Friday, December 18, 2020

The McGrew/Pearce Debate On Christmas Issues

Lydia McGrew recently debated Jonathan Pearce on issues surrounding Jesus' birth on the Unbelievable? radio program. I've reviewed Pearce's book on Christmas issues. And Steve Hays and I wrote some further responses to his work: here, here, here, and here. Those responses from Steve and I are focused on Jonathan's objections to the magi material in Matthew 2, and he raises those objections in his debate with Lydia. Anybody who's interested can read those exchanges from 2014. I won't be repeating what I said in that context, but will instead focus on other parts of the McGrew/Pearce debate. The large majority of what needs to be said in response to arguments like Jonathan's is covered on the pages linked above and in my recent collection of Christmas resources here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Snopes Debunking The Bethlehem Birthplace

They just reposted an article from The Conversation that casts doubt on Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and other aspects of the infancy narratives. And here's the original version of the article they reposted. I've posted in the comments section of that original thread. We'll see how many other Christians post there and how substantive their comments are. Typically, Christians don't do much in this sort of context. That's one of the reasons why our culture is in the condition it's in.

Keep in mind that when a source like Snopes or The Conversation produces anti-Christian material like this recent article, it influences people who won't tell you they were influenced by it. When your spouse, children, or coworkers come across such material, whether they were searching for it or not, they typically won't say much, if anything, about it to other people. But it does affect them. It affects how they think, their confidence, who and what they're willing to associate with, what they say to other people about relevant subjects, etc. Material like what Snopes and The Conversation are producing is more influential than Christians suggest.

You can't just make dismissive comments about the media, liberals, atheists, and so on. You need to interact with what's being said. You need to participate in the discussions. And I'd estimate that only a tiny fraction of one percent of Christians in a place like modern America are sufficiently prepared to discuss the relevant New Testament data, non-Christian sources, patristic evidence, etc. The vast majority of Christians in a context like the United States will respond to material like what Snopes and The Conversation have produced in a highly inadequate way. They're too occupied with family get-togethers, cooking, joking around, following sports, watching movies, etc. When that tiny fraction of one percent of Christians do the relevant work to respond to sources like Snopes, the typical response from other Christians is apathy or contempt. That needs to change. When you see something like that Snopes article, what are you doing about it? How many of these conversations have you been participating in over the years? And what's the quality of your participation?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Pete Enns Is Wrong About Isaiah 9

See his article here. He's wrong about what Isaiah 9 refers to in its original context, and he's wrong about how the earliest Christians viewed the passage. On the original context, see here and here. On how the earliest Christians understood the passage, see here and my other posts since then that discuss the issues further.

The fact that Isaiah 9 opens with an eighth-century B.C. backdrop doesn't suggest that the entire passage will be fulfilled at that time or shortly after. It can be relevant to an eighth-century B.C. audience and be sufficiently understood by them without being entirely fulfilled at that time or shortly after and without being entirely understood by that initial audience. Jesus' fulfillment of the passage centuries later, without any fulfillment by Hezekiah or somebody else earlier, doesn't mean that the passage has "no relevance to Isaiah’s audience", as Enns claims. It has a lot of relevance, much as unfulfilled eschatology and other types of predictions not yet fulfilled have a lot of relevance to modern Christians.

Enns writes that "It is striking, though, that Matthew doesn’t go on and cite the rest of Isaiah 9, especially verses 6-7". He doesn't need to. It would be absurd to think that Jesus is the figure of the first two verses of the passage, but that verses 6-7 refer to somebody else. Verse 7 refers to David's throne. Jesus' Davidic Messiahship is a major theme in Matthew's gospel. It would be ridiculous to suggest that he thought Isaiah 9:6-7 refers to somebody other than Jesus. Similarly, Jesus only needs to cite a portion of Psalm 22 in order to suggest that the whole Psalm applies to him (Matthew 27:46).

Enns goes on to tell us that Matthew "is only one of two New Testament writers who bother to even tell us about Jesus’s birth". See here regarding the material on Jesus' childhood outside of Matthew and Luke. John's gospel, for example, tells us a substantial amount about Jesus' childhood, including his fulfillment of Isaiah 9. And notice that Jesus' appeal to the opening verses of Isaiah 9 in John 8:12 comes in the context of responding to allegations about issues like his ancestry and birthplace (John 7:41-42, 7:52), which implies that Jesus is intending to appeal to the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole, not just the opening verses. The closing verses of the Isaiah 9 passage, not the opening ones, are the verses that refer to birth and Davidic ancestry (with the implication of a Bethlehem birthplace, for reasons I've gone into elsewhere). The evidence suggests, then, that Jesus is applying the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole to himself in John 8:12. So, Enns' claim that "Connecting Isaiah 9 to Jesus was the work of later church theologians" is false.

The Fifth Gospel

"Isaiah, then, together with his rebukes of wickedness, precepts of righteousness, and predictions of evil, also prophesied much more than the rest [of the Biblical prophets] about Christ and the Church, that is, about the King and that city which he founded; so that some say he should be called an evangelist rather than a prophet." (Augustine, The City Of God, 18:29)

Even if critics' efforts to overturn the four gospels of the New Testament had been successful, there's a fifth gospel that's out of their reach. You can grant so much of what they claim about the gospels, even their breaking up of Isaiah and assigning it to different authors, their late dating of it, and their various hypotheses about the original referents in passages like Isaiah 9 and the Servant Songs. When you grant them so much, which they don't deserve, they still have no adequate explanation for why Jesus' life and influence on the world align so well with what Isaiah wrote.

We've written a lot about the prophecies of Isaiah over the years. I've written about Isaiah 9 recently, and you can find more about that passage in our archives, such as here and here. We've also written about other passages, like the Servant Songs. You can go here to find a collection of many of our articles on prophecy issues, including other ones on Isaiah and some discussing the principles involved in evaluating prophecy.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Evidence For Jesus' Galilean Background And Its Usefulness

In other posts, I've discussed the evidential significance of Jesus' background in Galilee and Nazareth. Critics of Christianity make much of Jesus' Galilean background, often his residence in Nazareth in particular. That's probably because there's such good evidence for those aspects of Jesus' life, critics don't perceive those characteristics of his life as much of a threat, and they view his background in Nazareth as a means of undermining belief in his Bethlehem birthplace. Because of Micah 5:2 and its use over the centuries as evidence for Christianity, critics have given a lot of attention to trying to undermine the Christian use of that passage.

But they're repeating a mistake that's been perpetuated from the time of Jesus down to our own day. As I wrote in another post: