The pattern of prophetic fulfillment

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

Back when my wife and I were looking for a new house, we found a place that seemed rather nice, on a large rural property, for a fairly reasonable price. We were interested enough to have a home inspector come out and take a look at it, and were shocked by the report: while it was obviously older and a little run down, it looked like a pretty good house. Underneath, though, there were termites and dry rot and a whole bunch of nasty stuff. Needless to say, we looked elsewhere.

Justin Martyr seems to be giving us the same sort of insights into the origins of the Christian faith. From his privileged vantage point in the early days of the church, he’s shining the light of history on the foundations of Christian doctrine, and exposing its weaknesses. There’s a pattern to the prophecies the early Christians built their faith on, and the fulfilments they saw for these prophecies. Unfortunately, the pattern is that they’re taking any passage they can find, ripping it completely out of context, and then applying it by sheer free association without regard for accuracy or even common sense. In other words, it’s simply bullshit.

Now, one or two far-fetched and out-of-context “fulfilments” might be an accident, or simple carelessness. Justin, however, is making these bogus “miracles” the whole focus of his argument before Caesar. And it’s not just one or two instances of a misquoted scripture. As we’ll see today, virtually all of the prophetic “proofs” used by Justin and others follow the same pattern of misquotation, misinterpretation, and misapplication.

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The “virgin birth” prophecy

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

A little historical background before we get to Justin Martyr today.

Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.

This is about 700BC, after the Davidic kingdom of Israel had split into two separate nations: the 10 tribes of Israel in the north, and the smaller nation of Judah in the south. King Ahaz (one of David’s descendants but not one of God’s favorites, according to the Bible) was king in Judah, and Pekah was king in Israel. Rezin, meanwhile, was king of Aram (a nation/state in what is now central Syria), and he and Pekah got together to try and overthrow Ahaz and install a puppet king. From a modern, Western perspective it might seem like a minor bit of historical trivia, and not at all the sort of incident that you would expect to give rise to religions, heresies, and innumerable Christmas carols.

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The Free Association Game

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

We’re in chapter 32 of Justin’s First Apology, and amazingly, we’ve only scratched the surface of everything Justin is getting wrong in his attempts to manufacture some kind of Messianic fulfilment for various Old Testament passages. Last week we looked at how he took Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah, from Genesis 49, and rebuilt it as a prediction that Jesus would preach the gospel just before the Romans took control of the Jewish territories in Palestine, using the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the uncertain word “Shiloh” in verse 10.

I’ve done some more reading, and it turns out the actual meaning of this passage may be simpler than I thought. Most modern Christian translations of Gen. 49:10 render it as “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes,” or words to that effect. But the actual Hebrew also allows a decidedly less Messianic reading, as indicated in the footnote of the Holman Christian Standard translation: “…until He comes to Shiloh.” And that’s a much more straightforward reading.

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Proof at last!

(Book: First Apology, by Justin Martyr, courtesy of The Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

We come at last to Chapter 30 of Justin’s First Apology, and when you read it, you’ll see why I say “at last!”

But lest any one should meet us with the question, What should prevent that He whom we call Christ, being a man born of men, performed what we call His mighty works by magical art, and by this appeared to be the Son of God? we will now offer proof, not trusting mere assertions, but being of necessity persuaded by those who prophesied before these things came to pass, for with our own eyes we behold things that have happened and are happening just as they were predicted; and this will, we think appear even to you the strongest and truest evidence.

In other words, Justin is going to give us something we’ve been looking for since 29AD: conclusive, objective, verifiable proof that Jesus is not just some ordinary Joe doing ordinary magic tricks, but is in fact the veritable Son of God (whatever that means).

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