XFiles Friday: Messianic Prophecies IIMay 22, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)
Drs. Geisler and Turek are giving us a quick tour of just the highlights of the so-called “messianic prophecies,” and in so doing are inadvertently giving us a good lesson in just how contrived these “fulfillments” really are. In contrast to the earlier section where they dragged out a handful of Biblical references to actual facts (like the fact that certain people and cities existed), in this chapter they seem almost rushed as they hurry through the Old Testament, skipping over such minor details as the literary and historical context of the verses they use as proof texts. But we’re in no such hurry, so we might linger just a bit longer on those pesky details.
Picking up where we left off last week, we find Geisler and Turek turning next to Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
Their interpretation of this passage is a bit odd:
He will be God: Messiah will be born as a child, but he will also be God. He will rule from the throne of David.
They omit the contextual references to a military deliverance that destroys an army:
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
And they pick out just those details which they think they can use as a prediction of Jesus. But there are several problems with this interpretation, starting with the fact that Isaiah says nothing at all about any Messiah. Geisler and Turek assume he means a Messiah, but that’s something they’re reading into the text. And it doesn’t quite fit.
For example, David’s throne has ended. His kingdom does not exist any more, and the nation that sits in Palestine now is not a kingdom. There is no throne there to sit on, and the throne that Jesus allegedly sits on now is not David’s, but is a celestial throne at the right hand of God. Purely symbolic, of course, but it’s a symbol of ruling authority, and even in Christian eschatology, Jesus is not going to inherit the earthly throne/authority of David, but is going to establish his own throne/authority, over the whole world, by his own divine power.
Another problem is that the verses cited put the reins of government into the hands of this “child” already, as ruler over an unending kingdom. But Jesus isn’t ruling. He vanished at the beginning of the book of Acts (if not earlier), and according to the New Testament is currently “waiting” for his enemies to be defeated. What Christians do of course is to project this into the future, and claim that in some distant post-Parousian kingdom, this prophecy will be fulfilled. But if that’s the case, then it’s not really right to claim that Jesus has fulfilled it, because the alleged fulfillment hasn’t happened. Does this stop Christians from claiming that Jesus fulfilled it? I guess that’s a rhetorical question.
A bigger problem, though, is the part that says the predicted child will be called Eternal Father. Jesus, however, is not called the Father, he’s called the Son. You could take this to mean he’s going to be named after the Mighty God and the Everlasting Father, in which case this verse would not be prophesying that the child himself would be divine, but if you take the mention of “his name shall be called…God/Father,” as indicating what his true spiritual nature is, then it makes a bloody hash of Trinitarian theology.
Let’s move on to Micah 5.
Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders.
Pretty straightforward: when Assyria threatens the northern kingdom of Israel, God will call a mighty war hero out of Bethlehem, just like in the old days, and he and his seven “shepherds” will turn the Assyrian invasion into a rout, drive them back into their own land, and conquer them. So what is the Geisler and Turek interpretation of this passage?
Born in Bethlehem: Messiah, who is eternal, will be born in Bethlehem.
Wait, what? Micah didn’t say anything about Messiah, nor did he say anything about being born, nor did he say anything about being eternal. Nor do the circumstances surrounding the second verse have any resemblence at all to the circumstances that attended the birth of Jesus. The Assyrian Empire was long gone by the time Jesus was born. Micah’s hyped-up promises didn’t come true, and they’re not going to come true. Nor does that mean that the wreckage of his failed prediction is somehow “available” for rag-picker theologians to comb through looking for little nuggets they can put to good use. Micah screwed up, plain and simple, and if I were still a Christian, I wouldn’t be putting his goof on my short list of “proofs” that Jesus must be the Messiah.
One more for this week: Malachi 3.
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Another fairly easy passage. God promises to come to His temple and purge His priests like the refiner’s fiery forge that melts metal and lets you scrape off the cruft that floats up to the top (yeowch!), and then the ritual sacrifices will go back to being they way they were in the good old days. This is a pretty ominous passage, because it promises a time of such severe testing that the prophet wonders who, if anybody, will be able to endure it. Geisler and Turek’s rendition of this passage?
He will come to the temple: Messiah, who will be preceded by a messenger, will suddenly come to the temple.
Once again, the circumstances of Jesus’ life don’t really match the circumstances of the prophecy. Jesus’ life did not cause the priests to endure any particular fiery refinement. Jesus did not have any noticeable success in purifying the priesthood, nor is he particularly famous for turning people back to a renewed emphasis on Old Covenant sacrifices offered by men. In fact, according to Christian theology, Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices by becoming a sacrifice himself. Instead of restoring the old sacrifices to a place of prominence, he is supposed to have made them obsolete. Jesus doesn’t fulfill this “prediction,” he contradicts it!
By carefully excising a bit of a word here and a snippet of phrase there, though, Geisler and Turek craft a Messianic prophecy that they can count as having been fulfilled in Jesus time, even though God did not return to His temple and purge His priests and restore the sacrifices of men to the same prominence they had before. It’s not about what the prophecies actually say, you see, it’s about quoting a passage, and then quoting an interpretation, and then creating the preception that because some of the same thoughts and words appear in each, the quotation is actually saying whatever Geisler and Turek tell us it is saying.
When we hear Christians brag about the Bible’s amazing record of “fulfilled” prophecies, we can agree that it is indeed amazing how many “fulfillments” Christians manage to find in the various Old Testament passages they use and abuse to create their interpretations. This is part of the problem that attends the serious study of Scripture: if you do it honestly, you discover that the distortions and misrepresentations are not only infused throughout Christian thinking, they go all the way back to the New Testament writers themselves, who quote verses out of context and twist the words in ways that Christians would never tolerate from, say, a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness. And this is our “infallible guide” to eternal truth?
We’ve still got one more prophecy to cover, but that’s the passage about Daniel’s 70 weeks, and that’s worth a post in and of itself. Stay tuned.