A Closer Look at the Virgin Birth

Note: To see common objections to the virgin birth, see the article here by Evidence Unseen called (Mt. 1:23) Did Isaiah really predict a virgin birth?

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Introduction

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.” [1]

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

Single Fulfillment

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.

Double Fulfillment

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.

Double Reference

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. [1]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. [2] 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. [3]

 Typological Interpretation

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.”[4]

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).[5] 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.” [6]

What we do know is that Matthew is using  the 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” ispesher, 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.” [7]

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.


[1] Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.

[2] A.G Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 33.

[3] Ibid, 36.

[3] 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.

[4] Duane A. GarrettType, Typology” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 785-786.

[5] Norman Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1999), 760.

[6] Fruchtenbaum,34.

[7] 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

Dr. Michael Licona: A Historical Presentation on the Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus at The Ohio State University

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004).

Here is a four part series on  his lecture for the Ratio Christi Student Apologetics chapter at The Ohio State University in Feb 2016.

 

Why Jesus Can’t be the Savior of the World Unless He is the Jewish Messiah

Can Jesus be the Savior of the world unless He is the Jewish Messiah?. Even though many professing followers of Jesus people are fully convinced that He is the Savior of the world, and millions of evangelistic appeals are given each year for people to accept Him as personal Savior, many believers know very little about what it means to affirm that Jesus is actually the promised Messiah of Israel and the nations.

The confusion as to whether Jesus is actually the Jewish Messiah was clearly demonstrated to me several years ago when I hosted a lecture on a major college campus called “Is the Jewish Messiah?” The speaker, our friend and scholar Dr. Michael Brown, was more than qualified to speak on the topic. But when it came time to promote the , I began to quickly see the challenge with the title when several Christians said to me, “So you’re saying Jesus isn’t the Christian Messiah?” And of course, some Jewish people said to me “Well no, Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah.” After all, one of the identity markers for Jewish people is that Jesus is not for them.

You can see the lecture here:

One of the most popular  articles on the JewsNews website is an article called Who exactly is the Jewish Moshiach (Messiah), and why is he so critical to the Jewish people?. While Christians take the time to celebrate the Savior of the world, they tend to forget unless Jesus is the Jewish Messiah of both Israel and the nations, he can’t be the Savior of the world. In other words, they can’t be divorced from each other. As Michael Bird says:

The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163

Anyone who has talked to people from groups like the author of this article or from groups like Jews for Judaism/anti-missionary groups will generally encounter thee kinds of objections that are mentioned in the article.

In response to this article, there is some overlap with this post and my other post called “Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies? After all, if we can’t even define messianic prophecy correctly and provide some tips on approaching the subject, we will never make any progress.

1. The Messiah is not divine-he is an earthly figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.

2. The Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.

3.  The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9).

4. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

 There is some overlap in these expectations and Maimonides view of Messiah: Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Here are some of his messianic expectations:

1.  The Messiah will be a king who arises from the house of David

2.  He helps Israel follow Torah

3.  He builds the Temple in its place

4. He gathers the dispersed of Israel

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “Heads, I win, tails you lose” approach.  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.” As if  it is that simple.

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment. This topic is also directly related to the topic of the covenants and God’s role with Israel and the nations.

I do want to say that a positive outcome of links like this one and others that discuss why Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus and the common messianic expectations is that it puts Jesus back into a Jewish context which is where he belongs. Many Christians have no context to their faith and know very little about the Jewish background on this topic.  In his book Kingdom Conspiracy (which I just finished), Scot McKnight summarizes what James Dunn says about understanding the importance of Israel. He says;

Dunn says we must begin with the story context: “It will have to be the context of Israel’s memory of its own monarchic past, of Jewish current experience under the kingship of others, and of the hopes of the faithful regarding God’s kingship for the future.”

He begins with three simple observations and then drenches those three points in a powerful display of evidence from Judaism of the various nuances at work at the time of Jesus. His three simple observations are these:

(1) God was King over all the earth (Ps. 103: 19); (2) only Israel acknowledges God’s kingdom, and that means Israel’s king (when they have one) is specially related to God the King; and (3) this universal kingship of God will someday, perhaps soon, expand over the whole earth. The integral features in the big story of Israel are these:

God is King, Israel is God’s people and as such is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom will someday cover the globe. We can say the story has three nonnegotiables: the universal kingship of God, the covenant kingship of God with Israel, and a future universal rule. These three nonnegotiable beliefs in the Old Testament and in the shaping of Judaism’s story are rarely alone and almost never this abstract or theoretical. Instead they flow into very timely and contextualized expressions, and it is here that Dunn advances our discussion. When those three ideas were at work in real ways with real people in real contexts, they wore all sorts of attire, and Dunn lists the different ways this basic story was told in various contexts:

  1. Return from exile
  2. Hope for prosperity, healing, or paradise
  3. The renewal of the covenant
  4. Building a new temple Return of YHWH to Zion Triumph over, destruction of, and sometimes inclusion of gentiles Inheriting and expanding the land
  5. A climactic period of tribulation Cosmic disturbances leading to a new creation
  6. Defeat of Satan
  7. Final judgment
  8. Resurrection Sheol/ Hades morphing into a place of final retribution This list does not come from one Jewish source. Each of the themes has traces or footings in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Each takes on either emphasis or de-emphasis depending on the author and circumstance. Each can be the entry through which the whole story of Israel can be told. It is not as if there are fourteen elements of the one story that we are called to tally up, making sure each gets represented in each retelling of Israel’s future”(pg 46). 

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and  is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed  for a specific purpose such as  priests (Exod 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev. 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; 1 Chron. 11:3; 5:17; 127; 2 Sam 19:11; 1 Kgs 1:34, 39, 45; 5:15;19:15,16; 2 Kgs 9:3, 6,12;11:12; 23:30; 2 Chron. 22:7; 23:11; 29:22; Ps 89:21), and even prophets  (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15). (Stanley Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2007), 38-39).

But notice these figures were all in the present. Hence,  none of these texts speak of a future figure. What we  do see is that  in many cases, the word anointed one, then, was not originally predictive, but descriptive. There are only a few cases where we see the possibility of one who will be a future eschatological figure.  One is in  Daniel 9:25-26 where it speaks of “anointed one” who will ‘finish transgression, put and end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy Place” (Dan. 9:24). One of the most dominant messianic themes is the expectation of a descendant  of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection: (Isa. 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezek. 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hos. 3:4-5).

Another is seen in Isa. 45:1 where God “anoints”  the pagan king Cyrus for the task at hand (Is 41:2-4, 45). Yes, even the pagan  king Cyrus was used to restore Israel while the nation was under attack (Is 44:28;45:13). Another text about a messianic figure  is seen in Psalm 2, which speaks of a day in which God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne. We will discuss this more as we move forward.

Also, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah  comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However, most Jewish people think there is going to be a messianic age. Let me give an example:

The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by  famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” (1)

“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Remember, other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.

To see more on this topic, see our previous post called Six Messianic Expectations and One Messsiah

Are You Suffering From Apologetic Burnout?

Are you suffering from burnout from doing apologetics? Are you showing sings of fatigue from the countless debates and arguments for and against your beliefs? Then may I suggest that it may time for a break! Remember, you are not indispensable! That means it is time to get back to the basics. As you many have already noticed, even though this blog is geared towards apologetic issues, I view apologetics as ONE brick in  a Christian’s foundation. But the key to being an effective witness who can defend and articulate the Biblical worldview in the marketplace of ideas is to first and foremost be a disciple of Jesus. This means we must learn to live how Jesus lived. Remember, Jesus always found time to break away and pray and he didn’t always say ‘yes’ to everyone when asked to do something. He knew the right time to engage and fellowship. He also did his ministry in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

What kind of resources are out there to help you become like the one who died and rose in our behalf? First of all, if you have decided to  take a break, obviously, it doesn’t hurt to get back to reading and mediating on the Bible. Also, another aspect of renewal is to get back to finding satisfaction in God. John Piper has made all his books available for reading.  Furthermore, rich community is important. Hence, deep fellowship with other Christians is a must!

As you may or may not know, some of his materials are designed to help Christians find complete satisfaction in the Lord.  I also think the late Dallas Willard set the bar in some of the books he wrote on this topic. I think any of the following books are a must read.

The Spirit of the Disciplines

Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ

Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus

Also, feel free to check out his website. Willard was certainly a top notch philosopher. But he was clearly a devoted disciple of Jesus and truly sought to emulate his Lord in all he did. Remember, if you are losing motivation or are continually struggling to keep up with the apologetics endeavor, it may be time for a break. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Is Jesus the Messiah? A Look at the Messianic T.A.S.K.

Introduction

Over the years I have been asked why Jewish people don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. From my own experience, when I have talked to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. One thing for sure: To assert that there has always been one view of the Messiah is total nonsense.

In this post I would like to give a  simple acronym that will help explain why Jesus is the Messiah. It is called T.A.S.K.

T: TITLES

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Jewish Scriptures records how “messiah” is a description of those anointed  with oil such as priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and even prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special task within  the Jewish community. Hence, they could be viewed as “a messiah.” However, this does not mean they are “the Messiah.” Also, just as a king could be viewed as “a son of God,” it does not mean the king is “The Son of God.” The term “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament.

To ask whether Jesus is the Messiah needs a bit of clarification. A better questions to ask is whether we can apply messianic titles to Jesus.  In  other words,  names were used to describe the messianic person other than “Messiah.” The messianic concept also has a much wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.  So the pressing issue is whether we can we apply messianic titles such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One to Jesus? In this case, the answer is yes.  I have written more about that here:

A: APPEARANCE

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first appearance of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

We see the following about this passage:

1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)

2. His decent is now limited to being a son of Judah

3. He is going to be a King

4. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

5. The nations of the earth shall benefit (i.e., on the idea of a beneficial rule see comments on v. 11, 12) is in keeping with the author’s view of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

David Baron (1857 – 1926) a Jewish believer and scholar was author of “The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah”, “ Types Psalms and Prophecies,” and “The Servant of Jehovah” says the following about Gen. 49:8-12:

“With regard to this prophecy, the first thing I want to point out is that all antiquity agrees in interpreting it of a personal Messiah. This is the view of the LXX Version [Septuagint—KB]; the Targumim of Onkelos, Yonathan, and Jerusalem; the Talmud; the Sohar; the ancient book of “Bereshith Rabba;” and among modern Jewish commentators, even Rashi, who says, “Until Shiloh come,that is King Messiah, Whose is the kingdom.” (see Israel and the Plan of God (Oxford, England, Kregal Classics, 2000).

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

“A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations.”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or  it may refer to the person of the Messiah. In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.

In the Midrash on Proverbs 19:21 (c 200-500 AD) it says: Rabbi Hunah said, “Eight names are given to the Messiah which are: Yinnon, Shiloh, David, Menachem, Jehovah, Justi de Nostra, Tzemmach, and Shiloh.”

In his book The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? author Michael Rydelnik notes that the NIV may have the best translation which says  “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, “Shiloh” is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27. We see that Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy?

1. This verse indicates that He (The Messiah) will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity.

2. Tribal identities were kept in the Jewish Temple. All of these records were lost in with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

3. The rabbis passed laws which would preserve the identity of the tribe of Levi, but Jews from other tribes lost their identity.

4. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

5. If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah.

6. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.

To read more, see here:

S: SERVANT OF THE LORD

A good study of the Abrahamic Covenant shows the Messianic blessing for all the world. Hence, all peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). The Abrahamic promise of blessing of the nations is repeated in Ps. 72:17; Isa.19:24-25; Jer. 4:2; Zech 8:13.

Keeping this in mind, within the book of Isaiah there are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.” How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

In order for the prophecy of Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. Remember, Isaiah 49:1-7 predicts that that the Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us ask the following questions:

1. Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of gentiles?

2. There are only a handful of major world religions, about five, so the search among the possibilities is rather manageable (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism Christianity/Messianic Judaism). Before the first century A.D. only the Jewish people and a few Greek philosophers were believers in one God, and only a small percentage of the world’s population had any awareness of the Hebrew Scriptures.

3. But now, 1.4 to 2 billion people profess to be followers of Jesus. And these are mostly if not all Gentiles. So while we are not saying large numbers makes a religion true, we do see a specific prophecy here that lays out the criteria for what God wants to do with Israel, the Messiah, and the nations.

4. How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion? A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.

5. Since the world has produced about five founders of major religions and since about one in 300 persons are Jews, a guesstimate for the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true is highly improbable.

6. This expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal.

7. Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. [1]

Also, Isaiah 53:2–12 predicts twelve aspects of  the Servant of the Lord all fulfilled: The Messiah

1. was rejected

2. was a man of sorrow

3. lived a life of suffering

4. was despised by others

5. carried our sorrow

6. was smitten and afflicted by God

7. was pierced for our transgressions

8. was wounded for our sins

9. suffered like a lamb

10. died with the wicked

11. was sinless

12. prayed for others.[2]

K: KEY

The Messiah is the one who unlocks the key to understand the entire Bible. As Jesus said to his disciples:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,  that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then  he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus  it is written,  that the Christ should suffer and on the third day  rise from the dead, and that  repentance andforgiveness of sins should be proclaimed  in his name  to all nations,  beginning from Jerusalem.

Remember the dual aspect of Messiah’s work as actually two comings of Messiah (the first time to suffer and the second time to reign). In the end,  fulfilled prophecy does show that certain events that come to pass are evidence of God’s special activity in the world.


[1] Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman, “Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons That Count Across Worldviews” {accessed May 10, 2012) at http://www.drjbloom.com/public%20files/PubTheoMethod.pdf.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Books, 1999), 611.

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Occasionally, some

“But Can’t I Just Share My Testimony?”

Over the years I have had plenty of Christians ask me about how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

In sharing the gospel Christians often resort to sharing a personal testimony. God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me ask a relevant question: Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone and heard a response such as, “I do not see my need to believe in Jesus. I am happy the way I am.” These type of responses are becoming more common in our culture. Let us look into the Scriptures to see how both Peter and Paul shared the gospel:

“Peter said, Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your holy one to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: the Lord said to my Lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore let all the houses of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah-this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see in this text that the primary apologetic methodology that Peter discusses is Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Acts Ch 2: 22-38).

Paul said, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

Just as Peter, Paul also appealed to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the foundation of the gospel.

As we observe how the gospel was presented by Peter and Paul, do they ever suggest that Jesus is just one of the many options that changes lives? After all, if people simply want to believe in something that makes them happy, a lie can work, but its effectiveness does not make it true; it is still false, even if the result is beneficial.

What we can learn from Peter’s sermon in Acts Ch 2: 22-38 and Paul’s creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-17 is an issue of objective truth. We should explain to our friends and acquaintances that the reason we believe the gospel transforms lives is because the gospel is true. In other words, just because our faith “works” for us and has changed our life is not what makes the gospel true. Rather, the gospel is first and foremost true; this is the reason why Jesus brings radical transformation in our character and actions. Just as Peter and Paul, we should try to appeal to an objective case for the gospel and then rely on our testimony to strengthen our case.

In sharing our testimony, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of pragmatism. Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland adds some valuable insight into this issue:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (1)

Finally, as James Warner Wallace says:

If evidential verifiability is truly a Christian distinctive, shouldn’t it cause us to live differently than the adherents of other religious systems? Shouldn’t we, as Christians, be the one group who knows why their beliefs are true and the one group who is most willing to defend what they we believe? Shouldn’t we be the one group most interested in making the case for our metaphysical beliefs? Why then, are we often uninterested in the evidence? It’s time for us to allow the distinctly evidential nature of Christianity result in distinctly evidential believers. The nature of Christianity, rooted in the Resurrection, allows us the chance to investigate and defend its claims. As Christians, we ought to be uniquely thoughtful, reasonable and evidential in our beliefs, because verifiability is a Christian distinctive.

To read his article called Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive- see here. 

 

Sources:
1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30