interpretation

Matthew misinterprets Isaiahs prophecy to refer to a future virgin birth

Matthews famous prophecy that a virgin shall conceive a son was taken wholly out of context and breaks every rule of biblical hermeneutics.

1. MATTHEWS QUOTE

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Mat 1:22-23)

2. THE ORIGINAL PASSAGE

The original passage in Isaiah is NOT about a global savior 500 years into the distant future, but about the destruction of two nations in Isaiahs own time. Aram (Syria) and Israel were planning to invade Judea, but Isaiah tells King Ahaz that God will protect Judea from this invasion, and destroy the invaders (Isaiah 7:5-9). As a sign of God’s swift destruction of these two nations:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for 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.”

A few verses later Isaiah impregnates a young woman, she bears a child, and right after this happens Syria is attacked (Isaiah 8:3-5). Prophecy fulfilled, hundreds of years before the era of Jesus.

WHAT IS THE RESPONSE? 

For the record, conservative biblical scholars are aware of this, and the those who are conservative generally excuse Matthew by saying he was using a literary construct called ‘midrash’ which is basically taking a few words or phrases from a passage that is clear, and pulling out some secret meaning.

For example, if I say “Tomorrow we will vote for a new president, and he will be a great man, I’m sure he will serve our country well for 4 years”  A person using ‘midrash’ could rip the phrase “he will be a great man” out of the whole narrative and say “this speaks of my child, and he will be great man, and he will one day be the ruler of the whole world.” Today if someone uses an intepretive framework like ‘midrash’ they fail seminary and are called heretics for twisting the scripture to make it mean whatever they want. But Matthew gets a pass.

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Did Jesus ask to be saved from the cross? Inconsistency in the Gospels?

There are many thematic differences between the Synoptic gospels (Mark, Mat, Luke) vs John’s Gospel. Seeing as Johns Gospel was the last one to be written, scholars say about 30-50 years after Marks, these differences serve as examples of the type doctrinal development during this gap.

One of these examples is the depiction of Jesus, the Synoptics show his humanity in that he prays for God to save him from the cross, while in John’s Gospel the divinity and might of Jesus is emphasized, thus this prayer-of-weakness is completely missing, and instead there is an earlier declaration that he wont ask to be saved from the suffering.

Jesus prayed to avoid crucifixion

There are other differences that illustrate this same theme:

  • In the Synoptics Jesus is depicted as saying “your will, not mine” which shows two conflicting wills. In John, this conflict of will is wholly absent, Jesus never says his own will is to avoid the suffering.
  • In the Synoptics Jesus is visibly grieved and in anguish, to the point of sweating blood, in John he is carefully composed.
  • In the Synoptics Jesus is quietly arrested, in John his voice knocks down everyone around him.
  • In the Synoptics the disciples repeatedly fall asleep, in John their sleepiness is absent.

Regarding the original point, there are two options

  • 1. Both events happened. (a) Jesus said he would not pray to avoid his death, and (b) he then did pray this way, if only for a bit before submitting. The Synoptics write about B but avoid A. John does the opposite, avoids B and writes A. In this case, the Synoptics vs John *still* purposefully depict two very different portraits of Jesus, and this “theological intent” is fascinating. In addition this raises the theological question about Jesus’ divinity, could Jesus make mistakes? Could he confidently assert that he would not fail X and then fail X?

    2. Both did not happen. In this case, Johns gospel by virtue of its lateness would be the embellishment that shows a less human version of Jesus.

The increase of biblical literacy has increased the amount of theological diversity

The more people read the Bible, the more diversity and difference of doctrine and opinion we see.

Since the Protestant Reformation, when individuals were first encouraged to read the Bible for themselves, the amount of denominations has increased exponentially, from the dozens to the thousands.

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There exists a canon within a canon that contains the books Christians actually read

There is a “canon within a canon” that contains the books clergy and laity frequently read and recommend, while there are other biblical texts that are oft hid.

“For centuries there has been a kind of canon within the canon, a selection of biblical texts read in liturgical contexts that are therefore the principal contact most believers have with the Bible. Conspicuously absent from [readings] are most or all of such books as Joshua, with its violent extermination of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan at divine command, or Judges, with its horrifying narratives of patriarchy and sexual assault in chapters 11 and 19–to say nothing of the Song of Solomon, with its charged eroticism, or of Job, with its radical challenge to the dominant biblical view of a just and caring God.” (1)

-Michael Coogan, leading Hebrew Bible scholar