My conversations with Jesus (Part 2: Who you really are)

Me: Hello again, Jesus

Jesus: Hello, I thought about what we spoke about last time. I have some questions.

Me: I though you might. I would too if I were you. I have some questions for you as well.

Jesus: You first

Me: At what point in your ministry did you decide you wanted to be the messiah?

Jesus: That’s an easy one, I didn’t. I was content in my role as divinely anointed prophet of the Last Days. It was only after arriving in Jerusalem for Passover some fellow pilgrims began to suggest the idea. At first I was reluctant but some politically active Israelites were insistent. I realized God could use me in this role so I bowed to the will of the people. Then when I was arrested, it seemed to reinforce it. Even when I was suffering on the cross I thought God would intervene and rescue me at the last moment, but I was wrong.

Me: What were your final thoughts if I may ask?

Jesus: Of course I was despondent because I was so certain of the kingdom’s imminent arrival and my role in it. But ultimately, it was never my decision. The Lord is free to choose whomever he desires. He had someone else in mind, obviously.
Now I have a question for you. I’m stuck on the idea that so many people think I am God even though I constantly preached about my relationship to “God.” I made it clear I was doing his bidding and could not do or say anything which I did not receive from him. Every miracle I performed and every word I spoke was because of his anointing spirit. Surely, they don’t think I was God while I was on earth?

Me: As a matter of fact they do. They believed you were perfect God residing in the body of a perfect man.

Jesus: But that would make me two beings at once. If I had the power of God, as God, I could have destroyed the Romans and reclaimed Israel. Also, God can’t die so how could I have died? It makes no sense and is unfathomable given I never made such a claim. What is most baffling to me is my disciples knew I was a prophet, so when and how did this wild theory start?

Me: We’ll talk about the implications of you being both man and God later. Let’s begin with how it all started.
Remember in our first conversation we spoke about how everything changed after the resurrection story began to gain acceptance? Once it was determined you had not simply been brought to life physically but had ascended to heaven, you could no longer be thought of as a mere mortal man. You were now divine. Since no one had ever been resurrected and granted entrance to God’s presence, it was deduced you were special. The question now was, “How special?” Even your disciples who were intimately acquainted with you regarded you as a divine Lord. It was the only explanation for their own mystical encounters with you.

Jesus: I understand that but we had many hours of conversation and I never indicated to them I was going to die and be raised to life let alone become divine. It is hard to imagine how they would arrive at this determination. Did they think I would keep something like this a secret from them?

Me: For later Christians this seemed to be the only logical explanation as to why you never spoke about it while on earth. The writings are full of speculation based on what Christians thought you were. This brings us to a vital point. Everything we know, or think we know, about you is contained in a collection of ancient writings. These are referred to as, “The New Testament.” They were selected from many other writings which were deemed spurious or non authoritative. There was considerable debate among Christian leaders for centuries as to which were genuinely authoritative and accurate and which were not. As you can imagine, there were many differing ideas about you so sorting fact from fiction was no easy matter. The writings we do have which attest to your life and that of your disciples are more theological than historical. Which is to say, they are not perfectly reliable accounts of what you or they said or did.

Jesus: I remember when I was alive there was a lot of speculation about who I was, but being God was never one of them.

Me: True, the challenge of reading this material is determining what your actual words were and what were not, but almost all the New Testament writings claim you were divine because of your resurrection. You yourself are said to have declared your divinity to your disciples even if you didn’t because it only makes sense you would have.
I should mention belief in your total equality with God was still centuries away. It was a progression that started with affirming your divinity after your alleged ascension and grew from there. Nothing in the New Testament writings explicitly teaches you are in essence equal to God. Rather you share God’s nature having “proceeded from him” and returned to him. After your death when the resurrection story began many new theories began circulating. Most of them without a known source. You had actual stories of your earthly life and newly evolving stories surrounding your heavenly existence.

Jesus: My disciples would have corrected the many misconceptions about me even if they thought I had been resurrected.

Me: That would be true but it would be forty years before someone attempted to sift through the many stories and compile the material into a written account. By then almost every eyewitness to your life would have been dead including your family and disciples.

Jesus: The authors were obviously believers who wanted to catalogue my life but how would they know what was true and what wasn’t?

Me: There are three categories of information about you: What is clearly false, what is clearly true and what is believed to be true even if it might be false.
We have four different versions of your life which are similar but contain multiple discrepancies and contradictions. It is generally agreed to by experts, they were all written by men who did not know you personally but perhaps knew someone who did. One was a companion of Paul, one an associate of Peter, one was perhaps a disciple of John, the beloved. The final gospel, attributed to “Matthew,” was likely composed by someone to replace an original work by Matthew that was lost or destroyed. Unique to all of them is their attempt to merge your earthly life with the Christian version of who you were after your resurrection.

Jesus: You saying many of these stories about me were fabricated on belief in a resurrection that never happened. Why would anyone make up information or deliberately deceive others about my life?

Me: That’s the big question. You yourself claimed to have a special relationship with God who provided you with exclusive information. After your resurrection, many of your followers claimed prophetic ability which gave them access to past details about your life. The motive of most was surely a sincere desire to answer the many questions people had. A perfect example are your disciples. They sacrificed their own lives to defend their belief in your resurrection and claimed their information was received firsthand. Christians for centuries have seen this fact alone as proof you did rise from the dead. Why else would someone die for a lie?

Jesus: If I were to hazard a guess based on what you have already told me. It is because the mystical encounter they claimed to have had with me was so convincing and “real,” it was as if they had seen me in the flesh.

Me: I would add to that Mary’s claim she did see you in your physical body, even though she didn’t, was sufficient proof to others you had. It only takes one person to tell a story and one person to believe it to start a legend.

Jesus: Mary was always one of my devoted followers since I exorcised seven demons from her. Before that she was constantly being tormented by dark forces which she saw all around her. I think she must have mistaken one of her visions for me because I certainly never met her.

Me: You have raised a delicate issue and one which I don’t think most Christians understand or want to understand. All evidence suggests the resurrection story would never have started had she not had her mystical encounters with you and an angel. If nothing else, she provided enough curiosity about the possibility of you being raised to life to cause others to consider it, none more important than your own disciples.

Jesus: Are you saying my disciples believed I had been resurrected based on her testimony?

Me: No, in fact it is interesting the gospel accounts stress initially your disciples did not believe Mary’s report about an angel who said you were alive. When they returned to Jerusalem for Pentecost and discovered Mary’s had had an encounter with you, they gathered and prayed to the Lord to show them. It was then some began to have their own experience with you which changed their minds.
I think the trust factor among your followers is also important to note. Once some started to testify to seeing you in your “spirit” body, others believed and sought a similar experience. This phenomenon is well documented among all religions and belief systems. People can generate a similar experience based on others accounts of what that experience feels and looks like. Some might call it faith imprinting. You mimic or copy the faith expression of someone else who you think is demonstrating a legitimate and real experience. It then becomes a shared spiritual experience with each reinforcing the other and so on. It becomes even more powerful when there is a reliable source, either written or verbal, on which to base them.

Jesus: I’m surprised my disciples didn’t attempt to provide an official version of events to serve as a measure for truth instead of leaving it for others to do.

Me: A couple things bare mentioning here. Your followers were persuaded you would return at any minute, so nobody thought it important to write down details about your life when it was most pertinent. Second, it would take many years before Christianity grew enough to be considered worthy of any written documentation. Third, the majority of your believers were uneducated and illiterate so oral stories and legends were far more practical and powerful because most believed them to originally come from first hand accounts. Last but not least, your disciples were more persuaded than any one of your resurrection so they were most guilty of spreading the resurrection myth.

Jesus: I noticed you choose the word, “myth.”

Me: I think it’s the perfect term because it suggests the sacredness of the belief and its power in the lives of those who adhere to it. In the case of the resurrection, it contains elements of truths around which the spiritual part of your resurrection has been built.

Jesus: Such as my death, a missing body and eyewitness accounts?

Me: These three facts alone were enough to launch the most powerful myth ever told, especially that last point.

Jesus: I lived at a time when people, myself included, had visions of angels and spirits regularly. Even the pagans believed in various gods and spirits. The unseen world is a misnomer because it is often manifested in tangible ways. People “encounter” this realm through dreams and visions which can be more real than the physical world. Demon possession is observable and the effects of God’s spirit can be both heard and seen.

Me: If I may interject. The story of the apostle Paul’s conversion is a perfect example. He was blinded by a bright light, yet claimed to have “seen” and heard you. One dreams with their eyes closed yet sees in their mind’s “eye.” The incontestable fact this singular event was enough to sustain him and many others to the point of a martyr’s death is strong evidence. Christians fail to appreciate how affirming spiritual experiences can be in any religion even if not factual.

Jesus: Are you saying an experience is not fact?

Me: No, I’m saying the experience itself is a fact but may not be based on a fact. It is the power of faith in something, whether true or imagined, that generates the experience.

Jesus: What about other details which neither I nor my disciples would have provided.

Me: Belief about you was fluid. As questions arose surrounding the events of your life, answers were formulated which became popular and achieved a certain oral fixity. They contain information about who you were prior to being born, your ministry, arrest, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and perhaps most importantly, your return. There were many gaps which required filling necessitating deductive reasoning. But only when Jewish Christianity was under threat of extinction was there an urgency for these oral traditions to be evaluated, sorted and composed.

Jesus: I suppose this threat was pressure from the religious establishment who distrusted my ministry from the start. It must have intensified when my disciples suggested I had been resurrected and would begin my messianic office. And they must have been especially enraged by Paul.

Me: While your followers were constantly being persecuted by these leaders for declaring you messiahship, and of course Paul for his gospels departure from Judaism, it was something far greater which prompted these writings.
Around 66AD, some Israelites started a series of revolts against Rome that escalated into a full scale rebellion. Roman retaliation was swift and severe. The details are inconsequential other than the city was ruined, the temple profaned and many thousands of Israelites were enslaved or lost their lives to starvation, disease or execution. Many saw this as a sign Yahweh was going to intervene and deliver his people. Jewish Christians, as you can imagine, were convinced it would signal your return. By the time the dust settled and smoke cleared over the holy city, you had still failed to appear.
The impact of yet another unrealized return was profound. Apathy and malaise began to settle over the Jewish church and some returned to Judaism. In a desperate effort to stem the tide of departures and resuscitate the faithful, the gospels were written. They contained a lot of information primarily intended to establish your credentials as the heavenly messiah. Most importantly, they offer a stern warning. Those who had become “drowsy,” irresponsible or otherwise unprepared because of your protracted delay in returning would face severe judgment. As it turned out, this idle threat would sound the death knell for this original branch of Christianity. Meanwhile, Gentile Christianity flourished.

Jesus: No doubt because of its loose affiliation with Judaistic Christianity.

Me: Though Paul was already dead, he had given Gentile Christianity the independence from Judaism it needed to survive without its Jewish parentage. For centuries Christians blamed Jerusalem’s devastation on Israel’s rejection of you as Messiah. They believed God was punishing them. Eventually, Christians who were almost exclusively Gentile, suggested the Israelites had been replaced with the Christian church. It is a hotly debated issue even today especially among a Christian sect called evangelicals. We will talk about them in another conversation if you are interested.

Jesus: I find all this troubling to hear but at least my people are presently back in the land the Lord promised them, right?

Me: Yes, though very few practice Judaism as you would demand. Most are secular Jews who loosely hold to the traditions but are not enthusiastic about subscribing to the ancient laws. I should mention the Temple was never rebuilt so Judaism has changed significantly. However, we’re getting off topic. Where were we?

Jesus: I’m surprised that nobody wrote anything earlier about my teachings especially if they thought I had been resurrected. I think that would have been worth writing about. Why did it take so long?

Me: That’s an important point. Your Jewish followers already had plenty of writings with the Hebrew Scriptures. As you know, they were still very much a part of Judaism so with that and a robust oral tradition about you, nothing else was needed. For Gentiles, on the other hand, it was a much different matter. They were in need of more specific writings tailored to their needs and beliefs.

Jesus: Let me guess, this involves the Paul you spoke about before?

Me: You have to remember once Paul began his ministry only a few years after the resurrection story began, there were two branches of Christianity operating. As we mentioned previously, he found little receptivity among his fellow Israelites in Judea so he ventured north where there was less resistance. According to the New Testament book, Acts, he first introduced the gospel to an exclusively non Jewish pagan audience in Psidian Antioch. I would say if this account it accurate, it was the watershed moment for Christianity. Paul was now free to take his version of the gospel to Gentiles far and wide without encroachment by your disciples in Jerusalem.

Jesus: I can’t imagine my disciples or any other Israelite would tolerate such a gross violation to the sacred traditions of Judaism in Judea. Paul was a defector who betrayed his heritage, yet according to you his version of Christianity survived while my disciples’ gospel did not. All because of my repeated failures to return as messiah and the fall of Jerusalem. I’m a little unclear as to why Gentile Christianity managed to survive.

Me: That’s a perfect lead in to Paul and his philosophy of Christianity. We could spend a lot of time on this topic but we will confine ourselves to a brief sketch of the most important points. I’m sure we will refer back to it often anyway.
Paul’s biggest hurdle was addressing a growing tension among his Jewish and Gentile converts who resided in one church. The issue was the role of “the Law” in his version of Christianity. Because he was ministering to a Gentile audience with no allegiance whatsoever to the traditions nor obligation to the Mosaic Law, he had to create a new set of teachings for their education and edification. At the same time he had Jewish converts who had entered the faith through Judaism. This juxtaposition created a tension which would eventually need resolution. You can’t have two different gospels in one religion let alone under the same roof.
The question of circumcision had already been addressed at a formal gathering of your disciples convened in Jerusalem. It had been decided after a vision Peter had, which we can discuss another time, Gentiles who had converted but not been circumcised would be granted salvation. The admission of God-fearers was a small concession which created an opportunity for Paul to fully exploit.

Jesus: What I find astonishing is Paul’s version of the gospel seemed to be evolving based on expediency. It is no wonder he had to appeal to direct revelation since he was moving further and further away from the central tenets of Judaism.

Me: The necessity of legal conformity was so embedded in the psyche of religious Israelites, it was difficult if not impossible to consider abandoning it. But Paul had brought Gentiles into Christianity who had no exposure to these ancient traditions but were told they were now full inheritors of the promises. They would never convert if required to be circumcised. Now the question was, what about things like obeying the Sabbath, attending the festivals, keeping dietary laws and the legal precepts? What impact did the law have now that you were a Christian, whether Jew or Gentile?

Jesus: I would argue, even though removing circumcision contradicts the law, it is imperative to keep the rest of the legal precepts in order to be assured of obtaining the Lord’s blessing and avoiding judgment when his kingdom arrives in full. It would seem to be the only way to be consistent with the traditions and avoid further compromise.

Me: Paul must have considered this for a time but then rejected it. He determined if part of the law was not necessary to gain salvation, none of it was necessary to keep salvation.

Jesus: How did Paul reconcile my ministry which not only reiterated legal conformity but also internal piety with his views.

Me: Paul seemed unfamiliar or uninterested with your earthly life focusing almost exclusively on the heavenly Christ aspect. As far as Paul was concerned, it was only your resurrected role which mattered.

Jesus: Paul seems to have begun down a dangerous road from which he could not or would not turn back.

Me: I think that is an accurate appraisal. Paul has witnessed an overwhelming response by pagan Gentiles willing to embrace his gospel and live virtuous lives, yet they were uncircumcised and unfamiliar with the Mosaic law. I think Paul was under tremendous pressure to find a solution to keep all his converts and not risk theological ostracization for discounting the law. This compelled Paul to seek out textual support.

Jesus: I know he must have found it but I am curious as to where? I listened to the holy writings expounded my entire life and never heard anything close to what Paul was teaching.

Me: First, I would strenuously argue Paul took incredible liberties with the many texts which violate their integrity and intended meaning. His reason for doing so is his claim to have received his mission through direct revelation from you. He was up against your own disciples and in order for his radical gospel to be taken seriously he had to profess two things. First, a visitation from you personally to qualify him as an apostle after his conversion. And second, a commission from you to take the gospel to Gentiles without legal requirements.

Jesus: I can see how vital it was he make these two claims, but he still faced the enormous task of justifying it from the sacred writings.

Me: Paul was highly motivated when he was a Pharisee as he wrote in one of his letters. He refocused this zeal in his new role, and as you said, he had few other options once he started. His extensive knowledge of the Hebrew writings and conviction he was divinely appointed and anointed to preach the gospel to the Gentiles propelled him to search the scriptures for vindication.
His central argument as found in his letters to the Romans and Galatians stems from the Lord’s covenant with Abraham which preceded the giving of the law to Moses. Fundamental to his position was the verse, “Abraham believed the Lord and he credited to him as righteousness.” He alleges it was faith alone without any “work,” i.e., the law, which qualified Abraham as righteous and therefore inheritor of the promises. On the surface and out of context it would appear Paul has a case, but a closer inspection and comparison with similar texts reveals a flagrant contradiction.

Jesus: Paul’s argument is false. Abraham’s faith was still predicated on obedience to God’s oral commands regardless of whether the written law had been given. He moved his entire family from Haran to Canaan based solely on God’s command to do so. Second, the prerequisite for inheriting the promises of the land and descendants to fill it was circumcision to which he willingly submitted. Third, Abraham’s entire life is characterized by acting in accordance with what God told him. Finally, according to Moses, Abraham and his offspring were constantly implored to obey God’s word. He specifically reinforced this to Isaac after Abraham’s death.

“I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”(Genesis 26:4,5)

One could look at it this way. Abraham and his offspring were obeying God’s oral law which is every bit as binding as the later written law.

Me: Agreed, I think the term “active faith” best describes what God required as opposed to a dormant faith which produces no righteous fruit. Certainly if Abraham had acted “unrighteously” or disobediently, the Lord would not have rewarded him.

Jesus: Obedience is critical. No self respecting Israelite who wanted to secure the Lord’s blessings would ever question the essentialness of this rite. Anyway, this still doesn’t account for including Gentiles in the promises.

Me: Right, Paul still needed scriptural justification for this part of his theory. Again, he turned to the life of Abraham. Based on his previous conclusion, participation in the promises is a matter of faith alone and not obedience to the law which had not been given yet. Therefore, Paul concluded the promises were not tied to the law but faith and claimed Abraham had both natural and spiritual offspring. However, only those who believed through faith were his true children and inheritors of the promises. In the passage where the covenant of circumcision is inaugurated, Paul takes the word, ‘goyim’ (“nations” or “families”) and extends it to include Gentiles as well.

Jesus: The original context would suggest otherwise and such an interpretation contradicts the spirit of the passage whose focus is specifically on Abraham’s natural offspring. I find it brazen Paul uses a passage where circumcision is mandated to argue against its importance.

Me: Paul believed he was being vouchsafed revelation which superseded the literal contextual meaning even if he knew it. He was pioneering a new and better way which replaced the law and traditions with a concept called grace. Grace is incompatible with the law and superior to it.
This esoteric approach to the prophetically inspired writings seems to be a common approach by Christian writers though Paul was the most radical in his interpretation. I guess it’s a matter of believing what you want to believe and seeing what you want to see with God’s spirit guiding you no matter how divergent it was from the traditional view. I think Paul reveled in this special role.

Jesus: Did Paul think the teachers of the law had been blind to this interpretation for centuries? Does he honestly think Abraham thought God was telling him about a future where Gentiles would believe a gospel that superseded the law while Israelites would needlessly adhere to it for centuries? Or Moses’ work as the great giver of the law was inferior to his?

Me: Many religious Judeans must have posed these same questions and he had a clever answer for them. Paul regarded his gospel as a mystery hidden for generations until God finally choose him to reveal it. In this respect, God intended Abraham and Moses to only see what he revealed until the fulness of time came for a new redemptive program. Paul refers to the law as a “tutor” who prepares a student until he or she reaches an age whereby they no longer need instruction. Your arrival and subsequent death and resurrection brought centuries of being under the law to a terminus, after which, it was replaced by the age of grace through faith. All based on your death and resurrection. It all seemed perfectly reasonable especially to a Gentile audience with little or no understanding of these ancient texts.

Jesus: But, what about his Israelite followers? You mentioned there were two gospels operating simultaneously, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. I find it remarkable Israelites would not fight to keep the sacred traditions even if Gentiles refused.

Me: It is hard to know what Paul was thinking on this matter but it seems clear he viewed his interpretation of the gospel as superior to that of your disciples because he claimed to have received “his gospel” by direct revelation from you. He clashed with Peter over this issue but managed to get the Jerusalem church to endorse his ministry. As I mentioned already, they needed the financial contributions of Paul’s Gentile converts more than they cared about his theology.

Jesus: I would be curious to know whether Paul’s Jewish converts were resistant to abandoning Judaism or happy to no longer be under its demands.

Me: I would offer a third possibility. I think a large portion of Jewish converts were from outside Judaism and like Gentiles were attracted to Paul’s gospel. It was an opportunity to partake of the promises without adhering to the law. However, we know some of Paul’s churches were split on this issue with Jewish Christians trying to force Christians to obey the law. The problem arose when Jewish Christians who were keeping the Law were fellowshipping and worshipping with Gentiles who did not have to keep the Law. Regardless, reading through some of Paul’s writings reveals the theological quagmire he had created for himself.

Jesus: When was it finally settled?

Me: After Jerusalem’s fall, Jewish hope in a restored Israel faded. I think even Jewish Christians struggled in their faith. Meanwhile, Gentile Christianity was flourishing and using these events as proof they were the spiritual offspring of Abraham. Jews must have felt increasingly unwelcome. But nothing contributed more to the death of Jewish Christianity than your absence. It was predicated on the gospel you preached of a soon to arrive kingdom which never came to fruition.

Jesus: How many Israelites are Christians today?

Me: Historically, only a tiny fraction of Jews have embraced Christianity. Many have been coerced into conversion and persecuted by Christians for their reluctance to acknowledge your messiahship. It has been a rocky relationship until recently. A group I mentioned earlier, evangelical Christians, devised a new and bizarre theory concerning the relationship of Israel and Christians. It is only a few hundred years old but has had a massive impact. I think it poses an existential threat to Israel.

Jesus: You’ve piqued my curiosity. I’d like to explore this more.

Me: Great, let’s make it the topic of our next conversation. We also need to discuss how you became both God and man in one body and how those two natures related to each other.

Jesus: We still have a lot to cover. Until then…

The Jesus Delusion…

and the evangelical deception.

Most evangelical Christians would bristle at the suggestion they have been deceived or are deceiving other in promoting Jesus as the eternal Savior of mankind. But such “thinking” is not based on anything but an irrational belief in the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God fueled by fear of death and hope in the afterlife.

27Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”(Mark 8:27, emphasis added)

The Grand Delusion

Nobody was more surprised he was not the messiah than Jesus himself. Today, groups like evangelicals continue to propagate this deception, especially on their children and the vulnerable.

I can tell you with reasonable certainty, Jesus was not who most people think he was. In fact, he wasn’t even who he thought he was. Mystery about his true identity has not ceased for two thousand years largely because Christians had controlled the narrative. There is no excuse for this to continue in a post Enlightenment scientific world where rationalism not revelation is king. Unfortunately many among us live in a post truth world where experiential faith girded by fear and hope rules.

Most Jews (Israelites) regarded Jesus as a prophet and briefly as a potential political messiah (“King of the Jews”). His death ended both expectations. The total absence of a single follower or even his own mother at his tomb is the most damning evidence against the resurrection story. His prolonged failure to return as Israel’s messiah and redeemer resulted in most Jews abandoning him. A trend which continues to this day.

The irrational evangelical*

*Note to Reader: I am acutely aware of the nebulousness surrounding the term evangelical. It has become virtually impossible to accurately define what an evangelical is today, but it’s currently the best term we have. When used throughout this article it will be with the acknowledgement that not “all” evangelicals subscribe to any one belief but a significant number do to those mentioned below. Therefore it will be the responsibility of the reader to make his or her own determination as to whether the material applies to them. The one thing almost all evangelicals must concede is belief in the resurrection of Jesus. If this central pillar is removed, Christianity crumbles. It is my contention such a belief is exclusively irrational finding no basis in empirical data, logic, reason or common sense.

To label Jesus as “deluded” is to invite criticism. However, the vast majority of those who take umbrage at this suggestion have no rational basis for it. If you distill Christian believe to its purest form, it is founded on irrational experientialism and blind presuppositionalism. When backed into a rational corner, most Christians default to their personal relationship with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit as the ultimate proof of the validity of their faith and the authority of the Bible.

The infallibility of experientialism

While groups like evangelicals will ostensibly profess belief in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, it is really their experience with God which serves as the basis for their conviction in the authority of the Bible.

A divine spiritual or mystical experience or encounter with God or the supernatural does not prove anything beyond the experience itself — no matter how powerful and affirming it may be. By itself, it cannot provide independent truth, I.e., the existence of God.

Individual experience cannot be shared anymore than pain can be shared. People may have similar faith experiences but this only proves the commonality of the source. Like two snowflakes, no two religious experiences are absolutely identical anymore than any two individuals are identical. Evangelical Christianity, or any iteration of it, stops and starts at a personal experience or “relationship” with God.

Anyone who has ever engaged in a spirited debate with a Bible believing Christian know how frustratingly fruitless and futile it can be. It is like playing a game of mental chess where one player has a magic king which can move anywhere on the board when put in checkmate.

A personal relationship with God is by definition supernatural and those who default to it are intractable when it comes to challenging it. No argument in the universe regardless of how compelling can dissuade someone from their own awareness of or encounter with God. Doubt is the only key that can unlock the door of faith and only a believer holds it.

An unlikely ending to a spectacular beginning

Jesus revolutionized my life then I abandoned him.

The path I took from devout follower of Jesus to diehard unbeliever is unique. It establishes my credibility both academically and experientially to write on such a controversial and complicate subject.

I was converted as a depressed and distraught teenager from a non Christian home. There were many contributing factors to my insecurities. My father was an uneducated and harsh man who was emotionally detached from my mother and his children. He offered little affection or guidance. My mother had her hands full with seven children one of whom was special needs requiring additional care. For the most part we were left to fend for ourselves.

We were easily the poorest of our friends living in a century old run down farmhouse with little insulation and plumbing issues that left a large external hole in the upstairs bathroom. A plastic tarp served as the only barrier from the outside. Our “rugs” consisted of carpet scraps taped together. Large rats occupied the basement while mice the kitchen.

As a left handed child, I faced additional obstacles. I struggled through school from the beginning receiving low grades for sloppy or unfinished work. I grew increasingly frustrated in class at not being able to take legible or complete notes and quickly fell behind. I rarely did homework or assignments to avoid more negative feedback and as a way to punish those who treated me as a problem. I became the proverbial class clown to gain attention and deflect my pain.

I was always among the smallest in my class earning nicknames like, “runt” and “scrawny Ronnie.” I was the source of constant ridicule and teasing always trying to make friends. As I grew older my pain seemed to increase as I became acutely aware of my deficiencies both academically, physically and socially. I longed for a girlfriend but was ashamed of myself and thought I had nothing to offer anyone. I can vividly recall the immense emotional torment of “loving” a girl but not having the confidence to do anything about it.

I remember constantly wondering why God had chosen to punish me. What had I done to deserve this pain. Eventually I resigned myself to being a loser with few prospects apart from working in a grocery store. Then I was approached by one of the schools brightest and most popular students.

He invited me to church. I accepted not because I thought I would find answers but because I felt honored he wanted me to come with him. Anybody who showed any interest in me, I would gravitate towards. The details of what transpired during the next three months cannot detain us now. Suffice it to say, I converted because I had never received such unconditional love and support from anybody, including my family. Almost immediately those I encountered at this small church warmly accepted me and soon adopted me as one of their own. They genuinely cared about helping and listening to me.

I am writing this as someone who has completely rejected everything about Christianity that claims to be divine or supernatural. I do not believe Jesus was anything more than a self deluded Israelite from Galilee with messianic dreams that died with him on the cross. I believe the Bible is exclusively the product of ancient imagination unrestrained by science. I firmly reject the God depicted in the Bible is anything more than a reflection of tribalistic thinking. But, many of those evangelical Christians who loved me and tried to help me did so out of sincerely genuine motives. This truth is undeniable.

What will surprise most readers is what I am going to say next. Jesus absolutely transformed my life in a way that could only be described as miraculous. My life changed so radically, I didn’t even recognize the “new” me. One of the most noticeable physical changes was when I realized my fingernails needed cutting. I had chewed my nails habitually since I could remember. I was no longer nervous and anxious. I also had a new capacity for love and was happy. I began to like myself and felt my confidence grow stronger each day. People respected me and wanted to be around me. It was, and still is, I can say without reservation the most wonderful time of my life, even if it was generated by religious fantasy.

It should come as no surprise to anyone I would immediately dedicate my life to serving Jesus. I first went to Bible school overseas, then Moody Bible College (Chicago, Illinois) when I returned. Finally I enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Texas), but when I graduated my evangelical faith was in shambles. I had too many doubts to seek a ministry position. Instead, I purposed to take a year to deconstruct and rebuild my faith using the tools and knowledge I had acquired during the last decade of training.

If there is anything unique about my journey to find the truth, it is how I ended up losing my faith. I set out to deepen and strengthen my commitment to God, not abandon him. My motives were pure. I was immensely satisfied in my relationship with God. It was the evangelical system both theologically and practically which I had come to view with skepticism. In short, I felt being trapped in evangelicalism with evangelicals was stifling my faith.

I saw blatant hypocrisy and insipidness of commitment all around me among my fellow believers. I wondered why they lacked the discipline and dedication I found a natural outgrowth of my love and gratitude toward Jesus. I reasoned it must be the consequence of evangelical dogma.

Doctrines like pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism seemed synthetic and fostered a bland and shallow version of Christianity. Escape from judgment and the promise of eternal security de-incentivized Christians from righteous living and promoted languidness.

I reasoned by dismantling my faith and reconstructing it theological brick by brick, I would emerge a stronger Christian. Surely God would reward my efforts with a more authentic faith.

I approached the Bible with unflinching objectivity in an effort to discover the true meaning of the text. I was certain my unwavering faith in who Jesus was would sustain me in this quest. In doing so, I unknowingly had let down my faith guard and was seeing the Bible for the first time without any preconceived bias. It was intellectually liberating but also disconcerting. At first many of the doctrines I had been suspicious of fell, such as symbolic not efficacious baptism and verbal plenary inspiration. Then other beliefs I had thought inviolable began to crumble such as the Trinity and supreme deity of Jesus. Eventually, the cornerstone of Christianity was in my sights — the resurrection.

The resurrection myth

No doctrine is more cherished or more important to the Christian faith than the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. One’s eternal hope rests squarely on whether this is historical or not. I began to perform a precise exegetical study on the details contained in the four gospels on this event, analyzing and comparing them with unflinching honesty. It took me several years. In the end, reason prevailed and I had to conclude it was both logically and theologically unjustified on two grounds. First, the contradictions and logical implausibilities among the gospel writers, and second, the prophetic link validating Jesus role from the Hebrew Bible.

In the four decades I have dedicated to an exhaustive study of the Bible, nothing has captured my attention more than the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death and resurrection are the pillars of Christianity. If any one is removed, the entire superstructure crumbles to the ground.

Who was Jesus, honestly?

Jesus, quite simply, was a common everyday Israelite from Galilee who had a transformative experience when he was baptized by John. He was about thirty years of age and the son of a carpenter. During or shortly after his baptism, Jesus had a heavenly encounter with God (Yahweh), whereby he thought himself anointed and appointed by God to preach the “good news” of the soon to arrive kingdom of God as an End Days prophet (Mark 1:14,15). About a year later while visiting Jerusalem, some politically active Passover pilgrims (Zealots?) nominated him, “King of the Jews.” A title he readily accepted. It was this moment he sealed his own fate putting him on a course with destiny.

46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)((Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1))

These final words of Jesus as he hung on the cross, reveal his innermost anguish and the cruel reality of the situation. His God had abandoned him. As the life drained from his body, he knew his messianic dreams would die with him. He trusted in God until the end, but in the end God deserted him.

This moment marked the end of the earthly Jesus and would not have merited so much as a footnote on the pages of history were it not for his band of followers, particularly the women who adored him and attended to his burial.

Nobody expected Jesus to be raised from the dead lest of all his disciples who were already making preparations to return to their previous vocations. Even the women who visited his tomb that Easter morning were there to embalm him for permanent burial. He had failed in his bid to gain the throne thus ending all messianic expectations. It was a reign that never came.

A woman of questionable psychological stability from whom Jesus had exorcised seven demons (Lk. 8:2), Mary of Magdala, would be the linchpin to start the resurrection myth. Her mystical encounter with an angel(s) and the risen Jesus himself would serve as the genesis to launch the biggest religion the world has ever seen. Her claim would ignite the faith of others who would also share in similar mystical experiences. Christianity had begun.

The survival of this fledgling faith depended on eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus and the immediate inauguration of the Messianic kingdom, neither of which materialized. This gave birth to the ascension theory and the return of the heavenly glorified Christ found especially in apocalyptic sections of the synoptic gospels. Again, expectations waned with each passing day without a Redeemer for Israel.

Meanwhile, a new branch of Christianity had begun among the pagan Gentiles through the efforts of a converted upstart Pharisee named Paul. He would introduce his Gentile version of the gospel which had been stripped of all Judaistic encumbrances especially circumcision. Unbeknownst to Paul, his new gospel would ensure Christianity’s future survival.

Paul’s “other” gospel

11”I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”(Galatians 1:11,12)

The conflict between the Jerusalem church’s original gospel and Paul’s new version for Gentiles is well documented in the books of Acts (Acts 15:1-5) and Galatians (Gal. 2:11-18). The saying, “History is written by the victors,” is applicable to Christianity’s final version.

As the decades passed, Jewish Christianity languished and a once fervent hope turned to despair due to Jesus’ protracted delay. In Romans chapters nine through eleven, Paul seized on this opportunity to introduce his teaching of a divinely orchestrated national “spiritual hardness” (Rom. 9:18; 11:7,25) among Israelites to allow for Gentile inclusion. To explain only a small acceptance among Jews, he deferred to remnant theology.

5”So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
7What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened…”(Romans 11:5-7, emphasis added)

25”I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26and in this way all Israel will be saved.”(Romans 11:25,26a, emphasis added)

Masterfully, he posited the reason for Israel’s widespread disbelief was divinely ordained. A temporary spiritual blindness had beset the nation so Gentiles could partake of salvation. When Jesus did arrive in “the clouds of glory,” the blinders would be removed and “all Israel would be saved.” Realistically, Paul thought it would occur in his lifetime. This theological rationalization seemed perfectly suited to explain the initial limited Jewish response along with Israel’s present widespread rejection and the enthusiastic response among Gentiles. It would also seemed perfectly suited to the most important event looming on the horizon since Jesus’ death.

The Jewish revolt and fall of Jerusalem under Roman general Titus (66-70AD), would have a catastrophic effect on Jewish followers of the heavenly Christ. It would sound the death knell for the original Jerusalem church while launching Gentile Christianity on an independent path. Christianity was now free from its Jewish parentage and able to flourish on its own. It still had many challenges to face both from within and without but its foundation had been firmly established in the Roman Empire.

The “All or Nothing” Gamble of Jewish Christianity

5”The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”(Matthew 25:8, also 24:48; 25:19, emphasis added)

13“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”(Matthew 25:13, emphasis added)

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”(Matthew 25:31,32, emphasis added)

46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(Matthew 25:46, emphasis added)

The horrendous events surrounding the siege and fall of Jerusalem seemed to portend the coming of Jesus. Either he was coming back soon as messiah or he was never coming back. The gospel writings reflect this all in attitude among Jewish Christians which was hemorrhaging followers and those who remained were growing increasingly disillusioned and apathetic. The message was be alert and ready or be found unprepared and suffer judgment (see texts above).

If we pull back the camera of history, a clear picture emerges. Israel’s rejection of Jesus was justified and to be expected. Although Christian writers have been quick to condemn Jewish antipathy toward Jesus and his followers, this presumes Jesus was a legitimate messiah. Those Jewish leaders entrusted with vetting messianic claimants determined Jesus did not satisfy the necessary criteria and rejected him. They were right!

It is the reason Jews have continued to refuse acknowledging his messiahship for two thousand years. Centuries of coerced conversions and persecution by Christians bare testimony to this strained relationship. Jews are vilified even today for their abject resistance to Christianity. This in spite of a tight knit relationship with evangelicals for several centuries, none more so than today.

Gentile Christianity, on the other hand, was not encumbered with hope of national restoration like their Jewish brethren. They had no expectations rooted in prophetic history or a physical kingdom and earthly ruler. Furthermore, doctrines like the Trinity, which would be anathema to Jews, found receptivity among Gentiles comfortable with polytheism. Gentile Christianity promoted a mostly spiritual kingdom and king making it theologically malleable. The ecumenical councils of the fourth through sixth centuries are testimony to Christianity’s ability to evolve and change unfettered by the carnal constraints inherent in the traditions.

WWJT (“What would Jesus think?”)

If Jesus were alive today, he would be aghast that his name had been attached to a religion entirely outside Judaism that extolled him as God, especially a version as shallow as American evangelicalism.

To suggest the current model of evangelical Christianity practiced by Americans was envisioned by Jesus is indefensible. And to be fair, this divergence from who the earthly Jesus was and taught began as soon as the resurrection story was launched. The resurrection story spawned the theory of Jesus’ divinity to explain his disappearance. When neither followers or skeptics could locate him, it was surmised he was glorified in heaven and now possessed a spiritual body.

32″God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’[Psalm 110:1]
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”(Acts 2:32-36)

Early Christians entertained a Jesus in subordination to God (1 Cor. 11:3) both in role and essence who was ”both Lord and Messiah.” He was the highest of the created order (Heb. 1:3). John would hijack the “logos” concept and apply it to Jesus to stress his eternality. Centuries later this would develop into full blown equality with God and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Initially Gentile Christianity broke with Jewish Christianity along the fault line of the Mosaic Law. But this was only the beginning of a theological fissure which would expand until the divinity of Jesus rose to the height of equality with Yahweh and the doctrine of the Trinity was born.

Evangelicals have invented some of the most pernicious doctrines Christianity has ever seen in Pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism, easy believeism and eternal security. In conjunction these doctrines have bred a flaccid and lethargic brand of Christianity not remotely close to biblical or traditional Christianity.

The Apostle Paul: The Savior of Christianity

Paul really is the true savior of Christianity. Were it not for him, Christianity would have withered and died before the end of the first century. Time prevents us from going into a detailed analysis of Paul indispensable contribution to Christianity. We pause only for a brief synopsis.

Why someone formerly so committed to Judaism would be the ambassador of a faith which jettisoned these ancient traditions is at first glance puzzling. One can only guess it was for pragmatic reasons.

After his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul re-channeled his zeal for Judaism to Christianity. However his past atrocities against Christians cast suspicions on his motives. Was he an impostor seeking to ferret out Christians for punishment? Also, he endeavored to evangelize his Jewish brethren who castigated him as a defector and detractor from Judaism, a preacher of a false messiah. Jewish antagonism to his efforts limited his options for a gospel exclusively linked to Judaism.

According to the book of Acts, Peter was first to offer the gospel to a “God-fearer” named Cornelius (Acts 10). These were Gentile half converts to Judaism who had not been circumcised but otherwise practiced strict conformity to the law. It was the opportunity Paul needed.

If historically accurate, Paul’s visit to Psidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-52) marks perhaps Christianity’s most pivotal moment. It is here Paul declares the transition of the gospel from Jew to Gentile on the basis of their antipathy to it (Acts 13:46). A close inspection of the text yields some interesting details.

23“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”(Acts 13:23, emphasis added)

26“Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.”(Acts 13:26, emphasis added)

32“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors.”(Acts 13:32, emphasis added)

38“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”(Acts 13:38, emphasis added)

44”On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you [sing.] a light for the Gentiles,
that you [sing.] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”[Isaiah 49:6](Acts 13:44-47, emphasis added)

According to the text, Paul’s decision to “turn to” the Gentiles was precipitated by the local Jews “jealousy” resulting in their heaping of abuse on him. What is easy to miss is the source of this anger was because Paul had stressed repeatedly the gospel was solely for Israel (see above texts) only to then offer it to pagan Gentiles. Note this was prior to the Jewish leaders opposition. Paul pre-empted his trip to the synagogue to preach to the Gentiles without provocation.

Unlike Cornelius, these residents had no connection to Judaism. They were pagan polytheists. Paul was effectively removing the gospel from Judaism entirely. It is perfectly understandable why those affiliated with Judaism would take such umbrage at Paul’s actions. Paul was singlehandedly destroying centuries of ancient tradition which had fairly recently (The Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC) seen the deaths of many Jews who refused to compromise their faith to accommodate Hellenism.

The attractiveness of offering the ancient promises without any of the attending covenantal obligations serves as a defining moment for Christianity. Paul would experience stiff resistance from Jesus’ disciples but expediency would outweigh theological concerns. Jewish Christianity was floundering while Gentile Christianity was flourishing.

A faith predicated on fear and a promise of hope

Why does a faith rooted in ancient superstitions continue to dominate the world two thousand years later? Fear and hope are religions greatest and most effective weapons. The first creates the need for the second. Christianity more than any religion exploits mankind’s perennial fear of death and the afterlife but adds the element of judgment to stoke the fires hotter. Those who don’t believe will face the wrath of God. Not believing is on par with rejection and carries a steep price.

There is a second reason for Christianity’s long standing prominence in Western Civilization — ignorance. Until the last five hundred years, Christians were illiterate and unlearned about the Bible they venerated. In the context of the Middle Ages, their ignorance was excusable. Today, despite having an endless resource of information readily available, most Christians choose not to avail themselves of biblical knowledge.

Regular polls belie a paltry knowledge of even the most basic understanding of Christianity’s central tenets. A vague familiarity with some texts, themes and stories passes for biblical literacy. Generally speaking, Christians are uninformed, ill-informed or misinformed about the Bible. Herein, lies the crux of the matter and the impetus for my work.

Anybody who views the Bible as, “The inspired Word of God,” meaning it is imbued with God’s divine spirit, is either guilty of lack of knowledge about the Bible or incorrect knowledge about the Bible. Being a Christian means you have bought into the central premise of the New Testament — the resurrection. This is compounded by a belief the entire corpus of Hebrew writings “points” to the person and work of Jesus as the eternal messiah. While most have become so accustomed to seeing the Bible as presented by Christians, they barely flinch at such a suggestion. Conversely, those who approach these writings from a position of evidence, logic and reason are compelled to reach a different verdict.

Word of God or religious propaganda?

Society has been conditioned to think of the Bible as a special book. It is not. It is a collection of the writings of highly devoted religious men. In the case of the Hebrew Bible, Israelites belonging exclusively to the cult of Yahweh are responsible for controlling and creating its content. Whereas in the New Testament, believers in the divine Christ are credited with constructing a religion embedded in ancient prophecy.

Nobody thinks the gods of Greek mythology or any ancient religion are real. Nobody worships Marduk or Moloch. Many evangelicals would go so far as to discount any current gods (Hinduism) or spirits (animism) other than the God of the Bible, angels, Satan and demons. So why does this sacred book continue to enjoy such a vaunted position in society? How did it ever get out of the first century of its inception?

Being born-again, again

It may surprise most to know, the vast majority of evangelicals are the product of re-population from within. Evangelicalism survives on the conversion of its children. And while parents may feel they are doing their children an immense service by converting them early in childhood, this presumes the validity of the faith being transferred.

What would an evangelical think if a cult member indoctrinated (brainwashed) their child into believing what they did? I am definitely not saying evangelicalism is a cult, but it does have cult-like characteristics such as its own alternative reality, authoritative writings which transcend all others including science and group reinforcement to name a few.

In an ideal Christian world, almost all conversions would take place during adulthood independent of familial coercion as depicted in the New Testament. The reason this is not the model is because forcing your children to convert effectively keeps evangelicalism going and reduces the necessity for outside converts. The primary goal of churches is directed at keeping their youth within the fold. I believe this to be evangelicalism greatest crime.

Subjecting children to evangelistic efforts is unfair and unjust. No child has achieved a level of cognitive ability to be able to ascertain logically whether Christianity is reasonable viable. This decision should take place during adulthood independent of the influence of primary caregivers or authority figures within the church. If this were the practice, evangelicalism would all but disappear. Simply put, evangelicals prey on the weak, vulnerable and easily exploited members of society.

Favorite targets of televangelists are the elderly and sick because of fear of their own impending death or that of a loved one. Also, the desperate and needy are lured by promises of deliverance and healing. Few healthy, educated, successful adult converts to Christianity.

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Tertullian, 2nd century AD)

No rational road leads to belief in an infallible Bible as championed by evangelical or conservative Christians. Only those who have already accepted its central premise — the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead — would ever subscribe to its teachings.

Accepting the Bible at face value is to fall victim to the greatest piece of religious propaganda ever produced by men. To assume the Bible contains predictive prophecy, miracles and the supernatural, is non contradictory, factually accurate and logically plausible is to have never studied it objectively and critically, which is to say, as a dispassionate unbeliever without faith bias.

Religions worldwide are largely populated by the offspring of adherents. A child born in India is unlikely to be raised a Buddhist unless born into a Buddhist family. Inheriting your parents faith also carries cultural appropriation increasing the incentive to carry on the belief and making it hard to abandon one without sacrificing the other. Many American Christians are as fiercely nationalistic as they are religious making each indistinguishable and inseparable from the other. The intrusion of politics into American Christianity has added additional complexity to the matter. Sacralism is a blight on the political landscape of America.

Evangelical or conservative Christians are among those most guilty of the ideological impregnation of their children. A child is exposed to “the gospel” at a young age with many being immersed in the evangelical culture and indoctrinated during childhood. It may be as basic as the need to “be saved” to escape eternal damnation. While parents will profess to allow the child to choose whether to continue in the faith when an adult, by this time most have been sufficiently crippled intellectually and emotionally to have little hope of leaving psychologically unscathed.

The ultimate goal of all parents is to save their children, a noble calling only if valid. After that, their concerns may diminish but this singular event traps a person into thinking they are forever saved as long as they don’t stop believing and deny Jesus. This helps to explain how millions claim to have been saved yet show no distinguishable signs of aspiring to New Testament ideals. These “closet” evangelical Christians remain an untapped reservoir who can be potentially recruited and activated by unscrupulous evangelical leaders.

Why the Bible is not the Word of God

Nobody enters the faith through the door of reason because there isn’t a logical path that leads to it. As noted, faith is instilled during preadolescence before a child reaches intellectual maturity or through a personal crisis experience when one is most vulnerable (see below). Then the faith is reinforced to provide cognitive equanimity by postulating belief in the non rational spiritual realm. This carries a presupposition of the supernatural which reinterprets reality to conform to it based on the biblical text.

I can say with utter conviction, anybody studying the Hebrew Bible independently would never arrive at anything approximating Christianity, especially the Gentile version. Furthermore, a rationally objective analysis of the New Testament in historical context would conclude Christianity was an ancient superstition based on a creative use of Hebrew prophecy called esotericism. Early Christians approached the prophetic writings like a treasure hunter looking for gems. Hidden beneath the surface, literal meaning of the text were “mysteries” revealed in time by God’s spirit to those whom he chose.

There are many reasons why one should not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God but none so important as the inconsistencies, contradictions and implausibilities surrounding Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in it. I must confess I was blind for years to what was before my very eyes. You don’t see what you’re not looking for, and you most certainly won’t look for something you don’t want to find. Also, the so called proof texts used by New Testament writers to construct their theology cannot be justified on the basis of an honest, literal, historical and contextual interpretation.

A steep price to pay for intellectual honesty

I surrendered my life for Jesus. Then I surrendered Jesus for my life.

I sacrificed some of the most important and best years of my life, thousands of dollars, time, energy, pleasures, friends and family on the altar of faith — willingly, joyfully and ignorantly.

How could I throw away a faith that had given me so much peace, comfort, strength, direction, meaning and hope? The loss of my faith was a steady and slow erosion over several years. One day it collapsed under the weight of rationalism. After years of exhaustive study, it was painfully obvious there was no faith left in which to believe. It had been an illusion. Simple intellectual honesty had brought me full circle, with one exception. I discovered it was not God who changed my life. The potential had resided within me the entire time. I think this is the lesson to be learned.

Faith works by unlocking one’s potential. The belief in “Someone” else more powerful than ourselves who indwells us (Eph. 1:13) by His holy spirit is the essence of the Christian life. Being a Christian is not simply a belief, it is a victorious life over sin by identifying with Jesus death and unleashing the power of his resurrection (Romans 6:5,6). It is a matter of thinking we can’t reach our human potential because we are restricted by sin. Only Jesus can free us from ourselves.

The realization it was me not God who had turned my life around was deeply satisfying and bitterly sweet. I wondered how my life would have turned out had someone had helped me gain the confidence I desperately lacked as a child. I would never have been so vulnerable to being evangelized. How many others like me were there? It should be a wake up call for anyone who thinks without God they are destined to failure or worse. It’s the Wizard of Oz phenomenon.

I paid a huge price, twice. First when I gave up everything for Jesus, and second when I gave up Jesus to reclaim my life. I graduated with two theological degrees and an investment of fifteen years in evangelicalism. It takes a great amount of bravery to walk away from friends, a career and years of Christian service and training. What can you do with an education in something you no longer believe? Write a book?

Evangelicals unknowingly are victims of their own ideology. Once trapped, it is difficult to escape. Fear of divine reprisal in the form of eternal damnation forces many to pay lip service and exhibit a less than robust style of faith. The American religious landscape is littered with lethargic and apathetic followers of Jesus. But even this comes with a high price tag.

Evangelical Christian in America has turned its focus from internal piety to external religious reform. Instead of trying to effect society through a vibrant expression of New Testament ideals, evangelicals have weaponized the Bible and turned politically militaristic. These efforts have the appearance of sanctimony but lack the moral integrity of the proponents. Hypocrisy has become evangelicals’ trademark.

Jesus may have been a social justice warrior but with extreme limitations. His sole concern were for his own people, “The lost sheep of Israel.” Gentiles would be judged mercilessly. Only those who conformed to the strict dictates of the Law both internally and externally would escape the coming wrath.

My credibility to speak against evangelicalism is incontestable. I make no apologies. I only ask the reader to separate the attack on the authority of the Bible from an attack on those who hold to it. I as well as anybody knows the personal nature of evangelicalism. It is what makes it so attractive and satisfying. It also what makes it so dangerous.

The primacy of feeling

Evangelicals often complain they are unfairly characterized as anti-scientific and anti-reasonable. In most cases they are not but when it comes to their faith, evangelicals are ruled by emotionalism.

The origins of American evangelicalism are tied to the Great Awakenings or revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Historians are unanimous in identifying several salient features of this era, none more so than emotionalism. It was lack of feeling in the conversion experience on which the fathers of revivalism first focused. Could one be truly saved who could not point to a time when they knew (read felt) their sins forgiven and had gained assurance of salvation? At the time, most Christians had entered the faith as children through baptism making such a moment indiscernible. However, it was determined evidence of not having had a conversion experience could be seen in the cold formalism which pervaded Christianity.

Evangelicalism did not begin in a vacuum. The Age of Reason had had a deep impact on Christianity. It forced many to reconsider the supernatural aspects contained in the Bible. Many espoused a more modernistic faith that accommodated the burgeoning discoveries of science. Deistic thinking postulated a distant and detached God who “wound up” the universe and left it to run on its own through natural laws. Christians applied this perspective to the Bible ridding it of the intimacy it once held. The result was a rationalistic faith devoid of vibrancy but strong on orthodoxy. Some thought this approach was insufficient for salvation and made their concerns known.

Evangelicalism now as then is an opportunistic faith. By exploiting a person’s fear of not being saved doubt is created. Key verses are quoted to place the authority of the Bible behind it. Anyone who has ever heard the late Billy Graham preach is familiar with this tactic. Going to church, being baptized, taking communion, reading the Bible or obeying the Ten Commandments does not get one to heaven. Salvation is easy, instant and guaranteed. One has only to confess they are doomed sinners and “accept Jesus into their hearts” and presto, instant salvation.

The profusion of feeling throughout evangelical churches throughout America and abroad bare testimony to this fundamental precept. Joy should permeate the lives of those who have had their sins forgiven not religious austerity.

A faith devoid of evidence

There is no evidence the Bible is the word of God other than a person’s sense of its divine nature. The more important question is, “Why are evangelicals so stubborn in refusing to accept the obvious?” There are myriads of reasons to reject its divine authority.

The answer: Fear

Most evangelicals are reticent to admit their faith is fear based because it has be subsumed by hope. Like a millionaire is not afraid of starving to death until all his money is gone, evangelicals have forgotten, if they ever knew, the fear of death and the afterlife. Or to put it another way, if evangelicals could lose their salvation by failing to live righteous lives, society would be transformed overnight. Poverty, homelessness and social injustice would disappear as millions of evangelicals strove to practice the principles Jesus taught. Sadly, no such incentive exists.

A free ticket to heaven which cannot be revoked and is available to anyone who wants it without qualification is the most detrimental teaching ever contrived by modern day evangelicals. It has created a false security for evangelicals who have never been saved to begin with.

Salvation begins with a repentant attitude and is proven by the manifestation of the fruit of repentance. Repentance initiates faith and evidences true faith has occurred after salvation. Evangelicalism rarely stresses this indispensable and critical aspect of salvation. Ironically, a movement which began by seeking to generate true conversion is itself populated by complacent fake Christians on a collision course with a judgment they think they have escaped… hypothetically speaking.

Apocalypticism: A dangerous proposition

If I had a pet peeve with evangelicalism, it would be The Rapture theory. No belief has done more damage to the vim, vigor and vitality of Christian living that it has. It has so de-incentivized the urgency of living an exemplary life and bred a hollow and languid style whose hallmark is complacency.

American evangelicalism is driven by pre-tribulation, premillennial dispensationalism. At its core is the noxious idea Christians (Only those who have had a personal salvation experience and accepted Jesus into their hearts) are exempt from all manner of judgment. Instead they will be gloriously “raptured” before the Great Tribulation after which they will return with Jesus at his Second Coming to help execute judgment on all ungodliness. This period known as Armageddon, is to be a time of incredible turmoil and suffering. Christians will watch as heavenly spectators while the world seethes in God’s holy vengeance culminating in the Final Judgment. Because at this time they will have been transformed into perfect glorified bodies free of pain, judgment has been redefined as disappointment at not having been better Christians while on earth resulting in fewer rewards.

Suffice it to say no such teaching can be found anywhere in the New Testament and was popularized two centuries ago by a man named JN. Darby. It was based on a mistranslation of a single verse in 1 Thessalonians and remains a test of orthodoxy for many evangelicals especially on inerrancy.

Conversely, the Bible explicitly teaches when Jesus returns, hypothetically speaking, it will be sudden and unexpected. Those of his followers who are not alert and prepared will suffer harsh judgment. Righteousness in the form of good works (“fruit”) is the sole requirement for escaping his wrath.

So if this is all a product of Christian imagination, why even bring it up? Because many American evangelicals detach themselves from environmental stewardship and embrace a dangerous political perspective which poses a grave threat.

Evangelicals believe this world has an expiration date and a predetermined ending. The world will end when God decides and how God decides regardless of what men and women do or don’t do. Global warming will not be the end of mankind nor will a war that God does not intend. Christians can bask in the confidence of knowing the Middle East will be the arena of global conflict and they will not endure a single moment of suffering.

The cozy relationship between American evangelicals and the nation of Israel is well known throughout the world. And while this has certainly had tremendous benefit for Israel both politically and financially, it may be a Trojan Horse.

Israel figures prominently in evangelical eschatology. Ultimately they will turn to Jesus as their messiah when he returns. However, before this happens Armageddon must take place. Therefore it is imperative evangelicals not be a cross purposes with God. They must align themselves with his agenda as they see it spelled out in the Bible even if it means fomenting conflict between Israel and her neighbors. In short, peace is not part of God’s plan until after this war to end all wars has taken place.

It is easy to ridicule evangelicals for their beliefs but they are no longer innocuous as many in the LGBTQ community, women’s advocacy rights groups, immigrants, minorities and proponents of social justice will testify. The Trump presidency has only emboldened them by giving them unprecedented influence to the Oval Office. They have used this access to push forward a narrow political and moral agenda with delirious consequences.

With another crucial election looming and a world still reeling from a pandemic, it is hard to know which way the wind is blowing. But one thing is certain, another four years under Trump as president does not bode well for anybody despite what evangelicals may think.

God help us all… unlikely?

My conversations with Jesus (Part 1: How it all started)

Note to Reader: This fictitious conversation is written respectfully but honestly. It is how I would imagine an actual conversation with the biblical Jesus would go. It is based on an entire lifetime of contemplative thinking, rigorous biblical research and personal experience as a former evangelical. I offer it as a sensitive and thoughtful means of understanding the real Jesus and not the Christian version which is based on experientialism.

Me: Hi Jesus, how are you?

Jesus: Where am I? And who are you?

Me: It may surprise some people you have to ask me those questions?

Jesus: Why?

Me: Because a huge portion of the world’s population think you are the eternal Son of God who knows everything.

Jesus: That’s blasphemy! You don’t look like an Israelite. Are you a Gentile?

Me: Yes, why?

Jesus: I shouldn’t be talking to you.You’re unclean.

Me: Will you make an exception given the nature of this conversation?

Jesus: I suppose I will have to in order to get some answers.

Me: I’m a seeker of truth, and let’s just say it’s been many years since you died. Do you remember how you died?

Jesus: Of course, I was crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for refusing to renounce my claim to the throne of Israel as King of the Jews.

Me: Were you surprised by the tragic ending of your life?

Jesus: As a matter of fact, I was. I was convinced God would rescue me and place me on the throne to rule the nation. At least I knew I would be resurrected with the righteous one day regardless. I assume that day is here?

Me: Actually, it has not come yet and may never arrive.

Jesus: So how am I here talking to you then?

Me: Let’s just say, you are here as a hypothetical and leave it at that, okay?

Jesus: Very well.

Me: Would it surprise you to know the land of Israel remains without a king or Temple?

Jesus: That is surprising but that will change soon I’m certain.

Me: Then this next piece of information may shock you even more. It has been two thousand years since you were crucified and for most of that time, Israelites have not lived in the land.

Jesus: Are the Romans still occupying it?

Me: Not exactly, it has mostly been occupied by Muslims and Christians?

Jesus: What are Muslims and Christians?

Me: Let’s skip the Muslims right now and focus on the Christians.

Jesus: Why are they called, “Followers of the anointed one?”

Me: Actually, they are followers of you. You are the anointed one.

Jesus: I was anointed and had many followers before I died. Do they follow my teachings?

Me: Yes and no, you have hundreds of millions who think they follow you but actually follow a resurrected non Jewish version of you. By the way, “Jew” is an abbreviated form of “Judean” and carries ethnic and religious connotations. Most people refer to you as a Jew even though you lived outside Judea because you practiced Yahwism which was of course centered in Jerusalem. Anyway, they believe you rose from the dead three days after you died and shortly after that ascended to heaven to be with God, your father. They believe the fact God raised you from the dead and seated you beside him in heaven proves you have always been divine. Most of your followers considered you the eternal “logos” who became a separate entity from God at the time of creation but were still subordinate. Several hundred years later, you would be elevated to the status of equal to God, a position many believe you currently occupy.

Jesus: You keep referring to me as God. There is only one God, Yahweh, and I am not him. It is blasphemous to suggest otherwise. I can’t believe my fellow Israelites could or would make that mistake.

Me: Well, that brings us to the next issue. Very few Israelites believe you were anything but a false prophet and messianic pretender. Those who follow you are almost exclusively Gentiles who took over the religion started by you and your disciples.

Jesus: I didn’t start any religion. I was preaching the good news of the coming kingdom promised in the ancient writings. What religion are you talking about?

Me: Christianity, it is the world’s largest religion and it is based on your alleged resurrection from the dead. Its adherents worship you and claim you reside in the hearts of believers through the holy spirit.

Jesus: I don’t understand why people think I was resurrected when I obviously was not. I of all people would know if I was raised from the dead, don’t you think?

Me: It’s a bit more complicated than that. You see, after you died and were placed in a sealed tomb a group of your female followers came to embalm you for permanent burial. Upon arriving at the tomb, they discovered the stone had been rolled away from the entrance and your body was missing. One of them, Mary of Magdala, claimed to have seen an angel who told her you were alive. She told your disciples about it, but they thought it was nonsense and returned to Galilee. When they returned to celebrate Pentecost fifty days later, they discovered Mary was claiming to have since had a personal mystical encounter with you in your resurrected body. Your disciples gathered together to pray to God about this matter. While doing so, some began to have visions of you which soon spread to the others until most were professing to see you. Excitement about your being raised from the dead began to grow but apart from your closest disciples, no one else could verify your bodily presence. Many began to doubt you had been resurrected and thought it was more likely your body had been secretly stolen by some of your other followers for private burial. Then your disciples suggested you had ascended to heaven to receive your glorified body and would return shortly with a host of angels to inaugurate the messianic kingdom. Now instead of God carrying out the judgment on the nations, you in your heavenly body would serve in that role.

Jesus: I’m still confused about those who claimed to see me when obviously they did not. I wished I had been brought back to life but this idea of receiving a spiritual body is unheard of. Only God, Satan, angels and demons are spirit beings. Even at the great resurrection, we will still have mortal bodies albeit they will be much better. And I don’t understand how Gentiles became so involved in a religion that was exclusively for Israelites. Did they all proselytize?

Me: First, on the topic of those who claimed to have met you after your death. Initially, based on Mary’s testimony, many thought you had simply been brought back to life physically since your body was obviously gone. But when no one other than Mary could find you, it was thought you were in a spiritual body having gone to heaven and then returned to meet your disciples. This was confirmed by your disciples who “saw” you even though the door to the room they were in was locked. On the question of Gentile converts, things get a bit confusing.

Jesus: Gentiles were always allowed to convert so long as they were willing to conform to the ancient statutes, ordinances and laws, especially circumcision.

Me: Interesting you should bring up that last point. It all started when a zealous Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus began persecuting those Jews who claimed you were the heavenly messiah. He was responsible for the deaths of many of those who believed in your resurrection. Then while he was traveling to Damascus to continue this mission he had a vision of you though temporarily struck with blindness at the time. During which he was overcome with guilt at having been complicit in persecuting and arresting Christians and claimed you queried him on this. In an act of contrition he professed faith in you and promised to serve you even changing his name to “Paul.” He began to preach the Christian gospel which based its authority to forgive sins on your resurrection and in your name. Paul had limited success because Jews on both sides of the debate on who you were and were not didn’t trust him or thought him a defector. The things that changed everything for Paul and the world was the receptivity of this gospel among Gentile converts to Judaism. They were quick to respond but because they were uncircumcised, they were seen as disqualified from participating in salvation. The matter was addressed by your disciples because Peter had begun to offer salvation to uncircumcised converts to Judaism. Paul would exploit this opportunity by taking the gospel to pagan Gentiles much to the displeasure of your disciples.

Jesus: May I interrupt you at this point. Why would Peter allow uncircumcised Gentiles to believe when circumcision is the primary requisite for being a participant in the promises? Our people fought and died to protect this sacred rite. Why would my disciples give it up?

Me: That’s a very good question. Based on the little bit of historical information we have. It seems it can be traced to a manifestation of God’s spirit in the lives of these “half converts.” The outpouring of God’s holy spirit during the “Last Days” was seen as evidence of his validation of what was called, “The gospel of Jesus, the Christ.” So when those who were keeping the law began to display identical signs, it was determined God must be extending the gospel to them regardless of being uncircumcised. The response from this group was so strong as to be hard to deny without calling into question the Jewish response.

Jesus: I still don’t agree since obviously I did not rise from the dead and ascend to heaven, but be that as it may, why did Paul remove the gospel from Judaism?

Me: I think the answer to that question has several parts. First, it is hard to ignore the frustration Paul felt at having a message and no audience with which to share it. If and when an opportunity presented itself, he wold seize it. Second, Paul was a powerful figure with extensive training in the ancient traditions which put him at a huge advantage to your largely illiterate fishermen who had no expertise in the prophetic texts. Third, for the most part, the Jewish leadership had denounced your messianic bid prior to your death, as you know. When your disciples began to preach you had risen from the dead and gone to heaven from where you would soon return as the “heavenly Christ,” their animosity only intensified. Needless to say, the longer the delay in your return, the greater the number of Jews who lost hope and left the faith. By bringing the gospel to Gentiles with no investment or expectation in the restoration of Israel, and who were under no obligation to conform to the law especially circumcision, conversions increased dramatically. Incidentally, Paul masterfully used Israel’s large scale rejection of your messiahship to justify Gentile inclusion in the promises. By appealing to “remnant” theology, Paul posited God had temporarily hardened the hearts of most Jews, except the remnant, so Gentiles could be saved. Then when you returned, God would remove this stubborn resistance and “all Israel would be saved.” Finally, but not the least, a devastating famine put enormous financial stress on the Jerusalem church which largely focused on the needy. A mission you started. Thus without the aid of their Gentile brethren it would not have been able to survive. The Gentiles viewed this obligation as returning the favor for extending the gospel to them.

Jesus: I still can’t believe everything I thought would happen never materialized. I guess the only comfort I can take in all this is knowing this Christianity is based on nothing but a superstitious belief in a resurrection that never occurred. I have another question. What made those familiar with prophecy think I could possibly be the heavenly messiah to Gentiles?

Me: From the moment belief in your resurrection started, enthusiastic Israelites began combing the ancient texts for clues to confirm its validity. Using a method of esotericism to extract hidden truths buried in the prophetic writings, early Christians were able to lay a theological foundation for their beliefs. However, it was the industrious work of Paul who was able to construct an elaborate system upon which to base his theory of Gentile inclusion. His efforts alone are the reason Christianity has survived as long as it has. He is the true savior of the faith.

Jesus: It is all a remarkable story which unfortunately I could never condone. To elevate me to equality with God contradicts everything I hold dear. Furthermore, to make me an object of worship is an affront to the central tenets of Judaism. The undeniable fact Jews for two thousand years have categorically rejected Christianity’s claims about me should close the matter. I am curious as to what this religion operating in my name looks like. Do they aspire to righteous living and addressing the needs of the disenfranchised and vulnerable of society? What do Israelites today believe and what is their relationship to Christians? And how do Christians think I could go from being God to a man and back to God again?

Me: I think we will have to save those for our next conversation. Also, you might be interested to learn of something called, “The virgin birth.” It is the foundational doctrine of Christianity to explain both your humanity and divinity as well as your qualifications as messiah and substitute for mankind’s sin.

Jesus: You’ve lost me already

The irrational evangelical: A profile of faith

I imagine if I asked most Christians if they were primarily rational or emotional when it came to their faith, most would say rational — they would be wrong. Let me prove it.

Discussing faith with someone who is religious is akin to playing chess with someone who secretly believes their “king” is magic but doesn’t tell you until they are put in checkmate.

Many conversations with Christians, especially conservative or evangelical, begin with both sides subscribing to the same rules of logic and objectivity until the topic of God and the supernatural, i.e., miracles, comes up. Then things change.

Forget about proving or disproving the existence of God. Ultimately, that is a stalemate discussion no matter how scientific the debate gets. We can reduce God to the smallest of probability but we cannot definitively claim he does not exist, at least not yet. Even the most diehard atheist, if he or she is intellectually honest with themselves, must concede the case is not closed. Here is what is still open for debate.

Does the God of the Bible exist?

We who are rational driven creatures must begin to focus our attention of a vigorous critique of the biblical text not the metaphysical concept of God. I have maintained, I continue to entertain the possibility of a greater being or force especially in my heart. However, I categorically deny the existence of the God portrayed by the biblical writers. The God of the Bible does not exist as defined.

It is much easier to analyze the Bible than the most remote corners of the universe. It is here within the text God is said to reside. It is here then where we must begin our investigation.

When backed into a rational corner, every Christian who at the very least believes in the resurrection of Jesus must admit to being irrational. There is no middle ground of non rational in which to take shelter. The biblical text upon which this belief rests is full of contradiction and implausibility from which there is no escape. One cannot defer to the mystery argument when facts and logic collide with faith. Nobody would suggest God is an irrational being.

It is my contention the easiest road to dethroning the Christian God is exposing the many glaring inconsistencies, incongruences and contradictions found throughout the Bible. Yet the fact remains, a scant few actually understand the Bible as it should be understood. It is religious propaganda with little historical value.

The so-called, “history of Israel” found in the non prophetic works has been revised to reflect a specific and narrow religious perspective of the Yahwist community living centuries after the events they record. The prophetic writings are the product a those deeply entrenched within the cult of Yahweh. They were religious fanatics and would consider only Yahweh worthy of worship as one would expect. This is also true for the priests of the cultus of Yahweh who have contributed to these writings. The singular goal of all these writers was to extol Yahweh.

The New Testament writers had a similar purpose except some espoused a strictly Judaistic version of Christianity (Jesus’ disciples) while Paul advocated his own version outside Judaism and the Law for Gentile believers.

Biblical content should never be sanitized to protect the sensibilities of its adherents. It is a book full of the most egregious acts one could commit on their fellow man, woman and children. Genocide was the goal of those who sought to take control of Canaan from its residents. The brutal killing of innocent men, women, children and babies was justified in the name of Yahweh. Slavery was a common practice as was the subjugation of women and polygamy. Sectarianism and tribalism were encouraged as a means of survival and for the betterment of community.

For those willing to invest considerable time and training in understanding these ancient texts, the evidence is there. Dogmatically asserting the Bible is something it is not without having thoroughly and honestly evaluated the necessary data is intellectual irresponsible. How can one claim to be so certain the Bible is the inerrant and divinely inspired Word of God without having formally studied it? One cannot perform open heart surgery on a patient because they “feel” they are qualified.

One of the great and startling tragedies of American evangelicalism is every believer thinks they are a theologian because God can “speak” to them personally. Churches are littered with those claiming to have heard the voice of God or been led by his spirit. Direct revelation has replaced the need for formal theological education.

The Bible is a perfectly imperfect book. It contains exactly what one would expect it should if written by finite fallible men. Every page testifies to ancient concepts of morality and ethics. We should accept these limitations and use them as incentives to build a better model based on current understandings of science, culture and people devoid of bigotry and prejudice.

Choosing whether to believe Jesus rose from the dead or not is not just a matter of opinion. It is the difference between an informed opinion and a misinformed or uniformed opinion. It boils down to whether one has availed themselves of all available information and then made a decision based on this knowledge.

Facts and logic will inexorably lead one away from belief in the Bible as God’s word. Many are afraid to consider this for fear of losing their eternal hope of heaven. The irrationality of this position should be obvious. Instead, those who take shelter in the cave of ignorance are quick to dismiss these findings as anti-god. They see their own refusal to embrace the evidence as a badge of honor and a mark of godly commitment.

Such delusion pervades much of American evangelicalism and leads to the intellectual crippling of each new generation of evangelicals. Being raised in these “Christian homes” subjects children to a steady diet of indoctrination and socialization. Many children suffer ideological impregnation from their parents which can have significant psychological effects as they grow older.

Over many decades I have read thousands of articles related to evangelicalism from around the world. By far the most disturbing reoccurring theme is suicide among those raised in an austere evangelical environment who are ostracized and demonized for choosing “another path.” Unable to rid themselves of the guilt and shame place upon them by their Bible believing parents, some resort to taking their own life. Others remain in the faith because they too cannot break free from these emotional shackles which keep them.

I close with this challenge. If groups like evangelicals could present a cogent and reasonable defense of their faith that does not rely on appeals to experientialism as “evidence” of truth nor discounts science and rationalism as tools of Satan and a depraved sin nature, I would have no objections. But they cannot. Evangelical Christians will always hide behind the wall of faith which is built solely with bricks of fantastical thinking. Using the Bible as their source, they will devise whimsical arguments which satisfy the close minded and faith addled.

Evangelicalism satisfies the heart but leaves the head empty. As long as we continue to indulge those who maintain confidence in a collection of ancient writings steeped in superstition, society as a whole will be slowed in social and environmental progress like a ship dragging an anchor.

Being an evangelical Christian means not having to know the truth nor wanting to because they believe they already have it. It is an excuse for intellectual apathy.

Building a case against Christ: Let reason be the Judge: The Christmyth story (pt.4b – Isaiah 7:14)

Brief recap

In the previous article, we mainly focused on the two gospel narratives of Matthew and Luke concerning the miraculous birth of Jesus. Other corollary topics were broached, some briefly and some in more detail as necessity dictated. While the gospel accounts are critical, they rest upon the Immanuel prophecy. Without its legitimate use, Christianity fades into the realm of the fantastical and surreal. For this reason, ANYBODY who lays claim to Christianity as based on historic fact and rationality must engage with this text in an honest yet critical manner. Anything less is intellectually dishonest. 

Isaiah’s classic “Christmas” text

Most inerrantists cite verses like Isaiah 7:14 as convincing proof of predictive prophecy which only God could initiate. Yet this foundational verse employed by Matthew (specifically) and Luke (implicitly) to support both a miraculous (virgin) and a divine (holy spirit) birth is not remotely close to its original contextual meaning. 

Even if we allow the original writer intended for “the virgin” to conceive, this only meant she was a virgin when she conceived the child having not had intercourse until the time of conception. Such would be worth noting. Furthermore, the “sign” had nothing to do with the woman’s virginity or even the  role the child would play. It was to signal the countdown to Assyria’s vicious attack on Israel (and Syria) had begun.

There are multiple other factors which are incongruous with Jesus’ Bethlehem birth. Isaiah is promising relief for Ahaz (Judah) but according to the birth of Immanuel, this is at least a few years and perhaps over a decade away (many commentators see a preadolescent pictured), meanwhile the land of Judah suffers. Conversely, the gospel narratives present Jesus’ birth as inaugurating the hope and restoration of Israel. It should be noted, when Assyria sacked Samaria, it would spell the end of the nation of Israel.

18”Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.”(Isaiah 8:18)

The children represent signs of impending doom. Ahaz, according to the text, was the most wicked king Judah had (rf. 2 Kings 16:3,4, 2 Chron. 28), yet he is granted deliverance while the rest of the nation suffers? As will be discussed, at the time of final composition the Yahwist community were persuaded the Lord dwelt “on Mount Zion.” Jerusalem was not spared because of her righteousness but in spite of her unrighteousness. It was to  protect the Temple, Yahweh’s holy dwelling place ( Isa.65).  

The Immanuel Text

22”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”)[Isaiah 7:14](Matthew 1:22,23)

The heart of the Christmas story is Isaiah’s classic “Immanuel” text. It undergirds the most critical element of Christianity, the combined divinity and humanity of Jesus. Without a divinely conceived birth, Jesus’ deity cannot be theologically established. Without a perfect human Savior to identify with mankind, there can be no legitimate substitute for sin. The importance of a thorough contextual evaluation of this text cannot be overstated. If it is to serve as the very underpinning of Christianity, its veracity must be proven.

Most American evangelicals are familiar with this passage in Isaiah which is believed to predict the coming miraculous virgin birth of Jesus. It marks a time of joy and peace heralded by the birth of Israel’s messiah and redeemer of mankind, Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” If Easter is Christianity’s holiest day, Christmas is its most joyous.

Among Christians, this is one of its most sacred and cherished texts from the Hebrew canon. Many appeal to it as indisputable proof of divine prophetic fulfillment. It is the critical text used by Matthew and Luke to construct their narratives. Of course, if this text read as it does, and Mary conceived with “a” holy spirit not human involvement and her child was both divine and human, they would have a strong case. However, this position requires an enormous amount of faith and Christianized thinking to stand up. One is forced to read advanced Christian theology back into this text where none is evident. In fact, almost nothing about this text corresponds to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. To suggest otherwise is to perform exegetical gymnastics.

The prophetic treasure hunt of esotericism 

The tendency of Christian writers was to comb the Hebrew texts looking for possible “hidden” truths about Jesus not readily apparent on the surface. It was not an act of deception as much as one of prophetic treasure hunting reserved for those to whom God would disclose his mysteries. Since God authored it via his holy spirit, a deeper spiritual meaning was not only expected but encouraged being more authoritative than the simple literal meaning. One must keep this in the forefront of their mind when determining authorial intent. It may have been a legitimate method of hermeneutics for ancient minds given the lack of literary parameters, but it today it should be regarded as mystical and fantastical.

The original context should settle the issue. A verse seen in perspective with the entire passage drives its meaning. Isolating a lone verse and extracting it without this consideration is an invitation to fanciful interpretations like we have here. 

Evangelicals are fond of trying to circumvent this obvious principle by postulating the “double or dual fulfillment” theory (to be discussed in full, see below) which maintains a verse can have more than one meaning even if the original author was unaware of a future fulfillment. Here is a clear case of inventing a theory to support a predetermined idea. 

Groups like evangelicals justify it by claiming if a specific prophecy was not completely fulfilled at the time of its pronouncement, a future fuller day or time was in view. The most obvious example of this would be the idealized time of Israel’s future restoration. So long as this is considered an absolute certainty, the door is wide open to repeated claims of its arrival, as it has for nearly three thousand years. Jesus was not the first nor the last to think he was “the one” who would see it arrive.

Evangelicals are fond of declaring their commitment to a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of scripture, but this is only when it suits their theological needs. If a New Testament writer cites a verse out of literary and historical context, it is presumed an infallible act of one guided by God’s holy spirit, of one creating scripture not interpreting scripture. 

But before we judge evangelicals too harshly, they take their cue from the New Testament writers themselves who engaged in a non contextual method of interpretation we will call “prophetic esotericism.” This method assumed the spiritual nature of the prophetic writings which were thought to contain deeper hidden truths accessible to those anointed by God’s spirit. This style of interpretation was made popular by allegorist like Philo of Alexandria and other Hellenistic Jews who saw allegorical or spiritual meanings throughout the prophetic texts. It greatly enhanced the intellectual respectability of the ancient writings in a world where literary sophistication was highly prized. 

Every Christian who believes Jesus was born of a virgin through God’s holy spirit is carrying on this interpretive tradition. And while we can understand and forgive the glaring literary miscues of these ancient men, we in the twenty-first century have no such excuses. We must stop treating a collection of archaic writings as God’s divine truth because we feel and hope they are.

We now turn to the Isaiah material in full. I implore the reader to suspend preconceived Christian ideas and attempt to evaluate the texts dispassionately regardless of the outcome.

The literal, grammatical-historical method: The law of hermeneutics

A text out of context is a pretext for heresy

Having spent considerable time in Bible schools, college and seminary, one thing each professor was keen to stress was the importance of a literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of each scriptural text. In other words, the plain and simple meaning in its original context with one caveat: unless quoted out of context by a New Testament writer who were superintended creators of scripture.

I lived by this hermeneutical principle for many years thinking I was being true to the text. The circular reasoning attending this position should be obvious. The Bible is divinely inspired because of what it contains, e.g., predictive prophecy, miracles, yet it validates itself to make this claim according to evangelicals who subscribe to inerrancy. As we examine the Isaiah text, we will see how blatantly Christians ignore clear historical and grammatical markers while professing to derive pure authorial intent. 

There are essentially two ways of viewing biblical content, through the lens of the supernatural or the natural. Either the God of the Bible exists or He does not. Either prophets were vouchsafed divine content which they relayed to others or these messages were entirely the product of their religious imaginations as they perceived the divine. Either Jesus physically rose from the dead or his body was surreptitiously stolen. Those who find some middle ground between these two extremes are free to do so, so long as they accept the repercussions of this position — moral* relativity. The Bible in its entirety becomes a general guidebook to morality and ethics with clear limitations and obvious bigotry, e.g., slavery, polygamy, sectarianism, homophobia, religious elitism and tribalism.

*Note: The term “morality” is extremely misleading when used by groups like evangelicals. The presumption is their view of morality is somehow superior and comes from God’s throne. They entertain pet sins like homosexuality and abortion but the real sins the Bible emphasizes, like greed, materialism, dishonesty and injustice, go largely ignored or tolerated. In reality there is little difference between how evangelicals and non evangelicals conduct their lives morally and ethically. 

Isaiah 7:14 in strict literary and historical context

To recap. The chapter opens with Isaiah describing a specific historical situation involving “the two kings,” Pekah of Israel and Resin of Aram (Syria), who had allied themselves against Ahaz who refused to join their alliance against Assyria. They intended to overthrow him and install, “The son of Tabeel” in his stead and avail themselves of Judah’s military resources. Naturally, “The hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isa. 7:2). Isaiah comforts the king promising Judah will not be overthrown because “the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”

The Lord, via Isaiah, asked Ahaz to request “a sign” as proof what he has promised will take place. The king is reluctant to “put the Lord to the test” (vs. 12), so Isaiah declares,  “the Lord himself will give you a sign” (vs. 13). At this point the sign of the virgin/young woman is given.

It should be readily apparent nothing remotely resembling the virginal conception of a baby through God’s “holy” spirit* is found in this text. It could not have this meaning for Isaiah’s time because it would require the same miraculous virginal conception via the holy spirit as it did with Mary. Nobody thinks a miracle child was born during Isaiah’s time who was divine and therefore another divine son of God. So it must be a different interpretation, but how different?

Furthermore, the force of this passage is on timing not a miraculous birth or a virgin conception. The natural reading is a pregnant young woman, possibly the prophet or perhaps king’s wife (if messianic), will soon give birth to a baby boy. Before he can discern right and wrong, the land of Aram and Israel “will be laid waste” by the King of Assyria and his army; thereby, effectively removing the threat to Judea. The time frame would be measured in months not years. In effect, Isaiah was saying God’s divine works were already in motion and soon the threat would be removed.

Implicit in this passage is the land of Judah having been laid waste for long enough, “The boy” will be eating “curdled milk and wild honey” when the king of Assyria responds. It therefore must be either the result of Israel and Syria’s invasion or else Sennacherib’s later campaign in 701BC. The key detail is the land is wild and uncultivated. If the latter it would be thirty-five years before Judah received any relief which would provide no solace, so a near event must be assumed. Verse seventeen makes explicit reference to Assyrian aggression in the land of Judah which didn’t transpire until Hezekiah’s reign (to be discussed later). 

A more plausible explanation is the writer used imagery of the land during his time for dramatic effect. There is no reason to suppose the land was in such a state in 735BC but would have been later after Sennacherib’s campaign. Of course, this assumes a non predictive prophecy position. 

1”When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

2Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with a Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

3Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6“Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” 7Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“ ‘It will not take place, it will not happen,

8for the head of Aram is Damascus,

and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.

Within sixty-five years

Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

9The head of Ephraim is Samaria,

and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.

If you do not stand firm in your faith,

you will not stand at all.’ ”(Isaiah 7:1-9)

These opening verses set the historical stage for the material to follow and are critical for interpreting key texts. Commentators generally place these events somewhere around 735BC though exact dating is not critical for our purposes. Accurate chronology is difficult to ascertain given overlaps in reigns, inaccuracies in “official” records and multiple textual revisions and emendations. Simply acknowledging three major events separated by considerable time gaps is most important.  

Our text is sandwiched between two passages of scripture which provide detailed information critical to a proper interpretation.

The combined armies of Israel and Aram have ravaged the land of Judah and are besieging Jerusalem. Many Judeans have been killed or taken prisoner (see 2 Chron. 28). Ahaz’ refusal to join the confederacy against Assyria has resulted in an attempted overthrow of his throne and a replacement king, Tabeel, who will join the alliance opposing Assyria. While Ahaz and the people of Judah fear the worst, the prophet Isaiah intervenes to reassure them their suffering will soon be over. Yahweh will use the Assyrians to attack the two countries tormenting Judah. In doing so the two nations will be forced to withdraw their forces and retreat to protect their own lands. As proof God is true to his word, Isaiah asks Ahaz to request a sign (vs. 11) from God which he refuses (vs. 12) resulting in a stern rebuke (vs. 13) and the giving of “a sign.”

14”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin [‘ha’almah,’ or “the young woman”] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.15He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”(Isaiah 7:14-17)

Israel’s final “Christmas”

Israel’s permanent (?) removal from the land merits quick mention.

The first deportation (ca. 735BC)

29”In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria. 30Then Hoshea son of Elah conspired against Pekah son of Remaliah. He attacked and assassinated him, and then succeeded him as king in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah.”(2 Kings 15:29-30)

The second deportation (ca. 722BC)

5”The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. 6In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.”(2 Kings 17:5.6)

The Northern tribes of Israel would suffer two deportations. The first occurring when Assyria came to Judah’s aid (735BC) against Israel and Syria, and a second final complete expulsion when Samaria fell (722BC, rf. 2 Kings 17) ostensibly “because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:7). However, despite the promise of their return being reiterated in the prophetic writings, it remains unfulfilled.

It is important to mention because these ten tribes formed the majority of Israelites and it was inconceivable to the prophets Yahweh would forget them.  They postulated an eventual regathering of these dispersed because the alternative was unfathomable and inconsistent with the promises. These scattered people never did return as described and this fact stands as one of the greatest indictments on predictive prophecy in the Bible.

The Bible of the first Christians

The “Bible” of choice among these first Christians was a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint (LXX) written in the third century BC by Hellenistic Jews. With the proliferation of the Greek language throughout the Roman Empire, the Aramaic version of the Hebrew scriptures was beyond the reach of most ethnic Israelites, hence its need. One of the key tensions in our discussion involves a comparison of two versions of the Immanuel text. 

There are many differences between the two translations, some more significant than others but few more important than we find here. Isaiah’s Hebrew text contains the word ‘almah’ (“marriageable young woman”) instead of a more definitive word for virgin (‘bethulah’). The translators of the LXX made an interpretive decision and used parthenos which is exclusively “a virgin.” Their reasons are unclear. However, they may have simply meant the mother of “Immanuel” would be a virgin who conceived contemporaneously with losing her virginity. There is evidence early messianic tradition shared such a view.

Conservatives make the claim, “A young woman” and “virgin” are not mutually exclusive. Lexically, it neither precludes nor condones this reading. Context drives the meaning. Even if we concede the woman in question was a virgin, a host of contextual details militate against its use by Matthew as definitively fulfilled by Jesus.

If, and that’s a big “if,” we assume Isaiah intended the meaning of virgin, the idea of a non male participant must also be implied, as well as, divine conception. The “sign” then becomes monumental. It switches from the age of a specific child of “the virgin” to his miraculous conception without male participation via God’s very holy spirit. In other words, a baby who was both divine and human just as Jesus was. If virgin meant the same thing to Isaiah as it did to Matthew, there would have been an earlier version of Jesus called Immanuel. Of course this is preposterous, so the only alternative is the Immanuel prophecy had absolutely nothing to do with Isaiah’s time and was reserved solely for Jesus. 

This position would open the flood gates to the most outlandish and far fetched interpretations of any text. To take a text and completely change its meaning isn’t hermeneutics, it’s theatrics. Anything goes and anything is possible. Be as creative as you need to get the meaning you want.

Another lesser known discrepancy between these versions demands our attention. It concerns verb tense and is critical to accurate and honest interpretation. 

The problem with “re-interpreting” this verse is we are swimming against the swift waters of two thousand years of Christian theological tradition. To suggest a variant reading bucks at what hundreds of millions of believers have considered unassailable truth. But, if we remove the blinders of faith, the natural historical reading becomes crystal clear.

14”Therefore the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign: Behold, the virgin [‘ha’almah,’ or “young woman”] will conceive [‘harah,’ predicate adjective agreeing in number and gender but not definiteness with previous noun, “the young woman is pregnant”] and give birth to a son, and she will call him Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14).

There is no verb “conceive” in the original. Instead there is an adjective, ‘harah’ which means pregnant or “with child.” It agrees in gender (feminine) and number (singular) to “the virgin” (or preferably, “young woman”) but carries no definitive article. Its translative value is, “the virgin or young woman is with child.” 

The Christian translators of almost every version of our English Bibles have deliberately matched this text syntactically and theologically to Matthew’s and indeed Christian theology by installing a future pregnancy to a virgin exempt from male participation. The outlandishness of such a rendering is lost on centuries of traditional Christian conditioning.

It is the goal of this article, and indeed every article, to tear down this mental barrier and inject logic and common sense where little has existed. 

Genesis 16:11 & Judges 13:2-7

Two passages with similar grammatical constructions shed considerable light on Isaiah’s text.

11”The angel of the Lord also said [Imperfect with wav consecutive translated with past value] to her: “BEHOLD! [Interjection, ’hinnak’] You are now pregnant [substantive adjective, 2nd feminine singular, ‘harah’) andyouwill give birth [Qal Perfect with wav conjunctive translated with future value] to a son. You shall name him [same as previous] Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.”(Genesis 16:11)

This text in Genesis can aid us in interpreting Isaiah’s text. Hagar is already pregnant (16:4,5) and is described as such with the same adjective used in Isaiah (‘harah’). Here it is used substantively as a noun, whereas in Isaiah it should be used as a predicate adjective. It might better be translated, “Behold, pregnant one! You will give birth…” The reason for this visitation is to announce the birth of Ishmael and his descendants,“so much that they may be too numerous to count” (vs. 10).

A passage in the book of Judges involving the birth of Samson is also helpful to our discussion. It introduces a remarkable element with profound implications. We will break the passage into three sections and examine each for its syntactical relevance.

2”A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. 

3The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said [Niphal imperfect with wav consecutive translated with past value] “BEHOLD! [Interjection, ’hinneh’] Nowyou are barren [predicate adjective] and childless [verb, ‘yalad’] but [perfect wav consecutive translated with future value] you are going to become pregnant and will give birth [wav consecutive with perfect translated with future value] to a son. 

The passage contains a literary technique used in narrative sequence which can appear misleading since tenses shift in value. This has been noted.

The translators have obscured some helpful grammatical nuances. “Barren” is a predicate adjective and “childless” is a verb which has been translated also as a predicate adjective removing the dramatic effect intended. Verse three would instead read.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold! Now you are barren and you have borne no children, but you will conceive and give birth to a son.”

4Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5You will become pregnant [substantive adjective, 2nd feminine singular, ‘harah’] and will give birth [perfect with wav conjunction translated with future values] a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

What happens between verses four and five is of critical important to interpreting this text shedding light on Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy.

The translators have perhaps deliberately changed the tense of the verse to conform to Isaiah. ‘Harah’ is again changed to a future verb tense unnecessarily. Its identical use in Genesis to describe an already pregnant Hagar should have the same force here and in Isaiah.

Various textual clues suggest the angel of the Lord’s visit was contemporaneous with her conceiving and not a future event involving Manoah. The adverb, “Now” (‘attah’) has been weakened in force by translations like found above. It would be better rendered, “Therefore, now be on your guard! Do not drink wine or strong drink and do not eat unclean food.” 

The angel is commanding this woman not to drink wine or any fermented drink or eat anything unclean because she is currently carrying Samson. She is complying with the Nazirite vow on behalf of Samson who is currently in her womb as indicated in the next verse. This stands in stark contrast to verse three. 

The angel seems to repeat what he has said previously but actually he has made a significant change. He addresses the woman not as one who will become pregnant but one who is now pregnant. An alternative reading carries this force.

“For behold, pregnant one! You will bear a son and no razor will come upon his head for the child will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he himself will begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” 

It is curious the translators have once again transformed an adjective into a future verb tense. What impact, if any, Isaiah’s text had on this decision is unknown. Certainly here it is not necessary and may in fact provide some insight into another theological quandary. What role did Manoah play in Samson’s conception? We will discuss this further at the end of this section.

6Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7But he said to me, ‘You will become pregnant [substantive adjective, 2nd feminine singular, ‘harah’] and have [‘yalad,’ wav consecutive with perfect tense translated with future value] a son . Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from the womb until the day of his death.’ ”(Judges 13:2-7)

The woman returns to her husband to tell him her news. She repeats almost verbatim what the angel said to her the second time. Note the absence of “now” because, as she tells Manoah, she is currently pregnant.  When the angel of the Lord was informing her conception had just taken place. “Now” was inserted to stress the change in her condition from moments before.

It should be noted the narrative never gives the slightest indication conception has taken place any other time, i.e., later with Manoah. After the couple witness the spectacle of the angel of the Lord ascending in the flame of the burnt offering, the narrative states, “The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson” (Jdg. 13:24). Nowhere is intercourse implied and in fact the birth seems accelerated if anything. If the writer had in mind the conception was yet to take place with Manoah, he would have included this in his narrative.

It seems far more plausible the author was stressing the angel of the Lord as an actual physical manifestation of the Lord who caused the woman to conceive despite her barren state (vs. 3). Such an interpretation is grammatically and logically consistent with the text. Therefore, it cannot be used by Christians to support a futuristic rendering of a predicate adjective.

Some Christian commentators argue the two states of pregnancy and delivery must be given a futuristic interpretation in Judges. In other words, “will become pregnant” and “will give birth.” The fallaciousness of such reasoning should be obvious. It would have far greater impact to the text under review, for the angel of the Lord to be declaring to Samson’s mother conception had taken place at the moment of visitation from “God” (Jdg. 13:22).

We may speculate on one of the New Testament’s most vexing questions. Why do Matthew and Luke included an extensive genealogy tracing Jesus birth through the Davidic line. If he was conceived miraculously via God’s spirit?  Would this not disqualify him as a genetic descendant of David? Surely these writers would be aware of this obvious incongruence if one existed. 

Is it possible they viewed his birth much like that of Samson who seemed to be conceived without Manoah’s participation? Yet he was still regarded as his offspring. If so, we are witnessing nascent Christology in Matthew and Luke which had yet to accord Jesus equal status with God. God was regarded as the father of Jesus via his spirit but not the exclusive father of Jesus. Nor at this time had Jesus ascended to the rank of second person of the Trinity which was centuries from formulation.

Defending the indefensible

It is critical to Christians, “The virgin,” not be already pregnant though a modified view would have accommodated the virgin birth of Jesus in a natural sense. Which is to say, Mary conceived simultaneous to consummating her marriage giving Jesus’ birth a special status. Had Jesus remained an earthly messiah who exercised this role to bring about Israel’s restoration, this would have been the teaching; however, the resurrection/ascension theory changed everything. 

Matthew or whomever originated the virgin birth story needed the woman in Isaiah’s text to be a virgin whom God could impregnate much like Samson’s mother. Though Samson possessed remarkable strength (superhuman even), he was not thought divine. 

The point we are making is Jesus’ alleged supernatural birth via God’s spirit was not entirely unique. John the Baptist’s birth was miraculously orchestrated due to the age of his parents. God’s participation in births had been done before. Christians simply took it to a much higher level with Jesus to make it conform to their understanding of Jesus’ exalted state.

The exegetical liberties undertaken by Christians from the start is understandable and forgivable. They were not under the  constraints of science or reason but God’s supernatural spirit. They were ruled by experience which dictated how they viewed the worlds of both the natural and spiritual. It was entirely “reasonable” to use the prophetic texts to illuminate and elucidate their understanding of who Jesus was.

Matthew’s concern was simply to find a text that seemed to support Jesus’ divinity or could be used to add further details about who Jesus was. When he “stumbled” upon Isaiah’s text, it opened up a world of speculation. He was able to create a story to explain how God and man could dwell in one body through divine conception. It did not matter his use violated the context and spirit of Isaiah’s original intention where there is no mention of Bethlehem, the holy spirit or divine impregnation not to mention the birth of “another’ Jesus like child named Immanuel.

The point is we are no longer living in biblical times. We do not have an excuse for sloppy hermeneutics nor should we indulge the fantastical thinking of groups like evangelicals. The time for an honest and accurate understanding of the Bible and Jesus is long overdue (by about five hundred years). The religious mind is not innocent and harmless. Being enslaved to these ancient superstitions has consequences some potentially dire. 

It is not facts and data which cause so many to cling to the hope Christianity offers. It is fear undergirded by a sense God exists and the Bible is inspired. The role “feeling” plays in the evangelical experience should not be diminished or denied. The Bible feels true and God feels real for most evangelicals and that’s good enough. Unfortunately, it is a mental compromise.

Isaiah 7:14 could and should read:

If Christianity did not exist, Isaiah’s text would likely read as follows:

“The Lord himself will give you (plural) a sign. Behold! The woman with child will give birth to a son, and she will call his name, with us is God.”

This interpretation fits perfectly with the historical context and tone of the prophecy. It is also grammatically and syntactically  sound. The only thing it violates is the Christian view. The audience is Judah (“you” is plural so the sign is not solely for Ahaz but all of Judah). The woman, likely Isaiah’s wife (See Isa. 8:18), is already pregnant making the sign imminent, certain and in progress, perhaps a few months until fulfillment. She is designated by Isaiah (“the woman with child”) to lock in the prophecy. The countdown has started and cannot be stopped anymore than her pregnancy. His name is symbolic to show to Judah God is with them in these troubling times. 

The virgin concept must be abandoned for several reasons. First, the word itself does not specifically mean virgin which would have been critical if this was the focus. Second, the adjective cannot be given a futuristic verbal force when throughout scripture it has a present value (Gen. 16:11; 38:24,25, Ex. 21:22, Jdg. 13:5,7, 1 Sam. 4:19, 2 Sam. 11:5, Isa. 26:17, Jer. 30:8).  Third, it adds valuable time to the prophecy by making conception and pregnancy still future. Also it raises the question, which virgin is in view and how does she suddenly become pregnant with Immanuel? 

Judeans were already under enormous strain and the promise of an imminent birth of a pregnant woman to alleviate their suffering would be far more comforting than a pregnancy yet to take place.

These textual details should themselves be conclusive. The myriad logistical problems which arise when the Christian interpretation is forced should all but settle the matter. Obviously, this woman existed then, so if she had Immanuel as a virgin, he would be similar to Jesus, both human and divine, because God would have to assist in conception. The only way to avoid this theological dilemma would be to change the meaning of ‘almah’ which changes the meaning of the text and renders it unusable for Matthew’s purpose as specific prophetic fulfillment.

It is reasonable to assume, were it not for this Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, there would be no Christmas. Jesus’ divinity would still have been the bedrock of Christianity but it would likely be derived from John’s logos doctrine and Hebrew wisdom literature.

In the face of a mountain of evidence, logical, textual and theological, most Christians will reject it based on little more than a prima facie reading of Matthew and Isaiah’s text, a defaulting to the supernatural which makes anything possible. Reason no matter how compelling will always be sacrificed on the altar of prophetic revelation.

Christians who are aware of this tension have devised clever rationalizations as to how it could be used both by Isaiah and Matthew differently yet legitimately.

The Double Fulfillment theory of prophecy 

At this point, many evangelical theologians would conveniently defer to the “Dual” or “Double” theory of prophetic fulfillment which postulates a partial present and fuller future realization. The unreasonableness of this argument should be obvious. It requires radically changing the original meaning of a simple natural birth to a future miraculous one of the eternal son of God when the text provides no such clues, e.g., the involvement of God’s holy spirit. The absence of which renders the verse absurd. How is this virgin to conceive? God’s holy spirit must be implied which would change the entire dynamic of the sign by making the “divine child” the focus and not simply a certain age he attains. Also this child signaled tragedy for Israel not hope as Jesus’ birth was supposed to do.

The double fulfillment theory is one of evangelical Christianity’s most devilish inventions. It allows one to “push” idealistic or unfulfilled prophecies to a future time under the guise of being divinely “delayed” rather than admit prophetic failure. It’s a never ending series of anticipation, failed realization and deferred hope. The optimism of a prophet as one intimately connected to his God resulted in romanticized depictions of a glorious future for Israel, which never came. 

The first Christians (Jewish) hijacked this idealism hoping Jesus would fulfill all Israelite wishes for a restored Israel as the heavenly messiah. A series of failed messianic expectations led to Jewish Christianity’s inevitable demise. Gentile Christianity rose on the back of God’s seeming disdain with his “natural branches” and favor towards the “wild olive shoot” he had grafted in (Romans 11:17f.). 

By the completion of the books that would eventually comprise the New Testament canon, Paul’s doctrine of Gentile inclusion and Israel’s rejection had taken root. The destruction of Jerusalem, Israel’s continued resistance to Jesus as their messiah and the passing of years with no trace of the kingdom led to the formulation of a new theory. Replacement theology posited God had turned his back on his people and replaced them with the Gentiles. In effect, this voided all promises of a literal messianic kingdom in restored Israel. A spiritual kingdom of those “in Christ” had already begun. It would replace 

The synoptic gospels, particularly Matthew, contain a distinct apocalyptic message which Christians have pushed to a future Millennial age or spiritualized reign in believers. Matthew certainly did not envision the arrival of Jesus, the son of man, two thousand years in the future. He was convinced Jesus would arrive within “this generation” or not at all.  

Telescoping or the Mountain Peaks perspective: Events may appear closer than they are

If you have ever climbed a mountain you are familiar with the phenomenon of how different the perspective is from the top. On the ground two mountain peaks may appear almost overlapping but when one arrives at the summit, one sees the vast distance separating peaks. 

Anyone who reads through Isaiah’s material will find a peppering of references to multiple events within a single passage. Inerrantists and literalists simply attribute this to predictive prophecy. Others would see the hands of various editors over many years as a more plausible explanation.

A technique called telescoping occurred when a later writer conflated two or more events into one continual event. For instance, combining the initial attack on Israel and Syria by Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser (735BC), the fall of Samaria at the hands of Assyrian kings Shalmaneser and Sargon (722BC), king Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah and the siege of Jerusalem (701BC) and even the fall of Jerusalem under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (586BC) and subsequent return under the Persian king Cyrus’ edict (536BC). These events when viewed from a distant time(s) might appear closer than they were much like mountain peaks which seem to be near when in fact they are miles apart.

The difficulty arises when a reader discovers a text with allusions to several events. A conservative Christian is prone to see supernatural predictive prophecy whereas a literary critic would see a later editorial hand(s). In this sense, someone writing well after these events took place could see it as one long continuous period instead of separate events.

The importance of clarifying this technique is a question of plausibility. We must ask what impact a distant prophecy would have on the audience if it were indeed given at this time? 

Shear-Jasub: “A remnant will return”

Why does the writer mention Isaiah’s first son, Shear-Jashub (Isa. 7:3 above), whose name means, “A remnant will return.” Its placement here is confusing and seems historically and logically out of place. What remnant and from where are they returning? When did the deportation take place and at whose hands? How would this help to quell the fears of the Judeans hearing it?

It cannot refer to Tiglath-pileser when he attacked Israel and Syria since there is no evidence of a mass deportation by Assyria of Judeans. Also, there is no indication Ahaz felt double crossed by Assyria. He submitted as Tiglath-Pileser’s “servant and vassal” (2 Kings 16:7) and, “took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:8). In turn, Tiglath-Pileser is said to have “complied” (2 Kings 16:9) resulting in Ahaz building an altar for the king and offering sacrifices on it in “deference” to him (2 Kings 16:10-18). 

Nor can it refer to Israel since they are the villains and the target of Assyrian aggression and not the beneficiaries of the prophecy. 

If the identity of this remnant is confined to this period and refers to a small group who return, it also cannot refer to Jerusalem which was the only city not breeched by Syria and Israel. Nor would one describe its inhabitants as “returning” to a city they never left. We are then left with allocating it to those who were released by Israel having escaped slaughter. 

Contextually, it seems to point to those from Judah who have been taken captive by Israel and who will be released (rf. 2 Chron. 28:9-15) since the name implies the removal has already occurred. Why would Isaiah bring up a future event?

If this is the case, it seems to contradict the injunction of the prophet of the Lord, Oded, who orders all “prisoners” be returned with no hint of only a remnant being released. 

9”But a prophet of the Lord named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria. He said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand. But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven. 10And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalemyour slaves. But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God? 11Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.”(2 Chronicles 28:9-11)

Note: “The men and women of Judah and Jerusalem” are here referred to as “fellow Israelites” (vs.11). 

6”In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah—because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors.”(2 Chronicles 28:6)

According to the text many from Judah had been “slaughtered” at the hands of their fellow Israelites (2 Chron. 28:9). The egregiousness of this sin seems to have eluded Isaiah though the Chronicler blames these killings on Judah’s rebellion from Yahweh. If nothing else, this greatly diminishes the impact of the Immanuel prophecy’s promise of comfort. The Immanuel prophecy is meant to console Judah not cause despair.

Another theory is Isaiah is offering “a prophetic teaser” of a yet to come major deportation and subsequent promised return? The word “remnant” implies only a small portion being spared while the majority suffer some unknown fate either death, bondage or lostness. But this scenario would hardly be consoling to Judah at this time (though may be perfectly suited to an exilic audience, to be discussed below). The import of this passage is to show how much Yahweh cares for Judah not create panic and anxiousness.

We pause here for perspective remembering the writer(s) is not attempting to record pure history. He is severely prejudiced by religious fanaticism that sees Yahweh meddling in the affairs of his people and the nations. Furthermore his mind is clouded by optimism and idealism. He is convinced one day Yahweh will destroy those who have punished his people and Israel will be vindicated among the nations (see Isaiah’s judgment of the nations chapters 10-35 exclusive). 

The prophetic office: Fore-teller and Forth-teller

It is a mistake to think of the prophet solely as a predictor of future events. His primary role would not be much different from modern day preachers who attempt to provide a divine perspective on the mundane affairs of life. The dual functions of interpreting past events and predicting future events were key roles. However, it was his perceived ability to foretell the future that gave him the necessary authority to inveigh on past or current events. 

Like so many events in the Hebrew Bible, the prophetic role is not so much that of foreteller as it is of forth-teller. These divine representatives were tasked with explaining why certain events befell their Israelite brethren, showing the hand of God in them and explaining what God required of them. Isaiah did not predict Assyria’s invasion but warned against relying on it rather than Yahweh. When Judah also suffered under Assyrian domination, it was deemed because of unfaithfulness. 

Later editors would modify the text to suggest the predictive element in order to give credibility to the message of their prophet(s). By attaching additional instruction couched in prophetic fulfillment in the name of a respected prophet, their teaching was imbued with similar divine authority. The nature of this tactic was prophetic hindsight.

The following verse (below) appears to threaten Judah. It seems out of place given the context of “a sign” meant to provide comfort. Here is an example of a later interpolation meant to reconcile Judah’s initial reprieve due to Assyria’s intervention with Assyria’s later invasion. Yahweh’s reputation is at stake so the writer inserts a promise of destruction since he can’t retract the original.  

17”The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”(Isaiah 7:17)

Ahaz is warned of Assyria’s attack on Judah in the context of the Immanuel prophecy (Isa. 7:14-16). The writer makes no attempt to offer a separate prophecy. Why bring up now that which will occur under Hezekiah’s reign when Sennacherib takes the throne and attacks Judah (comp., Isa. 7:17 with 36:1f.)? It would cause undo stress on the people many of whom won’t be alive when it does transpire. Also, if many in Judah were deported at this time, the biblical record does not reflect it though Israel’s relocation is well attested (2 Kings 17:6; 18:11). Sennacherib seemed content to conquer and capture Judean towns to support his war efforts. Lastly, no indication is given when the king of Assyria will arrive leaving the people in a state of perpetual fear. And given Assyria is currently active, aggressive and about to invade Israel, Isaiah is sending mixed messages of comfort and worry to a people Immanuel is supposed to give succor.

Christian commentators try valiantly to attach this dire prediction to Assyria’s attack on Israel because of its awkward placement here. It seems to negate the promise of comfort Immanuel was to bring. Why add insult to injury by promising to remove one threat (Israel and Syria) and replace it with a greater future threat (Assyria)?

The essential question is does this passage belong to the time period of the previous prophecy or is it introducing a new later prophecy? If the former, it nullifies any inherent comfort for Judah by anticipating unprecedented suffering. If the latter, it can only refer to Sennacherib’s attack during Hezekiah’s reign. The difficulty arises when one analyzes the entire passage which seems to elaborate on the imagery of “curds and honey” (vs. 21-25) from the Immanuel text. Furthermore, the addressee of verse seventeen seems to be Ahaz not Hezekiah who would be king if it was in reference to the events of 701BC. The muddling of details makes for confusion if attributed to the original audience but these disappear when presented to a later audience.

The phrase, “In that day” (Isa. 7:18,20,21,23) is repeated four times in reference to when, “He [the Lord] will bring the king of Assyria” tying it directly to verse seventeen.  It is unmistakable Assyria is the cause of privation, not Israel and Syria. It is impossible to make the argument Assyria caused this degree of devastation to the land until Sennacherib; therefore, the melding of three major events overt a span of thirty-five years the most plausible explanation. The impact of this on a later audience (post 701BC) would have been great, whereas, it would be irrelevant on the presumed audience. 

It would be natural to see this as a later interpolation designed to stress to the people of Judah their impending fate which had not originally been foreseen. It is likely, the Immanuel prophecy was given not long after Assyria attacked the lands of Israel and Judah but well before Assyria’s conquest of Judah. A later writer might easily have attached this second prophecy to show Isaiah’s prescience without realizing (or caring) it nullified the original purpose of the “sign.” 

It is entirely possible, the land of Judah was overgrown with “briers and thorns” at the time of this writing or in the writer’s memory which he included in his description for dramatic effect. The possibility Israel and Syria had inflicted such widespread and lasting devastation as to warrant so bleak a description seems implausible. And if so, would suggest they had already endured a long period of suffering making a promise of deliverance still several years away of little value.

20”In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your heads and private parts, and to cut off your beards also.”(Isaiah 7:20)

These words that surround the Immanuel prophecy restrict its meaning to the end of the eighth century when these events took place. More importantly, it is hard to reconcile its Christian meaning of hope and salvation with the dire predictions found throughout this chapter and those that follow.  

Immanuel’s other forgotten brother

We now move to chapter eight where another sign is given which calls into question the accuracy of the first. 

1”The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” a 2So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. 3Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”(Isaiah 8:1-4)

This second (third if you count Shear-Jashub, Isa. 7:3) child seems to provide a second closer countdown to Assyria’s invasion seeming to render the Immanuel prophecy redundant. Again, it begins with a promise of Assyria’s attack of Israel and Syria, then attaches a clear reference to Judah’s inclusion.

5”The Lord spoke to me again:

6“Because this people has rejected

the gently flowing waters of Shiloah

and rejoices over Rezin

and the son of Remaliah,

7therefore the Lord is about to bring against them

the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—

the king of Assyria with all his pomp.

It will overflow all its channels,

run over all its banks

8and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,

passing through it and reaching up to the neck.

Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,

Immanuel!”(Isaiah 8:5-8)

There is a break after verse four then another prophecy is introduced, “The Lord spoke to me again” (‘od’). The writer/editor makes no attempt to conceal his intention to link the two chronologically even repeating “Rezin” (vs. 6) who figured prominently in initiating Assyria’s original involvement.   

In the passage cited above, verse eight deserves special attention. It seems to be a thinly veiled reference to Sennacherib’s assault on Judah which eventually stalled at Jerusalem. The importance of this momentous event in Israel’s history cannot be overstated. The Isaiah scroll opens with it.

7”Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

8Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field, like a city under siege.

9Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”(Isaiah 1:7-9)

The first chapter of Isaiah contains this vivid description of the devastation of the land inhabited by “foreigners” and “strangers.” This an unmistakable reference to Assyrian aggression under Sennacherib (see also Isaiah 10). Jerusalem is compared to “a hut in a cucumber field” suggesting its lonely status as all other cities lie in ruin. The placement at the beginning of Isaiah is no mistake. Jerusalem’s salvation would define Israel’s future as a nation indebted to Yahweh and the one in whom they would place their confidence. 

Judaism as a cultus centered exclusively in Jerusalem owes its beginning to this event. For one hundred years it would strengthen and grow. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, it was able to withstand this catastrophic event by suggesting it was deserved. It was payment for the nations unfaithfulness. The Yahwist remnant remained stedfast even in captivity and was vindicated when Cyrus issued his decree. Judaism would return stronger than ever and take the path it did. The corpus of Hebrew writings were profoundly influenced by those who saw this as a defining moment in Israel’s history. 

When one pulls the camera back and views the entirety of the last half of the eighth century in Israel, it is one of mostly despair. Except for Jerusalem, the rest of the land has been reduced to briars and thorns, cities and villages plundered and filled with foreigners who have replaced their inhabitants. The one and only bright spot was the miraculous deliverance of Zion because of the Temple. It became abundantly clear to the Yahwist community this was no accident but was of divine intent. Yahweh by defending his dwelling place was declaring its preeminence while at the same time denouncing all other places of worship throughout the land.

For the next century, Isaiah was canonized as the prophet who confidently asserted Jerusalem would not fall under Yahweh’s care. He was vindicated when Sennacherib’s forces fell victim to a mysterious lethal illness. So depleted was his army, he was forced to break off the siege and retire to Nineveh or risk Egyptian retaliation at his flanks. But the story does not end here.

Over a century later, another epic event would shake Yahwism to its core. The Babylonian conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, would bring his army to Jerusalem’s doorstep, but this time there would be no reprieve for the holy city. It destruction along with the pillaging and profaning of the sacred temple seemed to question the certainty of the heretofore inviolability of Yahweh’s covenantal pledge to protect his city, land, people and king.

With the land now empty of most of its noble citizenry and dispersed throughout the newly evolving empire, the Yahweh cultus seemed destined for extinction. Were it not for the rise of a new Persian king, Cyrus, who issued an edict releasing all captives and allowing them to return to their homeland, Judaism as we know it would likely look very different.

While in captivity, the Yahwist community continued in its hope for deliverance. Its prayers were answered in 538BC when Cyrus permitted deportees to return to their homes. The impact on Yahwists was especially profound as they saw the divine hand of their God controlling this pagan king. He was deemed, “a messiah” (Isa. 45:1f.) for his role in releasing the captives. 

The “holy race” (Ez. 9:2, Mal. 2:15) and “remnant” (Ezra 9:8,13-15; Neh. 1:3. Hag. 1:12; 2:2) who returned to Israel had had their hopes stoked by prophetic promises of a land of prosperity and opportunity (Deut. 30:1-10, Jer. 29:10,11, Isaiah 65&66). Instead, they were met by resistance and hardship, mostly brought upon themselves by disrespecting and antagonizing the native peoples (Ez. 4:3,4; Neh. 1:3; 4:8; 6:6,7; 13:3 ), and famine (Hag. 1:5-11; 2:16-18, Neh. 5:1-5, Zech. 1:17, Mal. 2:2 ) which initially dampened their spirits (Ez. 3:12,13) and curtailed celebrations. The historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah along with the prophetic books of Haggai, Zechariah (Zech. 8:9-13) and Malachi (3:10,11) attest to the hardships of these first returnees which were attributed to their sins like mixed marriages and a defile priesthood (Ez. 9:10f; 10:3f., Neh. 1:7f; 9:2,36-38, Zech. 1:3, Mal. 3:7).

Another important factor in the ascendancy of Yahwism was the purging of Canaanite gods especially Ba’al from the Israelite pantheon after the Babylonian captivity. Many of the Canaanite deities did not travel well because they were localized gods. Others like Astarte and Baal had failed to repel Assyria and Babylon. El was subsumed by Yahweh who took over most of the roles assigned to these other deities such as fertility, weather and war. The Yahwist remnant who returned were first to plant the seeds of monotheism. 

29”In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria. 30Then Hoshea son of Elah conspired against Pekah son of Remaliah. He attacked and assassinated him, and then succeeded him as king in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah.”(2 Kings 15:29-30)

The time span given is roughly fifteen years which from 735BC when the prophecy is given until the boy can discern right from wrong until 722BC when Samaria falls. It seems hardly comforting for the people of Judah to endure such long suffering; however, they did receive immediate relief when Ahaz secured Assyria’s help shortly after the Syrian-Israelite alliance began to threaten Judah (2 Kings 15:5-9). This renders the Immanuel prophecy pointless but brings into consideration the Maher-shalal-hash-baz sign which was to take place much sooner. Since Damascus is referenced in both sign prophecies, they must refer to Assyria’s initial and only attack on the city which resulted in its utter destruction (2 Kings 16:9).

The juxtaposition of these two signs is perplexing given the importance attached to the first. The need for the second sign and how it’s presented on a large scroll might suggest the need to reiterate the promise of the first prophecy. Perhaps the people were losing patience and doubting God’s promised deliverance. If so, he is reassuring the people the Assyrians are coming to their aid. We may see in these passages the work of the real Isaiah as he struggled to persuade the people of what he knew to be true. His king, Ahaz, had purchased Assyria’s help and Isaiah would capitalize on this knowledge to inspire the inhabitants of Jerusalem to faith and repentance.

Those bound to inerrancy are resistant to abandon historical accuracy or predictive prophecy but whomever the writer is, he is recording these events long after they have taken place. Nobody was transcribing Isaiah’s words as he spoke and preserving them to check for accuracy after the fact. Furthermore, later editors were free to emend the text as necessity dictated to make it conform to prophetic standards. For instance, the insertion of a verse specifically directed at Judah’s demise in the context of a passage intended to provide Judah/Ahaz with hope. 

Isaiah had a long and illustrious career as a prophet. He first saw Tiglath-Pileser’s attack on Israel and Syria. Then he witnessed the fall of Samaria (722BC) under Sargon and Shalmaneser’s rule.  And finally, he experienced Sennacherib’s assault on Judah (701BC). He very likely had some prescience of this looming storm building on the horizon for Judah and preached accordingly. No doubt these events spawned many sermons which were later codified and edited. The supreme difficulty for any literary critic is trying to separate the various strands chronologically. It may be an impossible task. What is left is a series of passages containing a sprinkling of several key events attributed to one man.

If we step back and look at the big historical picture spanning roughly thirty-five years (735-700BC), it is one of doom and gloom for Judah. Jerusalem has narrowly escaped its first threat from an attack by Israel and Syria after refusing to back the latter’s alliance against Assyria; however, the rest of Judah had suffered tremendously (2 Chron. 28:5f.). Their suffering would be exacerbated when Hezekiah took the throne and refused (temporarily) to continuing paying tribute to Assyria. The unprotected and fortified cities throughout Judah would be ravaged by Assyria’s advancement toward Jerusalem which it would once again “miraculously” escape (Jerusalem’s walls were its real savior).

Jerusalem’s respite was short-lived once Assyria made its way south eventually landing on Zion’s doorstep (701BC) having plundered and pillaged the land and its people along the way. These “signs” which Christian associate with the birth of the messiah and the salvation he brought are opposite to what they originally signaled — the judgment of Assyria upon Israel. Finding “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” is polar opposite of the suffering these two children heralded. Except for those fortunate enough to find refuge behind the indomitable walls of Jerusalem, the inhabitants of the land found themselves deported, displaced or dead.  Immanuel which means, “God with us” portended misery not hope for most of Israel.

Isaiah’s audience: An exilic remnant

The idea Isaiah was a true prophet of Yahweh entrusted with divine oracles of yet future events especially the birth of Jesus as the messiah is wonderfully romantic and patently fallacious. It is reserved for those who have surrendered their mental faculties to fanciful dreams of a glorious future age. 

Sprinkled throughout the book of Isaiah is the promise of hope and restoration. Yahweh through his holy servants will make good on his promise to preserve and protect his chosen people regardless of what befalls them, so long as they obey him (Isa. 7:9). In many cases, the prophets argue, he is using Israel’s wicked neighbors as instruments to carry out justice on his behalf (Isa. 10:5). 

A careful reading of the biblical text and recorded history of the Israelites reveal glaring inconsistencies which we can only briefly mention here. Isaiah repeatedly inveighed against the wickedness of Jerusalem’s inhabitants (Isa. 1:21; 3:8 etc…), yet they were spared while the entire nation was ransacked by Assyria. 

Isaiah tried to use these events to rally confidence in Yahweh and effect change in conformity to his sacred laws. Obedience would bring deliverance and blessing while unfaithfulness would bring judgment. We can only imagine how necessary this was to maintain morale in a nation constantly beset by conflict and war. The wondrous beauty of the prophetic message bursts through the dark clouds of despair like a ray of divine sunshine warming those it touches. In most cases it was a “remnant” who were saved.

7”Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

8Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field, like a city under siege.

9Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”(Isaiah 1:7-9)

2”In that day the Branch [‘tsemach’] of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.”(Isaiah 4:2,3) 

13”And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”(Isaiah 6:13)

1”A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch [‘netser’] will bear fruit.”(Isaiah 11:1)

11”In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.”12He will raise a banner for the nations

and gather the exiles of Israel;

he will assemble the scattered people of Judah

from the four quarters of the earth.”(Isaiah 11:11,12)

These passages, and others (Isa. 5:13; 8:7,8), reveal a clear reference to “future” (if we accept the prophetic perspective) deportations in the context of the remnant concept. In the writer’s mind the remnant were those left after the deportations as well as the returnees. It is obviously more than a reference to those Israelites deported first in part by Tiglath-pileser (735BC, 2 Kings 15:29) and completed by Sargon (722BC, 2 Kings 17:6) who were exclusively from the Northern tribes. It is the more distant reference to the Babylonian captivity and subsequent return under Cyrus which includes “all Israelites.” 

Most commentators see a total reclamation implied involving all the dispersed Israelites from both Assyrian and Babylonian deportations. Although Isaiah is ministering primarily to Judah, later prophets would envision a regathering of all Israel’s people. With this in mind, this could reflect the hand of second Isaiah writing after Cyrus’ decree while the scattered tribes were still in captivity. The failed optimism of the northern tribes return had not yet been realized and still offered a glimmer of hope. The prospect Yahweh will restore all of Israel has lingered for millennia and remains an integral part of Judaism’s eschatology today.

Shear-Jasub never existed but the remnant concept inherent in his name was critical. He was a fictional character created by the writer to advance his theological purpose. Nobody names a child this way. It was etiological. The challenge facing the leaders of the Yahwist cultus was preserving its supremacy. They needed to explain why Judah and Jerusalem fell, and how Yahweh was faithful to his holy remnant in exile. Cyrus’ decree unlocked the floodgate and unleashed a torrent of hope the nation would experience their glorious restoration (Isaiah 65&66). It would all begin with the return of a holy race (Isa. 11:11,16, Ez. 9:2,8, Neh. 1:3) to the land to begin the task of rebuilding the Temple from which the law would be proclaimed.

2”In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”(Isaiah 2:2,3)

Isaiah: The Christian prophet

“Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”(John 12:41)

The writer of John’s gospel suggests the prophet Isaiah saw “Jesus’ glory.” 

It is not unusual for Christians to regard Isaiah as a “Christian” prophet because of his alleged references to Jesus as the messiah. Commentators will frequently suggest Isaiah was given glimpses into Jesus’ future birth, work, death and resurrection. Since the beginning, Christians have placed a Christian hermeneutical grid over the “Old Testament” especially Isaiah to reinforce their conviction in the prophetic legitimacy of their faith. Of course, such thinking is absurd except to the Christian mind. 

It should be noted how far many Christians are willing to go with inflicting a Christian perspective on this text. Those who are locked into seeing Jesus in much of Isaiah’s “messianic” prophecies will read into this text a spiritual reclaiming of Jews and Gentiles from sins imperious grip. “Returning” is seen as a spiritual return to God not a physical return to the land. Though this may serve as a wonderful illustration, such a use of the text to “prove” predictive prophecy is unwarranted, unjustified and irresponsible.  An honest and realistic interpretation without appeal to the supernatural and one that does not indulge religious affection is easily provided. 

The intended audience were Judeans in Babylon who had grown increasingly despondent since Jerusalem’s fall and their own captivity. They needed assurance God had not deserted them as he seemed to have Israel but would bring them home. Cyrus’ decree gave the prophet the much needed confirmation Yahweh was sovereignly superintending the affairs of his people.

It must always be born in mind, these writers had a single purpose: to inspire Israelites to faith either by warning them of the repercussions of unfaithfulness or the rewards of faithfulness. Those in captivity would find comfort in reading or hearing the words of Judah’s most famous prophet, Isaiah. A prophecy spoken almost two hundred years ago promising through his son, Shear-jasub, a remnant would return. They would be that remnant!

The original Isaiah of the eighth century had encouraged Hezekiah to stand firm when other prophets advocated surrender (though there is some evidence he at first predicted Jerusalem’s fall, see Isa. 22:5; 32:14; 37:33, 2 Chron. 32:5 and Mic. 3:12 with Jer. 26:17-19, then changed as circumstances dictated). Isaiah was validated as a true prophet of Yahweh whose reputation would be celebrated for centuries. Later writers would piggy-back on his fame to advance their own prophetic agenda in tandem with his. Their goals were the same, to advance Yahwism among the people.

A Merry-go-round of reasoning

Where does a circle begin and end? I would challenge any who believe in the divine authority of the Bible to provide one single incontestable piece of evidence upon which this faith begins.

When all is said and done, many conservative will agree with some of what I have said. They will accept Isaiah’s writings contain multiple veiled references to events still to come like the falls of Samaria and Jerusalem, Babylonian captivity and Persian emancipation with one caveat. It is legitimate predictive prophecy no matter how specific or in advance. Through direct revelation, Isaiah foresaw all these events and even the coming of Jesus as the Messiah miraculously born of a virgin in Bethlehem. It all boils down to believing in the supernatural God of the supernatural Bible supernaturally inspiring men to speak or record his words.

For many Christians, the thought the text had been “tampered” with to give the impression Isaiah foresaw this when in fact he had not is reprehensible. It is an insult to God and his divine word. I would once again remind the reader, this presupposes the text is divinely authoritative which relies on predictive prophecy to validate it which cannot be established unless the former is presumed. It is an endless merry-go-round of fantastical thinking of appealing to one to prove the other and vice versa. It comes down to whether Isaiah glimpsed the future and recorded it for later generations. Or if a scribe(s) emended the text after the fact to bolster Isaiah’s prophetic credibility thereby inheriting his authority for his own message.

If we consider who would benefit most from this message, it would be a later audience. If we consider the impact this message would have on the presumed audience in 735BC, it would be met with confusion, uncertainty and fear. However, for a later audience, it would bring hope and comfort.

“Ockham’s Razor” of biblical interpretation

“The simplest, plain, literal, contextual interpretation is usually the   author’s intended meaning.”

“When the plain sense makes perfect sense seek no other sense”

These two axioms should dictate how reasonable people interpret the biblical text, but they do not.

Once one removes their Christian spectacles, most of the Bible becomes incredibly plain and simple to interpret. It is only when we attempt to make a severely imperfect book perfectly infallible that accurate interpretation is obscured by a morass of faith addled thinking. We need not nor should be fettered by the limitations and prejudices of these ancient religious men. Approaching the text with unflinching scrutiny and objectivity void of a faith bias is the only rule of legitimate interpretation.

An interpretation does exist which is natural, historical, contextual and logical which precludes the possibility of the Christian view on these grounds.

Literary criticism and biblical inerrancy

The world of literary criticism is foreign to most conservative Christians because it tugs at the very fabric of inerrancy and biblical authority. Isaiah did not have a personal biographer transcribing his every word in real time. His sermons were probably written down over several decades somewhat haphazardly perhaps on several scrolls which were collated, appended and edited. Most importantly, unless one believes in predictive prophecy, these specific prophecies were written long after the fact, or at least achieved final fixed form. And it would appear, the writer implies God sent the Assyrians while 2 Kings makes it clear it was orchestrated by Ahaz.

Though not a popular opinion among conservative Christians, the book of Isaiah suggests the hands of many writers and editors over many decades. This is especially evident in the writings of Deutero (and perhaps Tritero) Isaiah in chapters forty through sixty-six.Though part of the same book, biblical scholars universally agree, they were composed during and after the Babylonian exile by later disciples of Isaiah’s prophetic school. 

Note: For those who consider the second half of Isaiah to have been written by Isaiah himself, they must answer the question: How would this material have any relevance, comprehension or practical benefit to an eighth century audience? However, for an exilic and post-exilic audience it would be entirely relevant.

For those exercising the prophetic gift via Yahweh’s spirit, consistency would be assumed. Such a practice was done in the spirit of the original prophet by his disciples as a continuation of his prophetic style. These writers were not bound by the same literary principles and standards of objectivity and accuracy as we are today. The goal was to illicit faith in Yahweh by obedience to his message as presented by his prophets. In this regard, the theological end justified the literary means.

Their limitations along with these religious objectives would account for harmonizing several events, embellishing for dramatic effect and attempting to establish predictive prophecy. Though written as if being recorded in the real present, it is far more likely to have been written years or decades after the events described. 

Evangelicalism and pseudo-scholarship

I feel compelled to address the issue of “scholarship” among evangelicals. What passes for scholarly work in the evangelical world is pseudo-scholarship in the secular world because it concerns the presumption of biblical inerrancy and the supernatural. An evangelical can most certainly be a bonafide scholar but not in matters which bring a conviction and application in the divine inspiration of the scriptures to his or her work. At this point one enters into the ethereal realm of borderless imagination and speculative fantasy. Incredibly, anyone who offers factual evidence which contravenes biblical authority is discounted because science, reason, logic and common sense must all bow to divine revelation. 

Evangelicals pick and choose what scholarly work in theology to embrace and which to deny based entirely on whether it conforms to their inerrantist perspective. An evangelical scientist is unlikely to write a paper for peer review which advocates a literal six day creation of a young earth. Nor is a physics professor going to vehemently defend biblical miracles and the resurrection. Evangelical academics are prone to intellectual compartmentalization for fear of being professionally ostracized. They keep their beliefs “to themselves” preferring a quiet style of evangelization.

It used to be considered out of place for a politician to parade his religious beliefs among his constituents. Now it is a badge of honor and often necessary for office. We cannot be detained here to explore this matter further. We only draw attention to how high evangelicalism has ascended in politics today. It should embarrass us if not horrify us there are those who subscribe to the ancient biblical text as The Word of God. Those who do, do so without any rational justification. A smattering of biblical training from evangelical institutions, if any at all, qualifies one as an authority on the Bible. It is an affront to reason we continue to indulge pre-scientific thinking based on an arcane book.

Compromise is a dirty word but one most evangelicals embrace with enthusiasm. As their primitive thinking about the Bible grows increasingly unpopular and nonsensical, they are faced with one of two options. Either they dig their heels in deeper regardless of personal or professional consequences or they rationalize a style of faith that lets them function undetected for the most part in this world. They adopt many of the world’s standards and practices in the name of human frailty confessing, “God isn’t finished with me yet,” and indulge their carnal natures. I’m not saying any Christian is perfect, but they should most definitely be considerably more righteous than they are.

Inerrancy isn’t a belief, it’s a lifestyle

We’ve all heard someone say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think most evangelicals should have this as a bumper sticker.

Inerrancy is maintained by Christians in an effort to ensure their place in heaven. It has little to do with an obligation to personal piety. 

I could put forward a thousand reasons why the Bible isn’t the absolute, inerrant word of God. However, by far the greatest proof it isn’t is the lifestyle of those who most vociferously proclaim its infallibility — American evangelicals.

For fifteen years I read and studied the Bible everyday for hours. The more I read it, the more I felt compelled to follow it. Every time I turned the page, I was confronted with more teaching about my responsibility to live a holy life. Saturating yourself with God’s Word forces you to want to aspire to its ideals. Conversely, those who spend a few minutes a day in Bible study are unlikely to exhibit much a behavior change.

The doctrine of inerrancy means one is convinced the Bible reflects the mind of God which he communicated via his spirit to his prophets. Unless this dramatically effects how one lives, we should question those who insist on its veracity. Their lifestyle betrays their conviction, or lack thereof.

Was Isaiah being deliberately deceptive?

What if I said, God didn’t bring the Assyrians to attack Israel and Syria. Ahaz did?

Conservative Christians have a romantic outlook on the lives of many of the Bible’s most prominent characters. Moses, Joshua, David and Elijah, for instance, are regarded as having “feet of clay” but are otherwise righteous servants of Yahweh. Joshua would never be vilified as a mass murderer nor David as a blood thirsty mercenary. Whether it was Isaiah himself or his biographer, it would seem he was disingenuous with his portrayal of events.

The historical facts around which the writer built his narrative were the conspiracy of two kings against one and the subsequent arrival of the Assyrian army to relieve the pressure on Judah. It was the result of Ahaz’ deference to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria (rf. 2 Kings 16.7-18). The second event was the capture of Samaria by Shalmaneser and Sargon (721BC). Third was Sennacherib’s destruction of Judah and siege of Jerusalem (701BC). Whomever wrote or edited the Isaiah scroll crafted the narrative to strengthen Isaiah’s prophetic credibility and foster confidence among Judeans “to stand firm in your faith.”

Much like the four gospels, we have parallel accounts of these events in Kings and Chronicles which when compared introduce new issues which are difficult to reconcile with Isaiah logistically and perhaps ethically.

Christian commentators who adhere to the Harmony of Scripture doctrine, assume no scripture contradicts another scripture (Note, this is a predetermined belief arrived at through presumptive inerrancy). Scripture is reinterpreted and molded to fit other scripture rather than accept human fallibility and the possibility of contradiction.

5”Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. 6At that time, Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram by driving out the people of Judah. Edomites then moved into Elath and have lived there to this day. 7Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. 9The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.”(2 Kings 16:5-9)

The book of Kings make no mention of Judah’s hardships at the hands of Assyria. In fact, based on Ahaz’ efforts to ingratiate himself to Tiglath-Pileser by replicating an Assyrian altar and incorporating it within the Temple (vs. 10-18), he acts as if the king has been successful in removing the threat of Israel and Syria. 

When a similar passage in 2 Chronicles (see below) is compared to this passage in Kings, it is evident this other author wanted to show Assyria was non compliant and in no way assisted Ahaz. Instead a prophet of the Lord, Oded, is credited with demanding Israel return her prisoners from Judah. This priestly perspective was necessary to avoid accepting a pagan nation being used to punish God’s chosen people or Israel taking fellow Israelites from Judah as slaves.

5”Therefore the Lord his God delivered him [Ahaz]  into the hands of the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus.

He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him. 6In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah—because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors. 7Zikri, an Ephraimite warrior, killed Maaseiah the king’s son, Azrikam the officer in charge of the palace, and Elkanah, second to the king. 8The men of Israel took captive from their fellow Israelites who were from Judah two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters. They also took a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria.”(2 Chronicles 28:5-8) 

After these events, Israel was forced by the prophet Oded to “give up the prisoners and plunder” (2 Chron. 28:14). We may infer much of the damage had already been done by this time, and certainly the foreign nations did not relinquish their human bounty. Furthermore, the implication in the Immanuel passage is the land of Judah was already in a severe state of wildness which could only be attributable to this invasion. The only other possibility is Sennacherib’s campaign thirty-five years later which would destroy the integrity of this text rendering it meaningless for the current audience.

16”At that time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria for help. 17The Edomites had again come and attacked Judah and carried away prisoners, 18while the Philistines had raided towns in the foothills and in the Negev of Judah. They captured and occupied Beth Shemesh, Aijalon and Gederoth, as well as Soko, Timnah and Gimzo, with their surrounding villages. 19The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. 20Tiglath-Pileser  king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help. 21 Ahaz took some of the things from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace and from the officials and presented them to the king of Assyria, but that did not help him.”(2 Chronicles 28:16-21)

If we did not have these additional records, we would conclude based on Isaiah’s text, he foresaw the invasion of Assyria which would ultimately relieve the pressure on Jerusalem by forcing Israel and Syria to defend themselves. However, when we introduce these “historical” accounts, it is clear Ahaz himself initiates Assyria’s aid though vassal submission and tribute well before 721BC. He is acutely aware of Assyria’s presence and his desperate need for their military support (He was not the first to seek foreign aid from Assyria, rf. 2 Kings 15:19). He gambles it is better to side with Assyria as a puppet king than to align with Israel and Syria and risk total devastation if unsuccessful against Assyria.

This passage nullifies the Immanuel prophecy altogether.

Could the writer be deliberately disingenuous in order to deceive his hearers into thinking Assyria’s involvement was initiated by God and not Ahaz? Remember, this probably was not written until well after Ahaz had died and perhaps Isaiah as well. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, at very least he was unaware of Ahaz’ role in securing Assyrian aid.

One further note regards the mention of Hezekiah’s tribute to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14) which is conveniently omitted in Isaiah’s historical section of the event (ch. 36). Likely, the king’s submission and offering would be seen as a lack of faith in Yahweh which would blemish his reputation. Furthermore, it was necessary the writer show Hezekiah’s willingness to listen to the prophet’s advice to resist Sennacherib. There is the possibility, “the writing was already on the wall,” when Isaiah admonished Hezekiah to stand firm against this threat. However, it is equally plausible, Isaiah truly believed Yahweh would protect his holy city and the mysterious illness which ravaged the Assyrian army was  unmistakable proof he did. Regardless of what actually happened and why, this singular event established Isaiah’s prophetic credentials beyond a doubt. The centuries would only see his legendary status grow.

Conclusion: The pregnant young woman has a son named Immanuel

Forgetting for the moment the identity and nature of the child, the timing of events and which events are in view, the tone of this passage is diametrically opposed to the nativity stories. This alone should disqualify it as fulfilling, “What the Lord had said through the prophet” (Mt. 1:22).

Regardless of one’s interpretation, it is beyond comprehension how Christians can take this text in Isaiah as even remotely applicable to Jesus’ role as messiah. The original Immanuel of Isaiah was a harbinger of doom for Israel while Jesus’ birth was to be the salvation of Israel (as discussed in earlier section). Immanuel marked the time when Assyria would brutally attack Israel (and Syria) to relieve Judah. Unless one is willing to concede Jesus birth was intended only for the tribe of Judah, Assyria would inevitably and permanently destroy the Ten Tribes of Northern Israel (ca. 722BC) who would never return remaining “lost” to this day. 

This would be Israel’s last “Christmas.”

Immanuel would bring temporary respite to Judah, in spite of her wickedness, but after she had already undergone considerable suffering first at the hands of Israel and Syria, then at the hands of her opportunistic neighbors, Edom and Philistine. By the time Immanuel was born, the land of Judah was already in a wild and uncultivated state. In order to keep Assyria at bay, her kings would continue to pay tribute as vassals including Hezekiah. God’s providential care was absent.

A cynic might look at Immanuel and Jesus’ birth as similar in that neither brought any solace to God’s chosen. They were either under the imperious thumb of Assyria or Rome and any promise of redemption went unfulfilled. Nothing in the Isaiah text hints of this child acting in a manner beneficial to Israel. The “messianic” concept is far removed from his role and quite the opposite. He heralds a time of final judgment on Israel not salvation. In Isaiah’s time, the Northern tribes would be banished and shortly thereafter all of Judah would be overrun except for Jerusalem. Jesus’ death would not see Israel’s restoration, far from it, instead Jerusalem would fall under the forces of Roman general Titus (70AD). 

It’s almost two thousand years later (and counting) and Israel is no closer to its promised restoration. Immanuel was supposed to bring solace but if he did, it was short-lived. Jesus, on the other hand, was God incarnate and yet neither his life nor death brought the promised peace and hope for Israel. Evangelicals and other Christian groups can continue to delude themselves into thinking it is still to come, but in the twenty-first century such thinking seems steeped in the sectarianism of by gone days.

Inerrancy: A crippling of critical thinking  

When I was an evangelical, I studied the Bible continually. I memorized scripture verses, doctrines, dates, places, events and whatever else was necessary to “master” its content. After fifteen years of passionate commitment to “all things biblical,” I would soon discover I had a completely distorted view of the Bible and Christianity. In many respects, being misinformed is worse than being uninformed because you think you are well informed. Dogmatism is a naturally by product of evangelical thinking because they believe they are absolutely right.

The Bible is an immensely complex collection of writings written over more than a thousand years with oral traditions dating back another thousand years. It was written or orally transmitted  by hundreds of authors, compilers, editors and redactors in places like Egypt, Canaan, Babylon and throughout Asia Minor. It contains ancient hymns, sagas, songs, poems, proverbs, myths, legends and teachings born out of complex and unique situations. But if you’re a verbal, plenary inerrantist who sees each word as divinely perfect, it can all be reduced to simple fact.

The passage under consideration had profound implications for those who first heard it. Isaiah may have thought Assyria would be Judah’s deliverer because they refused to ally themselves against Assyria who in turn attacked Israel and Syria. It would be easy and unfair to blame what happened to Israel and Judah on “idolatry” as the biblical writers often do in hindsight. The Yahwists who wrote these books were religious revisionists who saw Yahweh’s sovereign hand in every detail of Israel’s history. For them it was theo-logical to assume her ebb and flow was directly related to her faithfulness or faithlessness to her covenantal obligations. 

To the modern reasonable mind, this is simplistic and naive but understandable to the time. We must not indulge such ignorance as conservative Christians do and suppose the text is imbued with divine authority. Those who composed the New Testament writings were victims of this same historical naiveté and driven by religious devotion. It is reprehensible to rational thinking we accord the same degree of authority to the text in light of all we now know.

It is sheer romanticism to take the Bible at face value as one hundred percent factual and undeserving of critical evaluation. Inerrancy as held by evangelicals regards miracles as historical events, Jesus as the uncontested eternal son of God and the Hebrew prophets as divinely inspired prognosticators of yet unknown events. The ramifications of such beliefs have had and will continue to have increasingly profound consequences. 

Excursus:

Paul’s (mis)use of the Hebrew Bible to justify his theological argument of Gentile inclusion

22Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel,

only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous.”(MT, Isaiah 10:22)

27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:

“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,

only the remnant will be saved. 28For the Lord will carry out

his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”[LXX, Isaiah 10:22,23](Romans 9:27,28)

Paul quotes Isaiah 10:22,23 in Romans 9:27,28 in defense of Gentile inclusion. Isaiah’s text is in the historical context of Isaiah 7:14 under consideration. Paul’s argument is in the past God spared only a remnant of Israelites, not the entire nation. Therefore, during Paul’s time, it is logically consistent he was doing the same . Most Jews (Israelites) had rejected Jesus and would be judged for their stubborn refusal, but a small percentage (remnant) had believed and would be rewarded. 

The infamous, “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) text which is hotly disputed in light of Christian zionism, must be accounted for. The most honest and natural interpretation is Paul considered the remnant as those who were saved in Christ, and the rest of Israel to be temporarily blinded or hardened of heart until Jesus returned at which time they would acknowledge him as their messiah. Therefore, attempts by American evangelicals to abdicate their evangelistic responsibilities to convert Jewish people by appealing to this text are unjustified. If evangelicals were to commence evangelizing Jews, especially in Israel, the political fall out would be severe. The cozy relationship each enjoys with the other would be seriously challenged and perhaps betrays a disingenuousness that lies at the heart of this relationship. 

Paul quotes a later passage in Isaiah to undergird his theory of Gentile inclusion.

1“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’

2All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people,

who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations.”(Isaiah 65:1,2)

20”And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”[Isaiah 65:1] 

21But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”[Isaiah 65:2](Romans 10:20,21)

Here again is a clear example of Paul using a text to suit his purpose without regard for its intended meaning. Certainly without the boundaries of context, these passages appear to support Paul’s argument. And while we could accept their use illustratively, we cannot condone their use interpretively. They simply have nothing to do Gentiles responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Imagine the repercussions on Judaism if this was the intention.

Instead, this is a reference to Israelites in captivity were engaging in pagan practices who had forsaken worshipping Yahweh.

3”a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; 4who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat.”(Isaiah 65:3,4)

The passage continues by delineating two types of Israelites, those who are faithful and those who are rebellious. To his “servants” Yahweh will provide blessing (Isa. 65:13) but to those who “forsake” him he will bring “sword” and “slaughter” (Isa. 65:12). 

In historical context, the prophet (in exile) suggests Yahweh has revealed himself to his people who were not looking for him. They were content in having assimilated the Babylonian culture in which they found themselves. It is likely, he implored them to turn from these evil ways and return to Yahweh which many refused. To these came a stern warning of wrath, as well as, disqualification from participating in the untold blessings of “new heavens and a new earth” for God’s people (Isa. 65:17f.). 

Building a case against Christ: Let reason be the Judge: The Christmyth story (pt.4a – The nativity stories)

The story of Jesus’ birth is the greatest story ever told — also the fakest!

SPOILER ALERT: For those not interested in wading through pages of textual analysis and commentary, I offer my conclusion at the start. 

Without the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus, there is no resurrection. It is the foundation upon which the resurrection rests. The foundational text upon which the entire superstructure of Christian belief has been erected is Isaiah 7:14. It is around this text, Matthew and Luke spin their narratives.

14”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call him Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14, also quoted in Matthew 1:25) 

Note: Throughout this article, all biblical references are from the NIV. All underlined and bold text has been added for clarity and emphasis.

Taken completely out of its literary and historical context, grammatically altered and imbued with Christian theology, it became the basis for the unification of both Jesus’ divine and human natures and proof of the miracle of predictive prophecy. At the same time it raises multiple issues for Isaiah’s day.

However, when studied objectively in its strict context, all the pieces of the puzzle fall neatly in place. The only thing out of place is Matthew’s interpretation of the divine virginal conception of Jesus. Instead we have the woman with child designated by Isaiah who will give birth to a boy named Immanuel. Before he reaches a few years of age, the Assyrian army led by Tiglath-Pileser will attack Northern Israel and Syria, thereby relieving Judah who was currently suffering under their combined forces.

Imagine for a moment Isaiah intended “virgin” as Matthew did. This would also require a divine conception via God’s spirit without male participation effectively giving birth to “another” Jesus who was both divine and human, named Immanuel. He would also be immortal. If you change the meaning of “virgin” in Isaiah, you must change it in Matthew and vice versa. The moment both prophecies are interpreted differently, one cannot then be used as “proof” of prophetic fulfillment. You cannot invent a new interpretation (Matthew) to fit a preconceived idea about Jesus, and then validate it by referring to an earlier  prophecy (Isaiah) with only a vague resemblance to Matthew. 

If the sign centered on Immanuel’s virgin conception, this would have been the focus of the prophecy and not simply his age.

In the end, you can never use the New Testament as a hermeneutical key to interpret passages of the Hebrew Bible no matter 

I would strongly encourage those who are truth seekers to make a pact with themselves before proceeding further: To read the biblical texts under review multiple times for familiarity and context. And to approach all material with an open and critical mind free of a faith bias.

Introduction and brief overview

Some may think it’s too early for Christmas, but according to Luke, the birth of Jesus took place in the late spring or early summer when “shepherds living out in the fields [were] keeping watch over their flocks at night”(Luke 2:8). Early Christian traditions saw Jesus birth and death occurring on the same day of the year —Passover.

So, Merry Summertime Christmas!

This article contains a lot of data for consideration whether you agree with my conclusions or not. Believing in the infallibility of the Bible is not intuitive. Anybody who defends biblical inerrancy, must do so from a rational position that does not start and stop at personal experience. At some point, logical and reasonable evidence must be presented to support one’s faith claims.

The scope of this article is twofold. It will compare in precise and at times excruciating detail the two gospel narratives considering congruence, consistency and logical plausibility. Then it will move to a rigorous examination of the classic Christmas text in (Isaiah 7:14) using other relevant Hebrew texts. 

So vital is this text to Christianity, it must undergo extensive analysis before being unequivocally accepted as a central Christological pillar. We have become so conditioned to a Christianized reading of this text, an accurate reading seems unnatural and foreign.

The nature of such a study invites many “rabbit holes” of inquiry. I believe many of these must be explored if only briefly lest the reader assume I have made determinations without considering all attending possibilities. I have attempted to include new topic headings throughout the material to separate these “distractions” from the main body of work. If this causes the study at times to devolve into entertaining tedious subtopics, I apologize. My motivation was to “show my work” to the reader, so he or she may never accuse me of treating such an intensely personal and controversial topic without sufficient data. The reader is free to skip to sections that deal specifically with textual exegesis if he or she feels inclined.

We will begin with a quiz in hopes of exposing some misconceptions surrounding the biblical understanding of Christmas.

A Christmas Quiz

(according to Matthew and Luke’s gospels)

True or False:

1. Jesus was born in 1 A.D. (“Anno Domini” or “the year of the Lord”), and his birth marks the start of the Gregorian calendar which we use today.

2. The wisemen and shepherds visited Jesus in the manger at his birth.

3. The little drummer boy had no gift for the baby Jesus so played a simple song to show his adoration.

4. The shepherds followed the Star to Bethlehem to see the babe.

5. There were three wisemen who were told of Jesus’ birth by an angel.

6. A choir of angels sang to baby Jesus.

7. After Jesus birth, Mary and Joseph immediately returned home to Nazareth where thirty years later Jesus would begin his public ministry.

8. Jesus birth was a time of great celebration in Jerusalem for all Jews and Gentiles.

9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and hid in the manger to escape King Herod’s edict to kill all the children in Nazareth?

10. After Jesus birth, the people of Jerusalem rejoiced in the birth of their newborn king.

11. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus divine virgin birth conceived by the holy spirit eight hundred years before it happened.

The Myths of Christmas

Answers: ALL are False

1. Jesus was actually born during the reign of Herod the Great who died 4 BC, therefore Jesus had to have been born near or before his death, likely between 6BC to 4BC.  

2. Only the shepherds visited the baby in the manager; the wise men came a few years later to visit the child Jesus at his home.

3. There was never a drummer boy in the gospel records. It is based on a twentieth century song and has become a Christmas tradition without biblical basis.

4. The shepherds were told of the birth by a chorus of angels, the wise men did not follow the star. The star appeared in the east to inaugurate the birth of Jesus. They came to Jerusalem about two years later without astral guidance, but once there were led to the house of Mary and Joseph by that same star. The question is, “How does a star guide one to a specific residence?”  Furthermore, Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem and stars travel (the earth’s rotation making them appear to travel) east to west.  This would mean the star could actually “move” but how does a star of massive proportions position itself over a single home?

5. The number of wise men, actually magicians, is unknown but there were at least three who bore gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

6. No angels at the manager but they play a significant role in both narratives appearing to multiple people (Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds).

7. The timing of their return to Nazareth is problematic when merging the two accounts. Only Luke describes the actually birth of Jesus in the manger. Matthew assumes it (“But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus,” Mt. 1:25). He picks up his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1) which is followed by a flight to Egypt during the night to escape Herod’s decree to kill the innocents.

8. The accounts conflict with Matthew citing Herod’s murderous antipathy while Luke paints a picture of celebration and proclamation throughout Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census according to Luke, but lived in Bethlehem according to Matthew who does not mention a census or manger scene.

10. They fled during the night being warned by an angel of Herod’s evil plan to kill the babies; whereas, Luke not only has them residing comfortably in their hometown of Bethlehem but they present Jesus in the Temple for his consecration according to the purification rites of the law a month later.  This is incompatible with Matthew who has them fleeing to Egypt.

11. This is one of the most glaring fallacies about the nativity stories and will be explored fully below. Isaiah seems to be talking about an event (“a sign”) with immense significance specific to his day. It would have no bearing or importance to his hearers otherwise. Furthermore, no mention is made of a birth conceived by “the” holy spirit which would be necessary if no male participant was implied. And even if we concede this last point, this would mean “another” divine child was born at this time named Immanuel! The only other option is “virgin” means something else, which is does, “a young woman of marriageable age.”

(Note: Perhaps there is not greater theological sin committed by Christians than, The Holy Trinity. It is a tradition not a biblical doctrine. Jesus was seen as divine but not co-equal to God and the holy spirit was an impersonal extension of God not a separate personal entity (more on this to follow).

The “Facts” of Christmas (according to the Bible)

1. Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born (Mt. 1:25).

2. Jesus was about two years of age and described as a “child” by Matthew ( ‘paidion,’ Mt. 2:8,9,11) not a “baby” (‘brephos,’ Lk. 2:1) when the wisemen visited him in his home (Mt. 2:11), not manger, in Bethlehem. Also, Matthew begins his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1). Furthermore, Herod asks the magi when the star appeared which signaled Jesus birth. Based on this, Herod calculated the approximate age of the messiah and issued his infamous edict, “To kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Mt. 2:16b)

3. Matthew describes Herod as “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3), whereas Luke records that after the shepherds saw the baby Jesus in the manger, “they made known the statement which had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). Then eight days after his birth, Jesus is brought to the temple in Jerusalem, “to present him before the Lord” (Luke 2:22). Matthew, on the other hand, has the couple fleeing during the night to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill the children (Matthew 2:13).

4.  Matthew describes Bethlehem as their home with no mention of the manger (Matthew 2:10), whereas Luke calls Nazareth their home (Luke 2:39, comp. with Matthew 2:23) and has them visit Bethlehem to take part in an empire wide census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).

5. John the Baptist and Jesus are cousins. Luke describes an angel telling Mary of her impending pregnancy via “a” holy spirit and that her “relative” (Luke 1:36) Elizabeth (John’s mother) of Aaronic lineage is also going to have a child in her old age. If true, Mary is not of Davidic descent which would invalidate Jesus’ Davidic lineage as she is the only one genetically connected to him.

Presumptive inerrancy

Having the freedom and resources to study the Bible is the greatest privilege Christians enjoy, yet few take advantage of it. It belies their true interest which is a free ride to heaven not intellectual rigor.

It is astounding, to me how uniformed and misinformed about Jesus and the Bible the vast majority of Christians are despite its prominence both in society and people’s lives. On the fundamental doctrine of inerrancy, the overwhelming majority of conservative Christians have never studied the many issues that undermine belief in the supreme absolute authority of the Bible. Perhaps because it requires a considerable investment of time, formal training and mental energy to gain the proficiency to do so. Or perhaps because most consider it unnecessary relying on their own personal study for edification (This is a tragic by-product of regarding the holy spirit as one’s personal teacher, John 14:26). Others defer to their pastors, ministers and Bible teachers and speakers and as sufficient and trustworthy to impart biblical “truth.” 

The BIG question: How can so many be so insistent on the divine inerrancy and authority of the Bible having never fully studied it? 

My own truth journey 

When I became a born again evangelical Christian, I knew nothing about the Bible yet I was one hundred certain it was the Word of God. My conviction was based on the undeniable power it had in my life which could only come from God. The further along I went in my theological education, the less convinced I became. Studying the Bible honestly and objectively leads one to the inexorable conclusion it is a perfectly imperfect book created by men not God.

If the reader takes away one undeniable fact from this article it is this: A plain and natural reading of Isaiah’s text in literary (within the book itself) and historical (the period of history in view) context offers a completely reasonable interpretation that cannot be legitimately used by Matthew to establish the divinity-humanity of Jesus via miraculous conception. Immanuel’s birth in Isaiah heralded brief relief for a small segment of Judah’s population but signaled Israel’s suffering which is antithetical to Jesus’ messianic role. In fact, in about fifteen years, Assyria would erase Israel from her existence in the land, hardly reflective of Jesus who would “shepherd [his] people Israel” (Mt. 5:6).

The primary focus of this article is Isaiah 7:14, which is considered by most Christians to be the classic Christmas text prophesying Jesus’ virgin birth via the holy spirit.

14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”(NIV, Isaiah 7:14, LXX)

22”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).”(Matthew 1:22,23)

The magnitude of this verse cannot be overstated. Arguably, it is the most important verse in Hebrew prophecy for Christians eclipsing Psalm 110 in importance. If this was Isaiah’s original intention, it carries immense theological weight. It establishes the union of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, thereby qualifying him as the perfect substitute for our sin. It also proves predictive prophecy and establishes Jesus messianic credentials.  We will examine the flaws in Matthew’s interpretation both historically, textually and logically.

Without the knowledge of Christianity’s theological tradition, Matthew’s interpretation seems far fetched and outlandish if not ridiculous. 

This text is deeply embedded in a specific historical context provided by the writer which cannot be ignored. Plucking a single text from its literary environment because it seems to fit a preconceived idea, is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent even if you’re a gospel writer. It opens the door to flagrant misinterpretation and baseless claims. Therefore, we must examine its place in Isaiah’s work with utmost care and contextual precision despite its central place in Christology.

Every Christian commentator no matter how conservative admits the Immanuel “sign” has a specific historical reference which is plainly delineated in chapters seven through nine. This is undeniable. The question is, “How does it fit into Matthew’s context almost eight hundred years later?”

Christians cannot dismiss Isaiah’s original use so they postulate a “Dual” or “Double Fulfillment” theory which suggests Isaiah knowingly or unknowingly was providing two prophecies. The first was partially fulfilled by a human child during Isaiah’s time (imminent), while a second fuller fulfillment took place when the Savior of the world was born to a virgin via the holy spirit (distant). The problem with this theory is the two prophecies are vastly different.

First, it is impossible Isaiah was describing “another” child born miraculously via God’s spirit to a virgin without male participation. This first Immanuel would also be divine. Second, it is equally impossible for a child to be born of a virgin without male participation except through divine conception, but this changes the entire force of the passage as understood by Christians. Either virgin means divine conception during Isaiah and Matthew’s time or neither. For Christians it must necessarily mean the former which means a Jesus-like child named Immanuel was born ca. 735BC. The ramifications of which are incomprehensible.

Furthermore, Immanuel signaled Assyria’s attack on Israel not her salvation, while Jesus was thought to restore Israel. As we shall see, Immanuel’s birth started a countdown to Assyria’s attack on Israel. In fact, Assyria would ultimately be responsible for Israel’s cessation as a nation not long after (722BC) which may be intimated in these prophecies. The die had been cast. It would be Israel’s last Christmas.

The above statements are logically irrefutable. Nobody believes there was a divine child named Immanuel who was born during Isaiah’s time. He would be “another” Jesus if this was the case. Nor did this child usher in a period of peace or serve as political messiah of Judah. And nothing in the text suggest a miraculous conception. Therefore, its original meaning must be vastly different from its use by Matthew unqualifying it as a proof text.

Initially is was spoken ca. 735BC as “a sign” heralding a countdown to when Assyria would attack the alliance of Damascus (Aram or Syria) and Samaria (Israel) whose combined forces were assailing Judah. In doing so, these nations would have to withdraw from Judah to contend with the foreign occupation of their own land. The birth of “Immanuel” was to signal the imminence of Assyria’s invasion.

With this interpretation in view, any idea of a virgin conceiving through divine intervention is nowhere to be found in the passage, implied or otherwise. If a virgin was intended, it was only as one who had not had sexual intercourse until she conceived the child by her husband. Thus the loss of her virginity was contemporaneous to the conception of the child. Any attempt to force more into this text stretches it well beyond its scope.

Also, there seems little justification for protecting Ahaz and Jerusalem given their wickedness (Isaiah 1:10, 21; 3:8,9; 5:3,4, 2 Kings 16:1-4, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4). The land of Judah was not spared by Assyria’s participation as Israel and Syria’s incursion had left most of her cities vulnerable to subsequent attacks by the Philistines and Edomites (2 Chronicles 28:5-21).

Christian commentators have been misleading readers of the Bible for centuries, albeit it in sincere ignorance, by altering the text as Matthew did. First, by supporting the LXX translation of “virgin” in place of “woman of marriageable age.” Second, by changing the reading from “the” virgin to “a” virgin, it makes it less specific to Isaiah’s time. Third, there is no future verb, “will conceive.” Instead an adjective (‘harah’) which means “with child” and agrees with “the virgin” would suggest a woman already pregnant at the time of the prophecy. It is used as a present condition throughout the Hebrew Bible. 

The next question to answer is whether this “new” reading is supported historically. 

By making the woman already pregnant, the prophecy becomes more imminent and more specific. Now Ahaz can actually see a pregnant woman before his eyes who Isaiah identifies will soon deliver (a woman would have to be obviously pregnant for the prophecy to have the dramatic impact it needs) signaling Judah’s “deliverance.”

The Gospels: Historical fictions

If one were to read the two gospel accounts without any Christian preconceptions, they would encounter numerous difficulties both textual and logical making their historicity untenable. They would be viewed as historical fictions full of angelic imagery, gripping suspense, wondrous miracles, compelling intrigue and profound drama perfectly suited to ancient imagination.

Apart from this misinterpretation of Isaiah 7:14, the two gospel accounts are not compatible. Matthew locates Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem as residents, whereas Luke has them as visitors. According to Matthew, they flee their hometown to escape Herod’s slaughter of the boys and go to Egypt, perhaps implying a second Moses (see Isa. 11:11,16). Later they return but because of Herod’s son Archelaus, are told by an angel to go to Nazareth instead. Luke tells a different tale. They are living in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem to register for a census although Mary is only days away from delivering. Jesus is born in obscurity in a manger in Bethlehem marking his messianic birth (Micah 5:2). The presence of shepherds is perhaps an homage to David’s beginnings as a shepherd boy. Shortly thereafter, they return to their hometown of Nazareth. 

The most plausible natural explanation is these first Christians were so convinced of Jesus’ heavenly messiahship, they were driven (or prompted by God’s spirit) to the Hebrew writings (actually written in Greek) to find textual treasures hidden in the prophetic text around which to construct their narratives. The liberties they took when it came to interpretation is attributable to an esoteric approach which freed them from literalness. Below the plain literal surface meaning lay gems of truth discoverable to those to whom God revealed them.

Matthew, for instance, writing to a predominantly Jewish audience who would demand prophetic validation of Jesus Messianic credentials, uses five references around which he builds his story of Jesus. The two most critical details shared by both gospel writers are the miraculous virgin birth and Bethlehem as the birthplace.

If we accept both accounts as perfectly true in all details, and attempt to harmonize both, one glaring absurdity emerges which is hard to reconcile. 

Either Mary and Joseph shared their glorious news with their family, friends and townspeople of Nazareth, or they did not. Both possibilities pose immense questions when examined against Jesus’ later public ministry as prophet/messiah.

Common sense would suggest they had to tell everyone to avoid the stench of scandal. Mary was after all pregnant while engaged to Joseph with someone else’s baby. They couldn’t lie as righteous Israelites and say it was Joseph’s baby. Such deception would be unbecoming to the messiah’s parents. Also, knowing it was the messiah, they could not risk the stigma of a child born out of wedlock. Jesus was the perfect messiah. Last, nothing in the text suggests this miraculous event was to be kept secret. 

Both narratives make no attempt to hide Jesus’ identity while in Bethlehem. Nothing suggests those shepherds or prophets who witnessed John or Jesus’ birth are to remain silent. If we accept this premise, we would expect Nazareth to have been the focal point of messianic expectation for thirty years. Israelites would have come from far and near to see Israel’s future redeemer wondering when he would inaugurate the kingdom. The four gospels provide overwhelming evidence the people of Nazareth and Jesus’ own family had no idea who Jesus was. In fact, they displayed less faith than other towns (Mt. 13:57, Mk. 6:4, Lk. 4:24, Jn. 4:44). 

The text below suggests Jesus’ brothers regarded him as making his public debut. Nothing in a life spent knowing him gave them any indication he was anything but someone beginning his ministry, whatever it may be.

3”Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(John 7:3-5)

We are forced to assume based on the narratives, Joseph and Mary (and Jesus) kept his true identity a secret. Why? What purpose could there possibly be to conceal Jesus’ messiahship? This means Mary was considered unrighteous throughout her life as one who got pregnant with “another man’s” child other than her fiancé. Jesus would go through his life viewed as a bastard child whose reputation would be forever besmirched. 

What about those who had witnessed John and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the Temple? Surely, news of the birth of the prophet coming in the spirit of Elijah and preparing the way for “the Lord,” and the miraculous birth of the messiah would spread throughout the land. Simeon and Anna were witnesses of God’s “salvation.” The shepherds had also attended the spectacle. 

The secrecy theory makes no sense but the proclamation theory has no biblical support. The logical conclusion is both are literary fictions created with a specific intention. It was critical when Jesus was declared heavenly or divine messiah, to validate his claims from the Hebrew writings. His ascension to heaven required the additional component of divinity which Isaiah’s Greek text seemed to accommodate. Jesus’ residence in Nazareth was well known so it was essential to establish his Bethlehem birth. Two separate traditions arose which we see represented in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. 

We must remember these writings originated decades after Jesus death. Few who read them were even alive when Jesus was born. Nobody could authenticate these stories or refute them. They contain enough established facts to increase their believability such as Herod’s well known obsession with cruelty and a Roman census around the same time. Most important of all, many Christians claimed to have a prophetic gift which allowed God to vouchsafe divine revelation to them directly. As such, they were privy to past truths no one else was as they scoured the ancient writings in search of secret knowledge with which to construct their narratives.

An emotional not rational faith

The vast majority of evangelicals (and most Christians for that matter) accept the faith before ever having thoroughly examined it. Their lives become a matter of persuading themselves what they believed as children is rationally viable. The alternative is to lose their place in heaven.

Obviously, many evangelicals and conservative Christians will bristle at the mere suggestion the birth of Jesus is a myth. Their reason, however, will be little more than untested faith in the Bible which was inherited from their parents. Most begin with a childhood faith which is solidified through indoctrination and socialization within the evangelical culture until it becomes cemented in their psyche. It becomes part of who they are emotionally.

Facts, logic, reason and common sense have little place in the world of faith. Which is not to say, Christians can’t be reasonable, logical and sensible. However, when it comes to challenges to their faith, they often shut off their critical faculties and default to a blind acceptance of Christian dogma.

The presumption of truth pervades evangelicalism and finds its source in the hearts not heads of believers. Ultimately, when pressed, an evangelical invariably will resort to a personal faith experience as proof of their faith and the Bible’s authority as affirming it. A supernatural experience with God becomes the single most convincing argument in the divine inspiration of the Bible and therefore all it contains. The primacy of emotion is paramount and supersedes rationalism.

The possibility of arguing an evangelical Christian out of their faith is almost impossible. The door of doubt opens from within and is securely locked. It is my goal to plant seeds of uncertainty in hopes a believer might begin an honest and critical examination on their basis of belief, the Bible, to determine its credibility and reliability as the supreme source of truth.

I stand atop a mountain of evidence which points to the Bible as a perfectly imperfect book. That is to say, every word of the Bible is exactly as one would expect from a book written entirely by imperfect men about their perception of God and nature without the benefit of scientific perspective. 

The bar of inerrancy is high and demands an impossible standard to clear. Once you accept the fact of biblical finiteness, it makes perfect sense. When you look at the Bible as the inerrant and absolute word of God, it makes no sense. It is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, incongruences and implausibilities not to mention absurdities. It promotes tribalism, sectarianism and religious elitism. It ignores social and scientific advancements. It celebrates sexism, racism and bigotry. It reflects two religions which never should have made it out of the Middle Ages. The fact they did, is a testimony to our fear to let go of God and embrace reality regardless of how difficult and frightening it might be.

I offer this challenge and a word of caution. It is one thing to profess a reasonable faith but another thing to be able to back up that claim. Assuming the Bible is absolutely accurate without having examined the hundreds of textual, chronological, logical and plausibility issues, is a false confidence. Trusting in what your pastor or professors tell you about the Bible is blind allegiance. Those heavily invested in the faith like ministers, missionaries, teachers, speakers and authors are unlikely to entertain even the possibility their faith may be irrational and baseless. Is it really worth scuttling your entire life for intellectual honesty? Other believers may be inclined to NOT want to know the truth because it means losing one’s eternal hope and security. In short, there are many reasons why believers will not take an honest unbiased look at their faith but it mostly fear of losing what they desperately want to believe is true.

Faith means never having or wanting to know the truth

When given the option of challenging something without being forced to, most will not. I acknowledge this and accept it with one condition.

For those who believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible without having thoroughly investigated the basis of this belief by utilizing critical tools — keep your faith private! Don’t inflict (infect) your children or anyone else with fantastical thinking about ancient superstitions. Don’t make unfounded statements about the “evidence” behind Jesus’ resurrection or any other biblical statement that runs contrary to science, rationality and common sense. 

I have devoted four decades to exhaustive research on Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. I have spent thousands of dollars on theological training in evangelical institutions. I have sacrificed the bulk of my time and energy on painstaking study and analysis of the Bible in an effort to learn the truth. I have endured countless hours of sleeplessness as I struggled to resolve the many issues I encountered along the way. All this has made it abundantly clear Jesus was simply a man, the Bible is simply a book and Christianity is simply a fabrication of well intentioned ancient men driven by spiritual experience.

The rest of this article explores some of these matters in greater detail and examines others not discussed in this overview. It falls to the reader to undertake the task of critiquing his or her faith to test its validity.

I believed for fifteen years the foundations of my faith were rationally solid because I desperately wanted to. I filtered the world and all its influences through my biblical grid. I made it conform to my ideology which was easy since I was dealing in the realm of the supernatural which has no empirical or logical boundaries. Think about that for a moment. Anyone who believes in an intimate spiritual world as proffered in the Bible can reinterpret this world to fit their ideological mold, thereby seeming to reinforce it. Most religions do this to validate themselves. It is pure subjectivism fueled by experientialism. 

Until and unless groups like evangelicals restore confidence in their own mental faculties to critique, evaluate and appraise what is reasonable and what is not, they are doomed to enslavement by the very thing that claims to emancipate them. 

31”To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(NIV, John 8:31,32, emphasis added)

6”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6) 

Most religions want their adherents to think, theirs is the one and only true path to truth. Exclusivity has been a hallmark of religious systems not because of elitism but because of survivalism. It was essential members of the same tribe or confederacy believe their god(s) were superior to that of their enemies when going to war. Much like a football team praying for their god to give them victory over their opposition. Soldiers and warriors went to into battle buoyed with confidence their god(s) would protect them and ultimately defeat their enemies. This tribalism among religions continues to this day and has contributed to religion based conflicts for millennia.

The religiously minded of today must bravely break free of the tyranny of fear and embrace their minds is the only real and reliable source of discerning what is true and what is false. To do otherwise is intellectual suicide.

Before we begin

A word of caution and a challenge

Mental indifference is not a substitute nor an excuse for faith. Imagine in a courtroom setting, if the jury had made up its mind before the trial began and refused to consider the evidence. It would be a travesty of justice, yet evangelicals have already made up their minds about Jesus and the Bible without ever hearing the other side present its case.

If one is going to make the claims the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, Jesus is the eternal son of God and evangelicalism is the most authentic and biblically based representation of Christianity, they had better have done their homework. Sunday school and sermons are not a theological education. There is a mountain of material to sift through, interact with and analyze without prejudice. All of which must be considered before reaching a conclusion. Blind untested faith makes one a gullible victim easily exploited and manipulated. The evidence must support the claim or be rejected as spurious nonsense and superstition.

You seldom find what you’re not looking for, nor look for something you don’t want to find

Like most people, I thought the Christmas stories were contemporaneous (to one another) and compatible. They are neither. I graduated from eight years of theological training and never saw what is so obvious to me now. Why? Because I wasn’t looking for problems in a “book” I thought was divinely inspired. After all, it had transformed my life. How could it be anything but from God!?

I had no reason to suspect this or any other part of the Bible contained contradictions or fallacies because I had been conditioned to think otherwise. Inerrancy taught me the Bible was God’s Word containing God’s truth and was beyond finite human criticism. Why should I doubt this? My professors who possessed advanced theology degrees never mentioned contradictions in the Bible. My daily experience with God confirmed the Bible was a supernatural work superintended by the holy spirit so how could there be mistakes? 

12”For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”(Hebrews 4:12) 

21”For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”(2 Peter 1:21)

The Trial for Truth: the challenge to be patient and to be impartial!

As we begin to examine the text, I implore the reader to temporarily view it as a sceptic or at the very least a nonbeliever. I’m not asking you to reject God, simply to pretend you are looking for inconsistencies and incongruences. If the Bible is absolutely true, it should be able to withstand the most withering scrutiny; otherwise, it can’t be true. I understand most will consider the mere thought of questioning it as tantamount to rebellion and an insult to God.

Doubt is the friend of truth. It drives one to search deeper and look harder. Doubt is the enemy of lies* because it exposes it to the unflinching and glaring light of reason.

Note: I want to be careful with using the word, “lies” when referring to the biblical writers. They were sincere but sincerely wrong. They were not intentionally trying to deceive. Their motives, at the time, were noble. They wanted others to share their convictions and avoid divine chastisement or worse. This especially applies to the resurrection story. The power of a mystical experience with the risen Jesus was as compelling and affirming if not more than a mere physical encounter.

I have tried to convey to the reader beforehand the enormous amount of data available to those seeking to thoroughly investigate the foundation of biblical inerrancy. Perhaps this is why Christianity has existed for so long. This trial for truth will not be short. If it was a matter of a few arguments nobody would be a Christian. It is precisely because of the wealth of information and the complexities of analyzing and synthesizing it which allows Christianity’s continued survival. 

I mentioned previously many Christians are too heavily invested in the faith to even consider the possibility of rejecting it. Others lack sufficient formal training to be able to effectively evaluate all the data. Non believers are unlikely to devote a lifetime to studying “a book” they do not believe. Liberal biblical scholars are regarded as anti-supernaturalists seeking to strip God’s word of its divine essence. Atheists and agnostics are discounted as tools of Satan. And on top of this, almost all information purporting to tell you what the Bible “really teaches” is from Christians. Who’s left to be heard and be trusted?

The unsuspecting public suffers an almost daily barrage of misinformation about who Jesus was and what the Bible is. Their clamor drowns out the few faint voices of reason. This and other articles are attempts to penetrate the noise obscuring a rational understanding of the Bible.

Why Me and why now?

I had no reason to reject Christianity. I had every reason to reject evangelicalism. I only wanted to follow the right biblical path, so I began to deconstruct and reconstruct my faith from the foundation (Jesus) up. 

My motivation as a biblical critic is unique. As mentioned, I used to be about as committed to Jesus and the Bible as anyone could be. I was truly grateful for what God had done in my life and I had dedicated my life to serve him. To use gambling parlance, I was “all in.” I gave up everything in pursuit of this goal because that’s what a Christian is supposed to do.

34”Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”(Mark 8:34)

Perhaps it is fitting and at the same time ironic, my supreme desire to know the truth of the Bible is what ultimately led me to reject it. My insatiable thirst for biblical knowledge kept driving me to learn more and in doing so the aura of mystique surrounding the Bible began to fade.

I was immensely dissatisfied with evangelicalism both on a practical and theological level. I saw half hearted hypocrites wherever I went. I saw huge theological flaws in many of its core doctrines. I knew I had to reevaluate my faith and find a suitable replacement. My search would begin with a fresh, unbiased study of the Bible and Christian tradition in an effort to reclaim my faith.

It is not the time to rehearse my background as an evangelical, other than to say, I have earned the right to be heard. I have paid the price. I sacrificed my fifteen years of my life, thousands of dollars, my youth and my career as a devout believer. I finished seminary having earned two degrees in theology and my evangelical faith was in shambles. This was only the beginning. I was determined to find the answers to questions I had thought were already answered. I began a vigorous re-examination of the Bible and Christianity in hopes of finding the truth. In the end, I did but it meant abandoning Jesus entirely.

Now decades later, I continue to pay the price for a faith in which I no longer believe. Perhaps my mistakes and discoveries will help others avoid a similar peril.

The Kingdom of Reason

I am still preaching a gospel of sorts. It is the “good news” of a kingdom that has already arrived. It is the kingdom of reason and it inaugurated and characterized the Age of Enlightenment. It means availing oneself of all relevant and available data. It is available to everyone who wants to be free of ideological tyranny like evangelicalism which cripples the intellect and makes one emotionally dependent. Unfortunately it doesn’t promise escape from hell and the hope of heaven because both are religious constructs intended to scare people into believing and keep them trapped in the faith. 

It is astonishing we live in a world where knowledge has never been greater, more available or easily obtained, yet few seem interested in accessing it. For most of its history, Christians were unable to read the Bible. Ignorance and illiteracy put them at the mercy of the clergy and Rome. Today’s Christian is intellectually unhampered to explore and study the Bible for him or herself independent of ecclesiastical constraints. The fact they don’t shows they are hampered by an internal faith defense mechanism that prevents objectivity and free thinking. 

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[Isaiah 29:14]

20Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[Jer. 9:24](1 Corinthians 1:18-31) 

14”The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 2:14)

I quote this extensive passage because it is often appealed to by evangelicals when the scientific community “boasts” a finding that compromises the authority of the Bible or when philosophers challenge the existence of God. It is a readymade defense of the unsubstantiated and unprovable presupposition of God’s existence based purely on experience (Paul had no evidence of Jesus’ resurrection other than his mystical encounter on the Road to Damascus).

The Hebrew and Christian Bibles are religious propaganda or “advertising” if you prefer. The writers’ sole purpose is to persuade their readers what they are saying is God revelation. They constantly appeal to God as the source of their “truth.” Their motive is sincere and no doubt their profound personal experience of God is equally powerful. They believe obedience leads to blessing and disobedience to punishment. However, accepting these claims unquestionably makes one a victim of blind trust. 

We now turn to the scriptural text.

The pre-conception of Jesus

The story of Jesus birth begins before he was conceived with the birth of John the Baptist, his forerunner. Matthew makes no mention of this birth nor the relationship between and Elizabeth, John’s mother, who is of Aaronic descent (Lk. 1:5 comp. with vs. 36). This would suggest Mary is likewise descended from Aaron which would preclude her David descent. Joseph’s Davidic lineage is stressed in both genealogies (Lk. 1:27, also Mt. 1:1-16, Lk. 3:23-38), although technically he provides no genetic link to Jesus his “son.” These genealogical lists may have originated from a separate Jewish tradition which did not include the divine conception. Or, as will be discussed with Isaiah’s text, Jesus’ conception via God’s spirit did not preclude Joseph’s connection to Jesus. 

Jesus: God and man?

It is noteworthy, the Christian consensus is Jesus existed as the eternal “word” (‘logos’) prior to his birth (Jn. 1:1). The amount of ink spilled over the centuries concerning the relationship of Jesus divine and human natures is dizzying. Men of deep faith battled over this question resulting in many being labelled heretics. Because this doctrine is contrived, nothing approaching a reasonable explanation exists. The fact the early church took centuries trying to find consensus on this delicate topic is testimony to its incomprehensibility. Simply trying to resolve how the earthly Jesus functioned both as finite perfect man and infinite God, as later tradition maintains, traffics in the bizarre. 

Two natures which are both at the same time independent and distinct yet perfectly unified defies common sense and belong to the realm of abstract metaphysics. How many wills did Jesus possess? Was he capable of being tempted? How could he be local and omnipresent simultaneously? Did he really die if he is God? What was his consciousness as a newborn? Does he currently reside in a glorified body as Jesus of Nazareth while also exercising control over the created universe? 

Christians find it all to easy to defer to the “mystery” defense where God’s truth is beyond mortal comprehension. And everything will be made plain once we get to heaven. I would contend, the simplest explanation is the true one. Christianity was ever evolving and changing in its bid to survive. It was natural for the conception of Jesus to ultimately progress to the level of God once Christianity broke free from the fiercely monotheistic Judaism. No longer under these constraints, it was free to come of age theologically.

John the Baptist: Forerunner and Preparer to the Lord

1”The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way” [Malachi 3:1] —

3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ” [Isaiah 40:3]

4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”(Mark 1:1-4)

We may speculate why Luke devotes so much space to the events surrounding John’s birth. The importance of John to Jesus’ ministry is indispensable. Without John there is no Jesus. His historical place and importance is uncontested. He was preaching of the coming kingdom and preparing the way for the “Lord” long before Jesus came to him. Christians validated Jesus by attaching him to John’s message as “the Lord” in view. John launched Jesus ministry, while Jesus’ role as heavenly messiah minimized John’s significance. The new spirit baptism initiated at Pentecost reduced the efficacy of John’s baptism. John offered temporary forgiveness from the coming wrath while Jesus, as the heavenly Christ, provided eternal life.

We cannot afford to get bogged down in a discussion of the relationship of these two men here. Luke’s inclusion of John’s birth account, which is also fictitious, seems to add further credibility to Jesus’ position as political messiah. John’s prophetic role was widely accepted. Thus by making Jesus, not Yahweh, the object of his preparatory work, Jesus messiahship is legitimized.

Textual note: 

3”A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord [‘Yahweh’] ;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God”[‘elohim’].(Isaiah 40:3, MT)

The original passage is unmistakably a reference to Yahweh not a future messiah. To suggest somehow Jesus is pictured here is to blur the clear demarcations of the Trinity doctrine and approach Monarchianism. The use of the Greek version obscures this differentiation.

The birth of a myth: Fiction wrapped around facts

5”In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”(Luke 1:5-7)

1”After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod…”(Matthew 2:1a)

[Note: All quoted texts are NIV. Bold and underlined texts used throughout have been added for emphasis.]

Matthew and Luke’s narratives are constructed upon two historical and two theological pillars. The first of which is Jesus’ birth took place during the reign of king Herod (73-4BC). While this is likely true, the census described in Luke was later and historically irrelevant. Luke seized the opportunity to bring this event forward as a way to necessitate Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem since they were known to be from Nazareth. 

1”In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while a Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”(Luke 2:1-5)

Luke’s reference to a census under Quirinius is fraught with problems: 

  1. No record of this universal (Roman Empire) decree exists other than here (not found in Josephus or Tacitus). 
  2. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 10 years after Herod died (ca. 6AD, cf. Acts 5:37). 
  3. Even if there was such a decree, Joseph would not have been obligated to travel to his birth city let alone to bring a very pregnant fiancée. 
  4. Palestine was not a Roman province at this time negating involvement in a “Roman” census. 

It is doubtful Luke’s readers would have access to this information or would “fact check” him. Nor would many if any have been alive who lived during this census which took place almost seventy years prior. However using an event that was known to have occurred “around” that time would easily have escaped precise analysis by those who were largely illiterate, uneducated and uninterested. Why question what you already believe? Also, it must be stressed, the details were inconsequential to the kernel of truth being taught.

The people of Nazareth should have been Jesus’ first and biggest fans

For thirty years, Jesus, the eternal son of God lived among the residents of Nazareth. Presumably, he was different. If the townspeople had originally questioned Jesus identity when reported by Mary and Joseph returning from Bethlehem, Jesus’ perfect life and wisdom would end these doubts. What could make those who lived here prouder than to know it was the home of God’s messiah who would redeem Israel. The biblical data contradicts this theory.

We may further speculate as to the reason the gospel writers specify Jesus did not do miracles in his hometown. After the resurrection story, claiming Jesus was the heavenly messiah, people would go to Nazareth inquiring if Jesus did indeed show signs of his divinity. Would be followers would flock to Nazareth to learn what great feats he performed. These passages provide cover for Jesus reputation by asserting it was lack of faith not ability that prevented him from performing miracles.

Was Bethlehem or Nazareth Jesus hometown?

26”In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit* will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called  the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”

38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”(Luke 1:26-38)

*Grammatical Note: The gospel writers do not include the definitive article, “The” in their narratives when referring to “a holy spirit” (rf. Mt. 1:18,20; Lk.1:15,35,41,67; 2:25,26). This is a deliberate attempt by later Christian translators to retroactively inject Trinitarian concepts into the text. In fact, this would infer “the holy spirit” is the father not God (the Father) which the text explicitly precludes (Lk. 2:49). Furthermore this would violate Trinitarian theology becoming dangerously close to Monarchianism. Israelites understood there were many common spirits/winds/breaths but only one “holy” spirit/breath/wind from God. In this regard, it was special and superior to natural wind as an extension of God but not a separate personal entity.

19”After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.”(Matthew 2:19-23)

The second historical pillar is Nazareth as the hometown of Mary and Joseph. According to Luke it was always their hometown, while Matthew identifies it as a place of refuge. After fleeing to Egypt from Herod’s slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are bidden by an angel to avoid their hometown of Bethlehem where Herod’s son Archelaus now rules and instead go to Nazareth.

The divine conception and birthplace of Jesus

The two theological pillars which are indispensable to Jesus’ heavenly messiahship are Mary’s conception via the holy spirit (Isaiah 7:14) and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the city of David. The first establishes Jesus’ divinity which was necessitated by his ascension, the second fulfills Micah’s prophecy. 

2“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans a of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”(Micah 5:2, cf. Mt. 2:5,6)

We will treat both narratives as original to each writer, although it is more likely each “borrowed” an existing tradition and adapted (redacted) it to suit his theological purpose. The gospel writers were more collectors and editors than literary creators (see Luke 1:1-4).

I would contend, and history would support it, nobody seriously critiqued these accounts for compatibility. The fact two thousand years have elapsed and they remain largely believed by Christians and non Christians is testament to the authority of tradition. For example, the presence of the wisemen at the manger is almost universally accepted yet has no biblical basis. Therefore, we will be far less generous in our unquestioned acceptance of these traditions. 

As soon as she learns she is about to conceive,“Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk. 1:39,40).

Now if we switch to Matthew’s record, we notice some critical differences.

18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,  because he will save his people from their sins.”

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” [Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”(Matthew 1:18-25)

At first glance one might not notice anything unusual but a closer inspection tells a different story.

If we believe the biblical accounts at face value…

… Joseph and Mary both learned of Mary’s divine conception separately by an angel. When Mary learned of this news, her immediate impulse was not to tell her husband (we will also consider the possibility she did tell Joseph) but to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea for about three months (Luke 1:56), a considerable trip. 

According to Matthew, Joseph discovers Mary’s pregnancy and is about to secretly divorce her to spare her shame but is prevented by an angelic visitation in a dream. We may infer by conflating these accounts, Mary never told her husband the most incredible news she had ever heard forcing him to consider divorce, instead she told Elizabeth. 

To those who might counter she told her husband but he did not believe her, more problems arise. First, this is an argument from silence since no such indication can be found in the text. We could assume Mary would vigorously profess her innocence but this is not in keeping with the spirit of Luke’s account. Matthew seems to imply Mary had to have known she was pregnant without having had intercourse (How could she not?), but made no attempt to inform Joseph leaving him no option but divorce. Assuming for the moment she had been visited by an angel as recorded in Luke, why didn’t she tell Joseph immediately. She had no reason to keep silent and every reason not to. Nothing would prove her innocence more than telling Joseph before she was pregnant she was going to get pregnant. Nobody announces a future affair and pregnancy before it happens. Did they not trust one another?

Furthermore, by this time Elizabeth has already had her own miraculous birth. Any doubts Joseph had could be allayed by visiting her to confirm Mary’s story. Surely, news of his miraculous birth would spread throughout the country especially his hometown. However, there are far greater problems with this story.

The narratives discuss Mary and Joseph as highly favored and faithful to the law (Mt. 1:19, Lk. 1:28). It is indisputable their reputations would have to be blameless as parents of the heavenly messiah. Furthermore, so there is no doubt the baby was God’s not Joseph’s, he does not have intercourse with Mary until after Jesus is born and they are married (Mt. 1:25). According to Luke, Joseph takes Mary with him to Bethlehem days before she is due to give birth while still being engaged (betrothed) to him and not yet married. They then return to Nazareth unmarried with the newborn Jesus. 

4”So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…”(Luke 2:4-7)

The big question is: What, if anything, did they tell their family, friends and townspeople? The optics on this were horrible for a young righteous couple who were betrothed to be married. Mary was pregnant with not Joseph’s baby while engaged to him. He waits until after the baby is born to marry her instead of doing the noble thing, thereby confirming it isn’t his child. Why else wait unless you have shared the truth of the birth? These details are imperative for later Christian tradition to avoid any speculation the baby was genetically Joseph’s and not God’s. Realistically, if true it causes more problems than it solves. 

The two would be ostracized by the religious community for Mary’s indiscretion at the very least, since Joseph would appear innocent. But why marry her? The father’s identity would not be revealed since Joseph would obviously have married her prior to the baby’s birth if it was his. For thirty years Mary and Joseph would live in shame refusing to divulge her secret for no discernible reason.

Inconceivable! 

Messianic fever?

There is nothing in the narrative to suggest God swore Mary, Joseph or the many witnesses to secrecy. In fact, for all the reasons just mentioned, we should expect Mary and Joseph to proudly proclaim their honor of being divinely selected to bare God’s divine son and bring redemption to Israel; otherwise, when Jesus did come out publicly as messiah, his reputation would have been tarnished. He would be seen as the illegitimate child of Joseph and Mary and therefore unworthy of the office. 

Instead, they would have shouted it from the rooftops and would have the testimony of the shepherds, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simon and Anna to confirm it, not to mention the “chief priests and leaders of the law” (Mt. 2:4) who also were aware of the messiah’s birth. Israelites from around the Roman Empire would monitor Jesus’ development wondering when he would begin his messiahship as, “The one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). Expectations would grow year by year for the restoration and redemption of Israel.  Nazareth would be the undisputed focal point of Israel where the messiah lived (Note: According to the accounts, he was born the messiah, so it is a question of when he activates this role). Yet there is not a trace of evidence anybody knew anything about Jesus during this time, in fact, the opposite.

14”Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16He went to Nazareth,where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1,2]

20”Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”

24“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”(Luke 4:1-30)

Is this how a city treats its royal divine son? 

5For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”(John 7:5)

This passage provides indisputable proof, Jesus lived in his home town “where he had been brought up” and the people had no idea he was the messiah. They may have accepted he was now possibly a prophet who needed to prove his office, but clearly he was not given the respect of, “King of the Jews.”

Of all the places Jesus ministered, his hometown should have shown the most faith not the least. For thirty years Jesus had regaled them with answers (Lk. 2:47). The entire town would have been intimately aware of his miraculous birth and messianic calling, right?

52”And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”(Luke 2:52)

What happened from the time of his glorious birth to his return to Nazareth as a prophet? Is it probable his parents, John the Baptist’s parents and the people of Jerusalem together kept the secret? When Mary was pregnant and had Jesus before being married to Joseph, as the Bible states, what did they tell their parents, relatives, friends, acquaintances? Both were devout Israelites and yet they had a child out of wedlock. Wouldn’t their reputation be besmirched? Nobody would accept an illegitimately born messiah, but there is no indication, their secret was revealed. Why?

The Christmyth story: The birth of a legend

Jesus divine virgin birth in Bethlehem never happened. It was a birth that never was.

The nativity stories are fictions created long after Jesus had died (ca. 72-75AD) to bolster his messianic credentials. The townspeople behaved exactly as we would expect those who had no idea of Jesus’ royal birth, nor Mary’s miraculous pregnancy out of wedlock, and most of all, nor did Jesus. He left Nazareth a common everyday Israelite seeking John’s baptism of repentance and returned claiming he had been anointed and appointed as a prophet to preach the gospel in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (see above). There was nothing remarkable about Jesus until he returned after his baptism as a self proclaimed prophet of the Last Days.

Like so many stories about Jesus, it is unimaginable Jesus would be treated this way if he were indeed the eternal son of God living in Nazareth for thirty years. He would have been perfect, unique and obviously special. His brothers and sister would know he was different. It would be impossible for the eternal son of God to conceal his full identity if not at least arose suspicion which was then confirmed. 

Word about his miraculous birth would have spread and those in Nazareth would have heard. Mary and Joseph would tell everybody their news especially to avoid shame on them and Jesus. God never told them to keep quiet about Jesus, so why would they? They were the only ones who knew the greatest truth mankind had ever known and they didn’t say a word.

53When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” 58And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”(Matthew 13:53-58, also Mk. 6:1-5)

We would expect those in Nazareth to have their suspicions of thirty years finally confirmed but they act completely astonished at Jesus’ abilities.

All aboard the logic train

There are two kinds of problems found throughout the Bible, the factual and the probable. For instance, there are internal contradictions, chronological errors, scientific falsehoods which are objectively false. But there are also issues involving common sense and plausibility which also undermine confidence in the authority of the Bible as will be discussed. Together, they should preclude the proposition of divine inspiration. 

To state it bluntly, the world of academia does not contain those who admit the Bible must be the inerrant Word of God but choose not to become Christians regardless. At best there are those who entertain Christian beliefs but compartmentalize them separate from their secular lives, or who valiantly try to adapt them to their lives through compromise. Faith is an essential pre-requisite which obscures objectivity. Critical objectivity applied to biblical data will never yield a Christian belief in inerrancy. The roads of logic all lead to the same place.

I’m non partisan. My interest is in following the facts wherever they may lead. I had no reason to scuttle my faith. I have invested  fifteen years in training and ministry. I finished seminary and could have gone into full-time ministry but my conscience would not allow me. Too many unanswered questions needed resolving. I was a man of sincerity and integrity. I was not about to teach people something of which I was not certain. At the time, it was the evangelicalness of my faith I questioned, not the foundation.

Here’s but one example of many concepts that make no sense plausibly if you take the Bible literally and unequivocally. 

Mary becomes pregnant via God’s holy spirit. She goes to visit Elizabeth who is six months pregnant through divine anointing with John the Baptist. She stayed with her for about three months.

Did she tell Joseph about her amazing news before leaving?

Yes, but he obviously didn’t believe her because he was going to divorce her anyway until an angel told him what another angel had told Mary. He thought her a liar and a cheat at first.

No, which would arouse huge suspicion when she returned already pregnant and informed her husband who obviously didn’t believe a woman who had left abruptly for three months. 

If true, it is hard to imagine her not telling him before he found out. Where did she tell him she was going if not to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant despite being beyond child bearing years. Nobody admits to an affair and pregnancy before committing it. Furthermore, Elizabeth could easily corroborate her story.

What did Mary and Joseph tell friends, family and acquaintances when Mary got pregnant before getting married?

Everything: Mary and Joseph were never commanded not to share their good news, so we would expect they did, for many reasons. First to avoid the stench of scandal for getting pregnant before marriage with someone else’s baby (assuming Joseph admitted it was not his). Second, to avoid bringing shame on the messiah. Third, to let all Israel know the messiah had been born.

Nothing: They kept it a secret seems to defy common sense. Not telling has no benefits whatsoever and only creates problems when Jesus announces his messiahship thirty years later.

Note: Two verses bare mentioning.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”(Lk. 2:19)

”But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”(Lk. 2:51b)

Some might suppose these texts resolve the issue of Mary’s silence. We may surmise those who lived in Nazareth were questioned by skeptics about Christian claims to Jesus messiahship. The inhabitants would confess Mary said nothing about Jesus being the messiah, so Christians would deduce she kept it a secret. But here again, while solving one problem it creates multiple other ones.

What evidence does the biblical text provide to clarify the answers to these questions?

If we take the biblical text at face value, nobody in Nazareth knew of Jesus’ true identity which means neither Joseph, Mary or Jesus told their secret. This means for thirty years Jesus was thought to be the illegitimate child of Mary and Joseph was considered his father. It begs the supreme question, “Why keep silent?” It makes the family look bad and one would hardly consider Jesus the messiah given the details surrounding his mother’s pregnancy. 

The solution to all these problems is simple. The nativity stories are mostly fiction. Jesus had a normal birth, childhood and adolescence. He had no designs on being a prophet or a messiah. He lived a humble life in relative obscurity. His life changed dramatically after his baptism and things progressed and escalated culminating in his death as a king who never took the throne. 

Overview of the conception and birth of John (the Baptist) and Jesus, the Messiah

As usual, we will assume verbal, plenary divine inspiration of the gospel accounts surrounding Jesus birth. They will be considered factual for the purpose of comparison, synthesis and evaluation. Furthermore, besides internal contradiction, plausibility will also be heavily weighed in light of common sense.

The story begins with the birth of John the Baptist who “precedes” Jesus to prepare the way for him both literally and ministerially. 

5”In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”(Luke 1:5-7) 

While serving in the Temple, Gabriel, “The angel of the Lord” appears to Zechariah to inform him his prayer has been heard and his wife Elizabeth will bare a son named John. 

14”He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteousto make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:14-17)

There are several notable things in this paragraph which bare highlighting. John’s status as a prophet and impact on Israel is indisputable. His ministry will be anointed by God (“Filled with the Holy Spirit) and center on repentance.

17”And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Lk. 1:17) 

This aspect of John’s ministry is confirmed when Jesus is baptized. It is implied Jesus is “the Lord” for whom John is preparing the way by the gospel writers. A question for later consideration will be, “Did John (and Jesus) fulfill these expectations?”

Zechariah, as could be expected, wonders how this birth will come about since both he and Elizabeth are old. Gabriel strikes him with temporary muteness because he, “Did not believe my words” (Lk. 1:20). The theological reason for this is uncertain except perhaps to illustrate the penalty for lack of faith in God’s promises. It should be noted, Mary’s similar incredulity went unpunished (see Lk. 1:34 below).

As will be discussed, the legitimacy of John’s divinely anointed birth is critical because he endorses Jesus’ as messiah (according to Christians).

Mary is selected as the mother of Jesus

26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”(Luke 1:26-28)

Mary was specially selected from every other Israelite woman. Her reputation must have been spotless. Mary was entrusted with carrying God’s eternal son. No honor could have been higher. Mary, though troubled, is reassured by Gabriel.

31”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great[1] and will be called the Son of the Most High[2]. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David[3]. 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever[4]; his kingdom will never end[5].“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:31-34)

Mary’s queried about how she can give birth as a virgin is odd given she is about to marry which will present the opportunity for pregnancy. She is young and about to marry. What’s the mystery? 

Mary’s reaction is one of befuddlement. However, is such a response realistic? The angel is telling her she “will conceive” not she is already pregnant*. Furthermore, it is plausible she would have assumed her initial sexual encounter with her new husband, Joseph, would have been blessed (anointed) by God via his spirit thereby resulting in the conception of God’s chosen messiah. All would be in the realm of believability if visited by an angel. A pregnancy from consummating a marriage is hardly a rarity. 

*If Matthew had explicitly provide the moment of Mary’s conception, it would have clarified many things. As we will see in the next article, Samson’s mother seems to have conceived when visited by an angel of the Lord. Instead we are left to speculate when it took place.

Gabriel provides five descriptions of Mary’s son (vs. 32,33), Jesus, which offer a complete picture of his future. It is unmistakable Jesus is God’s chosen messiah whose kingdom is everlasting.

The stage is now set. John is to prepare for the coming of Jesus the Lord and son of God. Back to the question we asked earlier, “Did John and Jesus satisfy these expectations presented by Gabriel?”

If Christianity were authentic, it would be celebrated in a synagogue not a church

The hard truth of Christianity is it was never supposed to leave its Jewish context. Neither Jesus nor his disciples had any interest in Gentiles who did not convert. It was a religion by a Jew, for the Jews about the Jews. A converted Pharisee named Paul hijacked it and stripped it of its Judaistic encumbrances and offered it freely to Gentiles. The nativity narratives reveal the true nature of John and Jesus’ ministries.

1”This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…”(Matthew 1:1)

A cursory reading of the birth narratives reveals a uniquely Judaistic flavor. 

First, John the Baptist’s birth is predicated on his role as preparer for the Lord.

16″He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:16-17)

Likewise Jesus’ birth is to benefit the nation of Israel.

31”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”(Luke 1:31-33)

Mary’s Magnificat also reflects this theme

54He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful

55to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”(Luke 1:54,55)

Zechariah’s song is packed with prophetic import

68“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

69He has raised up a horn c of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David

70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

71salvation from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us—

72to show mercy to our ancestors

and to remember his holy covenant,

73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,

and to enable us to serve him without fear

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

77to give his people the knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins,

78because of the tender mercy of our God,

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

79to shine on those living in darkness

and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”(Luke 1:68-79)

After Jesus was consecrated in the temple, Simeon praised God for allowing him to see, “The Lord’s Messiah” before he died.

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”(Luke 2:29-32) 

A prophetess name Anna, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”(Lk. 2:38)

Finally, king Herod was visited by the three magicians from the East who announced they were looking for “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2).

It must be stated emphatically, these utterances are not abstract concepts of spiritual salvation but actual political deliverance from Roman oppression and national restoration. This was the expectation of the coming messiah who would initiate God’s righteous judgment on Gentiles. There is not the slightest hint here of the cross, resurrection or eternal life. These passages make it clear, the Judaistic traditions of John the Baptist and Jesus anticipated political emancipation from Rome during their lifetime not some Millennial kingdom two thousand years in the future. 

Second, there is no indication of Gentile inclusion. Jesus and John operated exclusively within Judaism. Simeon’s reference (above) to, “In the sight of all nations” and “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” is often misconstrued as presaging Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  

These words echo passages found throughout Isaiah (42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3).

6“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,7to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”(Isaiah 49:6,7)

Contextually and theologically these texts refer to Israel’s deliverance from Babylonian captivity. Though initiated by the Persian King Cyrus, the Yahwist community saw nothing less than God’s sovereign hand, as they did with most things (see Isa. 10:5; 13:17; 14:26,27). As these Israelites made their way home from throughout the lands, Gentile nations would recognize God’s glory. If there is any hint of conversion in these, it is proselytization to Judaism not Gentile Christianity. 

Side note: (Discussion on Paul’s use of Isaiah to justify Gentile inclusion to follow article in excursus)

I would be remiss in failing to mention Paul’s (mis)use of this text to justify his outreach to Gentiles. It is improbable Paul saw this interpretation prior to his “revelation” (Gal. 1:12) to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. Like others, it was ambiguous enough for Paul to refashion it to suit his theological purpose.

46Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“ ‘I have made you [sg] a light for the Gentiles,

that you [sg] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”(Acts 13:46,47)

On an exegetical note, though an unpopular interpretation because it strips this passage of messianic potential, the obvious meaning is the prophet “Isaiah” (a disciple of the school of Isaiah) was describing his own divine appointment. Tendencies to sanitize and romanticize the text to fit Christian ideals obscures the natural rendering. This prophet was probably the first to announce Cyrus’ decree to those with him in captivity. As God’s divine mouthpiece he was given great honor by those who heeded his call and returned to the land.

The split of Christianity into a Jewish and Gentile branch is of immense significance to a proper understanding of the New Testament. It is unfortunate Christians see them as compatible when most Jewish Christians, especially Jesus own disciples, did not (Acts 15, Galatians 2). While for various reasons they allowed Paul to continue his ministry to the Gentiles unmolested, the Judean Christians remained largely in opposition. There are strong Jewish Christian traditions found throughout the gospels that reflect this disunity. The texts we have just considered are examples of Jewish expectations that did not include Gentiles.

Jewish Christianity died because Jesus repeatedly failed to fulfill his messianic obligations. He never returned. Paul manufactured a doctrine to explain why Jews en masse were rejecting the gospel. It seemed to support his “remnant theory.”

5”So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”(Romans 11:5)

11”Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”(Romans 11:11)

25”I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;

he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

27And this is my covenant with them

when I take away their sins.”[Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34](Romans 11:25-27)

 In Paul’s mind, Jesus would arrive any minute. If this were true, “All Israel [would] be saved” because he would descend through the clouds with the host of heaven. Paul was obviously mistaken and this theory is nonsensical two thousand years later. Israel is in no way “envious.” 

Why the Jews rejected Jesus: The “All or Nothing” theory

I mention it here briefly and will discuss it more fully later. These are early Jewish Christian traditions heavily steeped in Judaism. Gentile Christianity is not a consideration. All Jewish eyes were on a soon to arrive messianic kingdom and God’s righteous indignation poured out on the Gentile nations especially Rome who had subjugated Israel. The major adjustment Jewish Christians made was to accommodate a messiah who had died, been raised and ascended to heaven. Jesus was not “just” a messiah, he was now the heavenly “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). 

I do not have the slightest doubt, those Israelites who came first to John, including Jesus, did so out of fear. Participation in the kingdom of God was not a matter of pedigree, it was a matter of obedience (“the fruit of repentance,” Mt. 3:8, Lk. 3:8). It fell to John and Jesus to stoke fear and provide forgiveness. Jesus’ short reign as king of the Jews during Passover and subsequent death extinguished the hopes his followers. These were rekindled when the resurrection story broke, but these too were short lived when he failed to restore Israel. His followers continued to fans the flames of messianic anticipation as a converted Pharisee named Paul offered his own novel theory: Israel had been temporarily blinded (hardened) to allow Gentile inclusion (Romans 9-11). 

These early decades saw the creation of many traditions about Jesus mostly in a Judaistic context. These nativity stories began as oral traditions soon after Jesus resurrection as an apologetic against those who questioned his lineage and divinity (Messiah’s don’t die before fulfilling their political function). 

When we examine the glorious optimism for Israel of Gabriel’s speeches to Elizabeth and Mary, it is clear nothing remotely approximating these promises materialized, so why did these writers include them?

Matthew and Luke compiled their material several years after 70AD when it was obvious Jesus might not return during or immediately after the fall of Jerusalem as anticipated. Jewish Christianity was in danger of expiring when it seemed there could be no better time for Jesus’ appearance. Like the prophets of old, these men were tasked with explaining the inexplicable. If he hasn’t come now, will he ever come?

The gospel writers offer one last promise which effectively sounded the death knell for Jewish Christianity. It was a big gambit whose failure to materialize would cost this branch of Christianity its life. It was a reign that never came.

28“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”(Mt. 16:28, Mk. 9:1; Lk. 9:27) 

34”Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”(Mt. 24:34, Mk. 13:30, Lk. 21:32) 

I have devoted considerable material to Matthew’s apocalyptic sections (Chapters 24 & 25) in a previous article. The salient features in much of this teaching is a protracted delay (“A long time,” see Mt. 24:48; 25:5,19) necessitating alertness and preparedness (Mt. 24:42,44; 25:13,29) and the dangers of not being ready when the “son of man” arrives, namely eternal judgment (Mt. 24:50,51; 25:11,12,29,30,41,46). Hidden in these parables was a persistent condition of unfaithfulness suggestive of a cloud of lethargy that had settled over Jewish Christianity. After all, why bother being vigilant if the messiah wasn’t coming soon? The resounding answer of the gospel writers was — judgment.

As days stretched into weeks and months and years, it was obvious Jesus was not returning. Jewish Christianity died a slow death of apathy. The subsequent generations of Jews showed little interest in a messiah-less religion populated by Gentiles.

Looking back at this material two thousand years later, it should be obvious to the unbiased eye, the mountain labored and brought forth a mouse. The great declarations of tribulation and judgment culminating in the triumphant return of Jesus on the clouds of glory never appeared. Were it not for the efforts of Paul, such discussions would be reserved for students of ancient literature. Instead, we are forced to confront the hundreds of millions who cling to the hope these stories provide.

Our next task is a rigorous analysis of Isaiah 7:14 in historical and literary context as well as other relevant texts found throughout the Hebrew writings.

See next article: Building a case against Christ: Let reason be the Judge: The Christmyth story (pt.4b – Isaiah 7:14)

Building a case against Christ: Let reason be The Judge: The Christmyth story (pt.4, the short version)

Note to reader: A much longer and textually more detailed article will follow shortly for those seeking to “dig deeper” into the relevant biblical texts.

Some may think it’s too early for Christmas, but according to Luke, the birth of Jesus took place in the late spring or early summer when “… shepherds living out in the fields…[were] keeping watch over their flocks at night.”(Luke 2:8). Early Christian traditions saw Jesus birth and death occurring on the same day of the year —Passover.

So, Merry Springtime Christmas!

Overview:

This article contains a lot of data. I realize for many it may require an investment of time and mental energy they are unwilling to make, at least at this time. For this reason, I will offer a bird’s eye view of the material and leave it to the reader to investigate further at their convenience.

The primary focus of this article is Isaiah 7:14, which is considered by most Christians to be the classic Christmas text prophesying Jesus’ virgin birth via the holy spirit.

14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14)

22”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[Isaiah 7:14] (which means “God with us”).”(Matthew 1:22,23)

If this was Isaiah’s original intention, it carries immense theological weight. It establishes both Jesus’ divinity and humanity, thereby qualifying him as the perfect substitute for our sin. It also proves predictive prophecy and establishes Jesus messianic credentials.

This text, however, is deeply embedded in a specific historical context provided by the writer which cannot be ignored. Plucking a single text from its literary environment because it seems to fit a preconceived idea, is irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent. It opens the door to flagrant misinterpretation and baseless claims. Therefore, we must examine its place in Isaiah’s work with utmost care and contextual precision.

Every Christian commentator no matter how conservative admits the Immanuel “sign” has a specific historical reference which is plainly delineated in chapters seven and eight. This is undeniable. The question is, “How does it fit into Matthew’s context almost eight hundred years later?”

Some conservative Christians postulate a “Dual” or “Double Fulfillment” theory which suggests Isaiah knowingly or unknowingly was providing two prophecies. The first was partially fulfilled by a human child during Isaiah’s time (imminent), while a second fuller fulfillment took place when the Savior of the world was born to a virgin via the holy spirit (distant). The problem with this theory is the two prophecies are vastly different.

It is impossible Isaiah was describing “another” child born miraculously via God’s spirit to a virgin without male participation. Furthermore, Immanuel signaled Assyria’s attack on Israel not her salvation, while Jesus was thought to restore Israel. In fact, Assyria would ultimately be responsible for Israel’s cessation as a nation (720BC). It would be Israel’s last Christmas.

The above statements are logically irrefutable. Nobody believes there was a divine child named Immanuel during Isaiah’s time. Nor did this child usher in a period of peace or serve as political messiah of Judah. And nothing in the text suggest a miraculous conception. Therefore, it original meaning is vastly different from its use by Matthew.

Initially is was spoken ca. 735BC as “a sign” heralding a countdown to when Assyria would attack the alliance of Damascus (Aram or Syria) and Samaria (Israel) whose combined forces were assailing Judah. In doing so, these nations would have to withdraw from Judah to contend with the foreign occupation of their own land. The birth of “Immanuel” was to signal the imminence of Assyria’s invasion.

With this interpretation in view, any idea of a virgin conceiving through divine intervention is nowhere to be found in the passage, implied or otherwise. If a virgin was intended, it was only as one who had not had sexual intercourse until she conceived the child by her husband. Thus the loss of her virginity was contemporaneous to the conception of the child. Any attempt to force more into this text stretches it well beyond its scope.

Also, there seems little justification for protecting Ahaz and Jerusalem given their wickedness (Isaiah 1:10, 21; 3:8,9, 2 Kings 16:1-4, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4). The land of Judah was not spared by Assyria’s participation as Israel and Syria’s incursion had left most of her cities vulnerable to subsequent attacks by the Philistines and Edomites (2 Chronicles 28:5-21).

Apart from this misinterpretation of Isaiah 7:14, the two gospel accounts are not compatible. Matthew locates Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem as residents whereas Luke has them as visitors. According to Matthew, they flee their hometown to escape Herod’s slaughter of the boys and go to Egypt. Later they return but because of Herod’s son Archelaus, are told by an angel to go to Nazareth instead. Luke tell a different tale. They are living in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem to register for a census although Mary is only days away from delivering. Jesus is born in obscurity in a manger marking his Messianic birth, and after they return to their hometown of Nazareth.

The most plausible natural explanation is these first Christians were so convinced of Jesus’ heavenly messiahship, they were driven to the Hebrew writings (actually written in Greek) to find textual treasures hidden by God to validate his life. Because they were mining the prophetic text, they took great liberties when it came to interpretation. Below the plain literal surface meaning lay gems of truth around which to construct their narratives.

Matthew, for instance, writing to a predominantly Jewish audience who would demand prophetic validation of Jesus Messianic credentials, uses five references around which he builds his story of Jesus. The two most critical details shared by both gospel writers are the miraculous virgin birth and Bethlehem as the birthplace.

If we accept both accounts as perfectly true in all details, and attempt to harmonize both, one glaring absurdity emerges which is hard to reconcile.

Either Mary and Joseph shared their glorious news with their family, friends and townspeople of Nazareth, or they did not. Both possibilities pose immense questions when examined against Jesus’ later public ministry as prophet/messiah.

Logic would suggest they had to tell everyone to avoid the stench of scandal. Mary was after all pregnant while engaged to Joseph with someone else’s baby. They couldn’t lie as righteous Israelites and say it was Joseph’s baby. Also, knowing it was the messiah, they could not risk the stigma of a child born out of wedlock. Jesus was the perfect messiah. Last, nothing in the text suggests this miraculous event was to be a secret. In Bethlehem, both accounts make no attempt to hide Jesus’ identity and quite the opposite. If we accept this premise, we would expect Nazareth to have been the focal point of messianic expectation for thirty years. Israelites would have come from far and near to see Israel’s future redeemer wondering when he would inaugurate the kingdom. The four gospels provide overwhelming evidence the people of Nazareth and Jesus’ own family (Jn. 7:5) had no idea who Jesus was. In fact, they displayed less faith than other towns (Mt. 13:57, Mk. 6:4, Lk. 4:24, Jn. 4:44).

We are forced to assume based on the narratives, Joseph and Mary (and Jesus) kept his true identity a secret. Why? What purpose could there possibly be to conceal Jesus’ messiahship? This means Mary was considered unrighteous throughout her life as one who got pregnant with “another man’s” child other than her fiancé. Jesus would go through his life as a bastard child whose reputation would be forever marred.

What about those who had witnessed John and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the Temple? Surely, news of the birth of the prophet coming in the spirit of Elijah and preparing the way for “the Lord,” and the miraculous birth of the messiah would spread throughout the land. Simeon and Anna were witnesses of God’s “salvation.” The shepherds had also attended the spectacle.

The secrecy theory makes no sense but the proclamation theory has no biblical support. The logical conclusion is both are literary fictions created with a specific intention. It was critical when Jesus was declared heavenly or divine messiah, to validate his claims from the Hebrew writings. His ascension to heaven required the additional component of divinity which Isaiah’s Greek text seemed to accommodate. Jesus residence in Nazareth was well known so it was essential to establish his Bethlehem birth. Two separate traditions arose which we see in Matthew and Luke’s gospels.

We must remember these writings originated decades after Jesus death. Few who read them were even alive when Jesus was born. Nobody could authenticate these stories or refute them. They contain enough established facts to increase their believability such as Herod’s well known obsession with rule and a Roman census around the same time. Most importantly of all, many Christians claimed to have a prophetic gift which allowed God to vouchsafe divine revelation to them directly. As such, they were privy to past truths no one else was as they scoured the ancient writings in search of secret knowledge with which to construct their narratives.

Obviously, many evangelicals and conservative Christians will bristle at the mere suggestion the birth of Jesus is a myth. Their reason, however, will be little more than untested faith in the Bible which they inherited from their parents. Most begin with a childhood faith which is solidified through indoctrination and socialization within the evangelical culture until it becomes cemented in their psyche. It becomes part of who they are.

Facts, logic, reason and common sense have little place in the world of faith. Which is not to say, Christians can’t be reasonable, logical and sensible. However, when it comes to challenges to their faith, they often shut off their critical faculties and default to a blind acceptance of Christian dogma.

The presumption of truth pervades evangelicalism and finds its source in the hearts not heads of believers. Ultimately, when pressed, an evangelical invariably will resort to a personal faith experience as proof of their faith and the Bible’s authority as affirming it. A supernatural experience with God becomes the single most convincing argument in the divine inspiration of the Bible and therefore all it contains. The primacy of emotion is paramount and supersedes rationalism.

The possibility of arguing an evangelical Christian out of their faith is almost impossible. The door of doubt opens from within. It is my goal to plant seeds of uncertainty in hopes a believer might begin an honest and critical examination of the basis of belief, the Bible, to determine its credibility and reliability as the supreme source of truth.

I stand atop a mountain of evidence which points to the Bible as a perfectly imperfect book. That is to say, every word of the Bible is exactly as one would expect from a book written entirely by imperfect men not a perfect God. Once you accept the fact of its finiteness, it makes perfect sense. When you look at the Bible as the inerrant and absolute word of God, it makes no sense. It is full of contradictions, inconsistencies, incongruences and implausibilities not to mention absurdities. It promotes tribalism and religious elitism. It ignores social and scientific advancements. It celebrates sexism, racism and bigotry. It reflects two religions which never should have made it out of the Middle Ages. The fact they did, is a testimony to our fear to let go of God and embrace reality regardless of how difficult and uninspiring it might be.

I offer this challenge and a word of caution. It is one thing to profess a reasonable faith but another thing to be able to back up that claim. Assuming the Bible is absolutely accurate without having examined the hundreds of textual, chronological, logical and plausibility issues, is a false confidence. Trusting in what your pastor or professors tell you about the Bible is blind allegiance. Those heavily invested in the faith like ministers, missionaries and teachers are unlikely to entertain even the possibility their faith may be irrational and baseless. Is it really worth scuttling your entire life for intellectual honesty? Other believers may be inclined to NOT want to know the truth because it means losing one’s hope and security. In short, there are many reasons why believers will not take an honest unbiased look at their faith but it mostly fear of losing what they desperately want to believe is true.

When given the option of challenging something without being forced to, most will not. I acknowledge this and accept it with one condition.

For those who believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible without having thoroughly investigated the basis of this belief by utilizing critical tools, keep your faith private. Don’t inflict (infect) your children or anyone else with fantastical thinking about ancient superstitions. Don’t make unfounded statements about the “evidence” behind Jesus’ resurrection or any other biblical statement that runs contrary to science and rationality.

I have devoted four decades to exhaustive research on Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. I have spent thousands of dollars on theological training in evangelical institutions. I have sacrificed the bulk of my time and energy on painstaking study and analysis of the Bible in an effort to learn the truth. I have endured countless hours of sleeplessness as I struggled to resolve the many issues I encountered along the way. All this has made it abundantly clear Jesus was simply a man, the Bible is simply a book and Christianity is simply a fabrication of well intentioned ancient men driven by spiritual experience.

The rest of this article explores some of these matters in greater detail and examines others not discussed in this overview. It falls to the reader to undertake the task of critiquing his or her faith to test its validity.

I believed for fifteen years the foundations of my faith were rationally solid because I filtered the world and all its influences through my biblical grid. I made it conform to my ideology which was easy since I was dealing in the realm of the supernatural which has no boundaries. Think about that for a moment. Anyone who believes in an intimate spiritual world as proffered in the Bible can reinterpret this world to fit their ideological mold, thereby seeming to reinforce it. Most religions do this to validate themselves. It is pure subjectivism.

Until and unless groups like evangelicals restore confidence in their own mental faculties to critique, evaluate and appraise what is reasonable and what is not, they are doomed to enslavement by the very thing that claims to emancipate them.

31”To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(NIV, John 8:31,32, emphasis added)

6”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6)

Most religions want their adherents to think, theirs is the one and only true path to truth. Exclusivity has been a hallmark of religious systems not because of elitism but because of survivalism. It was essential members of the same tribe or confederacy believe their god(s) were superior to that of their enemies when going to war. Much like a football team praying for their god to give them victory over their opposition. Soldiers and warriors went to into battle buoyed with confidence their god(s) would protect them and ultimately defeat their enemies. This sectarianism among religions continues to this day and has contributed to religion based conflicts for millennia.

The religiously minded of today must bravely break free of the tyranny of fear and embrace their minds is the only real and reliable source of discerning what is true and what is false.

A Christmas Quiz
(according to Matthew and Luke’s gospels)

True or False:

1. Jesus was born in 1 A.D. (“Anno Domini” or “the year of the Lord”), and his birth marks the start of the Gregorian calendar which we use today?
2. The Wisemen and Shepherds visited Jesus in the manger at his birth?
3. The little drummer boy had no gift for the baby Jesus so played a simple song to show his adoration?
4. The Shepherds followed the Star to Bethlehem to see the babe?
5. There were three wisemen who were told of Jesus’ birth by an angel?
6. A choir of angels sang to baby Jesus?
7. After Jesus birth, Mary and Joseph immediately returned home to Nazareth where thirty years later Jesus would begin his public ministry?
8. Jesus birth was a time of great celebration in Jerusalem for all Jews and Gentiles?
9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and hid in the manger to escape King Herod’s edict to kill all the children in Nazareth?
10. After Jesus birth, the people of Jerusalem rejoiced in the birth of their newborn king?
11. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus divine virgin birth conceived by the holy spirit eight hundred years before it happened?

The Myths of Christmas

Answers: ALL are False

1. Jesus was actually born during the reign of Herod the Great who died 4 B.C., therefore Jesus had to have been born near or before his death likely between 6BC to 4BC.  
2. Only the shepherds visited the baby in the manager; the wise men came a few years later to visit the child Jesus at his home.
3. There was never a drummer boy in the gospel records. It is based on a twentieth century song and has become a Christmas tradition without biblical basis.
4. The shepherds were told of the birth by a chorus of angels, the wise men did not follow the star. The star appeared in the east to inaugurate the birth of Jesus. They came to Jerusalem about two years later without astral guidance, but once there were led to the house of Mary and Joseph by that same star. The question is, “How does a star guide one to a specific residence?”  Furthermore, Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem and stars travel (the earth's rotation making them appear to travel) east to west.  This would mean this star could actually move but how does a star of massive proportions position itself over a single home?
5. The number of wise men, actually magicians, is unknown but there were at least three who bore gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.
6. No angels at the manager but they play a significant role in both narratives appearing to multiple people (Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds).
7. The timing of their return to Nazareth is problematic when merging the two accounts. Only Luke describes the actually birth of Jesus in the manger. Matthew assumes it (“But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus,” Mt. 1:25). He picks up his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1) which is followed by a flight to Egypt during the night to escape Herod’s decree to kill the innocents.
8. The accounts conflict with Matthew citing Herod’s murderous antipathy while Luke paints a picture of celebration and proclamation throughout Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
9. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census according to Luke, but lived in Bethlehem according to Matthew who does not mention a census or manger scene.
10. They fled during the night being warned by an angel of Herod’s evil plan to kill the babies; whereas, Luke not only has them residing comfortably in their home town of Bethlehem but they present Jesus in the Temple for his consecration according to the purification rites of the law a month later.  This is incompatible with Matthew who has them fleeing to Egypt.
11. This is one of the most glaring fallacies about the nativity stories. Isaiah seems to be talking about an event (“a sign”) with immense significance specific to his day. It would have no bearing or importance to his hearers otherwise. Furthermore, no mention is made of a birth conceived by “the” holy spirit which would be necessary if no male participant was implied.

(Note: Perhaps there is not greater theological sin committed by Christians than, The Holy Trinity. It is a tradition not a biblical doctrine. Jesus was seen as divine but not co-equal to God and the holy spirit was an impersonal extension of God not a separate personal entity (more on this to follow).

The “Facts” of Christmas (according to the Bible)

1. Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born (Mt. 1:25).
2. Jesus was about two years old described as a “child” by Matthew ( ‘paidion,’ Mt. 2:8,9,11) not a “baby” (‘brephos,’ Lk. 2:1) when the Wisemen visited him in his home not manger in Bethlehem. Also, Matthew begins his narrative with, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (Mt. 2:1). Furthermore, Herod asks the magi when the star appeared which signaled Jesus birth. Based on this, Herod calculated the approximate age of the messiah and issue his infamous edict, “To kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” (Mt. 2:16b)
3. Matthew describes Herod as “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3), whereas Luke records that after the shepherds saw the baby Jesus in the manger, “they made known the statement which had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  Then eight days after his birth, Jesus is brought to Jerusalem “to present him before the Lord” (Luke 2:22) in the Temple while Matthew has them fleeing during the night to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill the children (Matthew 2:13).
4.  Matthew describes Bethlehem as their home with no mention of the manger (Matthew 2:10), whereas Luke calls Nazareth their home (Luke 2:39, comp. with Matthew 2:23) and has them visit Bethlehem to take part in an empire wide census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).
5. John the Baptist and Jesus are cousins. Luke describes an angel telling Mary of her impending pregnancy via “a” holy spirit and that her “relative” (Luke 1:36) Elizabeth (John’s mother) of Aaronic lineage is also going to have a child in her old age.

The fashionability of skepticism in a Trumpian world

Donald Trump has made skepticism fashionable, but in a bad way.

Skepticism is good when used to sharpen truth by ridding it of falsehoods but when it is used to conveniently dismiss facts, it is a dangerous weapon. Donald Trump has recruited perhaps the countries best skeptics — evangelicals. Sadly, their skepticism has been misguided. Facts are villainized and lies are celebrated.

Evangelicals have been trafficking in skepticism for centuries and Christians for millennia. It is their brand. For most of its history, Christians enjoyed a science-free world where rationality was made to submit to revelation. With the dawning of the age of science and reason, revelation was finally dethroned as the supreme source of truth… for most rational people. Unfortunately, some religiously minded stubbornly clung to biblical revelation in the name of commitment to the God of theism.

As science continues to shine its light in the distant dark corners of our universe, groups like evangelicals have dug in their heals and become more obstinate in adhering to Medieval thinking where ancient superstitions hold more authority than rationalism. The fall out of this intransigence is becoming more dire as it infects all spheres of society even finding expression in the highest levels of government and effecting policy.

One’s view of the Bible and Jesus is not a matter of opinion. It is a question of facts, logic and common sense. Nothing about Christian belief is evidentiary. It is purely faith in a supernatural presupposition without support. An objective and critical analysis of biblical data does not lead one to the claims of Christianity. The only “path” to Christian faith is through an unsubstantiated pre-conviction in Christian dogma which is then used to dismiss external sources of information.

The fact the overwhelming majority of Christians either inherit their faith or are converted before adolescence is not coincidental. Nor is the fact, many enter the faith through a personal crisis experience or out of a profound need for what Christianity claims to provide. Stable, healthy, happy, educated adults do not become believers for a reason. But Christianity has this covered. It glories in attracting the needy, desperate and fringe of society.

26”Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him.”(1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

31”Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31)

Once Christianity was firmly established in the Roman Empire, it began to attract a higher clientele of believers. No longer a religion exclusively of the disenfranchised of society, it began to take on the shine of respectability. Doctrines were consolidated, churches were built and those in the upper echelon of society began to convert. Today we see the ascendancy of the prosperity gospel as a desperate attempt by some Christians to profit from religion and provide justification for materialism and the accumulation of wealth.

Christianity prides itself on its survivability and resilience. Whenever it found itself in a situation where external pressure threatened it, it simply adapted to maximize its attractiveness for its adherents. American evangelicalism, which portrays itself as an accurate reflection of biblical primitivism, bears little resemblance to first century Christianity. Were it to emphasize basic biblical ideals, it would stand in stark contrast to a society from which it is hardly distinguishable.

Think for a moment how ridiculous it should be to regard the Bible as anything more than a collection of ancient writings about myths and legends associated with the early Israelites and first Christians. Were it not for Christianity’s existence as the world’s largest religion, which is not an absolute argument for its validity, it would be accorded the same validity as Greco-Roman mythology or Canaanite religions. The fact hundreds of millions have continued to cling to these fables should embarrass us as twenty-first century products of Enlightenment thinking. Instead it reveals something far deeper.

The common denominator of every Christian, and most religious people, is hope. Despite inestimable differences among individual believers on virtually every issue social, moral, ethical, political and doctrinal, all attach some value to a blissful afterlife. It’s the basis of Christianity according to Paul.

12”But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

Perhaps there is no more compelling explanation for the persistence of Christian belief than this single piece of evidence. Nobody wants to surrender themselves to the fear of death and the afterlife if they don’t have to. Christianity is the perfect excuse to believe even if it means indulging the irrational part of one’s brain.

Evangelicals are no strangers to believing the bizarre and nonsensical. Their minds were a willing and fecund refuge for Donald Trump’s wildest lies and deceptions. Long standing skepticism of secular societies most trusted repositories of information and facts like universities, the scientific community and the media were easily exploited.

Believing in the eternal “Word” (‘logos’) who was conceived in a virgin woman by God’s holy spirit to live a joint life as perfect God and man. Then to die on a cross for the sins of mankind and be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven where one day he’ll return to claim those who believe in him, all based on the testimony of a handful of his closest followers mystical encounters with him, is about as outlandish a belief as one can have.

Asking these same people to subscribe to a braggart like Trump’s litany of lies and conspiracy theories feeds a faith already steeped in suspicion and incredulity. Evangelicalism thrives on rejecting conventional thinking, no matter how convincing, and substituting truth for lies and vice versa. Rationality is castigated and biblical revelation is championed as supreme.

It should surprise no one evangelicals gravitated to Trump and continue to hitch their wagon to his star and Trump to theirs, at least until the next election. He is their playground bully and they are his patsies. Evangelicals have persuaded themselves God is using Trump to advance their eschatological agenda as they await the glorious Rapture. Trump, on the other hand, will shamelessly exploit their gullibility for as long as he needs them, then discard them as he has everything else in his life for which he no longer has use. The pathetic truth is both sides are probably aware of each others motives but don’t care. Perhaps tragically, it is the rest of us who will reap the unfortunate results of this unholy union .

The evangelical experience: Have you had one?

Trying to understand evangelicalism or conservative Christianity having never had the full evangelical “experience” significantly limits one’s ability to understand them or the movement. It’s like the worlds best male gynecologist understanding pregnancy and delivery. He may be more qualified academically than women but he can never fully appreciate the experience of child birth.

I have read hundreds of articles over the years by journalists, philosophers, liberal Christians and just about anybody else who wants to throw their opinion hat in the ring. All seem to get some things right but most seem to miss the profound power of a Christian’s daily, dynamic, personal experience with their God. An experience so affirming as to supersede the most cogent and convincing arguments from science, logic or common sense posed against it.

A fresh look at an old faith: The new Christian

What is a Christian? Who knows and who cares?

Any student of Christian history knows it has gone through many permutations none more so than in the last five hundred years since the Protestant Reformation. Is this good or bad? Yes.

The driving force behind Christianity’s longevity and mutability is fear. Mankind is paralyzed by the fear of death and the afterlife, and Christianity proposes to deliver us of this fear and provide eternal hope. The problem arises when the source of this hope, the Bible, becomes suspect as reliable. The only viable option is to re-interpret it or modernize it to conform to the current thinking of society. But what happens when it can no longer change without compromising its essence?

There are almost as many types of Christians as there are Christians when it comes to the multiplicity of beliefs and opinions on a vast spectrum of issues. Like snowflakes, no two Christians are exactly alike. The afflatus of American evangelicalism is subjectivism. It is an intensely personal belief energized by the Holy Spirit of God who indwells each believer. He is able to reveal private information through the Bible, sermons or most any other avenue if he so chooses. The consequences of this kind of experientialism is it opens the door for the disclosure of information to individuals even if it seems to conflict with biblical revelation. Interpretations becomes a matter of opinion “guided” by the Spirit.

Here are some examples: Divorce, materialism, premarital sex, homosexuality, female ordination, accumulation of wealth, working on the Lord’s Day, capital punishment, pornography etc… There are Christians who have found ways to justify practicing these although explicitly prohibited in the New Testament.

Note: I remind the reader of my motives for taking this position. It is to emphasize Christians repeated attempts to re-interpret scripture to suit their personal wants and desires. Making one text culturally mandated while another transcends the cultural morays of the time is sophistry. Either the Bible is to be taken as literally true and morally binding or else anything it teaches becomes relative. There is no biblical justification for divorce other than infidelity, and that precludes remarriage, yet evangelicals have rationalized the destruction of the traditional family unit for incompatibility and inconvenience. Even prominent leaders occupy positions of authority having been divorced and remarried.

It seems evangelicals and Christians will devise new meanings to indulge their proclivities and vices rather than abandon a worn out and irrelevant faith. Not because they love God and want to keep his commandments, as commanded (John 14:15-31), but rather because they want to get to heaven. Most of Christianity is fueled by tepidness by those unwilling to abandon it completely and relinquish their ticket to heaven. The result is a morally compromised faith.

Today’s new Christian is mostly self created. He or she has unlimited choices to customize his or her faith to however they want. No longer bound by physical locations, an internet faith allows one to “travel” to any church and fellowship with any believer worldwide who sympathizes with their brand of Christianity. One can pick and choose what sermons or podcasts they listen to in accordance with their values. A burgeoning group of eChristians who eschew traditional labels and prefer the monicker of “spiritual” over “religious” may become the next key demographic among those with faith based beliefs.