Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bible "Prophesy"?

The following is from a correspondence between a good friend of mine, Paul Kirbas, and myself. Paul is the Head Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton, Illinois. I've known Paul since High School and we like to discuss the deep theological issues...


I'm reading a book by John Ankerberg and John Weldon titled "Handbook of Biblical Evidences." I know from our previous conversation that you don't seem to put a lot of stock in traditional apologetics. Assuming that, I don't think you would be very impressed with this book. The authors paint with a broad brush, operate with a lot of presuppositions and I think some of their arguments simply rely on other authorities who repeat the same stuff they say. They even occasionally use other books they have written as footnote sources. The three main sections of the book have to do with creation (the authors are creationists—they use most of the standard evolution denial arguments) the Bible (Biblical inerrancy, fulfilled prophesies) and the person of Jesus.

I want to focus on the second section, specifically, prophesy fulfillment. Reading some of their claims has caused me to dig into this a little further and I've researched a variety of sources. One of the biggest proofs of divine inspiration that traditionalists like to use is fulfilled messianic prophesy. And one of the most popular verses they like to point to is Isaiah 7:14 "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." Now, the traditional understanding of this verse is that Isaiah is prophesying the birth of Christ. However, if you look at the context of the entire chapter, that doesn't seem to make any sense.

In fact, if you read the next few verses things seem to get a little confusing...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."

There are a few problems here in terms of squaring this prophesy with the traditional view. First of all, since Jesus was God in the flesh wouldn't he have been born knowing enough to reject the wrong and choose the right? We are told he was completely sinless.

Second, there doesn't seem to be anything here to indicate a 700 year time scale. Isaiah is communicating to King Ahaz about current events and conditions, not about something that is to take place centuries later. He is trying to assure him that the two kings who are warring against him, Pekah, king of Israel and Rezin, king of Syria would be "laid waste". (Which, actually turned out not to be the case according to 2 Chronicles) The birth of this son was supposed to be a sign from the Lord that Ahaz would be successful in the coming battle.

Another problem is the word "virgin". The Hebrew word, correct me here if I'm wrong, is "ha-almah" which simply means young woman.

A straightforward reading of the scripture would seem to indicate that the son Isaiah was referring to was his own. In the next chapter he says "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion."

Another supposedly messianic prophesy that evangelicals often point to is Psalm 22. Specifically the 16th verse: “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” According to apologists this is a prophesy of the crucifixion of Jesus, crucifixion being a mode of execution that would not be invented for hundreds of years. I think this is stretch. In the Hebrew Bible the equivalent verse reads like this: “For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers encompassed me; like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.”

Well, there are supposed to be 400 or more messianic prophesies so this would be a pretty long email if I try to scrutinize all of them. Let me just say that I think a careful, critical analysis of these "prophesies" ought to give a Biblical literalist some serious questions.