Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Most Difficult Verse in the Bible


Double fulfillment of prophecy makes no sense to a Jew. I am confounded by Dispensationalists, in particular, who explain away difficult Bible verses to the second and third degree.

Some would have Jesus return once to resurrect the saints, and again to judge the world; but this disagrees with the word of our Lord (John 5:28-29).

Jews believe that the "abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel the prophet was fulfilled at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Jesus, however, said that it was yet to be fulfilled -- as interpreted by this author in 70 AD ( Matthew 24:15).

Some evangelicals see a more complete fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy when the Antichrist desecrates the Third Temple -- a temple which does not even stand.

We might as well throw hermeneutics out the window, and discard all rules of proper exegesis. Absent sound principles we can make the Bible say anything.

Theodore of Mopsuesti (350-428 AD) wrote that it was unwise to apply scripture both historically and allegorically.

Milton S. Terry wrote that scripture must have one sense, or no sense at all:
... the moment we admit the principle that portions of Scripture contain an occult or double sense, we introduce an element of uncertainty in the Sacred Volume, and unsettle all scientific interpretation.
With that brief introduction let us now examine what I believe to be the most difficult verse in the Bible -- Isaiah 7:14.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:22-23 declares that the prophecy was fulfilled at the birth of Jesus:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold! The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”).

Here's the context. When Ahaz was king of Judah, Israel (the ten northern tribes) and Damascus forged an alliance to conquer Judah (the southern kingdom). Ahaz sought an alliance with Assyria to resist the threat, but the LORD (speaking through the prophet) comforted the people with the assurance of Divine protection on the condition that they believe the word of the LORD.

The LORD instructed the prophet to assure the king that his enemies would be laid waste within 65 years.

Ahaz was prompted to ask of the LORD a sign, but the king answered, "I will not test the LORD". This angered YHWH who, ignoring Ahaz, then gave a sign to the house of David that a virgin would give birth to a son.

The Rabbis do not believe that this is speaking of the Messiah -- that the missionaries (Christians) have corrupted the meaning of the text.

‛Almâh (עלמה) is derived from the Hebrew word ‛âlam (עלם) which means to hide, or conceal; and though it may be interpreted as maiden the context dictates that it be understood as virgin for in ancient days unmarried girls of marriageable age were hidden from the general population.

That Christians corrupted the true meaning is an invalid charge. New Testament writers referenced the Septuagint which was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. In Alexandria (Egypt), 270 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, 72 Jewish scholars (six from each of the twelve tribes) translated the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek. It was an accepted translation for 300 years -- that is, until the crucifixion of our Lord.

Rabbis believed that the birth of Mashiac would be a supernatural event. The "72" translated ‛almâh as virgin (parthenos) in the Greek translation  -- for a common, ordinary birth would be less than a miraculous sign.

Additionally, the original Hebrew includes the definite article so that the passage should read, the virgin shall conceive ...

This is seen also in the story of Rebekah drawing water from the well -- when the virgin (hā·‘al·māh) cometh forth to draw water...

When the evangelist Mattityahu (Matthew) interpreted the prophet Ysha'yah (Isaiah) he referenced the Septuagint and saw the fulfillment of the prophecy in the virgin birth of Christ.

Ellicott wrote:

It is not so easy for us, as it seemed to St. Matthew, to trace in Isaiah’s words the meaning which he assigns to them.

Jesus would not be born for 700 years. How would His birth be a sign to Judah and King Ahaz in the imminent threat posed by their northern neighbors, Israel and Syria? Not to mention that before the child came of age -- that is, was able to know right from wrong -- the enemies of the southern kingdom would be laid waste.

When we turn to chapter 8 of Isaiah we read that the prophet has conjugal relations with his wife (the prophetess) who conceives and bears a son.

And the LORD speaks to the prophet that before the son is old enough to cry out 'My father' or 'My mother' Damascus would be taken away by Assyria.

To summarize, YHWH assured Judah that Israel and Damascus would be laid waste within 65 years. When Ahaz refused a sign from the LORD, Jehovah gave a sign to the house of David -- that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son. Before he came of age the enemies of Judah would become a wasteland.

Isaiah's wife then conceives, and gives birth to a son who -- before he can speak -- will be a sign of the Assyrian conquest of Judah's enemies.

Assyria, with whom Judah was allied, conquered Syria (Damascus), and carried Israel into captivity.

Dilemma?

Calvin believed as some Rabbis that the birth of Isaiah's son in chapter 8 was a fulfillment of the birth prophesied in chapter 7, but not in the sense of a double fulfillment. The prophetess was neither a virgin nor a maiden. It is Jewish tradition that Isaiah's wife was the mother of his first-born son, Shear-jashub (whose mane means remnant returns). Thus, there would be nothing supernatural about the birth of a second son.

When the prophets received a vision or word from the LORD they understood it provincially. Some expositors believe that Isaiah received the prophecy of the virgin birth in a vision not understanding what he was seeing. Moreover, the sign was not to King Ahaz -- for he angered the LORD -- but to the house of David to which the LORD had an everlasting covenant.

Be mindful that the LORD had promised Judah deliverance from their enemies if only they would believe:

... If you will not believe, you surely shall not last (Isaiah 7:9).

We know further that the birth of Isaiah's son was not a sign of salvation as the remainder of chapter 8 reveals the LORD's displeasure with Judah, and it's eventual fall to Assyria with whom Ahaz had allied in disobedience to the providence of the LORD.

So, then, what remains?

The answer to this difficult problem is found in Isaiah 9:6-7 where the prophet recalls the promised son whose birth is yet fulfilled:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; 
And the government will rest on His shoulders; 
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,  
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, 
On the throne of David and over his kingdom, 
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness 
From then on and forevermore. 
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this ...

The LORD's (יהוה של) promise to the house of David (דָּוִד), thus fulfilled at the birth of Christ (ישו) -- and nowhere else in the Holy Bible -- confirmed by Mattityahu (מַתִּתְיָהוּ‎) that Yeshua (ישוע), born of the virgin Miryam (מִרְיָם), and by His own testimony, is the spiritual and literal fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. 

As Jesus told the disciples: 

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). 

One sense ... one fulfillment ... one Messiah.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Who Wrote the Gospels?


Seminary can be hazardous to your faith. Author and speaker Bart Ehrman attended seminary, and became an agnostic. He is the darling of secular humanists who buy his books; and university intelligentsia who bow before his seat as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Ehrman is a prolific writer and New York Times best-selling author. Forged, published in 2011, claims that the Gospels were not written by their designated authors, but anonymous writers many years removed from the actual events.

Ehrman makes simplistic claims like his assertion that the genealogies found in Matthew and Luke are glaring examples of the Bible's contradictions.

Who can argue with a distinguished professor?

I will say that Ehrman is correct on this point -- the genealogies do differ, but whether that is a contradiction we shall examine in a moment.

While researching Ehrman's contentions I found a rather lengthy article defending his bullet points. Written by a doctoral student, the 36,000 word essay is an exhausting treatise that begins with a false premise -- that the Gospels were forged.

The argument goes that the Gospels were written no earlier than 40 years after the fact -- that they were not firsthand, eyewitness accounts, but were composed by anonymous authors who referenced a common source document known only as "Q". Wasn't he an enigmatic villain on Star Trek?

However, there is no fragmentary evidence of a mysterious "Q" document. It is simply assumed by academicians to have existed -- much like the spark that ignited the Big Bang.

It is argued that the disciples were illiterate and could not have penned Greek manuscripts. Matthew was a tax collector so it's a given that he was multilingual -- Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin (since Rome conducted civic business in Latin). Luke, the physician, was surely educated in the language arts. Alexander the Great had conquered Palestine 300 years before the birth of Christ, and though he permitted a measure of autonomy with regards to the priesthood, the general public was immersed in the Hellenization of Greek language and culture. It is indefensible to suggest that the New Testament writers were illiterate. But these are the arguments by which the left deceives many -- sort of like when they say that uneducated people voted for Trump. How often does common sense trump a college education?

Some skeptics will agree that Luke-Acts was probably composed as one book, but it was written late in the first century, or early in the second century; and they will say that Luke, whom Paul wrote of in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24 is not the same Luke. As this position is hard to defend you will find arguments that the three cited books were not authentic to Paul, but forged by pseudonymous authors.

As far as dating the Gospels there are no extant copies absent authorship citation. For example, the oldest manuscript of Luke is inscribed The Gospel According to Luke. Skeptics will argue that the original autographs had no authorship citation, but like the "Q" document they cannot provide fragmentary evidence.

It's like saying the earth is flat, or man never went to the moon. You can make any number of claims, but without evidence ...

That Luke-Acts, for example, was written late and, therefore, could not have been penned by the physician, all we need do is examine the internal evidence. The Book of Acts closes with Paul imprisoned in Rome -- alive and well, writing letters and receiving guests (Acts 28:30).

We know that Nero had Paul beheaded, and we know, too, that Nero committed suicide on June 9, 68 AD -- the first Roman emperor to take his own life.

So, that means Paul was executed before 68 AD, and Luke-Acts was written sometime earlier. I believe that the whole of New Testament was written before 70 AD for similar reasons. There is not one reference, after the fact, of the most catastrophic event -- the Apocalypse of 70 AD that brought a climatic end to the Jewish age.

Skeptics need to posit a late-date for the Gospels, in particular, because of the prophecy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:2. Agnostics have to be able to discredit the authority of Jesus Christ so it is essential that they sow doubt as to the authorship and dating of the New Testament canon. If written late, the skeptics could argue that Jesus was a false prophet.

In the remainder of this post I will present my counterpoints to Ehrman's specific claims against the Gospel record.

Ehrman, like many of his institutional colleagues, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem:

Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.

Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor unless you are well enough studied to know that his contentions are false.

Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD).

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account.

More contentious is Ehrman's dismissal of the genealogies as recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.

Luke's genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentiles that the Christ was born for all people. Matthew's record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of revealing to the Jews that Christ was their Messiah born of the seed of David.

From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, however, but reveal a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.

When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the ancestry of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew's genealogy tracing forward through David's son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David's son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded -- one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.

That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother's ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):

... Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Heli (Mary's father) ... (Lk 3:23).

Luke is recognizing that Joseph -- as was supposed -- was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary's father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother's genealogy is recorded.

We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies -- or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.

Agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of outcast Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile -- no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).

How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.

The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):

I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).

The LORD explicitly conferred authority upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus is the Christ of both Jew and Greek.

But how could the Messiah descend from an illegitimate ancestor? Recall that Judah had relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who gave birth to Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). Now look carefully at Matthew's record:

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king (Mt 1:3-6).

The law is given in Deuteronomy that no illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD. That's a pretty strong case that the agnostics lay charge against the authority of Jesus Christ. However, let's examine the complete text:

No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, until the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD (Dt 23:2).

Now scroll up and count the highlighted names in Matthew's record and note how many generations passed from Perez to King David -- ten generations. Our God is an awesome God -- faithful and true.

In this season I would encourage you to remain faithful and true to Him; and be always prepared to give an answer to those who doubt.

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11).

Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) is a very beautiful song. (See video below.) In Hebrew it means praise the LORD. Cohen said that Psalm 150:6 was the inspiration for the song.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. 
Praise the LORD!

It is Jewish tradition that David wrote Psalm 150 because of its many references to using musical instruments to praise the LORD. David was quite the musician; and you'll remember how he would play the lyre to calm King Saul.

[The Psalm is read during Rosh Hashanah and in the daily call to Jewish prayer.]

Cohen's lyrics bring to mind David's musical gifts that pleased the LORD, but were seen as contemptible by David's wife, Michal ... But you don’t really care for music, do you? 

The lyricist gives nod to David's triumphs and failures including his indiscretion with Bathsheba, but he seems to conjoin David's sin with Samson's shame in one verse ... She broke your throne, she cut your hair ...

Cohen, though Jewish, was an ordained Zen Buddhist monk. Hallelujah, written in 1984, evolved over the years as did Cohen's interpretation of the piece. He couldn't escape the religious overtones, and would often change the lyrics to make them sound less religious. Cohen once said, "David’s Hallelujah was still a religious song." 

Cohen penned 80 original verses in addition to a number of rewrites. There are as many secular versions of the song as there are artists who have covered it, but I choose to hear the Scriptural influence every time I listen.

I’ve heard there was a secret chord 
That David played, and it pleased the Lord 
But you don’t really care for music, do you? 
It goes like this 
The fourth, the fifth 
The minor fall, the major lift 
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof 
You saw her bathing on the roof 
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you 
She tied you to a kitchen chair 
She broke your throne, she cut your hair 
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The video has special meaning to me. Anna Clendening performed these two stanzas on America's Got Talent (2014). She suffers from acute anxiety disorder and was bedridden for two months before she made this appearance.

I was housebound four years with the same condition. It is a terrible affliction to live in such fear that you can't leave the house. Some people cope with alcohol and drugs, but what has worked for me is clinging to Jesus Christ. The Lord is my strength and refuge. Hallelujah!


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