From Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (eds.), Contending With Christianity’s Critics: (Broadman and Holman, 2009).
By Mark D. Linville
Darwin’s account of the origins of human morality is at once elegant, ingenious, and, I shall argue, woefully inadequate. In particular, that account, on its standard interpretation, does not explain morality, but, rather, explains it away. We learn from Darwin not how there could be objective moral facts, but how we could have come to believe —perhaps erroneously—that there are. Further, the naturalist, who does not believe that there is such a personal being as God, is in principle committed to Darwinism, including a Darwinian account of the basic contours of human moral psychology. I’ll use the term evolutionary naturalism to refer to this combination of naturalism and Darwinism. And so the naturalist is saddled with a view that explains morality away. Whatever reason we have for believing in moral facts is also a reason for thinking naturalism is false. I conclude the essay with a brief account of a theistic conception of morality, and argue that the theist is in a better position to affirm the objectivity of morality.
This is a very helpful post by my friend Jason Wisdom
ASSEMBLY LINE APOLOGETICS: YOU BELIEVE WHAT?
Suppose you interviewed someone who had worked at a particular job for 40 years. You watched him work and asked him a series of questions about the way the company functions, what it stands for, what his employer is like etc. You would, at least subconsciously, assume that he knows what he is talking about. It would be silly to think that someone could work for a company for 40 years and not be able to answer these questions. As a result, you would probably not feel any need to probe around and ask the same questions of all of the other people who work for the company–especially when most of them had only been there for a few years. Maybe you even took a shift working on the assembly line. You would like to think so. You would feel like you already knew, on a basic level, about the company. But what if it turned out that the guy you interviewed always worked the same spot on the line and never took any time to look into the way the company works. He never talked to the boss or his fellow employees outside of work. He never read the training manual or company mailers. He fell asleep during all of the orientation and safety videos. For 40 years, he just punched in, stood there, kept his head down, punched out, and went home.
Unfortunately, this analogy is comparable to many Christian churches. Many believers have gone to church for more than 40 years, and you would like to think that by talking to them, you would be able to get an idea what a Christian believes. But the reality is that they have not read the Bible, they do not spend any time with God outside of church, and they have only been semi-conscious for the majority of sermons that they have heard. They just show up, keep their heads down, shake hands, smile, and go home.
But that is not the only troubling comparison that can be made between these two scenarios. Let’s assume that you never actually found out the back story on the factory worker that you interviewed. In reality, you would be totally clueless, but you would feel like you knew the basic ins and outs of the way his company works. That is exactly what happens to a lot of people who either grew up in church, or only know about Christianity from listening to a few Christians, watching a few Christian movies, hearing an evangelist etc. They are pretty convinced that they already know what we believe. That is a huge barrier that has to be knocked down in order for evangelism to go forth. And there are just as many Christians who are confused as non-Christians.
#1: The issue of evidence and proof
In this post I want to point out some of the problems with the discussions with atheists and theists. I am by no means saying that all atheists succumb to some of these issues. So please don’t accuse me of using straw man arguments. I am speaking from first hand experience.
First, I want to bring up the issue of equivocation which is both a formal and informal fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense. Terms like “evidence,” “proof,” and “faith” all need clarification. Some atheists (mostly popular atheist and not necessarily academic atheists) like to set the ground rules in that unless you can produce some sort of airtight argument for God’s existence, He just doesn’t exist. And then they call the shots on what qualifies as evidence. So in many of the discussions between atheists/theists, the following topics come up:
- How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
- How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
- How do you explain the Biological Fine-Tuning of Complex Life on Earth?
- How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
- How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
- How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
- How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
- How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
- How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
- How do you explain Ultimate
Purpose in Life?
In regards to these questions, any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book) is cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have provided answers to the “God of the Gaps” charge. And in return, the atheist just punts to a “nature and chance of the gaps” argument. In other words, whatever God explanation is given, some atheists assume over time, science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that time, nature, chance, and some sort of evolutionary explanation will eventually provide a naturalistic explanation. The same goes for historical arguments. For some, any resurrection claim about Jesus will always have a naturalistic hypothesis. I think this has problems (as we discuss in some of our resources here). But I won’t be addressing the resurrection issue in this post.
Also, to insist that God has to be a material object which can be tested with the five senses is to commit a category mistake. A category mistake is to assign to something a property which applies only to objects of another category. Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people can look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. Hence, we can use the inference to the best explanation model. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. So while theism employs a model that is seen in science and history (inference to the best explanation), some atheists say we can’t ever consider the possibility of non-naturalistic explanation. Also, any time there is new evidence that looks theistic will inevitably cause the atheist to move the goal posts in a way so that the theist can’t possibly kick the ball through and win the game.
#2: Bad Epistemology
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have encountered the following comments by internet and popular atheism:
“There is not one shred of proof or evidence for the existence of God”
“There is absolutely no evidence for Jesus or your God”
“Science has shown that there is no God”
“Unless you can perfectly demonstrate that God exists or Jesus is the Son of God, you need to admit all you have is faith”
These kinds of statements show me that the person making them doesn’t even have a basic level of understanding of epistemology. Keep in mind that I am not asking everyone to get a philosophy degree and to be an expert on such a heady topic. While in seminary, I took some classes in philosophy, I am by no means an expert! But the people making these types of claims just overstate their case and sound very naïve. A more nuanced approach would be to say “ I have looked at the evidence in this area and I don’t find it to be sufficient.” Or, “I don’t think there are good reasons to think God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God.”
#3: The Issue of Certainty
Humans are knowers. Many people are looking for confidence about why they believe. But the question becomes how certain can we be about what we believe. I don’t have any need for absolute or exhaustive knowledge. As Paul Copan says here:
“We do not need 100 percent certainty to truly know. After all, we cannot show with 100 percent certainty that our knowledge must have 100 percent certainty. We believe lots of things with confidence even though we do not have absolute certainty. In fact, if most people followed the “100 percent rule” for knowledge, we would know precious little. But no one really believes that.
Now, if our only options were either 100 percent certainty or skepticism, then we would not be able to differentiate between views that are highly plausible, on the one hand, and completely ridiculous, on the other. They would both fall short of the 100 percent certainty standard and so both should be readily dismissed. But that is clearly silly. We know the difference. And what about those who seem to know with 100 percent certainty that we cannot know with 100 percent certainty. Interestingly, skeptics about knowledge typically seem quite convinced — absolutely convinced — that we cannot know.”- see the entire article here:
A similar approach to this issue is seen in Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas where he has a chapter called The Realm of Doubt. The problem we meet is when we attempt to decide which of our judgments belong in the realm of certitude and which in the realm of doubt. In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria: (1) it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation, nor can it be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.
A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized by more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.
So in looking at some of the discussion points above (the universe, first life etc.), how many theists and atheists would be silly enough to admit that we have arrived to certitude? Are the claims that both parties are making beyond such a challenge or criticism? Are such judgments indubitable, or beyond doubt? No, I’m afraid not. And this leads me to my last point:
#4: The Word “Faith”
We still have plenty of problems with this word. I don’t see a lot of effort to learn about what Biblical faith both is and is not. My advice is to stop using dictionary definitions and popular culture definitions of “faith.” Could we at least attempt to stick with some exegesis and see how the authors of the Bible use the word “faith.”
Therefore, that means we need to stop using the Hebrews 11:1 passage out of context. It says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So whatever you do, please do not conclude the author of Hebrews is saying:
1. If we can’t empirically verify God’s existence, faith is blind, irrational, and silly.
2. We can’t empirically verify God’s existence
3. Therefore, faith is blind, silly, and unsupported.
I already talked about the problems with insisting God has to be a material object that can be seen in a test tube. However, as I already said, we can look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences. But as far as Hebrews 11:1, my advice is to read the entire chapter in context. Furthermore, if you really want to learn how faith is used in a variety of contexts, read this. You might see the various ways faith is used in the Bible and it may prevent you from using cultural definitions such as “faith is believing what you don’t know.” If you don’t care, then so be it. But by the continual refusal to to attempt to learn about this doesn’t help atheism at all.
That’s it for now. Happy Holidays!
The virgin birth has always been one of the essentials of the Christian faith. Jesus was not born in sin and he had no sin nature (Hebrews 7:26). Given the sin nature is passed down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12, 17, 19), the virgin birth thwarted the transmission of the sin nature and allowed for the incarnation. So the virgin birth is important to both the deity and humanity of Jesus.
The First Messianic Promise
It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:
“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” 
I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history. God was planning on doing something for the entire world.
Let’s look at Isaiah 7: 10-14:
“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” 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? 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. 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, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 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.” (NIV)
Possible Options in Interpreting the Virgin Birth Prophecy
In this case, the virgin birth has one fulfillment which is in the birth of Jesus. In some cases, the interpreter says Isaiah was prophesying of the future birth of Christ and the prophecy has little to do with the immediate context or situation at hand.
So when we look at the single fulfillment view, I do agree that there is a future referent. However, I do think this has some challenges and I also think the next three options present some more favorable approaches to the issue of the virgin birth.
In this view, this principle states that the prophecy may have more than one fulfillment. In other words, the immediate context shows that the sign is for King Ahaz while the Matthew 1:22-23 is a sign about the birth of Jesus. To read more about this approach, see Craig Blomberg’s article called Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfillment.
In this interpretation, there is one block of Scripture that deals with one person, time, or event that may be followed by another block of Scripture that deals with a different person, time, and place without making any clear distinction between two blocks or indicating that there is a gap of time between the two blocks. While “Double Fulfillment” states that one prophecy can have two fulfillments, “Double Reference” says that one piece of Scripture actually contains two prophecies, each having its own fulfillment.  So in the immediate context, while King Ahaz is under attack, the threat it to him and the whole house of David. God assures Ahaz that peace and safety are at hand. The first sign in vs 13, 14, is that there can’t be any attempt to destroy the house of David will fail. The second sign which is seen in verses 15, 16, is given to Ahaz personally. For Ahaz, an event 700 years in the future (about the Messiah) would make no difference to him. So in vs 15-17- the “You” is again singular and specifically for Ahaz. Before Isaiah’s son is old enough to make moral distinctions between right and wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria will be deposed and their threat removed. This was fulfilled within three years. Isaiah again uses the definite article before the term “boy.” This time there is another boy mentioned in the context.: Isaiah’s son. The boy of vs 16 can’t be the son of vs 14, but refers back to Isaiah’s son in vs 3. God promises that the attack upon him by Israel and Syria will not succeed, and before Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub, reaches an age of moral maturity, the two enemy kings will cease to exist.
Let’s go a little deeper at the Sign to the House of David in Isa. 7:13-14. In Hebrew, there is a clear change between the singular “you” of vs 9, 11, 16, 17, and the plural “you” of verses 13-14. The sign is not just for Ahaz, but for the whole house of David.  In vs 14, we see the word “Behold,” This Hebrew word draws attention to an event which is past, present, or future. However, grammatically, whenever “behold” is used with the Hebrew present participle; it always refers to a future event. That is the case here. Not only is the birth future, but the very conception is future. This is not referring to a pregnant woman about to give birth. The NASB translates it as “a virgin” which is wrong. The NIV and NKJV translate it as “the virgin”- according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, when finding the use of a definite article “the”- the reader should look for a reference in the immediate previous context. Having followed the passage from 7:1, there has been no mention of any woman. Having failed the immediate context, the next rule is called “ the principle of previous reference”- something that which has been dealt with earlier and is common knowledge among the people. 
Duane A. Garrett says the following in his article called, “Type, Typology” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
“In typology, the “type” is perhaps the least understood but most important concept in the hermeneutics of biblical prophecy. Typological prophecy occurs throughout the Bible and can be considered the “normal” way that the prophets, including Jesus, spoke of the future. Failure to take this method of speaking into account can lead to gross distortions of the prophetic message.
Typology is often confused with allegorical interpretations and is sometimes wrongly labeled as “double fulfillment.” It also contrasts with what is sometimes called the “literal interpretation.” The idea of a “double-fulfillment” of prophecy is closer to the concept of typology, but as a hermeneutical model it is crude and imprecise. The metaphor of two mountains often accompanies the idea of double-fulfillment. The prophet is said to have seen two separate events in the future juxtaposed like two mountains, one in front of the other. The one event was much closer in time than the other, but he saw the two together through “prophetic foreshortening.” This model does not explain why the two specific events were juxtaposed by the prophet; why two events rather than three, four, or five are juxtaposed; and what the basis for the “foreshortening” is. The typological interpretation of prophecy asserts that the prophets did not so much make singular predictions as proclaim certain theological themes or patterns and that these themes often have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history. These patterns often have their greatest manifestations in the life of Christ or in the eschaton, but there may be one or more other fulfillments elsewhere in human history, especially in the immediate historical context of the prophet.
The value of typology is twofold. First, it provides an intelligible hermeneutic for dealing with biblical prophecy. The problems of interpreting prophecies, especially those concerning Christ, have often left the interpreter with the unhappy choice of either ignoring the historical and literary context of a passage in order to point the text toward Christ or of focusing exclusively on the historical situation of the prophet with the implication being that the passage in fact has nothing to say about Christ. Faced with this dilemma, some interpreters take Isaiah 7:14 exclusively as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ and employ fairly desperate exegesis to explain why Isaiah would make such a prediction in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Others relate Isaiah 7:14 exclusively to its historical context and in effect say that Matthew was wrong to take it as a prophecy of Christ’s birth ( Matt 1:23 ). In typological exegesis, however, the dilemma is not only avoided but is meaningless.”
Translating the word “virgin”
Some scholars view Isaiah 7:14 as having reference only to the natural conception and birth of the son of the prophetess. Some argue that “alma” sometimes translated “virgin” (KJV, ASV, NIV), refers to a young woman, whether married or unmarried, and should be translated “young maiden” (RSV). So if Isaiah had intended someone who was a virgin, he would have used bethulah (cf. Gen. 24:16; Levit. 21:3; Judg. 21:12). But as Fruchtenbaum, notes, “If the women in Isa. 7:14 were a non-virgin, then God would be promising a sign involving fornication and illegitimacy.” 
What we do know is that Matthew is using Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament ) which uses the word “parthenos” which means “virgin.” The Septuagint written 200 years working before the birth of Jesus, evidently believed that this was a prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. It is also true that “parthenos” doesn’t always mean “virgin.” We see this by the Septuagint’s rendering of Gen 34;3 when Dinah is still called a “parthenos” even after she was raped. Amy Jill Levine, an Orthodox Jew who is a specialist in New Testament studies, says the following:
“When, 200 years later, the author of Matthew’s gospel read Isaiah 7:14 in Greek, he saw a prediction of a virginal conception. That is a legitimate reading. Jews, however, reading their Scriptures in Hebrew, see no virginal conception. By applying Isaiah’s prophecy to his own time, Matthew is reading his Scripture in good first-century Jewish fashion. Contemporaneous Jews also took verses out of context and applied them to their own situations.
For example, the well-known Rabbi Akiva, a Jewish teacher executed by the Romans about 135 C.E., is reputed to have said that Bar Kokhba, the leader of the second revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.), was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (see the Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4.8). Similarly, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Prophetic volumes from the Scriptures of Israel as speaking directly to their own time and situation. This form of interpretation, known as pesher (Hebrew for “interpretation”), quotes a Biblical text and then shows its fulfillment. For example, 1QpHab, the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran (“1” stands for the cave where the scroll was found, “Q” is Qumran; “p” is pesher, and “Hab” is the abbreviation for Habakkuk), states that “God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming on the last generation, but the fulfillment of the era He did not make known to him … Their interpretation (pesher) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness [the leader of the Qumran group], to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servant the prophets.” The early followers of Jesus, Jews immersed in the Scriptures of Israel, searched in those Scriptures for teachings that would help them understand the man they believed to be the Messiah. At the same time, they used those Scriptures to help them tell the story of his life. In both cases, they were being thoroughly Jewish.” Note: Feel free to read the entire article here
But Why Would Matthew Create a Virgin Birth Story?
Despite the challenges of translation, we are still left to the issue as to why in the word Matthew would even create a story about a Messiah who was born of a virgin. After all, at the time of Jesus, there was no messianic expectation of a Messiah who would be virgin born. So if Matthew is trying to convince his readers Jesus is the promised Messiah, a made up virgin birth story seems counterproductive. As Craig Evans says,
“In other words, there was a tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth that informed Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah rather than the text of Isaiah inspiring Matthew’s tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. There is no need for a divine messiah, and even if someone thought messiah to be divine, there is no evidence that anyone thought this was possible through a virgin birth alone. Of course, the more skeptical readers of Matthew will not find this argument convincing, but I admit that it is an argument like this one that has caused me to pause when I hear people speak of Matthew creating a virgin birth story. Even if Matthew was being apologetic in defense of Mary’s reputation wasn’t an appeal to Joseph as Jesus’ legitimate father an easier answer than a virgin birth?” –See entire article here:
The Virgin Birth and Paganism
Some skeptics still like to assert the virgin birth story is a rip off of pagan or parallel stories. However, in Raymond E. Brown’s highly respected work, The Birth of the Messiah, he evaluates non-Biblical “examples” of virgin births and his conclusions are as follows:
“Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have beneath conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and those of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Presses, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augusts), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apologias of Tyana), to name only a few. “Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: “holy seed” or “divine semen”) where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians, the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.” 
Believe it nor not, I have still barely scratched the surface on this topic. For more info, see Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections, Vol 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, or The Virgin Birth by Robert Gromacki.
 Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.
 A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 33.
 Ibid, 36.
 A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 36-37.
 Duane A. Garrett “Type, Typology” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 785-786.
 Norman Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999), 760.
 Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (London: Yale University Press; Updated edition, 1999) 522-523
Craig A. Evans on the use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23
In my recent entry “Three hermeneutical paradigms to use when studying the doctrine of the virgin birth” I referred to the use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 as “awkward”. I was questioned about this, and I tried to provide my rational in response, but I think I may have found a more articulate way of saying what I was aiming to say. In Craig A. Evans’ Matthew (NCBC) he represents the view I hold and he frames things quite well. I have decided to reproduce it here.
As Evans completes his commentary on the infancy narrative he writes:
“At this point, we may inquire more closely into the question of historicity. Some commentators have suggested that the various components of the infancy narrative were produced through theological and typological interpretation of the scriptures of Israel. According to this line of thought, early Christian interpreters and apologist combed through the scriptures looking for clarification of the significance pf the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. Various texts, or ‘prophecies,’ were identified, which in turn created narratives. Understood this way, the infancy stories of the miraculous conception (Matt 1:18-25), the birth in Bethlehem and the inquiry of the magi (Matt 2:1-12), the flight to Egypt (Matt 2:13-15), and the murder of the infant (Matt 2:16-18) are not actual events in history but theological and midrashic creations.”
I should pause here to comment that Evans is not denying that the church studied the Scriptures to understand the meaning of Jesus. What he is denying is that in doing this there were a variety of obscure passages plucked from the text for no apparent reasons and applied to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When it comes to these aspects of the infancy narrative of Matthew it seems quite odd that these passages would be chosen. Evans explains:
“All of this is possible, of course, but the evidence for it and the logic behind it are not as compelling as some think. It is not at all clear that the prophecy of Isa 7:14 would have given rise to a story about a virginal conception. There is no history of interpretation that anticipates either a miraculous conception or a messianic identity of the child in Isaiah 7. Neither was there an expectation that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin. Indeed, had the conception and birth of Jesus been conventional, one wonders why anyone would have introduced a story involving a divine conception. Such a story would have created difficulties, for in Jewish circles it could have been viewed in terms of pagan mythology, in which a god produces a child through intercourse with a mortal woman. It is more likely that Mary’s conception was indeed unexpected and unusual, and given the outcome– the amazing power of Jesus demonstrated in his public ministry and his astounding resurrection following his passion– the claim of his conception bu an act of the Holy Spirit of God becomes plausible.”
In other words, there was a tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth that informed Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah rather than the text of Isaiah inspiring Matthew’s tradition about the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. There is no need for a divine messiah, and even if someone thought messiah to be divine, there is no evidence that anyone thought this was possible through a virgin birth alone. Of course, the more skeptical readers of Matthew will not find this argument convincing, but I admit that it is an argument like this one that has caused me to pause when I hear people speak of Matthew creating a virgin birth story. Even if Matthew was being apologetic in defense of Mary’s reputation wasn’t an appeal to Joseph as Jesus’ legitimate father an easier answer than a virgin birth?
Evans concludes his thoughts with the following:
“It is probably better to see the tradition of Mary’s unusual conception and the belief that it was of God’s Spirit as generating an appeal to Scripture, not the Scripture generating the story of Mary’s immaculate conception. In other words, Isa 7:14 was understood to explain the irregularities surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus. The prophecy of Isaiah not only foreshadows the unusual conception of Jesus but places in into the context of Israel’s history, in which God’s saving work is revealed.” (p. 63)
By Jerry Walls
Hope is a remarkable phenomenon. Hope gives meaning and direction to our lives, and nothing is worse than to live without it. This is graphically conveyed in the most famous line in Dante’s Inferno, the inscription that is written over the gate to hell: “Abandon every hope, who enter here.”
And yet, hope is a two edged sword. To express hope is to concede that all is not well. Hope signals discontent, it acknowledges a palpable absence and beckons something not yet here. To sing “O Come, O Come Immanuel” is to feel the cut of the sword.
And that raises one of the most fundamental of all questions: for what can we rationally hope? What kinds and degrees of happiness and fulfillment are possible? Can our deepest and largest longings for love, for joy, for peace, for justice ever be met? Or must we cut the size of our hopes down to small and medium?
Christianity, of course, is a religion of soaring hope. It urges us to enlarge our hopes, it promises happiness and fulfillment beyond our wildest dreams. Reality is far greater than we can imagine, more beautiful than we can conceive.
By glaring contrast, I was recently struck by these lines: