December 31, 2008

Immanuel, part 2

So, we saw last time that the famous "Immanuel" passage in the Christmas story comes from a prophecy in Isaiah ch.7. The prophecy in its original context did not foretell a future Messiah who would be born of a literal "virgin" (b'thulah), but rather, an impending birth of a child by a "young woman" or "maiden" ('almah).

We also saw that centuries after the prophecy was spoken by Isaiah, and over a century before Jesus' birth from a literal virgin, Jewish translators who translated the Hebrew text into the widely-spoken Koine Greek language translated Isaiah's 'almah with the Greek word for virgin, parthenos.

It is this text that Matthew pointed his readers to as having been by Jesus' virgin birth. So the question remains: How did Jesus' birth "fulfill" a prophecy spoken 700 years beforehand about a young woman giving birth to a child in King Ahaz's day?

It all hinges on what Matthew means by the word "fulfill."

When we say something "fulfilled" something spoken long ago, we immediately think of a prediction that then comes to pass. This is a perfectly valid meaning of "fulfill." But it's not the only meaning...and it's not the one that the NT writers most often mean.

Rather, when they speak of Jesus as having "fulfilled" the Scriptures, they mean that in His life, death and Resurrection, Jesus has relived, reenacted, or recapitulated the story of Israel found in her Scriptures. In other words, He has "filled fully" the story found in the text.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that when Matthew says Jesus' birth to a parthenos is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7's promise to Ahaz that "the 'almah (Heb.)/parthenos (Gk.) will give birth to a son and will call him 'Immanuel'", he IS NOT claiming that Isaiah 7 is making a future prediction about Jesus Himself being born of a virgin. Rather, Matthew is looking at the story of Israel as a whole, and in this case Isaiah's account of the seige of Jerusalem during Ahaz's time, and claiming that Jesus is repeating in his own life the story of Israel as a people...but where they failed, He will succeed.

We don't normally catch this meaning when reading Matthew 1-2 because often we are not very familiar with the original Scriptures Matthew is citing or their historical setting. But if we were, as Matthew's 1st century Jewish readers were, we would see that Matthew is using very well-accepted and widely-used Jewish interpretive methods of his time to make this point. He is keying in on certain terms that link Jesus' story with that of Israel. As Michael Brown notes in his EXCELLENT work on this passage:

For Matthew—rightly so—the Hebrew Bible was the Messiah’s Bible, and therefore, given that (1) Yeshua was literally Immanuel, God with us, (2) the Immanuel prophecy was clearly directed to the house of David, (3) Miriam, Yeshua’s mother was an Ężalmah who had never known a man, and (4) the surrounding context in Isaiah contained highly significant Messianic prophecies, it is no wonder that Matthew pointed to Isaiah 7:14 as being “fulfilled” in the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Who else fulfilled it? Or put another way, since Matthew knew beyond a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and since he knew that Yeshua was born of a virgin, was he wrong to quote Isaiah 7:14 in reference to Yeshua’s miraculous birth? Was it not another important link in the chain of promises and prophecies given to David and his line?

Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3: Messianic
Prophecy Objections (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2003), 28.

Basically what Matthew is saying to his readers is this:

"Hey, you know how in our Scriptures it talks about God giving a sign to Israel that the birth of a child named 'Immanuel' would herald their salvation from the threat posed by the seemingly unstoppable enemy surrounding them? Well God did it again! But this time He did it on a universal scale! This time another young maiden (who actually was a virgin!) gave birth to a son. And instead of just being named 'Immanuel', which means 'God-with-us", this son actually turns out to LITERALLY be God with us! And just as Immanuel's birth heralded the impending defeat of Israel's enemy Assyria, this "Immanuel's" birth heralds the impending defeat of Israel's ultimate enemy, the Evil One himself! Our people's story is being filled fully with new meaning in the person and work of this child born in Bethlehem! The story if Israel in Isaiah 7-11 is being relived through the arrival of her long-awaited Messiah, Jesus! This is indeed Good News ("Gospel"). There's a new Immanuel being born, who's actually "Immanuel" in the fullest sense! Israel's deliverance is near! "

But what ended up being so shocking about this "fulfillment" was the means by which Israel's (and the world's!) deliverance would come about...

Blessings and have a wonderful 2009!


December 18, 2008

Immanuel - Son of a 'virgin' or son of a 'young woman'?

Christmas time is here...happiness and for all, that children call...their favorite time of y...

Sorry. I just watched "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" a couple of nights ago! Best Xmas cartoon ever! [Note: It's okay to write "Xmas" because 'X' is the Greek letter "chi" which is the first letter in "Christ"...which is how early Xians abbreviated it sometimes.]

Anyway, while Linus' epic homiletical slam dunk pulled exclusively from Luke's Gospel, there is another account of the announcement of Jesus' birth found in Matthew's Gospel that is equally famous:

"Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:22-23, New American Standard Bible)

So Matthew is saying that the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, right? That's what most people who read or hear this passage at Xmas assume.

But it's not true.

"Sure it is! Look at Isa.7:14: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.' (NASB, KJV, NIV, ESV). It's right there in black and white!"

Not so fast though.

Look at this passage in the Revised Standard Version (along with the New Revised Standard Version): "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Is this just a case of the RSV and NRSV, which are often labeled by Fundamentalists as "liberal", "heretical" and even "wicked", mistranslating the text in order to take away from the Gospel message?


Hebrew-literate skeptics have pointed out that the Hebrew word for "virgin" is:


However, in the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah, we don't find the b'thulah. Rather, we find:


Now an 'almah could be a virgin (because most young women who weren't married were virgins), but the word itself speaks of the age of the woman, not her virginal status. So the translation "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 many Jewish friends have pointed out for centuries! "Young woman" is, in fact, the more acccurate translation.

So why, when he was writing his Gospel, did Matthew (*yes I believe Matthew wrote it and the arguments for late-dating, Q, and other such conjectures don't stand up to close scrutiny*) use the Greek word for "virgin"

[parthenos] when he came to this passage in Isaiah? Was he deliberately trying to make the Hebrew Bible foretell Jesus' virgin conception in order to fool the biblically-illiterate??


Over a century before Jesus was born or Matthew picked up his quill, the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek language--which had become the common language throughout the mediterranean in the wake of Alexander the Great's conquests--in order for Greek-speaking Jews who no longer spoke or read Hebrew to be able to read and understand the Scriptures. This translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek came to be known as the "Septuagint" or "LXX" (literally: "the seventy"because it was said to have been translated by a group of 70 Hebrew scribal experts...though this may be more urban-legend than fact.) And what word did the LXX translators use to translate 'almah in Isaiah 7:14 years and years and years before Jesus was born?

You guessed it! Parthenos

And it was the LXX translation which Matthew used in writing his Gospel. So Matthew was not twisting, mistranslating or misinterpreting Isaiah in order to write about Jesus' virgin conception. But from the first century on, most Christians have translated the Isaiah passage using the LXX's reading of Isaiah 7:14, whereas Jewish translations (and some Christian translations) have kept the Hebrew original's "young woman".

What makes things REALLY interesting is that when you read Isaiah 7:14 in its original context, it is NOT predicting the birth of the Messiah, NOR is it predicting something that would happen long after Isaiah's time (Isaiah lived more than 700 years before Jesus' birth!). Rather, it's predicting that a young woman would give birth to a child in Isaiah's day as a sign to King Ahaz of God's deliverance from the threat of Assyrian invasion.

So what is Matthew doing saying that Jesus' virgin conception somehow fulfills this prophecy??

Why do Christians read it every Xmas?

Why do some English Bibles still insist on translating "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin"??

Stay tuned to the Dojo to find out sometime next week...



December 17, 2008


I'll be honest...I usually hate Devotionals!

I know, I know...some people thrive off of daily nuggets from Max Lucado or The Upper Room. God bless 'em...I'll never understand such people, but I still love them as brothers and sisters in Christ. :)

However, I recently began reading a Devotional that caught my eye and I wanted to share it with the Dojo because I know I'm not the only one who wants more than the usual "Johnny-felt-sad-so-God-sent-a-rainbow-that-day-as-he-was-driving-home-letting-him-know-that-he-is-a-dear-child-of-his-heavenly-father" type devotional.

It's called "A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science, and Life" by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington.

Each day there is a 2-3 page excerpt by a scholar, theologian, scientist, artist, writer, historian, or other culture-shaper, followed by thoughts and questions based on the reading and Scripture. Just this week I've read devotionals on Abraham being the father of 3 faiths, God and the Human Genome, Milton's "Paradise Lost", Art as a response to God's beauty, a conversation with Muslims, the archaeology of Sodom and Gomorrah...and that's all within the first two weeks worth of readings!

It's also wonderful to pick up a devotional and find writings from the following people:
Randy Alcorn
Michael Behe
Darrell Bock
G.K. Chesterton
Francis Collins
William Lane Craig
Guillermo Gonzalez
Os Guinness
Gary Habermas
Walter Kaiser
Frederica Mathewes-Green
J.P. Moreland
Hugh Ross
Francis Schaeffer
John Stott
Dallas Willard
Philip Yancey

I'm looking forward to the next few months' with this Devotional and hope that the demand for more like this one increases exponentially among Christian readers.


December 15, 2008

Final thoughts on The Blue Parakeet and women preachers...

In my last post, I talked about Scot McKnight's new book "The Blue Parakeet", which I was reading at the time. I finished it two days ago and wanted to give a follow up.

"Parakeet" devotes the final 3rd of the book to looking at an issue in Scripture which for many readers is a "blue parakeet" issue (one that makes us uncomfortable, challenges us, or seems to go against other passages we read). The issue he chooses is the role of women in teaching and preaching in church settings. I won't recount the entire argument here, but I do want to point out a couple of things he does well, which many in the church--especially us Evangelicals who hold to the Inspiration of Scripture--should take more time thinking through and wrestling with (instead of the usual 'proof-texting' method preferred by many Biblical "experts").

McKnight's main point is that when we look at the Biblical record as a whole--as a story--we see the big picture and how God's moving and ordering history to accomplish His purposes. When we do this, we see that the handful of passages in the New Testament which seem to "silence" women from teaching men run counter to not only the overall plan of God to undo the effects of the Fall through the Gospel, but also to the actual events and roles of women in Scripture itself. As McKnight says, before we ask "What can women do?" (WCWD?), we need to ask "What did women do?" (WDWD?). When we ask the latter question, we find women teaching, preaching, ruling and having authority over men at certain points in both the Old and New Testament (i.e. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe, etc.). Therefore, when we come to passages in a letter where a New Testament author seems to reverse or condemn such leadership among women, we should probably look a little closer at the actual details surrounding those he is writing to before simply adopting his command to that congregation as universally binding.

I agree with McKnight on this issue (though unlike him, I was never raised with the "traditional" belief that women shouldn't teach or preach to men in the church). Whenever it comes up, I'm always curious as to why the discussion inevitably begins with the prohibitions contained in the later Biblical books (i.e. 1Corinthians, Timothy, etc.) and reads the entire Bible through the lens of those specific prohibitions instead of beginning with the clear passages depicting righteous women in leadership roles of authority over men when called by God to do so and then read the prohibition passages in light of such an overarching pattern.

Of course there are Godly Christians, men and women, who end up coming to differing conclusions about the role of women in spiritual authority positions. And while I don't for a second question their genuine faith, filling of the Spirit, and devotion to Jesus as Lord...I do believe on this issue they have erred in their interpretation of Scripture. For more on this, I recommend picking up a copy of "The Blue Parakeet" and then, listening to both views presented and critiqued by one another in resources such as this or this.

December 12, 2008

Perspective is everything...

Regardless of your politics, or whether or not you own a copy of The Green Bible, this site I came across puts human wastefulness in perspective like nothing else I've ever, artistically speaking, it's pretty impressive:


December 4, 2008

The Blue Parakeet...

I'm reading the book "The Blue Parakeet" by Scot McKnight right now. I'm thinking of suing him for plagiarism--I've been teaching this same stuff in Bible for the Rest of Us for years now!! Joking aside, this book is phenomenal. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the entire book.

If you want a sneak peek inside the book, you can find it on the publisher's website.

But if you trust me and just wanna go ahead and buy it now, I wholeheartedly recommend doing so!

And why the weird title? You're just gonna have to read the book to find out. But like "Velvet Elvis", the title immediately starts to make sense once you begin reading.


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