion, the birds, the doves of Assyria and so on. Many of those you just mentioned are not prophecies, but just normal statements. Are you merely assuming that literally every sentence in the book is called a prophecy by Christians? What is the relationship between all of this random material and Jesus?
Well, it's all once again talking about how God loves Israel and wants to provide salvation and redemption for them.

Example 3

In Zechariah Chapter 9, there is a prophesy that Jesus will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Here is the context and the verse:
    1 The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and will rest upon Damascus- for the eyes of men and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord - 2 and upon Hamath too, which borders on it, and upon Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful. 3 Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. 4 But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire. 5 Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. 6 Foreigners will occupy Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. 7 I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become leaders in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 8 But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch. 9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. 13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior's sword.
Once again you notice that this material from the Bible is totally irrelevant and nonsensical (see chapter 17). The prophesy is verse 9. Most would say it continues on from there, too. Do you see anything in there that says we are talking about Jesus? I am beginning to wonder if you are expecting a literal, "This is talking about Jesus" to be there...Some sort of Biblical footnote. Verse 8 is also interesting in light of Hitler. Then make your case. What does "house," "my people," and "overrun" mean in the context of this passage and its original language?

Example 4

In Micah Chapter 5 verse 2 there is a "prophesy" that Jesus will be born in Bethlehem:
    1 Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And this shall be peace, when the Assyrian comes into our land and treads upon our soil, that we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; 6 they shall rule the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with the drawn sword; and they shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.
Look at all the other stuff around this "prophecy." There is the wall, the siege, the rod, the cheek, the flock, the Assyrians, the seven shepherds, the eight princes, the Nimrods, the sword, and so on. Once again all of this material is irrelevant and nonsensical (see Chapter 17). Not if you're reading this realizing that this is all talking about a future messiah, coming to provide salvation and redemption for the Jews.

There is something else that you may notice in this passage. Look at this phrase: "with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel." Let's say that, at some point in the Gospels, Pontius Pilate had struck Jesus with a rod on the cheek. If that had happened, then Micah 5:1 would be a prophecy about Jesus' coming. Notice, then, that Jesus was flogged for a long time prior to his execution. So this criterion is essentially fulfilled. Where are the Christians saying this is a prophecy? Since Jesus is never struck on the cheek with a rod in the New Testament, this "prophecy" is never mentioned. Not only are you resulting to mere conjecture here, you're also somehow contorting the Bible to make it seem like literally every verse is a prophecy. How is this true? Seems like, in the context of this passage, that it is referring to the fact that the ruler of Israel at the time may have been attacked by the forces. Once you understand that, you completely understand the "300 prophecies of Jesus." So by quoting four examples, saying "These are strange and there's a lot of material that I don't think applies," you have somehow discredited an additional two hundred and ninety-six prophecies?

This "rod and cheek" phenomenon is where the "prophecies" of Jesus are coming from. The Old Testament contains thousands and thousands of words, most of them total nonsense. You're a bigotted idiot, Mr. Brain. Out of those thousands of words, you are going to get some that happen to match up with the New Testament accounts of Jesus in some obscure way. However, you are going to get thousands more, like the rod and the cheek, the curds and the honey, the razor from across the river, the Nimrods and all the rest, that do not. Are these prophecies? If you look for the ones that do happen to randomly match up and completely ignore the thousands and thousands that do not, you can claim that the Old Testament "prophesizes" the coming of Jesus. The argument you're trying to make here is noble, but it falls dramatically short. The whole Bible isn't just a prophecy about Jesus. The books prophecy about a lot of different subjects. Go audit even one Old Testament course, or read even a single book about Old Testament prophecy, and you would realize that. Any normal person, on the other hand, sees it all as gibberish. Any correspondence is complete coincidence.
So you're a completely unbiased interpreter, aren't you?

In chapter 17 of this book we discussed the amount of nonsense in the Bible. In all of the quotes that you have seen around these prophecies, do you find that you are left in amazement at the word of the Lord? Am I supposed to? Or have you found it all to be completely meaningless to you? Sigh. Why, if the Bible and these "prophecies" are the word of the Lord, is book filled to the brim with such meaningless, useless, ridiculous nonsense?
I will respond by quoting what I said in chapter 17:

"I've never seen such cultural snobbery, such petty self centeredness, such abject anti-intellectualism, or ridiculous stupidity. Who in the world are you, of all people, to say that certain things in a book written thousands of years ago are "useless" or "irrelevant?" Has it occurred to you in the slightest that when it was written down, these events and regulations meant literally the world to people? Have you ever considered that, to the Isrealites, these books made up probably the sole written record of the history of their people, and they spent years memorizing every single word so that they could base their lives around it?

"This is exactly the reason why the new atheists are chastised: because of their complete hypocrisy."

Here is one last thing to consider. No one would care about these "prophecies" in the Old Testament if Jesus had actually proven that he is God. Since Jesus did not prove that he is God (see chapter 19), Christians have to fall back on the "prophecies" because this is all they've got. What a laugh. Jesus provided more than enough proof that he's God. Your attempt to refute that has been miserable. Since any normal person can see that the prophecies are completely meaningless, this is a very sad place for a Christian to be.
Don't patronize me, Mr. Brain. You're not in any position to.

Reaching a conclusion

If you are a Christian, you have heard the following statement over and over again: "Jesus' coming was prophesized hundreds of times in the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus' birth! The ONLY way that could have happened is if God wrote the Bible and if Jesus were sent by God! The chances of one man fulfilling all of these prophecies together are infinitesimally small -- Jesus MUST be God!" You've heard it so many times you've simply taken it on faith.
Says who? You're merely assuming.

But have you ever actually taken the time to read the Bible and check out these "prophesies"? Yes. Have you ever looked at the context around them as we have here? Yes. Have you ever noticed that the "prophecies" are scattered far and wide throughout the Old Testament [as we would expect] without a single thing tying them together [except the New Testament and Jesus's life, of course] and absolutely nothing indicating that they point to Jesus [except Jesus's life and the New Testament, of course]? Have you ever noticed that there are thousands of other prophesies -- like the rod and the cheek, the bees and the curd, the seven shepherds, the eight princes, the Nimrods, the doves of Assyria, the razors from across the river, etc., etc., etc. -- that never came to pass?
How do you know they never came to pass? Have you looked at extra-Biblical history? Have you looked at the actual history in the Bible and seen if it matched up?

If you read all of the examples in this chapter, and especially if you read the material in the Bible surrounding the "prophecies", I believe that you will understand two things. First, the "prophecies" that "prove" that Jesus is God are irrelevant and meaningless. Any unbiased observer can see that. No need to pretend we don't have biases, Mr. Brain. Jesus' coming was never "prophesized" in the Bible. The word you're looking for is "prophesied." Why should I think you're a credible source if you don't even know the correct term? These prophesies are as random and arbitrary as your horoscope in the newspaper -- so vague and diffused among so much irrelevant material that they are completely meaningless. Let's see about that later.

The second thing you will see is a reiteration of chapter 17 -- much of the Bible is irrelevant to us today. Since God is all-knowing and timeless, it is difficult to understand why that would be unless we assume that God had nothing to do with the Bible. Again...Nothing to say except, "You're wrong."

All right, Mr. Brain. Let's look at the Suffering Servant passage, one you seemed to completely ignore in your diagnosis of prophecies. Tell me if this is "random," or "arbitrary," or "irrelevant," or "nonsense." We'll provide the entire passage for context. Tell me that Isaiah 53 doesn't sound like Jesus:

1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied ;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

So what can we infer about this person?
  1. He was hated by a lot of people. Jesus was hated by lots of people.
  2. He was rejected by men. Jesus was even rejected by his own family.
  3. He took up our infirmities and sorrows. Jesus felt our pains, and healed people.
  4. He was marked and afflicted by God. Jesus was transfigured.
  5. He was "pierced for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities." Jesus was crucified for our sins.
  6. His punishment "brought us peace." Jesus's death brings us forgivenesss.
  7. By his wounds, we are healed. Jesus's death brings us healing from sin.
  8. He did not resist his punishment. Jesus did not speak in his defense at the trial.
  9. He did not have any descendants. Jesus never had any kids.
  10. He was given a grave with the wicked, "with the rich." Jesus was buried by a rich man, killed amongst theives.
  11. He had done no violence or deceit. Jesus never sinned.
  12. God made him a "guilt offering." Jesus died as a guilt offering for our sins.
  13. He will see the "light of life" after his soul suffers. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven.
  14. By his knowledge, his servants will justify many. His disciples and followers carried on his mission and now we have a religion in his name.
  15. He poured out his life unto death, numbered as a transgressor, bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the other transgressors. That's Jesus.
So, Mr. Brain? What about that chapter? Fifteen clear indications of Jesus from this passage, and that's just from me reading it. Is this irrelevant or nonsensical?

© P-Dunn's Apologetics 2009. All rights reserved.

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