Monday, August 25, 2008

Common senselessness, by Thomas Paine

Answering questions regarding Scripture raised by one of America's Founding Fathers.

His "arguments" are essentially: 1) I don't like it, so it isn't true; and 2) Since the prophecy doesn't say, "Jesus Christ" it isn't about Jesus Christ.

The first is impossible to answer except to point out that Paine has no substantive basis on which to dismiss the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets.

The second reflects a gross misunderstanding/ignorance of Scripture.

A few examples of Paine's errors should suffice:
THE passages called Prophecies of, or concerning, Jesus Christ, in the Old Testament may be classed under the two following heads.

First, those referred to in the four books of the New Testament, called the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Secondly, those which translators and commentators have, of their own imagination, erected into prophecies, and dubbed with that title at the head of the several chapters of the Old Testament.
It is worth noting here that from the very beginning, there is a historical continuity of prophecies from YHWH (God, "I AM") to Israel through His prophets regarding the Messiah to come. In Genesis 3, right after The Fall and in the midst of judgment, God promises a "Descendant" Who would crush the serpent's (devil's) head.

Then in Genesis 4, when Eve bears her first child, a son, she declares, ""I have gotten the Man that the LORD promised."

The prophecies are not attributed to Christ by translators and commentators (any chapter titles were a later, human invention); they're attributed by Christ Himself and His Apostles.

One example should illustrate this well: Just after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples walking on a road to Emmaus.

He showed them that the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) all foretold of Him:
And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24).
On an earlier occasion, when chastising the religious leadership of Israel, Christ told them, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me" (John 5).
Of these it is scarcely worth while to waste time, ink, and paper upon
How convenient! But discarding the Law and Prophets is what one must do to make the errors Paine does.
I shall, therefore, confine myself chiefly to those referred to in the aforesaid four books of the New Testament. If I show that these are not prophecies of the person called Jesus Christ, nor have reference to any such person, it will be perfectly needless to combat those which translators or the church have invented, and for which they had no other authority than their own imagination.
The only problem is that, again, Jesus Himself said they were.
I begin with the book called the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

In i. 18, it is said, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, SHE WAS FOUND WITH CHILD OF THE HOLY GHOST." -- This is going a little too fast; because to make this verse agree with the next it should have said no more than that she was found with child; for the next verse says, "Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately." Consequently Joseph had found out no more than that she was with child, and he knew it was not by himself.

Ver. 20, 21. "And while he thought of these things, [that is whether he should put her away privately, or make a public example of her,] behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him IN A DREAM [that is, Joseph dreamed that an angel appeared unto him] saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins."
Someone familiar with the Law and Prophets would know that YHWH often communicated through dreams.

Now, without entering into any discussion upon the merits or demerits of the account here given, it is proper to observe, that it has no higher authority than that of a dream; for it is impossible to a man to behold any thing in a dream but that which he dreams of. I ask not, therefore, whether Joseph if there was such a man had such a dream or not, because admitting he had, it proves nothing. So wonderful and irrational is the faculty of the mind in dream, that it acts the part of all the characters its imagination creates, and what it thinks it hears from any of them is no other than what the roving rapidity of its own imagination invents. It is therefore nothing to me what Joseph dreamed of; whether of the fidelity or infidelity of his wife. I pay no regard to my own dreams, and I should be weak indeed to put faith in the dreams of another.

Paine makes three serious errors here, one in reading and the other two in logic.

First, it is not the virgin birth but Joseph's understanding of the nature of Mary's pregnancy that rests on the dream. Mary knew what had happened (and not happened!) to her, but do you think Mary's word would have been enough for Joseph? Do you think that if Mary had told Joseph, "I'm pregnant by the Holy Spirit," he would have replied, "Oh, okay"?

Second, Paine claims that a man can only receive in a dream what his own mind creates. While I agree that is usually true (especially now since the canon of Scripture has been closed for 1900 years), one familiar with the Old Testament would know that God often communicated through dreams and visions.

Third, the virgin birth does not rest on Joseph's dream at all. Mary herself described what happened to her (and she would know). The angel who spoke (in more detail) to her did it while she was conscious. (What would be Paine's objection to this? That everyone knows angels are fat, little cherubs with bows and arrows?). Additionally, we have that same prophet's own words regarding this Child:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9).
Mr. Paine continues:
The verses that follow those I have quoted, are the words of the writer of the book of Matthew.
That would be . . . the Apostle Matthew.
"Now, [says he,] all this [that is, all this dreaming and this pregnancy] was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is, God with us.

This passage is in Isaiah vii. 14, and the writer of the book of Matthew endeavors to make his readers believe that this passage is a prophecy of the person called Jesus Christ.
Has anyone else in the history of the world claimed to be born of a virgin?

It is no such thing, and I go to show it is not. But it is first necessary that I explain the occasion of these words being spoken by Isaiah. The reader will then easily perceive that so far from their being a prophecy of Jesus Christ, they have not the least reference to such a person, nor to any thing that could happen in the time that Christ is said to have lived, which was about seven hundred years after the time of Isaiah.

Again, Paine ignores the testimony of Scripture to his own argument's detriment.

Anyone familiar with the history of Israel and the lives of its prophets would know that God used (sometimes seemingly disconnected) events to foreshadow the person and work of the Messiah. That's one sense in which Christ can claim that the Law and the Prophets all testify of Him.

An example of this would be Moses lifting up a bronze snake to save his fellow Hebrews from the divine judgment of a particular sin. That historical event 1500 years before Christ was born foreshadowed what He would do for all humanity. In John 3 Christ declares, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
The case is this; On the death of Solomon the Jewish nation split into two monarchies: one called the kingdom of Judah, the capital of which was Jerusalem: the other the kingdom of Israel, the capital of which was Samaria. The kingdom of Judah followed the line of David, and the kingdom of Israel that of Saul; and these two rival monarchies frequently carried on fierce wars against each other.

At the time Ahaz was king of Judah, which was in the time of Isaiah, Pekah was king of Israel; and Pekah joined himself to Rezin, king of Syria, to make war against Ahaz, king of Judah; and these two kings marched a confederated and powerful army against Jerusalem. Ahaz and his people became alarmed at their danger, and "their hearts were moved as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Isaiah vii. 3.

In this perilous situation of things, Isaiah addresses himself to Ahaz, and assures him in the name of the Lord, (the cant phrase of all the prophets,) that these two kings should not succeed against him; and to assure him that this should be the case, (the case was however directly contrary, [NOTE: II. Chron. xxviii. I. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign. and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord. -- ver. 5. Wherefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria, and they smate him, and carried away a great multitude of them captive and brought them to Damascus; and he was also delivered into the hand of the king, of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter. Ver. 6. And Pekah (king of Israel) slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day. -- ver. 8. And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters.]) tells Ahaz to ask a sign of the Lord. This Ahaz declined doing, giving as a reason, that he would not tempt the Lord; upon which Isaiah, who pretends to be sent from God, says, ver. 14, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son -- Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and chose the good -- For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and chose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings" -- meaning the king of Israel and the king of Syria who were marching against him.

Here then is the sign, which was to be the birth of a child, and that child a son; and here also is the time limited for the accomplishment of the sign, namely, before the child should know to refuse the evil and chose the good.

The thing, therefore, to be a sign of success to Ahaz, must be something that would take place before the event of the battle then pending between him and the two kings could be known. A thing to be a sign must precede the thing signified. The sign of rain must be before the rain.

It would have been mockery and insulting nonsense for Isaiah to have assured Ahaz as a sign that these two kings should not prevail against him, that a child should be born seven hundred years after he was dead, and that before the child so born should know to refuse the evil and choose the good, he, Ahaz, should be delivered from the danger he was then immediately threatened with.
So generations of Hebrews venerated Isaiah's words as revelation from YHWH but missed this?

Or, perhaps, Paine didn't have a desire for truth. It was not a "sign of success for Ahaz," it was a promise of God's presence with His people then, and His actual physical presence in the Messiah-to-come later.

If Paine had allowed himself to be informed by the Scriptures rather than dismissing them a priori as fabrications (Isaiah pretended to be a prophet!), Paine would know that not only were actual events used to foreshadow the Messiah, but that no promises regarding Him came true during the lifetimes of those to whom the promises were made:
-Eve was promised a Descendant Who would crush the devil's head, but the Messiah came thousands of years later.

-Abraham was promised that the world would be blessed through him, but that Blessing did not come for 2000 years.

-Israel was promised a prophet "like Moses," but did not receive Him until 1500 years later.

-David was promised a Son Who would rule on his throne forever, but did not receive Him until 1000 years later.

-Through Isaiah, Israel was promised a Child Who is the Everlasting God, but did not receive Him for 700 years.
Regarding this delayed gratification, the Scriptures state:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1).
And this:
what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets -- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated -- of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11).
Paine would also know that the prophecy was not given to Ahaz, it was given to Israel, since "you" in Isaiah 7:14 is plural.

He continues:
But the case is, that the child of which Isaiah speaks was his own child, with which his wife or his mistress was then pregnant; for he says in the next chapter, (Is. viii. 2), "And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the Priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah; and I went unto the Prophetess, and she conceived and bear a son and he says, at ver. 18 of the same chapter, "Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel."
Isaiah would know whether or not his wife was a virgin, wouldn 't he? Wouldn't Isaiah realize if he were contradicting the revelation YHWH gave him?

Again, the fact that a prophecy had an immediate historical application does not mean that it did not also possess a future fulfillment in Christ.
It may not be improper here to observe, that the word translated a virgin in Isaiah, does not signify a virgin in Hebrew, but merely a 'young woman.' The tense is also falsified in the translation. Levi gives the Hebrew text of Isaiah vii. 14, and the translation in English with it -- "Behold a young woman is with child and beareth a son;" The expression, says he, is in the present tense. This translation agrees with the other circumstances related of the birth of this child which was to be a sign to Ahaz. But as the true translation could not have been imposed upon the world as a prophecy of a child to be born seven hundred years afterwards, the christian translators have falsified the original: and instead of making Isaiah to say, behold a young woman is with child and beareth a son, they have made him to say, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. It is, however, only necessary for a person to read Isaiah vii. and viii., and he will be convinced that the passage in question is no prophecy of the person called Jesus Christ. I pass on to the second passage quoted from the Old Testament by the New, as a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
The fact is that the word translated "virgin," 'almah, is used six times in the Old Testament and always refers to a young woman of marriageable age who is still a virgin.
Matthew ii. 1-6. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem, in the land of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, ant not the least among the Princes of Judah, for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel." This passage is in Micah v. 2.

I pass over the absurdity of seeing and following a star in the day time, as a man would a 'Will with the whip,' or a candle and lantern at night; and also that of seeing it in the east, when themselves came from the east; for could such a thing be seen at all to serve them for a guide, it must be in the west to them. I confine myself solely to the passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Yes, no one has ever seen a heavenly body during daylight, and no, no one has ever used stars to navigate at night.

And the words rendered, "in the east," can also be translated, "when it rose." In either case, it was no problem for the Magi (nor for Herod), so again Paine is making something out of nothing.
The book of Micah, in the passage above quoted, v. 2, is speaking of some person, without mentioning his name, from whom some great achievements were expected; but the description he gives of this person, ver. 5, 6, proves evidently that it is not Jesus Christ
This Man spoken of in Micah 5 is described as having his origins "in ancient times" or "from eternity."

Just who would that be, Thomas?

for he says, "and this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise up against him [that is, against the Assyrian] seven shepherds and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod on the entrance thereof; thus shall He [the person spoken of at the head of the second verse] deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when be treadeth within our borders."

Here, Paine is making an argument out of ignorance, since he didn't read the text carefully.

That the verses regarding deliverance from the Assyrians is speaking of the future deliverance of God's people (the Church) from its enemies by the Messiah is obvious from verses 3 through 5 (and the chapter ends describing Judgment Day):
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.
Sure sounds like Christ, who "himself is our peace" (Ephesians 2).
This is so evidently descriptive of a military chief, that it cannot be applied to Christ without outraging the character they pretend to give us of him.
The first time Jesus came, He came in meekness and mercy. The second time He comes, Christ will judge the world, bringing salvation to those waiting for Him and condemnation to all who reject Him.

YHWH is a God of both justice and mercy.
Besides which, the circumstances of the times here spoken of, and those of the times in which Christ is said to have lived, are in contradiction to each other. It was the Romans, and not the Assyrians that had conquered and were in the land of Judea, and trod in their palaces when Christ was born, and when he died, and so far from his driving them out, it was they who signed the warrant for his execution, and he suffered under it.
Just as Rome, Sodom, Egypt, Babylon, and Jerusalem are used to represent the enemies of Christ and His people throughout Scripture (see especially Revelation), so Assyria is used.
Having thus shown that this is no prophecy of Jesus Christ, I pass on to the third passage quoted from the Old Testament by the New, as a prophecy of him. This, like the first I have spoken of, is introduced by a dream. Joseph dreameth another dream, and dreameth that he seeth another angel. The account begins at Matthew ii. 13. "The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: For Herod will seek the life of the young child to destroy him. When he arose he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."

This passage is in the book of Hosea, xi. I. The words are, "When Israel was a child then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt. As they called them so they went from them, they sacrificed unto Baalim and burnt incense to graven images."

This passage, falsely called a prophecy of Christ, refers to the children of Israel coming out of Egypt in the time of Pharaoh, and to the idolatry they committed afterwards. To make it apply to Jesus Christ, he then must be the person who sacrificed unto Baalim and burnt incense to graven images; for the person called out of Egypt by the collective name, Israel, and the persons committing this idolatry, are the same persons, or the descendants of them. This then can be no prophecy of Jesus Christ, unless they are willing to make an idolator of him.
Need I demonstrate again that Messianic prophecies had also an immediate historical application?

David wrote of "strong bulls" piercing "my hands and my feet" (Psalm 22).

Undoubtedly, Thomas Paine would argue here that David was not foreshadowing the crucifixion his Descendant would endure, since David was describing his own crucifixion! Not only that, but it is impossible for bulls to use a hammer and nails!
I pass on to the fourth passage called a prophecy by the writer of the book of Matthew.

This is introduced by a story told by nobody but himself, and scarcely believed by any body, of the slaughter of all the children under two years old, by the command of Herod. A thing which it is not probable should be done by Herod, as he only held an office under the Roman government, to which appeals could always be had, as we see in the case of Paul.
Yes, no one's ever heard of a slaughter of innocents. Wait a minute! Didn't Pharoah do the same thing (which is another example of the life of Israel foreshadowing the Messiah).

That Paine would use popularity ("scarcely believed by any body") as a criterion for truth speaks poorly of his intellectual integrity.

The truth is, Herod was a monster. He murdered his own wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his uncle, and many others.

What are a few hundred (thousand?) Jewish babies?

And it's not like it's never happened before (or since). Pharoah, Mohammed, and Hitler would call Herod's work, "a start."

More to come . . . .