Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bible difficulties Answered (Part 12)

By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (Proverbs 18:17)

34. John the Baptist was (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13) or was not Elijah to come (John 1:19-21)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

Matthew records Jesus saying that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come, while John seems to record John the Baptist denying it. The reason for this apparent inconsistency is a lack of contextualization by readers.

The priests and Levites came to John the Baptist and asked him if he was Elijah. Quite a funny question to ask someone, unless you know the Jewish Scriptures. For God says through the prophet Malachi that He will send Elijah to the people of Israel before a certain time. Therefore as the Jewish people were expecting Elijah, the question is quite logical.

John was about 30 years when he was asked this question. His parents were already dead; he was the only son of Zechariah from the tribe of Levi. So when asked if he was Elijah who ascended up into heaven about 878 years earlier, the answer was obviously "No, I am not Elijah."

Jesus also testifies, albeit indirectly, to John not being Elijah in Matthew 11:11 where he says that John is greater than all people who have ever been born. Moses was greater than Elijah, but John was greater than them both.

So what did Jesus mean when he says of John "he is the Elijah who was to come"? The angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) speaks to Zechariah of his son, John, who was not yet born, saying "he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17)

The Angel refers to two prophecies, Isaiah 40:3-5 (see Luke 3:4-6 to see this applied again to John the Baptist) and Malachi 4:5-6 mentioned above, which says "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers". Gabriel unmistakably says that John is the "Elijah" whom God foretold through Malachi the prophet.

So, was John Elijah? No. But had the priests and Levites asked him, "Are you the one the prophet Malachi speaks of as 'Elijah'?" John would have responded affirmatively.

Jesus in Matthew 17:11-13 says that the prophecy of Malachi is true, but Elijah had already come. He says that this "Elijah" suffered, like he, Jesus will suffer; "the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist". Therefore, once we understand the context it is clear; John was not the literal Elijah, but he was the Elijah that the prophecy spoke of, the one who was to (and did) prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", John 1:29.

35. Jesus would (Luke 1:32) or would not (Matthew 1:11; 1 Chronicles 3:16 & Jeremiah 36:30) inherit David's throne?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

This answer follows on directly from that to #26. Having shown that Matthew's genealogy is that of Joseph, it is obvious from Jeremiah 36:30 that none of Joseph's physical descendants were qualified to sit on David's throne as he himself was descended from Jeconiah. However, as Matthew makes clear, Jesus was not a physical descendant of Joseph. After having listed Joseph's genealogy with the problem of his descendance from Jeconiah, Matthew narrates the story of the virgin birth. Thus he proves how Jesus avoids the Jeconiah problem and remains able to sit on David's throne. Luke, on the other hand, shows that Jesus' true physical descendance was from David apart from Jeconiah, thus fully qualifying him to inherit the throne of his father David. The announcement of the angel in Luke 1:32 completes the picture: 'the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David'. This divine appointment, together with his physical descendance, make him the only rightful heir to David's throne.

(Fruchtenbaum 1993:12)

36. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on one colt (Mark 11:7; cf. Luke 19:35), or a colt and an ass (Matthew 21:7)?

(Category: misread the text & misunderstood the historical context)

The accusation is that the Gospels contradict about how many donkeys Jesus rode into Jerusalem on. This accusation is based on not reading the text of Matthew properly and ignoring his full point about this event.

It first should be noted that all four Gospel writers refer to this event, the missing reference above being John 12:14-15. Mark, Luke and John are all in agreement that Jesus sat on the colt. Logic shows that there is no "contradiction" as Jesus cannot ride on two animals at once! So, why does Matthew mention two animals? The reason is clear.

Even by looking at Matthew in isolation, we can see from the text that Jesus did not ride on two animals, but only on the colt. For in the two verses preceding the quote in point (b) above by Shabbir, we read Matthew quoting two prophecies from the Old Testament (Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9) together. Matthew says:

"Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gently and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey'."

Matthew 21:5

By saying "a donkey" and then "on a colt, the foal of a donkey" Zechariah is using classic Hebrew sentence structure and poetic language known as "parallelism", simply repeating the same thing again in another way, as a parallel statement. This is very common in the Bible (i.e. Psalm 119:105 mentions, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," yet says the same thing twice in succession). It is clear that there is only one animal referred to. Therefore Matthew clearly says Jesus rode only on a colt, in agreement with the other three Gospel writers.

So why does Matthew say that the colt and its mother were brought along in verse seven? The reason is simple. Matthew, who was an eyewitness (where as Mark and Luke were quite possibly not) emphasizes the immaturity of the colt, too young to be separated from its mother. As the colt had never been ridden the probability was that it was still dependent on its mother. It would have made the entry to Jerusalem easier if the mother donkey were led along down the road, as the foal would naturally follow her, even though he had never before carried a rider and had not yet been trained to follow a roadway.

Here again we see that there is no contradiction between the synoptic accounts, but only added detail on the part of Matthew as one who viewed the event while it was happening.

This is just one of many of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. He fulfilled ones that were in his control as well as ones which he could not manipulate, such as the time and place of his birth (Daniel 9:24-26, Micah 5:1-2, Matthew 2:1-6), and his resurrection (Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:24-32) to name but two.

Some Muslims believe that in the Taurat there is reference to the prophecy which the Qur'an speaks of in Sura 7:157 and 61:6 concerning Muhammad. However, these Muslims yet have to come up with one, while Jesus is predicted time and time again.


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