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The special jewish perspective of matthew. the first nativity. part ii. chapter 2.


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A historical and exegetical analysis of Matthew 1:18-25 focusing on the questions of Jesus' earthly mother and adopted father, the problems of the Messiah's geneaology, etc. Also the knotty question of the validity of St. Matthew's citation of the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 is defended.

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The special jewish perspective of matthew. the first nativity. part ii. chapter 2.

  1. 1. 50II. The Special Jewish Perspective of Matthew : Matthew 1:18-25. Matthew and Luke tell us that Joseph was betrothed to Mary when sheconceived Jesus. By the custom of those days a betrothal was a significantlymore sacred bond than an engagement is today. A couple might be betrothedfrom childhood, and this bond was legally as strong as marriage except thatthey lived apart and had no conjugal relations, and the woman’s family wasstill responsible for her care and support. Marriage was the final seal upon thebond, after which the couple lived together and the husband had fullresponsibility for his wife. If a betrothal were to be dissolved, however, theprocedure was equivalent to a formal legal divorce. When Mary was foundpregnant, she was betrothed but not married to Joseph. In the eyes of thecommunity, if Joseph were the father, they had both commited a serious sinand an unforgivable social and moral transgression. At best they would live inshame and lose all honor in the community. It would be better for them toleave and find a home elsewhere. This kind of uprooting would have beenconsidered nothing less than disastrous in a culture that placed such a highvalue on one’s home community. On the other hand, if Joseph were not thefather, by law he had the right to have Mary either stoned or cast out of thecommunity. Such casting out of a young unwed mother would have beentantamount to a death sentence. She probably would not have been able tosurvive on her own, and few people would have helped a woman in disgrace.In either case, Joseph’s honor in the community was severly tarnished. Hewould have been scorned as an immoral man, or laughed at as a cuckcold. A sign of his great compassion was his unwillingness to have Maryeither executed or banished, which a more vengeful man would certainly havedone. Instead, he arranged to divorce her formally, after which she could stilllive with her family, albeit in shame for the rest of her life. After the dream, inwhich the angel confirmed what Mary undoubtably had told him, that thechild was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph accepted her in spite of whatthis would do to his reputation in the community. Small towns and theirgossips are not forgiving, and Joseph and Mary would have to live with thewhispering for the rest of their lives. This may have been a factor in the refusalof the people of Nazareth to believe Jesus’ teachings. . . .1
  2. 2. 51 One fact deserves to be borne constantly in mind in the wholediscussion—the fact, namely, that Jewish Christianity was not confined to theschismatic Jewish Christians included in lists of heresies. It has been shownabove that even of the heretical Jewish Christians mentioned by Origen andothers some accepted the virgin birth. But this whole discussion has left out ofaccount the great numbers of Jewish Christians who in all probability simplybecame merged in the Catholic Church. And everything points to thehypothesis that these, and not the schismatics of whatever opinion, were inpossession of the most primitive historical tradition with regard the life ofJesus. The results of the foregoing investigation of the second-centurytestimony to the virgin birth may be summed up in two propositions:1. A firm and well-formulated belief in the virgin birth extends back to the early years of the second century.2. The denials of the virgin birth which appear in that century were based upon philosophical or dogmatic prepossession, much more probably than upon genuine historical tradition.2
  3. 3. 52 Jesus’ story is unique, and thus its beginning had to be unique. This is not aphilosophical principle or theological abstraction, but a requirement of real history. If theaffirmation of John 1:14 is to be taken as a sane and normal statement about God’s entrance intoour world, then we have to acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah’s coming into Judea in era of thePax Romana was and is an absolutely incredible event. But its setting in the life of the Jewishpeople and the kernel events in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Egypt are real and graphicallyillustratable space and time happenings. These matters are not spiritualized allegories ormystical feelings in the minds of gullible ancient people; these are empirical and plain facts inbright sunlight of Judea and things that transpired in the dark cool nights in Galilee and in thetiny hamlet six miles southeast of Jerusalem ca. 6 – 5 B.C. A few years ago, F.F. Bruce stated thiscase with amazing panache: . . . . But the argument [e.g., that history does not matter – JR] can be applied to the New Testament only if we ignore the real essence of Christianity. For the Christian gospel is not primarily a code of ethics or a metaphysical system; it is first and foremost good news, and as such it was proclaimed by its earliest preachers. True, they called Christianity ‘The Way’ and ‘The Life’; but Christianity as a way of life depends upon the acceptance of Christianity as good news. And this good news is intimately bound up with the historical order, for it tells how for the world’s redemption God entered into history, the eternal came into time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm of earth, in the great events of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The first recorded words of our Lord’s recorded words of our Lord’s public preaching in Galilee are: ‘ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe the good news. ’3 That Christianity has its roots in history is emphasized in the Church’s earliest creeds, which fix the supreme revelation of God at a particular point in time, when ‘ Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . . suffered under Pontius Pilate ’. This historical ‘once-for-all-ness’ of Christianity, which distinguishes it from those religious and philosophical systems which are not specifically related to any particular time, makes the reliability of the writings which purport to record this revelation a question of first-rate importance.4 A. The Engaged Couple and Jewish Customs : Mary & Joseph We begin with the human situation of Joseph and Mary in little town of Nazareth inGalilee. Not unlike many American small towns two millennia later, it was home to red-blooded Jews, who were intensely nationalistic and given to traditional patterns of life which
  4. 4. 53were instinctive and grounded in the experience of many centuries of the training of the OldTestament. Alfred Edersheim states that the people there were “ also with the petty jealousiesof such places, and with all the ceremonialism and punctilious self-assertion of Orientals. Thecast of Judaism in Nazareth would, of course, be the same as in Galilee generally.” 5 However,the people of Nazareth would not necessarily follow the rabbinic observances of the Judeansand there was a greater simplicity and freedom from certain practices thought necessary inmore sophisticated urban settings like Jerusalem. Yet, much like the country life of Americansmall towns today in the Midwest or the South, ancient Galileans had a purer home life andmarried relationships were conducted with customary family privacy and moral propriety.There was both less regard for formality and also desire to keep the wedding celebration chasteand simple; thus the institutions of the groomsmen (or “friends of the bridegroom”, John 3:29)with its tendency toward coarse male behavior, was highly discouraged. Edersheim adds :“The bride was chosen, not as in Judea, where money was too often the motive, but as inJerusalem, with chief regard to ‘a fair degree;’ and the widows were (as in Jerusalem) moretenderly cared for, as we gather from the fact, that they had a life-right of residence in theirhusband’s house. ”6 The learned Dr. Edersheim, himself a Christian Jew, explains further aboutthe betrothal process and the unique situation of Mary and Joseph : Such a home was that to which Joseph was about to bring the maiden, to whom he had been betrothed. Whatever view may be taken of the geneaologies in the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke – whether they be regarded as those of Joseph and of Mary, or, which seems the more likely, as those of Joseph only, marking his natural and his legal descent from David, or vice versa – there can be no question, that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage of David. Most probably, the two were nearly related, while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being no doubt on her mother’s side, a ‘blood – relative’ of Elisabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias (Luke 1:36). Even this seems to imply, that Mary’s family must shortly before have held higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of Priests. But at the time of their betrothal, alike Joseph and Mary were extremely poor, as appears – not indeed from his being a carpenter, since a trade was regarded as almost a religious duty – but from the offering at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:24). Accordingly, their betrothal must have been the simplest, and the dowry settled the smallest possible. Whichever of the two modes of betrothal may have been adopted: in the presence of witnesses – either by solemn word of mouth, in due prescribed formality, with the added pledge of a piece of money, however small, or of money’s worth for use; or else by writing (the so-called Shitre Erusin) – there would be no sumptous feast to follow; and the
  5. 5. 54 ceremony would conclude with some such benediction as that afterwards in use: ‘ Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the World, Who hath sanctified us by His Commandments, and enjoined us about incest, and forbidden the betrothed, but allowed us those wedded by Chuppah (the marriage–baldachino) and betrothal. Blessed are Thou, Who sanctifiest Israel by Chuppah and betrothal’ – the whole being perhaps concluded by a benediction over the statutory cup of wine, which was tasted in turn by the betrothed. From that moment Mary was the betrothed wife of Joseph; their relationship as sacred, as if they had already been wedded. Any breach of it would be treated as adultery; nor could the band be dissolved except, as after marriage, by regular divorce. Yet months might intervence between the betrothal and marriage.7 We must not think of the ancient Jewish betrothal in terms of our modern dating andengagement practices. Both engagement and marriage in the ancient world of the Bible hadmore seriousness and permanence. And the customs and laws of Israel protected the family asthe primary unit of society as marriage and children were not just a matter of personalconvenience, but were a matter of tribal and national survival. Most importantly, for thebelieving Jew, God had established this institution in the very beginning of history andprotected it with His holy commandments. The main word for “betroth” (i.e., the verb) and“betrothed” in the Old Testament is used only about a eleven times (there is another OldTestament word, but it is only used in marital sense 2 or 3 times). The Hebrew wordused is , ‘aras and it is found in Exodus 22:16; Deuteronomy 22:23,25,27,28; 28:30; 2Samuel 3:14 and Hosea 2:19 (2X) and 2:20.8 When we get to the Greek New Testament,the word for “espousal” or “betrothal” is νηστεύω. It is only used three times in the NewTestament: Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27, and 2:5. One other word used in the original Greek of theNew Testament for “to espouse” or “to betroth” is ἁρ όζω is found in 2 Corinthians 11:2. Thisis a special word and it definitely has a Hebrew and Old Testament background.9 Now one should consider the linguistic facts in the context of the cultural and socialexpectations of that day. The Holman Bible Dictionary observes: Old Testament: The biblical terms, betrothal and espousal, are almost synonymous with marriage, and as binding. Betrothal and marriage comprised a moral and spiritual principle for the home and society. The penalty under the law of Moses for disrupting this principle by adultery, rape, fornication, or incest was death by stoning (Deut. 22:23-
  6. 6. 55 30). Later under some circumstances the Jewish legal system allowed divorce. The forgiving love and grace of God for his adulterous people is demonstrated by Hosea buying back his adulterous wife and restoring her to his home and protection (Hos. 2:19- 20). This means that forgiveness takes precedence over stoning or divorce. New Testament: Mary and Joseph were betrothed but did not live together until their wedding. When Mary came to be with child during betrothal, Joseph decided to quietly divorce her. In a dream from God, the apparent unfaithfulness of Mary was explained to Joseph as a miracle of the Holy Spirit. This miracle gave emphasis to the unique human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. Paul used the betrothal concept to explain the ideal relationship that exists between the church as a chaste virgin being presented to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2).10 Unlike our modern and post-modern social culture with its loose view of marriage as alegal contract to justify sexual cohabitation and as a means to allow “domestic partners” tocollect government or medical benefits, ancient Judaism saw the marriage relationship in sacredand permanent terms. Indeed, as the majority of serious scholars acknowledge, the heart of theHebrew concept of marriage was the notion of a holy covenant. Thus, it was not only a legallybinding agreement, it was a spiritual pledge with both physical and social obligations (Cf.Proverbs 2:17). Since Yahweh himself served as a witness to the marriage covenant (andoriginated it, Genesis 2:24-25), He promised blessing on its faithful preservation but attachedhatefulness to its betrayal (Malachi 2:14-16). Since the LORD and His Spirit intimately enter intothis sacred pledge, this kind of union between man and woman is not a mere social conveniencebut a spiritual bond created in the name of God. Jesus later taught that this meant that amarried couple “ [they] are not longer two, but one ”(Matthew 19:6). Thus, according toScripture, marriage has three Divine purposes: (1) true and godly companionship (Genesis 2:18;Proverbs 18:22), (2) the production and nurturing of godly offspring (Malachi 2:15; I Corinthians7:14), (3) the fulfillment of God’s calling upon an individual man or woman’s life as a deputy ofGod’s creation (Genesis 1:28). Unlike the narcisstically selfish and physically trivialized view ofsex in modern American culture, the Biblical perspective on sex is relational and sociallysanctifying. Marriage and divorce in ancient Israel was guided by these principles. The NIVArchaeological Study Bible has an excellent summary of these things:
  7. 7. 56 It was customary in ancient Israel for parents to arrange a marriage (Ge 24:47-53; 38:6; I Sa 18:17) although marrying for love was not uncommon (Jdg 14:2). Arranged marriages highlight the nature of the marriage covenant as a commitment intended to outlast youthful infatuation. The declaration at the first marriage “ This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh ” (Ge 2:23), is a kinship formula (Ge 29:14; 2 Sa 5:1; 19:12-13). Marriage binds husband and wife together into an entity greater than either partner as an individual and it does so in order to assure continuity of the family lineage. Marriage within the kinship group was encouraged so as not to alienate family land holdings (Ge 24:4; Nu 36:6-9), and in the event that a woman’s husand died and left her childless the law provided for the husband’s brother to act as a levirate in order to raise up offspring for the deceased (Ge 38:8; Dt. 25:5-6). An engagement period preceded the wedding celebration and the consummation of the marriage union. The pledge of engagement was regarded as being as binding as the marriage itself and a betrothed woman was considered legally married (Dt 22:23-29). The engagement was concluded with a payment of a bride-price to a woman’s faither (Ge 29:18; Jdg 1:12). This may be understood as a compensation given to the family for the loss of their daughter. The father enjoyed its usage temporarily, but the money reverted to the daughter at the father’s death or in the event she were widowed. In addition gifts were given to the bride and her family at the acceptance of the marriage proposal (Ge 24:53). Thus marriage and its attendment economic investment brought the bride and groom’s families into legal relationship with one another (Ge 31:50). Israelite law included a provision for divorce – initiated by the husband only. Marriages were dissolved contractually with a certificate of divorce (Deut 24:1). This divorce document most likely recorded a formula of repudiation declared orally before witnesses: “ She is not my wife, and I am not her husband (Hos 2:2). The declaration might have been accompanied by a sign the act of removing a woman’s outer garment as an annulment of the promise made at the time of the wedding to protect and provide for her (Ru 3:9; Eze 16:8 37; Hos 2:3, 9). A man was not permitted to divorce his wife if he had forcefully violated here while she was yet unbetrothed (Dt. 22:28-29) or if he had falsely accused her of nonvirginal status at the time they had wed (Dt. 22:13 – 19).11 Thus, taking Matthew 1:18 as our starting point as our historical and literary point ofdeparture, we are at once confronted with the absolute distinctiveness of Jesus’ human origin.It is perfectly clear that there were to be no sexual relations during a Jewish betrothal period.Furthermore v. 20 plainly states that while Joseph and Mary were legally covenanted to eachother, they had not yet been living together in the same house as husband and wife. Once againthis precisely accords with Deuteronomy 22:24 where a betrothed woman is called a man’s wifeeven though the preceding verse calls such a woman “ a virgin pledged to be married .” ForTorah-observant Jews sexual unfaithfulness during this betrothal period would have beennothing less than adultery which could be punishable by death through stoning (Cf. Leviticus20:10; Deuteronomy 22:23-24). From the Nativity pericope (vv. 19-20) we see Joseph, a godly and
  8. 8. 57compassionate groom, planned to have a private divorce. This would allow him to maintain hispersonal righteousness while still saving young Mary from certain public disgrace and possibledeath. From the standpoint of human reason and custom, it was a weak win-win response to anotherwise lose-lose situation. B. Matthew’s Geneaology of Christ and Special Emphases The first distinctive or special emphasis of Matthew’s Nativity account is his uniquegeneaology in the first seventeen verses of his opening chapter. Matthew deliberately andformally links the life of Jesus to the life of King David and of the prime Hebrew patriarchAbraham (v.1). Every devout Jew who faithfully read the Hebrew Bible knew that God hadpromised Abraham a “seed” to bless the nations and that He further specified that from theline of David the Messiah (“the Anointed One”) would come. Accordingly, he concludes inverse 17: “ So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from Daviduntil the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon untilthe Christ are fourteen generations” (NKJV). The reader will notice please, that Matthewdesires unequivocally to identify Jesus, the son of Mary and the legal (adopted son) of Joseph,(v.16) with “the Christ.” Yet, there is a subtle change in the pattern when Matthew reaches the line describingJoseph. Unlike all the previous individuals in Jesus’ geneaology Joseph is not listed as “thefather of” anybody; rather, he is called “ the husband of Mary.” From Matthew’s narrativewhich immediately follows (as with Luke’s account later), we are told explicitly that Jesus wasborn from Mary, but not from Joseph. This is why Joseph, the desperate and perplexedbridegroom portrayed in the later verses, having discovered his betrothed was pregnant,wanted to act quickly and discretely to deal with an incredible personal crisis. But God directlyintervened and save the day, there came to Joseph a supernatural revelation that Mary’spregnancy was not because of another man. Her conception and this child was thesupernatural and prophecied action of God the Holy Spirit (1:20-21). This son therefore wouldbe of the Messianic promise, He would be Immanuel (= “ God with us”), the literal fulfilment
  9. 9. 58of the prophet Isaiah’s declaration in Isaiah 7:14 (1:23). He would save His people from theirsins – He would be the Savior of Israel (1:21-22), Jesus (or Yeshua) whose name actually means“ Yahweh is salvation.” Joseph’s dilemma turned into unbelievable deliverance for his ownfamily and his nation. Matthew, the ever meticulous scribe, dutifully notes that Joseph had nosexual relations with Mary until after the promised child was born in Bethlehem (v. 25). Then,immediately in the next phase of the narrative (2:1-12), Matthew depicts the aftermath of Jesus’nativity in Bethlehem when the mysterious Magi (Gk. magoi) arrived in the city of Davidlooking for the King of the Jews. Matthew notes how these sages of the East were led there by aspecial Star (astronomical phenomena ?) and that they had made their immense journey tohonor and worship this child who was born a God-ordained king.12 Every person who carefully studies the nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke’srespective Gospels will note that there is a significant divergence of the list of names in the twogeneaologies. Professor Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary) makes the important point in hiscommentary that there are two contemporary views about these distinctive geneaologies: Two major proposals concern the divergence of names in the two geneaologies: (1) Luke presents Mary’s geneaology, while Matthew relates Joseph’s ; (2) Luke presents Mary’s geneaology, while Matthew gives his legal ancestory by which he was the legitimate successor to the throne of David. Knowing which of these solutions is more likely probably is impossible unless new evidence turns up.13 While certainly agreeing with many scholars that Jewish Matthew had a concern forestablishing the geneaological purity of Jesus’ ancestory, this writer is not so keen on the theorythat such motivation led Matthew to a strained midrashic exegesis of the Bible’s texts to proveit.14 Professor Craig A. Evans in a popular layman’s commentary on the Synoptic Gospelsquestions the assumption behind this kind of reasoning, i.e., that there was not unanimousJewish opinion in the early Christian period that the Messiah would stem from David. Whilethis researcher cannot comment on whether there was indeed unanimous Jewish opinion aboutthe Messiah’s Jewish ancestory in the first two centuries A.D., he is absolutely certain that the
  10. 10. 59New Testament writers reflected the ancient teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Messiahwould be of the seed of David. Professor Evans wisely comments: Although the Matthean and Lukan geneaologies differ in significant ways, they agree that Jesus was the descendent of King David. Some scholars dispute this tradition, but there is important evidence in its support. Paul accepted it, even though it seems to have been of little importance to him (Rom. 1:3). There is not a hint that the claim of Davidic descent was controversial. As a former opponent of the early Church, one would think Paul would have known of such controversy, had there been any. There is also a tradition that the grandsons of Jesus’ brother were questioned regarding their Davidic descent (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3:20; cf. Africanus, Letter to the Aristides; b. Sanh. 43a: “ with Yeshu [i.e., Jesus] it was different, for he was related to royalty [lit. to the kingdom]”). 15 Thus it appears to this writer that while there may have been some philosophicalspeculation about the Messiah’s proper credentials among non-believing Jews, Matthew’spurpose was not speculative or exegetical (in the symbolic sense) but strictly historical andfactual. Matthew-Levi, a former Roman tax-collector and public scribe (somewhat akin to amodern city or county commisioner), desired, we believe, to refute the latter Jewish suspicion ofillegitimacy surrounding Mary with the example on ancient non-Jewish heroines sanctionedthrough Divine blessing and election. The entire context of the Virgin conception (vv. 18-25)makes it clear that Mary’s innocence is due to God’s miraculous action. One must either acceptit whole-cloth or entirely doubt it. The specific grammar of the text in v. 16 however, makes itcertain that the author believed firmly that Joseph was not the human father of Jesus as therelative pronoun “whom” (Gk., ἧς ) here is feminine and therefore can only refer to Mary as thehuman parent of the Christ child.16 Professor Ethelert Stauffer, after his painstaking review ofthe remote evidence in The Gospel of John (John 2, 3), the paradoxical negative evidence of Mark6:3,4 and even the remoter Islamic (Koranic) tradition about Jesus (Sura 3.40; 19:16ff. ),bombastically asserts: To sum up: Jesus was the son of Mary, not of Joseph. That is the historical fact, recognized alike by Christians and Jews friends and adversaries. This fact is signifi– cant and ambiguous like all the facts in the history of Jesus. The Christian believed him to begotten by act of the Divine Creator. The Jews of antiquity spoke of Mary as an adultress. Out of this struggle between interpretation and counter–interpreta– tion – which, according to Mark 6,3 and Matthew 11,19, had already begun in the
  11. 11. 60 lifetime of Jesus–the account of the ancestory of Jesus in the major Gospels emerged. They lay stress on Joseph’s having bowed himself to the miracle of God. He neither denounced nor abandoned Mary, but rather took her into his house as his lawful wife and legitimized the son of Mary by personally naming him. By this act Jesus was admitted in a formal, legal sense to the house of David. 17 As the author endeavored to throughly review the facts about the two Gospelgeneaologies, he came across a fresh perspective written by a contemporary well-informedJewish-Christian (i.e. Messianic Jew), Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum who has re-explored thisquestion. As this author attempted to explain how Matthew intended to defend the rightfulclaim of Yeshua ben Joseph to the throne of David, he emphasized the diverse perspectives ofMatthew and Luke. First, let us hear his introductory comments: Of the four Gospels, only two give us a genealogy, the same two that deal with the birth and early life of Jesus. Both Mark and John do not deal with the birth of Yeshua or His early life. Matthew and Luke do record those events, so it is natural that only these two would bother recording a genealogy. While both Matthew and Luke give us the story of the birth of Jesus, they tell the story from two different perspectives; Matthew tells the story from Josephs perspective, while Luke tells the story from Marys perspective. In Matthew, we are told what Joseph is thinking, what is going on in his mind; but we are told nothing of what Mary is thinking. We read of how angels appeared to Joseph, but there is no record of angels appearing to Mary. On the other hand, when we go to Lukes gospel, we see this same story told from Marys perspective. In the Gospel of Luke, it is Mary who plays the active role while Joseph plays the passive role. We find the angels appearing to Mary, but no angels appearing to Joseph. We are told several times what goes on in the mind of Mary but we are never told anything about what Joseph is thinking. From this context, when we have these two genealogies and these two Gospels only, it should be very evident that since Matthew tells the story from Josephs perspective, we have the genealogy of Joseph; whereas when Luke tells the story from Marys perspective, we have the genealogy of Mary instead.18 Yet, as Dr. Fruchtenbaum goes on to examine in detail the need for two distinctivegeneaologies, he differs in an important respect from the typical evangelical account. Thepopular view is that while Matthew gives us the “royal line” of Jesus, Luke provides the “real” orbiological ancestory of the same. Accordingly, he observes that some teachers holding thatJoseph is the heir-apparent to the throne of David reason that since Jesus is the adopted son ofJoseph, he has a rightful legal claim to David’s throne. Fruchtenbaum avers, however“Therefore, these teachers conclude that: through Mary, He was a member of the House of
  12. 12. 61David, but He claims the right to sit on Davids throne through Joseph because He was the heir-apparent. However, we will show in this study that, actually, the exact opposite is true. ”19 Howis this interpretation possible? Our author offers this sagacious argument: Matthew breaks with Jewish tradition in two ways: he skips names, and he mentions names of women. Matthew mentions four different women in his genealogy: Tamar, the wife of Judah; Rahab; Ruth and Bathsheba. Why does he mention these four when there are so many other prominent Jewish women whom he could have mentioned in the genealogy of Yeshua? One thing that the four women had in common was that they were all Gentile. What Matthew was doing by naming these four women and no others is to point out that one of the purposes of the coming of Yeshua was not only to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but also that Gentiles would benefit from His coming. Three of these women were guilty of specific sexual sins: one was guilty of adultery; one was guilty of prostitution; and one was guilty of incest. Again, Matthew begins hinting at a point he makes quite clear later; that the purpose of the coming of the Messiah was to save sinners. While Matthew breaks with Jewish tradition in these two ways, Luke, however, follows strict Jewish law, procedure and custom; he does not skip names, and he does not mention any womens names. 20 On the other hand, while agreeing with the essential logic of Dr. Fruchtenbaum’sanalysis of Matthew’s geneaology, it is possible to see First Gospel writer’s greater thrust asactually setting for the the royal succession coming from David and culminating in Jesus. Thereare at least three sets of facts in favor of this understanding: (1) His geneaology follows theactual line of Jewish kings; (2) Since Matthew’s Gospel narrative is distinctively that of theGospel of the Kingdom, his reports of Jesus’ ministry emphasize Jesus’ ultimate Messianicintentions which would fulfill the hope of the Hebrew Scriptures (Matthew 4:17; 5:17-19, etc.).Indeed, in the latter part of Matthew’s record Jesus’ Transfiguration underscores “ Jesus comingin His Kingdom ”(16:28). (3) Finally, Matthew’s genealogy is nuanced in a special way: he linksthe names in his geneaology with the term “begat.” The English idea of this word would seemto exclude any shifts in the actual blood line yet the Greek term gennao (Gk., ) denotesnot merely biological conception but also frequently means “cause to bring forth” or“produce.” God arranges kingdoms, marriages, and births !21 Yet, as has already been painfullyobserved, Matthew and Luke’s geneologies radically differ (which is acknowledged in Dr.Fruchtenbaum’s analysis). Dr. Edward Rickard argues that the succession did pass into Joseph’s
  13. 13. 62line at the time of Salathiel (Sheatiel) and Zerubbabel (comparing Luke 3:27 and Matthew 1:12),yet passed out of it again for several centuries. He suggests that if Matthan in Matthew’s list(v.15) is the same as Matthat in Luke’s (v. 24), the succession returned to Joseph’s blood lineonly a generation or two before Jesus was born (this part, of course, disagreeing with Dr.Fruchtenbaum’s argument).22 And because this point is so crucial to this study we shall quoteDr. Rickard in extensio: Second argument: The two genealogies of Jesus seem to contradict each other. Reply: The following are the three most serious discrepancies. 1. The two lines converge in the names Salathiel and Zorobabel, but diverge in the name of Salathiels predecessor (Matt. 1:12-13; Luke 3:27). Matthew calls him Jechonias (Jeconiah). Luke calls him Neri. The Old Testament states that Salathiel (that is, Shealtiel) was the son of Jeconiah. 15 And the sons of Josiah were Johanan the first-born, and the second was Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum. 16 And the sons of Jehoiakim were Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son. 17 And the sons of Jeconiah, the prisoner, were Shealtiel his son, 18 and Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah. 19 And the sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. And the sons of Zerubbabel were Meshullam and Hananiah, and Shelomith was their sister; 20 And Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Jushab-hesed, five. 1 Chronicles 3:15-20 Shealtiels place at the head of Jeconiahs sons clearly indicates that he was the principal heir—indeed, that he was the legitimate successor to the throne (v. 17). The expression "his son" after Shealtiels name does not necessarily signify physical descent, however. The double occurrence of Zedekiahs name (vv. 15-16) shows that the expression can designate merely an appointed heir. Although Zedekiah is called Jehoiakims son (v. 16), he was not the natural son of Jehoiakim. He was actually Jehoiakims brother (v. 15; 2 Kings 24:17). Thus, the meaning of the record is that Jehoiakim had two successors with the legal status of sons. The first was his natural son Jeconiah. The second was Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar placed on the throne in Jeconiahs place. In conformity with the official genealogy stated here, the chronicler elsewhere identifies Zedekiah as Jeconiahs brother (2 Chron. 36:10). After listing the sons of Jehoiakim, the record goes on to indicate that after Zedekiah was removed from the throne, the throne rights reverted to Jeconiah, who was still alive, a prisoner in Babylon (v. 17). The right of succession then passed to Shealtiel, who, like Zedekiah, need not have been Jeconiahs natural son. Indeed, he was the son of Neri (Luke 3:27). The circumstances leading Jeconiah or his Babylonian overlords to bestow kingly honors on Shealtiel cannot now be imagined. Yet a break in the royal succession had been predicted by Jeremiah.
  14. 14. 63 28 Is this man Coniah [Jeconiah] a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not? 29 O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord. 30 Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah. Jeremiah 22:28-30 Jeremiah had declared that no physical descendant of Jeconiah would ever sit on the throne of David. If his prophecy was true, and if Jesus was the Christ who would sit on the throne of David forever, Jeconiah obviously could not have been an ancestor of Jesus. We have already shown why the inclusion of Jeconiahs name in Matthews genealogy (Matt. 1:12-13) offers no great difficulty. Matthew gives a roster of kings and legitimate pretenders, not a roster of ancestors. Salathiel, the next person after Jeconiah in Matthews list, was an ancestor of Jesus, but not a descendant of Jeconiah. He was, in fact, the son of Neri. Jesus was descended from David through Nathan and Neri rather than through Solomon and Jeconiah. The curse on Jeconiah did not touch the blood lineage of Jesus.2. Both genealogies state that Zorobabel (Zerubbabel) was the son of Salathiel (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). But the Old Testament chronicler identifies Zerubbabel as the son of Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:19). Though present knowledge does not permit an easy solution, the discrepancy does not undermine our confidence in the two genealogies of Jesus, since, in their assertion that He descended from Salathiel (Shealtiel), they agree with each other and with several Old Testament texts (Ezra 3:8; 5:2; Neh. 12:1; Hag. 1:1). If we grant that Luke states the blood line of Christ, we must conclude that Salathiel was indeed Zorobabels father or grandfather. Pedaiah and the others listed in 1 Chronicles 3:18 may be the sons of Shealtiel rather than Jeconiah.3. After Zorobabel, the two Gospel genealogies proceed along different lines. Matthew notices the descent through Abiud (Matt. 1:13), whereas Luke focuses on the heirs of Rhesa (Luke 3:27). The difficulty is that neither name appears as a son of Zerubbabel in the chroniclers official genealogy (1 Chron. 3:17-20). Nevertheless, it is likely that Rhesa was another name of Zerubbabels principal son, Hananiah. Many Jewish captives assumed two names, one Hebrew, one in the language of their captors. Whereas Hananiah is a Hebrew name, Rhesa is the Persian word for "prince," a most suitable title for a man who stood in the succession of Jewish kings (12). Abiuds absence from the chroniclers genealogy may mean only that Matthew skipped one or more generations between Zorobabel and Abiud. The many gaps in his list of kings—between Joram (Jehoram) and Ozias (Uzziah), for example, he omits Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (Matt. 1:8)—demonstrate that he did not intend to furnish a complete genealogy.23 The reader may find the following chart helpful in understanding the wonderfulprovidential manner of God acting in history to both to judge (i.e., the Divine curse on Jeconiah’simmediate bloodline) and redeem (i.e., His arrangement of Jeconiah’s adoption of Sheatiel, whowas actually the son of Neri in Babylon and then Zerubbabel’s own adoption by Pedaiah, whowas actually the son of Neri in the untained bloodline of Nathan, son of David). And if God’s
  15. 15. 64removal of the “curse” on three generations is not enough, He even brings about one moregeneration of removal by having Joseph to be legally adopted by Mary’s father Heli near thetime of their engagement. Either with Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s simple explanation or the moreintricate exposition of Dr. Rickard, Arthur Custance, et al., no curse falls upon blessed head ofJesus, the son of Mary and the Son of God. And, indeed, like his illustrious ancester Zerubbabel,He is prophetically marked out and directly appointed by the LORD God in His person andoffice. There are no higher credentials. 24
  16. 16. 65 C. Angelic Messengers and Troubling Dreams Now, let us turn to the Gospel text in question and we shall make our observationsdirectly from the original Greek text: τοῦ δὲ Ἰη οῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ Μαρίας τῷ Ἰωσήφ πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου. Ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς δίκαιος ὢν καὶ μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι ἐβουλήθη λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ’ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῷ λέγων Ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς Δαυίδ μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου. τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν. τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ ὅ ἐστιν μεθερ- μηνευόμενον μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός. ἐγερθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῷ ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ. καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν καὶ ἐκάλε- σεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν. (Matthew 1:18-25, Greek punctuation slightly modified, JDR) Professor R.T. France, one of the best contemporary commentators on Matthew’sGospel, offers some excellent initial comments on these verses. He begins as follows: These verses do not relate to the birth of Jesus, but explain his origin (the virgin conception) and his name in relation to a specific Old Testament prophecy. They concentrate entirely on the experiences of Joseph rather than those of Mary (as do also 2:13-23). Even the miraculous conception of Jesus is related only as its discovery affected Joseph. This remarkable concentration, compared with the complete silence on Joseph elsewhere, may indicate that Matthew’s infancy material (except for 2:1-12, where Joseph is noticeably absent from v. 11) derives from special traditions originating with Joseph (whereas Luke’s very different account is clearly dependent on Mary’s reminiscences). It may also be the result of Matthew’s concern to establish Jesus’ legal lineage through Joseph, i.e., to explain how the preceding geneaology applies to Jesus the son of Mary.25 The present writer enjoys this vintage scholar’s commentary because he does not flinchin presenting the Biblical claims of the Virgin Birth. He then continues with exceptional clarityon this point:
  17. 17. 66 That Jesus was conceived by a virgin mother without the agency of Joseph is clearly stated throughout this section, and is the basis for the introduction of the question in vv. 22-23. It is not so much argued or even described, but assumed as a known fact. There may be an element of apologetic in Matthew’s stress on Joseph’s surprise, his abstentation from intercourse, the angel’s explanation of Jesus’ divine orgin, and the scriptural grounds for a virgin birth, due perhaps to a early form of the later Jewish charge that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate (see Brown, pp. 534–542). But the account reads primarily as if designed for a Christian readership, who wanted to know more precisely how Mary’s marriage to Joseph related to the miraculous conception of Jesus, and who would find the same delight that Matthew himself found in tracing in this the detailed fulfilment of prophecy.26 Now to the particular matter of Joseph’s troubling dreams and the special mission ofGabriel, the archangelic messenger. This is the situation that precedes Joseph’s coming tounderstand that Mary’s virginal conception was the work of the Holy Spirit. At first his mentalstate and his reaction is that of any man, of any potential groom of a decent sort. He is highlydisturbed and grieved at the apparent unfaithfulness and perceived promiscuity of hisperspective bride. Yet, in this case, as we have already summarized, the potential legalconsequences for Mary were that of both traumatic personal shame and capital punishment.But God’s redemptive solution far outran Joseph’s careful and quiet legal maneuvers to save hisown and his spouse’s reputation and to avoid the harsh punitive measures of the Torah. This initself is a picture of God’s grace: as Immanuel, He comes by the work of the Holy Spirit to bringHis own saving righteousness to all those who will receive His love (John 1:12,13; Romans 6:11-14). For Joseph, however, this comes as a revelation in the midst of his mental stress andtroubled sleep. Like the ancient patriarch with the same name (who also had his share oftroubles as God’s chosen man), Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, found Divine guidance andpromise in his dreams (Genesis 37:5; 40:8-9, 16; 41:15,17). Craig A. Evans has explained howimportant revelatory dreams were not only found in the Hebrew Scriptures but also evenreported among ancient Gentiles: Dreams were taken very seriously in antiquity, among Gentiles (Illiad 1:63; 5.150; Virgil, Aenid 4.556-557; Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.685-701; Arrian, Alexander 2.18.1) and the Jewish people (1QapGen. 19:14-23 [where Abraham is warned in a dream]; Jub. 27:1-23; 32;41:24; Ps.–Philo, Bib. Ant. 9.10); 42:3; 4 Ezra 10:59; b. Bat. 10a; b. Ber. 55a-58a) alike.27
  18. 18. 67 We are explicitly told how God alters Joseph’s plans in Matthew 1:20-21. The “angel ofthe Lord” which appears in Matthew 1-2 is unnamed, but Luke clearly states that it was Gabrielthat spoke both to Zecharias and Elizabeth and to Mary in Nazareth. Joseph’s angel may havebeen different, but he may well have been the same. This is especially plausible in light of therevelation to Daniel the prophet (8:15-18; 9:20-23). The most important point here is thatGabriel’s communication to Joseph not only has Old Testament precedents but angelicmediated Divine messages frame the First Gospel (cf. 2:12-13,19,22; 27:19 [Pilate’s wife’sdream]).28 It is this disclosure from the Lord that relieves the conflict in Joseph’s mind andmakes unnecessary his otherwise practical human solution. Since the angel assures Joseph thatMary has not been unfaithful and that her child has been supernaturally conceived throughdirect action of God, he is ready to marry her and also fulfill his role in the Messianic plan. Theangel revives Joseph’s consciousness of his messianic lineage by calling him “son of David.”Joseph, a righteous man, now with angelic support, is ready not only not to divorce Mary but tomarry her immediately. And, although we have seen the point disputed, it would seem thatJesus’ status as Joseph’s legal son allowed Him to be legally the Son of David.29 The absolute miraculous uniqueness of Jesus is underscored in v. 21 of Matthew’s firstchapter. His name, as we transliterate it in English, is Jesus, but the original Hebrew name wasYeshua (given in The Greek New Testament as Ἰησοῦς). And Yeshua (i.e., Joshua) is formed fromcombining the name of Yahweh with the verb “ to save”. Hence, His name literally means that“ Yahweh is salvation ” or that “ the LORD saves”. It is also true that Jesus’ ministry willinvolve the future physical liberation of Israel from her worldly enemies among the nations(Matthew 23:37-39; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11:11-27; and Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5; 21:1-21) but Henow offers present spiritual deliverance from their sins which have alienated them from Godthe Father (Matthew 10:5-15; 10:27-42; 11: 15 -30; 20:1-28; 22:1-14; 22:34-46). D. Observations of Prophecies Fulfilled. The prophecy of the Virgin birth (quoted by Evangelist Matthew in 1:22,23) is one of themost amazing statements of the Holy Bible and unparalleled in its theological grandeur. Yet,
  19. 19. 68sadly, it is also one of the most controversial subjects linked to the Nativity of Christ. The matterof prophecy necessitates a brief discussion of what is called the “Higher Criticism” of the Biblebefore we can proceed further. The philosophical and scientific rationalism which grew out of the Enlightenment Era(ca. 1600 – 1789) led directly to the caustic anti-supernatural Biblical Criticism of the eighteenth,nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. This movement may be said to have formally began withthe attacks of Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) in his Leviathan (1651). Although he professedChristianity, he questioned the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the miracles of the Oldand New Testament. There were others like the philosopher Benedict Spinoza (1632 – 1677), apantheistic Dutch Jew, in whose works such as Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (1677) andhis Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670) questioned all the traditions of revealed religion, bothJewish and Christian by a geometrical rationalist logic. Richard Simon (1638 – 1712) thenexplicitly carried out this program by endeavoring to debunk the credentials of both theHebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). His threechief critical books, Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (Paris, 1678) (E.T., A Crititical History ofthe Old Testament, published 1682), Histoire critique du texte du Nouveau Testament (Rotterdam1689), and Histoire critique des principaux commentaires du Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1693) set thestage for all of the eighteenth century’s dismissal of the Divine authority of the Bible.30 Thereafter, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought in a more forceful andcaustive exegesis of the Biblical text. There were many examples, but a few stand out in relief.Jean Astruc (1684 – 1766), a French physician, set out to refute some of the seventeenth centurycritics but ended up dividing Genesis into two distinct documents by a Elohist and Yahwistauthor used by Moses later. His book was Conjectures sur la Genèse (Brussels, 1753). He alsosuggested that the Four Gospels were separate but complimentary accounts of the life of Jesuswhich employed a similar method. Astruc’s method indeed was adopted by a number ofGerman and other European scholars who brought to a full theory the idea of “higher criticism”of the Bible which fundamentally explained away the sacred writings as purely human andtemporal productions. Two important examples came in the later work of Johann GottfriedEichhorn (1752–1827) and Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780–1849). Eichhorn (often
  20. 20. 69called “ the father of modern Old Testament Criticism”) wrote his Einleitung in das AlteTestament (5 vols., Leipzig, 1780–1783) and his Einleitung in das Neue Testament (Leipzig, 1804–1812). According to Wikipedia: He took for granted that all the supernatural events related in the Old and New Testaments were explicable on natural principles. He sought to judge them from the standpoint of the ancient world, and to account for them by the superstitious beliefs which were then generally in vogue. He did not perceive in the biblical books any religious ideas of much importance for modern times; they interested him merely historically and for the light they cast upon antiquity. 31 DeWette, on the other hand, was a liberal German Lutheran pastor and theologian whoprepared the way for more extreme analysis of the Pentateuch than either Simon’s or Astruc’s,sometimes called the “Supplement Theory.” His two essential works were Beiträge zurEinleitung in das Alte Testament (2 vols; Leipzig, 1806–1807) and Einleitung in das NeueTestament (Berlin, 1826). It was during this era that the so-called JEPD theory or DocumentaryHypothesis of the Pentateuch displaced the ancient Jewish view that God revealed the Torah toMoses. This process of a rationalistic dissolution of Biblical history reached an zenith in thework of Julius Wellhausen (1844 – 1918) who added his special twist to the rewriting of BiblicalJewish history. Wellhausen, a theology professor and gifted orientalist taught at several Germanuniversities (Greifswald, Halle, Marburg, and Göttingen). His epoch-making work wasProlegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1882; 3rd ed., 1886; Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1883, 1891;5th German edition, 1899) which totally rewrote Old Testament history according to a liberalrationalistic view of religion and evolutionary development of human thought.32 Thus was prepared the background of doubt and historical skepticism which wouldreflect on Jesus the Messiah and particularly the Nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke. Butwe ask the reader to endure a little more on the history of the Lives of Jesus and Gospelcriticism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many, although not all of the liberalswho pursued the “Quest for the historical Jesus” in the nineteenth century (i.e., the First Quest)would have been happy to assign the person of Jesus Christ to the status of myth, but such aconclusion generally conflicted with even the minimal allowances they themselves made for his
  21. 21. 70historical existence. Typically, those like Karl Venturini, Heinrich G. Paulus, David Strauss,Bruno Bauer, William Bousset in the nineteenth and those like Rudolf Bultmann and SchubertM. Ogden in the twentieth century would dismiss all accept the minimum of historical dataabout Jesus Christ and categorically deny any supernaturalism connected to his birth. 33 Besidesonly giving credit to the most elementary materials in the Synoptic Gospels and virtually norecognition to anything remotely historical in John’s Gospel account, they reflect a fundamentalnegative philosophical and theological stance: The liberal questers estimate of Jesus involved a denial of the historic Christian Christian creeds. Jesus was not the metaphysical Son of God or deity. The difference of Jesus from us was not one of kind, but only one of degree. On the other hand, these writers agreed that he was looked upon as deity by the early Christians. Our estimate of him, rather, should be from a point of view of his excellence as a man. He was to be revered primarily for his ethical thought, his spiritual force, and his moral excellence. These characteristics inspired the disciples in the formation of the Church, which is the continuing evidence of his significance. 34 The Liberal “Lives of Jesus” have went through several stages from the later nineteenthcentury until the recent decades: (1) The so-called History-of-Religions School (German: Diereligionsgeschichtliche Schule) which included among others Johannes Weiss (1863 – 1914),William Bousset (1865 – 1920), Albert Eichhorn (1856 – 1926), Hermann Gunkel (1862 – 1932),Rudolf Otto (1869 – 1937), and Richard August Reitzenstein (1861– 1931). Probably, some of theinspiration and methodology of this group also derived from the work of the two acclaimedliberal theologians Adolf von Harnack (1851 – 1930) and Ernest Troeltsch (1865 – 1923)35; (2)Then, the critical view of the “Liberal Jesus” led by William Wrede (1859 – 1906), AlbertSchwietzer (1875 – 1965), and Martin Kahler (1835 – 1912) which dismissed the previous schoolfor its inconsistent rationalism and subjectivism and its lack of recognition of the eschatologicalelement in early Christianity 36; (3) The existentialist school (philosophical and theological) ofRudolf Bultmann (1884 – 1976) and his students which expressed almost total skepticism aboutthe historical character of the Gospels and New Testament (i.e., formgeschicte historie) andproceeded to a radical program of “demythologization” of the miracles and Christology of theNew Testament 37; (4) The conservative and neo-orthodox critics of Bultmann’s existentialistic
  22. 22. 71theology and demythological approach to Christianity such as Karl Barth (1886 – 1968),Ethelbert Stauffer (1902 – 1979), Joachim Jeremias (1900 - 1979), and Walter Kunneth (1901 –1997), as well as the more radical critics farther philosophically and theologically to the left suchas German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883 – 1969) and the American theothanatologist SchubertM. Ogden (1928 – 2012) 38; (5) The “New Quest” for the Historical Jesus from the 1960s and1970s 39; and finally, (6) the more recent “Third Quest” of both believing and non-believingscholars in the 1980s and beyond.40 But now the reader is entitled to ask ? How do such developments and speculationsaffect the prophecy of the Virgin Birth of Christ ? Unfortunately, much in every way because adenial of the historical nature of Christ’s incarnation has been accompanied for several centuriesby related denial of Messianic prophecies, particularly the famous “Immanuel Prophecy” ofIsaiah 7:14ff. A few years ago Professor James T. Dennison, a distinguished Presbyterian churchhistorian and editor of the online journal KERUX, reminded his readers of ancient Solomon’smaxim that “there is nothing new under the Sun ” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10). The occasion for thistimely comment was his review of a new book on the contest between Christianity and ancientGreco-Roman paganism. The work in question was John G. Cook, The Interpretation of the NewTestament in Greco-Roman Paganism. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002. As the goodprofessor drew his review to an end, he trenchantly remarked: Cooks conclusion (pp. 335-40) is a summary of the pagan apologetic juxtaposed with the Apostles Creed. Here he measures pagan objections to Christianity by the early confessional definition of faith. At each point, the antithesis is evident. Paganism opposed every element of the Christian confession. It still does—whether in its Enlightenment guise or Modernist/Post-Modernist rags. One of the most arresting revelations of Cooks work is the similarity in attack upon the Scriptures which we find in these Greco-Roman opponents and the comparable views of those devoted to so-called "scientific" Biblical criticism. Indeed, "there is nothing new under the sun." 41 The goodly professor’s observation is accurate, and it provides a most interesting entreeto the matter of the perennial attacks on the Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ. Oneof the earliest formal intellectual attacks came from the pagan Neo-Platonist philosopher
  23. 23. 72Porphyry of Tyre (234? – 305? A.D.), a student of Athenian Longinus and the famous Latinphilosopher Plotinus. Although an author of many philosophical and literary works, he isperhaps best known for his anti-Christian polemic, Against the Christians (Adversus Christianos,ca. later 3rd century). The following are some of this ancient philosophical critic of Christianity’smusings: 5) "Jewish tradition and later pagan critics knew Jesus as the son of a woman named Miriam or Miriamne, who had been violated and become pregnant by a Roman soldier whose name often appears a Panthera in talmudic and midrashic sources. The "single parent" tradition, if not the story of Jesus illegitimacy, is still apparent in Mark, the earliest gospel (Mark 6:3), as is an early attempt to show Jesus freedom from the blemish of his background (Mark 3:33-4)." "To counter the reports of Jesus illegitimacy more than to secure his divine stature, his mother was declared the recipient of a singular divine honor: Jesus was the son of Mary - a virgin - "through the holy spirit" (Matthew 1:20). As is typical of his writing, Matthew comes closest to revealing the argumentative purpose of his birth story and its links to Jewish polemic against Christian belief in his reference to Josephs suspicion of Marys pregnancy (Matthew 1:19). He is also careful in the birth story and elsewhere to provide evidence and proofs from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible - as a running narrative. " 6) Regarding the Biblical prophecies concerning Jesus: "Porphyry notes that what is said in Hebrew prophecy could as well apply to a dozen other figures, dead or yet to come, as to Jesus." 42 Yet, there has always been a vigorous Biblical and historical defense against this kind oflow attack of Christianity. An exceptionally fine response has been provided quite recently by astudious Christian writer: It is clear that the pagan critics used the Panthera as an attack on the Virgin Birth, which in their metaphysical paradigm was either impossible altogether or possible only in the way in which pagan myths reported the gods and goddesses having sex with mor- tals to produce heroes such as Hercules. They had set to attack Christianity as a forceful new rival to their traditions, so, one basic tactic to cast aspersions upon the founder of the religion. Without the Virgin Birth as a defining doctrine involved in establishing Jesus’ divinity, the pagans would probably have ignored Jesus’ otherwise disreputable concep– tion and birth. Illegitimacy was a comparatively minor issue except in matters of legal succession or inheritance. The Virgin Birth, however, drew pagan criticism like a light– ening rod, and Mary’s character or reputation was of no concern to them. Celsus and Porphyry despised Christianity and Christians with no restraint. Any pretext would do, even one as feeble and unsubstantial as that taken from the Talmud, if that really were the source for their ideas. Further, if they had actually comprehended the Virgin Birth in its distinction from the pagan myths, the moral and spiritual implications of it would have only worsened their hostility.43
  24. 24. 73 Later, the critics have continued their assault by endeavoring to remove the verypossibility of a virgin birth in the 1 st century A.D. by denying that there ever was meant to be avirgin birth even in the prophetic records. Professor Ernst Wilhelm Henstenberg, whose classicChristology of the Old Testament we have previously referenced, has explained this tact: . . . . The Messianic interpretation has the prevailing one in the Christian Church in all ages. It was followed by all the Fathers and other Christian expositors till the middle of the eighteenth century; some of them, however, held that besides its higher reference to the Messiah, it related in a lower sense to an event in the time of the Prophet. – The principal objections which, after the example of the Jews, Is– enbeihl, Gesenius, and others have brought against this interpretation, are the fol– lowing.44 [ jdr, note: After this, on pp, 173 – 176 Professor Henstenberg lists and then - exegetically, historically and philologically demolishes the four main objections of modern critical interpreters like W. Gesenius, J. Isenbiehl, J.D. Michaelis, F. Rosenmuller, et al. to the strictly Messianic and futuristic interpretation of v. 14]. Dr. Hengstenberg also effectively handles the objections of those who would use thecontextual verses of Isaiah 7:15-16, and we quote him again at length: How then is it possible to make these two verses harmonize with the preced- ing ? How can the Prophet make the development of the powers of a child, who should be born seven hundred years later, synchronize with the deliverance of the land from its enemies,which took place in a little time after his prediction ? The view of Vitringa, Lowth, and Koppe, comes nearest the truth. According to them, the Prophet employs the period between the birth of the Messiah, and the development of his faculties, as a measure of time for the complete deliverance of the land from its enemies. It is of the utmost importance to observe, that the fifteenth and sixteenth verses were spoken in the same ecstasy, in which he be–held the Messiah (the fourteenth verse) as present. His vision here, as in all other cases has no concern with time. The child appearing before his prophetic eye as already born, he borrows from him his measure of time. What he means to say, is, that within the space of about three years, the two hostile kingdoms will be overthrown. This he expresses by saying, that the same space of time would elapse before that event as between the birth of the child, which he then beheld as present, and his coming to the age of discretion. – Having made this general remarks, we now proceed to an explanation of particulars. It is asked, in the first place, what we are to understand by eating milk and honey. Several interpreters take this as a designation of wealth and abundance: but they have confounded two very different modes of expression, viz. to eat milk and honey, and to flow with milk and honey; and the twenty-second verse plainly shows, that the eating of milk and honey must be regarded as a consequence of a general devastation of the country. The fields being laid waste, those who remained must lead a nomadic life, being sustained by wild honey, and the produce of their herds, which now be more numerous than before, in consequence of the great abundance of pasturage. The phrase, ‘to know to choose the good and refuse the evil,’ signifies the first commencement of
  25. 25. 74 moral consciousness in the child, at the age of two to three years. The sense of the verse therefore is: the existing generation , represented by this child, whose birth was viewed by the Prophet as present, would not for some years to come obtain the quiet possession of the country, but but be obliged to live on the produce of their herds, which would find abundant pasturage in the devastated land. Then, in the sixteenth verse, follows the prediction, that nevertheless before the close of this period, the ruin of the two hostile kings, and the desolation of their lands (by the Assyrians) would ensue. So that afterwards, the products of the country would in the mean time be cultivated, could again be quietly enjoyed. – The land will be forsaken, that is, it will be laid waste, and deprived of its inhabitants. 45 Over the last two and one-half centuries there have been many higher critics who havedenied the true prophetic prediction of Isaiah 7:14-16 even as they have rejected several hundredmore other prophecies of the Hebrew Tanakh. It would be impossible to name all of them in thisperiod, but Dr. Edward Hindson listed about twenty major non-Messianic interpreters from thelate eighteenth century until 1965. These scholars have in one way or another revived part of theancient non-believing Jewish and pagan approaches to the Messianic prophecies and theImmanuel prophecy in particular.46 Nevertheless, the traditional (evangelical) and orthodoxview of this pericope has had its stalwart learned defenders among Biblical orientalists,archaeologists, and historians.47 Finally, there are a number of reasonably conservative andevangelical scholars (as well as some of a liberal theological persuasion) who endeavor todefend a “dual fulfillment” of the prophetic statement in Isaiah 7:14ff.48
  26. 26. 75 Since those who reject Biblical prophecy begin with a set of negative presuppositionsabout what God can and can do, we shall not endeavor to refute them at this point, but onlyacknowledge that Christian believers are moved to believe that a sovereign and transcendentCreator of the cosmos can and does know the future (please see our arguments from Pt. I, Ch.8).49 One of the most provocative arguments against the critics of literal, predictive prophecy isthat they so radically contradict one another in their various denials. Professor J.A. Alexander ofPrinceton quipped about a century and a half ago that the only thing the “Higher Critics” ofBiblical prophecy agree upon is that there simply “cannot be distinct prophetic foresight of thedistant future”50 Edward H. Dewart further comments: “Among German Biblical theologiansthere are sad examples of men who deny the supernatural, and make their interpretations ofScripture conform to their skepticism.”51 Then he gives some salient examples: F. Baur (quoted by Dr. Pusey) says: “The main argument for the later date of our Gospels is, after all, this: that they one by one, and still more collectively, exhibit so much out of the life of Jesus in a way that is impossible .” Knobel (quoted by DeWette) says: “ To maintain the genuineness of Isaiah xxiii., and yet refer it to a siege of Tyre, by Nebuchadnezzar, more than a century later, as Jerome, etc., do, is impossible, in that in Isaiah’s time there could be no anticipation of it, much less a confident and definite announcement of it.” Kuenen and his school take a similar position. No interpretation that involves the miraculous intervention of God in human affairs is admitted by him. He expounds the prophecies avowedly to exclude and disprove all actual fulfilment. With him prophecy “ is a human phenomenon proceeding from Israel, directed to Israel. ” Jewish and Christian miracles are placed in the same category as those of Buddha and Mahomet. It is extraordinary and significant that Prof. Workman quotes Dr. Kuenen, the avowed denier of supernatural predictions, with approval as an authority against the fulfilment of Old Testament predictions. It needs little argument to show that the theories of this negative school of critics undermine and assail a vital Protestant principle, viz., the divine inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture.52 Disappointingly, there has been a steady drift toward the “dual-fulfillment” theory andeven a vague typology of a supposed seventh–century “virgin”and then later Mary even amongconservative evangelicals among the last century (Hindson names Albert Barnes, WilliamBeecher, Charles Ellicott, Charles Briggs, Alexander McClaren (!), W. Mueller, H. Ridderbos,R.V.G. Tasker, and Erich Sauer as examples of this intellectual compromise). 53 But there havebeen few stellar Bible scholars and theologians who have mustered spiritual backbone and
  27. 27. 76followed the noble pattern on Ernst Henstengberg, Franz Delitzsch, Joseph Alexander, andKonrad von Orelli. Notable among these were Robert Dick Wilson and J. Gresham Machen.Others have also arisen who have firmly defended the ground of the Virgin Birth prophecy ofIsaiah 7:14ff. Thus, next we turn to the more modern (or contemporary) linguistic and historicalreparations to the traditional orthodox belief in the prediction of the Messiah’s birth. Seven Irrefutable Reasons The “Immanuel Prophecy” Is A Prophecy !1. The Historical – Literary Context demands A Prophetic Sense. After carefully laying out the historical seventh century B.C. background of Isaiah 7:1 –16, Dr. Edward Hindson makes this initial conclusion: The poetic structure makes it clear that Ephraim is to fall and within sixty- five years lose all national distinction, and that Judah will also fall if she does not heed God’s warning. Here we have the picture, Judah has begun to weaken, but Ahaz refuses to submit to his northern invaders. But rather than turn to God, he would seek the support of the Assyrian Empire. It should be remembered that Ahaz was the one who introduced the pagan Assyrian altar to the temple worship in Jerusalem. He was a man who had been deliberately disobedient to God. Only such a man could reject the promise of help from God that was about to be extended to him. “THEREFORE” Having renounced Ahaz for trying his and God’s patience by refusing the sign that had been offered him to assure of God’s blessing , Isaiah connects his statements in verse 13 to verse 14 with the Hebrew particle laken (“therefore”). Its emphasis may be clarified by such phrases as: “since this is so,” “for these reasons,” “according to such conditions.” This connective work often was used by the prophets to introduce a divine command or declaration. Most commentators have not bothered to deal with this word. Young and Budde, however, stress its relationship to verse 13. They feel it serve to introduce “a sign of a different character from that which had previously been offered.” Ahaz could have chosen any sign to attest God’s message of hope as delivered by the prophet, but he refused and, “therefore,” God will choose His own sign. The context into which verse 14 fits is unified by the transitory word, “therefore.” The worried king will not trust in God, so the prophet announces that God will give a sign to the nation of Judah that will command their trust in Him. Since the line of David is at stake and later the nation will be removed, the people needed some confidence to trust in God’s maintaining the throne of David for “ all generations .” It is the sign of Immanuel that com–
  28. 28. 77 mands their confidence in God. Isaiah had taken a message of hope to the king, but in return he will give a sign of eventual doom (to Judah) and of ultimate hope (to the throne of David).54 More recently, Professor (Dr.) John N. Oswalt (Asbury Seminary) has freshly andcarefully examined the whole context of Isaiah 7 – 12 and makes this immediate caveat: What all of this says is that all the elements of this unit must be understood in light of the emphasis on divine trustworthiness and immanence on the people’s behalf which characterizes the unit. This has a considerable bearing upon the correct understanding of 7:14. Whatever we might conclude from the paragraph alone, and this is hardly ambiguous, the larger context points us to an understanding which far surpasses Ahaz’ own immediate experience. Just as his choice was to have far-reaching consequences for the kingdom of Judah, so we should expect the mysterious sign to have significance beyond the immediate historic context as well. That the sign does have such significance is supported by the conection of children with both of the messianic prophecies. This is paricularly important with 9:2-7 where the Messiahs coming is as a child. While the Messiah in 11:1-9 is not specifically called a child, the childlike qualities ascribed to him (11:3) and the repeated mention of children leading and playing among previously raven-ous animals (11:6, 8) surely contributes to the same understanding. Can it be merely coincidence in a segment where the presence of God among his people is central that Immanuel is a child and the Messiah is a child? I think not. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the language is intentional in order to guide the reader to make the association between the two.55 Professor J. Alec Motyer, who has written one of the finest commentaries on Isaiah todate, likewise lays out the logical alternatives of interpretation with candid precision: . . . . Isaiah was fully aware of the crucial seriousness of the coming Assyrian threat—contrary to the political speculations of Ahaz. It was for this reason that he introduced the second child into the sequence of prophecies (8:1-4), allowing Maher- shalal-hash-baz to take over from Immanuel the task of providing a time-schedule for the immediately coming events. Indeed, it is essentially right to see the relationship of these two children as follows: either we must identify Maher-shalal-hash-baz with Immanuel, or we must project Immanuel into the undated future. These are real alternatives, but the first of them is self-evidently impossible.562. The Identifications of the Double –Fulfillment Do Not Work ! There is every reason to accept Isaiah 7:14-16 as having to do with a future Immanuel(Messiah) and no genuine necessity to require an immediate fulfillment of the core prophecy.This does not mean that Isaiah 8:1-4 is not a valid separate prophecy or recitation of a symbolic
  29. 29. 78prophetic action picturing Yahweh’s visitation of judgment upon the hostile kings of Damascusand Samaria. Yet, both in Hebrew and in English the sense and reference to “Immanuel” in 8:8-10 connects the previous immediate historical act of Divine judgment with the promised futureprophetic salvation. There are two prophetic “talking points,” but the primary prophecy isfuture and restorative. A wonderful observation was made by the late Messianic rabbi Sam Stern on thequestion of Ahaz’s or Isaiah’s sons being identified with Immanuel: Regarding the ot [sign or miracle in Hebrew] that God told the house of David He would give them, Metsidas Zion* states that the almah is haracha b’shanim [young in years]. *Metsidas Zion and Metsidas David are commentaries on the Prophets and Writings by Rabbi ben David Altschuller in two parts. Rashi, in his comment quoted below, also stresses the youth of the almah. He mentions what other commentators say about the almah who is to bear a child, implying a miraculous birth: This is the sign: she is a naarah [young girl] and would not be prophesying at her age, but the Holy Spirit will rest on her…Some say the son is Hezekiah, but this is impossible because Hezekiah was born nine years before his father [Ahaz] became king. Some say she was…too young to have a baby. The ot [sign or miracle] is that the young girl shall bear a child. In addition, Isaiah’s wife, who is named as the prophetess in Chapter 8, verse, 3, had already borne a son, Shearjashub [7:3], and would not qualify as the young girl, naarah, that Rashi calls the almah mentioned in Isaiah 7:14.57 Dr. Charles Feinberg, former Dean and Professor of Old Testament at Talbot Theological Seminary, summarized the case well in the early 1950s: The reference is undoubtedly to the virgin Mary, a fact clearly attested by Matthew 1. Those who cannot interpret ‘almâ as a virgin present a variety of views as to the identity of the young woman. Some assert it was the consort of Ahaz, any contemporary young woman, Isaiah’s wife, one of Ahaz’ harem, or a princess of the court of Ahaz. Manifestly, these do not meet the requirements of the context for a miraculous occurrence.583. An Ordinary Occurrence Does Not Equal the Hebrew . Most concordances of the Hebrew Old Testament list seventy-nine occurences of `otforty-four times in the singular and thirty-five in the plural.59 While many modern critical
  30. 30. 79scholars have endeavored to argue that `owth is not necessarily miraculous, this view is moreself-serving theological rationalization than objectively the standard usage in the Old Testamentitself. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: 4. Most of the eighty occurrences of ôt refer to "miraculous signs." All the plagues on the Egyptians are called "signs." In these contexts the complementary word mopet (q.v.) meaning "wonders" often occurs (Exo 7:3; Deut 4:34; Deut 6:22; Deut 7:19; Deut 26:8; Neh 9:10; Isa 20:3; et al.). This word ôt is used in Isaiahs famous prophecy to Ahaz (Isa 7:11, 14). The shadows advance on the palace steps was a "sign" for the ailing king Hezekiah (2Kings 20:9; Isa 38:7). Likewise God showed Gideon a "sign" by igniting the offered food (Jud 6:17). 60 Perhaps one the finest discussions of this point comes from the pen of Dr. J. Alec Motyer(former Principal of Bristol College, U.K.). While the quote is lengthy, it is worthwhile to peruseit: The Immanuel prophecy is presented as a divinely given ‘sign’. We need to notice at once the ambivalence of the use of the sign in the Old Testament. Firstly, the sign is used in the sense of a present persuader, i.e. it is designed to promote some action or reaction in the immediate present. With such signs Moses was sent to the people in Egypt (Ex. 4:8, 9). With such a sign the false prophet of Deuteronomy 13 would move the people to adopt his novel theology. Just such a sign was offered to Ahaz (Is. 7:10, 11): a magnificent divine gesture which would reassure him of the Lords power and goodwill and promote policies based on faith in the Lord as thus revealed. The balancing phrases ask a sign (verse 1) and the Lord will give you a sign (verse 14) have led to the supposition that Immanuel is also a. sign of this order. Is this supposition correct? The alternative understanding of sign is that it is a future confirmation, i.e. it is de- signed to follow a series of events, to confirm them as acts of God and to fix a stated interpretation upon them. Exodus 3:12 is a sign of this order. The gathering of Israel on Sinai seals the divine commission to Moses and confirms as from God the forecast of the course and significance of the events leading up to the sign. There is a prima facie case for saying that Immanuel must have been immediately recognized as a sign of this second order: firstly, because on any interpretation his birth would be too late to prompt Ahaz to the desired position of faith in the Lord: the die would have been cast already; and secondly, because his involvement in a situation yet to come—the desolation of the lands of the treaty powers (verse 16)— shows that he can only act as a subsequent verification of the present word from God. We may take this matter further by asking whether, as a sign, Immanuel sets forth hope or threatening—or, in order to be more exact, whether hope or threatening occupies the foreground of the prophecy, for if we are speaking of the God of Israel neither can be wholly absent and certainly hope cannot be omitted.61
  31. 31. 804. The “Therefore” [ ‫ן‬ ] of Isaiah 7:14 Is Corroborative Evidence ! Not only is the Hebrew word for “sign” vitally important in this text, but even thespecific grammatical introduction is corroborative evidence to the special message of thispericope. The prophet Isaiah had just renounced King Ahaz for not only frustrating him but fortrying God’s patience by refusing the gracious Divine sign that had just been offered to him. Dr.Edward Hindson then illustrates the huge signficance of the “Therefore”: Isaiah connects his statements in verse 13 to verse 14 with the Hebrew particle laken (“therefore”). Its emphasis may be clarified by such phrases as: "since this is so," "for these reasons," "according to such conditions." This connective word often was used by the prophets to introduce a divine command or declaration. Most commentators have not bothered to deal much with this word. Young and Budde, however, stress its relationship to verse 13. They feel it serves to introduce a "sign of a different character from that which had previously been offered." Ahaz could have chosen any sign to attest Gods message of hope as delivered by the prophet, but he refused and, "therefore," God will choose His own sign.62 Again Charles Feinberg quotes both Jewish scholar Emil M. Kraeling and the nineteenthcentury Princeton exegete Joseph A. Alexander to the effect that Isaiah’s language expectssomething extraordinary and that an everyday occurrence would be highly improbable in viewof the solemnity with which the prophet spoke of the predicted birth. 63 As several interpretershave noted, laken [Heb., ] is a transitional word which ties the historical encounter of Isaiahwith unbelieving Ahaz to the sublime promise that the Lord (Adonai) gives to Judah. God willnot allow the Davidic line to be obliterated because He had already promised to preserve thethrone of David forever (2 Samuel 7:14ff.; Psalms 72:7-8, 17-20; 89:20-38). Yet, since the faithlessmonarch had rejected God’s message of hope, the prophet pronounced upon him and Judah asign of immediate doom (i.e., the Assyrian crisis) but for the future a sign of ultimate hope. 645. The “Behold” of the Prophet is Absolutely Serious (Heb., ).
  32. 32. 81 The Hebrew word logically links with ‫ן‬ previously described. Having turnedfrom the matter of Ahaz’s unbelief and disobedience, the prophet asserts the sovereignty of Godby calling attention to his unique vision of Immanuel. Hinneh is the command which means toarrest the attention of the hearers.65 The essential thrust of this word is to bring attention to thesignificance of what is to follow, i.e., the depiction of the virgin and her son. 66 Since the nexttwo proofs have to do with the crucial matter of the verbs employed in the Immanuel prophecyand a discussion of the meaning of “virgin,”, let it simply and firmly be stated that is amarker of the magnitude and wonder of what Isaiah says about his vision of the virgin and herchild. This is a call to reverently look and perceive a special revelation from Yahweh; it is not acasual form of communication. Ahaz balked at God’s word of promise, but God decree Hissovereign intent to save anyway !5. The Hebrew `Almah Most Definitely Means “Virgin” ! Here we repeat this controverted text of 7:14 in the original Hebrew: It is important to go back to vv. 10-11 to get the immediate context of this declaration.There the Lord via the noble prophet Isaiah individually addresses Ahaz with a personalinvitation. He is graciously assured that he may ask for a Divine sign of hope and salvation (heis invited “ to ask for yourself a sign.” Hebr.: and the verb isin the 2nd person Qal imperative). Then we see in v. 12, Ahaz make a facietious show of piety,but really a move of disobedience to God’s Word. This then brings us to vv. 13-14 where adefinite transition in both grammar and thought takes place. As was pointed out in point 3above, despite Ahaz’ faithless vacillations the LORD would still set forth a great “sign ” – an
  33. 33. 82 ! Yet, this sign would not be for Ahaz alone (certaintly not alone nor even chiefly), but for“you all” (pl.; Hebr.: ‫ם‬ ). As a corroboration to this point, we have the insight from a classicOld Testament commentary, Keil and Delitzsch (Isaiah, Vol. 7) as well as the standard parsingguide for the Old Testament verbs, that it is the Virgin who shall call his name “Immanuel” andnot Ahaz or the court of David in his day [Hebr., .]67 Professor Gordon Franz of theAssociates for Biblical Research states this corroborative fact with exceptional and succinctforce: The word ‘you’ in verse 14 is plural. In other word, he is no longer talk– ing to Ahaz, but the whole house of David. The sign of the virgin-born son, Immanuel, was directed primarily toward Hezekiah in order to encourage him to trust the Lord. A few years later, when he came to the throne, he initiated a great revival the first year. His trust was only in the Lord. 68 What then is God’s message to “the house of David” (v. 13, grammatically referenced v.14)? It is “Therefore the Lord himself will give you [all] a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceiveand bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel ” (NKJV). It is this point about the virginwhich has historically created more exegetical controversy than almost any verse in the Bible.As the late Charles L. Feinberg has quipped: “ The storm center of the text, is, of course, theword `alma (young woman). Reams have been written upon it and, doubtless, reams will bewritten on it in the future.”69 Even so, we press on and wish to make four key points about this`alma : 1. First, she (the virgin or young woman) is marked out with the article in the Hebrew, she is “the virgin.”70 2. Second, the claim of many (usually, liberal) scholars that had Isaiah actually meant a real virgin, he would have used betula has been and can be successfully contested. In actuality, context is crucial for precise in interpretation in either case.71 3. Third, both the Old Testament and ancient Ugaritic literature support the translation of “the virgin” over any of the alternatives.72
  34. 34. 83 4. Fourth (and finally), a young married or unmarried woman having a baby per se, is not a miracle and does not fit with the Hebrew meaning of “sign” and the serious exalted language of this pericope.73 Dr. Edward Hindson has a magnificient summary of the whole matter of “theVirgin” : Consider also that the ordinary word for “virgin” (bethulah) does not itself guarantee by its usage that its referent is in fact always a virgin. In Deuteronomy 22:19 and Joel 1:8 bethulah refers to a married woman. Therefore, the term bethul-ah does not itself give absolute certainty that the maiden is always a virgin. If Isaiah wished to use a word that would exactly express his intention, the use of ‘almah would better signify absolute virginity than would the more common term bethulah. It is quite obvious that if Isaiah intended to conveys a prediction of the virgin-birth he chose the right word, not an improper one. There is no "basis for asserting that he should have used another word in place of ‘almah, for usage indicates that ‘almah was the most correct term to use to signify an unmarried virgin.746. Isaiah’s Vision Is Prophetic and Thus Uses the Vivid Tense. This may seem like a disproof to the uninitiated, but to Hebrew scholars there is verylittle doubt that Isaiah uses a Hebrew construction which compares to the present tense inEnglish. The A.V., of course, translates the key portion of the text, “ shall conceive and bear ason ” as do most modern English versions which generally follow its lead. Yet, the fact that incontext the Hebrew perception of the time of action has been demonstrated to be immediate (inthe prophet’s vision) has only strengthened the Messianic interpretation of this verse. 75 Asmany Hebrew grammarians have pointed out ‫ה‬ , a feminine verbal adjective, should only betranslated as future if it occurs in participle form (when used with hinneh). But here it isimmediately followed by ‫ת‬ , which is a waw-conjuctive feminine active participle from theverb yalad (Hebr.: ‫ 67.)דלי‬This means that Isaiah is seeing in his prophetic eye a young maiden(a virgin) who is already pregnant and ready to bear a son. This is nothing less than a virginbirth, or else it is a formal logical and historical contradiction. As seen in the previous point, it isthe ‘almah, one who is still a virgin and unmarried who is (or will) bear a child. Thus, the