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This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.
Christian apologists are known for arguing for the authenticity and reliability of the bible based on the existence of alleged prophecy fulfilments – that is, that things predicted in the bible have come to pass. We are often asked to accept Jesus as the divine ‘Messiah’ on account of numerous prophecies and predictions in the Old Testament that purportedly attained fulfilment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Such prophecies are called Messianic Prophecies.
The Septuagint as Reference:
One fact that is not in dispute by biblical historians is that the writers of the New Testament all had access to the SEPTUAGINT (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated in stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE).
The gospels were all originally written in Greek, and the writers of the canonical gospels used the Septuagint as their point of reference for the old Jewish writings, and were thus able to‘manufacture’ prophecy fulfilments, as they composed their accounts of the life of Jesus. Having the Septuagint at their disposal, they were free to pick and choose what messianic prophecies they could from the Old Testament, and mould their accounts of Jesus to fit the archetype of the anticipated Jewish Messiah.
The writer of the gospel according to Matthew, as with all the others, often exploited old scripture to authenticate his ‘Jesus’. Scholars agree that Matthew’s gospel was targeted at a Jewish audience, which is why he, more than any other gospel author, repeatedly goes to great lengths to prove the messiahship of Jesus by attempting to demonstrate parallels between the old messianic prophecies and his account of the life of Jesus.
He begins is gospel with a highly suspicious, and highly disputed genealogy of Jesus (which contradicts Luke’s), attempting to prove to his Jewish audience that Jesus was in fact descended from King David (the Jewish Messiah was expected to be descended from the line of King David, after all).
He can also be seen employing such phrases as:
Matthew’s technique, as is apparent, was to look for messianic prophecies in the Septuagint, and create events in his account of the life of Jesus that could demonstrate fulfilments of these same prophecies. He could then turn to the Jews, whom his gospel was written for, point to the ‘prophecy fulfilments’ in his narrative and make a case for why the Messiah had to be Jesus. Anyone with a copy of the Hebrew Old Testament for reference, and a bit of imagination, can just as easily compose such stories and attempt to authenticate them using this same technique.
There is nothing supernatural going on here.
The writer of Matthew does this throughout his gospel, even to the extent of cutting and pasting from Psalms 22:1 in order to show prophecy fulfilment in his account of Jesus’ famous last words in which he says, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Never mind that this makes no sense whatsoever; for if Jesus is ‘God’, why is he pleading with himself? And since he was aware of the divine plan, and kept telling his disciples he was going to die and be raised from the dead, what was he complaining about? By trying to beef up his gospel with manufactured ‘prophecy fulfilments’ such as these, he sacrificed the internal logic of his account of Jesus’ death.
Incidentally, it is also possible that this character called Jesus, if he actually existed, modelled his life to match the messianic prophecies well known in his day by anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures.
But since the only accounts of the life of this character are found in the gospels, we can’t know for sure that the events described in them even happened. Corroboration from neutral, contemporaneous, third-party sources would be required to lend credence to these stories. Such corroboration, however, does not exist.
The Isaiah Prophecy:
On what is regarded by Christians to be the most significant messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, Matthew writes in his first chapter (KJV):
(20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
(21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
(22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
(23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Here, the prophet that Matthew was quoting from was Isaiah. Isaiah wrote in Chapter 7 Verse 14:
(14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The word virgin, as it appears in the King James Version of Isaiah 7:14, is a mistranslation of the word ‘almah’, which appears in the original Hebrew texts. The Greek translators mis-translated almah, which in Hebrew means ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden’, as ‘parthenos’, which literally means ‘virgin’ in Greek. The writer of Matthew then applied this mistranslation in his gospel to imply prophetic fulfilment in Jesus being born of a virgin. [This mistranslation remains in many older versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version. However it has since been corrected in later Bible versions such as the Revised Standard Version, and the Good News Bible, where it ‘almah’ has been correctly translated as‘young woman’]
Had Isaiah intended to say ‘virgin’, he would have used, instead of almah, the word ‘betulah’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘virgin’. It can be seen in several other Old Testament passages where when the writers, including Isaiah, intended to refer to a virgin, they used the word betulah:
Genesis 24:16, Exodus 22:15, Exodus 22:16, Lev. 21:3, Lev. 21:13 & 14, Deut. 22:19, Deut. 22:23, Deut. 22:28, Deut. 32:25, Judges 19:24, Judges 21:12 , 2 Samuel 13:2, 2 Samuel 13:18, 1 Kings 1:2, 2 Kings 19:21, Isaiah 23:4, Isaiah 23:12, Isaiah 37:22, Isaiah 47:1,Isaiah 62:5, Jer. 14:17, Jer. 18:13, Jer. 31:3, Jer. 31:12, Jer. 31:20,Jer. 46:11, Ezekiel 44:22, Joel 1:8, Amos 5:2, Amos 8:13, Psalms 45:15, Psalms 78:63, Lam. 1:4, Lam. 1:15, Lam. 1:18, Lam. 2:10,Lam. 2:13, Lam. 2:21, Esther 2:2, Esther 2:3, Esther 2:17, Esther 2:19.
Matthew’s reference to the Isaiah prophecy was therefore erroneous. When you look at the correct Hebrew translation of the text, the woman Isaiah was referring to in his prophecy was not a virgin, but a young woman.
Furthermore, this specific prophecy made in Isaiah 7:14 was, according to the bible, fulfilled during the life time of King Ahaz, for whom the prophecy was originally intended.
To understand this, we must first look at the passages before and after Isaiah 7:14 to appreciate the context in which the prophecy was made:
(1) When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
(2) Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
(3) Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub,[b] to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.
(4) Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.
(5) Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying,
(6) “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”
(7) Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘It will not take place, it will not happen,
(8) for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
(9) The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’”
(10) Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz,
(11) “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
(12) But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”
(13) Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
THEN you get the famous Isaiah 7:14 passage:
(14) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The young woman will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
But the prophecy does not stop there. It continues into the next several verses; Isaiah 7:15-25:
(15) He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right,
(16) 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.
(17) 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.”
(18) In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.
(19) They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes.
(20) In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also.
(21) In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats.
(22) And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey.
(23) In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns.
(24) Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns.
(25) As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.
It is quite obvious that the prophecy was directed at King Ahaz, and was pertinent to his situation at the time, not some kind of prediction about a future ‘messiah’. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the ‘prophecy’ appears to have been fulfilled in the lifetime of King Ahaz, according to the bible itself:
(29) In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.
(30) And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.
(5) Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.
(6) At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.
(7) So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me.
(8) And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.
(9) And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.
Interestingly, in order to explain this anomaly, some Christian apologists argue that this was double prophecy, foreshadowing both the fate of Israel against its hostile neighbours during the rein of King Ahaz, and also the birth of the messiah. In making this claim, however, apologists unfortunately create another dilemma for themselves – for if it was a double prophecy:
were there TWO virgin births?
did the Messiah eat curds and honey when he knew enough to reject the wrong and choose the right? Or did he not know enough to reject the wrong and choose the right prior to the time the land of whichever two kinds were laid to waste? (As per the continuation of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:15-16)
By invoking double prophecy to escape the fact that the prophecy was already fulfilled in the time of Ahaz, apologists will end up having to cherry-pick verses in the Isaiah prophecy they imagine support the gospel narrative while neglecting the ones that would result in absurdities if accepted as having been fulfilled. For if they were to accept the notion that there was a time that Jesus did not know enough to reject the wrong and right (which would be the result if double prophecy is to be applied consistently) then that would render the omniscience or the eternal divine nature of Jesus refuted.
And that is exactly what apologists do – cherry-pick Isaiah 7:14, declare that a prophecy fulfilled only in as far as a virgin birth is concerned, and then pretend the rest of the chapter is non-existent or irrelevant.
So then did Isaiah’s prophecy partly come true, at least as far as Ahaz was concerned?
Throughout this post I’ve been analyzing the bible for its own internal consistency – that is, to see if the bible is consistent within itself. We have seen that even accepting, for the sake of argument, that Isaiah really made that prophecy, it cannot be said to have been about Jesus, because according the bible’s own narrative, that prophecy fulfilment occurred in the life time of King Ahaz, approximately 700 years before Jesus was born.
As it is, there is no extra-biblical evidence that the prophecy fulfilments described in the second book of Kings actually happened.
To make things even more interesting, the book of Chronicles tells us the opposite of what Isaiah prophesied is what actually happened:
(1) was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father:
(2) For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.
(3) Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
(4) He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
(5) Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
(6) For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.
So, as opposed to the second book of kings that says…
Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.… 2 Kings 16:5
…we are told in Chronicles that…
…Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.… 2 Chronicles 28:5-6
…which is a clear contradiction.
So not only do we lack extra-biblical evidence in support of the events described in the prophecies of Isaiah and their ‘fulfilments’ as described in the second book of Kings – we also have the bible flatly contradicting itself in its description of these same events that Christian apologists claim is a fulfilment of one half of a ‘double prophecy’.
As far as the Jesus story is concerned, the book of Isaiah, and its (failed) prophecy is completely irrelevant. It has simply been distorted to suit the needs of Christian propagandists – starting with the author of the gospel according to Matthew, to your modern-day apologist.