An Introduction Part Two: In Accordance With Prophecy

Something I find rather fun to do is, while engaged in conversation with colleague, end every declarative statement with the phrase, “In accordance with prophecy.” For example, “Hey, Charles, what are your plans for the evening?” “Well, Johnny, I’m going to fix some dinner and then watch the telly…in accordance with prophecy!” Sound ridiculous? It is. And yet, listening to certain “enlightened” evangelical preachers, one can only, logically, come to the conclusion that there are those out there who actually speak in this manner and those, more alarmingly, that believe in their predictions without a second thought, and some might even say without a first one either. Prophecy, especially of the Messianic or End Times varieties, plays a large role in the pontifications of many evangelical preachers, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and is more than a little significant in the role of recruiting more members of the “flock.” This should not come as a surprise for all religions, and especially the most important aspects of Christianity, are rooted in the “fulfillment” of certain obscure and ambiguously worded prophecies—the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and impending second coming of Jesus are all supposedly in accordance with various prophecies in the Scriptures.

However, what happens when a prophecy found in the perfect and inerrant Bible is proven to be false? What then does that say about the other prophecies? Can they, too, be false? Do the prophecies of the birth and resurrection of Jesus allow other essential elements of Christianity to remain true? That is, if the birth and resurrection prophecies are indeed taken as truth, can Mary’s virginity or even some of the spoken words of Jesus be simultaneously taken as truth without being contradictory? If any of the fundamental and critical aspects of Christianity can be brought into doubt or even refuted entirely, where then does Christianity as a whole stand?

To delve into these questions, in this particular piece (we shall examine the resurrection and prophecies made by Jesus in future articles) let us look first to the question of the birth of Jesus, assuming for now that he did indeed exist historically, and how the virginity of Mary hinges on whether or not Jesus is human or divine, and vice versa. We will leave alone, at this juncture, the theories that the stories of the Biblical Jesus are Christian retellings of Pagan mythology much like the Old Testament’s Noah story was essentially a “rehash” of the ancient Gilgamesh epic. For now, for the sake of this piece, let us assume that the story is an original. We are going to deal first with the Gospel of Matthew, the first gospel we encounter in the canonical text. Matthew 1: 18-19 makes it very clear that Mary was “found to be with child” before she and Joseph “came together.” Reading this with a Literalist’s eyes, one can conclude that Mary was indeed a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception. Reading further, we encounter, in Matthew 1:22-23, the problematic birth prophecy from Isaiah 7:14. The text states that, “…the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” There is some debate as to the translation of “virgin,” as it usually simply meant “young woman” in Hebrew, but we will discuss textual translation errors at a later date. For now, let us look at what we know of how Jesus was supposed to be:

1) He was to be born of a virgin.
2) He was to be a direct descendant in the line of King David.

In the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 2:4, we learn that Joseph, for all intents and purposes Jesus’ Biblical “stepfather,” “belonged to the house and line of David.” That is quite clear. Joseph is a direct descendant of King David. The Messiah will be of that line. Joseph’s son is Jesus. No problem, correct? Actually, no, Houston, we do indeed have a problem. The gospels of Matthew and Luke give genealogies of Joseph, albeit two completely contradicting ones (see Matthew 1:17 and Luke 3:23-38), both showing that Joseph is indeed in the “house and line of David.” There have been several apologists who have tried to reconcile the errors by stating that the lineage given was that of Mary and not Joseph, which fails for two reasons:

1) Mary is not mentioned in either of the passages at all.
2) It is highly unlikely for the writers of a very male-dominated culture and society to have mentioned a woman’s genealogy. Lineage was always traced from the father.

So now we have the understanding, if we read as Literalists, that Joseph is unquestionably of the “house and line of David.” How, then, can Jesus also be of the same line if Joseph did not have any part in his conception? Either Jesus is not the Messiah, or Mary was not a virgin. The two elements as understood and believed by Christians cannot logical coexist. For if Joseph is a descendant of David, and Jesus as the Messiah is also supposed to be a direct descendant, that implies that Joseph is a biological father. An adopted son may be allowed to inherit from a father and even carry on the family name, but his blood will never be the same—that is, he will never be able to draw a direct line to the same ancestors as his stepfather. If Mary was indeed a virgin, and if the “father” was indeed the holy spirit as stated clearly in Matthew, then Jesus can NOT be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures because Mary is NOT of the “house and line of David.” The divinity of Jesus and the virginity of Mary, when looked at literally and with the prophecies stated, do not stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps one can say that the Isaiah prophecy does not relate to Jesus at all. If I were to believe Jesus was indeed perfect and without sin and able to know all through his Father, I would think the same thing, for the rest of that passage of Isaiah states that “he will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right…” (Isaiah 7:15-16) It seems highly unlikely that Jesus, the only one ever born who was perfect and lived without any sins, would ever have a period where right and wrong would be a question.

In closing, it is apparent that upon careful examination, several fundamental elements of the Christian faith do not stand up to outside critiques, or even, in some cases, to several passages in the same book. In the case of the “virginal birth” and the accompanying prophecies, it is obvious that the two critical parts of the faith of Christianity can not logically coexist. But then, logic is not what religion is based upon. If the very concept of who and what Jesus truly was can be called into question so easily, how can the rest of the faith stand up? And, further, how can Literalists keep ignoring such blatant facts when we use their own techniques—i.e. reading the texts literally—against them and how, if we noticed the errors and inconsistencies so easily, can so many people be completely fooled? The short answer on the latter half of that second question is early indoctrination and, I promise, we shall get to that topic in time.

When next we meet, we shall examine the elements of the resurrection of Jesus—what the Bible says, what Jesus himself has to say about it, what apologists say, what other non-Christians say, and, of course, what I say. Until then, be well everyone.