Sunday, October 30, 2005

Matthew, Part II

The fulfillment of messianic prophecy in Jesus is sometimes advanced as strong evidence of his divinity. People have "calculated" the odds that a single man would fulfill all of these prophecies by chance alone, and of course their calculations show that it it ridiculously improbable, so Jesus must be God, etc. I am not going to critique those calculations today. I am going to examine some of the so-called prophecies that are included in Matthew. (And I'll speak of the author of the book of Matthew as Matthew, for simplicity, even though I don't think he wrote it.)

The first fulfillment of prophecy found in Matthew can be found in chapter 1, verses 22-23. These verses reference Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel". Take a look at the original passage. Start at the beginning of chapter 7 and read through 8:4. Pay special attention starting at 7:10. The nation of Judah is in trouble, and God tells Ahaz, the king, that everything will turn out fine. He tells Ahaz to ask for a sign that this is true. Ahaz refuses to ask, but God does it anyway: he says in verse 14 the words quoted above. Note that the context for this prophecy are intended for a specific place and time, and that they have nothing to do with a messiah. The son that is born is not in any way a savior, be it political, spiritual, military or anything else; he is merely the sign. And this prophecy is fulfilled in 8:3, though hardly miraculously, since Isaiah himself "approached" the prophetess so that she conceived and gave birth to a son. I should also say here that the word has been translated "virgin" does not really mean anything more than young woman. Certainly in the case of the prophetess that Isaiah "approached" it did not mean "virgin". To claim that Jesus fulfills a prophecy that was clearly not a messianic prophecy is dishonest.

In Matthew 2:5-6, the Matthew misquotes Micah 5:2. Matthew say "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, ... out of you shall come forth a ruler...". The original text in Micah says "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah... from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel." The difference being that the original text references a clan. Bethlehem was an Old Testament character, a descendent of a woman named Ephrathah, the second wife of Caleb. While not a certainty, it seems more likely that the town of Bethlehem was not intended here.

In Matthew 2:16, Matthew claims that Herod had all the male children two years and younger slain in and around Bethlehem. In verses 17-18 he references Jeremiah 31:15: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more. But again, look at the context in Jeremiah 31. Jeremiah is talking about Jews being taken into captivity. In verse 16 (immediately following the quoted "prophecy") it says "... and they [the children] shall return from the land of the enemy". This is not a prophecy about the messiah, and it does not describe the slaughter of children. The "fulfillment" found in Matthew is non-sensical: the event it describes does not fulfill the prophecy at all.

There are a couple of additional reasons to find this fulfillment suspect. This is the only reference to such an event ever occurring. Nowhere else is it mentioned in the Bible, and neither do any contemporary secular writers describe it, despite describing less atrocious acts by Herod. So it appears that Matthew made up the event in order to have a fulfillment to a prophecy that did not apply anyway. Why would he make up a story like that? That kind of story was, in fact, associated with many other mythological figures. Farrell Till writes

To say that history is silent about Herod's massacre of the innocents is not to say that the story is at all unusual. Parallel versions of it are so common in the folklore of ancient societies that mythologists have even assigned a name to the story and call it the dangerous-child myth. Space won't allow a review of all these myths, but the Hindu version is worth looking at, because it is strikingly parallel to Matthew's story. According to Hindu literature, Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, was born to the virgin Devaki in fulfillment of prophecy and was visited by wise men who had been guided to him by a star. Angels also announced the birth to herdsmen in the nearby countryside. When King Kansa heard about the miraculous birth of this child, he sent men to "kill all the infants in the neighboring places," but a "heavenly voice" whispered to the foster father of Krishna (who, incidentally, was a carpenter) and warned him to take the child and flee across the Jumna river.
Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus came with his familty to live in Nazareth, and that this was to fulfill the prophecy which stated "He shall be called a Nazarene." Now the interesting thing is that there is no prophecy stating that he would be called a Nazarene. There is Judges 13:5 which describes Samson being a Nazarite, but a Nazarite is not somebody from Nazareth, which did not even exist at the time of Samson. The words Nazareth or Nazarene don't occur in the Old Testament. (Archeologic evidence suggests that even at the time of Christ it was only a tiny village.) One more "fulfilled prophecy" that turns out not to be anything of the sort.

Finally, Matthew 27:9-10 claims that Jeremiah prophesied about the thirty pieces of silver being used to buy the potter's field. It wasn't actually Jeremiah that said that. It was Zechariah. And even then, the actual text in Zechariah 11:12-13 does not really match Matthew's rendering, either in words or meaning. Worse yet, only Matthew even mentions the thirty pieces of silver. So again we have what appears to be a not a fulfillment, but a fabrication, and not really a very good one.

To summarize, in order to support Jesus being the Messiah, Matthew claims that he fulfills a number of Old Testament prophecies, but these claims are weak and speak more of Matthew's dishonesty than anything else. Yesterday we saw Matthew improving Jesus' miracles. Today we saw Matthew fabricating prophetic fulfillments. Next we will examine Matthew's account of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

For further reading about biblical prophecies, here are a few web pages to consider: Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled, The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah and Prophecy Fulfillment: An Unprovable Claim.

No comments: