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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 24

Seven: Is prophecy easy to understand?

You already know the correct answer to that statement. It isn’t. And Christians don’t agree on the meaning of many prophecies. However, God has shown, over and over, that He is able to communicate what is necessary to people, in Bible times and since then. Even though prophecy seems obscure, if it’s important that we understand it, God can show us. But it is also true that not everyone who thinks she understands a prophecy knows the correct interpretation. There are many unfortunate examples of wrong interpretations and predictions, such as the one by Harold Camping and his followers, that the world would come to an end on May 21, 2011, based on Camping’s interpretation of the Bible. It didn’t, and there were several obvious flaws in Camping’s interpretation. Also, he was presumptuous, since Jesus said:

Matthew 24:36 But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Camping has acknowledged that he erred in making this definite prediction. [Note - Camping passed away recently.]

Prophecies relating to the early life of Christ

The New Testament, especially the book of Matthew, which was apparently written with a Jewish audience in mind, frequently reminds us of Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and how they were fulfilled by Christ. I’m going to present and discuss the first four of these, to illustrate why Christians should be cautious about interpreting prophecy.

The first fulfilled prophecy about Christ, in the New Testament, is this:
Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
    and shall bring forth a son.
They shall call his name Immanuel”;
    which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”

This is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14. However, here are additional verses from that chapter:

Isaiah 7:10 Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh.”
13 He said, “Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor shall be forsaken. 17 Yahweh will bring on you, on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria. 18 It will happen in that day that Yahweh will whistle for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

Matthew says that Isaiah 7:14 was a fulfilled prophecy about the birth of Christ, so it must have been. But it would have taken extraordinary wisdom to find such a prophecy in Isaiah’s original proclamation, which seems to be a prophecy about God’s judgment on the kingdom of Ahaz. There are other difficulties. Did Jesus ever have to learn to refuse evil? Was there a child born in Ahaz’s time, who also fulfilled this prophecy? (My NIV study bible suggests that a betrothed wife of Isaiah may have been referred to.) It is unlikely that Ahaz, or even Isaiah, would have taken Isaiah 7:14 to be a prophecy about the coming of Christ. Matthew, and you and I, can see that it was, but that’s in hindsight.

An interesting sidelight about this prophecy is that some scholars have translated the Hebrew word from Isaiah, which the WEB has rendered as “virgin,” as “young woman.” This includes a recent translation, the New American Bible, Revised Edition, which has the approval of the U. S. Catholic Bishops. The Bishops, of course, are not changing their belief that Mary was a virgin when Christ was conceived, but are convinced that the Hebrew word did not have to mean “virgin.”

The above is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.

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